Sunday, November 24, 2013

What I'm Writing Now

First off, thanks for 3,000+ pageviews! Celebutants may fart those numbers with minimal effort, but as a humble educator from New Jersey, I thank you.

I continue to wait on JESSE RULES and my short story collection MEN IN STRANGE ARRANGEMENTS is in multiple contests, but in the meantime, here's what I'm writing.

Voodoo John - Jack is a trust fund queen on permanent holiday in the French Quarter. He enjoys three strange men a day: one per meal. All is right in Jack's world until he's visited by a Chibaku: an ancient Egyptian spirit vessel used to steal intangible treasures. The first one flies off with his wealth, and two more are on the way. But the real horror comes when Jack realizes who sent them, and why.

Bottles of Sara and Ben - The prototype is designed to heal. You shout the things you can't say into the receiver, and all that hostility is bottled. A married couple with a tendency to repress seem like the perfect test subjects, until the researchers realize how unstable emotion can be.

Visionaries - Telekinesis and telepathy are the new normal, but they've also instituted a new arms race. Each nation hopes to be the first to acheive the Singularity: the first time a young telekinetic person can literally change a small part of the world to make it the way they picture. Like most power, it can be used to construct, and it can be used to destroy.

Delilah feels like she belongs at one of the U.S. telepath camps, but her boyfriend Chance isn't so sure. If the government can't control this new power, they're likely to try to dispose of it. Chance notes, "There's nothing more dangerous than a dreamer."

Happy Thanksgiving to all. I hope each of you is chasing a dream and enjoying the hunt as I am. Here is the link to my Amazon page, where amazing stories await for a mere 99 cents:

-James Russell 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Horror Stories Worth Your Time

Halloween is polarizing. Some people hate it. I don't know why. It's easily one of my favorites.

This is the magical day where everyone gets to be as big of a skank as they want and nobody cares. Gay boys take their first baby steps out of the closet with ironic (?) drag. Schools set off massive A.D.D. bombs (we play costumed volleyball, even in the bullshit testing era). Sugar binging is encouraged. We shed our inhibitions. I think it's great.

One of my favorite parts is classic horror movies coming back on on-demand. I thought I'd recommend some from the last twenty years or so that might've flown under your radar.

Cabin Fever - Bunch of kids go up in the woods. I know, but stay with it. They turn away a stranger with a juicy case of flesh-eating bacteria, accidentally setting him on fire in the process. Their plan is to leave as soon as they can without telling anyone what happened, until they start to come down with symptoms. It plays masterfully on blue state fears of redneck America, and man's inhumanity to man is always scarier than sci-fi.

Moment of Satanic Zen: A boy with a crush has to euthanize the girl he's loved for years, with a shovel.

The Descent - A group of thrill-seeking female friends go on a spelunking adventure in a remote cave system. They're attempting to heal emotionally one year after an accident killed one woman's child and husband. Another member of the group was cheating with the husband as well. I haven't been more scared for a group of people BEFORE they entered the kill zone since the Torrence family took that long ride up to the Overlook Hotel.

Moment of Satanic Zen: When the jilted widow gets her revenge in a way you might not expect.

Sharp Objects - Moving to books for a second, it doesn't get better than Jillian Flynn if you want insight into female evil. The subtle abuse the women and girls in this book inflict on one another is more frightening than anything Jason Vorhees ever did to a camper in the eighties. When self-mutilation becomes a form of revenge, gentlemen, we can only recognize we're out of our league and back away slowly.

Moment of Satanic Zen: Flynn reveals a killer like no one else.

28 Days Later - The latest return of the living dead started here. One of the best aspects of a good horror movie is fuzzy picture quality, giving the impression of some dude with a camera who happened to stumble in while awful shit went down. (Best example: the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre) This movie has the snuff film quality, plus sprinting zombies. The Infected are hacking, guttural track stars. Their lack of immoratlity makes them more frightening. They launch themselves through windows with no regard for pain or self-preservation, simply because they absolutely can't wait to get you sick.

Moment of Satanic Zen: When Cillian Murphy's character has to become just as infected as the infected to save Naomi Harris (and that iconic theme music starts).

Event Horizon - Sci-Fi Horror can go from scary to silly without careful direction. Event Horizon stays scary. The titular ship is designed to tear a hole in space time, allowing for inter-galactic travel. Unfortunately, it disappears. When it reappears, a rescue team is sent to investigate, and they slowly realize the ship literally went to hell and came back alive. Laurence Fishburn's overacting is scary for the wrong reasons, but Sam Neill more than makes up for it as the ship's demented Dr. Frankenstein.

Moment of Satanic Zen: While begging forgiveness from the ghost of his neglected, suicidal wife, Sam Neill tears his own eyes out. Later, after setting a timer to send the ship back to hell, he informs Fishburn, "Where we're going, you won't need eyes to see at all." I would've pooped my trousers and sobbed like a little girl who dropped her lolly.

So everyone enjoy a good scare. And check out my previous post for the link to my short stories on Amazon. A few of my stories deal with more tangible horrors: self-inflicted emotional evil, religious evil, and corporate evil. Sleep tight!

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Grey Hero

This week, I’m hoping we share an enthusiasm. I love a grey hero – one of those wonderful characters caught somewhere between good intentions and bad deeds. It’s one of my favorite facets of the Game of Thrones books: no one is 100% right.

Eagle Eye is the titular grey hero of my latest 99-cent story. He’s a sniper, and therefore a killer, but there’s little doubt the people he kills deserve it. (At least, at the beginning.) He wrestles with a troubling question: can we kill our way to safety? And if we can, who should be in charge of determining which people have to die? Who do we trust with that kind of power? (Should we trust any person or group with that kind of power?)

Eagle Eye trusts the system in the beginning. After all, he and his partner J.J. personally collect the intelligence they need. As he says, they observe a target for weeks before a trigger gets pulled. Eagle Eye trusts what he sees in his binoculars and down his scope.

When he comes home, P.T.S.D. affects his judgment. The system he fought to defend refuses to treat him. A new question comes to him: Do domestic war profiteers deserve to die just as much as foreign terrorists?

As we ponder yet another war, I hope the story both entertains you and makes you think of these questions, and others. Is every bad guy in the world an American problem? Will this be yet another war that serves bomb and bullet makers and media moguls? Will this be yet another excuse to not pay working people and not fund public schools and other public institutions? Is it possible to build an economy on creation, rather than destruction?

There are no easy answers in a grey world.
Here's the link to purchase "Eagle Eye":

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Using What I Fear

Fear changes with age. When I was a kid, I remember this red bull monster (an actual crimson beast; not the crack-in-a-can energy drink) from this movie “The Last Unicorn” being utterly terrifying. The night I saw Halloween 5 in middle school, I saw Michael Myers’ vacuous white mask in every shadow.

The special effects haven’t aged well. That stuff looks silly now.

As an adult, or at least an older human, I fear different things. I fear failure and mediocrity. I fear bills and debt. I fear disappointing people I love. You can’t slap a white mask on any of that abstract shit, but that only makes it scarier.

Another abstract fright is fascism – that insidious merger of corporate and government interests. We came very close to it in the post-9/11 years. Our institutions are still too powerful, compared to the individuals whose needs they’re supposed to serve.

Fascism in schools is the topic of my latest 99 cent story, “Equality Chair”. The speaker is Charles Vance Cohen, a “Corporate-national school inspector” (also, a prick), and he’s documenting the test run of a device meant to ensure students receive equal access to the teacher. Of course, being designed with the bottom line in mind, little thought was given to how it would affect the humans it was allegedly built to serve.

Just on time for back to school, here’s a preview of “Equality Chair”. Click the link after to purchase the full story.

Equality Chair


Today was revelation. It occurred in the least likely setting for epiphany – a school. Not even an enclave school, one of those red brick monstrosities in the outlands.

My young wife worries when my duties take me beyond the Enclaves. It isn’t her fault. To her it’s just a rational opinion based on limited world experience. We go to Jamaica and we’re behind the walls – beige with meandering tropical ivy. We go home to Pleasant Edge and we’re behind the walls – nude tombstone granite. My wife, like so many of my old mates from Central Academy, she’s traveled pocket-to-pocket, never really seeing the world.

In my duties, I must venture out to the other America. As I tried to explain that night she was hurling emotional artillery – our polished ceramic souvenirs, a man’s work sometimes supersedes his safety.

Besides that, I’ve always felt the outlands held a certain primal charm. There’s something about knowing I’m out there, exposed, where a Miserable with a sophisticated enough improvised explosive device could rip my armored limo in half. It makes me feel so vital, so present and alive from moment to moment.

Miserables – that’s the right name for them – those sorry souls who’ve given up on bettering their own lives and seek only to ruin ours.

I should stop. My feelings are immaterial. This document is for the schools.

The Jennie Oakes School – that was the setting. Their front gates are a black iron psychological baby blanket – security theater. The grounds are kept trim and green by standard keepers, rewarded with a life of safety, or, at the very least, a life free of starvation, a life behind gates.

All of that was pedestrian, tedious.

It was the sign that first piqued my interest: an old world rectangle light bulb with black trim and letters. I read aloud, “The Jennie Oakes School: Every Child Special as the Next.” I laughed.

Old Jim, my usual driver, he actually asked me if I was feeling alright, sir. I stopped laughing.

“Park here,” I said.

The building itself was nothing remarkable – the same baked brick that contains all the outborn children looking to earn the label “lettered outborn.” Their atrium, a bland square where two hallways ended, featured a mural of “character models.”

There they were, immortalized in oil: Rockefeller, Trump, Reagan, all the heroes of history I’d approved for the atriums of the 37 outborn schools in my zone. The first sight any student entering the building would behold: titans of business; men of near-limitless vision and ambition.

I heard the clopping of freshly-soled shoes.

The principal, Dolores Harpe, appeared from the hallway on my right. My administrative psych course at Central taught me how to judge someone: it’s all in the shoes and neck. The fresh soles on her second-rate flats revealed a woman trying to hammer class onto her peasantry. The smeared gleam of imitation pearls on her neck confirmed my initial suspicions.

Shoes and neck. That’s all you need.

She wrapped her pudgy hand around mine and squeezed lightly. “I’m so glad to have another administrator in the building today,” she said. I smiled. I wondered how much make up it took to coat her bloated face.

Another administrator, she said. 

Like so many of the other lettered outborn, she reminded me of a cow placed in charge of chickens. Being in lower management, she thought she was no longer livestock, perhaps even a farmer. She saw me as a peer. I didn’t know whether to laugh or smack a half-pound of concealer off of her meaty cheek.

“I’m honored to be here today,” I said. A Corporate-national school inspector must be cordial, though there was one piece of fun I couldn’t let alone. “Tell me about your sign,” I said. “The one out front. Is it serious or was it intended as some private joke?”

She frowned. “Well, no, that’s our school philosophy.” The poor woman didn’t understand.

I explained to her, “My dear,” I said, “if every child was special then no child would be special.” She blinked like a micro-fiber of shrapnel was burrowing through her cornea. I proceeded. “To be special means to be unique, apart from average, distinct. If there were no average children, no normal children, there would be no standard with which to judge excellence, to judge who was, in real terms, ‘special.’” 

Her response: “Every child at the Jennie Oakes School is as special as the next.”

A man in my position is often prone to this kind of error. Miss Harpe was a product of her institution, as much as my wife and I are products of Enclave parents and Enclave schools. She would respond to criticism of her institutional platitude by repeating it verbatim, as if to do so was to verify its philosophical foundation. I could point to the mud on which such a sentiment rested, and tell her, “This is mud” and she would blink stupidly. I could shove her wide face into it, until I pulled her up, muck-faced and sputtering, and she would just look at me like I was some powerful sorcerer, capable of changing the density of substances at will.

It would never occur to her the structure of her beliefs had always been wobbling precariously, on a bedrock of pure shit. 

Then again, look at the institution that molded her. Her happiest memories were probably sitting in a desk in this very building, pleasing the impossibly tall figure at the front of the room with a raised arm, a predictable insight, a sugary grin. She was always going to come back here. I ought to disregard her. Our society is built with a hundred thousand Dolores Harpes, pledging passionate allegiance to some platitude on a light bulb sign. 

I apologized and told her it was a wonderful slogan. Every child was indeed special and we merely needed to unlock their potential. She smiled a prescribed smile and led me to the left, down the main hall.

She boasted the triumph of their architecture first. 

As we walked, she explained:  “At the turn of the century, the curriculum determined what had to be taught at each grade level and at each subject. It also determined the degree of depth, whether a student was to be exposed to a concept, should be extending their use of a concept, or achieving mastery of it.”

“Fascinating,” I offered. I didn’t remind her that the past needn’t concern her. I didn’t scold her that she should focus on the present, where what is taught, when it is taught, to what degree and for how long it is taught, comes directly from Central, directly through me. I allowed her to rant and ramble. The capacity to self-delude is what keeps women like this from baking cakes instead of bombs.

“There was also a device called an I.E.P. This stood for Individualized Education Plan…”

I endured her speaking to me like a child, reminding myself again to whom, and what, I was speaking. In her mind, she was now the impossibly tall figure at the front of the room, and I was the adoring little girl in the desk. She never guessed she was being indulged. This is my gift.

“…so why not eliminate the curriculum and give everyone an I.E.P? Why not treat everyone as special as the next?” She beamed at me.

“A revelation,” I offered. We continued walking.

“A Corporate-national University study found that one of the key portions of the I.E.P. was that a student with special needs be given preferential seating. The more a student’s attention was likely to wander, the closer they should be to the front of the room, where the teacher is likely to be. We are the first school in the nation to take this idea and work it into the very structure of the building.” We arrived at the first classroom Dolores wanted to present me. She unlocked a plain oak door.

It wasn’t a classroom as I understand the term. It was another hallway, running sideways. Students scribbled right down the line. Dolores’ wide frame blocked the instructor. 
(End of free preview)

Link to view 99 cent purchase option:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Putting the Past Away

What an emo week. I had a lost wedding ring scare and some quality fights with the people I love the most. Then there was the online high school reunion.

I don’t know why I finally got around to updating my Facebook photo. Just did. Time to join the herd and all. And then all these people found me. Some of them were people I had deep friendships with once. Some of them were just people I was glad to be reminded of. One of them was the first person I ever fell in love with (and never told).

Guess what I was writing this week before any of this happened? A series of letters to everyone I’ve ever been in love with. Sometimes fate just fucks with you.

You may be wondering, “Who recreationally decides to write a series of letters to everyone they’ve ever been in love with?” I know I’m weird. I’ve known since I’ve known what “weird” meant.

Truth is, I was trying to put the past away. And then the past found me on Facebook.

But it was a good thing.

I was surprised at the support a lot of the guys showed, once I’d friended them and they had access to my little gay wedding photos. Talking to some of them made me realize I wasn’t the only one who had a terribly hard time in high school and the years after. I wasn’t the only one who felt beaten to shit by the guilt-ridden, hostile-to-sex environment at my school. I wasn’t the only one who broke down from it.

In that spirit, I’m sharing a new story on my Amazon author page. Writing it helped me recover. My new old friends will definitely recognize the religion class the story is set in. “Period Three Damnation” is my fourth 99 cent story that I’m selling.

This week marks a milestone for me as a writer as well – I’ve finally been paid for my work. It’s only a handful of dollars so far, but it represents a future I’ve been working toward.

Here is the first half of “Period Three Damnation”. The rest is available for the price of an assembly line cheeseburger.

Period Three Damnation
I don’t hate Miss Minor anymore. After years of therapy, I can say that and mean it.
I’m still trying to forgive. I hate myself for ever taking her seriously. Because the truth is Miss Minor said all these things and, in my head, I should’ve said the same thing most of my friends must’ve said. I should’ve left her room with just one certitude: this bitch is nuts.
My friends, the ones who were smart enough to ignore her, were Kevin Woods, Tom Evans, Jake Hurtado, and Carlos Gonzales. Tom looked like Jim Carrey. Jake looked like a Puerto Rican Kermit the Frog. But they were nice guys, affable and all.
Except maybe Carlos. He was only really a friend-of-a-friend type, though I’m not sure which, if any of my friends, would’ve claimed to be close to Carlos. For an honors student, he never struck any of us as bright. It was impossible not to notice, in the locker room, the skid marks on his tighty-whities. There was this zit right on the edge of his nose that never really flattened out. He always smelled like a mix of French Onion Soup and hot garbage.
Plus, he was one of those kids who never knew what class it was. He rotated asking, after every single class, what we had next. Since the honors classes were tracked at Holy Cross, we never met half of our grade, and we knew each other far too well. Carlos rotated between asking me, Tom, and Jake, rather than just checking his fucking schedule like we did.
He usually knew better than to ask our other friend, my best friend, Kevin. I loved Kevin like a brother and I think he felt the same, but even I didn’t annoy him with bullshit inquiries. You just didn’t do that with Kevin. Even as a friend.
           “Yo, what class we got next?” Carlos said. That’s another thing: everyone was ‘yo’ to Carlos. The day of the big meltdown, October of Junior year, the day it happened, I didn’t have the strength to answer. Thankfully, Tom did. 
“Day C, period 3, bitch,” Tom said. “You know what that means.”
“Damnation, always a fun class,” I mumbled. “Kev’s out today too.  No entertainment.”
“Aw, Chrissy misses his girlfwiend,” Tom pinched me on the cheek. I punched Tom in the arm. I remember thinking maybe I’d been too close to Kevin, maybe we were starting to look a little gay. But he was the only kid I knew from before Catholic school.
Twelve years before, at a local park, our mothers got to know one another, they had a casual conversation on a little red bench while Kevin and I shoveled a moat in the sandbox. I can only guess their conversation. I love your purse. I love your shoes. Wouldn’t it be cute to send our boys to Catholic school together? And Kevin and I shoveled away, working on the moat that we were certain would protect us from any threat, on the sandbox island.
We had no idea our fates had been decided. But even then, I remember thinking at least if I have to go, I’ll know somebody. I’m not going to the big brick school alone. I’m going with Kevin, a sandbox friend. You don’t get many, and the ones you have are very hard to keep.
By the time we got to high school, one of my favorite things about Kevin was how he never took any of Miss Minor’s shit. Like I said, our religion teacher was the Pope’s bitch puppet.
“Look what I did, last time we had her,” Jake said in monotone. He opened his normally immaculate notebook to the section set aside for Religion class. At the top of the page, in his neatest print it read, “Reasons I’m going to HELL.” Jake had even taken the time to set the capital H-E-L-L on fire, complete with pencil-sketch smoke rising into the page’s upper margin.
“Yo-oo, that’s hard,” Carlos complimented.
“I’m going for jacking off too much,” Tom said. “So I can be a prick about everything else, I figure, since I’m going anyways.”
“I’m going for what I do with your mom,” Carlos humped the air in case the nuance of his point had been lost on Tom. Tom spun and thrust-kicked Carlos right in the ass.
“Yo, chill!” Carlos said.
“We should get to class,” I said. We had this habit of loitering by the statue of the Virgin Mary just outside the Algebra room on days when we had Miss Minor’s Religion class, like we were waiting for Jesus’ mom to write us a “Please excuse” letter.
I was the one to move us along. Somehow, I was the grown-up of our crew. Even when we did “group work” in class, they always wanted me to take the lead. On our previous group assignment in Religion, we had to rank the seven deadly sins 1-7, in terms of which were most prevalent in today’s world, and explain our choices. I put pride first, explaining that any person who presumes to know the divine was capable of great evil, in “God’s” name.
Judging from our excellent grade, Miss Minor didn’t care to know I was talking about her.
I wondered what she had planned for us as we wound our way up the steps of the old brick building. We passed the brown, hissing radiators and landed on the third floor. We shuffled into Miss Minor’s room, a poorly-insulated brick chamber that blazed in September, May, and June, and froze the rest of the year.
She stood just inside the entranceway. She was small at 5’’ 6’, but she had a big presence, aided by the monolithic height of her spiritual certitude and, to a lesser degree, her poofy red hair.
We shuffled past her. We sat and were still.
When the last student entered, Miss Minor spoke to the back wall. “Papers in the basket, let’s not make a production out of it. No stories, no excuses, just drop them in.” She passed a wicker basket around to collect her papers. It had been used to collect money in a local church before that, so our assignments always felt like offerings to some insatiable deity. “Your assignment was to find examples of the Ten Commandments’ influence in modern American law. I would like to start today by discussing what you came up with.”
No hands. 
“C’mon gentlemen, I want to have an adult discussion here, the type you’re going to have to get used to for your college classes.”
No hands.
“Dudes, might I remind you that class participation is a quarter of the grade in this course? And that you have to see my smiling face for two more years?” That’s another thing, we were ‘dudes’ when she wanted to seem human.
Thankfully she got her one hand – Jake’s. I was so glad Jake was in my classes. He was great about smothering the grenades. No one discussed because she wasn’t interested in discussion. Echoes and affirmations of approved dogma – that was her game. Any time you tried to actually express an original thought, it only ended in submission or detention. Collectively and without conspiring, we had chosen a spiteful silence.
“Mr. Hurtado, thank you so much. Where did you find an example…” she stopped because Kevin was sulking in, longish auburn hair in a bedhead tangle and a yellow pass in his extended hand. Kevin’s wrinkled dress shirt seemed confused to be on his torso. Even his freckles looked lost. “Good morning, Kevin.” The class shifted from casual-attentive to upright-attentive. I remember thinking this was late, even for Kev.
“Morning,” Kevin confirmed.
“Do you have your paper on the Ten Commandments in modern law?” she pointed to the wicker collection basket full of our contributions. 
“Can I talk to you later about that?”
“Do you have it or not?”
He lowered his voice. “Please? Later?” She took the pass, tossed it in her garbage and thumbed him towards his seat. He shuffled to the back and unpacked as delicately as he could. Right away my alarms were sounding. This wasn’t the Kevin I knew. That Kevin strutted in, late and proud. This Kevin was a zoo lion behind fogged Plexi-glass, licking his great paw where the claws had been surgically removed. When Kevin melted into his seat, much of the class settled back as well.
No show today.
“Jake. Continue, please.”
“Oh, uh, the Seventh Commandment seems to be represented in the laws of many cultures. People not stealing is important for the economy. I thought it was really important for the powerful not to steal, if you look at how our economy’s been. A lot of our problems relate to greed. So you could say Securities laws are based on the Seventh Commandment.”
“Great, Jake! Let’s not forget how that relates back to the First Commandment also. Not having other Gods refers not just to polytheism, but also not allowing personal ambition to twist one’s priorities. It’s important to follow these rules, always, exactly as they are written. Who else?”
No hands. Once again, certitude rendered discussion pointless.
“How about you Chris?” I always wished for better camouflage on days we had Miss Minor. I had this one dress shirt that was almost a brick hue, but it never helped me blend. “Chris, which commandment did you relate to modern law?”
“Interesting. That’s by far the least selected commandment for this project.” I sat there with my notebook page blank, silently praying she would move on. “How did you relate that commandment to modern law?” Show time. It seemed like such a good idea last night. I was always so brave, typing in my bedroom the night before.
“Well, as you know, the Third Commandment is about not taking the Lord’s name in vain. I related it to politicians, or anyone in power really, using God’s name to do evil things. Like when people use religion to judge others harshly or to justify sinful, self-serving behavior, I think that breaks the Third Commandment.”
“How does that relate to modern law?” Here we go.
“Well, a lot of the people in government who claim to be the most devout, the laws they pass victimize the poor, or start unnecessary wars for profit, and a lot of those people use God’s name to justify it, so they’re missing the point.” I sat up a little taller. “But it doesn’t have to just be politicians. It could be any person with any power or authority.” This was, by far, the most ballsy I’d ever been in Damnation.
“Like police?” Miss Minor asked.
Or teachers, I thought.
“Like police, politicians, or whoever has power…or influence,” I said, looking right in her eyes.
“Hmmm…interesting thought. I think you may be overreaching, Chris. Sometimes the Commandments are very literal. The Third Commandment is ‘Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.’ That means having respect for authority, the final authority – our Lord God the Father. Maybe I should give you your paper back. I’d hate for my class to be the only one keeping you off honor roll this quarter.”
My reply caught in my throat. She always knew where to hit me. Junior year is college audition year. In English or any other class, I always found I got the best grades when I told the truth in my papers. I liked telling the truth, even more so in Miss Minor’s room, where dogma radiated, thick as the hissing heat.
She walked over to the wire basket and flipped through for my paper. She walked up the aisle and plopped it unceremoniously on my desk. I looked at my handsomely-formatted rejection and sulked.
I liked telling the truth, but I liked maintaining my grade point average a little bit more.
“Okay dudes, does anyone else have a…”
Kevin’s hand shot up. He had a wonderfully combative little smirk. My attention was no longer on my returned paper.
Check out the rest here:


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Short Stories for 99 Cents

With a little encouraging shove from my friend and writing group colleague Nick, I've decided to make three short stories available on for 99 cents each. They'll make you laugh. They'll make you think. They'll provoke debate and possibly haunt you for a while. And all for the price of four chicken mcnuggets.

Here is a quick pitch for each. Buy what you like! Search the titles at Searching my author name, James Russell, doesn't get the best results. (There's James Russell Lowell, plus some Cubs pitcher, but I'll be more famous than them one day.)

Graduation - Pete Petucci has always had a "thing" for Anna Marikowski, but when his ill-timed moo interrupts her graduation speech, she goes rogue on the live mic, and everything gets uncomfortably honest.

Last Gay Bar - Ted and George have spent decades of hookups and breakups at Feathers, the local queer bar. When they run into a student, they decide to move on from the scene, and wonder what they want to move toward.

Friends and Pyromaniacs – Bill and Tom love to set fires. To Bill, it’s just something cool to do. To Tom, it’s revelation. He sees fire as transcendent: the key to immortality. When Bill fails to see it that way, Tom goes to gruesome lengths to show his friend the transformative powers of flame.

So happy reading to all. "Jesse Rules" is still under review with Bold Strokes Books. In the meantime, here are some you can enjoy. They work with Kindle or Kindle software.

Also, new projects I'm working on:

The Ones I Love - A series of letters to everyone I've ever been in love with. I'm finding it hard to write for some reason. I'm laughing and crying at my computer at really random intervals. My husband isn't sure whether to get me coffee or antidepressants or vodka.

Morph - What if children and adolescents could change gender at will, but at midnight on their eighteenth birthday, their gender became permanent? This is the world Aaron and Michael grew up in. Michael is a "border case", meaning people aren't sure what he'll choose. He goes to special guidance office sessions to help him decide. The choice is complicated, as all things are, by emotion. Aaron loves his best bro Michael, and he's madly in love with Michaela, Michael's femorph.

That's all the lunacy I have to contribute this week. Happy pride and happy fourth everyone.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Scene and Sequel

This week was interesting. A reader on Bookcountry eviscerated "Rise of the Paramancers", and I think it might've helped. He clued me in to the Bingham model of fiction, which advocates a tight point of view character and heavy emphasis on action.

"Show don't tell" is nothing new as a principle, but it is one of those ideas you have to keep reminding yourself of. I'm starting to realize my early drafts are written for me, so I can understand my own insanity. My later drafts should just be the characters playing on the page.

The Bingham model runs on scene and sequel. A scene consists of goal (pov character wants something) conflict (pov char fights for it) and disaster (pov char is thwarted or they win but the win complicates matters). A sequel consists of reaction (we get in pov char's head for an emotional inventory) dilemma (they face lousy options) and decision (they decide which lousy road to walk). Scenes are long and action-based. Sequels are short and thought-based.

If you're going to do back story or direct narrative, that's supposed to happen very quickly during the reaction portion of sequel.

It does keep a narrative flowing. I was able to take my 22 page first chapter section and slice it to 12. I'd love your thoughts on it at Here is the link:

So I'm trying to trust my reader more. It isn't a new lesson, but rather one of those you have to re-learn every now and then.

Jesse is still under review with Bold Strokes. Publishing links below:

To buy the 2013 Saints and Sinners anthology, featuring "Mountainview", click below.

"The Camp Seminole Weiner Wall", 2012 Best of the Net nominee, free to read
"The Gay Bomb", my first publication ever and it's free to read
The Amazon link to buy "Saints and Sinners New Fiction from the Festival 2012" featuring "Divine Hand"

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Pitching in Person

Last week was Saints and Sinners in the jazzy, sweltering undercarriage of Nawlins. It was all dirty spice like hot sauce and grits.

It also gave me the chance to do something I had never done before: I got to try to sell Jesse verbally, via an analog human-to-human interface. Conversation. That’s what they’re called.

How many times have you been told that now is the best time to be an author? You just hop on the internet and someone discovers you, right?


The internet has made it easier for writers to get exposure and feedback, without a doubt. But it also created slush piles, which make it harder and harder for editors and publishers to find unsolicited manuscripts of quality. I also believe slush piles make agents less likely to consider unsolicited queries.

This is where conversation comes in handy.

What a different experience. Writing someone a letter explaining your book can’t possibly demonstrate to a stranger why you HAD TO WRITE THIS BOOK. Or maybe I just suck at queries. Whatever. The point is, I found it a thousand times easier to pitch in person.

The best part was seeing the two sides of a publisher wrestling with one another. I could see the businessperson in my audience struggling with the same concerns that have stopped JESSE RULES from being published up until this point.

But the reader in her, that person wanted to know more.

I haven’t sold it yet, I’ve only convinced one person to read it. But in this world of slush piles, I take it as a great compliment that someone would ask for more work just because I made them curious. And all because of a simple conversation.

Publishing links, as always. This week we include the Amazon link to Saints and Sinners: New Fiction from the Festival 2013, which features my story “Mountainview”, about a bullied Middle School student and his tormentor finding common ground amid catastrophe.

To buy the anthology, featuring "Mountainview", click below.

"The Camp Seminole Weiner Wall", 2012 Best of the Net nominee, free to read
"The Gay Bomb", my first publication ever and it's free to read
The Amazon link to buy "Saints and Sinners New Fiction from the Festival 2012" featuring "Divine Hand"

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Breaking the Membrane

I got to peek under the industry curtain a bit this week. More on that in a moment. First, updates.

“Rise of the Paramancers” is about half-way edited. Once I’ve ironed out some consistency issues I’ll be posting it on a new resource I found out about: This site allows authors of genre fiction (no literary fiction yet) to post drafts and get free feedback from readers of that genre. By the end of summer, “Rise” should be polished enough for me to post.

I heard about this resource from Michael Underwood, the U.S. sales and marketing manager for Angry Robot books. (They’re the U.K. company responsible for publishing Chuck Wendig, author of “Double Dead” and “The Blue Blazes”. I’ve trumpeted his genius in prior posts.)

Michael was able to get his big break by using Bookcountry, which is sometimes cruised by editors and publishers. He shared his career breakthrough story at a local event, and it was wonderful to hear about how someone else struggled, and eventually jabbed through, the evil, only-publish-what’s-already-sold membrane that coats large sectors of the publishing industry.   

His story validated a suspicion of mine: “Jesse Rules” might not be the book that breaks the membrane for me. The premise is a hard sell. “Wanna buy my book about a homicidal closeted catholic school student?” “Ma’am?” “Why are you backing away slowly while maintaining eye contact?”
Of course, I love my book. I think its all the desperate ambition and frustrated libido of teenagerdom, rolled up in one awesomeballs manuscript.  So of course, I’m still going to try to sell it. But maybe it has to be another title that earns me some advocates, and then I pull the old Reading Rainbow – “If you liked my elemental coming-of-age fantasy, you’ll lo-ove my homicidal closeted catholic school literary fiction!”

Michael broke through with his third book (“Geekomancy”, check it out). I’m still finishing my second, so I may not be as far along this journey as I’d hoped to be by now. So it's time to slide into Zen mode and enjoy each step for what it is. Next week is Saints and Sinners in New Orleans, where I’ll be signing copies of my fifth published story, “Mountainview”, in the 2013 Saints and SInners New Fiction from the Festival collection. Below are the links to my free published pieces, as well as the 2012 Saints and Sinners collection, which features my fourth published story, “Divine Hand”.
"The Camp Seminole Weiner Wall", 2012 Best of the Net nominee, free to read
"Friends and Pyromaniacs", if the link works it ought to be free to read
"The Gay Bomb", my first publication ever and it's free to read
The Amazon link to buy "Saints and Sinners New Fiction from the Festival 2012" featuring "Divine Hand"

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Paramancer Pitch

I feel like I know how to pitch a book at this point. Then again, I have yet to sell one, so I could be very wrong.

I've slowed the agent hunt, purposefully. Chasing too many at once was making me come across a little too "eager puppy". Plus, if someone at the bar is hitting on everyone, and then they hit on you, how insulting is that? I don't want to seem too desperate. I totally am desperate, since this is an honest place, but I just don't want to come across that way anymore.

The new thing is find one agent who seems perfect, then write a much more personalized query to them. It may seem like common sense, but I had to come to it in my own good time. My new approach is, if I have to think more than ten minutes about why an agent could be a good representative for "Jesse Rules", they probably fucking aren't.

Some other things:

I'm in the 2013 Saints and Sinners anthology again this year, and I'll be signing copies in New Orleans on May 23rd.

I'm working on a pitch for my fantasy novel, "Rise of the Paramancers". It may be a better debut novel than Jesse. I'll change it based on who I'm pitching to, but the heart of the pitch is below, and comments are welcome, as always.

It begins with the War of the Twin Gods. Zura, the Vandal and Devil Goddess, is bent on returning all of creation to the void it once was. Dioro, the Artist and Blessed Brother, battles his dark twin, to protect his beloved work. He creates a shield of magical energy called the Veil, and wraps it around his prized creation – Axis – the land of four elemental kingdoms, Dioro’s gift to the beings he crafted in his image.
Outside the Veil, the Gods go to war, in forms too great and terrible to imagine. Some say they destroyed each other in their wrath. Some say they survive, diminished and healing, age after age.
Inside the Veil, life evolves in relative peace, for thousands of years. The people of the four elemental kingdoms live by the principles of Dioro’s Wheel – the idea that each element is weak against one of the others. Storms break upon the mountains. Fire can melt even stone. Water extinguishes fire. Storm is the master of sea. Balance is the gift of Dioro’s Wheel.
In Gorge, the Kingdom of Earth, Karth studies to become a Geomancer. He learns from Master Damon, the most powerful Geomancer of their age, who can flip the earth beneath his foes, impale them on earth spikes, or pin them screaming to the ground with earth hooks. Karth trains to do battle with the Necromancers, Geomancers who have fallen to Zura, acolytes of the Devil Goddess who believe she survived the War of the Twin Gods. They wait for the day she can penetrate the Veil and bring them out of hiding, into power.
But Axis is not the only creation of the Artist. Across the wasteland known as Beyond, there is another realm where more of the Blessed Brother’s creations live. These are the Paramancers, sorcerers who can master all elements. One of them crosses Beyond, with the help of a parasitic creature who amplifies his powers. She claims to be what’s left of Zura, the Devil Goddess in the flesh, and when they tear the Veil and enter Axis, balance becomes chaos. Her first target is Gorge, and the Earth Kingdom will need both master and apprentice Geomancers to become champions, if the kingdom is to survive.
Rise of the Paramancers is an 84,000-word high fantasy novel, the first in a planned series of five. It has been called an adult Last Airbender by sample audiences. My reader is the same adult who read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. The moment is right for a philosophically complex adult fantasy.

Share your thoughts below.
-James Russell

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stories Worth Your Time

Stories Worth your Time

The agent hunt continues. I’ll be signing copies of the 2013 Saints and Sinners fiction anthology in New Orleans on May 23rd at the Hotel Monteleone. (It’ll be on Amazon afterward. Check out my story, “Mountainview”, about a gay middle school student and his bully finding common ground amid disaster.)

I got my first yes on JESSE RULES. Unfortunately, it was from a fundamentalist publisher, who definitely didn’t understand that it’s a book about a gay teen who turns into a homicidal megalomaniac because he refuses to be honest with himself. Maybe they thought I was saying all queer kids kill. Sigh.

Anyway, moving on.

That’s all on the business front. Here’s something new.

Stories (books-movies-video games) worth your time:

We Need to Talk About Kevin – The film and the book are equally enthralling. Here is a mother wrestling with the age old question, ‘to breed or not to breed?’. She has lived the thrilling life of a traveler, and met and married a man she loves. Now she’s stuck with a big, fat, angsty, ‘What next?’
            Babies are supposed to be next. But at seven billion people on the planet and counting, we have a choice in that matter now. People can say no to breeding and do other things with their time. (Although what to do with one’s childless time may be the scariest question of all.) We can even self-assess, come to the conclusion that we would be terrible parents, and choose not to breed accordingly.
            But somehow, this educated woman of the world gets pulled into motherhood. Her desire to “turn the page” as she calls it, combined with passive-aggressive pressure from her husband, leads her to have a son, Kevin.
            From the start, Kevin can tell he isn’t wanted. And everyone is going to pay for it.
            I love this novel for tackling taboo head-on. I also have selfish reasons. The novel was a critical and commercial hit, proving you can disturb and entertain an audience at the same time. This is what I’m going to do with Jesse.

Prometheus – Some folks didn’t get what Entertainment Weekly called the “heavy, heavy, heaviosity” of this movie. Plus it’s a prequel, and let’s face it, most of those are derivative shit.
            Not this one. By being a “sort of prequel”, it maintained the mystery that most prequels lack. You had an idea of what was going to happen but not how, and that kept it fresh. The basic idea is a hundred years in the future, two scientists hypothesize that they’ve found the planet where our creators came from. “The Company” from the “Alien” movies funds an expedition, though their motives are, predictably, as pure as an interstellar Goldman Sachs. This results in a monster movie with a philosophical backbone. Not a lot of those in captivity.
            Besides being an FX extravaganza, it also sports stellar performances from Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, and awesomeness incarnate, Michael Fassenbender. (He’s been in X-men and Inglorious Basterds. The prosecution rests.)

Bioshock (Game Series) – I’m jealous of this tagline: Shooting game with psychic abilities set in libertarian dystopia under the sea. How cool is the concept alone?
The first game features my favorite plot twist since Samus Aran turned out to be a woman at the end of the first Metroid. One of the people guiding your character through the combat zone dystopia of Rapture turns out not to have your best interests at heart. He’s hypnotized you to obey whenever he uses the word “kindly” to “ask” you to do something for him. It turns the gamer’s perception on its head, and it motivates you for the latter half of the game, where you are driven to find and kill your former puppet master.
            By the time you hear the line, “A slave chooses, a man obeys,” you’ll be hooked enough to check out the latest installment, Bioshock Infinite.

Killing Them Softly – Ever rent a movie on a whim with no expectations, and then find yourself pleasantly surprised? That’s how I felt with this one. It had Brad Pitt and enough Sopranos alumni to draw me in, but I wasn’t expecting much but another faded copy of “Goodfellas”.
            It was a lot better than that for a few reasons. It starts predictably, with mafia guys ripping one another off, eventually calling in Brad Pitt’s character to settle things down with a series of executions. Pitt likes to “kill them softly”, meaning from a distance, so there’s no begging, no emotions, no intimacy. He’s a killer with a conscience, trying to be a killer with none.
            Meanwhile, news of the 2008 deregulation-fueled stock market crash pervades in the background. Brad Pitt screams the movie’s thesis at the end. “This isn’t a country, it’s a business. Now pay me my fucking money.”

Rebooting the American Dream – You may not know Tom Hartmann, but you should. In this book, he does what no politician has had the courage to do in my lifetime – he identifies the main problems our country faces and proposes solutions. (Some, like worker cooperatives, deserve at least a closer look.) This is the best case I’ve read for tax-and-spend liberalism as an alternative to don’t-tax-still-spend conservatism of the Cheney-Wolfowitz crowd and Lord of the Flies libertarianism of Ron and Rand Paul.
            He makes a lot of valid points. Globalization was never voted on. It was forced on the majority of humanity by the international rich. Trustbusting the media could lead to true diversity of opinions on the public airwaves. There is such a thing as “the commons”, things that we all own like our national infrastructure. The profit motive does not bring out the best in people, particularly when it comes to prisons and health care. A constitutional amendment could solve our largest problem: Government has to be larger than the largest corporation; otherwise you get corporate government, which is what we’ve had since Reagan. It hasn’t worked out well if you weren’t already rich when E.T. came out in theaters.
            I know some folks fancy themselves “apolitical”. I don’t buy it. I think most people care but they don’t know what to do. Start small. E-mail your Senators and Representatives. Sign an online petition here and there. Go to one protest a year for something you believe in. This book could fire you up to do it. Even if you’re conservative, it could fire you up to go shout on the other side of the picket line. Either way, it starts a conversation long overdue.

So that’s me finding stories to love, while I chase my author dream. Feel free to comment about a story that moved you, book, film, Youtube kitty clip, whatever. As long as it made you think and feel.

-James Russell

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sniper of the 99%

When I fall in love with a character, I always want to share. Right now, as I hunt for an agent and edit "Rise of the Paramancers" (both frustrating slogs) one of my escapes is telling the story of Evil Eye, the sniper of the 99%.

He's a veteran of an unnecessary foreign war (intervention, adventure, choose your euphemism), one designed to relocate the public wealth of the American taxpayer into the private pockets of military contractors. A war designed to never end. Meanwhile, back home, new privatization initiatives lead to cuts in health care for veterans. They especially nickel and dime on mental health care, which is what Evil Eye needs. He tries to obtain care through every proper channel before concluding that there is no difference between the evil men he was trained to kill and the evil men who deny his right to health. The C.E.O. slaughter begins.

Having finished his "origin story" I'm now working on the next chapter in his life. What will happen to this man of the people once he catches a whiff of fame? What will happen when he has to face an inconvenient fact? These men he's killing are bastards, but they have families, and each shot produces a widow and some fatherless children.

I hope readers will find the character enjoyable on multiple levels. He's easy to root for and yet he isn't 100% right. He's flawed but fighting.

Here's a sneak preview of the first section of the first "Evil Eye" story. Enjoy.

Evil Eye

They blame it on my P.T.S.D. The rebels and the ones who call themselves patriots. It’s condescending either way. Offensive, really. My mind is whole, even if my brain is muddled. It was my I.Q. that made them want to train me for their sniper squad in the first place. The dumb guys, they just throw them in infantry. Meat for the war machine.
I read this one reporter who said I never came home from the war. He’s right. But he didn’t have to have that tone. I’m a soldier. Soldiers hate being pitied. I’m not pitiful. I’m pitiless. When they call me that, I’m proud.
I never came home from the war. War means fighting. I fight everyday now, just like I did overseas. They call it, “losing time”. I lose time. Then I fight to keep my head focused on where I am, and what I have to do.
I have to stop. This isn’t about me. I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. This was never about me. This was always about J.J.
Back in the war J.J. and I were the pride of our sniper squad. We were always lying on our bellies on some rocky hill, in some bombed-out building. There was sand and searing wind. We blazed days and froze nights. It was a country that started with Ira- or ended in –stan. We can call it Ira-stan. Let’s not pretend you care.
I was the spotter. We studied our marks for weeks. We learned their routines. Our wives sent us diapers and baby wipes from home. We asked for them. We lied and said they were donations, to help us win the hearts and minds of the locals. The truth is, if we were studying a mark, we never took our eyes off them. If our targets were active, or it felt like we should be watching, we shit our diapers, right where we were laying. Then we took turns changing, treated ourselves to some baby wipes.
We were talking about our marks. Omar. I liked to name them. J.J. hated that. He said they’re harder to kill if you name them. I said every man should have a name. We had that argument choreographed. Like the one I used to have with my wife when she wasted tooth paste.
Snipers and spotters. It’s like a marriage.
He was southern, J.J. I’m from Pennsylvania. He first joined the Marines after 9/11 ‘cause he “wanted to kill moose-lambs”. That’s how he said it.
It was weird. We argued over everything. We argued for years. The crippling idiocy or stalwart leadership of George W. Bush. Keynesian economics vs. that trickle-down Milton Friedman bullshit he was into. Later, we argued about whether or not Obama was really a moose-lamb from Kenyer.
But my reason for signing up wasn’t that different from his. I’m a liberal. I’m even against the death penalty. I think our justice system is too corrupt to trust with life and death. Strange belief for a sniper? I study my targets personally. We research for months before a trigger gets pulled. Then we take our own shot.
I know. I said I was a spotter. I’m getting there.
I was trying to say my reason for joining the Marines. I’m a liberal but 9/11 made me see evil. It made me see some men are unrepentant killers. It made me see that some men will spend their lives doing nothing but inflicting agony on others, if they’re permitted. Humanitarians argue it’s always wrong to kill, and I half admire their unwillingness to compromise. Maybe I’m just too practical. Some men need killing. Their deaths raise the quality of life for every human being who survives them.
Addition by subtraction.
On that point, me and J.J. were in total agreement. When our political arguments got too heated and somebody’s feelings were getting hurt, that’s what we came back to. “Addition by subtracshin,” J.J. said. “Ah like it.”
“You know what this means,” I told him. “We have to become unrepentant killers ourselves.”
“Paradox,” J.J. said. “My daddy used to say growin’ up meant dealin’ with paradox. Fuck it. We’re right and they’re wrong. Ain’t no paradox here.”
J.J. didn’t like the idea we had any thing in common with the enemy. And he hated that I named the guard Omar. He didn’t want me to name them at all. It made them harder to shoot he said. And I said every man should have a name. It was choreographed. I might’ve said this before.
“Then yer shootin’,” he said. I tried to think of a good reason to disagree.
When I think about it now, I lose time. But I couldn’t have lost time that night. My head was still whole back then.
Somehow, some way I don’t remember, my binoculars wind up around J.J.’s neck, and one of my eyes stares into his scope.
Omar smokes at sundown. He’s a pacer too. He smokes and paces. But tonight he’s pacing and smoking in a new language. Frantic. Tonight Omar is frantic.
Omar guards a small bunker in a world of shifting sands. Intel says he’s with the new Al Qaeda, “The Lord’s Wrath”. Based on the amount of electronic data flying in and out of this place, the location is important to them. So we watch it. We watch and wait, just like Omar.
“Squirrelly t’night ain’t he?” J.J. says. I take my eye out of the scope and look at him. So that’s what I look like with binoculars jammed against my face. I look back into the scope. The door behind Omar opens.
The man who emerges is Omar’s superior, I decide. We first saw him last week. He has a neater beard. His black shoes gleam in the sun. His hair is always washed and gelled back. Omar puts out his cigarette when this man approaches. Usually. Not tonight. Tonight Omar’s superior asks for Omar’s cigarette. He lights his own with it. They converse. They have a skittish laugh together.
“Mohammad looks nervous too,” I say.
“Stop fuckin’ naming ‘em,” J.J. reminds. In my scope, Mohammad points and shouts. They trample their cigarettes, burying the butts in the sand.
“Check it out,” J.J. says. “East ridge.”
I adjust my body, keeping my face buried in the scope.
No flags. There are no flags on the truck that appears on the horizon. There aren’t many cars in this country, nor roads to drive them on. When you see a truck, it usually has state flags displayed somewhere. That’s supposed to tell our drone operators, “You can blow me up, but the diplomatic incident won’t be worth the paperwork.”
“No flags,” I say. “Just an unmarked Range Rover, remarkable in how unremarkable it’s made to look.”
“Tinted glass,” J.J. observes. “That’s a incognito Lord’s Wrath V.I.P. I fuckin’ guarantee it.”
“You should shoot,” I say. “We could be court-martialed.” J.J. laughs.
“Don’t soak yer panties. Just us out here. You miss, an’ we’ll say I missed. Better yet, just don’t fuckin’ miss. But let’s make sure this ain’t the bread delivery b’fore we get all hot n’ bothered.”
Men with AK-47s emerge from the van, scanning the area. One whistles and makes a whirl in the air with his finger. Another taps twice on the tinted black window. An unarmed man steps out.
I don’t have to name this one. Every sniper in the military knows his face. Every American with a television has seen his videos.
“That’s Amar fuckin’ Atta,” J.J. says. “T’night we burn the bridge ‘tween Al Qaeda and Lord’s Wrath.”
“This is your shot,” I say.
“That’s what it’ll say on the paperwork,” J.J. says. “But back at the nest yer gettin’ the credit.” J.J. was always like that. He never let me be anything but my best.
I can’t believe I’m staring at Amar Atta. He’s so small. His clothes are so plain. He has thin glasses and a thinner beard. He has the vacant expression of a librarian organizing returned books.
This is the man who helped bin Laden plan the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 1998. In the waning days of Al Qaeda, he assembled the men who became the Lord’s Wrath. And then the Chicaco Subway attack – the rush-hour Chlorine bombing just after the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11. The messages were clear. We can smuggle through Canada. We can hit your heartland. We can manufacture bio weapons straight out of your bleakest sci-fi nightmares.
We can hit back too, you demented fuck. The mind behind all that ruin is in my crosshairs. And I can make it pulp. There’s just one thing I have to ask J.J. first.
“You think it’ll change anything?”
“Dunno. One thing’s fer sure, he ain’t ever gonna stop killin’ unless you stop him.” Of course, J.J. was right. Time for addition by subtraction.
“How the wind?”
“Very slight, outta the southeast. Correct left just a bit.”
“What are my follows?”
“Git Mohammad if you can. He’s a somebody. Then hit the front tire on that truck. Sun’s still behind us. They’re gonna look our way after the shot. Then Allah’s gonna blind ‘em.”
“Alright. Let’s do it.”
“Just like takin’ his picture,” J.J. reassured. I hated that. They said that in basic. I was blowing a sun roof in a man’s skull. It was pretty fucking far from taking his picture.
Atta barks at Mohammad and Omar. He points toward their buried cigarettes. I correct left. I pull the trigger.
Atta’s head bursts like an overripe melon. Mohammad’s face is covered in sudden gore. He looks up into my scope and squints in the sunlight. I fire my second shot, right through his eye. Omar ducks behind a barrel. Atta’s guards shoot wildly, squinting towards us. I fire my third shot and the truck’s front tire pops. Their truck slouches uselessly forward.
“Fuckin’ eagle eye shootin!” J.J. says, slapping my back. “Let’s get the fuck outta here!” We run into the setting sun as bullets chase our heels.

(end of free preview)