Life, the Universe & Everything (Writing Related) Part II

Categories: Life,Publishing,Short Stories,Work in Progress,Writing

I promised prophecy and now: here be prophecy. Prophecy might actually be too strong of a word, now that I think about it. This is more like aggressive optimism. As mentioned in the previous post, the forthcoming list serves not only as a teaser for future works to come, but as a mode of accountability for my easily distractible self. The planned works detailed below are all finished in draft form or well in progress, cruising toward submission and/or publication.

If you find anything on this list that piques your interest, please feel free to drop me a line. You can use my contact form or send me an email direct (if you already have my personal email, that is). It would be great to hear which projects are stoking the greatest flames of intrigue. Motivation and validation are hard to come by in the quagmire of unfinished prose. Some days are easier than others.

A final note on process: in order to keep things moving forward I tend to work on several projects at once. The nature of the beast that is my own ADD means I often lose interest or hit a creative wall with longer form projects. Instead of indulging these psychological blocks and sitting around with my thumb up my ass until the muse returns to grace me with her inspiration, I switch gears to a fresher project and so on and so forth, bouncing around from unfinished piece to unfinished piece until, inevitably, I arrive at a finished piece.

So without further adieu, the future:

life

The Angelus Triptych

This is a working title for a trilogy of interconnected short stories set in the same sideways version of Los Angeles that I have come to fondly describe as “Angelus”. These three capital “W” Weird Tales are all currently circulating through various slush piles and editorial desks. My preference is to publish each one individually in a pro or semi-pro magazine and then collect them all into a chapbook after the term of exclusivity on the individual sales elapses. The difficulty with this plan has been that none of the stories fit comfortably in any single magazine’s range of coverage. They’re Weird Fiction in the most ambiguous sense. Not quite fantasy. Not quite scifi. Not quite horror, but maybe closer. If they don’t find a home I will likely expedite the chapbook plan so I have something fresh to pass out and sell at readings and conventions. Professionally this is a sub-optimal outcome, but creatively a single chapbook containing all three pieces is probably the ideal way to present the material. They read best back to back. Here’s a little taste to keep you coming back for the full syringe.

Burn out and Fade Away

A punk rock ghost story about fame, existential angst and rock n’ roll’s greatest morbid institution: the 27-club.

From the balcony of Studio 95 we can see the whole city sprouting up in patches of concrete and steel between palm trees, chaparral and dense yellow smog. Shocky hands me a thin, blue Nat Sherman and lights it.
“You really think Hatchet Man did himself?” I ask.
Shocky shrugs and lights his own. “Ezra got real morbid towards the end. Started wearing flannel and going on and on about Cobain and Kristen Pfaff. One thing’s for certain: he didn’t have a taste for what’s happening in there.” He nods back at the recording studio. “The last night I saw him – alive, that is – he was yammering on about the 95 Corridor tour and how it was the best he thought he could ever be. He said that tour would live forever if we didn’t spend the next thirty years fucking it up.”
I blow my smoke out over the balcony to join the rest of the Angel City haze. “I think I know how he feels.”
“Felt,” Shocky corrects me. “It’s all anxiety, pretty boy. Everyone acts like fame is this capricious thing that happens to people and disappears as soon as the collective consciousness shifts.”
I think that sounds about right, but I don’t say it out loud.
“Don’t be like Hatchet Man, Jens. Don’t throw in the towel.”
“I thought you said my music sucked dick?” I smile coyly.
“Your music sucks all kinds of dick,” he says. “You have to be better again. You have to earn a second act.” He looks at me square in the eyes. “Do I need to worry about you?”

Does he? Hard sayin’ not knowin’. Even though I do know. You don’t. That’s how it works.

The Repeating Woman

While the Weirdness only clocks in at around a 6 in “Burn out”, “Repeating Woman” turns it up to about a 9. This story was discussed in an earlier post. Here’s another snippet.

Los Angeles was a city of dime-a-dozen people struggling to convince the world they were one of a kind. Albert Crenshaw knew this well enough, which was why he abandoned the fight. If not successful he had at least grown practical, which was a good thing to be after thirty in LA. He no longer skulked around the usual Hollywood haunts, toting about the same brown cocktail for hours chasing “discovery,” that romantic conceit. He didn’t start his day combing the Craigslist classifieds for open auditions, either. That part of his life was over. He had a new routine that included far more instant coffee and freezer-burned toast. When he drank, he drank alone or, if he had the cash, at a dive bar east of the river. Albert stopped auditioning altogether and embraced his temp job, though after six years “temp” seemed less a title and more an existential joke. He wasn’t pathetic. He just was. Like any good Angeleno on the downslide of a hypothetical career, he still carried a dozen wrinkled copies of his headshot tucked inside his wallet behind business cards that said thespian and included a link to his malnourished IMDB.
Anyone can make a business card, he thought.

Awful, huh? I wish I could say Albert’s story had a happy ending but that would be a **SPOILER**.

Eagle’s Rock

The third piece that rounds out the triptych provides a bird’s eye view of one of the stranger neighborhoods in Angelus, a place where charter schools demand virgin blood, coyotes fend off gentrification and traffic jams exhibit emergent intelligence.

No preview for this one. You’ll just have to wait and see.


Peel Back the Worldish

This is a middle grade novel set in the world of “Where the Millennials Went”. The word count recently reached 30,000, which is about half the projected total. My goal is to have the first draft finished by Thanksgiving 2015. I’m not going to lie–this one has been pretty slow going. More news to come by the end of Q3. No previews until “Millennials” is published in Fantasy Scroll Mag.


Shattered: The Girl Who Woke the Moon

This project began as a world building experiment and quickly grew into a full blown YA Series concept. Inspired by the great Indian epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the world of Shattered was shaped by a pantheon of mortal deities who go through cycles of death and rebirth in the form of corporeal avatars called “incarnations”. Eras during which the incarnations walk the planet are marked by great upheaval and global change often including the inversion of dominant power structures. Fearing destruction at the hands of these avatars, the Liubane Empire issues a decree that all children born exhibiting signs of divinity are to be confiscated by local consulates and summarily destroyed. Their culling is shockingly effective, leaving the world without a confirmed Incarnation for over a thousand years. The Girl Who Woke the Moon is the story of Oraluna, an avatar of the Goddess Haiyan, and the first Incarnation to survive the Empire’s decree.

This house is also a cloud, for without the cloud there could be no rain and without the rain our forests and crops would wither and bow back into the dirt. Without the crops our woodsmen wouldn’t have the energy to work and without the forests it wouldn’t make much of a difference even if they did. Without the lumber hewn by the woodsmen, there would be no materials with which to construct the house. You may think you get the picture, but hold on to your hay bales because here comes the kicker: the house is also you and you are also me and we are the earth, the sun, the moon, the waters, a stick, a stone, a single breath, a mountain, a mouse, a tear, a death, the raven’s caw, a wick and a flame, a song, a lie, a kiss. We are the last league of the road. And the first.
I am you and you are me. Repeat it like a mantra. Give it breath and make it true.
Idealistic, I know, and maybe just a little too dear. Oneness has always been difficult to picture. Not like division. Division is everywhere. It’s the lines we draw on maps where nature never intended – borders made manifest by stubborn, imperfect will. It’s the otherness we impose across the great cultural divide. The names we give our sons and daughters and deny our closest neighbors. It’s the literal gorge that yawns across the spine of the world, a forbidding monument to our forgotten unity.
How am I supposed to fix that? It isn’t fair.

I have a draft of this manuscript waiting for revisions. I’ll likely come back to it in early 2016, while the first drafts of Peel and the Untitled Space Opera cool off.


Untitled Space Opera

It may not have a name yet, but trust me when I tell you this is the ur-project. A massive, adult science fiction odyssey. First in a trilogy set in a universe that will spawn many, many more tie-ins and series. This is good, old-fashioned pulp. A love letter to the kind of fiction I grew up reading. I hesitate to give more specific details than those because even at 60,000 words it feels too early (FWIW, I think this one will clock in around 150,000 when all is said and done).

Instead of a logline, how about a page or two?

Chapter 1: Armistice

Mats slept poorly despite the asymmetric comforts of the command suite onboard the keyship Ducal. The closer he crept toward Armistice, the more his condition degraded.
Formication, the medics called it.
His waking hours were fraught with phantom pain, migratory itching in his ankles and wrists. He could hardly blink without exciting the fictive vacuum mites that shivered beneath his skin. More than one of his Cygnoid sentinels caught him grunting and flailing at the nonexistent arachnids harrying his exposed limbs. It was behavior unbecoming of his station.
Once the whispers started, Mats redoubled his efforts to control these convulsions in the presence of his men. This extraordinary act of will chipped away at his constitution so that when he finally bedded down for a cycle of sleep he had nothing left to beat back the night terrors. In the labyrinth of REM sleep those fleeting sensations metastasized into three-dimensional horrors. Larva rippled inside his flesh, necrotizing soft tissue before molting into toothy moths that hatched from ruptured blood vessels and swarmed the milky whites of his eyes. They burrowed into his sinus cavities to lay their eggs and reignite the whole parasitic cycle.
Sentient hookworms held parliament in Mats’ bowels, communicating through patterns of secreted toxins that turned his epithelial cells to quivering puddles of jelly and puss. Amoebas colonized his rectum, joining into a macroscopic coacervate that erupted from his anus and planted like a gibbon’s claw in the meat of his spine. His biology betrayed him at the cellular level. The parasites hijacked every coil of DNA and turned his nucleotides against him. They redirected his synapses, drank up all his ATP. Rather than succumb to the infestation, Mats tore his hair out hand over fist and dug through his own skull flap until his fingernails splintered and his cuticles bled. He cried—sometimes within the confines of his dream, too often out loud. He just wanted to make the pain stop.
And it did stop. Every night he woke up gasping and coughing as soon as his digits found purchase inside the warm gray matter of his brain. The last cycle before the keyship reached Armistice he was so distraught he actually fell out of bed and threw up. His mech—Valis—detected the sounds of his retching from three decks away and appeared in his chambers with fresh nightclothes. She helped him dispose of the soiled garments discretely.
“Thank you, Valis. Food toxicity. I thought tonight’s rations smelled off.”
“I think so, Your Eminence,” said Valis. “I’ll dispose of the remainder.”
“See that you do.” Valis bowed to Mats in her rigid, mechanical way before turning to exit the command suite.
200 kronids since the cease-fire, and this was Mats’ first time making the quinquennial pilgrimage to Armistice. Over the tepid objections of the other Voices, he actually volunteered to discharge this solemn duty. They had warned him. There was a healthy skepticism on Collatz Station regarding Mats’ fitness for the Quint. He was humanoid after all, without any notable augmentation other than the SLANT implanted in his wrist. The space around the Armistice rendezvous was neutral by treaty, but the Dorylus Encephalon maintained a presence in the area that was practically metaphysical. The Enceph’s miasma loomed in the air—imperceptible yet consequential like the dark superstructure that held the galaxy aloft. Mats wasn’t crazy. His symptoms were more than psychosomatic.
Every day onboard the Ducal brought him closer to the Enceph—closer than he had ever been. Even during the height of the war, Mats had managed to keep himself sheltered, isolated from the greater and lesser atrocities of the Enceph. He understood them/it academically, of course. Comprehending the enemy was his life’s great task. He read the literature as it was written; examined cadavers from remote medical broadcast terminals; walked through foglet simulations of the war’s most catastrophic confrontations. During the protracted siege of Verlagne, he even sent his AI to camp outside the blockade beside actual Compact troops. As immersive as those experiences had been, they all felt artificial. He shouldn’t have waited so long to volunteer for the Quint. The Enceph was the reason for the Compact’s existence and the Compact was the reason for Mats.
His sahir-class keyship was attuned to the day/night cycles of Collatz, a feature that helped Mats manage his fragile human circadian rhythms. His comfort came at the expense of his sentinels who were more accustomed to the fifty-hour cycle employed on Cygnoid battleships. As his boat crept closer to Armistice and Encephalon space, Mats was beginning to regret that selfish indulgence. Better to keep your knives sharp than your tongue. The clock over his data array signaled less than two hours until artdawn. Hardly worth another crack at tortured sleep. Beneath the clock a blue signal light flashed on Mats’ tangle-stream.

Exciting stuff. I know. I kind of want to go work on this one right now.


HOWL

HOWL is my first crack at a creator-owned comic. To be honest, I really don’t know what the market for this project is going to be. The economics are difficult enough for popular creator-owned works, and since my name isn’t Brian K. Kirkman Remender chances of finding an audience are pretty slim. Did I mention that HOWL is a lyrical science-fiction homage to the poetry of Allen Ginsberg? How’s that for esoteric? I know how all this sounds. I’m a realist when it comes to the business side of things. Even so, I can’t stop writing HOWL. Obviously I think the ideal home for this project would be an indie press like Image or IDW. I even put together a pitch packet for Oni’s open call (form reject, thanks for asking). Right now I’m looking at self funding the first arc of six issues and publishing right here on the site. If that works out, maybe we can move to a press for the rest of the run.

Where the project stands: I have detailed character and set piece descriptions and the first issue is scripted in full. The next five issues comprising the first arc are outlined. The entire run totaling 72 issues across 12 arcs is outlined in broader strokes. I’ve started looking for artists, but it’s been slow. Are you an artist? Do you know a kick ass artist with sequential chops? Reach out and say hi or just send over a portfolio. I promise, you’ll hear back.

If I can find an artist I’m happy with and I go the self-funded route, look for the first issue on this site in early 2016. Here’s the pitch:

The last remnants of humanity escape to a pair of frozen space stations in the Ort Cloud after a massive alien parasite known as ‘Root’ infests the solar system. The surviving military authority on the Ort stations believes that Root has rendered the entire system uninhabitable until a mysterious signal arrives from somewhere among the inner planets. The signal is confirmed to be authentic, but there’s a catch: one damaged girl is the only person alive who can hear it.


And that, dear readers, is the future in short. It’s all out there now. Just about everything on my docket. If I start missing these self-imposed deadlines you have express permission to scream and shout and wave your hands all about. Although it might seem daunting, trust me: there isn’t a project on this list that I don’t honestly believe will find a home in the next 18 months. Optimistic? Probably. But you have to be in this business.

Back to Part I

Author: Zach Lisabeth

Author of speculative fictions, lapsed musician and reluctant Angeleno. Graduate of Northwestern University and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Workshop at UCSD.