Jun 072018
 

Yesterday’s News by R.G. Belsky Tour Banner

Yesterday’s News

by R.G. Belsky

on Tour June 1-30, 2018

 

Synopsis:

Yesterday's News by R.G. Belsky

A classic cold case reopened—along with Pandora’s box

When eleven-year-old Lucy Devlin disappeared on her way to school more than a decade ago, it became one of the most famous missing child cases in history.

The story turned reporter Clare Carlson into a media superstar overnight. Clare broke exclusive after exclusive. She had unprecedented access to the Devlin family as she wrote about the heartbreaking search for their young daughter. She later won a Pulitzer Prize for her extraordinary coverage of the case.

Now Clare once again plunges back into this sensational story. With new evidence, new victims and new suspects – too many suspects. Everyone from members of a motorcycle gang to a prominent politician running for a US Senate seat seem to have secrets they’re hiding about what might have happened to Lucy Devlin. But Clare has her own secrets too. And, in order to untangle the truth about Lucy Devlin, she must finally confront her own tortuous past.

**Check out my review HERE and enter the giveaway**

 

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Oceanview Publishing
Publication Date: May 1st 2018
Number of Pages: 343
ISBN: 160809281X (ISBN13: 9781608092819)
Series: A CLARE CARLSON MYSTERY
Learn More about Yesterday’s News & Get Your Copy From: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Oceanview Publishing | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

R.G. Belsky

R.G. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City. Belsky’s crime novels reflect his extensive media background as a top editor at the New York Post, New York Daily News, Star magazine and NBC News. His previous novels include the award-winning Gil Malloy mystery series. YESTERDAY’S NEWS is the first in a new series featuring Clare Carlson, the hard-driving and tenacious news director of an NYC TV station.

 

Q&A with R.G. Belsky

Welcome!
Writing and Reading:

Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

Absolutely!

First off, on current events, I’m a big proponent of the “Ripped from the Headlines’ inspiration for mystery fiction writing. I’m a longtime New York City journalist, who’s worked as a top editor at the New York Post, New York Daily News, Star magazine and NBC News. I’ve covered most of the big crime stories of the past several decades – including Son of Sam, O.J, the murder of John Lennon and many, many others. I was even in the newsroom – and part of creating – the famous New York Post headline of Headless Body in Topless Bar, about a particularly gruesome murder at a…well, topless place. So, when people ask me where I get the ideas for my crime novels, I’ve always said: “I just go to work every day!”

My new novel YESTERDAY’S NEWS is about a missing child cold case in New York City, the disappearance of an 11-year-old girl years earlier who has never been found. As a young journalist, I covered the legendary Etan Patz case in New York, about a six-year-old boy who vanished. Eventually, after years of searching for answers, a man was convicted for the Patz murder – giving his family at least some kind of closure for their grief. My book is about a different kind of case in which there has been no closure.

I also draw extensively on my personal experiences for my fiction stuff. I write about things in New York City, where I’ve lived and worked for many years; I write about places I’ve been or came from like my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio; I write about events in the newsroom (fictional) of course that I’ve seen in my time as a journalist; and, most of all, I draw on many of the colorful real-life characters I’ve met in newsrooms.

None of my characters – like my new protagonist Clare Carlson in YESTERDAY’S NEWS – are directly based on any one person, of course. She’s more of an amalgamation of many wonderful women journalists I’ve known and worked with in the NYC media. Let’s just say that I’ve met a lot of Clare Carlsons in my time!

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?

Wow! Start from the conclusion and plot in reverse? Never heard that one before.

No, I start at the beginning and just see where the story line brings me. I should make clear right now though that I’m definitely a “pantser” – not a “plotter.” I never outline my novels. Generally, I start out with an idea of how the book will begin and a vague notion of how I want it to end. The challenge then is writing the rest of the middle of the book. The reality though is that the ending I had in mind frequently changes –or at least the way I get there does – during the writing of the book. I find the characters change too during the writing process. Doing unexpected things or following paths that even surprise me. So the book I end up with can be a lot different than the one I may have started out to do. Hey, it’s a helluva lot more fun that way!

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?

As I said earlier, many of my characters – including Clare Carlson in the new book – are inspired in part by people I’ve met in newsrooms during my career. Of course, everyone thinks the character is THEM. No, it’s not. I do appropriate interesting traits, incidents – and even some jokes – from real life newsroom characters. But my characters in the novels are all fictional.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

Oh, I have a lot of routines and idiosyncrasies for writing.

First, I write early in the morning. Always have, always will. That’s when I’m inspired to write. It can be as early as 6 a.m. at times. I generally have about 3 or four hours of new writing in me before I’m done with that. Then the rest of the day is for reading it, rewriting and editing, and – maybe most importantly of all – thinking about where I’m going to go the next day with the book when I sit down again to write in the morning. I almost never start with a blank page. I have a pretty good idea in my head of what I’m going to be writing about. Even if it does change as I put the words down.

Second, I write all my fiction out long hand. On yellow legal pads. I use a computer for everything else and always worked on a computer as a journalist. But, when I’m writing fiction, writing it out longhand always feels more comfortable to me. Then I put it into the computer afterward. For whatever its worth, I once read that Hemingway used to do much of his novels in longhand too. Then he wrote the dialogue on a typewriter. That worked out pretty well for him.

Third, I love to write in noisy, crowded, hectic places. Probably from my background of working in noisy newsrooms. I can’t write in my home or any other place that’s too quiet. I write in coffee shops, park benches, on trains, on the beach and even – occasionly – in a crowded bar.

Finally, I write all the time. Whether or not I particularly feel like writing that day or have anything obvious to say. I don’t wait for inspiration to strike, I go looking for inspiration on my own. That’s the best piece of advice I can give to anyone who wants to be a writer. Just write! Simple as that.

Tell us why we should read this book.

Hopefully because you’ll enjoy it. That’s the reason I read books from the authors I love. To enjoy the characters, to enjoy the story, to enjoy the whole experience of getting lost in a fictional world for several hours. I try to write the same kind of books that I like to read.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Michael Connelly, Robert B. Parker, Raymond Chandler, Robert Crais, Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton and Dennis Lehane.

What are you reading now?

Last book I just finished was A Stone’sThrow by James W. Ziskin, the most recent in his award winning and delightful Ellie Stone series, about a young woman newspaper reporter working at a small, upstate NY paper during the early ‘60s. Before that, it was True Fiction from Lee Goldberg, a quick-moving, satisfying thriller from a longtime Hollywood screenwriter. I also recently finished The Late Show by Michael Connelly. I’ve read every book Michael Connelly has written for the past 25 years or whatever – and I think he’s the most consistently excellent mystery author of our times. And an ex-newspaperman too!

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?

I have a new book coming out in 2019 called THE CINDERELLA MURDERS. It’s the second in the Clare Carlson series and will be published again by Oceanview next May.

It’s about the seemingly insignificant death of a homeless woman murdered on the streets of New York City who called herself Cinderella. At first, the crime barely gets a mention in the media. But Clare – a TV news director who still has a reporter’s instincts – decides to dig deeper into the murder. She uncovers mysterious links between the homeless woman and a number of prominent and powerful people. Soon there are more murders, more victims and more questions. As the bodies pile up, Clare realizes that her job, her career – and maybe even her life – are at stake as she chases after her biggest story ever.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
Favorite leisure activity/hobby?

I’m a big sports fan, baseball and football especially; I do fantasy sports games; I gamble a bit in Atlantic City; I like swimming, riding a bike and just taking long walks. Oh, and I watch a tremendous amount of TV.

Favorite meal?

Not very exotic, I’m afraid. I’m much more of a basic, comfort food person. Give me macaroni and cheese, a pizza, a good steak or cheeseburger or even just a big bag of popcorn at the movie theater – and I’m a happy man.

Thank you for stopping by CMash Reads and spending time with us.

 

Catch Up With R.G. Belsky On:
rgbelsky.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

PROLOGUE

School was always special to her.

Some children hated to go to school. But she always looked for- ward to going back to school each morning. She loved her friends. She loved her teachers. And most of all, she loved to learn.

For her, it was a time of excitement, a time of adventure, a time of new beginnings each day she sat in the classroom—like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon in a field of flowers underneath a blue, cloudless sky.

And so, on this sunny morning, like so many others, the mother and daughter leave their house and walk together toward the school bus that will pick up the little girl.

“What about your lunch?” the mother asks.

“I’m buying it at school today, remember?”

“Do you have enough money?”

“Yes, you gave it to me last night.”

“Right,” she says. The mother knows that, but she’s forgotten. “And remember to come home right after school.”

“You worry too much, Mom. I’m not a baby anymore.” That’s all too true, of course. She is growing up. Just like they all do.

But today she is still her little girl.

The mother hugs her and puts her on the school bus, watching her in the window until the bus disappears from sight.

A little girl who has everything in the world ahead of her. A lifetime of memories to come. And all the time in the world to enjoy it.

OPENING CREDITS

THE RULES ACCORDING TO CLARE

I always tell the same story to the new reporters on their first day.

It goes like this: Two guys are sitting in a bar bragging about their sexual exploits. As they get drunker and drunker, the conversation becomes more outrageous about how far they’d be willing to go. Would you ever have sex with an animal, one of them asks? Of course not, the other guy replies angrily. What if someone paid you $50 to do it with a dog? That’s ridiculous, he says. How about $500? Same answer. Okay, the first guy says to him, would you have sex with a dog for $5,000? The other guy thinks about that for a while, then asks: “What breed?”

The point here is that once you ask the question “what breed?” you’ve already crossed over a very important line and can never go back.

It’s based, I suppose, on the famous old Winston Churchill story. They say Churchill was seated at a dinner party next to a very elegant and beautiful lady. During the meal, he turned to her and asked if she’d be willing to have sex with him if he gave her $1,000,000. The woman laughed and said sure. Then he asked if she’d have sex with him for $25. “Of course not, what do you think I am?” the indignant woman replied. To which Churchill told her, “Madame, we’ve already established what you are. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”

This is a crucial concept in the news business where I work. Because there is no gray area for a journalist when it comes to honesty and integrity and moral standards. You can’t be just a little bit immoral or a little bit dishonest or a little bit corrupt. There is no compromise possible here.

Sometimes I tell a variation of the dog story. I call it the Woodstein Maneuver. The idea is to come up with a new scenario for the Watergate scandal. To speculate on what might have happened if Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (“Woodstein!” in the Robert Redford–Dustin Hoffman movie) had not written their stories that led to Richard Nixon’s ouster, but instead gotten hush money to cover up the scandal. What if Nixon had paid them to make it all go away?

I ask a new reporter to put themselves in Woodward and Bernstein’s place and think about what they would do if offered such a bribe.

Most of them immediately say they would never take money under any circumstances to compromise a story. I’m not sure if they say it because they really mean it or simply because they believe it’s the answer I want to hear. A few laughingly say they’d go for the money, but I’m not sure I believe them either. I figure they’re just trying to be outrageous or different. Only a few reporters ask the key question. The “what breed?” question. “How much money?” they want to know. Those are the ones I worry about the most.

 

PART I

LUCY

CHAPTER 1

“It’s the fifteenth anniversary of the Lucy Devlin disappear- ance next week,” Maggie Lang said. “Little eleven-year-old girl leaves for school and just vanishes into thin air. It’s a legendary missing kid cold case. We should do a story for the anniversary.”

“Lucy Devlin is old news,” I told her. “The girl’s never been found, Clare.” “And after a while people just stopped caring about her.” “Well, you sure did all right with it. You won a damn Pulitzer.” Maggie Lang was my assignment editor at the TV station where I work as a news executive these days. She was a bundle of media energy—young, smart, ambitious, outspoken, and sometimes a bit reckless. I liked Maggie, but she scared me, too. Maybe because she reminded me of someone I used to know. Myself when I was her age.

Back then, I was Clare Carlson, award-winning reporter for a New York City newspaper that doesn’t exist anymore. When the paper went out of business, I moved on to a new career as a TV reporter. I wasn’t so successful at that. They said I came across as too intense on the air, too grating, too unlikeable to the viewers. So, they offered me a job in management. I was never quite sure I followed the logic of that, but I just went with the flow. I started out as an assignment editor, moved up to producer, and then was named news director for Channel 10 News here in New York City. It turned out that I really like telling other people what to do instead of doing it myself. I’ve always been a bitch. I guess now I just get paid for being one.

Maggie looked over at the Pulitzer Prize certificate I keep prominently on my desk at Channel 10. Hey, you win a Pulitzer—you flaunt it.

“You helped make Lucy Devlin one of the most famous missing child stories ever in New York City fifteen years ago, Clare,” she said. “Imagine if we could somehow find her alive after all this time . . .”

“Lucy is dead,” I told her. “How can you be so sure of that?” “C’mon, you know she’s dead as well as I do. Why else would she never have turned up anywhere?”

“Okay, you’re probably right. She is dead. And we’ll never find the body or catch who did it or know anything for sure about what happened to her.”

“So, what’s our story then?” “There’s a new angle.” “Believe me, I covered all the angles on this story a long time ago.”

“Anne Devlin, Lucy’s mother, is telling people she has some new evidence about the case,” Maggie said.

“Anne Devlin always claims she has some evidence. The poor woman has been obsessed with finding answers about her daughter for years. I mean, it’s understandable, I guess, given all the pain and anguish and uncertainty she’s gone through. But none of her so-called evidence ever goes anywhere.”

“Doesn’t matter. We go to the mother and say we want to hear about whatever new evidence she thinks she’s come up with. I tell her we want to interview her about the case for the anniversary. That maybe someone will see it and give cops some new information. It’ll be great TV. And that video—the heartbroken mom still pleading for someone to help her find out what happened to her daughter fifteen years ago—would go viral on social media.”

She was right. It was a good idea. A good TV gimmick. A good social media gimmick.

And that was my job now, whether I liked it or not. I was a long way from winning Pulitzer Prizes or writing thoughtful in-depth journalism. In television, it was all about capturing the moment. And an emotional interview like that with Lucy’s mother on the anniversary of her disappearance would definitely be a big media moment.

I looked out the window next to my desk. It was early April, and spring had finally broken in New York City. I was wearing a pale-pink spring pantsuit to celebrate the onset of the season. I’d bought it at Saks one bitterly cold day during the depths of winter to cheer myself up. But right now, I didn’t feel very cheerful.

“Okay,” I finally said reluctantly to Maggie, “you can reach out to Anne Devlin and see if she’ll sit down for an interview with us.”

“I already did.” Of course. Knowing Maggie, I should have figured she’d already set it in motion before checking with me.

“And?” I asked her. “She said yes.” “Good.” “Under one condition. She wants you to be the person who does the interview with her.”

“Me?” “She said she’d feel more comfortable talking to you than some reporter she didn’t know.”

“C’mon, I don’t go on air anymore, Maggie.” “She insisted on talking to you. She said you owed her. She said you would understand what that meant.”

I sighed. Oh, I understood. Anne Devlin was holding me to a promise I made a long time ago.

It was maybe a few months after Lucy was gone. Anne had become depressed as people stopped talking about the case. The newspapers, the TV stations, even the police—they seemed to have given up and moved on to other things. She felt so alone, she said. I told her that she wasn’t alone. I told her I’d always be there for her. I made her a lot of promises that I couldn’t keep.

“Let’s make a pact,” she said, squeezing my hand on that long- ago night. “If I ever find out anything, you’ll help me track Lucy down, won’t you, Clare?”

“I promise,” I said. “No matter what happens or how long it takes, you can’t let people forget about her.”

“No one will ever forget about Lucy.” I thought about that long-ago conversation now as I sat in my office looking at the Pulitzer that had come out of my coverage of the Lucy Devlin story in what seemed like another lifetime ago. That story had been my ticket to fame as a journalist. It made me a front-page star; it catapulted me into the top of the New York City media world; and it was eventually responsible for the big TV executive job that I held today.

“She said you owed it to her,” Maggie said again. Anne Devlin was right. I did owe her.

 

CHAPTER 2

Lucy Devlin disappeared on a sunny April morning.

She was eleven years old, and she lived on a quiet street in the Gramercy Park section of Manhattan with her parents, Anne and Patrick Devlin. That last day her mother had helped her get dressed for school, packed her books in a knapsack that hung over her back, and then kissed her goodbye before putting her on the school bus.

As far as anyone knew, she was with the other students on the bus when they went into the school. The first indication that something was wrong came when Lucy didn’t show up in her classroom for the morning attendance. The teacher thought she was either late or sick, reporting it at first to the principal’s office as a routine absence. It wasn’t until later that police began a massive search for the missing eleven-year-old girl.

The disappearance of Lucy Devlin exploded in the media when the New York Tribune, the newspaper I wrote for, ran a front-page story about her. The headline simply said: “MISSING!” Below that was a picture of Lucy. Big brown eyes, her hair in a ponytail, a gap between her two front teeth.

The story told how she was wearing a blue denim skirt, a white blouse, and cork sandals when she was last seen. It said she loved reading; playing basketball and soccer; and, most of all, animals. She petted every dog in the neighborhood and begged her parents to get her one. “She was my little angel,” Anne Devlin said in the article. “How could anyone want to hurt an angel?”

The whole city fell in love with her after that. The Tribune story spared no emotion in talking about the anguish of her parents as they waited for some kind of word. It talked about their hopes, their despair, and their confusion over everything that had happened.

I know because I was the reporter who wrote it. With my help, Lucy Devlin—just like Maggie had said— became one of the most famous missing person stories in New York City history. Posters soon appeared all over the city. Announcements were made in schools and churches asking people to look for her. The family offered a reward. First it was $10,000. Then $20,000 and $50,000 and as much as $100,000 as people and civic groups pitched in to help the Devlin family. For many it brought back memories of the tragic Etan Patz case—a six-year-old boy who had disappeared from the streets of New York City a quarter century earlier. Little Etan became the face of the missing child crisis all over the country when his picture was the first to appear on a milk carton in the desperate search for answers about his fate. In that case, the family had finally achieved some closure when a man was eventually arrested and convicted for their son’s murder. But there was no closure for Anne and Patrick Devlin.

I sat in the Devlins’ apartment—crying with them, praying with them, and hoping against hope that little Lucy would one day walk in that door.

I’ve never worked a story before or after where I identified so much with the people I was writing about. My access to the parents gave me the opportunity to see things no one else did, and I put every bit of that into my stories. Everyone was picking up my stuff—the other papers, TV news, and even the network news magazines like Dateline and 60 Minutes.

Yes, I did win a Pulitzer for my coverage of this story. The Pulitzer judges called it “dramatic, haunting, and extraordinarily compassionate coverage of a breaking deadline news story” in giving me the award. That was nice, but they were all just words to me. I wasn’t thinking about a Pulitzer or acclaim or my career when I covered the Lucy Devlin disappearance. I just reported and wrote the hell out of the story, day after day.

Eventually, of course, other stories came along to knock this one off the front page.

All the reporters moved on to cover them. In the end, I did, too. It wasn’t that easy for Anne and Patrick Devlin. The police told them that Lucy was probably dead. That the most likely scenario was she’d been kidnapped outside the school that day, her abductor had become violent and murdered her. He then must have dumped her body somewhere. It was just a matter of time before it turned up, they said.

Anne Devlin refused to believe them. “I can’t just forget about my daughter,” she said. “I know she’s still alive. I know she’s out there somewhere. I can feel her. A mother knows. I’ll never rest until I find her.”

Her obsession carried her down many paths over the next few years. Every time a little girl turned up murdered or police found a girl without a home, Anne checked it out. Not just in New York City either. She traveled around the country, tracking down every lead—no matter how slim or remote it seemed.

There were moments of hope, but many more moments of despair.

A woman who’d seen the story on TV said she’d seen a little girl that looked like Lucy at an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. She was standing with a man holding her by the hand near the roller coaster, looking confused and scared. At one point, she tried to break away, but the man wouldn’t let her go. The woman told one of the security guards that there was something suspicious about the man and the little girl, but never found out what happened. Anne went to Ohio and talked to everyone she could find at the amusement park. She eventually tracked down the security guard and finally the little girl herself. It turned out that the man was her father, and she looked scared and tried to run away because she was afraid to ride the roller coaster.

Another time a group of college coeds thought they spotted her in Florida during spring break. Some fraternity guys who tried to hit on them had a young girl in the back seat of their car, and she seemed out of place amid the beer swilling Neanderthals par- tying up a storm in Fort Lauderdale. The coeds told Anne they were convinced it was her missing daughter. That lead turned out to be a dead end, too. She was the daughter of a woman the fraternity guys had picked up the night before. The woman had passed out back in their hotel room, and they were just driving around with the girl because they didn’t want to leave her alone.

And then there was the time the body of a young girl about Lucy’s age and description was found alongside a highway in Pennsylvania. The state troopers found Lucy’s name on a list of missing children and contacted Anne. She drove ten hours through a blinding snowstorm to a morgue outside Pittsburgh, where the body had been taken. The entire time she had visions of her daughter lying on a coroner’s slab. But it wasn’t Lucy. It turned out to be a runaway from Utah. A truck driver had picked her up hitchhiking, raped and killed her, then dumped the body alongside the road. Anne said afterward she felt relief it wasn’t Lucy, but sadness for the family in Utah who would soon endure the same ordeal as she did.

Once a psychic came to Anne and said she’d seen a vision of Lucy. Lucy was living somewhere near the water, the psychic told her. Lucy was alright, but lonely. Lucy wanted to get back to her family, but she didn’t know how. Eventually, the psychic said she saw a sign in the vision that said La Jolla. La Jolla is a town in Southern California, just north of San Diego. The psychic offered to travel with Anne there and help search for her. They spent two weeks in La Jolla, staying in the best hotels and running up big bills at fancy restaurants. The psychic found nothing. Later, it turned out she just wanted a free trip to the West Coast and some free publicity for her psychic business.

Worst of all were the harassing phone calls. From all the twisted, perverted people in this world. Some of them were opportunists looking for extortion money by claiming they had Lucy. Others were just sickos who got off on harassing a grieving mother. “I have your daughter,” they would say and then talk about the terrible things they were doing to her. One man called Anne maybe two dozen times, day and night, over a period of six months. He taunted her mercilessly about how he had turned Lucy into his sex slave. He said he kept her in a cage in the basement of his house, feeding her only dog food and water. He described unspeakable tortures and sexual acts he carried out on her. He told Anne that when he finally got bored, he’d either kill her or sell her to a harem in the Middle East. When the FBI finally traced the caller’s number and caught him, he turned out to be one of the police officers who had been investigating the case. He confessed that he got a strange sexual pleasure from the phone calls. None of the others turned out to be the real abductor either. But Anne would sometimes cry for days after she got one of these cruel calls, imagining all of the nightmarish things that might be happening to Lucy.

All this took a real toll on Anne and Patrick Devlin. Patrick was a contractor who ran his own successful construction firm; Anne, an executive with an advertising agency. They lived in a spacious townhouse in the heart of Manhattan. Patrick had spent long hours renovating it into a beautiful home for him, Anne, and Lucy. There was even a backyard with an impressively large garden that was Anne’s pride and joy. The Devlins seemed to have the perfect house, the perfect family, the perfect life.

But that all changed after Lucy disappeared. Anne eventually lost her job because she was away so much searching for answers about her daughter. Patrick’s construction business fell off dramatically, too. They had trouble meeting the payments on their town house and moved to a cheaper rental downtown. Their marriage began to fall apart, too, just like the rest of their lives. They divorced a few years after Lucy’s disappearance. Patrick moved to Boston and started a new construction company. He remarried a few years later and now had two children, a boy and a girl, with his new wife. Anne still lived in New York City, where she never stopped searching for her daughter.

Every once in a while, at an anniversary or when another child disappeared, one of the newspapers or TV stations would tell the Lucy Devlin story again.

About the little girl who went off to school one day, just like any other day, and was never seen again. But mostly, no one had time to think about Lucy Devlin anymore.

Everyone had forgotten about Lucy. Except her mother.

***

Excerpt from Yesterday’s News by R.G. Belsky. Copyright © 2018 by R.G. Belsky. Reproduced with permission from R.G. Belsky. All rights reserved.

Tour Participants:

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Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for R.G. Belsky. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on June 1, 2018 and runs through July 1, 2018.
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Apr 252018
 

Dead Air by Cliff Protzman Tour Banner

Dead Air

by Cliff Protzman

on Tour April 1-30, 2018

 

Synopsis:

Dead Air by Cliff Protzman

Dead Air signals trouble at the radio station. Glenn Beckert discovers his high school best friend is shot in the head while on the air. Beck, the owner of Blue Water Security, is employed to provide security for the station.

He becomes willingly embroiled in the investigation by the not-so-innocent widow. The list of potential suspects is long, gleaned from the numerous extramarital affairs of the victim and widow. The pending sale of the radio station has created friction between his now dead friend, Richie Zito and the major stockholders. Motives for murder becomes increasingly murky after the search reveals an encrypted file on Zito’s laptop.

Beck enlists the help of a friend from college, Irene Schade, to break the code, revealing a money laundering network leading to the financial and political powers of his beloved city of Pittsburgh. Their collaboration ignites the flames of passion each had considered extinguished.

A former college teammate, police Lieutenant Paglironi delivers a message to back off. Arrogantly, he ignores his friend’s advice. The threats from less friendly sources are more ominous, forcing Beck to move in an unfamiliar world. A startling revelation from his client forces Beck to deal with his inner conviction of right and wrong, challenging the gray areas of his ethical principles. Betraying his client’s confidence could expose the killer. The alternative is to confront the suspect and take matters into his own hands. Either way his life is in jeopardy.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
Published by: Indie
Publication Date: October 2017
Number of Pages: 308
ISBN: 1545607141 (ISBN13: 9781545607145)
Don’t Miss Your Chance to Purchase Dead Air from: Amazon & Barnes & Noble! Plus add it to your Goodreads list!

 

Author Bio:

Cliff Protzman

Cliff was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. Cliff’s family relocated to Northeast Ohio when he was in high school. Immediately after graduation he returned to his hometown to attend the University of Pittsburgh. Cliff planned to major in journalism and write the great American novel. Instead, he switched to Business Administration and began a 30-year career in accounting and finance.

Cliff rekindled his passion for writing acquired as a reporter for his school newspaper. He published his first novel, DEAD AIR: a Glenn Beckert Mystery in September 2017. Cliff also writes short stories. He was a winner in the Unfinished Chapters anthology in 2015. Cliff is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Pennwriters.

 

Q&A with Cliff Protzman

Do you write from personal experiences and/or current events?

I don’t know how a writer can dismiss personal experience from their stories. The underlying theme is personal, from the soul. The author is trying to convey a personal message. The plot can be something foreign to the author’s background, but the story is unique. It is our life events that make us who we are and we must include them in our writing.

I write contemporary stories. Current events can’t be avoided. They are actually part of the scenery. However, unless they are germane to the plot, current events are a backdrop.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story brings you?

When I started Dead Air, I had a victim, an investigator, and a killer planned. As I wrote and the characters developed, I let them lead me through the story. Along the way the motive developed differently than I originally planned. Indeed, the killer I planned was actually innocent. The one character I envisioned as a guide for Glenn Beckert actually proved just the opposite. I didn’t know, but fortunately Beck did.

The timeline is important to creating the suspense. An investigation requires cues to be assembled and leads followed in progression. Writing sequentially allows me to maintain that timeline.

Are any of the characters based on you or people you know?

Absolutely. I try to blend characters based on the many people I have met. Irene is the perfect example. She is beautiful, intelligent, and the perfect compliment to Beck. She is based on two women that have influenced my appreciation of strong women. The police lieutenant is based on a former teammate of mine. Beck and I do share many of the same personality quirks. It would be extremely difficult to create believable characters without depending on the people in our world.
Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I grew up in Pittsburgh, a neighborhood of homes packed closely together. In the summer people hung out on the front porch since there was no air conditioning. Each porch had a radio tuned to the Pirates game. We would play ball in the street and listen to the echoes of the game throughout the neighborhood. When there was a late game form the West Coast, I took a transistor radio to bed listening until I fell asleep or the batteries died.

Today, I like to write when there is a game on. In my office the television is behind me. I listen when I write.

Tell us why we should read this book.

I could give a number of reasons, but I will defer to the readers and reviewers. They have the ultimate opinion.

One reviewer called Dead Air a modern noir. I loved that comment. The characters are believable, strengths and weaknesses alike. Many commented about Irene specifically. If readers can involve themselves in the characters, the action and suspense is more intense.

Readers were intrigued by the twists and unexpected revelations. The crime was complex, but clearly explained. The “wrap up” in this mystery was outside the norm.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Max Allen Collins, Grandmaster of the Mystery Writers of America, wrote a series featuring PI, Nathan Heller. Heller worked famous case from the Lindberg kidnapping to the Kennedy assignation.

Troy Soos wrote a series involving Mickey Rawlings, a journeyman ball player in the early twentieth century. Rawlings played in various cities, each time finding himself involved in a murder. Fascinating historical mysteries.

Also, Sue Grafton, Raymond Chandler, Robert Parker, David Baldacci, and many others.

What are you reading now?

Detroit Electric Scheme by D E Johnson, a murder mystery set in 1910 Detroit. The protagonist is the son of the owner of the leading electric car manufacturer. He finds the fiancé of his former girlfriend dead in his plant and quickly becomes a suspect. He battles alcoholism and the police to clear his name and find the killer.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us about it?

The next novel will be the second in the Glenn Beckert series. Beck is asked to find a missing man the week before his wedding. Beck figures it is a case of wedding jitters until the man’s dead body is fished out of the river. Beck is distraught that he dismissed the case so casually, he is determined to find the killer. The dead man is a developer of artificial intelligence for a large defense contractor. In addition, the deceased seems to have some problem with past lovers. Beck has to sift through conflicting motives to find the murderer, while resolving a conflict between him and Irene.

Your novel will be turned into a movie. Who would you cast?

Dead Air would be a great movie. Michael Keaton would play Beck. He has the ability to show the many emotional challenges Beck faces and add the witty comments. The story is set in Pittsburgh and Keaton is a native, a good match. Also, Keaton will always be the best Batman.

Tea Leoni would make a great Irene. Leoni herself is a strong-willed personality, an actor and producer. She would be convincing as the tech wizard assisting Beck. Leoni can bring the flirty nature of Irene to life.

What is your favorite leisure activity?

As a youth, I played baseball for fifteen years through college. As a parent, I coached for another fifteen years. As a grandparent, I love to watch my grandchildren play. This past winter I decided to play Senior Baseball. Despite the sore muscles, the game is still fun, even if it seems to be a slower pace. I look forward to the summer playing the game I love.

 

Catch Up With Our Author On His Website cliffprotzman.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

Dead Air. It was the most unforgivable of sins. I was standing at the bar in Jergel’s Rhythm Grille in Warrendale, PA when the overhead sound system finished blaring “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” the seventeen-minute, two-second version, then dove into silence… and stayed there.

Minutes crawled past while WZOC, better known as Z-Rock to Pittsburgh-area listeners, remained silent. The long version of the Iron Butterfly song was played when DJs need extended bathroom time. Apparently, it was not enough time.

The seventeen-thousand-square-foot bar and restaurant was beginning to fill up. The stage hands scrambled over the stage in a well-orchestrated dance as they prepared the stage at the rear of the building. I was at the front bar, one of six serving the customers. The crowd noise increased due to the silent overhead system. The bartenders and service personnel went about their jobs, oblivious to the lack of music. I appeared to be the only person who noticed it. The dead air was an unexpected lapse for a normally proficient staff at Z-Rock. The station owned by my high school best friend, had been my first client, so I was always glad when the bar staff piped it in to provide background noise.

A Pittsburgh favorite, The Clarks, were scheduled to take the stage in forty-five minutes. Their classic rock style was often compared to Tom Petty. Z-Rock had introduced The Clarks to the Pittsburgh market, and it remained a strong supporter of the band. They had parlayed the station’s promotion into a broader following along the Southern Atlantic states. The quartet was almost as well-known in the city as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting lineup. I had had the great fortune to see many of their local performances.

Before heading to the front door, I finished my IC Light, a low- calorie brew from Pittsburgh Brewing. The bartender grabbed my empty bottle and asked, “Another one, Beck?”

“No thanks; probably later.” I headed toward the entrance, featuring solid wood double doors, the left side closed to restrain the incoming crowd. The line stretched outside beyond my view.

My firm was in charge of crowd control for the event. Even though I was on duty tonight, my plan was to be more of a spectator.

In my earpiece, I heard my site manager of Jergel’s security, Lance Parisi. “Beck, we have a problem at the front door. This patron is drunk and belligerent. He may be armed. I’m trying to get him to leave.”

I replied, “On my way.” As the owner of Blue Water Security, I was always glad to help with situations like these. I tried to hire only the best, so backing them with my support was always a pleasure.

An obviously intoxicated man was pointing a finger at Lance who had to be at least six inches taller than the swaying man. “You fucking asshole! I have a ticket! You can’t keep me out!” I heard the word motherfucker and that was that. This wasn’t going to end well for the drunken ticket holder.

In my mouthpiece, I said, “Stay cool, Lance. He’s all talk,” but before I could arrive, the man took a swing at Lance. So much for my expert analysis. In one quick movement, Lance had the man’s right arm twisted behind his back, Lance’s left arm firmly around his neck in a choke hold.

I rushed to Lance’s side. The man’s open coat displayed the butt of a gun in his waistband. I jerked the .38 Special from his belt holster and turned to look him in the eyes. The combined stink of beer and whiskey oozed from him.

Adrenaline was pumping through my body as if facing a 3-2 pitch. I regained my composure before speaking in a calm, determined voice. “Sir, even with a concealed carry permit, it is illegal to bring a gun into a bar, especially when you are intoxicated.” The other patrons waiting to enter had backed away when they saw the gun. “The man with his arm around your neck is going to escort you to the office. The police will be called. I hope you have your permit with you. You can walk to the office quietly. If not, I’m certain Lance will find a way to get you there. Is that clear?”

The man nodded as best he could with Lance’s muscular arm wrapped around his neck. Lance released his stranglehold, keeping a firm grip on the man’s arm. I handed the gun to my employee. The drunk remained calm and allowed Lance to lead him away. Using my mic, I paged Jason Weaver, who had been assigned to dance floor security for the night, to come to the front door.

I remained at the door, checking tickets for the anxious concert fans, until Jason appeared. It was then I realized there was still silence coming from the sound system. The normal professionalism of Z-Rock’s staff made me wonder about the cause of the extended silence. I could imagine engineers scrambling to locate and repair whatever technical problems had occurred.

Jason arrived, assuming Lance’s position at the door. I turned back to the bar as my cell phone rang. “Glenn Beckert,” I answered.

“This is John Waner at Z-Rock.” He paused and I wondered if I was truly surprised to be hearing from my security guard at the station. His voice was high-pitched, his words rushed as he said, “There’s a big problem here.”

“John, what’s the problem?”

“Beck… H-He’s… I don’t know what to do. R-Richie’s been murdered.”

***

Excerpt from Dead Air by Cliff Protzman. Copyright © 2018 by Cliff Protzman. Reproduced with permission from Cliff Protzman. All rights reserved.

 

Tour Participants:

Visit the other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

 

Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Cliff Protzman. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com. The giveaway begins on April 1 and runs through May 2, 2018. Void where prohibited.

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Apr 242018
 

Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally Murder

by Ginny Fite

on Tour April 16 – May 18, 2018

 

Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally Murder by Ginny Fite

Synopsis:

 

When it comes to murder, even brilliant scientists aren’t immune.

The night Harold Munson is shot dead in his car, the primary suspect is the man’s brainiac wife. But Charlotte, who has a passion for science and sex with strangers, swears all she wants is a Nobel Prize for curing brain cancer, even if that requires fudging her research and a few dead patients along the way.

When the next body drops, all signs point to Charlotte, but Detective Sam Lagarde doggedly follows the clues until he has his own Eureka moment.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Fiction-Murder Mystery
Published by: Black Opal Books
Publication Date: February 10th 2018
Number of Pages: 270
ISBN: 9781626948 (ISBN13: 9781626948648)
Series: Sam Lagarde Mystery Series, Book 3 (Each is a Stand Alone Novel)
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Kobo 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

 

Author Bio:

Ginny Fite

Ginny Fite is an award-winning journalist who has covered crime, politics, government, healthcare, art, and all things human. She has been a spokesperson for a governor, a member of congress, a few colleges and universities, and a robotics R&D company. She has degrees from Rutgers University and Johns Hopkins University and studied at the School for Women Healers and the Maryland Poetry Therapy Institute. She is the author of I Should Be Dead by Now, a collection of humorous lamentations about aging; three books of poetry, The Last Thousand Years, The Pearl Fisher, and Throwing Caution; a short story collection, What Goes Around; as well as two previous Detective Sam Lagarde mysteries: Cromwell’s Folly and No Good Deed Left Undone. She resides in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

 

Q&A with Ginny Fite

Welcome!
Writing and Reading:

Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

Sometimes current events trigger an idea for a story but mostly, now that I’ve written several novels, I realize the story comes to me unbidden, and usually when I don’t expect it. I experience this as someone else telling me the story and leaving off just when it starts to get interesting. Then I have to knuckle down and follow where it was going on my own.

Independently of me, my brain seems to take in everything I observe, read, and hear. It sorts through all that stuff, categorizes, and synthesizes it. This is one of the brain’s main function, after all.

After it’s crunched all that data, it offers me a story that leads to understanding something, whether that’s how someone could come to kill another person or how people feel when they confront death. Mysteries are about the universal struggle of good and evil, about justice, and sometimes about mercy. I think these are issues we all grapple with from time to time.

I’m at the point where I wait for the story to find me and part of the fun is that I never know what it’s going to be. Somewhere in the process I will learn what I’m supposed to know.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?

I start from the beginning and go as far as I can by the seat of my pants until I hit a brick wall and can’t see my way out. At that point, I start making timelines—not exactly a plot but a tool that allows me to see where I’m going, or might be going, although I have to admit the story usually takes its own turn no matter what I think will happen.

Recently, I’ve been writing down a few words about the gist of each scene on a separate PowerPoint slide so that I can easily rearrange them but even that doesn’t nail down a plot. A story wants what it wants. I guess that means I’m not a slave to an outline.

Sometimes I know what the end is, who killed who, but with Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally Murder, the killer isn’t who I expected it to be. I got three-quarters of the way through the novel and realized I had the wrong killer. I had to go back and figure out who really killed Harold Munson and why.

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?

I hope not! I assume that elements of people I’ve met—or even just glimpsed on a train, in the supermarket, or at a party—sneak into the characters I create. When a character presents herself, I ask what does she look like, sound like, move like, how does she dress, what does she like to eat, where does he work, what kind of car would he drive, and the answers show up. It’s a little like magic.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I think I have a relatively normal routine—if writing books could be considered normal. I work every day including weekends, within an hour of waking and with ample coffee for about four hours. Sometimes, if inspiration hits in the evening, I’ll go back to my laptop or make notes on whatever device is near at hand.

There are so many moving parts to the writing life, I could be occupied all day but I find that new writing, putting words on a page to craft a scene, takes a fresh mind. I do get cranky if my routine is upset by other events, even when I’m supposed to be on vacation and doing other things I love to do, like playing with my grandchildren or hanging out with my friends.

Tell us why we should read this book.

Hidden in the folds of Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally Murder is the story about how medical research is far too frequently fudged, fraudulent, and—if clinical trials result in applied therapies and drugs—sometimes fatal. No one is ever arrested and put on trial for those deaths. That struck me as a story that should be told to a wider audience than only the research community.

On a less serious note, LCAOM is intriguing entertainment that takes the reader along winding West Virginia roads with the loveable curmudgeon, Detective Sam Lagarde, in search of an unlikely killer. If you like Kate Atkinson’s Case Studies or Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, you may like Lying, Cheating and Occasionally Murder.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
I have many favorite authors: Anthony Doerr, Annie Proulx, Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich. Actually, often the last person I read becomes my favorite author.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend in print and Karen Dionne’s The Marsh King’s Daughter on kindle.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?

The next book schedule to come out in 2018, No End of Bad, is a standalone political thriller. When a DC housewife’s safe world blows up after her FBI husband is falsely arrested and killed by agents working for an international drug cartel, she and her daughter must fight his assassins to save their own lives and restore his honor.

I’m also working on a ghost story set in a small Maryland town near the Chesapeake Bay told in several voices.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

Ed Harris is Sam Lagarde, Jessica Chastain is Charlotte Rolle, Meryl Streep is Beverly Wilson, and poor Harold Munson would be played by Woody Harrelson when he was younger (say, his Cheers days). Yunjin Kim (from Lost) would play Betty Liu.

Favorite meal?

I love eggplant parmesan, in all its many varieties, and so does Sam Lagarde.

Thank you for stopping by CMash Reads and spending time with us.

 

Catch Up With Ginny Fite On:
Website 🔗, Goodreads 🔗, Twitter 🔗, & Facebook 🔗!

 

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

March 30, 2016, 6 a.m.:

At two in the morning on a perfectly clear night, the full moon casting a beacon across western fields and along two satin rivers unfurling between dark mountains, Harold Munson ended his perfect day by crashing right through the clapboard siding of the Weigle Insurance Company office building.

Munson’s front bumper nudged the insurance agent’s desk into the printer, which interpreted the jolt as an instruction to print and began beeping its out-of-paper alarm. Dave Weigle, broker and owner of the company—awakened by a newly downloaded intruder alert app on his cell phone—threw on sweat pants and a jacket, padded out to his car in slippers, and arrived first on the scene.

He peeked through the window of the car in his parking lot and saw a man slumped over the driver’s side air bag, but Weigle was too preoccupied with the damage to his building to look closely. Unlocking his unscathed office door, he first examined the gaping hole caused by the front of a car ripping through the side of his building, turned off the annoying printer beeping, looked around at the mess, and called the police, just in case the new automated security system hadn’t notified them.

Then he took photographs on his cell phone. He had insurance. He might as well use it. If nothing else, he could prove to his wife he really had gone to the office in the middle of the night.

Munson had been going northwest toward Martinsburg, based on swerve marks made by his tires on the two-lane Charles Town Road, when his car rammed into the insurance building opposite the Kearneysville Post Office five miles west of Shepherdstown.

When Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies arrived ten minutes after Weigle, they bolted out of their vehicles thinking Harold was dead drunk, slumped over the airbag like that, not moving and unresponsive to their increasingly loud, shouted commands: “Hands where I can see ’em. Step out of the car. Get out of the car now.”

Sheriff Harbaugh was sure he saw Munson blink as officers approached the closed window of the driver’s side door, guns drawn, yelling at him to surrender. They attempted to wrench open the door to pull him out of the car and discovered it was locked. Then, in quick succession, they noticed a smear of blood and brains on the passenger seat and dashboard and two small holes in the driver’s side window surrounded by rings of spider-webbed glass.

Drunk or not, Harold had been shot through the head. That might have been the cause of his leaving the road and plowing into the building. Whether he hit the building first or the bullet smashing through his brain had caused him to veer off the road would be determined by further investigation. At that point, the deputies called in the West Virginia State Police with its forensics apparatus and crime lab personnel.

After his initial reconnoiter of the Munson crime scene, a conversation with Weigle, whose cell phone alert app had recorded the moment of impact and whose photos of the scene might prove useful, Detective Sam Lagarde, assigned to the State Police Troop 2 Command, based outside Charles Town, reminded himself he was only a short trip on winding, narrow roads up and down a few hills from his eighteenth-century farmhouse. He decided to go home and let his horses out of the barn before he went back to the office to file his initial paperwork. When he got to his house, coffee was already brewing.

Lagarde stopped describing his new case and looked down into the mug of coffee Beverly Wilson put on the kitchen table in front of him. It was the right color. He took a sip. It had the right amount of sugar. He took two gulps. It was the right temperature. He felt like Goldilocks. He still wasn’t accustomed to having someone take care of him, or even give two hoots about how he liked his coffee. He marveled at his good luck. It was six in the morning, and Beverly was a tea drinker. He took a moment to savor this extraordinary gift. In a month or two, he knew, he would take it for granted.

He looked up at Beverly, then out beyond the kitchen door, which he’d left open to let in the bracing spring air, and glanced toward the barn. It was too much to ask.

“Yes, Sam.” Beverly made a face at him and then smiled and put a hand on Lagarde’s shoulder. “I let the horses out and made sure they have water and a few leaves of hay. They’re set for a while, unless you want to ride, in which case you’re the one who’ll have to catch Jake.”

That was all it took, the mild pressure of her warm palm on his shoulder for him to feel completely calm and that the world was in order. The whole thing—Beverly Wilson, in his house, sleeping in his bed, making slight snoring noises that forced him to acknowledge her presence was real—was a marvel to him.

Here she was talking to him as if it was the most normal thing in the world for them to be living together. How had this happened? He didn’t feel entitled to such a miracle. After love, women were the second most indecipherable mystery he had never solved. But then, neither had anyone else.

***

Excerpt from Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally Murder by Ginny Fite. Copyright © 2018 by Ginny Fite. Reproduced with permission from Ginny Fite. All rights reserved.

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

 

Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Ginny Fite. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on April 16, 2018 and runs through May 20, 2018. Void where prohibited.

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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

Mar 282018
 

The Fix

by Robert Downs

on Tour March 1 – April 30, 2018

Synopsis:

The Fix by Robert Downs

Professional gambler, Johnny Chapman, plays the hand he’s dealt, but when he’s dealt a series of losers, he decides to up the ante with more money than he can afford to lose. Just when he thinks his life can’t get any worse, it does. The loan shark he owes the money to demands that he pay up and sends his goons after him. The man offers Johnny one way out—fix a race by fatally injecting the dog most likely to win. A piece of cake, Johnny thinks, until he looks into the big brown eyes of the beautiful dog, and the price suddenly seems too great to pay. Now Johnny’s on the run and the goons are closing in…

 

**Read my review HERE and enter the giveaway**

 

Book Details:

Genre: Noir
Published by: Black Opal Books
Publication Date: December 2nd 2017
Number of Pages: 166
ISBN: 9781626948174
Grab your copy of The Fix on: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, & Goodreads!

 

Robert Downs

Author Bio:

Robert Downs aspired to be a writer before he realized how difficult the writing process was. Fortunately, he’d already fallen in love with the craft, otherwise his tales might never have seen print. Originally from West Virginia, he has lived in Virginia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and now resides in California. When he’s not writing, Downs can be found reading, reviewing, blogging, or smiling.

 

**Q&A with Robert Downs**

Welcome!
Writing and Reading:

Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
I draw from anything that’ll help me tell a good story. I’ve gotten inspiration from reading the news or novels, watching movies, personal experience, overhearing snippets of conversation, and writing prompts. Creative individuals make excellent thieves. I like taking an interesting concept and attempting to put my own spin on it. The process can be very cathartic.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
Most of the time I’ll start with the beginning, and have an ending in mind. Getting there is normally the fun part, and when it’s going well, it’s filled with twists and turns along the way. Most of my stories are told in a linear fashion, but I’ve also explored nonlinear storytelling. I like to challenge myself, and I wanted to see if I could make it work. My next novella, assuming my editor doesn’t change this particular concept, will be told in a nonlinear fashion.

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?
Absolutely. I like to think I am creative, and I believe I make an excellent thief. I’ll steal whatever I need to make my story work. Most of my characters aren’t based on one individual, but conglomerations of multiple individuals. There are exceptions to this, but I won’t say which ones to protect the innocent.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
No real idiosyncrasies. I’ll write anywhere I can bring my laptop. I’ve written on airplanes, in coffeeshops, hotel rooms and lobbies, and I believe I’m on my fourth desk, and my third or fourth laptop. I do have a pen in a wooden box my brother gave me in 2016 as a groomsmen gift, and it sits on my desk. He’s one of the reasons I started writing. His retelling of his dreams at the breakfast table both intrigued and fascinated me.

I’ve written first thing in the morning, and I’ve written after coming home from work as well as weekends and days off. I’ve discovered that days that begin with writing are better than days that do not, and that because I have a full-time job, my writing time feels more precious because I have to carve it out of my schedule.

Tell us why we should read your book.
Honestly, I have no idea. There are plenty of books out there, and there are plenty of authors that are better than I am. But I do know there aren’t a lot of stories or movies on gambling, and Johnny is a fun anti-hero. My characters aren’t always likeable, at least that’s some of the feedback I’ve gotten, but I always like ’em. I like to think I write honest characters, flaws and all. I believe my stories will resonate with the right readers, and when I find ’em, I’ll do everything I can to keep ’em coming back for more.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
How much space do I have? I’ll read just about anything and everything I can get my hands on, and while I read primarily mysteries and thrillers, I’ve stepped outside these two genres on multiple occasions. I like Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver, Lawrence Sanders and Robert B. Parker, Patricia Cornwell and James Lee Burke, Lisa Jackson and Robert Crais, and John Grisham and Gary Phillips. There’re plenty more, but I’ll stop there.

What are you reading now?
I’m always reading multiple books at once, and I read ebooks as well as physical ones. Right now, I’m reading The Kite Runner, Blood Always Tells, Stone Cold Dead, Wrongful Death, The Body in the Birches, Dark Chocolate Demise, and The Big Fear.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
Absolutely. My next book, another novella, tentatively titled The Bridal Chase will come out in April according to my publisher Black Opal Books. In it, I explored nonlinear storytelling, which was a lot of fun for me. It all started because of a writing prompt in either Writer’s Digest or The Writer. The prompt was something like pick two things that don’t normally go together and see where the idea takes you. Immediately, I had this image of a bride in a white wedding dress driving a pickup truck. I liked the image, and it begged a whole series of questions that allowed me to write the book.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

I know some writers have specific actors or actresses in mind, but as much as I like movies, I don’t think along those lines. I figure if Hollywood wants to option one of my books, they can cast whomever they want as long as the check clears. I would, however, think it’d be great to show up on set, and I’d probably geek out at whomever they decided to cast. I am a huge movie fan, after all.

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
There is no way I can pick just one, unless I’m only gonna write for the rest of my life. It’s also not a fun answer, and it tells you absolutely nothing else about me. I like reading, watching movies, and traveling. I’ve even been known to dabble in extreme sports like bungee jumping and skydiving.

Favorite meal?
I am a huge fan of Italian food. Spaghetti is easy to make, and does not require much time in the kitchen, so I like it even more. I also believe leftovers are a wonderful invention, and any meal I don’t have to make gets bumped a bit higher on the list.

 

To find out more about his latest projects, or to reach out to him on the Internet, visit: robertdowns.net, Goodreads Page, & Facebook Page!

 

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

The taste of liquor still lingered on his lips. Six months without a drink, and he had the chip to prove it. His eyes were downcast, the table was green felt, and his wooden seat jammed the lower part of his back. The overhead light was dim, and he had his hat pulled down over his eyes. Johnny Chapman had lost three hands in a row, and he didn’t want to lose a fourth.

The Indian sat across from him with his hands folded across his chest, wearing dark sunglasses in a dark room, his hair shaved close to his head, and a tooth missing near his front. He cracked his knuckles between hands and even once during. The sound bounced off the walls in the closet of a room.

“Well, what’s it gonna be?” Thomas Kincaid asked. “I ain’t got all night.” His lips formed a sneer before he took a long pull on a dark drink. His eyes flicked in every direction except straight ahead.

“Don’t rush me.”

“If you move any slower, we’ll both be looking up at the daisies,” Thomas replied. He looked at his two cards for what must have been the third time.

Johnny sucked his lip between his teeth, flashed his eyes once toward the ceiling, and flipped a chip onto the deck. The roar in his ears nearly pulled him away from the hand, but the click of the ceiling fan managed to hold his attention. The darkness helped with his focus as well.

The girl sat across from him, dark hair drifting to-ward her shoulders and even a bit beyond. Teeth as white as a bowl of rice. A drop of moisture near her upper lip entered the equation. Her T-shirt bunched out at the front, and her eyes were as cold as Alaska. She played her cards close to her chest, and her bets were even. For the most part. She managed to toss in a few extra chips when she had a hand. But she was a straight shooter and hadn’t bluffed once. Johnny knew it was coming, though. He just didn’t know when. Even if he managed to run like hell, she’d probably still clip him at the ankles. Her chip stack sat more than a third higher than his own.

She had a good smile. That one. Not too much of the pearly whites, but just enough for a man to take notice. The words on her chest accentuated her assets. Tight, clean, and turquoise—the T-shirt, not her breasts.

Johnny’s eyes flicked to his watch, and his phone buzzed in his pocket. The alarm. His leg vibrated for a second more and then it stopped.

It was almost time. The medication. It took the edge off, and stopped his mind from racing off to infinity and beyond. The man with the dark rims and the white lab coat prescribed it in a room bigger than the one he was in now. If he didn’t take his meds in the next ten minutes, the headaches would start soon after.

The ceiling fan whirred again. The backroom was stale and damp, the casino out on the edge of the reservation with nothing but tumbleweed and small trees for over a mile. Diagonally opposite from the little shithole that he called home for the past several years. The run-down piece of trash with the broken Spanish shingles, cracked stucco, and clouded windows.

Seconds turned over, one after another, and still there was no movement from the Indian to his right. Lapu Sinquah flipped his sunglasses up, and dragged them back down, but not before his eyes looked around the table. The Indian made a face and flipped two chips onto the green felt.

The girl was next. She scratched her forehead. Her expression remained neutral. When Caroline Easton flipped her head, her hair remained out of her eyes. Her look resembled cold, hard steel. She followed the Indian with a two-chip flip.

Thomas tossed his cards away, and it was back to Johnny. He felt it: an all-consuming need to win this hand…and the next one…and the one after. Desire consumed him, after all. Or maybe it didn’t.

The hand that got away. The hand that consumed him, pushed him over the edge, and had him calling out in the middle of the night. One voice. One concentrated effort before the moment passed him by. He couldn’t imagine losing, ending up with nothing. Bankrupt.

This minute reasoning had him playing cards night after night, hand after hand, reading player after player. Moment after moment. Until the moments were sick and twisted and filled with jagged edges and punctured with pain. Or left him dead and buried on the side of the road in a ditch with half of his face missing.

The winning streak wouldn’t last. It’d be gone again. Like a sound carried away by the breeze in the middle of a forgotten forest. This time, he wouldn’t fold too soon. This time, he’d play it differently.

The one that got away. The pot in the middle that would have covered three month’s rent. But he tossed his cards aside, even though he’d been staring at the winning hand for damn near three minutes.

His eyes flicked to each of the three players before he once more peeled his cards back from the table and slid the two spades to the side.

The Indian glared at him through the darkness and his dark sunglasses. “Well?” Lapu asked. “What the fuck, man?”

Johnny tossed his shoulders up in the air. “I’m out.”

“Just like that?” Caroline’s long dark hair whipped around her head.

“Sure, why not?”

The Indian rubbed his shaved head. “You’re one crazy motherfucker.”

Johnny shrugged. “I never claimed to be sane.”

The ceiling fan whirred faster, clicking every five seconds. The air was heavy and suffocating, and he yanked on his collar with his index finger. Two drinks were drunk, and a glass clinked against a tooth. One chair slid back and another moved forward.

“There’s over two grand in the pot,” Lapu said.

Johnny gave a slight tilt of his head. “And I know when to walk away.”

The Indian jerked to his feet and extended a finger away from his chest. “It was your raise that started this shitstorm.”

“True,” Johnny said. “And now I’m going to end it.”

Caroline combed her hair with her fingers. “You haven’t ended anything.”

“I’d rather have that as my downfall than lose it all to you nitwits.”

Caroline smirked. Her white teeth glinted against the light overhead. “Who made you queen of the land?”

“I’d like to think it sort of came up on me,” Johnny said. “It sort of took me by surprise. Existence is futile.”

The Indian smirked. His stained teeth were nearly the color of his skin. “Futility won’t help you now.”

The hand was between the girl and the Indian. Her assets versus his. One smirk versus another. The sun-glasses were down, and both the movements and expressions were calculated. Chips were tossed, and the last card was flipped. Caroline took the pot, and her cold expression never wavered.

A ten-minute break ensued. Johnny used the bath-room, washed his hands, shoved two pills into his mouth, cupped his hands underneath the spout, sucked water from his palms, dunked his hands underneath the liquid once more, and splashed the water on his face. He grimaced at his own reflection, the dark, sunken eyes. He sucked in air and dried his hands. His shoes clicked on the broken tile on his way out the door.

His chips hadn’t moved, and neither had the table. The stack of chips was smaller than when he started this game. As the losses mounted, his amount of breathing room decreased. His longest losing streak was thirteen hands in a row.

The blinds were doubled, and his mind numbed. Compassion was a long forgotten equation, and sympathy wasn’t far behind.

The conversation picked up again, and the Indian perfected a new glare. “I never heard so much chatting over a game of cards.”

“It’s not just a game,” Thomas said. “Now, is it?” One dark drink was replaced with another, and the man’s eyes glazed over.

The girl tapped her wrist with two fingers and flipped her hair. “I think we’re already past the point of sanity.”

“If there was ever a point, it was lost—”

“I had a few points of my own that were somehow hammered home.” Johnny flipped three chips into the pot in one smooth motion. He had a hand, and he was determined to play it, even if he had to stare down the girl and the Indian at the same time.

“The game of life succeeds where you might have failed,” Lapu said.

Thomas knocked back the remainder of yet another drink. “I don’t accept failure.”

Johnny’s eyes flicked to his wrist. “You don’t accept success either.”

“Why do you keep looking at your watch?” Thomas asked. “Are you late for a date?”

The girl called and tossed three chips into the pot with only a slight hesitation. She had a hand, or she wanted to make it appear as such. Her lips moved less and less, and her eyes moved more and more. Her features were clearly defined.

Johnny kept his expression even.

“You’re not late for anything that I’ve seen,” Caro-line said.

Both the Indian and Thomas folded.

“I’d like to take you out back and shoot you.”

“Would that somehow solve the majority of your problems?” the Indian asked.

Johnny nodded. “It might solve a few.”

“Or,” she said, “then again, it might not.”

The last card was flipped, and bets were tossed into the center of the pot. Johnny raised, and Caroline countered with a raise of her own. He called, flipped his cards over, and his straight lost to her flush. Half of his stack disappeared in one hand. He ground his teeth and chewed his bottom lip.

“I don’t like you,” Johnny said.

Her expression was colder than Anchorage. “You never liked me.”

“There might have been mutual respect, but that ship sailed out into the great beyond and smacked an iceberg.”

“Passion—”

“Does not equal acceptance,” Johnny said.

“It will keep you up most nights,” the Indian said.

Determined not to lose again, Johnny kept his eyes on the prize and his dwindling stack of chips. The girl to his right had never flashed a smile, and now her stack of chips was nearly three times the size of his own. His eyes flicked to his wrist once more, and he grimaced.

For several moments, the ceiling fan took up all the sound in the room.

His breath hiccupped in his chest, and he swayed in his chair. The wood jammed against his lower back, and the angry green felt kept an even expression. His mouth moved, but no sound escaped from between his lips.

He fell out of his chair and cracked his head on the carpet. For the next few minutes, he drifted in and out of consciousness.

< <

“Did his heart just stop?” Lapu asked.

Thomas leaned across the table. “What the hell are we talking about now?”

Lapu stood up. “I think that fucker passed out.”

“Which fucker?” Caroline’s chest pressed hard enough against her shirt to slow down her blood flow. Her eyes narrowed, but her hand was steady.

“The one that was losing.”

“That’s all you fuckers.” She tapped her tongue against her upper lip. “You’re all losing.”

Lapu shoved his chair back. “I don’t like losing.”

“But you do it so well.”

Thomas’s body shifted in his chair. “Not on purpose.”

The ceiling fan stopped, and the walls trapped all remnants of sound. One beat of silence was followed by another.

Lapu moved first. He slapped two fingers to Johnny’s wrist and checked for a pulse. The heartbeat was low and weak and arrhythmic.

“What do we do now?” Caroline asked. “Have you got a plan?”

Thomas stood up and sat back down again.

“Cayenne pepper and apple cider vinegar,” Lapu said. “Both have the potential to reduce the effects of arrhythmia.”

She pointed. “Or maybe he has pills in his pocket.”

Lapu nodded. “That is also an option. Check his pockets while I prop up his head.”

“I need another drink,” Thomas said. “I’d rather not be sober if a man is going to die.”

Caroline rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so melodramatic.”

Lapu had watched his father die with a look on his face not that far from the one Johnny wore now: the lost eyes and the still body, with his spirit on the verge of leaving this world for the next. Lapu poked through his pockets in a methodical fashion and found a prescription bottle with a half-peeled label. He popped the top, poked his finger through the slot, and removed two pills. He peeled Johnny’s lips apart, shoved the pills inside his mouth, and forced him to swallow. Minutes later, his life force had altered considerably, and color had returned to Johnny’s cheeks.

Lapu nodded his head. “There’s a purpose to every-thing.”

Thomas leaned over and slapped Johnny on the cheek. “I believe in the possibilities of a situation. Those moments that lead from one into the next, filled with passion and compassion and equality, and some other shit.”

Caroline smirked. “Which is what exactly?”

“Not losing another hand.”

Johnny inched his way to a sitting position and slapped his forehead. “Fuck me—”

“Not likely,” Caroline said. “It neither looks enjoy-able nor promising, but that’s a nice try, though.”

“Your perspective has gotten skewed,” Thomas re-plied.

“That’s certainly possible,” she said, “but I wouldn’t be so sure.”

< <

More hands were played, and more hands were lost. Johnny’s stack of chips diminished faster until he was left with two red ones and half a drink. His even expression had vanished long ago, and his feet had started tap-ping during the last three hands. The Indian had six chips to Johnny’s two, and the rest were distributed between Thomas and Caroline, with the girl staring above a tower nearly level with her chin. Her expression hadn’t changed, and neither had her methodical approach to playing cards.

The barrel of a gun dug into Johnny’s lower back-side after he expunged the last two chips he had to his name. He didn’t have time to move or breathe, and he hadn’t even noticed Thomas shift his weight and remove the pistol from somewhere on his person. But the digging did further enhance Johnny’s focus and destroy his moral support. “Cuff him.”

“What the fuck?” Johnny replied.

“It’s time you realized the full extent of your losing.”

Johnny couldn’t see Caroline’s expression, but her voice was filled with menace and hate and exhibited more force than a battering ram.

“Stand up, you piece of trash.”

The gun shifted, and Johnny rose. The room spun, and he considered passing out all over again, but he pulled himself back and inched his way toward the metal door that was a lifetime away.

The barrel against his back never moved or wavered.

< <

She hated cards. Had hated the act and aggression of gambling most of her life. The thrill of winning and the heartbreak of defeat neither moved nor motivated her. Tossing chips into a pot, calculating the odds in her head, reading players around the table, and playing the hands of the other players instead of playing her own made her head throb from the weight of the proposition. But she did it, over and over again. If she thought about it long enough and hard enough, Caroline might have called herself a professional gambler, but that was a term she hated even more than the act of taking money from unsuspecting souls who had a penchant for losing. But if her two choices were paying the rent, or living on the street, she would choose rent every time and worry about the consequences later.

She couldn’t change her fate, or her odds. All she could do was play the hand she was dealt, match it up against what the other guys and gals had around the table, and study the ticks and idiosyncrasies that made each player unique. Over-confidence and euphoria were concepts she knew well, and she could smell it coming like a New Mexican thunderstorm. Even though she understood what she needed to do, she hated her hands even more than she hated long division. With each passing second, her trepidation grew, and the calm she exuded on the surface was a thunderstorm underneath the shallow exterior. It had gotten to the point that it was totally out of control, and probably would be for the rest of her life. It wasn’t satisfying, or even mesmerizing, and yet here she was week after week, going through the motions. The same types of players sat around the table with the same types of expressions painted on their uneven faces. The voice in her mind echoed in time, and she did her best to keep the whispers at bay. But the plan backfired, just as all good plans did that were built on a foundation of lies.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Caroline asked.

“Trying to win,” Johnny said. “What does it look like I’m doing?”

“Losing,” she said. “And not even admirably. You really are one stupid bastard.”

She had been called to test him, to see if he would break and crumble beneath the weight of a bad hand or two or ten, and he had folded faster than a crumpled handbag smashed against a mugger’s face. She had chipped away steadily at his chips, until two red ones were all he had left, and a tower of multicolored circles stood in front of her.

< <

Johnny had a hand that was planted in his lap by the gods, or maybe it was Julius Caesar himself. He couldn’t remember the number of times he’d lost in a row. Six or maybe it was seven. The torment and punishment continued unabated, and he licked his lips more with each passing second. The hands played out one after another against him, and the gates of Hell had opened before him. The girl to his right was methodical, and the jabs kept on coming, one right after another.

Her hands were probably her best feature. The way her fingers slid across the table, shoving chips and poking at her cards, and prodding the weaknesses of those around her, only made him long for her even more.

But this was it. His moment. And he wasn’t about to let it pass him by. Two minutes later, though, the moment passed, his chips were gone, a gun was shoved against his backside, and he was escorted out of the building.

***

Excerpt from The Fix by Robert Downs. Copyright © 2017 by Robert Downs. Reproduced with permission from Robert Downs. All rights reserved.

 

Tour Participants:

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Mar 232018
 

Jinxed

by Thommy Hutson

on Tour March 12 – May 11, 2018

 

Synopsis:

Jinxed by Thommy Hutson

“Thommy Hutson is the ultimate authority in nostalgia-driven storytelling.”
~ Clive Barker, Bestselling Author of Books of Blood and The Thief of Always

High School Can Be a Real Killer

Break a mirror
Walk under a ladder
Step on a crack

Innocent childhood superstitions …

But someone at the secluded Trask Academy of Performing Arts is taking things one deadly step further when the campus is rocked with the deaths of some of its star students.

Layna Curtis, a talented, popular senior, soon realizes that the seemingly random, accidental deaths of her friends aren’t random—or accidents—at all. Someone has taken the childhood games too far, using the idea of superstitions to dispose of their classmates. As Layna tries to convince people of her theory, she uncovers the terrifying notion that each escalating, gruesome murder leads closer to its final victim: her.

Will Layna’s opening night also be her final bow?

 

Book Details:

Genre: YA HORROR/THRILLER
Published by: Vesuvian Books
Publication Date: March 13th 2018
Number of Pages: 244
ISBN: 978-1944109127
Series: This is the first in a new trilogy, each is a stand alone but with a teaser for the upcoming book you won’t want to miss!!
Get Your Copy from: Amazon & Barnes & Noble! Plus add it on Goodreads!

 

 

Author Bio:

Thommy Hutson

Born and raised in Upstate New York, Thommy graduated from UCLA and launched his career co-writing the story for the Warner Bros. animated hit SCOOBY-DOO IN WHERE’S MY MUMMY? He followed that with co-writing the concept and additional material for CHILL OUT, SCOOBY-DOO!

His career then took a thrilling turn when he wrote and produced several definitive genre film retrospectives for television and home entertainment: SCREAM: THE INSIDE STORY, NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY, MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD and HIS NAME WAS JASON: 30 YEARS OF FRIDAY THE 13th.

He was also a staff writer on Hulu’s daily web series “The Morning After,” a smart, witty, pop culture program aimed at getting viewers up-to-date on the latest entertainment news and celebrity interviews.

Thommy also produced the critically acclaimed feature THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH, an insightful relationship drama starring Lea Thompson and John Shea. He also produced DREAMWORLD, a quirky, romantic dramedy.

He co-wrote and produced ANIMAL for Chiller Films and Drew Barrymore’s Flower Films. The project debuted in iTunes’ top ten horror films (reaching #1) and became the network’s highest-rated original movie.

Continuing his passion for uncovering the stories behind the story, he went on to produce CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF FRIDAY THE 13th, which is the most comprehensive look at the popular film franchise.

As an author Thommy crafted a limited-edition coffee table book detailing the making and legacy of Wes Craven’s 1984 classic A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. A trade version distributed by Simon & Schuster reached number one in Amazon.com’s Movie History & Criticism category. He also has a deal with Vesuvian Media to write a YA thriller trilogy with the first book due out spring 2017.

He produced and made his feature directorial debut with THE ID, an independent psychological drama/thriller. Filmmaker Magazine stated it was “a deeply unsettling thriller that’s as moving as it is frightening…with skillful, provocative direction that has echoes of early Polanski.”

Most recently, Thommy wrote the screenplay for CineTel Films’ supernatural horror film TRUTH OR DARE. He is also directing, writing and producing a documentary with Clive Barker’s Seraphim Films in addition to developing other film and television properties with the company.

As an author, he is currently writing another book that definitively details the history, making and legacy of another fan-favorite genre film from the 1980s.

A member of the Producers Guild of America, Thommy continues to develop unique, compelling and provocative projects across multiple genres for film, television, publishing, and home entertainment through his company Hutson Ranch Media.

 

Q&A with Thommy Hutson

Welcome!
Writing and Reading:

Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

Absolutely. In fact, Jinxed was borne out of my love of 80s/90s horror movies, teen dramas and my having attended a performing arts school. I couldn’t get so many of the things that I did, saw or heard from those times out of my mind when writing the book. The past and the present of my own experiences informed who the characters were, as well as what they did and said. In terms of current events, I think it’s always wise to keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening around me. It’s not that it will always overtly come into play, but it can play a part in the way the story takes certain twists and turns, how people react to things and, sometimes, be a part of the general feeling of a story if even in a subliminal way.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?

A lot of times in my writing I do know the ending and work backward from there. Especially in horror and thrillers, where the “unmasking” or “big reveal” is a major moment, it’s good to know who or what is perpetrating the horror and how it gets resolved. Then, I know what I need to do to lead up to that moment.

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?

While each of the characters are definitely doing or saying some things that I have either heard from young people I know or overheard from those around me, it’s not like any one character is based specifically on someone in my life. It’s like a construct of different things from different people, wrapped up in the fictitious being I have created. It’s very Frankenstein’s monster. A lot of the dialogue, for instance, is real and innate to these characters, even if it might not seem to be something we hear every day in the real world. What the kids in the book are doing and saying is real for them, in the context of the world in which they exist. It’s real for their space. Especially in the heightened world of a performing arts school where things tend to lean toward the dramatic. Throw in a masked killer and a secluded island and it’s a recipe for something that is going to be larger than life. And, I think, fun.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I keep a pretty standard “9 to 5” writing workflow as I also write screenplays, so I have to be diligent about scheduling and getting things done and delivered on time. I envy writers that can wake up super early and work, or work super late; I’ve tried it and I realized it wasn’t letting me put out my best. In terms of idiosyncrasies, I’m really into talking out/acting out a lot of the dialogue and such. I like to hear how it sounds and see if and how something can be physically done. It’s probably quite entertaining to watch. And when I’m writing I must have chocolate covered raisins. I love them!

Tell us why we should read this book.

It’ a fun, thrilling and creepy whodunit that harkens back to the horror movies of the 80s and 90s. It’s scary, snarky and will keep you guessing who will make it and who won’t.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

So many! Stephen King, Wes Craven, Shirley Jackson, Agatha Christie, S.E. Hinton, Mark Twain, Jack London, John Green, Harper Lee, David Levithan, Ray Bradbury…the list could go on and on. I love coming-of-age books, horror and mystery.

What are you reading now?

I’m actually re-reading “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” I’m also reading “The Coalwood Way” by Homer Hickam and “A Killer Life” by Christine Vachon.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?

I’m starting the second book of the “Jinxed” trilogy. It’s fun because I get to follow the characters and action from one point to the next in their lives. How what happened in book one affects them and changes them, not to mention how things will ultimately all tie together. And to see who will live and who will die! I’m also writing another non-fiction book on the making of a really fun 80s movie. I can’t reveal the title of the film just yet, but like my previous non-fiction book, “Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy: The Making of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street,” it will be an in-depth exploration of the film and its legacy.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

That’s a tough one. There are so many fantastic people out there who I would love to see bring these roles to life. But, in the interest in not jinxing it (see what I did there?), I’ll keep them to myself!

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?

It’s probably too expected to say reading or going to the movies, but it would be true. I’m also a Disneyland fanatic. I could go every day!

Favorite meal?

Pizza and wings!

Thank you for stopping by CMash Reads and spending time with us.

 

Read an excerpt from Jinxed by Thommy Hutson:

Prologue

The small private island was a mystery.

This, even when so many knew, or thought they knew, what was going on twenty-two miles off the coast of Seattle, on the strip of land named after the very rich and very dead Cadogan Trask. Protected like so much of the Pacific Northwest by Douglas firs, red alders, and bigleaf maples, Trask Island, a blister in the water, seemed mythical. Very little was known about the reclusive man who bought the uninhabited plot in the 19th century, later developing it to suit his tastes. His personal life and his purpose, just like his eponymous island, were ensconced in a thick, white mist. One day there, the next not.

Over the years, worry about Trask the place and Trask the man ebbed and flowed. No one dared argue that business on the island brought money and a small amount of prestige to the area, but there was something about it.

The same people who sang its praises also gawked and wondered and preached about whether its gifts matched its detractions. All of those armchair whatchamacallits peeked out the windows of their glass houses into their neighbors’ glass houses and threw not stones, but boulders.

Always, always, they asked the same question: Why must a high school be so private?

The institution was nestled behind a wall of nature so beautiful that an equal number wondered how anything about it could be bad. A school for the gifted and talented. A place where children with an affinity for dance, voice, drama, art, and communications would be nurtured. A place where stars were born to shine.

But bad is a relative word.

And stars fall from the sky.

Still, the answer to the question on so many minds of what was really going on with those who were lucky enough, and rich enough, to find themselves hidden within its sacred I hope I get in please God let me get in walls?

Well, the answer was simple.

Secrets.

And not so simple.

Lies.

***

Spring, 1998

Trask Academy of Performing Arts was, indeed, very private.

The campus lay upon acre after acre of rolling green hills. Tall, age-old trees swarmed the landscape. Sturdy, dark red-bricked buildings were scattered about. Cobblestone sidewalks—concrete wouldn’t do, and asphalt was far too unsightly—snaked their way through and around the campus. Surrounding all of this flora, not to mention brick-and-mortar money, was a thick-ledged stone fence complete with wrought iron. The ornamental finials topping each spire had three-edged spear points. The borders weren’t sharp enough to cut, but the tips were fine enough to puncture. And at only one point along the entire perimeter was there a gate.

One way in. One way out.

Down one of those lamp-lit walkways, in its own enclave, was Williams Hall, a beautiful sandstone and cerulean tiled theater fashioned in a Romanesque style. A bell tower, now long out of use, still kept watch over the surroundings. The only modern accoutrement, though some would say eyesore, was the building’s large, white marquee, added during the 1980s when, presumably, a faculty member, or perhaps a wealthy donor, convinced the school’s administration flashing lights were all the rage. Its large black letters read:

52nd Annual Trask Academy of Performing Arts Showcase

Inside, rehearsal ran late.

The long fluorescent-lit hallway was filled with leg-warmered young dancers packing their bags. Actors filed away their scripts. Singers stopped their warbling. All seniors. Almost all rich. Wrapping up a rehearsal in the school’s premier venue for the school’s premier event.

Begun in 1946, the Trask Academy of Performing Arts Annual Showcase saw the best and brightest of the graduating class perform for a lucky invited audience. The theater’s fifteen hundred seats filled with relatives, talent scouts, agents, bookers, managers. Hollywood and Broadway knew that those fortunate enough to study at Trask were groomed to be unsurpassed in their field, and what better way to find the stars of tomorrow than to watch the hopefuls of today. Rich daddies and mommies prayed the exorbitant tuition fees had paid off. Rumors swirled the cost to attend the school was as high as one hundred thousand dollars a year, which would make it one of the most expensive private schools in the world. For those prices, check writers expected nothing but the best.

And Hell hath no fury if they didn’t get it.

Amanda Kincaid was working to be the best. She sat on the stage alone, dressed casually in dark jeans and a top that showed just this side of too much. She was a pretty girl and, at nineteen, a year older than most of the other seniors. Her age made her more serious, and more guarded. Her dark hair, normally wavy, was pulled back tight. She wasn’t a dancer, not really, but she felt the hairstyle made her look the part of a performer. Whatever part that was.

When she heard the last door of the night slam, she knew she was finally alone. She could now work without the worry of being judged by everyone around her. She was a good actress, she knew that. But that wasn’t enough, and she also knew that.

Standing up, she grabbed her script. She promised herself that tonight was the night she would not peek at her lines. She knew them. She had to. It wasn’t going to be like Showcase 1995—

Karen Reasmith stopped in the middle of her piece, mouth agape, spotlight burning down on her as if she were caught trying to escape prison.

She had forgotten her lines.

The adults in the audience, who could cut deeper than any razor, sat in irritated silence, while the other students lovingly absorbed the crash and burn before their eyes. A train wreck of epic schadenfreude. Karen looked around, helpless, hoping she could be saved from herself. But all that came were tears as she tore off the stage.

Amanda thought of the joke around campus for those new kids who didn’t understand how serious Trask pupils took their performing arts studies. They’d ask, “Did you ever hear of Karen Reasmith?” When incoming students answered in the negative, the upperclassman would respond, “Exactly.” Testosterone high-fives and estrogen giggles followed as they walked away from newbies who rolled their eyes.

But Amanda understood what the newcomers didn’t. Couldn’t, at least not so quickly. Karen had blown it. She would never even get a chorus audition in a touring show. Casting agents loved to talk. And what they loved to do more than talk was gossip. By the time Karen had packed her bags and left the compound, her talent was already colder than the iceberg that had sunk the Titanic.

Except that the Titanic had survivors.

Amanda shook off the memory of Karen Reasmith and focused. Her tongue darted around her red-lipped mouth, preparing to utter chilling words as she channeled Euripides’ Medea.

“In vain, my children, have I brought you up, Borne all the cares and pangs of motherhood, And the sharp pains of childbirth undergone. In you, alas, was treasured—”

Suddenly every light went out, leaving Amanda alone in blackness.

Even the ghost light’s exposed incandescent bulb had gone out, which made her anxious. Amanda knew the ghost light was a big deal, if only a superstition. She was aware of the firmly held belief that every theater had a ghost. And not Phantom of the Opera ghosts who taught beautiful, young women to become chanteuses. No, these were simply the spirits, perhaps of performers long dead, who remained in the place they once loved. Perhaps the ghost light allowed them to perform their own works when no one was around. Or maybe they just liked to watch performances.

Nonsense, Amanda thought. The light is there so we don’t fall into the orchestra pit. Or something.

Still, she didn’t like it being out. Just in case. Of whatever frightening case might be out there.

And then the noise came. Softly at first, but building in volume. It seemed to emanate from the back right of the auditorium. It sounded like the moan of a dead person who most decidedly did not want to be dead. Like a zombie upon its victim, ready to sink yellow and black teeth into the soft flesh of a neck, tearing out tendons, arteries, a larynx.

Amanda’s breathing grew faster, shallower. She felt as if she were standing in the cold, black reaches of space. Tiny hairs on the back of her neck tingled. Her mouth opened, ready to scream.

Amanda knew she should have been alone. And she knew she was not. But she stopped herself short of screaming. Instead, she cocked her head as the ghastly voice grew louder, transforming into something else, like something off one of those cheap Halloween sound effects tapes. Her split-second shudder of fear gave way to the crack of an embarrassed smile, then annoyance.

“Seriously? Not funny!” Amanda yelled out, her voice coming back at her with the faintest echo. Her words stopped the not-so-sound-effect sound effect. “I’m trying to work here,” she added matter-of-factly. She smirked. She waited. I’m ready when you are, idiots. When nothing happened, she took a step to her left.

“Dare you try to cross without the guidance of the ghost light?” a voice boomed. Amanda let out a small yelp. “Who can know what evils from the past lurk within these hallowed walls?”

Wait a minute, she realized. I know that voice. Despite the darkness, she moved in circles, calling out.

“If anything evil does linger, it’s probably from your pathetic performance, Marcus.”

She carefully shifted closer to the stage’s left wing. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw she was inches away from one of the thick, black curtains that prevented audiences from seeing backstage. The material was moving, ever so slightly. Who is that? What dashed away behind the barrier? She had to know, needed to. She slowly reached for the fabric and started to tug on it—

A reverberating audio feedback filled the auditorium. Amanda reeled, falling on her tailbone. Then, silence.

The bulb inside the cage of the ghost light came to life.

Someone had been right there. Not anymore.

“Oh, come on. Did I bruise your fragile ego?” she asked cynically. She got no response and decided she was over this game. She really did need to practice.

“Fine, whatever. Can you please turn the stage lights—”

They came back on before she could finish.

Jerks, she thought.

She looked back down at her script. Mumbling the words to get back to her place, she heard a rustling deep backstage. Hushed voices talking fast. Getting more strident. Urgent.

Inconsiderate jerks. Looking up, she projected to the back of the auditorium.

“In you, alas, was treasured many a hope of loving sustentation in my age, of tender laying out when I was dead—”

“Do something!” a voice said harshly backstage.

A female voice that Amanda couldn’t make out responded, “Just go, just go!” It sounded like she might have been crying.

Amanda stopped worrying about her performance. She stopped wondering who was scuttling around. She was concerned that something was wrong. These people had laughed at first, but now they sounded worried. And very frightened.

So was Amanda. She stepped toward the left wing once again, this time with purpose. Something slammed backstage. Amanda screamed, threw her hands to her mouth, and let script pages flutter to the ground in a jumbled mess she would normally have cared about, but not now. Something was happening. Her expression turned to sour terror when she saw it.

Smoke.

Thick dark billows wafting up from backstage.

“Oh my God.” She instinctively reached forward for the curtain, calling out. “Are you guys all—”

As she drew the curtain back, Amanda watched ravenous flames grow with a fresh gust of delicious, necessary oxygen. She was thrown as the heat slapped her body.

Crawling backward, she stumbled to her feet, turned to run, and screamed again, this time louder. She barely missed falling into the orchestra pit ten feet below.

“Help me!” she cried, looking around frantically, noticing the pages of her script dancing in a small vortex of flame, smoke, and heat. Flames licked the ceiling and rained dripping bits of burning material down. An ember from a set piece dropped to her arm, searing her flesh. She whimpered, hot tears flowing down her face. Another ember, another burn.

Desperate, Amanda tried to use her hands to wave away the smoke, but it was too thick. Coughing, she pushed toward a set of exit doors off the left wing of the stage. She imagined the fresh evening air outside, but her arms almost snapped when she slammed into the door that would not open.

For a moment Amanda wasn’t sure what was going on, but another ember landed on her hair and began smoldering, bringing her back. She swatted at it, screaming. She got up and tried the door again. It wouldn’t budge. She pounded on it.

“Help me! Somebo—”

Amanda violently coughed. She looked around, water in her eyes from fear and fire. The conflagration had engulfed the auditorium and Amanda, rushing to the stage again, realized she was at the center of it all.

A twisted, groaning came from above and, realizing just in time what it was, she scurried as a lighting rig swung right past her.

She didn’t have much time. More and more fly ropes snapped in the heat. Scene flats crashed to the floor. The glass lamp of the ghost light exploded. Disoriented, Amanda stumbled across the stage as smoke stung her eyes and heat filled her lungs.

Colored lights above burst and shattered, sending glass shards raining upon her. She covered her head, not seeing the snapped cable heading toward her.

It belted her in the leg, drawing a deep, thick gash and sending her sailing over the front of the stage.

Into the orchestra pit.

Her head hit the wooden floor with a crack. Her leg twisted at an odd angle. She was not going anywhere.

It’s so much cooler down here, she thought sadly. The fire drew closer as debris rained down around her. She looked high above and saw fire crawl up the curtains, licking at the Trask Academy of Performing Arts crest. Its enamel sheen bubbled in the heat.

The fire upon her, Amanda felt her skin burn. She used her left hand to rub the fire from her right arm, but everything sloughed off the bone in large, bloody, sinewy chunks. The pain was excruciating. She had been sure, when talking with friends about terrible ways to die, that after a few seconds fire would have extinguished any sense of pain, or that her body would dull it enough to make it more manageable.

She thought how wrong she had been.

She felt every lick of flame as if a galaxy of the hottest stars were slowly stabbing through her. Her head lolled to one side. Her screams withered. She wanted to cry out, but instinct had its hold on her, and the heat she felt every time her lungs sucked in was too great.

The air itself had become a scorching hell.

She saw little blobs of dancing light as she held, held, held her breath. The world was just about black when another jolt of pain brought her back, as if a gleaming, hot needle had been shoved into her iris. While the blinding orange and yellow of one thousand degree flames ravaged her body, she saw nothing.

Her lack of vision was not due to the agonizing pain. Or the shock that racked her body. The heat was so great that her eyes exploded, like eggs bursting in a microwave.

The young girl with so much life ahead of her was as good as dead. A burning husk of a person. The unconscious fear of suffocating grew to be too much, and she sucked in a giant rush of heat that melted the delicate, paper-thin tissue of her lungs. It was a pain so much worse than breathing in water from the lake where she and her friends would go swimming. Long before she had come to this school.

As the little oxygen left in her bloodstream wended its way through her dying shell, strange fleeting thoughts crossed her mind. It wasn’t, as everyone said, a movie-like assemblage of her life playing at breakneck speed. It was, simply, random moments. The first time she sawThe Wizard of Oz and wanted to be Dorothy. Riding her pink bicycle in the grassy front yard of her house, yelling for anyone to watch her ring the tiny bell on the handlebars. Hitting her babysitter’s older brother in the face with a snowball, upset and confused that she could make a big boy cry. Screaming on a roller-coaster with her former best friend, Shelly, sure she was going to pee her pants from laughing.

Then it was over. Her human light faded, faded, faded with one last thought.

The baby.

CHAPTER 1

Present day

Silver moonlight cast a pall over the remains of the burnt, condemned theater that kept watch over the school campus. Even with a new, more open brick façade already complete as part of the school’s very expensive renovation, the scaffolding snaking around and up its walls read like the twisted bones of a skeleton deep inside a closet. But that fabled darkness, coupled with its offer of shadowed cover from faculty, made the theater a prime location for itchy students to scratch their desires, test their mettle, and relish in stories that brought back the dead.

“Some say you can still hear her screams in the still of the night.”

The voice of the storyteller belonged to Max Reynolds. He was standing in front of the building, staring up at it as he spoke. A senior with well-toned arms that stretched his tight, white T-shirt, he looked pleased with himself as he waited for a response. His structured, boyish face wasn’t always smiling, but when it did, it charmed everyone. This was one of those times.

“Lame, lame, lame,” said Layna Curtis. A sarcastic smile grew from her full, naturally red lips. “Let’s be real, not only has that story been told before about a jillion times, it’s been told way, way better.” She sighed and pushed long dark hair away from her pale, pretty face and over her shoulders, feigning boredom. Inside—though she would never admit it—she wasn’t sure she liked being there. That building, she thought, is staring at us. At me.

“Oh, really?” Max asked, goading her, snapping her from distracted thoughts.

“Totally,” Layna replied. Clever and confident, she would play the game. She nonchalantly picked at the pills of her cream-colored sweater. Max stared at her, his eyebrows raised. Without looking up, Layna said, “Guys, am I right?”

Layna looked first to Nancy Groves, a fantastic dancer who was stretching her legs as if a loop of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” played in her head. Holding her legs at seemingly impossible angles was par for the course for Nancy. She had a lithe body that shimmered when she performed. Layna knew it. Everybody knew it. And Nancy loved that. But Layna knew her friend’s Achilles’ heel was her short, bobbed hair, so naturally straight that even the strongest Ogilvy home perm would be hard-pressed to win the battle. Not that she hadn’t tried, often with a lot of help from Layna and shared fits of laughter. Layna appreciated Nancy knew what she had and how to use it.

When Nancy didn’t respond, Layna’s eyes went to Alice Reitman. Alice smacked her chewing gum. She was cute, but nowhere near Nancy-thin. Layna had always thought that Alice wasn’t fat. At least not fat, fat. And Layna knew that Alice despised in a gag me with a spoon way when people referred to her as “the bubbly one.” That usually meant fat.

Layna felt bad knowing most people openly said Alice was talkative and upbeat, but also worried Alice was thinking, Thanks, now hand over the ho-ho’s and you won’t get hurt. But what did it matter to Layna? Alice wasn’t an actor, singer, or dancer. She studied communications and was going to be “the next, not-quite-as-thin, but incredibly relatable television journalist.” Layna had told Alice that was a fine choice, but she preferred Savannah Guthrie, even though she looked much taller than her guests, and it often appeared she might just lurch over and devour them. They all have their flaws, Layna reminded herself.

At the end of the line was Trask’s “it” girl, Sydney Miller. Pretty, with blonde hair in perfectly placed waves, Sydney was popular and athletic. Layna admired her. At Trask, and in real life, Layna had to assume, guys wanted Sydney and girls wanted to be her. When she walked down the halls, the underclassmen all turned their heads to catch a glimpse of the Sydney Miller. If the singers were belting out a tune, they stopped as she strode by. Layna knew her friend Sydney was going to be famous. She had the talent to be a star, sure. But she also had a sheer force of will. Nothing was going to stop her from achieving her dreams. Nothing. And nobody. Layna admired that especially, even as she pushed down slight feelings of jealousy.

But like the others, Sydney just sat quiet.

Layna looked again at all of her girlfriends, incredulous. “Oh my God, backsies please. This is when my friends say they’re with me?”

But none did. They stood stoic, staring forward, or around, or down. Looking worried. It didn’t sit well with Layna.

“Layn, I mean, it is kind of a creepy story,” Alice offered.

Layna’s shoulders slumped. No backsies, apparently.

“Seriously, a girl died. Right in there,” added Nancy.

Sydney leaned her body in closer. Layna could practically feel the girl’s breath when she spoke. “It’s just not something we should, you know, make light of.”

Layna couldn’t believe it. Her unease was giving way to annoyance. “Because some chick supposedly died in this awful, mysterious, tragic way a million years ago—”

“It’s more like, only twenty years, but go on,” Max said.

Layna glared at him long enough to make a point, and then continued. “I’m just saying, we see this eyesore all the time, but tonight we’re supposed to all of a sudden be frightened because Max used his big boy voice to tell a campfire story we all knew? Sorry, it just isn’t work—”

Layna abruptly stopped. She had heard something. They had all heard something.

It was not the wind, Layna knew. Not the creaking of scaffolding. It was a low, hurting moan. A harsh, frightening whisper.

“Whooo—?” hissed the voice, from inside the building.

Layna’s brown eyes went wide. Max sidled next to her. “Okay, fine, it’s working now,” Layna said. Nancy, Alice, and Sydney huddled close, too.

Sydney, worried, looked directly at Layna. “Dude, what did you do?”

“Me?” Layna whispered, too loudly.

“Shhh!” Nancy harped.

The punitive voice came back. Angrier, more strident. “Who wantsss—?”

They waited, breaths held, to hear what came next, but the only sound was the flapping of a plastic tarp over a pile of bricks. Then someone jumped out from the shadowed entrance of the theater. Layna let out a high-pitched scream. Then the others screamed, too. Layna grabbed Max tightly, trying to shield herself from whatever was coming toward them.

The screams of the others went on and on. And on. Layna gathered that something wasn’t right when she peeked from Max’s chest and saw her friends staring at her, their formerly petrified faces now swathed in knowing smiles.

“Whooooo wantsssss … a drink?” the stranger in the entryway asked.

Layna opened her eyes fully and unscrunched her face. She knew that voice. She’d been had.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Nancy joked, poking Layna.

Layna pursed her lips and nodded her head. “All right, fine, go ahead. Let’s hear it,” she said.

After a moment of silence, they burst out laughing. Layna put her hands over her face, embarrassed that she had fallen for such a cheap trick. Max pulled her close and kissed the top of her head.

“We totally had you,” he said, then grabbed her chin so he could look her in the eyes. “And I’ll always have you,” he added, leaning in for a kiss. Layna greedily accepted.

“Get a room already!” Nancy playfully snapped. “And, Crosby, get your ass out here.”

Crosby Williams’ broad, white smile, and a glint from his hazel eyes, emerged from the darkness. Layna stared at the writer and part-time less-than-stellar illusionist, also a member of the senior class. She should have known—he could never pass up the element of surprise. He may have been lacking in the prestidigitation department, but he made up for it with a bohemian style and perfectly unkempt hair.

“I’d love to, but the spirits are insistent,” Crosby offered. “You must come inside and face your fears, if you are to partake of the beers.” He pushed his arm forward so it was struck by moonlight, waving a bottle that glistened with condensation. Then just as fast, he pulled it back and his smile, his eyes, and the beer disappeared all within the ruins of the old theater.

“You heard the man,” Max said. “Duty calls.”

Nancy, Alice, and Sydney moved first, with Nancy leading the pack. The girls laughed as they, too, vanished into the shadows, one by one. Max lurched forward, but Layna caught his hand and stopped him.

“Babe, come on,” he said.

Layna looked up at the building, gazing at its two, large Venetian windows that watched over everything. Watching me, I bet.

“What’s wrong? Let’s go,” Max said. “Or are you scared? Ooooh!” He waved his fingers in front of her face in a silly manner.

It broke Layna free from her worry. The small lie, one he’d never figure out, came forth. “Of course not,” she said. “Let’s go.”

After one last look deep into the shadows before her, she gave Max a kiss on the lips. Ready or not, she let him lead her into the darkness of the auditorium.

The building was a far cry from the grandeur of its glory days. Gone were most of the plush, red velvet-covered seats that once filled the theater, leaving only an empty, sad expanse of dirty concrete. Those seats that remained, mostly near the stage and scattered up makeshift aisles, were blackened and charred, having melted under the heat of the fire. Layna felt a chill, even though the seating wreckage could barely be seen under the cover of dusty translucent plastic. Construction materials, tools, wood boards, and sandbags were strewn about, giving credence to the rumor the schools’ deep-pocketed donors weren’t jonesing to bring this part of the campus back to life.

It was an open secret on campus that the coffers of Trask Academy of Performing Arts might be drier than anyone in the administration wanted to admit. There was money, of course, because Dean McKenna knew that keeping up appearances was paramount, but there was an equally strong, although silent, opinion that the building was nothing more than a part of the school’s dark past and, just maybe, it should stay there. Layna certainly felt that way right now. Neither she, nor her friends and fellow students, had any idea that in at least one of the more heated board meetings—old-boys club affairs always held privately with little fanfare—more than one donor had agreed: why rebuild a nightmare when you can construct a brand-new dream?

Layna and her friends meandered through the maze of equipment toward the stage.

“All right, Crosby, come out, come out, wherever you are,” Alice said, loud enough to cause an echo, but there was no answer from Crosby.

Layna and Max made their way to the front of the group. As they walked, they stared up through scaffolding and more plastic tarps, the former creaking and the latter flapping in the stiff breeze whisking through the empty structure.

Moonlight shone down on Max, who climbed up onto the stage from a set of rotting steps. “Watch the third one, it’s a doozy,” he said as Layna grabbed his hand for help up. Then Max, always the gentlemen, reached for the other girls, grabbing Nancy’s arm a bit harder when she failed to heed his warning and her foot almost broke through the soft, pulpy wood of the stair.

Layna gasped, but Nancy just uttered an embarrassed “Whoopsie.”

From the stage, the friends paused to take in their surroundings, illuminated not only by the natural evening light, but also by the lone ghost light in the center of the stage.

“Spooky. Maybe this was, you know, the light,” Alice wondered aloud. The thought caused a hint of unease in Layna.

“Yes, most definitely,” Sydney said with a smile. “Now let’s steal the bulb and call GE so we can make a billion dollars on the light that lasts an eternity.” The response put Layna at ease, but Alice rolled her eyes, blew a large, pink bubble, and sucked it back into her mouth with a loud pop!

Layna found that the light did not offer her any warmth, or security, so she just stood quietly with her hands in her pockets. Max sidled next to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulder.

“Hey, look,” Layna said, moving a few feet past the light to where a picnic blanket was spread out on the stage.

Nancy went to it and stood with her back toward the darkness of the stage’s left wing. “Fancy,” she said. “Maybe next time we can have a picnic, I don’t know, at the scene of a car accid—”

A hand suddenly reached from the shadows and whisked its way over Nancy’s mouth. Unable to say anything, her eyes filled with fear and worry.

“Nan, how much longer do we wait?” Sydney asked. She turned and let out a scream when she saw Nancy.

Layna and Alice yelped as well. “Max!” Layna screamed, with the unspoken order of Do something! Max practically leapt across the stage. Then he stopped, and he and the others watched as the stranger’s hand wended its way from Nancy’s mouth, down over her shoulder, and to her jacket’s zipper.

It started to pull down.

Nancy’s wide eyes shrank to a disbelieving squint. She yanked hard on the offending arm and pulled a stumbling Crosby from the shadows onto the stage.

“Wow, way to be romantic, Cros,” Nancy said. “I’ve always dreamed of doing it here. Literally, right here.”

“Me too, babe. Me, too,” Crosby joked, raising his eyebrows in quick succession before planting a kiss on her lips.

The others made their way over.

“Crosby, such a lovable jerk,” Sydney offered, giving him a peck on the cheek.

“That’s funny, I thought he was just being a jerk,” Layna added with a little more annoyance than she had meant to.

Max crossed in front of her. “Me-ow.” Now it was Layna who rolled her eyes. It hadn’t been her idea to hang out in a burnt-out building, tell ghost stories, and do God only knows what. She would have been fine if they had never come here.

“Come on,” Crosby said. “I couldn’t let the ambiance go to waste. We’re all entitled to a good scare, right? So, welcome children. And now, watch.”

They all did as Crosby stood in front of them, arms outstretched. He tugged on each sleeve. Nothing there. Suddenly, with a few slick gestures and a turn, he produced beer bottle after beer bottle.

“Well kiss my ass and call me abracadabra,” Max laughed, happily grabbing two bottles and offering one to Layna. She shook her head. Max ambled off, saying something under his breath like, “More for me.”

Alice brushed past Layna, smacked her gum, and grabbed a beer. “The party has so officially started.”

Crosby saved the last drink for Nancy, sheepishly gesturing like it was a peace offering. “Forgive me, but in all honesty, I just had to set the mood.”

“Oh, it’s gonna take more than janky beer,” Nancy retorted with a smile.

Crosby shrugged his shoulders, opened his jacket, and showed her the flask he had been hiding. Nancy’s smile grew. Layna watched, enjoying their playful back-and-forth.

“You know me so well,” Nancy admitted. She put her arms inside Crosby’s jacket, moving her face close to his.

“And you me, my dear,” responded Crosby. Somehow, they seemed to smile even as they kissed deeply.

Layna cleared her throat and sat down on the blanket. “Tongue-wrestlers, your much-needed, very private room is now ready. Please check in, stat.”

Nancy pulled back from Crosby, laughing. “Duly noted.” She and the others joined Layna on the blanket.

Crosby remained standing by himself, still pretending to kiss Nancy. The others laughed, which he took as his cue to stop and take a seat. The teens kicked back, looking up at the star-studded sky through a gaping hole in the roof of the condemned theater.

“See, it’s not so scary in here,” Max said.

Layna thought, but would never dare say, that it was still just as creepy as she had imagined. Maybe more.

***

“Let’s discuss break. Please tell me you’re staying,” Sydney pleaded, breaking the silence. Secretly she had also hoped to head off talk about the building, the legend, or how frightening it was. And is.

“Oh, we’re staying the week,” Layna said, adding emphatically, “All of us, right?”

Nods all around. Sydney let out a Thank God sigh.

“Rumor has it only D’Arcangelo and McKenna are gonna be here,” Alice said. “And there’s gonna be a party tomorrow night to kick things off.”

“A freshman party, ugh.” Nancy groaned and took a swig from the flask.

“I’ll pass, thank you very much,” Sydney said.

Layna looked like she was holding in a secret she couldn’t keep in. “Max wants to go!” she revealed.

The group stared at him as if he were mad.

“What?” Max asked. “It could be fun.”

Layna threw a You’ve gotta be kidding me stare at him. “Oh, totes,” she said, “if the fifteen-year-olds can plot out how to sneak anything stronger than hard lemonade into the dorms.”

Sydney shook her head. “Barfing kids and tragic pop music outside my door, all night long. Sign. Me. Up!”

“Oh, let me call the wahmbulance,” Nancy laughed. “It’s your fault. You could have lived with us big kids in Campbell Hall.”

“Oh, no, no, no,” Sydney replied. “I am not giving up my primo view for snot-nosers.”

And it was true, she thought. Her view was fantastic, overlooking the conservatory filled with exotic plants, from rare orchids to ingeniously sculpted bonsai trees. Aside from the supposed eco-friendly gratification, the school’s motivation for the garden was a mystery to Sydney, her friends, and most other students, too. Most of the kids at school, Sydney among them if she stopped lying to herself, had the mindset that if you’ve seen one flower, you’ve seen them all.

The beauty of the building, Sydney had to admit, could not be overstated: a dome of striking brass-capped cames that held together shimmering glass plates of blue and gold, the colors of the school. Sydney often found herself staring at the top of the structure, mesmerized as it reflected the setting sun. Beyond the dome, the rolling green hills that the school had so meticulously taken care of led to the thick forest just beyond the gates of the campus.

It was that view that kept Sydney in the underclassmen’s dorm. She had lucked out with her room. The school used the stunning views and state-of-the-art facilities to lure new students, but after the main academic coursework was finished in year one, students started their majors and moved to one of two dorms on campus closer to the buildings where they would train. Still, Sydney accepted that the spectacular view, and the slightly longer daily walk to her classes, was worth putting up with the kids who were just finding their way. When she had asked to stay in her room, the housing committee decided she could. Sure, there were moments when she thought it might be more fun to be in a building with all of her friends, seniors who had paid their dues and were ready to graduate and make their mark with the talents that Trask had nurtured within them. But when the committee said yes if she agreed to stay at the school for her entire academic career, she had made her choice.

Sydney was shaken from her thoughts of pretty stained glass and obnoxious newbies when Crosby said, “They’ll be in dreamland before you know it. The last ferry leaves Saturday morning and they’ll wanna be bright-eyed for mommy and daddy at the docks.”

“Speaking of morning, like, what’s with the ratchet, military-style early rehearsal, Syd?” Alice asked. “It’s just us, and you’re the only one in the showcase.”

“Oh, don’t be silly,” Layna said, smiling. “The star here needs someone to shine the spotlight on her the minute day breaks, didn’t you know?” Sydney wondered, for just a second, whether something more wicked lurked behind the comment and smile.

“Oh, the shade!” Nancy said.

“Guys, I was joking. Seriously,” Layna offered. She took Sydney’s hand. “Hey, when have I not been the overachieving understudy to the world’s soon-to-be most famous talent?”

The words didn’t make Sydney feel much better. Sydney knew how badly Layna wanted to perform. “Layn, you’ll get your chance. Trust me, it’ll happen.”

“You’re right,” agreed Layna, “the minute you pull a Peg Entwistle and take a leap off the Hollywood sign.”

“Layna!” Nancy laughed, half-heartedly.

Sydney chuckled slightly, then looked away. She didn’t want to keep up the contest with Layna, didn’t want to see something in her friend’s eyes that might betray their friendship.

Max took a long swig from his beer and gestured at their surroundings with the bottle. “There’s always hope for a mysterious fire during one of Syd’s rehearsals.”

“Okay, seriously, starting to feel uncomfortable here,” Sydney admitted. She looked at Layna, waiting for the break. It finally came. They locked eyes, and Layna’s big grin forced one from Sydney.

“Babe, friends to the end,” Layna said, moving to wrap her arms around Sydney. “The very end,” she added, her tone both playful and menacing.

Everyone relaxed as Sydney lightheartedly pushed Layna away. “Girl, bye!”

The wind picked up, whistling through the theater. The scaffolding creaked and groaned. A light flurry of plaster dust sprinkled down, looking, Sydney thought, perhaps too much like ash from a fire.

“The universe likes the idea, Syd,” Crosby said. “Maybe your number is up.”

“And I like the idea of you shutting up,” Sydney replied sharply. She had reached her limit on the subject of past deaths as well as jokes about her own.

Layna grabbed Sydney’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

Alice yelped as floorboards creaked in the darkness of the stage wings. “That was so not the wind,” she muttered.

Max stood tall, taut, alert. “Who’s there?” he asked.

No response. Layna grabbed his arm. He motioned for her and everyone else to be quiet as he stepped toward the edge of the light thrown out from the ghost lamp.

“Ooh, tough guy,” Crosby mumbled, snickering. Nancy slapped his arm. Max glared at him and then disappeared into the shadows.

Sydney was worried. And that meant they all must be worried, she thought. Was that an animal? Was it a teacher? Or had something they mentioned too many times that night come back?

As soon as she heard the crash, Sydney stopped wondering and let out a scream.

“Max!” Layna screamed, darting to her feet out of instinct. The others rose up behind her. Nancy pushed Crosby forward. He cocked his head and opened his eyes wide. Sydney imagined him thinking exactly what she was thinking, Just what am I supposed to do?

“Do something, idiot,” Nancy ordered.

Crosby inched toward the darkness, stopping at another noise, a scuffling, this time closer.

“Not necessary,” Max’s voice came from the shadows. Sydney was relieved as she watched somebody being forced from the wing and onto the ground. The other girls screamed, as did Crosby. Sydney took note that his scream was more high-pitched and went on a hair longer than the girls’, which she knew he’d regret.

Max appeared again.

“What the hell are you doing here, you stalker douchebag?” Max asked whoever was skulking backstage.

Sydney focused on Layna. She knew what was going to happen next. Her eyes met Max’s judging gaze. She took a sharp breath in and forgot the drama and worry from before. Max was obviously not happy with the person lying on the floor in front of them all.

***

Layna knew she could not hide what Sydney, what Max, what everyone saw as she looked at the heap on the ground.

Dillon Reeves. A loner and, some have said, a rebel.

He was also a senior, though the rumor on campus was that the musical prodigy might have been older than everyone else after being held back in grade school. It wasn’t for lack of intelligence, apparently, on which everyone agreed. Depending on whom you asked, though, the true reason changed. Imaginations ran wild. And the stories got bigger.

I heard Dillon would just sit in the corner of his kindergarten classroom and hum after he got yelled at for eating cookies another kid brought, so they held him back.

I heard Dillon took a broken paintbrush and stabbed another student in eighth grade for making fun of his still-life art project, so they held him back.

I heard Dillon got blamed for pushing his high school shop teacher into a table saw blade and then ran through the halls screaming the teacher was jumping around like fleas on a hot brick, so they held him back.

There was also one about embezzlement, and some even whispered about a true murder. Layna hated that one and knew it was not, could not be, true. Still, on and on it went. The lightning speed of Trask’s gossip train left some wondering if, after putting the pieces together, Dillon wasn’t in fact responsible for the Lindbergh kidnapping. Stranger things have totally happened!

Layna believed none of it. Dillon was just special. Quiet, smart, very cute. Dillon’s looks and charm and bad boyishness did not go unnoticed. Almost every girl on campus noticed, and some boys, of course. But it was all of him—the things she knew, the things she learned, and yes, even the things she did not know but hoped to one day—that had attracted Layna during junior year when Dillon had transferred in. This was before Max, of course, a time her friends ridiculously referred to as Proto-Max.

“Are you all right?” Layna asked, looking Dillon over and brushing off his dark leather jacket.

“I’m fine,” he answered, standing up. He was tall. Taller than the others. Layna tried to hide the fact that she did not mind him looking into her dark eyes with his blues.

“I hope I didn’t hurt his man bun,” Max scoffed. Layna eyed him with a not now look. Max rolled his eyes. She knew he was sick of this. Sick of Dillon.

The others looked on with fascination at the love triangle. Layna was keenly aware that her friends knew she used to love Dillon, who was always slightly aloof in his love for her, who eventually fell out of love with him and into love with Max. Thankfully, Max loved her back more fully than Dillon ever did.

Max backed away, saying, “Fine, then the party’s over. At least for me.”

Layna stepped toward Max. “Max, stop.”

He did. But he didn’t turn around. She hated when he talked to her with his back. “If you want El Creepo to make it through senior year, you’re gonna have to make a choice.”

Layna just stared at him. The others stared at her. Alice whispered, “She must be answering him with her mind!”

Crosby laughed. Layna frowned, but she took some comfort when Nancy rolled her eyes and elbowed her boyfriend in the rib. No laughing. Check.

Everyone watched intently, not sure what was going to happen next.

No one expected it when Dillon grabbed Layna’s hand.

“Dude! Not. Cool,” Crosby offered.

Max turned around with enough time to see Dillon’s hand slink away from Layna’s. “What are you doing?” she snapped at Dillon. She ran to Max and put a hand on his shoulder. Slinking around to his front, she faced him.

“Him or me, Layna. I can’t play this game forever,” Max said.

“He’s just trying to get a rise out of you. And it’s working.” Layna knew it was a lie the moment it rolled off her tongue, so she wasn’t surprised when Max called her on it.

“No, Layn, you were helping him get a rise,” Max said.

Layna grimaced, wanting to scold Max for being so gauche in front of her—their—friends, especially Dillon. But she wasn’t fast enough.

Max sighed. “Him or me.” He kissed Layna on the forehead then stepped past her into the shadows, down the stairs, and toward the entrance doors. All she could do was watch him. She turned to the rest of the group. No one said a word.

“I didn’t ask him to do any of this,” Layna said. She looked at Dillon. “And you didn’t have to do that.”

“You didn’t have to let me,” Dillon answered quietly.

“It’s getting late,” Sydney offered, moving past Dillon without a glance. She grabbed Layna’s hand, and the two started toward the doors.

Crosby and Nancy followed. “Oops,” he said sarcastically, bumping into Dillon’s shoulder.

Alice rushed up behind Nancy. “Wait up!”

Alone on the stage, Dillon watched the group make its way toward the entrance. “See you tomorrow,” he yelled out. “And I’m sorry.”

Crosby, Nancy, and Alice exited as Sydney tried to coax Layna to leave. Layna didn’t budge. She wasn’t sure if Sydney understood, even as her friend walked away.

Layna knew Dillon could now see her only as a silhouette awash in moonlight. She watched him watch her. Her hair blew in a gust of wind that came through the open door. Fine dust particles rained down on Dillon. Were they anywhere else, Layna might have thought he looked angelic. Dillon shook his head, put it down, and then rubbed his eyes. Layna knew her time had come, that when he looked back to her, she would be gone.

She needed to be gone.

So she left. As the door closed behind her, she did not turn back. She wandered slowly toward Max, who waited for her. He always waited for her. That’s what he did. She grabbed his hand, and they followed the others back to the dorms.

But Layna knew Dillon was still on stage. She imagined him standing there, all alone, licking his wounds and staring with red, watery eyes at the ghost light.

***

Excerpt from Jinxed by Thommy Hutson. Copyright © 2018 by Thommy Hutson. Reproduced with permission from Vesuvian Books. All rights reserved.

 

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