Beyond the Books

First Chapter Reveal: The Ashes by Vincent Zandri

The Ashes

Title: THE ASHES
Author: Vincent Zandri
Publisher: Bear Media
Pages: 277
Genre: Thriller/Horror/Romantic Suspense

HORROR IN THE DARK WOODS

It’s been eight years since artist and single mom, Rebecca Underhill, was abducted and left to die in an old broken down house located in the middle of the dark woods. But even if her abductor, Joseph William Whalen, has since been killed, another, more insidious evil is once more out to get her in the form of the Skinner. The son of an abusive butcher, Skinner intends on finishing the job Whalen started but failed at.

How is he going to get to Rebecca?

He’s going to do it through her children, by luring them into the cornfield behind the old farmhouse they live in.

HORROR IN THE DEPTHS

Now, armed with the knowledge that the Skinner has escaped incarceration at a downstate facility for the criminally insane, Rebecca must face the most horrifying challenge of her adult life: Rescuing the children not from a house in the woods, but from the abandoned tunnels that run underneath her property.

But the Skinner is watching Rebecca’s every move.

Horrifying question is, will she live long enough to save the children?

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The Ashes teaser

First Chapter

October 2016Albany, NY

“How long have you been hearing the voices coming from the cornfield, Mike?”

The man speaking is a child psychologist by the name of Dr. Robert Cuther, an aging, semi-retired child psychiatrist who’s come highly recommended to me by my best friend, housemate, and blonde bombshell co-conspirator at the The School of Art, Robyn Painter (her real name, no pun). So the story goes, Cuther has been conducting therapy on Robyn’s eight year old daughter, Molly (named after my late twin sister), after we found her hiding in a second floor closet of the farmhouse that our two half-families share. The little blonde-haired, blue eyed clone of her mom had convinced herself the Boogeyman lived in our basement (he doesn’t, we checked) and that any day now he was going to abduct her and drag her down into his underground lair.

Truth is, I’m not sure what to expect from the man who, with his thick, curly gray hair, short stature, wrinkly pale face, and old wool suit over black turtleneck, looks more like an over-the-hill Einstein than Freud. But I’m beginning to worry more and more about Michael Jr. and the voices he claims to be hearing, and speaking to Dr. Cuther seems like the reasonable solution. He’s also agreed to see us on a quiet Sunday morning so as not to interrupt school and work schedules, which makes him not only reasonable, but convenient.

“Go ahead and answer the Doctor, Boo,” I say, sitting across from the perch he occupies on a long leather couch. “Dr. Cuther is our friend.”

Little Mike peers at me with his smooth round face, little pug nose, thick head of dark brown hair that even at eight year’s old sports a lock that hangs down over his long forehead, just like his late dad. Sometimes, when he looks directly into my eyes with his big brown pools, I feel like I’m not only seeing his father, but that I’m once more looking into my ex-husband’s soul.

“He’s not gonna give me any shots, is he, Ma?” Mike says, his short blue-jeaned legs hanging off the couch, his blue Converse sneakered feet in constant motion, like he’s jogging in place.

Cuther laughs. It’s a genuine laugh. The kind of laugh a grandfather would make after a little boy made a joke about his gray hair or about the strange way his lips don’t move much when he talks. As though at his age, it takes a grand effort to make facial expressions.

“No shots here, young man,” Cuther says. “When you come here, you do only fun stuff.”

“Oh yeah?” Mike says, folding his hands in his lap. “Like what?”

“Well, for one,” Cuther goes on, “your mom tells me you are already quite the accomplished artist. That you can even hand draw a person’s face without having to trace it. That’s quite the rare talent you have there.” Then, his eyes shifting to me. “You must take after your mom.”

“Michael Senior…that’s my dad…he’s a writer,” Mike says.

Cuther’s forehead scrunches. “And who is Michael Senior?”

“I just told you, silly. He’s my dad. He’s dead.”

The mere mention of my ex-husband, Michael, and the word dead still throws a cold jolt up and down my spine. It also makes my stomach cramp, even more so than it has been of late.

“Tell me something, young man,” Cuther goes on. “Why do you call him by his real name, and why do you refer to him in the present tense?”

My boy turns to me. “What’s peasant tents mean, mom?”

Me, giggling, but somehow feeling the effects of anxiety kicking in. Aren’t I here to relieve anxiety?

“It means, Boo, that you refer to your dad like he’s still alive…still with us.”

I sometimes refer to Mike as Boo, just to differentiate him from his father, and not to remind myself of my long gone ex every time I utter his name.

“But he is,” Mike says. “Sort of, anyway. I just saw him out by the cornfield this morning.”

My son’s admission hits me upside the head. I’m well aware of the voices he hears coming from the cornfield. Voices I can only assume he’s making up with his overactive imagination. But seeing his father out by the cornfield is a new one on me.

A few beats pass before Cuther once more raises the question: “Mike, my boy, when did you first start hearing the voices?”

“It’s not voices really,” he says.

“Not voices?”

“Well, I guess it’s voices. Or, like a voice anyway.”

“Can you explain more for me?” Cuther goes on, his deep brown eyes shifting from Mike to me and back again.

“It’s music, Dr. Cuther. It comes to me thorough the corn.”

The psychiatrist shoots me another quick glance.

“Can you tell your mom and me what this music sounds like, Mike?”

He nods. “I don’t have a very good voice. But I can try singing it.”

“You’re very brave, Mike,” Cuther says.

“Okay, here goes.” The boy sits up straight, his legs and feet suddenly very stiff and very still. “Ring around the Rosie, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”

Yet another glance from Cuther.

He says, “Is this the first time you’ve ever heard that song before, Mike?”

The boy shakes his head, starts moving those legs again.

“Nah,” he says. “We used to sing it in kindergarten. It was a game. The teacher would make us kids make a circle. We’d sing the song about ringing around Rosie, and then as soon as we said the last word–”

“—Down!” Dr. Cuther interjects, his voice booming, despite those stiff lips.

“That’s right,” Mike says with a smile, delighted to have something in common with Dr. Cuther. “Did you play this game too, Doctor?”

The psychiatrist nods. “Of course. Believe it or not, young man, I was a boy once myself. A long, long time ago. Before cable television even.”

My son steals a moment to digest this information, like it’s impossible for him to imagine the short, gray-haired, old man has been anything other than what he is at this very moment in time.

“Well, as soon as we sing the last word, down,” Mike continues, “the last person to fall down was punished.”

Another cold jolt shoots up and down my spine. “What do you mean punished, Boo?”

He giggles. “Oh nothing bad, mom. Mrs. Carter…that was my teacher…would make us do an arithmetic problem on the board. Or maybe spell a word. We were all it after a while. It was a lot of fun. You know, for school anyway.”

Cuther nods.

“Mike,” he says, “I promised you we’d have some fun also. So how about you draw me a picture of what you see out by the cornfield. Can you do that? In the meantime, I’ll have a talk with mom.”

Mike slips off the couch. “Sure, swell.”

Dr. Cuther leads my son to smaller room located off his office that’s outfitted with art supplies and kid-sized tables. He sets Mike up with some construction paper and crayons, then closes the door, just a little. When he comes back inside, he sits back down behind his desk and sighs heavily.

“Ms. Underhill,” he says. “I think we need to have a serious conversation about your boy.”

Meet the Author

Vincent Zandri

Winner of the 2015 PWA Shamus Award and the 2015 ITW Thriller Award for Best Original Paperback Novel, Vincent Zandri is the NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY, and AMAZON KINDLE No.1 bestselling author of more than 25 novels including THE REMAINS, MOONLIGHT WEEPS, EVERYTHING BURNS, and ORCHARD GROVE. He is also the author of numerous Amazon bestselling digital shorts, PATHOLOGICAL, TRUE STORIES and MOONLIGHT MAFIA among them. Harlan Coben has described THE INNOCENT (formerly As Catch Can) as “…gritty, fast-paced, lyrical and haunting,” while the New York Post called it “Sensational…Masterful…Brilliant!” Zandri’s list of domestic publishers include Delacorte, Dell, Down & Out Books, Thomas & Mercer and Polis Books, while his foreign publisher is Meme Publishers of Milan and Paris. An MFA in Writing graduate of Vermont College, Zandri’s work is translated in the Dutch, Russian, French, Italian, and Japanese. Recently, Zandri was the subject of a major feature by the New York Times. He has also made appearances on Bloomberg TV and FOX news. In December 2014, Suspense Magazine named Zandri’s, THE SHROUD KEY, as one of the “Best Books of 2014.” Recently, Suspense Magazine selected WHEN SHADOWS COME as one of the “Best Books of 2016”. A freelance photo-journalist and the author of the popular “lit blog,” The Vincent Zandri Vox, Zandri has written for Living Ready Magazine, RT, New York Newsday, Hudson Valley Magazine, The Times Union (Albany), Game & Fish Magazine, and many more. He lives in New York and Florence, Italy.

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First Chapter Reveal: The Feet Say Run by Daniel A. Blum

The Feet Say Run

Title: THE FEET SAY RUN
Author: Daniel A. Blum
Publisher: Gabriel’s Horn Press
Pages: 349
Genre: Literary Fiction

At the age of eighty-five, Hans Jaeger finds himself a castaway among a group of survivors on a deserted island. What is my particular crime? he asks. Why have I been chosen for this fate? And so he begns his extraordinary chronicle.

It would be an understatement to say he has lived a full life. He has grown up in Nazi Germany and falls in love with Jewish girl. He fights for the Germans on two continents, watches the Reich collapse spectacularly into occupation and starvation, and marries his former governess. After the war he goes on wildflower expeditions in the Alps, finds solace among prostitutes while his wife lay in a coma, and marries a Brazilian chambermaid in order to receive a kidney from her.

By turns sardonic and tragic and surreal, Hans’s story is the story of all of the insanity, irony and horror of the modern world itself.

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First Chapter:

If there is an actual name to this island, it is unknown to us. We have chosen to call it Illyria. We’re not exactly sure where the name comes from. Some book perhaps. But it no longer matters. It has become our own—mythic and melodic-sounding. As though, if we keep calling this place Illyria, keep pretending it has some magical allure, people will want to come. Someone will come rescue us.I am not complaining, particularly. Well, maybe I am. But I probably shouldn’t be. So far fate has proven a fair enough agent. The beaches are sandy, the water clear and turquoise, the reefs plentiful. The island is wreathed in a soothing white foam. On shore there is the shade of palms and palmettos and eucalyptus. At least we think it is eucalyptus. We call it eucalyptus. Maybe it is just some kind of fancy magnolia though. Who the hell knows?

There are fruits in relative abundance—though what they are, we aren’t sure. Some are purple. Others are yellow. Some vaguely sweet, others sharp and abrasive on the roof of the mouth. There is a variety of coconut that grows in conjoined pairs to look like the buttocks of an African woman. We call this ass-fruit. When I offered some to Conrad, he said to me, “I’m not into that shit.” As though I were suggesting something perverse. As though fear of this fetish object outweighed the need for sustenance.

“What shit are you not into?” I asked.

“Ass fruit,” he said. “Ass.”

“It’s not real ass, Conrad,” I said.

“Well, it’s not a real fruit either,” he said.

“What do you think it is then?” I asked.

“A joke,” he said. “A sick joke. Like the rest of this place.”

 

God is playing a joke on us. That is a common theme here. It was funny the first time someone said it. Now it is just annoying, like a child saying, “knock-knock” to you over and over, more and more emphatically, as you refuse, just as emphatically, to ask, “Who’s there?”

The other common theme here is that none of it is real. We all died when the boat went down. And this is all just a dream. Conrad suggests this a couple of times a day, each time choosing a different angle, a different inflection, in a vain attempt to keep the joke fresh. If you suggest, gently, that this joke no longer strikes you as uproarious, Conrad will immediately jump into a long denial that he is joking. “I’m not fucking kidding,” he will tell you. “I really mean it. I think this is all a dream.”

Perhaps Conrad is right. Because honestly, I did not believe, until my current predicament, that deserted islands still existed. I thought these islands were all owned by former tennis pros and former tyrants, or inhabited by caricatures of primitive tribes who sell carved bamboo flutes to flabby tourists in checkered shorts.

If it is a dream, if this is my Land of Oz and I am soon to wake up, then it is curious how, from time to time, little bits of Kansas wash up upon our shores. Whenever we wander further down the beach, away from our settlement, we find Styrofoam packing peanuts, Styrofoam bowls, #3 plastic take-out containers with their familiar, triangular recycle symbols (apparently the previous owners of these containers ignored this particular environmental imperative).

The restaurant take-out containers are the most distressing. More mockery from The Almighty. More of his levity. Ha ha. We bring them back to our camp and wonder what twenty-first century foods they once held. Pad Thai or Kung Pao Chicken or Shrimp Korma. From some restaurant from the other world. Thank you, God, for delivering us this practical joke. Ha ha. You’re fucking hi-lar-ious.

In truth though, these containers have become invaluable to us. We eat out of them, wash them out at the little pool in Piss Brook, store our meager salvaged supplies in them. If there is truly one thing we should thank God for, it is those non-recycling sinners.

In our first days here, we found a means of killing a dove-like bird that is here in abundance. We creep up on it quietly, then all at once we start hurling rocks at it from all directions. It is the same low-tech technique the Iraqis used for shooting down American planes in our first Gulf War. Just throw up flak in every direction and hope something falls out of the sky. Actually that is something else that I am no longer sure is real. Gulf War I. In my current, delusive state, I am no longer clear whether it really happened, or was some very popular video game, and Gulf War II was just the long-awaited next release, with its improved graphics and better villains and four-and-a-half star rating. Perhaps, since we have been here, Gulf War III has broken out. Or been released.

But back to the doves. With the doves, this method worked once in every ten or twenty tries. Moreover, some of us were hit by rocks. Conrad compared us to a circular firing squad. And for the effort, we each got no more than a single bite of precious meat.

Frigate birds watch us from high overhead—out of range of our stone-age weapons. There are also pelicans and sandpipers along the coves. But the only other bird we have succeeded in slaughtering—a heron of some sort—tasted much like a discarded sneaker might taste. There are also lizards and little pencil-sized snakes, but thus far we have passed on these particular specialites de la region.

So much for Illyria’s fauna. Now a word or two on the topography. The interior has proven rocky, thick with vines, and difficult to penetrate. There is a single volcanic peak in the middle, which we call Mount Piss. We call it this because the streams that run down from it are of a yellowish, sepia color—piss water. This includes our drinking source, the much despised and much revered Piss Brook. It is probably just some dissolved mineral. Iron would turn it orange. Maybe zinc? Who knows. The taste is strong and unpleasant, but it is moderately cool, given our subtropical latitude. It is keeping us alive. Probably, if we could contact the civilized world, we could bottle it and sell it for its curative powers and make great mountains of money.

Our first shelter was rigged out of bamboo and palm fronds. It was set on the beach, and we soon learned there was no way to keep out the sand crabs. They came out in large numbers every evening. It would have been one thing if they scampered in from outside. But it was stranger than that. They just rose up through the floor of sand. They tunneled in, materialized among us, little uninvited sprites, climbed up out of the ground like the living dead and crawled across us as we slept.

“We’re not high enough above the water,” Cole said. “What if a storm comes up?”

“He’s just afraid of the sand crabs,” Conrad said to me, snickering.

“The first really high tide will wash us out,” Cole said, ignoring the snickers.

“He’s right,” Monique said. Although her vote meant little. She is Cole’s lover, and seemingly agrees with everything he says and does. If he becomes the de facto king of our little group of seven, which now seems likely, she will be our queen.

Our next shelter was built just above the beach, using a cliff face for one of the walls. It was roomier, and easier to close off from the creatures. It was quieter too, farther from the surf. But that was worse, in a way. Because now you heard all of the human sounds more precisely. Cole snoring. Gloria talking in her sleep. My own imperfectly muffled farts.

One night, a rain came and our new shelter was tested. At first we just felt a kind of mist, soft and cool, that had found its way through the thatch. But then it got heavier. Droplets.

There were groans. Curses. Aborted snores. Rustling.

And then it was no longer just droplets raining on us. It was the cliff itself. Mud from the cliff started slopping on us. Little shit bombs. Dripping through our roof. It was raining crap. “Fuck!” Conrad shouted. And it was an accusation, directed at Cole, who had chosen this location.

Another splat. Another curse. And then we were all up, groaning and cursing our miserable fate—surely the world’s very last castaways, on what is surely the world’s last desert island, somewhere mysteriously out of reach of our GPS-bound, cell-towered, trawler-traversed global village.

Maybe Conrad was right. God, that sadistic little prick, was playing some kind of joke on us. God was the house cat and we were his mouse and he was taunting his mouse over and over, carrying it and dropping it and picking it up again, half-swallowing it and regurgitating it and kicking it like a soccer ball, before finally disposing of it.

So it’s shitty metaphor. What can I say?

We got up in the middle of the night, abandoned the shelter, huddled together on the beach. We were sunburnt and bitten, chilled and miserable. Hungry, filthy, greasy-haired, exhausted. Tears mixed with the downpour; our pathetic, mortal cries with the thunder of heavens.

After a while the rain stopped. We sighed, calmed, leaned against one another. Relief. Then it started again. There were no more tears by then. Just silent misery. Half-sleep. Each of us with his or her own private thoughts. My thoughts were of Dawn. (I am capitalizing Dawn not as a statement about the mystical meaning of sunrise. In fact I am not referring to the sunrise at all. I am referring to one of our company, Dawn, the youngest in our party—a nineteen-year-old girl who had won my sympathy. But I am getting ahead of myself.)

When Dawn finally came (sorry, this time I am referring to the sunrise), we straggled up and pretended—as one does on a red-eye flight when the lights pop on—that we’d actually had a night’s sleep. Only there was no stewardess, no orange juice and coffee, no magical, mile-high toilet to whisk away the miserable night’s rumblings in a screaming blue swirl.

Just another day here on Illyria.

This is my question about aboriginal peoples. Did they always feel as short of sleep, as exhausted and worn out, as we always feel? Or did they find a way to sleep through all of those night sounds and crawling things, hunger pangs and gas-emitting neighbors?

Our third shelter was set on a long, flat rock, above the waves and a half-mile down the beach. It is interesting how quickly one develops a sense of home. Just moving that half-mile seemed unsettling. An unwelcome abandoning of the familiar. We filled empty ass-fruit shells with sand and carried them up to our rock to soften the floor for sleeping. And by adding more overlapping layers of thatch than we had before, by covering it with a paste made from clay and eucalyptus sap, we managed to keep dry inside. We called our new residence Versailles.

By then, the inevitable had happened. Cole was our leader. We hadn’t exactly chosen him, and he had never asserted his authority directly. It just happened.

Was he wiser than the rest of us? More generous? Had he provided for us in some impressive way? No. He possessed what Human Resources questionnaires refer to as leadership qualities. And most of us, let’s face it, are natural followers.

It started with his suggestions. We should do this. We should do that. We should set the shelter closer to the brook. The women should gather the fruit. “You!” he would say, narrowing his eyes at Andreas, “Work on finding firewood.” It was as though he had been waiting all his life to play this role, to have the chance to tell someone to gather up the firewood. And of course it was natural to direct his first order to Andreas, who had been in his employ on the yacht before it went down. And then from there it was easy to direct “suggestions” to the rest of us.

We are a pack of primates. And Cole is our alpha male. Tall, burly, handsome in a bushy-browed sort of way. Real estate developer in his previous life. Resourceful man of the jungle in our present life. Dipshit in both lives.

With his background in real estate, so he insinuated, it was only natural that he should oversee the construction of the shelters. And though the connection seemed tenuous, nobody challenged him. Conrad, who in our previous life was Cole’s cousin, despises him. For myself, I dislike him as well, but more or less indifferently. I see that he is only of average intelligence, perhaps slightly more self-centered than what might be considered average. He is lacking in irony, introspection, humor, really anything that might make one actually like him. But I am too old to worry about these things. I have seen too much of humanity—and at its very worst. Let someone else figure it out. Just tell me what you need me to do and leave me alone and don’t ask me any questions.

Our next construction project was a dove coop. Gloria, our kindly widow (yes, dear reader, it goes without saying that our group is made up of “types,” a microcosm, as it were, of humanity at large, and that one of these types, inevitably, must be our kindly old lady), had the ingenious idea of raising doves rather than just throwing rocks at them.

“Good plan,” Cole said, nodding wisely, and somehow managing, in his nod, to demonstrate the importance of his judgment. His ratification.

It was a big step for us. Our move from a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian economy. But it was something else also. A recognition that we might be here for a while. That we had to plan for a future. And for me it was a recognition of this:

I am done running. I am here now. There is nowhere left to go.

 

With great effort, we caught three of these birds alive—surrounding them and dropping a heap of branches on them. We put them in our coop.

“What if they’re all the same sex?” I asked.

“I don’t think they’re all the same sex,” Cole said.

“Why not?”

“That one looks like a girl.”

“Why do you say it looks like a girl?” I asked, wondering if Cole had noticed a wiggle to its tail, a shape to its figure.

“It’s more colorful,” Cole said.

“The male birds are more colorful than the females,” I said. I am no John James Audubon, no Roger Tory Peterson, but I believe I am right in this.

“Either way,” Cole said.

We turned the birds over, looked around their tails, but could find no conclusive evidence of maleness or femaleness. Then one morning Conrad called us over. Two of the doves were dead. The third, the apparent victor, seemed to have been bloodied.

“Maybe they were all males,” I said.

“Or maybe with doves it’s the girls that do the fighting,” Cole said.

I was skeptical of this, caught Conrad’s eye.

“Just because the males are colorful, doesn’t mean they’re girly,” Conrad said.

“So much for doves being symbols of peace,” I said.

“Unless of course they aren’t really doves,” Dawn offered up.

We all looked at her. It was rare for Dawn to speak up among the group.

“True,” I said. Because it’s not as though Dr. Doolittle is here with us and can just ask him if they are doves. Or Crocodile Dundee. Or whomever. What we know, or think we know, about the rain forest, we have learned from the packaging on our health supplements and our beauty aids and our enviro-friendly paper towels. The TV shows that bring wild nature into our living room. Here, high in the cloud forest, the spectacled monkey is tending to her young. The little ones will need to learn much if they are to survive the harsh winter. Actually, scratch that. No harsh winters in the cloud forest. But you understand my point.

Though bloodied, the dead doves still had meat on them. We brushed off the ants and flies, washed the corpses off in the stream, put them on the barbeque spit.

In the next days, we caught more doves. This time we observed the brush they pecked at in the wild and brought them piles of it. And we separated the doves into pairs that appeared to be of opposite sex. And lo! Dove eggs started to appear. Like magic. Like Easter eggs. Like…actual…eggs!

In time, one of this second set of doves died too. This time though, apparently, it was from natural causes (strange phrase: natural causes. Because what could be more rooted in nature than being pecked to death?) But we nonetheless had eggs. And while we ate some, we left some of them alone. And one day we witnessed the miracle we had dreamed of, but never quite believed we would see—a little beak pecked through one of our eggs, pecked its way out into the world. Within a couple of weeks we had a little collection of chicks. We had done it! Our poultry farm had been born!

Again we returned to our construction. Our next project was a little shelter along a rocky outcrop, to protect us from the sun when we were fishing and crabbing. And then Cole and Monique decided they wanted to sleep in privacy. So we built a second shelter alongside Versailles that we called Fontainebleau.

“Why,” Conrad grumbled, “should we be putting all this time into another shelter just so that dirtbag and that douchebag can go at it in private?”

I wondered what you get when you mate a dirtbag and a douchebag. There must be a good punch line. Please write me if you think of one. 1 Delirium Terrace. Illyria. Earth. 02483-7676. to insure proper handling, be sure to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. And a life raft.

“Well,” I said, “the next shelter we build after that could be for you.”

“Yeah,” Conrad said, “but it’s not like there’s anyone I’m likely to be screwing.”

“Well don’t you want to be able to pleasure yourself in private?” I asked.

Conrad looked uncomfortable at this, but said nothing.

“And won’t it be nice to be rid of them?” I asked.

Personally, I was relieved when Cole and Monique moved out. It had grown tiresome, those nights they waited until they thought everyone was asleep and then started moving and rustling, whispering and slurping. And then those guttural sounds, like a pair of native frogs. Only nobody was ever really sleeping during their nocturnal choruses. We were all just pretending we were asleep. All too uncomfortable to say anything about it. To interrupt them.

“I think it actually turns them on,” Conrad used to snarl. “They know we know they’re going at it. And they know we know they know.”

“It’s difficult,” I say.

“I’m saying something next time.”

And he did. A couple of nights later we started to hear it again. Unmistakable. Rustle. Breath. More rustling. Sighing. Frog calls.

“Hey Monique,” Conrad called. “Can I get some of that?”

Suddenly the sounds stopped. Silence. The whole shelter went silent. Pretended to sleep. Like even Monique and Cole were asleep and the only one awake was Conrad and nobody had heard anything at all—the grunting or Conrad or anything. Monique and Cole frozen in flagrante delicto. A final rustle. Monique discreetly slipping off her little pole of Cole. Then more silence. Everyone pretending sleep. Until we actually were asleep. One by one. Like in that children’s story.

 

Goodnight Cole.

And goodnight Pole.

And goodnight, o empty soul.

Goodnight stars.

And goodnight air.

Goodnight misery everywhere.

 

Two days later Cole began organizing work on Fontainebleau. He must have waited an extra day so it wouldn’t be as obvious why he was doing it—that it was related directly to Conrad’s comment. Since we were all pretending we had never heard it.

Bit by bit, Cole has seemed to be developing the island. I imagine that, if a rescue ship ever comes, while the rest of us are celebrating, weeping for joy, he is going to take them for a tour, show them all the improvements, try to sell his development for a profit.

For Conrad, the last straw was one morning when Cole put up a great big bamboo cross over our little encampment.

“It’s embarrassing,” Conrad complained, pulling me aside.

“Embarrassing before whom?” I asked.

Conrad thought about this. “What would a pilot flying over us think, looking down and seeing that?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“They’d think we’re…we’re fucking missionaries.”

“I haven’t noticed any planes,” I said.

“Well, it’s still embarrassing.”

“I have given up on embarrassment,” I said. “At my age it is pointless. I am who I am. Let the pilots think we’re missionaries then.”

“We’re castaways!” Conrad said, as though asserting membership in some privileged class.

“Doesn’t it strike you as odd,” I asked, “that we are a thousand miles away from civilization, and you have brought with you to this place that one absurdity of living in a society. Self-consciousness? Embarrassment?”

Conrad didn’t hear me, though. He looked off in disgust. “What gives him the right? He just does whatever he wants. Without asking anyone. After all that shit about making decisions as a group. I knew it was all bullshit.”

“Just think of it as a couple of big sticks,” I said. “It doesn’t have to be a crucifix. It doesn’t have to mean anything.”

“It crosses the line,” Conrad said. “You know what it is? It’s state-sponsored religion. How does he know we all believe? How does he know some of us aren’t atheists? Or Jews? Or Hindus?”

Conrad, in his past life, was a labor lawyer or something. An advocate of some poorly-paid group, or class, or underclass. “You don’t look like a Hindu,” I told him.

“That’s stereotyping,” Conrad said.

I considered this, puzzled, but didn’t pursue it. “Maybe you should talk to him about it,” I said.

“Right in the middle of the camp!” Conrad exclaimed, still smarting. “That’s the problem. It’s like…government fucking property. He should have put it up somewhere else. In front of his shelter.”

From what I can tell, the Sovereign Nation of Illyria is about evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, three of each with one independent—your humble chronicler. We have no social safety net, no taxes, a total lack of laws that would make a libertarian proud. On the other hand, our foreign policy is aimed at peaceful coexistence with our neighbors. And we consider ourselves to be pro-environment. For example, there is no peeing in Piss Brook. Strictly enforced. And we have started husbanding our excrement for the precious resource that it is, and putting it to use it in our farming experiments. You see how this place is the very inverse of our past life? Civilization in negative? Here our very stools—the quintessential waste product—are a measurable portion of our net worth.

It is remarkable how seamlessly our political disputes have moved from our former life into this one. Cole and Conrad still argue about tax policy, for example. And what to do with illegal immigrants. Although, should we die here, as I assume we will, it is unlikely any of this will ever matter again. You see the absurdity, the futility of these arguments we engage in? We have no problem of illegal immigration on Illyria. Nobody has shown up offering to do our laundry or to bag our groceries.

I find myself wondering: if a mutiny were to occur, with whom would my loyalty reside? True, I don’t like Cole. I don’t respect him. Only I don’t think Conrad would be a very good leader. Of course, Conrad and Cole are not the only two possibilities to lead us. There is Andreas—shy, handsome boy of twenty who had been the deckhand and cabin-boy on the yacht. He is bright and level-headed, from what I see, and the only one of us who does not appear to be suffering, who seems to see this as just an extension of his summer, a further break from college. What comforts does one need, after all, at age twenty?

Or perhaps we should try a matriarchal structure, like the Samoans had. Choose Gloria, chattering old lady, as our chieftain. Gloria is perhaps seventy, a widow, grandmother to a dozen grandchildren. She smiles when she speaks of them. The oldest is a lawyer with the Justice Department. The next oldest has a very high grade point average at Temple University. She had been knitting a sweater for her youngest grandchild when the boat went down, and somehow the wool made it onto the lifeboat. She washed it out and dried it and has continued with her project.

One night I am next to her by the fire as she holds the sweater up, imagines her grandchild inside it, considers the proportions.

“Very handsome,” I say.

“Yes,” she says. “Too bad he will never have it.”

“If you believe that,” I say, “then why continue with the sweater?”

“Well, I have to do something,” she says.

“Of course.”

“You have children? Grandchildren?” she asks.

“I have a son.”

She looks understandingly into my eyes, as though she knows what I feel. Only how could she know? “He must be suffering at losing you,” she says.

“I haven’t seen him in thirty-five years,” I say.

“Oh,” she says with a start, and politely changes the subject. “I think it must be harder on the young ones. I mean, we’ve had our time. Right?”

I have to admit I resent slightly Gloria’s intimations that we have something in common in our accumulated years. That we must share the same values. I must be as good, as upstanding, as resigned to death as she is. Gloria worked as a cafeteria lady in a local elementary school, was our cook on the yacht, and is our cook again on the island. She has a stocky stature, and I always imagine her in her white cafeteria uniform, arms folded under her shapeless, megalithic breasts, looking out over the children. The hairnet and sagging stockings, the cakes of flour-white make-up.

She has a slap-your-hands-together, let’s-get-down-to-business kind of spirit about her, is chipper in a way that I find unnervingly mindless, as though she is dealing with the seven-year-olds at her school, and—aside from some greater understanding of responsibility—is much at their level. I see her helping out on some field trip, there in the back of the bus, happily, even joyously, singing Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall with the children. I can safely say that nobody here on the island has warmed to her in a way that I imagine the singing children might have.

Has Gloria considered me as a possible object of romantic interest? Clearly, I am not capable of this, not merely because we have nothing particularly in common, but because my heart already belongs to another.

I have yet to say much of myself, so let me offer a few words here. I am a man in his eighties. My name is Hans. The hairs on my head have been reduced to a few scattered strands, sparse as the hairs on a coconut or the hairs on a testicle. I am a refugee, a wanderer, a retired refrigerator salesman, human organ dealer, warrior on the wrong side of history. I am in love with a nineteen-year-old girl. I am speaking, of course, of the aforementioned Dawn.

Dawn, Dawn, Dawn.

Dawn is Cole’s step-daughter. Of course, if the others knew my feelings for her they would be shocked. Or if they weren’t shocked, they would at least feel obliged to pretend to be shocked.

And yet it is true. I am in love with a nineteen-year-old child. And what of it? Why should such feelings be wrong in an eighty-five-year-old and not in a twenty-year-old? At what age does it become wrong to love? Wrong to yearn for youthful beauty? Or do you doubt that I am capable? Let me say that I have been assured by professionals, by those who should know, that I have the genitalia of a much younger man. My erection is as firm as a senator’s handshake. So should I not endeavor to contribute my genes to our little colony before I expire? Should our gene pool include only those offspring of our alpha male, as though we were a troupe of gibbons? Do we really want five Cole juniors for the next generation, five male models, admiring themselves in the reflection in the cove, wondering who is the fairest of them all? Or worse still, all vying to be the leader, dividing up the island, buying and selling their beachfront real estate?

I did not choose this predicament. I am sleeping just a few feet away from a beautiful nineteen-year-old girl. Am I not still a man?

 

It was not supposed to end like this, with us huddled together on a beach somewhere, wondering who is going to die first. How did I find myself on this excursion, after those years ensconced, alone, in my villa by the sea? I was living the life of a recluse, an old salt, an old masturbator, when one morning, on a day just like any other….

Scratch that. I am not ready to tell about that. We will get there. In due time. But now I see I must go back further. I must say something more of myself.

About the Author

Dan Blum

Daniel A. Blum grew up in New York, attended Brandeis University and currently lives outside of Boston with his family. His first novel Lisa33 was published by Viking in 2003. He has been featured in Poets and Writers magazine, Publisher’s Weekly and most recently, interviewed in Psychology Today.

Daniel writes a humor blog, The Rotting Post, that has developed a loyal following.

His latest release is the literary novel, The Feet Say Run.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

First Chapter Reveal: Alan 2 by Bruce Forciea #cyberthriller #firstchapters

Alan 2

Title: ALAN 2
Author: Bruce Forciea
Publisher: Open Books
Pages: 278
Genre: Cyber-Thriller

A brilliant artificial intelligence (AI) scientist, Dr. Alan Boyd, develops a new program that integrates part of his brain with a computer’s operating system. The program, Alan 2, can anticipate a user’s needs and automatically perform many tasks. A large software company, International Microsystems (IM) desperately wants the program and tempts Dr. Boyd with huge sums of money, but when Dr. Boyd refuses their offer, IM sabotages his job, leaving him in a difficult financial situation.

Dr. Boyd turns to Alan 2 for an answer to his financial problems, and Alan 2 develops plan Alpha, which is a cyber robin hood scheme to rob from rich corporations via a credit card scam.

Alan and his girlfriend Kaitlin travel to Mexico where they live the good life funded by plan Alpha, but the FBI cybercrime division has discovered part of Alan 2’s cyber escapades, and two agents, Rachel and Stu, trace the crime through the TOR network and Bitcoin.

Alan 2 discovers the FBI is on to them and advises Alan and Kaitlin to change locations. A dramatic chase ensues taking them to St. Thomas, a cruise ship bound for Spain, and finally to Morocco.

Will they escape detection? They will if Alan 2’s Plan Beta can be implemented in time. Or is ‘Plan B’ something altogether different than it appears to be, something wholly sinister that will affect the entire population of the world?

Watch the trailer at YouTube!

Purchase Information:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Publisher

 

First Chapter:

Bang! Bang! Bang! The flimsy apartment door rattled on its frame with every blow.

“Kaitlin, don’t even think of answering that!” Alan growled through his teeth.

Kaitlin shrugged her shoulders and moved away from the door toward the living room where Alan sat at a table full of electronics gear.

“Dr. Boyd, are you home?” shouted the voice on the other side of the door in an Indian accent. “I want to talk to you. I have a very good offer. Please, Dr. Boyd, it will only take a minute, and I think you will be quite pleased with what we have for you.”

“Go away; leave us alone,” Alan shouted. “I don’t want your offer.”

“But Dr. Boyd, we do pay very well. We are great admirers of your work.”

“I don’t care and I don’t want your money,” said Alan. “Now go away before I call the police.”

“Think about it, Dr. Boyd; I will be in touch.”

“Incessant bastards,” said Alan as his attention turned back to his work. “I’ll cherish the day they leave us alone. Kaitlin, come over here and help me with this injection.”

Alan rolled up the sleeve of his t-shirt while Kaitlin picked up the syringe containing the gadolinium contrast. She pinched an ample section of skin and plunged the syringe into his arm. The needle stung like an angry wasp, causing Alan to grimace.

“Can’t you be gentle? You’ve done enough of these by now to get the hang of it. You shouldn’t jam it in like that!”

Kaitlin rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I think I do pretty well considering I don’t have any medical training,” she said while jerking the syringe out of his arm.

“Okay, okay. Just take your position at the console.”

She sighed, plopped onto a small task chair and rolled over to a makeshift wooden table holding a desktop PC and a large high-definition monitor. She had been through this process countless times before.

Alan entered a large metallic structure in the center of the living room. The box-like structure, made of aluminum, dominated the rectangular room which was devoid of furniture. Its dull silver hue contrasted the blank walls. He closed the door and climbed into a chair that looked like it came from an early Gemini spacecraft. The stiff plastic chair, sandwiched between two large metal discs, afforded a good deal of postural support but little comfort. He sat down and slowly slid his head between the thick metal and plastic arms of a large U-shaped device. There was just enough clearance as he wriggled his head to achieve the perfect position. He pulled down on a large metallic tube suspended above him so that it surrounded his entire head. He positioned the tube so that the rectangular slit lined up with his visual axis, allowing for a line of sight to the monitor located outside of the tube. The small fMRI scanner had taken a good deal of time and money to cobble together, but it was the only way to capture the needed information from his brain.

Alan viewed Kaitlin through a small round Plexiglas window in the door and signaled with a thumbs-up to begin the scan. She waved and entered the start sequence into the keyboard, sat back, slid an unlit cigarette between her lips and picked up a copy of People Magazine. He pushed his head back against the headrest and adjusted the monitor suspended on a boom so he could see the screen. The machine first hummed as it powered up and then made periodic knocking sounds.

Alan focused his attention on the monitor while the scanner began its first sequence. The monitor displayed a series of images designed to evoke emotions. Each image popped onto the screen and persisted for ten seconds before another replaced it. There was a small child holding hands with his father, a mother holding a baby, a couple admiring their child in a crib, and many more. All the images had been chosen to trigger emotional responses, causing changes in blood flow to certain areas of Alan’s brain. An image would appear for a few seconds and then the machine would complete a scan. The process repeated until all one hundred twenty-seven images had been displayed. The entire cycle then repeated two more times with random sequences of the same set of images.

This would be the final scan involving diffusion tensor imaging of Alan’s frontal lobes. Previous scans had involved the study of responses to a variety of topics. In addition to emotions such as sadness, joy, anxiety, and fear, there were cognitive studies that examined Alan’s problem solving techniques as well as his reaction to global events. In all, there were over one hundred fifty scans taken over the past two years.

About the Author

Bruce Forciea

Bruce Forciea is known for taking complex scientific concepts and making them easy to understand through engaging stories and simple explanations. He is an Amazon Best Selling Author and author of several books on healing and biology, along with science fiction thriller novels. His fiction writing draws on a diverse and eclectic background that includes touring and performing with a professional show, designing digital circuits, treating thousands of patients, and teaching. His stories include complex plots with unexpected twists and turns, quirky characters, and a reality very similar to our own. Dr. Forciea lives in Wisconsin and loves writing during the solitude of the long Northern winters.

Website & Social Links:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

Author Interview: Historical Fantasy Author Shelley Schanfield

Shelley Schanfield’s passion for Buddhism and yoga arose sixteen years ago, when she and her son earned black belts in Tae Kwon Do. The links between the martial arts and Buddhist techniques to calm and focus the mind fascinated her. By profession a librarian, Shelley plunged into research about the time, place, and spiritual traditions that 2500 years ago produced Prince Siddhartha, who became the Buddha. Yoga, in some form, has a role in all of these traditions. Its transformational teachings soon prompted Shelley to hang up her black belt and begin a yoga practice that she follows to this day.

Because she loves historical fiction, Shelley looked for a good novel about the Buddha. When she didn’t find one that satisfied her, she decided to write her own novels based on the spiritual struggles of women in the Buddha’s time. She published the first book in the Sadhana Trilogy, The Tigress and the Yogi, in 2016 and will publish the second, The Mountain Goddess in early 2017.

WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS

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Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Shelley.  Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

I have published two books: The Tigress and the Yogi and The Mountain Goddess. They are the first and second books in The Sadhana Trilogy, which tells the stories of remarkable women of the Buddha’s time.

Q: When you were published for the first time, which route did you go – mainstream, small press, vanity published or self-published and why or how did you choose this route?

I started my own imprint, Lake House Books, and I am its president, CFO, marketing and sales force, senior editor, and best-selling author!

In all seriousness, I started by finding an agent and hoping to find a traditional publisher. After a year, my agent had not succeeded in selling my manuscript and we parted ways amicably. At that time, self- and indie-publishing had really surged as viable paths to publication. My work crosses genres—historical fiction, fantasy, women’s fiction, a dash of romance—and I felt my best chance to keep it mine, that is, to write what I wanted, was to self-publish.

Q: How long did it take you to get published once you signed the contract?

If you self-publish, you can do it anytime, which is the beauty and danger of it. You should spend the money for good, solid editing and you should read the contract of the distributors and publishers you use. That said, I did a lot of research.

I compared Kindle exclusivity (KDP Select has certain advantages but serious limitations) vs. multiple e-book platforms and went with the latter. I upload to Draft2Digital which distributes to various platforms (iBooks, Nook, Kobo, many others) for you.

For the print book, I researched Amazon’s Create Space vs. vendors like Epigraph or Mill City Press or Ingram Spark and ultimately found a third way, which was to sign a contract with a local book manufacturer, Thomson-Shore, whose printed product was much higher quality than what I’d seen from the other POD vendors.

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

It took me sixteen years to write my first two books. I published the first one in January 2016. Holding it in my hands was one of the most satisfying moments of my life, almost as overwhelming as to give birth to my two kids!

How did I celebrate? By getting back to work to get the second book published—getting ISBNs, Library of Congress cataloging and control numbers; arranging for copyediting and proofreading; working with my wonderful book designer Streetlight Graphics (creator of my first book’s award-winning cover); and finally, working on marketing. Thanks to PumpUpYouBook, this is already going better for the second book! Book Two, published February 2017, is now available!

Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

I held a book launch at local bookstore Bookbound. I read and took questions and had a great time! I sold a lot of books that day, which was a huge shot in the arm for doing additional publicity.

Q: Since you’ve been published, how have you grown as a writer and now a published author?

My belief in my own artistic process has grown deeper. I passionately wanted to tell the stories that came to me about women of the Buddha’s time and their spiritual journeys. To do that, I needed to master craft and technique and language and make it serve a thrilling story. Ultimately, this required more time spent alone than with critique groups and editors, though they are essential for support, constructive input, and wisdom. So what I’ve learned is that you must close the door and without anyone watching you must put your heart on the page. Then no matter what happens, you will have written something authentically yours.

“Publishing is the punishment for writing.” I’m not sure who said that, but it rings true! Some authors revel in the marketing you must do to find an audience, but I’m one of the many who would rather be at my desk creating characters and worlds. However, I’m learning!

Q: What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?

I’m absolutely amazed at how many people have the stamina to write novels. How many novels are published every year? Several hundred thousand! It’s no easy task to stay with it when friends and family look at you like you’re crazy, when sometimes the blank page stares at you defiantly, just about daring you to write even a single word, when you’re late for work, your kid just spilled milk and cereal over today’s homework, and the cat just puked all over the carpet, and all of this with no guarantee of ever making a nickel. And writers still do it. Creating art is its own reward.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a published author?

When you hear from a reader that your book moved them or helped them or took them somewhere they’d never been before.

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Just two:  Keep writing!

 

 

Character Interview: Claire Conover from Margaret Fenton’s amateur sleuth mystery ‘Little Girl Gone’

character interviews logoWe’re thrilled to have here today Claire Conover from Margaret Fenton’s new mystery, Little Girl Gone.  Claire is a 30 year old social worker living in Birmingham, Alabama. It is a pleasure to have her with us today at Beyond the Books!

Thank you so for this interview, Claire.  Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?

I think I’m always pretty fairly portrayed by Margaret.  She used to work with child welfare social workers as the mental health consultant for the Jefferson County Department of Human Resources, so she knows about social workers and what they do every day.  She knows how difficult and draining this job can be, even if mine is at the slightly fictionalized Department of Human Services.

Do you feel the author did a good job colorizing your personality?  If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently?

Once again, I think she nailed it.  She’s painted me as a very hard worker who’s very dedicated to her job and the kids she serves.  I don’t have much of a life outside work, a social life that is, and I wish that would change.  I could use some more friends.

What do you believe is your strongest trait?

I’m a workaholic.

Worst trait?

I’m a workaholic.

If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself!)?

What’s her name, from “When Harry met Sally”.  Hang on.  Margaret has to go look this up for me. Meg Ryan.  That’s her.  She’s a bit older than me, though.  Margaret really isn’t much a movie fan and really doesn’t know many actors and actresses.

Do you have a love interest in the book?

Oh Lord, that’s a loaded question.  I have a boyfriend and he’s really wonderful.  His name is Grant Summerville and he’s tall and handsome and owns his own business.  Really love him, but there’s this reporter named Kirk Mahoney who is always flirting with me.  And he is hot.  I know I should walk away and leave him alone but I don’t know if that’s possible.

At what point of the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out?

Whenever I hear gunshots I get a bit nervous.  I mean I’ve had one close shave in Little Lamb Lost, and another in this book so I wonder how long my luck can hold.

If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?

I have a friend that I meet in Little Girl Gone, and her name is LaReesa Jones.  She’s 13 and her mother—well, let’s just say there is a lot to be desired there.  She lives with her grandmother and she’s pure hell.  But Reese has a lot of spirit and intelligence.  I wouldn’t want to be her, but I really like her!

How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?

Another close shave and a hell of a cliffhanger.  I’m really worried.

What words of wisdom would you give your author if s/he decided to write another book with you in it?

She’s working on it now.  My third book will be called Little White Lies.  There’s a bombing in Birmingham, and the victim has a baby.  Stay tuned!

Thank you for this interview, Claire.  Will we be seeing more of you in the future?

Hopefully by Christmas.  We’ll see.  She needs to get writing!

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LGGcoverTitle: Little Girl Gone

Genre: Mystery

Author: Margaret Fenton

Websitewww.margaretfenton.com

Find out more on Amazon

About the Book:

When Little Girl Gone opens, it’s September in Birmingham, Alabama, and Claire Conover is steeling herself. September—with its oppressive, unwelcome heat, back-to-school newness worn off, and skyrocketing reports of abuse and neglect—is a time of year Claire has come to dread.  As the crime rate increases, so increases the work load for Claire and the Jefferson County Department of Human Services Child Welfare Division. Seems this year is no exception.

When she takes into custody a 13-year-old girl found sleeping behind a grocery store, Claire is swept up in a case that turns out to be far more complicated, and far more dangerous, than initially meets the eye. Struggling to piece together the young girl’s identity, Claire finds herself with few answers and no shortage of questions.  Is the young girl a runaway?  An abuse victim?  Or something else?   But things go from bad to worse when the young girl’s mother is found murdered—and then the girl disappears.  Claire soon discovers that the mother was involved in an illegal gambling industry in Birmingham.  But even with this clue, the case becomes more complicated.  Could the young girl have pulled the trigger?  Is that even possible?  And where could she have run?  Did she run at all? In the midst of all the questions, only one thing is certain: Claire has to find the answers, and the girl, fast.

A swiftly paced, suspenseful, and shocking story, Little Girl Gone earns Margaret Fenton a solid spot among today’s best mystery writers.  Masterful plotting, extraordinary character development, and a pulse racer of a plot combine to create an extraordinary mystery resplendent with twists, turns, and surprises.  An unforgettable story informed by Fenton’s near decade of experience as a social worker, Little Girl Gone also shines a light on the plight of at risk children and the dedication of those tireless and compassionate workers who serve them.  A stellar entry into what Booklisthailed “a promising new series,” Little Girl Gone is mesmerizing.

About the Author:

margaretfentonbirmingham

Margaret Fenton grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and moved to Birmingham in 1996. She received her B.A. in English from the Newcomb College of Tulane University, and her Master of Social Work from Tulane. Fenton spent nearly ten years as a child and family therapist before taking a break to focus on her writing. Her work tends to reflect her interest in social causes and mental health, especially where kids are concerned. She serves as planning coordinator of Murder in the Magic City, a one-day, one-track annual mystery fan conference in Homewood, Alabama. She is President of the Birmingham Chapter of Sisters in Crime and a member of the Mystery Writers of America. Margaret lives in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover with her husband, a software developer.

Connect with the author on the web:

https://www.margaretfenton.com/

https://www.facebook.com/margaret.fenton

Character Interview: Danny Baker from Philip Cioffari’s mystery/thriller, THE BRONX KILL

character interviews logo

We’re thrilled to have here today, Danny Baker from Philip Cioffari’s new mystery/thriller, THE BRONX KILL.  Danny is a 24 year old temporarily unemployed aspiring teacher/writer, living in the Bronx, New York.

It is a pleasure to have him with us today at Beyond the Books!

Thank you so much for this interview, Danny.  Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?

Do you feel the author did a good job colorizing your personality?  If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently?

Well, I suppose any character would like to be portrayed more glamorously than he truly is, but I think my author portrayed me honestly and realistically, which I guess is all that we can really ask for. He portrayed me, flaws and all, though I secretly hope some of my charm and glamor shows through. I think it does.

What do you believe is your strongest trait?

I think I have a sense of fair play. I try to treat everyone with respect. And I’m determined to find the truth, about myself and the world I move through, even if the truth hurts—which, in the novel, it does.

Worse trait?

Because of a debt I owe him, I let myself be overly influenced by another character in the novel, my friend Charlie. Because if him, I didn’t always act as honorably as I should have, especially with regard to the drowning incident in the novel. But I guess that’s what growth is all about: moving from the “you” you don’t like, to the “you” you’re comfortable with.

If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself!)?

Some possibilities: Douglas Booth, Emory Cohen, Frank Dillane, Nicholas Hoult. Mark Wahlberg, if he were younger.

Do you have a love interest in the book?

Yes. A woman who’s in love with one of my best friends. We lose touch, but throughout the novel, I’m yearning to meet her again.

At what point of the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out?

I could see my friends and I going downhill, getting drawn deeper into a problem of our own making. As a result, I’m put in serious danger, especially when I come up against the NYPD detective who believes we caused the death by drowning of his younger brother.

If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?

I would not want to be my friend Charlie because of his uncontrollable desire to be in command of everyone and everything in his life, a trait which makes him blind to the needs of others, and causes him to suffer the rage of those he’s offended.

How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?

Basically, I feel good about it. A certain peace is achieved and, more importantly, a sense of hope.

What words of wisdom would you give your author if s/he decided to write another book with you in it?

Make me older and more mature.

Thank you for this interview, Danny.  Will we be seeing more of you in the future?

Anything’s possible. But knowing my author as I do, he usually like to start each new book with a clean slate.

///////////////////////////////////

phil in b&W.jpgPhilip Cioffari is the author of the novels: DARK ROAD, DEAD END; JESUSVILLE;  CATHOLIC BOYS; and the short story collection, A HISTORY OF THINGS LOST OR BROKEN, which won the Tartt Fiction Prize, and the D. H. Lawrence award for fiction. His short stories have been published widely in commercial and literary magazines and anthologies, including North American Review, Playboy, Michigan Quarterly Review, Northwest Review, Florida Fiction, and Southern Humanities Review. He has written and directed for Off and Off-Off Broadway. His Indie feature film, which he wrote and directed, LOVE IN THE AGE OF DION, has won numerous awards, including Best Feature Film at the Long Island Int’l Film Expo, and Best Director at the NY Independent Film & Video Festival. He is a Professor of English, and director of the Performing and Literary Arts Honors Program, at William Paterson University. www.philipcioffari.com

Spotlight and Chapter Reveal: Echoes of Terror, by Maris Soule

EchoesOfTerrorFrontTitle: Echoes of Terror

Author: Maris Soule

Genre: Mystery

Publisher: Five Star

Websitehttp://marissoule.com 

Find out more on Amazon

The latest release by award-winning novelist Maris Soule, Echoes of Terror is a taut, tense tale about secrets, deadly intentions, and what happens when murder hits way too close to home.   Set against the backdrop of Skagway, Alaska,Echoes of Terror introduces protagonist Katherine Ward, a Skagway police officer who finds herself thrust in extraordinary—and extraordinarily frightening–circumstances when her past, present and future threaten to collide in a most dangerous way.

About Echoes of Terror:  Rural Skagway, Alaska’s small police force is accustomed to an occasional crime–a stolen bike here, a DUI there.  But when a teenager goes missing, the Skagway Police force is hardly prepared, especially with its Police Chief  in the hospital and an officer missing. Officer Katherine Ward is assigned the case, never expecting it to parallel her own kidnapping experience seventeen years earlier.  Soon, Katherine realizes what originally appeared to be the case of a rebellious teen runaway is anything but.  There’s something—or someone—sinister at work in this usually quiet town and a teenager’s life is in danger.

But missing teen Misty Morgan isn’t your average teenage girl:  she’s the daughter of a billionaire.  Misty thought running off with a college boy would get her father’s attention, but now she and another kidnapped teen are praying for their lives at the hands of a ruthless kidnapper. Stuck in China on a business trip, Misty’s father suspected his daughter was up to something and asked his longtime friend, Marine veteran Vince Nanini, to fly to Alaska and stop Misty. Problem is, Vince arrives too late to stop the kidnapping, and the police aren’t eager to let him help find the missing teen.

When Katherine realizes the same man who kidnapped and raped her years ago is the one holding Misty and the other teenager, the terror of those months in captivity resurfaces.  Together, Katherine and Vince must figure out where the kidnapper has taken two teenagers, and fast.  But nothing is at it seems in this race to stop a madman before he kills again. The clock is ticking—and this time, the past is close behind. Dangerously close behind…

Brimming with tension, filled with twists and turns, and resplendent with pulse-quickening suspense that reaches a dramatic and shocking crescendo, Echoes of Terror is a bone-chilling tale that grabs readers and doesn’t let go. Award-winning novelist Maris Soule delivers a briskly paced, masterfully plotted, spine-tinglingly realistic thriller that will leave readers gasping for breath.

According to bestselling novelist Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of the Ellie Foreman mystery series, “The pace and writing will keep you turning pages. And the twist at the end?  I didn’t see if coming. Do yourself a favor and read this thriller now.”

CHAPTER ONE

7:25 a.m. Thursday

“That guy is a frickin’ idiot.”

“Who’s an idiot?”

Brian Bane glanced at the girl sitting next to him before again splitting his attention between the twisting road in front of his Chevy Blazer and the tailgating Ford Explorer. On their right the roadway dropped over a thousand feet. As much as he liked excitement, this Internet-born adventure was not starting out as he’d imagined.

“The guy behind us,” he said, keeping a tight hold on the steering wheel. “He came up out of nowhere. Now he’s all over my ass. Like there’s any way for me to go faster up this grade.”

Misty—or Miss T as she was known on ChatPlace—twisted in her seat to look behind them. Her wild, blonde curls brushed her shoulders, and her mini-skirt showed a teasing view of her inner thigh. “Shit,” she hissed through her teeth.

“What?” Brian said.

“He sent Vince.”

“Who sent Vince?”

“My dad.”

“Your dad?” Brain didn’t like the sound of that. “So who’s Vince?”

“He’s a guy Dad knew in the Marines. He’s supposed to do computer security for my dad’s business, but he keeps acting like he’s my bodyguard. I can’t do a frickin’ thing without him showing up.”

She flopped back against the seat, and crossed her arms over her chest. The fact that her old man had sent someone after her, and the way she was pouting, didn’t bode well. For the first time since he’d picked Misty up in Skagway, Brian wasn’t so certain she was the eighteen years she’d advertised.

“How old are you, Misty? Your real age, I mean.”

She glared at him, and then looked away. “Age is meaningless.”

Meaningless, my ass, he thought. Damn, I’m so screwed. He was about to take an under-aged girl into Canada. No wonder some steroid filled ex-Marine with an over attachment to the boss’s daughter was after him. He’d be lucky if he wasn’t arrested as an International felon.

“Do you think—?”

A thump to the back corner bumper sent the Blazer into a fishtail, and Brian gasped, clinging to the steering wheel as he fought to bring the car back under control. “Jeez, Misty, your dad’s buddy just rammed us.”

“Then step on the gas,” Misty ordered, giving a quick glance behind them. “Outrun him.”

“In this thing?” The old Blazer was tired iron. The first part of the Klondike Highway, from Skagway to White Pass and the Canadian line, was a twisting, turning two-laner that rose from sea level to over three thousand feet. The steep incline was already taxing the engine. They’d be lucky to outrun a snowplow through this stretch.

Again the Explorer rammed into them, this time lurching them straight toward the guardrail as the road turned. Misty yelped and grabbed at the door. Brian swung the wheel. The sensation of the front right fender grating on metal vibrated through the steering column. When they came out of the turn, the Explorer was nearly side by side.

“Your dad’s buddy is nuts! He’s going to kill us.”

“Just go faster!”

“I’m going as fast as I can.”

The powerful Explorer began squeezing them closer to the guardrail. Jaw clenched and muscles taut, Brian struggled to keep his SUV on the pavement. Adrenalin pumped through his body, a bitter taste rising to his throat.

And then his heart nearly stopped.

Just a few hundred feet ahead, the guardrail turned into a twisted, jagged strip of metal that hung limply to the ground. Open air replaced protection. One bump from the Explorer as they passed that broken section of guardrail, and they’d definitely be going over the edge, tumbling down the mountainside.

“That’s it, Babe.”

Brian pulled his foot from the gas and began to brake.

“What are you doing? Don’t slow down!”

“Forget it,” he said in disgust. Man, his friends had been right about this whole hooking up online thing. They’d tried to talk him out of it, but all Brian had been seeing was a summer traveling through Canada with a hot chick. Instead of lots of sex and partying, after this ex-Marine got through with him, he’d be lucky if all of his body parts were intact.

Brian brought the Blazer to a complete stop, his entire body shaking. The Explorer angled in front of him, preventing a forward escape. With a sigh, Brian shifted into park, and then turned toward Misty—the beautiful, sexy Miss T.

The beautiful, sexy, under-aged, Miss T, he mentally corrected. “Wouldn’t you know I’d hook up with jailbait.”

She glared at him. “So it didn’t work out. Stop whining. Vince isn’t going to do anything to you.”

“Oh yeah?” Brian sure hoped that was true. “So, what was this, just a little joy ride for you?”

“What it was is none of your business.” Once again she looked away, out the side window.

Brian stared at her for a second, kicking himself for being such an idiot, then he stepped out of the car. As he looked toward the Explorer, he wondered if he should act angry—after all, Misty had duped him. Or guilty—because he should have known she was under-age.

The other car door began to open, and Brian called out, “Listen, man, I had no idea she was—” He broke off as the man straightened and faced him. He almost laughed when he saw the bear mask . . .

Then he saw the gun.

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MarisSoule2015

Acclaimed novelist Maris Soule is a two time RITA finalist who has won numerous awards for her novels over the last three decades. Born and raised in California, Maris majored in art at U.C. Davis and taught art for 8 years before retiring to raise a family. Maris and her husband divide their time between Michigan and Florida. Echoes of Terror is her 30th book.  Visit Maris Soule online at: www.marissoule.com

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