Today’s Butler/Banks speculative fiction spotlight focuses on author Keith Gaston. Keith is the author of more than a dozen books ranging from Speculative Fiction to Crime novels. His first book was published in 2007. After serving five years in the military, he began college, earning a degree in Computer Science. Since earning his degree he’s gone on to earn two Masters degree in Technology Management and Business Administration. His experience in the military and computer sciences has shaped many of his stories and characters over the years.
Here’s an excerpt:
Gully’s lungs burned, and cold sweat dripped down his face, but he couldn’t stop running, because stopping meant death.
Shadowing them on all fours, their stalkers were urged on with an inhuman need to slaughter. The heavy pounding of their massive paws against the frozen landscape grew ever closer. He pictured his pursuers’ tongues lolling from their mouths, salivating with anticipation. Wails filled the night; their terrifying howls alerting others of their pack that the chase was nearly over.
Gully had hoped the thick trees would offer him and the people he’d rescued, places to conceal themselves, but it wasn’t to be. The predators’ night vision could penetrate the dark with ease and their sense of smell could detect the four of them wherever they may hide.
Desperation begged that he plunge deeper into the woods. More than once, he’d seen what the claws and teeth of the predators could do to human flesh—saw the terror frozen in the eyes of their dead victims. Gully saw that same fear in the eyes of the family he was trying to protect. A hard knot had gotten trapped in his throat when the small girl glanced in his direction. Her gaze became saucers and she mouthed a silent scream.
Gully forced himself to twist his neck around to glance over his shoulder toward whatever she saw. He spotted the blood red glow of their ominous eyes first, then saw three of the beasts leap out from the darkness, their maws snapping open and close with enthusiasm as they anticipated flesh being trapped between their razor-sharp teeth.
The girl finally gave voice to her scream. It was time to stop running. Gully turned on his heels and faced the rampaging creatures. Exhausted and out of breath, he struggled to control his panic. Every fiber of his being shouted for him to continue running, but deep inside he knew that running would only get them killed. Gully shoved his fear aside, not for himself, but for the small girl and her parents.
The werewolves hastened their charge.
I sliced a jagged line across Darla’s neck with the silver blade from my wrist-mount to let her father know, I was serious about killing her. A thin line of warm blood trickled down her throat to her naked body. Grimes snarled, but stopped his advance toward me. His long abnormal fingernails and fangs retracted. Red menacing eyes reverted back to lifeless gray ones. As the dark brown fur slowly withdrew back into his skin, he grew smaller by several feet as he returned to his natural six-four height.
Grimes, naked and fully human, did not bother to hide his manhood, and he stared at me as if I was the one wrongly dressed for the occasion. “You are bluffing, Moon. You would not kill my daughter in cold blood,” he said not sounding entirely convinced of his words.
Under my grasp, Darla snarled like a wild animal and said, “He’s weak, father! Kill him now!”
“Take it easy, princess. No one has to be hurt here tonight,” I whispered. I spoke to her father in a louder voice with as much confidence as I could. “Make one move, Grimes, and I’ll take off her head. Trust me, I don’t bluff.”
“That’s not exactly true, sir. Since my association with you, you have, indeed, deceived your way out of five precarious situations,” Mosley said deadpan while in his holographic Idris Elba form.
Grimes, Darla and I slowly turned our gaze to the hologram. “You’re not supposed to let the bad guys know you might be bluffing, Mosley. Sort of defeats the purpose, don’t you think?” I scolded.
The hologram winced in apology then his image disappeared. Sometimes, I wondered if Mosley was with me or against me.
Grimes smiled, his teeth elongating once again. “My daughter and I shall have white wine as we dine on your flesh tonight, Moon.”
I gritted my teeth and narrowed my eyes at him. “Despite what my blabbermouth friend said, I will cut her throat!” Something in my expression or body language told him I spoke the truth, because his teeth became human-like again.
“You dare call my daughter and me bad guys, when it was you and your conjurer friend that broke into my castle in a pitiful attempt to rob me!”
Can you believe this guy? “You’re just going to skate over the fact that, in the midst of our pitiful attempt at robbery, Gully and I saved the lives of a family you and your darling princess here, were about to make a meal of. Here’s a tidbit of information for you. Eating innocent folks definitely places you and Darla on the wrong side of righteousness.”
Darla squirmed in my grip perhaps to break my hold, but I wasn’t having that. I pressed the silver blade tighter against her neck, drawing more blood from her. “Play nice,” I whispered into her ear.
“We have to eat,” she said defensively, as if that justified everything. “How else do you expect us to live?”
I shook my head, bowled over by the question. “That’s why the world has frozen meat sections in supermarkets, princess. You and I both know it’s not a prerequisite for werewolves to feed on human flesh. Raw meat is all you need to survive.”
We are predators. We hunt for our food,” Grimes huffed. “You have no right to be here–no right to take our prey!”
“You’re only half right, buddy,” I retorted. “I don’t have any legal right to invade your home, but I do have a noble one. I need something from you. Not to keep… only to borrow,” I said, trying to gain some sort of control over the situation. I needed to nullify them before things got worse.
Grimes stood ramrod straight and folded his arms together. “You are joking, correct? My daughter is your prisoner, and you expect me to let you borrow something from my castle?”
“Kill him, father,” Darla yelled, as she shifted slightly, readying herself to make a move.
I lifted the flat of the blade, scratched off a thin layer of skin from her neck, and then gave her a solid tap underneath the chin. “Will you shut the hell up? Grown folks are talking here.”
She didn’t like that at all.
Too late, I realized, I’d gone too far with my belittling of her.
In an instant, Darla went into full animal state, growing two feet in height with hair covering her entire body. Two inch fangs and long fingernails as sharp and strong as the finest steel knives were only seconds away from ripping into me. I stood at a crossroads in a split second of indecision—if I cut off her head, Grimes would be on top of me with a father’s fury like no other—if I did nothing, Darla would eventually get the upper hand in her stronger animal state. I hesitated a moment too long with my conundrum.
In a flash, she batted my arm away from her neck and heaved her head rearward, slamming the back of her skull hard against my forehead. In pain, I reeled backwards several steps, my vision an explosion of colors. I swung my blade wide and wild to make sure they couldn’t get close while I tried to regain focus. I could have used Gully right then and there, but he was busy getting that family Grimes and Darla had planned to eat to safety.
By the time my vision cleared, I saw that they had moved away to a safe distance. Both father and daughter were now full werewolves, and they both drooled at me with hunger in their eyes. Standing side-by-side, they looked at each other, then spoke in a series of grunts and growls, apparently debating who would get the first chunk of my flesh.
Grimes took a step back, letting Darla take the lead, an indication that they’d made their choice. I glanced over my shoulder, weighing what my chances would be if I sprinted down the corridor. There were no doors or turns, at least not until I’d ran down the long stretch for about thirty yards.
I would never make it. If I turned away to run, Darla would be on top of me before I took three steps, biting and clawing into my back. My pistols were already emptied from an earlier encounter. Though I had spare magazines, I’d never have time to reload. Left with the choice to fight, I planted my feet into a defensive posture and readied myself. One thing was in my favor—they’d decided to come at me one at a time.
Darla let out what I guessed was a laugh as she advanced toward me. She leapt to her left. Her paws pounded heavily against the left wall, as she launched herself to the wall on the opposite side. She bounded back and forth across the walls in a zigzag fashion so fast that she was almost a blur, in what I assumed was an attempt to disorientate me. I didn’t focus on her movements; it would have been impossible to track her that way. Instead, I listened to the timing of her paws as they made contact on the hard surface.
In my head, I counted down, three-two-one. Quickly dropping to one knee, I sliced my blade across the air above me. A dark shadow passed overhead at the same time. A gush of warm air and the smell of foul breath brushed against my face. An incredible weight fell on top of me. Darla and I went barrel rolling down the corridor. Her body stopped its momentum before mine. I continued rolling another few feet and landed on my back. Dizzy and aching, I lifted my head and tried to gain my bearings.
Darla was sprawled on the floor, and blood and spit overflowed from the severed jaw she worked desperately to put back together. My strike wasn’t a killing blow, but I’d nearly sliced her head in two. Darla’s supernatural restoration ability would eventually heal the wound. For the meantime, she would be out of the fight. Scrambling to my feet, I noticed my tumble with the princess had shortened the distance to the end of the corridor.
An anguished howl came from her father, who charged down the hallway. Leaping over Darla, Grimes made a beeline for me.
Already in mid-turn, I ran. Unlike Darla, her father wouldn’t be nearly as easy to subdue. He had a thousand years of fighting in armies throughout history under his belt. He also wasn’t as headstrong as her and had a habit of never underestimating his enemies. Lucky for me, Grimes wasn’t as agile or fast as his daughter. Immortal or not, he still suffered from the slow downs of aging.
I made it to the end of the hall and took a sharp left. Antique tables, vases and artwork adorned the walls. I retracted my blade, and pushed over anything I could get my hands on to slow him down. It didn’t work out as I’d hoped. Rather than duck and weave through the mayhem, he barreled through it as if there were no obstructions.
I groped in my pocket for a magazine and inserted the clip into my pistol. All the rounds were laced with silver. Stopping my run, I whirled around and raised my weapon to shoot. There was nothing behind me but smashed furniture and artwork. Grimes had disappeared. Cursing under my breath, I muttered, “This is not good.” I knew he could attack from any direction. Grimes’ castle probably had a network of secret passages running from every room and corridor. No matter which way I proceeded, I was likely to run into an ambush.
The best maneuver would be to stay where I was and try to find a way out of his little mousetrap. “Mosley, I need you,” I whispered, though I might as well have spoke with a bullhorn, knowing Grimes’ enhanced hearing in his wolf state could detect a pin drop a mile away.
“Is that absolutely necessary, sir? I mean, can’t you do this alone?” Mosley answered.
“Do we really need to have this conversation, you crazy computer? Of course it’s necessary, otherwise I wouldn’t be calling out to you for help,” I said frantically as I watched for an attack.
He let out a synthesized exhaustive breath. “Very well, sir.” Mosley appeared beside me clutching a chimney poker like a baseball bat. “How may I be of service?”
“Give me an overlay of the castle’s interior and then point out any heat signatures other than my own.”
Mosley’s form changed from Idris Elba to a three dimensional map. Red blips indicated Grimes and his daughter. Darla remained where I had left her, but her father was quickly circling around to get ahead of me if I continued down the hallway. I was about to turn in the opposite direction, heading back toward Darla when more red blips appeared on the first level of the castle.
I pointed to the new blips. “Are there any cameras on that level you can tap into for a visual?” I asked, knowing he’d already bypassed Grimes’ security systems. Before Gully and I entered the castle, I had Mosley program in a loop into all the cameras to mask our illegal entry.
“Wait one moment, sir.” The overlay faded for several seconds and then was replaced with a visual of the first floor.
My heart pounded like a drum in my chest. Things had just gone from bad to a hell of a lot worse. Entering the castle like they’d been invited to an-all-you-can-eat dinner were a dozen or so large werewolves. They headed up the front and rear stairways, and used all the elevators. That howl from Grimes earlier hadn’t been anguish over his injured daughter as I had thought. It had been a clever call for backup.
Want to read more? Pick up your copy of Magic and Mayhem here: http://www.amazon.com/Taurus-Moon-Magic-Mayhem-Hunter/dp/1493695177/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397962056&sr=1-1
I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Akina pulled back her fur lined hood to reply, “Yes, Auntie, all is as expected. But, you know that. Don’t you?”
SacrificesCil said nothing but smiled before she kicked her heels into her horse and rode off into the darkness. One by one, each of her sisters proceeded past Akina. First was Deborah, who had, as Akina would later describe, a wide-eyed, overly-excited look on her face. It was almost a bloodlust. Next came Ruth Ann, with a thousand miles away stare on her face. Bringing up the rear was Sarah, with her ever-present sunglasses firmly in place. She rode past Akina flashing her trademark irrepressible smile. Sarah’s opponents hated that smile and longed to wipe it off her face. The sisters followed Cil through the woods and towards the castle on the northern bay. They rode hard and fast through the woods as a winter’s full moon illuminated their path.
As the sisters broke through the tree line, a castle and the wall that surrounded it were plainly in sight. They rode toward the guard tower along the outer wall. Nordic soldiers lined the top of the wall in a heightened state of readiness. As the sisters approached, a gate in the wall swung open and they passed through on their shiny black horses. Aunt Cil led them up the central corridor toward the castle beyond. Residents in the courtyard gasped as the four hooded riders proceeded, escorted by several guards on horseback.
The ladies quickly dismounted in front of the castle and walked briskly towards the large wooden front doors. One of the guards barked out a command and once again a set of doors swung open before the women this time opening into a grand hall. The king and his court were sitting in their assigned places at the other end of the hall. It was clear that the Aunties were expected.
The members of the court were adorned in their finest coats and pelts. A feast for four was laid out on the great dining table, but the sisters paid it no mind. It was an offering of sorts, but Cil and her sisters had no time for such things.
They stood before the court and removed their hoods. This action froze the crowd more than the weather outside ever could. The sight of the four black women standing shoulder to shoulder left their mouths agape.
Deborah leaned over to Ruth and whispered, “They’re looking at our hair.”
Ruth rolled her eyes.
Cil motioned for Deborah to step forward. Deborah did so and began to speak to the king and his court in their native tongue. Deborah had the gift of speaking in the tongue of many languages. She could even speak languages that she’d never heard before. So, she translated between the parties.
“King Helwig, Queen Helwig, and members of the royal court as our herald undoubtedly communicated to you, we are here to rid your realm of the terror currently approaching your gates.”
King Helwig stood up, “We saw what your herald can do but what can you do that would warrant us putting our faith in you to resolve this matter?” He pointed at the Aunties as he made this last point.
Cil nodded to Sarah. She removed her shades which immediately revealed her glowing eyes. Then, she gazed upon a large urn of water and unleashed a red hot beam from those eyes that split the urn in half spilling the water it contained onto the stone floor.
Next, Ruth Ann stepped forward. She raised her hands, and in a single scooping motion projected a blue shell which scooped the remains of the broken and still smoldering urn into the air. The sphere hovered in the air spinning slightly before launching upwards bursting through the ceiling and into the night sky. The entire court could see the blue ball accelerate towards the great beyond and out of sight.
Then, when all eyes landed on Deborah, she simply vanished. From the spot on the floor where she had stood, a spring sprung up spouting water thirty feet into the air. The geyser began to rage and quickly filled the hall with water. Suddenly, water began to flow into the hall from everywhere. Water flowed from every opening including the windows, the cracks in the walls, and the new hole in the ceiling. Members of the court scurried up the king’s landing and to the throne to escape the rising waters. Just as her audience began to panic, the water disappeared and Deborah reappeared right where she had been when the phenomena began as though nothing happened.
Finally, Cil raised her staff but before she could demonstrate anything, the king motioned towards her vigorously shaking his head. There was little need for Deborah to translate.
Deborah glanced towards Cil and then said to the king, “About our fee…”
Hungry for more? You can purchase Sacrifices at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sacrifices-To-Wrestle-Darkness-Volume/dp/0966667964/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1397533249&sr=8-1
You can also visit Alan at his site: http://alandjones.com/sacrifices/
Hey y’all! For the next three weeks you’ll experience a taste of the best in black speculative fiction. I’ve joined with a few of my fellow writers to pay homage to two icons of the black speculative fiction: Octavia Butler and L.A. Banks. Our first stop on the tour is the blog of writer Colby R. Rice!
Sci-fi, Fantasy, & Thriller Novelist. Screenwriter. Film Producer. Globetrotter. Action Junkie. Rebel Ragdoll.
A shameless nerd and bookworm since the age of five, Colby R Rice is the author of Ghosts of Koa, the first novel in The Books of Ezekiel, a dystopian-urban fantasy decalogy. She was an Air Force BRAT born in Bitburg Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany and came to the States at the age of one.
Colby bounced around a lot, but finally settled in Los Angeles, where she could at last deal with her addictions to creative entrepreneurship, motorcycles, and traveling.
Now, armed with a mound of animal crackers and gallons of Coca-Cola, Colby takes on fiction writing in a fight to the death!
Current projects include: the second novel in The Books of Ezekiel series, the first novel in a middle grade SFF detective series, the first novel in an adult sci-fi thriller series, development of her first sci-fi thriller film, and the growth of her production house, Rebel Ragdoll. Stay tuned at her website and blog at http://www.colbyrrice.com/journey-blog/
For over one hundred years the Civic Order and the Alchemic Order have held a shaky truce, peppered by violence and mistrust. But when Koa, a Civilian-born insurgency, bombs an Alchemist summit, the truce is shattered. Now, Koa is rising. War is coming. And all sixteen-year-old Zeika Anon can do is keep moving as she watches the lords of alchemy slowly overtake her home.
But when clashes between Koa and the Alchemic Order put a final, deadly squeeze on the remaining Civilian territories, Zeika finds herself in the crosshairs of fate. She must walk the line between survival and rebellion against the Alchemists. On one side of the line awaits death. On the other, the betrayal of her civilization, her loyalties, and herself.
GHOSTS OF KOA is a fast-paced, post-apocalyptic survival tale, set in the streets of a dying city that has been crushed by alchemic law. Layered with the elements of gritty crime drama, dark urban fantasy, hard sci-fi, and horror, GHOSTS OF KOA is a wild ride to the end of a young girl’s sanity as she struggles with an impossible choice: to keep one step ahead of a war… or to be consumed by it.
CONTENT WARNING – Contains coarse language, intense violence, adult / suggestive themes, and aberrant behavior. Reader discretion is advised.
And here’s an excerpt!
Shadows flittered in the night, and Xakiah jerked his head up, his eyes automatically tracking the movements. The light was sparse, but even from the passenger seat of the truck, his eyes could outline the three distant figures in the dark. About thirty yards away, the shadows of the hunted jerked and twitched with a contained haste as they assembled themselves in their sedan. It was time. The driver would be first.
He lifted the rifle and anchored the butt in the soft of his shoulder. He lowered his eye into the scope, positioning the crosshairs over the figure settling into the driver’s seat. As he began to depress the trigger, he wondered how exactly the man’s head would splatter— when the tires of the sedan screeched against the asphalt, and it shot off into the dark.
“Shit,” Xakiah hissed, letting the scope drop. “Gun it, Joseph!”
His body felt slick with a cold sweat as their truck roared to life and lurched forward. Joseph jammed his foot down onto the gas pedal, pushing nearly one hundred as the truck’s tires kicked up the slag of the country road.
My mission. Mine.
His jaw ached beneath the grind of his teeth. Their hubris was surprising, that they fancied even for a moment he’d let them get away after what they’d done.
A sharp clack of a round being chambered ricocheted through the truck as Bly, a teammate sitting behind Joseph, prepared to shoot. The only man in the van who didn’t move was the one sitting directly behind Xakiah, silent beneath his hood and cloak. He looked out of his window, even, his chin on his knuckles, as though enjoying a slow Sunday drive.
The fleeing sedan far in front of them turned and reeled off the dark path, clunking across the vast stretch of green that separated the road from the main highway.
“Don’t lose them, Joseph.” Xakiah said, his voice low in the dark.
“Y-yes, sir!” Joseph said, a whimper choking his voice. He veered off the road, leaves and branches snapping in dry whispers as he leaned in harder on the gas, following the hunted across the soft, mushy green. Both cars’ headlights made yellow eyes in the growing dark, like one nighttime monster chasing another.
Xakiah grinned, joy swelling under his frustration. They were going catch them. He was going to win— and he felt himself nearly thrown into the driver’s seat as Joseph yanked the steering wheel, sending the truck into a hard lean.
The truck’s tires lifted a couple inches from the ground, and the far right side of the windshield exploded open, fragments of glass flying inward as hot metal grazed the SUV in a messy swarm. A rogue in the scattered cloud clipped Xakiah across the high crest of his cheek, kicking up a curl of flesh, a splash of blood. As his mind made sense of the pain, his joy eroded. Bullets. The thieving bastards had the audacity to shoot…
He focused his thoughts on the wound, and his flesh began to heal itself. “Vassal—?”
“I’m fine, Proficient,” the man behind him cooed.
Joseph jerked the truck to the side again as more bullets whined in the night. They were already just a couple minutes off the freeway, which budded with shining cars and vans.
“Christ, Joseph! My granny burns rubber better’n you!” Bly shouted from the backseat.
“What the hell are you waiting for, then?!” Joseph cried. “Shoot back!”
Bly leaned out his window and sprayed, aiming for the tires of the fleeing sedan.
The truck lurched from side to side as Joseph avoided the returning gunfire. “We’re losing ground!” He yelled.
Xakiah leaned forward, realizing that he was right. The rebel’s muscle car skirted the mud with ease, whereas their truck was in danger of toppling over if Joseph made another turn like that…
“That Page is the heart of the Order, Proficient.”
The simplicity of his Vassal’s statement threaded calm through the dark belly of the car, but the threat in his voice was unmistakable.
Xakiah locked his jaw, nodding as much from obedience as from the tightness in his throat that had stolen his voice. If they didn’t get the Page back, he’d be punished. But far worse than that, his Vassal would be disappointed. He wouldn’t fail. He couldn’t…
“Take them out,” his Vassal murmured. “I know you can.”
Xakiah swallowed and nodded at him, fear and pride swelling in his chest. He rolled down the window, and wind blasted into the truck. With a smooth slide, he navigated his body through, positioning himself on the ledge.
White bursts of fire lit the night as Bly’s shots knocked out one of the sedan’s tires, slowing it down. Thirty seconds until they hit the freeway.
“Steady, Joseph,” Xakiah said, lifting the rifle scope to his eye. He focused his thoughts on the driver’s head, searching for it in the long dark stretch in front of him. He had homed in on the driver right before they sped off, and he could do it again. He just had to feel it.
He stared down the scope, letting it drift across the swerving sedan, and something aligned, linking his slamming heart, the rifle, his eye, and the bobbing head of the driver in far front of them. He pulled the trigger—
Shp! —and the driver’s head snapped forward, slamming into the steering wheel. Metal squealed high, and rubber peeled from the rims of the sedan as it veered off its path. It crashed into the bordering thickets of the highway, the hood folding in on itself like an accordion, crushed.
Bly roared with triumph, slamming his fist into Joseph’s headrest. “Xakiah, man, you’re an animal!”
Xakiah frowned as he looked back at him.
“Uh, I mean—” Bly stuttered. “Nice job, Captain.”
“Badges,” Xakiah commanded.
Joseph maneuvered the truck a few feet away from the crash. They had barely rolled to a stop before Bly popped open his door, jumped out, and ran over to the wreck. Joseph hurried after him, his gun up.
Xakiah followed, holding up his rifle, aiming at the overturned car. The fools. The hunted could have any number of traps prepared, and the young rookies were ambling over, hooting in celebration. He, on the other hand, kept his distance, and his eyes remained ready for even the slightest movement. Joseph and Bly were good cops, for what flatfeet were worth, but neither of them understood the true magnitude of this mission.
Behind him, Vassal Moss seemed to glide out of the truck, never once making a noise in the night. The leaves didn’t even crunch beneath his feet as he followed them to the crash.
Bly and Joseph had already made their ways over to the steaming wreckage and were fumbling with something in the front seat. There was scuffling, and a scared whine wound its way out of the twisted metal as the two agents dragged something out of the front passenger seat. One of the hunted was still alive.
Bly threw the rebel to the ground and spat on its shadow. “Lay down, scum!” he snarled.
Xakiah tightened his grip on his rifle. Bly, like a jackal, was stealing his kill.
“Calm, Proficient,” Vassal murmured from behind him.
Xakiah nodded tightly at the warning. His Vassal knew him well, too well, but he was right. Closing out this mission was more important than a few seconds of glory. Resigned, Xakiah slung his rifle on his shoulder as he approached the two agents.
“Only one survivor, Captain,” Joseph announced. “The driver’s head is dog meat, and the one in the back died in the crash.”
Joseph tossed him something, and Xakiah caught it, already knowing what it was. A porcelain mask, just the bottom-half of it, hard and smooth. A tell-tale trademark of the Knights of Almaut— Koa— terrorist dogs who fancied themselves men.
Xakiah cradled the mask in his hand, feeling the ridges of the molded nose, cheeks, and mouth, all of them together barely the size of his own palm. It was the captive’s. He looked up at the squirming rebel, finally noticing the long red hair that spilled out onto the grass—
He smiled, somehow feeling impressed amidst his annoyance. Her face was speckled with a constellation of freckles, acne even. She couldn’t have been any older than 16.
“Show her to me.” The soft command had come from the shadowed man at Xakiah’s heels, the Vassal.
Joseph and Bly hoisted the rebel to her knees and lowered their heads in the Vassal’s direction. Xakiah cast down his eyes and stepped to the side, allowing his Vassal to pass before he lifted his gaze again.
The Vassal stood before the captive, staring at her with soft eyes. Finally he spoke: “How young. I might have known Koa would send pups to do a dog’s work. What should I do with you, I wonder? What purpose will you serve?”
“No purpose, sir,” Bly said. “I say kill the Koan scum.”
“No. We’ll do no such thing. We are to honor the Articles39,” the Vassal replied. He turned to Xakiah. “The car.”
Xakiah nodded and went to work. He tossed the sedan, cast the corpses aside, ripped up carpet, gutted the trunk, seats, and glove compartment, or what was left of it. Nothing. There weren’t even any signs of it. No traces of energy, not even a ripple in the air where it might have passed through. Nothing betrayed its location.
He frowned, turning to his superior. “Vassal. This faction must have been a decoy so that the real transport could get away.” Bitterness coated his tongue, almost forcing the words back. “They’ve hidden it somewhere else.”
His Vassal’s cold gaze flickered, and Xakiah tensed, expecting words of admonishment or worse, disappointment… but to his surprise, the Vassal said nothing. Instead, he turned to the rebel.
“Lift her up,” he ordered.
Joseph and Bly hoisted the woman to her feet so that her gaze was level with his.
“You Azure bastards can go to Hell,” she said, the pubescent snarl clear. “You can’t kill me. Even your own code won’t allow it.”
“Oh no, we aren’t going to kill you at all,” Vassal agreed. “That’s barbaric.”
The man balled up his hand, and— schhhleck— the girl’s face fell from her cheekbones and cartilage, slapping wetly against the grass. She howled, a long wailing sound that whistled from the milky shine of her jaw. As she screamed, the large white balls in her eye sockets rolled, like slippery hardboiled eggs, and her teeth, exposed to the gums, clacked together with frenetic snaps.
“Xakiah, if you please,” the Vassal said.
Bly and Joseph’s faces paled with terror, but without so much as a flicker of disgust, Xakiah scooped the dripping wrinkles of skin from the ground, gripping it in a fist.
Xakiah held the sagging flesh in front of the woman’s eyes. The cheeks and lips of it drooped, as though lamenting the girl’s disfigurement.
“Three cc’s of morphine, please, Joseph.”
Trembling, Joseph pulled the kit from his side pack and began to prepare the anesthetic. Bly held her, still turning his eyes away as Joseph slid the needle into the base of her neck and emptied its contents. Then the Vassal stepped forward, bringing his nose close to her face.
“I can imagine that you are in incredible pain,” he said. “The morphine is to numb that for you so we can talk.”
“Ooou astards!” She screamed, but without lips, the curses just sounded like angry jibberish. She began to sob.
“Not to worry, my dear. You are going to get your face back. How much of it is returned, however, is up to you. Now. I am going to ask you some questions. For every answer I think is a lie, my Proficient is going to slice away an inch of your face and burn it.” The Vassal motioned to Xakiah, who still held the sagging flesh in the moonlight.
“Lllease… llease don’t…” Her sobs crescendoed, forming echos in the night, and her body heaved with each cry.
“And we’ll begin,” And with almost a lover’s touch, he took her chin in his thumb and forefinger. “Now. You tell me. Where is the Final Page?”
You like? Check the book out at Amazon and Barnes and Noble!
I’ve been tag to participate in a year long blog hop by Alan Jones (http://alandjones.com/), fellow speculative fiction writing buddy and State of Black Science Fiction Collective participant. The question is, ‘What’s my writing process?’ Here are the answers.
What am I working on? I’m always juggling multiple projects. I’m currently revising the third volume of Changa’s Safari, my sword and soul/historical fiction adventure. As far as writing is concerned, I’m working on From Here to Timbuktu, my first steamfunk novel and the first novel in a trilogy adventure. Timbuktu is the expansion of a short story series I originated on Wagadu. The response was so positive and I liked the characters so much I decided to expand the story to a novel and add two more adventures. It’s about Zeke Culpepper, a reluctant bounty hunter andFamara Keita, a Soninke horro (warrior) on a mission to find an important book. The two cross paths then team up for a world hopping adventure.
How does my work differ from others in my genre? My books differ from other speculative fiction books because I write only black main characters. It’ s a commitment I made for a couple of reasons. The first and main reason? Because I am. The second reason is because I saw a dearth in speculative fiction books by and about black people. I decided to see if I could make a difference. So far it’s gone very well.
How does my writing process work? Most of my ideas spring from historical research. I’m a real history buff and I’m constantly inspired by historical themes. Recently I’ve also been inspired by artwork. Some paintings contain a story. The story I see may not match the artist, but if it’s compelling enough I’ll sit down and write the idea in a journal to explore later. I’m not an outline kind of person. I usually carry the story around in my head until I figure out how it’s going to end. I can’t write any story until I know how it’s going to end. To me, the story is the most important ingredient. I develop my characters to fit the story; in other words the characters must have the background and personality to convey the story I wish to tell. Although I know how my stories will begin and how they will end, the path from point A to point B is always a surprising process.
Once I’m done with the first draft I put it away and let it ’simmer’ for at least two weeks. I’ve discovered if I begin the revision process too soon I won’t like anything I’ve written. I’ll probably go through at least three revisions before I’m satisfied with the final product.
I write every day, usually in the morning. I write at least a page a day during the week; during the weekend I write until I can’t stand it anymore. I’m usually working on at least one novel and two short stories. It keeps me from getting bored with a particular project and makes writer’s block non-existent.
And there you have it. I hope this is insightful and helpful. Next up? Carole McDonnell and Ronald Jones.
Today I reached a significant milestone. Today my sales for 2013 surpassed 1000. The official total as of today is 1003, which I hope will increase by the end of the day. The more time passes the more I realized how many books that is. In the scheme of things it’s not a lot; a book has to sell 50,000 copies to make the NYT Bestsellers List, and I’m sure most major publishers lose that much inventory a month. Then there are those self publishing wunderkind that sell thousands of books a month before floating away to mainstream publishing heaven with a fat contract. But when I extracted myself from all the other stuff I realized 1000 books is a lot of books. A whole lot of books.
So why is 1000 books significant? Well, a couple of years ago I was lamenting my low sales numbers. Truth be told, I thought selling books was going to be a lot easier. All I had to do was write a halfway decent book, slap a cool cover on it and folks would snatch my books up like free money. Boy was I wrong. Selling books is work, just like everything else that involves convincing folks to spend their money on something that they really don’t need. When you subtract the number of folks that read on a regular basis from those who don’t, then subtract from that the folks who read speculative fiction, then subtract from that the folks that might be interested in reading black speculative fiction written by a handsome but aging part time writer, the pool gets a little empty. My concerns happen to reach a veteran small publishing friend of mine who said, ‘if a small publisher sell 1000 books in one year that’s pretty good.’
So that became my goal. If I could sell 1000 books in one year I would know things were heading in the right direction. This was about the same time I decided to sell e-books. An online friend, Tina Hurd, kept insisting that I do so. I finally heeded her words and the flowers began blooming. Not only did my sales increase across the board, they’ve doubled over the past three years. So here I am at a milestone with two months left in 2013. If my sales pattern for the year holds up (100 book a month) and I release my last two books for the year (Amber and the Hidden City and Griots: Sisters of the Spear) I should end up with about 1200 books sold this year, which would be twice of my sales last year. Woo hoo!
Now I’m not about to sit here and take all the credit. This had little to with me and everything do to with the people who took a chance on me and purchased my books. To my great relief they liked them and apparently told other folks about them. I do a fair amount of marketing but I don’t do enough to take credit for this. It’s like they say; most people buy books recommended by friends. So there must be a lot of recommending going on for which I’m thankful and grateful.
So if you’re one of those people that took a chance, thank you very much. I hope you continue to enjoy my books and I hope you continue to spread the word. I’ll keep writing if you promise to keep reading. My celebration of this milestone is heartfelt but brief. The standard has been set. Next year’s goal is 2400. Time to get back to work. Stay tuned…
I’m so excited! This year signifies the first celebration of Black Speculative Fiction month. For the entire 31 days, people around the country and around the world will highlight the contributions of black speculative fiction writers to our respective genre. The events will be limited in scope (this is the first year, after all) but each one will carry the spirit and energy of an event that is long overdue.
Now wait a minute, you say. Who authorized this? Why do we need a Black Speculative Fiction Month? And most of all, why am I just hearing about this now? Well, let me answer your questions one at a time.
Number one, who authorized this? This is the easiest one to answer; we did. We as in the State of Black Science Fiction and the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History. As we worked to plan the fourth Alien Encounters program (http://www.alienencountersatl.com/) we discussed similar events occurring in other parts of the country during the same month. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an entire month focusing on black speculative fiction? we thought. And now we do. It’s the power of action instead of reaction. We didn’t seek approval or permission; we just did it. And now it exists.
Question number two; why do we need a Black Speculative Fiction Month? Well, I have two answers for this one, both based on my personal experience over the past five years of self publishing. I am well aware and very happy for black writers that have made inroads into mainstream speculative fiction. Tananarive Due, L.A. Banks, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin and David Anthony Durham to name a few have done us proud. I am equally proud of my independent published friends that have taken speculative in new and exciting directions. But the reality is that beyond our special circle black speculative fictions writers are still relatively unknown. At every con I attend I proudly rattle off the names of all the speculative fiction writers of color I know and receive blank stares from the people I’m talking to. For most people I meet at cons or otherwise I’m the first black person they’ve ever met that writes speculative fiction. If they’re really astute they know of Octavia Butler. And that’s it. So it is our earnest hope that Black Speculative Fiction Month will act as a beacon to these writers and creators that deserved to be read and recognized for what they do.
The other reason is that I feel there is huge potential audience of black speculative fiction readers among black readers. I’ve met quite a few of them over the years, folks who have never given speculative fiction a second thought because they have never come across a book that either represents them or represents them respectfully. Now before some of you begin to go on about how you took the initiative to find those books and writers and that everyone should do the same I respectfully submit that you are the exception. Most people partake in what’s place before them. That’s why we have advertising. So we see Black Speculative Fiction Month as a way to bring what we do to those who aren’t aware.
Well, now you know. We decided to do this a few months ago and haven’t had time to advertise it like we wanted. So right now we’re asking everyone to pick up the torch, run as fast and as far at they can yelling ‘Happy Black Speculative Fiction Month!” And when someone asks you what are you’re yelling about, tell them then send them to this site: http://www.blackspeculativefictionmonth.com/. They’ll be glad you did. It’s time we blew our own horn. Let’s get this party started!
I have to be honest. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m a speculative fiction writer I probably would never had attended DragonCon. I’ve lived in Atlanta for 30 years, so I was here when the Southeast’s largest genre convention began, but I had no interest in attending. But the day I decided to become a speculative fiction writer I put DragonCon on my to do list. Someday, I’d have a table at DragonCon. It wasn’t a dream, just something I had to do from a professional standpoint.
Well, here we are five years later and I still haven’t had a table. But I did do a panel last year, The State of Black Science Fiction panel to be exact. I shared a table with my fellow writers, L.M. Davis (no relation), Alan Jones, Wendy Raven McNair and Alicial McCalla. What began as a doubtful turnout transformed into a packed room of enthusiastic black speculative fiction fans. It was a great experience, one that I hoped we’d have a chance to do again.
And we do. This year we’ll be at it again, this time discussing The Current State of Black Science Fiction. In addition to this panel I’m doing a reading, an autograph session and another panel, Folklore in Fantasy. And to top it all off, I’m going as an attending professional! (That means I don’t have to pay to get in!). Great progress after a year.
So if you decide to come to DragonCon 2013 give me a shout out. I should be lurking about annoying folks with handouts and such between events. I might even take a little time to do some fan stuff. I’ll be looking for you. I hope you’re looking for me.
Oh yeah, if you’re interested in times and places, check out the events section at the lab, http://wagadu.ning.com/. Peace!
Every now and then (well actually a lot more than that) I occupy my mind with thoughts on how to sell my books. Over the years I’ve seen a steady growth in sales, but anyone in business will tell you that a business must grow or die, and growth has to be planned. Recently after a very successful convention I began thinking about how to duplicate my success. I always do well at conventions, never selling less than 20 books. I often think about attending conventions in other cities, but the cost of travel, hotels and other costs would quickly take any profit I would realize. Conventions also provide another opportunity. They put you right in the middle of your target audience, in some cases thousands of people looking for exactly what you’re selling. If that doesn’t increase your chances to make money nothing will.
And that’s how I came up with the convention distribution concept. What if I offered my books to other writers to sell from their tables in other cities? My personal experience tells me my books would sell well. If I could offer the books at a low enough price, the writer could purchase the books from me then sell them at a profit. For the writer its an opportunity to benefit from the popularity of another author’s books and increase his/her revenue stream. For me its an opportunity to sell my books in a market where travelling personally would be profit prohibitive. If done correctly, I could develop a national distribution network targeted specifically at my desired market. Eureka!
So the next step was to flesh out the details of this concept. The process would have to be straightforward and simple. It would have to be such that both parties would share minimal risk. Most of all it would have to be profitable. So this is what I came up with:
1). Offer the books at a low mark up, a certain percentage off list price similar to a brick and mortar bookstore deal.
2). Offer low minimums, made possible through print on demand (POD).
3). Books would be purchased upfront, no returns. This would be favorable to the buyer because of low minimums and favorable to the seller who wouldn’t have to be concerned about returns.
4). The seller could also provide promotional material to help promote books, lessening the effect of the writer not being present to hawk his/her books.
When I first developed this concept I was mainly concerned about selling my books to others. Then I realized that this was a deal I would be interested in, especially if it gave me the opportunity to sell books by writers I admired. I could supplement my novel sales with comic books related to Sword and Soul and Steamfunk. This would draw more attention to my table and increase my opportunity to make a sale.
Now I’m sure that at this point I don’t have all the kinks worked out. For this to be worthwhile you have to be a person that is a confident salesperson and a person that does a number of cons a year. You also have to have the money to invest in buying books, but another alternative would be to make a swap with another writer. But all in all I think this would be a great way to expand exposure of a writer’s books and answer the distribution issue we independent writers struggle with. But what makes this program golden is that your books are being sold directly to your target audience. That in itself makes it worth a shot.
So I’m putting my money where my mouth is. Don’t be surprised if you receive an e-mail from me asking to purchase a few copies of your novel or comic books. Over the next year I plan on proving to myself if Convention distribution is a sound concept. I hope I prove it worthwhile to you as well.
For me, the path that led to the Rite of Passage movie project began about the same time I decided to self publish. When I thought about what type of books I wanted to write, alternate history was near the top of the list. It irked me that every imagined scenario by current writers had Africans as slaves, with the notable exception of Steve Barnes Lion’s Blood and Zulu Heart (yay Steve!). I also wondered why there were no books based on African American heroes, or books that made a link between Africa and America fantastic fiction. Let me rephrase that to book that I knew of, because if the last five years have taught me anything, it’s that whatever I’m thinking of someone has either done it or is in the process of doing it.
Now while I jumped into Sword and Soul with both feet, I hesitated with historical fiction. I had some concerns about how my stories would be interpreted so I set it on the back burner. But the ideas kept pestering me as ideas do until I decided to write a short story to test the waters.
And that’s how the story Rite of Passage came to be. The original version had a male main character, but the story was essentially the same. The ball for the film began rolling when Balogun Ojedate read the story. Up to that point Balogun and I had only discussed Sword and Soul, but when he read Rite of Passage I learned Balogun’s true muse. He is an admirer or Harriet Tubman and was working on the Chronicles of Harriet Tubman. He made the brilliant suggestion to make the main character a woman and he expanded on the premise to include not only Dorothy but other gifted folks with different mentors, all with the same purpose; to protect those from the Motherland.
Balogun then revealed another aspect of his talented persona, his love of film and his directorial and fight choreography skills. He suggested, no insisted we develop Rite of Passage into a film project. I was skeptical; I always wanted to see my works developed into film but I saw this as something happening well down the road. But I came around. We decided to do a short film; Rite of Passage: Initiation as a way to raise money for the film. Balogun gathered his talented friends and with the addition of my son on one of the cameras and my daughter snapping stills we made our short film. Our first attempt at raising funds didn’t go well, but we continued to press on. We were determined to make Rite of Passage a movie.
Then fortune smiled on us. Toward the end of last year we contacted Lisa Yasek, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Institute of Technology (whew!) about doing a State of Black Science Fiction presentation for February 2013. We did a State of Black Science Fiction presentation at Georgia Tech in February 2012 that was well received, so Lisa was more that happy to oblige. We decided we would do a Black Science Fiction Film Festival and include Rite of Passage with other excellent black speculative fiction shorts. The event was a success; all the creators of the film appeared resulting in a lively discussion with the over 100 attendees. Flush from that success, Balogun asked Lisa if she knew any students interested in working with us on the film. She did us one better; she told us that Georgia Tech would help us create this film.
I think you can see why I feel Rite of Passage is more than just a movie. It’s a dream destined to come true. It’s an opportunity to create something unique to our history and imagination. It’s a chance for us to make something the way we feel it should be done. This is not a multi-million dollar project. We have the support of Georgia Tech, but we still need to raise funds for costumes, on site shoots and other costs. There are some that would rather wait until Hollywood finally gets around to making a movie like this, that way it will be done ‘right.’ To that I say, Hollywood had to start somewhere. And I’m damn tired of waiting.
So I hope you join us on this journey. With your help this will be the first of a series of Rite of Passages films. There are many more stories to tell, but they depend on the completion and execution of the first. I’m ready to do this. I hope you are too.
Here’s the link to the Rite of Passage website: http://www.riteofpassagethemovie.com/. You’ll find a link to our Indiegogo fundraiser there as well.
Last year (I think) I blogged about Sword and Soul graphic novels. At the time I knew of one that was available and two potential projects. Well, this year I’m happy announce that serious progress has been made! At the writing of this blog there are three Sword and Soul graphic novel projects available to you and at least one that will hopefully be available soon. So let’s talk about it!
The first graphic novel is the complete version of The Blood Seekers by yours truly and Kristopher Mosby. The Blood Seekers is the result of a spontaneous collaboration between Kris and I born from a mutual love and respect of each other’s talents. Kris began sending me illustrations based on my stories and I in turned sent him stories based on his illustrations. In 2011 Kris completed the first half of The Blood Seekers, debuting it at Onyx Con 3. This year Kris completed the second part of the story then combined both into one graphic novel. The result is a visual treat. The Blood Seekers tells the story of Shange, a fallen spirit, and Mijoga, her early lover now a lion companion. Part one of The Blood Seekers is still available on Indy Planet (http://indyplanet.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=5956)
Part Two will be available soon not only on Indy Planet but at MVmedia as well.
The next book, or series of books, on the list in The Chronicles of Piye by Chris Miller and Richard Gaskin. This book was actually on my radar since my first post. Chris and I are internet friends and he informed me then that he was working on this project. I glad to say that he completed it with flying colors. The Chronicles of Piye is a four book set that takes place in ancient Kerma/Nubia. Richard and Chris tell an exciting story with the colors and action to match. I could easily see this animated, probably because Chris is also an animator and it shows in his still art. All four issues of the Chronicles of Piye are available at Chris’s site,http://www.chroniclesofpiye.com/, as well as Amazon and other online book stores.
The third and most recent of the Sword and Soul graphic novels is Dusu by Christopher Garner and Sebastian A. Jones. Dusu is a human abandoned at birth then adopted by a group of elves, creatures of the woodlands like you’ve never seen them. Dusu’s discovery coincides with destiny, a destiny that Christopher and Sebastian plan to reveal in future issues. The story is a good one, but what makes Dusu stand out in my eyes is the fantastic artwork. Every page is like an oil painting. Like I said in my Amazon review, it’s a if Frazetta decided to make a graphic novel. I’m no ’stranger’ to Stranger Comics, but this title got me paying closer attention to their work. And to top it off, the first issue is free! So go by Stranger Comics (http://www.strangercomics.com/dusu-1/) and get this one. It’s worth the effort. Dusu is also available on iTunes and Amazon.
So these are my recommendations. There’s one more graphic novel that’s in the works. It’s not available as a book, but you can check out the story at Wagadu. Entitled Kamau: Quest for the Son, Keville Bowen has created a Carribean/Maori fantasy adventure that will have you waiting for the next page )http://wagadu.ning.com/photo/album/show?id=5480338%3AAlbum%3A41393&xg_source=activity). I don’t know about you, but to me the future of Sword and Soul graphic novels is looking very bright. Somebody hand me my shades.