Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mondays with Mephistopheles: The Movie!

Here is Mondays with Mephistopheles: The Movie. Directed by CJ Hutchinson from DAS Zombies Studios.


If you enjoyed it, please share the video and check out other productions by DAS Zombies (especially Meat the Zombies). 

Additionally, consider purchasing the eBook for only $0.99 on Kindle (click on the cover below). 


Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Ten Spot: Michelle Bellon



Tell us about your most recent release.

My latest release, Rogue Alliance, is the first book in a two part saga. It definitely crosses genres as it’s a Suspense novel with paranormal elements and a bit of romance. Here’s the blurb:
While still a child in Redding, California, Shyla Ericson killed her father to end years of abuse. She’d left town shortly thereafter, changed her name, and started a new life, eventually becoming a highly decorated DEA agent. 

But some history doesn’t stay buried. When Shyla goes undercover to bring down drug kingpin Victor Champlain, the case takes her back to a town that hasn't forgotten her, and to a past she thought she’d left behind. 

Then, she meets Brennan Miles, a genetically altered kidnap victim, who has been turned into a weaponized super-human. Victor helped Brennan escape from a hidden genetics research facility known only as The Institute, where he'd been held and experimented on for years. In return for his freedom, Brennan now works for Victor as his bodyguard. 

Shyla is drawn to Brennan's strength, and to his humanity. Even after she discovers his secret — he must have human blood to survive. Shyla knows she can’t take down Champlain by going through Brennan — he’s too strong — and he’s loyal to Victor. 

Can she face the demons of her upbringing and learn to trust again? Her life, and Brennan’s, depends on it.


What else do you have coming out?

Book Two, hopefully in the next few months. I also have three other books scheduled for release over the next year. They are completely different genres than Rogue Alliance, though. Restless is women’s fiction, The Fire Inside is commercial fiction, and Jaded is contemporary fiction with a bit of romance.


How do you react to a bad review of one of your books?

Well of course there is the initial reaction…the brief contemplation of jumping off a cliff. But then reason comes back into play. More often than not, most bad reviews are fairly honest. Not all. I’ve had a few reviews where it was blatantly apparent that they hadn’t even read the book. But most are honest and if you read it objectively you can see opportunities to improve your writing. At least that’s what I do. I’ve learned a lot from bad reviews. Plus, not everyone is going to like your work. 


When are you going to write your autobiography?

Shoot, no one wants to read that.


How many people have you done away with over the course of your career?

Let’s see…I’ve done away with at least one person in each of my published novels, so far, but some were bad guys and deserved it. Don’t judge me. 


Ever dispatched someone and then regretted it?

There is one character that I didn’t necessarily regret killing off but it was definitely hard to let him go. He was a sweetie but he had to die for the sake of the story. You know how that goes. All in a day’s work.


Have you ever been in trouble with the police?

I plead the 5th. You can’t make me talk. I want a lawyer.


So when were you last involved in a real-life punch-up?

I’m not down with the lingo. What’s a punch-up? Is that a fight? If so then my answer is that I’m too damn old to fight. When I was younger I was known as a bit of a fighter but that’s only because I have a cousin with disabilities and I defended him a lot. 


If you were going to commit the perfect murder, how would you go about it?

Are you framing me? Again, I plead the 5th. 


What do you want to be when you grow up?

Unfortunately, I am a grown up. I fought it hard but it happened anyway. I wanted to be a doctor and write books. Now I’m a registered nurse and I write books, so that’s pretty close. No one tells you that being a grown up is way over-rated. I want to go back to naps and no bills. 



Michelle Bellon lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their four children. She works as a registered nurse. She writes suspense, women’s fiction, literary fiction and young adult. She won the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award in 2012 and the Wise Bear Media Literary Award in 2013 for Rogue Alliance, Silver Medal Award. 


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Your Weekly Dose: Drained, Chapter 2


II

Lauren looked at the desk sergeant with about as much patience as she could muster given her recent experience. Her mood as of late could be best described as dark. The man was rotund, but powerfully built. Gray eyes made him appear wise, which was quickly belied by the manner with which he conducted himself. To be fair, the dark circles under his eyes, the unevenness of his beard, and the appearance of a man who had not looked in a mirror when he dressed for some time alerted Lauren to the real reason behind his vitriol: a recent divorce.  

“The world is full of willing and honest women, sergeant,” mumbled Lauren as she sat back in the reasonably comfortable chair that she had been assigned as the usual administrative humdrum was carried out.   

The sergeant’s eyes narrowed. “Excuse me?”

“Did you do something that requires an apology?”

“Huh?’

The verbal sparring, though it was more like hitting a speed bag, rejuvenated Lauren as the night wore on. “You said excuse me, which would lead me to assume that you have done something blameworthy; therefore, requiring a pardon.”

The sergeant just looked at her, stale coffee churning through his tired and murky mind. “Why would I care about willing and honest women, agent?”

Lauren smiled and sat up in her chair, mindlessly straightening pencils and pens scattered about the desk in front of her. “The worn circle around your ring finger, the lack of care taken in personal grooming, and a general, shall we say, irritation, makes me think that a woman might have recently broken your heart. I just wanted to ensure you that there were plenty of kind women walking this world, sergeant.”

The sergeant reddened visibly and slammed down the receiver, his mouth opening as it to release a torrent of rebuttal. This was stalled by the appearance of a wide-shouldered, film-noir-looking, officer with a long beige trench coat and rich ebony skin––and amber eyes to boot. The newcomer touched the sergeant on the shoulder gently. “I have it from here, Mickleson.”

Mickleson, the easily irritated desk sergeant, took another look at Lauren and then stormed off. Lauren watched the man go with a laugh; she felt a stab of regret about goading him, but the moment had gotten the better of her. A quick survey of the dapper interloper revealed two things: he was hygienic and he carried himself with great confidence.

“Homicide, I’m guessing.”

He smiled, revealing very little of his teeth. “Very good, Agent Westlake. I’m quite sorry about the delay, but reaching someone to corroborate your position proved difficult. It’s in order now.”

Lauren smiled as well. Standing, she had not realized how tall the man was. Standing nearly a head taller, he towered over her. “I’m a bit of a loss. You know who I am, yet I do not know your name.”

“Detective Lawrence. Please, call me Richard.”

“Richard.”

The detective grabbed a seat and lifted it carefully. He placed it in front of Lauren’s chair and sat down in a smooth movement. “May I ask why you were at 865 Union Street?”

“It’s a long story.”

“I have time.”

Lauren sat down and leaned back. “Well, not long so much as confusing. I was working a case in northern Minnesota up until a few days ago. Serial murders. I doubt it made headlines out here in California.”

Richard shook his head.

She gestured knowingly. “Right. Anyways, as I’m making my way out of town, the sheriff there, Montgomery, hands me a package. Says it was delivered to the local station there in Locke.”

Lauren paused, allowing the memories of her time spent in Locke to wash over her. Would she have made the trip to San Francisco if she had not first braved the cold of Minnesota? A question gnawed at her, the possibility of something larger looming in the distance. 

Lawrence remained attentive. 

Lauren continued. “Sorry. Either way, this package led me here. It was postmarked from your beautiful city with the return address as the aforementioned 846 Union Street.”

The detective touched a hand to his face, rubbing his chin and cheek absently. “Why would you investigate a package sent to a rural police station? Why wouldn’t you return to your central office and file a report?”

Lauren didn’t care for his tone, but she could not fault the line of questioning. To an outside observer, tracking a package and investigating a home halfway across the country would see rather odd. “Are you driving at something, detective?”

Richard seemed to stiffen, though it was barely noticeable except to Lauren––who was constantly looking for such cues. “You misunderstand me, agent. I am curious why you were at that home. I am not insinuating any culpability in crimes committed there.”

“What then are you implying?”

The detective leaned forward, bridging the distance. “A crime was committed at 846 Union Street. We can agree on this, can we not?”

Lauren nodded. 

“The crime remains a mystery to me. There is evidence of a scuffle and perhaps theft, but we have no bodies or a clear understanding of what transpired. CSU is turning the place inside out as we speak, but I am not sure what we will find.”

“What does that have to do with me?”

“That, Agent Westlake, is the right question.”


KEN HAD BROUGHT HIS FRIEND into this part of the city for his birthday for two reasons: booze and babes. The Tenderloin district was home to dive bars, a serviceable music scene, and alleyways that would best be walked in the light of day––and even then moving in a large group would be wise. However, trendy and dangerous bars afforded a view of youth battling against the undefeated throes of Father Time. Drinking and rallying against the night, the twenty-somethings of the metropolitan masterpiece were at the very heights of abandon and recklessness. 

Ken was not one of the hipster youth, staggering through the dimly lit and broken alleys; he reeked of corporate preening. NeuroTech was a conglomerate of smaller subsidiary companies that serviced the tech sector. Though not an engineer, Ken was what drove industry: a corporate investor for one of the largest hedge funds in the Bay. 

Davis, smaller and much louder than his money-laundering friend, staggered drunkenly out from an alleyway. His pants were cinched up around his waist and he leaned to one side as if his right shoulder had become too heavy. Whiskey poured off of him like mist from the harbor.

“That was not the bathroom,” he slurred. 

Ken looked at his friend and smiled. Where he was taller with wide shoulders and wide hips like his Norwegian ancestors, Davis was reed thin with shaggy brown hair that was in disarray by this point in the night. 

“By the gods, I think you’re right.”

Davis leaned against the wall, taking deep breaths as if he had just finished a marathon. While Davis worked with Ken at NeuroTech, their positions within the company could not be more different. As a computer engineer he managed servers and built hosting applications for the various companies with which NeuroTech contracted.

“About ready to call it a night?” 

Davis looked at his much taller friend, reaching out with a hand as if to brace himself as he leaned forward. “Did you know your eyes are blue?” he asked––the words distant and elongated. 

“I believe I have noticed once or twice when looking in the mirror? How are you feeling?”

Davis stumbled forward, finding his feet amidst a drunken waltz without a partner. The bright lights of a pizza place across the street drew his attention like a moth to a flame. “I want some pizza.”

Ken grabbed his friend’s arm and propped him up, dislodging a pile of overturned boxes from atop a shopping cart. The homeless man glared, not saying a word, but conveying his irritation with the disruption of his disheveled corner of the world. 

“You gonna die,” murmured the burlap-covered mass of hair and torn clothing. Beneath all the rags and smudges, human eyes peered out. “I hear the whispers. Can you hear the whispers? They’re talking about you, boy.”

Ken did not want to engage the man, but Davis had other ideas. He plopped down next to the homeless man and started rooting through his belongings. 

“Davis, I thought you wanted pizza?”

Davis looked up at his friend with the glazed bewilderment of which only the intoxicated was capable. “Yeah, grab me a couple slices….”

Ken looked at his friend sitting there and felt a pang of worry. Would this weird street person shank Davis in the time it would take him to cross the street and elbow his way through drunken hipsters to recover the ambrosia that was dough, cheese, and burnt flesh?

A moment of clarity echoed from Davis. “He isn’t going to stab me.” Then turning to the homeless man, he posed the question with a wide grin. “You aren’t going to stab me, are you?”

The homeless man continued to stare at Ken as he shook his head slowly. It was not exactly a vote of confidence. 

Davis, unperturbed by the possible danger, raised his voice and addressed the entire street populated by inebriated and glittering youth. “Hey! This homeless gentleman here is harmless. He isn’t going to be stabbing anyone. Anybody wanna do some blow? Come one, come all! Enjoy the bright lights of…”

Ken reached down and grabbed his friend’s arm, giving it a hard squeeze. “Stay here and don’t wander off. I’m going right across the street. I’ll be back in a moment.”

Davis nodded and waved his friend away. 

Without another look, he turned back to the homeless man and returned to his idle chatter. Ken hesitated a moment longer before crossing the street and walking through the brightly lit doors of the pizza parlor.


LAUREN COULD NOT RECALL her apartment in Oak Park with great detail; it seemed like a million miles away and decades ago. Spending time in hotels had become a home of sorts and she was thankful for it as Detective Lawrence waved from inside his cruiser as he sped away from the trendy hotel. She patted her jacket pocket and made sure the odd-shaped journal had remained. 

The courtyard of the hotel contained a small swimming pool, which had no occupants at this time of night with such a chill in the air, and a few tables that were occupied by wine-sipping couples bundled in fashionable sweaters and wool caps. As she walked by, they tipped their glasses and offered salutations. Not wishing to be rude, Lauren smiled politely and ascended the stairs to the second floor and her small sanctuary from the night. 

Locking out the world, she reached into her jacket and retrieved the book. It felt odd. The texture felt coarser than paper. Lauren could not place it, but the book smelled differently as well. Throwing it on to the bed, she surveyed the room: a single desk sat opposite a bed and nightstand. Lights from the street shone through the darkness of the bathroom to the back. Walking around the bed, she pulled the beaded string and the lamp on the nightstand fluttered to life. 

“When was the last time I ate?” she grumbled to herself. 

She opened the drawer and removed a glossy pamphlet with local sights, and then lifted the phonebook free. She liked using phonebooks. She supposed that a smart phone could do the work much quicker, but it lacked the scavenger hunt feel that leafing through white, then yellow, pages created. 

Deciding on Chinese food, twenty-three minutes later there was a knock on the door. Opening the bag, she removed the Chow Mein and a pair of chopsticks as she looked at the book upon the bed. She had not yet opened it, uncertain whether or not it was a good idea. 

Part of her felt like she had been careless in Locke. 

She had almost given up the most important thing: control. 

Looking at the strange journal and the depression it made in the covers of the bed, she could almost hear the whispers of obsession once more. As she paced the small room, the details of 865 Union Street and the circumstances that had brought her from suburban Illinois to the cold forest of Minnesota and finally to San Francisco formed a map of sorts in the whiteboard of her mind. She had always been fortunate to be able to put together disparate pieces into a web that made sense––that afforded her some level of control.

Placing the Chow Mein on the top of the nightstand, she approached the bed the way she would a rattlesnake. Instinct told her that there was something in this book that spoke of great danger. 

Opening the front cover, she held her breath.

Scrawling script covered the pages as if written by several authors. Some were written in English, while others scratched the periphery of Latin and Greek learned in college. However, there was one piece of legible handwriting that she did recognize––and for the life of her, she could not imagine why he would have written in this journal.


WHEN KEN RETURNED to the street corner, Davis was gone. It did not come as much of a surprise given his friend’s intoxicated state. They had stayed in the Tenderloin at a rundown motel to create the illusion of a vacation. If he were being truthful, he could not remember the last time he’d taken a vacation. NeuroTech had been working them day and night for the past eight months in anticipation of the launch of a new program. The mucky-mucks in the executive suites were keeping it relatively hush-hush. 

Rounding the block, he noticed that there was a trail of trash and torn parcels of newspaper. The homeless man was nowhere to be found and Ken had a pretty good idea where Davis had gone: back to the motel. Sighing and grabbing a piece of pizza from the box he carried, me munched absently as he crossed the street once more and started up the next block toward a bed and some relative quiet––unless, of course, Davis had skipped straight to the throwing-up portion of the night. 

Most of the stores were still illuminated from the inside. 

Patrons were adorned in wrinkly jeans, odd-looking boots, and the worst throwback coats and sweaters one could imagine. Looking inside, the reflection of the glass alerted him to a figure across the street that seemed to be staring at him.

A woman stood under a street lamp just across the way. 

Beautiful with long legs, accented by a tight shimmering dress despite the chill in the air, she seemed to be looking right at Ken. He looked around, wondering who might be standing near him. Perhaps she was looking for someone in the establishment behind him?

After doing a series of jerky turns, he finally settled on the obvious: she was looking at him. Ken was no slouch with the ladies; in fact, he was known as quite the Casanova around the office.  

However, this woman was beautiful. 

Beautiful the way rare art or a pristine sculpture in MOMA is beautiful, and he couldn’t quite grasp why a woman who looked like that would be walking alone. Pointing at himself and mouthing a few unintelligible words, he widened his eyes. 

She smiled and wrung her hands nervously. Waving with one hand ever so slightly, she shook her hair with her free hand.

Ken did not need much more of an invitation than that. He looked both ways and then jogged across the street, thoughts of Davis and the peculiarity of a beautiful woman calling him over abandoned for lust. 

As he got closer, he realized that his estimation of her beauty had not even scratched the surface. Her features were perfect. Unblemished skin and the bluest eyes he had ever seen stared through him as he struggled to find the words; when he finally collected his thoughts enough to speak, his banter left something to be desired.

“Pretty night,” he managed with a stupid grin. 

It is funny how we fail to notice the simple warnings in our environment when we choose to overlook them in favor of what we want. Grabbing his hand gently, Ken allowed himself to be pulled down the street by her. He could not help but stare, mesmerized by something beyond her elegant beauty. 

He felt enraptured, caught in the web of her being. 

They rounded a far corner and Ken watched as she disappeared. Only her porcelain skin was visible in the light as he followed the streets like an empty vessel pushed along in the tides. His heart thundered in his chest and he could feel himself begin to sweat in anticipation. 

What sweaty little beasts humans are.

The suddenness of the darkness in the alley made Ken stop. He couldn’t see this siren that had called to him from across a dirty street. “Hey, where’d you go?”

Shuffling in the distance alerted him to a shadowy figure in the darkness that he could not quite make out. A scraping sound announced something viscous striking him in the face. Reaching up with one of his hands, he wiped away the discharge on his face. He rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger, but could not figure out what it was. 

Had the woman just expectorated on him?

“This isn’t funny….”

He blinked his eyes, feeling disoriented. 

As he opened them once more, he could feel hot, fetid, breath on his face. He pushed out with hands and felt the hard frame of something in front of him. In his horror, he pushed away, stumbling from the alleyway. 

Looking around, the world was still. 

There was no movement of any kind. 

“What’s going on here?” he mumbled. 

His tongue felt heavy in his mouth. 

Had he been drugged?

Turning his head, there were suddenly four women right in front him, their faces contorted in irritation. The words from their mouths were labored and bloated, like a record that had caught a groove and was lengthening out each syllable with a frightening syncopation.

He closed his eyes. 

Opening them again, they were gone. Several cars were stopped in the streets, their drivers looking ahead with doll’s eyes. He pushed past them, brushing up against one and feeling a deep pain in his hip and side. After a few more steps, he stumbled to the ground. He breathed heavily and fluttered his eyes, watching as the cars disappeared and the woman he had followed into the alley abruptly appeared across the street. 

Partly hidden by the shadows of the alleyway, Ken saw something he wished he hadn’t. Her long legs were distorted by the darkness, giving them a bowed and carapace-like appearance. Her blue eyes looked like darkened globes. One hand touched the wall, the artificial lights of the city revealing her flawless skin; but as her arms became consumed by the darkness, it changed––morphed into something frightening. 

Fear crawled down Ken’s spine

Something was wrong. 

Looking around from side to side, the world became a series of jagged images without real motion. People stood in stasis, trapped mid-motion only to have moved right in front of him with a blink of his eyes. 
It was the woman who he could not stop looking at. 

She moved across the street in a series of jagged, surreal, movements. Her features alternated between ethereal and nightmarish as she slipped in and out of the artificial lights of the city. The way she moved appeared disjointed, frightening: it was as if she changed from walking on two legs to many legs. 

It couldn’t be real. 

Backing into the alley behind him, he could feel that his heart rate was slowing despite his fear. The notion made his head spin. Numbness spread across his chest and into his left arm. 

Was he having a heart attack?

He couldn’t register was happening. Something bumped against his leg as he staggered. As he turned to look at it, he saw an overturned garbage can; pieces of trash were scattered all about the alleyway, appearing in sudden clumps and piles. 

While his vision had betrayed him, his hearing had not. 

The woman had not spoken, but he could hear the heaviness of her breathing. Turning back, he saw it. Looking down at him was something terrifying, something drawn from nightmares.



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Indie Superstar Spotlight: Clayton Bye


Tell us about your most recent release.

7 strangely different short detective stories by a master storyteller. The book title and author: Det. Lupèe: The Impossible Cases by James Secor. These are primarily stories about crimes of humanity against humanity, crimes that often fall through the cracks or for which there is no law in existence to deal with them. Often a solution is found, but the case itself is unsolvable. Hence the title.


What else do you have coming out?

This year is dedicated to a ghostwrite and to a collection of my own short stories, some of which I have yet to write.


Is there anything you want to make sure potential readers know?

I have written 9 books (some nonfiction and some fiction) and have, working as a traditional publisher, released 3 award winning anthologies.  All books can be previewed or purchased at http://shop.claytonbye.com. Currently, I work at The Write Room Blog as Editor-in-Chief.


What's the most blatant lie you've ever told?

I once lied about my age in a very delicate situation.


What is the most demeaning thing said about you as a writer?

I have had only one bad review in 20 years in the business, and as I shrugged it off, the memory is long gone.


How do you react to a bad review of one of your books?

As mentioned above, I just move on. The review is only one person’s opinion. However, should I ever find a book of mine getting bad review after bad review after bad review. I would listen very carefully to what was being said—to the extent that I might pull the book off the market and fix it.


When are you going to write your autobiography?

I don’t know. I have already written a loose biography of sorts. It is called The Contrary Canadian and chronicles some of my travels across Canada. Each story presents a piece of my philosophy of life as it was germinating.


Are the names of the characters in your novels important?

I think so. The hero in The Sorcerer’s Key is named Jack Lighfoot and the antagonist is named Morgan Heist. The names reflect who they are through the words light and heist. I’m not always this obvious. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a man’s name being stronger or more harsh than that of a woman’s. This is done by making sure the man’s name has a one syllable first name and a two syllable last name, like Jack Lightfoot. Women or softer, weaker characters would traditionally have two syllables in both first and last name: Janet Weaver being an example. Then we have someone like Morgan Heist, where the rule is reversed. This makes sense in that he is the opposite of our strong, righteous character.


What about the titles of your novels?

I like titles that tell you exactly what the book is about.  The Sorcerer’s Key revolves around a magical talisman that just happens to be a key. Technomage is about the mixture of magic and technology to create technological mages or Technomages. In my non-fiction books I have titles like How To Get What You Want From Life and The It Can’t Be Done, No Way, You’ve Got To Be Kidding, Crazy Or Unbelievably Stupid To Try It, Handbook For Success.


Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

Unlike short stories, which offer a quick reward, a novelist puts in a huge effort for what is often a poor return. If you are with a big publisher who widely distributes your book, then I say great. But most will go with a small publisher who expects you to promote and sell your own books. The earnings just aren’t there. Or more correctly, the distribution just isn’t there.


What's your favorite fruit?

Blueberry Pie.


How many people have you done away with over the course of your career?

I lost count when I began decimating worlds.


Ever dispatched someone and then regretted it?

No, a character dies in order to provide a certain kind of movement or motivation in your story. In this instance the death is a writing technique. The only reason to be sorry is if that technique doesn’t work. Besides, in fiction, it’s always possible to bring the character back—if you are good enough.


Have you ever been in trouble with the police?

Never.


So when were you last involved in a real-life punch-up?

When I was in my 20’s


If you were going to commit the perfect murder, how would you go about it?

I don’t think there is a “perfect” murder, unless it is completely random, blindingly fast and unobserved.


What do you want to be when you grow up?

A writer!


What is your favorite bedtime drink?

Nothing. My favourite drink? An excellent single malt scotch.


Do you ever wish that you had an entirely uncreative job, like data entry or working in a factory?

Been there, done that. Writing is the best job in the world, if you can afford to do it.


Do you believe in a deity?

Yes.


Do you ever write naked?

Never, but I do write in my pajamas.


Who would play you in a film of your life?

Tom Cruise, just for the fact that there was a similarity in looks when I was younger.


What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?

You must write every day, even if you just write letters to friends. If you don’t practice your craft every day, then you’ll never be good enough to be a competitive writer, and it is this which will drive you crazy. It is also important to be reading other writers on a regular basis.


Have you ever read or seen yourself as a character in a book or a movie?

I am the protagonist in every book or movie I have ever seen. It is my way of submerging myself in the story, of suspending disbelief.


What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing novel?

Being able to edit your own work and to do it well. If you can master this, then you will truly become a writer.


What do you consider your biggest failure?

I wrote a business book called Bare Knuckle MBA when I was very sick. In my somewhat delusional state I thought it was my masterpiece. The buying public says otherwise.


Do you research your novels?

Yes, I research my books. I say books, because I don’t just write novels. I also write nonfiction and poetry and short stories.


How much impact does your childhood have on your writing?

It is the reason for the driving philosophy of my life, so I would say it plays a huge part.


What was the greatest thing you learned at school?

That I could be good at anything to which I set my mind and body.


Do you laugh at your own jokes?

Yes.


Do you admire your own work?

Yes. One must be confident in his work or he’ll never succeed.


What are books for?

Books are an escape to places we will probably never go and to people we will never be.


Are you fun to go on vacation with?

Probably not. I like to just go where my nose takes me. Even if I have a plan, I will rarely stick to it. That drives people crazy.


How do you feel about being interviewed?

I enjoy the process. Many times I am asked questions I have never asked myself, hence these interviews are as much about me learning about myself as it is about the reader discovering who I am.


Why do you think what you do matters?

Some people want to learn and/or be entertained by books. It is my pleasure to provide them with such opportunities.


Have you ever found true love?

Yes.


How many times a day do you think about death?

As death does not frighten me, I rarely think about it.


Are you jealous of other writers?

Never. They have earned what they have. I am happy for them and hope I can do the same some day.


What makes you cry?

Tear Jerker movies. People hurting people, especially children. And intense pain.


What makes you laugh?

The unexpected, especially if it involves friends.


What are you ashamed of?

Very little. There are a few things that shouldn’t have happened when I was a young man, but I have sworn to live my life in a way that allows me to never say “What if?”


What's the loveliest thing you have ever seen?

My sleeping lover in morning’s first light.


Are you doing what you truly want to do?

Yes.


Do you have a dream to follow?

My dream is to be able to live off my books when I retire.


Are you proud of what you’re doing or what you’ve done?

Yes.


How many promises you have made and how many of them you have fulfilled?

I keep my promises except when my health issues intervene (I have severe Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia and Bipolar Disorder).


What’s the one thing you really want to do but have never have done so, and why?

I want to go to Australia for about 3 months. There has only been one time in my life when I had the amount of money that would take. However, my work superceded the trip and the money was spent elsewhere.


Have you ever failed anyone who you loved or loved you?

Yes.


Will you take a shot if the chance of failure and success is 50-50?

Sure.


If you could travel to the past in a time machine, what advice would you give to the 6-year-old you?

Don’t sweat the small stuff and do what you enjoy.


Would you break the rules because of something/someone you care about?

It would depend if those rules were also laws. I have never been given to following arbitrary rules.


Have you ever abandoned a creative idea that you believed because others thought you were a fool?

No.


What would you prefer? Stable but boring works or interesting works with lots of workload?

I’ve done both, so I think I would go with interesting over boring.


Are you afraid of making mistakes even though there’s no punishments at all?

Sometimes.


If you would clone yourself, which of your characteristics you wouldn’t want to be cloned?

I can be somewhat narcissistic. That could go away anytime. 


What’s the difference between you and most of the other people?

I set daily goals and medium and long-term goals, and I work as hard as is necessary to achieve them.
Are you making some influences on the world or constantly being influenced by the world?
I think it would be foolish to think we don’t interact with the world.


The thing you cried for last time, does it matter to you now or will it matter to you 5 years later?

I try to live in the now, so I would hope it wouldn’t matter in 5 years.


Is there anything you can’t let go of but you know you should?

Yes.


Do you remember anyone you hated 10 years ago? Does it matter now?

No, it was longer ago than that, and it doesn’t matter now.


What makes you happier, forgive someone or hate someone forever?

It is always better to forgive—if one can manage to do it.


What are you worrying about and what’s the difference if you stop worrying about it?

I only worry about something until I make a decision as to how I am going to deal with it, then I refuse to worry about it again. My current worry is about money. And not worrying about it isn’t going to change the problem. As I said I won’t stop worrying at or about the problem until I have come up with a plan to deal with it.


If you’d die now, do you have any regrets?

No. One must be prepared to die on any given day.


Which one would you prefer, having a luxurious trip alone or having a picnic with people you love? 

That’s a tough one. It brings out the narcissist in me. I think I would take the trip.


Who do you admire and why?

I admire many people, too many to deal with here. But they all have the same characteristics: they are winners, people who have achieved what they set out to do with their lives.


Is there anyone who inspired you and made you who you are today?

Damon Knight, Og Mandino, Robert McCammom, Steven King, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins and Frank Bettger, to name a few.


What’s the thing you’re most satisfied with?

The books I have written and the books I have published for others.


When was the last time you laughed and what did you laugh at?

This morning, and I laughed at myself.


Are you doing anything which makes you and people around you happy?

I am succeeding in the goals I have set for myself. That makes me happy. If I’m happy, the people around me tend to be happier.


Is there anyone who you love or loves you?

Yes and yes.


When was the last time you really talked with your parents/family?

Yesterday. I had a good talk with my mom and dad.


If happiness is a currency, how rich do you think you are?

Well off.


If today’s the end of the world, what’d you do?

Go out and enjoy all the beauty I could find.




Clayton Bye is a writer, editor, and publisher. The author of 9 books and a varied collection of short stories, poems, articles and hundreds of reviews, he has also published (under the imprint Chase Enterprises Publishing) 3 award winning anthologies of excellent short stories by some great talents from around the world. The first book features general fiction, the second offering is horror and the third is a book of detective short stories.  

Mr. Bye also offers a wide range of writing services, including small business management for writers. 


Friday, April 4, 2014

Zen and the Art of Publishing


There is a very common refrain that populates the Internet forums and social media comments that bemoans the woes of a reading populace gone awry. For many, the impetus of this trainwreck of change is the popularity of digital devices and the proliferation of small-time, independently published, digital novels and novellas that are not real novels. 

I have no interest in rallying against or attempting to change the notion of what a real novel is. However, I cannot help but wonder what the ballyhoo is all about. There were poorly written books before the advent and implementation of digital platforms and POD publishers. Really, there were POD publishers and self-published authors long before we programmed computers with punch cards.

I've decided to come up with a few writing and publishing koans:

  • It's All Temporary: the publishing model is an evolving process. It will, over time, look differently than it has at other points. Print is temporary, as the pages crumble and fade. Digital is temporary, for the lights will go out and power will fade. What lingers is the importance of storytelling and what it does to each and every one of us. 
  • Importance Of Connectivity: the greatest gift of the written word is that we can briefly experience what it is like to be someone else. This gives us a sense that the world is a community much greater than we can imagine. Art brings the world together; it makes life worth living. 
  • We Lose What We Cling To: hold onto anything too tight and you smother and destroy it. Hanging onto models of publishing that are unwilling to change ignores the constancy of change. Everything changes. Nothing lasts forever. There will always be a place for print books. But when we argue about which mode is right, we begin choosing structure over the love of the process. Hold onto telling stories through art and let it go when it is done. 
  • Present versus Historical Perspective: we must process and appreciate, not endlessly compare. We must become self-aware critics who realize that we have opinions informed by how we want the world to be. Everything is personal to you, but realize that to someone else it is just an opinion. We can compare things to the way they were or understand how they are now. I choose creating art in the here and now. 
  • Adaptability: adapt or die. We must observe the rules, but not become slaves to them. The only constant in this world is that were will be forced to adapt to circumstances. We make choices and they have consequences. Know why you are an artist and pursue your dreams; everything that happens in between informs your craft. 
  • Art is Suffering: more aptly put, life is suffering. Things will be difficult. People will love you and hate you for what you do. Suffering makes for great stories and even better art. Form and structure are scaffolding. You need to fill the building in with rooms and people and experiences. Move forward. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Writing Basics: Criticism


There are plenty of blogs available on the Internet that can provide grammar and syntax tips to clean up your writing. I could give you generic advice about spelling and comma splices. All of these things are deeply important to the central idea of writing: storytelling. There are a variety of ways to tell a story. It might focus on a character, an object, the pursuit of something, or just revolve around plenty of action. The further along you get in writing, the more something becomes apparent.

You can't take anything personal. 

Art is a personal endeavor and writers, regardless of skill level, are attempting to convey something about the human condition through the written word. There is no right way or wrong way to do this. There is simply the way with which you are willing to accept your art. 

You don't want to produce a piece of prose riddled with spelling errors. 

Editors (including me) might suggest cutting down on the use of passive voice. 

These are more guidelines that are meant to help you think about your process. 

When you first become an editor, you think that you will suggest changes and an author will be so overjoyed that they will simply accept what you have said and make those changes. It sinks in over time that you are not really the expert. The author is the expert on their world and you have to help them find a way to make sense of the senseless without violating the way they want to tell their story. 

In the end, you need to be able to defend your choices and understand why you made them in the first place. When I first started writing and publishing (a decade ago), I took everything personally. I took advice personally, thinking it meant something about my process or how I should think about myself as a writer. A bad or lukewarm review was a testament to whether or not I should continue writing. 

What I learned (and this is really true of everything in life) is that nothing is about you. Everything that someone else says informs you of that person's ideas of how things should be done. They are no more valid than your opinions on a subject or on a turn of a phrase. Some people can break down our existence in words better than others, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't write the way you want to. 

The reality is quite simple: if you can be talked out of being a writer, then you are not a writer. 

Writing comes down to a series of choices. Looming quite large for writers is the idea of criticism; and I will keep this on the constructive side and pay no mind to the trolls. When someone takes the time to offer you suggestions and notes about your work, you have a series of options. One might think there is one option:

  • Take the advice and change your work immediately. 

However, there are plenty of things you can do:

  • Take some of the advice
  • Take all of the advice
  • Take none of the advice

You are the author of your work, so start acting like it. Understand the rules and the reasons why you did something so you can stand up for them. 

Agree? Disagree? It's all part of the process. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Your Weekly Dose: Drained, Chapter 1



Going to the Twisted Terror Convention in Sacramento made me want to get back to work on Drained, the second installment of the Lauren Westlake series. I am about halfway through the sequel and in order to hold myself accountable, I will be posting a chapter a week for your reading pleasure. If you enjoy what you read, please share it with others and leave a comment. 



I

The hotel looked as if it could have been an Andy Warhol painting. The colors were bright and the décor was clearly meant to convey more than a passing resemblance to the 1960s motor lodges that were shelters to middle-class families looking for the American Dream on the open road. 

Lauren opened her suitcase and sighed. 

There was something about the symphony of cars, brakes, staggering voices, and the rhythm of the city that put her at ease. As she took the taxi from the airport, she could not help but be relieved by the steady parade of lights that greeted her––rain-drenched and sparkling like constellations in the night. 

Her suitcase was otherwise empty. 

There was not much to unpack. 
The trip to Locke had been sudden and her Spartan collection of wardrobe reflected such a kneejerk decision. An off-white comforter adorned a bed that called to the weathered agent, but she knew she would get no sleep that night. 

Lifting the case file free from deeper in the darkness of the suitcase, Lauren placed the open luggage on the ground and ran a finger over the torn package and its contents. 

She had looked at the crime scene photos and crisply written reports several times on her private flight to Minneapolis and then her connecting flight to the Bay. More than once a fellow traveler had looked over her shoulder to find out what occupied her time, only to be disgusted and revolted by the grisly photos and cryptic narrative of the crimes. 

It was the address that caught her attention once more. 

She had never been to San Francisco. She knew no one in California, save for an aunt she rarely talked to who lived in San Diego on the beach somewhere. Not being familiar with the city, she walked over to the nightstand with a trendy lamp atop it, which was painted a garish green that obscured the muted light.

Opening the drawer, she found the folded and refolded city map that remained as a testament to a time before computers and navigation software. Opening it up and spreading it out on the bed, she read the address on the brown envelope to herself: 865 Union Street. 

Tracing a long finger across the faded map, she found the motel’s location along Fillmore Street. Following the street back to the long line that represented Union Street, she tapped an indiscriminate place on the map where her mystery location could be found. 

Grabbing her coat from a hook to the left of the door, she wrapped it around her shoulders. She had not taken off her holster since exiting the airport and a crawling sensation that lingered in her stomach made her think that she would not be parted from it for long. 

Fog stung the night air. 

Cold condensation covered the metal railings of the staircase and the fence that separated the walkway from a center area where the still waters of a swimming pool and a slightly swaying hammock waited for the light of the day. 

Reaching into her pocket, she pulled free a wool cap. The air was not as cold as it had been in Minnesota; such thoughts sunk her mood, recalling Dominic and the macabre killer who had stalked the cold woods of Locke. 

Lauren pushed the thoughts from her mind and lowered her chin under the collar of her coat. The walk was brisk as she moved up Fillmore and turned the corner onto Union. 


THE OVERPASS THAT SEPARATED the yuppie hipster youth from the potentially poor was otherwise indistinguishable from any other place in the city. The fog had become a light drizzle that had forced Benny under the comfort of a concrete shelter. 

This was not his normal squatting grounds, but times were tough and he had learned to roll with the punches. His grizzled features and unkempt salt-and-pepper hair might have been charming were he not several shades of crazy and hungrier than a feral cat. 

In the late 70s he had fancied himself a musician, playing the tall bass with a few friends; it was tough for Benny to think of them as friends now. What passed for a friend on the street was someone who wouldn’t steal your blankets or chase you out of a rat-infested hole with a taped-together shiv made from broken bottles and pieces of fenders from cars stalled out, parked, and marked like epitaphs. 

The 70s had not been kind to Benny. Cocaine had gone from recreation to lifestyle to death-style. As other band-mates started lives, as accountants and family men, Benny spiraled deeper into despair. 

His friends lost his number. 

It was not long before he didn’t have the money for electricity and then his life was lived in darkness. It was a short hop to not being able to pay rent and the streets became his home. Enough time wandering the cold abyss and he became too volatile to bunk in the homeless shelters. 

He had become a creature of the street. 

Benny could recall a time when he could wink and say a few smooth words and a beaming waitress might swoon––regaling her with his gigs around the city and the promise of a little danger. 

Now, the danger was quite real. 

Digging through one of the grocery carts filled to the brim with postmodern junk, Benny grumbled angrily and unintelligibly to himself. He was looking for something of great value; though such value was variable, especially to a man who no longer was encumbered by the constraints of modern society. 

He had made a strange sort of existence for himself under the overpass. Newspapers were littered about like a well-manicured lawn. Boxes, crushed and water-damaged, were the wings of his great destitute estate. The barrel at the center of it all, burning brightly like a lighthouse on rocky shores, was full of the wisdom of Western society: newspapers, magazines, and various novels that had been cluttered about corners, tucked away by idle hands. 

Retrieving a broken umbrella from the sea of garbage and treasure within his the cart, Benny was startled by the voice. “I do enjoy these brief moments of gentle rain. Do you find them as soothing as I do?”

Turning, Benny was immediately irritated by the man’s presence. Dressed to the nines––with angular, symmetrical, features––there was something unreal about the figure. 

“I don’t want no trouble.”

The man smiled. “Nor do I. But I wonder, Benny, what is it that you are looking for?”

Benny looked at the streets and saw cars zip past, creating concrete dividers––obscuring him from view. It was part of the reason why he stayed: it had become his island, his cabin in the woods.

“Mister, I’m hungry. Do you have any food?”

The man smiled again, disarmingly. “I must admit I am a bit peckish myself. Though I have no food, at least nothing that you would find satisfying, Benny.”

Benny was struck by the disparity in their conversation, as if the man were not talking to him at all and instead reading from a script. This became more surreal as the man stepped past him and looked into the darkness. His features were adulterated by the shadows there: his dark hair made darker; his gray eyes disappearing. 

There, in the darkness, Benny heard something move. 

“Watch out, mister, there are rats back there. I catch them sometimes and cook them up.”

The man chuckled but did not respond, turning his back to Benny. When he spoke again, his voice had changed; it seemed bloated and distant. “They never look for the wretches, Benny. Give me your poor. Give me your hungry. These are just words. I’m hungry as well….”

The sound came again. 

There was no mistaking that it was not a rat this time. 

It was bigger. 

Hollow, deliberate, steps haunted the shadow. A tremor crept up in Benny, rising into his throat like bile from his stomach when he ate from the dumpster behind the Korean restaurant a few blocks away. 

“I don’t want no trouble,” repeated Benny, taking a few steps back, his voice quaking. 

“You won’t have to worry about trouble any longer. I will take your fear. Feed on your fear….”

Benny thought to run. 

Panic gripped him, but his muscles wouldn’t respond. He wondered if the lady doctor at the center had been right: Was he crazy? Was he chasing shadows in the dark?

Looking at his bin of junk, he saw the broken pipe that he had taken from a rundown building in the Tenderloin. He had thought it was copper, but it turned out to be rusted and useless like him. 

Gripping it like he was Babe Ruth waiting at the plate, he watched the darkness. The well-dressed man had disappeared, but his voice drifted on the fog like a spirit. 

“Why fight it, Benny? Is this really worth living for, this sad little life?”

Benny’s fear turned to anger. 

Gesturing with the pipe, he shouted into the dark.

“How do you know my name?”

The laugh sent shivers down his spine. 

Something in the darkness tripped and fell, dislodging the third and fourth cardboard bedrooms of his sprawling street estate. A form emerged in the darkness: something frightening beyond words. 

“We know all about you, Benny.”

As the form took shape in the half-light of the passing cars, Benny held his breath and swung the pipe as hard as he could. There would be no game-winning home run to win the World Series. With a gnashing maw, the shadow blotted Benny from view and pulled him back into the darkness. 


LAUREN WAS SURPRISED by how many people still milled about in the night despite the rain. Most walked with their heads high; a few carried umbrellas. Union Street was filled with upper-middle class crowds of men and women languishing at the end of their twenties or in the opening innings of their thirties.  

The volume of music played over loudspeakers faded in and out as she passed several sets of stairs that led into darkened bars that sounded equal parts like a J-pop video and a monkey cage at a zoo. After a few blocks, the noise diminished and bars and nightclubs gave way to quiet residential buildings stocked with sleeping occupants and empty homes waiting for their drunken stewards. 

The building was nondescript, blending into the surrounding two-story homes and apartments that lined the vacant streets. The front door was set back from the light of the luminance from the evenly spaced streetlamps. The name on the mailbox was chipped away, as if someone had been fiddling with it out of nervousness. 

As Lauren approached it, she noticed immediately that it was slightly ajar. Heat flushed her chest as she saw the creeping darkness of the interior of the home revealed by the sliver of the exposed door.

Knocking, her voice was gravelly as she called into the darkened interior. “Hello? Is anyone home?”

Silence answered. 

Pushing on the door, it groaned as it swung open. Lauren peered into the interior, her hand reaching to her side holster. Drawing her weapon, she stepped into the shadow.

The front room was small despite the size of the home; a table sat just next to the entrance, items indistinguishable in the dark collected on its top. A few hangers just beside a mirror created surreal shapes in the darkness. 

“The door was open,” called Lauren. 

No answer. 

A heightened sense of possibility itched at her; the presence of something in the darkness seemed more probable given her time spent in the cold north. The creature that had haunted the rural community was something that she imagined would wake her in the middle of the night for many years to come. 
Stairs, shadowed and steep, lead to another floor. 

Silence permeated the space despite the sounds outside. Thick walls obscured the sound with each step she took deeper into the home. A giant rug at the center of the room was upturned at the corners. There was an open window at the far side of the room; the drapes lifted and contorted like a specter. 

“Is anyone home?”

The living room and kitchen were separated by a high bar with broken bottles and papers strewn about. Liquid pooled in the center of stacks of papers, attempting to escape through little rivers that navigated off the edge of the counter and onto the floor. Cabinets were thrown open and dishes broke upon the ground. 
Lauren removed a small flashlight she kept on her person and clicked it on. Shining the beam of luminance on the kitchen ceiling, there were darkened patches that looked like water damage. 

Being careful not to crush the broken glass upon the floor, she moved about the spacious kitchen. The refrigerator door was propped open slightly. The bulb shone brightly. Drawers had been pulled over the runners; knives and spatulas were littered across the floor. 

Shining the light on the floor, she paused. Broken dishes and large pieces of the stylized plates were strewn about; yet, there was a small area of crushed pieces of ceramic. Kneeling down, Lauren held her hand over the top of the depressed area. As she looked forward, lifting the beam with her gaze, she noticed that there were several more areas of crushed ceramic and glass that led out of the kitchen. 

Standing once more, Lauren followed the shards until they were just glimmers in the carpet; the trail stopped by the stairs. Looking into the darkened living room, she could see the open window. 

With a sigh, she turned and started up the staircase. 

It seemed impossible to shake what had happened in Locke. Walking up the stairs, she could not dispel the apprehension that had gripped her at the Lavender house. It was not the loneliness or the danger that frightened her: it was the possibility of losing control, of not being the one who decided her fate. Lauren could hear sirens in the distance, but couldn’t be sure from what direction they were coming. 

The room at the top of the stairs encompassed a large unencumbered space. Another massive dark rug spread across the center; though this one appeared undisturbed except for a wrinkle here or there. At the opposite end of the room in which she stood, there was a heavy desk with a chair––spun so that it was facing away from her––that seemed to breathe with the flittering war between light and darkness that engulfed the room. 

The top of the desk looked in disarray. Papers and books were haphazardly placed. Lauren approached the desk and as she did so, she pushed back her coat and replaced her service weapon. Moving around behind it, she inspected the papers with a squint. She picked up some of the books, flipping through the pages idly before putting them back down. 

Turning the chair, she noticed that it seemed uneven as it rolled. Further inspection brought her down into the darkness behind the desk. She touched the ground, moving her hand back and forth until she felt the slight bump in the rug. Pushing away the chair, she lifted up the rug and reached underneath. Stretching out her fingers, she felt the hard spine of a book and rescued it from its prison. 

The book was simple. 

That was not quite right. 

Bound in unevenly cut pages with a hard substance bent into crude rings to bind it, the tome––and it most certainly earned the designation given its girth––did not seem of this world. Lauren touched the cover and then pressed her hand against it. Cradling it in her right hand, she could spread the fingers of her left hand over the entire cover. 

Exhaling and closing her eyes, she tried to imagine the room as it was without the darkness and disarray. Someone had been here. That much was certain. They had been looking for something. An altercation had broken out in the kitchen and led the assailant, or the thief, upstairs…looking for this book. 

A fight required at least two people.

Tucking the book into the long folds of her coat, she moved back down the stairwell. If the intruder had entered the home through the window, then why was the front door open? Had intruder and attacker gone their separate ways?

A long scraping noise drew Lauren’s attention. Removing her service weapon from its home once more, she steadied it and took the deliberate steps necessary to traverse the distance. Weight leaned against the front door, and then released. Lauren recognized the distinctiveness of the movement; it was not the Bay winds playing tricks on her. She realized that this was not her home. This was not her jurisdiction. Had she once more been led astray, down some phantom path?

The new arrival could not hide the heaviness of his footsteps––she assumed the gender given the length of the shadow and the statistical probability of which of the sexes was quickest to enter a home unannounced. “This is an active crime scene. I’m a federal agent. Lay down your weapon and get on your knees,” she commanded. 

Standing at the edge of the stairs, she dared a look toward the front door. There was a cough and a short exhalation of air. Lauren adjusted her grip as she spoke again. “I am going to take your pause as evidence that you are not breaking and entering. Police or private security?”

“SFPD, ma’am.”

Lauren holstered her weapon and sighed. “I’m coming out.”

Lights filled the house as another set of footfalls echoed near the front door. Lauren stepped down from the stairwell and leaned against the wall. The uniformed officer wore his inexperience on his sleeve: freshly shaven with a tremor in his voice let Lauren know that adrenaline was getting the better of him. Three other figures haunted the step and the disco of police lights penetrated the darkness and flickered through the home. It was going to be a long night.  



If you still haven't read the first book in the series, Bitten, then be sure to grab it today for only $2.99 on Kindle.