“Down on Vengeance Creek”–The Story Behind the Story

Ever since I first heard the word “steampunk” I had the idea to write a story where a man is turned into a steam-powered cyborg on a mission of vengeance. I wanted to set it in the Old West because, yeah, Hang ‘Em High with Clint Eastwood. Westerns are good for vengeance stories.

So it was inevitable that I would write the story, but I didn’t want to just write a typical steam-powered cyborg story. I mean, come on, how many do we need?

And think about that for a minute. Steam engines require heat hot enough to boil water. Putting one inside a human being is not a good idea. So yeah, this wasn’t going to be a happy story, and I wanted the voice, the characters, the whole thing to transcend what is normally done.

In essence, I didn’t want some white cowpoke going after bad guys, or even some British dandy. No, for this story, I wanted to go back to a paper I wrote in college, which was a long time ago.

In college, I studied slave narratives, and I wrote a paper mimicking the language the scholars used when transcribing their conversations with ex-slaves. So it’s like this. Back in the 1930’s, the former African-American slaves were dying, and scholars didn’t want their histories to be lost. So they went around and talked to the people and then wrote down what they said. Verbatim. Bad grammar and all.

That’s what I wanted to do with my Vengeance Creek story. I wanted it to be from the point of a view of a freed slave whose family was murdered. A brilliant blacksmith turns him into a cyborg to get revenge.

I knew I couldn’t go full-on slave narrative, or yeah, I might come across a wee bit racist, so I softened the language some. And I avoided using the ‘n’ word. Not my place to use that word. It’s funny, but some of the people who read it were worried that I shouldn’t be trying to write like a black man, but if that’s the case, do I only tell stories about middle-aged white guys in the suburbs? Kill me now.

No, I stuck to my guns. I submitted the story to Quincy J. Allen, who agreed to publish it in the fourth collection of Penny Dread Tales. Hurray! And I was given pole position, the first story baby, the alpha dog spot.

Funny, but Quincy thanked me for avoiding the use of the ‘n’ word. However, I talked with an African-American guy who said I should’ve used it, that it would have fit. But again, not my place. That is the true American curse word, and I don’t want to be a part of it. I did have to use it once in LONG LIVE THE SUICIDE KING, but man, I really tried not to.

At the big coming out party for The Penny Dread Tales Volume IV, we each read a part of our stories. I was soooo nervous to read mine because yeah, writing it was one thing, speaking it is an entire different thing all together. But I stepped up, and in my best black voice, I read the first few pages of the story. People were swept along. I was a big hit and no one was offended. Thank God. And now I am dying to read the whole thing! It’s such a fun shoot ‘em up and the ending is so righteous.

As a side note, I am loving this movement in the steampunk community toward more diverse stories from around the globe. The 19th century really was the start of globalization, and yeah, everyone has a story to tell.

And I have an idea for another multi-cultural steampunk story…this one in India, with a transgender spy working against the British empire. Oooooh, just typing those words gets me itching to start.

And yeah, that one I’ll send to Quincy as well. I am just loving his Penny Dread Tales anthologies. I’m in volume III and IV and I feel very fortunate.

You can find them online and all over the place electronically. If you want a physical copy, I have some. Just hit me up.

Thanks everyone!

The Story Behind the Story–A Real American Hero and Laser Rifles

Okay, my blog has been deader than the Jar-Jar Binks fan club. So in an effort to blog more and get more action on my website (action, pow!), I’m going to start telling the story behind some of the stories I’ve written over the past couple of years.

I love novels. I was born to write novels—but I also like short fiction because it is a playground, it is a proving ground, and it is practice, wonderful practice. My friend used to say whenever I wrote, no matter how small the project, it was like a jazz musician working on their chops.

So without further ado, here is the first story behind the story and an example of me working on my chops.

In July 2014, my story POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS COMMANDER hit the streets, and soared to a #1 position in Amazon’s Kindle Worlds Action/Adventure category. Well, it’s not like it’s my story because I wrote it with the fabulously talented Peter J. Wacks, so it’s our story, a G.I. Joe story, and it’s funny, poignant, and one reviewer called it heart warming. There’s also lots of killing and laser rifles.

Like Dr. Evil. “Lasers.” Why lasers?

I’ll get to that.

It all started out in the 1980’s. I was what they called a latchkey kid. I’d get home from school to an empty house and I’d watch T.V. from about three o’clock to ten o’clock every night. Not a lot of friends for me. Real people were too scary.

Luckily, I had my imaginary friends. Like Liono, Optimus Prime, and the G.I. Joe team.

I watched a ton of G.I. Joe and loved every laserblast. Yeah, laser rifles. I’m getting there. I’m getting there.

Flash forward twenty years. Um, make that thirty. Hollywood came out with not one but two G.I. Joe movies. And yeah, not the greatest cinema ever, but I adored the movies. I got to be thirteen again, and being thirteen again, I didn’t care about an iffy plot or flat characters. I just wanted action!

In G.I. Joe: Retaliation (the second movie), they have ninjas fighting our heroes on a mountain side, dangling off ropes, and sword fighting. How cool is that?!

I posted on Facebook that I loved G.I. Joe. Just a quick post that probably alienated some people, but at least I wasn’t talking about religion or politics or Doctor Who. Aaron? Liking G.I. Joe? Really?

Yeah. Love it.

I was at a poker game with some author types, and Quincy J. Allen saw the post and suggested fan fiction, like funny fan fiction. He had heard of someone looking to co-write a satirical G.I. Joe story. The idea hit me immediately. What if Cobra Commander had PTSD (as in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)? What if he was in a clinic with one of the G.I. Joe guys who was also suffering from PTSD? The story would write itself.

I thought nothing of it until I got a call from the managing editor at WordFire Press, the big cheese, Peter J. Wacks who was wondering if I was serious. I was.

We wrote it. I didn’t have time, but for this story, I made time. I wrote on airplanes, I wrote in hotel rooms after a long day at my day job, and after an exhausting conference, on barely any sleep, I pounded out ten thousand words in a day.

We polished. And it’s now live on Amazon.

Of all the things I’ve written recently, it’s my favorite. I mean, really, I researched, I watched G.I. Joe cartoons, I read wiki after wiki, and at first I wanted to use pulse rifles, or normal machineguns, but after watching the old cartoon, I couldn’t help but use laser rifles. Thanks to toy collectors, I researched the model #’s so the weapons the characters wield are real. Kind of.

Thanks to Michael Haspil, I put in an epilogue about PTSD because yeah, knowing is half the battle. And thanks to my mom, the EMDR therapy in the story is as realistic as I could make it for characters using “laser” rifles. My mom is a kick-ass therapist and is very patient with me.

The coloring books in the story were Peter’s idea, and while I was uncertain about including them, it’s one of my favorite scenes. Cobra Commander and Gung Ho are coloring together, and of course I wanted to use Hasbro coloring books, My Little Pony and The Transformers. We couldn’t use the real names, so Peter called them My Little Horsey and Shifterbots. Shifterbots! Brilliant. Cobra Commander and Gung Ho fight over who gets which one. It’s funny.

At 17,000 words, it’s a quick read. I hope y’all enjoy it. And of course, if you read it, leave a review!

Who knew that all that afternoon T.V. growing up would pay off?

This story is my first professional sale (cha-ching) and the first story I’ve written that has hit a bestseller list.

Thank you, Peter J. Wacks, for inviting me in and working with me.

Yo Joe!

 

 

 

 

Four Questions of Ultimate Creative Amazingness

Vivian Trask tagged me to answer four questions.

Vivian Trask?  Who is Vivian Trask.  Click here to find out and to see her answers!!!

My answers are below.

1) WHAT AM I WORKING ON?

I’ve hit my bottom.  Like a drug addict stealing their mom’s Honda for more heroin, I have sunk as low as I can.  I’ve officially hit my limit at five books.

The Juniper Wars:  Thorn Sisters – Epic sci-fi/western – A girl with two troubled sisters falls in love with a mysterious boy during a post-apocalyptic cattle drive

In Too Deep – Contemporary Romance – When a disgraced sea captain with a habit of losing ships and a hunky celebrity chef accused of poisoning his food come together to save their careers, the last thing they need is to fall in love (Co-writing this with the wonderful Andrea Stein).

Sass McQueen and the Kung-Fu Princess – Silly Middle Grade – Two extraordinary girls have to learn how to control themselves to save their school, Poopenkitten Elementary

Sparked – YA sci-fi/romance – A girl learns about life and love from a self-aware android trained to kill

Elizabeth’s Midnight – YA Contemporary/Fantasy Lite – Emotionally-stunted, overweight girl travels to France with her grandmother to see the grandmother’s love from World War II whom she claims is a sorcerer-prince from another world.

2) HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS OF ITS GENRE?
Genre.  I hate genre.  I understand I need to accept it’s yoke, but I am plotting to destroy the master and be my own, free man.  Until then, I won’t surrender, but I will comply.

With all the books upon books upon books, we’ll take the next project to be published, which is Elizabeth’s Midnight.  Hurray!  Bella Swan from Twilight was vanilla, but likeable.  I mean, she did have that power-which-is-not-a-power thing, but in the end, she was your every girl.  Bethie Meyers in my book is not likeable.  She is fearful and troubled and doesn’t really want to go on grand adventures.  Until she finds herself on one. Slowly, but surely, she becomes the hero of her story, which is how it should be.

How are my books different?  Ha.  In my critique group, one of the women laughed and said, “Aaron, only you would have this dumpy, fearful girl and her demented yet dynamic grandmother looking for treasure in a cramped bathroom in the ruins of some ghetto apartment complex.”

So, yeah.  There you have it.

3) WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?
I struggle.  I know, it’s a cliché, the struggling artist, but no, really, I struggle with the day to day stuff.  The easy stuff.  Sleep.  I screw up sleep on a regular basis and that’s pretty much just lying down and closing one’s eyes.  I thirst for meaning.  I hate the mundane.  I am driven to write down the stories that plague me, and the stories come from every direction, all the time.

I like character arcs because my life has been one long character arc.  I went from huddling in the basement , watching T.V., fearful, always so fearful, to traveling the world, to writing books, to getting the books published, to marketing the books as best as I can.  It’s a struggle.  It’s a character arc.

And I like drama, and huge climaxes, and guns, swords, magic, impossible quests, unbearable odds, tears, lots of tears because if my characters aren’t crying, I’m not doing my job.

Darkness, death, defeat, despair and then…hope.  Genre?  Death to genre.

4) HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
I write and write and write and write and write and write and write and write.  I don’t stop to edit.  Wait, hold on, before I do all the writing, I do this:

I write the pitch.  The pitch of the story is the heart of the story and I need to know what that is.

I do a “Save the Cat” 14 beat outline.  I am a slave to the outline.

I do a quick synopsis based on the outline because I’ll have to do one anyway even if I self-publish.  Might as well take a crack at it sooner rather than later.

Wait!  Wait, before the pitch, the outline, the synopsis, I go for a long walk and I tell myself the story.  I get bored easily, so after about ten feet of walking, I start up the story machine in my head.  I walk the story and then I do that other stuff.

Finally.  I write, write to the power of ten, and I don’t stop until I get to that ever-loving denouement.

Then I send it to my critique, beta readers, my Grandma Dot, though she’s dead, and  I polish and take out as many of the dumb words and awkward sentences as possible.

Then?  I publish by ANY MEANS NECESSARY.  I don’t get to have trunk novels anymore.  Nope.  That part of my life is over.  Now I publish, pimp, and on to the next story.

I get my work out into the world.  Oh, it’s scary.  Oh, it’s great.

If you liked this blog post, this ain’t nothing.  I tagged three friends and their answers are epic!!!  Click on their names to be WHISKED away!

Christine Ashworth — So, about me. The short version of the bio is, I’m still 17 at heart, I used to be a ballet dancer and yes, I still miss dancing the way I did when I was 17. I’m a romantic from way back, and I’m a writer who currently has a Day Job as an Office Manager. I grew up in San Diego, fell in love with another dancer, and married him. We’ve got two tall sons and live in Ventura County, California. But probably one of the most important things to know about me is, I’m a hugger. I hug. I touch. It’s one of the ways I process people. So if you see me coming, know I’ll reach out and give you a hug.

Gail DelaneyGail R. Delaney has been actively writing ‘for publication’ since 1996, but wrote her first novel at the age of sixteen. That first novel — a high fantasy with Biblical connections — is still sitting on her computer, waiting for the major rewrite that will make it acceptable. She says she has learned a great deal since writing that book, and it shows when she looks back at that rough draft. Gail has had several novels published in the genres of contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and futuristic romance. Her novels have received several nominations and awards since she was first published in 2005. Gail’s website is www.GailDelaney.com, but she also maintains two active Facebook pages. www.Facebook.com/AuthorGailRDelaney is her page for all her writing, and if you are a lover of futuristic sci fi, be sure to like www.Facebook.com/PhoenixGailRDelaney

Ross Willard — Ross is a Texas resident who has been writing speculative fiction in one form or another for as long as he can remember. Besides being an avid bibliophile, he is a part time farmer, and plays a mean game of scrabble. Ross can often be found reading or writing at his local independent coffee shop, or working on his website.  Click his name to be swept away.

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