Category Archives: Writing

Vampire Justice

If you watch The Rookie: Feds, you’ll have finally caught a glimpse of character Brendon Acres playing Vampire Cop. This was the titular character of a defunct TV show in which he starred prior to joining the FBI.

We all want more.

Sadly, I can’t give you more, but it turns out that in my short story, “Don’t Ever Change”, there is a similar story within a story. It concerns actor Alan Fitts playing the justice-dealing vampire Charles Wardell.

Here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

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A slow knock at the door. Angelika Labelle’s eyes widen. She is seated upon a divan in front of the hearth, her face illuminated by the blazing fire within. The camera pulls back, and we see that the apartment is lit with candles, yielding areas of light and shadow. This is accentuated by the stark black-and-white photography. Decorations include antique cabinets and clocks, a hand-woven Turkish carpet, an intricately carved coffee table, and small Renaissance-era oil paintings. Another knock and she stands, adjusts her close-fitting dress, and sashays to the door. 

She opens the door slowly. There is a man standing in the corridor, hands folded behind him. He wears a black suit with a dark-grey shirt and a grey-and-black-striped tie. The corridor light is garishly bright, causing the woman to blink and raise her hand over her eyes.

A smile comes to Angelika’s face. She lowers her head slightly and looks up at the visitor, eyes half lidded. “Well this is a welcome surprise.”

“May I come in?” says Charles Bardell. 

Angelika steps back and waves her arm. Charles enters, and she closes the door behind him.

Stepping in front of the hearth, Charles regards the flames; the light dances in his dark eyes. 

“Wine?” asks Angelika, moving to the buffet. She reaches for a decanter filled with red liquid. 

“No,” says Charles. “No, I’m here on business.”

“Business,” says Angelika, as she moves towards Charles. “Well now I am intrigued.”

Charles turns rapidly and grasps Angelika by the forearm. 

“Charles!” Angelika’s eyes widen. “What are you doing?”

“You killed them. Those men. Why?”

Angelika blinks and her mouth opens slightly. Then, composing herself, she looks away. “I’m sure I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You seduced Doctor Boreanaz and blackmailed him. He provided you with the insulin and syringes you needed.”

“My, you are fanciful. Why on earth would I do such a thing?”

“They uncovered the truth about your past. As have I.”

Charles lets go of her then, and Angelika backs away, eyebrows raised. “What are you going to do?”

“Deliver justice.”

Angelika laughs. Moving to the buffet again, she pours a glass of wine, giving away a slight tremor in her hand, and takes a sip. “So,” she says, “you’re a policeman now?”

“I’m no policeman.” His words sound like a low growl. Approaching her once again, his face is dark with both anger and sadness. And something else. Hunger?

Angelika tries to back away but bumps into the buffet. Setting down her glass, she rests her shaking hands on the surface behind her. Charles approaches and bends so that he is very close to her neck. The camera closes in, showing the pores of her skin and his open mouth with its white teeth. 

“Charles, this is hardly the time,” Angelika says weakly, her body trembling.

“This is the only time,” Charles whispers.

His canines grow, and when they reach full length, Charles bites down on her carotid and drinks deeply. The camera moves to his eyes. They’re alight with energy. The camera pulls away and focuses on the roaring fire in the hearth. 

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In “Don’t Ever Change,” people are inexplicably dying after meeting Alan Fitts, and someone starts to wonder if he mightn’t actually be some kind of vampire. You can find the story in my collection, Something Special, available at Amazon.

A Sneak Peak at “Happy Enough”

We met Will Fallon in the short story “Remember Me?” in my collection Something Special. Will encounters a woman named Susan Follows who can travel between worlds and who has come looking for his cat, Sam. Sam, it turns out, isn’t from around here. And in the world from which she came, she can talk. Will and Sam travel with Susan to many worlds until they end up back home, and Susan continues her travels on her own.

“Happy Enough”, a sequel to this story, appears in my new collection , The Woman in Red. In this excerpt, Will Fallons encounters someone who shouldn’t exist–a fictional character of his own making.

The second incident happened on Tuesday of the following week while Della was away at a conference. I was to meet some friends at a nearby Irish pub that evening. Being the first to arrive, I scanned the patio for a free table. They were all occupied and I was about to head indoors when a woman rose and walked towards the exit in my direction. I was about to thank her when I realized it was the dinosaur-dress woman from my story, “Under the Sand.” She was Black, her hair arranged in ringlets falling to her shoulders, and she wore a close-fitting cotton dress decorated with dinosaurs. I was stunned. Recovering a moment later, I decided what to say.

“Hi,” I said, when she was closer. “I was going to thank you for the table, but I think I know you.”

The woman said nothing, and instead raised a skeptical eyebrow. Interesting, I thought. If this is a show for my benefit, why does she look like I’ve just given her a lame pickup line?

“You work at FLIR, don’t you?” I continued. “I saw you speak at a defence conference.”

The skepticism on her face was quickly replaced by surprise.

“I’m Will Fallon. I used to work as a technical writer. You’re … Briana?”

“Briana Davison,” she said with a smile.

And that’s when the blood drained from my face. I hadn’t used her last name in the story, something that I’d kicked myself for. But that was the surname I’d chosen as part of her backstory, as was the defence conference. I had to force myself not to sway on my feet.

“Nice to meet you,” she continued. “You live in Kingston?”

“Um, yes. Are you here on business or sightseeing?”

“Bit of both. I’m collaborating with a professor at the Royal Military College. Well, I must get on. Nice to meet you, Will,” and she extended her hand.

“Same,” I mumbled, and we shook. Watching her leave, I whispered, “Stay clear of San Diego.” Then I took a seat at the empty table and ordered a large whiskey.

It was earlier than planned when I got home. Despite my best efforts, I’d only paid half-hearted attention to my friends, and when they noticed, I pleaded lack of sleep. Sam was waiting for me just inside the door. That was unusual. She went out most nights through a second-floor window that I keep open, leaping from the window ledge to the maple tree and returning home the same way.

Sam came up to me and rubbed her head against my leg. Kneeling down, I scratched behind her ears and looked into her eyes.

“You know, don’t you?” I said. “That something’s wrong. You always know.”

The Woman in Red is available from the Amazon bookstore.

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Woman-Red-Selim-Ulug/dp/B0BMJGLF5N/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1669407114&sr=8-3

Amazon.ca: https://www.amazon.ca/Woman-Red-Selim-Ulug/dp/B0BMJGLF5N/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1669407156&sr=8-1

Amazon.co.uk: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Woman-Red-Selim-Ulug/dp/B0BMJGLF5N/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1669407189&sr=8-1

A Christmas Sneak Peak at “The Tinselator”

What follows is a brief excerpt from “The Tinselator”, a story included in my latest collection, The Woman in Red. Here, Kaylee encounters a second visitor to her home on Christmas Eve.

After noticing that the sounds on the roof had stopped, Kaylee felt rather than heard something soft and heavy landing on the floor somewhere in the house.

Once again, she peered out the bedroom door, considered waking her mother, and instead crept towards the living room. It hadn’t changed very much since she was five. Her mother had bought some new curtains. Or rather, she’d bought some material and had fashioned curtains from them. They were still thin, though, and she could easily see the contents of the room from the streetlights shining in.

All was as it should be: sofa, chair, coffee table, the TV and the plant stand. It’s just that there was something there that didn’t belong:  a man, dressed in red, with snow white hair and beard, and wearing white gloves. Next to him on the floor was an enormous, bulging sack, standing about five feet high, tied-off at the top with rope.

The man was snuffling and scratching his head as he looked at a long piece of paper.

“You’re not Santa Claus,” Kaylee pronounced.

The man started, dropped the paper, and stood up. “I’m not?” he said.

“No. You’re not Santa Claus because there’s no such person.” Kaylee said as she crossed her arms.

The man looked down, scratched his head again, and said, “That’s funny. That’s very funny. Because I’m quite sure that I was Santa Claus when I left the North Pole. Yes, I definitely remember Mrs. Claus fastening the top button of my coat before I left. She said, ‘Now then Santa, you’ll be just fine without me. After all, you’ve been doing this for over 2,000 years.’ So, you see, I must be Santa Claus. The problem is, even though I have been doing this a very long time, things always change. People move around, new children are born, other children grow too old for my toys, it all becomes such a muddle.”

His eyes began to tear up and he withdrew a handkerchief and gave his nose a loud blow.

Finding that she was starting to feel sad for the man, Kaylee spoke in a softer voice. “But how do I know that you’re Santa? You could be anyone in a red suit with a big sack.”

Now the man’s eyes began to twinkle. “Oh, but this isn’t just any old sack. Come here and I’ll give you a peek inside.”

The Woman in Red is available from the Amazon bookstore.

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Woman-Red-Selim-Ulug/dp/B0BMJGLF5N/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1669407114&sr=8-3

Amazon.ca: https://www.amazon.ca/Woman-Red-Selim-Ulug/dp/B0BMJGLF5N/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1669407156&sr=8-1

Amazon.co.uk: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Woman-Red-Selim-Ulug/dp/B0BMJGLF5N/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1669407189&sr=8-1

The Woman in Red

The Woman in Red

Phew! It’s finally out there. When you finish a writing project, it can feel like you’ve just finished the last exam of your final year at university. You’re completely spent, happy that it’s over, but also satisfied that you’ve done the best that you could do.

I’m talking about my second short story collection, The Woman in Red. As I found with my previous collection, Something Special, writing the stories is just the beginning. When you go the self-publishing route, you are in fact the publisher. It’s up to you to either do the necessary work or delegate it, and that includes editing, copy editing, layout design, and, well, you have to do it all. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) tools help a lot, but it’s up to you to make the finished product as perfect as it can be.

As for the stories themselves, they have a theme, one I wasn’t conscious of as I wrote them. Sometimes you don’t understand what you’ve done until you’ve done it. In The Woman in Red, the theme is, what if you found out that everything you thought you knew was wrong and your understanding of the world was completely upended. What then? I explore that theme in multiple genres, including crime, horror, fantasy, and children’s.

The titular story, “The Woman in Red”, has a particularly interesting history for a couple of reasons. First off, it was actually completed years ago, but subsequently sat in an editor’s in-basket for a very long time. I finally decided to liberate the story and present it here. Also interesting is the fact that it was initially meant to be another of my Castle fan fictions. To discuss how the concept grew from a fanfic to an original tale would be to spoil it, but I explore this in the postscript following the story. The funny thing is, now that the story is out there, I’ve an almost irresistible urge to write the fanfic as I originally intended. That probably won’t happen, but never say never …

This is a much shorter collection than my previous book, Something Special, because my next project will be longer form prose. You get a sneak preview of that novel here with the first chapter of A Familiar Voice, the sequel to the story “A Voice.”

If you do pick up a copy of The Woman in Red, I certainly hope you enjoy it. The beautiful cover art is courtesy of @VIIIJohannes.

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Woman-Red-Selim-Ulug/dp/B0BMJGLF5N/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1669407114&sr=8-3

Amazon.ca: https://www.amazon.ca/Woman-Red-Selim-Ulug/dp/B0BMJGLF5N/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1669407156&sr=8-1

Amazon.co.uk: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Woman-Red-Selim-Ulug/dp/B0BMJGLF5N/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1669407189&sr=8-1

Doctor Who: The Alternative War

Art by @VIIIJohannes

About a year ago, I connected with Alia E. Torrie (@TheWeegieDoctor) on Twitter and was was quite blown away by what I found on her YouTube channel: musical compositions, acting, narration, singing, you name it. There’s more about Alia on her Spotlight page. Among many other things, she has voiced characters in assorted Doctor Who fan audios released by TT Productions 23. That being the case, I thought it would be quite something to write a Doctor Who script for her. I had a couple of story suggestions but she countered with the concept of playing an alternative version of the Doctor during the Time War. Oh yes, I thought, I can work with that…. The result was Doctor Who: The Alternative War, release date August 17, 2022. Here’s the trailer, and I’ll provide an update when the full release is … released. And here it is.

I finished the first draft of the script near the end of November 2021 and, with Alia’s help, assembled the rest of the cast. Companion to Alia’s Doctor, the multi-talented Abi Louise (@AbiLouise230) plays a young Time Lord, Aliana, who’s destiny collides with the Doctor on Karn, shortly after her regeneration. Jack Reeves (@JackReevesDW), well known in the Doctor Who fan community, plays Mattlin, a human who is trying to rally his people to unite in the face of an imminent threat. Jack also plays one of the soldiers. The cast is rounded out by Zak Rosenfeld (@ZakR1998), who plays some of the soldiers, and Marcus Cotton (@SirJediSentinel), who plays another Time Lord. And I have a line! My acting debut! A blink-and-you’ll miss it line!

I love to hear Alia sing, and thought that it was time we all heard at least one incarnation of the Doctor break into song. I left a placeholder in the script and basically said, “The Doctor sings here.” Alia took the challenge to heart and composed and performed a beautiful, heartbreaking lament that you won’t be able to stop replaying.

The second and final version of the script was finished on December 1. The actors did the recording early in 2022. I found myself facing quite a learning curve as I needed to select takes from the actors and stitch them together. I’ve learned a lot about Audacity this year. Finally, the sound design was provided curtesy of the amazing Jaspreet Singh. I really think sound designers don’t get nearly enough credit, the way they magically place the actors performances in the world. I’d worked with Jaspreet previously on the fan audio, Doctor Who: The Eighth Day.

This script effectively marks my first full-cast audio play. Even my stories for Big Finish were in short story format, not script form. Writing it was a very enjoyable experience, and yes, it’s very different from writing prose, but I think it turned out pretty well. I hope all of you who listen agree. The best part of writing a script, of course, is hearing a cast of very talented actors bring your words to life, wringing emotions out of phrases that you hadn’t realized were buried in there.

In this story, the TV Doctor Who universe and this universe diverge at the moment when Paul McGann regenerates into Alia E. Torrie rather than John Hurt. Alia’s Doctor is very much a Doctor, though is wrestling with a newfound darkness which she is afraid might overtake her. After meeting Aliana, they begin their first mission, encountering unexpected obstacles along the way. As one does.

I can’t wait for you to hear The Alternative War, and if the band is willing to get back together in the future, I’d like to write a sequel.

Putting Yourself Out There

It can be scary, putting yourself out there. Sharing with the world something you created. Because when you do that, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable. Open to criticism. To ridicule, even. No one likes to be embarrassed.

But if you’re of a creative bent, there’s little choice. Yes, you can create things just for yourself. Horde them like Scrooge McDuck, and open the vault once in a while to play with your darlings. That’s a lot safer. But not very satisfying.

We create is for ourselves, but we also create to communicate with others. That communication goes both ways. We communicate with the world via our art, be it writing, illustration, sculpture, acting, sound design, or what have you. And the world communicates with us in the form of criticism, praise (if you’re lucky), or indifference. To say nothing is to speak volumes.

For those of us who write, many began their journeys in one fandom or another. Yes, I’m talking about fan fiction. It’s an attractive place to start because the characters and setting are already established, leaving you free to focus on story. You might also find yourself cultivating a number of friends in the community who support you while you support them. But to make that first step, to post your first fanfic, that’s a hard thing to do. After all, not everyone online is supportive. In fact, there are plenty out there who seem to thrive on spreading misery. They are to be ignored. For what it’s worth, in my fan fiction experience, I never had haters, just supporters, and I count myself very fortunate .

As you grow as a writer, with practice and with the support of your writing community, you might find yourself branching out to original fiction. Or not. We write, after all, for the love of it. There are, at the time of writing, about 76 thousand Doctor Who fan fics posted on FanFiction.net. Several tens of thousands more are posted on archiveofourown.org. There are sites where you can post original fiction and interact with community members of similar interests. Examples include Wattpad and Inkitt. You can also go the self-publishing route if you’re so inclined. I happen to know at least one pretty good self-published book …

This is truly the golden age of creative output. With the tools we have readily available at home, we can easily create all manner of works and make them available to others. And you never know what will come of it. Anyone remember this tweet from Emily Cook?

After organizing this event, plus a number of others, as well as producing outstanding extra content from Doctor Who alumni, Ms. Cook is now a Big Finish producer. Jonathan Carley, who put himself out there as, among other things, an interpreter of the War Doctor, now has two Big Finish box sets in which he has starred. Jaspreet Singh, who has produced, edited, and sound designed a number of Doctor Who fan productions (including my personal favourite, Doctor Who: The Eighth Day), has been doing editing and sound design work for Big Finish. (He also does a pretty mean Third Doctor.)

Let’s be honest. Commercial success in the arts is hard to come by. So while it’s fine to hope for that, don’t make it the sole driver for your output. Create what you create for the love and fun of it, and if nothing else, you’ll be making the lives of those around you a little bit brighter, which is perhaps the greatest success of all.

The Tinselator

The Tinselator
by Selim Ulug

Copyright © 2021 Selim Ulug
All rights reserved

The characters and events portrayed in this story are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or to other fictional characters, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

It was the steady beat that woke her.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

Kaylee sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes. With the night light on her bedside table, she could make out the clock on her wall. Five minutes after twelve. After midnight.
It couldn’t be. Could it? Was Santa Claus in the house?

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

It didn’t sound like any Christmas music she’d heard. But Mommy said there were new Christmas songs every year, so … maybe?

Lifting the covers off, she swung her legs round, stood on the hardwood floor, and put on her slippers. The big toe of her left foot wriggled in the open air. Mommy said that maybe she’d get a new pair for Christmas.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

After grabbing Panda, Kaylee stuck her head out in the hallway and listened. There it was again.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

It was coming from the living room, which was to her left. To her right was Mommy’s room. She should wake Mommy up. Yes, that would be the right thing to do. Except … Kaylee was curious. Very curious. She would tiptoe and be very quiet and just have a peek and then come back and wake up Mommy. If anything was wrong.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

Peering around the corner, she noted that the living room was dimly illuminated by streetlamps through the thin curtains. There was the Christmas tree in the corner, sparse of limb and decoration, but Kaylee loved it. Beneath the tree were presents in wrapping paper or stuffed into bags and topped with colourful tissue paper. They’d been there for a few days. Santa just fills the stockings, Mommy had told her, and the empty stockings were lying on the floor against the outer wall. Kaylee’s friends had told her that Santa wasn’t real, and she believed them. But she hadn’t told Mommy yet.

Something moved from a dark shadow in the corner of the room. A man! A tall man. He was wearing a black leather jacket, dark pants, and boots. His hair kind of stood up on end and, even though it was dark, he was wearing sunglasses. And he had a really, really big gun.

“You’re not Santa,” Kaylee observed as she stepped into the living room.

The big man swung around and fixed his gaze upon her.

“Correct,” he said in a flat monotone.

“What are you doing here?”

“Your home has been targeted for tinselation,” he answered in the same monotone. He had an accent of some sort that Kaylee couldn’t place.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

“What’s that noise?”

“My gun needs to charge,” said the man as if that was an explanation.

There was silence for a moment while the man and child regarded each other.

“What is your name?” the man monotoned.

“Kaylee.”

After another period of silence during which the man cast his eyes about the room, he said, “You are poor, Kaylee.”

This was a sensitive topic. The kids at school teased Kaylee for all she didn’t have compared to them and their rich families.

“No, we’re not!” she said, her foot stomping the ground to emphasize the point.

“The curtains have been patched by hand seven times. The furniture is scratched and old, probably purchased second-hand. Your slippers barely fit, and one of them has a hole at the toe. This room is tidy, but judging by the amount of dust, your mother doesn’t have time for housework. Likely because she has more than one job. She does this to provide you with what she can. Conclusion, she loves you. You defended your mother by denying that you were poor. Conclusion, you love your mother as well.”

The anger Kaylee felt left her, leaving her teary-eyed. “Mommy does have two jobs. She works at Walmart and Loblaws for lots of hours every day. She tries really hard. And she’s good to me when she’s here. She helps with my homework, takes care of me when I’m sick. My mommy is the best mommy there is. Even if we’re poor.”

“Remember: if you are loved, you are rich by every metric that matters. If a child is not loved, even though their family is wealthy, they are the worst kind of poor.”

Her eyes wide, Kaylee said, “You’re very smart.”

“Of course. I am a tinselator”.

Ba da da da da. Ba da da da da.

This time the sound was followed by a soft chime.

“It is time,” said the man, hefting his gun and pointing it at the tree.

“You … you’re going to shoot the Christmas tree?” Kaylee’s voice quivered as she spoke.

With the ghost of a lopsided smile, the man said, “Trust me.”

Kaylee heard a whoosh, as from a strong breeze, and a ball of silver emerged from the gun. It rose to just above the top of the tree, then fell onto it, breaking into long silver strands that covered the tree from top to bottom. Tinsel!

The tinsel glowed, even in the dim light. Kaylee’s face glowed as well. “It’s beautiful,” she said.

The man turned and stepped toward the shadows from which he’d emerged. As he did, he spoke in a voice that echoed and faded. “I’ll be—” And then he was gone.

Kaylee was soon nestled back in bed with Panda, her eyes wide with wonder. Sleep seemed a long ways away. Still, she eventually found herself starting to doze. But another sound jolted her awake. It was coming from above. Were those … hooves on the rooftop?

Just Another Day

I was in the mood for some multi-Doctor silliness. This bit of fanfic is the result.

This is a work of fan fiction. No copyright infringement is intended.

From redmangoreviews.com/

“What?” said Ten through clenched teeth.

“Oh, this isn’t good,” said Eleven.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Twelve, taking in the twelve figures gathered with him on the grassy hilltop. “We’re all here. Same place, same time. Even Not The Doctor over there.”

The Warrior swiveled his head. “Are you referring to me?” he growled. Then, with a haunted look on his face, he added “It’s true. I’m the Doctor—“

“No more!” Nine through Twelve chorused together.

“Well I for one think it’s smashing that we’re all here,” said Thirteen, who had suddenly appeared. “I mean, dangerous and potentially universe-ending, but totally smashing.”

“Now see here, young lady, ” said One. “This matter is extremely serious. It’s no time for feminine frivolity.”

Doctors Two through Twelve whistled silently, shook their heads, and stepped back a couple of paces. After a moment of speechless silence, Thirteen said, “I … I don’t even know where to start with you. Okay, first off — young lady? Seriously? Next to me you’re a babe in arms. I’m thousands of years older than you, so a bit of respect? Or you might find yourself on Skaro without a TARDIS.”

“Skaro?” said One, gripping his lapels. Her words appeared to have had as little impact as rainwater on a duck. “What’s Skaro, then, hmm?”

“Spoilers,” said Eleven as he adjusted his bow tie.

“Look, enough of all that,” said Three. “We need to address the situation. Might I suggest we begin by attempting to reverse the —”

“No!” chorused Four through Thirteen.

Nonplussed, Three glanced at the other Doctors and shrugged his shoulders.

Two retrieved a recorder from his coat pocket and had just put it to his lips when Six snatched it away. “Don’t. Even. Think about it,” said Six.

As he observed Four playing with a yo-yo, Eight cast his eyes outward. The grassy hill upon which he and his other selves stood rose some 50 meters above the surrounding flatlands. And the horizon ….

Nine noticed the same thing. After making eye contact with Eight he said, “Oi! You lot. Care to guess how far it is to the horizon?”

“That must be about seven kilometers,” said Seven.

“Yes,” said Eight. “But have you noticed the gravity? The horizon suggests a small world and yet the gravity suggests a much larger one.”

“Perhaps this is simply a very dense small planet,” said Two.

“The little fellow may be right,” said One, “but I suspect that something else is happening here.”

Two’s eyes widened. “Oh dear,” he said. “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”

“What?” said Three. “Confound it man, just say it.”

“This may not be a planet at all,” said Two. “This might be a pocket universe. Look above us. There’s no sun, so where’s the illumination coming from?”

Eleven turned pale. “I’ve just had a thought.”

“Oh really?” said Twelve. “Well, don’t worry, it’ll die of loneliness in there.”

“Funny,” said Eleven, not smiling. Turning his back on Twelve and addressing the others, he added, “This might not be a pocket universe. This might be a simulation.”

Two’s shoulders slumped. “And here I was having a perfectly splendid nap.”

Five’s eyes widened. “Having a nap you say?” Puff. “Odd.” Puff. “I was napping as well.”

“Look,” said Six, “Why are you always so short of breath?” Shaking his head, he added, “As it happens, the last thing I recall is laying down for a nap.”

It was true of all of them, the Doctors confirmed.

“We really need to put our heads together for this one. Agreed?” Noting the nods from her other selves, Thirteen said, “Contact.”

“Contact,” mirrored the others.

With their thoughts connected, the collected minds of the Doctors reviewed the facts and analyzed countless paths of possibilities, dismissing some, examining others more closely until a thought intruded upon them that was not theirs.

“Oh good, you’re here.”

Releasing themselves from their mental connection, the Doctors gaped at the newcomer. It was a woman, her hair arranged in dreadlocks, dressed in a blue frock coat and waistcoat, kente shirt, with dark trousers and shoes.

Thirteen’s face fell. “Oh no,” she said. The new arrival gave her a wink.

“Do you know this young lady?” queried One. “Is she another one of us?”

“You can just call me … Ruth for now. Thank you all for coming. With your help, I’ll be able to escape this place. We all will.”

“Where are we?” said Ten.

“Who brought us here?” said Eleven.

“And why?” said Twelve.

“The purple man over there was right. We are within a simulated environment. It’s generated by a dying TARDIS trapped within the Vortex. Like a drowning swimmer, it was grabbing for a life buoy, anything to help it. It needed a Time Lord. At last, it detected me, but didn’t have enough energy reserves to transmat me here physically. Instead, it uploaded my consciousness while I slept. The TARDIS created this simulation for me to interact with it. I haven’t been able to help it by myself. Not enough psychic energy. So I suggested that it seek out another Time Lord that I’d met recently.“

At this, Ruth cast her eyes at Thirteen.

“So you are a Time Lord,” said Four.

“That’s not possible,” said Eleven.

“And yet here we all are,” said Ruth with a patient smile. “The thing is, I hadn’t counted on also uploading some of her other selves. So I’m sorry I dragged you away from your sleeping bodies, but when we’ve finished, all of this will seem like an odd dream.”

“Of course, if we fail, if the TARDIS dies while we’re still trapped in this simulation, then we die as well,” said Nine.

“That won’t happen,” said Thirteen. “We won’t let it.”

“The answer seems obvious to me,” said the Warrior. “Set a delayed self-destruct and send our consciousness back to our respective bodies.”

There was silence. “That’s cold,” said Twelve. “Even for you, that’s cold.”

“Is there an alternative?” said the Warrior. “I’d be happy to hear it.”

“We need facts,” said Seven. “How can we access the TARDIS systems?”

“We simply ask,” said Ruth. “Like this.” Looking up and spreading her arms, Ruth said, “TARDIS, please show us your control console.”

A familiar octagonal shape started to appear, but it was blurry, streaked with jagged black and white lines like a CRT display in need of adjustment.

“It can’t stabilize the simulation,” said Ten. “We need to help it. We need to focus all of our concentration on that console.”

The Doctors closed their eyes, faced furrowed with effort, until finally the simulated console solidified on the hilltop.

“Excellent,” said Ruth. “Well done. And now—”

But before she could finish, thirteen Doctors were in a scramble for the console. A shrill whistle from Twelve stopped them in their tracks. “Older and wiser heads, perhaps, eh?” said Twelve, casting a glance at Thirteen.

“Sure,” said Thirteen. “Thanks.” Thirteen and Ruth proceeded to examine the settings and readouts upon the console for several minutes. When they were done, they stopped, made eye contact, and nodded.

“What have you learned?” said One.

“It is possible to save this TARDIS,” said Thirteen. “It needs to regenerate, but can’t. The systems to trigger a regeneration have been damaged. However, with our combined psyches, we could bypass those systems. We just need to pre-program the instructions to first transmit our consciousness back to our bodies.”

“Perfect,” said Five. Puff. “An excellent solution.”

“Are we all agreed?” asked Thirteen. All the Doctors nodded. Glancing at Ruth, Thirteen said, “Good. Now let’s get to work.”

Ruth and Thirteen spent some time programming the TARDIS to return them to themselves just prior prior to regenerating. When it was done, Thirteen addressed the other Doctors.

“Okay, this is the crucial bit. We need to join again and use the console’s telepathic circuit to trigger a regeneration.” Thirteen placed her hands upon the circuit and said, “Contact.”

“Contact,” the others chorused. “Contact,” echoed Ruth.

Opening her eyes, Thirteen sat up. She wasn’t in the simulation any more. It must have worked! Well done us, she thought. She was back in her TARDIS, though the room didn’t look immediately familiar.

Wait a minute. What was this around her neck? A scarf? A very long scarf, in fact. Oh no.

Getting to her feet, the Doctor looked at her reflection in a nearby mirror. She saw a familiar face. Just not the right face. Long curly hair, bright eyes, tweed coat, and, um, she was male again. A female mind in a male body. Well, she wouldn’t be the first. Her eyes opening wide, she realized that meant that he was …. And Yaz was due for a bit of a shock.

Dropping into a chair, she rested her head in her hands and thought, Right. Just another day in the life of the Doctor.

Self-Publishing: Some Lessons Learned

If you’ve been reading my blog or following my Twitter posts, it won’t have escaped your attention that I’ve recently self-published a collection of short stories called Something Special. It’s available at Amazon in eBook and paperback formats.

One of the first things I learned along the way was the difference between anthology and collection. An anthology contains stories by multiple authors. A collection contains stories from one author. Something Special, then, was going to be a collection.

Lets start with some lessons learned from publishing the eBook version.

One of the first things that surprised me is that, even though you’re the author of the eBook, you need to purchase it like anyone else to get it into your Kindle library. If I’m mistaken, let me know, but I couldn’t find any other way to do it.

If you use Kindle Create to put together your eBook, then you must never, ever, compose text within that tool. Ever. Instead, write text in a word processor and then copy-and-paste it into KC. Why? KC does not have a spell checker. My published eBook ended up with a typo on the dedication page. I mean, of all places ….

I was concerned with making the text as perfect as possible before publishing. However, in the back of my mind I thought that, even if there was a mistake, I’d be able to upload a corrected manuscript and that my readers would receive an update. That’s not the way it works, unfortunately. Amazon seems to keep track of which version of the eBook you purchase, and even if you delete your local copy and re-download, you end up with the same version you started out with. My early readers, then, are stuck with the version that has the typo in the dedication as well as some other formatting glitches. As the author, I wanted the corrected version but couldn’t get it. I’d even permanently deleted and re-purchased the eBook, and still had the original version. I had to contact KDP support so that I could get the corrected version in my Kindle library.

And now some things to consider when publishing a paperback on Amazon.

In preparing the paperback, it would have been very helpful to be able to get a copy and review it before it went “live” and was available to everyone. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, and being in Canada, I got my copy after some others in the US had already received it. And as it turns out, I wasn’t completely happy with my first go at it.

But let’s start with Microsoft Word. It’s best to use that tool since the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) site has detailed instructions on how to configure a Word document. I’ve had a lot of experience with Word, off and on over the years. As is the case with many of you, my relationship with it can best be described as love/hate. While preparing the paperback version of the manuscript, I would have sworn on some occasions that Word gremlins were busy making changes after I closed the document. Section breaks that were to begin on the next page became continuous breaks, headers that had been disconnected with the previous section’s header were suddenly connected. It was maddening. I had to make a lot of passes through the document to get it (mostly) right.

One of the things about the paperback version that was tricky was the gutter margin. This is the inside margin of the page that is bound to the spine. The first version of the paper had too wide a gutter margin. In the end, I’ve gone with half inch margins on the left and right plus a quarter of an inch extra for the gutter. This for a roughly 300 page book. I’m much happier with how that turned out. I did something a bit different for the front matter, eliminating the extra margin space altogether. For those few pages, the space lost to the binding was negligible and, with the change, the text that was meant to be centred actually look like it was centred.

Speaking of centring text, here’s something I learned about centring header text. They default style, Normal, includes a paragraph indent on the first line. Unfortunately, as I learned the hard way, Word centres your text in-between the start of the indent and the right margin, and not between the left and right margins. You have to manually remove the indent (or apply a different style, I suppose) for the text to be centred properly.

Although this post is basically a collection of “gotchas”, I don’t want to leave the impression that it was a negative experience. On the contrary, there is nothing more magical than holding a book you wrote in your hands.

That’s about all I can think of at the moment. I’ll update if anything else comes to mind.

Excerpt from “Remember Me?

My collection of short stories, Something Special, was released last week. It includes tales of fantasy, horror and mystery, and it’s available at the Kindle store in ebook form. A paperback version is forthcoming.

The “Peek Inside” feature lets you read the first story, “Lizzy and Me”, and a good chunk of the next story, “Don’t Ever Change.” The cover is based on a scene from another story called “Remember Me?” What follows is the introduction and a brief excerpt from a few pages in. Hope you enjoy it.

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The way in which Will meets Sam (the cat) is similar to something that happened to me. I was walking by the waterfront in Kingston and a cat came out of the darkness. It walked alongside of me, slowing when I slowed, picking up the pace when I did. Finally, I knelt down and said to the cat, “I can’t take you home with me.” Which I couldn’t. The cat’s eyes widened, and then it turned and disappeared into the darkness.

“Oh, this is good,” you said, sipping your dark roast. I’d chosen my favourite, an Americano, which was an indulgence, but it seemed like that kind of day.

As usual, the shop was bustling with patrons coming and going, and the tables were jammed with people talking or working on laptops. Throughout the space, the delicious smell of coffee mingled with the sweet odour of chocolate.

“You said you were looking for someone,” I reminded you.

“Right. Yes, I am. And you’re the link, but I’m not sure how.”

I was probably looking at you expectantly, waiting for you to say more. After taking a couple more sips of coffee, you did.

“Have you heard of the multiverse theory?”

I smiled. I was getting the sense that keeping you fixed on one topic at a time was going to be a challenge.

“Changing the subject?”

“Not really, no. Have you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Great. So somewhere out there, there are other places, other realities, reflecting different choices, different events, and even different laws of physics.”

“Okay, sure.”

“And sometimes, there are cracks between the realities. And sometimes, people can fall into them.”

You seemed quite serious, so I went along. “So, people literally fall through the cracks. From one reality to another?”

“Exactly! Well done. The person I’m looking for has done just that. I’m here to help them get back to their own reality.”

“And you think I can help?” I said.

“I’m fairly sure, yes.”

“So what happened, exactly?” I said, deciding to suspend my disbelief for the moment. “How did you end up here?”

“I came upon a crack in reality. It was closing. And the way it was humming, I could tell that somebody had passed through. The only way that I’d be able to help bring them back was to follow them before the crack closed, so that’s what I did, and I barely made it. Half a minute later and it would have been too late.”

“So that’s why you said ‘that was close’ earlier.”

You nodded. “Sometimes, the crack, the doorway, whatever you want to call it, it takes me right to the person who crossed over. Other times, not so much, and some detective work is called for. I’ve done this enough times now that I’m turning into a regular Sexton Blake.”

“Sorry, who?”

“Ah. Never mind. Just me showing my age.”

We were both quiet for a time. “Well,” I said, resting my head on my hand, “I’m not sure what to say to all that.”

#

End of excerpt.