Archive for the ‘Novels’ Category

Toos of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

I had a realization earlier today as I was plugging away on the next Cobalt City novel. (Yes, the novel is going well. No idea when it will be done, but I’m writing angry and will keep y’all updated here.) The new novel, tentatively titled RESISTANCE, is the closest thing I’ve ever written to what those in the comics industry call a Crossover Event.

Typically, what these signify is a massive storyline that draws many of the existing titles/characters into a larger-scale story. Some of them are great. Some suck out loud. But they seem to be inevitable as the big companies do them pretty much every year. It frequently signals series being canceled, rebooted, mixed around, or just started fresh. And with RESISTANCE, I’m bringing together characters I’ve worked with for years and characters I’ve developed but not actually written about as more than a mention if even that. And when it’s all done, things in Cobalt City will have changed. The status not so quo anymore if you’re feelin’ me.

So, if you’ll indulge me, this could be a peak of what Cobalt City would look like in the wake of a massive crossover event. And what new series would replace cancelled series.

Parlor Tricks

Largely despised occultist Louis Malenfant and the sorcerer Emil al-Aswan find themselves thrust into supernatural misadventure when Malenfant starts fighting back against the control of his patron, the King in Yellow. Hi-jinks ensue.

The Hunt

The Huntsman, Marcus Castile, goes underground with the Libertine to train his young niece and nephew to be the next Huntsmen while fighting back against a rising wave of Fascism within our own borders.

New Icons

The young Wrecker of Engines re-imagines the super-team, recruiting other solo operatives into a group of dedicated heroes with global reach. Fan favorites Gallows and Kensei are joined by new heroes GhostHouse, Kraken, and Caterwaul.

Bantam

Ties that Bind‘s conflicted hero and police detective walks a tough path between her various allegiances and a city descending into chaos. And as the person who sees where things break down, she’s going to have her work cut out for her holding it all together.

Kensei (by Jeremy Zimmerman)

Continuing the adventures of the spirit guardian of Karlsburg, it’s time to find a balance between the big leagues and some kind of a normal life. Expect a monthly dose of  action, fun, and roller-derby. (And seriously, if you haven’t checked out Zimmerman’s Cobalt City Kensei books yet, do it. They’re incredible.)

Starfall

It begins here: the DESCENT OF STARDUST! Follow Cobalt’s glowing guardian as he falls from grace and works to claw his way back to redemption, featuring Goblin Record’s Ruby Killingsworth.

The Big Tour

Kara Sparx and Lumien join Madjack Atlas McVittie on her world tour. With interstellar operatives dogging their heels at every stop, the’re going to have their work cut out for them.

Cobalt City Silver

An anthology series set in Cobalt City in the 1970’s featuring a rotating cast of creators and characters. The first few arcs will feature Devil’s Daughter, Midnight Thunder, and Tatterdemalion.

Anyway.

That’s if this was a comic book company and I had a stable of writers and artists. As is, we’ll see what rolls out fiction-wise when it rolls out. In the meantime, check out Cobalt City Christmas: Christmas Harder for a recent check in with the heroes of the city. And hopefully next year RESISTANCE will be out sometime late next year.

Shifting Gears & Sharpening Swords

Posted: November 19, 2016 in Novels
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Novel Fuel

Authorial Essentials

In September, I was working on my punk rock fable A Winter Lullaby and taking my time with it because I want to do this one right. It’s the novel I’m taking seriously in the same way I pursued Ink Calls to Ink. But I set it aside to knock out a quick Cobalt City novel in November for NaNoWriMo because it’s something I like to do. And make no mistake, I was EXCITED for this year’s Cobalt City book. It was a political thriller, and it was full of intrigue and ultimately, hope.

And then the election happened and I felt my knees metaphorically taken out from under me. I spent the first day careening between states of shock, abject depression, and incoherent anger. It was not the best creative head space. In the week that followed, I wrote, at best 200 words. It didn’t feel important anymore. Not necessarily that it was a waste of time, because creating art is never a waste of time.

I was angry. That was the new normal, the new default that I came to settle in. Stubbornly, righteously angry. Those who have known me through my long live might share stories about my stubbornness and long-standing problems with authority. Honestly, if the past week is any indication, they haven’t seen anything yet.

But I needed to write. It’s how I exorcise demons. It’s how I process terror and rage. Writing is my sword, and in times of strife, we use the swords we know. But nothing I was currently working on fit what I needed. And time was ticking because I had a writing retreat this weekend. I couldn’t spend those days sequestered with my peers just spinning my wheels. It would make me crazy.

So I started knocking things around, and in that process I came across an old notebook heretofore known as the “International Fraternal Corps of Bears in Ill-Fitting Hats” notebook. In it, I found a breakdown of the heroes of the Protectorate and what their status was in the post-Protectorate era. I remembered that Cobalt City had a conservative talk show host named Lyle Prather who was more than he appeared–a hate-spewing demagogue if ever there was one.

And I recalled this dream project I wanted to do with some of the other Cobalt City authors, a big invasion story where there were several independent stories featuring groups of heroes fighting on different fronts of a big, intergalactic invasion. Each author was going to take a group and tell that group’s story and I’d link them all together into a larger narrative. Like one of those stupid comic book crossover events, but as a novel. Crazy and ambitious, and since everyone has such full writing schedules, impossible to coordinate.

But I have time. I have the fire. And goddamn but my sword is feeling particularly sharp right now.

I outlined the project and started writing yesterday. Seven story arcs that intertwine into four story arcs by the end of the novel, maybe eight or so little vignette chapters interspersed throughout the overall structure. All about a deep, interconnected community of superheroes (and villains and sorcerers and anti-heroes) in a world where an unqualified and narcissistic demagogue becomes president.

A quick preview of planned arcs:

  • Archon and Gallows go to D. C. where Archon is being tempted with a consulting job that threatens to derail their once sound partnership.
  • Kara Sparks and Lumien are on tour with the Madjack, facing the mood in the heartland and barreling towards a show that could spark a revolution.
  • Louis Malenfant and Emil al Aswan seek to dethrone Prather from the City Behind the Moon only to find out the new president is more than he appears.
  • The young hacker Wrecker of Engines coordinates Gato Loco and his team facing down a Nazi bike gang outside of Las Vegas with young heroes Ghost House and Kraken who are trying to rescue Kraken’s father from an internment camp in Arizona.
  • Pressured to remain neutral, Stardust and Huntsman find themselves at odds with Libertine in Cobalt City as prolonged protests threaten to bring an authoritarian crackdown on the city.

The currently titled Cobalt City: Resistance is going to be the most ambitious story I’ve told in the city since Cobalt City Blues. I’ve jokingly referred to it as a stand-alone Game of Thrones with capes. And for all I know, it could be a horrible failure. I might stumble and fail and never finish it.

But I can’t abide what is happening in our country, the rise of comfortable fascism that I’m seeing normalized in the press. I can’t accept it. I won’t. And neither will the heroes of Cobalt City (though some will find themselves disturbingly relaxed about it).

And at the end of the day, we fight with the swords we know.

Novel Fuel

Authorial Essentials

Somehow, I figured this whole thing would get easier with practice.

But writing is an eternal struggle between good and good enough. And if you have any sense of self awareness, the further you get into the creative obstacle course that is making art, the harder the challenges become.

Forever and ever.

Until you die.

Or, conversely, you could not push yourself to improve. You could find an acceptable level of good enough and cruise there to your heart’s content. Everyone does it from time to time. Sometimes you need to stop pedaling and coast, let gravity and momentum carry you through while you catch your breath to prepare for the next hill. Everyone’s route is different. And whether you’re cruising the lip of the plateau for a decade or so, or pushing for a new hill every year, the important thing is, you’re on the bike.

Also, apologies: I ran into a writer friend who is a cyclist just now. The tortured metaphor is her fault. My sharing it with you is my fault.

But here’s one more important consideration. Maybe the most important if you want to make something of a career doing this. That deadly tango of self-awareness and celebration, of good and good enough, that is everything.

So, let’s talk about the round of edits I just finished by way of example.

I wrote a book late in 2011 that I enjoyed quite a bit. The idea was to pitch it to someone who was considering publishing licensed novels set in their game universe. That didn’t end up panning out for a variety of reasons, which was fine. I still liked the novel. If nothing else, it was practice.

I gave it an edit and rewrite the next year, just to see if anything could be done with it. I still liked the book, but doing anything with it would require a major rewrite. I wasn’t prepared for that level of work. I wasn’t ready for that hill.

Another year later, I gave it that hard edit necessary to re imagine the universe and the alien races to make it my own. And then I let it sit for a while. Almost three years, actually. By the time I picked it up again to do a final pass with the intention of self-publishing this summer, something had happened.

In the intervening years, I’d become a somewhat of better writer. And a huge part of that was due to reading other incredible authors and wanting to write as well as them. That self awareness of your own skills, of where you are compared to where you want to be, is an incredible motivator. There was still a lot that I loved in this novel. I loved the dialogue, the overall arc, the characters, almost all of the component parts. But it was still weaker in execution than I remembered. And one of the antagonists was cartoonishly evil. Exploitatively evil. And that didn’t sit well with me.

Honestly, even with all the time I’d put into it, from the outline through the first draft all the way though multiple full rewrites/edits, it wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I saw where it was and where I needed it to be, and considering how vile Zenda Vox was, I didn’t know if it was worth the effort to fix.

Because this was a hell of a hill. I could see it looming ahead of me. And even if I got to the summit, there was no telling if I’d be able to do anything with the novel. It was always possible that the antagonist was a problem I’d never be able to fix. Initially, I decided to scrap it rather than put in the work.

I’m not proud of it. I mean, I kind of was at the time. I was glad that I put on the brakes and decided not to release as-is. I’m glad that Zenda Vox gave me second thoughts.

But I’m not proud that I was willing to quit rather than put in the work. Because quitting is always an option. It’s an option that’s always there for every author. Writing is voluntary. And the difference between a successful author and an unsuccessful one is often that one of them kept working rather than quit. And if I was willing to throw in the hat rather than work for it, then I wouldn’t like who I was.

You don’t get better just by wanting to be better. You have to fight for it. So on the advice of another author who I respect, I decided I’d give it one more look, to see if it could be fixed. I knew going in that this was going to be a slog, that I’d have to break it apart piece by piece, spread it apart on the garage floor, and really make this work. And if, at the end of all that, the book couldn’t be saved, at least I’d have the practice of that level of edit. Win or lose, it was worth it to climb the goddamned hill.

I’m happy to say the view from the summit is pretty good. I’ll still need another edit pass to clean it up, but the book still feels like a victory. I’ll be getting it out to a beta reader or two to spot weak points. And once I get it cleaned up, I think I’ll be in shape to move forward with it.

Is it perfect? Of course not. Perfection is a moving target. A mirage. But is it a fun pulp fiction romp? Does it actually have something positive to say in the process? Absolutely.

And hopefully later this year you’ll be able to read it.

More importantly, at least to me, I feel like I’ve leveled up as a writer. At least a little bit. And that’s important because it’s a long ride with no finish line, just harder and harder challenges along the way.

And I feel up for the challenge.

Murder and the Modern Writer

Posted: March 19, 2016 in Novels
Novel Fuel

Authorial Essentials

Looking back at my novels, there are a few universal truisms when it comes to my protagonists. At their core, they are all objectively good people.

They aren’t all saints, mind you. But unless I’ve seriously blocked someone out, they do not take lives capriciously, nor do they resort to extremes of violence for revenge. Killing isn’t portrayed as fun. [Ok, the as-of-yet unreleased No Escape from Planet Motherfucker is gleefully violent, but that’s the nature of that project. And even then, it’s not outright murderous.]

It’s one thing to write a death when it’s a moment of passion, when there’s a brutal life-or-death struggle, when you’re at war or violence descends and the character has no choice but to fight back or die. It’s reactive. It’s a consequence, not the goal. Writing an out-and-out murder is an entirely different brainspace–especially when it’s committed by someone who, up til then, has been a sympathetic POV character. It was not a comfortable experience. I don’t care for it.

When I started writing the current project, it was a palate cleanser–something weird and not too serious to clear out the pipes. It was part what-if, part dare, part joke. It was a response to a conversation about trends in Young Adult fiction, that the market was turning towards horror romance. Now, bear in mind that vampires and werewolves have been done to death and even zombies are starting to outlive their welcome. So what does that leave? Well, ghosts, for one. (Hm… I should have thought about that more seriously at the time!) And then, of course, there are always human monsters, namely serial killers and cannibals.

When I first proposed a YA horror romance about a young cannibal and a serial killer one of my best friends, biggest fans, and trusted readers said without hesitation, “You can’t write that.”

And by can’t, I know she meant shouldn’t. I understand entirely where she was coming from on that one. It’s a horrible idea. What is gained by putting that out in the world?

So I started writing to exorcise the horrible idea. And something weirdly sweet grew out of it–is continuing to grow. I’m honestly not sure how long it’s going to be when I’m done. I’m at around 26,000 words now, and I think I might hit 40,000. Maybe 50,000, but that seems a stretch. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it when I’m done. But I know that I’m going to finish it. Because what started as a challenge has turned into a genuine love story about outsiders and outcasts. It’s a story about lonely people who find each other, who band together to protect each other from a world that would destroy them. It’s a love story. It’s a metaphor. It’s sweet and funny and, surprisingly, not gleefully violent.

But this week I came to a turning point I only abstractly realized was waiting for me. And it has thrown me for quite a loop.

I’d been writing Ophelia Durant, my protagonist, as an objectively good person. Yeah, she had been eating human since she could chew meat, but it was how she was raised. She knows her family is different. She knows she’s an outcast. For her family, it has been the primary source of protein for over a hundred years. A practical consideration rather than a bloodlust. She’s never gone on the hunt, never killed anyone. That definition of being a good person has started to stretch.

She’s already starting to fall for Grant Liu, the broodingly quiet new kid at school in the over-sized black suit jacket, when she witnesses him kill someone. While the act is in self-defense, it isn’t the first time Grant has shed blood. He’s a killer. And even as she starts to understand how deep his personal darkness goes, she also discovers justifications to stand by him. Yes, he kills people. But as he tells her, “They’re all bad people.” Her complicity stretches that definition of good even more. It’s looking a bit brittle at this point, when they commit to stay together as a couple in defiance of everyone trying to keep them apart. But at least she’s not a killer.

Until she is.

I gazed into Taylor’s glassy, green eyes. She hadn’t been a 100% horrible person. There were moments in her life of genuine kindness. For someone. Somewhere. I had to believe that. Her attack on Grant, however misguided, had been motivated by a sense of protection, of loyalty to her friends. It didn’t balance or justify the violence she had visited upon Grant.

Balance is arbitrary. Abstract. Good and evil even more so. They were just labels we use to justify our actions, to help us sleep at night.

Taylor had hurt Grant.

Taylor wasn’t going to hurt anyone ever again.

It was as simple as that.

At that point, we’re kind of off the rails. I can’t continue operating under the auspices of Ophelia being a good person any more. Sympathetic, maybe. To a point. You can certainly understand why she loves Grant. Love isn’t about finding the perfect person so much as finding the perfect person for you, and she’s found that in him. He’s a reflection of her–both essentially kind people shaped by their parents to believe that murder can be a pragmatic solution.

Their love is a terrible love. It burns with the fury of a thousand suns. Now that they’ve embraced that and who they are, the town of Pluto Falls is living on borrowed time. The Autumn Harvest dance is only a week away. After that, everything will change. And anyone who gets in their way before then is going to burn.

 

Toos of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

I’m looking at a list I’ve scrawled in one of my notebooks. It details the novels I’ve written since I hunkered down to write Cobalt City Blues somewhere around 12-13 years ago. It’s been a good run, even if I count the wrecks that fell apart before the midpoint, or the ones that limped across the finish line to be abandoned.

Books that I can call finished–by that I mean a finished first draft with no gaps–average just over one a year.

Fourteen novels. There are two that are objectively horrible, and a few that would need to be rewritten from the ground up if I were to do anything with them (which I actually did with one of them a year or two ago.)

And then there’s Ravensgate.

I’ve been working on the Ravensgate books in some capacity for three years or more. That doesn’t even account for the world building that I did. It was always conceived as three books, first as a trilogy, then as a triptych. Things got shuffled around. Themes were uncovered. They got broken apart and shuffled again, leaving me with most of the first book and chunks of the second and third. I finished the first one, Of Rooks and Ravens. Then I rewrote it in first person rather than third person and gave it yet one more edit pass.

It was my big fuck-all fantasy series. The kind you’re supposed to write. Except it wasn’t going to be just like every other fantasy series. And I still think in many ways I managed that. The three separate narratives spread out over three books, each with their own theme and feel, and one angry old god returned to tie it all together. I had my diverse characters, my broken characters, my unique races, my political and cultural conflicts…

Then a market opened up and I took a hard look at submitting the first book. The second book was halfway done already, the third about a quarter of the way there. I can write like the devil himself when properly motivated. So I took a hard, critical look at Of Rooks and Ravens. I cut the first chapter out entirely. It was too much like a prologue. I looked at the now first chapter, which I had written and rewritten and rewritten again so many times.

And I ended up not submitting.

Because as much as I love that book. As much as I love the characters and their arcs and the weird genre things and world building I got to do there, Of Rooks and Ravens just wasn’t good enough.

Who really wants another fuck-all fantasy series, anyway?

Now, I’m not saying it wasn’t GOOD. There’s some outright great stuff in there. There are scenes that make me tear up every time I re-read. But I genuinely despair that fundamentally, it’s just like every other fuck-all fantasy series out there. And in order to stand out, it has to be better than good. It has to be extra-ordinary. It isn’t there. I don’t know if I’m capable of getting it there. Not at this point, at any rate. And holy shit is that frustrating.

Maybe some day I’ll boil the meat off its bones and build it up again like the beautiful Promethium beast it wants to be. Maybe some day I’ll do the other two books: Redemption of the Yellow Wolf and Sea In his Blood. Maybe I’ll even spin Preston out into her continuing series where she’s building a network of spies to challenge Yuri Vostov at his own game.

Maybe.

For now, the Ravensgate series is going into a digital trunk. All 120,000+ words of it plus all the world building documents. Maybe less hypercritical eyes than mine will read it and kick some sense into me. But there is no shortage of other novels demanding my attention. So I’m going to give them my attention instead.

Ravensgate will abide. It’s what it does.

The Dark of the Year

Posted: December 29, 2015 in Anthologies, Novels, Short Fiction
IMG_1509

Time is never on our side.

It seems like it’s been a year since we’ve done this. It was, in point of fact, almost a year, since I sat here and looked back at the year that was and the year to come. The dark of the year provides a good opportunity for perspective, like standing on a high peak, the world spread out around you.

I had hoped we’d make progress as a nation in confronting systemic racism and a murderous (and unjust) criminal justice system. Instead, it appears to be getting even worse, black and brown men, women, children gunned down by police, arrested for no cause, left to die. Coupled with bigotry, sexism, and xenophobia digging in like a stubborn tick, 2015 has been a challenging, and for far too many, a deadly year.

America, get your shit together. You can do better. You NEED to.

Ok. I’m getting off the soap box. That’s not why y’all come here anyway. Let’s take stock of the personal and professional milestones of the year that was 2015.

I had planned on finishing Rooks and Ravens and publishing the latest Cobalt City novel both of which happened, though the title changed on the later project to Ties that Bind. But Rooks is not ready for submission yet, and though Ties sold a handful (literally, a handful, as in less than 5) of copies, I have no reason to believe anyone has read it. Not that I can blame them, really. I love the book, but the subject matter is bleak, and the desire for escapism in the bleak year that was 2015 makes a lot of sense. I did not touch the novella trilogy at all until a week ago, so I’m kind of beating myself up over that. I wrote only one new short story, “The Last Real Man” which was published in the fantastic Selfies from the End of the World anthology. And instead of writing a new Cobalt City book in November, I wrote my first full horror novel, the haunted house story The Lictonwood. Time will tell if anything will come of that.

The biggest writing news in the last year was that Ink Calls to Ink, which I was afraid I’d eventually have to self-publish, was picked up and published by CHBB Publishing in July to rave reviews. It has made for an interesting year in which I learned a lot about marketing and promotion. And people seem to love the book, so I feel vindicated there.

The less sunny writing news from 2015 is that I spent a lot of time feeling like I was spinning my wheels as a writer. There were a lot of false starts, a lot of abandoned projects. I spent too many days in the last year feeling like a fraud–even a few where I contemplated giving up on writing entirely. It didn’t last. It never does. But it was a rough year. I had two novels and one novella that started off in a blaze of excitement die before they found their legs. I might be able to go back and resurrect one or two of them. I don’t know.

Other sad news was the untimely death of my favorite local karaoke bar. Though it was reborn newer, slicker, and cleaner (with better food), the community that had grown up there has largely scattered. The drinks are more expensive, the bar stools aren’t held together with duct tape, and the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” vibe is gone. I still do karaoke at the new location, but it’s been a rough transition. I miss my karaoke family.

Looking forward into 2016, I’m starting off the year driving my son back to Colorado before he flies to Florida for a great new job opportunity. Our schedules made it difficult for us to see each other when he was here, but I still loved having him in Seattle. It’s our loss, but it’s Florida’s, and his, gain.

Other hot-ticket calendar items include Norwescon 39 over Easter weekend. I put together the Horror track for them in 2015 and it went well enough that I was invited to come back and do it again. I’m thrilled with the lineup of panels and panelists. That weekend is going to be outstanding.

As for writing, I’m still doing it. Finishing something in November put a bit of a fire in me. I’m letting The Lictonwood sit for a few months before giving it a hard second draft. Then it’s off to beta readers and a third draft before I submit. At this point, at least, I think it’s an entirely marketable horror novel. I guess we’ll see what the beta readers think. While it sits and rests, I’m writing A Winter Lullaby, which is less urban fantasy than it is rock ‘n roll fable. I’m making good progress and hope to have the first draft done by end of February. I’ve also dug out the novella, the first part of the Shadows of Architecture. I think there’s life in it. I’m giving it one more edit pass and then sending it around. Time permitting, I’ll write the other two parts, and if no one bites on the novella, I will combine it all into a novel. Like motherfucking Voltron. I’m sure another novel lies in wait for next November, maybe even sooner. Time will tell what shape that takes.

I have no plans for short stories at the moment. But I do have four out making the rounds now. My short fiction has been hard to slot into a category or genre lately, so it’s been more difficult to sell. I’ll still write it if the story is there, but it’s taking up far less of my focus these days, and that’s okay.

Finally, the last new thing I’m writing is comedy. Yeah. You heard me right. I’ve been flirting with the idea of trying my hand at stand-up comedy since World Fantasy in Toronto a few years back. But I never followed through. Turns out one of my friends from karaoke also has the comedy bug, so we’re going to workshop a few things, put together a tight set, and try our hands at open mic somewhere in Seattle.

Because if we need anything in our lives right now, it might be a little bit of light, joy, and humor.

See you in 2016.

Toos of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

It’s been a while since I’ve done an update. November can get like that around these parts. So let’s take stock of creative projects and give y’all a glimpse behind the curtain.

My November novel (i.e. NaNoWriMo novel), The Lictonwood, was finished on schedule, much to everyone’s surprise–especially my own. And by finished, I mean I hit my word count goal. I still have a short final chapter to write, but I’m glad I didn’t rush to write that section immediately following the preceding chapters. If I had, the shape of it would have been very different from what I now know it needs to be. I’m going to let it sit for a while and then write the final chapter after I’ve re-read the whole thing sometime in February.

At that point, I’m going to give it a solid second draft rewrite, then a hard third draft polish, and at that point get it out to a few beta readers. Since it’s a horror novel set in Detroit that involves home reconstruction, ideally I’ll find a few betas who: 1) love horror, 2) know a bit about construction, and/or 3) know a bit about Detroit. Interested parties should contact me. They will be rewarded with a mention in the book and a bag of candy.

Once I’ve done a post-beta rewrite, I’m going to get The Lictonwood submitted out. The market is ripe for horror novels right now, and at this stage at least I’m really pretty happy with how this one turned out. It has a great heroic lead in Navajo construction worker Daryl Chee, and I’ve had the titular building spinning around in my brain for almost a decade now. The timing for setting this in Detroit, with the city rebuilding and reinventing itself, made it kind of perfect.

Now that I’ve set that aside to pickle for a month or two, I’ve moved on to the next book. Just in time for winter.

Entitled A Winter Lullaby, it features a faded black punk rocker at the tail end of an in-glamorous career as the New England leg of his tour falls apart. Forced by circumstance to stay with his estranged sister in the mysterious town of Devil’s Gap, Connecticut, he has to wrestle with past mistakes and a lifetime of hard choices. But things are not as they seem in this sleepy town. And as the first snow approaches, something powerful and ancient is returning to Devil’s Gap.

Pitched as a rock ‘n roll fable, A Winter Lullaby will examine how growing old is not the same as growing up, the fine line between leaving a toxic situation and running away from your problems, and what price we’re willing to pay for our security.

I love this cast of characters, from musician Calvin James Lincoln who feels forgotten for being both black and gay in a genre that tends to overlook both, to Nathan Pembroke, the 92yr old painter who lost his hearing during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but knows more about the town’s secrets than he can ever express.

I’m currently two chapters in and aim to have it finished by the end of February. At approximately the same length of The Lictonwood, two and a half months should be ample time to knock out a draft. Maybe I’m a bit crazy, but due to the subject matter and setting, I’d really love to get the draft finished during the winter.

In the meantime, I should get back to writing.

If you don’t hear from me again in the next two weeks, have a wonderful holidays!

Available September 1, 2015

Available September 1, 2015 Cover by Luke Spooner

The following is an advance look at the next Cobalt City book, a grim look into the underworld of the city from which no one returns unchanged. Cobalt City: Ties that Bind will be available exclusively for the Kindle on September 1st, 2015.


Chapter Two—Bantam

If you keep your ear to the street like I do, you tend to hear things. For instance, I heard about group of hero nerds who created a complicated ranking system of all known capes, whether they’re heroes or villains or those like me who sort of fall in-between. They evolved this into online message boards and, believe it or not, a sort of fantasy league. I clean up on my office fantasy basketball pool but this was a kind of alchemy beyond even me. My activity on the fringes of the Cobalt City cape and cowl proved to be little to no help. But even if I wasn’t going to win any tournaments, I found their system of defining the relative “weight class” of given super powered individuals fascinating.

I was stunned to see that even I was ranked on their boards. I thought I was being discreet. Or at least as discreet as a vigilante in a rooster mask could be in this town. Apparently I wasn’t discreet enough because there I was, sixth from the bottom. To be fair, in addition to being new I hadn’t displayed any powers, just a pair of tonfa fighting batons, toe-spurs on my boots, and compact glider wings built into my costume. It made sense that I’d be feather weight. Bantam weight, if you will. The only capes ranked lower were ones I tended to think of as jokes or tourists who were going to get themselves killed in spandex. Snowflake, the panda who flew the plane for the Protectorate ranked above me.

I’ll admit, I was kind of hurt by that at first. But I had to be honest with myself. Knockabout could stop an army, locking them in place with the gravity of a dying sun. Mister Grey was a terrifying, immortal cloud of crematorium ash in human form. I could beat on a fool with my sticks. The rankings hurt, but not as much as having my spine ripped out.

I joined the cape fantasy league and was slowly figuring out the system. I made a point not to draft myself as I felt that would be unethical, especially after the corruption scandal that hit the Cobalt City Blue Blazers last season. In addition to keeping me occupied with another fantasy league, I used it as a guide to make informed decisions. When I pulled on the stylized rooster mask, I made it a habit not to pick fights outside of my weight class.

I don’t know what kind of medical plans other Cobalt City heroes might have, but I was stuck on the police department’s plan. If I showed up at my HMO with a proton blast wound, questions were going to be asked. The more questions I could avoid, the happier I’d be.

Bad enough I had a dead dad with a criminal record. Bad enough that I was woman, and barely met the department’s height guidelines at 5’ 7”. Bad enough I didn’t play well with others and hadn’t been assigned a partner since Olson transferred to vice in January. If word leaked that I put on a mask to do things as Bantam that I couldn’t do as a cop, I’d be out of a job.

I learned to embrace anonymity. You hear of people like Tree Frog or Midnight Thunder or even Gato Loco because the press loves the glamor of people in costumes stopping other people in costumes from committing crime. I vowed to keep it simple to keep under the radar. No capes. If they had a costume or powers or a name like “Dr. Destruction” or “The Reaver,” they were someone else’s problem.

I didn’t need press to feel I was making a difference. I didn’t need to climb the ranks in the fantasy league. There was still plenty of crime in Cobalt City committed by ordinary people making very bad decisions. No, it wasn’t glamorous. But even without costumes or powers, they were real monsters. They didn’t bother to wear masks because their victims were their own family, their neighbors. So I was able to work in the shadows because acknowledging me meant admitting that a person don’t need a death ray and an iron mask to be evil. No one wants to read that over their morning coffee.

When I heard that there was someone with a gun spotted entering an old hotel around the corner from me, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check. Give me a guy with a gun over some psycho with telepathic wolves any day of the week. He was relatively easy to spot, too. It was hot as balls out, and this joker was wearing a trench coat.

In retrospect, that should have been a red flag.

I didn’t recognize the fucker until he pulled on his mask at which point it was too late. He was distinctive with the mask: a black full-head affair with a giant blue circle over the face. A contract killer, new to the Cobalt City scene, he signed his two kills as “Regret.” The report said he carried two custom guns that fired a wide variety of specialized ammunition, which he proved to be true by whipping them out in the hotel lobby.

As the two midnight black hand-cannons appear from under his trench coat, I scanned for his potential targets. Despite my rooster mask, he hadn’t seemed to really notice me yet, and trained killer or not, he telegraphed his targets like a goddamned amateur. Two people stepping out of the fancy hotel bar across the lobby, a man and woman in their fifties, both white, both distinctly middle-class—not the kinds of people one usually pictured as the targets for a paid assassin. What could they have possibly done except maybe let the front lawn get a bit out of control? But in my years in Cobalt City, I’d seen people killed for less. And here I was, the only person between a contract killer and his paycheck.

There was no time to think, not even to second-guess myself. I launched a flying kick straight into Regret’s back. The impact was enough to knock him over, and the toe-spur in my boot sliced through the back of his coat. He tumbled across the worn gold-flecked maroon of the lobby carpet and came up in a crouch facing me, no worse for wear. It gave me the first good look at what he was wearing under the coat.

Kevlar body armor. Shit. That’s bad news.

I had my tonfa out, the length of each club down my forearms, ready to block. But two guns beats two sticks, especially with fifteen feet between us. I told myself that at least I bought the intended targets some time, but both of them had frozen up next to this potted plant, a big bastard with wide, deep green leaves that looked more at home in a jungle than a hotel lobby in New England. So much for hoping the rabbits would run.

“I don’t know who you are,” Regret said, “But you’ll bleed like the rest.”

Several years on the force and even more growing up in my dad’s shadow taught me the sound of a guy putting on a fake tough-guy voice. Despite the Kevlar, mask, guns, and stated occupation on his theoretical business card, this guy was not the world-class bad-ass he liked to project himself to be. That said, he was still a confirmed killer with specialized gun, body armor, and the drop on me.

He was out of my weight class. No doubt about it. FantasyCape.com would probably have given me long odds on dropping him. 45 to 1 was my guess. He opened up on me with one of his guns, and I had the good sense to recognize he wasn’t just waving them around as a threat. I flipped backwards and the shot passed inches below me as I got the hell out of the way. I came down on the other side of a leather sofa that looked as solid as a mid-sized sedan which had taken the bullet meant for me. The shot had dented the leather but not punctured it. Sandbag rounds. Non-lethal.

I doubted someone put him on retainer to tenderize this couple, so he might have balked at the idea of killing a cape. I might not be high profile, or any profile, but that kind of thing puts a target on a person’s back. There were far worse rounds he could have unloaded in my direction. His last kill had burned up from the inside out. While that target had been a sleazy banker connected to a billion dollar fraud scheme, immolation was still a hell of a way to go. At least he was going easy on me so far. I didn’t care much for his condescension, though it may have been the only thing keeping me alive at that particular juncture.

Regret must have figured me out of the fight and turned back towards his targets. I hurled one of the heavy sofa cushions at his arms with every ounce of strength I had. It might have been out of spite at being dismissed so readily, but it was enough to throw off his aim. The huge bronze-finished planter holding the jungle plant paid the ultimate sacrifice and showered the two screaming targets with dirt and ceramic dust. That was enough to get them moving, and both husband and wife, or I’m guessing husband and wife, dodged back into the hotel bar. If there was no back exit, they just boxed themselves in, but it was still better than standing in plain sight with thumbs up their respective rectums.

It still put me no closer to stopping Regret. I could close the distance, but the likelihood of getting shot at least once was phenomenally high. I crunched the numbers in my head, a skill that would have made me a great insurance actuary had I not dreamed for something different. It was automatic, an learned response to pick out this assassin’s weak points. He had his weaknesses. Everyone did. Despite the body armor on his torso and probably lighter weight armor in plating on arms and legs, his joints were still relatively unprotected. His mask looked lightly armored, flexible like ballistic weave, so it would stop penetration from a bullet and prevent slicing, but he would still be vulnerable to a blunt force trauma which I could provide in spades. But seeing a weakness and being able to exploit it were two very different beasts. For me to press my advantage, I had to get within striking distance or fling my weapons at him which was one hell of a gamble. With no practical cover between me the chances of losing my weapon or catching a bullet were high.

He must have seen my considering making a stupid decision and fired off two more shots in my direction to dissuade me. The first hit the sofa and froze it solid. The second filled my area with a choking smoke that forced me to pull back even further, behind a pillar on my left.

That’s when she showed up.

I had seen Velvet in the news for a while now, first attached to Starcom innovator Jaccob Stevens as something of a troubleshooter, and then as a member of the local superhero collective, the Protectorate. She was hot-headed. A scrapper.

As weight classes went, Regret was in for some rough learning.

He managed to squeeze off two shots at her, both of which hit her cloak and fell useless to the ground. Then she was on him, the fingers of her left hand curled in his armored chest piece like it was nothing. She lifted him off the ground and slapped him unconscious.

Not punched.

Slapped. Open palm. From where I stood, it sounded like the world’s largest belly flop and he was out like a light.

I swear on my father’s name, she looked disappointed.

Still holding the limp body of the hitman, she turned to face me. I saw her weighing the costume: rooster mask, brown bodysuit with wide stripes up the side in a deep russet. If she saw the toe spurs, she didn’t react. Most heroes didn’t wear blades. Too much risk of killing someone, which most heroes were careful about. But I wasn’t most heroes.

“Who are you?”

It would have made me happier if she had dropped Regret, but I suppose it was safer to hold onto him until the police arrived. “They call me Bantam.”

“Who calls you that?”

It was a legit question. I worked solo and struck fast, so it wasn’t like I had any serious press outside of the fantasy leagues. No one had called me much of anything out loud, let alone Bantam. I had been careful. But that had been my father’s name when he wore the same costume and it seemed every person on the damn planet had a camera on their phone now. One more thing to blame Jaccob Stevens and Starcom for, I guess. “People.”

It was enough of an answer for her and she nodded her head towards the captive. “Guess that explains the chicken mask. And what’s his name?”

I didn’t feel it was worth correcting her on the difference between rosters and chickens. “The papers call him Regret.”

She laughed, a lighter sound than I would have expected from someone with her presence, her visible strength. “Regret? Oh, that’s got to suck for him. Did he lose a bet?”

“You’ll have to ask him,” I said. “While you’re at it, you might want to ask who hired him.”

I imagine her eyebrows shot up beneath her mask though I couldn’t see it. Her entire demeanor shifted. “He’s a contract hitter?”

“Yes. No idea who hired him, but his intended targets are the couple in their fifties currently hiding out in the bar, likely reeking of their own urine. I’d really like to know why they were targets.”

Velvet looked in the direction of the bar, at Regret, back to me in quick succession. “And why should I trust you?”

“Because I held your playmate there off long enough for you to get here and stop him,” I said. I heard the approach of sirens. This part of town, they were likely from my precinct, too. I couldn’t linger. “Roof of St. Joan at midnight. I’ll share what I know.”

I got half of a nod from her. It was enough. And it was still a few hours away. Plenty of time for me to do some digging. I bolted for the stairs and took them two at a time until I hit the rooftop, somewhat winded. I wasn’t cut out for this. I knew it. Hell, Velvet probably knew it as well.

But I needed to know. It was going to drive me crazy if I didn’t. I took a few seconds on the rooftop to catch my breath before plunging off the north side of the building.

Arms out to my side, the glider fins caught the air, sent me soaring on a thermal updraft. I rode it all the way to my downtown apartment, sighting on the yellow rug hung over the railings as an easy marker.

I opened up the small plastic tool box on my tiny patio and rooted through the plastic baggies of incense until I found the pack of cigarettes I had buried there. I only allowed myself one a day, and damn if I hadn’t earned it today. Mask on the table next to me, I opened the sliding glass door to let my apartment cool off a bit while I sat at the little bistro table in the dark and smoked.
Violence was a funny thing. In the heat of the moment, anyone could be a target. But premeditated violence was something different. Give it enough forethought to hire someone to do the killing—that was something ugly and cold. It was impersonal, wanting someone dead but not needing the release of doing the act yourself, in fact cultivating that distance from the target.

In my experience, there were three kinds of people who went that route: someone who didn’t want to get caught, someone who wasn’t capable of doing the act themselves, or someone who simply believed the other person just flat out needed to die.

It made me wonder which we were dealing with.

And why.

Strong female heroes don't get much stronger than Velvet

Strong female heroes don’t get much stronger than Velvet

Frequent readers know that I have plans to put out another Cobalt City book this fall. I might have mentioned it once or twice. I might also have mentioned that it’s a bit dark.

I’m deep in my final edit pass right now, with a goal to have it formatted by the end of the month. I’ve also been talking to a cover artist who has done great work for some friends and fellow publishers. I think he’ll be a great fit for the material.

Here’s the thing.

It’s dark.

“But dude,” I hear you say, “You write horror. That’s already dark. Isn’t that like warning us that the ocean is wet?”

Yes. And so very much no.

Let me share a bit of an anecdote. Years ago I used to collaborate with a good friend of mine on screenplays. The first two were horror, and we reached an early understanding: he’d do horror, but not serial killers. His reasoning was that it was one thing to write about supernatural horrors, but he didn’t want to write about human monsters. Ultimately, he didn’t want to feed into our inherent distrust of one another. And I respect that, so no serial killers.

Yeah, I write horror. But pretty much without exception it has all been supernatural horror. I have no problem making people look twice at potentially evil finger puppets, or question what might be lurking, evil and eternal at the bottom of a cold lake. But I have pretty much steered clear of human monsters.

The next Cobalt City book is not horror. It is very much a crime story. And like Greetings from Buena Rosa, the roots of the story lie in very real life horrors. In the case of Buena Rosa, it was the large number of unsolved murders in border regions of Mexico, and police torturing innocent people into confessing so that they could show some sort of progress or resolution. In the case of the new book, it was the industry of sex trafficking.

The truth of sex trafficking and human slavery is horrifying. It’s real easy to see why we as a culture are so quick to turn a blind eye or pretend that it “doesn’t happen here.” But it does. It’s a shadow industry that, according to some studies, collectively generates more money than fast food. We’re talking billions of dollars.

It’s the kind of situation that makes me want to see heroes step in and address the problem. And rather than send Gato Loco in again, I found my heroes in Protectorate favorite Velvet and a new character named Bantam. They’ll be joined by Xia Lo, the Harlequin, enforcer for the city’s criminal syndicate. Maybe “joined” is too strong of a word…

In many ways, this book (originally called Thicker than Water but now titled Ties that Bind), is an exorcism. It’s become a deeply personal project for me. All of my point-of-view characters are female. 2/3 of them are Asian. One character is gay, another bi. In watching them navigate and confront the linked industries of human trafficking and sex slavery, I get to see them grow and change. For purely selfish reasons I get to confront a problem I find deeply problematic on a variety of fronts. And as I’m closing in on the end of this final edit pass, I recognize that it’s a damn good book despite being a brutal ride.

Yeah, it’s grim subject matter. The journey is not a fun one. Imagine Andrew Vacchs writing superhero comics in the 80’s. It felt necessary for me to write this, but I honestly can’t imagine anyone wanting to read it. Sure, there’s a glimmer of hope. These are heroes, after all. That said, it’s not like anything else I’ve ever written in Cobalt City.

But I’m publishing it anyway. I’m shelling out cash for a cover I can be proud of. I’m making the text as polished as it can be. And I’ll be dropping this dark little slice of Cobalt City out into the world sometime in late September. A tiny slice of hell at about 50,000 words in length.

I’ll be honest, it’s entirely likely that I won’t sell a single copy. While it’s certainly not the goal, it is the realistic expectation. I know that Cobalt City: Ties that Bind is a good book. It’s a book that I’m proud of. I don’t need sales or reviews to convince me of that. If you want something less grim, I encourage you to read any of the other books in the Cobalt City universe, either those written by me or by several other talented authors. Completely ignore this one. That’s fine. I don’t blame you.

But if you’re ready to take a peek into the darker corners of Cobalt City, I have a book for you.

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

It was Gaiman who said: “Stories are ways that we communicate important things, but … stories maybe really are genuinely symbiotic organisms that we live with, that allow human beings to advance.”

So I find it perfect in a way that my novel Ink Calls to Ink is being compared to Gaiman. He is a big influence on my writing. American Gods is a particular favorite. We seem to be on somewhat of the same page on how stories, and their characters grow.

That was what got me writing Ink Calls to Ink, at least.

These characters, removed from the relative “comfort zone” of their familiar texts find themselves in unfamiliar lands. All that they have left is their sense of self. Their stories. But at what point does the comfort of that known story become more crutch than comfort, more excuse to not change rather than grow?

We’ve all been there, believe it or not.

All our lives, we’ve had people try to fit us into boxes, held us up to their expectations. Whether it’s the gender-role expectation that girls want to be princesses who will grow up to be good wives and boys will enjoy sports and cars. Whether it’s the well-meaning societal expectation that we’ll go to college, get a job, and get married and raise the next generation. We’re fitted with labels that become scripts that become the paths society expects us to take.

Some are harmless. But I’d argue that most of them, even the benign ones, hinted at rather than articulated, are, at best, limiting. And it’s too tempting for us to use those same labels and expectations as excuses. Take for example something as simple as Astrological charts. I’m a Taurus, and if you know anything about Taurus, the Bull, it’s likely that they are stubborn. And yeah, I can be stubborn. You know who else can be stubborn? Pretty much everyone. Every time my stubborn streak is challenged and I react with “Well, I’m a Taurus,” then I lose–I lose that opportunity to do better.

It’s easy not to work on your own story. It’s easy to look at where you are and not challenge it.

Want another example?

I’ve been married. Three times, actually. The “Why” of the beginning and end for each of those is kind of immaterial. Suffice to say they all started with the best of intentions. They all seemed like good ideas at the time. And when they ended, that was also a good idea. But the “Why” of the overall narrative bears examining.

I always thought I was supposed to get married. I bought that social narrative. It was expected of me to get married, get a good job. I was sold a lie that that would make me complete. And when it didn’t I felt like I failed. The problem was that I was trying to follow a generic plan for a happy life that just didn’t fit. And as long as I tried to follow that script I wasn’t going to be happy.

It wasn’t until I had been alone for a while, throwing myself into my writing and making it my primary focus, that I realized what did make me happy. It wasn’t until I shed off any notion of what was expected of me, what other people’s idea of my happiness should be, that I was able to find my own. It’s at the very root of Existentialism, that the universe has no meaning for us and our lives that we do not find for ourselves. I found my better story by writing it myself. And it’s an ongoing process. I am constantly trying to evolve and grow my view of the world, to make myself a better person and the world a better place around me. We change the world by changing ourselves first.

But we have to be open to some brutal self-examination. We have to challenge ourselves and our preconceptions. And, ultimately, we have to change.

Which brings us back to the characters of Ink Calls to Ink.

The characters are shaped by their text. Even more so by people’s expectations based on what they know of the text. Judas, for example, is known primarily for his act of betrayal. His death is known, but there are different translations and editions of the bible and his manner of death is not consistent in all versions. Judas remembers all of them, because in that way he is myriad. But where is the deeper reading of his text? How does he fit into the larger story of which he was a part? Without his betrayal, could the rest of the tale happened? Does that make his act holy because it allowed the crucial martyrdom of Jesus? Does that, in turn, make Judas himself a martyr? Is he a villain or a victim? That is something that he’s left to struggle with throughout Ink Calls to Ink. Is he condemned to a limited reading of his text, or is he capable of more? Is he worthy of redemption, and if so, what form does that take?

Removed from their text, removed from that sense of predetermination, is it possible for the Fictional Personae to evolve and grow beyond their stories?

Do the Fictional Personae accept someone else’s story, or do they learn to write their own?

Do we?