Tag Archives: Writing

My Review of “Poor Man’s Flight” by Elliott Kay

PoorMan's

In my quest to review other self-published works, I came across Poor Man’s Flight by Elliott Kay. I know nothing about the author, but he sure did have me intrigued within the first few minutes of reading it. I will do my best to not have too many spoilers.

Poor Man’s Flight, set in a future realm in which humans have spread across the galaxy to other systems, parallels many problems plaguing us today. The main antagonist, Tanner Malone, is finishing high school and hopes to head off to a university soon thereafter like the rest of his friends. Unfortunately, he is not able to pass the big culminating test to place him high enough to enter school without having to gain an excruciating amount of debt. For this society, it seems like going to a good university, on loans, and getting a good job with the loan holders is the only way to make a decent living. People get stuck in a perpetual circle of debt-payments-more debt. Talk about similarities today’s world. Every kid nowadays is told they have to go off to college or they won’t succeed. Average student loan debt crushes modern day grads. In the book, Tanner, on the advice of a friend of his, enlists in the Navy to assist with some debt and help get himself reset to enter a university.

On the other side of this book, we have a ruthless, yet sometimes likable set of pirates that prey on the rich and treat their own crew members with respect. On one hand, they are much more fair than the ‘democratic’ society that they rob. The head pirate has the same rights as everyone else and they do nothing unless the majority agree that it’s the right move. Kay makes me actually think it would be cool to join this band of criminals who have managed to escape the loan and debt system while living what seems like a gluttonous lifestyle. On the other hand, my morals kicked in. While the pirates are fair to one another, they certainly have no regard for anyone outside of their circle. They are true killers.

Kay takes us through Tanner’s boot camp as we watch him transform from a true book smart kid to a trained soldier. We see him get assigned to a group of ill prepared soldiers on a patrol ship, and watch proudly as he rises to the occasion to pull them through a serious mess. Kay does a good job of relaying the different realities of military life They just happen to be in space. For all you former military people, and those interested in the military, you’ll love Tanner’s role and experiences.

This story is really a reflection of our current state of affairs. We live in a world that tells us that we have to go to college to get a good job, but neglects to prepare us for the cost. We then go on to accrue more and more debt while the same corporations gain more and more money from our debt. The book highlights the frustrations that are currently building in our society. We can almost see ourselves in the pirates. Maybe not the ruthless and murderous parts, but certainly in the part that wants to live free of the debt forced upon society. In almost every character in the book, I found a part of me. It was like looking in a mirror and having the reflection show these characters. I think you’ll find the same thing if you read it. The ending is fantastic and I know you’ll enjoy it just as much as I did!

The thing that made this book even better was the way his characters interacted. One thing that I struggled with in writing my first book was giving the characters dialogue that seemed natural and engaged the reader. Kay does that well in this book. The characters interacted realistically and I appreciate that.

This book has sold fairly well on Amazon and is selling for $2.99. It is definitely worth the price and, as I like to say now, is less than a cup of coffee. Pick up a copy and help support this fellow self-published author. From what I gathered on his blog, he recently had surgery, so that’s even more of a reason to buy his book – let’s cheer him up!

Here is the link to his book on Amazon

Here is a link to his blog 

*The only disclaimer I give is for language. I personally have no problem with foul language in books. To me, it more closely mirrors reality. Just know that it is present in this book.


Why Indies HAVE to Read and Review Self-Published Work

Karma

If you’ve self published, you know that the hardest part of the process is certainly not writing the book. In fact, writing it is the enjoyable part. Marketing it is the bane of indie author existence. After all, you’re authors, not professional marketers. Most self-published authors certainly aren’t rich and definitely can’t finance a marketing campaign, but we all know that without people finding out about your writing, simply hitting the ‘publish’ button online won’t mean a thing. You could have a work of art. You may have written the next Harry Potter series, but if nobody reads it, you’re done. Your work gets buried in the glut of other books. It will be hidden in between the work by a ninth grader and some fitness book that your thousand pound yoga instructor wrote.

That is where other self-published authors come in. Since trying to merge into the scene, I have met some incredibly great people that read, review, and share other people’s work when it comes out. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. It takes more than simply spamming my Twitter with yours or somebody else’s work (more than 10 spams an hour gets an unfollow). It takes a commitment on the part of all of us. I would like to think of the indie author scene as a group of colleagues. We can be the gatekeepers of the self-published world.

The first step is actually buying other colleagues work. Come on, will $2.99 really kill you? You spend more than that in gas to get in your car to go to the store. It will certainly make the day of the author when they see the sale. Second, if you like the work, review it and let everyone else know why you liked it. A book won’t sell without reviews, and we have to review each others work. Karma. Don’t expect your book to get read and reviewed if you snob it into the digital without bothering to help others out along the way. If you don’t like a book you’ve read, simply don’t leave a review. I know this is controversial, but guess what, someone outside of the self-published world will leave a bad review. As colleagues, we don’t need to hurt each others sales figured by posting bad reviews in public forums. My take on this is a key leadership principle – praise in public, criticize in private.

My personal goal is going to be to read and review one self-published book a week. If I like it, I’ll make sure to let everyone know. I’ll tell them on Twitter, Facebook, and I’ll post the review here on my blog. If I don’t like it, well, then I’ll let it slip quietly into the Delta Quadrant (maybe the crew of Voyager can check it out). We need to leave the bad reviews to the professionals, which most of us aren’t. The thing is, once we see good reviews, we should take the time to buy the book. Again, as Hugh Howey would say, they cost less than a cup of coffee. Anyone willing to put serious work into writing an entire book deserves at least that much. I have not published my own book yet, but when I do, I hope people take time to do the same. Take care!


Why Do You Self-Publish?

I mean, I already know the generic answer to that question. People self-publish to escape the evil twenty-something gatekeepers that hate their work, even though the work is fantastic. They self-publish because they don’t want to go through the many rounds of rejection, many times because what they are writing ‘is not currently selling.’ Of course, one of the main reasons to self-publish is for an author’s creativity to remain intact, which they often see as one of the things that publishers suck away.

My reason for pursuing the self-publishing path is pretty simple. I like immediate results and I want a bigger percentage of the money. I also think that, with the internet, everyone has a right to have their stuff read. Sometimes people’s work is not that great, but there is an easy way to handle that – don’t buy it.

Don’t take this to mean that I am going to cut corners. I know the importance of good writing, solid and complete editing, and sound cover designs. I understand that it is easy to spot the self-published authors that really don’t have a firm grasp on plot and character development. Heck, I might not be that good at it either, but I sure as heck will work hard to improve. And again, it seems like a better deal to keep more of your money. Why should good authors be forced to take such a small percentage of the profit?

What I really want to know from other self-published authors is this – what do you hope to realistically gain financially from self-publishing? I know that’s a personal question, but it seems like such a tall order to do well in the current market. The market is filled with good work. Sometimes that good work makes it big. Hugh Howey certainly did with Wool. Heck, even bad writing can make it big if it involved sex. I saw shirts based on Fifty Shades of Grey the other day at the bookstore (unfortunately it was next to the kid’s section of the store).

How about you? Do all self-published authors get into it seeing dollar signs? Or do you do it just because you have some extra time and want to share your work with the world?

For the sake of all self-publishers, I wish more semi-successful indie authors would speak up with some of their incomes figures from books sales. I know how personal finances are to most people, but it sure would be nice for others to know that there are some serious success stories out there. I’m not talking about the ones selling thousand upon thousand of copies. I’m talking about the authors that can pay their bills from their self-published work. The ones that aren’t rich, but can now go out to eat without worrying about blowing their budget. Where are you? I know you’re out there. We want to hear from you.

I have my own reasons for going the self-published route, and I will discuss that further in another blog post in about a month or so. It’s two-fold and deserves more than a sentence here. Take care!


Publishing – The latest medium to succumb to the internet?

Self-publishing has taken off thanks to the ease brought forth by Amazon, Smashwords, PubIt, LuLu, etc. Of course, the rise in eReaders has certainly helped. Just wait until everything is digital (I love my regular books, but I am also a realist). Unfortunately, there are many (and I mean MANY) people out there that refuse to buy anything self-published. Some of that is the individual authors faults (errors and snobbery) but most of it has to do with simple tradition. People have always bought their books from traditional publishers and they just simply don’t know of the other routes.

I remember when I downloaded my first illegal music file. It was 1999 and it came from a thing called Napster. I thought it was the coolest thing! I didn’t have to buy anymore CDs. I didn’t really think about how bad it screwed the artists over. Now I do, but I also know that the music industry had to adjust. The big labels and musicians didn’t go down without a fight either. They whined and moaned and told us that their way was the best because they knew what they were doing. They sued and sued. In fact, they won most of their cases. Unfortunately for them, they were fighting a new era brought on by the internet. Nobody could stop the digital world of sharing. So, instead of trying to stop it, they eventually came around and adjusted. Sure, people still download illegally, but with iTunes and Google Music offering better solutions for all involved, everyone came out on top. The artists get paid and we get our music for a relatively cheap price.

I know it is not exactly the same, but I equate the music situation with the publishing situation. Self-publishers are the ones downloading the free music and crashing the party of the major labels. They are breaking into their profits (supposedly) and not playing on their established field. So, how are the publishers responding? Slowly and not happily.

One of the main arguments coming from “real” authors is that self-publishing waters down their work. Yeah, I guess they have beef, but can they really stop it? Nope. There is absolutely no way they can stop self-publishing. They know that deep down, and we have seen them work to adjust to that reality. They are now picking off the best self-publishers. You know the biggies, but some examples are Fifty Shades of Grey and of course, a great indie success story, Wool by Hugh Howey.

I see it as a good thing, and not just because I’ll be self-publishing soon. Sure, we have some kinks to work out, but it offers everyone freedom. First, it give the authors a chance to be found. Let’s face it, publishers really do miss some good work. They are not book gods. Often, an authors hard work is left in the hands of an intern who’s job it is to decide whether a piece of work is worthy or not. I know, they have a lot to do, but now, the public can be the gatekeepers. They can decide what is good or not. Very American, huh?

In the end, and if they play their cards right, publishers can get in on this. They can almost let the public do their job for them in scouting good work, pluck off the indie authors with good deals, and publish them. Sure, the power shifts to the author more than ever, but I like that. Power at the top sucks no matter what you are talking about. 


Can you be successful without a young adult audience?

Think about the latest science fiction/fantasy to really take off. What has been the most popular in the last year or so? The following are what come to mind for me-

Hunger Games – dystopian sci-fi

Twilight – vampire fantasy

The Avengers/All Marvel – comics/sci-fi

Percy Jackson series – fantasy

What do those things have in common? None would be nearly as popular without the young adult audiences. Sure, a few would hold up without the young girls and boys to fuel them, but they would not be nearly as successful. So, what does that mean for prospective science fiction authors?

Well, I think they need to seriously consider who their audience is going to be. Of course, they already do that. When writing a book or short story, an author is always conscious of who will be reading their material. Some set out from the beginning as young adult authors, some do not. An author will tone their book to the intended audience. Foul language and sexual descriptions are likely to be left out of books geared towards younger audiences.

Pandering to both young adult and adult audiences is hard. Many people I know won’t go near the young adult/teen section of a book store or Kindle store. Why? Not really sure. Maybe it’s psychological. Maybe they think they are less of an adult if they pick them up. Some adult sci-fi readers just prefer adult stories. As a writer, I love reading young adult books books. My reading mind has never really left childhood anyway. Heck, I’ll pick up Dr. Seuss if it helps my creativity. I read the Hunger Games and Percy Jackson books very quickly. The thing about well written young adult books is this – sure, on the surface they have kids in them, but the things those kids are dealing with are pure adult situations. They teach acceptance, responsibility, courage, and leadership. Those lessons are great for youth, but even better for a forgetful adult generation.

Can an author hit both audiences? Many have. They are the ones that have been most successful so far. To do this, the author can’t make it seem like a young adult book at all. I think it has to be an adult book that has some aspect in it that young adult audiences will respond to. Having a young adult being a main character in the book is a good way to do this, though I know how hard it is to integrate kids into an adult plot while ensuring they remain a vital character that can be taken seriously.

I guess success in science fiction is measured based on the needs and wants of the individual author. Some have no interest in catering to the young adult audience. Those authors should also be prepared to not reap the success that can happen if the younger ones go crazy over something (a la Bieber, One Direction, Hunger Games, etc). They bring a new meaning to viral. Of course, Stephen King and others manage to do well all on their own. Us indies have seen Hugh Howey explode to success without many young adult readers. So, it is possible, just harder.

I can’t wait to see how the new movie After Earth does in theaters. Sure, its a movie, but it can be a good case study. Will Smith, a favorite among almost all age groups, stars along side his son, Jaden Smith. Jaden is fourteen and will attract the younger audiences even though the plot and trailer make it seem to be a completely serious film (meaning, not geared towards younger audiences). It looks like the movie will revolve around those two, so it should be interesting.

Will Smith                                                            jaden-smith-300

After Earth trailer here!


Self-Publishing Editing – The Biggest Indie Flaw

BookEditing

So, since I’ve been integrating myself into the indie author scene, I’ve realized major themes that are constant. I mentioned many of them yesterday in my blog post about covers, but I want to talk about editing today.

We have always heard that editing is sooooo important. My high school English teachers and college professors would pretty much threaten us if we turned in badly edited papers. Of course, we all thought our work was fantastic as it was. We had read over it at least once, so it had to be great. Right? Nah.

No matter how great of a writer you are, someone else has to read your work. There are many benefits to this other than just finding grammar and spelling errors, and trust me, no matter how many times you have read your work, there will still be errors. It’s natural for us to miss our own mistakes. We have already written it once, so when our brain is reading it again, it knows what to expect. It jumps ahead. Unfortunately, our brain has a bad habit of jumping right over all of the errors.

I was a teacher for a while, so I have a new appreciation for the editing process. I didn’t realize just how easy it was to spot errors in a paper/book until I started reading stuff that had not passed through some kind of gatekeeper. Some of you may think that one or two errors are fine, and usually you’re right. A few errors can be forgiven if your book is spectacular. But finding more than a few, especially obvious errors, leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths. When I am reading a book and keep running into errors, I form a picture of the author in my mind. I picture them as sloppy and maybe even a little snobby. I mean, if you think your stuff is already good enough to not be edited, then I’m sorry, I won’t be reading any more of your stuff.

Sure, have family and close friends read your work. Tell them to be honest and brutal if need be. Guess what? They will still sugarcoat it for you. If you rely on family for editing, use them for part of the editing process, not the whole. Get your work out to acquaintances, not necessarily friends. Make sure you get it to people that will not hesitate to take a red pen to it!

Within a few days of being involved in the indie scene, a few people offered to beta read my book. As soon as I get my local copies back from editing and make changes, I’ll be using them. Who am I using locally? Well, of course my family, though I know not to rely 100% on that. I’m also going to be giving it out to professionals in the area that I have connected with throughout the years. They are friends, but they certainly have no problem being blunt. Two are former Marines, one has a doctorate in theology (my book needs God on its side), and others are marketing and finance professionals. I’ll feel pretty confident that most of the errors will have been found by then.

I mentioned above another benefit to the editing process. As long as this is part of the agreement, editors are great testers. Tell your editing crew to look for typical spelling, grammar, and flow errors. But also tell them to give you advice. Here are some questions I am sending along with my book –

  1. What intrigued you about novel?
  2. What disappointed you about the novel?
  3. Did anything surprise you?
  4. Who was your favorite character and why?
  5. Is there anything you would have cut? Added?
  6. Anything else I need to know?

I’ll think of a few more, but you get the point. By the time your book is ready to publish, it should have run the gauntlet. One of the biggest complaints about self-published authors is our lack of a gatekeeper. Well, it’s time to pony up and make our own gate. The only way to really change the minds of others and to gain a much larger readership in the indie scene is to make our work better than published work. It can be done, but first we have to get past ourselves.


Your Book Cover Matters!

I have been doing a great amount of research about self-publishing. I mean, I have literally sat in front of the computer looking up what works and what does not for hours on end. I have come across many helpful blog posts and I try to let an author know when what they have written is helpful to me. Here are some of the main things I have come across that seem to be constant.

Write, write, write – Get your story out and a first draft finished

Edit – No matter how good you think you are, get your work edited

Cut – Don’t be afraid to let go of entire chapters or more if they don’t work

Market – Self-published authors are entrepreneurs first, authors second (darn)

Book Cover – Spend time working on the cover

I know there is so much more, but that is just off the top of my head. Today, I want to tell you about a conversation I had with a good artist friend of mine about my book cover (does not exist yet). My friend has never worked on book covers (that I know of) and does not have any first hand knowledge of self-publishing, but man, she had some great advice.

First – You, as the author, have to know what you want. If you don’t, then you are asking for trouble when working on a cover. You have to ensure that the cover conveys what is inside, but more importantly, that it has a personal meaning for you. You have to be attached to what the cover means. If you’re not emotional over it, ditch it.

Second – Make sure the artist is actually interested in the project. If you simply seek out any artist to design your cover, they likely will just treat it as just another commissioned work and not put forth all of their effort. Sure, you’ll get something, but it probably won’t be as good as it could have been,

Third – If the artist is not giving you advice and input, as well as seeking yours, back away. Think of it as a partnership, not a cold business deal. You put time and effort into writing your book, so make sure you have someone designing a cover that realizes that.

Fourth – THE COVER IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING! No matter how eloquent and thought out your book is, if nobody picks it up or clicks on it, you aint got nothin! (Southern side)

I have spent hours in the local book stores and just as many online scanning book covers. I take note of what makes me reach my hand up. As a reader, choosing a book is a step-by-step process. The cover grabs you, you pick it up, you read the description, you put it back down or buy it. The decision to buy a book or not is usually made, for me, in less than fifteen seconds. The most important part of that is the cover because that’s what made me pick it up.

I’m chugging along with my first book, but I am scared to death of not having a great cover. I know exactly what I want. Now I just have to find someone that can become attached to it as much as I am. The cover I want is simple but attention grabbing. I made sure that I didn’t see anything else like it and that it meant something to me. You have to be comfortable with your cover artist so that they can translate what you want purely and naturally. If you’re not, then good luck.

Anyone that has any experience with this, PLEASE comment below. 


Character Development Stinks! But I Solved the Problem

fictionvnon

Too much description…too little description. Your character seems stiff (no pun intended). Your character is boring. The protagonist lacks connective qualities. The antagonist does not seem very antagonistic. 

Any of that sound familiar?

Character development, for me, is the hardest part of writing. I am finished with the second draft of my first book and will soon be giving it to about eight people for their verdict. Honestly? I’m scared to death of what they will say about the characters.

My background is not fiction writing. Far from it. Everything I have written has been pure non-fiction. Political science papers, APSA formatting. Education papers, APA formatting. No first person, no feelings, no twists, turns, or loops. Just factual writing based on solid research. I was good at it. I was so good that one of my jobs as a graduate assistant was to edit professional papers and books. All non-fiction and research based.

Making the switch to fiction was hard. It took me a while to flip the switch. Contractions had been pounded out of me to the point that my finger still has a hard time finding the apostrophe button. Using “I” would have gotten me shot. Same goes with using “he” and “she.” This certainly makes for some good writing, as long as you are turning it in to be peer-reviewed. It does not work well for fiction.

Following non-fiction guidelines for writing makes for tough fiction reading. Our brains function differently when reading each type. If we are reading non-fiction, we expect the syntax and grammar that comes with it. It doesn’t feel awkward. If we grab a fiction novel off the shelf and the author follows those strict guidelines, then it will feel like we are reading something a robot wrote (maybe SIRI).

It has been extremely difficult for me to break my own rules and switch to fiction. I think I have it down now, but I hope I’m able to switch back when I need to. Anyway, back to character development. That, too, is a skill that non-fiction does not teach you. There are no characters to develop in research papers and books. I struggled with what to do about that until a few days ago.

In researching and publishing in a journal, you have to develop an argument (not necessarily a conflict, but argument as in stating a point). In many ways, developing an argument and developing a character are similar. Both have to have an introduction. Both have to have background information conveyed and explained subtly yet forcefully. Both have to build and create themselves throughout the work and conclude with dignity. Most importantly, both an argument and a character have to stand on the work put into them once the story is complete. They have to stand strong and leave the reader convinced of their authenticity.

Unfortunately, I made that connection after I finished the first draft of my book. Hopefully my subconscious mind made the connection for me as I was writing. Breaking into fiction was hard. I considered myself to be a good non-fiction researcher and writer, not a story teller. Now I want to tell some stories. I can only hope that I make my characters come alive in my readers’ minds.

Has anyone else had this problem. Maybe you are great at fiction and not so great at non? Let me know in the comments!


Science Fiction is Screwed

melies

I love science fiction. Seriously, even bad science fiction. I love it so much that I’ve decided to publish my own science fiction book (lol, we’ll see). Lately though, I have been thinking about how screwed modern science fiction creators are.

Star Wars gave birth to the modern science fiction era. I know, Star Trek came first by more than a decade, but it lost its popularity and didn’t become mainstream until Star Wars smashed the world with its dominance. Then we had these two major star epics, able to maintain themselves despite one another because of their differences. They both created and maintain HUGE fan bases. I’m a big fan of both (say whaaaat? That’s not legal).

So I walk up and down the science fiction sections of my local chain book stores and I see huge sections dedicated to Star Wars and Star Trek. Their popularity is not going away. With the rebooting of Trek and the upcoming Star Wars movies, they will probably gain new, younger fans. They have both entrenched themselves as science fiction kings (and they both somehow managed to get the same king to direct them – J.J. Abrams).

So where does that leave the rest of the science fiction world? Screwed. Nothing has reached the popularity of those two giants, and I doubt anything will. The best anyone else can do is hope to avoid comparison to one or the other. Unfortunately, almost all space science fiction will draw those comparisons. It takes something truly different to break out in science fiction, and even then, it is tough.

I love Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series and the movie based on it is coming out on November 1st (barring any controversial holdup). Unfortunately, it is going to suffer comparisons to the star greats. It will also be compared to Hunger Games. Speaking of Hunger Games it seems like that Suzanne Collins hit the right trend in sci-fi.

It seems like dystopian sci-fi is what is really working now. Maybe that’s because so many people are unhappy with the current state of global affairs. It sure does sell books! Of course this is nothing new. I loved 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451. Those books were great successes, but really only as books. Maybe we’ll see some of them become movies soon, but that seems to be where books like the Hunger Games come in. They have capitalized on dystopian sci-fi.

Hugh Howey’s Wool is an awesome work of science fiction and I could connect with it. I also never thought of comparing in to the major sci-fi greats because it is so different. Again, it is a dystopian sci-fi adventure, so it is getting in on the current trend.

So, when I say science fiction is screwed, I really mean space-based sci-fi. The kings of that genre are already in place and anyone that wants success will really have to lower the bar of what they consider a win. Successful sci-fi will have to reinvent itself.

For the record, my sci-fi thriller is on Earth, then space, then back into a dystopian-like Earth. Maybe I’ll get lucky.


Chapter One of my Book – Part 2

I posted part 1 of the first chapter the other day, so be sure to check that out as well (reading one without the other won’t make a difference though). This book is a sci-fi thriller. No, there is really no way to tell this is a sci-fi book from the first chapter, but I don’t have a problem with that. The first chapter is a thriller and is used to establish one of the protagonists. Again, comments, suggestions, and criticism all welcome! Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Journey of the Kings – King’s Series, Book I

Part One – Earth

Chapter One – The Agent

June, 2039

Following Yasef Masam was the easy part. Seth had been studying the man’s habits for a few weeks. The markets of Damascus had been mostly unchanged for the last few hundred years. Crowded and noisy with hagglers, tailing someone with a daily routine was basic agency training. Langley taught them how to disappear in the open, and Seth mastered that task a week into training. He may have been the youngest recruit, but he was definitely the smartest. He wasn’t the most physically demanding specimen, but that didn’t matter. He had proven that there was no situation he couldn’t think his way out of. If thinking his way out of the situation failed, he certainly knew how to kill his way out.

Yasef turned left at the dealer hawking live chickens on the corner. The same place he turned everyday. Seth had to wave off the carpet dealer that had no customers. There were few things in the world more annoying a Muslim marketeers. Business must have been slow if the man wanted to talk to the one person clearly not there to buy anything.

Turning the corner about twenty seconds after Yasef, Seth saw him heading for the stairs about forty yards away. Today was going to be different for both of their routines. For the last few weeks Seth never had followed him up those stairs. There were too many locals in the hallways of the run-down apartment complex that they led to. The complex housed a darker crowd that might notice him if he entered.

Unfortunately, he had no more time to tail him. He knew that Yasef was a lower ranking member in the Syrian Freedom Group, but he never seemed to lead Seth to any higher ranking members within the organization. The group likely organized much like Al Qaeda did before the US destroyed them. No single layer of ranking led directly to the other. It was a safer, if less efficient way to conduct business. It was time for Seth to find out who Yasef reported to. Maybe then he could at least move to someone a little farther up the food chain.

Seth held back a little bit, but never let Yasef out of his sight. He went up the stairs about ten seconds after the Syrian, but immediately slowed when he saw a group of shady looking locals gathered. They all stopped talking and looked right at him. Seth had grown out his beard and had gotten a considerable tan, to the point where he would easily blend into the local scene of Algeria or Morocco. He hoped it would be enough for this part of the Syrian city. Much of his career with the CIA had been spent undercover in the Middle East or India, so looking the part was usually not a problem. Any Westerner would never suspect that he was actually an American.

He knew he might encounter people such as this today, so he dressed in trashy clothing and rubbed some dirt on his arms and face earlier in the day. He needed to look like he belonged. If these guys were thieves, he didn’t want them thinking he had anything to offer. Apparently they came to that very conclusion, because they quickly resumed their conversation. As he passed by he overheard them talking about a policeman that had been killed the night before. They were speaking in Arabic, but Seth had spoken the language fluently since he was nineteen. He figured these men had something to do with the death, but he was not going to stick around to ask. He saw Yasef head up the stairs at the end of the narrow hallway to the right. He needed to speed up a bit.

He was too far behind. By the time he got to the next floor Yasef had already disappeared into one of the small apartments. Seth figured that he would have only had time to get into one of the first three doors. Any other day would have proven harder to figure out which door he went in, but there had been a small sand storm the previous night and there was only one door in which the sand in front was disturbed. Seth approached the second door and listened. He heard a chair being moved and knocked.

Less than five seconds later the door opened. No wonder this guy was so low ranking in the organization. He didn’t even check to see if there was any danger lurking outside before he opened the door. Seth was inside the tiny apartment before Yasef knew there was any danger. He had him on the floor and the door closed less than two seconds after entry. Yasef would have screamed for help if not for the silenced .22 caliber pointed in his left eye. Seth quickly scanned the place and noticed only one other exit; a small window that probably dropped to a back alley behind the complex.

In Arabic Seth said, “Say a word and it will be your last. Stay quiet and answer my questions and I will be gone in three minutes.” Yasef looked at him with terror in his face, but quickly nodded his agreement to the demands. Seth took about thirty seconds to tie the Syrian to the chair with the para-cord he had hidden under his tunic.

“Okay. I’ll make this quick. Who is your contact within the SFG?” Seth knew he what the response would be.

“I do not know,” Yasef said. Seth knew he didn’t know. None of them knew the other members. Sure, they may see each other at a drop every now and then, but other than that, for all they knew, their coworkers and neighbors were also members of the terrorist group. It was meant to be that way. Their organizational structure made it incredibly hard to wipe them out. If one member was captured, they couldn’t give up more than one other person.

Seth had to show some anger or the guy wouldn’t believe his threats. He pushed the chair and Yasef over on his left side. Yasef hit the floor with a loud thud, but to his credit, didn’t utter a word of complaint.

“Where do you receive your orders?” Seth didn’t need to know exactly who the person was, just where they would be and when.

Yasef didn’t want to give up this information. He said nothing. Seth didn’t have the patience for this so he put the gun barrel against Yasef’s leg, the one pressed against the floor, and pressed it into his femur. Yasef still didn’t answer. The sound of a silenced small caliber pistol shot filled the room and Yasef screamed out in agony. Seth had to hurry in case someone heard the scream.

“I will not ask again. If you want me to leave this place with you still breathing, tell me where you get your orders,” Seth pressed the barrel into the new wound, causing Yasef to wince in extreme pain. Tears were rolling down his dirt stained face. Poor kid, thought Seth. He was probably recruited from the streets and given this opportunity because he had no other. He didn’t look a day older than twenty. Such was the desperation of the area, Seth thought. He knew that until poverty was eradicated from the area, there would always be people like Yasef to recruit.

“I pick up messages from a man every Tuesday,” Yasef mumbled pathetically, “right after mid-day prayer in front of the new coffee shop near the market entrance.” He knew that even if he made it out of the apartment alive that they would kill him when they discovered he had divulged this information. It was only Wednesday, so he thought that maybe he could get his leg fixed and get out of the country before they knew what he had done.

Seth had everything he needed. It was not much, but he had more information than he did four minutes before. The only way he knew to infiltrate the SFG was the start low and move up the chain of command. Picking off the lower ranks like Yasef would be easy, but it would certainly get harder as he moved up.

Seth got up before the blood pooling under Yasef’s leg could reach him. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself by having fresh blood on his clothing as he walked back through the hallways. He untied the young man and tore off part of a shirt nearby on the floor and told Yasef to wrap it around his leg to stop the bleeding.

“Thank you, Yasef,” Seth said. As the Syrian began to wrap his leg, Seth took a few steps towards the door, angled himself a bit for a clear shot, aimed at Yasef’s head and pulled the trigger. His body fell with a small thud. He was already on the ground so he didn’t have far to fall. Seth walked out the front door and back down the stairs, past the hallway thieves, and into the market. He had six days to figure out how he would approach his next target. 


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