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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!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

“Remastering”, AKA Rewriting

May 16, 2017 3 comments

About two years ago or so, I released a co-authored work that frankly sucked balls. It was so bad that I unpublished it, deleted all references where it where I could, and downed many a bottle of Patrón silver in an attempt to purge the exercise from my mind. (The most fitting dénouement–being unable to remove it from my Amazon Author page. Damn me, cursed for all eternity!) To be honest, I’d created the basic storyline–man searches for son in zombie-filled Los Angeles–and after providing my co-writer with a copy of Left with the Dead and the sage advice to “make it like this,” I thought I was done.

Yeah, I was done all right: like “done in.” What was produced was such a steaming pile that I couldn’t save it in the short amount of time that I had to work on it. Golly, does James Patterson ever have this problem? But at least those folks who bought the paperback edition have something handy should emergency bowel issues arise. Hey, who said paper was dead?

This is hardly the way I open a post when hawking my latest ware, so bear with me a bit. Every now and then, a person can succumb to the most basic of deficiencies, most notably laziness and greed, so some mea culpa is probably prescribed. And laziness and greed are where my prior ill-fated partnership took me, pairing up with an author who, while talented, didn’t have the chops for what he was being tasked to do. I should have seen it, and should have stepped out of it right away. But, alas! Sometimes, stupid is as stupid does.

So flash forward a couple of years. Every now and then, I would pull this work out of the dustbin and do some body and fender work on it. Replacing a panel here, banging out a dent there, fabricating a whole new clip and fascia. What I began with was a quasi-comical story about a bumbling moron who, almost by magic, manages to find his son in the ruins of L.A. With some deliberate afterthought and the application of what meager writerly skill I possess, I managed to reimagine the work into what it always should have been: a tense story about a man slowly unraveling almost as quickly as the city around him as he searches for his kid. Along the way, he helps those he can, and turns his back on those he can’t. It’s sometimes callous, but for him, it’s all about his son. Like the stenches that pursue him existing only to feed, he lives only to find his boy.

As the father of a severely special needs kid, I at least can relate to that. And that’s the thing: I could never, ever, relate to the previously-described character in my titular co-author’s work.

I lined this up with the same timeline as The Last Town series, which also takes place (albeit partially) in Los Angeles. While there is no real-time interaction between the characters in this work and that one, they do actually lay eyes on each other. As Reese, Bates, and the others are fleeing the Hollywood Bowl, Wallace is skulking northward through Redondo Beach. And while the survivors of LAPD’s Hollywood Station make their way to eventual safety, Wallace has to contend with a metropolis that is filling with more and more ghouls every day.

In the first book, the lead character was a Hollywood stuntman. That was interesting; I know some stunt folks, and they’re pretty interesting men and women. But the character in the old book was nothing like them; no courage, no forethought, no ability to look at a gag and know it wasn’t going to work. In this work, Wallace is also involved in “the business”–he’s working on an incubating TV series for Gary Norton, a dramatic representation of Wallace’s time with the US Border Patrol–but that’s about it. More importantly, as a former USBP official, Wallace has some skills. Not the same type as, say, Dave Gartrell in The Gathering Dead, but enough to make his survival in the zompoc at least more credible. He doesn’t depend on luck and happenstance to get out of bad situations; he pulls himself through them, by his bootstraps if necessary. That was something in the original that made my clench my teeth in near anger; the original hero was so unworthy of surviving that it had me screaming into my hands.

So I changed that shit.

If you can manage it, look for Dead in L.A. at the end of the month. Hopefully, it’s about 40,000 times better than its ill-fated forerunner.

 

And if not? You know who to blame. No co-author to hide behind this time…it’s all on me. (Though if you want to blame WJ Lundy or Craig DiLouie, I’m all for it. Actually, no…blame Shawn Chesser. The guy doesn’t even drink, so how trustworthy is he, really?)

 

Upcoming: PLAGUE CITY

April 28, 2017 3 comments

Apparently, news of Stephen Knight’s death was greatly exaggerated.

Meandering its way across my eventual release spectrum like a slowly replicating virus is a work called Plague City, a novel about a very nasty bug that rips through New York City and the world just before Christmas. In the Big Apple alone, millions die a slow and lingering death, trapped in their homes, on the street, in the packed hospitals. A few people are immune, and one of those is Hank Elliot, commander of NYPD’s Precinct 19. After helplessly watching his own family meet their demise, Elliot decides he now has a new mission in life: to save the remaining survivors in NYC from the growing band of criminals that are hunting them down and killing them for sport, for slavery, or even for food. This is a work I’d started years ago, and finally returned to while wrestling with the growing monster that is These Dead Lands: Desolation and the audio book of its predecessor, These Dead Lands: Immolation. By the time it’s released, it’ll stand in at about 120,000 words, or around 300 pages.

But! I need help. I need a suitable death for the book’s villain, a thuggish criminal overlord named Pollard. This is where you folks come in…give me something awesome, and I’ll write it, credit you with it, and give you a role as one of the survivors who help Elliot do the final deed. And you’ll get a code for a free download of the Charges audio book. See, you won’t get nothin’ for somethin’! Leave your most treasured death in the comments, here or on Facebook.

Oh, before I forget. Cover art by Nicklas Gustafsson, cover design by the indefatigable Jereon ten Berge.

Changes…

April 24, 2017 5 comments

As always, change is unavoidable.

One of the truisms perpetuated by the despised traditional publishing industry is that once you’re “branded”—i.e., once you’re known for a certain product lines—breaking out into other products is difficult, in not outright impossible. I’d always thought that was a load of crap, but after several years of plugging away and finding that some of my richer fare doesn’t sell very well…hmm, maybe those “taste makers” in the traditional industry might be onto something.

Yeah, just one thing, so let’s not all get excited. Apparently, every dog really does have his day and a broken clock is right every twelve hours.

This observation isn’t particularly new to me. I have some great product out there under the name Stephen Knight that doesn’t sell at all, like White Tiger and Charges. Both generally have good reviews, but after three or four people buy them, that’s it. I’ve been trying to breathe new life into Charges with a fully immersive audio book, and while that seems to be coming along nicely, it’s also a brand-new release—I need more time to evaluate how successful this very expensive addition to the product line will pan out.

And Stephen Knight is known primarily as a zombie apocalypse guy. It was never meant to be that way, of course—The Gathering Dead was done on a lark. It was just going to be a one-shot deal, done for fun, without a great deal of deliberation behind it. Instead, it spawned a franchise. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. There are worse things a guy can do than provide some high-octane zompoc adventure every now and then. And Earthfall was the single best standalone work I’ve released, so that’s a bright ray of sunshine all by itself. If I released one of those every year, I’d buy the Playboy empire and restore it to its former glory.

Unfortunately for Knight? I’m bored shitless writing about zombies.

After The Last Town and even These Dead Lands: Immolation, I feel that I’m really just writing the same thing over and over and over again. While I do my best to people the stories with different characters, the story line is almost identical: zombies, fear, build, defend, collapse, retreat. Purists complain when you introduce new elements, even though what they complain about is the province of motion picture zombies, not literary. Thank God I have Earthfall 2 on the rack, because otherwise I’d be spending more time browsing vintage collectible tequilas online than I would be writing.

And it comes down to this: I want to write other stuff.

Enter Stephen Moore and Stephen Garrett.

Moore is my real surname; Knight is the professional alias I boosted from my father, as astute followers might have divined by now. Garrett is a family name from my mother’s side of the ancestral tree. For the longest time, I eschewed using my real name, as I a) don’t have an ego that needs to be fed with that kind of exposure, and b) I’m not sure I want to surrender my usual real-life anonymity in meatspace. (And also, Moore just isn’t as cool a moniker as Knight.) But Moore will be the guy who writes the police procedurals and techno-thrillers, and the odd dramatic work that parallels those worlds but doesn’t cross over into them, such as the still-nascent Hackett series. Moore’s first foray, aside from rebranding White Tiger with a new cover to kick things off, will be a police procedural about NYPD Detective Nick Avvento. Been wanting to do this one for years, and I have some great characters and a blood-chilling story line to go with it. There’s also some potential to release an upcoming work, Tribes, under this name; it’s a techno-thriller adventure story that was originally slotted for Knight, but I might change it up.

Garrett will be the hard, clanking science fiction guy. This is my native territory, writing stories about exploration, faraway places, bug-eyed aliens, and the thrill of adventure splashed across a canvas as wide as the universe itself. I’ve touched on it in past works under Knight, but only just barely. I’m itching to get into this. I have a huge series planned here, called The Reaches. Also some more free-booting military SF stuff which I have done, though it’s a bit dated and will need to be refreshed. Most of these are in my Continuum of Conflict story line which I’ve not revealed previously, and will be more “consumer-friendly” than The Reaches. Consider CoC will be more like the works of Robert Heinlein, while TR will be more like those by David Brin.

But it’s far from curtains for Knight. I—he?—still has to finish the next edition of The Retreat, and of course These Dead Lands will need to be completed. Then there’s the final installments of The Gathering Dead series, with the prequel Whispers of the Dead and the finale, Echoes of the Dead. And Earthfall 2, of course, along with the continuation of the Charges trilogy. So that’s like eight books, right there.

Does this sound confusing? It probably does, but it’s out of necessity, not preference. I’ve spent a lot of time getting Stephen Knight established; spinning off into new names doesn’t exactly thrill me.

Hopefully some of you will come along for the ride. I’ll keep you updated here as things begin to manifest themselves, but for the short term, don’t be alarmed.