Friday, December 30, 2011

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams . . .

Twelve months ago I was in a bad place. The New Year was looming, I had some personal problems that were kicking my behind, and my writing career was not progressing the way I'd hoped. Then, on Jan 2nd, I received a late night phone call from America. It was Joni Labaqui from the Writers of the Future Contest. The story I had entered almost four months previous (and which, to be honest, I had forgotten about) had reached the final 8 of the quarter. Ms Labaqui assured me that my story was really good and that I was a talented writer. I almost cried. As it happens, the story didn't make the all-important Final 3 but shortly after I went on to sell it to Realms of Fantasy Magazine*. [*That's another story.]

Anyhoo, this episode taught me a couple of things. One, I can do this. I've "got the chops", as they say. Two, I started telling myself to stop waiting around for things to happen. Make your own opportunities. At the time, I didn't quite know what that meant. Surely a writer has to wait for that all-important publishing deal, right? That was my dream, wasn't it? Since the age of ten I'd been dreaming of being a published full-time writer just like my hero Stephen King. (Yeah, I read Firestarter, Pet Semetary, Cujo and Thinner about that time - go figure.) But back in January 2011, I had an epiphany moment.

Sometimes, we have to adapt our dreams.

I'd been following the blog of Mr Joe Konrath and his trailblazing adventures in the world of self-publishing (or indie publishing for want of a better term, but to be honest the terminology is unimportant). Things were changing. The publishing world was changing. Hell, the world was changing. With the advent of ereaders like the Kindle, the Nook and the Sony Reader, the way people read was changing - and at the same time, the way writers got published was changing, too. Writers suddenly had the autonomy and the freedom to write what they wanted and publish it how and when they wanted. With publishing platforms like Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords, writers were able to reach potentially vast audiences. I'm not going to detail the various arguements for or against self-publishing because, in the end, every writer has to weigh up the pros and cons for themselves and make a choice. Personally, I am proud to say that since March 2011 when I self-published my first ebook, I have sold over 20,000 ebooks. In the process, I've received really good reviews, some great feedback from readers, and most importantly, I've been given a real sense of purpose in my writing. I can't wait to get the next book out to readers. And the next one after that.

I've never felt more excited about doing the thing I love most.

May I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2012! May all your dreams come true.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Probability and Chaos

Probability and Chaos

'If you jump,' the cop bellowed, fighting to be heard over the buffeting wind, 'you’ll be dead before you hit the ground.'

The jumper, a young man in a white lab coat, glanced over the ledge on which he was standing, taking in the endless tiers of sky-traffic coursing by in every direction below them. The young scientist let out a short, high-pitched laugh. 'You would think so, wouldn’t you?' he shouted to the cop.

'What are you talking about?' said Officer Pullman. 'If you throw yourself into that traffic, the odds of surviving are a million to one!'

The young scientist smiled grimly. 'Actually, the odds are 123,570-to one, to be precise.' He observed the puzzled expression on the officer’s face. 'That’s my field of research - probability and chaos. You’re quite right that the odds against me not being hit by a single vehicle during my descent are considerable. But for the last six months I’ve been working night and day to predict the exact moment and the exact circumstances necessary for me to fall through the sky-traffic and completely avoid being hit.' He glanced at his wristwatch. 'And that moment, according to my calculations, is due in twenty-three seconds time.'

'Are you serious?' asked Pullman.

'Of course! At precisely 11:47 and 23 seconds I will conduct my experiment. I will jump.'

Pullman shook his head in disbelief. 'But … even if you miss being hit by the traffic, you’ll still die. You’ll hit the pavement!'

'That doesn’t matter,' said the scientist. 'If I hit the pavement before I hit anything else, the experiment will have been a complete success!'

'Not if you’re dead!' said Pullman.

'I’m not afraid. I will die safe in the knowledge that I will be famous beyond death. As the first person to truly control his destiny!'

Pullman slumped back against the window-frame in defeat, and then he said the one thing negotiators are taught never to say to a jumper: 'You’re crazy!'

The scientist gave him a wan smile. 'We’ll see, shall we?' He looked once more at his watch. Pullman could see him silently counting down 3 … 2 … 1 …

Then he jumped.

With a mixture of horror and curiosity, Pullman watched the man fall - only he didn’t fall very far. About twenty feet below them, just above the point where the heavy flow of sky-traffic began, a speck of blinding blue light exploded into life. The light expanded rapidly into a large cone-shaped vortex. In its swirling throat Pullman could see a terrible blackness. Something told him that inside that vortex was the end of all things. He watched as the demented young scientist fell straight into that heart of darkness (his final cry of 'What the hell?' echoing in Pullman‘s head for some time afterwards) and disappeared. A second later, the vortex itself winked out of existence.

Officer Pullman looked down into the noisy sky-traffic, scratched his head and said, 'I guess he never predicted that!'

Monday, December 05, 2011

The View from the Bridge

“Potential suicide, Golden Gate Bridge. Officer needs assistance.”

Sergeant Harris studied the figure in his rear view mirror. Dark clothing, black raincoat, raised hood. It was a miracle Harris had seen him through the thrashing rain. But this wasn’t the first time he’d come across someone loitering conspicuously at that particular spot. In his ten years on the beat there’d been a dozen suicides there; he’d attended two of them himself.

The first one had jumped - a middle-aged woman driven to despair after ten years in an abusive relationship. Harris had never really gotten over her death. He could still remember the feel of her dress as it slipped through his fingers. Helpless, he’d watched her fall - silent, graceful - into the roiling waters below.

He’d made a promise to himself that day - he would never let it happen again. Thankfully, the one which followed, a young man, had been pulled back from the brink. Afterwards, Harris had asked him why he’d chosen to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. The man replied, “I just liked the view from there.”

Harris supposed that was all it was. If he ever decided to end it all, he would probably go to the same spot for the very same reason. The view of the Bay was glorious from there, and what better view to have at the end . . .

The figure in the hooded raincoat, oblivious to Harris’s patrol car parked only a dozen yards away, stepped onto the lower bar of the railing.

“Just hurry with the back-up,” Harris barked, slamming the inter-com back into its cradle. He studied the figure for a moment, feeling the twin spokes of fear and adrenalin in his gut. After glancing round, he pulled a small silver flask from his pocket and raised it to his lips. If any of his colleagues saw him on the sauce again he’d be canned for certain, which would be a tragedy after he’d managed to convince everyone that he’d beaten his addiction.

He took a healthy swallow and slipped it back into his trouser pocket, before climbing out of the car into the rain-washed night. Cautiously, he approached the wavering figure.

“Hello there!” he hollered.

The figure didn’t turn.

“You okay, sir?”

Still no response.

Harris shuffled closer. He could just glimpse the man’s profile - nose, lips, bearded chin - peeking from the hood. The guy looked rough. A tramp, maybe. As Harris took another step closer, he smelled the wreak of booze.

“Would you step down from there, buddy?” Harris asked in a calm, level tone. “Can you hear me, pal?”

“Stop me.”

The words were so faint, Harris wasn’t sure if he’d imagined them.

“Excuse me?”

The figure turned slightly towards him so that Harris saw one rheumy, bloodshot eye staring back at him.

“Stop me,” the old man said.

“Stop you? Buddy, that’s what I want to do.” Harris took this as a plea for intervention and stepped forward-

But something - some force - was stopping him. He pressed forward again, but felt a definite resistance. It wasn’t the wind. This was like some invisible barrier surrounding the hooded figure.

“Stop me!” Louder this time, almost a command.

“I - I can’t,” Harris admitted. “I want to, but-”

The figure pointed a bony, accusing finger at Harris. “You can stop this!”

Harris tried to focus on the hooded figure, but it was as if his vision was slipping between two different images of the same man - one looking down into the water, the other turned slightly towards him.

“You can stop this!” the figure said once more, before it turned, both images melting into one again. The old man raised himself up on the railing, his upper body shaking with the effort.

“No! Don’t!” Harris screamed. He threw himself forward with all his strength, hit the wall of pressure and then-

The next thing he knew he was lying on his back in the traffic lane, rain running down the back of his uniform, blinding headlights bearing down on him. He was so stunned he didn’t even think to scramble out of the way. Luckily, the vehicle slowed and pulled up in front of him. The flashing blue lights filled him with relief.

“Harris, you okay?”

It was Sergeant Dawson, one of his oldest friends on the force. He rushed over and helped him to his feet.

“The old guy!” Harris said breathlessly. “He jumped!”

“What old guy?” Dawson said, scanning the length of the bridge.

“Didn’t you see him?” Harris asked.

“I only saw you, man,” Dawson said. “You stumbled and fell in the road.”

“Yeah, but-”

Dawson’s friendly expression suddenly turned sour. He leaned close and sniffed Harris’s breath. “You been drinking, man?”

Before Harris could answer, Dawson reached down and picked something up from the gutter. It was Harris’s silver flask.

“Jesus, man,” Dawson said, slapping the flask against Harris’s chest. “You told me you’d kicked the habit.” He shook his head. “It’ll be the death of you, Harris.”

Harris froze, his shame momentarily forgotten.

“What did you say?”

“You heard.” Dawson walked back to his patrol car. “Give it up, man,” he said, before driving away.

Harris stood awhile in the pouring rain, staring down at the sleek surface of the flask.

You can stop this.

Had he imagined the whole thing? Was that figure not really there at all tonight? Or was it a glimpse of something that had not yet come to pass? He remembered the profile of that haunted figure, and saw a likeness now that sent a terrible shiver through him.

You can stop this.

“Yeah,” Harris said to himself, “I can.” And with one mighty throw, he tossed the flask over the railing and into the dark waters below.

***

(First published in From the Asylum. Copyright 2011 Lee Moan)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Star Pilot

JOURNAL ENTRY #3138 Date: 11/04/2199 Time: 1046

This is Cory Dealth, captain and pilot of the cargo freighter, Alexa. I’ve just chartered the final leg of our course for Delta Centauri, but I’m certain that I won’t reach journey’s end alive. I am in the grip of “the Sorrow”, “the Loneliness”, “the Pilot’s Despair”; it doesn’t matter what you call it, I know it has only one cure — death.

Continue reading the story here: Planet Magazine