3 New Books for June


I’ve been busy since school let out less than a month ago. I’ve edited two books and published them, plus one more. All of them are outside my usual genre. Now it’s time to promote them and try to convince you to buy them.

First up is A Light Beyond. This is one I imagined several years ago, when I still had an agent who didn’t really believe in me. He shot the idea down, but it wouldn’t leave me. I wrote the book last semester, putting down a little over 50,000 words in a pretty short time for me during a school year. This is the story of Robert Prince, who meets an older woman when he’s 13 and falls in love with her. He has a friend who is a bully and a home life that is less than good.

Structurally, I tried something different with this short novel (or long novella). Each chapter is from a different stage of Robert’s life. We begin in a Cincinnati subway tunnel, where he’s been severely beaten. We then move to the summer of 1978, when he’s 13 and meets Alia, the older woman down the street. The third stage stretches over a much longer period of time, beginning when he’s about 18 and concluding with the chapter that reveals why he’s in the subway at age 51. Every third chapter goes back to one of these stages of his life.

For the few who are interested, there is a lot of nostalgia in this book for me. The chapters with young Robert are set on the street where I grew up and characters visit real places like Longfellow Junior High School, Bob’s Cone Corner, Hendrie House Buffet, etc. There really was a woman living in the house described who a “frenemy” of mine insisted was a hooker. Like Robert, I spent a lot of summer afternoons working puzzles, playing board games, and reading. But pretty much all the major plot elements are fiction.

A Light Beyond is available in both paperback and for Kindle and the Kindle app.

This next book is pretty special to me. My first genre love was for the Western, though it was more for movies than books. I’d wanted to write a Western novel for many years, but frankly, was afraid to branch out. The research seemed intimidating, too. And yeah, that same agent who dissed A Light Beyond didn’t want anything to do with Orphan when I proposed it to him.

This one is also told from three perspectives, but it’s three different characters. First is Ramsay, a wanted man just trying to get west, away from his old life and all the disappointments it held. When he catches a man cheating at cards in a small east Kansas town, the man pulls a gun and Ramsay has to kill him. This leads the man’s nephew, Jack, to decide that Ramsay is now responsible for him, so he tags along. Back in Chicago, Les finds out his lover isn’t who she claimed to be, and she’s pregnant. If he wants to maintain his relationship with her, he must leave his job as a packinghouse foreman and use his old Pinkerton skills to track down a meat baron’s missing grandson. Eventually, Ramsay, Jack, Les, the grandson, and a bounty hunter all meet up. There’s some shooting.

About the only other thing I can say about this one is that it’s dedicated to the memory of Johnny Quarles, Johnny lived in my hometown when his first novel, Brack, came out in about 1988 or so. I was about 22. Surprisingly for my introverted self, I picked up the phone and called him shortly after his book came out and found him to be a warm, helpful man with a wonderful family. He gave me a lot of good advice and let me interview him for various newsletters and such. In the early days of the Internet he even paid me to create and maintain his first Web site. My character, Ramsay Quarles, takes his name from Johnny and Johnny’s character Brack Ramsay. I hope my book is a worthy tribute to a great man.

Orphan is available as both a paperback and for Kindle and the Kindle app. The audio version is in production at the moment.

The third book I released this month is a really old manuscript. I’m talking like 25 years old. Songbird was written when my wife was pregnant with our first child. We never asked to learn the gender of our kids before they were born, preferring to be surprised. I know, that’s unthinkable today with all the elaborate gender reveal parties, but … whatever. We knew if we had a boy he’d be named Alexander and if we had a girl she’d be Rebecca. So the songbird of the story is named Becca and the wandering sailor who rescues her from the Trolls is Zander.

As you may have guessed, this is a children’s fairy story. Becca trades her freedom to save her village and she’s locked up in the Troll king’s Fang Tower, where she has to sing every time a Troll rings a bell. Zander hears her one day and vows to rescue her, but the Troll king’s ransom requires that Zander find the legendary land of Farin and bring back Queen Roshell’s wedding ring. Can he do it before the Troll king forces Becca to marry him? Well, it’s a fairy tale, so you can probably guess the answer to that one. It’s a chapter book, so I guess the target audience here is probably grades 3 to 8. The font is bigger than normal, so the page count is higher than the word count would suggest.

You’ll find several homages to J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander in this one.

Songbird is available in both paperback and for Kindle and the Kindle app.

Thanks for sticking with me!

 

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Christmas. Enid, OK. 1970s.


Christmas. The end of the year. It’s time to look back and be nostalgic, right? Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. But I didn’t grow up in the late 1940s like he did. My childhood was the psychedelic and disco-infused decade of the 1970s.

Enid, Oklahoma, didn’t have big department stores downtown with windows full of toys like where Ralphie first sees his Red Ryder BB gun. Heck, Enid didn’t even have a book store. Can you imagine a city of 45,000 without a book store? But I digress. We had Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Wards and their massive, magical Christmas catalogs. Every year Mom would put those out and me and my sister would pore over them, folding pages and circling items we wanted. I can remember going to the Montgomery Wards pick-up center for boxes, but I don’t remember going to the Sears store for boxes.

One year we were downtown at Woolsworth’s and an employee thought my sister was trying to shoplift because she had a kid’s book under her coat. She was just hiding it from me, though, until she could ask Mom if she could get it for me for Christmas. Mom got mad and we left the store.

Santa Claus came to Enid, but this was before Oakwood Mall opened, so Santa sat in a metal shed temporarily set up in the center of town … on the same property as the county courthouse and jail. We’d wait in line to see him and get a small candy cane after telling him our top wish list item. All of downtown was decorated with lights and tinsel images of snowmen and candles on the light posts.

We mostly had artificial trees that me and my sister would assemble every year. I never really cared for that part. I already did a post about five memorable Christmas gifts, but there were others, like the year I got a small erector set, a Hoppity Horse, and books my mom had to order from the local office supply store. The Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Prydain Chronicles, Where the Red Fern Grows (in hardcover!). One year I got the Six Million Dollar Man action figure (not a doll!) and the rocket that turned into the lab where Steve Austin was put back together. He became buds with GI Joe.

Like Ralphie, one year I did get a Red Ryder BB gun. There was  no compass in the stock. I loved that gun! I got it from my dad’s parents, who had a dairy farm in Ripley. After that, every time we went I would roam the farm with the gun, looking for things to shoot. I still have the gun, but it no longer works. It came with a Red Ryder poster, which I unfortunately do not still have.

It was a happy time.

Halloween in a Box


Have you been to one of the Halloween superstores yet? Believe me, I have. They’re a great place to go, though I tend to only get a few pieces there each year. I prefer to put my costumes together myself to ensure I don’t encounter anyone else who is dressed just like me.

That’s harder to do these days, but back when I was a kid — back when kids got to wear costumes to school and parade through other classrooms to show them off — it was very easy to find yourself in a room where others were wearing the exact same outfit.

halloween in boxKids costumes used to come in a box, just like this one. I can remember many Octobers poring over the shelves of boxed Halloween costumes at the nearby T.G.&Y. store, trying to decide what I wanted to be. This cat isn’t the scariest of images (and it isn’t mine), but it’s surprisingly hard to find online photos of those old costumes, particularly still in the box. I can’t remember how much these things went for back in the day. I want to say about $4.99; it seemed like quite a bit even to a kid who wasn’t paying for it, considering how generic and mass produced they were.

Nonetheless, I had my share of these kinds of costumes. Here’s a 1972 photo of me and the oldest of my two sisters. This is the only boxed costume I actually remember, and I halloween 72probably only remember it because as I was standing on the front porch ready to wear it to school some older girls walked by and made a big deal about how scary I looked. Lisa didn’t go for the cat costume like the one above, but the tiger isn’t far off. I remember one year she was a gypsy.

A few years later I broke out of the boxed costumes and, with the help of my mom, created my first custom outfit, and the only one to ever win a contest. halloween 76This hobo outfit was one of my dad’s old sweat shirts and one of his belts, with a store bought fake beard, a straw hat I got a few years before at Dogpatch, U.S.A. theme park, a big plastic cigar, and some makeup. I won the best costume prize at our October Cub Scout pack meeting that year. Sadly, whoever was supposed to bring the prize forgot it, so all I got for winning was a Snickers bar. I did wear this to school that year. I’m sure these days the fake plastic cigar wouldn’t be allowed through the front door of any school.

My, how times have changed. Trick-or-treating was THE event of the year. Okay, maybe Christmas was still a little better, but going out on Halloween night was mighty close. Almost all the houses in our neighborhood in Enid participated. Back then the Bond bakery was still in operation and they’d make little loaves of bread for employees to give away. I love candy, but that bread was pretty awesome.

You’d think I’d do a lot for Halloween these days, being a horror writer and all. But alas, no. My big Halloween event now is helping at the high school carnival, but I do dress up for it. halloween 2011 smallUnfortunately, my costumes are seldom appreciated. This scarecrow from 2011 made the little kids too afraid to come to the classroom door for candy so I had to take the mask off. On Halloween night I made a quick T frame and “hung” myself on it in the front yard. The bigger kids would ask each other if I was real … and I was happy to jump off the frame and show them.

Boxed costumes these days are usually in a bag, usually made for women, and usually designed to make the girls look slutty. Don’t get me wrong — I like to see a full grown woman dressed as Little Bo Beep, Little Red Riding Hood, or a naughty cop as much as the next guy, but this year I just felt nostalgic for the easy, innocent days of buying a costume in a box from a department store that existed before Walmart took over the world.

RIP Johnny Quarles


My mom called the other day to give me a piece of bad news. Johnny Quarles died early Sunday morning.

You likely haven’t heard of Johnny. He published his first novel, Brack, in the late 1980s. I went to his first booksigning and was wowed by the line of people snaking around inside Enid’s Oakwood Mall, waiting to get his signature. I was in my early 20s at the time and that made a big impression. A few weeks later, depressed and needing some advice, I looked in the phone book and found that Johnny’s number was listed, so I called him.

He had no idea who I was, but that didn’t matter. I was another writer in a place he’d been not long before, and that was enough. We had a good, long conversation on the phone, then he invited me to his house. I recall pulling into the driveway and seeing his truck with the personalized license plate that said BRACK. His wife, Wendy, was very gracious about having a strange kid in her house and left us to talk that time. On later visits she’d sometimes join us.

I once got to sit down with Johnny, in his house, and do a very long interview for the newsletter of a writers’ club I belonged to after moving to Oklahoma City.

He gave me a recommendation to his agent, and the phone number of his publisher at Berkley Books. Neither panned out for me; I wasn’t ready for that. But Johnny belived in me. That first time I called him and told him I’d written a book, he interrupted me and asked, “Have you started another one?” I told him I had, and he told me that made me a real writer.

Johnny published seven novels in the traditional manner. Brack, Varro, Fool’s Gold, No Man’s Land, The Spirit Trail, Shadow of the Gun, and Treachery. He became pretty disillusioned with the publication of Shadow of the Gun because the publisher changed his preferred title — The Gunny — and used a cover he didn’t like. Treachery felt like he was just going through the motions of fulfilling a contract, and after that he quit writing for print publication. He published some other titles as audio book and, as the above article says, wrote for TV. Most of what he wrote was in the Western genre, but it’s good writing. Too often books written for the “men’s market” suffer from poor writing, but that was never the case with Johnny. I’d read  his novels over Louis L’Amour any day.

Sadly, most of Johnny’s novels are out of print. If, however, you happen to run across one in a yard sale or used bookstore, you’d be doing yourself a favor to pick it up and give it a read. He was a fine man and a damn good writer. I’m really sorry I fell out of touch with him over the past decade or so.

RIP Johnny Quarles


My mom called the other day to give me a piece of bad news. Johnny Quarles died early Sunday morning.

You likely haven’t heard of Johnny. He published his first novel, Brack, in the late 1980s. I went to his first booksigning and was wowed by the line of people snaking around inside Enid’s Oakwood Mall, waiting to get his signature. I was in my early 20s at the time and that made a big impression. A few weeks later, depressed and needing some advice, I looked in the phone book and found that Johnny’s number was listed, so I called him.

He had no idea who I was, but that didn’t matter. I was another writer in a place he’d been not long before, and that was enough. We had a good, long conversation on the phone, then he invited me to his house. I recall pulling into the driveway and seeing his truck with the personalized license plate that said BRACK. His wife, Wendy, was very gracious about having a strange kid in her house and left us to talk that time. On later visits she’d sometimes join us.

I once got to sit down with Johnny, in his house, and do a very long interview for the newsletter of a writers’ club I belonged to after moving to Oklahoma City.

He gave me a recommendation to his agent, and the phone number of his publisher at Berkley Books. Neither panned out for me; I wasn’t ready for that. But Johnny belived in me. That first time I called him and told him I’d written a book, he interrupted me and asked, "Have you started another one?" I told him I had, and he told me that made me a real writer.

Johnny published seven novels in the traditional manner. Brack, Varro, Fool’s Gold, No Man’s Land, The Spirit Trail, Shadow of the Gun, and Treachery. He became pretty disillusioned with the publication of Shadow of the Gun because the publisher changed his preferred title — The Gunny — and used a cover he didn’t like. Treachery felt like he was just going through the motions of fulfilling a contract, and after that he quit writing for print publication. He published some other titles as audio book and, as the above article says, wrote for TV. Most of what he wrote was in the Western genre, but it’s good writing. Too often books written for the "men’s market" suffer from poor writing, but that was never the case with Johnny. I’d read  his novels over Louis L’Amour any day.

Sadly, most of Johnny’s novels are out of print. If, however, you happen to run across one in a yard sale or used bookstore, you’d be doing yourself a favor to pick it up and give it a read. He was a fine man and a damn good writer. I’m really sorry I fell out of touch with him over the past decade or so.