Monday, December 31, 2012

The Reawakening: The Living Dead Trilogy Book I (Volume 1) The Reawakening: The Living Dead Trilogy Book I (Volume 1) by Joseph Souza
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Usually, Permuted Press offers up some of the best in the zombie genre. They have given us J.L Bourne, Kim Paffenroth and one of my favorites, Tony Monchinski. Sadly, this was not a book that I could give the same praise to. The story has some decent ideas, but the characters are simply dreadful. That is the only word that I can come up with. I won't belabor what others have already said, but the ineptness of the scientist, the over-the-top stereotypical 'religious nut' and some inconsistencies that just become too frustrating. Also, you do not "absolve" and amendment, you abolish it. I could nit pick, but that is not my style.

All I can say is that, in my opinion, Permuted has given me some GREAT reads over the years. This just is not one of them.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A year in review...sort of.

This is the time of year where many people like to create lists. "The Top 10" this and "Best of..." that. But really, do you need somebody else's list to tell you what was good, bad , or otherwise? I doubt it. Plus, you have probably read enough of them in the past few days to the point where you are sick of them.

What I want to share are just some of my highlights. I figure it would be nice to open the doors to my world for a few minutes and let you see a slice of what made 2012 a pretty good year for me. Of course, topping the list is my reunion with my daughter Ronni after 16 years. I can not begin to describe that event. I can't share what it meant every night that she was here to be able to tuck her in and kiss her forehead and hear her say, "Night, Dad." To take her out and teach her to drive, and to hear how excited she was to tell everybody about how she drove on the freeway.

In my professional life, I am now the editor for two writers that I respect a great deal. I was recently hired by Mark Tufo (author of the incredible Zombie Fallout series) and John O'Brien (author of the thrilling military-minded zombie series- A New World) to edit their work. This might not seem very exciting to many, but for me, it was a validation of all the hard work that I have put in learning the craft. Simply put, the written word is a tricky monster. I continue to learn more each day as I am not ever satisfied that I "have it down" to the point of perfection.

This past summer, I was invited to participate in "The Summer of Zombie" blog tour by another of my compatriots, Armand Rosamilia. I didn't really know him that well when it began, but I can say that I have met somebody that I call friend in the real sense of the word. Very few individuals have his heart...and I hope that he will extend the invitation this coming summer.

Did I mention that I saw my daughter?

On other fronts, I put out a few books this past year. One of them I owe entirely to my friend, Vix Kirkpatrick. She refused to accept that the Zomblog series was over. Because of that, I wrote the fourth book in that series, Zomblog: Snoe.
It is set almost 20 years after the first book and paints a picture of a world that is searching for direction. This is the first time that I consciously set out to put an underlying theme to my work. How much of who we are is predicated on our biology, and how much is our environment? I will write two more books, and then that series is OFFICIALLY complete.

The highlight for me as a writer was the release of Dead: Winter. At the time, it was the best sales numbers on a new release to date. It flirted with the Amazon Top 100 in horror, but did not quite make it. Still, it was (and remains) a consistent seller. And to be honest, that is why I am able to do what I love for a living. To write is a dream, and I will never quit. However, to write for a living is more than I could have ever hoped for.

Then, just a few days ago, on December 15th, (the same day that I would pick up my daughter at the airport) I released Dead: Siege & Survival. It has blown everything else out of the water as far as release numbers. I realize that there are lots of people who sell far more books than I, but I measure myself against MY goals...not other people's. The release of the 5th book in the DEAD series has had the added benefit of pushing my Amazon Horror Author Ranking up to the top 100 where I usually bounce around between 75-100. Again, I know it might not seem like much to some, but considering where I have been...this is a personal victory that holds meaning for me.

Oh...and I saw my daughter after 16 years...did I mention that?

What did not happen this year was any sort of apocalypse. Mayan or otherwise. December 21st was another Y2K...or Capone's Vault. A lot of hype...and no substance. That's okay. Honestly, things were just starting to look up for an apocalypse would have really screwed things up. Denise is back to work (AND working on a second Master's), my writing is starting to generate a modest income...and I got to see my daughter.

So, since you've read this far, I will put in a tiny list of highlights in the horror genre. Here were some books that I REALLY liked...IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER!!!

  1. Chocolate Covered Eyes by Lori Lopez
  2. The Book of Riley (Part 1 & 2) by Mark Tufo
  3. Wormwood by Michael James McFarland
  4. Miami Spy Games by Armand Rosamilia
  5. Tales From the Mist (Anthology) by various talented authors
There were lots of others...but I promised myself a limit of five. So if I left you out, don't feel slighted, chances are, I left you a review that told you what I thought...good, bad, or otherwise.

In closing, I want to mention a few people. The names will mean little to many, but these people each have a special place in my heart. So, if you want to skip the gushy stuff and are fairly certain you are not going to be mentioned, then just accept my gratitude for reading my work and allowing me to pursue my dream. Stay safe and make 2013 the best year possible.

Catie Rhodes, thank you for being a friend. This year had ups and downs, and you stepped in not giving a whit about the past to be my friend. For that reason alone, you will always be just exactly that to me...a friend.
Armand Rosamilia, you brought me in on my first blog tour. You turned a deaf ear to a few haters and extended a hand in friendship. I hope that we get the chance to sit down to dinner some day.
Mark Tufo, not only did you hire me as your editor, but you have sent others my way with recommendations that almost make me blush. You didn't even know it, but you play a huge part in my being able to do what I love for a living. I hope we get the chance to sit down and maybe play poker and tell stories some day.
Valarie Griffiths Brown, Woodstock, what can I say? You are just as sweet as ever and seeing you on stage this year was a treat. I wish we could get together more often.
Jamie Smith, what can I say? You and I have known each other for DECADES. You know exactly how I feel. And perhaps we will someday "Do the TIME WARP AGAIN!!!"

Last, but not least...Vix Kirkpatrick. My dear friend...even though we can not talk as often as we like, your friendship means the world to me. While some writers may have more fans...I got them beat by a mile because YOU are my friend.

To all, have a safe and happy 2013.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

WormwoodWormwood by Michael James McFarland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am fortunate to receive review copies from time to time. It is the proverbial "Box of Chocolates" mentioned by one Mr. Gump. You never know what you're gonna get. In this case...I have to say that if you are a fan of the zombie genre, yet are not familiar with Wormwood by Michael James McFarland, you are missing out.

The zombie scene has been deluged with titles in the past few years...some good, other not so much. I would dare to say that Mr. McFarland is one of the best writers you have not heard of yet...but should. He is exceptional at creating a tight scene...and offering a variety of characters to love or hate. In addition, he is not shy about exposing the darkness that lurks under the surface of humanity.

One of the true strengths of Wormwood rested in the set up. So often, readers of the zombie genre are plopped down in the middle of the story. There is something special about watching a plausible chain of events unfold that bring on the apocalypse. Like the tide, the central characters in this story watch the horror start out east and head toward them with a painful slowness. This is where McFarland really shines. The tension built in the first third of the book is a rarity that you have to read for yourself to enjoy.

I give this book all five of its well deserved stars. I offer no spoilers, but will warn you that there are some scenes that may be a touch brutal. My only fault that I could mention was that I felt the "gas station" scene with the splash of "Deliverance" happened a bit soon in the chaos. While I certainly feel that there is a dark, lawlessness that would ensue, I felt that particular scene happened a shade too soon. That would be my only complaint if I were to nitpick. Regardless, this is a super entry and deserves more attention.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dan O Brien's End of the World Playlist

The End of the World Playlist The End of the World Playlist by Dan O'Brien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading this book, The End of the World Playlist, by Dan O'Brien, I was impressed with his style. His words flow in a literary manner that almost seems too highbrow for the genre.

The story stars in the middle...or the end. The reader feels like he or she is dropped into a scene of something much larger. While the characters are distinct in their nature, there does seem to be too much back story hinted at throughout. This is the only real problem that I had as I read.

O'Brien writes well, and a short story is a nice chance to get away for a few minutes while on the stair stepper or treadmill, but this story has depth that begs to be investigated. I did have one problem with a scene where one of the guys had been bitten. In previous similar instances, the infection was described as being visible, yet this one individual "didn't know what had happened in all the confusion" and then bites one of the others. A small gripe, but one I feel was worth noting.

The read is clean and well edited. I will read more of O'Brien's titles.

Monday, December 24, 2012

My own Christmas Story...

As the season pounces on us...I want to wish you all the very best. Over the year I have met some wonderful people and made a few REAL friends. So, as I will not be here for the next few days in order to spend the holidays with my family, I leave you this little story...

Yes, Rindy, There is a Santa Clause
By TW Brown

Rindy Farmer peeked out from the shadowy doorway. This house had been a good find, sitting all by itself on a hill looking out over a vastness that everyone was pretty sure must be somewhere in Wyoming. A steady rain continued to fall, adding to the gloom felt by everybody the past few days. Nobody could be absolutely certain, but the general consensus placed it to be sometime in December. This would be the third Christmas since them. Most folks called them zombies, not Rindy. That was the nickname she had given her little brother Zimbalist—named after some long dead television star that her dad liked when he was little.
When her parents brought him home the first day and told her the name they had picked, she wrinkled her nose in distaste. From that day, he’d been ‘Baby Zombie’ to her. He was dead now.
Both times.
Same as her parents.
At age twelve, Rindy Farmer had been trapped in a bathroom while her mom, dad, and little brother clawed at the door. Then, the soldier came. His name was Morgan, and he had shot each of them in the head.
He saved Rindy.
Over the next two years, she traveled with Corporal Morgan. He taught her to shoot. He also taught her not to shoot. Noise always brought more of them. That was why he also taught her how to use a knife, a spear—for jabbing, not throwing—and a bow and arrow. He showed her how to search a room and then secure it after ensuring an escape route existed.
He taught her other stuff, too. He taught her how to tell if a can of food was bad, how to make fire with a flint and the blade of her machete. And he taught her how to hide.
“Never trust anybody,” Corporal Morgan said time and again. “Especially men.”
“You’re a man.” Rindy had pointed out the obvious the first time.
“Yep,” Corporal Morgan agreed. “And my daughter was about half your age.”
They got her?”
The corporal nodded. “But not everybody had daughters. Some men will see you differently.”
Rindy knew what Corporal Morgan wasn’t saying…was too embarrassed to say. The past few years, she had seen gruesome examples of exactly why he had given that warning.
Two hundred and thirteen days ago, Corporal Morgan died. Then, he sat back up. Rindy put him down. Then, unlike with her brother and parents, Rindy was able to take the time to bury him. Afterwards, she had been alone for almost a month. Just like when she travelled with Corporal Morgan, sometimes there were others; sometimes not. One morning, twenty-six days after she buried Corporal Morgan, Rindy discovered a motel all by itself on an empty stretch of what was left of a highway. That wasn’t a very big deal. The big deal was finding Marjorie, Brad, and Amber.
Marjorie was only a few years older than Rindy. She was Brad and Angie’s big sister. She was also very pregnant. She and her brother and sister didn’t have a Corporal Morgan. They had found out the hard way that they couldn’t just trust anybody. Especially men.
Brad, age nine, and Amber, age seven, didn’t talk anymore. Marjorie told Rindy that they had seen things. Rindy didn’t ask. She didn’t want to know. The four of them lived in one motel room together for a week. Rindy didn’t like staying in one place too long.
One morning, she woke up, ready to say farewell to Marjorie, Amber, and Brad. Only, Marjorie wasn’t there. She checked in the bathroom…empty. She went outside, peering through the dusty plastic blinds first just like she’d been taught.
In the room just to the left, the door was open. Rindy peeked inside, finding Marjorie on the bed. Something was sticking out between her legs. It looked like tiny feet. Marjorie was dead…she didn’t have a Corporal Morgan. Rindy covered Marjorie with a blanket and left the room closing the door behind her.
Just leaving the two little ones wasn’t a choice. After all, where would she be if Corporal Morgan had just left her behind? So, she went into the room and woke up Brad and Amber. After breakfast—the last can of beef stew—Rindy explained what happened and held them as they cried. It was okay to cry, Corporal Morgan said. Holding everything in wasn’t good for you. When things happened that upset her, he always told her, “One good cry…get it all out and move on. It ain’t like the old day when you had time to let one tiny problem own you for weeks.”
Rindy let them cry. It was obvious that they needed it, because they cried for a long time. Then something strange happened, Brad stood up and asked, “Can we leave? I don’t want to stay where my sister died.” 
Little Amber got up next to her brother and wiped her red, runny nose with her sleeve and sniffled. “Me, too.”
Rindy helped them gather their few belongings and they began walking up the long, empty road. Two days later they met Ryan and Penny; they were both twenty-five. Ryan was a cook and Penny was a dancer. Rindy tried not to giggle when Amber asked if Penny could teach her to dance.
The two had met at a FEMA evacuation center. One night the soldiers in charge simply up and left. Ryan said it got bad fast. A couple of men were ‘hurting’ Penny when he found them. He had a .22 pistol and shot one of the men. The other man walked away. That night Ryan and Penny left the FEMA center. They’d been on the road ever since.
The five of them travelled together. Twice they thought they’d found a place to hold up through the winter. Once, a large gang rolled into the area. Nobody wanted to wait to find out if they were friendly, and they slipped out under the cover of night.
The second place, a non-descript house in a partially burned down development seemed perfect. Even though many of the houses had burnt down, the whole community was behind a waist-high wall. A stone’s throw away, a river swept past. Ryan said it was the Platte River. The blessing became a curse when a terrible storm thundred through. For three days they watched as the river flowed over its banks, creeping just as slowly and steadily across the flat plain as any zombie. Every hour it came closer to the houses. Eventually, water began flowing down the razor-straight grid of streets.
They travelled for two more weeks when they found the biggest, most amazing house Rindy had ever seen. It sat on a hill looking over a valley that stretched off to the east and west. The valley was bordered by enormous rocky cliffs to the north and the south.
Unlike many houses these days, this one still had most of its windows intact. It stood three stories high and had a huge fireplace inside that seemed bigger than Rindy’s bedroom in her old house with mom, dad, and ‘baby zombie’. The only disappointment proved to be the pantry. Easily the size of a small apartment, it was full of bags and bins. These people had obviously not believed in food out of a can. Not a single box of macaroni and cheese. There were a variety of herbs and spices…all rotten and useless.
Looking around, they found a large plot that Ryan said was a garden. Of course it was dead and full of weeds, but Ryan said it held promise. It looked like they had found not just their winter home, but maybe a place that they could stay. At least that’s what Ryan and Penny kept saying. Rindy wasn’t so sure. She didn’t like staying any place too long.
The days grew shorter, colder, and gloomy. Rindy continued to teach Brad and Amber the things Corporal Morgan taught her. Sometimes Ryan and Penny watched, whispering back and forth. For some reason, watching her, Brad, and Amber train seemed to make them sad.
One morning, Rindy was out early before the sun came up. She’d made herself a breakfast; roasting a chunk of pumpkin and eating it with her fish that Penny caught and smoked a few days before. She liked going out early by herself. The first day, she’d come back with three rabbits. That had been quite a feast. She hadn’t been out twenty minutes when she saw it: an enormous deer.
An hour later, she, Ryan, and Penny were hauling the field-stripped carcass back to the house. While Rindy and Penny went to work cutting it up, Ryan and Brad went foraging for some editable winter greens. Ryan was really good at identifying plants.
Late that afternoon, Ryan and Brad returned. Ryan was very excited. The two had gone off searching for some greens and hopefully a few herbs he could use to spruce up the night’s meal. They found a road, mostly washed out. Curiosity getting the better of them, they’d followed it. It was Brad who found the sign: Elkhart 2 mi. A town was a mere two miles away!
“You know what that means?” Ryan asked.
“That we’ll need to be more careful and keep our eyes open for roamers and stragglers,” Rindy said.
“Gloomy much?” Penny snorted.
“It means that we might be able to salvage some useful stuff,” Ryan ignored Rindy.
“It will be like a shopping spree,” Penny said, sounding like she’d just won the grand prize on a game show.
That night, everybody sat around the fire, eating venison, a bitter salad that Amber took one taste of and refused to take another, cups of steaming hot water from the creek nearby, and the big surprise that Ryan had kept hidden and sent Brad for once dinner was done…apples!  One of the houses on the outskirt of the newly discovered town had a pair of apple trees in the yard. They were kinda shriveled, but everybody snacked away with ear-to-ear grins.
“You went into town?” Penny asked.
“Naw,” Ryan shook his head, “just this one house on the outskirts.”
That night, the rest of the talk centered on the possibilities of what they might find. The next day, Ryan and Penny left early with empty backpacks. They were gone all that day and night. The next day, they came back with full packs and huge smiles.
“We got the makings of a regular feast,” Ryan crowed. “Just in time for Thanksgiving.”

“Did you find turkey?” Amber climbed up onto a stool next to the counter as Ryan and Penny unloaded their packs.
“Nope, but we got venison, just like the pilgrims ate, and…” He produced two bottles carefully wrapped. “I found corn syrup.”
“Ohhhkay,” Rindy raised an eyebrow.
“The perfect sweetener, along with some cinnamon and ginger I found. I think I can make something close to pumpkin pie. Just without the crust,” Ryan explained.
This made everybody smile. The next day, while she was out in the morning, Rindy bagged five quail. To make things even better, she found a nest with seven newly hatched eggs. She bundled up the chicks and returned to the house.
“You’re lethal with that bow and arrow,” Ryan said. Rindy scowled and Ryan raised his hands. “Young lady…sorry.”
“That’s pretty close to turkey,” Penny offered. “But what’s with the little peepers?” she asked, tilting her head at the cluster of chicks Rindy arranged carefully in the empty kitchen sink, nestled in a ratty sweatshirt.
“Maybe we can raise ‘em and use their eggs,” Rindy shrugged.
“That’s not a bad idea at all,” Ryan admitted.
That night, they decided it was close enough to Thanksgiving. The meal was great, and everybody loved Ryan’s pumpkin custard. None of them could remember being that full—that satisfied—in a long time.
“All we need is the Detroit and the Dallas games and it would be just like old times,” Ryan said as he undid the button on his pants and stretched out on the couch.
“You were into that?” Penny scoffed.
“I’m a guy aren’t I?”
“I miss the Black Friday shopping with my sister and a few friends,” Penny admitted sheepishly.
“You are one of those people?” Ryan sat up so that Penny could sit at the other end of the couch. Amber had taken to following the woman everywhere and climbed up to nestle under her arm.
“And I suppose you were the type that did all his Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve.”
“Christmas?”  Amber’s head popped up. “With Santa Claus?”
Everybody looked at each other, hoping they would speak. Rindy watched Ryan and Penny raise eyebrows at each other and shrug.
“Well…” Ryan began, drawing that first word out. “Now that we have a house to live in…I don’t see why not.”
Rindy felt her mouth fall open. What could he be thinking?  Her eyes burned into the side of his head until he finally glanced her way. What? Ryan mouthed. Rindy’s eyes flash from Amber and back.
“Won’t the monsters get him?” Amber looked up at Penny with the sincere concern that only a child seemed so adept at expressing with just their eyes and their hands clasped delicately under their chin.
“Ummm…well…no,” Penny answered, caught off-guard. “His reindeer are too quick, and will protect Santa.”
Rindy stormed out of the room, heading upstairs. She heard more talking followed by squeals of laughter from Amber as she stalked into the room that she’d claimed. It caught the rising sun in the morning—when it wasn’t obscured by clouds. It helped her remember something that Corporal Morgan used to say a lot. “If you see the sun come up, then you’ve made it through the hardest part.”
Laying on her bed, the food in her stomach suddenly felt like a lead ball. It didn’t matter that Ryan and Penny were older; Brad and Amber were her responsibility. She couldn’t have little Amber’s hopes riding on some imaginary character from a world that was long since dead. Those days were gone. If this were that old world, Amber would be at about the age when Santa ceased to exist.
“Hey,” Ryan stuck his head inside the door. Rindy rolled onto her stomach, turning her face away from him. She had started crying for some stupid reason.
“What’s so wrong with letting Amber have a little piece of childhood?” Ryan asked. He sat down at the foot of Rindy’s bed. “It can’t hurt.”
“Yes,” Rindy insisted. “It most certainly can.”
“When none of her Christmas wishes are there on whatever day you decided is Christmas Day…”
“You know what she asked her?”
“What?” Rindy rolled over, curious.
“Candy and a Barbie.” Ryan laughed.
“In case you haven’t noticed, nobody makes that stuff anymore.”
“Actually,” Ryan smiled. “I found a bunch of hard candy in the grocery store. I’m pretty sure that some of it might still be edible.”
“After over three years?”
“It’s not like hard candy spoils. As long as no holes were made in the package, it should still be okay. And after this long…even if it’s stale, who’d notice?”
“And the Barbie?” Rindy prodded.
“A bit more difficult,” Ryan conceded. “But there has to be one in that town, if not in the store. We may have to wash it up a bit, but that is no biggy.”
“I still don’t like it.” Rindy scowled.
“Keep up that attitude and Santa won’t bring you anything.” Ryan laughed again and left.
Rindy laid on her back staring up at the ceiling. There’s no such thing as Santa Claus, Rindy thought. Still, she couldn’t help but let her mind wonder a bit. Had it really been over a decade since she sat on Santa’s lap?  She’d been six—only a year younger than Amber is now—and it would be the last year that she believed. All thanks to Richard Gulley…the stupid boy that sat in front of her in Miss Miller’s class.
A dress she thought. How wonderful would it be to wear girl’s clothes again?  And strawberries. Take that, Santa. Rindy drifted off thinking of pretty dresses and bowls of red, ripe strawberries. As she slept, she smiled.
The next morning, Ryan was gone. He must have gotten up awfully early. Rindy was awake an hour before sunrise and already fitted out to do some hunting. Penny was a whiz at curing and drying meat. It would be wise to stock up now. Better too much than not enough. Corporal Morgan taught her that.
When she came back from hunting, nobody was outside. That wasn’t such a big deal considering that it had been raining all day. Rindy was soaked and couldn’t wait to warm up in front of the fire.
As soon as she opened the door, she went on her guard. It was silent. Drawing her machete, she crept down the entry hall. She could see the flickering glow of the fireplace and hear the occasional pop of burning wood.
Reaching the end of the hall, she paused and took a deep breath. She couldn’t smell anything. At least not anything dead. Cautiously, from a crouch well below eye level just like Corporal Morgan taught, she peeked around the corner.
“Surprise!” Penny, Amber, and Brad yelled.
In the corner, a huge pine tree reached almost up to the twenty foot high vaulted ceiling. Sparkling decorations of all kind glittered in the light of the fire. Underneath it was a dozen packages wrapped in…
“We found some fancy dresses in a box. Fortunately, the woman must have been huge, so there was plenty of material,” Penny laughed.
“Penny said that a Christmas tree would help Santa Claus find us, “Amber squealed with delight.
Rindy glanced at Penny and Brad who stood behind the excited little girl with dopey grins on their faces. She slid the machete back in its sheath and walked the rest of the way into the room. “It’s really nice, Amber,” she said, trying her best to sound enthusiastic.
As soon as she was able to pry herself away from the happy little girl, she went to the kitchen to clean the two rabbits she’d bagged. She was just finishing wrapping up the waste and cleaning the area when she heard Penny scream.
Drawing her blade, Rindy rushed towards the commotion. She heard Amber’s crying above everything else and it wrapped around her stomach like an icy fist. Reaching the door, she skidded to a stop. “Step away from him,” Rindy said, surprised at the calm in her voice.
Everyone was gathered around Ryan. He looked up at her, the knowledge already in his eyes. His face was waxy and covered in sweat. Rindy only glanced briefly at the left arm wrapped in bloody rags.
Penny was verging on hysterics, which in turn amplified the stress to both Amber and Brad. Rindy took a deep breath, the smell of death tickling her nostrils, fouling her mouth with its rank familiarity. She walked down the stairs, and as she reached Brad, she guided him over next to his sister. Then, with a gentle nudge, she sent Penny to stand beside the children. With very little effort, she’d managed to get the three in a group and place herself between them and Ryan.
“You shouldn’t have gone alone,” Rindy whispered. Then, louder, she said, “Everybody go back inside.”
“What are you going to do?” Penny sniffled.
“Inside,” Rindy repeated, keeping her eyes on Ryan.
“Go!” Ryan added, looking past Rindy.
The two waited, Rindy never taking her eyes off Ryan until the door closed with a loud, ominous click. Once they were alone, he unslung the pack from his shoulders and held it out to Rindy.
“Found a couple of Barbies and a surprising amount of candy that wasn’t ruined,” Ryan said, then coughed. “Also, found a little .22 pistol that you could probably teach Brad to shoot, earrings for Penny…she said she’d never owned diamonds before, so I figured—”
“You shouldn’t have gone alone,” Rindy snapped, cutting him off. “Is this supposed to make Christmas better?  You going off and getting yourself killed to bring us things?”
Ryan hung his head, instantly taking the steam out of her anger. “I just wanted everybody to have something special,” Ryan rasped.
“And so your present to me is…what?” Rindy waved her machete in the air and pointed it at his injured arm. “I get to watch you die, then put you down?”
“Jesus, kid.” Ryan looked up.
“I’m not a kid,” Rindy snapped back.
“Well maybe you should try it every once in a while,” Ryan said with a warm smile. “That’s why I did this.” He shook the pack that Rindy still hadn’t taken from him. “It makes me sad to see somebody so young…who never had the chance to be a teenager…act like a freakin’ soldier. And the way Amber looks up to you…well…I just wanted her to have a moment of childhood before you turn her into a Rindy action figure.
“I just wanted to give her a Christmas morning, one last visit from Santa Claus before she’s drafted into your army.”  Ryan slumped and the pack fell from his hand.
He seemed to melt as he slowly sunk to the ground. He lay still for a moment. Rindy grabbed the pack and removed it from between her and Ryan. Her eyes stayed fixed on the prone figure in the mud at her feet. The first sign came from the left hand: it twitched once…twice…then curled into a claw, digging furrows in the saturated earth. The head began to rise; the familiar, dry, rattling moan escaped its lips. The face that looked up at Rindy was a lifeless, slack caricature of Ryan.
With one swing, she brought the machete down smashing through the crown of the skull with hand-numbing finality. The body collapsed to the ground as she wrenched the blade free. “There is no such thing as Santa Claus,” Rindy whispered.
That afternoon they stood over the grave that Rindy dug by herself. She’d also dragged the body, dumped it into the hole, and covered it alone. When she was done, she went inside and gathered everybody. Penny had found a bible, and read Psalms 23. Then, each of them said something nice about Ryan and returned inside.
That night, she and Penny wrapped the items they had found in the pack. Together, they agreed to wait a week to celebrate Christmas. It just didn’t seem right to skip it after Ryan had gone through so much to make it happen.
The night they declared as Christmas Eve, Penny recited as much as she could recall of T’was the Night Before Christmas. She and Rindy tucked Amber in, then went downstairs and set out the rest of the presents. Penny went to bed, leaving Rindy alone in front of the tree. She sat for a while listening to the rain. With a yawn, she got up ready for a little sleep before Amber woke the house.
Rindy Farmer peeked out from the shadowy doorway. This house had been a good find sitting all by itself on a hill looking out over a vastness that everyone was pretty sure had to be somewhere in Wyoming. A steady rain continued to fall adding to the gloom felt by everybody the past few days.
Maybe tomorrow would help pull them out of it. Before closing the door, her eyes tried to find the outline of the marker where she buried Ryan. “Merry Christmas,” she whispered into the darkness. As expected, Amber woke everybody bright and early. Rindy rolled over, the chill in the room cold enough to turn her exasperated exhale to a visible fog.
“Rindy!” Amber burst into the room, a ball of child-generated electricity. “Santa came!  Come look!” Then the child dashed out. The sound of another door being flung open was followed by “Penny! Santa came! He came!”
Brad stumbled into Rindy’s room. “We’d better go downstairs before she explodes,” he yawned.
Rindy sat up and threw the covers aside. Instantly her body was pebbled with goose bumps. She looked out her window, but it was so fogged over that she couldn’t see. All that she could tell was that the sun hadn’t risen yet. The faintest hint of light was barely discernable.
As quickly as possible, she pulled on a few layers of clothes. Finally satisfied she went out into the hallway. Amber stood at the head of the stairs dancing excitedly from one foot to the other. She was barefoot, and wearing the long flannel shirt she normally slept in.
“C’mon, Rindy!” she pleaded, darting to her and grabbing her hand.
Penny and Brad came in their wake as they headed down the stairs. Rindy was already trying to figure out how to get this done as quickly as possible in order to get in some hunting. Christmas or not, they needed to continue stocking up on food.
Reaching the landing halfway down the stairs, Rindy froze. She could see outside through the giant picture window. The ground was covered in a blanket of pure white. A wave of warmth hit her, drawing her attention to the fireplace where, mysteriously, a raging fire roared. But that was only the first surprise.
Spilled out across the floor were brightly wrapped packages complete with bows and dangling tags. Three red stockings hung from the mantle above the fireplace, giant candy canes poking from each one. Rubbing her eyes, Rindy continued down the stairs in slow, halting steps. She glanced back at Penny who was wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Brad scooted past, joining Amber in the final dash towards the sea of presents.
As Rindy reached the final steps, Amber hurried back to her, a Barbie clutched in one hand. The other hand shot out holding an envelope. “This has your name on it!” she giggled, then ran back to join her brother who was wading into the pile.
Rindy looked down at the tiny, waxy envelope in her hand. Her name was written elaborately across the top. A picture emblazoned on the front showed a cluster of bright red strawberries. She shook the envelope, hearing the whispering rattles of the tiny seeds inside.
“This one’s for you, too!” Brad came up to her with a package wrapped in blue foil with a silver bow. The tag that dangled from it was in the same script with her name.
Sitting on the stairs, she opened the package to discover a beautiful black dress. Her eyes began to water a bit. She blinked to clear them and noticed something written on the back of the tag. She picked it up and read: Yes, Rindy, there is a Santa Claus.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The amazingly talented Chantal Boudreau

So, the Mayan hoopla is over...time to get back to work.

Today I am pleased to feature one of my favorite writers: Chantal Boudreau. She is not only very talented (all the drawing featured here are her work, which you can find more of in her FERVOR series), but extremely modest. So get to know a bit about her, and then check out some of her stuff. You won't be sorry.

You have been at this for a little while now, what are some of the best and worst things about being an author?
The best thing, for me, is having someone actually take the time to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed one of my books or stories.  There are little things too – like getting a particular scene just right, seeing illustrations other people have done for your work and knowing it’s so much better than anything you could have managed, getting an acceptance letter from a publisher who has rejected you every other time you’ve submitted to them and then there’s just getting to hold something you’ve written in print.  The worst things are the hours you end up spending on things other than writing, like editing, promotion and submissions, the frustration of a lack of consistent submission standards, which means having to reformat stories when submitting them more than once, the “expert” advice out there that is completely contradictory, and how slow it is to gain exposure, acceptance and recognition.

What are some of the lessons you have learned as a writer that caught you off guard?
I’ve learned that established authors are just regular, albeit talented, people.  That research is an important part of any story, truth of fiction. That success involves hard work but an equal element of good fortune, which means your best chance to get anywhere is to keep at it, until luck happens to run your way along with the hard work.

What can you share about your writing process with new or up and coming writers?
I think the best thing to share with them is that I had to figure out what worked best for me and trying to write the way most others do didn’t work for me.  I spent many years struggling with a variety of formats, styles and processes before I came up with my current process, one that I’m comfortable with.  Not that it is perfect.  There is always room for improvement, even with close to 20 novel manuscripts complete (I have four chapters to go on novel #20).  So far I’ve figured out I have a mind that craves structure, so I work best with an outline despite the fact that many peers shun me for it as being too rigid or uncreative.  I need to see the big picture, which means I have to know the ending before I start, and work towards it.  I’m character-oriented – that’s what I value as a reader, so that’s where my focus has to be as a writer.  I had to figure these things out about myself to understand what would work best for me and why.  To know what writing process suits you, I would advise an attempt at self-discovery – try different things, experiment. 

It is no secret that I think you are the best writer on our shelf. All it will take is the “right” person to discover you and review your work and I think you could be the next Meyers or Rowling. How do you see yourself as a writer, and what do you think it will take to get you over that hump?
I still have far too many doubts to think I’ll ever achieve that kind of success – not that this would ever stop me from trying.  I guess I’m still coming to grips with identifying myself as a writer at all.  I’m older, I’m the main breadwinner for my family, as an accountant, I’m a mom with a special needs child who demands a lot of attention and I’ve lived my life as a square peg other people have been trying to jam unpleasantly into their round holes.  I’ve been writing since I was very young, but didn’t have much luck with it and wasn’t at all prolific.  I liked writing but I didn’t consider myself a writer.  Then something just seemed to click a few years ago (about three and a half years, actually) and in that time I’ve written 18 novels and more than 50 short stories.  All I had to show for the more than three and a half decades before that was one and a half novels (that needed a great deal of editing) and a handful of shorts.  Now that I’ve had my work published and I’ve received plenty of encouragement, I’m warming up to the idea, but I probably picked the worst possible time to make my start.  The industry is in a massive state of flux, the market is flooded with indie writers, traditional publishing is hesitant to welcome newbies aboard and the publishing scene is all about marketing and promotion, not necessarily the quality of your work but its market appeal.  I’m horrible at selling myself.  I put in an earnest attempt, but I think unless I get a lucky break it’s going to be a long hard trudge with little in the way of sleep before I can drum up any amount of exposure and recognition.

If you were to up and change genres, what would be your next choice?
That’s tough. I’ve dabbled in several speculative fiction genres, mainly horror, fantasy and dark fantasy, with a little sci-fi in there.  I’ve written some erotica, which I think I could do, some romance, which is much more of a stretch for me, and thrillers, which worked out okay.  I’m probably most inclined to thrillers after speculative fiction, but it’s not that far of a leap between horror and thriller.

What could traditional publishing learn from the Indies? And how about the other way around?
Oh, I hate getting tangled in the middle of that mess.  Everyone has their opinions and they differ to extremes.  Here’s where I stand on this.  The way I see it, traditional publishing used to offer prestige, not so much now unless you happen to be a bestseller, and they still offer better distribution, but they are obsessed with existing trends and mass market appeal and trying to standardize everything to what they deem “saleable”.  It can kill (but not always) what makes a writer’s work really special.  What makes it onto the shelves is dependent upon the tastes of a select few.  And they treat authors (once again, unless you are a bestseller) with little respect or value (“you are lucky that we are willing to even look at your manuscript...”) With Indies there’s so much chaos and volume.  They come across as inconsistent and unstable because, as a group, quality is all across the board.  Some Indie books are disastrous and need a total make-over, inside and out.  Others look really pretty and have a great blurb, but the editing or plot continuity or character development might be lacking.  Then again, you’ll come across some real high-quality gems that should be winning recognition and praise but have been tossed aside by traditional publishing for being too unorthodox or counter-culture.  A lot of times, they just get lost in the mix.  There should be a happy medium, a “best of both worlds,” but there isn’t.

The writing community can be its own worst enemy at times. What are some of the issues you see cropping up? Solutions?
The more I see the less I want to read about it.  You’ll see bickering over simple things like writing style and processes such as pantsing vs plotting, marketing issues, spam, reviews – if and how to respond to them and whether or not it’s okay to buy and sell them, critics, traditional vs indie, complaints about distributors, agents, publishers and paid services like proofreaders or editors, sometimes deserved, sometimes not.  You see a lot of nitpicking, insistence that “my way is the right way so you are wrong”, and badmouthing writers who are successful, primarily because they are successful, the result of jealousy, I would guess.  I get tired of the arguing and bitching.  It would be nice to see writers respecting other people’s differences, recognizing their peers have value even if they don’t agree on everything, and offering each other support where possible.  You do see that, but just not enough of it.

The social media is…
A blessing and a curse.  I doubt I’d be published or have any support system in place without it.  It keeps me well-informed and allows me to connect with people I wouldn’t be likely to otherwise meet.  I have a lot of great new friends thanks to social media.  On the other hand, it is a total time sink without the level of results one should expect for the amount of time and effort most people put into it.  It’s a mixed bag of feedback where you can get well-presented praise or uninspired flattery, constructive criticism or mean-spirited trollish bashing.  It also exposes you to a lot of scam artists and people trying to sell you something you don’t really want or need.

Share some information about your work with us: (feel free to be as in depth as you like)
My first (and second) horror submission ever went to May December Publications, but it actually ended up being my second acceptance.  In the interim between submission and acceptance, I received an acceptance the same day I submitted for another short story (my first sale.)  That was my start.  Since then, MDP has accepted almost everything I’ve sent in, with only one exception so far.  MDP gave me my first chance at publishing a novel, beginning with my dystopian science fantasy series, Fervor (now with its third release) and my first chance at sharing my standard fantasy work, my Masters & Renegades series (a third book in this one coming soon.)  It has been a great experience.

What is one question you are sick of being asked—not in interviews, but by individuals who know you write? 
When am I going to see your books in local bookstores?”  The local bookstores typically only offer books from big traditional publishers and local small presses.  Since my stories have been in books published by small presses in the US and the UK, they aren’t exactly considered local here in Nova Scotia.  I have a couple of recent acceptances by small presses in Canada, scheduled for release in 2013, but they aren’t local to Nova Scotia either.  Unless there’s sufficient demand here for my work at the local bookstores, you’re not going to be likely to see my books there.

How do you deal with negative reviews?
I try to avoid reading them unless I’m in the right mood.  I find the really negative ones rarely have any constructive criticism to offer.  They usually go on about how your style doesn’t match that of their favourite author or some other matter of taste – not something you can put to good use.  The mixed reviews, part positive, part negative, are much more likely to offer some useful criticism.  I try to take those in and then let the critique sit for a while so I can properly absorb what was said.  If a reviewer has been particularly nasty, I’ll try to find a way to vent without naming names or pointing elbows, just to get the frustration out of my system (go ahead and say you don’t like my book, but personal attacks are uncalled for.)

How much reading do you get in, and can a writer excel at his or her craft if they do not read?
I read, but about a quarter of what I used to, and it’s not just because of the writing.  There’s so much more to getting your work out there that sucks away far too much of your spare time.  I still make a point to read regularly, my favourite authors and a sampling of things that are new to me, and I do think it’s important for a writer to read.  There are always things you can learn from other writer’s writing.

When does self-promotion cross the line and become a nuisance?
I can think of a few ways.  If you friend or follow me on some social media site and the only thing I ever hear from you is “buy my book,” that’s too annoying.  And people who invite you to an event and then post two dozen promo posts within the first hour so that your e-mail is full of their spam – that really drives me batty.  I can guarantee I’ll be declining that event and purging those e-mails the first chance I get.  There should be a real effort to connect, a little subtlety, and some give and take.  Constant, repetitive and in your face absolutely turns me off.

What projects are you currently working on?
I’m finishing up a NaNoWriMo project.  I wrote 70,000 words in November, but I still have 3 ½ chapters to go.  It’s a fantasy novel, called The Trading of Skin, based on Sami legend (the aboriginals of northern Scandinavia.)  I have a couple of books waiting on edits (Providence and Victims of Circumstance), I need to format the second book in my Snowy Barrens Trilogy and I have a Christmas horror short story I actually wrote long-hand (I almost never handwrite anything anymore) that I need to type up.  I also have a fan fiction story request from a writer friend that I need to work on.  And I’m always in the middle of some form of illustration.

What is one thing about you that would surprise the readers who do not know you personally?  I’m not really sure.  I’m not that outlandish.  I have interesting hobbies and an ordinary day-job.  I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily an open book but I don’t keep zombies in my basement either – despite what some people may have you believe.

Is there anyone you’d like to give a mention?  A shout out to some of my fellow MDP writers like DA Chaney, Bennie Newsome and Rebecca Snow (there are many more but if I try to list them all I’ll be here until next March.)  My writer friend Ren Garcia who is always supportive (which is fantastic because his work is fabulous,) Robert J Sawyer for the occasional pep talk – for which I’m truly grateful because he’s a very busy (and accomplished) man - and all my talented friends at the Guild of Dreams.  It’s very inspiring to be surrounded by so many great writers.

What is in your “to be read” pile right now?
I have a stack of MDP books, I’m in the middle of “The Unwilling Warlord” by Lawrence Watt-Evans, “The Onion Girl” by Charles de Lint and two different horror anthologies, and then I have dozens of freebies I picked up on my Kindle.  It’s so hard to decide what to read, you get my drift.

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