This month’s guest author is Marc Watson who I met in Calgary during the When Words Collide festival back in the summer. We crossed paths during the evening’s live reading event where he read some of his fantasy work. The reading was well spoken, writing engaging and I wanted to know more. We exchanged contact information to schedule a time to have him join us as a guest author of the month.
I am pleased to introduce Marc Watson, who is willing chat about his writing and share an excerpt of his work.
Thanks for joining us Marc, give us an intro of who you are.
Sure thing, Konn, and thank you for reaching out to me for this opportunity.
As you said, I am a Calgary author of genre fiction, which is primarily under the vague banner of ‘science fantasy’, though I like to think my repertoire is growing all the time. I’m happily married to a wonderful and extremely supportive woman, and we’ve got two young boys who eat up all of my decent reading and writing time. I’m a part time writing student at Athabasca University, and I have a day job that I love as a corporate space planner. I recently celebrated my first true writing success with the publication of two of my flash fiction works on www.101words.org, entitled “Force Construction”, and “Going Home Again”, which although brief, may be the closest I’ve ever come to writing something worthwhile. I’m really attached to that last one.
Personally, I like to think of myself as the balance between the stereotypical nerd and jock: you’ll be just as likely to see me playing JRPGs, D&D, or CCGs (man that’s a lot of acronyms…) as you would me hiking and camping, or watching, talking about, and playing every sport under the sun. Except soccer. There’s no space in my heart for soccer.
You mention that you write fantasy and sci-fi, do you have a preference?
I honestly don’t think I have one. The genres are so interchangeable that they’re two sides of the same coin to me. In their most basic terms, they deal with many of the same themes, with different window dressings around them. Whether it’s science or magic, it achieves the same ends in genre fiction. As long as the skill of the author is up to the task, both can be written effectively and believably. I think that’s why so many of my stories, or creative works I’m drawn to, have elements of both. If you put me on the spot and demanded I picked one, I’d say Fantasy, mostly because I don’t believe I’m technically savvy enough to really write deep, quality Sci-fi.
What motivates you to write the work that you do?
My motivation is twofold: First I want to put the stories that are in my head into yours, because I love them and believe in them so much that I know they’re worth telling, and also, I want to prove to myself that I’m skilled enough to do it, because if I can then I have all the proof I need to show my kids that they can follow their dreams. I don’t want to sell a billion copies of anything. I want to sell enough to maybe buy my family a nice meal. If I’m lucky we might able to get dessert.
On your social media profiles you mention you’re on the quest to get published, care to elaborate a bit more on your quest?
Oh ya, I’d love too. Honestly, I’m a bit of a noob at this whole publishing game, so it’s been enlightening. I had been sitting on the completed two-part manuscript for ‘Catching Hell’ for years. In late February of this year, I realized that I wasn’t happy with just having written it anymore, and in February 29th I decided to push harder to make something happen with it. I sent out queries and writing resumes like a madman, went back to school part-time to improve my writing, and I began seriously networking with others in order to get myself out there “officially”. I even had fun business cards made up just for my writing, which have my personal motto “Be a hero.” across the back of them.
Now, I’m 37. I’m not full of wide-eyed youthful optimism, and I doubt I ever really had it. I didn’t expect to query a few publishing houses and make a million dollars, but you miss every shot you don’t take. I started querying Literary Agents more aggressively, with a few local publishers mixed in. I started editing heavily to get it down to a more palatable size, and I started putting myself out there. I created my social media accounts, and just before WWC I launched the beta for my personal website (www.marcwatson.ca) thanks to my amazing graphic designer wife Jen, and with artwork from a very talented friend of mine, Patrick Yokan Persaud, who I’m also working on a secret writing project with right now, but you didn’t hear that from me. Oh wait…
So far I’ve met enough success to not make me want to quit. I knew early on I wanted to follow the traditional publishing route so I know it’s going to be a slog at times. When Words Collide was huge for me. On top of the amazing networking and informative seminars, I had two pitches for two different books, and both were successful (though one has since been graciously turned down, however one is still out there. Fingers crossed!) Those pitches and the things I learned there taught me about how hard I’ll have to hustle to make this dream a reality. That taught me that this isn’t a casual hobby; it is a quest. It’s an adventure! The upside is I love that hustle, so I’m not intimidated by it. I’m still actively looking for an agent while I await some responses, as well as replies about some more serious publishing inquiries. As long as I have those chances and I keep more coming, I’ll stay hungry. That said, if you’re a Lit Agent or Publisher and I’m slowly garnering your interest, I’d love to hear from you. Networking!
We’ll have to keep watch for the aftermath of the pitch! How long have you been writing for?
I’ll assume we’re skipping over my amazing but ultimately unprofessional school-aged ramblings and cut right to when I really started, which was 1996. I had an idea in my head and with a pen and paper I just started going at it. When I was done I had handwritten a fantasy trilogy (based in the same world as my excerpt, and which I still keep in my bedside table) and had almost flunked out of high school because of it. I’ve been working on some story or another ever since. My unpublished backlog is as impressive as it is depressing. Writer’s block is not an affliction I suffer from. Quite the opposite, actually: too many ideas in my head to nail down at any one moment.
Too many ideas I can relate to… Have you written in other genres besides fantasy and sci-fi?
If you’d asked me back in February I’d have said no, but since then I’ve almost finished a supernatural thriller (a genre I know you’re familiar with, Konn) titled ’12:13′, which I’m primarily writing to see if I can make something my wife would like on its own merit and not just because she loves me, as well as a black comedy called ‘Death Dresses Poorly’ that’s being creatively fueled by Twitter, oddly enough.
A thriller? Exciting! What’s been your biggest hurdle with your writing career to date?
The time, man. For sure. With a regular day job as a space planner for a large engineering company, and having two busy boys who demand and deserve my time and attention, I honestly have, at best, 45-60 minutes a day (weekdays only, during my lunch hours usually) for my own selfish endeavors. In that time I need to pick if I’m writing, editing, querying, reading, doing schoolwork, or off on some other non-creative activity (errands are popular.) I’m not saying that in a negative way though. Catching Hell ended up being 250k words, so big I had to break it into a duology, and I wrote it in that tiny window day after day, lunch after lunch. Like they say: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Now, some readers may find that to be a cop out, and say if I was really serious I’d make more time, but I promise you I’m serious, but I’m also realistic. I mean, just the Cloud has been great! I’m writing these interview responses while dropping my kids off, watching hockey practices, and running between meetings at work, all over the course of a day or two, so I’m not spilling any tears in my beer about how I don’t have any time. I’m knocking loudly on the door of middle-age (and I admit I may already be standing in middle-age’s front entrance) so I won’t make sacrifices to my family or livelihood that I’m not willing to live with at this point in my life. I need to come by it honestly. If at the end of the day I’m not a successful writer, but I tried my best, my family is happy, and I’m satisfied with the job I did professionally, while still having a decent story to tell my grandkids, I’ll die with no regrets.
Well put. Finding time is very tough and you just have to squeeze it in where you can around the rest of your life.
Final thoughts you’d like to share before the excerpt?
Only that I’m incredibly thankful for this chance you’ve given me to tell a bit of my story (literally and figuratively) and I hope you and your readers like it. When I started ‘Catching Hell’, and this first chapter in particular, I was typing on a fold-out keyboard attached to a Palm Pilot on some pretty rudimentary word processing software in the early 2000’s. In just this one chapter I could tell you a thousand stories of how it came together and where I was when I wrote it. I’m a talker, so if you or your readers ever want to hear them, I’d always be glad to share. Oh, and also, whatever the words mean to you: be a hero.
Thank you Marc for taking the time to share your thoughts about your writing career! You can find Marc on Facebook or Twitter to follow his latest updates. Below you will find the first chapter of his novel, Catching Hell.
Marc Watson’s Catching Hell Fantasy Novel Excerpt
A “Man” Walks Into a Bar…
In all the years he’d tended bar in this dump-water town, Ollie was sure he’d seen bigger men. Those who had come from the northern mines were strong and rugged. The people of the west, where the dark-skinned warriors seemed to be bred to be intimidating, were also a sight. But Ollie was sure he’d never seen one more, for lack of a better word, powerful.
He stood much taller than the portly Ollie, and it likely would take two of the old barman to make the scales equal in weight. If an ounce of fat was anywhere on him, it was well hidden beneath the mountains of muscle clearly visible even under the black, heavy armor he wore. Darker than night, and as clean as a polished mirror.
If this was a normal man, born of woman, Ollie was a dead dog’s maggot. Whoever this was, they had surely embraced the forbidden ways. For that reason alone he was more trouble than an old drink-slinger wanted.
His hair flowed like fire down his neck and over his shoulders (which were almost as wide as Ollie was tall). Even his eyebrows had that ethereal red shimmer, which stood out against his ghostly skin.
The mountain of muscle took in the now-silent patrons and proceeded to walk to the bar and the sweating man behind it.
The armor clinked and clanked as he moved, and the sword on his hip, clearly a well maintained and valuable weapon of a style Ollie had never seen before, swung with its own rhythm like a pendulum you wanted no part of. It was large, but looked proportional next to the man’s trunk-like thigh.
Despite his visions of being manhandled by this demon for whatever purpose he desired (Ollie guessed information or a really stiff drink, which are the only true uses of a bartender), he was quite shocked and relieved when the beast sat at one of the bar stools (which had surely seen bigger men, but still seemed about to collapse), and smiled at Ollie.
Ollie was shocked to feel the uneasiness slip from his mind (not entirely, but certainly a little).
His smile was so well suited to him, yet so out of place. There were even dimples at the corners of his mouth like a child. Despite his astoundingly inhuman features otherwise, this man had a smile that could make a baby sleep.
Ollie approached the man slowly and asked him what he would like. He was disturbed again to see his eyes. Where others would have white, his were black like his armor. Instead of regular color, there was the same uneasy flicker of deep red and orange tones seen in his hair. There was no iris visible. Just a red sun on a black field. They were the eyes of the devil, given flesh.
The beastly man reached into some unseen pocket of his breastplate, produced a number of coins, and placed them on the bar. Most were of common enough origin to the man who’d seen many a currency in his time, but others were strange, with odd writings and pictures of men he’d never seen on them. Their metal, however, was plain as day.
Gold and silver, enough to send an old war horse like Ollie on a long vacation from the rabble and the drunks. The twos’ eyes met.
“A glass of your stoutest beer and a little bit of your time” he said in an accent that was simply alien to an ear who’d heard it all. It sounded like “Ah glahs ove yer shtoutest beer and ah lit’l bih ove yer’ tyme”. It was understandable, but no less mysterious.
The tender half-turned to his rows of kegs, all old and well used for a few generations of guzzlers. Each was tapped with a spigot with a bright LED light on it, so out of place in this low-tech society it was almost offensive. Most were green, some pulsed yellow, and two flashed red like a warning beacon. Green equaled a full keg, yellow for half or and less, red for a keg that needed to be changed soon. Some avoided Land’O’North tavern for this reason alone. Even in small amounts like this, the tools of the ancient ones were sure to only bring suffering. To Ollie the ancient ones were nothing but ghosts, and he never once had to lift a keg to check the draught levels. That was more than enough reason to dance with the devils of the dust. Despite his constant complaints and frequent post-fight blood clean ups, he loved his life and job very much and welcomed any tool that would help him carry on a little longer.
He kept watch on the black-eyed man as he picked the required keg and passed an old glass beneath it. A soft click as the spigots magic eye saw the glass and began pouring the stout as perfectly and with as much velocity as the beverage required. When it neared the top of the glass, the same click was heard, and the drink stopped flowing. Only a beer thick as molasses with a head like a crown of white remained.
He delivered the glass to the stranger and allowed him to view his perfectly poured glass with a smirk. “I dare say a finer pint has ne’er crossed my eyes.” said the man in that strange, lilting drawl.
“Ah, it’s nothin’” said Ollie, not really knowing what a pint was, but knowing a compliment when he heard one. “The tap does all the work. I’m just the eye candy”
The man’s smirk intensified. “Indeed.”
He took a sip of the bitters and smiled as he swallowed. Dropping the glass, he revealed the telltale mustache of a man who enjoys his drink.
As he wiped the foam away, he let out a deep breath, as if he’d just ran many miles just for that one sip of stout. Ollie got a whiff of the smell as he did so.
The first thing he noticed was how hot it was. The odor was one of beer and sulphur, like the kind of smell that wafted down the mountains above the many hot springs that littered the land around here.
The barman felt his uneasiness creep back into him. All at once he was reminded that this was no ordinary man.
“Excellent!” said the man, still smiling while raising the glass again. “Ya’ know, there are some that’d call it heresy t’ use such devises”. He indicated the digital spigots.
Ollie raised his eyebrow in mock surprise. “Really? Well, let them lift a half-full keg six times a day and see how long they cling to their half-assed notions of God.”
The man put the glass down on the bar a little harder than Ollie would have liked and looked at him with those dark, flaming eyes. Ollie wondered if his witty banter had hit a nerve he had every intention of avoiding but his face held the conviction he felt, even if his knees did not.
“Well put, sir.” The glass returned to his lips. “Half-assed notions indeed.”
Ollie didn’t know how to react to this comment. Staying on caution’s side, he looked toward the coins on the bar for a change of topic.
“You wanted a bit of my time, stranger?” he asked, not at all sure he knew what was wanted of him.
The peaceful smile was out now in full force, and the man nodded as he put down the empty glass. “Yes, yes, o’course.”
He placed his hands on the bar to aid him up. Even the hair on the back of his hands seemed to have that burning shimmer.
Once upright, the man reached to his side and grasped the handle of his sword, slowly though, so as not to arouse suspicion. He pulled it out of the sheath with a soft whisper and held it sideways inches from Ollie’s face.
Ollie saw a few of the patrons, who had been watching the scene unfold with the same curiosity as Ollie himself, reach for hidden weapons and defenses in case of an emergency. He knew it had nothing to do with saving the bartender as much as themselves if things went a little hairy. Ollie had few friends and fewer enemies, like a bartender should.
Truth be told, there was a veritable arsenal of weapons behind this bar. From knives to assorted guns and carefully arranged projectiles. An old rifle was just under the spot the man had chosen to sit, but going back to his first thought upon seeing this newcomer, he was sure that even his highest caliber firearm could not stop this power that sat before him.
“I’d like ya’ t’ take a good look at this sword”, he said, “and I want ye’ t’ focus not on how it looks, but how it makes ya’ feel. Does it conjure any thoughts, or create any deep emotions?”
Ollie was so confused by the words he looked away from the man and his sword and gazed around the room at the men (and occasional woman, of the working variety.) Many of them looked away, not wanting to get involved in this incident before it started. Others shrugged at him, as if to say they didn’t know what he wanted either.
At the back, in a dark corner sitting alone, an old man simply stared. Ollie looked back, not at the sword, but the man.
“Look, mister, I don’t know what you’re asking, really, but I…”
“Please sir, just a moment and nothin’ more. I’d just like ye’ t’ look and see what I mean. I promise, no harm is intended, I’m only lookin’ fer’ information”
Ollie relented, letting his eyes follow the blade from tip to tip. The handle was not much to speak of as far as detail, and was wrapped in what looked to be some kind of reptile skin which Ollie had never seen before; dark and bumpy.
The hilt and guard were unlike the standard style preferred by Riders and other military from the area. It was straight and slightly curved up at each end. It didn’t wrap around, but only jutted out at two sides, like a cross instead of a dome or full circle.
The blade was very wide and flat with no bend. Ollie was sure he’d have a problem lifting it with two hands, but this man wielded it like a twig with one.
Near the base of the blade were etchings in a language so abstract it was almost like pictographs, but since none of the images were at all familiar, Ollie didn’t waste time with them.
Once he took the whole image of the sword in, it came to him.
“POWER” he thought instantly “HISTORY”, “BLOODSHED”, “PEACE”, the images and feelings came quickly to his head, like a collage of infinite beauty, and just as equal ugliness.
“GREATNESS”, “RESTLESSNESS”, “PAIN”, “BALANCE”, “LOVE”.
Ollie ripped his eyes from it as the final feelings and images continued to repeat over and over. He felt sick to his stomach.
“Mister, I don’t know what your definition of ‘no harm’ is but I’ve never felt so violated in my life! How on earth did you get into my head like that?”
The smile slipped away and he became very serious.
“Have ya’ seen anything else like this?” He asked, voice lowering, his eyes reading every nuance in Ollie’s face. Tracking his eyes, watching his mouth, reading every twitch and quiver like a book.
“In all my life, not only have I never seen anything even close to that, if I ever did again I’d likely kill myself.”
“Rest assured, sir, if ye’ ever saw something like this again, you’d be dead before ye’ had the chance.”
He swung the blade around and slid it back into the sheath with that same silent whisper. The man turned to the rabble and took them all in with one glance. “How ‘bout any of ya’? I can see by the looks on yer’ faces tha’ most of ya’ saw the same thin’ he did. Have ya’ ever seen somethin’ like this before? Anywhere or anytime in yer’ life?”
He walked slowly around the tables, taking in all the people, reading them all like he read Ollie. A loud man came in, laughing uproariously with a working girl on his arm. He turned to the scene of a man, huge and demonic, walking around a stunned and silent bar with all eyes on him in a mix of fear and amazement. He quickly shut up, gripped his evening’s entertainment around her waist and quickly led her back out the door. The motion would be quite comical in later retellings.
The room was fixated on this man but no one seemed to be able to help him. Shamed faces and looks of uneasiness were everywhere he looked.
“I have seen what you seek,” said a grizzled voice from a dark corner.
Ollie knew without looking that it was the old man he’d locked eyes with before. The large guest turned to the source of the voice and walked briskly to his table.
“If ye’d tell the tale, old man, I’d love t’hear it.” Once the way out was clear, the bar emptied quickly, with everyone racing for the door, pushing each other and scampering like dogs to dinner.
Ollie had to see this play out, so he held his spot behind the bar while resting his hand on the well-used rifle none-the-less. “If I tell you my tale, I want your word you and your damn sin-stick will get the hell out of my sight and not ever come back. I’ve seen your kind before and no good ever came out of it. Not here, not anywhere.”
Ollie was dumbfounded that this old man had the gall to talk like that to someone so much bigger than him. He sat frozen, hand on the rifle, prepared for any motion toward the drunken old-timer.
No hostile motion came though. Just a “Humph” from the man and a steely glare from the senior.
“And wha’ kind of person am I?” the man asked. The geezer seemed to have his attention.
A cold smirk came to a toothless mouth and the old man hissed “A slave of the forbidden ways. A minion of the Power. Mark my words, fire-man; no good ever came out of embracing what you play with.”
The man seemed to relax and settled into a chair across the table. “I’ve not the time to tell ye’ wha’ I am and how I conduct my business. And I certainly can’t get into the inaccuracies of yer’ thoughts about the powers ya’ speak of, but I give my word tha’ if ya’ give me something worthwhile, I will never trouble yer’ ol’ eyes again.”
The old man spit in his hand, although not much moisture came out. He extended his arm straight, like a branch from young tree. “We shake on that, and should I ever see you again, I’ll get the delightful chance to run you through myself.”
Ollie nearly fainted as the man sat there, looking at the extended hand, seeming to hesitate a moment. Could it be that this old man threw this stranger off his guard? From where Ollie stood, it sure looked that way.
The man began to speak, but was cut short by the older man shushing him and thrusting his hand into his face. “Don’t burden me again until you make my deal!”
Ollie wasn’t sure it was meant to sound so forceful, but it didn’t seem to faze ether one of them. Ollie was glad he didn’t leave.
Without saying anything else, the man spit into his hand, which gave the bartender the shivers as he saw sparks fly like fireflies from his mouth as he did so, followed by what he guessed was steam or smoke rising from his palm.
He wanted to stop the old man as this was clearly a deal with the Devil Himself, and then thought better of it. This was not his situation to deal with, and if he was a devil it was better not to stop a deal in progress. Stay silent and live to tell the tale.
The old man seemed not to care, if indeed it was hot at all, as they shook hands with force and purpose.
“I won’t trouble ya’ again, and I’m a man o’my word. Now let us talk.”
The old man looked up to Ollie and quickly asked for another drink. The man turned and requested a refill of his. Ollie brought them over, sure to be as efficient as possible, and quickly faded away back to the bar.
“Leave us Ollie, and lock the door please. I promise we won’t be long. The less I have to be around this godless devil, the better.”
Ollie never questioned the order and went over to latch the door, not caring in the slightest about the lost income. Thanks to the coins the man had given him he had more than enough to cover the evening take. Ollie left into the kitchen, thankful to be away, though he was quite sorry he didn’t get to hear the tale.