99 Hours in Joanland

23 Jul

I barely ever journal. Usually I prefer to take my life experiences and camouflage them into fiction so the emotions are true, if not the details of the events. This time though, I felt compelled to write it all down before the experience faded. I don’t want to forget. The pain can fade, gladly, and the scars too, but not the other truths. You need to understand one thing: when a writer stops writing, it is serious. I had used writing to purge my soul; it ended up in my fiction. But for many months that internal drive fell silent, and I didn’t have the energy to miss it. I’m glad that it woke up again, even if it’s not what I’m accustomed to. So this is what I want to write about, my life-altering event.

Letting Go

Nobody likes hospitals. Especially the one in which your mom died while you held her hand. Sad memories surround this building. This is where my surgery would take place. Everybody there calls me Joan. I’ve never used my first name. Not even my mother ever used it. Joan became my alter-ego, a depersonalizing label that cloaked my real self from that invasive world. After a while, I just embraced the alternative name. Being called by the wrong name used to piss me off, but somewhere along the way I stopped caring.

I’ve had surgery before, but nothing on this scale, never on an organ. My kidney wasn’t working properly, like a kitchen sink with a clogged drainpipe with possibly damaging repercussions. I had an UPJO, an ureteropelvic junction obstruction. Sometimes my kidney wouldn’t drain, which caused painful swelling. Like puke your guts out, curl up in a ball and involuntarily cry kind of pain. Most of the time I would ride it out, down some painkillers, but sometimes the pain would go on for hours, requiring another trip to the ER. An ultrasound would confirm whether that kidney had ruptured. UPJOs can be corrected by robotic surgery. The machine is named DaVinci, an apt label for something so inventive. My surgeon is top-notch, a pioneer in the robotic laparoscopic field. He’s the co-director of the multi-organ transplant program. A Google search brings up plenty of positive information. And he’s been on the news. If anybody can fix me, he can.

It’s no wonder that after the long, long wait for this very specialized surgery, I couldn’t sleep that night. The clock finally showed 4AM. Good enough. My husband couldn’t sleep, either, getting up when I stirred. We quietly got ready to go, not wanting to wake our kids. I peeked into their rooms. My son was out cold, sprawled across his now too-small mattress, the blanket thrown off like usual. My daughter was tucked under her blanket, her exposed face tempting me to plant a kiss, so I did. This could be the last time I saw either of them. One of the possible unfortunate effects of surgery can be death.

The roads were clear that early in the morning, the sky gradually lighting as we drove across the city. We arrived at the hospital, well before the assigned time, but we were not alone. Another patient was already there, lugging the crutches he would need later. After a quick visit to pre-admit, we were directed upstairs. A long wait in a soon-crowded bland waiting room was followed by another long wait for just patients in another room, followed by a trip to the intermediate destination: a stretcher in a curtained cubicle. I removed everything that made me unique, changing from an individual to a patient when I donned that hospital gown. IVs were inserted, one in each hand. An injection of blood thinner went into my thigh. The anesthesiologist introduced herself. Somebody told me (her?) that I would be given medication so a pre-existing problem wouldn’t flare up, another possible effect of the stress of surgery. I’m not sure who said this – I had met lots of medical staff that morning and everything was a blur, lost in tension and anticipation and the literal blur of not having my eyeglasses anymore.

I said goodbye to my husband – my rock – wondering if I would ever get to see him again. He’d taken me to ER many times, seen me through visits to the oncologist when cancer was a consideration, and managed to remain positive through the months-long wait for surgery. I devoured the details of him, just like I’d stared at my kids earlier that morning.

The surgery room wasn’t at all what I expected. I’d had surgery three times before, yet this was completely different. The room was huge, with lots of people working inside. They all said hello, a friendly greeting to somebody who would soon be carved up by this team. I expected to see my surgeon, have him say something, but he wasn’t there. They helped me onto this weird bed, lie on my right side, raise my arms, wiggle so my head was on this odd platform that felt like a bean-bag.

And that was it. Blank. No nothing. No winking out. No sensation of fading, like I’d experienced with the other surgeries. Just one second I was on the operating table, and the next second I was gone.

Trust is a conditional gift. You break it, and it’s gone. I had to trust that this team would fix me, wake me, see me through. Letting go of control of your life is a hard, hard thing to do.

Hoarfrost: Episode 6

20 Jan


This is Episode Six of the Garden of Hell series of science-fiction short stories, following after Tiger Lilies, Two Moons, Crow’s Flight, Impasse, and Winner Takes All.

Copyright J. Dianne Waye January 2015

Contains mature subject matter and violence.

“Perez. Wake up. We’re here.” Crow shook me. I opened my eyes to see his grinning face, his bald head glistening.

I blinked, rubbing my eyes, swallowing in my parched throat. My skin was itchy from the dry cabin air and weeks of short water rations. Most of that time we’d drifted in space, using gravity to tug the ship forward. Every time we used the engines we had to deal with the constant threat of fighter ships finding our contrail signature, blasting us to smithereens. And every time Crow fell asleep, I tried to figure out how to override his destination co-ordinates. All of those useless adrenaline spikes left me tired and wired, out of focus.

“We made it. We’ll both be dead of old age before Mothership tracks us here.”

I wiped the cockpit window, disturbing a patch of hoarfrost obscuring the view. Tiny crystals surrendered to the heat of my touch, drifting into the weightlessness of the cabin. Outside was a beautiful sight, swirling white clouds over blue seas, brown and green swatches of colour making continents, making life.

“I get it,” he said. “You’re still mad at me. But I’m not the one that infected you, and I’m not the one that killed Andy. He was my son. Don’t ever forget that.”

How could I forget? Andrew’s death burned deep inside, a pain that didn’t go away, didn’t lessen with time.

Crow banked the craft. I buckled the seatbelt harness for a rough atmosphere entry that shook the ship. We flew over forest canopies, sweeping planes, deep ravines filled with rushing water. Birds took flight, big ones with white wings and pink underbellies. Animals grazed flatlands, disturbed into stampeding at our approach. Plenty of places to hide on this planet, with no crazy vengeful plants trying to murder us. And from its deserted look, it had been rejected for colonization.

Or had it?

Off in the distance, beyond a crescent ridge, symmetrical shapes emerged, dirt-coloured but distinctly unnatural. We drew closer. Barbed-wire fences surrounded a compound, multi-storied levels with windows lined up in a row—a view to nowhere.

“850 is the code for a colonized planet,” I said, anger making the words snap. “We can’t land here.” And we couldn’t go home. We would infect our world, wipe out millions of lives before they found a cure.

“Ah, she speaks at last.” Crow circled the ship and landed, maintaining radio silence, sending a bustling beehive of heavily-armed men marching onto the flat compound, guns and cannons raised in salute to our arrival.

“What is this place?” I hissed.

“Halcyon Colony. The prison planet. Now you have a reason to be mad.” He popped open the door, raising his arms over his head, clasping them together in the signal for surrender.

“Get out,” he said to me, nodding. “Slowly. Slowly, Perez.”

“Screw you, Crow.” I followed him outside. There was no other choice.

A bullhorn shouted instructions. “Citizen Crow—on the ground. And you, Private 4930, drop.”

“Now is that any way to welcome home the prodigal son?” Crow shouted back. “Commander Edding, I brought you a present. Our secret weapon.” He smiled that jack-o-lantern grin of his, and lay down in the dirt.

I copied him and lay prostrate on the ground, stirring up dust that tasted vile in my dry mouth, as swarms of armed men surrounded us.

In the end Crow did betray me, but not at all how I anticipated. He was really good at keeping secrets, just like his son.


My cage had a hastily-erected transparent overlay to keep my toxic spittle from melting the guards patrolling outside. Crow was in the cell next to mine, lying on the cot, no plastic shield surrounding his cage. Only bars separated our cells, which was good for him because I wanted to kill him for bringing us here.

A sink stood beside the toilet, both naked and exposed, the ledge holding a toothbrush, toothpaste, a jar of cream. The mirror was polished metal glued firmly to the wall, shatter-proof or I would have already broken it to use the shards as weapons. But someone had already thought of that.

The wavering reflection mocked me. My spore scars had healed, sunburned a different shade than the healthy skin. A fading bruise on my jaw outlined where Faust had hammered me senseless.

But the C carved into my cheek marked me as Crow’s. And hidden above the sleeve of my uniform, a vaccination pock-mark matched the one on his bicep.

Damn him. Damn all of this.

I picked up the jar of regeneration cream intended to repair my face, and threw it at the door. It bounced off the plastic shield and shattered, white goo splattering the clear walls.

Two guards stomped into the outer room, their rigid postures different from the slack spines of the men guarding my cell. Their faces were covered with helmets to keep them safe from my toxins, every inch of skin protected. I couldn’t even see their eyes through their mirrored visors, just my own fear glaring back at me.

They unlocked the cage, needing to use their tasers for me to surrender.

“Where are you taking her?” Crow’s hands fisted through the bars separating our cells. “I asked you a question!”

But he never got an answer. He didn’t have any authority here, now that they had me.


The night stick smashed into my face again. My teeth cut my cheek. Blood filled my mouth, enough fluid to spit out at my attacker. Spitting was all I could do to fight back, hands pinned behind my back, feet anchored to the chair. But that’s what they wanted me to do, what the sink and toothbrush and toothpaste was for. So instead I swallowed, because they wanted me to spit.

The interrogator yanked my head back by the hair, roots screaming in pain. If he wanted me dead, he would have killed me by now. The stick smashed into my ribs this time.

“I am Private Perez 4930. I am a hostage. I cannot be broken—”

He jerked my hair, levelling my forehead, exposing my throat. I thought he was going to break my neck, slash my throat. Instead he let me go, my head dropping from exhaustion.

Through unshed tears and blurred vision, I saw the door glide open. The interrogator left me alone in the empty room. No guards, no beatings, nothing but throbbing pain mimicking my heartbeat. There wasn’t even a ticking clock to tell me how much time passed.

Sleep. Precious sleep.

Something smashed my ribs, jolting me back to consciousness. The world narrowed again, so small my wavering universe, what I could witness through swollen eyelids.

Pain. Focus on the pain.

My interrogator wasn’t wearing a bio-hazard suit now, tempting me to attack, no doubt figuring his vaccination would protect him like it had protected Crow. It was a huge gamble; he must want to win really badly. Almost as much as me.

He drew a hand over his chin, stubble grating against his fingertips. I guess he’d been at this a while, for him to need to shave. His once-neat hair was messy, his ironed uniform wrinkled, sweat stains darkening his armpits. The focus in his eyes had been replaced by a crazy sparkle, unhinging in its obscenity.

Three pounds shook the door. It glided open, hinges silent.

Crow entered the interrogation room, handcuffs rattling behind his back. “Commander Edding, nice to see you again. I take it Plan B didn’t work.”

“Which is why you’re here,” Edding said.

“She’s too smart for you. You can’t break her by beating her. You need to hit her weak spot.”

“Which is?”

“Oh, you need my help now?”

“You came back for a reason. What’s the price?”

“My wife. My shuttlecraft fuelled and stocked.”

“And Perez?”

“Do you think I care about Perez? You get what you want, Marcia comes with me. I want your word that you won’t order our deaths, that you’ll tell Mothership we died.”

“Mothership will demand corpses.”

“Tell her you burned us. Decontamination protocol.”

“I would never order that,” Edding said.

“Then tell her it was a mistake made by one of your minions. She’ll believe that. I brought you your prize, now give me mine.”

The commander let loose a great exhale, pondering Crow’s demands. “All right. But you promised me two weapons. I only see one.”

“Yeah, well, sorry my son’s death changed your plan.”

My breath quickened at the mention of Andrew. Crow turned around, watching me watch him.

“Oh, that bothers you when I mention Andy.” He drew closer, riveting me with his gaze. So much like Andrew’s, so different the soul. “Uncuff me, Commander. Turn off the camera on your way out.”

Crow waited to be uncuffed, for the door to seal shut behind Edding, for the camera behind him to click off, before he spoke. “I get what you’re trying to accomplish here—the right thing. What you’re trained to do. What Andy wanted you to do. But it’s not going to work. The rules have changed.”

“I’m not interested in your version of how the world works,” I said, the words croaking.

“You should be, because my version affects your future. The way Edding sees it, you don’t need your knees. He can simply blast them away.” He drove his thumb into my ribs where a fresh bruise bloomed, pain spotting my vision. “You think that hurts? Imagine what losing your knees will feel like. First one, then the other.”

He leaned in, resting his hands on mine, his breath pulsing against my face. “I’ve seen him do that to other prisoners. How will you survive the agony?” he whispered.

The pulsing stopped when he pulled away. “Edding will take what he wants, one way or the other. If he can’t break you, then he’ll dissect you, cut out those precious saliva glands. If that doesn’t give him his answer, he’ll order fresh recruits down to that planet, to wait for the tiger lilies to bloom again. Your defiance will be for nothing, forgotten.”

He walked around my chair. “Misplaced loyalty is clouding your view. Mothership abandoned you to die on that planet. Andy abandoned you when he chose to die to save you. Why die here? Andy’s sacrifice would be in vain. You don’t owe anyone anything. You only have loyalty to yourself now, to your own life.”

My job is to keep you alive, Andrew had said to me. Dying would be like betraying him.

Crow circled the chair, letting his message sink in. “Your own life. That’s all you have. Your struggle will be forgotten, a waste. There won’t be anyone left to remember what you fought for.”

I remembered Crow laughing, back on that planet of hostile plants, saying Miller’s been feeding you that crap. I’ll break you Perez. You’ll see. His words penetrated my resolve, breaking me like nothing else could.

He’d been right all along; I just couldn’t see it.

Gasping and shaking, I lowered my head, the fight draining from my body.

He leaned in close again, his warm breath brushing the scar on my cheek. “Escape,” he whispered, so softly I wasn’t even sure he spoke. “You can’t escape without your knees. You need your knees to run.”

Escape. Damn Crow for tempting me with the only thing I wanted.

He continued speaking in a louder voice as if someone was listening, shoving an empty bowl under my chin. “So spit in the bowl, give Edding what he wants, and live whole and complete for another day.”

Crow was the only one who could help me escape, the only one I could rely on to keep me alive. And he was Andrew’s father. That had to count for something. I’d heard him cry over Andrew’s death, no way he could fake that sound.

I let saliva build up in my mouth, not swallowing while I pictured lemon wedges next to salted tequila shots, puckering at the memory. Andrew had toasted our mission with tequila when we got the news, downing the stunted shots like they would be his last.

Crow held the bowl under my mouth while I spit into it. Over and over, until fluid smeared the sides, thick and slimy and slightly yellow.

“That should be enough.”

Crow pounded on the door. Two bio-hazard-suited men entered, releasing my hands from behind my back, holding me upright under the arms, dragging me from the barren chair. My arms hung limply at my sides, full of impotent rage. My legs weren’t much better, bursting with needles when I tried using them.

The commander entered the room, looking neat and tidy again.

Crow held out the half-filled bowl to Edding. “Here’s what you wanted. Now give me what you promised.”

Edding laughed, a cold hard sound. “I promised you wouldn’t die at my orders. I never said you wouldn’t die. Guards, put them both in general population.”

“You lying bastard,” Crow hissed.

“How does it feel to be betrayed?” the commander said to Crow.

Like hoarfrost around my soul.

Short Story for the Month – Episode 5: Winner Takes All

20 Jul


This is episode five of the Garden of Hell series of sci-fi short stories, following after Tiger Lilies, Two Moons, Crow’s Flight, and Impasse – all posted in the fiction section.

Copyright J. Dianne Waye July 2012

Contains mature subject matter and violence.

It took two people to repair the ship – one to lift like a human jack, one to hammer the bent landing gear into place. An unwelcome alliance with Crow had to be made, if I wanted off this planet. Pretty, with the two moons ascending over the horizon, lighting up the jagged cliffs with streaks of amber and silver, colours that weren’t visible in daylight under the emerald sky. But hostile, where every blade of grass seemed bent on snuffing out our existence.

“You lift,” I said. It made sense – he was bigger than me, with muscles honed over years of prison work-outs. It was the vulnerable job, the moment he would be at my mercy. I could kill him while he was trapped under there, defenceless.

I waited for him to protest, to find some excuse to say no, but he didn’t argue with me for a change. He lay down on the ground, wriggling into the narrow space under the belly of the ship.

“Now,” I said when we were both in place.

He let loose a low groan, and the ship slowly shifted enough for me to get to work.

“Down,” he grunted. The landing gear moved away from my reach.

“I’m not finished,” I said.

“Yeah, I know. Give me five minutes, and I’ll lift again.”

Each time he took a break, the lifting time decreased. And each pause saw the job unfinished. Damn it – I was almost done when the ship lowered again.

“I can’t hold it anymore,” Crow said, wiping his sweaty hands on a rag. “I’m too tired. You’re going to have to take a turn lifting, Chica.”

I threw down my wrench. “Don’t call me Chica.”

“Perez seems so formal after all we’ve been through. And you never told me your first name.”

“You won’t fit under the landing gear,” I said.

“Sure I will.” He smiled and grabbed my discarded wrench and flashlight, shifting over, bumping me out of my spot.

I switched places with him, wedging my arms and legs into place.

“On the count of three,” he said.

I waited for his signal, and hoisted as hard as I could. The side of the ship lifted just enough for Crow to start hammering. My muscles quivered, each breath puffing from the exertion. Burning flashes of pain shot through my limbs. Sweat stung my eyes, and I blinked it away. Time slowed down, each detail of the underbelly etching into my vision, all the little scratches and dents, the part numbers of the pieces embossed into the metal, until I had to shut my eyes.

Was this where he brained me with the hammer, or let the ship crush me under its weight? Pinned me until he blasted off, while I fried in the wake of jet fuel?

“Almost… done…” He groaned, the sounds of scuffling rocks and shifting gravel marking the point he wedged himself free.

“Finished,” he said.

I slowly lowered the weight. If I dropped it quickly, the bounce-back could kill me, saving Crow the effort.

“Come on out from under there,” he said. “What are you waiting for?”

He leered over me, a jack-o-lantern grin cracking over his parched lips, grabbing my arms to help drag me out. The mist swirled around his burnt feet, tendrils of grey brightening with the rising dawn.

In the field around us, those crazy plant people stood like trees, waiting for the first rays of sunlight to bring them to life. Crow walked around the statuary clusters, some more complete than others. All the Rosevelts looked human-like; they’d had the most time to grow. The Fausts were still malformed and misshapen, as if reflecting the soul of the original man.

“Creepy,” Crow said. “It’d drive me crazy, looking at this every day.”

I ran a hand over my forehead and squinted at the night sky. The moons were almost down. I figured we had an hour, maybe two, before sunrise. “No time left for a water run,” I said.

“You can make it, if you run there and back,” he said. “My feet are too damaged for running.”

“I’m too tired. We can go together, at dusk.”

“Fine by me. Let’s test the landing gear. I’ll fire this baby up, and you tell me if the warp casing slips into place.”

“No – you check the casing. I’ll handle the controls.”

“Darling, you don’t trust me.” He laughed it off, but he knew I wouldn’t leave without a supply of water.

I stepped inside the ship and fired up the controls, testing the warp bubble, on off, on off. The lights blinked green, good to go. I popped open the cargo bay door to his wide grin.

“Looks like we’re free,” he said, as he made to step inside. “All good out here.”

I cracked him in the face with my fist, snapping his jaw to the side, spittle flying, the satisfying crunch followed by a trail of blood from his nose.

“That’s for kissing me without permission,” I said. “Don’t ever touch me again.”

“Duly noted, Private Perez 4930,” he said as he bolted the door against the rising dawn.

The pounding of my heart kept me from sleeping. Blowing sand peppered the windows. The subtle rustling of the zombie people fell quiet before the onset of the sandstorm, hunched forms turning their backs to the wind. Outside the sky grew dim.

I fired up the navigational system, searching for the co-ordinates to my first assignment, an uninhabited planet that failed to meet the standards for colonization. It couldn’t feed a nation, but it could support two humans. Or one.

“What are you looking for?” Crow leaned over my terminal, careful to keep his distance from my fists.

“Somewhere to go.”

“Let me know when you find something.” He nestled into his bunk and closed his eyes.

I settled back in my seat and went to work. It would help if I could remember that damned planet’s name. There were thousands of possibilities all ending with the co-ordinates 851, the code for habitable planets rejected for colonization. Would somebody have entered the mission results yet, or were they still buried under a stack of reports yet to be logged?

It didn’t matter if it took me all day to find it – nothing else mattered, not sleep, not peace, not hunger, not fatigue. Everything else became insignificant, yielding to the simple fact that I could never go home. And I could not live here.

Crow was snoring when I found the co-ordinates to my new Eden. I stifled the cheer that wanted to erupt. No way would I wake him and tell him what I found; it was my only leverage against him. I wrote down the details on a piece of paper and tucked it into my pocket, then tried to fall asleep.

The sunset blazed lingering streaks of blue and green across the sky. Long cool shadows stretched and faded into the twilight, finally surrendering to the darkness. Dusk fell, bringing with it the welcome slumber of the plant-people standing at attention, sentinels gathering, thickening, replicating with each passing day. I stepped outside to walk through their rows, tall and swaying like cornstalks, looking for that one special face: Andrew Miller. There was only one of him, and he wasn’t in this crowd. Disappointed, wanting my farewell, I turned away, trailing a hand over the last form. Its skin was rough like corn husks, crazy feet anchored into the dirt. The moons peeked over the horizon, casting pale double-edged shadows over the rough ground.

Crow popped outside, fresh-faced and eager. “Did you find our planet?”

“No,” I said.

“Let’s get moving.” He slung half of the empty water containers over his shoulder and trudged toward the river, limping along, but after a kilometre or two he seemed to forget about his burnt feet. “We should check the village before we leave. There’s bound to be supplies we can use.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Better time it.”

I looked at my watch. We had three hours out, three hours back, an hour margin for error, and then sunrise. Lots of time for him to ditch me and escape on his own, to leave me behind.

The village waited, an eerie hush dampening our footsteps over the moss-covered sidewalk, the village square gazebo a mausoleum to my dead companions. Inside, amongst the rotting flesh and brittle bones, the charred remains of the blazed eggplants were overrun by thriving new plants, despite Miller’s attempt to burn it all down. This was where it all started – the evolution of a new species, the mingling of plant and animal.

Outside the tiger lilies swayed, soft white blooms tipped in orange and black. Beautiful in design, heartless in purpose – the judge, jury and executioner of my species.

“Go check that house,” Crow said. “See if you can find anything useful. I’ll check the other one.” He nodded his head, eyes glued to me.

I took a few steps in the direction he pointed, then paused and looked back. He hesitated, watching me, waiting. I stepped toward the house again. He walked away, a little. I stopped. He stopped.

Our eyes locked. In those brown eyes so much like Andrew’s, lurked the shadows of betrayal. He smiled, but his grin faded when I didn’t look away.

I turned and ran. I could make it back to the ship first. I wasn’t about to let him leave me behind while I sauntered around the village looking for supplies.

He bolted after me. And for someone with burned feet, he sure ran fast.

Panting, sweating, I broke into a steady run, hitting full stride as the grasslands smoothed the way. The water bottles thumped against my hips, weighing me down, but I would need them later. A kilometre yielded. I turned, glancing back, and there he was, moonlight gleaming off his shiny bald head, still keeping pace with me.

Tired, my vision blurred; the broken shadows deceptive. A rock twisted under my boot and I tumbled down, rolling to absorb the impact. I stood up and put full weight on my foot, wincing at the results. Sprained, not broken. The pain brought on a sheen of fresh sweat. I shivered in the coolness of the lonely night, each step focusing and narrowing my vision, until the world was nothing but me and my insane pursuer, while the rows of zombie people stretched across the horizon, blocking the path to the shuttlecraft.

I plunged into their depths, running, running. The field of zombies shifted, taking me down a pathway that broke out into open space. I burst into a clearing, but it wasn’t the one around the ship. I submerged into their midst again.

This pathway led back to Crow. He sprinted over the last ridge, eyes wild with fear before he dove into the tall stalks and disappeared.

Moonlight glinted off a taillight, flashing a sliver of red, showing me the way back to the ship. I made it there before Crow.

Miller stepped in front of me, barring the way. “Eeeevaaaaa…” he moaned, the sound stopping me dead.

Everything stilled.

“Andrew,” I whispered, as I looked up into his face.

He lifted a stiff arm and touched my cheek with his fingers, tracing over the half-moon scar carved into my skin. In his eyes, the edges of brown pulsed and grew, swallowing the green, as if somewhere inside his humanity fought to be free.


I couldn’t breathe.

Crow broke free from the maze. And in that moment, as indecision paralyzed my limbs, his opportunity presented itself. He withdrew a concealed revolver, pointing it my way.

Shots shattered the night. Andrew’s scream wailed so high it broke the spell riveting me in place. He clutched at me as he fell, papery hands grasping mine, slipping away.

The stalks swayed, angry but impotent without sunlight.

“Come,” Crow said, dragging me away from his son writhing in the dirt.

Crow stowed the supplies, powered up the engines, and buckled himself in.

“Enter the co-ordinates,” he said.

I didn’t argue or pretend I didn’t know them. I tapped them into the system – 420 684 851.

Exhaustion cusped over adrenaline as I fastened my seatbelt. I closed my eyes and yawned, the ship shaking as we left orbit, to open them on the planet shrinking smaller and smaller in the viewport, until it was an insignificant speck in the heavens.

I was wrong about Crow – he never wanted to leave me behind. I finally started to relax for the first time in weeks. Or months. How much time had passed?

A clanking noise broke through my drifting thoughts, driving away the haunting memories of tangling vines and choking creepers. All around the ship the warp bubble swallowed the view, trapping us in its claustrophobic shell. No matter how many times I made the jump, I never got used to the sensation of warp travel. It felt like my soul was tearing away from my body, making me question if they would rejoin. Was this what dying felt like?

Crow looked at me and grinned that jack-o-lantern smile of his. “Computer – Override Destination Co-Ordinates.” The words came out rough as his teeth rattled in the shockwave. “New destination 370 929 850.”

850 was the code for a colonized planet.

No, this was what dying felt like.

A Little Taste of Crimes Against Magic

12 Jul

The coolest thing is watching someone who’s worked really hard succeed at what they love to do. Steve McHugh’s novel Crimes Against Magic sold an amazing 104 copies in one day, on Monday of this week. He’s now made it into the top 100 for fantasy books on Amazon. But don’t take just my word for its awesomeness – check out some of his 5-star reviews.

Crimes Against Magic

 It’s been almost ten years since Nathan Garrett woke on a cold warehouse floor with nothing but a gun, a sword, and no idea of who he was or how he got there. His only clue … a piece of paper with his name on it. Since then, he’s discovered he’s a powerful sorcerer and has used his abilities to work as a thief for hire. But he’s never stopped hunting for his true identity, and those who erased his memory have never stopped hunting for him. When the barrier holding his past captive begins to crumble, Nathan swears to protect a young girl who is key to his enemy’s plans. But with his enemies closing in, and everyone he cares about becoming a target for their wrath, Nathan is forced to choose between the life he’s built for himself and the one buried deep inside him.

Crimes Against Magic is an Urban Fantasy set in modern day London with Historical flashbacks to early fifteenth century France. It’s the first in a series of books called the Hellequin Chronicles, which shows the life of sorcerer Nathan (Nate) Garrett.

Author Links:

Blog: http://stevejmchugh.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/StevejMchugh

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5819903.Steve_McHugh

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Hiddenrealmspublishing

And now here’s a taste of what’s to come, to whet your appetite:

Soissons, France. 1414.

Rumours of how the French had murdered their own people reached me long before I’d arrived at Soissons. Even as an Englishman, and despite the never-ending conflicts between our countries, I couldn’t accept that the French would do such a thing. But when I walked through the city’s open gates and saw the multitude of bodies lying side by side, I believed.

The town had been ripped asunder in an act of exceptional brutality, the inhabitants torn to pieces—men murdered as they defended their families, women brutalised and raped until their captors tired of them and left them to die. Not even children were spared, killed alongside their friends and families. The carrion took over, desecrating the remains even further. A city of a few thousand people, reduced to food for crows and rats.

It soon became apparent that there would be no survivors to the massacre. My search of the city only brought more dead, and even more questions, but few answers. Most had obvious sword and axe wounds, or heads crushed by hammer, but some had claw marks across the throat and torso. Something far worse than simple armed soldiers stalked the city.

I stopped by a partially eaten body. The man’s sword had fallen onto the path beside him. His stomach was covered in bite marks. Whatever had attacked him had devoured his internal organs. The bite marks could have belonged to a large wolf, but I knew I wasn’t going to be that lucky.

Dusk was beginning to settle. Birds flew home for the night, a brilliant red sky lighting their way. A low growl resonated from the end of a row of houses close by. I placed my hand on the hilt of my Jian, drawing the Chinese sword a few inches out of its sheath as I continued toward the noise.

I reached the end of the houses and peered around the corner. The stench of death had hung in the air from the moment I entered the city. But it mixed with something else, something more animal than human.

In the centre of a large courtyard, a beast sat on its muscular legs. Its maw was deep inside the stomach of a dead man, feasting loudly. Intestines had spilled out of the wound and now rested beside the body on the blood slick ground. Several more dead men were littered around, none of whom appeared to have been devoured.

I looked up at the sky. “It’s shit like this that makes me hate you.”

I stepped into view. The beast immediately stopped feeding and looked up at me. “Live food,” it growled.

A sigh escaped my lips. “You don’t have to do this.”

The beast stood on two legs, stretching to its full height. It was over a head taller than me, and its muscular frame was covered in dark fur, now matted with blood. The beast’s hands consisted of an elongated palm with long fingers, each tipped with a razor sharp claw. I should know how sharp the bastards were—I’d fought enough werewolves in my time.

The werewolf lifted its nose and sniffed the air. “I can smell your blood, little man.” It stepped forward and opened its mouth, showing me the dozens of wickedly dangerous teeth dripping with gore.

“That’s very impressive,” I said. “You know what I’ve got? This.” I tapped the Guan Dao strapped to my back. A Chinese halberd, consisting of a one and a half meter long wooden pole with a curved sword edge on one end and a sharp spike on the other.

The werewolf shrugged. “You’re just a human. I can kill you before you even draw it.”

“Maybe.” I hurled a silver dagger into the throat of the beast. It dropped to its knees, desperately trying to remove the dagger as panic set in. Its long fingers were unable to get a good grip on the slick hilt, and it started to choke as blood built up in its windpipe. The werewolf raised its eyes back to me, utterly afraid, as I covered the distance between us and drove my silver-laced Jian into its chest, piercing the heart, instantly killing it.

I held onto the Jian’s hilt and placed one boot on the werewolf’s chest, dragging the blade from the dead beast with a sucking sound. A loud thud accompanied it a second later as the sword came free and the corpse hit the ground. I retrieved and cleaned my dagger before checking on the five dead men lying about the courtyard. The huge muscles in their shoulders and arms made them appear almost deformed, and each one was missing his middle and index fingers. Deep claw gouges sat in their flesh and one of them had lost his entire face when the werewolf had struck. Their uniforms showed that they’d been English archers, and they’d died in a horrific manner.

Then one of them opened his eyes. And screamed.

The Psychology of Failure

28 Jun

Today I want to talk about something that nobody really wants to talk about: failure.

If you’re looking for some inspiration quotes, some clichés to soften the blow, then read another blog. There’s not going to be any rose-coloured glasses handed out to sugar-coat the issue, just the simple fact that failure sucks.

When you fail, you’ve got two choices – quit, or try harder. That’s it. That’s all. It’s not complicated at all.

Unpublished writers don’t have any way to judge how close they are to success, if maybe this next revision will be the one that works. There aren’t any statistics to measure how far you’ve come, how far you’ve got left to go, or how many more plateaus are left to conquer. And the more time you invest in something, the harder it is to quit.

So what has failure done for me? It’s shoved me out of my comfort zones, dragged me over multiple plateaus, and brought my writing up to a higher level.

Better? Yes. Good enough? We’ll see.

Interview 2 with Steve McHugh

20 Jun

Steve McHugh recently launched his new novel, Crimes Against Magic, available on Amazon. Between publishing a paper version, writing the sequel – and well , everything else on his plate – he managed to squeeze in some precious time to stop by for an interview.

D:  It has to be a unique feeling to get your novel published. What was going through your mind as you were preparing to launch your story? How did crossing the finish line feel?

S:  Honestly, I was terrified that people would hate it, that it would never sell and that my entire idea of being a capable writer was some sort of crazed fantasy.  It was a pretty scary thing to do, to allow myself to be put out there. Turns out, I was wrong to feel that way, but at the time I was stepping into the unknown.

It felt great to finally be at the point where publishing was happening, but that first day was so nerve wracking I probably didn’t allow myself to feel any sort of euphoria at having completed it.

D:  Are you allowing yourself to feel some euphoria now?  Or have you jumped right into wrapping up your next project? Is there going to be a book three in the future?

S:  I guess euphoria could be a good way of describing it. I’d set a goal what I wanted to sell on my opening day. Something I thought was realistic. 12 books sold, that was it. I managed about 35, so that was incredible. It settled down pretty quickly after that, but the fact that people are buying and (according to the reviews) liking my book is just far more than I could have hoped.

Book 2, Born of Hatred should be out in September. That’s the plan anyway. It takes place a few months after Crimes Against Magic and hopefully people will enjoy it. Book 3, With Silent Screams, should be out by next June and then there’s Book 4, Prison of Hope. No idea when that one will be out.

I have notes for about 20 books with Nate as the main character, and detailed notes for about 12 of those. So, I’ve got a while to go yet. I also have a Steampunk novel I’m working on. But it’s not going to get too much attention until Born of Hatred is finished.

D:  This novel-writing business is, in essence, a marathon. How long did each step take – the concept, writing the first draft, bringing it up to an edited version you were happy with, and then preparing for publishing?

S:  The concept took years. I wrote a book about 5 years ago called, For Past Sins. That got binned after it became apparent that it wasn’t good enough to publish and from its ashes, rose Crimes Against Magic.

The first draft took about 3 months, as the story was pretty well formed in my head and I just needed to write it down. After that, I spent a long time waiting for people to send back their crit versions and then I spent even longer editing over and over again. Probably from first word to finished, it took just over a year.

Then I spent a year looking for an agent, taking part in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel (which I got to the quarter finals) and generally feeling crap over the number of “it’s great…but” I managed to accrue.

I spent a while changing a few things on the story that I’d become unhappy with over the years as I prepared for publishing myself. That took about six months as I was pretty heavily into wanting to get book 2 nearly finished before I launched.

So, from beginning to end, it probably took me about three years, give or take a few months.

D:  I think we writers all have a first project that nobody will ever see… (shoves storage box deeper into closet…) but what did For Past Sins teach you about writing a novel? What to do, what not to do.

S:  For Past Sins taught me to not over complicate everything. There were far too many characters in it and it could have done with a cull of some of them. I learnt a lot about pacing from it too. I think CAM is much better paced and breaks up the action and exposition better than FPS did. I think mostly, it made me a better writer. It made me aware of where my strengths are and how to improve my weaknesses.

D:  Looking for an agent has to be the most frustrating part of the process. How do you think e-publishing will change the future of publishing? Do you think we’ll get to the stage where the querying process becomes redundant?

S:  Querying is always going to be important, but it seems like some agents/publishers use self published authors as a gauge to see how successful they are and then offer contracts based on that success. To be able to prove that your book is well received, both commercially and critically is something that I think agents and publishers are looking at more and more.

Trying to get an agent is very frustrating. And demoralising. And basically it sucks. But, and this is the key, it’s also very important. Every writer, whether you’re going to go it alone or otherwise, should write a query and synopsis for their book. It’s useful to have and, more importantly, you’ll learn a lot about your book from doing it. And I think having that rejection from agents and publishers prepares you for your writing career. It certainly thickened my skin.

D:  What three pieces of advice would you give to someone just starting out?

S:  Join a crit group. It’s the best advice any writer can be given. Not only will your writing improve in leaps and bounds if you find a good one, but you’ll meet like-minded writers who are willing to help you when you need it. Seriously, everyone who writes with a mind for publishing needs a crit group.

Also, I’d say that even if you’re set on publishing as an indie writer, you need to go through the process as if you were being traditionally published. Make sure the story makes sense, that you don’t have too many stupid mistakes (everyone, even published authors make mistakes. Most books have a few somewhere.) Write a synopsis and query letter. They are both excellent tools in your arsenal as a writer, and will come in handy on more than one occasion.

Enjoy yourself. If you’re not enjoying it, write something else. If you don’t like what you’re writing, it’s likely that everyone who reads it will notice it.

Thanks for the interview, Steve. Always a pleasure chatting with you.

Interview with Steve McHugh

30 Apr

Steve McHugh launches his first novel, Crimes Against Magic, on April 30, 2012 from Amazon. (Go to https://stevejmchugh.wordpress.com/books-2/crimes-against-magic/where-to-purchase/ for the links). I met Steve through the Kelley Armstrong on-line writers’ group, where I quickly came to appreciate his sharp critiquing comments and smooth, fast-paced writing style. He’s definitely someone new to check out, and I wish him great success with his writing career.

Tell me about how you found Kelley Armstrong’s Writers Group, and your first posting experiences there.

I was a member of Kelley’s forum for a few months before deciding that joining the writing group was a good idea. I’d originally joined the forum on a whim—I was a fan of her books and wanted to know when the next one was out. From there I joined up and haven’t really looked back.

As for my first post. I remember being terrified. I’d never even let anyone read my work before, let alone carry out a critique of my work. I remember getting a lot of responses for that first piece, and I carried on from there. It’s helped my writing an immeasurable amount.

You’re mentioned in D B Reynold’s credits in Rajmund. How did that unfold? How did beta-reading help you with your own work?

I’m in the credits for all of Donna’s books apart from the first one (Raphael), which I consider an honour as she’s an incredible writer and always willing to help when I have some probably blindingly obvious question. She also put up with my terrible grammar, making her a bit of a saint in my eyes.

It came about through e-mail. Michelle Muto (another superb writer and someone else who puts up with my questions) asked if I’d be interested in joining her and Donna as crit partners. I said yes, I mean how could I not? And after that I ended up beta-reading both Donna’s and Michelle’s work.

Beta-reading in general is something that all writers should do if they get the chance. You discover so much about your abilities as a writer, and you also learn how to improve. That’s especially true when you’re reading people of the calibre of Donna and Michelle.

Some writers say that a single image inspired them to create a story. I’ve heard that James Cameron imagined The Terminator movie from an image of a metal android walking out of flames. Was there an image that inspired CAM?

I remember seeing a photo of a guy who set whips on fire and flung them around himself with insane abandon. That’s certainly where the scene with Nate walking out of the house with a whip of flame trailing down from each hand, came from.

What made you decide to write a follow-up story to Nate’s adventure? What’s your favourite quality of his personality?

Nate’s a character I’ve had in my head for years, so once I’d finished I already had notes for a dozen more books. So continuing his adventures was an easy decision to make.

My favourite part of his personality is probably how quickly he can go from calm and collect to dangerous and vicious. It makes for some interesting scenes.

Why did you decide to go the e-publishing route?

It was a combination of things really. I’d originally tried the traditional route and sent Crimes Against Magic to agents and publishers. A got a lot of form rejections, and a few ‘we really like it but it’s not for us at this time’ responses. At some point in the process, I just got very tired of hearing the same thing, no matter how complimentary it was to be told they liked it.

I also started to hear a lot of stories from people who kept being told different things by different agents about what the industry wanted. For example: some wouldn’t take male POV, some would only take male POV, some wouldn’t read a query if the word werewolf or vampire was in it, all sorts of things (some of which I’m sure were exaggerations). The economic problems in the world had forced the market to take fewer chances. And it felt (rightly or wrongly) like they didn’t know where the e-book fit into their world.

So, I did some research into e-books and decided that having the control suited me. Also, I write faster that 1 book a year, so being able to put them out when I’d finished was a big deal to me. Maybe one day that will change, but at the moment it suits me.

What’s next on your list of things to write?

The sequel to CAM: Born of Hatred. And then the third book: With Silent Screams.

Is the third book part of the CAM series, or did you branch off into something else? Is there another genre you would like to tackle some day?

It’s part of the same series. They’re all going to be under the series: Hellequin Chronicles.

I have a story in my head for something that takes place in ancient Greece, and one for a YA. But they’re still in the same universe as Nate. One day I’d like to do a Sci-fi or full on Fantasy book, but that won’t be for a while, I think.

Has being a parent influenced what you choose to write about?

It made me get serious about my writing, but it doesn’t influence what I write to any great degree. I certainly won’t be letting my daughters read the book until they’re A LOT older.

The Young Adult market has seen a huge explosion in the industry. Would you ever consider writing something that your kids would read?

The YA in my head is probably a bit advanced for my kids. I’ve written little things for them, a letter from the tooth fairy and a few bits and pieces like that. I think my problem is that I need to find a way of writing the story without loosing the dark tone of the story I have in my head. That’s gonna be tricky. But when I figure it out, I’ll write that YA.

Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions, Steve. It was a pleasure interviewing you. You’ve got a great story on your hands, and I’m glad I was able to be part of the journey seeing it through to its début.