Writing A Character Sketch


My son and his friends love to play games where they one-up each other on powers.

“I’m armor plated!”

“I’ve got armor piercing swords!”

“I have shields!”

“My fireballs can pierce your shields!”

Eventually they get to the inevitable “I’m a god in Mech” level and just clash. There’s lots of whooshing and kablooing and slashing. Boys will be boys, and going all kablooey is just part of growing up. They even manage to rope some of the girls in sometimes and everyone is out there changing the rules by the second. It’s fascinating to watch, but it’s kind of like watching a game of Calvinball where the players can’t touch each other because the school has all these rules.

It’s great fun for kids. Exercise, creativity, problem solving. These are all good things even if the kids do get to bend the rules. In the world of writing, rule changing can be the kiss of death. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, damn is it infuriating.

Everything is moving along nicely then a character does something that is so absolutely out of character that the fantasy world crumbles and the reader is left staring a jumble of words on a page. All the magic is gone. This usually happens when an author needs a way out of a situation and can’t think of a good one so, aha! the young girl was god all along!


It sucks.

One of the best ways to avoid things like this in your writing is to have a pretty good idea in mind of what the characters are actually like and stick to it. Sure, characters can change, but it shouldn’t happen rapidly and it’s something the reader should be able to experience. Those changes should also be driven by the effects of the plot on the characters. In other words, characters (like real people) need a reason to change.

That’s actually one of the reasons for the Saxton books: I knew I needed him back in the series, but he was painted as a smug asshole in Henchmen and still pretty much a jerk in Arise and that wasn’t going to work for Transmute. So, I wrote a few novellas about how his desire to hunt monsters changes his world view. It was also an excellent way to expand on the mythos of the bad guys from Arise.

But I digress. Wilford Saxton was written a particular way for Henchmen and we got to see more of him in Arise. I had a mental sketch of the character and I stuck to it pretty well for those first two books. Likewise, the rest of the cast has seen subtle changes, but their basic personalities and capabilities are still intact. Eve still drinks too much and functions as a leader. Jessica is still mercurial and dangerous. Steven’s still basically a jerk with his heart in kind of the right place. Sure, there have been some changes in the characters, but they were changes driven by the results of the story.

I pulled off this bit of supernatural chicanery by keeping the characters true to themselves and I did that by generating character sketches.

At its most basic, a character sketch is a blurb about a character. You don’t need to generate sketches about all the characters in a book, but the main characters definitely need some flesh. It doesn’t take much, usually a few paragraphs and some thought to generate the skeleton of a character and throw some meat at it. Physical attributes are the first layer of this process and they’re usually the least useful in terms of creating a character. Just like in the real world, the way a character looks or dresses usually has little impact on how they act in the story.

Wherever she is, I assure you it’s very hot.

There are notable exceptions, and I’ve used them: Eve is a seven-foot-tall, bulletproof blonde. Her height and hair color are actually important to her character and a side effect of what she is. Most of the time, though, it’s less important to develop looks because readers like to generate those on their own. Give the most basic descriptions and leave it at that.

What is import is giving a character a history and a philosophy of life. That’s what lets a character maintain stability throughout the run of the story. So, to build off the post on clowns (which I’m still tinkering with writing), let’s take a look at a possible character that was described in the story outline: the hero who dies to save a young couple.

The Hero: (dies before the story ends, but sacrifices himself to save others)

Name: Jake Roberts

Age: mid 60s

General look: weathered by the dry desert. Lean. Wears a lot of denim and gingham shirts. Regularly seen without a cowboy hat, but absolutely refuses to wear it indoors or in his truck. His truck is a dirty, if well-maintained, late 80s F150. It’s dusty, but otherwise spotless. His truck is a key indicator of his personality – keep things in shape and if they ain’t broke, don’t fix ’em.

History: Born on the same ranch he still lives on. Ranch covers a huge tract of land that’s been in his family since the 1800s. Left the ranch to join the Army, felt it was his civic duty. Served two tours in Vietnam. After being wounded and saved by a Vietnamese man, he decided he wasn’t sure who to trust: the government or the people the government sent him to kill. Traveled Asia for a while. Came home and took over the ranch after his parents started to get too old to do it on their own. Father died in car crash. Held his mother’s hand as old age took her away. To this day he quietly swears he saw his dad in the room when his mom died, but refuses to tell many people about it. It’s this fact that lets him have just enough of an open mind to contemplate the nature of the clowns.

Factoids: Usually believes the simplest solution is the best. Not prone to much talk. Likes his bourbon and cigar on the porch as he watches the sun go down. Never gets drunk. Still vehemently believes in his country even though he feels it needs to get itself together. Never curses. Used to go to church regularly, stopped after his mother died. Believes God can’t be put in any physical place. Seen as something of an odd-ball in town, but people listen to him, sort of the wise old Obi Wan Kenobi of eastern New Mexico. Think Sam Elliot in “The Big Lebowski”. Has an encyclopedic knowledge of cowboy sayings.

Certainly it’s impossible to sum up a person’s life in a few paragraphs, but a character sketch isn’t intended to do that. All we’re really trying to do is lay out the foundation for the character and give a few points that will explain why they behave the way they do. The book itself is for summing up that life, or at least a portion of it.

Do you create sketches for your characters? Got any you’re working on? Leave a comment!


Scribendi’s guide on writing character sketches

Udemyblog’s guide

Wikihow’s guide

Book Review – Dead And Damaged by S.L. Eaves

A while back, I put a post on the pluses and minuses of writing in past tense vs writing in present tense. There are people who will immediately toss a book across the room if they find it’s written in present tense, which is unfortunate because they’ll miss out on some wonderful stories like S.L. Eaves’s Dead and Damaged.

Now, it’s probably fair to say the vampire and werewolf genre has been done a lot. For those of thinking “Ah ha! Another Twilight!“, I’d like to remind you that Laurell Hamilton was doing the vampire and werewolf thing years before Stephanie Meyer unleashed Captain Sparkly on the world. And Hamilton, arguably, did it a lot better than Meyer.

In Hamilton’s world, a necromancer is a big deal, but not mind-blowing. Because in her world, things like werewolves and vampires and necromancers are regular things. That kind of world-building is neat, but what about vampires and werewolves in our world? A lot of vampire stories have dealt with the idea that vamps are part of our world, sucking blood and generally making a nuisance of themselves, but they lack a couple things that brings the reality of magical creatures to life:

  • There are usually only a few of the critters
  • No one has taken the time to figure out how to weaponize them

The second point is what sets Eaves’s story apart from most of the vampire fiction out there. In her world, vamps are quite real, but not quite common knowledge. Those in the know see them as something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, you’ve got the various government and intelligence agencies who are aware of vamps and aren’t quite sure how to deal with them. On the other, you’ve got people who spend their lives making weapons looking for ways to weaponize the vamps.

That’s really cool, and that’s what makes Dead and Damaged such a fascinating read. It feels real because she paints her characters as realistic beings. No one falls neatly into the good guy (or girl) or bad guy (or girl) camps. Even the antagonist of the book, a woman relatively devoid of morals, is relatable to some extent, though her actions are deplorable. Lori, the heroine of the story, is a seeker and her actions reveal a certain moral ambiguity that’s easy to understand and relate to. As always, it’s the actions of the character that allows us to say she’s pretty much in the good camp or the bad camp. Lori may not be the best person in the world – she does drink the blood of the living, after all – but she’s not bad in the same sense that Brixton or Marcus are bad. Frankly, I love that kind of thing; it makes the characters seem real and alive.

If you’re looking for a non-traditional vampire story that doesn’t bother to whitewash its protagonist as anything other than someone who wants to live and understand her place in the world, check out Dead and Damaged. It’s got action, intrigue, secrets, and all the great things that make for a good story. To be brutally honest, I loved it because it’s exactly the kind of story I’d write. Lori has her snarky moments and her serious moments. There are scary things, but it’s not a horror novel. There are governments and contractors doing sketchy things, but it’s not a traditional thriller. It’s vampires in a very realistic world, magical realism and gun fights and high-tech all rolled into a delicious sushi burrito.

Now, this is book 2 of The Endangered series, but it reads well enough on its own to qualify as a stand-alone engagement. At some point I need to go back and read book 1 to pick up more about the story before the story.

“Book Two of The Endangered Series picks up with Lori attempting to track down the source of stealth technology rogue vampires are using to hunt humans. Her pursuit leads her into the arms of a government agency with similar objectives. A temporary alliance is formed in an effort to stop the corporation responsible for putting the technology in malignant hands. Their mission goes awry, however, and leaves Lori with more enemies than friends. Her situation worsens when Marcus learns that the corporation has also been working with vampires to develop daylight suits and synthetic blood. He convinces his clan that this organization and its infinite resources will be a valuable asset in the evolution of their kind. They begin questioning Lori’s motives and Marcus takes the opportunity to capitalize on their distrust. Consequently, Lori soon finds herself on the run from her former clan and turns to Vega for help exposing the truth behind Marcus and his new deceitful allies.”


Find Dead and Damaged on Amazon

Check out S.L. Eaves’s blog

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I’ve never been terribly good at actually plotting out a story bit by bit. Mostly when I write, I have the basic idea of where I want to start and where I want to end up and largely let the story unfold as it deems fit. However, as an exercise in keeping my skills sharp and experimenting with new plots, I’ll sometimes take current events and see what kind of novel I could write from them if I had the time and didn’t already have one novel I need to edit, a novella I need to finish, and a pair of books to get going. And a couple short stories I want to write and have ready for submission. Who knows, maybe I’ll scrape out the time to write this sucker at some point.

Still, it’s a great exercise. So, here’s the newest idea, based loosely around the current creepy clown sightings that have been popping up. So what if it’s kind of been done, take the story and add your own twists to it.


Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) was a documentary. Most people don’t realize this, but it’s true. Given the recent spate of clown sightings the world over, one would expect people to come to their senses and recognize the threat that’s smiling and holding balloons right outside their doors. For too long, people have been taken in by these comedic rapscallions, not realizing the smiles hide teeth and the balloons are filled with bad dreams and madness.

Rather than focus on the whole world, it’s best to limit the geographic range, so the story starts small with a few random sightings of clowns in a tiny town. They don’t even need to necessarily be creepy clowns, because all clowns are creepy. Just ask Too Much Joy.

At first, the town sees the clowns as kind of strange aberration, kind of like the sightings of people in black trench coats. Odd, but mostly harmless and largely ignorable. And probably the work of that weird kid on the other side of the tracks that listens to that horrible clown music. Soon, the clowns get more aggressive and as people start seeing them closer up, the smiles turn sinister. But the clowns always disappear before anyone can get too close.

Don’t mind me, I’m just hanging out in a park at night dressed like a clown. Nothing to worry about.

The small town is in New Mexico (or some other state. I choose New Mexico because I’ve lived in small towns here. Trust me, they’re inherently odd), and no one thinks much of the clown sightings until a clown tries to grab a young girl. That even finally pushes the people over the edge. They put together a posse and decide to capture a clown, just to prove it’s that punk kid down the street that listens to Insane Clown Posse and teach him a lesson. A little ass whoopin’ should nudge that kid back toward normalcy.

The posse will consist of one tough, but wise old rancher. He’s seen a lot and is fairly patient. He’ll be the hero of the story. For some reason, I’m convinced he needs to be named Jake. The rest of the posse will consist of Jake’s best friend from High School (Go Hounds!) and a few hot-headed hangers-on.

The posse sets out and finds a clown in the park late one night. In a fit of redneck power, they descend on him. The clown disappears and the group finds itself standing in the park wondering what happened.

That’s when the clown reappears and the posse gets its first look at the face of evil.

It’s a funny joke. Why aren’t you laughing?

The clown sets upon a random guy and tears his throat out with fangs. Guns are drawn, shots are fired. It should be a tense, terrifying scene. Imaging seeing the white face and black lips of the clown, hearing the bells on his costume jingling, but not being able to see him in the inky blackness.

The posse panics and bolts. Of the five people that set out, one is dead, one is missing, one has a nasty bite on his shoulder. The two unharmed guys – including the stoic hero (Jake) – hightail it to a jacked up 4×4. They scream out of the park and make their way to the parking lot of a local grocery store. Small towns are notoriously poorly lit and the Piggly Wiggly has a lot of light.

Safe under the buzzing sodium lights and bathed in the faint orange glow, they decide it had to be the punk kid. This time, though, he’s gone too far. They make their way to his place and find the door wide open. Inside, they find the kid in full Juggalo makeup with his chest torn open. On the wall, written in blood is a single word: Imposter.

Outside the door, a bell jingles. Everyone jumps. Guns are drawn. The bells jingle off down the street while a sickening laugh echoes. The clowns have just stepped up the game.

You bastards! You soaked it all!

With the punk kid dead, one friend dead, and another missing, the group makes its way back to their respective houses. Everything gets locked up tight and they nervously wait out the night while bells jingle in the distance.

In the morning, the bodies and all evidence of the night are gone. No one can find the kid anywhere, the dead member of the posse are nowhere to be found, the missing guy from the posse is still missing, and the kid’s house is clean. Everyone thinks the guys in the posse just had a few too many and everything will be fine.

That night, a young woman is taking a walk. It’s a small town, there’s no crime to speak of, and it’s highly unlikely the clowns are the real thing. She’s from a larger city and not given to giving into small-town paranoia. A shadowy shape appears at the end of the street. She remembers the city and panics. When she turns a clown is right behind her, holding a spinning coin.

Focus on the coin, not my face.

Just like Daphne from Scooby Doo, she falls under the clown’s spell. Unlike Daphne, she won’t just find herself in a leotard and riding a unicycle. In a future book, she’ll be our interface to the world of the clowns.

With the young woman gone, her would-be boyfriend goes to the head of the posse (Jake) and tells him he believes him. He also asks about old man Smith’s shack out in the desert (or woods, or swamp, or whatever). It’s a good guess and they head out to the shack. Inside is nothing but the young woman (Let’s call her Audra), tied to a chair and looking dazed.

They rescue her and eventually manage to her head back on straight. Audra tells them what happened and how there are dozens of clowns. They all went into the shack and disappeared. The last one left her alive and tied up because he thought it was funny.

Was there a Scooby Doo episode where Daphne didn’t get captured and tied up? Must be a bondage thing.

As the story progresses, the town slowly goes over the edge. The clowns kill seemingly at random and hypnotize other people. The mayor gets hypnotized and orders everyone to keep quiet about the clowns. They’re just some kind of mass hysteria and everyone needs to get over it.

The key to the story is to never reveal too much about the clowns. They’re an interdimensional species that revels in causing havoc. Eventually the heroes figure out the clowns’ entry point to our world is the shack and attempt to destroy it. A bit of dynamite flattens the place and they all pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

Always go for the guy with the biggest balls in a fight.

That night the full force of the clowns hits the town. Telephone lines go down, all communication is cut off and the clowns attack in earnest. Almost everyone dies. The boyfriend manages to save the young woman (or she saves him, either way works), but they both find themselves cornered by a clown. The hero of the story, the leader of the posse (Jake), intervenes. The clowns kill him, but he manages to save the young couple. The couple piles into the hero’s truck and spend the rest of the night running from clowns and generally trying to escape.

As morning dawns, the couple finds one last clown heading toward the desert. He walks to the remains of the shack, turns and waves at the couple, and disappears.

Of course, they pack up their things and get the heck out of the dead town. They settle in the big city and find the world thinks the town was killed by drug dealers or terrorists or some such. Eventually, after weeks of no clowns, the couple settles down and manages to convince themselves it was all just a dream.

Until they see a commercial on TV and realize it’s all about to start all over again.

Made from 100% organic, free-range humans.

Come to think of it, maybe I do need to write this sucker. I’ll be doing some character sketches later this week, so stay tuned to meet the cast.

Tell Me A Halloween Story

Back in March, I found a mess of images that had given me some writing ideas in the past and posted them to see if anyone could come up with something. I got a few bites, which was cool, and got to read some clever stories out of it.

In honor of Halloween, I’ve found a bunch of images to use as writing prompts. If you’re interested, and think you can do it, write a Halloween story based off one of these images and post it on your blog. When it’s done, drop me a line with the link and I’ll put up a post linking to everyone’s blog (or website, or whatever). If you want to just post something here, drop me a line and I’ll post it up with your information. No rules, no requirements, no obligations. Your story is yours and it can be whatever you want it to be.

With a bit of luck, everything will be ready by October 30th, just in time for Halloween.

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Head Hopping

I didn’t really get into writing to follow rules. No matter what anyone tells you, there’s only one rule worth following and that’s don’t confuse your reader. Everything else is just icing, but if the reader can’t follow your story that book you spent so much time on is either going into the circular file or sent off in a cloud of zeroes and ones.

If you spend a little time digging you’ll quickly find out head hopping is a matter of great contention. Much like the Oxford comma and using certain fonts, some people get all frothy about the mouth when someone talks about head hopping.

Those people have far too much time on their hands.

So, what the heck is this whole head hopping thing and why am I researching it? As things would turn out, I’m working on the last Saxton story and was doing a bit of bouncing around in the first chapter. I’d heard of head hopping, but wanted to get a better definition and see what other people thought of it. If it’s one of those things that tends to confuse readers, then it’s a real no-no, but there’s not a huge amount of consensus about whether or not it’s strictly verboten or just one of those things you shouldn’t do, but everyone does anyway. Is head hopping analogous to getting drunk and dancing naked on a table at a four star restaurant or is more like picking your nose in public?

After reading a bunch of blogs on the subject, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one really knows for certain, but everyone seems to have a serious gut reaction to head hopping. In fact, head hopping is one of those things that, handled slightly differently, becomes third person omniscient, which everyone seems to agree is quite okay.

Head hopping, by definition, is swapping between two or more characters’ point of view without a distinct break and using the character’s own voice as the means of communication. Third person omniscient is swapping between two or more characters’ point of view without a distinct break, but maintaining the narrator’s voice as the means of communication. For instance:

Yee-haw, he thought, these cowpokes surely did know how to treat a lady right. She felt the affections of the lads at the cowboy dance were, while unwarranted, at least interesting.


The cowboy thought Yee-haw as he always did when he thought about women. It was just a way he had of exploring the world and his place in it in relation to the fairer sex. For her part, she felt the cowboys and their affections were a fascinating distraction from the ennui of day to day life.

There’s this thing called deep POV, where a writer delves into the psyche of a single character at a time and tells the story through that person’s eyes and voice. Head hopping is basically the process of implementing deep POV, but not limiting oneself to a single character at a time. Done right, deep POV can really draw a reader into a story by placing him or her straight into the character. This is similar to the way first person POV works, but with he/she said instead of I said. Done poorly, deep POV runs the risk of feeling stale.

Head hopping can cause issues for readers because it draws a reader into a particular place and then yells, “Ha! Your’re not really there, you’re here. And also, you’re not who you think you are! You’re not you, you’re actually Josef Stalin!”

If you’re deep into a character’s head and suddenly you’re in some other character’s head, the result is going to feel like hitting a fire road in Ferrari. And there you go, you just violated the cardinal rule and confused your reader. Your hard work was flung across the room or reduced to random bits on someone’s tablet.

Poof. Gone.

Does that mean you absolutely cannot head hop? Well, that depends on how you do it. It’s one of those things that can be done well, but swapping in bad p;laces – like in a paragraph – can be catastrophic. In the final analysis, it’s probably best to avoid head hopping, but if you’re gonna go ahead and do it, at least break paragraphs before you do it.

Of course, that’s just my opinion and, as I’ve already established, I don’t exactly truck with most of the rules of writing. Except that one important rule of not confusing the reader. Make your reader paranoid, terrified, hysterical. Make him or her laugh or cry or want to strangle a manatee in the nude. But make sure you don’t confuse them.

All this, of course, begs the question of why I would suddenly take interest in this. The Henchmen series is firmly in first person POV. The Saxton series has been largely third person deep POV. But, as I was working on the first chapter of the last Saxton story, I found it was helpful to bounce back and forth between a couple characters to compare and contrast the event and do a little bit of foreshadowing.

That lead me to wonder if I was head hopping or doing a bit of third person omniscient. I’m fairly certain whatever I’m doing is (or will, once it’s all edited) working. Still, I’d like a second or third or nth opinion on it. So here you go, the first chapter of the last Saxton book in all its raw and unedited glory. Drop a note in the comments and tell me if I’m way off base.


The woman screams. Her limbs strain against the metal bands that keep her secured to the cold metal table. Metamorphosis takes her body and twists it into sickening shapes. Her limbs grow longer and stouter, replacing her slim arms and legs with bulging muscle and thick bone.

She raises her head and gazes down at her naked body with terror in her eyes. As her muscles expand she remembers summers in Las Cruces and wonders where she went wrong. Her past dissipates like so much blue-gray smoke as pain wracks her body again. In her mind, someone is tearing her limbs off just like she used to tear the legs off grasshoppers before tossing them in ant hills.

The metal table is far from the nearest ant hill, but the withdrawal makes it feel like ants are crawling through her insides. She actually welcomes the pain of her body changing because it means she doesn’t have to focus on the incessant need.

“You were correct, Colonel,” a man in a white lab coat says as he stares in wonder at the transformation. “She is strong. I would not have believed a woman could be this strong.”

Lieutenant Colonel Jannik Schäfer nods and frowns. “You must toss that old thinking aside, doctor. Women will be necessary in the New Order. We must rectify the mistakes of the past and one of those mistakes is relegating fifty-one percent of the populace to the dust bin.”

“Yes, Colonel,” the doctor says, hanging his head in shame.

The woman is barely recognizable as a human anymore. Her body has tripled in size, sucking resources from the tubes plugged into her veins to turn into muscle and bone. She has taken on a simian look, like a pale, hairless ape with a woman’s head on top of its massive shoulders.

“The face and head are the last, correct?” Jannik asks.

“Yes sir. The process works from the bottom up. We’re not completely certain why, but all the subjects have transformed from the feet upwards. We suspect it’s something encoded in the new DNA that says the body must have a solid foundation.”

Jannik nods, but otherwise doesn’t speak.

“This new strain of alien DNA is more robust than the previous strain,” the doctor says. He has the look of a kid on Christmas who’s just opened the best toy in the world and can’t resist talking about it.

“The old strain was decades old. I’m amazed it worked at all, Doctor Hess. You are truly a wizard. The Brotherhood is lucky to have you.”

Doctor John Hess blushes. He’s not used to dealing with bigwigs. Frankly, people baffle him. How can he explain the majesty of his work to someone who has never seen the things he’s seen? “Thank you, Colonel.”

Doctor Hess pauses, unsure if he should continue. “If I may be so bold, Colonel…,” he starts.

“Go ahead, Hess,” Jannik replies, never taking his eyes off the woman on the table.

Her face is changing. It hurts so much she can’t even scream anymore as the bones grow into a muzzle and the muscles tear and pop. The gnawing hunger is still inside of her and she buries herself in the pain. This isn’t the first time she’s wished for the eternal slumber of death. A painless end to a short lifetime of mistakes would be proof there is a loving God.

But the pain continues and the gnawing need continues to nip at the edges of her mind like rats burrowing into the raw flesh of a severed limb. Again, she screams. Again it does nothing.

“Are the rumors true, sir?” Hess asks. “Did the original DNA samples come from Dulce?”

Jannik snorts. “Somewhat. The samples came from one of our first labs. A deep, dark hole under Albuquerque. Early Operation Paperclip scientists were brought in to study the artifact. They drew the first bits of DNA. The new strain comes from a ship we stole from the government that was shot down late last year.”

“What about the, uh, other genetic code?” Hess asks.

Jannik straightens his black jacket and sighs. “Almost the same place. Have you had any luck with it?”

Hess is in his element. He turns to face Jannik, ignoring the woman screaming in the other room. “It is incredible and impossible. It’s not DNA, at least not as I know it. It changes, sir. It changes from solid to gas to liquid and back again. I wish I could take a piece and examine it more closely.”

The woman’s eyes roll back in her head so hard she wonders if she can see her brain. Through the red haze of agony, she prays laser eyes to shred the gray matter in her head and end it all. But the pain continues to grow. Her jaw elongates. Her teeth shift and grow and tiny movement feels like the worst toothache she’s ever had.

Jannik watches her through the glass. His eyes close focus on his reflection in the glass separating Hess and himself from the subject. In the glass he sees a ghostly reflection of himself. It’s not much of an image, but enough for him to know everything is perfectly in place.

“You must never examine the shadow outside of the confinement area,” Jannik says.

The unmistakable force in Jannik’s voice pushes Hess back a step. “But … why?”

Jannik tears his eyes from his reflection and the woman in the other room. Piercing cobalt blue eyes focus on Hess. The doctor takes another step back. “Because I told you not to,” Jannik says.

Hess swallows hard. He stared into the eyes of the demon and lived to tell about. One hand fiddles with his white doctor’s coat while the other one unconsciously wipes a bead of sweat from his brow. “Yes. Sir. Sir Yes,” he stammers. “Yes sir.”

In Jannik’s mind, the conversation is over. He looks back at the woman on the table and finds she’s still. “What is happening?” he asks, pointing at the woman. “Is it done.”

“No, sir. I guess the pain finally knocked her out.”

Jannik shakes his head. “No, that won’t do. I was told she must be alert and aware throughout the procedure.”

“Her brain has shut down, Colonel,” Hess protests.

“Restart it.”

“Sir?” Hess asks.

Jannik turns the full force of his eyes back on the doctor. “Restart it or take her place on the table, doctor.”

Hess takes a moment to process that. Like everyone else at the base, he knows Lieutenant Colonel Jannik Schäfer does not have a sense of humor. “Yes, sir.”

The doctor fiddles with a tablet in his hands. Without warning, the woman screams again and Hess feels it in his soul. To think, this woman, who was a runaway and a crack whore, was going through so much so that the formula could be perfected. He almost envied her. It’s not everyone who can say they have advanced science as much as she is doing right now.

Pain vanishes in a heartbeat, like someone flipped a switch. Her body collapses into the table and her eyes close. She can’t see herself. If she could, she’d start screaming again. Tiny insects crawl across her bare flesh, but she’s too tired to care anymore. The pain is over and that’s all she cares about.

Her name. What was her name? No matter, it would return or she could go search out the people that… What is the word? Created. Created her. They were there. Two people. One with short hair the other with long hair.

Why can’t she remember who or what they were?

Why can’t she remember herself?

“Sir, if I may be so bold, I’m terribly excited. The process has never gone this far.”

Jannik struggle to hold in his own anticipation. His heart is pounding in his chest. On the table, still strapped down, is a female ape with deep black fur sparsely covering her body. Even from here, he can see the confusion in the beast’s eyes.

“I must admit, Doctor Hess, I’m interested in the outcome myself. You’ve done wonders blending the samples,” Jannik says. “Have you reproduced the prototype serum?”

Hess cannot tear his eyes from the spectacle in the room. The ape is calm now. “Almost sir,” Hess replies. “I need a fresher sample of the shadow to finalize it.”

“Excellent work, doctor. If all goes to plan, you’ll soon have all the samples you need. You’ll be able to pull them straight from the source.”

The words slowly make their way into Hess’s mind. He tears his eyes from the ape woman in the next room and looks at Jannik. “How? If I may ask, of course.”

“As you know, the prototype is working for us. While he’s occupied, plans are in place to harry and then capture the shadow source.”

Jannik folds his arms across his chest and chuckles. “Did you know he actually has the audacity to call himself ‘The God of Dreams’? Such an arrogant thing.”

“Are you saying the sample came from a god?”

“That’s what he calls himself, anyway. We know he can do things regular people can’t. Personally I think he’s a liar and a charlatan. No matter. Soon this ‘God of Dreams’ will be in our grasp.”

Hess cringes at the thought of dealing with a god. “Do you think harassing a god is wise, sir?”

Jannik’s laugh echoes through the small chamber, echoing off concrete walls. “There is nothing to worry about Hess. He is nothing more than a liar trying to claim the throne of The Church of the Eternal Dreamtime. Pah! You will see. We have already hired a man who claims to be able to call this god. If the little man’s story pans out, we won’t even need to send troops; we will just wish him here and – poof! – he will be here.”

“Yes, Colonel,” Hess says. He still feels the gnawing in his stomach that usually tell him bad things are going to happen sooner rather than later.

“How is my serum coming along. Have you managed to figure out how to merge what you’ve found?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Hess says. “I need more samples from the god. We’ve managed to recreate the prototype’s information, but the god’s is significantly more complicated.”

“You’ll have your samples soon enough,” Jannik replies.

Both men stare through the one-way glass. The final effects of the serum are working into place. Her mind was largely wiped and it shows in her emotionless eyes. A once streetwise, drug abuser has just been transformed into the perfect soldier.

“Is it safe to go in?” Jannik asks.

Hess checks his tablet and nods. “Yes, sir. The change is finished. I must counsel caution, though, sir. She’s the first successful transform. She’s quite strong and her aggressive nature has been enhanced.”

Jannik doesn’t acknowledge the warning. He sweeps through the door and stands over the mutant ape. Her dark eyes watch him cautiously. He watches back, searching for any trace of humanity left behind the simian gaze. Nothing jumps out, just the blank stare and hint of rage of a caged animal.

“You’re magnificent,” Jannik says. “Soon, I’ll have an army of you. You and your ilk will stream through the world. Together, we will bring order to this chaotic world. We will bring unity and strength back to a people who have forgotten what it means to fight for something.”

Deep in her mind, a spark ignites. It’s not much, little more than the light of a single match in a pitch black cave, but it stays lit.

Jannik strokes the creature’s fur, marveling that something so amazing can have such a soft pelt. He flashes back to his grandfather returning from hunts around the world. On every continent, his grandfather hunted wild animals. They were always predators and usually alpha predators when available. After each hunt, the man would bring back the pelt and head. The heads were mounted in the family reading room. Animal after animal laid down its life for the eldest Schäfer until every free space had the head of a tiger or a lion or some other thing with teeth.

In his young mind, Jannik thought his grandfather was the strongest, bravest man in the world. He, himself, never took up hunting. At least not big game. He hunts homeless people, though; stalking them through the dark alleys and pipes they call their home. Pathetic creatures. Not worthy of being called humans.

Yet another thing to eradicate when he seizes the world. In Jannik’s mind, if a person can’t muster the wherewithal to take care of themselves, they were worthless. Worthless things needed to be excised if the world was going to be rebuilt stronger.

“Hess,” Jannik calls over his shoulder. “Release the clamps.”

“Sir, I strongly suggest we do that in a more controlled space.”

“Hess,” Jannik repeats. “Release the clamps.”

Hess sighs loud enough to be heard from the other room. He quietly closes and locks the door. “Yes, sir.”

Jannik smiles as the steel bands slide silently from the limbs of the beast. She clenches her fists and sits up. When she rises, Jannik feels a pang of nervousness. It was one thing to admire her from the comfortable blanket of safety, but not that she’s free he realizes he’s alone with a monster he helped create.

The tiny flame in her head flares brighter briefly. This was one of the creatures that hurt her. Her mind is still a jumble and she lacks the mental processing power to realign her new neurons. Still, she knows enough to want to hurt the thing in front of her.

She rises to her full height and relishes the power of this new body. Images intrude on her simple mind – summers and first kisses and the heady taste of meth filling her mouth and lungs. The pictures make no sense. Why would she need summers or kisses? But the feelings that came along with the images are tinged with melancholy regret.

As quickly as it flared up, the tiny flame shrinks back down and there’s only the animal left. She wonders if she can bat the little thing aside and leave. There are things to hunt and conquer out in the world. All she needs is to escape and then it will a glorious, lifetime-long hunt.

A single fist in the creature’s face, then she can run free. She draws back her arm, ready to sweep aside the tiny creature with the strange hair and no fur.

“Did you embed the inhibitors?” Jannik calls over his shoulder.

Hess’s voice sounds tinny and nervous over the old speakers in the transformation chamber. “Yes, sir. She should already to reacting to your presence.”

Jannik stands his ground and stares. He knows enough about human behavior – and this thing still has similar instincts – to know that backing away is equivalent to backing down. She’s strong enough that a punch from that fist will probably go right through his head. He makes a mental note to push Hess to finish his serum. That special mixture of prototype and god will make him the most powerful thing on Earth, but for now he’s just a weak, pathetic human with an indomitable will.

He grits his teeth and sets his jaw as the ape-woman rears back. A lesser man would run and cower, but that same lesser man would be easily hunted and smashed by this newest creature. She was specifically chosen for her street smarts and general resiliency. It took a team of three of his soldiers to bring her in and she smashed one’s jaw in the process. Another will likely never have kids. And all that was before Hess fed the soldier serum into her veins. The mere fact that she survived it means her mental toughness is amazing.

The tiny creature in front of her stands its ground. It should be running, but it waits patiently. A thought from the tiny flame of her former self screams to smash the little man, but a larger thought bounces through her skull telling her he’s not to be touched. Screw it, she thinks. Her muscles tense and she longs to feel his bones break.

But that large thought won’t give up and he won’t run. There’s no fear in his eyes and it gives her pause. Her mind is torn between the tiny voices echoing through her head. Kill him. Don’t kill him. He is weak. He is strong. He must not be harmed. He is the future.

Her arm slowly drops. She won’t kill him. Not now at least. For now, the voice screaming to kill him will have to wait.

Jannik watches the hairy arm fall and slowly exhales. He wasn’t even aware he’d been holding his breath. His mouth breaks into a grin, slowly at first so as not to threaten the creature, but rapidly spreading as she doesn’t attack. It worked. It actually worked. The process successfully created a monster that could be controlled.

He mentally reminds himself that there’s no guarantee she’s completely controllable, but the initial results are positive. Tomorrow he’ll put up her against the two guards that he found asleep at their post. If she kills them and he can still keep her in check, then he’ll consider the experiment a success. If only they had finished her before the operation started.

“Hess,” Jannik says. “You are a miracle worker.”

Hess doesn’t answer for a long time, longer than he should wait and Jannik makes another mental note to give the scientist a stern talking to about responding. “Thank you, sir,” Hess finally says.

Jannik reaches up and touches the creature’s face. Her pull back briefly, revealing teeth that could chew up a cue ball, but she leans her face into his hand and actually purrs. The problem, Jannik reflects, with human soldiers is they have complex emotions and are inherently unpredictable because of that. This creature has simplified emotional responses. Anger and love are powerful emotions, but they’re far more predictable.

An army like this will be unstoppable. Especially once he himself has been transformed and can lead from the front of the battle lines. Jannik pulls a phone from his pocket and pushes a button on the blank face. “This is Jannik. Echo team, you’re clear for Operation Mjolnir.”

The creature’s eyes are closed and it’s switched from a simian purr to the quiet chirping the aliens made when they were content. The sound makes his hair stand on end, but like everything else he’s endured in life, Jannik Schäfer will learn to endure this.

A Long Time Ago…

This is almost the exact opposite of a post I did a bit back on things that were still there, but forgotten. Today we’re going to look at something that’s gone, but definitely not forgotten.

If you weren’t alive in the late ’70s you really have no idea just how hard Star Wars mania hit. For a movie that was supposed to be a flop, it energized the country and revitalized the sci-fi movie scene. In fact, the story goes, the studio considered it the B-movie release and Star Wars opened on a paltry 40 screens across the country because those were the only theaters that would take it. There was another movie 20th Century Fox figured would be its summer block buster, so the studio didn’t really worry about pushing Star Wars too hard.

Now, of course, no one remembers that other movie. Star Wars was such a phenomenon that it eclipsed everything else that came out that summer. In case you’re wondering, the other movie was the movie adaptation of Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight.

I actually really like that image.

I’m sure Sheldon loves Star Wars to this day.

I remember seeing the first trailer for Star Wars and immediately thinking I had to see this thing. I was five or six at the time, so any movie where people dressed in space armor and swung glowing swords at each other had my vote. When the movie hit in the summer of 1977, I, like every other kid in the country, lined up to see it. I’m not sure how much my grandma liked it, but she said she enjoyed it and we made it a tradition to see the next three together over the summers. She missed out on the last three prequels, which is probably for the best because they was have ruined the series for her just like they almost did for everyone else.

But that’s neither here nor there. Before Jar Jar Binks taught an entire generation how to hate, the original cast was there on the screen and everywhere else. Seriously, you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting Star Wars merchandise. The lead up to The Force Awakens had nothing on the follow through of Star Wars. Today, we refer to it as Episode IV – A New Hope, but back then it was just Star Wars, and it was everywhere on everything all the time. Including this:


The car was real. Someone won it and probably drove it around with a huge freaking smile on their face. It was a 1977 Toyota Celica GT with a custom paint job.

I can’t find the specs on the actual Star Wars Celica, but according to Carfolio, the ’77 Celica GT was a four cylinder, rear-wheel-drive car boasting a whopping 95 bhp at 4800 RPM. For the time, it wasn’t a bad car. In fact, they’re still fairly common on the street racing scene. Couple a car that got decent gas mileage with a five-speed manual and some kick-ass Star Wars art and you the babe magnet of the late seventies. Unless it was some babe that won it, in which case it would be a dude magnet.

Now, like I said earlier, Star Wars was everywhere on everything in the summer of ’77. It was almost at complete sensory overload levels. Most of that merchandise has vanished over the past (almost) 40 years, because most of it wasn’t designed to last. But the Star Wars Celica had two things that set it apart from everything else.

  • It was a one-off custom paint job
  • It was a freaking car

Unfortunately, like most other merchandise from the era, the Star Wars Celica has vanished – poof – without a trace. You wouldn’t think that would be an easy task for a car to pull off. After all, aren’t cars supposed to be registered? According to Hollywood, any police cyber expert should be able to spend about five seconds typing the VIN into the vast police databases and get not only the owner, but an incredibly high-resolution picture of where the car is right now. In the real world, though, things don’t work quite like that. All that information was tracked on pieces of papers that changed hands when the car changed hands. The original pieces of paper are probably covered in fried-chicken grease and slowly decomposing in a landfill in Indiana.

As for the car? Well, that’s gone. Aside from one classified ad in the early 80s where someone was offering to sell the car, the trail is completely cold. Cold as Hoth or Palpatine’s heart. Poof. Gone. Vanished without a trace. The Celica, too, is likely covered in fried-chicken grease (we loved our fried chicken in the 70s and 80s) and slowly decomposing in a junk yard in Indiana.

Like a lot of the stranger pieces of reality, this would make an excellent plot point for a story. Not necessarily hunting down the Star Wars Celica, but rather some car that has gone missing and has something important squirreled away in the trunk. As another example, The Thing in Dragoon, Arizona, claims to have a 1937 Rolls Royce that was used by none other than Adolf Hitler.


If you take a bit of time to look around the world and ask yourself a few questions, you’ll soon find that there are stories out there begging to be told. Plus, it gives you an excuse to research the odd and wonderful, and maybe even plan a trip to Dragoon.

As for the Star Wars Celica, someone will eventually find it rusting in a barn somewhere with it’s trunk full of old phone books and a half-eaten, desiccated Big Mac on the dash. No one will really know what happened between the time someone won the car and it was found. The car may be gone, but the story is just begging to be told.

How Indie is Indie?

Late last year I was at Page One, one of the few remaining local independent bookstores in Albuquerque. The other is Bookworks. Both are great places and are generally much more pleasant to hang out in than any of the bigger corporate joints. Anyway, when we were at Page One there was a small spot in the back where some local indie authors were doing a little meet and greet. It was quiet, so I went up to say hello and meet some of the other Albuquerque authors.

So, what was the first thing they ask me? “Who are you published with?”

When I told them I self-published my three they got that look. You know, the one that says, “So, you’re not good enough to get published?”

I shook hands, nodded and smiled, and moved on to see what else the store had to offer.

The whole interaction got me wondering, though. These guys had publishers, editors, book designers, book formatters, and so on. Granted, they were published through a small press, but they had actual publishers and people who, ostensibly, were there to help them out. If their publishers were anything like the other publishers I’ve heard about, the authors had to give up rights to their books and get a pittance from each sale, but they had a larger support structure than I did when I started out.

How exactly is that independent again? If we say you’re an indie author because you’re with a small press, then independence is simply a matter of scale. The difference between publishing through Hachette and a local publisher is just that the publisher is larger and you get even less of a pittance from each sale.

And in return, you get to look down on people who decided to publish on their own.

Does that mean that their work was any better or worse than anything self-pubbed? No, not necessarily. Certainly there’s a ton of crap being self-published these days, but there’s also a bunch of crap coming out of traditional publishers both large and small. Where the publishing happens is largely a matter of choice and has no real impact on the quality of the work. As a buddy of mine says, “Crap abounds.”

Publishing is an interesting world these days. It used to be you had to get a rep, send a manuscript around, and tack rejection notices up on your wall while you drank scotch and hammered out the next great American novel. Now, I can pretty much guarantee you there’s someone out there that will happily publish your book, but that acceptance letter will probably come through a small publisher. Don’t expect much in the way of an advance or help with marketing, though. Unless you’re Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, you’re pretty much on your own making sales. Fortunately for King and Rowling, they’re both excellent authors with a long history, so marketing their books can consist of “New Stephen King novel coming in a few months. We’ve already deducted the cost from your checking account and you can expect the book on your Kindle when it comes out.”

Does all this mean I look down on people who went through publishers? Not at all. I respect the gumption to get out there and wade through the Byzantine maze of publishers and find someone they can work with. That takes a lot of patience and more wherewithal than I can usually muster. And traditional publishers offer some intangible benefits that self-publishing does not. A lot of book awards won’t even look at self-published books. Ditto for a bunch of the bigger book review blogs. Another benefit is you can look down your nose at self-published authors.

Self-published people, on the other hand, get the benefit of keeping the rights to their own works and generally get larger royalties. The downside is you don’t have the resources of a publisher to help you out.

Which means you are well and truly on your own with self-published works. You make the call about how it gets edited, designed, and marketed. Fortunately, there’s an entire cottage industry out there doing cover design, ebook formatting, print book formatting, editing, and so on. In fact, if you need covers or formatting, drop me a line. I’m good and I work pretty cheap. If you take a quick look at the bottom of this post, there are some links to people who can help you format your book, design your cover, provide editing and proofreading services and so on.

In both cases, self-published and traditionally published authors are usually on the hook for their own marketing and that’s the thing that’s truly brutal. You may think pouring your life into a book for a year is rough. Wait until you have to get people to read it.

In case this was a tl;dr moment, to sum up:

There are pluses and minuses to self-publishing or going through traditional publishing routes. Traditionally published authors get more resources, better awards, and also get the ability to look down on self-published authors. Self-published authors get to keep the rights to their own works and usually get better royalties. Both are valid ways forward because when you’re writing the only important thing is someone out there is reading.

In the end, it’s your choice to determine just how indie you want to be. I write, format my own books, and design my own covers. Others are quite content to farm out some of that work. It’s up to you and no one else.

So, either way, if you’re just starting out and are looking for some resources, here are some folks I know that might be able to help you on your way.



Kelly Hartigan

Kim Huther

Michelle Dunbar (email)

Cover Design

Sharon Brownlie

Eric Lahti

Melanie Smith (sells photography, can be used for cover art)

eBook Formatting

Eric Lahti

Print Formatting

Eric Lahti


Melanie Smith


You can also try to send me a review request for this blog.

If you know of anyone who should be added to this list, leave a comment with his or her contact information. At some point in the near future, Ian D. Moore of bouncepen.com is going to make a more permanent version of this list.