Whimsy Preview: Inner Strength

DWACOW low rezClick here to read the previous entry in this blog series: Able-Bodied.

Inner Strength (subtitled for this collection “A Rebecca Burton Short Story” referencing the recurring character of my paranormal thriller series) was the second story written for Strange, Weird and Wonderful magazine. Whereas the first time, Able Bodied was selected from a slush pile, this time D.L. Russell invited me to write an original story for an issue in which I would be featured. Being a naturally humble person, I took him up on his invitation immediately.

This is also the only story where I recorded an audio version of me reading the entire thing. I have no idea where that file is now, and thinking back, I’m fine with it being lost forever. Few things are more awkward than trying to read a bedroom scene that you wrote yourself. Now you know.

The story was later reprinted in the magazine’s Best of collection A Big Book of Strange, Weird and Wonderful, Volume II. I am very proud to have been a part of that magazine’s short history and lament its passing. Fortunately, D.L. continues his efforts as the editor in chief of Black Books Publishing and as a brilliant author in his own right. I look forward to seeing what’s next for him.

Setup: This scene is the second one in the story. Todd Burton had his daughter “Becky” Burton for Halloween overnight as part of his visitation arrangement, and it’s the next morning. (During the first scene, Becky dances to a Fiddle Dee-Dee song and that’s not the last time you’ll hear about Dee n this series) He must now drop her off at his ex wife’s house, and as he does so, he is wallowing on his failed marriage and current circumstances.

Artwork that introduced the story in the Winter 2011 issue of SWW
Artwork that introduced the story in the Winter 2011 issue of SWW

Todd Burton maneuvered the van down the narrow side streets of their neighborhood. Her neighborhood. He had not so much as stepped up to the front door in eleven months, but he still often thought of it as their home.
If this was still our home, I wouldn’t be dropping Rebecca off in front of the house and heading on to run errands on my own. I’d gather everyone up and we’d head off to a movie, just the three of us.
He shook his head, clearing the melancholy. He spent little enough precious time with his daughter, and he hated when runaway thoughts dampened that time. He adjusted the reflector attached to the rearview mirror, allowing him to look all the way to the back of the van. Rebecca no longer sat in the middle row of seats. Since the separation, she preferred to go all the way to the back of the van, the couch-like seat at the rear, and stretch along its entirety, eyes locked on her video screen.

Rebecca caught his gaze upon her and smiled. She wiggled her fingers lazily at him and returned her attention to the game in progress.
At least she seems happy. He pulled up, parallel to the curb, and stared across the lawn to the modern suburban home. Two stories, three bedrooms, plus a loft, the perfect home in which to grow a family.

Todd sighed. He just wished he knew what he could do to change things. He heard the words, heard the excuses, watched the love of his life shake her head and shrug. “I just don’t love you anymore.” How does that even happen?
He always figured there was someone else, though he never saw any indication, and Rebecca never revealed anything about a new “Daddy” in her life. But the alternative—that their life together was a lie from the start—was too devastating to face.

BB2SiteSmallCover  Todd released a deep breath, swung open the driver’s side door, and stepped onto the street. His gaze traveled across the front porch, over the driveway. The gray Ford Taurus sat peacefully in the two-car driveway, the usual oil stains spotting up the pavement of the space next to it, without so much as a telltale drop of fluid or tire track to indicate the comings and goings of someone new.
Eyes still on the house, he stopped in front of the passenger door and popped it open. He thought perhaps the blinds behind the windows shook just a bit, indicating someone inside had noticed their arrival. He braced himself to hear the familiar voice of his soon-to-be-ex wife offer some sort of awkward greeting from the porch.

Todd flashed back to another time, long ago, when Olivia normally drove the “Errand Runner,” a name Todd had affectionately dubbed the reconditioned green van during one of his geekier moments. Settling into the passenger seat, Todd channeled his best Harrison Ford voice. “Firing up the sublight engines on the Errand Runner, honey.” Olivia would roll her eyes and shake her head, inserting the key and waking up the grumpy engine, but she always flashed him an affectionate smile that warmed his heart. The same smile that made him fall in love with her in the first place.

Now, Todd waited for Rebecca to emerge, knowing she needed a few extra seconds to disengage herself from her Nintendo DS, but time stretched beyond the norm. Annoyed, he called into the dark quiet of the van. “Come on, Rebecca, save your game and let’s go!”

He knocked insistently against the solid steel siding, knowing the noise would penetrate her concentration, even through headphones. He listened for any answer.

Silence.

“Becky?” The silence alarmed him. No thumping of feet from the back of the van, no telltale “bleeping” of electronic noise to indicate the obvious preoccupation of his little “nerd in the making.” Not even her usual cry for patience, “I’m saving, Daddy!”

“Hey, string bean, save and quit, girl! Now.” Though relatively roomy, Todd hated struggling his 6’2” and 240 lbs of bulk around the middle row to the back of the van. Maybe she just didn’t hear me? Did she fall asleep? Maybe she found it a bit too comfortable today.

Todd placed a foot onto the first step and shoved his head into the compartment for an un-obscured view to the back.

Or so he thought.

Instead of the back seat, he saw a fantastic, unreal image—and froze.
Hovering in mid-air was a large, gaping “maw” of a portal, surrounded by a border of green glowing energy. The wavering oval gaped open about four feet high and perhaps two feet wide, encompassing what looked like the mouth of a cave, lit from within.

Click here to go to the Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy order page.
Click to continue to Whimsy Preview: Backstage Pass (A Rebecca Burton Short Story)

Whimsy Preview: Fade

DWACOW low rezClick here to see the introduction to this series.

Click here to see the first post in this series: Whimsy Preview: The Assurance Salesman

By the time “Fade” was picked up by James W. Kirk to run in Indiana Science Fiction Anthology 2011, the story already had a long and interesting history.

Fade was directly inspired by an obscure, quirky song by Cyndi Lauper, released on the obscure, quirky album Blue Angel. At the time, the release was difficult to track down (this was the 80s, it’s easy to find now) and I did so only after years of searching. Here is the song posted on YouTube. So inspired, I wrote the story for a college assignment, stuck it in a drawer, and forgot about it for several years.

Cyndi and Mary Kay, with me  unaware I was in the shot, circa 2002.  The envelope under Ms Lauper's arm contains Fade.
Cyndi and Mary Kay, with me unaware I was in the shot, circa 2002. The envelope under Ms Lauper’s arm contains Fade.

Advance to 2001. I met one of the most amazing ladies in the universe, by which I mean Mary Kay Woolsey, not Cyndi Lauper, though I met her, too, because of this. MK was battling cancer, and, frankly, a number of shitty circumstances in her life. Several fans banded together to launch an archaic and labor intensive version of what would now be a Kickstarter campaign, about a decade before the platform was in place to make it easy. For my contribution, I partnered with artists Kathy and Roberto Campus and “self-published” Fade to fans as a “gift with purchase” to anyone who donated $25 or more.

IMG_1106By “self-published,” I mean I took a few sheets of paper, folded them in half and stapled the middle. (Hey, free gift with donation, whaddaya want?) Dig that booklet with snazzy Kathy Campus (now Kathy Sweeny) art. In any case, our combined efforts raised $1,600 for MK (Cyndi herself donated some autographed 45 singles because she’s awesome that way) MK recovered and she’s alive, well, and still one of the most amazing ladies in the universe.

I was fortunate to get Roberto Campus on this project. He has since gone on to rock it pretty hard with mad art skills, as you can see here on his website.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the short version. So anyway, back to why you’re here.

The setup: Anna Blue is visiting her parents over Thanksgiving break. She brings the boyfriend home to meet the parents, and is also hiding a recreational drug habit. Said boyfriend Spencer Blake is floundering about being loyal to her or holding an intervention. During a fight about this very issue, Spencer and Anna literally fall into her father’s basement laboratory.

Image of the original booklet with artwork by Roberto Campus
Image of the original booklet with artwork by Roberto Campus

Her eyes opened. “Ohhhh … what happened?” She tried to rise.
Spencer placed a hand on her shoulder, pressing gently. “Wait. Make sure you’re not dizzy.”
“Honestly, I’m all right.”

He helped her to her feet. She smiled and put her arms around his neck.
“My hero,” she murmured. She pulled his face down to meet hers. He gave her a quick kiss, then pulled away.

“No, you’re not all right.” He pulled her hands apart and stood, separating them.
“What’s wrong? Why are you angry?”
“Why shouldn’t I be?” He turned and glared at her. “This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for your antics.”

“I’m sorry, okay? What do you want from me? I just needed something to take the edge off.”
Spencer swore and turned back toward the steps.
“Don’t tell my parents, Spence. Please. Just give me a little time and help me.”

He turned toward her. “I’m trying to help you. I just don’t know if I can keep doing this by myself.”
Anna nodded, dismissing the subject. She glanced around the shop, eyeing the tools. He waited for any indication she really cared about herself, that she knew she was in trouble. But instead she simply looked distracted.

“Y’know, I’ve only been down here once or twice. Weird he left it open. He’s usually careful about locking it.”
“If that’s the case, we should go. They’re expecting us, and I don’t think you want to be caught down here.”

“Hey, what’s this?” She reached down and picked up a helmet made of reflective blue metal from the edge of the workbench. It resembled some sort of hardhat, complete with a dangling chinstrap. As Anna shifted the helmet in her hands, Spencer noted some sort of circuitry on the inside casing.

Art by Roberto Campus
She raised the helmet and placed it on her head. Art by Roberto Campus

Seeing her rummage through her father’s private work sent a new surge of anger through him. “Let’s go.” If she wasn’t allowed down here, she was going too far. He considered tossing her over his shoulders and bodily carrying her upstairs.
Shrugging in obvious defiance, she raised the helmet and placed it on her head.
He rolled his eyes at her petulance, and wondered if she’d actually taken some of the drugs before he caught her.

She stared back at him, a silly grin on her face. Maybe she hit her head after all.
He sighed, biting back words of mounting frustration. “There. Happy now? You’re wearing it. It’s too big for you anyway.”

“But what is it? Is Daddy inventing a new game, or a tool to punch holes in the wall—” She stabbed her finger at the drywall behind her. A sharp popping noise assaulted their ears, and a moment later they both stared, dumbfounded, at a wide gaping hole in the wall.

“Oh, no,” Anna squeaked.

Nice! She broke something! “That’s it! I’ve had enough.” Spencer slammed his fists into the work table. Sudden pain fueled his anger. “Screw this. You wanna keep playing games, do it without me.” He stormed up the stairs.
——
Next Posting in the series: Able Bodied
Click here to go to the dedicated ordering page of Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy.

NEW EVENT This Saturday Brownsburg Library

Displayed a the Sterling Butterfly
Displayed a the Sterling Butterfly

This Saturday from 10 AM to Noon I’ll be with many other local authors at the Brownsburg Public Library at 450 S. Jefferson Street, west of Indy, for their second annual author fair! I’ll be signing and selling my paranormal trilogy. 10% of all sales during this event goes to the Brownsburg Public Library Friends of the Library Group.

Also present will be my talented friends John F. Allen, Matthew Barron, Crystal Leflar, Roberta Hoffer, and many more. But I’m most anxious to meet you!

Book prices for this event only are:
Haunting Blue $16
Haunting Obsession $13
Virtual Blue $16
The Fabulous Lost Sole Ghosties $5

10468076_813484258661839_5960947186833888854_nCash and credit accepted.

Autographs are, as always, free and worth every penny you pay.

John Allen and I are sharing a table at this event. So you can get your ghosts, demons, vampires and werewolves all in one place. Hope to see you there!!

Inconjunction Recap

10519651_826374600706138_2230090658348255553_nNOTE: due to preparations for last week’s all encompassing Blog Tour, this post-con report is two weeks late.

Rarely have I been so excited about a convention, and I know I’ve never put in as much pre-planning into an event as I did for Inconjunction weekend this past July 4-6.

I teamed up with my author buddies John F. Allen, Matthew Barron and Eric Garrison. (Also thanks to David Jobe for helping man the booth for parts of Saturday).  We put the extra effort and expense into splitting costs for a vendor booth, displayed an array of book titles, doo-dads, and nail polish (yes, nail polish!) and went for it in a big way.

And then there were panels. My first was with Eric Garrison and con co-guest of honor Kat Falls in a lively discussion on Book Trailers. Throughout the weekend, I participated on no less than three panels on genre TV and movies (and met a very enthusiastic Mike Suess!), and was part of the candlelight horror reading, where I premiere a new work in progress weird western to great response. I also heard a very impressive reading by a Mr. Jeff Seymour. I plan to keep an eye on this guy, and you should, too!

On top of that, the four of us along with our booth neighbor Crystal Leflar teamed together under the banner Speculative Fiction Guild to run two open mini-workshops designed to offer some structural writing advice for the beginner. Both of these were well attended and received enthusiastically.

We were not without a few bumps in the road (literally and figuratively). John arrived two days post-food poisoning and needed part of Friday to recover, but he quickly got back on track, and brought his knowledge of all things comic books in time for the panel. Saturday night proved a comedy errors. In trying to re-create a local dining experience from a year ago with Kathy Watness and Loconeal‘s James Barnes, we found that, not only didthe Chinese restaurant we target closed for the holiday, but so did our second choice, and ended up at choice number three, an El Jaripeo near Washington Square (very good however!). On returning to the hotel, police cars zipped along 21st and Shadeland, past our vehicle, going full speed, while John valiantly navigated construction and each need to pull over, during which at least a dozen cars passed us! (We found out later they were going toward the tragic east side shooting.)

Check out my Facebook photos of Inconjunction!

As convention crowds went, I’d call it a mid-sized group, but an enthusiastic group, eager to talk, and when all was said and done, also eager to support our efforts by visiting our booth and taking home some books!

I can honestly say I’ve never had such an exhausting weekend, but the results were well worth it. Inconjunction was a blast. I’m starting the countdown to next year!

 

Haunting Obsession Success!

photoThe 99 cent promotion has moved a lot of Haunting Obsession ebooks in the past three days. Not only am I seeing positive spikes on the impossible-to-comprehend Amazon bar charts they make available to authors for endless head-scratching confusion, but just a few minutes ago I discovered that the book has officially cracked the Amazon Top 100 Bestselling Ghost Fiction chart at #89! Please continue to spread the word…let’s see how far we can take this!

Thank you very much for all your support. This would not have been possible without my readers and fans.

As part of the Seventh Star Press Spring Fling, the ebook of Haunting Obsession is available for 99 cents for a limited time! If you haven’t gotten yours yet, read the details here!

Photo afterglow from Saturday’s Author Fair

With "Virtual Blue" Nikki Howard!
With “Virtual Blue” Nikki Howard!

The drive was smooth and the weather perfect (though I’m glad I remembered my sunscreen) for the Fourth Annual Author’s Fair at That Book Place! But enough about me, if a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a novella to check out!

Click here to access my Facebook photo album of the event.

Spooky Author Book Bag Benefit Raffle to benefit MAP during Arts in the Park

DSCN1678This Saturday, the Mooresville Arts Partnership is re-launching Arts in the Park, an annual all day festival exhibiting and celebrating all aspects of art expression in the area. Local author R.J. Sullivan  has ask for “a little help from his friends” and gotten it from, dark fiction authors John F. Allen, Matthew Barron, Nicole Cushing,  and Crystal Leflar to instruct beginning-level writer’s workshops for all ages. Read all the details and sign up for a workshop time here!

We’ll also hold an all-day raffle at our canopy for a “Spooky Book Bag” of our work–$1 per ticket gets  you one chance to win a set of books valued at over $60 without signatures–and the authors will sign and personalize each book on request.

This way, you can personalize a book for every horror reader on your gift list–or have all the books signed to you and keep them–we won’t tell.

To enter, find the Horror Authors Canopy. Raffle tickets are $1 each. Enter as often as  you like. For each ticket you buy, we need your name and phone number (preferably a cell phone number you will be carrying with you at 5:30 that day, the time of the drawing) on the half  you leave in the raffle.

Some notes:

  • Everyone who participates in the writer workshops earns one free ticket for the raffle. Children must have the ticket filled out by a parent.
  • 100% of all proceeds go to MAP.
  • We’ll draw the winner following the 4 p.m. workshop, so some time after 5 p.m.
  • All tickets will be discarded responsibly. Tickets are to contact the winner. The rest will be destroyed.
  • Books will be “flat signed” unless the winner requests personalization. This will allow the authors to personalize books intended as gifts.
  • Parents take note: The books in the raffle and at the vendor tent contain adult content. We’ll do our best to sell responsibly, but we’re not going to card, nor will we judge what you let your kid read.

The Spooky Book Bag in detail. Links take  you to the Amazon page:

The God Killers by John F. Allen; Secular City Limits by Mattthew Barron; We Are Dust and Death to the Brothers Grimm, both with a story by Crystal Leflar; Haunting Obsession by R.J. Sullivan–and maybe more! Plus bookmarks and other doodads.

These books and more can be purchased all day at the vendor tent! Authors will be around to sign all day.

Haunting Writing Exercise

Haunting Obsession Lo RezHere, re-posted for your consideration, is a writing exercise I composed this morning in one of my writer’s groups. A bit of metafiction whimsey and proof that while Haunting Obsession has been out for several months, Maxine isn’t done haunting me yet. (Yes, at the  mentioned moment, two men stood just outside our open conference room door and proceeded to have a conversation.)

I stared at the laptop screen; the blank white surface stared back, screaming intimidation.

I glanced at the clock, mulling over the exercise, thinking, Wow, Steve, that’s a bit of a tall order. An evocative scene, using all five senses, simple words, and you want us to read it at the end of the hour? Really?

582152_10151060950622591_1149631412_nBehind me, I felt her lean against my shoulders, her breathy whisper in my ear sending a responsive shiver down my spine. “So, what’cha doing R.J.?”

I turned and looked behind me. There was Maxine Marie, the glamorous Hollywood ghost, the late great shapely gorgeous blonde, grinning for me and only me.

Still, I didn’t appreciate the timing. “Maxine, what are you doing here…now?”

Her bottom lip protruded, and she looked down at her feet. “Oh, look at Mister Serious Author, turning all grumpy-puss. As if I have any control over when I enter your mind.”

Art by Nell Williams.
Art by Nell Williams.

She turned and sat on the table, seated on her shapely bottom between myself and the new woman. Her body phased right through the chair, as ghosts tend to do.

It was fine, I could still see through her to the end of the room. A hint of vanilla lavender perfume drifted toward me. (Vanilla lavender? Sure, why not.)

“So,” said Maxine into the air, her nails tap-tap-tapping a quick rhythm on the tabletop. “You’re supposed to write to the five senses. What can we write about?”

I glared down, her nails, still ticking out their rapid tempo, the rhythm rapidly ratcheting on my last nerve. “Would you stop doing that please?”

She looked down, flashed an abashed grin, and folded her hands in her lap. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

2012, with RJ and "Maxine Marie" from Haunting Obsession.
2012, with RJ and “Maxine Marie” from Haunting Obsession.

“So how many have we covered?” she asked. I started looking over my draft. “Not sure. I wish those two guys out in the hallway would stop talking so we would concentrate on the assignment.”

Maxine nodded. “No kidding. Hey!” She offered a mischievous grin. “Want me to go out and scare them?”

I considered. I knew I should be filled with alarm, the very idea jolting my body so I could describe all sorts of abnormal sensations for this writing exercise, but my heart just wasn’t in it.

Truthfully, the thought of her walking through the wall, appearing between them while donning thick black glasses, hissing a librarian-like “shhhhh……” and then vanishing into thin air gave me the giggles.

Art by Bonnie Wasson.
Art by Bonnie Wasson.

But…I shook my head. “No, better not.”

“Oh, poo. You’re no fun.”

I reached for my blue travel coffee mug and took a sip, the tepid liquid, two hours past its prime, left a bitter aftertaste.

Maxine nodded. “Nicely done, sneaking in the sense of taste.”

I smiled at the compliment. “Thanks!”

I drummed my fingers lightly across the black keys in a repetitive motion, trying to think where else to take this scene.

“Hey, Mister,” she chastised. “Now who’s being annoying?”

I stopped. “Sorry.”

Maxine’s gaze lifted, settling on the clock, which showed quarter ’til.

Lily Monstermeat as Maxine Marie.
Lily Monstermeat as Maxine Marie.

“Think you have enough?”

“Sure. Thanks, Maxine.”

“Don’t mention it. Talk to you soon, RJ.” And she vanished.

Learn more about Maxine Marie and Haunting Obsession at this link.

 

R.J. Sullivan Context 24 Panel Schedule

Complete Context 24 Panel Schedule for R.J. Sullivan
August 26-28, 2011, at the Doubletree Hotel in  Columbus OH.
www.contextsf.org

It’s now officially less than two week before the Context SF Con, and I’ve just received my panel schedule, which I’m anxious to share with you all. I’ll be discussing some fascinating topics with some very talented and entertaining people, so there’s sure to be something worthwhile at each and every one.

When I’m not at a panel, I’ll probably be at the Indy Horror Writer’s table in the book vendor space, selling and signing, talking to fans, and hanging out with Sara Larson, Eric Garrison, A.D. Roland (the Haunting Blue cover artist—sssshhhh, don’t tell anyone) and more.

Friday

10:00 p.m. @ Arena District
Horror: Books and Movies
With Michael West, David L Day, and David Burkhead.

Saturday

1:00 p.m. @ Short North
Point of View
With Gary Wedland and Linda Robertson.

6:00 p.m. @ Arena District
Believable Heroines
With Lucy A. Snyder, Linda Robertson, and Matthew Cook.

8:00 p.m. @ Short North
Ghosts: Are they real or just scary?
With Karin Shah, Mark Evans, and Joseph Martino.

And don’t forget the Indiana Horror Writers/Apex Publishing Con Party Saturday Night!

Sunday

1:00 p.m. @ Arena District
Publicity—writers and publishers
With Michael West, Joseph Martino, Rosemary Laurey

2:00 p.m. @ German Village
Dying in prose, poetry, or song: Does it sell?
With Lucy A. Snyder, Erica Neely, and Michael Oetting.