The 300: Sharing the first chapter of my WIP

10 02 2014

300Recently, I promised that when my Facebook author page got to 300 likes, I would post the 1st chapter of my current Work In Progress.

Well, I reached that landmark today, so as promised, here is the first chapter. I hope you like it. Any comments or feedback are always appreciated

Chapter 1

I used to drive past the pristine homes, the well-manicured lawns, the white picket fences, and wonder what manner of evil really went on behind those walls, away from the prying, curious eyes of well-mannered society. Now, I wish I could go back to wondering.

My name is Mike. Mike Wise. And my personal nightmare started about five years ago. It was the summer after my grandpa died, a steamy July Saturday night with no distinguishing characteristics. I don’t remember the date anymore, but it doesn’t much matter, does it? That day might as well have been the first day of my life, because nothing has been right since.

I might not remember the date, but I will never forget what happened that night. Believe me, I’ve tried to wipe away the unbearable stain of the memories of that night, and all the craziness that has happened since, with an endless stream of alcohol and pharmaceuticals. But nothing has even made a dent.

Sorry. I’m not telling you this story to make you feel sorry for me. Only in hopes that you might understand me. And possibly understand yourself better. I know, lofty goals for a piece of literature most of you will dismiss as pulp fiction or the ramblings of the criminally insane. Let me tell you how it all started. I’ve always thought that was the best way to tell a story, don’t you?

In the last moments of my former life, I was behind the wheel of my recently-acquired prized possession, the 1969 Corvette my grandfather left me, with the windows rolled down and Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” blasting from the CD player I had just installed earlier that day. Hey, I like 80s rock music. I was a child of the ‘80s after all. Don’t judge me for my taste in music. I have much worse faults, as you will soon see.

My grandpa Joe had died of a heart attack about six months before and had left me the classic car in his will, much to my dad’s dismay. Dad always said grandpa had promised him the car, but apparently grandpa didn’t get the memo. It wasn’t the first communication problem between father and son, so it really shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. In death, as in life.

The two had barely spoken, as far as I knew, in the last two or three decades, so I was really unsure why my dad had continued to cling to the irrational belief that the car would somehow make its way into his possession after Grandpa’s death. I guess sometimes our long-held hopes and dreams can blind us to the cold, stark visage of logic and reality that is staring us right in the face.

The ironic thing is I’m not even into cars. My dad can tell you the specifications of every car made in the last 50 years, but I can’t tell you the difference between a carburetor and a fuel injector. My previous car was an eight-year old Toyota Camry that I maintained to manufacturer’s specifications, but otherwise didn’t pay much attention. Like I said, I’m not that into cars. But you don’t have to be a car aficionado to appreciate the aesthetic value of a 1969 Corvette Stingray. The sleek lines. The lush curves. The way people watch as you drive by. Who couldn’t appreciate those things?

Not that I really care too much about such things. I’m a pretty simple man. At least I used to be. I live alone in my ranch-style 3-bedroom home on the edge of town. I go to work every day at Mansfield Plumbing, the local factory where I have worked ever since I graduated high school 18 years ago. Unlike most guys here in my hometown of Loudonville, Ohio, my idea of fun does not include hunting, fishing and drinking beer. I’m more of an intellectual.

Yeah, I know. What’s an intellectual like myself doing living in this Podunk town working a dead-end factory job? Life’s a funny thing. Like my grandpa used to say, life is what happens while you’re busy making plans. But this is really a nice place to live.

I love spending time among nature, either with a pen and paper in hand or a camera at my eye, and the nearby Mohican River and its lush ecosystem provide plenty of opportunities for me to enjoy the wonders of God’s creation. Plus, I’m not too far from the big cities of Cleveland and Columbus and all the wonderful opportunities they provide – museums, galleries, restaurants, coffee houses. So, for me, Loudonville was a perfect place to live.

That Saturday night, I was heading home from a day of photography and hiking at Mohican State Park. I was cruising along the lonely streets in my quiet hometown, watching as the current crop of hormone-driven high school heroes posed and preened in the sports cars that their daddies bought for them. All in the hopes of luring some unsuspecting prom queen or cheerleader into their web.

I’m not a vindictive, hateful person, but there was a part of me that wished that those pompous teens could get knocked down a peg and be forced to feel what real life is like for most people. Not all of us were born with a silver spoon in our mouths. I know I shouldn’t feel that way, but I just can’t help it. You know you feel the same way. Unless you happen to be one of them.

My family wasn’t poor, but we certainly weren’t rich, either. We were definitely what you would call a middle class family. My dad managed the business office at Mansfield Plumbing, keeping the company’s books. It wasn’t the most prestigious job in town, but it definitely paid the bills and kept us living in one of the nicer neighborhoods in town. The mayor lived on one side and the chief of police on the other side. Not a bad way to grow up.

That night, as I slowly cruised past the rows of two-story Victorian houses that lined my hometown’s narrow streets, my fertile imagination was busy creating nightmarish scenarios of horrific happenings in that serene, small-town setting. It was a little game my mind liked to play – imagining what atrocities could be taking place within the confines of the ordinary-looking homes that I drove past every day. Visions of abuse and neglect danced across the movie screen of my mind. Violent, tragic scenes played out against the idyllic backdrop of life along the Mohican River in rural Ohio. I know, it is a macabre hobby, but that’s just the way my disturbed brain works. What can I say? I get bored easily.

Of course I knew that in most of those houses, there was nothing more awful going on than old Bill Lewis forgetting to lower the toilet seat, pissing off his wife, Margie. Or poor Natalie Holtman sitting home alone watching “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” while her husband Mike was out late again, supposedly playing poker with his buddies, while he actually is busy playing a much different game with his alluring secretary, Val.

Most of my neighbors are relatively honest, law-abiding citizens who go to church, pay their taxes, love their spouses and kids and do their civic duty by voting at least once every four years. But for every Bill Lewis there was a Larry Wallace. Who’s Larry Wallace? Before that night, he was just another anonymous face in the small crowd that made up my hometown.

On that July Saturday night, I was driving past Larry’s house when it happened. What happened you ask? I can explain it to you, but you probably won’t believe me. Or you’ll think I need to see a shrink. Or both. And if I was in your place, I’d probably think the same thing. But I experienced it myself, so I am sure it really happened. At least as sure as anyone can be about that kind of thing.

It started as a quiet buzz, an insidious gnawing irritation that threatened to bore its way through my skull. The melodious sound of Kelly Keagy belting out the Night Ranger classic was cut short, replaced by the unexpected crackle of static. I glanced down at the CD player, ready to fix whatever problem had short-circuited my favorite song, when my windshield went from crystal clear to a sheet of impenetrable white.

My vision impaired, I slammed on the brakes, thankful to not hear the crunch of metal on metal, which meant there was no traffic behind me on the sleepy Loudonville roadway. I jumped out of the car and saw that from the outside, my windshield still appeared normal. I could see through the windshield into the interior of the car. Thinking that maybe my eyes were playing tricks on me, I got back in the car and looked out again, but still saw nothing but white.

That was when the little buzz in my head crescendoed to a deafening roar. For a second, all I could see was pitch black, then a few flashes of light. And then my whole world went dark.

When I came to, I saw that nothing had changed.  Except, everything had changed. I glanced down at the clock on the stereo. 10:30. Almost an hour had passed while I was unconscious. I looked in my rearview mirror, half expecting to see the flashing lights of some law enforcement vehicle parked behind me. How could I have been sitting here for an hour without someone noticing and calling the police? When I glanced back up at the whitewashed windshield, I wished I could lose consciousness again. Before my eyes, I saw a nightmarish scene being played out that almost defied description.

I saw a woman, fear clearly splashed across her visage, huddled on a tiled floor with her thin arms held defensively over her face. She was wearing a t-shirt with a redbird on it – the mascot for our local high school – and a pair of black athletic shorts. She appeared to be about 35 or 40, and I thought I recognized her but couldn’t quite put a name to her. I could see a white porcelain toilet with “Mansfield Plumbing” printed on its base behind her.

I recoiled as an arm flashed into the image from the right, sweeping across my view, followed by a red flash. The arm came back into view from the left, followed by more flashes of red. Blood, I realized. The hand was holding a knife or some other sharp object, and the crimson splashes were the blood spurting from the helpless female figure, now completely prone.

The woman’s mouth opened as if for a scream, but I couldn’t hear a sound, a fact for which I was very thankful. I could only watch the continuing bloodbath, which was horrific enough. The vicious slashes continued for at least 10 more seconds, and the torrent of bright red continued to spray across the windshield of my car.

It was like I was watching a silent horror film, playing out before my eyes in brilliant technicolor. I thought I must be losing my mind. What was I seeing? Was it a hallucination? A vision? A part of my mind was telling me to look away, but I was transfixed by the images coming to life on the windshield of my car. Yes, I know how absurd that sounds.

Eventually, the arm stopped its assault and the woman lay still, a river of blood continuing to flow from the slashes across her face and neck. Then the view shifted, as if a camera was changing angles, and I could see more of the bathroom where the scene was taking place. The hands that just moments before had conducted such a ferocious attack were now reaching for a towel, trying to wipe away the damning evidence.

The view spun a little further, now facing a plain white pedestal sink, as the killer turned on the water. He grabbed a bar of soap and began working it between his hands, building up a soapy lather. He feverishly attacked the bloody remnants of his assault, trying to wash away every last trace. But no matter how hard he scrubbed, there were tell-tale streaks of red left all over his hands and forearms.

He looked up from his scrubbing, revealing his face in the mirror. I had no idea who the man was, but he didn’t look like a killer. Whatever a killer is supposed to look like. I guess I’ve always had this idea that you can tell the good people from the bad people just by looking at them. Now I realize what a naïve idea that was.

With his close-cropped dark hair and goatee, the man in the mirror looked like any one of a thousand other average Joes who populated every corner of our country. He grabbed a purple washcloth from a rack next to the sink, passed it under the running water, then dabbed at a patch of red on his cheek.

And then, just as soon as it had started, it was gone. My windshield returned to its transparent state and the bloody scene vanished back into the netherworld from where it came.

The tiny sound of an approaching vehicle caused me to look down the road behind me. Two glowing eyes stared accusingly at me through the veil of darkness. I wasn’t sure what had just happened to me, but I really didn’t want anyone to see me sitting in the middle of the road in the dark. I threw the car in gear and slammed my foot on the gas pedal, spraying up a shower of stone bullets as the Vette pulled me away from what I hoped was just a momentary lapse of reality.


Book Review – The Vault by Boyd Morrison

27 06 2011

The Vault

Boyd Morrison

Touchstone Books

Available July 5, 2011

In the last decade, a new type of thriller has taken the publishing world by storm. The typical story goes something like this. Evil bad guy searching for famous, lost historical artifact forces hero to join him in his quest to discover the artifact and gain power or money. This formula has propelled Dan Brown, Steve Berry and James Rollins to the top of the best-seller lists and authors like Raymond Khoury, Andy McDermott and Chris Kuzneski have all made a good living following a similar formula.

In 2010, Boyd Morrison became the latest author to capitalize on the popularity of this genre. After self-publishing three novels and selling more than 7,500 copies of them in less than three months, Morrison landed a deal with Touchstone (a division of Simon & Schuster) to release his third self-published novel, “The Ark.” His debut novel with Touchstone garnered him thousands of new fans and positive reviews, creating a lot of buzz and high expectations for his new novel, “The Vault.” Morrison fans can rest easy – they should find their expectations met and exceeded with this exciting new thriller. Read the rest of this entry »

Ebooks – The Revolution is Now

3 06 2011

Last month, Amazon announced that for the first time, they were selling more ebooks than print books on their website. After less than four years of selling digital books, the online retailer said that from April 1 through the middle of May they were selling 105 ebooks for every 100 printed books. This number excludes free ebooks, which would have tipped the scales even further in favor of ebooks. Printed books included paperback and hardcover books.

Of course, these stats only take Amazon’s numbers into account, not every book sale in the country, and Amazon is the largest ebook retailer in the country, accounting for an estimated two-thirds of U.S. ebook sales. The popularity of Amazon’s Kindle has certainly propelled the retailer’s digital sales. Amazon reports they are selling three times as many ebooks as they were a year ago. But you can’t discount the importance of these numbers. They definitely are a landmark, indicating a distinct shift in book readers’ buying habits.

Anyone involved in reading or writing books has certainly seen the writing on the digital wall and braced for the day when ebooks might completely replace the beloved printed word. But few, if any, predicted sales figures like these so quickly.

As I work on completing my first novel, “The Truth,” I’ve been debating what route to take with getting it published. At first, I was pretty certain I was going to hold out for a deal with a publishing house, at least for a while, then possibly self publish if no deal was available. Now, as I’ve seen the paths many other authors have followed in the past year, I have started to reconsider that stance.

Given these sales numbers from Amazon and the sales success I have seen my fellow authors have on Amazon and other sites, I can definitely see publishing my book as an ebook once it is done. Of course that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t keep pursuing a publishing deal or pursue self publishing the book so people can buy physical copies. But given the opportunity to have my book available for sale on Amazon and other sites and getting my book into more people’s hands (even if not literally), I think that may be the way to go.

As a writer, what I really want, more than making boatloads of money, is to have people read my story. I have something to say with my work, and I want people to read my work and understand and appreciate what I have to say. With the paradigm shift under way in the publishing industry, holding out for a publishing deal is no longer the only option, and maybe it’s not even the best option anymore, to getting your work out to the public. As the landscape continues to morph and shift, authors have to continually reassess what works for them and how to publish. Some self-publishers have been lucky enough to land huge mainstream deals. Other authors who have previously published with major publishing houses have now decided to try the self-publish/ebook route. All this is just evidence that there is no one right way to publish. What works for one person may not fit the goals and plans of another writer.

By the end of the summer, I will have completed my book. So I have a few more months to think about what I want to do with the finished product. No matter what path I take with the book, I hope that many people will have the chance to discover “The Truth.” Can you handle “The Truth?”

Sci-fi – Why doesn’t it work on TV?

27 05 2011

Last week, I read the sad news that ABC was canceling “V” after its second season and NBC had decided to not renew “The Event” for a second season. Neither piece of news was super surprising, given the dwindling ratings both shows had experienced after strong starts. Also last week, as networks announced their new shows for the fall season, several much-hyped sci-fi or superhero shows failed to get picked up. The revamped “Wonder Woman” and “17th Precinct” by “Battlestar Galactica” creator Ron Moore were both passed over by NBC. With “Smallville” coming to an end after 10 seasons, the sci-fi/superhero prospects for next season don’t look very good.

Do all these things point to the death of sci-fi and superhero shows on TV?  I almost hope that it does. As a huge sci-fi fan, that is very hard for me to say. However, it is very frustrating to repeatedly get invested in a new show, only to see the rug pulled out after one or two seasons by the network. Thanks to the cancellation of these shows, we’ll never know what “The Event” really was or if the humans would be able to fight off the evil aliens with the help of Marc Singer. Even the network that is supposed to be all about science fiction (SyFy) doesn’t give its shows enough time to grow and build an audience. “Stargate Universe” ended recently after its second season with the crew in stasis for the next 3 years on a course for a new galaxy.

I almost wish they would never launch these shows if they aren’t going to give them time to tell a complete story. I hate being left hanging. That’s why even if I start reading a book or watching a movie and it’s not very good, there still is part of me that wants to find out how it ends. So if I feel that way about a story I don’t really enjoy, imagine how disappointed I am at not being able to find out how a  story ends that I really like. I guess I like closure. I think I need to go into therapy to deal with my issues of being abandoned by my favorite TV shows. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review – Nick of Time by Tim Downs

23 05 2011

Nick of Time

By Tim Downs

Thomas Nelson

In Stores Now

The Bug Man is back. “Nick of Time” is the sixth book by author Tim Downs featuring forensic entomologist Nick Polchak, aka the Bug Man. Nick is more at home in the world of bugs than he is in the world of his fellow humans, a key point that resonates throughout this book.

In “Nick of Time,” Nick is getting ready to make a major life change by marrying a woman who is nearly as uncomfortable with people as Nick – dog trainer Alena Savard, a reclusive woman locals believe can speak with animals. So why is Nick running to Philadelphia for a gathering of forensic professionals who investigate cold cases mere days before his wedding? That’s what Alena wants to know. Once he arrives in the City of Brotherly Love, Nick discovers an old friend has been murdered. Rather than returning to his fiancée and letting the police handle the case, the Bug Man begins following the trail of clues himself, a trail that leads him further away from the wedding and the woman waiting for him. When he misses their scheduled phone call two nights in a row, Alena and three of her dogs leave the safe confines of her home in search of her love, and the truth about his feelings for her.

“Nick of Time” is the first book I’ve read in the Bug Man series, but Downs does a good job of writing for both longtime readers and newcomers. I didn’t feel like I was missing key pieces of information from past books, but I’m sure faithful fans picked up things I didn’t or understood things differently than I did, and that’s the way it should be in any book series.

There were many things I loved about this book. The characters are rich and multi-dimensional. The dialogue was snappy and well-written. The plot moved quickly and was entertaining. This may have been the first Bug Man book I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last.

On a scale of one to five, I give “Nick of Time” a 4.

BookSneeze has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in return for my unbiased review.

Book Review – The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer

19 05 2011

The Inner Circle

Brad Meltzer

Grand Central Publishing

In stores now

If there’s one thing Brad Meltzer loves, it’s secrets. Or more accurately, he loves exposing secrets. Whether it’s one of his best-selling novels or his History Channel TV series, Meltzer makes a living delving into the past and exploring mysteries. Many of his stories have centered around Washington, DC, and the many secrets and cover-ups that have helped the powerful denizens of our Capital rise to the top. This story is no different. In his latest novel, “The Inner Circle,” Meltzer once again spins a fast-moving tale full of cover-ups and lies, leaving the reader and characters wondering who they can really trust.

The hero of the story, Beecher White, is a young archivist who works with some of the most important documents in our country’s history as an employee of the National Archives. When childhood crush Clementine Kaye shows up at the archives looking for help tracking down her long-lost father, Beecher tries to impress her by showing her the secret vault where the president reviews historical documents. Unexpectedly, Beecher and Clementine discover a 200-year-old dictionary that had been owned by George Washington hidden in a desk chair. As they ponder why the president would hide such a document, they quickly understand the high-stakes game they have found themselves involved with as a man turns up dead. This discovery entwines the pair in a web of lies, conspiracy and murder involving the Culper Ring, a group of secret spies tracing their history back to the days of the Revolutionary War. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review – Immanuel’s Veins by Ted Dekker

16 05 2011

Immanuel’s Veins

By Ted Dekker

Thomas Nelson

In Stores Now

Over the past decade, Ted Dekker has made a name for himself by writing two kinds of stories: fantasy and psychological thrillers. But no matter which genre he has written in, one constant has remained. Dekker loves exploring battles between good and evil, life and death, hope and despair. In Dekker’s latest novel, he tackles a slightly different type of story, but that eternal conflict is still at the heart of this story.

In Immanuel’s Veins, Toma and his brother-in-arms Alec have been dispatchedto Moldavia by their Empress, Catherine the Great, to protect a countess and her two daughters, Lucine and Natasha. Dekker quickly establishes that Toma is a faithful, duty-bound soldier who would never do anything other than what he was ordered to do, while the countess and her daughters are free spirits who embrace life. These traits immediately appeal to Alec, who has quite a fondness for all the pleasures life has to offer.

On the road to Moldavia, Alec and Toma encounter a strange old man who warns them of impending danger. Toma dismisses the warnings as nothing more than the ramblings of a crazy old man. But before long, he discovers the man knew more than Toma could ever imagine.

I won’t go into any more detail about the plot to avoid spoiling it for those who haven’t read it yet. But I will say that Dekker takes a well-known and quite frankly over-used archetype and adds his own unique twist to the traditional story. In the end, what appears to be just a suspenseful tale of the battle over a woman turns into a tale of redemption and sacrificial love. It’s a great allegory for the love Jesus showed for the world when he died on the cross.

There were some complaints that this story was too sensual or dark to be classified as Christian fiction. As with most of Dekker’s work, he uses the battle between good and evil – a battle which at times goes to dark places. However, that does not make the story unsuitable for any adult to read. If you go into this story with an open mind, you can’t help but be moved by the imagery and the reminder of what Jesus did 2,000 years ago.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give “Immanuel’s Veins” a 4.

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