“Palace” of the “King” part 2 of 6

Below is part 2 of my short story, appx. 7 pages. Feel free to comment or share. Enjoy!

Cutter allowed himself three minutes to recover. When he felt as good as he figured he was going to, he lifted the wood panel off and moved back into the living room towards the kitchen. He moved briskly to the kitchen window and peered out: four Closterim, performing what appeared to be patrol duty. He spent the next five minutes studying their movements until he figured out a path he could take to sneak past them and make it to the other side of the street. There were three houses but one of them looked destroyed; Spezzna was not likely in that one. One of the other two had boarded up windows which Cutter, knowing Spezzna, took to mean that was where he was hiding until help would arrive.

He picked a precise time when the Closterim split into two pairs and had their backs turned to each other. He jumped out the window and navigated around broken glass and burned-up cars until he was halfway across the street. A Closterim guard suddenly turn its head towards him and Cutter ducked underneath the engine of one of the smoldering cars.

“Is something there?”  The Closterim said in a metallic voice as Cutter’s heart almost stopped at the sound of it. A couple of seconds passed, and he felt a rush of adrenalin enter his blood. As the cyborg approached his hiding spot, Cutter prepared himself to get up and fight, but the Closterim guard walked by without looking underneath.

“What did you find?” Another Closterim said from far away in the same metallic voice.

“Nothing alive.” The Closterim near Cutter kicked the ground and a small piece of hard dirt popped up. A Sun Sword slammed into the ground and twisted around to form a small hole but, just as suddenly as they had come, the Closterim patrol moved away and Cutter breathed a sigh of relief.

He waited a few more seconds and slowly moved out from underneath the engine, his eyes darting in all directions for any signs of other patrols. They were moving closer but they were still not facing him. Cutter crawled back underneath the smoldering vehicle and went out the other side. He crawled fifteen yards until he was on the blown-up pavement on the other side of the street; the Mirror Suit was successfully hiding his body from the cyborgs.

There was another smoldering vehicle- a minivan- half-way on the pavement near the house Pyrotek assumed Spezzna was hiding in. Cutter moved to the side of the minivan facing the house and waited for the Closterims’ patrol route to take them away from his side of the road. He pulled out a Finger Mirror-named for its three-way angles and finger size- and peered around the front passenger’s side of the van. Once he was certain no one was looking, he crawled through the grass until he reached the front door of the house directly across the street from him. Incredibly, despite the immense destruction to North Point, the grass in this yard was still green.

An underground water system, he thought as he used the ASL to cut a hole in the door. After entering he used the green laser to seal the hole. That means the original source of water is still clean and flowing. If I find it we can get drink refills before moving on to Red Valley. That thought reminded him of how very thirsty he was.

Cutter heard a chirping sound behind him and he jumped; he instinctively reaching for his K-24 and pointing it into the empty, broken down house in front of him. The chirping disappeared and was replaced with the eerie silence of an abandoned house which had gone through more than most houses go through in their lifetimes; the ceiling had several cannonball-sized holes, exposing the orange sunlight from the outside. Furniture was overturned and on the ground was a photo which had only the bottom half of people’s bodies visible. Cutter had the feeling something else was in the house with him. The Closterim were patrolling the street outside, so it couldn’t be them; his thoughts turned to the Delightful Devils Platoon- four women who had been sent to Hell and back and, in their rage and misery, allowed their bodies to be transformed into machines in order to let their human bodies live their remaining days as physically pain-free as possible while they searched for the one responsible for their agony. And Cutter had heard, because he had been involved in blowing up a nuclear power plant near New Davenport where the women were from, that he was the one they held responsible-

The chirping came again and sounded like a monkey this time. Cutter tapped his built-in phones. “You can send KeyKey,” he said to Pyrotek. “I’m alone.”

“I saw,” Pyrotek said as the two-foot-tall robot monkey rolled up on its tiny rubber wheels and gave him a happy look using neon lights embedded on its face. “KeyKey tracked the Closterim’s movements and uploaded them to Brickwall.” This was the name of Pyrotek’s computer server, named so no one would be able to identify his computer system unless he wanted them to. “There are still eleven Closterim in town, eight on patrol, and three breaking through houses. Cutter, I think they know some Chameleons are still alive and around. The three Closterim got rid of their Sun Swords and are carrying FAMAS G-5’s instead. That’s a newer assault rifle model which works better in dark places.”

“What are you saying?” Cutter gripped his K-24 more tightly and moved closer to a wall parallel to the front door where he could get the first jump on anything which entered it.

“Cutter, you had better find Spezzna, and fast.” The urgency in Pyrotek’s voice was unmistakable. “Based on data KeyKey sent me you have…about six minutes, I’d say, to find Spezzna and get out of there. I’m sending a Magpul Bushido Series X motorcycle into the backyard of the house you’re in now. Hurry! The Closterim are about to enter the house right behind you.”

“Got it,” Cutter said. He picked KeyKey up and the cyber monkey giggled happily as though it was a real animal and not a robot. “KeyKey, track the Closterim and send their movements to my GPS.” KeyKey’s voice recognition receptor translated Cutter’s words into something it could understand. It darted into the living room and through a hole in the wall leading to the outside world, using its tripod-like leg sections to lift itself into the exit.

Cutter pulled out a Wave Reader, another one of Pyrotek’s inventions, designed to convert transmitted signals into written intel, as though a radio signal could arrive and form a website page. He would use this to translate KeyKey’s radio waves into a map he would use to track the Closterim’s movements.

He took a quick look around the house and checked the second floor to see if Spezzna was here, which he was not. He had now four and a half minutes until Pyrotek estimated the Closterim would reach him. Cutter went back to the first floor and faced the southernmost wall-perpendicular to the front door-on the opposite side of the house. He used the ASL to open a hole in the wall. He didn’t bother to seal it; within the next ten minutes he would either be fleeing by motorcycle to the Red Valley, or he would be dead.

Cutter ran fifteen feet to the next house and began cutting through this wall. As he worked he heard heavy footsteps- the Closterim patrol was approaching his location.

Cutter kept his calm and kept chipping away. His chest was pounding harder than usual- his body had been healed but the surgeons had never been able to completely put him together again…

The footsteps became louder and the sound of a FAMAS G-5 firing sounded far too close for comfort. Cutter took a look to his left, and then channeled his impulse to panic into an even more zealous focus on the wall he was busy opening. Without hesitating or worrying about the Closterim he finished opening the hole- just as the Closterim’s footsteps indicated they were now within view. Without looking, he leaped through the hole and tumbled along the floor of what appeared to be a dining room as a siren-the Closterim’s signal to alert allies of a living, hostile body-wailed from outside.

“SHIT! PYROTEK!” Cutter yelled into his built-in phone. The wails grew louder and from outside more earth-pounding footsteps were heard. He heard some heavy panting from outside the wall where the hole was- the Closterim who had spotted him would soon attempt to face him one-on-one and keep him occupied until they could overwhelm him by numbers alone.

In front of him the dining room had an open wall which appeared to cave in a little like a hallway- that was probably the basement. He moved towards it and looked to his right. There appeared to be a staircase on the other side of this wall- the steps to the second floor. He coughed hard; the pain in his back was getting worse.

If Spezzna was in this house and fully understood Chameleon evasion tactics, he was likely on the second floor- near a window where he could jump out if he was otherwise trapped. Cutter darted to the right and heard the Closterim behind him slash through the wall. In a few seconds they would completely cut through and begin to track any skin that shed to pinpoint his location. He moved to the right and turned out to be correct; there was a narrow wooden staircase, with fifteen steps, to the second floor. He bound up, three steps at a time, until he reached the top. Below, the Closterim’s footsteps were heard from the dining room.

There were four rooms on this floor and their wooden doors were all closed. Cutter held the Wave Reader and moved its rotating button until he was able to locate KeyKey’s radio waves. Within four seconds he detected a faint signal in the third door down.

He charged the third door and simply plowed through it. Wood splintered and the brass doorknob rolled onto his foot and away. He fell onto a piece of jagged wood still attached to the door frame when he hit it and felt it jut his rib cage. He fell awkwardly onto the jagged wood piece and felt it jut into his ribcage. He groaned in pain and fell to the ground.

“Cu…er!” Spezzna’s energetic voice rang in and out of his ears. Cutter’s eyes became blurry but he saw a mop of brown hair come towards him. “You c…n m…ke it!”

Cutter ripped the wood piece out of his ribs but he knew immediately there were splinters. He was going to need medical attention before travelling to the Red Valley. But for now he just had to find the motorcycle and escape-

Spezzna got up and Cutter saw he was limping; Spezzna still managed to toss one of his EIG’s towards the staircase. They heard an explosion and what sounded like Closterim mechanical suits getting fried. Spezzna was only about average height, and his legs were not strong enough to carry his sturdy, muscular upper body, but he had no trouble picking up the taller, but feeble, Cutter and moving him to the window.

Hang on, Cutter!” Pyrotek exclaimed. “KeyKey’s coming!

Get ready!” Spezzna shouted. He dropped Cutter to the ground and shattered the glass with a sidekick. Cutter felt tiny shards hit his Mirror Suit and bounce harmlessly off. Spezzna picked him up again and they moved slowly out the window.

A shrill mechanical pitch whirred and Cutter knew KeyKey had caught up to them. The cyber monkey emitted a pitch which knocked the Closterim down and made them clutch their ears. The sound was harmless to human ears but, as the Closterim were mostly machine now, their sound receptors could not handle high pitches nearly as well as humans.

Spezzna moved them to the roof. Cutter struggled to speak, but he managed to find his voice: “Spezzna! There’s a motorcycle one house down to the right!”

Spezzna grunted but he managed to carry Cutter in his arms until they reached the end of the roof.

“Get ready Cutter, I’m dropping you,” Spezzna warned.

“Drop? Wait, Spezzna-“ Cutter tried to grab Spezzna’s flak jacket but he missed and was dropped to stories onto the grass below.

He rolled around and immediately sensed no broken bones- whatever underground irrigation system was keeping the grass moist was doing its job. Spezzna tumbled himself and they both rolled around until they were able to stand up. Above them KeyKey’s high-pitched wails shattered glass and the Closterim screamed even louder; their cries sounded robotic, but Cutter knew, from his experience facing them, their pain was human.

Cutter felt like his brain had moved a bit around his skull. He held his head with one hand as he and Spezzna raced towards the house.

“Incoming!” Pyrotek’s voice said through the built-in phone.

Cutter looked up and saw a crate crash into the ground and break open break open, revealing a large, black motorcycle that had its engine running. Above them a silver drone the size of a four-door sedan flew off, leaving behind a trail of wake turbulence.

Spezzna, who was less injured, reached the motorcycle first. The moment Cutter successfully stumbled to the motorcycle and sat behind Spezzna he yelled “hold on!” and they took off, racing off westbound into a setting sun. Somehow-barely-they would survive to see it rise again.

Why Authors aren’t ‘sexy’ and how to fix this

is this younerd

Have you ever noticed how much people around the world idolize singers, dancers, models, athletes, and even reality TV “stars”, but not authors? Today’s post is about the decline in reading for pleasure, or frankly at all, around the world.

There are many reasons for this, such as, the sad state of literacy, the boringness of reading still words when moving images and games are so much more interesting, the lack of respect for education in many parts of the world, the poor (or perceived poor) quality of books being put out around the world, and the work overload, especially here in America. For these reasons, even an indie musician can still gain respect, or a Broadway actor, but an indie author gets very little, and books simply don’t reach as many people as we’d like.

But there’s one reason I believe, whereas music and movies have grown in appeal, books have not: Authors just aren’t sexy.

I mean it. Think of the most stunning, dashing writer you know. Most likely, it’s someone writing a nonfiction book about their life, or it’s a celebrity writing a children’s book (this seems to be common). In those cases, the author may be Channing Tatum or Scarlett Johansson hot. However, most fiction authors, particularly those who may earn fame or respect from writing, are not walking the red carpet in $10,000+ suits and dresses.

Please note: I am not saying authors are ugly. What I mean is, we do not live the “glamorous” life so often depicted on reality TV, live in the hills of Malibu with the other Hollywood stars, etc. Whereas other entertainers make their living performing in front of other people, book writers make a living working alone, indoors, probably not in stylish clothes.

Authors also tend not to be very extroverted: Compare the lifestyle of the biggest-name authors to rock stars or actors. THOSE people go to A-list parties, fly around on private jets, and have paparazzi following them around (Most of them secretly like this, even if they pretend not too) telling the celebrity-obsessed public what the celebrity is wearing, who s/he’s hanging out with, and what restaurant they eat at, etc. In contrast, most authors are like the type who’d rather wear sweaters and go on NPR to discuss Immanuel Kant’s philosophies or the secret meaning of Catcher in the Rye. I can’t think of one big-time author who behaves the way the public expects a rock star to behave.

Here’s the problem: As the concept of celebrity obsession travels from America and goes around the world, people are connecting to anyone they see on TV, the Internet, or magazine covers. These are going to be populated by hyper extroverts. Reality TV shows and cable shows depicting the next superstar singer/dancer/model/actor/personality drive the global demand for celebrity.

Even indie musicians have it made. For example, Delaware is home to one of the biggest indie music festivals in America, Firefly. Based in my former hometown of Dover, roughly 70,000 people are expected to go this year. In comparison, Woodstock had about half a million people. While top indies may not fly in private jets or drink $10,000 wine, you still get the “cool” prestige in being a band that can afford to go on tour around the country, and you can still have the groupie/roadie tag attached to your band. At least you can still sell some merch.

In contrast, there isn’t a single author reality TV show (at least not in America) to get people up. Imagine American Idol or The Voice but with people performing short stories pieces, judged by authors with quirky or interesting personalities. Before you say “It can’t be done. People don’t want to hear someone talk about stories”, just know there is basically no limit to what folks will watch, provided you make it interesting and entertaining.

Picture aspiring authors showcasing their best stuff to demonstrate their storytelling skills. Who says talking and performance don’t matter?

Perhaps find some A-list authors and let them to a Hard Knocks style show where they show the process of what inspires them to write, and how they come up with their ideas. With a little showmanship from the author(s), this could be done to get people interested.

Musicians perform their art in front of other people. Actors make films which are show to people. Models walk catwalks in front of other people. In all cases, the person is shown, moving, acting alive. In comparison, all most people see of authors are the completed books, and maybe a photo on the dust jacket or back cover. Nothing moves, nothing looks alive in the moment. All is frozen in time.

I sincerely believe that if we could find a way to make reading and writing “cool”, and use A-list authors to show this to younger people, we could build some interest in reading. This does NOT mean dumbing down the product or turning into “pop”, the way many songs and movies have become. We can still tell great stories, inspire, explore, and share messages. We just need to figure out a way to make what we do appealing so people get connected to the reading and writing process and gain interest in books.

if you’re concerned that writers will soon become associated with fur coats, VIP lounges at clubs, and a sleazy lifestyle, let me be clear: we can panic only if Stephen King and James Patterson are caught snorting coke of the backs of dancers at Le Crazy Horse. THEN we can worry about the negative celebrity effects of exposing the greater public to the world of writing.

Your thoughts: What do you think should be done to build people’s interest in reading and writing? Would my idea listen above work? Why or why not?

photo credit:  http://flic.kr/p/afQpJy (note: This link does not work anymore)

The Problems with Children’s Lit in 2 Graphs (Super Bowl Edition)

First off, let me say American Sniper is a 5/5 movie. Bradley Cooper surprised me by playing the part of Chris Kyle well, naturally, as though it really was Kyle and not an actor playing a former Navy SEAL. I HIGHLY recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see war through the eyes of a person who actually went to Iraq and fought.

Second, Children’s lit. Publisher’s Launch is a project of Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch and PublishersMarketplace.com and Mike Shatzkin of The Idea Logical Company to provide better data analytics on the book pub world to publisher’s. Such as, who’s buying what and what the trends are for literature and literacy, two big issues I care about. Education is so important to me that I do a lot of grassroots work to improve education but that’s a post for another time.

Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen Book had a presentation at Publisher Launch’s Launch Kids session at the most recent Digital Book World conference called “A look at the US Children’s book Market”. He posted his slideshow to the ‘net, for those of us who couldn’t go.

As someone who read a fair amount of kid’s books, and who just finished manuscript #1 for a middle grade novel, here is what’s wrong with children’s lit in 2 graphs: 

The takeaways:

1. Notice the book is missing from graph #1 for kids 14-17. For most American children once they turn 11 books drop off and YouTube and TV take its place.

2. By 14 social media and mobile devices are more important. Reading drops out of the top 8 slots and even sports drop towards the bottom. I was surprised that gaming was less interesting than Facebook and YouTube among teens. This must explain the rise in watching strangers on YouTube play video games and “commentate” rather than actually picking up the controller yourself like I did when I was a teen. Let me note: They are watching random strangers just play games and talk. Whenever I wanted to watch someone play a game and talk, I would go to friend’s houses and do the same thing! But I digress.

This sadly means it’s tougher to get kids and teens to read, which is noticeable when 80% of Young Adult books are bought by adults, for adults. Unless..

3. Graph #2 shows the rise in getting YouTube (and presumably other) internet celebrities in “writing books”. Now to be fair I’ve never heard of any of the celebrities listed on graph 2, but I found this tidbit on “Girl Online” by Zoe Sugg, who goes by the name “Zoella” online. The article notes that Zoe’s debut novel outsold other major authors like J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, and E.L. James. Apparently, though, her first week accounted for nearly all of her sales as she has since petered out near the 100,000 mark, surprising given that she has close to 7 million YouTube subscribers. She apparently did not actually write the novel; it was ghostwritten, a rather unusual thing for fiction novels, unless you’re bestselling author “Snooki” from the Jersey Shore.

No doubt the internet was a useful tool to help these YouTube stars, of which I am not one of them (I think I’m too old), sell books. However, in the long run, whose books sell better? The three authors Zoe beat, or Zoe? We all know the answer. Now in the short-term, getting celebrities of all stripes (internet, reality tv, etc.) is a better way of selling books than relying on little-known debut novelists with smaller platforms and fewer social media followers. You fans will go buy a book because it’s “you” and, like, you’re famous. BUT again, what are the odds of these books becoming the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games/Stephen King just because they have a celebrity’s name on it? Want to place a bet?

I can tell you why. At the end of the day it’s the product quality, not the person/people endorsing the product, which determines a product’s success. While I acknowledge I am a bit envious of my far-fewer social media follower status in promoting anything I have, I can say in the long run relying too heavily on poor-quality celebrity books, even to get kids to read, is not the answer. The kids who are not fans of these celebrities just won’t read or will go back to reading other things by established authors. I love Lord of the Rings, I consider it one of the all-time greatest fantasy series ever, but it’s a little sad to me when 2 of the top 5 best-selling Fantasy novels for January are by a man who’s been dead for 42 years, as though literally no one in the world can ever write a good fantasy book again.

Please share your thought about whether you think it’s a good idea for book publishers to rely heavily on celebrity-driven books, or take risks on little-known or unknown debut novelists. Remember. celebrity books are nothing new or bad. They can certainly boost sales at least in the short run over non-famous persons. My argument is that relying on internet & reality T.V. celebrities to “write” kid’s books is not a good long-term trend for brand development and literacy improvement.

The full report is here

SUPER BOWL PICK: I will be rooting for New England with my Pats shirt on at the bar tomorrow. Initially I had Seattle 27-16, but I’m more torn on it now. New England plays very well with the “us against the world mentality” and for that reason I leaned towards NE. But Seattle has shown the ability to do their best no matter what the other teams do, and can the Pats defense stop Lynch and Wilson?

The key players are Gronk vs. Wilson. I’ll go closer but I say Seattle 26 New England 23. Seattle’s defense has been very good at shutting down good offenses and even with the injuries in the back 7 I don’t know how good New England’s defense will be at slowing down the Seattle run game, even IF their WR’s are mediocre.

The fall in literacy consumption

So it’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to post on my blog. Not to worry, for your entertainment pleasure (and time wasting) I have attached some photos of my trip to Denver, which will be available…on the next blogpost, sometime on Tuesday the 30th. Sorry ladies and gents but its 2 A.M. my time.

The following two videos highlight a real problem with young people First up is Brian Williams, anchor of NBC News, on the push to get young people more involved with consuming news.

And this video is called “Internet Madness in America” from the O’Reilly Factor (main portion is from 3:40-4:20):

<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://video.foxnews.com/v/embed.js?id=3807366425001&w=466&h=263″></script><noscript>Watch the latest video at <a href=”http://video.foxnews.com”>video.foxnews.com</a></noscript&gt;

(if you can’t see the embed watch it HERE)

What do these two videos have in common? A lot, actually. Williams is noting a huge decline in young people paying attention to what is going on in the world around them. Believe it, more people my age and younger know about the celebrity photo hacking scandal than they would about the drought in California, the Scotland independence vote, the immigration battle on the southern border, or frankly any news story of significance to their lives. While there is considerable debate about bias in the media (and Brian Williams and NBC are not without controversy of their own) the fact is, he is right- the lack of engagement and civil participation is not a good thing for society. If people are not paying attention to what is going on around them they will be easy targets for scammers and others looking to take advantage of the un- and mis- informed.

O’Reilly’s point is more focused on books. The segment I highlighted is on how he notes that people used to read and really don’t as much anymore because the internet provides way too many distractions. Now there are e-books and they have increased their overall market share of books, and this is not a bad thing if it gets people to read. The problem is getting more people to read, period.

If people don’t read, whether it’s a good novel or a good news article, then they risk becoming less curious about exploring new ideas (which is bad), they are less likely to try to comprehend complex new ideas (which is bad) and there is a direct correlation between children who cannot read by the end of 3rd grade and an increase in high school dropouts and prisoners in our “criminal justice” system (visit the Annie E. Casey Foundation website for more information as a starting point).

I will be addressing this problem in further detail over the next few months but I am happy to hear from you and your ideas about how we can engage young people, especially in low-income areas, to read more.

Coming up Next: I created my second Vlog and I will post it, along with photos of my trip to Denver. Expect this Tuesday the 30th, sometime in the PM EST. The Vlog is part 1 of 3 on how to tell a story using nonverbal cues.

Coming up Soon: I will continue part 2 of 3 on storytelling with nonverbal cues. I expect to have this up by next Tuesday the 7th.

photo credit: http://www.topnews.in/health/being-seen-book-just-not-cool-1-5-kids-216787