‘Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood and blog such bitter business as the bitter day would quake to look on.

I started this morning with no idea what I was going to write.  There isn’t much new to report with respect to my stories.  Progress on Unanimity and on Penal Colony goes on at a steady pace.  I haven’t started any new projects, and I don’t mean to do so until at least Penal Colony and In the Shade are both finished.

On the other hand, today is the last Thursday before Halloween, which is my favorite holiday.  Last October, as a celebration of the season, I wrote the first draft of Hole for a Heart, a quite Halloween-ey tale.  The story actually takes place in late spring, but its atmosphere is decidedly redolent of Halloween, and I pay lip-service to that fact during the story.

I’m not entirely sure why Halloween has always appealed to me so much.  Part of it probably has to do with its arrival shortly after my birthday, but that annual milestone hasn’t pleased me for quite some time, and I still like Halloween just as much.  Similarly, when I was younger, there’s little doubt that the acquisition of candy had no small influence on my holiday joy, but I’m not that big a candy person anymore, yet I’m still very much a Halloween person.*

Part of the attraction is that this is the most quintessentially autumnal of the holidays, and autumn has always been my favorite season, entirely unrelated to candy, to birthdays, and to any other more parochial concerns.  I simply love the feel of this time of year, especially as it is up north.  The changing of the colors of the leaves in southeastern Michigan, where I grew up, remains one of the most magical spectacles of nature.  Also, I was one of those supposedly rare kids who really liked going back to school after summer vacation (I think there are more of us than we’ve been led to believe).

Autumn has also almost always been the time of year when I restart the Tolkien cycle, beginning sometimes with The Silmarillion but often with The Hobbit, and always proceeding to The Lord of the Rings.  The fact that Frodo begins his adventure in the autumn surely contributes to my associational joy with the time of year.  That happy connection has only been bolstered by the fact that the Harry Potter books begin on Halloween (albeit on a tragic note).

Deeper than this, though, is that I’ve always felt an affinity for dark stories (in case you couldn’t tell) and Halloween is the holiday of the shadowy tale; I don’t think I’m anything like alone in this.  It’s not a coincidence that Stephen King is one of the most enduringly successful authors the world has yet seen.  Halloween is a time when huge numbers of people, at least in America, indulge their inner King, and embrace stories of the dark, the supernatural, the otherworldly.  For some people, it seems to be the only time when they use their imaginations at all.

Oddly enough, I’ve never really found Halloween scary, not even when I was a young child (no, not even the movie).  It’s just too much fun, frankly, and that’s true even of most scary movies and stories.  Weirdly, although I love most of Stephen King’s work, only two of his novels have ever frightened me (The Shining, and, more prominently, Pet Sematary).  It’s odd, but horror stories in general seem to affect me much the way Halloween does:  I feel them deeply, when they’re good, and I enjoy them; they resonate powerfully with me; but I don’t usually find them frightening.

The exceptions to this rule are interesting, and probably instructive.  Only a rare few books have literally made me feel afraid for any noticeable period of time, including the two listed above, as well as Floating Dragon by Peter Straub, and—the long-reigning champion—The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which has perhaps the best opening and closing paragraphs of any spooky story ever.  A few Lovecraft short stories, and more Stephen King short stories—as well as some Orson Scott Card stories, surprisingly enough—succeed in this area, as do intermittent others (most notably, the bone-chilling story Nadelman’s God by T.E.D. Klein).

In movies, the phenomenon is rarer still, with crowning glory going to the original Alien (Event Horizon was pretty darn spooky, too; also—though lamentably stupid as a science fiction story—as a horror movie, Signs really and majorly creeped me out…possibly because I first watched it in a hotel room, alone, at night, far from home).

Obviously, I like writing stories that might make other people frightened, but I don’t approach the writing with the idea of doing anything calculated to build a scary atmosphere, to make people feel uncomfortable, to surprise them, to worry them, etc.  At least, I don’t do it consciously.  It’s the darkness, rather than the scariness, that seems pivotal to me, both in my writing and my reading.  The same holds for my enjoyment of other literary forms, from plays, to movies, to video games, to TV shows.

And, of course, autumn is that time when darkness is gaining ground, with Halloween its most prominent celebration.  After Frodo’s and Bilbo’s birthday, which is roughly at the equinox, the days in the northern hemisphere grow ever shorter, and darkness is ascendant.  In the shadows, where there is less blinding, glaring, external input entering the mind, the imagination can be brought more readily into play.  The mind’s eye sees most clearly in the dark.

Well, it seems I did have a fair amount to write today, after all.  I could probably go on and on about this topic, but that might be truly horrifying, and not in a fun way; the “Chinese water torture” isn’t very dramatic as torments go, but it does sound maddening.  I’ll spare you such erosion and hold off further discussions of darkness and stories for later times.  In the meanwhile, please enjoy your Halloween (those of you who observe it).  If you get a chance, dress up for it.  Have some candy.  Laugh at and about scary things.

But you might want to avoid going out by yourself too long after night falls.  Even the darkest of entities like to give themselves treats from time to time, and a solitary human is a juicy morsel indeed.


*This isn’t quite the same—nor is it as bad—as being one of the Autumn People, à la Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but it’s not entirely orthogonal, either.

The Chasm and the Collision

CatC cover paperback

Click here to go to Amazon

Middle-school students Alex, Meghan, and Simon discover a cluster of delightfully fragrant, irresistibly delicious berries in the fruit bowl in Alex’s house.  Assuming the berries to have been bought by Alex’s mother, they eat them all.  But this fruit is like nothing ever grown on Earth.

That night, the friends share a dream about an impossible city-mountain floating at the edge of a horizon-spanning cliff with no other side, just an endless rusty sky.  Over the next few days, they begin to see and hear strange people and bizarre creatures that no one else seems to notice.  Eventually, they are abducted to the world of their dream, where the sky is always sunset, where feathered reptiles work alongside humans, where mole-weasel creatures dig caverns by manipulating space itself, and where the miraculous plants can think and communicate telepathically with gifted individuals called Gardeners.  There they learn of an impending catastrophe of horrifying proportions:  The collision of that world’s universe with ours, a cataclysm that would destroy everything in both realms!

They also learn that there are people—and an Other—that want the collision to happen, in order to fulfill a terrible prophecy.  Now Alex, Meghan, and Simon must do what they can, with new abilities they have gained by eating the berries, to escape from those who serve that prophecy, and eventually to help save both universes…all while trying not to get in trouble for being late to school.

Some great news, and some not as great news.

Okay, well, I’m not going to be writing all that much today, but I do want to make an important announcement, one to which I’ve been building up for some time:  “The Chasm and the Collision” is out!  Here are the two versions, paperback and Kindle, from which you can choose (or if you can’t decide, you can feel free to buy one of each.  Or more than one of each.  Why not?  ^_^  ).  Just click on the image and you’ll be brought to the Amazon page where the book is listed:

CatC cover paperback



CatC cover kindle


Unfortunately, on the very day it was released (two days ago, now), my mother’s health took a downward turn.  She was already in the hospital after having felt a bit weak and having some other, more specific troubles, and her situation had become more complicated than it was expected to become.  Certainly, it was more complicated than I had expected it to become.  Anyway, now I’m writing this while sitting in the Greyhound station in Knoxville while they clean the bus, having left from Fort Lauderdale (on a different bus) yesterday morning.  I have not spoken with my mother’s doctors directly, but my sister has, and my mother is apparently not expected to recover.  She is certainly very weak.

This makes the whole situation quite bittersweet.  My mother was very much looking forward to this book—at least she said so, and I believe her—so it’s unpleasantly ironic for it to have come out the very day her health took a downturn that may prevent her from reading it.

Incidentally, I apologize that the cover differs somewhat from paperback to Kindle.  For some reason, I was unable to reproduce the paperback’s cover for the Kindle version, so I had to do something else.  (Something Other, you might say.)  Looking back, I actually kind of like the forced, ad-hoc Kindle cover.  Maybe I’ll release a second edition of the paperback that has the same cover as the Kindle one.

Ugh, I feel like my writing is terrible right now.  Of course, that doesn’t stop it from coming out.  One thing I can say for me, I don’t have trouble just getting some words out onto paper (or computer, as the case may be).  But my brain is quite foggy.  Even though I’ve spent most of my time sleeping since leaving the south Florida area, no one could ever claim that sleeping on a bus is actually restful.  Well…I guess they could claim it, but they would be lying, and what on Earth could lead them to such a deception?

Perhaps they are on the payroll of the Greyhound company…

Okay, well, that’s really all I have to say, more or less.  I was hoping to be as excited as Hell (and those who know Hell know just how excitable it is) when I announced the release of CatC.  And I am excited, of course.  But it’s an excitement tempered by grim anticipation and worry.  Hopefully you readers can be excited on my behalf.  I would be deeply grateful.

Also, please call your mothers, if you still have that option.


The Chasm approaches – watch your step!

CatC promo

Okay, well, another week has passed, and we are a week closer to the release of “The Chasm and the Collision” in both paperback and E-book formats.  In fact, as the above Facebook ad shows, it will be released this month (which comes as no surprise to those of you who read last week’s posting).  Even more excitingly—to me, certainly—is that it will be released within the next two weeks, and possibly within the next week.  There are still a few variables at play, so I don’t want to be too specific. Continue reading

The Chasm and the Collision is coming soon – or is that ARE coming soon? No, it IS coming soon.

Okay, well, it’s another Thursday morning, and time for me to write my weekly blog post.  I’m abstaining from writing philosophical and/or political things, today.  Those essays don’t seem to get as much response as my more lighthearted posts, and I never do seem to get good discussions going about them, which is a severe disappointment.  I suppose in the era of Facebook, and especially Twitter, expecting people to read anything longer than 140 characters (or that is not in the form of even fewer characters, written on an amusing or startling or eye-catching picture) is a bit delusional, let alone expecting people to write anything of substance in response.

Sigh.  Sometimes I despair.


On to much more positive matters:  The Chasm and the Collision is going to be out sometime within the next month, and I want to start generating a bit of hype for it.  Having to edit and edit and edit and edit and to do layout and to prepare things for publication are all relatively mind-numbing tasks, especially with a fairly long book, but they are essential.  And they bear delicious fruit in the long run, so they’re well worth the effort.

Anyway, I want to give you all a little preview, or introduction, or whatever the term might be, of The Chasm and the Collision, beyond some of what I’ve written here previously.

The story would be categorized as a fantasy/adventure novel, but in some ways it’s almost science fiction, because even the fantastic elements of the story have their basis in what are, in the novel, natural phenomena.  There are no spells or demons or witches, etc., in other words.

The story centers around 3 pre-teen middle school students, Alex, Meghan, and Simon.  One day, they eat a bunch of particularly delicious berries they find in the fruit bowl in Alex’s house, assuming them to be a healthy snack that Alex’s mother has left for him.  Starting that night, they begin to have strange dreams of a world with a changeless red sky, and a vast, mountainous city seemingly hanging in space off the edge of a cliff that seems to stretch on forever, with no far side.  Dreams, though, are not the only disturbing occurrences.  Meghan, Simon, and Alex begin to hear, and even see, bizarre and sometimes terrifying creatures that no one else can perceive.  Gradually, they learn about an approaching catastrophe of staggering proportions:  the impending collision of two universes, which would destroy everything that currently exists in both.  And one of those universes is our own.

The prevention of this cosmic catastrophe centers around a single, small tree in the middle of a garden at the top of the gigantic tower crowning the city that floats on the edge of the Chasm.  Alex, Simon, and Meghan find themselves in the seemingly impossible position of needing to help that tree carry out its preventive task.

However, this is not as simple as it might seem (har).  For there is an Other, an indescribable entity, out there in between the universes.  It, and its pawns, want very much for the collision to happen.  Our heroes must try to avoid discovery by this thing of anti-sanity, to do whatever small part they can to counter its wishes, and then—hopefully—to return to their normal lives as before.  They know they will probably not succeed completely at all three goals.

Well, there it is, a quick synopsis/teaser/summary/trailer for The Chasm and the Collision.  I’m planning on creating a few meme-style promotional images to put out into the cyberverse, to garner a bit of excitement.  If the story I described above sounds to you like it might be a good one, then please keep your ears pricked and your eyes peeled.  I’ll let you know when it’s available.

If you want to find out whether you like my fiction writing style, there are two free samples here on the blog:  “I For One Welcome Our New Computer Overlords,” and Prometheus and Chiron.  Give them a read—they’re relatively short, the latter more than the former—and give me feedback, if you like.  Do remember that, unlike the two above stories, The Chasm and the Collision (CatC), is a family-friendly novel.  Though it can be scary at times, and certainly there is some violence in it, as in essentially all fantasy adventures, it isn’t gory violence.  There’s no sex, no drugs, and very little rock ‘n’ roll.  There aren’t even any effing swear words.  What the frak is that all about?

Okay, I’ll stop now before I bore you too much.  Soon I’ll begin my rundown and discussion of my favorite villains, and I think I’m going to begin with one of my personal favorites:  The psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  In the meantime, you fly back to school now, little starlings.


An excerpt from “The Chasm and the Collision” to start you dreaming.


Hello, everyone!

Since I gave you all a brief taste of Mark Red a few days ago, I decided to give you a little tidbit from The Chasm and the Collision:  Chapter 2, for you peruse.  To give you a little background, in the first chapter, Alex Hinton and his friend Simon Belmont, two middle school students, are coming home from school, and Alex thinks he sees something moving in his house, even though no-one should be home.  Simon, who is a bit of an anxious young man, thinks they should call for adult help before going inside, but Alex is a bit more reckless, and much to his friend’s consternation, he goes inside and runs through his house, inviting any prowlers to show themselves.  Of course, he encounters no-one, but he smells a wonderful smell in the dining room.  There, in a fruit bowl on the table, he and Simon find some unusual-but-delicious fruit, apparently put there by Alex’s mother.  They share it with their mutual friend Meghan Tewes (on whom Alex has a crush) and end up eating it all (Alex eating far more than the others do).

The rest of the afternoon passes more or less without incident, and then, that night, Alex begins to have a rather unusual dream.  And thus begins the except:

Soon Alex found himself drifting in a slowly-developing but vivid dream.  In it, he found himself rising from the ground and floating into a clear, twilit sky.  He experienced a very pleasant warmth spreading from his center out to his limbs and up to his head.  As the sensation reached his eyes, the scene beneath and around him began to change.  The blue-gray sky gradually shifted in color, taking on a reddish-orange hue, almost like that of a very vivid sunset, but the light spread more broadly and diffusely than seemed normal.  For one thing, the redness of the sky was not localized toward one horizon, but was spread across the entire sky.  There were many wisps of cloud, all with a reddish-purple hue that was rather similar to the color of the berries Alex had eaten earlier.

In his dream, Alex blinked as he realized that he was seeing more than one image at the same time.  He could see the normal twilight with which the dream began, gradually darkening into a starry night…but he found that he could, at the same time, still see the sunset-colored sky, superimposed on the normal one.  What’s more, he found that he could focus on one or the other as he chose.  It was rather like looking at one of those flat “Necker cube” images, or one of the optical illusion drawings that sometimes looked like a young woman and sometimes looked like an old woman depending on how one looked at it.

Alex turned his gaze downward, and beneath him he saw another overlapping set of images.  One part was his house, yard and the surrounding neighborhood, stretching out as expected to the rest of the city.  It was nighttime, so the scene was only by street lamps, but it was clearly visible, more so than Alex would have thought usual at night.  However, behind or beneath that tableau was a much less regular landscape, some of which was colored with a blue-green vegetation, other regions consisting of rocky, craggy ground, only a bit browner and darker than the color of the other sky.

Looking off now into the distance, Alex saw that the landscape—the unfamiliar one—suddenly came to an end, dropping off into the unseen at a precipitous edge, like the rim of a mind-bogglingly gigantic canyon.  He could discern no far side to the chasm, and even at a distance he could make out no hint of a bottom to it either.  There was only more sky, going down as far as the eye could see, but with a somewhat brighter light farther down.

Alex realized that he was moving, and soon found himself floating toward—and then along—the edge of the immense cliff.  Even from along the edge there was no sign of a bottom, only the red-orange color going on to infinity, as if this cliff were somehow a place where the edge of the world had broken off, leaving nothing beyond but sky.  Ahead, in the distance, far along the drop-off, he began to make out what at first looked like a bizarre outcropping of rock.  As he moved along, however, getting slowly but steadily closer, Alex realized that he must have been a very long way away from the shape indeed…and as it grew in his sight, he understood that it was not merely an outcropping or a projection from the cliff, but was in fact a gigantic—titanic—fortress, somehow carved from rock that matched the color of the ground.  Alex was further , astounded to see that the shape appeared to be connected to the main cliff face only by a single, narrow strip of rock, like a bridge, and was otherwise hanging in the air above the precipice, to which there was still no discernible bottom.

As Alex continued to approach the edifice, he realized that it must be bigger than any normal building he had ever seen.  In fact, it was bigger than a city block…no, it was bigger than most cities of which he knew.  It had spires and turrets and more bizarrely shaped projections and protrusions, as well as numerous scattered portals and windows.  Below, extending from the bottom of the gigantic structure, was what appeared to be a very large inverted tower.  At the lowest end of that was attached a cylindrical structure, more than twice as wide as the building to which it was attached.  This appeared to be the lowest point of the entire gigantic shape.  It was, however, soon lost from Alex’s sight, for as he floated forward he began to rise above the megalith and could only see it from the top.

It was irregular and multi-layered, like a city built on and around a high mountain-top, with spikes and towers that looked more like natural rock formations than works of craft.  Roughly in the middle of the whole expanse was a sharp, tall tower with a balcony and courtyard protruding from its edge near the top.

The balcony at first appeared small, but suddenly Alex began to swoop down toward it at what he could tell was tremendous speed…faster than any normal falling velocity…and the balcony only slowly grew larger.  As it did, Alex realized that the seemingly small projection must have been larger than the entire grounds of his middle school.

Alex plummeted ever faster toward the balcony.  He saw that in its center was a circular cultivated area, a garden of sorts, with many bushes and trees and flowers arranged throughout it.  In the center there was a raised pedestal from which grew a large bush, or small tree.  It was toward this pedestal and the plant growing on it that Alex accelerated.  As he raced downward, he got close enough to the tower and the balcony for perspective and sound to make him truly feel the effects of his descent, and he finally began to experience a surge of fear.  The ground on the balcony below him got closer and closer, rushing toward him more and more quickly.  

He passed the tallest of the nearby spires.

The circle in the center of the garden now filled his vision, and he could all but feel the sensation on the surface of his skin that he was about to rush into it with an impact that would surely shatter every bone in his body.

The tree was only a few feet away.  There was no avoiding it…

…and suddenly, Alex woke up.

Despite the cliché, Alex didn’t actually sit bolt upright in bed.  Instead his eyes popped open wide and he stared around himself in the dark of his own bedroom.  It seemed perhaps a little brighter than usual, as though it were nearly dawn, but when he looked over at his clock Alex saw that the time was only about 2:30 in the morning.

“Whoa,” Alex muttered to himself, “that was a strange dream…”

Before he could begin to clear his head and try to go back to sleep, Alex’s puzzled thoughts were interrupted by a very strange sound coming from outside.  It was something between a croak and a shriek…hoarse, and lower than any bird sound or other local animal that Alex could recall hearing, and it seemed to be quite some distance away.  It lasted for several seconds, and then it stopped.  Then, another few seconds later it started again, and this time it seemed louder than before, and the volume increased as the sound persisted.  Whatever was making the noise was quickly coming closer.

Now Alex did sit up in bed, wondering what in the world the sound was, and what was making it.  He didn’t know why he thought this, but he felt that the sound carried a strange undertone of pain…and, he also thought, of hunger.  It was very unnerving to have such thoughts about such a strange noise…and more than a bit frightening.

Rising from bed, Alex headed to his window.  He almost always left the drapes open, and tonight was no exception.  After walking the few steps to the portal, Alex looked outside, though he was far from sure that he really wanted to see that the cause of the noise was.  Still, he was unable to resist looking.

The ground below was brightly lit, though the moon was only about a quarter full.  In his own yard, Alex could make out only the usual well-tended grass and the few flowers in his mother’s small garden by the garage.

The noise started again, and seemed significantly closer, again lasting several seconds and then stopping.  More disquieting than that fact, however, was Alex’s realization that it was coming not from anywhere on the ground below Alex’s second-story room level, but from above…like something flying.

Alex’s mind flashed back to his recent dream experience, and with the combination of the memory and the sound, he almost felt like he was still moving through the air himself.

Turning his gaze upward, Alex was at least relieved to see only the normal sky, bluish-black and sprinkled with stars, the small moon lowering toward the tree line and a few minor wisps of cloud.  Alex scanned all that he could see above, but could make out nothing unusual.  What could be making that noise?

As if in response to Alex’s wondering, the sound came again abruptly, much louder than before…and this time it seemed to be coming from almost directly above him.  Alex actually flinched and ducked when he heard the noise drop in pitch as it passed overhead.  Then, looking out his window again, he saw something that made him reel back from the window.

A huge shadow, bigger than any bird Alex had ever heard of, had just passed over his house.  It was shaped almost like a manta ray—he had seen pictures of the gigantic ocean creatures, and those were what immediately sprang to his mind.  But this shape was in the sky.  

It had wings that spread from its entire length, but they were somewhat squared off at the ends, not triangular like a ray’s would have been, and it had a long tail that tapered out behind it as it flew directly over Alex and out away from his house.  It couldn’t have been more than a hundred feet in the air, and though Alex wasn’t sure exactly how big it was, it was certainly very large.

Was this still a dream?  Alex looked quickly but intently at his surroundings.  Though fear seemed to make everything sharper and clearer than usual, everything looked normal.  The only alien presence was the monstrous thing in the sky.

Watching the trailing form, Alex was astonished and horrified to see that, before it went very far, it began to turn.  He couldn’t make out any real features, but Alex thought that he saw a claw of some kind stretching out to the side underneath it as it banked.  Alex somehow knew, from the way it was arcing and the sharpness of its curve, that the creature was about to head back in the direction from which it had come…directly toward Alex’s house.  He wasn’t sure if it was just a coincidence, but some part of Alex felt as if the thing was looking for him…hunting for him.  Of course, he was also quite certain that he did NOT want the thing to find him.

Alex rushed to pull his curtains closed before the thing in the sky could complete its turnaround.  He barely made it in time, and half imagined he could see a horrifying face coming into view on the front of the creature before it was cut off from his sight by the thin cloth.  Once the drapes were closed, Alex actually ducked down onto the floor below the window level, not quite trusting the fragile curtains to hide him.

The sound ripped forth again, higher in pitch now and louder, headed back toward the house.  Alex clamped his eyes shut as though warding off a nightmare, half-expecting the sky-borne creature to come crashing through both window and wall, straight into his bedroom.

It did not do so, however, but instead the noise went passing overhead again.  Alex was only too happy to hear its sound drop in pitch again as it receded, then paused and repeated, shrinking and finally fading completely from his hearing.

Well, what in the world was that?  If you want to find out, you’ll have to read the book (of course)!  Please check it out.  You can get Chapter 1 here, and of course I recently published Chapter 5 as well.  All the chapters in between are also available, each for only 99 cents, with new chapters to be published more-or-less monthly.

Remember, 50% of all royalties go to literacy charities such as RIF, so you’ll not only be able to enjoy a modern, serialized, fantasy adventure, you’ll also be helping to share the joy of reading with people who might not otherwise be able to experience it.

As always, I would welcome your feedback, so leave a comment below, or a tweet, or a Facebook post, or a G+ comment.  Obviously I prefer something positive or at least constructive–who doesn’t?–but I can take whatever you can dish out, believe me.  And if my writing sucks, it’s clearly something I ought to be told, isn’t it?

And if you enjoy the excerpt, or this blog, or my writing, I’d be grateful if you’d share a link on your accounts as well, if you’re so inclined.

Thank you for reading!