Logikal Blog

Thoughts and words from Roland Hughes

August 18, 2015

House of the Last Man on Earth

Science Fiction
Date Published: April 2015

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Richard Johnson, an average college student, just spent his last dime on food, lost his wealthy girlfriend, and had his bike stolen.  To add to his misery, he returns to his apartment where he runs into his strange neighbor, nicknamed The Ghoul. Convinced that this bizarre man is more than he seems, Richard and his land lady’s bull dog, Khan, sneak into The Ghoul’s apartment where they find a timegate to the future. Along with his set theory teacher and her brother, they embark upon a soaring and treacherous journey through space and time to discover a terrible truth–mankind is being slowly and systematically exterminated.
Mild Violence, No profanity, No sex
I’ve had better Wednesdays.
On Wednesdays, I’m supposed to awaken with the blaring of my alarm clock at seven. I get up, dress quickly, dash to campus, stare at Mrs. Jacklyn in set theory class, fall asleep in Mechanics 1, eat lunch, and study in the afternoon, before ending the day at band practice. For me, that was enough excitement on Wednesdays.
On the seventh Wednesday of the fall term my alarm clock didn’t go off, probably because I had thrown it across the room the day before in a fit of anger.
I was late to my first class. Ordinarily, being late to set theory would not have posed much of a problem, but when I arrived Mrs. Jacklyn was collecting a pop quiz. I hadn’t done very well on her last quiz and I wasn’t likely to do much better on this one.
I slunk into the class. With nothing important to do for a few seconds after finishing the quiz, everyone had time to turn and gawk at me. I wanted to whirl and run, but somehow I found the courage to shrivel into a seat in the back row. What continually cycled through my mind as I tried to disappear was how embarrassing it would be to flunk math, since it was the class in which I wanted to do well. Not because I liked set theory. I hated it, and it wasn’t even required for my major. No, I was in the class for one reason: I was mesmerized by Mrs. Jacklyn, and I had no trouble explaining why. Since reaching puberty, I had always adored tall women, and Mrs. Jacklyn was tall; she’d played volleyball in college, according to rumor, and was an expert in martial arts and weapons. Her slender body, lithe and graceful as a pine tree, was at least an inch taller than my six feet two inches. Her hair was black, as were her eyes, and every time she looked at me with those bottomless eyes I was captured. All she had to do was ask and I would give her anything. Unfortunately, the only thing she ever asked for were my tests, and I was too intimidated to ever speak to her.
Most of the students in the class were afraid of her, but I was both afraid of and in love with her, at least in a theoretical way. After all, I did have a girlfriend, so my dreams of love were tempered by that and Mrs. Jacklyn’s attitude toward me. She was remote and unapproachable, as difficult a goal to achieve as the set theory she was trying to teach me. The look she gave me when I slid into my seat late was cold enough to freeze fire. The look she gave me when I darted out of the class at the end of the period was even colder.
I had an hour between classes, so I rode my bike home to retrieve my Mechanics 1 textbook, which I had forgotten in my rush to find a clean pair of socks that morning. In times like these I was glad I didn’t have a car, since parking on campus was impossible, and I lived too far away to walk home and back even with an hour off. My bike was an old Schwinn five-speed, but it served me well.
Home was a slightly renovated old house a couple of blocks south of Arapahoe and a few blocks west of Broadway, close to a mile from the University of Colorado campus in Boulder. My landlady, Mrs. Lafferty, who was over ninety, had turned her family home into eight apartments. Only two of the apartments had bathrooms; the rest were just bedrooms that shared a common bath.
Two sizes smaller than the other apartments was my closet of a room. Mrs. Lafferty kept telling me it had been her children’s playroom sixty years before, but I wasn’t convinced. It was too small to be anything but a closet. But it was cheap, and with the discount I received for walking Genghis Khan each day, I could almost afford it.
The mail had already come as I panted by; I snatched it off the foyer table, tripped over Khan, regained my footing, and glanced behind me with some anxiety.
Khan had not moved even one drooping lip. I was grateful. The last thing I needed right now was a spoiled brat of a bulldog wanting his walk. Technically, I was supposed to walk him twice a day. Mrs. Lafferty’s right knee had been replaced the month before, and she was still too sore to walk him herself. Even though in general we didn’t get along too well, Khan and I had quickly come to an understanding—most of the time: I would only walk him in the afternoons and he wouldn’t complain about it to his owner. Not that he wanted to; Khan was a fat, ugly registered purebred bulldog who was over seventeen years old. Mrs. Lafferty’s family tree had primarily grown in Hungary and she’d named him after one of her heroes: Genghis Khan, the invader of Hungary. Khan’s belly bounced along the floor as he waddled (he no longer ran) and his lower lip often dragged the ground as he went. It seemed as though I was always pulling a sandspur out of that lip after one of our walks. Because of cataracts he could barely see where he was going, but there was nothing wrong with his nose: he could smell dead food eight blocks away. The deader the better. Four-day-old-squirrel roadkill (still stuck to the road, of course) was his idea of gourmet dining. It was almost impossible for me to pull him away from it even when a truck was rumbling straight at us. Once I had to scrape the squirrel off the road with my fingers and throw it onto the sidewalk to save our lives.
Still, unless Khan smelled some particularly ripe, tasty feast lying somewhere in the neighborhood, he was no more enthusiastic about his walks than I was. Our unspoken arrangement suited both of us just fine.
I examined my mail. The only mail not an ad was a notice from the campus credit union that the check I had written to The Food Market had bounced, and loudly, I presumed. That was my second bouncing to The Food Market. From now on it would be cash only for me at that store.
No money in the account! I couldn’t believe it! I should have had twenty dollars left over after that check. Now, with the bounced-check fee, I apparently was overdrawn thirty dollars and twenty cents. How could I have fouled up my checkbook so badly? It wasn’t as though I wrote a lot of checks to keep up with. It didn’t make sense.
Food was definitely going to be a problem for the next few days, until my GI Bill check came in. And worst of all, I had a date for lunch with Rosalyn. Sometimes she paid for our lunch; hopefully this would be one of those times. Otherwise I was going to be in trouble.
As it turned out, my money problem was the least of my worries.
Depressed, staring at the ground, afraid to wonder what else could possibly go wrong on this day that had hardly begun, I ran right into the Ghoul from the End of the Hall. It was like hitting a steel I-beam, and I went careening across the hall into the wall. The Ghoul just glared at me and left.
Dreamy Isle Apartments was a three-story building. Mrs. Lafferty lived on the first floor with Genghis Khan; there were four apartments on the second floor and four more on the third, five if you counted mine. While mine was certainly the smallest, the Ghoul’s was the largest, with a sitting room as well as a bedroom and a private bath. I had no proper excuse for knowing this except that I’d been in it chasing Khan. This was one thing Khan and I agreed on. Neither of us liked the Ghoul. If anything, Khan disliked him more than I did. I had no idea why, but whenever the Ghoul was around, Khan continually emitted a low-pitched growl and stayed as far away from him as possible. But when the Ghoul was out of the building, Khan often spent hours trying to break into his apartment. At least one time he was successful and I found him staring into the bathroom, his head slightly cocked to the right, lip and stomach rubbing the floor, a puddle of drool in front of him. Pulling him away from that bathroom was harder than dragging him away from one of his favorite dead squirrels, but I finally extracted him from the Ghoul’s apartment. My first inclination was to leave Khan in the hallway while I wiped up the trail of drool, but ultimately I decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Let the Ghoul puzzle over the river of spit.
Of course, he really wasn’t a Ghoul, not that I was aware of, anyway. His name was Thaddeus K. Rumpkin. I had some difficulty prying this from Mrs. Lafferty, but kept asking her day after day until it slipped out of her sometimes addled mind. I don’t know why it was so important for me to find this out, but it was.
All the tenants called him the Ghoul because in some indescribable way he reminded us of one. It was hard to say why. He was thick and stubby, at least four inches shorter than me. His face was entirely without wrinkles, yet gave the appearance of being old. His expression was always neutral, never laughing, smiling, frowning, or looking puzzled. Yet a feeling of hostility always emanated from him. And his eyes … they were ancient, deep in knowledge … frightening … inhuman. I couldn’t look at them without a cold sweat breaking out on my back and my knees wobbling.
Once I had tried to be friendly. I offered to help him carry a load of groceries to his apartment since he was struggling with four obviously heavy bags, two in each arm. He stared at me, almost through me, and shook his head.
“Why?” he muttered. “I’m several times stronger than you.”
With that he bounded up the steps faster than I ever could, leaving me to shrug at Mrs. Lafferty in the foyer.
“Strange bird,” she said, staring up at him. “Pays good money, though. Never late with his rent.” With that, she turned and hobbled into her kitchen. It was the only unsolicited comment about him I ever heard from her.
I often asked her what he did for a living. She shook her head. I asked her why he didn’t come to the weekend breakfasts she fixed for all her tenants. She shook her head. I asked her if she knew why we didn’t see him for days at a time. Was he gone or in his apartment? She shook her head. She didn’t know, of course. No more than the rest of us.
 As I now staggered around the hallway watching the Ghoul’s back disappear down the stairs I thought about the one time I had followed Khan into the Ghoul’s apartment. My mind couldn’t remember all the details, but what still struck me was that it was virtually bare. There was a desk or table in the sitting room, with a computer on it—at least something that was square and metallic—but the rest of the room was empty, and there was only a pad on the floor in the bedroom. I couldn’t remember anything about the bathroom except for Khan drooling in the doorway, but there was a strange presence coming from the room; perhaps that was the reason I needed so much strength to pull him away. It took me several days to admit it, but I was scared in that apartment. Terrified, actually.
Rushing away from the Ghoul, I made it back to campus for my Mechanics I class. The day had been going so badly that I had temporarily buried deep in my mind the fact that I was facing a midterm here. I had studied at least thirty hours for this test, and felt that I knew the material backwards and forwards, but the moment the test was placed in front of me, my mind went blank. The test questions appeared to be written in Sanskrit. Not one of them made any sense whatsoever.
When I finished the midterm, I was sure I had flunked it.
At lunch, Rosalyn Jennifer Rosencrantz dumped me. She had been avoiding me for two weeks, studying, she told me, so I should have been expecting something like this, but at times I’m oblivious to the emotions radiating from people around me.
Lunch started out fine. Perfect, in fact, considering my finances.
“Order whatever you want, it’s my treat,” she told me. “Daddy gave me some extra allowance.” Extra allowance for Rosalyn was usually enough to buy a Corvette. Daddy—Robert A. Rosencrantz, Jr.—had moved south thirty years before with his inherited New England fortune and developed acre after acre of beachfront condos in South Florida and square mile after square mile of mobile home parks in Central Florida, thus multiplying his already hefty fortune by several times. Having filled Florida, he then moved to Colorado to develop cheap ski areas. The lift tickets and condo prices weren’t cheap, of course, just the construction.
I was not too proud to take advantage of this opportunity for a free meal and ordered a double cheeseburger and fries, with cheese nachos as an appetizer. My goal for the moment was quantity and food with lasting power, not health.
Rosalyn ordered a small Diet Coke. That also should have tipped me off, but as I said, at times I’m not very observant.
She was quiet until the nachos came, then as I grabbed a chip and dipped my first glob of cheese with my right hand, she reached over and took my left.
“Richard, you know we’ve been dating for a long time.” Warning signal number three. I ignored it.
I nodded, my mouth full. “Since we were freshmen,” I mumbled.
She continued to hold my hand, but looked down at the table, avoiding my eyes. I was at last beginning to sense a problem and started to take interest in something other than food. But I found it hard to concentrate. Instead of blue eyes and an oval face, tanned to the color of dark sand and framed by short blonde hair, I saw the dark eyes of Mrs. Jacklyn.
“Our relationship isn’t going anywhere,” she went on, and my vision of Mrs. Jacklyn shattered, its pieces fluttering away to the far corners of my mind. “I think it’s time we both moved on and dated other people.”
She must have felt my hand flinch in shock, because she said, “It’s not just your fault—some of it is mine, too.”
I hadn’t even considered that it might be my fault. “Is there something I can do?” I asked. “Anything?” More a plea than a question. I looked at her, studied her face. She fiddled with the ends of her blonde hair nervously. Her eyes darted around, avoiding me, furtive blue orbs seeking a hiding place.
Then she withdrew her hand. “No, the thing is … well, actually … I’ve already found someone else.”
“John Rogers. You don’t know him. He’s a law student.”
I didn’t like the implications of her sentence. “I’m willing to share you,” I said meekly.
“Well … actually … I’ve been living with him for about two weeks.”
That finally did it. The facade of impenetrable concrete around my head crumbled away and awareness rushed in.
She was living with him! That meant … I didn’t really want to picture in my mind exactly what that meant. There was suddenly an ache deep inside and I wasn’t sure if it was in my heart or lower down.
She frowned. “Richard, you’re sweet, but so naive. John is much more a man of the world than you are. And he’s finished college and is in law school, even though he’s two years younger than you.”
I didn’t know what to say. My tongue wouldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe well. I was naive. I wasn’t a man of the world. Of course, with more cooperation from Rosalyn I could have qualified as more of a man of the world.
She stood up. Her Diet Coke was still full.
“I’m sorry, Richard,” she said. But her blue eyes were suddenly lacking in sympathy, or any kind of feeling whatsoever.
I was still too stunned to say much. She threw a twenty-dollar bill on the table. “Here, this should cover lunch, since I did invite you.” Now my senses were fully alert and I could detect the trace of scorn in her voice.
I was still staring at the door when my lunch arrived. I kept picturing her and this John Rogers—a vague, faceless man in a double-breasted three-piece suit (or maybe without the suit)—and it made me too nauseated to eat a thing. My head reeling, I staggered out of the restaurant, leaving the twenty-dollar bill on the table to pay for lunch. The waitress ended up with a generous tip.
Later, I seriously regretted leaving all that money. And not eating.
At twenty-four, I should have completed college; instead, I was just a junior—by my criteria. By the University’s, I was officially only a sophomore, since I still had one required English course to take.
I had spent three years in the Marines prior to college. When I graduated from high school, I didn’t have the faintest idea about what I wanted to do with my life, so, thinking I was one of the “few good men,” I joined up. In boot camp I quickly discovered that I had no real talent for war. I never could quite catch on to hand-to-hand combat; using a gun or knife was usually more dangerous to me than to my opponent, and there was no way in the world I could focus my eyes on anything before nine o’clock in the morning. The Marines had this bad habit of trying to awaken me hours before that. They didn’t send me home, but my sergeant, feeling pity for either me or the Marines, managed to get me a tryout for the Marine band. I made it with ease. I could play a trumpet then and I still could play one now.
I stayed in the band during my entire tour of duty.
My late arrival to college life was not the only reason I was still here. There were at least two other reasons. For one thing, I liked college life. I liked the parties, the football games, even the classes, most of them anyway. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of the classes enough. That was the second reason. I still couldn’t decide what I wanted to do when I finished this thing called a formal education. I had taken enough courses to graduate, but not the right ones, and only this semester had I declared a major of aerospace engineering, but that was because I had to, not because it was the unwavering ambition of my life. The truth was, if you could get me to admit it, there were two goals far stronger than my desire to pursue aerospace engineering. My first was to shack up with Mrs. Jacklyn, which tells you two more things: one, I was an unrealistic pie-in-the-sky dreamer (she never even said hello to me outside class, and besides, she apparently was married), and secondly, maybe I wasn’t as crushed at being dumped an hour before, as I first thought. Angry, yes. Embarrassed, sure. Hurt, of course. But not crushed because I’d lost the love of my life. I would have dumped Rosalyn in a second for a chance at Mrs. Jacklyn.
My other goal was to play the trumpet. I did, of course, play in the University of Colorado band, but that was for fun, not for money. Given a choice, playing a trumpet for money would be my choice for a profession, not engineering, but I didn’t have the confidence, nor did I have the courage to go against my father’s wishes that I graduate from college with some kind of useful degree.
I had to admit that my father had been extremely understanding throughout this school process. He was becoming a bit frustrated, but still sent a little money each month. I was wondering whether to call and ask for it early when I noticed that my feet had taken me to the mathematics building.
What did I have to lose? I was afraid that the answer to that question was “my manhood,” but I went in anyhow.
Mrs. Jacklyn was in her office on the third floor. Since she was a graduate student, it was no more of an office than my room was an apartment. A small metal desk, a metal chair, and a bookcase, all crammed into a six-foot-by-six-foot space. She was leaning back in that metal chair, a fancy new electronic pad on her lap, her long legs propped up on the desk, where her laptop was open. Her short skirt was above her knees, and I had trouble remembering why I had come.
She looked up and my heart stopped. In the dim light of her cubicle, her pale face framed by black hair looked like a wraith.
“Can I help you?” she asked. She was probably younger than I was, but the difference in our achievement levels was immense. She was a graduate assistant working on her Ph.D. in theoretical mathematics, with a thesis having something to do with topography. She was also married. I was a junior (at best), and I was … well, you know.
“I-I’m Richard Johnson.”
“Yes, I know. I hope you have a more worthwhile purpose for your visit than telling me your name.”
“I-I wanted to f-find out if there’s any way for m-me to make up the pop quiz you gave this morning.”
“No.” The answer I feared. And expected.
“My alarm was broken—it didn’t go off.”
“I wake up every morning without an alarm.”
“I don’t need a zero on that quiz.”
“You certainly don’t.”
“Then …?”
She lowered her feet to the floor, staring at me scornfully with her luminous black eyes that perfectly matched her long hair. I didn’t know how she could manage to convey a look of utter disgust and seduction at the same time—though I suspected that the latter was only in my imagination.
“Mr. Johnson,” she said slowly. “Class starts at 8:30, does it not?”
“Well, yes, but—”
“How long has it started at 8:30?”
“Well … I guess since the semester began.”
“Then it hardly was a surprise to you that it started at 8:30 this morning?”
“Not exactly.”
“Everyone else was there at 8:30. What was I supposed to do—ask them to sit and read the newspaper until you blessed us with your presence?”
At this point, my only wish was to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. I would rather be trapped in a room with Thaddeus Rumpkin than be here with Mrs. Jacklyn.
“Then, I—”
“I suggest you buy a new alarm clock so that you’re not late for the next test.”
I took that as a dismissal and left. Rapidly. Without looking back.
My bike had been parked right outside the math building, chained to the bike rack with a lock worth three times the bike itself. It evidently wasn’t strong enough, though why anyone would bother with my old heap in a sea of glistening new fifteen-speeds is a question without an obvious answer. But someone did. It was gone, the lock cut in half and lying on the ground.
The way the day had gone, I knew it was time to give up. There wasn’t any point in reporting the loss to the cops. Bicycle thefts were hard to solve. In fact, I had never heard of a stolen bike being recovered in usable condition, though I’m sure it had happened somewhere in the world at some time in history.
I walked home slowly. My mind was busy as I walked, none of the thoughts happy ones. This morning I had missed a math quiz, flunked my Mechanics I midterm, and bounced my grocery check. At lunch I was dumped. A few minutes before, I had been thrown out of Mrs. Jacklyn’s office, and now my bike was gone. And the thirty-dollar lock was worthless. I threw it in a trash can at the corner of University Avenue and Bernard Street. What had the thief used to cut my lock? A giant metal cutter from the hardware store? Not an easy thing to hide under your shirt.
I was tired, sweaty, and irritable when I reached the Dreamy Isle Apartments. My only dream was to start the day over. Instead, what I had to look forward to was walking Genghis Khan. I couldn’t avoid it this time. I had to stay on Mrs. Lafferty’s good side.
As I walked into the foyer, Khan was bobbing up the stairs toward the second floor. It could only mean one thing. He was heading for the Ghoul’s room. I dropped my books on the foyer table and gave chase.
He appeared to be moving slowly, but appearances are often deceiving. I was no match for the old bulldog in stair climbing. He reached the second floor before I was halfway up, then made the turn and headed for the stairs to the third floor. Here, on a level surface, I almost caught him, but he found a burst of energy from somewhere and left me behind. Given how the rest of the day had gone, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Khan hit the door of the Ghoul’s apartment with his head and it bounced open. Mrs. Lafferty had not spent a great deal of money on door latches and locks when she renovated; they were all from the late eighteen hundreds, when the house was built. Most were rusted and barely latched. The Ghoul’s was no exception.
When I finally staggered to the open door, panting heavily, I found Khan staring into the bathroom again.
I caught up with him and grabbed for his collar. He bolted straight ahead … for the shower. I leaped after him, realizing subconsciously that there was something wrong with it; it was shimmering, out of focus, the back wall just a blur.
Khan jumped into the shower … and vanished.
A second later, before my mind could cope with that fact, I lost my balance and tumbled after him.
The day had died in the endless spaces, and it was impossible to tell whether time was passing.
—Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky
About the Author

Robert B. Marcus Jr. is a practicing radiation oncology physician. He has been a Professor at two major medical schools, and is listed in U.S. News and World Reports Best Doctors in America, as well as Castle Connolly’s Top Cancer Doctors and Castle Connolly’s Top Doctors in America. He has been president of FLASCO, the society of all the oncologists in Florida, and has authored or co-authored almost 200 medical journal articles and chapters. He has been selling fiction since he was in college. Since then he has published a number of novelettes and short stories and three novels, with two forthcoming novels, one a paranormal romance (The Haunting of Scott Remington) and another political thriller novel (Yesterday’s Tears). He is a lifetime active member of Science Fiction Writers of America and recently became a member of the International Thriller Writers, Inc.
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August 07, 2015

The Warning

Date Published: June 30, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollinsPublishers

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

When a kindly stranger does Chloe a good deed, she decides she must repay him. But in tracing him, she meets a sympathetic woman named Nadine, who warns Chloe to stay away from the man at all costs. “Give him nothing, tell him nothing, don’t trust him,” she says. “Avoid him like the plague.”

Chloe knows the sensible thing to do: walk away. But her curiosity gets the best of her. What is the truth about the good Samaritan? How dangerous could he be? And can Chloe find the answers without putting herself and her daughter in harm’s way?

A twisting, razor-sharp suspense story that will keep you guessing to the very end, The Warning features an appearance from Simon Waterhouse, next seen in the full-length thriller Woman With a Secret – already hailed as “mesmerizing” (Lisa Gardner) and “unputdownable” (Liane Moriarty).




 I haven’t chosen to have this conversation. Nadine Caspian followed me. Forced it on me.

She’s standing three steps above me on the staircase. It makes me feel trapped and small. I wish we could talk on the same level, but we can hardly stand side by side on one step—they’re too narrow.

I can’t decide if she’s attractive or not. Her hair is nice—dark blond, thick and subtly highlighted. Her face is heart shaped and her features big and doll-like, but with a slightly hardened look to them. She’s around my age: early thirties.

“Something tells me you haven’t known Tom Rigbey long,” she says. “You don’t know him well—am I right?”

I nod.

“This is none of my business, but I’ll say it anyway. You seem like a lovely person, so go and get your gift bag back off Rukia and give it to someone else, anyone else. Have nothing to do with Tom Rigbey. Give him nothing, tell him nothing, trust him not at all.’

Sophie Hannah is the New York Times bestselling author of nine psychological thrillers as well as The Monogram Murders, the first novel to be authorized by the estate of Agatha Christie. Her books have received numerous awards, including the UK National Book Award, and are published in twenty-seven countries. She lives in Cambridge, England.


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Twitter:  @sophiehannahCB1



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July 30, 2015

Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Fantasy Noir
Date Published: 7/21/2015

A mobster learns he’s becoming a god, only to discover they die too.

The right hand of the dominant mob family, Raine Morgan is tasked with hunting down two miscreants messing with the bottom line. He finds them on the docks, but, in the confusion of the fight, accidentally kills their victim and lets them escape. Horrified at what he’s done, Raine seeks redemption as well as revenge.

Things spiral out of control when a greedy middleman overthrows Raine’s mob organization. It’s only with the help of a friend inside the crumbling mob as well as a streetwise artist that Raine remains undetected as he searches for the men who started this all. Raine doesn’t realize, however, he has caught the attention of a disparate conclave of gods in the process.

As the pantheon returns to the city they’d abandoned, old conflicts re-emerge, causing divine civil war. Both sides try to pull Raine to their side, expecting to find a naive god for them to manipulate. Instead, they find a man stripped of everything, intent on playing both sides as they learn an awful reality – even gods can die.



How to Identify Your Writing Problems

I’ve been in the trenches so long that the only way I really look at this now is through editing. Identifying your failings as a writer while you’re in the thick of it can only be a distraction. However, I do have some useful shortcuts to take when editing that can help.

Now, I use Microsoft Word most of the time. I’m old school in that manner. I have Scrivener, but I’ve only really used it after the fact to set everything out for a bird’s eye view. However, I still edit and write in Microsoft Word, but I assume most text editors have this functionality. This goes hand in hand with using Track Changes.

Favorite Tool: Find and Replace (Ctrl + H). Make it work for you.

There is a lot you can do with this. For me, I use it to highlight “trouble” words, passive voice, and repetitive phrases. In the past, I’ve had a compulsion to find every repeated phrase and eliminate them. Unfortunately, with long form fiction, you are going to repeat yourself, but it’s more of a question of frequency rather than eliminating the phrases altogether. All the things I’m about to list are an aspect of this tool. Just pull up the Replace tool (once again, Ctrl + H) and be sure to click the More >> button.

Highlight: Make sure you click in the Replace with: field. Now, at the bottom, there’s a button that says Format. Now, Click Highlight. It should now put Highlight under the Replace with field. The secret of using Highlight is that you just need to search for (and replace) a term, with nothing listed in the Replace field, and it will simply highlight all the words. It’s also a good idea to tick Find whole words only so that it doesn’t highlight every word that has your search word contained within.

One thing I recommend as well is to change the highlight color, depending on what you’re doing. For me, this is the type of stuff I look for:

Linking verbs (in yellow): am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been

Repeated words/phrases (in green): to the side, looked, appeared

Adverbs or Words Ending in Ly (blue)

Everyone will have a different list of stuff that plagues their writing, but it’s worth highlighting those so that you can read the context and see if they absolutely need to be in there. There are times when they do. I spent an entire draft eliminating all passive voice, and yes, I mean I was at 0% passive voice in my entire novel. Then, over the next three drafts, slowly added it back in because, in certain circumstances, it is still needed. Be mindful of what you’re eliminating and how it might change your work, but, for me, Find and Replace (plus Highlight) is my most useful tool


Justin D. Herd is a Fantasy Noir author who has been writing novels for ten years. He absolutely loves dark, twisted stories that take readers into unexpected places. Horror movies are his passion and he often takes stories to task for not logically thinking out their concepts. His home has been invaded by two eccentric children as well as a cat which is obsessed with all things digital.






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May 14, 2015

Dark Pursuit


Crime Thriller
Date Published: 3/13/15
From the International Award Winning EMILY STONE THRILLER SERIES: 

Vigilante detective Emily Stone has covertly hunted down killers and closed more serial cases than most seasoned homicide cops combined. Her exceptional profiling skills and forensic techniques, along with deductive crime scene investigations, have made her a compelling force that cannot be beat.
She has reached her ultimate breaking point and now must face her toughest opponent yet – her biggest fears.

With preciseness, the Tick-Tock Killer has taken his next child victim and promised to dump the body precisely four days later, mocking police and the community. Stone struggles to balance her inner demons and ghosts from the past, against the wits of a brutal and cunning serial killer in an all-out battle of psychological warfare.

Can Stone save the next child in time? Dark Pursuit is an action-packed cat and mouse game that will take you to dark places rarely explored.


Guest Post

Writing in the Moment

A few years ago, I discovered the term mindfulness and incorporated it into my everyday life.  It has helped me to combat my anxiety issues.  It simply means what it implies.  On one level, it means paying attention to details of what is going on around you at any given time, but on a much deeper level, it brings your conscious awareness to a moment-by-moment basis.  It is where you pay attention to what is happening right now, but in a non-judgmental way.

Writing is a demanding, but a rewarding profession.  I have found myself taking part in standard Yoga stretches to ground myself before beginning my day.  I have recently taken it a step further by using the meditation technique to mindfulness to de-stress and balance my mind and body.  It works wonders on writing.

I wanted to take the “in the moment” or “mindfulness” into my writing.  I have finished my fifth Emily Stone Novel, Dark Pursuit, where my protagonist, Emily Stone, pushes new levels of suspense as she chases after serial killers. It is the feeling of being caught up in the moment where you can almost feel the killer’s breath or feel their touch.

As I briefly outlined the chapters and scenes for this book, I have found myself creating the suspense and tension of the storyline by using some simple techniques.  I take a moment to view things from Emily Stone’s perspective of “in the moment” methods.  It definitely gets the writing juices flowing.

For example, if Emily Stone finds a new clue that can help track down the killer, I ask myself several questions.  What does she do?  How will she move forward in a moment-by-moment way?  What are some of the observations, emotions, and details that she can accomplish in this particular task?  I break down the scene into action/reaction from beginning to end.  The beginning is when she finds the clue and the end is the result I want her to accomplish.  It sounds simple, but breaking it down moment by moment is challenging.

You can take this writing task a step further into your own day.  Write the “in the moment” observations of a typical day.  Create a scene when you run errands, watch your favorite movie, or take a lunch break with a friend.  Write everything down that you observe.  What are the moment-by-moment actions that happen?  Decipher them.  Study them.  It opens up a new perspective into a storyline and you begin to see things differently.

Personally, I have found that by writing in the moment, you discover not only things about yourself, but also about your characters.  The next time you feel that little procrastination writing bug nipping at you, pull back, and write in the moment.




Jennifer Chase is an award-winning author and consulting criminologist.  She has authored six crime fiction novels, including the award-winning Emily Stone thriller series along with a screenwriting workbook.

Jennifer holds a Bachelor degree in police forensics and a Master’s degree in criminology.  These academic pursuits developed out of her curiosity about the criminal mind as well as from her own experience with a violent sociopath, providing Jennifer with deep personal investment in every story she tells. In addition, she holds certifications in serial crime and criminal profiling.  She is an affiliate member of the International Association of Forensic Criminologists.

May 01, 2015

Crossing Danger

Date Published: April 27, 2015

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Shelby Nichols isn’t your average soccer-mom turned private investigator. She’s more on the quirky side with a little wild thrown in. That’s because a near-fatal gunshot wound to the head left her with the ability to read minds. This lands her in all kinds of trouble, and this time is no exception. Helping a reporter, Billie Jo, get the low-down on a case is just the tip of the iceberg. When her best friend’s niece goes missing, Shelby is pulled into a conspiracy that involves the police and the leader of a violent drug ring. Add to that a stranger in town with ties to the mob-boss she works for, along with a known assassin out to kill him, and Shelby is crossing danger at every turn. Will she find the answers in time? Or will this be her last adventure?


I stood inside the small women’s locker room dressed in white drawstring pants that ended several inches above my ankles, and a robe-like top that crisscrossed to close in front. Luckily, I wore a black tank top underneath, since there wasn’t anything besides a white belt to hold it together.
I tied the belt in a knot and let out a breath, hoping I’d done it right. The white training uniform was a bit stiff, and worse, felt like a poufy marshmallow around me. I let out a disgusted huff, knowing that I looked like the womanly version of the Pillsbury dough-boy.
Billie Jo waited just outside the door, but it was hard to step out there dressed like this. Did I really need to do this? Especially since I’d know what everyone was thinking about me? Reading minds often came in handy, but not in situations like this.
Of course, the fact that a serial killer had recently taken me hostage and nearly killed me certainly helped. It was time to learn some self-defense, so nothing like that could ever happen to me again.
So what if I looked silly, and that with my ‘superpower’ of reading minds I’d know what everyone thought of me. I could take it. Besides, I had to start somewhere, right?
I took a calming breath and opened the door.
Billie smiled encouragingly before glancing down at the way I’d tied my belt. Her brows drew sharply together, and she was thinking it looked like a disaster. No way did she want me out on the mat looking like that. “Here…let me help you with that. Tie it this way…” She demonstrated how to do it, then pulled it tight. “Okay. Now you’re good to go.”
“Um…thanks,” I said.
She didn’t miss the embarrassed flush creeping up my neck and was thinking I should just suck it up and be grateful she was there to keep me from looking like a dork. With an indulgent smile that contradicted her thoughts, she turned and led the way to the mat.
Swallowing my pride, I followed behind, noting that her black skirt-like pants with the waist-high belt looked ten times better than my outfit. Compared to her, I looked like I was still in my underwear and had forgotten to put my pants on.
A vision of getting out there and everyone laughing at me crossed my mind but, given how Billie made sure my belt was right, I didn’t think she’d let me embarrass her like that. Still, once we got to the mat, I let out a relieved breath to find I wasn’t the only one wearing white training pants.
Billie did a quick bow before stepping onto the mat, so I bowed as well. I followed her to stand in a line before the teacher, or Sensei, as everyone called him. He wore the same black pants as Billie but, on him, they seemed more dignified and masterful. He was also a big, tall and brawny kind of guy. With his long, gray-black hair pulled back into a ponytail, he intimidated the crap out of me.
He caught my gaze and nodded a cool greeting while I tried to hide my jittering nerves. After he introduced me to the rest of the class, we began with a few stretches and warm-ups. Then he taught us that the most important part of Aikido was learning how to fall safely and then roll around to get back up.
Besides Billie, there was only one other woman in the class. Her name was Melissa, and she was a second-degree black belt like Billie. With the two of them paying special attention to me, I began to relax and actually started to enjoy myself. Even the rolling-around part didn’t seem so bad. They showed me some basic techniques, and my confidence grew.
Near the end of class, Sensei asked if I had any questions, so I blurted out the one thing I’d been thinking about all night. “Yeah. I was just wondering…if someone was to get me in a choke hold with his elbow around my neck and started dragging me backwards, would I be able to get away?”
His gaze caught mine, and his eyes narrowed. He was thinking that, from the fear in my eyes and the tone of my voice, it probably wasn’t a rhetorical question. No. I had the look of someone who’d been there, and a spike of anger rushed over him. He’d seen it more times than he liked, and it always made him furious.
“Yes you can. I’ll show you how.” He turned his gaze to Melissa and asked her to help him demonstrate the technique. Since she was about my size, and he was huge, I was interested to see how she could possibly take him on and come out on top.
He stood behind her and clamped his elbow around her neck beneath her chin. “The first thing you do is tuck your chin down so they can’t choke you.” She did this, and Sensei proceeded to explain how she needed to pull down on his elbow and step back, then grab his wrist and forcefully push outward with his elbow still bent. “At this point, you will break his arm.”
Whoa! That sounded pretty awesome, and I couldn’t help smiling with wicked delight. He demonstrated the technique a few more times, adding different variations to the attack, and then asked me to practice with him. Him! The biggest guy in the class!

I nervously licked my lips and, as he put his arm around my neck, that feeling of helplessness washed over me. But he patiently talked me through the moves and, after breaking his hold a few times, confidence replaced my fear. I even forced him to the mat once. Who would have thought? By the end of class, I was pumped. This was the right place for me, and I could hardly wait to come back and learn more.

About the Author

As the author of the Shelby Nichols Adventure Series, Colleen is often asked if Shelby Nichols is her alter-ego. “Definitely,” she says. “Shelby is the epitome of everything I wish I dared to be.” Known for her laugh since she was a kid, Colleen has always tried to find the humor in every situation and continues to enjoy writing about Shelby’s adventures. “I love getting Shelby into trouble…I just don’t always know how to get her out of it!” Colleen lives in the Rocky Mountains with her family. Besides writing, she loves a good book, biking, hiking, and playing board and card games with family and friends. She loves to connect with readers and admits that fans of the series keep her writing.

Author Links
Twitter: @ColleenHelme
Purchase Links
$25 Amazon Gift Card
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