Category Archives: Quincy Allen

A Take on Hell

Roger Zelazny is one of my favorite writers of all time, in no small part because of The Chronicles of Amber. Hell, I once contemplated changing my name to Corwin. Read the Amber series to get that.

Regardless, when the Fictorians said they wanted us to do a blog on our favorite book that nobody ever heard of, I chose something that has stuck with me over the years because of a personal fascination. When I reread the work for this blog, I was surprised to see that Zelazny had as much or more of an interest in the author—and the work—as I do, and perhaps for the same reasons… although Zelazny’s appreciation probably runs deeper because… well… Zelazny. In the forward, he wrote about the author and this work:

“I read the beginning to see what he was doing. I don’t know him personally. I know little about him, save what I can tell from his writing. When I realized where he was going with this story, my first reaction was, “He isn’t going to be able to pull this one off.” Not without getting trite, or cute, or moralistic—or falling into any number of the many pitfalls I foresaw with regard to this material. I was wrong. He not only avoided them all, he told a fantastically engaging story with consummate grace and genuine artistry.”

I’d cut off a thumb to get praise like that from Zelazny… the left one, anyway, because I hit the space bar with my right thumb.

Now here’s the opening sentence to my favorite novel that you probably never heard of:

“Snow, tenderly caught by eddying breezes, swirled and spun in to and out of bright, lustrous shapes that gleamed against the emerald-blazoned black drape of sky and sparkled there for a moment, hanging, before settling gently to the soft, green-tufted plain with all the sickly sweetness of an overwritten-sentence.”

In that first sentence, you have delicious, savory, thick verbiage that rolls off the tongue like honey and hot bacon fat… and wraps up with that same tongue pressed squarely into a cheek. Irreverence, it seems, is not always a bad thing.

The novel is To Reign in Hell by Steven Brust. Sure, everyone (well, everyone who’s anyone) has heard of the Jhereg series, and that, too, is one of my favorites. Jhereg is what put Brust on the map, at least for me, anyway. But To Reign in Hell is something different. Something special.

Let me point out that I’ve had a fascination with treatments of the Devil for a long time. In truth, my fascination with Western Civilization’s most infamous villain started when I turned away from the Catholic Church at the age of seven. I should point out, before the whispers start, that my fascination probably isn’t what you think. I’m not interested in gleaning power or sacrificing livestock to appease some ridiculous icon of evil. Nor am I interested in tearing down its antithesis. No.

Evil, such as it is, resides in the hearts of men—and women—alone. And whatever good our species is capable of rests in the same, meaty tissue. Where one seeks strength is as individual a decision as I can imagine, and I could fault no one for seeking strength wherever they might find it. Life can be a trial.

What I find interesting is the story behind that icon of evil. The evolution of Western Civ’s theism can arguably be said to have started with the Torah and Old Testament, transitioned into the New Testament, engendered the Quran, and has splintered and evolved into myriad interpretations of a common theme.

And the Devil is there, in every one of them, in one form or another.

Now, there has always been a phrase in that story that bothered me: “favorite above all others.” Satan, originally “the morning star,” is said to haven be the first angel, and favorite to Yahweh. Imagine that: the best of friends falling apart so far that an entire world lies between them and an endless cornucopia of souls lies in the balance. How does that even happen?

Steven Brust, also one of my favorite writers (again, probably not why you think, and yes, I have a lot of favorites), appears to have been fascinated by this very same conundrum. Like any good speculative fiction writer, he asked himself where Yahweh and Satan might have come from. Then, quite logically, he asked himself how they ended up where they did, one ruling in Heaven and one reigning in Hell.

It’s a story of love, naturally, and how the love between reasonable beings can be twisted and turned and corrupted by… well, there are no spoilers here. What I will say is—true to the Bible—deceit and pride are things that can bring us all to our nadir and literally ruin everything.

I abhor deceit more than pretty much anything, so this work touches me deeply. And as I read through the text, I was struck by something that has been troubling me for the past decade-and-a-half. It is also why I think To Reign in Hell may end up being timeless, or at least should be.

This country, perhaps the world, has lost sight of what Truth means… why it’s important… and why those who shit on it everywhere we look should be brought to task.

Look around America these days, just take a good long look at how two camps are at each other’s throats in damn near every news report. Those camps are being goaded on by pundits who take great delight (as well as plenty of power and monetary gain) by fanning the flames with deceit and half-truths… on both sides. Clearly, there are some who feel that there is more to be gained in conflict than in working together.

Such is the true nature of the Beast.

To Reign in Hell is something that all Americans alive today should read. And if they did, I could only hope they might seek out their own Abdiel, wherever it might be hiding. And do what comes naturally.

The Right Voice for a Dick

The music was a dirge, some long-forgotten Celtic lament full of wailing. It washed over me like surf over a half-buried corpse at low tide. Ira stood behind the bar cleaning the same glass he’d been running a dirty towel over for the past ten years.

I raised an eyebrow in his direction, just a flicker. It was all I needed. A beer slid down the bar at me. I smiled. We’d been doing this a long time.

I didn’t turn when I heard the door open. Didn’t have to. When Ira’s hand froze on the glass, I knew there was something worth looking at. I peeked at the mirror behind him. The thing in the doorway definitely wasn’t from around here. Neither was whatever it had on a leash, a beast of roughly the same species, but down on all fours.

Both of their heads turned in unison, the noonday sun casting a halo around, squat, inhuman forms. Their bloodshot eyes locked on me, and on they came. I lost an angle on them in the mirror, but the thump of bare, leathery feet and hands placed them right behind me. I took a sip of beer and stared straight ahead.

Your move, I thought as the stench of sulfur wafted around me. Seconds ticked by. A strong hand clamped down on my shoulder, turned me on the barstool, slow enough not to spill the beer still in my hand. That was polite, I thought.

It was the one on all fours that had the intelligent eyes. Strange, that.

“Hoar’thuft. Moid dan sul bree ik rael Jonny Stiles?” it croaked in a voice that was equal parts whisper and bandsaw.

I stared at the little one for exactly three seconds. “Yeah? Who’s asking?” My eyes shifted to the one standing. It smiled, or, at least did what demons use for a smile… all teeth and wide eyes, the sort of look that wakes old church ladies up with screams and sweaty sheets.

“Wuldrix cu sein Beelzebub,” the short one growled.

It was an order, not a request.

My eyes never left his… or its… I could never tell with demons.

“Ira,” I said slowly, “hold my spot. I’ll be back in an hour.”

It was the little one’s turn to smile.

 *  *  *

Colette started April off with a prompt about aliens and bars, the intention being a discussion of voice and perspective in fiction. It sounded like a writing prompt to me, so I came up with what you just read.

(NOTE: Don’t be surprised if you see that in a short story from me one of these days.)

What’s germane to this month’s Fictorian topic is what we can deduce from just 380 words:

  • This is going to be a first-person POV story
  • We’ll pretty much only know what the protagonist Jonny Stiles knows
  • The tone and word choices throughout let us know this is noir fiction and probably detective noir
  • “Alien” doesn’t have to mean from another country or planet
  • Jonny Stiles is a regular in Ira’s bar and might have a drinking problem
  • Jonny isn’t surprised by the presence of demons
  • Jonny speaks the language of Hell
  • Demons know him by name
  • Jonny isn’t surprised to hear that the Devil wants to see him
  • Jonny is cool as a cucumber at the thought of going to Hell

I like to think this is the sort of prose that sucks a reader in and prompts the following questions:

  • Who is Jonny Stiles?
  • Why is he so calm about meeting the Devil in Hell?
  • Why the hell does the Devil want to see Jonny?

It’s these kinds of questions that prompt a reader to care about a protagonist, and, more importantly, encourage the reader to keep going. Furthermore, the advantage of first-person is that the reader knows—or at least hopes—that they’ll be visiting Hell as “I” not as someone else. The reader has a vested interest in the outcome, because it’s happening to them as far as their brain is concerned. That little use of “I” rather than “he” or “she” makes a mountain of difference in the experience. Just imagine… a free trip to Hell, answering the question of one half of the afterlife, without having to pony up one’s immortal soul as part of the bargain.

There are few among us who don’t have that deep, dark little part that is just the teensiest bit curious about Hell, about the seedier side of human endeavor. When a writer offers up the tantalizing promise of feeding that desire, most are willing to take the bait, especially if the price of admission is just a few more words… and a few more… and a few more.

In many respects, that’s what writers need to do: convince the reader to invest the time for just a few more. Writers are crack-dealers when it comes right down to it… feeding brains with a very different sort of drug.

If you’re writing genre fiction, you really do need to consider two things. The first is what and how much of the story you want to expose to the reader. When using first person, the reader should know only what the protagonist knows (with very few exceptions). Using third person opens up doors to getting the perspective of other characters in the story. There are reasons to use both of them, and it’s important for the writer to understand and implement the right one.

The second thing to consider the tone of your language. Word choice is what differentiates your writing from another author’s. It also differentiates noir from tea-cozy from western. There’s a language for damn near every genre, and the people who read that genre speak it fluently. You need to work hard to get your words right, and it’s this process that sets the great writers apart from the good ones… and the bad. The good ones frequently ponder and haggle and angst over a single word. They hold it up to the light and determine if it’s as potent as they need it to be.

So give thought to your words. They can be as potent as crack cocaine or as bland as American cheese.

On a side-note, I have crafted this meaningless bar chart below (tongue in cheek, naturally) as both an experiment and an inside joke with my fellow Fictorians.




Falling in Love With Evil

A while back I had to tell myself to put the keyboard down and step away slowly. As a result, there’s a project I haven’t touched in over a year. What’s worse is that one of the people from a critiquing group back then keeps asking me to finish the damn book.

So what happened?

It’s simple. I fell in love with a major demon and his insidious sidekick. I was drifting away from the hero’s tale and letting that vile pair carry me along in directions I’d never thought of when I was plotting the story. It was starting to look like the demons were not only going to win, but win in a landslide of blood and death and violence and….

Errr… there it goes again. Sorry.

Over the course of the first twelve chapters, it was a lot more fun to step into a demon’s skin and lay waste to anything that crossed its path… and do so in what I must say were rather creative and cruel ways. And as I got deeper and deeper into it, my hero was left “over there” in the next room, waiting to get some airtime.

Writing is freedom. We’re gods in there, and we can literally do whatever we want. And sometimes we need to step back and realize that for the most part, the good guys have to win and there is such a thing as too much… especially when it comes to bad guys.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, and there are certainly great novels that have pushed the limits of even my rather fuzzy notions of propriety, but in my estimation, a story still needs a hero, still needs a villain, and the hero still needs to win unless there’s a very good reason for him or her not to.

So I put the keyboard down and stepped away.

I still have mixed feeling about that. It’s not that I have any qualms about putting together really despicable and dangerous characters. Far from it. It’s that there was a story I wanted to write—one I still do—and the demons were dragging me away from that. There’s a part of me that thinks I should have continued merrily on down that road.  The words were flowing and I was literally running towards a destination. The problem was that I didn’t know what that destination entailed or where it ended.

I was running blind.

Let me couch this all with a little problem I have. I’m running a business, the business of writing, and my novels run too long for an author at my stage of his career. I need to crank out 90k-100k word novels, not 140k word novels. I know this is a problem, because my two finished novels, while good, are too long for their genre… which makes them a hard sell.  It’s okay. The indie market has afforded a number of great opportunities, but I defined my parameters when I started, and for the book I was trying to write, 100k was and still is the max.

I made a business decision, and there it sits—waiting and watching… ready to grab hold of my brain once more.  But the next time I pick it up, probably in the spring of 2015, I’ll be able to wrestle those demons and make them do what I want instead of the other way around. And if I can force them to do my bidding, I think it’ll turn out to be a damn good 100k-word novel.

The moral is, be careful what you write, and make sure you are writing towards a goal. And if you decide to change that goal along the way, be certain the course correction is in your best interests.




I’ve crossed a number of milestones over the past few years: first short story published, first convention panelist, first novel in print, first teaching gig at a writing conference. I’ve managed to predictably repeat those achievements virtually at will, and as nothing more or less than an act thereof. Each and every one of those milestones felt like the success it was, but they were all, at best, minor-league achievements.

Make no mistake, though. To achieve them I’ve had to climb the highest, steepest mountain in my experience. And I have a long way to go.

My career-change from “IT guy” to “writer” back in 2009 set me as my own task master, and I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder. However, every milestone I’ve passed thus far has been small—insignificant when compared to the summit I intend to reach. Added up, however, the sum of those milestones made possible my most current opportunity… and crisis… from which I should be able to derive my greatest achievement to date.

I’m under contract to write a novel.

There is something both thrilling and daunting about committing to a novel under contract rather than selling a completed manuscript.


That word doesn’t quite cut the mustard. Frankly, I’m nervous as hell, hoping I can get Last Stand at the Gates of Heaven written within a somewhat aggressive timeline… and on top of everything else I’m committed to for the first half of 2014. As I type this, the publisher has nothing more in her hands than a title and the pitch I gave her back in November. I, on the other hand, have a deadline and a deliverable of roughly 100k words by the end of May.

What this represents is a first step into the major leagues. Granted, it’s a smaller publisher asking for a stand-alone novel, but the fact is that a publisher asked me to produce a novel. I’m on the hook for delivery. My reputation is at stake. My future is at stake. If I can deliver on this, I’ll know that I can cut it when a large publisher asks me to produce a body of work.

There’s a reason I’m telling you this, and it’s not to sing my own accolades. Quite the contrary. I’m humbled by these circumstances. I’m telling you all this because the path I’m on is one of the primary methods by which part-time writers become self-supporting authors.

The pyramids were not built in a day; each one of them started with a single block. Everest wasn’t climbed over a weekend, and every man or woman who reached that summit started with a single step at its base.

That’s what you have to understand in the writing business. Skill is a factor. So is practice and talent and luck and a lot of things. But if you’re not prepared to build upon your small successes and turn them into larger ones, you should hang it up right now. You have to be in this business for the long haul and grind away as much as you can without losing your mind. You have to invest in yourself each and every day in some fashion, gambling with your own future and the harsh reality that you might not make it.

If you can do all of that, your odds of success increase exponentially. And in the absence of it all, you are virtually guaranteed to fail.

So get to work!