The Tree in the Crop Circle

Morning, readers. First, an explanation. During the creation of every novel, I reach a point where I have to bear down and focus on that novel, saving my writing time and energies that are typically used on other items, such as regular blog posts. It seems that City of the Dead is reaching that tipping point.

So, good news and bad news. Good news is that the book is deep in serious development. Bad news is that posts will be limited to one or, at most, two at a week. This is why you haven’t seen many Friday posts lately and why I’ve been scarce on Twitter.

In that spirit, I’m going to run a series of Room 3 samples over the next month. In the following scene, the reader learns just what is entailed in “going to Room 3” when we see the protagonist, Kelli, doped up. Hope you enjoy.

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“Come on. Haven’t I been through enough?”

Barren paused, syringe held mid-air. “I’m sorry, but we have to do this. You’ll understand one day.”

He was right about that. One day I would understand. Wouldn’t like it, but I would understand. I didn’t know what to say, though. How do you argue with someone who believes that torture is doing the right thing?

Answer: you don’t.

He shook his head and moved the syringe toward my arm. “Now just a pinch.”

Pinch, my ass. It felt like the world’s biggest wasp had stung my arm. He pressed the plunger, injecting the full dose into me. I tasted something metallic and instantly became more aware of the air rushing into my ears.

I summed it up the best I could: “Whoa.”

He patted my shoulder. “That’s good. Just relax.” His voice echoed.

“Don’t have a choice…” I said. I couldn’t manage much more.

The next moment, the colors in the ball of light over my head kaleidoscoped, twirling into a brilliant mass that hung in mid-air. It expanded and the walls of the room melted away. Soon the chair went with it, taking its bonds, too. I stepped off of it before it vanished altogether, rubbing my wrists.

I gazed around me, getting my bearings, though I pretty much knew what I would see. As always, I stood in a giant crop circle in the center of the world’s largest field of corn, the sun beating down on me. I turned to look at the chair, but it had melted into the ground.

Something rustled in the corn. I whirled, but I knew who it would be before she even appeared. She always found me. “Mimi?”

A little girl appeared from between the rows, pushing the bottoms of the stalks apart. She had blue eyes, dark brown hair, and a smile that could just melt your heart – the kind of smile that never, ever survives into adulthood.

She cocked her head. “How’d you know my name?”

She always asked me that.

“We’ve met, but I’ve told you that before, too.”

She put her hands on her little hips. “How come I don’t remember you?”

“I think it’s this place. It always makes you forget.”

“I don’t like that.”

I looked around. “I don’t like it much, either. But don’t worry about it. I’m here.”

Wheels turned in her head. “But why are you here?”

No clue how to answer that one. “You’re looking for something, right?”

She nodded.

I leaned down, putting my hands on my knees. “What are you looking for, sweetheart?” I already knew the answer, but this had gone down a certain path forever, and the show had to go on.

She rubbed her eyes. “Cici’s gone. I can’t find her.”

Cici. The girl forever searched for Cici. I had no idea if she even existed. “Now where did you last see your sister?” I said.

Her eyes widened, like I’d shown her the secret of the universe. “We did meet, didn’t we, that’s how you know about Cici?”

I nodded. “Where did you see her last?” Knew the answer to this one, too.

She pointed over my shoulder. “There.”

I knew what I’d see when I turned. I’d seen it so many times that I’d even started to see it in my dreams. It didn’t matter, though. Every single time I turned to gaze on it, it knocked me on my proverbial butt: an enormous, gnarled tree, soaring up into the sky. This wasn’t just any tree, though. Somebody had carved a wooden organ out of the trunk, with two levels of wooden keys and wooden pipes rising out of the higher reaches.

The largest keyhole you’ve ever seen had been connected to that organ, its details carved right into the trunk, between the keys and the pipes.

“She’s locked in there, isn’t she?” I’d lived this nightmare so many times I had lost count, but this little detail got my heart pounding each time. To be locked away in solid oak, unable to escape –

“How do we get her out?” Mimi said.

That question. Always that question.

“I think we have to play the right notes to open the lock and get her out,” I said, but I couldn’t be certain.

Mimi’s brow furrowed. “Do you know what to play?”

I sighed. “No. But I can try.” Endless tries and just as many sleepless nights, and I hadn’t come any closer to figuring out the song than the first night that they put me under.

“Oh, please, you have to. She can’t live for long in the tree.”

“I know.”

I strode to the tree and stood before it, holding my hands over the wooden keys. I’d only ever seen organs in magazines before I started having this vision, and while you might think that it’s similar to playing a keyboard or piano, there are some key differences that had been throwing me off from the very beginning, and I couldn’t afford a single mistake.

I swallowed hard, stared at the carved wooden keys for a moment, and then glanced at Mimi.

She gave me a lopsided smile and a tentative thumbs-up.

Ringing endorsement.

I leaned over the keys. Did I feel ready to go?

Not at all, but might as well get this over with.

I played the portion of the first verse that I had worked out. The notes sounded clear as always, if a little bass-heavy. My stomach tensed as I played, approaching that dreaded unknown section.

My fingers froze when I reached the end of that first verse. I knew that if I could just get the first few notes of that next section started, the rest would flow from me. The damned thing had gotten backed up in my soul – could that be a bridge, a chorus, or something else entirely? There should be lyrics, too, but they refused to come to mind.

“A Minor?” I murmured, and hit the key.

Mimi groaned behind me. “Oh no, missy, oh no.”

I turned to look at her. “What?”

She didn’t need to answer; the answer came from overhead. It came as a great whoosh from the leaves caught fire, spreading into a curtain of red and orange that filled the sky above me. I screamed and fell backwards, but in those few seconds the intense heat had already baked most of my skin. My nerve endings blazed – I couldn’t imagine such pain, it had never been so bad, not ever. I could feel my eyelids melting down over my eyes, darkening my view of my arms and the nightmare unfolding on my flesh.

I screamed and screamed as the world went dark. My world became nothing but pure, unending pain.

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Room 3 Week: Day 2 – The Characters

Welcome back, folks. Glad you’re joining me again. As I said yesterday, Room 3 is releasing on November 12th, which means just six more days until you can read it on your favorite e-reader (savvy customers wishing to purchase a print copy can find a place to do so now *cough cough*). Yes, that means that, unlike my minor releases, this one is going to be multi-platform. Amazon has done enough for me to feel I need to diversify in my reader base. I may, in fact, switch my focus toward Smashwords in the near future. Still mulling that. But we’re not here to discuss sales and promotion. We’re here to talk story!

Room 3 revolves around three central characters, with a varied supporting cast. Today I’m going to talk about those three characters.

Kelli Foster is the protagonist and narrator. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Kelli has wanted to be a singer and songwriter for most of her life. The earliest events in Room 3 occur when she is tending bar at a dive in Boston, helping to pay her bills while she works to achieve some sort of breakthrough with her music. She lives close to the bar, so it’s just a short walk home after closing each night – a walk that is generally fairly safe. On that night, she encounters a seemingly familiar man who is encountering car trouble. He convinces her to hand over her cellphone and, in the process, knocks her out. She awakens in a cabin known as the Khesnaa, and the events of Room 3 truly get underway.

She and her initial roommate, Gina, are shot up with an unknown hallucinogenic drug and endure bizarre visions where they must unravel mysteries related to their creative gifts. Kelli, in particular, is expected to solve a musical puzzle to free an unknown captive.

Kelli begins the story as a cautious, though generally trusting woman who sometimes allows her ambition and drive to blind her to her surroundings. As events in the Khesnaa progress, she is transformed first into a bitter woman, distrustful of anyone and everything and then into a determined, savvy person who dares to fall in love even in the face of utter nihilism.

Kelli falls for Samarta, the night watchman, who has a lot more in common with the two captives than either expect at first. I’ll talk more about Sam shortly, but for now, here’s a key scene between the two of them.

I stopped in front of him, hands on my hips, cocking my head. “You’re an interesting fellow, Samarta.”

 

“I think of myself as the opposite. But thank you.” He cleared his throat. “You said we needed to speak…?”

 

“Oh, you’re no fun. Right down to business, huh?”

 

“I, uhm, suppose that is the best.” He shifted.

 

“Have you seen anything weird around here?” I said.

 

He walked over to the old wooden couch that sat before the monitors and plopped down on one of the ratty plaid cushions. He dangled one arm over the side. “Everything about this place is strange. You will need to narrow this down for me.”

 

I sighed. “I don’t know how to ask you without sounding crazy.”

 

He rubbed his chin. “Interesting.”

 

I walked to his side. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“All of this –” He swept his arm across the room – “And you worry about appearing insane.”

 

Yeah, why was that?

 

Could be that you care what he thinks. Could be. That sounded a lot like Momma’s voice, floating around in my head. That was just what I needed.

 

“I’ve got a reputation to protect. Can’t have word getting around, you know?” I said.

 

He smiled. At that moment, I couldn’t remember if I’d seen him smile before, but it made me a little light-headed. “Of course. I would never harm a good woman’s reputation. Please. Tell me your concerns.”

 

“First, you have to promise that you won’t think I’m crazy.”

 

He waved a hand. “Of course. I would never think you crazy.”

 

I bit my lip. All right. Here goes. “Have you…seen people who shouldn’t be here?”

 

His body went rigid, his expression turning very serious. “What have you seen? Intruders?”

 

I held up my hands. “Whoa, calm down, chief. I don’t mean I’ve seen people like that. I mean…you know…”

 

He raised his eyebrows. “I am afraid I do not understand.”

 

Damn it, he just couldn’t make it easy, could he? Fine.

I’d go out on that limb. Dead people.”

Carla is key to the events in the Khesnaa; her arrival at the Khesnaa marks a turning point in Kelli’s life and represents the culmination of the Organization’s plans. Carla is also a Boston area native, but last remembers being in DC when the Organization nabbed her and brought her to the cabin. Thrown into the experiments almost from her arrival at the cabin, she is pushed harder and farther than Kelli has ever been pushed. Her visions are less puzzles and more a nightmarish melange of traumatic events from her history, pointing to her much larger purpose within the project.

Carla and Kelli develop something of an uneasy truce; paranoia drives both to play their cards close to their chest and eventually becomes an obstacle to their continued survival. In the end, however, a profound discovery about their pasts brings them together, with Carla fiercely defending Kelli.

Carla’s voice jarred me. “So what’s the deal with you two?”

 

“Thought you were going to sleep.” I crossed the room and sat at the Korg, facing her.

 

“I am. But if you think I can sleep without knowing the story between you two, you’re crazy.”

 

“There’s no story to tell. He’s the only decent one of the lot. He was there when Gina died, and we’ve been friendly ever since.”

 

She scoffed. “You don’t look at him like a friend. He didn’t exactly look at you like one, either.”

 

“I don’t follow you.”

 

“Right. Tell me another lie.”

 

“Your choice whether you believe me. I can’t prove a negative.” Her questions hit on the nose, as usual, and her persistence was going to drive me crazy. I turned to the keyboard, hoping she’d shut up.

 

Alas, no such luck. “I don’t think it’s messed up or anything. It’s not like he kidnapped us. My old man used to tell me, ‘you see something you want, you need to go grab it’. I figure that goes double here.”

 

I didn’t look back at her. “That your inspirational speech?”

 

“I guess so.”

 

“Well, thanks, Oprah. It means a lot. Gayle here has to do some work now.” I plunked a few keys. “Am I going to bother you?”

 

“I don’t think so. Way I feel, I could sleep through a war.”

 

“Good. Get some rest. We can talk more in the morning.”

Samarta. Finding a photo to match this guy is near-impossible. Samarta is tall, incredibly pale, and bald, with a stoic demeanor and a heavily muscled body. the picture on the left is the only thing that even approaches his appearance.

Samarta is a tribesman with a troubled past, held hostage and forced to work for the Organization with his family held as collateral. Sam, as he’s called, believes in doing the right thing in all circumstances, no matter what the cost – though this is a result of having sold out his principles with horrific consequences.

Sam and Kelli connect almost from the beginning, as Sam sees a reflection of his own hopelessness in Kelli’s false bravado and cynicism. In some ways, he hopes that by protecting and rescuing her he can make up for the terrible mistakes that cost him his family.

Now there was a nasty little surprise. But should it have been? He had pulled his hand away from mine so quickly. I wondered if he had been thinking of her. I turned to him, my mouth open wide. “Since when do you have a wife?”

 

He blinked. “Since long before my arrival.” He waved a hand. “This is not important.”

 

“No, this is important. Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“It was never any of your concern.”

 

“Maybe not, but I thought we were friends,” I said.

 

“We are not friends. Friendly, perhaps –”

 

Like a kick in the teeth. It put some fire in my words. “Well, that’s great to know. I’m sure glad I shared about my life with you, then. Good to know you can’t reciprocate now before…”

 

“Before what?” he said.

 

Carla’s eyes swung back and forth between the two of us. I worried she might get the wrong idea about us, that we were falling for each other or something. Heaven forbid that.

 

I waved a hand. “Guess what? It’s not important.”

 

He looked at me a moment longer. I wanted him to burn up inside, to know the irritation that scratched the back of my mind.

There are some other fun characters, such as Maple and Zito, but I’ll get to those in due time.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the locations in the novel, because the story happens in a lot more places than just a solitary cabin.

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Room 3 Week: Day 1- The Concept

You may or may not have heard that my next book is releasing next Monday, a week from today, 11/12/12. This one has been quite the difficult child to birth. As a way of celebrating and working out the demons left from its creation, I thought I’d set aside a week to share information about the book with you. Next week, I’m going to have a massive blowout with prizes and ways for you to interact with each other and the story. For now, think of these as “bonus features”.

The Room 3 that you’ll be reading soon is a complex tale revolving around two (well, really three) women who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. The protagonist, Kelli, is an aspiring R&B singer/songwriter who works a steady job as a bartender. One night as she’s walking home from the bar, a man asks to use her cellphone and, as she hands it over, knocks her out. She wakes up in a remote cabin, where she’s forced into strange experiments involving unknown hallucinogenic drugs and an increasingly unstable roommate. The central dilemma of the novel revolves around Kelli’s definition of and desire for freedom, as well as the insecurity of her worldview and knowledge about herself. I can’t delve too deeply into it without giving away too much, but look for a spoiler-riffic post soon called “Piercing the Veil” that will give you more details if you don’t care about spoilers.

We learn about Kelli’s experience in the cabin through her journal entries. These entries detail Kelli’s life after the experiment as she tries to find her way in the world, all the while eluding capture by the same Organization that locked her away and shot her full of drugs. This portion of Kelli’s life contains further revelations that shine a new light on her time in the cabin.

This version of Room 3 looks very different from my original concept, however. Room 3 initially begin with a rather simple concept: what would Videodrome look like if you created it today?

For those who aren’t familiar with the film Videodrome, the president of a UHF television station discovers a signal broadcasting from (allegedly) Malaysia that shows the brutal torture and murder of innocent victims. Fascinated and thinking that he might have stumbled upon the next big thing, the man becomes addicted to the show and finds himself drawn into an increasingly complex web of organizations responsible for the broadcast. He also discovers that the signal contains a carrier frequency that can cause deadly brain tumors in viewers, creating strange bodily hallucinations that may or may not be based in reality. Seriously, if you’re into strange horror, it’s worth a go.

But the idea itself fascinated me – today you can see any manner of gore and murder videos online if you know where to look, so the concept of Videodrome itself is dated and somewhat tame. So, I thought, what if people stumbled across an ultra-secret site maintained by a victim herself? Somehow she has managed to get enough of a signal to maintain this site (perhaps even by threat of force from those holding her), and in the process coding information about her location that reaches into the brain of the receiver without her even knowing it.

So I crafted the beginning of a novel on this concept…and then found that while the concept seemed to work “on paper”, ON PAPER it became something quite different. No matter what configurations I pursued, suspension of disbelief became difficult even for myself. Here’s a sample of that first draft:

Exhaling and shaking his head, Kenny swiveled in his office chair, meeting the eyes of his friend (friends first, friends always, he told Noah) and coworker. “It’s something, ain’t it?’

 

God, what the hell do I say to that, Noah thought. Why me?

 

Noah was a study in contrast to his stocky, tow-headed buddy. Tall and lean, with a sculpted, angular face, he tried hard not to accentuate the differences between the two of them, but Kenny always managed to make it damned hard on him. Today, for instance. He couldn’t help but stare at Kenny’s fresh blue Han Shot First t-shirt.

 

Must have picked it up at the Con last weekend. Ugh.

 

“Yeah, something,” he said, and averted his gaze a few seconds too late, scanning the cube in a futile attempt to keep from meeting those eager, searching brown eyes.

Kenny smirked and grinned. “I know, sweet shirt, right?”

 

“That’s telling him, all right,” Noah said.

 

Kenny pumped his fist. “I know, right? But come on man,” he said, and swept the fist toward his monitors. “What do you think?”

 

Noah cleared his throat and said, “ah, well, I think it’s quite a story.”

 

Yeah. That’s the ticket. Quite a story.

 

He ran the back of his thumb over his lips as his wandering eyes at last settled on Kenny’s pair of obnoxious monitors and the dark blog that sat open on the right-hand screen. Anything to avoid Kenny’s eyes. He knew they’d be pleading for his approval and he just didn’t have the strength today.

 

“That’s all you’ve got? Come on, you’ve gotta have something more than that. I read this site until like five in the morning. I pounded Bawls for you, dude!”

 

“Sounds like a personal lifestyle choice, my man.”

 

“Oh, hah hah. Very funny.” Continue reading

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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