Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Clear and Hold - Flash Fiction by R.A. McCandless

Here, there be . . . stories!
Writing in a genre or a format that is outside your comfort zone can really expand your skill set as an author—at least that’s the hope.  The following was submitted for a contest which encompassed both, and added the restriction of using an image to guide the story.  This piece wasn’t selected as a finalist, but I’m pleased with the attempt and the results.

Please enjoy!

Clear and Hold
I loved search and destroy operations.
 That’s the standing order for the Voll.  Their blood carries diseases and impurities.  They kidnap children to infect them.  They seduce pure men to get pregnant and coerce or rape pure women.  Command says they must be destroyed.
I agreed.
The Voll’s burrow was an old bunker—civilian, abandoned, and in ruins.  Dark and dank—the kind of thing they like.  Drones were useless in the confined space, so it was limited sat-comm with heat signatures on IR for the op.  The LT sent four of us.
We went in by the numbers.
I curled my fingers around the hard composite of my MTAR-33 assault rifle and found the biometric studs.  ARES chirped phys-chem recognition and overlays leapt into view.  A targeting reticle—gray to indicate no active target—floated while ARES scanned the bunker.  A 3D map bounced in front of me.  ARES estimated two hostiles.
We were ninety meters in when all hell broke loose.  Heat sign went off the scale around us. They had a boiler working and flooded steam through the piping.  Smokers went off and IR became useless.  ARES switched to full VR of the bunker.
A light blue wireframe overlayed the flowing white smoke and outlined the corridor, doorways, rooms and service access.  Two glowing semi-circles gave me estimated distance and time to contact from my current position.  I peered past the blue VR lines through the smoke and strained to make out the enemy.
ARES was wrong.  Four or five Volls came out of the walls, and they came fast.  They used some kind of heat shields—insulation or something.  Private Stinson got it first—goddamn axe handle to the back of the head.
Barry crumpled to the ground without a sound.  It wasn’t how a soldier should go down.
Bell and Greengar managed to open fire, but in the smoke and heat and confusion—the Voll had the advantage.
ARES finally caught up to the action.  The system painted the four hostiles with red chevrons to mark their position and yellow targeting reticles.
They came at me, screeching and clicking, chittering like bugs.
I lined up my MTAR with the first targeting reticle.  The crosshair circle changed from yellow to green and I squeezed the trigger five times.  My rifle thumped softly against my shoulder while ARES muted the gunfire sounds to small pops.  Two Voll dropped to the ground.
I swung to the next reticle.
There was too many.
ARES pulsed a red proximity alert over everything to warn me.  The second Voll swung a club at me.  I dropped the Voll at point blank range with two hasty shots, but the club bounced against my helmet and cheek with a dull thud.  I was momentarily blinded as pain blossomed through my face and eye.
The next Voll swung a broken pipe that tore my MTAR from my grip.  The weapon clattered across the floor.  I drew my sidearm and ARES switched the targeting reticles and ranges.  The Voll swung again.  I jumped back and fired.  The first two shots pinged off the concrete floor.  The third caught the Voll in the abdomen.  ARES confirmed the kill.
Too many.
ARES pulsed the red proximity warning faster.  I got off a hasty shot at the last Voll with the axe handle.  The Voll screamed, smashed the thick wood into my hands twice and knocked the sidearm free.  I drew my KA-BAR.  ARES painted pink splashes to adapt to the tactical knife.
The Voll swung the axe handle at my head.  I stepped into the creature and used my left arm to catch the strike near the Voll’s hands.  It stung, but the block did what was needed.  I stabbed toward the pink splash target, but wasn’t fast enough.  The Voll punched me in the face.  ARES registered the hit, and flowed quick calculations for damage, fatigue and chance of recovery.
I caught the next two punches with quick blocks.  I ducked down, spun and kicked the Voll’s legs out from under him.  The Voll fell backward and I lunged with my knife.  The blade slid into his left shoulder.  He screamed and hissed, grabbed my hand and trapped it against the knife handle.  ARES streamed information about the Voll’s wound—debilitating but not fatal.
The axe handle careened off my helmet in a series of wild blows.  My cheek broke under the barrage as I fought to free my hand from the knife.  The Voll dropped the handle and punched me.  Inky black flared in front of me from each blow.  ARES fritzed—the words and numbers froze, vibrated and hissed with static.  The red pulse of the proximity warning missed a beat, and then another.  It picked up again on my right side, but not the left.  I had a split-world view.  On the right, ARES functioned normally, but my left was stripped of the overlays.
The Voll chittered and hissed—underneath a voice spoke.
“Jesus Christ!  Please don’t kill me!  Jesuschristplease!”
I looked down and froze.  On the right, I saw the Voll as they’d always been—a hideous, hairless creature with a deformed head, melted features and dark, mottled skin.  My left eye showed a human.  A man.  He was emaciated by hunger and streaked with dirt from living in a bunker, but he was a man.  His clothes might have fit him a year ago, but now they hung off his frame.  The man’s face was contorted in fear and pain.  Tears streamed down his face and drew tracks across his cheeks.  It was a brutal contrast to the alien anger and rage my right eye showed me.
I scrambled back from the man.  ARES helpfully pointed out where my rifle and sidearm were, easy to reach.  I ignored the information.  The downed Volls were identified by ARES as dead.
To my left eye, all of them were human, bleeding red blood, looks of horror and pain carved on their faces.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Don't Silence Me!

Silent, but not too silent.
Silencers do not silence a firearm.  Silencers are better named “suppressors” as in “noise suppressor”.  Despite what we’ve been taught by movies and television—who rarely, if ever, get anything wrong—a suppressor will not change a gunshot to a sound like popcorn popping, or make that cool “fftt” noise.  Depending on the ammunition and the suppressor used, it will only reduce the sound by around 30dB.  Most guns crack off at around 160dB or better.  So a “silenced” gun will still sound like a gun shooting, just a little quieter.

On the other hand, modern suppressors no longer use the wipes (physical barriers of any number of materials meant to trap the exploding gasses) which would physically touch the bullet and effect the velocity.  Reducing the velocity of the bullet will reduce the range and accuracy—not a lot, but it should be noted.  Suppressors now use baffles and spacers which are machined with such great precision that they tend to no longer have these drawbacks.  In some cases, suppressors can actually increase muzzle velocity, although it’s not very much.

Proper hearing protection!
So, if you’re not getting James Bond-levels of assassination silence, what do you get with a suppressor?  First, dropping the dB from 160 (which is dangerous) down to 130dB definitely saves wear and tear on the eardrums, especially if they're unprotected.  It also cuts down on noise pollution for those areas around gun clubs and hunting areas where gunshots are more likely to be heard.  Aside from the noise, suppressors also cut down on the recoil as the lighter mass of the gas is slowed and expelled over a longer period of time.  Finally, you increase your ability to communicate if your ears and theirs aren’t ringing from the sonic boom of a gunshot, and your voice isn’t being drowned out by louder-than-a-rock-concert noises.  For military operations, this is incredibly desirable for obvious reasons of tactics and on-the-fly orders.

One final note is that suppressors wear out over time.  If we’re talking about an older unit, which uses the wipes, they wear out pretty quickly as the bullet is literally tearing through them.  But even more modern suppressors are worn down by the corrosive gasses and the passage of the bullet over time.  Automatic weapons are generally never suppressed for this reason, as the suppressors simply can’t stand up to the wear and tear.  Some of the highest quality suppressors may last over 30,000 rounds.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Don't Forget to Cover It!

Goggles? Airship? Female protagonist?
You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover—but you do.  Everyone does.  This is why marketing exists in the first place.  There are literally (see what I did there) millions of books, all clamoring for a reader’s attention.  That cleverly engaging first line/first page of your work may not even be seen if you a reader is unwilling to pick up the title because the cover is unappealing.

The cover, for the reader, could easily be considered the true first page of the story.  It sits right there for Thor and everyone to see, and it gives an immediate first glimpse into the story.  Images of a goggle-wearing protagonist with a crashing airship reflected in one lens immediately tells your reader what kind of story this is likely to be.  If the cover is dull or drab (unless you’re writing in a dull and drab genre) readers are less likely to be interested.

More, the cover helps convey the quality of the work to the reader.  If you're asking people to pay money for something, you owe them a certain amount of value.  The cover can provide one assurance that the work about to be read meets some basic requirements of story and editing.  A professional cover lets readers know that they aren’t paying for a rough, first draft of the story.

Good cover designs, like the first line/first page of your story, draw the reader’s attention.  The artwork can take hold of them emotionally, and make them want to turn the pages—which is ultimately any writer’s goal.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Flashiest of Flash Fiction

Flash, goes the lightning!
The last two weeks, from a writing perspective, have flown past and not in a good way.  Deadlines are Eighth Circle of Hell.  Mix that with a science fiction theme and a flash-fiction maximum limit of 1,000 words and it’s like scrubbing with a cheese grater in a lemon-juice shower.

Until that brief, shining moment when all the random threads come together in a story that makes you salivate with wonder and hope.  Finalists will be announced November 28th, but whatever the outcome, a new story is a new story.  Here’s the opening:

I loved search and destroy operations.

That’s the standing order for the Voll.  Their blood carries diseases and impurities.  They kidnap children to infect them.  They seduce pure men to get pregnant and coerce or rape pure women.  Command says they must be destroyed.

I agreed.

The Voll’s burrow was an old bunker—civilian, abandoned, and in ruins.  Dark and dank—the kind of thing they like.  Drones were useless in the confined space, so it was limited sat-comm with heat signatures on IR for the op.  The LT sent four of us.

We went in by the numbers.

Pretty light stuff, huh?

Thanks goes out to all the folks who participated as beta readers or offered advice!

If this doesn’t make the finalists, the entirely will be posted up for your reading enjoyment.  It may be posted up anyhow.  It’s also possible this is the start of a new novel . . . but time will tell.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hunting Monsters by Allen Currier

In a sleepy, little town, a seasoned detective and a killer, the likes of which no one has ever seen, match wits.

Detective Steve Belcher has his work cut out for him. But how do you find a killer who leaves no clues? A killer who has the police lost at every turn?

How many bodies will stack up until Detective Belcher can find the monster committing these unspeakable crimes? How many monsters will he have to chase down to find the one behind the murders?

Can Steve find the monster before the monster finds him?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Arguments, Arguments Everywhere

I have three off case positions, two Ts and a K.
A friend of mine was asking for “solid argument topics” and of course, as a speech and debate coach of some years now, I was prepared:

The Electoral College—bad or so evil that you must say it's eeeee-vil?
Stop and Frisk in Schools—necessary or a good way to meet friends?
Nuclear Power—safe resource or our best chance for mutant powers?
Immunity for Police Officers—why or why?
Civil Disobedience—morally justified in a democracy, or a great way to get that flatscreen you've been eyeing?

Feel free to argue any, all, or your own topic in the comments section.  You will be graded on evidence, analysis, logical conclusion and the number of times you manage to site Breitbart without cracking up.

Also, bonus points for anyone who understood the caption without resorting to Google or Google-like options.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What? Me? Worry!?

Jokes on us!
I am of the sneaking and growing suspicion that what Trump actually meant when he said "We'll build a wall!" is "I want to be president and will say anything to do so regardless of how asinine it is, and once I'm in you'll look really foolish for electing me to do these implausible and impossible things!"

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day 2016

Out of respect.
Veterans suffuse my life.  Granddad McCandless served, and so did my dad, Robert.  Uncles and cousins, countless friends and associates have taken an oath, shouldered a weapon and stood a watch.

I've thanked most of them throughout the years—or at least meant to.

Two of my closest friends served in three armed services.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Whatever their other faults, this is very much their day, when they are recognized for their actions, no matter how mundane, in service to their country and specifically to me. 

They continue to challenge, support, cajole, mock and laugh at and with me.

Thanks lads.  FAOBM!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

About Last Night

Say hello to my small-handed friend.
Last night totally happened.

It’s a thing now, and we have to face the consequences.

This morning, some of us felt scared or angry or frustrated.  Some of us were elated and excited and pumped up.  This morning, the Earth continued its rotation and the sun “came up”.  The air was still breathable, water was still wet, and basic laws of gravity and motion remained in effect.  My boys were cute.

The fundamental truth is that we all woke up in the same United States of America.

For those who “won,” congratulations.  I mean that sincerely, and I hope that the country and the world sees but prosperity and hope through your win.  For those who “lost,” I’m deeply sorry.  I sincerely hope that you will continue working to try to make the country, and the world, a better place.  America works as long as we make it work.

These are not the end times, or the start of a golden Utopia.  There is no movement the likes of which the world has never seen.  It’s only through a very narrow lens that history appears to be an inexorable march from event to event.  Nothing was meant to happen.  It required hard work, effort and investment of time and thought.

Win or lose, that’s the America we were in yesterday and 24 hours hasn’t changed it.

It will be OK.

Now, a word from our Founding Father:

In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, — if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.

Benjamin Franklin

Speech to the Constitutional Convention, September 17, 1787

Monday, November 7, 2016

And, Shockingly, I'm Sick

The Writer, formerly known as Well.
Whatever my middle son decided to pick up as this seasons illness has finally hit me.  I had high hopes that when everyone had it but me and my oldest son, I was going to be safe.  Alas, no such luck.  I went to sleep last night with a tickle in my throat, and woke up this morning coughing, sore everywhere, and with far lower energy.

All this on the first Monday after the evil, vile, terrible, icky, smelly Daylight Stupid Time has finally ended.

I can barely work up a meaningful huzzah.


See?  I can’t even get up to exclamation point level, and this is an internet blog.

Have a great day.  I’m thinking I may head home.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Reviews, Reviews and More Star Reviews

Not all reviews are this good.
I've really shifted how I give reviews since I became published.

I used to be pretty brutal on books that weren't excellent.  That was only how the story impacted me personally, rather than how the book achieved its goal of entertaining me over the course of the story.  When I entered into review groups, I saw how the star system was far more important.  Amazon used to consider a three-star review as favorable, but has since switched it to being marginally unfavorable.  This is made even worse because it’s (nearly) impossible to get a five-star aggregate.  The more reviews you have (good) the more under five stars you can achieve (bad).  So if a book was only moderately entertaining, a series of three-star reviews, one or two four or five stars and whatever mean-spirit allows two stars reviews will center the book around 3.5.  Amazon considers anything under four stars to be a mediocre-to-crap product.  That’s fine and dandy for toasters and food processors, but it’s a world of difference for books.   

Since then, I’ve changed my perspective on giving reviews and stars.  Three stars is my hard floor—I try to not go below that.  You’d have to actively work in a genre that I hate with characters that offer nothing and a story that lulls me to sleep to earn something less than three stars.

I boil it down to the following:

1 - Are the story and the characters solid and consistent?
2 - Did the story maintain my willing suspension of disbelief?
3 - Was I entertained?
4 - Were the typos/grammar issues minimal?

Fantastic book!  Great characters! Clever twist!  Two Stars!
The last I'm willing to cut more slack than most people.  Even the Big Five publishers release books with typos/grammar issues in them.  So, finding a dozen to twenty shouldn't bother anyone.  Also, I’m not writing the review for me.  I know what I think of the book.  I’m writing the review so that others can gain decent insight into whether or not this is a book they would enjoy.

Enjoyment is, after all, the goal of any decent author.

If a book hits all four, then at a minimum, I'm going to give it four stars and likely five.  A worthwhile story, one that was entertaining and reasonably consistent, should get four to five stars.  It is, as far as helping another author, the absolute least thing I can do.  It doesn't hurt me, or my reputation, to give someone a helping hand, and since reviews aggregate, this is the one thing that I can do to help any author.

Plus, I know first hand that other reviewers will be less kind, even if they don’t mean to.  I’ve received rave reviews that gushed about dialogue, characters, plot, etc. and couldn’t say enough good things.  I couldn’t pay people to write reviews like that.  Then—three stars.

This doesn't mean my review won't point out flaws or stumbles.  I don't need to white-wash or pull punches when discussing any failings (as I see it) with the book.  But if a story can manage at least the first three, then likely I'm going to give it four stars.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Good News and Bad News

And scream, and scream, and scream . . .
This is a good news / bad news kind of post.

The bad news is that my publisher is closing doors.  A form email went out to all the authors over the weekend letting us know that Wild Child Publishing is shutting down.  I’m not quite certain what that means for the books currently out there, so I’ll keep you posted.

The good news from this is that I’ll do whatever it takes to make certain Tears of Heaven and Hell Becomes Her are still available for purchase . . . somehow.  CreateSpace is the most likely source, and I’ve worked through that before to produce Xavier and Bear on Crabby Pond.  That experience will definitely come into play when working out how to get the books back up.

The other bad news is that I’m not certain about reviews and current links and so forth.  It’s starting to sound like a lot of work that I’ll have to do to keep everything flowing smoothly.

On the other hand, the other good news is that this might free me to update/change the cover for Tears of Heaven.  It’s a fine cover, but it doesn’t quite go with what I’m working on, and won’t line up with the third book.

Another potentially good news is that, should I ever become famous, those initial run prints of Tears of Heaven and Hell Becomes Her would be considered rare collectors items so long as they have the Wild Child imprint.  If you've been holding out on purchasing the books, now may well be your time!  Buy early.  Buy often!  It's an excellent investment as I can assure you I'm a wonderful writer with a real future—at least that's what the roadside psychic said, right before a sixteen-wheeler plowed through her stand.

Not mad.  Just disappointed.
Funny, you'd think she'd have seen that coming . . . what with the horns and all?

Ahhh, yes, that’s the final bit of bad / good news—Company of the Damned.  I’m not quite certain how this will impact the release of the next Del book.  Obviously, the book will not go through Wild Child’s editing process.  Unless a book series is selling like crazy, most publishing houses won’t take on a book in the middle of the series.  That means that Company of the Damned will most likely have to come out as an indie.  That, in itself, isn’t problematic, but it will certainly limit the number of platforms the book can be released to.

Meanwhile, progress continues on Forge of Heroes, the novella that I’m editing/updating from my fantasy novel The Blood of Heroes.  I managed to nearly complete the next chapter over this weekend.

Stay tuned!