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    Greg Stolze’s Novels, Short Stories, and Anthologized Stuff

Looking For the Free Stuff?

This web site increasingly resembles an attic full of old code but, I hope, a few worthwhile and interesting treasures hidden under the dust. This particular page has not been updated for some time (before this) and much of the fiction attention and traffic has moved on to the Greg Stolze Internet Fiction Library. If I was just a little bit smarter, I’d get that Fiction button at the top redirected, or else find some way to fold the two pages together.

Currently In Process: Emily Speaks

Emily Speaks is a 5,000 word piece about two angry, lonesome men, one discomfited voice actress, and an e-commerce solution that’s crawling out of the Uncanny Valley and up some previously uncharted Uncanny Mountain. What happens when computers can simulate humanity better than people can embody it? If I get $500, everyone can find out.

SWITCHFLIPPED

My most recent novel is SWITCHFLIPPED, a schizophrenic little narrative about (on one hand) an ordinary and confused young man pursuing the mysteriously-vanished love of his life and (on the other hand) time-warpers, a Kung Fu fighter, a false saint, a woman who is also a building and a lightning-obsessed jagoff in conflict with the secret rulers of all America’s automobiles. It’ll show you a good time.

Currently, this book is available in electronic formats, on Amazon, Smashwords, and from the publisher, Ghostwoods. If you prefer your reading on paper, it can also be purchased as a bound volume.

Detonated Fiction

In 2001, I started to consider how a story conveys itself to the reader. What elements of meaning arise from word choice? Which emerge from structure? Was there a way to determine the relative weights of materials and architecture in fiction?

In 2001, I devised an experiment to get answers. The name of the experiment was detonated fiction.


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Scary Face!

A sprawling, brawling mélange of science fiction, horror and fantasy, this collection of short stories spans a decade of creative output. Scary Face collects long-lost short stories from the pages of SHADIS magazine and out-of-print Delta Green anthologies alongside materials that have never before dared the light of day — including “Unorthodox,” an Unknown Armies tale featuring everyone’s favorite psychic surgeon, and “Challenge,” a preview of the setting and cultures of REIGN. “As I See It”, “Potential Recruit” and “Little Wing” are all here too. Currently available at http://www.lulu.com/gregstolze and Drive-Thru Horror, Scary Face shows you where I’ve come from and where I’m going. Wanna come along?

Novels

May I just say I love writing novels? Man, it’s great! Other writers may mope and mourn the burdens of their creativity and agonize over the intimidating blank page, but not me. For me, the process of writing a novel is like sex or pizza: Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. This seems doubly true when I compare it to a lot of truly wretched jobs I’ve had, like making pizza. Or doing data entry. I was even a phone solicitor for a summer, but I plead youthful ignorance on that job.

Compared to that stuff, making a buck by telling the kinds of stories I like to read is very easy money indeed.


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{UNKNOWN ARMIES }

Godwalker  

Who really has power? Is it the sheriff in a small Missouri town who has a badge and a gun and authority, but who can’t stop or punish a rash of bizarre murders? Is it Alex Abel, a millionaire who knows that magick is a real and fundamental force of the cosmos? He’s built a private army to control or intimidate those who manifest these occult powers… powers that, for all his brilliance and wealth, are beyond his grasp. Or does the power lie with the sorcerer known only as the Freak, a protean hermaphrodite with absolute control over its own body and that of others… a power paid for with suffering, and suspicion, and constant, total loneliness?

In Godwalker, the price of power is high, and obscure, and often comes wedded to chaos and regret. But to those on the godwalker’s path, it’s worth the cost… because if you don’t grab it, someone else will, and the hungry for power don’t share.

This is not a novel I was hired to write, but one I felt compelled to write. It’s based on the setting for Unknown Armies, a game I created with John Tynes. The game is about power and consequences, and the novel is too.

There was a pretty big gap between when Godwalker was written and when it was published. About five years, I think. I started it after we’d completed Unknown Armies and written a few supplements for it… back then, we didn’t have any idea whether UA would be a big successful IP that could spin off into lots of supplements, novels, hell, maybe a computer game or a TV show or a breakfast cereal. We also didn’t know if it would sink like a stone. (As with many things, it wound up in the middle. The people who like it like it a great deal. It was profitable. But it failed to turn into a cultural phenomenon.)

During the UA honeymoon, I had the idea for Godwalker. It would be a novel set in the Midwest, a milieu I know well, and it would throw up conflicts along a couple axes. One would be those who want occult power, against those who couldn’t care less. The other would be about those who have such power, contrasted with those who lack it. Not everyone in book who’s entangled in the paranormal necessarily wants to be, and not everyone who’s very keen on examining the seamy underside of the cosmos gets a chance to do so. Unpleasantness ensues as events seek equilibrium.

Godwalker is available in my store at CafePress. At least one copy has been sold in every continent on the globe. (Okay, not Antarctica. But it’s really the runt of the continental litter anyhow.)


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{VAMPIRE: THE REQUIEM}

A Hunger Like Fire

Persephone Moore has it all — looks, brains, ambition, and an unquenchable hunger for the blood of the living. But with every night she feels herself grow a little colder, a little more monstrous. How long before her hunger consumes her whole?

Bruce Minder could hardly be more different. A three-time loser and alcoholic, he is just one of the nameless citizens creatures like Persephone move through and feed upon. All that is about to change.

I thought that was pretty good sell text, especially that first sentence. I don’t know who wrote it, though.

I was offered the honor of writing the first tie-in novel for Vampire: the Requiem, White Wolf’s relaunch of their flagship game. As you might expect, I was pretty nervous, but I’m very pleased with how it turned out.

This was the fifth novel I’d written, and while I’d had some that just broke out of their cells and went berserk (like The Seven Deadlies) this one was well behaved and followed its outline politely.

When I was developing the idea, I wanted it first and foremost to be a good story, then to be a good vampire story, and then to be a good Requiem story. These are by no means incompatible, but I felt it was important that the book be very accessible even to people who’d never read the game. (If you’re a fan of the game, read the book and see how many clan names get mentioned. If I recall correctly, it’s exactly one.) Furthermore, I wanted tension and character development and a plot that kept the pages turning. One internet poster criticized it for not being ‘big’ enough, by which I think he meant he wanted to see really old vampires with super-badass powers doing unbelievable, over the top stuff. What I wanted was much closer to the other end of the spectrum.

I couldn’t assume familiarity with the setting, so I created a character (Bruce) who knew nothing of vampires. He narrates three of the book’s nine chapters. A level above him is Persephone (one of the ‘signature characters’ created in-house by the editors and developers at White Wolf) who narrates each chapter after his. She’s been in the vampire subculture longer than Bruce and started with a lot of advantages he lacked. She peels back another layer for us. Each of the remaining three chapters is from an old and truly terrible vampire — creatures whose time in death far exceeds their time alive and whose experiences have warped their perceptions of right and wrong, or realigned them completely, or put them under s o much stress that they have to constantly battle just to keep human-scale morality in perspective.

It was a good structure. The novel covers most of a year, three seasons, and in each season we get three perspectives from three levels of undead society. The events of the novel range from hardscrabble attempts to get by, all the way up to city-shaking political intrigues. All, of course, seen from the varied perspectives.

Oh, and originally I wanted the title My Drinking Problem.


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{VAMPIRE: THE REQUIEM}

The Marriage of Virtue and Viciousness

Chicago has vampires. One woman’s on a crusade to destroy them. The vampires disagree and, in fact, want to make more. In the middle of all this sits Solomon Birch, high priest of a vampire cult, trying to figure out the right action for creatures cursed by God. Can he succeed at being the plague that perfects mankind? Or is he doomed by rivals from outside his church… and those within it?

Okay, that was my attempt at back-cover sell text. I’m not great at it — it’s a real mental block for me. I could blame my Midwest upbringing, I guess. I was raised not to brag. Furthermore, when I’ve written an 80,000 word novel, I find it really hard to squeeze it down into suitably-small blurb.

To me, The Marriage of Virtue and Viciousness is all about the interplay between what we selfishly want, and what we believe is right. Some characters pursue what they believe is right even when it makes them suffer — I’ll say especially then. Others are just self-interested and seem okay with that… though their accomplishments are limited and their behavior is constrained by the choices of others.

Then, there are a few who can make an alloy between their urges and their beliefs. These characters get more done than anyone else, possibly because they don’t spend any time wringing their hands and dithering. Does that really make them admirable, though?

I probably just convinced many of you not to buy the book, by making it sound like an indigestible think-piece. Don’t worry. It’s got a murder cult, knifeplay, sexy characters, arrogant jerks being taken down a peg, jazz, booze, girl-fighting, physical intimidation, guns, psychic visions, blackmail and a junkie teetering on the edge of sobriety.

That’s all in the first chapter.


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{DEMON: THE FALLEN}

Ashes and Angel Wings

Hasmed, a fallen guardian angel, has returned to the world in the possessed body of mob-fringe loser. He attempts to rise within the mortal hierarchy of the mafia while serving the infernal hierarchy of his imprisoned master. There’s only one hitch in his plan to yoke conventional crime to the war against God. It’s another demon, Avitu, who is older, more powerful and far crazier. Avitu believes she can earn the forgiveness of the Almighty. All she has to do is fix humankind so that they can’t sin any more.

Make that two hitches. His mortal host has a daughter Tina, who has a knack for rousing those long-buried guardian instincts at the most inconvenient times…

This book and the next two comprise the Trilogy of the Fallen, a series of tie-in novels for White Wolf’s game Demon: the Fallen. It’s the first novel I wrote with a contract and an advance and everything — just like Janet Evanovitch! — so I was pretty nervous about getting it right. In fact, I very nearly didn’t get to write this at all.

The roleplaying game field is full of frustrated novelists (or, in my case, relieved ones). Being permitted to write a tie-in is seen as a very sweet plum, and it’s offered to freelancers who’ve demonstrated both skill and loyalty… when the line developer hasn’t gone and snapped up the novels himself, that is. Mike Lee, the line developer for Demon, initially intended to write the novels himself but, due to scheduling conflicts, just could not fit them in. He had to pass, and I was there ready to pounce on his misfortune and profit from it. It’s a shame, since I think Mike would have done a bang-up job. But, from my perspective, not too much of a shame.


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{DEMON: THE FALLEN}

The Seven Deadlies

The devil Gaviel, shorn of his wings and glory for rebelling against God, now controls the body of a minister’s son in Missouri. Unlike Hasmed from Ashes and Angel Wings, he has no desire to fling wide the gates of the Abyss and ruin the mortal world. He’s looking out for number one. Unfortunately for him, he gets roped in to the conflict with Avitu, an alliance with an untrustworthy demon of lust, and a showdown with an angel of death who was cast into Hell, even though he fought for Heaven’s cause.

This was a tough book to write. I had it all out lined, neat and tidy, and about halfway through I realized it wasn’t going to work. At all. The outline was trashed, the book was completely derailed and I had no clue in the world what was going to come next. So I did what any decent writer would do. I panicked and called my editor.

Phillipe Boulle edited the Trilogy and handled this crisis with great aplomb. “Greg,” he said, “Is the book bad?”

“Well no,” I replied. “Not so far, I mean, actually, I like a lot of what I’m writing, but I just don’t know where it goes.”

“Well, why don’t you just try writing it out and following it along? You’re a good writer. Maybe if you trust your instincts, it’ll turn out okay.”

To my great shock, it did. In fact Phillipe told me The Seven Deadlies was his favorite book of the three. I must admit, writing the sermons was a load of fun.


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{DEMON: THE FALLEN}

The Wreckage of Paradise

The climax of the Trilogy hinges on Sabriel the succubus, who desires nothing more than to punish humankind — in her view of things, they betrayed the demons who raised arms against the Almighty on humanity’s behalf. This puts her at odds with Avitu, who wants to protect and restore mankind… though, admittedly, in a way that most humans would find terrifying and repellent. Sabriel battles beside, and sometimes against, Hasmed and Gaviel in a conflict that encompasses mobsters, serial killers, ghosts, demons, artists, Federal agents, scholars, strippers, video clerks and even Lucifer himself.

Once I got past the tricky middle swing of the Trilogy, the rest more or less outlined itself. I’d been fortunate enough to be in on the very earliest planning stages of Demon: the Fallen, so I had lots of input on Hasmed as he appeared everywhere. From the very first, I knew exactly how I wanted his story to end, and in Wreckage, it ended. In my mind, I had that section written before I even started on the first book. Also, I’m rather fond of the title. Titles are a pain for me, so I’m always pleased when I can think of a good one.

Selected Short Stories

The Dark Man

As I mentioned back in the introduction, this was my first published piece of fiction, back in 1992 in Haunts magazine. I submitted another story to them first, one I thought was better, but they rejected it and I thought, “Well, might as well try the other one.” It got accepted, but due to the vicissitudes of the Rhode Island post office (at the time, it was apparently notorious for being, in a word, crappy) I didn’t find out I’d been accepted until two or three years later, when the story was actually scheduled for publication. I’d just been too shy and self-conscious to write a letter to the editor asking for clarification.

Potential Recruit

This is my contribution to the anthology Alien Intelligence, which is based in the Delta Green game setting. It’s the story of an undercover agent who becomes emotionally entangled with the cult he’s investigating, forcing a conflict of loyalties between the isolation, loneliness and justice of his job, and the people who are depraved and evil… but who understand and welcome him.

Bob Kruger, the editor on the anthology, really kicked the crap out of this piece in the best possible way. The first draft had a lot of good build-up and no payoff, so he asked me to redo the ending. I did. He still wasn’t happy and made me do it again, and that third time, I realized what the story was really about and what it really meant to the main character. Reading it now, I can’t imagine any other ending on it — it all seems so seamless to me. But I only realized the obvious under duress.

Thanks, Bob!

As I See It

The second Delta Green anthology was entitled Dark Theaters and I had some fun with my second short story. Agent Rebecca Marks, who served as something of a Greek Chorus in “Potential Recruit” returns at center stage. The story has a fractured narrative that skips around in time, in order to tell the story of an FBI investigator whose perception of time becomes fractured.

The Devil’s Sugar

This is a short story in Lucifer’s Shadow, the anthology tied to the game Demon: the Fallen. It has a tie-in to the novel trilogy, taking place roughly in the middle of The Seven Deadlies. Looking back, that was maybe a little awkward for the novel, but I’m quite happy with the story. As I recall, one reviewer’s reaction was, “At last! A story about a demon who’s not misunderstood, not tragic, not a flawed hero, but who is deeply selfish, manipulative and evil!” That pretty much covers it.

Little Wing

I joined the Naperville Writer’s Group in 2002, and they have this tradition of reading only spooky stories at the meeting before Halloween. I couldn’t very well let that go by, could I? So when I had this very odd dream, I tried to get it down on paper, complete with the eerie unreality that it had possessed throughout. I didn’t completely succeed, but I think the story’s still pretty good. One of the other guys in the group, who’s working on his own series of ghost stories, offered to buy it off me for his web site — and there it is.

What is Detonated Fiction?

What is “Detonated Fiction”?
Five or six years ago I read Italo Calvino’s excellent novel “If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler”. One part of the book is a satire on literary analysis in which a critic insists that actually reading books is passé. She analyzes them by feeding the text into a computer and having it crunch out the frequency of word choice. Thus, a book that uses the phrase “Sam Browne belt” more than “tenderness” clearly reveals a macho slant.

It was a funny bit, but it got me thinking: How much of the meaning of a work is conveyed by word choice, and how much by word order? What is the weighted importance of the words used as opposed to their arrangement? Furthermore, was there a way to analyze or even examine these factors?

At the time, I was working as a secretary for a group of computer science teachers, and I asked one how hard it would be to write a program to analyze the frequency of word use in a document. “Not hard,” he said. Then I asked him if he’d do it for me and he declined. (Not that I blame him. Those CS professors worked like maniacs.)

Frustrated by numerical analysis, I tried another approach, and it worked, I guess. I found a way to use Microsoft Word to alphabetize every word in a story (though the longer the stories were, the more cumbersome the process became and the more difficult the output was to read). I called the process “detonation” because that’s basically what happens: The work is blown out of the author’s careful order and then re-arranged alphabetically. That’s an order, of course, but it’s one that might as well be arbitrary or random for the purposes of creating meaning. Except, of course, for the meaning intrinsic in the words themselves.

How to Detonate Text with Microsoft Word

1. Click on “Edit” and choose “Select All”

2. Click on “Edit” and choose “Replace”

3. Enter a single space in the section labeled “Find What”

4. Click on the section labeled “Replace With”

5. Click on “More” and then “Special” and then “Paragraph Mark” When you hit “Replace All” your text should be turned into one long string with each word as a separate paragraph.

6. Click on “Table” and choose “Sort” and then “OK”

Now you should have a string in alphabetical order, possibly with a bunch of blank lines at the beginning. All you have to do is repeat steps 1-5 replacing paragraph marks with single spaces again, and your piece is detonated.


With a means of divorcing the meaning arising from word choice from the meaning arising from word position, the clear question was: What to do next? Well, why not expose people to detonations before they’d seen the structured text, and get their reactions? Since I’m a big fan of (1) creativity and (2) fun, I thought it would be fun to see people’s creative reactions. To abet me in this goal, I enlisted three writer friends: Jonathan Tweet, John Tynes and Tim Toner.

John Tynes agreed to supply the seed of the project: One of his unpublished short stories. Here’s Tynes’ story. He emailed it to me and I detonated it – trying hard not to read any of it in its organized form. Then I took the detonated file, sent it to Tim Toner and asked him to write a short story after reading the detonation. Note that Tim never had a chance to read Tynes’ words in their intended order. Here’s the word slew he got. Nor did I ask any of the writers to try and re-use all the words in the detonation files without adding any. Good grief, can you imagine what an agonizing puzzle that would be?

If you’ve looked at the file Tim got, you’ll notice that I broke it into paragraphs. I did that to make it easier to read and out of a certain artistic or aesthetic impulse. (Notice how “parents parents parents” gets a line all to itself?) It was fun.

Tim produced a whopper of a story, much longer than Tynes’ vignette. Here’s Tim’s story. I blew it up, again trying hard not to read it, and sent the remains on to Tweet. Once more, I broke it into paragraphs. (This probably indicates something deeply perverse and narcissistic about me.) (Or, if the paragraph insertion didn’t, that last parenthetical aside probably did.) (Okay, I’ll stop now.)

Jonathan did his own literary demolition, sending this detonation to me. (When the experiment ended, he sent along the assembled story.) I ended the process by writing this story in response, which was eventually published in issue #17 of the Naperville Writers’ Group magazine Rivulets.

I’ve personally drawn a conclusion or two from this series – notably that Tweet and Toner can bring it pretty effectively on short notice – but rather than share my deeper insights, I’d like to get your response. Yes, you. I’d love it if you came down to the fiction forum and let me know what you thought of the stories, what trends you noticed and what (if anything) you think this practice demonstrates.

 
Greg Stolze holds the 2006 copyright for all text appearing on this web site. All images are copyright their respective holders and their use here does not constitute a challenge to those copyrights. To contact Greg Stolze, click here.