In 2014, “Going Viral,” my light-hearted yet sinister tale that plays with the theme of perception vs. reality in the Information Age, received honorable mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.
Looking ahead at 2018, it’s likely another story, “The Lake Road,” will be included in a collection produced by a fellow indie publisher.
But in more recent news, “Ghost Mode,” my sci-fi short story that takes augmented reality to a chilling extreme, is among 40 stories comprising the One Million Project Fantasy Anthology, which—along with thriller and general fiction anthologies—is fundraising to fight cancer, homelessness, and more.
The anthology’s editor included this introduction for my contribution:
When someone who works closely with emerging technologies on a daily basis presents such an ominous portrayal of tech addicts in the not-too-distant future, you can’t help but wonder if it’s meant to be caricature or cautionary tale.
Given Ghost Mode’s playful tone, it’s likely a little of both.
David Michael Williams works for an interactive agency specializing in digital communication. He writes speculative fiction that spans the gamut from sci-fi to sword-and-sorcery.
One Million Project’s fantasy anthology is available at Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle formats. All profits go to charity, so please consider supporting this worthy endeavor!
On the heels of publishing my new novel, If Souls Can Sleep, I penned a couple of guest posts for blogs devoted to the readers and writers of speculative fiction.
The first article describes in painful detail how unwary readers can be bitten by the writer’s bug. It published on Jan. 29 in Rising Shadow. The second guest post focuses on the dangers of genre fiction. That one published on Feb. 4 in Sci-Fi and Scary.
Here’s a peek at both of them:
The best books make readers want to become writers
We all begin as oblivious victims.
Maybe it happened when you were a child, cracking open the cover of a surreal Seussian story. Or maybe the transformation transpired during adolescence when you first confronted the consciousness-expanding, mind-bending narratives of that pantheon of authors who enthrall the human psyche with the outlandish and otherworldly.
Whatever the circumstances, the books you’ve explored have changed you. You are a reader. Moreover, you are a reader of fantasy and science fiction.
Oh, the words on the page seem innocuous enough. It’s just fiction, after all. But make no mistake: you’ve been infected by imagination.
And I’m sorry to report that sometimes creativity is contagious.
Maybe it’s an ancient abomination awakened by a sorcerer’s incantation. Or a rogue AI, unburdened by conscience, bent on overwriting our reality. Or perhaps you’re confronting some failed science experiment, a monstrosity fixated on destroying the very order upon which our civilization thrives.
Now, whichever form you wish to give this anarchic force, imagine it has done the unthinkable by destroying all notions of genre.
That’s right. The man-made system for distinguishing offshoots of speculative fiction from one another as well as Westerns, romance and even more remote boughs of the fictional family tree has been uprooted. You’ve been cast into an overgrown wilderness where fiction is just fiction.
Your skin prickles as you consider the implications. Pushing back panic, you type the URL to your preferred bookstore. But you’re too late. The functionality to filter by category is gone; the shortcut to your favorite stories, snuffed out.
How will you ever sort through the thousands—no, millions—of books that have been published to find the science fiction, horror, and dark fantasy books you cherish?
Technically, I was typing to myself, but it’s still an odd situation to be both the interviewer and interviewee. For one thing, I knew the answers to the questions before I asked them.
In two months, this marked-up manuscript will be a full-fledged paperback and e-book.
This Q&A will eventually find its home in my online press kit so that reporters, bloggers, and anyone else interested spreading the word about my upcoming book can get a quick overview about If Souls Can Sleep.
I did something similar for The Renegade Chronicles in 2016 and shared an excerpt from that self-directed Q&A in this blog. I jokingly referred to them as Infrequently Asked Questions because there was nothing frequent about how often I’ve been asked the questions in question.
What follows are my best guess at what people might want to know about If Souls Can Sleep and, admittedly, the things I would like prospective readers to know.
Oh, and welcome to the conversation!
What is If Souls Can Sleep about?
Here’s what the back cover will say:
If Souls Can Sleep introduces a hidden world where gifted individuals possess the power to invade the dreams of others. Two rival factions have transformed the dreamscape into a war zone where all reality is relative and even the dead can’t rest in peace.
The story centers on Vincent Cruz, a man who lost his daughter and never recovered from the tragedy. He’s stuck, haunted by a dream that replays the dreadful memory over and over. Then the dream suddenly stops, and he’s faced with a new nightmare that starts to bleed into the real world.
Who is If Souls Can Sleep about?
It’s largely Vincent’s story, but he’s not in it alone. Jerry, Vincent’s stoner roommate, and Leah, a sleep doctor with issues of her own, get pulled into the insanity.
There’s also Milton, a partial amnesiac who is on the run and doing his best to stave off sleep forever.
Who is your favorite character?
I don’t think I could ever pick a favorite, but I do loving writing characters who allow me to express humor. Jerry provides comic relief, but honestly, DJ—a possibly crazy bus rider—takes the cake for fun dialogue. He has some of the best lines in the whole book.
What is the setting for If Souls Can Sleep?
Most of the story is set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In fact, Vincent’s and Jerry’s apartment mirrors the one I lived in while attending college there. After writing The Renegade Chronicles, which take place in an alien world of my own devising (Altaerra), it was fun to draw from real-world locations and experiences. The bulk of the book is set in the year 2007.
If Souls Can Sleep also includes glimpses at other worlds that may or may not be real.
Who will enjoy this book?
I don’t start out by picking a specific demographic to cater to throughout the writing process. Instead, I write the best version of the story clinging tenaciously to my gray matter and hope there are people out there who will also appreciate it.
With If Souls Can Sleep, I set out to write something very different from the sword-and-sorcery fantasy stories I had been reading and writing up until then. I wanted to create a book I had never read before, something very unusual and unique.
To be blunt, this book was an experiment, not so much nudging me out of my comfort zone as submerging me into a completely unfamiliar environment. As a result, the book is a mashup of several different genres, including science fiction, fantasy, suspense, and metafiction.
Categorizing If Souls Can Sleep can be tricky, but I consider its genre-bending nature a strength because the story has something for readers of many different backgrounds. It’s complex yet accessible, peculiar yet relatable.
While fans of speculative fiction—including fantasy and science fiction—are perhaps the obvious audience, I’m pleasantly surprised to find, among my pre-readers, that the book appeals to people outside those genres too.
Bringing it back around to my initial goal: if you want to read a book that’s unlike any you’ve read before, give If Souls Can Sleep a try.
What makes If Souls Can Sleep unique?
I’m not the first person to entertain the notion of oneironauts (individuals who can psychically visit the dreams of others), but my take on “dream drifters” paints an original portrait of the relationship between life and death and the dreamscape. I’ve cobbled together a number of theories, philosophies and religious beliefs to put my own personal spin on the collective unconscious.
Things also get very “meta” in If Souls Can Sleep, as I explore what qualifies something real—including the people who populate books.
What is If Souls Can Sleep “rated”?
If it were a movie, it would likely earn a PG-13 rating. There’s swearing, some violence, drug and alcohol use, sexual content, and other mature topics. I expect the story will resonate with readers age 17 and older. That’s the suggested audience.
How long did it take you to write the book?
I started writing If Souls Can Sleep on Dec. 31, 2006, and it took two and a half years to compose a complete first draft. I then edited it, jumped into writing the sequel, and worked on a handful of other projects. By the time the book hits shelves, it will be more than 11 years in the making. (More on that here.)
Fortunately for fans, they won’t have to wait that long to get their hands on the sequel…
What does the title mean?
The title comes from a quote found within the book: “If souls can sleep, then why not dream?”
I flirted with other title options but realized, as time went on, that the opening line—“If souls can sleep”—could function as an apt foundation for the series as a whole. I also liked the idea of using a clause that leaves the reader hanging, an inherent sense of suspense.
The titles of the next two books in series follow a similar formula: If Sin Dwells Deep and If Dreams Can Die.
Is this another trilogy?
Yes. Sort of. Maybe?
I have written three books for The Soul Sleep Cycle to date. It wasn’t my intention to write a trilogy. In fact, I once (naïvely) believed I could tell the entire story in a single volume. Halfway through If Souls Can Sleep, I realized I needed to streamline my subplots. A second book became necessary to tell the whole story, and even before I started writing If Sin Dwells Deep, I realized I would need a third book to reach a satisfying conclusion.
Quite possibly, three books are enough. Yet I always leave a few doors open for future storylines, just in case…
Why didn’t you publish all three at once (like with The Renegade Chronicles)?
I certainly could have, and I’m sure there are those who would rather not have to wait to see what happens next. But publishing three books at once presents many challenges. I learned a lot from publishing The Renegade Chronicles en masse, and I didn’t want to end up cutting corners just so I could get this new series out there all at once.
From a marketing standpoint, it’s also difficult to sustain public interest when all three books are available on Day 1. As a compromise, however, readers won’t have to wait too long for the next installments.
If Sin Dwells Deep is slated for fall 2018; If Dreams Can Die, spring 2019.
Where did you find inspiration for this book/series?
As with many of my story ideas, the inspiration came as a random thought—this one at a roller-skating rink in the late ’90s. I was thinking about the strangers in our dreams and wondering where they came from. Do they wear the faces of people we glimpsed in passing over the years? Or are they composites our subconscious cooks up to fill out the cast of any given dream?
What if they are real people—other dreamers?
The rough outline of a short story popped into my head, but it never made it to paper. Almost a decade later, the idea resurfaced, allowing me to play with a handful of abstract concepts, including identity and the definition of “real.”
For Vincent, I thought, “What is the worst thing that can happen to a guy?” Because I was a new father with a young daughter at the time, the answer came easily: losing a child.
How does a parent cope with that? What if he can’t?
Writing more about Klye and the gang would be a lot of fun. I have no shortage of plots mapped out, so jumping back to Altaerra wouldn’t be too difficult.
I’ve written a complete draft of a novel starring a young wizardess who will eventually cross paths with the characters from The Renegade Chronicles. The epilogue of Martyrs and Monsters hints at that storyline. It’s possible I may polish up that book and publish it someday.
Sales of The Renegade Chronicles will also go a long way toward determining whether I return to Altaerra. (So if you want new stories, tell your friends about the existing ones!)
What is your next project?
Preparing If Sin Dwells Deep and If Dreams Can Die for publication will take up a significant chunk of 2018, not to mention promoting If Souls Can Sleep.
I’m currently working on a collaborative project in a different medium—a new discomfort zone—but that is a secret for now. I also have had an idea for a standalone novel that’s been trying to get my attention for years. Maybe I’ll finally get around to outlining it.
When will If Souls Can Sleep be available to purchase?
The paperback and Kindle editions will be published on Jan. 30, 2018. I plan to make it available for preorder earlier that month.
Stay tuned to this blog for updates…
Did I miss anything? Do you have a question that wasn’t addressed? I’d love to satiate your curiosity if I can. Just leave a comment below!
Whatever it is, my website has it. More specifically, my brand suffers from it. That’s right, I have a brand. Every author does. Except I ended up with two brands because I bandied about the phrase “One Million Words” for years and then finally formed One Million Words LLC in 2016.
On paper it seems so easy: David Michael Williams is an author, and One Million Words is a publisher. But at this point, OMW publishes only the works of DMW, so the two identifiers are irrevocably interwoven.
Should one-million-words.com redirect to david-michael-williams.com or the other way around? One could argue they should be two separate websites, but it would be ridiculous to maintain two websites with near-identical content.
The professional marketer in me bemoans the fact that OMW has taken a backseat to DMW. After all, a legitimate company should have its own logo, website, LinkedIn profile, and so forth. But if I’m being honest, One Million Words LLC is nothing more than a string of words created expressly for the spine of my self-published novels.
Until the company produces works by other authors, it really doesn’t need to be more than that.
Don’t worry. Even if the One Million Words brand disappears someday, I’d never make my name into a logotype.
I have a bigger problem on my hands, however: David Michael Williams, as a brand, is broken.
Nota bene: Marketing is my day job. I’ve worked with countless companies and organizations on branding exercises, so I’m no stranger to concepts like positioning statements, brand platforms, target audiences, as well as the formal guidelines that govern all marketing communications. And while a solitary novelist differs from corporation in many key aspects, the same fundamentals apply to any entity that sells a product.
The root of my dilemma—my identity crisis, as it were—is that David Michael Williams, the human being, is inconsistent.
If I penned only sword-and-sorcery fantasy books, it’d be much easier to market myself, my novels, and my company. But I also write sci-fi and other subgenres of speculative fiction. You might be thinking, “No matter. Many authors publish fantasy and science fiction. They’re close cousins.”
OK, but I co-wrote a children’s chapter book too. There was also a certain stillborn pun-a-day calendar. And I can’t promise I won’t attempt an interactive storytelling experiment at some point in the future. (Anyone wanna play a grammar video game?)
Some may argue that an author should use a different pen name for each genre he tackles. There’s wisdom in that, but at the same time, I can’t get enthusiastic about juggling additional aliases. I’m one guy with a lot of different ideas who doesn’t want to limit his possibilities; is that a crime?
No, but it can be confusing to consumers, which negatively impact profits.
Or perhaps I’m oversimplifying things. There are plenty of professionals who straddle genres and/or media. Some of my favorites include Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame (though I like Invincible much more and am excited about the recently announced movie); the Decemberists, whose talented fingers touch projects ranging from music and visual art to children’s novels and board games; and the insanely brilliant Neil Gaiman, whose entire career I’d love to clone.
Given those folks’ success, it would seem that a diversity of creativity can be something of a brand in itself. That does give me hope, though in the short term, it won’t make building a fan base any easier. Because as much as it would streamline things, I can’t focus on just one aspect of storytelling.
Which means regardless of whether my website banner says “David Michael Williams” or “One Million Words,” visitors are going to get a messy, mixed bag of imagination.
While Google Glass never really caught on, cell phones are finally poised to bring augmented reality (AR) into the mainstream thanks to a certain catch-’em-all mobile game. By leveraging GPS and overlaying computer-generated images on a real-world environment, Pokémon GO has taken a big, bold step forward in a technology that, prior to now, had taken a backseat to other advancements like 3D and virtual reality.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Even as I write this, developers, executives, and marketers are seeking out new ways to exploit AR.
Perhaps ironically, a game populated with brightly colored and sometimes cute creatures has already raised serious concerns—from at least one automobile fatality to insensitive Pokémon destinations. Then there are instances of trespassing, distracted pedestrians, and lures that attract human victims in addition to the in-game prey.
It’s not all doom and Gloom (Pokémon pun intended), but as with any new technology, the good will inevitably be accompanied by the sinister…and the silly.
While pondering the Pokémon GO phenomenon—and admittedly participating in it—I was reminded of a short story I wrote a while back about a future where AR has penetrated every facet of society, including entertainment, commerce, and even face-to-face communication.
For all of our sakes, I hope “Ghost Mode” turns out to be an inaccurate prediction of what is to come. It could be a cautionary tale. Or maybe it’s just the musings of a closet technophobe. In any event, I hope you enjoy this story of a near-future star whose search for excitement goes horribly, horribly wrong.
“Ghost Mode” was published in the One Million Project Fantasy Anthology. Buy it in paperback or for Kindle at Amazon.com.
Remember those old Choose Your Own Adventure books? The ones where you controlled a character’s destiny and guided the direction of the narrative?
I’m conducting an experiment that brings that old series of children’s books to mind. Below you will find the beginning of three short stories. Please read them all and then vote for the one you’d want to read in its entirety.
Quentin E. Donovan—the Quentin E. Donovan—sidestepped into an alley, closed his eyes, and did something he hadn’t done in a decade or more: He went into ghost mode.
A deliberate twitch of his left thumb, and the twin IRIS mods went offline. A whispered password triggered the auto-transcript program that fueled half a dozen different Lifefeeds to quit. Finally, he removed the sleek, pearlescent PAM—an eighth-generation iCoin Pro—from his pocket and thumbed the command to repel incoming V-captures.
No feeds, no casts, no signals whatsoever. He was officially grid-locked.
Without the translucent menus and scrolling text in his periphery, the world seemed impossibly simple. And slightly pink. It took him a moment to realize his eyes were compensating for the absence of the green tinge that always coated the corner of his vision, notifying him that the ocular implants were successfully uploading his sensory data to the Sphere.
He shivered, as though losing the subtle, soothing tingle of info-exchange between his bioware and the local hotspots had reduced his body’s temperature. The air around him even tasted dead.
No wonder they call it “ghost mode,” he thought.
Quentin turned back to the street and saw a woman approaching. He smiled politely—no, eagerly—but she never acknowledged him, her blank stare undoubtedly combing through a number of feeds only she could see. He just stood there for several heart-pounding seconds after she passed, until finally he identified the foreign, long-forgotten feeling called loneliness.
He pressed his palm against smooth surface of the iCoin and flirted with the idea of rebooting all of his AR apps. But he found courage, then, in the thought of what glory lay ahead. A shame, he thought, that his millions of fans wouldn’t be able to enjoy the thrill of this clandestine meeting he had arranged only hours before on the Darknet.
Releasing his hold on the offline PAM and rubbing his eyes (though that did nothing to restore the reassuring green glow of the IRISes), Quentin stepped onto the street, walked into a FaceCafe, and—without the aid of any tech—scanned the place for someone who looked out of place.
Closest to the door, a middle-aged woman fished a wire out of her purse and connected one end to the table’s powerport and the other end to an oversized, blaze-orange PAM. The infant in the highchair beside her wailed until the woman returned to the device to his eager little hands.
Across the room, a guy talked to an invisible partner across the table, laughing suggestively as he adjusted the crotch of his trousers.
A few tables away, a woman furiously swiped the air with her fingers and frowned at what Quentin could only assume was bad news.
Nope, nothing out of the ordinary, he lamented.
Disappointed, he sat down and keyed in his order for a plain-taste, half-stim coffee. He would just have to trust that the Darknet stranger he pinged—the professional Villain he had promised to pay half a million Cs to make his life more interesting—would recognize him.
No worries there, he thought. After all, he was the Quentin E. Donovan.
* * *
Option 2: “The End”
’Twas no secret a sinister shadow had fallen o’er the realm. Matthias had been warning neighbors and sojourners alike for as far back as he could remember. So often had he spoken of the myriad harbingers of The End—the rising number of refugees from faraway kingdoms, the tales of war they brought with them, and other rumors of unnatural creatures roaming the countryside—that his discourse on dire omens had a practiced elegance.
He would daresay none could make the encroaching cataclysm sound as poetic as he.
Then, one day, he realized something truly was amiss. No, an army of demon warriors had not arrived to ransack his favorite inn. Much to the contrary, the Satyr’s Horn was empty but for Old Llew, the stout barkeep, and two patrons Matthias saw most every day but whose names he had never chanced to learn.
There were no travelers to bequeath a coin for courtly verse or bawdy ballad. Nary an adventurer in whom to confide ominous words in hushed tones.
Nay, the room was frightfully quiet. Though it was his custom to take up his lute hitherto the midday meal, he could not. Likewise, the three other men in the common room exchanged no pleasantries with one another. Matthias might have stood there, a scarcely breathing statue, forever had Rosalyn, the barmaid, not entered from the kitchen door. She seemed not at all disturbed by the alarming lack of patrons as she made her rounds, distributing foamy flagons of mead to unoccupied tables.
Matthias took a single step away from his spot by the fireplace and trembled. Surely his eyes betrayed him, for his clothes—aye, his very skin!—seemed to crawl in a most uncanny way. He might have attributed the abnormality to having imbibed too much of Old Llew’s bitterbrew, except the day was still young, and any gleeman of good repute knew better than to partake in intoxicating drink afore his day’s work was done.
Judging by the sparse state of the common room, he’d not have cause to sing a single verse of “Sir Ceridwyn the Clever” nor the melancholy chorus of “Lady Winter’s Lament.”
His legs felt as stiff as broadswords as he quickly crossed the common room, the cadence of his boots against the floorboards the only sound in the place. Rosalyn seemed not to notice him as she unburdened her tray at another empty table. Forsooth, she walked past by him without a greeting or a hint of the saucy grin that had sent many a man to bed with impure musings!
He reached for her but thought better of it. When he called out, the syllables tasted strange on his tongue, as though he had never spoken the lass’s name before. Despite the room’s grave silence, Rosalyn surely hadn’t heard him. She disappeared into the kitchen once more.
And was it his imagination making a dupe of him once more? He would have sworn to the Benevolent Lords above that the kitchen door had opened and closed without Rosalyn’s touching it. Aye, he would have wagered two and twenty golds on the truth of it!
He hasted to the bar, his hurried steps sounding like thunder.
“What goes on here?” he demanded. “Has the curse come at last to the Glens?”
Though Old Llew looked up from the cup he was forever drying, he seemed to stare through the bard rather than at him. “Dark times call for dark beer, stranger. If ye will hear gossip, speak with Matthias Manyroads.”
“I am Matthias Manyroads, and well you know it, Llew! What—?”
The barkeep’s vacant eyes blinked. “Dark times call for dark beer, stranger. If ye will hear gossip, speak with Matthias Manyroads.”
* * *
Option 3: “The Anthropologist”
The word surfaced amid her whirling thoughts and the nervous energy that tickled her skin like an invisible feather. Godspeed. An expression of good fortune in a new venture. Like a journey.
No one at Indigo Academy had used that word while saying farewell to her and the other two discovery team members. She supposed no one in Settled Space would have seriously employed such a clearly superstitious expression. Idioms that evoked any deity had surely died off millennia ago.
The capsule-shaped stasis chamber shuddered as some subroutine or another powered up. In a matter of minutes, the vessel’s atmosphere would adjust for the long voyage and trigger the nanites in her blood to put her body in a suspended state. It was a painless process, but she always dreaded it.
Spaceflight was a rare delight for most but an even rarer distress for her. She might have stayed on Indigo for the rest of her life—which, if the other scholars’ tenures were any indicator, would be another four hundred and fifty years at least—and forever eschewed the discomfort of maximum velocity if this had been any other mission.
But how can one say no to the chance to pioneer the only other planet in the universe known to harbor intelligent life?
Godspeed. Somehow the antiquated notion seemed absolutely appropriate in light of the undeveloped and arguably barbaric planet that was their destination. The societal and technological advances the three emissaries brought with them mimicked and even rivaled the supposedly supernatural abilities of the aliens’ sundry deities. Yet despite her mere two hundred thirty-seven years, she wasn’t so naïve as to believe the aliens would revere them as gods.
More likely, the New People would defy them precisely becauseof their superiority, which threatened not only many long-established religions, but also the aliens’ egocentric belief that they lived at the center of the universe, metaphorically speaking.
A sentiment she herself had held until the day a wayward drone revealed the existence of a second sentient species on the far end of the galaxy.
“Are you ready, Anthropologist?”
She flinched at the sudden voice in her ear, and her heart rate spiked. But then the nanites synthesized whichever hormone neutralized unnecessary anxiety—well, more of it, considering how long she had fretted earlier about the astronomically small probability her stasis protocols would fail, causing her to lie awake in the capsule for the months-long voyage.
Ysa never called her by her real name. Maybe the title amused her. Or maybe Ysa, who ranked among the most gifted physio-biologists in Settled Space, thought learning the name of such a young scholar was beneath her.
“I am,” she replied at last, though she wondered if anyone could be fully prepared for the first face-to-face contact with a new race. Yet she knew better than to express any doubts to Ysa, who had never made a secret of her cynicism for the New People or the mission.
“Your attitude might change when theybegin studying you in return, Anthropologist.”
“We will see.”
She was thinking about how good it would feel when Ysa saw how wrong she was about the aliens when the vessel began its countdown to the unprecedented journey to Earth.
* * *
—Editor’s note: as of 11:59 p.m. April 3, “The Anthropologist” had the most votes and will, therefore, get an ending…which is not to say I won’t circle back to one or both of the other contestants at some point. Thanks to all who helped with this experiment, which has indeed taught me a few things, including this: once you give others a choice, you suddenly realize which option you really favor.
—Another editor’s note: while “The Anthropologist” edged out “The Villain” by a single vote, I ended up pursuing the latter. I simply couldn’t figure out how to write “The Anthropologist” as a short story. It got too big too quickly!
—Yet another editor’s note: “The Villain” (now called “Ghost Mode”) has been submitted for publication consideration. Want a sneak peak?