From Scratch – Part 4: A Different Approach

Previously on From Scratch, I changed my mind a million times, indicated I’d soon be writing about this story, and had every intention of submitting it to that short story window I found….yeah, about that.

Everything went a little bit awry with my plans to submit my sci-fi story, but in the best way possible. You see, I set out to get my feet wet with writing short fiction again after taking a too-long hiatus thanks to focusing on a novel I wasn’t enjoying writing, and thus actually not accomplishing much of anything at all.

So the deadline? Missed it.  The word count? Blew out. The fantasy story I was also planning to write? Never got around to it.

None of this is bad though!

Instead of an 8000 word short story that was water-themed, I instead wound up with a 20,000 word sci-fi novella that I think is legitimately the best thing I’ve ever written – certainly I like it more than I’ve liked anything else I’ve done, and it hasn’t taken my usual ten edits to get it to the stage where I’m not embarrassed by it either. Hell, I wrote it from start to finish pretty much non-stop and knew exactly where I was going with it pretty much the whole time, which never happens with me.

What started out as a simple heist story is instead a good chunk of meaty story, a military space opera influenced by Star Wars and Firefly and all the other usual suspects, but with a focus on what I hope are interesting characters and a unique scenario that elevates it into something different while also walking the line between action, humour, tension, and cool space ships shooting at each other.

So yes, unfortunately I missed the short story submissions window I was aiming for.  Instead, I’ve now got my sights set on the TOR novella window opening in early May.  I think I’ve basically got zero chance of success, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having a crack.

Wish me luck!

Finally, to show the difference a bit of time makes, here’s the intro to the story – now called Calayasii – from the latest edit. You’ll notice that it is fairly similar tonally, but there have been quite a few little changes here or there compared to the earlier draft:

The starfighters of Corsair squadron skimmed an ocean the colour of smoked glass, leaving chaos in their wake.

‘Incoming fighters: state your business.’ The query from Holy City Flight Control stabbed into Ayla’s mind. Most chip communications were not so intrusive, but the Cobies had a particularly blunt way of making themselves known.

‘This is Aquafex Hydronatus Lurr of flight group Zero-Two-Delta here for refuel and resupply.’ Ayla pulsed back, every word untrue.

‘Acknowledged, Aquafex. Welcome to the Holy World,’ Control buzzed back, a giant mosquito somewhere in her frontal lobe. Illusory lights floated into existence before her eyes, pink orbs illuminating a path toward the Holy City. ‘Hangar alpha-four, landing pad eighteen in City West. Deviate from the designated flight path and be destroyed. All praise to the Cobalt Waters.’

‘We will comply, Control.’ Another lie.  ‘We have absolutely no intention of causing any trouble. Praise the Cobalt Waters of Holy Ter.’

Now that was some real crap, even down to the murky water they skimmed across most definitely not being any shade of blue Ayla had ever seen.  Lies within lies within lies.

Captain Ayla Neshitani, leader of Corsair Squadron – former soldier, pretend space pirate, and extra-pretend Aquafex of the fanatical Cobalt Imperium – sighed and kept her focus on ensuring her fighter didn’t plough into the water below.

It’d be far too apropos to drown in the murk of this bullshit mission.

From Scratch – Part 3: Pantsing It

Previously on From Scratch, I managed to avoid making a decision on which story idea I wanted to go with, and instead decided to write both!

I’ve since worked a whole bunch on my still-as-yet-untitled sci-fi story of space pirates hijacking holy water, and I’m very happy with how the first draft is coming, even though I’m already over the maximum word count despite probably only being 3/4 of the way there.  Even better, I’m reasonably sure I’ve got a tonne of stuff to remove, and that I’m going to have to insert a bunch more into the early parts of the story to plant enough seeds for the later plot points to pay off (once I’ve confirmed what those are!).

Does all of this sound kind of chaotic? It is! That’s because I, with this particular story, decided to go back to where I began as a writer:

I decided to pants it.

There is a writing methodology that is all about the meticulous planning: the author writes a short overall plot description (like my earlier pitches), expands this out into, say, a page or two of plot summary hitting the key points, and then expands this out in turn to be a chapter by chapter or scene by scene summary forming a novel framework.  In the case of a short story, you’d generally not go further than the page or two of summary, although you might go further down the rabbit hole with detail there if the story was particularly complex. Obviously, this is a broad guidelines – it varies by author or project, but the key rule is taking a structured, planned approach toward your work, giving you a framework where you are essentially “filling in the gaps” until the story is done.

That is the literal opposite of what I’m doing.

Instead, I decided to write by the seat of my pants.  This has traditionally been my chosen method of writing, with the end result being a whole bunch of partially completed projects and relatively few finished ones.  Basically, I sit down with an idea, and just write.  As the words come out, the skeleton of a plot starts to form, and I can organically respond to it, following it to a conclusion.

With my new story, this has actually been working really well.  I have an idea of how I want it to end, and I’m enjoying exploring the different ways of getting there, even as I rapidly realise there’s whole chunks I’ll need to rewrite.

A lot of people I speak to about writing are blown away by idea of drafting and redrafting.  The idea that you can type the last word and know that you’re probably only a quarter of the way there (if that) frustrates a lot of people, never mind the utterly alien concept of handing said work over to someone else to read and dissect and send you back to rework whole chunks of the story.

This is a necessary process for all writing styles, but it is particularly so when writing without a solid plan.  As someone without an artistic bone in my body, I’ll nonetheless liken it to my probably misconception of sculpting. I have the roughest of designs in mind. I get the base structure into place and begin to visualise where it will end up, and then I chip away until I get there in the end.

This story is taking shape so far, and I am actually feeling pretty confident it’ll be something decent in the end.

With that in mind, here’s the intro to the story – again, this is the first draft. It’s probably garbage, is subject to change, read it at your own peril, etc, etc:

The sky was the dull sheen of gunmetal, mirrored perfectly by the ocean. The four fighters of Corsair squadron skimmed above the water, leaving chaos in their wake.

The query from Holy Ter City flight control stabbed again in Ayla’s mind – most chip communications were not intrusive, but the Cobies had a particularly blunt way of making themselves known.

‘This is Aquafex Hydronatus Lurr of flight group Zero-Two-Delta here for emergency refuel and resupply.’ Ayla pulsed back, every word untrue.

‘Acknowledged, Aquafex. Welcome to the Holy World,’ Control buzzed back, a giant mosquito somewhere in her frontal lobe. ‘Landing pad eighteen in Ter City West. Deviate and be destroyed. All praise to the Cobalt Waters’

‘We will comply, Control.’ Another lie.  ‘We have absolutely no intention of causing any trouble. Praise the Cobalt Waters of Holy Ter.’

Now that was some real crap, even down to the murky water they skimmed across most definitely not being cobalt or any other shade of blue.  Every single thing about this damn mission was lies within lies within lies.

Captain Ayla Neshitani, leader of Corsair Squadron – former soldier, current revolutionary, pretend space pirate, and extra-pretend Aquafex of the fanatical Cobalt Imperium – sighed and decided to keep her focus on ensuring her fighter didn’t plough into the smoked glass surface of the water below.

It’d be far too apropos to drown in the murk of this bullshit mission.

More about the story itself…next time, on From Scratch.

From Scratch – Part 1: Go Pitch Myself

Due to getting bogged down for the longest time in working on my first novel, I’ve decided to cleanse my palette a little bit by getting back to the thing that brought me to the writing dance in the first place: short stories. 

From Scratch is going to be an ongoing documentation of my journey from searching for an idea through to (hopeful) completion and submission of a story.

Burning out on writing sucks.

I didn’t realise that was what was happening to me at first – surely, I was just struggling with working on a novel, right? Anyone transitioning from writing a tightly edited 6000 words is going to feel overwhelmed trying to make an 80,000 word story come together properly, never mind then having to redraft multiple times.

I kept telling myself that, even as I found myself doing less and less work on it.  Worse, despite knowing that I do my best from a productivity standpoint when I have multiple projects underway simultaneously, I kept trying to laser focus in on this one project that I was growing to hate-hate (instead of my usual love-hate that I have with all my work).

No longer! A random run-in on Facebook led to me finding the following call for submissions for water-themed speculative fiction. This is perfect – a short story window I can aim for that, even if I am not successful, will challenge me to come up with a concept taking into account a theme I may have otherwise never arrived at.  Even better, it’s open to all spec fic sub genres, which tickles my recent urges to get back into the fantasy and sci-fi spaces.

In the end I arrived at a fork in the road, one way leading back to my dark fantasy world I have previously explored in Heart Eater and an upcoming as-yet-unnamed novella. The other leading me to a space opera vision of pirates and revolutionaries I’ve had in the back of my mind since I first read the Rogue and Wraith Squadron books of Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston.

I decided to write quick summary pitches of both stories, to give me an idea of a broad plot outline I might decide to follow:

Fantasy:

PLACEHOLDER, follower of the Ocean Path and medic for a band of mercenaries, has a crisis of conscience when her leaders accept a job to slaughter a village of orcish civilians.  Abandoning her post, she goes to the orcs and uses her healing powers to keep the civilians alive in the face of overwhelming odds, even as she struggles with their distrust of her, the betrayal of her former friends,  the demands of her pacifistic religion, and the knowledge that every person she heals brings the deaths of them all inevitably closer.

Sci-Fi:

Captain Ayla Neshitani – space pirate, insurgent, and reluctant revolutionary – is tasked with a mission to steal the Calayasii, a derelict fuel tanker-turned-shrine from Ter, the spiritual home of the Cobalt Imperium.  Ayla’s squad is to infiltrate the ocean world, fill the Calayasii to the brim with holy water, and retrieve it for sale to the highest bidder. Of course, things don’t quite go according to plan, and Ayla finds herself faced with an unexpected ethical question regarding exploiting the spirituality of her enemies.

Which will I choose?

Tune in for Part 2.

Work In Progress Excerpt: Freeburn (working title)

Here’s an excerpt from my current draft of my action-spy-post-apocalyptic thriller, tentatively titled Freeburn.  This is a (very) rough early version of a new scene from about a third of the way through the novel and is presented without context – I hope it can be parsed well enough, both in terms of the people in the scene, but also in terms of the tone of the story.  In case you’re wondering, I’m primarily posting this to try to fire myself up to write some more, so please let me know what you think!

I sat on a stump at the edge of the woods and watched the sunset.
It had taken a while to extricate myself from the hospital after the attack – calming the terrified civvies, accepting back slaps from Gerstmann and co, seeing to Ayoub’s wounds. I’d taken a few myself, including a bullet graze on my right shoulder that I hadn’t even felt in the heat of the moment.
The sun had started to dip by the time I was ready to steal Lin’s bike and hit the road. No one tried to stop me – I had made vague noises about checking for surviving bandits lurking in the trees, and they’d been accepting enough. I admit there was a bit of an itch between my shoulder blades as I took off – I’d seen Lin sniping from the roof earlier, and she was easily good enough to peg a moving target, especially one she didn’t like that also happened to have just stolen her ride.
Thankfully, the twitchy Lieutenant mustn’t have been paying attention, and I made it without incident. I parked the bike well away from my actual destination, leaving it on its side amongst the surprisingly lush undergrowth, and moved away from the road, making sure I wasn’t followed.
The stump was perfect – in deep enough to obscure me, but not so deep that I couldn’t look down the road and over the houses dotting the distant hills, glittering prettily in the setting sun, off-white buildings stained orange and purple.
I could see clearly down the road, so naturally I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard someone clear their throat behind me.
‘How long did you know I was there?’ a deep voice, clipped and precise.
‘A while,’ I said, not turning around. My pistol was clutched in my left hand, dangling loosely against the inside of my thigh. I looked relaxed, and the gun should have been completely invisible to him, but somehow I knew he could feel the tension in both me and my trigger finger. ‘But only because I expected you.’
‘Liar,’ twigs crunched beneath his feet – an affectation, he’d never have accidentally done anything that could reveal himself. ‘If I was that predictable, I’d be dead.’
‘And yet, here I am, waiting for you.’ I smiled, finally turning to face him.
‘And yet here you are.’ He was tall, thin and muscular, looking twenty years younger than his middle age. He wore uniform fatigues, devoid of any insignia except for one: A bat-winged dagger. ‘It’s good to see you, Marcus.’
‘It’s good to see you too, Colonel.’
Llewellyn smiled at me. ‘Didn’t you hear? They made me a simulated Brigadier before they retired me. A general without an official unit, unattached to any branch of the Her Majesty’s military, and having never commanded more than two-dozen men at a time.’
I grinned at him. ‘We did more work than most battalions, simulated Brigadier General sir.’
‘That we did, Freeburn.’ His voice turned serious. ‘And how about now?’
Well, that brought us to the crux of things.
‘You killed my men. You’ve denied me what is rightfully mine.’
I shrugged. ‘The people in that hospital would probably disagree.’
‘Those people exist to allow men like us to do the hard work, you know that. I bear them no particular ill will, but they have supplies that my men need, and if we don’t have them, we will all die.’ Llewellyn had begun to pace, hands clasped behind his back – it was a pose I’d seen often, and one that usually ended with me being ordered to go kill someone. ‘You’re interfering in plans I’ve been working toward executing for more than a year now.’
‘And what plans are those?’
He ignored me, pacing silently. My hand tensed on the gun.
He stopped, instantly, eyes snapping to me. ‘Are you going to shoot me, Freeburn?’ His teeth glistened in the encroaching dark, more snarl than smile. ‘Is that what we’ve come to?’
I loosened my grip. Slightly.
‘Why did you miss our meeting?’
‘Honestly?’ I winced, actually embarrassed. ‘I was pissed about the job and drank too much on the flight, decided to grab a couple of hours of bunk time before heading up. It wasn’t personal.’
He barked something like a laugh. He stood – not at ease, never that – but suddenly more comfortable, as though the pieces had finally clicked into place and he knew what he was dealing with.
That pissed me off.
‘I didn’t realise at the time that armageddon was starting, of course.’
‘Of course,’ he replied. He stood just outside of my reach, not quite facing me, ready to move in any particular direction in an instant. He’d thickened in the middle, now that I could see him up close, although his fatigues were old and battered enough that they may have been adding to the effect. He still wore his usual beret – tan, devoid of insignia. He carried no visible weapon, but I knew that he had at least two knives on him. Not that Daffyd Llewellyn needed knives – he was deadly enough all on his lonesome, even well on his way past middle age.
‘What did you have for me?’ I asked him after the silence had stretched long enough to get uncomfortable. The sun had dropped lower in the sky, the shadows stretching between the trees. I could smell rain in the air, the first hint I’d seen since I’d woken from my long sleep.
‘I’d been ordered to kill you, of course,’ he shrugged, as though it were of no great import. A chunk of ice settled in my gut. ‘You must have worked that out by now.’
‘I had guessed.’ And I had, the more I had considered it. The night I’d been shot, the pink-haired assassin had implied I was responsible for what was happening. Budrickson and Lin had said it outright. I’d never found out why they’d believed it, but if enough people start accusing you of something and you actually didn’t do it, it probably means you’ve been set up. ‘What I want to know is why.’
‘That’s the million dollar question, son. Someone at MI6 disliked you enough to send you all the way around the world twice just so your old CO could put one in the back of you skull. What did you do?’
I shrugged, hoping I seemed mysterious rather than the utterly bewildered dickhead I felt like. I’d never seen eye to eye with the service, but I’d never done anything near bad enough to get myself implicated in the worst act of terrorism the world had ever seen. And, as Llewellyn had just said, it seemed like a particularly personal ‘fuck you’ from someone to send me on a trip just to be murdered by him.
We stared at each other as the last vestiges of light drifted away. The moon gleamed between the clouds and was absorbed a moment later as the rain began to fall.
‘I killed a lot of your men, General. I’m not sorry, they were scum.’
‘They were, but they were mine.’ He stepped close suddenly, so suddenly my hand tensed on my gun. ‘You’re mine too, Freeburn. I need you. This whole place has gone to shit, but I’ve got a plan and you increase the odds of my success dramatically.’
‘I usually do,’ I grimaced as he squeezed my shoulder, hoping he’d take it as a smile.
He reached into a pocket and handed me a piece of paper – it was too dark to see what it was, but I could guess. ‘Come to me, bring me something worthwhile, and I’ll leave these people you seem to care so much about-’
‘I don’t give a fuck about these people, Llewellyn, you know that.’
‘-in peace. Don’t interrupt me again.’ There was the Colonel I knew, voice suddenly as sharp as the combat knife tucked into the small of his back. ‘Come to me, and we’ll work this out together. I want answers as much as you do, and we’ll make whoever did this to us pay.’
He squeezed my shoulder one last time and stepped back, not turning away from me.
‘You’ve got three days.’ He said, withdrawing into the shadows, back the way he came. ‘After that, my plans will have progressed far enough that you’ll be left behind.’
I nodded. Not much else to say to that.
‘I’ll be seeing you, Freeburn. Make sure you don’t shoot me in the back.’ I saw his teeth glint in the sparse moonlight. He turned around and walked away, raising his left fist in what I initially assumed was a salute.
Then I noticed the two red dots dancing around on my chest.
‘If I was that predictable,’ I muttered, holstering my pistol with very slow, deliberate movements. ‘I’d be dead.’

Writing Exercise: Character Profile

One of the things that has come about with attempting to write longer form fiction is that my usual style of writing doesn’t really cut it.  With most of my early short stories, I tended to have a cool idea, wing it until most of the story was written, and then go back and rewrite until it came together as a somewhat cohesive tale. Along the way, the characters and main plot points would form around the core idea organically – often in unexpected ways – and I’d eventually find myself with a completed story that was almost certainly very different to where I started.

With my first novel manuscript, I started off this way as well.  Originally writing about 60,000 words for NaNoWriMo a few years ago, I did so with very little planning or idea of what was going to happen beyond wanting to write something in a post-catastrophe Australia and having a main character who was something of a lampooning of the James Bond type, where he thinks he’s a suave, sophisticated, hot shit spy, but is actually kind of a blunt weapon and a bit of a joke to those in the know, but dangerous nonetheless.

Part of the reason this is taking me forever to write is that my usual style is way too cumbersome for a full length novel. This has led to a great deal of rewriting, planning, adding and subtracting, and – crucially – outlining.

I’ve also undertaken some exercises in bringing my characters and world into focus.  One of these is profiling my characters, which has proven really useful for me, especially as I try to walk the line between seriousness and parody the story calls for.

There’s a lot of different ways you can go about this – I’ve used a simple series of headings that hit the core ideas I want to keep in my head as I write.  Below is an example for my protagonist that I hope some of you may find interesting and/or useful – keep in mind this is written as rough notes and isn’t a polished piece of fiction!

Name: Marcus Freeburn

Role in Story: Protagonist

Occupation: Secret Intelligence Service – Operative (TBC)
Previously: Joint NATO SMU (unofficial) (TBC)
British Royal Marines – Special Forces Support Group (TBC)

Physical Description: 6’6”, heavy build, muscular – almost always draws the eyes of everyone around, not an ideal trait. Shoulder-length black hair, raggedly cut post-injury. Neat beard. Dark brown eyes. Hairy. Scarred. Broken nose, but not crooked. Large, perfect teeth (like a cow’s), smiles look false. Has a habit of smirking or smiling with only one side of his mouth.

Personality: Sarcastic, arrogant. Has led a life where almost all of his decisions have been made for the purpose of defying someone or something, with very little thought given to his own goals, morals, or ethics. Has had a tendency to cling to the concept of ‘the greater good’ and serving his country as justification for the bad things he has done, even though he knows deep down this is just a cover. Has the capacity to be caring and decent, but has forced this down for so long that it only manifests unexpectedly. Smart, but thinks he is far smarter than he actually us.  A blunt instrument who thinks he is a scalpel.

Habits/Mannerisms: Internal monologues. Consistently underestimates the intelligence of those around him, but overestimates their capacity for treachery. Tends to act to provoke, but will occasionally be genuinely compassionate, kind, and caring. Can be suave and flirtatious when he wants to be, but the arrogance and falseness comes through to anyone who isn’t fooled by his outward persona. Has a tendency to move suddenly and unexpectedly, sometimes violently, with little indication until it is already done. Enters the zone when in danger, with much of the falseness falling away to reveal a calm, almost sociopathic killer.

Background: Born to wealthy, land-owning parents in Edinburgh, Scotland. Family was loving, but eventually became distant through meddling by his grandparents and some other difficulties. . Played rugby, boxed, played chess but was a middling player and lacked patience. Known for his aggression above all else. Went to university, partied hard, eventually dropped out when parents stopped supporting him. Decided to join the military to punish his liberal mother, and joining as an enlisted man to punish his propriety obsessed father, and ended up immediately being sent to Afghanistan. Adept fighter and showed genuine leadership capacity, but bad soldier – lack of discipline, questions authority, and little care for the rules. Promoted and demoted multiple times in a short period, then eventually arrested. Retrieved from the stockade by Major Llewellyn, who is leading a small team of reprobates from various NATO forces on black ops. Becomes an expert in small arms, infiltration, etc, although is generally used as a blunt instrument when all else has failed. Completes several years in this group and is “Dishonourably Discharged” by the Royal Marines, but immediately brought into the SIS. Struggles to fit in, but passes and becomes an operative, but is immediately punished for recklessness and contrary behaviour and given a series of nothing postings, the last of which is monitoring a listening post / safe house on the isle of Noumea. Finally brought home and given a mission to retrieve a package in Australia as a redemption mission.

Internal Conflicts: Obeying the orders of those he respects and completing the mission assigned to him versus thinking for himself and examining the morality on what he is doing. Hiding behind his job and false identity versus opening up to people who know who he is. Being truthful with others or lying, for purpose or habitually. Betraying people who trust him to meet his own goals or putting others first. Trust versus trusting only himself. Living in the past versus building a new life. Valuing a mentor for who they were versus who they are now or who he perceives them to be.

External Conflicts: REDACTED – here be spoilers.  I’ll just note that this would be conflicts that related to relationships between characters, as well as their place in the world and interaction with the plot (e.g. conflict with the main antagonist, not getting along with a companion, etc).

 

 

Nephilim

Nephilim – buy now from Amazon for Kindle for only $1.99

Synopsis:

In near-future Hong Kong, a new designer drug has hit the streets, causing unimaginable bliss in some, and psychotic rage in others. Of greater concern to Dantalion – Fallen Angel and private security for the Pfay-Saxton Corporation – is the fact that this drug has been nicknamed ‘Neph’ and is being peddled by his fellow Fallen, seemingly as a trap to draw interest from neutral parties like him. As Dan follows the trail back to its source, he quickly realises he is in way over his head.

Because there are new players in the eternal war between Heaven and Hell, and neutrality is no longer an option for any Fallen, even one as stubborn and resourceful as Dantalion.

Praise for Nephilim:

A taut story which has a nice twisted ending, Nephilim reminded me a lot of the indie horror Gabriel, with a tad touch of Tad Williams’ current trilogy. Another shining effort from this collection. – Fantasy Book Critic

[Describing the stories which appeared in the Manifesto: UF anthology] I think my favorite, though, might have to go to Nephilim by TSP Sweeney. – seak, Goodreads

Background:

My second published story, Nephilim came out of a desire to continue on with the setting I’d created with Der Teufel combined with wanting to do something quite different in tone.  I did quite a bit of research into angels and demons, drawing upon a few different religious sources and a little bit of rule of cool when I created Dantalion, plus sprinkling in something a bit new with the rest of the characters.  This was also one of the very few occasions where I plotted out the entire story from the start and stuck pretty close to my original vision – in fact, there’s about 5000 words of additional material cut for space based upon my initial outline.

Nephilim was originally published in the now sadly out of print Manifesto: UF (Edited by Tim Marquitz,  published by Angelic Knight Press), my second time working with Tim, and hopefully not the last! Both anthologies were excellent in my not so humble opinion, and it was a great privilege to have my work included alongside that of so many talented people.

Excerpt:

I sensed the attack coming a heartbeat before something took me in the shoulder. That was okay. It had, I imagine, been aimed at my head, and only my innate reflexes saved me from a messy, permanent death.

I spun toward Andromalius, raising the shotgun one-handed. The blade that had struck me faded away, ethereal energy dissipating into the night.

Andromalius floated on ragged wings, sickly brown and gray feathers just clinging to raw, bloodied, black skin. There was a faint impression around him, an almost-glow, like a smudge on a camera lens.

A pale green snake, as large as anything you would see on Earth, coiled about his torso and now-whole legs, tongue flicking the air.

Remember when I claimed earlier that guns hold no fear for us? The reason is that mortal weaponry—indeed, mortal anything, from sewing needles to dropped pianos—cannot permanently harm us. For the warriors of Heaven and Hell, injuries heal almost as they occur.

For us, the process is a little bit slower and a lot more painful, but the end result is the same.

To truly hurt an angel one must call upon their own essence, their soul, to use the simplistic term, and weaponize it. For the soldiers in the Eternal War, this is easy to do, for their essence is protected and replenished by the power they fight for and the worship of their followers. For those of us without such … connections … it is a finite resource, a shallow oasis in an ever-encroaching desert. One where use can have deathly serious repercussions for the wielder.

Andromalius must have really wanted me dead.

The Devil You Know (Der Teufel Sie Wissen)

The first of what will be a series of posts regarding my published stories to date and upcoming work as well. The goal here is to describe the story, provide some background on it and the writing process, and to also provide an excerpt for new readers to see if they are interested.

The Devil You Know (Der Teufel Sie Wissen) – buy now from Amazon for Kindle for only $1.99

Synopsis:

April 24, 1945. Berlin has been invaded by Soviet forces. The fall of the city is inevitable, but resistance is fierce and every inch of ground is being paid for in blood. Deep behind the Russian lines, a small group of Hitler Youth volunteers hunt the enemy on behalf of their SS masters, seeking to be the monsters that haunt the dreams of their enemies.

Little do they realise, however, that there are nightmares far more dangerous than they stalking the shadows of the ruined city. As the war in Europe draws to a bloody close, a new war – a war unending – has only just begun.

Praise for The Devil You Know (Der Teufel Sie Wissen):

Excellent, exhilarating short that’s fast paced, brutal and filled with violence. (4.5 out of 5 stars) – The Troubled Scribe

This was another of the fantastic short stories and one, which I believe the author should think of expanding into a longer novel. With an ending that is not only superb but also promises of further tribulations. This story left me wanting to know more of the world within and war to come… – Fantasy Book Critic

Background:

My first published piece of fiction, Devil was also my first foray into writing horror. Originally published in the now sadly out of print Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous (Edited by Tim Marquitz,  published by Angelic Knight Press), I had the idea for it after reading about the fall of Berlin in World War II, as well as the Nazi Werwolf plan. Originally planned as a one off, it would eventually share a setting with Nephilim, and would inform a novel outline I’ll (hopefully) get to fleshing out into an actual book one day.

Excerpt:

Andreas stared at the brown-brick building. It brooded at the end of the street, crouched amongst the surrounding buildings like a spider. It remained untouched by the Soviet shelling, and yet was still as dark and decrepit as any war-time ruin.

It was quiet and difficult to approach from the street without being detected; perfect for a clandestine meeting.

It was also perfect for murder.

Lukas came to a halt and turned back to the rest of the squad, a thumbs-up accompanying his familiar grin as their target effectively isolated himself from any chance of rescue.

Andreas’ return smile was more of a grimace. Nothing was ever this easy.

The squad dropped as silently as possible to street level, running across and moving into the alley behind the old barber shop, which had belonged to Gregor’s father.

Andreas allowed the other boy a moment to stare wistfully at the ruins of his inheritance before gently dragging him away. Gregor shook off his melancholy and pushed the ladder into place, allowing Lukas to lead the way to the rooftops.

They hurried silently to the factory wall, leaping the small gaps between the tightly packed houses. Andreas watched as Lukas forced one of the second-story windows, the glass making an almost imperceptible squeal. With great care, the red-headed teenager slipped through the narrow opening and onto a mesh catwalk, making not a sound.

Where? Oswald signalled once they were all clustered together inside.

Andreas’ eyes had adjusted enough to the darkness inside the factory that it was no longer a pitch-black void. Instead, it was filled with the deeper shadows of chemical vats and assembly lines, punctuated by hulking presses and other cluttered machinery.

The victim was nowhere to be seen.

Spread, pairs, Lukas signed, completely serious now that they neared their target.

Andreas partnered up with Dolf and moved carefully along the ancient, rail-less catwalk toward the eastern wall of the building, trying not to think about what it would mean to fall.

The old vats clustered on that side of the factory would make a perfect ambush point if the target realized he was being followed, and Andreas was in no mood to take risks. He watched as Oswald and Fabian headed toward the offices along the north wall. Lukas and Gregor slid down the nearest ladder, moving to investigate the scattered hiding places on the floor.

Andreas felt pride at the competent efficiency with which his squad worked, effortlessly moving to cover the whole facility without any further instruction. They had truly come a long way under the tutelage of the Scharführer.

He smiled at Dolf, the stocky youth giving him a toothy grin in return. Andreas had no doubt similar thoughts were going through his friend’s head.

Andreas crept further toward the chemical vats. He had taken only a few steps when he sensed he now moved alone.

Dolf stood perfectly still, grin splitting his face. His gun was clutched tightly in his hands, held against his body. Andreas frowned as he noticed his friend was shaking, almost vibrating. The stock of his shotgun rattled against the buttons of his coat.

What is it? Signalled Andreas, furious at his friend for breaking stealth. Was he panicking?

The smile grew wider.

“Dolf,” Andreas risked a whisper, shaking him by the shoulder.

Dolf’s smile grew wider still, stretching grotesquely. Andreas could only stare as the other boy’s lips began to crack, tiny drops of blood appearing.

Mein Gott.” Andreas’ eyes grew wide.