Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Story Sheets: "Knives in the Night"

This is the week! On Thursday, January 23rd, my next book, Someone Is Aiming for You & Other Adventures is officially out. It's been a long journey to get here, which is more or less where this series of posts have originated from. I'm writing them to show exactly how much there is in this book. Today I'm going to continue on our journey through.

Get ready for another edition of Story Sheets!

The battle of powers against magic might have started with the first story in this series, Someone is Aiming for You, but that was only the beginning. This is the one that really nailed down what I wanted to do with the world.

Today I'm going to talk about the longest story in my upcoming book as well as the one located in the dead center of said collection. It's time to discuss Knives in the Night.

"For a moment, he thought he saw a black mist streaming across the roof of the bar. He blinked, and it was gone. The downpour continued unabated, and the bar looked normal once more. He rubbed his eyes. Lack of sleep could screw with you something fierce. 
"He put it out of his mind. Business first, then he could continue the real job."

When I first conceived of the world of Summerside, there were four characters that came to mind right off the bat. The first was The Seeker, and the second two were Flatline and Concrete. You've already met all three of them by now. The fourth one is the protagonist of this story. Each member of the quartet is quite different from each other, but this one is not quite like the other protags we've met so far.

As you can tell from the color coding of these posts, as well as the book cover for Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures, black and white is a key theme for the stories in this collection. We run the gamut of the darkest black to the lightest white. What I wanted was a character who wasn't a hero or a villain, but someone out for the own ends just as a modern character would be. This character would then come to the point where he would have to confront the divide between dark and light and make a choice. He wouldn't be able to hide behind convenient potting like modern hero stories do. That battle between the two views is the focal point of this story.

The man simply known as Walker is an invisible myth. He doesn't really exist anymore, if he ever did to begin with. All anyone knows of him are stories that are questionable at best. One night he awakens in a rain storm, and visible. Inches from his goal, he now must backtrack and take on a whole new job when everything falls apart not long later. This is the story of The Abyss That Speaks, and the fight ahead of him.

Walker ended up being an abrasive wildcard teetering on the knife's edge and, as a consequence, ended up making this story longer than I had originally planned it to be. When writers talk about characters taking over their stories? That was very much the case with this one. He just refused to cooperate.

But of all the stories, I think this one does the best job of setting up the way Summerside feels after dark. Coming after Under Suspicion in Summerside which encapsulates the daytime, this one focuses on your Average Joe after dark as they come in contact with things well beyond their scope. Walker happens to be one of those things, and even he meets more than he bargained for.

What helped me get into the head-space I needed to write this down was music, particularly some Retrowave. When I'm in a creative mood this is the musical style that is best to bring out what I need.

For example:

Shadows shine darkest in the brightest lights.

In order for light to be effective, dark has to flex what it has. Without the contrast it just looks like a big blur of grey where nothing matters and everything is the same. The atmosphere and setting have to be dark, but dark to the point where what's good about it can be seen by passersby like my readers. There is something worth saving out there.

This is why of all the stories in the collection, Knives in the Night focuses the most on the Inner Light, a force only touched on a few times in tales before this. To understand just how dark or light Walker is, the darkest force imaginable must be shown to test him where the light leaves him unimpressed. He needs to see the way things really are, as many of us do before we make a choice.

Before this story, the Inner Light were little more than glorified drug dealers and murderers, but here they are revealed to be a whole lot worse than just that. In a world where someone can walk into your head as easily as they can your front door, it means a lot to say there is an even deadlier force out there in the night.

The Inner Light is the dark force lingering under the rusted over ideals of the new world. What they are is a mystery, but it is clear they are no paragons of justice. While they aren't the main antagonists of every story here, their presence is felt throughout and they are a driving force for much of what goes on, even tangentially in some cases. The hard part was to maintain their threat level without giving too much away and taking away their mystique. The whole point of them is that they are nearly as invisible is someone like Walker, and yet are still opposed to each other.

Another contrast is how, unlike the Inner Light, you do learn something about Walker. Despite being a man who would rather be invisible, he has much to him that still makes him human, in the end. In a way this makes him the opposite of even The Seeker, who is inscrutable, as he is just someone who wants to disappear from it all without any purpose beyond his mission. But he can't just vanish. Not yet. Of all the characters in this collection of stories, Walker is the one who actually is an old school vigilante.

But he's not an anti-hero. There is a very big distinction between an anti-hero and a vigilante, and I'm certain you'll see what that is by the end of this one.

An inspiration

There is a lot to Knives in the Night, and that is why I made it available to newsletter subscribers for free. What better audience than this kind enough to sign up to hear more about these stories?

This novelette was too long to submit to any market. Unfortunately there isn't much of a market for pieces between 10,000 and 40,000 word novelettes and novellas. It's not their fault, the audience just isn't there for them. But it also meant the three longest stories in this collection, the novelettes, were more or less not feasible to be sold via traditional avenues. At the very least I wanted to test out one of them for response, so I gave this one for free via the newsletter and via amazon standalone (I've since taken it down since it is redundant now) and it did gain more subscriptions, but since it is part of this set I couldn't just leave it there forever while compiling the rest. As a consequence I will be offering newsletter subscribers something new in exchange for taking this exclusivity from them. It was there for over a year, so it was definitely time for a change, anyway.

Now for some random facts about this one.

As for the title, I already explained that this title was originally the name of Endless Nights in Villain City, but it works here for people who will be able to see similarities between the two of them. The original title never fit and I couldn't think of one that worked. Once I found one that focused on the night it finally clicked. Now I can't imagine it being called anything else.

Despite being the longest story, it might have been one of the easiest in this collection to write. Once I understood why Walker was there, and what he wanted, he led me through the entire adventure in quite a quick amount of time. It was also the fourth story in the collection that I wrote, so by this time I had a handle on what was going on with Summerside. Whether Walker being the easiest character in this strange world for me to write says something about me or not is up to you. The story still took some time to go through regardless. It's still quite long, after all.

The reason it is dead center in the collection is because it fits there. The world by now has been established by the first three stories and allows readers to jump right in and understand what is going on around them. However, at the same time it doesn't quite close anything off in the wider context of them to the extent that it should be placed further back with the final three. The story in the center of a collection should represent everything around it and highlight the overall themes at the same time. It needs to be the most balanced story, not too brash and not too obscure. Knives in the Night is the perfect anchor for this set of adventures.

Continuing the tradition of not having an origin story (though one tale might be construed as one, it does not end the way such stories do conclude), we are dropped in the middle of a completely foreign situation and are made to piece together who Walker is and where he comes from with just that. This feeling of alien other-worldliness in a familiar setting is a feeling I wanted to establish before we move into truly bizarre territory in the next story . . . but that's not for today!

That's all for this entry. Remember, this Thursday, Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures is finally out! You can read Knives in the Night and six more fantastic stories there. See you then! It's going to be a blast.

Out this Thursday!

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