Roll up the partition: Where does artistic responsibility begin?

I’m a fan of Beyonce. Was a fan, until her latest album permanently turned me off and unplugged me from fandom.

Hardly a “hater,” but I disagree with its direction.There’s no artistic responsibility there — meaning, I won’t take my preteen niece to a Beyonce concert (not like I was itching to do that anyway). This music is for grown folks now.

Problem is, grown folks aren’t the only ones buying her tunes.

I do not want my young daughters growing up too fast. Will that make them sheltered? Maybe in the eyes of some. But my wife and I cannot teach them accountability for their actions and let them sing “Partition” and “Blow” too.

Bring up artistic responsibility to musicians or authors and they may feed you a line about how they are not role models, how parents should keep a tighter reign on their children, blah blah blah.

Look at it this way: if you put leftover food uncovered out on the street and cats get into it, the neighbors will complain. What do you do then? Kanye shrug and blame it on the neglectful cat parents? You put it out there.

For me, my rule is this: some day, my daughters will read my books and ask me why I wrote so and so. If I can’t keep my head up while I’m explaining it to them, I don’t write it.

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What’s the toughest part about self-publishing?

Author Fair 2007

Self-Publishing or indie publishing? Choose what’s best for you.

Last month, me and Kemya Scott of Phisco Marketing held a Social Media and Self-Publishing Facebook Chat. There, a chatter asked me, “What’s the toughest part about self-publishing?”

That was a few weeks ago, and I still don’t have a better answer than, “it depends.”

Where do you want to go as an author? If it’s “just to get your name out there,” most of the well-publicized self-pub places specialize in that. The aim of those places is to get 100,000 authors selling hundreds of books, not hundreds of authors selling 100,000 books. That’s not a secret, but it’s also not the toughest part — deciding how to go.

Say your plans are bigger than a couple hundred copies. In that case, go indie with your own company.

Indie authors are automatically anonymous, and there are lots of us, good and bad, out there. Changing that — getting shelved, notoriety in media and social media circle, etc — is an uphill battle. You need trade reviews (which are hard to get unless you pay for them), an attractive cover, snappy back cover copy, and engaging writing in order to even be considered.

Still, in my opinion, not the toughest part.

When you succeed, the bookseller will shelve you and take between 45%-55% of your retail on each sale. You get what’s left, minus your Cost Of Goods, 90 days after the sale occurred (60 for digital on Amazon after your total owed reaches above $10).

That part is pretty tough to swallow.

I spent a few thousand dollars promoting The Lost Testament. We had a book launch party and invited 50 guests (about 20 showed) and the media (none). I hired a publicist for a few months, flew to Philadelphia for two book signings, and did the virtual book tour rounds.

I don’t know what I expected my sales to be after all of that, but I wanted it to be more than what I got.

For my second and third books, I did more of it myself. Part of that was necessity because my advertising budget had shrunken considerably. The other side of the coin is that I wanted more bang for my buck, and either you spend time learning a new craft, or pay someone who knows that craft. In my case, the knowledge was valuable enough to sacrifice the time to learn.

THAT’S the toughest part, to me — all of the D-I-Y. If you’re an author, what was yours?

I’ve been followed, too

If you’re a minority, you might have one of these stories. Thankfully, mine doesn’t end with a bullet.

During my freshman year at Morehouse, I hung out with a group of about 11 other young men. We hailed from different parts of the United States – Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Georgia, etc.

One day, we walked around Phipps Plaza — a fairly upscale shopping mall that used to have a music/video store in it. The dozen of us went into this store and split up. Our presence brought the attention of a white store employee, who asked us if we “needed something” ad nauseum.

This morning, I recounted the story to my wife, saying, “I can understand why we got followed. After all, there were 12 of us.”

Wait, what? 

Twelve educated, well-dressed, African-American men cannot walk together in a group and disperse into a store without drawing suspicion? What if we were dressed in designer business suits instead of jeans? Would that have made a difference?

I have a real problem with the point-of-view that says “We’re going to keep an eye on you, just in case you do something. If you actually do something, that justifies our suspicions. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”

And. . .what if nothing happens? Not one of us stole a thing. Isn’t it a violation of my rights as a human being, to not be able to browse a store without “Big Brother” policing my prospective inner intentions?

You can investigate my past – I’ll tell you, I’m not a saint. I’ve done some things I’d rather not have to explain to everyone on the planet. I crashed my mom’s car in 1994. Tomorrow, I will turn 36 and she still reminds me of it, along with pretty much everything I did wrong as a teenager. I forgot to take out the trash, A LOT. I once broke curfew to drive a drunk friend home.

Still, my imperfections don’t mean I deserve to be followed, or get a bullet to the chest, do they?

Selling that makes sense

My wife and I used to have a Multi-Level Marketing business. Yup, we were in one of those. But, I did learn one, valuable thing from it: the need to create methods of making passive income. Passive income = money you can make in your sleep.

I met a self-published author once who insisted she “liked the hustle” of carrying her books around and selling them. Which is fine. But, if you’re like me, and do this full-time, you can’t afford to hustle every day.

What if your wife has a health emergency? Or, heaven forbid, you want to take time off? Those two things happened to me in the span of three days. That time is irreplaceable, which is why your time should also work for you.

Call it boilerplate, but, if nothing else, ESPECIALLY if you’re self-published, your book should be available in both paperback AND digital formats. I’ve spent countless hours curating a list of reviewers, and most of them still want paperbacks. It doesn’t make sense not to do both.

Think about it: if your book is only a paperback, you cut off digital sales. Why would you do that? You don’t want to make more money and expose people to your writing across the globe?

Amazon’s KDP Select program opens up the possibility of your writing reaching England, and German, France, Spanish, and Italian-speaking countries. I’m not knocking her hustle, but I’m thinking she’s not doing it over there simultaneously.

Likewise, publishing on Smashwords’ Premium Catalog would put her book in the Apple iBookstore, Kobo, etc. Throw in Pubit.com for the Nook, too. Once she published digitally in all of these places, all she has to do is check back and see how much money she’s made.

Conversely, to an indie publisher or a self-publisher, an exclusively digital book does not make sense in the long run. It means no signings to expose yourself to new readers. If you’re a speaker, it becomes increasingly difficult to convert your audience to a digital sale, versus something they can see.

Digital only also cuts off the ability to be shelved, or carried on consignment, which are two ways to generate passive income. A benefit of paperbacks (most times) is the hustle because it’s instant income. At worst, it takes 30 days for you to get it. Selling your e-book online means you won’t see that money for up to three months. Even if you’re not in the game to make money, you’d like to make some eventually, right?

Nope. She wasn’t feeling me. Hopefully, you are.

B

The point of pricing

I’m an advocate of indie publishing, if you didn’t know. Here’s one BIG reason: price points.

Most authors don’t control their price points. If you go through most self-publishing companies, that means you too. Hardcovers, trade paperbacks, and yes, e-books. And it’s about to get worse.

In one of my Facebook groups, I asked the e-reader crowd about their preferences. All of them said anything above $5 is too much to pay. Some wouldn’t go above $4. One mentioned her friends who net $2,000 worth of e-books a month at .99 a pop.

What do you do? I have a self-published friend whose e-book retails for $9.99 on Amazon, which takes 30% of e-book sales – priced above .99 cents – off the top ($3). Her self-pub company takes 50%  of that ($3.50). Her cut is $3.49 minus distribution and taxes, provided she actually sells e-books at $9.99. I tried asking them for specifics, but the company won’t say (RED FLAG).

If the books aren’t moving, she can’t drop the price, and since her self-pub company owns the rights to the digital files it designed, she can’t sell them on her website at a lower price.

You want to give it a go at .99 cents? That’s not a sound business strategy for long-term growth. Thousands of dollars a month is the exception, not the rule. At .99 cents, your royalty rate doesn’t go above 35%, and if they’re not moving for whatever reason, will you drop the price lower?

I sell mine at $2.99 and encourage you to do the same, or close to it. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords all provide platforms where you can publish your work and control your price point. Hope this helps!

Sometimes, the best closure is worth waiting for

Anything you regret doing or not doing in your life?

I’ve got two. Here’s one of them:

In 1992, I attended an out-of-state funeral. Until then, I rarely knew the deceased. My cousin Lizzie died; the one with a mustache who always wanted to kiss me on the lips. That’s not the regret, though I REALLY regret it.

That Sunday, Mom and I dropped off my grandmother (her mother) in New Jersey and we went home. Gram (as I called her) had been coughing a lot the whole trip through Monday. My mom asked my uncle to take Gram to the hospital. He said she was “fine,” and he’d take her to the doctor Tuesday morning.

Still concerned, my mom decided to drive to New Jersey and asked if I wanted to go.

I said “no,” and continued playing my football video game. Monday was the last time I saw Gram alive.

When I was writing The Anarchists, I dug into how I felt about that – just like Damario, Harper, Quinne, and Teanna eventually had to do. For about two years, I was depressed more than a 16-year-old should be. I drank alcohol from my mom’s cabinet and did not want to live anymore. Unlike the first funeral I experienced at 6, or the half dozen or so afterward, this one hurt me to my soul. If I was a character in my book and got the opportunity to “begin again” in 1992, I’d get in that Toyota hatchback with my mom and go to the hospital without hesitation.

If I did, my last memories of Gram might be different. Maybe I needed not to go to get to this kind of closure:

One day, ten years later, I was driving to class in North Philly. The skies opened and shined sunlight through my windshield. Not to sound spooky, but I heard God tell me that Gram was in my life to help raise me, and when she finished, He took her. It was a peace I still carry, don’t understand, can’t fully describe, and wish I could pass on to you.

What’s my other regret? You know what: it doesn’t matter so much anymore. Relax, it’s not like I was going to tell you anyway 🙂

 

First look at The Anarchists!

Thanks for your support of my work! Below is the ARC version of the Prologue and first chapter of The Anarchists. NOTE: If you have not read The Lost Testament (and intend to at some point), you might not want to read this. Enjoy!

PROLOGUE

Bound at the feet and hands, Noor straightened his posture. A crooked smile crept across his mouth as his eyes met those of his judge’s     heir. “I dared to overthrow your righteous kingdom and take his place,” he spat with contempt. “There, I admit it. End this joke of a trial and suffer me to die.”

EL’s voice filled the chamber. “So be it.”

Noor flinched, as blue winds whipped about his body. The floor vanished into darkness. He looked away, bracing himself for the worst. Swept into the air, he dropped . . . down – faster and farther than any flight he had ever known. As he plummeted, those who supported the coup joined him – nearly half of EL’s finest. To his surprise, the number included his five, most trusted lieutenants and secret co-conspirators.

Together, they rebelled against the command to serve. And together, they would perish for it.

The convicted crossed realms. From their origin in the third, to the second among the heavenly bodies, and into the last – that of the mortals. The skies cracked with thunder and lightning. Stars tethered themselves to each of the beings, giving the brilliant appearance of a billion falling flames, and the pungency of brimstone filled the air. The collisions flattened the mountains, raising valleys into new, higher precipices. Geysers of hot water spurted up through the fissures in the ground and formed boiling pools around the incinerated plant life.

Noor rolled over to his knees. Indeed, his essence had changed into that of a mortal female, of about twenty years old. He was alone, and retained several of his unnatural abilities.

But this body’s sensations startled him. Small bumps appeared on its skin, but the flickering yellow bursts nearby abated them. He approached one of them until the fire overwhelmed him and he jumped backwards onto a jagged stone.

He winced, for the rock pierced the heel of his right foot and drew blood. Marvel and fascination over the pain excited him. EL forbade His servants to see blood, for it represented suffering to the mortals. It also possessed an ancient secret that only humans could choose to understand. Pursuit of that mystery for himself led to his capture and subsequent dismissal.

Why had EL exiled him and change his gender? What purpose did that serve?

After the fire dissipated, a pile of neatly-folded clothes appeared in its place. Scorning the mercy, he dressed anyway. A few attempts passed before he appropriately wore them. Surveying the area, Noor recognized the city on the horizon – he had visited this particular peninsula several times before – and admired it for its lack of social restriction. Thus, he’d adopt its moniker as his forename and keep Noor as a surname.

In the remote distance, the smoldering horizon beckoned to be explored. Noor remembered the divine decrees, which indicated the lifespan a mortal would not exceed one 120 years. He could not locate his trusted soldiers in that time, not if EL had changed their appearance, as He had to Noor. No, he must recruit five humans and find them in a century’s time.

“If I cannot rule in EL’s realm” he resolved, “then I will conquer this one.”


CHAPTER ONE

MICAH AND HARPER

 New Year’s Eve morning, 2049

Prior to committing what some considered murder, Micah Darrion James held a high resolution photo of his family. Meanwhile, Harper Lowe, his always punctual girlfriend, changed from a fire engine red, v-neck sweater shirt and grey dress slacks to a knitted apricot shirt and blue jeans.

Harper was a slender and leggy Caucasian, with shoulder-length blonde hair she ponytailed and obsessively dyed black to mask the premature gray. For the picture, she let it down at Micah’s urging. Christian, then six months old, had been propped up between his father’s thick legs, a smile squeezing from his fat cheeks. Two-year-old Gabrielle, his ebony-skinned daughter from a previous relationship, held a plush toy. Still tanned from the vacation, Micah laughed. His natural curls were cut low. It was his 38th birthday, about a year-and-a-half ago.

Last night, he happened to coerce his mother into entertaining her grandchildren for a few hours on New Year’s Eve morning. He and Harper needed “couple time.” Otherwise, the former scientist would question her son into the ground about their doings, asking “where are you going?” and “why can’t the family go with you?” A two-time divorcée, Laverne James heavily scrutinized the relationships of both her sons – especially this interracial one. She informed him that Harper’s enlarged B-cups signaled pregnancy. He explained it as the effects of a push-up bra and hoped she left it at that.

Micah and Harper did not speak en route to the facility. It was their least expensive option, shoddy in more than a few ways, and situated in a dangerous location. Words had been previously exchanged on the subject, but nothing constructive. Harper was “irresponsible” and “forgetful.” Micah, who had gotten downsized months ago, was “jobless” to his face and “basically worthless” behind his back. Because of their collective gross inadequacies, they agreed to end it. A third-party’s involvement meant neither had to dirty their hands in the deed. The decision itself would remain a joint one.

Their transport rattled, halting at a traffic intersection where it moved no more. Micah cursed and authorized the ignition again, but the engine failed. Jupiter, an American auto giant, specialized in practical vehicles, but this one passed its prime 50,000 miles ago.

Harper started the vehicle’s warning lights and expectantly looked at her boyfriend of three years. We should have traded it in years ago, like I told him we should do.

“I’ve got it.” He cursed again before entering the pouring rain without Harper’s umbrella, protected by his stained, black leather coat. Beneath the hood, his patchwork had not held: a critical hose hissed steam from a tiny split. Wrapping the crack to the best of his ability, he reconnected the hose. This time, the hydroelectric engine sparked alive.

“Piece of junk,” she snarked. “We’re going to be so late.”

Completely drenched, Micah cranked the heat to high and cut his eyes at her. “At least we own it. We’ll get there in time.”

“These people don’t wait. It’s not a drive-through window, Micah. You can’t just get there when you get there and expect a DNC like a Happy Meal.”

I’m not the one who changed outfits. “It’s New Year’s Eve. We’ll be waiting anyway.”

Micah tuned the satellite radio to something he could listen to and drown her out. When the station played a classical song he liked, Harper shut it off.

“Do you have to be like that, Harp?”

She crossed her arms. “I love the sound of falling rain, and I can’t hear it over that.”

He knew that but did not care. Silence forced him to dwell on his lingering drowsiness. Micah lit a cigarette and took a long drag.

“Really?” Harper shook her tousled hair, which showed hints of gray and blonde at the roots. “Of all the things you can think of to do. . .”

Micah exhaled smoke. “You shut off the satellite, I’m soaked, and you want to piss and moan about a cigarette? Listen to your rain and leave me alone.”

Harper’s hands cupped the bottom of her growing belly. Micah noticed it. “It’s not a ‘him’ or a ‘her’ yet,” he said, his voice trailing off. “It doesn’t matter. . .not now.”

“It’s a boy,” she ventured. “I know it, and it matters to me. You would too if. . .”

“C’mon.”

She turned in her seat. “Your great great-grandfather. . .”

“It didn’t happen. And you can’t have faith just because someone in your family did. That’s part of why church is so fake now. . .”

Here we go. “There were articles, pictures, eyewitnesses. . . what about all the people he healed?”

“. . .and you’ve got people pretending to love God, or even know him, or her, or it. People get leadership roles because they know how to work crowds. They put together shows with God slapped on them somewhere. I don’t understand how you can believe in that. It’s a con. I won’t even get into the money thing.”

“My faith lets me sleep at night,” she shot back, “and I know that even after we do what we’re about to do, God will still love us. Faith isn’t a scientific thing, Mike.”

The allusion to his insomnia irritated him. “God will forgive you, if you know it’s wrong and you do it anyway? That’s weak.”

“That’s love and mercy.”

They said no more on the subject until Micah stopped at the clinic. Despite the rain, a line of silent but hostile-looking protesters blocked the entrance. A pang of fear hit his stomach. “These wackos make me nervous. Wait for me at the curb. I’ll walk you in.”

“Why, so we can be even later?” Harper opened the door, umbrella in hand. “Just park. I don’t care where those people post up our pictures. We had a nine o’ clock and it’s eleven after. After twenty minutes, they cancel you, and I’m not going into the New Year without ending this.”

“Ending what exactly. . .us, or the pregnancy?” He suspected the answer. “Just wait.”

She departed without responding. Micah watched the canary yellow oval approach the gathering dressed in all black. If he abandoned the Jupiter in the unloading area and it got towed, that would be another financial burden. And then they would not have a way home.

###

Harper tried to circle the line, but a gaunt woman with a face painted like a skull directly jumped into her path. “Consider your options carefully,” she warned.

The irony of options humored Harper. “Snap a picture and get out of my way.”

“Give it up for adoption. Let a relative raise her. Take responsibility and raise her yourself. This isn’t just about you and how you live your life.”

Harper cursed Skull Face. “Then, who’s it about: my unemployed boyfriend? The bills we can’t pay? What do you even know about anything?”

“I know women like you use abortion like an eraser. Murder’s a sin!”

“Do you have children? Have you even had sex before?”

The brazen woman’s lip quivered a bit.

“Do you adopt? Take in foster kids? Show me one scripture that says ‘tell someone what to do, but don’t help them.’ That’s a sin. Tell me! We’ll turn around and go figure this thing out.”

“You could have prevented it.” Skull Face reloaded on rhetoric. “Contraceptives work almost all of the time unless you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Harper raised her fist to strike but a clinician kept her from doing so by restraining the expectant mother’s wrist.

“That’s enough.” The woman had forced her way through the crowd. “The ban goes into effect tomorrow. Give this young lady the opportunity to exercise her right to choose today.”

“Choosing death is not God’s will!” said Skull Face.

“Maybe not,” said the clinician. “But what about free will?”

At that, the doors shut behind them at 9:19.

###

Inside the whitewashed and sterile waiting room, Micah imagined the programmers responsible for the trippy music had been lobotomized. Four magazines later, the power cell of his holographic phone, or “holophone,” had reduced to emergency levels, severely limited his entertainment options. The spectacled nurse looked wroth and unwilling to change the HTV channel from the forum talk show airing. This type of holographic programming irked him even more than the judgmental assembly outside. He pushed his way through the ranks like a linebacker.

Irritated, Micah redirected his attention to the show, which, at a low volume, sounded like fighting turkeys. It featured five women of different walks of life analyzing and debating issues. Far stage right, a conservative pundit on the panel had a fashion sense as buttoned-up as her viewpoints. Next to her sat a wisecracking, middle-aged businesswoman. At center, Kareza Noor, a beautiful, middle-aged local executive, acted as guest moderator. To her left, a popular liberal provoked arguments to rankle the right-winger. Last on the panel, an Asian woman folded her hands and rarely spoke her mind.

The topic swung to changes in abortion legislation. The front desk attendant turned up the volume. Micah leaned forward and cocked his head. Though the James/Lowe family’s finances were in disarray, this one thing went their way. The law would not go into effect until midnight tomorrow. Had Harper’s boss Jackie not advanced them the monetary units, they would have had this child. Thinking about the diapers, formula, and healthcare expenses alone made his nights restless.

“Some of these peaceful demonstrations have turned violent, especially in Florida, and New York City – which has the highest number of legally-induced abortions. It’s not about ‘put-my-picture-on-a-website-so-everyone-knows-my-shame’ anymore. People are getting killed.”

“Well, abortion – it’s murder. Period. Point-blank.” The conservative crossed her arms. “The legislation squares with existing laws. Kill a pregnant woman? You’re charged with double murder.” She flipped her hand. “Can’t call it alive when on one hand, and deny it’s alive on the other!”

“Murder is illegal,” said the finger-pointing liberal. “But abortion shouldn’t be. I’ll put it out there. I own an Ordnance.”

The funny one ducked, drawing nervous laughs from the live audience. “You brought it here, on the set? Take her purse! Pat her down or something.”

“That’s my Second Amendment right. How I use it is my choice. This new law takes freedom of choice away and enforces a system of beliefs on all women. That’s unconstitutional. That’s the decision handed down eighty years ago, Roe. Vs. Wade, and it should stand.”

“So, let me get this straight: citizens should have the choice to shoot someone or kill babies?” the conservative barked. “Why even open your mouth and say something so stupid?”

“Stupid? Free will is stupid? What do you do about the poor and impoverished without access to free contraception and educational services because our conservative president cut funding to it? Tell them not to have sex? We were all teenagers once. Trust me: ‘just don’t do it’ doesn’t work.”

Micah found interest in the topic, though his views were simple. They couldn’t afford it. Laverne couldn’t stand to help, and her affluent mother wouldn’t. A couple thousand monetary units now were better than the millions they may spend in the years to come. Their answer was simple, even now, as he imagined his son or daughter being destroyed. My son. He wanted another boy, but not now. Not like this.

Kareza crossed her shapely legs. “So, playing devil’s advocate, should abortion be legal in ‘certain situations’ – like rape, incest, molestation, and the like?”

The funny one laughed. “Guest moderator for one day and you’re trying to start a fight?”

“We’re trying to get to pick at the heart of the issue,” Kareza replied.

The Asian woman perked up. “The Center for Disease Control reports that pregnancies from rape, incest and molestation make up a small fraction of the three million abortions performed last year – less than one percent. Almost 80 percent say they aborted because of finances, unplanned pregnancy, or inconvenience.”

“It’s a sad state of humanity when bringing a life into the world becomes ‘inconvenient’,” said the conservative, drawing a small pocket of applause.

“Let me point out,” said the liberal, “those numbers are documented cases of incest, rape, and molestations. It happens off the record all the time. How does a 12-year-old girl report that her stepfather or mother’s boyfriend impregnated her and get someone to believe her story? This law forces her to keep a daily reminder of a sick act or seek a dangerous and illegal alternative.”

Micah became so engrossed in the conversation that he failed to notice his name being called. A different nurse muted the HTV.

“Mister James, by now your wife should be in recovery.”

“That was quick.” Micah rose and quietly approached her. “We’re not married.”

The woman treated the correction with disgust. “She will need you to fill a prescription.”

“Any idea of how much this’ll cost?”

“Not sure. I can’t access that information at this time. Probably 300 units or so.”

Micah’s eyes bulged. “Generic?”

“That’s the generic version.”

He would have to pay a fraction of the utilities again and pray that they did not get cut off until Harper’s next paycheck. Thankfully, her position as a psychiatrist paid reasonably well.

“Here,” she said, handing him a thumb segment-sized, blood red disk. “I know Kareza Noor, the woman on the HTV. She’ll be able to help you with whatever you need. Come back at a quarter ‘til one to pick up your. . .girlfriend.”

Hands in pockets, Micah started the half-mile trek back to the free parking lot. More than halfway there, he checked the time. Ten minutes past noon. He stopped inside a busy Dunkin’ Donuts on the next corner. Harper had not eaten breakfast, so a bran muffin and a shot of hazelnut-flavored caffeine might do her some good.

Fifteen minutes later, he ordered and paid, hustling the rest of the way. With all green lights, he’d still be on time – barely.

He docked his phone to charge it, placed the coffee in the cup holder, the muffin on the passenger seat, and started the Jupiter’s engine, which turned over without reservation.

The sun broke through the clouds and shined on him. Thinking it a sign of good things to come, he turned on the radio. One of his favorite classical pieces, “Mars,” played. He smiled, backed out of his space, and turned onto the street. When Harper got in, he would turn it off, and they would peaceably talk.

Since his layoff from the structural design firm, they had been under financial pressure. Harper’s pay didn’t cover the bills, so budgeting became a complicated balancing act. Unexpected expenses meant begging or borrowing to make it work. Micah’s job search had been so unsuccessful that he even applied for menial jobs that preferred humans over droids. “Too educated” for those, and “not educated enough” for high-level mathematics positions, he was stuck. But, with this pregnancy out of the way, he felt better about their future.

Micah braked at the light a block away from the clinic. The song continued to build and he pretended to conduct the strings. Up the street, the protesters had vacated the property. Almost half of the tune had played before Micah realized the light still had not changed. His holophone lit up and projected an image of Harper in front of him. “Mike, where are you?”

“I know you’ve been waiting. I’m sorry. I’m stuck at the light out front. Be there as soon as it changes. And I have a little surprise for you.”

Harper spotted the Jupiter from a café across the street. “Can you see me?” She waved behind the front window. “Baby, I didn’t. . .”

“Plus,” he interrupted, “I think I’ve got a lead on something good!” The signal turned green. Micah accelerated and pulled over thirty feet from the entrance. We can finally afford to talk marriage! he thought “Tell them to wheel you out. I’m on time for once. And, we need to talk about. . .”

“Mike, listen, I’m across the street. I told them to stop. . .”

Suddenly, a raucous explosion blasted through the clinic, turning the Jupiter over and upside down. The suicide doors swung open, but the vehicle’s collapsed dashboard pinned Micah into his seat. Shards of window glass jutted out from his face. He struggled to breathe.

“Harp. . .” Micah could not finish her name without coughing out the blood pooling in his mouth. He hoped someone heard his pleas.

Characterization: real people with real issues

How do you write real people with real issues? I write inspirational fiction and shy away from calling it “Christian fiction” because of the genre’s tendency towards squeaky-clean people or the other side of the spectrum: wrong-side-of-the-tracks bad boys or girls.

My preference is for a multi-cultural cast of characters. They have screwy childhoods and destructive tendencies that evolve into redemptive qualities at the end. Sometimes 🙂 Not everyone deserves a happy ending, and not everyone who gets a happy ending deserves it.

Characters need motivation: a reason why they do things. If your bad girl is promiscuous, why is she promiscuous?  If it’s because she likes sex, why does she like sex? Sound like a stupid question? “Because it feels good,” “it’s a part of the genre,” or “sex sells” are convenient and lazy reasons. Dig deeper with your character. It’s her way of taking back the power over her body that was robbed from her by an assault. Or, she uses sex to get what she really wants — intimacy from a man — because it’s what she was told she had to do to get it.

I’m writing a character for my next book who has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’m fleshing her out by interviewing people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The character, named Isoke, is a hardened war survivor with abandonment issues. In addition to my research, the experiences of those people help color Isoke’s world for me. How can she sustain relationships with PTSD. Can she sustain a romantic relationship with someone who does not understand her or her feelings? If she can, how? 

My characterization form, which I cobbled together from different sources, is kind of (REALLY) long, but useful. If you’d like a copy, drop me a comment or e-mail me at brian@authorbrianthompson.com

Happy writing!

B

Let love in or shut it out? You decide.

How do you move beyond the pain to start a fresh relationship?

I’m knee-deep in Isoke: a character I’ve known for about a year. Isoke’s background is littered with issues. Her mother, Hawa, left the family to pursue a calling greater than the responsibility of a family. When Hawa was present, she berated Isoke, who had an incurable blood disease. Constant sickness isolated her from everyone, including her husband and adopted children.

Through a miracle, Isoke conceives a son, whom she has to give up to destiny. Alone once more, she combats feelings of resentment and the urge to strike out. Now, the opportunity for love arises, and she has no idea how to accept it or whether or not she should even try.

What do you think she should do?

Brian Thompson’s passion is motivating and encouraging others to write and to pursue Do-It-Yourself publishing. He is also the author of acclaimed Christian fiction thrillers The Lost TestamentThe Revelation Gate and the upcoming 2012 release, The Anarchists. 

Turning back the clock

Cover of Quantum Leap#10, art by C. Winston Taylor

TIme travel or no time travel?

Last year, my wife presented me with a wild idea for a science fiction book.

I’m not a devotee to the genre, but I LOVE Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, and H.G. Wells, among others. Some of my favorite TV shows were sci-fi: Smallville, Quantum Leap, Sliders, and No Ordinary Family (yeah, I know that last one was rotten!).

The concept forced me to think about two well-worn, sci-fi motifs: alternate realities and time travel. By and large, both have not been done well, or at least without a gaping plot hole left unexplained.

Here’s what I came up with: time travel works only if you travel to a date within your lifetime and never return to the present you knew. Doing it within your lifetime solves the “how-did-he-not-drastically-alter-history?” and never returning fixes the “how-is-everything-pretty-much-the-same?” issue. You create a different reality by changing your choice and living with it.

We take it for granted, but there are trillions of things we effect each day just by our existence at a particular space and time. Changing that balance causes an alternate reality of chaos, and chaos is unpredictable and dangerous.

Once, my wife and I got rear-ended by an elderly couple in a sedan. In front of us was a large truck several feet higher than our hood. At their speed, had we not been between them and the truck, the impact might have seriously injured or killed them.

While writing, I asked people this question: given the opportunity to travel back in time, would you? No. Why not?  Because my experiences made me who I am. These are the stock answers I received.

It’s pointless to even ask because time travel is impossible. It’s like playing Texas Hold ‘Em with no money on the table. There’s no risk involved.

Think of the worst thing that ever happened to you, or a grand mistake you made that changed your life for the worst. If offered a bona fide opportunity to avoid a painful situation like that, wouldn’t you at least think about it?

Brian Thompson’s passion is motivating and encouraging others to write and to pursue Do-It-Yourself publishing. He is also the author of acclaimed Christian fiction thrillers The Lost Testament, The Revelation Gate and the upcoming 2012 release, The Anarchists. 

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