The Sky Is Yours

The Sky is YoursThe Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was thrilled to get a sneak peek at this novel thanks to an ARC from Penguin Random House! All the promise that Chandler Klang Smith showed in GOLDENLAND PAST DARK is both confirmed and built upon impressively in THE SKY IS YOURS, an epic adventure tale set in a richly imagined world that has gone on way past its expiration date. The alternate near-future of Empire Island comes to life in astonishing detail through Smith’s colorful, expert prose, as well as through the eyes of the three main characters as they’re let loose into the city to find their own ways (and themselves): Duncan, the selfish, spoiled son of a wealthy family; Swanny, Duncan’s fiancee, whose love of old Gothic romances informs not just the way she sees the world but also the path her life is about to take; and Abby, the naive, feral girl rescued from an island of trash to live in what is basically another island of trash.

While many of the science-fictional elements in THE SKY IS YOURS are satirical, I hesitate to call the novel itself a satire. It’s definitely wacky and whimsical in places–Smith’s sense of humor is evident on most pages and takes many forms, from bawdy jokes to the way certain scenes are presented as film scripts or video game charts–but it can also be quite dramatic and serious. It’s a hopeful novel about what it takes to grow up and find your place in the world, even if the world is dying; a deeply cynical novel about whether such a world is even worth saving; and, in some ways, a bittersweet novel about first romantic relationships, all the dreams, passion, and disappointment that go hand in hand.

THE SKY IS YOURS is a remarkable achievement by a writer with a seemingly boundless imagination. Smith’s creative energy fills each page to bursting. Like its characters, THE SKY IS YOURS exists in a balance between two worlds, the literary and the science-fictional, and readers who enjoy both will find it to be a treat both delicious and filling.

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Catch Me On October 21st in Haverhill, Mass!

This year I will be returning to the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival at the Haverhill Public Library in Haverhill, MA! The festival runs from 10 AM until 4:30 PM on Saturday, October 21st. Joining me is a roster of incredible authors that includes:

Stephen Bissette
Dana Cameron
Craig Shaw Gardner
Christopher Golden
Joe Hill
Kat Howard
Brian Keene
John Langan
Tim Lebbon
Bracken MacLeod
James A. Moore
Thomas Sniegoski
Paul Tremblay
Fred Van Lente
Rio Youers
And so many more!

Copies of Dying Is My BusinessDie and Stay DeadChasing the Dragon, and In the Shadow of the Axe will be available for purchase and signing at the festival. Feel free to bring any books from home you’d like me to sign as well!

In addition to the book signings, there is a programming track where you can listen to your favorite authors discuss various genre-specific topics. Here’s the schedule (you’ll find me on the 3:30 PM panel):

10:30 — The Dark Border: Fantasy, Folklore, Fairy Tales and Horror – Why it’s magic when they meet.
—–Craig Shaw Gardner, Kat Howard, Hillary Monahan, James A. Moore, Cat Scully (M), Laurie Faria Stolarz

11:30 — The New England Mystery Tradition — Spooky autumn helps horror, but how much are New England mystery authors inspired by the region and its atmosphere?
—–Dana Cameron, Christopher Irvin (M), Leigh Perry, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Sarah Smith, Thomas E. Sniegoski

12:30 – Horror in Comics — What makes the medium so well-suited for the weird and supernatural, and what do our panelists think is required reading from then and now?
—–Stephen R. Bissette, Jason Ciaramella (M), Rachel Autumn Deering, Brian Keene, Errick Nunnally, Fred Van Lente

1:30 — Joe Hill: A Season of Strange Weather – Interviewed by Christopher Golden (Ticketed event. Registration for the panel is full, but no registration is needed for Joe Hill’s book signing all day.)

2:30 – Far North Frights: Horror from above the 42nd parallel—Why do so many scary writers love northern New England, from Acadia to the Northern Kingdom?
—–Joseph A. Citro, Tom Deady, Kristin Dearborn, John M. McIlveen, Holly Newstein-Hautala, Douglas Wynne (M)

3:30 – Our Haunted World: Why Do We Need and Read Horror in Scary Times?
——-Nicholas Kaufmann, John Langan, Bracken MacLeod, Mary Sangiovanni, Paul Tremblay, Rio Youers (M)

The Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival is free and open to the public. Check out the Facebook event page. I hope to see you there!

The Scariest Part: Mark S. Bacon Talks About DESERT KILL SWITCH

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Mark S. Bacon, whose new novel is Desert Kill Switch. Here is the publisher’s description:

A Deadly Vegas Pursuit — with a Twist…

On an empty desert road, stressed-out ex-cop Lyle Deming finds a bullet-riddled body next to a vintage mint-condition 1970s Pontiac Firebird. When he returns to the scene with sheriff’s deputies: no car, no body. Does the answer lie in Nostalgia City, the retro theme park where Lyle works?

Nostalgia City VP Kate Sorensen, a former college basketball star, is in Reno, Nevada, on park business when she gets mixed up with a sleazy Las Vegas auto dealer who puts hidden “kill switches” and GPS trackers into the cars he sells to low-income buyers. Miss a payment — sometimes by as little as a few days — and your car is dead. Maybe you are, too.

When Kate’s accused of murder in Reno, Lyle rushes to help his blonde not-quite-girlfriend. Kate and Lyle plow through a deadly tangle of suspects and motives, hitting one dead end after another, as they struggle to exonerate Kate, catch a blackmailer, save a witness’s life, and find the missing car and corpse.

Desert Kill Switch is the second novel in this mystery series set in Nostalgia City, an Arizona theme park that re-creates — in every detail — a small town as it would have appeared in the mid-1970s.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Mark S. Bacon:

In 2013 a 43-year-old woman was found naked, dehydrated, burned from the sun and covered in cactus spikes. She’d spent five days in the Texas Chihuahuan Desert. She’d taken off her clothes in a vain attempt to cool off. Lucky to be alive, she had been hiking with her husband when they got lost. He managed to bring help.

A French couple hiking in the desert in New Mexico year later were not so lucky. The couple didn’t have enough water for their trek. The shadeless, 100-degree day brought dehydration, disorientation, heat stroke and death.

Deserts of the American Southwest, especially in summer, can be forbidding, unforgiving — and scary — places. The highest temperature recorded in Death Valley, California, was 134 degrees. In Arizona the record is 128. Weeks of 100+ are not unusual. Tarantulas, rattlesnakes and Gila monsters survive in the desert. People have a harder time. This is why I chose the Mojave Desert in southern Nevada as the centerpiece for my new mystery, Desert Kill Switch.

In peak summer desert heat you can lose almost a half-gallon of water just by sweating. Under these conditions, without water, you can feel the effects of dehydration within an hour. Overexertion and exposure can be a deadly combination.

Kate Sorensen, my tall blonde protagonist, is falsely accused of murdering a sleazy Las Vegas car dealer. When she thinks she’s exhausted every possibility to clear herself, she finds a witness who can help. But she and the young woman are stranded in the middle of the Nevada desert on an August afternoon.

People not familiar with the Southwest think that deserts such as the Mojave or Great Basin are filled with waves of bare sand dunes. But Sahara-like formations are the exception. Most of the Southwest desert is rocky scrubland, often mountainous, covered with chaparral, creosote bushes, sage, cactus and other plants that can survive in arid climate.

Kate and her young charge may be lucky. They found a road. But Southwest deserts are crisscrossed with little-used trails, abandoned mining roads and animal paths. Some desert soil is gritty sand, but much of it is fine. When you’re hiking along a desert trail, the dust coats your face and finds its way into every crevice of your body. Wipe the sweat from your brow and it leaves muddy streaks across your face.

With their water exhausted and the unrelenting sun beating down, the two female travelers trudge forward, their clothes sticking to their backs with sweat. Ahead they see a cloud. A car speeds toward them, kicking up dust like a brown ghost across the horizon. Someone has found them.

Inside the car however, are Chechen thugs, partners of the men who stranded the women in the first place. This new group wants to have some fun with the women — the blonde especially — then haul them to an even more remote spot where they’ll leave them without water, maybe without clothes. Their bodies won’t be found for months — if at all.

It was the most scary part for me writing it because I’ve lived in the Southwest much of my life and I know how dangerous the desert can be, how the heat and blinding sun can suck the energy out of you. The difference between 95 degrees and 110 can be the difference between functioning and frying. As I was writing, I could see the desperation that would quickly grip someone in Kate’s position. Even though I was in control of the story, the circumstances — to be realistic — could easily mean death for my protagonist and the other young woman.

Desert Kill Switch: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Mark S. Bacon: WebsiteFacebook / Twitter

Mark S. Bacon began his career as a southern California newspaper police reporter, one of his crime stories becoming key evidence in a murder case that spanned decades. After working for two newspapers, he moved to advertising and marketing when he became a copywriter for Knott’s Berry Farm, the large theme park down the road from Disneyland. Experience working at Knott’s formed part of the inspiration for his creation of Nostalgia City theme park. Before turning to fiction, Bacon wrote business books including Do-It-Yourself Direct Marketing, printed in four languages and three editions and named best business book of the year by Library Journal. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, San Antonio Express News, and many other publications. Most recently he was a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle. He taught journalism as a member of the adjunct faculty at Cal Poly University — Pomona, University of Redlands, and the University of Nevada – Reno. He earned an MA in mass media from UNLV and a BA in journalism from Fresno State.

The Scariest Part: Douglas Wynne Talks About CTHULHU BLUES

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Douglas Wynne, whose new novel is Cthulhu Blues, the third volume of the SPECTRA Files trilogy. Here is the publisher’s description:

The Wade House has been reduced to ash, but the dreams that plagued Becca Philips and Jason Brooks when they slept in that abomination continue to haunt them. After years of facing trans-dimensional monsters in the service of SPECTRA, a few lingering nightmares are to be expected. But when Becca starts singing in her sleep — an ancient song that conjures dreadful things from mirrored surfaces — she fears that the harmonics she was exposed to during the Red Equinox terror event may have mutated not only her perception, but also her voice. It’s a gift — or curse — that she shares with a select group of children born to other witnesses of the incursion.

While a shadowy figure known as the “Crimson Minstrel” gathers these children to form an infernal choir, something ancient stirs on the ocean floor. And Becca, hearing its call, once again finds herself running from an agency she can no longer trust into the embrace of cosmic forces she can barely comprehend.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Douglas Wynne:

Unless there’s a large measure of luck involved, my son usually kicks my ass at board games. My wife recently had a good laugh when, following one of these whuppins, I exclaimed, “Daddy’s not a strategist! That’s why he doesn’t outline his books!”

When I wrote my first Lovecraftian thriller, Red Equinox, I knew the ending set the stage for a potential sequel, but as someone who doesn’t plan ahead much, I’m tempted to say that the scariest part was committing to writing a series without knowing how it would end. After all, when I’m working on a single novel, I get to go back and make changes to the early chapters in light of what I’ve learned along the way. Improvising the first draft frees me up to follow whatever path feels right for the characters, knowing that rewrites will give me the opportunity to fine tune and correct for continuity.

There are no rewrites for published books.

So it was a leap of faith for me to put plot lines out there that suggested certain story possibilities but for which I couldn’t predict the trajectory.

The biggest cliffhanger that I left dangling at the end of Red Equinox had to do with a generation of children born to witnesses of a cosmic terrorism event in Boston in 2019. In that first book Darius Marlowe — an MIT student and radicalized young member of the Starry Wisdom Church — takes the apocalyptic prophecies of his religion to heart and creates a device he calls the Voicebox of the Gods. The infernal machine is inspired by Darius’ occult communion with Nyarlathotep (H.P. Lovecraft’s dark analog of the Egyptian god Thoth) and is a hybrid 3D printed/lab grown larynx capable of producing harmonics that humans lost the ability to chant aeons ago. Darius mounts the larynx in a boom box and sets it off on a subway train in Cambridge, unleashing cosmic mayhem on the passengers. This union of ancient incantations with cutting edge tech alters the perception of the bystanders, allowing them to see and be seen by monstrous gods from another dimension. As you can imagine, all hell breaks loose.

By the end of the novel, all of the witnesses — with the exceptions of main characters Becca Philips and Agent Jason Brooks — have taken a drug called Nepenthe to shut their extra perception down. In the second book, Black January, children born of parents exposed to the harmonics exhibit the ability to perceive trans-dimensional entities and eventually develop biological mutations that enable them to sing mantras endowed with the power to align our world with that of the Great Old Ones.

In Cthulhu Blues, the third and final book of the SPECTRA Files Trilogy, another avatar of Nyarlathotep known as the Crimson Minstrel arises. Wandering between worlds, this shadowy figure appears to the gifted children in mirrored surfaces and lures them into a twilight realm via seductive music that resonates with the ancient power they have inherited.

Becca, our heroine, has no children of her own but becomes invested in finding and saving the child of a friend and even protecting the child of a family of cultists who may want to contribute to the apocalyptic return of their slumbering gods. Unfortunately, having refused the drug that would have shut her abilities down, Becca also has to contend with the mutation of her own voice and the possibility that she is herself becoming something monstrous, or something to be used in the service of monsters.

As a parent, I worry about all kinds of influences on my child. Everything, from the ingredients in his food to the contents of a phone in the hands of another kid on the school bus, presents potentially dangerous variables; more of them beyond my control with each passing year. I try to keep these in perspective. But I’m also aware that some otherwise rational members of my generation have succumbed to paranoia about vaccines, putting all of us at risk due to the fear that a trace of mercury (another name for the messenger of the gods) might alter their child’s brain.

It’s a powerful fear — the prospect that a child who depends on you for their wellbeing, your precious responsibility to whom you devote so much care and caution, so much nurturing and bonding, could change into something you can’t relate to in the same way.

Of course, that’s also what awaits us to some degree as our children grow up. And some of the best parents I count among my friends have navigated Aspergers and Autism with more grace and resourcefulness than most of us bring to lesser challenges. In other cases, we worry that our children will inherit the same mental and physical ailments that plague us, or our parents.

The mutations I put the children through in Cthulhu Blues are far more chilling than the ones most of us worry about in the real world. In the end, the trilogy without an outline worked out as if I had planned it (and I believe there’s always more intelligent design going on at the subconscious level than the writer is aware of). But imagining a red-robed minstrel with blue fire flickering in his hair, plucking a guitar and leading glassy-eyed children across a twilight shore to sing hymns to a cold blooded leviathan beneath alien stars…

For me, that was the scariest part.

Cthulhu Blues: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

Douglas Wynne: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Douglas Wynne wrote his first dark fantasy novel at the age of fifteen but has never found the courage to take it down from the attic and read it. After a long detour through music school, rock bands, and recording studios, he came full circle back to fiction writing and is recently the author of five novels: The Devil of Echo Lake, Steel Breeze, and the SPECTRA Files trilogy (Red Equinox, Black January, and Cthulhu Blues). He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son and a houseful of animals.



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