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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

ABOUT THE BOOK: Blood and Stone (Stone Soldiers #3)

About the Book is a new feature on Stone Soldiers where the author shares some background, easter eggs and other hopefully interesting information about the book...



The shapeshifting giant Tezcahtlip is free in the modern world, eating the hearts of victims to steal their form, their memories and their power. 

After losing his brother in a battle with the American military, the giant flees to Mexico, taking up residence in the Yucatan where he poses as the Mayan god Kukulcan in an effort to gather followers and sacrifices. 

The men and women of Detachment 1039 will need help from an unlikely source before they head south to combat the monster. But can a vampire imprisoned at Alcatraz really be a help, or a hindrance?



This was it, the one where I hit my stride and figured out how I wanted the series to go. And it was the first appearance of what has become my favorite character--Laura Olson, the saucy vampire who I fear my subconscious based on Alex Kingston's amazing portrayal on the BBC's River Song. 

Interestingly, back when I first wrote Mythical as a screenplay, I had wanted to do a story about Super Vampires vs Super Soldiers. I switched to Super shapeshifters instead, feeling there was too much sparkling undead magic on the market. But by November 2012, I was unleashing my own version of the undead, and going for a very Heroes-like villain: A heart-eating shapeshifter intent on becoming godlike by stealing the powers of as many parahumans as possible.

As planning went on, I knew I needed to add some more characters. I had only three stone soldiers at that point: Jimmy, Victor and the resurrected Alpha Stone Soldier, Daniel Smith. Instead of another recruit, I decided to go back to my original idea from the 1980s of an elite team of supersoldiers fighting covert battles around the world. Enter Chadwick Phillips, electrokinetic.

Blood and Stone is all about rebirth. I'm not sure I planned it that way, but it's a recurring theme... Tezcahtlip, surviving the events of Book 2 is reborn into the sum total of he and his dead brother, having consumed the frozen heart of Ketzkahtel. Realizing that America isn't a good place to start his new empire, Tezcahtlip flees south, intent on rebuilding a slave population by posing as the blood god Kukulcan. First though, he needed a pick me up.

Way back in X-Ponent, I had incorporated a super prison for the parahumans of Mark Kenslir's universe. Now that I had made the  original Stone Soldier a supernatural being, I decided that would still work, as many a ghost and vampire story claimed that neither could cross running water. An island prison sounded pretty cool. 

Enter the alternate reality universe of Mythical, where Alcatraz is a maximum security holding place for those caught practicing the black arts or using their psychic abilities for evil end up. But how do you keep such a population in check? Marvel Comics had neutralizers and mutant cures, but I needed something fresher. 

Laura Olson.

There have to be vampires in the Mythical universe. You can't have supernatural and not have the undead. So a vampire kept under lock and key, providing empathic surveillance on her brethren in exchange for life seemed pretty interesting. Throw in that she keeps the prison population in check by feeding on them... I liked it. Very Gitmo. 

And poor Mark Kenslir, who wanted nothing to do with the overly-fresh Pam Keegan is forced to reunite with his old flame, the overly-amorous, red-headed vampire M.D. Giving me a chance to this time mock the sexed-up nature of vampire fiction today. 

Of course, as the series has progressed, we've seen Laura Olson get her act together and become a bit more restrained. Possibly from having a classier source of sustenance...

BEHIND THE SCENES
Why a red head? Well, we already had a brunette (Josie) and a blonde (Pam). Why not go Charlie's Angels and throw in a redhead for good measure. Clearly the last thing Mark Kenslir wants is to have to be around three women in the field. Even if one is sort of his granddaughter, it's still got to be disconcerting for an early-20th Century soldier...

As always, the names of the deceased were rough to come by for this one. Thankfully, I know a lot of people, and enjoyed using their names for the victims of this tale. From a prison guard to a modified bomber's pilot, I put aside the phone book I normally use to randomly pick names and had some fun creating parodies of those I know. 

And remember that plot I had wanted to do before, with super-vampires? Well, it wasn't just Laura Olson I decided on. I liked the idea of Tezcahtlip being able to create his own undead Army, but eating a vampire's heart. 

Why Mexico? Many a culture has believed eating the heart of your enemy gives you their strength. But Mexico had multiple cultures that built pyramids for the slaughter of innocents. In a reap-what-you-sow kind of way, I thought it only fitting a creature who actually does steal your memories, powers and lifeforce by consuming your heart would want to head there. Originally, I had wanted to unleash Tezcahtlip on the cartels, but in the end the outline was getting too big, and I left the full gruesome details of the shapeshifter's reign of terror up to the reader's imagination. 

As a fitting end to a trilogy, Book 3 ended with Mark Kenslir's death, again, and a hint of another impending birth. That was originally so I could put this series aside and return to it much later. Alas, the ideas for more installments wouldn't stop and in 2013, I had to continue the Dark War with more Stone adventures. I guess that means leaving this trilogy open-ended was a good idea after all...

Interestingly, I hadn't planned on how to kill Tezcahtlip on this one. I was eager to start writing, and abandoned my outlining a little early. It was only sheer, dumb luck that I came up with the idea of electrocuting the would-be-deity. Had I chose for Chad Phillips to possess a different power, I'm not sure the ending would have turned out... 

I also took a few pages from The Destroyer for this one, parodying real-world celebrities and laying the groundwork for villains I could bring back years from now. 



NEXT UP: 
SHADES OF WAR (Stone Soldiers #4)



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

ABOUT THE BOOK: Brothers in Stone (Stone Soldiers #2)

About the Book is a new feature on Stone Soldiers where the author shares some background, easter eggs and other hopefully interesting information about the book...





Colonel Mark Kenslir, a cold warrior cursed to live forever, is rebuilding his team of stone soldiers after a campaign to stop a rampaging shapeshifter in the American southwest. But word soon arrives that someone, or something, is again on the loose, ripping out and consuming human hearts to steal the memories and forms of civilians.

Kenslir enlists the help of one brave teen and an FBI postcognitive empath to track down the new killer--only to discover there are now two prehistoric shapeshifters loose in the modern world.

Falling back to their headquarters to regroup and replenish their numbers, the Detachment soon find themselves under assault from the ravenous shapeshifters--who are intent on pillaging the military's greatest supernatural treasures.

Can a new generation of stone soldiers and a girl struggling to understand her new cryokinetic abilities turn the tide of battle, or will Colonel Kenslir die at the hands of a shapeshifter again?




Just a few short months after Mythical's debut, the story of the Stone Soldiers continued, in the form of Brothers in Stone, a story about a new generation of men turned into living stone soldiers. But of course, if you are going to resurrect one of the good guys killed in book 1, you have to bring back a bad guy, or two...



Like many of the titles in the Stone Soldiers series, Brothers in Stone follows a pattern of almost satirical similarities to more series war stories. Brothers in Arms is both the title to a popular series of war-based First-Person shoot video games and a militaryish term for the bond between soldiers who have fought together. In the case of Book 2, it served a wonderful double meaning, describing both Jimmy Kane's induction into the ranks of Stone, as well as the pre-historic villain Ketzkahtel's own brother, Tezcahtlip, who has also been bound in a stone sarcophagus for millennia. 



Where Mythical followed a theme of past meets present, Brothers is more related to "United We Stand", showing the importance of team work as teens Jimmy and Josie are joined by FBI agent Pam Keegan and her charge, Victor Hornbeck, a psychic who sees visions of the past when he touches physical objects. 




BEHIND THE SCENES

Unlike Mythical, Brothers was intended as a novel from the get-go. That meant much better story-telling, in a longer format. It also meant I got to re-tell Book 1, basically redoing my earlier work from a slightly different angle, then adding on to it. 


A fan of Lance Henricksen's amazing X-Files spin-off, Millenium, I definitely wanted to work in a postcognitive empath. I also liked the contrast... a man who relies on touch being turned to living stone, where his sense of touch would be greatly diminished. 



And instead of going the full-artner route, I liked the way NBC's Heroes did it, pairing human with parahuman. Very similar to Asimov's I Robot series with a human and android cop paired up. 



As for Agent Keegan... originally, I saw her as a rival for Josie Winters. An older version of the girl with a definite Lucy Lawless vibe going on. But the more I thought about it, I liked that idea of contrast. Afterall, Stone Soldiers is the ultimate in contrast, with good vs evil in every book. Keegan would be no different. 



Short, blonde, older, and clearly of loose morals, Pam Keegan was a James Bond-type agent who would be better off in a 1970s novel or The Destroyer series. I greatly enjoyed writing the character, laughing at my own parody of that particular kind of femme fatale. Alas, nearly a dozen books later, I question the decision. Pam isn't very family-friendly, nor does she fit in well with the overall theme of the series. As such, she's taken a very big back seat to most action, serving as a Liason with the FBI that barely appears in many of the stories. 



Victor on the other hand, wasn't so much of a contrast. He was basically an older version of Jimmy, but with powers. Of course, both young men get turned to living stone, becoming Brothers in Stone, but Victor ended up being a lot of fun to write, and I decided to keep him as a regular in the series. Having a detective who doesn't search for clues but rather sees them in visions, makes solving mysteries a lot easier. Which is great, as I prefer to write action. 




EASTER EGGS

Cryokinesis seemed like the perfect power for Josie Winters after her injection with Nephilim DNA. Unlike Drew Barrymore's Firestarter character, Josie Winters is reserved, almost cold-personality individual, and having the ability to freeze an enemy in their tracks really appealed to me. And this was before Elsa and her little sister became the next big Disney animated stars...


And of course, there were the first inklings of something inhuman in Argo Tower. An Artificial Intelligence I had planned from the start but didn't want to throw in right away...


Finally, I have to mention Medusa. If you're a follower of mythology, you know Perseus used Medusa's reflection to turn her head to stone, then cut it off. It still possessed the power to petrify, but it was stone. How then did the U.S. Military remove one eye to create the stone soldiers? Book 2 showed us, with a glimpse of the flesh-and-blood Medusa after her rebirth in the Fountain of Youth. Makes you wonder how many times that scenario has played out...



NEXT UP:
BLOOD AND STONE (Stone Soldiers #3)





Wednesday, December 9, 2015

ABOUT THE BOOK: Mythical (Stone Soldiers #1)

About the Book is a new feature on Stone Soldiers where the author shares some background, easter eggs and other hopefully interesting information about the book...





Colonel Mark Kenslir is the last of the Cold War supersoldiers--and he's just come back from the dead.

Sent to Arizona to hunt a heart-devouring shapeshifter, Colonel Kenslir and his team of supernatural-smashing soldiers thought it was just another mission. But instead of stopping the monster's murderous rampage, the Colonel and his team became the latest victims in a trail of carnage blazed across the Southwest.

Suffering from partial amnesia, with no weapons and no support, Kenslir must rely on two reluctant teens to help him remember his past, complete his final mission and avenge his men.




Debuting on Kindle June 5, 2012, Mythical is the one that started it all. The first in the Stone Solders series, this shortish novel was the culmination of more than twenty years of writing and submitting. 

It all started back in 1986, when I was reading The Destroyer and Doc Savage and Mack Bolan. I wanted to write Men's Adventure. Of course, I didn't think I could score a job on any of those illustrious titles, so I set out to create my own over-the-top Men's Adventure stories. Looking at what was out there, I decided that one area that hadn't been covered was superheroes. Or rather, secret agents living in a super hero world, dealing with Soviets, Psychics and Supers. 

Over the next few years, Agent Antaean (a Greek adjective for possessing super-human strength I found randomly flipping through the dictionary), a sort of synthetic-organic cyborg that was part Six Million Dollar Man, part Wolverine and part Mack Bolan had three thrilling adventures--written in long hand pencil. 

There was "Night of the Bear" a tale of Soviet espionage in America, with a wereBear and a telepath coming to America, hunting down werewolves.

There was "Shades of Gray" and "Secretly in her Majesty Service", 007-reminiscent thrillers about a secret order of druids that had been controlling England and the Colonies until the American Revolution. 

None of them were probably any good. I mean, I was a teenager and while well-read really hadn't latched on to what makes Men's Adventure or Pulp work. After several years of feeding the New York Slushpiles, I gave up and shelved my literary dreams and joined the USAF...

Being stationed overseas, I had a lot of free time, and in 1990, decided to give writing another try. I polished off my old notes and decided to go green and recycle my old character, Mark Kenslir, Agent Antaean. In "X-Ponent", the enigmatic, Terminator-like killing machine goes after an organization of American Terrorists bent on plunging the country into a race war between Homo- and Xeno-sapiens. It was perhaps a little too close to the mark on what Marvel was leading up to and despite me working on it all the way up to 1997 and self-publishing on an old Tripod page (complete with paypal tip button) it never really saw much light of day.

In 2012, I learned about Amazon Studios, and decided to give screenwriting a shot. Young Adult seemed a popular trend, so I decided to engineer a trope-filled story of superaction, and once again recycled Mark Kenslir, this time as a mysterious man who represented the old ways, opassing the torch of 20th Century adventure on to a new generation. 

Only it didn't work out that way. When I was done with the script, I realized all the changes I'd made--influenced by the CW's Supernatural--might just have a place as a novel. I learned about Kindle Direct Publishing, and voila! Mythical was born...

So what is Mythical? (Or Heart of Stone as I once called it briefly). Is it YA? Pulp? A little bit of both?

I fully intended the book to be YA when I wrote it, but clearly my Men's Adventure and Pulp roots came out. Also, and much to my surprise, the story set itself up for a sequel, thansk to a hastily-added epilogue. 


PAST MEETS PRESENT
The recurring theme of Mythical is past meets present. A past, antediluvian (pre-Flood) monster is awakened in the modern era, fighting heroes of mythical proportions. Super shapeshifter versus super soldier, with two teens caught in the middle. 

Past meets present is also in the amnesia trope I used to introduce readers to a supernatural world where monsters and magic exist, but cling to the shadows, just out of the mass public's view. All throughout the tale, Mark Kenslir must recover his memories of the past few decades of his nearly-immortal life, remembering his mission and his dead team, and exacting revenge.\

Finally, past meets present in that Mark Kenslir, is the ultimate throwback to a bygone Pulp era. An overly manly-man, with super human strength, Conan-proportions and the ability to kill nearly anything. He's Christian, quiet, reserved and does things the old way. He's a marked contrast to the modern teen couple of Josie and Jimmy, who have no powers, no idea what's going on in the shadows, but who are every bit as determined to stop evil. Josie is the modern femme fatale, a tough-as-nails girl who can hold her own, while Jimmy is a slight, nerdish type who doesn't appear to be a threat to anyone. They are completely the modern-type of heroes and were originally seen as student who would go out and fight battles alone, with only rare appearances by their immortal teacher.


EASTER EGGS
Did you realize Mythical takes place in an alternate reality? When you think about it, most fiction does. Most fiction depicts events that never happened. But Mythical goes one further--magic remains. Unlike many modern fiction shows set in the "real world" it's pretty clear magic is much more rampant in the Mythical universe. That's reinforced with a little what-if, Man in the High Castle-type alternate history. 

The biggest clue in that department lies in Presidential succession. George Bush Sr. won his second term in the Mythical 'verse. John F. Kennedy's assassination was averted thanks to precognitive psychics. John Edwards won the 2008 Presidential elections, as Hilary Clinton was just the First Lady to a one-term Bill Clinton, never achieving the fame and importance of her real-world counterpart. 

There's also military equipment in Mythical without full real-world counterparts. Like the Sir Hugo Drax versions of the U.S. Spaceshuttle--Moonrakers--from Ian Fleming's books-turned-movies, Mark Kenslir has alternate reality variants of real-world aircraft to fly around in, from the MA-12 Raven to the MB-1R Lancer. The Raven is based on the CIA's A-12, a hypersonic plane that eventually became the SR-71 Blackbird. A single-pilot craft, the A-12s conducted recon flights while the SR-71s were being built, then went on to be used by NASA for high-altitude research before being retired... in our world. In Mythical's world, four of the planes were adapted to an entirely new military role, aimed at precision strikes anywhere in the world at a moment's notice. 




NEXT TIME: 
About the Book: Brothers in Stone (Stone Soldiers #2)


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Newest Release: INFERNAL MACHINE

Continuing in the series of prequel short stories revealing Detachment 1039's history comes the latest Shadow Detachment tale:





Super hacker Oswald Emerson has decoded a hidden message emanating from the deepest bowels of the Earth: a plea for help, transmitted in every language known to man and several lost or forgotten for ages. Alerting his government superiors, Oswald and his twin technical wizard sister join a mission to uncover the origin of the ages-old call for aid, only to learn it did not come from anything that was ever human. Aided by a super soldier capable of penetrating even a pre-historic subterranean stronghold hidden beneath the streets of Sydney, Australia, the Emersons will pit their psychically-enhanced computer skills to the test when they do digital battle with a supernatural super computer built by demons and powered by the souls of the damned.