Saturday, 8 August 2020

In the Abyss. An award wining short story by Allan Hudson

 




In the Spring of 2020, my short story - In the Abyss - received Honourable Mention in the Writers Federation of NB's short story competition. 


I'm grateful for the award and want to share the story with you this week.


Honourable Mentionan award or special praise given to someone who has done something extremely well but who has not won any of the official prizes


For the longest time, the idea for this story, floated around in my head with no place to land until I was invited to participate in a writer's workshop one fine day in Shediac. I was invited by Zev Bagel, one of NB's creative chaps and fine storyteller. Surrounded by other creative minds and wonderful support, the words flowed... and this is the result. 




Into the Abyss

 

What is there left to be discovered? In our moments of curiosity, perhaps there are a few stones that should be left unturned.

 

Julius Castor – Jules to most – is at the local library. He’s adjusting his black-framed bifocals as he scans the titles of the travel books, a row of confusion, looking for Hiking Trails of New Brunswick. A co-worker had mentioned it after she heard about his plans to take a long weekend. He had decided to dig out his backpack and camping gear and spend three days off in the wilderness by himself. He’d been looking forward to this for the last two weeks. He needs the time away. But the joy over his upcoming excursion is balanced by his frustration at being unable to decide where to go.


His girlfriend has broken up with him a month ago. It had been totally unexpected. They’d been dating since they graduated high school together, six years ago. Out of the blue, she told him she was moving to India to head up the new call center their company was opening. He was offered an opportunity to go too, but India held as much appeal to him as having his toenails removed with a pair of pliers. So he had lost his job as well as his girl. On top of that, his faithful companion, Charlie the cat, passed away, and now, a month later, the once-lanky Jules is fifteen pounds heavier from stuffing his mouth with chocolate due to bouts of depression. A weekend of solitude is what he needs. Just him and the birds, and the trees and whatever else he finds. What he really wants is to drop this dead funk that is pestering him.


As he browses the shelves, he takes a deep breath. He loves the smell of books: the aging paper, the bold odor of ink. It’s why he had studied literature in college. Which is why he works at a call centre. At one time he had hoped to teach English but after being a supply teacher for a short time, the unruliness of the seventh graders made him change his mind. He’s too sensitive to be bossy and dish out punishment.

Some books have shiny spines; others are dull and unreadable. Some have bold letters that yell out their title; others have print so small they might as well be in another language. Jules scratches his head, mussing up his wavy hair. He’s been back and forth several times over this aisle where the librarian had told him he would find what he’s searching for. And he can’t find it. Seeing her at the end of the aisle, he calls out to her in a too-loud voice and she interrupts his query with a finger to her lips and the compulsory, Shhhh! Then she walks down the aisle and stops several feet away. Her eyeglasses hang on a silver chain around her neck and she replaces them on her wizened face, she reminds him of his grandmother. Moving a couple of books around, she finds the title he’s looking for. He’s impressed with her memory. Both for the title he had given her earlier and for the book’s location. It’s not exactly the latest best-seller. A bit shorter than him, she has to look up at him when she passes it to him and whispers,

“There you are, young man. Going on a hike, are you?”

Jules only nods and his round cheeks redden a bit. He’d passed that spot at least three times and never noticed the book. She leaves with a small wave and a half smile.

“Don’t get lost.”

Heading to a nearby table, he scans the pages, flipping them like a fan. In doing so, a paper falls to the floor. He kneels to pick it up. It’s folded in quarters, and when he opens it, a corner crumbles and pieces fall to the floor like confetti. Realizing it’s very old, he handles it gently. Sitting at a plain wooden table – the kind that are popular at church halls and cafeterias and, obviously, libraries – he unfolds the paper as delicately as possible. The overall color is sepia, with edges frayed or broken. The creases where it’s been folded are worn, proclaiming the many times it’s been opened and closed. The lower left corner states that it was once the property of the Albert County Coal Mining Company.


It’s a topographical map, with dark brown highlights and lines twisting and turning ophidian-like. Glancing at the legend at the bottom, Jules sees that the scale is one inch to one thousand feet. The thickest line ends near a mountaintop and has a star at the terminus. A small lake is depicted nearby. It looks familiar, but he thinks that’s unlikely.

The weirdest part is the picture of a woman in an oval frame in the bottom right corner. It looks like it’s not meant to be there – as if it was added later on. Only the head and shoulders are visible. She is staring at something to the right of the photographer. The eyes are dominant, wide and shaded by fear. The non-smiling mouth makes him think of the Mona Lisa. From the hairstyle, headband and clothing, Jules thinks the picture might be from the 1970s because it reminds him of photos he’s seen of his mother when she was younger. But checking the legend, he notices the date: July 26, 1902. The hairs stand up on the back of his neck. Today is July 26, 2002. A hundred years to the day.

The coincidence of the dates is not lost on him. He senses the map is telling him where he should go. Bending to study the details more closely, he sees why it looks familiar – he recognizes the jagged coastline he’s followed so many times. It’s the Bay of Fundy, and this is the old mining trail now situated in Fundy National Park. The lake stumps him, though. To confirm his suspicion, he opens the hiking book to the proper section and traces the trail to find that he is correct. He can see how the roads line up with the topography of the terrain. They have to be the same. Only, in the book, the lake is not there. That settles it. He’s going to go find the lake on the map.

Looking around casually, he sees no one is watching him. He carefully refolds the map, places it between the pages of his own notebook, and returns the book to the shelves. He’s not a thief, but he feels compelled to take it with him. A pang of guilt makes him feel like a bandit though. So, he stops at Don’s Printing Service to have a copy made of the map and then he returns it.  He stops at the grocery store for some nuts and berries, oatmeal and raisins. Back home, he makes his own gorp. Once that was done, he packs and is ready to leave first thing in the morning.

Next day by noon, Jules is sweating profusely in the midday heat. A red polka-dotted handkerchief is tied around his head. Clad in new hiking boots, which he curses because they’ve made a blister on the back of his heel, rugged walking shorts and a black T-shirt, damp with his perspiration, that says Kindness is Contagious in white letters, he’s leaning back on a gnarled and knotty birch tree, trying to catch his breath. Normally he’d be stopping more often, but an inner urge propels him to find this lake. Breathing deeply through his nose, he smiles at the aroma the forest offers: the decaying leaves, the scent of pine sap, the pleasant rot of dead wood. Checking his watch, he estimates another hour before he’s there. Taking the bag of trail mix from his pack, he gnaws on the contents to satisfy his hunger pangs and carries on. Birds cavort overhead, trilling their love songs or warnings into the emptiness. Crows caw at his intrusion. Small animals enter the path and are startled by the presence of a strange biped. All of it has a calming effect on him, but some of his troubles still nag at him like the blister on his heel.


The last section of the trail is like a tunnel. Fingers of maple, poplar and oak stretch overhead from both sides, toying with each other to create a living canopy. The path is dappled from the slivers of the sun that penetrate the thick foliage. As Jules crests the last rise, the tunnel opens to a clearing overgrown with long grasses and young shoots. Jules escapes the shadows and their cool caress and walks into the sunlight, relishing the warmth. But there’s no lake. He checks the map, certain he’ll see a sign that says, “You are here.” Disappointment causes him to frown. Tired now, he decides to rest for a bit and make a more substantial lunch later. Dropping his backpack, he leans it against a fallen tree covered with moss and forest debris. Sitting on the ground beside it, he leans his head back and closes his eyes, meaning to momentarily bask in the sun’s golden glow before eating. Fatigue is greater than hunger and he falls asleep.

Waking to the sound a coyote howling in the distance, he squints at the sun, which seems to be in the same spot in the clear sky as when he fell asleep. Rubbing his eyes, he tries to focus, but all he sees are sepia tones. The tree he was leaning on is gone. He’s lying on the grass and his backpack has fallen over. The clearing is much larger; the trees nearest him, much younger. He sits up and shakes his head, thinking he’s still asleep and dreaming, but nothing changes. Wiping the sleep from the corner of his eyes, the reality of the setting unsettles him. Goosebumps pepper his flesh; his heart pounds in his chest. This is not where he fell asleep. Nothing is the same. Even the tunnel he had emerged from earlier is not yet formed; the limbs have not reached each other. He thinks out loud:

“This is strange. I have to be dreaming.”

Pinching his leg, he feels the pain; he must be awake. A need to urinate gets him moving. While relieving himself, he keeps looking over his shoulder, eyes darting at any suspected or imagined movement. Things are the same, but not the same. Why can’t he see other colors? It’s like looking at the map. He spies another path, partially hidden by the branches of a young sycamore tree. He stares, trying to recall if it was there before but can’t remember. Wandering over to the trail, he’s surprised to see it is well worn. Checking that his pack is still where he left it, he hesitates. Something nags at him to stay put. An eerie feeling comes over him as if he won’t like what he finds. Yet the urge to see where it leads is compelling. Something beckons. Against his better judgement, he pushes the young tree aside and cautiously enters the track.


The path is mostly downhill, the walking easy. He keeps rubbing his eyes, hoping to clear the sepia tones. After a few minutes, he follows a bend and a lake is soon visible. He thinks it’s the one in the old map. At first all he sees is the blinding sparkle of the sun glistening off the dimpled surface. Approaching the end of the trail, to his surprise, colors slowly return to the surroundings. The fear he initially felt dissipates, and the jitters leave his body. The white and brown boles of the large trees are the only break from the verdant splendor of leaves and grass. The lake is as blue as the cloudless sky. With the heat pressing down on him, a body of water has never been so inviting. It calls to him, a voice in his head, soft and mellow, urging him in.

The sun grows hotter, his clothes cling to him. He looks around and feels foolish for doing so. He doubts there is anyone about. Removing all his clothes, even his underwear, he wades into the cool, refreshing water. The bottom is silty, and soft mud squishes between his toes. He craves to go deeper but is nervous of swimming alone. Almost up to his neck in the water, a peace comes over him that is unexplainable, an intense sensation, like an orgasm or that first hit of marijuana, the consciousness of mouthwatering chocolate. He forgets everything that has been troubling him and a singsong voice startles him.

“Come in. Come deeper. Let me hold you.”

The tone is mother-like, melodious and tender. He looks around – three hundred and sixty degrees – but sees no one. Pushing himself off the bottom, he dives in and goes deep, maybe ten to fifteen feet down. Looking up, he sees rays slice the surface and marvels at the sunlight refracting in the water, like a curtain slowly opening. He needs to breathe, but before he propels himself upward, he glances to the depths and sees what looks like a porcelain arm waving to him. Thinking it some kind of fish he resurfaces and notices that the sun has settled in the west, as if several hours have passed since he dove in. But that’s not possible. Is it?



Looking east, he sees dark billowing clouds roar through the sky like steam engines. An overwhelming urgency compels him to set his tent up before dark, gather some wood for a fire. He paddles toward shore, but it doesn’t come closer. He’s pushing with his arms and kicking, but he’s not going anywhere. Turning on his back to rest, he feels something grasp his leg, like a hand, and a penetrating fear engulfs him. Just before it pulls him under, he gulps in a large breath. Down he goes. He’s fighting the downward pull until the voice comes back, soothing, beckoning.

“Relax. Give in to the depths.”

Mesmerized, he gives up his struggle. Mere seconds later, he’s staring at a porcelain statue covered with algae. He realizes it is the body of a woman. His struggle has disturbed the sediment in the water and visibility is poor. His lungs burn; he needs to breathe. As he stares at the figure, the face becomes clear. He screams silently into the water. It’s the woman in the picture on the map.

 

 

July 26, 2027

 

Debbie Foster is at the local library. She and two friends are visiting from Ontario and want to go hiking while they’re vacationing in New Brunswick. The librarian leads her to the travel section and digs out a copy of Hiking Trails in New Brunswick. Debbie thanks her, and waits until the lady returns to her desk to flip through the pages. Halfway through, a map falls out on the floor. The first thing Debbie notices when she opens it is the odd sepia color. On the bottom, looking out of place, is a photo of a young man with round cheeks, wavy hair and black glasses.







Thank you for visiting today. I hope you enjoyed the story. Would love to hear your comments.





Saturday, 1 August 2020

New Brunswick Author, James A Shaw.

 

 




Jim Shaw is the author of The Secrets of the Damned series and has a new book in the works of a different series. We met through JJ Carrier’s FB page – New Brunswick Independent Author’s Association. Jim is an active member of the group and we are fortunate to have him as our guest this week.

He has agreed to a 4Q Interview and is sharing as Excerpt from A Father’s Legacy. 

 

 

I have been penning my lies for over thirty years now. I live in Woodstock, New Brunswick, which is in Atlantic Canada. My first series is Secrets of the Damned, and it is based exclusively in small town New Brunswick. My second series, The Legends of the Seventh One, is set somewhere else, in a galaxy torn by war. I have a passion of the written word that I inherited from my Mother, combined with the keen imagination I inherited from my Dad. My books have been sold as far away as Europe and even in Iraq.




 

4Q: Lets talk about The Secrets of the Damned. Vampires and other scary things. Tell us briefly about the series.



 

JS: Secrets of the Damned is very near and dear to my heart. It is my first series that will eventually consist of three novels and one spin off. Here is a fun little jimfact, SOTD started out as a creative writing project. While attending NBCC Woodstock in 1987, in English class, we were asked to write a story, any story we wanted, so long as it met all the stipulations in the guidelines. So, we got the assignment on a Friday, and I went home and wrote it over the weekend. The actual story I wrote was the intro to the second Secrets of the Damned novel, Forbidden Dreams. 



It was about a couple boys out late at night investigating a notorious haunted house. In this ‘story’ the mansion was as much a character as the two boys creeping around in the shadows as they explore the old house. It was about twenty pages and I thought that was the end of it. So, on the following Friday, we all were instructed to pass our stories around for everyone else in class to read. We were all to write our thoughts and comments on the bottom of the stories. The most consistent comments I was getting was in the form of questions asking me where the rest of the story was. I thought that was odd because I really thought what I had written was complete. But I obliged my classmates and started writing a chapter a week. Of course, the story has changed and mutated several times from those early drafts, to the finished story that you can get today either on Kindle, Audible, or hardcopy on Amazon.  The stories I had envisioned were three in number, each about a vampire, the damned, each having a secret they protected at all cost. Around that kernel I wrapped the human stories. They are very much stories written inside larger stories, kind of like a smile hidden inside a frown. Eclipse fans beware my vampires do not sparkle, and they do not fall in love with their food. If you do buy them, you are in for a fun roller coaster of a ride, and you never quite know what will happen next. Promise.

 

 

 

4Q: What draws you to this genre of writing and reading?


 

JS: Who doesn’t like a good scare every now and again? I sure do, yet there is one thing common to all the genres I write in, which is freedom. The over the top genres, like Thrillers, Sci-Fi and Fantasy offer the writer a wide latitude to explore the big questions we as humans often must face over the course of our lifetimes. Now, do not misunderstand me, I am not trying to sound smug. I am not offering the readers of my books any profound knowledge that will lead you to nirvana. Nothing that grand, the ‘big’ questions I explore are questions I sometimes have wrestled with or more to the point questions my characters are struggling with and need my help to explore them more fully and completely. For example, in, A Father’s Legacy, first book in the new series, one of the main characters Marcus, struggles with who he feels he is and who everyone expects him to be. All his life he has been told of the great deeds he will accomplish, and ultimately how he alone will save the galaxy. Yet in his heart of hearts he does not feel worthy or capable of any of it. We the readers get to follow along as he navigates his world in search of who he really is.

 

 

 

4Q: Every new guest on the Scribbler gets asked this question. Please share a childhood memory and/or anecdote.

 

 

JS: Well the first thing that comes to mind, is kind of a circle. When Star Wars, Empire and Jedi first came to the big screen, my sister took me to all of them. Then when Mr. Lucas brought those movies back to the big screen as ‘special editions’ I took her children to them. It is kind of the Sci-Fi circle of life so to speak.

 

 

 

4Q: Your first book in your new Legends of the Seven Sons series is on the shelves now. Titled A Father’s Legacy. What can we expect when we pick up a copy?

 



 

JS: Well this new series is a departure from the Secrets of the Damned, and I have pivoted from writing Thrillers to Sci-Fi. They both still have a healthy does of Fantasy mixed into them, guess it would not be me if they did not. It is defiantly a series, and by that, I mean it has always been one huge expansive story meant to be told over the span of several novels.  It really is just too big to be told any other way.  In this series I wrestled with some big themes, like the Manifestations of prophecy, and belief, both in ourselves and in others.  What exactly fuels that belief?  Proof for most of us is subjective at best, don’t you think? All this is set against a galaxy shattered by a decade’s long war and the politics that drives the beast of human conflict.  What if you had been told all the days of your life that you were destined to be the savior of the galaxy and the older you got the more you doubted everyone around you.  You doubt yourself even.  Marcus, the main character is struggling with this very thing.  His story alone could not be contained in three hundred pages, not even four hundred I suspect.  But rest assured over the course of the series we do eventually get to the bottom of it.  We also get to the bottom of Haughn and Princess Aurora’s love story.  We also see how Dane Torrek puts his own plans in motion.

This first novel is exactly as it says, ‘an introduction’, a rock thrown into a pond.  The story rides on the ripples.  I intended it to be your introduction to this galaxy, present to you the background of the story, and introduce you to some of the main characters complete with what drives them to do the things they do. Money, love, power, revenge, not everyone wants to be a hero, or do the right thing even.  By the time you reach the end of ‘A Father’s Legacy’, you should have a fairly good idea what makes them tick as people trying to move and exist in their worlds. Each one of them rides the ripples in a different way, each hoping for different results.  The cliff hanger ending was entirely done on purpose, as was front loading the novel.

In the second novel, ‘The Stone Empress’, our characters, by now your friends, will be questing for the secrets they found under the statue of Bichon DaVue.   The war will intensify, and the young Emperor will assume his thrown and begin his own quest to find and kill the man he believes killed his father.  Marcus will continue to struggle with his identity and reluctantly agrees to take his sister Princess Aurora under his wing, and the marriage is put off by circumstances out of Haughn’s control.

 

 

 

4Q: We see that, like many other authors, you are offering A Father’s Legacy, as an audiobook as well. Tell us about this experience.

 



JS: All my work has been turned into audible books. I can think of no other way that I would want my work showcased. I have a profound and deep love for the written word spoken aloud. This I think goes back to my grade nine English teacher, Mrs. Thomas. She would read to us, the whole class, for hours. I loved every minute of it! So, all you guys and dolls who love my audio books, you can blame her, 😊as far as my own work in audio format, the experience has been nothing short of wonderful! To hear the words, you have written come to life has got to be one of the best drugs ever. I would recommend this to all my author buddies, and have to many of them, lol. Seriously the experience will be dependent on the voice acter or actress you work with and I have been lucky enough to have worked with two incredibly talented voice actresses in the past couple of years. Nora Agha is the voice of the Secrets of the Damned series. Let me tell you she is dynamite! Those of you who have had the pleasure to listen to her work know exactly what I mean when I say, WOW. She literally left me thunderstruck from the first chapter till the last one. It is my greatest hope that when the third Secrets of the Damned is completed, she will be available to bring it to life. Kiera Bowie is the voice for the Legends of the Seventh Son series, and we have recently completed the first novel, A Father’s Legacy, in audio format and like the Secrets of the Damned, it will also be available on Audible.com. If you ask me if lighting can strike a person more than once, I will have to say YES. This gal has managed to bring my most imaginative series to life, in such a spectacular way, that I find myself wanting to write more so I can hear more. There is a criterion for how I want to hear my work, simply put I want an actress who is expressive, and all I can say is I have gotten that in spades! Kiera Bowie is not only an exceptionally talented voice actress, but she also is a more conventional actress as well and is full of passion for everything she does, as a result, she is a very busy girl, and I was most fortunate to have gotten her at all.(Should have bought a lotto ticket that day)

 

 

 

4Q: In your opinion, what makes a story great?

 

 

JS: For me, a great story is one that ensnares the reader and holds him or her captive rendering them as helpless as a fly in a spider’s web, until that last page has been turned and the last word read.

 

 

 

4Q: Favorite authors and/or novels?

 

JS: Funny jimfact, growing up I was never one for reading novels. My nose was always stuck in a history text, reading about the rise and fall of the many great empires of antiquity. It is how my imagination developed. As a kid, reading history texts and my Lego sets kept me busy reliving the far away battles I experienced on the pages of those dusty old books. It was not till later in my life, say my mid-twenties that I decided to read novels, and the first series I tackled was the Dune series, written by Frank Herbert. This is my favorite; I am so amazed that this man Frank Herbert created such a complete universe all by himself. 




A lot of contemporary Sci-Fi is the result of a team of writers combining their imaginations to create the different plot lines, characters, and the worlds they live in. Others who I admire, and love are Stephen King, the sheer volume this man has penned is incredible on its own, add to that his stories are of the highest quality and the stories are fantastic. When folks say he is a master, they are not exaggerating. Peter Benchley would round out my top three. Seriously who doesn’t love Jaws? This one novel had a lasting effect on how millions of folks all over the world view our oceans. But just like the other two on my list Mr. Benchley wasn’t a one hit wonder. His novels Beast and White Shark proved that he was the king of the deep blue sea.

 

 

4Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us?

 

JS: This maybe the hardest question of them all. Only that I am grateful for the opportunity to get to share this fantastic space with you and all your wonderful readers. Thank you it means a great deal to me.

 

*** The Scribbler is most happy to have you on board Jim.

 

 

 

 

An Excerpt from A Father’s Legacy.

(Copyright is held by the author. Used with Permission)

 

 

He drew his star sword and hit the door release, and as confidently as he could he crossed the threshold and entered the battle station’s throne room.  It was quite possibly the largest room he had ever seen, and although he had never been there before, it was strangely familiar to him.  It was exactly like the sacred courtyard on Therorie, complete with the cherry trees and the many fountains that lined its gardens.  As hard as he tried, he couldn’t see to the other side or detect any walls of any kind.

The gravel crunched under foot as he marched deeper into the huge room.  In the distance he saw the slender figure of a woman, dressed in flowing robes of pale blue and shimmering white, star sword in hand confidently beckoning to him.

In a sweet voice he heard her say, “Lord Admiral we have a guest.”

His father the Lord Admiral Vendredii stepped out from amongst the cherry trees lining the courtyard.

The Empress regarded him for a moment, studying him as he walked towards them.  “A musketeer no less, look Admiral, I haven’t seen that insignia in a very long time,” she said.

Marcus had stopped after only advancing halfway across the courtyard.  He stood there motionless, studying every detail of his father.  He had never been this close to the man.

The Empress raised her sword and pointed at him.  “Your Master should have taught you that it is rude to enter a room with your star sword drawn, unless you intend to use it.”

He made no reply; instead, he held his star sword high above his head with a strong two-handed grip.

Her fierce eyes burned into him.  “Should I take your stance as reply?”

In his mind he was running through every conceivable attack she could launch at him, and the appropriate counter he would use in reply.

“Lord Admiral Vendredii,” she said, momentarily looking at his father.

The man stood to attention and bowed his head.  “Yes, your majesty.”

“I will dispatch with this pup in five moves or less,” she predicted. She returned her cruel attention back onto Marcus.  Her fierce eyes had darkened to almost black.

Marcus inched closer to the Empress, his muscles tense like tightly wound springs waiting to be sprung into action.  In his mind he could hear Master Durh’s voice telling him this was the all-important battle before the battle, the time when victory or defeat is decided.

Empress Bichon DaVue took a bold step forward, smiling at her challenger.  “Do you like my throne room young pup?”  She raised her free hand and gestured indicating their surroundings.

Marcus looked around the room but remained silent.

She smiled reading his expression.  “Yes, it not only looks familiar to you, it is exactly like the courtyard where you train on Theorie.”

He knew exactly what she was trying to do, and it was not going to work.  He would not allow himself to become distracted.  He was aware that as she spoke, she was slowly closing to within striking distance.  He took a step backward, smiled at her, then looked at his father.  “This courtyard is sacred to our order and kept secret to outsiders for a reason.”

“Do not blame the Lord Admiral for revealing its location to me.  I too, trained under the great Master Zenn Durh.  I was his greatest pupil, and I warned him, about training anyone else.  I told him what the consequences of those actions would be, and yet, here you are.”  She looked at the Lord Admiral, “This pup should be dead along with the other two.”

Marcus squeezed the hilt of his star sword.  “I should be what?  What other two?”

“You don’t know do you pup?”

“Know what?”

“Three days ago, I dispatched three squads of my most lethal Vashek assassins to your secret planet.  By now you are the last of the Musketeers.”

Marcus laughed.  “It is doubtful that any of us in this room could best either one of those men in one on one combat, let alone mere soldiers of the secret police.”

“One on one combat,” the Empress shook her head.  “Only a fool would challenge Master Durh or Steller Falswell to a dual.  I assure you pup, these men, these mere soldiers as you call them are not fools, and your mentors are dead, as dead as you will be shortly.”

Marcus shook his head.  He was about to disagree with her when shiver shot up his spine and then another and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.  His stomach churned and his head began to swim.  It was true, what she said was true and he could feel it.

The Empress sensed the imbalance growing inside him, sensed her chance to strike.  She sprang into action launching a blistery attack, swinging her sword horizontally at his throat, as she did her dress twirled and snapped behind her.

Surprised as much as startled by her speed, Marcus jumped backward, her blade narrowly missed him.  He landed awkwardly and stumbled to one knee.  Seeing this, the Empress pressed her attack, whipping her sword again hard at his chest.

He tried to counter, but it was already too late.  He felt the Empress’ blade cut cleanly through his tunic and bite hard into his chest.  Fire shot through him when the star sword scraped across his ribs as she brought her blade down to the floor.  The insignia he had proudly worn fell to the rocks with a tang.  All the strength went from his legs and he fell, landing flat on his back next to gold and silver pin.

Ignoring the pain as best he could, he scrambled to his feet and whirled around slashing at her with his sword.  He hoped it would back her off and give him enough time to recover his wits and reset his stance.

 She merely regarded him with the briefest of smiles, then lunged at him again, her blood-stained blade held aloft.  She brought her star sword down onto him at the exact same time she landed, feet flat, knees bent in a strong stance, adding more power to her cutting stroke.

He countered her attack and deflected her blade off to the side.  It hit the ground hard, clanging into the rocks, causing sparks to fly in all directions.

He looked at her blade, remembering Master Durh’s words, “It would take some doing to break a star sword.”

The Empress quickly stepped back and brought her sword up and in one fluid motion she hooked his blade in her guard, wrenched it from his hand and flipped it into the air.  Before his sword could hit the ground, she repositioned herself by stepping forward and then swung, hitting his star sword mid blade, neatly cutting it in half, sending both halves bouncing in opposite directions.

Shock and surprise shot through Marcus’ mind.  My sword, it is broken!  He could not believe it.  Once more his master’s words echoed throughout his mind.  Consumed by the sight of his broken blade, he ignored the Empress and the threat she represented. He reached for what was left of the sword.  He almost had it before she kicked him hard between his shoulder blades.  Her kick knocked the wind out of him, sending him face first into the rocks.

Gasping for air, he rolled over to see the cruel faced Empress standing over him.  She smiled.  “Four moves, five if we count the killing blow,” she said triumphantly.  She wiped the blood off her sword and took a step toward the fallen musketeer.

“No majesty, he is my son.”

“Your son, I think would have more teeth.  This pup; is a waste of your seed.”

 Vendredii took a step closer.  “You can’t kill him; he is the Promised One.”

“Keep your place, Lord Admiral!”

The cruel faced Empress looked down at her vanquished opponent.  “You can’t be the Promised One.  You fell far too easily to be the savior of the galaxy.”

She held her sword high above her head.  “Now I ask you, pup.  Who will save you?  Who will save the savior of the galaxy?”

Marcus closed his eyes; he braced himself for the end and hoped it would be swift and painless.

“I will,” the Lord Admiral said, stepping forward he brought his sword up to block his Empress’ blade.

 

 

 

 

Thank you, Jim, for being our featured guest this week. All the best with your new series and your writing journey.

 

 

For you readers wanting more information on James A Shaw and his novels, please follow these links:




(Legends of the Seventh Son: A Father's Legacy) https://www.amazon.ca/Legends-Seventh-Son-Fathers-Legacy/dp/1701696444/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=a+father%27s+legacy+by+jim+a+shaw&qid=1595894854&sr=8-1 

(The Kirk: Book One in "The Secrets Of The Damned" Series) https://www.amazon.ca/Kirk-Book-One-Secrets-Damned/dp/1986454649/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=secrets+of+the+damned+by+jim+shaw&qid=1595895282&sr=8-1 






Sunday, 26 July 2020

Award winning Author Tosca Lee of Lincoln, Nebraska.




The Scribbler is pleased to do a series of guest appearances in conjunction with Creative Edge Publicity of Saskatchewan, Canada. (See below for more of Creative Edge)

 

This month our featured guest is Tosca Lee. When you visit her website, you are greeted by the following:

“ABSOLUTELY RIVETING! TOSCA LEE IS A BORN STORYTELLER.” – J.D. Barker, internationally bestselling author of The Fourth Monkey.

 

Author of eleven bestselling novels, Tosca Lee has garnered an amazing number of awards and accolades for her writing. Her first novels solidified her reputation for thorough research and biblical interpretation. Moving on to adult thrillers, her supernatural suspense novels again received many starred reviews and high acclaim.




“Reviewers praise her lyrical prose, emotive settings and historical detail. Her thrillers, which feature female leads, are consistently praised for their strong heroines and breakneck pacing.” – from Wikipedia.



The Scribbler is privileged to have Tosca as our guest. She has graciously agreed to a 4Q Interview and is sharing an excerpt from The Line Between.



Tosca Lee is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of eleven novels including A SINGLE LIGHT, THE LINE BETWEEN, THE PROGENY, THE LEGEND OF SHEBA, ISCARIOT, and the Books of Mortals series with New York Times bestseller Ted Dekker. Her work has been translated into seventeen languages and been optioned for TV and film. A notorious night-owl, she loves movies, playing football with her kids, and sending cheesy texts to her husband.

You can find Tosca on social media or hanging around the snack table. To learn more, please visit toscalee.com. 




 



** Tosca has recently received news that The Line Between and A Single Light had both won International Book Awards—The Line Between in mystery/suspense and A Single Light in Science Fiction. The two books are also up (against one another!) for the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion award in Science Fiction.



Congratulations Tosca!

 

 

 

 

4Q: Let’s dive right into your latest work, Tosca. I’m referring to A Single Light, which is a follow up to your bestselling novel, The Line Between. The novels consider your heroine’s survival in a post apocalyptical world after a worldwide pandemic. An interesting premise, considering the trying times we are experiencing now. Tell us about the story.


 


TL: It’s definitely been a little surreal living through a pandemic this year after writing these two books, for sure!

In The Line Between an extinct disease has reemerged from the melting Alaskan permafrost to cause madness in its victims. There is no cure, it is always fatal, and now it’s spreading. For 22 year-old cult escapee Wynter Roth, it’s a terrible time to start over.

As Wynter struggles in a world she’s been taught to regard as evil, she finds herself face-to-face with the apocalypse she’s feared all her life—until the night her sister shows up at her doorstep with a set of medical samples. That night, Wynter learns there’s something far more sinister at play and that these samples are key to understanding the disease.

As the power grid fails and the nation descends into chaos, Wynter must find a way to get the samples to a lab in Colorado. Uncertain who to trust, she takes up with former military man Chase Miller, who has his own reasons for wanting to get close to the samples in her possession, and to Wynter herself.

A Single Light starts up right where The Line Between ends. Wynter and Chase have taken refuge in an underground silo with 60 others to whether the pandemic and wait for the vaccine Wynter had a hand in creating. But when they reemerge into the world, nothing is as they expected.

 

 

 

4Q: I’m interested in your first novels, Demon and Havah, both offering accounts of human creation and the beginning of mankind as seen through the eyes of Lucian – the fallen angel in Demon and Eve - the first woman, from Havah. Where did the inspiration for these stories come from?


 


TL: Demon was a story I wasn’t really expecting—it just sort of came along one day while I was driving. I was part of an online gaming community and was trying to come up with a fun new character. I considered writing an angel, but then thought that was kind of boring. Then I found myself wondering what it would be like to be angelic and fallen.  Would I go around trying to tempt people to do bad things? And why—just for kicks? That seemed too shallow for a truly complex, spiritual creature. There had to be more to it. Suddenly, I didn’t want to create a fallen angel role-playing character… I wanted to write the story of such a being.

 

I wrote that story very swiftly, over the course of about six weeks. But it took me many years to sell, even with the help of an agent. In between, I found myself wanting to take a stab at biblical fiction. I was very inspired by one of my favorite books, The Red Tent. I hadn’t ever seen a book written from Eve’s point of view and thought that she has been vilified for so long, it’d be really interesting to see what her life and motives might have been like. That’s how I approach any maligned character—thinking that there’s more to the story.




 

 

4Q: Please share a childhood memory and/or anecdote.


 

TL: I was always making things up as a kid, telling stories, entertaining my little sister, mostly. One time, I convinced her that her Raggedy Ann doll was possessed by Satan. When she wasn’t looking, I got my dad’s dental floss and rigged it up in the crook of her door so that when she closed it and was alone and I pulled on the strings, it moved. This blood-curdling scream came from her room and I remember thinking that was the greatest gag ever. Except that I haven’t seen able to look at Raggedy Ann the same since.

 

A few years ago, when I was visiting her in Boston, where she’s a physician and med school professor, I went down to the guest room to go to bed. As I pulled back the covers, there was a Raggedy Ann doll tucked beneath the coverlet. I practically heard the Psycho sound track in my head at the sight of that ropey red hair. :D



 

 

4Q: The three novels in the Book of Mortals series was co—written with another bestselling author – Ted Dekker. When you write with another author, is there a fear of losing your own voice? Please tell us about this experience.


 


TL:  That’s a really interesting question. And for me the answer is that it was never about retaining or losing my voice, but finding a way to blend it with another author to create a new one. Before our collaboration, I had just come off of writing Havah, which has a very lyrical and literary sense to it. Ted was writing serial killer thrillers. So we were really on opposite ends of the spectrum, voice-wise. We worked very hard and went over our prose again and again to really get a good blend until the voice was natural, appropriate to the genre, and hopefully transparent enough to the reader that they could focus not so much on the language but the story itself.

 



 

4Q: Favorite authors? Novels?


 

TL: One of my all-time favorites is The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It’s the novel that made me want to try my hand at writing; it gave me so much enjoyment and wonder every time I read it, I wondered if I could do the same for someone else.

 

These days I’m blessed to count so many gifted authors as friends, so it’s really hard to answer this question. But I can tell you what I’m reading and loving at the moment, and that is Opium and Absinthe by the brilliant Lydia Kang and A Good Family by amazing debut author A.H. Kim. I highly recommend them both.



 

 

4Q: Several of your novels are in development for TV and film. This must be exciting! What can you tell us about them?


 

TL: Unfortunately, this pandemic has kind of slowed everything in Hollywood down, so we’re a bit in stasis for the moment. We do have a new production partner for The Progeny series and we have an incredible showrunner for The Line Between that I’m really excited about. Hopefully we’ll have more news to share soon.


 

 

 

4Q: What’s next for Tosca Lee, the author?


 

TL: I’m between contracts at the moment, but wrapping up a quick rewrite on a co-authored WWII novel that we hope to find a home for soon. And I’m thinking of finally getting the writing book I’ve had on the back burner done, hopefully this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4Q: Anything else you’d like to tell us about?

 


TL: Some fun items: A Single Light releases in paperback August 18. But right now through the end of the month it’s actually on sale in eBook for $1.99. So is The Progeny. Also, The Legend of Sheba, my novel about the Queen of Sheba, is up for grabs right now in a Goodreads giveaway here until August 11: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/enter_choose_address/309709-the-legend-of-sheba-rise-of-a-queen.

 

 


 


An Excerpt from The Line Between.

(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)

 

ALASKAN INTERIOR, JUNE

The farmer moved into the woods looking for his pigs.
“Jilly! Jilly!” he called. He’d named the sow after his first wife, who’d grown about as fat as the woolly Hungarian blonde, if not quite as hairy. But unlike his ex-wife, Jilly usually came when called, which meant it must be time. The sow was expecting her third litter, and for some reason beyond his understanding, every pig in the sounder had to traipse off into the forest with her to make the farrowing a community event.

He stepped over fallen tree trunks and bent to duck several others. There wasn’t a single tree in this patch that was plumb. “Drunken forest,” the climate change people called it—a more subtle sign of melting permafrost than the sinkholes in town. Aside from the new buckles in his road, he didn’t mind much; warm weather meant more growing days for his new garden. Soon as the pigs got done rooting up this patch, he planned to clear the fallen trees and plant some vegetables. Just enough to beat back the high cost of fresh produce a little, maybe even sell some at the Tanana Valley farmers’ market. Who knew—maybe in a year or two he’d look into growing some midnight sun cannabis.

“Jilly girl!” he called, nearly tripping over what he thought was a root until he recognized it for what it was: a bone. He squatted down, tugged, and came away with half a shoulder blade. Caribou, by the size of it. Thing still had gristle on it, leathery and black except where a hunk had been freshly torn away. God only knew how long that thing had been buried in the mud.

He stood up and kicked around, unearthing what was left of the carcass, which wasn’t much. One thing he’d learned, the Mafia legend held true: a dead body wouldn’t stand a chance against pigs. Nor did living chickens that wandered too close to the pen. He’d learned that the hard way.

He wandered deeper, hacking at the fallen trees with the shoulder blade until he finally found Jilly—and Romeo and Petunia and Walter—nestled in the pine needles with a fresh litter of blond-haired piglets. Ten in all. Well above the European average and two more than her last litter.

He patted Walter when he pushed his snout into the farmer’s hand and let him have the shoulder blade, already doing the math in his head.

It was going to be a good year.

 

TWO DAYS LATER, the farmer found Petunia milling around the yard with a bloody stump for a tail. She ran when he tried to inspect the wound, and only Romeo came when called. The farmer’s first thought was that someone—or something—had terrorized the animals. A wolf, maybe, or even a bear.

After retrieving his shotgun from inside the house, he struck out for the wood.

He found Walter sprawled near the base of a leaning tree, snout bloody, corpse bloated. Just beyond him lay his prized sow Jilly, belly torn open, her piglets savaged around her.

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

IOWA, SEPTEMBER

Conventional wisdom dictates that there’s an insurmountable divide—an entire dimension of eternity and space—between Heaven and Hell. Lucifer managed to make the trip in nine days, at least according to Paradise Lost. That equates to a distance of about 25,920 miles, assuming standard rules of velocity.

 

But I can tell you it’s closer to a foot and a half. The distance of a step.

 

Give or take an inch.

 

Magnus stands near the gatehouse, shirtsleeves rolled up, collar unbuttoned beneath his brown vest. He nods to the Guardian in the booth and the industrial gate begins its mechanical slide. There’s a small door to the side of it just large enough to admit a single person, but I won’t be leaving by the Narrow Gate. My departure must be a spectacle, a warning to those assembled behind me.

I can feel their eyes against my back like hot iron. The glares mottled by anger and fear. Sadness, maybe, but above all gratitude that they are not me.

Two Guardians stand at my sides ready to forcibly walk me out in case I balk or my twenty-two-year-old legs give out beneath me. I glance at the one to my right and swear he looks impatient. Hungry, maybe; it’s just before lunchtime. I’m crossing into eternal damnation, and all he’s thinking about is an egg salad sandwich—and not even a good one. It’s Wednesday, Sabbath by the solar calendar. Rosella is managing the kitchen, and that pious sandwich is full of chickpeas without a single real egg in it.

The gate comes to a stop with an ominous clang. The road beyond is paved with gravel, a gray part in a sea of native grass strewn with gold and purple flowers in stark contrast to the carefully and beautifully manicured grounds behind me. A meadowlark sings somewhere nearby as a combine rumbles in the distance.

I grip the plastic bag of my sparse belongings: a change of underwear, my baby book stripped of its photos, a stone the color of sea glass. Sweat drips down the inside of my blouse as I stare out at that feral scape. At that barren drive through untouched prairie that leads to the road half a mile away.

A car idles at the corner, waiting for me.

Don’t look. Don’t glance back. That’s Pride talking, a voice so faint this last decade I wasn’t aware it was still in there. Still, I turn. Not because I need a parting glance at the compound I called home for the last fifteen years or even Jaclyn, my sister. But because I need to see her.

My niece, Truly.

I scan the nearly five hundred Select assembled across the broad drive until I find her small form near the front, her hand in Jaclyn’s, curls wafting around her head in the breeze.

I’d planned to mouth the words I love you. To tug my right earlobe in our secret sign so she’ll remember me long after she’s told she can never speak my name again. To fight back tears at the sight of hers, to combat her confusion with love.

Instead, my heart stops.

She’s glaring at me, her face pink, growing redder by the instant. I open my mouth—to say what, I don’t know—but before I can, she tears her hand from my sister’s and runs away, disappearing into the assembly.

“Truly!” I gasp, and stagger a step after her. The Guardians grab my arms.

“No. Wait—Truly!” I twist against them, plastic bag swinging against my thigh. I can’t leave her like this. Not like this. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

None of it was.

I shift my gaze to my sister, where she stands beside the six Elders. Her cheeks are hollow, features chiseled far beyond her twenty-seven years.

“What did you say to her?” I shout as I’m jerked back around and hauled toward Magnus, who stands before the open gate, this side of that invisible line.

“Wynter Roth,” Magnus says, loudly enough for those behind us to hear. Which means he’s basically shouting right at me. Gone, the brown-and-gray scruff that was on his chin yesterday. I can smell his aftershave from here.

“Please,” I whisper in the space between us, trying to snag his gaze. But he stares past me as though I were a stranger.

“Because of your deliberate, prolonged disobedience . . .” His words carry to those behind me even as the breeze whisks mine away.

“Just let me say good-bye!”

“. . . including the sins of idolatry, thievery, and the willful desire to harm the eternal future of those most vulnerable among us . . . because you will not hear the pleas of the brethren and refuse repentance, you are hereby delivered to Satan for the destruction of your flesh.”

I hear the words as though from a distance. I’ve seen and heard them spoken before—I just never thought they’d be aimed at me. So this is it. There will be no good-byes. And I realize I hate him.

Magnus lifts up his hands. “And so we renounce your fellowship and cast you out of our holy number even as we pray for the restoration of your salvation, which you forfeit this day. Now, as it is bound on Earth, so let it be bound in Heaven.” He lowers his arms as the assembly echoes his words and says, more quietly as he meets my eyes at last, “You have broken our hearts, Wynter.”

He moves away before I can respond and the Guardians walk me to the line as I glance back one last time.

But Truly is gone.
I face the gravel drive before me.
One step. That’s all it takes to span the distance of eternity. Welcome to Hell.



 

 

 

 

 

Thank you, Tosca, for being our special guest this week. Wishing you continued success with your writing.

 

Thank you!!

 

 

For all you wonderful readers that want to discover more about this talented author and her writing, please follow these links:

 

www.ToscaLee.com

www.twitter.com/ToscaLee

www.facebook.com/AuthorToscaLee

www.instagram.com/ToscaLee

www.pinterest.com/ToscaLee

https://www.bookbub.com/authors/tosca-lee

https://www.amazon.com/Tosca-Lee/e/B001JPCC42%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share




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Creative Edge specializes in elevating the public profile of authors and artists through such means as (but not limited to) book signings, presentations (libraries, schools, conferences, businesses, etc.), involvement in applicable events, media interviews (including podcasts and print media), and soliciting of reviews from influential reviewers and bloggers.