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The Scariest Part: Mike Pace Talks About ONE TO GO



One to Go cover

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Scariest Part, a recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. (If you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, please review the guidelines here.)

My guest is Mike Pace, whose latest novel is One to Go. Here is the publisher’s description:

Tom Booker is a new attorney at a powerful Washington law firm. Texting while driving across Memorial Bridge, he loses control and crashes into an oncoming minivan carrying his own daughter and three of her friends. The minivan tips up on two wheels, about to flip over into the Potomac. Time freezes, he’s alone on the bridge. A young couple approaches and offers him a re-wind. The crash would be averted, the children saved. All he must do is kill someone every two weeks – anyone — a “soul exchange.” A moment later, Tom is back in his spinning car, but averts the deadly crash. He laughs about the hallucination, attributing it to bumping his head on the steering wheel when his car came to an abrupt stop. But his encounter wasn’t a hallucination. Two weeks later, the minivan driver is brutally murdered. Tom receives a text: one down, four to go. He has never shot — much less owned — a gun in his life, and now must turn himself into a serial killer or his daughter and her friends will die.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Mike Pace:

As a father of three, what scared me was the core theme of the book: Would I really do anything to save my child?

It’s very easy to respond, “Of course. A parent would do anything to protect his children.” But put yourself in Tom Booker’s shoes.

Texting while driving, Tom causes an accident on Memorial Bridge with a minivan containing five innocents, including his own daughter, Janie. When he regains consciousness, time’s frozen. He sees the minivan holding the children tipped up on two wheels, gasoline running from the gas tank toward frozen flames licking out from under the hood. The van’s about to roll over the bridge into the Potomac River and explode in a ball of flame.

Then a young preppy couple jogs up and offers him a “rewind.” He can rewind time for a few seconds and save his daughter, but there’s a price — he has to kill five random strangers instead in a soul exchange.

So, what do you do? You agree to the deal. Of course, you agree to the deal. You hear a loud WHIRRING sound like an old-fashioned tape recorder re-winding. Suddenly, you’re back in your car and you jam on the brakes, slamming your head into the steering wheel, and you avoid the accident.

You laugh at yourself and the crazy hallucination. Must’ve happened when you hit your head. Preppy demons from hell; wait till you tell your buddies. They’ll laugh their asses off.

Then your sister-in-law, Rosie, the driver of the minivan dies a minute after the weekly deadline. Then you receive a text message from the demons: One down, four to go. My God, could the hallucination have been real? Can you take the chance?

The idea for the book germinated from a conversation I overheard while sitting in a suburban mall food court. A young mother at the next table told her friend she’d do anything to protect her child. That made me think of bears. How often we’ve seen reports of humans straying too close to a bear cub and unleashing the fury of the mama bear. (Lots of people have weird thoughts in a mall food court. Don’t they?)

Then the question arose: would she really do anything? I pushed the idea around in my head while finishing my Chick-fil-A. Yeah, parents would sacrifice their own life for the life of their child, and of course any parent would kill someone about to murder his son or daughter. That’s easy. So, I asked myself, what would make the parent hesitate? What about killing someone who was not threatening his child? What about murdering more than one fellow human being? Would a normal soccer mom become a serial killer to save her daughter? How many lives would she be willing to take?

Then to ratchet up the conflict, what if you weren’t absolutely 100 percent sure your child would die if you didn’t kill the other person? Oh, and what if there was a deadline, and while you were struggling with this impossible decision, the clock was ticking.

In order to frame this dilemma it was important that the protagonist not be a tough guy. Tom Booker is not Jack Reacher or Jason Bourne. Instead, he’s a middle-class guy who grew up in the safe suburbs, never got in trouble with the law, attended a good college, has a good job, on the upward track. He never went hunting, never held, much less shot, a firearm in his life. So not only does he have to answer the question, Do I kill another human being who is not threatening me because there’s a chance if I don’t my daughter might die, he also has to figure out how to become a serial killer without being caught.

And then overlaid across these conflicts is the larger moral dilemma; morality implicates religion, which is based on faith, not fact. Tom doesn’t face a situation where a bad guy is holding his daughter hostage and threatens to kill her if he doesn’t murder a specific target. The threat instead comes from supernatural figures, not flesh and blood. Which requires Tom to believe in the supernatural.

All told, I tried to devise the set-up in a way that would pose an impossible choice to me personally. I wouldn’t consider myself a tough guy. I have very little experience with firearms. Like most people, I think I follow the rules. Never been arrested, never been in jail. Safe childhood, safe life. And I love my children.

So the scariest part to me is putting myself in Tom’s shoes.

I have the gun in my hand, pointing it at another human being who, despite his sordid past has never done me or my family any harm. The clock’s ticking. Can I take a chance the whole demons from hell thing was a dream? Rosie’s death could’ve been a big fat coincidence. That’s why the word exists. A few more seconds and it’s too late — they said my child will die a gruesome death if I don’t pull the trigger.

Can I take a chance?

Tick tock, tick tock. Showtime. SHIIIIIIIT!!

Mike Pace: Website / Facebook / Twitter

One to Go: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Mike Pace was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He attended the University of Illinois on an art scholarship, and graduated with a BFA degree. He taught public school in Washington D.C.’s inner city, while attending law school at Georgetown University. At Georgetown he was selected to the editorial board of Georgetown’s law review. Upon graduation, he clerked for a federal judge in Washington. Thereafter, he was appointed to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. In that position he prosecuted numerous cases, including those involving murder and rape. He left government service to join a large Washington law firm where he specialized in commercial litigation. He subsequently took a position as general counsel to a national environmental services company headquartered in Annapolis, MD. After several years, he resigned in order to practice law part time, thereby allowing him the time to devote to his first love, creative writing. His critically acclaimed first novel, Dead Light, was followed by the just-released One to Go. Mike lives on the Chesapeake Bay with his wife and two dogs, Blueberry and Scout.

A Valentine’s Day Gift From My Wife


Does my sweetie know me well or what?

Prince of Darkness


Watching Prince of Darkness on the big screen tonight at BAM was an incredible experience! The movie is so good — especially the first half, before it becomes a slasher/zombie movie — and I’d forgotten just how great John Carpenter’s score is. (But most of his scores are, of course.)

It’s very dated in some ways — the linebackeresque shoulder pads, the hair styles, the mustaches, the indoor smoking, the hero’s line “I’m a confirmed sexist and proud of it!” — but it still holds up. It’s a remarkably creepy, atmospheric film, and definitely one of Carpenter’s best. I’m so glad I finally saw it on a big screen with a good sound system, instead of on a 1980s VHS tape!

The Scariest Part: Harry Connolly Talks About THE GREAT WAY

Great Way Final Cover eBook 1 copy

Welcome to this week’s installment of The Scariest Part, a recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. (If you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, please review the guidelines here.)

My guest is Harry Connolly. I was a big fan of his Twenty Palaces series and was very excited to hear he’d published a new trilogy called The Great WayHere is the description of the first volume in the trilogy, The Way Into Chaos:

The city of Peradain is the heart of an empire built with steel, spears, and a monopoly on magic…until, in a single day, it falls, overthrown by a swarm of supernatural creatures of incredible power and ferocity. Neither soldier nor spell caster can stand against them.

The empire’s armies are crushed, its people scattered, its king and queen killed. Freed for the first time in generations, city-states scramble to seize neighboring territories and capture imperial spell casters. But as the creatures spread across the land, these formerly conquered peoples discover they are not prepared to face the enemy that destroyed an empire.

Can the last Peradaini prince, pursued by the beasts that killed his parents, cross battle-torn lands to retrieve a spell that might — just might — turn the battle against this new enemy?

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Harry Connolly:

It would have been pretty simple to write a “Scariest Part” for one of the books in my previous series, Twenty Palaces. Those books were designed to loiter at the horror end of the urban fantasy genre, and each one had scenes that were meant to raise goosebumps.

But my new series is not so straight-forward.

Not that horror elements don’t belong in an epic fantasy. They absolutely do. I’m a hundred-percent pro Ringwraith. But scariness and (especially) horror rely on a wild imbalance of power between the source of the danger and the point of view character. The more agency the POV character has, the further a story or a scene will edge away from horror and toward fantasy or thriller. And some epic fantasy characters are lousy with agency.

Come to think of it, a horror/epic fantasy would be a fun thing to write…

Anyway, this is about the scariest part of my trilogy called The Great Way, and the part I want to highlight comes from the first book in the chapter that (and I don’t think I’ve said this online before) I’ve jokingly referred to as “Die Hard in a Fortress.”

The setup for the story (and the segment) is straightforward: the main character is Cazia, a young student of magic who has fled the capital city with her friends after it was invaded by monsters. They’ve taken refuge in a fortress on the frontier many miles away, but one of creatures appeared within the walls and attacked a whole bunch of people, including the king.

Cazia slew it with a spell, but no one is sure what these creatures are or where they came from. Also, the main character can not find her older brother, who was injured when they fled the invasion.

However, the reader is in a superior position to Cazia: they know the invading creatures carry (spoiler!) a curse that they spread by biting. The king has already begun to transform, and the creature Cazia slew was, in fact, her own brother.

So while she is outside the fort, still searching for him, alarms sound. Enemies are inside the walls. By the time her magic can get her back inside, the place appears deserted. No guards on watch. No staff in the kitchens. There’s no sign of Cazia’s friends, the only people she has left in the world. Nothing.

She quickly discovers that there are creatures inside the fort, and that these things — that seem so much like animals — have confined everyone, including her friends, inside a single building. Like hostages.

It’s this long chapter (the longest in the whole trilogy) that I’d call scariest, in part because it’s one of the few sections to make use of a reader-superior position, and in part because the reader knows that Cazia is going to risk herself — and the few allies she can find — to try to rescue the people who mean everything to hear. People the reader knows are already lost.

You can find out more about that first book here, or you can read the sample chapters I’ve posted on my blog.

Harry Connolly: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Google+

The Way Into Chaos: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

The Way Into Magic: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

The Way Into Darkness: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / Indiebound

Harry Connolly’s debut novel, Child of Fire, was named to Publishers Weekly’s Best 100 Novels of 2009. For his epic fantasy series The Great Way, he turned to Kickstarter; at the time this was written, it’s the ninth-most-funded Fiction campaign ever. Book one of The Great Way, The Way Into Chaos, was published in December, 2014. Book two, The Way Into Magic, was published in January, 2015. The third and final book, The Way Into Darkness, was released on February 3rd, 2015. Harry lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system.