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"Pilot"

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“How’s it going?” 

“Fuel’s running low.”

“What else is new?” 

The truck rumbled down the road, high beams shining in two wide cones that lit the highway from shoulder to shoulder. There wasn’t much to see. Blacktop and retroreflectors stared back at Susan, the driver, and the occasional speed limit sign was visible for a few seconds as the truck roared past, blatantly ignoring the “70” printed in faded ink. 

The details of the truck were hard to work out with only a starry sky to light it. An observer might mistake the navy blue for pure black, might not be able to read the torn bumper sticker, might think that the bits of blood and flesh stuck into the corners of the grill guard were merely mud. 

Country music warbled quietly from the CD player, a dozen songs on repeat that the driver knew by heart. 

Susan adjusted her rearview mirror with three fingers, eyeing her passenger, a lanky girl with pixie cut that had grown shaggy. The girl was lounging across the three rear seats, a bundle of old laundry serving as a pillow. She had to sit up in the narrow backseat bench to stretch her arms, yawning deeply and blinking a few times to clear the sleep from her system. 

“Thanks for taking an extra shift,” she mumbled. “I’ve got the next shift.” 

Lifting her thumb from the steering wheel, Susan eyed the fuel gauge, then looked at the assorted pile of change sitting in the cupholder. “There might not be a next shift, Lily.”

“Liliana,” she corrected, half standing in the backseat. “I’m coming up there.” 

Susan grimaced and leaned to the left as Lily swung one leg over the front seat, then another, briefly straddling the headrest. Her muddy designer shoes stayed at eye level for a moment, then she tumbled into the passenger seat with practiced clumsiness. Spinning in place, she got buckled up.

Leaning so she could see the fuel gauge, Lily asked, “Are we that low on cash?” 

“I’ve got three bucks, plus whatever’s in the cupholder,” Susan explained, twisting the steering wheel to move around a patch of roadkill. “We can maybe get a couple gallons in the tank, but we don’t know how long it’ll be without another gas stop.” 

“We’re not going to get stranded again,” Lily said immediately, leaning down to fish through the backpack at his feet, taking inventory. “Both spare cans are empty, right?” 

Susan nodded “Ran them dry when we decided to skip that last station.”

“And I don’t regret that decision.” Lily pulled out a bag of mixed nuts and chocolate chips, tossed it onto the middle seat by the stick shift, and continued rummaging for a bottle of water to accompany the snack. 

“Is that the last of our food?” Susan asked, raising an eyebrow without looking away from the road. 

Lily dug through her pack for a second longer, then sat back. “Think so.” 

“Hmm.” 

Ripping open the trail mix, Lily poured a handful out and tossed it into her mouth, chewing loudly as she offered the rest of the bag to Susan. Susan shook her head, not hungry.

“Take an inventory,” Susan decided. “Figure out what we’ve got to work with. Maybe there’s something in here we can sell.” 

Lily snorted, almost spitting out of her food. Without swallowing first, she asked, “To who?” 

“Whoever.” Susan shrugged. “Just do the inventory.” 

Rolling her eyes, Lily set the open pouch of trail mix in the open cup holder, washed what she had down with a swig of water, and scooped up the change into her hand, mouthing the numbers as she counted.

“One…” she mumbled, dropping four quarters back in place. “Two… Three… Three fifty… seven. Three fifty-seven. 

“That’s less than seven bucks, with my cash,” Susan said. “Maybe six gallons if the price is low. A fifth of a tank.” 

“Well, shit,” Lily said, dropping the last few pennies into place. Returning to her backpack, she pulled out a cell phone, flipping it open and powering up the device. It chimed cheerfully as the LCD powered on.

Susan stole a glance at the screen, looking away from the road long enough to see the ‘NO SIGNAL’ message flash across the top of the screen in blocky digital letters. She wasn’t surprised, but she scowled anyways. 

“Still nothing, but I’ve got half the battery left,” Lily said, snapping the phone shut and tossing it back into her bag. She came out with his snub-nosed .22, a tiny revolver that could fit in her jacket without sticking out of a pocket. Flicking out the cylinder, she counted on her fingers.

“Three rounds in here,” she said, stuffing the gun into her jacket and leaning to pull the shotgun from its jury-rigged holster on the passenger door. She broke it in half, checking the shells inside, then checking the slots on the outside of the holster. “Five shells.” 

She jammed the shotgun back into place, avoiding the duct tape that held the holster down. 

“Enough to stop a couple someones, then,” Susan said, unconsciously patting the side of her leg, where she’d strapped a nine-inch combat knife. As a backup weapon, it’d seen more than a little use. “Better than nothing.” 

Lily chewed on her thumbnail, mulling over their other supplies. “Spare tire in the back, two empty gas cans, most of your toolbox. We’ve got an axe head but no axe, a shovel, a couple road flares. Nothing we can sell, unless we start ripping parts off the truck.” 

“All in all, nothing new.”

“It’s good to know where we stand, though. We do have one more problem.”

“What’s that?” 

Lily leaned forward and slapped a button on the dash, killing the music. “If I’ve got to listen to Toby Keith sing about himself one more time, I’m going to chuck this CD out the window.” 

Susan slapped Lily’s hand away and turned the CD player back on. It was an aftermarket installation, one that she’d been skeptical of at the time but welcomed now. Tim McGraw began crooning about his failed marriage, and she said, “My turn to drive, my music. When you drive, Lily, you can put on whatever you want.”

“Liliana,” Lily said again. “And I can’t put on anything else when we haven’t got anything else.”

“There’s the radio,” Susan suggested.

“Yeah, right,” Lily said, hand darting forward to press another button before Susan could slap her hand away again. The radio began scanning for FM channels, each one echoing with a slight variation of white noise and static. 

Pursing her lips and sighing, Susan returned to the CD once again. The music hesitated as the player clicked, remembering its place and resuming the last song. 

“And you know the AM sounds exactly the same,” Lily complained. “We’ve got exactly one CD, and it’s got exactly zero good songs.” 

“Well, I like it, so you can suck an egg.” Susan regretted the comment quickly. Lily could always coax childish taunts out of her, bring her down to the girl’s level, and it always made her feel the fool afterwards. 

“God, I’d kill for an egg right now,” Lily said, jumping the conversation to a completely new track before Susan could start brooding. “Or anything that has a shelf life not measured in decades.” 

Susan squinted into the night, then pointed. “You see that light?” 

“Where?” Lily asked, leaning forward, trying to see what she was pointing at. 

“Behind that rise, I don’t think you can see it now. We’ll come over a ledge in just a sec, keep an eye out.” 

The road tilted up, creating what could generously be called a low hill. “See it!” Lily exclaimed. “Gas station?” 

“Truck stop, if we’re lucky,” Susan replied. “We’ll check it out. Keep an eye out, it could be a trap.” 

They rolled forward in silence. Lily checked her gun twice during the three minutes it took to approach the station, nervously sipping on her water every few moments until the bottle was empty.

The exit sign had been knocked down, and Susan almost missed the off ramp until it was too late. Swerving, she hit the brakes and controlled their turn off the highway. 

“Jesus!” Lily shouted, grabbing the door as she was thrown into her seatbelt. “A little warning next time?” 

“That was an accident,” Susan pointed out. “If I’d had the time give you a warning, I wouldn’t have done it in the first place.” 

“Right,” Lily grumbled, sitting back as they turned right, pulling into the truck stop’s parking lot. 

At the very least, it was well lit. A wave of fog had rolled in, shrouding the outside landscape, but they could see the station itself with ease. The flickering incandescent bulbs kept all eight pumps in stark display. Susan pulled over to a green diesel pump, only remembering to turn off her high beams after accidentally flashing a semi truck parked off to the side and receiving an angry honk in response. 

“We’re not the only ones here.” Lily eyed the semi warily. “Think it’s safe?” 

“I think we don’t have a choice,” Susan replied, shifting to neutral, pulling the parking brake, and finally unbuckling. The music died as she turned off the truck and took her keys, twirling them in her left hand before sticking them in a pocket. The flourish was difficult considering her pinkie and ring fingers were in a makeshift splint, but she managed. “Check and see if the pump takes card. We might get lucky.” 

Lily thumbed the lock on the door, patted her pocket to ensure his pistol was still there, and swung out into the chill air. 

“It’s cold out,” she said, zipping up his jacket.

“Noted.” Susan pocketed her keys and turned to dig out her own jacket from the pile in the backseat. 

Lily walked up to the pump, fishing her wallet out from her jeans pocket, flipping it open, and retrieving a black credit card. On the pump, blue tape had been stuck over the card slot with the words, ‘CARD NOT WORKING’ written in black sharpie. She ripped away the tape, stuck her card into the slot, and waited patiently while the display on the pump processed.

A few seconds passed, then it read, ‘Error: See attendant.’ 

“No luck,” she said, sticking the card back in her wallet. 

“Figures,” Susan said, hopping down onto the pavement. “Let’s see if they can help us inside.” 

Lily nodded, looking over at the semi truck. “Is the truck locked?” 

Susan fished the keys out of her pocket, walked back to the door, and locked it manually. “It is now.” 

They crossed to the truck stop’s entrance quickly, eyes peeled for any danger. Nothing came, and the door was unlocked, so she held it open and let Lily cross inside first. 

The interior of the truck stop smelled like cigarette smoke and dog piss. Susan stepped in a puddle of something as she walked in. Looking down, she saw a yellow puddle right in the doorway.

“Gross,” Lily commented, looking down at the sound of the splash. “Doesn’t this place have a bathroom?” 

From behind a laminated sheet of glass and fencing, a man blew out a cloud of smoke and stubbed out the remains of his cigarette, discarding the butt in an ash tray. “Some dickhead brought his mutt in here,” he explained, already lighting a new one. “Told him to get it out, thing wasn’t trained for shit. Pissed all over the place before he finally left.” 

“And you don’t have a mop?” Lily asked, eyeing the man. He was short and fat, with an unkempt beard and grease marks all over his blue T shirt, matching the stains on his teeth and on the counter he was leaning against. He was a dirty man, and he blended in well with the dirty truck stop. 

“Got to attend to the register,” he said, holding up a book of crossword puzzles to emphasize his point. 

“Right,” Lily said, skeptically, as she looked at the ground and watched her step, making sure there was nothing else unsavory to step in between her and the counter. The stop was lit by cheap fluorescent lights, the kind that buzzed and flickered in time with each other, making her head hurt as she leaned forward.

“Can I get some help? The card reader outside didn’t work.”

“‘Cause they’re broken. Can’t you read, girl?” 

Susan turned away from their conversation, shaking droplets off her boot and scanning the aisles. There were a couple rows of snacks, a shelf of car repair supplies, a rotating display of over-designed knives with iridescent handles, kept behind a locked pane of glass. Old tortilla chips sat in a basket next to a bubbling pot of nacho cheese with a dark orange film slowly solidifying on top, untouched by any outside influences for what looked to be days.

She started scanning the snack aisles, looking for the best combination of calories to price, seeing if it would be possible to make a few meals for two people without spending much money. A loaf of white bread and a jar of peanut butter would have kept them going for a couple days, but she didn’t see any groceries. Their best bet was going to be snack cakes and beef jerky, with candy to taste. 

Susan longed for something with a few vitamins in it, but their first priority was having the energy to keep driving. Everything else was secondary to that. A healthy protein bar was twice the cost of a Snickers, and the Snickers had more calories. It was a no brainer. 

Of course, all that was moot if Lily’s card was declined. She looked over to see the girl arguing with the cashier, who was staring back impassively, blowing smoke into Lily’s face from behind his grate.

Setting down her handful of snacks, Susan walked over to the counter, placing a firm hand on Lily’s shoulder. She stopped and nearly whirled on Susan, but Susan spoke quickly so she wouldn’t panic at the intrusion on her personal space. 

“What’s the problem?” 

“Card reader’s down,” the attendant explained, sounding bored. 

“Do you have any checks we could fill out?” Susan asked. 

“We only cash local checks.”

Lily threw up her hands. “Local? Who’s that, you and the trucker?” 

“Girl, whinin’s not gonna change our policy,” the attendant said, calmly clicking his pen and noting down a word in his crossword. “G-A-U-R-D. Guard.” 

“You’ve got that backwards,” Susan said, pointing. “It’s ‘U-A.’”

“I think I know what I’m doin’,” the attendant replied. “Anyways, either get cash or get out. Not my problem which you pick.” 

Lily flipped her middle finger at the man, who looked up for just long enough to roll his eyes before taking a drag and returning to his puzzle. Bitterly, Lily trudged outside, skirting the yellow puddle on the floor. 

“Well that’s a crock of shit,” Lily exclaimed, once the door shut behind them. “What are we going to do?” 

“Get six dollars of gas, hope the next station is close,” Susan said. “It’s that, or wait for someone to come through here that’s feeling charitable.” 

“Fat chance,” Lily said, stalking back to the car. “How much cash do you think he has in that register?” 

No.” Susan stopped, keeping her keys in her pocket. “We’re not doing that.” 

“Why not?” Lily asked, trying the truck handle. It resisted, still locked. “Open the door.” 

“We’re not doing that because I said so,” Susan insisted. “If you go in there and pull a two-one-one to take what you want, you don’t get to ride in my truck.” 

Lily threw up her arms, facing Susan. “It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve had to fight someone to survive. We don’t even have to worry about cops coming after us, so why—”

“We only do that when we don’t have a choice,” Susan said, gritting her teeth. “When they don’t leave us a choice.” 

“Do we have a choice here?” Lily asked. “It’s starve here, starve on the road, or pray we come across the first friendly soul we’ve ever seen out here.” 

“Besides me.” 

“Besides you.” 

Susan shook her head. “If you don’t want to go, we don’t go, but we’re not going to rob anyone. The law doesn’t go away just because there’s nobody around to enforce it.”

“That’s bullshit,” Lily glowered. Sticking her hand into her pocket, she pulled out the revolver.

Stepping back, Susan raised her hands. “Woah there, wait a minute. We don’t—”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, I’m not going to shoot you.” Lily pushed out the cylinder, crossing to her side and pointing at the three empty chambers. “You see that?” 

“You’ve got three rounds left,” Susan agreed. “What’s your point?” 

“You remember how we used the other three?”

Susan sucked in an angry breath between her teeth. “Yes, but—”

“Can you name anything recently that’s gone our way without some kind of bloodshed? Without a fight? Without breaking some kind of law?” 

“No, but we’ve never been instigators, and—”

“That’s how it works out here!” Lily shoved the gun back into her jacket pocket, running her fingers through her unkempt hair. “We don’t get to be the nice guys. The good guys. We don’t get to avoid the fight because it looks dangerous, or mean, or nasty.”

“Fine, but—”

“And besides that, we…” Lily trailed off, facing Susan with a puzzled expression. “What?”

“I said fine,” Susan repeated, gritting her teeth as she added, “You’re right. But we’re not just going to shoot him up.”

“So, what, I hold him at gunpoint while you fill the tank and get a sack full of food?” Lily asked. 

“Something like that, yeah,” Susan agreed. 

“Fine.” Lily looked off her guard, unsure to react now that she’d won the argument. “So…”

“So, I’ll get our cash, and we’ll act like we’re getting some food to buy. You’ll go to the cash register, say you want six bucks in gas, and stick the gun through the window while he’s reaching for the register.” Susan explained. 

“Huh?” 

“You keep him pinned down, make him give you the cash and start the pumps,” Susan explained. “I’ll make sure the pump works and grab all the food I can, you just have to keep him in place.” 

“You’ve planned this out an awful lot.”

Susan pursed her lips. “Isn’t it all just obvious?”  

Lily looked at her gun again, then proffered it out to Susan. “You should do it, it’s your plan.”

“I don’t want to do this in the first place,” Susan said, rejecting the offer. “Besides…frankly, you look a lot more harmless than me. Act cool and you’ll be less suspicious.” 

Lily grumbled and turned, pushing her way back into the truck stop, skirting the puddle once again. Susan trailed behind the girl, and together they endured an uncomfortable stare from the cashier while they walked to the snack aisle. 

“Shit,” Lily whispered, once they were in the aisle. “Did you see that look? He knows we’re up to something.” 

“He’s just a grumpy bastard,” Susan whispered back. “We’re fine, don’t worry about it.” 

Taking two candy bars, Lily walked up from the aisle, approaching the cashier. Susan wasn’t sure if the girl’s hands were shaking, or if just seemed that way from the flickering lights, but either way Lily visibly stopped and took a breath to calm herself down.

Shit, Susan thought. He’s definitely going to know something is up now.

“I’ll get these,” Lily said, tossing down the two candy bars and looking around the little storefront nervously.  “How much?”

The attendant reached forward under the grate and took one of the bars, examining it for a moment before sliding it under a scanner, only glancing away from Lily for long enough to read the scanner’s display. “Two dollars even. Anything else?” 

“Yeah.” Liliana stuck her hand in her pocket, grip tightening on the little revolver. Please work. Please work.

“Give me all the money in the register!” 

Liliana froze, surprised to hear a gruff, unfamiliar voice steal the words from her lips.

To her right, a distinct, rumbling growl echoed into the truck stop, loud enough that Liliana could no longer hear the whine from the lights.

Then, the mechanical Cha-chunk of a slide action shotgun echoed in her ears, and even the growl seemed a small problem by comparison. 

Liliana looked towards the door, and then staggered back as she saw the trucker standing in the doorway. He was huge. At least six feet tall, and built like a brick shithouse and holding a shotgun that had been cut down nearly to stock. His elastic-banded ball cap strained to stay on his head, and the leather jacket he wore looked thick enough to qualify as some kind of medieval armor. 

At his feet, a similarly built black mastiff was snarling angrily, all its teeth showing in a fierce display. It seemed almost cartoonish in its proportions, huge fangs and massive limbs on an emaciated frame, patches of matted fur and raw, red skin where someone had apparently shaved the dog clean with a rusty kitchen knife. 

In other circumstances, Liliana might have pitied the creature, but at the moment she couldn’t think of it as anything other than a monster that was hungry for her blood. It was looking at her, specifically, as though she had done something to personally offend the huge hound and it wanted revenge. 

She stepped back, not wanting to get involved. If anything, she was hoping that the big man would knock out the cashier and leave, leaving the store open to looting. Liliana felt that the she deserved a lucky turn after so long getting the short end of the stick. 

“You, kid,” the man growled, boots splashing in the puddle as he strolled inside. “That your truck outside?” 

“Not mine,” Liliana said, stepping back, feeling her shoulders press up against the glass display behind her. Jamming a thumb down the aisle at Susan, she said, “Hers.” 

The man’s gun whipped around, leveled at Susan’s chest. “Keys. It got gas?” 

“Thanks,” Susan muttered at Liliana, putting her hand on her pocket. “Got the keys right here, but the tank’s empty.”

“Toss ‘em over, then,” the trucker grumbled. “Gentle, like.” 

Susan nodded. “Nobody’s got to get hurt here. I’m taking them out, now, so don’t shoot.” 

The trucker grunted, hand on the stock. Liliana was ready to move, to run at the first sign of trouble, but the big dog still in the doorway was going to make any flight difficult. 

Hands slowly drawing from her pocket, Susan took out her keys, holding up the ring and flashing them in the shitty fluorescent light. Lowering her hand, she made a little lobbing motion, preparing a gentle toss. Then she flung the metal ring underhanded, straight at the trucker’s face. 

The trucker swore as one of the keys caught him in the eye, squeezing down on the trigger of his shotgun. The blast made Liliana’s ears ring in the confined space, muting out the buzz and growl of her surroundings entirely as her ears tried to adjust to the sudden thunderclap. 

Then, Susan was beside her, kicking hard against the food display. It tumbled forward, sloshing hot cheese and landing against the trucker’s leg as he tried to chamber a new round in his gun. The next moment, Susan was brandishing a tiny canister of pepper spray that Lily didn’t even know she had. 

Thumbing the top, Susan unloaded the spray directly into the trucker’s eyes. 

Liliana was busy digging the gun from her pocket as the trucker roared, raising one arm to shield his eyes, flailing the other out in Susan’s direction, using the stock of his shotgun like a club. By then, the dog had reacted, leaping in from where it had stood at the doorway, charging to defend its master.

Flicking away the safety, Liliana barely aimed before pulling the trigger, gun popping as it fired a small round into the dog. The shot struck home and the mastiff yelped, claws scraping at the tile floor as it reacted to the surprise wound. 

Ignoring the scarcity of rounds for a moment, Liliana pulled the trigger again, and then a third time, all three shots landing square on the target. The beast twitched two more times, recovered, and rounded its snarl to point at her.

“Oh, shi—” she had time to start, before the dog had leapt at her, jaws snapping angrily. Liliana managed to get her arms between herself and the mastiff’s huge teeth, but that only meant that its teeth were dug into the meat of her arm, not of the meat of her throat.

Susan ducked under the trucker’s arm, taking advantage of his pain and rage to get behind him and grab at his neck, trying to establish a locking hold. The huge trucker had her beat on size and muscle, and she expected any solid hits from his flailing fists would be enough to end the fight, but as long as he was blind she had a chance. 

Getting both arms over the trucker, Susan grabbed her own wrist and pulled back, getting her arm flat against his throat and cutting off the circulation. She grinned fiercely, right up until the back of his head smashed into her face, followed by a wild elbow struck her in the side. The blows hit like a sledgehammer, and her grip suddenly vanished as a shock went through her side. She fell, crashing into a shelf of chips that was, in turn, thrown back, sending both her and the chips into a roll. 

Wiping the blood from her mouth, Susan went for her knife. 

Liliana, meanwhile, was kicking and flailing against the huge dog snarling at her person. There was blood spilling from her arm, and no matter how hard she hit, the beast only seemed interested in clamping down, holding steady, and scraping with its claws just in case the biting wasn’t bad enough.

At least her ears were no longer ringing from gunfire, but now all she could hear were her own cries of pain as the dog’s bite dug harder down, nearly cutting to the bone. She tried to punch the mastiff in the snout, but if the dog had shrugged off his bullets quickly, it didn’t seem to even notice the fists. 

Scrabbling at the floor with her feet, Liliana tried to grab with her free arm for anything that could help. There wasn’t much around that would help. She found a snack bar and threw it at the dog’s face, but it seemed to barely notice, so Lily reached out again, hand slapping against a tall glass case.

It would have to do. Yanking hard, she brought the shelf crashing down directly atop her own person, making sure to at least get her head out of the way. It toppled and slammed onto the mastiff, and then the combined weight of the dog and the shelf were both pressed against Liliana’s chest, adding to the pains racking her body. 

Only then did the glass shatter, tiny crystal shards making cuts across her face and hands as dozens of cheap, decorative knives were scattered across the floor.

The dog, for its part, got back onto all fours, growling more angrily than ever.

Liliana grimaced, picking up one of the knives and scrambling to her feet before the hound could charge again. “You have got to be kidding me.” 

Susan’s own blade was a bit more heavy-duty, four and a half inches of high carbon steel that had never let her down before. The trucker had spun to face her and was holding his shotgun by the stock, squinting through red, puffy eyelids. 

As Susan tried to decide how to proceed, he made the decision for her, shouldering the gun and aiming it loosely in her direction. She cried out and jumped forward, grabbing the barrel and jamming it sideways, feeling sudden heat as the gun roared and fired into a gallon of anti-freeze stacked against the wall. 

The trucker wrenched away the gun and swung it at her head, but Susan managed to duck and lunge even closer in, stabbing with her knife as hard as she could. The blade pierced leather, then cotton, and then finally contacted with flesh and cut into the trucker’s chest, too far from his heart to be instantly fatal, but enough to give him something to think about. 

Liliana held out her knife and tried to keep the hound at bay, crouched low and ready to scramble away should the dog actually lunge. It was angry and injured, but still wary enough to know that leaping straight into a blade wouldn’t be a good idea, even if that blade was three inches long and unnecessarily wide and dull. The knife was built for form more than function, but it could stab, and the dog understood that. It circled, and Liliana spun on unsteady feet, ensuring that neither could gain the advantage. 

The roar of the shotgun made Liliana wince away, and given that split-second hesitation, the mastiff jumped in with jaws snapping. Liliana jabbed out the knife in response, but she was too slow to land a solid blow. The dog knocked aside the attack and bit at her hand, and in response Liliana dropped the knife and ran backwards, struggling to stay upright while running on the cheap, sticky tile. 

Claws scratching on the ground, the dog charged at her, and as she passed the end of the aisle, she lunged to the side just in time for the beast to slam into the refrigerator door behind her, shattering the glass and knocking down a shower of plastic soda bottles. The dog shook its head, turned, and charged again. 

This time, Liliana was prepared. Her knife was tiny and cheap, but it was the best defense she had. As the huge, rawboned creature leapt at her, she jammed the knife out, striking somewhere around the dog’s ribcage. The blade sunk all the way to the hilt, all three inches of cheap steel lodged in deep enough that Liliana couldn’t pull it out for a second blow. 

If it hurt, though, the dog barely seemed to care. Snarling, it took her to the ground, gnashing at her throat for all it was worth. 

Susan wasn’t quick enough to dodge the trucker’s huge, flailing fists and took a blow to the head, the heavy thud strong enough to make her dizzy and release the handle of her knife. She staggered away, and he did as well, both needing a moment to recover before continuing the brawl. 

She stepped back, giving herself space. If he was going to charge, she wanted room to react. Of course, if he tried to shoot, she’d be farther away and have to close the distance faster, but one way or another she would be screwed, so she trusted her gut to decide which way to go. 

The trucker did as she’d hoped and charged, wet boots planting right in the puddle of sloshing antifreeze. His boots had rubberized slip-resistant soles, but as top-heavy as he was, the unexpected fluid was enough to make him stagger, and Susan was happy to take advantage of his momentary weakness. 

She kicked at the trucker’s knee and grabbed for his gun with both arms, sending the big man toppling to the ground. He flailed to try and catch something, and that gave her all the leverage she needed to pry away the gun, spinning it around so that the barrel was pointed right at the trucker’s head.

Taking one short breath to aim, Susan pulled the trigger.

It clicked, and the ejection port caught halfway with a new shell before the old could be released. 

She only had time to yell “Fuck!” before the trucker had grabbed her ankles and pulled, bringing her down to his level. 

Landing on her back, Susan had no time to be stunned. The trucker was clawing his way towards her, reaching for the gun, getting into a position where he could just throw down punches and elbows until she stopped moving. 

Taking the shotgun by its short barrel, Susan swung as hard as she could from her prone position, hitting the trucker in the face with a satisfying cracking sound. He flinched, and in that time, Susan raised the gun again, bringing it down once more, cracking the stock as it split open his scalp. He roared, and she swung again, shattering the plastic stock against his head. 

He stopped clutching at her, and Susan kicked her feet and pushed with her hands to clamber away, grabbing at one of the standing shelves to pull herself up. 

The trucker groaned, rolling onto his back and feeling for the knife in his chest. Not wanting to stick around and see what he’d do with it, Susan skirted around him and ran for the exit.

Liliana was focused on the fangs about to dig into her throat, but wasn’t so distracted that she didn’t see Susan go. “Susan?” she shouted, eyes wide in alarm. “Susan! Fuck, I could use some help here!” 

The mastiff barked in her face, something that seemed almost as loud as the shotgun blasts, and she tried again to ineffectually shove it back. The knife was still stuck in its chest, and Liliana had no leverage to pull it out with her one good arm. If she tried to get a good handle and yank it out, but in the moment she did that, there would be nothing covering her throat. If that happened, she’d be too busy dying to strike back. 

Kicking with her legs, she tried to get at anything that might help. Maybe she could knock over another shelf, cause a distraction. Maybe the gas station attendant would finally get off his ass and help, for that matter. 

No such luck. Liliana’s flailing legs found nothing but slick tile and cheap, scattered knives that she was too far away to grab.

She jerked away, trying to put more distance between herself and the dog, but her head was already pressed against tile and when she tried to move, shards of broken glass just found their way into the back of her neck and scalp. She had nowhere to go, no way to escape, no— 

BOOM.

Gunfire rang in her ears for the fourth time in a minute, and the dog was thrown to the side, falling off of her with a loud whimper. 

Lily wasn’t about to take chanced. Spinning onto her side and reaching out with her good arm, Lily took a knife from the floor, flicked it open, and brought it down hard somewhere in the black dog’s neck. Spraying blood covered Lily’s face and arms, and she rolled away, staggering to her feet and looking around.

Susan was standing in the doorway, their trusty double barrel held in a tight shooter’s grip. She lowered the weapon long enough to make sure that the dog wasn’t moving, then turned, pointing it down at the trucker. 

She didn’t have any quips, she just pulled the trigger and put an ounce of buckshot between his eyes. The trucker’s body twitched once, then lay still. 

“Jesus!” Lily screamed, leaning back against the counter. “Jesus fucking fuck.” 

Susan looked at her, pulled the lever to fold open the gun, and smoothly reloaded. “You okay?”

“I—” Lily stopped, thinking about the question. She was, mostly. “Dog tore open my arm pretty bad, got some cuts, I’ll be fine.” 

“Good,” Susan said, looking over to the station attendant. The squat man had been cowering behind the counter, and only then stood to face them. “Any chance you’ll take a check now?

The attendant looked at her, then around the store, then shook his head. “You trashed my store! I’ve got half a mind to kick you out for good.”

Lily threw up her arm. “Are you fucking kidding me? We just saved your ass, and now—”

“Lily,” Susan cut her off with a word. “First aid in the back of the truck. Go get yourself fixed up.” 

“But—” Lily spluttered. “He—”

“I’ve got this,” Susan said, crouching by the trucker’s body and yanking her knife from his chest, wiping the blood off on his pants. 

Liliana grumbled and stalked out to the truck, feeling the blood on her face quickly cool in the night air. She crossed his arms in front of his chest, trudging to the truck, dropping the tailgate and pulling out their first aid kit.

Their first kit had started out as a basic set of emergency gear, but it had ballooned in size since they realized how important it was going to be. It now took up an entire utility-sized tackle box, stuffed to the gills with bandages, stitches, superglue, and anything else they could pillage. 

She slipped off her jacket, then paused, gritting her teeth. “Okay, just do it,” Liliana told herself, before yanking her shirt over her head. The night wasn’t below freezing, but without a shirt it was cold, and rubbing an alcoholic wipe over the bite marks on her arm made it flare up with stinging pain. 

“Dammit, dammit, dammit,” she chanted in annoyance, wiping away the blood and tossing the expended wipe on the ground, fishing in the kit for an antibiotic cream. 

Once the wound was clean and she’d done what she could to stop infection, Liliana stuck an adhesive patch over her arm, then walked to the side of the truck to get a new shirt from their pile. Before she could get the door open, she heard footsteps and spun in alarm.

Susan was holding up an old, ratty blanket, offering it to her. It was covered in dog hair, but looked pretty warm, and she accepted it gratefully.

“Where’d you get this?” Liliana asked, shivering as she pulled the blanket over her shoulders like a cape. 

“Trucker had his keys on him,” Susan explained, holding up a bulging leather rectangle in her hand. “And this has two hundred bucks in cash.”

“Nice,” Liliana said, leaning against the truck. “Get his gun?” 

“Broken, but it’s a twelve gauge, and he had half a box of shells left.” 

“Not a bad stop, then.” Liliana winced, putting a hand to her arm. 

“I’ll go get us food and gas, and I’ll drive the next round,” Susan offered. “That bite looked pretty nasty.” 

“It’s not bad, just—” Liliana started to move her arm to demonstrate that it wasn’t too bad, then winced and shook his head. “Okay, yeah, it’s pretty bad. I can drive fine, though. You should rest.” 

Susan shrugged, sticking a hand into her jacket. “One more thing.”

“What’s that?” Liliana asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Cash wasn’t the only thing he had in that truck.” Susan pulled her hand free, displaying what she’d taken.

“Fuckin A!” Liliana said, grabbing the object enthusiastically. “Oh, I am definitely driving next.” 

“Get a shirt on, then,” Susan said. “We need to get back on the road.” 

Ten minutes later, they were cruising down the highway once again, blasting Down with the Sickness as loud as Susan could tolerate, the trucker’s CD collection getting put to good use. 

Though neither of them noticed, as the music player changed tracks, they passed a milestone. It had been six thousand miles since they started driving together. 

They hadn’t seen the sun in five days. 

They kept driving. 

Enjoying this? Check out the rest of the series on Patreon!

Author Spotlight: Troy Osgood

For today’s Author Spotlight, we’re talking to Troy Osgood! If you missed our last spotlight, check it out here!

M.N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

Troy: I played a little D&D as a kid, played with LEGO and G.I. Joe. Lots of stuff that involved having to create. I found that I enjoyed the creating more than the actual playing. I’ve always read; primarily fantasy and a little sci-fi; novels and comic books, branching out to other genres as I got older. I really enjoyed the serial and ongoing nature of comic books.

This love of creating led to trying to put it all down on paper. I was never satisfied with anything that I did. The impulse to just keep creating crept into those early attempts and the story would get lost.

Fast forward to 2016, after a period where didn’t write but still read nonstop and played games like Ultima Online and World of Warcraft, I discovered Amazon’s Kindle Worlds. This platform, which is now sadly gone, allowed author’s to write in other people’s “worlds”. One of those was G.I. joe. Now I could take those stories I had created as a kid and get them published for other people to enjoy.

I published a bunch of stuff through that and by being able to actually complete a story, that others enjoyed reading, it helped me get over the hump. I had a bunch of stuff created because that is something I never stopped doing. Notebooks and word documents filled with ideas and some half-started stories.

In March of 2016, I published my first book and been going non-stop since.

I write primarily fantasy and sci-fi with some pulp work coming. A variety of genres and subgenres. I read a bit of everything so I have ideas in a wide range. More ideas than time. Ideas never stop coming.

M.N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

Troy: Two things. The first, and the thing that kept me from actually writing for the longest time, was that I don’t end up liking what I write. I don’t think it’s bad or anything like that, it’s just a “that could be better” kind of thing. The scenes write themselves in my head and when I put them to paper, it’s not as good. But I have stories that I want to tell and so I force myself to tell them.

The other thing goes back to the ideas never stop coming. I get hit with a new idea and have to develop it, flesh it out and see where it goes. Sometimes that new idea takes over and pushes the other stuff aside.

I set myself a goal of 1500 words a day, which has really been helping with my production and allowing me to keep the series I have going well adding/developing new stuff.

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M.N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

Troy: I don’t think the author ends up deciding what makes their work special or unique, that’s on the readers. An author can try for something but if they succeed, that’s for the readers to decide.

For my work, I try to just tell fun adventures about compelling and interesting characters. I don’t do epics or end-of-the-world type stuff. There’s plenty of it out there that is excellent. But I’ve always found myself liking the secondary characters, the side quests/adventures more than the main stuff.

I love Star Wars, but I don’t like the Skywalkers. I want to see the stories about Wedge Antilles and the other rebels. I’m really looking forward to the Disney + Cassian Andor series.

The tagline I use for my Taleweaver’s Song series is “in a world of magic, adventure lies behind every hill.” Which is true. If there is this world filled with magic, why does everything focus on just a few individuals or chosen ones? There are others out there in the vast world that are having their own adventures where the world itself isn’t at risk. Those can be interesting and compelling stories. Those are the tales I want to tell.

Everything I create is designed for the long term. I don’t tell one and done stories or trilogies. Everything has threads of more stories to tell, to expand on. It goes back to my love of the comic book and the ongoing serial. I want to tell stories about the characters and how their lives evolve and change through the course of their adventures. There are no endings planned for any of my series. Even things I’m doing for a publisher, one shot short stories, there are threads that I can expand upon.

M.N.: I really enjoy stories about the smaller characters in bigger worlds. Do you have a particular favorite character that you’ve invented, or a favorite set of characters?

Troy: I do and they haven’t appeared yet. It’s kind of cheating because they’re somewhat modeled after my wife and I. Osten Niklas and Kathwen DunHowe are the main characters in The Ork Plains, the 2nd Taleweaver’s Song book. My wife is a music teacher so she became a bard. Her weapon, a staff, is based on an actual staff we have in the house. Osten has a pet that has evolved from a fox to a hound and back and forth. I think the reason I’m having some trouble with the pet is that the characters are my wife and I, but the pet is not our dog. So I think I need to redo it and replace the current version of the pet with our dog.

The other favorite has to be Kaylia in the Arek Lancer sci-fi series. A mute alien cat girl teenager. Arek was meant to be Jack Reacher in space with a touch of Malcolm Reynolds thrown in. Reacher travels the United States, just wandering, and everywhere he stops trouble seems to find him. And that’s what I envisioned for Arek. Flying across the stars and just gets into random trouble. The first book revolved around him rescueing a kidnapped alien and that alien girl ended up staying with him. So now it’s Jack Reacher plus kid in space.

M.N.: Do your stories have the equivalent of a Luke Skywalker in them who just exists in the background? Chosen one heroes who exist and shape the world, but who you don’t focus on because we’re having more fun with the side characters?

Troy: No chosen ones or larger than life heroes. Regular sized heroes are good enough. In The Skeleton Stone, Culann Hawkfall saves the village. He’s a large sized hero to those people. Their world is their village and he’s the epic hero that saved them from destruction. For Culann, he was there and couldn’t leave those people to die, he had to do something. Does that put him on par with Luke Skywalker? Yeah, probably. They’re both heroes, just the scale of what they are saving is different.

M.N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

Troy: Not really. I read so much, books and comics, that it’s all a kind of influence. I loved the idea of Dungeons & Dragons, this kind of open world where thousands of different stories could happen. In Marvel Comics, Spider-Man is in one corner of New York having all these adventures and a couple blocks over the Avengers are fighting the Masters of Evil.

The Harpers series from Forgotten Realms (written in the 80s and 90s) helped set up how I wanted to structure things like the Taleweaver’s Song. Each book in the Harpers was about a different character, a different adventure, but were connected by the organization. I loved that series. It really played into the idea of adventures happening all the time all over the world.

M.N.: It sounds like you put a lot of effort into your world building. Do you ever find that this trips you up, where you want to tell a story about one conflict or another but your setting makes it difficult?

Troy: That’s the problem I ran into with The Ork Plains. I had the world of Merelein created. It was set up like a pen & paper D&D game setting. A world with some history and pretty open sandbox to just jump into and create. As I started writing Ork Plains, I started fleshing out some of that history and it changed pretty much everything. That created the roadblock and I had to go and figure out the new history before I could continue. Which led me down some tangents hadn’t intended to go down.

It’s all good as it makes the overall world that much stronger and unique.

The foundation is important to any world. Creating a world is the same process as in creating a building. You have to start with a solid foundation otherwise the walls will fall down. Once that foundation is in place, then you build your walls and cap it with the roof, which is the story.

M.N.: Or, on the flipside, have you ever had conflicts present themselves to you on a platter because of how you’ve set up your world? Moments where you’re writing along and discover that you have a perfect story already set up for you that just needs the words put down?

Troy: The Arek Lancer stuff does that all the time. I had a rough idea of the various stories I wanted to tell. Started writing and the first book created two points that became full stories that worked their way into the rotation. I did a short story reader magnet and that ended up tying into a story point from the first book which led to the 4th book that I’m currently working on. A character in the reader magnet popped up in the 3rd book, a history between Arek and him that I had never intended. Arek’s adventures just keep building themselves and going in a direction that I never thought I would take it which is all because of Kaylia running into Arek.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

Troy: Faerie Tale by Raymond Feist is an all time favorite. Riyria Revelations (and the follow-up books) by Michael J. Sullivan. Memory, Sorrow & Thorn by Tad Williams.

The Harpers series, as mentioned above, is up there as well. No individual book in the series but just the idea of it.

M.N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

Troy: Which ones? I have a lot of balls in the air and lots of stuff at various levels. My main stuff is the fantasy series Taleweaver’s Song and the Arek Lancer sci-fi series. Book two in Taleweaver’s is being worked on (and has been the hardest thing to write, this book is a constant fight). I have the next three books basically thought out and some parts of them started. Got two or three short stories in that series to finish up. The Arek Lancer sci-fi series, I’ve started book four and have a short story finishing up. Got two short stories for a pulp publisher. Finished book one in my litRPG series and editing it, cruising along on book two. Working on a developmental project where I’m fleshing out the story, developing it and creating characters.

I also have a Patreon site that will have exclusive serialized stories. Each month is a new chapter. These will be set in my established universes, in new ones and just random stories. The first story is set in The Taleweaver’s Song, unconnected to any of the books. There’s three finished works to follow that one up.

I think that’s it, but there’s a couple of other ideas moving around inside my head that want to come out and play.

I recently set myself a goal of 1500 words a day and that has been helping with the production. Before that, all my goals seemed pretty hard to reach. Now they’re all doable.

M.N.: What does your release schedule look like? Do you find that, with so many projects, you have a hard time keeping them all up to date on a timely basis, or do your word count goals keep books coming out consistently enough for your liking?

Troy: I bounce from project to project on a nightly basis. Sometimes I get in a groove and a project takes over but there are always other things to go back to when that one needs a break. I keep a spreadsheet for my word count goal and I break each day down by project. Some days there is one, some there are four.

I don’t write until my wife and kids are asleep. I give myself 30 mins to an hour to read and then it’s write for a couple hours before I go to bed. When I sit down at the computer, I think I know which project I want to work on but sometimes the stories have other ideas.

Things are always churning in my head, ideas on where to take them, new ideas, etc…

I want to have a consistent release schedule and am working hard to get there. Not at that point yet. The word count goal helps a lot as it forces me to focus on something and advance something for that day.

M.N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

Troy: From the middle to inventing as I go. Depends on the project. Lots of it revolves around scenes that pop into my head. I see the scene and create around it. I don’t outline, just let it freeflow as I write. Which sometimes creates blocks as I know where I want to go but can’t figure out how to get there yet.

I’ve tried outlining but it just doesn’t work for me.

M.N.: Do you have an end goal in mind when you start a story, either for the characters or for the plot?

Troy: Yes and no. Depends on project. Some projects I’ve written the ending well before it’s done. Sometimes I know the middle first. I try to let the stories take me where they will. As they develop I know where I want to end up.

Taleweavers is written where the first chapter is a point in the future, the middle of the story. So I know what point L is, which kind of points to Z so I just need to start with A and figure out how A leads to L. Which leaves a lot of ground in the middle.

Arek’s adventures, I know the start and don’t know where it’ll end up. But even with those, as I’m writing I’ll get to a scene and put that down but then the implications or path that scene leads to pops into my head and I need to write it down. It could be five chapters later but it gets written and I need to fill in the gaps to get there.

That kind of writing has its own issues. If you know point A and point G, then how do you get from E to G in a logical way that reads natural and not forced?

M.N.: When I’m reading books like Harry Potter or watching Star Wars, I always know that the heroes are going to ultimately win because, if they lose, the world will end and there won’t be any more books. Do you find that your smaller-scale characters and stories frees you from that constraint and lets you tell stories where the characters have a real possibility of losing?

Troy: Yeah. I’m trying to tell the story of someone’s life. Living in this magical world, flying through space, is the world these people inhabit. It’s a dangerous world, so death exists. People in our world die every day doing something normal like drive a car. So in a world where magic exists, the possibility is there that someone can die doing the equivalent of normal in their world.

There needs to be a threat of death for the stories to really have meaning. The death of Ned Stark shocked everyone because that entire first book (first season), he was set up to be the hero of the story. He was set up to be Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter. But then he was killed. That was awesome.

I think that’s the biggest reason The Last Jedi gets so much criticism. People expected Luke to be the hero, to step up and save the galaxy again. He didn’t. Rian Johnson pulled a Ned Stark.

M.N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

Troy: Just do it. People will like it or they won’t. Don’t let your lack of confidence in your own work hold you back.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

Troy: I’d start at the beginning. The Skeleton Stone (fantasy) and The Last Child (sci-fi).

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M.N.: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Troy: I set out to write the kind of stories that I wanted to see out there. I like reading everything. I like the epics, but I felt there was a space out there for serial work that wasn’t these big epic stories. Sometimes people just want to read about an adventure. That’s what I want to provide.

I don’t want to write the next book that moves people or teaches a lesson. I want to entertain and I hope my stories do that.

Author Spotlight: J. L. Park

For today’s Author Spotlight, we’re talking to J. L. Park! If you missed last week’s spotlight, check it out here!

M.N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

J.L.: I normally write in Speculative Fiction, mostly Dystopian. I’ve been thinking of story that would work in Urban Fantasy that I might work on after this series.

M.N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

J.L.: Finding the time to write – I work full time at my job, and have two children under 5 as well. I write mostly after they’ve gone to bed.

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M.N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

J.L.: They come from a view that is different – a New Zealand twist on things even in a fictional setting – my culture finds its way into my writing as easily as it does my spoken language. As a member of the LGBT community as well, it often features in my work but is never the biggest thread of the story.

M.N.: Can you give me an example of how your New Zealand background influenced your writing?

J.L.: I’ve noticed that I have to be careful not to include too many colloquialisms or words from our other spoken national language that I would use in normal conversation. I tend to view the world from a New Zealand perspective – we accept most people for who they are, as long as they’re a “good sort”, and I’ve always found it difficult to understand how people can hate someone they’ve never met because they’re different to them. We are also a people that you don’t want to cross – we tend to be protective, and stand up for ourselves and the underdog- the MC in my Alexis Chronicles series would fit in well in here.

M.N.: I’ve read that authors who include LGBT elements in their stories are often rejected by traditional publishers. Did this affect your decision to publish independently?

J.L.: I wasn’t acutely aware of that fact, though it doesn’t come as a surprise as it’s still unusual to see LGBT representation in a lot of mainstream places for TV or books. There is more out there than there has been, so it’s getting better. But it didn’t have any effect on my decision to publish independently – I wanted more control over what happened to my series, and one of the themes in the series is currently (over the last year or so) in the public consciousness – I felt that if I waited until a traditional publisher picked it up, and got it out there – it may have been too late for it to make its impact.

M.N.: Now that you’ve got the benefit of hindsight, are you happy with your decision to self publish?

J.L.: Yes, while the marketing and promotion of it is a steep learning curve that takes me away from writing the next two, I have the control over my series, and it’s out in a time where people are thinking on and talking about the underlying theme. I think that theme however will be in the public consciousness for a long time yet – it may have only just started.

M.N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

J.L.: Not that I can put my finger on. I’ve always wanted to write, and have written here and there. I’ve always enjoyed Stephen King, and a lot of the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal and Dystopian authors. One of Bella Forrest’s series – the Girl Who Dared – kind of gave me the push I needed.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

J.L.: Hugh Howey’s Wool series

M.N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

J.L.: My current WIP is Book 2 of The Alexis Chronicles – Black Phoenix Rising. It’s a continuation of She Wore Black – the first book of The Alexis Chronicles. It follows Reed Taylor on her journey to change the city of GreyBrook from an oppressive society, to something more balanced. However it’s intrinsic hatred of women, and those who buck the system makes this much harder and more dangerous than she realizes.

M.N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

J.L.: I’m a bit of a ‘plantser’ now – I used to be a ‘pantser’ inventing it as I went along – She Wore Black was mostly written this way. With the second and third books, I needed to know more about where it was going, so have semi-outlined them. It’s actually easier, so I might keep going that way.

M.N.: I’ve never heard the term ‘Plantser’ before, but I might steal it. When writing “She Wore Black” did the plot end up going about where you expected, or were you surprised by how it turned out?

J.L.: I can’t remember where I first heard “Plantser” but I remember thinking ‘Thats SO me!” – if it fits – steal it!
She Wore Black ended earlier than I had thought it would – I thought it was initially going to be a standalone – but as I got into it, I realised it was going to be a series – so you could say I was surprised that it ended where it did, but it was the perfect spot to move into the next book, and it felt right.

M.N.: When you made the decision to make it a series, was it because the story you wanted to tell was taking too long to get to the finish, or did you realize that you were writing towards something grander than you’d initially conceived that would go beyond your initial planned endpoint?

J.L.: It was a bit of both. I had an idea of the endpoint, and it kept getting further away. The end point is the same, or similar to what I had planned, but will work so much better with the rest of the story in between. In one book it would have been paced too fast, and not given the reader enough time to get to know the main characters, and get invested in them before rushing off. I wanted to do my book, and any readers I had, justice.

M.N.: Do you know how many books it’s going to end up being?

J.L.: At this point, I’m pretty sure it will be a trilogy.

M.N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

J.L.: Don’t worry about other people reading it. Just write it for you, and the rest will come later. Don’t take the constructive criticism personally – use it, if it works for you, and it will actually make it better.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

J.L.: Given I only have the one piece out in the world – I’d suggest She Wore Black: The Alexis Chronicles Book One as a very good place to start.

Author Spotlight: Debra L Martin

For today’s Author Spotlight, we’re talking to Debra L. Martin! If you missed last week’s spotlight, check it out here!

M.N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

Debra: One day in 2006, I was in the bookstore and on the phone with my brother Dave. I was lamenting about the lack of good fantasy novels to read. Every suggestion he made, I’d already read. On a whim, he said “why don’t we write one of our own?” That’s was the beginning of our writing career. Together we write epic fantasy and urban fantasy. We’ve published four books in epic fantasy, one in urban fantasy and three novellas in our Dark Future series. We are currently working on the final book in our Witch Stone Prophecy series.
I also write romance under a pen name, Debra Elizabeth. I chose a pen name so as not to confuse our fantasy fans. So far, I have 11 titles and 4 collections published. I’m currently writing the fourth book in my regency series, Age of Innocence.  

M.N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

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Debra: Writing with a co-author is challenging. You have to learn to leave your ego at the door to write the best possible book you can.

M.N.: What does that writing process look like? Do you both write the first draft together, or does one of you write the first round and the other does rewrites and edits?

Debra: We have pretty much perfected what works best for us over the years. It was difficult in the beginning to get into the flow of the story, but in the end we worked it out.

M.N.: Has there ever been a scene or story element you disagreed on?

Debra: There has been many scenes that have been left on the cutting room floor because either one of us didn’t like it or didn’t feel it moved the story forward. Our motto is “if you can’t justify why it needs to stay in the chapter, then it gets cut.” Depending on what the chapter is about depends on who writes the first draft. If there is any fighting in the chapter, Dave will write the first draft. Then I edit making sure to add in all the additional details that pull the reader into the story and keeping them turning the pages.

M.N.: Does one of you tend to handle the marketing and publishing efforts, or is that a shared project as well?

Debra: I handle all the marketing and the publishing of our books. Once my graphic artists (I used two for our Witch Stone Prophecy covers) finishes the cover and our editor sends back all her comments, I use Jutoh to turn the word doc into .mobi and .epub files. Then I upload the files to Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple and Google. Because I’m the one to follow marketing trends, I also submit the books for ads at the different sites.

M.N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

Debra: My brother is a retired Marine so the fight scenes in our books are based on real-life experiences. It brings a real excitement to the story.

M.N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

Debra: Not really. I love lots of fantasy authors including Stephen R Donaldson, Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams and Robin Hobb.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

Debra: There are so many favorites, but I guess if I had to pick one, I’d pick the “Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

M.N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

Debra: We are working on the final book in our Witch Stone Prophecy, “Witch Stone Assassin.” The story follows elite assassin Jeda Delongo and his life-changing assignment when he is confronted by a witch. Before she dies, she zaps Jeda with a binding spell forcing him to take care of her twin daughters. What Jeda doesn’t realize at the time, is these twins are the famed “children of prophecy.” Book 1 and 2 follow Jeda’s journey as he escapes the Assassin Guild, the Black Witches and a single-minded assassin bent on his destruction. Book 3 is the culmination of adventures for Jeda, his twin daughters, Kara and Kala, and a final battle the likes of which the Kingdom of Tavia has never seen and may not survive.

M.N.: Having to fight while caring for children is always an interesting challenge to watch, and a story about surrogate parenting sounds like a fresh experience.
How did you settle on this plot? Did you decide you wanted to tell a story about an assassin, and the kids came later, or was it the other way around?

Debra: We first wanted to write the story of an elite assassin, but not just about his kills. What would be the worst thing to happen to him? Being taken out of the comfort zone of his skills and into a parental role seemed like opposite ends of the spectrum for Jeda. He couldn’t just leave the twins because the binding spell wouldn’t allow him to do so. He had to learn to take care of the children while trying to avoid a ruthless assassin bent on bringing Jeda back to the Assassin Guild dead or alive. An additional twist is the twins have magical powers of their own and Jeda must try to teach them how to control their gifts as best he can. Along the way, he does get help, but in the early days, he was running for his life while caring for two infants.

M.N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

Debra: We found out early on that it was best for us to have a detailed outline of the story. To save a lot of repetition when writing chapters, we now write one chapter at a time, send it to the other to edit and then back again for any final edits before the chapter is added to the main file.

M.N.: That sounds like a lot of time to get every chapter done. Do you find that this slows you down at all?

Debra: Even though this does take more time than just writing, writing, writing, this process works best for us. Dave has a demanding day job so sometimes it weeks between our writing sessions. This is one of the reasons why there has been so much time between books.

M.N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

Debra: Be sure to write out a detailed outline BEFORE we start writing. When writing our first book, “Rule of Otharia,” we thought of a cool twist half way through the book, but that meant we had to go back to the beginning of the story and rewrite a number of chapters. After that, we have done a detailed outline for each book.

M.N.: Do you ever get to a point in the story and realize that something in your outline just doesn’t work the way you wanted it to?

Debra: Having a detailed outline doesn’t mean we always stick to it. There have been many instances where we think of something cool to add in to the storyline. Of course, that means we probably have some adjustments to be made, but I love our creative process. It works for us and we really enjoy writing together.

M.N.: It sounds like you have a great process that really works for the two of you. Have either of you tried writing on your own?

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Debra: Yes, I write romance under the pen name, Debra Elizabeth. I started writing romance stories while I waited for Dave to edit chapters. As I also mentioned this in a previous question, I won’t repeat everything again. Needless to say, I really enjoy writing in different romance genres–contemporary and regency.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

Debra: I think that depends of reader interest–our Rule of Otharia series is about our take on the legend of Merlin and his origins from the planet of Otharia before he came to Earth. If the reader is looking for a sweeping story of assassins, witches and battles, then they should delve into the Witch Stone Prophecy series.

M.N.: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Debra: Thanks so much for hosting me today!

Author Spotlight: Marie Andreas

For today’s Author Spotlight, we’re talking to Marie Andreas! If you missed last week’s spotlight, check it out here!

M.N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

Marie: I am an indie (aka self-published) author. I currently have nine books out. I write humorous fantasy, space opera, steampunk, and epic fantasy.

M.N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

Coming soon!

Marie: Getting the words down. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, we work for months on a project, and it’s just us. No matter how much I love a project, it is still hard to sit the butt in the chair and do the time.

M.N.: Do you have any special techniques to help you get those words written? Is there a schedule you stick to, or do you write at whatever pace you can on a given day?

Marie: I try and make it a habit, everyday do something. I do set daily goals and use a spreadsheet to keep on track. If I see that I’m only a hundred words from my goal, it will make me dive in for more. It’s a balancing between keeping on task, and allowing yourself down time. I get up at 4:30 am so I can write from 5-6 before going to the day job.

M.N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

Marie: I have a lot of humor, but not slapstick. My books are also fairly fast paced, especially the space opera series. My voice comes through in all of the sub-genres–or so readers tell me ;).

M.N.: Do you have any trouble maintaining an audience across different subgenres?

Marie: Honestly, I don’t think about it. I know some folks love one series, and dislike the other. But I’m writing what I want to write. And it’s very clear they are different series and sub-genres ;).

M.N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

Marie: Probably Mercedes Lackey.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

Marie: Way too long! I’ll give you my comfort books, the ones I go back to re-read when I’m just tired or feel like a pick me up. Mercedes Lackey – The Mage Winds trilogy; David Eddings – The Belgariad; and Elizabeth Peters – The Amelia Peabody mysteries.

M.N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

Marie: I am working on the sixth and final book in my Lost Ancients series. Drunken faeries, murder, mayhem, and world ending relics. It’s a bittersweet project as I love these characters and have had so much fun writing their adventures. But this was meant to be a six book arc, so it’s coming to an end. I will be having another series with a new adventure for most of these folks in 2020. But still hard to tie up this one.

M.N.: Does anything come between now and the new adventure?

Marie: I’m sure it does–being a pantser means I’m not sure yet! 😉

M.N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

Marie: I am a wild and untamed seat-of-the pants writer – aka a pantser. I have a few general ideas about the who, the where, and the what, but I pretty much run wild.

M.N.: Has there ever been a story twist in your own writing that caught you off guard?

Marie: Yes, all the time! I just had a fairly big one concerning a secondary character that I can’t tell you. But I was as surprised as anyone!

M.N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

Marie: Believe in the work. Keep moving forward.

M.N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

Marie: Well, I have three series. LOL. So The Glass Gargoyle is the first book in the fantasy, Warrior Wench is the first in the space opera, and A Curious Invasion is the first (book two will be out early fall) in the steampunk. They are closed series, meaning you really need to start with book one.

M.N.: Thank you for joining us!

Just thank you for having me!

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Author Spotlight: R. Lennard

For today’s Author Spotlight, we’re talking to R. Lennard! If you missed last week’s spotlight, check it out here!

M. N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

R. Lennard: I’m an author, librarian and cosplayer who writes YA epic fantasy. I’m currently writing an eight book series, with book two due out later this year. I got into writing in a very different way to most authors – namely because I couldn’t read properly for the first ten years of my life. My eyesight isn’t great, and it took a new optometrist before I could make out what the squiggles on the pages meant. After that, I devoured the whole library (pretty much – anything fantasy or sci-fi, at least).

M. N.: Cosplaying is fun! What has been your favorite character to cosplay as?

The Girl in the Fireplace

Lennard: My favourite cosplay was Madame De Pompadour from the Doctor Who episode, The Girl in the Fireplace. The dress was made in three days, with lots of blood, sweat, tears and swear words – mostly when I put a sleeve on upside down and had to re-do it. The dress is quite heavy – it’s known as a ‘backsack dress’ and there’s a great fall of material that hangs from the shoulders to the floor. The character was great – but the dress was constantly getting stepped on.

M. N.: Getting stepped on is no fun, but that dress looks great!

On the subject of Doctor Who, who’s your favorite Doctor and why is it David Tennant?

Lennard: Thank you. *laughing* David Tennant has a depth of character and energy that is very compelling, but my favorite Doctor is Matt Smith, actually. Although I have cosplayed as Tennant. Smith was my first doctor – I love how youthful and crazy he is.

The best Doctor

M. N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

Lennard: Time – both my own and keeping the characters timelines straight. In my latest book (that’s with betas at the moment) there’s a whole cast of new characters to keep in order.

M. N.: Do you have any tricks or methods you use to keep the timeline on track? Or to keep your timeline on track, for that matter?

Lennard: Once the book is done, I go through and save a copy under each character’s name, and then delete all the scenes that they aren’t in to make sure that their timeline is working. That’s usually after the beta read-through, and in the second stage of editing.

My timeline – that, I’m still working on. I’m a casual librarian, so my writing is fit around my day job. In the drafting stages, I usually get up around 5am to write before the day starts, and again after 8pm if I’ve been working. I have a set amount of words to write by the end of the week, and so long as I meet that, I’m happy.

M. N.: That’s a really good idea! I might steal that when my own casts start to get too out of control.
You mention that your beta read-through happens before your second stage of editing – Does that mean you do this during your second draft, or your third draft?

Lennard: I may have adapted the idea from another author, so steal away! I draft then edit, creating the second draft. The second draft gets beta read, then I edit again. The third draft goes to an editor, and when it gets back to me, I edit again. The fourth draft goes to a proofreader, then I edit for the fifth draft and format the manuscript, then the final proofread before it goes out into the world.

M. N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

Lennard: When I started writing Ronah, there weren’t too many YA fantasy books around with strong female protagonists. That’s no longer the case. I would say that my main character’s lack of a love interest is the most unique part of the book. The series is special because of the world it’s based in – full of magic and possibilities, monsters and heroes, the likes of which hasn’t been seen before.

M. N.: Was the lack of a love interest a deliberate choice from the start? A lot of authors feel like they’ve got to include one whether or not it suits the story they’re telling, so it’s refreshing to see that not everyone has.

Lennard: Yes, and no. In the first cringe-worthy drafts of Ronah, Shari was paired up with different characters, but it felt so forced. She literally doesn’t have the time or energy to attempt to maintain a relationship, and she doesn’t want to either – so why force it? There are other characters who are intrigued by her, or who want to form a connection because of her power, but – spoilers – she’s never going to take them up on it.

M. N.: I’m sure there are plenty of shippers out there sad to hear that, but it’s refreshing to see a character that’s too busy for a relationship who then actually doesn’t get involved in one.

Lennard: Thank you. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so it’s nice to be in control of the story.

M. N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

Lennard: I loved fantasy books growing up, but I ran out of things to read. Sometimes, the stories didn’t quite end the way I wanted them too, or the plot was too predictable, so I wanted to change it, but write my own story at the same time.

M. N.: Do you remember the first book where the ending didn’t sit right with you?

Lennard: Not really. I do remember the first book I was never able to finish – one by Dean Koontz. I love his writing, but one of his books messed with my head and I had to put it down and couldn’t pick it up again.
I was also used to reading a lot of different series, and there’s a book by the name of Aida’s Ghost by Patricia Bernard that’s a stand alone – and I desperately wanted more of the story – of all books, that’s probably the one that made me want to write my own the most.

M. N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

Lennard: Anne McCaffery, Isobell Carmody, R.A. Salvatore and Sara Douglas were my favourite fantasy writers, but I also love Matthew Rielly and Andy McNab. I’ve got a few new favourites now – Jodie Lane, Lynette Noni and Casandra Clare to name a few.

M. N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

Lennard: Rakemyst is book two of the Lissae series, and sees Shari dealing with the fallout of announcing she’s the saviour of their Realm, Lissae. There is, as I mentioned before, a host of new characters, as well as a new Shifting Island to explore and new enemies to defend Lissae from. The biggest lesson for Shari in the book is that people aren’t always what they seem.

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M. N.: A Shifting Island and shifty characters? That sounds like a good combination.

Lennard: I think it is 🙂 There are seven Shifting Islands on Lissae, and they’re all sentient. There are a few shifty characters, one of whom is my favourite. He’s getting his own novella – so stay tuned!

M. N.: I’m curious about your names – Ronah, Rakemyst, Lissae. Do they have a special meaning?

Lennard: Ah, names. My nemesis. Can I share a secret? I’m dyslexic, some of the names in my book are harder to pronounce because my brain jumbled the letters up. Ronah is meant to be the ideal place to live, and I was looking for a name that meant idealistic. The word Lissae is meant to slide off your tongue. Rakemyst is the home of the Ilutri – winged beings, who named their home because the towers rake the clouds. My main character also carries the title of Altoriae, which is a dyslexic version of Latin’s ‘deep sanctuary.’ Fun fact: I studied Ancient Latin for a semester at Uni.

M. N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

Lennard: Oh, my writing process for Rakemyst looked quite different from Ronah. With Ronah, I was very much a ‘pantser’ – plotting by the seat of my pants. That book took 17 years to write, and went through almost as many drafts. With Rakemyst, each chapter was outlined, and there were plot points that carried over from Ronah. I’m about to outline book three as well, which I’m super excited to start on.

M. N.: That’s a long time! Did you decide to outline so that you would be able to write it faster, or for another reason?

Lennard: To be fair, there was a big chunk of time in there that I wasn’t writing. I started outlining because the story kind of poured out of me. I knew where I wanted it to go, and I knew who the main players who be and what they needed to do. It’s a little hard to get 120’000 words out in one go though.

M. N.: Do you have an good idea what’s going to happen in book three, or are you going to find that out when it comes time to outline?

Lennard: *Cue evil laughter* My biggest stumbling block for Rakemyst was figuring out the antagonist. I know exactly with the antagonist is for book three (and four), and the base outline is in my head – it’s just getting it down on paper and making sure the timelines are right.

M. N.: Can you give us any hints what it’s going to look like?

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Lennard: I can say that the antagonist for book three is not what you’d expect, but I can’t say anything else without spoilers, sweetie. Sorry!

M. N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

Lennard: Don’t be afraid to be different. Remember to listen to your gut – and if it feels right, you will remember it.

M. N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

Lennard: I currently have a short story in an anthology, The Evil Inside Us, a novella, Guardian, and Ronah available. If you’re wanting to explore the Realm of Lissae and follow Shari on her adventures, I’d start with Guardian.

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M. N.: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Lennard: I feel really honored to be able to write – to not only put words on the page, but to spin a story that people want to read. It’s corny, but true. Please, don’t ever underestimate how much your support means to a writer. There are so many people that have helped me with my journey. Without them, I wouldn’t be writing today.

M. N.: Thank you for joining us today!

Author Spotlight: Kelly Blanchard

As part of a new ongoing project, we at M. N. Jolley Writing are going to be conducting weekly interviews with authors from around the country to talk about their stories and their writing process. First up, we’ve got Kelly Blanchard, a Sci-Fi/Fantasy Author from Texas!

M. N.: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What genres do you write in?

Kelly: My name is Kelly Blanchard. I live in Texas in the middle of nowhere with my husband (who’s also my co-writer), our Doberman, and our two cats. I write a blend of fantasy and science fiction. Currently I am publishing my series, The Chronicles of Lorrek, but I’ve already written it completely, so while I continue publishing the rest of that series, I am co-writing with my husband another series in my story universe called ‘The Ceralian Gambit’.

M. N.: What is co-writing like? Do you both write chapters, or does one of you do the writing while the other works on plotting and editing?

Kelly: Each of us have certain characters that we write although sometimes we share characters (depends on who all are in the scene). A lot of people have compared it to RolePlaying, which I suppose it may be. I’ve honestly never done any roleplaying, so I wouldn’t know the comparison. Sometimes there are chapters that involve only the characters that one of us write, so we’ll write it solo, but most of the time we co-write, writing our character’s response and then waiting for them to respond as well. It’s addictively fun!

Someday I'll Be Redeemed [Link]
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M. N.: In my experience, roleplaying involves a lot more yelling at plastic cubes and begging the other players not to walk into obvious ambushes. That sounds like a wonderful process, but is it very time consuming to wait for your partner to respond like that?

Kelly: We don’t yell at each other about them walking into an obvious ambush or anything. It’s a bit more planned than that, and we agree on how things should unfold. What we don’t know is what exactly the character will say in response to what our own character says. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s hurtful, which can change the tone of the scene, but usually the scene progresses more or less how we imagined. As for waiting for my co-writer to reply, well, we only manage to write together on his days off (he works as an EMT in the ER of a Level 1 Trauma Center), and it’s a rather swift process when we do get to sit down and write. We tend to average 10k words a day. This is how we managed to finish our second book in less than two weeks!

M. N.: That’s an incredible average! And that’s a cool job for him, too. Do you handle the publishing business and marketing, or is that also a cooperative effort?

Kelly: I handle all the publishing and marketing. He’s far too busy!

M. N.: Do you ever disagree on where the story should go?

Kelly: How the story should go? No. How a scene should unfold, yes, but it’s rare. Once we had this one scene that we had to brainstorm for almost four hours until we came to an agreement because how it unfolded really affected major parts we wanted later on in the scene. We finally figured out a way to make it unfold with the results that we wanted, and it turned out great.

M. N.: Can you tell us what book that scene was in? I always enjoy getting a peek behind the curtain to see what was going on in the authors’ minds while they were working.

Kelly: I can’t say much without spoiling a major scene, but basically my husband’s character had to go in and slaughter a bunch of people. The character didn’t want to do it, but he had no choice because of different factors I can’t go into. We had to discuss how the scene would unfold. I had a specific idea, but my husband had another idea, and so we had to hammer away at both until we found a compromise that allowed the following scenes to unfold the way we needed them to. It worked out quite nicely.

M. N.: What do you feel are the biggest challenges you face when writing?

Kelly: Honestly, it’s not writing that gives me a challenge as it is marketing.

M. N.: On the subject of marketing, do you have any trouble selling a series that’s a fusion of multiple genres?

Kelly: Some people aren’t sure what to think when I say it’s a fusion of the two genres, but they tend to give them a chance without too much issue, and their concerns of the fusion of genres disappear. However, getting the books in front of people to discover it always a unique challenge!

M. N.: What about your books do you feel is the most special or unique?

Kelly: I believe my books are unique in how they are told. They flow like movies. There are subtle but powerful descriptions, strong characters with immersive stories, witty one-liners, and confident pacing. I take the usual fantasy and science fiction tropes, turn them on their heads, and make them different in a way that they stand out.

M. N.: Playing with tropes can be a lot of fun. Is there an especially interesting twist you’ve done on a trope, that you can tell us about without spoiling your book?

Kelly: In fantasy, there are often the idea of elves. However, I’ve created a new race called the ‘kelliphs’ that are roughly based off elves, but they are unique in that, in addition to their longevity, they have multiple lives. So, even if you manage to kill one, they won’t stay dead for very long. They are very difficult to kill permanently (which is actually a major plot point for Book 5). They also have a unique magical ability to change one material into another (like water into fire or stone into bread or flesh into dust, etc). There are shapeshifting dragons that prefer the shape of a human, and they are not evil and don’t hoard things. They also have magical abilities that are unique to them such as mind magic and magicking (teleporting with magic) to other worlds, and so forth. They usually stay within their own kingdom rather than trying to destroy the surrounding lands, but they tend to aid the humans actually as they are the only other race that has longevity–almost to the point of immortality. And then there’s the whole mix of magic and science too–that’s a lot of fun.

M. N.: Was there any particular book or author that made you want to write?

Kelly: Not really. Stories have been a part of my life since before I could even write.

M. N.: Do you have a favorite book, or a list of favorites?

Kelly: As a rule, I don’t do favorites. I hold Lewis and Tolkien in high regard, and I am friends with a ton of fellow authors, but I have no absolute favorite.

M. N.: Tell me about your current Work In Progress.

Kelly: My husband and I literally just finished the second book of our series the other day, and we are now plotting the next book and will begin writing it soon. Even though this series is in the same story universe as my other series, The Chronicles of Lorrek, it does not have the science fiction elements but is mainly fantasy. It all began with the assassinations of the king and prince of Ceraleo. For too long, Princess Ensula has been a pawn in a political game–being sent away to a strange land for her own safety and betrothed to a foreign prince–but no longer. Now, she returns to introduce a new element to the game and show those in power that she is not a pawn in this long game but rather a queen.

M. N.: I really enjoy stories that blend sci-fi and fantasy elements together. How does that work in your setting?

Kelly: It’s hard to explain how it works. It just does. On this one continent, most of the kingdoms are more medieval and have magic whereas another kingdom has highly advanced technology. Later in the series, there is even space travel, but it all really works together in a way that I am pleased with.

M. N.: Is the technology magic-based, then?

Kelly: On the surface, no. There was only one land that had magic-based technology, but what happened to that land is a long story. But when you pull back the curtain, you realize mathematics, equations, and calculations are a form of magic–just viewed, understood, and applied differently.

M. N.: Since this new book doesn’t have the sci-fi elements, is that because of where it’s set, or because of when it takes place?

Kelly: It’s because it’s on a different continent than the Chronicles of Lorrek. They actually have a different system of magic, and the LORE of magic is so much fun to explore, and it is greatly explored in the series ‘The Ceralian Gambit’. It shows how all different systems of magic and even math and science and really any inspiration all stem from the same magic realm. It’s so interesting.

M. N.: What does your writing process look like? Do you outline, do you invent the plot as you go, or do things land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum?

Kelly: Usually I plot out the most major parts of the story and then wing it from there.

M. N.: Have you ever been surprised by something that happened in your own story?

Kelly: Oh yes! Off the top of my head, I can’t think of an instance right now, but things have surprised me. It’s fantastic.

M. N.: If you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you first started writing, what would it be?

Kelly: I would tell my younger self that I might never get a mentor, but that’s okay. I’ll find a lot of support online in the writing community.

They Must Be Stopped [Link]
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M. N.: Are there any specific people or groups you’d like to give a shout-out to?

Kelly: Well, there are J. E. Mueller, A. R Harlow, Nan Sampson, Megan Hay, Allen Cheesman, Katie Davis, Annie Twitchell, Jessica Kirkpatrick, Jacquie Tuck, J. R. O’Bryant, Daryl J. Ball, Sarah Elisabeth, and so many more! All of these are writers (not all published yet), and most are superfans of mine. Some are even reading the rough draft of the books my husband and I are writing because they are so enthusiastic about the story universe we’ve created. It is so much fun! So much support and encouragement.

M. N.: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve written, or a recommended “starting point” for people looking to get into your work?

Kelly: I’d recommend the first book of my Chronicles of Lorrek series, ‘Someday I’ll Be Redeemed’, as a starting point. After my husband and I complete and publish The Ceralian Gambit, the first book of that series would be a good starting point since it takes place a few decades prior to the Chronicles of Lorrek.

M. N.: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Kelly: Not that I can think of. Thanks so much for interviewing me! It is a wonderful opportunity!

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