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It was four-thirty in the morning and Ernest stared blankly through the fog that clung to the window of the black cab. He found himself lost in the lights of London shimmering on the Thames. He realized how close he was to getting the one thing he most desired.
“How far away are we?” Ernest asked the cab driver.
The cabbie glanced up and their eyes met briefly in the rearview mirror.
“Six more blocks, Sir, roughly,” answered with a strong Hindi accent.
Ernie reached into the inside pocket of his wool pea coat for a wad of Pound notes and started thumbing through them.
“You can drop me off right here.”
The driver pulled to the curb, draping his thin arm across the back of the passenger seat, “That’ll be an even fifty-five quid, please.”
“Keep the change,” Ernest nodded as he slipped two carefully folded fifty pound notes in the driver’s ashy palm.
The driver quickly jerked his hand away.
“Ouch! Nothing starts off a shift like a paper cut! Paper cuts are like annoying little f*cking barking Chihuahuas only you can hear,” the cabbie said.
Ernie laughed to himself and immediately repeated the line under his breath so he wouldn’t forget it. Life sometimes handed you these glorious lines, words that deserve to live forever in fiction and this was just such a gem.
“Thanks, mate. Enjoy your stay.”
One more act of kindness can’t hurt he thought closing the cab door and watching the taillights of the taxi as they disappeared into the darkness.
Despite how unfair the world seemed Ernie still believed in karma. Besides, money would be of no use to him where he was going now. Taking in a few deep breaths of the cool, fresh air he almost forgot for a moment why he was here.
Ernie had been extremely shy as a child and life was easier when he lived it inside his head. He spent most of his childhood within the confines of his own imagination. Solitude was Ernest’s cocoon, the shield that protected him from the world’s harshness, and over time solitude grew to be his best friend. Back then, if he wasn’t scribbling in his bedroom you could find him lying on the shag carpeting in front of his parent’s console T.V. engrossed in some British sitcom on PBS.
Ernie had always felt an unexplainable familiarity with British culture. He loved their dry wit and even the gloomy weather. It didn’t surprise him when he discovered later in life that his ancestors had immigrated to America from Warwickshire in the late 1600’s. He’d always suspected he’d lived a past life as a Brit but now his theory leaned more towards genetic memory.
Ernest sighed heavily and made his way against the biting November wind. He tried to focus on the rhythm of his footsteps instead of his fears but he was failing miserably at it. It didn’t help that his brain still buzzed from too many cups of coffee during the flight. He could never sleep on planes so any trip over four hours was pure torture.
As he turned the corner he realized that this would be the last block he would walk as a free man. As charming as this neighborhood was, each step brought with it a greater feeling of dread.
This is my own green mile, he thought.
He wasn’t literally losing his life but it felt like it.
Ernie’s eyes scanned the addresses of the Victorian row houses as he walked. When he spotted 1356 Tenley Place the gray canvas duffle bag he was holding slid from his fingers and fell to the sidewalk with a dull thud. He felt a sharp stab of pain in the pit of his stomach followed by the urge to retch up the remains of the disgusting breakfast sandwich he devoured on the plane.
“Just what in the bloody ‘ell ‘ave you done now, mate?” he whispered in the best Cockney accent he could muster.
Thank God I still have my sense of humor, he chuckled nervously to himself.
A few months after he received the advance for his first novel, Ernest bought a condo in the very building F. Scott Fitzgerald was born. He thought the place would be inspirational, and it was for a while. In the quiet hours, just before dawn, there was a perfect stillness and it was as though he could hear Fitzgerald’s ghost whispering words and ideas into his ear. For almost three months last winter he rarely left the condo and wrote the best fiction of his life. This gave him such confidence that he felt his second novel could be the next Great Gatsby. One morning, about halfway through the first draft of his second novel, the ghost didn’t pay him a visit and the whispers stopped.
Ernest didn’t overlook the irony in the fact that his literary agent chose London for this scheme. The city now considered so civilized was built on a foundation of suffering and barbarism. Ernest knew that nearly everything of any value was born of suffering, if he didn’t he would never have agreed to this plan.
Ernie remembered so vividly the afternoon this insane idea was born. He was alone, cooking dinner in his condo, streaming Tito Puente a little too loudly from his phone. He was already two glasses into a bottle of a nice cabernet and feeling the comfort of its cozy warmth. A cool breeze blew in from the open window and the scent of pepper beef stir-fry filled the air when the music stopped and his phone began to ring. He almost didn’t answer the call when he saw it was Harold, his literary agent. He knew what it was about but decided he had avoided the conversation too long already.
“How’s my favorite author?” Harold said.
Ernie rolled his eyes dramatically.
“Hey Harry, I’m doing okay,” Ernie answered.
“You don’t sound okay, Bud. We’re only six months away from the publisher’s deadline. How’s the progress coming?”
Ernest didn’t want to admit that he hadn’t written a word of substance in months and was beginning to fear his debut novel was a freak thing he couldn’t repeat. Every time he sat down to write his mind went blank. He was desperate to get his mojo back.
“Honestly, Harry, I’m petrified. I have the worst goddamn writer’s block of my whole life. These past few months have been a roller coaster. Between the book tour and the media interviews, I feel like time is rushing by too fast. Everybody wants a piece of me. All I need is solitude, some time away…from everything.”
During the flight’s excruciating hours he had questioned a thousand times if he would’ve agreed to this Harry’s plan if it hadn’t been for those two glasses of cabernet. He always came up with the same answer; no. The wine was the rickety bridge that had temporarily merged his world with Harry’s.
The line went quiet for a moment. “Gosh, Ernie. You know if you don’t give them something Doubleday can terminate your contract and we have to pay back a substantial part of the advance.”
Harold Cincotti thrived in the alternate universe that was Manhattan. A person who didn’t know his backstory would never guess he fought his way up from poverty in the streets of the Bronx. Ernest didn’t see the other side of Harry until the final days of the contract negotiations with Doubleday when Harry’s demeanor went from polished executive to a Soprano’s cast member in under three seconds. Witnessing that kind of explosive fury scared the hell out of Ernie. However blunt they were, Harry’s negotiation skills secured a record-breaking three book deal from one of New York’s most respected publishers and made Ernie a rich man.
“I have an idea, I know this guy who owes me a favor in London…” This was the exact point where Ernie couldn’t bear to replay any more of the conversation in his head, it made him feel too foolish.
So, instead of taking in the sights of Britain here he stood, before the heavy wooden double doors of a fancy Victorian row house. This is the first moment it all felt real. This place would be his prison and the length of the sentence would be totally up to him.
“You are a desperate and a very stupid man,” Ernest muttered.
The creaking brass hinges of the heavy wooden double doors broke him from his self-loathing.
“Please come in, Mr. Solomon. Mr. Jacobs has been expecting you,” the butler said with nothing but emptiness in his eyes. He looked more like a linebacker than a butler; this man weighed three hundred pounds if he weighed an ounce.
As hard as he tried Ernest could conjure no words. His head was spinning and the salt crunched under his feet as he climbed the stairs to the front door. By the third step he realized he left his bag on the sidewalk behind him but he knew if he turned back the urge would be too strong to try to make a break for it. As he crossed the threshold, the air inside held a different kind of gravity, it was heavier somehow. He knew he was entering a world in which he didn’t belong. The scent of the place was just as he expected a proper English house to smell, the subtle fragrance of fine leather, expensive candles, and generational wealth.
“This way, Sir,” the butler said as Ernie followed him towards the back of the house. Ernie felt the man’s heat signature as he walked three feet behind him.
Ernest’s breath quickened. Beads of cool sweat began to form on his forehead as they approached another doorway leading to a flight of stairs down to the basement. The old wooden stairs groaned, protesting each of the butler’s footsteps as they descended.
“Watch your ‘ead, please. I believe you’ll need it,” the butler whispered, smirking over his shoulder.
The bottom of the staircase opened to the limestone walls of the damp, windowless cellar. Two leather wingback chairs were facing one another on a faded red Oriental rug. In one of the chairs sat a dapper man with a perfectly shaped bald head. His legs were crossed at the knee and he wore an impeccably tailored gray suit with brown saddle leather boots polished to a mirror shine. As the man stood to shake Ernie’s hand he noticed a deep and jagged scar that ran from just above his ear to his chin.
“Welcome to London, Mr. Soloman, I’m Peter Jacobs. Before we begin I must tell you how much I admire your work. I can tell from your writing that you’re an honorable man. I told Mr. Cincotti that after I read your book I saw the world in a completely different way. Do you know how rare that is for someone like me? When Harry told me of your troubles I couldn’t bear it because I recognize such an immense greatness in you.”
Mr. Jacobs stood so close that could Ernie feel his warm breath on his face. Ernie’s body tensed as Mr. Jacobs rested both hands heavily on Ernie’s shoulders and gave them a firm squeeze, staring him straight in the eyes.
“I’ve developed a great instinct for people. It’s a talent that has served me well in my business. We’re rooting for you.”
As he smiled slightly, the light caught the flash of a gold-capped tooth as he turned on his heel and began to pace back and forth in front of Ernie.
“Anyway, I digress. I’ll be administering the process here today,” he said.
“Let’s run through the terms of our agreement, shall we?”
“Well, umm, Mr. Jacobs you see…I think I’ve changed my mind,” Ernie pleaded as his eyes dropped to the floor.
“Come now, Mr. Solomon, relax. Shall I remind you that I made our friend Mr. Cincotti a promise? In our world our word is all we have and we live and die by it,” he said, staring at Ernest intensely with his piercing blue eyes.
“First, we ask that you turn in your mobile phone and empty your pockets of all personal belongings and place them into this plastic tub.”
Ernie tried to find comfort in Harry’s words as they kept echoing through his head, Let me tell you two things I’ve learned, Number one, in this world the hero and villain can possess the same kind of greatness, and Number two, everything in this life, good or bad, comes with a price.
He didn’t have the life experience it took to understand what Harry meant until this very moment.
Back in Manhattan Harry was probably already two whiskeys into the night, getting his ego stroked by an attractive waitress in some swanky Manhattan restaurant. This plan was easy for Harry because he wasn’t the one standing in this dank basement, alone with a powerful British crime boss who happened to be Ernest’s biggest fan.
Ernie tried his best to swallow but his throat was far too parched. He began to accept his fate as he started to empty the contents of his pockets into the clear plastic tub.
“The terms of our agreement are as follows,” Mr. Jacobs said as he walked a few feet towards a gray steel door, rapping it two times with this knuckles as it rang like a bell.
“This is your new home. You will be housed in this secured room, eight feet by ten feet in diameter including one writer’s desk with a chair, a bed, a lavatory, and a shower until such a time as a draft of your new novel, deemed worthy of publication by Mr. Cincotti, is produced.”
Mr. Jacobs’ face took on a more serious expression and he started pacing back and forth again as he continued, “You will be issued a laptop computer and access to reading material of your choosing. A chef will be at your disposal from 6am to 9pm to prepare anything you desire. There will be no internet access, radio, or television to distract you. There is an intercom system in the chamber to communicate to my staff but you shall have absolutely no contact with the outside world save for one call per week to a single party of your choosing. These calls will be monitored closely and I promise you that there will be a severe penalty if there is an attempt to breach any of these terms. A press release has been prepared by our staff informing the public that you are taking a hiatus from public life for an undetermined amount of time until your task is complete.”
Ernie twitched as the large stainless steel lock on the gray door buzzed loudly. Mr. Jacobs swung open the thick door to reveal a sparse vault-like room.
“Smith, show Mr. Solomon into the chamber, please.”
“Of course, Sir,” Smith quickly complied, he rested his enormous hand in the middle of Ernie’s back and pushed him six feet into the middle of the room.
“Hey!” Ernie screamed as spun around to see the steel door slam shut behind him.
This last outburst was like the final whimper of a baby before surrendering to sleep. After a few seconds Ernie’s tightly clenched jaw relaxed and his shoulders slumped forward. Everything was instantly quiet and still. Instead of feeling confined by the tight space he felt his imagination expanding, this gave him hope.
In a moment of desperation Ernest had agreed to pay a price far greater than money for what he desired. He willingly agreed to pay with his freedom and his time but now that he understood his predicament on a deeper level, he realized he might even pay with his life.
Ernest slid the simple wooden chair away from the desk and sat down. As he opened the laptop and rested his hands lightly on its keys he felt a shiver run down his spine. Ernie realized that for all of Harry’s wisdom there was one thing a person like him couldn’t begin to understand and that one thing was how complex an author’s creativity could be.
Muse was magic, like a beautiful monarch butterfly that decides to land on you when you’re standing all alone in a garden, perfectly still. Muse could never be forced or even willed. Ernie closed his eyes and prayed that this locked chamber, in the basement of this Victorian row house in London might possess the kind of perfect stillness that would welcome the fickle whispers of Fitzgerald’s ghost.
My name is Eric Vance Walton and it’s been two months since I fell off the wagon. There, I said it, I began to stray from the path that was working and back into an old and self-limiting, pattern of behavior that for the previous fifteen years had gotten me nowhere. This feels strangely liberating to admit publicly.
It all started innocently enough. About two months ago I became obsessed with listening to the New Yorker fiction podcasts while on my lunch break from my corporate job. In these podcasts authors who’ve been published in the New Yorker read their favorite short stories of other authors aloud. This became like a master class for me in writing short fiction and it prompted me to craft a few short stories of my own. I took a break from working on my second novel and spent a good chunk of time getting the short story drafts just right. Then I offered my work to beta-readers for their feedback and when I had received all of their responses I spent even more time polishing these stories.
I then thought it might not hurt my writing career to submit these short stories to the New Yorker, so I did. After fifteen plus years of being rejected by the traditional publishing world and another five years of heading down the self-publishing path, the New Yorker submission process was a stark reminder of how cold and unwelcoming the world of traditional publishing is to an, “undiscovered” (in their eyes) author. The submission guidelines stated as follows…expect a three month response time and due to the high volume of work submitted we will only respond if your story is accepted.
Right out of the gate this felt like a step backwards and like a blow to my self confidence after being in the writing game for two decades but I told myself, “It’s the New Yorker, just imagine how that would look on your writing resume!”
Around the same timeframe I also signed up for a writer’s conference in Chicago where I would get the chance to pitch my trilogy of novels to a seasoned literary agent. I was excited, this happened to be the exact conference that Veronica Roth, of the Divergent series fame, was “discovered”.
A few weeks after I signed up for the conference events in my life transpired to make attending it very difficult. I began to question my decision, it just didn’t feel right, it wasn’t flowing. I felt like I was once again rattling the gate and begging the gatekeepers to allow me a glimpse of their rarified world. This didn’t jive with the entrepreneurial path I had been walking with my writing for the previous five years, the merits of which were strongly reinforced by James Altucher’s book, Choose Yourself. I was giving away my power once again and I felt it diminished my strength as both a writer and as a person.
The proof was right there in the results, my writing career had grown infinitely larger and more quickly in the five years I was choosing myself than it did in the previous fifteen years of trying to convince the gatekeepers of the literary world that I was worthy.
Well, to make a long story as short as possible, I’m now back on the right path again. I realize the only people’s opinion that I truly care about are my readers. The traditional publishing path clearly wasn’t meant for me, if it was I would be locked into a multi-book deal with film rights already. I plan on publishing the short stories I wrote for the New Yorker on my own platform and will eventually use them as material for a “funnel book”, a free eBook designed to drive readers towards paid content.
I’ll also use the money that would’ve have been spent on the conference to redesign my website so I can start to build and manage my own mailing list. I attribute the missteps of the past few months to some kind of temporary insanity, or possibly a mid-life crisis…whatever the cause, it feels great to be steering my own ship again, it feels great to choose myself. Brené Brown said, “When you own your story, you get to write the ending.” Just watch how I wrap this one up.
~Eric Vance Walton~
Just this morning a coworker told me about her recent vacation to a family lakeside cabin in mountains of Pennsylvania. She said her favorite memory of the whole trip was picking huckleberries that grow wild around the lake. Her family fashioned a metal pail with a shoestring from the handle so they can hang the pail around their necks. This way have both hands free to pick berries. With the most serene expression on her face she said picking those huckleberries for an hour was the best therapy in the world.
These moments, to me, are like visiting a secret garden inside your own head that only you can access. The time spent in this garden is special and it is sacred. Our world today is so demanding that to stay balanced we need access to the garden more than we realize. We need the visit the garden as much as we need to breathe oxygen. For most people a trip to this garden is can be triggered by some external thing or memory (most often connected to childhood). When discovered, this trigger can act as a magical pathway to that wondrous place.
When we were young it was easy. We could find the garden instantaneously. Our lives were uncomplicated, we still believed in magic, our heads weren’t filled with excuses of why we couldn’t do things. Somewhere between childhood and where we are today our worlds became a lot less a land of laughs and magic and much more of a scary and dangerous place. A small portion of this scariness is real but most of this is false perception, propaganda, and conditioning. These false perceptions keep us from achieving our best life.
It’s easy to see that we don’t have to live each moment of our lives in fear once we find our way to the garden. The trick, as a lost and stressed-out adult is rediscover our triggers that we once could so easily access. Ask yourself…what made me happiest as a child? Once you have the answer to that question think how this can be integrated back into your life as an adult, even if it’s silly. The sillier the better, we need more silliness!
As I child during summer vacation my feet rarely touched the ground. Except for meals I was on my black Huffy BMX bike from sun up until the streetlights came on. As an adult I can still spend hours not only riding my bike but also restoring them. My father taught me how to fully dismantle a bike and restore it by the age of eight. My latest project was a 1958 Raleigh three speed bicycle and it’s a gem. Any time spent with or on a bike transports me instantly to the garden.
One major hurdle to finding our triggers is technology. You must put your mobile phone on airplane mode and ignore it for a while. As useful technology can be, it occupies all of our attention and robs us of our chances to experience these sacred moments. It’s difficult to calm our minds and be present when we’re constantly connected. In all reality have you ever paid attention to how many times you check your mobile device in an hour? It’s astonishing. Anything that keeps your ears from tuning in to the music of life is a roadblock to the garden and the music I’m speaking of can’t be found on iTunes.
What are your triggers? I urge you to delve into your deepest of memories and answer this simple question. Once you find your triggers I urge you incorporate these things back into your routine and see how quickly your life changes.
Do you know someone who needs their own trip to the garden? If so please share this post with them. By all means, after you revisit your garden come back and let us know how it felt. I guarantee the world will seem like a better place.
Eric Vance Walton is a novelist, poet, aspiring world traveler, and tea junkie. He invites you to follow his unfolding story by “liking” his Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/EricVanceWaltonAuthor for updates and promotions on his current and upcoming projects. You can find Eric’s new book One Word At A Time: Finding Your Way as an Indie Author, on Amazon in print or as an ebook.
Article © 2015 Eric Vance Walton
There’s no denying that the combination of social media and mobile devices are transforming us. The next time you’re in a public place, take notice of how many people are staring zombie-like at their mobile devices, totally oblivious to the world that is unfolding around them. Technology is advancing at such a fast pace that we haven’t had the time necessary to adapt to it from an evolutionary perspective.
Science is showing that our brains are being rewired by this technology. We’re becoming less able to focus, self-absorbed, and more @ssholish than ever before. It seems like there’s a massive emptiness in people’s hearts and they try to fill this void with material things. It seems we’re more connected to the world but less connected to those people in our lives who really matter. So many people are becoming more interested in recording our lives on social media than living it.
People, used to the relative anonymity of the internet are becoming increasingly brash in both their online as well as face-to-face interactions. This behavior is epidemic and stretches across all age and socioeconomic boundaries. There’s nothing more sad to me that watching a table of people in a restaurant staring at their smart phones instead of enjoying one another’s conversation and company. Life moves swiftly and there’s nothing worse than the sting of regret.
It wouldn’t surprise me if this time in history is eventually coined, “the decade of distraction.” I get it, there’s a lot to be fed up with these days and it’s mighty tempting to search for a mindless escape. The problem lies in how bad things will get if people become completely distracted and no longer are willing to actively participate in the real world.
I like the convenience of my iPhone as much as the next person and social media has completely transformed my writing career. Technology can be an amazing gift if used to our advantage and in moderation. We clearly haven’t found this happy medium, we’re drunk with it. It seems each day this world is becoming more like the dystopian society in my novel Alarm Clock Dawn and it scares the hell out of me.
Some days it takes immense strength and patience to be decent to people and engaged in this world but let me tell you why it’s worth it to make every effort. We’d never know it from watching the nightly news but this world is still a beautiful place and it’s full of interesting and incredible people. History shows us repeatedly how disastrous things happen when society becomes distracted. There’s still much this world has to teach us if we only look up from our phones long enough to pay attention.
~Eric Vance Walton~
Writing Saved My Life.
I’m what you would consider the polar opposite of Hunter S. Thompson or Ernest Hemingway in the sense that writing doesn’t summons my demons but rather it helped to deliver me from them. Writing words that have the power to capture people didn’t come naturally to me, it took years of hard work.
I began writing when I was in my early twenties. In hindsight most of what I wrote was bad to mediocre poetry. I didn’t make a dime off of it but it was a kind of therapy to help heal me from years of anxiety and depression. Writing allowed me to express bottled up feelings and emotions privately in the comfort of my own space, in my own time. I wrote every single day.
It was at some point in my mid twenties that I decided that I was going to attempt to write for a living. I had no idea how to go about this. Honestly, this has been a blessing and at times a curse. The road I’ve chosen hasn’t been an easy one. I’ve worked a day job for the last twenty years while building my writing career. I’ve watched nearly all of my peers at my day job pass me on the ladder of success. During my moments of waning hope I would sometimes feel like I’ve wasted my life pursuing a pipe dream.
I’m lucky in the fact that the strongest trait in my family’s bloodline is tenacity. So through it all I kept the faith and continued to do what my ancestors have always done. I worked, I honed, I soaked up all the knowledge I could while I waited for my moment to arrive. When I was younger I really believed that success would come all at once some day when a publisher or someone in the business would “discover me” and my life would be forever changed. I realize now this isn’t how it happens for most of us.
One day, shortly after I published my novel in 2013, I woke up. I realized that a writing career isn’t a destination as much as it is a lifelong journey. Ever since I had this epiphany I’ve viewed writing to be the great blessing that it is. In life no one can hand you your dream, you must to seize it on your own. When I realized this everything changed.
In these last few years I’ve been lucky enough to connect with so many wonderful and interesting people from places like New Zealand, Britain, France, Estonia, and Africa. Each time I publish a book or an article it feels as though I’m sending something I’ve given birth to out into the world to make its mark. Words can’t describe the joy that I feel when someone really is touched by something I’ve written and it changes them or even makes them stop for a moment to think.
My first traditionally published book, “One Word At A Time: Finding Your Way As An Indie Author” will be released in just a few weeks. I have jitters like I’ve never experienced before. Will this be the book that changes my life? My life has already been changed through these last twenty years. I no longer chase after material success but rather do the best work I possibly can and will already be smiling with contentment the day it catches up to me. I owe everything to writing and my readers. Because of writing and you I am already wealthy beyond measure in everything that matters. For this, I’m thankful.
~Eric Vance Walton~
Happy (US) Memorial Day everyone! To celebrate this Holiday weekend, and the unofficial start of Summer, please enjoy a 25% discount on all four of my titles (including my debut novel Alarm Clock Dawn) with the discount code MEMORIAL25. As always, thank you for your support!
It only took half
a lifetime to
I’m wise enough
I’m not nearly
So I lay down
for these were
and fear was the lock
on the garden’s gate
left to lose,
nothing to prove,
my soul stripped bare
future flow now
and let me
ride your waves
for I’ve found
and the garden is
like some warm
me longing for
you, only you
or nothing at all.
~Eric Vance Walton~
ALARM CLOCK DAWN, author Eric Vance Walton’s debut novel, is the chilling story of a world only decades ahead of our own. Adam Harkin is an employee of XenTek, the most powerful corporation the world has ever known. Adam begins to question the purpose of his existence in a world where people are no longer citizens; they are merely consumers. Every aspect of a person’s role in society is to be determined by one number—their credit score.
The planet is protesting corporate greed and insatiable consumerism through crippling super storms that erupt without warning.
In a race against time, thousands of people are waking up from this nightmare, burning their Consumer Identification Cards and doing the only thing they can to strike back—dropping out of this toxic society. One by one they join the camps outside the cities. The fate of humanity itself is at stake and the clock is ticking. One question haunts their fragile optimism: Is it already too late?
I’m working on the (as yet unnamed) book on writing for beginning writers today. Another solid chapter is just about complete. Researching for this project is going to really help my writing career. I’m learning lots. I can’t believe the success authors are finding and so quickly (i.e.,Veronica Roth)!
This book is really taking form now. It’s a funny thing in this business how every opportunity leads to another, it really does. Having the strength and discipline to begin is the most important thing…this is my random thought for the day. That is all.