A Little News

A Little News

I got an invitation to an interview from a local author/blogger. I’m participating in the B-Fest, Barnes & Noble Teen Week event. I’ll be in the Spokane Valley Saturday at the Barnes & Noble there. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by. Mostly, this is for teens, and I hope we get a lot of them in for this. Sounds like a lot of fun.

Anyway, Rachael Ritchey, author of the Chronicles of the Twelve Realms, a clean YA fantasy series, posted a profile and an interview.

 

Keep writing.

 

Faith

Faith

“Faith, I can move the mountain” — Hillsong

One reviewer of Sudden Mission commented on how young the protagonists were and how ready they were to take on the tasks and challenges. The reviewer was skeptical.

I don’t usually respond to a reviewer, other than to thank them. And, really, I’m not responding to or criticizing the reviewer here. The comments just got me thinking, and George Michael’s hit song lyrics started playing in my head. I didn’t quote those for my own reasons, but I’ve often told reading audiences that Sudden Mission is about faith.

Yes, there is spiritual warfare, action and adventure, a dash of science fiction and fantasy, an angel, aliens, zombies, and other things in Sudden Mission. And, yes, the characters are young. But fourteen isn’t too young to have strong faith, or to face difficult trials.

I struggled with character age when I started planning the book. Older teens would have required more difficult, grittier challenges. Younger protagonists, in this setting, would have been just too weird. I remember being fourteen. It just seemed a good fit. A fourteen-year-old, with strong faith, strong family and community, and good friends, just seemed right. Some of that is foreign to me, so I had to do some exploration.

Keep in mind, this isn’t a Christian conversion story. Granted, the characters grew and changed, but they were already believers and faithful. Faith gets tested in several places and the characters come close to failing. Paul, the main character, is constantly challenged.

“I can’t. I have a mission.” Paul felt frustration and discomfort. He was sleepy and wanted nothing more than to just curl up and sleep.

“Are you certain?” The coyote sat on his haunches and his tongue lolled out of his open mouth. “What? Did you dream of an angel coming to you with a message? You don’t really believe you are on a mission from God, do you?”

Bound to a compelling mission and his family held hostage, Paul struggles. His friends, Amy and Joe, act to support him. Paul, in return, supports them when their spirits flag.

“I wish one of us could drive,” Amy said. She wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her chin on her knees. “How about bicycles?”

“Yeah, lets see,” Paul said opening the map. “We have more than eighteen hundred miles left to go. I don’t think I’m up for trying to do that on a bicycle.”

“We still have eighteen hundred miles?” Joe said.

“Yep,” Paul said. “Still, we’ve gone more than five hundred miles just on our good looks.”

Amy laughed. Joe looked disgusted.

At that age, faith is a tough thing to keep. So the three amigos boost each other and help move the story along, even through tragedy.

I might have made one character a foil instead of a friend, and I thought about that in the beginning. But at the age chosen, a foil could have ended the mission too early and too easily. The story had enough conflict and struggle as it was.

The struggle and character development stayed in Paul’s point of view (PoV). Some reviewers commented on Amy and Joe’s limited development as a result. I did experiment in early drafts with bouncing around PoVs and it was a mess. I stuck with Paul. I tried to stay honest about that, though. Paul, in Sudden Mission, is fourteen. A fourteen-year-old boy isn’t necessarily insightful about others or himself, and the internal monologue is more simple and direct.

This is important, as Paul matures and we see things again through his eyes in Nasty Leftovers. Then, in the third novel, we’ll see things from Amy’s point of view and she has a more robust internal monologue. Honest. I read some romance to see how it was done. I think I have it, now.

So, okay. Ya gotta have faith.

Keep writing.

(Note: This is outside of my usual, arbitrary Tuesday posting day. I may have another short post next week, or wait until the next Tuesday. Life is pretty full right now.)

 

Nasty Leftovers

Nasty Leftovers

The sequel to Sudden Mission, Nasty Leftovers, is “edit complete.” It is off to the proofreader and on its way to publication. The planned release date is later in March. I will post the firm date when we get it.

Nasty Leftovers is no longer a working title, so we’re going with it. The story follows Paul Shannon and Amy Grossman as they go on a mission to clean up Washington, D.C. It gets a bit grittier than Sudden Mission, and Paul and Amy face new and dangerous challenges.

Here is a short excerpt:

“This demon, the one you called your master here, had a very tight hold on you,” Paul said. “We need to know the name of this demon.”

“I guessed you would be back to ask that.”

“So, do you remember the name?” Amy asked.

“Yes,” William said. “Do you really understand what you ask? That name, that is just the beginning.”

“Yes,” Paul said, “we’re prepared.”

“I very much doubt it. He rules here. He has hellhounds, and imps, and he plans to use those hounds to drag you two to hell.”

“Kicking and screaming, I’m sure,” Paul said, smiling at Amy.

“Don’t get cute, Paul,” William pointed his finger at Paul’s chest. “This is serious. Once you and Amy are in hell, my master will possess more and expand his rule on Earth. He plans to earn great favor from Satan for taking you two.”

Things get intense. Nasty Leftovers is part dystopian SF&F, action/adventure, thriller, and spiritual warfare. Of course, there is a strong Christian theme throughout. It is categorized as young adult, but is suitable for most younger readers. The language is clean, but parents may want to preview the content for some younger readers.

If you read Sudden Mission, Nasty Leftovers should flow seamlessly. If you haven’t, Nasty Leftovers stands alone with references to Sudden Mission that provide clarity without giving too much away.

The world–or possible future–I created in Sudden Mission continues to play out in Nasty Leftovers. Thing are getting worse and the prognosis is that it will continue to get worse before it gets better.

In the third installment, which is in the planning stages, the infrastructure finally collapses. The government is still struggling to restore some semblance of order in the Capitol, but its influence doesn’t reach beyond the Beltway. Even the gangs and bandit bands are dwindling as the resources in and around larger cities are used up. Paul and Amy are blessed to be part of a robust, cooperative, Christian community.

That is, until a visitor arrives with horrible news. And, aliens return.

I’m having entirely too much fun.

Keep writing.

 

2016

2016

It is a new year. With it comes new challenges, new opportunities, and new adventures.

Christmas Harley
Happy New Year, 2016!

For me, this year will see the publication of the second novel in the Sudden Mission chronicles of Paul and Amy. I’m really looking forward to getting Nasty Leftovers out to readers. Stay tuned and be prepared for a late March launch from Vox Dei Publishing.

I’m still working on the third novel. So far, it’s an exciting and educational adventure to write. I plan to write it from Amy’s point of view. She’s turned into a powerful young woman and is going to turn things on their head.

I’m planning some library visits, readings, and talks, as well as some other reading/signing events in coffee shops and bookstores. Keep checking back for updates in the Events page. If something is happening in your neighborhood, please come by. Get a book signed, visit, ask questions. You might be surprised at where I’ll show up!

I plan to fill this year with writing, editing, rewriting, more editing, revisions, proofreading–and some motorcycle riding. I look forward to it. I hope you join me on the journey when you can.

Keep writing.

 

The Gift

This is a holiday short story (about 2,500 words) set in the dystopian future of Sudden Mission, and after the sequel, Nasty Leftovers. Just a gift. It portends some events in the third installment (which is a completed first draft, Dec. 2016). But no spoilers. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!

The Gift

Paul Shannon gazed at the small gold ring in the little box as he walked along. He’d found it in the remains of a small store in one of the ruined villages he passed through a few days earlier. There was a nice diamond in the middle of The Gifttwo lines of tiny diamonds surrounding it. It would fit Amy Grossman. He was pretty sure because he put it up to the second knuckle on his little finger. He had tested a little friendship ring she wore on his finger before.

He smiled to himself. The plan was to give it to her for Christmas. I’ll back in time.

Then he smelled wood smoke. That wasn’t unusual, but he was far from the community on a foraging mission into western North Carolina. It was unusual to find other people out this far, especially after a heavy snow and in the deep of winter. He stopped, crouched down among the trees, shoved the small box back in a pocket, and listened. He wore an off-white poncho that covered him and his pack and helped him blend into the snowy terrain. The slight breeze came from the west and it carried the smoke and the smell of cooking meat.

His stomach grumbled and his mouth watered. He’d been out several days living light and eating dried fruit and meats. I hope you don’t give me away, he thought to his stomach.

Quiet as he could, he crept toward the smell of wood smoke. He used his staff to leverage branches aside and help maintain his balance.

The last thing he wanted was to face roving raiders or gangsters from one of the larger cities like Richmond or Columbus. Those weren’t the names the gangsters called them now, but they were the names he knew.

His current mission had him deep into western North Carolina, almost to the mountains. He’d found a few stashes of food and fuel in some small, decaying, abandoned towns and recorded the locations on his map. He was actually planning to turn around and head back today. Until he smelled wood smoke.

The ground rose slightly, then dropped away. Over the top of the rise, Paul saw a wisp of smoke rising from a copse of trees just off an old roadbed. He paused where he could see the area and listened again.

Nothing moved below. He checked his back trail, just in case.

He unslung his pack, pulled out a pair of binocular, and got a better view of the area around the copse of trees. Tracks in the snow came down the road from the west and turned into the trees. A set of tracks went to an old burnt out gas station a few hundred yards northeast.

It looked to Paul like whoever made the tracks to the old station went there and followed their trail back. There was no way Paul could approach the copse directly from his position without being exposed. If he stayed in the woods on his side of the old roadbed and went west, then crossed the roadbed about a ways up, and came back–he could keep to the cover of trees and scrub until he got close to the copse.

He returned the binoculars to the pack, got it slung on his back and moved out.

#

Paul tried not to think of Amy Grossman too much while he made his way to the place he chose to cross the roadbed. Thoughts of her often made their way into his head as he was trying to concentrate and stay alert. He stopped and crouched down a moment. He checked his surroundings and his back trail, then he buried his face in his hands a moment. After a few deep breaths, he prayed.

Father God, please help me keep my focus.

When he looked up, he checked his back trail and surroundings again. Nothing moved. Nothing changed. He quietly moved on.

He knew he was in love with Amy and he knew his emotions ran deep when it came to her. He hadn’t told her how he felt yet, but it was getting pretty obvious. Paul’s mom was always giving him these strange, penetrating looks. And Dad was almost worse. He would just look at Paul, smile, and nod. Paul wasn’t sure he was ready for marriage and family yet. What he did want was to survive this mission and get back to Amy. They could sort things out then.

He was at the place he planned to cross the open roadbed. He took a deep breath and let it out. It came out like steam from a pipe. He looked west and east and the area was clear. He quickly moved across the roadbed and what he saw stopped him at the trail left by whoever was in the copse. Footprints, yes. But there was also a blood trail. Most of it mixed in with the footprints. It was just one small set of prints.

Paul hunted with his father and knew what a blood trail looked like. Someone in that copse could be hurt. He had plenty of first aid materials in his pack because you never knew what you’d come across on these missions. He might be able to help.

He finished crossing the road and turned east when he got into the trees again.

After a few minutes, he could smell the wood smoke again, even up wind. It also carried the smell of cooking meat. His mouth watered, his stomach growled, and he swallowed a few times. When he thought he had his impulses under control, he quietly approached until he could see through the trees to a campsite under the copse.

#

A female dressed in buckskin shirt and pants crouched at the small fire, cooking strips of meat hanging from sticks. She had tied long black hair into a pony tail and that hung down her back. A hide–what looked to Paul like a deer hide– lay stretched out on the snow on the far side. The carcass of the deer hung from a branch of a tree. A shelter made from blue tarp stood on the other side of the camp from the hide and carcass. The female was humming.

The blood trail, Paul realized then, was probably from the deer. Relief washed over him. He scanned the campsite further, but didn’t see a shotgun or rifle. He was about to stand and approach when the person at the fire turned her head.

“You can come over to the fire,” she said and stood, facing toward Paul. “You are welcome here.”

Paul froze in shock. She knew he was there. He slowly stood and walked out of the trees.

“Come over,” she said, waving Paul closer. “Are you hungry?”

She looked attractive to Paul with large, dark eyes, and she looked about his age. He noted the large knife on her left hip. It was about half as long as the sword Paul used to have. Then he saw the bow and quiver against the tree near the hanging carcass.

“I’m Paul,” he said holding out his right hand.

“I’d call you noisy,” the young woman smiled and accepted the handshake. “I’m Lucillle. Call me Lucy.”

“You’re pretty welcoming for someone alone out in this country,” Paul said. He pulled his hood back and brushed at his curly black hair.

“I’m not too afraid of what might be down here. The gangs don’t come out this time of year,” Lucy said. She chewed on a piece of venison. “But, things are getting bad in the mountains. I decided to go east.”

Paul’s stomach growled loudly.

“Here,” she said. She handed Paul a stick with cooked venison. “How long have you been away from home?”

“About a week, ten days,” Paul said, then took a large bite of the meat. He pulled off the poncho and dropped his pack and staff. The tender, juicy meat filled his mouth with wonderful flavors. Paul figured Lucille had some good spices.

She studied Paul for a moment. “Home for you must be around Raleigh?”

“Yeah, just east of there. Raleigh is still kind of a mess, I doubt we’ll move into the city. We have a nice comfortable community.”

Paul bit off more of the meat. Then he dug into his pack and pulled out some of his dried fruit and offered it to her.

“I know it isn’t much,” he said, “but it helps balance against the meat. And it is sweet. Mom dried them.”

Lucy took some of the apricots and smiled. “Thank you,” she said.

“To be honest, I’m getting a little tired of them,” Paul said and laughed.

#

“Life is getting hard in the mountains,” Lucy said later as she and Paul sat in the shelter and sipped on tea. “People go hunting and never come back. There is a group down near Asheville that has been having a running battle with someone or something. Sometimes, you can hear the gunfire up near Boone. I’ve seen some of the Asheville soldiers out in the mountains near Boone a few times. They get into some fight or other, then nothing for weeks. We avoid going into areas where there was fighting. Folks have been leaving little by little. Boone is almost completely empty.”

“We had family in the Boone area,” Paul said. “Mom’s side. One of her cousins and her kids came to us after the Troubles. We haven’t heard much more from Boone since then.”

“Do you take refugees?” Lucy sipped at her tea and looked at Paul over the cup rim.

“Sure. There’s room and plenty of work to do. And we have plenty to eat. No one goes hungry.”

“I’ve heard some places shoot refugees,” Lucy said.

“I’ve heard similar,” Paul said. “We’re not like that, though. We have enough and we have a great system to keep things working.”

“Is it a Christian community?” Lucy asked.

“Yes,” Paul said. “We’re Christian. Not any particular denomination though. Kind of all mixed together. What Elder Franklin calls natural Christians.”

She nodded.

“Lucille, I’m heading back home tomorrow. Do you want to travel together?”

She looked up smiling. “Call me Lucy. Yeah, that would be good.”

#

Paul looked at the little gold ring in the small box as he and Lucy rested on the trail. They were about an hour from the community. Over the last several days, Paul learned a lot about Lucy. She lost her parents during the Troubles and survived with relatives in the Boone area. But as people left, she decided to strike out on her own.

“So, this Amy you talk about,” Lucy looked over his shoulder, “is that for her?”

“Yeah. I’m planning to give it to her for Christmas. It’s pretty. I don’t know if it’s real diamonds or anything. Or if it’s real gold for that matter. I think she’d like it.”

“Oh, I think she’ll like it. But I think she’ll think this is more than just a gift.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. That’s the kind of ring someone gives in a wedding, Paul. Are you planning to ask her to marry you?”

Paul was stunned. “Huh?”

“You’re what, seventeen? Eighteen? You’re old enough. Heck, if you weren’t so moonstruck over this Amy girl, I’d be after you.”

Paul felt himself blushing. “I … uh …”

“Don’t tell me you haven’t been thinking about this a lot.” Lucy poked his shoulder and laughed.

“I have. I’m just not sure I’m ready.”

“My aunties always said, ‘If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll never get it done.'”

Paul slipped the small box back into a pocket and got up.

“I’ll think on that some,” he said. “Let’s go. We’re almost there.”

Elder Franklin and James Carson were waiting in the road as Paul and Lucy approached the community. Paul saw Amy’s tell-tale auburn hair and staff behind them. He smiled as he approached.

Amy pushed past Franklin and Carson and ran into Paul’s arms. She kissed him, then quickly pulled back, her nose wrinkled up.

“You need a shower,” she said. “I missed you!”

Amy looked at Lucy. “Who’s this!” If Amy could shoot flames from her eyes, Paul thought Lucy would now be a pile of ashes on the road.

“I found her out north of Shelby just before I turned back,” Paul said. He introduced Lucy around, then handed Carson his trip notebook. “The pickings are getting slim, James. I secured a few caches of useable food and tagged some fuel stores. Not much else.”

“Thanks, Paul,” Carson said.

“Are you thinking of joining our community?” the white-haired Elder Franklin asked Lucy.

“I’d like to,” she answered.

As they walked into the community, Lucy told them of the happenings in the mountains and why she left. All the while, Amy kept a strong grip on Paul’s arm.

“You have nothing to worry about,” Paul told her in a whisper.

“I’m not worried,” Amy whispered back. “She should.”

#

Later, freshly bathed, shaved and in clean clothes, Paul wrote a note, folded it carefully, and placed it inside the small box with the gold ring. He wrapped the box in some pretty Christmas wrap, then put bow and a small tag on it. “To Amy, From Paul,” read the tag. He placed that under the tree in the living room.

Tomorrow was Christmas. He’d made it back in time.

Father, he prayed silently, thank You for Your blessings and grace and getting me home safely. Thank You for Amy. Help me be a good man and honor You and Your son. In His name, amen.

Paul sat on the floor in front of the fireplace and looked at the tree, just enjoying the quiet. Roger and Sarah were already in bed. Mom and Dad were in the kitchen making some cocoa. The world–life–is so different now, he thought. In a way it was sad, all the destruction and loss of life. But his community survived.

Amy walked into the room and sat beside him.

“I don’t have a penny,” she said. She gently brushed her hand through his hair, then cuddled close.

“Oh, no need. Nothing specific going on in here right now.” He tapped his head with his finger. “Just glad I’m home and relaxing.”

He looked at the tree, then under it, then smiled at Amy.

“Oh, look. I think I see something new there.”

Amy’s grey eyes brightened and she reached for the small package. “What did you do?”

Just then, Mom and Dad came in with a tray full of cups of cocoa.

Amy held the small package and looked at Paul. “Can I open it now?”

<<< The End — For Now >>>

Keep writing.