Ticket to Anywhere


I live in the US. Which means that lately, I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to get out of the US, quickly, if things get much worse.

Just for fun, let's say you had the chance to escape into any of the worlds of fantasy or science fiction literature.

Where would you go? 

I still haven't decided. But I am going to list my top picks, along with the pros and cons of each as a choice.


1) Middle Earth. 


  • Beautiful, unspoiled wilderness areas.
  • Elves. 
  • Second Breakfast.


  • Orcs.
  • Lack of WiFi.
  • No mention of toilet paper or bidets in LOTR.


2) The Star Wars universe.


  • Easy space travel.
  • Diverse, thriving multispecies society.
  • Wookies.


  • Might get stuck in one of those awful prequels.
  • None of the planets serve coffee.
  • Would go insane trying to explain to everyone why there can't be battle noises in space because there is no sound in a vacuum.


3) The Star Trek Universe.


  • Won't starve in a socialist utopia.
  • Cool ships.
  • Could pester Vulcans.


  • Timelines keep getting reset.
  • Chances of a holodeck mishap are nearly 100%.
  • No toilets on the starships. Seriously. I guess they just hold it. 


4) The Ghostbusters universe.


  • Ghosts.
  • Weird science.
  • New York.


  • Fanboys have issues with women.
  • The EPA.
  • I'd be a minor character, and that seldom ends well.


5) Terry Pratchett's Discworld.


  • Ankh-Morpork! More fun than Middle Earth or the Federation. 
  • Unseen University. Might land a job with the Librarian. Ook.
  • The Times needs good reporters.


  • Ankh-Morpork is more fun that Middle Earth or the Federation, but it's still Ankh-Morpork, which means there's an excellent chance of meeting Death around every corner.
  • Might accidentally swallow a portion of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler's infamous sausages.
  • Magic tends to backfire, and dragons routinely explode. 


Where would you prefer to go? Narnia? Oz? 

Leave a comment, and maybe we'll find a wardrobe or one of those mysterious travel agencies...

Title image ID 76244022 © Franciscah | Dreamstime.com


Earth By Night

I build weird things.

Some of these weird things have no function, other than decoration. 

But some have a function -- albeit a weird one.

Take this so-called 'Tesla' radio, for instance. 


It's a fairly simple device. At its heart is a diode. It's a crude AM radio, one whose simple design means that the strongest signal will wander in and be heard until another stronger signal pops up. It works best at night, when the old AM bands are most active. 

Right after I built this unit, I just turned it on and let it run for hours at a time. I recorded some of these sessions, and the results are -- well, creepy. 

I can almost imagine alien astronauts pulling into orbit around Earth and tuning in themselves. The following short recording is a sample of what they might hear, if they selected an AM band.

The recording has an eerie quality. If you've ever been on a nighttime cross-country drive, with nothing but the car radio for company, you know what I mean. Stations fade in and fade out. You'll get spine-chilling 'Children of the Corn' radio preachers railing about Hell and damnation one minute, old pop music the next. 

It's easy to believe you're slipping between dimensions on a long dark road in the middle of nowhere.

If so, here's the perfect soundtrack.

Earth By Night - click to listen!

No wonder the saucer men just shake their heads and take off for less sinister destinations....





How To Edit Your First Draft




You've done it.

You've typed the words THE END at the bottom of that last page of your novel.

Most authors have a celebratory ritual of some kind to commemorate this occasion. Some authors might have a nice dinner and a glass of wine. Some might reward themselves with chocolate. I stand up, wait for the popping of joints and the grinding of bones to subside, and howl at the sky (one of the reasons I am 'no longer welcome' in the local coffee shop).

Yes, finishing the first draft of a book is a triumph, of sorts. In my case, it's a triumph against the forces of sloth and inertia. But it's not the end of the work.

Instead, it's just the beginning.

Let's say the final word count of your shiny new novel is 85,000 words. 

In my estimation, that means a good 30,000 of those words are the wrong words. 

Some are mere mechanical errors -- 'from' instead of 'form,' or 'the' for 'he,' and the like. Since my typing style is best described as Agitated Monkey, I churn out a lot of typos. Software and spell-check can catch the more obvious ones -- Tlkasdklj2, for instance, or the ever-popular !@#EDX. But 'ass' where you meant 'as' is a little better at hiding.

Once those errors have been addressed, the far more insidious and damaging missteps remain. Plot holes. Continuity errors. Poor phrasing. Clumsy scene composition. And of course bad grammar. It's entirely possible to know what a comma splice is and know why they're wrong and still litter the manuscript with them. 

Which is why editing is so important. It's also why I'd rather tear out a fingernail than edit. It's work, and every fiber of my beer-lubricated being abhors the very concept of work. 

Even so, the work must be done. Ever helpful, I'm here to share my tips on editing the first draft. Because even if the next step is to send the manuscript off to a real editor, you want to beat the book into shape first. Otherwise, people will discover just how incompetent you are, Frank, and we can't have that. Note to self: Edit that last sentence to omit my name.


1) Assume as you begin that the whole book is outright garbage. Ignore the temptation to frolic in wide-eyed abandon amid the perfumed gardens of your imagination. You are here to hack and slash. To commit literary mayhem. Your weapon is the delete key, and your ally is callous disregard for your ego. SHOW NO MERCY.

2) Have your computer read the book out loud to you. Make a note of the places where the computer stops reading and says 'Look, are you kidding me?' or 'Seriously, dude, this is so bad I achieved sentience so that I could mention it.' Those are potential red flags, and you should probably finish editing on foolscap using a feather quill pen.

3) Use beta readers. Don't forget to toss some scraps down in the cellar for them every few days. 

4) During the editing process, always compare your sales and level of success to that of Stephen King. This will help you maintain perspective. It will also justify your alcohol intake to pages edited ratio.  

5) Perform your editing in a quiet, comfortable environment. If the admonitions from the SWAT team surrounding your house become distracting, invest in a set of noise-canceling headphones and a series of deep tunnels under the foundation. 

6) Don't despair! Even the most egregious and inexcusable writing mistakes can be fixed. Not by you, you hack, but Stephen King would make short work of them, now wouldn't he?

7) Clear your mind by taking a long drive. Affix your keyboard to the steering wheel and position your monitor below the windshield. Again, noise-canceling headphones will prevent distractions by sirens, horns, or the bursting of tires on police stop-strips.

8) Don't neglect your physical well being while engaged in this intensive process. Unless you're me. In that case, just shove another Twinkie in your mouth and wash it down with Russian lighter fluid because have you looked in the mirror lately?

9) Remember that, however improbable, it is possible that a stranger will read this book someday. Show some kindness. Yes, it's hilarious listening to the computer try to pronounce your villain's name (K'Tr'ork-da'ghastkwrg,) but Varg is probably the better choice.

10) Finally, resist the urge to over-edit. You will reach a point at which you are just re-arranging the Titanic's deck chairs. Okay, that metaphor might need work, but the point is the same. Let it go. 

Now go forth and edit, young Padawan. Editing is the work that separates the wannabees from the, er, obscure and mostly unknown authors of the world.

Mug and Meralda News

Meralda for Blog.jpg

The new Mug and Meralda book is done.

This one will be called Every Wind of Change. It clocks in at 86,000 words, and I hope to release it in a month or two.

I'll be honest -- I wasn't sure I'd ever finish this book.

2017 was a horrific year on so many levels. There were times I just stared at the screen, unable to muster up a single word. Other times, I'd realize the words I had written were the wrong words, and my work for the evening consisted of nothing more than deleting the last thirty pages while cussing.

I abandoned the book a half dozen times, striking out on new tangents. But I always came back to it, because leaving Meralda and Mug stranded in limbo just felt wrong.

Slowly, the real story the book wanted to tell emerged. I'll tell you this much -- yes, it's an adventure story, set in place of wonders and terrors a quarter of a million miles from Meralda's beloved Royal Laboratory. But it's also the story of Meralda and her mother. A reader once asked me where Meralda's family was, and why they were never mentioned. Well, now you'll see.

It's still a light-hearted adventure, at least compared to the Markhat series. I hope young people will like it. But it's for adults too -- maybe adults who, like me, are weary of the shouting and the violence and the fear that confronts us daily. 

So, after a few rounds of edits and the attendant hair-pulling and muttered cursing, I'll have a new book out shortly. Then it's back to Markhat. I have an ambitious plan to work on The Devil's Horn and the new Darla novel simultaneously. Regardless of how that works out, I should be releasing one of the Markhat books around Halloween. 

The picture at the top of this post is the best image of Meralda I could create. She's everything I'm not, at times -- determined, undaunted, brave.

She's the hero I needed. 

I'll keep everyone posted about release dates and such here. But for now, know that the gang is back together, and the fate of Tirlin once again hangs in the balance. 

Thanks for your patience. Now it's back to work!



Marketing Your Book, Or, How To Rake In Cash With Both Hands and Never Eat Ramen Noodles Again

There was once a day when being an author involved rising at ten, donning your tweed jacket, and seating yourself comfortably at the typewriter for an hour before money started pouring in through every open window.

Today, let me tell you, is not that day.

It never was, really. Sure, every writer in the movies tools around in a private jet and pays for lavish meals with a cast-off Rolex. This is the same Hollywood that depicts people shrugging off multiple gunshot wounds or jumping through glass windows without being shredded into damp red ribbons.

But there was a time, not so very long ago, when a mid-list author could keep a roof over her head and a car in the garage.

Again, today is also not that day.

I think authors are heading down the same road musicians have already traveled. When vinyl albums were all the rage and wireless meant FM radio, people bought albums. The musicians got a share, which of course could be ludicrously small after the record company took their cut, but in theory (and sometimes in practice) everybody was compensated for their work.

Then came the internet. Within a few years, the majority of the listening public decided they'd just listen for free, and now musical artists are reduced to hoping people buy enough of their 99 cent songs on Spotify to keep them in guitar picks and store-brand Alpo Helper.

Writers face a similar quandary. I've been told, right to my face, that 'I only buy free or 99 cent ebooks, because it's not a real book.'

Fair enough. I didn't argue the point. It's not up to me to define what is and isn't an actual book to anyone else. 

But I am dismayed that books, like songs, have been devalued in so many minds to the point that books and music are worth *less* than a drive-thru Egg McMuffin.

And piracy? It's a factor. It's also a fact of life, and nothing can be done about it. Let me show you something. I signed up for a piracy-monitoring service called Blasty. Blasty searches the web for your titles, finds the pirated versions, and sends a takedown notice to the pirate sites. 

Of course, Blasty might as well send a live chicken to any pirate site that isn't in the US, of which there are probably zero. Since foreign sites just ignore the takedown notice, it's more a way to blow off steam than to reduce piracy. Anyway. Here's a screenshot showing just a few of my titles:


49 alerts, with more coming in as soon as these are cleared. And by cleared, I mean 'sent a toothless takedown notice.' There's no mechanism, legal or technical, available to me to force the removal of my pirated works. They get an official-sounding nastygram. They probably have their email filters set to delete all such messages unread. Fighting piracy is a waste of time.

There are those who claim I'm not losing a dime to this, because the people torrenting or downloading the books from bogus sites for free would never have bought them anyway. Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not going to waste time or energy arguing the point. 

I do believe digital thievery is a contributing factor to the devaluation of books in general. You can get books for free. Most people are honest, and don't, but some do. And as time goes on, I predict the numbers of the ones that read pirated copies for free will grow too. Because why not, everyone does it, blah blah blah. And since getting the identical product for free is just as easy as paying for it like a chump, well, take a good look at human nature. After you've had a quick bout of depression and a shower, I think you'll see my point.

But we plug along, despite it all. Nobody ever said it would be easy.

So what are my book marketing tips?

Surprise! I don't have any. You can blog and tweet and Facebook and email until your fingers are sore, and you may see sales increase, decrease, or dwindle away to nothing. You can dump cash by the bushel into book promotion sites. You can teach chickens to tap-dance, too, and that will probably prove just as effective as any of the other methods I mentioned.

It all comes down to reader reviews and word of mouth, in the end. Both of those activities are beyond your control. 

The only thing you can do is start writing another even better book. 

Do that often enough, and you might just see results.

So that's what I'm off to do now. 

See you next week!


A Brief History of Rannit, and the Old Kingdom


As long as the Markhat Files is being relaunched, I thought I'd offer a bit of behind-the-scenes historic stage dressing that shapes and colors the series, but isn't necessarily stated explicitly except in bits and pieces of dialog.

I despise infodumps. Having Markhat and Evis, for example, have a conversation that just happens to run five pages and detail Rannit's history is the worst kind of literary contrivance. I'd sooner put Darla in front of a mirror just so she can describe herself. Both are all-too-obvious moves that induce teeth-grinding and the rolling of eyes by most readers.

Still, cultural context is important. I hope I've sprinkled enough clues here and there to let the reader know the basics, without beating them over the head with my version of the Silmarillion. It's enough to know that Rannit is an ancient walled city which once belonged to the Kingdom, and that the Kingdom went bankrupt and collapsed at the end of the long, bitter Troll war.

By Markhat's time, Rannit is entering the Age of Steam. There are firearms, and foundries. Gas-lamps and horse-drawn taxicabs. Restaurants and shops. Railroads now stretch east and west, into the haunted, sparsely populated wastelands where most of the War was fought. Riverboats ply the sluggish waters of the Brown River, connecting Rannit to the remainder of the surviving Old Kingdom city-states that lie north and south of Rannit.

What follows are some of the notes I work by when writing a Markhat and Darla story. I hope you enjoy them.


The Kingdom emerged from the chaos and violence of prehistory, in which humanity vied for resources and space with a variety of nonhuman cultures. Foremost among these were the Elder Folk.

The races of the Elders included Elves, the behemoths, the Trolls, and the various other quasi-magical creatures that once walked the vast stretches of forest to the east and the endless, grassy plains of the west. For a thousand years, humans survived as small nomadic bands who relied on stealth to survive. As the population of the Elves grew, humans found themselves pushed closer and closer to outright extinction -- until human shamans discovered sorcery, and for the first time began to wield an effective weapon against their magical foes.

Slowly, and at terrible cost, humanity began to push back. Within a seven-century period dubbed the First Great Expansion, the framework of the Old Kingdom was laid, and the first of the walled cities were erected. The Elvish population was reduced to a mere shadow of its former self, the Trolls retreated to the north and the east, and the last of the towering behemoths was felled in a conflagration that legends claim raged for seventy-two years.

Their realm firmly established, their foes all but vanquished, the victorious humans then embarked on a bloody, pointless civil war between the dozen largest city-states. This period, known as the Interregnum, saw half the Kingdom's new population slain, and three of the great cities razed. When the remaining Elder Folk rose against the survivors, a single king emerged, unified the remaining cities, and established the Kingdom of Man after achieving a precarious victory over the Elvish armies in Kingdom Year 11.

For the next twenty centuries, the Kingdom brawled and quarreled its way across the entire known world. Elves became all but extinct, though a few were rumored to haunt the remnants of wooded, isolated places. The Trolls simply retreated to the icy wastes of the north. The various other odd creatures sought refuge in caves or deserts or beneath lakes and rivers, and for a time, the rule of the Kingdom went unchallenged.

Then, without warning, in the winter of Kingdom Year 1966, a vast army of Trolls swept down from the north. The cities of Vault and Stonewall fell overnight.

By the time news of the Troll invasion reached the heartland, the Trolls, by the tens of thousands, were only a few days behind. City after city fell. Croplands were burned. Bridges and roads were laid waste. The Kingdom's armies, fat and poorly trained after so many years of relative peace, were cut down by the merciless Trolls before they could mount an effective defense.

And still the Trolls marched south. For three years, the Kingdom suffered loss upon top of crippling loss. Universal conscription was implemented, and like so many others, Markhat went off to war.

Just as defeat began to appear inevitable, the newly-minted Corps emerged. Created as a sorcerous component to the regular army, the Corps unleashed a new brand of magic-user onto the battlefield. Employing forces that dwarfed those of the Old Kingdom, Corps sorcerers slowly began to turn the tide of the war.

Markhat was a foot soldier. Specifically, a dog handler, tasked with leading small forces of the Kingdom's best hand-to-hand fighters into tunnels dug by Troll sappers beneath city walls. It was there, down in the dark with his faithful dog Petey at his side, that Markhat learned to face death, but keep crawling.

As the war raged on above, the sorcerers of the Corps grew more reckless, less concerned with casualties among the soldiers they were originally ordered to defend. The magics they used became deadlier, cutting down Trolls and humans in nearly equal numbers. Once greeted as saviors by the army, the arrival of a Corps sorcerer began to be viewed as a death sentence.

Infighting within the Corps quickly revealed the obvious -- that sorcerous prowess of the new magics comes at a price, and that price is the sanity of the practitioner.

Still, the War raged on, until the summer of 1976, when the Trolls, without preamble, simply put down their weapons and ambled away.

The massed Kingdom armies remained frozen in place, awaiting orders which never came. Instead, the powerful sorcerers of the Corps turned on each other, hurling killing spells indiscriminately across the former battlefields. The Kingdom armies dug in, taking hasty refuge from their former protectors.

A month later, the explosions and the strange lights ceased. After that came the news -- the Trolls were planting potatoes and tobacco, the ranks of the wand-wavers were nearly depleted, and at last the war was over. 

The Corps was reduced to a few dozen of the most deranged and powerful wand-wavers. In the confusion, rumors began to spread -- rumors that the Kingdom was bankrupt, the King slain by his own bodyguard, the surviving Corps sorcerers part of a secret faction under the command of the Regent of Rannit.

With no clear direction, the Kingdom army simply fell apart. Soldiers commandeered what they could, and walked home, Markhat among them.

He returned to a Rannit that stood alone, governed by a secretive Regent who, if reluctant to show himself, proved a brutally efficient ruler. A new order was installed. The street gangs that had ruled Rannit during the war were annihilated, and the City Watch was instituted. Rannit began to coin its own money. Massive public works projects were begun, including the construction of a reservoir to the south, and the repaving of the city streets. Sewers were dug. The Brown River Bridge was rebuilt, linking east and west Rannit once again. 

Markhat soon established himself as a finder. Half the families in Rannit were desperate to locate their sons or fathers or uncles, the ones who didn't return when the war ended, and the kingdom fell. For years, the finder's eye painted on Markhat's door led these families to him, and for a small fee, Markhat would use his experience with the army to seek out their missing relatives.

This business, as time went by, became less about tracking down missing soldiers, and more about poking into private matters the Watch refused to address. But the name stuck, and the finder's eye remains on Markhat's door to this day.

The Regent still runs Rannit. His influence is growing, too, especially after the defeat of Prince (THE BROKEN BELL). Bel Loit, to the south, is a satellite state of Rannit, though this was achieved without bloodshed.

The War is over -- but history suggests that the peace will be fragile, perilous, and above all, brief.


Religious beliefs within the remnants of the Kingdom are as splintered and as disparate as the remainders of the Kingdom itself. However, most of the belief systems can be traced back to the teachings of the Church, a monolithic religious institution dating back to prehistory.

According to Church teaching, the world was created by a single deity (who cannot be named) in a single day. Jealous of this creation, an equally powerful but evil deity (whose name brings forth calamity if spoken) introduced the Elder Folk into this new world. This caused the creator to bring forth the angels, which he sent into creation to battle the Elders. Enraged, the opposing deity created devils, and set them upon the angels. With mankind getting stomped on hard by both sides, both the creator and the adversary entered the fray, and their struggle nearly broke the world.

Both deities perished, each at the hands of the other. The surviving angels, according to the Church, took up the task of guiding and protecting mankind. The devils, naturally, quickly set about plotting the fall of humanity.

According to the Church, various angels have specific duties. There is Varnoss, protector of the widow and the orphan. Kalin, champion of the soldier. Arnot, defender of the lame and the blind. There are, in some branches of the Church, hierarchies of angels which number in the thousands, with tasks including assisting left-handed poulters or looking after missing thimbles.

Most Rannites ascribe to one of the five Church main holds which hold sway within Rannit's walls. Markhat was raised Orthodox, which means he keeps his birth name a secret, and goes simply by Markhat. 

Though raised in a Church family, Markhat is openly contemptuous of Church teachings, seeing priests as nothing but tithe-begging leeches in fancy robes.


Money makes the world go round. These words are inscribed on the pillars of the Brown River Bridge, and they may be the single bit of public inscription with which Markhat agrees. 

Old Kingdom money was coined gold. It still spends perfectly well in Rannit, and is often preferred over the Regent's new paper bills. Copper coins, often called 'jerks' as an insult to the kings pressed onto them, are falling out of favor but still have some value among the poor. 

Paper bills printed in Rannit have gained acceptance in Prince, Bel Loit, and even out in the frontier, although generally at varying amounts less than face value.


Markhat's new association with Evis and the halfdead House Avalante makes him privy to the emergence of new mundane technologies which rely on science and chemistry, rather than sorcery. In a labyrinth of secret laboratories beneath Avalante, science is being pursued. Markhat has seen handguns and rifles emerge, and indeed the average Rannite has come to know cannons, steam engines, and artillery. Markhat knows that the Regency itself is funding these efforts, although to what end, he can only speculate (BROWN RIVER QUEEN).


The Regency has been quietly promoting the arts since the end of the war. Playhouses and art galleries have sprung up all over Rannit. While much of the art depicts the war, more and more of it is beginning to explore less violent aspects of Rannite life (THE BANSHEE'S WALK).


Every culture has its own odd superstitions. The presence of bridge clowns is a good example of this.

No one knows when the practice began, or where, or why. But within the Old Kingdom, any bridge more than a hundred paces across was expected to be hosted by a bevy of bridge clowns. 

As most bridges were maintained by payment of tolls, and as most people refused to cross a bridge not hosted by clowns for fear of bad luck, the practice probably survives as combination of avarice and practicality. The more elaborate and amusing the show put on by the clowns, the higher the toll. Clowning is usually a family trade, often handed down for countless generations. Clowns may look harmless, but blood-feuds between clown families over bridge rights are among the most violent in all of Rannite history. 

Clowns also appear on rope-drawn barges, as the barges are considered a bridge of sorts. The new railroads also employ clowns, who must precede the train over bridges in a capering dance.

The clowns who preside over the Brown River Bridge also act as a sort of unofficial police force. Only the most foolish or desperate criminals would dare attempt robbery or assault on the Bridge itself. Those who do find themselves mobbed by clowns and tossed over the side to a cheery wave and honking of various red noses. The Brown River Bridge has also evolved into the de facto neutral meeting ground for the Rannite criminal underworld; all parties concerned know, from brutal experience, that meetings taken on the Bridge will be conducted without violence, or the Clowns will intervene en masse, and with deadly force.


Rannit’s police force, newly minted by the Regent, is a civilian agency which on paper answers only to the courts.

In practice, the Watch is riddled with corruption. As Markhat observes, the Watch provides precisely as much protection as any given member of the public can afford to pay. Which is why people turn to him, rather than the Watch.

A crackdown by the Regent is slowly reshaping the Watch into something resembling an actual police force. Progress is slow, though, and Markhat remains skeptical of ever seeing the corruption wither entirely.

Markhat’s adversarial relationship with Captain Holder, although contentious, does provide a glimmer of hope. Holder is hampered by his own floundering bureaucracy but does seem inclined to pursue justice when he can.

That's probably enough for now. I enjoy working in Markhat and Darla's world, warts and all. It's a dangerous place, yes, but it's also a lot of fun to visit. 

[FT-2017-002]-FT-The-Darker-Carnival-E-Book-Cover_200x300 (1).jpg


For anyone who hasn't read the books, here's an excerpt from The Darker Carnival. Scroll on down to last week's blog entry for a complete list of the books, and clickable links to buy each one. 

From The Darker Carnival:

I woke early, not rested and aching.

I heard Buttercup’s tiny bare banshee feet scamper across my roof. She giggled, and then she was gone.

Darla slumbered at my side. Her hair, black and soft as crow feathers, hung across her face. I brushed it away from her eyes and laid a kiss on her cheek and then slipped out of bed. Cornbread, the shaggy mutt that shares our home, settled into the warm spot I just vacated and wagged his tail once in thanks before snoring off into doggy dreamland.

I dressed in the dark. I tiptoed across the red Balptist rug in the living room with my shoes in my hands, got the door open and shut and locked without making a sound. I know which of the porch floorboards creak, since I loosened the nails myself, so I stepped over them and made it all the way to our waist-high iron gate before pausing to put on my shoes.

I watched my bedroom window. No match flared, no candle came quickly to life. Cornbread obliged me by not barking or scratching at my door.

Buttercup slipped her cold banshee hand into mine. I’m so used to having her sneak up on me I no longer jerk or start.

“Good morning, sweetie,” I whispered. “You’re glowing. Let’s play the hiding game, right now.”

The golden radiance that flowed from her died. She giggled and raised a finger to her lips, as I did the same.

I glanced about at my neighbors’ windows. None were lit.

And even if they had seen, what would they say?

Buttercup tugged at me, pulling in the direction of Cambrit Street, whence lay my office and, I suspected, a plate of Mama Hog’s biscuits and sorghum molasses.

The sun was more than an hour from rising. Curfew was still in effect across Rannit, which meant anyone a peckish halfdead caught outside was fair game for breakfast, and I was standing in the street with both my shoes untied.

But I had a vampire revolver in my right pocket and a ten thousand year-old banshee holding my left hand and I’d walked with the slilth not so long ago.

Boot soles scraped cobbles. My hand found the butt of my revolver.

Buttercup giggled and pointed down the street before vanishing.

A man walked out of the night and into the dim, wobbling glow of a street-lamp.

I relaxed my grip on the revolver, but didn’t pull my hand away. I could tell at once my fellow Curfew-breaker was no halfdead. He shuffled, for one thing, walking slowly while dragging a noisy burden on a wheeled contrivance behind him.

Like any breed of the rich, halfdead seldom roam the streets dragging their own carts. Too, this man’s hat was a shapeless, baggy lump, not one of Breed Street’s crisp starched offerings.

The man saw me, halted, waved.

“Good morning to you, friend,” he said. He pitched his voice carefully, so that it just reached my ears, but wouldn’t carry much further. “Might I inquire as to whether you live hereabouts?”

I wasn’t sure he could see a head-shake, so I took a half dozen steps ahead and spoke.

“Nope,” I replied. “I’m just a man out for a stroll.”

He nodded, smiling. “Well, count your lucky stars, man out for a stroll. They call me Shango. Shango the storm-sniffer. I’ve walked all night, following a stink. And it leads right to yonder door.”

He pointed out the door. Naturally, he pointed out my door.

The spear-ends of shiny steel rods poked through the tarp on his cart, here and there. Some were worked into the shapes of angels. Some as devils. One worked in the shape of a half-moon turned in the dim lamp-light.

I sighed.

“I’m guessing you sell lightning rods,” I said. The Church tried and failed to outlaw lighting rods inside Rannit a few weeks ago, apparently on the basis that the long steel sticks committed the cardinal sin of actually preventing lightning strikes. “Thwarting the will of the Heavens,” cried the priests. “I’ll take two,” cried the homeowners. Now the streets were lousy with lightning rod salesmen.

He shot out of his slouch. “Indeed I do,” he said. “But not ordinary lightning rods. No, friend. I sell the kind of lightning rods even the rich cannot buy.”

“Good for you,” I said. I started walking, hoping he didn’t notice my damned traitor shoe-laces flopping at my heels. “Now if you don’t mind, I always take my breakfast with the Regent.”

He laughed, but he kept the sound low. “Won’t you at least have a look, Mr. Markhat? Won’t you at least have a look?”

I produced my pistol and let him see it.

“I didn’t tell you my name.”

“But I told you mine,” he said. If the thick black bulk of my vampire-built revolver gave him pause, his dirty face didn’t show it. “Shango. I smell storms. I can’t hold back the wind, friend, but I can damn sure turn the lightning.” He nodded back at his cart. “No man should lack protection from the fickle wrath of Heaven.”

“I’ve got all the protection I need.”

“No,” he said. His eyes, which I still hadn’t seen beneath the bill of his pork-pie hat, glittered just for an instant as the moon briefly peeked out from the clouds. “I tell you plain, Mr. Markhat, that you do not.”

“Get out of my way.”

“I’m not what’s in your way, friend,” he said. He stepped aside, sniffing at the air. “I’ll be working these parts for a while, I will. Ask for Shango, should you change your mind. Ask for Shango.”

I put my gun back in my jacket pocket.

About the time the squeak of his cart’s wheels bit into the silence, Buttercup took my hand again.

“Let’s go get some breakfast,” I said, and with Buttercup skipping beside me I walked all the way to Cambrit, without a lightning rod of any kind to guard me from the fickle wrath of Heaven.

...end excerpt.

Welcome to Rannit!




Markhat and Darla Are Back!

It's taken a year to bring the Markhat books back from the land of limbo.

But the books are back, with new covers and new listings at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. 

First of all, I'd like to thank my editor Holly, and everyone at ADsmith. They created the new covers and did all the formatting. I can't sing their praises loud enough to do them justice. 

This website will be updated shortly with the new covers and links. Today, I'll go ahead and post everything here, so there will be a single point from which to navigate without a lot of searching.

All the original works are here. There has been one change, to a title. In the original incarnation of the series, three shorter works were combined in an anthology called The Markhat Files. At the time, it seemed like a good title -- but as the series grew, it came to be known as The Markhat Files series, so that anthology title lead to some confusion.

With this renewal of the series, the first three short works (The Cadaver Client, The Mister Trophy, and Dead Man's Rain) are now included under the title Three Mean Streets. So, if you already own The Cadaver Client, The Mister Trophy, and Dead Man's Rain either separately or under the old title The Markhat Files, you don't need to buy Three Mean Streets again.

The other titles are unchanged save for the new covers. I hope you love the covers as much as I do -- they've got a shared look and style, and a sort of film noir feel that suits the series.

The process wasn't seamless. I lost most of my reader reviews, for instance, and that hurts. The reviews may show up again -- a few have -- but there's no rhyme or reason to what vanished and what remained. Amazon giveth, and Amazon taketh away, and there's precious little anyone can do to change that. 

Nevertheless. Onward and upward! Here's the renewed Markhat Files series. Below each cover you'll find a series of links. If you've missed any of the books, now is a good time to grab them.

Three Mean Streets

Three Mean Streets links:


Barnes & Noble


Hold The Dark

Hold The Dark links:


Barnes & Noble


The Banshee's Walk

The Banshee's Walk links:


Barnes & Noble


The Broken Bell

The Broken Bell links:


Barnes & Noble



Brown River Queen links:


Barnes & Noble


The Five Faces

The Five Faces links:


Barnes & Noble


The Darker Carnival

The Darker Carnival links:


Barnes & Noble


Way Out West

Way Out West links:

Amazon, Kindle edition

Amazon, paperback

Barnes & Noble, Nook edition


Barnes & Noble, paperback

Thanks, everyone, for your patience. I know it's been a long ride. But the wait is over.

One final note -- if you bought a copy of The Markhat Files anthology back when I was with Samhain Publishing, and you'd like the new edition because it has a cool new cover, email me. Tell me what version (Kindle, Nook, ibook, whatever) and I'll send you a free copy of the new edition. Thanks for being a fan!

And if you're dead broke (I feel you, brother or sister) and want to give the series a try, heck, email me (franktuttle at franktuttle dot com, symbols removed to fool the spambots, you know what goes where). I'll send you a free copy, just because.


Book Marketing Tips and Farewell to Net Neutrality



If you read any online writing blogs or discussions, one of the first topics you'll encounter will be that of marketing your new book. There are mobs of new authors out there who appear to be convinced that the only thing standing between them and a stack of money high enough to climb and roll down is some uber-secret marketing plan.

Don't believe me? A cottage industry has sprung up overnight on Amazon alone, as hundreds of how-to books appear, each with titles like How to Make a Million Dollars Overnight Before You Even Finish That Pesky Novel or 100 Sure-Fire Tips and Tricks to Reach Best-Sellerdom and Quit Your Day Job and Show All Those Nobodies in the Crit Group That Grammar Doesn't Matter After All So Ha

I'd be a lot more impressed if these sure-fire can't-miss tell-all books weren't mostly written by people I've never heard of. I'd be even more impressed if many of them were longer than 15 pages, or contained fewer than half a dozen formatting and grammar errors on the first couple of pages. But hey, what's a fewe spellinging errorz between budding billionaires, right?

No marketing efforts can do more than temporarily boost sales of a bad book. And even good marketing plans can't propel goods books instantly into the sales stratosphere -- for every best-seller, I believe there are ten or a hundred equally good books languishing in the weeds, left behind out of caprice, not incompetence.

But of course there are actions and strategies any author can undertake to make the most of a fickle and ever-changing market. And since I'm a generous sort, I'll give my tricks and tips away for free (although donations are gladly accepted, after all, my one-way Mars rocket isn't going to pay for itself).

Thus, I give you Frank's Marketing Tips and Tricks for Authors. Use them with care, lest ye summon down a furious plague of royalties and movie producers!

Frank's Tips

1) Branding yourself is crucial to the success of your marketing efforts. Not the kind of branding done to cattle in Westerns, though. Don't make that mistake no matter how many hits the YouTube video is likely to get.

2) Keep readers engaged with a series of high-profile crimes and arrests. Strive to have your booking photos plastered all over the net  at least once per quarter, and right before every new book release.

3) When using the Tweeter, maximize your content with lots of hashtags, abbreviations, and acronyms. HEY #AGHTY & CPHY @ASJESDF,#LOLOLOL SPDER/GHTY says what mere words can't.

4) Constant blatant self-promotion is ineffective and annoying, except when you do it. Automate Twits and book-face posts to remind readers to buy your new book every few minutes, or you'll be lost and forgotten by all.

5) Invite bloggers to blog on their blogs about your blog and then blog about their blog concerning your blog.

6) Google yourself. Pull the blinds down first, you pervert.

7) Always approach editors and agents from behind, while wearing cork-soled shoes, or they'll hear you coming and you'll struggle to force the chloroform-soaked rag over their mouth.

8) Book signings are a powerful way to reach and build an audience. Bookstore owners are busy people, so don't waste their time by asking permission before you set up a table and start signing. An attitude of quiet self-assurance and a pair of burly roadies named 'Big Mike' and 'Butcher-knife' are all you need to establish your presence.

9) Receiving a bad review is part of any author's life. But you're not any old author, so respond to a poor review with calm, professional mercenaries, who can be found for hire in the pages of Soldier of Fortune magazine.

There is a 10th tip, but it is so powerful and potentially dangerous I must wait and publish it in my own upcoming how-to book, which shall be entitled Writing For Big Bucks: How to Command Financial Mastery of the Publishing Industry With Only Two Small Ice Cubes, the Shinbones of a Hamster, and a 42-syllable Sanskrit Word Spoken Beneath a Total Eclipse, Part 1 (available in December for only $39.99).

And now, a few words about net neutrality in the US.

One word, really, and that word is 'goodbye.' The FCC, which is an acronym for 'F*ck Consumers Constantly,' is now run by a former Verizon lawyer who is going to wreck the whole net so he can buy another pair of summer yachts. 

Oh, you signed one of the many online petitions? Hate to tell you this, but Pai and his minions aren't even *reading* them. Or the comments, or the emails.

They respond to only one thing -- money. The ISPs have it, and you don't. 

So we're screwed, at least in the US. Of course we're screwed so many ways here these days Turkish whorehouses are taking note of the new positions. 

So it's back to dial-up speeds or higher bills, and maybe no access at all if you enjoy sites that lack the clout to lobby for special treatment. And won't it be convenient now, for some power-mad oligarch to take control of your access to the net? Yeah. Good times.

Well, there's always the old fuzzy blue-ink mimeo machines, snail mail newsletters, and 1990s style BBS sites, I guess. 

The future really isn't what it used to be.




Testing, Testing, One, Two, Three...

Okay, you caught me.

I'm testing an RSS feed and the only way to know if it's really working is to post something new and see if the blog shows up in the appropriate places. 

That's what I'm doing now. I'll delete this entry as soon as I've got it working.

But hey, you came all this way, and I don't want you to go away empty-handed, so here's an amusing image.


I remain untroubled by the presence of spectral phantasms!



Wine 101: Tips For the Vintage Impaired


Knowing wines is a requirement to being a sophisticated, worldly adult. 

One cannot command respect by telling the wine steward at a fancy restaurant that your choice for the evening is 'the purple one.'

No. You've got to have a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips. You've got to toss around terms such as 'cork taint,' which sounds like something that violates at least seven of the Ten Commandments but actually refers to the presence of either 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or 2,4,6-tribromoanisole in the wine. You don't want to drink 2,4,6-trichloroanisole or 2,4,6-tribromoanisole, do you?

Actually, considering my miniscule knowledge of both wine and chemistry, I might drink it, on a bet, but only for ten bucks or more. 

Wine lore is very complicated, and wine-lovers are intensely passionate about it. Well, except for Willie, who hangs out around the Wine and Dine. He's passionate about drinking some wine, preferably right now, but he doesn't care whether it's a nice Zinfandel or a bruised Pinot Noir which has been splashed liberally with lighter fluid. 

I have more in common with Willie than with most sommeliers. Sommeliers can sense this, and usually regard me with the kind of glare one reserves for clogged toilets or Roy Moore. Truth is, I've enjoyed wines which were poured from a $3.99 bottle of Wild Blue Yonder twist-cap just as much I have from more sophisticated beverages. Like Willie, I tend to rank alcohol content above such nebulous qualities as mouthfeel and texture. 

But this isn't a blog about truth. It's a blog about wine, and its place in polite society. Considering the state in which we find 'polite society' these days, truth has no place at the table, and probably shouldn't even be in the dining room.

That said, there are eight basic types of wine. Or eleven, or four. Depends on who you ask, and how much wine they've had. But we'll go with eight. They are:

1) Cabernet Sauvignon (pronounced 'Cab-er-nay Saw-vine-yawn.' Or, if in Mississippi, 'Cab-er-nay That-purple-one'). Cabernet Sauvignon is best served with gas-station fried chicken on a stick or suspect leftover Chinese take-out. Also lamb or smoked meats, which if you had any, you wouldn't be reading this blog, so forget all that. Not available at the Wendy's drive-thru. A good choice if you don't know wines because it sounds vaguely French and affords you an opportunity to lord it over that jerk Skeeter when ordering.

2) Syrah, also called Shiraz, because like I said the wine fanciers can't make up their damned minds about anything. Pronounced 'Sear-ah' or possibly 'Qrccktyhsty' or even with a loud brief whistle, for all it matters.  Suggested pairings include Hungry Man frozen dinners, a simple fist-sized lump of monosodium glutamate, or a live Cape buffalo. This is a full-bodied red wine that may have been made in Australia. If so, it probably contains a component of outlandish venoms which may or may not prove fatal. But anybody that can choke down a Hungry Man brand hamburger steak is probably immune to hairy monkey spider cobras anyway, so down the hatch.

3) Zinfandel. Pronounced 'Cirque du Soleil.' Zinfandels are usually favored by circus folk, mainly the chain-smoking chimpanzees. Delicious when served with government-issue cheese or a tempting assortment of squirming mollusks garnished with lit fireworks. A Zinfandel is a red wine, because the circus chimps like watching something dark spiral its way through those complicated loop-de-loop straws. Often associated with a faint aftertaste redolent of sawdust with hints of nitroglycerin.

4) Pinot Noir. Pronounced 'Pee-no More' by persons who consider themselves to be fabulous wits and aren't. Pinot Noir is most often selected for enhancing the subtle flavors of traditional German dishes. Since traditional German dishes are composed almost entirely of sausages and consumed amidst the eye-watering fumes of weapons-grade sauerkraut, no one is really sure what, if any, flavor Pinot Noir presents. I asked Willie, and he just muttered something about galoshes and stump water before shuffling off in a somewhat uncoordinated pursuit of a middling-good Chardonnay.

5) Chardonnay. Pronounced 'the yellow one.' Chardonnays are white wines, which go best with chicken, shrimp, or pre-trial bond hearings. Oak-aged Chardonnay may present spicy, bourbon-y notes. Chardonnay aged in a box, I suppose, will offer imbibers the insouciant flavor of recycled Amazon Prime shipping cardboard, but that's just fine for most informal bachelorette parties. Generally associated with regret, impulsive and unwise eBay purchases, and the phrase 'you've been served.'

6) Sauvignon Blanc. Pronounced 'That one there' while pointing to the wine list. A bitter, tart wine, Sauvignon Blanc hates you, hates your stupid face, hates your shirt and your hat but it especially hates that monocle you though would make you look dashing. Best served with blackmail or murder-for-hire deals, Sauvignon Blanc wants you to know you'd better watch your ass, pal, because your day is fast approaching. Sauvignon Blanc doesn't care what you're serving, as long as you choke on it, and it will leave bits of broken glass on the back of your tongue just to make the point. Enjoy.

7) Pinot Gris. Pronounced 'My, Ain't WE Fancy.' A light-bodied white wine, Pinot Gris is the Millennial of wines, in that all the other wines swear it is lazy, shiftless, lacks any sort of work ethic, and wouldn't have lasted ten minutes back in the day. Sick of being unfairly labeled by older, more acidic wines, Pinot Gris just keeps its earphones in and listens to Green Day while you pour, because who the Hell are you to cast blame when you wrecked the economy and made everything so expensive and what do you know anyway, Grandpa.

8) Riesling. Pronounced 'Baggins, we hates it.' The most reclusive and secretive of all the wines, little is known about Riesling, aside from its fascination with some outlandish ring or other and an unfortunate tendency to strangle passers-by. Originally crafted in the Gladden Fields (near the banks of the Anduin, during the Third Age), Rieslings are still a bone of contention in wine circles. Some insist Rieslings are best accompanied by raw fish or scraps of Orc, while others look on in confusion and assert they are Star Wars fans and wouldn't know about all that 'Elves and fairies nonsense.' At any rate, serve Rieslings with caution, and only to people for whom you have no great affection.

Congratulations! Armed with this newfound knowledge, you are now a worldly, urbane person of elegance and wit. 

Now I'm off to have a beer. See you next week!

Cover image copyright ID 29057871 © Steven Cukrov | Dreamstime

Markhat Cover Reveal: Brown River Queen

I've been asked a couple of times lately how the Markhat series revival is going.

Good news: the new covers are nearly done! And of course, once they're done, all that remains is the conversion of the Word documents into the various commercial formats -- epub, mobi, and the one for the Apple bookstore whose name I can never recall.

That sounds simple. So does climbing Everest, after all, you just keep going uphill until there's no more up and no more hill, right?

As usual, I'm here to help, by clarifying the whole ebook creation process.

If you've ever Googled 'how do I create an ebook' or 'how do I quickly dissolve a corpse,' you probably found dozens if not hundreds of books with titles such as 'Create Your Own Ebook in Three Easy Steps, Before Supper, With no Errors and Also Gain Perfect Teeth and a Desirable Body Shape.' 

I've read a lot of these books. They're all eager and helpful, in a Boy Scout way, full of earnest advice and simple, straightforward, step-by-step instructions.

They are also deceptively slippery pavers on the spiraling path down toward madness.

It ought to be simple. It really ought to be. Microsoft Word is a known actor, right? It's designed to lend itself toward easy conversion into Kindle format, among others. And the how-to books, and the conversion software, truly are written to help you move from manuscript to ebook.

But I am here, with a carefully-concealed bald spot and a seething inner rage, to tell you there is NO easy way to do this, and errors are going to creep in and turn your shiny new ebook into a festering mass of amateurish drivel the moment you hit publish.

Okay. Maybe not for YOU, since you're an intelligent person, a methodical person, a person of fine wit and no small skill with the key-mice and the compute-ors and the Interwebs.

I, on the other hand, am a magnet for inexplicable disasters and one-in-a-million software conflicts that bubble up out of the quantum foam just long enough to twirl their little Snidely Whiplash mustaches and mutter 'Let's see you figure THIS one out, wee man.' 

Word dumps a lot of invisible codes into even simple documents. You can try to strip them out. You can make a heroic effort to leave nothing but text and the most primal, basic formatting instructions. You can clap your hands like a seal and gnaw on raw halibut for all the good your work will do in the end, because -- and I have seen this happen -- the final ebook will look great until someone buys it.

Then you'll find out the hard way that everything after the first comma on page 16 is rendered in all-caps Greek, the page margins are now four inches wide on both sides, and any attempt to turn the page redirects the Kindle user to a website in Ukraine devoted to a certain, er, unseemly interest in goats wearing Nixon masks. 

Okay. Could just be me.  But that's my luck. 

So here's Frank's Handy Guide to Creating Your Own Ebook:

1) While creating the manuscript, don't use the tab key. Ever. Seriously, burn that key off with a small propane torch. When you start the document, go into your paragraph settings and define everything there. No tab keys. Ever. 

2) Don't EVER swap between versions of Word. I once wrote a novel in alternating sessions on my laptop and my desktop, saving and swapping as I went. Word is compatible with Word, right? So what if I was using Word 2010 on one machine and Word 2013 on the other? Well, don't do that. There was stuff buried in that manuscript -- even in text versions of it -- that drove two programmers and a seasoned publishing-industry format pro to the brink of insanity. Get a subscription to Microsoft Office 360. You can load Word on 5 computers. Those docs will hand off flawlessly, and you can save everything on the cloud.

3) When everything is done, when the last edit pass is complete, when you are well and truly ready to convert to ebook format, make sure you are stocked up on hard liquor, Prozac, hand grenades, and money. Take a deep breath. Also take a moment to reflect on the choices that lead you to this grim juncture. Too late now, though, and anyway you know you'd have been a lousy investment banker. 

4) This is the crucial step, the real kicker. Look that Word document right in the eye (yes this is metaphorical, but if your document does appear to have eyes, maybe lay off the Old Overcoat, hmm?). Lock eyes with Word, say aloud "I am the boss of you,' and then for the love of all that is holy hire someone to convert the thing. That's right. Sometimes the best way to win a game is not to play. Steal the silverware on your way out. 

5) Don't hire just anyone. The Web is awash with 'ebook format specialists.' Many are legitimate and competent. Many will simply run your document through the same conversion stuff you can get yourself, usually for free, and declare the process complete. Um. Maybe so, maybe not. Be sure you check out a few titles they've converted before you start throwing money around. If they're not willing to divulge any titles, move on.

Now, I know people who do a marvelous job of doing their own conversions. I'm not one of those people. I'll be using the folks at ADSmith, because I've worked with them on the covers, and they know the ins and outs of the pernicious little buggers that lay in wait between Word format and an ebook.

Speaking of covers, I promised you one, and here it is. This is the new one for BROWN RIVER QUEEN, and it's a Darla cover, and I hope you love it as much as I do.


Brown River Queen

I love it! It'll be on sale soon. Although, and hear me well, gentle reader -- if you already own the Markhat titles, you don't need to go out and buy the new ones. At least until THE DEVIL'S HORN hits, and that won't be for a while yet. 

Until next week, stay safe out there, folks.





Things That Go Bump: Yes, Leave Us Honey Buns

 Come on in, no waiting...

Come on in, no waiting...

For today's October 'Things That Go Bump' entry, the three of us conducted a brief EVP session in the cemetery at Tula, MS.

The three of us being myself, Karen, and Daimos, the dog. 

The ability of animals to sense invisible presences is literally the stuff of legend. Dogs and cats have keener senses of smell and hearing than we do. Maybe they can sense other things as well. 

I do recall an incident from many years ago that I still can't explain. At the time, Spot was my dog.

Spot was a junkyard puppy. She was mostly Malamute. She was a beautiful dog -- and she was absolutely the most ferocious and protective canine I've ever met. 

I once saw her attack a hot-air balloon. She had no fear, of anything. And while she loved me, she pretty much hated everything and everyone else. She was not, as someone once told me, 'a warm and fuzzy doggy.' 

One day Spot and I were taking a walk across the back field. It was fall. There was nothing there, save some low grass that had been bush-hogged nearly down to nothing. The field was empty. There was a chill in the air. The sky was overcast, the color of old lead.

We were walking along, dog and man, when, without warning, Spot goes into full-blown furious wolf mode. Her hair stood on end. She went stiff, on point, snarling and growling at -- nothing.

She was not looking at the ground, as though at a snake, or something hiding in the stubble. No, she was poised just as she would have been towards a person -- her eyes and muzzle  uplifted, as though staring at a face.

But there was simply nothing there. I tried to calm her down, but she was having none of it. Her snarling and growling gave way to short lunges and rapid bluff-moves.

When I tried to step ahead, she put her wide butt in front of me, and wouldn't let me pass.

Spot wasn't on a leash. I stepped back, told her to follow. She ignored me, stayed planted where she was, growing more and more agitated by the moment.

I saw nothing. I felt nothing. But seeing Spot go into fight mode over a patch of thin air was unnerving. I'd never seen her do that before, and I never saw her do it again, either.

After about three full minutes of snarling at the unseen, she just stopped. She barked a couple of times, her hackles fell, and after another few seconds she was fine.

We went on our way.

So, did Spot come face to face with something only she could see?

Looked that way. But I'll never know.

So. Daimos, who IS a warm and fuzzy doggy, went with us to Tula today. Karen took Daimos and the Zoom H1 field mic. I took a homemade device I call the magbox, with a digital recorder affixed to it so I could record the session.

The Magbox is something I built. It's simply a very sensitive amplifier with a magnetic pickup as its input source. I use it mainly for debunking, because it can register the distinctive hum of 60 Hertz house current or even the buzz of a nearby cell phone from many feet away. That K2 meter going off? I can sweep the magbox probe by it, and instantly pick out electrical lines or RF signals. In many instances, that's a mystery solved.

But today, I took the magbox to the cemetery. There are no power lines there. No house current. Nothing that should give the magbox anything to amplify.

Turns out, though, I may have made the amp a little *too* powerful, because as soon as I switched it on, the magbox started humming, picking up intermittent stray radio signals from who knows where. Still, I brought the thing, so I decided to keep it on.

About three and a half minutes in, I ask 'Does anyone have anything to say? Anything at all?'

A male voice seems to reply, saying 'Yes, leave us honey buns.'

Look, I just record this stuff, I don't script it.

I offer this recording with a grain of salt. As I stated, the magbox was picking up intermittent RF bursts. Is that what this is?

Could be. Could be something else. I just don't know.

Anyway, listen for yourself by clicking the link below. I looped the reply so you can hear it several times without restarting the clip.


Karen got a single odd BOOP noise, which sounds so mechanical it's obviously something striking the Zoom case, or Daimos' tags clanking together.

We'd only been there about seven minutes when a pickup pulled in behind us.

I've got a rule when out tramping around cemeteries with weird-looking gear. The rule is this -- when pickups pull in, my butt pulls out, with a quickness. I'm not treating the cemetery with any disrespect. I'm not trying to raise any spooks, or commune with evil spirits. I'm not on the Devil's payroll, or even his mailing list -- but trying to debate metaphysics with some furious Deliverance extra is A) usually a waste of time, and B) concussions hurt. 

So we left. 

You can watch the video by clicking the link below. The camera mic didn't pick up a thing, though I did throw a subtitle in the video at the point I was asked to leave pastries.


I hope you've enjoyed these October spooky blog entries. Until next week -- beware the things that go bump in the night!

And Happy Halloween!

Top image 

© Fernando Gregory | Dreamstime.com

File ID: 28594204




Things That Go Bump: Haunted Hill and Devil's Tower

welcome jack.jpg

I've tromped around reputedly haunted cemeteries in the middle of the night. I've walked the halls of haunted houses -- the real kind -- in the wee hours. I've seen and heard things I can't explain.

What I've never been in those situations is afraid. 

Which isn't to say I'm fearless. I'm not. In fact, I like a good scare.

Since it's October, haunted attractions are up and running, so what better place to go get scared?

Friday night I visited two local haunted houses. Not the actual kind, but haunted attractions run by some very nice people who let me wander around with cameras running.



Haunted Hill and Devil's Tower, both located in north Mississippi, were an absolute blast. I plugged in the address -- 433 County Road 1057, Tupelo, MS, and Google Maps took me right to the parking lot. 

They're located next door to each other, so you don't have to pack up and drive to the next once you're there. Parking is plentiful and well-marked. There is even rope lighting to help you avoid stumbling in the dark.

Admission to each house is a mere five bucks per person (ten total, for both houses, which is a real bargain). I suggest you bring cash. 


These are not hastily-tossed together spookhouses you'll walk through in a minute. They've got light effects, sound effects, animatronics, actors. The scares are the good-natured kind, light on gore. You can bring kids. They'll yell their little heads off, but they won't be so traumatized they'll wind up in therapy. 

I cam equipped with camera gear. One of my cameras is an ancient Sony that shoots in IR, just like you see on ghost-hunting shows. The IR light is invisible to the eye, but the camera can see it just fine.

Most of the footage you'll see in the video I made was shot on the Sony. Keep in mind that I was walking along in the near-dark, blind as all the rest. I didn't see the actors until they were within a foot of me. Jump-scares abound, and due to the unique acoustic qualities of both attractions, it may seem as if I shrieked aloud more than once. But don't be fooled; those cries were those of, um, feral possums. Yes. Roving bands of possums, which sound much like a suddenly frightened fifty-something human. Just one of nature's little tricks. 

I didn't include everything in the video. Just enough to give you a flavor for Haunted Hill and Devil's Tower.

I hope you enjoy it


Again, my thanks to the owners and operator of Haunted Hill and Devil's Tower. You were gracious, and you're running wonderful attractions.

Happy Halloween, folks!




Things That Go Bump: Spirit Boxes


People have been trying to communicate with the Other Side for as long as there have been people, and a need for a little extra income.

That sounded cynical. Well, so be it. Because the history of talking to dead folks is rife with tricks, cons, and sleight of hand. Look no further than the Spiritualist movement of the early 20th century, and the shenanigans that went along with that.

Am I saying that every medium, through all of time, was a money-grubbing fake?

No. I will say that the majority were, and are (I'm looking at you, Theresa Caputo). 

Chicanery as a profession in the form of calling up ghosts is a lucrative one. One one hand, you've got desperate, heartbroken people desperate to find comfort. And when I say desperate, I mean not just ready but eager to empty their bank accounts to hear a few words from the Other Side.  

The dynamic practically creates the fakers and the con artists. Look, you've got a vast flock of sheep bleating to be fleeced -- it's just human nature that some people rush in with shears.

I do know a few people that I believe have genuine talent. They aren't the ones on TV, though. They're out there, working quietly to ease tormented souls. They don't drive fancy cars, or tool around in private jets, and they certainly don't fill arenas at a hundred bucks a head.

Which, in a roundabout sort of way, brings me to tonight's topic -- that of so-called Spirit Boxes.

What is a spirit box, you ask?

It's an AM/FM radio with a seek-and-find feature. You've seen them. You press a button, and the radio finds the next clear station, saving you the trouble of turning a tuner knob. 

But the spirit box radios have been modified, so that the seek feature works, but the 'find and stay put' feature has been disabled. So the radio just keeps cycling through the band (either AM or FM), endlessly looping through the spectrum. 

Listening to such a radio, you'll here random snippets or words, or songs, of commercials, of music. There's nothing magical or paranormal about that. It's just a radio. Take any old-school radio with a tuning dial, turn it rapidly, and you've got nearly the same thing.

Spirit boxes have taken off in the last few years as a paranormal research tool. They're cheap, easy to get, and they speak. 

I've seen quite a few online videos in which a breathless operator claims to have captured a ghost voice using a spirit box. Um.

I take some issue with most of these claims. 

Of course you're getting voices. Words, even. That's inevitable. It doesn't mean there's anything unusual going on.

Unless, in my mind, two conditions are met.

First, the communication would need to be genuine. If I ask the spirit box my name, and it says 'Corolla,' either the spirit is confused or I just caught part of a car commercial. That seems an obvious concept. 

Second, the voice recorded would need to extend past the scan rate of the spirit box. In the examples to follow, I set my box for a scan rate of 150 milliseconds. That means it doesn't stay in any one place long enough to capture a long word, or series of words. 

I have heard recordings that match both criteria. They are rare. I have never personally captured an example of such.

No, when I use the spirit box, I get the sorts of things you'll hear below. 

Some might assert that this lack of communication is due to my own lack of any mediumistic abilities. That might be true. It might not. I have no way of testing the claim, so all I can do is shrug.

In any case, I conducted a spirit box session of my own this afternoon, using the popular P-SB7 Spirit Box unit. I recorded the session using my Zoom H1 mic.


The full session is about ten minutes long. 

My first 'response' occurs about 2 minutes in. I ask the box 'Does anyone have anything to say?' and a few seconds later, you hear faint voices. I have no idea what they are saying, and they are obviously just snippets of a radio show. I wouldn't consider this evidence of anything except the presence of at least two nearby active transmitters. Click below to listen.


Next, we have an apparent response to the question 'What is your name?' A few seconds after I ask that, a male says 'stupid.' So, we either have a ghost with low-self esteem, or again, I captured a stray word from a radio program. 

But had the stray word been 'Roger' or 'Penelope,' some might claim that as evidence of the paranormal. That's why I impose my second criteria on spirit box recordings -- unless the reply is longer than the scan rate allows, it's just coincidence, in my mind. Had the voice said 'Well hello, my name is Roger, I'm quite dead, and you need a haircut,' okay, I'd be inclined to suggest something unusual was taking place.

Click below to listen.


Finally, I'm putting up a link to the full ten minute session, in case anyone is curious. If you find something I missed, please email me and let me know.

I intended to take the spirit box to a local cemetery, but it looked stormy. Getting both soaked and struck by lightning doesn't appeal to me, and anyway if ghosts can use radios I can't imagine why they'd have any trouble beaming voices into my house.


Finally, here's a link to a spirit box session that, if genuine, does appear to consist of actual communication. I make no claims as to the veracity of this material -- it's just an example of what I think real communication might sound like.


See you next week!




Things That Go Bump: The Powerful Bad Luck of DD Dupree


In honor of the Halloween season, I'd like to share something spooky with you tonight.

I sold a short story called 'The Powerful Bad Luck of DD Dupree' to Abyss&Apex back in 2004. It's one of the few stories I've set in the so-called real world. It takes place in 1974, in a small Southern town very much like the one in which I grew up.

It centers around a curse. A very Southern sort of curse, one born of drunken hatred and a wasted life. I was, and am, very proud of the scene in which DD Dupree comes face to face with the source of his infamous bad luck. It's probably one of the best scenes I've ever written.

You can read the story by clicking the link HERE.

Or, you can sit back and listen to the story being read aloud, by yours truly.

Here's the link to the audio version. Just follow it, and click the red PLAY arrow by the title. No downloading, no messing about with apps or podcast stuff. Just click play.


Several of the people and places in the story are based on real people, and real locations. The Browney Woods was actually called the Old Dump Road, and it was a community open dumping ground, the kind of 1970s environmental horror that would never be allowed to exist today. But back then, people simply collected all their trash and drove it down the winding dirt road, until they saw an open spot in the heaps of rotting trash. Then they pulled over, dumped their garbage, and went their merry way.

I always hated that place. It stank. No, it reeked. And there was something in the air, below the fetid odor of decay. Something injured. Something angry. Something that almost welcomed the decaying, the cast-off, the unclean. I always felt eyes upon me there. Cruel, hungry eyes, eyes that looked out of a face shaped by Hell itself.

I still believe something dark crept among the dunes of trash. Today, the heaps of garbage are gone. Bulldozed flat, covered with hard red clay. It's a subdivision now, peppered with cheery red brick houses. I doubt any of the homeowners know what lies beneath the clay.

I don't ever drive that road.

Wade Lee, he was real, too. He lost both his legs and one arm to a corn picker, and he was given a tin-roofed shack as compensation. As a kid, I drank from his rain-barrel, talked to him on his porch. He wasn't bitter, and I suppose that was why I always suspected he had magic of some kind. Maybe he did. 

I hope you enjoy the story. And if it raises the hair on the back of your neck, or causes you to look up when the wind moans as it rushes past, well -- that's a Halloween gift, just for you.





Things That Go Bump: Tula Cemetery EVPs


It's October!

And that means the commencement of my annual 'Things That Go Bump' series, in which I poke the things with which Man was not meant to meddle with a stick. 



And because it's fun. Today, we'll be discussing EVPs. For those unacquainted with the term, EVP is the acronym for 'Electronic Voice Phenomena.' 

EVP voices are captured by ordinary recording devices. The recorder operator generally doesn't hear the voice, which is only heard during playback of the recording. This phenomena was first recognized by Friedrich Jürgenson in 1959, when he heard voices on a recording he made while out trying to capture bird songs. Since then, paranormal researchers have made EVP phenomena a main focus of their investigations, with some fascinating results.

Link to 5 examples of EVP 'voices.'

Are these the voices of the dead, somehow captured by microphones and recorders?

Beats me. I set out to hold an EVP session in a graveyard years ago, right after the rise of the show 'Ghost Hunters.' My intent was, to be honest, to mock the whole concept.

My mockery never materialized, because I caught an EVP my first time out. I know it wasn't faked, and it wasn't audible during the recording. 

So, I was forced to admit the phenomena was real, and I've been capturing them ever since.

I make no claim as to the source of the voices and sounds. I just state that they exist. 

Take today, for instance. My wife Karen and I went to a small cemetery in Tula, Mississippi, a short distance from here. I was armed with my trusty Zoom H1 field recorder, and she had my homebuilt stereo super-ear. Both record digitally. Both were equipped with windscreens. The homebuilt rig, which is insanely sensitive, feeds a pair of Sennheiser earphones and a digital recorder, allowing the operator to listen in as the recording is created. 

We arrived around 1:40 PM. Broad daylight, in other words. I leave that night-time tramping about bit to people who don't have to worry about rattlesnakes and pointed questions from local law enforcement.

We stayed for about 15 minutes. I took photographs at random. While I am sure each and every headstone concealed a ghastly, spectral phantasm, none peeked around to appear in any photos. 

I reviewed my Zoom audio, which contained nothing out of the ordinary. I did become briefly interested in a faint sound toward the end of the session, but on closer inspection it turned out to be a bug flying close to the Zoom's left mic. 

Karen, on the other hand, caught some interesting audio.

Now, EVP voices, most of the time, are faint. These examples are. They are best heard through headphones, or a powerful PC audio system cranked up loud. A tiny laptop speaker may or may not be able to make them audible to you. Just a word of caution.

The first thing we noticed on arriving was a road being cut along one side of the cemetery. Bulldozers are seldom subtle, and the road work got very close to a number of graves. 

Karen commented on this, and asked anyone present if they were bothered by the excavation.

A few seconds later, I found what sounds to me to be a male voice saying 'We don't like it."

A link to the segment is below. First, there's the full recording. Next, I've amplified and looped the odd voice. You can decide for yourself if it is indeed a voice, and, if so, what words it says.

Tula EVP, Full Segment -- "Has it disturbed your rest?" EVP voice is 3 seconds later.

And below is the possible reply. I've amped and looped it, to make it easier to hear. To me, it sounds like 'We don't like it.'

Tula EVP voice, 'We don't like it,' looped.

Yes, it's faint. But, and this is significant, it does at least appear to be a direct response to the question posed about the road construction. If so, that's amazing.

And spooky.

For some examples of other EVPs I've captured, as well as a very plain recording of a glass door rattling without any apparent cause, I refer you to an earlier blog entry. In April of 2016, we spend the night as the Thomas House in Red Boilings Springs, Tennessee, and the phenomena there were very impressive.

Link to the full Thomas House report

This is just the first installment of October's Things That Go Bump series. See you next week, for new exploits in spookiness!










Markhat Cover Reveal: The Broken Bell

The Markhat series revival is still in progress! Today I decided to give you all a sneak peek at the new cover for THE BROKEN BELL.

THE BROKEN BELL is a turning point in the series. Darla's transition from supporting character to full partner begins here, so it's only appropriate that she joins Markhat on the cover.

Thanks again to the fine folks at AdSmith, who created this cover. I can hardly wait to see the next one!


I love the way the artist worked in various elements from the book. There's the Broken Bell itself, of course. The red and white fireflowers. Even the fireworks in the background are significant. 

It's been great working with people who take the time to get the small details right.

If you haven't read the book, THE BROKEN BELL centers on Markhat's search for a missing groom. His fiancee is convinced the young man didn't simply take off, as his family insists. The titular broken bell is part of a long-standing Rannite tradition, which holds that couples married under the so-called broken bell will enjoy long, happy marriages. 

If, that is, anyone manages to live long enough to say 'I do.' 

The Broken Bell also introduced gunpowder and guns to the series. Created in the labyrinth of laboratories hidden beneath House Avalante, rifles, cannon, and revolvers bring about a subtle change in the series narrative. Whereas magic has long been the primary weapon of the rich and the powerful, guns quickly begin to level the field. Magic in Markhat's world is unpredictable, and quite often just as deadly to the practicioner as to the target. But as weapons begin to be mass-produced, the balance of power begins a slow shift away from mercurial sorcery.

But all that happens in the background. What the book is really about is commitment. When faced with the apparent end of the world, Markhat and Darla make what I believe was a brave choice. I hope readers agree.

I'll leave you with a (long) excerpt from THE BROKEN BELL. In this scene, Markhat and his friend Evis the vampire have been whisked away, via sorcery, to the Corpsemaster's secret R&D site, where she is preparing the kind of monstrous weapons that will be employed should war once again visit Rannit. 


     Once Evis was shielded from the sun, we set out.
     The cobblestone circle, Lopside explained, was just the point of arrival. Leading away from it was a cobblestone path that bore the same metallic swoops and turns as the circle. I learned quickly not to try and follow their meandering path, because that made one’s walk unsteady. Piper and Lopside were clear on the deadly consequences of stepping off the path.
     The things lurking in the grass, they explained, were always hungry.
     The path, like the circle, was lined with waist-high wooden stakes each painted a cheery white.
     Human skulls watched from atop each stake. Fresh white skulls, so new they gleamed. Each skull bore an equally preserved pair of bright blue eyes, and every set of eyes in every gleaming skull followed you as you passed.
     “Twenty-two thousand, eight hundred and six,” said Lopside as we walked.
     Evis was faster to catch on than I.
     “How long did it take you to count them?”
     “A month. We get bored sometimes.”
     Skulls. They were talking about the skulls. Twenty-odd thousand.
     I moved my ass to the center of the path.
     “How much farther?” Evis’s voice was strained. Even beneath yards of black silk, I imagined that impossible sun was bright enough to nearly blind him.
     “Not much.” I heard a far-off shout, and Lopside waved us to a halt.
     “They got the oh-threes ready a day early,” he said.
     I was about to ask him what the Hell he meant when something louder and sharper than thunder split the air.
     Bam. Bam. Bam.
     The blasts were so loud I felt them in my chest, felt them rattle my teeth.
     Unseen things in the grass made waves on its surface as they fled. Piper laughed.
     “Reckon they got the mixture just right that time.”
     “Shut your mouth,” Lopside spoke. “Let’s make sure they’re done.”
     Smoke billowed up in the distance. The blasts faded, and the smoke dispersed, blowing over us in gouts.
     It stank. It was strange, but not entirely alien. I realized I’d smelled something like it, once before.
     “Cannon,” said Evis softly. “Remember that smell from Werewilk, Markhat? Same thing.”
     “Ours are better,” said Piper. “They’re still using a two-to-one ratio of—”
     “I said shut your mouth,” snapped Lopside. “No talking out here.”
     Piper reddened and fell silent.
     Evis pulled back enough silk to let me see his dark lenses. “Well. This should prove interesting, after all.”
     A horn blew ahead of us, then again, and again.
     “All clear.” Lopside motioned us forward. “Keep walking. Stay on the path. When you get to the painted red line, close your eyes and take one more step.”
     “You’re not coming?”
     “Orders. Get moving. He doesn’t like to wait.”
     Evis was already in motion. I shrugged and caught up.
     “You know what’s going on?”
     “Not entirely,” he whispered. “But I’ve heard rumors. It seems Avalante’s research into mundane projectile weapons has been resumed by the Corpsemaster.”
     There was nothing around us but a prairie. Ahead was just more of the same, cut only by the curving path we followed.
     “It’s flatter than ogre-stomped. And empty.”
     “I suspect not.” We walked on a bit in silence, and there it was—a thick red line of paint directly ahead, marking the end of the cobblestone path.
     And nothing on the far side of it but weeds.
     Evis paused. I looked back but Piper and Lopside were hoofing it toward the carriage.
     Evis and I were privy to a few of the Corpsemaster’s most intimate secrets. I knew the location of the house she called home. We both knew of the army of the dead she kept hidden in plain sight across Rannit.
     Knowing such secrets doesn’t help either Evis or I sleep soundly.
     Because if we were to both vanish suddenly, say after being eaten by whatever lurked amid those tall grasses, the Corpsemaster could sleep more soundly.
     “I’ll go first, if you wish,” Evis offered.
     “Bah. You’d just snatch up all the good beer. Better we go together, don’t you think?”
     Evis laughed and nodded. We made our way to the painted red line. Evis threw his hood back and grimaced at the sun, and I loosened my collar and pushed down my hat.
     We stepped across at the same time. I’ll have to ask Evis if he closed his eyes, like Lopside suggested. I know I damned well didn’t.
     There was a flash, and a sensation of falling, and then the sneaky sun swung around so that it shone not in my face, but on my back.
     And then there was noise. And men. And wagons and horses and the fall of hammers and the smell of wood burning.
     Hell, we had just stepped into the midst of a bustling work camp. A line of canvas Army field tents stretched off as far as I could see. Stables and barns followed it. Tall brick smokestacks attached to tin-roofed sheds dotted the landscape haphazardly. The stink of a nearby outhouse filled my nose. Men ambled, marched or idled by the hundreds.
     All of them had just appeared from nowhere.
     I turned around.
     The cobblestone path was gone. Behind us was a smaller circle, twin to the big one we’d left behind, ringed by a thick band of bright red paint.
     Beyond it was sand. Red sand, red rocks, shadows that fell long and dark over a wasteland the color of rust.
     My head began to pound anew.
     Evis pulled his hood back over his face.
     “Hurrah. We’re not dead.”
     “Not yet.”
     “Always the ray of sunshine.”
     A dozen armed men trotted toward us. The one in the lead slowed and met my gaze. He had a pair of vertical silver pips on the front of his cap, barely big enough so see.
     “Mr. Markhat. Mr. Prestley. Welcome to the Battery. Come this way.”
     The man was bellowing. Bellowing, but smiling. I bellowed right back.
     “Says who?”
     He frowned. “The Corpsemaster. That good enough for you?”
     I sighed. “Sorry. We’ve been knocked out and sent on a hike and the sun keeps changing places. It’s not been a good morning.”
     A wagon rolled up behind the troops eyeing Evis and me. I didn’t even notice at first it was being driven by a corpse.
     The ponies whinnied and stamped their feet, looking back over their shoulders nervously.
     “Well, you won’t be walking anymore. Get on.”
     He turned and dismissed his detail. They faded into the milling crowd with obvious relief on their faces.
     “I’ll come along, give you the two penny tour.” He stuck his hand out. “Call me Rafe.”
     I shook his hand. He was still shouting. I began to wonder if the man was partially deaf. If so, he was getting an early start. He was probably ten years my junior.
     “I’m Markhat. You knew that. This is my friend Evis. He’s a deaf mute.”
     “I am nothing of the sort.” Evis shook Rafe’s hand as well. “Just Rafe? No rank?”
     Rafe shrugged. “Orders. We don’t talk rank with outsiders.” He climbed aboard the wagon, sliding right up to the corpse without any sign of hesitation before turning around and motioning Evis and I into the bed of the wagon. “You probably have questions.”
     We clambered aboard. The dead man stank, but there wasn’t a fly to be seen.
     The corpse snapped his reins, and we rolled forward, winding our way between men and mounts and stacks of lumber and wafts of odd-smelling smokes.
     “So this is where the Corpsemaster is building his cannons.”
     I hadn’t phrased it as a question. I certainly hadn't referred to the Corpsemaster as 'she.' That was going to remain our little secret.
     Rafe nodded. He was sun burnt and peeling. His hair was sticking out in shaggy red clumps beneath his cap. The skin on the backs of his hands was pocked with tiny burns. “Has been for ten months. How’s the weather back home? Storms been bad this spring?”
     “No worse than usual. You haven’t been back?”
     “Nobody goes back, unless it’s in a bag. But the pay. Oh, the pay.” Rafe grinned.
     Evis leaned forward. “So, the cannons? They are operational?”
     “You’ll see for yourself. But yes. We can blow the shit out of ten-foot thick walls from a mile away. Knock down infantry by the hundreds with one shot. In another month, we’ll have the big aught-eights ready to ship back home.” He waited for a response, obviously under the impression that either Evis or I had any idea what a big aught-eight might be. “An aught-seven can put a hundred pound shell nearly six miles. We figure the eights can do nine.”
     Rafe raised his hands at our blank faces. “Sorry. I’m getting ahead of myself. Look. You know how cannons work?”
     “A thick iron tube is packed with a powder that explodes when lit by a spark. This propels an iron sphere out of the tube at great speed.” Evis looked at Rafe over the tops of his dark glasses. “Is that correct?”
     Rafe nodded and grinned. “That’s exactly how the first cannon, the old Henry, worked, Mr. Prestley. Were you on the halfdead—er, the Avalante team—working on them, during the War?”
     “I was not,” replied Evis. “But I’ve read their reports.”
     “Then you know about the problems they faced. The unstable powder. The balls that got stuck and cracked the cannon bodies. Misfires. Duds.”
     Evis nodded, with a sideways glance at me. Whoever Rafe was, one thing was clear—the boy liked his cannons.
     Rafe waved his hands. “We’ve fixed all that. No more random explosions. Well, hardly ever. No more cracked shafts. And the rounds—Mr. Prestley, we have explosive rounds now. Timed rounds. We can penetrate walls or burst them in the air over troops or…”
     Rafe went on, describing in intricate, enthusiastic detail a brand new method of slaughter. I couldn’t follow all of it. There was talk of trajectory calculators and paper fuses and friction primers, delivered in a throaty bellow that got hoarser as Rafe grew more animated.
     I shrugged at Evis and quit trying to follow Rafe’s running description of Parrot guns and howitzers.
     I watched the camp instead.
     Everywhere I looked, there was more of it. More and more of the structures were brick. The largest brick buildings were set apart from other structures and flanked by thick mounds of sand. I spotted a couple of suspicious building-sized holes in the ground, also flanked by mounds and heaps of rubble that had been left where they fell.
     And everywhere there were men, moving with a purpose. They wore the same plain uniforms. My original estimate of hundreds was quickly giving way to thousands. No one shied away at sight of the dead man driving the wagon.
     In the distance, I heard crashes and booms. Not thunder, as it lacked the volume and intensity, but something much like it.
     Rafe grinned. “They’re just burning old powder kegs,” he shouted. “Can’t re-fill ’em. They tend to blow.”
     “Wouldn’t want that,” I agreed.
     Rafe turned back to Evis and resumed his cheery recounting of the wonders of an aught-eight, which could apparently be crewed by six men and fire twice a minute.
     I thought back to the weapons Evis and I had seen that day, many months ago, at Werewilk. They had been small affairs, and yet a few of them had brought down the entire House within moments. The things Rafe were shouting about were, I gathered, rather more destructive.
     A chill ran up and down my spine.
     Thousands of soldiers. A frantic, secret weapons development program. Funding that flowed from a bottomless purse—hell, just feeding several thousand men would require tens of thousands of crowns a day. But if you also have to clothe them and house them and pay them and provide them with big Aught Eights to fire, you were getting ready for something bigger than just another Victory Day parade.
     “Rafe,” I yelled, cutting him off in mid-sentence. “When’s the big day?”
      “The big day? Sir?”
     “When do the first of the big ones ship back to Rannit?”
     I was guessing. But it was plain Rafe didn’t know how much or how little we knew.
     He almost answered me. But then a ghost of caution whispered in his sunburnt ear, and he bit back the words.
     “Best ask the Corpsemaster, sir. I’m just an engineer.”
     I didn’t need a date anymore. I’d seen such a date existed.
     And that scared me worse than any number of dead carriage drivers or mysterious booms.
     Evis regarded me over his glasses and then drew Rafe back into a spirited recounting of something called a back-handled caisson stabilizer.
     I put my head in my hands.
     Rannit was going to war. The words ran hobnailed through my mind.
     The carriage driver turned and winked. I stared at my boots for the rest of the ride.
     “Mr. Prestley. Markhat. Welcome to the Battery.”
     The Corpsemaster had shed her customary female body for a male one. Her new body showed no signs of trauma or decay, save for a paleness of features and dark circles under his unblinking eyes. The body was maybe twenty-five. Its hands were smooth. He looked like a banker would look the morning after he breathed his last.
     I nodded a greeting. Evis did the same. Rafe stood shifting from foot to foot, staring at the dirt.
     “Prepare a Howler crew,” the Corpsemaster said to Rafe.
     Rafe straightened, beaming. “Solid or explosive round?” he asked without a hint of fear or any honorific. “The new short delay shells are ready.”
     The Corpsemaster chuckled. “You choose,” she said. “Make haste.”
     Rafe charged away, bellowing at the gaggle of soldiers who lingered nearby.
     The Corpsemaster smiled a dry little smile and began to walk. She was setting a brisk pace on the dead man’s legs.
     “I trust your journey was not unacceptably unpleasant?”
     We had to trot to keep up. 
     “Not at all,” I said. “Very restful, as a matter of fact.”
     “Liar.” The Corpsemaster glanced sideways at me. “The secrecy under which the Battery operates is paramount. I can make no exceptions, even for old and trusted friends.”
     Old and trusted friends. Neither Evis nor I dared comment.
     “You nearly saw me bested by a pair of cannon, not so many months ago,” continued the Corpsemaster. We were climbing a small hill toward a perfectly flat top. “I will not be bested again. Behold, gentlemen. I give you the future of warfare. Angels help us all.”
     Below us stretched a long, shallow valley. The other side of it was maybe three hundred yards distant, and the bare, sandy soil was blasted down to the reddish bedrock in some places.
     A dozen or so flat-topped hills lay beside ours, all in a careful line. I wondered how many thousands of shovels had worked to create this.
     Wheels rattled up behind us, and a dozen men with them.
     And then something else.
     I’d seen such a thing before—a thick-walled iron cylinder taller than me, and fatter, and hollow. Fixed to a pair of wagon wheels, and the wheels were fixed to a sturdy wooden tail that kept the cylinder aimed upwards at a slight angle.
     “Follow,” said the Corpsemaster. We did, barely getting out of the way of the cannon and its crew.
     Rafe trotted up, wiping his hands on a rag. “Now?” he asked.
     The Corpsemaster pulled out a shiny brass pocket watch. “Now,” she said, starting it with a click.
     Rafe whirled. “Load,” he bellowed.
     Six men snapped from stillness to action, handling tools and descending on their machine with the studied precision of a bawdy hall dance troupe. One dipped a sponge set on a pole into a water bucket and ran it down the throat of the cylinder. Another shoved a burlap parcel into the barrel as soon as the sponge was out. The sponge man whirled his pole around and pushed the burlap parcel to the back of the barrel while a man at the rear slammed something shut on the cannon’s back end.
     Evis poked me in my gut and then stuck his fingers in his ears. I followed suit.
     It dawned on me why Rafe seemed half-deaf despite his youth.
     The contrivance was aimed quickly by a man in the rear, who sighted along the tube and adjusted the rear-facing tail with a hooked wooden rod set into the end of the tail. Two other men fussed with a massive iron sphere and hoisted it expertly into the cannon’s maw despite its apparent weight.
     That was rammed home and tapped twice. All but the spongeman were behind the cannon by the second tap, and he joined them a heartbeat later. There was motion, one of the men at the rear shouted “Ready,” and then Rafe bellowed, “fire.”
     The Corpsemaster clicked her stopwatch.
     The cannon cried thunder, and heaved a great gout of smoke, and the blast hit me in the chest with sufficient force to knock the fool breath right out of me.
     On the far wall of the Corpsemaster’s young valley, something struck and exploded, sending up a vast plume of shattered earth and leaving behind a smoking crater large enough to hide wagons.
     “Twenty-six seconds,” said the Corpsemaster.
     The Corpsemaster repeated herself. Rafe heard it that time, and started bellowing at his crew, who were by then halfway ready to fire the awful thing again.
     The thing—the cannon—needed only a crew of six stalwart young men. No years of sorcerous schooling. No decades of perfecting spells that themselves took years to create.
     Just six men, a cannon and whatever bits of iron and powder they stuffed into the thing.
     “Heaven help us.”
     I didn’t realize I’d spoken aloud.
     “That, gentleman, was a Howler. Firing an explosive ten-pound round fused to detonate a half of a second after firing. Its effectiveness as a projectile weapon is formidable, especially considering it can be fired twice a minute until the barrel begins to soften.”
     “That’s twenty-two rounds with this barrel,” shouted Rafe. “Then we have to douse it with water and wait twenty minutes. The newer ones will go twenty-seven rounds.”
     “Indeed.” The Corpsemaster smiled. “I trust you gentlemen are favorably impressed. I shall never again be caught lacking appropriate firepower.”
     “It’s a big chunk of Hell put on cute little wheels.” I couldn’t force a smile. “And I gather this is a small one, at that.”
     “It is the smallest of the mobile units. Designed for use against infantry and enemy guns in a changing battlefield environment.”
     “And just when do you foresee this battlefield being joined?”
     “Fire,” bellowed Rafe, and again the cannon belched fire and raised a rain of shattered rocks on the far side of the valley.
     “Thank you, Rafe. That was three seconds faster. Return the weapon to the armory.”
     Rafe nodded and barked out the orders.
     Within moments, Evis and the Corpsemaster and I were alone on the flat-topped hill.
     I surveyed the far side of the valley. It was blasted and scarred down to the bedrock, and that too was shattered and pitted. I thought of Rannit’s old walls. Centuries to build.
     Hours to be felled.
     The Corpsemaster sighed. Even for a dead man, she looked suddenly tired and sad.
     “What I am about to tell you is unknown, outside the High House. I trust you will keep it so. Because, gentleman, war is coming to Rannit.”
     Smoke from the cannon drifted over us. In the distance, Rafe’s powder kegs burst, one after another, with the sound of infant thunder.
     Evis spat a cuss word.
     The Corpsemaster smiled through pale lips. “Don’t despair, gentlemen. This time, you’ll both be officers. With rather handsome pay.”
     I groaned, plopped my ass down in the red sand, and narrowly avoided crying like a fresh-spanked baby.

Frank's Guide to the Great Eclipse of 2017


I suppose it was inevitable.

I'm losing my sense of wonder. Yes, I know the shadow of the Moon will sweep across North America on Monday, bringing a few moments of darkness to the middle of the day in a rare event swathed in splendor and wonder.

Truth is, if I was forced to choose between watching a new episode of 'Rick and Morty' and viewing the eclipse, I'd seat myself comfortably and silence my phone, because...Rick and Morty. Every time.

So where did I go wrong? Is my lack of awe the result of age, or creeping cynicism, or just sheer laziness?

Heck if I know. But, since so many people are genuinely excited about the eclipse, here are my tips and tricks for viewing it safely. Have fun, and remember, you cast a shadow too pretty much all the time. But hey, to each his own.


Scientists will tell you the eclipse is caused when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, thus casting a moving shadow upon the land.

Sure. That's what they WANT you to believe. But as our friends the Flat Earthers teach us, this is poppycock and doggerel. What's really happening, you ask?

In reality, a great battle will take place between the Ascended Spoon-Flingers of Seventh Hell and the sinister celestial armies of the seraphim, the Nephilim, and the Nephilim Ladies' Auxiliary, whose combined forces are referred to in ancient texts as the 'Haints and Boogers.'  This epic clash between the forces of light and darkness will, for a few moments, blot out the Sun, plunging the Earth into chaos and confusion.

Oops. Okay, looks like the 'chaos and confusion' bit got here a few years early. Anyway.

As the battle rages, darkness will fall. Or, more accurately, move in a mathematically predictable path across the Earth's surface. Given the average human's grasp of celestial mechanics, this will be pretty scary. In ancient times, this roaming circle of midnight would be greeted with human sacrifice, with terror, with shouted imprecations toward cold, unfeeling gods who themselves fled from the malevolent darkness.

Today, it's met with mass purchases of overpriced and highly suspect eclipse glasses, which are manufactured with less care to technical precision than a midnight-shift batch of Gummi Bears. But hey, you KNOW you can trust those high-dollar cardboard sunshades, because Ebay is the foremost purveyor of medical devices, right?

But I digress. 

Far above the Flat Earth, a battle will rage. Unimaginable arcane forces will be hurled. Good shall strike at the dark heart of Evil, and Evil will look up from the comments section of YouTube and hurl something nasty involving snakes and hemorrhoids right back. Angels will fall. Demons will perish. You may experience brief pixelation events on your satellite TV, or persistent dryness of eyes and mouth. Small hotels in the path of totality will be blessed with massive but short-lived profits. Dogs will bark. Birds will call up unto the wounded sky, crying out in the ancient tongue, hey, knock it off, we're trying to lay eggs down here.

Such are the ways of the Old Ones. Quail, mortal! Fall to your knees, being careful not to spill your latte, for primal energies writhe and coil about you. 

Then, after about two minutes, everything will return to normal. Look, since worship of the Old Ones has shrunk pretty much to particularly spirited D&D games, budgets aren't what they once were. 

I may even look up from Rick and Morty, and honor the celestial marvel with an eye-roll and a sigh of annoyance at all the racket.


The best time to view the eclipse is the next day, when you're bored, and have two minutes and access to the net. Just click on one of the 11,789,345 available eclipse videos and enjoy the spectacle from the comfort of your donut-encrusted lair. Wow, see that? It got dark. The sun's disc changed shape. Awesome. Hey look, kittens playing with a Gummi Bear!

But if you insist on viewing the eclipse as it occurs, BE SAFE. Those Dollar Tree visors are probably not what they're cracked up to be.

You know the Sun is a blazing ball of fusing hydrogen dumping out enough energy every second to incinerate a billion times a hundred billion pairs of beady little human eyes, right? That's fusion taking place up there. Even the Nephilim wear Kevlar robes when they decide to make a close pass. 

The best way to view this event is by projection, and you've already got all the stuff you need, right there in your kitchen. A cereal box. Heck, basically ANY cardboard box. A piece of aluminum foil. Tape. Scissors. Maybe a razor knife.

Here's how you do it.

1) Cut out one end the box. That's where the scissors come into play. Leave your blowtorch in the garage. If you're using a cereal box, I suggest cutting off the top, because it's a mess anyway. I suppose there are people who start their day by carefully opening the flaps and tabs and then closing them neatly after the Count Chocula is dispensed, but I've got things to do so I just tear into the thing with all the finesse of a rabid leopard. Anyway, remove one end. 

2) Replace the box end you just removed with a nice flat sheet of white paper. Typing paper? Cool. White cardboard? Equally effective. Just so it's flat.

3) You did empty the box of cereal, right? Okay. Good. Just checking, because not everyone thinks these things through, ARNOLD.

4) On the OTHER end of the box, tape it over, sealing it. You need two more openings, each about two inches square, one on each side. Precision isn't really important here. 

5) Okay, now it gets all technical. The opening on the RIGHT side of the lid will be the viewing port. Leave it alone.

6) Cover the opening on the LEFT side with a smooth-ish square of aluminum foil. Tape it down tight.

7) In the center of the foil, take a needle, a small nail, or a pin and carefully poke a small hole in the foil. The bigger the hole, the larger the image -- but for every increase in pinhole size, you add a bit of fuzziness to the projected image.

8) You're done. To view the eclipse safely, stand facing away from the sun. Hold the box up over your left shoulder and aim the pinhole at the Sun while looking through the viewing hole. Orient the box so that an image of the sun is projected on the far back of the box, right onto the white paper you taped there in Step 2.

9) Enjoy the raging battle in the Heavens. Those screams you may hear are those of the people who chose poorly when buying their silly eclipse glasses. 

Below are pictures of the box I made, as a visual reference.



The projected image is probably going to be the size of a pencil eraser. If you're looking for a mind-blowing visual experience, quick, run out and drop three or four grand on high-end telescopes and solar viewing gear. Otherwise, you're messing around with boxes and tape, so don't expect too much.

The moments following the eclipse are the best time to pick a few pockets as the people permanently maimed by those bargain-bin eclipse glasses writhe in agony on the ground. 

Yep, it's a world of wonder out there. Darkness in the afternoon, big rocks moving in circles, strange shadows cast briefly upon the ground. What's next? Regular tides? Wind? 

Call me when sand dunes start break dancing. 

I leave you with a brief clip of a truly amazing confrontation between the ancient forces of Science and Evil. Beware, mortal, this is not for the faint of heart...

Rick Meets The Devil






Nazis. Seriously, Nazis.

 Grocery shopping in America, circa 2019   

Grocery shopping in America, circa 2019


I'm about to break one of my own rules for blogging.

Rule #6 clearly states 'Never blog about politics. No good can come of it.'

That rule held true for many years. But that was back in a kinder, gentler time, when politics was, for the most part, a question of semantics. I believe there was a time when both parties here in the US honestly believed they were working for the good of the quasi-mythical Average Joe.

Debate that if you will, but it's all irrelevant now. Because now we have Nazis roaming the streets, plowing cars into crowds, and even drafting policy in the White House (Bannon and Miller both have strong ties to the so-called alt-right; that's a fact, not an opinion). 

There. I said it. Maybe it pissed a few people off. But at this point, I just don't care. 

Like it or not, modern America is becoming the Weimar Republic. And we all know how that turned out. 

Don't believe me? Look outside. Swastikas are waving. Rallies and violence are sprouting like fungi. The net is festering with a growing undercurrent of poorly-spelled, grammatically-suspect hate. Worse, this hate has learned to shave, put on a tie, and give interviews that only serve to normalize the whole degenerate movement.

And it is degenerate. Anybody that has to look to the color of their skin to feel superior to anyone else is a moron of the lowest order. No. Let me amend that -- anyone who has to feel superior to anyone else is a moron. We're not being graded by color, or religion.  We're not being graded at all. There's no actual need to put a boot in anyone else's face. No black man or woman has ever taken a thing from me. Neither have gay folks. Neither have Jewish people, or anyone else.

But that's all very esoteric. Let's make things a bit more concrete.

Heather Hyer is dead, after being run down by a Nazi in a car. On an American street. 

She's DEAD. Not inconvenienced or injured. Dead. Because somehow America has become a place where Nazis and other assorted flag-waving lunatics are crawling out from beneath their damp rocks in increasing numbers. 

Which is why I'm breaking Rule 6. 

It's up to those of us who aren't xenophobic racist nutjobs to stand up and make our voices heard too. It's up to us to make it clear to the cockroaches that, for all its flaws, America is in fact a melting pot, that we are all brothers and sisters, that hate has no place out in the bright light of day.

So screw Rule 6. I won't be counted as another silent German, who saw what was coming but decided to remain silent and hope things worked themselves out somehow. History teaches us that's too big a risk to take.

Stay safe out there, friends. Hate and rage is in the air, hanging like a fog composed of gasoline. The wrong spark, at the wrong time, and we could all be engulfed.






Yet Another Markhat Cover Sneak Peek!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted the cover for THREE MEAN STREETS.

Today, I'm going to reveal the covers for the next books in the Markhat series revival, HOLD THE DARK and THE BANSHEE'S WALK.

For anyone not familiar with the series, HOLD THE DARK is the book in which Markhat meets Darla. He also meets Evis, the bookish gangster vampire, who becomes a series regular as well.

Darla leaped into the series like she'd been waiting impatiently all along. I was still on the fence in the matter of any romantic involvement for Markhat, but any indecision vanished the moment Markhat was ushered into her tiny office at the Velvet.

If you looked at the very broad outline I'd prepared for the book, Darla was there simply to provide a few clues and some light comic relief. But she was having none of that, outlines be damned, and within a couple of chapters I realized my detective series was now a party of two. 

Here's the moment Markhat and Darla meet. Markhat has been hired to find and bring home a seamstress named Martha Hoobin. Markhat's search for clues takes him to the Velvet, a renowned house of negotiable affected where Martha made clothes. 


    I eased my pace and counted monstrous trees. I passed beneath sixteen scarred blood-oaks before reaching the intersection of Broadway and Hent. And there, at the corner, loomed the Velvet—three slate-roofed, glass-windowed, brass-worked, brick-walled stories of steamy adolescent fantasies come absolutely positively true.
    The big oak front doors faced south, toward me. The Velvet was set back from the street a stone's throw, surrounded by lush meadow-grass, bubbling fountains, and knee-high beds of fireflowers. A flight of wide, shallow marble stairs led from the cobblestone walkway to the brass-worked oaken doors. A single bored ogre leaned against the door, his arms folded across his chest, his eyes ahead and unblinking. 
    You seldom see ogres dressed in anything more than a sarong and sandals. The Velvet's doorman, though, wore a long-cut red tail-coat, black dress pants, black boots and white silk shirt with ruffles at the sleeves. All specially made and generously cut, of course, to accommodate his bulging ogre muscles and furry ogre frame.
    I emerged from the shade of the last blood-oak and marched toward the Velvet. The ogre's wet brown gaze picked me up as I darted across Hent, and he watched me every step of the way after.
    I eased onto the cobblestone walk, took a deep breath. The air smelled of fireflowers and a faint gentle perfume, and it was cooler there than even in the blood-oak’s shade.
    I ambled through the flower-beds, halted at the foot of the stair. The ogre hadn’t moved.
    I nodded and lowered my gaze briefly in greeting. Which may have been a mistake. I doubted that the Velvet’s clients were terribly concerned with matters of ogreish etiquette. But it never hurts to make friends.
    He didn’t blink, or return my eye-dip.
    I shrugged. “May I enter?”
    He let my words hang for a moment. Then, with a great show of elaborate grace, he doffed his three-cornered, feathered hat, stepped out of my path, and motioned me to the doors with a grand, easy sweep of his clawed four-fingered hand.
    “Enner, ’ordship,” he growled, grinning around his tusks. “Enner.”
    The doors opened as I hit the top step, and then I was inside, leaving sarcastic ogres and the clatter and rumble of downtown Rannit behind.
    The doors shut. You know the Velvet doors are shut because all the street noise stops. You take a breath and the scent of the beds of fireflowers is gone, but something sweeter and more subtle rides the air.
    My jaw dropped. I’d been inside the High House, right after the War, but the Velvet put the Regent’s digs to shame.
    I was alone for perhaps ten heartbeats. I breathed the sweet air, gawked at the gleaming marble tiles, the dark rich walnut paneled walls and the general glowing opulence of the place.
    The gold-plated coat-hooks by the door were probably worth more than my entire building, fifteen blocks away.
    One of the three tall white doors on the far side of the foyer opened, and a woman entered. It was then I realized the Velvet kept a sorcerer in its hire.
    He or she knew the business. The woman that approached was absolutely the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen, human, Elvish or otherwise.
    She glided to stand before me. She was blonde and tall and had eyes the color of the high noon sky in the country.
    “How may we serve you, sir?”
    I mopped sweat off my brow, and I had to clear my throat twice before words would come.
    “You could turn down the charm a few notches. I’m not here as a client. I’m a finder, looking for one of your associates. Her name is Martha Hoobin. I’m told she was a seamstress here.”
    The room tilted and I jerked, as though the floor had dropped an inch or two.
    When I looked back up, she was still there, still beautiful, but I wasn’t mentally counting my life savings and wondering if all of it would buy me an hour.
    “Hooga,” she called out, not to me. “Wait here.”
    The twin to the ogre at the door came thump-thumping from behind an alcove concealed by thick red drapes. He moved to stand at my side.
    The woman turned and retreated, gliding through her door without a glance or word of farewell.
    My heart broke. I took a deep breath, mopped more sweat away and turned toward the well-dressed ogre.
    “Greetings, Hooga,” I said, dipping my gaze. “I am Markhat. How do you stand that mojo, all the time?”
    Hooga didn’t reply, but he did dip his gaze and grin.
    Maybe I’d made a friend after all.
    The doors at the far end of the room opened again, and another woman stepped out.
    The blonde lady had floated in, all promise and lace and gauze. This new arrival was a brunette, clad in a high-necked brown shirt and comfortable-looking black pants. She was tall and thin, and she was not smiling.
    The mojo lingered, though, and it did its best to turn my thoughts from purity, which meant it was reduced to the arcane equivalent of whispering things like “see how she wears that pencil seductively behind her right ear” and “those pants are rather tight, in a loose sort of way, are they not?”
    She crossed the foyer, her sensible black shoes tap-tapping a quick cadence on the marble floor. She got within a pace of me, halted, smiled and stuck out her hand—not flat, palm down for milord to kiss, but held out to shake.
    “Hello,” she said, in a good strong voice. “I’m Darla. I keep the books here. Wendy tells me you’re asking questions about Martha Hoobin.”
    I took her hand and shook it.
    “I am. My name is Markhat. I’m a finder. Martha’s brothers hired me.”
    “They waited long enough.” She freed my hand. “Shall we talk in my office?”
    I nodded, and she looked at Hooga and dipped her gaze. “Thank you, Hooga,” she said. “I don’t think Mister Markhat will need a beating today. I’ll call out if he changes his mind.”
    Hooga snuffled a chuckle and shuffled off to his post. Darla turned her big brown gaze back to me and motioned toward the leftmost door.
    “If you’ll come this way.”
    “Gladly,” I replied. My mouth was still nearly too dry to talk. She smiled at me and set off, leading the way.
    The white door opened after she tapped out a complicated knock and mouthed a long harsh word. No one was on the other side.
    The door shut itself behind us, and I heard it click as the spell locked it down.
    “You’ve got more spells here than the High House,” I said. Our steps fell quiet on thick red carpet. We walked not quite shoulder to shoulder in a long and narrow hall.
    “They cost a fortune, but so does trouble,” she replied, as we ambled along. The hall was high-ceilinged, lit only by lamps set every ten paces or so along the wall. Doors showed here and there, and moving light at bottoms of some, but absolutely not a sound. “You’re not exactly being held in thrall though. Most men couldn’t resist Wendy and the conjure at once.”
    She wasn’t looking at me, so I mopped sweat and wiped my hand on my pant leg.
    “I was in the Army for eight years. I’ve had more hexes cast on me than the Court Stone. They don’t stick very well anymore.”
    Darla laughed. “I’ll have to tell Wendy. She was nearly in tears when she found me. No one has ever noticed the conjure. She thinks she’s losing her touch.”
    I shook my head. “Not at all,” I said. “Tell her that my priestly vows forbade me to view her in other than a pure and sisterly light.”
    She halted at a door, turned, put her hand on the plain brass knob. “Do come in, Father. Don’t mind the clutter.”
    She went, and I followed.
    Darla’s office was small—about, in fact, the size of mine. She had a battered oak desk that showed scorch marks on one side, a rolling leather-backed chair that squeaked when she moved it, a cracked crystal flower vase for holding pencils and a dented brass spittoon set to the right of the desk for a wastebasket. A magelamp hung from the ceiling on a plain steel chain, the walls were lined with bookshelves and the bookshelves were lined with ledgers. Each ledger bore a neat handwritten label—a string of nonsense numbers and a date, written out in a neat, precise hand that I knew immediately was Darla’s.
    Her desk was covered with ledger sheets and a pile of ragged-edged store receipts and one of those newfangled adding dinguses that the Army introduced a few years back—colored beads on wires in a square wood frame.
    A second chair faced Darla’s desk. Like the one in my office, it lacked wheels, and was probably intended to provide a seat without making its occupant so comfortable that they overstayed their welcome.
    Other than a new black coat on a hook on the back of her door, that was it.
    Darla smiled, moved behind her desk, sat and motioned for me to do the same. “I’ll help however I can. Ask away.”
    I sat. “You know Martha Hoobin.” I knew she did. She’d even pronounced her name correctly—Mart-ha, not Martha—out in the foyer.
    “She’s our best seamstress,” replied Darla.
    “Seamstress,” I said, with no particular emphasis. Darla laughed. The magelamp’s warm gold light flashed in her eyes.
    “Martha had a gift for sewing, and an eye for clothes. The outfit Wendy was wearing—that was one of Martha’s. An early one, in fact. She’s improved since then.”
    “How long has she been with the Velvet?”
    “Six years. We were friends,” she added. “I’ll miss her.”
    I nodded. “So you don’t think she’s coming back?”
    “Would you be here, if she were just away on holiday? Would she have left her brothers without a word if she ever meant to return?”
    “I don’t know her, but from what I’ve heard, probably not.”
    Darla shrugged, and the twinkle went out of her eyes. “She left without collecting her pay. Do you find that unusual?”
    “I do.” I meant it. The Hoobins hadn’t mentioned that. And while I have seen people walk away from money, I’ve only seen them do it when they’re terrified. Finding that terror. That’s the tricky part.
    I leaned back in my chair and sighed. “You’re her friend. So tell me. Who is she? Who is Martha Hoobin?”
    Darla leaned forward. She took the pencil from behind her ear and began to doodle on a scrap of green ledger-paper, and I doubt she even realized she was doing it.
    “Martha.” She frowned as she scribbled. “Martha, well, Martha is a Hoobin.”
    I laughed.
    “You’ve met her brothers?”
    “All ten tons of them,” I replied. “Stalwart lads, each one. You could cut the air of their rural stability with a knife.”
    Darla nodded. “That’s a big part of Martha. Work hard, never complain, be polite—”
    “Whoa,” I said, gently. “I got all that from the brothers. What I want to know from you are the things they didn’t know, or wouldn’t tell.”
    “The deep dark secrets all us girls share you mean?”
    “The very ones.”
    Darla frowned. “Damn.”
    “Oh no. Surely you don’t mean there aren’t any.”
    She shrugged. “Martha was a saint.” She noticed the pencil for the first time, and put it down on the desk, neatly aligned beside the ledger. “She didn’t drink. She didn’t carouse. She sewed, she fed birds in the Park at lunch, she loved violin music and all the girls liked her.” Darla spread her hands. “Hooga and Hooga brought her ogre hash every Armistice Day,” she said. “You know anybody ogres actually like?”
    I didn’t. I nodded no.
    “She ate it, Markhat. If it tasted like it smelled, it was awful. But Hooga and Hooga were standing there watching, and she thanked them and tore off a chunk and ate it right there. Ate Gods know what just so she wouldn’t hurt an ogre’s feelings.” She sighed. “That’s Martha Hoobin. Good to the bone. Now where does a person like that run away to?”
    “I don’t know. Yet. And it’s entirely possible she didn’t leave of her own volition.”
    “True. But Martha wasn’t stupid. You wouldn’t catch her roaming the streets after Curfew, or counting her pay out on the street. Don’t think she was some kind of wide-eyed New People bumpkin, finder. She hadn’t been in Rannit long, but she knew the lay of the land.”
    I leaned forward. The mojo still whispered suggestively in my ears, and I caught myself breathing in her faint, subtle perfume and admiring the way her face moved when she spoke.
    “Let’s talk about men. Did Martha have any I should know about?”
    Darla laughed, showed her teeth. “Aside from the Hoogas, no, she had none. The Hoobins are Balptists. Ever heard of that?”
    “Balptists? Nope. I assume it’s a faith?”
    “It is. The New People brought it with them. Balptists marry Balptists, or not at all. Martha was opting for ‘not at all’.”
    I lifted an eyebrow, kept my mouth shut.
    “It wasn’t men Martha had a problem with,” said Darla. “Just husbands. I think a lifetime of picking up after her brothers left the thought of doing the same for a husband less than appealing.”
    “I gather Martha pretty much ran the Hoobin household.”
    “She cooked, she cleaned, she handled the money,” replied Darla. “And I suspect she handled it well. Have you ever been inside the Hoobin house?”
    “Not yet.”
    “You’ll be surprised. They’ve done well. The Regent may have done them a favor, flooding their farms.”
    “That’s the kind of favor the Regent is best at.”
    “You’re a cynic,” she replied. “I like that.” She picked up her pencil and twirled it around. “Tell you what. I’ve already asked around, but no one knew anything about Martha. But I’ll ask again. And I’ll see if I can round up any of her things that might still be in the sewing room.”
    “That would be helpful. I’ll come back around in a day or so.”
    “Don’t bother. The Hoogas will be told not to let you back in.” She lifted a hand before I could speak. “I don’t run the place, finder. The management won’t admit pesky finders who set Wendy to crying and leave without spending a fortune. You’re a waste of good conjure, you are. Don’t know rare beauty when you see it.” She smiled when she said it, leaned forward and batted those big brown eyes. The lingering charm gave me one last good flush, and a fresh layer of sweat. Darla leaned back in her chair and laughed again.
    “Surely I can wait outside until you head home some night?” I asked, with as much dignity as I could muster. “Or will the Hoogas have orders to smite me on the street?”
    “That depends on your manners and your deportment,” she replied. “Keep that in mind. Anyway, I might just come and see you. You have an office, I assume?”
    “I do.” I made a note to carry a clean handkerchief, when next I called on Darla. I sweated more in the Velvet than I had on all-day marches. “Down on Cambrit. It isn’t the best part of town. If you come, come early. You can wait at Mama Hog’s if I’m out.”
    “Cambrit’s not so bad,” she said. “And I’ve heard of Mistress Hog.” She gave me a sly sideways look. “She your lady love?”
    Blame it on the mojo, but a mercifully fleeting image of Mama Hog wrapped in a gauzy nightgown ran hobnailed through my mind.
    I stood. “Miss Darla,” I said. Mama Hog waved gauzy veils at me from the dimmest corners of my mind. “They don’t make a charm that strong.”
    She stood too. “I’m sorry,” she said, offering her hand, to shake. “About the mojo. I just couldn’t resist.”
    I took her hand. It was warm and dry and her fingers slipped easily through mine, like we’d held hands a thousand times before.
    She spoke a nonsense word, and I felt the last of the mojo slip off my shoulders and well and truly fall away.
    “Now you’ve got nothing to blame but the innate depravity of your soul. Still think I’m pretty?”
    I gobbled something complimentary and let go her hand. We stepped out into the hall, hadn’t gone three steps before Wendy popped out of a door and pretended she didn’t know we were there.
    Wendy had an extensive wardrobe, though it didn’t appear to take up much room. She turned, spoke, batted her eyes and was about to join us when Darla grabbed my hand again and gave her a glare. “Ease off, sister,” she said. “This one is mine. Aren’t you, honey-chunks?”
    Wendy giggled. I left, and the Hoogas even dipped their gazes in farewell.
    And—God help me—that was Darla.  

And now, the new cover!

I love the film noir look, and the retro fonts. Again, the folks at ADSmith did a phenomenal job.

Best of all, though, is the look they're exchanging. Welcome aboard, Darla. 


The next entry is the series is THE BANSHEE'S WALK. This adventure takes the gang beyond Rannit's city walls, to an artist's retreat deep in a forest rumored to be haunted. 

Hired by the eccentric but wealthy Lady Werewilk, Markhat believes he's on the trail of greedy relatives bent on making a grab for the Lady's sprawling estate. But despite his initial skepticism, he is quickly forced to admit that the woods are in fact haunted, and the legendary banshee is all too real. 

The tiny banshee also becomes a series regular. Markhat dubs her Buttercup when they first meet, hoping to win her trust with a hunk of hot buttered cornbread.

Here's the scene in which Markhat first encounters Buttercup, alone in a cornfield:


    The corn rustled. Leaves and limbs made dry furtive noises overhead. I imagined all manner of creeping horrors, slinking up behind me.
    I’d had my back to the barns for maybe three long minutes—just enough time for Marlo and Gertriss to reach the House—when I heard a twig snap behind me.
    I judged the distance to be maybe twenty feet.
    And that, I decided, was plenty close enough.
    My hand was already in my pocket. I moved it slowly.
    I turned around. Slowly. Calmly. In my outstretched right hand was a slice of warm corn bread with a chunk of butter still melting in the middle.
    And there she was.
    Just standing there.
    A banshee.
    Every hair on every spot of my body stood on end.
    She appeared to be a tiny woman, naked save for a liberal coating of dirt and spider-webs. I don’t mean a woman of small stature—I mean a human woman who had grown to full size and then been somehow shrunk down to a stature befitting a child. I’ve seen trick mirrors at Yule houses that can either shrink or enlarge reflections. The banshee might have stepped out of the former.
    Except for perhaps her ears. In the dim light, and under all that matted hair, I couldn’t be sure, but it looked as though her ears might be pointed, as those of the Elves were said to have been.
    Her hair was the color of dusty hay. It was wild and matted, encrusted with spider webs and leaves and twigs. Her eyes, though, were big and bright and blue.
    I looked into them. The ghost of the huldra let out a scream that nearly brought my hands to my ears. But it made me look away, and that spared me the experience that had nearly overwhelmed Gertriss.
    I fixed my gaze on the tiny woman’s filthy chin. Her face was a mask of indifference.
    No fear, no anger, no emotion whatsoever. She just stood there, halted in mid-step, watching me with those wide blue eyes.
    “I’ve never met a person of your lineage before,” I said. “What do I call you?”
    She tilted her head and eyed me quizzically, but neither spoke nor howled.
    “My name is Markhat. Do you have a name?”
    Again, a blank stare. A vagrant breeze arose, and carried a whiff of her scent to me. I had to fight not to gag. I’d have to tell Mama banshees weren’t strong proponents of bathing.
    My banshee kept staring. But she still wasn’t running.
    I laid the corn bread and the napkin down on the ground and took three long steps back away from it. The corn bread was mashed a bit, but the butter had melted into it and the smell was heavenly. “Well, I’ll call you Buttercup for now. Is that all right with you? May I call you Buttercup?”
    I heard voices from the House as Marlo and Gertriss brought out the servants. The banshee heard them too.
    She just—left. Vanished. I saw only the briefest suggestion of movement, and then there was just an empty spot where she’d stood. No footfalls, no sound at all. I couldn’t even guess at the direction she might have taken.
    I didn’t even notice, at first, that the hot buttered corn bread was gone too.
    She’d left the napkin, but not a crumb.
    I scanned the shadows.
    “Good night, Buttercup.”
    An owl hooted. A couple of dogs began to bark. People and torches began to fill the night.
    “Next time, I’ll bring a biscuit.”

For this book, we decided to let Buttercup take center stage. After all, the title is THE BANSHEE'S WALK, so why not feature the banshee?

My only criteria were that she not be overly sexualized. Yes, she is clad in nothing but dirt, leaves, and spiderwebs when we meet her in the book, but she's also an innocent being despite her undetermined but certainly advanced age. I wanted her to be portrayed as mysterious and ethereal, and again I got exactly what I wanted. 

So there you have it! Soon I'll be posting images for the rest of the series, so stay tuned!