Open Letter to online reviewers

ImageDear Reader,

I read your review, the one where you gave me one-star and compared the first few chapters of The Lost Testament to an “eighth grade assignment for a short story.”

You’e not alone. Another one-star giver said it was “just bad” and “uninteresting.” Someone else called it “not worth finishing.”

I’m not going to pack up my laptop. My wife isn’t confiscating my belts and shoelaces. Really, I’m okay.

But, there are some things you, as a reviewer, should know.

As a writer, I appreciate the time and effort you spend giving independent writers like me a chance. You could stick to the works of the Big 6 or disregard indie authors altogether. It’s a credit to you that you do otherwise. Thank you for that.

Likewise, if you think my work is crap and you have spent $1.99 of your hard earned cash on me, then, from a certain perspective, it is your God-given patriotic duty to announce to the planet (Kindle is practically worldwide, after all) your opinion that a fourteen-year-old and I are on equal literary footing.

Writers who have hit it big barely blink at what reviews say. Indie writers, whose ability to sell a book might live or die on a review, count on it. It’s up to us to put out the best work we possibly can and pray it is reviewed well in kind. Of the thousands of books I’ve sold, you’re not the first person to think something negative. You’re just the third to publish it publicly about this book.

Like you, I’ve read some BAD writing in my day. I’ve taught literature for eight years. One of my students wrote a slave narrative about how she and her sisters, Meg, Jo, and Beth, escaped to the north. THAT was bad writing (plagiarism, actually), and if you think my writing is close to that, you must not read teenage writing very much.

Speaking as both an author and a publisher, I’m asking that if you going to give an independent author like me lower than a three star review, don’t leave one at all. Here’s why:

  • You say you didn’t know what to expect? Amazon allows you to preview a few chapters before you buy. Usually, if a book is crappy, you can smell it by the first few pages. Preview it first if you’re skeptical.
  • You could have returned it for a full refund, no questions asked, no comments left.
  • You could have read ALL of the reviews first. Marlene Wagner said it was “an inspiring story of how [faith] can change a life.” Jodi Cornelius and K. Wagner highly recommend it. I promise I don’t know those people.

Something I’ve learned in the past five years and five novels is that you’re never going to please everyone. There’s always something to improve. Likewise, I’ve also learned there are some people who will never be pleased no matter what you do. Whichever you believe, sir/madam, I hope you will take my suggestions to heart. The next indie author will appreciate it, too.

Sincerely,

Brian Thompson

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When do you break the rules?

I’m a recent devotee of Margie Lawson’s deep EDITS system. She recommends that you use highlighters to code different aspects of your writing. Whenever you see too much of a color, that lets you know your writing is out of balance.

It also shows your tendencies. My writing tends to drift into thoughts, action, and dialogue, if I’m not careful.

I’ve recently gotten hooked on The Hunger Games series (I am writing YA now, after all). There’s a spot in Mockingjay that’s a page-long monologue/info dump. Had I done the same thing, my editing partners Jackie and Martha would have jumped all over me.

But Collins has sold a bazillion (give or take) books doing the exact same thing I’ve been taught is poor writing. The experts tell you not to do something, then you see someone famous do it and it’s fine.

So what’s the message here? Is it that poor writing habits pass if you’re famous? Or, are they not poor writing habits after all?

I don’t think there’s a book on the planet that’s perfect, grammatically or stylistically, We like what we like. If you’ve read Mockingjay, you’ve probably passed over the same section without thinking twice about it. There’s nothing that says Collins is wrong, or that Lawson is right. It reminds me of a quote I once heard and will paraphrase: if you make your reader fall in love with your characters, you can get away with anything,

Hope this helps! 

Seven Essential Things to Remember About Very Important Characters

I’m all for original content, but I’m also for not reinventing the wheel. I came across this blog post and thought it insightful enough to re-post. What do you think: good advice or not?Image

Stories revolve around protagonists and antagonists and it is a good idea to introduce them in the first chapters of your book. I believe they are the Very Important Characters (VICs) in a story. Their motivations will drive your story and we want to know what happens to them at the end. Other characters like love interests and friends play supporting roles in well-plotted stories.

I think it’s a good idea for authors to know as much as possible about VICs. Even if you never use all the information, you will know them better than you know yourself. I suggest you complete a good character biography template, like the one we use on our Writers Write course, or create your own.

Seven ways to ensure you give VICs the attention they deserve

  1. Make them powerful enough to make choices.
  2. Make them the centre of attention. Even if they aren’t in a scene, the other characters should talk about them or think about them.
  3. They must make frequent long appearances throughout your book. If they don’t, you may have cast a character incorrectly.
  4. Make their actions and decisions memorable. As VICs, they are responsible for inciting actions or responding to events.
  5. Make the reader empathetic towards them. Your reader does not have to like them, but they need to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.
  6. Make these characters viewpoint characters. Readers like to see the story through their eyes.
  7. Make sure they are worthy opponents for each other. If you want to create a compelling, memorable protagonist, you need a strong, three-dimensional antagonist. (Read 10 Essential Tips for Creating Antagonists)

If you do this, you will probably find that it’s easier to write your book. You won’t be giving prime time to supporting characters and you’ll be concentrating on the plot, not the sub-plots.  

 

Here’s an idea: HOW you can get to 100 Beta Readers

Last time, we talked about Beta Readers (a test audience for a book) and their importance.

Boy, are they important.

Too often, you get the “do-this-and-it-will-work-for-you” and not the how. Like, “Get 100 Beta Readers.” You know 100 people, but they may not want to sit down, read your book, and rate your chapters, right?

My friend Lisa said she needed to start from the ground up. Here’s what I did and I guarantee it’ll work for you.

I have a friend, Adrienne, who is totally on my team. No matter how long you’ve been writing, there’s one person you can count on to be on your side. If not, e-mail me. I’ll be your person or help you find one!

Adrienne’s bought all four of my books and she works for a high school (my target market — score!). Identify your target market (the people you’ve written your book for) and find someone well-connected in it.

By chance, she hands my book to a student we’ll call “Tee” and says, “Read it, and if you like it, rate it on Amazon.”

“Tee” read Reject High in one day, loved it, and immediately wanted to read more. She became a Beta Reader. I asked her to recruit some other Beta Readers for me, and she’s uncovered six in one week.

Recap: Start with one person in your target market who’s enthusiastic about your work. Leverage their connections to help you get other people involved. They have to be excited about what you’re doing. Be aggressive and persistent, but friendly as you go. Hope this helps!

 

Writing in a time crunch

My writing process is insane. Don’t try it at home.

I envy those writers you read about who can flick their muse on and off like a light switch. I have, what my editing Jackie Rodriguez calls “writing jags.”

Imagine if your writing muse had the stomach flu. One moment, there’s nothing, and the next, there’s everything. 

One day, I might not write anything, the next, I’ll churn out thirty pages. I don’t pretend to make sense of it. I just ride it out.

You can imagine the flux I was thrown into halfway through my fifth novel when my second daughter was born. In addition, I went back to teaching full-time and we have a four-year-old in Pre-K as well. My peak writing times are — you guessed it — when I’m in school. Balancing my after-school commitments and family time is tough, but you do what you have to do.

To get through it, I grab any and all writing time I have. Ten minutes before I get my daughter up for school, five minutes while she plays in the bathtub. A half-hour when my wife is nursing our newborn, and maybe twenty minutes during my lunch break. My muse has learned to live with it and gradually, so have I.

So, tell me, if you’ve had a similar situation in your field, how have YOU done it?

You market yourself. . .how? (Part 1)

Recently, a friend asked me, “How do you market yourself [as an indie/self-publisher]?”

Aye, there’s the rub.

Indie and self-pubbed authors want to sell books, but don’t necessarily know how. Witness almost any self-publishing outfit that will offer you bookmarks, business cards, placards, postcards, and the like as marketing collateral (don’t fall for it — do it at Vistaprint for less). To date, I’ve never bought a book because I received one of those things alone. Have you?

So then, we go to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and other free forums to promote ourselves. I’ve unfriended/unfollowed quite a few people, due to the “Check out my book/buy my book/like my status/watch my trailer” flurry of automated tweets.

I can’t speak for you, but ad nauseum sales pitching turns me off. Be doubly-concerned with your consumers and what they want, not always just what your bottom line demands. It’s my belief that investing in the former will take care of the latter.

So, how do you market yourself? Honestly, without investing time or money, you can’t do it effectively. Trust me, I’ve tried. Pumping out a book a year is a lot more difficult to do when you’re learning how to market, actively marketing, and putting it into practice. Either your sales or your writing will suffer.

Here are two tried and true tips that worked for me.

  1. Come up with a marketing plan (with achievable goals) and follow it. You don’t have a marketing plan? Why not? I found a template online and then asked Stacey Shearer (here’s a link to her Facebook) over at Shearer Message  to help me polish it. Convince yourself that you don’t need a marketing plan. Then, try to get your books into Barnes and Noble, or Lifeway, or just your average, run-of-the-mill bookstore. They’ll all want to know how you plan to sell books before they shelve you. A plan on how to sell books sounds awfully like a marketing plan to me.
  2. Run a contest. Fine, you have a “limited budget.” Do what I did for The Anarchists. Run a “Name a Character Contest,” where you receive entries via your Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, however you want to do it. Promote it on your social networks. Use a randomizer to select the winners and promise them a free book and a mention in your book as long as they sign over the rights to the character (a.k.a. they promise not to sue you if it’s the next Hunger Games). In the end, you have created people who will promote your brand. They have a connection to you and your work. So, they got a free copy. You don’t think they’ll tell other people about their character in your book? That’s word-of-mouth advertising, and anybody in marketing worth their salt will tell you that’s worth its weight in gold — if you can generate it.

Hope this helps! Stay tuned for my take on Kindle Direct Publishing and whether it’s worth it (or not).

What’s in a name?

Shakespeare famously said in Romeo and Juliet, that “A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.”

So, why are the names of your characters important?

They’re probably not terribly pivotal, but I try to make them meaningful in my novel-writing. To me, it’s like naming your child — if you happen to have 20+ of them. Any old name would work, but does it fit them? What purpose does it achieve?

My characters are less cardboard cut-out inventions and more “friends in my head.” Though I use a character building worksheet, I don’t refer back to it much after the personality is established. You don’t want your character to do something because you (the author, Almighty Oz, the string-pulling deity scribe) say so, but because they do so as a function of who they are. If I care that much about a character’s ideals, morals, and motivation, I’m less likely to label them “John” (no offense if your name is John), and keep going.

For example, Jason, the protagonist in my new book, is a scrawny, 15-year-old black kid with anger issues. He’s been suspended from school for fighting and sent to an alternative school. On his first day there, a bully picks on him and Jason fights him — not because I told him to, but because a 15-year-old kid with anger issues, a messed up home life, and fresh off of punishment really wants to keep his iPod. To do that, he fights for it. But, is he fighting for the right to keep his property, or for MORE than that?

Could Jason be called “Mark”? Probably. It’s about what fits your character as you go along, and I always pictured him as a Jason. Do what works for you. After all, a rose could be a “table,” but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

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.

Definitive time travel rules

Cover of "Back to the Future"

Time travel is a tricky concept to master

For my next book, I spent A LOT of time researching time travel, quantum physics, and alternate realities. All of it is theoretical, of course, which presents a number of obstacles. I found a solution that seems to work, and I’ll share a little bit of it with you.

Some Debbie Downer chaos theorists say that any mode of successful time travel within your own lifetime would destroy the planet. Makes for an anti-climactic novel, don’t you think? The call to action destroying all of mankind? Bummer.

There’s the Back to the Future theory, where you can travel outside of your own lifetime, like Marty McFly, and return to a reality resembling the one you left. To make this movie work, his parents would have to have awful memories, wouldn’t they?

My wife loved The Lake House. I still don’t buy Keanu Reeves as a romantic lead, but I like Sandra Bullock enough to ignore most of the potholes in the time-jumping plot. And, while The Butterfly Effect was critically panned, I appreciated the negative consequences of Evan’s time-jumping. He caused brain damage to himself. After all, once you change your past, EVERYTHING, from the clothes you wear the next day to the next sentence you speak, has the possibility to be different.

Here’s are three tips that I found useful:

  1. I’ve heard it said that if you write characters that the reader/viewer falls in love with, you can get away with pretty much anything plot-wise. Yeah, my soapbox on writing good characters  is pretty much always in use. But think about it: how many movies have you seen with unbelievable plots but you didn’t care?
  2. Make your theme clear. Sure, they’re going back in time. It’s cool and adventurous. But, why did they go in the first place? What’s the ultimate message? In Back to the Future, Marty was warned not to interfere with history, but he did it to save his friend. Ultimately, that was deemed an okay rule to bend. Evan in The Butterfly Effect sacrificed the love of his life and destroy his method of time travel after realizing that playing God was too dangerous.
  3. Keep it simple. If you get lost in the writing, your reader will get lost in the reading — and not in a good way. Some of my writing was once compared to that of Toni Morrison. She’s a Nobel Prize winner and a celebrated author, but I did not take that as a compliment. It was her excuse for not reading any further. Don’t let the same happen to you.
Happy writing!
B

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