Hero Portal, Chapter 1, Scene 1


Curious cat  is a closeup image of a Calico cat with magnetic green eyes
It’s not often I get to illustrate a scene! 
This awesome photo is by Mexitographer from Istock Photo.

Ever since the aliens came, I wondered if they’d been here in Ancient Egypt times and gave us cats.  ‘Cause there was a Calico with brown patches who kept climbing up my back to see what I was doing under the kitchen sink. 

She was a pretty little cat, all skinny and lithe, her purring machine humming away.  She’d already staked me out and knew I was a softie.  But I needed to get this drain unclogged.

“Cat, you need to move your crazy butt.”

Wedging my hand under her belly, I relocated her to the yellowing linoleum. By the time I had the gunk ball plopping into my plastic bucket, the cat was back, sticking her head in the cupboard.  Her tail brushed my nose, a cat mustache.  But not crazy cat butt.  Stinky cat butt.

A pair of wrinkled hands reached down to pick up the cat.  “Alistair, behave,” admonished the customer.

Alistair?  Who names their cat Alistair?

But then I supposed I’m not one to complain about names.  My name is Dice Ford.  The Dice is actually short for Candice.  Yeah, you’re probably making that face, too.  I hate the name, and Candy…just…no.  I’m not being called a food.  My mother hates it, but that’s okay.  She hates that I’m a plumber, too.

This was my fourth call of the day. Second clogged drain, one water heater rusted out, and a lost ring.  I’d been glad to leave that last house. Taken longer than the water heater.  The couple was probably still fighting. 

I tried not to look too much at the customers.  I saw all shapes and types and sometimes I wasn’t always kind with my thoughts.  Never had blurted out anything stupid but I didn’t want my thoughts on my face.  This customer was old.  Not old the way you think, though she was in her eighties.  No, she was old in the way some people simply are, regardless of their age.  Like they’d put up with too much in the world and used up all their years.

“How much longer?” she asked.

No hints of impatience.  It was an art form to figuring out how long I should take to satisfy the customer.  It was a clogged drain.  But if it took ten minutes to fix, the customer would squawk at the cost.  So I always did a little fourish.  You know, made it look more difficult.

“Almost done,” I said.

Behind the customer, the TV on the breakfast nook table flashed. The melodious voice of one of the aliens filled the tiny kitchen.  The customer turned to watch.  It was one of the aliens I’d seen around doing interviews.  News media ate him up.  He was talking about how they were still looking for the right superhero.

“What do you think of them?” the customer asked.

“The aliens?”  I latched my wrench around the pipe joints and tightened it.  Difficult in the work gloves but I didn’t want to get bit by a brown recluse.

“They’re downtown, you know,” the woman said.  “They have a Hero Portal set up in the convention center.”

I hadn’t heard that, but I’d been making an effort to not pay attention. Too much drippy love from the media.  They weren’t questioning anything, except what the aliens wanted.  Me?  I had enough of my mother’s lawyer side in me to be a cynic.  People were stupid if they thought the aliens were handing out technology and superhero suits from the kindness of their two hearts.

Alistair squirmed in the woman’s arms, so she let the cat jump to the floor.  The kitty immediately scurried back to me on soft feet, inspecting the open cabinet.

“You going to the portal?” the woman asked.  “Everyone’s talking about seeing the aliens in person.”

“I’m sure my boyfriend will take me,” was all I could manage. 

It was at least true.  Jason would be all over the Hero Portal.  He’d been talking about flying out to Los Angeles to visit the one there, convinced he was the one destined to a superhero.  We’d had our first major fight over it.  He’d wanted me to pay for the plane ticket since he couldn’t afford it.  I told him to save up for it.  He told me I was ruining his chances.

I left the cat inspecting the dark and mysterious hole and stood up to turn on the water.  Drain flowing smoothly again and no leaks below.  I removed the glop bucket and started putting back the cleaning supplies.  The calico came out, triangle nose poking at the bucket like it contained catnip.  I quickly snapped on the lid before the kitty got glop all over her pretty white fur.

“Do you think they’ll finally find a superhero?” the woman asked.

I stowed my tools in my red toolbox.  Alistair batted at my hands like she had fists.  “There must not be very many people with the right DNA. Kind of like a needle in a haystack.”

But the question bounced around in my head as I stowed the bucket and toolbox in my van.  The aliens had Hero Portals set up on all the major continents.  Not one person claimed a suit. 

Then what the heck were they doing with our DNA? 

New Short Story: Sentry Ghost


Beach with a planet back drop - cover for Sentry Ghost.

Hope Delgado, GALCOM’s only expert on ghosts in space, must solve the mystery of a haunting on a planet.

The ghost terrifies the Koraxians, who depend on the area for their livelihood.

But the ghost refuses to talk with Hope.   With the death of one of the Koraxians, Hope must come up with another plan, and fast.

The odds are stacked against Hope in this thrilling space opera.

Pick up this short story from your favorite bookseller.

May Releases & Cover Refreshes


The New Books!

A ghostly woman with glowing red eyes stands by a barren tree

 

Ghostly Tales I

Three chilling fantasy tales of ghosts…
CURSE OF THE CAT

THE AUGUST GHOST

STAIN OF GHOST

(This is an abbreviated blurb because all of the individual stories are below)

Available from your favorite booksellers.  Is this an awesome cover?  I liked this image so much I’m getting a second by the same artist.

 

Woman walking through tunnel

Stain of Ghost

Stone mage Margaret Day thought the faces of the automatons gave her nightmares.

But what the Know-Nothings did to the construction of the Washington Monument makes the nightmares seem tame.

A haunted stone, deep within the monument, tainted with evil.  Can she fight the evil?

A page-turning story of dark secrets.

Available from your favorite booksellers. (This is still publishing and may take a day or so.)

Cover Refreshes

Woman in 1800s dress burning a paper next to a window

Curse of the Cat

The nightmares never stop.  Not since Edward Wight purchased the painting haunted by the artist.

It watches.  It intrudes on his dreams.  It tells him to die.

His only chance?  Maz, a sculpturer with crazy inventions.  Can she help him before time runs out?

A twisted tale of dark secrets and growing evil.

Available from your favorite booksellers.

 

Woman standing next to a ghost

The August Ghost

Sometimes ghosts can be too helpful.  But Private Investigator Tibby Clarke just wants respect from her grandfather ghost.

A routine case takes Tibby into the Washington DC suburbs…a strange place for a ghost partner with nineteenth century sensibilities.

But when the case turns deadly, her ghostly grandfather may be the only person standing between her and life and death.

A twisted fantasy tale with a terrifying secret.

Available from your favorite booksellers.

Flying saucer hover over tree covered mountain

Alien Traps

On the journey to adulthood, Lily Chun left herself behind. Does the child who set out boxes to trap aliens exist anymore?

A dream of aliens draws Lily Chu to the California desert. Hoping to see a UFO.

Plain silliness, her family says. So she must take a leap of faith.

Then another woman arrives. Like her. Looking for aliens.

A heartwarming science fiction short story.

Available from your favorite booksellers.

What I learned About Writing from Space 1999


Comet TV has been running the 1970s science fiction show, Space 1999.  They had a New Year’s Eve marathon, so I tuned in on and off during the day.

The History of the Show

It ran two seasons and starred Martin Landau and Barbara Bain.  They manned a base on the moon that was used to store nuclear waste.  The nuclear waste then exploded with enough force that it knocked the moon out of orbit.

According to my Google Fu, the producers were puzzled at the negative comments they got at the time.  They didn’t understand why viewers didn’t give the show the suspension of disbelief that Star Trek got (yup, there’s a reason).  The show was cancelled after the first season, but the producers were able to negotiate to bring it back.  Fred Freilberger was at the helm (Star Trek), and he made it more action-focused.  But it didn’t fix the overall issue, and it was cancelled a second time.

Writer’s Hat On

The suspension of disbelief issues started with the a message in the story.  The producers wanted to show that nuclear waste was bad.  They got on a soapbox and wrapped the whole series around the moon being blown out of orbit.

And then?

The characters simply react to the next thing the moon drifts near, and then the moon drifts away.  The entire setup of the show kept them from having any kind of control over their own fate.  In one episode, they drifted near an alien planet.  Aliens did not want them on the planet, but inexplicably send rockets to the moon to give it atmosphere for a little while, then pulled back the rockets.  The moon drifted away.  And?

The characters couldn’t get rescued.

They couldn’t settle on a planet.

Above all, they couldn’t even protag.

 

Let it Snow Star Trek Style


Robin Bangerter from my Fort Lewis days sent along this fun video.  Thanks, Robin!

 


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Guest Panelist at ChessieCon


Over Thanksgiving, I was a guest panelist at ChessieCon–first time as a panelist for me.

This is a picture from my first panel.  I’m in the teal on the end.  My book Cursed Planet is standing up by my name plate.

Me and the other four panelists

The con hotel had changed hands again.  The hotel is located near the Maryland State Fair site, so it gets a lot of interest from the bigger brands.  But the hotel is old and the cost to bring it up to brand standards is expensive, so it changes hands about once a year.

So the result was that when I checked in, the hotel was being remodeled.  The heat was completely out in the part of the building where the panels were.

It was thirty outside.

My panels included Military Life Vs. Real Life; What not to do when trying to get published; book covers; and time management for writers.  I had eight panels altogether.

I was thinking that I would be able to attend some other panels, but I was surprised at how draining it was.  I only managed two.  I’m an introvert, and I had to be on for the duration of the panel.  So I vanished up to the hotel room between panels to recharge (staying in the hotel when you’re a panelist is a must).  I did a little writing towards the tail end, but I was pretty fried.

Highlights:

Know your genre – from the What Not to Do panel.  In the Gold Rush days of indie publishing, I ran across a writer who had 8,000 Twitter followers. I was jealous!  I naively thought that translated into a lot of sales of books.  How could I get in on that?  One day, he asked me to review is book, calling it an action-adventure thriller.  I looked at the book.  It was a fantasy detective book, and definitely nothing thrillery like I would see in a James Rollins book.  He got upset when I turned down the review and said it had lots of action, because there was a big action scene at the end.  Sorry, that’s not a thriller.

Time Management: Hands down, health.  Do too much sitting and not enough exercising, or eating right, and the writing itself will suffer.  In terms of my priorities, it’s above writing.

Distance in stories:  Not one of I was on, but Jo Walton made an comment about the culture of distance.  We think nothing of driving somewhere if it’s about a day away.  In fact, commuting in the Washington DC area is at least a two hour drive for many people because we have such a housing shortage.  But in Great Britain, which is only about 600 miles long, twenty miles is considered a long ways to go.  They think of the distance as this giant chasm to get across.

Military Life: Know the difference between the officers and enlisted, and what the ranks are.  You’ll go along ways to “feeling right” with those two items.  Yet, I’ve seen a Lieutenant Colonel in a book who was 25 years old (in a modern setting), and in movies, they’ve mixed up officer and enlisted.  Mike McPhail was on this panel with me.

Covers: Blue and gold is trending for science fiction now.  And, of course, I told the story about an indie writer who posted up her cover for a thriller and it was clip art photo of a peaceful snowy scene.  Readers get their first impression from the cover.  Mike was also on this panel with me.

Aside from the bone-chilling cold, the con was a lot of fun!


 

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Star Trek and Space: 1999 Mashup


Comet TV has been showing Space: 1999, a British import that starred Martin Landau and Barbara Bain (he passed away a few years ago; she’s now 87).  In the series, an explosion blows the moon out of orbit, and with it, the people on a base on the surface.  It’s a little like Star Trek Voyager, in they have a never ending supply of shuttles (called Eagles).

I’ve only seen a few episodes, so I’m not sure what to think of it some 40 years later.  Here’s the theme from the first season (which changed drastically for season 2).  It looks like an inside joke or Easter egg for those who know the career of the two leads.  The “This episode” sections mimic what Mission: Impossible did.  I find the opening introducing Martin Landau and Barbara Bain quite striking.

And here’s a mash-up of Star Trek’s “Tomorrow is Yesterday” to the same music.