Thursday, September 29, 2016

Winter - Chapter One

Here's an excerpt from my upcoming horror novel, Winter. Winter is the third book in my Crow Creek series and will be published through Gold Avenue Press in October. Preorders are  now available on my website at for only $10 with free shipping. Thank you!

Saturday, September 17, 1960

            Pastor Aken dragged the limp teenager out of the passenger seat of his blood-red Chevy Corvair. She didn’t make a sound. Her smoky eyes fluttered, but she kept quiet.
It was after midnight. He’d kept Bishop Lundby waiting for over two hours. The girl had been difficult to snatch. Not because she’d struggled. She’d stayed with her boyfriend in Braxton Park longer than her parents might’ve wanted, had they known of her whereabouts. But that didn’t matter. The pastor had considered interrupting their tryst and slitting the boyfriend’s throat (he despised his oily hair and faded motorcycle jacket) but didn’t. They’d need someone to blame for her disappearance.
The early-morning sliver of moon glimmered as he traveled with her across the empty parking lot. He glanced at a toppled oak tree. Several thick branches rested against the roof of the church, peeling away the weathered shingles. Muddy leaves tap-danced against the siding in the cool breeze. There were a dozen broken windows, and the gutters had partially dislodged. The remnants of Hurricane Donna.
Pastor Aken hated the bishop. Despised his entire congregation and Mount Olive Church. Would burn each and every member alive if he didn’t have to follow protocol. He’d spent the entire ride to Chasm County digging his fingernails into the steering wheel and talking himself out of driving back to Crow Creek. He could’ve finished the job in the root cellar under First Baptist. No one ever went down there. The place was dark and musty. Put a lock on the door, and they’d have no idea. He could’ve been fast asleep by now and dreaming of his own family, not satisfying someone else’s needs.
He had his sights on Pattie Lynn Briggs, Jake Riddle’s wife. She was just fine. Flowing red hair. Crystal blue eyes. Skin as fair as fresh snow. His chiseled Native American jawline and her Yorkshire complexion would produce bold, handsome progeny. And if her firefighter husband somehow died in the line of duty, all the better for the pastor and Crow Creek. Folks needed a little prodding now and again.
            The languid girl winced. He’d yanked on her blonde hair without realizing, curling the locks into his fist.
            “Just a while longer,” he told her.
She sighed but seemed comforted. He was confident she and her boyfriend had consumed enough Old Fitzgerald to put all of Holt County to sleep. Her father managed the flat yard in Queensboro for Southern Railways and probably had no idea she’d been nipping his supply. The freight companies knew how to grease their engineers, especially with Southern bourbon, and the softer taste of Old Fitzgerald had the local teenagers scrounging to imbibe. The pastor understood. Sneak off with a bottle of sour mash from your old man’s liquor cabinet, pocket a pack of Lucky Strikes from the corner store at Ninth and Mill—what juvenile could resist such carnal paradise?  Partly why he loved his own church as much as he did. Something about the company of sinners.
He wrenched her up the short set of wooden steps at the rear of the church. The doorway was unlit. Not surprising. Bishop Lundby dwelled in darkness. Pastor Aken preferred the spotlight. The perfect metaphor for their contrast. With any luck, this fourth and final girl would complete the bishop’s cycle, and the pastor would earn the right to sire his own flock and never return to Winter again. He’d serviced the state elders for more than a century, biding his time. His devotion had even included a murder of the Cavalli (an ancient order of knights) during World War II. While presiding over the Baptist church at Fort Bragg, he hunted the high-ranking officers until he’d located the right one. Flat-topped bastard never saw him coming. Drove the penknife squarely into his temple while he slept in his barracks. Didn’t spill a drop of blood.
Pastor Aken knocked. The door rattled on its hinges and squeaked open. A business of flies hovered about the musty sanctuary. The pastor swatted at them with his free hand.
The man slouching in the shadows wasn’t Bishop Lundby.
“McCrory?” the pastor shouted. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
The hunched furniture salesman licked his lips and pushed wire-rimmed glasses up the slope of his greasy nose. The pastor heard the crooked man sucking on candy. The scent of peppermint wafted in the humid air between them.
“Lundby told me you’d be coming.” His eyes widened. “With a girl.”
Pastor Aken stepped in front of the subdued teenager and shoved McCrory inside the church. He released the blonde’s hair and grabbed her wrists as he hurried inside with her and closed the door.
The church was almost too dark. Too quiet. Pastor Aken kept his eyes on McCrory. He knew the runt wouldn’t hesitate to snatch the girl if the pastor dropped his guard even for a moment. Not because he would ever take a meal from the bishop. That was out of the question. He’d do things that were worse. Dirty things.
“She’s special,” McCrory hissed. “I can smell her from here.”
Pastor Aken puffed his chest. “Where’s Lundby?”
“Can I have her for a moment?” McCrory slid into a wooden pew and raised both palms, wheezing softly in the darkness and ignoring the pastor’s question. “I just wanna take off her shoes and sniff her feet. That’s all. I promise. Nothing more.”
The massive oak tree slapped the outside of the church, knocking loose a few window slivers. Pastor Aken jumped and narrowed his eyes.
“I’ll only ask you this one more time, McCrory. Where’s the bishop?”
McCrory dropped his shoulders.
“William Blount Air Force Base.”
The pastor scratched his pointy chin and waved slender fingertips at a fly buzzing his ear. “Near the coast?”
McCrory nodded. His eyes never left the slumping girl.
“Yes, Ethan. Bishop Lundby phoned my father’s shop yesterday and asked if I’d come wait for you. Keep an eye on your delivery till Monday. What was I supposed to say?”
Pastor Aken flickered, his skin melting. Thick black scales flashed. For a moment, he felt his wings pull at his shoulder blades, threatening to erupt.
“He expects me to leave her with you all weekend? After all the work I did collecting her?”
McCrory’s response was more of a grunt than anything else.
Pastor Aken grabbed him by the throat. The hunched man squealed.
“I owe your father, McCrory. He helped me with my first feed. He’s the only reason I don’t kill you right now. But, someday, after your father’s long gone, I’ll run Crow Creek. Then I’ll have you. You’ll slip up, and you’ll be mine. Mark my words.”
The pastor withdrew, tossing McCrory to the hardwood floor in front of the rotting pew. The slimy man scrambled on his knees toward the feeble girl.
“Her toes,” he begged. “Let me kiss them. Just once. Please! You have no idea how much I need—”
Pastor Aken kicked McCrory as hard as he could across the jaw, slicing open his translucent skin with the sharp edge of a polished Italian loafer. The wretched creature bounced off the back of the wooden pew and collapsed to the worn floorboards in a puddle of his own drool.
“As much as I’m sure you’d love that opportunity,” Pastor Aken shouted, twirling on his heels, “I have other plans for her now.”
And with that, he stormed toward the altar, towing the girl by his side. He thought she might’ve giggled but no longer cared. He would be finished with her directly. He was through playing second fiddle to the bishop. And to McCrory’s father. And to anyone else ignorant enough to get in his way. Crow Creek would be his now. And if the bishop wasn’t careful, so would Winter. The people needed him. Loved him. Wanted his leadership and spiritual guidance, especially at the start of a decade that promised to be as turbulent as any in recent memory.
He thought about the black hitchhiker who’d been lynched (misdirecting blame was easier with colored folks) on Route 119 after the last girl he’d collected for the bishop. Out near the new subdivision beside Braxton Lake. Since Martin Luther King’s appearance on the cover of TIME magazine, radical white Southerners jumped at every chance to hunt, innocent or not. A recipe for disaster. The pastor imagined the horrors that would define the nation by the end of the 1960s and smiled.
As he approached the altar, he scooped the girl in his arms and plopped her hard on top of the communion table. She stopped giggling and arched her back, dividing her pouty lips. Before she could speak, Pastor Aken drove his fingernails into her neck and tore open her throat. Blood sprayed the clean satin tablecloth. The girl tried to scream but only gurgled. She kicked her feet and tossed her arms, but the pastor snapped her neck with a quick flip of his wrists. She lay motionless. He ripped the lavender little-nothing dress away from her chest and opened his mouth, gnashing his teeth as he dipped into her ivory flesh.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why I Wrote Winter

Last summer, I wrote the rough draft of Winter in about 10 weeks. At that point in my career, I'd signed contracts with Samhain Publishing to release the first three books in the Crow Creek series over a period of eight months. I was excited and couldn't crank out the pages fast enough. The first draft wrapped shy of 90,000 words (I've since trimmed some 5,000 off the total). If you've followed my career at all, you know that my deal with Samhain fell to shit. They downsized their company, threatened to close their doors, announced their resurrection, threatened to close again, and I don't have any idea where they stand now. They reverted my rights, however; so I restored Crow Creek and Queensboro with Gold Avenue Press and await the release of Winter. I've been out of the author game for 18 months, so trying to regenerate interest in my work has proved daunting.

Anyway, as the presidential election gained momentum last year, I watched the rise of the candidates and assumed Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton would win the nominations. I thought for sure we'd see a rematch of the 1992 election, only with different family representatives and a bigger, crazier billionaire as the third-party candidate (sorry Ross Perot, but the Donald trumps you). Things didn't turn out exactly as I expected (what the fuck happened, Jeb?), but I think the novel's premise still holds water. I have concerns about the concept of an American royal family and political nepotism. The Kennedys are probably the most recent example of an elite American dynasty, so I knew when I drafted the book that I wanted to connect the Kennedys with the absurdity of the current presidential election and my fictional Crow Creek universe.

Enter the Goldsboro bombs.

For those not up to speed, two Mark 39 nuclear warheads were accidentally dropped in rural North Carolina in the early 1960s. They didn't detonate. I can't recall exactly why I remembered hearing about those, but at some point, I posed the question to myself, what if those two bombs had been a failed attempt to assassinate JFK a few years before the real hit in Dallas? Further research told me that JFK toured North Carolina during his 1960 run (the first candidate since George Washington to do so, by the way) against then incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon. How perfect! I tweaked a few dates, combined some events, created a fictional mastermind, and presto - I had my conspiracy: kill Kennedy. The bombs go off and wipe out the entire town of Winter (yes, I couldn't resist the nuclear winter play on words - I'm a smart ass, remember?), save one farmer and his pickup truck and lazy old hound dog.

Flash forward fifty odd years and Amanda Simmons, the covert rascal who devastated the Red Queen in Queensboro, finds herself at the center of a new assassination attempt with her fingertips on the nuclear trigger. Sheriff Brad Gleason returns, so do his ex-wife Shana, shaman Black Jesus, my original breed of dragons, vampires, and zombies, familiar villains, new heroes, and plenty of jiggery-pokery to go around.

I hope you have as much fun reading this one as I did writing it. The action is nonstop; the emotions, a rollercoaster ride; and the twists and turns exactly what I hope you'll want from my series. I don't think I'll ever leave Crow Creek, honestly. The people and places have become my friends and neighbors. I see them in my dreams. Well, they haunt my nightmares.

If you'd like to read a couple of good books about the historical incidents, try The Goldsboro Broken Arrow and John F. Kennedy's North Carolina Campaign. They both helped me a great deal.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How Will We Afford College?

My wife and I have no idea how we'll be able to afford to send our children to college. I imagine many parents have the same concern. Maybe a tuition fairy will reduce the costs or provide assistance? If not, we're fucked. Well, our children are.

Before you start giving me bullshit like we should've saved more money or minimized our debt, you should know we've done both. We've put as much money away for our children's education as we could possibly afford since each was born. Their 529 plans haven't exactly yielded the best results, but the money remains nonetheless. It barely scratches the surface of what we'll owe. And except for the 3% interest on our 15-year home loan, we have no debt. Our credit score floats around 850. Actually, I think this hurts us. We might have a better chance of being awarded financial aid if our credit was in the toilet.

Wanna tell me to work harder or earn more? Go fuck yourself. I've worked at least two jobs at the same time since I graduated high school 30 years ago. Work ethic isn't my problem, believe me. I have no more blood to drain or sweat to perspire. I've sacrificed more life as a working parent - missing ball games, recitals, etc. - than I ever should've. I could've seen my boy swing a bat or my girl kick a soccer ball; instead, I was teaching a class or running a rehearsal. Yes, we made the decision for my wife to be a stay-at-home mom. Should we be penalized for not wanting our children to be raised in daycare because that's the expected standard for our generation? I don't think so.

Look, I have a master's degree. I've taught for 25 years. I'm about maxed out at what this backwards-ass state is willing to pay me to teach kids. You wanna know what that is? Just north of 50K. That's all. What a joke! How many professionals with a master's who've given 25 years to the same career are only making 50K annually? It's pure bullshit. Finished laughing at me? Hope you choked.

Here's the kicker: my son's up first for college. He wants to go to film school at USC. He has good grades but doesn't play the "let's take as many advanced placement courses as possible so I can graduate at the top of my class" game. I hate that fucking game, as a teacher and as a parent. He takes the classes that mean something to his future. He's done the research to see exactly what courses a filmmaker needs. It's not AP Calculus, I assure you. I took that class in high school. Totally worthless.

USC costs 67K each year for out-of-state tuition. Remember how much I earn? Still laughing? It gets better. My wife and I completed the Expected Family Contribution online calculator to determine how much money colleges will expect us to pay out-of-pocket when our first child attends. We filled out an application and provided information about our income and assets. It's a simple formula. They expect us to pay a little over 12K each year. Okay. I accept that. We can do that. I work more than one job, to be fair.

But, wait a minute, USC costs 67K annually. Where does the rest of the money come from? I'm not a math teacher, but I think we'll need to come up with 55K each year. That's more than my base salary teaching high school! Will we get financial aid? I don't think we'll qualify. Not for that much. No way. And what about when my daughter goes to college? Guess what she wants to be? A plastic surgeon. Medical school! I don't even wanna think about those costs.

Yeah, I'm pissed. You know what I've learned? Hard work only pays off if you pick a career the public respects and values. If not, better hope you're born into a rich family or qualify for some serious financial assistance. Otherwise, you're fucked. Well, your children are.