CONVENTION SCHEDULE – VIRTUAL SHORE LEAVE


I am a little behind the pack, but here is my schedule for virtual Shore Leave this weekend. For those attending, we have a special discount code for 20% off all orders of $20 or more on the eSpec Books online store: SHORELEAVE2021.
To register for any of the programming options for this weekend’s virtual Shore Leave, go to: https://www.shore-leave.com/schedule/

SATURDAY

10AM – Hybrid Writers

Register ]

Salon A
w/Jim Johnson, Christopher D. Abbott, Heather E. Hutsell, Jenifer Purcell Rosenberg, Aaron Rosenberg
Authors discuss their experiences with pursuing a hybrid model for their writing journey—there are many paths to publishing; come hear some of them from those who’ve tried a little bit of everything.

4PM – New Release Party!

Register ]

Chase
w/Christopher D. Abbott, Keith DeCandido, Heather E. Hutsell, Aaron Rosenberg, Joshua Palmatier, Michael Jan Friedman, Paul Kupperberg, Roberta Rogow, James Swallow
Our authors discuss their new and upcoming books.

6PM – Chasing the Money or Chasing the Dream?

Register ]

Salon A
w/Heather E. Hutsell, Jim Johnson
Writers often have to decide between commercial appeal and artistic satisfaction. Find out which our authors chose and why, and how that’s affected their work.

SUNDAY

11AM – eSpec Books Presents:

Register ]

Tack
w/ Jenifer P. Rosenberg, Aaron Rosenberg, Hildy Silverman, Mary Fan, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Robert Greenberger, Russ Colchamiro, Christopher L. Bennett
eSpec Books shows off a wealth of new titles, including the brand-new Systema Paradoxa novella series featuring a whole host of cryptid creatures rarely seen before.

3PM – Series, Trilogy, or Standalone

Register ]

Salon F
w/David Mack, Roberta Rogow, Russ Colchamiro, James Swallow
Authors talk about whether they feel better served writing one-off novels, trilogies, or ongoing series.

COVER REVEAL – DEVILISH & DIVINE


This has been a productive weekend! I present to you the shiny new cover for Devilish & Divine, edited by John L. French and Danielle Ackley-McPhail. Previously Horns & Halos, this anthology features both hellish and heavenly hosts, and was so much fun to work on. We hope you enjoy it!

Devilish & Divine

Hell Bound or Heaven Sent?

Some of us will never know until it’s too late.

From an infernal fiend reduced to baking cookies to comfort a small child, to a pastor’s kid rescued from a fall from grace by an unlikely pair, and every iteration in between, Devilish & Divine explores the spectrum of mankind’s encounters with beings of power beyond our comprehension.

Are you ready to explore otherworldly hosts—both heavenly and otherwise?

With stories by

James Chambers
John L. French
Robert E. Waters
Jenifer Purcell Rosenberg
Christopher J. Burke
Michelle D. Sonnier
Danielle Ackley-McPhail
Keith R.A. DeCandido
Russ Colchamiro
Michael A. Black
Patrick Thomas
Hildy Silverman

and
John G. Hartness


John L. French

JOHN L. FRENCH is a retired crime scene supervisor with forty years’ experience. He has seen more than his share of murders, shootings, and serious assaults. As a break from the realities of his job, he started writing science fiction, pulp, horror, fantasy, and, of course, crime fiction.

John’s first story “Past Sins” was published in Hardboiled Magazine and was cited as one of the best Hardboiled stories of 1993. More crime fiction followed, appearing in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, the Fading Shadows magazines and in collections by Barnes and Noble. Association with writers like James Chambers and the late, great C.J. Henderson led him to try horror fiction and to a still growing fascination with zombies and other undead things. His first horror story “The Right Solution” appeared in Marietta Publishing’s Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak. Other horror stories followed in anthologies such as The Dead Walk and Dark Furies, both published by Die Monster Die books. It was in Dark Furies that his character Bianca Jones made her literary debut in “21 Doors,” a story based on an old Baltimore legend and a creepy game his daughter used to play with her friends.

John’s first book was The Devil of Harbor City, a novel done in the old pulp style. Past Sins and Here There Be Monsters followed. John was also consulting editor for Chelsea House’s Criminal Investigation series. His other books include The Assassins’ Ball (written with Patrick Thomas), Souls on Fire, The Nightmare Strikes, Monsters Among Us, The Last Redhead, the Magic of Simon Tombs, and The Santa Heist (written with Patrick Thomas). John is the editor of To Hell in a Fast Car, Mermaids 13, C. J. Henderson’s Challenge of the Unknown, Camelot 13 (with Patrick Thomas), and (with Greg Schauer) With Great Power …

You can find John on Facebook or you can email him at him at jfrenchfam@aol.com


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 (www.especbooks.com).

Her published works include seven novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, Daire’s Devils, 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, The Fox’s Fire, The Kindly One, and the non-fiction writers’ guides The Literary Handyman, More Tips from the 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 four extremely spoiled cats.

COVER REVEAL – DEMONTECH: THE LAST CAMPAIGNS


Wow… this has been a long time coming, but we are excited to share the final cover for David Sherman’s collection DemonTech: The Last Campaigns, cover art and design by Mike McPhail, McP Digital Graphics.

FB-DemonTech-Campaigns

Devil Dogs Snap at the Heels of the Demon Lord

When a renegade prince and his demon hordes set out to invade the world, you better believe the defenders call in the Marines!

Surrender or Die

A demon delivers an ultimatum to a port city under siege. The infernal messenger is sent away to lick its wounds, but will reinforcements come in time?

Delaying Action

Sometimes it isn’t about stopping the enemy so much as slowing them down.

Haft and Spinner are on the march, coming to the aid of those beset by the Dark Prince’s forces. Along the way, they use cunning and distraction to slow the enemy’s advance, but will it be enough to turn the tide?

Get Her Back!

When headstrong Alyine sets off on her own to find her left-behind musician, life gets interesting for those who must go after her. Angry nomads, great hunting cats, and desert death matches stand between the Golden Girl and her rescuers. Using every trick at their disposal, Haft and his men are more than up to the challenge!

The final chronicles in David Sherman’s Bestselling DemonTech Series.


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.

JULY NETGALLEY LISTING


SP - All-The-Way House 2 x 3Request your free review copy of Keith DeCandido‘s new SP novella, All-The-Way House on NetGalley today!
See a side of the Jersey Devil you’ve never before considered!

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.

***

When there are talks of a monster sighted in the waves off the Atlantic City boardwalk, Coursers Valentina Perrone and Sarah el-Guindi—supernatural hunters-for-hire—are called in by the local Boss to… handle it. But echoes of the past send them into the heart of the Pine Barrens, where more than one secret hides, along with their answers.

Will history repeat itself? Or will the monsters find safe haven?

Either way, in the end, they discover there is always more than one way to deal with a problem.

“Well written, an easy read, and I was hooked on every word.” The Geeky Devil


keith-decandido

Keith R.A. DeCandido has written several other tales of Coursers (or Slayers) and their work keeping the world safe from supernatural threats, including the novels A Furnace Sealed and the forthcoming Feat of Clay (both from WordFire Press) and the short stories “Under the King’s Bridge” in Liar Liar (Mendacity Press), “Materfamilias” in Bad Ass Moms (Crazy 8 Press), and “Unguarded” in Devilish and Divine (eSpec Books).

His other work includes media tie-in fiction in more than thirty different licensed universes from Alien to Zorro, as well as fiction in his own worlds, including fantastical police procedurals in the fictional cities of Cliff’s End and Super City, as well as urban fantasy tales in the somewhat real locales of Key West and New York City. He also writes pop-culture commentary, primarily for the award-winning site Tor.com, but also for various books and magazines.

Recent and upcoming work includes the novels Phoenix Precinct (the next in his series of police procedurals in an epic fantasy setting, from eSpec Books), Animal (a thriller written with Dr. Munish K. Batra, from WordFire), To Hell and Regroup (a military science fiction novel written with David Sherman, from eSpec Books), and the aforementioned Feat of Clay; short stories in the anthologies Pangaea Book 3: Redemption (Crazy 8), Footprints in the Stars (eSpec), Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles (Fantastic Books), and Turning the Tied (a charity anthology from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers); and new graphic novels from TokyoPop in the world of Resident Evil, tying into the Netflix animated series Infinite Darkness.

Keith is also a third-degree black belt in karate (he both teaches and trains), a professional musician (currently percussionist for the parody band Boogie Knights), an editor of many years’ standing (though he usually does it sitting down), and probably some other stuff he can’t recall due to the lack of sleep. Find out less at his website at DeCandido.net.

 

AUTHOR NEWS – DANIELLE ACKLEY-McPHAIL


Danielle Ackley-McPhailIt is with great pleasure that we announce that eSpec Books author and publisher Danielle Ackley-McPhail has been invited to be guest of honor at this year’s Chessiecon. The event is scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend (November 26-28, 2021) at the Lord Baltimore Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland.

Danielle has been a long-time participant of the convention, going back nearly a decade when the convention was still called DarkoverCon (original run as a part of the MZB/Darkover fandom.)

ChessielogoAs a part of the festivities, Danielle will be launching Daire’s Devils, her seventh novel, as well as several new volumes in the brand-new Systema Paradoxa series, including a special volume released specifically for the convention, based on Chessie, the cryptid namesake of the convention. The title for that book has not yet been announced, but Baltimore resident John L. French (author of When the Moon Shines, the premiere volume in the series) has agreed to pen this special release.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – ALL-THE-WAY HOUSE


Another Systema Paradoxa book, All-The-Way House by Keith R.A. DeCandido, to be featured in a future Cryptid Crate. We have a lot of these coming up as we get the series up to spead. But don’t worry, there are some exciting titles coming up in other genres too! The neat thing about the SP books, though, is that even though they are a series and all feature cryptids, each author has their own take and style, and not only do the stories draw on echoes of other genres, but some–like this one–are a part of the author’s larger literary universe! Win-Win!

We hope you enjoy!


SP - All-The-Way House 2 x 3Chapter One

Atlantic City
State of New Jersey, United States of America
February 2020

“Why are we even coming to the office? It’s freezing.”

Valentina Perrone smiled at the plaintive wail of her apprentice. She was trying to find the right keys to her storefront office on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and North Carolina Avenue. Her leather gloves made that search take a bit longer, which was probably why Sarah el-Guindi was standing behind her complaining and shivering.

Finally locating the right ones, she unlocked the padlock that kept the bolt in place. With the lock off, the bolt could be pulled out, thus permitting the metal gate to rise from its lowered position and allow access to the glass door.

“Finally,” Sarah muttered. “And you haven’t answered my question.”

Chuckling, Valentina bent over, grabbed the handle, and then threw the gate upward. Its metallic rattle echoed in the frigid air.

As she tried to find the other key, which would unlock the glass door, Valentina said, “Atlantic City ain’t the most crowded place on Earth this time of year, but that doesn’t mean there ain’t nobody here, y’know? We might still get clients.”

“Who can call us or e-mail us.” Sarah was now jumping up and down to keep warm, her hijab sliding back from her forehead a bit. “Which we can answer in your nice warm house in Hammonton.”

“We get walk-ins here, especially from people who work the hotels and casinos. They don’t like to talk over the phone about this stuff. And their bosses tend to read their e-mails. There it is!” Valentina found the right key and inserted it into the lock.

Sarah practically ran past Valentina once she got the door open. The office space was small, which was good, as it kept the price down. The rent she paid on this space in Atlantic City would rent an office four times this size in her hometown of Hammonton, which was thirty miles to the west.

But AC also had the clients with the deepest pockets.

Sarah flicked the switch to turn on a fluorescent light in the middle of the ceiling and then moved directly to the space heater that sat atop the minifridge in the corner and put it on high.

Valentina had retrieved the mail from the small metal box next to the front door and then came in and shrugged out of her down coat. “Y’know, it’s been, what, five years now since you moved here? You ain’t used to Jersey winters yet?”

Warming her hands on the heater as it hummed to life, Sarah glanced back and said, “I come from a desert people, what do you want from me?”

“Last time I checked, it got cold in the desert, too,” Valentina said with a chuckle as she went through the mail, tossing all the catalogues and advertisements and political flyers into the garbage can. That left the notice to pay the rent from the landlord and a handwritten envelope.

Holding up the former, she said, “File this, will you please, Sarah?”

Sarah glared at her, obviously not wanting to move away from the heater. She also hadn’t taken her coat off yet. Walking over to the desk to snatch the piece of cardboard, she then went to the file cabinet next to the minifridge. “I don’t know why they send you these things. You pay the rent electronically.”

“I finally stopped asking them to not send me those things after the tenth time.” Valentina shrugged. “They got a computer system that sends ’em automatically. So I file ’em, just in case there’s a problem down the line.”

“Have you ever had a problem?”

“Not yet.”

“And yet you save every single piece of paper,” Sarah said in a long-suffering tone after filing the rent notice with the others in a manila folder and closing the file cabinet drawer.

“You never know when you might need it. Hey, listen to this,” Valentina added as she sat down in the leather chair behind her desk. She had opened the handwritten envelope. “It’s a thank-you note from the Frank family. Well, it says it’s from the Frank family, but it’s really from their little girl, Helena. ‘Dear Ms. Perrone. Thank you for getting the ghost out of our house. It really made me and Mommy and Daddy happy. We all had a good night’s sleep for the first time in forever, and now Mommy and Daddy say I can get a puppy. We love you, Helena Frank.’”

Sarah just stood there, her hands clenched over her heart. “Okay, that is the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

Valentina grinned. “It’s the little things.”

“So, when do I get to learn how to use weapons?”

With a sigh, Valentina said, “Not this crap again. I told you, I’m more of a magick items kinda gal. Weapons just means people get hurt.”

“I was talking with José Maldonado—”

Crossing herself, Valentina said, “Jesu, Giuseppe, Mari, do not take advice on being a Courser from José. If it was up to him, we’d just shoot everything with that stupid .45 of his. And most of the time, that don’t work.”

“He also said you always use magick items because your cousin owns the store over on Baltic and Indiana.”

“Yeah, I love my cousin Bobby, but you may’ve noticed I don’t actually buy nothin’ at his store. I go to Saladin’s back home in Hammonton. If nothin’ else, Bobby’s prices are through the roof ’cause he’s gotta pay AC rent. Plus, most of his stuff’s garbage, ’cause he sells to tourists.”

“I seem to recall a supply of silver sticks you purchased from him last week.”

“’Cause Saladin was out, and I needed ’em for those rabid werewolves.”

The glass door opened, and a man wearing a very expensive-looking trench coat over a thousand-dollar suit walked in. He removed his Ray-Bans and put them in the inner pocket of his suit jacket. “‘Bout time you opened, Val. Been waitin’ all mornin’.”

After shooting Sarah an I-told-you-so look, Valentina stood up. “We been here, like, fifteen minutes, Rocco, what took you so long to walk in?”

“I been waitin’ back at the hotel. I had Freddie across the street keepin’ an eye out. He called me when you showed up, and then I drove over.”

Sitting back down in her chair, Valentina shook her head. She hadn’t noticed anybody across the street, but Freddie could’ve been in one of the fast-food joints. “Always a pleasure, Rocco. What can I do for you?”

Rocco, however, was staring at Sarah. “Who’s this?”

“Oh, sorry. Rocco Amalfitano, head of security for Atlantic Resorts Casino and Hotel, this is my apprentice, Sarah el-Guindi.”

Rocco turned to stare confusedly at Valentina. “You got an apprentice? That’s, like, a thing?”

“How do you think we get new Coursers?”

“The hell do I know? Maybe you grow ’em in a lab.”

Valentina chuckled and indicated the guest chair that faced her desk. “Have a seat, Rocco, and tell me what you need.”

As he sat down, Rocco pulled a smartphone out of his trench coat pocket. “We got a thing on the beach. Clients’re freakin’ out. I need you to get it the hell off the beach before the bosses find out.”

Sarah asked, “How does anybody even know it’s there?”

“Whaddaya mean?” Rocco asked.

“Who would be going on the beach in this weather?”

Rolling his eyes, Rocco said, “Somebody’s always on the beach. We could have ten feet of snow, and somebody’d be on the beach.” He had been fondling the screen of his phone. Finally seeming to find what he needed, he handed the phone to Valentina.

Taking the phone, she stared at the image. A sandy beach dotted with shells in the foreground, breaking waves of blue-green water in the background, and right where the two met, a dark-green-scaled creature that either had two arms and two legs, or four legs—it was hard to tell at that angle—with a large round head, tiny recessed eyes, and a snout that looked vaguely fishlike.

“That’s the only picture we got, but at least three clients’ve seen it. They’re sayin’ it’s the Jersey Devil, if you can believe that garbage.”

Valentina handed the phone to Sarah so she could get a look at it. “Aw, c’mon, Rocco, you don’t think the Jersey Devil’s real?”

“Maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t, but I ain’t never seen it. And I seen some stuff. Why you think I keep comin’ back here?”

Shrugging, Valentina said, “My charm and good looks?”

Rocco snorted. “Well, you are pretty good lookin’, for a crazy Courser lady.”

Sarah handed the phone back to Rocco. “Can you e-mail us the picture, please, Mr. Amalfitano?”

“Absolutely. And hey, call me Rocco. Mr. Amalfitano is what people call me when they got a problem, and it gets me all nervous. But I’m the one with the problem, so call me Rocco.” Rocco started fondling the phone screen again, and then asked Valentina, “Same e-mail address as last time?”

Valentina nodded.

Tapping the phone screen with a flourish, Rocco said, “Sent,” and put the phone in his coat pocket. “You know what that thing is?”

“I got a few ideas,” Valentina said. “But don’t worry, I’ll have it off the beach and outta your hair within twenty-four hours.”

“Okay, great. So, I don’t gotta pay the usual rate for this, right? I mean, it’s the off-season.”

With a sigh, Valentina then engaged in her least favorite aspect of this job: haggling. It took about a minute and a half for her to convince Rocco that Coursers didn’t have an off-season even if casinos did, and for him to agree to her usual payment rate. Or, more accurately, her usual rate for the casinos, which was about twenty percent higher than it was for anyone else, as the casinos could damn well afford it. It was Valentina’s way of making up for how the casinos themselves overcharged for so much.

After that, Rocco took his leave. As soon as the door closed, Valentina crossed herself again. “Jesu, Giuseppe, Mari, every damn time.”

“He always tries to talk down the price?” Sarah asked.

“Yeah. If I charged twice as much, it wouldn’t be a helluva lot more than a damn rounding error in the casino’s budget, but no, he’s gotta try to nickel-and-dime me. And he pulls it every single time he hires me.” Valentina blew out a breath. “C’mon, we gotta take a trip up to the Pine Barrens.”


Keith R.A. DeCandido

Keith R.A. DeCandido has written several other tales of Coursers (or Slayers) and their work keeping the world safe from supernatural threats, including the novels A Furnace Sealed and the forthcoming Feat of Clay (both from WordFire Press) and the short stories “Under the King’s Bridge” in Liar Liar (Mendacity Press), “Materfamilias” in Bad Ass Moms (Crazy 8 Press), and “Unguarded” in Devilish and Divine (eSpec Books).

His other work includes media tie-in fiction in more than thirty different licensed universes from Alien to Zorro, as well as fiction in his own worlds, including fantastical police procedurals in the fictional cities of Cliff’s End and Super City, as well as urban fantasy tales in the somewhat real locales of Key West and New York City. He also writes pop-culture commentary, primarily for the award-winning site Tor.com, but also for various books and magazines.

Recent and upcoming work includes the novels Phoenix Precinct (the next in his series of police procedurals in an epic fantasy setting, from eSpec Books), Animal (a thriller written with Dr. Munish K. Batra, from WordFire), To Hell and Regroup (a military science fiction novel written with David Sherman, from eSpec Books), and the aforementioned Feat of Clay; short stories in the anthologies Pangaea Book 3: Redemption (Crazy 8), Footprints in the Stars (eSpec), Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles (Fantastic Books), and Turning the Tied (a charity anthology from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers); and new graphic novels from TokyoPop in the world of Resident Evil, tying into the Netflix animated series Infinite Darkness.

Keith is also a third-degree black belt in karate (he both teaches and trains), a professional musician (currently percussionist for the parody band Boogie Knights), an editor of many years’ standing (though he usually does it sitting down), and probably some other stuff he can’t recall due to the lack of sleep. Find out less at his website at DeCandido.net.

COVER REVEAL – ALL-THE-WAY HOUSE


These covers have been illusively lurking, but here is the official cover reveal for Systema Paradoxa Volume 4 – All-The-Way House by Keith R.A. DeCandido, which releases 6/21/21 (Pre-order here or via our online store). We are very excited about this book and this series. Please join us in congratulating the author!


SP - All-The-Way House 2 x 3

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.

***

When there are talks of a monster sighted in the waves off the Atlantic City boardwalk, Coursers Valentina Perrone and Sarah el-Guindi—supernatural hunters-for-hire—are called in by the local Boss to… handle it. But echoes of the past send them into the heart of the Pine Barrens, where more than one secret hides, along with their answers.

Will history repeat itself? Or will the monsters find safe haven?

Either way, in the end, they discover there is always more than one way to deal with a problem.


Keith R.A. DeCandido

Keith R.A. DeCandido has written several other tales of Coursers (or Slayers) and their work keeping the world safe from supernatural threats, including the novels A Furnace Sealed and the forthcoming Feat of Clay (both from WordFire Press) and the short stories “Under the King’s Bridge” in Liar Liar (Mendacity Press), “Materfamilias” in Bad Ass Moms (Crazy 8 Press), and “Unguarded” in Devilish and Divine (eSpec Books).

His other work includes media tie-in fiction in more than thirty different licensed universes from Alien to Zorro, as well as fiction in his own worlds, including fantastical police procedurals in the fictional cities of Cliff’s End and Super City, as well as urban fantasy tales in the somewhat real locales of Key West and New York City. He also writes pop-culture commentary, primarily for the award-winning site Tor.com, but also for various books and magazines.

Recent and upcoming work includes the novels Phoenix Precinct (the next in his series of police procedurals in an epic fantasy setting, from eSpec Books), Animal (a thriller written with Dr. Munish K. Batra, from WordFire), To Hell and Regroup (a military science fiction novel written with David Sherman, from eSpec Books), and the aforementioned Feat of Clay; short stories in the anthologies Pangaea Book 3: Redemption (Crazy 8), Footprints in the Stars (eSpec), Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles (Fantastic Books), and Turning the Tied (a charity anthology from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers); and new graphic novels from TokyoPop in the world of Resident Evil, tying into the Netflix animated series Infinite Darkness.

Keith is also a third-degree black belt in karate (he both teaches and trains), a professional musician (currently percussionist for the parody band Boogie Knights), an editor of many years’ standing (though he usually does it sitting down), and probably some other stuff he can’t recall due to the lack of sleep. Find out less at his website at DeCandido.net.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – WRITTEN IN LIGHT


This week’s author has a brilliant talent for envisioning non-humanoid sentient life and bringing them to life on the page. Not only are his races diverse, but they are also relatable. I am in awe of his skill. I hope you enjoy this brief taste as much as I did. This is the title story from Jeff Young’s solo collection Written in Light, which is scheduled to release August 1, 2021. Follow the link to pre-order.


Written in Light 6 x 9Written in Light

For a moment, Zoi’ahmets stood as still as the tree the wickurn resembled, watching as the unknown creature stumbled backward from her. Perhaps it was the fact that Zoi’ahmets rose twice its height, her triple conjoined trunks, or the orange eye that she swiveled in its direction. Two podia, how could it manage like that? So inefficient in dealing with gravity, unstable surfaces, and even the strain over time on such a small surface area, certainly nothing like Zoi’ahmets’s designs. She had so little time to be certain that everything remained prepared for the Diversiform Dispute judging, and what in Winter happened here? The cognition engine finally linked with the translator nailed to her bark. Only then did she grasp that the sounds striking the translator were attempts at communication.

Amazingly, the intruder turned its back completely on Zoi’ahmets and began to dig through the grass—a very anti-survival trait in an unresolved situation. Perhaps it lost something. She fed its image into the cognition engine, which identified the creature as a human. Trying to imagine what it might be searching for, the wickurn cast about with all her eyes looking over the thick verdure of the pampas and nearby bushes. There. Something black and lumpy with a short set of straps hung in the top of a shrub nearby. One branch reached for it as another gently spun the human around and faced it toward its property. The human awkwardly trudged through the grass. Zoi’ahmets gently handed it the case. It spared a moment to eye its benefactor thoughtfully and then dropped gracelessly to the ground to open the case. The human quickly extracted a silver device which, when clipped behind its ear, opened up like a flower. The shiny metallic petals spun and clicked restlessly in the afternoon sunlight. Another device fit about its neck and a third nestled in the center of its hand. Then Zoi’ahmets finally heard the human begin to speak.

“_____ wickurn ______ about 3 meters ______ seems to be looking out for me. ______ see why it’s here. Since I’m as far into the Disputed zone as I am ______ ______ _______ _________. Can’t understand why it hasn’t ___________ with me yet.”

“Communicated?” Zoi’ahmets offered as she pulled herself slowly to the human.

“Yeah, actually,” the being stammered.

“You were not exactly making intelligible sounds until just a moment ago.”

“And you were pretending to be a tree! No, I’m sorry, you are a tree. You can’t help that. I guess I just never expected you to move.”

“Why would I require help if I am in my natural state?”

“Look, this isn’t going well. You’re one of the workers on this Diversiform Dispute, and I’m obviously keeping you from your job. I apologize for startling you, if that’s what I did.” It took a deep breath and continued, “I’m Kiona. I’m … a student of the art of photography. I rode the ground vehicle over there until it stopped. Then the flight craft following us crashed into a tree. I’m so sorry to disturb you. I only wanted to learn more about the Disputed Zone.”

It bowed slightly in Zoi’ahmets’ direction, focusing two green eyes on her.

Zoi’ahmets raised a branch, and its eye could see there were fragments of debris at the base of a windrake tree. Flight craft? That could simply a result of the inaccuracy of the translator. In fact, now that Zoi’ahmets looked at the wreckage, it bore a resemblance to an automated sampling drone. The small craft hung, entangled in the net of branches, its weight dragging down the tendrils and breaking them. Looking where indicated, she could see a surface sampling rover. A makeshift seat mounted to the top of the six-wheeled drone sat directly over the solar panel. Kiona must have ridden the sampler until it ran out of power. The aerial drone would have lost its guidance and then crashed. Could it really be that stupid, or could this be deliberate? Zoi’ahmets wondered.

She turned back to the human in front of her. Perhaps an introduction, “I am Zoi’ahmets Calinve, chief architect of the Wickurn Diversiform entrant in this Dispute.” Gently tipping forward, she returned the bow as much as she could manage. Kiona backed up another step.

“I am so sorry. I had no idea this is your environment. I never wanted to harm it.”

Zoi’ahmets cocked a lower eye toward it. “But you had no problem entering the contested area to gain images of the Dispute—did you? You appear to have subverted a sampling drone to carry you. It’s surprising the drone made it this far.”

With that, she began the typical spiraling walk of a wickurn toward the drone. All the while, she thought to herself, I must find a way to get this thing out of here as quickly as possible. She’d heard that humans were allowed onto this Dispute World and didn’t know how she felt about the imposition. Now she had one interrupting her work. For a second, she considered that her opponents might have put the intruder here to hinder her.

Kiona started after her, but the wickurn found herself waiting as the human pulled at one of the coverings on its feet and set to work on something lodged in an ankle. When it held the annoyance to the light to look at it, Zoi’ahmets dropped a branch eye to view it as well.

“Caltrop seed,” she said. “Something I designed that will allow animals to transport seeds. Helps to propagate various bushes. Basically, harmless, but in your case perhaps annoying.” Also, a distraction, thought Zoi’ahmets, instead let’s find out why you are here. “Let us have a look at your conveyance.”

Her eyes studied Kiona for a moment as her branch, vane leaves unfurling, drifted across Kiona’s shoulder to urge it along. She pushed aside rising annoyance and moved forward.

While the human trotted beside Zoi’ahmets as the wickurn’s three root clusters rolled through the thick grasses, Zoi’ahmets took a moment to access the cognition engine and review the biology reports for humanity. Just to be thorough, she’d made certain to download a full bio-summary of all the judges’ species and anyone who might be visiting the Dispute. Thank Summer, there were no immediate concerns regarding her bio-system.

Looking briefly at Kiona, Zoi’ahmets suddenly realized this was a female of their species and estimated her age at about twelve winters. At first glance, Kiona appeared to be in good health. However inappropriate, one of the humans may have decided to take a firsthand look at the entrants to the Dispute rather than waiting as tradition dictated.

Zoi’ahmets looked briefly down at Kiona, considering her again. Humanity had joined the galactic community later than most, and there were concerns among the established species. Humans bred faster than most galactics and still had not modified themselves to limit their numbers. In a community where the primary means of gaining additional planetary growing room was based upon the ability to create effective complete environments for the Diversiform Disputes, most participants learned by modifying their homes and themselves first. Humanity had done a remarkable job of terra-forming numerous worlds, but the issue of their unregulated propagation still remained.

Because Zoi’ahmets’s contemplation slowed her pace, Kiona darted ahead of the wickurn toward the crash of the airborne sampling drone. With a quick glance, Zoi’ahmets noted that it was made of tensioned monomolecular fabric. The remains of a nearby wing swinging overhead seemed to be mostly gas cells with monomole struts. Looking back toward the ground sampler, unease made her stomachs churn. Zoi’ahmets studied Kiona for a moment. Was the human not telling her everything? What was going on here? Did she have time for this?

Zoi’ahmets paused in consideration and looked up at the sky. Reflexively, she called up a weather survey. The cognition engine brought up a real-time satellite map displaying the relatively calm but cloudy current weather and a storm front moving toward their location. Perhaps Kiona hadn’t intended to be out for long, or perhaps being trapped here was all part of the plan. The transmission faded out as Zoi’ahmets became lost in her own considerations.

In the meantime, the human walked about the surface drone. Kiona pulled out another strap-bearing bag from the grass and rummaged through it. Her hand showed through a hole in the bottom as her face skewed, and she murmured something that the translator box didn’t quite register. She turned to Zoi’ahmets.

“Something ate my food, and the only thing left is a snack square. Hopefully, it wasn’t anything of yours that might be poisoned by it.”

That briefly perplexed Zoi’ahmets. It certainly wasn’t the type of comment someone with a nefarious purpose would make unless Kiona’s intent was to deliberately mislead her.

Zoi’ahmets watched as Kiona crawled further among the pampas, where she found a round container twice the size of her palm and pushed that into her black bag. “The rover is ruined,” Kiona commented.

Sadly, the human appeared to be right. Slipping into a gully after it lost power and communication with the satellite grid, the drone snapped two of its three axels.

Zoi’ahmets noticed that the base of Kiona’s leg where it emerged from the grass was no longer the same color as the rest of her. It was the same foot from which she’d withdrawn the caltrop seed.

Zoi’ahmets reached into a mouth. Probing gently past her gullet into one of the xylem spaces, she pulled out a round cylinder. She shook out the tiny arrow-shaped chenditi that clung to the sides. They landed on her lower trunk. Zoi’ahmets’s large orange eye watched as the chenditi absorbed enough solar energy to fill the lift cells in their small bodies by splitting moisture from the air into hydrogen and oxygen. Separately, the little creatures were mere animals. A small swarm equipped with send/receive components acted as a collective intelligence.

Kiona stopped her scavenging to watch as the swarm lifted into the air. One half of each arrowhead was dark black, and the opposite canted at an angle covered with a shiny prismatic surface. Zoi’ahmets noticed that when Kiona stood up from the rover, she favored her left leg.

At first, Kiona shied as the chenditi flitted about her but was apparently familiar with their ability to do chemical and medical diagnostics. They quickly surrounded the human, and she held her arms out from her body as they spun about her. “Like a cloud of butterflies.” Kiona laughed at the image. She drew her gaze back to Zoi’ahmets. Her glance was quick, and her lips slid to one side, a slight breeze lifting her shoulder-length blonde fur. “I do know what they’re for. What do you think is wrong with me?”

“That is what they will tell us.”


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 EXCERPTS – BREAKING THE CODE


We have another Systema Paradoxa title for you, Breaking the Code by David Lee Summers, a part of the Systema Paradoxa series created in conjunction with Cryptid Crate. It releases May 21, but you can pre-order it now via the link.


SP - Breaking the Code 2 x 3Chapter One

Friday, February 20, 1942

Cheryl Davis parked her Ford Coup in the Gallup High School parking lot and walked to the gym under leaden skies. 1942 was off to a dismal start. The United States had declared war against Japan and Germany and now they needed young men to fight their battles for them. As a teacher, she’d been asked to spread the word among former students who might want to enlist in the Marine Corps. The Marine recruiter who contacted her was himself a former student. He showed a special interest in recruiting Navajos well-versed in their native language. Cheryl was part Navajo, on her mother’s side, but most wouldn’t know it to look at her. She had inherited her strawberry-blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin from her father’s side of the family.

Cheryl entered the gym and found the bleachers full. The high school band played “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” She groaned as a tuba went flat for two notes, but no one else seemed to notice. The crowd cheered and whooped as the band finished the song.

The principal, Sherman Smith, stepped up to the mic. After a burst of feedback, he introduced Cheryl’s former student, Duke Ogawa. She smiled as the young man approached the mic. She had taught him during her first year at Gallup High. He’d graduated five years ago. Now he wore a smart blue uniform with yellow and red sergeant’s stripes.

“It’s good to be back home,” Duke said. “I spent a lot of time in this gym learning teamwork and sportsmanship. I’m here today because I need people on my team for something far more important than beating Farmington in the basketball championships.” A cheer went up at that and Duke flashed a charming smile. “As you know, the United States is now at war and Uncle Sam needs your Tiger pride and your Tiger courage to defeat the Japanese and the Germans.”

“So why does the Marine Corps send a Japanese man to recruit Diné to do their dirty work?” A hush fell over the crowd and all eyes turned to a teacher named Frances Todachine. Cheryl noted the woman used the name the Navajos used for themselves. It was shorthand for the story of how five-fingered people came into the world. The small, wiry Navajo woman had earned a grudging respect around the school because she worked with known troublemakers and helped them find jobs around town when they graduated. Murmurs spread throughout the auditorium. Miss Todachine’s words seemed to have struck a chord with the audience.

Duke’s smile didn’t falter. He waited for the murmuring to die down, then responded with the certainty that had always served him well on the school’s debate team. “Ma’am, my parents were born in Los Angeles and moved to Gallup during the last big war to open a feed store. Their action helped feed the troops. The United States is the only country I’ve known. It’s my country.”

Cheryl clapped her hands at the succinct, polite response. Soon other people around the gym joined in. An icy chill went down her spine and she glanced toward Miss Todachine. The woman glared at her for a moment, then turned her attention back to Duke.

“Why should Navajos give their lives for a country that killed so many of them?” Miss Todachine shouted so she could be heard over the applause.

The applause ceased and the murmurs resumed.

Another Marine joined Duke at the mic. Cheryl didn’t recognize him. “My name is Sergeant Randall Yazzie. My people live over in Arizona, near Show Low.” A hush fell over the crowd. The man wasn’t a local like Duke, but he was Diné like many people in the audience. “I joined the United States Marine Corps because it gave me the chance to fight for my homeland. Adolf Hitler and Emperor Hirohito want to take our country away from us and we can keep that from happening.”

Miss Todachine scowled but fell silent. She couldn’t be more than a year or two older than Cheryl, but she carried herself like a much older woman. Several young Navajos huddled with the history teacher and spoke in hushed tones while Duke and Randall continued their presentation. The recruiters highlighted the rewards a soldier could expect, including good pay, regular meals, a pension, and lifetime medical coverage. Cheryl knew these things would all sound good to families who had scraped by through the Great Depression. Although Western New Mexico had been spared the dust storms that plagued the eastern part of the state, Navajos had still suffered through a bad drought.

“You’ll get valuable training in the Marines that will help you find a good job after the war,” Duke said.

Duke and Randall wrapped up their presentation and mentioned they would go to the gym’s foyer and sign up anyone who wanted to enlist. “We’ll be back on Monday to make another presentation,” Randall said. “Be sure to tell your friends. We’re interested in any recruits between the ages of eighteen and forty-four. A bus will pick up those who enlist a week from Monday. It’ll take you to Fort Wingate to be sworn in and then we’ll catch the train to San Diego where you’ll enter boot camp.”

They opened the floor to questions. Cheryl feared that Miss Todachine would try to cause more trouble. She couldn’t quite understand her fellow teacher’s objections. She knew relations between the Navajo—all American Indians, really—and the United States had been strained by westward expansion. She understood the bitterness, but did Miss Todachine really believe that Hitler or Hirohito would be better leaders than Franklin Delano Roosevelt?

Once the question-and-answer session finished, people filed out of the gymnasium into the foyer. Duke and Randall sat at their table and walked a handful of young men through the enlistment process. Cheryl hung back, hoping to speak to Duke. One of her current students, Jerry Begay, approached the recruiters. She couldn’t hear what they said to each other, but they shook hands and Jerry signed a piece of paper.

She looked around and noticed Frances Todachine along with a half dozen Navajos standing in the shadows. They also seemed interested in Jerry Begay’s conversation with the recruiters. His family had a hogan a short distance from town where they raised sheep. They may be poor, but Jerry’s grandmother was a respected matriarch in the Rock Gap clan and he was a good, well-liked student. People paid attention to Jerry and expected him to go far.

As Jerry Begay stepped away from the table, Miss Todachine and her followers seemed to lose interest. They stalked off into the cold night.

That was odd. Miss Todachine wore a fur coat—a strange choice for a Navajo. Most Diné considered wearing a predator’s pelt taboo. Then again, Cheryl couldn’t see the coat well in the dim lighting. It could well have been rabbit or imitation fur. Even with her fair skin, Cheryl wouldn’t wear fur at a gathering with so many Diné. There could be talk that the person wearing the fur might practice witchcraft. Though Cheryl was only part Navajo, she had grown up here. She knew the legend of the skinwalkers, witches who sought the knowledge of magic for power, not healing. Whether she believed or not, she would never give the community a reason to wonder about her the way Miss Todachine did.

Cheryl made a point of stopping Jerry Begay on his way out. “Did you just sign up?”

He flashed her a broad smile. “Yes, ma’am.”

“I’m pleased you want to defend your country, but don’t you think it would be a good idea to finish your high school diploma first?”

He shrugged. “I’m eighteen. I don’t need my diploma to enlist. What I’ll get from the Marines is more than the diploma will be worth. Plus, they said I’d get extra pay because I speak Navajo.”

Cheryl narrowed her gaze. “Did they say why that would give you extra pay?”

Jerry shook his head. “I should get going, my parents want me home before it gets too late.”

Cheryl sighed and nodded. “Have a good night. Will I see you in class on Monday?”

He nodded. “I’ll be there. The bus won’t come through for new recruits for another week.”

“Good.”

As Jerry left the gym, Cheryl began to wonder if Miss Todachine was right to question these recruiters.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

Duke Ogawa’s voice made her jump. He no longer sat behind the recruiting table, but had come up behind her.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you, Miss Davis.”

Cheryl put her hand to her chest and smiled. “It’s good to see you, Duke. It looks like the Corps is treating you well.”

He nodded and smiled. “Actually, my enlistment ended last month, but I signed on again after Pearl Harbor.”

Cheryl sighed. “Yeah, it’s a bad business and I’m glad the United States is finally taking a stand against the fascists and the imperialists, but…” Her voice trailed off as she followed the direction Jerry had gone.

“You don’t like seeing kids as young as Jerry Begay signing up for war,” he guessed.

She nodded.

Duke led Cheryl back to the table and introduced his partner. “Randall Yazzie, this is Miss Cheryl Davis, she was my math teacher here my senior year.”

“Pleased to meet you, ma’am” Yazzie said. “Call me Rand. So, who was that woman with the smart mouth?”

“Oh, that’s Frances Todachine.” Cheryl shrugged. “She’s a history teacher. She actually does good work with a lot of the kids. She helps them find jobs.”

“I got a strange feeling from her.” Rand shook his head. “I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there was something more than concern going on there.”

“Yeah, she had a chip on her shoulder. She was looking for a fight,” Duke said.

“Single woman, a group of close followers, all men,” Rand mused. “Back home, there’d be talk…”

Cheryl snorted a laugh. “You don’t think she’s having an affair with any of those young men, do you?”

Rand shook his head. “That wouldn’t be the worst of it.” He leaned in close and whispered. “They’d be talking witchcraft.”

~*~

As Jerry Begay drove home from the recruitment rally at the high school, snow began to fall. At first just a few light flurries drifted through the air, then the flakes fell heavier as he cleared the city limits and drove the ten miles south to his family’s land. Smoke wafting from the stovepipe poking from his family hogan’s roof gratified him. It would be warm inside. His mother no doubt left some stew on the fire for him. He guessed two inches of snow already blanketed the ground by the time he walked from the pickup to his front door.

The hogan was a small, cozy home. A cast-iron wood stove sat in the building’s center and the scents of lamb and vegetables simmering told him he had been correct about her having dinner ready for him.

“Yá’át’ééh,” his father said, speaking the traditional Diné greeting, which asked whether Jerry was well.

Jerry responded by saying he was well, “yá’ánísht’ééh,” and sat down at the table. His mother brought him a bowl of stew and he began to wolf it down.

“So, how was the meeting?” asked Jerry’s mother, Maria.

“Good,” Jerry said. “Lots of people showed up.” He took another bite, then swallowed. “I signed up.” He said the last quietly.

Jerry’s father, Javier, frowned. “We need you here on the farm this season more than ever.”

“You need to finish your high school diploma,” his mother chastened.

“I’ll earn money faster in the military and I’ll get skills that can help me after I’m back.” Everything the recruiters had said about joining up sounded better than continuing to feed sheep and take boring old classes. “Besides, if people don’t go, evil men like Adolf Hitler will send his soldiers to take our lands away from us.”

“It has happened before, and we have survived.” His father sounded tired.

“You sound like that history teacher at school, Miss Todachine.” Jerry scooped up the last of his stew.

His mother’s jaw tightened. “Don’t speak her name in this house.”

“What?” Jerry shrugged. “She’s just a loud-mouthed do-gooder. She found a job for John Claw, of all people. I thought the sheriff would throw him in jail for sure.”

Maria Begay nodded. “She consorts with all kinds of troublemakers and keeps them from finding justice. She spends way too much time with those high-school boys.”

Jerry snorted a laugh. “She’s not much older than we are. She’s gotta spend time with someone.” He took his bowl to a washtub near the wood stove and put it in to soak until the morning when it could be washed.

“Mark my words, she’s trouble,” Maria reiterated. She walked over to the woodstove and tossed in more wood from a nearby stack.

“When would you leave us?” Javier’s eyes narrowed.

“A bus will come through Gallup week after next. It’ll take us to Fort Wingate where we’ll be sworn in, then they’ll take us to San Diego for training.”

Javier grunted. “California is very far. How long will you be away?”

“Three years,” Jerry said.

Maria put her hand to her chest. “So long?”

Jerry held out his hands. “I’ll talk to the guys at school. I can find someone to help you here on the farm.” He walked over and gathered his mother up into his arms. For the first time he could remember, she looked sad and frail.

“Our need for help is not our main concern,” Jerry’s father said. “We’ll miss you.”

Jerry gave his mother a squeeze then sat down opposite his father. “If this were the old days, warriors would be sent out to meet a threat. This is no different.”

Javier pursed his lips and nodded. “I suppose you’re right…”

“But three years?” His mom shook her head.

“I’ll write,” Jerry promised. “And if you guys ever let them install a telephone out here, I could probably call now and then.”

“We’ll consider it,” Maria said, “but only for this reason.”

Javier reached out and took his son’s hand. “We’ll miss you, but I understand why you believe this is necessary.” He stood and walked over to the bed. “Now, this snow is arguing with my bones. I think it’s time to get some sleep.”

The hogan didn’t allow much room for privacy. Many families had moved into homes in town, only to lose those homes during the Great Depression and return to traditional dwellings out on their land. Jerry’s family was one of those. His parents had a bed along one of the hogan’s walls. Jerry’s bed was along the wall across from it. They’d set up an old-fashioned privacy screen between the two. Jerry’s dad blew out the oil lamp next to him. Cloth rustled as Jerry’s parents changed into their nightclothes.

Jerry followed suit and climbed under a stack of warm blankets. Despite the snowstorm outside, he was snug in his family’s home. The idea of sharing a barracks with other soldiers didn’t bother him. His parents began to snore, and the wind whipped outside. His eyes grew heavy and he began to drift off to sleep.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

The tapping caused his eyes to spring open. No trees grew up against the hogan to cause the noise. He listened. Maybe he’d just dreamed the sound as he’d started to drift off to sleep. His parents still snored. Whatever he had heard, it hadn’t awakened them. His eyelids grew heavy again.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Again, Jerry’s eyes sprang open. The tapping resumed. It sounded like it came from the wall beside him. He tried to picture the outside of the hogan. He didn’t think there was anything there but grass. The wall had been constructed from solid logs. Nothing light could make a tapping loud enough to wake him. He tried to dismiss it as his imagination.

Wide awake now, he thought more about the Marine Corps. He wondered what boot camp would be like. He had no doubt he would cut it. He’d been up early in the morning and working hard ever since his family moved back out to their traditional lands. His chest swelled with pride as he thought about continuing the long tradition of Navajo warriors.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

The sound returned. No doubt about it, this was no dream. He thought more about what could cause the tapping. He wondered if some wood had broken loose in the high winds, or if the roof had been damaged. It could probably wait until morning, but he thought he’d better go check it out. He wouldn’t get to sleep until he knew what it was. He shoved back the blankets, pulled on his trousers and heavy boots, and lit the lamp.

As he walked toward the door, he looked back at his parents. Still asleep. He went outside. The snow was coming down heavier than before and swirled in white eddies. He stayed close to the house, so as not to get lost in the storm, crunching through snow deeper than the tops of his boots. He reached the back wall of the octagonal structure, and inspected the building.

There were divots in the snow, as though an animal had been there and left. Had a sheep gotten loose and butted the wall?

He held up the lantern and looked around.

In the distance stood a tall figure on two legs. Its long ears lay back and it snarled, revealing long, sharp teeth. A forbidden word came to mind—a word as shocking as the vilest pornography. Although this did not involve ripping off clothes, it involved ripping off the very skin to reveal the monster underneath.

Yee naaldlooshii in the Diné language.

Skinwalker in English. It didn’t mean the same thing, but it sounded almost worse.

The creature turned and walked away.

He knew he should follow his path back to the front door, blow out his lantern, and forgot what he’d seen. Good sense almost prevailed, but curiosity got the better of him. He took a step away from the house and then another.

The skinwalker continued to prowl through the snow.

Jerry followed a few more steps.

The wind picked up. The snow came down faster until he lost sight of the creature.

He ran forward a few more steps, heart pounding furiously. The skinwalker had vanished.

The cold began to seep through his clothes. He needed to get back inside before the storm grew worse. All he had to do was keep a clear head, turn around and follow his path. When he turned, he could no longer see his footprints. He could no longer see the hogan. He should only be a few steps away. He began trudging the direction he thought home should be. Despite the cold, exhaustion came over him. It would be so good to lie down and go to sleep.


DLSummers

David Lee Summers is the author of a dozen novels and numerous short stories and poems. His most recent novels are the space pirate adventure, Firebrandt’s Legacy, and a horror novel set an astronomical observatory, The Astronomer’s Crypt. His short stories have appeared in such magazines and anthologies as Cemetery Dance, Realms of Fantasy, Straight Outta Tombstone, After Punk, and Gaslight and Grimm.  He’s one of the editors of Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales from WordFire Press.  He’s been nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling and Dwarf Stars Awards. When he’s not writing, David operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory.  He’s also been known to drive lonely desert roads, watching for cryptids. Find David on the web at http://www.davidleesummers.com.

 

MAY NETGALLEY LISTINGS


It’s that time again. We’ve been running listings on NetGalley to promote the books and those listings certainly work better when you promote the listings themselves! So, this month we have two titles running and here’s a bit about them, along with the link to the NetGalley Listing.

For those not familar with NetGalley, it is a book listing site aimed toward librarians, booksellers, and reviewers. Anyone can sign up for a free account and request advance reader copies in exchange for posting review on blogs, GoodReads, Amazon, etc. For details, see the NetGalley site.

Click the below links to go to the NetGalley Listings for these titles.


FBMcP--FoxsFireTHE FOX’S FIRE: And Other Fantastic Tales  by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Dance Among the Embers, But Don’t Get Burned…

From a kitsune slinking through the mists… to an elven champion tied to every crossroad in the moment of Midnight… to the heir of Underhill ruling the road on a Harley, the mystical and magical intersect nearly unrealized with the world of man.

Do you dare to walk among them with open eyes? Do you seek a glimpse of their power? Take care and proceed with soft steps among the folk of magic and moonlight. Fickle is the least of what is said of them. But well worth the risk, for those looking for something more…

Includes the Stories The Fox’s Fire, The Promise of Death, The Devil in the Details, A Moment Out of Time, Forever and a Day, Crossroads and Curses, Mis En Place, and Mama Bear


SP - Breaking the Code 2 x 3BREAKING THE CODE by David Lee Summers

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.

***

1942. Gallup, New Mexico. Marine recruiters have come to town looking to fill their ranks with a secret weapon against the Axis powers—what would become Navajo Code Talkers—but not everyone supports the prospect of young native men going off to war.

When one new recruit is found dead, and a rancher’s cattle are mutilated, whispers of witchcraft and skinwalker filter through the town and interest in enlisting wanes. Is there evil afoot, or is that just what opponents to the cause want everyone to think?

Whether guided by magic, mischief, or malevolence, without a doubt, nothing is as it seems…

COVER REVEAL – BREAKING THE CODE


A part of the Systema Paradoxa series under eSpec’s new NeoParadoxa imprint, this is Breaking the Code by David Lee Summers. A cryptid novella based on the skinwalker.


SP - Breaking the Code 2 x 3

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.

***

1942. Gallup, New Mexico. Marine recruiters have come to town looking to fill their ranks with a secret weapon against the Axis powers—what would become Navajo Code Talkers—but not everyone supports the prospect of young native men going off to war.

When one new recruit is found dead, and a rancher’s cattle are mutilated, whispers of witchcraft and skinwalker filter through the town and interest in enlisting wanes. Is there evil afoot, or is that just what opponents to the cause want everyone to think?

Whether guided by magic, mischief, or malevolence, without a doubt, nothing is as it seems…


DLSummers

David Lee Summers is the author of a dozen novels and numerous short stories and poems. His most recent novels are the space pirate adventure, Firebrandt’s Legacy, and a horror novel set an astronomical observatory, The Astronomer’s Crypt. His short stories have appeared in such magazines and anthologies as Cemetery Dance, Realms of Fantasy, Straight Outta Tombstone, After Punk, and Gaslight and Grimm.  He’s one of the editors of Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales from WordFire Press.  He’s been nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling and Dwarf Stars Awards. When he’s not writing, David operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory.  He’s also been known to drive lonely desert roads, watching for cryptids. Find David on the web at http://www.davidleesummers.com.

COVER REVEAL – WRITTEN IN LIGHT


Here’s something new on the horizon, Jeff Young’s Written in Light, a collection of both reprint and original fiction that includes some of the most fascinating and alien creatures I’ve ever read about. (Click link to preorder.)

Written in Light 6 x 9

Original cover art by Tithi Luadthong; Cover art modifications and Cover Design by Mike McPhail, McP Digital Graphics.

Eighteen stories that span from the near future to the far, from next door to the deeps of space. Meet aliens who struggle to determine if we are a threat or equals. Discover what really makes us happy. Join the war effort to free the outer planets. Find out how far a man is willing to change to gain a true talent. Uncover the gift and the danger of memories.

Includes the Writer’s of the Future award-winning story “Written in Light.”


JeffYoung

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, After Punk, In an Iron Cage: The Magic of Steampunk, Clockwork Chaos, Gaslight and Grimm, If We Had Known, Fantastic Futures 13, The Society for the Preservation of C.J. Henderson, TV Gods & TV Gods: Summer Programming, the Defending the Future Military SciFi Anthologies and the forthcoming Beer, Because Your Friends 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 nineteen years.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – GONE TO GROUND


Yes… there is a theme here. Aaron Rosenberg’s Gone to Ground (Systema Paradoxa Vol. 2) released three days ago and we are so excited we have to share it with you. Today we have a brief excerpt for your enjoyment.


SP - Gone to Ground 2 x 3Chapter One

Everyone always agreed that, whatever else you might say about him, Trevor Kinkaid threw an excellent party. His house was of the larger variety, being done in the old style with high, vaulted ceilings, handsome inlaid floors, and a wide, sweeping staircase. It sat by the edge of the woods on one side and the sea on the other, thus taking advantage of both soothing sea air and welcoming shade. There were always plenty of spare bedrooms for those who imbibed too heavily and needed to be put up for the night. It was also a mark of distinction that it was even possible to imbibe, for Trevor was one of those who did not hold with Prohibition. He had no compunctions about acquiring whiskey and other potables from Canada and then making them freely available to his friends, or at least to those who chose to accept his frequent weekend invitations. He also stocked a good deal of food and nonalcoholic beverages, all of it of the highest quality, and as a result, his parties were the highlight of the season, and everyone made a point to attend.

This particular evening was no exception. The house was nearly full of people, or at least there were some in every room, so that while one could certainly still move around freely, it was also a bit of a challenge to find more than a moment of privacy. The women, mostly young and pretty, wore the latest fashions, with fringes and beads aplenty. Fascinators and feathers bobbed in time to their conversation, while cigarette holders dangled from their gloved fingers as they gestured. Their other hands cradled martini glasses, which they occasionally raised to brightly painted lips, hints of jasmine and rose and sandalwood and vanilla drifting about them. The men were either young and dashing or older and distinguished, dressed smartly in ascots and brightly polished shoes. Pipes or cigars outnumbered cigarettes, while martini glasses were as   prevalent as heavy cut-glass tumblers. Laughter and conversation rose everywhere, while music played from radios and record players, a different tune in every space but somehow not at all discordant, as if all the songs together melded into a single larger melody like flowers in a bouquet forming a harmonious whole.

Always the gracious host, Trevor drifted from room to room, carrying his habitual coffee mug rather than any actual glassware, pipe clamped firmly between his teeth, perhaps a touch paunchy now, his hair beginning to thin from its former thick waves, but his whiskers still neatly trimmed, his jaw still mostly firm, still a striking presence in his traditional red velvet smoking jacket. He knew most of his guests by name and always stopped to speak to each one, inquiring after their health, their recent pastimes—most of his guests were not so gauche as to have anything like an actual job!—their travels, and so forth before moving on with a smile and an encouragement to avail themselves fully of his hospitality.

It did not go unnoticed, of course, that for many of these perambulations, Trevor was not unaccompanied. This was nothing new, for he was still a handsome man and a charming one, if a trifle overbearing, and possessed of a fortune well in keeping with his grand home. Women were always eager to win his attention, and Trevor himself was more than happy to grant them such notice, for as long as it—and they—continued to amuse him.

At most parties, however, he played more of the gadfly, moving from lady to lady as easily as he went from room to room. Thus, the fact that one particular lady wandered with him for much of this evening drew some attention and a good deal of gossip. All of which seemed to entertain Trevor himself, while the lady appeared alternately flustered and determined to act as if oblivious of the whispers that trailed behind her like ribbons fluttering on the breeze.

Her name, it was gathered, was Lisette Barnes. She was from somewhere in the region, which is to say New England, and her manner and posture spoke of good breeding even if her robin’s egg-hued dress was only barely still in fashion, her scent more clean soap than expensive perfume, and her beads of polished stone rather than pearl. Still, she was striking with her bright blue eyes, pert nose, petaled lips, and feathered blonde hair, and she did appear to enjoy Trevor’s attentions, although there were those who wondered after they had disappeared from view whether indeed the pair were walking together or whether Lisette preceded their host, much like a scout before a patrol—or a lamb fleeing a wolf.

Still, no one heard her say a word to rebuff his advances, nor did anyone think that Trevor could be anything but gracious, even in defeat. Thus, when the couple failed to turn up in the next room after a time, those whose presence they had just vacated smirked amongst themselves, giggling and whispering and glancing furtively toward the upstairs, in the direction of Trevor’s grand master bedroom.

When Trevor did reappear, however, it was not by descending the stairs, nor did he look triumphant. Indeed, he wandered into the sitting room in something of a daze, his face red and beaded with sweat, mud spattering his trouser cuffs. He went straight to the sideboard and poured himself a stiff drink, adding it directly to his mug and downing the lot in a single go.

Of the young lady, there was no sign.

After a few moments, he seemed to collect himself again and began to glance around, smiling and engaging in small talk with those guests nearby, his voice slowly returning to its customary volume and cheer, the furrows in his brow and by his eyes steadily easing.

He was his usual self again, all geniality and consideration, by the time they heard the screams.


AaronRosenberg

Aaron Rosenberg is the author of the best-selling DuckBob SF comedy series, the Relicant Chronicles epic fantasy series, the Dread Remora space-opera series, and—with David Niall Wilson—the O.C.L.T. occult thriller series. Aaron’s tie-in work contains novels for Star Trek, Warhammer, World of WarCraft, Stargate: Atlantis, Shadowrun, Eureka, Mutants & Masterminds, and more. He has written children’s books (including the original series STEM Squad and Pete and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles, the award-winning Bandslam: The Junior Novel, and the #1 best-selling 42: The Jackie Robinson Story), educational books on a variety of topics, and over seventy roleplaying games (such as the original games Asylum, Spookshow, and Chosen, work for White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Flight, Pinnacle, and many others, and both the Origins Award-winning Gamemastering Secrets and the Gold ENnie-winning Lure of the Lich Lord). He is the co-creator of the ReDeus series, and a founding member of Crazy 8 Press. Aaron lives in New York with his family. You can follow him online at gryphonrose.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/gryphonrose, and on Twitter @gryphonrose.

 

COVER REVEAL – GONE TO GROUND


Releasing in two day, Gone to Ground by Aaron Rosenberg. This is the second volume in our brand new series Systema Paradoxa, released under the NeoParadoxa imprint. The series–created in conjunction with Cryptid Crate–is a collection of novellas featuring obscure cryptids. This volume was featured in the April Cryptid Crate, which contained exclusive content created specifically for that box.

SP - Gone to Ground 2 x 3

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.

***

In the heyday of the Roaring Twenties, Trevor Kinkaid’s house parties were the highlight of the social season, with lively music, the most fashionable of clothes, excellent food, and, of course, illicit drink.

Not just the place to see and be seen, but the place to be noticed.

But when a fresh new face catches Trevor’s eye and she later turns up dead, no one sees a thing. Or do they? As the cream of society look on their host with speculation, his protests of innocence fall on jaded ears.

Even with some unexpected help, can the local detective unearth the truth in time? Or will the real perpetrator go to ground?

 


AaronRosenberg

Aaron Rosenberg is the author of the best-selling DuckBob SF comedy series, the Relicant Chronicles epic fantasy series, the Dread Remora space-opera series, and—with David Niall Wilson—the O.C.L.T. occult thriller series. Aaron’s tie-in work contains novels for Star Trek, Warhammer, World of WarCraft, Stargate: Atlantis, Shadowrun, Eureka, Mutants & Masterminds, and more. He has written children’s books (including the original series STEM Squad and Pete and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles, the award-winning Bandslam: The Junior Novel, and the #1 best-selling 42: The Jackie Robinson Story), educational books on a variety of topics, and over seventy roleplaying games (such as the original games Asylum, Spookshow, and Chosen, work for White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Flight, Pinnacle, and many others, and both the Origins Award-winning Gamemastering Secrets and the Gold ENnie-winning Lure of the Lich Lord). He is the co-creator of the ReDeus series, and a founding member of Crazy 8 Press. Aaron lives in New York with his family. You can follow him online at gryphonrose.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/gryphonrose, and on Twitter @gryphonrose.