I Need Your Help with Something Small

Hey Dear Reader,

I’ve been working on a project for a while now and, now that the novel is finished, I’m getting my marketing in order.

I’ve written a novel that sets all the visceral cruelty and sensuality of the vampire myth in the pastoral setting of the Amish landscape.

My first round of cover designs have come back, and I’d love your take on these covers.

My question is simple: which one of these books would you add to your cart? Leave a comment below!

If you read in the genre or have any graphic design background, I’d love to hear any further suggestions you have as well.

As I said, this is the first round of drafts, so I have a few revisions to get things right, and your help is going to go a long way.

Thank you!

A Free Preview Chapter from Fracture

Fracture, the second novel in the Hindsight Series, is coming out in just a few days. To give you a sneak peak at what’s happening in the novel, I’ve got a free preview chapter here. For those of you who have read Hindsight, this is going to be a little different. Hindsight is a story told from one point of view. Fracture is a continuation of that story, but larger in scope. To tell the story of Fracture, I felt that I needed to split the narrative into multiple points of view. This is one of those points of view, and I hope you enjoy it.

Mark

Mark Proctor stepped out of the taxi, buried in a mile of traffic that carved its way into the belly of Lincoln tunnel. Above the tunnel, tail lights moved, giving the impression of blood pulsing through the narrow capillaries of the city’s congested streets. Only, here, where the metaphor could be most aptly applied, the artery was blocked, and the blood stood still, congealing into a shared emotional clot of rage. Horns blared here and there. Cars inched forward, closing the gaps between bumpers in an impotent attempt to find release from the tension. The line of cars had not truly moved for half an hour.

Mark’s hand closed around the handle of his briefcase as he exited the purring taxi. Then he ducked back in for the second bag, a sports-duffel. Leaving the door ajar, he began to walk.

Above, turbines whirled, pushing the fumes of the sitting cars forward, and pulling clean, breathable air in. The smell of exhaust was still thick, however, adding nausea to the anger of those who were unfortunate enough to not have a working air conditioner. Emilio Hernandez was one of those. It was Friday, and he was heading home from NYU to visit his parents in Philadelphia. He knew there was going to be traffic and had wanted to leave earlier, but as he was throwing his last pair of underwear into his suitcase, Amy, his on-and-off girlfriend for the last seven months had barged into his room, splotchy-faced and holding back sobs. Sitting behind the wheel, forehead resting on his hand, sucking down half-liters of carbon monoxide, he replayed the conversation in his head.

“Amy, breathe. What is it?”

She moaned while she held a hand to her mouth and paced around the small apartment. They were classmates in NYU’s pre-med program. She was a freshman, though still young enough to be in high-school. A smart girl, she’d worked hard and graduated early to get a head start on her plan to become a doctor like her father. At least, that’s what she’d told Emilio when they’d been partnered up in lab. He knew that it wasn’t her dream. Her parents had been planning it ever since they’d brought her home from the hospital. Three stillborn children later, it was confirmed: all their hopes and expectations would be pinned on Amy’s shoulder. She was all they had, and they were going to raise her right. They’d even pulled some strings and gotten her an early start shadowing some nurses at a hospital in Jersey. That’s why, when Emilio put his hands on her shoulders and physically stopped her, he knew immediately what had made her so crazy. He saw it in her eyes as she searched his, looking to see if he was the kind of man that she could trust, or if he was the kind of man who left. They weren’t committed. They weren’t even really dating. School didn’t leave time for that. It did, however, leave time for the occasional stress-fueled sex binge. He knew it was wrong—she was still seventeen. That’s why he’d tried to put some distance between them in the past few months. If her parents found out that they’d been sleeping together, they’d have him expelled for sure. That was the least of his worries, though. Seventeen meant statutory rape if Amy’s family pressed charges. He could have denied it before, but now? Now he was looking at prison. That, as much as the idea of all that responsibility, settled a cold, heavy stone right down on his bladder.

“Are you sure?” he asked, hoping this was some kind of joke.

“Seven tests,” she said, eyes never leaving his face.

“Are you sure it’s me?” He felt like a jackass the moment the words came out of his mouth, but, hey, he had to know that this was really his problem.

Amy’s eyes narrowed. She jerked away from him.

“No, Amy, I mean, you know, we haven’t… since… how long has it been?”

“Not long enough,” she glanced away. From the side, she looked even younger. Prison, for sure, Emilio thought.

“What do you want to do?” Getting a girl pregnant should make you feel like a man, right? Then why did he feel so young, so unprepared to handle this?

“What do you mean?” Amy had replied, a tone of anger pulling the last of those words higher.

Amy was raised a strict Presbyterian. Emilio’s family was Roman Catholic, right down to their socks. They both knew there was only one right thing to do. But then again, nothing else about their relationship was right. Why should this be any different?

“If you got rid of it, no one would know. It would be like it never happened.”

“Emilio, why do you keep saying ‘you’?”

“I didn’t mea-”

“This has happened,” she touched her stomach, “and you can’t take it back. This is your baby too, Emilio, and I need you.”

They’d sat there—waited for twenty minutes without saying anything.

“Listen,” he’d said, finally, “I…I need to go. I’m supposed to be on the road right now. I told my mom I was coming home for the weekend. She’s gonna be worried.”

“Emilio-”

“This just isn’t the right time,” he’d said, as if Amy was asking him to take her dog for a walk.

“Emilio-”

“What?” he’d breathed out.

“Do you really think that I should get rid of it?”

He looked at her—blonde, short, blue eyes, scared, lost, helpless—and, all of a sudden, he was angry.

“I don’t know,” he said, “but I need to go. We’ll talk about it when I get back.”

That’s when she’d started crying, but he couldn’t help it. She was going to cry. She was probably going to cry all weekend. And him? He was going to live in his own version of purgatory until he could figure out what to do. He was thinking about how close to purgatory sitting in rush-hour traffic in the belly of the earth, breathing in all kinds of toxins, while sweating about his whole life going down the drain in front of him actually felt. That’s when the white guy with the dark hair and the expensive grey suit brushed by his open window, knocking his mirror askew.

“Hey!” Emilio called, but when the man didn’t even flinch, he gave up and just leaned out to pull his mirror back into place.

Twenty-two cars ahead of Emilio and one row to the left, Maxwell Howard was on his way home from his retirement party. It had been twelve years later than he would have liked, but just as sweet and freeing as he’d imagined it. He felt so good, he didn’t even mind the traffic. Heck, it was the last time he was going to have to sit in this mess, so he might as well enjoy it. John Coltrane was on the radio, and his wife, Tina, was just waiting for him to get home for a second, and far more romantic, celebration than the one that his colleagues had thrown for him. All that was gonna start with his favorite meal of pot-roast, biscuits and gravy, and a green bean casserole the way that his mother used to make it. Tina had been teasing him all afternoon with pictures of the meal as she prepared it, and a few of her in that silky red nightgown he’d gotten her for Valentine’s day some time ago.

All these years and she’s still got it, he thought to himself. Then, without realizing, he started humming along to Coltrane’s cold, cold horn. He drummed the wheel. “Still got it,” he sang in his thick baritone. “My lady has got it, all of it.” He was no Barry White, but Tina had always called him her very own Teddy Pendergrass. He remembered singing “My Girl” to her on the high-school bleachers down in Birmingham, where they’d both grown up. All those years. Now they had kids and grandkids coming ’round for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They’d grown old together, just like he’d promised her they would. But not so old they couldn’t do for a little more adventure. Maxwell had already booked a Caribbean cruise in honor of the occasion. It was scheduled to leave next Friday. He had picked up the tickets that afternoon on his way home. He was going to surprise Tina with them after dinner.

He glanced sideways to see a little black-haired girl laughing at him from the passenger seat of a white sedan. Her mom, harried to exhaustion by the looks of it, tried to settle her down when she noticed the older man turn their way. She held a palm up to the window and mouthed, “I’m sorry,” opening her lips in big, slow circles.

Maxwell laughed and held up his hand to let her know there was nothing to fuss about. The little girl smiled and giggled, slinking into her seat. When the mother picked up her cellphone to read a text, Maxwell raised his eyebrows and stuck his tongue out at the little girl, playfully. She laughed, bobbed up in her seat and did the same. They carried on like this for a few minutes, while her mom sat oblivious, eyes absorbed in the screen of her cellphone.

“Jayden’s still not home,” the text read in Spanish, “I called Nico, and he said that Jayden didn’t take the bus from school. He saw him spending time with the older boys again.” It was from her mother. This was the second time this month that Jayden hadn’t come home. Annaluis knew what those boys were about, and she’d pleaded with her son to stay away from them. That just seemed to push him farther from her, though. If only his father lived closer. He needed a role model—someone to teach him what it was to be a man—not that Miguel was a man by any measure, but he was better than those boys. Jayden was getting too old for her to just shout at him or even spank him. Soon he’d be completely out of her control. She glanced up from the text to see the older black man in the Cadillac beside them settling back into his seat. Then she noticed her daughter with her face pressed up against the window so that her nose looked like a pig’s as she puffed her cheeks in and out.

“Nina, stop it,” she ordered.

“But mama,” the little girl turned around, “he was doing it first.”

“Don’t lie to me, hija.”

“I’m not lying,” the girl whined.

“You want abuela to pinch your ear?”

“Mama, I’m not lying!” the girl insisted.

“Don’t lie to me, Nina,” Annaluis warned again.

“I promise. I’m not-”

“Sit back,” Annaluis said, “put your seatbelt back on.”

The girl returned her back to the seat, and her mother returned her eyes to the phone. There was no reception, so she couldn’t text back or find out whether Jayden had gotten home yet. She looked anxiously at the glowing red lights stretching far in front of her.

Mark Proctor knelt on the worn, greasy asphalt behind the bumper of a silver Camry. He untied his shoes—brown Ferragamo oxfords with the wingtips. His wife had bought them for him when he’d been promoted in October. Mark had been firing on all cylinders ever since he’d passed the bar, the fact validated by his rise to partner in under six years of working at Williams, Akerman, and Fisk. He was their lead closer with a hand-selected team that had been unstoppable since he’d put them together. A standing ovation—that’s what they’d given him today before he left the office. After months of wooing, advising and schmoozing, he had finally closed on the company’s biggest account yet, securing a hefty bonus for everyone in the office. He hadn’t slept at all the night before, so he’d taken a taxi into work that day, hoping to catch a few minutes in the back-seat. He’d done the same on the ride home, before he woke up in the tunnel.

The fans thrummed above him as his fingers pulled at his laces. Zipping open the duffel, he placed his shoes and socks inside. When his hand emerged from the bag, he was holding a grenade. A long, well-manicured index finger hooked the pin and pulled it out as he depressed the lever. His hazel eyes blinked once while sweat trickled down from his forehead, but his hands didn’t shake. He walked steadily, bare feet flattening onto the asphalt with each step. To his right, he passed a blue BMW convertible with two women, Margaret and Amanda, whose bleached blonde hair was sticking in strands to their faces. They watched him go, eyes running the length of his grey suit before turning to each other with puzzled expressions of laughter. In front of their car was an airport shuttle-van, whose twelve passengers slumped in their seats, sweating and tense with the prospect of missing their various connections.

“How far is Newark Liberty once we’re out of the tunnel?” a husky man with a salt-and-pepper goatee asked the driver.

Mark reached his hand through the open window and dropped the grenade. It thumped on the floor and rolled under the second row seat as he kept walking.

Five of the passengers noticed the man in the grey suit drop something into the van as he passed by. Of those five, only two reached for the handle of the door. The others bent forward to look under their seats for the object. The driver, a forty-three year old man named Scott Nichols, had not been paying attention. His thoughts were on how poor his tips were going to be when he finally dropped these passengers off.

“Give me a sec,” he said. He reached for the radio dial to tune it to the traffic report as the two passengers in the back reached for the door.

“Hey, woa-listen!” he started to say, but the woman on the handle, Sylvia Brown, finally found her voice in her panic and screamed, “Get out!”

Margaret and Amanda were still laughing to themselves about the attractive, barefoot man in the grey suit and how they were inclined to join him when the shuttle-van in front of them exploded. A six-centimeter shard of shrapnel plowed through the BMW’s windshield and into Amanda’s eye, lodging itself in her brain. Margaret looked over at her companion and saw her chin resting on her chest before she felt the blood trickling down her own face. Her ears, ringing with the blast, picked up the muted shrieks of a young woman in the car next to hers. In front of her, the shuttle-van caught fire.

Mark reached back into the duffel and drew out an AKS-74U with an extended magazine. In the black Corolla to his left, Tonya and Michael Jones, a sister and brother visiting New York for the first time looked from the smoking van behind them to see the man in the grey suit striding alongside their car. Mark leveled the barrel of the compact assault rifle at their window and pulled the trigger. A burst of fire sent bullets and shattered glass through Michael’s neck and Tonya’s stomach. He swiveled the gun to his other side, pulling the trigger again as he walked alongside a white SUV with a bumper sticker that read “My Child is an Honor Student” and another that read “McCain 2008”. Ahead of him, a car door opened and a man stepped out to meet another round of fire from Mark’s AK. The man’s body jerked with the bullets, then fell back against the door, leaving it streaked with blood as he slumped to the ground. Inside, his wife screamed her husband’s name. Mark crossed traffic, firing at the driver of a green Ford Focus on his right. Around him, screams erupted as people flung their doors open and climbed over each other to get out of their cars. Mark continued to fire. The sound of the explosion and the bursts of gunfire in the confined space of the tunnel amplified the terror felt by the mob of people as they surged over cars, trampling each other to get out of harms way. Mark placed the smoking assault rifle on the hood of the Focus and reached back into the duffel to bring out a second grenade. The pin dropped into the cuffed hem of his pant leg as he lobbed it into a frenzied mass of people. The explosion rocked the tunnel again. Smoke billowed up and left nearby cars spattered with gore and the asphalt littered with bodies and their missing parts. His fingers closed around the handle of the AK, and he sprayed in the direction of those still running. A man in a pink polo and a woman in a business suit went down with three others. Mark turned and continued up the tunnel.

In his semi, Donny Thompson heard the explosion, the gunfire, and the shrieks behind him. He radioed out, hoping that someone at the front of the tunnel would catch the transmission on his CB and pass the message along. People in the cars around him were climbing over each other, rushing headlong away from the attack. He watched as an elderly couple was pushed to the ground and trampled. Jerking himself out of his seat, he opened the door and dropped to the street. The jolt jarred his back. He fell against the door to the Camry beside him and held himself up as three teenagers shouldered past. Working his way along the corridor of cars, he came to the place where he’d seen the elderly couple disappear. Another man pushed him from behind, and he fell forward, landing on the old man’s back. When he rolled him over, he knew that he was dead. The old man had laid himself on top of his wife to protect her. She was bloodied and dazed, but still alive. Donny picked her up carefully, opening the door of an empty minivan on his right and laying her inside.

“Now, you stay here, okay?” he said, pushing the matted grey hair back off her forehead. “Ambulance will be along any minute.”

He slid the door shut and turned towards the direction of the gunshots. He had never had to use it, but today he was glad for the Sig Sauer P226 he kept strapped to his belt.

Seventeen cars behind Mark Proctor, Emilio sat, gripping the steering wheel of his car. A scattered stream of people shoved their way past his window while the gunfire ahead punctuated their screams. He took five quick breaths and forced himself to let go of the wheel. Throwing his door open, he stepped into the gap between his car and the next. He turned to run, but heard another cry of pain.

“Okay,” he said, and without taking his eyes off the ground, he turned his feet to face the direction of the shots. “Mierda,” he said under his breath as he pushed himself to take a step forward. “Mierda, mierda, mierda,” with every step. Somebody slammed into him, breaking his concentration and throwing him up against the hood of a car. Their eyes, panicked and wide, blazed past. He looked ahead at the van burning and people running between cars. He pulled his eyes down to the next car in front of him and began to walk. When he came close to the burning shuttle-van, he started to scan for the wounded. A family huddled in the Honda Odyssey to his right, whimpering and paralyzed by fear. To his left, the passenger window on a station wagon was gone. The driver’s side was ajar and no one else was in the car. The smell of burning rubber filled his nose and choked him as he approached the burning shuttle-van. His feet crunched over broken glass. Flames climbed out of the van’s windows and licked at the dark smoke that billowed up to the tunnel ceiling, where it was pushed along in a dark river by the turbines overhead. He approached a blue BMW convertible behind the van as the flames kicked higher. The woman in the passenger seat was dead, her eye gouged out by flying debris. The driver moaned. Emilio wiped away the mask of blood that covered her face and saw that she had a shard of metal lodged in her forehead. Blood had clotted around it, which was good, but her face was pale.

“Miss… miss, can you move?” Emilio asked her, checking her for other injuries. Though her eyes were open, she was unresponsive.

The flames of the van brightened and the heat on Emilio’s face intensified. “Miss, I’m going to have to move you,” he said. “It’s not safe here.” He reached inside and opened her door, then undid her seatbelt. Pulling her out of the car and onto her feet seemed to bring her back a little. She supported most of her own weight as he started to walk her to the left, across the lanes of cars to a U-Haul truck. He noticed another woman in the same condition, sitting catatonic in the car beside the blue BMW. Once he laid the first woman safely inside the U-Haul, he went back for the second.

Maxwell saw the man in the grey suit cross into his lane three cars ahead of him. He wasn’t one of the many that day that stayed inside their vehicle in an almost paralytic state of fear. He simply thought that stepping out of the car made you more of a target. He’d hoped the man would just walk by. He didn’t. In the car to his left, the little girl Maxwell had been making faces with screamed. Maxwell watched as the man turned towards the sound and began to walk, firing into cars that were still occupied as he passed. He took aim at the little girl and her mother and pulled the trigger, but his gun seemed to jam. Maxwell threw open his door as the man dropped the weapon and reached in his duffel bag for another. Maxwell tried the handle of the little girl’s car, but it was locked. Looking back, he saw the man in the suit standing barefoot, raising a pistol towards the child…

Read the rest on June 4, when Fracture becomes available on the Amazon store. And be sure to pick up your copy of Hindsight, book 1 in the series, before then. Hindsight will go free again on June 4 to celebrate the launch of Fracture, for those of you who love to binge read. If you just can’t wait, then it’s going for the low price of $2.99 right now.

Review- 11/22/63: A Novel

11.22.63

 

Stephen King’s Needful Things was the book that turned me on to reading and writing again, after a long hiatus. The book set the bar quite high for other thrillers and here’s why:

King is a master of atmosphere. Other authors focus on creating a terrifying villian. King, however, simply traps his very human characters in a horrific situation, like putting two starving guinea pigs in the same cage, then watches them eat each other. These characters are going about their ordinary lives when something changes, be it an invisible dome snapping down over their town or a mist that rolls in with monsters in its wake or an old shopkeeper who sells people the things they want for a simple favor. This change is what all of King’s readers have come to love about his writing.

He sets a scene so thoroughly that it smells and tastes like you are sitting at a diner, drinking a gritty, bitter slosh of coffee while you overhear the conversations that carry on around you. Then an unseen hand turns the dial on the thermostat up just a little and the scene shifts. Soon, things are tense and that tension doesn’t let up when the villain leaves, because something has changed in the ordinary people that still live in the hamster cage.

I could go on about Stephen’s knack for plot-craft, but I intended to talk about 11/22/63, and that I shall. Truthfully, I could have used a little more of that sense of foreboding. The entire novel was heavy on the nostalgia, but a little light on the suspense for my tastes. There were those moments when everything is going wrong, but I didn’t feel as compelled into finding out just how bad things could get, because there were a few too many rays of sunshine in this piece. This could be what some readers are looking for. They don’t want a white-knuckle thriller, just an escape to a different time. If that’s what you’re out to find, then this is a great book. King doesn’t just write suspense or horror, after all. He’s the author of The Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption as well, both beautiful works of the nobility and strength of the human spirit. Others have felt this one falls closer into that category. I felt he was trying to straddle the fence a little and could have gotten off on either side.

The premise is interesting. You walk into the pantry of a diner in 2014 and out into the past. You could stay for five years, but when you go back into the diner, you’ve only been gone for two minutes. You go back into the past, but it’s always the same day and every time you go back, you reset everything you did to the timestream on the trip before. Now, one of the characters thinks so much of the world’s evil could be undone if someone could just keep JFK from being assassinated. Then the mission begins. An ordinary goes back to stop a killing (a few killings, actually).

I would like to have seen a little more darkness and desperation in the main character, Jake Epping. For most of the novel, he seems to wander around trying to figure things out, making up life as he goes along. It’s believable. He’s not a superhero and stepping back in time would definitely put you on your heels, but I didn’t get much of a drive from him for most of the book.

One thing that King does excel at in this novel is his research. It is exhaustive. He knows everything from obscure dog-racing scores to the kinds of cigarettes smoked in his locals fifty years ago. That was, perhaps, the most impressive thing about the book for me. It gave the whole story an air of authenticity is critical to works of science fiction. It took a while, but his theories of time-travel presented an unusual slant on the organism, or machine, of time and how our actions affect the nature of reality. It was a payoff, however, that I would have like to have come sooner.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable, believable story, but I would not say it is one of King’s best. The suspense is quite watered down by the length of time it takes to tell the tale and the span of years that it covers. Suspense is not everything, however, and if you want a story that is one part thriller and three parts homage to the 50’s, then this is the perfect tale for you.

Hindsight $.99 Sale

I’ve gotten some good love from reviewers lately. Lines like this one keep my fingers pounding out the pages on the keyboard, “Surprisingly for a novel in this genre it is more importantly unpredictable in its twists and turns, and this kept me turning the pages until I finished the book.”

You’re here for this reason, though. Kirkus Reviews has called Hindsight, “A high-stakes suspense novel with a breakneck pace and strong voice.” They have selected the novel as one of their Indie Books of the Month. It’s for this reason that I’m going to give some love back to you, my reading friends. This week till Friday, I’ll be dropping the price of Hindsight to $.99. At less than a movie rental, you can enjoy a whole weekend of “a staccato beat of furious double-crosses, stunning revelations and gritty action.” Just follow the link here, and be sure to leave me a review or drop me a comment letting me know what you think of the novel.

3 Keys to Getting Ideas

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I told my wife today that I had finally hit the turning point in my second novel, Fracture. My first novel, Hindsight, starts out with a whip-crack (the lead character falling out of an 8th floor window) and only slows down to take a breath in a few places. With Fracture, I wanted to work on a slower build that gradually increased in tempo like a lit fuse nearing the first stick of dynamite in a chain of explosions. Yesterday, my lead character turned the corner. It’s a good feeling when you’ve put all the pieces into play and you can finally start the real action. When I explained this to my wife, she said, “I wouldn’t know where to begin writing a novel.”

“It all starts with an idea,” I said, “usually a ‘what-if?’.”

That’s why de-cluttering your space, schedule, and mind is so important to an author. When you’re stuck in routines or harried by to-do lists, your mind doesn’t have time to wander.

  1. You need time to read. Books are great. They shape your perception and your style as an author. Books aren’t the only places where authors get ideas, though. Pick up magazines, news articles, slip through an encyclopedia or a national geographic. Here’s the lesson about reading: read inside your genre to perfect your style, outside of it for new ideas. So if you’re looking for something fresh, get outside your genre for that brilliant “what-if?” that sets your pants on fire.
  2. You need time to wander too. Set aside 30 minutes to go for a walk at the end of the day. Go alone if you can or with a friend who likes to talk about things outside of conventional conversation. Maybe just sitting on the same bench in the same part is what you need. Whatever it is, clear your mind of all the tasks you have to do and give yourself time to dream on whatever takes your interest.
  3. People-watch. There is no better place to find drama than laundro-mats and all-night diners. Go places where people talk loudly. Bring a pen and paper or your phone and a note-taking app. Capture moments of dialogue that hook your attention, life’s ironic twists, physical descriptions and tics, and the multiple facets of the human psyche.

How about you? Where do you get your best ideas from? What places or habits help you to get those brilliant ideas?

Christmas Sale!

“A staccato beat of furious double-crosses, stunning revelations and gritty action.”- 5 Star Review on Amazon

In the spirit of giving, Hindsight, my thriller about a Jersey boy who gets mixed up in some of his family’s old IRA connections, will be going on sale. That’s right. It was cheap before, but now it’s only $0.99 until Christmas! Pick it up on Amazon now!