Authors are always sensitive to both praise and criticism. When I received an email this morning from Readers’ Favorite I braced myselft. I realize that it’s next to impossible for EVERYONE to like your book. Everyone doesn’t even like the Bible, for heaven sake (pun intended.) But when you give it your all, then someone rips it to shreds, its pretty devastating.
To use a Texas term, this is not my first book rodeo. I look back at some of my earlier work and cringe. But this is published novel number six and I like to think at this point I know what I’m doing.
This review validated that for me and felt really, really good. It made me cry. Here is what it said:
Reviewed By Susan Sewell for Readers’ Favorite
Conspiracy and murder have taken place in the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the chilling thriller, The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon (Cheyenne Spirits) by Marcha Fox and Pete Risingsun. Both of them dying at the scene of a car wreck, Sara Reynolds watches her husband Bryan go into the light just before returning to her body. Before he moves into the light, Bryan requests that Sara expose those who murdered him. However, when Sara awakens in the hospital, she has no memories relating to the day their pickup plummeted down the side of the mountain. As her health improves, the feeling that the wreck wasn’t an accident persists. When she is once again the victim of another near-fatal accident, Sara realizes someone wants her dead. Why is Sara being targeted? Had Bryan’s computer hacking skills unearthed a deadly secret that someone thinks Sara knows?
Brimming with drama and suspense, The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon (Cheyenne Spirits) by Marcha Fox and Pete Risingsun is the first book in an exciting new series. Opening with a heart-rending scene, the story captured my interest from the outset. Infused with a sense of danger, the intricate plot and dramatic storyline create a breathtaking and intense story. Containing a fascinating combination of Cheyenne and Dine spiritual practices seasoned with astrology, the novel is educational as well as entertaining. The Cheyenne fasting vigil, spirit animals, and the medicine wheel combined with astrology readings are intriguing aspects of the story that are genuine and authentic. It is an exceptional novel complete with conspiracy, intrigue, and murder that will enthrall everyone who has an affinity for suspenseful thrillers with just a smidgen of the paranormal.
This review was especially sweet because a few months ago I paid big money for a Kirkus Review. It sucked. It was apparent from the poorly written choppy paragraph that the person had not even read the book. It was slapped together like a 7th grade book report written at midnight the night before it was due. I would bet dollars to donuts that this supposed “professional reviewer” was some down and out semi-literate individual trying to make a few bucks with no sense of honor or integrity. Furthermore, Kirkus PROTECTS these people by allowing them to be anonymous, PLUS you cannot complain–they make you sign a release upon submitting your work. They pile a boatload of requirements on you while not maintaining professional standards themselves.
I complained, nonetheless, and wrote them a scathing letter to which, as expected, they did not respond.
Authors, please take note: DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY ON A KIRKUS REVIEW! If you are an indie author who is relatively unknown, they will throw your book to some unqualified cretin who probably won’t even read it, much less give it an honest assessment. They are just another one of those fraudulent services preying on indie authors. I am not the only one who has had this experience with them. Besides putting a huge hole in your wallet (which would be better spent on classes or promotion), they do NOT give you a fair shake.
Please spread the word. It’s too bad we can’t find all their victims and go after them with a class action suit, except we’re too busy writing. Attention, those of you who write murder mysteries! Try this for a premise: Author goes psycho over bad review and tries to find, then stalk the anonymous reviewer.
Revenge is sweet, n’est-ce pas?
I was not only insulted, but upset for all the reasons stated above. Some little demon in the back of my head kept telling me that the book was no good. Now I’ve been vindicated and it feels mighty good.
Take that, Kirkus! May your dirty deeds be exposed along with all the other corrupt, blood-sucking services targeting me and my kind!
This is the best episode yet of this hilarious series. I’m so glad the author has kept them coming. As always, the title is brilliant, which you soon discover once you catch on to what the Alien Affairs gang is up to this time. Nothing makes me laugh harder than the antics of Carrie, Terrie, Deshler, Eddie, Emelda, the Musk boys, Cassiopeia (who now has a hot body and narrates the story), and a multitude of thinly veiled representations of political figures we all know, but probably don’t love. (And if you do, you most likely won’t like this rather politically-incorrect book.)
In this story Deshler, the odoriferous grey alien without whom this series wouldn’t exist, decides to run for president. This, of course, requires a few time-travel tricks, such as making sure his birth occurs in the USA instead of Tau Ceti, making him an anchor baby. There’s also the matter of his appearance, which is changed via holographic chicanery to look like a past president I won’t name but will let you discover for yourself. Things are complicated further by the invasion of another alien race dubbed the “spade heads” which necessitate all sorts of diplomatic exchanges to conquer them before they take over the planet.
I highly recommend reading the precursors to this story, however. While the plot is self-contained, the relationships between the characters and reference to various past situations are much funnier when you have the full context. Inside jokes, if you will. I’d give examples, except they would constitute spoilers for the previous books. It might also be a lot of characters to keep straight if you haven’t known them for a while. You know, like going to a family reunion for the first time when you’re 50 years old.
Nothing helps break the tension of the crazy times we’re living in than reading about situations that are even crazier, yet somehow relatable. I highly recommend this series to those who have a dark, albeit sophisticated, sense of humor, which should tip you off regarding which political party the story favors. Those who occupy the other side of the fence should avoid it since they are already angry and destructive enough without further provocation.
You can pick up your copy of “Quantum State” on Amazon here.
If you want to take my advice and start from the top, here they are with links to my previous reviews. As you can see I’m a loyal fan, so much so I just bought them all in paperback. I’m old-fashioned enough to engage more closely with a story in a print book, even though I’ve read all these previously on my Kindle. Maybe it just shows my bibliophile hoarding instincts. And here they are! There’s just something about holding a print book in your hand that makes it come alive.
Nothing gets my endorphins pumping like the creative process. Writing novels is my first passion, but when they’re finally published I find it tremendous fun to put together memes and a short video to get the word out to potential readers. It’s a considerable challenge to compress an entire novel into a two or three minute video. Doing so forces me to distill its essence into something that others can relate to and hopefully tickle their curiosity enough to want to read the book. Here’s my latest for “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits.”
So what did you think? Curious? Assuming the video achieved its objective, here are links where you can pick up a copy of your own in either electronic or paperback format.
How often have you heard you should live in the moment? What does that mean to you? Does it mean concentrating on your current project? Setting goals for the future? Pondering the lessons from the past? Clearly if any of those are your answer, you’ve missed the point.
The moment is NOW, this very instant.
Whether you’re working on a pet project or binge-watching Netflix, chances are you’re not really in tune to what’s really going on around you.
Maybe what comes to mind is “situational awareness.” Especially those who’ve been in the military or law enforcement. Maintaining that can mean survival. Watching your back.
No, that’s not it, either.
This is a deeper type of awareness. Where you realize you’re part of a larger whole. Something many cultures recognize as reality. Something of which I became more aware in researching my latest book, “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits,” for which I studied Native American beliefs.
It’s called animism. That everything is “animated,” albeit alive, and has a soul. People. Animals. Plants. Minerals. Earth herself. The entire cosmos. All connected. Much of that comes to bear in my story through Charlie Littlewolf, the main character, as he perceives messages from trees, birds, even roadkills.
Spirit animals have been more popular lately. In most cases, this is when a person feels connected with a specific animal. A bear. A cougar. An eagle. A fox. This is usually based on characteristics that animal displays to which you can relate. Fetishes can deliver a similar lesson. (More about them here.)
Another way of being in tune, however, is to take the time to absorb the world around you, most effectively, outdoors. What animals do you see? Even if you live in the city, there are usually plenty of birds. There’s a flock of sparrows at your bird feeder along with a single cardinal. What is that telling you? You look up and see an eagle, better yet, a pair, flying over your house. What does that mean?
If for whatever reason you’re stuck indoors, there are still messages to behold. The antique clock. Your favorite cooking vessel. Your cat sleeping in a sun puddle. If they could talk, what would they say?
Looking for answers? Pay better attention. Chances are they’re all around you, just waiting for you to listen.
I have a semi-feral cat who was born in my garage in 2013. Her mother and siblings disappeared years ago, but Taurie hung around. She lets me pet her and I suspect she would love to come inside. Unfortunately, I don’t think that would work very well with my two indoor cats.
When I see her out on the deck, which isn’t always on a set schedule, I go out and give her something to eat. The other day we had heavy rain that dissipated right around sunset. There she was, so I went out with some food. I noticed a neighbor looking up at the sky and holding her cell phone as if taking a picture. I looked up. And there was this spectacular double rainbow. Something I would have missed had I not gone out to feed my feral cat. I raced back inside to get my phone.
The next day, close to midnight, as I was about to retire for the night, I noticed the motion-sensor activated light on the deck was on. Was it Taurie? Or wildlife? Grey foxes, raccoons, possums, and skunks show up out there all the time. It was Taurie. Again, I grabbed a can of cat food and went outside.
This time I was greeted by the waning Moon, Mars right beside her in all his red glory. Again, I got my phone, though I knew it wouldn’t do it justice (and certainly doesn’t show up here). But there was something magical about it I wanted to preserve, however I could.
Later that night, in the early hours, I woke up. I looked outside to see if it was getting light. It wasn’t. Rather than the light of dawn, there was Venus staring at me in her celestial brilliance. You know, that show she puts on when people report her as a UFO. No picture this time, but I did go into the kitchen to check the time. 5:47 a.m.
The fact I’d had three beautiful sights in the sky grab my attention in as many days had to mean something. Fortunately, I’m an astrologer. I had the time for each event, the first two courtesy of the metadata of the photos. What I discovered was amazing. It brought wondrous insights for situations I’m currently wrestling with along with a sense of peace. As if the heavens were speaking to me. Even without the astrological interpretations, they already had.
Seeing yourself as a child of the cosmos may sound like a bunch of woo-woo stuff useful only to mystics, gurus, and retired old ladies who have nothing better to do.
On the other hand, maybe there isn’t anything better to do than pay attention to things around you and listen for what they may be trying to say.
Government corruption ignites a 19th century Cheyenne curse….
In 1879 a drunken hoard of silver miners raided a Cheyenne village while the tribe’s warriors hunted buffalo. A small band of young braves, not yet old enough to join the hunt, escaped and rode for help. Their efforts failed when they were discovered by the raiders, who ran them over a cliff along with all the tribe’s horses that had been left behind.
When the warriors returned and found the devastation, the tribe’s medicine man, Black Cloud, placed a curse on the site.
A century and a half later, a scandalous Top Secret project is under construction in the same Colorado wilderness. Bryan Reynolds discovers that its roots lie in the same greed, corruption, and exploitation of the Earth that precipitated the curse. But before he can expose what he’s found, he’s killed in a suspicious accident that his wife, Sara, miraculously survives. Her memory of where they were or what they’d discovered, however, is gone.
Neither Sara nor Bryan’s life-long Cheyenne friend, Charlie Littlewolf, will rest until they find out what Bryan discovered that resulted in his death.
Charlie is acutely aware that the only way to solve the mystery is through connecting with the grandfather spirits. To do so he must return to his roots and the teachings of his medicine man grandfather, Eaglefeathers. His journey back to the Cheyenne way includes ancient rituals and ceremonies that guide him and Sara to the answers they seek.
As a descendant of Black Cloud, his destiny is deeply embedded in the fulfillment of the original curse, which was triggered by the scandalous government project Bryan discovered and his subsequent death. Charlie’s quest has only just begun.
It took me far longer to write this story than I ever imagined. Believe it or not, my original intent was to write a cozy mystery which I planned to finish in a few weeks. Once I got into it, however, and started doing some research (my fatal flaw as a write), it morphed into a not-so-cozy murder mystery with a sharp conspiratorial edge. It took nearly two years from when it was conceived to releasing volume 1 of a trilogy.
Part of the delay was when I decided I needed a Native American to give my work a sanity check. I didn’t want it to be inaccurate or offensive. I did a lot of research, but recognized that is often insufficient. Through a rather serendipitous chain of events I found Pete Risingsun, a Cheyenne who lives on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana. It didn’t take long for Pete to connect with the story to such a degree that he became the story’s coauthor. The Cheyenne portions of this story are accurate. You can read Pete’s biography as well as mine on the book’s website here.
A government conspiracy lies at the core, though this first volume concentrates on Sara and Charlie discovering what Bryan knew that got him killed. It’s character driven like my other novels with them riding a freight train of research that captured me in their iron grip. Every time I turned around I discovered something else that fit the story and situation too closely to ignore.
Modern man’s colonialism coupled with a blatant disregard for the environment conflicts with Native American philosophies of animism and the necessity to honor the Earth. These ideologies have clashed for centuries. Informed individuals already know about the downside of fracking. Past pollution caused by 19th century mining and the EPA Superfunds charged with cleaning them up, however, are not as well-known. Put them together and there’s a subplot just waiting to hatch.
Various paranormal and supernatural elements including detailed descriptions of Cheyenne rituals and ceremonies are included. You’ll learn about the sacred red pipe, ceremonial fasting, and the sweat lodge. The Cheyenne’s name for the Great Spirit is Maheo, who is referred to throughout. There are numerous other-worldly situations included. While the story is fictitious, these depictions are authentic.
Modern technology plays a significant role in juxtaposition to traditional Native American elements. Astronomy and the ancient art and science of western astrology play roles as well in helping Sara and Charlie find the answers they need.
These complexities are what expanded this story into a trilogy. Charlie’s journey back to his roots and the consequences Sara pays for fulfilling Bryan’s dying request play out in the next two volumes. They are already drafted and awaiting collaboration with Pete and then the usual rounds of editing. Native American history is touched upon, but will be covered in greater detail in subsequent volumes.
I hope you’ll join me in this incredible journey and enjoy it as much as I have putting it together with the assistance of my awesome coauthor.
Pick up an electronic copy on Amazon or Google Play until July 31, 2020 for only 99c!
More vendors are on the way. The print version will be out in about a month. COVID19 has slowed down the conventional indie publishing process to glacial speed, but it is on the way.
Check out the series website for more information about the sequels and an excerpt from this one.
This great story is now available as an audiobook!
Or Read for FREE! (Details below)
About the Story:
Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire’s most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie’s escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time. With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?
What is the Collar for, and What is a Cavvarach?
The story is set in a world very much like our own, with just a few major differences. One is that slavery is legal there. Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone. Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).
Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil. It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with “have a rack”), an unsharpened weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge. Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades. You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.
More About the Story
Set in a world alarmingly like our own, The Collar and the Cavvarach is the story of fourteen-year-old Bensin, a slave, whose status is made obvious to everyone by the steel collar locked around his neck. A martial artist who competes to win money for his owner, Bensin fights in tournaments with a cavvarach. But his greatest battle is the struggle to protect his little sister from the horrors of legalized slavery in a world where slaves have few rights. Desperate to keep her safe, Bensin struggles to find a means – legal or otherwise – to arrange for her freedom.
(For a fun introduction to the story’s setting and its culture, including an explanation of how cavvara shil works, click here.)
Sound Like a Book you Might Enjoy?
Click the play button below to listen to the first 15 minutes of the story as narrated by Joseph Baltz.
“Now cracks a noble heart. —Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”
–Horatio in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare
I’ve had a cat in my life since the day I was born. The one I grew up with, Snopsie, was a member of the family before I was. As I was growing up I often suspected that my parents loved that cat more than they did me. Now that I’m a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, I know with absolute certainty that such was true. Studies have shown that people have more empathy for animals than they do for other humans. I believe it. More often than not, I am one of them.
Of course the status a pet carries in a household varies significantly. Sometimes they’re a pet and sometimes they’re a fur-baby. The years when I was raising a family and had a houseful of kids, the cats were pets. I cared about them, enjoyed having them sit on my lap, and did the best I could to take care of them, but they didn’t own my heart. Once I retired, however, and the kids were gone, it was another story.
I adopted Hamlet and Ophelia in December 2006 as a Christmas/Birthday present to myself. I’d heard that Bengals were unique, lively, and entertaining and were supposed to live as long as twenty years. One eighth of their genetic material is Asian Leopard, which accounts for their distinct markings and strong personalities. They’re intelligent, curious, agile, and adventurous which, as expected, leads to lots of mischief. Over the years, property damage and veterinarian bills have amounted to literally thousands of dollars, mostly credited to Ophelia.
Mine was not their first home. Originally a young couple who lived in an apartment with a preschool age son and a baby were the ones who adopted them from a cattery. It didn’t take long to realize that that was not the ideal environment for these active felines. Luckily for me, they realized this about the time I decided to get a cat.
My daughter sent me a picture of these two from her company newsletter, mentioning how adorable they were. I immediately recognized them as Bengals and knew they were supposed to be mine. They were half-siblings sharing the same father but different mothers and born a day apart at a local cattery. Soon they were racing up and down the stairs of my Houston townhome, sitting on top of cabinets and bookcases, and scrutinizing the potential meals lurking in the fish tanks.
When I retired in October 2009 we all moved to my lake house. It was half the size with no stairs. They were clearly bored, but we all made the best of it. There was one high perch that became Hamlet’s favorite, though he also liked the top of the refrigerator or the pie safe. I’m sure they would have loved to go outside, but they’d always been indoor cats and I worried about them in the rural environment. Hammie actually got outside one time, but freaked out almost as much as I did.
I never thought he would leave so soon. Ophelia was the one who nearly died a couple times, usually from eating something she shouldn’t, like a leather shoe lace and a hair tie, the latter of which required surgery. He was supposed to live to a ripe old age as an indoor cat, then gradually fade away and die a peaceful death. Instead, in what should have still been his prime, he slipped away within a relatively short time. He’d been losing weight, which wasn’t unheard of for a fourteen year-old cat. It seemed to get worse about the time the COVID-19 pandemic locked everything down.
When I finally got him to the vet, the procedures were far different. Instead of going inside the examining room with your pet, you waited in your car.
An assistant came to get him and deliver him inside, then the vet would talk to you on the phone. Hamlet hadn’t been to the vet very much and hated the car. Then we sat there for over an hour in the hot afternoon sun before they took him inside. Upon talking to the vet, I decided to leave him there overnight for them to gather the samples they needed to make a diagnosis.
In the morning he was frantic, his wild blood turning him into a snarling, spitting, angry kitty who undoubtedly felt horribly abandoned. I took him home. The next day or so I noticed that his pupils were not the same size. I called the vet, took him in again. He had a detached retina, which could be caused by high blood pressure or a blow to the head. Which I later deduced occurred when he’d been left there overnight and gotten so upset. He got through that exam better, but the tests weren’t conclusive. The doctor suspected cancer, but his symptoms fit kidney failure or possibly pancreatitis.
Different sized pupils = detached retina
I took him home and watched day after day as he sat in the sunroom, staring out the window. No doubt he was now half blind, which broke my heart. For a while he still ate and drank and used the litter box. In the evening he would usually come into the living room and sit on the couch with me, his sister, and step-sister. If he didn’t join us, I would go get him.
The usual evening couch configuration.
His sister and step-sister knew something was wrong.
He continued to fail, losing weight and strength such that he was very wobbly on his feet. Before long he no longer had any interest in looking out the window. He sat on a cushion in my office, half asleep. He’d drink water, but was unable to get into the litter box. When he wet, he would move away from the puddle. I knew it was time, but it was 4th of July weekend. I couldn’t take him in to be put out of his misery until Monday.
I agonized at the thought of taking him in. He hated the car and would yowl the entire 20 miles. Whether I could be with him was in question due to the COVID-19 procedures. He might even die on the way from fear, given his weakened state. Not exactly a peaceful, humane demise.
Fortunately that drive wasn’t necessary. He passed away Sunday night around ten o’clock on the couch beside me where he’d spent every evening for the past ten years. Ophelia watched, instincts telling her what was happening. It was heartbreaking and intense but only took a few minutes and he was gone. At least it had been in a safe, familiar place with me doing all I could to comfort him.
I called my wonderful neighbor, Heike, who’s a fellow cat lover. She came over to help me wrap him in a blanket. We laid him on the futon in the sunroom where he’d always loved to sleep until the next morning when we would dig a grave to bury him. In the morning when I got up and checked on him I found his sister sleeping next to him for the last time. Talk about a tearjerker. But she knew he was gone. If I’d taken him to the vet she never would have known or understood in the same way. One of Heike’s cats typically shunned her for a while after making that dreaded trip to the vet, apparently blaming her for the feline family member who never returned.
Heike and I, two women in our 70s, dug a hole in the rocky, Central Texas ground and laid him to rest by my shed in the shade of one of my oak trees. I’m still deciding what to plant on his grave. The rocks you see around it all came out of the hole itself. We got as deep as we could until the rocks were too big to remove. In the next few days I’ll make it prettier and a decent memorial to an awesome cat.
The house feels so empty. Up until the past few months his presence was always known. He was very vocal and his climbing antics legendary. I’m so glad I took so many pictures over the years. Like they say, photos may not seem important until they are all you have left. Ophie has been in my lap much more than usual. Hammie was never much of a lap sitter. Actually, he was too big to get comfortable. If I had a blanket on my lap he would get under it and become the “undercover cat.”
One thing that touched me deeply was the response I received on Facebook. The post of his death got 152 likes and 96 comments and the post of Ophie beside his blanket-wrapped body got 59 likes and 124 comments. I’ve never had a response like that to anything before. Pet owners share an important bond, that of loving our fur babies like family. Their compassion and support meant so much, even though most of them are otherwise strangers.
In closing this memorial to my sweet Hamlet, here are some parody lyrics dedicated to all pet lovers for those difficult times when you say goodbye. Sing it to the tune of “All the Girls I Loved Before”, either the Julio Iglesias or Willy Nelson version, your choice.
To all the cats I’ve loved before
Who traveled in and out my door
I’m so glad they came along
To them I dedicate this song
To all the cats I’ve loved before
To all the cats who shared my bed
And never did a thing I said
I love and miss you, oh, so much
And miss your fur beneath my touch
The Rainbow Bridge you may have crossed
But in my heart you’re never lost
Your sweet spirit lingers on
And will never be completely gone.
March 17, 2006 – July 5, 2020
“Now cracks a noble heart. —Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”
–Horatio in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare
Due to the brutal heat of a Texas summer, it took me a while to fix up Hamlet’s grave site, which didn’t happen until a cool day on 25 October. Here is the result. I still miss him very much and I know Ophelia does, too. Often she stares at places where he loved to hang out as if wondering where he went. He will always be remembered.
Erik would give his life to protect King Jaymin. However, when an old enemy shows up with new schemes, that may not be enough.
Anya longs to be noticed by the king’s handsome bodyguard. But as she finally gains Erik’s attention, the notorious spy and double agent Dannel blackmails her into fulfilling a favor she has owed him for years. Anya is forced into a terrible choice: save Erik’s life, or protect her homeland.
Can Erik and Anya thwart an assassin and prevent a war before Dannel destroys everything that matters to them and to the kingdom?
In the Double Agent’s Service is the final book in the Annals of Alasia. Here’s a glimpse of the rest of the series!
An orphaned prince. A devious double agent. A well-meaning merchant who may have just doomed his kingdom. Meet the citizens of Alasia and Malorn and prepare to be drawn into a tangled web of war and intrigue.
With the first six books ALL free or discounted, this is the perfect time to grab the whole series! Click here to see the Annals of Alasia series on Amazon.
Meanwhile, here is the first scene from In the Double Agent’s Service!
The smell of dry dirt.
A hard, gritty surface beneath his cheek.
Erik mentally catalogued the sensations in order of their intensity. He opened his eyes, blinked, and added another to the list.
Where am I? He struggled to sit up, and his pulse spiked at the realization that he couldn’t use his hands or feet. His ankles were bound together, and his wrists were tied behind his back.
What’s going on? Erik forced himself to a sitting position, noting the dirt floor beneath him, a rough wall at his back. Brushing his fingers over what he could reach of it, he discovered that the wall seemed to be made of the same hard-packed earth as the floor.
Am I underground? Though not completely smooth, the surfaces were too flat to be natural. Not a cave, then, but perhaps a cellar of some sort.
Or a cell.
He held his breath, straining his ears for any sound in the darkness. “Hello?” he whispered.
There was no response.
“Hello?” he said, a little louder. The acoustics hinted that he was in a small room. His head, already sore, throbbed anew at the sound of his own voice.
Erik leaned against the wall behind him, trying to keep calm. What happened? And where’s Jaymin?
Jaymin. Erik’s pulse started racing again. Had something happened to Jaymin?
Calm down, he ordered himself. He couldn’t afford to give in to panic. Instead, he would investigate his surroundings. Perhaps Jaymin was lying unconscious nearby.
Erik struggled to his feet and promptly smacked his head on a low ceiling. Dropping to his knees with a grunt of pain, he drew in a deep breath while a wave of dizziness rolled over him. When it passed, he shifted to a sitting position, bound legs in front of him. Moving slowly because every movement set his head throbbing, he began to crawl crab-like on his backside, feet, and hands. Keeping one shoulder against the wall, he scooted forward.
It didn’t take long to discover he was in a circular room, the walls curving back around toward where he had started. After eight steps, if he could call them that, his toes bumped something hard. Feeling with his feet, he discovered a stair in front of him, perhaps eight inches high. Shifting his weight, he leaned forward and took a little crouching jump into it. Another stair lay above it, and another. When he jumped onto the third stair, he winced as his injured head bumped the ceiling again.
Craning his neck and brushing an uninjured part of his forehead lightly back and forth against it, Erik discovered that the ceiling was made of wooden boards. Ducking lower with every hop so as not to bump it again, he made his way up the rest of the stairs until they ended at the wall. Twisting around, he hunched over awkwardly and ran his elbow back and forth across the low ceiling. As he had expected, a rectangular trapdoor lay just above him. He could feel the seams where its edges didn’t quite meet the surrounding boards. The hinges must be on the other side, but he thought he could detect a keyhole at one end. Nothing happened when he pushed up against the door with one shoulder, not that he had expected it to open for him.
Descending the steps again, Erik felt his way around the rest of the room. Eleven shuffling steps took him all the way around its circumference and back to the stairs. Criss-crossing the middle several times, he discovered it was completely empty.
If Jaymin wasn’t in here, where was he? Erik sat down and leaned against the wall, his head pounding from the exertion. Bending to brush it gently against his raised knees, he could feel a lump on his right temple. In addition, his upper lip was swollen and tasted like blood. It felt as though he had some bruises on his arms and torso, as well.
Erik closed his eyes — not that it made any difference in the complete darkness that surrounded him — and strained to recall what had happened. Had he and Jaymin been on a trip? He thought he remembered something about embarking on a journey. Where were they going? Was there an ambush? What happened to the palace guards who always accompanied the royal carriage?
Surely Jaymin couldn’t be dead. No one would kill the king but take his bodyguard captive. Would they?
And why would anyone take a bodyguard captive in the first place?
Today I am thrilled to host an author who is beyond a doubt in my Top 5 Favorite Authors of All Time. I kid you not. You would think that a book of short stories would be easy to set down. Not true with this author. His writing is of the “take me away, Calgon” variety. Rather than “spoiler” alerts, it should come with “addiction” alerts. I have read several of his novels and must say they are all memorable with their endearing characters and his phenomenal writing skills that suck you and your heart right into the story. Here’s your chance to get a sampling of his work and find out what you may have been missing. –MF
I am thrilled to see you here at Day 9 of this extended blog tour! Gratitude abounds for my generous host who shared some blog space today. I hope to interest you lit-mavens in trying my first book in something lo too many years, this my only collection of short fiction: Comes this Time to Float: 19 Short Stories by Stephen Geez. You could add another “by Stephen Geez” to that, as I put the moniker in the subtitle, too. I’d be forcing it to find a theme, except maybe that all my stories try to look at something I think is important, but told in a decorative sort of way. Written here and there among novels over two decades, they show a variety of genres and styles, as I get restless. Now they’re tucked between jacketed hard covers and softs, or in e-however-you-likes.
Each tour stop will offer the opening paragraphs of a story from the book, then link to the full story online. A few will also link to audio-shorts narrated by me. An RRBC-specific promo video will be foisted on you every day. Using a narrator didn’t seem right for my own trailer, so yeah, it’s me. Be sure to post reviews in your favorite places, most helpfully if Amazon. RRBC members, be sure to report the Amazon link to your Reviews Coordinator for quarterly credit.
And you, I thank, too.
A Geez Author Blurb
Stephen Geez grew up in the Detroit suburbs during the American-auto domination. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor. He retired from scripting/producing television and composing/producing television music, then expanded his small literary management firm into indie-publisher and multi-media company Fresh Ink Group. Now he works from a deck overlooking the lake in north Alabama, helping other writers share their compelling narratives with the world.
The Book Blurb
Prepare to think as you explore these wildly disparate literary short stories by author, composer, and producer Stephen Geez. Avoiding any single genre, this collection showcases Geez’s storytelling from southern gothic to contemporary drama to coming-of-age, humor, sci-fi, and fantasy—all finessed to say something about who we are and what we seek. Some of these have been passed around enough to need a shot of penicillin, others so virgin they have never known the seductive gaze of a reader’s eyes. So when life’s currents get to pulling too hard, don’t fight it, just open the book and discover nineteen new ways of going with the flow, because NOW more than ever Comes this Time to Float.
The Promo Video
Today’s Sample: “Bus, Boy”
André, the punk-ass busboy.
Scratchy black pants, stiff white shirt, cheap dark shoes. Sixteen years old, embarrassed to be here, he sits in a booth in the back, waiting for paperwork and some here’s-what-you-do.
P.O. set this up, said only way outta this place is to find a better job hisself. Got tomorrow and the next day off before a five-day schedule kicks in. Bet he’ll have something better before having to show his face for a second day in this place. Judge said gotta work full-time now, then part-time and GED classes in the fall, or serve that suspended year. Catch another case and he’s gone for even longer. That was last week. Probably shoulda started looking for his own job then.
Moms cried when she showed him the clothes she bought him—proud of him, she said, bring in some money, help out, maybe get some insurance to share her car. Teenage boys cost a lot.
Restaurant-style food joint in the mall, booths and tables and stools at a counter, waitresses running trays, two cooks behind the lights, order slips clipped to a turning-deal, Lenore at the register on your way out. It’s humiliating, working at a place like this, these kinda people, right by home where everybody he knows can see him. P.O. says people respect honest work. Yeah, right.
The Whole Story
I have posted the entire story on my blog today. Be sure to come back here!
First of all, I know that I’ve been absent from my reviewing duties for a while now. That’s because I’ve been up to my eyeballs writing a story that began as a cozy mystery that expanded into a thousand-page conspiracy thriller which has required an astounding amount of research. I truly hope to get at least the first book out in a few months. I expect it will be worth the wait. Recently I took a trip, however, which gave me time to read on the plane and this was the story I selected. It definitely made the miles fly by at a rapid pace.
The title alone constitutes a spoiler though this cautionary tale definitely drives the message home. Set in South Carolina in the 1970s, this gripping story captures the dark side of the south in the post 60s Civil Rights era. This culture was entirely off the radar of those who lived in other parts of the country and deserves to be read for its education value alone.
I have to smile at the main character’s name, Mason, a Californian who definitely has some interesting revelations and adventures upon venturing below the Mason-Dixon line. A young man in his late 20s who has recently lost his job and been divorced by his wife accepts employment at a company in South Carolina that manufacturers machines used in the printing industry. From reviewing ECRs (engineering change requests) to interactions between employees with a variety of educational and cultural backgrounds, the author did a great job capturing the work climate of such a facility which included plenty of gossip and the inevitable backbiting. It was easy to visualize the environment and feel as if you, too, were an employee observing the drama and goings-on.
Mason is immediately attracted to a flirtatious woman named Jill. Despite warnings that her abusive husband is the Grand Knight of the local KKK, he pursues a relationship with her. As expected, he is attacked and harassed in a vicious manner, any relief from law enforcement nonexistent since they are also members of the Klan. His obsession with her is not to be doused, however, and ultimately becomes coupled with compassion and the desire to help her escape her abusive marriage.
Further description will definitely tread upon spoiler territory, though I’m sure just about anyone can figure out that this is probably not going to end well. Actually, the ending does carry a few major surprises, though the author did a good job of alluding to them. This suspense-laden story is not only a warning not to allow your libido to lure you into dangerous situations, but also provides a glimpse into what it was like in the Deep South a half-century ago. While some of it has improved, it’s still a place immersed in echoes of a culture that few outsiders understand.
Scott Skipper is one of my favorite authors, particularly his Alien Affairs series. Being much darker, this novel lacks the dry humor found there, but his skilled writing style and attention to detail make it an outstanding read.
As mentioned earlier, I read this story while on an airplane. As I was about to get into my car in the remote long-term parking lot I heard a shot. Duly sensitized by the action in the book, I ducked, wondering what was going on and whether I was in mortal danger. Then it dawned on me that it was New Year’s Eve and all I’d heard was a firecracker. Nonetheless, it illustrated the author’s skill in pulling me into the story. Don’t miss it.
You can pick up your copy on Amazon here. You can learn more about Scott Skipper and his other stories through his social media links below.