Saturday, February 6, 2016

For the Love of Minor Characters

Ever fall in love with a minor character? Someone captures your imagination, or you identify with them in some unique way, and you want more of them, but, alas, it is not to be. The classic example, for me, is the postman in Stephen King’s Cujo, who the reader comes to love by way of several pages of wonderful character development, only to have his throat ripped out by the book’s protagonist minutes later.

Such a waste.
I have a minor character in the Red Wolf Saga whom I’ve come to love. Luke Saunders, the reluctant private eye employed by the vampire Roland Trudeau to track the comings and goings of the werewolves during daylight hours, has continued to delight me with his occasionally documented antics over the course of three novels. His life has hung in balance the entire time, and his fate remains undetermined primarily because the author (me) has such affection for his character.
I just completed a re-edit of all three Red Wolf novels in preparation for an upcoming new-editions release and giveaway through Amazon, and when I ran across this scene in Red Wolf Rising, I just had to share it with you.
Luke has determined it’s time to break his contract with Roland Trudeau, take the small fortune he’s amassed, and go into hiding, somewhere far away “with beaches, long days, and short nights.” But, in response to an increasingly guilty conscience, and against his better judgment, he’s decided to confess to the red wolf, Clifford Crane, what he knows of Roland’s evil plans…

Thursday, June 9, 2011, 3:19 pm
Luke Saunders tried to swallow in a dry throat. He thought about asking for a glass of water, but suppressed the urge. He figured there was a fifty-fifty chance he was going to die within the hour, and he didn’t want to make the odds any worse by being an inconvenience to the others in the room, in any way whatsoever.
I’m surrounded by werewolves, he reminded himself, be cool.
Easy for you to say, Himself answered.
Searching for calm, he took a deep breath. It dried his mouth out worse. He tried again to swallow and gagged, drawing stony, silent glances from a few of the men who stood towering over him, their huge, ripped upper bodies barely contained by the thin gray t-shirts they all wore, with SECURITY stenciled across the chests.
Their silence increased his anxiety. Once in a while, the men would glance at each other and smile or frown at some unshared thought. Unshared with Luke, at any rate. He reminded himself that these men were half animal, and that animals were supposed to be good at non-verbal communication, so maybe that’s what was happening.
Or, maybe they’re communicating telepathically?
Don’t be a dick, he told he told Himself, that’s impossible.
As impossible as turning into a huge, snarling beast capable of ripping your throat out?
I see your point. Whatever. Anyway, the silence was the worst part of this.
No, Himself reminded him, it’s the fact that we’re about to die.
To say he was having second thoughts about being here was an understatement. What had happened to his plan to get out, to cover his tracks, run from the vampires, and never look back? That had been an excellent plan. Instead, he’d driven right out of the frying pan and into the fire, presenting himself at the front gate of the Alligator River Werewolf Pack’s secret compound.
What had he been thinking? He was lucky they hadn’t torn him apart on the spot.
They probably want to make it a slow, agonizing death, Himself interjected.
Before Luke could answer himself, the security guys suddenly stood at attention.
Something’s up.
Sure enough, the door swung open, and Clifford Crane swept through followed by Nicole Black and – Luke hadn’t expected this – the tall Chinese werewolf who’d visited the club in Ocracoke the day before.
Was Crane’s army going international?
Good, he thought, the more, the merrier. Maybe the wolves would be able to exterminate the vampires. Just don’t kill me first.
Crane’s gaze fell on Luke immediately, but before the werewolf leader said anything his attention was diverted by something Luke didn’t see. Both Crane and Nicole looked for a moment at the one who’d brought Luke in from the front gate. (The guy hadn’t offered a name, but he’d seemed to be in charge, and Luke figured he was the head of security, or something.) Crane looked in Luke’s direction, sniffed the air, nodded, and turned back to the man.
Still think they’re not communicating telepathically? It was Himself again.
Crane walked over to where Luke sat and extended his hand. “Luke Saunders, is it? I’m Clifford Crane.”
Luke stood. Several of the men stepped forward threateningly, but Crane waved them off. Luke cautiously took the proffered hand. Crane’s grip was firm, dry and…calming? Luke could have sworn his blood pressure just dropped a notch.
A puzzled look crossed Crane’s features as they shook. “I’m sorry, Mr. Saunders, but I don’t recall…have we met before? At a meeting, or something?”
Luke withdrew his hand and cleared his throat. “Luke,” he corrected, which brought a smile and a nod from Crane. He took a deep breath, plunged his hands into his back pockets, and sighed. “I’m not really a Friend of Bill’s,” he said. “My father was, though. I just thought it’d be the best way to say, ‘I come in peace.’ Actually, I work for…” He held up a hand. “…used to, that is…Roland Trudeau.”
There were a few growls in the room. Crane rolled his eyes and looked around. “Come on, guys,” he murmured. The others fell silent. “Go on,” he said to Luke.
Luke swallowed. Strangely, although he figured he was even closer to his imminent death, his mouth was no longer dry. “I just now quit,” he elaborated. “Trudeau doesn’t know it, yet. He’ll try to kill me when he finds out.”
Luke wasn’t sure who’d said it. He looked around, but couldn’t locate the source. He turned back to Crane. “Well, yeah, most likely he will kill me, but…shit.” The pressure behind his eyeballs – unshed tears - caused him to lose his voice for a moment.
Crane motioned for him to sit, and Luke plopped back down in his chair with a sigh. Crane pulled a chair up to the table opposite him. “Luke,” he said softly, “no vampire can touch you here. You’re safe.”
“Safe? Really? You haven’t heard what I have to say.”
“Shit,” Crane muttered, then louder, “Don’t worry, you’re safe from us, too.” He looked at Head-of-Security. “Right?”
“If you say so, sir,” grumbled the big man.
“I do,” said Crane. He turned back to Luke. “Go on,” he said, “tell us.”
Luke looked around nervously. “Man, I’m not sure where to begin. Look, I can’t blame you for being pissed, but I swear to God I didn’t see this coming. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.”
Crane just nodded.
“Right. Okay. I’m a…was a…still am, I guess…a PI…private investigator? Had a nice, low-key service operating out of Durham for almost ten years. Not getting rich by any means, mind you, but built up a pretty good rep. Anyway, this guy shows up one day. Says he represents a group of investors in Charlotte who are looking into opportunities in the Uwharries. Gives me a list of names, folks living in and around Troy. Wants to know as much about them as I can find out, what connections they might have with each other, what they do together, etcetera. He’s heard I’m from the area – I am, by the way, grew up there - and he figures I’d be a good choice for the job.
“And he offers cash, too. Lots of it. Should’ve raised a red flag, but like I said, I’m not getting rich, so…” He sighed, looking around at the others. “Don’t worry, I’ll get to the point soon.”
He turned back to Crane. “The Feltons are on the list, which makes sense, since they own a lot of land around there. So is “J.B.” Covington, who has the Ford dealership, so I figure this is all about money. But some of the other names, the Blacks, the Lamelles, the Barnes, the Olenas, they don’t necessarily fit the profile.”
Crane nodded.
“But, it’s weird. There is a connection. And the more I dig, the more I find. And when I give my first report to this ‘representative,’ he tells me his boss wants to discuss my findings in person. So, he sets up a meet.”
Luke took another breath. “This boss turns out to be Roland Trudeau, who offers me a long-term contract to work for him exclusively. Again, it’s too good to be true, but I accept. I mean, I didn’t think twice about it; the guy’s so persuasive. Only later do I start to understand how he got to me so easy.”
There were grunts from a few in the room. Crane nodded again.

“It was after I signed the contract that he starts feeding me this story about a…a pack of werewolves. I…I actually laughed in his face.” Luke stared inwardly as he recalled the event. He emitted a nervous chuckle. “Haven’t done that since.”
He leveled his gaze at Crane. “He showed me who…what he was, then. Made it clear what the consequences would be if I broke my contract.”
“Which you’re doing now,” Crane interrupted, “out of desperation, I assume.”
“Oh, I’m way past that point.” Again the nervous chuckle. “Mr. Crane…”
“Right, uh…Cliff, I’m not one to take sides. You have to be nonpartisan in my profession.” He threw up his hands. “And, God knows, I don’t want to get in the middle of what’s going on between you two…groups.” He swallowed. “But I can’t be a party to the things Trudeau is doing anymore. No amount of money…even my life…is worth helping him to…to… Cliff, he’s got Grady Rush, and…”
Clifford groaned, propped his elbow on the table, and rubbed his forehead into his palm. Nicole gasped, “Oh, Cliff!”
Luke turned to her. “Ms. Black, he’s got Janine Unger, too. And her husband. And…her two little girls.”
Before he could blink, she’d crossed the room and was right in his face. “Where?” she demanded. “Are they okay?”
“Depends what you mean by ‘okay.’”
She grabbed him by the shirt and literally jerked him out of the chair. “Tell me where they are,” she growled.
I’m gonna die now, thought Luke. Surprised I made it this far, really. Jesus, the little slip of a girl was strong. And the thing inside her was close to the surface, he could tell. Don’t look her in the eye. Never look them in the eye.
Clifford gripped her arm. “Nicole,” he admonished.
She shook him off, inadvertently letting go of Luke, who grunted as he flopped back in his seat. “He’s got to tell us where they are,” she said. She pointed a finger at Clifford. “And don’t say ‘I told you so,’” she threatened.
“I wouldn’t,” he answered. “Jeez, give me a break. And give him a break, okay?” He indicated Luke. “He’s here to help. Let him.”
She glared at Clifford before taking a step back. “Sorry,” she muttered, in Luke’s direction.
“It…it’s okay,” said Luke. I’m still alive. He could feel himself shaking as the adrenaline rush subsided. “I understand how you feel. Well, not exactly how you feel, since…I mean…you’re a…and I can’t imagine what that feels like, but I…you know…” Jeez, I’m babbling.
Clifford reached across the table and placed a hand on his arm. Again, that feeling of calm swept over Luke. The shaking stopped. Wow. Luke was sure about it this time. Crane spoke in even tones. “What more can you tell us?”
“They’re alive…unharmed, for the most part.”
“For the most part?”
“Well, he and that vampire chick you used to…uh…ah…be with.”
“Danielle?” Clifford clarified, pretending not to notice the exchanged glances around the room.
“Right, Danielle…Anderson. She and Trudeau are keeping them all sedated on vampire venom. No plans to turn them, as far as I can tell. But Rush and Ms. Unger are addicted, for sure. And Rush is under Danielle’s thrall.”
“So that’s what this is about,” murmured Crane.
“Nothing,” said Crane, waving a hand in dismissal. “Go on.”
“Okay. Well, they’re keeping them in the guest house at the mansion in Mathews. I…I think you could get them out.”
“Well, security’s pretty tight there, as you know. But, I think Trudeau is away right now.”
Head-of-Security broke in. “You think?
Luke turned to the big man. “Right, I think. He was scheduled to go to Atlanta yesterday. I’m supposed to meet with him tomorrow night, but I don’t think he’s back, yet.” He turned back to Crane. “If you hit the place tomorrow, say, right after dawn?” He looked around. “It wouldn’t be any trouble. Not for you guys.”
“Whoa. Hold on.” It was Head-of-Security again. “It could be a trap. It’s probably a trap, just the kind of thing Trudeau would come up with.”
Crane shook his head. “I’m guessing Danielle’s behind this. She’s probably acting on her own and Roland doesn’t even know about it.” He dug his phone out of his pocket. “I bet if I just give him a call, we can straighten all this out without causing any…”
“No, don’t!” Luke was vehement. “This is all Trudeau’s doing, swear to God. He sent Danielle after Rush, and he took the Unger woman himself.”
“You’re telling the truth,” whispered Clifford, incredulity in his voice. “But, it doesn’t make sense. Why would he…”
“Why doesn’t it make sense?” Head-of-Security interrupted.
“Because Roland’s always been…I mean, I know none of you guys trust him,” Clifford said, looking around, “but he’s actually been pretty helpful in the past.”
“What?” Luke was taken aback. “The dude turned your girlfriend into a vampire, for Christ sake!”
“To save her life, after he rescued her from the Draculata Nest,” Clifford argued. “And it was her choice.”
Luke shook his head. “You never figured that out? Come on, man. Trudeau didn’t rescue Danielle Anderson from shit. I know. I was the one who delivered her to Ms. Black’s house the morning before y’all cleaned out the Draculata Nest,” he said. “The girl had been at his mansion for days. The Draculata Nest never had her, didn’t want her, never even knew she was there.”
“Oh, my god,” gasped Nicole, “That’s why exterminating the entire Draculata Nest had no effect on Danielle. Roland was the one who bit her in the first place!”
Clifford was stunned. His face dropped into his hands. When it came back up, he looked like he’d swallowed something vile. “Damn. I don’t believe it. He…he used her…me…” He looked around the room. “…hell, all of us…” He stared inwardly. “…even Kent? Sacrificed him? Jesus, just so he could become maior of the Queen City Nest?”
“Nuh uh,” said Luke, shaking his head, “that’s not all he wants. The Queen City Nest is just a stepping stone to…I don’t know…bigger things.”
“Bigger things?”
“Yeah. He’s been meeting with other maiors and some…higher-ups, setting himself up as the resident expert on red wolves, and…”
“What higher-ups?”
“I don’t know, but I get the impression they’re badass, ‘cause he’s extra careful dealing with them. He’s afraid of ‘em, I think. But, whatever, he’s got ‘em convinced he’s the best choice to lead this vampire army they’re all putting together.”
An uneasy tension spread through the room, and Luke took note that everyone seemed to take a few steps away from the big Chinese guy, like the dude had passed gas or something. Clifford didn’t seem to notice. Neither did Nicole Black. Curious.
“What’s he want with Grady and Janine?” Clifford speculated. “Obviously not hostages, since he didn’t contact us with demands. Are you sure this isn’t just Danielle’s doing?”
“I’m sure,” said Luke. There was now a note of condescension in his voice. “Spies, man. He wants spies. Danielle’s no good for that now that y’all are…split up, or whatever. So now he’s got Grady Rush in thrall, grilling you about plans to attack Atlanta…”
“Oh, fuck,” Clifford groaned. Indeed, Grady knew as much about the Atlanta campaign as anyone at this point.
“…so I suspect he’s planning the same for Janine Unger eventually, to try and get information out of Ms. Black.”
“We have to get them out of there, Cliff,” Nicole said.
Head-of-Security was emphatic. “It’s a trap, sir.”
“I don’t think so,” argued Clifford. “Luke here’s obviously telling the truth.”
“He believes he’s telling the truth,” Head-of-Security clarified.
Luke felt a rising panic. Fuck. He hadn’t considered the possibility that Trudeau might have set him up, that he might have sent him into the wolves’ den with some post-hypnotic suggestion or something. He wouldn’t put it past the blood sucker. “You think I might be in Trudeau’s thrall, too?”
“Are you?” asked Head-of-Security.
“I…I don’t…I didn’t think so,” Luke stammered. He straightened as an idea occurred to him. “But we can find out, can’t we?” He looked at Clifford and swallowed with determination. “Just do to me whatever you did to those chicks at the Davy Jones in Ocracoke. You did do something, right? Do it to me.”
“He shouldn’t have to,” said Nicole. “He’s already touched you. That’s all it takes.”
“No shit?” Luke’s eyes went wide. He looked at Cliff. “Is that all?”
Clifford nodded, shrugged.
Luke looked at his right hand. “I felt something, when we shook, and then again just now, when you touched my arm. Damn, that’s incredible! And, it means you can really help them…those two little girls. You have to go save them.” His shoulders sagged. “Except…”
“…except, it’s a trap,” Head-of-Security finished for him.
“Yeah, it could be,” admitted Luke.
Clifford shook his head. “We don’t know that.”
“The hell we don’t,” Head-of-Security insisted.
“We have to do something,” Nicole said. “And we have the advantage of knowing it’s a trap.”
“That’s an advantage?”
“It has to be some advantage. Cliff, we need to get them out of there. Cliff?”
Clifford’s face was buried in his hands again. He looked up. “What?”

Well, that’s probably more than enough, for now. If you want to read the rest of the scene, by all means, click on one of the links in the My Books tab, and purchase a copy. But remember, I’m having a massive giveaway on Amazon soon for Kindle users, so if you want to save $2.99, you can wait a few weeks.
        Meanwhile, happy reading!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Unfinished Series Series, Vol III

   Okay, one more rant and I’ll drop the subject, I promise. But, really, don’t you just hate picking up a new book touted as first in a series, and you really, really like it, and then when you finish you find the next book has yet to be written?
   I do.
   I can’t stand it. Now, I’m hooked, and maybe there’s not even a clue when the next book will be available. Plus, the wait-read cycle could repeat itself over quite a few years. It takes time to write, edit and publish a book. Even the most prolific writers can’t fulfill the need I have for instant gratification once I’ve become a fan.
   The series I’m most anxious about at the moment is a delightful dystopian/sci fi offering by my favorite paranormal author, Richelle Mead.

   We all know Mead from her popular YA novels that sprung from Vampire Academy and its spinoff, Bloodlines. If you’re lucky, you’ve read her debut adult series featuring the reluctant succubus, Georgina Kincaid.

   Mead has become a master at putting together a tight, six-novel series that features a feisty heroine you’re guaranteed to fall in love with, surrounded by a supporting cast of interesting friends, lovers, vampires, demons, etc. They’re fast-paced and written mostly in first person from the perspective of the single main character.

   But, in the midst getting out the last few Bloodlines novels, Richelle snuck in a couple of gems, Gameboard of the Gods and The Immortal Crown, the first two in a series she’s named, the Age of X.
   Age of X represents a definite departure from the norm for Mead. She’s abandoned the first person, single character POV for a third-person narrative, and the perspective flips back and forth among three main characters. Mae and Justin have all the depth and breadth you need in adult protagonists, and even the culture-shocked teen genius, Tessa, has enough baggage in her short past to balance the scales of the multiple plot lines.

Gameboard of the Gods (June,2013)

The Immortal Crown (May,2014)

   I love these books. I love the post-apocalyptic world Mead has created for the backdrop. I love the eclectic palette of dystopian societies she uses to color the stories. I love that she’s created a series that allows her to indulge her love of world religions and cultural mythologies, bringing in the gods themselves as characters.
   What I don’t love is that, although it was only twelve months between publication of the first two books, it’s now been fifteen months since The Immortal Crown, and we haven’t a clue when The Eye of Andromeda will be out. I check Richelle’s website regularly, and the answer to that burning question has been for a while, and still remains, “Release Date TBA.”
   Arrrgh! I want it now!
   Life is so hard, isn't it?

   Hey, if you want to get hooked on an unfinished series yourself, check out the My Books tab at the top of my blog. Happy reading!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Unfinished Series Series, Vol II

So, I’m continuing my complaint about getting hooked on a series of books that hasn’t been finished yet. Can you relate? I mean, it really sucks to read that book (and maybe there’s even a cliffhanger ending), and you’re ready to find out what happens next, but you know it’ll be at least a year until you can find out.
Ugh. Life is so hard.
Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by growing up with TV. The longest I’ve ever had to wait to watch the next episode of a show is maybe three months over the summer, waiting for a new season to begin. It’s different with books. Very few authors crank out a whole novel in three months. It took me nine months to finish my first, almost two years for my third.
Case in point…

Like many others, I discovered J.K. Rowland’s Harry Potter books when only three of the eventual seven had been published. By the time the final book was out, my infant son had grown up to be reading them himself, there were movies made and planned for, and a whole pop culture grown up around the phenomenon. I stood in lines at book stores and paid way over top dollar for hardback copies of the last three, which, had I been able to wait a few years to read, could have purchased the whole series for my Kindle at a fraction of the cost.
It’s not fair.
Well, here’s another one… Australian author Kristy Berridge’s unfinished series featuring the sassy, headstrong vampire/werewolf hybrid teen, Elena Manory. I stumbled onto The Hunted back in early 2012. I impatiently drummed my fingers for about a year waiting for the Kindle edition of The Damned to come available in the States. Then, I twiddled my thumbs in exasperation while the author went out on a tangent writing Diary of a Teenage Zombie before I was able to download a copy of The Aligned a few months ago.
Here’s the problem. The books are gooooood. And I have no earthly idea when the next one’s coming. Check ‘em out…

The Hunted (from March, 2012)

I became aware of this author through several Facebook groups, where her posts caught my attention as occasionally witty. I likewise found her blog posts enjoyable, but was hesitant to purchase this paperback because of the hefty price tag. I couldn't bring myself to pay over $18, but I jumped at the chance to get it for half that when it finally became available for Kindle.
  I wasn't disappointed. Berridge has created an interesting universe with some unique twists on the origins, traits, and capabilities of her vampires and werewolves. The book is generally well-written. It was easy to immerse myself in nearly every scene, and there is lots of action. By the time I was two-thirds through the book, I found myself unable to put it down - one of those ones I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning finishing.
  Several things prevented me from giving it five stars, however. I did not find the main character particularly likeable, nor the inevitably hunky vampire love interest. And the propensity for Berridge to dump pages of backstory upon the reader at inconvenient times also put me off. The preface and the first chapter contain enough background information to spread over several novels, and Berridge chooses to reveal much of it while her character muses between steps as she stalks two werewolves in the opening scene, which effectively kills the suspense.
  Despite those few drawbacks, The Hunted was a good read and I plan to read the next in the series, at the right price. My rating? Four stars.


The Damned (August, 2013)
I lost patience somewhere over the 16 months I had to wait for this sequel to The Hunted to be ready for my Kindle. And now it’s even worse, because now I have no idea how long it will be before the third book is available and I can find out how Elena’s going to get herself out of… Oh, wait. No spoilers here!
The Damned is a great second offering in this series. It starts with the introduction of a new villain and a brief warm-up/update of what’s been going on since the last book, then takes off with non-stop action until the final page. Elena has matured some over the last six months, but not enough to keep her out of immediate trouble as she tries to keep her family safe by leaving home and placing herself in the custody of the Protectors in Bucharest.
“Custody’ turns out to be the operative word, because she quickly realizes that, instead of being protected, she is actually a prisoner. She manages to exacerbate the situation further by alienating almost everyone with her snarky attitude and sarcastic comments. To make things worse, everyone is out for her blood… literally.
I was intrigued with how the story expanded in this book, in which more of the secret of Elena’s origins are revealed and some older, more powerful characters are introduced. Of course, there are more gorgeous, hunky male vampires (a necessary evil in these types of novels, I suppose) to create plenty of sexual tension, which makes for nice reading but emerges as a theme I’m sure will be more explored as Elena approaches her eighteenth birthday, where I bet the excrement will really hit the fan.
I was also happy to see that Elena’s brother, Lucas, remains in the picture and that he will obviously play a larger role in the saga as they both deal with the ultimate betrayal. And I’m hoping there will be more of Lucius, a character I particularly bonded with, to come in the third book.
Which brings me to the final negative aspect of this whole thing. I’m a glass-half-empty kind of guy, and I anticipate a long wait for book three. That’s not fair, because I’m ready now. Oh, well. Kudos to Ms. Berridge on this one and a resounding five stars.

The Aligned
(April, 2015)
I’m not complaining (Okay, yes, I am), but I had to wait nearly two years between the release of The Damned and The Aligned, the third novel in Kristy Berridge’s Hunted series. Now, after devouring the latest installment in the saga of the werewolf-vampire hybrid, Elena Manory, I’m already chomping at the bit, ready for another.
It’s problematic reviewing this book, because although there is plenty of everything I love in a middle-of-the-series novel – non-stop action, sexual tension, behind-the-scenes characters revealed, and emerging powers…uh…emerging, I can’t think of a way to elaborate on any of it without creating spoilers.
Suffice it to say, you should read this entire series. If you haven’t already, go back and get The Hunted and The Damned. Afterwards, get The Aligned as fast as you can. Then, sit back and chew on your nails with me until the fourth book is out!

Here’s an interview with the author I found on YouTube…

And, if you really want to get hooked on an unfinished series, check out the MY BOOKS tab at the top of my blog. It’ll probably be another year before Rivers of Red is out.

Yeah, I know. Believe me, I know.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Unfinished Series Series, Vol I

   I’ve been in love with books written in a series for as long as I’ve been a reader. Beginning with L. Frank Baum’s Oz books as a child, through Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan series or Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy as a “tween,” all the way through Richelle Mead’s Succubus books and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels in my later years, I’ve relished finding multiple novels by an author that follow the same character, sets of characters, or an imagined universe, over time. I relish closing the cover on one book and opening another into that same wonderful universe right away.
   But, it’s a mixed blessing finding a great book that turns out to be the first in a series, getting hooked on the characters, the premise, or the background story, and then finding out the sequel has yet to be written. That’s a huge disappointment for me as a reader.
   Now, as an author of my own series, I’m getting to experience the anxiety from the other side of the coin. Along with every compliment I get from readers of my Red Wolf Saga the question that follows is, “How soon until the next one’s ready?”
   The reader in me winces. I want to tell people to wait and read my books when the series is finished. Hey, the price might even come down a little.
   But, I can’t do that!
   Instead, I’m going to pay homage to some other authors who have some great unfinished series in the works. I call it my Unfinished Series Series. It won’t solve the problem, but the pain should be lessened through commiseration with reader and writer alike.
   So, where to start?
   I know!
   A few weeks ago, I woke up to the following Facebook post:
   “You haven’t truly lived until you’ve considered whether or not you should give a chicken an enema.”

   That post could only come from the mind and keyboard of Red Tash, author of the delightful Trollogy, A Fairy Wicked Tale. The “trollogy” is a coming-of-age story as much as a dark fantasy, and follows the character of Roller Deb as she comes to terms with growing up issues such as her sexuality, her obsession with skating, and her heritage as a fairy warrior.
   Red Tash gets points not only for being a great writer who publishes under various names across a number of genres, but also for one of the most clever series of titles I’ve ever run across:
   Book 1: Troll or Derby
   Book 2: Troll or Park
   Book 3: Troll or Trash
   Get it? Ain’t it great?
   Yeah, it is, except for the fact that only the first two have been published. My reviews of those follow. I loved them. I recommend them highly. And, I welcome you to join the rest of us who are waiting impatiently for the final episode.

   Troll or Derby is Paranormal Americana at its best. It starts out at a dead run as teenaged Roller Deb rescues her older sister from a meth lab fire and the pace only increases from there. Ms. Tash is a former journalist, and it shows. There is not a wasted word in the whole story. There’s no time for background explanations or character development. You need to keep your head up and your eyes and ears open and get ready to duck ‘cause the next thing’s coming at you already. Yet somehow, amidst all the chaos, I came to know the characters and their world pretty well by the end of the book and am eagerly awaiting the sequel.
   This is an action book and to describe any more of it would risk spoiling something for the reader. But aside from the pace there were two particular things I liked about the book that bear mentioning. The first is the author’s talent for saying a lot in few words. Here’s an example, where Deb sums up her relationship with the evil April, “My heart both longed for her and ached for its own stupidity, at the same time.” Man, it would have taken me half a chapter to say that!
  The other thing I liked about the book was the very natural, off-hand treatment of Deb’s sexual orientation. It’s an important element of the story, but at no point does it become the central theme. This is the way it should be, and in my opinion does more for gay rights than any amount of preaching from the soap box, which I’ve done more of in the last sentence than Tash does in the whole book.
  I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more roller derby action, something I was expecting from the title, but that was not enough to keep me from giving Troll or Derby five stars. And the author has promised us more derby action in the upcoming sequel, Troll or Park. Dollar-for-word, this is the best thing I’ve read all year.
   The second book in the trilogy (excuse me, trollogy) involving Roller Deb, Harlow, and the various supernatural creatures living among the loveable rednecks of Laurents County, is finally out, and it was worth the wait.
   Just like Troll or Derby, Red Tash opens Troll or Park with a bang. Whereas the first book had Deb rescuing her sister from a meth lab fire, this one has her deflecting an angry mob from going after her well-meaning friend Derek, who has accidentally burned down the Legion Hall with a fireworks display gone awry.
   But that’s just a wake up and warm up to the non-stop action to follow. Deb must fight off evil fairy witches, dragons, and usurpers to the local Troll throne while simultaneously dealing with feelings for Harlow, the troll she may or may not be falling in love with, who is currently in the thrall of a seductive female troll who has him addicted to a mysterious honey concoction that seems to have magical origins.
   Not wishing to address her feelings about Harlow, Deb attempts to lose herself in her first love, the Derby. She joins a roller derby team and heads to Las Vegas for a very special tournament. But, her attempted escape turns out to be a trap. Powerful forces are at work in the world of the Fae, and some of them look on Deb as the key to success for their nefarious schemes.
   Red Tash, an excellent writer across a number of genres, has the ability to create characters, no matter how unlikely, that draw you into their world. I’ve come to love Roller Deb, and I can’t help but root for her and Harlow. Red’s writing style will delight you. I can’t wait for the final book. Five stars.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Real Red Wolves

    The term red wolf must have been floating around in my subconscious when I conceived of Clifford Crane, the supernatural werewolf protagonist depicted in my Red Wolf Saga. Crane (you can check out the “My Books” tab), whom I imagine to be a cross between an Irish setter and an eight foot grizzly, bears little resemblance to the coyote-colored canid that once roamed the eastern North American continent in large numbers a few hundred years ago.
    But, yes, there are real red wolves! And it wasn’t until I was almost ready to publish The Draculata Nest that I discovered they are living practically in my own back yard.
    Like its grey wolf cousin, which already haunted the dreams of European settlers, the red wolves were regarded as everything from a threat to domestic livestock to agents of Satan. The “new Americans” went about systematically destroying the wolves’ natural habitat and hunting it to near extinction. Today, Canis rufus can be found living in the wild only on the Albemarle Peninsula of eastern North Carolina, the result of an intense recovery project managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
    When I realized real wolves hunted in forests only a few hours’ drive from my Charlotte home, I couldn’t help myself. First chance I got, I made a road trip on the pretense of “research for the next book,” imagining I might somehow get a glimpse of this legendary creature by hiking around the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge.
    Good luck with that, John. Mosquitoes the size of quarters kept me inside my vehicle and off the trails, and although I saw plenty of wildlife as I drove over the many dirt roads that crisscross the refuge, including several black bear sightings, it would have been highly unlikely to run across the elusive predator I later found was notoriously skittish of human contact.
    The trip wasn’t a total loss, however. I ended up using the refuge as the setting for much of both The Dragon of Doughton Park and Red Wolf Rising. But my subsequent research on red wolves has been done primarily on the internet and, most recently, by way this book:

    T. Delene Beeland’s The Secret World of Red Wolves, chronicles the story of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service’s successful efforts to rescue Canis rufus from the brink of extinction after it became one of the first species to be put on the Endangered Species list back in the 1970’s. It is one of the finest examples of scientific journalism I’ve read. I highly recommend it, both for the heart-warming/wrenching story behind the recovery project and for the extensive bibliography that comprises a full quarter of the book.
    If you read it, I promise you’ll be inspired by the perseverance of the individuals who dedicated much of their lives and careers to try and save this creature. If you’re like me, you’ll probably fall in love with Canis rufus. And, if you’re like me, your heart will come away a little more broken.
    Sadly, the red wolf recovery project has become somewhat a victim of its own success, and the creature that was miraculously saved from the brink of extinction over the last few decades will likely disappear by way of the same threats that originally endangered it, shrinking natural habitat and hybridization with the smaller, more prolific coyote, which has an adaptability akin to the cockroach.
    But, the most immediate threat to red wolves is North Carolina politics. Nowhere in the nation is the current polarization of political opinion in our republic more evident than in my beloved Tarheel state, where blacks, whites, Hispanics, Arabs, Jews, and Asians live together in harmony, but conservative, Bible-thumping Republicans fight latte-sipping liberal Democrats to the death in vitriolic, economy-depleting election campaigns.
    In my books, I blame the political polarization and legislative gridlock on vampires. Sometimes I wish my little fantasy conspiracy theory were true. It would be so much simpler to deal with. Unfortunately, the political divide here is more complicated, and Canis rufus is just another innocent victim of it.
    Since its inception, a critical factor in the success of the red wolf recovery program has been the ability of key individuals who perform the day-to-day field work to form good faith, working relationships with local landowners. The folks who own and manage red wolf habitat land on the Albemarle Peninsula are savvy enough to recognize the benefits of the ecological niche this larger predator provides, but they are extremely resistant to government or any outside dictates on how to manage what is theirs.
    A recent lawsuit brought by well-meaning-but-ultimately-misguided red wolf supporters to change hunting regulations in the area has created a wedge between local landowners and managers of the recovery program. Conservative political lobbyists have pounded on that wedge to the point where it is nigh immovable. The good-faith, handshake deals program workers have made with the locals have become null and void in almost every case.
    When I had a chance to attend a presentation by author Beeland recently at our local community college, I asked her if she thought the program managers/landowners relationships could be repaired. The emotion in her voice was evident as her scientific objectivity crumbled. There was a note of despair in her tone when she answered the prognosis was “not good.”
    The federally managed recovery program on the Albemarle Peninsula will soon be turned over to the state of North Carolina, whose plans to “manage” the program include little more than studying the animal as it rapidly becomes extinct.

    Alas, most of us will never see a true red wolf. Even the ones on display in zoos and preserves are likely not true Canis rufus, but more likely a mostly wolf/coyote hybrid. So, in the meantime, join me in a brief lament. Click on the YouTube link below, raise your snouts, and join some red wolves in a farewell howl…

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Old Man and the Bike

I’m the kind of person who can overdo anything and everything, good or bad. I have a long list of addictions to prove it. The acceptance of this about myself has made the last quarter century of my life an almost daily struggle for balance. I’m constantly striving for just the right mix of work, play, intellectual stimulation and down time, that will keep me from tipping the scales too far in any direction.
Take writing, for instance. It has proven a mixed blessing. Over the last five years, creating the first three books in the Red Wolf Saga has been an eye-opening, soul enriching, life changing experience for me. It has also become an obsession. Whereas I once filled as much of my free time as I could with writing, my free time has become writing time, and my free time has, well…disappeared.

Last weekend, while rearranging some debris in my apartment (what I call cleaning), I noticed the rusting chain and flattened tires on my bicycle. I suddenly realized it had been nearly six months since I’d taken it for a spin. How could I let such a thing happen, and why?
I love the outdoors. The most precious moments in my life have been spent there. The beautiful spring weather called to me. I closed my laptop, pumped the tires, lubed the chain, and headed out across town.
The first thing I noticed when I hunkered over the handle bars was that…I couldn’t. The fifteen pounds I’d managed to add to my belly since September pressed up into my chest cavity, rendering my diaphragm useless. It took some precarious, oxygen-depleted minutes of experimentation before finding a position from which to pedal and breathe at the same time. As the dizziness receded and my vision swam back into focus, I became aware of another obstacle.
This time of year in Charlotte, pedestrians can be observed performing a strange ritual. Every twenty yards or so, they will shuffle to one side or the other while flailing their arms in the air over their heads. I call it “the web worm dance.”
These inch-long caterpillars descend from the trees on silken threads to dangle in the breeze four to seven feet from the ground. I’m not sure where they go. I’ve never seen them reach the earth, only attach themselves to clothing and hair. When walking, with experience and vigilance, you can weave your way along the sidewalk without picking up too many passengers. On a bicycle, they are impossible to avoid.
I careened through curtains of web and caterpillar, and nearly crashed several times while trying to brush them away from my face and mouth. When I stopped for a break at the Starbucks that graces the trail head of the Four Mile Creek greenway, I removed a total of twenty-three wriggling critters from my shirt and shorts. Inside, when I handed over payment for my white chocolate mocha, I noticed a little black one waving a greeting to the barista from my forearm.

“There’s another one on your shirt,” she said.
“Up on your collar. No, the other side. Oh, now it’s on your neck.”
I felt in then. While my beverage was being prepared, I stepped outside and removed the two, plus another that appeared out of nowhere. I tried to ignore the ones I imagined nesting in my scalp.
But it was all worth it. I enjoyed cycling through the greenway, people-watching and nature-communing, and congratulating myself on making the correct decision for the way to spend my day. I was not the one-dimensional writer I’d feared I’d become, chained to my dimly-lit writing cubby throughout the winter. I was a multi-faceted individual. I’d achieved the balance I sought.

But I forgot how out-of-shape I was. I got tired.
I’ve done this more times than I care to admit. I’ve done it with walking, running, hiking, backpacking, cycling…you name it. I continue in one direction to the point of exhaustion. Then, I’m faced with the challenge of being only half-way finished. I have to turn around and cover the same distance to get home. Will I ever learn? Maybe not.
Resignedly, I lowered my shoulders – well, as low as my belly would allow – and headed home. Several hours later, I stopped at a convenience store near my apartment and stalked inside on leaden legs to stock up on soda, chocolate, and caramel, which I consumed along with half a pizza I had left over in the fridge.
Later, as I lay in bed, peering over the top of my swollen belly at something on Netflix, I realized I’d probably undone all the good from my afternoon of exercise. Sigh.

Balance? For me, it’s that place I fly by somewhere in the middle of going from one extreme to the other.