CERTAIN FURY & the Birth of the Storm Rhino

5113jbvzJpL[1]Like most crazy ideas, this one started over a conversation that involved alcohol. Sean Smith and I were bemoaning the state of the union, as one does these days, but when two post-apocalyptic writers have that conversation it gets dark really  fast (remember: we do research). Scenarios ranging from foreign invasion to civil insurgency to nuclear Armageddon were tossed back and forth. Then I mentioned an exchange I had with my old mentor Dr. Tom Lincoln of RAND Corporation.

To say Tom was eccentric would be an understatement. Before medical school, Tom earned a degree in cryptozoology. He was one of Carl Jung’s graduate students. He drank expensive scotch and wore tennis shoes everywhere, even to Congressional briefings. And he had this penchant for collecting weird things, which he sometimes showed me: a photograph album of the human body viewed as a series of 300 cross sections, medical files of Ebola patients, notes from meetings with Norman Schwarzkopf in which they war-gamed Desert Storm and a draft contingency plan to remove the President from office by force should the need arise.

Back in the bland days of Bill Clinton, the very idea was ridiculous – far-fetched X-files stuff. But the US military being what it is, they have plans for everything, including occupation of Canada by extraterrestrials. I have no idea how Tom got his hands on it. But a draft contingency designed by some low-level military wonk back in the Seventies (probably in response to Watergate), now long declassified and replaced, made for interesting reading at the time. Sean thought it might make for interesting writing in the here and now.

“Goddamn!” he cried with the unabashed exuberance that makes me love the guy. “Let’s write that story! Let’s write it now!”

So we did.

With the same momentum that I imagine must have carried Crosby, Stills, Nash and 6561757-M[1]Young through recording and releasing of Ohio  within three weeks of Kent State, Sean and I produced Certain Fury  in a fever. E-mailing pages back and forth between Vancouver Island and Florida, we built a fast-paced, character-driven thriller novella in (what I hope is) the vein of Fletcher Knebel or Richard Rohmer, and had a blast doing it. Our easy friendship made the collaboration a joy and along the way I rekindled my romance with writing straight-ahead thrillers. My friendship with writers like Alex Shaw, Steve Konkoly, Jamie Mason (no, the other Jamie Mason) and Ali Karim often pulls me into that very distinct orbit of publishing, and I have written two novellas for Steve’s Perseid Collapse series that remain some of my most well-received work to date. It was good to be back in familiar terrain.

Because we wanted to respond to shifting circumstances, engaging any of the traditional publishers with whom Sean and I have worked in the past simply wasn’t practical. We wanted to respond to the ongoing crisis in the American situation and put something out now, like a rock single. Fortunately, a variety of alternative, self-publishing platforms exist so we chose KDP and I took over the helm. Producing Certain Fury  forced me to polish off project management and production skills I haven’t used in a long time and I was surprised to find myself enjoying that side of the experience more than I expected. The project might be self-published, but I was determined to involve the same pro-level artists, editors and formatters Sean and I had both used for our house projects so I contacted them. To my great delight, they were willing to come onboard as sub-contractors. Felicia Sullivan performed her editorial magic under extreme time crunch, Christian Bentulan crafted a beautiful cover and the mighty  Kody Boye provided a timely, tasty e-book mark-up. Wrangling all this in the tight time-span we had required chops I’d left dormant since the old days. It sure felt like a professional endeavor, but of course …

We’re self-publishing, I thought – something I told myself I’d never do. But it’s for a good 51bs537ve6L.SX316[1]cause. We were responding to events – something artists often feel compelled to do.

Even the guys cranking out thrillers in the basement .

Right around this time, I found myself recalling the men’s adventure novels of the 1970s, the books that first inspired me to write: Don Pendleton’s Executioner books, Donovan’s Devils and the Malko series from France. I wondered whatever became of that whole strata of publishing. Men’s pulp adventure fiction with a strong military focus seems like an anachronism in our enlightened era of safe spaces, political correctness and ascendant feminism. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, as far as I’m concerned …

But there isn’t anything wrong with men’s pulp adventure novels, either.

61+un+dEWZL._SY346_[1]Meanwhile, I learned that The Executioner enjoys a robust afterlife in e-book. And it occurred to me, staring at an early edition of Certain Fury, that it might be worthwhile to make more of these things.

I’m not proposing opening my own publishing house. But I’d sure like to do more books like this and involve other writers, and use such projects to generate paying work for them as well as the artists, editors and formatters who will help us bring quality men’s adventure fiction to market. The totality of the enterprise is at a fuzzy stage just now. Call Certain Fury  a trial run. All my contacts are in place: the artists, copy-editors and other pros needed to see the work done right. I know at least one other writer (possibly two) willing to write a book. Perhaps others will read this and consider contacting me. I hope they do, but I’ll confess right now that I probably have more questions than answers. Will this beast be a micro-press? A publishing co-op? A small start-up? How will we sustain and extend our present funding? How will the novels be received? How will we grow our audience? How will our peers and mentors in the publishing world view our efforts?

Beats me. But I’m having fun and plan to continue. We will produce e-books and a few print editions of what I call “7-11 lunch” fiction: a sammich, an apple and a cookie. Nothing gourmet, but easy to swallow and just plain damn fun. Because isn’t that what this whole fiction thing is supposed to be?Rudy the Rhino

For now I am calling it Storm Rhino Press.

Fear the Rhino.

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Rockin’ the Riverside

A small thermonuclear explosion detonated at the River Rock pub in Duncan last night. A collection of extraordinarily gifted musicians gathered and, in the space of a few hours, performed in cohesive bands, exploded and re-coalesced into new groupings, sang, jammed, riffed and generally blew the roof off the joint. It was a rambunctious night of energy and superb entertainment. Rarely in recent memory has such a stellar collection of talent converged on the Trans-Canada Highway. The level of musicianship displayed by local virtuosos was nothing short of extraordinary and had at least one aging rock journalist wondering where the hell the stringers for Rolling Stone were hiding, because last night saw some truly great performances.

Screw “Drunken Duncan.” Last night, it was “Rocking Duncan”.

Thank Helen
Thank Helen, River Rock pub, Duncan BC – 5 Aug 2016

 

First up was Thank Helen, a cow-punk thrash unit from Courtney with surprising melodic range. Fronted by the dynamic Tracey Nolan, Thank Helen found its footing within a song or two. By “Pay the Rent”, they were mesmerizing us with lively renderings of good, solid songs, tightly arranged. Thank Helen is a band to reckon with – a deadly combo of guitarist Jamie Nolan, bassist Caleb Kennedy and drummer Dekan Delaney in a solid polyrhythmic triad kicked into overdrive by the commanding Tracey. Harmonies and beat combined to raise their show to atmospheric levels and by the end of their set, at “Freeway”, nobody wanted to let go.

 

A lull was filled when a young man took the stage with an acoustic guitar. I was gathering my notes and not expecting much when Colton Mann, 20, abruptly launched into some of the most solid improvisational acoustic work I have heard in years. Later joined by Underdogs percussionist Marcus, Mann unleashed a soaring acoustic version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” that was nothing short of breathtaking. By the end of it all, you could hear a pin drop in that crowded bar. Watch this young man: if he develops to even half of his potential, he will conquer hearts and minds. And worlds.

Weak Patrol

Weak Patrol, tearing it up.

Briefly assuming Thank Helen had reassembled onstage, I was surprised to learn that their core instrumental group, absent Tracey, performs a combo unto itself. Weak Patrol, a classic rock power trio, is half Beck, Bogart & Appice and half Rush after they’ve been stiffed playing a gig at a curling arena in Edmonton: cold, angry and precise. This trio wound between hypnotic pseudo-reggae rhythms and soaring, poly-instrumental arrangements reminiscent of Yes. These three, no matter what they decide to play – or when – will scoop the field. Some old school rock trio power happening here: good, good stuff.

The real treat of the night was the Underdogs, segueing from cool bossa-nova combo to Big Brother and the Holding Company that somehow morphed into an extended blues jam. More akin to a musical community than a group, the Underdogs features a twin-vocalist salvo, acoustic guitar and rock rhythm underpinnings. Unconventional perhaps, but sufficiently engaging to hold the audience rapt with a Bear McCreary-flavored rendition of “All Along the Watchtower”. Although unpolished in places, the Underdogs proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, they had bite. This is a premiere rock band in the making. If they can stay the course, they will shake up the West coast scene.
Underdogs

The Underdogs

With 1 AM beckoning and a deadline looming, I left the bar as the Underdogs were pulsing into the second soulful phase of their opening set. I felt strongly, walking across the highway to where my car was stashed in a public lot, that I had discovered something truly great in Duncan – a motherlode of talent and passion overlooked by the mainstream rock audiences and critics. Be that as it may, this writer will listen and report back. Good music deserves an audience, and this correspondent will do all he can to help these musicians find theirs.

CHICAGO LAKESHORE 1: How Ann Sterzinger & Jamie Mason Founded Camus-TV

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Much as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson conspired to create Brexit without any real plan for how to deal with victory, so did Ann Sterzinger and I pitch a pilot to a Hollywood director, that convinced us to found a Kickstarter without ever really expecting people to respond. And oh my God, did they respond …

And so without further ado, the history of CHICAGO LAKESHORE.

1. MY BEST FRIEND

This is Ann Sterzinger. Ann is an alien being inhabiting Chicago who subsists on a diet of caffeine, French literature and raw sarcasm. So far as I have been able to determine, Ann hates just about everybody.

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Ann Sterzinger fucking hates you

She hates me a little less than most others and so we’re BFFs (best frenemies forever).

2. GOALS

Ann and I are both writers. We’re old school devotees of the late 19th century schools of European literature. While most kids grew up wanting to be Jim Morrison, we wanted to be Balzac.

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Balzac, hung over

Because we were serious literary prodigies, we both went to college. We got degrees. We worked shit jobs for decades and devoted ourselves to our craft. Then ECLIPSE became a best-seller. Since then, we spend a lot of time talking about becoming mercenaries in fucking Syria or something whilst swinging wildly between despair, alcoholism and suicidal ideation.

3. FATE!

We met on Facebook. I imagined Ann as an overweight chain-smoking woman in her seventies who wore mumus. She knew I was Canadian. That was enough for us to develop a healthy mutual suspicion of one another.

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We started writing together. Oh sure, we could have had phone sex or indulged in some form of primitive long-distance cyber-romance but we’re both broke writers so rather than waste time on that bullshit, we started beta-reading each others’ stuff and then, later, collaborating. Our phone calls occasionally strayed into common territory. And we discovered …

4. NUTS

We both had first-hand experience of the mental health system, myself as a guard and Ann as a patient. We began comparing notes and discovered that our experiences weren’t very different. In fact, they were eerily fucking similar.

5. CHICAGO LAKESHORE

Let’s be honest. The world is sinking into for-profit, corporate-driven mass psychosis. Ann and I have decided it’s time for a television show that reflects this emerging reality.

Welcome to the psychiatric-industrial police state. Welcome to Chicago Lakeshore.

GHOMESHI: One Gumshoe’s View

The worst moment you will ever have as a detective (aside from getting shot) is standing in court and watching some guilty asshole walk free on a technicality. The gut-burning frustration as you watch him shake hands with his lawyer, the smirk he tosses at you on the way out the door and the victim’s tears are intolerable. And all you can do is sit there, grit your teeth and tell yourself: “Next time. We’ll get him next time.” It’s happened to me more than once and it was the first thing I thought of after learning about the Ghomeshi acquittal.

I know the frustration the cops and the Crown are feeling right now. Legally speaking, Jian Ghomeshi is not guilty. But they know he is. And, bound as they are by oaths and law, they can say nothing further on the matter. But as a private detective who works the street, I’m not bound by such strictures. I’ll tell you what I think.

Jian Ghomeshi is a shit-rat.

I’ve arrested a dozen Jian Ghomeshis. Male abusers are a type that cops and PIs learn to recognize. We all have our tricks but the big red flag for me is a certain watery weakness in the eyes – a lack of male confidence that translates into violence toward women. Often these guys are intelligent and have learned to leverage various systems (social, legal, economic) to their advantage. In Ghomeshi’s case, he possessed the added cachet of celebrity which, let’s face it, is a powerful aphrodesiac. As host of CBC Radio’s ever-popular Q, Ghomeshi radiated progressive male charm. He was hip, he was happening, he was multi-cultural. And he glowed with the kind of soft-spoken charm that is the very antithesis of every white male authority figure Canadian women of my generation grew up knowing. By all reports the Q host was a welcoming figure, always glad to meet you for a drink, listen to your concerns and invite you back to his place, where he was only too happy to beat the crap out of you.

When you mention the word predator, most people think of a powerful creature like a wolf or bear – beings designed by nature to be swift and strong, adapted to their task of survival by hunting. But human predators, in my experience, are the opposite. We all have our weaknesses – areas where nature short-changed us, intellectually, emotionally or physically. Most of us learn to compensate (say, by going to the gym) because the mathematics of survival demands evolution. It’s hard work. In my case, the strictures of my profession demanded I overcome a lifetime habit of sloth. Getting my fat ass accustomed to a daily regimen of 100 crunches/push-ups and a 3 km run required a painfully counter-intuitive effort but a necessary one if I expected to pass the physically grueling PARE test and meet the demands of tactical combat and handcuff training. We are each called to meet and overcome our weaknesses in order to maximize our chances at survival.

Human predators adopt a different strategy. Rather than address and work to improve their own weaknesses, they instead cope by identifying and exploiting those of others. Over time this becomes a habit – a survival strategy predicated upon preying on whatever weakness, insecurities and lack of confidence they happen upon. The criminal world is full of such types: dealers who force addicts to steal in order to feed a habit or pimps who force women to turn tricks in exchange for food or shelter. But not all crimes are so public. At the more private end of the spectrum are the abusive parents, the pedophile priests or monsters like Jian Ghomeshi who turn dates into private arenas of pain for young women guilty only of seeking acceptance, friendship, love. Predators often lead surprisingly successful lives, parlaying their strategies into custom cars, flashy bling or (in Jian’s case) a spot as a national celebrity. Victims end up looking on in disbelief as their abusers move from strength to strength –  an all-too-common form of torture in today’s world. Where, they wonder, is justice?

Like I said: standing in court and watching some guilty asshole walk free on a technicality is one of the worst moments you’ll ever have.

Jian Ghomeshi lures young women into a position of intimacy and trust before physically abusing them – in effect, brutalizing them when they are at their most vulnerable. This is no beginner’s trick. Ghomeshi’s activities bear all the hallmarks of a lifelong abuser – someone who has studied the particular vulnerabilities of young women and learned to exploit them to devastating effect.  He  knows not to leave bruises, and to create just enough ambiguity and wiggle room for himself to inspire the kind of verdict we saw last week. By dint of an inconsistency in testimony, he walks free to abuse again. And if statistics are any guide, the likelihood of his becoming a recidivist offender are high. Given his profile as a human predator with a survival strategy of preying on the vulnerability of others, I’d say it’s a dead certainty.

And therein lies his downfall.

The problem with a survival strategy like Ghomeshi’s is that it follows a law of diminishing returns. This is what led to his arrest in the first place. Like a drug addict who needs ever greater doses or a serial killer who must pick up the tempo to regain that first high, Ghomeshi the abuser eventually reached the point at which his need for violence was so great he began to leave a trail – a trail that started on social media and ended up in the court room. This is a pathological pattern, one deeply ingrained within Ghomeshi’s psyche. His need for violence will not abate. If anything, he has been keeping it under wraps for months – staying “out of trouble” per counsel’s recommendation. He is probably desperate for a “fix” and will need to strike again soon. He may use a prostitute, or pay some female confederate hush money to put up with a battering. But this won’t be enough. Like a caged lion fed on meat powder, he will long for a return to the savannah where he can hunt freely and taste the blood of a fresh kill.

One day, Jian Ghomeshi will cross the line and someone will be there waiting: a cop, a PI, someone’s brother or boyfriend or father. He will walk into the wrong nightclub or show up at the wrong party, say or do something that leads to an arrest and conviction or some more traditional form of justice at the hands of men furious  at how he has betrayed our gender. One way or the other, his dirty road will lead to the court room or the emergency room where justice will be done. Old time cons used to talk about building a big sin. Jian Ghomshi has spent a lifetime building his, and the time is coming for him to pay the piper.

Like we say on the street: what goes around, comes around.

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Pivot

I was surprised when my tongue-in-cheek Facebook post concerning my “retirement” from science fiction prompted a response. I received several messages from fellow writers and one editor asking what gives. That’s when I realized I haven’t done a very good job explaining my decision. So here goes.

Why I Write. Money. I write to supplement my income (which ain’t great). The few extra hundred dollars here and there since my first pro sale in 2009 have really made a difference. If Churchill boasted he bought Chartwell “with his pen” then I can make a similar claim regarding the warmth and dryness inside this 1970s-era mobile home I own, which leaked like a sieve until last autumn, when proceeds from my Kindleworlds novella Gavin’s War paid for my pal Roger’s game-changing roof repairs. It’s been raining non-stop since yesterday afternoon. I haven’t awakened to a stream of rain-water on my pillow in over a year. Money well spent.

There’s No Money in Sci-fi. Oh, I’m sure there’s some there. I just hardly ever get to see it. Second-tier markets pay a pittance and, with few exceptions, the pro markets have perfected the art of stretching out payments to writers such that I’m convinced hieroglyphs of our vanished culture will show a legion of the starving would-be  Asimovs on their knees with laptops in hand,  pleading with an Ibex-headed Editor God-thing. (Part of why they can get away with this is because most sci-fi writers don’t have to write for money – more on this “pride culture” later.) I have worked with some awesome sci-fi editors and publishers. But I have worked with many more that drove me absolutely bug-fuck then didn’t pay me. I have had to resort to using a bill collector on occasion. Nothing personal, folks. Just business.

The Culture is Poisonous. It’s a small little pond the English-speaking sci-fi world paddles in. Girdled by instantaneous global communication via Facebook, these geeks have carved out a vibrant and busy little sector of the digisphere for themselves. Unfortunately, it’s one riven by politics, prejudice, bullying and sanctimony. I really began to realize how poisonous the scene was when I began branching out into horror and mystery. Interactions with editors and fellow authors there were of an entirely different complexion. Where in the sci-fi field I encountered ad hominem attacks centering around identity politics and plenty of thrown shade, mystery and horror writers were comparatively welcoming. We learned from each other. We support each other. It’s nicer here.

Diversity? Please! I hate to say it, but the diversity wars in sci-fi, and those who stoke them, strike me as “methinks they doth protest too much”. Sci-fi is white-boy culture writ large, and efforts to prove otherwise have been about as convincing as a country-club full of drunk Caucasian aunts and uncles forming a conga line to show how hip they can be. The most strident debates for inclusion and diversity occur in a white liberal echo chamber from which diverse voices are conspicuously absent. Flame wars, Amazon sabotage campaigns, angry blog posts, podcasts – has any of it led to more money in the pockets of more diverse writers of sci-fi? No. (See, “There’s No Money in Sci-fi”, above.) Which leads me to the crown jewel, the golden goose of sci-fi’s embarrassment …

The Fucking Hugo Awards. Spare me. Of all the literary cultures of which I have been a part since stumbling, wide-eyed, into my first American Publishing Association convention in 1982, sci-fi is the most fixated on literary prizes. Sci-fi is a “pride of place” culture, with prestige counting as currency. (Unfortunately, this acts to disqualify people who are too poor to jump on a plane to go hob-nob. Pride cultures tend to favor those with means.) “Hugo nominee” on a cover moves books, sho nuff, but the concentration of accolades within the prize communities has enabled the rise of reactionary forces gaming the system. Pity those who must wear their coveted rocket like an albatross this year. The genre is an embarrassment. “Hugo nominee” don’t have the cachet it once did.

In 2004, when Bush was re-“elected”, I came home. “You’re lucky to have Canada,” literary critic Roger Bowen e-mailed me.

I’m lucky to have mystery and horror. And I have gone home.

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BOOMTOWN

In the fly-blown desert strip-mall that was Reagan’s America, authenticity was hard to come by, particularly in music. After a Me-decade spent hashing out new technologies, market jurisdictions and FCC red tape, the unweildy goose known as the “entertainment industry” had landed. Media moguls invoked focus-group wisdom to foist “edgy” punk acts and big hair metal bands on the public while conspiring to craft the ever-elusive mega-hit. 1984 was the year Columbia Records dumped half its advertising budget into a single album, yielding BORN IN THE USA’s record round of hits and a windfall for shareholders. No one could be happier. But amid the ticker-tape and champagne, a few of us felt like something had been lost. The era of the contemplative songwriter with the journalistic focus and eye for small-time detail had been drowned out in the goldrush.

Enter BOOMTOWN, the stripped-down, guitar-driven album from David & David, a rock duo that appeared from out of nowhere with a catalogue of songs perfect for what ailed the era. Arranged with raw beauty and featuring rich lyrics growled with a kind of fuck-you insolence, “Welcome to the Boomton” proved a signature hit. Like the other songs, “Boomtown” was a starkly-drawn portrait of an LA underbelly populated by losers – the road-kill of the very media moguls bestriding the landscape: a mean old man washing his hands in the bathroom of the Firefly lounge, a former footballer dealing dope out of Denny’s, a coked-out rich girl gunning her 944 down a dark road toward her destiny and a puzzled guy on the cusp of middle age looking back and wondering how his old friends got swallowed by the cracks. No focus group could have given us the rich cast and dark pathos of BOOMTOWN. Baerwald and Ricketts had succeeded, in an era of shallow pretense, in creating a masterpiece.

There was no follow-up. Pressures internal and external conspired to derail any sequel to this promising debut. Singly and together, both men would go on to pursue other interests, contributing music to film projects or furnishing material or chops on other peoples’ records. Toni Childs and Sheryl Crowe were two who benefitted from cross-pollination with the Baerwald/Ricketts magic, as did their listeners. MOULIN ROUGE, LEAVING LAS VEGAS and a host of other films would be powered by the sound. But an opportunity to reform and release new music would elude David & David until 2016. Now on the brink of releasing BOOMTOWN’s sequel, Baerwald and Ricketts are turning to the public with the simple question: do you want more?

We have come a long way from the hair bands and media moguls of the 1980s. Those of us who care about songs with killer lyrics and great musicianship now have a chance to show those focus-groups just where we’d like the damn money spent. Backers are promising to bankroll another album if the boys get the support. Consider this short retrospective an appeal to David & David fans past and present to step up and support the band’s return by “liking” their Facebook page and getting as many friends as possible to do likewise. 6000 more likes and we’ve got ourselves BOOMTOWN 2.

Go on.

You know you want to.

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Tally

2015 was by far my most successful year to date as a writer. Since my first pro sale in 2009 I have pursued two seemingly contradictory goals. The first is to prioritize creating work that I feel speaks to some universal or emotional truth above creating work for the express purpose of making money. The second is to make money. In 2015, I achieved both.

I am fortunate in this regard as I have always been physically fit, employable and more than willing to work hard. I’ve never had a problem finding and holding down blue collar jobs suited to feeding my art both financially and in terms of subject matter. This has left me free to follow my muse at will. In this, I consider myself very fortunate. I suppose I could, in the interest of making money from home, always write ad copy or technical manuals, click-bait or porn – all honorable pursuits. But for me being an artist is as much a journey of personal and global exploration as it is a chosen career path. Balance is key. Where I once resented having to leave the keyboard to venture out into the world, I now see the acts of writing and holding down a day job as two sides of the same coin. The day-job feeds the art. And in the absence of a family to support, the art gives me a reason to get up and go to work in the morning.

George Orwell once wrote:

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

In my case, there has never been any shortage of demons (I have hinted and, in some cases, written openly about these demons elsewhere.) The trick has been to tame them to the point at which, broken and muzzled, they can be led into the barn and saddled for the ride to hounds. Suffice it to say that, in 2015, the hunt led me to publish two novels (KEZZIE OF BABYLON and THE BOOK OF ASHES), one novella (GAVIN’S WAR) and two pieces of short fiction, one of which was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to produce an original James Bond tale (“Daedelus” which appears in ChiZine’s LICENCE EXPIRED: THE UNAUTHORIZED JAMES BOND, a great collection I am told, for I have yet to receive my copy). In addition to this, I also produced four guest blogs for some wonderful colleagues: Cat Rambo, Sean Smith and Dave Wilbanks.

The money? The money was pretty good this year. Best it’s ever been. But the real payoff has been my satisfaction with the quality of the work, the professional connections I have made along the way (publishers, editors and fellow writers) as well as my ongoing and deepening connection with my readers. I am blessed with a small but fiercely loyal readership, many of whom have reached out to me on social media to become valued friends. It is to them that I renew my pledge never to produce anything but my best. They deserve nothing less.

I deserve nothing less.

That is a great deal accomplished for one year. I embark upon 2016 with a raft of short fiction already under consideration by magazine editors and a new novel on the rails. Entitled AT THE CROSSROADS OF MADNESS, it is a Lovecraftian tale featuring none other than famed bluesman Robert Johnson as protagonist. This has led me to read numerous books and essays about Johnson, reconnect with my love of the blues (both listening and playing) and explore those regions of my psyche where the bleaker demons dwell. To make things even more exciting, I can report that several publishers have already approached me requesting to see the finished manuscript. I consider this a great compliment. I am both humbled and grateful.

I imagine 2016 as a vast and fertile plain surveyed from a hilltop where I wait at the head of a small but loyal band of cavalry. In the silence before battle, I hear the creak of saddles, the clink of weapons, the fluttering of standards. They say battles are won or lost before they even begin. In both the art of war and the war of art I can say, with absolute certainty, that I am ready to lead the charge.

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