Purple Flowers – A Short Story

A while back I participated in a 1,000 word flash fiction contest with this story, over at the leighendarium. It reminded me of “Stand By Me” and a time in my childhood when my friends and I seemed to come up with a dare every single day. I hope you enjoy it. (Instead of reading it, you can also listen/watch it on youtube here).


Purple Flowers

 There were three of us. Kelly Myers, Jonah Appelbaum, and myself. Every day after school, we’d ride our bicycles down Louis Avenue, jumping the pot holes and screaming from the top of our lungs. We’d race each other on the steep part all the way down and across the train tracks into the Nature Sanctuary.

The park extends to the river, a downhill slope past a school of weeping willow trees, across the narrow stone bridge and through the barren meadow where small purple flowers would stick out from the hardened soil.

The challenge was to ride as fast as possible toward the edge — the spot where the steep cliff fell forty feet down into the water — and hit the breaks in the last possible moment. I lost each time, breaking too soon. Jonah usually came in second, leaving Kelly the winner with only a few feet of distance between his bike and the sharp edge.

We called it the line of no return. We had carved it out of the dirt and filled it with charcoal dust so it was visible against the sandy soil. It was a straight line parallel to the edge. To come to a safe stop, you had to have the brakes fully engaged before the line.

That day, Kelly hit the brakes when he was on top of the line, not before. When his front wheel crossed it and he still had not made any attempt to break, I knew he wouldn’t make it.

I was already at a standstill, the fine dust of the dried up dirt swirling around me, when he approached. I saw his face, the moment of panic when he realized he hit the brakes too late.

“Alex!” he cried out. Then he went over the edge. Actually, he let himself fall onto his side in an attempt to slow down his momentum. It probably did. But not enough.

I was frozen. He didn’t scream or anything. It was as if he simply left this world without saying goodbye. I remember thinking that he was a good swimmer, that he could probably make it to shore. But I knew that the fall would most likely kill him — the fall onto the large boulders that stick out of the water this time of year.

Our town is in a drought from May through August. During that time, the river loses four feet of its water. Sometimes five. Kelly could have survived in March. He could have survived in September. Not in June. Not today.

I heard the metallic clanking sound of the bike crashing onto the rocks below. I didn’t want to see him. I didn’t want to have the image of his broken body be the last thing I remember. Jonah, his face pale as the moon, was much more courageous. He let go of his bike and ran the few feet to the edge. Jonah lived next door to Kelly. They were like brothers. They fought and teased each other as only ten-year-old boys could. They loved each other too. They looked out for each other. They looked out for me.

I moved here only two years ago from Chicago. I’m smaller than most boys my age and had very thick glasses. I got teased a lot. I got pushed and intimidated and made fun of but when one of the other boys hit me, Kelly hit him back. That day I didn’t walk home alone after school. Kelly and Jonah walked next to me, one on each side. We were inseparable ever since, sometimes to the detriment of our teachers and our parents. We were trouble. We built a dam in the Shallow Creek that was so high, it flooded the nearby walkway making it impossible for pedestrians to cross.

We’d use the thin green plastic pipes you find in aquariums and turn them into spitball shooters. Armed with a bag of dried peas we’d declare war on some of our classmates, teachers, and unsuspected civilians. We’d sneak out of the house at night, meet up, and switch garden ornaments between houses, convinced that we had just pulled off the heist of the century. Kelly and Jonah said they were the muscle and I was the brains of the operation. I never had better friends.

“Kelly,” Jonah cried. He looked down toward the water.

I approached as if in trance. The afternoon sun sat golden on the surface of the river. I remember the ripples in the current, the sparks of light dancing on the surface, the quiet terror I felt when I moved closer to the edge, stretching out my hand as if to reach all the way down to the bottom and lifting my friend up and save him.

“Kelly,” I whispered.

The bike lay broken on top of a huge boulder forty feet below. The front wheel was bent forward, the steering column snapped in half. The cards he had pinned onto the back wheel to make the bike sound like an airplane propeller, lay next to it.

I couldn’t breathe. Jonah said something. He yelled something, first down toward the water, then to me.

“…go!”

“What?” I said.

“Don’t let go!” he said. Not to me. He didn’t say it to me.

I saw Kelly’s hand first. It was holding on to a root that stuck out of the cliff wall a foot below the top. Then I saw his face. His smiling face.

“Holy shit!” I said. Then I yelled it. I shouted it. “Holly shit! Holy shit! HOLY SHIT!”

Jonah grabbed him by the arm, I held on to his wrist as we pulled him up. We fell on our backs.

“That was close,” Kellly said nonchalantly.

“You’re such an asshole,” Jonah said.

The clouds flew across the sky high above.

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream

A while back, I participated in an online screenwriting workshop that was all about finding the essence of your work. It was brilliant in its simplicity and even though it took a while, I arrived at the conclusion that this is the most important piece of knowledge about writing I have gathered so far.

“What is the story about?”

My friend Nick Cole, great writer and excellent marketer, is very big on pitches, specifically on how to condense a story to four lines. If you read his books you’ll know why he believes so strongly that the pitch is important. It helps boil the story down to its fundamentals and by doing that, exposes the reason why people want to read it.

Boiling it down is also a great tool to conquer writer’s block. We all know the feeling of being stuck in the murky mud. Asking the question what the story is about will loosen up the rocks. Doing that allows us to dive deeper into it and find the hidden treasures that are buried there. Only if we as writers know what the story is about, and only if we are emotionally affected by it, will the reader get swept away.

Let’s go one step further: Capturing the emotional essence of a story in one single sentence will increase the chances of having our work read tremendously. Think back to Alien’s “In space no one can hear you scream” tagline. You don’t need to know anything else about the movie. Deep and utter terror lies in those eight words.

In order to find the essence of the story, there is another question that might have to be answered. What is the essence of the writer? What am I about? Why am I writing? What is it that burns deep inside my soul that needs to come out? The essence of the writer informs the essence of each story she writes. There is no other way.

Writing is deeply personal. We can always only write about ourselves – our fears and nightmares as well as our dreams. What do we stand for? What are we about? What is our essence? That is obviously a larger process and not done over a few weeks, months, or even years. But if we’re in this for the long run, why not ask the question early on and discover the answer through our writing?

Cheers,

Stefan

The Call to Greatness

obama

Eight years ago — I remember sitting at my kitchen table with the sun streaming in through the window — the TV was on with President Obama’s Inauguration address. His speech contained the most inspired words I had ever heard from any politician, or any public figure for that matter.

I felt lifted up, suddenly filled with purpose and hope. This was a significant moment as it reaffirmed my wish to become a writer, to inspire people as much as I was inspired at that very moment. I jotted down a few lines.  They turned into a poem that would stay with me from then on. Whenever I feel unprepared for this journey, whenever I feel lacking the very basic modules of inspiring others, I turn to the poem, knowing that it didn’t come from me but from something much bigger, something that connects all of us on a level we very rarely have access to. This place seems to be what we all aspire to reach, in whatever shape or form we do so. I strive, at times in vain, to get close to it. But sometimes, not often enough, I can hear the call with such clarity, it cannot be dismissed.

 

The Call to Greatness

 

The call to greatness, ever present

Lifts us up to higher ground

Calls us to our highest purpose

Freedom’s choice, no longer bound

*

We will meet it either trembling

Or with steady resting hand

For we cannot hide forever

From our destiny’s command

*

Our oath has not been broken

Our promise’s still our word

From afar, our truth has spoken

All through time has it been heard

*

Here I stand on ground made holy

By this ancient symphony

As I reach for my own glory

For my Father’s company

*

There, with cold and bloodless fingers

Darkened veil, and evil sense

Grips my throat, my heart and lingers

Fear, employed for my defense

*

Fear of death has lost its power

And its ever present threat

It is not the great deceiver

But my greatness that I dread

*

Should I dare to leave my smallness

And my littleness behind

Should I forfeit my own blindness

For a vision that is kind

*

And then one day, maybe not this day

And maybe not even tomorrow

But one day, I know it for sure, my friend

We will exchange joy for our sorrow

*

That day will come and it will be the day

When we take a deep breath

And we pick ourselves up

And we dust ourselves off

*

And with outstretched fingers

We touch the face of God.

A (Super) Hero For A New Generation

We all know and always look forward to that small segment in all the super hero stories and movies where we find out how the super hero actually became one. Spiderman gets bitten and begins to develop his abilities, the Hulk is being exposed to gamma radiation and changes for the first time, Iron Man develops his suite, learns how to use it, and so on. Usually, any story about a super hero has a small portion of it set aside to tell the tale of how the hero became who he or she is now.spiderman

The White Dragon tells the story of eighteen-year-old Kasey Byrne, an average teenager who lives on Long Island and who has just finished high school when the apocalypse hits full force. The first book, The White Dragon – Genesis, is a real time account, through Kasey’s eyes, of the first thirty six hours of this apocalyptic event.

Toward the end of book one, it becomes clear that the opponent – an ancient demonic being that wreaks havoc on the island while spreading a terror that is beyond the imaginable – is much more powerful than anyone could have thought. In book two, The White Dragon – Crucible, Kasey has to leave this world and travel through a gateway to a different time and place where she will be trained for one single purpose: to find the white dragon, to tame it, and to bring it back to our world in order to save it..

But nobody has ever found the dragon and the odds are stacked against her. For her friends, a small group of survivors hiding out in a thrift shop in Babylon, one hour passes. For Kasey, three years go by before she returns.

While the apocalypse unfolds and throughout her training, something inside Kasey awakens. It is gift and curse alike for it can destroy her or turn her into the most powerful weapon against the evil that has reached the shores of our world.

All three books – Genesis, Crucible, and Alchemy – are part of an overreaching arc, attesting to the birth of a completely new kind of super hero. The apocalypse, as horrific and all consuming as it is, is nothing against the inner battle Kasey has to fight in order to become who she needs to be.

I’m in the midst of writing book two at the moment. May the epicness ensue.

Cheers,

Stefan

The Dragon Rises – Apocalypse Weird Gets it Done!

the dragon will rise

When George Lucas pitched his Star Wars script to the studio, they reluctantly accepted and green lit a very low budget for a space opera that, in their minds, would hopefully make the money back and most likely not have an impact on anything. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall the moment George asked the studio to keep the merchandise rights. They chuckled and gave it to him. Well…

Not that long ago and in this very same galaxy, a small group of authors approached Amazon to pitch the idea of publishing books by multiple authors writing stories in the same world. Amazon liked the idea. They loved the idea. They said it would be impossible to implement as they would have to build a completely new and separate department for it. They declined. Maybe they chuckled. We won’t know.

A week ago, I looked at the publishing schedule for Apocalypse Weird. We are well into 2016, with 2 books per month and no end in sight. Didn’t we just start this whole thing? New authors are coming on board and all of the books that are out right now, have been green lit for their respective sequels. HOW COOL IS THAT???

Because new stories were developed and approved while I was still writing, the sequel to The White Dragon – Genesis won’t be out until May, 2016. That’s a year from now. That’s a long time to wait if someone liked the book and I felt that I wanted to compensate readers for their patience. And here’s the cool thing about working with fellow indie authors. They get it. They get when something sounds right and benefits the reader, and they act on it.

I asked Nick to consider allowing me to write two books before March, 2016 (the deadline for handing in the manuscript to Ellen Campbell, our editor in charge). He said yes. So, here’s what will happen: The White Dragon – Crucible will come out in May 2016. One month later, in June, the conclusion of the series, The White Dragon – Alchemy will be published. I’m thrilled to have a deadline. It somehow gets the creative juices flowing.

Thanks to everyone who has read the first book. Thanks to you, I can do what I love and keep writing Kasey’s story.

Please read all the other books in the Apocalypse Weird universe. It’s a rich reading experience that will just get richer as new books become available.

Cheers,

Stefan

On Dragons Uncommon and Writing the Weird

Genesis_FT_FINALAbout five minutes after I had read the first few lines in Nick Cole’s description of what Apocalypse Weird would be, the beginnings of a story formed in my imagination. I told Nick, “You had me at Black Dragon.” Those were the third and fourth words in his description, starting with Imagine a…

I wanted to write an action novel, a supernatural episode of 24, in real time, with Jack Bauer being eighteen-year-old Kasey Byrne, my main gal in the story. But I didn’t want only action. I wanted an overriding philosophy, a greater story arc spanning different worlds and times and ancient training grounds and a revelation for my main character at the end that would turn the tables and set the stage for the next book. The underlying mythology crept up piece by piece and mid-way through the story, I knew I had at least two more books in my head. At the end, there was material for four, plus this one.

Kasey Byrne is a girl who loves to surf, who just had her last day of high school and who celebrates her eighteenth birthday on the beach, on the eve of summer solstice. She thinks she is just a regular teenager with all the hopes and dreams and disappointments that come with it. Her parents are divorced and she’s navigating her way through life just as any teenager would. She has no idea who and what she is and what she could become. Like so many of us, she doesn’t know her own potential. During the storm of terror and the thirty six hours we spend with her in book one, something inside her begins to awaken – something she has dreamed of and written pages upon pages in her diary about without knowing what it is.

When I started writing, I had a very specific goal: I wanted the book(s) to be epic and reach beyond a linear, two-dimensional story to a different place entirely. To write a book about a dragon is tricky. It has been done so many times and even though dragons are amazing and extraordinary creatures, stories about them can become cliched very easily. I didn’t want a cliche. I wanted to take the cliche and turn it on its head and inside out and make it into something completely new and exciting. I hope I succeeded. The time is almost here. On April 21, 2015, it will be up to you, the reader, to decide if it worked.

Until then, until the day the White Dragon takes flight, I remain very truly yours,

Stefan

P.S. This is Kasey’s car. Let’s just say this is a “before” picture ;-). In the story it’s light blue instead of green. She got it on the day of her 18th birthday. Unfortunately, this was also the day when the apocalypse reached the shores of Long Island.

Jeep

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