Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Guest Post: PERFECTION CHALLENGED, by Jade Kerrion

Perfection Challenged, the thrilling conclusion to Jade Kerrion's multiple award-winning, bestselling DOUBLE HELIX series, will be released on September 17th and will be available in paperback and all electronic formats. Beta readers have declared Perfection Challenged "the best of the four books...the perfect ending to an amazing series." If you've never picked up the DOUBLE HELIX series, keep on reading for a special offer on Perfection Unleashed, the book that launched the DOUBLE HELIX series.

PERFECTION CHALLENGED

An alpha empath, Danyael Sabre has survived abominations and super soldiers, terrorists and assassins, but he cannot survive his failing body. He wants only to live out his final days in peace, but life and the woman he loves, the assassin Zara Itani, have other plans for him. Galahad, the perfect human being created by Pioneer Labs, is branded an international threat, and Danyael is appointed his jury, judge, and executioner. Danyael alone believes that Galahad can be the salvation that the world needs, but is the empath blinded by the fact that Galahad shares his genes, and the hope that there is something of him in Galahad? In a desperate race against time and his own dying body, Danyael struggles to find fragments of good in the perfect human being, and comes to the wrenching realization that his greatest battle will be a battle for the heart of the man who hates him.

perfection-challenged-600x800

 
PERFECTION UNLEASHED
 
Perfection Unleashed

 

Recipient of six literary awards, including first place in Science Fiction, Reader Views Literary Awards 2012 and Gold medal winner in Science Fiction, Readers Favorites 2013. "Higher octane than Heroes. More heart than X-Men."

Danyael Sabre spent sixteen years clawing out of the ruins of his childhood and finally has everything he wanted—a career, a home, and a trusted friend. To hold on to them, he keeps his head down and plays by the rules. An alpha empath, he is powerful in a world transformed by the Genetic Revolution, yet his experience has taught him to avoid attention. When the perfect human being, Galahad, escapes from Pioneer Laboratories, the illusory peace between humans and their derivatives—the in vitros, clones, and mutants—collapses into social upheaval. The abominations, deformed and distorted mirrors of humanity, created unintentionally in Pioneer Lab’s search for perfection, descend upon Washington D.C. The first era of the Genetic Revolution was peaceful. The second is headed for open war. Although the genetic future of the human race pivots on Galahad, Danyael does not feel compelled to get involved and risk his cover of anonymity, until he finds out that the perfect human being looks just like him.
 
FOR A LIMITED TIME, E-BOOKS AVAILABLE FOR JUST $0.99 (Discounted from $2.99)

E-books available at Amazon / Amazon UK / Apple / Barnes & Noble / Kobo / Smashwords

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To be the first to receive news of Jade Kerrion's latest book releases, sign up for her New Release Mailing List. If Perfection Challenge makes it to the bookstores before September 17th, you'll be among the first to know.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Closet

Work proceeds apace on The Secret Room, closing in on 11,000 words. Slower than I'd like, but after a sluggish start I'm starting to feel the same kind of excitement I did throughout most of the writing of House of Shadows, which gives me hope that I might just yet meet some of the elevated expectations of the readers of that latter tome who have said, both to me and in reviews, that they 'cannot wait for the next book in this series'.

Unfortunately, I don't really have a worthwhile snippet to share since my last post (too much spoilerish material), so I don't consider this post to be a true update. That being the case, I thought I would offer my readers, as a gentleman once said, 'something completely different'.

With that in mind, here's a brief tale I wrote for a short story contest for the Fantasy and Vampire Book Club on Goodreads. It won first prize, so I'm hoping you'll like it, and hold off on the torches and pitchforks during your wait.

Enjoy. :)

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The Closet
 

I twisted over in bed and whispered into Sissy's ear, "There's a monster in the closet."

Sissy was a good older sister. She didn't groan, or make fun of me. She just turned over, so we were almost nose to nose. "How do you know, Kelly?" she said.
 
"I keep hearing it," I said. "It waits till you're asleep. Then it scratches at the door."

She lifted up on one elbow and stared at it with me. The door was white, the paint faded and peeling. A huge metal knob perched over a large keyhole, the kind made to fit one of those big old iron keys. It was a heavy, thick door, not flimsy and hollow like the closet door at our old apartment. If you were to somehow get trapped on the other side of this one, you could kick on it all day and never break out.

"I don't hear anything," Sissy said.

That upset me. " I heard it!" I whispered fiercely.

"I believe you." She tilted her head, listening with her good ear, the one that hadn't gotten smashed bad in the Accident. "But I think it's done for the night. Now go to sleep. You start school next week, and you're going to have to start getting up earlier." She rolled over, taking half the covers with her. I jerked them back, then pulled them over my head before squeezing my eyes shut. Much later, I fell asleep.
 
#

The closet had scared me since I first saw it. We'd just moved here, after the Accident. I ran upstairs where Mommy had told I would find my room, and there it was. I cracked the door and looked inside. It was ginormous, and very deep, so deep that shadows hid its back wall. There were huge shelves and cubbyholes and a light bulb high in the ceiling with a chain I couldn't reach, even standing on my tippy toes. And as I stood there, just inside, the door swung shut.

I couldn't breath, couldn't move. I stood in place in the silence, listening. Then I heard something. Not breathing, not 'zackly. More like a rushing, like you hear when you hold a seashell to your ear. And as I stood there, I felt my heart hammering in my chest, like it was frightened of something I couldn't see. The floorboards creaked and I felt the air stir, as though something was moving towards me. I was so scared I was frozen stiff, couldn't make a sound. It came closer, closer still.

Then a burst of light flooded the space, and I could move again. I spun around to see Sissy standing at the open door.

"You shouldn't be in there by yourself," she said, looking past me. "No telling what might be hiding in these rooms."

 #

Nothing was said to our parents, but Sissy and I shared a clear understanding, neither of us was to enter that closet alone if we could help it. If we had no choice, then the door must be propped open. Not with something flimsy, either but with an object of great weight.

I often wondered if our parents sensed it too. Because of its size, the closet got turned  into a junk room, with one half set aside as a wardrobe. Sissy would laugh at me and call me a clothes horse. She didn't care about that stuff, wearing the same thing, faded jeans and a t-shirt, day after day. Always in style, she told me once.

I can't explain why, but the closet never really bothered Sissy, no matter how much it terrified me. I would lie in bed, listening. Sometimes there was nothing to hear. And when there was, usually it was something quiet, almost unnoticeable. A light scratching or a low creak of the floorboards, just enough to make me nervous, but not enough to prompt a scream for Daddy or Mommy. Instead I would reach over and take Sissy's hand, squeezing it tight. She never minded, and would always squeeze back. Eventually, I'd fall asleep.

Of course I told our parents about the closet. And of course they checked it, searching behind the boxes, examining the shelves, never finding anything. Which didn't surprise me, because somehow I knew that whatever lived in the closet, it was only interested in one thing. Me. So it always hid. Very, very well.

Until that one night.

We'd spent the evening watching horror movies on cable television. Daddy had frowned, but Mommy'd pooh-poohed him. "There are real horrors in this world," she had said. "Better to prepare for them now, rather than later."

I can't say how I knew, but I could tell she was talking about the Accident. When she got like this, you could never tell how she'd get, so I excused myself and went upstairs, Sissy on my heels.

We got into bed, and lay next to one another. This time Sissy reached out to me first. She seemed upset, though I couldn't tell why. She curled up against me, her arms and legs as cold as ice. "What's wrong?" I whispered.

Then something slammed against the closet door.

I opened my mouth to scream, and as I did, Sissy covered it with her hand. A second bang, even louder than the first, and in the pale grey light from the curtain less window I saw the door shudder under the impact from the other side.

I twisted, desperately trying to free myself so I could cry out for our parents. Sissy kept holding me close while shaking her head no.

"It's upset," she whispered. "It's angry."

"Whuff?" I said behind her hand. Why?

Finally, after everything was still once more, she released my mouth and pulled me to her chest, burying my face to keep me quiet.

"I don't know."

#

 
"I don't think it would have hurt us," Sissy said the next day when I confronted her. "But it might've hurt Mom or Dad, if they'd come upstairs."

I looked over at our mother, lying on the sofa as she slept, an open pill bottle on the coffee table. Outside I heard the sound of a weed whacker buzzing. The Landlord. Daddy had told Mommy shortly after we moved in that the old guy was too cheap to hire a lawn care service, and that one day the man was going to collapse from heat stroke doing all the work by himself.

"Is she okay?" I asked Sissy. This wasn't the first time Mommy had fallen asleep on the couch after taking her medicine.

Sissy looked as though she was going to start crying. Both of them had done that a lot of that, ever since the Accident. "She'll be okay. Eventually." Then she shook her head and went upstairs.

I sat next to Mommy and picked up the remote for the television, there were always cartoons on this time of day. I didn't even have to turn the volume down, since nothing would wake her up after she'd taken her medicine.

I got settled with SpongeBob Squarepants, then there was a knock at the screen door. It was hot, so the front door itself was open. I looked through the screen and saw the landlord standing there, wiping his face with a bright red bandana.

"Out like a light again, eh?" he said. "Poor woman." He looked down at me. "Your dad told me about what happened. Puts me in mind of the folks who used to live here before you. They had an 'accident' too. Never found the father, though." He leaned against the door frame, as though he could barely stand. "Sweetheart, could you do me a favor? I'm burning up out here. Rain's been heavy, and that fescue grows like crabgrass. Would you fetch me a glass of water?"

I looked over at my mother, then nodded yes and walked back to the kitchen. When I got back with a plastic tumbler I'd filled from the sink, the landlord was standing next to the sofa as he watched the television.

"Thank you, sweetheart," he said as he took the water out of my hands. "They broadcast the commercials a lot louder these days than the programs." He emptied the tumbler in one long draught. "To get the viewer's attention, my son-in-law says." He looked down at my mother. "And she can sleep through all that? Fuck, then she'll sleep through anything. Won't she?"

He set the tumbler down on the coffee table. "Yep, gotta be careful. That's why I put that fence around the pool out back. Course, the gate's only got a simple latch. Gotta watch the kids like a hawk, or else next thing you know, you'll find one of 'em floating face-up, and no idea at all what might have happened." He reached down to stroke my hair. "Kelly, what time is your Dad getting home? It is Kelly, right?"

"Hey!"

I turned. Sissy was standing halfway down the stairs, smiling. She was using her index finger to curl a strand of that yellow gold hair I was so jealous of. (Mine was the color of dirt.)

The landlord looked up at her. "Well, hello Missy. And who might you be?" As so often happened when my sister entered a room, everyone's attention shifted to her, like moths to a porchlight.

Sissy smiled and bent over the rail. "I've got a secret," she whispered.

"Say you do, eh?" The old man left me and strode to the bottom of the stairs. He sounded even more out of breath than he had before. "And what might that be?"

As he took a step up, so did Sissy. "It's a big secret," she said, "But nobody else can know."

"I can keep a secret," he said. And as he smiled, so did my sister.

Then she turned and ran.

The landlord looked confused. He looked down at me, then up the stairs, as though trying to make up his mind about something.

"Better hurry!" my sister called out.

Whatever it was he couldn't decide on, he must have, cuz he turned around and followed after Sissy.

I stood there, confused. Then I followed after them.

I saw the landlord enter our bedroom, and I said, "Excuse me!" But either he didn't hear me, or else he just ignored me. So I went in after him.

Then I froze where I stood.

It was fully open, the closet door. And in the rear, her back to the wall, stood Sissy, with the landlord just inside.

"You're going to have to shut the door," Sissy said, still playing with her hair. "Can't show you the secret with the door open where everybody can see."

The old man turned around and saw me, standing in the middle of the room. "I don't know," he said, as though waking up from a deep sleep. "I don't think. . . . "

Sissy looked from him to me. Then she stepped forward, quickly.

I've thought about that moment many times over the years since. Something lit up in the landlord's face, and I think he might have understood what was happening, because he stirred and reached out. "Wait!"

Then Sissy grabbed the doorknob and pulled.

I have a memory, which I keep hidden deep and never take out after the sun goes down. A memory of a shadow, rising up from the back wall of the closet and moving forward like the wind, engulfing them both as the door slammed shut.

I heard a scream from the old man that cut off, like someone had killed the power to a radio. Then I didn't hear anything at all.

#

Several days later the police came by to ask some questions about the missing Landlord. And when they were done, I asked the police if they wouldn't mind looking for Sissy too.

The one officer, he looked at me, puzzled, then turned back to my parents. My father took him by the arm and led him to the side.

"We lost our oldest daughter in a car accident about a year ago," he said. "Some high school kid, texting on her phone while driving."

I folded my arms. They did not believe, no matter how many times I told them, that Sissy was here.

Or, at least, had been here.

Momma sent me upstairs, and as I left I heard the police talking about evidence they'd found in the landlord's house, and that maybe the family of the previous tenants hadn't been killed by the missing father, who'd never been found.

But I already knew that.

I went into my room and stared at the closet. There weren't any more strange noises late at night from behind its thick wooden door. You could feel the absence of whatever had been living there, and the absence of my sister as well. Though there were times, late at night, when I would get out of bed and lie next to the sill, listening to the faint voice of my sister from the far side, the words too soft and low to understand.

Then years later, as I grew older, not even that.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

When It's No Longer Science Fiction - A Peek Behind The Double Helix - A Guest Post by Jade Kerrion

For the past several years, our attention has been consumed by faltering economies, unstable governments, an epidemic of bullying, and an explosion of social media. In the meantime, largely ignored by mainstream media, the genetic revolution marches on quietly and inexorably.


Let’s test your knowledge of bioengineering. Which of the following is true?

1.  We used genetic engineering to create hybrid creatures, like the goat-sheep, and the camel-llama.
2.    We used genetic engineering to transfer bioluminescent genes from coral and deep-sea jellyfish to create glow-in-the-dark mice, cats, dogs, pigs, and monkeys.
3.    We cloned animals, including sheep, dogs, and horses.
4.    We used genetic engineering to create animals that excrete pharmaceutical products in their milk and other bodily fluids.
5.    We used genetic engineering to preserve endangered species, creating animals that possess the nuclear DNA of the endangered species, and the mitochondrial DNA of the host species … in effect, a genetic hybrid.
6.    We created bug-bots by implanting wires in the central nervous system of insects, and we can now control their movements, including flight.
7.    We created organic robots by implanting wires in the central nervous system of rats, and we can now control what they do.
8.    We wired a monkey to control a third artificial arm entirely through its brain waves.
9.    We genetically engineered rats with pliable skin in order to grow human organs (e.g. ear) under their skin for eventual transplant to a human.
10. We used organic computer chips made out of rat neurons to control a flight simulator.
11. We isolated a brain of a lamprey eel and placed it in a nutrient medium, surrounded by electrodes. The living, intact brain controls a machine that moves toward the light (in much the same way a lamprey eel moves toward the light).
12.We used a DNA synthesizer to create an artificial organic cell. (Isn’t that an oxymoron?) The computer is its parent.

If you answered “Yes” to all of these, you are right. All of these are true. Science fiction is now science fact. Today, we possess an unprecedented control over bioengineering, an area that remains largely unregulated by governments.  Our scientific advances raise many ethical questions, such as “Is it right to control the autonomy of another creature, even if it’s just a rat?” Other more pragmatic questions focus on timing: “When will we start applying directed evolution (i.e. design) to humans?”

 


 
I majored in Biology and Philosophy at the Johns Hopkins University, and the philosophical implications of genetic engineering naturally combined my two interests. I started by asking myself, “What would the world look like to the perfect, lab-created human being?” And then, I wondered, “How would the world change for the people whose genetic templates were used to create the perfect human being?” The Double Helix series sets out to answer both those questions from the point-of-view of Danyael Sabre, an alpha empath whose genetic code was used as the physical template for the perfect human being.

In the world of the Double Helix, directed evolution has become the norm, but is accessible only to those with financial resources. Historical personalities are reincarnated as clones. Genetically optimized in vitros abound, and they tend to succeed at the expense of normal humans who struggle to keep up. Nevertheless, normal humans still form the political majority, and thus, the world of the Double Helix is deeply stratified by genetics, wealth, and politics. Into this already chaotic mix, I added mutants and their dangerous variants of psychic powers, and finally Galahad, the lab-created, perfect human being.

The story explodes into a “highly-enjoyable, brainy guilty pleasure of a novel: a perfect mixture of non-stop action, gripping plot, thought-provoking philosophy, and beautiful visuals.” Set in Earth’s near-contemporary future and frequently compared to X-Men, Heroes, and Alphas, the Double Helix series is highly accessible, even for non-science fiction readers.

I invite you to check out a world that is closer to science fact than science fiction. Welcome to the Double Helix.

About The Author




 

Jade Kerrion unites cutting-edge science and bioethics with fast-paced action in her award-winning Double Helix series. Drawing rave reviews for its originality and vision, and described as “a breakout piece of science fiction,” Perfection Unleashed, and its sequels,Perfect Betrayal and Perfect Weapon, are available in print and e-book through Amazon and other major retailers.

Connect with Jade Kerrion: Blog / Facebook / Twitter
Perfection Unleashed: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords
Perfect Betrayal: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords
Perfect Weapon: Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords

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BACKUP LINKS (if, for some reason, the links above do not transfer through a simple cut and paste)

Social Media Links

Perfection Unleashed

Perfect Betrayal

Perfect Weapon

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Writer's Toolbox: Critique.org

So I'm thinking about a post I recently composed, on my experiences with a Goodreads and LibraryThing giveaway, and wondering why I'm not feeling terribly compelled to post it, at least here (I'd already posted it in a private forum elsewhere).

Then it occurred to me that, if one of the reasons I'm doing this blog is in order to help other independent authors by sharing my personal experiences, publishing said post might be putting the cart before the horse.

So, to borrow a catch phrase from a well-known (and artificially-preserved) female comedian, "Can we talk?".

Here's the situation. The rise of ebooks has resulted in a literal, as well as virtual, tsunami of authors peddling their novels and short story collections, some of them quite good. Others, not so much.

Now, here's the query: How do we determine for ourselves whether or not our work is, to borrow a phrase, ready for prime time? Yes, we know we've written the next addition to the Everyman's Library, but there will always be those heathens bound and determined to obsess over minor and unimportant things like grammar, misspellings, other varied typos, lack of plot continuity, malapropous (Is that a word?) imagery, changing the main character's eye color, last name, gender, etc., midway through the story. . . . (You know how critics like to nitpick every little thing.)

Here's the deal, we writers get so close to our own work that we develop a serious case of myopia concerning its quality. Sure, we can hand over our latest masterpiece to our brother-in-law, hoping to catch him sober for once, for a case of serious (and inebriated) editorial feedback. But is there a better way?

To indulge in a brief moment of sanguine contemplation, one of the greatest positive influences on my storytelling skills was the Unknown Writer's Group. Later renamed Schrodinger's Petshop (after folks started getting published and the old moniker no longer seemed appropriate), we were a kindly little outfit offering restrained and gentle verbal nudges to those of our membership whose soon-to-be-timeless prose might have fallen just shy of the mark.

Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. Actually we fell upon one another's literary offerings like a school of rabid piranha, consuming and then vomiting the torn and shattered remnants in the author's general direction like bulimic wolverines.

But (and this is the key point here) it made us better writers.

Let's face it, a significant percentage of the independently-published work out there could use some serious vetting. There is no shame in this. While there are those writers who exit the womb, pen in hand, scribbling Ode to a Grecian Urn on their mother's now-deflated bellies, it's highly unlikely that we're one of them. Or at the very least, I wasn't (your mileage may vary).

So what are our options?

Good writing groups are about as rare as a bout of camera shyness in a Kardashian, though they do exist. (Good writing groups, that is. The jury's still out on the Kardashians.) If you do not belong to one, but are fortunate enough to live in an area where one exists, go forth and check them out. Yes, they might think a preposition is a concupiscent stance from the Kama Sutra, but you won't know till you give them a try.

And if you do, and they do? Are you then out of options?

Not quite.

There is a web site called Critique.org. Here (from their website) is a description of who and what they are:

Critique.org is for serious authors, artists, and creators in any field who wish to improve their craft — those who seek to gain professional stature within their field or increase it. Critique.org workshops focus on in-depth critiques of your works, a process which helps both the recipient and the reviewer to grow. In addition to depth of analysis, much of critique.org's secret is our emphasis on respectful and diplomatic critiques.

How it works: You get your work critiqued in exchange for critiquing the work of others, both of which are invaluable ways to improve your craft. The workshops are run by the Critter Captain, Dr. Andrew Burt (founder of the world's first Internet service provider and former vice-president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.), along with his army of software minions. We also have forums to discuss your craft and the critiquing process, as well as many other useful and fun resources. Critique.org is free (except for the work of doing critiques!) and funded by donations; if you find the workshop useful, donations are appreciated.

As a participant myself, here is a brief summary of how Critters.org (the sf/f/h branch of the service) works. You sign up and agree to receive submissions of the work of other writers, subsequently composing a written critique of said work, which you then email back. By doing this, you become a member in good standing, which allows you to submit your own work in turn for critiquing. True, some of what one hears from one's fellow critiquers might demand a thick skin, and there is no guarantee that any given critiquer will be spot on in their criticism. But the alternative is to hear what's wrong with your novel/story/whatever from a reviewer after your work has been published. And take it from me, they tend to be less kindly with their remarks.

Below I have included a link to the Critters FAQ. Note, please, that Critique.org is not limited to genre fiction (there are workshops for most everything you can imagine, just go to Critique.org to view them).

Here is the Critters FAQ link: http://critique.org/c/faq.ht#Q4.

And as Dr. Burt is wont to say, Happy Crittering!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Secret Room, Status Report II

Everyone has his or her own method of writing. Some folks set a daily quota. Me? It doesn't quite work that way.

Unless something is screaming into my ear (a grandchild, a political telemarketer, our cat Little Monster gently inquiring why his food dish is empty with the subtle grace of a puma being poked by a sharp stick), there is nothing I would rather do than write. This presumes, however, that my inner author knows what's coming next, even if I don't.

But sometimes he doesn't.

When that happens, forcing the words to come has any number of applicable metaphors, few of which are publishable. Suffice to say that when this happens, there's little point in forcing the issue, sort of like taking a cat out on a leash for a walk. You can do it after a fashion, but the results are unlikely to be pretty for anyone, least of all the cat.

In the past, writing has always been a difficult blend of hope mingled with despair for me, not unlike trying to hammer a nail with the tip of a screwdriver. It can be done, but if not performed both correctly and precisely, some bleeding will almost certainly occur.

I cannot say for certain what changed. I know when it happened, when I began House of Shadows. What I have yet to figure out is why.

But never look a gift horse in the mouth, goes the cliche. (Unless you're a veterinary dentist, in which case it's kind of your job.)

Despite this unfamiliar knowing, there are still times when the editor within (because I'm too poor to afford an editor without) says to me that the tank is low and needs to be topped off. The downside is that this is a self-renewing process which one has but minimal skill or ability to influence. Like a river, it has to run its course. (See? I can produce an ordinary and tired cliche, just like the average political consultant.)

So recently I've been on a (brief) hiatus from my novel while doing all I can to market House of Shadows (since one has to spend one's downtime doing something). It's tempting to force the issue and just take what comes. But since I believe my best work occurs when I allow my subconscious to catch up with the forefront of my brain, and because I want to give my readers nothing less than my best, and since I don't have a publishing house breathing down my neck (other than my wife, who's been asking for book two about two breaths after she finished book one), I can afford to take just a little bit of time.

But only a bit. Because, quite frankly, I'm as anxious as anyone else to see how this whole thing turns out.

With that in mind, here's the current status of The Secret Room. A little over 4000 words, and I'm sitting here at the end of the last scene like a kid in a roller coaster perched atop one of those mile-high tracks, looking down. It's both scary and exhilarating as hell.

To tide folks over, here's a brief bit from our viewpoint character, Abby, just so you know I'm not full of coprolites:

I have few other specific memories of my toddler years, though there is one which remains strong even to this day.

It was a Saturday evening, and our parents had left to go to the VFW Dance. Our grandparents were unavailable, some church function, so Mother had hired a neighborhood teenager as a babysitter. I have never forgotten her. Her name was Barb Evans, and she truly resembled one of those busty blond icons from Mattel, the kind of girl who could walk down the sidewalk of a busy street while wearing a pair of cutoffs and slow traffic to a crawl. I could not have been much more than three, and a storm had come up that evening, accompanied by a wind strong enough to rip the eye screw out of the sill and bang the screen door nonstop against the outside wall. I had curled up with my sister in Dad's recliner while listening to the thunder rumbling overhead in electric blue waves as flashes of lightning rang like church bells. Barb grew more and more nervous, jumping when a particularly loud crash shook the house.

Then the lights went out.

Rachael and I screamed; it took Barb several minutes to calm us down. As soon as she did, she got on the phone which (unlike the lights) was still working.

"Is the power out there too?" I heard her say in a rush. "No? Well then, could you give me a hand with these kids and help bring them over? I can't carry both of them by myself, and I don't want to leave one behind." A pause. "I'll leave a note for their parents, okay?" Another pause. "All right. Please hurry."

She sat on the sofa. We scrambled out of the recliner and huddled next to her. Rain beat down on the roof like an flaming red drumroll and the wind roared like a train overhead. Finally someone started pounding on the front door and Barb flew to answer it.

"I'll take her," Barb said as she came back in, pointing at my sister. "You get the other one."

"I can carry both of them," a male voice replied.

"Not and keep the two of them under your umbrella and dry," Barb said. "Rachael's older, but she's a stick and her sister's still carrying a lot of baby fat, so get her if you would please."

I heard him grunt as he walked in, barely clearing the top of the doorway. He reminded me of Daddy, a broad shouldered man with a thick head of hair hanging down over his forehead. I can't remember his face, though. He reached down and hoisted me up with his left arm, the right holding an umbrella dripping water on the floor. I caught the strong bass note of a familiar scent. Old Spice.

"You go first," he told Barb. "That way if you have any problems getting back, I'll see."

She nodded, Rachael a thin bundle in her arms, the blanket from the couch covering both of their heads. "Let's cut through the Beaumont's back yard. It'll save time."

He nodded as he followed her out the front door.

I remember the rain. It fell in thick grey sheets, pounding on the tin roof of the front porch so loudly it hurt my ears.

The man carrying me looked over my head. "Lights are still on," he said. "Get going, I'm right behind you."

I watched with him as Barb made a sudden dash from the porch steps, running like a deer, her bare feet splashing through the innumerable puddles. "Where the hell are your goddamned shoes?" he yelled after her, then looked down at me. "Oops. Um, sorry."

I made no reply, instead burrowing my head into the hot moist space between his neck and shoulder.

"Don't worry," he said, patting my back with a hand as broad and flat as a frying pan. "I'll keep the umbrella over your head. Just close your eyes, and we'll be there in nothing flat."

He leaped down from the porch into the downpour and had time to take two steps.
 
Then the world exploded.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Secret Room, Sequel to House of Shadows

Okay, I figured that among this blog's multi-purpose uses, sort of like one of those enormous Swiss Army knives which we can never quite recall what that tiny implement on the back side does, but which we are certain one day we will discover its function and subsequently marvel at how in the world we ever lived without it . . .

::ahem:: Uh, sorry.

Having begun the second book in The Breed Wars, The Secret Room, I figured I would post the occasional update here. And considering the level of insanity of this project (which is intended to include twelve novels in the paranormal Breed Wars series, three in the heroic fantasy trilogy which will begin with The Caballa, and at the project's end come to a climax with the singular novel The Misbegotten), it will be completely understood if you pause for a moment to shake your head in bemusement at the obviously insane author before reading further.

One element of storytelling which has always intrigued me has been the multi-layered narrative, where we readers are captivated by an ongoing story which not only satisfies us in the present with the tale's climax, but which lays hints like breadcrumbs that there is a much larger story swelling in the background like an oncoming thunderstorm, teasing with the promise that there is more, much more, to come.

That is where I am now. And I wanted to make a promise to my readers that with each coming novel, which by itself will stand alone, that larger hidden tale will be advanced, and you will always at the story's end come away knowing more than you did at its beginning.

At the moment, I am just under 3000 words into The Secret Room. Here is its beginning, which is included at the end of House of Shadows, and I will continue to post occasional snippets as time slogs along.

Hope you enjoy.

--

The first coffee of the day sits like hot mercury in my stomach long after I leave The Warming Hut, my head down, my shoulders hunched. It's cold. Or perhaps I should say colder than usual for San Francisco during this time of year.

A stiff wind blows my way from the nearby shoreline as I navigate the length of the Promenade. It whips my skirt against my bare thighs, a familiar sting. I keep walking.

In the distance I spy the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, rising from a sea of fog as it leaps across the bay. Its orange vermillion struts stand out in sharp contrast against the cloud it appears to rest on, as though the sky has fallen to earth. I neither stop nor pause.

Shortly thereafter I continue past the parking lot on my way to the east sidewalk. As I do, I look up into the face of Joseph Strauss's statue, posed atop its white circular pedestal as though the somber gentleman has been waiting for me.

Then, suddenly, I hear them again. Footsteps. Still some distance behind me, but just a bit louder, just a little closer.

My name is Marie Abigail St. Claire, and I have fifteen minutes to live.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Writer's Toolbox: A Review of Origins of the Specious

There are any number of useful tools which together make up the writer’s toolbox. Recently I came across one, and wanted to give it due credit.

The book is titled Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language, the authors are Patricia T. O’Conner, a former editor at The New York Times Book Review, and Stewart Kellerman. She has written four books on writing other than the above, tomes which I plan soon to add to the room I use upstairs for a book repository (as ‘library’ seems far too sophisticated a term for that multi-purpose junk room).

The essence of this particular book is to confront and vanquish the urban legends surrounding the English language. For example, you’d think that English is related to the Romance languages such as French, Spanish and Italian, what with how liberally we’ve borrowed from them. However, this is not true. According to Wikipedia, the Romance languages are: all the related languages derived from Vulgar Latin and forming a subgroup of the Italic languages within the Indo-European language family. Which English is not. Our mother tongue is a Germanic language, specifically West Germanic.

This has, over time, become a problem due to those Latin scholars not content to leave well enough alone, and who have over time fought to convert English into a Latin-derived tongue with the persistence of a Jehovah’s Witness on one’s doorstep. This ‘square peg into a round hole’ determination has resulted in a multitude of neologisms being pushed on us like credit card applications at the local department store.

The book is subdivided into wonderful chapters, such as Stiff Upper Lip: Why Can’t the British Be More Like Us and Grammar Moses: Forget Those Commandments. Grammatical urban legends are assaulted with a two-handed sword and swiftly laid to rest. Clumsy ‘rules’ are kidney-punched with quotes like this one: “It is better to be understood than to be correct.” And phony foreign words are put down for the count, such as the phrase nom de plume, which is supposed to be French for ‘pen name’ or ‘pseudonym’. (It’s not either, the British made it up) .

This little book from Random House (at just over 200 pages sans notes, acknowledgments, etc.) is a marvel, and should be included on the reference shelf of anyone who writes in the English language. You can also visit the Ms. Connor and Mr. Kellerman’s web site and blog at www.grammarphobia.com.