Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Corrupting The Youth of America

The other day, I spent my morning molding impressionable young minds at one of our local high schools. A good friend of mine is an English teacher, and twice a year I speak to his classes about writing. The kids in his classes are always funny, smart, and observant.

I usually have a favorite question. This year it was: "Do you feel like a psychopath when you write?" My immediate reaction was to laugh. Horror writers have that reputation. As if we have a basement full of corpses. That's not true. They're really in the attic.

I choose topics and stories that get under my skin. Write scenes that disturb me, bother me. Hopefully that creates the same reaction in the reader. And the greater and more disturbing the evil, the greater the triumph when the good guys win in the end (at least with some of my endings).

A few of the kids always want to be writers. They ask for my best advice. I always tell them to write a lot and read a lot. Sitting down and putting words on the page is the only way I know to become a writer. A thousand words per day nets you a first draft in two or three months.

I'm going back next week to talk to another class. We'll see if I get the psychopath question again.  In the meantime, I'll practice my dead-eyed stare and creepy laugh.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Excerpt from Forgotten - Chapter Two

So far I've posted the Prologue and Chapter One from my work-in-progress, Forgotten. As I write this blog post, the family and I are re-watching some of The Walking Dead episodes from Season One. Poor, stupid Merle still gets left on the roof.

Here's the excerpt. It's uncorrected copy. Please don't redistribute. Copyright 2012 Anthony Izzo.

Chapter Two
Jess Armstrong pulled her Dodge Durango into a slanted parking slot at the Forgotten Diner. It was a low-slung white building. The lights inside glowed bright, given the restaurant the qualities of a beacon in the dark night. It was along the town's main drag and she got out of the Durango and walked inside. 
The counters continued with the theme of gleaming white. She'd expected to inhalde the aromas of meatloaf and fresh coffee, but she smelled nothing of the sort. The front counter was empty, and there were a dozen red vinyl stools lined up. She had driven all night to get here and her stomach ached from hunger. There was a piece of pie in a clear glass pie case sitting on the counter. That and a cup of coffee would do it.
She took a seat at the counter. A greasy menu was tucked between two napkin holders on the counter. She took it out and looked over it. If the grill wasn't closed, a burger actually sounded good, something with bacon and blue cheese that wouldn't help her abs one bit.
She'd come here working a case. A private investigator, she'd been hired to track down a missing college student, a kid named Martin Vega. Two weeks ago, she'd gotten a call from a tearful woman asking for a meeting. She'd agreed to meet with Emily Vega and discuss the case.
Her office was in an old feed mill that had been converted into offices. The heavy beams and ductwork had been left after the renovation, giving the building an industrial feel. Emily Vega entered Jess' office, a slim Latino woman in a down vest and jeans. Her eyes were red-rimmed and she carried a crumpled tissue in her hand.
“Are you good at finding missing persons?” Vega asked.
“I've done it before,” Jess said, taking out a yellow legal pad and gel pen. “Who are you looking to find.”
“My son.”
“What's his name?”
“Martin. He's a student at The University of Buffalo. He called and told me he was taking a break from college. He wanted to be a photographer,” she said, wiping her nose with the tissue. “He liked to photograph abandoned places.”
“So he cut class to go take pictures?”
“That's right.”
“When's the last time you heard from Martin?”
“Three days ago. He called from a town called Forgotten. It's in Montana.”
“A long way from home,” Jess said, noting the name of the town. “What did he say?”
“He was going into an abandoned mining town to take pictures.”
“How do you know he's gone missing?”
She shifted in the chair, reached in her pocket, and took out a cell phone. She flipped it open and punched in a code. Then she put it on speaker.
A young man's voice said:
“Mom, there's someone after me. I'm up in the mountains. I'm lost. I called the cops up here and they told me to stop bothering them. Call for help if you get this.”
“Did you call the police up there.”
She folded the phone back up and stuck it in her pocket. “They said there was nothing they could do. The local police said there wasn't enough to make them think he was missing.”
“So you came to me.”
“Mrs. Vega, I'm sorry.”
“Will you do it?”
“I get half my fee up front. The other half when I find him.”
“So you'll find him?” she asked.
“I'll do my best.”
So here she was, halfway across the country in Big Sky Country, hoping to find a college kid who decided to blow off school. Before she looked for Martin Vega, she needed something to eat. “Hello?”
No answer came from the diner, so she went behind the counter and entered the kitchen. The counters were spotless and free of food. It didn't have that lingering greasy smell that seemed to linger in every diner. “Anybody?”
A door slammed shut in another part of the kitchen and a gaunt kid in white cook's clothes appeared. His t-shirt hung on his bony frame. “Customers aren't allowed in the kitchen.”
“I was looking for a waitress.”
“We're closed.”
“The sign said open. Plus your lights are on.”
“Doesn't matter. We're closed. Now leave.”
“I've come a long way. How's about a piece of pie out there?”
“It's no good. I need to throw it out.”
“I'll buy it.”
“Do I need to call the Sheriff? I said we're closed, you dumb bitch.”
Jess felt her temples start to throb. At thirty-one, she didn't have high blood pressure, but she could feel her blood start to cook. It was apparent she wasn't getting a meal. “So much for small-town hospitality.”
She left the kitchen, feeling the kid's gaze on the back of her neck. As she moved through the diner, she was half-tempted to grab the piece of pie, but she didn't. Might need the local law to cooperate. As she climbed into the Durango, the kid was standing in the doorway of the diner, his stare boring into Jess. If looks could've killed, she would be pushing up daisies.

She arrived at the Three Pines lodge. The lodge was constructed of logs, a main building in the center and two wings jutting off to each side. A stuffed grizzly bear on hind legs stood outside the door. After getting her bag from the rear of the Durango and making sure her shoulder rig was concealed, she went inside. Looking around, she saw the walls were lined with the heads mounted animals. Deer. Elk. The head of another bear. Maybe it was the other bear's relative.
A red-haired woman stood at the front desk, which was constructed of a polished piece of rough wood built on top of logs. She was typing something on a keyboard.
“I have a reservation,” Jess said.
Jess told her. The woman checked her in, swiping her credit card. She gave Jess a room key. “Two eighteen. I'm sure you'll find it.”
“Thanks for the hospitality. Is there a restaurant in the lodge?”
“There is. It's closed. If you're hungry, there's vending machines over there.”
“Doritios for dinner. I've had worse,” she said, gathering her bag and key. She stopped at the vending machine and purchased a package of Oreos and a bag of chips. Then she went up to her room, intent on having the gourmet dinner provided by the Lodge.

After stumbling around in the woods, Ray found his way back to their campsite. The fire had died down to a dull orange. The cold bit through his clothes and his body ached from the tumble down the hill. He didn't know what to do, so he could at least gather more wood for a fire.
He threw some more wood on the fire, but it only smouldered, refusing to light. He scanned the woods, looking for any sign of Pete. There was only darkness.
He didn't know what he'd do if he lost the boy. Pete had grown into a good young man. Gone were the days when he idolized Ray, when the simple act of Ray fixing a broken toy truck was deemed heroic. But they still had moments: like going to the occasional Buffalo Bills' game, the two of them grilling steaks in the lot before kickoff. It made his chest ache to think Pete might be gone.
He cursed himself for coming back to the campsite. Should be out looking for Pete. Ann Marie's voice echoed in his head, his wife sometimes exhibiting an almost casual cruelty: Maybe someday you'll find your spine, Ray. He shouldered his pack. If he died out there, at least he would die searching for Pete.
Heading in the direction of the footprints, he managed to find the trail. They certainly were fucking strange. Some type of animal. He continued into the pines, trying to follow the general path of where the footprints might have gone. He was rewarded by finding snapped brush and branches, meaning something large had come through.
After moving through the woods, the moonlight his only companion, he spied a shiny object on the ground and hunkered down: it was Pete's pocket knife.
There was no blood on it, and he found that somewhat comforting.
He continued to follow the footprints as they wound through the broken branches left by Pete's abductor.
After travelling another couple hundred yards, he came to a clearing. In the clearing was a domed structure constructed of sticks and leaves. It stood around ten feet high and gave the impression of a makeshift shelter.
Circling around it, Ray listened to determine if anyone was inside. There was an opening tall enough to admit a man of seven feet tall. He took out Pete's pocket knife and clicked the blade open, thinking some weapon was better than nothing.
The same sour, musky smell that he noticed before Pete's abduction came from the doorway of the thatched structure. Ray crept inside, the ground spongy under his feet.
He squinted to see, the darkness near total. He didn't hear anyone inside. “Pete?”
This place was empty. But who the hell built it?
As he turned to go, he stepped on something squishy and wet. He kicked at the unseen object and it clung to his foot and he stumbled out the door. He managed to unstick the mess from his shoe, and in the moonlight he got a better look at it: pinkish gray and slicked with blood. The rest of it trailed inside the shelter and he realized it was a loop of entrails.
He fell to his knees and fought the urge to vomit. Jesus, please don't let that be Pete.
Stomach churning, he stood. His hands shook and he looked at the viscera on the ground at his feet. What if Pete's clothes were inside? There was only one way to tell.
He ducked back into the shelter and felt around, crawling back and forth on the ground. He found no clothes but did manage to stick his finger in something. He was glad it was dark.
When he climbed out of the shelter, he wiped his hands on some leaves. “Maybe it's from an animal.”
He continued through the woods, following the broken branches until he came to a cliff. From down below came the gurgle of water. Ray looked at the ground and saw the footprints ended at the cliff. He peered over the edge and saw the cliff went down to the riverbed. There were a series of rock shelves on the way down. It was possible someone could climb down, resting on each shelf.
The footprints definitely ended here.
The first shelf was about twenty feet down and he figured it was the only route the abductor could have taken. He lowered himself, belly pressed against the rocks. He found some footing and managed to climb down to the first shelf, sweating and panting.
He searched the rocky shelf for any sign of Pete but found nothing.
After another ten minutes of climbing, he reached the next shelf down. This time he found Pete's brown leather wallet. Still no blood on it, which he took as a good sign.
Climbing to the floor of the ravine, with resting, took him another forty-five minutes, and when he reached the bottom, he was minus half the nail on his right fingernail. He sucked on the wounded nail as if it would help but was rewarded only with the tastes of blood and dirt.
His throat felt as if he'd sucked dirt through a straw and swallowed. The water was long gone.
He knelt at the riverbank, scooped up some water, and swished it in his mouth. Then he spit it out, the water silty and brackish.
After searching the riverbank, he found the footprints. They headed down river and he follwed them for another quarter mile.
As he slogged along the riverbank, the hairs on his neck prickled. He got a tight feeling in his guts, like he might let loose in his drawers. Fear. Someone watching him.
As a shriek echoed through the woods, he took out the pocketknife.  

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Forgotten Chapter One - Excerpt

Here's an excerpt of my work-in-progress, Forgotten. I had previously posted the prologue. This is Chapter One. This is uncorrected copy. Please do not redistribute. Copyright 2012 Anthony Izzo.

Forgotten By Anthony Izzo

Chapter One

The day had started off full of promise, just Ray and his son hiking in the mountains. Seeing the West, the Big Sky country. They had started off at eleven this morning, stopped to eat turkey subs near a clear blue stream, the sun pleasantly warming their faces. They had headed further into the hills and it wasn't until around three o'clock that Ray realized they were lost. He hadn't told Pete, who at fifteen, was up for anything and would've accused his old man of being a worry wart.
Now it was four o'clock and being fall it meant dark would be coming soon. The shadows had started to lengthen and Ray felt a tiny bit of panic start to well up inside him. Being lost in the mountains with very little survival gear didn't appeal to him.
They had been heading downhill, Pete up ahead of Ray. The air had grown chilly. They were on a narrow trail flanked by scrub pines, the smell of the trees thick in the air. “Hold up Pete.”
Pete, tall and lanky and looking nothing like the little boy Ray rembered, turned. He gave Ray a goofy grin. “We're lost, aren't we?”
“How'd you know?”
“We've just sort of been wandering,” he said, and adjusted his back pack.
“I think the stream is back that way. Where we had lunch,” Ray said, unsure.
“I don't think so, Dad.”
Ray took a compass from his pocket, fiddled with it. He couldn't figure the damned thing out and put it away after a moment. He didn't want to admit to himself that he had no damned business going this deep into the wilderness without help. They had spent the first few nights of their trip in a little tourist town called Forgotten. It was named after an abandoned mining town a few miles from the tourist place. They had been staying at a place called the Three Pines Lodge and had set out on a hike. He hadn't told the clerk at Three Pines about their trip, for he'd expected to be back that same day.
Seeing a log, he sat down. His head swam. It wasn't just him up here. He had Pete to worry about. “Hold up.”
“I'm not going anywhere.”
It seemed as if the shadows had crept out of the woods. As they had descended the trail, Ray had heard birds chirping on a regular basis, but now he heard none. “Dammit. Maybe we should backtrack.”
“How about we find a spot to set up camp? We hunker down for tonight and find our way down in the daylight.”
“Hold on. I'm an idiot,” Ray said, reaching into his pocket and taking out his cell phone. He had the phone number for the Lodge in his contacts. They'd planned this vacation for months, and he'd had to make several calls to the Lodge. “Help is on the way.”
He brought up the Lodge on the contacts menu and hit Call. Prayed for a signal up in the mountains. The phone rang three times and a female voice answered. “Three Pines Lodge. Lisa speaking.”
Lisa. Good. That was the clerk they'd seen before leaving. She would remember them. “Lisa. My name is Ray Hansen. I'm staying in room three-fifteen. Look, my son and I are lost up in the mountains and I was hoping you could call for help.”
“Let me look you up in the computer,” she said.
“I don't see why that matters,” Ray said.
“I'll determine that, sir,” she said, voice growing cold.
He could hear her fingers tapping a keyboard. “Sir, I'm afraid I don't show you in our system.”
“How can I not be in our system? You rented me a room. I talked to you this morning.”
“I'm afraid I don't remember.”
Ray felt his face start to flush with anger. “Is this a joke?”
“Sir, I wonder if you're the one joking. You're wasting my time.”
“Look, can you please call the local authorities. It's getting dark up here.”
“You shouldn't have gone up there.”
Lisa repeated, “You shouldn't have gone up there. You belong to the mountain now.”
The connection ended and he tried to dial again but the phone rang for nearly a minute with no answer. He felt like throwing the cell phone against a tree. He didn't let his anger take over and shoved it in his pocket instead.
“What happened?” Pete said.
“She acted like she didn't know me.”
“You dialed the right number?”
“No Pete, I called the damned Dairy Queen in town. What do you think?”
Pete's eyebrows knitted together in a frown. “Don't have to get pissy about it.”
“I'm sorry. Of course I dialed the right number.”
“So now what?” Pete asked.
“We'll find a spot and camp for the night.”

They hiked down the mountain until it had grown almost too dark to see. It had been blind luck that they'd found a small shelf ledge with an overhanging rock. They would be able to use it for shelter. They set their packs underneath and sat down. Ray had a few granola bars and bottled water in his pack and they downed the granola bars and half the water.
They were both wearing long sleeves, but Ray's was thin flannel and he was already shivering. One thing he did have was flint, and they were able to gather enough kindling and wood. After setting up a fire teepee, Ray got the flint to spark and got a fire going. Thank goodness for small favors. “Not exactly the Hilton, but it'll do for the night.”
“We'll survive. It's been a great trip.”
“You mean that?” Ray asked.
“I mean it. It's been cool.”
Ray had suggested the trip after Ann Marie had decided she wanted to start bar-hopping at forty-three. She'd been hanging out with a crew of single people, all of them under thirty. Several of them male. Most nights she wasn't home anymore and he wondered what had become of the woman who used to spend her nights knitting and watching Seinfeld re-runs with him. Pete needed a mom. Ray needed a wife. Right now, Ann Marie was being neither. “I'm glad. I'm having a good time, too. Even if we're lost.”
Pete waved it off. “We'll be fine.”
The fire began to crackle and he felt a pleasant warmth on his face. Maybe things would be okay, after all.

The fire had died down to embers and Ray had curled himself into a ball, a stone digging into his side. He was using his pack as a pillow and a huge crick had formed in his neck. Ray checked his watch. Two ten a.m. He glanced at Jake, who was snoring, and he envied his son's ability to sleep.
“Best build up the fire,” Ray said to himself.
He crawled out from under the rock shelf, stood up, and stretched. His back gave a crack and he rolled his neck, attempting to get out the mess of knots that had formed in the muscle. Sticking to the edges of their campsite, he gathered up wood. He was about to go back and place it on the fire when he heard branches snapping in the darkness.
He shrugged it off as a deer and continued gathering wood. As he approached the dying fire, he heard the rustling noises coming closer. Critch-Crunch. It sounded like someone on two legs. Not an animal. Icicles seemed to form on his spine. He wanted to curl back up under the rock shelf and wait for the unseen thing in the woods to go away.
Instead of curling up, he nudged Pete, who woke up. In a whisper, he said: “There's something in the woods.”
“What is it?”
“I don't know. Sounds like a person.”
“Who the hell would be up here?” Pete said.
“Keep quiet.”
Ray glanced at the fire and wished for the first time that the fire had gone out and had not attracted the unseen person in the woods. Branches snapped and leaves crackled. A sour, pungent smell filled the air, and Ray worried that it was a grizzly bear. They wouldn't stand a chance if a bear wanted to take them.
Ray spied a large stick on the ground near the fire. Ten feet away. Four inches in diameter, it appeared solid, and although it wouldn't be a perfect weapon, it was better than nothing. Still crouched, he moved out of the rock shelf and reached for the stick.
Pete cried out from behind him and he saw something massive and dark tear from the woods and snatch up Pete. It had to be eight fucking feet tall. Moved like a panther. Pete's cries echoed from the darkness. Ray scrambled to his feet and blindly ran after Pete, stumbling into the woods.
He got about twenty yards and realized Pete's abductor had disappeared. But how was that possible? He had given chase right away and didn't think it possible for the kidnapper to disappear that fast. Glancing around, all he saw was the shadows.
He strained to listen and heard branches crunching somewhere in the distance. It was vaguely to his right and he took off in that direction. Had to find Pete, no matter what.
Soon he had traveled a few hundred yards and it didn't take long before he was lost. Turning, he tried to locate the glow of the fire, but saw nothing. He stopped and listened, but heard nothing. Taking a chance, he called Pete's name, but no answer came.
He moved where he thought their campsite would be located and as he slipped between two tall trees, the ground gave out, as did his footing. Pitching forward, he lost his balance and was aware of skidding down a hill. Ray clawed the dirt on the way down, but he couldn't grab hold and his slide down the steep hill continued. He rolled twice before landing at the bottom, a stinking puddle soaking his shirt.
Getting to his feet, he felt like he'd taken a beating. His back ached and he'd scraped his elbows and knees. His shirt had ripped at the elbow, and his jeans had torn at the knees. He looked up at the hill and determined it too steep to climb. He had to get help. Someone to help locate Pete.
What the Hell had taken him? It was big. He saw that much. But it had moved too quickly for him to get a good look. He didn't even know what he'd tell the cops.
He picked a direction and started walking. Part of him wanted to scream. The other part wanted to cry, as he'd utterly failed Pete.
Five minutes after he started walking, a high-pitched wail echoed through the night.

The wailing noise came from the top of the hill, where Ray had tumbled. Pete had to be up there. He began to scramble up the hill, legs aching. He peered upward and was aware of someone standing at the top of the hill, and it had to be seven feet tall. He flattened himself against the ground and crawled behind a medium-sized boulder.
The breeze blew, bringing with it the scent of something rotten and dead. He glanced up again and saw the figure move away. His heart felt as if it might explode in his chest, and then Doctor Matthews would be right, the prick. He'd been telling Ray to lose weight for years.
It took him fifteen minutes, but he climbed to the top of the hill. When he reached the top, his fingers were bleeding from clawing roots and rocks. His legs burned from lactic acid buildup in the muscles, as if he'd just done a thousand squats. He looked around but so no sign of the abductor. The smell still hung in the air, gagging him.
He looked down and saw evidence of the abductor. A three-toed footprint nearly eighteen inches long. It appeared there were claws jutting from the toes.
A series of the strange footprints continued across the ground and then disappeared. He followed them and discovered the just stopped. Gone. Like Pete.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Updates and The Writer's Toolkit

I have about twenty to thirty thousand words left to write on the current novel. It's called Forgotten. It involves some flesh-eating mutants, messed-up townspeople, and a vacation spot you might regret visiting. Look for a late October or early November release.

I've recently gotten hooked on Breaking Bad. Going back and starting the series from Season One on Netflix. Outstanding performances and storytelling so far.

Also been thinking about writing on the go and carrying a writer's "toolkit."

I carry mine in an Army Engineer's bag purchased at the surplus store. Here's what I've got in mine:


Multiple notebooks

Multiple pens (I like the Sharpie-style pens)

Kindle (if you're writing, you need to be reading, as well)

Sketchpad and pencil kit (even if you don't consider yourself artistic, you can always sketch out diagrams of fictional towns, buildings, etc. to keep things straight)

Index cards (for plotting, storyboarding)

As I've posted before, be ready to grab those extra moments in waiting rooms and such.  Words have a habit of piling up over time. Even if you spend a few minutes outlining or making story notes, it's time well spent.

Saw A Quiet Place II This Weekend

Jenn and I went for lunch yesterday, then saw A Quiet Place II at the Aurora Theater. The Aurora is a great little theater. One screen, and...