AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – JOHN L. FRENCH


New Pulp Heroes has a series called Five Questions With… that featured eSpec author and editor John L. French today. We thought you might enjoy the interview. You can access it by clicking the link. 

Among other things, John talks about his upcoming release, When the Moon Shines, the premier book in our new series Systema Paradoxa, releasing under the NeoParadoxa imprint.

Cryptid Crate SystemaParadoxa

Friday Favorite Five: Books With Steampunk Elements


Though the cover featured is from the original printing, this blogger warms our heart by featuring Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, co-written by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed as one of their five favorite books with steampunk elements.

It warms my heart 🙂

Way Too Fantasy

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For previous posts and future FFF topics check out my Friday Favorite Five page here.

Favorite Five Books With Steampunk Elements

Steampunk these days is such a murky category. Is it science fiction? Is it fantasy? Well, a lot of ‘steampunk’ these days seem to be both, and that’s just fine by me! Here are a few of my favorites!

  • Soulless by Gail Carriger

souless-cover

If you’re looking for a good comedy steampunk historical urban fantasy, well, Soulless has you covered. Vampires and werewolves! Romance! Quirky characters! Hilarious dialogue! This series is a lot of fun. It may seem like it has too much going on, but somehow all the elements really work well together.

  • Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare

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I really love this series, it’s just so much fun. In this alternate history of 19th century Italy, there are people who are really good at certain things, they…

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eSPEC EXCERPTS – SPIRIT SEEKER


Happy Halloween! We hope you enjoy this treat: an excerpt from Jeff Young’s Defender of the Departed, from his collection Spirit Seeker.


spiritseeker.jpgDefender of the Departed

When the leg kicked, Kassandra jumped. Her mentor, Lehvoi, caught her eye, tipping his head in question. She pushed the probe linked to the static jar down harder and this time both of the frog’s extremities floundered. However, Kassandra wasn’t looking at the interior of the dissected creature any longer but at its dark eyes. She blinked. That wasn’t possible, because the frog was lying on its back. She felt something at the corner of her mouth as if she’d run her tongue over her lips. Snatching off her gloves, she put her fingertips to her mouth and felt a spark leap up to meet them.

The eyes of the frog that were now staring at her were from an immaterial specter of the animal. The experience was like looking at an optical illusion. From one direction, there was a splayed corpse and from another the beady stare. Then she caught the shining reflection of her fingertip. A glistening coat of quicksilver lay over the pads of her fingers from where she’d touched her lips. The distorted image of her wide-eyed visage stared back at her. In the reflection, something moved behind her.

Dropping her hand, she turned in time to catch a glimpse of a figure in a dark cloak walking around her chair. When the other passed in front of the glass doors of the liquor cabinet, Kassandra observed that it cast no reflection. How many apparitions was she seeing? The human figure came to stop, standing over the frog. The long slender fingers of one hand came to rest on the amphibian’s head. Something about them captured her attention a fleeting moment. Before she could tell what, the apparition’s other hand reached out to her. Kassandra could feel the grip that settled on her forearm and she drew in her breath to scream. Just as suddenly as the vision occurred, she became aware that she was still seated in the leather armchair in the study of the folly on her father’s estate. Lehvoi stood over her, his hand gently rocking the chair as he stared into her eyes.

“Are you all right, my dear?” he asked concern roughening his voice.

Before she answered, Kassandra brought her hand up before her face and stared at her fingertips. The mirrored illusion was gone.

Unknowingly mirroring the spirit, Lehvoi reached out, stopping himself just before he caught Kassandra’s hand. She did her best to stifle a smile. While he was a brilliant mentor, Lehvoi was a bit of a germaphobe.

“It was ectoplasm. I know you’ve never seen it before. I…” he stopped and looked down at the floor, gathering his thoughts. Hooking a foot through the legs of a nearby stool, Lehvoi pulled it over and then sat down on it in front of her. He ran a hand through his unruly mop of brown hair as if gathering up his thoughts with his fingers. “I hoped that you might one day demonstrate the abilities that your mother had. Now, I need you to understand, Kassandra Leyden, that no matter what happens, what you have is a gift—a marvelous gift. You have an ability to see things that others will never experience.”

A bell rang and they both turned to see Wexfield, her father’s manservant standing in the doorway. Lehvoi swiftly came to his feet. Wexfield proffered her mentor a small silver tray bearing a white card. Kassandra immediately caught the change in Lehvoi’s expression when he glanced at the card. He turned back to her and sighed. “I am so very sorry, Kassandra. I must take care of this. There is someone who has come a long way to see me. This will only take a moment and then we can continue our conversation. Please wait and I shall be right back.”

When Lehvoi left with Wexfield, all Kassandra could see of the waiting visitor was the back of his tweed jacket. Their shadows passed by the windows of the top floor of the folly and came to stop on the balcony. She realized where the men were standing was exactly the same direction that the apparition of the frog and the stranger in the cloak had faced in her vision. Only then did she realize what she’d seen on the hands that caressed the frog. Adorning one long, slender finger of the left hand had been a familiar ring, a moebius twist of gold—her mother Anastasia’s ring.

Unsettled, Kassandra pushed herself out of the chair and made her way over to the window. The angle of the outdoor shutters made it difficult for her to see the men on the balcony. She resisted the urge to pull the heavy velvet curtain away from the corner and peer out around the mount of the shutter, afraid that the movement would attract their attention. Instead she crept forward and turned her head, brushing aside her red ringlets she laid her ear against the cool glass. As she began to make out voices, she noticed how badly the hand steadying her against the glass shook.

She’d never known her mother’s whole story—and father was certainly not going to tell her. He did his best to wipe those memories away with an omnipresent glass of whisky. All Kassandra knew was that when she was quite young Mother had gone away. She vaguely remembered Father telling her over and over that her mother would be back soon and better than ever. Anastasia had returned, but there was a marked difference. She went out at all hours and strange people came to speak to her in whispered conferences. It was as if her adventurous father had traded places with her now-mysterious mother. Anastasia no longer followed Casimir Leyden’s lead. In fact, the two were often at odds, the least things sparking prolonged arguments. Five years ago Kassandra’s mother had stormed out and never returned. Father refused to speak her name again and began drinking with a vengeance. If Kassandra had seen her mother’s shade, then the worst was true. Somehow, perhaps deep inside, she had always known. When she glanced at her hand on the window, it no longer trembled. Closing her eyes, she leaned harder against the glass, striving to hear.

“What you’re asking for is unreasonable.” That was Lehvoi; she could pick out his nasal voice easily and imagined his ever-present, lace-edged handkerchief dabbing at his forehead. “I do understand the nature of the issue. You have good reason to be concerned about the safety of his Majesty and the possibility of any attempts on his person during the Royal Progress. But…”

“The Southrons are restless now. Mexateca are staging revolts in the south. The withdrawal of our adjutants and militias and the abandonment of our old plantations has given them notions. The days of indentured servitude has left them many memories and most of what they remember makes them less than pleasant.”

The stranger had a deep voice that carried despite the clandestine nature of their meeting. Perhaps they felt safe here on the third floor of the folly tower at the edge of the woods on her father’s estate.

“I understand and I, for one, am deeply concerned about His Majesty’s safety. The Directorate has been most generous to me and I appreciate the support that I have received. But, I cannot rush things. I am fully aware that you want to interrogate the three Southron spies that were recently captured. If only you hadn’t let that magistrate become so damnably inflamed with righteous furor that he ordered their immediate execution, we might be having a very different conversation right now.”

“Can you do it?” What the other voiced wasn’t truly a question, rather a gruff challenge.

“Don’t be a fool, if you believed for one second that I couldn’t wrest the information from those poor, dead bastards, you certainly wouldn’t be annoying me now. It will take—” Lehvoi hesitated. “It will take time. I mean how cooperative would you be if you’d recently been strung up in the courtyard and left for the birds to pick at? I have to convince them that I’m an impartial voice, that I had nothing to do with their suffering before they trust me.”

“There is no time. We need to know now.”

“Oh, why on Earth am I explaining it to you? Suffice it to say that you will have your results. I can secure what I need tonight from Potter’s Field and then I will begin my work. I will, perhaps, in consideration of what I’d mentioned, have to become more creative, Minister.”

“Get me what I want. I don’t care how. Just do it, Lehvoi, or you might be hanging from a tree soon yourself.”


Jeff Young headshotJeff Young is a bookseller first and a writer second – although he wouldn’t mind a reversal of fortune.

He is an award winning author who has contributed to the anthologies: Writers of the Future V.26, By Any Means, Best Laid Plans, Dogs of War, Man and Machine, In Harm’s Way, If We Had Known, Afterpunk, In an Iron Cage: The Magic of Steampunk, Clockwork Chaos, Gaslight and Grimm, Fantastic Futures 13, The Society for the Preservation of C.J. Henderson, TV Gods & TV Gods: Summer Programming and the forthcoming Beer, Because Your Friend’s Aren’t That Interesting. Jeff’s own fiction is collected in Spirit Seeker and TOI Special Edition 2 – Diversiforms. He has also edited the Drunken Comic Book Monkey line, TV Gods and TV Gods –Summer Programming and now serves as the CMO for Fortress Publishing, Inc. He has led the Watch the Skies SF&F Discussion Group of Camp Hill and Harrisburg for more than eighteen years. Jeff is also the proprietor of Helm Haven, the online Etsy and Ebay shops, costuming resources for Renaissance and Steampunk.

eSPEC BOOKS AUTHOR READING SERIES – 10/29/20


Well…this is what happens when you go nearly two weeks without posting. Sorry, life has been crazy. We do, however, have quite the treat for you! A double-dose of video. We hope you enjoy this exciting selection of fantasy and steampunk reads, with a bit of drama thrown in.

If you are an author and would like to participate in one of these series, please visit the eSpec Books Author Reading Series Facebook page for details.


The eSpec Books Author Reading Series

Danielle Ackley-McPhail reading an excerpt from her novel, Tomorrow’s Memories, book two in the Eternal Cycle series. 

Christopher J. Burke reading his flash fiction story “Neverending” from the collection In A Flash 2020

Jeff Young reading an excerpt from his short story “The Walking House” from Gaslight & Grimm, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine.

The eSpec Guest Author Reading Series

Alice Liddell reading an excerpt from her novel Tearing Down the Walls from Cloud Orchid Publishing.  

Danielle Ackley-McPhail reading an excerpt from her short story “Reliquary” from Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2, edited by Robert Greenberger and published by Crazy 8 Press, funding now on Kickstarter.

Alice Liddell reading an excerpt from her novel Freya’s Baby – Shattered.

Alice Liddell reading an excerpt from her novel Freya’s Baby.


All purchase links in these posts are Amazon Associate links
and we receive a token commission when you purchase via these links.

PROS & CONS – SERIOUS BUSINESS


This week’s reminiscing is by eSpec Author Jeff Young, who also does some moonlighting as editor for Fortress Publishing. Thus hijinks ensue…


Serious Business by Jeff Young

Brian KoscienskiIt all started with Ling Ling at a room party and ended up with the Fortress Publishing authors recreating book covers wearing animal heads – generally, that’s defined as a good convention. Four years ago, at Confluence in Pittsburgh, Fortress was hosting a Literary Beer and after all of the ‘serious business’ was done and the socializing and imbibing took precedence, the door opened and someone came in wearing a panda head. It didn’t take long for Ling Ling to rock the party. Fast forward to one year later, where Fortress Publishing’s Science Officer, Christine showed up with her very own kitty head to wear. This looked really intriguing to fellow author, Eric, who had a daughter that might just enjoy owning a large animal head as well. So, Eric and I went to Walmart in search of wildlife Fortress2headgear. Returning with a black panther head and another panda head, the appropriate thing would have been to package these and save them to be enjoyed by Eric’s progeny – but that’s just not how we roll. The first photo shoot was of Brian, Christine, and Eric in the hallway in the pose I like to refer to as “Dr. Moreau told us it would end up like this”. At that point, Brian suddenly had the urge to recreate the covers of the Fortress books, The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys Scary Tales of Scariness and The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys Sciencey Tales of Science Fiction. Despite the looks of passersby in the lobby Brian, Chris and myself put ourselves through the poses. If you’re at convention and someone doesn’t look at you funny at least once, you’re not doing it right – of course, a giant animal head just helps things along.


Jeff Young headshot

Jeff Young is a bookseller first and a writer second – although he wouldn’t mind a reversal of fortune.

He is an award winning author who has contributed to the anthologies: Writers of the Future V.26, By Any Means, Best Laid Plans, Dogs of War, Man and Machine, In Harm’s Way, If We Had Known, Afterpunk, In an Iron Cage: The Magic of Steampunk, Clockwork Chaos, Gaslight and Grimm, Fantastic Futures 13, The Society for the Preservation of C.J. Henderson, TV Gods & TV Gods: Summer Programming and the forthcoming Beer, Because Your Friend’s Aren’t That Interesting. Jeff’s own fiction is collected in Spirit Seeker and TOI Special Edition 2 – Diversiforms. He has also edited the Drunken Comic Book Monkey line, TV Gods and TV Gods –Summer Programming and now serves as the CMO for Fortress Publishing, Inc. He has led the Watch the Skies SF&F Discussion Group of Camp Hill and Harrisburg for more than eighteen years. Jeff is also the proprietor of Helm Haven, the online Etsy and Ebay shops, costuming resources for Renaissance and Steampunk.

eSPEC BOOKS AUTHOR READING SERIES – 10/17/20


I am a little late with this post, so there are more than the usual three. This week features both eSpec authors and guest reading a variety of fantasy offerings. We hope you’ll enjoy them all. If you are interested in the books, they can be purchased via the links provided.

If you are an author and would like to participate in one of these series, please visit the eSpec Books Author Reading Series Facebook page for details.


The eSpec Books Author Reading Series

Jeff Young reading an excerpt from his short story “The Walking House” from Gaslight & Grimm, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine. 

Hildy Silverman reading an excerpt from her short story “The Bionic Mermaid vs. The Sea Demons” from the upcoming anthology, Horns & Halos, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and John L. French.

Jeff Young reading his poem “The Idol in the Trees” originally printed in Cemetery Moon Magazine, edited by Chris Pisano, published by Fortress Publishing.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail reading an excerpt from her novel, Yesterday’s Dreams, Book One of the Eternal Cycle Series. 

The eSpec Guest Author Reading Series

Lauren A.R. Masterson reading an excerpt from her novel Love of the Sea, by Ink Smith Publishing. 


All purchase links in these posts are Amazon Associate links
and we receive a token commission when you purchase via these links.

CAPCLAVE SCHEDULE


Well, I am a little late in posting it, but for those who are interested, here is my virtual Capclave schedule for this weekend. Hope to see you there!

Sat 9:00 PM (55min)
Dodo Fantastic: Writing for Themed Anthologies
— Michael D. Pederson (mod), Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Hildy Silverman, Joshua Palmatier, Neil Clarke, Troy Wiggins

Sun 9:00 AM (55min)
Fracturing Fairy Tales and Rewriting Myths
— Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Diana Peterfreund, Kelly E. Dwyer, Ken Altabef, Sherin Nicole

Sun 12:30 PM (25min)
Author Reading – Danielle Ackley-McPhail
— Danielle Ackley-McPhail (mod)

These panels will take place via Zoom.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – A FEAST FOR DEAD HORSES


Yes…another Chambers story. Believe me, there are few people I know who write creepier than he does, both well-thought out and intense. This week’s excerpt appeared in our anthology After Punk: Steampowered Tales of the Afterlife. With Halloween coming, I hope you enjoy…


Web-AfterPunkA Feast for Dead Horses

James Chambers

Morris Garvey clutched a crude sackcloth doll with a ropy tangle of black hair knotted around its neck and swayed as the steam trolley rocked toward Muhheakantuck Bay. He gripped the overhead strap and willed the machine to travel faster.

“Damn this slow-moving contraption,” he said.

Detective Daniel Matheson squinted at his friend. “Trolley’s the swiftest way across town this time of day. If’n you wanted real speed, we ought to have saddled up a couple horses.”

“Is that how they do it in Texas? Should we gallop along the sidewalks, tramp through Plunkett Square Market, and lasso beggars from our path?”

“If that’s what it took, you bet.”

“Better New Alexandria should adopt my velocity regulator and double our trolley cars’ speed. Some days it seems I’ve solved half the problems in this city, but the city council won’t let me solve the other half.”

“Think of the pedestrians trying to steer clear of your sped-up trolleys.”

“The city could stand to lose some of its slower-moving populace.”

“Morris…

“I’m joking, Dan.” Garvey raised the odd doll. “If I’m right about this doll, its death I aim to thwart, which requires we reach the port before Anna Rigel does or at least before the Port-Au-Prince docks from Haiti.”

“What’s Ms. Rigel’s beef with Haitians anyway?”

“With Haitians? Nothing at all. With one particular Haitian? Enough that she—as Queen of Witches—cursed him to death should he ever set foot in New Alexandria again. His last visit here had the three of us embroiled in an unfortunate matter of betrayal, involving a novitiate in Anna’s coven. Not all his fault, but you know Madame Queen’s temper. That he dares defy her means the rats have already nested beneath the cradle. This doll proves it. If I can explain that to Anna, she might stay her curse long enough for us to make sense of those twelve corpses your men found in Pluto’s Kitchen.”

“I’d be much obliged for that. Don’t see what that raggedy doll we found there has to do with this muckety-muck from Haiti, though. I appreciate your aid, Morris, but I swear you take your damn sweet ornery time revealing your intentions.”

“If I’m correct you’ll know as much as I do soon enough. Are you familiar with the Afro-Carib religion of voodoo?”

“Voodoo, eh?” Matheson’s squint deepened and his thick mustache wrinkled.

The trolley jolted and then trundled down Macedonia Hill toward the Muhheakantuck River, glittering in the late-day sun. Graceful sailing ships and powerful steamers traversed its waters. Between the river’s bank and the trolley sprawled all lower west New Alexandria, its avenues bustling with raucous crowds, horse-drawn carriages, barking street vendors, and steam-driven trucks. Shadows licked its grimy buildings, a few of which rose higher than the others, fingers of a grasping hand from which the city spilled like a clutch of gravel and ants. White steam plumes and black smoke columns fed a haze that rendered the setting sun a blob of fire on the horizon, consuming the silhouetted hills and buildings of New Carthage across the water. Here and there, gaslights winked on, faint in the twilight, artificial fireflies at the command of the city’s lamplighters.

“Well, I can’t say I’ve come by my knowledge firsthand, but I understand voodoo’s all about worshipping the Legba, bunch’a frightening gods who grant powers from the next world. Love spells, plaguing your enemies, making zombies, and hooey like that. That toy you’re hugging is a voodoo doll?”

“A fetish doll, yes. I believe it’s the key to your twelve dead men and women.”

“How’s that?”

The trolley bell clanged as the vehicle rolled into the port station.

“No time to explain now. We’re here!”

Garvey leapt from the trolley before it stopped and raced for one of the piers. Detective Matheson followed close behind him, tamping his bowler hat down on his graying head of hair.

~*~

“Your hubris is unimaginable, Ricard LeFarge. You surpass even your own past pinnacle of narcissism. I’ve no idea how you defeated my curse upon you, nor do I care to allow you time to explain. I promised you death when you next set foot in New Alexandria. Now you shall learn I’m a woman who keeps her word.”

From within the folds of her sea-green cloak, raven-haired Anna Rigel revealed a sheaf of holly twigs bound with braids of dried nightshade leaves. She shook the bouquet, sweeping air at the tall, lanky man she faced. His rich black skin peeked out from gaps in his leather vest, loose-fitting linen shirt and pants, and the black fur cloak draped from his shoulders. He wore sandals and carried a gnarled length of polished sandalwood as a walking stick. His burgundy panama hat, adorned with a clutch of colorful feathers, shaded his eyes, permitting only hints of white to define his irises.

Around the pair, the crew and passengers disembarking the Port-Au-Prince froze in place, fascinated by the confrontation, frightened to come too close, but trapped by Anna who blocked the only exit from the pier.

“Aw, goan now, Madame Queen. Cast your hinky woo-woo magic. You t’ink it can harm de likes of me? I go where I want when I want. Today, dis city is de where, and de when is now. You dare speak to me of death? I come on by de hand of Lord Cemeterie. You jes’ forget dat dusty old promise I never took serious in de first place.”

“I never forsake my promises, Ricard. More than anyone can say for you.”

Anna traced intricate shapes in front of her with the holly branches. She curled her other hand, held it to her lips, and blew through it. Fire flashed out, licked the air, then extinguished, leaving a smoke cloud that gathered to the dried green leaves. Ghostly light crackled about it. Burning holly scent spread on the breeze.

Straightening to his full, intimidating height, LeFarge nudged his hat back and gazed into the cloud, seeking the nature of what magic Anna Rigel meant to unleash at him in such a public place. The Queen of Witches could take things only so far before compelling the city’s world-renown constabulary to intercede. Even for one as influential, popular, and feared as Anna Rigel, murder—whether accomplished by means magic or mundane—hardly ever passed overlooked in New Alexandria.

A wisp of smoke tickled Ricard’s face. He inhaled, sampling its aromas. His dark eyes widened, and he planted his feet, walking stick braced between them.

“You are serious, mon cher! How ‘bout dat? Here I expected your intelligence to defeat your pride. Sad, sad, sad, but you goan an’ do what you feel you must. I wait right here.”

“No, Ricard, you’ll die right there.”

Waving the smoking holly, Anna initiated a chant. The rhythm quickened, became more strident. Haitian visitors to New Alexandria gaped and murmured. “De Minister of Hoodoo was on our ship?” they said. “Who knew?” “Not I!” “What he want in dis city?” “She goan kill de Minister?” “We must help him!” “Hush, you! De Minister don’t need no help from de likes of us.” “Dat woman goan be sorry she crossed Ricard LeFarge!” As Anna’s spell intensified, the tenor of the crowd shifted from fear to anticipation.

Ricard’s unworried expression only fueled her anger.

The holly smoke thickened and condensed, forming a shape, indistinct yet threatening—and then at the precise moment she stood poised to unleash the gathered energy, a voice shouted for her to stop—the voice of the only man she found more stubborn and frustrating than Ricard LeFarge. The smoke sputtered as she hesitated.

“I swear by Hecate, Morris, you better have the most perfect excuse in all the history of excuses for interrupting me, or I’ll send you right out of this world with LeFarge.”

“I do, Anna. See what I’ve brought here,” Garvey said.

Anna glanced over her shoulder at Garvey and Matheson, both men winded from running. “What is that? A doll? You interrupted me… to show me a rag doll?”

“Not at all, Anna. I interrupted you to stop you destroying the one man who might spare New Alexandria the plague of death this doll represents.”


James Chambers2020

James Chambers is an award-winning author of horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction. He wrote the Bram Stoker Award®-winning graphic novel, Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe. Publisher’s Weekly described The Engines of Sacrifice, his collection of four Lovecraftian-inspired novellas published by Dark Regions Press as “…chillingly evocative…” in a starred review. His story, “A Song Left Behind in the Aztakea Hills,” was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

He has authored the short story collection Resurrection House and several novellas, including The Dead Bear Witness and Tears of Blood, in the Corpse Fauna novella series. He also wrote the illustrated story collection, The Midnight Hour: Saint Lawn Hill and Other Tales, created in collaboration with artist Jason Whitley.

His short stories have been published in the anthologies The Avenger: Roaring Heart of the CrucibleBad-Ass Faeries, Bad-Ass Faeries 2: Just Plain Bad, Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory, Bad Cop No Donut, The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, The Best of Defending the Future, Breach the Hull, By Other Means, Chiral Mad 2, Chiral Mad 4, Dance Like A Monkey,  Dark Hallows II: Tales from the Witching Hour, Deep Cuts, The Domino Lady: Sex as a Weapon, Dragon’s Lure, Fantastic Futures 13, Gaslight and Grimm, The Green Hornet Chronicles, Hardboiled Cthulhu, Hear Them Roar In An Iron Cage, Kolchak the Night Stalker: Passages of the Macabre, Man and MachineMermaids 13 No Longer DreamsQualia Nous, Shadows Over Main Street (1 and 2), The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, The Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson, So It Begins, The Spider: Extreme Prejudice, To Hell in a Fast Car, Truth or Dare, TV Gods, Walrus Tales, Weird Trails, and With Great Power; the chapbook Mooncat Jack; and the magazines Bare BoneCthulhu Sex, and Allen K’s Inhuman.

He has also written numerous comic books including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, the critically acclaimed “The Revenant” in Shadow HouseThe Midnight Hour with Jason Whitley, and the award-winning original graphic novel, Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe.

He is a member and trustee of the Horror Writers Association, and recipient of the 2012 Richard Laymon Award and the 2016 Silver Hammer Award.

He lives in New York.

Visit his website: www.jameschambersonline.com.

eSPEC EXCERTS – THE DEAD BEAR WITNESS


I have a confession to make. When I was doing the production work on this book the first time it was released through a different publisher…I thought the witness was a dead bear.

Given how grossly wrong I was, we’re posting excerpts from this zombie novella series as our lead-up to Halloween.


Dead Bear Witness-6x9The Dead Bear Witness (Corpse Fauna Book 1)

James Chambers

Cornell:

1

Four guys committed suicide today. One managed to do the job right.

A wiry kid in for possession doused his clothes in turpentine from the shop, then set a match to his shirt. The screws displayed uncharacteristically good sense letting him burn a while so he wouldn’t rise up again after they hit him with fire extinguishers.

Another made a grab for a guard’s gun, forcing a shootout. The hacks fought his corpse into submission long enough to set fire to it.

Number three swallowed most of a box of rat poison, told no one, and died on his feet washing breakfast dishes in the kitchen. He bit through the throat of the inmate next to him before the other cons cleared out, and two guards returned with scatterguns to rip the dead bastards to pieces.

The fourth grabbed a knife during lunch and cut his own throat. Panicked inmates stumbled over each other trying to get away, blocking the screws from reaching the body before it switched on again. He killed two more inmates and wounded a guard before they pinned down all four of them and dragged them to the infirmary for chopping up.

Nightmare fuel that made me homesick for solitary.

I’d spent a month there only to emerge into the devil’s definition of a life-and-death struggle, and I honestly could not say which side I preferred.

My stint in the hole came by way of punishment for breaking the collarbone of some Aryan Brotherhood asshole who wanted to “protect” me. Show no weakness to those white supremacist fucks—they will make you their dog or kill you trying. Warden Lane Grove knew it as well as I did, but I was fresh blood and a media darling, and he wanted to teach me a lesson about getting cocky.

Last thing the warden told me before he slammed shut the cell door was, “You think you’re someone special, son? Someone different and unique? You’re nobody special. You’re only clay like all the rest of us. Sooner you accept that, better off you’ll be, because if you think my punishment is harsh, you’ll find an even ruder surprise waiting for you in the next world if you don’t change your ways.”

Worst thing for me about solitary was that there was nothing to occupy my mind but thinking about how horribly I had screwed up when I was on top of the world. They wouldn’t allow me my books or even a Walkman—nothing but the searing brightness of the cell’s single bare bulb lit twenty-four, seven. That and all the time I needed to pick over the carcass of my memories, like the last time I saw Evelyn or the look on the bank manager’s face when three slugs from my Beretta M9 bored through his gut. Sometimes I got to wondering how it might have gone if I’d been just a few seconds faster.

That’s when I came to understand what Evelyn meant when she used to say the world is a smiling jackal eager for its chance to tear out your throat and lap up your blood. Most people don’t see it coming for the clutter in their lives, like politics or religion or trying to make a decent living with the deck stacked against them. Evelyn and I never had much use for all those things telling people the “right” way to live. Better to take what we needed and be long gone when the man came around to collect his due.

I believe Evelyn held to that right up to the moment I dropped my guard and got her and our baby growing inside her killed.

2

When my four weeks in isolation ended, Officer Paulson and Officer Gamewood yanked me out of the hole and dragged me down the hall to the infirmary, while I chased dime-sized ghost glares burned onto my retinas by the bulb in my cell. Wasted from hunger and not having slept more than an hour at a time since they tossed me down there, I wasn’t so far gone I didn’t notice Paulson’s sickly tremors or the glistening film of sweat coating his pale face, or how he mumbled into the empty air, not talking to me or anyone else really.

“Whole world’s over. End of everything,” he said.

I figured the whole thing was a sick joke, a head game, more of my continuing education according to Lane Grove. Or maybe Paulson liked to get a little high on the job. Had second thoughts about all that after the horror show at the infirmary.

While I lay on a gurney with an IV of saline solution plugged into my arm to treat me for dehydration, a couple of hacks brought in Sammy Costa, ashen-faced and bleeding like a New York City fire hydrant in July. He was a snub-nosed car-thief on a ten-year chip for his third strike. He was a stupid man with a smart mouth. So, it was no surprise someone had decided to slice him open and make good work of it. The guards hefted him onto the gurney beside mine, but the two-foot wide puddle of blood that Sammy’s wounds spilled onto the floor made it obvious there was no saving him. Doctor Foley took one look, shook his head, and called the time of death. Then he set to work with the nurse and guards ripping Sammy apart like the devil’s pit crew.

They used bright scalpels and whirring bone saws. Blood spattered and flesh tore. Muscle snapped like strands of aged chewing gum. Translucent flaps of skin peeled back from bone and sinew. Joints cracked, and foul patches of gas belched from the recesses of Costa’s body. His left arm came loose and a guard dropped it into a thick vinyl bag, sealed the bag shut, and tossed it into a waiting laundry cart. Next went Sammy’s legs, each one amputated below the knee, wrapped in separate containers then tossed on the pile. Every few seconds the nurse called out the time, counting it down. Sweat dripped from Doctor Foley’s face. It mixed with Costa’s blood and ran in milky rivulets along the doctor’s silver tools.

Costa’s right arm vanished into a plastic sack.

Guards yanked on his thighs and spread them until his hip joints surrendered with a loud snap.

“One minute,” the nurse said.

Thirty seconds later they finished. Foley hunched over Costa’s face, sliced a scalpel through what was left of his neck, and then wrenched the car thief’s head free from his body. Two guards slipped a body bag over his torso; another held one open for the head. All that was enough to make me think I’d died in the hole and woken up in some insane hellish version of reality, but then as Sammy’s lifeless, gray face vanished into black plastic, his smartass eyes flicked open and stared right at me. They gleamed like polished ivory in the last beam of light that touched them. They were cool as December, like all was right in Sammy’s world. Soon as that bagged head crowned the pile of body parts, the aluminum cart shimmied and rattled. Slow at first, like when a truck rolls by a house and shakes the pictures on the walls, but then each black bundle wriggled, shifted around, twisted and turned like a caged rat. The canvas liner bulged as the severed limbs squirmed around each other.

The nurse screamed “Incinerator, now!” and sent the guards rushing the cart from the room.

The infirmary air swelled with the foul odor of raw flesh and the pungent stink of sleepless terror. I’m well acquainted with the scent of fear. It’s a mixture of clean, dried sweat and the kind of body odor that comes from an adrenaline rush. Except for being so depleted by my hitch in solitary, I would’ve caught it wafting off my escort. I would’ve gagged on it rising from the medical staff when I entered the room. But it took the icy dread of seeing Sammy Costa ripped apart to make me realize fear’s choking perfume tainted the entire prison. Now that I’d scented it, I couldn’t ditch it.

I grabbed the nurse by the arm. Her nametag read Oberon. My voice came out like a rasp scratching across oak. “What in holy hell was that all about?”

“Shit,” the nurse said. “You been living in a cave for the last month?”


James Chambers2020

James Chambers is an award-winning author of horror, crime, fantasy, and science fiction. He wrote the Bram Stoker Award®-winning graphic novel, Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe. Publisher’s Weekly described The Engines of Sacrifice, his collection of four Lovecraftian-inspired novellas published by Dark Regions Press as “…chillingly evocative…” in a starred review. His story, “A Song Left Behind in the Aztakea Hills,” was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

He has authored the short story collection Resurrection House and several novellas, including The Dead Bear Witness and Tears of Blood, in the Corpse Fauna novella series. He also wrote the illustrated story collection, The Midnight Hour: Saint Lawn Hill and Other Tales, created in collaboration with artist Jason Whitley.

His short stories have been published in the anthologies The Avenger: Roaring Heart of the CrucibleBad-Ass Faeries, Bad-Ass Faeries 2: Just Plain Bad, Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory, Bad Cop No Donut, The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, The Best of Defending the Future, Breach the Hull, By Other Means, Chiral Mad 2, Chiral Mad 4, Dance Like A Monkey,  Dark Hallows II: Tales from the Witching Hour, Deep Cuts, The Domino Lady: Sex as a Weapon, Dragon’s Lure, Fantastic Futures 13, Gaslight and Grimm, The Green Hornet Chronicles, Hardboiled Cthulhu, Hear Them Roar In An Iron Cage, Kolchak the Night Stalker: Passages of the Macabre, Man and MachineMermaids 13 No Longer DreamsQualia Nous, Shadows Over Main Street (1 and 2), The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, The Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson, So It Begins, The Spider: Extreme Prejudice, To Hell in a Fast Car, Truth or Dare, TV Gods, Walrus Tales, Weird Trails, and With Great Power; the chapbook Mooncat Jack; and the magazines Bare BoneCthulhu Sex, and Allen K’s Inhuman.

He has also written numerous comic books including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, the critically acclaimed “The Revenant” in Shadow HouseThe Midnight Hour with Jason Whitley, and the award-winning original graphic novel, Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe.

He is a member and trustee of the Horror Writers Association, and recipient of the 2012 Richard Laymon Award and the 2016 Silver Hammer Award.

He lives in New York.

Visit his website: www.jameschambersonline.com.

FROM THE HANDYMAN – DEFYING EXPECTATIONS


Way, way back in my past, I used to write a regular column for Allegory Magazine. It was called The Writer’s Toolbox. It consisted of short, helpful articles on ways to improve your writing. Eventually, it branched out into promotional or publishing topics as well. 

The column ended as other responsibilities took over, but the articles were eventually collected into my writers’ guide The Literary Handyman, a fun nod to the Writer’s Toolbox, even though the articles drew from multiple sources. From the Handyman is a brand-new column in the same vein as The Writer’s Toolbox, providing literary, publishing, and promotional insight.


Literary Handyman bannerby Danielle Ackley-McPhail

I can’t really say when I became a writer. I can tell you it started with reading. Voraciously. I remember the feeling of never wanting my favorite books to end. I remember telling myself bedtime stories in my head, continuing the story with myself inserted into the plot.

I will never understand how I was ever able to fall asleep. Talk about counterproductive…waking my brain up when I should be sleeping. Anyway, I survived my wild and crazy childhood 😉 and somewhere along the way I began to tell my own tales.

Then I grew up and went to college, and by the time I got the hang of adulting and finished my degree, it was several months after I graduated and finally managed to get a job that I realized I had stopped writing.

I tried getting a friend to give me writing prompts. Big mistake.

That is when I discovered, having just joined AOL, that there was a site there just for writers. The Amazing Instant Novelist. What? Never heard of it? I am not surprised…this was a LONG time ago and the site, as far as I know, is long gone. It was there when I needed it, though. I dare say that if it wasn’t for The Amazing Instant Novelist I would not be an author today. Eventually, I volunteered for the site and began my first novel there. What drew me in to begin with, though, was their weekly themed contests. For one, you had to write a story in 250 words or less; the other you were given all of 1500 words.

I lived for those contests.

Each week, I would wait to find out what those themes would be and then I would come up with the most unexpected way of meeting that theme. You see, a lot of people entered, and the prize was to have your internet service free for that month. (Yes, that is how far back this goes…AOL wasn’t free and I was on dial-up!) I was determined to stand out from the sometimes hundreds of entries, knowing that the majority of writers would take the same approach to that week’s theme.

I know…a long build up to get to the point. But there is a point. Those contests not only gave me confidence that I could write things people wanted to read, but they also set my mindset when it comes to writing. There are no new stories, just new approaches. I have striven to defy expectations in my writing ever since.

My novels, The Halfling’s Court and The Redcaps’ Queen, are prominent examples of that. A decade or so I ago edited the Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies. Those books blazed the trail when it came to taking the fairy back to it dark and dangerous roots. See, the Great Mouse had soft-pedaled the fae so thoroughly that most people had forgotten they had ever been anything else but bright and cheery and pleasantly magical. Far cry from the fae of lore. Mischievous at best, murderous at worst, malevolently indifferent or dangerously mercurial. To aid us in our campaign to de-disnify the fae, authors were given one guideline, they had to take a faerie (generic, of their own creation, or one from lore) and pair it with something people automatically thought of as bad-ass. Having had the awestruck pleasure of witnessing a biker stampede only months before we formulated the series, I claimed bikers for my very own. I have been having fun defying expectations ever since.

Three of the four anthologies finaled for awards, two of them won the prize. The series was cited in the New York Times as an excellent example of the (then-new) trend in faerie fiction. Over the many times the books had been reviewed, my own stories about the biker fae were often highlighted in the reviews. This gave me the idea of a spin-off series. Novellas based on the most popular stories from the anthologies billed as Bad-Ass Faerie Tales. Sadly, only three books were ever written, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Three Chords of Chaos, by James Chambers. I have not given up hope on their being more. Actually, I have already begun to write the third installation of my faerie tale, it will be called The High King’s Fool, but don’t ask me when that will be done…Too many tales to tell…I may have to go back to writing in my sleep.


Kickstarter DMcPhail

Award-winning author, editor, and publisher Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books.

Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, and the non-fiction writers’ guides The Literary Handyman and LH: Build-A-Book Workshop. She is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and Footprints in the Stars. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady Custom Costume Horns, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and two extremely spoiled cats.

FROM THE PUBLISHER – BREAKING NEWS


It is not often that the stars align perfectly to shine down on an independent press. Not too long ago, that happened for eSpec Books. We were approached with the query of “Do you have any cryptid fiction?” Now if you know me at all, you understand what a dangerous challenge a question like that is. My answer, of course, was “No, but we could.”

You see, I did have the benefit of not only knowing what cryptids were, but also being associated with several authors already inclined to such subject matter.

For those who are a little fuzzy on this area, in 1758, Carl Linnaeus produced the 10th edition of his scholarly work Systema Naturae, the seminal work in zoology that set the standard for such things as nomenclature and classification. The first five editions of this book included a section called Animalia Paradoxa, or creatures accounted to exist, for which no tangible evidence has yet been produced. Creatures similar to Bigfoot, and Nessie, and the Jersey Devil, though not specifically those.

To this day, all over the world, lore and legend speaks of such creatures lurking in the shadows and the depths, fantastical beasts that both terrorize and titilate the human mind. The passion for such creatures is the foundation of cryptozoology, and while many would denounce such a discipline, there are scientifically verified discoveries of creatures formerly on the cryptid list.

So…back to that query. It was from the folks at Box Mountain, LLC, the curators of Cryptid Crate, a monthly subscription box featuring, of course, cryptid-related content.

Within a matter of a few hours, a blueprint had formed, a plan was in place, and fifteen authors were already lined up to write stories. What we had first invisioned as a single volume containing three novellas blossomed into not just a series, but an entire imprint to represent that series and any future cryptid content our fertile minds can ferment.

With great delight, we announce Systema Paradoxa, to be released under the NeoParadoxa imprint.


Cryptid Crate SystemaParadoxa

There are creatures lurking in our world. Obscure creatures long relegated to myth and legend. They have been sighted by a lucky—or unlucky—few, some have even been photographed, but their existence remains unproven and unrecognized by the scientific community.

These creatures, long thought gone, have somehow survived; creatures from our nightmares haunting the dark places. They swim in our lakes and bays, they soar the night skies, they hunt in the woods. Some are from our past, and some from other worlds, and others that have always been with us—watching us, fearing us, hunting us.

These are the cryptids, and Systema Paradoxa tells their tales.


The premiere volume in this collection is When the Moon Shines, by John L. French, which will debut in Cryptid Crate’s January subscription box, with future volumes being featured quarterly. Due to the nature of such subscriptions, we are not sharing the details of John’s story or the full cover at this time.

The current plan for the series is to produce titles to coincide with the quarterly features, with long-distance plans to produce anthologies and a deluxe field guide featuring full-color artwork by artist Jason Whitley.

eSPEC EXERPTS – ISSUE IN DOUBT


With the recent conclusion of David Sherman’s 18th Race trilogy going to press, we thought it would be nice to share excerpts from the series. This week’s excerpt is from book one, Issue In Doubt.


ISSUE IN DOUBT – PROLOG – FIRST CONTACT

FB-McP-vf-IID-CoverFrontMcKinzie Elevator Base, Outside Millerton,
Semi-Autonomous World Troy

Samuel Rogers jerked when he heard the beeping of the proximity alert. He spun in his chair to look at the approach displays and his jaw dropped. With one hand he toggled the space-comm to hail the incoming ship, with the other he reached for the local comm to call Frederick Franklin, his boss.

Franklin sounded groggy when he answered. “This better be good, Rogers. I just got to sleep.”

“Sorry, Chief, but are we expecting any starships? One just popped up half an AU north. Uh oh.”

“No, we aren’t expecting anyone. And what do you mean, ‘uh oh’?”

“Chief—” Rodgers’ voice broke and he had to start again. “Chief, data coming in says the incoming starship is three klicks wide.”

“Bullshit,” Franklin snapped. “There aren’t any starships that big!”

“I know. It’s got to be an asteroid. And it’s on an intercept vector.”

“There aren’t any asteroids north.” Franklin’s voice dropped to a barely intelligible mumble. “North, that would explain how it ‘just popped up.’” Indistinct noises sounded to Rogers like his boss was getting dressed. “Have you tried to hail her?”

“The same time I called you. But half an AU. . .”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Stand by, I’m on my way.”

“Standing by.” Rogers sounded relieved.

~*~

Franklin burst into the spaceport’s operations room and headed straight for the approach displays. In seconds he absorbed the data, and let out a grunt.

“Any reply yet?” he asked.

Rogers shook his head. “Too soon, Chief.”

Franklin grimaced; he should have realized that and not have asked such a dumb question. The starship—asteroid, whatever—was half an Astronomical Unit out, half the distance from old Earth to Sol. It would take about four minutes for the hail to reach the incoming object, and another four minutes for a reply to come back. Plus however much time it would take for whoever it was to decide to answer the hail. The two men watched the data display as time ticked by.

After watching for another fifteen minutes, with no reply, and nothing but confirmation as to its velocity, vector, and probable impact time, Franklin decided to kick the problem upstairs.

“Office of the President.” James Merton’s voice was thick when he answered the president’s comm; the night duty officer must have been dozing.

“Jim, Fred here. We’ve got a situation that requires some attention from the boss.”

“Can it wait until morning? Bill’s had a long day, and he’s dead to the world.”

“Come morning, it might be too late to do anything.”

“Come on, Fred,” Merton said. “No offense intended, but you’re an elevator operator. What kind of earth-shattering problem can you possibly have?”

“Exactly that: a literally earth-shattering problem. There’s a large object on an intercept course. That’s large, as in planet-buster. It’ll be here in less than a standard day.”

There was a momentary silence before Merton asked, “You aren’t kidding, are you?”

“I wish. Stand by for the data.” Franklin nodded to Rogers, who transmitted a data set to the president’s office. A minute later, Franklin and Rogers heard Merton swear under his breath.

“You called it, something that big really is a planet buster, isn’t it?” the duty officer asked.

“Unfortunately,” Franklin answered.

“Now, according to the data you sent me, the object is metallic, and it seems to have the density of a starship rather than the density of an asteroid. Am I reading those figures right?”

“You’re reading right,” Franklin said. “But nobody makes starships that big.”

“At least nobody we know of,” Rogers murmured. “Have you tried to contact it, I mean, in case it is a starship?”

“Yes, we did.” Franklin looked at Rogers, who held up four fingers. “Four times. No response.”

“And you’re sure it’s on a collision course?”

Franklin shivered. “Absolutely.”

“Keep trying to make contact. I’ll wake the president.”

~*~

An hour and a half later, a three-man Navy rescue team under the command of Lieutenant (j.g.) Cyrus Hayden, rode the elevator up to Base 1, in geosynchronous orbit, where they boarded the tender John Andrews to take a closer look at the rapidly approaching object. If it was a starship their orders were to again attempt radio contact. If she did not reply, to attempt to board her. If the object was an unusual asteroid, Hayden and his men were to plant a nuclear device on its side, then back off to a safe distance before detonating the bomb. It was hoped that the explosion would deflect the object’s course enough to avoid the collision that was looking more certain with each passing minute.

The North American Union Navy tender John Andrews was still 100,000 kilometers from the object when laser beams lanced out from it and shredded the tender.

Twenty shocked minutes later, the orbital lasers of Troy’s defensive batteries shot beams of coherent light. The only effect the lasers seemed to have on the object, which was now obviously a warship from some unknown people, was to provide the enemy with the location of the defensive weapons. Within minutes, all of Troy’s orbital laser batteries were knocked out by counter-battery fire from the enemy starship. It had committed an act of war when it vaporized the John Andrews, hadn’t it? Didn’t that make it the enemy?

When the enemy starship was a quarter million kilometers out, it fired braking rockets, which slowed its speed and altered its vector enough to reach high orbit rather than colliding with the planet. Small objects began flicking off it and heading toward the surface.

Ground-based laser and missile batteries began firing at the small vessels. The mother-ship killed those batteries as easily as she had killed the orbital batteries.

Shortly after that the first landers made planetfall, and reports of wholesale slaughter began coming in, William F. Lukes, President of Troy, ordered all the data they had on the invasion uploaded onto drones and the drones launched: Destination Earth.

The unidentified enemy killed the first several drones, but stopped shooting them when it became obvious that they were running away rather than attacking.

Two days later, four of the drones reached the Sol System via wormhole. It took ten more days for a North American Union Navy frigate to pick one of them up and carry it to Garroway Base on Mars, from where its coded message was transmitted to the NAU’s Supreme Military Headquarters on Earth.


David Sherman

David Sherman is the author or co-author of some three dozen books, most of which are about Marines in combat.

He has written about US Marines in Vietnam (the Night Fighters series and three other novels), and the DemonTech series about Marines in a fantasy world. The 18th Race trilogy is military science fiction.

Other than military, he wrote a non-conventional vampire novel, The Hunt, and a mystery, Dead Man’s Chest. He has also released a collection of short fiction and non-fiction from early in his writing career, Sherman’s Shorts; the Beginnings.

With Dan Cragg he wrote the popular Starfist series and its spin off series, Starfist: Force Recon—all about Marines in the Twenty-fifth Century.; and a Star Wars novel, Jedi Trial.

His books have been translated into Czech, Polish, German, and Japanese.

After going to war as a U.S. Marine infantryman, and spending decades writing about young men at war, he’s burnt out on the subject and has finally come home. Today he’s writing short fiction, mostly steampunk and farcical fantastic Westerns.

He lives in sunny South Florida, where he doesn’t have to worry about hypothermia or snow-shoveling-induced heart attacks. He invites readers to visit his website, novelier.com.

PROS & CONS – UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTERS


I don’t know about you, but those of us who at one time marked our schedules by which convention we were attending that month are really feeling the impact of these transformitive times.

Conventions are where we connect with our friends, our fans, and our family by choice. For those of us that find fandom our natural habitat, their absence is felt even more deeply in this time of isolation. Online events help fill that gap, but it isn’t quite the same.

Pros & Cons hopes to share stories of cons gone by from the authors and industry professionals around which those events shape themselves. We hope you will join us.


Unexpected Encounters
by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

The internet has expanded the fandom and literary communities exponentially. Often we ‘know’ people for years that we have never met in person. While wonderful, this can also be disconcerting.

Back in 2014, The World Fantasy Convention was in Washington DC. Through help and support from friends and family, I was able to attend. It was a wonderful experience, if not quite what I was used to. Very different creatures, World Cons. I enjoyed myself immensely, though.

I think one of my most favorite experiences of the weekend took place in an elevator. (Now you just get your mind out of that gutter…) I was going to a panel or something and the elevator doors opened. I happened to be standing in front of them on the inside waiting to get out, and of course, someone else was standing in front of them on the outside, waiting to get in. Someone I had never met before…but was, for some reason I couldn’t explain, very familiar. I looked down at the woman’s name tag and immediately threw my arms around her in quite the energetic hug.

She very graciously hugged me back instead of shoving me into next week.

That was my first in-person encounter with the lovely Brenda Cooper, who I had known for many, many years and even published, but had never met, given she lives in the Pacific Northwest. We spent many a meal and long walk together during that convention and even had conversations leading to our then brand-spanking-new publishing house, eSpec Books, publishing her novel POST.

I have been honored since then to interact with her in many other capacities, both professional and personal, and even made a trip out the Seattle for a visit, where Brenda and I toured the city.

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Encounters like these are why I sometimes think of conventions as adult summer camp…brief moments in time where friendships form in a supercharged manner and those involved connect swiftly, and build on those connections over years of correspondence, punctuated by brief encounters as they see each other at convention after convention, year after year.

Cover for the SPIDER-MAN omnibus!


A bit of exciting news from eSpec authors Christopher L. Bennett and Keith R.A. DeCandido. The project isn’t ours, but we celebrate this re-release with them and hope you will as well.

Christopher L. Bennett: Written Worlds

Last month, I reported that Titan Books would be publishing a reprint omnibus of my 2008 novel Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder along with Jim Butcher’s The Darkest Hours and Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Down These Mean Streets. The cover art for Marvel Classic Novels – Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours Omnibus has now been released:

The cover art was originally a variant cover to Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 issue 19.1 (whatever that means) by the late Justin Ponsor (you can see his signature “J-Po” under Spidey’s left foot), though the background hues are different in the original. It’s a nice dynamic shot of Spidey, and the nighttime setting is a good fit for the “dark” theme of the titles (not that our books were any darker than the comics themselves at the period in which our stories took place).

Once again, here’s the official description and ordering links:

Collecting three…

View original post 231 more words

eSPEC EXCERPTS – DEATH AND THE CRONE


We are excited to bring you an excerpt of Megan Mackie’s Death and the Crone. This novel is a stand-alone set in the author’s Lucky Devil universe, exploring the stories of support characters from the main novels.


Death and the Crone – Chapter 1

IMG_0161The young man unlocked the metal door and let it swing open, beckoning Margaret inside. The old, homeless woman stopped on the threshold, a small wizened thing, wearing clothes that were never hers and stinking to high heaven of her own and others’ filth.

“You are one crazy kid, you know that?” she told the young man standing before her, as he struggled a moment to remove the high-tech key card that never-quite-fit-the-lock from the door.

The young man flashed his youthful smile at her, tossing his newly freed keys and his umbrella onto the glass coffee table in the open living room. Without a further response, he walked past the island—the only thing separating the kitchen from the living room—to a refrigerator that shone dull silver in the dim light. The old woman stood still in the doorway, clinging onto the frame fighting her instincts to run. The room would have been less scary if it was filled with torture equipment.

Instead, a dark-wood dining room set with tall, throne-like chairs stood just a few feet from the doorway. To her left was a dark, leather couch with a clear, glass coffee table. Both pieces of furniture faced a wide flat-screen TV mounted on the wall. The couch sat on a beige carpet while the dining room set sat on wide square blocks of smooth stone-like tile with no wall in between to separate the two rooms like a sane person would expect. It was pure, uncomfortable luxury.

The extreme contrast of herself to the world in which she now stood, was so keen even she was embarrassed by it. The feeling penetrated through the hardened shell that told the world she didn’t care what it thought of her, to touch the gentle, little girl she had once been, and in some ways still was, underneath.

“Come in, shut the door,” the kid said from the kitchen.

Two glasses now sat on the island counter. She watched as he drew a bottle of something from his stainless steel fridge and set it next to them. Three red-topped stools waited on the opposite side for some glamorous woman in a too-short little black dress and heels to sit upon one of them. Not a woman dressed in rags, old enough to be his grandmother.

When she didn’t move, he left the kitchen to come to her once more. He smiled his gentle smile, the one that persuaded her to take him up on his offer in the first damn place. As the smile washed over her, it made her insides melt. Most people shunned her at first sight, tried to keep upwind and at least five feet away—more if possible. It had been like that for too many years. This kid, instead, had come up to less than a foot beside her, both in the alley and now as she hovered in his doorway. Gently, he touched her shoulder to guide her inside and shut the door behind her.

“Would you like some water?” he asked. As he locked the door behind her, the old woman filled with a sense of doomed finality. Her skin itched.

“Whatever,” she answered and proceeded further inside. If he didn’t care about the crud on her tattered shoes staining his pretty carpet, then she didn’t give a rat’s ass either.

She brought her old body up onto one of the stools, though it took all her limited strength to climb up the damn things. It seemed to satisfy him, and he continued with that angelic smile as he poured out two glasses of bubbly water from the fancy bottle. While he did that, she studied him again in the light coming down from the three hanging lamps over the island counter.

He was beautiful. Too beautiful in her mind. Tall and thin without being gangly. The word ‘lithe’ floated through her mind. He wore dark clothes, a fine black button-up shirt that was open at the top, and matching black slacks with dark, square-toed shoes she had seen models wear in magazines. His hair was the longish-style that only beautiful men could pull off without it looking like a mullet. The hair itself was dark, framing a perfectly chiseled face with nice cheekbones and a sharp chin. His eyes were dark blue, so dark the pupils were hard to see. They were as equally hypnotic as his smile. To her, they seemed like eyes that had seen too much, full of understanding instead of judgment. He had long fingers that handled the bottle of water expertly and she imagined for a minute those hands wrapping around her throat, choking the life out of her while she got to gaze deep into those dark, dark eyes. She snorted at the image.

“Look, kid, I know this has to be a part of some ritual for you or something, but you don’t have to play nice with me before you do whatever the fuck it is you plan on doing to me. I don’t really give a damn anymore,” she said, defensively.

“I understand,” he said and slid the glass of water over to her on its own fancy-schmancy coaster made of cork. “Drink that up, we have all night and you’ll need it.”

“What is this bullshit?” she grumbled but picked up the water anyway and stared down into it. “Probably drugged anyway,” she said. Before she could take a sip, he plucked it out of her hands with those long fingers and took a healthy gulp instead.

“What the fuck? You fucking with me?” she snapped. “Some sort of power trip, you ass…”

“See, not drugged,” he said and held it back out to her to take. She eyed him and the glass with hateful suspicion for several long minutes. The last thing she wanted was to reach out for it and be made a fool again. She had known several so-called men who would have thought yanking it out of her grasp the height of hilarity.

“I reach for that you will just snatch it back again,” she concluded bitterly.

Nodding again with those damn understanding eyes, he set the water back on its coaster and picked up his own to drink. He leaned against the far counter, putting himself out of snatching range and watched to see what she would do.

She ignored the water. “Don’t like feeling like a goddamn lab rat,” she grumbled again. “You’ve got me up here, kid. Now, what do you want with an old bitch like me?”

“I told you, I’m interested in you. I want to help you,” he answered and sipped his water, his eyes roving over her being.

God knows what he could be looking at. The old woman stared down at her wrinkled, scarred hands; the skin had gone thin until her bones showed underneath. She hated looking at her hands; she never recognized them. Over most of her body, she wore an old, burnt-orange jacket that was made for a man three times her size and went down to her knees. She liked it because it kept her warm on cold nights like this one if she tucked her knees into it. Dirty, white sneakers that were falling apart held her feet. On her legs were three pairs of sweatpants layered one over the other. She had just as many layers of shirt under the jacket, and her mess of gray, dirty, greasy hair was stuffed up under an old, black, knitted hat that she hadn’t taken off for a long, long while. It was probably fused to her head by now. She hadn’t seen herself in a mirror in years. She didn’t have to. God knew how bad and ugly and old she looked, and this dumb fool just kept smiling at her as if she was… she was… what?

“What the fuck are you looking at, you freak?” she snapped again, with the old reliable defensiveness that was meant to keep her safe and away from harm.

He laughed out loud. Genuinely laughed, as if she had just told the world’s greatest joke. There was no malice in it, which left her stunned.

“I’m looking at you, of course,” he said, in that cryptic way that he had been doing for the last hour. Never quite answering her questions. He had picked her up in the alley only a few streets away. She had been digging through a garbage can when he came up beside her, an umbrella over his head to keep the light, cold drizzle of late fall from coming down onto his beautiful self.

“You want to come home with me?” he had asked after he had stared at her for a too-long moment. She was hurting, hurting for another fix or another drink, anything to keep the demons away. The need was so great that her instinct to protect herself gave way to the addiction, much as it had most of the years of her adult life.

She would have followed Lucifer himself if he had come a-calling.

“Why am I here?” she finally asked when the silence between them became annoying. Her skin crawled.

“Why do you think you are here?” he asked back.

“Because you either want to fuck an old cunt because you’re sick in the head or something, or you want to murder me in some horrible way because who would miss street trash? So, whichever it’s going to be, can we just get on with it?!” she shouted and swiped the glass of water off the counter. It made a satisfying, wet crash on the floor. “Because it don’t much matter to me either way. I’m done with living.”

He didn’t move when she threw away his hospitality water. Didn’t get angry either; just studied her, then slid his own glass of water across the counter to replace the one she broke and waited. She shot him an angry, black look, then picked it up. For a moment, she almost threw it after the other. It would have been satisfying, but she didn’t. This time she stared at the crystal-clear liquid with its tiny bubbles and started to drink it. It actually tasted so good in her dry mouth. She couldn’t remember the last time she had simply drunk water. As she gulped it down, she had to resist the urge to slosh it all over her face as well.

“How old are you?” he asked after she came up for air.

“Too damn old. Should have died years ago,” she answered.

“Especially after all of the drugs you’ve done,” he stated simply. Again, no judgment. Just facts. She still reacted as if he was judging her anyway.

“You been spying on me, you fucking animal?”

He held up his right hand, letting the sleeve fall back to show his right wrist. He tapped the wrist with the finger of his left hand and pointed at her own.

“You’ve got scars. I bet they go all the way up, don’t they?” he said.

“Everyone’s got fucking scars.” She drank the last dregs of the water. It tasted so good, she didn’t realize it was gone until she had tried to keep drinking when all that was left was air.

“Do you like doing it?” he asked. He retrieved the glass after she set it down and refilled it, emptying the bottle.

“What? Drugs? No. Who the fuck does? But the demon’s gotta be fed. I owe him that much,” she answered. “What’s with the questions?”

“What demon?”

“What?”

“You said ‘the demon’s gotta be fed, you owe him.’ Owe him for what?”

She set the glass gently onto the counter, becoming hyperaware of the shake in her hands, her eyes drifting away to the other place. The place long in the past, the place where the demon had made its home and cried with a baby’s voice. “I owe him for keeping the pain away.”

The young man honored the silence around that truth. The creeping feeling in her skin that had been slowly building was impossible to ignore now. It was coming for her. Eating her alive, piece by piece. She’d waited too long. It would come for her and eat her heart. It would leave her dead soon enough. She needed the next fix to ward it off. The idea of her heart stopping, her life ending in writhing pain made her shudder. She had seen it before. Dying of withdrawal… even the corpses looked as if they were in agony.

While she didn’t care if she lived, that wasn’t what she wanted. Why wouldn’t he simply end this already? It was becoming too hard to focus on him. The light was blinking in and out as she tried to stare at him with his hands braced on the counter behind him, his dark hair and dark clothes made out of the flashing darkness. She could see him for what he was now. The demon himself. He had come for her at last. He was beautiful.

“Come, it’s time to take a shower,” he said suddenly, straightening up to move around the counter.

“Shower?” she asked, blinking as she tried to bring awareness back to herself. The darkness melted off of him. Panic rose in her. A small voice said she should run now, but why bother? She came here to die by this monster’s hand. She was going to do just that.

He took her wrist in his hand and pulled her off the stool to her feet.

“It’s through here. Follow me, my beautiful girl.” He led the way to a doorway just past the living room.

“I should just fucking run out the door right now,” the old woman mumbled to herself,  her old bones creaking as she moved. The right knee took its time working properly and she limped a few steps before it started smoothing out into a normal gait. He didn’t comment or rush her. He was a well-mannered monster, she’d give him that.

He led her into a bedroom. It was much like the living room, in that it had the beige carpet and high-end motif. A king-size bed dominated the room, neatly made with a black comforter and heaps of pillows. A large mirror hung over the black wood headboard. Out of habit, the old woman side-stepped so she couldn’t see her reflection. Again, the young man didn’t comment, just led her to the right, through another entryway. He slid up a light switch to halfway as he passed, not that she could really see it. What she did see was the darkness of a ritual room, lit with fire all around. She didn’t stop but double-blinked. The room changed as her demon—or was it a monster?—stopped and let go of her.

It was a bathroom, not a ritual room.

“A bathroom makes sense,” she muttered. If he was going to kill her, bathrooms were easier to clean up.

“You’re going to get clean in here.” He reached into the shower—its own little room made of clear glass—and turned the water on. The rain shower head spouted water down, quickly filling the space with steam as the water made gentle plinking sounds on the faux-stone tiles. The young man shut the glass-door and turned to her, still smiling that goddamn peaceful, beautiful smile. Then he came up to her and started popping the snaps on the orange coat.

She jumped and flinched back, trying to bat his hands away, but her own shook so hard they had become useless. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Undressing you,” he said simply.

“I can do it myself.” But she couldn’t, her fingers wouldn’t cooperate. “You want me to shower, right?” she asked, embarrassed. It wasn’t a question she wanted answered, and he didn’t answer it but simply waited. After a few moments, she gave up and he took over. “I gotta get all clean for you,” she continued to mutter. Staring down at the ground, she realized the floor writhed beneath her shoes. She tried to look elsewhere, only to return her focus to the floor. It was better than looking at the walls as the monsters tried to push their way through the flames burning there. She felt like the small girl she hadn’t been in years. Too late, those old memories surfaced once more, and she was twelve again, not innocent enough to not know what was coming.

“You need to get clean, yes. Come on, you’ll feel better. Take ten years off of you,” the beautiful demon quipped, and he reached out to pop more snaps. She stood there and let him, not moving or responding as he undid the coat and drew it off her arms. The smell got worse even to her blinded senses.

“It’s…it’s been a long time,” she said in a small, shy voice, though whether she meant bathing or sex, she wasn’t sure. Both were true.

“It’s okay. Here, I’ll dim the lights down even more so it’s more relaxing.” He moved to slide down the dimmer switch. Now they stood in a warm twilight serenaded by the gentle patter of water. The monsters growling in the ground and walls quieted as the light dimmed.

Patiently, almost like a nurse, he undressed her, one article of clothing at a time. As each piece came away, it was as if her skin was flayed off until she stood before this beautiful demon, her small, wrinkled, drooping body uncovered for his dark eyes to see. The lesions on her skin had gotten worse; scaly and red and sore. Gently with a thumb, he caressed one.

“Look at how beautiful you are,” he whispered, and his fingers trailed up both arms to rest on her bare shoulders. She raised her head then, expecting to see craziness in his eyes or a mean quirk at the corner of his mouth. But his gaze remained just as loving as it had been. Her cheeks burned with an embarrassment she had thought life had pounded out of her years before.

“You’re sick in the head,” she said again, but she lacked the will to spit at him.

“Your life is all in your skin. Every wrinkle and crease. It’s beautiful. You’ve lived so much,” he said.

“It was a shitty life; I’m glad it’s over,” she said, gravelly. “My body’s broken and useless.”

“The most beautiful things are often broken. And besides, you are not your body. You are beautiful.”

She blinked at that. “What? Am I already dead and this is heaven or something? Heaven’s got a beautiful man waiting for me?”

That drew another one of his musical laughs, which made him look just a little bit crazy this time. She found his madness oddly comforting. At last, something she expected. “You’ll have to tell me,” he said and began to unbutton his own shirt.

She took a step back. “What are you doing?!”

Each button came away, popping one at a time to reveal a beautiful, well-muscled chest. His torso was long, and the edges of him were perfect. He toed off his shoes as he undid his belt in that way that every woman from the swooniest teen to an old crone like her recognized as sexy. “What are you doing?!”

“I’m going to bathe you. It’ll be fine. I won’t hurt you. I won’t do anything you don’t want. You have only to tell me,” he said as he became beautifully naked himself. She stared at his long legs, which were just as muscled as the rest of him. He had to be one of those running fools that regularly shoved past her as they screamed at her to get out of the way, to get a pair of legs like that.

“No, no, this is wrong. This is wrong,” she said as panic rippled through her. She wanted to run, but she was frozen to the spot as he approached in all his glory and pulled her into his arms, shushing gently in her ear.

“It’s alright. I will take care of you. You are safe,” he said and rocked her gently, so gently. He smelled good, like forest loam and summer rain and beautiful man. He smelled like a place and a person that she always dreamed would come for her, but never had.

What did she care? She came here to die.

“Do whatever you want,” she whispered.

She let him draw her into the shower. He sat her on a stool waiting inside, and the warm water sluiced over her tired body. She thought it would burn her away, but after a few moments, the heat eased the cold inside her and she began to feel…truly warm. It had been a cold fall; frost and winter winds hounded the people of the streets earlier than they were ready for.

While he moved around behind her, she stared at her feet. The toes had been crushed inward ages ago, her toenails more like talons. Now they just looked like two old clubs at the end of deformed sticks. Between her feet, she watched the dirt swirl down the drain as the water washed over her. Grey foam replaced it as he began to lather over her back and arms. She went as compliant as a doll, her shaking easing somewhat. He left no cranny undiscovered or slathered in sweet-smelling soap.

“Jasmine?” she asked softly when he made a second pass.

“Do you like it?”

“Yes, it’s lovely,” she said as if in a dream. “It has been so long since I’ve felt so warm.”

“Good.”

A different soap, this one smelling of citrus, lathered up in her hair as his fingers slid through, finding tangle after encrusted tangle, but he never rushed and never stopped, breaking up the cakey mess with gentle fingers. He washed her hair four or five times, but by the last rinse, those long fingers rolled through the strands smoothly, gently massaging her scalp. She swore she fell asleep while he touched her, each pass a sweet caress, the likes of which she could never remember having felt before. The hypnosis lasted a long time. Letting the water continually wash over her, she realized he had stopped washing her and was simply holding her in his arms against his chest, skin to skin. At some point, he had shifted her back and off of the stool, but she had no memory of it. Her head rested on his shoulder, and he cradled her on his lap. It didn’t feel strange or lewd. Instead, it was innocent and… sacred.

“How do you feel?” he asked softly.

“Oh, kill me now, because I cannot live after this,” she sighed in pleasure.

“I was right.”

“About what?”

“Took ten years off of you right there,” he said, playfully.

“Oh, shut up,” she snapped, the spell breaking. She tried to sit up, but he held her in place.

“Don’t move just yet.” He reached up above him to stop the water with a quick turn of the faucet. The old woman was sad it was over.

With ease, he stood up with her in his arms and carried her out of the bathroom and back into the bedroom. He laid her gently onto the bed, still wet, and pulled the clean sheet and comforter up and over, enveloping her in more delicious warmth.

“What is going to happen now?” she asked, watching his beautiful backside with its unbroken line as he went back to the bathroom, disappearing from sight.

“You will suffer,” he answered. Her heart jumped in her chest, and she struggled to sit up.

“Fuck,” she said. It was just as she feared, but her old body wouldn’t respond, the ingrained aches that had been eased from the warm water still lurked beneath her skin. The walls and the covers of the bed rolled and fluttered once more. It made it so hard to sit up.

He returned from the bathroom carrying a bucket and several towels over one arm.

“Most likely, it will take several days,” he continued, setting the things next to the bed. “I will keep you hydrated, but it will hurt, and there is nothing I can do about that.” He pulled open a drawer in the nightstand next to the bed and pulled out long black straps, setting them on top before closing the drawer. “I might have to restrain you, but I’m hoping my holding you will be enough. Rest assured, I’ve done this before a few times. I’m going to try to make this as easy for you as possible.”

The old woman tried to scramble away, to get out of the bed, and almost fell into the open maw reaching up to her from the other side of the bed. He was there then, her demon crossing the blackness as he tipped her back into the bed.

“Don’t get up, it’s already starting,” he said. She tried to struggle—even though the room grew dimmer. She screamed in fear.

“Let me go! Let me go!!” she panicked. Something held her down, binding her in this hellscape that screamed and roared and laughed around her. Always that persistent laugh. Her whole body trembled so hard she barely realized she was crying. He shushed her gently in her ear.

“It’s ok, it’s ok. I’m here. I’ll get you through it,” he said.

She flinched, but he wasn’t the demon. He was pure light with dark hair. He was there to save her. To ease her over to the other side.

“What? What the fuck have you done to me?” she hiccupped out. Then she understood, just before she passed out. The world faded away and melted into the old familiar pain.

“Your withdrawal has started,” the demon’s voice laughed from the edge of the bed, crawling across the sheets to devour her once more. Except he was already within her, always had been. Just before he raised his ugly head, his eyes black and burning, she thought about begging this other creature of light to kill her now. Then the demon pounced and took his price, chewing away at what was left of her—mind, body, and soul.


Megan Mackie 2

Megan Mackie is a writer, actor, and playwright. She started her writing career as an indie author and had such smashing success in her first year with her inaugural book The Finder of the Lucky Devil, that she made the transition to traditional publishing. She has become a personality at many cons, recognizable by her iconic leather hat and engaging smile. She has recently joined Bard’s Tower, a mobile con bookstore, and has sold her books next to great authors such as Peter David, Melinda Snodgrass, Dan Wells, Claudia Gray, John Jackson Miller, and Jim Butcher, to name a few.

She has written five novels including: The Finder of the Lucky Devil, The Saint of Liars, The Devil’s Day, Death and the Crone, and Saint Code: Lost all currently released through eSpec Books. She is also a contributing writer in the role-playing game Legendlore soon to be published by Onyx Path Publishing.

Outside of writing she likes to play games: board games, RPGs, and video games. She has a regular Pathfinder group who is working their way through Rapanthuk. She lives in Chicago with her husband and children, dog, three cats, and her mother in the apartment upstairs.