Challenge Accepted!

Today, my sister challenged me to something called a ‘word sprint’. This, for those of you who don’t know (I sure didn’t), is when a group of writers…What would you call a group of writers anyway? A tab? A scribble? A typo! It’s when a typo of writers gets together and writes as much as they can within a set period of time, which was for us, two hours. No TV, no distractions. Just sit and write. The goal being, not to write the perfect scene, but just to put words on a page, and to make it competitive as a means of group encouragement.

So this was done, and here I sit in the Shark Hat of Awesome because I wrote the most words by, I think 500 words. The honor is a dubious one, since, as I say, these are not pearls of perfected prose, merely black marks on a page. But! For those of you who may be interested, here are the results of my word sprint, fleshed out into a full scene and unedited (so please be kind). It belongs to my fanfic, so enjoy, because you’ll never read the finished product! So here it is, a random scene from the book that will never be, Everything Is All Right.

 coming never!


coming never!

 

Ana did not waste time. Immediately upon completing her first walkthrough—crawlthrough—of the house, she unpacked her things onto the porch and turned the trailer in at the U-Haul lot in Hurricane. While she was there, she dropped in at the outlet store mall and bought some essential items for an extended camping trip—a collapsible clothesline tree and a bag of pins, a foldaway chair, a solar-warming shower bag, a battery-powered lantern and a couple cheap LED flashlights, a propane stove and Dutch oven. After some debate, she also caved in and bought a tent, but didn’t set it up yet. Although the rain had not returned with the same force as had greeted her on her first night back in Mammon, it still came and went fairly steadily throughout the day and likely would continue to do so until the storm season passed. The house was in no condition to be occupied and, for now, the ground was wet and the porch was rotten. The boxes containing her life could sit under the sagging eaves and risk collapse—they were replaceable—but that night, Ana slept in her truck, telling herself that it would only be for a few days.

But the gears of government grind slowly. Ana knew this and believed she was prepared to deal with the inevitable delays in a rational and adult manner. What she failed to take into consideration was that, in this case, she was not merely watching the gears turn, but was caught up in them. Their many teeth were hooked and sharp; with each day, she was only pulled in deeper.

Paying the vultures off was the easiest part, so that was what she did first, but if she was naïve enough to think that would somehow get the ball rolling on the rest of it, she was soon corrected. The Department of Waste and Sanitation would not rent a dump trailer to her until the driveway had been repaired. The gravel guy would not deliver the materials until the brush was cut back. She could not throw the brush out without a dump trailer and could not burn it until she had a permit. She spent three days trying to get Mammon’s fire department to talk to her before someone finally told her to talk to the county fire people instead. They told her they couldn’t deal with her over the phone, so she had to make the drive out to St. George and wait around for two hours before someone told her they needed proof of residence, and apparently, her god-fucking-damn title did not count. She needed a piece of mail, posted through the system, from a utility or the city, not a business or a private citizen. So back she went to Mammon to try and get the power or the water or something turned on at the house so she could start collecting bills, to be (not unpredictably) told that wasn’t going to happen until the house could pass a fire code inspection, which meant it had to be empty and repaired, which meant hauling all the crap out of it, which meant renting a dump trailer, and so it went on, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

Day followed night followed day. Phone calls were made. Appointments were kept. The gears turned, pressing Ana and the house together into finer and finer powder, but no progress was made. She did what she could on her own—hacking at the branches and saplings choking out the driveway when the weather permitted and hauling truck-loads of crap all the way to the landfill in Washington when it didn’t.

To make matters worse, all the driving back and forth was chipping away at her much-depleted financial resources. Before the first week was out, it had become brilliantly clear to her that she was going to have to get a job and she’d better do it sooner rather than later, because hiring opportunities were scarce enough without throwing her tits and tattoos into the mix.

So the house shifted to the back burner and Ana Stark went job hunting.

As she was sitting in a corner booth at Denny’s, drinking coffee and circling the least objectionable possibilities in the Want Ad section of the Mammon Monitor, Ana became aware first of the heavy stride/radio chatter/jingling metal sound that together meant ‘cop’ approaching her. She did not look up. The bathrooms were back this way, after all, no sense getting paranoid until she had a reason.

“Morning,” said a man’s voice.

Ana sighed into her cup, then set her coffee down, checked her watch and looked up. “Sheriff Zabriske. Have a seat.”

He slid into the padded bench opposite her, his brows raised. “You have the advantage of me.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.” Ana signaled the thin-lipped waiter for service.

“Mind if I ask how it is you know my name?”

“It’s on your shirt,” said Ana, nodding toward it.

He looked down.

The waiter brought more coffee and another cup for the sheriff, then made himself scarce again.

“So,” said Ana.

“So,” he agreed.

They drank their coffees.

“You going to introduce yourself at all?” he inquired, picking up the plastic card of specials and frowning at the pancakes.

“You going to pretend you need an introduction?”

“Well, when you put it like that.” He replaced the card and picked up his coffee again, seemingly just to have something over which to stare at her imposingly. “You’re the Blaylock kid.”

Ana’s brows twitched up, then came slowly down.

“You’re surprised I know who you are,” he said with a thin smile.

“Actually, I’m surprised you apparently don’t. I’m Ana Stark. Marian Blaylock was my aunt.”

He nodded. “And Melanie Blaylock was your mother.”

“Melanie Stark—”

“Oh, I suppose she can be counted a Stark by marriage, but I don’t know that you’ve got any claim to the name.”

Ana looked at her watch again. “Two minutes,” she said.

“Is that how much time you’re giving me to come to the point?” he asked, smiling again.

“Nope. That’s how long you waited before calling me a bastard. I’ll give you all the time you need to get to the point,” she went on as his smile wiped itself away. “I’ve got nowhere else to be. But if you’re waiting for me to flip the table and storm out of here just because someone takes a cheap shot at my mother, you’ve got a long wait coming.”

He studied her as she went back to reading the Want Ads.

The waiter came by to freshen their coffee.

The people at the next table paid and left.

“You going to ask after Joe?” he asked finally.

“Nope.” Ana circled a listing for a general yardwork laborer, but didn’t star it. She had a truck, but not much in the way of equipment, not even a lawnmower, and odds were good they’d expect her to bring her own toys to the party.

“Why not?”

“Why should I? More to the point, why do you care if I do or not?”

“Just seems a bit on the strange side, you being back in town almost a week by now and haven’t looked him up.”

“Uh huh. Is he dead?”

The sheriff leaned back in the booth. “Why would you say that?” he asked after a moment.

“I can’t really think of any other reason you’d want me to ask about him, except to be able to spring that on me like—” A spider. Ana paused, trying to chase down that oddly specific, intensely disturbing image, then let it go with a shrug. “—fake snake out of a prank can of peanuts.”

“You don’t seem too broken up by the thought.”

“Should I be? I never knew him. I don’t think I ever met him, or if I did, I sure don’t remember. He divorced my mom when she was pregnant, kicked her to the curb, and never paid a cent of child support, so yeah, I don’t feel a real pressing need to send flowers. Is he, though?”

“Yes, he is.”

Funny. She actually felt something. Not much and not deeply enough to identify, but it was definitely a twinge. Maybe only at the thought that was an orphan now, with all the Dickensian imagery that word embodied. Orphan. Alone in the world. She had nothing and no one. No family. No home. No job.

She circled another ad, this one in building and construction, knowing damn well they’d never take on an unlicensed carpenter or electrician. Orphan. Huh.

“What happened?” she asked finally.

“Coroner says it was suicide.”

“You don’t agree?”

Silence.

Ana glanced up to find the sheriff frowning at her with that coppish frown so exclusive to the breed.

“Why would you say that?” he asked again.

“Because if you did, you’d have just said ‘suicide,’ not, ‘coroner says.’” Ana gave him a moment to think that over, then said, “What happened?”

The sheriff shrugged too casually for the narrow way he was watching her now. “He had a trailer parked out at the canyon. Illegally, I might add. About ten years ago, he took it into his head to jump.”

“Was he drunk?”

“Starting to sound like a broken record here, but why would you ask?”

“My mom used to talk about the house she got kicked out of when she was pregnant with me.” The house she blamed Ana for losing. “I know the terms of the divorce didn’t include selling it or splitting it, so he went from owning a house in town to living in a trailer at the edge of the canyon. Something clearly went wrong there.”

“S’Like having coffee with Sherlock Holmes,” the sheriff remarked, studying her with an expression of practiced neutrality. “Yes, he was a drinker. And yes, he had some in him that night.”

“I don’t suppose there’s any chance he just forgot where the edge was and walked off looking for a place to piss?”

“I don’t believe it and neither did the county Doc. May I ask why, if the man himself didn’t matter s’much to you, you’re taking such an interest in the circumstances of his demise?”

“You wouldn’t have brought it up unless there was something you thought was pretty damn interesting yourself.”

“There is, since you mention it. The body was found quite a ways out into the canyon. Coroner says—and this part, I do agree with—he couldn’t have gotten there just slipping off the end. He had to jump and moreover, he had to take a running jump. He damn near had to do an Olympic long-jump. I’d have said he was hit by a car and thrown, except the vehicle itself would have either had to go over with him or left some pretty distinct tire tracks and there were none.”

“So he jumped.”

“Seems that way.”

“And yet, you don’t believe it was a suicide.”

“I have a little trouble with the idea, yes, ma’am.”

“Your reason being?”

“Well, it’s a cop-thing, you understand. You know much about suicides?”

Did he know about her mother? The careful way he was looking at her made her think he did, but if he thought she was going to let him pull that out of the past and lay it on the table, he was dead wrong.

“I know it’s cowardly,” said Ana. “And I suppose it’s not fashionable these days to have this sort of opinion, but I have a hell of a hard time feeling sympathy for people who make that kind of mess for other people to find and clean up.”

The sheriff’s expression flickered toward a grudging sort of approval before masking itself again. “As far as that goes, I suppose I can’t disagree, but I was referring more to the mindset of a suicide.”

“Then, no, I don’t.”

“Let me tell you something about suicides, then. In my experience, there’s two kinds: the kind that know they’re suicides and the kind that don’t. The kind that don’t are the ones who do themselves in with too much drinking, too many drugs, driving too fast, going home with the wrong men, doing the extreme sports and such. Risky behaviors, is what I mean to say. They may never admit to themselves out loud that they’re unhappy or that they’re trying to die, but they’re doing everything under the sun to get out from under their life, short of putting a gun in their mouth. In fact, those folks would be shocked and probably mad as hell if someone told them they were acting suicidal. That’s how much they choose not to see it.”

“That’s the kind you’re saying my father was.”

“I’m saying if Joe Stark was suicidal at all, that’s the kind he would have been. To that, I would add that the kind of mindset that hurls themselves fifty feet out into Mammon Canyon with less than a beer’s worth of courage usually belongs to the second sort, which is the sort that knows they’re suicidal and more often than not has a few attempts under their belt before they actually succeed. They got bathroom cabinets full of anti-depressants and a therapist who knows them by name. These are the folks who have made a plan for the big day and have a couple back-up contingencies if the first don’t go off like they hoped it would. They settle their affairs. They write a note. At the very least, they are survived by people who may be saddened, but not very surprised when they get the news. Now, I’ll grant you no one around here was much saddened by Joe Stark’s passing,” the sheriff said, leaning expansively back in the booth, “but we were very much surprised. This is a small community. Not a lot of secrets here stay buried.”

“Unless they’re buried extra deep.”

The sheriff shrugged one shoulder and drank some more coffee. “Could have been, I suppose. Something else you learn being a cop is you never really know someone, and I knew him less than most. Having said that, I have to confess, I was surprised to read the coroner’s verdict. See, in addition to the body being found as it was, there was the matter of the trailer.”

“Signs of a struggle?”

“I should say so. Door was damn near tore off, frame was bent, looked like a hurricane blew through the insides. However, as was pointed out to me when I made these observations, that trailer had seen some hard use and Joe’s personal habits left a lot to be desired under any case. In fact, the only thing that really stood out to all of us…” He paused to take a long drink of what had to be pretty cold coffee, then waved the waiter over to top him off. His eye wandered out the window as the waiter poured. “S’really coming down, isn’t it?”

“It’s April,” said Ana, returning her attention to her Want Ads.

“Looking for work?”

“Why? You hiring?”

He chuckled into his cup and did not bother even to tell her no.

A few minutes passed.

“Well, I guess I’ve taken up enough of your time,” he said at length, giving the lure on his hook an enticing jiggle.

“Thanks for stopping by,” said Ana, turning a page of her newspaper. “I’m sure I’ll see you around.”

He slid out of the booth and stood.

She sipped her coffee.

He waited.

She read.

He walked away.

She found a listing for a housekeeper at the Sugartree Motel and tapped it twice, but did not circle it.

He came back and sat down again.

“Forget your keys?” Ana asked without looking up.

“You mind answering me a question, just for laughs?”

“Sure. What is it?”

“Where were you on the night of September 17th, 2003?”

Ana laughed and the sheriff laughed with her.

“Holy shit,” she said, wiping her eyes and grinning with amazement at honest-to-God tears of laughter. “That’s awesome. That is legit Columbo right there. Let’s see…2003, September…” Ana scratched a hand over her hair, stirring up memory. “I was at a place called the Little Feet Ranch in Springwood, Montana. I don’t have the phone number on me, but I could get it to you this afternoon if you need it.”

“I’m sure that’s not necessary, but since you offer, please do.”

“Now tell me what the hell you found in that trailer that made you, even for a second, consider an eighteen year old girl a viable suspect for…how did you just put it? Hurling a full-grown man fifty feet out into Mammon Canyon?”

“Oh, I promise you, I never did. Not really. But that’s cop-think for you. We don’t have the luxury of assumption. We have to explore avenues that make no logical sense.”

“See, I would understand that better if I benefitted at all from my father’s death, but I don’t.”

“Not like you did from your aunt’s,” the sheriff agreed.

Ana still smiled, but the feeling behind it was no longer a warm one. “Yeah. Really scored with that, didn’t I? But back to my father’s trailer…?”

The sheriff shrugged, watching her closely. “I asked around some, after his death, and I never found a single soul in the whole of this town who could recall Joe Stark ever mentioning you, excepting, I suppose, in an indirect way as being a consequence of his pregnant ex-wife. He never mentioned you by name that I’m aware of. He may not have even known it. And yet, the last thing he did before jumping fifty feet off the edge of the canyon was google you and your mother.”

“So…you’re suggesting what exactly? That I drove a couple hundred miles in a single night, hulked out on my dad’s trailer, threw him in the canyon, googled myself, maybe updated my status on Facebook—oh, 2003, right. Updated my status on Myspace. You know, got to take that selfie. ‘My first murder, lol!’ And then leave the incriminating page up before I take off, drive a couple hundred miles back to Montana with no one the wiser—and let me tell you, I was one of eight women on that ranch and the only one between the ages of six and sixty apart from the boss’s wife. They noticed every time I took a piss; they’d have noticed a six-hour absence. And then what? Wait ten years before coming back to reap the full benefits of my devious plan to…?” She spread her hands, inviting suggestions.

The sheriff did not seem overly concerned with supplying them. “Motives are one of those things that matter more on TV than real life,” he told her. “In my experience, real criminals are pretty dumb. Just like real murderers are rarely strangers. But that’s neither here nor there, is it? Joe Stark committed suicide.”

Once more, he slid out of the booth and stood to go. This time, he made it almost to the door before he turned around and came back.

“You know, s’funny you should mention Myspace,” he said, leaning up against the back of the bench where he had been sitting.

“Is it? How so?”

“You didn’t have a Myspace page in 2003.”

“Still don’t,” Ana said affably.

“Or a Facebook account.”

“Or Omeagle, for that matter. I don’t Tweet, don’t vlog, don’t Snapchat.” Ana shrugged around another swallow of coffee. “I’m not a social media kind of girl.”

“I’m sure that was very frustrating to whoever was trying to find you. Still. I’m sure he’s given up by now. And just because I know you’re back doesn’t necessarily mean he knows.” He touched the brim of his hat. “Have a nice day, Miss Blaylock.”

“So long, Sheriff Zabrinsky.”

Ana watched him go, waiting for him to turn and come back to drop ‘one more thing’ on her. Even after she saw his black-and-white drive away, she kept watching the door. She was not wholly convinced she’d seen the last of him until the waiter came by with the ticket.

He’d charged her for the cop’s coffee.

Ana laughed again—you had to laugh, didn’t you?—threw down a five, took her paper, and went out into the rain.

Author’s Spotlight: My Dad!

Today, I would like to introduce an aspiring new author, M. Francis Smith. The sharper-eyed set among my readers may notice a striking similarity between his last name and mine. Yes, he’s my father.

 

He's the guy behind The Beard.

He’s the guy behind The Beard.

Both of my parents have always been (bizarrely) supportive of my career and (even more bizarrely) proud of my work, although my father has only relatively recently been counted among my readers. Several years ago, he tried to read Heat, got about twenty pages in, and shelved it for reasons which he has never been able to put into words, but which are nevertheless abundantly clear to me. Hell, I wrote it. However, my mother read every book I wrote up to the time of her death, and so one night as my mother was re-reading the Lords of Arcadia series, my father, in a fit of boredom, picked up a page purely at random and read it, no doubt braced for another Heat-like foray into unpleasantness. And for reasons which he has never been able to put into words and which are absolutely unfathomable to me, he loved it. Still hasn’t been able to finish Heat (to my knowledge, he’s never picked it up again), but he devoured four books just as violent, gory, profanity-laden and kinky (in some places, even more so). Since that time, he has also read Cottonwood and The Last Hour of Gann, and is slowly but surely bracing himself to tackle Olivia and The Scholomance.

So a couple of months ago, as I was doing my Beta Read for Land of the Beautiful Dead, my father expressed a desire to sit in on it. I don’t know how real authors do a beta reading, but my betas and I sit around in a room with snacks and take turns reading out loud, with frequent stops for argument or to offer editing suggestions or simply to groan, “Oh for Chrissakes, really?!” in unison. I love that. It’s like my own personal barbershop quartet putting all my artistic shortcomings to music.

I digress. So there we were, reading LoBD out loud and there is my father, reading along and even taking his turn. You have not lived as an author unless you have had your 70-year old father read a blowjob scene you bear sole responsibility for writing. (Funny sidenote to that sidenote: In the very first sexual encounter between Azrael and Lan, my father interrupted the reading with a very abrupt, “Oh, give me a break!” Startled, I asked him to amplify just what his objection was, expecting to have to justify the encounter as more of a business transaction than any romantic whathaveyou. But no, my father’s issue was that Azrael had lived however many millennia he’d lived and “the best he could do was the missionary position?”)

He had a point.

He had a point.

It was an experience, is what I’m saying. All of which I tell you so I can now tell you that my sisters and I are presently beta reading my father’s second book, which is I’m sure just as nerve-wracking for him as it was for me. It’s even more nerve-wracking because he is in the process of getting the first book ready for publication. That book is called The Children of Omm: The Unmaking of the Worm, and this one is work-titled The Children of Omm: The Curse of Cancr.

I am enormously proud of my father (for a number of reasons, but we’ll focus on the book-related ones for right now), especially as this is literally the Story That Almost Wasn’t.

The story of my father’s story begins fifty years ago, on a rainy night in France. My father was serving two years as a missionary for his faith (his comment about the missionary position just got that much funnier, didn’t it? Yeah, it did) just out of high school and before he went on to college, and because missionaries are strongly discouraged from having any kind of fun, or indeed, any life at all, most of his off-hours were spent lounging around the dorm being bored half out of his skull. With nothing else to think about, my father found himself entertaining himself with a little story, very Tolkeinesque, about good and evil and gods and demons and various races of people trapped between them. As his story got too big to be comfortably contained within his head, he started to write some of it down, under the pretense that he was writing a diary, since he thought that sort of dark fantasy epic would be frowned upon by his fellow missionaries and the church.

My father hid these notes for two years, then came home and went to college, where a few scenes blossomed slowly into the early makings of a pretty friggin’ tremendous novel. He didn’t work on it very often and never intended anyone should read it, so he wasn’t what anyone might call motivated to finish it. When Life got in the way, as Life so often does, the book got pushed further and further to the back of his mind. Eventually, he got a job, got married, got kids, and generally got everything except his book finished. It sat in a three-ring binder, part in English and part in French, on typed and hand-written papers and even a few bits scrawled on napkins and receipts, for the better part of thirty years. At that point, an on the cusp of moving from one house to another, my father pulled that binder out of the bottom of the drawer where it had been sitting for so long and tossed it in the trash.

Yes, I said the trash.

Yes, I said the trash.

This is where his story might have ended and where it should have ended, if not for the fact that my mother was in life and probably still is in whatever new form she occupies on her present plane of existence, just an astounding busybody. She saw the binder in the trash and, having never seen that binder before, plucked it out and opened it up. She read what she could read of the bits that were in English and, as she was reading, my father happened along and caught her.

I’m not entirely certain what happened there. Neither of my parents really ever admitted to arguing, but an argument it most definitely was, because when it was over, the binder was back in the trash. However, my mother, being my mother, just waited for my father to leave the room, and then she took the binder back out of the trash.

Here we see the devious nature inherent in the breed, because my mother, who I maintain was a paragon of honesty under normal circumstances, took the papers out of the binder and put them into another binder, then put the first binder back in the trash. She gave the second binder, containing my father’s fledgling story, to me, and told me to keep it safe. This I did.

Ten years passed.

One day, as my parents were visiting and the subject of books came up (I’m not sure anymore, but I think the second edition of Olivia had just gone live), and my father mentioned his lost book and expressed deep regret that he had thrown it out, because he could not any longer remember any but the broadest strokes of the plot and he was sure he would never be able to recreate it. I excused myself and went up to my room, collected the book, brought it downstairs, and handed it to my mother, who handed it to him. I have never forgotten the look on his face.

So my father got his book back. And he promptly returned it to the bottom of his dresser drawer and resumed ignoring it. However, a few more years passed and my father retired, whereupon he discovered that suddenly having nine more hours in your day with nothing allocated to them isn’t all that great when you don’t have an interest in gardening or model trains or whatever else it is that (his words, not mine) old fogeys do with their little remaining time. He began to read a lot. And then to watch TV. And then just to sit. As he later put it, he went “Entish” because my father is just the biggest nerd. And then one day, for whatever reason, my father pulled that book out of his drawer and decided to finish it.

Last year, at the age of 70, my father finished his first novel, The Children of Omm: The Unmaking of the Worm. To his surprise, he immediately began thinking about a second book. And then to write it. This year, just a few months ago, when he and I were in Utah, my father (who was working on the last half of his second book) allowed some of his relations to read the first one.

Hang on, I need a quick happy break before I go on.

Hahaha! Manta rays are awesome!

Hahaha! Manta rays are awesome!

Okay, I’m back.

Several of his relatives wouldn’t read the book at all, because it has magic in it. His father wouldn’t read it because it was fiction and all fiction is frivolous and a waste of a time (I love my grandfather, I really do, but he’s always felt like this and I will never understand it). One of his sisters read it and her response was, in its entirety,  “It was nice.” Another sister said it was well-written, but she didn’t understand why he would “waste his time” writing it, especially since his children were already writers (like there’s a quota???) and there were plenty of other things he could be doing.

My father smiled and thanked them all for their feedback, then came home and finished his book.

Here, I would like to take a moment to announce to the world that the search is over, I have the world’s greatest dad.

The rest of you have 30 days to turn in your mugs, hats and sweaters.

The rest of you have 30 days to turn in your mugs, hats and sweaters.

 

So now my father is allowing his children to beta read his second book. His first one is getting those final touches, like a cover and a blurb, before being published on Amazon Kindle. He is already laying out the outline for the third book in the trilogy. And I am both proud and privileged to be able to offer my readers an excerpt from the chapter we beta read today. So here it is, from the second book of The Children of Omm series, The Curse of Cancr, by M. Francis Smith.

*****

Delany sent the boy to bed shortly afterwards, but remained long staring into the fire. Shortly before the ninth hour since the setting of the sun, a strange oppression of spirit descended upon him. He tried walking by the light of the stars and the now full moon to ease his disquiet, listening to the night sounds about him: there were surprisingly few of them. An hour or two before dawn, a preternatural spirit of gloom descended around the camp—no predawn lit the sky. Instead, one by one the stars winked out and the moon, still two hours from setting, faded to black and vanished. He walked by the light of Life which animates all things created, but the joy of living seemed to have been sucked dry. It reminded him of something he had experienced before, but the memory proved as ephemeral as a late spring zephyr and he could not bring it into focus nor seized it. Extending his senses, he tried to identify the wrongness, entering onto the Plain of Lost Souls—the sense of nature out of balance continued even there—but its source continued to elude him. He hurried back to camp.

Cuffi, Boy! Wake up! We must leave this place, Delany called as he entered the camp and began the process of bringing in the mules and loading them. For he had remembered where he had encountered such before, attenuated though it had been upon the Spirit Plain: the presence of Krm in possession of Julesh back in Nain.

Both of his companions came instantly awake and alert. Neither needed to ask the reason for the urgent call: the depression of spirit had become palpable to them as well. Even their dream as before waking had been dark and filled with fear and they were happy to leave them. However, the effort to break camp seemed to require strength beyond their ability to provide and they struggled to move as though the air around them had become viscous, denying them passage through it. Coalescing behind them at a distance just at the edge of discernment, a malignant nebula of horror began to take shape, in the center of which strode the shape of a man.

They took no nourishment in their hurry to leave that place behind, but, grabbing the mules’ leads and tugging them along as fast as they would go, they traveled along the edge of the escarpment now heading nearly southwest, gaining altitude as they climbed and arriving at last at a secondary promontory seeming to hang onto the west side of Fire Mountain: a rocky plateau overlooking the flat, westering forest. A rough pile of boulders marked its center, and toward this they hurried. Approaching it, Matian determined that it was actually a structure of some sort, for he saw a wide, flat stone perched upon three gigantic dolmens. Earth and smaller stones had been piled around the outside edge of the roof forming low walls. The only furnishing inside was a heavy stone table. Into this edifice, Delany led the mules. The shadow form which had trailed them all morning erupted onto the plateau from below the horizon even as they entered the building. Chorion had found them and with him, Xtl.

Flee then, Elf spawn, the voice crowed. That way is barred to me—I cannot follow you—but be assured that I will await your cowardly return. And when you do, you may find that all is not as you left it.

A Quick Update

Halloween has come and gone and I am pleased to say that I kept by promise (for a change) and got Land of the Beautiful Dead up on Amazon by my deadline. It should also now be live on CreateSpace for those who, like me, still like reading books on paper. Remember that when the zombie apocalypse happens, your e-readers will all be worthless and in thirty years, the undead lord’s mistress won’t be learning to read on a Kindle.

This is the only kindling we'll need then.

This is the only kindling we’ll need then.

 

I’d also like to take a moment to thank everyone who has left comments/reviews/criticisms on my book, here or on your own blogs/social media page/Amazon, wherever. Heck, even if you stood up on the table at Denny’s and announced to the world it sucked, as long as you mentioned the title and my name, thank you. The hardest hurdle for any indie author is just getting out there. I am sincerely grateful you took the time to tell someone what you thought, no matter what you thought. Of course, I’m even more grateful if you thought kindly of it, but that’s because I’m enormously insecure, which is the same reason I don’t read my reviews. I know, I know, authors are supposed to be above having their feelings hurt over a bad review. Anyone who throws their work out into the public eye is supposed to have thick skin and teflon feelings. Well, it’s fine for Liberace to laugh all the way to the bank, but I don’t have the man’s confidence.

Or his fashion sense. God DAMN, the man had style. R.I.P, you beautiful man.

Or his fashion sense. God DAMN, the man had style. R.I.P, you beautiful man.

 

The reality is, I’m not an author. I’m a person who works by writing. And when I work on something for two years and it isn’t universally loved by literally all who clap eyes on it, my ego is shattered and dumped in a bowl of lemon juice. Before I adopted my present policy, I must have read a hundred good reviews and I could not tell you today what any one of them said, but I can quote the four bad ones I read by heart. So I don’t read them and I’m much happier. I once heard it said that writing a book is like opening a vein and bleeding all over the paper. Let me tell you, it’s true and it’s nerve-wracking enough without thinking about how other people are going to interpret the stains.

 

Enough about that. I hear people are already asking about the next book, because HOLY SHIT, PEOPLE! IT’S ONLY BEEN TWO WEEKS!!!! I still haven’t done my LAUNDRY from the day the book came out! I haven’t done all the laundry from the time the last book came out either. Look, I don’t do a lot of laundry. Don’t judge me. My point is, I have just finished a project and I’m taking a break before I pull Pool out of the ol’ dustry trunk of unfinished books and see where I left off.

Oh. Right. I remember now.

Oh. Right. I remember now.

 

I plan to get back to work on New Year’s Day, since that seems like the perfect time to start fresh on a new project (and we’ll just not mention the long list of broken resolutions that could, you know, wrap twice around the Earth if they elected to manifest in a physical form). Between now and then, I’m relaxing with my fanfic, which is not considered writing because it will never be published. Ha ha! I have put two hundred pages on it in two weeks. How’s that for not writing? Here is a small sample of the book you will never read in its entirety:

 

*****

Ana drove only half an hour that first day, straight to Rider’s house. He and she sat up until the small hours, smoking way too fucking much and watching horror movies that seemed to get progressively sillier until they were both lying on the fucking floor and hugging each other, just howling with the tears streaming down their faces, while severed heads went flying on his big-screen TV. Then Rider became convinced yet again that he could run across the swimming pool if he could just go fast enough, so they went out to give it a go, tossing in every inflatable what-the-fuck he had first, because physics were still a thing and Jesus Christ, he was not. Thor, maybe. Not the JC.

After she pulled him out of the pool, they lay together on the stones, looking at the stars while, in the house, his girl-for-not-too-much-longer-if-she-didn’t-calm-the-fuck-down slammed doors and flicked lights angrily on and off.

“You coming back?” Rider asked suddenly, when Ana was almost sleeping, her eyes open but insignificant.

“Don’t I always?”

“This feels different.”

“It always feels different,” said Ana, closing her eyes so she could see the stars better. “I always think this is the one and I always end up back in your stable.”

“You want out? I’ll let you out.”

“Never happen.”

“Save that gangsta cradle-to-da-grave shit for Hollywood,” Rider said. “If I say I’ll let you out, I’ll let you right the fuck out. You’ve served your time. S’not like you’re gonna turn around and become a cop or some shit. You’d be happy with a little…like, a little coffee shop or something. Little glass counter with muffins and cookies and shit. Have, like, a couple racks of used books and some comfy chairs and couches, and play that alternative crap on the radio all day while kids sit around texting about social justice and checking each other’s privilege.”

Ana snickered. “Stoned-you is a closet hipster. I love it.”

“Fuck you,” Rider said comfortably.

“But it’ll never happen, Rider. I don’t mean you’ll never let it happen. I mean it never will.” She gave it some serious thought and said, “I think I was supposed to die when I was a kid.”

“Check that depressing shit now, darlin’.”

“No, I mean it. I think I was supposed to, like in that dumbshit movie we just saw. I think it was all planned out. In Mammon, I mean. Only I got away. Mom got me away. Of all people, right?” she interjected and snorted. “She tried to take it back later, but she couldn’t and that’s why my life is all fucked up. I was never supposed to live this long.”

“Horseshit.”

“No,” she insisted, warming to the idea now. “You know, it’s like those old myths you read about. There’s these three ladies who weave the universe and every single person’s life is one thread. They weave them all together, these ladies. One spins, one measures and one cuts. I was spun, you know? I was measured and woven in, and then I was supposed to be cut, but I wasn’t. My thread is just…just sticking out, getting more and more tangled up the longer it gets, because it doesn’t fit anywhere. I fucked up the universe, Rider. The whole universe. I should have died.”

“Never pegged you for a fatalist.”

“It’s all fatal,” she said, opening her eyes to see the stars staring down at her with their thousand, thousand blame-filled eyes. “Nobody gets out of this game alive. Right or wrong, guilty or innocent, young or old, everybody dies.”

“Not fatality, fatalism. You’re talking about Fate. Capital F. Like, predestination and shit.”

“I am?”

“You just said you were supposed to die. And because you didn’t, the grand tapestry of the universe got all snarled up. Right?”

“Right.”

“So that means you think there’s some big plan and it’s all already worked out. Every thread woven in, you said. Every life going back to the beginning and every life going on to the very end, all measured and cut according to its color, to make the picture the universe designed. This is what you believe?”

“I guess so?”

“Well, see, there’s a paradox in that, darlin’. If Fate exists and predestination is a thing, then everything that happens was meant to happen the way it happened. So if you’re alive, then by definition, you’re supposed to be alive, no matter how random it seems to your puny mortal eyes. Because it ain’t just your thread, even if it is all snarled up. Universe made your momma do what she did. Universe made you show up soaking wet in your socks on my doorstep. Universe made you come here tonight so you could move on tomorrow. There ain’t no holes in the tapestry,” he said, lifting one hand to point at the sky, where he surely saw the proof written out in runes only he could read. “Universe got you out of Mammon for a reason. Universe is sending you back.”

Ana propped herself up on her elbows, but getting that much closer didn’t show her anything new in the night sky. “You think so?”

“Me? Naw, I don’t believe in that stuff. This life is all there is and when we die, we rot in the ground. There ain’t no Fate and there ain’t no one watching to see how bad we fuck up or to care when we die. We are on a spinning rock running circles around a burning ball of gas, pulling us through space at millions of miles an hour. Them stars you think is guiding your life are just more pockets of nuclear fusion of decreasing stability in a vast vacuum, no more aware of you than you’re aware of the billions of microscopic bugs feeding on the shit in your intestines right now. Less aware, even, because them bugs are at least feeding directly on you and those stars don’t have dick to do with us or with each other. Hell, half of them have probably burned out by now and it’s just their ghost-lights we’re seeing. There could be a billion other planets out there with life on it, a billion other folks like you, looking up and wondering, but so what? We’re all alone together in a universe that’s constantly expanding, just getting further and further and further apart. And you know what?”

“What?”

He turned his head on the poolside tiles and she turned hers, so that they were looking at each other from inches away, upside down, each of them whizzing through space at a million miles an hour, but still somehow able to touch.

“It’s all right,” he said.

 

from Everything Is All Right coming never

from Everything Is All Right, coming never

 

 

I’m Home! Did I Mention I Was Gone?

So a couple weeks ago, my father got a burning desire to see his father halfway across the country and asked for company on the road. Now, I love road trips, so I grabbed my laptop and my dinosaur hat and we hit the open highway. My relatives are predominantly Mormon and I am not, so while I can’t say the trip was entirely without friction, we all got along without bringing torches and pitchforks into the situation. While I was there, I did some more editing and as soon as I’ve assembled my Beta Readers (coming soon from Marvel Pictures: The Beta Brigade. “Beta Readers, assemble!”), we will bust out the read-through. There will be tears and punches and a lot of scenes left on the cutting room floor, I’m sure. Then all that’s left to do is format and upload. I’m still planning on a Halloween release.

 

The cover artist and I are still working on the cover, taking some of the feedback I’ve received under advisement, but the broad strokes (the girl, the smoke) are unlikely to change much, on account of how I like them. Oh, and I have a blurb at last! I swear, I can’t wait until I’m a millionaire and can pay people to write these damn things for me. This took way too long.

* * *

SHE WOULD DARE ANYTHING TO SAVE THE WORLD FROM HIS RULE.

EVEN HIS BED.

He ascended from the darkness years ago—Azrael the Eternal, Azrael the Undying, Azrael Who Is Death—bringing with him the black rains, the fires, the souring of the sky, and the Eaters. Now he rules in the walled city of Haven with his favored Children and his dead court, while all that is left of the living struggles to survive in the ruins of a world that used to be their own. But even as extinction looms, humanity will never surrender to their monstrous conqueror.

For Lan, this brutal life has been the only one she’s ever known, but she still believes it can change. If the war can never truly end until the Eaters are ended, she will go to Haven, to Azrael himself, and demand he end them. To her surprise, she does not immediately die the hero’s death she expected. Instead, Azrael offers her a chance to convince him, and all she has to do is submit herself to the chill embrace of the lord of the Land of the Beautiful Dead.

From the author of The Scholomance and The Last Hour of Gann comes a new vision of erotic horror! This book contains explicit sex and gore and is intended for mature readers only.

Complicated Melodies

I really don’t know how interested anyone will be in this, but I really am trying very hard to blog, even when I don’t have anything to say, so here goes.

Working on The Land of the Beautiful Dead is not a happy experience. I don’t mean I hate the book or anything, but it’s the zombie apocalypse. The world I have to live in when I write is a deeply unpleasant one and it is necessary that I feel those emotions in order to project them onto the page. Unfortunately, the more I allow myself to sink into the bleakness of the landscape, the more my emotions tend to bleed out into the characters. It kind of becomes this vicious cycle after a while–the book affects my mood affects the writing affects the book affects my mood, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseam.

I cope with this in a lot of ways. I listen to music while I write, for example. All of my books have a ‘soundtrack’ that is distinctly their own, and even though LoBD’s ‘album’ is still pretty dark, just being able to sing along, even with the sad songs, keeps me at least halfway grounded in the real world. If it’s a really bad scene, I may turn on a well-loved movie I’ve watched a bazillion times to act as white noise in the background and subconsciously lift my spirits. In emergencies, I may go get my hedgehog. It’s impossible to be depressed when there’s a hedgehog licking your thumb as you’re trying to type.

Seriously. Look at that face.

Seriously. Look at that face.

 

Having said all that, I have to admit even Posey Q. Pricklepants is not always able to combat the malaise that comes along with working on a book in which I scrag the entire human race. In fact, there are days when the only way I’ve found to deal with the book is to put it entirely aside and work on another one.

Yes, Land of the Beautiful Dead. I’ve been cheating on you. With fanfiction.

I find fanfiction to be extremely soothing to my soul. It’s just so comfortable and easy, writing a story where all the hard work is already done for you. The characters are there. The setting is there. The world is already built and peopled. All you need to do is provide a plotline and watch the story tell itself.

This is probably where I should stop and rant a little while on how wildly out of control fanfiction has gotten these days. In my day, when we wrote fanfiction, we used the characters and the setting of the actual original source and just made up new stories. If there was a new character–and let’s face it, there was always a new character–he or she was a plot device, like any you might see in a new episode, there to engage and be engaged by the canon characters. This business where so-called fans take…I’m going to use Star Trek as an example, because it’s one most people are going to recognize…take the crew of the Enterprise and make them teenagers who all go to the same high school, and also some of them are vampires and the biggest plotline is who vampire-Spock is going to ask to the dance (hint, it’s either Kirk or Picard) is NOT FANFICTION.

I’ve been writing fanfiction more than half my life. The first story I ever wrote was fanfiction–Disney fanfiction, no less. The day I knew I’d arrived as an author was the day someone sent me fanfiction of one of my own books. Fanfiction is great, but if you’re going to write it, for the love of God, write it for real. If you’re going to change every single goddamn element that made the story in the first place, go ahead and change the names of the characters too. You might be doing yourself a favor.

Obvious correlation is obvious.

Obvious correlation is obvious.

 

So I’ve been writing a fanfic in-between editing chapters of The Land of the Beautiful Dead. No one will ever read it. Like all GOOD fanfiction, it simply cannot work outside the parameters of someone else’s copywritten work. I won’t even tell you the name of the source material. It exists for my pleasure and for my pleasure alone. However, since it’s what I was working on today, and today is the day I set aside for blogging, you, the reader, get a snippet.

One of my characters is a musician. He is in the source material and so he is in my book (and THAT, kids, is how you write fanfiction!) He’s not obnoxious about it, but it is an important aspect of his character, so I’ve done what I can to keep it, and one of the things I found I had to do as the story progressed is have him write a song. So I woke up this morning and wrote a song he could write for the girl he is never going to get. Disclaimer: There is a reason I am not a professional songwriter.

 

COMPLICATED MELODIES

Baby girl, when you talk, I hear such complicated melodies

But it’s a song and I could sing it if you let me.

All I need’s a little time to hear the tune and make it mine

I’d play it for you and maybe then you’d see

How beautiful your music is to me

Won’t you listen?

For a little while…just one night is all I need.

Oh me and this guitar are both as broken as they come

But even we can make some music if only I

Replace these broken strings and play it right

Put a lead guitar and a bass beside me and I’ll prove to you

There’s still some harmony.

It’s not too late

For you to learn the words….and sing along with me.

Girl, I’d need an orchestra to play the story of your life

But if only I could play piano, I would try.

Any song can be written down once you have the key

And if I could find the note to build upon, I know you’d sing along with me.

And if I could play the drums, maybe then I could set the time

That brings the shattered rhythm of your heart into beat with mine.

And I’d get horns to be your courage and violins to be your tears

And one by one, I would find instruments to take all your hopes and fears

Until there’s nothing left but you and me and one simple melody

That’s been there, baby girl, all along.

And I’ll teach it to you…and it can be our song.

Girl, when you talk, I hear such complicated melodies

And it’s a song I know that I can’t make you hear.

Because I’m not the man you want tonight but before you go, I’ve got to try

To make you understand that if you can’t

Play the tune

Or sing the words…still, we can dance.

So let me put this old guitar aside…and we can dance.