Sunday, 7 July 2013

Xeroversary 3: the Afterparty

I hope you've enjoyed the party, even if I did hog the stage. ;)

For everyone that's left positive comments on my flash fiction in the past, hopefully the glimpses of longer things didn't disappoint. And with any luck you're maybe excited by a couple of the things you've seen.

I think I lost my way a little bit over the year, got a little bit obsessed with trying to write a novel and forgot to just enjoy the writing itself. I'll write a novel one day, but for the next year, all going to plan, you'll see some shorter work appear.

I've got a backlog of short stories, half-written, or all-written and languishing in redraft hell, or waiting patiently in some notepad in a pile of notepads (if you ever see Electric Summer, then I dug it out of that pile, it's in there somewhere...).

Oh yeah, this happened last winter too, which was pretty cool.

101 Fiction ran for a year with guest submissions, which went really well. That's changing too, hop on over there for details, but it's another way to give me more time to write, or more specifically to write and work on other things, but also an opportunity to stretch my editor's wings, since I'll be putting it together in more of a magazine format and things like order and flow will come into effect. (Editors do have wings, right?)

My anthology (details on the ebooks page), was a year old last week. It didn't do as well as I'd hoped it might, but in part it was an experiment. I'm not great at the whole self-promotion malarkey, and another part of its purpose was to begin a back list; after all, if I never put anything out there, there will never be a back list. A few people picked up copies in the free promos I ran for my birthday and its birthday, so I hope they enjoy it, and maybe one day come back for more. =)

Finally, let's not forget about Rise and Alpha. Both started earlier this year, itty bitty serials (although Rise is up to 2,000 words now). Rise is moving a bit faster, I'm finding it a bit easier to write. Alpha is going to need a little more work, I like the world I'm building, and I've got some ideas for an intricate, appropriately superhero plot, inspired by some of the plotlines I've loved the most in the (many, many) comics I've read.

Thanks for reading. Today and always.

John Xero. =)

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Beast in the Blood

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

Beast in the Blood is a short I wrote a while ago, which I really enjoyed writing but realised once I reached the end how depressing that ending was. I'm not sure yet whether to leave it like that, or keep on writing and swing the whole thing round a little. (Not that everything has to be sunshine and rainbows, of course.)

As I was scanning through to pull a little extract for the Xeroversary, I realised that with a few tweaks it would actually slip nicely (if tangentially) into the Matt Cooper universe from the Haunting of Hanford. Agents from Department Thirty Three pop up in Haunting, and Joe Bright, the werewolf protagonist of Beast in the Blood, works for a government agency... now rewritten to be the very same Department Thirty Three.

Could they one day work together...? Who knows, I'm getting way ahead of myself. ;)


Back to business, and the police station. The government department I work for has enough pull to get me places, but not without wariness and suspicion. We're official, but unheard of, and that's how we like it, even if it does make life difficult sometimes.
Department Thirty Three investigates the weird stuff. Oh, I know, you've heard it all before, it makes for good TV, but, honestly, most of the time it really is weather balloons, psychotic doctors, escaped zoo animals or some other mundane thing.
I had reason to think this one might be real though, and we were having a hard time suppressing the local newspapers. Not that it made a difference, town like Shoulton word spread like wildfire anyway. The beast was back. Something had killed a few pets, torn up some livestock, and now put a young boy in intensive care. The town was locked up tight. Last night I'd arrived after dark and the streets were empty. The old lady at the B&B had made me pass my ID through the letter slot before she opened the door.
The Inspector on the case couldn't have been more than a decade older than me but already had a hairline receding out of sight. His downturned mouth seemed to pull the rest of his face with it, leaving him looking worn and sour. He smelt of stale cigarette smoke and strong mints.
We were in a small interview room with a pile of ubiquitous, beige police files between us. I was sat on the suspect's side but I didn't let that make me feel nervous. I knew that trick, local enforcement didn't like interference so they made us feel unwelcome, while extending every professional courtesy of course.
"That's all the files, including any missing pets from around a month ago when it looks like this thing began."
"Thank you, Inspector. I'll come find you if I have any questions."
I knew he wouldn't like being dismissed, but he wouldn't want to waste time with me either. He lingered a moment. I paused with my hand on the first file and looked up into his narrowed eyes.
"Joe Bright. That's your brother Ben Bright up at Hendy House, isn't it?"
Hendy House, for the mentally unstable and often violent. I scowled.
"It is." I bit back my comment about his formidable detective skills.
"Funny how all this starts up again and you reappear."
"Hilarious. It's my job, Inspector."
"You'll find your brother's file at the bottom of the pile."
"He's still in Hendy, I assume, so why dig out his file?"
"He's still there. Doesn't mean he doesn't know anything about it."
"Have you been to see him, Inspector?"
"No reason to, yet. Maybe I should dig your file out, now you're back in town. I always thought it was funny how the attacks just stopped last time, right when you left and your brother got locked up. Plenty of people thought that was strange. But I was just a constable back then, couldn't do anything about it."
And the department had made them drop it. They recruited me and locked Ben up. The inspector might get a surprise if he tried to look out my file, though. It wouldn't be there. Department privileges.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Snow Griffin

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

Snow Griffin takes place in the world of the White.

Bar your doors against the winter, little ones, stock your larder and your wood pile, for with the worst winter winds come the White, and the White will whisper your death till your heart and soul believe it, till dead you truly are.

This is a fantasy world, with gods and magic, but one in which certain scholars are beginning to try and explain away natural phenomena with logic, and science. Their conclusion that the White are just a folk tale, a metaphor for snow and a caution against venturing out in the dead of winter, happens to coincide with something darker riling up the all-too-real White.

But that's just background. Magic is definitely real, and most folk are happy to remain superstitious, warm and alive. Heat keeps the White at bay, so the tales say. We join our party of hunters and fire mages as they take a break from tracking a mythical snow griffin, as they discuss what they believe...


"I will believe in snow griffins when I see one," Freya said, "just as I believe in the White because I have seen them."
Borin scoffed, "You are barely old enough to take your own wages, when did you ever see the White?"
She hesitated, watching the tongue of magic flame lick around her fingers for a moment before she replied.
"When I was eight we lived at the foot of the Horned Mountains. The winter was particularly long that year and as the cold dragged on and the stocks ran out, my father decided we would journey south, where the snow might have receded and we might find shelter and food. My mother begged him to change his mind, that the spring may come any day. But that very night there was another snowfall.
"Father took it as a sign the winter was far from ready to release its dogged grip. He insisted we wrap ourselves in furs and leave at the first sign of sun."
"Why not go by himself," Borin interrupted, "why risk you all?"
"He was not sure he would survive a single trip, let alone two. Before we left he pried loose a floorboard and revealed a secret bottle of Avain Brandy even my mother had not known about. It warmed us and cheered us a little as we stepped out into the dead, white world."
Parnell nodded, "I have heard of people drinking spirits to fend off the White. It muddles a man's reasoning, brings fierier, animal thoughts to the fore."
"I don't know if that was my father's thinking, or just something to buoy up our spirits. I imagine you might have to drink a great deal to have no reasoning thoughts to tempt the White, enough that you are as likely to get lost in the snow and die regardless. Anyway, we headed south; father, mother, me and my older sister.
"Half a day through the snow and we still saw no sign of spring. The going was hard and father had to carry me, tired as I was. My sister and mother were tired too, but with my short legs I found the snow harder going. Then the whispers started, like the wind through trees or blowing about the fur of your hood, but shaping words. Barely heard, but there all the same, and strangely calming even though we all knew the stories.
"I think we were afraid, but so tired at the same time. My sister stumbled and fell. And my father turned so that I saw my mother help her up. Then mother stopped and sagged into the snow herself. She looked at us with such helpless eyes, and I felt my father sinking to the ground too, with me still in his arms."
Freya paused. The fire in her palm sizzled once, as if a drop of water had fallen into it, but when she looked up again her eyes were dry.
"My mother started singing, as she did when we went to sleep. An old song I no longer know the words to, old words that I never knew the meaning of. I felt the cold soaking in, like water into a sponge, as if it belonged there. But something didn't agree, something in my core pushed back. My mother's song rang and echoed through my mind and as I slipped into the cold I felt something take flight in my chest. Something as painful as a burning ember.
"I saw them then, the White. Wisps of air, flurries of snow in the shape of lithe little people, dancing around us, leaning in to caress us and whisper in our ears. The one before my face fluttered backwards as I croaked out my pain. Pain which welled in my chest, bursting out as my mother's song continued to swell in my mind even though I could see her lips were blue and unmoving.
"I don't remember what happened next very well, I stumbled in pain and fear and grief, and the snow melted wherever I stepped. Eventually I came to a village and they took me in, cared for me and healed me. There was a shaman among them who recognised the magic in me for what it was.
"When the snows finally receded far enough, the villagers went looking for my family and found nought but husks."
The party was silent.
Borin coughed, "Yes, well."
"I would dearly like to know the song your mother sang," Parnell said.
"I do not remember it. I think I dream of it, sometimes, and wake shivering."

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Red Shift

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

I cannot settle on a title for this, but Red Shift is my current favourite. It's set in the same world as yesterday's extract, and if that seems unlikely... you'll just have to take my word for it... ;)

And as the protagonist, Jaeger, regains consciousness after his ship has crashed, it occurs to me that this is the third extract this week in which the lead character has been knocked out in some fashion. Maybe I should start giving them protective headgear. Grimm is his ship's AI.


The roaring, screaming noise of tortured metal was all around him and never ending; it swallowed him whole. A portion of the hull was torn away and he was dazzled by bright, intrusive sunlight. Frothing impact foam expanded around him. Jaeger thought he saw pine green, and tree trunks and then everything was white.
Then everything was black.
When he came to his head was buzzing. He opened his eyes onto darkness. Swallowing was strange. Everything hurt. His mouth tasted of chemicals and he could feel the foam residue dripping from him. His arms hung loosely past his head.
He was upside down, suspended by the chair's strapping.
"Captain." The voice sounded distant, strange. "You're alive then."
"Possibly. I'm upside down. And I might be blind."
"It's night."
"Or that. How long was I out?"
"Well, it's night."
"And you're as cantankerous as ever. Any chance of some light?"
"Ah. The ship has no power."
His eyes began to adjust. Not to great improvement, but he could make out lighter areas and darker blocks. Over the other aches that gripped him he was becoming increasingly aware of the straps cutting into his shoulders. He supported himself by curling his legs over the bottom of the seat as he awkwardly fumbled with the release catch. His hands trembled and his fingers tingled with hypersensitivity.
The catch snapped open and suddenly all his weight was on his calves in a way it wasn't meant to be. He stayed suspended for a moment, and then gravity triumphed. He grabbed for the chair as he fell and snagged it with one hand, not managing to hold on but flipping himself so that his shins instead of his head slammed into the metal floor.
At the flaring pain of the impact he grunted and curled into himself.
"Captain? Did you break yourself again?"
"If there's no power, why can I still hear your voice?"
He tried to remember if he had ever heard Grimm hesitate before.
"I am no longer a part of the ship."
He thought about that for a moment.
"OK. If you're no longer part of the ship, why can I still hear your voice?"
"I relocated. Now, imagine the cabin layout, but flip it."
"You're on the ceiling."
"I know that."
"So flip the layout. Now make your way towards the weapons locker."
"Do I need a gun?"
"Probably, but not immediately."
He stood up carefully and startled as his head unexpectedly encountered the pilot's chair. He stepped to one side, then held his hands out in front of him, raising one slightly higher to account for any floor fixtures that were now a part of the ceiling, and headed towards the weapons locker.
"Not that direction."
"Did I mention I can't see anything?"
"Just follow my voice."
He turned ninety degrees to his right and headed towards the source of Grimm's voice, cautiously sliding each foot forward so that he didn't trip over anything. It was a strange sensation, the metal beneath his feet curved upwards as he got closer to the edge of the cabin. Floors were supposed to be flat.
"It's hard to follow your voice when you're not speaking."
"I thought you preferred it when I was quiet."
"I usually do."
His hand came up against the crosshatched metal of the locker and he felt around for the keypad. It was a stretch, almost out of reach, and he tapped in the numbers by rote. An abrasive low tone indicated a failed code. He immediately realised why.
"You forgot it was upside down, didn't you?"
"Why is your voice coming from inside the locker?"
"Just get it open."
Jaeger felt for the top and bottom of the keypad and tapped the keys in the opposite positions. A happy chime indicated a more positive result and he slid the cover open. The locker had racking for a smart assault rifle, two pistols and a half dozen grenades. He liked to carry flash bangs and smokers, but he hadn't been able to afford to replace the grenades since he last used them, and the pistols lived in the holsters at his side, so the only thing in the locker was the smart rifle.
There was a soft glow from the blue strip on the side of the rifle, indicating its active status.
"Why are you in my rifle?"
"Because it was the only thing on this ship capable of supporting me, and my primary system was compromised."
"You may recall the ship exploding and rolling down a mountain."

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Thorn Witch

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

Thorn Witch takes place in a fantasy world, with science fiction elements. There are a couple of stories set in the world so far, and tomorrow you'll see part of another one. I've not entirely decided on a name for the setting yet. Possibly 'Kingdoms' or 'Seven Kingdoms' although both of those are a little generic.

I find it interesting that I came up with this world, I know authors have had similar settings in the past, but I've generally not got on with them... Ho hum, so goes a writer's fickle imagination.

Thorn Witch barely scratches the science fiction side. In fact, you could place it entirely within fantasy if you chose. It was difficult to pick an extract without giving more away than I want to just yet, so here's a snippet from the beginning. Prince Robert has sneaked out of the castle for a morning ride without his personal guard and is just approaching the city gates...


Robert cursed under his breath as a squat figure, broad with muscle, strolled out from the gatehouse into his path.
"A fine morning, my lord."
"Indeed it is, Captain."
Duncan, Captain of the Guard. His stocky build, ruddy skin and short, thick beard led to rumours of dwarf blood. His brutal reputation, emphasised by the vertical puckered scar emerging from either side of his eye patch, kept anyone from asking. He had no obligation to take a shift on the gate, but he was never one to lead from the back, and his men respected him for it.
The captain made a small show of looking back up the empty street, "And how are Cameron and Lachlan?"
Robert's personal guard.
"It seems Lachlan's birthday had them deep in their cups last night and they have been slow to rise this morning."
"I should lend you a couple of men."
"I have Dream," He patted his steed. "I have Nightmare," He rested a hand on the pommel of his sword, "they have seen me through war."
"And in war you had a company of knights too."
"Come, Duncan, we both know there is nothing within a morning's ride that I cannot handle."
"Nothing expected, certainly."
"You sound like my mother."
Duncan growled, "And I will have to answer to her."
"No, I will. Cameron and Lachlan will. You are the fearsome Trollblight, King's Axe, not even my mother would dare reproach you."
Duncan shook his head, "You have the arm of a warrior and the mouth of a diplomat. Your father would be proud. The queen, however, has never shied from speaking her mind, and I have been the target of her reprimands more than once."
"But not for many a year. And, remind me, was that not because you would encourage father to sneak out and hunt trolls with you?"
"It may have been."
"And I am merely going for a morning ride, it carries not one tenth the risk."
The captain glowered at Robert with his good eye, and then he smiled wryly. "Ha! It seems I have been bested. Very well, my lord, ride on." He stepped aside and bowed.
Robert returned the bow as he rode past, "My thanks, good captain."

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Haunting of Hanford

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

Matt Cooper is a freelance writer who often works for Deep Skies, "the magazine for all your up-to-date extraterrestrial news and conspiracies..." He has the potential to be a recurring character, so this is subtitled 'a Matt Cooper Mystery'. The Haunting of Hanford is a ten thousand word short story that went out to beta readers last week! =)

Local legend says the church at Hanford is haunted, but there might just be a bit more to it than that... While investigating, Matt stumbles on a group of robed figures holding a ritual, but they spot him and beat him up. He wakes up the next morning...


Matt knew he was alive and in one piece because everything hurt, from his toes to his scalp, and that meant it was all there. He opened his eyes and groaned at the daylight. The daylight hurt.
He was in some kind of medical room, with a wheeled curtain in one corner, a table with a box of tissues and a box of latex gloves, and a night stand with a glass of water on it. The walls were plain white, covered only by informative, laminated posters about vitamins and telltale symptoms and not using mobile phones. He didn't think the last was really necessary; it hardly seemed worth having a mobile in Hanford.
A cheery, round, middle-aged woman stuck her head through the open door.
"Mr. Cooper. You're awake."
"Yuh." He coughed, winced at the pain, then swallowed hard and tried again. "You're the doctor?"
"No, I'm the nurse."
"Where am I?"
"Hanford village hospital. You were brought in last night, how do you feel?"
"Like I got beaten up by a bunch of crazy people in a graveyard."
She smiled. "Funny, that's how you look, too."
"Who brought me in?"
"The night nurse said it was a couple, I think, in suits."
"More secret agent than smart banker?"
"I didn't see them, they didn't leave any contact details I'm afraid."
Matt grimaced as he sat up and more aches presented themselves for his delight. He was very conscious of the fact that someone seemed to have undressed him and re-clothed him in a hospital gown.
"Can I leave?"
The nurse regarded him critically. "We should have the doctor check you over first."
"I feel fine," he said, hopping to his feet, sending spasms from his calf muscles though his thighs to explode in his lower back.
"See," he said in a pained voice. "Fine."
She made a sceptical noise and gave him a look to match.
"I shall get Doctor Harway. You will wait for him. When he is done, your clothes are in the wardrobe."
She indicated a closed door in the corner of the room, partially hidden behind the wheeled curtain and waited for him to sit himself back down before she left to find the doctor. He briefly entertained the notion of simply leaving, but decided to stay. The nurse would probably come after him, and she looked the type to hurt him more, for his own sake, and do it with a kindly smile on her face.
Then he felt guilty for being mean and began prodding himself while he waited for the doctor, wondering if there was any part of him that didn't hurt.

The doctor gave him the OK and Matt gingerly changed back into his own clothes. He checked his phone and saw the signal flicker up to one bar for the briefest tease of a moment before dropping to nothing again. He could probably just about make it back to the Swan in time for breakfast; that and a shower and he might feel halfway human again.
He heard a shout from the next room.
"Set me free!"
He dropped his phone into his pocket and rushed into the corridor. The next door along was open and the nurse and doctor were paying too much attention to their patient to send him away.
"So long. So far!"
The vicar was lying on the bed, twitching, hyperventilating, eyes wide but unseeing as the doctor tried to calm him down. It was as if he was experiencing some vivid nightmare he couldn't wake up from. Just like Ben Morris.
Matt realised there was someone at the window, someone else watching. He turned his head sharply and saw a pale face looking in. But the movement must have alerted the other man because his wide, dark eyes flicked briefly to Matt before he ducked out of sight. It was only a fleeting glimpse, but there was no mistaking the unnaturally pallid skin, unusual features and bald head of the man who had been at the bar the night Matt had arrived.
The man the suits had been questioning the barman about.
"Release me!"
Matt dashed down the corridor to where he could see a waiting room that, presumably, led to an exit. It did, and, ignoring his complaining muscles, he ran around the side of the hospital. But the man was gone.
It really was a village hospital, smaller than most doctors' surgeries Matt knew in London, and it didn't take him long to walk a circuit of the building. There was no sign of the man though, and whether he had run into the woodland at the back or into the town centre it was impossible to tell.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Redlined: the Machinery of Mars

Welcome to the third Xeroversary. A slightly different, quieter, more introspective affair this year. Every day this week I'll post an extract from one of my works in progress. A little something to whet your appetite for the future, I hope.

Redlined is a working title, for a novel originally titled the Machinery of Mars. I'm still not sure which title I prefer. The story takes place on Mars, during an era of dissent and dissatisfaction. It's currently stalled at 30,000 words and already needs some significant reworking in places.

One of the main characters, Amelia, is the daughter of the head of Mars' biggest weapons manufacturer, Brigh Munitions. Early in the story she survives an assassination attempt. The next day, she is kidnapped and wakes up the following morning in an unfamiliar room...


Amelia heard the quiet bleeping of the keypad and turned as the door slid open. A man stepped in, his face illuminated by the weak light of the rising sun.
She blinked, but there was no mistaking him. His proud nose and intense eyes, the deep cleft of his chin. The hint of dark stubble at the edges of his bald pate where the last vestiges of hair held out. He looked at her from across the room, studying her.
"Father!" Something kept her from going to him. "What's going on?"
"You look so much like your mother, you know."
She didn't know. She didn't remember her mother, had been too young when she died, had only seen pictures.
Something was wrong, and more than just the bare bones of the situation. Then it clicked. He was too short, only average height. She should have noticed it straight away, but the surprise of seeing his face had thrown her.
"You're not my father."
A cruel half-smile played across his lips, very unlike her father.
"Very quick, Amelia. I'm impressed."
"Who are you?"
"That is a very good question, my dear. One I have often asked myself."
His accent was a close approximation, but he lacked the decisiveness and strength that was in every syllable her father spoke. Her father's words were every bit as powerful as the weapons his factories churned out. This imposter's voice was more languorous, and Amelia had the distinct impression he was toying with her.
"Michael Brigh took what was mine from me. He forced me to reinvent myself, over and over again. He destroyed me, and now I shall return the favour."
"You won't get anywhere near my father."
He grinned, then a ripple washed through the skin of his face, smoothing his features, wiping her father's image clean. It was as if a flesh coloured sheet had been draped over his face, pulled back from the barest hint of a nose, wrinkle and personality free, with the weakest contours of cheek bones and chin. Beady eyes glinted from shallow pits.
Her stomach clenched with nausea.
Dark hair sprouted from the top of his head and new features shifted into place on his face. She recognised him now as one of the Tarling guards from their apartment security.
"I can get anywhere I want, my dear. But I'd be more worried for your own skin if I were you."
"If you were going to kill me I would already be dead."
He laughed. "You really are so clever, and yet ridiculously naive. I failed to have you killed once before, don't think I won't go through with it next time, if it happens to suit my plans."
Amelia paled at the memory of the bullets punching into the cracking, shattering glass.
He went on. "You were lucky last time. Your burglar boy saved you, and spoilt my plans. So," He clapped his hands together, "I need new plans. I might trade you. Or I might kill you. I haven't decided yet."
"Why tell me this?"
"Sentimentality, I suppose. Not something I usually subject myself to."
His face shifted again, the flesh tightening and lifting into finer features. The dark hair receded back like water down a plughole and blonde hair swelled in its place, curling down past his face and spilling across his shoulders.
For a moment Amelia thought his face was becoming hers, but it was subtly different, older, more poised. It was the face she saw beside her father's in the wall frames. Something inside her sank and stole her breath, held her heart.
It was her mother.
No. It wasn't. Anger rose.
"What are you?"
"I am what your father made me."