Main Character: Ellen Holcombe, A widow who lives with her little dog Nikki
MC’s Goal: To find out the secrets of the inhabitants of the white house across the street from her own.
Obstacles: The more curious Ellen becomes the more people disappear from her life.
Setting: Stillwell County a small Southwest Virginia community
Points of Interest: Fast paced dialogue-based storytelling. A strong widow navigating the world with wit and wisdom. The main character has excellent common sense and problem solving, without being an unbelievable character.
REVIEW: The story revolves around a widowed writer, Ellen Holcombe. When not at her day job Ellen likes to be a self-proclaimed curious person. The curiosity pulls her in when across the street she notices movers placing furniture into the home across the street.
Within hours of watching them work she receives an ominous phone call, verifying her number. Without thought she concedes the number is indeed hers and the phone disconnects. The hindsight puts Ellen on edge with only her small Chihuahua, Nikki, to protect her.
People close to Ellen begin to disappear, stoking the flames of curiosity. Local Police Officer Barry Johnson responds when Ellen calls emergency services and quickly earns her romantic interest. With the FBI more involved in finding out what Ellen knows than finding her friends and family, Barry is the only truly Law Enforcement ally she has. The entire ordeal is true test for her to find out who are her true friends and who are associates.
When Nikki’s life is endangered, that is a final straw for Ellen. She will find her friends and family, and crack open the case of the backwards house if it’s the last thing she does.
I thoroughly enjoyed the pacing through the dialogue. The characters have the right mix of flaws and strengths to make them both believable and interesting. Barry Johnson was extremely likable and even though there are times where you may question his true intentions, he is a stabilizing factor in Ellen’s life. Nikki is both a good character detail for Ellen and a great tool for the writer to get important information to the reader without telling instead of showing, definitely a smart device. All mysteries I try to race the reveal and Mrs. Hoagland keeps enough secrets close but hinted to that I doubted that I had it solved several times before the mystery had been revealed. Overall good read.
QUESTIONS WITH THE AUTHOR:
What inspired you to write this story?
The house across the street from my house. It stood empty for way too long.
Who was your target audience while writing it?
Senior citizens mainly because that is what I am.
Did you develop any unique relationship to your characters while writing the book?
Nikki was real so there definitely was a strong relationship. Many people tell me that they seem me in the Ellen character. Just to let you know, my middle name is Ellen.
What is your favorite part of the story and why?
When Ellen tries to encourage Nikki to snoop around the house so she has a real reason to investigate.
What is the one thing that you want your readers to take away?
That this was a fun read and to remember that it is fiction and piece of my imagination.
Out of all your books, what book should readers start with first?
An Awfully Lonely Place was the first book with Ellen as the man character and, it too, is a mystery.
How many drafts until you felt it was ready for the world?
One and done, make corrections and send it off.
In addition to writing many Appalachian centric books, Mrs. Hoagland also is a mentor and Secretary of the Appalachian Authors Guild.
She offers the following advice for new writers.
Just write, get past the first page or it will be forgotten.
A short story by Jason C. Houghton from Mountain Voices
A few months ago I contributed the below story to the Appalachian Author’s GuildAnthology. I’m proud of this piece of work, as well the book, which is a collection of Fiction, Poetry, and Nonfiction from Writers in Appalachia. Since moving to Southwest Virginia, The Appalachian Writers Guild has provided encouragement, friendship, and some developmental lessons for eachother. I highly encourage you to check out the entirety of the book, as well as the books from local authors in the website store.
Jasper Carpenter coughed as he walked up the marble steps into the town hall. The large building at 1 Main Street made the entire community seem bigger than they actually were. Main street was just that, the only main road through town. Sure, there were plenty of alley ways and a few oversized dirt paths up the mountainside, but the only traffic Kindton ever saw was down this road. Because of the event in the municipal building all the townsfolk crowded the street. The apprehension from participating in his first ever debate added weight to his feet.
If he lived anywhere else Jasper would consider retiring at his age, but in Kindton no one ever seemed to retire. Working until your dying day was how the little town avoided the problems the rest of the state seemed to suffer from. Besides, being the only dentist in the community meant he had little choice but to help look after the eighty residents. It was just what people expected from each other here. “Do your part!” That phrase was engraved somewhere in the town charter, or so the legend went.
He stopped at the top of the stairs to catch his breath. He turned when he heard a door slam. His opponent for tonight, Gabe Barber, climbed out of the side door of his daughter’s mini-van. Some twelve citizens of the town assembled around him; the Barber family had the most members in town. By that count alone the debate tonight would be tough, and the upcoming election even harder. Jasper had no one.
He once had a wife but she was taken a few years back. He had no siblings, nor offspring, and his wife Mary didn’t want to bring more burdens into their lives. Large families were generally frowned upon in Kindton. That sentiment went against the usual Appalachian communities, most believed in plenty of mouths at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Then again, Kindtoners viewed their whole town as their family.
The white-painted oak door was rumored to pre-date even the nation. Jasper remembered learning that in Kindton’s school. All grades Kindergarten to high school graduation all in one building. Sometimes they even combined the different grades into the same classroom- the population never grew to need more.
At least tonight the weather was pleasant, the municipal building predated any type of heating system minus the old fashion coal stoves. The trees started to show the signs of rebirth, the aroma of the grass before a long night of rain filled the night. It smelled like hope despite the odds he faced. Hope doesn’t really have a smell, but it was spring time when he courted his departed Mary, so the aroma of pollen mixed in the air always brought about good feelings.
Tim Farmer stood in the lobby when Jasper entered. The brand-new father eyes fluttered to stay half-open. Gossip said the wife was in labor for almost a whole day. Tim must’ve stayed awake the entire time. Jasper chuckled to himself thinking that the poor kid was going to hear about it for the rest of his life.
“Hey Tim I didn’t think you would make it tonight!” Jasper reached his hand out before the door shut completely behind him. His hand grasped Tim’s, shaking it furiously. “Everyone would’ve understood if you stayed with your wife and newborn.”
Tim’s glare pierced deep into Jasper’s confidence. “Now Doc, we have to make sure everyone votes, or else the wrong man wins.” The smirk on his face was anything but friendly, the clamped teeth on the left side of Tim’s face told the dentist where the new father’s vote was going.
Jasper released the grip on Tim’s hand, there was a tension building. Jasper spent an entire career studying faces, along the way he learned how to read moods with just the slightest movement of a jaw. He didn’t know how to respond; a bit of disappointment and betrayal fills him. What made the kid who once cracked his adult incisor despise the man who fixed his smile?
Jasper needed a friendly face as he moved into the atrium. Surely, he would find someone on his side, if not, the opportunity to sway the masses would be a little more difficult. Chas Shoemaker just happened to be standing there. Chas had long been a good friend, but something about him left the rest of Kindton a bit skittish. Despite his diminutive size, the farmer always seemed to be the biggest distraction in the room. Greasy, yet combed light hair, capped off the leathery skin from working in the field. It was hard to tell if his wrinkles were from age or work, either way his appearance placed him in his mid-thirties to early fifties. Jasper knew the right number but as a favor to his friend he didn’t mention it to anyone who asked. Shoemaker’s farm grew the town’s supply of meat, so he was tolerated for his unsavory behavior.
Chas went unnoticed while moving up to his friend. It was obvious Chas’s focus was elsewhere. His eyes made a beeline toward Ashley Barber, the granddaughter of his opponent. The young woman had blossomed almost overnight, and her looks doubled her popularity. She now looked just like her grandmother once did, when Jasper thought about courting her back before Gabe was in the picture. Ashley had just turned the age to vote, it seemed that her decision tonight would be a lot clearer than what she will do with her life after she graduates. Chas did like them young. Probably the reason for his tarnished reputation.
In small communities it doesn’t take long for word to pass from one end of the boundary to the other. Chas’s stares and suggestions toward the young ladies took about one evening before everyone knew. He knew he had his friend’s vote but wondered how many it would scare away. When this election was over the town would have to come together again. Would siding with Chas help or hurt his cause? More importantly to him, would Chas be insulted if he asked him to be silent and not speak on his behalf? His longtime friend seemed pretty oblivious of the town’s view of him, or didn’t care.
Chas was still gawking at the young Barber girl when he broke the silence. “What’s the strategy tonight?”
“I’m going to point out my decades of service to the community.”
“You could always bring up the affairs old Gabe has had along the years. I believe one was even with your wife.” Chas’s said snidely.
“You know that was a rumor!” Jasper snapped. “A rumor that a friend wouldn’t repeat!”
“Rumor or not, no offense to your departed Mary, but it still sullies the character of your opponent.” Chas slowly rotated his gaze toward Jasper.
His fists clenched so tight his knuckles turned white. “Mary’s name stays out of it.”
“Just trying to give you a leg up Doc.” Chas’s hands rose up, palms toward Jasper. “No need to get upset, I got your back.”
“Then keep your mouth shut!” Jasper’s words were curt. “I will give ‘em the reason to vote for me without slinging mud or trudging up sore parts of the past.”
“Don’t you think it’d be easier pointing out his flaws?” Chas’s words trail off. Their volume diminished with every grinding of Jasper’s jaw.
“I am going to say this one time for you to understand. I…AM …NOT…SLINGING MUD. Period end of discussion, got it?” Jasper wasn’t a tall man but his shadow at that moment must have been ten stories high as quickly as Chas dropped his eyes toward the floor. He let out a sigh and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Look I understand you are just trying to help, but after this election we’ll have to come back together as a community no matter who wins. I just want to win the right way so there aren’t any hurt feelings.”
“It’s your call.” The beat-dog eyes didn’t lift from the ground as Chas moved away from Jasper and off to the corner.
Perhaps pouting would keep Chas from eyeing the young women and in turn not repulse a few votes. He adjusted his shirt took a deep breath, and was about to head to another potentially undecided voter when he overheard the young Ashley.
“Mr. Carpenter I just wanted to say even though you’re running against my papaw we still think you’re a good man.” She extended her hand and her smile didn’t look halfway forced. Unlike many others here tonight her words seemed genuine.
He graciously took her hand and shook it one time gently. “Well, I appreciate it. No matter what happens the town needs to heal afterwards.”
“Yes, we will.” She smiled at him and he could tell right away the braces he prescribed six years ago did their job. Straight bright teeth to go with her bright future.
“You’ll be graduating soon, what does the future hold for Ms. Barber?” Jasper knew talking to his opponent’s granddaughter would be seen by all, hopefully in a good way. And making sure that she didn’t have to deal with Chas’s creeping was an added bonus.
“I still don’t know.” She looked down at her feet for a moment. “I mean college is definitely my plan, someplace local. No one stays away from Kindton too long. I won’t be the first!”
“I didn’t know I was going into dentistry until I realized we didn’t have any in these parts. It seemed like a good way to give to the community and have some satisfaction in my job.” Jasper lifted her chin up and smiled, hoping to get another glimpse of his craftmanship in her smile. “You’re a good young lady, you’ll find your niche.”
“Thanks Mr. Carpenter.” She flashed a quick grin then returned to her family.
“Good luck in there, Doc,” he felt the hefty hand on his back before he heard the voice of Pete Taylor. “I hope you do better against the Barber clan than my brother Dwayne managed. The vote wasn’t even close.”
“They’ve been cutting everyone’s hair since before even our Grandpas’ Grandpas’ Granpas was a twinkle in someone’s eyes” Jasper truly appreciated Gabe and his family.
“Doesn’t mean they should win every vote.” A sneer hid in Pete’s words, possibly loud enough that anyone passing by may have taken notice.
Jasper cringed preparing to walk the fine line of appeasing the masses without pissing off his own support. “No matter what happens we need to be one Kindton after this election. We’ve enjoyed a few centuries under our charter as a profitable little town. And we’ve done it together. No need to create adversity and division.”
“Please, some people strive on adversity and division.” He nods towards Gabe’s wife Edna. Then rolls his eyes. “Her husband is the talk of the town and she likes feeding on all the gossip, no matter who’s the source. That’s mister and missus division.”
“Doesn’t matter it’s not how I’m playing tonight.” Jasper felt his temper rising. “Dividing just weakens all of us, makes us no different than those outsiders.” Without realizing it his hands snap to point out the door and snap an accusatory finger enforcing each syllable.
“Woah, I get it.” Pete backs away. He begins to walk backwards toward the auditorium. “Just know no one will blame ya if you do have to sling some dirt.”
Jasper lowered his head a moment stroking his chin. “I’ve watched how these things go, and if you go low you generally don’t win the second or other times here. No need for sore feelings.”
Pete smiled and slapped his back. No more words came from him. A try of cookies brought to the meeting as usual from Gladys Taylor, became the only thing interrupting Pete’s stride. The preacher cookies, sometimes called cow pie cookies kept Jasper’s office busy. Those sugary treats represented the biggest addiction in town. Especially when they came from Gladys’s kitchen.
No matter how much Kindton doesn’t like being part of the Appalachian community the culture still creeps in. The cookies are just a reminder to Jasper. The cookie was introduced into the community when a baked goods exchange brought them here way back before his Papaw was even alive, they became a staple for gatherings such as these.
Jasper exhaled an audible sigh. “No reason to keep putting this off.”
The auditorium was deceivingly large for the small community. With eighty seats divided into ten rows descending toward the stage. The first of the town members built this building on the back side of the prominent hill. They used a natural spur to provide the initial floor. Over the years, generations adjusted the construction, Jasper’s own ancestors doing much of the woodwork, so it wouldn’t become a relic of the past.
The dull ochre walls didn’t uplift anyone’s moods. If boring had a color these walls represented it. For the purpose of this building Jasper thought it should be a cheerier shade. The scent of old wood rotting underneath the paint added to the mix of perfumes and colognes of those in attendance. It was in bad form to attend the election and debates without being clean and almost in your Sunday best. Three steps into entering the room, uncomfortable silence fell over the murmurs and small talk of those already seated.
He knew he wasn’t as charismatic as his opponent, but Jasper didn’t expect to feel their condemning gaze. They haven’t heard one word of the debate, and yet he knew their mind had already been made up. Eighteen steps lead down to the front row, and the beginning of the debate. He had a seat of honor, and destiny reserved for him next to the one reserved for Gabe. No matter how difficult or derogatory the event became, they would still have to sit next to each other when they weren’t speaking.
That arrangement sometimes begun a more physical altercation than the founders probably intended. Last election when Gabe mentioned something about his opponent’s family, tempers flared. Before Gabe could sit down Dwayne Taylor swung at him and Pete was climbing over the rows to help his brother. It wasn’t a good look for the Taylor family, and it affected the vote.
He took the first step, ready to face the inevitable. He chanted a mantra to himself. “Not going to go low, I will win on my own merits.”
A poorly whispered word from the back row caught his attention. “I hear Doc’s wife, stepped out a few times with good old Gabe, expect fists to fly!” The speaker apparently couldn’t contain his excitement as he burst into muffled laughter. Jasper ignored it and took the second step.
“I will win on my own merits.”
Jasper’s old seat was in the sixth row. He pondered for a moment how many debates he sat through just like this one, bored out of his mind, only half paying attention. He guessed he thought he’d never be in this position. A look at the young man in his old seat made him wonder if the people here were thinking the same. A yawn from the young man summed up Jasper’s old feelings on local politics.
“I will win on my own merits.”
Second row from the bottom the librarian stops him. “A lot is riding on you Doctor Carpenter. The idea of winning an election by having a large family taking precedence over the issues down plays everything the founders intended.” Her words carried whisps of cigarette smoke she must’ve enjoyed before the gathering, delicately conveyed the purpose of why they gathered. She was at least thirty years old, a good patient, always avoided candy never missed a cleaning. The smoking however was a well-known secret, and a pet peeve of Jasper’s.
“Don’t worry Betsy I’ll make it a good honorable fight.” Jasper felt a bit of pride rush through him. Someone seen his tactic and what he is trying to do. He wasn’t alone in trying to return this to the dignity the founders intended. “I will win on my own merits.”
Her eyes widened and jaw dropped a moment. Jasper wondered what he said that startled her. “No sir, you do whatever you have to do to win.” Her fists tightens and a single finger jets outward poking his chest. “No one wants a clean fight; they want blood and smut. So, give it to them before the Barbers add a few more kinfolk to their vote tally. Beat Gabe with any means at your disposal do you hear me?”
Without raising her voice somehow Betsy Miller had instilled an ultimatum. It wasn’t a friendly goal like Jasper gave his patients- floss and brush regularly. It clearly defined a life-or-death task that she seemed to be the one to deliver a harsh consequence for failure. Her intensity waned as a grin graced her lips and she sat back in her seat.
Jasper took the final step to the bottom row. His mind frazzled while he tried to remind himself of his strategy. “Win at all cost… No win by your own merits!” The debate went back and forth until he reached the only two open seats on the front row, right in front of the podium oriented toward the entirety of the population.
Everyone except the Barbers were in their seats. The muttered conversations and gossip wafted down the rows to hit Jasper with a full weight of anxiety. The sneers in the crowd stood out more than the covered mouths that whispered.
He couldn’t help but wonder if some of the minds were made up when they sat through a root canal or received treatment that hurt like when braces were first tightened. Surely, they understood it was for their betterment. There was no time to think about that now, just stick to his merits. He stood next to the chair to the left of the podium, last time this was where Gabe sat. Even the time before he remembered correctly. A small change might throw him off his game.
Gabe and family entered the auditorium, quieting the background noise of gossip. Jasper felt the shifting of weight from his shoulders toward the new arrival. Every eyeball added another five or six pounds of worry in his estimate. Even in a small town like this it became crushing.
Despite being a bit older than Jasper, Gabe still moved a bit faster down the stairs. It wasn’t his first election and his stride said it wouldn’t be his last. For a community that hated politics they had become endeared to Gabe playing them.
They shook hands, Jasper tried a tight grip. An honest man’s grip, but Gabe just rolled his eyes, obviously out of the view of others. An action that already started to break down Jasper’s idea of a fair debate. Maybe getting dirty would be the only way to defeat a man who knew how to play the crowd.
Gabe broke the grip first. Time moved slowly for Jasper, he barely turned around to find his own seat when he heard the sigh and knee pop come from Gabe. The guy was sure spry for his age, but the sound of it his joints didn’t agree.
When everyone else had settled down, Pete stood up. “Jasper since you’re still standing why don’t you start us off.” He looked around and nodded his head. When a few moved their heads in agreement of Pete, he asked the first question. “I’m going to start off with the most basic question we can ask tonight. Why should we vote for you?”
He had prepared for this question all morning. Pete liked the slow pitch questions, now all Jasper had to do was hit it out of the park. “Well thank you for the opportunity to speak first Pete. Thank you everyone for making it out today. If my wife was still with us, I’m sure she would be thanking you all as well.”
Pete cleared his throat; Jasper took it as a sign to cut to the good stuff.
“I have been providing everyone with proper dental care, and in turn health care since I was younger than our future graduates.” He nodded toward Ashley. “I knew back then what it meant to be part of Kindton.”
The man in Jasper’s usual seat rolled his eyes, had he already lost their interest? It was payback for his own apathy. When he was younger, he didn’t give two concerns the reason, but he stood here now, and he needed them to care. “Every single one of you sat in my chair at one time or another. You’ve trusted me with your care and your smile. I helped a lot of you new couples notice your spouse and have them notice you with those sparkling pearly whites. I need your support now with the knowledge I will continue to do the best for you. My opponent is a good man, and no matter what happens tonight I want you all to know it’s my honor to serve you. Thank you for trusting me.” A few hands clapped; Jasper had a good idea who they were even though he was too busy finding his seat to pinpoint their exact location.
He barely realized Gabe had stood up and moved to the podium, in the effort to quickly shrink into his seat. He wasn’t one to speak in front of everyone at once, unlike Gabe. Jasper preferred conversations in his office. With the walls protecting him from the judgmental whispers of others, he always felt he could say or do what he wanted there.
“The thing about my opponent, Jasper Carpenter is we really don’t know a lot about him. Now I know the good Doctor has made himself invaluable to us. But what is he hiding? I remember when his wife, an older and wiser woman before she married our good dentist, told me that he always had an eye for other women. And that he secretly talked about all of us to his friends when we paid his office a visit. And while I don’t want to spread rumors, I do encourage others to come forward if they have any concerns. I ask that you do the same for me, but after going through five of these elections already I don’t think there is anything new you could find out about me. My cards were put on the table long ago.”
Jasper realized at that moment he should’ve followed others advice. Living a quiet life just fed the gossip starved town throughout the years. Now they came for their meal.
Wearing her blue dress, the school teacher, Natalie Smith came forward. For a moment Jasper forgot her maiden name was Barber, and she was the niece of his opponent. Her timid stares quietly relocated their focus to the podium, only her brunette hair pulled into the usual bun was visible to the audience.
She stuttered her first few words. “I d…don’t ha…have proof exactly you see, but with looking at who the Doctor calls his friends I am more and more convinced. I mean it’s no secret that he hangs out with that pedophile, he was just talking to him when Uncle Gabe got here today.”
Jasper wished he could see her face, read her mouth’s movements and more importantly look her in the eye with whatever accusation she conjured. He knew eventually his friendship with Chas was going to bite him, but he always knew that he couldn’t live his life for the opinion of others, well not until today.
“Like I said I was not alert, but he definitely was looking at me, the same way the pervert looks at young girls around town. Two peas in a pod those two.”
She never once looked up during her accusation. Jasper knew his glare couldn’t be missed; she’d had to have felt it. He stood up and faced everyone. “Rumors and feelings are not facts. I understand why Natalie could be convinced into making those statements. Her kin is my opponent. And while Chas, cause we all know that’s who she’s talking about, has been subject to rumors since he was little, he isn’t guilty of any crime. Never even been charged.”
Betsy Miller stood up in her seat, “If we are entering hearsay into debates let’s talk about Gabe Barber.”
“Thank you, Betsy, but let’s not.” His wife was taken just a few years ago and it still hurt to talk about. “Our Founders wanted this discussion to be based on truth, good or bad, as well as a measure of character. We both need to present our case, but we’ve got to have some civility.”
“I agree with the Doctor.” Gabe was escorting his niece from the podium.
Jasper wanted to cry out. “Of course, you do!”
Pete moved to the podium, taking control of the gathered Kindtoners. “Doc Carpenter has always put us first. He knows he’s the only medical help some of us will ever get. Hell, he even answered his phone in the middle of the night for some of your emergencies. The man is just a dentist and you guys treat him as a physician, pediatric specialist, and he even helped my departed mother when she didn’t understand a single word from her oncologist. I firmly believe she pulled through that fight with his aid. Please remember that when you cast your vote.”
One by one, the Town members filed up and marked their vote. Gabe shook everyone’s hand playing last minute politics.
A drop of sweat trickled down Jasper’s face as he cast the last vote of the day. Handing it to Gladys Taylor, baker supreme and the Clerk of the town. she tallied them all immediately.
“In accordance with our bylaws, we have counted the votes in tradition since our founding. With every birth the two eldest members of the community must stand before all others. The people will then vote on which of the candidates gets to live and who must be sacrificed on the stone.”
Jasper never realized how many members were in the Barber family until they gathered around Gabe. Each put a hand on his shoulder sending their love and support, just like Jasper did with his sweet Mary during her election a few years back.
Gladys’s words were sweet and comforting for a woman about to condemn a man to death. “After counting every voice three times, I can tell you good people of Kindton, that we will be keeping our Dentist.”
A few of the Barber women collapsed when the verdict was read. Jasper wanted to go and console them; it was in his nature. But manners prevented it.
Gladys’s gave little time for the final words. “Everyone grab your knife and ceremonial robe. This shouldn’t take all night, some of us have things to do.”
The dark brown velvet like robe had been in Jasper’s family since the very first election. He doesn’t listen to Gabe’s last words to his family before his opponent is gagged. Heck he couldn’t even remember Mary’s last words to him at the moment, he was filled with so much relief now. When he took another deep breath of relief, he flipped his hood up, allowing the shadowy darkness to hide his face. The others followed suite, soon other than a distinction of height all seventy-nine present looked the same. One at a time they headed out the door in the order of which they were seated.
As the winner of the vote, Jasper led the procession up the hill. He stopped when he reached the graveyard. It was a warm crisp night, and the smell of hope populated his lungs once more. The graves of their ancestors formed concentric circles around a table of marble.
While the Barber family placed the gagged Gabe onto the slab, Jasper distracts himself by finding a tombstone that always fascinated him. Claude Cook, born June 3rd 1909 died on Jasper’s Birthday, December 1st 1951.
He returned to his opponent, “Your death will keep our promised prosperity.” He plunged the blade deep into Gabe’s heart. Blood drenched his hands, the victim let a gurgle moan.
As the victor stepped back the next robed individual repeats, “Your death will keep our promised prosperity. Our numbers must never be more than eighty, as per our Founders’ agreement.” This is repeated seventy-seven more times until Gladys voices their dark deal and plunged her knife into Gabe.
The group walked back down to where the cars were parked. Gladys collected their robes and small groups started smiling and laughing, talking about future dinner plans.
Jasper had escaped death, and now the town tried to achieve some normalcy. In the end it wasn’t merit or dirt that helped him win, it was pure necessity. He was the only Dentist the community had ever had, and they couldn’t afford to lose him. With a smile he looked over the community and was about to head out when Ashley Barber approached.
Her eyes projected a hatred he hadn’t seen since he looked in the mirror after voting against his Mary. “I know what I want to do after graduation Mr. Carpenter, I’m going to become a dentist just like you.”
How much would you risk to make sure your best friend gets justice? For Zak Palmer, he would risk it all. When Zak’s friend Baxter, an FBI agent, is murdered investigating a case involving the Georgia Guidestones, it makes him do something he fought against doing since his wife’s untimely death, care enough about something to get involved.
Cyrus takes the reader on a journey to the darker side of society, and shows the lengths the elites will go to hide their own sins from the world. As Zak sends small ripples into the puppet master society turning over stones and finding more victims, he prompts a wave of retribution to come back at him. The hidden powers-that-be send their most accomplished hitman, Mr. Vanity, to deal with Zak and anyone in his life.
Every person he trusts becomes a potential betrayer. Every move he makes brings new dangers. Every fact discovered uncovers more intrigue. Just wanting to do one last thing for his friend Baxter, Zak picks a fight with the whole world.
I could not put this book down. I know it’s a cliché but it is both well written, and intriguing story that links perfectly with modern conspiracy theories. Cyrus adds a little political intrigue without alienating either side of the fence you fall. His book raises unanswered questions concerning the Georgia Guidestones. Who placed the, there and how do they tie in to other conspiracy theories of a deep state? I thoroughly suggest you invest a few hours in this compelling story.
QUESTIONS WITH THE AUTHOR:
What inspired you to write this story?
A general curiosity of conspiracy theories led me to discover the story of the Georgia Guidestones years ago. The growing acceptance of an actual “deep state,” of corrupt people in our governments and institutions that seem to always escape justice was sort of a catalyst for me. The fact that there has been a problem with human trafficking for years, documented cases, and the fact that Jeffrey Epstein and his pedophile island was known by authorities for years and he only got a slap on the wrist was a news story that I thought deserved some attention as a powerful back story is a suspense novel, a political thriller of sorts. I knew I had to find a way to tie that story (although fictionalized) with the Georgia Guidestones. It felt more like a calling instead of a typical writing project.
Who was your target audience while writing it?
At first I thought that the audience for this book would be the typical fan of political thrillers, maybe catching a few of those folks that are really into conspiracy theories as an interest. I suppose that is still the largest part of the audience for this book, however, with the underlying theme of Zak’s search for faith and purpose in the middle of the chaos that turned his life upside down, I can see how an audience for Christian fiction could be strongly drawn to this book, especially with the verse of Ephesians 6:12 sort of guiding my way through this book.
Did you develop any unique relationship to your characters while writing the book?
I think I had a soft spot for Zak because I’ve been down that same road of hitting a wall in life and floundering around emotionally and spiritually. A place where you feel you are surrounded by darkness and filled with an empty pain but all you want is to find that bright spot in life to give you purpose.
What is your favorite part of the story and why?
I think that the ending still means the most to me. It wraps up that eternal battle of good and evil, and our role in that ongoing struggle as individuals. I feel that the end is especially powerful and something that leaves the reader something to reflect on long after they put the book down.
If you ever wrote a spinoff, what would you take from this book?
I’d definitely have to revive the character of Zak Palmer. He’s a character that went from a broken spirited man, to realizing how strong and blessed he is. Over the course of the book he became a menace to those that run free in the “deep state.” Building on his character in a series could be fun.
What is the one thing that you want your readers to take away?
In the DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, those stories gave people a reason to question their faith. Maybe that wasn’t the case for everyone that read the books or watched the movies, but they had that effect. I want people to read Revelation Calling and have and enjoy an exciting story and experience a character that heals over time. A story that gives people a reason to strengthen their faith in the proverbial storm, not question it.
Out of all your books, what book should readers start with first?
Tough question! I write across multiple genres, and Revelation Calling was my first attempt at a political thriller. I’ve written comedy and I’ve written horror. I’d rather ask a reader that has read all of my books, but if someone wanted to get a sense of the range of sense of imagination I’d suggest Bedtime Stories For the Terminally Afraid. It’s a collection of short stories, but the reader will find that some are terribly dark and some have a wild sense of irony and humor. In any case, I’d dare the reader to try to guess the endings before they get there. Good luck with that!
Can you describe the writing process for Revelation Calling?
This book wasn’t terribly difficult to write, even though it was a two year process. Once I sat down with my loose outline of it, this book poured out of me like it was meant to be. I know that sounds weird. It sounds weird to say! That’s why I say that I feel like this was a book I was meant to write. With all of the turmoil in our nation over the past few years, and with people waking up to the corruption around them, this book is powerful. Some elements of what I wrote in this book actually came to international exposure a few months after it came out. Prophetic? Maybe. I don’t know, but I think people that read this will get a sense of what I’m talking about.
How many drafts until you felt it was ready for the world?
It didn’t take too many revisions to get to where I wanted it to be, actually. Rewrites are the hardest part of the writing process, the part that really isn’t any fun. But it’s vital! I went through three drafts before I was comfortable. I may eventually pull it off the shelf and add something to it, or do another revision to tighten it up. We all grow as writers, and as I grow I try to look as some of my older work and see if changes are needed.
What kind of research did you do for your story?
I read pretty extensively about Bohemian Grove and about the history of the Georgia Guidestones. I devoured countless hours of YouTube videos on the subject, trying my best to separate fact from fiction. That is easier said than done when your do a deep dive into a topic of conspiracy theory lore. After a lot of the easy research online I made a trip to Elberton, Georgia to see the Guidestones for myself. I stayed in town and made it known why I was there to the folks I met. I got a real sense of how the locals still react to having this monument in their backyard after all these years. I wanted to get a sense of the layout of the location, and try to get a sense of the town and the people there (as best as I could in such a short period of time).
Who or what inspired you to put words on paper in the beginning?
I caught the writing bug all the way back in the year 2000. I think it was just my sense of creativity that spurred me on, my wild imagination. I moved to Cincinnati in June of that year and a friend of mine gave me a tour of old Spring Grove Cemetery. The place was immaculate. It was breathtakingly beautiful and macabre at the same time. That day, while driving through there, I got the idea for my very first book. I only intended on writing one book, but the story I started developing that day turned into a four part series. Once you are a writer there is no stopping, and here I am still writing twenty years later.
In your opinion, how should new writers measure their growth?
You could ask this question to a dozen writers and get a dozen different answers. But there are some things that are clear signs of growth. One is the ability to grow thick skin. As a writer you want others to read your work and give you feedback. We all do, but when you’re ready to get honest feedback and handle that criticism without feeling a dagger in your heart, you’ve grown as a writer.
The goal at the end of the day is to tell a story well, tell a story that the reader will love enough to have a conversation about with someone else who loves to read. I don’t think it’s fair to measure your work against the greats like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, or modern best sellers like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. Write a set of standards and goals that you want to live up to as a writer, read as much as you can in your genre, and take that ride. Enjoy the life of a writer. It isn’t easy. It’s filled with criticism and praise. Balance that and see where your growth takes you. Live up to your standards. Don’t strive to be the next Stephen King. Strive to be the first YOU.
To get my current project right, I think I have done more research than on any project, for my writing or to be honest my college coursework. When someone reads your work, you want to make sure you wrap them up in the story and give them no excuse to leave your tale. One of the quickest ways to lose a reader is to get facts or procedures wrong. Use the wrong caliber on a gun and you’ve lost a portion of your dedicated readers, skip a police procedure and you alienate any reading who has experienced either side of the law. It is always worth a conversation with someone in the profession or area where your story needs to play within the lines. If that isn’t an option you would be surprised how much information is within your reach at your local library, online, or in articles from the non fiction magazine which specializes in your topic.
In this project tentatively named Strange Brew of Franklin County, there were several areas that I needed a better grasp for my potential readers. If you are taking time to read my work , I am not going to waste it by bending the laws of reality to conveniently fit my plot points. While there is a place for that in most fantasy novels, if I want you to be in the here and now for a story I have to play by life’s rules. (with a caveat of a few supernatural happenings.)
When brainstorming and rough planning the story there were several things I wanted to include, but I knew I needed to know more. Thankfully for some of it we have MasterClass online. Also my family has a network of medical professionals that were kind enough to lend me a few minutes of their time and one even pointed which websites were the best source of information.
There were several things when planning this book I was already comfortable enough around that the research was more just a quick fact check. Appalachia (spent a lot of summers there, and currently reside in Southwest Virginia), Fishing (been doing it all my life starting with my Father and both Grandfathers), Retiree Banter (spend a few hours waiting at the VA you will pick up what you missed when your grandfather and his friends picked at each other), and finally Airline travel ( I know this seems small but common things you think you can bend to your plot points can also lead to the biggest blunder when trying to keep a book authentic).
Then we started down the path of what I needed to know for my character’s journey.
Turkish Coffee– One of my favorite discoveries while deploying was this coffee. I had a small idea how the locals prepared it but I wanted to know more. If one of my characters was opening a cafe, a simple cu[p of house coffee wouldn’t do. I watched a ton of YouTube videos as a base. Luckily for us here in Abingdon, a Macedonian immigrant runs a small little bakery that serves it. Watching the process up close, as well as sampling the product was probably one of the most rewarding experiences during the planning phase of this book.
Roma- I wanted to have a bit of the Roma included in the book. No matter where they go a cloud of misconception and distrust seems to follow. They were as much as our Kosovo journey as anyone else there, so the Cafe owner befriending one as a fellow refugee on the flight to the US made sense. In planning it was originally part of a curse that drove the story, but after much research that would have fed into a stereotype, and if anything this was supposed to be a fun journey not something to rile up that distrust. Instead I wanted to capture some of the good in their culture, and while I could not get my hands on any first hand sources, there are plenty of college dissertations on their life. I read three books of college papers on the subject of their life and stigmas. In the end I found several ways the Roma culture would be able to assist our characters on their journey.
Kosovo– when this story started coming together I knew it would have to include the town of Letnica in Kosovo. Both of my tours over there, shout out to my Blue Devil and Chosin brothers, we ended up patrolling that region. The church in Letnica is a sight to see if you ever get the chance. In addition to the box of photos others encouraged me to take while we were over there, there are plenty of videos of both good and bad of that area online. Talking to an old friend who served as a translator for us, I got a sense of how Albanians in that region have a sense of pride and carry themselves. She also helped me with a lot of the Albanian words that are found in the book.
Chess–Young twenty something Jason would put this in the category of things I already know. However as a young team leader sat down while on patrol with my squad and got completely schooled in a small community center in Mitrovica. So if I wanted to capture that part of the culture of Kosovo in the book I needed to know more, a lot more. I have always snuck a game here and there but that wouldn’t cut it for the shops and cafes the characters would experience overseas. This time I leaned on my MasterClass account and a few articles online. Garry Kasparov playing is something any would be strategist would enjoy to watch.
Last but my most feared subject, Cancer– my family like many others seem to lose many loved ones to this disease so it was perhaps the most important thing to get right. A good friend of my mother, pointed me in the right direction for research after helping me narrow down which form of Cancer I would be talking about. I found the most information on the subject at the Cleveland Clinic’s website as well as the Mayo clinic’s website.
While many other things did have to be researched the top list took anywhere from a few hours to a couple weeks to gather enough information.
So I propose this question: What is one thing that when you see it in a book it can cause you to stop reading if the author/writer doesn’t get it right?
As I get ready to self-publish my first book, I thought I might share the journey it followed to get here. Those of you who follow me on Twitter or my Facebook page, mostly handled by my talented wife, you may have seen clues about the story of a white dragon, a green dress, and some bacon with hashtags galore about Eighteen Fools. We are currently in the final stages to send it forth into the world. Though my first few attempts at a book were more in the comfort zone of thrillers and horrors for me, this is the first book feels like it all came together. I have almost shelved it many, many times; however, with much encouragement, and the anxiety to match it, Eighteen Fools will see the light of day.
Eighteen fools started out as a doodle in 1996 while I was stationed in Korea. The original 18 fools represented the 18 of us that were in my platoon. One at a time we rotated back to the States. My roommate knew I spent laundry time writing short stories, so he challenged me to do one for the platoon. In the original, the dragon was being hunted by eighteen stalwart warriors of first platoon. One by one they fell to the dragon in order of our ETS (End of Time Served, the military loves abbreviations.) from Korea. It was a good laugh for a few of us, but it ended up as a memory and a piece of paper in the trash can.
Somewhere in the mid 2000’s while sitting around bored, I began to doodle a story about a girl escaping a mean duke. I sent the first chapters to people to review, but it really was not a complete story idea. So, it was shelved then scrapped.
I wanted to participate in this writer’s competition, which is really more an exercise called NaNoWriMo (https://nanowrimo.org/ Nation November Writer’s Month, at least military abbreviations are short), in November 2014. In this challenge you must write a 50,000-word story from the first to the thirtieth of November. Challenge accepted; I just needed a story. This was intended to be pure fun… although anyone chasing a dream of being an author, hopes that any book they write will be published. None of my ideas of thrillers, mysteries, or horror suited the exercise. Besides, it was meant to be a challenge. That is how the idea formed that I would bring back the story of 18 fools, but this time not just a dragon hunt. I wanted to incorporate the story of the captive girl escaping the Duke. And to be honest, I wanted the Dragon to have a bigger role and have relatable personality. The story was done November 28th, I hit 50,000-plus words, and had a rough story. I went through the process of editing and reworking but eventually shelved it.
While working on another eventually shelved manuscript (see a pattern here?), I worked with a great Editor/Mentor, Heather Cashman. Heather gave me a new way of looking at my writing and how to develop the story. New Eyes brought new ways of seeing all my previous writings.
A few months ago, I dusted off Eighteen Fools, a few voices outside my Mother’s (who has to, by unwritten law, be supportive) told me to try Eighteen fools again. This time the story focuses on Elya (the Maiden) and Frackus (the Dragon). I took to heart all the criticisms and troubled spots, ignored all the good comments except what to keep. I appreciate good opinion and praise as much as the next person, but when the book is in development, you want don’t want to hear anything nice. It is the only way to grow and fix the errors. Now, I feel it is ready for the world to see.
Thank you for all those who supported me and pushed me to this point. I will post more when the book is available.