Urban fantasy versus supernatural thrillers

Writing urban fantasy as opposed to supernatural thrillers is a bit strange but it won’t be much of a stretch for readers, I don’t think. The largest difference on the surface is that I spent seven books in the Rankin Flats series dealing with people adjusting to the supernatural in their lives and coming to grips with it. In this series, it’s established that the people who matter to the story are all well aware of the weird. Without that limitation, the plot can go to some really goofy places. Good goofy.

There’s also not as much horror here. There are a couple of scenes that will probably make people squeamish, but I’m aiming for a lighter tone. Still plenty of violence and fun to be had with the fight scenes, but yeah, Seven Heroes is, at least in this early stage, far more accessible. And it’s just flat-out fun to write. Old lady goblins. Dirty cops. Redneck cultists. It’s a kick.

A Shot at Us is free through Christmas Eve (and a snippet)

Just like the title says, my literary romance novel A Shot at Us is free through Christmas Eve on Kindle here. A modern retelling of It’s a Wonderful Life, A Shot at Us follows Gwen Irving, a loving mother and wife, as she battles the harsh reality that her illnesses have kept her family in poverty. Days before Christmas, she disappears into a cold Montana night contemplating suicide as her husband desperately tries to find her and convince Gwen her life is precious. It’s a somber look at the mental and physical costs of a modern life, but is ultimately a story about hope and the kindnesses we offer along the way.

Here’s a brief snippet to entice you (usual warnings about my strong language apply):

* * * * *

Gwen tried not to shout. She really did. They were in a hospital, after all, and she hated big emotional scenes in public. Even PDA sometimes made her uncomfortable in a crowd. But as she listened to Malcolm’s story about the bikes, she clenched her fists and felt the words boiling up through her throat.

“Are you nuts?” she shouted. Damn it.

It was late in the afternoon and Malcolm was just passing through on his way to his second job. Christmas Eve would be coming soon, and all she could think about even as she was yelling at her husband was the hair falling off the doll she’d gotten Roslyn from a dollar store. It had come out not all at once, but like a dog shedding its fur. By the time she wrapped it, Gwen realized the doll was completely bald. Glue hadn’t helped. Now it just looked patchy and sickly. A perfect representation of Gwendolyn herself.

“Look, I know it’s a bad time, but-”

“Bad time? Malcolm, even with you working extra hours, I don’t know if we can pay our rent. That’s not hyperbole. That’s a fact. We. Cannot. Afford. This.”

“It’s… we can maybe…”

And for Marley, a truck with wheels that didn’t aim quite true. She was also horrifyingly sure it was the same dollar store truck she’d bought for him last year. She could hear him screaming at her now. At least he’d have something good to eat at her parents’ house Christmas Eve and morning. That, he’d love.

“No. There are no more corners to cut. This is it. We are completely tapped out. Holy fucking shit, Malcolm. Did you not get the entire gist of what we were arguing about last night?”

Malcolm stumbled towards a chair. “But we had a thousand in the bank. We should be okay.”

It wasn’t the presents that mattered, but the continual, crushing disappointment in her children’s eyes about their meals, their hand-me-downs, their lives. They deserved so much better than this pitiable existence, stuck in their mother’s orbit of misery and shame and helplessness.

“With a rent check still out and a credit card payment that’ll be posted tomorrow!”

“Oh,” he whispered.

“Oh? That’s it? Oh?”

“I didn’t know. I thought… you know, we were both being dramatic, and…”

“You didn’t know? You didn’t know that times were tough and our kids are furious because we can’t afford anything better than endless fast food, spaghetti, and pizza your boss lets you scrape into a box? You’re not really this stupid, are you?” Gwen laughed into her hands, her fingernails digging deep into her cheeks. “Oh my God. I don’t know what to do.”

And Malcolm. Her sweet, silly husband who still tried to smile for her, who still tried to make her smile. Whose biggest crime was loving their children. And she was constantly, consistently dragging him down, cutting away at him with the bitterness she really felt towards herself. How much better would his life be without her? How would all their lives be better without her?

“I’ll talk to Dinah and Thea. Maybe… I can get paid an advance, or…”

“We ask my parents,” Gwen said, her voice thick.

“What? No. We agreed. We do this ourselves.”

“Baby, we don’t have the luxury to be proud anymore. We have to ask them.”

“What about my parents? We could talk to them first.”

“Your parents are stretched as thin as we are.”

“We’re not asking your parents,” Malcolm said, his voice near a shout. “We’ve gone this long without it. We’ll figure something out.”

“You’re right. We’ll figure something out. Maybe we’ll run into a leprechaun or we’ll find a winning lottery ticket or something. Jesus, Malcolm, stop being so blind!”

“Blind?”

“Yes, blind! You keep getting us into these idiotic jams and I can’t fucking be sick and deal with it. Taking care of you is ten times more work than taking care of the kids. ‘Oh, here’s a wall, I’m going to ram my head against it.’”

“Yeah. Keep calling me stupid. That’s… wow. Thanks, honey.”

“Well, if the shoe fits…”

Malcolm shook his head. “My fault.” He said it as a statement, not a question.

The door to the hospital room popped open, and a nurse poked her head in. “Hey, guys, we can hear you down the hallway. Um, please try to keep it down, okay?”

“Fine,” Gwen snapped at her, and the door closed hurriedly.

They stared at one another for a long, long time, until Malcolm looked away, ashamed. Gwen thought back to a long-ago argument they’d had about him going to work on time and taking it seriously. He’d looked so whipped then, she thought, but now he looked… broken. And with that, her anger vanished and was replaced by a caustic, deep self-loathing. Oh, no, what had she done? Why had she said all this?

“I’m sorry,” Malcolm said. His hands fell in front of his lap and his back had never seemed so stooped. He looked fifteen years older than he actually was in that moment. So much weight on their shoulders. On his. Gwen wanted to throw herself out the window.

“No,” she said finally. “I’m sorry. This is… drama aside, it really is all my fault.”

“No, Gwen…”

“It is, though, isn’t it? I’m the one that’s always sick. Always here. Think about how much gas money we’d save alone if you didn’t have to drag me here, what, every other week?” She laughed bitterly and it turned into a cough as if to prove her point. “And that’s not even touching the hospital bills.”

“We apply for more financial aid.”

“There is no more,” Gwen said. “We’ve accepted everything we can. I did the math today while you were at work. This whole argument, it’s pointless. I don’t think… the bikes matter. There was no way we were going to make rent next month regardless.” She blinked at him. “We can’t climb out of this one, honey.”

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. He came to her, held her. All the energy left to Gwen disappeared. So tired. But the self-loathing disappeared too, replaced by…. warmth. Not a healthy warmth, not the warmth one would feel near a cozy fire, but a false one, the kind a person gave into just before succumbing to the cold.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” she whispered back, her scratched and battered heart swelling. “I love you so much.”

“I…”

“Please. Just let me hear the words.”

“I love you.” He wrapped his arms around Gwen and kissed her. They stayed like that for a while, him staring at the window, thinking, her trembling with the effort of staying upright. “I want to stay with you, but I need to go.”

She nodded, smiling again. She couldn’t blame him for wanting to get away from her. Malcolm deserved peace. They all did. “Hey. Tell the kids… tell the kids I love them, okay?”

“I will. I’ll bring them by in the morning before work.”

“Okay,” she whispered, but she didn’t think she would see them. Because an idea had formed in her mind, an awful idea, and she thought of Hugh in that bathtub again.

I fucked up.

It’s all your fault.

This is the way the world works.

Journey of the Caged launches tomorrow

…and you can grab it here on Kindle. Paperbacks will be available very soon.

A dark fantasy novel in a brand-new series, this one follows Gavrien Kelwind, knight-magister in the kingdom of Ariama. Tasked with escorting a prisoner to his judgment in the nation’s capital, Gavrien and his companions are hounded by the Sheriff, out to avenge the death of his brother. It’s a lean, violent book, and the best part is, it is an entirely standalone novel. Each book in the Forever Lands will feature a different cast of characters in a new setting. I’m planning the next for release in 2020.

On a more personal note, this one is a strange release for me. I’ve had the basic ideas of Morton’s Rock (the primary setting), Bekol (the prisoner), and the Sheriff in mind for… hell, over a decade. It’s a novel I’ve tried to write over a dozen times, and I finally came up with a draft that works. I think the core idea – a world without end – has the potential to be a lot of fun, but ultimately, that’s up to my readers to decide.

I am tired, but in a really good way. This one took it out of me, hard.

This is basically going to conclude my writing year, at least in terms of published stuff. I’m deep in the guts of planning out the next supernatural thriller series Seven Heroes. The first in the series will be called Savor the Wicked, and I think you’ll find it an intense, fun romp through Rankin Flats with a funky cast of characters. Look for that (and its two sequels) in the spring of 2020.

For those of you who picked up A Shot at Us, Fundamental Obsession, or Journey of the Caged this year, thank you. I’m coming out of this year making less but also spending less. I’ve figured out a lot of things about my advertising this year, what works, what doesn’t, and I feel confident coming into 2020 I’m on my firmest footing yet. And with two new series coming, I hope you’ll be entertained.

Hit me up in the comments with what you’re reading to close out the year.

Paperback pricing in 2020 and beyond

This is going to shock you, but I like money. And I like getting my name out there. Unfortunately, one of the things damming up the works on both those accounts has been my reluctance to go with expanded distribution with my paperbacks.

Well, the time has come to change that, but unfortunately, that’s going to mean some painful changes to my pricing. For all books released in 2020 and beyond, my paperback prices are about to jump significantly – from about $9.99 per book to what I believe will be $13.99-14.99, depending on my costs.

This is NOT (at least for the foreseeable future) going to affect any of my books out now or Journey of the Caged, though the latter may see a price increase when I have more books in the series out. I’d love to keep the Rankin Flats and romance novels I have out now as cheap as possible as an introduction to my writing. But I am a business, whether I like it or not, and I don’t want to say these prices are going to stay super low like they are now.

The new pricing will suck, I know. I’m not thrilled about it. But in order to get my books to libraries and retailers, this is a step that needs to happen. It’s painful, but it’s also progress.

And if you’re really hurting for money, go to your public library. My books ARE in circulation in the library system. And if your public library can’t get them, contact me with the name and address. If it’s in my power and I’m not terribly strapped for cash, I’m always happy to donate a book or two to a library in need. And that’s something that’s never going to change.

That sweet special sauce

Get your mind out of the gutter. You know who you are.

Every book while it’s being cooked has to have a special sauce moment. Everything we write needs that little extra flavor to it, or otherwise we’d all be making the same staid cheeseburgers. And that’s fine in its own way – cheeseburgers are pretty damn delicious (insert a Randy from Trailer Park Boys reference ehre) – but readers and writers alike would get tired of it awfully fast.

See, most of the great concepts of writing have already been developed. We tend to rely on old recipes to come up with our daily creations, because those recipes have been around forever and they’re popular for a lot of reasons. Plus, it’s damn near impossible to just go and invent a whole new food – or book. So instead, we have to flavor it, to spice it up or do something a little different and memorable. It really doesn’t have to be much, just a little something unique in the blend of herbs and spices to make the book your own. Say, maybe it’s a different perspective, or a unique character, or a bit of dialogue that blossoms into this wondrous strip of bacon of a character. Something like that.

With all my books, those have been relatively simple things. The Ghost at His Back is different thanks mostly to that first line – ghosts are assholes, and not at all perfect or necessarily evil or good. With Forever and Farewell, the spice was Lauren, perhaps my finest culinary creation to date. With A Shot at Us, it was dropping the Clarence character from It’s a Wonderful Life (who I absolutely love, don’t get me wrong), and focusing on the trials of a modern couple whose own goodness was their spiritual savior. With Fundamental Obsession, it was the idea of an inherently good and sweet character who never means to hurt anybody, and yet tears his friends and loved ones apart.

Truthfully, it’s something I’ve been struggling to find with Seven Heroes, not for a lack of ideas, but because I’ve been trying to add too many spices to the soup. I want it to have more of an urban fantasy feel to it while still existing in the world of the Rankin Flats supernatural thrillers, and to that end, I thought maybe I needed to add more fantasy archetypes. I kept having this fantastic idea of an ogre-ish type character as a taxi driver, but I couldn’t figure out how that would work with the concept of the Rankin Flats world, which does have very special creatures in it, but most of whom are in hiding or disguised.

The solution was terribly simple, but I wanted it so hard to work for Seven Heroes that I refused to see it any other way. I wanted my recipe to work, damn it, and only just this morning realized the stock I was cooking with could make for two culinary creations – and that I already had some ingredients in the fridge that would make for an excellent, separate soup. See, I’ve also been thinking for roughly a year or so how to update and make special my YA idea The Extraordinary Ordinary, which despite its title, felt kind of… well… ordinary. I think I can split off most the concepts I had for the urban fantasy world I wanted to implement in Seven Heroes and drop it into the world of Extraordinary Ordinary.

TL:DR – I’m shaving off portions of my delicious roast cooking in the oven right now to make literary au jus and French dips later. Also I’m hungry. Someone bring me cookies!

Journey of the Caged is now available for pre-order!

You – yes, you, you lucky so-and-so – can make sure your digital copy of Journey of the Caged arrives on your Kindle doorstop on day one by pre-ordering today. Just $4.99, this dark fantasy follows Gavrien Kelwind, a knight-magister in the kingdom of Ariama. Tasked with keeping a murderer safe across thousands of miles of territory, Gavrien faces the wrath of a vengeful Sheriff, brother to one of the murderer’s victims. This is a fun, fast-paced tale, perfect for fans of Joe Abercrombie or Richard Morgan’s fantasy novels. Give it a shot. It’s out on October 31st!

Click here to pre-order now!

Legally Blind – An embarrassment of riches

Today was a bad day.

Losing my sight in general isn’t something I can mark with big occasions. Sure, there was certainly my detached retina back in 2003 or so, but by and large it’s a long, incremental process. The last four years or so, I’ve begun losing my small reading vision. It’s not always possible for me on a day-to-day basis to read cooking instructions, dietary details, or pill bottles. I still have workarounds, thankfully – taking pictures with my phone helps a ton, and my family is great about assisting me when they’re around – so I don’t tend to notice or think about the loss of reading vision.

That has to change after today.

I went grocery shopping with my mom today. Nothing major, just our usual out-of-town shopping at Super 1 Foods, which is usually one of my favorite stores. I brought my cart full of stuff to the front, not really thinking about much as I ran my card through the machine. Nowadays I have to practically press my nose to most those machines to see the screens. It’s just a thing I have to do. Today it asked for my PIN. I entered it. And when I looked up to take my receipt, the clerk was holding out quite a large amount of cash and a fistful of change.

“What’s this?” I asked, smiling pleasantly.

The woman, sweet and extremely helpful, looked puzzled. “It’s the cash back you requested.”

The machine did not, in fact, ask me for my PIN.  It asked me how much cash back I needed.

Now, thankfully, this month has been an okay one financially. I could transfer some money around and get it covered, and I did – plus we made it home in time to deposit the money I withdrew back into the account, and it only cost me double humiliation of the pity on the clerk’s face at the store followed by the utter bafflement of the ladies I dealt with at the bank.

I’ve had a few drinks tonight. Some beer, some vodka. It’s the first time I’ve tied one on in a while. My poor mom thinks I’m angry at her or upset because she wasn’t around to help me with the debit card reader. She’s asked me, no joke, probably eight times tonight if I’m okay. And honestly, I don’t know how to comfort her on that one. I will be. Of course I will be. But I am humiliated by something completely out of my control. I am angry, not at her or anyone else, but at my condition, especially because this is just another day. There will be more unexpected humiliations like this. There already have been, stuff that makes me ill to think about. It’s one more thing I have to ask for help with. And you know what? That fucking sucks. There’s no way to sugarcoat that. Today was an absolute crap day. Tomorrow will be better and I will adapt. I always do.

But today, I get to feel alone in a spectacularly shitty way. And there is nothing to do but grit my teeth and take the beating.

Screw you, eyes.