And the map comes down.


The map of Somaliland, that is. Along with the list of Shift Tense characters, chapters, and blast pattern of plot point post-it notes. The lads of Eshu International are back in Die Nerdshanze in Belfast for a well-deserved rest.

The edited, formatted manuscript for the third and final portion, ANGELS, arrived yesterday. Another thorough, professional job from Mark at Angel Editing. Can’t recommend him highly enough. Michal Oracz finished the cover a while back. He makes it look better than it is, IMO. Errors and delays were all on me.

ERRORS AND DELAYS
Pretty much sums up the last two years. All chuffed after Running Black, I figured I’d bust out the sequel in like nine months. Right?

Live and learn.

Now I’ve heard the second book is harder than the first, that part-time indie authors have a tough time juggling the demands of marketing, writing, editing, with family, job, and the usual obligations. I could talk about chasing Clar1ty Wars inspiration, about my stained glass business picking up, but they’re really beside the point.

The main reason I opted to serialize Shift Tense was a mounting discomfort at not keeping my personal deadline. I didn’t want to disappoint those folks who’d been gracious enough to purchase and read my work. Add to that several articles on the rising ebook tide, the small portions preferred by Kindle readers, and a reader preference for spec-fiction series, and it looked like an attractive, sensible option.

Now I’ve received two complaints about this release schedule/experiment, (In fact, it earned me my first One-Star review) but kicking it out the door not only widened the net, so to speak, it forced me to finish.

ANGELS_final_rgb_flatten_6x9inches So far, I have no serious concerns with the Shift Tense ebook serialization. In the past six months, I’ve sold copies in Germany, Italy, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and France, plus the usual US and UK. I suspect this fifth title will put me consistently over the 100 sales/month mark, which ain’t NYTimes Bestseller list, but is pretty damn remarkable considering how technology allows a no-name like me to publish and distribute material. Hey, John Scalzi even stopped by to comment. (Maybe he’ll blurb my next book?)

WHAT’S NEXT
I do have a plot seed for another Eshu International novel set in space/on the moon. It’ll get written, but it’s definitely on the back burner for now. Last October, a Celtic-flavored ghost tale popped into my head, and what began as a wee short story transmogrified into a novella. 4/5ths of the way through, I should have it to my beta-readers before the end of Feb.

Next in the queue is ‘Under Strange Stars’, the second installment of The Clar1ty Wars. A sci-fi re-imagining of the 19th Century Opium Wars, it’s about to get vicious. Ten scenes/chapters are outlined, three are written. Then there’s a large, three part fantasy piece simmering, as well as a modern exorcism/terrorism piece. Spec-fiction junkie that I am, I’m excited to start digging away at both, as well as any other settings/characters that pop in unexpectedly.

To end, I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to everyone who has waited so patiently, followed this blog, reviewed and read my work. A thousand thanks. I sincerely hope your time spent in my stories is enjoyable. That’s the idea.

Best to all of you,
P. Todoroff
Cape Cod, MA.
SDG

So close…

Cover for final installment of Shift Tense.
Cover for final installment of Shift Tense.

Cover is done, the manuscript is waiting on the final tidying, (Angel Editing) and its done. Ebook should be on Amazon before the end of Jan.

Writing-wise, I need to finish a celtic-flavored ghost story that’s morphed into a novella. I’m at the halfway point now, so I think St. Patrick’s Day is a reasonable deadline. (In time for my 50th b-day as well) Then I’ll turn my attention back to the next installment of Clar1ty Wars – “Under Strange Stars“.

Then, I’ve got a modern Christian-horror novel that’s been sitting on the back burner for quite a while, along with a massive fantasy piece. That’s the plan anyway.

Thanks to everyone who’s been so patient.

For those of you who want the complete Shift Tense in one volume, I plan on releasing a print version with bonus material late 2014.

The Question

Trawling through the Amazon Kindle shop last night, confronted by a gazillion new five-star titles, I asked myself if I would keep writing if I knew fame wasn’t on the horizon.

Is the story strong enough?

Or is this a Mega-Bucks fantasy, and here I sit at my keyboard punching in ‘lucky numbers, waiting to be struck by lightning?

“The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.”
― Pablo Picasso

Guest Post : author Lee Stephen

From fellow author and friend, Lee Stephen.

***

Several weeks ago, Patrick approached me about the prospect of writing a guest entry for HSSJ. As someone who’s never been asked to partake in guest blogging before, I leapt at the opportunity to splatter my thoughts all over someone else’s blog like a fat bug on a car windshield. Admittedly, I am a terrible blogger, as anyone who frequents my own blog at www.epicuniverse.com undoubtedly knows. I fall into the category of “writers who hate writing and who hate themselves for being good at writing, as opposed to, say, math.” Unfortunately for me, blogging falls under the “writing” category, so…yeah. A love affair with the craft, this isn’t.

Hey, at least I’m honest.

There are a litany of blog entries out there in the author-blogger ocean that offer writing advice. This will not be one of them. What this entry will offer is writer advice, which is entirely different. How so? Well when it comes to the actual process of writing, in my experience, the advice of most profiting indie authors is, “be just like me.” Are there exceptions? Sure. But in my own personal experience as a realist, I’ve found that most indie authors dedicate a lot of blog time to explaining how great they are, and how if you pattern your entire existence after them, you could be almost as great (but not quite). I would highly recommend these blogs to people who have no sense of self-worth or direction. But that’s not you!

So what is writer advice, exactly, and why is it so different? Writer advice (or at least my incarnation of it) has to do with attitude. It isn’t worried about things like daily tweet quotas or mandatory words-per-day levels. Writer advice has to do with you. It’s also not advice you’ll hear in very many places, because it’s kind of heretical. But as I like to say, “yeah whatever.”

ADVICE #1: Avoid most writers.

So I guess this one warrants explanation, eh? Basically…most writers are self-centered attention hogs who only care about you for the size of your fan base. Oh, snap!

Once again, the above does not classify all writers. But as a general rule, it’s kind of true, isn’t it? I actually debated this point recently with someone who was about to dive head-first into the realm of indie writers. I warned them, I flailed my arms, I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Writers suck!” But they didn’t believe me. They started talking to writers. They went to writers’ group meetings. They joined the writing community. And sure enough, it was only a matter of time until they came back and said, “Lee, you were right. Writers completely suck.” I am fortunate to have three good writer friends in Patrick here, Robert Fanney, a fantasy author I’ve known for years, and Erik Sabol, WHO DESPERATELY NEEDS TO GET HIS FIRST NOVEL OUT, ERIK. I would tell anyone looking for writer friends to find 1-3 writers they can relate to and who they can toss ideas back and forth with. Leave the rest in the dust. In YOUR dust. Because you’re better than them. Which leads us to…

ADVICE #2: Do your own thing.

There actually is a practical reason for Advice #1, and this is it. When you get too caught up in group-think, you lose your sense of identity. You start buying into this FAKE mentality that there are certain things you absolutely, positively must do in order to be successful, based purely off what other people are telling you that you have to do. You probably don’t even realize how prevalent this is, but it’s true. Think about it. Right now, in 2013, in order to be a successful indie author, you must do at least two of the following:

1. Have a blog and blog consistently.
2. Tweet daily.
3. Make yourself write every single day.

I mean, those are like, the basics, right? Anyone with any hope of getting anywhere pretty much has to adhere some of those. Right? Wrong. Not one of those things is remotely necessary, as evidenced by the fact that I do none of them. Get the concept of a “must” list out of your head. There’s only one thing you need to focus on: standing out by the things that you do.

When you start avoiding writers, this becomes easier. It’s not about being antisocial. It’s about practicing your independence. When you start plugging into the collective, you start losing the uniqueness that makes you you. You become a mimicker as opposed to a trailblazer. You lose the ability to do things that get you noticed. Take the audiobook, for example. Just think of that word: audiobook. What comes to mind? What’s the first thought that enters your head?

Chances are, it wasn’t this: http://www.epicuniverse.com/DODCh5Sample.mp3

That’s where independent thought can take you. That clip is a sample of the soon-to-be-released audiobook adaptation for the first book in my Epic series, Dawn of Destiny. Had I gotten audiobook advice from other writers, that probably wouldn’t have been the result. I’d have probably hired a narrator to read the whole book or read it myself – not that either of those things are bad! They’re just not necessarily new. I wanted to produce an audiobook for people who don’t like audiobooks, meaning I had to erase every preconceived notion of what I thought an audiobook was supposed to be from my head. In doing so, I like to think I’ve gone in a direction few folks have gone before. You can do this with anything. All you have to do is realize you can do it. Cut the “writing community” umbilical cord. It’ll make you stand out in a ridiculously overcrowded field.

8959319-stand-out-from-the-crowd

ADVICE #3: Just be nice.

It’s my nature to be sarcastic. I think to think of sarcasm as the quintessential underrated spiritual gift! But I also do everything in my power to exercise kindness and courtesy. Sometimes I struggle, as all humans do. But I try my utmost to abide by the Golden Rule.

One of my favorite quotes is by Conan O’Brien, at the end of his final night hosting the Tonight Show. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Conan fan or not (I happen to be one), I find this advice absolutely fantastic. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e35SVmdx9nY&t=3m58s .

I can tell you this, without hesitation: simple kindness has taken me further than any amount of social media savvy or writing ability ever has. I have opportunities (the kind I can’t even talk about), right now, because of courtesy and literally nothing else. If you ignore every other piece of advice I mention, take note of this one. And the next one.

ADVICE #4: Be humble.

There’s a vast difference between confidence and arrogance. I love confidence – I love to see it in people, because it drives them to be the best. But arrogance is the ultimate turnoff. Always remember: you’re never as good as you think you are, and there’s always somebody better.

Don’t brag about sales. Don’t assume you’re doing it the right way. Don’t buy into the notion that because you might be having more financial success than the next guy, you must be better or more important than he is. These are all tell-tale signs of an insecure writer. The only person you need to worry about is you. Let everyone else do what and how they will.

For those who may be wondering about my level of success, simply for contextual purposes, I’ve been incredibly successful. I married the woman of my dreams, I have a one-year-old who lights up my life, and we live in a nice little house with a fence for the dog we rescued. Oh, and every now and then, I sell a book or two. But you don’t need to worry about that part.

Do your own thing. Blaze your own trails. Be relentlessly fearless. When you separate from the herd, it is amazing–amazing–what you can do.

Good luck out there!

***

If you’re a Sci Fi Action Fan, check out Lee’s Amazon Page for his Epic Universe series:

Lee Stephen on Amazon

The Barrow Lover

chasing inspiration here – a ghost story popped into my head. here’s the start

***
THE BARROW LOVER
Part One – The White Lady’s Headstone

“The dead are patient,” my mother used to say. “They can’t come back to us but they know in their bones we all go to them, sooner or later.”
It wasn’t true, what my mother said. Not that we don’t all die; we do. No escaping that. It was the dead she was wrong about: they can come back.

And not all of them are patient.

***

Padraig O’Doule was a Dowser. Which was good, except when it wasn’t.

You see the problem with Paddy – or his dowsing, depending on how you looked at it – was that he tended to find stuff people had hid on purpose, stuff they didn’t want found.

Dirty things. Dark things.

And digging up secrets – ugly or otherwise – had a way of getting people mad. And mad people – depending on who they were – were dangerous. Dangerous to Paddy. Dangerous to me, his best mate, Declan Flood.

Dangerous to a whole lot of folk, as it turned out.

But it’s not like them mad, dangerous people plant markers saying “Leave this one be, ya daft bastard!” So I ask you, how could we have known?

It started a fair enough day. The snow was weeks gone. An earnest sun was peeking through the trees, pledging yet another summer. The birds were larking away and the air was all snappy with new green and hawthorn. I was along for the shoveling and Paddy was just doing what he always did, that morning in the woods: dowsing.

Which is how we found a locket atop a little hill.

I had turned the spade maybe three times before Paddy bent over and plucked it from the dirt.

“Shit me,” I said. “That looks old.”

“Fookin yeah it does,” Paddy answered. “Worth a bit, you think?”

“Two silver, if it’s olden.”

Paddy spit, rubbed with his thumb. It gleamed through the smeary mud. “Fookin flash, is what it is, Dec. Two for sure.”

“Lemme see,” I cried, and he tossed it my way.

Round, heavy, flat as a river stone, it fit nice in my palm. I hefted it for show, then winked at Paddy for good luck before scrutinizing the finding.
Saliva and tobacco juice had cleared the loam, revealing that dull yellow we were so keen on. I hawked my own sauce and rubbed more.

Indeed, indeedy do, gold is what it was.

But even curiouser was the engraving; tiny, twisty script coiling around the edge, spiraling in to the center. Or spiraling out from the center, depending on how you looked at it.

I had stayed in school ’til my secondaries, but these weren’t like any letters I’d ever seen. “Gold, yes. Olden, maybe. Foreign, sure as sure,” I murmured.

“Three silver!” Paddy shouted with a wild, happy grin. “Done for the day, I say. We hit Fade’s on the way back to town. Cash up, then it’s Teagan’s best in my cup for lunch.”

“And dinner.”

“And dinner,” Paddy admitted.

Teagan Cooney ran the local watering hole, and she was good for plenty, including leaving you to sleep at the tables, providing you’d tipped back enough of her cider. She was the easy part of the plan. Fade was another matter.

Meechum Fade was a purveyor of ‘Curiosities and Antiques’, which mostly meant busted old farm furniture and oddments scrounged from the town dump. A thick boar of a man, he was a notorious skinflint, and the only pawn for twenty miles in any direction.

Local wag had Fade being somebody of mention in his younger days, most popular story painting him a fancy-pants banker who fell afoul of his patron for skimming too much cream off the action. Tale went he barely escaped the guillotine, and fled the ireful gentry in the wee hours with naught but the clothes on his back and purse full of silver crowns. When he finally ran out of steam, he found himself in Carn, County Crae, so he changed his moniker, hung a shingle, and set to fleecing us locals in a vain attempt to regain his fortune. Meechum Fade traded his silk and big head pomp for a life of homespun anonymity with his head still attached.

Whoever Fade used to be, he’d been heaped behind his counter like a sack of unwashed laundry, haggling over knickknacks day in and day out for the better part of two decades. He had scowly, jowly baby face, two tufts of wire brush hair at odds with his dome, and a jeweler’s loupe ‘petually screwed in one eye. Grunts and numbers being the extent of his conversations, to say Fade was a man with a tight fist and few words would be generous indeed.

At the very back of Fade’s, under a long and battered brass piano lamp, stood a small glass case of assorted shiny bits: ancient pocket watches leashed to tarnished chains, jilted nuptial bands, loops of spindly silver necklaces, Grannies’ old broach … two shelves of mothy velvet lined with memories bartered away for a handful of copper. Paddy was sure ole Fade would nudge a space for this pretty dollop of mislaid bygones, easy as pie. Then the two of us could enjoy the rewards of our labor for a pair of days, at least.

Cupping it like a scoop of water on one hand, I lifted the locket close and traced the swirly script with my other finger. I squinted in case it’d help with ciphering. Paddy leaned in to watch me, the both of us bent over, breathing all nosey and hush-like. But it was no use. Any reading off that spider scratch needed a big city preceptor with a tonsure and halitosis.

Just then, the sky dropped like a wool tarp and the light drained right out of the woods. The air turned with a nip. A bank of clouds had rolled in. My finger must have hit the latch in that same instant, because the face popped up like a cricket.

Paddy jumped back. “Fook Dec, ya startled me.”

A chill bit my thumb where I was holding the rim, but I squeezed out a laugh. “Near widdled my knickers too.” I smirked. “Look at us, all scardy at some skirt’s old trinket.”

Paddy jutted his chin. “So open it then, you’re so plucky.”

I teased the lid back with my finger… and there she was. The saddest, prettiest girl I’d ever laid eyes on.

There are plenty of lookers in County Crae, the Sweeney Triplets being at the top of my To Do list. But this one… this girl was near holy as an angel; fancy dress, dark hair bundled up, long neck, fine, high cheeks. A mouth sweet as a plum and made for kisses. She was the kind of woman you go to war in distant lands for, fair as a summer’s eve, eternal as the moon.

Loveliness drew your gaze, but it was her loneliness that threw the bolt. Made me want to cry, the sadness seeping off that tiny face. It was like every love ever lost and every promise ever broken, a stain deeper than the sepia she was colored in.

Strangest of all was her eyes were shut.

Not screwed tight in a pique or playing coy, but like the daguerreotype had caught her sleeping, charmed like some princess in a fairy tale. All that beauty frozen still as the grave.

“Fook me, if she ain’t the queen of somewhere,” Paddy whispered.

All I could do was nod.

Winds kicked up, heavy with the iron scent of a brewing storm. The day went dusky and hunched. I shivered, snapped the face of the locket shut.

“Come on,” Paddy said. “Let’s go.”

***

We left the woods and cut across the fields straight for town. Neither of us spoke much. I slipped the locket in my jacket pocket. It was heavy for such a small thing, tugging down almost like it needed burying again. I actually shifted the shovel on my other shoulder to balance it out. My mind was churning like a mill, ruminating whos and hows and whys. All I got was froth for my trouble.

County Crae had a rugged beauty, but it was too poor, too north, with too many boulders and brambles for the titled to fancy our hills for their halls. And there’d been no tell of reivers or brigands for half a century. Pondering the sleeping queen’s pedigree was like wrestling a sainted mystery.

Paddy might have been brooding the same, but most likely he was arithmeticing coins with tankards, adding a good tuck, and maybe a tart for ‘dessert’. Vicar Duffy always says mortals can only carry so much; when the Lords gives thither, He has to take yon. Paddy had the touch, sure as sure, but his idea of history was a fortnight past. Like a duck, he wasn’t the type to perplex over much.

Unlike me, the weather made up its mind. A wall of thunderheads had piled up and were scudding our way like a giant, dark castle, rumbleous with lightning. I spied rain curtains looming across the fields, so Paddy and I jogged through the barley and made the crossroad just as the first fat drops pelted down. Fades’ establishment was in sight.

Hollering, we bounded through the door and paused under the lintel to drip off a bit and let our eyes adjust.

The place was like a root cellar. Or a badger’s den. What I imagine a badger’s den to be like, anyway. Low ceilings, dim light, crammed with vaguely felonious articles stored against an impending lean season. It had a distinct blend of smells: old wood, damp soil, and pipe tobacco. An avalanche of chairs was froze in one corner, a buttress of cupboards and canning shelves lined one wall. A thicket of unlit lamps bristled along the other. A dozen clocks told a dozen times. Cairns of books were raised on every flat surface, monumenting the demise of some poor sod’s literacy. Some reached to the rafters, their gilded titles glistened like pyrite veins in granite.

And at the back, past all the various and sundry, in a pool of oily yellow light, sat Meechum Fade.

He barely glanced up when were entered. “Shut it tight,” he barked.

Paddy nudged me. Three words was a good sign. Fade was downright hearty today.

Paddy took the lead, navigating through the mess like a dancer across a crowded floor. “You’re gonna be keen on this one, Mr. Fade.”

I set my shovel down and followed in his wake. “Genuine heirloom, this is.”

Meechum Fade waved us back, grunting disbelief and consent in the same breath. You have to admire eloquence like that.

There was some debate in town as to whether Fade had feet: no one could remember ever seeing him walk. Resulting from a torturous parenthesis during his alleged pilfering and flight, the footless crowd went so far as to assert Fade weren’t on a stool at all, but a fancy privy chair on wheels. That way, they said, he could make mud without stopping his coin fondling. Someone always knew someone who swore they’d seen him rolling about his place after dark, poling the floorboards with his ankle stubbies.

Not that anyone could corroborate that bit of tosh, but it was a captivating controversy once you got a few drinks in you.

Paddy was at the counter antsy as a puppy, grinning like a fool. He could taste his share already. I fished the locket out and pressed it into Fade’s outstretched palm careful as a communion wafer.

Fade harumphed, shifted his bulk and bent over our finding.

The storm was in full swing; lightning flickering, thunder booming like cannon, hoofbeats of gusty rain tearing across the slate roof. Maybe the sky did shiver, maybe I just blinked, but the second Fade spotted the locket, I swore he went still as a field mouse in front of a snake.

He sniffed a heartbeat later. “Could be cleaner, but it’s not bad.”

“It’s gold, right?” I asked.

Fade nodded, staring at it.

Paddy practically giggled. “So what’s the ‘Praisal?”

Fade tore his gaze away, the sheeny loupe and bright blue eye glued on me instead. “Where’d ya find this?” A hard question with a light touch.

“What? You think there’s more?” Paddy asked. “I felt the place brimming with something.”

“East. In the woods over the creek,” I answered.

Fade’s bald head bobbed once.

Paddy leaned over. “Open it,” he said helpfully. “Catch is on the edge. The lass innit is pretty as May.”

The big man ran a hesitant finger around the rim. Twice. Nothing happened.

“Here,” Paddy grabbed for it. “Let Dec try. He did it afore –”

“I believe you,” Fade said quickly, and the locket disappeared into the folds of his apron like a magic trick.

“So you’ll take it?” Paddy queried.

“Six silver,” Fade pronounced.

My mouth dropped open. Paddy yipped with glee.

Two stacks of tarnished copper slid our way.”Three in pennies now. The rest tomorrow.”

Paddy’s hand swept in like a hawk, scooped up the coins. “Done.”

The blue eye fixed me again, the merchant’s words soft as sand over gravel. “And you won’t be noising this about.” Old Fade wasn’t requesting; it was a condition of the sale.

“So you do think there’s more…” Paddy said. “We’ll head back–”

“I think you needs keep your cheese pipe shut,” Fade bit off each word.

I stared. The dumpy man had turned sharp around the edges. I had a sudden worry how deep it went.

Paddy didn’t notice. He was clinking coins one hand into the other like drops off a spigot, already down the road in Teagans. “Don’t you worry about us, Mr. Fade. We’ll be otherwise occupied.”

Our audience concluded, Meechum Fade waved us off with a stare that held me responsible.

Candi-land (Another Clar1ty Wars story)

A chapter from the next Clar1ty Wars installment. Titled “Under Strange Stars” it’s slated for Q1, 2014 release.

***

CANDI-LAND

Cooper Lynch and Natesh Sarin pulled up inside the gate and flicked off the blues. Two news vans were already in front of the house, their Network holo-logos trying to out-dazzle each other like a pair of flustered tropical birds. Reporters primped as their camera crews jockeyed for position, the roof dishes like steel flowers, tracking that vital satellite up-link.

“How do they know so fast?” Natesh asked.

Cooper explained the obvious. “You really think patrolmen pay their own bar tab?” He looked over at the younger detective. “Only a matter of time before some Newsie scopes out your favorite restaurant.”

Natesh hesitated. “You do it?” he ventured.

“Sometimes. Not so much anymore.”

“What makes sometime that time now?”

“Depends.”

“On what?”

Cooper Lynch shrugged. “Hard to explain. You’ll know when you get there.”

Natesh didn’t respond.

A boxy, tripod-mounted Central Enforcement monitor lensed the car, their police IDs, automatically logging them into the Crime Scene. Two bored uniforms waved them on toward the main house. Dead palm trees lined a long crushed shell driveway.

“Well damn,” rumbled Lynch. “Groundskeeper must have the day off.”

Natesh looked up at each desiccated trunk as they drove forward. “No way. You’ve got to work to kill those.”

Cooper made a noncommittal noise. Their sixth call in seventy-two hours, talk between the veteran and noob had boiled down to the essentials: caffeine fueled sarcasm and raw fact. On their first day, the day of the seven spongers in the warehouse, the office pool was five-to-one “Bambi and Godzilla” wouldn’t last the week, but eleven more bodies had forced the cogs to mesh.

Fact was, all Drop City was on edge; five Senators attacked, a two buildings blown up, street violence red-lining, and junkies dying in waves… Helluva first week. Natesh was swamped, but Cooper, Chief Detective Cooper Lynch, rolled on like a freight train. “Shit,” the big man had said sometime around dawn yesterday. “Things haven’t been this interesting since the Cronies dropped the Soros Towers and they were pulling the Angel murders from the Back Bay.” Each fresh obscenity, each new outrage seemed to bring him to life, hone the edge. So Natesh buckled down and hung on for the ride.

When they reached the front porch, Cooper threw the car in Park and exited without a word. He flashed his Central Enforcement Charm at a third uniform by the front door, cast a suspicious glance over the overgrown lawn, the tangled shrubs, then at the dark woolen cloud cover lowering over head. “I bet a little rain will perk things up in no time.”

Natesh came around with his shiny new silver shield in hand. He took in the peeling paint, the bank of grimy windows, the whiff of mold and neglect, and frowned. “Whole place looks like it should be washed out to sea.”

“Yeah well, be gentle. The Point’s ‘get-up-and-go’ got up and went ten years ago. It’s barely hanging on these days.”

Natesh leaned against the car, waiting as Lynch decided against another cigarette and any more of an explanation, then the two detectives strode through the Police Line holo-tape. A garish pink sign over the dingy double doors identified the mansion as the “Peek-a-Boo Bungalow.”

Like the sign, like the house, Montrose Point had spiraled the drain of chic to shabby to seedy. A peninsula on the southwestern edge of Shumai Island, the ‘Point’ used to be among the most coveted real estate on the planet. With an ocean breeze, a limitless view and breathtaking sunsets, it had been the exclusive playground of indolent millionaires, pop musicians and vid-stars. Anyone who was anyone back then had a villa on the cliffs or a mega-yacht in a slip. The zip code used to be the very definition of mind-numbing debauchery, and for years, the Point was a tabloid gold-mine of juicy sex-scandals, sordid celebrity drama, and lurid endings that defied logic. And sympathy.

A generation of paparazzi made their careers skulking through its wide, palm lined avenues, white sand beaches, and glass-fronted mansions. But like all good things, the catered orgies, the champagne-filled swimming pools, the silver platters heaped with designer drugs, the roar of heli-jets, and the custom sport cars races on the lawn came to an abrupt, but not unexpected, end.

When the Hydro-Energia plant went up on the barrier reef, along with six blocks of low-income worker housing, the view went to hell and so did the marine life for ten kilometers. Most of the rich simply pulled anchor and sailed further out to places like the Ferrari Archipelago and Slim Helu island. Keep the party-music thumping.

Some Point residents weren’t that lucky. Stuck in that hazy twilight cusp, they weren’t quite rich, connected or pretty enough to come along. The party sailed away without them and residents like the owner of the Peek-a-Boo Bungalow were left with nothing but fuzzy memories, stained carpet and a nasty hangover.

A stout, red-faced beat cop named Karnel met Natesh and Cooper in the living room. A hundred pounds and a couple years past his freshness date, Karnel was angling for that last benefit tier in the CE pension package. Gadowski, his latest partner was rummaging around upstairs. A stick-thin kid with radar dish ears and a beak made for snatching up migrating salmon, Officer G. looked like he belonged more in secondary school jacket than a C.E. uniform.

Karnel nodded to Cooper, ignored Natesh.

Behind the patrolman’s rounded shoulders, a step-down side room was taped off. Cooper spied two bare feet with candy apple red toenails, and the black-edged slate of a high-end Bose wallscreen.”What do we got?”

“Celebrity brain-pop,” Karnel smirked. “Classic case of Rapid Cerebral Hemorrhaging.”

“ID?”

Karnal’s grin widened to shit-eating proportions. “Remember Candi Moore?”

Cooper edged forward to a better look. “You sure?”

“I shit you not. It’s her – what’s left of her anyway. And ‘cept for being older… ” Karnel giggled. “She’s just like she always was: stark fucking naked.”

“And dead,” Cooper added.

“Yeah, that too,” the patrolman conceded.

The big detective shook his head. “Been waiting to say that, haven’t you?”

Natesh looked at Cooper, curious.

“Miss Candi Moore, porn queen. Before your time,” he explained.

“Big time porn queen,” Karnel interjected. “Huge.” Meaty hands perched out in front of his chest.

Cooper continued. “She made a ton of holos back in the day. Had her own studio. Used the money she made to pioneer Sexperia.”

Natesh was genuinely puzzled now.

“‘Sexperia – Sexperience the difference’,” Kernel scoffed. “Sex-net?” Then to Cooper. “What is he, Mennonite?”

Cooper Lynch raised an eyebrow. “Nah, he’s just one of them kids that paid attention in school – instead of jerking off between class.”

The old patrolman gave Natesh a once-over with watery, hound-dog eyes. “You don’t know what you missed.”

“Can we go in?” Cooper asked.

Karnel stepped aside, his grin back. “Be my guest. Not like ol’ Candi couldn’t handle a couple guys at once. Just say the word if you want a little private time,” he snickered.

Natesh pulled out a pair of blue latex gloves from his pocket, handed them to Cooper. “Sex-Net… biomodded with sensory modules to capture tactile input? Like for training sims?”

Cooper nodded. “Industry standard for everything now, but porn started it. Hell, Candi Moore practically invented it. She was the first gal to get plugged and make feature-length vids.”

“Oh, she got plugged alright. Anything stiff,” Karnel called from behind them. “Remember that one with the guy with the two—”

“We gotta focus here,” Cooper cut in. “OK?”

The officer’s hands went up. “Sheesh. OK. Not like you haven’t seen her in the buff. Half the fucking planet seen her. Except for junior here.”

Cooper and Natesh slowly circled the room, drawing closer to the body with each pass. Cooper had insisted the younger man do it this way. The victim wasn’t going anywhere, he’d said. The crime scene would change however. Starting at the perimeter, slightly, subtly, every new cop, technician, investigator would tread, touch or tweak something as a person’s private tragedy drifted to a matter of public record.

“You have to get there when it’s raw, untouched,” Cooper had explained. “Evidence gets lost. Can’t help it. Pain in the ass, but it’s true. They teach you ‘the more the merrier’, but really every new person muddies the water. Then that one thing that was out of place, that tiny clue that could put a bow on it, is gone. And you never realized it was there.

Five minutes of silence brought Natesh and Cooper to the body.

Miss Candi Moore was indeed very naked and very dead. Curled on the floor beside a leather recliner, her body was a patchwork of tan lines, taut implants, and nip and tuck microscars. A cheap, life-size silicone doll of her younger self.

Her knees were together, bent slightly, and one arm angled behind her head. Her back was arched, thrusting her breasts up and apart. Dark red blood matted her blonde hair to the threadbare dhurrie in a sticky halo. A frosted-pink grimace, mascara streaked cheeks, eyes shut tight …If was as if she had tried to strike one last pose in mid-convulsion. Natesh soured on the notion pain climaxed like passion.

Two dead shih tzus nestled against her abdomen, tiny, faux-diamond barrettes in their coifed fur. Her ‘babies’ expired, lapping her poisoned blood.

Natesh cut off his reaction, concentrated on taking in the scene without judgment or opinion like Cooper had told him. “Who found her?” he asked.

Karnel sucked his teeth, waved up the police log and displayed it mid-air for them to see. “Her Charm squirted a death-gram less than forty minutes ago. Medi-Care cc’d Dispatch who sent us to check the premises. Gadowski and me were first on scene. Forensics and Morgue are on the way.”

“Been a busy past couple days,” Cooper nodded. “You check the house security?”

Karnel chuckled. “Old ‘mouth-watering Candi’ here has fallen on hard times. Ain’t banging ’em like she used to. All this place’s got is perimeter alarms. No video.”

“Any sign of forced entry?”

Karnel barked a nasty laugh.

Cooper turned and stared. “Yes or no?”

“Nah.”

Natesh studied the body, looked around the room. “No signs of a struggle, no bruises, defensive wounds. She was all alone?”

Kanel looked at Cooper. “Got yourself a genu-wine de-tect-ive, here.”

The big man shifted on his feet, leaned closer to her head. “What was she watching?” he murmured.

Natesh stared, raised his eyebrows. “What?”

Cooper reached over, plucked a stylus from his partner’s shirt pocket and lifted a clump of wet hair. A thin lime green cable snaked through the aspic to disappear behind her right ear.

Natesh looked from the cable to the huge flatscreen, then back to the cable. The Experia player beside the recliner was blinking green. “Was the player on when you arrived?” he asked the patrolman.

“Wha–?” Karnel started. The pudgy officer had ambled from the hall over to a shelf piled with jewel cases and music discs. Something slim flashed in his hand.
“Outtakes from ‘Candi-land, Ho’. You think this is worth anything?”

“Why are you touching anything?” Cooper growled.

“So long as he isn’t touching himself,” Natesh muttered.

Cooper’s eyes narrowed but he stifled a smile. “Officer Karnel, are you fleecing my crime scene for souvenirs?”

“What? No.” Karnel blushed. “I mean, yes.” He slid the vid-disc back on the shelf.

“Yes, what?” Cooper growled.

“Yeah, the Bose was on. Gadowski and I came through the door to moaning. First thought was her medi-chip malf-ed in the middle of some serious frolicking.”

“So the set was on. And?”

Karnel’s face broadened in another dopey grin. “You’re never gonna believe it.”

Cooper sighed, unconsciously felt for his cigarettes. “Just tell us.”

“The underwater one: ‘Candi on Cousteau Reef.'”

“What?” Natesh asked.

“She was watching herself, numb-nuts. She archied watching one of her own vids.” The patrolman gave the body a once-over, tutted softly. “Candi always said she was dying to stay young.”

Natesh shook his head, uncomprehending. “Wait… She was all alone, jacked in, watching… feeling herself getting– erm, having intercourse?”

Karnel beamed like he was delivering the punch line of the best joke he’d heard in weeks. “Got it on one, junior. What a way to go, huh?”

The patrolman paused, seemingly lost in thought. Natesh figured it was unfamiliar territory. “Wonder what part she popped at?” Karnel mused. “Piece of fucking trivia, right there, eh?”

Cooper was studying the floor around the body, under the recliner. He nudged a shih tzu with the stylus. “You see a vial? A Clar1ty vial?”

Karnel smirked, fished something out of his vest pocket. “Of course.” He held up an evidence baggie with a tiny blood-smeared glass cylinder in the corner.

Cooper stood, three strides took him to the patrolman. Karnel blinked twice as the detective snatched the baggie out of his hand. “Not an hour and you’ve bollixed the place,” Cooper said in a low voice.

Karnel swallowed, took half a step back. “Hey, I didn’t mean nothing. There’s a carton of ’em in the freezer.”

Natesh was on his feet. “Take me there.”

Two minutes later Natesh was back in the living room. “Six vials, still sealed. Pfizer-Teva.”

Karnel sniffed. “Some hot-shit po-lice work that is; fucking stamp’s on top of the carton.”

Natesh ignored him. “Think your pal in Forensics could take a look at them?” he asked his partner.

“He’ll do it,” Cooper said. “We got Spongers dropping like fruit flies last seventy-two hours. Any question of tainted brain-juice gets bumped up the priority scale.”

“Wanna bet it’s the same batch as the waterfront?”

Cooper reached for a cigarette, turned to the front door. “Nope.”

Natesh’s smile was short lived. His CE Charm pinged three seconds later: Code 10. Emergency Alert.

Officer Gadowski lurched into view. “Holy shit. We have to roll. Dispatch says a huge bomb just went off in Government Square.”

© Patrick Todoroff – 2013

MDBT Guest Post – Mark Carver

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MEGA-DARK BOOK BLOG TOUR: “TAKING A BREAK FROM ALL THE DARK STUFF”

A while back, I read an article that admonished writers to stick to one genre. Of course my initial reaction was, “How dare he tell me what to write!” but I soon realized that the article was largely correct. The most successful authors are those who write in one genre, since their fans know what they want and the authors are happy to give it to them. Of course this isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule, but the fact remains that an author has to establish themselves as a brand and this means carving out one’s niche, rather than diluting their brand by dipping their wick into too many genres.

Mark Carver headshotI’ve come to realize that my primary genre is dark supernatural fiction, and I’m comfortable settling into this genre. But writing is a lot of work, and every author needs a vacation now and then. The question on my mind was: how can I branch out into other genres without throwing my readers for a loop?

As I pondered weak and weary, I came up with a simple solution, which I call “Two On, One Off.” Basically, I will write two books in my primary genre, and then one book in a different genre. By following this schedule, readers can know what to expect and when, and it gives me a chance to stretch my legs and exercise different muscles of my imagination.

My first two books under this plan were The Age of Apollyon and Black Sun, both of which were extremely dark and intense. I definitely needed a break after being submersed in this grim world for nearly a year and a half. Thus, Indelible was born.

While my previous books contained Christian themes and elements, Indelible is a completely secular book. That’s not to say that it’s full of four-letter words or graphic descriptions of sex and violence, but it does contain some mild language, casual sex, partying, drug use, etc. But it’s actually a pretty light and easy read, at least compared to my earlier work. There’s not a single act of violence in the entire story, though there is plenty of tension and drama. I won’t give away any details about the story, but if you’re a fan of tattoos, heavy metal, or fantasy weapons, I guarantee you’ll love Indelible.

Writing this book was an absolute joy, and I had the entire manuscript cleaned and polished in just over three months (half the time it usually takes for me to complete a book). Of course I hope that it will attract a whole new market of readers to my corner, but my main purpose in writing Indelible was just to give my mind a breather.

And it worked. Almost immediately, I launched myself into the final book in The Age of Apollyon Trilogy, entitled Scorn, which I’ve nearly completed. I don’t think I could have written the entire trilogy back-to-back-to-back, and writing Indelible gave my imagination the rest and rejuvenation it needed to finish strong.

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So if you’re looking for something a bit different from my usual fare (or anyone else’s, for that matter), check out Indelible when it releases in just a couple of weeks. I think you’ll be very surprised, and that’s exactly what I’m hoping for.