Here is the deal… I have 37 books here in my office and many more at home. I will pick 37 winners at the end of this in a random drawing. You can get multiple entries by following simple guidelines. Everyone who is a member of The Dead Poe Etc. Society by the last day of the contest will have at least one entry just for being there. Everyone who is entered (even if not chosen for print edition from those available) will receive at the least an eBook. That’s right. Everyone will be eligible to win “something” and a lot of you will win signed books. I want the books to be read by readers who care – who will tell others, and review and share them. I’m hoping this group will become the core of that. Here is how it will work.
I am going to run this contest from the moment I post it until May 15th. The ONLY WAY to enter is to provide the proof required for each entry mentioned in the rules below. ALL entries must be submitted via e-mail to David@crossroadpress.com with the SUBJECT LINE: DNW Books This will drop them automatically into the right folder for me to add them to the spreadsheet and will be able to count the entries per entrant. It is fine to e-mail more than once if you go back and acquire more “points”. Here’s how to enter.
- Be a members of The Dead Poe Etc. Society – 1 Entry
- Follow me on Bookbub by clicking this link, going to my profile, and either following (if you are a Bookbub subscriber, or subscribing and then following. If you can take a screenshot of this that is best. I’m happy to take people’s word for this, but the last giveaway I did, 42 people said they followed me, and the number of followers only went up by 12 … so… This one is important because once you get a certain number of follower, they send out more automatic notes if you get a featured deal or new release promotion.
- Sign up for my NL – 1 entry. (2 entries if you subscribe to Crossroad Press as well (same link).
- Share the link to my NL on any social media platform 1 entry per platform (Tag me in the post)
- Share the link to my Bookbub page and suggest people follow on any social media platform – 1 entry per platform. (tag me in the post)
- Review any of my books on Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, Kobo or Audible – send link – 5 entries per review. (Honest – not asking you to say nice things unless you mean them).
- Share the link to this contest page in a Facebook group involving books and read that I’m not already a member of: 1 entry
- Share this contest page link on your own Facebook page – 1 entry.
- Share this contest page link on Twitter – 1 entry.
- Share this contest page on Instagram – 1 entry.
PRIZES INCLUDE BUT NOT LIMITED TO: 1 eBook for every member of The Dead Poet’s Society on the 15th of May, 2020 – any of my titles, including books that are just anthologies with one of my stories.
PRINT BOOKS: All of these can be signed, or personalized.
Freedom of Screech anthology edited by Craig Spector with my story “The Tree” (A Cletus J. Diggs Story)
Three copies of the original 1st editions of Vintage Soul
One copy of the newer hardcover of Vintage Soul with the Bob Eggleton cover
Two copies of HOODS: the Beginning
One copy of HOODS: The Beginning Advanced Reading Copy
Two copies of the 1st Edition of The Mote in Andrea’s Eye
Two copies of the collection The Call of Distant Shores
One copy of Beyond the Second Veil
Two copies of The Parting – the first full length O.C.L.T. novel
One copy of DEFINING MOMENTS, my Bram Stoker Award-nominated collection
One copy of a children’s anthology called “Stories That Won’t Make Your Parents Hurl” with my story “Cat Candles”.
One copy of Kali’s Tale – Book IV of The DeChance Chronicles
On each of two versions of the paperback of Darkness Falling
One copy of of A Midnight Dreary
Four copiles of Maelstrom
One copy of the 1st Edition paperback of Deep Blue
One copy of The Orffyreus Wheel
One copy of On the Third Day
One copy of Nevermore – A Novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe
One copy of This is My Blood
One copy of Sins of the Flash
Two copy of the first book in the Grails Covenant Trilogy – To Sift Through Bitter Ashes
Two different versions of the trade paperback of Ancient Eyes
One rare copy of the B&N print edition of Ancient Eyes that we never mass-produced.
I have plenty more at home, and if someone wins and is adamant about wanting a different thing, I can work that out…these are just what I have here.
I’ll start by pointing out that I have added a new excerpt, short story for your reading pleasure. Considering all that is going on currently, it seemed appropriate to post my story “The Masquerade,” written as E. A. Poe in the pages of the novel A Midnight Dreary, my most recent addition to The DeChance Chronicles. You will find it on the Short Stories and Excerpts page (linked above) or can simply click HERE to go to the story.
Works in progress are many and varied. I am outlining the second book in the HOODS young adult superhero series. We will introduce a new hero in this one, and another currently relevant sort of villain for the group to tangle with. These books are fun. The first one has not taken off as I’d hoped, but I will continue because I think they are great stories – and the reviews actually garnered have agreed.
I am also a good ways into two longer projects – Jurassic Ark – the story of Noah and his family, building an Ark in a time when men and dinosaurs roamed the earth together… it started as a sort of sarcastic jab at Creationism, and turned into a deeper, more interesting story. I am also working on a Thriller titled “Tattered Remnants” that is one of my all-time favorite projects. The first chapter of it appeared (alongside Stephen King) in the most recent installment of Cemetery Dance’s SHIVERS anthology series. It has hints of Thomas Harris (back when he was good) and of Dexter (both the novels and the series)… and is set (of course) in San Valencez California, home of Tommy Doyle, the Psychos ‘r’ Us detective, the band from Deep Blue, Donovan DeChance, the heroes in Hoods, and many other stories. It’s a city with more than it’s share of darkness.
My first novel – This is My Blood – will re-release any day in unabridged audio, voiced by the talented Skye Stafford. I’m hoping this relaunch will bring new readers and listeners to the story that has brought me the most recognition… if not, I’ll enjoy listening to it again and visiting with Mary Magdalene and the crew.
The current obessive project is titled Into Nothing … it’s a complex beast. It’s going to be a novel in ten parts (Ten or so) … each part will also have a TV drama style screenplay written as I go, and will contain the lyrics for at least one song by the band Into Nothing – formed in the novel. It’s based around a vision that a young dishwasher, would-be song-writer named Jesse experiences when he blacks out in his apartment. Part two will be based on my Absinthe story “The Milk of Paradise,” but told from the perspective of one of the characters in the story, and not the main story itself. I have finished part one – song one – and am about 16 pages into the screenplay. I will keep you posted.
I also have as story in the next upcoming SHIVERS anthology – “Hickory Nuts and Bones,” that I love… and that Richard Chizmar sort of poked me into writing. Keeping busy. If you are an audiobook lover, keep this link handy. This is a link to free downloads of my Audiobooks from Audible.com – there are limited quantities – you can select to show those with available US or UK codes. These get reloaded from time to time, so if the one you want has no codes, don’t get discouraged, and the site has a LOT of titles with available codes, so if you can’t get one of mine you may find something else you like: FREE AUDIOBOOK CODES.
This is a quick note to show off the new cover art from Cortney Skinner for Heart of a Dragon – Book One of The DeChance Chronicles … the book is currently on sale for only .99 in eBook format. The rest of the books in the series will be getting re-branded covers to match the new style… looking for that new audience… spread the word… .99 to take a chance on a new series…
I’ve added the prologue and first chapter of my Thomas Harris like thriller SINS OF THE FLASH to the page. This book has started, out of the blue, to gather a new audience, and I wanted to take advantage of this by providing more details. It was written while I was stationed on the USS Guadalcanal. The villain is a serial killer of a type that is very different – the killing being almost subordinate to his actual obsession. His art. This is a dark, very adult thriller that also introduced detective Tommy Doyle – the “Psycos ‘r’ Us” detective from San Valencez, California (which most of you will recognize from my other books. Tommy also appeared in several short stories, and his cousin Patrick, who served as an officer in nearby Lavender California, is one of the main characters in my horror novel Maelstrom.
I hope you’ll pass this on to thriller / horror / serial killer novel loving friends and family. I’m working on updating the trade paperback now.
Today marks the first stop on the blog tour. There will be giveaways at each stop – Starbucks gift cards – free books, audiobooks… there are excerpts from all of the books in the series… Follow the links, join the giveaways… read a bit… maybe buy a book and see what you think…
This time I have some pretty cool things to share. I’ll start with the fact that all five of the DeChance Chronicles books are now available in trade paperback and hardcover editions. All are also in audio, with the exception of the brand new book, A Midnight Dreary, which is in production. The links below take you to the Crossroad Press product page, and that page has a link to all of the available retail outlets, Amazon, Apple, B&N, Kobo and Smashwords. As always, Heart of a Dragon, Book 1 in the series, is .99 at Amazon and other outlets, and free at those that allow it. I want you to visit and love Donovan’s world.
There is also a GOODREADS GIVEAWAY going on until the 10th of February. There will be 100 copies of the eBook of A Midnight Dreary available to win, so head over to Goodreads and check it out.
The last thing I’d like to link is the newly minted Facebook Group – The Dead Poe Etc. Society – where members hear about my work first, win swag and books, get review copies and audiobook codes, and help me spread the word about my books. I’d love to see you there… Nothing helps to spread the word about an author’s book better than people who read, enjoy, and talk about them.
|The current work in progress is set in the city of San Valencez, California, home and same world as The DeChance Chronicles. It features a group of four teens with unique abilities… Weaver, Cami, Shooter and Combo. They are four remarkable kids setting out to do combat the crime and corruption washing through the city. The series will certainly cross over with DeChance at some point, but one is simply titled… HOODS. Chapter One is posted on my blog, if you are interested.|
The DeChance Chronicles Books 1-4 – only $2.99
Nevermore – A Novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe for only $2.99
Pre-order A Midnight Dreary – The DeChance Chronicles for only $2.99
Ever since I started writing, one of the staple markets for authors has been the anthology. Most of them are themed, some are less so – like the Borderlands Anthologies, Masques, and Cemetery Dance Publications’ Shivers series. In the 80s there were themed anthologies on all sides, with the advantage of selling to their themed audience, and the disadvantage that at least one big tension point is removed from every story – because, for instance, the anthology Werewolves, which I had a story in… you kind of knew a big furry dog person was going to be involved up front. The featured image for this post is a tentative cover for a project I may tackle in the near future. I am considering ALL of the points below, believe me.
That’s not what I want to talk about here, though. If you are a new publisher, independent author, new author or aspire to any of those callings, this is for you. I’m going to do this in a sort of bullet-point format because there’s a lot to cover, and most of it requires little in the way of explanation.
Know up front – the first rule of anthologies. They do not sell as well as novels. They never have, and they never will. There is a smaller, more insular audience for them. They have never sold in the numbers that novels have, and likely never will. It’s just the truth. You can check this with just about any professional editor or marketer. Harder sell… smaller audience. Still a very cool way to present short fiction. They are a good way to make some money as an author, and a bad idea if they don’t pay any.
- Anthologies are harder to sell.
- It will not sell more copies if you dedicate it to a charitable cause. It seems like it would, but it will not. It’s an extremely over-used gambit.
- If you are going to publish an anthology, you need to pay something up front to the authors, because it is likely most of what they will make. There is more chance of a turtle flying than there is of the exposure from an independently published anthology helping anyone’s career.
- The only exception to rule 1 is having a story from an absolute top-of-the-list author, not a reprint. It will not be cheap.
- May anthologies are filled by invite only. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you understand as editor and publisher that the book comes first. If your friend or colleague turns in a story you don’t like, don’t publish it. If you think it would be fine with edits, make the edits (You are the editor) and run it past the author. If they decline the edits, thank them for their interest, and move on to another author. Any compromise you make is a chink in the integrity of the book.
- Both the editor, and the publisher, are responsible for the quality of the stories. Most authors don’t do a very good job editing their own manuscripts. I have to go through mine multiple times and still need at least a second set of eyes. Unless you are a grammar expert, OCD, and willing to put in many hours editing stories you did not write, you should either hire an editor (not your buddy who will read it) or not edit an anthology. It does not mean put your name on the front and have people send you their stories… it means you are responsible.
- If you are going go crowd-fund your anthology, make sure that the amount you are trying to earn is fair… that you have money for the stories, and for the editor, and for the cover artist or designer. Make sure that you don’t get greedy on the amount that you think all your (probably didn’t do much) time is worth. Make sure contributors to the funding get everything they have been promised, and that the quality of the BOOK is the priority, not your fame as an editor, or your profit. This is actually a way to reach a particular audience, be certain the books will be bought and possibly even read, but it should not be a never-ending money machine with books delayed, editing crappy and the money actually funding other publishing bills.
The bottom line, and the point I want to make, is that a full-length anthology is an expensive project. It is a lot of work. It is not something to be taken on lightly, or alone, unless you have all the requisite skills and time and funds to make it happen. I love anthologies as much as the next book collector and reader. I’ve been in a ton of them, most often as “and others” over the years. More often than not, your time would be better spent writing and editing your own work… but if you feel this calling, answer it with quality and integrity. One of the biggest reasons people don’t buy many anthologies these days is the absolute mountain of horrible crap that’s been published. With a decent cover, almost anything can look professional. Remember what they say about books and covers.
In preparation for the January 19th release of A Midnight Dreary Volume 5 of the DeChance Chronicles, I wanted to point out what I’ve pointed out previously – this novel is not just one story. It draws threads and characters from across the “Davidverse” – including Cletus J. Diggs of Old Mill, NC, Edgar Allan Poe and Eleanor MacReady (Lenore) from Nevermore – A Novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe, members of the O.C.L.T. and even two undead survivors from my vampire novel Darkness Falling.
You can pre-order A Midnight Dreary HERE at Amazon.com – it will be available soon ab B&N, Apple, and can be pre-ordered from Smashwords. The print edition will be available slightly sooner than the eBook. Please consider pre-ordering, as it helps the launch of the book immensely to have sales on day one. The cover price is $4.99 – but it will be dropped prior to the release date to $2.99 and that is what you will be charged (for a limited time). Working on a major promotion and do not want to drop the price prior to finding out one way or the other.
I’m not going to go on and on about this. Below is the Author’s note from the front of the new book… but before that I’m going to include links to the DeChance Chronicles Omnibus – which is still on sale for only .99 and contains ALL of the previous Donovan DeChance novels, Nevermore – which introduces Edgar and Eleanor, and Darkness Falling, the story that introduced the location for the current tale, and two of the characters.
The DeChance Chronicles Omnibus is available everywhere eBooks are sold. Click HERE to go to the product page at the Crossroad Press Store – where you can purchase from Amazon, B&N, Apple, Smashwords or Kobo.
Nevermore, a Novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe is on sale for only $2.99 and the product page for that one is HERE.
Darkness Falling can be purchased HERE.
This is going to be a big, complicated story. It draws elements together from The DeChance Chronicles, the novels of the O.C.L.T., my novels about Cletus J. Diggs and the fictional town of Old Mill, N.C.—and even from an older work of mine, a vampire novel titled Darkness Falling. It also comes with a complication. What was originally going to be the beginning to this novel—a long flashback—got away from me. It became a novel unto itself—Nevermore, a Novel of Love, Loss, and Edgar Allan Poe. I love that novel, and yet, I hate it. I hate it because as hard as I’ve tried, there is no good way to begin this novel now without writing spoilers for that one.
But maybe there is a work-around.
I want you to read Nevermore before you read this book. There. I said it. I know—you already bought this one. In fairness, I warned you in the marketing text for this on whatever site you bought it on. I warned you on Facebook. I warned you in my blog. Now, I’m simply asking you. If you have already purchased this book, trust me when I say that not only will you enjoy Nevermore, but you will enjoy this book more if you read it first. I really want you to read Nevermore, and then I want you to dive straight into this one. That was the original intent.
If you don’t want to wait, however, or you don’t have the inclination to read the other book, I understand. I have created a second introduction to this book that follows this one. It explains all that happened in Nevermore and brings you up to the beginning of this book. It might not even be necessary, but it will certainly alleviate some confusion. If nothing else, the writing of this (and the subsequent spoiler-filled introduction) will serve to allow me to continue with the story.
So, like I started to say, this will be a big and complex story. It will send several groups off in different directions. It will draw multiple story lines into one single thread. It will resolve the tragedy inherent in the ending of Nevermore. Really—it will do all those things
And that’s enough of this. I want to thank those of you following the DeChance Chronicles from the beginning, and those who have come to this because of an interest in the O.C.L.T. series, and those who are just here because they are fans of my work. I can’t wait to hear what you think. You can always reach me at my website:
David Niall Wilson
One Off From Prime
The walls of the shelter were dingy and gray. The paper was white, or had been white. Too many hours stuffed in the bottom of Angus’ bag had dampened the sheets and marred their sheen. Most of the pages were empty, windows and doors to places the words hadn’t yet taken him; even doors need a new coat of paint now and then – a hinge, or a knob replaced. Angus’ paper, as his mind, remained unhinged and without knobs or slots, collecting flecks of dust and smears of sweat and blood.
He wasn’t alone in the room, but he might as well have been. Angus stood adrift in a whirling miasma of images and words so thick they obscured the bland walls and walking, talking worlds that orbited him.
A thin, wisp of a woman sidled up sneakily and glanced sidelong into Angus’ vacant eyes. She eased along the table, trailed her bony fingers over its surface and watched with bird-like intensity for any reaction. Angus didn’t flinch. The woman’s dry, pale lips curled into a cruel grin. Like a striking snake her hand darted past the sheet of paper Angus held flat on the table and gripped the strap of his old, green duffle bag.
There was a blur of motion, and the woman screamed. Between her fingers, gouged into the surface of the table and quivering, stood Angus’ pen. It didn’t touch her skin, but it prevented the sliding of the duffle across the table. The plastic shaft of the pen was shattered, but the inner plastic tube and the ballpoint were intact, quivering from the impact.
Without a word, Angus worked it free of the table. The woman fluttered back and away. She sputtered words that died in strangled bleats of sound and a yellow mist of spittle. Angus paid no more attention to her departure than he had to her approach. He stared at the paper in front of him and willed the words to stop spinning and sort themselves. He had to capture them and bind them to the paper to get them out from in front of his eyes and behind his ears.
He thought – no, he knew – that there was one word among them that could set him free, if only he could unravel the rest and place it properly. He vaguely remembered others who had once helped with the placement, but though he knew there had been three, he couldn’t recall names or faces.
None of those around him saw the words. They saw a thin, emaciated man of thirty or so years with thick black hair that dropped over broad, muscular shoulders, their strength belied by thin, protruding shoulder blades. They saw wide eyes that stared at everything except what was directly in front of them and long, slender fingers perpetually wrapped around a pen, or a pencil, or a paintbrush.
One time the counselors found Angus in the alley behind the shelter with a piece of charcoal in his hand. He’d covered half the back wall with a single long, rambling sentence.
A young woman, thinner still than the insectile Angus, stood midway along the wall, reading. Her slender, beak-like nose was pressed so close to the wall that its tip was black from accidental encounters with charcoal and brick. Her hands were filthy from trailing along behind. She wore thick cats-eye glasses that slid down her nose and had to be pressed back into service every few minutes. This action streaked her face with more of the charcoal.
When the counselors led the two back inside she looked ready for a combat raid, camouflaged and intense. Angus looked confused and on the verge of saying something he couldn’t quite remember. He’d written it down, but she’d caused it to blur. She’d taken the words into her pores or her skin and the ridges of her fingers. The counselors took the charcoal, and by the time anyone thought to try and read what Angus had written, the words had faded and smudged.
Angus didn’t remember the wall. He remembered that there had been words, but not what they’d been. He remembered the young woman’s face. He remembered the dark swatches of charcoal embedded in the pores of her skin. He remembered her expression, and her eyes. He’d wanted to reach out, brush his fingers over her cheeks and drag the black, dusty smudges back into the proper order. He’d memorized her features in an instant and imagined them covered in letters, the words merging to one long statement encompassing everything he was unable to say. He thought she was more beautiful without the words, but had no way to be certain.
Now he stared at the blank paper, clutched the shattered pen and tried to bring her face into focus and transfer it to the page. He imagined the lines of letters, like soldiers, or the bricks on a wall. His lips moved, but before he could record the wispy words they slipped away and new ones took their places, always a step ahead. His hand trembled, but he didn’t touch the pen to the paper.
The girl sat in the corner of the room, huddled in a severe chair of hard wooden slats. She clutched her knees to her chest and her chin rested between them. She gazed in unwavering concentration at Angus’ profile. She saw the paper clearly, and the pen. She knew the tremble in his hand and the nervous shake of his head. She’d seen both so many times they’d become a part of her.
She didn’t have to huddle in the shelter. She didn’t have to watch this skinny man stare at his paper and chase the words flitting through his head. She had a home, and a name, a family who wondered where she had gone, and friends – acquaintances, really – who noted the empty spaces she would have filled in their own small worlds. But none of that was real. They knew the thin, wispy shell of her, but her connection to Angus was much deeper. Given time, she’d fade from their minds as surely as angus’ words had faded from the alley wall.
Angus knew she was there. He felt her. He sat, and he tried to imagine the lines of her face on his paper, but he refused to turn and watch her watching him because it was no good. The face smudged with charcoal had been cleaned. The words, if they were still there, were hidden too deeply for him to recapture. If he looked at her now, the earlier image of her would dissolve, and be lost. He would still have her eyes, of course, and that was a temptation. They were eyes that had watched him without guile, and without judgment. They were hungry eyes as eager to see him find the order in the words, or behind them, as he was to provide it. They had seen the words, if only for a few intense moments.
Others watched, as well, but not for long, and not with much interest. An old Italian man in a faded army uniform shirt covered in colorful patches shuffled by. He looked like an ancient, rotting parody of a boy scout. He wore two pairs of pants and had a variety of odd items tied to his belt, protruding from his pockets, and slung about his neck. His hair, which would have been a fine blend of white and gray had he bathed, was dark and greasy and clung to his liver-spotted scalp in sparse patches. The man glanced over Angus’ shoulder at the blank page and snorted.
“Shouldn’t write it down,” he said. His voice was weak and formed of shrill, reedy tones that shattered in the air like thin icicles. “They’ll read it. They’ll know. Never write it down.”
Then he shuffled off with his hands covering his pockets as if afraid the things he carried would leap out and escape. Angus didn’t look up. He sat with his hand hovering over the page expectantly.
Some spoke as they passed. Some stared at the paper, or at the back of his head. Some made faces behind his back and then walked on. A tall black man walked around to the far side of the table, directly across from Angus and stared down at the point where the pen had slammed into the tabletop. His lips moved constantly. Now and then his shoulder dipped, or he shuffled his feet. His hips swayed to music no one heard.
He leaned in and inspected the table. A small pile of dust and shattered plastic circled the point where Angus had slammed his pen into the wood. The black mans studied it. He cocked his head, checking perspective, and then seated himself in a chair. Angus didn’t look up. The black man reached into his pocket and pulled out a small pouch. From this he extracted a razor blade. The cold steel glittered like fire in the dim light, catching stray flickers from the bare, yellowed overhead bulb that illumined the room. It was the kind of blade used by artists and carpenters, braced on one edge with a rounded shield to protect the fingers.
The man’s hand darted out. He smacked the blade loudly on the table and drew it toward himself. The razor swept the plastic shards and dust across the surface, his fingers nimbly dropping and dragging, scooping the remnants into a pile. He was careful and he missed nothing. When he had it all in a heap in front of him, he raised the blade and chopped at the pile.
Everyone in the room except Angus, and the girl, looked up sharply. The man brought the blade up, and down, up and down; his fingers flew and quickly pulverized the larger shards of plastic, cutting them to dust, reshaping the mound, and cutting again, each run through making a finer powder. No one in the room spoke. The black man’s lips never stopped moving, but if he spoke, there was no sound to accompany it, and if he was answered it was not from within the room.
When the plastic was reduced to glittering dust, the man stopped and studied it. He drew the blade through the center, split the pile, and then split those piles. He cocked his head again. His shoulder dipped. He squinted with one eye and shivered, as if a particularly beautiful rhythm had rippled through his long, lanky body. The ripple ended at his fingers and they danced.
When he was done, there were six lines on the tabletop. Three of them were broken lines. Each of the six lines was of equal length; all were perfectly parallel with one another. The man carefully returned his blade to its pouch, rose from his chair, and did a careful quickstep in place, dropping his hip and throwing his hand out to one side. He turned and walked away.
Angus looked up. The girl rose, came to stand beside him, and stared down at the lines.
Behind them, the door to the room opened and the world poured in. The sudden shift in air pressure sent the dust whirling off the table and away, erasing the trigram.
A voice called out, “Angus Griswold?”
The room they put him in was white-walled. The table he sat at was covered in white Formica. There were windows, but they were the kind that was only transparent in one direction. On his side, they were mirrors. Angus stared at one for a long time, intrigued by the lines of his own face staring back at him. He wondered briefly if, on the far side of that mirror, the words made sense. He had the odd sensation that he recognized himself, and then it was gone.
They had the girl too. She was in another room. He felt her presence, though he hadn’t seen her since being closed off. He hadn’t seen anyone, in fact, since a very stiff-backed young man in a white jacket had brought him a white cup. He half-expected it to be filled with milk in the colorless void, but it was coffee. Angus loved coffee, but he hadn’t touched it. He wasn’t afraid of being poisoned, he was concentrating. The room was white, but the coffee was dark, like the words, and it distracted him. He watched the white walls and day-dreamed that ink might sweat out through hidden pores in their surface and flow into words and phrases.
In another room, not so bright, and not so white, the girl sat. On the desk in front of her was the remnant of a day planner. The spine had cracked and worn away and the pages were loose. She kept them bound in a pair of large rubber bands she’d stolen from the post office.
She glanced up as the door to the room opened. A tall black man in a dark suit entered, closed the door behind him, and crossed to the far side of the desk. He took a seat and placed a folder on the table in front of her. His eyes were dark brown, so dark they seemed black, and she saw that the cuticles of his fingers were meticulously groomed. He steepled his fingers.
She glanced up at him. He wore thick framed glasses. The wrinkles at the corners of his eyes looked as though they might be accustomed to humor, but in that moment his gaze was flat and serious.
“Why am I here?” she asked.
“I think you know the answer to that.” He replied. “I am Mr. Johnson. You don’t know me, but I believe you are very familiar with a former associate of mine, Mr. Griswold. You may also have heard of my employer, Mr. King.”
“I don’t know anyone named Griwsold,” she said.
“His first name is Angus.”
She didn’t answer.
“Do you have any idea what Angus did when he worked for us, Miss Prine?”
Her head jerked up. She had not known that they were so close to knowing her name. She smiled, but she tucked her head to hide it, and she didn’t answer.
“That’s unfortunate. It seems that Mr. Griswold has also forgotten.”
Johnson fell silent for a moment, then flipped open the folder on the desk.
“Angus Griswold was a financial analyst. He was very good at his job. Possibly too good. He and his team had the task of scanning pages and pages of computer data and…anticipating.”
“I think that’s the best way to word it. Angus had a way of seeing a very large amount of data at once. This ability of his allowed him to anticipate trends, predict problems, and circumvent inefficiency. One thing my company loathes beyond all else, Ms. Prine, is inefficiency.”
A sharp jangle of sound cut off his reply. Johnson slid a thin cell phone from his pocket.
She watched his face, but his expression never changed.
“You’re sure,” Johnson said. “Four hours, then? I see.”
He flipped the phone closed and turned back to her.
“There’s not much time. Mr. Griswold has been working on something very important for a very long time. He indicated to us that he’d discovered something big – something profound. That knowledge could prevent a very large disaster from taking place, and Mr. King is very interested in obtaining it. Mr. Griswold told us the nature of the disaster, and even gave us a rough idea of when it might take place. Unfortunately, we did not immediately see the importance of what he told us, and at that point his behavior had become…unstable. The file he left behind is incomplete. The single data point he failed to mention before disappearing into the streets was how to stop it.”
“He doesn’t know,” she said. “He’s been trying to figure it out. He believes that he will be able to write it down.”
“How do you know?”
“He wrote it on the wall. I read it. It was too much to take in at a single reading, and they came and took us away. The words were gone, smudged and ruined. I had them…but they slipped away.”
“Do you remember?”
“No. Not all of it. I’ve written some of it down, but it’s not perfect. There was a design.”
“Six lines. It was a trigram, like in the I Ching. I drew it.”
She fumbled at her ruined day planner. Her hands shook, and she had trouble spreading the pages. When she found it, she slid it free and turned it to face Johnson.
“What is it?” Johnson asked.
“It’s a Hexagram. I looked it up at the library. It means Obstruction. Stagnation.”
“He wrote this?”
She shook her head. “No. He caused it.”
Johnson stared at her a long moment, then made some unspoken decision.
“You have to help us. There is not time to explain the entirety of what is at stake, so I will be brief. I believe that you understand a lot more than you let on.
She held her silence.
“If we do not find the answers we seek, a few tiny calculations in a very large algorithm will return bad data. At first, no one will see. It won’t even matter. Over time, the errors will multiply. There is a critical point after which, even if we were to discover the original error, nothing we could do would halt its progress. That error is embedded deep in the database behind the world’s largest finance and credit system.”
“What can one tiny error do?”
“One error is incorporated in a thousand calculations, the results of which will fuel a hundred thousand more. The integrity of the data will be compromised within minutes. When the world gets the first hint that we do not have control of the system – that their millions of dollars are suddenly in question without even a good direction to point their finger, there will be anarchy. Mr. King believes that within only a few moments, automatic fail-safes and security protocols will shut down everything.”
“Everything?” she asked. “Surely there are backups? Contingencies?”
“Also corrupt. We do not believe we will be able to pinpoint the entry point of the error. We believe it is possible that Mr. Griswold can, or already has and has forgotten. We believe, in fact, that he’s been trying to put what he already knows in words that others can understand. Even if we found the error and returned the system to its current state it’s likely trust and confidence will have eroded sufficiently by that time to cause worldwide panic.”
“Where is he?” she asked.
“He is safe, for the moment. As safe as any of us can really be.”
She stared at Johnson for a long moment.
“I need to see him.”
“He needs to remember. He believes that I can help. He won’t look at me, and I think this is
because, in his mind, he will either find what he is looking for in the lines
of my face, or will find that it is lost forever, and he’s afraid.”
“I see,” Johnson said. “We will give him time, then. The room we put him in is one giant blank canvas. The walls are made of dry-erase white board. The windows are mirrors. The table is white, the floor is white. Soon he will be given markers. We have, at the best estimate of those who have an inkling of what Mr. Griswold has seen, about four hours. If he can’t write it down before then; if we get so close to the deadline that there is no hope, I will take you to him. You may be that hope.”
She continued to stare at him. Johnson remained unruffled.
“Coffee?” he asked.
She nodded, and then looked away, trying to see through the walls to where Angus was seated. She had visions of her own, had been having them since the first time she laid eyes on him so very long before. In her dreams, the angels warned of fire. They warned of destruction. Each of them wore a very large, ticking clock on a golden chain, and the clocks were winding down. In those dreams, men worshiped idols made of shifting symbols and scrolling numbers, falling away to dust.
Johnson slipped out of the room without a sound. The door closed behind him and she stared at it, just for a moment. He had not hesitated, or fumbled with the knob, but she knew it was locked. Less than four hours. The room didn’t even have a clock.
Johnson stood behind a row of three chairs. The chairs faced a bank of huge monitors across which columns and patterns of numbers shifted and scrolled. Each screen was divided into terminal windows, and different events triggered flashes of color. In the chairs, a young Asian woman, an old gray-haired man, and a boy of about sixteen sat. On the backs of their chairs, the names Meshe, Shad, and Abe had been scrawled across white nametags. They watched the scrolling numbers, working keyboards, trackballs and a bank of peripheral controls without once glancing away from the screen.
Johnson wanted to question them, but he knew that either they would ignore him, as per their instructions, or he’d likely cause a new set of problems by his interference. When Angus had worked with them, there’d been a fourth chair. Mr. King had removed it when the prodigal walked out.
Johnson watched the numbers for a moment, but they meant little to him. When they had been sifted down to spreadsheets and balanced equations, he’d understand them well enough. In their current raw state, it was beyond his ability. That was fine – it wasn’t his job. His job was to be certain that the numbers did balance. In the upper levels of the company, they joked that every transaction since the beginning of time flowed across those screens – that the Templars had kept records, and the Egyptians had been meticulous
The woman, Meshe, gasped suddenly. She didn’t stop working her controls, and she didn’t look away from the screen, but he knew that she’d caught something. Her distress passed, and he knew it couldn’t be what Angus had seen. These three were very good. There had once been more than two dozen “watchers” working in shifts, and they had all been good. None of them had borne Angus’ singular gift – or his neuroses. Now there were only three, and though Angus had spoken to them before leaving, none of them could find the fault, though they would no doubt remain vigilant.
Johnson turned away and left the room as silently as he’d entered. He headed down a brightly lit hall and entered a glass-doored office at the far end. An elderly man, grey at the temples glanced up from where he’d been scouring reports on his desk.
“What has he said?” the man asked.
“Nothing. He’s confused and barely coherent. The girl isn’t much better. I think it’s time to put them together and see what comes of it.”
“It’s our last shot. If they can’t get it back in time…”
“I know,” Johnson said. “Don’t think I haven’t considered walking out, buying a bunker in a survivalist camp and stocking up. We haven’t got much time. For all we know we don’t have any time at all. We have to try it now.”
“Take her in,” the man said.
Johnson turned, hesitated, and looked back.
“It’s been good working with you, Ezekiel.”
The older man smiled. It was a fleeting expression that looked lost in the patchwork of stress-fractures that made up his face. Then he turned back to the papers, and Johnson slipped into the hallway, closing the door quietly behind him.
When the door opened, Angus didn’t look up. The girl entered, and the door closed behind her. She sat opposite him at the table. He stared at the white surface, refusing to meet her gaze.
“You wrote it down once,” she said. “In the alley. You wrote it down, and it was all there.”
Angus twitched, but did not look up.
“I knew you’d get it. I knew you’d find the words. It’s why I watched, and why I read. “
“They’re gone.” Angus said.
She shook her head. She rose, circled the table, and stood directly beside him, but still he did not look up. She reached out and stroked his cheek. He didn’t pull back, but she felt the inner struggle. He quivered as if unable to decide whether to press into her fingers, or to lean away.
“The words are not gone. If they were gone, you’d be at rest. They are there, buzzing and crackling with energy, and you need them to stop. We both need that. The world needs that. You started it, and only you can finish it. It’s up to you.”
She stepped behind his chair, pulled it gently away from the table, then slid around and straddled him. With one hand on each cheek she raised is head until he stared directly at her.
“It’s time,” she said.
Angus shivered, but he didn’t look away. She leaned closer, and her features blurred. At the end, he saw her lips, red and moist, and criss-crossed with tiny veins that shifted and rearranged. They kissed and those crooked, wretched lines clarified. Angus pulled back, just for an instant, but she held him fast.
His mind flooded with memories. Lines of figures flashed past on mental monitors so fast it should have been dizzying, but he already knew them. He felt each ripple and saw the tiny bugs nibbling away at the heart of the pattern.
He was vaguely aware when she began stroking her hips up and down. He rose to meet her and wrapped her in his arms. He was so close. He had walked so long in a world that buzzed and whirled that the clarity was painful. The haze beckoned. He itched to hold his pencils, or a piece of chalk. The white walls streamed with row after row of symbols and numbers and he wanted to fill them in and trap them. He felt her unbuttoning his shirt and then the hot touch of her flesh and then…he let them go.
Johnson and Ezekiel stood before a huge video monitor. On the screen, Angus stood, disheveled and coated in sweat, before one of the white walls. He held a dry erase marker in his hand, poised. Behind him, the woman lay back across the table, spent. It was difficult not to stare at her; something in the aspect of her pose gave her a sensuality her street-urchin attire and schizophrenic actions had hidden. She did not look at Angus, but instead stared back at them through the monitor, as if well aware her naked flesh was on camera and reveling in the attention.
“My God,” Ezekiel said. “Who is she?”
“You know who she is. You know what she is. What neither of us knew was how profoundly … real … she would turn out to be.”
“She calls herself Prine?” Ezekiel asked absently.
“I think we may have been mistaken. It sounded like Prine, and we have assumed that to be correct, but upon closer examination of the original document, I believe she is called…Prime.”
“It’s her last name?”
“It’s her only name.”
“Not exactly, but…wait! He’s writing.”
On the screen Angus reached out with the marker. He started drawing horizontal lines. After only a few seconds work the hexagram was complete. “Obstruction”. He stares at it, and then turns.
“There is no new flaw in the numbers,” he says.
It’s not a question, but it’s directed to the girl.”
“Of course not.
There is only the one flaw. You
knew this once.”
“I know it again,” he said.
He dropped the marker on the floor and it rolled under the table. He walked to the table and lifted her to a sitting position. She smiled into his stern gaze. Angus leaned in and kissed her, and then turned toward the cameras.
“Numbers are pure,” he said. “The system by which you calculate them is a language, and it is the closest to perfection man may ever come, but there are flaws. There have always been flaws. You have built a world on numbers, filled in the cracks when the foundations shifted, and applied new paint, but the central flaw was always there. It’s eaten at the foundations since the first dollar was saved and reinvested. It’s the root cause of all the tiny cracks I patched for you, and the thousands more rising to the surface.”
“Tell them aboutSchrödinger’s Cat,” she said.
He turned and frowned at her, and then the frown cracked into a crooked smile.
Ezekiel turned and started to ask Johnson a question, but Johnson held up a hand. He focused intently on Angus.
“I spent my life looking for flaws in the perfection of the data. No matter how many times I found and fixed a problem, the imperfection screamed at me, and I had to go on. All I was doing was plugging holes in a sinking ship. There was never any perfection to mar, only a crumbling façade.”
Johnson stepped back from the monitor. Behind him a red light began flashing slowly, and then another. Alarms sounded. Ezekiel turned and glanced at them. He touched Johnson on the shoulder, but Johnson shrugged him off.
“It’s too late, Ezekiel,” he said.
Johnson reached out and pressed a button. He leaned down and spoke into a microphone on the desk beside the monitor.
“Angus,” he said.
Angus turned and looked directly into the camera.
“I cannot speak to you,” he said. “I have a message for Ezekiel.”
The old man stood very still. Johnson turned to stare at him, and then pressed the microphone button again.
“Ezekiel is here.”
“Now is the time, old friend. You must remember. Mr. King and his minions have built this false idol of greed and gold, this mountain of numbers. You know what will happen should it crumble, and yet, the choice remains yours. Worship, or be taken by fire.”
“Your name is not Angus,” Ezekiel said. His voice was soft, as though he was forcing memories from somewhere deep inside.
“What are you talking about?” Johnson said. He shook Ezekiel hard. “What do you mean he isn’t Angus? Who is he?”
“Call the main office,” Ezekiel said, ignoring the question. Get Nebbu…get Mr. King on the line. Tell him … tell him that we choose the fire.”
The blinking lights and alarms lit the wall behind them like a holiday celebration. Johnson ignored them. He stared at Ezekiel, and then turned back to where Angus still stared through the camera and into his soul.
“Who are you?” Johnson asked. “Who, in God’s name, are you?”
“Names are only patterns,” Angus replied. Then he smiled. “I am many, and I am one. I would tell you that I am the way, the truth, and the light, but she – pointing at the girl – would tell you I am Hermes, or Mithras, or Odin, and she cannot lie. It does not matter who I am. What matters, and what has always mattered, is who you are, and what you will become.
“The numbers have failed. In the beginning, there was the word – and that is all there has ever been. Plurality is divisive. Heaven isn’t a chord, it’s a single, pure note. Go, and learn to sing.”
The monitor went dark. Power in the building flickered, and then dropped. For a long moment auxiliary power tried to kick in and bring it back to life – and then died. Ezekiel had gone. Johnson’s sifted through unfamiliar memories. He thought of the three in the other room, staring at blank screens that had been filled with numbers only moments before. He mouthed their names, and almost laughed.
“Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego,” he said softly. How had he not seen?
It didn’t matter. Without a backward glance he turned, left the room and the building and walked out into the world. Behind him the monitor blinked to life without external power. Angus and Prime stood, wrapped in a tight embrace. Dark flecks danced up from the floor, peeled off the walls, and began to whirl. The flecks grew, diving and dancing through the air until they enlarged to numbers, and words, letters and symbols. The cloud whirled faster and darker until the room was obscured by a tangle of dark images and shifting patterns.
And then it was gone. All that remained in the room was a battered spiral notebook and a number two pencil. On the top sheet, the Hexagram symbolizing “Obstruction” had torn down its center. On the streets beyond the building, men and women stepped out into bright sunlight…so bright, it burned.
Click on the big BB to follow me on Bookbub… you will only hear from them if I have a new book, or if I recommend one by someone else… but it helps.
8: Electronics Technician School
One of the things I had wanted when I joined the Navy was to be away from Illinois and its winters. Fate, of course, dropped me into Great Lakes as the snow and ice kicked in. I had a room in one of the crappy student barracks with a couple of other guys. Before you were allowed into the sacred halls of Electronics Technician class “A” school, you had to complete a self-paced computer-based curriculum they called B E&E (Basic Electricity and Electronics). (Yes, even in the late 1970s there was computer-based training). This (for any younger readers I might attract, was the point where I got the answer to why I had to study things like Trigonometry in high school).
Except, there was a glitch. About a week into the first part of the course, I got sick. Very sick. To be excused from class, you had to walk across the icy, frigid base to the clinic, get a note, carry it to the school, then go back to your barracks. This took, very literally, hours. I started with bronchitis, but, after several days of this long trek to the hospital, class, and my room, it escalated. One day (finally) I did not show up either at the clinic, or at school. They found me and got me to the hospital, fevered with a full-blown case of walking pneumonia. Suffice it to say, my graduation from B E&E was delayed.
While I was in the hospital there was nothing to do – except read. They had piles of old westerns and series books. I read everything they had. I was too sick to talk to anyone, really, but I know I sucked in characters and scenes, details. They weren’t great literature, those books, but they were someone’s work – someone’s creation and life. I connected with them, probably at least in part through the fever and the drugged daze I spent those two weeks drowning in. Influences. They hit you when you don’t expect them, and given that it’s been decades, and I still remember… they linger.
My time in Electronics Technician training was interesting. There were a lot of life events, a lot of things that are probably formative, but it was not a huge time of creativity for me. A few things stand out, and I’ll limit myself to those. Being succinct is not my superpower, but I will try.
I made some of my first lasting friendships in Great Lakes… but, they didn’t last. I wish that I could find Brian Massatt, and Gary Clark. The former had very cool sort of LARP before LARP existed relationship with his soon to be fiancé Susan. She was his princess… they would go monster hunting, with swords and armor, and I (with my guitar that had a broken (and repaired) neck from the bus trip to Great Lakes, was the bard. I wrote songs. I wrote some poetry. I wrote no stories, or books, but I lived. I met a girl who was Susan’s best friend named Cheryl, but that never went anywhere, though it DID land me at a very unexpected (and unlikely) concert… Barry Manilow and Lady Flash.
Two formative things did happen during my time at Great Lakes. One was my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons. Long afternoons, weekends, all-nighters, chasing dark lords and evil clerics. We had a good dungeon master, but I can’t remember his name. I remember that Brian played some of the time, but for the most part that period (for me) is mostly faces and memories of portable holes and gelatinous cubes. We did have a girl who played along for a while, and I remember finding it very odd, because she was smart, and attractive, and could have been out doing anything she wanted with whoever she wanted – and chose to fight goblins with geeks.
Later in life, my experiences with that game would land my station wagon in Lake Geneva (shortly after meeting Gary Gygax at the original Dungeon) – and in contracts with White Wolf and their World of Darkness, where I produced a fairly long string of novels that I am still proud of. I’m not always proud of what I’ve written in the past – though I usually am right up until, for some reason, I go back and read it. Writing is an endeavor where the words (from a writer) “You Can’t Go Home Again,” are very true. (Thank you Thomas Wolfe). I recommend, if you want to continue to be productive and creative, that you concentrate on what you are doing, and not too much on what you’ve done, aside from marketing it. Too many authors from my own generation, and those before, have simply stopped writing and are seemingly confused why they can’t continue to make lots of money selling things they wrote years ago… with nothing new to offer. Sort of self-explanatory, unless your fandom is in the millions, and movies are being made from your old books.
But I digress. Random memories from that time in Great Lakes include an instructor staring at the wall, where he’d hung a poster that said: “The only Stupid Question is the One Not Asked,” for a very long time. Gary Clark (who I still have to explain) was from Beaufort, Texas. He had just asked this instructor, during our module on transmitters, if turning the radio on its side would cause the electrons to flow down to the side, instead of taking their normal path. It was impossible to tell from his ridiculous grin if he was serious.
Clark is responsible for my liking beer. When I was young, and I covered my step-father much earlier in this book, I was given beer. It was a “hee hee” moment for Bob… my brother Bill gulped it down and loved it, but I hated it. It’s possible I hated it because, not only was I a child trying beer, but it was godawful beer. Probably Goebel’s or Ballantine. The taste was so bad to me that, for over a decade I could not even think about it. I did not have the same trouble with wine, or whiskey sours, but those are different stories.
Clark decided one day that I was going to learn to drink beer. He took me to the club on base, and sat me down by the pool tables. We were both good at pool, and played regularly. I had brought my own pool stick in the black case – a sad, young sailor attempt at being cool that many have emulated over the years. Clark said, “I’m going to get us some beers.”
When he came back, he had two pitchers. No glasses. He gave me the same grin he’d given the instructor when he asked his question (by definition not a stupid question once asked). It was Shlitz. At first I hated it… but it was cold, and we were playing pool.
I do not remember much about that night. I remember the next morning, though. I had only a mild hangover, but I did not have any idea how I’d gotten into my barracks room. There were two more pool cue cases leaned against the wall next to mine. I had very little time to put it all away, shower, brush the hellish taste (and likely breath) from my teeth, and get to class.
Clark was there, grinning. It seems we’d both won pool cues off of unsuspecting sailors. There was more than the initial two pitchers, at least one more shared… there were stories that were in all likelihood made up on the spot, but that I could not deny or prove to be false. I wondered if the neurons in my brain had flowed down toward my face when I hit the pillow, and I glanced at the poster on the wall.
I graduated near the top of my class in ET “A” school. It was time to move on to something new… real computers, satellite navigation, and San Diego California (again).
There is a very old, and very wise, bit of writing wisdom. “Write what you know…” This can be taken too simplistically, and too seriously, but at its core, it’s truth. The reason most of the characters you will encounter in books, on TV, and in movies do not stick with you is very often they are paper thin. You also must write who you know. Crazy computer hackers always have stacks of monitors, racks of servers, dark rooms with flashing lights and these days at least one screen scrolling symbols like the screen saver that came out after The Matrix. When I see or read all of that, I shake my head.
I’ve worked most of my adult life in computers, computer security, and networks. I have met a lot of hackers and computer gurus. They are more likely to have a single notebook, maybe a server at home with more power… something they can close the lid on and run. Sure, they have gadgets and gimmicks, but what the big banks of monitors and dark rooms tell me is… the creator needed a computer expert, or an evil hacker, and they wrote what they’ve seen others write, rather than trying to dig deeper and find out the truth.
It’s how we ended up with so many Hannibal Lector, high-intellect serial killers, bumbling FBI agents, forensics labs with the time to concentrate a dozen people around the clock on a single case and many other endless clichés. They write well, people “get” what you’re doing and saying… but if you remember those characters it will be for something else they did… not for the characterization, or the dark screen-filled room.
So, how does that relate to writing what you know? You have a perspective. You have your own skills, knowledge, and you have your ability to research. If you write about a plumber, you are going to write about a plumber in the context of your experience with plumbers. You can widen your perspective by reading, actually talking to plumbers about what it is you need to happen, how it would play out in the real world. Even then, it’s wise to limit yourself to writing about your character, and embellishing that character with as much reality as you can without going too far and writing or having your character say something that will push buttons on readers who know more about plumbing than you do. It’s tricky business.
I recently read a pretty good mystery by an award-winning, Internationally bestselling author. It had a lot in it about falcons, and raptors. Repeatedly, he referred to them (and had his character who was purportedly an expert) refer to them as “raptor birds,” instead of simply raptors. I love raptors. I’m not an expert on them, but it was enough of a faux pas to really grate on my nerves, and if it affected me that way – I have to believe that people who know about falconry and birds of prey would be squirming – and they would have to be at least a peripheral market for the book.
It’s even trickier when you start writing about specific characters – say – a theoretical physicist. You are safest writing such a character as a person, and avoiding attempts to cleverly let people into their theoretical thoughts, or going too far in describing things. Most people know about Schrödinger’s Cat, and a few bits and pieces about chaos theory and string theory from The Big Bang Theory and Jurassic Park… but that is the paper-thin character I mentioned above. If you are not capable of thinking like a theoretical physicist, you should write the parts of that character that you can understand, their life, loves, tics and prejudices, but not try to pass yourself off as an expert in their field.
What you know is how you see people, how you see men and women you’ve met and interacted with, the things about certain types of characters that you would expect to encounter in a real-life scenario. Characters who matter to you will matter to your readers… characters who remind them of every other character of a “type” they have ever encountered, will not.
In keeping with the theme of this book I’m writing, don’t forget that you don’t like everyone, and some people you like to obsession, or love, or crave or loathe. If you are afraid to reach that level with the characters, you may write a darn good yarn, but a year after reading the book, no one will remember them.