Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Excerpt: Power Club Chapter 3: "Attacked!" [part 1]

    For earlier chapters, see the menu on the right.       

            Damon met Arick at recess every day for the first month of school.  Andy would sometimes join them, but other times he would go off with some of the other boys and play football.  Damon couldn’t understand why.  The boys had all agreed that they wouldn’t use their powers to play football, but, to Damon, that sounded like no fun.
            Instead, Damon and Arick met on the lower playground, which was conspicuously free from eighth graders, and went through their paces.  Damon strained to make the darkspace darker, but, for awhile, nothing happened.
            “Maybe it was a fluke,” Arick suggested.
            Damon didn’t believe that, so he continued to strain, and to even practice when no one else was looking—in the cloakroom or in the basement at home.  He couldn’t tell if his darkspace was getting darker—his night vision worked just the same—but somehow he could feel the darkness changing, growing stronger.
            And then it happened again. 
            “It’s like making a cake,” Damon said, amazed.  “I keep piling layer upon layer, like it was chocolate frosting!”
            Arick had to strain to see through each layer.  Eventually he could do it, but it took him longer every time.
            “If my radar vision continues to grow,” he boasted, “maybe I can join the Army as a spy!”
            Damon didn’t want to join the Army.  He wanted to join the Power Club or start a special club himself.  If he and Arick kept this up for another year, he figured, they'd be old enough to start their own.  
            But they didn’t keep it up.  “Recess is for fun," Arick said, as the weather started to change and the first leaves started to fall, "not for working harder.”  And that was that.  Damon wondered if the Power Club would practice with him, even if he wasn’t a member, but they said no.
            “We don’t have time for amateurs,” Vee said.
            Damon burned at those words.  He didn’t want to be an amateur.  He had grown up across the alley from Kyle and Vee, and Danner lived just across the street.  It bothered him to see them running by his house—Kyle teleporting at will, Vee racing up and down the block, Danner growing so high he could step over cars—while he could do nothing.  He couldn’t even show them how much his power had grown since the try out.
             “Damon, you’re worrying too much about this stuff,” his mother said after he had spent one day too many ragging on about increasing his power.  “I don’t want you to forget what it’s like to be a normal kid.”
            “But I’m not normal,” he said with pride.
            Her face stiffened, as if she were holding something back.  “There’s nothing wrong with being normal.”  She looked out the window, where the leaves on the tree which stood silent guard in the back yard were starting to change color.  “It’ll be getting cold soon.  Why don’t you go outside and ride your bike?”
            Damon didn’t want to, but he didn’t want to tell her why.  Dad had spent a lot of money to buy Damon a ten-speed to replace the bike that had been stolen.  It was a sleek, two-toned blue bicycle with racing stripes and handlebars that bent forward like a ram’s horns—the kind of bike Kyle was riding a year or two ago.  But Kyle had just helped his father rebuild an old Mustang and was anticipating driving it when he got his license next year, and Danner was talking about getting a motorcycle for his next birthday.  Compared to a Mustang and a motorcycle, a ten-speed seemed childish. 
            Dutifully, he went outside anyway.  Maybe he’d go across the alley and see if Kyle wanted to play catch or do something that didn’t involve powers.  He trotted down the back steps into the alley and saw that Kyle was, indeed, in his own back yard, holding a ragged baseball above the head of his ash-colored Beardie pup, Fergie.  The little dog yipped and jumped on Kyle’s legs.
            “Here, Ferg!  Here, Ferg!” Kyle shouted, then he arched back—“Goooo get it!” —and tossed the ball.
            The pup bolted after the ball, but there was a fft!—and the ball vanished in midair, to reappear a second later back in Kyle’s hand.  Frantic and confused, Fergie darted back and forth.  Kyle burst into laughter.
            Damon changed his mind about asking Kyle if he wanted to play catch.  Instead, he went to the garage, climbed on his ten-speed, and rode past Kyle’s yard without bothering to say hello.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Excerpt: Power Club Chapter 2: "Tryout" [part 2]

* * *
            So Damon practiced—at home, on his brother.
            Eldon was willing—he stood still in the east room until the darkspace appeared.  Then he tried to outrun it by dashing into the living room. Eldon was no Vee, of course, but he could run pretty fast when he wanted to.
            After a few times, Damon thought the darkspace was coming faster.  Then Eldon nearly collided with Mom as she was carrying a basket of laundry through the living room. “Your power is not a toy,” she scolded Damon.  “You don’t want El to fall and hurt himself like he did just before we moved to the district.”
            Damon hated it when she brought that up.  It was years ago and he could barely remember it.
            “But I need to practice,” he insisted.
            Damon told her about the Power Club.
            Mom set the basket of laundry on the floor.  “Damon, I don’t want you hanging out with those boys.”
            “Why not?”
            “It’s bad enough that the district looks the other way and lets kids pick on each other.  But letting them form a club without adult supervision?  What if someone gets hurt?  You were lucky last time.  A guardian angel was watching out for you and Eldon.”
            Damon rolled his eyes.  He knew his mother wouldn’t budge when she started talking about guardian angels. 
            So Damon tabled practicing for a few weeks until school began.  On the first day of class, his new teacher, Mrs. Fox, told the class about special programs that would train them to use their powers for the military or to work in the district when they grew up.  But Damon couldn’t wait that long.  Not with the Power Club in his very own neighborhood.
            Recess was the only other option.  Kids were allowed to run around the playground and test their powers, with the teachers only hanging back to make sure no one went too far.  On the first day of class, Damon told his pals, Andy and Arick, to meet him on the upper level of the playground, by the basketball poles.
            Andy went first.  He stood facing one of the basketball poles and took a deep breath, then let out an explosive frost that covered the entire pole in seconds.  Next, Damon tried creating a darkspace around another pole.  Arick timed them, studying a stopwatch through his thick glasses.
            “He’s got you beat by four seconds,” Arick said seriously.
            Damon and Andy started to try again on different poles.
            “Hey, don’t freeze all the basketball poles!”
            They turned to see four older boys running toward them.  Eighth graders. 
            “Basketball poles are for playing basketball, dummies!” one of the boys, who had blonde, shaggy hair, taunted them.  “You’re going to ruin them!”
            “No, we’re not.” Damon said.  He knew that Andy’s frost breath would wear off in a few seconds and there were never any lasting effects from his darkspace.  But the older boys didn’t seem to care.
            “Get lost!” the blonde boy shouted.  He stood in front of one of the frozen poles and looked up at the sky.  Then Damon watched amazed as the other’s body began to glow, the air around them turning very hot.  The melted ice drained off the basketball poles and evaporated on the playground.
            One of the other boys bent over and transformed himself into something resembling a large, metallic ball.  Then all three of the other boys began to toss him around and throw him toward the hoops, ignoring Damon and his friends.
            Damon knew it was useless to protest that they had been there first.  One didn’t argue with eighth graders if one hoped to live. 
            “Come on,” Arick said, with resignation.
            They ran to the lower playground, where a swing set, a jungle gym, and a mock castle waited.  The lower playground was for younger kids, but they had already had their recess, so the playground was deserted.
            “What are we doing here?” Andy asked.
            “I want Damon to try his power on me,” Arick said in a self-important tone.
            Damon understood what Arick meant.  As Arick’s glasses had gotten thicker over the years, his radar sight had increased.  Damon stretched out his arms and released the darkspace over himself, Arick, and part of the playground.   When Damon’s night vision kicked in, he saw Arick take off the thick glasses and put them in his pocket.  Then Arick wandered around, as if he were seeing the swing set and the jungle gym and the mock castle for the first time.  He sauntered around the castle and through the swings and, to Damon’s astonishment, never collided with anything.
            “This is too easy!” Arick shouted in Damon’s direction.  “Can’t you do anything else?”
            Is that the best you can do? The Power Club’s rejection echoed in Damon’s mind, and being driven away from the basketball hoops made those words seem even louder.  I’ll show you!
            He concentrated, trying somehow to make the darkspace stronger.  Maybe I can make it solid!  But his efforts seemed to have no effect on Arick, who climbed the jungle gym and swung off of it with abandon.
            Then Arick stopped swinging.  He sat up on the metal bars and looked around as if he were lost.
            “Damon?  Damon!” he shouted, scared.
            “I’m right here,” Damon replied, opening a soundspace.
            Damon commanded the darkspace to go away, and, instantly, it vanished.  Arick looked around, blinked, retrieved his glasses from his pocket, and put them on.  Then he cautiously climbed down off the jungle gym.
            “What happened?”
            “I don’t know.  Everything sort of disappeared.   It was like your darkness somehow got . . . darker.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Excerpt: Power Club Chapter 2: "Tryout" [part 1]

See the menu on the right side of the screen for excerpts from the Prologue and 
Chapter 1.      
"Is that the best you can do?” shouted Veryl Evans as he raced past Damon.
            “That’s not fair!” Damon shouted back.  “Hold still!”
            Veryl—or Vee, as he preferred—ran in circles around Damon, easily evading the darkspace. “If we were bad guys, we wouldn’t hold still.”  His voice seemed to come from everywhere.
Damon knew Vee was right, so he tried to make the darkspace come faster.  But it came slowly, as always, like a gentle cloud flowing out of Damon’s body.  By the time it had spread ten feet, Vee was cackling from the other side of Mackintosh Park.
            Damon inhaled, making the darkspace go away, and glowered at the speck of a boy who was a year younger than him but faster than anyone he knew.  Damon had been delighted when he’d heard that three kids from his own neighborhood were forming a special club.  He’d hounded Vee and the other two for weeks, begging them to let him join.  Finally, they agreed to a try-out:  Damon would have to best at least one of them in a contest of powers.  Damon had readily agreed, thinking that inside his darkspace, the others wouldn’t be able to see to use their powers.  Vee had just proved him wrong. 
            Damon turned to face his next opponent, Danner (“Don’t call me Danny!”) Young.  Though only a year older than Damon, but he stood two heads taller.  Damon commanded the darkspace to move as high as it would go.  Danner seemed disoriented at first, but he grew . . . ten feet, fifteen, twenty . . . and kept growing.  Damon’s heart flopped when he saw the boy’s head and neck disappear from the darkspace. 
            “Ah, nothing like a bath!” Danner’s voice boomed from somewhere above.  “But now it’s time to get out of the tub.”  Damon winced at the stupid joke, but it was he who felt stupid as Danner’s torso and legs turned and calmly walked away from the darkspace.
            “That’s a neat trick,” came a voice from somewhere near Damon.  He turned and saw that his third and final opponent was standing still in the darkness, arms folded about himself.  “Hey, it’s cold in here,” said Kyle Powell.  “I didn’t realize that darkness could get this cold.”  Damon smiled, thinking he still had a chance to impress at least one member of the Power Club.  
            He opened a soundspace and said, “What are you standing there for?  Why don’t you teleport?”
            Kyle started at the voice from nowhere. 
“I don’t teleport if I can’t see where I’m going,” he answered, looking around and squinting.  “Might merge with a wall or something.”
            Damon grinned with disbelief.  Not only was Kyle the most powerful of the three, he was also the oldest.  If Damon could defeat him, he’d be accepted for sure.  He closed the soundspace and rushed Kyle, planning to trip him.  A feeling of immense power overcame Damon as he rushed toward the unsuspecting Kyle, and then—
            Damon felt as if his insides were being scrambled.  There was no pain—just a sense that the parts of his body were being rearranged.  Blue sky . . . hot July air . . . and then he fell, landing on his feet and falling on his back.
            After several seconds, he began to feel less dizzy.  Kyle teleported ME outside the darkspace!   Damon didn't even know this was possible.  He craned his neck to see what the darkspace looked like from the outside.  There it stood, about fifty feet away: a huge, cloud-like inkspot floating on the park.  Awesome!  It floated for some time, and Damon wondered if it would just stay there and if Kyle would be able to find his way out.  Finally, the dark cloud faded into a murky grey and then vanished altogether, leaving only Kyle—standing where he had been and looking unfazed.
“You okay?” he shouted to Damon.
            “I thought you said you couldn’t teleport!”
            “I said I don’t teleport.  But I keep my teleporter field on, just in case.”
            Kyle jogged over to Damon and offered a hand, but Damon was already forcing himself up—queasy stomach or no.  Bad enough that he looked foolish.  He did not want to look weak. “You could have teleported me into a wall,” he scolded Kyle.
            “I doubt it,” Kyle replied.  “I know Mack Park pretty well.  All I had to do was make sure you were a few feet off the ground.”
            Vee raced back from the other side of the park, and Danner returned to his normal height.  Both were laughing at Damon.
            “That was so funny!” Vee said.  “You just appeared out of nowhere and began flapping around like a fish.”
            “Yeah, I guess you tried to sneak up on Kyle,” said Danner.  “I tried that once.  Learned my lesson the hard way, too.”
            His comment made Damon feel better, as if not all were lost.  Maybe the Power Club would give him another chance.  “So, what happens now?” he said.
            “Now, we vote,” Kyle said.  “In private.”
            Damon jogged several feet away and watched while the others huddled and whispered.  He respected their rules, hoping they would take that into account.  But when Kyle came over alone, his confidence melted.
            “We think your power’s neat, but you’re not ready to join the Power Club.  You need more practice.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Excerpt: Power Club Chapter 1: "A Special Club" [part 2]

For Part One, go here.
* * *    
           “Watch where you’re going!”
            Damon’s bike skidded to a halt.  He looked around, but he couldn’t see anyone.  Just a strange cloud, like a pillar of smoke from somebody burning trash.  But the voice had almost been in his ear.
            He had never been to this part of the district before.  This neighborhood was two blocks up the hill from where he lived, but it didn’t look much different from his own neighborhood.  White clapboard houses and brick bungalows dotted neatly kept yards with trees and street lights all around.  In one of yards, a woman raked leaves and two small children played.  They didn’t act as if they’d heard anything.
            Rattled, he started to say, “Who are you?” and “Where are you?” at the same time.  It came out as “Woo are you?”
            “Ha!  Dumb kid can’t talk.”  This time, the voice was right in front of Damon.  It was a kid’s voice, deep and nasal.
            “I’m not dumb!” Damon shouted.  The woman and two children looked at him.
            Damon felt as he wanted to crawl into the nearby sewer.  He started to pedal away, but the bike wouldn’t move.
            “You can’t go,” the voice said.
            It felt as if someone were standing in front of him and holding onto the handlebars, but there was no one there, only the cloud, which grew thicker and thicker, until it transformed into a grinning face.
            “You’re not supposed to use your powers in public,” Damon said.
            “You can if you’re one of us!” another voice said.  Damon looked up to see a boy with bat-like wings connecting his arms to his body.  The boy flew around and around.  “Don’t you know about the special clubs?”
            “Special clubs?”
            “The district lets kids form clubs so we can learn to use our powers,” said the cloud-face which expanded into a blocky boy, much bigger than Damon.  “Don’t you have a special club in your neighborhood?”
            “No,” Damon said.
            “That’s too bad,” the cloud boy said.  “‘cause if you’re part of a special club, you can use your powers in public.  The district lets you do whatever you want.”
            “Why would they do that?” said Damon, skeptically.
            “Who knows?” said the batwing boy.  “Maybe they’re training us to be an army of some kind.”  He landed next to Damon.  He was tall and thin, his face contorted into a goofy smile.
            “Or maybe they just want to see what we can do,” said the cloud boy, “so we can work together as a team and get rid of the weak kids.  What’s your name?”
            “Damon.  What’s yours?”
            The batwing boy's goofy grin turned into a scowl.  “You don’t get to ask us our names!  This is our neighborhood.  You don’t belong here.”
            “Yeah,” said the cloud boy, “and since we can use our powers in public and you can’t, that means we can do anything we want to you.”
            Damon felt a chill go down his spine.  He looked over to the yard where the woman was raking leaves, but she was pushing her two children inside her house.  
            “Now,” said the cloud boy, gripping the handlebars of Damon’s bike, “give us your bike.”
* * *
            Five minutes later, Damon ran all the way home.  He had put up a fight, but it was no use.  Even if he had been allowed to use his darkspace, it would have come too slowly.  The cloud boy had puffed his cheeks and blew Damon right off the seat of his bike.  Damon tried to fight back, but it was no use against a boy whose bat wings could pummel Damon from all sides.  Damon took off only when the cloud boy said he was going to call in some other members of his special club.  Besides, there was no point in fighting them.  Damon would simply tell his mother that two boys had stolen his bicycle.  Mom would call the district police, who would take care of it.
            Damon’s house stood on the corner of 92nd and Felcher Streets.  The two-story looked like a mansion compared to the smaller houses on the same block.  Its triangle roof arced down on both sides of the north-facing side while the east side of the house jutted out from the overhang.  A semi-circle porch stretched from the front door all around the east side and overlooked a concrete retaining wall that bordered the sidewalk like a garrison.  One of Damon’s friends said the house looked like a castle.  Damon liked that idea and, even now, he pretended he was a knight who had been accosted by highwaymen.  He would tell “the queen” what had happened and she would send for reinforcements.
            Damon leaped up the five stairs leading the back yard and zoomed past his brother, Eldon, who was playing with some friends.  The younger boys shouted at him, but he paid no attention.  He did not want them to see him in this condition.
            “What happened?” his mother asked with alarm when he entered the kitchen. 
            Rapidly and out of breath, Damon told her everything.  When he had finished, his mother took a paper towel and began to blot his cut lip.  “Hold still,” she said.
            “Mom!” he said.  Where are your priorities?  The bloody lip can wait. “Call the police so they can get my bike back!”
            “Don’t worry about your bike.  Your father and I will buy you a new one next spring.”
            She lowered the paper towel and sat back in her kitchen chair.  “You said that the boys were part of a special club?”
            “That’s what they said.”
            “Well, they were probably right.  Remember when we first moved to the district and your dad’s car was stolen?”
            “Well, it wasn’t really stolen.  It was destroyed by someone who could collapse metal on itself.  When your dad reported it to the police, they said that sometimes kids who belong to special clubs are allowed to do things like that so the district can see what they can do.  The district gave your father a new car, but he had to promise not to say what had really happened.”
            Damon thought this over.  The new car was smaller than the one he had been told was stolen.  It had only an AM/FM stereo, not a CD player.  It didn’t even have electric windows. 
            “Anyway,” his mother was saying, “if you keep quiet about this, maybe the district will buy you a new bicycle, too.”
            “No way!” Damon said, convinced that the district would probably get him a smaller bike. “I want my old bike back.”
              “I’m sorry, honey,” Mom said, brushing his hair in a way that told him there would be no reinforcements.  The queen just sat there and wiped blood from her knight’s lip, which stung when she touched it.  Damon felt like he had been stripped of honor. 
            “I want to join a special club,” he said.
            “There aren’t any in this neighborhood,” she replied curtly. 
            “Then I’ll start one.”
            “You’re too young.  Besides, why do you want to start a club?  Just go outside and play with your brother and his friends.  Forget about the bicycle.”
            But Damon could not forget.  He lived in the district because he had to, because he had a special power.  But he couldn’t use that power in public—unless he joined a special club.  Damon said nothing more about it, but secretly he decided that if a club ever got started in his neighborhood, he’d be the first to join.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Excerpt: Chapter 1: "A Special Club" [part 1]

  Another excerpt from my novel, The Power Club™.  Very few people have seen this chapter.  Let me know what you think.          

           “Damon!  Don’t do that in public.”
            Damon started at the sound of his mother’s voice.  She had been standing over at the cash register of Anilora’s Grocery Store, talking to Anita, the elderly lady who owned the store with her husband, Loren.  Damon had been way over by the pop cooler, chatting with Brandon, a boy he’d just met.  Brandon had said, “If you show me your power, I’ll show you mine.”
            So Damon exhaled, and the darkspace came.
            The boy freaked out—sometimes they did—and tried to run away, but he couldn’t see where he was going.  As soon as Damon’s night vision kicked in, he could see the boy fumbling his way past the cooler and the potato chip rack.  Damon laughed—he didn’t mean for it to be funny, but it was.
            And then he heard his mother’s voice. 
            He closed his eyes and inhaled.  The darkspace vanished.
            “I wasn’t doing anything!” he protested as his mother marched over to collect him.  “I was just showing Brandon—”
            “And was Brandon showing you his power?”
            Damon glanced at the other boy, who lowered his head and snickered.  Damon realized he’d been tricked again.
            “You don’t even have a power, do you?” Damon accused the other.
            Sheepishly, the other boy shook his head.  “My sister does.  She can see through metal.”  He then took off, leaving Damon to face his mother alone.
She planted her hands on her hips.  “Damon, you know you’re not allowed to use your powers in public.  You don’t want the district police to send you to Alaska.”
            Damon was too old to fall for this.  Only the worst kids, the ones with powers they couldn’t control, got sent to the special facility in Alaska. 
            “What’s the use of having a power,” he protested, “if I can’t use it?”
            A familiar cackle roared from near the cash register.  Anita, who was much shorter than Damon’s mom and bent over, came out from behind the counter.  “My Hector used to be the same way,” she said in that lilting drawl that indicated she was about to take over the conversation.  “He used to be able to levitate things, you know, and he just had to show off.  One day, the district police gave him a choice,” Anita said, looking directly at Damon so he couldn’t possibly miss the point of the story.  “Either he could stop using his power or have the null operation.”
            “What happened?” Damon said, eyes wide with terror.  The null operation was a strictly voluntary procedure that kids with powers could undergo when they were older.  The operation permanently stripped away a power.
            Anita looked down at Damon with a hang-dog expression.  “What do you think?  Hector had the operation.  He lives in Portland now with his wife and kids.”
            Damon let out a breath of contempt for the injustice of it all: Being forced to lose one’s power was the worst thing he could possibly imagine.  He had never met Hector, but he felt empathy for him.
            “But you and Loren stayed?” Mom asked.  Everyone knew that when a “special child” lost his or her power, the family was forced to leave the district.
            “We were the only grocery store in the district then,” Anita said wistfully.  “That was before the mall was built.  The district let us stay because they wanted kids like Damon to grow up in a normal neighborhood.”
            Damon winced.  He hated the notion that things were done in the district just for him and for other kids like him.  It reminded him that he wasn’t “normal,” after all.
            “Tell you what, Damon,” Anita said, turning to retrieve something from the counter.  Damon knew what it was before she turned back.  Sure enough, she bore a jar full of flavored candy sticks.  “Mind your mother, and I’ll let you have one of these.  Is root beer still your favorite?”
            Though Damon was too old to be bribed in this fashion, he didn’t want to hurt the old lady’s feelings.  Besides, free candy was free candy.  Even so, he carefully hid the root beer stick among the bags of groceries as he carried them out to the car, just in case Brandon or some other kid was watching.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Excerpt: Prologue—Child of Darkness (Seven Years Ago) [Part 2]

This is Part Two of the prologue of my novel-in-progress, The Power Club.  For Part One, go here.     

            The next day, in school, Mrs. Morgan called the class to gather around for story time.  Damon raced past the other kids, as usual, and sat down front and center.  His friends Eddie and Billy always sat next to him, but this time they did not. 
            During recess, Damon ran to join several kids who were playing on the jungle gym, but they jumped off the metal bars and ran away.  Damon thought it was part of a game until all of the kids gathered around him.
            “We don’t want to play with you anymore!” Suzy shouted.
            “You’re a freak!” said Billy.
            Damon ran and told Mrs. Morgan, as he had been taught to do, but the teacher shook her head.  “What did you expect, Denton?” she said, her breath visible in the chilled autumn air.  “If you move to the district, other kids won’t pick on you.”
            Today, Damon’s mother had kept him home from school.  He was happy about this until she told him they would be moving to the district, after all.  Damon screamed “NO!” as loud as he could and ran into his parents’ bedroom, where he created a darkspace so big it covered the entire room. 
            “Denton!”  His mother sounded angry as she felt her way past the bed. “I’m going to find you sooner or later, and when I do . . .” 
            Damon jumped up and ran past her.  Now he was on the other side of the bed while she felt her way along the wall where he had been.  I can keep this up all day.  You’ll never find me.
            Eldon stood in the doorway, peering wide-eyed into the darkness. 
Damon had heard Mom tell Dad to keep an eye on Eldon, but somehow the little boy had slipped away, probably curious to see what was going on. 
            “Mom?”  Eldon repeated.  When no answer came, Eldon bounded into the room as if it were a new playground.  Then Damon watched in shock as his brother stumbled on the carpet and fell head first into the heavy wooden footboard of the bed.
            Eldon sat on the floor and cried out in pain.  Damon wondered why his mother didn’t follow the sound of his voice and come to him.  Instead, she continued to feel her way along the wall, as if nothing had happened. 
            “Mom!” Damon said.  “Eldon’s hurt!”
            She did not turn around.  It was as if he were looking at her through a one-way glass window. 
            “MOM!” he shouted.
            She still did not turn around.  Was she ignoring him on purpose?  It was just like Ryan—
            Damon felt stupid for not figuring it out earlier.  Not only was he the only one who could see inside the darkspace—he was the only one who could hear, as well.
            He felt both powerful and scared.  He didn’t know what to do.  If he made the darkness go away, his mother would make him move to the district.  But if he did nothing, Eldon would keep crying.  What if he was badly hurt?
            Damon closed his eyes.  He took a deep breath and slowly said the magic words.  An instant later, a warm light caressed his cheeks.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Excerpt: Prologue—Child of Darkness (Seven Years Ago) [Part 1]

The following is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, The Power Club™.  

“Denton.  Denton, where are you?”
            His mother invaded his darkspace.  She had never done that before.
            “Denton.  This isn’t like you.”
            Maybe that’s because my name isn’t Denton.  It’s Damon.
            He knew perfectly well that his name was Denton, but he hated it.  The kids at school teased him, saying he was going to grow up to be a dentist.  “Damon” sounded cool. 
            “Denton, stop it this inst—” His mother’s voice was cut short when she bumped into the table by the bed.  She instinctively reached out to grab the lamp before it fell.  Damon could see her in a weird gray light, like watching a black and white cartoon.  If he didn’t focus on his mother or an object such as the bed, he wouldn’t be able to see anything either, except for the light from the hallway, which stopped, unwelcome, at the door 
            Damon liked it in the darkness, even though it was colder than outside.  He felt safe here.  Kids couldn’t make fun of him, and his parents couldn’t make him move.
            “You’ll like the new neighborhood,” his mother said as she felt her way around the bed.  “It’s full of kids just like you.  Some might be able to fly or be really strong or run really fast.  You’ll make friends.”
Damon crouched in the corner beneath the window, his eyes stinging from tears.  He pulled his knees tighter to his chest, making himself very small so his mother couldn’t find him.  I already have friends.  Jim doesn’t mind if I have a special power.  Annie and Robbie like it.  
He recalled how much fun they’d had last summer, running through Annie’s back yard.  The darkness he’d created was so big that it covered half the size of the yard—about fifteen feet, Robbie said.  All the kids were hiding inside and running around screaming, bumping into each other.  Everyone thought it was fun until Ryan, who had just moved into the neighborhood, joined them.  As soon as the darkspace surrounded him, Ryan became scared and ran toward the alley.  Damon yelled for him to stop, but the smaller boy wouldn’t listen .  As soon as Ryan disappeared from the darkness, Damon heard a terrible screech.  Heart pounding, he closed his eyes and said the magic words, “Go away!”  The darkspace vanished, and Damon opened his eyes to see Ryan, pale and wide-eyed, standing in front of a car that had stopped inches from him. 
Ryan’s parents raised a stink with the city council, and, before long, the whole town knew that Denton Neumeyer was one of the “special” children who belonged in the district.
            A man from the city council came by and talked to Damon’s parents.  He was thin, bald, and wore a suit and tie, like a detective on TV. 
            “I don’t want to move,” Mom told the man.  “My son is not a freak.”
            Damon’s father looked down at his hands and shrugged.  In his flannel shirt and blue jeans, he looked somehow smaller than the other man, even though he was much bigger.  “Maybe we should move,” Dad said.  “After all, we don’t know if Eldon—”
            “My baby is perfectly normal,” Mom interrupted, caressing the four-year-old on her lap.  Then she looked at Damon.  “And so is Denton.  Both of my boys are normal.”
            The man glanced at Damon, and Damon felt like a criminal.            
            “It’s a very nice place,” the man said.  “I’ve got pictures.”  He reached into his briefcase, but Damon ran from the room and crawled under his parents’ bed.  There he hid in a darkspace until he heard the man leave.
For more excerpts, see the Blog Archive in the column on the right.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Use Dramatic Structure to Keep Your Readers Hanging, Not Yourself

This article originally appeared on Suite in 2009. Although it was written to address plotting problems in comics stories, the advice applies to writers of any genre.

Losing control of the story is one of the worst things that can happen to a writer in any genre, but it is especially perilous for comic book writers who depend on exciting and often super-heroic tales to keep readers coming back month after month, year after year. But sooner or later, readers tire of stories that never end. Developments meant to hold readers’ interest can often backfire if they seem too far-fetched or appear “out of the blue.” One reason why writers resort to such tricks is because they haven’t thought out the story’s structure.


Freytag's Pyramid

Dramatic structure is a fairly simple device to keep the writer on track, regardless of story length. Structure requires the writer to know the beginning, middle, and end of her story, and to recoognize when she has reached each point.

While there are many ways of looking at story structure, one of the most useful patterns is Freytag’s Pyramid. Named after Gustav Freytag, the 19th century novelist and dramatist who devised it, Freytag’s Pyramid divides the elements of a story into five (sometimes seven) categories and identifies the function of each element. Many graphic representations and explanations of the pyramid can be found online, but to illustrate its usefulness in writing comic books, let’s look at one of the most popular comic book stories of all time.

Spinning Webs and Analyzing Stories

Spoiler Warning: This section analyzes the origin of Spider-Man. If you are not familiar with the origin and don’t want to know how it ends, proceed at your own risk.

Originally published in Amazing Fantasy # 15, August 1962, the origin of Spider-Man has been told and retold countless times. Some details have been embellished, added, and altered in subsequent comics and even films, but notice how the underlying structure developed by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko remains intact:
  • Exposition (What information does the reader need to know in order to understand the story?)
Peter Parker, science nerd, is shy around girls, picked on by jocks, and doted on by Aunt May and Uncle Ben.
  • Inciting Incident (What happens to disrupt the character’s normal life?)
Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider.
  • Rising Action (Things either start going well for the hero or poorly, depending on the type of story you are telling.)
Peter discovers that he has powers and creates his Spider-Man costume. He tries to cash in on his abilities by wrestling.
  • Climax (This is often a moment of truth, a moment when our hero’s fortunes change.)
Peter refuses to stop a burglar.
  • Falling Action (The reversal of Rising Action; if things were going well before, they go poorly now, or vice versa.)
Returning home, Peter learns that Uncle Ben has been killed by an intruder. As Spider-Man, Peter tracks the killer to a warehouse and fights him.
  • Resolution (How does the story end?)
Peter discovers to his horror that the killer is the same burglar he allowed to get away.
  • Denouement (What is the outcome of the story?)
Peter learns that “with great power comes great responsibility” and vows to use his powers to help others.

Structure = Power

Not every story will fit into the pattern as neatly as Spider-Man’s origin, and there is room for some interpretation. (Does the true climax occur when Spidey confronts the burglar?) But the pattern itself gives the story power and meaning. It tells us when the story ends and why it is significant. Without a solid structure, Spidey could be chasing the burglar through a 12-issue maxi-series with numerous crossovers by way of the Avengers and never get a resolution. Or if the resolution does come, it might be delayed for so long that the readers who have stuck with you have forgotten its significance.

Try plotting your own story on Freytag’s Pyramid. Use one or two sentence descriptions to identify the most important actions that take place in each category. Look for a strong climax and resolution. Then add subplots, cross-overs, and other frills as needed.

Lee, Stan, writer, and Steve Ditko, artist. “Spider-Man!” Amazing Fantasy 15 (Aug. 1962).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Two Authors Share Insights on Writing, Agents, Outlining, Etc.

If you aren't quite sure how to outline your novel or if you despise outlining to begin with, try a new approach: Outline your novel backwards.

That's what Ken Follett does.  Follett, author of thrillers such as Eye of the Needle, Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, was interviewed along with David Morrell (whose most famous character, John Rambo, debuted in Morrell's 1972 novel First Blood) by Writer's Digest.  Both authors share a wealth of insights into the writing process, the value of agents, and other topics.

Some quotes:

Be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of another writer.


Every character must have a thrust, something he or she is yearning for, trying to achieve.  Otherwise, no matter how interesting the character is, there's no story, no forward momentum.


I have a lot of reasons to think that reality is not a friendly neighborhood.  And the stories that I tell distract me, and if I do the job right they distract people from the things that are happening to them that they wish had never happened.


It’s the ability to make you think again about what you’ve already written that is so useful. Somebody who can say, this scene lacks something, or this character.

                                                                              Follett, on what to look for in an agent

Even if you don't write thrillers, the advice Morrell and Follett offer is invaluable.  The entire interview is long, but well worth your time.

Sneak Peak at My Answers for the Local Author Fair Panel

On Thursday, November 5, I will be one of four authors participating in the Local Authors Fair Panel through Woodneath Library Center, Kansa...