Welcome!

Thank you for stopping by. Hopefully, you’ve done so because you are interested in learning about books, the writing process and what makes a writer tick. Although this author specializes in science fiction and fantasy, over the coming weeks and months you will find interviews with  many of today’s top authors—not only producers of these genres, but everything else including young adult novels, romance, historical fiction, thrillers and more. We will explore not only their writing process and get tantalizing hints at their works in progress, but we will also learn about the varied lives and interests that drive these American, Canadian, Australian, Asian and European creators of today’s genre and mainstream literature.

I hope to find interesting enough stories to entice you to return time and again and I invite you to subscribe to this website’s newsletter to keep abreast of the rapidly changing world of modern publishing.

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, October 23 – Interview With Michelle Cori

This week’s guest, Michelle Cori, lives in the Rocky Mountains, when she isn’t traveling to the next Comic Con. Currently, she spends her time running a bar and telling tales over drinks or in the form of novels and comics. During the day, she works as a Production Manager in publishing.

She shares her life and home with her teenaged son, and two crazy min-pins named Harvey Wallbanger and Honey Bunny. Traveling, bourbon, hard ciders, record shops, tea, old book stores and good ales are some of her other pastimes. She has a love for Flash Gordon, Highlander, Star Wars, Dune, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and comic books.

The Kind Mosiac:1, Convergent Lines, which was released as a trade paperback in Spring 2017, is Michelle Cori’s first published book, but several are to follow. Currently she has works in progress in Gothic Horror, Urban Fantasy, several short stories, a comic series, an illustrated adult picture book and middle grade series.

Often, she can be found writing at various coffee shops around the country.

She describes Convergent Lines like this:

Thirteen families.

Human-fae hybrids who have existed alongside

humanity for thousands of years. With long lives

and magic they shaped the world.

 

Until a curse … or rather, curses …

 

Longing for freedom, Grayson Penrose finds himself

dreaming of the past, searching for something he lost,

but hating his empty life. He wants nothing more

than to be left alone. But fate has other plans for him.

 

Placed in the path between human and supernatural

nations, with his curse lifted, only Grayson can

carry the burden of his dying race.

 

Tell us about your debut novel.

The Kind Mosaic:1, Convergent Lines is my first published book. I called it a gothic horror because while it is differently urban fantasy, it has a darker narration. As I wrote it I was re-watching the original Twin Peaks, David Lynch had announced he would do another season 25 years later just like the end of the series said. Throw in the show Salem, and the Hannibal TV series and you can see where I was at the time. I’ve also had some compare it to Stranger Things, too. Part of the book takes place in the late 80s, early 90s. The book isn’t gory or all that scary, it has the feel of the old gothic horror or noir genres.

Convergent Lines is my origin story for witches. It’s targeted for adults. There is little objectionable in the first book, but it will get darker as the series goes. My world draws from paganism, Norse, Celtic and Egyptian mythology. I want to explore the darker sides of those worlds as they apply to witches.

Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

I have a “note from the author” in Convergent Lines about this.

This story came into being in a rather unusual way. In middle of 2015 I was preparing for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I’d been planning to write the second book in another series; I rough outlined the book and went to bed.

That night, as I slept, I had the most vivid dream of this boy who could walk through mirrors and anything he drew would come to life. But he was troubled, he hated his life and had lost the only person he’d cared about. I woke up remembering the whole dream and all through the next week I thought about him. Then I dreamed of him again; this time he told me more of his story. Intrigued, I outlined the rough draft (mainly world building) of his tale and over the next week he showed me his world.

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with your work?

I’m a bit different from many authors. My background is in art directing and publishing. I had a couple of publishers interested in my book, but after thinking long and hard I decided I wanted to do what I do for so many others, myself. I self-published Convergent Lines.

The cover, chapter head illustrations and a custom tarot deck (one of the cards is at the back of the book the others are used for marketing), are done by me. I hired an editor, and used proofers. The end result is something I’m proud of.

In the end, it was too hard to hand off decisions about the cover and art to someone else. I also wanted control over the speed my books come out. My two urban fantasy books I will self-pub, the middle grade I will probably get an agent and shop publishers for.

What else are you working on?

The follow-ups to Convergent Lines. These are the two books in-between Convergent Lines and Deluded Lines. The follow-ups are called Side Lines: Kador’s Curse and Side Lines: Fae Tales. Kador’s book is almost to first draft and will be around 65K words. Fae Tales are a collection of 16 tales from the Kind’s fae world which are related to the families.

I also have a mid-grade book I hope to get back to early next years. It is called Saint Wellinghouse’s Discoveries: UNICOM. It’s a little like Goonies, two young friends searching out one of their crazy great grandfather’s inventions.

I hope to get to work on a comic book my son thought of. I’d like to co-write it with him. I also have what I call an adult picture book almost written, then I’ll start the illustrations. The focus is Krampus.

I also have another urban fantasy series called the Forgotten Ones. I have the first two of the three books to first draft. Next summer I’ll focus on those and have them come out every three months.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I do most of my writing at night. The hours I keep bartending lead to me being a night owl. Kevin J Anderson, my boss and best-selling author said once in a seminar, “It’s impossible to find uninterrupted time to write.” I raised my hand and he said, “I know you don’t have uninterrupted time.”

I replied, “Nobody bothers me at one a.m.” He laughed, and conceded my point. Jim Butcher later in the same seminar said he is a late-night writer.

So, I get up usually around 10:30 a.m. Go to the bar for a couple hours and order supplies, do paperwork. I then will hit up a coffee shop and do a couple hours of work for WordFire Press. By about 4:30 I come home to hang out with my son. We will eat and maybe watch TV, if he doesn’t have a D&D or MTG game planned. He will want an hour or two to play online games, so I go back and finish WordFire stuff then start into my writing. Two days a week I bartend, those days I usually don’t get any writing done. Saturdays, I give over to me, to do what I want. If I need to run errands or shop I do. But Saturday nights are all about writing.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

I do a really loose outline, most of it is research I need for the book. Earlier in my writing career I tried to do outlines, but I would run into the problem of trying to make a character do something which didn’t work. Then my focus would change to adjusting the outline. It interrupted my writing.

Now, I do my research and write down a few things that need to happen, or any foreshadowing. The only exception is the opening. I will try writing the first chapter a couple of times, from different points until I have the one. I like getting into the story and seeing where it will lead. Many times, I’ve been surprised by a scene and a character that wasn’t a major character but turns into one.

There were two things in Convergent Lines which surprised me. The first was a character from one of my other series decided she would like to make a splash in this book. She wasn’t planned in the series she appeared in either. There was also Grayson’s companion which is introduced about halfway through the book. I didn’t know he would come along, nor play an increasingly important role. The other part that surprised me where the two big events at the climax. I know that sound weird, how can the person writing the story knowing the beginning and the end be surprised? I knew what I needed to happen at the ending, what I didn’t know was how to make it happen. The night I wrote the big climax was during NaNoWriMo 2015 at my favorite coffee shop. It was around midnight as my hands flew across the keys I was shocked, intrigued and couldn’t believe I would let that happen. Seriously, I wondered where it came from, never did I imagine that would happen.

Writing without a rigid outline is much more enjoyable for me, as the author.

Please tell us about what you do when you’re not writing.

I have two other jobs, well, three. I’m a single mom of a fourteen-year-old teenager. I love being his mom. Me discovering I was pregnant with him is what started my journey into writing. I’d been an Art Director for years, and I was burnt out. I needed a new creative outlet.

I manage and bartend at a bar in Salt Lake City, Utah. Yes, there are bars in Utah and no it isn’t the easiest thing to do in Utah. But I do have the best customers, especially regulars.

My other gig is as WordFire Press’s Production Manager. A press owned by best-selling authors Kevin J Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. My background and first college degree was in graphic design and illustration. In the late 90s I was a Production Manager for the largest independently owned and run newspaper. So, I have been in publishing for a long time. It’s been fun working with legendary authors, best-seller and new authors in the ever-changing publishing industry. A great job and experience to a new author like myself.

What motivates or inspires you (not necessarily as regards your writing)?

My first love was music. I’m classically trained, with more than twelve years of playing, and about seven in jazz. I took college music theory in high school, and have an extensive vinyl collection. I adore jazz, blues, some old R&B, classic rock, classical and so many forms of music. I can go from Mozart to the Police, then move on to Led Zeppelin. Right now, I’m stuck on Junior Wells with Buddy Guy. My first real job was working for Digitech and DBX (guitar and music equipment), for five years I worked with other musicians and some rock stars.

Music is my number one influence and inspiration. Christopher Walken once said, “I think in music.” I knew what he meant, because that is exactly what I experience. Many of the stories I write are inspired by what I imagine a song is about, or a memory connected to a song. I pick the music I write to very carefully, because I use the tempo for the pacing.

Do you have any pet projects?

Yes, or it might be better to say I will. Reading programs for kids is near and dear to my heart. Being a parent I experience the frustration of a parent trying to help a child which struggled to read. I want to help others, especially because of the resources I have access to now.

My upcoming middle grade project and the comic series are the first steps into this. Once these projects are farther along, I hope to work with kid cons at comic cons, visit elementary schools while I travel, to work close with a couple of children’s reading charities and to possibly start my own.

As a child, I loved to read and found it a wonderful escape, which grew with me into adulthood. It also lead me to writing. I’d like to pass that on.

Thank you, Michelle, for agreeing to participate in The Write Stuff. To conclude, I will make one brief statement which I would like you to complete in as few words as possible:

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: I look around at my life and wonder how I got so lucky.

Before I show our visitors an excerpt from Convergent Lines, I would like to point out that it was just released in hardcover on October 17, to be followed soon after in eBook format. Those of you who are interested in following Michelle online should also note I will provide social links as well as book buy links immediately after the excerpt.

The Kind Mosaic:1, Convergent Lines

As I walked through the door, I began to say the undoing spell again. Any electronics nearby would be fried, including the video feed. Just inside the door, I found a second door with STAIRWELL printed on it. I needed to go down; I opened it and ran down the stairs. After considering where they would hold Hilda, I concluded she would be in cold storage. This would probably be in a basement, away from the public parts of the Coven House. I had reached the landing between the flights of stairs when I heard a door above me open and the sound of footsteps and creative cursing. I pressed myself against the wall to wait them out.

The upper door clicked closed, and I ran the rest of the way down. To my relief, there wasn’t another keypad. The lack of real security surprised me. While humans might not find dead bodies valuable, the Kind had different ideas on the matter, especially the darker side. At the door, I stopped, opened it, and peered out into a dark hall. Darkness and silence greeted me. Out into the hall I went. Security would be doing a sweep after they barricaded the door I had come through, so I didn’t have long.

It would take too long to check each of the several doors lining the hall. I needed to find cold storage. The fifth door on the left had a plaque, as I got closer I could see COLD STORAGE engraved on it. I stopped and listened. Nothing. I pushed, but found it locked. Kneeling to be level with the lock, I pulled a pen out of my pocket. It’s my favorite pen and doubles as a wand focus for me. With the silver tip touching the lock, I forced my will and said, “Unlock.”

I heard the tumblers move. I stood and pushed again just as I heard someone in the stairwell. I hurried into the room and looked for a place to hide.

The room could have come out of a TV morgue scene. On the wall to my right was the large cooler with several small latched doors for bodies. In the middle of the room, several stainless-steel roll-around tables sat empty. To the left was an open closet door.

I rushed into the closet, which turned out to be filled with cleaning supplies, and closed the door with a little click. I got into the corner behind the door.

I held my breath as I heard two voices nearing.

“Damn security system, do we need to look through every room?” a male voice said.

“You know the protocols.”

“Was this door unlocked?”

“I don’t remember. We’ll lock it on the way out; don’t forget or we’ll hear about it tomorrow morning.”

“Yeah. Did you check the closet?”

“No, I’ll get it.”

The doorknob rattled and the door opened. I held still hoping my cape would help if he saw me. A large flashlight beam shone in the dark corners of the closet.

“There’s nothing in there.”

“I told you there’s no point. How long between when the malfunction happened and when we got there? A minute, maybe a little more? Who would want in this creepy place?”

“Yeah, yeah, but we have a job to do. Come on, let’s finish this. I want to continue with our game.”

“Sure. But you’re locking the door.” I heard the door open and I relaxed … and my foot bumped the mop bucket. Smack! The mop handle hit the floor.

“Damn it! What was that?”

“I don’t know. It came from the closet.”

One of them returned, pointing the flashlight beam at the floor. “It’s a mop handle.” The man walked into the closet, knelt, and picked up the mop, as he stood, he backed into the door causing it to open wider, concealing me further from view.

“Nothing to worry about. Let’s go.”

I heard the door squeak open and the key in the lock, locking me in with Hilda. It took my heart a long time to quiet itself. I waited almost five minutes before moving again.

Despite the risk, I turned on the lights. There was no way I would be alone in the dark with Hilda. My skin crawled at the thought of what I planned. I hoped they hadn’t taken her clothes and things away from her yet, or this might get messy.

 

Paperback:     https://www.amazon.com/Convergent-Lines-Kind-Mosaic-Michelle/dp/1545450307/

Hardcover:     https://www.amazon.com/dp/1948090007/

Facebook:      www.facebook.com/michecori
Twitter:          @michellebcori

The Write Stuff – Monday, October 9 – Interview With Michael Okon

If you haven’t already heard about this week’s guest, you are likely to do so over the next few months, or at least, one or two years at most. I say this, because his career is starting to take off like a runaway freight train.

Michael Okon is an award-winning and best-selling author of multiple genres including paranormal, thriller, horror, action/adventure and self-help. He graduated from Long Island University with a degree in English, and then later received his MBA in business and finance. Coming from a family of writers, he has storytelling is his DNA. Michael has been writing from as far back as he can remember, his inspiration being his love for films and their impact on his life. From the time he saw The Goonies, he was hooked on the idea of entertaining people through unforgettable characters.

Michael is a lifelong movie buff, a music playlist aficionado, and a sucker for self-help books. He lives on the North Shore of Long Island with his wife and children.

Today I am featuring Monsterland, a teen & young adult monsters & horror novel, expected to be released on Friday, October 13. (What an appropriate date for a horror novel!) He describes his book as follows:

Welcome to Monsterland—the scariest place on Earth.

Wyatt Baldwin’s senior year is not going well. His parents divorce, then his dad mysteriously dies. He’s not exactly comfortable with his new stepfather, Carter White, either. An ongoing debate with his best friends Melvin and Howard Drucker over which monster is superior has gotten stale. He’d much rather spend his days with beautiful and popular Jade. However, she’s dating the brash high-school quarterback Nolan, and Wyatt thinks he doesn’t stand a chance.

But everything changes when Wyatt and his friends are invited to attend the grand opening of Monsterland, a groundbreaking theme park where guests can interact with vampires in Vampire Village, be chased by werewolves on the River Run, and walk among the dead in Zombieville.

With real werewolves, vampires and zombies as the main attractions, what could possibly go wrong?

Will you tell us about your most recent release?

Well, my release isn’t so recent, but it’s certainly updated. In 2015, I wrote and self-published a book called Monsterland. Two years later, I have a literary agent, an entertainment attorney, a film agent, a publicist, and heavy film interest from a very well-known producer, plus a two-book publishing deal for the same book. It’s been quite a ride! Monsterland follows the story of teenager Wyatt Baldwin, who gets the opportunity of a lifetime to attend the grand opening of the scariest place on earth – Monsterland. It’s a theme park with real werewolves, vampires and zombies.

That’s quite impressive. What was the inspiration behind it?

I always wanted to write a monster book but couldn’t settle on which type of monster to focus my story on. In the summer of 2015, I was watching an 80s and 90s movie marathon with my son who was 7 at the time. I showed him all the classics – The Goonies, Back to the Future, Gremlins, Jurassic Park…etc…It occurred to me while watching, why isn’t there a theme park with zombies. I called my brother immediately to tell him about the idea for a book I’d like to write and he told me, “No.” I was certainly confused. He said, “It has to be a theme park with werewolves, vampires AND zombies.” I started beating out the character arcs that night.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

I honestly didn’t come across anything insanely challenging. I make sure my stories are fully written in an outline before I write Chapter 1. I need a roadmap to write, otherwise, I’d be lost. Every character’s arcs are beat out before, then when I know where each character is going, I dive into the novel.

That’s becoming an increasingly logical approach for me, an erstwhile pantser. What other novels have you written?

I have written and self-published 3 self-help novels under the pen name Michael Samuels. I then began writing novels, and wrote 15. Monsterland was the one that stood out and has been gathering a ton of momentum.

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with your work?

I have an entire team behind me whose sole focus is to get my brand out there in the marketplace. I have won dozens of awards, and my brother has created some online videos. There is some heavy interest from Hollywood about my book Monsterland, so we’ll see where that goes.

What else are you working on?

Monsterland 2 is in the books, and will be coming out May 26, 2018. I’m in the middle of Monsterland 3 now, and currently beating out Monsterland 4 and 5. It seems that I’m going to be writing about monsters for the next several years, which I’m perfectly fine with.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I’m an early riser. I’m up at 5am. Eat breakfast, generally, bacon and eggs. I see my kids off to school. Then I research and develop my subject ad nauseum from 9 to 5. I consider that my day job. I have to know the ins and outs of my subjects. Google and Amazon are my best friends. I always cook my family dinner and it gives me a break from development. I tuck in the kids and wife around 8pm, then I go to my den and write until my eyes go. I do this every single day.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I self-published 18 books and had a nice little career going. I was reading a book a couple years ago called How to Sell a Screenplay in Hollywood (or something like that) by Syd Field. In it, he interviews an entertainment attorney named Susan Grode. I told myself, when I get my first agent contract I’m going to have this lady read it. Fast forward a few months later, I received an email from an agent in London who was interested in repping my works. I asked him to send me a contract and he did. I emailed Susan and introduced myself. She called me 2 minutes later and said before you sign with this agent in London, let me introduce you to my friend in Brooklyn named Nick Mullendore. I’m a Long Island guy so it made sense to stay local. We met for lunch and he signed me that day. That evening Susan said she would also represent me. Nick took my book Monsterland around and it was rejected by everyone. 6 months later he had a conference call with a Film Agent in Los Angeles. He was pitching her a romance novel and she said she wasn’t really into it, she’s into monsters. He said he had the perfect author for her and sent her my book. She read it in one weekend and we had a conference call the following Monday. She said she will get this on every producer’s desk in Hollywood, but it needs to get published. Nick got the book into the hands of Kevin J. Anderson who runs WordFire Press. WordFire read the book, loved it, and signed me to a two-book publishing deal for Monsterland 1 & 2. The film agent kept her promise and got the book into a few producer’s hands, who plan on shopping it around. This all happened in two-years. I have to pinch myself how many times I’ve caught lightning in a bottle so far. The universe is definitely responding to my requests.

Why do you write?

I am a universe builder. There is nothing more thrilling than creating something and pulling your reader into this world you’ve built. Keeping your reader there and entertained is something I get a kick out of.

What motivates or inspires you?

Watching movies is, by far, my biggest inspiration for writing books. There are certain films that have stood out in my life that I know where I was, who I was with, what I was feeling at the time, when I saw the film. I want to create that same type of feeling for my readers when I’m writing. I want people to never forget the first time they read a book of mine. I want that to stay with them forever, the same way seeing Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was for me.

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

I wrote the book on overcoming obstacles. Adversity is what you make of it. I have been rejected by every publishing house, every film agent, every literary agent, and every business contact, I’ve practically ever come across. Life is about rejection. But…when you are rejected, that only strengthens your position to get to a YES, if you continue to push through. Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit. Napoleon Hill said that. For every NO I’ve ever received in my life, I’ve had a YES that was beyond my wildest dreams, I was so grateful for receiving that NO the first time around. I sometimes hope for a NO, because I know there is going to be a massive YES just around the corner.

I am a BIG fan of Napoleon Hill. Do you have any pet projects?

I am a sucker for self-help and law of attraction books. I have over 200 in my library and have implemented all of their teachings into my life. I continue to write down my goals on a monthly basis and see how these things manifest in my life. So far, I’m at a 90% success rate in a three year timeframe. Not bad, I must say. Other than that, I’m a huge Disney guy, I love to gamble (especially craps and poker), and I haven’t eaten bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, fruit or veggies in 5 years. I’m in the best health of my life.

Thank you, Michael, for taking the time to join us. Before I give my site’s visitors a taste of your work—followed as usual by your social and book-buy links—I’d like to conclude this interview with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m an… Insanely funny person who makes light out of all situations.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Steak (and butter).

The one thing I would change about my life: Eat more steak and butter.

My biggest peeve is: People who are addicted to their smartphones.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My diet. I’ve reclaimed my health eating all foods I was told not to eat – steak and butter.

 

And now, for your reading enjoyment, an excerpt from Monsterland:

“They’ve found us,” he growled in the unique language they used after transformation. “Run!” he barked as he turned to his pack, watching his friends’ naked skin transform until it was covered with the same silvered fur.

They cried out in unison at the pain, howling with the injustice, and then ran in fear from the interlopers threatening their habitat.

They separated into two groups and took off in different directions to confuse the strangers.

Billy tore through the brush, thorns ripping his fur, and, in his adrenaline rush, he didn’t feel anything. He glanced backward; the humans were chasing them, one running with a huge camera. Nine other hunters followed, the long barrels of their rifles bearing down on them.

Behind him, he heard multiple shots and triumphant shouts, knowing that his friends were succumbing one by one.

With a frantic growl, he urged Little John, Petey, and Todd to run faster.

Little John’s massive body was blocking him. Billy bayed at him to keep his head closer to the ground. He worried about Little John, knowing that his big frame might as well have had a target painted on it.

“Stay close together,” he urged. His heart sank when he heard Todd yelp. The shot hit his friend from behind, sending him careening into a trench. Billy wanted to stop but knew he couldn’t help Todd. The humans were on his friend’s fallen body seconds later. He had to find Petey and Little John a place to hide.

There was a loud scream as one of their pursuers stumbled on a root to their left. Billy paused, panting wildly, to get his bearings next to the broad trunk of a cypress tree.

“Which way?” Petey asked.

Billy’s eyes searched the tangle of the mangroves for an opening.

A shot rang out, splintering a tree, sending shards of bark around them. Billy reared in surprised shock. It wasn’t a bullet. A red feathered dart was vibrating next to him, sticking out of the wood.

“What is that?” Petey whimpered.

“It’s a dart,” Billy said. “They’re trying to capture us. This way!”

He and his pack mates took off, disappearing into the twisted vines.

They clawed through the swamp, hiding behind clusters of Spanish moss, dipping under the water when the hunters approached.

One man in the group stood taller and leaner than the rest, his dark wolfish eyes scanning the dense undergrowth looking for them. The man paused, training his gun in Billy’s direction as if he could see straight through the foliage.

Billy held his breath, terrified of discovery, but the harried sounds of a chase distracted the leader of the hunters.

Billy and his pack skirted solid ground, their bodies quivering. He glanced at the sky, wishing for the sun to rise so that he would transform back to being human.

The splashes of their pursuers seemed to recede. The pack waited in claustrophobic silence for the time to pass.

Billy spied a dinghy heading towards the flat-bottom boat as dawn approached. They heard the sputter of an engine being turned over.

“They’re leaving,” Little John said hopefully.

The rays of the sun lit the eastern sky. It was quiet once more. They paddled softly toward the shore. Coming out of the water, they shook themselves of the muck. Early morning birdcalls broke out in the thick stillness.

Billy barked a cry of dismay as shots rang out. Little John went down in a tumble of leaves and mud, a dart silencing him.

Billy veered right, squirming under a broken log, Petey barreling over it. The report of another shot and a loud thump told him that he had lost Petey too.

What do they want from us?

Billy dug his paws into the marshy land, his heart pumping like a piston. He leaped high over an alligator dozing in the shade of a leafy tree. Billy felt the impact of a dart; a sharp pain ripping into his flank.

His eyes dimmed as he tumbled headlong onto the boggy ground. He rolled over and over, coming to rest on a bed of rotting leaves. He couldn’t move; his limbs were leaden. His ears registered the sound of running feet.

Billy looked up into the triumphant, black eyes of the man who led the attack. The hunter placed his boot on his neck, holding him down.

“Got ya,” he heard the man say with a thick accent before everything went dark.

 

Those of you who would like to lean more about Michael Okon can do so here:

Web: www.michaelokon.com

Twitter: @IAmMichaelOkon

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/iammichaelokon/

Snapchat: https://www.snapchat.com/add/iammichaelokon

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/iammichaelokon/

 

You can purchase his book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Monsterland-Michael-Okon-ebook/dp/B0751F3B3S/

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Adventure Sci-Fi 2017 Story Bundle

THE ADVENTURE SCI-FI 2017 BUNDLE

 

The Adventure Sci-Fi 2017 Bundle – Curated by Kevin J. Anderson

 

We’re Full of Stars! ADVENTURE SF STORYBUNDLE

Strap into your cockpit, fire up the faster-than-light engines, and set course for the nearest star. I’ve got a grab bag of 13 excellent science fiction books all in one new Adventure SF StoryBundle. Get them all for as little as $15, and help out a great charity, too!

I put in a brand new action-packed story, The Blood Prize, featuring the popular character Colt the Outlander from Heavy Metal magazines, with all new art by the Aradio Brothers. Robert J. Sawyer offers his classic novel Far Seer (a planet of intelligent dinosaurs!). Raymond Bolton’s Awakening shows a fantasy civilization on the cusp of the industrial revolution faced with an alien invasion. You’ll read different adventures on very different lunar colonies in Gray Rinehart’s Walking on a Sea of Clouds, Lou Agresta’s Club Anyone, and T. Allen Diaz’s Lunatic City, as well as Louis Antonelli’s alternate space race and murder on the moon in Dragon-Award nominee Another Girl, Another Planet. Jody Lynn Nye’s Taylor’s Ark follows the adventures of a veterinarian to the stars, and Brenda Cooper’s Endeavor-Award winning The Silver Ship and the Sea is a gripping story of prisoners of war abandoned on a rugged colony planet. Acclaimed, award-winning author Paul di Filippo gives a collection of his best stories in Lost Among the Stars.

And for thrilling military SF, the bundle also has Honor and Fidelity by Andrew Keith and William H. Keith, Recruitby Jonathan P. Brazee, and the hilarious adventures of Phule’s Company in Robert Lynn Asprin’s Phule’s Paradise.

The Adventure SF StoryBundle runs for only three weeks. You can get the base level of five books for $5, or all 13 for as little as $15. Pay what you like, and a portion goes to support the great efforts of the Challenger Learning Centers for Space Science Education. – Kevin J. Anderson

The initial titles in the The Adventure Sci-Fi 2017 Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:

  • Lunatic City by T. Allen Diaz
  • Phule’s Paradise by Robert Asprin
  • Awakening by Raymond Bolton
  • Taylor’s Ark by Jody Lynn Nye
  • Honor and Fidelity by Andrew Keith and William H. Keith, Jr.

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you get all five of the regular titles, plus EIGHT more!

  • Lost Among the Stars by Paul Di Filippo
  • Another Girl, Another Planet by Louis Antonelli
  • Club Anyone by Lou Agresta
  • The Blood Prize by Kevin J. Anderson
  • Walking on the Sea of Clouds by Gray Rinehart
  • The Silver Ship and the Sea by Brenda Cooper
  • Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer
  • The United Federation Marine Corps Book 1: Recruit by Jonathan P. Brazee

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.

  • Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
  • Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to the Challenger Learning Centers for Space Science Education!
  • Receive extra books: If you beat the bonus price, you’ll get the bonus books!

StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.

For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook.

 

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The Write Stuff – Monday, September 25 – Interview With RR Virdi

I first connected with R.R. Virdi— a two time Dragon Award nominee—through Facebook. He is a part of a growing community of authors I regularly connect with. His first Dragon Award nomination was for his series, The Grave Report, a paranormal investigator series set in the great state of New York. The second nomination coming for Dangerous Ways, book one of The Books of Winter, an epic urban fantasy series set in the same overall universe as his Grave Report novels. He has worked in the automotive industry as a mechanic, in retail, and in the custom gaming computer world. He’s an avid car nut with a special love for American classics. As he relates it, his hardest challenge up to this point has been fooling most of society into believing he’s a completely sane member of the general public.

 

He describes Dangerous Ways like this:

Jonathan Hawthorne has lived over a century beholden to one rule: do not meddle in mortal affairs. He’s broken it twice. So when he crosses paths with Cassidy Winters, he’s forced to interfere again.

Strike three. And the third time’s not the charm.

Hawthorne is swept along as Cassidy slips through the cracks in reality.

And being hunted by bands of monsters doesn’t help.

To find the answers they need, they’ll have to play in a dangerous world. One where the odds and rules are stacked against them. They will have to navigate magical courts, queens and lords all while trying to keep Cassidy out of their scheming hands.

If they fail, she will end up a pawn in a plot that will consume them all.

Hawthorne will have to face the consequences of his past, and risk his future to ensure Cassidy can have one of her own.

For a man with all the time in the world—it seems to be running out—fast!

Please tell us more:

Dangerous Ways is book one of The Books of Winter, an epic-sized urban fantasy. It follows Jonathan Hawthorne, a member of the Timeless, a group of semi-immortals removed from the effects of time but bound by rules to never overtly interfere in paranormal and mortal world problems. He’s broken the rule twice. At the start of book one, he finds himself heading to trial to explain his two involvements when bumping into a young woman falling uncontrollably in and out of the Neravene, the paranormal world of many worlds. Helping her earns him his third strike. The trial is abandoned and he’s up for execution as he races to try to find the powers after the young woman, possibly prevent a supernatural war, and explain that his involvements aren’t really his faults. At the very least… he has good reasons.

What was the inspiration behind it?

It was a spinoff from my successful urban fantasy detective series, The Grave Report. I wanted to showcase more of the supernatural world than possible in that series. I always loved Neverwhere…and thought this could be a wonderful blend. My world, my creatures, my storytelling, meets someone able to open doorways to show it all off. My fans loved it.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

The sheer scope of it. Balancing moving the plot forward, the world building I wanted, the plot structure, and peppering the right clues all the way through.

What other novels have you written?

Oooh boy. The Grave Report, which has two out right now, Grave Beginnings, and Grave Measures (last year’s Dragon Award finalist). A third is coming this fall, Grave Dealings. That’s book three out of twenty.

I’m in a number of charity fiction anthologies. And, I just sent off my first sci-fi, a space western, off to a publisher.

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with your work?

Two Dragon Award nominations, one in 2016 along with Jim Butcher, Larry Correia, and N.K. Jemisin. The second came this year and I placed with Mr. Correia again. Great honors!

What else are you working on?

Right now? Well, I’m editing up Grave Dealings for a late fall launch, writing a novella in the series, then I’m starting a new series/genre (unnamed as of now) in the cyberpunk field. It’ll be my fourth concurrent series. I know I might be biting off a bit more than I can chew, but I’ve been managing so far. I plan to write and stagger releases and this allows me a reprieve from one world after it gets to be a bit too much on my mind.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I self-pubbed. Proud of it. Honestly, fear kept me from pursuing agents with Grave Beginnings…after its success, I was told I should have submitted. But, it’s too late now. What it is, is what it is. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

Do you create an outline before you write? Outline…is a French word, right? What’s that? Pantser.

Why do you write? I honestly couldn’t imagine having another life. No, seriously. There’s no replacement. Why does someone commit to becoming a career competitive barbeque chef? Same reason, I guess? Passion.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I’ve learned no ideas are sacred, they’re all respun from something else. It’s what you, the author, you bleed into them, spin with them, that makes them unique/special.

Describe a typical day.

Wake up, furrow my brow and squint at my immortal enemy, the Sun. After that, grumble to myself as I plod to the kitchen to eat. Forget why I came to the kitchen. Put on a pot of tea, leave, log on Facebook, forget about the tea, catch it just in time, pour, sit and write. Hours later, I’ll remember breakfast. Repeat this process with various meals until I finish my day’s work. Occasionally, I leave to socialize. After reaching the adequate human interaction, I retreat home and realize that interaction can be overrated. I continue this cycle for some odd reason.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

My room is slowly being overfilled with otter plushies fans are sending me. No, I’m not joking. It’s a small room filled with bookcases, art prints and originals, a 4,000 dollar gaming pc, there’s not much room for plushies. People keep sending them anyways.

What has been your greatest success in life?

Meeting my heroes, especially this past DragonCon 2017, and finding out they’ve read my work and loved my stories! I have to be doing something right to have that happen!

Thank you for agreeing to participate in The Write Stuff! Before I present visitors with an excerpt from Dangerous Ways, after which I will provide book buy and social links, I’d like to finish with a Lightning Round. Please answer the following in as few words as possible:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… strange, but nice guy.

The one thing I cannot do without is: my writing.

The one thing I would change about my life: My bank balance.

My biggest peeve is: interrupting my writing.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My pillow, it’s never let me down.

 

Without further ado, here is the Dangerous Ways excerpt:

That settled it. I set my jaw and walked towards them, trying to close the distance as best I could. When I was close enough to be heard, but still out of arm’s reach, I barked, “Hey!”

The deep rumbling ceased. I couldn’t see a thing, but felt their eyes. The pair of them stared at me. I raised my hands above my head, hoping to appear as non-threatening as possible.

“Hey,” I repeated, trying to keep their attention on me.

“Who are you?” asked Blue Hood.

“Hrmm, leave,” ordered his pal.

I was sorely tempted to heed the advice. Getting involved was my problem. One that had landed me in an inquisition. Some people never learn.

I took several more steps, praying they would take no hostile action. “I just want to know what’s going on. When two people follow a third down an alleyway, it raises questions.”

The cavernous grumbles echoed again, but I pressed on.

“Go away—”

“—or you next,” cut in the second voice.

“Next for what?” I was close enough to make out the pair now, their outlines at least.

Another rumble left their throats. I could see the vague shape of the third figure, huddled against the brick wall at the end of the alley. He shuddered, arms wrapped tight around himself. I had a feeling it had nothing to do with the cold.

I let an edge of heat into my voice. “Next for what?”

I sucked in a breath as my feet left the ground. Two fists clenched the collar of my coat, holding me with ease. The hood of the black parka fell back to reveal the face of gruesome man. It was too solid and layered in generous mass. There was no grunt of effort as he shifted his body. The world sailed by.

Pain blossomed across my left shoulder blade, making its way to my right as I hit the ground, rolling through the snow. I blinked. The muscles in my throat fought for air as my lungs pumped in futility. Lying there was not an option, and doing something—anything—was beyond my ability. The gray-hooded figure was within arm’s reach. My head lolled to the side. The man in the black parka approached.

He cracked his neck. The air around him shimmered, and his features changed. There was no subtle transition. His head and face increased in mass, becoming inhumanly thick and flabby. The creature’s skin was a pale, unhealthy gray with a wet sheen. Purplish lips, missing a chunk of flesh, pulled away from his mouth. A handful of teeth remained, chipped into sharp edges. Bits of rotting meat wedged between them.

The putrid odor increased.

Fabric tore as the monster took its true form. It towered well over eight feet, built of ropey muscles engorged to grotesque proportions. The creature’s body was bare save for a haphazard assortment of clothes tied together in a makeshift girdle. Its hands dwarfed my skull, and, if things continued the way they were, those hands would crush my head.

“Trolls.” I coughed and spat. “It had to be trolls.”

The advancing creature was missing a fair bit of his left ear. It looked as if it had been gnawed on. It pointed to me. “Mine.” The troll jabbed a finger at the shivering figure behind me. “Yours.”

Blue Hood chortled and followed his companion’s example. He dropped the illusion. Shreds of clothing fell to the ground.

The bitter winds and having been tossed by the troll left my fingers hesitant to move.

“This is bad,” someone whispered behind me.

I grunted, trying to dig into my coat.

“I’m sorry for this,” said the man in the gray hoodie.

“For what?” I turned to look at him, and for the first time that day, my loss of breath had nothing to do with physical reasons.

His hand slashed diagonally through the air. Silver light burst into existence; a tear in the space before me.

A Way. The stranger had opened a Way.

My collar constricted against my throat as he hauled on my coat. “Come on!”

Both trolls let out defiant snarls and lunged. I kicked, bringing myself to my feet without proper balance. I tumbled back. My newfound friend held onto me.

We fell through the tear.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve just read and would like to read more and perhaps follow this author, here is where to do so:

Website:         www.rrvirdi.com
Facebook:     
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1380786495293139/
Facebook:
      https://www.facebook.com/rrvirdi/

Book Buy:      https://books2read.com/u/4XonN9

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The Write Stuff – Monday, September 11 – Interview With LJ Hachmeister

This week’s guest, L.J. Hachmeister, whom I first met at this year’s Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, Washington, is a remarkable woman in every sense of the word. She writes and fights—although she tries to avoid doing both simultaneously. She is a surgical nurse and also a musician. After winning the WEKAF world championship in double-stick fighting and achieving a second black belt in Doce Pares Eskrima, L.J. decided to take a new approach to world domination and focus on her literary career. With a head full of intergalactic battles, strong female protagonists, and demonic forces bent on breaking out hell, she created the universe and series, Triorion. After the success of the first four books in the Triorion series, L.J. penned the parallel novel series, Shadowless, which takes place in the same universe, but features new characters, settings, and a terrible evil that threatens to consume the entire world.

Though she has yet to decide whether to use her powers for good or evil, L.J. continues to teach the next generation of Filipino stick-fighters while writing in multiple genres, including science fiction/fantasy, LGBTQ+ fiction, and romance. As a self-published author, her books have sold well enough and acquired a large enough readership to admit her into the ranks of authors who sell their books at nationwide Cons through Bard’s Tower, a distributor who only admits authors like Kevin J. Anderson, Larry Correia, Jody Lynn Nye, Jim Butcher, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Claudia Gray and those on a par with them.

Today we’ll discuss Reborn – Part II, the fourth book in the Triorion series. L. J. describes the novel this way:

With the Alliance Fleet scattered and the Motti’s Dissembler weapon laying waste to the last habitable worlds, Jetta Kyron faces one who will use this time of strife and suffering to seize power over the Starways. With death at her heels and the powers of an ancient evil at her fingertips, Jetta finds herself tumbling down a path she swore she would never take. The fourth installment of the Triorion series pits Jetta against the most fearsome enemy of all.

Reborn – Part II concludes with an epic intergalactic battle, each of the triplets deciding how they’ll use the ancient evil inside them, and some of the biggest secrets of the series finally coming to light. Although there are three books left in the series, Reborn – Part II provides a satisfying ending that gives you the answers you’ve wanted since book one, but also leaves room for the adventure to continue.

For those of you who haven’t yet picked up the other books in the series, it’s about triplet siblings who unknowingly possess the power of an ancient evil, and are coerced into military service. Most of my readers describe it as Ender’s Game meets Stranger Things. The books in the Triorion series are fast-paced, character driven, and will keep you guessing all the way to the end as to who these kids really are, and what they’re truly capable of.

What was the inspiration behind the Triorion series?

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to have my own universe and heroes, and create my own adventures. I still have some of the short stories I wrote in the Triorion universe from 1987/1988. It started out as something fun and silly, but eventually grew into a means of catharsis for some of the experiences in my own life.

What was your biggest challenge writing this, the fourth volume, and how did you overcome it?

Book four wraps up the first half of the series, so I had to make sure that I didn’t leave any loose ends. However, since I’m continuing with book five, six, and seven, I had to give enough to the reader so that they wanted more, but didn’t need anything else to enjoy the first four in the series.

What are the titles of the first three, and can you tell us about your other work?

Triorion: Awakening (book one), Triorion: Abomination (book two), Triorion: Reborn – Part I (book three), Shadowless – Volume One, and another novel that will never see the light of day. I’m also working on a romance novel that is a prequel to Awakening, tentatively entitled, The Laws of Attraction.

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with your work?

I have a teaser trailer for the series uploaded to YouTube, a musical score, chapter illustrations, and exclusive series illustrations that you can check out on the series website, www.triorion.com

What else are you working on?

My first romance novel! I’m only three chapters away from finishing it. I’m extremely excited about this work since it challenged me to write outside my comfort zone, but it still takes place in the universe I’ve established. It also gives hints as to the conclusion of the entire Triorion series, as well as introduces a critical character that will help the triplets in book six and seven.

Do you create an outline before you write?

I do now! When I first started writing, I’d just wing the entire story, but I ended up writing myself into corners, and/or create huge plot holes. I find that outlining the general points of the book as well as determining the ending helps in so many ways, especially for efficiency. Now that I outline, I can manage two novels a year, even with a fulltime job.

Why do you write?

Honestly, when I was growing up, there wasn’t much else to do in the suburbs of Illinois, and I’ve always enjoyed creating new worlds. Now that I’m older and can look back on what I wrote, and what I am writing now, I realize that I’ve worked out so many of my problems or concerns through writing, and I’m very grateful to have discovered and utilized this outlet.

Is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know?

Everything I put in my novels is drawn from my own personal experience in one form or another. I think reading about the human experience is important; it forges connections, can help you understand more about yourself or other people, and help mitigate that feeling of loneliness and disconnect we all feel at some point in our life.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

Yes. I’m an RN at a surgical center, and I also co-own a graphic design company with my wife. I stay pretty busy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And why is that?

I enjoy being in a caring profession, and being able to help others when they’re often at their most vulnerable. Nursing keeps me grounded, appreciative, and I have always loved the bonds of the medical community.

I’ve learned that you and your wife are dog people. Would you care to tell those of our visitors who are similarly inclined something about them?

Our dogs are 3 and 6, both female mutts. The younger one is sassy, sweet, and a cuddler. The older one is a border collie mix and obsessed with playing fetch. She’s also a sweetheart, rarely barks, and only cuddles right before bed.

What motivates or inspires you, not necessarily as pertains to your writing?

I read a lot of survival and near-death experience stories. What those folks have shared about their experiences and insights gives me hope, and has helped me keep going even when faced with my toughest challenges.

In addition to being a world class fighter and world class author, it has come to my attention you also play the drums. I have to ask (1) are they traps, (2) are you part of a band and (3) what kind of music do you lean toward?

I play a Mapex seven-piece drum set. I generally stick to progressive or alternative rock, but enjoy jazz, experimental, and all other types of music. I am in the band, “Wolfgirl.” We’re currently on a break, but you can find our first music video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RN9iIJ-tieU

Clearly, the video tells the story of how “Wolfgirl” came together.

And now I need to thank you, L. J., for taking the time to participate in The Write Stuff. Before I give our visitors an excerpt from Reborn – Part II, as well as social links where they can follow you, I’d like to close with a traditional Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… frozen yogurt maniac

The one thing I cannot do without is: My family

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d give myself a functional ACL so I can play soccer again.

My biggest peeve is: people who wear their outside shoes in the house

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: my awesome drum set.

 

Reborn – Part II excerpt:

Jahx never told his sisters about his secret trips to room 311. If circumstances had been better, Jaeia might have understood, but Jetta would have only given him grief. Sneaking off became exceedingly difficult, and as often as wanted to go, his family, particularly his sisters, kept a close watch on him. And no unattended four-year-old went unnoticed, especially on Fiorah.

He chanced upon room 311 the day they moved into community housing. While Galm comforted Lohien in their squalid new apartment, promising her their situation was only temporary, Jaeia covered for her siblings so that Jetta and Jahx could explore the housing project and look for vending machines and discarded air conditioning units that they could possibly fix.

“Hey, look,” Jetta said, nudging him.

Putting down his collection of plastic bottles, Jahx followed Jetta to the last apartment on the third floor.

“Do you feel that?” Jetta said, her hand hovering above the doorknob.

Jahx didn’t have to say anything.

“Are you scared?” she asked. She hadn’t intended to sound so peevish, but she, like the rest of them, suffered the hunger pangs of three bellies.

“Jetta… Maybe not this apartment.”

But arguing with his survivalist sister got him nowhere.

“It wouldn’t be right,” he emphasized.

Jetta ignored him, testing the lock. Nimble fingers and safety pins did the trick in seconds.

Please, Jetta.

With a quick glance over her shoulder, his sister checked the hallway to make sure they wouldn’t be seen. Aside from the screams of the arguing couple two doors down, the rest of the place felt like a tomb.

Everyone else is either sleeping off benders or making back alley deals, Jetta reassured him.

Driven by need and disgusted by his own poverty, Jahx followed her in. (Stealing is wrong,) his conscience whispered, (especially from 311.)

The place was cobwebbed and blanketed in dust. Cockroaches, surprised by their appearance, skittered toward their hiding places as they tiptoed to the kitchen.

Check the pantry. I’ll check the fridge, Jetta spoke across their connection.

Jahx wavered, feeling the heavy pull in the adjacent room. (This is wrong. We will only find death here.)

Jahx! Jetta emphasized, making his brain rattle.

Careful not to disturb the nesting spiders, Jahx searched through empty tin cans and food boxes. The place had already been picked clean, probably by some other launnies or scavengers in the same situation.

Skucheka,” Jetta whispered, despondent at their failed mission.

They both jumped as a growling croak came from the next room, rising in pitch. Grabbing her brother, Jetta yanked him toward the door.

“Jetta, wait—”

His sister, stronger and determined, dragged him out into the hallway and back to their new place, not listening to his protests, knowing only the fear that charged her reaction.

“Hey—what was that?” Jaeia asked as Jetta and Jahx caught their breath in the entryway.

“Don’t know. Waste of a trip. Nothing in there but crumbs,” Jetta said, opening her hands to reveal a few stale cracker bits.

The three of them stared at Jetta’s open hands, salivating at the laughable prize. Jetta’s anger and embarrassment throbbed in Jahx’s chest as she divided the cracker bits and distributed them to her siblings.

“Things will get better—I promise,” Jetta said, closing her hand into a fist. “I won’t let Yahmen destroy this family.”

That night Jahx couldn’t sleep. Maybe it was the new apartment, the itchiness of the cots, the sonorous snoring of his uncle or the rats scurrying inside the walls. Or maybe it was something else. Something he had escaped in apartment 311.

I have to go back.

Without disturbing them, Jahx looked inside his sisters’ dreams. Jaeia travelled to somewhere unfamiliar, a green and yellow landscape with only one sun. It wasn’t the first time he had seen such a place in her mind, and he delighted in taking an observer’s viewpoint when he had the chance. But now was not the time.

Jahx turned to Jetta. Curled up in a fetal position against the wall, Jetta slept fitfully as usual. Jahx put a hand on her shoulder, trying to draw his sister away from the pain and terror that plagued her sleeping mind. Unable to soothe her without waking her up, he withdrew, giving her one last look before slipping out the front door.

He waited until the underhanders were done with their hallway drug deals before making his way to the last door on the third floor. The drunk wadded up in the corner gave him a confused once-over but fell back into his bottle, singing a maudlin drinking song.

Walking on his tip-toes, Jahx let himself inside 311. Even in the middle of the night, the Fiorahian sunlight streamed through the shredded drapes, giving rise to new shadows and creeps. He noticed the smell this time, probably because his sister’s will was not stifling his senses. Sour and dewy—like decomposing waste.

A desiccated whisper tickled his thoughts. Who are you?

The moan that followed stripped the gumption right out of him. He turned on his heels to flee when a bony hand, reaching up into the thin rays of light in the adjacent room, caught his eye.

Jahx held his breath. One of the long-nailed fingers curled at him.

Come here.

Those who would like to learn more about L. J. Hachmeister can do so here:

Website: www.triorion.com

You may purchase her books here:

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=triorion

 

 

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The Write Stuff – Monday, August 28 – Interview With Christopher Husberg

I first met Titan Books author, Christopher Husberg, at Emerald City Comic Con in March 2017 where we were sold and signed books at Bard’s Tower. The next time I ran into him was at a bookstore in Salem, Oregon. He and author, Dave Butler, whom I interviewed here in January of last year, were on a combined book signing tour. Chris had just completed the second novel in his series, the Chaos Queen Quintet, and having purchased a copy, I thought this might be a good time to feature him, since the quintet it was part of was finally rolling.

Christopher Husberg grew up in Eagle River, Alaska. He now lives in Utah, and spends his time writing, reading, hiking, and playing video games, but mostly hanging out with his wife, Rachel, and daughter, Buffy. He received an MFA in creative writing from Brigham Young University, and an honorary PhD in Buffy the Vampire Slayer from himself. He writes dark epic fantasy novels. The first novel in the Chaos Queen Quintet, Duskfall, was published in 2016. The third installment, Blood Requiem, will be published by Titan Books in 2018. Chris describes Dark Immolation like this:

A new religion is rising, gathering followers drawn by rumors of prophetess Jane Oden. Her sister Cinzia—once a Cantic prieste—is by her side, but fears Jane will lead them to ruin. For both the Church and the Nazaniin assassins are still on their tail, and much worse may come.

Knot, his true nature now revealed if not truly understood, is haunted by his memories, and is not the ally he once was. Astrid travels to Tinska to find answers for her friend, but the child-like vampire has old enemies who have been waiting for her return. And beyond the Blood Gate in the empire of Roden, a tiellan woman finds herself with a new protector: one who wants to use her extraordinary abilities for his own ends…

Please tell us something more about it.

Dark Immolation is book two in the Chaos Queen Quintet, and just came out in June. The CQQ is a dark epic fantasy series, and the first book, Duskfall, came out last June (and we’re planning on producing a book a year, each June, until the fifth and final book comes out in June 2020). While Duskfall was an action-adventure fantasy thriller with hints of horror, Dark Immolation features a somewhat slower burn. It’s slightly more introspective, addressing belief and identity, but has its share of action and intense (and, yes, horrifying—it’s what I do!) scenes as well.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book and how did you overcome it?

This may sound strange, but before Dark Immolation I’d never written a sequel! I approached DI with the same process and expectations that I do with any other novel or story, and that was actually a huge mistake (I’m channeling Gob there, obviously). The first draft of DI got out of hand very early because I tried to balance my discovery-writer tendencies to pursue every last tangent I came up with while still trying to follow through with and make good on some promises I made in Duskfall. Well, that was impossible. It was a rough process, and combined with some other things going on in my life at the time (both good and bad, but all distracting), this was a very difficult book to write. Fortunately I have an incredible agent who had a few very helpful conversations with me (basically, he lit a fire under my ass), I had help from some very astute and thorough beta readers, and I have a brilliant editor that helped me tie up many of the loose ends of the novel. I’m incredibly happy with the final version of Dark Immolation. I think it’s a pretty great book, and I’m so happy to have it on shelves. I hope all of you enjoy it, too.

What other novels have you written?

The first novel in the Chaos Queen Quintet, Duskfall, came out last June! Read that one first! This is definitely a series you’ll want to read in order.

Have there been any awards, productions, videos or anything else of interest associated with your work? There is a pretty awesome book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_zxjkHT6uM

And Duskfall has been nominated for the Morningstar Award (the David Gemmell award for Best Debut Fantasy), but unfortunately lost to another fantastic book, Steal the Sky by Megan O’Keefe.

Second place is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when one considers the level of competition in a contest like this. Turning to your life as an author, what is your work schedule like?

Well, it often depends, but here’s the basic rundown of my daily schedule.

5:30 AM – wake up, work out, get ready for the day, etc.

6:30 – write

8:00 – breakfast

8:30 – write

10:30/11:00 – walk

11:30 – write

1:00 PM – put my daughter down for a nap

1:10 – write*

3:30 – wrap things up

* My daughter doesn’t always take a nap, so this segment doesn’t always happen.

That isn’t always the schedule. When I’m approaching a deadline, it’s a lot more writing and a whole lot less other stuff. Right after I finish a project, there’s a bit more free time in there. But, generally, that’s the schedule I stick with, and it works pretty well for me. While I do enjoy a solid block of writing time when I have the opportunity, I’ve found value in learning to adapt my work schedule to whatever is available, and right now these 1.5-2 hour writing spurts are getting the work done, and that’s all I can ask.

It’s nice to be able to write full time. Not many can manage it. Tell us about your path to publication.

I went the traditional route! While I’ve always been very open to self-publishing, I figured I’d try to go the traditional route first, and it has worked out for me so far—in large part because I landed a phenomenal agent.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

I prefer to say that I structure my story before I write. That means that I look at typical archetypes and story structure tropes, and figure out which of those I’m going to be most in line with while working on any given work. That often changes partway through a project, but I do like to have a general road map. It’s like if I were to take a road trip from NY to LA, and said I’d hit maybe Chicago, Denver, and Las Vegas along the way, but I’d be open to doing whatever worked best in between (and, in truth, to cutting out any of those major milestones and replacing it with a better one, if that’s what the journey called for). I think some people like to plan out their novels the way some people plan out road trips, i.e. every stop and every hour of the day planned, and I don’t generally work that way when it comes to writing. Every writer is different, and for me, part of the fun of writing is letting the story develop into something organically.

At this point, I have to laugh. You see, I use that very analogy myself, but driving from LA to NYC instead. What motivates or inspires you?

I once heard Dan Wells say something along the lines of if he writes for 8 hours straight during a day, he can write 2000 words, but if he plays a video game halfway through the day, he can write 4000. I find that’s true for me. Taking breaks is an essential part of my writing process. I like to take a walk just about every day, and I honestly consider that walk work, even if I’m just listening to music or a podcast. I know my brain is running through ideas and scenarios in the background, and I often come up with some of my greatest ideas while walking.

I also find value in playing a video game partway through the day. (Dota 2 is my game of choice.) This seems to work similarly to the backburner principle I described for my walks. If turn the spotlight away from the creative side of my brain for a while and focus on something else, often when I come back to that creative side, it’s come up with something completely awesome.

What has been your greatest success?

That’s easy. I’d like to say the publication of my first book, but the truth is a lot more simple: a happy marriage to an incredible person, and a delightful child. No matter what the future brings, I can say with confidence that those have been my greatest successes, and I treasure every moment I get to spend with those people.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

Joss Whedon, and mainly his work on the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I style myself a Buffy scholar; I’ve seen the complete series at least seven or eight times, and seen many episodes upwards of twenty or thirty. I’ve read criticism on the series and the writing, I’ve read philosophical takes on the series, I’ve studied its structure and development and background. I think it’s a phenomenal text that does amazing things, and stories like it are in large part why I write.

Thanks, Chris, for taking the time to chat with us. Before I present my site’s visitors with an excerpt from Dark Immolation, at the end of which I will provide your social links, I’d like to try a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m… an introvert

The one thing I cannot do without is: My laptop

The one thing I would change about my life: Nothing

My biggest peeve is: People who don’t use turn signals when driving

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: Myself! I’m a flawed, broken work in progress, and I think that’s pretty great.

Dark Immolation excerpt:

“My lord, it is time.” Urstadt’s voice was soft but clear from the hallway.

“Just give me a moment,” Daval said, excitement flowing through him. Surely Urstadt would be even more excited than he; this was her plan coming to fruition, after all.

Daval dressed. The large dark-green robe with the oversized hood commanded a different type of respect than his decorated clothing, clothing that befitted his position in a high, noble house. As Lord Amok, Daval had great power and respect. But as the new Tokal-Ceno, Daval had something more.

“My Lord,” Urstadt greeted him as he exited his chamber.

Daval nodded to her, smiling. As always, Urstadt wore her half-armor: steel cuirass and faulds, each plated with a thin layer of rose gold, and matching gauntlets and greaves. She wore a suit of micromail—a recent invention of the imperial smithies, both lighter and stronger than traditional chain—beneath the plate. In one arm she carried her helmet, a barbute of the same rose-gilded steel, etched to make the face of the helm look like a skull, accented by black gems near the eyes. The contrast was odd; Urstadt looked somewhat feminine in her armor, but the skull contrasted sharply against the rose gold. Of course, when Urstadt had been promoted to Daval’s guard captain, he had granted her whichever armor she desired. In fact, since the suit had been finished, Daval couldn’t think of a moment he had seen his guard captain out of armor. She slept in the bloody set for all he knew.

At Urstadt’s waist was a short sword, scabbard and hilt also of rose gold, but her preferred weapon she carried in one hand. Her glaive—a poled weapon with a curved blade on one end— was an inelegant, ugly thing, taller than she was with a dented, dark steel blade and scarred, blackbark handle. Some laughed at and derided Urstadt’s rose-gold armor; but her glaive, and her skill with it, was not something to jest about.

“Tell me everything,” Daval said, as they walked down the hall. “How goes our little example?”

“Well enough,” Urstadt said. “House Farady took the bait.”

Daval nodded. He knew they would. The potential power they might accrue by undermining Daval’s fish trade would have been irresistible. House Amok, of course, was one of the high houses for many reasons, but first and foremost for commerce. Fish and other fruits of the sea had been their specialty for hundreds of years, but as time passed the Amok lords had sought other sources of income, from the marble quarries near the western coast to the logging beastmen on the Cracked Horn, the northeast peninsula of Roden. But, by striking the Amok fishing industry, a tiny house like Farady could shake the very foundation of House Amok.

But a shaken foundation was not a broken one, which was why he and Urstadt had orchestrated the whole thing.

Urstadt led Daval to the cells below the keep. Unlike those in the imperial palace, Castle Amok’s dungeons were very modest: a few cells below ground, near the wine cellars. Not particularly high-security.

They didn’t need to be. They were generally only for holding other nobles, soon to be released on negotiated terms. A certain level of comfort was expected. Daval was not surprised to see Darst Farady lounging on a cot with a smirk on his face in one of the cells. Two other men sat in the cells on either side of Darst, but he was obviously the leader.

“The great Lord Amok himself.” Darst grinned as he saw Daval approach. “I’m honored by your accommodations.”

Daval bowed to Darst, watching the young man through the iron bars. Darst did not move from his lounging position on the cot, one leg up, the other dangling over the edge, one arm curled behind his head in a makeshift pillow.

“I trust you’re being treated fairly?” Daval asked. Despite Darst being only a stripling and of a house significantly less powerful than Amok, Daval wouldn’t skimp on formalities. He must not give any impression of skirting the law.

The young man—perhaps no older than Daval’s daughter— shrugged. “Fairly enough, I suppose. When will I get out of here?” Daval took a deep breath. “I can’t be sure, my Lord. You were caught attempting to set fire to my property.” Darst laughed. “You surely can’t blame me. Given the rumors about your warehouse, you had to expect trouble of some kind.”

Daval sighed. “We did, of course. Which is why you were caught.”

“I don’t think you have any witnesses who actually saw us attempt this alleged arson,” Darst said. “So, considering the fact that no damage was done, I’d think being held a day or two in your cells would be sufficient punishment, wouldn’t you?”

In times of peace, this was often the way light disputes were settled between houses. The offending party was held in the injured house’s dungeons for an agreed-upon amount of time, and then released without further prosecution. If the offense was severe, a formal trial might be held, but such instances were rare. House representatives settled most disputes through informal negotiations.

This was not peacetime, however. Daval could not be so lenient. And, of course, their plan dictated he act otherwise.

Visitors who would like to follow Christopher Husberg online can do so at the following:

Website:         http://christopherhusberg.com

Blog:               http://christopherhusberg.blogspot.com

Facebook:      https://www.facebook.com/christopherhusberg/

Twitter:          https://twitter.com/usbergo (@usbergo)

Goodreads:    https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14542821.Christopher_Husberg

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The Write Stuff – Monday, August 14 – Interview With Cat Rambo

Photo Credit to OnFocusPhotography

A number of irksome matters have cropped up recently that have limited my time and made my life increasingly stressful. In days like these, all I want to do when I’m finally home is curl up with a well-written story that will transport me far from my day-to-day circumstances and revitalize me. Cat Rambo’s delightful short stories are perfect for this and it’s a large part of the reason I invited her to join us. To say her writing is quirky, unique and imaginative is not to describe even “half-et” of what makes it so enjoyable, since her language often blurs the boundary between poetry and prose. I am privileged to have her share her thoughts with us, here, on The Write Stuff, especially because her work is acclaimed by so many of science fiction’s and fantasy’s finest. Nancy Kress, for example, has this to say: “Cat Rambo’s stories never go where you expect them to. They twist and turn and end up in strange places—sometimes very strange indeed. Both the stories set on the Earth we know (or think we know) and those set far away will surprise and delight you.”

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches atop a hill in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She is an Endeavour, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominee. Her popular online school, The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, has been in existence since 2010. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction, see http://www.kittywumpus.net

Cat, as we begin our conversation, I’d like to focus first on your December 2016 Hydra House publication, Neither Here Nor There.

From time to time, you write something that either makes me laugh outright, or else at least chuckle. For example the phrase, “given that fireflies are easily bullied”, from your story The Toad’s Jewel, or when Ionna, in the story Karaluvian Fale, asks, “Who created the official position of a Whatsit for me?”, to which Kara replies, “Well, I had long needed a Whatsit”. Are you by nature somewhat of a comic in your daily life? 

I have always loved wordplay and jokes, and always will, I think. My spouse would probably tell you that I am both easily amused and prone to silliness, but since he is the same way, it’s a good match because we are always telling or playing jokes to or on each other.

While stories from your other collections have a distinctly earthly feel, like those in Altered America, which are explicitly stated to be so, the ones in Neither Here Nor There are entirely, to my mind at least, extraterrestrial. As one who has never written short stories, but rather novels, I feel compelled to ask if you deliberately set out to write a collection of stories with a common theme over a period of time, or do you anthologize works from stories created over the years because of their similarity?

I don’t set out to write a collection, but because I write so many short stories – over 200 so far – they tend to accrete and get published as groups organized by theme. With Altered America, I’m returning to the same setting repeatedly, which happens more with my fantasy settings (Tabat and Serendib are both cities with multiple stories, and the former even has two novels so far) than my science fiction, although there too I have some places, like TwiceFar Station, that I return to repeatedly.

It’s interesting as a writer to come back to a setting repeatedly for a number of reasons. One is that it becomes clearer and clearer in one’s head and begin throwing off possible side stories. Another is that you can develop the location over time and have the events of one story affect what’s happening in other stories set in the same location or with the same characters.

Although you write prose, your phrasing smacks of poetry: “Jack-knife sudden” and “velvet folds as soft as a baby’s earlobe” from your story Love, Resurrected. In addition, your stories are sometimes non-linear, often alluding to, but skipping over events in a manner uncharacteristic of prose. This compels me to ask, even though I can find no evidence you’ve ever published any, do you write poems as well? If so, might I persuade you to share one?

I do write poetry as well, and won a couple of college contests when I was an undergraduate. I don’t write it much anymore, but here’s a sonnet from 1999, when I first moved out to PNW:

The sky's larger here, and closer somehow.
Lost in its enormity, I hardly miss you at all.
That ache's become a kite, flying low
in and out of clouds, in and out of sun,
poised high, string a melancholy thrum.
Sometimes its shadow falls across my face,
But I've grown used to that phenomenon
as I move in and out of shadow, in and out of sun.

All those poems say 'If ever I loved you' - but if?
Surely there's no question there, it's when,
when I loved you, and all the if is if
the box is sealed, if the string is tied and delivered elsewhere
or whether it sits close at hand, lid askew,
with all those painful longings showing through.

Your stories are distinctly yours, by which I refer not only to the lilt and flow of your writing, but also to the unexpected twist at their conclusions. Still, at various times when I read them, a passage will momentarily call to mind an author like Poe or Jacqueline Carey. Which of the countless ones whom you’ve read have influenced you most and why?

So many! I have always been a reader. Non genre people that have influenced me: John Barth, Willa Cather, Geoffrey Chaucer, Grace Paley, Gilbert Sorrentino. In the genre: Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Lord Dunsany, Robert Heinlein, Zenna Henderson, P.C. Hogdell, R.A. Lafferty, Ursula Le Guin, Joe Lansdale, Rachel Pollack, H.P. Lovecraft, Andre Norton, Cordwainer Smith, Theodore Sturgeon, Thomas Burnett Swann, and Jeff VanderMeer. To name a few.

Why? Because they are not afraid to experiment and at the same time not afraid to reflect life as it is. Because they love and respect language as much as they love this world and writing in it.

In June of this year, you visited Cuba and met Cuban science fiction author, Yoss. Will you tell us how this fortunate encounter came to be and elaborate a bit on both him and your time together?

I was lucky enough to be part of a family trip and when I knew I was going I asked around a little. The SF community is much smaller than one might think and a mutual friend introduced us via e-mail. Yoss and his wife came out to lunch with us and we had a great time talking about what the Cuban F&SF publishing scene was like. He plays with a band, so at one point he pulled out his harmonica to demonstrate and played a few bars, much to the astonishment of the tables around us. He was so much fun! I had prepared by reading his book Super Extra Grande; I’ve got another of his lined up on my Kindle now and hope to read more in Cuban F&SF in the future.

How long have you been playing/using Habitica and do you think you will continue to incorporate it into your day-to-day life?

I had made an account a while back but hadn’t really done much with it until after talking with two of the founders at the Nebula conference this year. I have found it very handy for dealing with my tendency to get distracted and it’s been helping me achieve my daily word count so I foresee continuing to use it.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I have a cat named Taco and like to roast my own coffee beans with a hot-air popcorn popper.

I see you’ve stepped up to the plate again to assume another year as SFWA’s president. Are you one of those individuals who find that added responsibility increases your productivity? How much does it impinge on your writing?

I find it eats up vast amounts of writing time if I let it, which was my main hesitation in agreeing to run for a second two-year term. By the time this term is over I will have spent five years total in SFWA office, and will be happy to let someone else steer the boat for a while.

SFWA has taken some nasty hits online over the years, yet you’re still actively involved. Without delving into the negative—I’ll leave the tawdry side of interviewing to others—what is it about the organization that keeps you so involved? Why do you recommend joining it to qualified authors?

SFWA keeps me involved because of the community of professional writers it represents. While it works hard to support, defend, inform and all of that, it also pulls a group together that is like none other in the world. Why do I recommend it? Because it has a tremendous amount of resources to offer and is well worth the membership fee. Beyond that, because they will make connections and friends there that cannot be made elsewhere.

Is there another Cat Rambo collection coming any time soon?

I’m currently looking at my backlog of science fiction and wondering the same thing myself. No matter what, there will be a mini-collection soon for my Patreon backers.

It is my habit to conclude my interviews with a Lightning Round because of the unexpected insights the answers sometimes provide. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

 My best friend would tell you… I’m a person with a killer smile.

The one thing I cannot do without is… books!

The one thing I would change about my life is… I would make it easier to visit my friends.

My biggest peeve is… mean people.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is… I’m pretty fond of most of the aspects of this nifty planet we find ourselves on.

 

Readers can purchase a copy of Neither Here Nor There on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Neither-Here-Nor-There-Rambo-ebook/dp/B01MQWD1GZ/

You can follow Cat via social media at any of the following:

http://www.kittywumpus.net

http://www.patreon.com/catrambo

http://www.twitter.com/@catrambo

https://www.instagram.com/specfic/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1014253.Cat_Rambo

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The Write Stuff – Monday, July 31 – Interview With Ian J Malone

Today’s science fiction issues from a raft of varied authors. Drawing from their personal histories, each crafts their unique contributions to the ever-evolving genre. This week’s guest is one of the talented and comes from a typically unusual background. (Please pardon me if that sounds oxymoronic.)

As a graduate of Florida State University, Ian J. Malone has written in a variety of arenas ranging from public health to news and sports. When it comes to his fictional work, however, he’s a firm believer that nothing shapes an author’s writing like experience. That’s why he credits his tenures in radio, law enforcement, and military contracting for much of his inspiration, plus the legion of family and friends who’ve stood with him along the way.

Beyond writing, Malone is an avid fan of audiobooks (he’s legally blind) and the outdoors. It’s also not uncommon to find him at a ballgame, a concert, or somewhere out by a grill. He is an active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and a resident of Durham, North Carolina, but he’ll always be—in his words—a “Florida boy” at heart.

Today, he is sharing details about At Circle’s End (The Mako Saga: Book 3), a space opera/science fiction adventure published in April of last year. He describes the story’s premise as follows:

In the months since his disappearance, Danny Tucker has retreated to the darkest corners of Alystierian space in search of intelligence on the empire’s new chancellor, Alec Masterson. Backed by a crew of outcasts and fighting from the shadows as the enigmatic Rogue centurion, Danny will stop at nothing to achieve his mission: absolute vengeance for Masterson’s now infamous “Return to Fear” demonstration. Still, try as he might, Danny can’t remain underground, and with sightings of the Rogue growing more frequent, Lee Summerston won’t rest until the lost Renegade is found. Meanwhile, in the core, Aura stands on the brink of annihilation as imperial forces, aided by an ancient enemy, draw ever closer to her shores. In the end, scores will be settled, and brothers will rise united… or they’ll all burn together.

At Circle’s End is the soaring climax to Ian J. Malone’s epic space-opera series, The Mako Saga, and a heartfelt sendoff to sci-fi’s most beloved band of bar buddies turned intergalactic heroes of war.

Please tell us more about it.

My last release was At Circle’s End, the final installment to my space opera trilogy, The Mako Saga. Naturally, you can’t have space opera without an epic interstellar conflict, so this was the book that wrapped all that up. It was also the final “ensemble book” for The Renegades, the plucky group of college-buddies-turned-intergalactic-war heroes who served as the series’ heart. Now the plan is to split them all off into standalone stories or perhaps even series of their own.

What was the inspiration behind the series?

I started Mako as more or less a stress outlet in 2009. Like a lot of folks back then, I was unemployed. That meant a lot of time spent writing resumes and cover letters, and eventually I hit a place where I needed something that could be mine. A creative vent, so to speak. I had this goofy story in mind about a bunch of bar buddies from college, now in their thirties and down on their luck, who play a video game for kicks then run off to outer space. So, I just started writing. Six months later I had a draft. Six months after that, I had a second draft. Fast-forward a few years—then drop in a marriage, parenthood, and three moves in between two states—and I was ready to share my pet project with the world.

The series was your entrée into writing. What was the biggest challenge you faced writing Mako and how did you overcome it?

Beyond the fact that I had absolutely no clue how to write a novel back then—most don’t in a debut—I’d probably say the biggest challenge facing me was the use of body language as story beats (“Lee pursed his lips, eyes twitching side-to-side,” etc.). The reason for this is because I’m legally blind and can’t see facial expressions. That meant a lot of reading and a lot of research.

Not at all typical of most authors’ research, but yes, absolutely essential when you’re writing for a sighted audience. What other novels have you written?

First came Mako, which sold remarkably well for an indie. That gave me the requisite funds for editing, cover design, formatting, etc., on the remaining two saga books (Red Sky Dawning and At Circle’s End). I’ve since written another novel not of this series, though I’m sure we’ll get to that shortly.

Heading in that direction, what else are you working on?

I’m extremely busy right now. For starters, I’ve got a short story coming out this fall in an anthology set in Chris Kennedy’s Four Horsemen universe (military sci-fi). Next, I’ve written another novel, tentatively titled Colonies Lost, which I’ve contracted with Red Adept Publishing to release in 2018. That’s created something of a delay in my schedule, giving me time to prep my first Mako spinoff novel, as well as a much-needed second edition of that original story. Mako 2.0 will drop later this year with an all-new cover. After that will come re-releases of Red Sky Dawning and At Circle’s End, followed by the spinoff novel then finally Colonies Lost. I’ve also got two more short stories planned for my email listers.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I find that I’m freshest in the morning, so I gear my schedule accordingly. I’m up by 4 a.m. to write, after which I head into work at my day job. I then use the evenings for an hour or so of admin time (social media, responding to emails, publishing logistics, etc.) after dinner is cooked and my kid’s in bed.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I started as an indie with Mako and stuck with that model for the rest of the series. I’ve since become a hybrid, publishing projects with Red Adept Publishing (Colonies Lost) and Seventh Seal Press (Four Horsemen short story). To me, the hybrid life is the right life in that it offers me the best of both worlds. I still get to control my own destiny with passion projects like The Mako Saga. However, I also get the exposure and notoriety that comes with being traditionally published through my work with small presses.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

I do now. I’ve gone the “pantsing” route with books before, and while I enjoy the ride, I learned later that outlining typically yields a better story (better pacing, better development, fewer plot holes, etc.). Outlining also helps me crank out a story in about half the time—a must for indies.

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

Finding the time to park my butt in a seat to do it. Writing a novel isn’t rocket science. It’s about making a conscious choice to begin a project then carving out the necessary time to see it through. As writers, this inevitably means we sacrifice things. For me, that’s television. Once upon a time, I was a total TV junkie. These days, not so much. Now I watch Florida State football (GO NOLES!), the occasional NASCAR race, and a handful of shows with my family. That’s it. When I’m not doing any of that, I’m reading (I shoot for a book a month, minimum).

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I do. I work in communications for a government agency here in Durham, North Carolina.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

Only that I’m married to the greatest woman God ever created. Seriously, I couldn’t do what I do without her. She’s the consummate teammate, and the proverbial engine of our family. I help where I can with cooking, cleaning, yard work, and so forth, but she’s the one who keeps our house on-schedule while I’m in the office writing.

What inspires you when writing?

Family and friends are obviously a big part of what I write. They’re often the backbone for a lot of my characters. I also draw a lot of inspiration from music. Case in point: the playlists I listen to when writing. In Colonies Lost, for instance, I was writing a protagonist from America’s Deep South. That meant gorging myself on artists like Charlie Daniels, Waylon Jennings, and Chris Stapleton. When writing action, on the other hand, I like things upbeat (The Chemical Brothers, Lacuna Coil, Van Helen). When writing romance, I may plug in Howie Day or Gladys Knight, whereas straight prose usually requires something more innocuous (instrumentals, movie scores, video game soundtracks). It really depends on my mood and what I’m trying to accomplish. However, there’s rarely a time when I’m writing that some sort of music isn’t playing in the background.

What else motivates you to write?

I’ve never been one to “write to market,” as they say. If I don’t love a story, I can’t bring myself to put in the kind of time and work it takes to finish one. That said, I’d be lying if I told you that money doesn’t play a part. I’m a grown man with a family, a mortgage, and a college education to save for. My wife and I base our budget on our fixed income (jobs), but it’s the proceeds from writing that help us pay off our house early and take vacations. If I wanted a hobby, I’d go fishing.

Ian, I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your day to share with us. Before I provide my site’s visitors with an excerpt from At Circle’s End and the social links afterwards that will guide interested visitors where to follow you and purchase your books, I’d like to conclude with a customary Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… Redneck nerd.

The one thing I cannot do without is: COFFEE!!!

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d be a millionaire.

My biggest peeve is: Beer snobs

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My family.

 

Without further ado, At Circle’s End:

A muffled funk sounded, and two red blots catapulted in high arcs over the wall into the fork’s left passage. A crash rocked the scene, smoke billowing skyward, and both runners scampered for what they thought was safety in the right corridor.

They were wrong.

Fire. The XL’s barrel went full white when both runners hit the clearing. The first reacted well, knifing right and scarcely averting a head-on collision with a boulder.

The second never stood a chance. Ice became fire, and the runner was gone.

“Hell yeah!”

Mr. Black yelped a red-lettered protest when fresh taps pelted his back.

“Oh, no you don’t.” Danny wheeled right and scrambled for a lock as the last runner broke for the chamber exit. Fire. The volley went wide. Fire. Wide again. Fire. Into a wall this time. “Damn it!”

The runner shot like a bullet through the stalactite-filled opening.

Danny vaulted atop the dune he’d used for cover, nearly tripping over his own feet in the process.

“Bridge integrity at the eighteen percent,” Mr. Black warned.

Wait, eighteen what? Danny’s attention snapped back to the ground when his crosshairs went red on the last runner. He straightened his arm. See ya.

“Jam!” Shotz screamed. “Turret’s jammed!”

Danny whirled to the open west and saw the Dart bearing down on his team. Shit. “Hold on, Garbage Team—I’m coming to you!”

Danny leapt off the dune and struck the ground with a thud, bones jarring in their sockets as he rolled through the snow. His agility was shot, and apparently, so were his pain meds, but the last thing Danny had was fifteen free seconds to stop, drop, and redose. He had to go, and now.

Danny pushed off with his hands and got to his feet then took off across the open ground as fast as Mr. Black’s legs would carry him. Faster. The armor shuddered but complied. Faster. It shuddered harder but with more speed. Faster!

“Bridge integrity at six percent.”

Danny’s joints were on fire, his limbs becoming weights, but he had to keep moving. Faster!

“Mr. Black, where are you?” It was Shotz again.

Faster!

“Bridge integrity at four percent.”

Faster!

A low moan reverberated through Mr. Black’s operator cocoon, and Danny suddenly felt as if he were sprinting through concrete. “Oh no, no, not now! I’m supposed to have at least eight more minutes!”

In his last gasp of strength, Danny threw up his right arm, sighted the Dart as best he could, and hoped like crazy for the best. XL, full spread. Fi—

Danny toppled under his own heft and face-planted into the snow, his view flickering dark save for a small battery icon. Activate.

No response.

Activate.

Nothing.

Come on, Mr. Black—get your ass up!

Still nothing.

Danny accessed his battery, which had barely enough power for an emergency redose, and used it to key his faceplate. It opened, and the cold that flooded in could’ve frozen the soul.

Danny gritted his teeth then dared a squint. His eyes opened wide when the Dart, now primed for the kill shot, descended on his team. “Doc, Shotz, get out of—”

The Dart’s starboard nacelle exploded as if struck by Zeus himself.

What the hell?

Shards of flaming debris flew from the smashed engine housing as the ship coughed and sputtered amid plumes of black smoke. Somehow, though, it managed to right itself, and once that happened, it wasted little time getting out of there.

“Who in the worlds is that?” Befuddlement was thick in Shotz’s voice.

Danny managed just enough strength to crane his head upward as the underbelly of a second ship flew overhead. Short and frumpy looking with a thick boxy frame and small, stubby wings, the freighter bore a striking resemblance to an oversized UPS truck. Or at least, that was how Danny had always described it in the past.

“Is that a…” Doc broke off. “A Newbern-class freighter?”

Danny held his response, eyes fixed on the sky, as a deluge of mixed emotion poured over him. “Yes, Mr. Blue. Yes it is.”

“Who in the worlds still flies one of those old beaters?” Shotz marveled. “And where’d they get the weapons package?”

Key juice release, ten percent. Danny waited while Mr. Black’s systems came back online. Then he climbed to his feet. “Not important right now, Mr. Red. Just get to the ravine, and prep to move out for Lynder. I’m right behind you.”

 

Visitors who would like to follow Ian online can do so here:

Web:               www.ianjmalone.net

Twitter:          @ianjmalone

Facebook:      @authorianjmalone

You may purchase his books at:

Amazon:        https://www.amazon.com/Ian-J.-Malone/e/B00BJ5QO50

Audible:         http://www.audible.com/search/ref=a_hp_tseft?advsearchKeywords=ian+j+malone&filterby=field-keywords&x=8&y=16

 

 

The Write Stuff – Monday, July 17 – Interview With Ryan English

Ryan English is an author of fantasy who was published just last month by WordFire Press. Although his debut novel, Obstacles, has been out for less than one month as of this writing, it has already earned seven five-star reviews on Amazon. When I asked him to describe himself as an author, he told me, “I write fantasy exclusively. I read The Hobbit when I was 7, and childhood exposure is often incurable. I’ve got a BA in English (useless) and an MA in Political Science (mostly useless), and I work in IT. I live in Brigham City, UT, and dream fondly of San Antonio, TX, where I lived while attending grad school.”

Ryan describes his novel this way:

Androkles, son of Paramonos, spent twenty-five years in the world’s greatest army trying to earn enough money to buy back his good name. He’s battle-scarred, weary, and heartbroken after decades of watching dear friends die, but he survived. He’s ready to retire and be welcomed as a hero, finally able to see the reward he sacrificed so much to achieve.

There’s only one problem: his wife just fled civilization with all his hard-won savings. Now he must pursue her north, through desperate bandits, ravening beasts, and worse. But after he rescues a pair of orphans from starvation, he is faced with his most difficult challenge yet: a question that goes to the very heart of honor. The consequences might be deeper than he realizes, and it’s not just his life on the line…

Will you please tell us something more about the book?

Obstacles is a fantasy novel of just under 300 pages. It stands alone as a single book, but was intended to introduce a series. It features Androkles, a Greek-inspired soldier, wandering into a Basque-inspired region of pre-Christian Europe. I draw heavily on themes of honor and family, and although my hero is 40, it’s an “adolescent travel fiction” novel in a lot of ways. It’s about a man trying to go somewhere, and all the things that get in his way.

This is not your typical fantasy plot line. Who or what was the inspiration behind it?

I’ve had a hobbyist fascination with ancient Greece for a while now, and when I start the novel I decided 340 BC was a more interesting setting to me than medieval Europe. Instead of just making a generic Greek thing, however, I took some liberties with the setting and added some ideas I stole from Japan, like people with cat ears and the fairy Puck from the manga Berserk. It’s got a sort of stone soup thing going on, if you know what I mean.

One thing I was really interested in while I wrote it was exploring alternate systems of morality. How do you take someone seeped in the old heroic ethic of Homer, and make him relatable and interesting to a modern audience? What would some of those ideas really have looked like in practice? One of the big conflicts of the novel is between “what you know in your head you should do” and “what you know in your heart you really want”. Homer didn’t think the heart was the source of personal truth. Rather, emotion can lead a person to act wrongly against his better judgment. Morality in ancient Greece was largely trying to find the right balance between one’s obligations to family, society, and the gods.

What was the biggest challenge you faced writing Obstacles and how did you overcome it?

My challenges were largely related to the fact that it was my first novel and I barely knew what I was doing. Although the final edit reads like I did it all on purpose, smoothly and deliberately, I had a lot to learn about writing emotion into a scene, and describing things adequately. It took a lot of editing to make sure that the characters all came through how I wanted, and to make sure that there’s enough tension there to keep readers flipping pages in between the “exciting” parts. On, I think, my first serious edit, I went through with the intention of cutting all the unnecessary or uninteresting bits, and ended up added 10,000 words to the length. Each successive edit grew the novel a bit more, as I’d keep finding places where I wasn’t happy with how the characters were coming through and have to add a sentence or two.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

When I wrote it, I had just been laid off after having an IT contract end early, and I spent most of the day in front of the computer. I’d write for as long as I could, play some video games, and come back to it an hour or so later. Nowadays, I try to do my writing in a big chunk of time instead of bits here and there throughout the week, because it takes me a while to warm up. I’m like a diesel engine in that way, I suppose.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I’ve been in a writer’s group with a good friend named John D. Payne for years, and after I wrote the book he convinced me to come to the Superstars Writing Seminar. I can’t recommend it highly enough, because it’s a business seminar, not a craft one. You learn about contracts, agents, marketing, and all that. But anyway, he not only made me attend, but he made me pitch it to the acquisitions editor for Wordfire. I wasn’t that confident about it at the time, but he was persistent. It’s safe to say that the person most responsible for the book’s existence is John D. Payne. Other than me who wrote it, I suppose.

Why do you write?

I have a pretty active imagination. I’ll get lost in some vivid daydream world and be deeply moved by the imaginary things that happen there. I then try to recreate some small aspect of that through writing, and never pull it off.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

In my writer’s group, we focus on the craft of writing from an almost academic viewpoint. The question is never ‘what kind of story should I tell’, it’s ‘how do I most effectively tell my story’. I’ve learned that ideas are cheap and no one cares about your crappy plot. You have to make them care with good writing, from the sentence level to the structure of the whole novel. Honing this skill is a lifelong commitment. Approaching it with that view has made helped me become a much more effective writer than focusing on having the coolest ideas.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I’m not married, but it’s been fun watching my little niblings (that’s a word, go look it up) learn how to have a body and interact with the world and society. Having them around makes me deeply aware of the web of life, by which I mean how we place and understand ourselves in relation to others, and their effect on us. This is one reason why, I think, children figure so prominently in the novel. It’s simply alien to me to imagine a world in which they aren’t around, or in which they don’t act like children. I feel this is one shortcoming of modern fantasy—seldom does a book present what I think of as an integrated person. We’re still doing the adolescent travel fiction thing. We have lots of books about noble, heroic young men running around doing exciting things, but we neglect the deepest and most important motivation in a man’s life: his family.

What has been your greatest success in life?

Either writing this book, or getting my MA in Political Science. Those may not be much, but they’re mine.

What do you consider your biggest failure?

Making it to age 35 without getting married.

Considering how half of all marriages end up, that’s not much as far as failures go. Moving on, do you have any pet projects?

I’ve got a long list of stuff I’d like to do, and some of it I’ve even tried. I play several different weird flutes, for example, and I’m going to start learning Greek one of these days. I’ve always got something going, and usually it doesn’t go anywhere. I sometimes wonder if I’m more interested in learning about doing a thing than actually doing the thing. Once I learn how you learn to do a thing, then I don’t really have to master it anymore.

Thanks, Ryan, for taking time out of your day to share with us. Before I present our readers with an excerpt from Obstacles, I’d like to indulge in a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a… somewhat tolerable houseguest.

The one thing I cannot do without is: an argument

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d get married

My biggest peeve is: slow drivers in the fast lane

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: I’m never quite satisfied. There’s always more to learn.

Obstacles excerpt:

Looking over toward the fire, Androkles noticed that the kits surreptitiously watched the proceedings. The talking must have woken them again, after only a few minutes of rest. How would they feel, to be listening to this? Not that he cared much, he reminded himself.

“You said what I look like to you, so let me tell you what you look like to me. I thought it was a bit strange you dress like a guard, but that was fine. You had a good explanation. But it was strange that you took so long to find things in your cart, like it was the first time you inspected it. I bet you haven’t found the silver yet, have you? You don’t know where it is,” said Androkles, loud enough for the boys to hear, “because you are bandits and you stole the cart.” Then he gave Theodoric his best intimidating stare, which was a pretty good one. They had no reply.

Androkles stood with a wince as he straightened his back and legs. Even though he stood quite a bit taller than any of them except Tulga, to their credit they didn’t flinch. “You have to be kidding me,” he said to the sky. “I’ve got things to do. First the kits, and now this. The gods are bastards. You know that, Theodoric? The gods are bastards.”

Androkles made a show of stretching his arms and legs, flexing. Then he declared, loud enough to make sure they all heard every word, “I’m not going to sell you the boys because you stole that cart and probably killed the merchant who owned it. It’s my duty as a just man to kill you all, actually, so here’s my deal: You’re going to give me whatever supplies I want for free and leave me and the kits here. You won’t tell anyone about us. You’ll say nothing about slaves or runaways or anything of the sort. In return, I won’t kill you and hang your corpses for a warning. Sound like a deal?”

Someone snorted behind Androkles. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the three guards stood with maces ready, several paces away.

Theodoric said, “We seem to be at an impasse. I have no doubt we can kill you—no doubt at all—but there’s a chance you’ll take one of us with you. Is the money you’re going to get from those kits worth dying over?”

Androkles said, “I’m not giving anything to thieving trash like you. And they’re not even really for sale. I’m either going to find their parents, or some other good home, and not give them to slavers or rogues.” He surprised himself a bit with that, but as soon as he said it, he knew it was right. He was obligated now, and that was that. The kits were staring right at him, their intense golden eyes bright in the morning light. He sighed in mild frustration that he didn’t truly feel.

“We’re not as bad as you think, southerner. We might be bandits for now, but it’s not like …” said Pansy, but she was interrupted by Androkles.

“You’re every bit as bad. Tell me, did you stab your master in his sleep, or was he awake for it? I’m curious.”

Theodoric readied his mace and shield and said, “This is getting absurd. Let’s just kill him like we should have in the first place.”

Those of you who would like to take the plunge and dive into this story should click on:

https://www.amazon.com/Obstacles-Acts-Androkles-Book-1-ebook/dp/B072JX2PTK/

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The Write Stuff – Monday, July 3 – Interview With Dan Wells

I had the pleasure of meeting this week’s guest at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, Washington in March of this year, where we and our books were hosted by Bard’s Tower, along with those of a number of science fiction, horror and fantasy authors. I found him to be a genial man, gracious and good-natured, as the following exchange will demonstrate.

New York Times bestselling author Dan Wells is best known for his horror series I Am Not A Serial Killer, of which the first book is now an award-winning movie through IFC Midnight. His other novels include The Hollow City, a supernatural thriller about schizophrenia, Extreme Makeover, in which a beauty company destroys the world, and two young adult science fiction series: the post-apocalypse Partials and the cyberpunk Mirador. He has written for television, on the upcoming science fiction series Extinct, and wrote and produced the historical horror comedy, A Night Of Blacker Darkness. He cohosts the Hugo-winning podcast for aspiring writers called Writing Excuses, which has expanded to include its own writing conference. He also writes short fiction and game fiction, and edited the anthology, “Altered Perceptions,” to help raise funds for and raise awareness of mental illness. Dan lives in northern Utah with his wife, 6 children, and more than 400 board games.

Today we are focusing on Nothing Left to Lose, the concluding volume of the I Am Not A Serial Killer series in which New York Times bestselling author Dan Wells continues his acclaimed John Wayne Cleaver series, popular with fans of Dexter. Here is a hint of what this book is about:

Hi. My name is John Cleaver, and I hunt monsters. I used to do it alone, and then for a while I did it with a team of government specialists, and then the monsters found us and killed almost everyone, and now I hunt them alone again.

This is my story.

In this thrilling installment in the John Wayne Cleaver series, Dan Wells brings his beloved antihero into a final confrontation with the Withered in a conclusion that is both completely compelling and completely unexpected.

When I first climbed into Nothing Left to Lose, the sixth book in the series, as a first time reader, I must admit I was more than a little concerned that I’d either feel lost, or else I’d spend much of the book being bogged down with back story. Neither was true. Why do you suppose this is?

This is great to hear, so thank you. Book 5 is much more steeped in backstory, ironically, than 6 is, because I structured the series in such a way that 5 builds toward a major revelation, and then 6 establishes a new status quo. That makes it easier to jump in and understand, because the characters are learning it all along with us. The other thing I always like to do in my books is trust the reader to be smart. Genre fiction readers, in my experience, are very good at picking up contexual background clues in a way that non-SF and non-fantasy readers are not; we’ve been trained, in a way, to catch the little hints, here and there, that help us to understand worlds that are vastly different from our own. This makes not only worldbuilding but backstory pretty easy to download.

 Some of your reviewers label John Wayne Cleaver, your series’ protagonist, a sociopath, as does he. I feel he’s a sane man doing what he must to cope with an insane reality. What is your sense of him and will you elaborate?

In book 6 you’re seeing John Cleaver at the end of a 6 book journey specifically focused on helping to manage his emotions. The John Cleaver we see in books 1 and 2, for example, is far more broken and sociopathic than he eventually becomes. It’s also important to remember, as pointed out in book 1, that psychiatrists can’t officially diagnose most forms of psychopathy in children, because the brain is still developing, and what looks like psychopathy may well turn out to be something else. John’s only official diagnosis in the series is Conduct Disorder, which is a placeholder that can eventually be refined into sociopathy, autism, or any number of behavioral conditions. It was exciting for me, as an author and an armchair psychiatrist, to watch John grow and change over the course of six books.

 What kind of research have you done into embalming, mortuaries and all things funereal?

I’ve done a ton of research, though admittedly most of it is second-hand. I’ve tried several times over the course of the series to interview morticians and embalmers, and for whatever reason I’ve never gotten one to talk to me: maybe I’m asking wrong, or maybe it’s an inherently suspicious request, or maybe it’s just a closed industry (at least in my neck of the woods). Even without any in-person interviews, though, I’ve been able to learn a ton about how the business and science of the death industry functions, and it’s fascinating. I hope I’ve been able to present it well.

When this series began, you projected it to be a trilogy. At what point did you realize it had to be something more?

I finished the first trilogy years ago and was very satisfied with the conclusion it had reached; there was obviously room to expand, but it didn’t NEED to expand. Then I moved to Germany, and something about that massive change of lifestyle and environment got me thinking: I was still me, but I was me in a new place, and that meant that I was living new stories and learning new things, and as obvious as that sounds it really flicked a switch in my brain that hadn’t been flicked before. I started thinking about John Cleaver, and who he’d become, and who he might eventually become, and suddenly I knew that I had only told half of his story, and I knew exactly what the second half needed to be. It’s because of this, in part, that the second trilogy includes a shift to a string of new locations, because that’s what inspired it in the first place.

 While you attempt to make the conclusion of Nothing Left to Lose feel complete, there are enough threads remaining that you could revive it. Do you presently have any thought of turning it from a sextet into an ennead?

Absolutely not. John has reached, by design, a place in his life, both internal and external, that might be compelling but would not be at home in this series. I love John, and I’d love to write more short stories about some of the travels the books only hint at, but I have no plans to carry him forward with more novels.

 These days, you spend a great deal of time on the road attending conferences and book launch events. How do you maintain any semblance of a writing schedule?

Boy, I don’t know. The travel schedule is necessary, and I enjoy so that helps, but mostly I’m just shooting from the hip and picking up writing hours where I can get them. The good news is that I’ve gotten pretty good at cranking out words when the time makes itself available, so I manage to maintain a pace of two books a year. I’d like to push that to three, but we’ll see how it goes.

 Having asked that, in your mind, what would your ideal schedule look like?

Me, in my pajamas, writing and writing and never needing to leave house or talk to anyone. The travel and cons are fun, but what really gets me is all the business and promotional stuff—if I could just hire someone to do all of that for me, I’d be in heaven.

 Are you a plotter or pantser?

Both, as I believe most writers are. In my case, that hybridization manifests itself in long, detailed, exhaustive outlines that I don’t necessarily ever follow. It’s a weird system but it works for me.

 How detailed are your outlines?

I do my outlines in spreadsheets, with the rows being either chapters or scenes, and the columns being characters or plotlines. Sometimes I even color-code them. When I say that my outlines are detailed and exhaustive, I’m not kidding. The final form of an outline will be a scene-by-scene description, usually a paragraph each, that says: “This is what happens, and this is why and how, and these are the key bits of info that have to come out in this scene.” And then I wake up each morning, read the little paragraph, and then write whatever I want regardless.

Hah! That’s hysterical.

On April 28, on your Facebook page, you wrote: 3643 words today. I THINK I managed to make “sitting at a table decrypting a message” exciting, but we’ll see. Can you give us at least a hint of what this little teaser portends?

I never want to be complacent as a writer, so I always try to push myself into new styles and areas. Last year that meant I tried to write a Western, which was an unmitigated disaster, and this year it means I’m writing a historical thriller about cryptographers in 1961 Berlin—not fantasy, no science fiction, just a straight Cold War spy novel. It’s actually working really well, and I hope to have it finished in the next few weeks.

 Aside from the fantastic turn of events that made I Am Not A Serial Killer into a movie—something every author dreams of—how satisfied are you with the final product?

I love the movie—I think they did a great job with it, including some jaw-dropping performances. I’ve watched it close to 20 times now, and it thrills me every time. And I recognize that it’s spoiled me for all future movies: my very first movie A) actually happened, B) was good, and C) I got to be involved with it, and what are the odds that will ever happen again? So I’m very lucky, and very happy.

No author I’ve spoken to, who’s in your situation, was ever allowed any input. Many have hated the resulting screenplay. So, yes, you’re extremely fortunate. By the way, I’ve just started watching the movie and have reached the ice fishing scene. All I can say is WOW!

I have to ask about your hat: the Stetson-type one you wear at book signings. Where did it come from? How did that begin?

I bought my first hat in high school, from the Indiana Jones store in Disneyland, mostly just because I grew up with Indy and had always wanted one. I’ve worn them off and on ever since, and have started a collection of other kinds of hats, and I would love it if hats came back as a standard aspect of men’s fashion. At one of my very first book signings ever, at Vroman’s in Pasadena, I happened to have the hat on because it was sunny that day, and someone asked if they could get a photo, and I said yes and started to take the hat back off and they said, “No, with the hat on.” And I realized that the hat had basically become a part of my authorial uniform. So now I have the one hat I use for author appearances—a brown, wide-brim fedora—and other hats that I wear in other situations, to make sure the author hat stays nice.

 I enjoy hats as well, although I prefer a Panama.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

I have six children, and for some reason we just dialed up the chaos by buying a dog: a 4-year-old boxer named Cherry. It’s a hectic home life, but I love it, and everything I do is for them.

 What motivates or inspires you?

I hinted at this earlier, but I’m an explorer. I try new things. I love to visit new places, eat new food, and purposefully put myself into unfamiliar situations. Sometimes that means moving my whole family to Germany, and sometimes that means writing a historical fiction novel just because I’ve never done it before and want to see what it’s like. For me, trying new things is a key part of how I work and how I live. It’s why we’re here, in a lot of ways, if that makes any sense. And I’m very fortunate to have a wife who feels the same way, so our life is always an adventure.

Thank you, Dan. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am that you chose to share your thoughts with us. Before I provide our visitors with Chapter One of your book, I’d like to provide social links where they can follow you, as well as links where they can purchase your work:

 Website:         www.thedanwells.com

Blog:               http://www.fearfulsymmetry.net/

Twitter:         @thedanwells

Tumblr:         @thedanwells

Instagram:    @authordanwells

Amazon:        https://www.amazon.com/Nothing-Left-Lose-Novel-Cleaver/dp/0765380714/

and

                        https://www.amazon.com/Dan-Wells/e/B002S2VIBS/

 

 

Chapter 1

 There are only so many ways to get a good look at a dead body.

You can always just make your own, of course, which is what most people do. It’s quick, it’s cheap, and you can do it with things you have laying around your own home: a hammer, a kitchen knife, a relative who won’t shut up, and bam. Your very own corpse. As DIY projects go, murder is easier and more common than painting your living room, though—to be fair—significantly harder to hide. And it has other downsides as well: first, it’s murder. So there’s that. Second, and more pertinent to my own situation, it’s only really helpful if the dead body you want to see is one you have ready access to while it’s still alive. With the really good bodies, this is rarely the case. Let’s say you want to examine a specific corpse, like, oh, I don’t know, an old lady who died of mysterious causes in a small town in Arizona. Just to pull an example out of the air. Then it gets much harder.

If you need to look at a specific body, it helps to be an actual cop or, better yet, an agent of the FBI. You could mock up some quick excuse as to why this particular dead body was a key part of your investigation, go in, flash a badge, done. It might even be true, which would be a nice side benefit but isn’t really necessary. If you weren’t actually in law enforcement but you knew enough about it, you could waltz in with a fake badge and try to accomplish the same thing. But if you were also, for example, eighteen years old, convincing the local law enforcement to believe you would be easier said than done. The same goes for a teenager pretending to be a coroner, pretending to be a forensic examiner, and pretending to be a reporter. I’ve used the “I’m researching something for the school paper” line a couple of times, and it works well enough, but only when the something you’re researching isn’t a decaying human being.

That leaves three main options: first, if you can get there quick enough, you can try to trick the coroner into believing that you’re the new driver for the local mortuary, assigned to pick up the body and deliver it to the embalmer. You’d need some fake paperwork but, honestly, not as much as you might think. And since “driver” is an entry-level position, your age isn’t going to matter. And if you grew up in a mortuary and assisted in the family business since you were ten and knew the whole industry backward and forward—again, just to pull an example out of the air—you could do it pretty easily. But only if you got there in time.

Let’s say you didn’t, because you were two states away and travel solely by hitchhiking (or, honestly, whatever reason—you just can’t get there in time, is the important part). In that case, you move on to the second option, which requires more or less the same skills: break in to the mortuary after hours and show yourself around. I say “more or less the same skills” because you never know how good the mortuary’s security system is going to be, and you’re a teenage mortician, not a cat burglar. In a small town, or even a biggish city, if the funeral home is old enough, you might be able to make it work because they don’t always have the funds to update their equipment. It’s kind of an industry problem.

But let’s say they did update their equipment—no cameras, but an alarm with a motion sensor—and that you definitely don’t want to get caught breaking into a funeral home. I mean, I guess nobody would want to get caught breaking into anything, but let’s say for this example that you really, really don’t want it. Let’s even go so far as to say that the law enforcement agencies we mentioned earlier, which our totally hypothetical teenage mortuary expert was briefly tempted to impersonate, are, in fact, actively searching for him. So anything illegal is out of the question. That leaves us with only one option: we have to wait until the mortuary opens its doors, pulls the corpse out of the back room, and invites anyone who wants to see it to just come in and look at it. Which is never going to happen, right?

Wrong. It’s called a viewing, and it happens every day. They don’t let you really get in there and poke around, but it’s better than nothing. And Kathy Schrenk, a little old lady who died under mysterious circumstances in the Arizona town of Lewisville, had a viewing today. And a teenage mortician with an FBI background stood outside hoping his suit didn’t look too filthy.

Hi. My name is John Cleaver, and my life sounds kind of weird when I describe it like this.

I’ll describe it another way, but it’s not going to sound any more normal: I hunt monsters. I used to do it alone, and then for a while I did it with a team of government specialists, and then the monsters found us and killed almost everyone, and now I hunt them alone again. The monsters are called Withered, or sometimes Cursed, or sometimes Blessed if you catch one in a good mood, but that’s pretty rare these days. They’re old, and tired, and clinging to life more out of stubbornness than anything else. They used to be human, but they gave up some intrinsic part of themselves—their memory, or their emotions, or their identity; it’s different for each of them—and now they aren’t human anymore. One of them told me that they were more than human, and less, all at the same time. They’ve spent ten thousand years with incredible powers, ruling the world as kings and gods, but now they just grit their teeth and survive.

The mysterious nature of Kathy Schrenk’s death is classic tabloid news: she drowned far away from water, her body soaked while everything around her was dry as a bone. Weird, but not automatically supernatural; Miss Marple could probably knock this one out on her lunch break. Nine times out of ten—nine thousand times out of nine thousand and one—it’s just a plain old human—jealous, or angry, or greedy, or bored. We’re horrible people, when it comes right down to it. Hardly worth saving at all.

But what else am I going to do? Stop?

I stared at the mortuary a little longer: Ottessen Brothers Funeral Home. I picked a piece of lint off my sleeve. Smoothed my hair. Picked another piece of lint. It was now or never.

This is what I’d been doing for months now, ever since the team had died and I’d sent Brooke home and I’d gone out on my own, hunting the Withered with no backup and no guide s and no intel. I looked for anomalies, and I followed them up. Most of them didn’t pan out, and I simply moved on.

I went inside.

My hypothetical situation from earlier, about growing up in a mortuary, wasn’t hypothetical. You probably guessed that. My parents were both morticians, and we lived in a little apartment upstairs from the chapel. I started helping with funerals when I was ten, and with the actual embalming a few years later. Stepping into Ottessen Brothers was like stepping into my past. The tastefully understated decorations, at least a decade behind the times; the little half-moon table with a signing book and a faux-fancy pen. The unsettled mix of sophistication and generic religion, and a drinking fountain by the wall. I touched the wallpaper—elegant but rugged, designed to withstand bustling crowds and untrained pallbearers—and thought about my home. I hadn’t seen it in almost three years, though I’d glimpsed it now and then on the news. My sister and my aunt ran the mortuary now, but who knew how long that was going to last. They couldn’t run it on their own. My father wouldn’t help, and my mother . . . well, she wasn’t around to help either, was she?

Her corpse had been so damaged that I couldn’t embalm her. It was the one thing we’d shared, and even that was taken away.

The crowd in the Schrenk viewing was sparse, mostly other old ladies not long from a viewing of their own. A handful of old men. Someone had placed a table by the door with an arrangement of photos and memorabilia, and while there were plenty of group shots, Schrenk was all alone in the portraits. Never married, never had kids. Some photos included what looked like her twin sister. One of the photos showed Schrenk standing in front of the mortuary itself, her arm around a thick-waisted woman somewhere in her fifties. An odd place for a photo—maybe another friend’s funeral? But no, neither of them wore go-to-a-funeral kind of clothes. Employees, then? The rest of the table was covered with various little yarn hats and scarves, so I assumed Schrenk was a knitter.

I moved past the table and into the viewing room itself: the coffin on the far wall, flanked by flags, with various chairs and sofas scattered around the edges of the room, most of them full of old women having hushed conversations. One corner held a refreshments table with an assortment of crumbly cookies.

“I think she looks terrible,” said an old lady by the food, ’whispering’ to a small cluster of concerned women. I couldn’t tell if she was pretending to whisper but wanted to be heard, or if she legitimately didn’t know how to regulate her own volume. “I’ve never seen a body look less lifelike in my life.”

I walked slowly past them toward the coffin, trying to look like I belonged.

“Hello,” said a man, stepping forward and offering his hand. I shook it. “Are you a friend of Kathy’s?” He looked about sixty, maybe sixty-five.

“Acquaintance,” I said quickly, spooling out my prepackaged lie. “She was friends with my grandmother, but she couldn’t make it today so she wanted me to pay our respects.”

“Wonderful!” he said. “What was your grandmother’s name?”

“Julia.” I didn’t know any Julias, but it was as good a name as any.

“I think I heard Kathy mention her,” said the man, though I couldn’t tell if I’d stumbled onto an accidentally accurate name or if he was just being polite. “And what was your name, young man?”

“Robert,” I said, hoping it was generic enough that he would forget it if anyone asked. I tried to never use the same name twice, thanks to the whole FBI thing. I looked at him a moment: a well-worn suit, too high on the ankles; a plain white shirt already fraying at the creases in the cuffs and collar. This was a man who wore these clothes a lot, and I made an educated guess: “Do you work for the mortuary?”

“I do,” he said, and offered his hand again. “Harold Ottessen, I’m the driver.”

“The driver?” There goes my bit about drivers being young. “I assume your brother is the mortician, then?”

“He was,” said Harold. “But I’m afraid he passed away about twenty years ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“These things happen,” he said. “We’d know, in our family. Margo runs things now; she’s around here somewhere.”

I nodded, already bored of the small talk. “It was very nice to meet you, Harold. I’m going to pay my respects.”

He nodded and offered his hand to shake a third time, but before I could extricate myself, another old lady walked up with a stern look.

“It’s completely disgraceful,” she said. “Can’t you do anything about it?”

“I’ve told you,” said Harold, “this is just how they look sometimes.”

“But it’s your job,” said the woman. “Why are we even here if you can’t do your job?”

I was desperate to see the body by now, wondering what kind of horror everyone was complaining about, so I left Harold to fend for himself and walked to the coffin. There was another woman standing beside it, though she was much younger—barely older than me, maybe nineteen or twenty, and dark-skinned. Mexican, maybe? She screwed her face into an unhappy scowl but hid it when she saw me out of the corner of her eye.

The body was, after all the anxious hype, pretty normal. Kathy had been thin in her photos and looked thin now, with curly gray hair and a pale, gaunt face. I’d been expecting some visible injuries, something I could tie directly to a Withered attack—maybe a giant bite taken out of her face. Or, failing that, some kind of problem with the embalming itself, like maybe they’d set the features poorly and now she had sunken eyelids or hollow cheeks or something. Something to justify the mortified attitude from all of her friends. What I saw was far simpler, and so surprising I said it out loud.

“They did her makeup wrong.”

“Excuse me?” asked the girl next to me.

“Sorry,” I said. “It just took me by surprise, is all.”

“You’re a dick.” she said.

“Excuse me?”

She smirked. “It just took me by surprise, is all. Isn’t that what we’re doing, narrating our lives out loud? Let me keep going: We’re standing by my dead friend. Some random douchebag is mocking her makeup, of all things.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I’ll shut up now.”

“Oh good, we’re still doing it. I’ll stop talking, too, and then I’ll stand here waiting for you to leave.”

This was going great. “Just . . . give me a minute.” I tried to ignore the young woman and looked at the body again. Part of a mortician’s job—arguably half of it, after the actual embalming—was to make the dead person’s body look as close as possible to what it looked like when they were alive. Poor Ms. Schrenk looked wrong, in ways a person off the street probably couldn’t put a finger on but which all worked together to make her seem off. Profoundly corpselike, instead of resting in peace. It was disconcerting, but a trained eye could see that they’d actually only missed a couple of key things.

First of all, the foundation looked good. Dead bodies don’t have blood in their skin, so they look much lighter than they did in life, but the mortuary’s makeup artist had used a dark foundation under a lighter one to add some color back into her face. The other major problem was the eyes, which tended to have dark circles around them, like black-eye bruises. But the makeup artist had hidden those as well. And that was hard to do right, which is why it was so confusing that whoever had done Kathy Schrenk’s makeup had missed a much simpler detail: shading. We’re so used to seeing people vertical, that when we see them lying flat, especially in the weird light of a viewing room, their facial features look all wrong. They don’t have the right shading, in subtle places like the nostrils and the lips. A trained mortuary makeup artist should have caught that, but nobody had.

The woman next to me spoke again. “Are you from Cottwell’s?”

“Cottwell’s?”

“Yes, genius, Cottwell’s. ‘Lewisville’s oldest funeral home,’ or whatever garbage tagline they’re using these days. You’re not a spy or anything?”

“I’m not from Lewisville,” I said. “But I am from a mortuary, kind of. I apologize again for being rude about your friend.” I paused then, thinking for a moment. Why would she be so bothered by Cottwell’s, or think they were sending a spy? I could only think of one reason. “Do you work here, at this mortuary?”

She narrowed her eyes. “How do you know that if you’re not a spy?”

“Why would one mortuary spy on another one?”

“I don’t know, what did they tell you when they hired you?”

“They didn’t. . . . Look, I’m sorry I was rude, okay? I insulted your friend who passed away, and I also apparently insulted your friend who works as the makeup artist—oh crap.”

She flashed a smug smile, watching the realization hit me. “Yup.”

“It’s you, isn’t it? You’re the makeup artist.”

“Fill-in makeup artist,” she said. “Normally I’m just an embalmer. It’s kind of funny to watch how slowly you figure all this out.”

“I bet it is,” I said. I needed more information and this woman was my only lead so far, so antagonistic or not, I tried to draw out the conversation. “So, who’s the permanent makeup artist?”

“Don’t worry, you’ll get this one too.”

I closed my eyes as yet another piece of the puzzle fell into place. “It’s Kathy Schrenk.”

“Amazing.”

“That’s why a twenty-year-old is friends with an old lady,” I said. “You’re coworkers. And that’s why the makeup is wrong, because the only person who knows how to do it is dead, and none of you wanted to ask the Cottwell’s makeup person for help.”

“Does that make us sound petty?” she asked. “Because I want to make sure we sound petty.”

“I’m not a spy from a rival mortuary,” I said, “as thrilling as that BBC miniseries would be.” I looked around the room quickly—no one was looking at the body but us. “But I am a mortician, and I can help you fix this.” I looked at the young woman again. She had bronze skin—not super dark, but dark enough. “Do you have some makeup handy?”

She raised her eyebrow. “You want to mess with her makeup right here?”

“It’ll take me sixty seconds at the most,” I said. “Close your eyes.”

“Hell no.”

“I’m not going to hurt anything,” I said. “The problem is the shading—like here, and here. You did a pretty good job on her, but the shading thing is unique to dead bodies, which is why you didn’t think to do it. It’s super simple, but I need some dark brown makeup, and I’m guessing that your eye shadow will be perfect. May I please look at it?”

She stared at me, probably trying to decide if I was crazy, then sighed and closed her eyes lightly, so the eyelid rested over the eyeball without wrinkling. I studied it a moment, then looked back at the dead body.

“Yeah, that should be perfect,” I said. “Do you have it on you? I can fix this in sixty seconds, tops.”

She dug in her purse and pulled out a small makeup compact, but when I reached for it she pulled it back slightly, tightening her grip. She glanced around the room, seeing Harold still locked in conversation with a crowd of displeased future customers. The girl sighed and looked back at me. “Sixty seconds?”

“At the most.”

“And I get to stab you if you screw it up?”

“With the pointy implement of your choice,” I said. She hesitated another moment, and then surrendered the eye shadow. I opened it up. The color looked good. I picked up the sponge, brushed it over the makeup, then dabbed a little on my arm to gauge how easily it transferred from brush to skin. I didn’t want to smear a huge blob on the dead woman’s face. It went onto my arm fairly smoothly, so I started dabbing small, subtle lines on the body’s face—lightly at first, then more confidently as the old muscle memory took over. The crevices around the nostrils; the philtrum above the upper lip; the line below the lower lip; a dot or two on the chin. I paused partway through, breathing deeply, savoring the unexpected intensity of my emotions as I worked—it was shocking, almost embarrassing, how right it felt to be working on a dead body again. This is who I’d been for years, and who I’d always hoped to be for the rest of my life. A mortician. I felt a reverence for death, and for the caretakers who guided the bodies of the dead into their final repose, so to be here again, in this place, touching this body, was . . .

I realized that a tear had tracked down my face and I wiped it quickly, hoping the girl hadn’t seen it. I looked at the body one last time, moving my head to see it from different angles, and dabbed one last bit of makeup on the chin. I clapped the box closed and handed it back to the girl. But before she could take it, Kathy Schrenk’s twin sister inserted herself between us, leveling her finger at the body in a sign of accusation and said:

“See! Look how . . . oh.”

“Let me see,” said another woman, her voice stronger than the others and I turned to see a whole group walking up behind me: Harold a gaggle of old, frail women; and the large woman I’d seen earlier in Kathy’s photo. Margo, I assumed. The funeral director. She stepped forward, looked at the body, then looked back at the women.

“She looks fine to me.”

“Are you blind?” asked one of the old ladies. “She looks like you dredged her out of a river.”

Margo stepped aside, allowing more of the old women to approach, and one by one their eyes softened as they looked at their friend.

“She looks wonderful,” said one.

“So peaceful,” said another.

“It must have been our eyes,” said the sister. “Or the light.” She looked at Margo and smiled. “We’re so sorry to have bothered you. I think maybe one of these lights was malfunctioning before, but she looks wonderful now.”

“Thank you,” said Margo. “And thank you for coming.”

As the women crowded around the casket, Harold looked up, confused, and Margo pulled the Mexican girl aside. “That’s not what she looked like when we wheeled her out of the back,” Margo whispered. “What’d you do?”

“Calculated risk,” said the girl, and pointed at me. “If I can’t trust some rando off the street, who can I trust?”

Margo glanced at me, sizing me up, then looked back at the girl and raised her eyebrows. “You let someone touch a body? Without consulting me?”

“It worked,” said the girl. “You saw what a good job he did.”

Margo sighed, then looked at me again, raising her chin in a way that made her look abruptly open and professional. “Thank you very much for your help.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m Margo Bennett.”

“Robert,” I said, and shook her hand.

“Where’d you train?”

“Family mortuary,” I said. “No formal training.”

“You do good work,” she said, and turned back to the girl. “Next time, ask me first.”

“I will.”

Margo nodded and left, and the girl looked at me again. “Well then. I guess I don’t get to stab you.”

“It’s not as fun as people expect,” I said, handing back her compact. I wasn’t much for small talk, or really any talk for that matter, but I still needed information, and this was probably my best chance to get it. “What did you say your name was?”

“Jasmyn,” she said. “With a Y.”

“Nice to meet you, Jasmyn.” I almost said ‘Jasmyn with a Y,’ but small talk or not, I still had some self-respect. “So you’re, um, training as an embalmer?”

“I am,” she said. “About a year now.”

I nodded, and then wondered if I was nodding too much, and stopped. I had the opportunity to ask questions, but I didn’t know which questions to ask. “So.” I hesitated way too long, trying to think of a follow-up. “How do you like it?”

“You’re definitely not a spy.”

“Why not?”

“Because you suck at it. This is seriously, like, the worst small talk I have ever heard.”

“To be fair, I hate talking to people.” It was a risk, but if I was reading her right she’d respond to it.

She smirked and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, tell me about it. People are the worst.”

Bingo.

“I’m going to drown my sorrows in cookies,” I said, and pointed to the side table. “Want one?”

“They’re also the worst,” she said. “But why not?”

We walked to the food table and I picked up a cookie. It fell in half partway to my mouth, the bottom falling back onto the tray.

“See?” said Jasmyn. She took a crumbly bite. “Margo insists on them, but she won’t pay for good ones.”

“Our mortuary never had cookies,” I said.

“That’s exactly what I tell her,” she said. “Nobody has cookies at a viewing, unless the family brings them or something.” She took another bite. “Maybe she has stock in the cookie company.”

“Does Cottwell’s do cookies?” I asked.

Jasmyn shook her head. “No. So maybe that’s why Margo does—she’s trying to stand out.”

“So, um . . .” I wanted to ask about the body, and I thought I’d finally come up with a normal way to do it. Well, normal-ish. “So Kathy Schrenk drowned, right?”

“So they say,” said Jasmyn. “Nobody knows how, though. She was in her backyard, and she doesn’t have a pool or anything. And she doesn’t live anywhere near the canal.”

This was where I relied on her inexperience as an embalmer. “Drowned bodies are so weird,” I said. “You always get that weird black goop.” This, of course, was a lie, and a fairly transparent one. Nobody who drowns has black goop, unless they literally drown in a pool of black goop. I mean, the goop wouldn’t have come from the drowning, it would have come from a Withered. They called it soulstuff, and it was like a kind of greasy ash that got left behind at a lot of their attacks. I think it’s what their bodies were made of, under their human-looking disguise, because every time I killed one they dissolved into a noxious little pile of it. If Schrenk was killed by a Withered, Jasmyn might have seen some soulstuff during the embalming. And if not, well, she was new enough at her job that she wouldn’t necessarily call me on the lie.

I looked back at Jasmyn, feeling a surge of hope—could this be it?

Nope. She looked confused. “Really?” she asked. “Black goop?”

I sighed. “Sometimes,” I said. “I figured it didn’t hurt to ask.”

“Hey Jazz,” said Harold, “can you help me with something?”

“Sure,” said Jasmyn, and she hurried after him. I retreated to the wall, wondering what to do next but mostly just happy to be in a mortuary again—not because it was especially wonderful, but because it was familiar. The people and the wall hangings and the music and the casket and the body. I didn’t really know how to hunt monsters, though I’d been doing it for years. I didn’t really know how to hitchhike and be on the road and evade the police and how to do all the things my life had forced me to do. But I knew how to be in a mortuary. I was never more comfortable anywhere else than there.

A movement caught my eye, and I looked across the room to see another woman had just come in through the doors. She looked about thirty, but she wore an old-style, A-line dress, so filthy it looked like she’d been wearing it for years. Her hair hung in ratty tendrils around her face. The other guests shied away from her as she stepped in, looked around, and then focused on me. I glanced around for the mortuary staff—for Jasmyn, or Harold, or Margo—but they’d all stepped out for something. The ragged woman walked toward me, and I could see that her face and arms were as dirty as her clothes; her nails were chipped and crusted with old blood; and her feet were bare and streaked with grime. She walked strangely, like she was unaccustomed to it, and kept her eyes locked on my face. She stopped a few feet in front of me, staring.

“I know you,” she said at last.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Do you know me?”

I shook my head. “I don’t. I’m sorry.”

The woman stared again, then leaned in close.

“Run from Rain,” she whispered.

Then she turned around and ran out the door.

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