Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Kicker

So here's the answer to two questions. The first is, "What do you mean you use your art as inspiration for the novel?" The above image was done before I wrote the following scene. When I need a bit of landscape or a creature, I look to my art.

The second question is, "Can he write fight scenes?" Well, I'll let you answer that one.

And again, looking at the weird-ass formatting on my cut-and-paste, I hate Word.

The thing standing on the top of the ridge looked like a piece of architecture to me, a twenty-foot arch shaped like an inverted V, a bone-white shape outlined against the light of the sky. I saw the crown of teeth that projected at its top, the jaw-shaped protrusions that it stood on. It had no eyes, no mouth. Nothing but bone and teeth.

Eyeless though it was I knew it stared at us and as I stared back I hated it. The wrongness of it filled me with rage. I wanted to take it in my hands and pull it apart like a wishbone, I wanted to smash it with a rock. I hated that it was bigger than me. I hated the way it stood so still. I knew I’d hate it even more if I saw it move.

It moved. Crown and feet rigid, the columnar legs connecting them flexed with a whippy stiffness that made me think of fishing poles. It took two steps and leaned forward, its off-center balance that of a gyroscope. It slid down the scree as if on skis, its toothy crown bobbing as it came.

Gar launched himself uphill, scrambled around to its right, and Pike went the other way, flanked it. The Deacon drew his pistol and shot at the thing’s crown.

As he fired, the bone thing snapped its crown down at Gar and the ghost bullet curved past it and hit the slope. There was a bang and a flash and then an avalanche of broken bones came rolling down the slope at all of us.

Pike bit at the thing’s toothy foot and it kicked him, sent him flying. When Pike hit the ground he let out a howl that sounded like a scream and went on and on.

The avalanche hit Gar and the bone thing; Gar scrambled and managed to stay on top of the debris. The bone thing caught it like a wave and rode it downhill. The Deacon took aim but before he could fire the avalanche caught him, sent him sprawling, half-buried him.

The thing pulled back one foot and aimed the big tooth at its end at the Deacon. Without thinking I jumped for its other foot, grabbed it and heaved. The weight made my feet sink into the loose ground. The creature tipped until I thought for sure it was going to topple.

It didn’t.

Gar was dancing around, barking furiously, and Pike still screamed. The bone thing whipped around and snapped its foot at me. I ducked, then grabbed the foot. It kicked again and sent me flying. Its legs flexed jointlessly as it came for me. The crown of teeth at its apex snapped down. I rolled to one side and felt the impact as it smacked into the ground, then drew itself up to its full height. It pulled back a leg to kick at me again.

There was a report from the Deacon’s gun and a flash at the thing’s crown. It froze, balanced on one foot. Gar dashed in, fastened his jaws onto the thing’s foot and growled as he jerked his head back and forth. Two more shots and the bone at the thing’s apex cracked; two more and it split in two. As the halves fell away a fire poured out of the break in the bone and left a stray soul the size of a basketball hanging in the air.

With a sputtering noise red petals of flame peeled back, curled up and turned into worms of black ash as the soul sank to the ground. In the end nothing was left of it but a fist-sized piece of ash that crumbled and blew away.

The Deacon was still buried up to his waist, face bruised and cut. He grinned and gestured with his pistol.

“You see that, boy? You see that?”

Blues For Willy

This weekend is going to be devoted to the novel. Yeah! I'm planning on posting a few tastes as I go along. But Word is being a pain in the butt; even when I save my files as text only it puts a bunch of weird HTML in the mix when I try to cut and paste into Blogspot. I realy hate Word. As soon as I'm done with this project I'm switching to another program and and will never let Microsoft darken my hard-drive again. And while I shouldn't have to say this, all contents copyright Sean Craven. Got to get me one of them Creative Commons stickers to put on the blog.

To give you some context, our lead character Matt has just finished an orgy of Lady Macbeth-style cleaning. He's still in shock from having gotten into a knife-fight with a two-headed dead guy.

I heard the front door. Willy came down the hall and into my room. He looked around at the vast expanses of visible carpet.

“Shit, dude. You all right?” He looked at my face and didn’t wait for an answer. “Man, I know what you need. Grab your bass.”

“What are you doing home so soon?”

“Dierdre said I had to check up on you. So you ain’t even gonna give me a bong hit?”

I passed him the bong and lighter; he took a hit and handed it back to me. He started for the door and I sat still so he turned around again.

“Will you pick up your fuckin bass and come on? Bring your stand too.”


I followed him out to the van. It was cool in the shade and warm in the sun. The breeze off the bay carried a faint scent of kelp and brine to mingle with the jasmine. Willy opened the van and started messing around with cables and the mixing board and the amp.

“Go get a couple of chairs, will you?”

I set my bass on its stand and got a pair of plastic patio chairs and wiped them off. When I set them down next to the van Willy handed me a cable.

“Plug in and give me an E so I can get your sound levels right.”

I took my pick – thick black plastic I’d gouged up with a matte knife so it would have a grip – and hit the E, let it ring, then started playing a slow pulse. I’d never played through a real amp before. The air in front of the speakers turned into thick bass soup and every time I hit the string I felt it pulse all the way through my body. It was like playing a guitar and a kick drum at the same time. I had the power to stir people’s guts with the tip of my finger.

“You better turn that down,” I said.

“It’s the middle of the fucking afternoon,” Willy said. “Everyone’s at work and if anyone isn’t? Fuck them. You need this, man. You need this.”

Willy plugged into a distortion pedal, got his guitar levels right and sat down in the chair opposite me.

“So do four bars of open E, two of open A, back to E for two bars, then one bar of B seven… well, just a B for you. One more A, two more E, and then start over again.”

Twelve-bar blues, the chord progression that spawned the whole rocking world.

We started off simple. I hit the chords on the pulse, Willy strummed along with me. Then he picked, notes clear like shards of glass gleaming in the swamp mud of the bass. Then he stomped his distortion pedal and the notes caught fire, burned clean through me.

Instead of playing to the pulse I strayed a little early or a little late, syncopated the rhythm to set off Willy’s melody. Inside the structure of the blues, we each knew what the other was going to do. So we could do anything.

He hit a switch on his guitar, changed pickups so his guitar sounded hollow. That brought out the sharp edge of my picking. He played straight rhythm and nodded at me.

The sorry-ass state of my whole fucking useless life settled on my shoulders and in my heart and ran down my arms and into my hands. My breath came easy and slow. I took my time building hooks, little melodic figures that grabbed at the ear and held on. I hit notes that weren’t in the scales. Notes that were wrong.

So wrong they were right. They hurt and I liked it.

I took the simplest hook, repeated it over the changes, and gave Willy a nod. He flipped the switch again and played bursts of speed-freak heavy-metal rapid-fire note explosions, then chords that moaned as he slid his left hand up and down the neck of his guitar…

We played for hours, pausing when my hands got tired – his never wore out. Willy was right. I felt better. Not clean, but ready to deal with things. I was going to live but it didn’t seem like a tragedy. Willy grinned at me as we let our last notes ring.

“That didn’t suck, man.”

“Thanks, Willy. I never did that before.”

“Yeah, that’s the power of the blues.”

When he said that he looked really, really white but hey. I was in no position to argue. His blues had done right by me.

Willy set his guitar in its stand.

“Listen,” he said. “There’s something about Lulu you need to know.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rough Query

Matt Cassad is in trouble. After meeting street musicians Lulu and Willy, his world changes. The California paradise of San Costas is now a bizarre, threatening place, and Matt finds himself walking strange streets with strange creatures. Matt thinks he’s going crazy; he should be so lucky. His job as a janitor has brought him into conflict with a number of homeless people, including Mrs. Popeyehead, the queen of the streets, her mysterious husband, and the aggravating Jeff and Arnie. Matt’s growing friendship with Lulu and Willy leads him deeper and deeper into the netherworld of the Limbus, where a tragic and violent encounter with Jeff and Arnie puts the safety of Matt and his friends in the hands of the one person Matt least trusts – himself.

THE GHOST ROCKERS is a tightly-plotted 85,000 word novel of gonzo magic realism that joins a hilariously gritty, realistic view of minimum-wage existence with startling and surreal visions of a living, breathing afterlife. Music and monsters, love and art, and both cultural and supernatural underworlds all collide in this, the first volume of a three-volume series. Readers of Jonathan Carroll, Christopher Moore, and Neil Gaiman will find much to enjoy here.

I’ve worked as a scriptwriter for Mondo Media -- my work for them has showed up everywhere from the Warner Bros. website to the BBC. For the last few years I’ve had my short fiction published in the small press. I also assistant-edit, design, and illustrate the underground magazine Swill, which is read by Ellen Datlow for her Year’s Best Horror series.

I’m sending you this query because of your representation of Christopher Moore. While my writing is quite different then his, we share a combination of humor, realism, non-genre use of genre elements, and a distinctly West Coast flavor, so you might find this of interest. I’ve noticed that Mr. Moore’s books stay in print and stay in the public eye – I would love that kind of treatment for my own work.


Sean Craven

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Seventh-Day Squirt Gun

Well, I've got good news. The stuff I was so worried about yesterday? It ain't so bad today. Ruth is responding well to treatment -- or rather, lack of treatment. She'd been put on a couple of antibiotics that were terrible for her, and now that she's off of them she's feeling much better. Today's vocabulary word? Iatrogenic.

And as far as my money situation goes, my sister has volunteered to co-sign for my loan. And I'm doing some spec design for what may turn out to be a semi-regular freelance gig doing graphics and layout. Honestly, if I could get my toe in the door, I can easily see working as a one-stop shop for small publications, doing design and copywriting.

But I'm still pushing hard to make it as a creative artist. That's always gonna be the number-one goal, even if I may have to detour every so often to avoid humiliation and starvation.

Last night great steps were taken on the novel as well -- I really panicked when I started reworking this section. The early sections of the novel have been through repeated drafts over the last four years but at this stage, it's all first draft and I was horrified to find that events occurred and people did things just because the story needed them to. As we all know, that spells S-U-C-K.

The writer's group, bless them, was able to help me figure out how to have the required events occur because of the character's drives, and have the events resolve due to the character's will and competence. Tell you what, it's coming right along. When the former Marine and Oakland cop gets enthusiastic about the tough guy stuff, the landscape architect praises the scenery, flora, and fauna, and the religiously devout member of the group loves the hallucinatory gnostic sequences, well. It's encouraging.

But enough of me.


Lemme tell you about my buddy Rhaj. I knew him back in high school, and while I hope he's still alive I have my doubts. Poor bastard had lupus and had it bad; he had dialysis scars the size of tangerines all up and down his arms. Normally I wouldn't go into detail when describing the appearance of a pal (or a character, for that matter) but there's a point in the story where you're going to want to have a clear picture of Rhaj in your head. He was, to be blunt, the most chimpanzee-like human I've ever seen -- heavy brow, weak chin, a fierce expression, and a ropey little body that was covered in coarse brown bristles. I say this as a fairly simian son of a bitch myself. Rhaj was a great guy but he could be shocking to behold.

He was also the kind of person who is just not prone to putting up with shit. You did not want to fuck with him. He was entirely capable of nice behavior but he had a mean streak to him that I greatly appreciated.

Now I'm a bit of a freak; I'm up as early on a Sunday morning as I am on any other morning, i.e. usually around three o'clock. I also enjoy polite, friendly discussions involving diverse viewpoints. So I've always enjoyed the occasional religious nutbar showing up on my porch.

Rhaj was not like that. Rhaj liked to sleep in on Sundays. And he hated religious nutbars.

(For the record -- everyone's a little crazy, and for my money religion is pretty much institutionalized delusion. I regard it as an acceptable vice as long as the toper in question doesn't get all publicly drunk on Jesus or Mohamed or the Easter Bunny or whatever and start trying to stone the unbelievers.)


One Sunday morning at an hour Rhaj described disbelievingly as "Seven o' fucking clock!" Rhaj's bell rang. Cursing all the way, he climbed out of bed and stumbled to the front door wearing nothing but his pelt and his underwear. He opened the front door, leaving the screen door closed, and saw a group of people who were dressed a bit more formally than he was standing on his porch. Copies of Watchtower in their hands, they invited ol' Rhaj to consider the possibility of God's kingdom right here on Earth.

I want you to take a moment to visualize Rhaj. Imagine a mangy chimp with thick glasses, his body covered with keloid scars from intrusive medical procedures and an expression of sullen resentment and utter contempt on his face, clad in nothing but a pair of ragged briefs, seen through a screen door.

You with me now? Good.

"Give me a second," Rhaj said. He went back to his room. He grabbed a squirt gun. And he walked past the front door to get to the kitchen.

The Seventh Day Adventists watched him do this. He made sure they saw the squirt gun in his hand. And as they waited there, they heard him running the tap as he filled the gun.

And they stood there as Rhaj came back to the door -- still in his briefs -- took steady aim, and squirted the living fuck out of the group standing on his porch, Watchtowers and all. Then he slammed the door in their faces and returned to bed.

Rhaj didn't smile a whole hell of a lot, but as he told me this story a grin gradually crept over his face. I hope that someday something makes me feel as good as squirting those Seventh Day Adventists made Rhaj feel.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Interesting Times

Well, I am feeling terrified, depressed, elated, proud, worried, and hopeful. Got a lot of life going on. For those who are interested, lemme fill you in.

The big issue is my mother-in-law, the well-known printmaker and teacher Ruth Leaf. I'm not going to go into details because it ain't your nevermind, but she's going through a serious health crisis and things are not looking good. The missus has been staying with her for the last couple of weeks, but she's coming back tomorrow and the situation is nowhere near to being resolved. I'm concerned both for her and for my wife.

The other issue is that the missus got turned down as a co-signer for my student loan, so I am a broke-ass son of a bitch. This is about as distressing as you'd imagine. I'm going to have to find another co-signer, go on some kind of public support (which I do not want to do, unless it's in the form of an NEA grant or some such), leech off the missus (whose finances aren't that much more cheerful than mine, currently), find some means of earning a living, or wither and die. The last option would be quite unpopular in some quarters, so I'm trying to figure out how to make another one of the others work.

Right now my main concern is avoiding lapsing into a paralytic depression. It would be so easy for me to collapse right now, and the fact that I haven't laid eyes on the missus in a long time makes that even easier. Since she's been gone I've had one night when I slept for six hours; aside from that it's been less than three hours a night, which frees up a lot of time for laying in the dark worrying. Ain't gonna let myself drift into greyspace, though; now is not the time.

But while the above complaints have me going through hell, there's a great deal of hope as well. I've mentioned that the novel is running strong and has been described by an entertainment professional as extremely saleable. Another pal has a possible job offer for me that might get my foot in the copywriting and layout door. And this morning, a guy who's published one of my stories and has another in the hopper sent me an invitation to participate in a documentary on up-and-coming writers. (I seem to be on a few people's radar in that realm...) And I've got Viable Paradise to look forward to -- it's coming up fast.

So what are the plans? I'm gonna send out a mass email to my relatives to see if anyone is willing to co-sign for me. Gonna go down to the rehabilitation department and get myself on the list for assistance. Gonna get hold of some grant forms. Gonna put together a presentation for the above-mentioned job possibility. I'm changing my educational plans -- I'm getting into the editorial program at the UC extension as soon as possible, despite my concerns as to how it might impact my work on the novel. And it may sound crazy, but I think I should apply for work at Pixar.

I'm gonna monetize this blog, set up a Redbubble store, and change my other site to be a professional site dealing with copywriting and design. Now is not the time for me to indulge in self-doubt. Money must be made one way or another.

I can't do everything at once, but today? I can edit a couple of chapters of the novel for Homework Club, edit the submissions for this week's Monday night group, take care of my photography homework, send out my pleading email, and work on that job presentation I mentioned.

No self-pity, no self-flagellation. It's just trouble, and it's not like I've never had trouble before. And I've got to admit there's a certain exhilaration in my complete ignorance of what my life is gonna be like when things return to some sort of equilibrium.

Crazy days, folks, crazy days.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

From The Cutting-Room Floor

Right now I just want to show off a few choice paragraphs that won't be making it into the novel. Most of the stuff I'm cutting has me wondering why I wrote it in the first place, but here and there are some nice bits that simply do not pull their weight in context. Here are a few bits of alternative evolution from the Limbus. These are plants and animals from the Bonelands.

In the pockets of soil were fat green tubes about six inches across, some of them flush with the ground, others growing up to knee height. The tallest were topped with dandelion flowers, yellow sunbursts and white puffballs. The tender stalks were protected by brown, horny leaves growing up from the bass and wrapping around the stems like razor wire, all spikes and edges.

Off in the distance I saw a dark shape hovering thirty or forty feet in the air. It moved with the bob and sway of a daddy longlegs -- it was another horse.

I looked down at the ground and it seemed to move. Bending closer I saw there were mice half an inch long moving in two lanes. In one direction they were bearing some kind of seed; in the other they were unburdened. Something like a scorpion the size of my thumb approached the flow and started eating the mice one at a time. It was shaped like a teardrop and its stinger was double-pronged. I counted six legs and realized it was an insect. The mice swarmed it and it scuttled a foot away from their highway and started picking off its attackers. It was so quiet I could hear crunching as it chewed.