What’s going on? LOTS!

Been a minute since I updated, so forgive me. Let’s do some news reveals!

APRIL SECOND: A release party will be held for Alabama: Nightmares & Urban Legends on Facebook. The party starts at 2pm – 7 pm Central Standard Time. We have some free goodies and e copies in books up for grabs so come spend the day with me. You can find the event HERE.

April 9th: My first book signing! If you happen to be in the Walker County area, come to the Jasper public library between 2-4 pm Central Standard Time. I will have autographed copies of The Rise of UMBRA and Alabama: Nightmares & Urban Legends for sale. I will also have 11 x 17 framed posters of the book covers for sale at $25. UMBRA will be $15, Alabama: Nightmares & Urban Legends will be $20. You can find the library’s facebook page HERE.

July 22: Talon: The Spider’s Web is finally coming out! Everyone’s favorite fanged Alabama resident makes his formal debut. Five Points South, Smith Lake, Homewood–a whole bunch of local places get featured as this Vampire tears a bloody path through the state. You don’t have to be an Alabama resident to enjoy this dark fantasy adventure. Get ready…it’s almost time!

I am openly working on The Rise of UMBRA sequel while waiting on Talon’s edits. I have tons going on. Keep coming back. I promise to be more active.

The Rise of UMBRA: Get it HERE.

Alabama: Nightmares & Urban Legends: Get it HERE FOR KINDLE and HERE IN PAPERBACK.

Burning Willow Press: Find their awesomeness RIGHT HERE.

NEW ANTHOLOGY RELEASE THIS MARCH: Death & Pestilence featuring my story “The Board.” Find it HERE.

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Character Interview: Autumn, aka “The Widow” from The Rise of UMBRA

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It’s a very interesting day here at the Oddest Interview Segment on the Internet, as we do our first character interview. I am joined today but Autumn from the novel “The Rise of UMBRA.” First of all, welcome to the show Autumn!

Yea, whatever.

Okay, would you like to tell people about yourself? I hear you and your partner, Sive, are the best assassins the Crime Cartel ever had.

Okay, firstly…We’re not an assassins. We’re bounty hunters. Somebody fucks up, we come and get you. If you fight, well…that’s on you. I have no issue putting a slug in someone’s head…including nosy interviewers.

Ahem, alrighty then. You and your partner, Sive–how did you meet?

I was a homeless teenager, living off of what I could steal. One day I just happened to pick Sive’s ship. There was enough loot in there to live like a Queen for months. Too bad he caught me. Not really sure why he didn’t kill me. He had every right to, but instead he took me on and trained me to be his partner.

And UMBRA, how did this team come together?

Hey! How do you know about UMBRA?

Well, I kind of wrote the book.

Book? What book? Are you keeping tabs on us? Because Dread wouldn’t like that in the least bit.

Yes, Dread. He’s the leader of the team right? Isn’t he the one who sent you on the mission to Mars?

I’m not sure how you know this, but yes. We were given the option of infiltrating a Martian research facility or death. That made the decision pretty easy.

How do you like your teammates?

Some of them are annoying–I won’t lie. Bumblebee for one. He’s let the fact he used to be a big deal in the cage fighting leagues go to his head. He’s used to women just throwing themselves at him. I don’t think he knew how to handle me when we met. 

What about the others?

Well, Harmonica is an older fellow–really nice. He used to work for the Earth military and he’s seen some things nobody should see. I like him though. He’s kind of a father figure type.

Leviathan is kind of quiet, but he’s a hell of a hacker. He’s the one who is the most different in the group. He’s not really into our business for the mayhem. He’s just trying to take care of his family. I think  you kind of have to respect him for that.

Bloody is a British smuggler, usually too stoned to really give a fuck. He’s a bit of prankster though. I still owe  him for the little speech he made right before I had to jump out of his ship.

You had to jump out of his ship?

Fuck yea, I did. Only way to get to the planet’s surface without being noticed. Fucking high altitude atmospheric reentry. I wouldn’t recommend it.

What about Dread? What’s he like?

Master strategist. I’ve got to give it to the man, he’s got the brains to make shit happen and the connections to cover his ass. He’s not a man to fuck with.

And what about his 2nd in command, D’leet?

The man is a fucking legend. He’s a muscle type but he’s smart too. Don’t let his reputation make you think otherwise.

Anything you’d like the fans to know before we finish?

Yea, don’t fuck with UMBRA. We WILL get you.

 

 

Author Spotlight: Charles Lee Mullenix (The oddest interview segment on the internet continues)

In the hotseat today we have Charles Lee Mullenix. He’s another author at Burning Willow Press and quite a character. First, let’s start off with what you already have released “The Future is Built on Ashes.” This is a wild mash-up of Cyberpunk fantasy and dystopian and has just about every niche of those genres in it in some capacity. Please, tell the readers what they’re missing by not reading this gem.

They would be missing everything found in genre fiction. Literally…everything. That’s not like when hipsters say literally, and mean figuratively. I’m talking literally everything. This book was born out of my frustration from years of writing low-budget screenplays. My imagination was always being restricted by the limitations of money, time, locations, available actors, etc, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I thought if I switched to books I could write anything I wanted with no creative ceiling, and I went f@#king crazy. From dragons to cyborgs to ninjas to monsters to myths to Gods/Devils to Demon/Angels, and even put my spin on classic literary icons. I like to play a game where I have somebody try to think of something ‘cool’ from genre fiction, and no matter what they think of I have it within this book or the series of books to follow. It’s got it all. My main protagonist is an original ‘being’, and I created a couple new monsters/technologies totally unique to this franchise.

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But this book about EVERYTHING RIGHT HERE.

 

Not only are you a writer but I’ve heard you’re a Martial Artist. Considering S.L. Kerns is a body builder I’ve thought of having you two square off in a Burning Willow Mortal Kombat fight, but that’s for another day. What got you into the Martial Arts and what discipline or disciplines do you practice?

I’ve seen that dude with his shirt off, S.L. Kerns, so I’m tellin’ ya right now that I’m not fighting fair. I will have a knife on me. Haha I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio, and it’s historically a fighter’s city. Tons of world champs, or well-known pro fighters have come from here. We have streets named after boxers, and I think for whatever reason it’s just genetically in us. We’re a scrappy town, so I was always into fighting kids as early as elementary school. But, in first grade I saw Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee, and it was over. I was hooked. I would watch movies, kickboxing fights, MMA stuff before it was even considered MMA, and anything I could find Martial Arts related and I would study it. Watch entire movies, and fights in slow motion. Break down the body mechanics until I could do it myself. We’re talkin’ second or third grade. My mom bought me some instructional videos, and by 15 I was training at a local Jeet Kune Do gym. That’s the Martial Art that Bruce Lee created which was meant to be a blend of styles not limited to just one. My Sifu had studied under the man who took over Jeet Kune Do from Bruce after his death. The school was filled with top notch talent, and pro fighters. I’ve trained with some well-known icons and fighters during my time. All in all I’ve studied 26 arts in the equal number of years, so there’s a ton of disciplines in there. I’ve just kinda made them all my own. Pick and choose what works for me, but try to learn as much as possible.

 

Okay, that being said…Bruce Lee vs Chuck Norris in real life with both in their prime. Who takes it and why?

I’ve gotta go with Bruce for obvious reasons, but I will give Chuck credit. Not only did Bruce handpick him for the final fight in Way of the Dragon, but he did so to spar with him. Norris was a beast back in the day.

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Bruce approves of this answer.

 

Were you a fan of Kung-Fu movies as a kid? I know I was. If so, what were your favorites?

Huge. Huge, huge fan. Enter the Dragon was epic. I grew up in the ‘80’s, and that was the height of the ninja phase of low-budget movies. Sho Kosugi is a God. All his movies. Enter the Ninja, Pray for Death, Ninja 3: Domination, and Black Eagle with VanDamme. Jean-Claude was a big deal too. Bloodsport. Kickboxer. Dude, there’s too many to name.

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Okay, we’ve covered that…but wait, kids. There’s more! You’re the lead vocalist of a metal band? You are quite literally getting cooler by the moment. What bands influenced your music and/or are just your favorite to listen to?

Thanks, man. You’re cool yourself. Best questions ever. Um, Guns n’ Roses in third grade changed my life. I’m adopted, and I’d tell people Axel Rose was my father. He’s not. I’ve been in mostly metal bands, so I’m inspired by a lot of wild, heavy sh@t that nobody has heard of. Every Time I Die, Dillinger Escape Plan, this Japanese Death Metal Goth band Dir En Grey is the most insane thing on this planet, but I also dig a lot of Hip Hop, Blues, Jazz, and Classical stuff.

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Did Charles’ mom take Axl to Paradise City? You decide…

 

So….greatest metal band ever: Black Sabbath….or Black Sabbath? Lol Okay, I’ll be fair,  you can pick any band you choose. (whispers: the correct answer is Black Sabbath)

If I ask Ozzy, or Dio version of Black Sabbath will I get slapped? Haha Love the Sabbath I do, but my favorite is actually Led Zeppelin.

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This debate still rages to this very day.

 

Hypothetical question: You can pick any two authors, alive or dead, and spend the day with them (one at a time) to pick their brains. Who do you pick and why?

Bret Easton Ellis. He inspired me a lot in my early twenties, and is still to this day probably my biggest influence. I’d love for him to show me the New York City that he knows while doing mountains of cocaine. Even though I’m sober now I’d come out of retirement for that. My second pick would be Arthur Conan Doyle. The Sherlock Holmes books were a huge deal for me as a kid. I’d just like to sip tea, and chat writing with him at an old library. He was English. He’d like tea, right?

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Mr. Ellis, you have been officially paged.

 

And if y’all thought we were done with Charles’ extra curricular activities, WRONG! You’re also a filmmaker about to start production on your first feature film. What’s the film name and what is it about? Who in the film industry has been an influence to you? Do you find film making and authoring to be related? Is the transition easy or is it hard? Sorry, that’s a lot of questions, so take your time answering.

I don’t want to give too much away about the movie, but like all my work it shares a unified universe with everything else. It is going to be a wild ride filled with sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and Kung-Fu that ties into my books/comics. Quentin Tarantino was a big deal in my early teens, Japanese director Takashi Miike is a punk rock god who has directed like a hundred movies, Gareth Evans is a genius, and yes I think the mediums are related in ways. Maybe not for everyone, but it is all storytelling to me. One you just have to think of camera angles. I don’t think one is easier, or harder, but there is a lot more freedom when writing novels.

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Quentin can do my segment, as long as I don’t have to be “Mr. Pink.”

 

Last, but not least, you have a release coming out this summer I believe it is called “Block.” I’ve already been given a brief run down on it and it sounds intriguing. Tease the people with a little info to get them salivating for that pre-order date to get here.

“Block” follows a writer with writer’s block named Arthur Turk, direct nod to Arthur Conan Doyle, who is growing insane from frustration not being able to write anything of quality while navigating the world of a writer trying to get published. He’s strangely offered a dream job writing by a mysterious man named Mr. Mayflower, and from there he sees a supernatural world open before his eyes. One that was always there, and now he has become a part of it. Don’t wanna give too much away.

 

One last question, and I’m stealing this one (I’ll admit it). If Heaven’s real and God one day opens up the pearly gates for you, what do you want to hear him say?

Hey, everybody. Chill the f@#k out.

 

Thanks for your time, Charles. Looking forward to that new release!

Thank you, sir. This has been fantastic. Really fun. Thank you for your time, and I hope everybody checks out my work as well as all other Burning Willow Press authors. The entire crew over there from top to bottom are really great, talented people. Very passionate about writers/writing, and driven to help authors get their work to the masses.

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Mr. Charles Lee Mullenix. Tell me that’s not punk as fuck! 🙂

Author Spotlight: S. L. Kerns

Today, we are joined by S.L. Kerns. I came to know Lloyd as we were both included in the Burning Willow Press Anthology, Crossroads in the Dark 2: Urban Legends. How about you start by telling us about that story before we get a little deeper into what you have in the works?

Foremost, many thanks for the warm welcome and the opportunity to discuss my life and my writing. Also, congrats on the release of your first novel. The Rise of Umbra has some very impressive cover art and sounds action-packed. I’m holding out for a paperback edition.

“The Spirited Children” is a post-apocalyptic short story about a momma’s boy from Kentucky. Once his mother, a globetrotting woman, innocently brings a Luk Thep doll—check them out on YouTube to be freaked out—back from Thailand, Hell ensues.

            The dolls are housing homeless spirits brought on by black magic in their Pali-Sanskrit tattoos (known as sak yant—it’s a real thing), and these souls are hungry for retribution. They have the ability to corrupt the people near them, turning them into possessed, zombie-like creatures who must make sacrifices for the spirits inside the dolls. Our unlikely hero’s family suffers a tragedy that sends him on a journey to rid the world of the popular doll that trended heavier than Furby and Cabbage Patch ever dreamed of.

            My story “Ugly as Sin” is also slated to appear in Crossroads in the Dark III: Monsters Under the Bed. Big shout out to Edd Sowder and all at Burning Willow Press for believing in my writing and for all their great releases. A great many of them I have recently read.

I have to bring this up, because I’m a HUGE fan of Queen. I heard you were in a charity Freddie Mercury anthology. Could you tell the reader what inspired you to write that particular piece and what charity it supports, and please, give us a link because I’m all about helping out charities.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t appreciate the songwriting and vocal talents of the late Freddie Mercury. Not everybody likes Queen, but a performance by Freddie commands respect and awe. My favorite clips are those of him serenading the masses with “Somebody to Love” on the grand piano. Breathtaking.

            Chris Thompson of Penny Dreadful Publications must agree because he put together this great anthology to benefit the Mercury Phoenix Trust for HIV Research Foundation, with all proceeds going there. I had worked with Chris before on two volumes of an antho inspired by David Bowie, and he is an honest and pleasant guy. My stories “Guizhou Girl” and “Silhouettes and Shadows” were included with all proceeds, again, going to cancer research.

            Please support the causes and read my heartbreaking tale “Mon Ami, Le Papillon.” One reader said it had “a beautiful ending.”

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Want a copy? Get it RIGHT HERE.

Not everyone might know this, but you actually live in Japan now. How’d you get over there? Was it a culture shock? Would you recommend it? From what I hear quite a few Americans are looking at alternative living locations… snicker

When I was eleven-ish, I distinctly recall telling Mom my plan to relocate to Japan after school. My best buddy, Ken, has and American dad and Japanese mother, and with little diversity in my farm town in Kentucky, I was fascinated by him. Every visit he made to Japan, he’d return with futuristic-looking magazines showcasing the Land of the Rising Sun’s uniqueness. I was mesmerized.

            It was while studying at Western Kentucky University—the home of the fake “Bowling Green Massacre” reported by the Trump squad—I had the opportunity to befriend several foreign students and, long story short, met my Thai wife. This ultimately derailed the plan to uproot to a place famous for samurais and robots, and instead I spent six years in the Land of Smiles. I still love Thailand, but the clock of life is ticking and there is much to do. My wife and I made the transition to Takamatsu, Japan two years ago and it has proven to be an experience to cherish.

            Thanks to my wife, I have seen more of the world than I ever dreamed. I’ve been to Laos, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and of course, Japan and Thailand. I’ve met people from countries I’ve never heard of, and I can’t fathom what people back home are so afraid of. Every person in every place has been welcoming.

Just got to throw this out there: sushi or pizza?

Well, my wife and I often buy sashimi and frozen pizzas from the local supermarket and combine the two in the oven. You gotta try it! Of course, that is only for my weekly cheat meals. I got to stay in shape for the annual bodybuilding competition. It’s held each August in Takamatsu.

Leading to the next topic: you’re pretty heavy into bodybuilding. For those of you who don’t know, the man is ripped like a Bruce Lee villain. I kid you not! You don’t see a lot of authors chiseled from stone. What’s it like balancing that creative side with your drive in bodybuilding? Do they ever get in the way of each other or do they balance themselves naturally?

Honestly, I don’t watch must television. My new home doesn’t even have a TV. So that shaves a few hours wasted off of each day. Doing competitive bodybuilding and writing on top of my full-time teaching job is very challenging. Both take tremendous effort. My dad taught me to be a hard worker by following his example. And bodybuilding has taught me discipline. To paraphrase the Austrian Oak, everything is possible with reps. Just like training pound after pound, writing is all about repetitions of words. Same goes for my guitar playing and learning languages. Just repeat. Training is two hours of my day, tops. Dieting is non-stop. If a person can handle that, I reckon they can accomplish anything, and if I did it, anyone can. I used to think I’d never get defined abs…like it was genetic. It’s not. It’s discipline.

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Photo taken August 8, 2016 in my first competition by my incredibly gifted friend, Kevin Cozma.

I know from some of our previous discussions that you’re a criminology minor. I also know one of the manuscripts you’re writing stars a criminologist in a psychological horror. How much did the schooling influence the story? I imagine if anything it should lead to the story being much more authentic as you have a background in that career path. And please, feel free to share as much of the plot as you’re comfortable sharing.

This is still in the works, but I know where it’s headed. Tentatively titled “Rut”, this story is a psychological horror. The main character is writing his second non-fiction manuscript. In doing so he meets a serial killer who believes in hypnosis and mind-control. This murderer is part of a cult who believe they can earn rankings in Hell and experience Satan’s power on earth. This is also believed by some denominations of Christians on the opposite end, dealing with the Holy Spirit and God’s divine power.

            The writer’s life spirals out of control as he begins to question things. He is not sure if the hypnosis worked or if he is living out his own dark desires. His marriage is in a rut and his wife only falls back in love with him after a loved one passes away. She has an extreme fear of death, and it has a way of sobering her up and reminding her what’s important. How far will her husband go to save his marriage? Is it possible to love someone too much? Could he kill for her?

            I’ve always wanted to use my degree—outside of the way I use it daily to analyze and scrutinize any and every thing. In writing this tale, I’ve had to go back and brush up on a lot of theories I had learned at university. It’s been enlightening. I grew up in a religious town, but not a very strong Christian upbringing, so I’ve also been spending several hours with the Bible in conducting research for this book. The Bible has always been interpreted in several different ways and I am giving my own interpretation of some aspects here. It may not be correct for all, but I think it’s accurate, or enough so to be believable. It definitely works for the world the characters live in.

Horror, Sci Fi, or Fantasy? (And yes, you can only pick one)

I’m not a big of fantasy. I read the Hobbit and enjoyed it. One of my best friends wrote a fantasy called Twelve Cataclysms that I loved. (Mr. Rob Queen, I know you are busy on the new novels, but I need the second book like yesterday.) I have a thing for realism and realistic scenarios. Twisted people scare me more than monsters and aliens, so if I must choose one, I’ll side with horror. Stephen King got me into horror, but since I’ve read several other greats, including many that are working their way up like fellow BWP authors Mark Reefe, Kerry Alan Denney, and even your short stories, Mikey. I’m looking forward to reading more from this talented group. I’d also like to give a shout out to my poetic friend A.S. Coomer. His debut novel, Rush’s Deal, is important and must be purchased immediately. It’s two stories in one, and includes a non-visual comic. Not sure how that works? Well, check it out. It most definitely works!

By the way, I’ve heard you have a baby on the way! Congratulations! Can you tell us if it’s a boy or a girl yet? And do you have any names picked out?

Let’s see how I do with balancing writing and bodybuilding after our baby arrives this June. This is our first child, and we are over the moon. The docs just confirmed we are having a daughter and now I can’t stop imagining how adorable she’ll be in her itsy Black Flag and Faith No More t-shirts. My sister doesn’t know it yet, but she’ll be making some for me.

            Names? That’s tough. I can tell you she will have a Thai first name, English middle, and my surname.

I heard you also have some experience in the musical field. You’ve got that “jack of all trades” going on, sir. What’s harder: writing a song or a story? Which is more rewarding?

Music was my life. I played bass in bands from middle school to the age of 27. My old band in the states were fortunate enough to be a minor part of the Vans Warped Tour 2005 and toured around the USA in a van on a low-budget diet of peanut butter and apples. This was with Ken, my earlier mentioned buddy. He taught me most of what I know about playing. Since, then, my buddy and ex-guitarist Jordan has moved on to playing in a group called Mona who are turning some heads their way.

            My band, Polar Bare Knuckles, in Thailand was also a blast. There are some vids on YouTube if you are interested. I now suffer tinnitus in both ears and have given up the loud rock. I pick a little folk and classic country at home these days, and am a fan of John Prine and Blaze Foley.

            To answer your question, both are rewarding. For me writing a great song is tougher than a novel. Novels can be planned to perfection, but a song, for me, comes from the soul. However, sharing a novel with the world is more terrifying and likely to be criticized. It’s a bigger risk because it takes longer to create, longer to decipher, and involves more stakes. At least, that is true for me at this stage in the game.

I know you also have a contemporary novel in the works about a washed up punk rocker who has to take a change of careers to support his family and the stress and struggle that causes. Tell everybody what you’ve got going on here. You told me a bit before our interview and it sounds very fascinating.

“Slack on the Wheel: Punk-Trucker Blues” is a contemporary novel that has had some positive feedback from potential publishers with appraise for the writing style and one saying the author—ahem!—has “an amazing talent.” Unfortunately, it never fits what they are looking for. It’s between a romance and “gritty” realism.

            The story is told through the POV of two characters: Tommy, the washed-up punker, and Fiona, his ex. Tommy is a hard worker who loathes wasted time. After moving from LA to Kentucky, where he settles for a career trucking to provide for his family, he loses hope and it costs him his marriage. Between the distracting attention of local women, a difficult boss, and the opposing political views of the locals, he can’t stay out of trouble.

            Fiona is the love of his life and the mother of his only child—who resides in Thailand with his transgendered fiancé. All Tommy wants is to win her back and get to his son’s wedding overseas. But while Fiona knows she is Tommy’s only light, she realizes he will never change, never stop using his fists to settle his problems, or dreaming, or grow up. Since their split he has also become a sleaze, and the thought of him with other women sickens her, even if he is only with her because she let him go.

            However, a frightening date that ends terribly puts things back in perspective. Is she too late? Has Tommy moved on? Maybe she can get him back before he gets killed by the locals or the authorities. Before he finds someone else.

            This is a brief summary. There are several minor conflicts that beg attention from the modern world. It’s all relevant to the issues that get debated daily in America.

            An appropriate tag line would be: Humor is his only defense against the death of all hope.

Is there anything else you’d like to promote and where can our readers find you on social media?

The next release I have is a collection of poetry called Rise: an Anthology of Power and Unity. Mark Lipman put this together and has set up a release event in California. I’ve been invited but can’t make the jump from East to West that easily. The anthology features two of my poems, “An Amendment in Angst,” and “A Gun to my Head.” Both came about after news of mass shootings and police brutality back home. It pisses me off and, though I’m not a poet, I wrote these frustrations out. Here’s a link to purchase the book and gander at the powerful cover art: http://www.vagabondbooks.net

I don’t tinker much with twitter and haven’t set up an author’s page hardly anywhere. I’m busy with other things, but I do update www.slkerns.wordpress.com quite often. After one of these novels finds a home, I’ll be using every tool I can to market my work and offer some giveaways for any diehard followers. I hope they exist.

The Rise of UMBRA, Chapter 1

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Watching as Sive paced nervously back and forth in the confinement of the elevator, Autumn tried to calm her own nerves. There was a twitching in the pit of her stomach and her back ached like the Devil from the space flight. She didn’t mind flying; in fact, she loved cruising around space, but anything that involved leaving or reentering the atmosphere was all but unbearable.

You’d think by now they’d have come up with a way to get you into space without making it feel like you had a rocket shoved straight up your ass and that your spine was being ripped out of your body but nooooooo. I swear to God, I’m about this close to telling the Cartel that if the job’s not on Earth they can shove it.

“I don’t like this, Sunny,” Sive muttered as he leaned against the elevator wall and fidgeted with his blasters. “This isn’t how we do things. It’s always been a name, a location, badda-bing, badda-boom, shoot a guy in the freakin’ head, and get paid. They’ve never sent us a transmission saying ‘go here and await further instructions’ before. I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all. It reeks of a trap.”

Autumn placed a hand on her partner’s muscular shoulder and sighed. “Sive, calm down. We’ve got this. Even if it’s a trap, we’ve got this. Remember when we got ambushed at the Lunar Space Port? There were ten members of the Lunar Knights and at least four war-droids there. And how many of them got to walk away alive? None. So just keep your head on your shoulders and your eyes open. If we have to, we’ll carve this space station up like a Thanksgiving turkey and get the Hell out of here.”

Sive had always been a worrier and overly protective of Autumn. Ever since he had caught her stealing from his cargo-hold over a decade ago, he had taken her under his wing, and had acted as her friend and mentor. He had a soft spot for Autumn that no one, not even Autumn, could really understand. Sive had the reputation of being one of the most ruthless and nefarious bounty-hunters on the planet, yet, for some reason, he’d never sent her away.

Autumn was little more than a street urchin at the time Sive caught her, albeit one who just happened to be masterfully skilled at disarming security systems. Sive had every reason, every right, to simply do away with Autumn, but instead he took her in, trained her, and introduced her to working for the Cartel as his partner. He may have made her an outlaw, and her life was on the line almost every single day, but Autumn saw it as better than living on the streets and stealing just to have something to eat. Sive had given her life a purpose. She owed him her life, and she would gladly live and die for him in a heartbeat. They were soulmates in crime and a duo not to be taken lightly.

Rubbing his hands together, Sive nodded anxiously. “A’ight, Sunny, but if this shit goes bad, you owe me a weekend in Vegas. Right now some Martian Ale and a room full of strippers is starting to sound mighty good.”

Autumn laughed. “Sive, to you, Martian Ale and a room full of strippers always sounds good.”

With a twinkle in his brown eyes, Sive shrugged and admitted, “Well, you’ve got me there, Sunny.”

Autumn rolled her eyes and giggled. Sive liked his vices, but he was the best partner Autumn could imagine. He was one of the best shots she’d ever seen and the things he could do with an ax were just deliciously barbaric. His black hair may have already started turning salt and pepper, but he was better than most the bounty hunters half his age.

Her only complaint, which was a small one, was that he insisted on calling her “Sunny,” a shortened version of her middle name, “Sunshine.” It was annoying, but if that was the worst she could say about him, she considered herself pretty lucky. Most people in their line of work were downright scumbags and thugs. To actually have a partner she could trust was almost unheard of.

Finally sliding open, the elevator door gave way and revealed a huge banquet hall. It looked like something out of the history books that Autumn always read about old Earth royalty. It was unlike anything she had ever seen in person. It was absolutely stunning. Unlike most space stations, which were cold and metallic in appearance, the banquet hall was designed to look like an ancient room on Earth, complete with wood trim, fancy rugs on the floor, and what looked to be a functional fireplace.

The fireplace was most likely just a hologram, but it was impressive nonetheless. Whoever owned this place had spent quite a fortune to produce this elaborate illusion. Now Autumn’s curiosity was really piqued. Who exactly had hired them and why were they meeting here, of all places?

In the middle of the room was a large rectangular table. Seated there were four men all wearing military-grade body armor. There were two ways to get that kind of body armor—the military or the black market. From the look of the group, she severely doubted she was staring at anyone in the Earth military.

One of the men, a 30-something scruffy looking fellow with dirty blonde hair, looked familiar to Autumn, but she couldn’t quite place him. The other men, whoever they were, all looked incredibly dangerous. Autumn slowly maneuvered her right hand towards her blaster, just in case things were about to get out of hand.

Out of nowhere, a silver service android came rolling up to greet them. “Excellent!” it said, in a voice that still sounded more mechanical than human. “Our final guests have arrived!”

“Guests?” Autumn asked. “Since when did the Cartel start throwing tea parties?”

The service android was one of the newer models, a Tech-droid model 7, the one Cybertech Industries had made to look and behave more human. The damn thing even heaved its chest to simulate breathing and had a random blink program added to its programming for that extra added touch of realism. The makers claimed it was done to make humans more comfortable around the androids, but to Autumn, it only made the machinery that much creepier.

Curling up the corner of its mouth, the android did its best to fabricate something that would pass for a smile. “I assure you, all questions that you have will be answered shortly. Now, my master has asked me to confiscate all weaponry while you are here. They will be returned to you shortly.”

Sive put the blade of his ax up to the android’s face and snarled, “You so much as touch my ax, I will turn you into a toaster! Do you understand me?”

Moving away, the android looked genuinely stunned. Well, looks like all the time they spent on giving the model 7s authentic facial expressions worked. She actually looks terrified. “Um, yes. I understand quite well. Since you are unwilling to hand over your weapons, would you please follow me to the table where you can take your seat with the others?”

Putting his ax back at his side, Sive faked a pleasant smile. “Lead the way, toaster-face.”

The model 7 turned and led them towards the center of the room. As they walked, the android returned to its normal social protocols. It was like the threat had never happened at all. “Would either of you care for a beverage? We have one of the finest collections of both Earth and Martian liquors in the known galaxy. Drinks are…complimentary, of course. Your host would like you to be…comfortable during your stay.”

Exchanging glances with Sive, Autumn shook her head. Sive replied, “None for us. We’re working.”

Nodding, the model 7 said, “Very well then.”

A drink sounded wonderful to Autumn, especially after the physical strain of leaving Earth’s atmosphere, but she had a rule—never drink on the job. Not only does it slow your reflexes, but you run the risk of getting drugged. Whatever was going on in this space station, she wanted to be on top of her game…just in case.

Sive followed behind Autumn and the droid with his head on a swivel. He had seen some shit in his day, including the overthrow of an Earth embassy in Brazil that left nearly a thousand people dead. Sive was many things, but trusting of strangers was not one of them.

They took their seats at the table as the four men already seated glared at them suspiciously. No one in the room spoke a word and everyone had what Autumn liked to call, “shifty eyes.” The others seemed to be just as on edge as Autumn was and this was making her that much more uncomfortable being there.

Whoever these gentlemen were, they definitely looked to be an unsavory lot. Not that Sive and Autumn were exactly high society themselves, but at least they knew where they stood if the shit hit the fan. These other gentlemen, though, looked like a pack of hungry wolves. She eyed each of them suspiciously and got ready for all Hell to break loose. As her grandmother had told her, “When you’re sitting among a pack of wolves, it’s wise to take note of who has the biggest fangs. You just never know when you might have to start fighting your way out of the pack to make it to freedom.”

Just as Autumn was getting on the verge of saying “screw this” and walking out, a door at the far end of the room opened, and a pair of gentlemen entered the room. The men wore matching red and black military-grade body armor and helmets that hid their faces. The one in front was a monster of a man, six foot six Autumn guessed, and three hundred twenty pounds if he weighed an ounce. The second man, who walked a step behind the first, was still an impressive size but looked almost average in comparison to the first. The pair walked as if they had a purpose and that meant whatever they had been summoned for was about to commence.

Butterflies danced in Autumn’s stomach as she watched them marching towards the table. Still, as far as she knew, this whole thing was just an elaborate trap, so she exchanged glances with Sive and they both placed their hands on the grip of their blasters and prepared for the worst.

Autumn thought, I don’t know what those two fellows are after, but I hope they’re friendly, because those are two gigantic motherfuckers. Autumn and Sive had taken out bigger, but she still dreaded the notion of having to do so again.

Approaching the table, the giant in front began speaking, using some kind of filter in his helmet to distort his voice. “Now that we’re all here, we can begin. My name is Dread, and my associate here is known by the code-name of D’leet.”

“Wait!” Sive blurted out. “D’leet? As in the D’leet who single-handedly blew up the weapons factory outside of London for the Cartel?”

D’leet took off his helmet and sat it down on the table. His jet black hair was cut very short, resembling that of someone in the military. He smiled and said, “Well, it wasn’t exactly single-handed, but I had a hand in it.”

The familiar-looking scruffy fellow who sat across the table from Autumn cleared his throat. With a cocky expression on his face, he casually said, “Yea, that’s nice and all, but I was told that I would be meeting one of my contacts from the Cartel here and ain’t a one of you him! I wanna know what the hell is goin’ on and I wanna know now, or I’m walkin’.”

Autumn couldn’t be sure, but she had the feeling that Dread was smiling inside that helmet of his. Dread folded his arms and replied, “I suppose the need for deception is over. Everyone in this room is, in one way or another, a part of the Crime Cartel, including our very outspoken friend here known by the code-name of Bumblebee.”

Dread started circling the table and continued. “Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? I am quite sorry for the deception, but all of you have been brought here under false pretenses. At this exact moment, Earth’s government is making a move on all seven families of the Cartel. Within the hour, every family leader, every bodyguard, and every high-ranking associate within the Cartel will either be dead or in custody. The Cartel is no more.”

Roaring with protests, threats, and accusations, the room exploded with sound. Leaping to his feet, Bumblebee, in his black and gold body armor, bellowed above the rest, “And just how the fuck do you know this?”

Without missing a beat, Dread responded, “Because I helped set it up, of course.”

Almost everyone at the table pulled a pistol and took aim at Dread. To Autumn’s amazement, Dread seemed completely unphased by it. He calmly folded his arms and said, “Put your weapons away. All I did was speed up the inevitable. The Cartel has become too brazen, too bold. They’ve become sloppy. They shamelessly operate in the open. They don’t even hide what they are anymore. Some are even seen as celebrities, working the talk-show circuits, bragging about their crimes. This is not how good business is done.”

Autumn hated to admit it, but Dread had a point. It wasn’t like the good ole days when nobody but a select few knew the bosses. The bosses were now household names. They had become so confident in being untouchable, they were breaking every rule that had made the Cartel so powerful in the first place. Still, if the Cartel was gone, just how was she going to make a living? Being a bounty hunter was all she knew.

A slender, dark-haired fellow at the table with a boyish face jumped up from his seat. He pointed his weapon at point blank range at Dread’s helmet and cried out in a thick British accent, “So you set up everyone I bloody work with and had them killed? People owed me money, Dread. A lot of money, and dead men can’t pay their bills!”

Casually waving his hand, Dread replied, calling the young fellow out by his Cartel Code Name, “Bloody, Earth was already looking for the Cartel. All I did was point them in the right direction. Through their investigations and the Cartels’ own foolishness, the EBI had acquired a complete list of Cartel member’s names—a list, I might add, which included all of you. Pulling a few strings, I managed to have each of you removed from the list, at least for the time being.”

Putting the pistol back in its holster, the dark-haired Bloody took a step forward and got nose to chest with Dread. With a fire burning in his eyes, the young man gazed up at the armored behemoth before him. “So what the Hell is this? Blackmail?”

Placing his hands upon Bloody’s shoulders, Dread said enthusiastically, “No, my angry little friend. This is opportunity. Someone has to replace the Cartel. Why shouldn’t it be us?”

Snapping his fingers, Dread glanced over at D’leet, who retrieved a stack of manila envelopes and placed them on the table. Dread continued, “These are just a portion of the files the EBI has on each of you. It has everything: birth certificates, criminal records, known associates, and even the home addresses of your families. So, why don’t we have a look and see just who we have in attendance, shall we?

“The bold young man in front of me is Jason Pearson, code-named Bloody. He started working for the Cartel at the tender age of eight, delivering packages for the Watson family in London. He worked his way up to being a smuggler and became the best the Cartel had ever seen. He’s the man that ran the Martian blockade of 2336 and is probably responsible for at least eighty percent of every illegal substance found on the streets of Earth and Mars today.”

Smiling at the praise, the boyish, blue-eyed Bloody sat down and started thumbing through his file. In the meantime, Dread took the next folder and sat it down in front of Bumblebee. “Next we have Terry Austin, code-named Bumblebee. He’s a former Extreme Cage Fighter and Junior Heavyweight Champion of the world, until he blew his knee out training and had to retire. After that, he started working as muscle for the Cartel in Vegas and quickly rose up the ranks. He’s now the chief administrator of the Cartel’s gambling and prostitution operations in the Vegas sector of North America. A lot of people call him ‘The Prince of Las Vegas,’ but most people just call him ‘sir.’ He also has quite a reputation for having a fascination with blowing things up. Rumor has it he blew up The Grand Seven Casino just because the owner wouldn’t pay his tributes.”

A twisted smirk appeared on Bumblebee’s face. “Hey, I warned the guy. If you wanna do business in Vegas, you have to pay your dues.”

Dread nodded. “Indeed. Needless to say, Bumblebee here is an expert in demolitions, and that’s why he’s here.”

Autumn smiled. She knew she had seen Bumblebee before and now it all clicked. She had grown up watching the cage fights with her grandfather and Terry Austin had been one of the most flamboyant to ever step into the cage. Everyone said that he “floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee,” a reference, if she remembered correctly, to a former boxing legend from the late 20th century by the name of Muhammad Ali. Terry had been one of the most dangerous men to ever enter the cage. She was most definitely going to have to keep an eye on this one.

Without realizing it, Autumn had been staring at Bumblebee as she reminisced about sitting in her grandfather’s lap and watching the fights together. Eventually, Bumblebee put his manila envelope down and asked, “Can I help you, little girl? What’s the matter? You wanna see my stinger?”

The room fell deathly silent and even Dread took a step away as he waited for Autumn’s response to Bumblebee’s crude remark. Sive started to stand up, but Autumn quickly put her hand on his shoulder and whispered, “I’ve got this.”

Autumn then turned, smiled ever so sweetly at Bumblebee, and pulled her pistol out beneath the table and took aim at Bumblebee’s crotch. “I don’t know,” she said softly. “Would you like me to blow it off for you?”

Sitting straight up, Bumblebee exhaled and nonchalantly flipped through his folder. Beneath his breath, he whispered, “Moving right along.”

Autumn softly giggled and holstered her gun. That’ll teach him to talk to a lady like that. Not that I’m exactly a lady, but, whatever. Autumn may have been easy going, but she was also not a woman to be trifled with.

Setting the next folder in front of the burly man with the caramel complexion and the shaved head, Dread continued, “Here we have Kervin Alexander, code-named Leviathan. He’s the best hacker in all of North America, maybe the world. He once shut down the entire power grid in Japan just so the Cartel could simultaneously hit over thirty banks at the same time.”

Darting his eyes over at Leviathan, Bloody asked, “That was you?”

Shrugging innocently, Leviathan’s expression gave nothing away. “Might have been, but I can neither confirm nor deny that accusation.”

Bloody’s eyes lit up and he snickered. “Oh yea, that was totally you.”

As two folders landed in front of her, Autumn exchanged concerned glances with Sive. Putting his arms behind his back, Dread circled behind them and said, “And here we have Autumn White, code-named The Widow, and Rocky Wilson, code-named Sive. Officially they’re bounty hunters, but this is just a cover for their true profession—assassins. And to be honest, they are two of the best I’ve ever seen. Fifty-seven contracts and fifty-seven confirmed kills, a perfect record.”

Autumn folded her arms and grumbled, “One man’s bounty hunter is another man’s assassin.” Shrugging, she added, “It’s not our fault every single one of them resisted being taken in.”

Dread stopped dead in his tracks and turned back towards Autumn. “Whatever helps you sleep at night, my dear. You are what you are. You might as well embrace it.”

Back at the head of the table, Dread delivered the last folder to the white-haired gentleman sitting to the right of Sive. “And last, but certainly not least, is Thomas McCoy, code-named Harmonica. He had over twenty years of military intelligence experience under his belt before he went into business for himself. He’s a master strategist and one of the biggest arms dealers on Earth.”

Harmonica cracked a smile. “I just get people what they need. Nothing special about that.”

There was a pause as everyone explored the folders they had been given. As Autumn read everything they had on her, her heart sank. Damn it! They even have the address of the nursing home where my grandmother stays in here.

Dread took his spot at the head of the table and waited for everyone to put their files down. He cleared his throat and said, “I have brought you all here because you are the best of the best. There is no one in the Cartel as good at your jobs as you are. You were handpicked for a very specific mission.”

Sighing, Leviathan pushed his folder to the side and said, “Look, I appreciate a dramatic build up as much as the next guy, but how about you cut the crap and tell us why we’re really here already?”

Dread nodded. “Fair enough. Now that you see what the government has on each of you, I have a one-time only offer. I have connections within the government that are willing to delete your criminal records, birth certificates, anything and everything connected to you. They will completely purge you from the system. It will be as if you never existed at all.”

Autumn sat back and pursed her lips. “And just what do they want in return? Nothing in this life is free.”

Removing his helmet, Dread smiled as his long brown locks fell about his shoulders. “A very astute observation, Miss Autumn. You’re absolutely right. There is a price for this new freedom. What I’m about to tell you is of the highest security clearance. Only a select few in Earth’s government are even aware of this, so what I’m about to say does not leave this room. Understand?”

Everyone in attendance agreed, and then Dread very calmly confirmed the rumor they had all heard. “Mars is preparing to declare its independence from Earth.”

Harmonica hung his head and whispered, “Oh no. Not this shit again.”

Dread continued. “There’s going to be a war, a very nasty war if what I’ve heard is correct. Mars has been secretly working on new weapons technologies over the last decade and Earth wants that research. The six of you, along with D’leet, will rendezvous with my Martian contact. He already has a team assembled that will assist you with your mission.

“You will infiltrate the Martian research facility and retrieve whatever information you can acquire and sabotage the rest. If you do this, your records will be completely expunged from the Earth database. On top of that, I have been promised by the EBI that all law enforcement agencies will turn a blind eye to all our future endeavors, as long as we remain discreet. Where the Cartel erred, we will not. We will not only work from the shadows, we will become the shadows. The umbra is the darkest part of the shadow, a place where no light can penetrate, and that’s what we’ll be. We will be the UMBRA, and the world will bow to our every whim.

“So what do you say? Join with me and replace the Cartel, or walk out that door and be hunted down for the rest of your short lives? It’s completely up to you.”

One by one they all agreed; there was only one course of action to take. Smiling wickedly, Autumn asked, “So…when do we leave for Mars?”

FIN

Like what you read? Order The Rise of UMBRA RIGHT HERE!

Why You Should Check out “The Rise of UMBRA”

the-rise-of-umbra

Another Sci Fi book. There’s a million of them right? Well, this one is just a wee bit different. This story mashes up genres like few books can.

Yes, it’s Sci Fi, but there are elements of Adventure, Military, Spy, Dark fantasy and even a touch of horror on it. To put it bluntly, this book has a bit of EVERYTHING in it, including a sense of humor that have people comparing it to Joss Whedon’s “Fire Fly.”

Other comparisons  have been made to “Dark Matter” and “The Killjoys.” This book has a little bit of everything and is an adrenaline fueled ride into chaos.

Blurb–“Where the Cartel erred, we will not. We will not only work from the shadows, we will become the shadows. The umbra is the darkest part of the shadow, a place where no light can penetrate, and that’s what we’ll be. We will be the UMBRA, and the world will bow to our every whim.”–Dread

Autumn, along with the other last surviving members of the Earth Crime Cartel, are asked to go on a suicide mission to Mars. If they succeed, all records of their existence will be wiped clean. If they refuse, they’ll be hunted down and executed for their crimes. So what’s a bounty-hunter to do?

Too bad the Martians have left a little surprise for Autumn and her rag-tag gang of rogues on their ship. Yeah, it’s gonna be bumpy ride back home to say the least. Heads will roll and blood will spill as you watch the rise of UMBRA.

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Kindle comes out on Friday but paperback is available now! Order it RIGHT HERE.

Talon: The Cocaine Cowboys (WIP) excerpt

I lifted him up by the arm and then throttled him by the throat. “Do you know who I am, Marty?”

He spit in my face and muttered something in Spanish. I wiped my face and howled, “Wrong answer, asshole!”

I tossed him on the bed, popped my fangs, and pounced on the bed. I got nose to nose with Marty and relished the feeling as the fear overwhelmed his eyes. “Wh-what the fuck are you?”

I snickered. “Jehovah’s Witness. I was wondering if you had a moment to talk about our personal Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

“What?” he asked, utterly confused.

I rolled my eyes and thought, My God, does no one get sarcasm in this fucking country?

 

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