Ladies and gentleman, I’m proud to host the following piece by my good friend, and fellow author, Mr. Claude Bouchard.
Not quite three years ago, I pulled up the first of three manuscripts I’d written in the mid to late 90s. I’d thought they were good back then and with the advent of POD suppliers, I just had an urge to see one of my books in print. I started reading what I’d written some fourteen years prior and was pleased to see that, though biased as I was to judge the work, it was still pretty damned good.
From that day onward, I spent hours every day, reading, revising, nipping and tucking until I had self-published not just one but all three books and started writing another. Receiving my novels in print was a joy and handing out a bunch of signed copies at a family gathering was quite the rush. I was a published author, even if the publisher was, well, me. Then something incredible happened… A total stranger in Pittsburgh bought my first book! Someone paid money for my writing.
Skimming through the months which followed, I continued to write all while diving into the social media game to get my name out there. EBooks joined my printed formats which helped increase sales and word of mouth slowly pushed things forward. Then came December 2009…
I was approached by someone I’d met on Twitter who informed me she was becoming a literary agent under the watchful eye of a close friend who was already a highly successful agent. Would I be interested in representation? You bet your tuckus I was! Having started from nothing, I was now on my way to a publishing contract with marketing support, printing facilities, distribution networks! I had really made it!
Months went by but nothing happened. In fact, eighteen months went by before something did happen. The problem was, what happened sucked. My agent, who also represented some twenty writers, either self-imploded or spontaneously combusted. We never found out exactly which but the bottom line was, we no longer had representation.
However, the cool thing was, my books were already out there and my sales were consistent to modestly increasing. While losing my agent was initially a slap in the head, the sting was pretty much gone by the next morning as I got up to start another day of what I was already doing; writing and selling my novels. And I’ve kept going and progressing since.
At the time of the agent meltdown, I had five books out there. Just over half a year later, I have seven, my latest, Discreet Activities, having been released just yesterday. I’m making all the decisions. I write what I want, I’m not pressed with deadlines, I set my prices, design my covers, offer specials when I decide, all of this with nobody to report to or convince but me. Sales are improving as well. In December, I sold as many books as I had in my first twenty months in the literary industry. My January sales were 13% over December’s.
The traditional publishing world has always been a difficult one to crack and that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the literary industry where POD, eBooks and publication ease has opened major avenues for indies. Yes, there is some bad stuff out there but there is also some incredible work which none of us might have ever seen without this indie revolution. I certainly know I wouldn’t have sold the thousands of books I have to date, nor would I have fans, yes, fans, asking me when the next one is coming. So, until something major happens to sway me, I’m 100% pure-blooded indie.
We’ve all heard the saying, “laughter is the best medicine.” Well, Ellie and Rich have delivered a pair of short stories that will put a smile on even the most staunch curmudgeon’s face. Congratulations, and best of luck, to both authors.
Please read the following pair of stories then cast a vote for your favorite. The stories are shown without writer attribution to keep things as fair and unbiased as possible. The poll will be open until 6 PM on Wednesday, December 21st. At that time, a winner will be announced. The winner will be given a featured post on this blog on Monday, December 26th.
I’ve included the prompt below, with the stories to follow. The poll is located at the end of the second story. Thank you in advance for reading and voting for your favorite.
This is a prompt that a fellow writer friend gave me once, and I had a great time with it. I trust you will enjoy working with it, too: What if Jerry Seinfeld married Lady Gaga?
Give us a glimpse at what a “typical” afternoon inside their NYC apartment might look and sound like.
GG & Jerry’s Love Nest
I rubbed the sleepy from my eyes. Everything about the situation felt as wrong as the Easter bunny preaching a Christmas Eve sermon to the pilgrims. Three a.m. And no party or World of Warcraft character in sight. Like I said, wrong.
“Grab my coffee, willya?” Vanessa said as she carefully nestled another camera lens in her messenger bag. “And don’t forget to put sugar in it.”
I crossed my eyes at her. She flipped me the bird. I sighed. There wasn’t enough sugar in the world to sweeten that mood. She was always grouchy, but her 3 am temperament was as mean as a burr in the buttcrack.
I shook the sugar bag over her to-go mug and a few lumps fell in with a splash. “It’s an anonymous tip. Full of gibberish. Some dealer probably slipped it under our door when he was high, and only someone high can understand it.”
Vanessa perused the handwritten note that started this early morning madness. GG and Jerry S. 1609 Bluebird. Love nest.
“You’ve gotta jump on these things,” she said, almost to herself. “How far does it take to get to 1609 Bluebird Ave?”
“No traffic this early. It’ll probably take thirty-five minutes of dodging gang shootings and hooker fights. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” I dramatically lifted my espresso cup. “I feel like a kamikaze pilot, about to depart for his last mission.” I downed the cup, then spew it out—dang, hot as a volcano’s belch.
“I think they drink sake before their missions.” She said as I stuck my head in the fridge, shoveling ice onto my burnt tongue.
“It’s juth a picthure,” I lisped, tongue swelling.
“Just a picture? Just a picture?” Her voice rose an octave. “Just a picture?” I covered my ears. “HOW CAN YOU SAY IT’S JUST A PICTURE?” Her voice was so high I feared our windows might shatter. “It’s Lady Gaga and Jerry Seinfeld. A picture of them together would make my career. It’s what every paparazzi dreams of. It’s not just a picture. It could be a new life for us.” Her eyes glistened with tears, showing a passion she reserved only for her pap art.
“You sure are passionate about your pap art,” I said.
“Don’t call it that,” she growled, the tears disappeared, she put her bag around her shoulders.
“Why didn’t your eyes shine like that when I asked you to chronicle 72 hours in the life of a World of Warcraft warrior?”
She grabbed me by the scruff of my hoodie and hauled me out the door.
“Because this picture might actually make us money.”
“You mean we could actually afford socks again?” I asked through a mouthful of ice.
“With a picture like that, we not only could afford to buy socks, we could even turn the heater on.”
I pictured us basking in the warmth of the heater, our feet toasty in aloe-infused fuzzy socks. Green. I’d want mine to be green.
But no. I’ve had enough of her high-faluting ideas about paprazzi glory, I would not be taken captive by her words. My backbone was made of steel, figuratively speaking.
Jerking my hoodie out of her grip, I crossed my arms. “I’m not gonna be your pawn anymore. We’ll be trespassing; we could end up in jail. What’s in it for me?”
“Every decent paparazzi ends up in jail two or three or seven times,” she shrugged. “Part of the gig.”
Being in jail with thieves and drunkards and libelers and protestors and other paparazzi was not any gig I wanted to be a part of. My eyes narrowed. She softened. “Tell you what. We’ll stop at Taco Villa on the way there and pick you up a breakfast burrito.”
I couldn’t help but be pleased what my protest accomplished. I should protest more often. “Chorizo, egg, and cheese please.” I said, jumping in the car.
Forty-five minutes later I was regretting eating the greasy breakfast burrito as I climbed the trellis leading to 1609 Bluebird’s balcony. Vanessa had shoved a little camera in my hand, said it was best to split up, and then crawled over the six foot tall fence as if she were catwoman.
Catwoman. I wished I were at home playing Arkham City, fighting off Poison Ivy instead of fighting off real ivy. And climbing walls—so much easier to do in the virtual world. Not as much sweating and panting. What I needed was a utility belt, fully equipped with nano wire, grappling hooks, and heck … why not a mini gatling gun as well? Wearing that belt would make this laborious climb so much cooler.
“Oomph.” I fell onto the patio, and froze, expecting alarms to go off and lasers to flash and storm troopers to repel from helicopters. Okay, so storm troopers would be a little much, but it surprised me that things were as quiet as a wink.
I flipped to my stomach, said hi to the gritty sandstone, and army crawled up to the glass patio doors. Holding the camera above my head, pressing it against the glass, I gasped at the spectacle I saw below.
Two zulu warriors, muscles gleaming beneath their fierce war paint, hoisted Lady Gaga up in a stage flying harness. Arms wide, knee bent, toes pointed, neck stretched, she flew in fabulous arcs and graceful turns wearing nothing but a bra that looked to be made of cabbage and a skirt fashioned from muskrat fur.
Below her aerial dance moves, Jerry Seinfeld conducted business on a 3-D holographic computer screen, technology like I’ve never seen before. With a flick of his wrist then a turn of his thumb, he zoomed in on pictures of movie sets, signed official looking papers, highlighted photos of celebrities, and X’d out others. My mouth fell open when I saw him delete an article of Gwyneth Paltrow, say something to Lady Gaga, and at her reply he replaced it with a photo of Amy Adams SCUBA diving.
“Ooloo,” said a deep voice behind me.
I turned to see a bright flash of light. Then I knew no more.
I woke to find myself face first on a couch made of glass. Vanessa lay beside me, her eyes closed. Starting up, eyes wide, I did the only sane thing I could think of and screamed like a girl.
Vanessa woke, a deep frown on her face. Lady Gaga sauntered toward me, the muskrat tails on her skirt jiggling. Jerry Seinfeld covered his ears. And the zulu warriors started jumping up and down. I guess my scream had some rhythm to it.
“Shut up,” yelled Jerry.
“Shut up,” Vanessa shouted.
And then Lady Gaga slapped me across the cheek. I quieted, rubbing my face.
“I think you bruised my cheek,” I moaned.
“It’ll get better,” she said.
An alarm suddenly went off. My heart raced. Perhaps this was the time when the zulu warriors would spear me through. It all felt like a bad dream, and jail actually sounded good right now.
But the zulu warriors didn’t even shift from their stance.
Jerry’s eyes widened in panic, and Lady Gaga closed hers, as if concentrating deep inside herself. A photo of purple basketball shorts worn by a plasticky catwalk model flashed mid-air, framed in red. Vanessa and I exchanged a perplexed look.
“Louis Vuitton says he wants to get into athletic wear, but we’ve already authorized Armani for the spring.” Jerry typed on a 3-D keyboard, his fingers flashing. “We’ll have to bump Vuitton to the fall.”
“Tell him I want gingham yoga pants,” Gaga said, eyes suddenly snapping open. “I dream of gingham,” she purred. “It’s not just for tablecloths anymore. Hyinti!” She snapped at a zulu warrior. “Go tell Underhill to paint my convertable gingham.” Hyinti nodded and exited.
“Good call, GG. Good call,” Jerry said as he pressed send on the email. “Now Taylor Swift will have a show in Munich on the 10th, should I arrange that up and coming band, Swift Kick in the Posterior, to open for her?”
Gaga hummed a tune, swirling to the music in her head. “Yeah, I think that’s maroon. Do it.”
I pinched Vanessa on her cheek. She slapped me. Yep, it hurt. This was no dream. Gah! Was it some alternate reality that I’d been transported to by that bright flash? It had to be.
“Is this some alternate reality I’ve been transported to by that bright flash?” I asked. My voice echoed loud through the room.
Jerry nearly dropped his virtual keyboard. Gaga stopped swirling.
“No, dummy,” Vanessa said, ever gentle. “Don’t you see what’s happening here? They’re controlling the system. The Queen of Weird and King of Normal are in charge of the freakin’ media.” She pointed to newspapers, magazines, film posters around the room. “Everything you see has to pass by them.”
“You are wise for one so young,” Gaga said. “How old are you, forty-five?” she asked.
“Gah!” I interrupted, not wanting to hear any of that. “But what was that flash for? Is my brain swiped?”
“Oh,” Jerry said, combing his fingers through his thick dark hair. “That wipes your memory for four minutes. We need it for security. That, and GG’s warriors.”
“Hey, you called her GG,” Vanessa said, standing up.
Gaga bowed. “We are the ones who brought you here. We ask a favor.”
Vanessa’s mouth fell open. “You want a favor from us?”
Jerry Seinfeld laughed. “Don’t make it sound so stupid. You are paparazzi. You’re classic American journalism. You’re the only mag we can’t get to.”
My mouth fell open. I suddenly had more respect for Vanessa’s art.
“Which is why you’re the only voice I can trust,” Gaga said. Her eyes turned serious. She slowly turned a circle. “Do you think I should wear this to the next Grammy’s?”
I bit my lip, my brain running a hundred miles a minute.
Vanessa took a breath to answer when I lunged forward, covering her mouth with my hand.
“Give us a minute, willya?” I said, pulling a protesting Vanessa away from the surprised Gaga.
“What is it?” Vanessa hissed, eyes shooting sparks. But I was a man of steel, I had endured too much stress at 4:45 in the morning to go without my say.
“Listen, you have to tell Gaga that she needs to give us something in return.”
“Like what?” Vanessa spat. “Isn’t it enough we get to talk to her face to face?”
Visions of fuzzy socks and blasts of warm air flooded my mind. “No!” I said. “She needs to pay us for our fashion advice.”
Vanessa rolled her eyes and turned back to Gaga. “Give us a thirty and you’ll get our honest opinion.”
Gaga patted her muskrat skirt, but alas it had no pockets. She looked to Jerry for help, who patted his back pockets, then took out a roll of bills. Who keeps rolls of bills in their back pockets?
“I only have a $500,” he said.
“That’ll do,” I said quickly, running to him and snatching the fuzzy socks money from his fingers.
“Lady Gaga,” Vanessa said. “I believe the muskrat skirt is perfection, but if I were you I’d go with red cabbage instead of green.”
Lady Gaga hit her forehead with the palm of her hand. “Of course you are right.” She turned to Jerry. “See! I knew they’d tell me what I needed to hear.”
Vanessa and I exchanged a smile, and if I wasn’t mistaken she didn’t look crabby for that one second.
Then there was a flash of light.
And when the police found us huddled outside of an IHOP the next morning, all I could remember was something about a gingham convertible.
Mr. Gaga’s ‘Grade A’ Day
“No,” said Jerry Seinfeld, shaking his head for the third time.
“Look, it’s the last party we’ll be able to attend this year before I go back on tour. It’ll be a laugh,” pouted the young blonde with the regal New York Italian nose.
“Stefani,” began Jerry.
“Look, even you call me ‘Lady Gaga,’ she said, a flicker of annoyance crossing her overly made up features. “I don’t care if you can do the ‘pile driver.’ It’s who I am now.”
“Sorry babe,” said Jerry, his voice a bit whiney. “It’s just that, you know, it’s been done already.”
“Not together,” she said dismissively. “I have it all arranged. We are all set for the New Year’s Eve party at The Donald’s, then over to The Auction House for drinks and dancing. Last big headline of the year.”
Lady Gaga uncoiled herself from her cat-like position on the white leather couch. “I’m off to rehearsal. Be back at nine and we can go, okay sweetie?”
She walked with a sultry swagger over to where Jerry had be glaring out the window of their Park Avenue penthouse. Central Park always looked beautiful in its desolation this time of year. But Jerry wasn’t paying attention to the panoramic scene. He was looking at his reflection, imagining himself wearing….no. The thought was too horrible.
Lady Gaga kissed him on the check, put on her sunglasses and left.
* * *
The short, dumpy, bald butler handed Jerry his gin and tonic.
“Anything else, sir?”
“No, Costanza. That will do for now.”
“Can I interest sir in a Junior mint?”
Jerry sighed. “Please. Just leave me. I’ll ring if I need anything else.”
“Right you are sir.”
And the funny little man Lady Gaga had hired as their butler backed out of the room bowing incessantly.
For over an hour Jerry had been deciding what to do. He was used to his partner’s crazy publicity schemes, but this–her latest grab for headlines was the final straw. Back in the nineties, he’d been a comic of some fame and renown. Now he was Mr. Gaga. The copious amounts of wild sex had made it worth it for a while, to be sure. But now…
There was nothing left to do. He had to kill her.
The warmth of the gin and thoughts of murder were just having a nice calming effect on Jerry when the buzzer on the phone rang. He hit the speaker button.
“Mr. Seinfeld, sir,” came a harried, shrill voice of Lady Gaga’s assistant Elaine. “They are here for your fitting sir.”
He went to put his head in his hands and ended up slopping his drink all over himself
“I’m sorry sir, but Mistress insists,” even over the tinny little speaker Jerry could hear the reproach in her voice.
“It’s not you, it’s…never mind. Bring them up, Elaine.”
* * *
The door to the penthouse opened and Elaine, all hair and attitude, walked in with two men. The first was a tall, thin man with close cropped curly hair with an eighties porn moustache. The man behind him also had curly hair, but there the similarities ended. He was shorter; clean-shaven with glasses he supported a protuberant potbelly. This second man was dressed in white, wearing apron and wheeling what looked like a large cooler behind him.
“Mr. Seinfeld, can I have a word, please?” asked Elaine in a loud whisper.
The taller of the men looked annoyed, with the heavy set man all in white looked around at the large apartment appreciatively.
Jerry took a few steps away from the men, and before Elaine could say anything, he blurted out “Sorry for the fuck thing.”
“What? Oh, I don’t care about that,” she said dismissively. “I just wanted to warn you,” and Elaine leaned closer to Jerry.
“Warn me about what?”
“That’s Lorenzo Thomas. The best tailor in all of New York. He’s…eccentric. Be careful what you say to him.”
“Okaaaaaay,” drawled Jerry. “Who’s the other guy?”
“That’s Mr. Newman. He’s brought the…”material” for your new meat suit.”
* * *
“Now that looks WONDERFUL!” said the heavily accented tailor, applauding his own work.”
“A waste of four hundred dollars of prime meat,” snorted the fat butcher.
“Look…Newman,” snarled Jerry. “I don’t like this anymore than you do. If I had my way, we’d be barbequing this all up right now tossing it back with a few beers. Not letting this lunatic—“
Jerry had pointed at Lorenzo, forgetting Elaine’s comment about the tailor’s eccentricity.
“Lunatic!” he screamed in his heavy accent. “I am an artist! That’s it! No suit for you!!”
With that, the man ripped off the hanging meat that vaguely resembled a suit (a nice one –double-breasted with a pork tenderloin carnation) off the startled comedian and threw the pieces on the floor.
Newman, giggling like a prepubescent woman, and left the penthouse on the heels of the insulted tailor.
“Oh dear,” said Elaine. “Now what are we going to do? Mistress will be displeased–”
“I am not picking that up!” exclaimed a whiney voice from behind, making both Jerry and Elaine jump about two feet.
Costanza had come back into the sitting room with a tray of drinks that summarily clattered to the floor. He folded his arms.
“I’ve had it with this craziness. And I thought Steinbrenner was bad. You people are out of your minds! I—I—“ The little man closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Serenity now,” he murmured.
“Right,” said Jerry and Elaine slowly, looking at each other.
“Seriously, I’m done. I quit.”
“When Mistress finds out,” said Elaine, wringing her hands. “Well I don’t want to be—I quit too!”
Jerry looked from one disgruntled employee to the other.
“Quit? No…I have a better idea. A stupendous idea. An idea so cunning, that if Lex Luther came up with it, Superman would have been dead. And not just dead for a couple of issues then brought back to life. But really most sincerely dead.”
Both Costanza and Elaine looked at him as if he were mad.
“Come, my friends. Let me explain, but not here. I know a diner we can speak freely in…”
* * *
Kramer was alert in the lobby of the recording studio, his tall wiry frame squeezed into a small, orange over-stuffed chair that smelled of stale alcohol and bad decisions.
Every few seconds, he’d switch positions, staring around the foyer of the building, looking for trouble. As Lady Gaga’s personal bodyguard, there were always screaming fans to protect her from.
He wasn’t with her upstairs because the studio management wouldn’t let him in the building beyond the first few feet, insisting he do his ‘guarding’ from the lobby.
The tall man fell off his chair; cheap sunglasses sliding from his head and the ear-piece he’d been wearing fell to the floor , the other end of which was attached to nothing as he’d been forbidden a radio as well.
“Jerry! What the matter with you? Don’t sneak up on a guy; you could cause heart failure!”
Jerry approached the man as he picked up his sunglasses (now missing a lens) and the earpiece, shoving them both in his pocket. He spun as he stood.
“What are you doing, Kramer?”
“Just checking out the area. Never know when someone might sneak in. What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to see my wife, Kramer. She in her normal hall?”
“Yeah, but who are these two?” he asked, eyes narrowing looking at Elaine and Costanza.
“Staff,” Jerry said, a bit nervously. The three had hatched a plan and it was now or never.
“Oh, well, go on up then,” said Kramer with a big smile. His head bobbed a bit oddly and he fitted the sunglasses to his face apparently oblivious to the fact that a lens was still missing.
“Right, thanks a lot Kramer.”
The three made there way upstairs and stopped when the heard an acapella version of Bad Romance coming from the hallway.
“She might be crazy,” said Jerry. But boy can she sing. And the sex isn’t so bad either.” He was beginning to have second thoughts.
“Not bad at all, “ said Costanza.
“The sex was pretty good,” muttered Elaine.
Jerry turned to her. “What?”
“Nothing. Keep moving. We have a job to do.”
The trio kept moving and found lady Gaga with her backup singers finishing their song. There were obviously on a break. “Perfect,” thought Jerry.
Lady Gaga spotted them, and all the singers fell silent.
“Is the fitting over already? I thought you’d be at least another hour, sweets,” the pop star said, frowning.
“I’m not doing it. I’m not wearing a damn meat suit to a party. I’m not wearing it anywhere!” Blurted out Jerry before he could help himself.
“Oh. Is that so?” said Lady Gaga in the sweetest of voices. Always a danger sign.
“Yes, that’s so,” Jerry said and looked around at Elaine and Costanza who both nodded vigorously.
“And how cute. You found some friends to agree with you.”
“Well, I wanted to talk to you alone about it, can we go someplace to talk?”
“I don’t think so,” said Lady Gaga. She bent down, fumbled in an oversized Gucci purse for a moment and pulled out a silver revolver.
“Whoa!” said Jerry taking a step back. “It’s just that I’m a vegetarian! I’m happy to wear a cauliflower smoking jacket or an matzo ball tuxedo…”
“Nah. See Jerry, snookums, I’ve been trying to drive you over the edge for a month now. Been hoping I’d come home to find that you’d jumped off the balcony or run off with Elaine, here,” she said pointing the gun at Elaine, who tried to hide behind Jerry. “But you kept just being there. Day after day after day.”
“Wha—why didn’t you just leave?” stammered Jerry.
“What, and give you half my shit? No way. This will be easier. I own this studio and these people. Hell, most of them think you’re annoying anyway. They’ll be glad to help hide the bodies.”
“Bodies?” asked Elaine and Costanza at the same time.
“That’s right bodies. Time for the curtain to come down on the ‘show about nothing.’” Lady Gaga laughed, pointed the gun at Jerry…
* * *
“Aaaauuuuggghhhhh!” shouted Jerry Seinfeld sitting bolt right up in bed.
“S’matter honey?” asked a sleepy voice next to him. Jerry’s wife—his real wife—Jessica sat up as well.
“Uh…nothing, darling. Bad dream. Really bad dream. Go back to sleep.”
“Okay honey. You sure you’re okay?”
“Fine,” said Jerry as he lay back down. “Just a dream.”
They lay in bed for a few minutes. As Jerry drifted off to sleep, he heard his wife mumble:
“Rah-rah-ah-ah-ah! Roma-Roma-ma-ah! Gaga-ooh-la-la! Want your bad romance…”
Ellie, and Rich … welcome to “Comedy in the Cage.” As you know, this is a no-holds-barred competition, so I’m certain you’ll deliver a pair of short stories that will make us laugh out loud. You’ll be allowed a maximum of 2,ooo words and will have 24 hrs. to complete this challenge. The deadline is 12 pm EDT tomorrow, Sunday, Dec. 18th. Good luck to both of you.
This is a prompt that a fellow writer friend gave me once, and I had a great time with it. I trust you will enjoy working with it, too: What if Jerry Seinfeld married Lady Gaga?
Give us a glimpse at what a “typical” afternoon inside their NYC apartment might look and sound like.
There you go. Take this scenario and blow us away with your comedic best. There can only be one winner, so give us the most outrageously funny stories you can come up with.
Again, best of luck to both combatants. This much-anticipated pair of stories will post Sunday, Dec. 18th, by 1 PM EDT, and will be shown without author attribution to make the voting as unbiased as possible. Readers will be able to vote until 6 PM on Wednesday, December 21st.
Welcome to the second installment of my ~On Editing~ series. Last week’s post spurred some excellent conversation from many who were kind enough to visit and read about the importance of good editing.
This week, I thought it might be beneficial and informative to chat with a professional editor and ask some questions that might shed light on this critical aspect of publishing one’s work.
I met professional editor Kate Johnston while speaking to a writers group about my own self-publishing experiences. I found her to be delightful and knowledgeable. She was kind enough to agree to share her expertise on the subject of editing. I hope you’ll find the information helpful; I certainly did.
First off, Kate, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. There seems to be some confusion about the various types of edits one can have done to their manuscripts. Terms such as proofing, copy editing, and substantive editing come to mind. Could you give us a brief rundown of the different types of edits and what each one entails?
Certainly, Al. There are many editing forms. The duties of one form of editing can overlap the duties of another. The three below are the most commonly known forms.
A substantive edit (AKA developmental editing) is like an overall critique of the manuscript’s content and structure. A substantive editor improves the flow of text, suggests recasts, and enforces a logical structure. In a work of fiction, the substantive editor may track the continuity of plot, setting, characters, theme, as well as flagging discrepancies. Decisions are judgment-based and therefore should be negotiable with the writer. Again, depending on who you talk to, this form of editing can happen before, after, or in conjunction with copyediting.
Copyediting (or baseline editing) is rules-based. (Think about all those grammar lessons you learned in school.) Copyediting flags faulty grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting. A copyeditor may track the consistency of facts. (Although fact-checking sometimes can be considered part of a substantive edit.) Unlike substantive editing, copyediting does not involve interventions such as smoothing transitions or restructuring plot.
Proofreading is the reading of a manuscript in its final draft form to detect and correct production errors. It is the last step in the editorial cycle.
Great information. Here’s something I’m curious about. What are a few of the most common writing blunders you encounter in the average manuscript?
Misspellings because spellcheck is not infallible. Confusion between its and it’s. The use of that vs. which. Misuse (or abuse) of commas. Incorrect formatting of dialogue.
Ah, commas. I used to be a comma abuser, too. Kate, with the advent of e-publishing, individuals can self-publish their works with relative ease, yet many forgo having their work professionally edited due to cost. Could you share your thoughts on this?
I think writers are doing themselves a disservice by not going the extra mile to make their work the best it can be. Readers will notice mistakes, and their disappointment (or disgust) will ensure they won’t recommend your book much less buy anything else you write. Who wants to buy shoddy material? Yes, editing is costly, but it should be considered an investment in your career.
Yes, that’s a valuable lesson we, as writers, must learn, sometimes the hard way. Is there a practice by which individuals who have limited funds can enjoy the benefits of quality editing? For instance, do you feel it would be helpful to have a few chapters professionally edited then use it as a guide to self-edit the remainder? In other words, is a partial edit a viable option in your opinion?
Copyediting would be possible to do yourself. As long as you know grammatical rules, then it’s a matter of training your eye to spot errors.
However, as substantive editing involves editing the manuscript as a whole, the author would have to be extremely tough on herself. She would also have to objectively track and correct problem areas. I’m not saying that’s impossible, but it is difficult. These are her ideas, her word choices, her writing style, and her decisions all at the mercy of the proverbial red pen. If she’s the one wielding that red pen, is it realistic to think she’ll be as thorough as an editor?
That’s certainly a great point. I’ve heard that reading one’s work out loud helps to ferret out problems that can be missed while proofreading. Do you feel this is a valuable practice, and do you have any other tips writers can employ to improve their work?
Reading out loud is a wonderful device and can be helpful for many writers. Personally, I find workshops or classes to be helpful in honing a specific area of writing. Read books in the genre you’re writing to get a feel for structure, setting, style. Read anything that’s well-written to help you learn sentence structure, punctuation, or spelling. But the best tip I can give writers is to write every single day, even for just fifteen minutes. It’s considered practice. Musicians and athletes must practice every day to stay in shape or to improve their skills. It is the same for writers.
What are your thoughts on beta readers and writers groups?
There are some good beta readers and writing groups, and there are some bad ones. All groups have different approaches, writing and reading styles, attitudes, personalities, and expectations. Don’t settle with a so-so group just because you need someone to read your stuff. A bad reader is not better than no reader at all. I have done beta reading both online and in person. I have exchanged work with strangers as well as friends. I have belonged to various writing groups. Some of the experiences were terrible. Some were awesome. The terrible experiences were so devastating I nearly gave up writing. If you ever get to that point, get out of the group—fast. No one should ever make you feel like your writing is invaluable or that you can’t succeed.
Above all, make sure you are among supportive, positive, encouraging, knowledgeable writers who can give honest, constructive feedback.
Strunk & White’s, The Elements of Style is a classic reference for writers. Do you have any other favorite manuals you might recommend?
That’s my number-one guide. I also use The Chicago Manual of Style and MLA Style Manual. Outside of techy-type manuals, I love Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, On Writing by Stephen King, and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.
I’m of the opinion that you just can’t edit your own work. As an editor, do you feel you can edit your own work?
I can—to a point. I have an easier time with the copyediting, but even then I miss errors. As far as content, I don’t bother giving it to anyone to read until I’ve written a couple of drafts. That’s because I am the only one who understands the story that needs to be written. If I have someone get involved at too early a stage, it can be very disruptive. I belong to a great writing group whose members help me sort out structure or track character motivation. My writing group asks me questions I wouldn’t think to ask myself.
The drawback to editing your own work boils down to emotion, I think. We writers know what we want to say, but sometimes we don’t execute it well (talk about irony). Worse, we’ll read it and still think it’s dandy stuff. We need the other person for that constructive criticism because they are not emotionally connected to the material. Flaws such as typos, awkward sentences, plot holes, and Little Darlings are glaring to an objective reader.
What other words of wisdom can you give our writer/author friends from an editor’s perspective.
Take pride in your work. Your name is on it, and you want people to recognize the effort and care you have put into it. If an author doesn’t care about the quality of his work, then a reader isn’t going to consider that author as professional, talented, or knowledgeable. Expect to revise, and revise, and revise again—but at the same time don’t cave on areas that seriously matter to you. Editing is a vital part of the writing process. It can make the difference between an author who is worth reading and an author who isn’t.
Kathryn Johnston graduated from University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in English and Psychology, with a focus in creative writing. After college she worked in various places as a copyeditor and copywriter while writing fiction on the side.
Currently, she is a freelance editor and writing coach for fiction and memoir manuscripts.
Her short story, Treasures, was published in The Greensilk Journal. She has completed a novel, Spark of Madness, and is shopping it around to literary agents for representation.
For those of you who are interested in speaking with Kate about the possibility of having your work edited by her, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and is currently accepting new clients.
Thank you for visiting and reading this week’s post. As always, I encourage you to take part in the conversation by leaving a comment below. I always do my best to respond to all who do.
The ever-growing popularity of e-readers and related devices has opened the door to countless individuals longing to become published authors. It’s never been easier to develop a work and self-publish, thereby bringing one’s dream to fruition. Unfortunately, there’s a problem that lurks within this wonderful realm of opportunity. The problem has to do with quality. Far too many books are being published before they should be, lacking thorough, quality editing.
I’ve been asked by a wonderful friend to post the following open letter to writers/authors. She is a voracious reader and has many friends who also devour books at an impressive rate. She has informed me that her thoughts are shared by a vast number of readers. I believe her and consider it to be a massive red flag. My intent is simple: to help bring about positive change in order to help authors and their works shine.
First, let me say I am not a writer. I am a reader. I am not, nor do I claim to be, an editor or an expert of any kind.
I have the greatest admiration and respect for all writers, be it Indie or otherwise. I read lots of Indie books and most are very good stories. However, far too often I get turned off by the books because of editing errors. Some are slight and some glaring. While I will continue to read the books with errors, I have friends that will not read Indie books for that very reason.
I am NOT trying to be mean; in fact it’s just the opposite. I want each of you to become world class authors, but to do so you must do a better job of editing your books.
I do realize how difficult it is to see your own errors until it’s too late. However, if you’re going to publish a book on a worldwide site I urge you to do whatever it takes to ensure that your books are error free.
Please take this in the spirit it is intended as I truly have the greatest admiration for each and every one of you.
I’m very grateful for this letter, as it’s a wake-up call to those of us who really care about our craft and wish to give our readers the best we have to offer. Please bear in mind that this is not the first time I’ve heard this message; insufficient editing is one of the greatest challenges adversely affecting our endeavors as successful authors. Further, I can speak to this topic with experience and conviction. The beginning of my journey as a writer found me as guilty of falling short of thorough editing as any other. I self-published prematurely, my work containing what I now realize was an unacceptable quantity of errors. The bottom line: you don’t know ’til you know. As a result, I decided to take action.
I completely stopped promoting my own novel, In Memory of Greed, while receiving a vast amount of assistance from a number of experienced colleagues. As a result, during the time I was doing so, sales of my work all but disappeared. Yet, I have no regrets. I truly strive to offer my best work to readers and feel like I’ve finally done just that. A silver lining exists in the fact that I can now offer a paperback version of my novel with confidence and will do so in the next few weeks.
I’ve asked my colleague Steve Umstead to write a guest post on the topic of editing, which he has graciously done. Steve is an author I have a great deal of respect and admiration for. I believe you’ll find the following post entertaining and informative.
I hope you’ll give his Evan Gabriel sci-fi series a look. I’ve read his work. If you enjoy sci-fi, I know you’ll find his writing to be top-shelf.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to the phrase “self-published”, and in the past it was well-founded. Self-publishing meant taking a first draft, using a vanity press, printing books for family and friends, maybe selling a handful at a trade show table. Today, self-publishing is incredibly easy…meaning that stigma is raising its ugly head again. Now it’s as simple as taking that same first draft and uploading a file to Amazon. The stigma? Poor editing.
I’ll preface this by saying I would never call my books error-free. I’ll also preface (can one have two prefaces??) this by saying when I refer to editing, I’m referring to copy edits (spelling, punctuation, grammar, capitalization, etc.), not editing for plot holes, inconsistencies, and so on. Why only copy edits? Because that’s the first thing a reader will pick out. In the case of e-books, they are only potential buyers who download a sample – if the sample has spelling and punctuation errors, that’s a lost sale even before they get to any possible plot holes.
I’ve got some mild form of OCD, I’m sure of it…spelling errors and the like simply jump off the page to me, like glowing red letters. If someone pinned me down on what I felt was my strongest asset as a writer, I’d probably say what I call the “mechanics” of writing (the copy editing I mentioned before). So I find myself pulled out of a story when I stumble across an error. Actually pulled out, like setting the book down and doing something else before (maybe) going back to it. And that’s the stigma that self-published authors must avoid.
How? Never rely on only yourself to proofread. There is no possible way the author can read his or her own work and pick out errors. It’s like the sign in a doctor’s office that has the first and last letters of each word correct, but all the ones in the middle mixed up, yet your brain rearranges them on the fly and it becomes readable. The author’s brain reads what he or she meant to write and moves on, skipping right over “it was better then he thought”, or “he knew he woudln’t run”, or “the laser sites were misaligned”, or “hit the gas peddle”. (Did you catch those?)
Who? Not Mom or your aunt. They will read it and love it and praise you at the bridge club meeting that night. Not your best buddy, who will skim it and buy you a beer for being an author. Either (a) use a professional editor, and/or (b) use multiple beta readers that know what they’re doing and will give you their full attention.
I’ll admit, I have never used a professional editor. Honestly, I can’t afford it – even a buck a page (a bargain!) would be a few hundred I didn’t have when publishing my first book. And I’ll admit again (don’t tell anyone), the only person to edit my first book was me and my son. However, for my second, I enlisted a whole slew of incredible beta readers and received such amazing and useful feedback and corrections, I will always have future works go through a series of beta readers.
I’ve been in marketing most of my adult life, and the old saying of “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” is 100% true. Don’t skimp on editing, even with the best, most fascinating story ever written. Readers may never get past the first, poorly edited chapter.
I want to thank you all for visiting my blog and reading this post on editing. Please feel free to add your questions/comments. Together, let us show a world of readers the quality that indie/small press authors are capable of.
I’m proud to host RB Wood’s Magical Mystery Blog Tour today. I have the distinct pleasure of interviewing this fabulous author and reviewing his debut novel, The Prodigal’s Foole.
I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Rich Wood a little better. In addition, please do yourself a favor and purchase ~The Prodigal’s Foole~ and give it a read. And if you really enjoy it, as I did, a positive review on Amazon, Goodreads and anywhere else you can include it is always greatly appreciated. Please enjoy the interview and my review.
All the best,
Rich, when and why did you decide to start writing?
Been doing it off and on since the eighties. The final push to really produce a novel began in 2007. My kids told me I “Should write my stories down,” and my partner was fully behind it. Never underestimate the support from those closest to you!
What life experiences have best prepared you for being a writer?
Travel, working in different countries and a long history of reading.
Please tell us about your latest work and what genre it falls under.
The Prodigal’s Foole is an Urban Fantasy novel—the first of a planned series actually. The premise is simple: “What if religions were created, not for the salvation of the masses, but to control magic?” I often thought, if magic existed, would the general public be completely clueless as the muggles are in Harry potter? Or would magic be an asset—a power to be controlled? And who would control that power?
And what would happen to the ‘status quo’ in the communication age?
What were your inspirations for writing The Prodigal’s Foole?
Works by Jo Rowling, Jim Butcher, Arthur Conan Doyle, Neil Gaiman. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (The FANTASIA one, not the Nick Cage disaster). These stories started out as fun, night time tales for my kids. I’ve since made the characters older and introduced adult themes and complex relationships.
Rich, can you describe your writing process for our readers.
The process works, and I have to say I stole bits of it from Jim butcher. I outline where I want to go and what I want a story to be about. Then I draw a large arc. I map out the progression and the since, interlock them and at the top of the arc is the climax of the story. I’m a very visual person, and this pictogram drives me forward to fill in the details.
To what degree are your fictional characters based in reality?
I’m sure I pull traits from people I meet or have met. The key, from my perspective, is to make everything as real as possible, as I want the reader to think of magic as just another ‘reality point.’ So other than their ability to use (and abuse) magic, each character comes equipped with layers and gray areas, just like all of us.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
I’m working on book two of the Arcana Chronicles, called The Young Practitioner. I also have the outline of a SciFi trilogy completed and I’m working on a graphic novel series of scripts with a fellow author and comic book geek from Australia.
Would you like to experiment with a different genre?
Maybe…but I have stories to tell in the Fantasy/SciFi genres first.
Describe your ideal surroundings or conditions for writing.
A pub or my home office work best for me.
Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies?
I’m sure I do. My guess is they’ll be well defined in the reviews for The Prodigal’s Foole.
Briefly share your thoughts on traditional publishing vs. indie.
I just wrote a three-part blog about this very subject. To paraphrase, I think the smaller (indie) imprints will define the future of an industry turned on it’s ear by the advent of electronic media.
What advice can you share with first-time writers?
Don’t stop. Ever. If you look around you, there are thousand of newbies out there. You just have to outlast them all in a cutthroat business. Write what you want and what you know. Get feedback. Practice and improve. You’ll make it.
Bio and Contact Information
R.B. Wood is a technology consultant and a writer of Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction and quite frankly anything else that strikes his fancy. His first novel, The Prodigal’s Foole, is scheduled to be published by Pfoxchase Publishing in the Fall of 2011. Mr. Wood is currently working on the second book of his Arcana Chronicles series and is host of The Word Count podcast.R. B. currently lives in Boston with his partner, Tina, his dog Jack, three cats and various other critters that visit from time to time.
The Prodigal’s Foole was the very first urban fantasy I’ve ever read. Now, if you had asked me the day before I started reading this work what the urban fantasy genre was all about, you would have been privy to a blank stare; I had no clue. And I’ve never been one to seek out works dealing with fantasy, magic, supernatural powers, or religion, the subject matter upon which this book is most definitely built. Therefore, once I sat down and gave this story a go, imagine my delight when it held me spellbound.
This is how Mr. Wood did it. He wrote great characters, both male and female, a piece of magic the best writers in the business sometimes experience difficulty in pulling off. Dialogue was hip, witty and most of all intelligent. These characters were people you wanted to know, to hang out with…to love…to hate. They came to life, which made it a hell of a lot easier to suspend reality and allow the fantasy aspect to work for me. The character development made me want to believe they could practice magic for real.
Wood chose the first-person narrative to tell the story. And though this point of view can be limiting in some novels, his use of balanced descriptions, comfortble pacing and a dynamic, well-conceived plot more than made up for the singular perspective this convention entails.
I also enjoyed the tasty side dishes of horror and suspense thriller contained within the story. Wood’s main character, Symon Bryson, got dragged through hell unwillingly, but dug deep, worked through his shortcomings and came out the other side a changed man, better equipped for the next inevitable battle. (you know there are two more books, right?)
Lastly, RB Wood took the time to make his writing tight and nearly error/typo free with excellent and greatly appreciated attention to the editing process.
Thank you for writing such a well written, entertaining novel, Mr. Wood. I’m officially a fan of your work and a new fan of the urban fantasy genre.
I highly recommend this novel and sincerely look forward to the next.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, as anticipated, Steve, and Michael, have delivered a pair of short stories that will surely impress and entertain you. Congratulations, and best of luck, to both authors.
Please read the following pair of stories then cast a vote for your favorite. The stories are shown without writer attribution to keep things as fair and unbiased as possible. The poll will be open until 6 PM on Wednesday, November 2nd. At that time, a winner will be announced. The winner will be interviewed on this blog on Sunday, November 6th.
I’ve included the prompt below, with the stories to follow. The poll is located at the end of the second story. Thank you in advance for reading and voting for your favorite.
Mankind has been forever fascinated with the aurora borealis, more commonly known as the Northern Lights. Scientists explain the phenomenon as a “light show” in the earth’s atmosphere, created when highly charged electrons from the solar wind interact with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen, 20 to 200 miles above the earth’s surface.
The aurora, generally occurring near the Arctic Circle, sometimes moves farther south during increased frequency of sunspots. On the evening of December 5th, 2013, enthusiastic observers occupying mid-coast Maine had the distinct pleasure of enjoying such an event.
As a handful of hearty individuals braved both single digit hours and temperatures along the rugged shore, the mezmerizing light in the sky began to change. Inexplicably, the once multi-colored display changed to brilliant blue, rapidly decreasing in scope until it formed a concentrated vortex.
Onlookers familiar with coastal Maine were of the opinion that the dense shaft of light seemed to be focused on Monhegan, a small, rocky island ten miles from the nearest mainland, and barely a square mile in area.
They were correct in their assumption.
As the captain of a small ferry that frequented the island approached Monhegan at dawn, he rubbed his eyes in disbelief. There were no buildings. There were no boats in the harbor. Not a trace of vegetation, wildlife, nor a single individual that comprised the 65 full-time inhabitants was visible. All that remained was a rugged outcropping of stone.
Scientists, it seems, had gotten it wrong.
They say it’s the first thing that goes when you get old. Or was it the second thing?
I rubbed my eyes for what must have been the tenth time this morning. I stared out of the wheelhouse window towards Monhegan Island and hoped my vision wasn’t going for good, like the flight doc said it was.
I couldn’t get rid of the odd blur that surrounded the island. It was like that glow around a streetlight when you’re driving home late at night, maybe after one too many beers. Only this was…larger. And it looked like…a rainbow? Hell, maybe I should have left Tito’s a little earlier last night. But the tacos, and the mezcal, and the ladies. They wouldn’t let me. And here I was, driving my ferry (and that’s how I thought of the Janet Reno; she was old and ugly, but all mine) at oh-dark-thirty in the morning, wondering if the strange glow from the island was a hangover, or decaying retinas. Damn I was old.
Tito’s Bar & Grill had a broad party deck that overlooked the Gulf of Maine, and last night the aurora borealis was one of the brightest I had seen in years. Winter was coming and the deck’s heaters barely kept up with the chill, but the drinks and food were excellent. The intense light show and the fine female company capped it off. But now I was wondering if perhaps I should have gone to bed a bit earlier.
“Hey boss,” a voice said from behind me. “Tell me again why a former pilot hates flying.” The voice was accompanied by a mewling. I turned around to find Brad, the punk kid first mate I had hired a few weeks back, poking his hand into the travel cage that held the kittens for the Ferrelli family. The floor of the wheelhouse was littered with personal items I was delivering on this run; the box full of cats was just one of many. But apparently they were fascinating enough to entertain Brad. Which made me happy, not having to deal with the kid much on this run.
I turned back to the wheel as the ferry approached the dock. “I hate flying because I can’t fly anymore. I don’t want anyone else flying me anywhere. Now zip it, stop playing with your pussies, and get out on the bow to toss the lines.”
Brad walked out of the wheelhouse door, muttering under his breath. The island was close now, but I still couldn’t get rid of the glowing haze. That’s it, I’m done with mezcal. I checked the depth finder and radar: right on target for the approach.
Brad startled me by rapping on the glass in front of me.
“Hey boss, I don’t see the dock!”
“See? Told you.”
I left the ferry engines in idle and had nudged the bow up against the shore, then joined Brad on the bow. What the hell? I looked left and right. This was most definitely where the dock should have been. A few yards up on shore was the walking path that led to the boathouse, and past that to the general shop. The dock was gone.
I rubbed my eyes again. The boathouse was gone as well. And there was a low-pitched hum in the background, like a vacuum cleaner being run in another room while you’re trying to watch television.
“Stay here,” I said to Brad, and jumped off the bow. My feet splashed into the shallow water, and the cold instantly chilled me to the bone. I stepped up onto the shore and walked up the path.
I reached the spot where the boathouse should have been and was met with a patch of dead matted grass, exactly the size and shape of the small boathouse. A storm? I didn’t remember any storm at all, let alone one powerful enough to wipe out a dock and a boathouse. Then again, it was a lot of mezcal.
Just beyond the missing boathouse, the glow I had seen from the water was intense. Almost like…a curtain of light. I turned back to the ferry to see Brad sitting on the bow, picking his nose. He’d be no help, that’s for sure. I’m too old for this shit.
I walked up the path towards the light. I suppose it was curiosity, or perhaps just stupidity, that made me keep walking instead of getting back on my ferry and calling the Coast Guard. Probably stupidity.
The light was exactly like a curtain, a very distinct vertical wall reaching skyward beyond my sight. And I knew now it wasn’t my eyes that were the problem. I took a deep breath and stepped into the light…
…and promptly found myself on all fours, looking down on a pile of my own vomit. I coughed and more bits and pieces of last night’s tacos came up. My head was pounding and I was dizzy. Yep, stupidity.
I stood up and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. The smell of bile was overwhelming, and I knew right then and there I’d never touch mezcal again.
I walked a few dozen yards further along the path, hoping to find Carl, the unofficial mayor of Monhegan Island, to find out what the hell was going on here. As I crested the small hill at the end of the path, I dropped to my knees in shock. The general store, the boat rental shack, the camping store, the two bed and breakfasts…were gone. Nothing remained of the little town. Nothing but a large rock formation, right where the old ship anchor stood marking the center of the island. A rock formation that most certainly wasn’t there before today.
No storm could have done this. I felt the panic start to rise and started to turn back when I saw someone walk out from behind the rock. I squinted, cursing my failing eyesight again. It looked like a little girl. Mary Ferrelli!
I hopped up and broke into a jog, as fast as my old, paunchy body would allow. Mary had stopped walking and just stood a few yards from the rock, staring back. I hated to put this all on an eight year old girl, but I had to find out what happened.
I slowed to a stop in front of her, wheezing. She simply stood, emotionless, continuing to stare at me.
“Mary, are you okay?” I asked. “Where is everyone?”
“Everyone is safe, Robert Toren,” she said. At least I think she said. I didn’t see her mouth move. And her voice was…off. It was a girl’s voice, but not Mary’s. More like…my hearing-impaired nephew, a monotone sound, missing the hard edge of consonants. And it was in his head.
“Wha…what’s going on?” My fuzzy brain was having a lot of trouble processing this whole situation. This was far more than too much mezcal. “What do you mean, safe?”
Mary didn’t move a muscle, yet her voice sounded in my head again. “They are safe. They have been…relocated.”
Anger overcame my panic as a memory of my grandfather telling me of the relocation camps in Poland during World War Two flashed through my mind. And Mary…this wasn’t Mary.
“Who are you? Where…what…is Mary?”
The Mary thing stood still and the voice sounded again. “We used this body as we thought it would be comfortable for you to speak to, Robert Toren. We are one. We are all. In your language, we would be called the Collective.”
Comfortable? Is she…it…kidding?
The hum grew louder, like the vacuum was heading into this room to bother people watching a Patriots game. I looked around, then back at the Mary thing.
“Does this have something to do with the lights last night? Was that…the Collective?”
“Yes,” the voice said. “It was what we call the Awakening. All of the Collective units are awake now, all four hundred and twelve of them. It won’t be long now, Robert Toren.”
My head was spinning. This Mary thing was talking in riddles, and my anger returned.
“Listen,” I said, and reached out to grab her arm. And found myself on all fours again, dry heaving.
“Shit,” I said, spitting.
“Do not touch us, Robert Toren,” the voice said.
Yeah, not the first time I’ve heard that. Probably why I’m still single after all these years.
I stood up slowly and looked at the Mary thing. Something she/it said clicked.
“All units? And what won’t be long?”
“There are many of these units on your planet. We have been expecting the Awakening for many thousands of your solar orbits. We have been called and it is time for us to go.”
“Go where?” I realized I was speaking in questions only, like some party game, but I didn’t know what else to say.
The Mary thing finally moved. It raised one hand and pointed at the sky.
“You have a…ship on the island?” I struggled to remember my youth spent reading science fiction. Do aliens have ships? Do they teleport? Do they just jump really high? I’m talking to an alien. Awesome. I may have to cut out more than just mezcal. Maybe tacos too.
“This is not an island, Robert Toren. This is a Collective unit. This is how we travel.”
The ground beneath my feet rumbled, and the low background hum grew to a high-pitched whine.
The ground shook like the island was moving. Not an island, the Mary thing said. Oh hell.
“We must go now, Robert Toren. But you must join us. We cannot return you to outside the veil. And you would not recognize your world now anyway. Time moves…differently inside the veil. Everything you know is now gone. It has been several hundred solar orbits since you arrived.”
The ground was shaking violently now, and I had trouble standing. Even my well-trained sea legs were starting to give out. “Why? Why are you doing this?”
“It is a long story, Robert Toren. It is time for us to move on. We are finished watching your planet. Its time has come to an end, and we have other duties elsewhere.” The Mary thing turned around, and a light appeared in the side of the rock formation, like a door was opening. “Come, Robert Toren. There’s not much time now. Join us for a new beginning.”
I fell to my knees as the shaking grew unbearable. I looked past the Mary thing and saw the sun was changing position in the sky very rapidly. Not an island, it said.
The ground pressed up against him like the feeling he got many years ago, when his F/A18 Hornet was launched from a catapult back on the Reagan. And it all clicked. They were accelerating. Upwards. On an island.
Oh hell. I hate flying.
THE MONHEGAN EVENT
“Holy shit!” Sean cried, pointing to the horizon, where a brilliant display of the aurora borealis was rippling across the sky. “There it is!”
“Oh, my God.” Carol laughed, her breath fogging her glasses. “It’s fantastic!”
“Wow.” Lynne shook her head at the sight of the colors swirling and fading, a tapestry of light, the likes of which she’d never seen before.
“See, I told you guys this would be worth it.” Leading the others, Mack made his way carefully to the edge of the rocks that lay beyond Pemaquid Lighthouse Park at the southern tip of Maine’s Pemaquid Peninsula. The waters of the Atlantic Ocean crashed beneath them, the foam of the waves glowing in the light of the waxing moon.
The trip had been Mack’s idea. It was December 5th, 2013, and the forecast had predicted a vibrant aurora borealis based on recent solar activity. The four of them were sophomores at the University of Maine at Augusta, and Mack was always coming up with ideas for crazy things to do. Most of his schemes, however, didn’t involve going to stand by the ocean in the middle of a freezing Maine night.
“Yeah, you told us about five thousand times that it was going to be cool as hell,” Sean told him with a grin. “I only agreed to come to shut you up.”
“Smartass.” Mack punched Sean in the shoulder, and the two young men laughed.
Lynne stood close to Mack and wrapped her arm around his waist. “You outdid yourself this time.” She stood up on her toes and kissed him on the cheek. “This is awesome.”
Carol stood silently, holding Sean’s hand, staring at the shimmering sky. She knew what an aurora borealis was, but had never seen one before. “Hey…Mack?”
“Look at that.” She pointed to the northern edge of the aurora, which had taken on a decidedly blue tint. Instead of shimmering with many colors, it stayed blue, varying only in its intensity. “Is that supposed to happen?”
Mack opened his mouth to say something, then snapped it shut as the aurora took on a vivid blue, nearly cyan, hue with startling speed. As it changed color, it also began to shrink away from the horizon to form a swirling funnel of light, like a water spout.
“Isn’t that out where Monhegan is?” Lynne asked. Even though she was freezing, she felt the prickle of sweat breaking out along her spine as she watched the aurora contract to a shaft of blazing light that rose from the ocean, maybe ten miles away, rising into the sky as far as she could see.
“Yeah,” Sean said, mesmerized by the sight, but not believing it. “It’s hard to judge how far away it is, but I think you’re right.”
“This is impossible” Carol was shivering, but not from the cold. “Isn’t it?”
As if hearing her whispered words, the light suddenly vanished.
Eric Chisholm sighed as he piloted the boat, normally used as a ferry from New Harbor Maine to Monhegan Island, through the pre-dawn waters.
“We saw it, Dad.” Lynne, his daughter, stood next to him in the pilothouse. “We’re not making this up.”
“I know, hon,” he said over the thrum of the boat’s twin diesels. “If I didn’t believe you saw something, we wouldn’t be out here.” The sun just peeked over the horizon to the east. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was just before 7 o’clock. “You’re also lucky it’s winter. If it was spring we’d have to wait for a load of puffin-watching tourists.”
Lynne smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. Off the bow was Monhegan Island, silhouetted by the rising sun, and she felt a sick unease in the pit of her stomach. She didn’t know why, but somehow the shadow of the island against the brightening sky made it look sinister.
Sean, Mack, and Carol were up on the bow, peering intently at the island as the boat drew closer.
Mack turned around and gestured to them, pointing at the island.
“Dad…” Lynne said as she realized why the island’s outline was giving her the creeps.
The houses and other buildings along the shoreline were gone. Even the Island Inn, which was right off the wharf where the ferry would normally dock. But they couldn’t dock there this morning, because the wharf was gone. There was no wreckage or debris, no smoke or evidence of fire. There was just smooth, glittering rock. Everywhere.
Her father didn’t answer. He had no words for what his eyes were showing him.
Altering course to take the boat through what had once been Monhegan harbor, he saw that there were no longer any boats there. They were just gone, as if they’d been erased from existence. There was no debris, nothing floating on the surface. Even the mooring buoys were gone as if they’d never existed.
As they sailed through the harbor, heading south, Mack came back to the pilothouse, a frightened look on his face. “You’re seeing this, right?”
“That there’s nothing here?” Eric finally found his voice as he tightened his grip on the wheel. “Yeah, we’re seeing it. Everybody’s been wiped out.”
“It’s worse than that.” Mac pointed to the rocky shore. “There aren’t even any trees up there. It’s like everything on the island’s been vaporized. And did you see the shore? The rocks are shiny, like glass. What could do that?”
Shaking his head, Eric told him, “I don’t know. I’m calling the Coast Guard.”
As Eric picked up the microphone and began to call for assistance, Mack and Lynne went up to the bow to join Sean and Carol.
“What do you think happened?” Carol asked as she watched the dead shoreline pass by. Even the water seemed lifeless. There was no algae, no seaweed. Nothing. Only glittering rock. “This is creeping me out.”
Turning to the sound of her father’s voice, she saw him gesture for them all to come to the pilothouse.
“There’s no response on the radio,” Eric told them, his face creased with worry.
“The Coast Guard didn’t answer?” Sean looked at the others. His father was an officer at the Coast Guard station at Boothbay Harbor, about twelve miles to the northwest.
“No one answered. And I checked the radio. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
“There must be,” Sean insisted. “If it was working, someone would have answered. And we can’t be the only ones who saw that light last night, and others must have come to check out the island.”
“Have you seen any boats?” Eric swept his arm around the horizon as he slowly piloted the boat back toward where the dock was. Or used to be. “I haven’t seen a single one since we left.”
“I haven’t seen any planes, either.” Everyone turned to Carol, who stood close to Sean. Her normally tan complexion, maintained by frequent visits to a tanning salon during the winter, looked pale in the early morning light. She made no attempt to pretend she wasn’t frightened. “Have you?”
The others shook their heads, as they reflexively looked up at the sky.
“I haven’t seen any navigation lights, no contrails, nothing.”
“It’s still pretty early,” Mack ventured.
“So what do we do?” Lynne looked at her father.
“I guess the first thing is to see if there are any survivors.” Eric reversed the props for a moment, bringing the boat to a stop near where the boat dock had been, but where he knew the water should be a safe depth. The last thing he wanted to do was run aground on the unforgiving rocks. “We can only see what’s right along the shore here. There could be survivors farther inland.”
Mack frowned. Inland for Monhegan was a relative term, since the island was only about a mile long and maybe a third of a mile across.
After shutting down the engines, Eric went forward to the bow and released the anchor, which splashed into the water below. The anchor’s tines bit into the bottom a few moments later, and he secured the rope. The water was calm this morning, for which he was thankful, but it also bothered him. It was already too quiet here, and he had a bad feeling about what they might find.
“We don’t have a dinghy,” he gestured for Mack and Sean to follow him, “so I’m going to put in one of the emergency rafts, then we can paddle to shore and take a look around.”
The two young men helped him lift one of the raft containers, and on Eric’s command tossed it overboard, holding onto the lead rope as he activated the inflation system.
In a few moments, the bright orange raft had fully inflated, and bumped gently against the boat’s hull.
“Anybody want to stay aboard?” Eric asked.
All but Carol immediately shook their heads. After a moment, fear plain on her face, she shook hers, too. “I don’t want to go, but I sure don’t want to stay here by myself.”
Sean climbed in first, then Lynne and Carol. Mack followed, and he and Sean held onto a safety rope Eric had secured to the boat and tossed down to them. That let them hold the raft next to the boat as Eric climbed down.
“Let’s go,” Eric said.
Taking the four collapsible paddles, the three men and Lynne guided the raft to the shore where the boat dock had been.
Sean hopped out just as the raft touched the rocks, intending to hold the raft steady so the others could get out, but his feet slid out from under him
“Shit!” He fell flat on his back in the shallow water, cracking the back of his head.
“Sean!” Carol cried, reaching forward to help him. Taking his hand, he sat up as the raft pushed up against him, shoving him farther up the rock.
“Be careful,” he warned, rubbing the back of his head with his free hand. “The rocks are slick as ice!”
He got to his feet more carefully, and hauled the raft up onto the dry rock, which was slightly less slippery.
The others got out, and they pulled the raft farther up the shore, well clear of the water.
“Come on,” Eric said quietly, leading them up to where the Island Inn had once stood, a couple hundred feet away.
“Jesus,” Mack whispered as they reached the site of the Inn. There was no sign it had ever existed. As far as they could see, there was nothing but glittering rock. No trees, no plants, no birds. Not even the asphalt and gravel for the roads. There was nothing but smooth, glittering rock.
With a groan, Sean suddenly sank to his knees and vomited.
“Sean!” Carol knelt next to him, and saw that he was bleeding from his scalp. Only it wasn’t blood. It looked like the glittering rock beneath their feet. “Oh, my God…”
“What is it?” Eric bent down to take a look, then stepped back in horror as Sean collapsed on the ground, wracked with convulsions. The young man’s hair and the skin of his neck and face were consumed, transformed into the same glittering substance as the rock.
But he wasn’t just transforming. He was…disintegrating.
Carol screamed as Sean’s body, his convulsions finally ended, began to crumble away, being absorbed into the surface of the island.
In less than two minutes, there was no trace of Sean’s body. None at all.
Then Lynne pointed at Mack’s shoes. “Mack…”
He looked down, and saw the horrid glitter working its way up the soles. The others checked their shoes: they were all the same.
They ran for the raft, but it was already gone. It wouldn’t have mattered: the boat was listing, glitter spreading along the hull.