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.
Now available: The Last Town 6: Surviving the Dead, debuting on Amazon as you read this. Bon apetit!
…how about some Self-Contained Exploration Vehicle designs from none other than Singapore’s finest graphic artiste, the intrepid Marc Lee? This is to inform the cover art for the upcoming Earthfall 2, and I offer two pictures for you to contemplate.
First off, the initial draft, created with the simple guidance of “base it off a HEMT-T.” (And a HEMT-T is the acronym for Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck.)
Revisions followed, of course. Likely fearing a neverending circle jerk of “Well, yeah, but it’s really more like this…”, Marc responded with a series of potential uses for the rig:
Now of course, this doesn’t match what’s in my head, but what I see isn’t necessarily translatable into actionable artwork. What I see is something crossed between the Landmasters from Damnation Alley and the vehicle from Ark II. And if that isn’t an unholy union of absolute nonfunctionality, I don’t know what is. So I’ll just nod and accept Marc’s suggestions and go back to writing. Anyway, cover artwork is probably the only exciting thing about the writing process, so I hope you’ve enjoyed the glimpse into a rather desultory future.
Lennon led the men past an open warehouse. Beyond it was a parking lot, then Teal Club Road, if Norton remembered correctly. He heard a dry moan and saw a zombie emerge from a pile of what seemed to be masonry materials. It had dusty coveralls and a bloodied jaw. He slowed momentarily, trying to figure out if he should shoot it. Garcia tapped him on the shoulder.
“Keep going, sir. No shooting unless you have to. Gotta practice noise discipline.”
“We just crashed a very loud jet airplane,” Norton said. “I think they know we’re here.”
In this excerpt, Single Tree patrolman Mike Hailey and his better half, Suzy Kuruk of the Tribal Police, give the dead what-for from atop the secondary walls surrounding Single Tree. Also: final cover material, which has more fire, more zombies, and even more zombies on fire. You can pre-order The Last Town #6: Surviving the Dead by clicking on the linked text.
Hailey couldn’t believe the amount of zombies pouring over the walls. They were everywhere, and they showed no sign of stopping for anything. In the kill zone between the first and secondary walls, thousands of bodies lay motionless on the ground, while thousands more thrashed and struggled against grievous injuries that had halted their forward momentum. Those that could crawl over the bodies of their terminated brethren did just that, but they didn’t get far. They were eventually trampled into goo by the rising herd that followed them, roiling over the first walls and collapsing into the kill zone. Hailey fired as quickly and as accurately as he could, taking out one zombie every couple of seconds. There were less skilled shooters on the wall beside him, and they burned through their magazines at an alarming rate without racking up even a quarter of the kills Hailey had. That was going to be a problem, because unless they calmed down and started shooting straight, the stenches would form another mound. And if they penetrated the second wall, then it would only be a matter of time before they managed to overwhelm the deeper defenses, many of which were still being erected by Corbett’s work teams.
Yeah, a little late for that.
So Hailey kept at it, hammering the dead in the kill zone as efficiently as he could. Beside him, Suzy did the same, leaning into her rifle, sending projectiles into the kill zone in a controlled manner. Every shot resulted in a kill. Well, most of them, anyway. The kill zone was beginning to look more like a zombie mosh pit, and the targeting was complex as the zombies tripped and stumbled their way across the field of fallen dead. Even Hailey missed a few shots every now and then, just because his target suddenly fell right as he pulled the rifle’s trigger. And despite his best efforts, it was becoming a more regular occurrence.
The miniguns in the towers had fallen silent, and he wondered what would happen to the crews there. They had their personal weapons, but no means of resupply. If they used up their combat loads trying to help stem the tide, they’d be shit out of luck for the rest of the fight. And if the stenches somehow managed to start climbing the ladders that led to the towers, then it would be hand-to-hand combat. No one in their right mind would want to fight the dead mano y mano. That was their game, and they always won, especially since their kind didn’t seem to get tired. They just kept coming, until there was nothing left to come for.
“Mike, they’re mounding up to your right!” Suzy shouted over the gunfire. Hailey didn’t quite understand what she said at first—Did she just say, “Mike, they’re pounding up a fight”?—he leaned forward a bit and looked down the length of the wall. Sure enough, there were enough stenches over there to coalesce into a mound if they allowed it to happen. He slant-fired across the kill zone and took out several, and the nascent mound collapsed in a flurry of flailing pale limbs and tattered clothing. It wouldn’t be long before they reorganized and made another attempt. And it would eventually be successful; the available firepower on the secondary wall was much less than what had been stationed on the primary walls. Even though they had copious reserves, there were only so many fighting positions. And with all the targets vying for attention, the defenders on the wall couldn’t keep up with the rapid changes.
Deciding the best thing he could do was to keep it up, Hailey tuned out anything else but shooting stenches in the face. He burned through magazines like water, and runners kept dropping off fresh ones right behind each shooter. It seemed that every time Hailey turned to pick up a full mag, there were another thousand or so zombies in the shooting gallery below. More mounds were forming, and they were forming quickly. Down below, dirty, dusty faces leered up at him, mouths open wide, teeth glinting in the sun. Hailey stopped trying to shoot the zombies tottering toward the wall, and instead leaned forward and began popping off the ones at the base. They were the threat now. There was no stemming the tide coming across the primary walls, so the only thing left to do was try and prevent them from mounding over the secondaries.
Hailey continued firing. His ears rang, and his eyes burned. Every now and then, one of the cartridges from Suzy’s rifle would bounce off him, and he prayed to God that one of the hot projectiles didn’t find its way down the collar of his uniform shirt.
The first mound of stenches to overwhelm the wall occurred ten minutes later. Hailey was slipping and sliding on a virtual sea of expended cartridges, his nostrils ablaze from the expended gun powder, when he saw a panicked flurry of movement to his left. Several defenders were firing point-blank into the growing mound, sending ghoul after ghoul tumbling from its apex. Another mound had formed right below Hailey’s position, and its undulating peak was less than ten feet from his fighting position. Hailey had no choice but to keep pounding it; besides, he was too far away from the action downrange to do anything about it.
“Suzy!” he shouted over the din of combat. “Check your left!”
“Check left! Check left!”
From the corner of his eye, he saw her turn and look in the indicated direction. She suddenly stepped back from the wall and began firing down the walkway—an unexpected turn of events. Hailey looked up from his work and saw several zombies were in the process of pulling themselves over the ledge, and one of the defenders was unceremoniously yanked into the mosh pit by several pale, filthy arms as he continued to fire. If the man screamed, Hailey didn’t hear it. He watched in abject horror as the man slowly slid down the mound, being torn apart bit by bit as his body passed dozens of hungry mouths. His blood was brilliant in the bright light of the day.
The incursion caused a break in the line of defenders as they responded to the sudden threat. Hailey was torn; should he assist in fighting off the incursion, or return to pounding away at the mound forming right below his feet?
The decision was made for him when one of the defenders down the line went right off the walkway, taken down by two stenches that tore into him. Pallid figures hauled themselves over the wall, jerking and staggering as bullets tore at them. When ashen hands reached for Suzy, that’s when Hailey decided he’d had enough. He grabbed the collar of her tribal reservation police uniform and yanked her back, but not before she shot one of the ghouls right through the teeth, snapping its head back and sending it tumbling back over the wall. It was buoyed up again an instant later as the rising geyser of stenches continued boiling upward. Hailey didn’t bother to stare at it. There wasn’t any time.
“We gotta get down from here!” he shouted at Suzy. All around them, hands were reaching up over the wall’s lip. The mounds were everywhere, and the dead were about to overrun the secondary wall. Hailey couldn’t believe it. The dead generally moved slow as shit, but they were taking down the town fast, so fast that the defenders couldn’t keep up.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” Suzy responded as she ejected a spent mag from her rifle. “You lead, I’ll hold them back!” Hailey saw there were no fighters left at the far end of the wall. They’d been overcome by the tide of zombies, and pale faces turned toward them with a deep, ceaseless hunger in their dim, dust-coated eyes.
He led Suzy toward the ladder, blasting away at corpses as they slowly heaved themselves over the top of the wall. They grunted and groaned and reached for them as they ran past, but they were still too slow. One zombie managed to plant itself right in his path, and Hailey raised his rifle. The ghoul’s head suddenly deflated as a bullet tore through it, and Hailey glanced at the ground below. Victor Kuruk stood there, his rifle shouldered. He waved Hailey on frantically, then pivoted and fired up at the wall again. There were already several writhing bodies on the ground below, bones shattered from the fall… but they still dragged themselves toward Victor and the others, trailing crushed and mutilated legs behind them.
They made it to one of the ladders, and Hailey stepped aside, making room for Suzy.
“Go on, take it!” he said. Several zombies shuffled toward them. He raised his rifle, stuck the barrel right over Suzy’s right shoulder, and fired right over her head. She winced and cried out. Hailey mentally apologized in advance for any tinnitus his shot might cause.
“Go on! Get down!” Hailey released her and continued dropping the stenches as fast as he could. Bodies rolled off the walkway and tumbled to the ground below. Hailey took a quick glance over his shoulder, where another ladder had been place, built into the side of the wall. More people were gathered there, other defenders who were being pushed back. The incursions at that end weren’t as many, so they had enough time to attempt an orderly retreat. Hailey and those few around him weren’t so lucky. They were sandwiched between several groups of zombies that were hauling themselves over the wall like clockwork. Their movements were slow and uncoordinated, but hardly without zeal. When their flat, dead eyes locked onto Hailey, they moaned and flailed about, trying to reach him. In many instances, they knocked fellow stenches right off either side of the wall. The effect would have been almost comical, if Hailey didn’t already know firsthand from his experience with the zombie in the pharmacy just how incredibly disturbing it actually was.
Grunting, another zombie hauled itself over the wall virtually right beside him. Hailey turned and fired a bullet into its head, then snapped back and continued covering Suzy’s descent. Below, gunners were opening up, taking out zombies that shuffled toward him. More bodies fell, and the walkway at the top of the wall was becoming slick with black gore.
“Mike, come down!” Suzy shouted from below. She was halfway down now, only twenty feet or so from the ground. Her voice captured the attention of a zombie, and it launched itself right off the wall, reaching for her as it fell. Its fingertips barely brushed her as it dropped past. It wound up spiking itself straight into the ground at the base of the ladder, forcing several townspeople there to scatter. It didn’t move.
Hailey needed no further prompting. He dropped the zombies that were closest to him, then dropped down onto the ladder. But there wasn’t enough time; the zombies were too close, and even though they were uncoordinated as hell, reaching for a guy trying to mount a ladder while simultaneously trying to shoot them while not falling himself was an easy play. Hailey had to stop with his feet on the ladder’s top rung and fire again, drilling two stenches right through their chins. The rounds traveled through the soft tissues of their dry sinuses and exploded out the crowns of their skulls. One of the ghouls collapsed virtually right on top of him, and Hailey half-stepped, half-fell to the next rung. His rifle got hung up beneath the motionless corpse, and for an instant, he was trapped where he was, held in place by the rifle’s strap. He pulled the strap over his head and left the weapon were it was. He figured he could get another one easily enough. He put his feet on the ladder’s side rails, he used his hands to lower himself down, in essence using the ladder like a fireman’s pole. He came down so quickly that he almost ran right into Suzy as she stepped off at the bottom, forcing her to duck to one side. She stumbled over one of the dead corpses lying there, and fell right on her small ass with a squawk. Hailey alighted an instant later and started to apologize, but Victor grabbed his arm and yanked him away from her.
“Look out!” he shouted.
Zombies began crashing to the ground all around them.
…now if only there was a finished book to go along with it! With titles…
…and without. Great work by Singapore’s finest, Marc Lee!
But don’t despair! You can still join the adventure at These Dead Lands: Immolation and prepare for the next odyssey into the land of the dead!
I’ve gotten some pretty good reviews in the past, and my collaboration with Scott Wolf has received more than its fair share of good ones. But this is the first time a reader has loved a book I’ve worked on and then expressed a desire for it not to be made into a film! 🙂
As always, These Dead Lands: Immolation remains on sale at Amazon in both ebook and print formats, and we hope the audio version is out by the end of the year. In the meantime, These Dead Lands: Desolation continues its journey through the, ah, birthing process. Stay tuned!