All his life, Mark did everything right, everything he was supposed to. He studied hard and got good grades. When he graduated he worked hard and was loyal to his company. It didn’t matter. Nobody cared. After all that effort, he was just another disposable cog in the machine of business. Thrown away every time an accountant somewhere figured they could save a few bucks without him. And every time he got laid off, he’d have to start his career over again. He ended up at an Internet sweatshop cranking out websites for little pay and no respect.
It was the same with women. He was polite, patient. Picked up every check without batting an eye. He’d sometimes get a second date, but never a third. He tried to keep his hopes down, but they’d rise every time, only to get crushed and crushed again.
Still he soldiered on. Looking for the one thing missing that’ll help him get his life on track, turn it around. Maybe he needed a pet. So he adopted a dog from the shelter, a tiny little mutt, named Butch. A sympathetic act toward a helpless animal, sure to ingratiate him with his coworkers. And a cute little dog could to get him attention from the ladies. A month later, the dog tore up his apartment, defecated everywhere, and was driving Mark insane. Enraged, the threatened to kill the animal. Unimpressed, Butch told Mark, “You haven’t got the balls.”
Like Marley & Me meets The Exorcist, the little dog drives Mark further from reality and deeper into depravity. Mark thought his life was worthless before, but when Butch is done with him there’s nothing left, just a man sleeping in his car. That’s when Butch makes Mark a deal. He’ll give Mark everything he ever wanted, in exchange for his soul.
Desperate, Mark agrees to this Faustian bargain.
Butch sends Mark on a series of infernal missions, each more depraved than the last. And each time, Mark’s life gets better; a new job with coworkers that respect him, a new home with neighbors that like him, and a loving girlfriend. But some of them are starting to suspect that there’s something not quite right about his little dog.
My agent asked that I start writing another novel. One that’s unrelated to The Faith Machine. I’m writing up three, one-page outlines for her. Here’s the first. What do you think?
1930s New Mexico, when the headstrong young Beth isn’t helping run the family inn she’s butting heads with her mother, or pining for her beloved father. The man left almost two years ago, seeking his fortune. The inn’s done a good if grim business taking care of farmers escaping the Dust Bowl to California. Until a preacher shows up one day looking for her father. The preacher took a room to wait, but something about the man of God drove away the other customers. Beth hears a vile rumor her father’s in a jail two counties over. She takes the shotgun down off the wall and goes to clear his name. A week on foot, she reaches the jail and finds his no-good twin bother and con man in the cell instead. Her uncle knows where her father has gone and makes Beth an offer. He can’t get there, but if she springs him from jail he’ll take her to someone who can, the wild woman of the plains, Dorothy Gale.
Dorothy’s been wandering Western Kansas through the black blizzards of dust. She’s been trying to catch the wind. She returned to Kansas looking for love, but never found it. And she’s been searching for a way back to the land she left ever since. The land where she’s a princess. With a book from Beth’s father’s library, the three figure out how to cross through the winds and into the magical land called Oz.
But it’s a land torn apart by war, having fought off an invasion from below by the Gnome King’s forces and above by the Wicked Witch of the Night. A magical child again, Dorothy abandons Beth and her uncle to reclaim her place in the Emerald City. The remaining Americans travel alone across this strange and worn torn land. Past the Patchwork Girl and her nation of constructs. Through a shootout with a group of deserters of the Gnome King’s army. Across a narcotic poppy field and its gardeners. Trapped by the giants of Tartary, and more.
Beth and her uncle follow her father’s trail across the ruined land of Oz. Following her uncle’s lead reluctantly, they con help from locals. People who’ve crossed her father’s path, for good or for ill. They discovers her father in the adulterous company of the Wicked Witch of the Night. And he’s happy right where he is. Beth realizes her father’s as sinful as her mother told her, even more than her uncle. But family comes first. Beth makes a hard choice, tricks her uncle into taking her father’s place, and dragging her father back across Oz.
But the shortcuts and betrayals she and her uncle committed traveling here become new obstacles on her way back. And Dorothy’s return to the Emerald throne ignite her enemies who blame Beth for Dorothy’s return. Meanwhile, the Witch of the Night discovers her consorts betrayal and reignites her war on Oz.
Only when she stops taking the advice of her father and uncle and starts living by her own standards of honor and honesty can Beth stop the Witch of the Night’s war on Oz. Which allows them to journey home. When they return through the Dust Bowl to their inn in New Mexico there’s still the preacher. Dealing with him will force Beth to work with her two worst enemies, her parents.
Tim Powers was signing his new book months ago at Mysterious Galaxy. I have most of his short stories in one form or another. But he’s one of my favorite authors and always a pleasure to hear him speak. During Q&A, he told a story from when his first book was published. At a Los Angeles book fair, he spotted Kurt Vonnegut waiting alone between engagements. Tim rallied his courage, walked up to him, and said, “Excuse me, Mr Vonnegut? I just wanted to say your work has been a huge inspiration to me. I’m an author too. My first novel’s just been published, and it would be a great honor if I could give you this signed copy.” Vonnegut accepted the copy with a grunt and a nod.
Later that afternoon, Tim found that copy of his book stuffed in a planter. Tim made himself a promise: If he ever did throw out a fan’s book, he’d use a trash can with a lid.
Years ago, Tim Powers and I were on a Comic Fest panel. Afterward I told him, “Mr Powers. I just wanted to say your work has been a huge inspiration to me-”
If he did throw it out, at least I now know he used a trash can with a lid.
Here’s the roughs of the first page of the comic Dead Women, “Seven Samurai but instead of swordsmen it’s undead women, a vampire, a ghost, a skeleton, a zombie, etc.” (My layouts are on the left, Freaky Vicky‘s are on the right)
I have the series outlined and the first issue scripted. Once the first 6 pages are drawn, colored, and lettered we’ll have a finished package for submissions.
While Agent 97:4 deals with her fading faith and failing power. She and Dr Park cross paths with Jennifer and Josh, two teens abducted 34 years ago by astral aliens, twisted into monsters, and released on Earth. The Montauk Project meets Natural Born Killers.
I had a good conversation with my agent this morning about the outline. Which was a relief. Our previous conversation didn’t go so well. These were my mistakes:
The Title.MKIntra was a play on MKUltra, the US Army psychic warfare unit. A reference my agent didn’t get. More importantly, in a series the titles should have a theme. Following the [feeling] [device] template, I renamed the outline after the secondary antagonists’ weapon.
More Mind Control. Jennifer originally had mind control powers. So did 97:4’s primary antagonist, in The Faith Machine. No body wants to see the hero fight the same power back to back. I’ve tweaked her power. Now she’s capable of full body possession and astral projection instead of the old order people around kind of mind control.
Moth Men. I didn’t realize we’re coming out of a glut of giant insect monsters. At least, that’s what been being pitched. Cutting the Moth Men severs one connection to the Montauk lore, but that’s fine. I replaced that monster with a swarm of scarabs wearing a man’s suit. I may replace them again with stone-age style clowns. We’ll see.
Format. I’m used to writing outlines for myself. Scene by scene breakdowns of the entire book. Fine for me, a painful read for anyone else. Rather than bouncing back and forth between protagonists and antagonist every sentence, I collected the scenes into paragraphs. An outline isn’t a scale model of the book.
Fortunately, the second outline only had a few minor problems, mostly typos and clarity. Taking feedback gracefully works!
Also, my short story The Ginger Jar is available for free on Kindle until Friday. Download it now, before the price skyrockets to 99¢!