The Trail of Bread Crumbs

Hey everybody, just a few quick things that I wanted to write about this morning, some general thoughts that have been banging around inside my skull. The first is just how strange it is to go back and re-read something that you wrote two years ago. I think this is generally an issue, though a pleasant one, for every writer; each work should make you stretch and learn new things. That process makes you into a different writer, and going back to read earlier works can be like returning to a childhood home. It all feels familiar, but without the original context it leaves you feeling kind of weird and empty. Sometimes the words don’t feel like ones that I even wrote.

I’m talking about this because, as Pathways of the Dead draws to a close, I’m going back through and reading Corridors to ensure that Pathways answers the most important questions from that novel. So far I’m pleasantly surprised. The original plan covered the broadest questions, and those are all either answered or advanced in Pathways. Sure, there are a few “color” details that are missing from the first draft of Pathways, such as certain nicknames, but it’s actually pretty interesting to see how well my plan worked out, especially when it came to unforeseen eventualities like the death of a certain character.

And that brings me to the topic that’s really on my mind: the trail of bread crumbs. When you build a series like this, with so many intricate, interlocking parts, you have to go into the thing aware of how it plays out on a general scale – the largest A to B to C points. I’ve known the ending of the series from the beginning, and I had a vague idea of the large beats that got to that point. I also built a series bible of sorts that lays out the different groups involved, their motivations, and major players from those groups. During the creation of Corridors, I kept a running list of major questions that were posed and the answers to those questions. Not all had to be answered in that book (in fact, three major dangling questions are very important to the books that follow), but they needed to at least be acknowledged.

So why talk about all this? Well, first, I firmly believe that this is all you really need to create a successful series, but I also think this is the best way to build a world with lasting appeal. Even as the author, I’m finding a lot of interesting little tidbits in Book 1 that foreshadow events in Book 2. One character, for example, causes signature events in the world whenever he appears. A reader who has finished the series and understands the whole thing could then go back and find the hints hidden in Book 1 regarding the nature of that character. They’re not necessary to understanding the story overall, but it adds a secondary layer to the story once the bigger picture is understood.

The early seasons of Lost did this very well, but I think they may have overreached by the end. It’s part of what built the sense of mystery and kept it going; even now the series is eminently rewatchable just to catch those little moments. That is the “trail of breadcrumbs” of which I speak – the little nods to the readers who know what’s going on, to show them a larger story on the second go-through. Fun stuff, and I hope that someone catches these one day.

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Deleted: Room 3 Original Introduction

Hi all, and welcome back to another edition of Deleted. This is an ongoing series sharing deleted scenes, snippets of old stories, and random detritus that accumulates in any author’s career. As I’m finally closing in on the ending of Room 3 (the new, expanded edition), I thought it might be interesting to take a look at one of the many iterations that this book has undergone.

I’ve talked some about the torturous path to publication that this book has followed and share more than one piece from this book; it’s been an interesting, painful evolution. Thankfully, I think the final product will be something very different and yet familiar, without a doubt my best story to date.

This is from the version titled “Room 3 Initial Draft”, a pre-beta-reader version that’s dated January 23rd (wow, it’s really been that long, huh?). At this point, Kelli was still a Southern, African-American woman working in a run-down Texas Bar. All of this has since changed, and this scene no longer appears in the final version, but I still find it interesting. Hell, who knows, a changed version of this might appear in a future story. Without further ado…


1: A Tear in my Beer

The cowboy, Paul by name, said to Kelli, giving her a lopsided grin over his mug of Bud. “Now you know: protect your bits in the cold.”

She chuckled. “Most reasonable folks know that.”

“Well now, that just hurts my feelings,” he said.

“Does it now? You going to cry?” she said.

“I might, if you’re not nice to me.”

“I wouldn’t want to be responsible for making a cowboy cry, now, would I?”

He winked. “No, ma’am. Be nice to me. You wouldn’t like me when I’m sad.”

“Hell of a thing,” she said.

“Hell of a thing,” he agreed, and sat forward. “What’s fair is fair. Tell me the craziest thing ever happened to you.”

She considered the lanky stranger who sat across from her. She saw nothing special about him; he didn’t have anything that a hundred other men in her days since she’d walked into the tiny little Odessa, Texas bar and started slinging beer. Maybe a little taller, maybe a little more handsome, but did it make a difference? In the end he was another modern cowboy, come to town on a Thursday night from one of those ranches out near Goldsmith or Greenwood, ready to spend the week’s wages on a weekend bender.

“Think I should?” she said.

“Wouldn’t ask if I didn’t.”

She sighed. The damned thing was, no matter how hard she tried to convince herself, she did see something special in him. He had been special enough, at least, for her to let him wait until she’d closed the bar down; special enough to share a few brews with him.

Circumstances had hidden her from a lot of the bad things in the world for a long time, but she knew that staying in that bar with him alone, as an African American woman in West Texas, was probably not the brightest of all her ideas. Continue reading

I Gave a Speech: A Brief History of Me

I recently joined Toastmasters, as they opened a chapter at work and encouraged us to join for a pretty decent discount. My ears perked up when I heard about it because I’ve been looking to sharpen my public speaking skills and just get used to the concept for when I finally get around to doing some readings. Our first meeting was last month, and I decided to participate but not speak. Once I had a sense of the format, I jumped right in, volunteering to speak. Yesterday I finally gave my first speech and thought I’d share it with you.

You can click here to listen to an audio version; the text of this speech is below. Apologies for any issues with the sound levels. I need to get that reverb under control.


Good afternoon everybody. I’m excited to get the chance to speak to you and share some of my experiences outside of work, since I apparently come across as a quiet guy while I’m here. Don’t let appearances fool you, though! Ask my wife, family, and friends. They’ll let you know all about how much I can talk. I just have a pretty strong wall between my personal and professional life that probably needs to come down a bit, and this is my way of doing it. Continue reading

What is Horror? Baby Don’t Hurt Me

Welcome to my thrilling stop on the banner TESSpecFic blog tour, the tour that dares to ask: “What is Horror”? This all started about a week or so ago when our fearless founder, Marie Loughin, posed quite the question: Just what is horror, i.e., how do you define the genre, especially as it relates to dark fantasy and other related genres? She invited each of us to take our shots and examine the question from our perspectives. In the process, we would also get to see the views of our fellow Emissaries and respond in kind. I think it’s been quite the success thus far; lots of intelligent replies and  See the end of this post for the whole list of worthy posts. It’s been fun, illuminating, and above all, intelligent. I hope I can hang in with the other folks.

Before I look at what some others have said, I felt I should begin by examining my own history with the genre. My love affair with horror began at a very young age, when I saw movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Alien. This meant that, from a very young age, I associated horror with blood, guts, and physical distress. It wasn’t until I was older and a little more sophisticated that I discovered the other side of the coin, that psychological terror and dread that can be just as effective as the physical threats of slasher stories.

Don’t get me wrong, I think both are valid as measures of horror, and while the term “psychological horror” gets bandied around, to me, horror is horror – psychological or more overt. So if that’s the case, how can I call my own work dark fantasy rather than horror? I thought about it, and realized that, in my mind, horror is based in reality, if a slightly warped version of reality. Halloween? Implacable serial killer on the loose in a small town. Check. The Shining? What may or may not be a haunted hotel transforms a man into a monster. Oh hell yes, and this fits in well with Jaye Manus’s definition:

Even killing the monster does no good because the reader is left with the realization that the monster is inside us and never going away.

I like that definition, but I have to disagree with it as a broader definition of horror. It can certainly be an element, but I don’t think it’s a prerequisite. Horror is all about fear – and our fears are not all directed at our own failings or the failings of our fellow man. Fear of snakes, for instance, is a primal fear, and has been used effectively in horror. Anything that is charged with negative, fearful emotion – that is horror. The most skillful authors can tap into their own fears, ones that others may not necessarily share, and convey them in such a manner that they become frightful to others. I don’t share, for instance, Clive Barker’s apparent fear of bees, but Candyman conveys it so well that you dread them when they show up, even if it walks the fine line between DF and horror.

So, all that said: what is dark fantasy? Well, according to Paul Dail and the publishing industry, it’s a sub-genre of horror, which would still make me a horror writer. I’ve tentatively accepted that, but I still feel that there are some significant differences between horror as an overall genre and dark fantasy. For me, dark fantasy is all about creating new fears – things that you might not have considered – in the context of a new world. Dark fantasy allows the author to create more expansive horizons. Ultimately, I think Charles L. Grant, the man who is said to have first created the term, put it best: “a type of horror story in which humanity is threatened by forces beyond human understanding.” (from Wikipedia) That Wikipedia article also says that Grant “often used dark fantasy as an alternative to horror, as horror was increasingly associated with more visceral works”, and that is exactly what I am trying to say here – horror is about the known or knowable threat, dark fantasy is about the unknowable threat.

The unknowable threat has always fascinated me, which is why I love dark fantasy. What other hazards might there be out there in the universe, ones which we don’t currently understand, or may never understand? Those are the questions I seek to answer.

Here are the rest of the posts from my esteemed colleagues, with Penelope’s post still to come:

Marie Loughin – Wednesday, 9th May

Jaye Manus – Thursday, 10th May

Paul D. Dail – Friday, 11th May

Kim Koning – Saturday, 12th May

Aniko Carmean – Sunday, 13th May

Penelope Crowe – Tuesday, 15th May

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The Station is Here, and a Wild Sale Appears!

Today is the official release date for The Station, the prequel to both Corridors of the Dead and City of the Dead. I’m very excited to get this story out for people to read.

The Station is the first part of a two-part tale that gives the reader more information on both the Watcher Empire and the enigmatic group known as “Those Who Came Before”. This story is about Tammuz, a logician (read: librarian) for the Watchers’ great library who is fascinated by the distant past, and especially Those Who Came Before. The Watchers expunged the records of Those Who Came Before, but Tammuz has continued to search for oblique references to their lost culture. An organization known as Alma’s Acolytes discovers his mission and seeks him out, offering their knowledge. Together, the group decode a hidden trail in history, revealing that Those Who Came Before had left a city in Antarctica, whichTammuz’s people call “The Forbidden Lands”. Tammuz is sent to the Forbidden Lands to uncover the lost city and, more specifically, a hidden station within that city that conceals a mysterious artifact linking the past to the future. He knows that his mission – and the discovery that lies at the center of The Station – will change the world, but he doesn’t realize that it will also change the very core of his identity.

This story will eventually be part of City of the Dead, but I think it stands alone quite well. The sequel to this, focusing on the lost city before Those Who Came Before passed from the Earth, will be published at some point between the release of City of the Dead and Portal of the Dead, as those events are highly relevant to what occurs in the third book of the trilogy.

There’s just one problem with the story at the moment…this one shows up on Amazon as “Jonathan Allen”, not “Jonathan D. Allen”, so it’s a little tricky to find via Amazon at the moment. Thus, we see the hazards of posting a story late at night after two marathon editing sessions. Oh, well. With KDP’s slowness in getting the story to the official “publication” phase and claiming a book in author central, I can’t currently edit this to fix it, but it will be corrected ASAP. In the meantime, you can still purchase it here. I’m also working on a print version, as I think I can swing it, but I’ll update with more information as it becomes available.

But that’s not all! In addition to posting The Station, The Kayson Cycle is now free until Friday, and I’ve dropped the price of The Corridors of the Dead to 99 cents so you can experience both tales from the Among the Dead series for less than two bucks. I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to check out my fiction, so have at it!

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It’s Official: Room 3 Cover and Sample are Here!

I’m excited (if still a bit off my game) today. Why, you ask? Well, title says it all. The cover to Room 3 is finally ready to go, and I’m happy to show it to you.

Thanks go to Ryan of Novel Branding for another knockout cover. Dude knows his stuff. Here’s the current blurb:

Stolen away from the world she thought she knew by a shadowy organization, Kelli has accepted their warped version of reality; over and over, she is forced into a dream world, where she must unravel a mysterious song and free a hostage trapped in a giant tree. Long-term failure means only one thing: death.

Then came Carla. A new captive, the Organization treats her like royalty, hailing her as the key to their success.With Carla’s arrival comes better treatment and an unexpected side effect: visits from dead family and friends. One pleads with her to protect Carla, while the other leads her to question Carla’s motivations and her own role in the Organization.

Following a failed escape attempt, Kelli’s fragile existence begins to unravel and she learns that  even her most basic assumptions about her life, and the world itself, could all be false. As events spiral out of control, Kelli finds herself caught in a whirlwind battle between godlike beings who hold own fate, and that of the entire Organization, in their hands.

I’ve also posted a sample chapter on my Room 3 page, up top, so go ahead and check it out! I’d love to know what you think so far.

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One Level Deeper: Ten Genre-Defining Movies Pt 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Genre-Defining movies. As I said yesterday, this is my attempt to capture the movies that have influenced me to pursue whatever you want to call the genre that I’ve embraced. I’ve heard Weird Fiction, Slipstream Fiction, Paranormal Fiction, Supernatural Fiction, Dark Fantasy, and Urban Fantasy. I don’t know how to box it, I just know that I like it. So let’s continue…

5. Coraline. This is an odd one, I admit. It’s a children’s film, it’s animated, and doesn’t really fit in – superficially – with any of the other movies on this list. However, scratch the surface a bit, and you see that it follows the themes present in my own writing and this list: a girl who discovers that her view of reality doesn’t fully encompass all possibilities. The girl who’s an outsider in a world that she doesn’t understand, a world that is possibly based on her own psychological struggles (this isn’t fully clarified, I don’t feel – intentionally). When I saw this for the first time, it resonated with me and became one of my favorites, even for being a “children’s film”. I suppose it helps that Neil Gaiman was involved, but none of his non-graphic novel work has ever clicked for me, despite numerous attempts. This, however, did the trick.

4. JFK. Talk about going off the beaten path, but yes, this one counts. Taken from the point of someone who doesn’t buy the traditional conspiracy theory lore but is endlessly fascinated by them as examples of possible alternate realities, JFK was like dropping acid and finding myself in a hidden world that looked a lot like my own. It was an enormous fantasy film. Again, we see the person who finds himself adrift in a strange new place that resembles our own world. Toss into it a lot of the storytelling that bends reality with its interpretation of the truth, and I find it endlessly rewatchable. Do I believe in the theory that the film presents? Well, no, but I don’t think it matters. It’s an example, I feel, of taking a mythology and tweaking it to tell a compelling story. I also don’t like Kevin Costner, but he did a hell of a job with the film. Agree or disagree with the historical merits – to me, it’s beside the point. Look at it instead as a trip down an insane path.

3. Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Yes. I am one of the few people who enjoyed this movie. I know this will be a controversial choice, and I suppose it’s not a very good movie, especially following on from the first and not being connected in any way, but I felt it did a brilliant job of building tension. Compare what happens in this film to Lost Highway: what we’re viewing is the world through the shared perceptions of these characters, influenced by a character who has completely lost his mind. Consensus reality becomes untrustworthy, with the truth of the film told through the lens of the handheld camera. I get the hate for the movie, especially if you went in expecting something like the first movie and instead found an example of something that the first movie directly opposed. It’s also interesting that the studio apparently changed the movie to be less ambiguous than originally intended – that would have been really amazing. Regardless, I was enraptured, and I still watch it every now and then to see if I was crazy for liking it. I still enjoy it.

2. The Matrix. Couldn’t make this list without it. I don’t know what else to say about it – I’ve talked about it a lot here. It brings all the elements together, though. For more information, see my write-up on the first movie. This does not include the sequels at all.

1. Inception. This was a tough choice. For me, several movies fit into this slot – they’re all a jumble in my head. Pi would be one, though its production values make it hard to fit it into the top 10. Memento is a great example that’s parallel to Inception. Black Swan would fit in here as well, including Requiem for a dream. There’s just something about Darren Aronofsky and Christopher Nolan that have become entwined in my brain. Ultimately, though, I didn’t want to fill a list with all of those films, so I decided to choose one representative of this “slice” of the genre. In the end, I chose Inception because, while I know it has some problems and have seen people write it off, it so perfectly clicks on all of the themes that I’m talking about here. Again, we have the focus of the internal journey, being present in a world where consensus reality doesn’t apply. Ideas about the protagonist are constantly challenged. All of the themes come together here.

An additional word – I know some may question how those Aronofsky and Nolan films fit into this definition, especially Requiem. Think about Requiem, though.  The characters all descend into a fantasy world, a hell that is different from the consensus reality that most people experience. Just because addicts may experience that world as they bottom out doesn’t make it any less alien to the viewer. And of course there’s the warping of reality through their experiences and the addictions themselves.

I think that last brings me around to realize that the common thread is something that I’ve observed in others – that warping of reality that the brain can do in order to justify actions that would horrify most people. Perhaps the genre, to me, is an attempt to explore and understand how that happens. I think there could be worse goals.

That’s my list, though it’s pretty imperfect. The struggle is that there are so few movies that hit exactly what I’m talking about, so I’m looking forward to putting together a list of books that fire on these cylinders. That will be somewhere down the road. For now, I’d be interested in hearing about any possible additions to this canon for movies that I might want to check out.