Thursday, December 29, 2016

My 2016 Reading Retrospective

Hey, folks. For those of you who are new here, I take a moment at New Year’s to look back on the best books I’ve read over the course of the year. Not including re-reads, I read 54 books in 2016. Of those, my favorites were:

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – This is one of those believe-the-hype books. I figured out who the murderer was fairly early on, but that was hardly the point. I love books that aren’t afraid to dig into the dark side of human nature, to show ordinary people behaving badly. This book was fierce and unflinchingly honest, delving deep into the female psyche, shining a light onto women’s insecurities and the particular brand of rivalry they tend to spawn.

The House by Christina Lauren – A most unusual horror novel, with a surprisingly affecting teenage romance at its center.   

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis – I was not a fan of American Psycho, neither the book nor the film, but I happened to pick up Less Than Zero on DVD (yes, I’m one of five people left with a Netflix DVD subscription), thinking it was going to be a bit of 80s brat pack Christmas fluff. 

No. No, it was not. The movie intrigued me so much, I immediately went out and got the book. Ellis was only 21 when he wrote it. At first, I thought I was reading a very well-written account of wealthy teenage decadence and ennui, until I got to the devastating final chapters. Much like heroin, it’s a downer, but an addictive one.

Hades by Candice Fox – A top-notch psychological thriller about a pair of siblings who survive a murder attempt and get taken in by the “fixer” who was supposed to dispose of their bodies. What can I say? I’m a sucker for foundlings and dysfunctional families.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire – The first book in a new series called Wayward Children, McGuire asks the very interesting question—what happens to children who return from magical realms? After adventures in places like Wonderland, Oz, Narnia, and Neverland, how do you go back to your boring, normal life with parents and school? The short answer is, you don’t. McGuire introduces a magical school/halfway house for children who have returned from alternate dimensions, forever altered by their experiences. This book has not only the intriguing premise, but a delightful cast of characters. My only complaint was it wasn’t long enough, and the ending felt kind of rushed. But no worries—the next book is due out in 2017.

The Girls by Emma Cline – Another believe-the-hype book. This book is a gorgeously-written fictional telling of the Manson murders, but focuses on the girls and young women who became Manson’s acolytes. Not only does it explore the stifling environment of 1960s suburbia, it also captures, with painful accuracy, what it’s like to be an unremarkable, middle-class white girl on the cusp of womanhood, glimpsing the unremarkable future she seems destined for. It's no wonder she might be tempted to do something extreme. 

The Cipher by Kathe Koja – Koja’s debut novel, which came out in 1991, is one of the most original horror novels I have ever read. Unsurprisingly, it won both a Bram Stoker Award and a Locus Award. It’s the story of Nicholas, a slacker poet with a sarcastic girlfriend, who discovers a mysterious hole in a store room of their apartment building. It’s extreme, terrifying, nauseating, headache-inducing—but, like, in a good way?

The Once and Future King by T.H. White – This is one of those OMG, why did I wait so long to read this? books. To be fair, I kind of OD’ed on Arthurian legends when I was a teenager—between back-to-back Brit Lit classes, AP English Comp, and an independent study in medieval literature (from The Mabinogion to Le Morte d’Arthur) I needed a good ten-year break or so before I picked up anything with knights, round tables, and bitches in lakes again. But The Once and Future King is a delight—funny, human, and with a modern twist (Merlin is basically a time traveler). If you love fantasy, don’t miss it.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker – It would be overly simplistic to say this novel is about the end of the world, but its main conceit is that the Earth’s rotation is slowing down. Presumably, in a matter of years, it will stop completely. Meanwhile, the days are getting longer, gravity has been affected, animals are dying. And of course, people are losing their damn minds. Living in the era of climate change, this book was so painfully realistic, I had to keep reminding myself that I was, in fact, reading fiction.

Endless Love by Scott Spencer – I almost didn’t include this book because, aside from two sex scenes, I really didn’t like it very much. The story is excruciatingly slow, the characterization uneven (by which, I mean a few characters are fleshed out, while the rest are scarcely developed). But, man, those sex scenes. The first is a relatively short scene, but I can’t stop thinking about how well it captures a particular point in a relationship. And the second? The second is just TOTALLY FUCKING BONKERS. It goes on for pages, and the woman is on her period, and by the end, there’s so much blood everywhere, the characters steal the bedding because they’re afraid the hotel staff will think someone was murdered in the room. I just… I can’t help but respect a writer who not only went there, but went there with SUCH GUSTO. 

As I was reading this book, and thinking of how tedious it was, and how unremarkable these characters were who, nonetheless, were capable of such operatic erotic love, I found myself remembering how Stephen King said, “True love, like any other strong and addicting drug, is boring… As with any other strong drug, true first love is really only interesting to those who have become its prisoners.” This book basically exemplifies that statement. 

Thanks for reading. I'm always happy to hear from you, and especially happy to talk books, so please, leave comments below. 

If you like this post, check out my previous retrospectives: 2015, 2014, 2013.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

December Round-Up

I have some good news and some bittersweet news that I wanted to share.

First the bittersweet: Referential Magazine is coming to the end of its six-year run. It's always tough to see literary magazines close up shop, but I know their editorial team will go on to some exciting new creative endeavors. To bid their readers and writers farewell, they have created a Best Of edition, which includes my poem, "Wild Onions." 

The good-good news is, The Order of the Four Sons series are on actual bookshelves in an actual bookstore. It's kinda the ultimate dream of a writer, to see our books in print, nestled amongst all the other great titles of our genre. The bookstore is Eat My Words in Minneapolis, MN. So if you're in the Twin Cities area, stop in and grab yourself a copy! 

I'm talking with some other bookstores to see if they'd be interested in carrying our books, too. I've also heard from some literary magazines, and will have pieces published in the next few months.

Don't forget, we have a book giveaway going on right now. Go here to enter. 

It's been an exciting and rewarding year. I hope yours has been, too. 

Happy Holidays, everybody, and joyous wishes for the New Year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Book IV now in paperback! You know what that means.

The Sacred Heart, The Order of the Four Sons, Book IV is now available in paperback, just in time for the holidays! And snowy Corbenese nights are oh-so appropriate for December reading. Also, I can't stop gushing about Erin Kelso's beautiful cover design:

Book IV has been available as an ebook for a few weeks now. You can purchase it on Amazon or Smashwords (with options for Nook, Apple and other popular formats).

Paperback is available directly from Createspace, or on Amazon.

Read an excerpt here.

To celebrate, we are offering a book giveaway. Enter below to win a free copy of one of our books. The contest starts tomorrow, December 15, and runs through New Year's Day.

Thanks, happy holidays, and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Book IV is here!

The Sacred Heart, The Order of the Four Sons, Book IV is finally here! Every time our cover artist, Erin Kelso, undertakes a new design, I think it can't possibly be more gorgeous than the last one. But then...

I. Can't. Even. 

When my husband, Patrick, saw it, he was all, "You finally put a male character on the cover and it's pretty-boy Leo?" Me: "Well, yeah." (No disrespect meant to JD, Murphy, et al.)

If you were fans of the O4S series before, you know that we took what was originally Book III and divided into two parts, Where Flap the Tatters of the King, and now, The Sacred Heart. 

Book IV is now available as an ebook:

Purchase on Amazon and Smashwords (Smashwords makes ebooks available in a variety of formats, including Nook and Apple.) Eventually, it will be available for download directly from retail sites such as Barnes & Noble and iBooks. We are also working on making it available in paperback for those of you who prefer a more tactile reading experience.

You can read an excerpt of Book IV here

Coyote and I took a break from working on Books V and VI, but we're back to it now. We'll keep you posted on our progress. 

We hope Book IV is enjoyed by new and returning readers alike. As always, we welcome your reviews, comments and feedback.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

11 Questions for Author Angel Ramon Medina

1. Tell us about The Thousand Years War trilogy. What inspired you to write it?

The titles are The Thousand Years War, Framed: The Second Book of the Thousand Years War, and my upcoming novel, Revenge of the Gloobas: The Third Book of the Thousand Years War. As for my inspiration, it was an idea that I had locked away for over 13 years. I grew up loving sci-fi books, TV series and video games. Also, I had an urge to create my own stories to tell, as I always saw myself with a talent for writing. Finally my girlfriend (who I met eight years ago) is a poet, and she inspired me to get back to writing, and to write that series I had locked away all those years.

2. How much of the book is pure fiction and how much is rooted in real events, or even autobiographical?

I have to say at least 85% is pure fiction simply because it takes place in a virtual world and aliens are the adversaries. However, there are a few parts based on real events such as the Dark Ages and the fall of the Roman Empire. Many of the settings are based on real places.

3. Which of your character(s) do you identify with the most?

Honestly, most of my characters are based on people in my life that I still talk to today, or that I grew up with. So I gave them many traits to closely match their personality.

4. Why did you become a writer?

I became a writer because I have a love for the art and enjoy telling stories that no one else could imagine even if they tried. Also, I see so many mediocre TV shows and have read so many mediocre books. I know how to tell a great story. I know in my heart I can write a much better story that is completely original. Believe it or not, I’m a complete book worm and love to read. Finally, it feels good to see my story out for the world to see, to hold a paperback copy of my book.

5. What’s your writing routine like?

My routine is I start around 11am to 12pm, just put on some good rockin’ music, mostly from the 90’s since that’s my decade. Most of the time, you’ll catch me in my room catching the fresh Puerto Rican breeze through my window, or if it’s even cooler outside, I’ll be working outside. When it comes to formatting and preparing to publish my book, I’m mostly in my room which has become my scribe’s office and library.

6. Do you stick to just one genre, or do you write in multiple genres? Why?

I’m mostly a hard sci-fi writer, although I mix paranormal and romance elements within the stories. For the most part, I’m a fiction writer, though I do have a non-fiction book to be written in the future.

7. What’s your favorite medium—novels, short stories, flash fic, etc.? Why?

I like novels and short stories, as they give the author much more leeway to let out their creative juices and it allows for much deeper character development. Also, action scenes can be a lot more descriptive and many twists and turns can be added to the story. More of the author’s personality can be shown in the book, rather than having to be rushed in a much shorter piece of work.

8. What are your favorite books/authors?

There are so many, I can’t say that I have a favorite book or author. I will say that I prefer science fiction, paranormal and crime thrillers.

9. What are you reading right now?

At the current time I’m reading Hunter of the Dead by Stephen Kozeniewski.

10. Are there any emerging authors that you’re excited about?

Yes, there are a couple of them I’m excited about, such as Benjamin Munday, who’s coming out with an eight-novel series, and J.F. Fleming who is a crime-thriller writer.

11. Do you have a work-in-progress you’d like to tell us about?

Actually, I have several of them. I have my third book Revenge of the Gloobas: The Third Book of the Thousand Years War Series, which is available for pre-order right now and it’s due for December 13, 2016. Also, I have The Day After Tomorrow which is my father’s memoir that I and he will be working on together, that will be out next year. Finally, I will be coming out with an Easter egg book revealing secrets of the first book that never made it into the final book. This includes areas never mentioned in the book, but played an important role in the story. There will be a more detailed description of the heroes and aliens, and alternative endings-- not all of them are happy.

Author Bio

If you were looking for a sci-fi writer who is starting out and one that has a lot of heart in what he does, you're in luck. Bear with me and you might find yourself reading one of my novels, which I promise to be fun in their own individual way. The Thousand Years War series is an idea which is a bit complex, one that I have had since middle school. I try to stay out of reality and write books that will entertain people and take them on epic journeys to give people a bit of a reprieve from their rough daily routine. I see writing as an art, and if you give me a chance, I'll break the stereotype that reading is boring. I feel privileged to have this talent of being able to create something out of nothing and am sharing it with everyone. So whether you like to read or are an author like me, don't be afraid to approach me-- authors needing advice, or wanting to give me advice, you are welcomed! I'm a person who loves to create, not watch. I love to create worlds and characters. I have my first novel in the series already done and am on my way to finishing the second one. I look forward to connecting with many of you avid sci-fi readers and writers alike! For the curious, I'm a humble man who lives in Puerto Rico. I also love baseball and to travel around the island of Puerto Rico.

Connect with Angel Ramon Medina
Twitter: @puertorico05971

Links to Purchase

Thousand Years War: Book One  


Framed: The Second Book of the Thousand Years War Series  


Revenge of the Gloobas: The Third Book of the Thousand Years War Series 

Barnes and Noble 

Be sure to check out other guest authors here

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Beyond the Curtain of Reality Review

Beyond the Curtain of Reality book review site recently did a write-up on The Order of the Four Sons, Book I.  

Reviewer Jason Crawford gave it 4.75 stars, calling it, "Enthralling... An excellent, excellent read."  

Big thanks to Mr. Crawford, for the read and the kind words. Coyote and I are over the moon. Check out the full review here.

Books I-III of the The Order of the Four Sons are available now. E-book editions are all just 99 cents. Book IV, The Sacred Heart, is coming soon. I'm hoping to have the cover art to share with you all in the next week or so!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Celebrating Indie Author Success: Linda Appleman Shapiro

I'm always pleased to hear of a fellow indie/small press author's success, and I'm even more pleased to share that one of my previous guest author's has achieved some recognition for her work. 

Two years ago, Linda Appleman Shapiro wrote this guest post to promote her memoir, She's Not Herself, published by Dream of Things. It has since received a great deal of attention from professional book reviewers and the reading public.

Check out what some of the critics are saying about She's Not Herself: 

“An honest and compelling story by a brave and gifted writer.” 

-Wally Lamb, NY Times best-selling author of She’s Come Undone, I Know This Much Is True and many other novels. Winner of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill’s Kenneth Johnson Award for the anti-stigmatization of mental illness. 

“A story that applies to us all – truthful, carefully crafted, and created with a clear-eyed affection.” 

-David Watts, M.D., poet, writer, musician, NPR commentator  

“We identify with the author’s sense of alienation from the first chapter and agonize with her longing for a normal life. SHE’S NOT HERSELF is a revelatory account of someone who grew up with a mentally ill parent and grew up to become an effective, loving mother and a successful professional healer.” 

-Barbara Bamburger ScottUS Review of Books 

“I loved going through the journey of Linda’s life with her throughout the memoir not just because of how easy it was to follow along, but how vivid her memories were. She has such a way with words and storytelling. She hooked me from the very first sentence and let me go reluctantly at the end.” 

-S. DavisWe Said It: Literary Reviews, McWood Publishing  

“...a well-crafted and fluid narrative. Good description and dialogue, and enough detail to suffice, but not overburden... maintains reader interest throughout. Will certainly resonate with those affected by a family member’s mental illness. However, it also speaks to a wider readership because, at the heart of the story resides the resilience of the human spirit.” 

-Diana Irvine, San Fransisco Book Review  

“A riveting tale wrapped in elegant prose... full of hope and perseverance.” 

-Peggy Sanders, retired journalist, award-winning author

Congratulations, Linda, and best wishes for continued success!

Don't forget to grab your own copy of She's Not Herself

Twitter hashtag: #SNHerselfShapiro

Connect with Linda

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Building a Sand Mandala

Photo credit: Taylor Clark Johnson, YouTube
Around this time last year, Coyote and I found ourselves spinning our wheels where O4S is concerned. It's very frustrating-- we're in the homestretch! Books V-VI, that's all we have to do, and the series is done. And it’s not that we don’t know how to end it—we do. We’ve plotted the end from the beginning. It’s just the words. They weren’t flowin’.

It’s not surprising, really. Last year, we went through the whirlwind of signing with a publisher, which was short-lived but very stressful. By the time we finished Books III-IV, (ye gods, THREE YEARS AGO now!), I had been through the grinder-- school, taking care of my ill spouse, my own health problems, finances, career upheaval. Now, Coyote is going through a similar grinder—school, health problems, taking care of an ill parent, etc.

I also think one of the reasons we’ve had such a hard time finishing off the series is because—well, do we really want it to end? Of course we don’t. Also, Corbenic, the world of Books III-IV, is our favorite place. How do we move on from that? I’m sure that someday we will, but it’s hard, Ringo. It’s real hard.

And then (speaking for myself on this), I spent several years producing a lot of work. In five years, I not only co-authored Books I-IV of the O4S series, but churned out a novel, a novella, two children’s books, short stories, poems, book reviews, blog posts, and a lot of marketing materials. Burnout was inevitable.

The Oatmeal brilliantly and succinctly captures how the creative process is like breathing—you can’t breathe out constantly. I knew this. Like Matthew Inman, I read a lot. I take long walks. I try to get out and meet new people. I attend art events. I watch movies. All of this replenishes my creative well. But none of these old standbys seemed to be working. 

So we knew WHY we were spinning our wheels. The question was—what to do about it? We tried taking a few breaks—three weeks here, a month there. We wanted to write. But maybe, for our creative health, we should refrain.

That didn’t help, either. Again, I can’t speak for Coyote here, but I know I wasn’t writing anything. No poems. No short stories. Nada. I was tapped out. I needed to find new subjects. I also found myself contemplating who I was as a writer—writing, in a way, is the longest relationship I have ever had. It had always been there for me. It had always been a way to escape—painful childhood stuff, health problems, money problems, bad jobs. But one day, I woke up and found that I didn’t really have those problems anymore. I didn't have anything I needed to escape from. I didn’t NEED writing the way I once did.

It’s not you, writing. It’s me. I have to figure out who I am now. Once I know who that is, I can figure out whether or not we can be together.

Well, I’ve decided that yes, I am still a writer, and yes, writing and I are happily back together. How?

We had a second honeymoon, writing and I. We built a sand mandala, Coyote and I. Those are some majorly mixed metaphors, but bear with me here.

At one point, while Coyote and I were working on Books III-IV, we started playing with what we call Alternate Timelines. It started innocuously enough. In a sense, all writers do it—working out plot points is like standing at a crossroads. You look down each road as far as you can, trying to see if it leads you to where you want to go. Some routes look tempting, but for some reason or other, you reject them. 

Sometimes, those rejected routes stay with you. Sometimes, your mind even coughs up a whole detour, an off-ramp, a total departure from the original journey. 

For us, this happened one day, when Coyote asked me, “What if Alyssa had been born in Corbenic?” The concept fascinated me. And just like that, the first Alternate Timeline was born. We wrote up an outline and have almost 90 pages exploring that idea. 

But that was only the first. We have four other Alternate Timelines, exploring different “What Ifs.” Basically, we’re writing our own fanfic. (I suppose I picked a good time to bring this up, what with the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child fervor.)  

Last February, I thought of a fifth timeline. I wondered what would have happened if Alyssa had wandered into Corbenic during the reign of King James, Leo’s grandfather. Seven months later, we have 125,000 words. That’s almost 500 pages. I’d say the story is a little more than half finished, but it’s really astonishing how quickly it’s grown. 

And you know what? It’s been a blast, it’s been a work-out, it's been a learning experience, and I feel 100% satisfied. Coyote’s and my partnership feels like it’s back in sync. My creative juices have been primed and I’m back to working on other stuff—poems, mostly, and some other projects as well, but it’s too early to talk about them yet.

As we’ve been writing this, the practical part of my brain keeps going, “What are you DOING? You can’t publish this—at least, not anytime soon. What's the point?”

But the pointlessness kinda IS the point, know what I mean, jellybean? This is what I mean by second honeymoon stuff—on one hand, it’s been sheer indulgence, but on the other, it’s allowed writing and me to get re-acquainted. It reminded me that this is why I write in the first place—to amuse myself. To have a good time. If you enjoy something, it should never be considered a waste of time. 

It’s also been a surprisingly spiritual endeavor. We’re building a sand mandala—a rather large artistic undertaking that will ultimately be dismantled. It’s an exercise in impermanence. (We are, after all, dust motes, are we not?) Even if we had written something that could be published, even if it was something that sold millions of copies, our work will eventually be forgotten, swept away by time. That reality becomes very stark when you write something you KNOW no one but you will ever care about.

So it’s up to us to find our own worth, to follow our own paths, regardless of how others may see it.

When we finish, I think, we’ll be ready to go back to the main storyline. Thanks to those of you who've stuck it out with us.

As always, I'd love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave comments/questions below. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Buddhas on Death Row

 Company by Moyo, 2015

For a little over a year now, I have been writing to two prison pen pals, one of whom is on death row. He has been incarcerated since age 18, which means he has spent his entire adult life behind bars (he just turned 35). Most of that time has been in solitary confinement. During that time, he has discovered the love of reading, art, Buddhism, poetry and yoga.

Besides me, he has several other pen pals he corresponds with around the world, one of whom orchestrated this extraordinary show, Buddhas on Death Row, in Helsinki, Finland. For this show, my pen pal has adopted the brush name, Moyo, (Swahili for heart/spirit).  

In his latest letter, Moyo wrote to let me know the exhibit had launched. He called it “…our labor of love. Our as in you. Thank you, thank you.” I only contributed in tiny ways, (helping Moyo secure art supplies, mostly, and of course, moral support) but all the same, I feel immensely honored to have been a part of its realization. I hope the exhibit sheds some light on the issues regarding corporal punishment in general and the cruel and unusual punishment of solitary confinement in particular.

As for the art—well, see for yourself:

Moyo’s Buddhas are the first art pieces I’d seen by him. His art is made from a lot of scavenged materials (in prison, improvisation is just a part of survival-- some of the letters he's sent me are written on brown paper lunch bags). His repeated use of the subject never feels repetitive; he seems to always bring a new perspective to that holy visage, even as he employs new color, texture and media. But I find myself particularly moved by his drawings of solitary confinement. Distortion is the reigning sensation in a place where time loses all meaning, and a person is sucked into an existential nightmare where they just might be the lone survivor shipwrecked on a 54-square foot island, surrounded by walls, but bereft of human contact.

Also, do be sure to read Moyo’s thoughts regarding his work and his experience. If you take away nothing else, I hope you remember these words: 

I don’t expect to ever be let out of solitary confinement alive.

I could die next year, I could die this year. I don’t sense an overwhelming anxiety about this.

What I am most concerned with is spending my time in worthy ways. What bothers me is that I am a waste to others while here. In the movie The Matrix, humans still served some purpose. They were fuel! Here, my purpose is none.

Stick me in front of a camera and let me talk to some at-risk kids. Teach me to knit so I can make some blankets for the homeless. Let me donate some blood or some organs!

I am a healthy male. When I am executed, I won’t be able to donate any of my organs because at that point they will be ruined by the chemicals that the state goes to all sorts of lengths to acquire to kill me and others.

So my protests are my donated organs. My speaking out are my donated organs. My art is my donated organs.


The show runs through Aug. 28.


From the art show website:

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT is the practice of isolating prisoners in small closed cells for periods of time that range from days to decades.

It is a pressing human rights issue in the United States, where 80,000–100,000 people are held in isolation on any given day. Most death row prisoners are held in solitary, with little human contact or interaction; reduced or no natural light; and severe constraints on visitation, including never being able to touch their family or friends.

Solitary confinement causes devastating effects to the mind and the body. These include intense anxiety and severe depression, paranoia and hallucinations, rage and violent fantasies, self-mutilation, nightmares and insomnia, heart palpitations and lower levels of brain function.
Few prison systems use the term “solitary confinement” and refer instead to “segregation” or “restrictive housing”. Those enduring these conditions call it a living death.

In 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment called on UN member nations to ban nearly all uses of solitary confinement in prisons, warning that it amounts to torture.

To learn more, visit: 

To take a closer look at solitary confinement, visit The Guardian’s 6x9: A Virtual Experience of Solitary Confinement

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Book III Soundtrack

Here's something I haven't done for a while-- shared an O4S playlist. The following are songs that I listened to while working on Where Flap the Tatters of the King, The Order of the Four Sons, Book III.

Originally written as a single, long book, we have now broken it into two volumes. We are preparing Book IV, The Sacred Heart, for release this fall. (Check out the excerpt here.)

As I mentioned in a previous post, Coyote and I have taken a break from the main O4S storyline and working on a side project about Corbenic, which is the setting for Books III and IV. One of the reasons I think it's been so hard to finish Books V and VI is because it's so hard for us to say goodbye to Corbenic. It's our favorite place.

While you're waiting so patiently, you can at least share my creative headspace, in which music is so indispensable. As always, SPOILERS AHEAD. 

1. The Road to the Capital - Violet Hill, Coldplay

"There was snow
White snow..."

A song about winter and war. The entire planet of Corbenic has been plunged into an endless winter while the King is imprisoned, which means the team has a long trek through snow and ice to get to the capital. As Murphy observed, the characters were "just in a goddamn desert." From scorching heat to freezing cold-- we're not nice to these people. Fortunately, they're all from the Midwest, so they're used to extremes.

2. The Witches - Four Women, Nina Simone

One of the team's early stops is at a house where four women hide from the rest of the Corbenese society-- if they did not, they could face execution simply for being what they are in a world that forbids women from practicing magic.

A song about four very different women, with different backgrounds, who nevertheless share the pain of persecution. The witches consist of a woman who was born to a noble family, a servant, a seer and a prostitute, who have managed to come together to form a tight family unit.

3. The Toy Makers - My First Child, Nil Lara

"You're my first child
I'll lose you someday..."

Another one of the team's pit stops-- Daedalus' Toys, manned entirely by women workers. Like the witches, these women must hide from society because they have escaped cruel husbands, masters and pimps. Some of them are lesbians, which, like witchcraft, carries a death sentence. There are some little girls at the house, but no boys. As one of the women notes, "To steal a Corbenese man's son? That is suicide." If a woman comes to the house pregnant and gives birth to a boy, he is killed. So there's something especially poignant about women who had to either leave their children behind or kill them outright for their own survival, then turn to toy-making to earn a living.

4. The Fox Boys - Portions for Foxes, Rilo Kiley

Alyssa is the pretty young thing in front of the Bassarides boys, and almost becomes a portion for foxes. Much to her chagrin.

5. Voice Like an Angel - The Ballad of Jesse James, The Ramblin' Riversiders

We could hardly pass an opportunity for a Jesse James reference, especially since our heroes are only a few shades away from being outlaws themselves.

6. Four Mothers - Marble Halls, Enya

"I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls..."

A white castle by the sea, a handsome prince, and magic-- Four Mothers, the imperial palace of Corbenic, is definitely a dream.

7. The Ball - Galapagos, Smashing Pumpkins

This song always felt like a waltz to me, perfect for Alyssa's first dance with the Prince.

8. The Market - Mystic's Dream, Loreena McKennitt

I think it's mostly the opening note of this song, which sounds like a boat horn, that inspired me so much for this scene. I listened to this song on repeat I don't know how many times as we worked on Leo and Christophe sailing the team across the bay to tour the capital city, and all the attendant shenanigans and mishaps.

9. The Red Garters - Rebel Girl, Bikini Kill

A feminist anthem was in order for Corbenic's proto-feminists and suffragettes. Lady Susan Lamprise is the queen of our world.

10. Murphy's Healing - The Merry Old Land of Oz

"Rub rub here
Rub rub there
Whether you're tin or bronze
That's how we keep you in repair
In the merry old land of Oz."

After two and a half books of gimping his way along, we cut Murphy a break. With the help of magical Corbenese medicine, he is relieved of the health problems that have been plaguing him since a vampire attack years ago. Also, the Corbenese capital is totally the Emerald City-- right down to those green glasses, which I totally want a pair.

11. The Blue Lotus - Glory Box, Portishead

One of the most popular brothels in the capital-- and thereby, the Corbenese empire. A song about a woman being tired of being coveted for her body and not her heart.

12. Lady Susan - Black-Eyed Susan, Laura Veirs

"Flower like you in a desert this cruel
My, my, you're a rare, rare find."

See what I said above about how we *heart* the tenacious, tough-as-nails, yet big-hearted Lady L.

13. Alyssa and Leopold - Lover I Don't Have to Love, Bright Eyes

"Your tongue in my mouth
Trying to keep the words from coming out
You didn't care to know
Who else may have been you before
I want a lover I don't have to love
I want a girl who's too sad to give a fuck."

What can I say about Al and Leo? They fall for each other hard and fast, but Al's got this eensy little problem with communication. And commitment. And intimacy. Good thing Leo's a patient fellow. Also, he has a Christophe to rely on for sensible relationship advice.

14. Downstairs - Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd

JD plays guitar for the staff at Four Mothers. Remember that guitar pick keychain he had back on the day he met his wife? We planted that as a little clue that the Colonel knows his way around the ol' gee-tar strings. Of course, he would be, in the immortal words of Eric Foreman, a "good, clean, Lynyrd Skynyrd-lovin' American."

But I still love Bill's comment, "And not a goddamn one of us from Alabama."

So there you have it, folks-- the songs I listened to when working on Book III. I'll post a Book IV playlist sometime after we release it this fall.

If you like, here are the previous O4S playlists:

Book I
Book II, 1 of 2
Book II, 2 of 2 

Thanks for reading, and as always, let me know what you think in the comments.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Sacred Heart Excerpt

Hey, folks. Just a quick update: The Order of the Four Sons, Book IV is scheduled to release this fall. For those of you who are new to the O4S verse, we'd originally released Book III as one enormous book. We have since decided to break it into two volumes, Where Flap the Tatters of the King and The Sacred Heart.

Coyote and I have been working on the final volumes of the series-- we had originally planned it as one book as well, but we've since decided the story would be better served if we break it up, too. So instead of a four-book series, O4S will now be six books.

Unfortunately, I don't have an estimated release date for Books V and VI. We're not as far along on them as we'd like to be. In fact, we've decided to take a bit of a hiatus. Since April, we've been working on a side project that's pure, dumb fun for us. I don't know if the side project will ever evolve into something publishable, but we're having a good time doing it, and I think it's been very good for us, individually and as a team. So when we do come back to the main O4S storyline, we should be nice and refreshed, creatively speaking. I hope we can do justice to the end of this series that we (and, presumably, you) care so much about.

In the meantime, here's an excerpt for The Sacred Heart (Book IV), to wet your whistle. It features my favorite bad boy (and by "favorite," I mean the one that gives me the most nightmares).


Jack the Ripper by Kansas City horror photographer Joshua Hoffine

Excerpt from The Sacred Heart

For almost two hundred Corbenese years, Jack had haunted the Crescent. The Crescent was his paradise. The smell of desperation and the painted smiles. The empty people trading in their empty pleasures. He walked among them, unseen, in a place where people made it a point to never see anything. Yet, this is where all the masks come off. There was no pretension here. No illusions. No hope. And into this Boschian landscape she came, an angel in a bustier and borrowed heels, trying and failing to hide her celestial radiance.
Every night, she came, and every night, he admired her from afar. How practiced was her fear, how convincing her timidity—every reluctant step, every shaking intake of breath, every flight from her would-be attackers. Other streetwalkers, johns, pimps, rapists—all of them looked at her and saw prey, practically licking their chops at the prospect of such a juicy little morsel. In fact, she was attracting more attention than a normal streetwalker would simply because, on some deep, instinctive level, the natives seemed to sense how much more alive she was than they would ever be. They sought her out, desiring to avail themselves of a little of her precious light, if only for a short while. Sometimes she would let them get near, even put their hands on her. But try as they might, they could never possess her.
She was not for them.
Jack was able to see what the denizens of the Crescent could not– that quick little graceful move she did when she decided that she would not, in fact, be touched. When men tried to grab her, she dodged and ran. None of them had any idea, as they pawed at her and spit and groped, that she gave them back their lives as she carried on. If she had wanted to paint the entire Crescent crimson with their unworthy blood, she had but to will it to be so.
But she spared them. All of them.
Because it was him that she sought. There came the point, all too soon, that he could not stay away. And as he drew near, he witnessed the various responses she’d had to things—the typical goings-on in a place such as this, the thefts, the assaults, the rapes, the general mayhem. He savored her shock and revulsion, written clearly in the set of her shoulders, in the tension that thrummed in her being as the urge to intervene nearly overwhelmed her, the desire to smite the wicked and avenge the weak. But she held herself in check, restraining herself for him.
That she went to such lengths on his behalf. He was truly touched. How much longer could he deny her? He felt almost selfish, drawing out these long nights.
And then tonight, when she appeared, he sensed immediately that something had changed.
She had been luminous before, but something had stoked her to the intensity of a small sun. She was so bright now, he could still see her when he closed his eyes, an ethereal afterimage imprinted on his lids, as if viewing her through a gossamer scrim, beckoning, dreamlike.
No more waiting now. The moment he had been waiting for had arrived.

* * *

It was very late when Alyssa turned down a side street. It was so narrow, there was no way it could accommodate carriages—only foot traffic. Maybe a horse and rider if it wasn’t too crowded.
Right now, it was empty. Normally, the Crescent was full of indigents, drunks and all manner of unsavories, even at this hour. But not tonight. Between the subzero temperatures, the murders and Moreau, the streets were utterly deserted. She wondered where they’d all gone, with the charity wing shut down at Four Mothers.
Once, she stopped and turned suddenly, thinking she’d heard footsteps. But there was nothing. Only the wind-swept cobblestones, the flickering shadows cast by the green streetlamps. Be cool, she thought. You’re psyching yourself out.
Tightening her cloak around her shoulders, she kept walking. Some of her hair had come loose from its updo and as the wind whispered strands of it off her neck, she shivered.
Huddling in a doorway, she tried to light a cigarette. Her lighter was out of fluid. Perfect. Just perfect. Might as well pack it in for the night.
She was still fiddling vainly with the lighter when a flame appeared out of nowhere. She jumped, nearly dropping both the empty Zippo and her cigarette in the snow.
The man holding the lighter smiled. “Permit me.”
She stared at him. The man before her was well-dressed and handsome in an unassuming way. She’d been surprised before, but man, was she off her game tonight. This guy had managed to sneak up on her—this guy. The whole Moreau thing had her more on edge than she’d realized.
After a moment’s hesitation, she touched her cigarette to the flame. “Thanks,” she said after she took a puff. “Four birds.”
“It’s terribly bitter out.” Pocketing the silver lighter, the man looked her up and down. His gaze was not intrusive, just matter-of-fact. “If you’ll forgive my saying so, you’re not dressed for such abominable weather.”
“Why, you wanna take me home? ‘Cause that’s extra.”
The man chuckled. “That’s not what I’m looking for.”
She exhaled a plume of smoke. “What are you looking for?”
“What I am looking for, mademoiselle, is a different diversion entirely. But I assure you, if anyone could change my mind, it would be you. A lady of your beauty does not belong here. It is not safe. You know, a man had his purse stolen on this very corner not two nights ago.”
Alyssa laughed. “Yeah, well. We both know why I’m out here. How ‘bout you?”
“Just on my way home,” he nodded vaguely northward.
“And you decided to stop and chat?”
“I was distracted. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Now what about this whole ghastly business with Lord Moreau?” the man said conversationally, leaning on his walking stick. “Do you think he really did it?”
“From what I hear, the guy was an asshole, but not a murderer.”
“My word! And here I thought only Lord Ecarteur spoke in such a fashion!”
“I ain’t in the daintiest of professions, monsieur. Look, you sure you don’t wanna buy?”
“I will confess to being tempted,” he drew a bit closer to her, eyes gleaming. “You’re foreign, aren’t you?”
“Gee. What gave me away?”
“You have an accent.”
“Yes. I am foreign.”
“Ah, I can always tell.”
Alyssa shook her head. “You Corbenese always say that.”
The man laughed again, genuinely delighted. He had a pleasant laugh, a pleasant voice. “But where are you from?”
“You’ve probably never heard of it.”
“I like to think of myself as well-traveled.”
Alyssa gave him a small smile. “Missouri.”
“I confess, I know of no world by that name.”
“Told ya.”
“So you did.” He pointed to her cigarette. “May I . . .?”
She tapped ash from the end. “It’s not leaf.”
“That’s all right.”
She passed him the cigarette and he took a drag. “Yes, distinctly not leaf.” Still holding the cigarette, he exhaled, looking up thoughtfully, “Missouri. What kinds of lands do they have there? Is it like Corbenic, I wonder?”
“Well, there’s good beef. Otherwise, not really.”
He examined the smudge of her lipstick on the end of the cigarette. “Such a pity.”
“Not every place can be Corbenic.”
“No, of course not. But when you say the name of your home world, it does call to mind certain images: long rolling hills, vast mysterious caverns, powerful rivers . . .”
Alyssa’s eyes narrowed. She plucked the cigarette out of his fingers. “Thought you said you’d never heard of it.”
“No, but there is something about you, mademoiselle. It speaks of mountains and flooding plains. You are a creature of water and fire. Small wonder that you ultimately found yourself here.”
“Are you a seer?”
Merrily, he laughed. “Hardly!”
“So, what’s your deal?”
If it was possible, he grew even more amused. “My ‘deal’?”
“Yeah, I sense I’m not the only one on this street corner trying to sell something. And, like you, I ain’t buyin’.”
“Forgive me, mademoiselle,” he said, sobering. “I did not mean to offend.”
“I’m not offended. Should I be?”
“I hope not. I would never dream of offering insult to a beautiful woman.”
“Uh-huh.” Dropping the cigarette, she crushed it out underfoot. “Well, smoke break’s over. Back to work with me.”
“Of course. I would not wish to detain you.”
Turning, she started back towards the main road. “Good night.”
He tipped his hat. “Good night . . . Sir Calderon.”
At that, Alyssa spun back around, but he was already gone. There was only one way he could’ve left so quickly. “Wait—” She dashed around the corner after him. The corner led into a blind alley. Someone was lying on the ground.
Alyssa gasped. It was a woman, a streetwalker. There was blood everywhere, too much blood. The wound was unimaginable. The woman had been opened from throat to pubic bone, her insides spilling out onto the pavement, steam still curling off them. The smell. So much blood, and something on the ground nearby—what was it? Minutes ago, this had been a living, breathing woman. She’d been killed just minutes ago. The thing on the ground was a segment of pomegranate, ruby seeds scattered over the ground, almost indistinguishable from the droplets of blood. 
And Alyssa hadn’t sensed it—any of it. She stumbled back a few steps, chest heaving, her eyes still registering every detail of the grisly scene.