Excerpt 3 From My Novel, “Find my Baby”

This is an excerpt from the first act of my recently published novel, Find My Baby, available on Amazon Kindle and other fine book sellers.

I hope you like it, and if you like it, please share.

 

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The dark room was illuminated by the monitor. The man staring at it was pensive and intense as he read the news story from the Korean text on the screen:

Sentia Solutions Patches BEATTHIS Exploit.

“Sentia Solutions of Dallas, Texas announced today that it has patched the code exploit that caused hundreds of email servers to crash three weeks ago. Zachary Foxborne was credited with leading the team that engineered the patch. Andre Gomez promised the signature update would be available Monday for Sentia Sentinel, the anti-virus software used by millions of computer users.”

He stopped reading there. Leaning back in his chair, he tented his fingers before him and thought. Had only this Ratmir Misko fellow had the diligence to complete his assignment sooner, this would not have mattered. If only Misko had not been so brazen as to demonstrate in such a public forum, this might not have gotten the attention it did that resulted in the patch. As it was, Misko’s code exploit was useless to him now. He only wanted it to deliver the payload rootkit to the South Korean servers, but now, it could be traced. He didn’t dare try it now.

His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Enter.”

“Excuse me, General, Sir,” the uniformed man said, entering and saluting.

“At ease. What do you want?”

“Your presence is requested in the briefing room.”

“Inform the Chairman I will not be attending.”

The officer paused, not sure what to say.

“I will not attend!” he repeated forcefully.

“Yes Sir. I will tell him, Sir.” And he scurried out the door and closed it softly behind him.

Staring at the screen, he said aloud, “Who are you Zachary Foxborne? You are only a man, are you not?” And he leaned in and opened Bing.com to do a search on his name.

Wikipedia pulled him up and he read:

Zachary Foxborne (born May 25, 1979) was accused of creating two computer viruses in 1996 that exploited pedophiles and violators of bestiality laws.

The first was a simple macro exploit of Microsoft’s email program. The email, sent with the title, “Nude pictures of Jenny – 14 years old and HOT!!!” containing an attachment that, if clicked, executed a macro that sent emails to the first 100 members of the users address list, replicating the message. It also emailed FBI.gov with a different message, titled “I am a sex offender. Stop me, now!”

The Jenny virus continued to proliferate on The Internet for more than a year before it was stopped. It also led to the investigation and arrest of over 300 suspected sex offenders, 122 who were convicted.”

Fascinating – a vigilante hacker, seeking to exploit the perverse parasites on society. And this was when he was only a boy of seventeen. He read on:

“The macro code for the Jenny Virus was used for multiple other exploits by other, unidentified sources for various means, but Jenny Virus is recognized as the original code.

The second exploit was known as the Chancy McChancy exploit. Using similar code, it replicated itself by a macro, sending to the first 100 addresses in a user’s address list when opened. It also contained a link and the text: See a woman DO IT with a horse!!! It had a link clearly identified as: SexWithFurryAnimals.com.

If the user clicked the link, they went to a website that displayed their personal information and threatened to send it to contacts in their email list, spouse, employers and legal authorities, saying they ‘like sex with furry animals’ unless they donated $50 through PayPal with the comment, “Donated by Chancy McChancy,” and returned to the site to enter the payment verification information.

The threat to follow through on notifying the parties mentioned was later determined to be invalid, but over 20 thousand dollars was donated to The Humane Society from sources claiming to be, “Chancy McChancy,” during the years of 1996-1997.”

The General laughed at this. The man even protects the sheep in the field, he thought. Animals have no rights, but men who set the bar so low as to have sex with an animal should be killed.

He read on:

“Zachary Foxborne was brought up on charges for the damages done by both of these viruses, estimated at over 2.2 million dollars. He was acquitted in an undisclosed out of court settlement on July of 1998.”

Interesting. The US court system had an opportunity to make an example out of him, punishing him to the full extent of the law, but they didn’t. Why?

The General scrolled the page down to see the rest:

“During his months pending trail in 1997, Zachary Foxborne worked feverishly at translating the arcane text of the Heusel Manuscript. His translation was later confiscated by the NSA and sealed as top secret.”

Now that is interesting, isn’t it? Thought The General. ‘Heusel Manuscript’ had a link to it, and he clicked it:

The Heusel Manuscript is a handwritten book thought to have been written in the early 16th century and comprising about 240 vellum pages, some with illustrations of what is believed to be stars, deserts and constellations. Although many possible authors have been proposed, the author, script, and language remain unknown. It has been described as the world’s most mysterious manuscript.

Generally presumed to be some kind of cipher text, the Heusel Manuscript has been studied by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including American and British code breakers from both World War I and World War II, yet it has defied all decipherment attempts, becoming a historical cryptology cause célèbre. The mystery surrounding it has excited the popular imagination, making the manuscript a subject of both fanciful theories and novels.

In 2009, University of California researchers performed C14 dating on the manuscript’s vellum, which they assert (with 95% confidence) was made between 1404 and 1430. In addition, the McCrane Research Institute in Chicago found that much of the ink was added not long afterwards, confirming that the manuscript is an authentic medieval document.”

Tenting his fingers again, the General wondered why Foxborne’s translation attempt was taken and sealed as top secret. What could it contain that the US government did not want it known? That alone was enough to want it.

He clicked the back button on the web browser twice and looked at the listing from Bing.com for matches for his search: Zachary Foxborne. Most just looked like old news reports, but there was one for Facebook.

He clicked it, but couldn’t see any information without being a friend. Backing up again, he saw Lucy Foxborne’s Facebook link in the listing. Clicking it he saw her Facebook wall and what was written there. One post by Lucy particularly caught his eye.

“Adoption papers for Ukraine submitted. Now, Zac and I wait.”

“Foxborne,” he said the name aloud. “I want this translation of the manuscript.”

If you are truly born of foxes, then I will need a bloodhound to seek you out. You are going to Ukraine for a child, are you? He stroked his chin and then opened a new email message. “Maybe I still have a use for you, Ratmir Misko.”

*****

“Ah, brother. We will have our revenge.” Ratmir grinned.

Viktor said nothing but looked on. When his brother spoke of ‘we’ he really meant him. He would have his revenge, whatever that might be. Ratmir hated so many people, it would be pointless to guess whom he referred to.

“That prick Foxborne is coming to Ukraine to adopt a child. We will make sure he pays for the problems he caused us! And we will make a pretty coin in the process, getting some manuscript from him.”

Viktor nodded and smiled. He really couldn’t care less. Tonight, he would see his love and that was what kept him going.

Excerpt 2 from my novel, “Find My Baby”

This is an excerpt from the first act of my recently published novel, Find My Baby, available on Amazon Kindle and other fine book sellers.

I hope you like it, and if you like it, please share.

 

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“What do you want me to do?”

Zachary’s voice was strained, his arms, crossed.

“Keep loving me!” Lucy said, tears welling in her eyes.

Really? Zachary wondered why Lucy went to extremes like this. Why she would fathom that he did not love her, yet after eight years of marriage, this is what she would bring up again and again. As if he would… as if he could stop loving her! This was a normal cycle of an argument for them, and it was one he knew well.

“I never stop loving you, Lucy.” He put his arms around her waist and pulled her to him. He looked into her deep, green eyes and kissed her gently but passionately. “And of course I am on board with this. We do this together. I want a baby, too.”

“What if I can’t?” Lucy stammered, tears welling up in her eyes. “What if I can’t get pregnant? Or if I lose the baby mid-term again! What if…”

“What if you stop worrying about problems we don’t have. How about that?” Zachary countered. “We’ll handle whatever problem comes up. I promise. Let’s not worry about them now.”

Zachary took the white, plastic stick from Lucy’s hand and held it up. A light blue minus sign showed on in the little display. “This just means, ‘try again.’ And I do love trying,” he said with a coy smile.

Lucy smiled too, blinking away her tears. “I think we need to try right now.”

They kissed and, hand in hand, moved to the bedroom. Sometimes, their love play was passionate and driven. Sometimes, it was gentle and slow. Zachary was completely enamored with the woman he married and it showed in every way he touched her.

*****

Zachary Foxborne watched CNN later than night. The headline ticker read “Global Messaging Hoax.” They were interviewing a network security analyst from Sentia Solutions, Andre Gomez. He was there to address how this could have occurred.

Andre Gomez was distinguished-looking without being old. He was geeky without being uncool. Zachary had met him once and had worked at Sentia long enough to know that Gomez was just regurgitating what he was told to say. Unfortunately, he didn’t say much.

Apparently, the message sourced from just “5l@x0rH@x0r” with no domain name following it; no ‘@yahoo.com’ or whatever. The Internet, and email in general, just does not work without domain names, he pointed out. The TCP/IP protocol suite can work on just IP addresses without using domain names, but even this was not evident in this case.

Gomez went into some functionary descriptions of how email servers do spam-checking – checking for what he called “spoofed” email addresses and so on. Apparently, not only was all of this by-passed, it was not even recorded on any server or intermediate network device. Not anywhere on the entire Internet; even servers who only function to track e-mail traffic failed to have any record of it.

*****

That Monday, Zachary had a new meeting on his schedule. It was a short presentation and as the meeting concluded, he learned he was to lead a team at Sentia Solutions in finding the source of the hoax email. This was big, but it was also a cool project, tracking down the source of a high-profile virus or malware was about as cool as it gets for someone in his field. He was excited to not only be part of the team, but to be the lead.

Still, short of overloading a few email servers, the message had not been noted to have done any real harm. Yes, it distracted people and therefore cost businesses productivity as people started speculating on the source or philosophical aspects of the message, but no harm had been noted. That was to be his first step in analyzing the message; what underlying, hidden vulnerability did it expose? Did it plant a backdoor on the computers or devices it infected – something the creator might activate at a later date, or was set to activate at a specific date?

Typically, a virus was a program or computer script that claimed to be one thing, but in fact did another. One of the famous ones was Fireworks23.exe, released in the late 1990’s.

It claimed to be a program that, when run, would do a pretty display of fireworks on the screen. It did do that – the fake fireworks looked cool for the time – but it also stealthily downloaded and installed another program from the Internet that would allow remote connectivity. The program activated and hacked into the user’s email, sending an email to everyone in the user’s address book, telling them this was, “A very fun program!!!! Check it out!!!!”

The link included in the email installed Fireworks23.exe, which proliferated and spread across the Internet, and the more users executed the program, the more vulnerable machines there were. Of course, the average user didn’t even know they were vulnerable. They didn’t know that there computer (and all of the data and files stored on its drives) could be accessed by someone in China, running the client-side of the software that had been unwittingly run on their machine.

Most people thought computer viruses were there to cause instability and crashes. Over recent years, they had far more nefarious purposes, and it was only due to badly written code that they crashed the systems. At least in most cases, this was true.

Trojan Horse viruses like Fireworks23.exe were so-called because the claimed to be a program of one type, but when run, did something compromising or detrimental, just like the Greek soldiers that hid within the wooden horse that was presented as a gift to the city of Troy.

Zachary Foxborne had worked on the team that identified the Allison virus, which struck millions of PCs in 2007. The virus, which hid itself in a .DOC file, exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft Word and Outlook, and would send itself to the first fifty addresses in Outlook’s address book. The subject line of the infected e-mail sent out was: “My Pictures of Username”, where Username was the name to whom the sender’s copy of Microsoft Word was registered.

Much worse was the variant of the virus named ‘Allison B/N’ which would find and destroy Microsoft Excel documents, randomly deleting sets of data from files, or make the files completely useless by applying sets of malicious macro code. To simplify the code, the author has encrypted a vector search pattern in it, so the virus could only delete linear sets of data, usually random rows or columns in a table. It also had a search parameter that made it selectively change unique sets of data, so as to cause more damage.

Still later, a variant of this virus would make backup copies of the destroyed files and then demanded a ransom of $100 to be transferred into an offshore account in return for the files.

Zachary had been instrumental in tracing this back to the originator – a programmer in Russia. Due to a malfunction in the code, the code made copies in about one-percent of cases of infection, and did not proliferate as much as earlier variants.

The virus was rendered obsolete by Sentia Solutions when it was discovered that it leaves visible traces in the registry of the Windows Operating System, providing enough data to ensure its safe removal and the retrieval of the data held hostage in a hidden directory on the local hard drive. Zachary programmed the signature and fix for this variant, preventing an estimated 240 million dollars’ worth of lost data.

Still another version of this virus variant would modify the backed-up data, fooling the user even further. It searched for numeric data inside the files, and then, with the help of a random number generator, slightly modified the data, making it useless.

Identifying such threats and providing remediation through updates to the Sentia SAFE anti-virus program, Sentia had become one of the biggest players in the computer security game, their software being used by many governments, including the United States. Sentia Solutions is considered the foremost authority in identifying malicious programming threats.

Sometimes, hundreds were identified each month in “the wild,” meaning that it was actively proliferating on the Internet. This was big business, and Sentient Solutions saved companies hundreds of millions of dollars every quarter.

They also took the brunt of it when a virus did sneak past. Though a well written disclaimer absolved them of any blame, it wasn’t good for business, and Sentia Solutions took this sort of thing very seriously. Antivirus Investigators and Programmers like Zachary were kept very busy, but Zachary was alright with that. He considered it job security, and he liked being one of the good guys.

This threat was something new – not just a variant or your run-of-the-mill virus, stealthy Trojan horse or even a root kit. Everything before this could had left traces. It wasn’t easy, but they all had a tell-tale sign that could be used to identify their presence, and once detected, it could be removed.

Zachary was confident that this new virus had a signature too – something he could pick up on. All viruses did, and he and his team would find it and remediate the threat. The hunt and chase, Zachary’s favorite part.

Programmers who put out malicious code were infamous for executing it poorly, and this had been their downfall and even lead to arrest, imprisonment, or in Zachary’s case… getting a job working for a company that tracked down said virus’. It also put him on the NSA’s “go to” list, calling on him to assist with an investigation that required his unique capabilities.

When Zachary was seventeen years old and working at a pre-employment screening company, Profiles Unlimited, he took notice of a piece of code that was used to identify the person’s reaction time on each question. He thought this was interesting – determining how long the person contemplated the question factored into the overall score and determining the accuracy. The program also went online and pulled any public information on the candidate, such as marital status, criminal record, credit reports, and current and previous addresses.

He had leveraged this bit of code and put it up as a script on an online website claiming to be a bestiality website called sexwithfurryanimals.com. When someone would connect to the site, expecting they would see some perverse images, they were instead greeted with a page that displayed their personal information: Their current IP address, a home address, spouse’s name, and sometimes an employer’s address and phone number. It then threatened to contact the spouses, employers and local newspapers with the information about their interesting browsing habits, unless they donated $50 to Humane Society under the gifting name of Chancy McChancy.

Zachary got the idea to do it after reading an article about a man who was convicted of animal abuse. This man set off firecrackers in the butts of cats. He had twelve accounts of the offense and many of the animals died painful deaths. His fine was a mere $100 and a slap on the wrist. People like that should have more severe punishment, Zachary thought.

The Humane Society received twenty-two thousand dollars donated from Chancy McChancy before Zachary Foxborne was forced to take the web site down. It was a mostly benign form of phishing – one that benefitted a charity, but it was still exploitation and therefore, illegal – a federal offense in the United States.

Because of his age and the fact that the judge thought his ploy was amusing, charges would be dropped if he would accept one hundred hours of community service, assisting in the role as intern for Sentia Solutions, and on call to the NSA as required. After his hundred hours of service, Zachary was offered a full time position and almost three times the salary he made at Profiles Unlimited. Profiles Unlimited fired him after the whole thing became public and even sued him for damages, but they didn’t win. After all, he was the sort of person Profiles Unlimited were supposed to be helping employers avoid, and they had hired him. They didn’t need that kind of press.

The McChancy Phishing Scheme as it came to be called, had gained him credibility in the hacker underground and anti-virus community. It wasn’t particularly brilliant or innovative, but the way he had executed it was. It exploited those who had predatory and perverse fetishes, and it benefited a charity that was exactly counter to that behavior.

Now, he would be leading the team that was investigating the H@x0r’s Hoax. This was the name they used for the “Beat This” messaging ruse.

Key goals of the investigation were:

1. Understand how the message was originated and sent.

2. Understand how it failed to be recorded on any server.

3. Develop a means to prevent such an exploit from being used again.

4. Identify the author who wrote it and identify the person who executed it, if they were not the same person.

5. Keep Andre Gomez apprised of the progress so that he can handle the public-facing side of the investigation.

Estiban Foulk had thought Zachary was a good choice for leading this project. Just like Zachary’s McChancy Phishing Scheme, this hoax was relatively low-threat. This hoax didn’t damage data or open any back-doors to allow remote access. In fact, it didn’t really seem malicious at all. It was probably authored by some high school kid, maybe a college kid.

Kids these days were brilliant when it came to computers and coding, and they often failed to recognize the full consequences of their actions or the tell-tale signatures they leave behind. The internet presented a false sense of security to people who think they are anonymous, just because they were sitting in their own homes, surfing the web.

It couldn’t be farther from the truth. There were certainly means to help disguise an individual’s online presence, if they knew how to use them. Proxy servers on the Internet could be connected to, and then everything the user did seemed to originate from the source of the proxy server, rather than the individual’s unique IP address. Still, proxy servers had records that were recorded, and these could be subpoenaed and reviewed.

The biggest obstacle was obtaining the server’s records, as many proxy servers were set up in parts of the former Soviet Union, the Philippines or China. These places had ‘real problems’ to deal with and didn’t see any value in cooperating with US agencies to track down the source of some malicious activity on the Internet.

Tracking down and nullifying threats despite these obstacles was how Sentia Solutions made a name for themselves as the biggest and most renowned security specialists in the field of computer technology. Neither Foulk, Zachary nor anyone at Sentia Solutions fully understood the gravity of the hoax that was being investigated. Not yet.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thanks for reading this excerpt.  I f you enjoyed it, please share with your friends and check out the full novel on Amazon.

ML

Joe Hinojosa Reviews “Find my Baby”

I’ve come across another review for Find my Baby, this time, from Joe Hinojosa.

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“I was intrigued by the level of detail the author put in. Computer terms and explanations into what they meant, helped create the setting…”

“What I liked about the story was that Mitch Lavender displays his knowledge of the IT sector. Write what you know, and he did. “

“I truly believe the author shows promise as a novelist…”

 

Of course, I have quoted the best of the review. Smile  Read the full review, here.

Review of “Find my Baby” by Daniel Kaye

The reviews of my latest novel, Find My Baby, have been coming in on the Internet, and I’ll share and reblog them as I can (the good and the bad). This one is from Daniel Kaye, an author in Ireland. 

The original post can be found here: Daniel Kay on Blogspot.

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Quote:

“I thought Mitch Lavender superbly crafted this novel and like a snowball slowly rolling down the hill gaining both momentum and mass, this story pulled you in.

Would I recommend it? Definitely.”

 

There you go.  What’s keeping you from reading Find My Baby?

Get a free copy of my new novel, Find My Baby (ends July 30)

I’m looking for honest reviews for my new novel, Find My Baby.

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I’ve received a few reviews on Amazon and Goodreads but would like to see more.  Many prospective readers look at the reviews of book to help them decide if it right for them or not.  This is particularly true if the author is unknown, such as I am.

If you are willing to take a chance on my book and leave reviews on Amazon or Goodreads,  I’m willing to give you a copy in e-book format.

I’m offering 10 free copies to anyone who agrees to this, and will provide the book in PDF format, which is readable on e-book readers, tablets and PCs.

Find my Baby Synopsis:

Zachary and Lucy Foxborne have everything they want except a child. As they begin navigating the legal and bureaucratic maze of international adoption from Ukraine, they could not imagine their newly adopted child would be held for ransom by a brilliant and demented cyber-terrorist, bent on revenge and even darker motives.  Finding their baby could cost them everything.

Mitch Lavender is an accomplished author of short stories and has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies from Static Movement, Pill Hill Press and Pantoum Press. He worked for Microsoft Corporation for over 18 years, happily married 25 years and is the father of a son, adopted from Ukraine. With this background, it makes sense that his first, published full-length novel would be a high-stakes thriller interlaced with computer espionage, set with an American couple, attempting to do an international adoption.

Book Promo–Find My Baby

Contact me at mitchlav@outlook.com if you are interested and I will send you the details.

Thanks.

Soundtrack for FIND MY BABY

 

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When I was writing the first draft of Find My Baby, I created a playlist of music that characterized the scenes I was writing. Sometimes I selected a song for the lyrics, but many times I selected the song for the vibe – the overall feeling it conveyed through the sound.

The original playlist was 37 songs and 2 hours and 51 minutes long. I have shortened that considerably. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Find My Baby Soundtrack

What’s Going On – Giorgio Moroder\Adam Ant – The Beat This virus surprises the world by messaging all Internet-connected devices.

Free Radicals – Flaming Lips – Ratmir’s theme.

So In Love With You – Texas – Zachary and Lucy’s theme.

This is Not America – David Bowie – Arriving in Ukraine, Zachary and Lucy suffer some degree  of culture shock.

Find My Baby – Moby – I think this one is pretty obvious. Smile

Beautiful Boy – John Lennon – Alexander’s Theme.

Winter Time – Steve miller Band –  Cold in Ukraine in February.

Up Jumped The Devil – Nick Cave – Ratmir has new motives and a new target.

The KKK Took My Baby Away – The Ramones – After finally finding their son, Zachary and Lucy may have lost him forever.

Stranglehold – Ted Nugent – Ratmir has manipulated Zachary into a situation with little choice but to comply.

Don’t Give Up – Peter Gabriel – Time is running out and Zachary has so much to do.  He feels the pressure.

On Your Own – Billy Squire – Viktor faces down Ratmir.

Better Together – Jack Johnson – Finally a family, Zachary, Lucy and Alexander are complete.

Codes and Keys – Death Cab For Cutie –   The Heusel Manuscript translation.

 

Book Promo–Find My Baby by Mitch Lavender

Excerpt from the novel, “Find My Baby” by Mitch Lavender

 

In this short excerpt from Chapter 5 of Find My Baby, Zachary and Lucy Foxborne have traveled from their home in Dallas, Texas to an orphanage in Donetsk, Ukraine.  After a heated debate with the Head Master of the orphanage, expedited by their translator, Natasha,  they will meet children who are eligible for adoption.  The consulate in Kiev had said they could see 4 children, but the Head Master only wants them to see one.

If you enjoy reading this, please share and check out the full novel, FIND MY BABY, available on Amazon right now.

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– – – – –

A woman – a babushka, led them to a large room with a few toys in it. There was a spinning top and a couple of plastic toy cars that a child could sit in. There was a soccer ball that looked new, like it had never seen a proper game in its existence. One wall was lined with windows that looked into the stark whiteness of the frozen world outside.

Zachary and Lucy waited in the room, standing restlessly. There was a small table and a couple of chairs, but neither of them felt like they could sit. Not right now. They had been planning for this moment and all the effort, all of the frustration, all of the expense had been put into having the next moment happen. This was when they might meet their child. The gravity of the circumstances was clear and evident and precise and both felt it acutely. While the wait was less than ten minutes, it felt much, much longer.

Finally, the door opened and the babushka came in, a little boy in front of her. He looked around the room, a little apprehensive. He was a good looking child, perhaps five years old. He had dark brown hair and brown eyes, like Zachary. He was dressed in clothes that were a little big for him – the long sleeved pull-over shirt almost covered his hands.

Zachary walked over and knelt down next to him. He offered his hand to shake and said, “Hello! My name is Zachary. What is yours?”

The boy smiled wanly. He made good eye contact with Zachary but did not say anything. Of course, the boy did not speak English.

Zachary tried again, pointing to himself, he said, “Zachary.” Then he pointed to the boy and shrugged.

“Pavlik,” the boy said, pointing at himself.

Zachary picked up the Soccer ball. He threw it to Pavlik, a slow toss. He caught it and held on to it. He seemed to have good hand eye coordination. He was calm, but Zachary could see his eyes dancing around the room. It was as if he had not seen this room before and was trying to take it in.

Lucy watched the interaction. This boy was older than they had asked for but he had no discernible handicap. She presumed this is what the Head Master had called his ‘best’ child. And from the looks of him, he was a healthy, good-looking kid. She thought he looked a lot like Zachary and that appealed to her. They had no plans to hide the fact that the child was adopted, but it might make it easier on him if other kids thought he was their biological child and didn’t bring it up.

Lucy went to Pavlik and introduced herself. “Zdravstvuj,” she said simply. This was ‘Hello’ in Russian.

The boy smiled at her and repeated the greeting, “Zdravstvuj.”

Then there was some uncomfortable silence. Not being able to communicate beyond the simplest words left both of them a little lost at how to proceed. Natasha was not allowed to be with them. They were told that it would be confusing to the children, and they would likely be drawn to her if she translated. They would not understand that she was only repeating what they were saying. So here they were, Zachary, Lucy and Pavlik, in this big room in an orphanage in Ukraine, and all they could do was look at each other. Then Lucy remembered something – the photo album she had put together, showing their house, the dogs and relatives.

As she was reaching into her purse, the babushka came in with another child. This was a little guy, Zachary guessed he couldn’t be more than a year old, based on his size. He was dressed in green and purple. Lucy excused herself to go over and talk to the babushka, and Zachary stayed with Pavlik, still awkward and unsure of what to do.

He looked at the boy, really inspecting him. He felt like this was the wrong way to do this. “I am not buying a horse,” he thought. Check its teeth. Check its hooves. Does it have a healthy mane and tail? No, this was a child. But if he approached this academically, the boy was a good specimen. Older than they asked for and potentially, he may have more ingrained orphanage behaviors that might present some challenges, but overall, he was a star. The best – that’s what the Head Master had called him. Maybe he was.

Natasha poked her head in the door and asked Lucy, “How’s it going?”

“Good!” Lucy said brightly.

“Alright then, there is another family that is going to come in, too. They are also looking for a little boy.” Then she disappeared and the door closed.

The babushka went over to Pavlik and said something in Russian, and Pavlik waved goodbye to Zachary and then sat down in a chair at the table, his hands folded in front of him. Zachary guessed that his time with Pavlik had been cut short. Was that all he got? He started to go out to find Natasha and see if he could get more time. There was no way he could be sure. No one could they make a decision with only ten minutes of interaction, he thought.

Lucy interrupted him as he walked to the door. “Go see him. His name is Alexander.” She pointed to the green and purple lump sitting on the carpeted floor.

Zachary walked over and sat on the floor next to the child. The boy was dressed in a green, plaid suit that was too small for him. He had purple stockings on and black shoes. He had a green beanie on his head that Zachary thought looked ridiculous. The boy was looking down and Zachary couldn’t see his face. He seemed fascinated with the shoes and kept pulling at the laces. They were untied now, even though Lucy had tied them twice. It had become a little game for them. Lucy would tie his shoes, and he would pull the string and untie them, and then wait for her to tie them again so he could untie them again.

Since the boy wouldn’t look up, Zachary picked him up. The child was small and weighed less than twenty pounds. Zachary had held children before, but it was always a little awkward for him. This time was no different. Still, he cradled the boy’s bottom under his arm and held him close. Then he looked at his face.

The child was cross-eyed, but they were beautiful blue eyes. He had a shock of the finest pale blonde hair. It almost looked like he was bald, as his hair was cropped short and didn’t contrast with his skin very much.

“Well hello, little guy!” Zachary cooed to the child.

Alexander was nonplused and his expression didn’t change. He still kept looking down at his shoes, so again, Zachary was looking at the top of his head. Zachary held the boy up in the air, over his head. He did this to play with him, but also to get a better look. And that’s when it happened.

Alexander laughed. At first, Zachary did not recognize it as a laugh, it sounded a little like a whistle if you inhale instead of blow on it. It was so funny. Alexander’s face cracked into a beautiful grin and he made his snorting laugh sound. At that moment, Zachary fell in love. Right there and just like that. It could not have been simpler or more natural. It just was.

He pulled Alexander down, close to him, and then pushed him back up into the air. The boy laughed again, his funny little exhalation. It was infectious and Zachary laughed too, as did Lucy as she watched. Even the babushka was laughing. Zachary pulled the boy down and this time he held him close. Alexander’s arms hung at his sides. Zachary kissed him on top of his head, almost without thinking.

Had they had the amazing fortune to have found their child so quickly? His wife had enriched his life in so many ways and he would marvel at just how happy he was with her. Having her to share events with and even just to watch TV with, was a fulfilling part of his life, just because she was there. Now, he also had a son?

Zachary wasn’t aware of it, but he had spent approximately ninety seconds with Alexander. It took him that long to realize the search for their child was over; his child was found. But how did Lucy feel? Still holding the boy, he looked at Lucy, and she was watching him, smiling. A tear ran down one cheek. She had drawn the same conclusion before Zachary even sat down on the floor with the boy.

“My God, is it this easy?” Zachary thought. They had drawn a conclusion so quickly, perhaps it was too quickly? Maybe they needed to think this through, rather than make an emotional decision. But how else should you feel about your child except to be emotional?

Lucy came over and took Alexander from him and held him close, cooing at him. She hugged him. It’s one of the common behaviors of infants raised in an Eastern European orphanage that they do not know how to hug. They get held from time to time. They get carried. They do not get hugged.

Lucy and Zachary were so involved, so completely engaged with Alexander that they didn’t even notice the other couple that had come into the stark room. They had also forgotten about Pavlik, who was also in the room and who had been watching them. The babushka had distracted him with the soccer ball, but he watched and he noticed. He was an intelligent and aware child, and his eyes had seen this before. He had seen couples meet him and then leave, never to return. He had seen couples adopt other children, while he remained.

Unlike Alexander, Pavlik knew what life was like outside of the orphanage. He lost his parents two years earlier, killed in a train derailing. He had been at the orphanage ever since. Pavlik stood quietly, waiting to go back to the other children in his group. Zachary and Lucy knew nothing of Pavlik’s background, or Alexander’s for that matter. All they had been told at the Adoption Center was that they would be able to see four children and were shown some badly taken photographs that were outdated by a year or more.

The other couple was from New Zealand, and they gravitated immediately to Pavlik. They were older than Zachary and Lucy by about ten years. Jesse and Annabelle Anderson had adopted a little girl from this same orphanage three years earlier, and now they were back to adopt a son. They were hoping to get a boy who would be close to their daughter’s age, around five years old. Pavlik liked the woman. She had happy eyes. The man wore glasses like his papa had.

When Natasha came into the room, it was with the Head Master. “How is it going?” She said with some trepidation. She was mediating the concerns of the Head Master with the needs of her clients, and if Lucy and Zachary wanted to see another child, well, she would have to convey that. The Head Master had already told her that they could not see any other children today. They would have to come back tomorrow to see any other children.

Natasha thought Zachary and Lucy were hugging, and they were. But between them was a little bundle of green and purple.

“It could not be better!” Zachary said, Lucy nodding in agreement.

A babushka came from behind Natasha and told her she needed to take Alexander for his nap. Reluctantly, Lucy gave the child to her and waved as he was taken out of the room. It pained her to let him go. She wanted to spend more time with him, much more time. All day would not be nearly enough.

“We’d like to know more about Alexander,” Zachary told Natasha, who translated to the Head Master. He shrugged and agreed. After a short wait, they went into a small office with a clerk who pulled the file on the child.

It listed his full name and birth date. He was twenty months old.

“He is very small for being almost two years old. And he isn’t walking yet, is he?” Lucy asked.

The clerk didn’t know. She said she would have to check with the care takers for Alexander’s group.

Zachary and Lucy looked at each other with some concern.

Natasha translated the rest of the information in the file, which was very brief. “He has eyes crossed,” she said, adding, “That is correctable. He was born five weeks premature, and stayed at the hospital for two months. Then he came here, to this orphanage. His biological mother had Syphilis at the time he was born, but he does not have it. The mother waived her rights as a parent at the hospital and never saw the child afterwards. She never came to visit him at the orphanage.”

“What about medical records?”

“There isn’t much here,” Natasha said. “He was seen by a doctor about a year ago for an ear infection. Nothing else is listed.”

They knew there would be a lot of unknowns when adopting, but knowing more would be comforting. Really, it wouldn’t have changed anything about their decision, even if they had more complete medical records and it indicated significant problems.

“Looking at Lucy, Zachary said, “We would like to start the process for adopting Alexander.” He was speaking to the clerk via Natasha’s translating, but he never took his eyes from Lucy’s.

Tears welled in Lucy’s eyes and ran down her cheeks, but she was smiling. They had found their baby.

– – – – –

Thank you for reading!  Please feel free to comment or ask questions below.

History of the Book Cover For Find My Baby

Over the course of writing, editing, rewriting, revising, cursing, etc., I toyed with different covers for Find My Baby.  These are several iterations of the covers I considered at one time or another.

Find my baby cover

This was the first cover, developed for my Nanowrimo author’s page way back in November of 2011.  I liked this one at the time, but then an artist friend pointed out that the shadow on FIND and the shadows on my name were opposite of each other.  My name was also a little too prominent on the cover.  This works for known authors but does nothing for me.  Eventually, I abandoned this one in favor of the next.

Find my baby cover-3

The font changed to give it a ransom note feel, and my name was reduced to a smaller font.  It has a very dreary feel to it, and I abandoned this one pretty quickly.

 

cryptic FMB cover3

This was the second cover, developed around the time of the rewrite of Find my Baby for the 3 Day Novel challenge, mid 2012.  it has the ransom note feel to it and elements of an ancient manuscript – a storyline that was added to the outline for the rewrite.  And look at that, my name is huge on the cover, again.  The picture of the silhouetted child is a modified picture of my son’s passport picture, taken in Ukraine when he was 22 months old.

cryptic FMB

Here, I wasn’t even going to tell anyone I wrote it – my name is nowhere to be seen.  Notice the cryptic writing is more emphasized.  This is using a font based on the Voynich Manuscript, which the Heusel Manuscript in the story is derived.  This cover was done in 2013, and I was tinkering with the story and emphasizing the ransom storyline over the adoption storyline.  I never liked this cover, which may be why I never put my name on it.

Dark Find my baby cover-1

It’s starting to have the feel that I wanted.  At the recommendation of an agent, I simplified the title to one word, Find, since the focus of the story was less about the adoption at this time.  I abandoned this shorter title.  I abandoned the altered storyline  and went back to the original rewrite that emphasized the adoption.  I also abandoned the agent, but that was mutual.  The photo is courtesy of M. Wej, by the way.

Dark Find my baby cover-5

Finally, this is the book cover  as it will release.  Done in late 2013, the couple has been added, walking in the stark light.  The title stands out clearly, my name is understated and not too big, and the dark cover thumbnails well.  The book was in the editing phase at this point, and my preferential editor was not available.  I was working with an editor I had not used before and we were developing a report, but it was slow going.  Finally, the book was finished and scheduled for release on July 1st, 2014.

 

Book Trailer–FIND MY BABY

My novel, “Find My Baby,” is finally releasing!

Dark Find my baby cover-5

Zachary and Lucy Foxborne just want a child. Despite the not so subtle objections of friends and relatives, they begin navigating the legal and bureaucratic maze of international adoption. The last obstacle they expected was having their adopted child held for ransom by an elite hacker, bent on translating the arcane text of a 600-year-old book that could unlock the power to destroy the planet.  With time running out, Zachary finds desperation is his most  useful ally.

Find My Baby is a novel I drafted in 2010 and continued to rework and rewrite until it was the story I knew it should be.  It is loosely based on the experiences of my wife and me, adopting our son in Ukraine, and leverages my 18 years of technical background when working for Microsoft Corporation.  While the story does have hi-tech espionage and extortion, the terminology is kept to  layman terms and I’ve endeavored to keep it accessible.

I am happy to be announcing Find my Baby will release under the Pantoum Press imprint and be available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other fine booksellers  on or shortly after July 1, 2014.

You will note the distinct lack of zombies.  That is intentional,but I won’t make a habit of it.

Novel Excerpt: Find My Baby (Meeting the Dewdey Doctors)

This is an excerpt from a novel I have been working on for some time, Find My Baby.  it is a story about Zachary and Lucy Foxborne, an American couple attempting to adopt a little boy in Ukraine, but being menaced by ingenious and cruel Russian hackers who want something from Zachary.

This scene is from Chapter 2, early in the first act, while the Zachary and Lucy are still attempting pregnancy.

If you enjoy it, please share.

 

Excerpt from Find My Baby
by Mitch Lavender

 

Dark Find my baby cover-4They enjoyed the first eight years of marriage and eventually both took different jobs, Zachary working for Sentia Solutions and Lucy working in the safety consulting field. They travelled and enjoyed being together.

Each time Lucy would start talking about having a baby, Zachary would come home with a new kitten or puppy. This seemed to sate her maternal instincts for a while. Now with four pets, getting another started to look a bit like a zoo. So, after five years of marriage, Zachary and Lucy were seriously discussing the prospect of bringing a child into the world. After all, the trying was fun! Lucy stopped taking the pill and they  bought pregnancy tests at the supermarket.

She did get pregnant, but they lost the baby in a miscarriage after five months. They were devastated, but through the loss, they grew even closer, soldered by their sorrow, and slowly they healed. It wasn’t until three years later that they started trying again.

The first two negative results were dismissed with a, ‘Back to the drawing board’ and a roll in bed. Then, Lucy started feeling like there was something wrong. After the sixth pale blue minus sign, Lucy decided they should have this checked out.

At first, Zachary thought he was going to get away without having to do this, but he was wrong.  A semen sample was needed, and Lucy wasn’t there to help collect it. Still, he managed, leaving the sealed cup with the receptionist and hurrying back out the door, face blushing.

Tests came back and his sperm count was fine. Nothing was wrong with Lucy either, but at thirty-five, she knew the sand in her biological hourglass was running out. This meant stepping up to the next level. Enter: Dr. Dewdy. Or to be accurate, the Dewdy Doctors, as they were a husband-wife team.

The Dewdy Doctors were well respected and ran a fertility clinic, advising would-be parents and assisting couples with pregnancies. Dr. Benjamin Dewdy was a peculiar looking man, like a shaved ferret that had too many facelifts. That’s what he reminded Zachary of – a perpetually surprised, shaved ferret.

Dr. Heloise Dewdy was a kind enough woman with an empathic but firm demeanor. Women just naturally warmed to her maternal aptitude and men found her interesting and charismatic. She was in her early forties and had an elegant, sensual air about her. Zachary thought she was alright for an older woman, but all the same, he kept thinking that she sleeps with the surprised, shaved ferret-man. Those sort of things perplexed Zachary. He would see a beautiful girl, model material, really – model material. She would be with some dirty, redneck biker that lives in a trailer and smacks her around when he gets drunk, which was often. How does that happen? How was it that a woman of Lucy’s beauty was with him?

The surprised, shaved ferret was a successful doctor and judging from the different Italian sports cars he drove, he had money as well. The Dewdy Clinic was a sprawling complex of building laid out on a beautiful landscape, located in Valley Ranch, an upscale part of a Dallas suburb, known because many of the Dallas Cowboys lived there. Heloise Dewdy was successful too, also being a Ph.D., so she wasn’t attracted to his success. And wow… she took his name: Mrs. Heloise (Surprised, Shaved Ferret) Dewdy.

Zachary and Lucy Foxborne’s first visit was a seminar, and Zachary and Lucy sat in a nice presentation room with about eight other couples. All the couples were in their late thirties, early forties, Zachary guessed.

A screen lowered and the Dewdys came out and introduced themselves. They took turns talking through a well-rehearsed, methodical speech that they have given many times before, no doubt. Dr. Heloise Dewdy began:

“Conceiving a baby seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world– but for many couples this is not the case. Having difficulty getting pregnant is more common than you might think, especially among women over the age of 35. We, at Dewdy Fertility Clinic, offer advanced fertility treatment that is one of the most affordable in the Dallas Fort Worth Metropolitan Area and can do so because of our outstanding pregnancy success rates.”

Dr. Surprised, Shaved Ferret took over. “Patients seek treatment at Dewdy Fertility because of our outstanding record of success and experience in treating some of the most resistant cases of infertility including those that have failed at other IVF centers. Our patients continue to be our best advertising as to our commitment to helping them achieve a pregnancy. This information we are about to present is designed to help those who are just beginning the process of starting a family or those who have discovered that having a second child does not come along as planned.”

With a professional smile, Dr. Heloise Dewdy added, “We’ve prepared a short video to familiarize you with the options that are available and how The Dewdy Fertility Clinic can help you fulfill your family needs.”

The room lights went down and a video started up on the projector. A pleasant picture of a lush meadow, mountains in the background. Words superimposed over this read, “Infertility. Why Me?”

“Oh brother,” Zachary sighed, but Lucy ignored him. She did say it would be a short video.

“At The Dewdy Fertility Clinic of Texas, Dr. Benjamin Dewdy, Dr. Heloise Dewdy and their staff feel privileged to help patients achieve their dreams.”

The presentation continued, a professional announcer’s voice read the PowerPoint slide. Pictures of a handsome couple, holding hands and looking pensively into each other’s eyes, obviously worried about the prospect of infertility.

“Often times you can have a complete fertility evaluation and all the test come back normal. This is very frustrating, but does not mean that there is not a problem. It simply means that at this time, medical means are not able to find a specific issue that is keeping you from getting pregnant. By increasing the number of eggs available at the time of ovulation, we are able to increase the success rate of pregnancy occurring.”

Zachary heard a woman’s voice from behind me whisper to her husband, “That’s just like us!”

“Today’s couples experiencing infertility should both be evaluated. We should not underestimate problems that can occur in the male. The initial test for a male is a semen analysis which is performed in our lab. A semen analysis allows determination of the volume as well as the number of sperm present, their ability to swim and morphology or shape of the sperm.”

Magnified pictures of squiggling sperm filled the screen.

“All of these factors are important in preventing a missed opportunity for a cause of infertility and will allow the couple to develop the most timely and cost efficient pathway to start or expand a family.”

The image shifted to an attractive woman’s face, worried and contemplative. Across her forehead appeared the words ‘Polycystic ovary syndrome’. The announcer continued, “Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may well be the most common endocrine disorder affecting women of reproductive age. For some women, the disorder is easy to identify, with the classic signs of irregular menses, increased facial hair growth and infertility. For others, the signs are more subtle, making the diagnosis difficult.”

The words changed to ‘Blocked Tubes’ and the announcer continued, “Any patient, who has had a history of tubal disease, symptomatic or just on testing, should be sure that there are no residual blocked fallopian tubes that fill up with fluid and are called a hydrosalpinx. If a hydrosalpinx is present, your chances of success with IVF will be decreased by fifty percent. It is possible to clip or remove one or two hydrosalpinges thereby reversing this fifty percent decrease completely.”

Back to the image of the couple looking imploringly at the camera. “What treatments are available?”

Alright, maybe there will be a car chase, Zachary thought sarcastically.

“Clomid is an oral medication and is often used as the first line treatment for ovulatory disorders or unexplained infertility. Injectable gonadotropins therapy involves the use of medications that stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple oocytes each month. Patients who do not respond to clomid often find greater success with gonadotropin therapy.”

Alright, so when we can’t explain why you aren’t getting pregnant, we give you a pill or a shot. Western medicine at its finest, Zachary thought.

“Intrauterine inseminations recommended for couples that have ovulation problems and are undergoing ovulation induction as well as having failed other treatments such as clomid.”

Bring out the turkey basters.

“In Vitro Fertilization involves stimulating the woman’s ovaries with fertility medications to produce many oocytes; or eggs, that mature and ripen, at which point they are retrieved while she is under anesthesia, and fertilized with her husband’s sperm in the laboratory. This creates embryos which are carefully monitored by an embryologist for three-five days, and then one or more are placed into her uterus with the hope that implantation will occur and establish a pregnancy.”

The announcer continued on, speaking in a helpful, hopeful tone:

“We at The Dewdy Fertility Center are proud of the pregnancy success we have achieved through our fertility treatments and want to share with you the wide range of state-of-the art techniques that have enabled so many patients to fulfill their dreams of having a baby.

When you are a patient at Dewdy Fertility Center, you can rest assured we will maximize your chances of pregnancy by providing fertility treatment under the safest and most professional conditions.”

The music swelled as the video ended and the room lights went up. Hazel the Surprised Shaved Ferret came back out and with his hands clasped in front of him, said, “We try to make your experience as easy and comfortable as possible. You can schedule a consultation with the receptionist on your way out. We completely understand that fertility care may involve weekend procedures or office visits. Therefore, we schedule care seven days a week and a physician can be reached twenty-four hours a day.”

Dr. Heloise Dewdy came out and took his hand. Turning to the audience of infertile potential paying patients, she said, “My husband and look forward to meeting with you and together, we will realize your dreams of adding to your family!”

And with that, they both departed the stage and exited through a door. If you want to talk to them, you really do have to schedule an appointment. Nice.

“Well, that’s that then,” Zachary said with a sigh. “Pretty sure we could have gotten this kind of info on PBS or something.” This earned Zachary a scathing look from Lucy.

“I like them.” And with that, she was up and getting in the line that quickly formed at the receptionist’s desk in the waiting room. It took a while to schedule the appointment and it was four weeks out, not at all what Lucy had hoped for.

The four weeks went fast for Zachary but  dragged by for Lucy. When the day finally came, she was beside herself. She expected more… much more… than what the first visit turned out to be. This was just a planning session, and she did get a prescription for Clomid.

The Clomid made her emotional and sensitive. The least little thing would set her off. There are the jokes about fighting over the cap on the toothpaste or the toilet seat left up. These became a reality around the house. Zachary wasn’t used to this. Lucy has always been very centered, very much in control and level-headed. It was the hormones talking, he knew, but it didn’t make it make sense.

Lucy also became much more regimented about sex. Not just when, but how. She wouldn’t be on top, which Zachary loved. She would only do missionary, and she would stick her legs up in the air afterwards to let gravity help things along. She started buying boxer shorts for Zachary because she heard it was good for increasing sperm count. She took various herbs and drank horrible smelling mixtures that were designed to increase fertility. A book was always on the nightstand, “Getting Knocked-Up!”

*****

This was not fun anymore. They attempted In Utero fertilization two times with the Dewdys. Both times, it was unsuccessful. At this point, they had depleted the $7000 covered by insurance and they had a decision to make. Do they continue throwing money into the wishing well, hoping for a pregnancy, or do they consider alternatives.

Zachary had brought up adoption one time earlier. It was after meeting the Dewdys and Lucy was on the Clomid. She was… emotional. Saying that, “maybe adoption was something they should consider” sounded to her like “YOU ARE BROKEN! YOU ARE INCAPABLE OF CONCIEVING A CHILD! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT.” The suggestion escalated into a full-blown argument that somehow tied into Zachary not putting the garden hose away. He didn’t give the dogs fresh water. The trash in the kitchen was full. He left his dirty shirt on the floor.

The rule Zachary and Lucy lived by was ‘do not go to sleep angry with each other’, and both had a deep respect for this rule. On this night, it meant neither of them slept. They fought into the early morning. Each time it would start to wind down, one or the other would say something wrong or in the wrong way and the argument was started again.

Finally, Zachary agreed to never bring it up again. He apologized for implying she was not capable of child-bearing, even though that’s not what he meant at all. He took a big plate of “I am completely wrong” and ate it with gusto. Sometimes, this is the cost of harmony and he hated it, but he hated arguing with Lucy even more. He told himself that in the scheme of what is important, being right didn’t factor in this case. It wasn’t even about being right, it was about being understood. It was clear Lucy didn’t have an ear to hear it the way he meant it, and that was all there was to that. He reminded himself that Lucy has done the same thing for him on other occasions.

They made up and then made love, but it was disconnected; not the usual, gentle caressing. It was a good lay but when they were done, Zachary rolled over and went to sleep. They always cuddled afterwards, but not this time.

Lucy felt rejected. She felt inferior and insecure. She felt unworthy and broken. As Zachary began to snore, she cried.

 

© 2013, Mitch Lavender

From There to Here – This Writer’s Journey, So Far

"Write without pay until somebody offers to pay you. If nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for."

– Mark Twain

 

If you are new to writing, Mark Twain’s quote sounds like a reasonable guideline to follow. Three years from now, you might feel differently.

It took me a whole lot longer than three years, just to get from Completely Unknown to Completely Unknown but Published.  I’ve been at the writing gig for a while, but it’s always been on the side.

In 1989, I wrote a three-part article on BBS Gaming that was published in the now defunct Challenge Magazine. I remember it was a paying gig, but I don’t think it was more than two cents a word or something like that. That was a thrill for me, getting into a printed magazine. Back then, there were no online publications.

Between 1989 and 2000, I fumbled around with stories here and there, but nothing ever came from it.

It was in 2000 that my good friend, Tom Quinn, proposed the idea for what he called – and what is still called – Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet. He proposed a short video, showing the different perspectives of two people, one guy who conformed to secular life, working in a cubicle (a.k.a.; Box-Guy) and a guy who was nonconformist – but still functional – in the same office environment (a.k.a.; Circle-Guy).

Five to ten minutes long, the video was to be nothing but the contrasts between the two, with Box-Guy noticing that Circle-Guy was happier.

The next week, I pitched the first three pages to Tom, who critiqued, added his own scenes and sent it back. We continued writing it in this way for a couple of weeks, and then we saw a Volkswagen Beetle commercial that summarized the concept in a sixty-second spot.

This is the Volkswagen commercial:

We were completely undone by this, and had to reevaluate the project. The sentiment we both shared was that, now, anything we would do in our short video would only echo scenes  from the commercial. We were also cognizant that it would be easy to slip into imitating scenes from Office Space.

So, we set the bar higher, doing Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet as a movie script and expanding the story into three full acts. The plan was to enter it in Project Greenlight – a contest where one script would be selected to be made into a movie by Mirimax.

The script progressed well, with both of us contributing to it. To be sure, Tom and I had very different ideas about Act III, and we had long conversations about it. Still, it slowly progressed.

Then the towers fell on 9/11/01.

Neither Tom nor I lived in New York. We did not lose anyone close to us in the attack on the World Trade Center or Pentagon. Despite that, any adult who was alive on that date remembers how it felt – how it shrouded everything in somberness and an ache that didn’t pass. The whole country was healing, and healing slowly.

Suddenly, our little story about a pissy guy – complaining about his pointless job – just didn’t seem worthy of attention. Big things were going on, and our script dealt with none of the important issues.

We stopped. Quit. Just like that.

I guess it was 2007 when I picked the script up again. Tom Quinn was now completely occupied with other matters and had lost interest in the project, so I continued working on it – with his approval, of course.

I changed it from script to novel format, and without an opposing partner to weigh in, I was able to write the third act as I wanted. While I missed the conversations and back-and-forth I had with Tom, I was relieved that I could write the ending I wanted. I thought it would be a breeze. It was anything but.

Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet was challenging because it was making serious statements about the complexity of modern life, but still needed to be entertaining. I was learning as I went – through three drafts and two additional, complete rewrites. Also during this time, I wrote around a hundred short stories and two other novels. Find My Baby and Undertaking Hartford are still in the second draft.

Some of my short stories were published in various online e-zines, but all were non-paying and most had limited readership – 5000 or less.

In 2010, I sold a short story to a big magazine. This could not have happened without the pro bono efforts of a literary agent, who presented the story on my behalf. I am immensely grateful to her for this. Unfortunately, the magazine has not published the piece, so, when thirty-six months pass, rights to the story revert back to me according to the contract, but I was paid. Not a total loss, but I would have rather they published it.

Death_Zone_6x9_FCInfection-FC-wordclay3Untrue Stories-vol1-cover-2In 2010-2011, I lead a group of authors in writing an anthology of zombie fiction. We released The Infection Anthology, which quickly fell into absolute obscurity. It was a learning experience for me: I definitely do not want to be a publisher.

I also took my short stories that were published in various non-paying publications and released them as e-books. Death Zone and Other Stories released in 2011 and sold reasonably well, probably due to the catchy title and decent cover.

In 2012, I did this again – republishing my stories that had appeared in online e-zines – in another anthology: It Didn’t Happen This Way – Untrue Stories, Volume One. This one hasn’t sold as many copies as Death Zone, but then, the title and cover weren’t as catchy, either.

So now, in 2013, with an agent shopping Life in Sixty-Four Square Feet around to publishers, and some interest being shown for Find My Baby, I look at how long it took me to get – just – this far.

Having a piece accepted by a non-paying publication is no longer a thrill for me. I think my writing is worth more than nothing, and am looking for the validation that comes with being paid for my work.

Most publications don’t pay, and those that do are inundated with manuscripts. It’s not just matter of being good enough, it’s a matter of getting your ms noticed in the pile of submissions from other authors.

Self-publishing fiction is a tough road, too – profiting the retailers, not the author – I’ve learned. It’s the rare exception that can break that mold, and while I like to imagine it could be me, I’m not so egotistical that I think it will be me.

Seriously, look at the cuts e-book retailers take on a sale – Some take 35%-70%, depending on how you price the e-book. Mind you, without them, your book doesn’t get wide visibility, but it comes with a significant cost.

Of course, I use the popular excuses to justify self-publishing: It’s to build a reader-base. It’s to get my name out there. It’s for the satisfaction of it all, not the money – and good thing, too.

Amazon is awash with self-published books and all the stigma that goes with the self-published moniker. It’s an amusing fact that the bestselling, self-published e-book is about how to self-publish an e-book.

Almost no one can earn a living writing fiction. Yes,  there are those who do it, but of the people who do write fiction, it’s less than 1% that pull it off.

So Mark Twain – who was in the 1% club in his day – can bite me. I’m not writing to get paid. I work a separate profession to earn a living for myself and my family. I write because I want to.

Twain also said something about the naysayers and “small people” who will put others down to feel better than themselves, as well as the sort of person you should be around:

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."

Mark Twain

 

I’ll keep at it. I honestly don’t think I could stop, anyway.

If you are a writer looking for a friendly and helpful critique forum – the really great that make you feel that you, too, become great -, why not take a look at http://Splinter4All.com and see if it is a good fit for you. Here, in a closed forum, writers constructively critique each other’s work. Joining is free, and if you do, look me up. I’m MitchLav on the site.  See you there.

Time Lapse of the “Find My Baby” editing session for the Nanoathon, April 13, 2013

During the Nanothon on April 13, 2013, I focused on editing a completed draft of a novel, Find My Baby.

I do not know if this will be of interest to anyone, but this is a time lapse of that editing session.  Sorry the pages aren’t very legible and the camera orientation was weird.  My webcam is not very good and my video editing Kung-Fu can’t snatch the pebble from anyone’s hand.

The cam was supposed to take a picture every 5 minutes, but seems it did it at infrequent intervals.  I know many students and others do 7+ hours of editing at once, and this does not make me a unique and beautiful snowflake. 

Long editing session of a novel during the Nanoathon April 13, 2013–Mitch Lavender

NANOWRIMO Writing Marathon–Are You In?

Saturday, April 13, 2013 from 10 AM to 6 PM PST – Writers all over the world will be joining in the harmonious goal of writing for eight straight hours (or however many they can manage).  It’s the Nanowrimo Writing Marathon.

nano_13_marathon_header

This is like a mini-Nanowrimo (during Nanowrimo, the goal is to write 50k words in 30 days).  The goal here is two-fold: Raise money (through voluntary donations) for the non-profit organization that sponsors Nanowrimo every year, and encourage writers to…well, write.

There is also a drawing for various prizes like a Microsoft Surface and subscriptions to Writer Magazine.

I’ve blocked out my Saturday from 12PM to 8PM CST to work specifically on editing and revising Edit-red inka WIP, Find my Baby, which I wrote about here.  During that time, I am denying myself the usual distractions: No Facebook, Twitter or E-mail.  Just me and Microsoft Word… and maybe a quick hop to Wikipedia for fact-checking.

Of course, I could do this on my own, without a sponsored online event, but I dig being part of the experience.  I find it motivational, and Nanowrimo is a worthy cause I want to support. 

Are you in?