So you can read my books

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Before we talk about conflict, let's talk about contests. Zoe C. Courtman is having a novel contest. Let her explain it. She does it in such an amusing way :

All of us deal with internal conflict while we engage in external challenges. It is the human condition.

For yesterday's blogfest I was going to go with the excerpt I'm posting tonight. I refrained from using it because it dealt with internal conflict amidst an external challenge. I didn't think it completely qualified. Now, I believe I may have taken the parameters too literally. And so I'm posting it now.

It is the beginning of the second act of my novel, FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE. Samuel McCord has taken harsh, bold steps to help the hurting in post-Katrina New Orleans. The police are coming to arrest him. The army is coming to shoot him on sight.

And his life-long enemy, DayStar, is coming for much worse than that.

DayStar, more powerful than Nyx, the embodiment of the chaos that existed before creation.

DayStar, who, it is whispered, with merely the arching of one eyebrow, struck dead Sennacherib's entire army encamped around Jerusalem in 701 B.C.

DayStar is coming for his final revenge against McCord.

And McCord? Is he like any sane man running? No.

He is sitting in the shadows of his night club, Meilori's. He is Samuel Durand McCord. And he will die, baring his teeth at his enemy like an old wolf, defiant and snarling to the end :

What had Elu whispered as he lay fading away in my arms those long years ago? What is life but a flash of a firefly in the night, the breath of a buffalo in winter, the cloud shadow that races across the tall grass to lose itself in the setting sun.

Elu had spoken, not of God, but of The Great Mystery. I had taken to calling Him
that too. After all, most of the time what He was up to was a great mystery to me.

And tonight, of all nights, He seemed so distant. So very distant. But I clung to the dry hope that somewhere in my darkness He might be standing close. It was a dim light, but it was all I had.

I realized that my head was moving from side to side within the collar of my fingers. Suddenly every dim light in my night club went sin-black. Quiet as mist, darkness rose up around me and stayed like a cold shroud. I waited for the back-up system to cut in. I waited in vain. Story of my life.

All was silence. Then it hit me, and my stomach coiled. Neither the police nor the Army would come at me like this. Only one old enemy liked his dramatic entrances this much.

Only one.

I called out, "DayStar, don't you have more important people to be toying with than small potatoes like me?"

A chuckle like brittle bones breaking came from out of the darkness in front of me, "Should auld acquaintance be forgot, Samuel?"

"Some should."

Out of the blackness a voice, like the tolling of bronze bells far off in the distance, spoke cold, "You have interfered one time too many."

"That's been said before."

"Not by me."

The half-moon peeked out from behind a cloud and for a flicker of an instant I caught two gray eyes studying me. Deep, gray eyes that seemed to look inward as well as outward. Eyes that appeared to burn with cold fires.

Then all was darkness again. "I know you must have wondered how you’ve survived against me all these years."

"It had crossed my mind once or twice."

"At times there was a hedge from my enemy around you."

I pulled up straighter. Damn, it had flat never occurred to me that his madness had kept him from killing me. Madness you ask. Yeah, DayStar was as insane a being that I had fought. The strongest paranormal I had ever met, mind you, but insane as you could get. Maybe the two went together in some way.

I didn't believe this hedge business. How had I survived then? First, I cheat. Second, I think DayStar enjoyed the game. We'd played it off and on these past two hundred years. Who else would be long-lived and stupid enough to lock horns with him? I was Sherlock Holmes to his much smarter Moriarty
Or maybe that was my delusion to counter his.

And what was DayStar's delusion? The name he chose to go by gave it away. "DayStar" was the English translation of the Latin name found in the Vulgate version of the book of Isaiah.


It was insane I know. But then, so was he. But he was also so powerful my mouth got dry just thinking about some of the nightmares I'd seen him do without strain. I was facing a lunatic paranormal that thought he was Lucifer. But unlike all those crazies you saw who thought they were Napoleon, the delusional facing me had the sheer intellect and power to make more than a few people actually buy into his psychosis.

Including my best friend, Renfield.

But I was hardly going to call DayStar on his madness right now. Jung had warned me long ago that you didn't get anywhere you wanted to go by confronting a delusional head-on concerning the absurdity of his claims. And when said delusional had the sheer paranormal power DayStar did that went double. It flat didn't matter when a man dropped an A-Bomb on you if he thought he was a kumquat or if he was stone-cold sane, you were still just as vaporized.

DayStar spoke again. "Tonight that hedge is gone."

Under the table, my left hand became a fist. I thumbed the ring of Solomon I wore on the middle finger. For the first time in my life, I might have to use its power to control a being of evil.


I clenched my jaws to go with my left fist. No. I would die first. At least that was what I told myself right now. When I felt myself start to wither under DayStar's power, who knew?

The darkness actually seemed to grow denser around me as he spoke low, "I went to some effort to bring Katrina to New Orleans only to veer away, building up hopes of escape, then have my carefully constructed levees collapse in the fashion I wished. Such despair and death. It was delightful."

He was crazier than I thought. He actually thought he had brought Katrina to New Orleans. But then, I had been in the limo when Elvis made it stop so he could demonstrate to me and his bodyguards how he could make a cloud move. Since Elvis had just fired Red and Sonny West, his two childhood friends, none of the remaining guards said a word.

Me, being me, I told him to just listen to himself. I told him I had good doctors that would wean him off the drugs that were ruining his life. He left me on that country road. Being alone, I enjoyed the company – if not the walk.

DayStar took two steps towards me. "But then, you had to interfere."

Thinking back to Elvis, I said low, "I do that sometimes."

"No longer. That meddler Mayor Nagin was supposed to be already dead with the Russian Mob firmly entrenched here. And Empress Theodora was already to have a beachhead established in New Orleans by this time. I need this revenant war as a distraction. And I will have it!"

"A distraction from what?"

He ignored me. I didn't mind. I got the same kind of treatment from his supposed enemy, the Great Mystery. I sensed more than saw him approach my table, the sound of his steps steady, firm and unrelenting. Heard the chair opposite me being pulled out. Felt as well as heard him sit down in the plush leather chair and neatly arrange his clothes.

"Armani if you are wondering, talking monkey."

"Only the very best for the very worst."

He laughed as if I mattered. I smiled back as if I gave a damn. We both weren't fooled.

DayStar’s words were little more than whispers, "Once the world lived by night. The dark drew people together. Under its cover, they could feel the need for each other. But I gave the night to the predators, kept for myself the day so that the living could look into eyes filled with fear and hatred.”

I fought the urge to challenge his delusion. I reminded myself of Jung's warning that challenging the delusion of a madman only made matters worse. And when said madman had the power to wither a man with just a whisper, making things worse seemed like a poor game plan.

I shrugged. "You see what you look for. I take it that the company I was expecting isn't coming?"

"Alas, no. I informed them that I had other plans for you."

"They take it well?"

"What do you think?"

"Any of them still in one piece?"

"Samuel, you know me better than to think I let anyone rest in peace."

I sighed. "Any of them still among the living?"

"Of course. They all are."

His laughter was a thing of nightmares. "They just aren't enjoying it."

His voice became even more hollow. "Man. Bah. Even when I show him the truth of life, he wastes his potential, what pathetic little of it exists."

He chuckled, "Some are born to sweet delight. Some are born to endless night."

A coldness seemingly born of that endless night radiated from DayStar. "Man. Disgusting talking monkeys, nothing more. An endangered species from the very beginning. Not particularly fleet of foot, unless chasing after another man's wife. No large teeth. No claws except for his tongue. A wonder you have made it this long."

"Don't you have a government to topple, a politician to corrupt?"

"All in good time, Samuel. All in good time. In fact, I am having a marvelous time right now with the opportunities still afforded me by Kristina. Whispers to bruised egos to insure one agency will ignore another. Stroking of inflamed pride to keep insufficient mouths from asking for help until it is too late. Suggesting of shallow men for pivotal positions."

He laughed his chuckle of breaking bones again. "All so simple. All so enjoyable. All so effective. Goverment agencies are so much fun to play like puppets. And the nature of human nature makes it so easy."

His voice lowered until I had to strain to hear it. "And the helpless die."

I barely made out the flutter of his long fingers. A dim flicker of images swirled before my eyes. An old woman clutching a small child as the rising waters threatened to swallow them. A faint mewing came from the young girl.

"G-Grandma, I'm ... I'm scared. Awful sc-scared."

"There, there, honey. I'm right here. I got you safe in my arms."

I watched the woman hug her granddaughter as the waters steadily rose, saw the shivering girl clutch back as if onto a lifeline. My fingers became fists in the effort it took me to keep on watching as the dark waters crept up their chests, nibbled at their chins. I forced myself to keep on watching their thrashing about as the waters choked them, then smothered them to finally rise to the ceiling. It took them much too long to finally die. I felt DayStar's eyes on me.

I ignored him. All I seemed able to see was the trail of bubbles shorten, then stop as their bodies slowly became loose and limp. But somehow the grandmother's arms still held onto the small girl. All became black once more. And DayStar laughed as if at the funniest joke in the world.

"Tell me, Samuel, where was your invisible man in the sky in all that?"

His question had echoed my own. But I would be damned if I gave him the satisfaction of admitting it. I reached into the bruised shadows of my mind for a truth I could say with a straight face and forced my throat to work.

"In the arms of that grandmother."
All that Samuel has seen and endured makes him think of himself as an agnostic. When Renfield, the vampire-priest who is his best friend, hears him say that, he asks, "Then why do you live the prayer of St. Francis?" "Old habits die hard, padre" is always the answer. Renfield just gives his friend a sad, wise smile.


  1. This first part didn't work for me: okay this just one person's idisosyncratic opinion, but this is where i think you should start with this :

    "every dim light in my night club went sin-black. Quiet as mist, darkness rose up around me and stayed like a cold shroud. I waited for the back-up system to cut in. I waited in vain. Story of my life."

    Since I don't have any clue what the first act is all about, it's easier for me to get into this excerpt at this point because it's the first place where I get a setting and the action starts.

  2. Thank you, Margo. I can see your point. Knowing the whole story as I do, I failed to consider how this excerpt would read to someone coming in cold. Thanks for caring enough to comment and following. I sometimes feel as if I'm playing to an empty house, Roland

  3. Ronald, dear, there is a certain charm even when playing to an empty house! You get to listen! And now I am thinking about Tous les matins du monde: the creator plays firstly for himself...even when playing something bearing the capacity of bringing back the dead...

  4. Ah, Roland, you lyrical bastard. (And I say that with love :D) I love how you mix up the more musical passages with wry phrases. Like this:
    "He laughed as if I mattered. I smiled back as if I gave a damn."
    Poetry :D I do think you're gonna hafta go back and trim so that there's a bit more forward momentum (and how come DayStar didn't just destroy Samuel on sight?) - but it's a problem I share, so no worries. Just don't be afraid to cut judiciously :D And I *hate* that feeling of playing to an empty house. Right there with you on that, my friend. Thanks for linking to my contest - and for such kind comments. Love your blog; I'm a Roland convert!

  5. Roland, what you wrote is a very good read. However, I totally agree with Margo and Zoe. Without the backdrop, I couldn't pull it together until exactly where Margo copied (was gonna go back and copy but saw she had done so). You are very, very good at the lyrical. A definite strong point. However, cut and cut hard so that the lyrical paints a picture. Again, I selected Zoe's quote above. This is brilliant. However, the wry (James Lee Burke) doesn't go with the lyrical. And combining either with 'as nutty as a can of Planter's' is too trite and jars the reader. I also think Samuel needs physical movement...where is the balance of power between Samuel and DayStar that enables Samuel to taunt and live??? And a few too many pronouns had me re-reading. Remember, cher, there's a lot of good stuff above, just, er, you asked what could make it better.

  6. Zoe, Margo, Kittie, and Imola :

    Thanks for the input. Kittie, you're right about the trite can of planters remark. And all of you, I do need to trim and shape this bush of words.

    I do want to make it better. And yes, DayStar could have killed Sam on the spot. Though after 200 years, he wants to play with his food first like a cat. He wants Sam to sweat. But both Sam and he know that McCord wants to die.

    It isn't enough to destroy his body, DayStar wants to destroy his spirit first. And that's what allows Sam to taunt and live. As long as the taunts are there, Sam's spirit is unbowed.

    Another flaw to excerpts is that they are out of the flow of what has transpired before in the novel. Sam believes DayStar keeps him around as a court jester of sorts. Someone to make him laugh when his plots begin to grow stale. Also Sam believes his misery of living without Meilori causes DayStar great amusement.

    And after DayStar has killed Sam, who would provide him the spirited battle of wits the two have shared for 200 years? It is why the Joker doesn't kill Batman. The game would be over.

    I haven't shown the actions Sam has taken prior to this scene. They are bloody and violent, nearly overwhelming his hold of what humanity he has left.

    I try to keep a PG rating on this blog, but this focusing on internal conflict and dialogue has skewed the picture of Sam's adventures.

    Thanks for the critical input. They mean so much to me. Zoe, I feel not so alone now that I know that you, too, sometimes feel the "playing to an empty house" syndrome. And Imola. I will take your advise and revel in the pleasure of just creating to create. Kittie, you will notice the Planter's remark is axed.

    Thanks, all, Roland

  7. Roland, I love Sarah McLachlan!

    Honestly though, I didn't read this post. I came here because you don't have an email on your blogger profile. I would like to ask you something but can't find your email address. Would you please email me (it's on my blogger profile)? Then I can reply and we can communicate even further.

  8. i like your nasty ones... a lot ;)

    are you on twitter or facebook?