Tuesday, November 30, 2010


An excerpt, the prologue from Resolution 786

Prologue: 2036 Anno Domini

She brought a gnarled, frail hand to her wasted mouth, lying in cadaverous repose on stiff white sheets draped over a small hospital bed that sat on top of a sterile frame of gray metal tubes. Bright plastic light filled the tiny, colorless room, ricocheting in impersonal waves off four vacant walls. Her being quivered, alone, in rushing pain as she struggled to feed her papery lungs with sharp little sips of air sucked between savagely broken lips, precious oxygen dragged across an acrid, twirling black tongue. Her skull twitched with each labored breath, patches of bare scalp reflecting a cold sheen of bleached white between wispy mounds of lifeless, brittle hair. Her fractured trunk languished in a sunken crush, no breasts, bony humps of sternum studded through the top of a loose hospital gown. A set of desolate, listless hands and feet lay destitute at the ends of her surrendered circulatory system, writing their armistice in blue ice.

The hospital intercom spoke in a booming, loudspeaker voice, prompting her eyes to open a moment, reflexively, bulging spheres ailing in forced effort. The unseeing, jaundiced glass balls rolled about in a film-soaked swirl, pupils finally becoming lost inside her forehead. Her mouth and eyelids fell in unison. The lids stopped unclosed, marking a set of thin, grotesque yellow-white lines where her eyes had been. Her open mouth, coal tongue still, became an aged hollow with stubs of broken, muddy rocks ringed around its entrance.

The world’s best medical specialists had not been able to diagnose the former presidential advisor’s ailment. It had started strangely, almost three decades back. At the time, Madam Advisor had been a national figure and a key proponent and architect of the first war of the twenty-first century, a war that she argued would be won easily, resulting in the quick emergence of a Jeffersonian democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a fully functioning egalitarian state that would provide the people of the region a stable and secure beacon of enlightened ideals, a new nation, conceived in liberty and perpetually beholden to the morally superior West. So she argued.

Instead, one decade into the twenty-first century, Madam Advisor’s war had given rise to an oil rich, nuclear powered fundamentalist theocracy that ruled from the former Soviet Union to the south of Turkey, one that oppressed its women, threatened its neighbors and had plausible designs for the conquest of southern Europe. The theocracy’s passionately fundamentalist leaders detested the Western powers that had funded and nursed it through its birth, the countries that had invested an enormous treasure of life, limb and gold to vanquish the region’s secular dictators and place them, the fundamentalists, into power.

And so, as the Islamic Federation of Greater Iran grew, so did Madam Advisor’s inexplicable ailments. The theocracy’s birth pangs had come in a tumultuous maelstrom of blood, tears, sorrows, and loss. As above, so below — the anguished turmoil crossed the gossamer curtain between Heaven and Earth. The angels, disturbed, drew lots to repay the turmoil to its mothers and fathers. And so it was Azrael who collected every drop of blood spilled in Madam Advisor’s war, collected them into a bottomless grail, which he then poured into Madam Advisor’s spleen. And it was Malik who collected every tear shed in Madam Advisor’s war, collected them into an ancient chalice that he then poured into Madam Advisor’s glands. And it was Mukar who cast a net of air over every sorrow born of Madam Advisor’s war and he cast that net, full and brimming, deep into Madam Advisor’s heart. And it was Nakir who tossed a canopy of still space over every loss suffered in Madam Advisor’s war and emptied that canopy one loss at a time into Madam Advisor’s dreams.

The blood, the tears, the sorrows, the loss — all rightfully hers, pressed themselves into her body in a complex of twisted sinews that wrapped and clung to her soul like a poisonous vine.

Thirty years ago, when her ailments had slowly begun to fester, she had busied herself in avoiding responsibility for the war, hiding behind clever and contrived rhetoric founded on the ambiguities of war, the wrongness of others, the inaccuracies of information. No matter the cunning of argument, no matter the volume of assertion, no matter the minions of sophists dispatched to every media outlet imaginable, the facts remained true. The war was long and bloody. Fundamentalism had grown exponentially as a result. The world was now a much worse and infinitely more dangerous place.

Childless, loveless, friendless, alone — she decayed in a maelstrom of exhaustion, uncontrolled crying, piercing headaches, recurring infections, hair loss, eczema, and auditory hallucinations.

Her lonely descent to death’s doorstep had lasted three bone-numbing decades. Tonight, she had reached the last rung. A thin, blonde nurse with a kind face gently stabbed an anesthetic needle into to the top of Madam Advisor’s wrinkled, wasted hand, a needle made from recycled metal, metal that contained two atoms of iron from the shell casing that fired a final bullet into Adolf Hitler’s temple in Berlin in 1945. Madam Advisor’s rotating glass eyes stilled. Her worn out mouth closed and she appeared to be thinking. Her breaths came further and further apart as her mind assembled her last full thought. It was a thought about the Lord, a Lord whom she adored, a Lord whom she looked forward to finally meeting. She spoke to him in her head in devoted and loving tones, reminding him of the dire sacrifices that she had made in his cause. “Dear Lord Jesus Christ, I did all I could to follow your hallowed teachings, up to and including giving my all to your Doctrine of Preemptive Strike. That’s in the Gospel, isn’t it? Yes, I know it is, for I have given myself to you. And thank you, Lord Jesus, for loving me so.”

Her mind lost words forever behind a drape of sounds and tastes and scents and colors and she heard an antique piano recital playing along side a mix of proud parental pronouncements, affirmations that seeded a limitless ambition into her child’s heart and then…a crimson moment of searing, ripping anguish swept through her Universe and she thought that she heard a distant Echo approach and speed over her like a screaming war plane…I never knew you...It said…and vanished. Her tired lungs nudged away air one last time. At that moment, a moment without Time and outside of Space, a dozen dutiful angels stood around Madam Advisor in a perfectly symmetrical ring. They cycled about her seven times as she gasped last. Not one angel fluttered even a feather to relieve a single pang of her mammoth agony.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Editing First Drafts, A Useful Rule

Kurt Vonnegut provides a set of eight rules for writing a short story in his book, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction. I've been using the fourth rule to do quick edits of my evolving WIP. The rule is:

"Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action."

I've found this to be an extremely potent rule for expunging superfluous content from my first drafts.

How about you? Do you have any useful quick-and-dirty editing devices for improving first drafts?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Harold Hawkins, the Best of Childhoods

A draft excerpt from Christmas in Mecca.


The leafless trees stood speechless, a disorganized gang of rigid mutes, brittle black sketches scribbled against the gray canvas of the late November sky. “If I hear more bad news at the next parent-teacher conference, you’re a dead duck,” she said from the driver’s seat, her aggressively intent gape stabbing into the traffic and pedestrians ahead. Hawkins sat in the back, watched the trees nested in the yielding expanse of gray heaven. He unconsciously felt each of his slow, rhythmic breaths, moist air gently flushing in and out of his lungs.

“Harry, I’m talking to you,” she shouted, spinning the steering abruptly, thrusting the car’s rust and sputters into the narrow side street that led to Hawkins’s elementary school. “Don’t you dare not pay attention, young man,” she warned, squinted eyes, slowly approaching a crosswalk. She stopped the car, watched the blue-coated guard, whistle in mouth, gesturing oncoming traffic to a halt while giving the scattered column of small, bundled children hand signals to cross. She glared at the river of cheerful kids, their bright coats and happy backpacks lolling about, forming a trickling tributary of brilliant color moving in a high-pitched, happy swirl into the washing grey stream of the day. “Look at them,” she said, disgusted. “They don’t even know enough to be angry.”

Hawkins, still and detached in the back seat, stared out the side window, watched a lone, brittle brown leaf clinging softly to the twigged tip of a forgotten branch growing sideways out of a gnarled, sprawling wooden mammoth. The leaf shivered, rested, hopped and turned, rested. So many forces had acted on it through its season, Hawkins thought: the nurturing gentle rays of spring sunlight that conspired with April rains to give it a life of supple lime; the blazing, heavy jostle of the summer sun that toughened its cloak to a deep, thick emerald; the cooling autumn breezes that lulled away its moisture and color, prompting impending slumber. So much happened to that leaf, he thought, in a cycle of existence that was at once both predictable and unique.

“Harry, damn it!” the air thundered inside the closed cell walls of the messy car.

Hawkins broke his gaze from the trees, the leaf. He stared from the backseat at the rear of his mother’s head. A bun of wiry braids turned in on themselves, jagged grays poking out of the dirt of flat brown. Her neck was full, sitting atop rounded, pudgy shoulders. “You are worthless,” she said, both fists clenched before her, shivering white parentheses that angrily flanked either side of the cold, black steering wheel. Hawkins continued to stare, a tired stoic whose eyes blinked from time to time. Outside, the traffic guard continued her duties; the happy river of chanting, bouncing children flowed unabated. “Harry,” she said, oblivious to the sun and the joy outside, shook her head slowly from side to side, a tone of wounded exasperation. “Harry,” she said again, this time nudging her head forward and down in a sharp dip, a gesture of exclamation to accompany her second frustrated utterance of her son’s name. She pursed her mouth, her perennial precursor to emotional vengeance. Her chapped, dry lips parted, then words began to drop from her mouth, a runaway train of heavy, black cannonballs. “Harry, when you were born there was an ugly, turbaned couple in the hospital bed next to mine. They were having a child as well. You know what I think happened?” she asked the air, watching but not seeing the little children crossing happily before the frozen car. “I think our babies got crossed up. Yep. That’s right. I think my child went to them and I got theirs.” A look of disgust grasped her face, bulged her eyes and left her lower jaw askew. “Because there’s no way you belong to me,” she said, hissed, acid words.

Hawkins stared at the back of her head, stringed brown knots held together by wires of gray above her fat neck and heavy shoulders. He dropped his sight and fixed a gaze on his small hands, his left thumb crossed over the right, fingers interlocked, hands holding on to each other in a tender intensity. He turned to watch the world outside, the gray, the wind, the cool and the light. A fluttering, weightless struggle caught his eye. That leaf, that same brittle, dry leaf now shivered and quaked and clung for all its worth.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Christmas in Mecca

My second novel work-in-progress is no longer a novel. It's an exorcism.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What's In A Name, Rama Muhammad?

Fantasy Author, N.R. Williams, just concluded a character-naming contest on her blog. She copied each of the twenty-four entries onto small, folded slips of paper, put them into a bowl, tossed them around and then had her three and a half year old granddaughter pull a name.

Guess what?

She pulled my entry.

Now Ms. Williams' upcoming Amazon Kindle book, The Treasures of Carmelidrium, has a pianist extraordinaire named Rama Muhammad. I can't wait to read all about her!

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Late Night Post

Falling Asleep

Scenes splash my mind's caves
Quiet moonlit rolling waves

Faces, feelings, promises, past
Bitter twilights of lovers last

Barren blue beach, not a sight
The landscape in my head this night