So you can read my books

Sunday, October 31, 2010


You read my title and said,

"Get real."


Get real. Or never get picked up by an agent.

As a writer of urban fantasy,

I have to convince my readers that Samuel McCord and his friends and enemies are real,

or they will never buy my fantastical setting and plot as "real."

No matter what you write, you must do the same. Or the readers will never become absorbed into your novel.

How do you do that?

By remembering ...

1) "God and Country" ain't what it used to be.

Duty and honor were once valid motivations. But Shakespeare is dead.

This is the "Me" generation. Even if you're writing about women in the 1700's, you are not writing FOR them.

Abigail Adams sacrificed much for her husband and family. But her letters showed a woman who insisted on owning her own property and money

(very much NOT the custom of the time.)

All of us have had to deal with a situation, not because it was honorable, but because it was heaved into our laps.

Abigail comes across as real because her letters showed she resented her husband's ambition that took him from his children and her so often and for so long.

She fumed at his inability to get along with others.

Ambition, vanity, irritability -- she saw his warts. But they were warts on a face she loved. We can "buy" a woman who sees clearly but loves deeply.

2) Ah, Love ...

"Put the rat cage on her. On her!"

In 1984, Winston is tortured by the Thouht Police until he finally breaks and screams for his tormenter to put the rat cage on Julia, the woman he "loves."

Sex is a primal motivator not love.

Man will sacrifice much for love but generally there must be a good chance of success, or your average reader will feel your novel is cliche not real.

Your hero may be different and sacrifice all for love, but that extremism must apply to all facets of his life or your reader will not "buy" your hero.

3.) Curiosity killed the cat ... and the bad novel.

Without curiosity, fire and most of Man's discoveries would never have been made. But as with love, there is a limit to how much we will sacrifice for curiosity.

When a mother's children are threatened by her curiosity, she will generally grudgingly back off.

Up the punishment enough, and all of us curious types will say, "I'm outta here!"

But by the time that moment comes, realistically, it is too late. And that leads us to the next point :

4) Self-preservation or
"I'll miss you terribly, but that last life preserver is mine!"

We like to think the world is a nice place. But try being an ill, frail woman on a crowded bus and see how selfless most people are.

To continue when threats to his life are enormous, your main character must have more than self-preservation to keep on --

perhaps he/she cannot depend on the promises or threats of the adversary to keep his/her children and spouse safe.

Or as so often in life, the hero simply has no choice but to go on. The bee hive has been toppled -- and it's simply run or be stung to death.

5) Greed or

"Excuse me. Is that my hand in your pocket?"

Greed is good -- as Michael Douglas once said. But only up to a point.

For one thing, greed is not something which endears our hero to the reader. Another, shoot at most greedy folks, and they will head for more hospitable hills.

5) Revenge consumes ... the individual and the reader's patience.

Revenge is understandable but not heroic.

In historical or Western novels, where justice was bought or simply non-existent, revenge is a valid motivation ...

often justified under the rationalization, justice.

Revenge in our civilized times must occur when lapses in order happen.

Say when civilization died with the power in New Orleans during and after Katrina.

Revenge on your adversary's part must be understandable, or your plot will become cliche. Revenge must be supplemented with other aspects of the character.

Say a priest, defending his flock of homeless during Katrina, must choke off his desire for revenge for a raped little girl

to stay by his remaining flock to protect them. Playing the desire for revenge against love for helpless family can lend depth to your novel --

making it real.

For who of us has not burned for revenge against a tresspass against us but had to bite back the darkness within?

6) We want to believe ...

Despite all the harsh things I've said of love (and by inference, friendship), the reader wants to believe ...

A) that when the moment comes, we can reach within ourselves and find the hero hiding there.

B) that love can survive dark, hard times if we but simply refuse to let go of it.

C) that humor and wit can overcome the larger, stronger predator -- that we can become Ulysses challenging the gods -- and winning.

7) Give your readers a semblance of reality while still giving them the three things that they want to believe of themselves and of life --

and your novel will be a bestseller.


Patricia Timms-McGehee ( )

and I were exchanging emails about DreamTime Friday morning. Our talk sparked my memory of this short story, DARK WATERS.

My best friend, Sandra, prompted me to post it, despite its length, saying it touched her heart and birthed one too many nightmares. So here it it :

It is 1848.
The man with death in his veins, Samuel McCord, has followed 12 year old Sammy Clemens into his nightmare, for he senses the boy is the prey of a supernatural killer. We join Samuel inside the boy's nightmare :

It was on the far side of an apple orchard. I drew in the smell of the fruit. It might have been winter in the waking world, but I had a hunch it was always spring about these parts for Sammy.

From the nearest slave cabin a figure appeared in the open doorway.

Tall, muscular, his dark face strong and wise and kind. Only with the farthest stretch of language could you call the sorrowful accumulation of rags and patches which he wore clothes.

I hung my head. How could I call myself a lawman and let this evil go on around me?

The man called out to Sammy, his voice deep and rolling like the endless Mississippi.

“Sammy! Boy, don’t you never go to sleep? I been waiting and waiting for you. You in a heap of trouble.”

Sammy scampered right up to him, his arms outstretched, and hugged the huge man.

“Aw, Uncle Dan’l, I’m always in trouble. You know that.”

Daniel pushed the boy away gently. “This here is haunt trouble, Sammy.”

The man snagged the boy’s right ear and squeezed til Sammy danced in place.

“It’s out dere right now! You’s in terrible bad trouble.”

That got his attention. “It? What kind of it?”

“The Hunger, boy.”

“What in tarnation kind of name is that?”

“The onliest name I knows for it. Dat’s what my grandma called it. And it’s fierce evil, Sammy. It’s what got ahold of your Pa. And I ain’t strong enough to protect you -- not even here.”

A cold, dank breeze suddenly swirled all around the slave quarters, and a voice of winter hate breathed from everywhere and nowhere, “Especially here, slave.”

My stomach coiled tight like a rattler. A stillness fell on the night. Behind me an owl hooted far off in the woods. Death was coming. And she was hungry.

Sammy stiffened. “Uncle Dan’l, who was that?”

“Her. It was her.”

Sammy was about to say something else, but another sound cut him off.

The creaking whirr of a spinning wheel. One not recently oiled from the sound of it. And laughter, long, shrill peals, without a shred of sanity clinging to them.

But it was the rattling clatter of the spinning wheel that seemed to be getting to Sammy more than the souless laughter. Though, truth to tell, both were unnerving to me, like fingernails against a slate board.

DreamTime was a dark place. It held its secrets close. None knew them all. I knew a few. A very few.

But a brave slave and a terrified boy depended upon me.

I drew the shadows in upon myself like a blanket of night and watched, biding my time. Nothing. Only the screech of the spinning wheel. I turned my eyes towards the sound.

Electric blue mists thinned a dozen feet away. But deep within me, I got the sense of despair and hate and undying hunger.

No one sat at the wheel. It seemingly spun of its own accord. And with its own mad purpose.

Long tendrils of glowing icy blue mists were being sucked up one side of the wheel.

There they spun over and over again, slowly spewing out the other end into a billowing, tall column.

As the three of us watched, me in the shadows, Daniel and Sammy outlined by the moon, the column became a form of ---

Not a woman. Not a creature. Both. Neither. She flickered in the mottled moonlight, her shape changing constantly, never the same, never quite sane.

A sad-eyed blonde girl, whose left cheek sprouted bright white bone.

An old Negro woman, her face mostly rotted except for eyes full of hate.

An Indian mother, face all screwed up with terrible grief, holding a small cloth bundle.

The form changed yet again. Something not human, not insect, but mixed in a way that the mind could not forget though it screamed to do just that.

Bristling tendrils above a plated head and luminous eyes that were dark water where no wind stirred but the breath of hate.

A being both terrible and beautiful beyond any singing of it. Those unhuman eyes locked on Sammy, who clutched Daniel’s left arm.

The figure changed one last time. Growing smaller, it sent off black tendrils flowing out from it like the wake of a stone tossed into the sea.

I watched the blossoming dogwood wither in curling crisps under the misty tide. Sammy sucked in a breath at this new incarnation of the hunger.

“Laura,” breathed the boy, his eagle eyes glazing.

It was a lovely little blue-eyed blonde with long plaited hair who stood beckoning to the enraptured boy.

The powder-blue summer frock billowed out from a wind that none of us could feel. The young girl held out her slender arms in welcome.

Daniel held him back from rushing forward. “No, Sammy. No! Dat ain’t Laura Hawkins. Lord, no. Dat’s still --”

“Hold your tongue, slave!”

The voice was of a little girl. The tone was of a monster. But Sammy only heard the one and not the other.

“Let me go, Uncle Dan’l! Can’t you see --”

“I see the haunt what killed your Pa. And I won’t let you die like him.”

“Won’t let? Slave, you have no power here.”

Daniel stood straight and tall. “Here I be free, you haunt. You hear? Free!”

The face of the girl grew long as did her body, stretching into something neither human nor insect nor even animal.

The Hunger’s voice was cornered black with fungus,

“Free? There is no free. Not for you. Never for you. Soon it will be dawn, and your master will drag you back whether you would or not. Free? I would laugh were it not so pathetic.”

I saw Daniel’s face crumble in like the crest of a pie whose weight was too much for the emptiness within. His shoulders sagged down with the burden of that great emptiness. Something snapped inside me. The voice of caution still said wait.

But I just couldn’t. No man knew his hour. And this might be mine. But I wouldn’t let those words be Daniel’s epitaph. I just damn well wouldn’t.

Oddest thing. As I walked out of the shadows I could have sworn I heard the sad wailing of a Spanish guitar out in the night. Everyone froze, and I spoke.

“Don’t make me spank you, ma'am.”

“Capt. Sam!,” cried Sammy, then drew back, his fingers to his mouth.

I sighed. Here in DreamTime, my true nature peeked a bit more out of the shadows. And Sammy had seen it. I suddenly was mad, clear through mad. I wanted done with this. Good and done.

“You!,”spit the re-forming hunger.

I nodded. “You know who I am. You know what I can do. Don’t make me do it.”

I flicked my eyes to Daniel. “Bastards can put chains on your body. But only you can put them on your mind. Don’t let her sucker you.”

A hissing turned my head. Damn. It had come, not from the still changing form in front of me, but from the spinning wheel.

I caught something for a moment. I let my eyes go out of focus a bit. There. Again.

The wheel had moved. Or rather a part of it that should have been stiff wood. Were it unliving. And then it came to me.

The body in front of me was no more the hunger than the web was the spider. And with the thought, the churning wheel blurred in my sight becoming even more indistinct.

But I made out the mottled form of a strange creature. What little I could make of it made my mind want to cringe and scream.

Though the woman spun by the hunger might not be the creature itself, still like the spider’s web, it was connected to it. And that was all my right hand needed. I stepped so that my body blocked my right side from Sammy’s view.

I suddenly pulled up short. Most folks die in the quicksand of their own making. They rush in. They assume. They make a stupid mistake. They die.

I had already rushed in. I tried to back off the mark a bit. The hunger killed. But was it necessarily evil?

Was it past dealing with? Hell, why not make at least a stab at ending this without death?

“No one has to die tonight.”

The woman of mist was now as tall as me. Her long hair a hot sunset. Her dress a caress of black satin, plunged deep down in front. She flung back her living waterfall of hair.

“It is how I live. How you live.”

“But we can pass by death tonight.”

Eyes no longer remotely human stabbed into me. “Why?”

“Because there is more to life than death.”

“Not for me. I am the last of my kind. And those maggots behind you are an insult to the memory of beings they, and you, are not fit to touch with your shadows.”

I nodded. It came down to that then.

She smiled with needled teeth.

“You understand then? Good. But your death should have at least the same semblance of pleasure that the whelp’s father enjoyed. Come, let me embrace you.”

“No!,” cried Sammy. “Pa was a good man. He wouldn’t hug no shameless hussy like you.”

The hunger sneered, “Wrong, maggot. He rushed willing into my embrace, his despair finally forgotten. And his first words were those of lust fulfilled.”

She smiled smugly. “His last were not so pleased, of course.”

“You monster!,” swore the boy, who would have rushed the woman if Daniel hadn’t held him back.

“You cage and eat your own. You are the monsters.”

“I ain’t no monster!”

The hunger fixed him with her glittering eyes. “I choose my prey quite carefully, boy."

I sighed, “Be that as it may, neither Sammy nor Daniel die tonight.”

“And you?”

“Well, I’m a mite partial to my own hide too. So let’s just walk off this dance floor all of us in one piece, shall we?”

“I think -- not!”

She was fast. Mighty fast. But she had preyed in one stretch of land for so long against weaker victims that she felt stronger than she was.

Me? I had left chunks of my hide across near the whole world. And none of my enemies had ever been accused of being puny. But I had survived.

More or less.

Before she had moved, I had sensed her intent and ripped off my right glove. I shifted my shoulders, slipped past her thrust -- both of them.

One from the woman in front of me and the stinger from the spinning wheel creature.

That last had whizzed only a thin layer of skin from my left ear, so I’d no room to brag. In spite of everything, she had nearly killed me.

The woman of mist might not have been the hunger proper. But it was connected to her. And that was all that my right hand needed.

I wrapped what passed for my fingers around the woman’s icy throat. I bent down with her as she screamed writhing to the grass.

“What -- are -- you?”

“Pissed mostly. But sad too. You just couldn’t let it be, could you?”

She tore at me then. Both creature and woman.

But the more she slashed, the more I drained from her spirit. No lasting harm was done me, though the same couldn’t be said for the hunger.

“Now when I became bloodbrothers with Elu, I knew he was half Apache. It plain never occurred to me to ask what his mother was.”

The woman and creature were both flailing at me even more wildly. “What -- was -- she?”

“Still don’t rightly know for sure. Some say she is the World her own self. I have me some guesses of course. And while my guesses might be dead on or they might be full of worms, Mrs. McCord didn’t raise any son idiot enough to speak them to an enemy.”

Now while her slashings weren’t doing me any permanent damage, they sure hurt something fierce, so I commenced to drain her the faster.

“Let’s just say her blood played hell with mine, and mine with poor Elu. Truth to tell, I’d be hard put to say who got the worst end of that deal. But for me .... well, let’s just say, while you think you’re bad -- me, I - am - bad.”

I’ll give her this, she was dying and hurting and weakening, but she flat refused to ask for mercy. Pride.

You have to admire it sometimes, even when it is certain death, maybe especially those times.

“Kill her, Capt. Sam!,” screamed Sammy. “Kill her!”

That pulled me up short again. Did I want to do that? Did I? Did it always have to end in death? And in front of a young boy?

The woman of mists blurred, letting me see only a glimpse of the terrible beauty of the creature behind her.

“Do it. Kill me. It is fitting. You are the first of a breed as am I the last of one. Kill me and rid me of this farce I have been living for much too long.”

I shook my head, easing up on my draining but not on my hold of her. “There’s always mercy.”

“Mercy would be ending me.”

“I don’t see it that way. You may not be the last.”

“I would feel were it otherwise.”

“You might be wrong.”

“I am not. Kill me.”

Sammy cried, “Are you crazy? That’s a monster there.”

I called out loud. “We all do monstrous things, son. We can be better.”

The hunger sneered, “You delude yourself.”

“There’s a lot of that going around.”

“Let me live, and I will kill again.”

“There are a lot of human vermin out there.”

“I let them live so as to weaken the herd.”

It hit me then. “You cull out the best of us, don’t you?”


“You hate us that much?”


I called out loud,

“You hear that, Sammy? She thinks you’re one of the best of us. You want her to win? Just let hate take control, and the murderer of your father wins. Is that what you want? Is that what you really want?”


“Then fight her -- and your own hate, else she will win. You hear me?”

“Y-Yes, Capt. Sam.”

She glared up at me, and I flinched at the clearer glimpse of her true self I saw, and her voice was as plates of slate rubbing together.

“In your place I would show no mercy.”

“I know.”

I snapped open my fingers. She lay still for a moment, then blurred totally away.

The spinning wheel creature groaned, shivered, then gathered its last strength. I watched it scuttle painfully away into the blackness.

Almost lost in the shadows, the hunger paused and turned its bulk my way slightly. “Then why?”

“There has to be a difference between me and those I fight, or what’s the point?”

“What is the point?”

“Damned if I know.”

I glanced back at Sammy and wished I hadn’t.

For a lightning's flicker, it seemed something burned hollow and bright in his eagle eyes. A something I had seen earlier in the night. A cruel radiance.

I looked again. It was gone. Or was it? I peered close into his eyes.

A thick shadow suddenly swallowed Sammy's face. Its color was the odd black of blood billowing underneath the water. The dark waters of a wounded soul.

Only time would tell if it had been there at all or had only been the illuson cast by my own guilt.

And if it had been there, could I kill the boy whose soul I had tried to save? Could I? Or did a monster like me even have that right?

I lived with my curse. Maybe I could teach the boy to live with his. Maybe.


If the mother would let me. If Sammy would let me. If I could.

Daniel's sad bear eyes went from Sammy to me then back again to the boy. He looked like he wanted to cry or to cuss or both. Me, too.




"West of reason the hills rise wild,

and there are valleys with deep woods that no ax has ever cut or ever will."

- H. P. Lovecraft.

Lovecraft here. Or rather his ghost.

It is Samhain, the Three Spirit Night, and I have chosen to write an article for DreamSinger.

Or rather should I say I was chosen and accepted?

Ah, you say. The ghost of H. P. Lovecraft.
Now, he will tell us if what he wrote was true.

Short-sighted mortals. I dare not say. I can not say.

I will but put forth this :

my imagination was too stunted,
my words too feeble to paint what lies beyond.

Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer one,

and that our vain presence on this transitory globe is itself
the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon.

Then, what brings me to Roland's apartment in these midnight hours?

I was wandering Thalarion, the City of a Thousand Wonders,
where many have passed but none returned,

where walk only daemons and mad things that are no longer men,

and the streets are white with the unburied bones of those
who have looked upon the eidolon Lathi, that reigns over the city.

Abruptly, the ghosts of Samuel Clemens and Marlene Dietrich, both heavily armed, (one with wit, the other with her icy beauty)

made their cautious way to me.

And well they should have been careful, for I am no longer altogether ... human.

I watched them from the shadows with some amusement. They stepped warily around shards of marble that thrust up from the misty ground.

The shards gave the illusion of ancient bones of some grotesque corpse protruding from an ill-made grave.

The ruins projected a diseased aura as if the very stones were cursed.

Clemens approached me. "You can roll around in your horrors like they were catnip for all I care, Lovecraft. But you owe Roland."

"Indeed I do. What would you suggest?"

"Write a piece for his ... computer newspaper."

"How quaint. On what exactly, Clemens?"

"Why the blue blazes you chose to write what you did."

"It chose me, Clemens."

"Then, write that. And try to remember what it meant to be human while you're doing it."

I fought down the gibbering darkness. "You are lucky I owe DreamSinger, Clemens."

So I am here.

Why did I come?

I came because of my lost childhood :

There are not many persons who know what wonders are opened to them in the stories and visions of their youth;

For when as children we learn and dream, we think but half-formed thoughts,

and when as men we try to remember, we are dulled and prosaic with the poison of life.

But some of us awake in the night

with strange phantasms of enchanted hills and gardens,

of fountains that sing in the sun, of golden cliffs overhanging murmuring seas,

of plains that stretch down to sleeping cities of bronze and stone,

and of shadowy companies of heroes that ride caparisoned white horses along the edges of thick forests;

and then we know that we have looked back through the ivory gates
into that world of wonder which was ours before we were wise and unhappy.

Enough of me. I ask : Did your genre pick you?

I know mine did.

My reason for writing stories

is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly the
fragmentary impressions of wonder

which are conveyed to me by certain
ideas and images encountered in art and literature.

I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best -

one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being

to achieve the illusion

of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations

of time, space, and natural law which forever
imprison us

and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces
beyond the radius of our sight and analysis.

These stories frequently emphasise the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion,

and the one which best lends itself to the creation of Nature-defying illusions.

Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected,

so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law
or cosmic alienage or "outsideness"

without laying stress on the emotion of fear.

And fear for Roland.

And if by chance you pray, pray for him,

for what both the Druid priests and the Louisiana shamans

had chanted to their kindred idols

was something very like this:

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn." ...

"In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming."

In 2012, the cosmic conjunctions allign.

And dread Cthulhu rises,

rises from the dark swamp called Contraband --

the swamp but miles from Roland's dwelling.

I hear the portents even now in the blackness of Roland's apartment.

The moon is dark, and the spirits dance in the night;

there is terror in the sky, for upon the moon hath sunk an eclipse

foretold in no books of men or of earth's myths.

I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror,

and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me.

So should you have breath left over from your prayers for Roland --

sing a canticle for me.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Why are we drawn to horror? Why are good girls drawn to bad boys?

1.) The allure of the forbidden.

That is one of the reasons horror beckons to us from out of the shadows.

Why is that boy, that deserted mansion, forbidden?

It is as old as the blood which pulsed cold and tingling through Eve's veins as she reached for that forbidden fruit on that hauntingly lovely tree.

2.) Curiosity.

It is human nature to want to know what lies over the horizon. It's what drove the pioneers across wild, hostile lands.

What does that locked door conceal? That chained chest. Why those heavy links, that rusted lock?

Is this all there is? Or is there more beyond mere line of sight? We know there is more.

Science tells of us of dark matter piercing the cosmos with light-years long strands of matter invisible to the human eye. We are likewise blind to the world of germs. What other worlds are we blind to?

Give a nugget of uranium, a tiny stone really, to an aborigine. Tell him it is a good luck charm. Tell him to drop it in the village well.

What harm could one tiny stone do? Visit his village two months later. View the many corpses laying strewn like dead dreams all across the ground.

3.) Identification.

We watch and imagine what we would do in like situations. The world dissolves into chaos as random individuals descend slowly into madness.

You are picked up by the local sheriff as you are doing your morning walk with your dog. He orders you and your dog into the back of the car. He presses his gun to your dog's head and rambles on about brains looking like wet oysters. Do you want to see?

What would you do? What could you do?

Life is frightening. Global warming. Diseases that eat the very flesh of your body. We watch horor on the screen to encapsulate the horror of real life. It is not us up there.

We would be smarter, faster, more in control of our emotions.

We like the adrenaline rush sudden scares give us. Safer than driving fast, dating inappropriate guys or gals, and with the thrill of saying mentally, "It's not real; I'm still safe."

4.) The Darkness Within.

Terror versus Horror. Is one more physical; the other more mental? Does revulsion and squriming terror pierce through our mental barriers to stab deep into our unconscious fears ... and desires?

(Take the public fascination with the trilogy of the girl with the dragon tattoo :

she is repeatedly brutalized, raped, shot, and beaten. The books and movies are bestsellers. Is there a darkness in us that wants to roll around in sadism like a cat does catnip?)

You are horrified by the news of the floods in Pakistan. You are terrorized when you wake up one New Orleans morning to the news that the dams have burst, and you look out your front door to see rushing waters swallow your neighbor's home ... then your very own.

Horror is realizing the monsters are real and are out there to get you. Terror is looking into the mirror, seeing yourself becoming one -- but still enough you to scream silently at the sight.

Stephen King said horror literature is a means for us to take out the monster, play with it for a while, and put it back.

But who is the monster?

Is he some squirming presence waiting on the other side of the dimensional wall waiting for a crack to appear? Is he the beloved president whose wife is slowly going insane at the awful reality of who he truly is?

Or does his/her eyes stare back at you from the mirror?

Carl Jung :

"Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions."

Why do you think we read horror? Why are we so drawn to dressing up as monsters or as our secret identities? Why do you write the genres you do? And what role does "control" or "lack of control" play in horror/scary movies and literature?

Friday, October 29, 2010


The six other stranded bus passengers hugged the heat of the room's roaring fireplace.


It should have been roasting in here. But I was still shivering.

Of course, I was also standing in the far corner. Even the shadows around me seemed cold and unfriendly. I might have only been 12 years old, but I hadn't survived years on the mean streets of four cities by being trusting.

So here I stood.

Our host at the far end of the table called out to me, "Come, boy, warm yourself at my fire. It was a long walk from your broken down bus to my estate."

"Name's Victor Standish, sir. And I'm just fine right here."

I strained to make out his features but the shadows that shouldn't have been masking his whole body stopped me from seeing him clear. "Where's our bus driver?"

"He asked me where the phone was. I told him. He seemed in a hurry to contact his superiors."

I smirked, "He had that many quarters?"

He said, "Show respect to your elders, boy."

"Respect is earned. And the name's Victor Standish."

He shifted in his chair angrily. I went cold. His body ... squished. I realized he was in a wheelchair ... and it blocked the door out of here.

"Tonight is a rare night ... Standish."

His words were spoken oddly ... as if human speech itself was a foreign thing to him.

"It is Samhain, summer's end. The Celtic New Year began this nightfall.

In your ancient Welsh tradition, this evening was called The Three Spirit Night, when all kinds of beings could roam between realities."

I went colder at his use of "your" as if he did not belong to the human race.

He wheeled his chair towards me by only inches but it seemed far, far too close.

"You really should have sat with your fellow passengers. It was over so quickly for them."

I flicked my eyes to them. Oh, crap. Some were slumped on the floor. Some across the tables. Some sat bonelessly in their chairs.

Their eyes were ... melted, flowing like mucus down their withered cheeks. And their shadows were gone ... as if their very souls had been eaten.

"You hold in your fear well ... human."

The fingers of both hands in my pockets plucked up a ball bearing each. "T-The bus driver's dead, too?"

"Oh, yes. You I picked to play with."

"It's been a long day, sir. I'm all played out."

"I think I'll eat your sharp tongue last."

There was nothing in that for me but pain so I said, "H-How did you get here?'

He laughed wetly. "You think me some space creature?"

He turned for a moment to stare into the fires with eyes I could not see nor was unhappy over that fact. "In a way I am from beyond the stars."

He turned back to me, and for a moment, I saw a wet, scaled face that looked more insect than fish. And eyes rhuemy and totally empty of anything human or merciful.

I fought back a shiver. He chuckled in a squishy gurgle.

"It began with the meteorite. The black seed of my birth fell in the back of this estate on the night of Samhain in 1843. Men could not approach the site for weeks because of the heat."

Again that terrible laughter. "And by then, the trees and wildlife were taking on strange shapes."

He wheeled closer still. "Men of your so-called science came finally to investigate. Those that managed to overcome their sudden illness and go back to their homes and beds died in them."

Closer came the wheelchair, and I saw that tentacles, not fingers, grasped the wheels. "The lovely wife of this estate's owner was pregnant."

The wheels squeaked as the chair came right up to me. "She did not survive my birth. As you will not survive this night."

I whipped both hands out of my pockets and shot two ball bearings with all my strength into his gaping maw of a slavering mouth. "Eat this!"

He choked in wet husks. I darted around his chair, twisting aside to dodge the tentacles that suddenly shot from his middle. I saw razored teeth in a second snarling mouth in his damn stomach.

I grasped the back of the chair with both shaking hands. I shoved the nightmare creature along the wooden floor, ducking the tentacles that clutched for my head.

You don't outrun the addicts and perverts on the street by being slow.

I whizzed past the dead passengers and shoved the squirming mockery of a man into the blazing fire. His screams were ... beyond my ability to describe. I hear them in my nightmares still.

I raced out of the room, yelling over my shoulder. "And by the way, Trick or Treat!"

Thursday, October 28, 2010


My entry for Madeleine's blogfest is from my urban fantasy, FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE.

The man with death in his veins, Samuel McCord, and his best friend, the vampire priest, Renfield, have just walked from behind McCord's jazz club onto the flooded street the night after Katrina :

Renfield stiffened as we walked out onto the submerged sidewalk. “Dear God, Sam, did you ever think we’d see our city like this?”

I looked at the battered club fronts, the boarded windows, the two-by-four’s driven like crude knives into the very mortar of the buildings, and the crumpled remains of people’s lives floating down the flooded streets.

It was eerie. The utter blackness of a once bright street. The deep quiet of a mortally wounded city.

I looked about at the shattered world around and within me. Withered leaves of my soul seemed to fall away from me in the dark breeze of this night.

Shadows flowed through my veins. The night and eternity mocked me. They seemed to whisper : “This is all your struggling achieves -- Life runs, falls, and spindles slowly into the abyss.”

Renfield and I were standing on the threshold of something that befell every person, every civilization, but with each at a different cost.

I moved through the moments but was far them. And as the night descended, it felt as if I were leaving home.

I was swept up in a sense of the missed opportunity, the lost chance, the closed door. In my mind, I heard Bette Midler singing “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today.”

“Broken windows and empty hallways,

A pale dead moon in a sky streaked with grey.

Human kindness is overflowing,

And I think it’s going to rain today.”

I sighed, “It’s like looking at the hell in the streets of London after the first Nazi bombing in ‘40.

The sheer quiet that follows a whole city being gutted, that stillness that comes right before it screams.”

He bent down and picked up a floating child’s doll, its false hair soaked and hanging. Its glassy eyes eerily reminded me of too many human corpses I had seen floating down this same street.

Renfield stroked the plastic cheek softly as if it had been the flesh of the girl who had lost her doll. Closing his eyes, he dropped the doll with a splash that sounded much too loud.

Renfield looked my way with eyes that clawed at me and smiled as if it were a wound.

"Perhaps that doll will find the spirit of the child who lost it."

"You and I have seen stranger things, Padre."

He nodded. "Yes. Yes, we have. I will choose to think the child's ghost reunited with her doll."

The thought seemed to give Renfield some small measure of peace. I think Lincoln had it right : we have the peace we choose to have.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

GHOST IN THE NIGHT_my entry in Quinn's BOO FEST

It was that moment between waking and dream. I was sitting on my apartment terrace. The night spoke to me in its velvet silence.

Owl happily was not speaking my name. He perched on the cypress branch opposite me, studying me as I was admiring him.

Brother raccoon scurried in the bushes below, carrying some prize in his front right paw.

My cat, Gypsy, twitched her tail on the window sill, the mysteries of ages whispering in her half-closed, green eyes.

My own eyes were heavy. Too many miles driven. Too few hours slept.

I put the period to the last sentence of my blog post about Marlene Dietrich with the troops in the front lines during WWII :

** One afternoon after VE Day, she was walking through a little French village. All around her was rubble, and she couldn't understand why -- all the buildings along the street were still standing with curtains blowing frilly and snapping clean-crisp in their windows.

Then, she looked through one of the windows to see that there was nothing behind it. The fronts of the buildings were still standing, but everything behind them had been destroyed. There wasn't a single living person past the false fronts of those caricature buildings.

Only one lone doll lay forlorn in the rubbled middle of nothing.

With her face cupped in trembling hands, she stood in front of that window, weeping silently, refusing to be comforted ...

"... for there is no comfort for the dead," she whispered. **

Beside me a husky voice intoned, "Keine Komfort für die Toten."

I went cold and still, sliding my eyes as far to the right as they could go without moving my head. My mouth became salt.

Marlene Dietrich.

In a frilly black night wrap and not much else.

She was perched over the top of a wavering, insubstantial leather chair like a cougar ready to strike.

"You write so beautifully of me. Why?"

"Y-You were brave, selfless -- entertaining the troops on the front lines with a death sentence from Hitler on your head."

I cleared my fear-thick throat. "People have forgotten that."

She reached out and stroked my cheek with chill fingers.

"It is not important for the world to remember me -- only that I did not forget myself when I was needed."

"And words like that are why I write of you."

Marlene fluffed my hair with ghost fingers. It tickled.

"Do you know what they call you in the ShadowLands, liebling?"


"Sänger von Träumen -- DreamSinger."

"I - I don't understand."

Her ice blue eyes hollowed. "One day you will."

In ghost whispers, she murmured, "Death and love."


"I thought I knew them, liebchen. I was so sure. I died. Then, I saw life with new eyes."

She leaned forward, her eyes suddenly sparkling. "See you in your dreams, liebling."

And like a cloud robbing me of sunlight, Marlene was gone. I was alone. Well, not quite.

Gypsy was in my lap, yawning. It takes a lot to shake up the granddaughter of Bast.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


The mottled blaze of strangled life lends magic and beauty to Autumn.

Autumn is my favorite time of year, and I paid homage to it in my historical fantasy, RITES OF PASSAGE.

It is the story of the cursed voyage of the transatlantic steamer, Demeter, in 1853.

A journey where my hero of FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE first met the one great love of his life,

the mysterious Meilori Shinseen, born of stardust and the sea.

A passage where McCord fights his first duel with the enemy who is destined to become his life-long foe, DayStar ...

a being claiming to come from a realm beyond the boundaries of Time itself.

My homage to Autumn is the passage where a wounded McCord walks through a plane of existence not of this world to discover the identity of a murderer

that both friend and foe warn will destroy him. But not to do so would destroy the love of his life.

And that means there is no question that he will walk this strange realm until he finds the truth that will save Meilori and destroy him. 'Fair Trade,' he thinks :

I expected to see a good many unpleasant sights when I walked into the darkness that lay beyond The Door of Nasah. After all, I had a Jesuit education of sorts, courtesy of the Soyoko from so many years ago.

So I knew that nasah was ancient Hebrew for testing.

It had been used to describe those poor wandering Israelites bickering and stewing their way across the desert to the Promised Land. And you know how well that went for them.

But since this is me we’re talking about. I didn’t get a single one of the things I expected. Story of my life. And undeath.

I was walking in a place forgotten by feet. Or so it felt to me. The darkness slowly bled to a lighter hue of gloom.

I paused, brooding in this twilight world, not knowing where to place my steps. I strained my eyes. I could almost make out the smudged silver of a far horizon.

What had I said to myself earlier? That I figured the folks who entered this realm made their own walls. Maybe that was what I was doing now.

Was I walking through the burned-out ends of the smoky days of my past?

A dark forest of memories was lanced through, not with sunlight filtered through thick branches, but with images of pain and struggle. My pain. My struggle. I almost felt the crunch beneath my feet of the withered leaves of others’s masquerades.

I did seem to feel, like the lash of snapping branches against my cheek, the tiny thousand misunderstandings of my best efforts and the clumsy gropings of my heart to the life-hardened hearts of others.

I knew then that I was indeed walking through the Autumn world of my past, rising above the dark horizon of my regrets. The yellowed leaves of recollection curled up around me as I walked slowly forward : Sonora, England, France, China, Australia, New Zealand, and even India.

The light of love slipped through the black shutters of my guilt and loneliness. It was warm and emerald. The light I saw in the eyes of Meilori. My torch that I would carry in this darkness.

I kept walking. Images swirled around me. Revolving doors, showing the faces of an ever-growing army of enemies. Refracting light of clues, guesses, fears of the truth I finally realized I did not want to know.

Meilori’s eyes seemed to waver.

I remembered her anger, her warnings, her despair. I clung to our bond, our love bruised but enduring, curling about my spirit like perfumed smoke rising from the embers of our hearts. I would endure. I had to endure. For her. For us.

Laughter. Cold. Brittle. Knife sharp.


It swirled all about me. And as fast as fingers become a fist, a chill blackness swallowed me. I slowed but kept moving ahead. I shivered. Not from the cold, but from a growing warmth within me.

I slowed even more. Meilori. Her velvet words spoke within my mind.

‘Beloved, wherever you are know this -- you are a great man.’

I started to protest but her soft words stopped me.

‘Hush, I do not have long before he senses I am talking to you. You are Samuel Durand McCord, beloved, and you are a great man.’

I could have sworn I felt the lingering caress of tender fingers on my cheek.

‘You turned your back on war to save a small boy. You fought cruel laws, usually to no avail. You have written no symphony but that of your deeds. You have written no poems outside words of comfort to those in pain.’

This time I did feel her lips on mine.

‘Yet you are greater than any general, any politician, any composer, or any poet I have ever known. You are great because you are kind when you could have so easily learned to be cruel. You are great because you love when so little has been shown to you. You are great because you are humble when you have the power to be a tyrant.’

I felt my nose tweaked. ‘And finally you are great, not because you never fail but to celebrate life, but because you never quit. Now, do not make me a liar!’

And suddenly the blackness was colder because my sense of her was gone. Snatched away like life by a pistol shot.

DayStar must have sensed her talking to me. She could be in serious trouble. I ground my teeth. I had to get back to her.

But I figured turning back would only lead me to a deeper darkness. If there was one ugly lesson I had learned in all my wanderings and mistakes, it was that with life in general, and with DayStar in particular, there was no going back. None at all.

No, I had to bull this one through to the end. Through to my end if everyone’s warnings were right.

But there was another lesson I had learned. The majority was usually wrong. Usually.

I took a firm step forward, and the ink shroud around me lifted.

I was back in the Autumn world. But it no longer held any restrains of regret for me. How could there be any? Meilori’s love was here with me. And besides I had always liked Autumn despite its warnings of the white death of winter biding its time impatiently.

Autumn’s crisp breath stirred the unseen leaves with whispery lamentations. Their graves provided a crackle and rustle as my feet stepped upon them while I made my way through Autumn’s colors more than landscape.

The very air filled my nose and lungs with the tang and wrinkling of leaf bonfires, of ripened apples making the heavy branches hang their heads as if in mourning for ice storms to come.

My ears prickled as I could have sworn I heard the leathery flutter of pheasant wings, the still happy liquid singing of a meandering stream, and the sad lament of a sparrow facing hunger.

The red and gold of this world murmured to me of happier times as I had tramped lonely hills and haunted forests. And a peace filled me.

The peace which is the reward of completing the long gauntlet of summer. The quiet dark that precedes the winter of the soul which lurks just around the next bend. A time for binding recent wounds and old -- and forgeting them, along with the misfortunes that had brought them.

I took another step. I stopped. Autumn had ended. My winter of the soul lay before me.

I lay before me.

I had gone into the past. Stepped right past the boundaries of time’s firm grasp. The evening of Rachel’s murder was bidding me a dark welcome.

An instinct born of this cruise told me that DayStar had not expected me to make it even this far. I stiffened. Cornered in fungus, his voice mocked me in the confines of my mind.

‘No matter, McCord. Now you end.’

I whispered, “Maybe si. Maybe no.”

Monday, October 25, 2010


Another snippet from my YA, THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH,


The throbbing cut on my temple oozed blood along my cheek and down my throat. The revenant, Abigail Adams, looked down with hungry eyes at the blood and my throat.

We were both hurt bad. Me less than her. Sometimes it paid to be a smaller target.

I was supporting her down St. Peter Street. We made a pretty strange pair -- even for Halloween.

"You bite me," I wheezed from the broken ribs that were screaming at me, "and I'll drop you on your elegant butt."

"Standish," she husked. "You are not as funny as you think."

"No. I'm funnier. I'm humble like that."

"Y-You are not even in the same galaxy as humble, whelp."

"You know why I don't drop you on your ..."

I coughed up a bit of blood, " ... manners?"


"Because no matter how rank you are, Empress Theodora is worse."

Theodora, Empress of The Unholy Roman Empire that had Europe squirming in its clawed fist. She hadn't always been a revenant.

In the year 500, she had been the daughter of a bearkeeper in the circus -- which explained her unique thoughts on life.

To her, life was a circus of blood where humans were trained to dance to her whims by the school of pain. Her sexual games were twisted ...

which gave me a world of reasons to help Abibail Adams.

Forget about finger sandwiches. There were other parts of my body she would make a snack of if she caught us. I shivered at the thought.

Abigail smiled sadly at me. "I will kill you myself before I allow that travesty to touch you."

"Ah, let's have a sign for that, all right? Like -- when pigs fly. Besides, we're almost to Meilori's."

Abigail sighed, "Theodora will never let us reach it."

"That's what I'm counting on, Abby."

"Do not be familiar, boy!"

"Hey, who has a hand snug in your corset here?"

I had rescued Abigail Adams out of Theodora's New Orleans' mansion. The bitch had her enemy stripped to her underclothes to humiliate her.

"Don't remind me, boy."

I saw the proud pain in her face and husked through my own pain, "She humilated herself, not you, by doing that to you."

Abigail's face softened, then went stiff and cold. St. Peter Street was changing in spurts and flashes all around us.

Street and store signs had changed to gothic script. Snarling gargoyles were the design of choice.

All right! About fragging time.

You couldn't walk into Meilori's in the daytime. Only at night.

By day, the corner of Royal and St. Peter housed the majestic Royal Cafe. At dusk, the corner mysteriously transformed into Royal and Rue La Mort. And Meilori's stood revealed to the night and its children.

But this wasn't just any night. This was Halloween.

It was Samhain, summer's end. It had nearly marked New Orleans' end as well. But its people were a hardy lot.

The Celtic New Year began this nightfall. When your adoptive father is named McCord, you learn these kinds of things.

In ancient Welsh tradition, this evening was called The Three Spirit Night, when all kinds of beings could roam between realities. And I was betting my and Abigail's life on that.

We turned the corner. There stood Royal Cafe.

Empress Theodora and Major Strasser stood tall in front of it.

Abigail groaned, "I told you, Victor."

Victor, huh? She really did think the game was up. I smiled like a wolf. It was only beginning.

Theodora was dressed in a black leather outfit that, if it were any tighter, would have split at the seams ... if it had had any seams.

Her lips curled. "And so the mighty Adams dies because she listened to a human boy."

I flicked mocking eyes to Strasser, then to Theodora. "Hey, I see you brought your trained bear."

Strasser growled, "Let me taste of him first."

Theodora smiled dreamily. "No, his delicasies are mine alone."

Night hungrily swallowed dusk, and the surroundings became full of nightmares.

I smiled coldly. "Lots of luck with that, Bitch Queen."

My vision blurred. My head became light. Reality stretched as if it were taffy being pulled by an insane demon-child. The world looked as if I were seeing it from the wrong end of a telescope.

Ghost demons murmured hollow promises to my ears. My legs went all weak. I felt as if I were about to topple off the street and fall into madness.

Meilori's stood towering over me. Torch-lit iron lacework balconies stretched up high into the foggy night. I couldn't make out the building's top.

Leathery wings sounded up high in the thick fog that masked the remaining balconies. I heard the thud of a heavy body, the ear-aching screech of talons against steel, and a husky laugh of hunger about to be fed.

I tore my eyes away before I saw something I'd have nightmares about.

Abigail yelped, but I held onto her with one hand and onto the still-forming surface of Meilori's with the other. I yelled at the top of my bruised lungs.

"Victims of Theodora! Hear me! She is here. Here!"

Despite the pain it cost me, I yelled louder, "And tonight she is helpless not you. Not you! Take her! Take her and her pet killer. Take them!"

Theodora stiffened as hundreds, then thousands of writhing figures of mist solidified around her. Strasser pulled his Lugar. It was snatched from his fingers and tossed at my feet.

The Empress and her killer struggled like escaped inmates from an asylum. No good. They were overwhelmed.

And in a blur of screams, blood, and writhing bodies, Theodora and Strasser were gone.

I looked up at the very pale Abigail Adams. "Sometimes it's Treat."

I smiled very, very cold. "And sometimes it's Trick."

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Here is my entry for Brenda Drake's CLIFFHANGER BLOGFEST :

It is from the short story, NEVER CAGE A WILD WOLF, that I am writing just for my own amusement.

Samuel McCord and Mark Twain meet Pele and are abducted by aliens in Hawaii in the year 1866.

Horror and highjinks ensue :

From the moment we draw breath, we owe a debt. Only for a time do we get use of the earth, rain, and the other assorted odds and ends that go into our making.

Like the leaves, we bud and grow, drawing life from the sun and its tears, gathering capital on the investment they have put into us.

Then, like the leaves, we grow brittle and drop to the dark and bloody soil, returning its loan for the next soul round the pike.

Debt paid. And it comes due at the damnedest times.

I glanced over at the fitfully sleeping Sammy Clemens.

I ran my gloved fingers along the volcanic soil beneath me. This mountain was new if such a monstrous, high place could be called such.

I looked over to Sammy, still tossing in an uneasy sleep on his bedroll, his unruly red hair looking like nothing so much as a wig made from the feathers of a dozen of those parrots that dozed above us.

I had saved him from a nightmare come to life when he'd been twelve. I had kept track of him all these years. Now, he was thirty-one.

Sammy had a way of sailing from safe waters into treacherous, deadly ones.

I had taken to calling him Mark Twain, the name river men used to denote the place where the Mississippi went from secure to deadly.

The smoke of our campfire began to tickle my nose.

I sat in the far shadows of the fire. Being a Texas Ranger for over forty years had taught me caution, for even the undead could die the final death.

That was how I spotted the native woman creep up soundless from out of the darkness and sit in front of our fire. Her odd white dog sat beside her silent as a shadow’s passing.

I had never seen the breed before. But he sure was big.

He looked as if his father might have been a bear -- if those critters had roamed these islands. But it did make me wonder what his parents actually had been.

Elephants maybe.

She stared at Sammy, the fire playing odd shadow-games on her dried walnut face. Her dog, however, turned and looked right at me in the blackness I had carefully wrapped around me.

Apparently not carefully enough.

Sammy stirred and half-rose on an elbow, muttering to me as if I still sat by his side,

“I tell you, Captain Sam, these islands have the most magnificent, balmy atmosphere in the world. Why I swear I am surprised it does not rouse the dead from their moldy graves.”

He stiffened as he noticed my absence and the presence of the aged woman and her monstrous dog -- both of whom had neglected to bring their shadows along with them.

He cleared his suddenly thick throat. “Ah, speaking of which -- why, hello, madame."

He fought to clear his fear-closing throat.

"If you had just sent us a telegram, a letter, a carrier pigeon even, announcing your state visit, you would not have found me in so disheveled a condition. Ah, did you know that you and your delightful horse seem to have misplaced your shadows? Ah, Cap, --- CAP!”

“Right behind you, Sammy.”

“H-How far behind?”

I smiled. Same old Sammy.

When we were alone, it was always Captain Sam. But in front of others, even something supernatural like now, his pride would only let him call me Cap.

He kept on, his voice trying, and failing, not to shake.

“Cap, I have ransacked this island until I cannot walk for the saddle sores. I have surf-bathed til I nearly drowned. I have ridden by moonlight through a ghostly plain of sand strewn with human bones and contested with the shades of slain warriors there. But, Cap, I positively insist that all our visitors must have shadows!”

The old woman said nothing. The crackling embers reflected odd in her glittering eyes as it did in her dog’s , if dog was what it truly was. I drew in the night. I suddenly knew her.

She was Death ...

in the form of the Hawaiian goddess, Pele.

Not that it bothered me over much.

I breathed in the night breeze, the still of it, the life of it. In this wilderness there was no greed, no vanity, no hypocrisy. Only a lasting throb of green growth. And the eternal quiet.

I always knew that this was the way I would go. A knife or a gun in hand, my teeth bared at the enemy like an old wolf falling away into the endless void, defiant and fighting to the end.

But not quite yet.

Sammy depended on me. And I would not let him down. I would save him. Then my spirit could be caught up on the wings of the night. It even pleased me a little to think of drifting at peace into the endless depths between the stars.

The old woman turned towards me and croaked, “Soon or late, I always come to collect. How do you wish to pay? Easy or hard?"

I looked at the terrified Sammy who depended upon me and locked my eyes with hers. "Hard."

Some more beauty :


{A part II to Roh Morgon's MONSTER MASH BLOGFEST.

It is the prologue to my YA urban fantasy, FRENCH QUARTER ORPHAN (The Legend of Victor Standish)} :

I went very still, very cold, very fast.

The bus seat next to me had been empty this whole trip. Now, there was this old woman sitting way too close for comfort.

I hadn't closed my eyes or anything. One second the seat had been empty. The next, the old woman, smelling of lavender and death, sat in it. Green cat-eyes studied me out of a face that seemed to have found a sale on wrinkles.

She must have found her musty Victorian dress in the attic of the Bates Motel. She frowned at me as if she could read my thoughts. I hoped she didn't mind light reading.

She silently thrust a note at me. I just sat there. She shook it hard.

Jeeze. I didn't want an old lady smacking me. A guy couldn't hit an old woman. I took it with all the thrill of eating slimy vegetables.

It smelled old, felt almost like skin, and burned my fingers.

I looked down at it. It was steaming. I looked back up to the old woman. She was gone. My shivers got goosebumps.

"Cue the spooky music," I whispered.

I unfolded the paper. It was blank. A shaft of moonlight pierced the tree cover beside the racing bus and splashed across the page. Words in squiggly print flashed before my eyes.

I only saw one word clear : Hell.

Then, the moonlight was gone, and so were the words. The shivers stayed.

The hours passed like kidney stones. Though the bus never stopped, one by one the passengers disappeared until only I was left.

I could never spot them blink out. Their leaving was like the moving of the minute hand of a clock. It happened. I just could never catch it.

Finally, the bus pulled into a deserted depot, steam rising like begging fingers from the sewer grates. Each corner seemed thick in mold and fungus ... the sort of place a wino would curl up in to die. With a hiss of asthmatic air brakes, the bus stopped.

All I had were the clothes on my back and the brains in my head. I got up slow and walked to the front of the bus. I froze.

The bus driver was a skeleton. He turned his forever-smile to me and spoke in words born of the crush of dry leaves.

"Victor Standish?"


"Hell awaits."

"My ticket said 'New Orleans.'"

The skeleton ferryman laughed, "Same thing."

I paid him his coin, climbed down the steps, and walked into the shadows.
I have just entered THE DEAR LUCKY AGENT CONTEST for Young Adult fiction : . Wish me luck.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Here's my entry into Roh Morgon's MONSTER MASH BLOGFEST :


New York City. My very first agent. The biggest in publishing, mind you.

And here I was -- in his elegant, spacious ... and much too dark office.

At night.

What was up with that?

Actually, I knew. Courtesy of Raymond Chandler. His ghost really.

He had hated agents in life. Now, in undeath, he hated them even more. Bloodsuckers he called them.


Now, was that type casting or what?

Aaron Bael smiled at me. His charm was colder than his eyes, and they were glitttering chips of dry ice.

With his much too long fingers, he patted my manuscript. "Odd term you use in here. 'Revenants' not the more popular, enticing 'Vampires.'"

I nervously toyed with the ball bearing in my left hand and kept from chewing my thick toothpick with an effort of will.

"In my novels, there's nothing sexy, sparkly, or warm about the reanimated dead. How could there be? Humans are their meals not their friends."

Bael nodded. "Just so. And your prose is quite good. Too good not to make large sales."

His smile dropped like a lead weight. "We cannot allow that."

A blur to my left. Fangs at my throat. Fetid breath in my face.

His not-so-lovely assistant. My thumb and forefinger shot the ball bearing into her open, snarling mouth. She hunched over choking.

Living or undead, the gag reflex will not be denied.

I whipped the thick toothpick out of my mouth and jabbed it deep into the back of her left hand still on my shoulder.

She squealed in a wet husk, then thumped bonelessly to the thick carpet like a puppet with the strings cut. She didn't move.

She was as dead as something like her could get.

Popping out of my chair, I backed up, keeping my face to Bael. "Research. Gotta love it."

He flicked an uneasy look to my manuscript. "There really is a lost acupuncture point?"

I nodded. It was the chi in the blood that animated the revenants not the oxygen. Dam the flow of chi in their bodies, and they were short-circuited : dead.

"Yes, and thanks to Tommy's Middle East tour of duty I know it."

His eyes became as flat and soulless as a snake's -- but without as much warmth. "Your precious "League of Five" friend. Well, I have a friend, too."

His canines grew longer. "As I recall, you were quite taken with Miss Lupa, my secretary, and her mini-skirt."

His office door burst open. A snarling she-wolf shambled in, her black business suit hanging from her in tatters.

Reaching slowly into my jacket's inside pocket, I forced a smile. "Honey, your legs were prettier without the fur."

Bael sneered at my hand under my jacket. "You're carrying a gun in New York City?"

I shook my head. "Only criminals get to do that."

I brought out the magnesium flare. "Meet my best-est buddy, Mr. Sunshine-in-a-Stick."

I snapped its end off to bring it to blazing life. Its red glare filled the office. And the same ultraviolet light that burns from the Sun seared the flesh from Bael's screaming, writhing body.

The stench filled the spacious room, making acid bile burn up my throat and into my mouth.

Miss Lupa had seen better days, too.

The ultraviolet light had tricked her body into a "false dawn" dress-down to humanity. But she was caught mid-way, her body changing in spurts to the surges in the flare.

She writhed on the carpet in agony. I couldn't leave her like this.

Thanks to Chandler's ghost, I didn't have to.

I walked gingerly around the still-smoldering Bael and his simply still assistant. I went to the back of the agent's desk to the middle drawer. I pulled it out.

"Only criminals get to do that," I whispered, pulling out the automatic.

Silver bullets in the clip Chandler had assured me. I chambered a round into the barrel.

I walked back to stand over Lupa. She snarled at me, spittle flying from her sharp teeth.

"How many screaming humans have you killed that were helpless to fight back?," I sighed.

"N-Not enough," husked Lupa.

"One was too many," I said low and double-tapped her.

(Unlike politicians, movies sometimes told the truth.)

She stopped wiggling. I looked over to Bael and his assistant. How many dreamers
had they shot down,

not because their work wouldn't sell,

but because it would?

A pounding shook the heavy entrance wooden doors. I went quiet and cold inside.

The zombie security guards Chandler had told me about. I smiled bitterly. No problem.

They only ate brains.

And obviously, no one who opened a can of whoop-ass on revenants and ferals simply for being rejected had any of those.


Thursday, October 21, 2010


{Thanks to all of you who visited my entry in Erin Cole's 13 DAYS OF HORROR.

If you haven't yet, here is the link : Now, onto my post} :

How do you write?

Do you write as if your novel were a pressurized airplane cabin?

Are your characters insulated from the truth of their environment?

Is your locale as flat as a cardboard movie backdrop?

Are there smells to your surroundings? Does the soft breeze make an airy stew of their aromas?

Or do you drag your poor reader down sterile, silent streets?

What are the prevailing winds of mindset, manners, and economic demands of your setting?

Does your main character sail against them? Or does he/she flounder in their wake?

Or does he, puppet-like, go through lifeless motions, tugged by your whims and not by motivations relate-able to your readers?

And what about you as a writer?

Do you persist? Or do you stall out when the words become lost in the mist.

Persistence. It is what separates those just playing from those dedicated to the dream.

When the writing is sluggish that is when it is most important to bull through to the end. Writing is like life in that.

Winners don't stop when they meet resistance. Weight resistance builds muscle. Blank-out resistance builds fine prose.

Persistence is the heart. The story is the soul.

For luck, Ernest Hemingway used to carry a rabbit's foot in his right pocket. The fur had long since been worn off. The bones and sinews were polished by wear.

The claws scratched in the lining of his pocket,

and by that sting he knew his luck was still there.

Why was that?

When you feel the scratch of life against you, you know that your luck as writer is still at your back. How is that?

The sting of life makes you aware :

of your own humanity,

of others' failings and strengths,

of the precious fragility of life.

And that awareness gives your pen the gift of perception, depth, and heart.

What did Ernest put in his journal :

Travel and writing broaden your ass, if not your mind, so I try to write standing up.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Erin Cole has chosen a short story from me for her 13 DAYS OF HORRORS on her blog,

LISTEN TO THE VOICES for her Thursday October 21st post :

If you're not a follower of her blog, consider becoming one.

Check out my story, DEATH IN MY VEINS, on her blog tomorrow, why don't you?


Have you noticed that life doesn't stand in line?

It demands service ... right now.

Eric's unborn child. Sangu's visa. The riots that made Jessica's life interesting some months back. My double hernia or double muscle pulls (depending on which doctor you listen to.)

What has this to do with writing? Everything. Soon or late, you will hear a pounding on the door. Take in a breath. It will be life demanding your attention ... now!

You will have to deal with it, dropping for a moment your writing ... which will not necessarily be a bad thing.

From Mark Twain to Ernest Hemingway, authors have found it enriched their writing to put it away for a time, to not even think about it.

The mind is a funny thing :

your unconscious mind will be fiddling with your novel all the while you are dealing with life. In fact, as a writer you will be listening to the people all about you, noticing every gesture, every interpersonal exchange displayed before you.

When you get back to your novel, you will, of course, want to read all of it until the point you stopped. And the flaws in the flow of prose, the tension, the pacing ... the humanity portrayed in your novel will stand out as if highlighted.

All because your unconscious mind digested your experiences while dealing with impatient life.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Hurting or not, I could not let Alex J. Cavanaugh's debut of his novel, CassaStar, come without a shout-out from me.

When your book is published, as Jennifer Bell says, wouldn't you like your blogger friends to rally to your side? If you can afford it, please buy his book. I know I am.

Monday, October 18, 2010


The Death prophesied by the Mayans long ago has come to claim the Earth.

It is straining to get into Wolf Howl's hospital room.

But he is the last Lakota shaman and to protect the woman he loves,

he will fight the darkness as long as he can ....}

The cheap wood of the door began to splinter, wisps of growling blackness squirming through the cracks. Shadow looked at the gun in her hand. I hoped she wouldn't shoot through the door.

It would only help the darkness get in quicker.

Her long black hair whipped about her face as she turned to me. "Do something, Drew!"

"Remember how to dance?"

"What? Are you insane?"

"You can have known me this long and ask that?"

The streams of ink mist swam in quick currents together, forming a shape that seemed both unfamiliar and familiar --- and altogether terrifying.


"Remember where we first met?"


"Me, too."

And praying to The Great Mystery that her memories and mine were the same, I plucked the gun from her hand.

After all, there is no more dangerous a creature than a terrified assassin with a loaded gun.

Wrapping my fingers gently around hers, I spun us in a fluid first step of a waltz only I could hear. The black shape lunged for us.

The creature, like the White Man before it, had been too confident, too slow.

I flipped up the first three fingers of my right hand and smiled like my namesake. “Read between the lines.”

I could only imagine the confused look on its terrible face for Shadow and I were no longer in the hospital room to see it.

In fact for a flicker of a heartbeat we were no longer on GrandMother's shores at all.

We were ... sideways.

And then, I felt Shadow stumble in my arms as the contours of the tile floor changed beneath our feet to the curved softness of grass.

I looked down on her stunned face. I remembered that Shadow understood Latin.

"Superior stabat lupus, longeque inferior agnus."

She frowned, "The wolf is upstream, and the lamb is downstream? What the bloody hell, are you --"

Then, she noticed our change in locales. "The Isle of Syke!"

"The Old Man of Storr to be exact."

Frigid winds buffeted us. Night was dying hard.

We were at the top of the weird-shaped remains of an ancient volcanic plug on the ragged hill which overlooked the Sound of Raasay.

The terrain was harsh and moon-like. The grass beneath our feet was black and seared, all the life leeched from it. A new kind of death had come to these shores.

And so had we. I had bent the cloth of GrandMother's dress to nudge us to the largest island northwest of Scotland. The Isle of Skye.

In the Norse sagas it had gone by the name of Skio. What had been that line in the legend of Hakonarsonar?

'The hunger battle-birds filled Skye with blood of foemen killed.' From what I was seeing, the poet must have been a prophet.

Shadow seemed to be of a like mind as the breath left her. We both looked down upon an eerily transformed Loch Leathan.

It stretched as far as the eye could see in the hellish half-light. I tried to swallow and couldn’t.

I could believe this was Man's last day. The loch was blue fire, and white electric mists were slowly rising from the hidden surface.

And laughing dancers who bore no semblance to man or animal floated from wave to wave in flashes of lightning and lilts of ethereal song not unlike the piping of Apache spirit flutes.

Beyond them, ghostly writhing shadows sat in small, graceful sky-blue boats decorated with golden runes and figureheads of black winged creatures.

Only three small boats that I could see, but they headed towards the receding darkness. Away from us.

I finally managed a swallow. If we had come any sooner, they would have feasted upon us. Now, they were chasing the night in search of new prey.

But with the return of night, they would be back. They would be hungry. And we would be dead.

Shadow watched them slip beyond the cusp of the awakening horizon. She shivered. Then, with a whip of her long hair, she turned to me.

"Sideways, huh?"

"It seemed the way to go."

"Now, what?"

"We chase the dawn."

"That's your plan? Live out our lives running in circles?"

I arched an eyebrow. "I believe that's the human condition."

"And when we get tired of running?"

"We stop and face the night."

"And do what?"

"Fight the darkness ... until we can't."

"That's it?"

I suddenly saw the terrified face of the twenty year old she had been settle like an after-image over her taunt face. "That's all there ever was, Shadow."

"No! I refuse to believe that. I - I have to believe there's something more. I have to!"

Her body was so rigid and taunt I half-expected her to snap like a rubber band. I sucked in a breath. I was expecting too much of her.

She was only white. She could only take so much truth. It was bad enough she was going to die, I couldn't crush her spirit as well.

I forced a smile. "Well, I've managed to survive this long by living in denial. There's always that."

I handed her back her gun. She took in a ragged breath. And with a wolf's smile, she chambered in a round.

"Damn straight!"

I figured she had the damned part right. But I wasn't about to tell that to a terrified assassin with a loaded gun. I winked at her.

"Besides, the Aztecs said we had until December. Let's go see how much trouble we can get into in two months."

She winked back. "Now, that sounds like my kind of plan."

I took her left hand and walked into the harsh glare of the last dawn. My heart heavy within me, I looked up into the inflamed frost and flame of the winter sky. Each step felt as if I were losing ground.

I caught Shadow looking at me strange. No. This was wrong. I was behaving like a white. I was the last Lakota. And my People deserved better than I was behaving.

"Excuse me, Shadow."

I gently released her left hand. Unclenching my fists, I raised open palms to The Great Mystery, thanking him for the cold breath in my lungs, for the caress of Winter on my face, and for worthy enemies at whom to bare my teeth and drag with me over the cliffs of death.

Father Sun was warm to my face. And once more I could feel GrandMother firm beneath my feet.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Shadow tuck her gun under her belt and raise open palms to the inflamed, bruised sky. I smiled.

There was hope for her after all.

Maybe there was hope for us, too.