Friday, April 24, 2015

30 Days of Hell - The Road to Winning Kindle Scout and Getting Published, Part Four

My campaign closed on Sunday night, March 7th. I was notified by email that a review board would be reading my manuscript to determine whether if they felt it was something they could sell and that I would hear back within five business days.

In practical terms this means a person participating in the Kindle Scout program may wait a full week after their campaign is over to be told whether they will be published. In practice, my email came on Tuesday. The results?

Congraulations. You are being published.

A series of emails follows the initial contact email. A series of 'milestones' are set for you to accomplish before you get to talk to anyone at Amazon, and the first is getting your account setup, across multiple countries in the world, so that purchases of your book will be deposited to your account. It's a relatively straightforward process as information entered for the United States can be copied directly to forms involving other countries without an issue. Following the completion of this tax information, you are notified that you will receive an advance within 30 days. That was certainly the case for me, as my money was deposited by the first week of April.

After your tax information has been completed and a few days have been passed, you're finally presented the opportunity to speak with those running the Scout program at Amazon. While I won't divulge specific names here, all Kindle Scout winners (to this point) become well acquainted with the same names. The phone call itself, which takes place roughly within a week of your email notification, is to determine your plans, give some insight into Amazon's position, and to notify you of the rough timeline your book will follow before publication.

Of course, by the time of this phone call it's been a month since your Scout program began and an additional three weeks of email tag. That makes the waiting frustrating but in the end, quite worth it. Among some of the key information you're given is the fact that your book will be edited. While Amazon remains unsure as of now whether they will continue providing copy edit services to Scout winners, so far it seems they've been pleased with the results and the positive media that's resulted. One of the initial concerns with Amazon's Scout program was the lack of copy editing despite the massive retailer acting like a publishing label; the use of copy edit services helps dismiss that concern. Of course the edit won't begin until roughly two weeks after your phone conversation, and then will take somewhere in the area of a month and a half to complete. That means, from beginning to end, that the Scout program will take four to five months of your life before it's finally out of the door for publication. My current date is set for the first week of June, six months after I wrote Floor 21 and four months since I submitted it for consideration.

In writing this four part series, I've touched on everything from my writing process, the development of my book and finally, the obvious details of the Scout program. So what key points of advice could I leave for anyone considering submitting to the Kindle Scout program?

  • Be in it for the long haul. After writing your book and submitting it, it can be close to half a year before you're able to finally see your book out of the door and being read by buyers.
  • Be able to market yourself. A consistent trend among winners is their ability to get onto the Hot list for at least two weeks, and almost every winner I've talked to either has a following from past published works or has been able to effectively sell their current work to prospective readers. I myself generated a fandom by relentlessly lobbying my work to fans of the genre, taking out small advertisements and encouraging my readers to share the book and its general story with others.
  • Marketing is partly the ability to pitch your work and partly the ability to draw random viewers coming to the Scout website. What's the easiest way to do this? Create or contract compelling, high quality cover art that draws a reader's attention. Sales start with someone noticing your book. This goes for both traditional retailers and ebooks. Make your cover shine. 
  • On the same note, any good cover needs a good pitch. Cut and refine your two or three sentence elevator pitch until it's so good that you can sell the concept to someone in less than 30 seconds. If you have to take more than a minute to sell your book, you've lost the buyer.
  • Once again picking up off the last two points, a good cover and pitch won't help you win buyers and voters if your work is sloppy. I personally edit a book four times and sometimes five times before I feel it's complete, and did so with Floor 21. Amazon doesn't provide editing services until after you win, so if your readers are turned off by your terrible writing, the blame is on you.
  • Network. Social media is powerful if you use it wisely. Tweets thrown into the wind and Facebook posts that garner no responses are worthless. Post to places and writing groups with your idea first to see if you can garner a following. Cultivate that following by updating your fans frequently and engaging them in the voting  process. If they don't give you word of mouth, your book won't win and it certainly wouldn't sell. So make a compelling story people want to talk about.
  • You're not as good as you think you are. Listen when people voice concerns about your manuscript or campaign.
Over the years I've dealt with editors, publishers, agents and middlemen involved in the writing industry.  The common thread, from my time at Blizzard Entertainment, to my time as a sport journalists and my time in the Scout program, is that you have to write well and be aggressive in pitching your material. There are a thousand writers out there. Don't be the one that gets rejected, learns nothing, never improves and gives up. Maybe it's your writing that needs improving, or maybe it's your marketing, but either way get better and keep pushing.

Time's gonna' pass either way, whether you're working at it or not. So work.

I hope this series of posts has been helpful to all of you aspiring writers.

"You're gonna carry that weight."

Monday, April 13, 2015

30 Days of Hell - The Road to Winning Kindle Scout and Getting Published, Part Three

Kindle Scout took quite a bit of flack for posing as a hybrid publishing outfit. While claiming it was seeking to be reader powered publishing that would allow it to market indie authors whose works would go completely unedited, it was also posing partly as publishing outfit that would put its advertising power behind the books that were chosen (complete with a cash advance to published authors). This put Amazon into what was an awkward position in the press; it claimed its authors were independent yet they had the Amazon advertising budget behind them. That meant Amazon's brand was on the line, and that meant the sales giant felt the need to step in and provide editing assistance with manuscripts.

Not that the winners had badly written manuscripts. A brief survey of the winning authors revealed a number of previously published authors as well as novices with a fair amount of experience in other writing venues. In other words, almost all knew the rigors of self-editing and the value of a copy edit. It also became apparent that the winners were helped by previously established fan bases, since many were able to appeal to readers of their previously published books. In my case, having developed a fan base for Floor 21 through my various writing groups, I was able to multiply my votes by making simple requests to supporters who in turn passed those requests to others that were interested in the genre. I also benefited from taking out select advertisements. In this case I used Facebook to target friends of people that had already supported my author page; in other words, my ads were going to friends of supporters, and specifically they were targeted at fans of young-adult science fiction with a dystopian twist. This guaranteed the correct audience was being found and my click through rate was fairly decent. I never felt disappointed in my ad selection and responses.

The thirty days of voting was nerve wracking and I found myself checking my standing every hour of every day up until the final week. Over that time frame I never saw Floor 21 fall off the Hot List for more than hour before rebounding.

Books placed for selection on Kindle Scout are sorted into a variety of categories including Science Fiction & Fantasy, Mystery, and Romance. However, those books with the most votes on an hourly basis move into Amazon's 'Hot List'. The Hot List is important because it is the first set of books a visitor sees when they arrive on the Kindle Scout splash page. This is consistent with sales and marketing in general; be first, be loud and be present. People like winners and think they're sitting at the top for a justifiable reason. If a book's on the hot list, it must be because lots of people like it. This inclines them to vote for yours first. Even during periods when I wasn't advertising or wrangling my supporters into votes, I was constantly shuffling through the Hot List.

It's worth mentioning that the Hot List doesn't seem to be a 'ranked' list; books with the most votes aren't necessarily at the top of the Hot List. The sorting seems randomized, so generally it's just important to be on there. Being on the list shows you're getting votes, and if you're on the list even when you're not marketing it means that people are arriving at the Kindle Scout page, seeing your book and voting for you even if they've never previously seen your work.

You also don't need to be on the list every day of the week or even the entire month. While my book remained on the list for 30 days, other books that were on the list for perhaps two weeks were selected. This is because a flood of votes only fast tracks your book for consideration by Amazon's editorial board, which then makes decisions on whether to choose your book or not. Several books on the Hot List consistently for the majority of their time in the program were not chosen while other books that vanished after two and a half weeks were selected. The decision by Amazon's selection team is not only based on votes but also based on whether Amazon thinks it can sell your book.

At any rate, after 30 days you're notified that your book has finished its campaign and that now it's in the hands of the selection team. That began the next few days of waiting... days that created even more hell for me. 

An Englishman from Mexico

"I met you on the 13th of October, a date I shall remember forever but that you will never remember. If there were ever a more fitting metaphor for a relationship then I cannot imagine it. You were smiling beneath the crimson lights of the bar, washing away memories I would later find out were of your ex-fiancee and the relationship you'd left behind. I was there reluctantly, dragged at the pestering of my friends for an evening of revelry I neither craved nor desired. My heart had already been broken ten times over in the course of the past few years and my desire for marriage and a lasting relationship was thoroughly buried. Yours was just beggining. I was older. You were younger. I was remembering. You were forgetting.

We were, from the start, ships drifting in opposite directions.

So of course it was to my great surprise when a friend of mine dragged you to our table. In the ensuing hours the alcohol would flow, far greater for you than me, and we'd fill the evening with tales and confessions of lost loves and broken hearts. Somehow, in the midst of beer drenched conversations and tear filled admissions, we'd find a moment in which our two hearts were joined by our hurts. Which in retrospect was perhaps not the greatest way of beginning a relationship and yet, there it was.

You could barely remember me the next day while I remembered you all too well. You barely wanted to venture a date with me given the grounds of our first meeting. And yet we found ourselves having drinks and meals, sharing laughs and joys, yet our ships still sailed by two different winds. I was tired of trying to marry. You were still, unexpectedly to me, seeking it with passion.

How ironic that in the end you were the one person I wanted to be with more than I'd wanted to be with anyone in years and yet I could not give you the one thing you wanted. Our destinations were far too different, our journeys taking us into different waters. And so, one day, our ships lost communications. That day you were gone, and my first true happiness gone with the whisper of the wind.

Which is why I find it so strange now to sit here, my journey having come full circle. I've returned to the port I departed all those years ago. Of course you have long found your destination and vanished over the horizon while I linger, alone once more. And yet I find that, somehow and perhaps miraculously, I have found the will to again commit. It is likely on account of you. If I hadn't known the pleasure of your company and the warmth of your voice, I might never have found the desire to give myself to a person, utterly and completely, again. Such a shame it took the loss of someone so incredible to make me realize that."

James Pemberton paused as he lifted his thumb from the recording button on his phone. For a long moment he stared at its screen, his eyes pinned to the file shining at him from behind the illuminated glass: To Christina. Finally his finger slid over the file, illuminating it in red before striking a final button at the side.

"Deleted," he grumbled as the file was lost into the ether. "If only memory was so easy to discard."

Sunday, April 12, 2015

30 Days of Hell - The Road to Winning Kindle Scout and Getting Published, Part Two

I originally heard about the Kindle Scout program in early November and at that time decided to submit my book, The Dream Map, to see if it would get a shot. Unfortunately I'd already set it to sell through the standard Kindle system and so it was ineligible. Of course rejection wasn't a new phenomenon in the world of writing. Though I'd found success in academia and doing short stints for Blizzard Entertainment, a fully published novel still eluded me. As far as my experience with Kindle Scout, I assumed at the time that my relationship with it was over. Brief, experimental and completely nondescript, it was much like an unmemorable movie or inoffensive book. Simply state, it was not something that would stay in my mind either way.

I flirted in the halls of NaNoWriMo groups that November month, engaging with others in discussions of technique and style. I had more experience than some others, including time negotiating with agents, dealing with editors and the like. At its worst I was bored by repetetive questions and authors unwilling to understand the rules before attempting to break them. At its best I was intrigued by story concepts and found myself in lengthy discussions of 'why' we write.

However, it's important to remember that I never actually started writing a novel for NaNoWriMo. I had no reason to. After all, I'd never had any difficulties motivating myself to write and I already had books I'd completed, though they lingered unpublished. I had no reason that simply write another novel just for the purpose of saying I 'won' NaNoWriMo. No, Floor 21 started for completely different reasons.

It was a late Sunday and I was catching up on episodes of The Walking Dead when I saw a young woman rappelling down an elevator shaft. At its bottom awaited hordes of zombies but if she could only make it through, she'd find her way to freedom. The girl had been imprisoned by hospital authorities for weeks and this was her moment to flee. As I saw her working her way down into a pile of broken and zombified bodies, I wondered to myself: What if she had always lived in that building? What if this wasn't her returning to her group? Instead, what if she'd always lived at the top and had no idea what awaited on ground floor?

That was the initial inspiration of an idea, and I quickly typed out a 1,200 word 'recording' of Jackie. This writing exercise was experimental for me since I'd never attempted to write in first person, never attempted to write a female protagonist and was attempting to write it as if she was leaving recordings behind. That idea, of leaving recordings behind, was taken from a staple of horror conventions used in horror video games from Bioshock to Dead Space. But somehow it just worked and the premise was intriguing. I posted the sample to several writing groups, including my NaNoWriMo group. And you know what?

It exploded.

Just about everyone who read it had an overwhelmingly positive response to the material and the character. Inspired by the response, I worked furiously that week. It was Thanksgiving week and my workload was light since students were not holding classes (I run a small tutoring agency). Within the week I was done; I'd written 50,000 words in a week, finished the first draft of Floor 21 and inadvertently won NaNoWriMo.

Now all I had to do was get it published. Enter Kindle Scout.

Monday, April 6, 2015

30 Days of Hell - The Road to Winning Kindle Scout and Getting Published, Part One

A bit about me. 

My name is Jason Luthor and I am a former writer for Blizzard Entertainment. During my time as what was essentially outsourced writing talent, I worked with the writing team to develop Protoss storylines that at the time were going to be part of the Protoss campaign for Starcraft 2. I'm not saying I was the greatest writer, but I was good enough to get paid working for a really well established entertainment company, and I had fairly solid mastery of the short story writing form.

In 2012 I was completing my Masters Degree. During what I can only call a hectic hell on earth situation, I was splitting time as a full time Masters student and a high school teacher. It wasn't glamorous and I was exhausted all the time, but one thing I did learn along the way was the importance of editing. For a few years, since my time with Blizzard, I'd been trying to get a book out the door. However I, like many short story writers, did not 'get' what it took to take a short story and keep it interesting over the length of a novel. A lot of my problems would have been solved with just some decent editing.

The major problem was that the graduate program was so writing heavy that somewhere I lost my passion. That summer, with my Masters degree in hand, I was sparked by the movie Man of Steel to start writing some Superman fanfiction. I had great reviews and decided to try Batman fanfiction and again, great reviews. One of the constant comments was that they loved my characterizations and that I'd nail the personalities.

That part's important, because it's exactly what I didn't do when I tried my hand at writing a book again. My next novel, The Dream Map, had an intriguing plot that got interest from agents. In fact I went through a lengthy process, and still maintain a close relationship with, an agent in Los Angeles. One of the greatest pieces of feedback he gave me during the editing process was this: "I can't tell your characters apart."

Something he mentioned to me that always stuck was that he could flip to any page in a Harry Potter book and tell who was speaking without having to be told by the author. That, he said, was why my book wasn't sticking. I started to think about that and realized that the successes I'd had in fanfiction were assisted by the fact that my characters had been per-developed for me. It was easy for them to each have their own voices because I'd been hearing those voices on tv, in movies, or reading them in comics for years.

Giving characters their own voice is, in my opinion, one of the greatest problems amateur writers face. So many people come up with intriguing concepts or plots, and put so much into world building, that they forget to make their characters really come alive as individuals. As one fellow writer told me, "Disney doesn't sell original stories, it sells characters." This was exactly what I'd been missing for years. I'd nailed it in short story form where you didn't need to pay so much attention for such a long span of time to characterization, and my novel length fan fictions came naturally because the comic world was hammered into my subconcious. But me? Coming up with my own characters with their own voice? Even going back to rewrite The Dream Map, I was discouraged because I realized I'd have to tear it apart root and branch to really invest it with snappy dialogue and character moments. I just didn't have it in me.

So from the verge of abandoning my individual writing entirely, how did I end up here, with people praising the character of Jackie and with my book, Floor 21, on the verge of publication?

Let's just say thank God for NaNoWriMo and the digital age of book publication. But more on that soon.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Floor 21: Descent - Recordings Nine and Ten

Recording Nine.
It’s my first time in the Deep Creep.
I’m scared as hell.
It’s not the ‘real’ Deep Creep. I mean, we’re above Floor 21. But they’ve taken us to a lonely part of the north wing. The more we walked, the more and more Creep there was. At first you could feel the humidity from all the moisture that the Creep produces, not to mention its, uh, ‘body heat.’ My pants literally melded with my legs as the moisture glued them together. Then the Creep started to get thicker, piling on top of itself as it grew along the hallway floor into those colonies that dad warned us about. I mean this was a legit serious situation and we had a full team of Security, all with those wicked flamethrowers strapped to their backs. That should tell you something about how worried they were about this part of the tower.
Still, I didn’t really get stressed until we got to the end of a hallway. It was just a dead end with a single door, but there was this pale red light that hugged both sides of its frame from overhead. Lowered over it was the metal shutter used to close rooms during a Lockdown. You know, to keep the Creep out. Abbot nodded to the door before talking. ‘”This is what we call The Red Room. In actuality it’s an apartment with a series of rooms, each of which is saturated in Creep. That’s partly the result of natural development and partly the result of the Science department stimulating growth here. There’s a singular purpose as to why we encourage that much growth in this room, and that is because it is to test you to see whether or not you can stand up to the paranoia and hallucinations that the Creep evokes.”
At the time I thought he was trying to scare us, but the look on his face made me think twice. “There is a legitimate danger to this room, which is why we’ve brought along a full Security compliment. Should you get into danger, we hope to be able to pull you out before you’ve suffocated to death.” Abbott tapped at a keypad on the wall and a slamming rattle echoed into the hall as the shutter lifted. My eyes went to the handle and suddenly I felt like time was just screeching to a halt. The commander gestured to the door. “You will each enter alone. You will each spend a half hour within the apartment. Finally, you will each activate a hidden sensor that has been secured within. It looks similar to the Pocket Space Generator, albeit a dark color. It is hidden somewhere in the room and must be activated. Afterward, only listen for the sound of the red door when it opens. That is your time to come out.”
He left the convo hanging like it was just that simple and after that we were called at random. A few people had to go in before me, but I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I had to wait for my turn. I mean, it was kinda’ weird just sitting around outside. At first I tried to joke around with Tommy but that red light just creeped me the hell out. I think the first half hour was the easiest, since we didn’t know what to expect. Actually, yeah, it was pretty chill. There we were, all camped out in the hall like we were on vacation or something. We talked and of course it was all about what could be inside. A lot of the new recruits were just like me, wondering if the commander was just trying to psych us out or something.
Thing was, the whole time, Abbott looked like he was on edge. The Security members he had with him weren’t playing around, either. These were big guys, like, Floor 1 sized giants, and none of them relaxed or even tried talking to each other. The commander kept walking down the hall and back to the door, eyeing us, then saying something real quick to some of the Security. Once in a while he’d check his tablet, but every time he’d go back to the red door and just stare at it, like he knew something was coming.
I don’t remember exactly what I was saying to Tommy when it happened. I was probably talking about something stupid, like what flavor of gum I like most. All I know is I was looking at him one second then flying onto my feet the next. A scream pierced the hallway and suddenly all of us were backing away while Security moved to the front. Abbot held out a hand, holding them back while he withdrew his sword. Somehow its orange light was comforting, probably because I knew it could cut through anything that would try to come through the door. The commander checked something on his tablet then gave the team a hand signal. We all tucked back down onto the ground while Security eased up but, nothing was the same after. I couldn’t joke about gum after hearing that scream, and it was a long ten minutes until I saw Abbott move to the  door. He’d barely opened it before a guy I don’t know well, I think his name’s Hershel, literally jumped out into the hall. He was breathing super heavy and his skin was about as white as the paper in a book. Immediately one of the guys from Security had a blanket around him while they took him down the hall.
So, not all of the team reacted like that. I’d probably even say that most didn’t, and nobody else ever came back out as bad as Hershel. But what stuck in my head was his look when he hit the ground. His fingernails were carving into the carpet and his eyes… just when he looked up he stared right at me and… it was like he was trying to scream but nothing would come out of his mouth. He just gasped and heaved while he was trying to pull himself forward, and the way he was looking at me… I felt like he was burning something into my soul.
Abbot acted like it was nothing and while Hershel was getting help, the commander was already calling up the next member of the team. I kinda’ just sat in a daze and time kept rolling even if I couldn’t notice it. I was just… I dunno’. I kept staring back at Hershel as he took drinks from his bottle of water, but he avoided looking at any of us for the rest of the time we were there. Anyway, I was so out of it I didn’t realize my name‘d been called until Tommy elbowed me in my ribs. I snapped him a look until before I realized everyone was staring at me. It was my turn. Abbot already had the door open.
 “Cadet Coleman,” he said as he gestured toward the door. I couldn’t see anything inside. It was like the open jaw of a monster and I was about to step inside. Tommy gave me a pat on the shoulder and wished me luck which, I mean, of course I appreciated it. Still. It was my time to go.
Did I mention Hershel never came back to the program?
Recording Ten.
I stare into the darkness as the door clicks behind me. The sound is kept company by the endless darkness that fills my vision when the light from the hall vanishes. It’s got me freaking out already and my hands are already shaking by the time I grab my flashlight. The click when it comes alive explodes in the quiet as a halo of light burns away parts of the darkness. I flip the light back and forth, spying out the room as quick as I can, but the first thing I notice is that this place is huge. Like, I’ve talked before about how big my apartment is compared to people that lived on the lower floors. This is something else though, something bigger.
I’m staring at what had to have been be the living room, once.  There’s a couch facing a television and two big, comfy looking chairs on either side. At least, once upon a time they were comfy. Now they’re slick with Creep juice and the light reflects off their surfaces. The tv’s been hit by something and there’s a big crack across the top right, which probably happened because of some panicking rookie. It really only has my attention for a second as I try to keep cool, but I can feel my breath struggling to get out of my lungs as I take a few steps into the black. The next thing I notice is a desk and some drawers against the wall. I have to find that sensor before my half hour is up, so I slide along over there. Literally, the floors are slick and I can already see drips of moisture falling in long strings from the ceiling.
When I get to the desk I feel pretty psyched that they gave us gloves, because the amount of juice on the drawer handle is thick. I slide open the drawer and take a look Inside. There’s some papers scattered around with a bunch of numbers scribbled on them, but nothing I think looks too important. I slide it closed and move to the next drawer, but struggle with it for a second. It fights me as I try to get it open so I grab the handle with both hands and yank it. I nearly strip it out of the desk as I tear at it, then feel my heels sliding on the ground. I’m about a half second away from screaming as I feel my body tumbling backward, my back slamming into the slick goo that saturates the carpet. My breath accelerates as I quickly sit up, the back of my clothes wet with Creep gunk. Worst is that I can feel it on my skin along with short jolts of electricity that dart through my neck. It’s something I’ve felt before, whenever I’ve actually touched Creep. It has an effect on you, but I don’t know how strong the effect is if you haven’t had direct contact. This is just the moisture so I hope it can’t be too bad. Shaking my head, I step back to the desk, while the whole time my hands are prying the wet sweatshirt from my back.
I have to shake it off as I inspect the drawer, though I’m already kinda’ keying into the fact that Abbott probably didn’t hide the sensor someplace this easy. Of course I can’t be sure so I’m forced into searching every last inch of the thing. Again, it’s just more paper. They’re moist and on the verge of falling apart but for some reason I decide to be gentle with them. I mean, I’m sure the next cadet will want to read these, right? I’m joking to myself to keep calm while I replace everything and close the drawer. My light glides around the room but doesn’t show much. Well, besides the fact that for the first time, I’m getting a really good look at the walls. They’re just caked in Creep. It’s sliding down from the ceiling and piling together along the edges, clumping together into colonies that I know I have to stay away from. At least, if I want to stay alive. I make a promise to myself to stay away from the edges if I can possibly do it because, I mean, I just don’t want to be the cadet that gets themself killed because they stepped into a pile of Creep.
The light keeps traveling until it freezes on the far wall, where my eyes find a door. It’s like I can’t take a step without sucking wind and force my legs to move, ‘cause even crossing short distances in here is terrifying. The problem isn’t the Creep so much, since I’ve had plenty of experience being around it. At least, I don’t think so. Combined with the darkness though, with not knowing where I’m going, it’s all really just… okay, I’ll say it. It’s scary as hell.
I can hear the soft sound of squelching beneath my feet as I step over the moist carpet, with each step feeling like it’s sinking into the ground. My eyelids are pinned apart as I get closer to the door and I feel my palm shaking as it flattens against the wood. At the same time that I start to push forward on the door, all the breath leaves my body. With one big gasp I shove my way through and practically burst into the next room.
For a second I’m left confused as my light shoots back and forth while I spin, desperately scanning everything around me. Still, it’s not too bad here, even if there are no windows anywhere to give you some comfort. Even seeing the black skies from the rooftop is preferable to being in this darkness, where the Creep feels like it’s crushing down on you from every side. The worst part is the way it feels like it’s breathing, with its splotchy skin trembling and exhaling as the muscles underneath shiver. The walls are alive and moving with veins that pump beneath the skin, something I notice as I light them up. I’ve… never seen that, ever, even when I had to fight Creepy Sally. It’s like I’m walking inside of some giant’s lung, and I can actually hear as wind breathes out of the walls.
I’m in some sort of dining room, though. The tablet’s set with dishes and placemats, like people were getting ready to eat before the Creep struck. Now the chairs have tendrils of muscle wrapping up their legs and the dishes have shallow pools of saliva building in them. That’s not really the depressing part though. When I lift my light I catch a portrait with it. It’s a big painting hanging above the opposite wall with what you’d call a standard family unit. I mean, there’s a dad, a mom, a boy and a girl. There’s even a dog in the painting to make you feel that much worse, and it’s one of those things that reminds you this isn’t a game. People lived here a long time ago. They might have even died here. The worst part of the painting is the Creep, though. It’s formed a thick layer over the paint that’s damaged the material, so their faces looked twisted and black from rot.
As I turn to my right I find a staircase. I’m assuming Abbott wanted to hide the sensor in the most annoying place possible, so it has to be upstairs. My legs hesitate but end up forcing me along, carrying me to the first step. It creaks under my weight and the noise echoes forever into the darkness. Then I take another step, moving upwards again. The wood beneath my feet bends and complains as it aches under my legs, and all I can do is keep my light focused on the top of the stairs. 
Knocking raps my ears and I flip around and gaze into the room below me. I’m trapped halfway between floors, unsure if I should continue, as I listen for any more noises. The flashlight searches around, lighting up different spots in the dining room but finding nothing. So, with the pace in my chest starting to pick up, I turn around to continue my climb.
My gasp is almost a scream when I see the wall at the top burst to life with a red hue. My eyes are pinned to the sight until, after what feels like forever, the light dies away. “Maybe… maybe it’s a light from the sensor,” I whisper as I try to take another step up. My shoes are practically filled with concrete and every new step I take feels like I’m about to break through the stair boards. The wall above waits for me and gets closer with each step, until finally I can see onto the second floor.
As I settle onto the next level I’m confronted by a hallway. The door at the end is cracked slightly open, like it’s calling for me to enter, and even if it’s not far it feels like it’ll take eternity to cross in the dark. There are two more doors on my left but they’re both closed, so I decide to take my chances with the open room first. Might as well get it out of the way, right?
It feels like I’m walking through an ocean as I force myself forward and struggle just to take steps. My legs drag while my breath comes in shallow explosions, while my ears fill with the sound of my heart as I start to reach toward the handle. My fingers are inches from the door when they seize up at a noise, and I feel my body clutch up as my breath comes to a stop. There’s a rumbling inside and the door shakes as a deep moan passes out into the hall.  Instantly I yank my hand away while I try to make sense of it, realizing it sounds like wood heaving beneath a heavy weight. My feet pull me a step backward and my eyes become saucers as the door start to groan and swing open, revealing a dark bathroom infested with gigantic Creep growths spilling down the walls.
My light covers every inch of the room before I step foot inside. As I rest my hand on the doorframe I feel the material give beneath my fingertips, the wood kinda’ disintegrating under the pressure. I pull my hand back and stare at the frame, wondering if the whole room could collapse if I’m not careful. It’s narrow inside, and I’m sandwiched between a bathtub, sink and toilet. No matter where I turn something’s right in front of me and I start to feel my breath racing as the darkness crushes down around me. I’m trying to keep cool while I spy the inside of the tub, which is just… ugh. It’s a mucus infested mess overflowing with saliva and Creep growths that bubble right over the edges. Small tendrils probe through the air and I twist to keep away. When I do, my hip bumps the sink and I spin around, my eyes finding the mirror and, inside, my reflection. Alongside the shadow of someone else’s. I stifle a scream as I spin again, my light doing cartwheels as I try to find the dark intruder.
I can hear my breath and my heart in sync inside of my ears, both of them racing as I try to force myself to calm down. “You’ve been in this before Jackie,” I say, bending over and holding my knees while the light stares off at the floor.  “It’s just the Creep playing games with you. Nobody’s really here.”


I shoot straight up at the sound of my name and my light explodes into the hallway. “Who the hell is out there?” I squeak to no answer. “Is this part of the test? Is someone in here with me?” That’s the thing. I don’t know if the Creep is supposed to know your name or not. I don’t even know if it’s supposed to be able to talk. That spill I took downstairs must have gotten more of the juice into my system than I thought because this is almost as bad as the first time I ever decided to just grab a handful of the Creep to see what would happen. That voice might even make it worse.
“You’re hallucinating,” I tell myself as I inch into the hallway and light up the nearest door. “Nothing can happen to you if you stay calm. The Creep only reacts when you get too scared. It can’t do anything to you if you stay cool.” I stand in the darkness for a long minute as I regain my breath, then move to the door nearest the bathroom. For a second I shut my eyes and think about anything else than where I am. Home, with mom and dad, with all their weirdness, would be preferable. Better yet, a dance party with Allison. I’d even take a conversation with Tommy right now.
If nothing else, thinking about them helps me keep my head straight. While my pulse is relaxing I turn the door handle and watch it slow arc inward, like it’s giving me permission to step inside the room. It’s almost completely abandoned, with just a desk in the corner and an old bookshelf nearby. I explore the shelf first, scanning the covers but finding no books I recognize. Plus they all look like they’re about to crumble into dust, so I leave them alone. After a few more minutes I’m able to convince myself to head over to the desk, a soft thud breaking the silence as my feet move across the floor. It’s not until I’m standing right over the desk that I realize all the drawers have been removed. I came over here for nothing.
My scream comes uninterrupted when I hear the door shut behind me, my eyes running to the entrance while the rest of my body locks up. This has to be a setup. One of Abbott’s men has to be in here, or at least my hallucinations have to be super out of control. What I know is that I’m frozen in the middle of the room, but that doesn’t look like it’s keeping the walls from moving. They’re trembling and coming closer and it’s not because of the Creep. There’s something darker than the darkness there, and somehow I force myself to switch off my flashlight so I can get a better look. Everything goes dark but I can make out these figures standing in a row against the walls, and they all watch as my breath stops and my muscles completely stop. The beat of my heart is so intense my ears feel the drumming and pressure as my pulse starts to hammer out of control. It feels like my chest is going to burst open as I see the Demons raising their hands, their faces lighting up in pairs of red eyes, like lasers cutting through the black. In one motion they all stretch out toward me, then begin to push against the wall, like they’re ready to pry themselves free. Finally my heart feels like it’s about to seize up and I dash for the exit, grabbing its handle and throwing the door open. My feet give out and I fall into the hallway, spinning around and flashing my light into the empty room behind me. Nothing is moving. Nothing is there.
The halo of sad light explores the hall but everything  looks normal or at least, you know, as normal as a Creep infested hallway full of paranoia induced hallucinations should look like. I’m trying to be funny, but I’m not laughing. My forehead ismarinating as sweat comes down in waves and I can feel drops anchoring on the tip of my nose. The only noise in the hall is my breath as it pounds its way out of my lips, but I’m still frozen. There’s a long minute before I flash my light at the one door still closed and realize I still need the sensor and that there’s one place left to look.
It takes a second before I’m able to control my body again and another minute before I can get myself worked up enough to approach the final door. It’s not like there’s anything different about it, but it feels like there’s something behind it, like something dark is seeping out from the cracks. It creates a tingling in my skin that explodes as the noise of each step I take explodes in my ears. All of this is making my breath race but I snap to reality when I find myself in front of the door. My hands are drenched with sweat and can barely turn the handle, but the door cracks open with a groan before it curves away.
I’m staring at a bedroom. The bed is just soaked with saliva and all the sheets are a wet mess. The nightstand is practically a small pillar of Creep, and the walls are just piles of colonies growing on top of each other. I can hear the room wheezing as orifices in the Creep wall breath outward and with gusts of humid air that glues to my skin. My feet stick to the floor as juices linger on my shoes and stick to me with every step, a sick squelch coming with every move I make inside the room. There’s something else, too. My light was a pale yellow until five seconds ago but now looks like it’s filtered through a red haze. It’s one of the most common signs that you’re in a deep part of the Creep and it happens on the lower floors. Still, it feels ten times as terrible while I’m there in the bedroom, surrounded by the thickest Creep buildup I’ve ever seen. Even the ceiling looks like it’s about to give from all of the buildup and tumors I can see sagging from above.
As I step inside I check the door behind me because, I mean, of course. I don’t need it closing on me again. Well, if it ever really did close on me in the other room. I’m slowly walking the edge of the room, my hands going over the dresser. Nothing’s there except more pictures. Each one of them has at least the husband and wife, and some of them have the kids. All the pictures are decaying, like I’m staring at the corpses of this family. Their smiles are staring at me from behind black rotted masks. It’s grim but it just gets worse when my search of the drawers comes up empty. I’m not sure how long I’ve been in here, but I know I want to get out. I just… I have to get this done. When I look toward the bed I realize if the sensor’s anywhere in this room, it’s either somewhere in the nightstand, or buried in the mattress. Not wanting to risk the nightstand first, I shuffle the pillows and covers around. It’s obvious they’ve already been searched since the covers are a mess, so I’m not the first Scavenger with this idea. Of course I find nothing.
Giving up on the bed I look at the nightstand. More than half of it is buried in Creep and tendrils are wrapping their way up the edges. I mean, I can still see the drawer at the top, but as I reach my hand out I pause when my fingers start shaking. I can remember seeing people grabbed like this when they were close to the Creep and I don’t have any weapons on me. I know the Security team’s outside but… that’s a long run up the stairs. At least, it feels like it.
The force I use to swallow is enough to make me gag for a second and I turn away, heaving as I struggle to breathe in the thick, humid air. I take as big a gulp of it as I can, turn, and force myself to yank open the drawer. My heart’s drumming in my chest as I look over the edge and stare into the dresser.
And there it is.
My wrist jerks downward and I scream as a pulpy tendril wraps its way up my arm, dragging me to a knee. With my free hand I grab at the top of the dresser, squeezing the edges as I try to keep myself from collapsing onto the ground. I can feel splinters digging into my skin and my fingernails cut into the wood while the Creep pulls at me so hard that I can feel my arm bone about to jerk out of the socket.
“Help!” I’m about to scream when my mouth is suddenly covered shut. My eyes shoot open as what feels like fingers stretch across my lips and along my chin. Suddenly the humid, hot air of the Creep is passing over my ear as another hand walks its way down my arm. I struggle but I’m captured in the grip of the tendrils and this person’s arms, and no matter how hard I try to pull free, every struggle just makes it seem like my arm is going to sever itself from my body.
“You interest me, Jackie,” the creature says, holding my head back to him, his chest rising and falling with his thick breath. “I have word you would like to know what Angels are. I hope we might find out together.”
A kick of air blasts across my face and suddenly I’m free, my body flying backward as I pull myself from the Creep. I collapse onto my side with my body drenched in the moist juices of the room. At the same time I feel something in my hand, metallic and round. Like a Pocket Space Generator. It forces a scream from me that’s both terrified and relieved, and I slam the top of the device. A red light bursts from it as I yank myself off the disgusting floor, my fingers shoving into pulpy muscle and soft mucus as I force myself out of the room. As I explode out of the door it seems like the hallway’s stretching out to my right, growing longer and longer so that no matter how many steps I run I can never reach the end. But suddenly I’m flying down the stairs and there’s a door of light that’s burning so bright that I feel like I’m running into the sun. I hit the exit with so much speed that I rocket out and into the main corridor again, sliding along the ground as I come to a halt, the entire team jumping around me to see if I ‘m okay.
Abbott’s voice calls them off as he tears his way to the front of the crowd.  “Everyone back!” he screams, his gloved hand grabbing me by the arm and hauling me to my feet. “She’s covered in Creep! Security!”
Two of the guards are all over me in an instant, their blankets swiping down along my body and squeezing the excess juices off my face and neck. I can feel as they rip the sweatshirt and pants off of me but I’m not exactly in the right mind to care about modesty. The next thing I know I’m being led away in my delicates with double blankets draped around me.
That was when the blackout hit.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Essay: The Slippery Slope That Leads To Rape

All the world's a flutter with the insistence that we pay more attention to women's rights and voices. It's an era when the gentleman of yesterday can no longer be a man and the virtuous women that embodied society's honor can no longer be found. Of course, under such circumstances it becomes necessary for our society to look deeply into a mirror. Within it will not find the abyss, but the answers to the great malaise that possesses its when any conversation of sexual assault rears its ugly head. Quite obviously, in a world where the gentleman has become a relic of antiquity, it has become ever more incumbent upon women to guard themselves from the brute that is the 21st century man. I propose that women of all races and cultures look most closely to themselves to discover the secrets to guarding against the wiles of the sexually improprietous male.
Before we cast our sharpened eyes across the world, it falls to us to observe those most liberated of women, those of western society, are those who most obviously present the most prime of targets for the wandering invader. Or are we not to believe the word of that most upstanding symbols of civic virtue, the highly trained constables who daily risk their lives on our streets? Are we to doubt them when they say
'You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."
It should be quite obvious to even the least educated among us that a woman's mean of dressing is the most obvious of invitations to lude gentlemen callers. After all, though she be not a prostitute, she certainly seems to wear the uniform. Though perhaps, given the raucous uproars that have so greatly exaggerated the aggressive actions of police officers, you stand among those that cast a suspicious light upon those brave fellows that guard our safety. Then may we not at least agree that those who inhabit the ivory towers of our greatest intellectual institutions may be trusted when they argue that women are most likely fabricating these encounters?
"We have, we had, on this campus last semester three cases of young women who after having done whatever they did with the young men, and then it didn't turn out the way they wanted it to turn out -- guess what they did?" he said. "They went to [the university's Department of] Public Safety and said, 'He raped me.'
And even if one chooses, in the face of all secular statements, to question the authority of both our official constabulary as well as our guardians of intellectual progression, perhaps it may be agreed that at least the leaders of our great Western religions know best when they argue
"Well, there’s always a sin under other sin. There’s a root sin... ‘We have to find the sin in your life that caused your rape."
Should it not be obvious to all by now that the women of our Western nations, freed from previous shackles, have perhaps overstepped bounds not set by man but by nature? It seems an analysis of the situation clearly outlines that those assaulted have by some manner invited the assault. Why, even a young girl can quite clearly be held personally accountable for the invitations she sends out. For what young man can restrain the bodily insistence of nature? Certainly the police of the great nation of Australia were not avoiding the duties of their office when they told this young, thirteen year old girl that
"I didn't have enough evidence to show, because I went out in clothes that was pretty much asking for it. "
Quite obviously our Western women have badly influenced the younger sort. However, turn not your gaze only to the naive youngsters being so viciously set upon by the negative examples being set in our culture. Even the women in the neighboring Middle East have taken to such lascivious behavior that they have quite rightly been set upon by their less inhibited male compatriots. Even the Imams of the Muslim religion have seen the influence it has had on their clothing.
“Women are not entitled to respect when they walk around without a Hijab. They are to blame for it when they are attacked,” Imam Shahid Mehdi said.
And before one assumes that the nefarious influences of Western inconsideration have affected only those of the Near East, watch closely its effects on our long treasured relationship with the good people of India, who argue
"A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy," Mukesh Singh, one of the six rapists convicted in the 2012 attack, says in the documentary, because "a decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night."
It must be set clear from all such evidence as we have before us that the problem lies clearly with women who have not taken the necessary precautions to safeguarding themselves from the less savory of our male societal members. Think not only of the most blatant examples of sexual extravagance women have demonstrated. Instead we must look to the loose morals of the 13 year old and the creeping degradation infecting the other great cultures of the world. For if a woman cannot, at a minimum, restrict her clothing to a hijab and restricting herself to staying indoors after nine in the evening, can she truly lay claim that she was raped?