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Darkroom finds a new voice—the audio book edition

Ever since I discovered the pleasure of listening to audio books, I’ve thought about making audio versions of my novels. But the high cost of production and my unfamiliarity with the process kept me from moving ahead.

Then, in mid-May of 2017, my thriller Darkroom won First Prize for Fiction in the IndieReader Discovery Awards. This honor may seem unrelated to producing an audio book. It’s not. The award renewed my faith in Darkroom. Like most writers I believe in my work. Otherwise I would not be writing. But the validation boosted my confidence enough to justify the substantial investment in an audio book production.

IndieReader invited to me attend a BookCon event in New York City to receive the award in person. Unfortunately, medical problems kept me from making the trip. Of course, I was disappointed. It occurred to me that I could use the unspent travel money to produce an audio book of Darkroom.

Choosing a production method

I could have read Darkroom and managed the studio production work myself—the least expensive option—and probably ended up with a substandard audio book. I haven’t worked in theater since college and I know almost nothing about sound editing. Sure, I could have learned, but experience has shown me that it takes practice to become competent at new skills. I chafed at the idea of delay. Even more, I refused to make the Darkroom audio book a learning project.

Another avenue of audio book production is through exchanges like ACX and Findaway, which allow you to bid for readers and hold auditions. I felt too inexperienced to sort through a slew of auditions—some by readers who might or might not have access to adequate sound equipment—so I searched instead for an independent studio.

After casting about for a few weeks, I settled on Spoke Media, a production company with a good reputation and a contact person who returned my messages within a day or two (as opposed to a couple of weeks). After listening reader auditions, I chose Alison Pistorius, a theatrical actor whose voice evokes my main character, Kelly.

A new cover for the audio book

I needed an audio version of my cover. Unfortunately, I’d engaged the cover artist through an intermediary, and this company no longer worked with him. I asked the company for help anyway, but received no response. So, I dug up contact information for the cover artist and wrote to him directly. Again, no response. I won’t name the cover artist or the company. I will only say that my estimation of them has taken a nosedive.

Damonza designed a compelling new cover for both the ebook and the audio book of Darkroom. Some readers say they prefer it to the earlier cover.

A few problems

Spoke Media worked fast. Maybe too fast. In three weeks, the audio files were ready for review. By and large the audio book sounded terrific. But I’m glad I listened to every file. Sentences were repeated in a few places, and worse, an entire page of Chapter 28 had not been recorded at all. Maybe you’ve encountered audio books with annoying and confusing mistakes—repetitions, obviously missing words, inconsistent chapter titles—mistakes the producer failed to catch. (And it’s the job of the producer—in this case, me—to catch them.) I’m glad Darkroom didn’t end up being that kind of audio book.

After Spoke Media completed the revisions, I set about uploading the files to my distributors, ACX and Author’s Republic. The ACX reviewer informed me that the files needed a couple of minor edits. The opening credits must be in a separate file rather than part of the Prologue file. Same thing for the closing credits, which were part of  the final chapter file. Making the changes was no big deal, but I could have avoided the brief delay if I’d known the formatting rules.

Success!

The audio edition of Darkroom finally became available in September of 2017. The sound quality is superb and Allison Pistorius does a terrific job of reading the story. I’m pleased with the final product and hope that you will be, too. You can order the Darkroom audio book from Audible, iTunes, and several other outlets.

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Join the Dangerous Darkroom Blog Tour

The moment finally comes. The first copy of Darkroom arrives from the printer. Excited and anxious, I tear away the cardboard shell and behold the cover. It’s even more striking and sinister on the paperback than on the computer screen.The colors are deeper . The man lurking at the cover’s edge looks more compelling and mysterious. The designer has done a terrific job. I run my fingers over the glossy surface. Oh, it feels good.

Darkroom

I feel a bit shaky as I open the book. The interior is entirely my work, and although the PDF has been proofed by a professional and I’ve been over it  a dozen times, I fret that I’ve overlooked something so blatant and stupid that I’ll want to crawl into bed and hide beneath the covers. I thumb through the pages. The margins are right. The chapter headings look exactly as I’d envisioned, and none of them is out of place. The headings haven’t mysteriously vanished from any of the spreads.

Finally, my anxiety dies down. There’s probably an error lurking in there somewhere, but not a major error. I can relax and celebrate the launch of my newest novel.

Be sure to join me for the Dangerous Darkroom Blog Tour May 2-6, organized by the lovely people at Novel Publicity. You’ll get sneak peaks of the novel, interviews with me, and exclusive insights to the story and characters that make Darkroom a novel you won’t soon forget.

Enter the blog tour drawing for a shot at winning these special prizes:

  • A paperback of Larry Clark’s famous photo essay Tulsa. Darkroom features a talented photographer whose photos, like Clark’s,”uncover the secret of a face, its elusive life, so it becomes the portrait of an intimate you have yet to meet.”
  • A set of 10 custom note cards with envelopes, featuring a photograph of Boulder’s iconic Flatirons by moonlight. Photograph by Charles Pfiel.
  • Autographed copies of my dark fantasy horror novels Talion and Daemon Seer.
  • A $25 Amazon gift card.

Darkroom is a suspense thriller with a noirish atmosphere and unexpected twists. Art curator Kelly Durrell goes looking for her missing roommate, talented photographer Day Randall, and becomes entangled in a demimonde of powerful people who will stop at nothing to protect their secrets. Here’s what advance readers and reviewers have to say about Darkroom:

“. . . tight, compelling, and convincing writing.”  — Jon A. Jackson, author of Hit on the House and No Man’s Dog

“A thriller with unexpected plot twists and suspenseful action.”  — RT Source

“Kelly Durrell is a deftly-drawn, intelligent, and likable heroine.”  — Daiva Markelis, author of White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life

“A solid mystery that involves a satisfyingly diverse range of characters.”  — D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“[Maddox’s] prose flows with beauty and clarity.”  — Tahlia Newland, author of The Locksmith’s Secret

The paperback is now available through Amazon and will soon become available through other online sellers. The Kindle edition is coming May 3, and you can preorder a copy right now at the special launch price of just $0.99. The price is going up at the beginning of next week, so don’t wait too long!

A taxing week

There are kids who dream of growing up to be entrepreneurs. They set up lemonade stands at the end of 10K races. They seek out jobs stocking supermarket shelves or hawking mall fashions as soon as they’re old enough to work.

I wasn’t one of those kids. I put off getting my first job as long as possible, preferring to spend my summers reading books.

So it’s ironic that I find myself the president of a corporation.

Okay, it’s not much of a corporation. Its assets might keep a dog in kittles for a lifetime as long as the dog isn’t too large and price of kittles doesn’t skyrocket.

How did this happen?

A few years ago I decided to quit looking for another agent and publish my novel Talion on my own. A newbie to the world of publishing, I learned that a book must have something called an ISBN, a number that identifies it for cataloguing and marketing. There are several ways to obtain an ISBN free of charge, but whoever gives it to you is the publisher of record for your book.

If I was going to invest time and money to publish my novel, I wanted to be the publisher of record.

That meant becoming an official publisher. It’s easy to do. Just go to myidentifiers.com and buy a batch of ten ISBNs for a little less than $300. You’re now a publisher.

Logo Attempt 7-aI called my publishing company Cantraip Press. Cantraip is an archaic Scottish word meaning “magic spell.” I hired a graphic artist to design a logo with a Celtic flavor and I was ready to go. (Since then I’ve redesigned the logo.)

A year later, I agreed to publish Occasional Writers, an anthology by the Past~Forward Memoir Group, a group of local writers who meet twice a month to discuss each other’s work and hone their skill. Since the group is funded by our local arts council, I had to enter into a contract with a corporate entity as well as with each of the nineteen writers whose work would appear in the anthology. With advice from an attorney, I drafted the contracts myself.

Cover correct with type WebIt was time to separate my business obligations from my personal obligations and those of my husband. The press became an S-Corp, Cantraip Press, Ltd., which looks kind of cool on letterheads.

The process of incorporating isn’t difficult—fill out a form, pay some money to the State of Illinois, acquire a credit card for business expenses.

When the fiscal year ended, I thought vaguely about corporate taxes. Given that Cantraip Press, Ltd. had made only a few hundred dollars in profits, I doubted it would owe the government any tax. But I figured the government would expect me to submit a return, which I would prepare along our personal income tax returns.

Then at the beginning of April I got a letter from the IRS. Cantraip Press, Ltd. owed them $200, the penalty for failing to file a return by the deadline.

But, but . . . April 15 was two weeks away.

Was this some kind of sick April fool’s day joke perpetrated by the IRS?

The letter gave a phone number to call if I had questions. So I called. The lady who answered explained that corporate taxes are due on March 15. I apologized, telling her it was my first corporate tax return and I was clueless. She was kind enough not to laugh. Instead she put me on hold. A few minutes later she was back. Since I didn’t know about the March 15 deadline, she said, the IRS would waive payment of the penalty—this one time only.

Whoever said the IRS is heartless?

Every year since then, I’ve prepared my corporate tax returns, federal and state, and mailed them well before March 15. In May I mail off another form and a $100 check to renew the status of Cantraip Press, Ltd. as an official S-Corp in the State of Illinois.

But here’s the thing. I hate—just hate—keeping books and doing taxes. I have the requisite software programs, QuickBooks and TurboTax. They make the work easier, but they cannot make it interesting. For me it’s a slog. I can concentrate for hours on writing or editing or playing Scrabble, but ten minutes of bookkeeping spaces me out.

Between bringing QuickBooks up to date and doing the taxes, the last week of February was no fun. It would make sense to hire an accountant if my tiny corporation made any money. But it doesn’t.

Trace - Ebook SmallThe press has grown, though. It has published six books altogether, two by me and the rest by other authors. This spring Cantraip will release two more books, my novel Darkroom and a two-novella volume, Vibe/Sync, the second in Letitia Moffitt’s TraceWorld series.

I’ve had to buy more ISBNs. The truth is I like publishing books, I just hate balancing them.

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Sneak peek: final cover for Darkroom

Last month I received several intriguing cover ideas from graphic designer Pete Garceau. Any of them would have made a great cover for Darkroom, so to help me choose, I polled readers to discover which one they liked most. Two clear favorites emerged.

Darkroom_1

This cover captures the sinister mystery of a forest in the mountains, a setting central to the story. It received 42% of the votes. I love the subtle colors in the image and way the trees form a tunnel at their center. I’ve seen similar covers on suspense novels, which isn’t altogether a bad thing. Readers generally want a cover to signal the genre of the story. Since Darkroom is psychological suspense, the cover with the mysterious forest does tell readers what they’ll get.

But ideally I want a cover that does more than its basic job.

The other finalist won the poll with slightly more than half the votes, not a huge enough margin to make it an overwhelming favorite. The white frame suggests an old-fashioned darkroom negative. (The photographer in the novel still works in a darkroom even though most others have moved to the digital format.) I like the way the man in the image is only half visible and part of him is outside the frame, eluding the camera. Because he’s partially hidden (or hiding) he becomes sinister. The purplish darkness adds to the effect.

Darkroom_9a

This cover evokes the mood of Darkroom perfectly, and it’s more distinctive than the other finalist. Perfect except for one thing—the man. His appearance is wrong for the story. None of the characters looks anything like this guy. so I went back and forth between these two very good but not ideal alternatives.

Then Pete Garceau went to the extra trouble of finding just the right model for the cover. Unlike the other one he faces the viewer with an ambiguous gaze that suggests menace or defiance. He looks like a bad guy with dark motives.

And that’s just what I want.

 

 

Darkroom Cover

 

Thank you to everyone who helped me choose!

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Speculative Literary Fiction – Guest Post by David Litwack

It’s finally here! Children of Darkness – Book One in The Seekers Series is available NOW. Check it out on Amazon.com. FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. GET YOUR COPY

“A must-read page turner.” Kirkus Review

About the Book:

The Children of Darkness - CoverThe Children of Darkness

The Children of Darkness is about a society devoid of technology, the result of an overreaction to a distant past where progress had overtaken humanity and led to social collapse. The solution—an enforced return to a simpler time. But Children is also a coming of age story, a tale of three friends and their loyalty to each other as they struggle to confront a world gone awry. Each searches for the courage to fight the limits imposed by their leaders, along the way discovering their unique talents and purpose in life.

“If the whole world falls into a Dark Age, which it could plausibly do, who could bring us out of it? According to David Litwack in The Children of Darkness, the only answer is us, now, somehow reaching into the future.” – Kaben Nanlohy for On Starships And Dragonwings

Publication Date: June 22, 2015 from Evolved Publishing
Purchase Link: http://smarturl.it/Seekers1
FREE WITH KINDLE UNLIMITED
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23485495-the-children-of-darkness

Speculative Literary Fiction

Someone recently asked me why I use the term “speculative literary fiction” to describe the genre of my novels. While both terms are used frequently on their own, they are not often paired together.

Speculative fiction is a term coined by Margaret Atwood in an effort to avoid the hard-core sci-fi label (she said she needed a category that meant sci-fi without Martians). It has been used to describe a number of sub genres—space opera, techno-thrillers, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, even fantasy—basically anything that is not “real world.” The key to speculative fiction is the what-if aspect. What if the world as we know it was different in one or more ways? While this what-if, alternate history/alternate world approach can be used to explore future technology or just spin a good yarn, it also enables an author to focus on some theme by altering an aspect of the world as we know it.

Literary fiction is usually understood to mean quality writing, deeper characters and an exploration of universal themes.

So why combine the two? The primary purpose of declaring a genre is to set the expectation of the prospective reader.

Using the term speculative fiction by itself can misrepresent a book. Readers might expect Star Wars or the Zombie Apocalypse, or an emphasis on some hypothetical technology such as faster than light spaceships or time travel. Literary fiction tends to imply real world, such as The Help or The Secret Life of Bees.

Many great books have speculative premises, but are literary in nature. Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a good example, or the works of Usrula LeGuin. Even a novel like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road might fit. While it’s certainly post-apocalyptic–we find out little about the cataclysm that brought about the current state–the author dwells on the relationship between the man and the boy, and the power of love. Another example might be Never Let Me go by Kazuo Ishiguro. While the what-if of this world is the use of cloning to grow organs, it’s told from the viewpoint of the clones, and shows much more about relationships and the human condition than about technology.

I use speculative literary fiction as a term to distinguish alternate history or alternate worlds, where the emphasis is not on whiz-bang technology, aliens, space travel or the like, but more on deeper characters and universal themes, brought to the fore by the unique difference in the imagined society or world.

Get Your Copy of The Children of Darkness Now!

 About the Author:

David Front PageThe urge to write first struck when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. But he was inspired to write about the blurry line between reality and the fantastic.

Using two fingers and lots of white-out, he religiously typed five pages a day throughout college and well into his twenties. Then life intervened. He paused to raise two sons and pursue a career, in the process becoming a well-known entrepreneur in the software industry, founding several successful companies. When he found time again to daydream, the urge to write returned.

After publishing two award winning novels, Along the Watchtower and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, he’s hard at work on the dystopian trilogy, The Seekers.

David and his wife split their time between Cape Cod, Florida and anywhere else that catches their fancy. He no longer limits himself to five pages a day and is thankful every keystroke for the invention of the word processor.

Website: www.davidlitwack.com
Facebook: David Litwack – Author
Twitter: @DavidLitwack

Giveaway

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

More Reviews!

“Litwack’s storytelling painted a world of both light and darkness–and the truth that would mix the two.” Fiction Fervor

The Children of Darkness is a dystopian novel that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.” C.P. Bialois

“This is a satisfying exploration of three teens’ journey into the unknown, and the struggles faced by all who seek true emancipation – both for themselves, and for the people they love.” Suzy Wilson

“Litwack’s writing is fresh, and Nathaniel, Orah and Thomas come to life in your imagination as you frantically flip (or click) the pages of this book.” Anna Tan

“…many profound themes, lovely characterizations and relationships” R. Campbell

“I was enthralled and intrigued by the authors creation of this society… David Litwack has an enjoyable and captivating writing style.” Jill Marie

“…a perfect story for young adult readers, but its underlying theme and character development will keep any adult engaged.” Kathleen Sullivan

Fontasies

Some time ago I redeemed the points from one of my credit cards and treated myself to a book. Not an ebook. An actual book that you can hold and touch. For sheer beauty it’s hard to beat Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style. The eye glides over the creamy pages, the balanced blocks of text elegantly buttressed with marginalia. Bringhurst brings poetry to his subject. When he declares that “the heartwood [of typography] is calligraphy—the dance, on a tiny stage, of the living, speaking hand,” I get shivers.

Bringhurst writes lucidly on the history and aesthetics of typography, technical aspects such as kerning, and the mathematics underlying the design of fonts and pages. I haven’t digested the whole book. Even if I finally do, I won’t be an expert in typography. As with any art, mastery takes years of practice.

Years I don’t have.

Spoof Book CoverAll the reading I’ve done about fonts stresses basic principles: Fonts communicate a message. They should reinforce the meaning of the words. They should be compatible with other fonts in the design. Take the fun book cover to your right. The fonts don’t exactly reinforce the atmosphere of menace, and the two calligraphic fonts together are a bit much.

I had some knowledge of and appreciation for fonts by the time I received four mockups of the interior of Daemon Seer, each with a distinctive page design and font combination. They were created by Morgana Galloway of the Editorial Department. The one that immediately caught my eye paired the workhorse Minion Pro for body text with Akura Popo for chapter titles and headers (or in this design footers). I love Akura. It’s bold, Gothic, and unusual, just like Daemon Seer.

Chapter Title from Daemon SeerMorgana did a fantastic job on the print and ebook editions, both of which have chapter titles in Akura  I checked out Akura online and discovered that its maker, TwicoLabs, offers it for free.

Yes, free!

It will come as no surprise to most readers that hundreds of fonts can be downloaded for free, and hundreds more purchased at a reasonable price. But when I began working with typography, it was a revelation to me. During a shopping binge at MyFonts, I found  Crypton, a sanserif font with edges so sharp they look dangerous, for a fraction of its retail price. I had no immediate use for Crypton but bought it anyway. I can’t resist a sale.

Months later, Cantraip Press, Ltd. (my corporate persona) contracted to publish Letitia L. Moffitt’s paranormal mystery, Trace. I did the interior of the print edition myself, using a purchased template, but Letitia disliked the font used in the headers and titles. “It would be fine for another novel,” she said, “but not this one.” She was right. I searched for an alternative and found . . . Crypton. It captures perfectly the edginess and razor wit of Trace.

Title Page Trace

Is that serendipity or what?

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My short story appears in anthology

Late last year, Awesome Indies published Awesome Allshorts: Last Days, Lost Ways, the first of a series of planned anthologies. Last Days, Lost Ways contains stories by 21 authors, including Tahlia Newland, Dixiane Hallaj, Bill Kirton, Shauna Bickley — and me. I’m honored to have my story “Smilin’ Mike” published in the company of stories by so many accomplished indie authors.

“Smilin’ Mike” is one of several stories I wrote about a nine-year-old girl whose life is disrupted when her parents divorce. The girl and her mother move in with Nana, her eccentric paternal grandmother, in a quiet suburb of San Diego. (The stories are set in the 1950s, when San Diego had quiet suburbs.) Nana harbors the hope that her son will come to his senses and the family will reunite, a hope shared by the little girl but not her embittered mother. Caught up in the tension between two adults who love her, the child must negotiate a world far more complex and uncertain than the one she has known. When Nana meets one of her favorite TV personalities, Smilin’ Mike, a professional wrestler known for his humor and geniality, the girl discovers that people aren’t always what they seem and even adults can be fooled by a false image.

Last Days, Lost Ways is available as a paperback and ebook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online booksellers.

 

checking your grammar day and night
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Grammar Nazi haunts my dreams (of success)

She’s back! Grammar Nazi is here to remind me that, no matter how hard I try, I’m doomed to be a screw-up and a loser. And the worst part is that no matter how mercilessly she harasses me, I need her.

Grammar Nazi Haunts My Dreams

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The Memory Pool: coming soon from Cantraip Press

A weird thing happens when I take a walk after spending several hours staring at a computer screen. The world becomes stereoscopic, the kind of artificial, exaggerated effect you get watching movies in 3-D. And as with those movies I’m slightly off keel. Not dizzy, exactly. Floaty.

Hannah Eads-5For the past few weeks I’ve spent most of my waking hours in front of the computer. I plowed through a line edit of my new novel Daemon Seer, knowing I had to finish by a certain date. Another task loomed — to create the interior of The Memory Pool: Reflections of Past~Forward, an anthology that Cantraip Press, Ltd is publishing this fall.

Despite being an S-corporation, Cantraip Press is just me, Mary Maddox.

Hannah Eads-6The Memory Pool contains the work of the Past~Forward Memoir Group, begun several years ago by students who had taken a course in memoir writing with Dr. Daiva Markelis. Daiva’s memoir, White Field, Black Sheep: A Lithuanian-American Life, was published two years ago by The University of Chicago Press. Passionate about memoir, she inspired her students to keep writing and learning. The group flourished and their writing became better and better.

Hannah Eads-7The Memory Pool is the group’s second book. The first, Occasional Writers: Bringing the Past Forward, also published by Cantraip Press, is available online and through special order from bookstores.

Creating the book’s interior took me a week of steady work. I haven’t worked with Hannah Eads-8InDesign enough to know the program inside and out, which slows me down, and the process requires an attention to detail that becomes exhausting after a while. But I’m happy with the result. The anthology contains some fascinating old photographs supplied by the authors and wonderful photos and drawings by local graphic artist Gaye Harrison, who also created the cover.

Hannah Eads-9The book still needs to undergo a final round of proofreading, but I’m posting the pages of one piece, Hannah Eads’ “My Mother,” to give you a taste. (Click on the images to make them big enough to read.)

The Memory Pool is a local project. The Past~Forward group is sponsored by the Coles County Arts Council, and almost everyone involved in it lives in this area. One exception: our proofreaders, who work for The Editorial Department, a company I’ve worked with before and come to rely on and trust.

Hannah Eads-10The book’s interior is finished and copies have been sent to reviewers. After a day of downtime binging on episodes of Supernatural, I’m ready for my next challenge—preparing to bring Daemon Seer to market. Hard work is, well, hard and often isolating. But for me it’s the only way to get things done.

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New by Tori Ridgewood: Blood and Fire

I’m delighted to welcome back author Tori Ridgewood. Blood and Fire, second book in her Talbot Trilogy, has just hit the virtual shelves.

What chance does one witch have against five vampires? Alone, not much. But Rayvin’s allies are gathering…

The battle between good and evil supernatural forces heats up in the long, cold November nights of the former mining town. But how will Rayvin’s motley crew of spellcasters and shapeshifters cope when they discover the threat they face is even greater than they imagined?

Crouching to prod the fire, Grant thought over the options now open to him. It wasn’t safe to go back to Talbot, at least not until he had gained a better understanding of what had happened to him. He needed more than a measure of control over this thing. Once he had that, he could go home and set things right. Destroy de Sade once and for all. After all, was that not the purpose of werewolves? To be an equal adversary for the undead?

The next question was not as simple. Just how did a werewolf train himself? Was it even possible for him to remain cognizant and in control when his body was no longer human?

A knot of sap crackled and snapped. He amused himself with the thought that the fire was speaking to him.

The thought that he was merely delusional, that being able to magically transform into a vicious four-footed animal was a hallucination, the product of slow starvation and exposure, nearly made him laugh aloud.

If a fire could speak, its language would be visual, he decided. He relaxed his eyes and let the glowing embers form shapes and letters.

The wind blew in from the open cabin door, swirling around him and carrying the clean scents of snow, damp wood and earth, mixed with the rank odour of animal carcass from his footprints in the snow…and something else.

Grant held very still.

The something else was faint, but recognizable. Vaguely comforting. It made him think of an old wet dog. Or an old man who had not washed in a long time. Some combination of the two.

A cluster of coals fell in a rush of sparks. The noise drew Grant’s attention, even as the strange smell made his nose twitch and his nostrils flare.

The collapsed, blackened piece of wood strongly resembled the face of a man with strong, mature features. It was broad in the forehead, with a long nose and wide, round eyes. A scattering of red embers looked like a bushy beard covering the mouth and jaw.

It couldn’t be possible during the day, but it seemed to Grant that he could hear the borealis sing.

Solomon. The name that belonged to this face. It was spelled out clearly for him, just for a moment, in the leaping flames.

A few more sticks collapsed, changing the image. An a-frame cabin on a lake. A short, blunt mountain nearby, and a small lake in the shape of a teardrop. The mountain had sheer sides.  Grant thought he recognized it, had even been rock climbing on it in his youth. Mount Cheminis, near Dark Lake.

Yes. Grant understood. He blinked, and the images were gone. Exhaling, he got to his feet and went to the door. The scent of wolf and man now seemed to clearly mark a trail through the trees, to the south-east.

Someone had sent him a message. His gut wanted to tell him that it was Rayvin, though logically that couldn’t be right. How the hell could she contact him from so far away? She’d done it before, sent him a mental plea for help, but she’d only been a few blocks away. And was it at all possible that she knew this character?

Great, more questions without answers.

He may have screwed up on his first battle with the monster, but at least he’d learned that he wouldn’t be able to fight on his own and win. He needed help. Wherever this information had come from, it felt right on some level. The sooner he could find this Solomon guy, the sooner he’d learn how to get control.

With control, de Sade and his little army wouldn’t find him as easy a target as before.

“Welcome to the family,” the bastard vampire had told him. Yeah, well—think of me as the black wolf in your little flock.

His mind drifted to the image of the small, red-headed witch who had chosen the vampire over him. Had she sent him the vision, the way she’d called out for help before? If she could still do that, what did it mean?

“Wait until you get a load of me,” Grant whispered aloud, as he turned back into the cabin.

He quickly filled the rucksack with a small aluminum travel pot, three more cans of beans whose dents were less severe than the others, a can opener, some boxes of pasta and rice that were still intact, and some sticks of dry kindling. He took the grey blanket, rolled it into a short, fat, sausage, and strapped it to the bottom of the rucksack in place of a sleeping bag. With the stub of a pencil he’d found in a drawer, and a scrap of paper, he wrote a quick inventory of what he’d taken. Once the bastard vampire was taken care of, Grant had determined that he would go back and try to make some compensation for what he had ‘borrowed’.

Grant used a cloth to close the door behind him, and then turned his face to the woods in order to once again find the scent of the unknown wolf.

Speed was definitely a gift that he could get used to, in this strange new life. He’d moved faster than Usain Bolt, even, reaching the edge of the small lake below Mount Cheminis by noon.

Casting his eyes around the shoreline, Grant fashioned a makeshift cup of birchbark and filled it with fresh water from the lake. The sun had just passed its zenith in the sky above, but with the temperature low, he could barely feel its warmth on his back. He scooped in some of the purification tablet he had crushed on a rock, trying to measure it proportionally to the amount of water, swished it around a few times to help it dissolve, and then waited for the iodine and assorted chemicals to work.

“You don’t need to do that.”

He started. The little man standing next to him had approached without a sound. He was no bigger than an eight-year-old child, and he was completely bald, except for his full beard and his eyebrows. He had a barrel chest, and sinewy forearms showed where the sleeves of his lined flannel shirt were rolled back. Grant looked at a pair of child-sized battered work-boots, only a few feet from his face. He sensed that the man was assessing him just as carefully.

“I don’t want to take any chances,” Grant answered, finally. His breath condensed in the chill air. He stood, casually, still swirling the cup of water. “You never know, these days. Decades of mining, acid rain, human presence. There are bugs in that water we probably don’t even know about.”

In response, the hermit took his hand out of his jeans pocket, brushed it against his chest, squatted, and leaned over a near dip in the rocky shore. He lowered his hand into the cold black water, and scooped up a palmful. Lapping it up, he shook off the remaining drops and wiped his skin dry again. “I drink this every day, buddy. Do I look sick to you?”

Grant laughed shortly. “Kudos to your immune system. I think I’ll stick with my iodine.”

His visitor shrugged, gazing across the lake. “You’re a long way from the trails. Where’s your gun?”

“I’m looking for someone by the name of Solomon. He’s supposed to live around here.” Grant watched his face for a reaction. The other man only continued to squint against the glare of the sun, a short distance above the horizon. “Have you heard of him?”

“Maybe.” He picked up a rock and weighed it in his hand. “Who’s asking?”

Grant wanted to laugh again, but he didn’t. He hadn’t really known what to expect, or even that he’d actually find the stubby little mountain in the dream or vision or whatever he’d had. The A-frame cabin further down the shore was evidently occupied, given the smoke rising from its chimney. From what he could see, there were no other cottages in the near area. Logically, then, this man was Solomon. What reason could a hermit have for concealing his identity? Was this some kind of epic quest moment, where the hero has to prove that he is pure of heart in order to receive wisdom from the sage? Grant had always believed in honesty. Still, he proceeded cautiously. “Do you believe in the supernatural?”

“You’re a cop, ain’t you?”

“What makes you say that?”

The bald man stood, cracking his back with an audible grunt of relief. “You always answer a question with another question?”

Grant shrugged with one shoulder. “No, but since you’re obviously being careful, I should be, too.”

“I’ll tell you what,” the stranger said, slowly. “You show me some balls, toss that so-called pure water and take a drink from the goodness of Mother Nature; I’ll show you Solomon.”

Grant regarded him with a half-smile, and deliberately poured out his birchbark cup. He should have been dead weeks ago, anyway. Maybe his new physiology would protect him from beaver fever, maybe it wouldn’t. Either way, he needed answers. The other man watched with narrowed eyes as Grant bent down, cupped his hands, and drank from the lake.

“Okay?” he asked, wiping his face on a clean part of his bright orange sleeve. “Where’s Solomon?”

The little man burst into laughter. He opened the snaps on his work-shirt, still laughing, and pulled his t-shirt over his head. As he stepped forward, his face elongated and sprouted fangs under a black snout; his eyes yellowed as grey fur grew out of his skin, and his back snapped, the bones expanding and rearranging themselves into a canine form. Grant stepped back in horror, holding his hands out in an instinct to defend himself, backing along the edge of the rocky outcropping. The stranger’s laughter became a series of yipping howls that echoed against the trees. The massive wolf shook itself, rippling its fur, and scratched its impressive nails on the granite as the howls lowered to a growl. Grant’s skin prickled, recognizing the attack posture of the biggest timber wolf he had ever seen.

Then it lunged into Grant’s outstretched arms.

The animal hit Grant’s chest like a bag of cement, knocking him back and down into the water.

His feet left the rocky ledge that formed the shore, but the boots he had taken from that hunter’s cabin stayed where they were. In the seconds that he was airborne, he felt it all clearly, as though it were taking place in slow motion: his ears registered the snarls of the animal snapping at his neck and the ripping of cloth under the wolf’s sharp nails, and from his own body’s transformation. His ribcage, expanding and elongating, pushed the threads of the bright orange fleece past their limits. His pants shredded and tore as his pelvis moved and sharpened, and a tail burst out of the base of his spine. Grant’s shocked cry became a canine yelp and a whine. Two writhing, growling animals hit the water at the same time and vanished beneath the surface.

 BloodandFireCover

About the Author:

After her first heartbreak, Tori found solace in two things: reading romance novels and listening to an after-dark radio program called Lovers and Other Strangers. Throughout the summer and fall of 1990, the new kid in town found reading fiction and writing her own short stories gave her a much needed creative outlet. Determined to become a published author, Tori amassed stacks of notebooks and boxes of filed-away stories, most only half-finished before another idea would overtake her and demand to be written down. Then, while on parental leave with her second baby, one story formed and refused to be packed away. Between teaching full-time, parenting, and life in general, it would take almost seven years before the first novel in her first trilogy would be completed. In the process, Tori finally found her stride as a writer.

Tori Headshot 1At present, on her off-time, Tori not only enjoys reading, but also listening to an eclectic mix of music as she walks the family dog (Skittles), attempts to turn her thumb green, or makes needlework gifts for her friends and family members. She loves to travel, collect and make miniature furniture, and a good cup of tea during a thunderstorm or a blizzard. Under it all, she is always intrigued by history, the supernatural, vampire and shapeshifter mythology, romance, and other dangers.

Tori is currently working on Crystal and Wand: Book Three of The Talbot Trilogy. She lives in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Canada with her husband and two children. She is a full-time teacher at a local high school.

Buy Blood and Fire at Amazon, Smashwords, or Lulu.

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Awesome Indies – books worth reading

I’m thrilled and proud to announce that Talion has been listed on  Awesome Indies. Established and administered by Australian author Tahlia Newland, the site accepts only independently published books vetted by a reliable reviewer or industry professional. Newland began Awesome Indies out of frustration with the wildly uneven quality of Indie books. As she frankly puts it, “Some are fantastic, and some are crap.” She notes that reviewers on sites like Amazon often cannot recognize good writing and so their opinions cannot be trusted. She lays out in detail the criteria for inclusion on the site. Her standards are high but not unreasonable: she expects competence and looks for excellence.

I love the democracy of Indie publishing. Anyone with a computer and a few bucks can bring his or her book to market. The downside is that quite a few people publish awful books and critics of self-publishing point to them as examples of the shoddiness of  Indie books in general.

Whatever the faults of traditional publishers, they act as gatekeepers. They publish plenty of mediocre books, but even the worst are edited.  You can count on traditionally published books to be at least coherent (well, most of the time). You might encounter a few typos—but not dozens. You won’t see the frequent clumsy sentences, misspelled and misused words, and grammatical errors too often found in Indie books.  Sites like Awesome Indies give readers a way to discover worthy books that might otherwise be lost in the ocean of dreck.

Please check out the great reads at Awesome Indies and take a moment to click the Like button on their Facebook page.

More news

Talion gets a great review from writer Letitia Moffitt at Paper Darts. Two other noteworthy novels, Lania Knight’s Three Cubic Feet and Jeff Kohmstedt’s The Fifth Kraut are also featured.

 

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An emotional journey

Don’t miss Rachelle Ayala’s latest book, Hidden Under her Heart (A Story of Abortion and Courage), available for a short time at the introductory price of $0.99.

About the novel

Maryanne Torres is a compassionate nurse who fails at relationships. After a string of losers, she swears off premarital sex, hoping to land a marrying type of man.

Lucas Knight, a law-school dropout, moves to California to train for the Ironman Triathlon. He’s smart, sweet, and everything Maryanne wants in a man, but their relationship suffers from his dedication to the sport. Seeking consolation in the arms of a handsome preacher’s son, Maryanne attends a church party where she is raped.

Maryanne is pregnant from the rape and plans to abort. But the identity of her rapist is hidden in her baby’s DNA. Lucas asks Maryanne to seek alternatives and pledges to support her through the pregnancy. When Lucas becomes the prime suspect, Maryanne must clear his name and make a life-changing decision.

The rapist has other ideas. In order to destroy the evidence, he offers Maryanne an illegal offshore abortion. With Maryanne’s life in danger, Lucas races to save her and her baby. However, Maryanne hides a secret that threatens to tear them apart forever.

From the author

Hidden Under Her Heart is an emotional and hard-hitting story about a young woman facing a heart-wrenching decision. We’ve heard the rhetoric, maybe even argued over the issue of abortion and rape. But behind the debates are real people—women and men with real problems and feelings. My story is not meant to be preachy, but compassionate, especially for post-abortive parents seeking closure. I think people on both sides of the fence will find meaning in the changes that both Maryanne and Lucas go through. Ultimately, it is an uplifting story, and my hope is that it will be a help to you.

About the author

I am the author of three novels: Michal’s Window, a historical romance between King David and his first wife, the princess Michal, Broken Build, a romantic suspense thriller set in a Silicon Valley startup, and Hidden Under Her Heart, a story about a nurse wrestling with her decision to abort. My stories tend to be dramatic and emotional, crossing genres and cultures. I like to dive deep and live through my characters’ eyes. Each of them are passionate but flawed women paired with conflicted men with good hearts. I hope you enjoy the emotional journey I take you on. I love to hear from readers. Please contact me on Facebook or my blog.