Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Story Sheets: "Last Exit to Shadow City"

Welcome back! It has been a bit of a big week since my newest book, Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures was released for everyone to read on the 23rd of January. Early reaction has been strong, and I'm ecstatic with how readers are enjoying the stories within its pages. It's been a long time coming.

You can still read it for yourself of course. Seven top notch hero stories with some of the best action you're liable to read this year? I couldn't imagine turning that down, and you have many options available to enjoy them. For instance, it is currently part of a promotion on StoryOrigin among other adventure stories. Check it out here.

But that doesn't mean these posts will be slowing down. I promised we would continue on, and that's what we're going to do. In fact, we still have three stories left to cover in the collection.

Today we continue with the fifth tale, and the second longest piece in the collection. Today it is time to talk about Last Exit to Shadow City!

"The cold air shifted, and Rhodes whipped around. Instead of a man, he found a pair of long spindly dark arms spiraling from the shadows. They snapped like a lasso against his face and right arm, cutting off his cries. The shadow limbs slung backwards with him—into the stone wall!"

This is going to be a difficult story to talk about without spoiling, since so much of it is about the discovery of a sinister world running somewhat parallel to Summerside and the reveals that come from the new information. Going too far in will explain too much from previous stories even without proper context. As a consequence I might need to be more vague than usual in this entry. My apologies in advance.

In many ways this is a sequel to just about every story before it, including the previous Knives in the Night. Where in that one we met the Inner Light, or at least one member of them, officially, we now get a glimpse of the sort of horrors they deal in up close. A lot of what was established in those stories is expanded on here.

This was one of the final pieces I wrote in this series, in fact it was the second last. After spending the majority of the others teasing something happening behind the scenes, I wanted a story that would spell out in no uncertain terms just what is the sort of thing the Inner Light is involved in, and why those such as The Seeker or Walker would want to stop them so very badly, and why others might want to join the cult-ish figures. There is a lot this story needed to get across. Because of this, there is quite a bit of darkness in this tale, and not very many pleasant implications of what would happen should the villains be allowed to get what they desire. In short, this could be seen as a bit of a peek into the potential future Summerside might meet if the heroes within these pages fail. As such, a balancing act of tension and reveals was required.

On the other hand, despite it being written so late compared to the others, it was still one of the more difficult stories to write in the book. I had many false starts and turns that just didn't pan out correctly. Even though I knew the world so well by that point, I still had issues getting what I wanted across. There were a few reason for this.

Rhodes, the main character, isn't the type to talk about himself. He's not mysterious like The Seeker, brash like Walker, or as boisterous as Flatline, or as naive as Concrete. He is very much a normal guy just doing his job, a man with a family and an all around decent human being just trying to survive. I had to pry a bit to get him to fully reveal his true colors and what he's made of while the chaos erupted around him. He's the most normal character here flung into the most outlandish situation in the entire book.

The villain(s), on the other hand, were far easier to wrap my head around. The sorts of people who would end up loving this place are not your usual boy scout types. No, you would expect glorified ninja assassins with an affinity for metal to love this shadow world. And they do. They also are not that difficult to understand in order to write. What was a bit harder was making it so that they remained cogent despite deliberately soaking themselves in such insanity. There has to be some sort of sense in stories, even when you wouldn't expect any.

The most difficult part of writing this piece was to make sure the promise I made in the earlier stories pays off with the reveals here. That was the most important aspect to avoid diluting with too much darkness. Each piece revealed is an important piece of the overall puzzle that comes together at the end of the book to form a complete picture.

And from what readers have told me, it was worth the wait.

A slight spoiler, but not much of one.

Unfortunately, at this point, I'm struggling to not go into spoilers. There is too much to potentially reveal that would ruin some of the fun for readers.

I can say that just as with Rhodes, the kids that show up here were also meant to be normal. With a story that so heavily tilts towards the weird and potential bleakness, they are very important to anchor normality and aide Rhodes into finding his way through the shadows. At the end of the day, this really is a battle between good and evil, after all. It is very important to show that even in the dark places that there remains light slipping in.

Even as the poison of the city threatens to end his very existence, Rhodes needs to keep his eye on the prize and find his way back out into the light of day, both for the children and those waiting for him back home. It is a bit of a theme throughout these stories, but it is at its most overt here, and it only could have come this far into the collection.

As for its placement among the other stories and why it is fifth out of seven, it is because there are way too many reveals for the sequencing to be any earlier than this. At the same time, the last two stories after this are both better to close on a thematic (especially the sixth story) and a narrative note (especially the seventh) than this one is, which meant its placement here was where it needed to be. It's here because it has to be here.

I look at sequencing the same way I look at albums or playlists. There is a certain flow and balance that has to be achieved to really allow each piece to both breathe on its own and work as a segment of the whole. It's a bit of an art.

Bad albums front-load with three or four barn-burners in a row, then leave all the slower paced and mid-tempo songs to form the last two-thirds, creating an album most will get bored with before reaching the end. Or the sequencers (stupidly) put a ballad as the first track and wait half the album to finally put in a rocker thereby throwing off any consistency. At that point the listener is too confused to enjoy the songs, and are instead constantly pausing or skipping tracks.

Balance is needed, and I don't think short story collections are any different than albums or even best of compilations. It's an aspect of editing that must be factored in where it wouldn't normally in a straightforward novel. Just throwing the tales together in order based on release date is the lazy man's option. Only sycophants will go for that. Collections work differently than the norm, since you're telling more than one story to the reader. You have to sort them in a way that makes them want to keep reading through the entire set.

The last thing a writer should want to do is jar the reader out of the world, and sequencing is very important to maintain that investment. It might not even be something they notice you doing, which makes it that much more vital to get right.

For example, starting Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures with this story would have thrown off the entire pacing of the work and undercut several other stories that come later in its pages. This is also what made it a challenge to right, as the reveals had to be enough to justify the reader waiting this long to get to them as well as not stepping on the toes of any other tale around it. That was a rough time.

More so than the content of the story, this is what made it tough to write. I had to keep much in mind beyond just the plot itself.

An inspiration for the mood

The mood of this piece was another difficult balancing act. It's atmospherically the darkest story, but not content-wise, and at the same time I couldn't dilute the impact of the setting.

This led to a lot of leaning on the characters and their quest to escape the shadows and not focusing too hard on the horrors, instead letting the readers imagining it for themselves. I had to trust my readers to use their imagination, which is the one thing I will always rust them with using. What was more important in Last Exit to Shadow City was returning back to civilization and stopping the hunters pursuing our main characters.

That's where the title for this came from. Rhodes took a wrong turn and landed in this shadow city, and now needs to find a way out. Though there might not even be one. There's another reason the title is what it is that relates to the above, but that might constitute too much of a spoiler to go into for those who have yet to read it. It's a shame, but that's just how it is. Part of the fun of storytelling is discovering it for yourself.

Every story in this work is about the difference between light and dark, what matters the most to each, and if they can be reconciled without conflict. Since they are action stories, I think you can guess whether they can be or not. However, there are those that straddle the line, and some of those who fall on either side. At some point, lines are drawn and there is no more waffling or posing. You will have to choose a side.

This story is about those who have chosen their preferred place, and where it leaves them. The results are not as pleasant as many would hope, but that's just how it is. Eventually we all have to make choices, and what we choose is not always going to be able to be reversed. We all come to our last exit, sooner or later.

And that's where I'm going to leave this entry off.

Should you read the book you will understand the parts I am purposely leaving out and being vague on. You will also understand why it is necessary. There are just too many reveals I can't speak about here.

Someone is Aiming for You & Other Adventures is full of weird tales and action stories that are sure to knock your block off and leave you begging for more. Check it out to read Last Exit to Shadow City and six more stories of fun and excitement.

You won't read anything else like it this year.

Find it Here!

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