The Road to Alexander – 3rd Excerpt | Jennifer Macaire

51wt6yp3qhl~ The Road to Alexander ~

Excerpt Three: Travel

by Jennifer Macaire

Alexander loved when I sang. He adored rock and roll songs, soft ballads, and opera arias. The music they played in Alexander’s time was heavy on percussion, strings, woodwinds and brass. Choruses were popular, and the music would give me shivers. It could be amazing, especially when all the trumpets blew together. I loved the sweet music of the harps and flutes and there were reed instruments, like oboes, included in every banquet. However, music was also an everyday thing, with the soldiers singing as they marched or worked. People sang as they went about their everyday business. And children were taught with songs, as I found out when Callisthenes came for my first lesson.

We had stopped for the night on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The wind was making the tent lean in a way that frightened me, but Alexander assured me there was no danger. I expected to be blown away any second, but the tent held. Callisthenes came by after dinner. I was lying on the bed, and Alexander was at his table going over the day’s journal with Ptolemy Lagos and Nearchus. Plexis was being treated by Usse – his collarbone still hurt – and I was playing a game of checkers with Axiom.

I was winning, for once, so I was cross when Alexander ordered Axiom to fold up the game, and told me to go sit in the corner with Callisthenes for my first lesson. I made a face, but obeyed. Besides, I was curious. What would I learn?

Callisthenes took a small harp out of his robes and proceeded to sing a very cute song about nine women called “muses” who lived on an island somewhere, and did all sorts of artistic things. Their names were lovely in themselves, and the song had three verses, with a chorus that went like this:

We are the muses, all standing in line,

Nine sisters, nine inspirations divine,

We sing, dance, tell stories and give you stimulation

For all your artistic inspiration.

Well, it loses something in the translation. However, it was the first little song a child learned. It told him about the nine subjects he would study: epic poetry, history, lyric poetry and hymns, music, tragedy, mime, dance, comedy and astronomy. Those would be my lessons, and since each subject belonged to a muse, that’s where we started.

I went around humming about Clio and Calliope, Urania and all the other sisters until my next lesson.

The evenings were spent learning, but the days were spent walking. We marched around the shore, passing through many modest villages, all of which swore allegiance to Alexander. In each village he sacrificed a goat to the local gods, and met with the chieftain. It took us three days to reach the largest village on the shores of the sea, where we met the high chief of the Tapures, the tribe living in that region. The high chief laid down his arms without fighting, and Alexander rewarded him with the title of Satrap.

We traveled through his territory and then penetrated into the Hyrcania region, where we spent two weeks in Zadracarta, the capital. The people there, called the Madrians, submitted themselves to Alexander without a fight, and we were received with many banquets and feasts.

We stayed long for several reasons. Alexander was heading toward hostile territories. Bessus was still in front of us and was rallying the Bactrians against us. Alexander wanted to make sure of his allegiances, so he would never have to worry about being attacked from behind. It was his worst nightmare, the thing he worked the hardest to avoid. He would spend sleepless nights with his generals, working out the various things that could go wrong. He approached fighting exactly as if he were playing a gigantic chess game. He had to make sure he could plan every one of his opponent’s moves before he himself decided what to do. Afterwards, he would often sleep twenty hours to recuperate. He used up more energy planning than he did fighting.

He told me fighting was a relief to him. Planning was torture.

I’m sure that most of the cities’ names have been changed since I was in Iran. My journalist instincts made me ask for names and explanations everywhere we went. Sometimes they were hard to understand. A place could be named after a tribe or the tribe’s chief, or it could be the name of the river it was on, or a landmark, or even something that had happened there, as the place called, “Orian’s Big Trip”. I inquired after that name. Orian was a man who’d stumbled on a rock, and fallen off the cliff overlooking the village. Nearly all the villages we passed were named after the Caspian Sea. We passed through (rough translations) three “Lake-views,” five “Lake-sides,” one “Saltwater Town,” a “Lots of Fish Place,” (I liked that one) and a “Deep Water, No Wading”. It seemed the smaller the village, the more picturesque the name.

Plexis was bucked off his new horse, and his arm got worse. I was worried, but Usse wasn’t. He told me that two weeks’ rest would help put things right, and so when we got to Zadracarta I made Alexander forbid Plexis to ride.

Plexis took a great interest in my education, and he would often sit with Callisthenes while he gave me my lessons. He and Callisthenes would usually end up in a lively discussion about philosophy, literature or science. Alexander would join in if he had finished working, and I would take Callisthenes’s harp and try to play a few of the songs I knew on it.

They were all impressed by rock music; it sounded like great incantations to them, and they thought I was talking directly to the gods.

Callisthenes had a remarkable voice, so I taught him some of the songs I knew, and we would sing harmony for Alexander. He loved music; it brought tears to his eyes. He would insist on singing along, which brought tears to our eyes; I have never heard anyone with a worse singing voice.

~ ~ ~

Autumn was coming, the autumn of 330 BC. We headed due east and arrived in Arie, a large country in what is known now as Turkmenistan. Here Alexander founded another great city, Alexandria Arian, or Alexandropolis, as it was also called.

When he founded a city, he made the city completely independent; that is to say, it had its own government and didn’t have anything to do with the surrounding kingdoms. Alexander left Macedonians in charge most of the time, promoting them to governor, and giving them the freedom to control the city and the immediate countryside. The result of this maneuver was threefold. First, it meant that the cities would not be swallowed up in the local customs; on the contrary, they would be islands of pure Greek culture, where schools were set up and artists and poets would express themselves in what would be known as Hellenistic art. Secondly, these cities would be democracies, able to decide their own governments, separating them from the satraps who ruled the great expanses of land around them. Thirdly, this meant that after Alexander’s death, when his kingdom splintered into many different parts, these cities stayed exactly as he’d planned. They continued to be landmarks of Greek culture, inspirational landmarks that would continue to thrive centuries later. They would carry forward the legend of Alexander.

Book One in the series, The Road to Alexander is the first to be remastered and reissued digitally worldwide is OUT TODAY, via Accent Press. Available for order NOW: (US) (UK)


~ About the Author ~

Jennifer Macaire is an American living in Paris. She likes to read, eat chocolate, and plays a mean game of golf. She grew up in upstate New York, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. She graduated from St Peter and Paul High School in St Thomas and moved to NYC where she modeled for five years for Elite. She went to France and met her husband at the polo club. All that is true. But she mostly likes to make up stories. Her short stories have been published by Three Rivers Press, Nothing But Red, The Bear Deluxe, and The Vestal Review, among others. One of her short stories was nominated for the Push Cart Prize (Honey on Your Skin) and is now being made into a film. Her short story ‘There be Gheckos’ won the Harper Collins /3 AM flash fiction prize.


The Road to Alexander – 2nd Excerpt | Jennifer Macaire

51wt6yp3qhl~ The Road to Alexander ~

Excerpt Two: Love

by Jennifer Macaire

“Ashley.” Alexander took my hand and held it gingerly. “Everyone learns about nymphs and dryads from their parents in our world. Everyone knows about the naiads, sprites, sylphs, oreads, undines, fauns, and fates. Do you know who Lachesis is?” I shook my head. “Clotho? No? Atropos? The Muses? Do you know anything?” He sounded as if he were in real pain.

I looked at Plexis. He was staring at me, and on his face was the strangest expression. I tried to laugh but the sound stuck in my throat. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, “I didn’t learn about any of that.”

“But you said you went to school. You had teachers, you knew about Plato and Homer, you even spoke to Aristotle about the world being round. And that’s a new idea.” He shook his head. “I just don’t understand.”

“I’m sorry.” I blinked. I wasn’t used to anyone paying so much attention to me. It was unnerving. “I don’t know what to say.”

“But where were you educated?” Alexander asked me. “Even the barbarians know about dryads!”

“I can’t tell you,” I said, shaking my head.

“Why not? I just don’t understand you, Ashley.” There was such pain in his voice that I felt awful.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, “but I can’t.”

“Perhaps it’s just as well you don’t say anything,” said Plexis. “This is what the oracle meant, wasn’t it? I’ll find out on my deathbed, after we’ve reached the sacred river and after I’ve seen the twelve pillars.”

“What’s that?” Alexander said, attentive.

“An oracle’s riddle.” Plexis shrugged. “I don’t know where the sacred river is, perhaps in Indus, I heard of one that flowed there. But I know not where the twelve pillars are.”

I stared at Plexis, he looked at me and then his face softened. He smiled. “Don’t cry. Why, thanks to you I’m probably the only person in the whole world to look forward to my own death.”

“Don’t say that.” Shivering, Alexander put his hand across Plexis’s mouth.

Plexis took it and kissed it, drawing it across his cheek. He looked at it a moment, turned it over, and traced a faint scar on the thumb. Their fingers entwined. Then Plexis placed Alexander’s hand on my leg. “You’re going to have your hands full teaching your wife everything she needs to know before we get back to civilization,” he said in a light voice.

Alexander didn’t say anything, but I felt his sorrow keenly.

“Is it because of me?” I asked Plexis.

He shook his head, mute.

“I won’t stand in your way,” I said to Alexander. “If you love him I won’t stand in your way.”

“There’s nothing in our way,” said Alexander quietly, “except ourselves.” His fey eyes were filled with something like joy.

Plexis shook his head. “Ah, Iskander. There was never anything between us except friendship. Cxious tried to change all that, but you were right all along. Sometimes the difference between love and need is as thin and transparent as spring ice.”

“And the difference between love and need is like the difference between ice and water.” Alexander spoke automatically.

“I see you haven’t forgotten your lessons.” Plexis smiled. “Aristotle should be proud.”

“No, I never forget my lessons,” he said.

“May the gods hear you.” Plexis winced as he levered himself from the ground. “I think I’ll go find Usse and beg some of his sleeping draught. My shoulder pains me. Perhaps I was hasty, moving about so soon.” He turned and left, but not before I saw something shine on his cheeks.

“Oh Alex,” I said, laying my head on his chest. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be.” His heartbeat was slow and regular. “I have all I need.”

“And what about what you want?” I asked.

“You asked me that question long ago, if I remember well. It’s easy to answer. I want to find my son. I want to avenge Darius. And I want to make Alexandria the most beautiful city on earth. I want to grow old with you by my side, our children playing at our feet. I want the stars and the moon.” He paused and kissed my nose. “I want to rule the world and the heavens. So, tell me. Tell me, my oracle, my love. Will I get what I want?”

I gave him the sweetest smile I could muster, and I said, “Alex, you’re standing on thin ice.”

He sputtered, then laughed. “I would be married to the only oracle in the world with a sense of humor.”

We sat in the fragrant grass watching as the horses came down the mountainside. The breeze was redolent of freshly cut hay and summer flowers. Dust sparkled in the air and butterflies darted about. White clouds looked like fat sheep grazing on an endless blue plain above us. The campsite was set up on the flank of the mountain, amongst the trees. Men came and went, fetching wood, forage, water, and meat. All around us there was bustle and the sound of men laughing, arguing, and singing.

We sat on the mossy bank of a silvery stream in a grove of white birch trees, surrounded by a sort of quiet grace.

I looked at the man I had read about three thousand years in the future, the man who would be known as Alexander the Great, and he smiled at me.

Book One in the series, The Road to Alexander is the first to be remastered and reissued digitally worldwide on March 9th, via Accent Press. Available for pre-order now. (US) (UK)


~ About the Author ~

Jennifer Macaire is an American living in Paris. She likes to read, eat chocolate, and plays a mean game of golf. She grew up in upstate New York, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. She graduated from St Peter and Paul High School in St Thomas and moved to NYC where she modeled for five years for Elite. She went to France and met her husband at the polo club. All that is true. But she mostly likes to make up stories. Her short stories have been published by Three Rivers Press, Nothing But Red, The Bear Deluxe, and The Vestal Review, among others. One of her short stories was nominated for the Push Cart Prize (Honey on Your Skin) and is now being made into a film. Her short story ‘There be Gheckos’ won the Harper Collins /3 AM flash fiction prize.

The Road to Alexander – 1st Excerpt | Jennifer Macaire

51wt6yp3qhl~ The Road to Alexander ~

Excerpt One: War

by Jennifer Macaire

I stood in front of the tent and watched the men file by. They were grim, holding their long spears and shields, wearing bronze helmets with white plumes. They had sandals and shin-guards made of stiff leather. Otherwise they were nude. This was the phalanx, their thirty-foot spears forming a nightmare porcupine. Following them were the infantry, armed with short swords and wearing skirts of leather to protect their thighs. Their arms were wrapped with leather thongs. After them trotted the cavalry. Their horses rolled wild eyes and snorted, anxious to gallop. I saw my gray mare and hoped she would be all right. The cavalrymen had long, bronze-tipped spears and short swords. Their legs were sheathed in leather, and they carried small, round shields. Their horses had wide leather bands across their chests and under their stomachs for protection. The Hipparchie, mounted archers with bows slung over their shoulders and clusters of sharp arrows in their quivers, came last.

Alexander paused in front of me. For a moment he didn’t speak, and then he said in a low voice, “Fear not for the child. I will get him back.”

I smiled then and didn’t try to stop my tears. “I know you will. Take care of yourself,” I told him, my voice shaking.

The men left the camp and rode toward the city. I stayed behind with the slaves and offered to help the doctors prepare for the wounded. I wanted to make myself useful, so I’d proposed my services to Usse, Alexander’s physician. He’d accepted readily. In ancient Greece women were received into the medical corps without any problem.

Afterwards everyone settled down to wait. I hated waiting. The army was out of sight but I thought that if I climbed the hill I could see what was happening. I started up the rocky slope, slipping on the frosty grass and wishing that I had something sturdier than sandals. Blades of grass stuck between my toes. A vulture wheeled overhead in the cloudless sky. I shaded my eyes to peer over the plain.

Persepolis was visible in the distance. An empty city built by Darius the Great for the master races, the Persians and the Medes. They used it for their spring rites and ceremonies. It was immense, with several palaces and temples set out in perfect harmony around a huge central square. From where I was, I could only see the stairs that led to the city’s front gate. They were made of slabs of white marble, seven meters long and shallow enough to ride horses up, and flanked with walls carved with sacred beasts. I couldn’t see the carvings from so far away, but I’d seen them before, in pictures. They had been ruins when I’d first seen them. I’d seen them as crumbling relics, and now they were shining before me in the bright sun. The temples, their roofs covered in gold-colored tiles, were intact, not yet reduced to broken columns. I put my hands over my eyes and sat down, shaking. Living history backwards was a terrifying experience.

A cloud of dust billowed on the far side of the city. Darius had tried to defend the great eastern gate, but I knew that soon the city would fall to Alexander. Already I could see the first of the wounded limping toward the camp. Slaves ran out with stretchers, and I slipped and slithered down the hill. I would try to be useful. I only hoped I could do some good.

Later, I wiped sweat off my face and wished I had paid more attention during first aid class. I had no idea if what I was doing was helping. Usse set broken bones as fast as he could. He also received the wounded, putting them in one of three tents. One tent for those needing urgent help, one tent for those who could wait, and one for those who were dying. In the tent for the dying a brazier had been set up, and Usse put herbs upon the hot coals, making a thick, fragrant smoke. The smoke, Usse told me, helped the men’s souls find the gods. I think it was mostly opium.

I was put to work cleaning and binding the wounds. As a woman, I was supposed to know how to do this. There were no sutures. Wounds were cauterized without anesthesia using white-hot irons. Searing heat killed germs, so although the scars were horrendous, wounds usually healed cleanly.

Slaves held the men down. The screams of the wounded and the smell of scorching flesh permeated the camp.

Usse concocted a drink that he gave to the wounded. They calmed down and went into a trance. Their eyes glazed and they breathed through their mouths, making the ones with broken noses easier to treat. Broken noses were fairly common.

I finished binding up a slashed arm and concentrated on my next victim, a young man with an arrow in his chest. He looked at me hopefully, and I smiled and cursed under my breath in English.

“Are you saying magic words?” he gasped.

“Yes, as a matter of fact I am.”

His face relaxed and he gave a huge sigh. “You’re a goddess, so I know that I will live,” he said confidently.

I studied the arrow and wished I felt as confident. Its feathered end was sticking out at an angle and the arrowhead was hidden by his armor, but judging from the amount of blood pooled his lap it must have struck something major. I undid his shoulder straps and carefully peeled his armor away. The arrow fell to the ground; it had simply been stuck between the leather and the brass plates. The blood was from someone else. There was no wound at all. I closed my eyes and clung to the edge of the table.

The man ran his hands up and down his chest, feeling frantically for the wound. “It’s a miracle,” he cried, “a miracle!”

“No it’s not,” I insisted. “You weren’t even hit, it was deflected by your armor.” However, he didn’t believe me, and neither did anyone else. As a result, all the arrow wounds got sent to me.

I hate arrows. They usually kill outright, cutting arteries, severing veins, and the victim bleeds to death very quickly. But when nothing vital is hit, the arrow is stuck because of its shape and impossible to pull out. Then one has to either push it through, or cut it out using special clamps and spreaders invented for such occasions. Pushing it through is excruciating. The patient screams and tries to get away. Large slaves sit on them, and Usse gives a double dose of his potion.

I did my best. I had a working knowledge of anatomy and that helped. More importantly, I was reputed to be a goddess and that helped most of all.

That day I discovered that men are both a lot tougher, and at the same time, more fragile than I thought. Wounds that I was sure were fatal were somehow healed because the man had decided he would live. And if a man thought he would die, he usually did, and there was nothing we could do to save him.

Book One in the series, The Road to Alexander is the first to be remastered and reissued digitally worldwide on March 9th, via Accent Press. Available for pre-order now. (US) (UK)


~ About the Author ~

Jennifer Macaire is an American living in Paris. She likes to read, eat chocolate, and plays a mean game of golf. She grew up in upstate New York, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. She graduated from St Peter and Paul High School in St Thomas and moved to NYC where she modeled for five years for Elite. She went to France and met her husband at the polo club. All that is true. But she mostly likes to make up stories. Her short stories have been published by Three Rivers Press, Nothing But Red, The Bear Deluxe, and The Vestal Review, among others. One of her short stories was nominated for the Push Cart Prize (Honey on Your Skin) and is now being made into a film. Her short story ‘There be Gheckos’ won the Harper Collins /3 AM flash fiction prize.

This Year You Write Your Novel

Here’s a bit of writer’s advice by multiple award-winning author Walter Mosley from his 2007 book on writing, This Year You Write Your Novel, published by Little, Brown and Company. 

An excerpt from the first chapter follows.

The General Disciplines That Every Writer Needs

Writing every day

The first thing you have to know about writing is that it is something you must do every day-every morning or every night, whatever time it is that you have. Ideally, the time you decide on is also the time when you do your best work.

There are two reasons for this rule: getting the work done and connecting with your unconscious mind.

If you want to finish this novel of yours within a year, you have to get to work! There’s not a moment to lose. There’s no time to wait for inspiration. Getting your words down on the page takes time. How much? I write three hours every morning. It’s the first thing I do, Monday through Sunday, fifty-two weeks a year. Some days I miss but rarely does this happen more than once a month. Writing is a serious enterprise that takes a certain amount of constancy and rigor.

But will and regularity are only the beginnings of the discipline and rewards that daily writing will mean for you.

The most important thing I’ve found about writing is that it is primarily an unconscious activity. What do I mean by this? I mean that a novel is larger than your head (or conscious mind). The connections, moods, metaphors, and experiences that you call up while writing will come from a place deep inside you. Sometimes you will wonder who wrote those words. Sometimes you will be swept up by a fevered passion relating a convoluted journey through your protagonist’s ragged heart. These moments are when you have connected to some deep place within you, a place that harbors the zeal that made you want to write to begin with.

The way you get to this unconscious place is by writing every day. Or not even writing. Some days you may be rewriting, rereading, or just sitting there scrolling back and forth through the text. This is enough to bring you back into the dream of your story.

What, you ask, is the dream of a story? This is a mood and a continent of thought below your conscious mind-a place that you get closer to with each foray into the words and worlds of your novel.

You may have spent only an hour and a half working on the book, but the rest of the day will be rife with motive moments in your unconsciousness-moments in your mind, which will be mulling over the places your words have touched. While you sleep, mountains are moving deep within your psyche. When you wake up and return to the book, you will be amazed by the realization that you are further along than when you left off yesterday.

If you skip a day or more between your writing sessions, your mind will drift away from these deep moments of your story. You will find that you’ll have to slog back to a place that would have been easily attained if only you wrote every day.

Some days you will sit down and nothing will come-that’s all right. Some days you’ll wish you had given yourself more time-that’s okay too. You can always pick up tomorrow where you left off today.

In order to be a writer, you have to set up a daily routine. Put aside an amount of time (not less than an hour and a half) to sit with your computer or notebook. I know that this is difficult. Some of you live in tight spaces with loved ones. Some of you work so hard that you can’t see straight half the time. Some of you have little ones who might need your attention at any time of the day or night.

I wish I had the answers to these problems. I don’t. All I can tell you is that if you want to finish your novel this year, you have to write each and every day.

Learning how to write without restraint

Self-restraint is what makes it possible for society to exist. We refrain, most of the time, from expressing our rage and lust. Most of us do not steal or murder or rape. Many words come into our minds that we never utter-even when we’re alone. We imagine terrible deeds but push them out of our thoughts before they’ve had a chance to emerge fully.

Almost all adult human beings are emotionally restrained. Our closest friends, our coworkers, and our families never know the brutal and deviant urges and furies that reside in our breasts.

This restraint is a good thing. I know that my feelings are often quite antisocial. Sometimes I just see someone walking down the street and the devil in me wants to say things that would be awful to hear. No good would come from my expressing these asocial instincts-at least not usually.

The writer, however, must loosen the bonds that have held her back all these years. Sexual lust, hate for her own children, the desire to taste the blood of her enemy-all these things and many more must, at times, crowd the writer’s mind.

Your protagonist, for instance, may at a certain moment despise his mother. “She stinks of red wine and urine,” he thinks. “And she looks like a shriveled, pitted prune.”
This is an unpleasant sentiment, to be sure. But does it bring your hero’s character into focus? This is the only question that’s important. And there’s no getting around it. Your characters will have ugly sides to them; they will be, at times, sexually deviant, bitter, racist, cruel.

“Sure,” you say, “the antagonists, the bad guys in my book, will be like that but not the heroes and heroines.”
Not so.

The story you tell, the characters you present, will all have dark sides to them. If you want to write believable fiction, you will have to cross over the line of your self-restraint and revel in the words and ideas that you would never express in your everyday life.

Our social moorings aren’t the only things that restrain our creative impulses. We are also limited by false aesthetics: those notions that we have developed in schools and libraries, and from listening to critics that adhere to some misplaced notion of a literary canon. Many writers come to the discipline after having read the old, and new, masters. They read Dickens and Melville, Shakespeare and Homer. From these great books of yore, they develop tics and reflexes that cause their words to become stiff and unnatural.

Many writers, and teachers of writing, spend so much time comparing work to past masters that they lose the contemporary voice of the novel being created on this day.

You will not become a writer by aping the tones and phrases, form and content, of great books of the past. Your novel lies in your heart; it is a book about today, no matter in which era it is set, written for a contemporary audience to express a story that could only have come from you.

Don’t get me wrong-you can read anything and learn from it. But your learning will also come from modern songs, newscasts, magazine articles, and conversations overheard on the street. A novel is a pedestrian work about the everyday lives of bricklayers and saints.

Another source of restraint for the writer is the use of personal confession and the subsequent guilt that often arises from it. Many writers use themselves, their families, and their friends as models for the characters they portray. A young woman who has had a difficult time with her mother may render a tale in which the mother seems overly harsh, maybe even heartless. She (the writer) wades in, telling the story in all its truth and ugliness, but then, feeling guilt, she backs away from it, muddying the water. Maybe she stops writing for a while or changes her subject.

Whatever it is she does, the novel suffers.

This would-be novelist has betrayed herself in order that she not tell the story that has been clawing its way out from her core. She would rather not commit herself to the truth that she has found in the rigor of writing every day.

This form of restraint is common and wholly unnecessary.
To begin with, your mother is not reading what you have written. These words are your private preserve until the day they’re published.

Also you should wait until the book is finished before making a judgment on its content. By the time you have gone through twenty drafts, the characters may have developed lives of their own, completely separate from the people you based them on in the beginning. And even if someone, at some time, gets upset with your words-so what? Live your life, sing your song. Anyone who loves you will want you to have that.

Don’t let any feeling keep you from writing. Don’t let the world slow you down. Your story is the most important thing coming down the line this year. It’s your year-make the most of it.

Avoidance, false starts, and dead-end thinking 

Many writers-in-waiting spend a lot of time avoiding the work at hand. The most common way to avoid writing is by procrastination. This is the writer’s greatest enemy. There is little to say about it except that once you decide to write every day, you must make yourself sit at the desk or table for the required period whether or not you are putting down words. Make yourself take the time even if the hours seem fruitless. Ideally, after a few days or weeks of being chained to the desk, you will submit to the story that must be told.

Straightforward procrastination is an author’s worst enemy, but there are others: the writer who suddenly has chores that have gone undone for months but that now seem urgent; the diarist who develops a keen wish to write about her experiences today instead of writing her book; the Good Samaritan who realizes that there’s a world out there that needs saving; the jack-of-all-trades who, when he begins one project, imagines ten others that are equally or even more important.

Forget all that. Don’t write in the journal unless you’re writing a chapter of your book. Save the world at 8:30 instead of 7:00. Let the lawn get shaggy and the paint peel from the walls.

For that time you have set aside to write your novel, don’t do anything else. Turn the ringer off on your phone. Don’t answer the doorbell. Tell your loved ones that you cannot be disturbed. And if they cannot bear to live without you, go write in a coffee shop or library. Rent a room if you have to-just make the time to write your book.

A final note about process 

The process of writing a novel is like taking a journey by boat. You have to continually set yourself on course. If you get distracted or allow yourself to drift, you will never make it to the destination. It’s not like highly defined train tracks or a highway; this is a path that you are creating, discovering. The journey is your narrative. Keep to it and there will be a tale told.

(continued in the book)

Four Deep | An Excerpt

{ 397-word excerpt }

Three-thirty now.  He’s got the four of us waiting with our cocks in our hands, but since I’m responsible for this partnership I’m the one who’s going to get pissed on.

At this hour with Mulligan’s now closed we’re lucky we haven’t seen any cops sweeping the parking lot.   I’m sure it’s just a matter time, though.  After another five minutes we finally see the rat bastard’s Monte Carlo pull into the parking lot, then next to my Ninety-Eight where we’re all leaning against it.  I notice he doesn’t switch off his engine.

Considering the situation I can’t bother with pleasantries.  “Raleigh, you got our take?”

The twitchy bastard hands over a black gym bag from his passenger seat.  “Yeah, it’s all there.”

I give the bag to Bert as he hops back into my car so he can do a quick visual.  I bet no more than four seconds go by before he’s humming “mmhm” to himself, which isn’t good news.  “Raleigh, Raleigh, you’re short, man,” He finally says with that incredulous disbelief that raises his voice an octave or two.  “I see . . . ten . . . eleven . . . twelve grand here!  Four ways that’s only three grand, man.”

Tevin says, “Dude, that puts us out one k each.”

“I think somebody failed grade school math,” Percy says reaching for the piece that he keeps in his inside breast pocket, thankfully not pulling it.

The total take was twenty k with our cut being sixteen of that.  Nice and even, Steven.  So divide that by four and that should be four grand each.  But that ain’t the case, hombre.  Looking back at Raleigh I tell him to turn his car off and stay awhile, but—

“That’s all right,” He says, now brandishing his Glock nine at us.  “I’ve got other plans.”  Next thing I know he peels off in his Monte Carlo, leaving us not only with our cocks in our hands but now with a sever case of blue balls.  Naturally, the boys are livid.


“Lets chase his ass down!”

“Bert, Percy, don’t worry about it.”  They won’t believe it, but I’m actually prepared this time.  “I took out an insurance policy in case something like this happened.”

Acknowledgment paints Bert’s face.  “Let me guess, dude don’t know you’re banging his girl?”

“That’s only the half of it.”

Written: December 12 & 13, 2009. The full story originally published in February 2015 by Dead Guns PressThis sample is for electronic access and online archiving, and is intended for reading and reviewing purposes only – any other unauthorized use or dissemination is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2009 – 2016 by Brandon L. Rucker. All Rights Reserved.

Image by Joshua S. Hooten and is Copyright © 2016. | RuckerWrites | @RuckerWrites

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Call of Duty: A Cop’s Tale | An Excerpt

{ 959-word excerpt }

Before he made any attempt at action, Officer Bernie Reed sat in his cruiser and waited for Officer Taylor Guerrero to arrive at the scene, which was procedure.  Unlike the police officers seen on most television cop shows, metro patrolmen and patrolwomen rode alone in their department cruisers, yet still partnered up on shared areas of a particular beat.  Also, unlike the cops in those television shows, real cops often do not run sirens blaring with their cherries and blueberries flashing en route to a scene.  The goal was to catch perpetrators, not send the scurrying for safe cover.

When Officer Guerrero arrived, she stepped out of her department sedan and met him midway to the sidewalk that led to the urban residence.  Bernie noticed that the morning sunlight had accentuated Guerrero’s half-Latin features—her long, wavy brown hair, caramel skin, and deep brown eyes

“As always, perfect timing,” she said.

“The art of convenience is a trait that’s inbred in criminals, didn’t you know?” Reed said with more sincerity than sarcasm.

Guerrero’s lips formed something that was almost the complete opposite of a smile.  She said, “This better be worth me being late.”

He knew she was anxious to get the shift over with so that she could see her young son before his aunt carted him off to kindergarten.  First Watch was a tough shift to work for a single mother.

Officers Reed and Guerrero approached the rundown house that had certainly seen better days like most of the other houses on their beat.  Just before they reached the porch they heard a scream from inside, followed by the crashing of something made of glass against a wall.   The two officers continued their approach to the door, but with caution now.  Once on the porch they heard what sounded like a typical domestic conflict with the proverbial screaming and name-calling; typical of domestic disputes.   However, when they heard what sounded like the thud of a body slamming into a wall, they knew they had a serious situation.

Reed checked the door knob.  By the way it turned he assumed it was unlocked.  He should probably knock, but as the apparent struggle inside seemed to intensify, he scrubbed that option from his mind.

One.  .  .

Two.  .  .

Three.  .  .

Reed flung the door open.  “Police!”

He and Guerrero entered the house, greeted by the repugnant sight of a man—if, indeed society would deem him worthy of such a term—crouched above a woman with his fists balled and bloody.  He was a shirtless, roguish looking subject with long, brown, unwashed hair, a scraggly beard, and various tattoos decorating his bare chest and arms.  Reed sized him up to be approximately thirty years of age, maybe six-two and two-hundred pounds.  The tattoos were quite large and colorful, highly detailed and flashy.  The guy was a walking mural.  The woman, his wife, or whatever she was to him besides his apparent punching bag, lay on the living room floor just past the foyer, sobbing.  She bled from the nose and mouth from the apparent battering she had just taken from his ring-covered fists.  Her morning gown had been torn from the struggle, and bared one of her small, perky breasts.  The woman’s lengthy blonde hair had fanned around her head on the floor.  She looked like hell.  Self-conscious, she adjusted the robe to cover the exposed breast.

The shattering Reed and Guerrero had heard earlier looked to be the result of a ceramic lamp that somehow introduced itself to the living room wall.

The two officers stood in the small foyer, which connected to the living room. “Someone here call for us?” he inquired, though the answer was obvious.

Tattoo Guy—surprised to see the police in his home—rose anxiously from his victim and started to protest their intrusion.  “What the hell are you doing here?”

Guerrero said, “Just calm down, mister, and no one will get hurt.”

Reed heard Guerrero’s words fine, but he detected a hidden message in them.  Knowing a great deal about her background, he could only imagine how these domestic calls affected her.  He knew that as a young child Taylor Guerrero had been witness to her own mother being physically abused by her father, who had been an upstanding citizen on the outside world, and, most notably, a sober man, not the drunken stereotype that was expected to have routine volatile outbursts.  Bernie knew that on a basic human nature level, Guerrero was immediately put-off by Tattoo Guy and would have a major attitude toward him.

Neither officer had yet drawn their pistols, though Bernie had a feeling they would need to.   He was usually quite intuitive when it came to these situations.   It was like a latent talent of his to predict negative outcomes, though he was not a complete gloom-and-doom cynic.

The helpless woman sat up and very timidly scooted herself away from her abuser, toward the two police officers.

She yelled, “Get this bastard away from me!”  Her voice was hoarse and tears streamed down her reddened cheeks to mingle with the fast-clotting blood at the corner of her busted lips.

“Just be calm, ma’am” Reed advised.

“He’s a freak and he’s crazy!”

“Ma’am, please—”

“He’s just an ol’ meth head who puts his drugs before his family!”

Her husband, pointing at her, said, “You better shut your fuckin’ hole.”

“Enough!” Guerrero said.  She pointed at the woman, “You, calm down and stop yelling, and you…” she pointed at Tattoo Guy, “You just make sure you keep that stance and don’t go near her.”

Reed added, “We’d really rather not have to use any force, you understand?  So, please, just do what my partner suggested.”

Taken from a story originally written in 1995. The full story was previously featured in Local Heroes, a print anthology published in November 2011 by Static Movement, edited by Brandon L. Rucker. This sample is for electronic access and online archiving, and is intended for reading and reviewing purposes only – any other unauthorized use or dissemination is strictly prohibited.

This edition is copyright © 1995 – 2016 by Brandon L. Rucker. All Rights Reserved.

Cover provided by Jessy Marie Roberts and is copyright © 2011. | RuckerWrites | @RuckerWrites

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On Shadowy Ground | An Excerpt

{ 456-word excerpt }

Earlier I had thought it was something scurrying around in the foliage like a raccoon or some nocturnal rodent.  But this time it sounded like something bigger.  The movements were quite sluggish for a small animal.

I snapped my head around, surveying the scene, but in the gloom of night everything was gray and black, covered in shadows.  Naturally my display of alarm had alerted Jess.

“Quinn!  What’s wrong?”

“Shhh! Be quite,” I whispered.  “Did you hear that noise?”

“What noise?” she whispered back, thankfully.

I listened intently.


Then it came again but this time it was in the trees, up above.  And close by.

That, did you hear that?”

Jess wasn’t alarmed.  “Yeah, but it’s probably just some dumb animal.  No biggie, baby.”   I think her hormones were clouding her judgment.  She pulled me in close to her again and started That-Thing-She-Does to my neck.

I wondered if I was delusional.  However, the more Jess did her Thing, the more I just wanted her—spooks or no spooks.  After a while (preliminaries and all) we made the kind of wild passionate love normal teenagers in love did.  To my surprise and utter relief, I didn’t hear the suspicious noises during our tryst, although, that could’ve been because all I could hear was Jess’ ecstasy.

Later, after we got off the ground and straightened out our clothes, I decided we should call it an evening and head home.  But, as we made our way through the woods, something jumped out at us!

I couldn’t see it at first but I knew it was there.  Jess shrieked and immediately froze up.  Apparently she saw our visitor but I could not until . . . the shadow!  No, maybe it wasn’t a shadow.  Something pitch black stood directly in front of us, practically camouflaged by the cloak of night.  It was like a three-dimensional shadow, featureless and totally opaque.

It voiced an eerie squall like that of a tortured bird, and its breath stank and smelled literally of sewage or rotting garbage.

I would have screamed just like Jess, but the sudden icy grip of the shadow’s hand around my neck prevented that.

I struggled to get the damn thing to release its hold on me.  I wanted to tell Jess to run like hell.

{ end of excerpt }

Written in 1997. The full version of this story was previously featured in Thriller! A Young Adult Anthology, a print anthology published in October 2010 by Static Movement, edited by Chris Bartholomew. This excerpt exists here for sampling only – any other unauthorized use or dissemination is strictly prohibited.

This edition is copyright © 2016 by Brandon L. Rucker. All Rights Reserved.

Shadows image is copyright © 2016 it’s Respective Owner. All Rights Reserved. | RuckerWrites | @RuckerWrites

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