Inspiration: Sunset on Mars

Sunset on Mars

Sunset on Mars, as captured by the Mars Curiosity rover on April 15, 2015.

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Preview: The Good Book

Fateful Bridge

Enjoy this preview of the first chapter of my novelette, The Good Book, available on Amazon in both print and ebook format. It’s the story of a man who he thinks he has nothing left to live for…and a magic book that shows him how wrong he is.


Malcolm Jameson paced methodically through Donahoe Park, a neatly landscaped area about halfway down Mackenzie Hill from where the downtown end of the Hardesty Bridge was anchored. The elevation of the park provided a panoramic view of the entire waterfront and there were park benches placed at strategic lookout points to allow visitors to enjoy the scenery.

Malcolm remembered sitting with Ellen on one of those benches, laughing and joking about the babymoon she wanted to plan. She’d found out she was pregnant, and had wanted the two of them to go on a romantic vacation together, almost like a second honeymoon, before the baby arrived.

He’d said his final good-byes to all of them yesterday, at the cemetery. Three marble gravestones, one larger than the other two, draped with flowers and surrounded by fresh, green grass. He missed Ellen. He missed Susan and Billy. A parent should never outlive his children. It was too damn heartbreaking.

He reached the stairs up to the pedestrian sidewalk that ran along one side of the bridge, a major traffic artery for the city, and started climbing. He was a little winded by the time he reached the top, so he leaned against the railing and rested for a moment, just enjoying the view and the light breeze that ruffled his hair. Behind him, he could hear cars passing by on the main roadbed of the bridge.

A group of six women joggers in pastel sweat suits passed him, gossiping excitedly about mundane things, then a few bicyclists whizzed by. People with stuff to live for.

Malcolm pushed himself away from the railing and strolled up the slight slope of the bridge. It took him about ten minutes to reach the center of the span.

He stopped and leaned against the railing one last time, partly to take in the view and partly to plan how he was going to climb over the barrier. He’d envisioned himself doing a proper swan dive, although he wasn’t sure why that mattered.

He heard chattering voices nearby as a group of four elderly walkers approached him. He wanted to be alone. He didn’t want anybody to be disturbed or horrified, as they might be if they were too close.

He waited for the walkers to pass. There was a bicyclist in yellow and black spandex riding gear coming up behind the women. Once he passed, there was nobody for quite a distance in either direction.

That’s when he’d do it.

The geriatric walkers strode past Malcolm without giving him a second glance. All he needed to do now was wait for the cyclist to pass.

Malcolm was surprised when the biker coasted to stop next to him. The man looked to be in his late twenties, with long brown hair that pushed out from under his peaked, yellow helmet. He got off his bike and put down his kickstand. Then he reached into a small canvas pack that was attached to the back of his bike and pulled out a book.

He stepped over to Malcolm and held the book out to him. “Hey, man. This is for you.”

“What?”

“This book is gonna change your life, dude. I can feel it in my bones.”

Malcolm looked at the paperback that the biker was holding. It had a garishly colored cover that carried the title, “This Book Is Going to Change Your Life.” The author was listed as Seymour Subrosa. The cover was battered and creased, and the corners were a little dog-eared, like it had been passed around a lot.

Malcolm couldn’t help laughing. He couldn’t think of a more incongruous book to hand to somebody who was about to perform a terminal swan dive.

“That’s all right,” Malcolm said, still chuckling a little. “You keep it. I’m not in the market for a book like that.”

“Dude, I’m not leaving until you take the book.” The biker was insistent, gazing fixedly at Malcolm’s face.
His intensity made Malcolm a little uncomfortable. He had no idea why this guy was being so adamant about him accepting the book.

“All right, all right,” he said, intending only to placate the man.

He took the book from the man, who smiled at him, and said, “Live long and prosper.”

Great, a mad trekkie. Just what I needed.

The man got back on his bicycle and peddled away, leaving Malcolm holding the book. He supposed he could just put the book down on the sidewalk and then jump. Somebody would probably pick it up.

The book lover in him chafed a little at the idea. That wasn’t really how you treated a book. Plus, what would happen to the book if nobody picked it up?

He turned the book over in his hands. The back of the book didn’t really say what it was about, except for implying that it was some sort of self-help guide. It featured testimonials from people Malcolm had never heard of. In fact, it was kind of funny, but none of the testimonials seemed to be from anybody famous. On any book he’d ever seen, even if you didn’t recognize who was being quoted, there was usually something like “Author of New York Times bestseller, ‘Blah blah blah.’”

He flipped to the introduction.

The world changes constantly. Every day newspapers and online news sites tell us about new scientific developments, new technologies, new ways of doing business and new social media sites so people can interact in different and supposedly more effective ways. No matter how fast things change, though, there’s still one constant.

People.

You can change the tools and the medium of communication, but we are all still just people. Humans. Homo sapiens. We are all possessed of the same feelings and emotional apparatus that we’ve had, as a species, for the last two hundred thousand years.

Well, that hardly seemed promising. Too much boilerplate scientific-speak, obviously designed to emphasize the importance of the self-help message, which would undoubtedly consist of a bunch of totally non-scientific twaddle. He flipped past a few pages without reading them until he came to the heading, “Who This Book is For.”

This book is for anybody who’s ever felt unsure about their place in the world, or even whether they should stay in it. It’s for people who have felt grief so deeply that they’ve ended up feeling totally disconnected from everyone around them. It’s for people like Malcolm Jameson, who lost his wife and children two years ago today in a senseless vehicle accident with an eighteen-wheeler delivery truck for a national grocery store chain.

What the hell? Malcolm slammed the book shut angrily and looked around wildly for that damned biker.

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Inspiration: Werewolf, Stalking

Werewolf, Stalking

Love this picture of what seems like a werewolf stalking through the woods, which was forwarding to me by Marty Wilsey (though he’s not the artist). It’s brutally simple, probably just a charcoal drawing. But it’s certainly effective. I’d use it as a book cover in a heartbeat, if I had a story that matched the picture.

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Preview: Road Trip

Road Trip

This a preview of my story, Road Trip, which will be published in late December 2018, about a month from now. It’s Chapter 1 of an urban fantasy set in 2003 and featuring a former Marine injured in the war in Afghanistan.


Rocco Fitch spotted the beggar on his regular morning walk to get a latte at Emilio’s Coffee Shop. It wasn’t that seeing a beggar in this corner of Florida was unusual. The area was rife with them thanks to the mild year-round climate, the prevalence of tourists, and the cool breeze that came from the ocean in the evening. No, it was the cardboard sign that the man was holding up as Rocco approached that had caught his attention:

Road For Sale
$10.00
Change Your Life Now!
Any sale is FINAL!!!!!

Rocco limped to a stop in front of the man, shifting most of his weight to his left leg to relieve the strain on his bad leg, which was already aching from the exertion of the walk. So much for the daily exercise my doctors have been recommending.

The beggar was sitting on the sidewalk in the shade of one of Florida’s ubiquitous palm trees with his legs stretched out before him and his back up against the pastel yellow stucco of the coffee shop. Just above the man’s head, a plate glass window allowed Rocco to see into the shop; Emilio was bustling around behind the counter serving a short queue of customers.

The beggar shook the cardboard sign hopefully, drawing Rocco’s attention back to him. The man was broad-shouldered, with black hair and a long bushy beard that hung down to a respectable paunch. He wore a pair of dark gray work trousers, slightly threadbare at the knees, and a plaid shirt. The man’s attire seemed old-fashioned in some indefinable way that Rocco couldn’t put his finger on, and less grungy than most of the beggars and homeless people Rocco had seen.

He’d also never seen a sign quite like this one before. Curiosity piqued, he asked, “You’re selling a road?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why?”

“Don’t want it no more,” the man said with a thick, Southern drawl, looking up at Rocco with penetrating blue eyes.

“Why would anybody want to buy your road?”

“That’s easy. To get places.” He shook his head sadly, as if Rocco’s question had been the most stupid thing he’d heard in a long time. “To see things they ain’t never seen afore. Maybe even for the adventure of it.”

Rocco bristled a bit at the implied disdain in the man’s response. “If it’s such a great road, why don’t you want it anymore?”

The man sighed heavily. “Mister, I done outlived all my friends, all my family, everybody I ever cared about.” He looked away from Rocco, his gaze fixed on the thin slice of blue ocean just visible down the block. “The road…it can’t give me what I want most in the world. My time is past, and I just want it to be over. It’s past time for me to just fade away like everything else.”

“I feel for you, man.” The man was clearly depressed, but Rocco could sympathize with him. His own life was kind of in shambles, as well. “I’ve been there, too. If it’s any consolation, it does get better.”

“Really?”

Rocco shrugged. “Sometimes.”

He started to walk away, then stopped as a he caught a glimpse of a strikingly pretty, dark-haired young lady, perhaps mid-twenties, in a white dress looking at them through the shop’s window. She’d moved out of sight by the time he’d turned back to fully face the window. He saw that the beggar had partially turned as well, as if to see what he’d been looking at.

Pointing at the window, he asked the beggar, “Did you see a lady in a white dress?”

“Yes, sir,” the man said, flashing a grin that revealed a set of perfect white teeth. “Pretty thing. Probably admiring my considerable charms.”

Rocco laughed. “Maybe so.” The man’s answer was pat and humorous, but somehow evasive as well, as if Rocco had caught him in some sort of lie. “Well, good luck with the sale,” he said, turning away to enter the cool interior of the cafe.

A few minutes later, having secured his usual caffeinated fix from Emilio, Rocco made his way between the small tables holding his hot coffee carefully. The lady in the white dress was nowhere to be seen. He navigated around a baby carriage, complete with a sleeping baby in a blue jumper, which belonged to a twenty-something Latina woman. A little girl, perhaps four years old and as cute as could be, sat next to the woman and stared up at his face as he passed.

He took his usual seat near the window, which provided not only a good tourist-watching vantage point, but also had a good view of the cafe’s large-screen television. Emilio, never a sports fan, was showing Law & Order with subtitles but no sound.

As he sat down, he heard the little girl say loudly, “Mama, how come that man’s face is messed up?”

“Shhhh. It’s not polite to say things like that.”

“But I want to know!”

He’d just taken a tentative sip of his coffee when he heard the patter of footsteps coming his way. The little girl stopped next to his table.

“Mama says it’s not po-lite,” the little girl said breathlessly. “But what happened to your face?”

“Maria!” The girl’s mother said loudly, awkwardly getting up to chase her wayward daughter.

Rocco looked at the girl and smiled. Little kids were a hoot. They’d say anything sometimes because they didn’t have the filters that adults had. But they weren’t judgmental, either, which was always refreshing. Unlike his ex-wife.

“Well, I was in the Marines,” he said. “And we were on a training mission. So we parachuted out of this plane and, well, I drifted over this town because of the wind.” He nodded at the girl’s mother as she arrived. “The highest building in town was a really big church, with a really tall steeple. And I landed right on it. Scraped my face down the entire side of that steeple, just this one side, see? Hurt like the dickens, I’ve got to tell you.

“So, if you ever jump out of an airplane, make sure you don’t land on a church steeple, okay?”

“Okay,” Maria said, nodding seriously.

Sure makes a better story than being blown up by a roadside bomb and trapped in a burning, upside-down Hummer.

Stopping beside Maria, her mother said, “I’m so sorry. She’s curious about everything.”

Rocco shrugged. “No worries. She’s a cute kid.” The little girl reminded him of his daughter, Elise, when she was that age. Now she was twelve, living with his ex-wife in Ohio.

The woman smiled and tugged Maria back to their table.

He nursed his latte for a little over an hour, unintentionally caught up in the Law & Order episode that was playing. He wasn’t sure why he was curious about her, but he never did spot the lady in the white dress.

Leaving, Rocco pushed the door open and stepped out into the sunshine, squinting at the brightness as he left the dim interior of Emilio’s. The beggar was still sitting in the same place. Something in his posture, the way he leaned against the building and his tired patience, reminded him of soldiers he’d seen waiting for deployment in crowded airport terminals.

Rocco walked over. “You a veteran?”

“Yeah,” the man said. “Different war, though.” He looked pointedly at Rocco’s right leg and the way that his jeans hung limply around the lower half. “I was lucky, I came out unscathed.”

“First Gulf War?”

“No. Further back. I’m a little older than I look.”

Rocco gave him a measuring glance. He didn’t look old enough for Vietnam, but then again, maybe he was.
Acting on impulse, he reached into his pocket and pulled out about a dollar’s worth of change. Holding it out to the man, he said, “Well, I don’t need a road, but I can spare some change to help out a fellow veteran.”

The man shook his head. “Sir, I thank you, but I got money. It’s this road that I need to sell, afore I can do anything else.”

“Well, I don’t have ten bucks.”

“What do you have?”

Rocco fished some more loose change out of his pocket, then counted it all. He added two dollar bills from his wallet and held it all out to the man.

He wasn’t even sure why he was doing this, but he said, “Here’s three dollars and thirty-seven cents. It’s all the money I’ve got left in the world.”

“Sir, I accept your kind offer,” the man said, standing up and taking the money from him. He was a few inches shorter than Rocco’s own rangy six feet. He held out his hand and Rocco shook it automatically. He had a firm, confident grasp. “You are now the proud owner of a road.”

The man started walking away.

“Hey! Where do I find this road?”

The man turned, gave him a lopsided grin and said, “Don’t worry. It will find you.”

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Preview: The Rooftop Game

Lantille, a Semi-Medieval CityThis is a preview of my story, “The Rooftop Game,” about a royal bodyguard who will go to any length to save the life of his charge, the infant Princess Analisa. It’s actually available in two places:

  1. Fantastic Defenders — An anthology of five long stories, including other great authors like Jeff Patterson, Donna Royston, Martin Wilsey and David Tatum. Published in May 2017.

  2. The Rooftop Game — Solo publication of the story, including supplemental material. Published in September 2018.


I. NOW

      In the opening, achieving positional advantage is paramount.

      — Karkomir, Grand Master, from Salasia

Lydio Malik lay on his back on the sloped roof of the Widow’s Tower, the tallest tower of Paksenaral, the ancestral fortress of the Burgundar line. He tried to relax, to take advantage of this brief respite in the fighting and rest his tired, aching muscles. He crossed his hands behind his neck and looked up at the sky. A few puffy white clouds glided gently across the vault of blue, guided inexorably by the autumn winds toward the Cragenrath Mountains, violet and robbed of detail in the distance. The sky seemed so peaceful, so at odds with everything going on below.

Lowering his gaze, Malik saw smoke billowing up from the numerous fires that were consuming Lantille, the wind bending the smoke towards the mountains like a dark and ragged banner. The city’s Gladis Market was a raging inferno; the blocks of wooden merchant stands, livestock holding facilities, and tenements were all burning. There were fires down by the river, as well. The docks, a few ships and a number of nearby warehouses were ablaze. Other ships had cast free, and were fleeing the fires and the fighting.

The most worrisome fires to Malik, though, were the ones on the far periphery of the small city that marked the headquarters, support buildings and barracks of Lantille’s militia. He didn’t think there’d be any help coming from that direction, at least not anytime soon.

In Malik’s estimation, the attack had been a meticulously planned “smash-and-kill” raid utilizing a limited number of Kashmal rebels, probably no more than a few hundred men, and carefully timed to take advantage of King Salzari’s excursion to the north. The enemy’s undetected infiltration into Lantille, and into the fortress, strongly implied insider help. Given the widespread mayhem, he concluded that the effort had almost certainly been supported by at least one combat mage.

If the Kashmal had possessed mages, they’d have used them in the failed rebellion of two years ago. So, the mage represented foreign aid to the rebels. Malik could almost sense unseen forces moving pieces on a chessboard and aligning them against King Salzari, and against Salasia.

He found his fingers toying with the makeshift rope that was his lifeline. The rope was made of strips cut from sheets and tied together. One end of the rope was tied around his waist and the other looped around the spire of the tower. He had a certain amount of play in the rope, so he could move around the circular roof with its rippled, orange tiles, even stand, without having to worry about tumbling nine stories to his death.

Come to think of it, falling was probably the least of his worries.

He could hear the sounds of fighting somewhere in the fortress below, the clashing of swords, a few shouts and screams, and every once in a while, an explosion. The rebels hadn’t taken the fortress yet, but it wouldn’t be long.

When the sounds of fighting were done, he suspected the Queen would be dead. They’d be coming for him next.

Malik sat up and drew his sword out of its sheath. There was a thin strip of cloth tied to the pommel; the other end was tied to his right wrist. He couldn’t afford to drop the sword and have it slide off the roof. There was undoubtedly more edgework in the offing.

Unless an enemy mage turned up and roasted him. Still, you could only plan for the things you could control. If a mage showed up, then the game was over, and that was it.

He eyed his blade critically. It was clearly showing some serious wear. There were numerous nicks in the blade and, although he’d wiped it off, there were still traces of blood around some of the nicks. Well, he didn’t think he was going to live long enough to worry about the blade rusting.

He tested the edge with his thumb. Dull.

It had been sharp earlier this morning.

Malik reached into a pocket, took out a file and began sharpening the blade.

Time was the only thing on Malik’s side. The enemy hadn’t brought enough forces to hold the fortress for any significant time, especially if they wanted to escape the storm that would be coming their way. Even now, any remaining militiamen were probably rallying. Calls were likely going out to nearby towns for armed help. The garrison at Evanscap wasn’t that far away either. If he had to guess, the King was going to hear about this mess by evening. And he had mages.

A soft gurgle came from above him. He raised his head and watched as Princess Analisa, all of seven months old and heir to the throne of Salasia, shifted sleepily in her basket. The royal basket, as he liked to think of it, was suspended above him on the roof, where the slope increased dramatically. Like him, the basket was attached to the spire by a makeshift rope. Additional cloth strips were tied around the princess’ basket to ensure that she didn’t fall out.

It was too bad escape hadn’t been an option. He’d just have to hold out as long as he could.

Lydio Malik, Royal Bodyguard for Princess Analisa, resumed sharpening his sword and waited for the enemy’s next move.

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Inspiration: Titanic Dogs

The Dogs of the Titanic

One of the few existing photos of some of the dogs that were taken aboard the ill-fated Titanic by first-class passengers. The only pets that survived were a couple of small ones that passengers brought onto the lifeboats.

This was also the subject of a presentation that I’ve done, Titanic: The Forgotten Passengers, which is available on this site.

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Need Your Help to Promote “Fantastic Defenders”

I need your help.

My “Fantastic Defenders” anthology, containing five long fantasy stories about heroes defending against mystical threats, has been climbing the ranks at Amazon. As of last night, it was ranked 139 in the Fantasy Anthologies category.

Fantastic Defenders

But WAIT! There’s more. Amazon has discounted the book by 65% for Prime members. The print edition is now $5.63 (or you can buy the ebook).

Help me crack the Top 100 in Fantasy Anthologies!!!! Share this news. Promote the link, if you can.

Thanks!

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Inspiration: Into the Blizzard

Inspiration: Into the Blizzard

What is this pair doing out in the middle of the blizzard? What are they hunting? Or is something hunting them?

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Hardcover Discussions

Breaking news. I’m currently in discussions to do a hardcover of Fantastic Defenders, the anthology that I co-edited with Donna Royston. It’s a fantasy anthology about heroes fighting against fantastical threats.

I’ll have more news as the situation develops.

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Inspiration: Alien Skies

Alien Skies

I envision this as the sky of a Jovian-like alien gas giant, with some lucky observer catching the moment when it’s possible to see down through the many cloud layers into the lower depths of the tumultuous sky.

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