Remember this little bombshell?

brinkley

So about 8 months ago, I was “interviewing” author Kory M. Shrum about her book series starring a certain undeadish young woman named Jesse Sullivan. You know, that seemingly-immortal snark factory of a girl that has made a decent living for herself dying in place of others for a job that’s half-FBI, half-insurance agent?

Uh, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, drop everything and go get the the book here. It’s FREE, by the way (because Kory rocks!!)

Anyway, at the time of that post, I had just finished book 2, Dying by the Hour, in which half the story is told by Jesse’s assistant/partner/best friend/sometimes more, Ally. It was pretty clear that Kory was into playing with perspectives, one of my favorite writer tricks. And, as I neared the end of my 20 Questions list, I threw out a wild card. It was just supposed to be innocent. For funsies.

Brinkley. Hint hint. ;) 

I nearly spit out my coffee. Like some sort of paranormal-fiction version of Woodward and Bernstein, I had stumbled upon a literary revelation. I’d inadvertently cracked a mystery wide open. I guess it’s true: sometimes you just gotta keep pulling the sweater.

But enough about me moonlighting as a book detective, let’s get to the meat and potatoes here.

dying for her

Hint hint indeed, Ms. Shrum. Almost 8 months to the date of that post, we get Dying for Her, a book told entirely from the perspective of James Brinkley, Jesse’s FBRD handler turned rogue agent. Well-played.

When I first read that infamous Post-It note, my first instinct was Wow. That’s gutsy. Taking a peripheral character, a character that I wasn’t all that invested in to be honest, and just about the only character without a cool power, and give us an entire book from his perspective.

Gutsy, to say the least.

But, having just finished Dying for Her, I have to say it was probably my favorite book of the entire series thus far.

Is it a true sequel? No, because a majority of it takes place in the past. So is it a true prequel then? No, because a lot of it catches up with the present, even going as far as fleshing out the events of Book 2.

So what is it exactly?

Well, I’d have to say it’s nearly the entire history of the world Jesse Sullivan lives in…except that it’s masterfully told as a hard-boiled detective novel.

Yeah, that’s right. All those ‘blanks’ you’ve been wondering about get filled in and you’ll be treated to great cop-noir to boot.

In all seriousness, Shrum really shows her writing chops with this one. Brinkley is a very layered character with a pretty heavy past. To think that his voice was written by the same person that gives Jesse her snark and Ally her sexy professionalism is almost unbelievable. And yet I was completely invested from page one.

Brinkley’s perspective shows calculated maturity and restraint, which really creates a perfect backdrop for Jesse’s recklessness and wisecracking.

And I think the most amazing thing about this book is that it’s told in flashbacks, interspersed with a countdown to an event that you already kind of know how it ends, and yet this was by far the most painful of the 3 books to put down. I was late for work at least twice because I couldn’t stop reading. That’s the hallmark of a great book.

More than the intrigue of character origins (which are in abundance), I think the riveting nature of this story is due in part to Shrum’s amazing worldbuilding skills. I’ve talked about this before, how real her version of the world feels, fully-realized. But taking that thoroughness and being able to expand it into a police procedural? That’s next level.

In Hollywoodese: it’s X-Files meets Law and Order: SVU with a twist of Die Hard. And it delivers on all counts.

Don’t wait. Brinkley’s story is available today, so pick your poison:

Amazon
Nook
Smashwords
Kobo
iBooks

Check out Kory’s blog, follow her on Twitter @koryshrum, and stay tuned to my blog for more from this amazingly talented author.

My love for Star Wars is like an exposed nerve in a way. On one hand, I’m very proud to show it off. If there was some sort of badge I could put in my wallet to show people how much I love Star Wars, I’d be flashing it at every pub, diner, and hardware store I wandered into. (The latter clearly being an accident.)

On the other hand, I’m so close to Star Wars that it’s hard to look at it objectively. When people ask which Star Wars movie is my favorite, I clam up. How can that be answered? That’s like asking which star in the night sky is your favorite?

How can you even quantify a piece of such a vast universe?

I’ve kept it kind of close to the vest but I suppose the cat is out of the bag: I’m going to Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim next month. It’s been a dream of mine since I knew what a convention was, one that seemed impossible, but now–knock on wood–it looks like I’ll be peeling back the curtain for a peek into the galaxy far, far away.

Truly, it’s a great time to be a Star Wars fan. We have a new movie on the horizon, spinoff movies, new shows and merch, and a new canonical storyline in place.

But that new canon also makes me weary. Star Wars books have been my go-to–my staple–since my middle school days. The Expanded Universe (now called Legends) was the closest thing I had to a soap opera. I followed Luke Skywalker and his friends for some 30 years after Return of the Jedi via those books, and all the while I was told it was the official history of those characters. Canon. Even Star Trek books didn’t have that cred behind them.

I bought and read every one of the New Jedi Order books…and loved them! Say what you will about the Yuuzhan Vong or Chewbacca being killed off in the first novel, those books are some of my most memorable reads and to me they’ll always feel real. Maybe even more real than The Force Awakens.

The New Jedi Order is where I first discovered Matthew Stover, one of my favorite authors. (If you’re not reading him, you should be.) And if it weren’t for Republic Commando: Hard Contact, a Star Wars book based on a video game that I had only watched from over a shoulder, I never would have discovered Karen Traviss and all the wonderful books she’s written. When I’m in a slump and haven’t read anything inspiring for awhile, I go to Amazon and search her name.

But it was with the Karen Traviss novels that my love affair with Star Wars lit became a little disenchanted. Not for the content of her books, but because of what they did to her.

Karen Traviss was the first author to be knocked completely out of the Star Wars canon, long before the EU became Legends.

Traviss’ Star Wars novels spanned decades–generations–within the Star Wars universe, all linked together by a cast of memorable characters, either invented or finally fleshed out by Traviss herself. It was a gutsy move, linking all her books together in one way or another, but it proved to be a work of true genius.

And, ultimately, fatal.

I’m still not entirely sure why exactly they needed to undo her work. It had something to do with The Clone Wars animated series and the history of the Mandalorians, but with one fell swoop all her books were no longer considered canon.

As a Star Wars fan I was devastated, but as a writer I was hurt.

I contacted Ms. Traviss after reading through all her Star Wars books via email, just to tell her how much I loved them, how some of them actually brought me to tears, and how I would follow her writing career wherever it went. She sent me a lovely email back, telling me thanks, but that, at the end of the day, it was just a job. A very Boba Fett-esque approach.

A job she wasn’t fully compensated for either. But that’s another story, and a punch-in-the-gut to any author. Surely Fett wouldn’t have taken that sitting down.

In the end, I think Traviss took the high road. She updated her site with notes on where her stories and characters were headed (oh yeah…did I forget to mention they clipped her wings mid-series?) and politely asked her followers not to ask much more about it. A lot of Star Wars fans pretended she never existed. Her name in relation to Star Wars is often paired with an eye roll or a groan, but her diehards will never forget her awesome contributions to the Star Wars universe.

This row with the canon nearly killed my fandom. It was just too close to the heart, writing-related and all. I boycotted The Clone Wars show for a long time, and didn’t read much of the Star Wars literature that was released post-Traviss. It just didn’t seem very interesting. Maybe it wasn’t, or maybe my palate was soured.

While this was a regrettable moment in Star Wars lit, Traviss has gone on to do some amazing work for franchises I never would have glanced at otherwise: Gears of War, Halo, even G.I. Joe just to name a few.

And fortunately Star Wars literature seems to be on the upswing. I’ve finally accepted that all those countless hours and dollars I spent following the adventures of Luke, Leia, and Han post-cinema are only Legends now. Mara Jade is a thing of the past. A ghost, and I don’t just mean of the Force variety.

But there is a new hope, so to speak. As Celebration (and the The Force Awakens) draws closer, the list of upcoming Star Wars books grows larger. And these promise to be official, canonical, and in the vein of Our Beloved Wars.

For now, at least.

But I can’t help but drool over the upcoming Aftermath, a direct continuation of Return of the Jedi, written by one of my Twitter favorites, Chuck Wendig. Or Lords of the Sith, what I lovingly call a “Star Wars Buddy Cop Flick” featuring Vader and the Emperor busting skulls side-by-side, written by perfect guy for the job, Paul S. Kemp.

In my mind, the existing Star Wars novels won’t be uncanonized until the new movie premieres. So until then, I’m going to spend the rest of 2015 reading those Star Wars novels that I never quite got around to. If you want to catch up as well, I still stick by my original list of great Star Wars literature, and would add these as well:

Allegiance Revelationcover Shadows_of_Mindor_cover

 

Until next time: Don’t stop believin’ and may the Force be with you.

 

When you think about what makes Mikel Andrews the man he is, Star Wars inevitably comes to mind. But there is a small window of time that not a lot of people know about. Just an awkward phase in middle school where I experimented.

With Star Trek.

Obviously there’s a huge rift between the fans of the Trek and the Wars, but personally, I’ve never really understood it. One’s science fiction, and one’s fantasy. Two totally different things. Take out the similar setting, and the two couldn’t be more different.

But, truthfully, I have gone out of my way in life to associate myself with Star Wars. It’s cooler. It’s more fun. Star Wars is the lovable family dog of space movies, and Star Trek is the bristly cat.

Today, however, I set aside my preferences, to remember Leonard Nimoy, the man who played Spock. The man who invented Spock. The man we say goodbye to today.

Let me take you back a few years.

In my heart of hearts, I knew Star Wars was cooler, but that didn’t stop me from latching onto Star Trek in 7th grade. In 6th grade, I was this lovable scamp with a stylish bowlcut, a backpack full of Star Wars books, and a Girbaud shirt that I leaned on a little too heavily.

7th grade, however, remains a very different story. I was chubby. That’s putting it nicely. Let’s just say I was really into Hawaiian shirts that year. I had just turned 13, so puberty was about 8 or 9 years away. I was a depressive loner so desperate to be in the “in crowd” that I barely have any memories that don’t involve me scheming a way into their lunch table. Or parties. Or their section of the wall at school dances. Sobbing over not receiving an invite. Befriending teachers. Typical teenage girl stuff, right?

But there was one thing that was mine: my weird fascination with Star Trek. And not even The Next Generation, which I think was still airing or at least being talked about amongst the normals. I was straight up into the original cast. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. The original bromance. I watched the Star Trek motion pictures over and over and over, and when I wasn’t watching them, I was reading the books based on them.

I remind you, this was almost exclusively confined to my 7th grade year. I always found that weird.

Today, however, when I heard the news of Mr. Nimoy’s passing, I felt a little tug in my chest that I hadn’t felt in a long time. An immortal had fallen. And it hurt.

I remembered an aspect of that time of my life I had sealed away. I was obsessed with Spock. Any episode, movie, or book having to do with Spock was at the forefront of my fandom. I remember rubber-banding my fingers to train my hands to do the “Live Long and Prosper” gesture.

Hey, man. Desperate times called for desperate measures, after all.

I stopped short of shaving my eyebrows at an angle.

I don’t know what it was about Spock. As aliens go, he was pretty lackluster, and as characters go, he was pretty plain on the surface. But his icy logic struck a chord with me.

In hindsight, I think it was his ability to control his emotions to a scientific degree. The struggle always brimming beneath his surface to appear cold and calculating. At a time when my hormones and emotions were exploding like fireworks, here was  a guy that could bury those things, achieve greatness, and live nearly forever.

Nearly.

Plus, Spock’s comebacks were always the best. Sometimes just a flick of an eyebrow could convey more than dialogue ever could. He was the Jim Halpert of the Enterprise.

(I know what you’re thinking: He’s the Dwight. I disagree. My essay on comparing the crew of the Enterprise to the cast of The Office is forthcoming. Right now, we’re paying tribute to greatness. Bear with me.)

Maybe that was it. Maybe in 7th grade, my emotions were my own worst enemy, thus making Spock my hero. Sure, Han Solo was cool–that was the problem. He and I would never relate on a certain level. Spock, trying not to burst into tears over a personal tragedy, was basically my theme song. And still is, some days.

Well, the woman with the notepad is telling my time’s almost up, so as I get up off this couch, I will bring it back around.

Mr. Nimoy, you gave me strength during a time when nobody else could. Your contributions to the realm of science fiction have been numerous, and your contribution to a kid trying to get through math class were even greater. Thank you so much for sharing your character with us.

You have been, and always shall be, my friend.

famous-last-words--20110808023332582-000

 

I strive to paint with broad strokes when it comes to Trivia Weekend. Make the ethereal attainable, without spoiling the mystery. I do, however, wish I had the ability to capture like a photograph, some of the details of Trivia Weekend. The exacts. The minutiae. The history. But I’m the artist, not the scientist.

But I also got the scientist.

So for even more coverage of KVSC’s Trivia Weekend, we go to local meteorologist Anthony “The Prestige” Dunkel, founding member of Enjoy the Man Explosion, already on the scene!

Mikel

dunkel_prestige

12 Years A Trivia Weekend
A Write-up by Anthony Dunkel

Wow. A dozen years of Trivia Weekend. How can I even sum up 600 hours of this madness in words?! Well, I’ll try, but with nowhere near the eloquence that Mikel paints with his wordbrush. Comparing us is like comparing our trivia team to Stefan’s Dream (the 3-time defending champion and now all-time TW victory leader with 6). But I’ll do my best!

Since our team’s inception in 2004 in Hill-Case Hall, I look forward to Trivia Weekend each year almost as soon as the previous one ends. This year however, I was PUMPED for this sleep-deprived, caffeine-riddled, snack-fueled marathon of mindless questions more than probably any other. That’s because last year I was painfully absent, I went on a Caribbean cruise with my best friend. Now, to 99.9% of the population, a frigid weekend indoors vs a tropical vacation, that’s a slam-dunk no-brainer of a decision. I am the 0.1%. It pained me to miss last year’s festivities. Agonizingly, I wrestled with abandoning my team for a good 3-4 days before I gave the go-ahead to my friend. That’s how much this weekend means to me. I wasn’t a complete no-show last year however, I was there for the first 14 hours before I had to leave. And as if almost right on cue, the final question asked before I headed out the door to the airport was a meteorology question regarded storm chasing. The looks on my teammates faces as I blurted out the answer and walked out the door was one of heartbreaking amazement. Mic drop.

Anyways, I anticipated this year’s festivities with such gusto I haven’t felt in years. I stockpiled snacks. I secured our annual cache of Utz cheeseballs. I stared at the Visual Trivia images until they were burned into my retinas. I brought my giant white-board that we use for question tracking, which thanks to technology is becoming obsolete, but is still used as a writeable monolith for pertinent info. Also this year, we had a new teammate, Kell’s girlfriend Kate. I wondered how she would handle her inaugural entry into our timeless sleep-deprived tradition, and a couple of times I could tell, as she gazed at us from her comfy chair perched near the front door, that she thought we were all completely bonkers for doing this. However, she was awesome all weekend, from making us food to finding us answers…but not at waking people up. More on that later.
As far as Trivia Weekends go, this year’s went extremely smooth. There was no “OMG THE INTERWEBZ IS BROKEN!” or “OMG MY COMPUTER ISN’T CONNECTING” or “OMG WE CAN’T GET THE RADIO SIGNAL!!!” moment that nearly derailed trivia contests in years past. There was a “OMG THE BASEMENT IS KIND OF FLOODING” moment Friday morning, but luckily didn’t affect the weekend. A couple teammates couldn’t be with us this year, due to having a baby, or as we call it, Trivia Weekend 2027 MVP. There was the annual “let’s all go to the store and stock up on supplies” run just before it started. The annual “We gotta eat this obscenely large tub of cheeseballs before Hour 50″. The annual “are we sure we have enough soda to get through the weekend” even though we had enough Mountain Dew and Surge to fill up a bathtub. The annual “Mikel’s already making photoshopped memes before the contest even starts”.
Then, it begins.
Even with all of our traditions, we always find new ones. This year we all decided to do shots every 5 hours, one of which earned myself a spot on the Top 5 Best Tweets of #TriviaWeekend list.
dunkeltweet

Team Ireland joined via Flowdock which was a HUGE help to our squadron of Google monkeys, especially during the early morning hours. Every available surface was covered with empty soda cans that would make an outsider think they walked into a geek version of “Signs.”

Incredibly, after a strong Hour 1 and a super-rare, for our team anyways, Perfect Hour 2, we were in a 3-way tie for 2nd. A mere 20 points behind the Trivia Weekend jauggernaut that is Stefan’s Dream. WE WERE UNSTOPPABLE! This would be the year that Enjoy the Man Explosion! would not only have 50 hours of fun, but we’d also make the trivia elite’s sweat our very presence! Yeah that lasted about 40 more minutes as the trivia gods doled out question after brutal question and we slowly slid down the rankings into the 20s. The dream… was dead.

We’ve gotten better at sleeping in shifts over the last couple of years, so that there’s always at least a few people up and burning the overnight oil (including myself, since I’m a machine, according to Mikel anyways). Sunday morning brought some mild entertainment to myself as Kate went to wake Kell up… and never came back. Then Mikel went downstairs to wake Drew up… and never came back. Team Ireland had gone to bed hours before… and hadn’t woken up yet. For 3 hours, I held down the fort, writing down the questions, Googling what I could and calling in the answers. Even got a rare 90pt question right while everybody else was sleeping. THANKS FOR NOTHING TEAMMATES! I earned that lonesome Hour 35 shot all by myself! It’s all in good fun though, There was something zen-like about being a one-man trivia band for those 3 hours. I figured it was penance for my absence last year. Okay guys, I learned my lesson. Now please don’t do that again next year. Please? Pretty please?!

Our final ranking has never been of any concern to our team, we never really care where we finish up (A very respectable 29th out of 64 this year!). Trivia Weekend isn’t about that for our team. I look forward to  spending a weekend non-stop with some of my best friends. An entire weekend of laughing at Kell’s NSFW answer guesses when our real one was  cruelly shot down. An entire weekend of laughing at Mikel’s meme creations. An entire weekend of sustaining myself on cheeseballs and Mountain Dew and Pizza. An entire weekend of cheering and high-fiving each other when we pull a uber-points answer out of our ass. An entire weekend of laughing at the phone bank volunteer’s silly code names (Steaming Pile, Not Wearing Pants, etc.). An entire weekend of just leaving the real world behind and entering this protective bubble where  time stands still, and this group of trivia-loving buddies just gets to enjoy our time together. That’s REALLY what Trivia Weekend is all about. It’s never really been about the questions persay, it’s the fact that they give us the opportunity for old friends to bond, new friends to join us…and single-handedly make the Magnolia Manor Nursing Home in Columbus, Georgia stop answering their phones for an hour. Seriously. This is what Trivia Weekend does to the country.\

There was “Mogubgub, Mo Problems.”

There was the 2hr wait for pizza Saturday night, because apparently pizza is a hot commodity on Valentine’s Day.

There was myself becoming “The Prestige”, due to Mikel never figuring out how I just appeared at my desk at one point.

There was all of us laughing hysterically at a monkey flailing on a typewriter GIF, due to Lorilei having a concerning amount of increasingly hilarious typos throughout Sunday. (Honestly, I can’t remember laughing at anything so hard during a Trivia Weekend before. You had to be there).

When-Someone-Gets-so-tilted-playing-against-me-that-they-just-start-typing-random-letters-into-the-chat-box-to-get-out-their-frustration

There was Mikel and I battling one another for the love of Maddie, somebody we only knew through Twitter who played for an elite team. Sadly, Maddie chose her boyfriend. How rude.

There was the sheer elation as Kell completely, randomly guessed an answer for a 250-point question, and nailed it.

There was my teammates eagerly anticipating my apparently iconic “thumbs up” when I’m on the phone with the answer bank, signaling a right answer and those delicious trivia points.

dunkel

There was the audio speed round hour… that was nothing but people screaming in terror and getting eaten.

Most of all, there was the knowledge that in 52 weeks, we’ll all be right back here, doing it all over again. And I can’t freakin’ wait for it.

For more witticisms from this raving lunatic:
And for more coverage of Trivia Weekends past, check out:

It has begun.

TriviaPoster2015

Where were you last Friday at 5 p.m.?

I don’t care. I was doing Trivia Weekend. The single most important holiday of the year.

If you’re a regular reader of my blurg, you know that this is the thing thing I do not miss. It is 50 straight hours of nonstop trivia fueled by caffeine, booze, and cheeseballs with the greatest friends a guy could ask for.

The question I get asked most often is: why?

kell tweet

Why take off the busiest tipping holiday in hospitality history, abandon your girlfriend over Valentine’s Day weekend, drive 5 hours, gorge yourself on delivery pizza, pop tarts and more Yellow #5 than it takes to make the Big Bird costume, then submit to voluntary sleep deprivation in hopes of maybe landing 30th place in a competition where an impossible top spot earns you a weird urn and bragging rights that would take too long to explain in casual conversation?

I wonder this myself every year. Usually around 3:30 Saturday morning when I’m cracking a Monster energy drink, stuffing my face with a slice of Pizza Hut that I’m not even hungry for. What the hell am I doing here?

But it always passes quickly. Those second guesses are trivial. “Partial” at best.

It’s the Transformer I buy every year to keep my laptop company.

kell tweet

It’s the view.

kell tweet

It’s the shot every 5th hour whether we need it or not.

IMAG0612-MOTION

And usually it’s a ‘not’ situation, but whatever.

the face

It’s the memes, graphics, and images that we create.

transformers question

994ITV_Brad_Pitt_051

idol slimer meme

Stuff that’s only funny to our team. For a temporal blip on a non-existent radar.

dunkel_prestige

mogubgub

SRDExpert6Laugh

Seriously, the idea that THIS was relevant at some point should haunt my dreams.

DOG MEME

It’s not often our team gets a new member, but this year we did in the form of Kell’s girlfriend, Kate. I found myself watching Trivia Weekend through her eyes. It was very interesting. While she was a good great sport about it, and contributed answers of her own in between keeping us well-fed, I could tell she also thought we were kind of insane.

It made me realize all the things we Trivia Weekend veterans and repeat offenders rationalize. Justify. The why‘s we seem to ignore. I guess it is kind of weird to get a blanket, fall asleep at your keyboard, and come to when a radio DJ asks a question that you think you might know. I guess it is sort of weird to order a pizza an hour after dinner. I guess it is technically bizarre to buy things off Ebay just because it’ll help you get an answer.

I guess it is weird to do a “wine bomb.”

But these things–this is why we do Trivia. This is why no matter how much we grow up, this weekend calls us back year after year. This is why every year I bring a giant book that I never, ever use to Trivia Weekend every year. Because one time a girl who now lives in Ireland told me I had to. And why I’ll never, ever leave it at home.

It’s that fine line between superstition and tradition. That misty gray area between insanity and having a good time. It’s because for one unbelievable, indescribable weekend there’s no such thing as time. Nobody ages. The only bad decisions are not calling in a guess. And because for 50 glorious hours I’m not worried about paying rent, serving drinks, calories, or the future. I’m just sitting in a living room with my best friends, suspended from time and space, talking about butt-chugging fatalities and an album cover from 1978.

If this is insanity, write a thesis about it. But don’t ever, ever take away my Trivia Weekend.

gone boy

Posted: January 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

Okay, I admit it: I don’t get it. The appeal, the hype, the viral spread of Gone Girl. The movie was full of that hauntingly beautiful Fincher cinematography, the music was stellar, and the acting was top notch–especially Carrie Coon’s Margo Dunne. And full disclosure, I haven’t read the book. I realize book movies are always pretty different from their source material, but the script was written by the author, so I have to assume all the beats are there and not much was lost in translation.

So what is it?

Upon my initial viewing, I found the story a little bland. Too weak to be a true mystery, too far-out to be a realistic drama. Sort of a Home Improvement if it were a sloppy police procedural. So why is Gone Girl everybody’s go-to book recommendation? How come I can’t log into Facebook without seeing somebody raving about it?

And why, if it was so lackluster, and I’m blogging about it–still thinking about it–several days later? Why can’t I let this go?

As the credits rolled, I only had one wish: to have the last two hours of my life back. But I keep coming back to it. Not because it was so undeniably good, but because I can’t quite get a pulse on it.

My cousin said he couldn’t breathe when he was watching it. He said he stared at his wife for hours after the movie ended, trying to see into her skull, to see what made her tick. While I didn’t have that same experience watching it with my girlfriend, I could see where more than a few husbands/boyfriends would be shaping up after seeing this flick. That’ll happen after watching Ben Affleck get his life ripped out of him and stomped to a bloody pulp.

It did make me uncomfortable, I’ll give it that–I think it was supposed to–but I don’t think my reasoning is the same as the rest of the planet’s.

As a writer, I try to keep up on all the best-sellers, whether they’re my cup of tea or not. Especially as an ‘indie’ author, I find myself analyzing what about the story is so gripping. What about it makes it wildly virulent. I’m pretty good and ferreting this information out, but it’s a gift and a curse.

On one hand, it keeps me jacked into the pipeline of what’s popular. On the other, I have difficulty just sitting back and enjoying something because I’m so busy trying to discover how it works.

And maybe that’s why I find Gone Girl so…offensive. As a writer–and a male–it makes me look bad.

When I referenced Home Improvement, I wasn’t just trying to cash in on an obscure 90s reference, I truly believe that Nick Dunne was being presented as the ‘dufus husband’–this was even referenced comically in the movie. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the character was a bad guy, or at least, a shitty husband–but did he deserve to be be murdered via the death penalty verdict of an elaborate hoax? Hell no.

[Spoiler Alert] Luckily, that wasn’t the case. The elaborate hoax was discovered (by some of the characters, anyway} and Nick Dunne was spared–but at what cost? A miserable existence? A blackmailed living situation? A form of house arrest?

One could argue that even though Nick was a screw-up, he was still the victim of the story. And that his homicidal, psychopath of a wife was the villain. But I fear the book and the movie won’t be interpreted that way.

I fear it will be a sort-of how-two manual for getting revenge on an unfaithful partner. Is that why this book/movie is being so well-received? Because housewives around the world are relating to the character of Amy Dunne? I’ve seen some pretty freaky Twitter comments. And while I hope Twitter hasn’t become a  microcosm for the people of Earth, the fact that even some people are thinking this way scares me.

Is “Gone-Girling” a deadbeat boyfriend going to become a thing? Instead of taking adulterous partners on Maury for a paternity test, are people just going to set them up for murder? Even if people are too stupid to pull it off–or the cops too smart–I worry that people will still try.

I’ve been cheated on, I think most people have in this day and age. And there’s always that moment where you want to “teach them a lesson,” but ultimately that’s not the answer. Revenge seldom is. But did Gone Girl justify revenge? One can argue that obviously Amy Dunne was crazy and everyone knew she was in the wrong…

…but then why did she get away with it in the end? She got what she wanted, more or less–or, at least, without any repercussion. Is that the message the author is sending to the readers? Sometimes the villain gets away scot free?

And that’s where I become offended as a writer. Because if that’s all it takes to be a best-seller, then I’ve been doing it wrong. You don’t need clues to be a mystery. You don’t need to solve the mystery to complete the story. Hell, you don’t even have to make sure good triumphs over evil, right? Just make sure you hit the biggies: pregnancy scandal, cancer, murder, betrayal, and a one-sided husband getting his come-uppins.

Or did Gillian Flynn write this as pure entertainment and the audience turned it into an anthem, or a battle cry, for spouses that feel they’ve been wronged?

Or am I way off my rocker, and this is just the next Twilight, or 50 Shades of Grey, or Hunger Games? That there’s no more resonating going on here than a cool, dark, edgy story outgrowing its beach-read status? Tell me partners are not going to start leering at each other across the dinner table with endless suspicion, and that the crime blotters are not going to start becoming revenge-porn about teaching “cheatin’ dogs” a lesson.

And somebody please tell me why if this was such a lackluster, stupid story am I still thinking about it? Is that the real beauty of Gone Girl? Is there something truly, genetically haunting about this story? That its simplicity, its predictability, is exactly the vehicle that inserts it under your skin, making it crawl? Is this what it takes to strike a chord in this business?

What am I missing here?

Day 2

No Pabu. No “Do the Thing.” No bending.

It’s been just over a month since I ordered this shirt from Teefury–

yip

–thus reminding myself that I needed to finish watching that show Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was one of those things I always meant to do, but when I started it, I was watching it on a tiny notebook laptop in my cousin’s basement and, I dunno, somehow the magic never sunk in. But, I couldn’t be a poser–I had enough Volcom shirts for that–so I decided to binge the whole show.

What did I think of it? In a word: perfection. One day classes on storytelling will be taught about Avatar.

I never wanted to watch anything else other than that show. Ever. Again. But I needed to let the wine breathe a little. Give myself the chance to properly digest the sum of awesomeness that was Aang’s adventure.

So, on a whim, I decided to take a chance on The Legend of Korra.

I know it’s not going to be as good. I’ll never care about the cast. It probably shouldn’t have been made but at least there’s bending in it.

I was totally wrong.

Korra hit all the beats. It carried on the legacy of Avatar, while blazing new trails. Expanded the mythology. And I only discovered it after the entire series had run its course.

But that’s good, right? Now I wouldn’t have to wait week-to-week! And the cliffhangers in Korra are twice as torturous as those of its predecessor.

So I dove in, headfirst, and watched every episode. Shorter seasons meant I charred each Book like a wildfire. I was out of control. Nothing seemed to be worth watching if it wasn’t Korra.

Two nights ago, I finished the series. Unlike when I’d finished Avatar, this was the end. There’s no more mythology.

For the first time in this wonderful age of technology, I’m upset that I had the opportunity to binge something. I feel cheated that. In only a couple weeks, I got to have the experience that everyone else stretched over the course of four years. Do you realize how lucky you people are?!?! For four glorious years, you guys got to wake up knowing there was more to come from Korra and her friends!!! I hope you savored every moment! I hope you reveled in its possible future! Talked about it at every watercooler!

Me? I treated the greatest show in television history like a matchstick. Struck it up and watched it combust. Only realizing what I had when I saw the cold ash of my blank TV screen.

Okay, okay, I’m done waxing poetic about a Nickelodeon show. But, honestly, the lessons I learned from Aang and Korra are unforgettable, and I owe them a great debt. They got me writing again. They taught me to let go a lot of hate, fear, and aggression. They got me doing Yoga–I realize that probably wasn’t the intention, but, hey, it happened.

Amazingly, this world was created by two mortal humans, Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. They’ll probably never read this, but I want to thank them. This was probably the cheapest, most entertaining form of therapy I could ever get. And though I hope you return to this legacy you’ve created, I understand if you want to let it be. You’ve created something undeniably pristine.

Over the years, I’ve claimed a lot of things were my favorite this or that, but these two series truly take the cake. The sooner I can rewatch, the better.

Do yourself a favor. Watch this show. You’ll feel better. You’ll be better.

korra-beginning-header-1600

Admittedly, it’s been a long time since I read until my eyes blurred into oblivion for a reason other than wanting to finish the book and move onto the next. So imagine my surprise when I picked up Red Rising by Pierce Brown and actually freakin’ loved it.

15839976

The least surprising thing about this is what drove me to the book–it’s set on MARS. As I’ve mentioned time and again, I have a love affair with the red planet. What started with Red Planet and spread with Total Recall, one thing is certain: If you set a book or a movie or a game on Mars, I WILL BUY IT.

P.S. If anyone is interested, I still want to start Tars Talkin': the Mars-cast. We can discuss the name. Briefly.

But back to the book. It starts with Darrow, a young Helldiver–cool–that has spent his entire life mining helium-3 for the purpose of terraforming Mars for colonization. At this point, I was already hooked. In my opinion, this was enough material to write a book. Just tell me about Darrow and his clan spitting and pissing and dancing their way to earning the Laurel and I’m set.

But then all hell breaks loose.

Within days of losing his wife, Darrow learns that Mars has been colonized for years. Decades. And the powers that be just felt like keeping him and his people underfoot.

Again, this is enough of a twist that M. Night Shyamalan could have gotten two movies out of it. Yet, this is relatively the first few pages of what’s to come for Darrow.

What happens next is a tension-riddled bullet train straight to the highest ranks of dystopian society. To describe Darrow’s rise as meteoric isn’t doing it justice. And you’re there for every heart-pounding second of it.

Where Katniss rebels, Darrow infiltrates. Where Ender plays, Darrow kills. I love Ender’s Game. Love it. For years, it’s been the pinnacle of young adult fiction. So imagine my gut-wrenching guilt when describing Red Rising to a friend, I said the words “it makes Ender’s Game look like a coloring book.”

This is Lord of the Flies in space. This is Hunger Games all growed up. This ain’t hand-brushes in the park, and cheeks blushing from across the room–this is bloody, sweaty, raw entertainment, while somehow still retaining the grace of a political thriller.

If you want a reading experience equivalent to waiting for the next episode of Lost, this is it. If your foot was constantly going for the gas pedal while reading Hunger Games, this is your book. And if you want a world so well thought-out, so established, that you don’t have to question whether not it exists, pick up a copy of Red Rising by Pierce Brown.

In his acknowledgements, Pierce Brown says you’re going to bloodydamn love this book. It would almost be arrogance if it wasn’t so freaking true.

 

 

part four: mary

Posted: January 6, 2015 in Uncategorized

Part 1: Natalie – The Bookworm

Part 2: Danica – The Freak

Part 3: Elise – The Saint

mary

Written by Mikel Andrews

You want to be in my wedding?

Okay.

Okay. You can be my bridesmaid. This wedding is just for pretend—but you can be in my real one someday, okay?

You mean it?

Yeah I mean it. I swear it.

7 Years Ago

Mary had finally unpacked the last thing in her dorm room—a little hand-carved trinket that showed three girls standing on top of the word MAZATLAN. She’d purposefully put off taking it from the box even though her hand had grazed it several times throughout the afternoon. She kind of hoped it would’ve broke in the process. She shouldn’t have even packed it.

Mary remembered when Jess, Elise, and she had found the souvenirs in a marketplace in Mexico during a summer study abroad trip their sophomore year. At the time it seemed like fate. Three matching souvenirs depicting three girls on vacation. Three best friends, hands raised like they were about to dive into a waterfall.

The Holy Trinity.

Now, though, it was just a piece of wood that meant nothing.

Mary wondered what Jess was doing right then. At this hour, the girl was probably still in the gym, practicing her ass off. That was Jess. Never gave up, did she?

Giving up is my job.

Of course Mary still felt guilty for costing the girls their scholarship. Maybe Legs could find another way to get to college, but Jess? Damn. That girl was going to have to make a deal with the devil to find something by graduation.

She had to let it go. If Jess had been offered the scholarship that Mary had been offered, she’d have done the exact same thing.

Right?

“Hey, Pampers,” said a voice from the open doorway. Ali, the girl from 308 that had helped Mary find her room. “You done playing Susie Homemaker in here?”

Mary smiled. Pampers. She got that she was the baby of the floor—technically, she wasn’t finished with high school yet—but she was used to dishing out the nicknames.

“Yeah,” Mary replied, setting the trinket next to the room phone. “Just finished.”

“Good,” Ali said. “There’s a party at Kappa House and we’re about three shots behind.”

Mary fumbled over her words. “Oh, I—I don’t drink.”

“Yeah,” Ali laughed. “That’s what they all say.”

* * *

The frat party was about what she expected. A beautiful old house, gutted and filled in with neon beer signs and paraphernalia, bursting at the seams with drunk kids. She’d been to a party before. It was just like high school, except bigger, and people were slightly less worried their parents were going to barge in the front door.

What she hadn’t expected was the cute boy with the freckles that brought her a can of root beer. Even opened it for her.

Not every Kappa drinks booze, he’d said with a smile. Mary liked him instantly. His name was Toby. He was a photographer who covered concerts for the entertainment section of the campus paper, was the youngest of three boys, wasn’t a Bowie fan, but really dug Queen Bitch, and apparently carried around a pocket full of rohypnol.

Mary came to in an unfinished basement. Maybe the Kappa House, maybe not. Maybe the same night, maybe not. Maybe alive, maybe not.

The only thing she knew for sure was that the only piece of clothing left on her body was her bra, and the cute boy with freckles that didn’t drink booze was lapping away at a surgical slash to the left of her bellybutton. Strangely enough, her first thought was Where’s the knife?

Mary tried to scream, but her vocal cords hadn’t quite woken up yet. Neither had her arms or legs. Not that it mattered. Her wrists were tied to the headboard with tightly-wound sheets. Frozen, she watched as Toby smeared her blood over his sharply-pointed teeth with a freakishly long tongue. His eyes were pure white, like something that had lived in a cave all its life.

Silently, she prayed to be anywhere else. Prayed that she would die. Prayed that, at the very least, she could just fall back asleep.

Jess, she thought. I should have stayed.

As his tongue probed deeper into the wound, Mary could feel herself blacking out in place of the pain.

Just before she was gone entirely, there was a cracking sound. Splintering wood. She felt Toby’s body lift off of hers. Groggily, Mary turned her head towards the clatter. A girl in black leather stood in the doorway. Her hair was short, nearly buzzed, and Mary couldn’t tell if it was makeup around her eyes or lack of sleep.

Toby’s jaw unhinged and he screamed a high-pitch shriek in the girl’s direction.

The girl’s face made a disgusted frown. “You better bite that tongue of yours before I do it for you.”

Toby looked confused, but only for a second. In a flash, the girl brought his chin to her knee. The tongue flopped to the floor. As he squealed, the girl pulled a sharp piece of wood from her boot—the grip of a baseball bat?—and dropped the business end down through his back. Toby dropped beneath Mary’s line of sight. She thought she saw a glow at the edge of the mattress, but it might’ve been the drugs.

The room went silent.

The girl walked to the bed, and threw a sheet over Mary’s lower half. Then she went about undoing the knots around Mary’s wrists

“Sorry I wasn’t sooner,” she said remorsefully. “I wasn’t sure where he took you.”

Mary’s freed hands went to her throat. She coughed hoarsely. Her windpipe felt like it was coated with sandpaper.

The girl pulled a flask from a pocket and handed it to Mary. Mary shook her head.

“It’s all I got,” the girl told her. “Just enough to wet your whistle. The cottonmouth will wear off eventually.”

Reluctantly, Mary forced herself upright and took a swig. She grimaced and coughed, but this time there was sound. “Whiskey?”

Holy Whiskey,” the girl said. “Just had it blessed this morning.”

“You—you had someone bless your booze?” Mary asked weakly.

“Yeah,” the girl answered. “Sort of a one-last-fuck-you in case I get bitten.”

“Bitten?”

The girl nodded. “Yeah. Vampires can’t get drunk like we can, but they found a loophole. Plus, the thinner the blood, the faster they can chug. So if they do get me, they won’t even know they’re drinkin’ holy til they’re about six pints deep.”

“Vampires,” Mary muttered.

“Yep.” The girl nodded at the flask. “And I can tell by the way you’re not bursting into flames, that creep didn’t make you into one yet. So, you know, go you.”

Tears flowed down Mary’s face. She didn’t want them to, but they weren’t going to hold back. She clutched the sheets closer to her abdomen. Her blood hadn’t completely soaked through, so that was a silver lining.

“It’s gonna be okay,” the girl soothed. “My name’s Candy, by the way.”

Mary sniffled. “Is that your real name?”

“Does it matter?”

It didn’t. This girl, whatever her name was, had saved her. Mary wished she’d been a little more punctual, sure, but mostly she just wished this had never happened to her. That it never happened to anyone. That these things didn’t exist.

She rubbed her thumb over the raised cross on the front of the flask. “I want to kill them. All of them. Every last one.” She took a long, burning pull from the flask.

“Do you want me to show you how?” Candy said quietly.

A Month Ago

Not only could she hear the phone vibrating, but she could feel it through the mattress. She groaned and groped at the nightstand, succeeding in only spilling the remains of an open Jameson bottle.

“Shit,” Mary growled.

No phone. The buzzing continued elsewhere. She still felt it. Her mouth tasted like stale tobacco and fire. She looked at the shirtless body lying to her right and jabbed a hard elbow into the guy’s back.

“Hmm?” he uttered.

“You’re on my phone,” she said. “Get off.” When he didn’t comply, she simply kicked him onto the floor. He woke fully, sending out a string of curses.

Mary ignored him and grabbed the phone. The caller ID said Jess. She blinked a couple of times, thinking the name would clarify itself into someone else. Honestly, she didn’t think that number was still in her contacts.

Mr. Last Call was still cussing her out. She looked at the digital clock on his side of the bed. Almost three in the morning. Why would Jess be calling her now?

Why would Jess be calling her at all?

“I have to take this,” she told him. “Get out.”

“This is my fucking apartment!” he hissed in her face.

She jerked forward, headbutting him out cold. “Thank you.” Mary hit Answer. “Hello?”

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“It’s Jess.”

“I know,” Mary said. “What’s up?”

“I can’t sleep.”

“Okay.”

“Look, I-I know this is weird. We haven’t talked in—God, what’s it been?”

“Foreverish.”

Jess snorted. “Yeah. Well, I—well, here’s the thing—it’s just—”

“Out with it, Butterscotch,” Mary said. She couldn’t believe how fast the nickname came back to her, or how easily it rolled off her tongue. It’s what Jess’s hair reminded her of. Butterscotch and chocolate, melted.

Jess snorted again. “I’m getting married.”

Mary hid her inhalation. “Oh. Congrats, I guess.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

“When?”

“Soon,” Jess went on. “Too soon. And—and I wasn’t going to ask—look, I know it’s dumb, but I can’t stop thinking about that day.”

Mary found a cigarette and lit it. “What day?”

“The day we met,” Jess explained. “By the creek.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, and—well, you probably don’t remember—but I swore you’d be in my wedding.”

Mary blew smoke out between her lips, waiting. “Are you drunk or something?”

Jess laughed. “Not nearly enough.”

Mary laughed. She’d almost forgotten what it sounded like. “Jess, you don’t have to do this. That was a long time ago. A really long time ago. And what I did—breaking up the band—I know that sucked, but—”

“Those things I said, when we were at Perks. The day you told us you were leaving,” Jess interrupted. “I should’ve been happy for you. And, frankly, if I’d have gone to Macalester, I never would’ve met Eric. So, technically, I wouldn’t even be getting married if it wasn’t for you.”

Mary laughed again—she’d have to mark this date on a calendar. “Jess, that’s—come on—”

“Mary, you saved my life down at the creek, do you get that? The current had me, I felt it,” Jess said. Her voice wavered and cracked. “I—I was already saying goodbye to my parents when I felt your hand.”

Holding in a puff of smoke, Mary bit her lip.

Jess didn’t wait for her. “I want you in my wedding. I want you there, Mary. Please. I can’t make you my Maid of Honor like I said I would—that’s already Danica—and I know it’s late notice, but—I need you there, Mary. You were my best friend. Are.”

Mary sighed. “I—look, I’ll think about it, okay?”

“I’ll take it,” Jess laughed. “Thank you. You know, at the very least, you could make the bachelorette party.”

Mary huffed. “That’s a definite no.”

“Oh, come on,” Jess pressed. “Elise will be there. And Danica found this little party bus that’s going to take us around our old stomping ground.”

“Around Irvine?”

“Yeah, and all the little surrounding hick towns. Doesn’t that sound like too much fun?”

“Cloyingly,” Mary said flatly.

Jess’s sigh crackled through the earpiece. “Alright, I don’t need to put any more on your plate. I just—more than anything, I needed to say I’m sorry. How I acted and how I was—that’s not me anymore.”

“It wasn’t you then, Butterscotch,” Mary answered. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Yeah. Look, don’t be a stranger, Mary. Keep in touch. And think about what I asked.”

Mary nodded, swallowing a lump in her throat. “Night, Jess.”

“Night, Mary.”

The call was over a good five minutes before Mary moved. Her cigarette burned almost all the way to her lips. She stood up, seeing shooting stars in the dark. She fumbled for the bottle of Jameson and swigged what was left. She stared at the guy on the floor, snoring away with his pants around his ankles.

“No,” she told him, shaking her head. “There’s no chance in hell I’m going.”

Now

She heard the clicks of the bathroom door locking behind her the instant it closed. She smiled. Good girl. Mary knew the minute she’d seen Natalie standing awkwardly in her black party dress that she liked her. Something about her reminded Mary of herself when she was much younger.

Her smile disappeared.

Head in the game.

She could hear the shrieks and screams of the vamps in the bar. Nails on a chalkboard. She was over it now after so many years. Now that bloodcurdling sound that came up out of their empty lungs was just annoying. A gnat in your ear when you’re trying to sleep.

But this was a lot of gnats, even for Mary. She’d never seen so many vamps in one place.

Beyond the bathroom hallway, the bar was a storm of activity. Pretty boys in pretty shirts swarmed over every surface. They hung from the rafters, they perched on the banisters. They swirled around the beautiful unconscious girl they’d strung up from a light fixture above a pool table.

Jess had scratches all over her face. Cuts. Her jaw hung slack. Was it broken?

Truthfully, Mary was surprised Jess was still alive. After all, these things had a bad temper and not a lot going on in the morality department. If they wanted something, they took it.

Mary winced. The scar on her stomach burned cold.

Slinking across the back wall, she made her way to an old-time jukebox. Across the bar, was its digital brother, touchscreen glowing and blinking, begging for money.

Would’ve been perfect if it wasn’t surrounded.

Mary wasn’t even sure if the old jukebox was functioning. Maybe it was just a fancy lamp now. Either way, she wasn’t getting to the newer model. Not discretely anyway. She didn’t doubt her ability to cut a path across the bar, taking them out one at a time, but that would defeat the purpose. A slow burn like that would only give them the chance to take turns draining Jess while Mary fought her way to the pool table.

No, she needed their undivided attention. All of them. All at once. Her only shot was to light a flare. Get all the moths with one flame. She just had to pick the right one.

Mary scanned over the yellowed inserts, reading song title after song title.

Total Eclipse of the Heart? She Works Hard for the Money? Come on Eileen?

Jesus, when was the last time this thing was updated?

Her eyes landed on one.

Oh, God. She sighed. It’ll have to do.

She popped in a couple quarters and hit G9. The jukebox shook out its cobwebs and the song started.

Their shrieks stopped like a record skip. Heads turned quick. If they were human, their necks would’ve snapped in two.

Mary smiled. “Hi, boys.”

She plucked the sparkly pink BRIDE tiara from the inside pocket of her leather jacket. She didn’t remember the exact bar that she’d nabbed the gaudy thing from Jess, but it was early on. Jess hadn’t even noticed.

Mary placed the tiara on her head, tucking it carefully between fiery red strands. Cold, white eyes stared at her from every direction, starting round then narrowing to slits.

“I think you got the wrong girl,” Mary told them, nodding at Jess. “Aren’t you looking for me?”

All the pretty boys with their pretty teeth swarmed her, leaving Jess dangling in the green glow of the billiards table. From above, they dropped in, landing like cats. The hopped off bar tables. They poured into the empty spaces of the bar, filling the place like a flood of popped collars and creamy skin.

Mary adjusted the tiara and brandished her favorite weapon. A little wood souvenir from a trip she barely remembered. She palmed it like a brass knuckle, so that three hand-carved girls, stained red from repeated use, pushed between her fingers.

As the chorus closed in, her staked fist connected with the head of the pack, gouging his pearly white eyes with a sickening, satisfying smack.

“Greetings from Mazatlan, bitch.”

After that, instinct took over.

Mary swept through them, whirling like a dust devil. She ducked a punch and used the crouch to retrieve a knife from her boot, skyrocketing up from the floor, and severing a jugular with the blade.

Candy had taught her that nothing was more effective than a wooden stake to the heart. Whether it was some mystical connection to the elemental material, or they just had an allergy to oak, a stake to the heart could take them down quick.

But it wasn’t the only way to kill them.

Vampires ran on blood. It was their fuel. Bleed them out and you empty their tank, just like a human. Except most humans didn’t keep on coming once they were stuck, that part was different. But Candy assured her that it was searingly painful for a vamp to feel his life drain away from a bleed-out. A hundred times worse than it felt for a human.

As Candy put it: Imagine going to bed hungry. Starving, like you haven’t eaten in weeks. And then, just before you fall asleep, someone pours acid down your throat.

So even though it was a little more risky, Mary liked using the knife.

She chucked it into another throat, and roundhoused it deeper, cartwheeling over the fallen body to get it back.

Oh yeah. Mary really liked the knife.

She moved through them like running through a forest. They were just obstacles to her, not threats. Speed bumps, not roadblocks.

But even a speed bump could take a off a hubcap or two.

Mary felt long nails graze her face, stinging her cheeks like saltwater. But most of those fingers ended up stumps. She liked playing with them, cat and mouse, but sometimes she straight-up planted her little souvenir right in their fucking chests, taking an extra moment to watch the white hot glow appear at the back of their screaming throats.

Every time Mary saw that light, it was like she got a little piece of herself back. A little sliver of who she was at seventeen. Before college. Before the Kappa House. Before Toby.

She sent her knife through a pair of cheeks, laterally, slashing a grin impossibly wide.

I loved volleyball. And geometry.

She put a spiked fist up through a chin.

I loved car rides down Main Street going nowhere on a Friday night.

She slashed an artery.

I loved dancing on the hood of Elise’s car at midnight—

Shattered fangs on the edge of a table.

—listening to whatever tape was in the deck—

Bent a knee the wrong way.

—Jess screaming the lyrics, holding both my hands like a total freak—

Mary took another head clean off. “You took that from me!”

Even though her goal was the pool table, she never made a move towards Jess. She could play aloof a few more minutes. She’d done it all night, hadn’t she? The vamps had eyes everywhere. The bus driver. The old timer at the first bar. The bartender at the second. This route had been completely staked out.

No pun intended.

Mary was almost to the pool table. She’d danced another few rounds, tying up her loose ends. The cat always got tired of its mice.

One last mouse scurried in between her and Jess. The vamp’s lower jaw was missing, its fangs hanging above the void like icicles. Not even Mary knew where the other half of its mouth was. She must’ve really been in the zone. Somehow the asshole still managed to hiss in her face, spattering her with hot blood.

She wiped it away. “Hey, Smiley? I thought I told you—not the moneymaker.”

Her knife-grip arced over her head buried in the top of his skull. She didn’t stop until he was pinned to the floor, her frame hunched over him as she screamed.

As her cry died out, she dialed back to a whisper.

“Just so we’re clear,” she told the writhing vamp, “that was for Candy. She really hated you fuckers.”

From there, Mary leaped nimbly onto the felt surface of the pool table. She looked at the grisly meatpacking plant behind her and decided not to wake Jess up quite yet. Mary wondered if she’d blacked out from the drinks they were feeding her, passed out from fear, or if they’d drugged her. She untangled Jess’s wrists from the complex coil of the lamp wire.

Fucking vermin.

Jess in her arms, Mary hopped down from the table and carried the girl back to the bathroom hallway, stepping over heads like she was sneaking through a pumpkin patch.

With a moan, Jess came to. “Mary?”

“Keep your eyes shut, Jess.”

Jess seemed to slip out of consciousness again, but then muttered. “You came back for me.”

“Yeah.”

Jess swallowed drily. “You always do.” Then her head rolled back. Mary just kept trudging towards the bathroom door. Hopefully Natalie had kept it secure.

She knocked with the toe of her boot. “Open up!”

“Who is it?” Natalie.

“The Tooth Fairy,” Mary replied, hefting Jess. “Open the goddamn door, Nat.”

The locks clinked and clacked and finally the door swung open. The girls’ faces all went white when they saw Mary painted in red, but they quickly forgot when they saw Jess. They swarmed her, tugging her from Mary’s reluctant grip and laying her gently on the cold tile floor. Elise sobbed into Jess’s butterscotch curls. Danica held her throat, and let thick mascara tears roll down her cheeks. Natalie just fell to her knees.

Mary thought about throwing Danica against a mirror and drilling her with questions, but her voicebox probably wasn’t up to answering anyway. Plus, the way Elise was repeating I’m so sorry made Mary wonder if she’d been barking up the wrong tree.

“Did they leave?” Natalie asked.

Mary shrugged. “More or less.”

Natalie nodded. “Thank you. You saved my sister.”

Elise came up for air. She looked at Mary. “Yes, thank you. Thank God you were here.”

Mary looked away. “Not so sure about that.”

Elise’s face scrunched up with another rack of sobs. “You’re a good friend, Mary.”

Good friend? Mary looked at Danica’s throat. At Natalie’s bloody knees. At Elise shaking. At Jess unconscious on a bathroom floor in a hick bar in the middle of nowhere.

“Yeah,” she said, clearing her throat. “Sure I am.”

2 Weeks Ago

They burst into the bathroom giggling, Mary and him. At least it was clean. Cleanish. He kissed his way up her throat. He didn’t have to circle yes on a note for Mary to know that he wanted her. Bad. He clutched her rear and pushed her up onto the wash basin, immediately hiking up her skirt.

She stayed his hand. “Easy, boy.” She didn’t get a name. She rarely did.

She put a heel on his chest and gave him a playful kick onto the floor.

He stared up at her, confused.

Slowly, deliberately, Mary sauntered to the door and locked it. Then she found the dimmer switch on the light panel and turned it all the way up. The room grew uncomfortably bright.

The man shielded his eyes. “What the hell?”

“Sssh,” she hissed. “This is how I like it.”

She pulled her flask from her pocket, feeling the familiar cross on the exterior. She took a large pull but didn’t swallow. She stepped over him, and planted herself on his crotch forcefully.

He grunted, unsure whether to love it or hate it.

Mary leaned in close, their noses almost touching. Then she spit whiskey in his face.

“Bitch!”

“I get that a lot.”

The boils began to appear on his skin almost instantly. She cinched his arms to his sides with her thighs. His eyes rolled back to the whites and his fangs grew in, splitting his gums. His Gene Simmons tongue lashed like it held a jackknife.

“This is how it’s going to work, bloodsucker,” Mary told him. “I ask, you answer. You don’t answer, I spit. I run out of whiskey, conversation’s over and I go ask somebody who’s still alive—are we clear?”

“Piss off!”

Mary shook her head. “That’s not very ladylike.” She filled her mouth with Holy Jameson and sprayed it on his face like napalm. He screamed and fought her grip.

“What’s the Last Stop?” she demanded.

“Go to hell!”

Mary grinned a sinister grin. Instead of pouring the whiskey into her mouth, she pushed the vamp’s head back and poured it into his right nostril.

His shriek sent a crack through the mirror.

“You’re wasting whiskey,” Mary told him. “The Last Stop. Talk.”

He growled—or gurgled. “It’s a bus service we own. A party bus.”

Mary’s insides turned cold. “Party bus.

“Yeah, you know,” he went on. “Picks up college kids, takes’em around to small town bars, drives’em back to campus.”

“And sometimes it doesn’t.”

The vampire grinned. “And sometimes it doesn’t.”

“What’s so special about this one?” Mary demanded. “Why are all the vamps talking about it?”

“Last Stop booked a bachelorette party,” he coughed. “There’s nothing sweeter than a bride before her wedding, and everyone wants a taste. There won’t be a feeding like this for years.”

It took every ounce of restraint not to finish him right there. In due time, of course, but she thought she might still need more intel. First, though, Mary had a phone call to make.

She rose, keeping the flask pressed to his face with her boot. “Not a peep.” The spout dangled precariously above his left eye.

Mary swiped through her call log while the vamp squirmed underfoot. Jess’s name should’ve still been at the top. Bingo. “Pick up, pick up.

I have to warn her. She’s walking into a slaughterhouse–

Jess answered on the third ring. “Hello?

“Jess, it’s Mary,” she said. “There’s something I have to tell you–your bachelorette party–”

“Yeah?”

Mary stared down at the burned face struggling beneath her heel.

There won’t be a feeding like this for years.

Her voice rearranged in her throat. She sighed into the receiver. “Is it too late to RSVP?”

Jess’s squeal nearly blew out the phone speaker. The girl was waxing endless niceties and thank-yous. Mary felt her stomach churn.

“Yeah, okay,” she told Jess. “And how ’bout we keep it classy? Black dresses all around? Perfect. Okay, I gotta run. I’m…on a date.”

The call ended. Mary popped a squat on the vamp, putting her knee into his gut.

He groaned, then forced a laugh. “Using your friends as bait? That’s cold, even for a hunter.”

“They’re not my friends.” Not anymore. “One last question.”

“What’s that?” he rasped.

Mary groped for something in her inside pocket. “Have you ever been to Mazatlan?”

The End —>

20 questions w/ Kory M Shrum

Posted: September 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

title card

A couple posts ago, I reviewed Dying by the Hour, the hot, new, dark-as-the-inside-of-a-coffin-on-a-moonless-night sequel to Dying for a Living by Kory M. Shrum. Like it’s predecessor, Dying by the Hour is a gritty urban fantasy putting a spin on zombie lore.

Imagine that zombies have a lucrative place in modern society. Not pushing shopping carts or lifting boxes as Shaun of the Dead might have you believe, but as Death Replacement Agents. What if because of their ‘special condition,’ zombies–or Necronites, as they are known in the proper vernacular–could die for you? Death comes a-knockin’, gets its corpse, and you keep on living–you’d pay for something like that, right? Especially if all the Death Replacement Agents were as funny/sexy/cool as Jesse Sullivan. Between Death Replacement gigs, brimming insanity, developing powers, and a love triangle with her assistant Ally and landlord Lane, it’s a wonder she has any time to crack wise.

Fortunately, she still finds plenty of time for that.

The books are incredibly vivid, both in character and in world-building. Shrum dives deep into her own mythos, and in doing so, raises some great questions about our world as much as Jesse’s. In fact, I found myself needing to dig deeper.

As a former student of both literary and cinematic symbolism, I needed to understand the psychology of the undead mindset. Really pick that zombie brain. I needed to tap into the very mind of Kory M. Shrum herself.

Fortunately, there is a very scientific process by which curious scribes like me can delve deeper into the inner workings of a genius. A timeless study of the psyche from which one can extrapolate the very metaphysical strands of humanity itself.

I’m talking about a little game called 20 Questions. And fortunately, Kory is cool as heck and totally went for it.

Now, allow me to pretend I’m James Lipton of the literary world, and let’s do this thing!

Thinking_MIkel

1. First of all, we start with the biggie: Star Wars or Star Trek?

kory 1

2. Correct! Now…would you rather be a Necronite or a government-engineered psychic known as an AMP?

kory 2

3. #TeamAlly or #TeamLane? Just kidding…unless you have an answer….

kory 3

4. When it comes to ‘the craft,’ do you prefer outlining or writing from the hip?

kory 4

Eureka_Mikel

5. Cookies or Bars?

kory 5

6. Necronite or a regular human?

kory 6

7. Would you prefer to travel by plane or by train?

kory 7

8. Beer or cocktails?

kory 8

Mikel_Wacky_2

9. Pizza or Tacos?

kory pizza

10. Jesse’s been struggling with a new ability since Dying for a Living. For your ability, would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?

kory 10

11. Mikey, Donny, Leo, or Raph?

kory 11

12. Pizza or Lasagna?

kory pizza 2

Wacky_Mikel

13. Am I the only one that thinks Ally’s professionalism is her sexiest feature?

kory 12

14. This is important. Is it weird that I’m attracted to a fictional character?

kory 14

15. Whew, okay, that’s…Oh, right! The questions. Uhh…Pizza or Nachos?

kory 15

16. Jesse gets one Tweet before the FBRD shuts down her account, what does it say in 140 characters or less?

jesse tweet

17. What does Ally’s say?

ally tweet

18. Lane’s?

lane tweet

19. We’ve seen Jesse’s perspective, and now Ally’s, and I can only imagine who’s next…but if you had to write a book from any character’s perspective OTHER THAN THE BIG 3, who would you choose?

kory 19

20. Would you rather see the Jesse Sullivan saga as a movie or a TV series?

kory 20

BookHolding_1

Well, we’ve learned a lot of things. Kory really likes pizza. And pugs. And that maybe I should eat something before the interview. Or possibly host a dinner party?

In any case, we’ve seen who’s behind the mind of the Dying novels. Thine own thirst be slaked! In all seriousness though, I strongly recommend you check out this sweet, sweet book series as it unravels. The setting is great, the characters rock, and the mystery will keep you awake at night. In a good way. Like herbal tea.

And, hey, this is still pretty much ‘ground floor’ territory here. When everyone starts copying Kory’s genius take on the undead, you’ll be a total zombie hipster!

So HURRY and check out Kory M. Shrum’s Rafflecopter giveaway–you can even win 3 random items from her desk! Score!–and keep the party going with Dying by the Hour‘s AFTER PARTY!