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Artwork for The Last Town: A Novel of the Zombie Apocalypse

Just got the finished artwork from artist Dorothy Hwee a short while ago. This is the low-res version, but certainly suitable for show. Additional graphics to be supplied by the inimitable Jeroen ten Berge, though he might not know that yet, as he’s probably still lying on his back with his eyes closed in New Zealand. 🙂 Looks like this one might have an early release, if things continue on this path.

You can preorder this title at: The Last Town: A Novel of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Cover in Progress: THE LAST TOWN

For the complete release of The Last Town: A Novel of the Zombie Apocalypse, a new cover is slowly being incubated. Interested parties should note that while there is some new material included in this release, it is not materially that much different from the serial. That is all.

EARTHFALL 2: Playin’ Footsie

June 22, 2017 1 comment

“They look so cute together,” Kelly Jordello said as she looked over the sandwich she held in her hands.

Mike Andrews glanced up from his own lunch, then turned to take in what had caught Kelly’s attention. Sitting several tables away in the Commons Area, he saw his executive officer, Leona Eklund, sitting down and enjoying her own lunch. Across from her was the hulk and bulk of Command Sergeant Major Scott Mulligan. She was a slender, tall girl of mixed parentage, blessed with a dusky skin that hadn’t paled one iota since Harmony Base had been sealed off over a decade ago. He was a virtual giant, standing in at six inches over six feet and with the mass to match, his brown hair going gray at the temples. There was at least a twenty-five year gap in their ages, but their differences were much deeper than merely chronological or physical. Leona possessed an almost regal air about her that simply oozed intellect. Mulligan, on the other hand, was about as stately as a bloody broadsword. It was a circumstance of night and day personified. Both simply sat across from each other, eating their lunches, on break from mission planning. They didn’t look at each other, and didn’t talk. To Andrews, it was almost as if two strangers were sharing the same table.

“What’s so cute about them?” he asked, turning back to Kelly.

She frowned at him and brushed a stray strand of blonde hair out of her eyes. “Dude, you’re such a guy. Take another look.”

Andrews sighed and examined the mismatched duo once more. They merely ate and sat, concentrating on what was on the trays before them. He started to shrug and get back to his own meal when he saw it: Leona had her foot snuggled up against one of Mulligan’s boots. There was no way the big sergeant major couldn’t have known it, and he hadn’t pulled away from the contact.

Andrews snorted. “I see it. A couple of smooth operators.”

“I don’t know why they’re not more open about it,” Kelly said. “Everyone knows they’re sleeping together.”

“Lee doesn’t like attention. And I’m pretty damned sure Mulligan doesn’t dig it, either,” Andrews said. “Not that kind of attention, anyway. They’re pretty private people.”

“I hope they have kids. Could you imagine? Mulligan’s brawn and Leona’s brains? It’d be, like, the beginning of a new super race.”

“Yeah, well. I’m not sure we could handle that,” Andrews said, returning to his lunch.

“I think it’s great they found each other,” Kelly said. “They fit, in a really odd way. But it works. Never though the Old Guard and New Guard would click like that.”

“Kelly? Stop staring. The last thing you want to do is rile up Mulligan.”

She waved the notion aside. “Pshaw, how could he still be one hundred percent badass when he’s with Leona?”

“You make it sound like he’s spending his off-hours knitting doilies. He’s been kicking our asses for the past four months with tactical training, and you think he’s not still a hundred percent badass? Weren’t you the one who started puking all over the place after he made you run five miles?”

Kelly frowned. “Okay. Ninety-five percent badass, maybe.” She took another bite of her sandwich. “So hey, I hear you guys are leaving the base tomorrow—I see Four’s on the deployment chart. I thought you finished all the shakedowns.”

“Yeah, we did.”

“Okay. So?”

Andrews fidgeted a bit in his chair. “It’s just a little run. Something the command group wants to keep under the radar.”

Kelly chuckled. “Yeah, like that’s even possible. The HBT is probably already fired up over it. What’s the mission?” HBT was the informal acronym for Harmony Base Telegraph, which was the local rumor mill. In an isolated, subterranean fortress like Harmony, rumors and gossip were one of the lubricants that kept things running. People needed a distraction from the monotonous existence the base provided, and the HBT was one of the best ways to add a little sparkle into an otherwise repetitious way of life.

“I’m not really supposed to talk about it,” Andrews said, even though he knew that would hardly put her off. If anything, it would be like tossing a tasty steak in front of a starving Rottweiler and telling the dog not to eat it.

Kelly’s eyes widened. “You’re going on a classified mission? There’s something more important than the Northwest run?”

“It’s not classified. It’s just… sensitive.”

Kelly put down her sandwich and faced him, putting an elbow on the table. “Mike, what’s going on? Who’s on the mission, your entire crew?”

“Me. Lee. Mulligan. And KC, because she needs more field time.”

“What about the others? Josh, Marco, Marguerite, Nancy? They haven’t gotten a lot of rig time since—wait a minute, did you say Mulligan?”

“Yeah, that might’ve slipped out.”

“Is this related to the Northwest mission?”

“It is not.”

“Then why is he going?”

Andrews clasped his hands in front of him and just looked at her. For several seconds, she just stared back at him, before the perplexed expression on her face broke. She raised a hand to her mouth.

“Oh my God… they’re letting him do it?”

Andrews’s only response was a subtle shrug.

Kelly turned and looked back at Leona and Mulligan, still sitting at their table, finishing up their lunch. She looked suddenly sad.

“It’ll kill him,” she said.

“Let’s not be too dramatic here, Kell.”

“But he has everything now,” she said. “If he does it, he won’t come back the same. He’ll lose everything. It’ll be like before San Jose, only worse this time. He’ll wind up eating his gun.”

“I don’t disagree, but we both know Mulligan. He has to do it,” Andrews said. “No man could just leave them out there. He has to do it.”

“I can’t believe Benchley approved it,” Kelly said softly.

“Well, there’s the catch. And that’s what makes the mission sensitive.”

Kelly looked at him. “What?” When he didn’t respond, she reached out and punched his shoulder, and not in a playful manner. “Damn it, Mike, don’t lead me on like this!”

“Benchley’s going, too.”

What? The Old Man’s leaving the base?”

Andrews held up a hand. “Hey. Keep your voice down.”

Kelly looked around, then leaned toward him. “Why is Benchley going out into the field? Isn’t it enough for the senior NCO to be doing that?”

“I asked the same question. Benchley’s words were, ‘It’s an Old Guard thing, Andrews. That’s all you need to know.’ In other words, shut the fuck up, boy, and drive me to where I want to go. I hear Baxter was the last holdout, but if she couldn’t change the Old Man’s mind, then no one could.”

Kelly looked back at Mulligan and Leona again. “We just think of them as a general and a sergeant major, but they’re friends. That’s why he’s not going to let Mulligan go by himself. I get it.”

“Yeah, well, you need to keep this to yourself, at least until after we hit the vehicle lift,” Andrews said. “Don’t even mention it to Jim.” Jim Laird was Kelly’s immediate superior, though he didn’t have much of a command at the moment. But since Self Contained Exploration Vehicle Five was destroyed almost a year ago, he and the rest of that rig’s crew had been filling in on other missions. In fact, Laird and Jordello had both made the return journey to San Jose, to begin sustainment operations of the small group of survivors that remained there. Unsurprisingly, the survivors had welcomed the assistance Harmony Base could provide. All it took for that to happen was for Andrews to kill their violent, paranoid leader Law. It hadn’t been easy thing to accomplish. Law managed to kill two of his top crewmembers and demolished SCEV Four, though enough of the rig had remained to repair and rebuild. It had taken months, and Andrews had to oversee the entire operation.

“I won’t tell anyone, dude. Seriously,” Kelly said. She gazed back at Mulligan and Leona. “I hope she doesn’t get hurt. He might not be the only casualty.”

Andrews regarded the remains of his lunch, and found he was no longer hungry. He pushed the tray away from him. “I know,” he said.

 

As always, all the above is unedited and not guaranteed to make it to print.

THE LAST TOWN Collection: Coming on August 31

So as is the standard for serials, I collected the six novellas of The Last Town and put together one enormously fat book, currently standing in at about 722 pages. I grew to like this story more and more as I wrote it, and in the end, I’m more-or-less happy with it. I have taken the opportunity to further expand the storyline however, adding a good six thousand plus words here and there, as well as altering the storyline just a touch by tossing in some more character development. Reese and Bates have more history, and the relationship between Norton and Danielle gets a wax and wash. I’ve also made Booker a little less of a useless tool, and eased Sinclair further along the road toward becoming more of a human being as opposed to just a noisome foil for Corbett. And I’m still looking to add a bit more luster to Victor and Suzy, as these two characters became my favorites. I’m not sure why it is, but I became especially fond of Victor. That seems to happen from time to time; in The Gathering Dead, I thought McDaniels would be my go-to guy, but it became Gartrell, instead.

I’ve also paved over some of the inconsistencies in the story, and added more detail to the suddenly-appearing contingency plans that popped up in #5 and #6. If I have the time, I’ll add in more combat after my editor, the ever-tenacious Lynn McNamee at Red Adept has her first slash at this mountain of text, so there’s some chance the release might top out closer to 800 pages by the time it’s ready for birthin’ at the end of August.

Pick it up here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072QZ64ZC

And yes, a new cover is on its way. The one here (with stenches a-burnin’) is just the placeholder work that I use for the series. It’ll have a different look than the others. I expect the print version to follow shortly thereafter, and I’m already looking down the road to getting an audio book presentation pulled together. That will be an extremely expensive proposition, as I’ll do what I did with Charges and pay it out up front.

All that having been said, other work continues: post-production on the audio version of These Dead Lands: Immolation, working on the sequel, These Dead Lands: Desolation, the still as-yet untitled The Retreat 5, as well as the prequel to The Gathering Dead, called Whispers of the Dead and Earthfall 2, the follow-up to Earthfall.

Some surprise snap releases also approach: Tribes and Plague City. Tribes is a standalone science fiction thriller set in the Antarctic, and Plague City is the first book of a trilogy about a super-plague that leaves the world a much less crowded place. Tribes is a book I’ve been messing around with since 2010, and it’s a more along the lines of City of the Damned than, say, any of the zombie stuff to date. Plague City has no supernatural features, and is essentially a post-apoc book, but full of chargin’ action.

Anyhow, more to come as things progress. I hope everyone is ready for a great summer!

DEAD IN L.A. Released

June 15, 2017 1 comment

For those who might be interested, Dead in L.A. has shambled out of the shadows on Amazon. You can find it here:

This one’s a standalone in The Gathering Dead universe, though there is some light interplay with The Last Town. The next release in this cycle will be Whispers of the Dead, a prequel that will chronicle the emergence of the zompoc, and feature McDaniels and Gartrell as they spool up and jump out to extract Wolf Safire from New York City. I’m forecasting that one will be released in December 2017, provided I can get the editorial slot locked up. 🙂

 

DEAD IN L.A.: The Barricade

They happened upon a roadblock a few streets away from the car dealership they had targeted. Bodies and body parts were everywhere, along with the stench of rotting flesh and spoiled blood. Wallace realized they had just happened across a fortified position that had been overrun. Sand bags, razor wire, even military Humvees and civilian sanitation trucks had been arranged to block off access to the entire block. Tattered scraps of paper, plastic wrap, MRE bags, and torn clothing were caught in the razor wire’s cruel embrace, fluttering vaguely in the low, dry breeze. The smell was horrible, and carrion birds gorged themselves on the remains as black clouds of flies hovered over the carnage.

“Oh, God,” Darien said. She sounded like she was going to be sick.

“Keep it together,” Wallace said. He slowly spun, taking a three hundred and sixty degree view of the intersection they stood before. Nothing moved amidst the buildings. More bodies lay in the street, their limbs at odd angles. It took Wallace a moment to understand they had been run down when the remaining defenders evacuated the roadblock. As he watched, one of the bodies squirmed, its bones pulverized by whatever vehicle had crushed it. At the moment, it wasn’t a threat.

But he knew better than to believe they were safe.

“Okay, we have to go through there,” he said, pointing to the roadblock.

Darien looked properly mortified at the prospect. “What? Why?”

“One, where we want to go is on the other side. Two, there may be things we can use in there.”

“Jesus… like what?”

“Firearms. Ammunition. Supplies. Maybe even an operational vehicle.” Wallace took a deep breath and started forward. “Watch yourself. Some of these things might not be dead, and try not to cut yourself on any of the wire or anything like that. A cut could get infected.”

“I’m not going in there,” Darien said.

“Suit yourself,” Wallace pressed on, stepping around several bodies. All of them had succumbed to head shots, which had taken them out of the fight instantly. For Wallace, that was confirmation of something he’d already figured out for himself: it took head shots to stop the dead. Other bodies were literally riddled by bullets, but it was the ones that he struck a skull that had finished them off. Even more corpses appeared to have been blown apart, perhaps by hand grenades or other munitions. He was horrified to see some of these remains were still mobile, and as he picked his way across the kill zone, he even saw a decapitated head, eyes following him as he passed, mouth opening and closing. It was disgusting.

Mounds of corpses had crushed the razor wire fences flat beneath their weight. Again, some of these moved, but they were pinned down by the inanimate bodies on top of them. Wallace took his time navigating around the piles. Not only could a zombie reach out and grab him, but he didn’t want to be cut.

Behind him, he heard Darien following his path. She coughed and retched, but once she had started moving, she didn’t stop. Wallace didn’t turn to look back at her. She would either figure it out by herself, or she wouldn’t. He felt he was running out of time to find Matthew, and that was all he cared about right now.

He made it to the roadblock itself. There, he found the ravaged bodies of several soldiers and police officers that had been overwhelmed by the dead. The bodies were essentially picked clean, their uniforms torn and shredded. Bare bone gleamed in the sunlight, and masses of maggots writhed across the remains. Flies were everywhere, and the stench was almost overpowering. Wallace had to fight not to vomit.

He saw the butt of a rifle sticking out beneath a shredded carcass. Steeling himself, he reached down, grabbed it, and pulled it toward him. The weapon came free, and he shook it to dislodge some pulpy white maggots that writhed on its blue-black surface. It was a military-issue M4 rifle. It took him only a moment to see that the barrel was shot out, ruptured on one side, so he dropped back to the ground. He turned and scanned the ground, looking for another. Expended cartridges were everywhere. A flock of crows exploded into the air, and Wallace turned toward them, pulling his pistol from its holster. It was Darien, who had deviated around the mounds of the dead and managed to find a way past the razor wire barriers on the other side of the street. She had a frozen, pinched expression on her face.

“God, this is so horrible,” she said, and her voice sounded small and tiny, even in the silence.

In response, a corpse groaned beneath one of the piles in the razor wire. A slashed and torn hand flailed about, seeking casting about, hoping to somehow be able to latch onto her. Darien stared at it, eyes wide in horror. Wallace snapped his fingers loudly, getting her attention. He waved her over, then put a finger to his lips. Be quiet. She nodded and slowly walked toward him, eyes sharp as she looked before taking each step.

Wallace found another rifle, still clutched in the hands of a disemboweled soldier. It was empty, but the barrel was in good shape. He pulled two full magazines from the soldier’s vest and slid one into the rifle. He hit the bolt release, and the carrier group snapped forward with a metallic click. As far as he could tell, the weapon was good to go. It would need to be cleaned, but that was something he would attend to later. He moved the firing selector to the SAFE position and slung it over his shoulder. After some more searching, he found more weapons. Only one of them seemed to be in operational condition; the others were either terribly fouled and wouldn’t work in the short term, or their barrels had been shot out from firing magazine after magazine on full auto. He also found a SAW, but its stock had been shattered. He had no personal experience with that weapon, but he figured the rifles would be more useful. While a weapon capable of maintaining a high rate of fire seemed attractive, he was currently surrounded by evidence that it didn’t mean crap.

As soon as Darien caught up to him, he handed her one of the rifles. “You know how to use this?” he whispered.

She shook her head, eyes wide. Whether it was in response to the stinking carnage or because he’d just handed her a military rifle, he didn’t know. She automatically started to put her finger on the trigger, and he stopped her with a shake of his head.

“Don’t touch the trigger unless you need to shoot something,” he said. “Just hold onto it for a while, I’ll show you how to use it later.”

She nodded and looked at him soundlessly, holding the rifle without a clue. Wallace smiled inwardly, then went back to his search.

He found more magazines and spare boxes of 5.56-millimeter ball ammunition. He managed to liberate two relatively unsoiled tactical vests and one rucksack, along with several MREs. Many of the soldiers had CamelBak hydration systems, basically bladders full of water they wore on their backs. All the ones Wallace found were either torn open or covered with so much gore and filth that he wouldn’t risk drinking out of one.

He found a dead policeman who still wore a gun belt, but there was no sign of his pistol. He frowned and looked around the half-eaten body, but the firearm was nowhere to be found.

“Wallace.” Darien’s voice was a tight hiss.

Wallace turned and looked at her. She had sunken into a semi-crouch and looked up at him fearfully. He heard the tinkle of metal as something bumbled into what remained of the razor wire perimeter, and the feeding carrion birds there lifted off in a storm of fluttering wings. As they rose into the air, Wallace looked toward the forward edge of the blockade. A dozen or so pale, pallid faces turned upward, eyes following the flocks of birds as they headed for the rooftops of surrounding buildings. A small zombie horde had almost walked up on them without making a sound.

Wallace motioned for Darien to follow. While the zombies were still distracted by the birds, they pushed further into the blockade and slipped around one of the sanitation trucks to make their escape.

Anatomy of a Cover, and Dead In L.A. Update

May 30, 2017 3 comments

Book covers, like musical scores for motion pictures, are one of the most exciting parts of the process. Here’s the current evolution of the cover for Earthfall 2 to date:

 

 

 

 

Obviously not finished yet, but well on its way. Final graphics and touch-up to Marc Lee‘s artwork will be done by Jeroen ten Berge.

With regards to Dead in L.A., that product has been pushed back until June 15, 2017. Sorry for the delay, but these things happen…and it’ll be better (and longer!) because of it!