Brown River Queen cover art

Friday, May 6, 2011

Belfast Buffoonery, Part II: Councils Without Character

Poor Lennox.  His story gets sadder and sadder with each new development.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, you can catch up by reading here.  The short version is this -- Lennox is a big black dog who is NOT a pit bull.  Pit bulls are prohibited in Belfast.  This shouldn't be a problem since, as I said, Lennox isn't a pit bull.  He had a license granted by the Belfast City Council.  He had vet records.  He had a lifetime of good behavior.  And, as I stated, Lennox isn't a pit bull at all, so there was no reason to seize him.

Sadly, such leaps of logic are simply too formidable for the Belfast City Council and their duly-appointed dog abusers, the Belfast City Council Dog Wardens (who shall be referred to hereafter by their more commonly known name, The Complete and Utter Worthless BASTARDS).  A year ago, the Dog Wardens, aka the Mouth-Breathing Inbred Cone-Headed Simpletons, mis-read a warrant and went to the wrong freaking house and grabbed poor Lennox, who is big and black and must therefore in the eyes of Belfastian law be a pit bull.

Remind me never to travel to Belfast.  Not that I plan to.  Aside from being Europe's biggest exporter of goiters and halitosis, Belfast's only other claims to fame are its open sewers and proliferation of readily-available child pornography.  The Romans once conquered Bronze-Age Belfast, only to return it to its barbarian inhabitants because, as Plutarch put it, '...seriously, there's no hope for the place or those furry, nasty little people.  We tried burning it but the stench made vultures gag.  What they do to, I can't describe it, let's move on."

After being seized by the Dog Wardens, or as they are known to Interpol 'the suspects in a number of ongoing bestiality investigations,'  Lennox was kept, for a year, in a tiny little enclosure filled with his own feces.

Because in Belfast, apparently, being surrounded by your own body wastes is known as 'what, is there a problem?'

Finally, poor Lennox had his day in court.  DNA evidence proved he wasn't a pit bull.  His spotless record of good behavior was entered into evidence.  The Council's reasons for seizing him boiled down to 'look how black he is.'

If you're new to this case, predict the outcome of that hearing.  No evidence of wrongdoing.  Clear evidence Lennox isn't a prohibited breed.  Wrongful seizure.  Appalling standards of care.

You'd think Lennox would be returned to his home that day, wouldn't you?

And you'd be right.  Right, that is, if the hearing was held anywhere but merry old Belfast, where parents have been first cousins since the dawn of time itself.

No, in a stunning decision seemingly designed to prove that Belfastian judges simply won't be bound by mere facts when there's plenty of ill-will to go around, Judge Ken Nixon sentenced Lennox to death, for the crime of being big and black and born in Belfast.

Way to go, Judge Nixon!  What's next for your amazing display of jurisprudence?  Going to mandate that sparrows are wyverns, and must be harpooned on sight?  Thinking about passing an ordinance requiring a dozen kittens to be stomped on the courthouse steps every Arbor Day?

I'll just bet you are.  Because that's how things are done in Belfast, and you don't need any uppity foreigners telling you how to slaughter your own innocent animals.

So, after His Lack of Honor rendered his decision and then toddled off to the nearest pet store to torture a Schnauzer with a pointed stick, Lennox's owners appealed the decision.

Amazingly, the court granted them an appeal.  I'm sure this was a mistake, because to the clerks in the Belfast Courthouse all those word-things on the forms look pretty much the same.  Belfast does rank 1,265,487, 365,546th in literacy, which is in itself quite an accomplishment since doing so required them to be ranked among not just Earth for twenty-seven other inhabited planets, including one populated entirely by beings who use mud for brains.

The appeal was set for May 4.  I had high hopes that perhaps a judge who did not require the services of the bailiff to wipe drool from his chin would be presiding.

Hoping for even the least smidgeon of competence among the City Council or courts of Belfast, though, is a fool's errand.

The appointed time came and went.  Lennox's family was there.

The Belfast City Council and their minions simply elected not to show up.

That's right.  They skipped the proceedings entirely.

Now, even in countries where the officials sport necklaces made of human teeth, that would mean an automatic loss for the Belfast City Council and the Dog Wardens.

But not in Belfast.  Oh no.  In Belfast, the failure of the prosecution to stumble from the pub to the courtroom gets you nothing but a 'ere, what's all this, then?' and a big wet sneeze.

So poor Lennox is still locked in his cage.  His family is still in limbo.

And in Belfast, this is what passes for law and compassion and justice.

Screw you, Belfast.  Plutarch had it right.  You're a nasty, obnoxious bunch of sadistic little puppy-stranglers, from your City Council to your goose-stepping Dog Wardens to your pox-ridden courts.  I'd wish all manner of pestilence and plague upon you, if I thought the onset of such could even be detected amid the filth and decay that you call your disgusting little city.

Not one of your elected officials has a shred of decency.  Which shouldn't come as a surprise, considering your actions in the past.  One can't expect too much from the descendants of the creatures Plutarch named 'Europe's version of the dung-sucking manure monkey.'

Hang in there, Lennox old boy.  

Belfast -- not fit for man nor beast.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Shocking News! With Teaser!

It wasn't so very long ago I finished the new Markhat book, which by the way will be entitled 'The Broken Bell.'

Now, I'm done with an entirely new novel.  Not a super short one, either -- we're talking a hundred thousand words here.  It's not a Markhat adventure.  It's not even set in Rannit.

No, this is (gasp) a young adult novel called 'All the Paths of Shadow.'  

But Frank, you ask.  Where may I obtain, purchase, procure, and/or otherwise come to posses this new novel of which you speak?

I smile knowingly.  All in good time, I say.  For plans have already been laid.  Deals have been struck.  Dates have even been discussed (September of this year).  

I'll provide all the relevant details soon -- we're talking a few days here, no more.  Honestly, I'm exhausted right now, and I've still got miles to go before I sleep tonight.  Have to save my energy for the manuscript I'm working on.

But I'm very excited about this new venture.  YA fiction is a genre I myself still enjoy, and to be working in the field is a huge thrill.  I hope to find a whole new audience.

No, I'm not stopping the Markhat series!  The next one is already laid out.  I'll be starting it any day now.  My goal is to finish it and get it to market before the year is out.

That would be three novels in 2011.

Not bad at all, for a slow writer like me.

But man, am I tired!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hold the Dark

Bang! Bang! Bang! 

I jumped, spilled warm beer and felt my head begin to throb.

Mama’s voice rang out. She tried the latch, cussed and shoved hard at the door.

I threw the bottle in the trash bucket and managed to get out of my chair and to the door before Mama broke it down.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” I said, fumbling with the latch. The daylight through my bubbled-glass door-pane was faint and yellow, more blush of dawn than actual morning.

I yanked the door open. “Damn, Mama, it’s barely daylight—”

She pushed her way in beside me. The look on her face—it’s never a good look, mind you—was worried and grim and if I didn’t know her better I’d say it was frantic.

“Boy,” she said, huffing and puffing. “Boy, where you been?”

I shut the door.

“Right here sleeping. Why? Where’s the fire?”

She fell heavily into my client’s chair, her hands tight around the neck of that big burlap sack she sometimes carries. Once she let a little snake crawl out of it and get loose on my desk. I’d told her to leave it at her place from then on.

“You ain’t been here all night.” She opened the bag and started rummaging around inside it as she spoke, and I got that lifted-hair-on-the-back-of-my-neck feeling I’d always gotten when the Army sorcerer corps had aimed new hexes at us troops.

“Whoa,” I said, harder and louder than I meant to. “You got mojo in that sack, Mama, you’d damn well better leave it there. I took hexes in the Army because I had to, and you’ve slipped a few on me because I didn’t see them coming. But hear this, Mama Hog. No hexes. Not today. Got it?”

She clamped her jaw and met my stare. I could see her hands moving, see the beginning of a word form on her lips.

Then she sagged and let out her breath.

“Wouldn’t do no good anyhow.” She pulled her hands out of the bag and tied it shut with a scrap of twine. “Wouldn’t do no good.”

When she looked back up at me, she had tears in her eyes.

“Mama, I didn’t mean—”

“Ain’t you, boy. Ain’t nothin’ you said. Ain’t nothin’ you done.”

My head pounded. I took a deep breath and ran fingers through my hair, which was wild and stiff and probably bleached white from Mama’s soap.

“What is it, then? What’s got you so upset?”

“I seen something. Last night. I seen something bad.”

“I thought your cards were clueless where Martha was concerned.”

“Wasn’t about Martha.” She wiped her eyes and leaned close. “Was about you.”

“Tell me.”

She shook her head. “No, I can’t tell. Can’t tell ’cause I still can’t see real clear.” She shuffled in her seat, and I knew I’d caught her in a lie.

“Tell me what you can.”

“Cards. Glass. Smoke. Bones. All come up death, boy. I called your name and a whippoorwill answered. I burned your hair and saw the ashes scatter. I caught blood on a silver needle and saw it turn toward your door.” She shivered, and her eyes looked tired. “Ain’t never seen all them things. Not the same night. And then, when I saw them dogs tearin’ at your clothes—well, I thought you was dead for sure.”

“I’m not surprised. I came pretty close, just after midnight. Maybe that’s what you saw.”

She shook her head. “I reckon not. Something still ain’t right about all this, boy. I oughtn’t to be seeing some things I see, and ought to see things I don’t. We got a sayin’ in Pot Lockney—it’s them things under the water what makes the river wild. Somethin’s messing up my sight on this. You reckon you know what it might be?”

I shook my head. I had suspicions, but they weren’t for anyone but Evis to hear.

“I don’t know, Mama, but I will tell you this. The Houses are mixed up in this, somehow.”

She snorted. “Figured that.”

“Maybe not that way. At least not all of them.” I gave her just enough of the night’s festivities to steer the Watch and the Hoobins toward Avalante, should I have a fatal boating accident in the next few days.

None of that helped her state of agitation. “Running around after Curfew with vampires?” she shouted. “Boy, have you hit your fool head?”

I had to agree, at least partly. But I’d lived. Thanks partly to Evis, who was probably pacing anxiously in a well-appointed crypt across the river.

“Look, Mama, I’ve got to go. But there’s something you can do. For me. Maybe for Martha.”

She gave me a sideways look, nodded.

“I’ll need a hex. A paper hex. Something I can tear. Something you’ll know I’ve torn, just as soon as I’ve torn it. From twenty, thirty blocks away. Can you do that?”

She frowned. “I reckon.”

“Good. And I’ll need you to talk to Ethel. I need you to tell him we may need men to get Martha. Men who’ll break Curfew. Men who’ll fight. Men who’ll keep their mouths shut.”

“How many?”

“All you can get.” I was hoping for fifty.

Mama nodded. “You think you know where Martha Hoobin is?”

“Not yet. But when I find out, we won’t have much time. She’s got maybe four days left. That’s all.” A thought struck me, and I held up my hand to silence Mama’s unspoken question. “Humor me, Mama. What’s special about the night four days from now?”

She frowned. “Special what?”

“I mean is it some old rite of spring or solstice or something. Is there going to be an eclipse? Will the skies turn blood red and rain frogs—that kind of thing?”

“Nothing special about it at all. It’s Thursday. There’s a new moon. Might rain.”

“That’s it,” I said, aloud. “New moon. No moon. Darkest night of the month.”

Vampire picnic day.

Mama saw, and the same thought occurred to her.

“Damn, boy,” she piped. “I done told you I seen death! Death on your name. Death on your blood. Don’t none of that mean nothin’ to you?”

I rose. “It does. But look again. You see me telling Ethel Hoobin I quit? You see me leaving Martha Hoobin at the mercy of those who have her? You see me just walking away?”

She gathered her bag. She rose, and she was crying when she hit the door.

I sat. “Whippoorwills,” I said, to my empty chair. “There aren’t any whippoorwills in Rannit. Haven’t been in years.”

None sang. Ogres huffed and doors began to open and slam outside and old Mr. Bull’s broom started its daily scritch-scritch on his pitiful small stoop. Rannit came to life, sans portents and whippoorwills, vampires and doomsayers.

I listened for a while and then got up, combed my hair and headed across town to speak with Evis about corpses, new moons and ensorcelled silver combs.

-- end excerpt.

The above is taken from Hold the Dark, a pivotal novel in the Markhat series.  Pivotal because Markhat meets Darla; 'Hold the Dark' is very much a boy-meets-girl-then-loses-her-to-vampires sort of romance.

I'm aware, by the way, that film noir detectives have less than stellar track records with the ladies.  Bogart sends his up the river in the final moments of 'The Maltese Falcon.'  Archie Goodwin never quites solidifies things with Lily Rowan.  Mike Hammer -- well.  Enough said there.

If you've read any of the Markhat books, though, I think you realized right away that Markhat wasn't going to continue in the love 'em and leave 'em tradition established by many of his predecessors. Frankly, for a long time, I wasn't sure what Markhat was planning on either. 

Until he met Darla.  Then it became obvious, to Markhat, at least.  

Does Darla survive the events in Hold the Dark?  If so, does she pop back up in The Banshee's Walk or the upcoming 'The Broken Bell?'

It'll cost ya to find out.  But not much, and most readers agree it's 
well worth the price of admission.

Follow the links below to find your preferred version of Hold the Dark, including old-school print!

Hold the Dark, various formats - Nook, Sony, pdf, etc.
Hold the Dark for the Amazon Kindle
Hold the Dark in print!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Mister Trophy

“Smells like you’re brewing up something special, Mama,” I said, while Mama Hog settled her stooped old bones into a chair and motioned for me to be seated as well. “Wouldn’t be Troll after-shave, would it?”

“Might be a drought to shut smart mouths,” said Mama, brushing a tangle of matted grey hair out of her face. “Then where would you be, boy?”

“Out of work.” I shoved the owl aside and picked up a worn deck of fortune cards. “What’s in my future, Mama?” I asked. “Trolls? Gold? Angry vampire hordes?”

The old lady snorted. “The half-dead are no joke, boy,” she said. Her eyes might be old, but they’re sharp as knifepoints, and they glittered. “No joke.”

I plopped down a card. “Neither are Trolls, Mama,” I said. “This bunch might wind up losing their tempers. Soon.”

“They might,” said Mama Hog, her voice softening, losing some of the old-hag put-on rasp. “Certainly so, if they find that which they seek.”

I threw down another card. “So you know?”

“I know.”

“They tell you?”

“They told me.”

I shuffled, cut, tossed down a card. “So who else knows? Eddie? The Watch? Who?”

Mama Hog smiled and scooped up the three cards I’d tossed out. “No one else knows,” she said. “I told them to trust you, and only you.”

“You told them that? Mama, why in the Nine High Heavens did you tell them that?”

“Your fate and their task meet now, Finder,” she said, her eyes bright and hard in the candlelight. “Meet, and mingle, and merge.”

“Drop the carnival soothsayer act, Mama,” I said. “It won’t wash with me.”

She slammed a card—one of my three cards—down on the table, face up in the flickering light.

I could just make out the worn, faded image of a man running away, a sack slung over his shoulder. Coins dribbled out of a tear in the sack.

“Greed,” said Mama Hog. “Flight. Abandonment. How much can they pay you for your soul, Finder?”

“I don’t know, Mama,” I said. “How much do you charge for fate?”

The second card went down. Crossed daggers glinted against a half-full moon. “Vengeance,” hissed Mama Hog. “How many lives will you waste to avenge a single death?”

“Six,” I snapped. “Maybe five, if it’s wash day.”

The third card hit the table. On it a skeletal hand beckoned, bony forefinger crooked in invitation.

“Death,” I said, standing. “Even I know that one. Death, the Final Dancer, the Last Guy You’ll Ever See and Boy Will You Hope There’s Been a Mistake.”

Mama Hog stood as well. “Jest if you will, Finder,” she said. “But take care. You stand at a crossroads. One way leads to the dark.”

“How much do I owe you, Mama?”

Mama Hog went stiff. All four feet of her puffed up and for a moment I honest to gods thought she was going to slap me. Then she let out her breath in a whoosh and broke into chuckles.

“No charge to neighbors,” she said. “Even disrespectful unbelieving smart-mouthed jackanapes who don’t know their friends from their boot-heels.”

“My friends don’t usually send feuding Trolls to my door, Mama.”

“This one did,” she replied. “Now get out. I’ve got an appointment.”

I stomped blinking into the street, telling myself that Mama’s cards were just so much tattered pasteboard and third-rate flummery.

The street stank, and in the absence of my Troll friends, it bustled. 
Wagons creaked, carriage drivers cussed, horses snorted, and everywhere people rushed back and forth, hurrying against the daylight so the night people could have the city by night.

A man passed in front of me, a sack slung over his shoulder, just like on Mama’s card.

I fell in step behind him all the way to Haverlock.

-end excerpt.

Yep!  Another excerpt, this time from The Mister Trophy, which is the very first Markhat story.  It's still one of my favorites.

The Mister Trophy first saw print in 1999.  The magazine was "Adventures in Sword and Sorcery," and it was a print magazine.  For all you digital age youngsters out there, 'print' magazines were composed of a flimsy physical substance called paper.  That's all we had, back in the dimly-lit days of prehistory before iTunes and the Kindle.

The editor of AS&S kept 'The Mister Trophy' on his desk for a full year before deciding to buy it.   He told me in a letter that he loved it, but it was 'so weird' he wasn't sure his readers would get it.  Well, he took a chance, and 'the Mister Trophy' was voted favorite story in that issue. 

It was also scheduled to appear in an anthology (Best Fantasy of 1999, or something similar) before the editor and the magazine simply fell right off the face of the Earth.  

If you're out there, Randy Dannenfelser, drop me a line!

I loved writing 'The Mister Trophy.'  I set out to do something new and fresh, and I still think I nailed that.  Writing as Markhat is always a blast.

'The Mister Trophy' is the shortest of all the Markhat entries.  It's a fun, quick read, and a good introduction to Markhat's world.  If you liked the excerpt, here's where you can buy the whole piece, in whatever format your little heart desires: