What Stace had to say on Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
KEEPING IT CLOSE Part II

Eek! I forgot yesterday to tell you guys, you know, what the story is called. The title is KEEPING IT CLOSE.

Part I is here.

Longer part today; I wanted to find a good place to stop without it being extra short.

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She was just about to get into her car when she saw the man across the street. He wasn’t hard to see; it was still light out and he was standing on the porch watching her. Watching her like he knew something, like he had something to say.

Might as well talk to him. Neighbor interviews were usually part of the investigation anyway. She put her keys back into her pocket and crossed the street.

He straightened up as she approached. Yeah, ready to talk. He was about her age—so about Maria Randall’s age, then, maybe a year or so older than Chess—and attractive in a bland clean-cut way. Medium build, blue t-shirt and jeans, stupid-looking sandals on his feet like he was some sort of surfer dude or something instead of a bank clerk or customer service rep or whatever it was he probably did.

“You’re from the Church?” he said when she reached the bottom of the short flight of stairs leading to the porch. His house was bigger than the Randall home, and nicer. Fresh wood indicated recent repairs. “Looking into the Randalls and their supposed haunting?”

She nodded. Address “supposed” or not yet? Not yet. “You know them?”

“All my life. I grew up here.”

“So you know them pretty well.”

A dark flash across his even features, quickly controlled. Hmm. Anger, or sadness? Chess couldn’t tell. Maybe it was both. “Yeah. I know them pretty well. I did, anyway, until he kicked Maria out of the house.”

The Randalls hadn’t said Maria was kicked out. Not a surprise, though. Hell, it was possible Mrs. Randall didn’t even know. “So you and Maria were friends?”

“You could say that.” He sipped his beer; a time-waster. “She was my girlfriend. I still hear from her sometimes. She writes. I went up to visit her a few years ago but she has her own life up there. Job, boyfriends.” Another little face-twist. Looked like Mr. Neighbor was the jealous type.

She ignored that, too. For the moment. “And you still live here?”

“I’m here to see my parents. They told me about the Randalls claiming a haunting. The whole neighborhood knows.”

“That they’re claiming it, or that they’re faking it?”

He smiled an oozy kind of smile, while his gaze on her face evaluated its effect. Chess readjusted her earlier assumption about his work. He had salesman written all over him. “They’re faking it. Old man Randall there’s always got an angle, you know what I mean? He’s one of those guys. Claiming injuries to get paid time off work or free stuff from stores, that kind of thing. A scammer.”

Mr. Neighbor would probably know all about that kind of thing, too. The conversation felt manipulative; Chess had the sense that he was feeling her out, looking for a way to convince her of something. Kind of weird coming from somebody not actively involved in the case, but not unusual. Besides, she had no real idea how involved or not he was. He could be in on it. He could just hate Mr. Randall for taking away his special girlfriend toy.

Whatever his motive was, it definitely existed. Neighbors weren’t usually so eager to get involved, especially not in areas of town like this, but there were always people who wanted to feel important or like they knew the real secrets or whatever. He could be one of them. He looked like one of them; the kind of guy who’d started writing his autobiography when he was twelve and was still convinced that one day there would be public demand for it.

She pulled out her notebook. Most people clammed up when she started writing things down. It reminded them that she was there officially, that there was an investigation and a record. She had a sneaking suspicion that he wouldn’t. “What’s your name?”

“Pete. Pete Malina. M-A-L-I-N-A.” Oh, yeah, definitely somebody who wanted to insert himself into her case. “Mrs. Randall’s a nice lady, but she’s totally cowed by him. She does whatever he says. She’d go along with his plan, absolutely.”

“You seem awfully convinced this is a fake haunting,” she said.

He didn’t even blush. “Why wouldn’t it be? What about them would attract a ghost? Besides, I know him. I know what kind of man he is.”

“What kind is that?”

“The kind who only cares about himself. I bet Mrs. Randall believes it. He’d scare her just for fun.”

Chess squinted at him. Partly because the sun was bothering her and she didn’t want to go digging for her sunglasses with him watching, and partly because that statement didn’t exactly jibe with the impression she’d gotten. Mike Randall was kind of a dickhead, but he’d seemed to love his wife; he’d been dismissive of his daughter but not of her.

Something to think about. Maybe Dana would have more for her about their relationship, too. “Okay, thanks,” she said. “What about your parents? Have they seen anything? Can you think of any other neighbors who might know something?”

“Just about everybody on this street might. You could talk to my mom. She’s out shopping right now. You know, I come to visit, I give her some cash.” He smiled like this was supposed to be impressive. Like it was going to make Chess think he was some great guy or something. She could see a calculator clicking away in his head, looking for the right equation to charm her. He’d never find it. “She’ll be around tomorrow, probably.”

“Thanks,” Chess said again. Then, remembering, “Hey, do you have a number for Maria? Or any way to get in touch?”

“I do, yeah. She doesn’t really answer her phone but you could try leaving a message. Hang on.”

He disappeared into the house, leaving Chess to stand alone in the fierce sunset light. A glance around the neighborhood showed her a few other people loitering in their yards, pretending to pull weeds or enjoy the sunshine and conspicuously not-watching her. Shit, she’d really wanted to head home instead of interviewing more neighbors; there was a chance she could see Terrible before she headed to Dana’s place.

But they were all standing there waiting, and if she took off… It would look like the Church didn’t care, and that was not an impression she was ever supposed to give. Even if she wanted to, which she didn’t.

Pete came back and held out a scrap of notebook paper to her. He didn’t come down the stairs, so she had to climb up. Jerk.

He didn’t let go of the paper when she took it, holding it between his fingers and holding her eyes with his. “They don’t have a ghost,” he said. “Trust me.”

As if she would.

Chapter Two

She finally got back to Church a couple of hours later, just as rush hour was dying down and the horizon was pale with the setting sun. Too bad the arrival of evening didn’t come with an accompanying drop in temperature; by the time she’d walked across the grounds to get to Dana’s cottage in the employee complex she was sweating.

Dana answered the door with a bright smile on her face, and hauled Chess into the house on a tide of speech. “Gosh, it’s been so long since you’ve been here, hasn’t it? How long has it been? How did things go at the Randall place? Just sit down, do you want a drink? Dinner’s in the oven, it’ll be ready soon.”

With anyone else Chess might have thought nervousness lay behind the chatter, but Dana was a talker anyway. Although…she did seem a little nervous, didn’t she? Or at least jumpy, trying too hard. She couldn’t be that excited about Chess coming over—and she certainly couldn’t be so anxious that Chess was going to enjoy the visit or something, they were just going to talk about work—so what was going on?

“I hope you like fish,” Dana was saying, as she bustled around the kitchen. All of the single-employee Church cottages—as opposed to those for married employees or some of the higher-up Elders—followed one of two floorplans: living room on the left, kitchen on the right, bedroom in the back; or the mirror image of that. Dana’s was the mirror image, with the living room on the right. From Chess’s position on the ivory flowered couch she could see into the ivory-cranberry-and-pale-blue kitchen and the ivory-cranberry-and-navy-blue bedroom. It was all very tidy. Beneath the fragrances of dinner cooking were potpourri and air freshener, the scents of things to hide. “I thought, hey, you haven’t been over for dinner, so I’d do something nice.”

“You didn’t have to.” She wished Dana hadn’t, actually. The Nips she’d taken after leaving the Randalls’ neighborhood were kicking in, and the last thing she wanted was food. Especially not when that food would come with a large helping of I-made-this-special-for-you guilt. Dana probably wouldn’t say that, but that wouldn’t make Chess feel any less guilty if she refused to eat it. “I thought we were just going to have a snack or something.”

“I like to eat early.” Dana pulled a bottle of white wine out of the fridge and set it on the counter. Would it be rude to ask for beer instead? Probably. Damn. “You know, I’m usually in bed by ten, so if I eat too late I don’t sleep well, which makes it hard to get up at six for my workout, so…”

“Sure,” Chess said, like she totally had the same issues. Bed by ten? Up at six for a workout? It sounded horrible. And pointless. Who needed exercise when speed was available?

Dana smiled at her, like she honestly believed Chess did relate. Her co-workers did not know her at all, did they.

But then, she didn’t really want them to, so that worked out okay.

“How did things go at the Randalls? What did you think of them? Helen—my parents’ girl, you know—she says Sue Randall is terrified.” Crystal chimed as Dana pulled two wineglasses out of a cabinet and set them beside the bottle. Gold rims reflected the room in narrow miniature; that image moved when Dana moved, a visual distraction Chess didn’t need. “She’s known Sue for a long time. And she knows how hard we work. She definitely doesn’t think Sue would fake it, or is even capable of it.”

“What about Mike Randall?”

Dana bobbed her head back and forth, a maybe-maybe gesture. “I don’t think so, though, I mean, Helen doesn’t. He wouldn’t scare Sue like that. He’s kind of a mean bastard but he’s pretty devoted to her.”

Which was the impression Chess had gotten. It was also what most of the neighbors had said: Mike Randall was a prick who loved his wife. “But would he think it was worth scaring her if it meant she could have a retirement fund or a new house or something?”

Dana shrugged. “What did you think?”

Chess avoided that question. Not because she didn’t trust Dana—well, she trusted Dana when it came to work-related discussions—but because she didn’t feel ready to answer it. “What about their daughter? Did Helen say anything about her?”

“Maria? I know Helen remembers when she moved away, because Sue was really upset. And she’s seen a few of Maria’s letters and, you know, gotten updates on what she’s doing and stuff.” Dana shook her head, her eyes wide. “I don’t think she’d come back here, though. And I can’t see her faking up a haunting to get money for her parents. She hasn’t even mentioned Mike in any of her letters that Helen knows of.”

Her letters. Chess hadn’t asked for those, or for copies of them; unless it became relevant later, she preferred not to. And odds were high that they wouldn’t be relevant. “How does Helen know them?”

“They were kids together. They went to the same church. Before Haunted Week, I mean.” Dana’s voice took on a slightly nervous tinge. “Helen doesn’t believe anymore or anything. My parents wouldn’t have hired her if she did.”

“Of course.” Chess managed to keep the impatience off her face. Dana was always so eager—so desperate—to please, so worried people would take her the wrong way. Unlike Chess, who assumed right from the start that they would. She avoided a lot of pain that way.

She avoided more of it with her pills, and didn’t she wish she could take a couple more at that moment. Sitting in that cottage made her uncomfortable, the way all of the cottages did. It wasn’t the small size or the interior decoration that looked as if it’d been done by a woman thirty years older than Dana. It certainly wasn’t that they were on Church grounds.

It was the sameness of them all, the feeling that she wasn’t a person but was instead a doll, something off an assembly line sitting inside a plastic board-game house from a larger assembly line, set into a square of artificial turf made on a larger one again. No individuality, just a few superficial differences in hair or eye or skin color bestowed by the stroke of a mechanical paintbrush; wind up the tiny humans and watch them walk in mindless circles until they ran out of power. And there was no meaning in any of it, no purpose.

Thinking of it, feeling the ivory walls with their wallpaper borders closing in around her, made her itch. She wanted to take a couple of Cepts but there wasn’t much point when she was about to force some food down her throat. She wanted to go home. She liked Dana okay, she really did, but fuck, how she wanted to go home. She wanted Terrible, and their big gray bed, and to be where she belonged.

Dana carried the glasses and the wine bottle over to the cloth-covered round table by the window. “Of course, Helen says Sue is especially scared because a few years ago there was a haunting at her old job.”

The file hadn’t mentioned that. Had it? No, she was pretty sure it hadn’t. “What? Which old job?”

“Um… Helen didn’t say. I’m not sure she remembers. Sue quit when the haunting stuff started, I think. She wasn’t there long.”

Which might explain why nothing came up in Chess’s search, or why it wasn’t in the file. She pulled her notebook out of her bag and scribbled a reminder to ask Mrs. Randall about that, and to double-check her employment history against the place files. “Do you know how long ago it was?”

Dana pulled a ceramic dish out of the oven. Steam billowed from the open oven doorway and off of whatever it was bubbling in the dish, which actually smelled pretty good. “It has to have been at least ten years, because Helen said Maria encouraged Sue to leave that job when the haunting started, and Maria left about ten years ago.”

“Did Mr. Randall want her to quit?”

“He’s never liked her working.” Dana carried the food to the table, tipping her head to invite Chess to come sit down. “I guess he complains about it a lot. So he was happy for any reason for her to leave a job.”

Now that was more helpful. If faking a haunting—or, well, apparently the one at Sue Randall’s job hadn’t been faked, but there was no confirmation of that yet. If the threat of a haunting had been enough to get Sue to quit a job…what might Mr. Randall want her to do now, that he decided to pull out the big scary ghost-gun to convince her?

A couple of the neighbors had mentioned Mr. Randall seemed to want to move. One of them told her Sue seemed to love her latest job and to be pretty dedicated to it. Maybe that was Mr. Randall’s motive?
All things to consider. She was starting to feel a bit better about the case; it still didn’t seem like a winner or anything, but at least she had some leads, something to go on. And she owed that to Dana. Guilt over her earlier resentment made her shift in her seat. “Hey…thanks for this. The information, I mean. And the food. I really appreciate it.”

“Happy to help.” Dana sat down herself and poured them both wine, then started serving the food with a silver spatula. Something in the way she did it, in the pensive frown on her face, rang warning bells in Chess’s head. Dana looked as if she was trying to figure out how to say something, and as if it was something she didn’t think Chess was going to like hearing. “You know, Chessie, I’m always happy to help you. I mean, I want to. Because I care.”

Uh-oh. Chess grabbed her wineglass, which Dana had filled a ladylike third of the way, and poured that ladylike third down her throat. Ugh. She really was not a fan of wine.

But she was a fan of alcohol—among other things—and the wine was there, so she’d take it. “Thanks. This really is helpful. Hey, seen any good movies—”

“Which is why I hope you know that I’m just trying to help you when I say I’m worried about you. We’re all worried about you.”

…on to Part 3!





What Stace had to say on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013
KEEPING IT CLOSE Part I

Okay, here we go!

I’d originally planned to post this a chapter at a time, but that makes for some awfully long blog posts. So I’m breaking it up a little bit more. I’m quite nervous about this, since I’ve never done anything like this before–a whole story on the blog, a “Pay what you want if you want” story, all of that–so I really hope you guys enjoy it!

Chapter One

Elder Griffin pulled a slim, pale blue folder from his drawer and set it on the edge of the desk. “This came in four days ago.”

Chess guessed that meant he was giving it to her. She reached for it carefully, waiting for him to stop her. She almost wished he would stop her. Wished he would say something, do something, so she could challenge him on it. If she could just make him talk to her…

What difference would it make? If she got him talking he’d just tell her things she didn’t want to hear, and there was no point in that. She knew what he’d say: That he was disappointed in her, that he no longer trusted her, that the only reason she still had a job was because to report what she’d done would be to implicate himself—and to sentence her to death in the bargain.

Every time he spoke she heard that, anyway. It was clear in the impersonal tone of his voice. It was obvious from the way he didn’t look her in the eyes and the falseness of the smiles he gave her only when other people were around.

And it hurt. Fuck, it hurt, just as much as it had the day three weeks before when she’d confessed everything and lost him forever.

She picked up the file and skimmed the first page, the form filled out by the homeowners themselves. Mr. and Mrs. Mike and Sue Randall, of Cross Town. No actual ghost seen yet, but they had—they said they had—several of the markers that indicated one was trying to materialize. Cold spots. Objects being moved. Sounds like chains being rattled or someone crying in another room. Smears of ectoplasm on the walls.

The Randalls reported a few other, more unusual things too, things that didn’t bode well. Scratch marks in paint, broken glass and mirrors, locked doors opened and left open. None of that encouraged, just like the admittedly unconfirmed idea that Elder Griffin had deliberately given her a shit case that wouldn’t earn her a bonus didn’t encourage.

But all of those things could be faked, too. Most of them were things the average person didn’t know about or think of, but that didn’t mean the Randalls weren’t just creative with their fake haunting. She’d find out, anyway.

She looked up at Elder Griffin, who had his attention turned to the silent TV mounted on the wall. It was just moving pictures, people mouthing words he couldn’t hear or understand, and he apparently thought it was still more worth paying attention to than she was. “Okay. I guess I’ll get started, then.”

A curt nod. Then, as she tucked the file into her bag and started to stand, he said, “Cesaria.”

“Yeah? I mean, yes, sir?”

Six months ago—one month ago—he would have smiled at that. Now his blue eyes remained impassive, his face blank. “How is Terrible?”

A split second where she thought he was talking to her, maybe starting to think of forgiving her, before she realized what he meant. He didn’t mean “How was Terrible” as in, “How’s that man of yours doing, why don’t we all get together?” or “Why don’t we start talking about things again?” He meant “Has Terrible been passing out in the presence of dark magic or possessed by any ghosts lately?” But of course, he couldn’t outright say that because of where they were, and he wasn’t about to seek her out elsewhere or call her to ask, so he had to be oblique.

“He’s fine,” she said. “Everything’s fine.”

That was Truth, when it came to Terrible. Everything was fine. Better than fine. Despite sitting in Elder Griffin’s office in the middle of one of the awkward, stilted, and cold discussions she hated getting used to having with him, thinking of Terrible made the weight in her chest lighten. Not as much as it would when she managed to get a couple of Cepts down her throat, but almost.

Elder Griffin’s fair hair caught the light as he dipped his head. Even then he wouldn’t give her his eyes for a second. “Good. Let us hope that continues to be the case.”

Well, that sounded optimistic. But she couldn’t exactly argue with it, could she? And she wasn’t about to call him on it. Even if she wanted to, she couldn’t. He was, essentially, her boss. No, he couldn’t turn her in for her crime—the illegal sigil she’d carved on Terrible’s chest to save his life after he’d been shot, binding his soul to his body, making him more vulnerable to possession—because to do so would be to condemn himself as well. But he could get her fired, or demoted. He could assign her a bunch of shit cases like the one in her bag, and then report to the Elder Triumvirate and the Grand Elder that she was no longer effective in her job.

The thought made her sick. “Thanks,” she said, although she had no idea what she was saying it for, and stood up. “I’ll just, I guess I’ll get started.”

* * *

Filing cabinets stretched along the entire back wall of the library, filing cabinets full of history and horror and lies. Every address the Church of Real Truth had ever investigated had a file in there, and the Debunkers even remembered to update them most of the time. Well, over half the time.

The Randalls lived at 24751 Harrel Street, in Cross Town. The south end of Cross Town, not too far out of Downside. Not wealthy people, then. Money troubles were likely. If they were close to Downside it was possible they’d have some resentment against the Church, too, which meant this would probably not be a fun initial visit. Well, more not-fun than usual, because they weren’t exactly a laugh riot anyway.

No file on the Randall house. Okay. That was good news, because places where a haunting had been previously confirmed were more vulnerable in future. While she was there she went ahead and checked the other addresses on the street. All clean.

The computer didn’t give her much that wasn’t already in the file Elder Griffin had given her. Mr. Randall was a short-order cook at a Pancake Hut. Mrs. Randall had a spotty employment history but had been a secretary at a printing company for the last five months. Not a lot of financial security in that household, then, which meant they had reason to fake a haunting. The smallest settlement Chess had ever heard of for a confirmed haunting was thirty-five thousand dollars, and thirty-five k could go a long way.

At least, it could go a long way for people who didn’t spend big chunks of their income on drugs. People not her, in other words.

“Chessie! There you are.” Dana Wright—one of the other Debunkers—was heading for her at a purposeful clip, an eager grin on her face. Speaking of people who didn’t spend big chunks of their income on drugs. Dana’s jewelry caught the overhead lights as she walked; her clothes were so obviously expensive that even Chess could see it, and her freshly colored and styled hair made Chess think of the fact that her own black-dyed hair had reddish-blond roots showing and her Bettie Page bangs needed a trim.

“Elder Griffin said you might be here,” Dana continued once she’d arrived at the table. “I was wondering what you’re doing tonight?”

Chess cast about for something to say. Anything at all. Unfortunately, she had nothing. Terrible was working on something with Bump that had kept him out every evening that week, which meant he had a lot to catch up on that night so probably wouldn’t be home until late. Which meant she’d either be home by herself, or— “I have a new case, so…”

“The Randalls, right? In Cross Town? Elder Griffin said he gave it to you.”

Chess focused on making her smile and nod look natural, on not showing how much the question stabbed. Elder Griffin was telling Dana about her case? He’d barely tolerated Dana before; well, “barely tolerated” was a little harsh, maybe, but she hadn’t been his favorite Debunker or anything.

That had been Chess. Not anymore.

“My parents’ maid knows the Randalls,” Dana said. “So I might have some information that could help you. I thought, maybe you can come over, and we’ll have something to eat and I can tell you about it. Say, seven o’clock?”

Well, that made her feel a little better. It explained why Dana knew about the case, at least, and since it was way, way against policy to assign Debunkers cases where they knew any of the people involved, it explained why neither Dana or Doyle had been given it. Since Doyle and Dana were—much to Chess’s surprise—still together.

She thought for a second. Depending on how her initial visit went, she might be heading for the Randall house to do some middle-of-the-night investigating while they were asleep, but she wouldn’t be doing it at seven. She’d been kind of looking forward to having the apartment to herself for a few hours, but that wasn’t that important. And how long could Dana keep her?

Besides, the more information she got, the faster she could get the case finished and move on to a better one. So she nodded again and forced a smile. “Sure. That sounds great, thanks.”

* * *

Mrs. Randall started crying the second Chess arrived, and ten minutes later she was still sniffling and sobbing. All that misery, on top of the meeting with Elder Griffin and the evening she was going to have to spend with Dana and the sinking, stronger-by-the-second certainty that she was not going to be getting a bonus on this case and, of course, all the other shit that lived in her head… Thank fuck she’d downed a couple of pills right after she left the Church, because if she hadn’t had a few Cepts in her system she would have been clawing the walls to get out of there.

Not that she blamed Mrs. Randall. She didn’t, at all. Everyone joked about how they wished they could have a ghost in their house so they could get a settlement, but nobody actually wanted it to happen, for real. An entity that could walk through walls and wield weapons, whose only desire was to kill as many living things as it could, and which was uninjurable, unkillable, and didn’t feel pain? Not the best houseguest, even if millions of them hadn’t risen from the grave and slaughtered most of the world’s population twenty-three years—almost twenty-four, now—before. Most people were terrified at the idea that a ghost could be trying to set up camp in their homes.

So no, she didn’t blame Mrs. Randall. She just didn’t feel up to dealing with tears, and luckily she had the slow peaceful slide of narcotics in her bloodstream so she didn’t have to. She could close herself off to the misery emanating from Mrs. Randall, and focus on work.

She pulled her Church-issued Spectrometer from her bag and switched it on. It came to life with a shrill beep, which didn’t bode well for her bank account; she ignored the sound. Best to pretend that was totally normal. No matter how sinking that feeling in her gut was, this could still be a scam, and her job was still to prove that it was. “Maybe you could show me the rest of the house now?”

Mr. and Mrs. Randall nodded and stood up. They moved like people thirty years older than they actually were, like their fear and unhappiness had settled into their joints and created a constant ache there.

They headed for the kitchen first, a narrow galley-style space with fading olive-green paint, white cabinets, and a dingy linoleum floor. A dingy, scratched-up floor. “Do you have a dog?”

Mr. Randall shook his head. “We used to. A long time ago. Maria took him with her when she left.” His tone changed when he said “Maria,” bitterness and anger creeping in. Hmm.

“Maria is your daughter?” She knew the answer already, of course, but it was always better to pretend she didn’t have much information, that she didn’t know anything of importance. Easier to catch people in lies that way; easier to get them to talk if they thought she was just sort of an empty-headed rube.

“She moved to New York ten years ago.” The words came out clipped, pushed through gritted teeth. Clearly this wasn’t a subject Mr. Randall wanted to discuss.

Which meant she should push it a little. “When was the last time she came for a visit?”

“She hasn’t been back to visit. She’s not welcome here.”

“She writes sometimes,” Mrs. Randall said, glancing from her husband to Chess and back again. “She lets us know where she is. She sent money once or twice.”

“Which I sent back,” Mr. Randall said. “Dirty money.”

“Mike,” Mrs. Randall said, in her tear-choked voice, “that’s not true.”

Mr. Randall glared at his wife. “You know what she’s doing up there.”

“She’s an administrative assistant.”

“For a pimp,” Mr. Randall said.

“For her boyfriend.” Mrs. Randall turned teary eyes to Chess. “He’s a businessman.”

Mr. Randall made a dismissive noise. Chess ignored it. A boyfriend would be another name to check out, and she could verify which of the Randalls were right that way. Mrs. Randall wouldn’t be the first woman to believe her child’s lies, but Mr. Randall wouldn’t be the first man to think the worst of a child, either. “What’s his name? The boyfriend.”

“Jeff. Jeff Martin.”

“Mason,” Mr. Randall said. “Jeff Mason.”

“No, I know she said Martin—”

Best to nip the bickering in the bud. The house, with its air of loneliness and suspended time, the anger sparking off Mr. Randall and the hopelessness of his wife, had already started to oppress her, and she hadn’t even seen the rest of it yet. She scrawled down both Martin and Mason, and said, “We should probably get to the rest of the house, okay? Especially where any particular incidents took place.”

The Spectrometer beeped steadily throughout the house: a short hallway, a bathroom with cracked dusty-pink tiles, a non-bedroom dominated by a sewing machine and piles of fabric, and the pale green master bedroom with heavy Art Deco furniture. All normal. She saw the paint scratches and empty frame from the broken mirror, and got more beeps, but that wasn’t such a huge deal. The Spectro picked up on ghost energy, yeah, but high emotions or magic or, hell, microwaves or old wiring could set it off, too. It was just a tool.

Her skin, though… That was not just a tool. That was closer to a guarantee, and the tingling of her tattoos, the way they itched as the magic-infused ink and the power of the symbols reacted to the energy in the air, was the sort of guarantee she didn’t want when she was on a case. That itching and tingling said ghost. Or at least ghost magic, black magic, and she really didn’t want to get involved in that. Not again. Not when she was still recovering from the last mess, the ghost-infused speed that had turned half of Downside into magic-controlled zombies.

They entered the last bedroom—Maria’s room, it had to be, from the outdated movie posters and pictures torn from magazines, the general air of neglect and disuse. The Spectro went crazy, erratic beeps echoing in the air, like the sound her burning, itching skin would make if it could scream aloud. Fuck.

But it was still too early, and too little evidence, for her to just give up. The Randalls seemed like an average couple, unhappy but not thieves or cheats. Lots of scumbags did. Nobody was innocent, really; Chess had learned that lesson many times. And everywhere she looked in that house and everything they said provided more reasons why they might fake a haunting. They were poor. They were estranged from their daughter and seemed unhappy—or too happy, in his case—about that. They lived about six blocks from the outer edge of Downside, and that distance was growing shorter every year.

And really, they were people, and most people didn’t need a reason or an excuse to lie or cheat or steal or fuck over other people. They did it because they were selfish and self-important, because they wanted things and didn’t want to wait for them. Humanity was a seething pit of snakes and snake-charmers, waiting to bite or order others to bite.

Not that she was any better. She definitely wasn’t.

Which was why she wasn’t counting this case as a loss yet. Everything could be faked, and her job was to prove that, and she was good at that job. Very good at it. Even with the number of weird-ass cases she’d had and her little ghost-threesome-soft-spot a little while before, she was one of the best—if not the best—Debunkers in Triumph City.

So she wandered around Maria Randall’s sad teenage bedroom, scanning the books and stuffed animals and make-up but really looking for wires and plugs, projector lenses and speakers and, especially, spellbags or gris-gris or totems, anything magical that could set off her tattoos and make the Spectrometer react.

Nothing jumped out at her—literally or figuratively—but she saw a few things she’d look at more closely later, when she broke in with her Hand of Glory and really searched the place.

“Okay,” she said, turning to the Randalls. They both stood in the doorway, close together but not touching. “I think I have everything I need for now. I’ll be in touch again soon.”

…on to Part 2!





What Stace had to say on Monday, December 9th, 2013
Death and Eggnog

Okay. I’m going to start posting the story tomorrow (a couple of last-minute things I needed to do, and because I’m flaky I want to give it a better title so am busily trying to come up with one) but I had to share this.

First, my Faerie turned nine yesterday, which is just insane, and she had a slumber party on Saturday to celebrate. The girls (she had four guests, so with her and Princess we had six girls in the house) decided they wanted to play Beatles Rock Band. They pretty much sucked at it, hee, but honestly, that game isn’t as easy as it looks. Anyway. The best moment, I think, was when the hubs decided to give them a real challenge and have them try out “Helter Skelter.” Imagine, if you will, four nine-year-old girls singing “helter Skelter.” Now imagine that those nine-year-old girls do not know the song, and are not (of course) drunk–which, let’s be honest, the only way one can really get into the full non-shy spirit in which Rock Band is supposed to be played–so are basically just tunelessly chanting “Helter Skelter” in a weird little-girl monotone. In unison. It was honestly like we’d invited the Manson Family over for popcorn and cookie cake.

Anyway. Last night the hubs and I decided to start our Christmas Movie watching, and we started with LETHAL WEAPON. The Christmas elements in this one are pretty thin, really; a couple of vague references and some lights and a tree, but still.

Now, I remember when this movie came out, and what a huge deal it was. I remember watching it quite a few times and thinking it was great. And to be fair, it is still a decent movie–once you get past some of the ridiculous dialogue and contrivances and such. But you know, we were having fun with the ridiculous dialogue, and sort of laughing and poking gentle fun as we went along.

Then we got to the death of Michael Hunsaker. Some of you may recall that the movie’s plot spins directly from the death of Michael’s daughter Amanda, who was high and so distraught by the fact that she had apparently misplaced her bra and so was forced to be the film’s 80′s Gratuitous Boob-Baring Girl that she leapt from a hotel window and died. Michael was in the ‘Nam with Roger Murtaugh, which is how Riggs & Murtaugh got involved in all of this, and there you go.

Anyway. Here we have Amanda’s funeral (or memorial service). It takes place, we suppose, at the Hunsaker house, on a cliff overlooking the ocean:

See all those mourners there, behind Mel Gibson being stoic and manly? Because it's a funeral/memorial service.

While the mourners listen to speeches about how Amanda’s breasts were taken from the filmgoers long before their time, Roger and Michael have a Serious Talk about the sneaky Vietnam-vets-smuggling-heroin plot that led to Amanda’s death.

"This is too big for you to stop, Roger!"

In fact, Michael is so upset–which we can imagine, since his daughter is dead, and he’s having to admit to the police that she’s dead partly because of him and his heroin-smuggling business–that he has to turn away and cover his eyes. Because of all the sorrow.

Note: the mourners are still out there, because this is a memorial service and thus a sad occasion.

We feel very sorry for Michael. What a rough time he’s having. And now he’s having to admit not only his involvement in crime, but the fact that he’s terrified his other daughter will be killed or even that he himself may be killed, and his certainty that the police cannot stop it because the Bad Guys have trained mercenaries who have forgotten more ways to cause pain that you or I will ever know. He’s looking at his expensive study and his spiffy stereo and his lovely well-tailored suit, and realizing none of it was worth the loss of his child and his soul.

I’m amazed he’s not drunk, in fact. I imagine a guy could use a drink when his daughter is being buried. And Michael Hunsaker is no exception. He’s thirsty. Thirsty from all the talking and dehydrated from all the crying we assume he’s done and, well, just thirsty. So we totally see why he’d want something refreshing to drink. Good thing he keeps eight cartons of eggnog right there by his desk!

Mmmm, eggnog!

Oh, wait, sorry. That’s not just any eggnog. That’s “Party Nogg.” Because hey, it’s not just a funeral, it’s a party! If there’s anything that will make the memorial service for a twenty-two-year-old girl more festive, it’s Party Nogg. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t keep multiple cartons of Nogg in their offices, right there in easy reach for whenever the Nogg mood strikes.

And you know how Nogg is especially good, right? Not just straight out of the carton, the way the classy folk drink it. But straight out of the carton kept right in front of the ocean-facing window, where it has plenty of time to absorb the warmth from the setting sun’s rays every evening. Now that’s good Nogg! I like mine with extra botulism, how about you? And when it curdles, well, it’s not just a drink, it’s a meal.

Delicious!

I mean, really. He keeps eight cartons of eggnog in his office? By the window? It’s his daughter’s funeral and not only is eggnog (Sorry, “Party Nogg”) the first thing he reaches for when he’s thirsty, he just drinks it right out of the carton?

What kind of funeral is this? Is it the kind where as soon as the ashes are blown away by the wind, the guests change their clothes from black to green-n-red and the DJ starts spinning those dance hits? (Tip for the 80′s DJ at this particular funeral-cum-Christmas-party: Do not play Murray Head’s “One Night in Bangkok.” I suspect it will not go over well.) Is the Party Nogg there to add a much-needed touch of holiday cheer to a young woman’s funeral service? To remind them that even in death, eggnog is delicious? I mean, I know I personally have often sat at funerals thinking, “Man, I could really go for some eggnog right now,” or “What this funeral needs is some Party Nogg to get everyone in the mood,” but I thought that was weird of me. I guess not? Is this one of those funerals where they celebrate the soul passing into another realm/being with [Deity of your choice] and everyone is supposed to be really happy for the dead person, and envious of them because now they get to float silently in the ether without a body or whatever while we living people are stuck here drinking and eating delicious food and having sex and other things that suck about being alive?

Are the guests all eggnog addicts (seriously, look at that first image. There are maybe twenty people there. Do you really need four gallons of eggnog for that many people)?

Who can drink that much fucking eggnog?

Perhaps Michael Hunsaker could, but we’ll never know, because out of nowhere, Gary Busey appears in one of those cool movie helicopters that is basically silent until it ascends over the cliffs, and shoots Hunsaker in the chest. But not just in the chest. In a hugely shocking cinematic touch that is in no way the whole reason why we have a man guzzling eggnog out of the carton while burying his child, Hunsaker is shot through the Nogg.

Couldn't Mr. Joshua have waited until I polished off all this Nogg? My wife won't be able to return it!

If you look closely, you’ll see that there’s no blood on his shirtfront. There is only Nogg. Now, I get that the idea is the bullet went through the carton, so eggnog would spill out both holes, but it raises some interesting Bathory-esque theories, doesn’t it, about why he has so much eggnog in his office, just sitting there? Why he seems to crave it so much he can’t even wait for a glass? Why it doesn’t bother him that he’s drinking a warm eggnog-flavored bacterial stew?

Is Michael Hunsaker made of eggnog? Perhaps the real story of the film isn’t heroin dealing, it’s experiments that created Nogg-blooded superbeasts, and the lengths to which they will go to ensure they are never without the Nogg they need to stay alive. Now THAT would be something, wouldn’t it?

Hell, perhaps this is actually all about the eggnog, and the heroin is a ruse. Maybe Gary Busey works for a rival eggnog firm (“Funeral Nogg,” anyone?) and is trying to destroy all the Party Nogg out there, and woe betide any who get in his way.

Seriously. This is even stranger than the end of Ghostbusters 2, where a crowd of people faced with eternal darkness and the Titanic’s arrival and ghosts wandering the streets and a museum covered in an impenetrable shell of otherworldly slime and the Statue of Liberty hopping off her plinth to go for a walk–basically, with terrifying evidence that something Extremely Bad is happening and they could all be dead in the next few minutes–nonetheless decide they’re not only going to celebrate the new year, they’re all going to toast each other and sing “Auld Lang Syne” while they wait for their seemingly inevitable death-by-slime. You know, because life must go on, and from all the signs, there’s good reason to think that this year will be the best ever.

So the moral here is, Gary Busey hates eggnog. And you.

What Stace had to say on Thursday, December 5th, 2013
FREE!

CLOSE TO YOU is up for free on Heroes & Heartbreakers! So head on over there and give it a read; it’s a (hopefully) creepy Christmas story, which was a lot of fun to write, especially since Christmas doesn’t exist in Chess’s world.

Read it here. (You have to register if you’re not a H&H member, but it’s free to do so.)

(And by the way, the Faulkner reference is in the scene where Chess & Terrible wake up in the Hudson [Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?] bedroom. It’s from the short story A Rose for Emily: the gray hair on the pillow.)

What Stace had to say on Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
CLOSE TO YOU free tomorrow

A quick heads-up: The holiday Downside short I wrote for Heroes & Heartbreakers will be available free on the H&H site tomorrow, for one day only. (It was originally scheduled for today but they’ve done a little shifting around.) I’ll post the direct link tomorrow.

So if you missed it the first time around or haven’t yet read it, here’s your chance! It’s part of a special Macmillan/St. Martin’s promotion; a whole bunch of holiday shorts written by some great authors (and of course one from me, too). If you click the image below it’ll take you to the SMP page with more info and all that good stuff.

Also, CLOSE TO YOU is on Netgalley this month, so if you’re a reviewer, go get yourself a copy, yo!

Look! Pretty image!

And don’t forget, guys, I’ll be starting to post the pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth short story in the next few days here on the blog. I’m pretty pleased with the story, and I really hope you’ll like it. In fact, because I’m in that kind of mood, here’s a little tiny excerpt:

“I hope you like fish,” Dana was saying, as she bustled around the little kitchen. All of the single-employee Church cottages—as opposed to those for married employees or some of the higher-up Elders—followed one of two floorplans: living room on the left, kitchen on the right, bedroom in the back; or the mirror image of that. Dana’s was the mirror image, with the living room on the right. From Chess’s position on the ivory flowered couch she could see into the ivory-cranberry-and-pale-blue kitchen and the ivory-cranberry-and-navy-blue bedroom. It was all very tidy. Beneath the fragrances of dinner cooking were potpourri and air freshener, the scents of things to hide. “I thought, hey, you haven’t been over for dinner, so I’d do something nice.”

“You didn’t have to.” She wished Dana hadn’t, actually. The Nips she’d taken after leaving the Randalls’ neighborhood were kicking in, and the last thing she wanted was food. Especially not when that food would come with a large helping of I-made-this-special-for-you guilt. Dana probably wouldn’t say that, but that wouldn’t make Chess feel any less guilty if she refused to eat it. “I thought we were just going to have a snack or something.”

“I like to eat early.” Dana pulled a bottle of white wine out of the fridge and set it on the counter. Would it be rude to ask for beer instead? Probably. Damn. “You know, I’m usually in bed by ten, so if I eat too late I don’t sleep well, which makes it hard to get up at six for my workout, so…”

“Sure,” Chess said, like she totally had the same issues. Bed by ten? Up at six for a workout? It sounded horrible. And pointless. Who needed exercise when speed was available?

Dana smiled at her, like she honestly believed Chess could relate. Her co-workers did not know her at all, did they.

But then, she didn’t really want them to, so that worked out okay.

What Stace had to say on Monday, December 2nd, 2013
Goodness!

Oh, do I feel guilty. I cannot believe I’ve been away for so long. I’m so sorry, guys!

I’m fine. I’ve been fine (I had a cold recently, but aside from that). I’ve just been tremendously busy: new Downside stuff, three new other projects, some non-work things…a whole bunch of stuff. Plus a couple of Internet Vacations, and more than a couple of research holes I fell down.

A few snapshot moments from my Lost Weekend:

Lou Reed died. I remember buying my first Velvet Underground album when I was seventeen (a compilation album, to be honest). Actually it was a cassette tape, which I played until it broke. Then I spliced it with Scotch tape and played it some more. It was a pretty miserable period in my life, for a number of reasons, and that album–I branched out at some point and picked up the individual albums–did a lot for me. I’m not really a huge fan of Reed’s solo work (with a few exceptions), but for twenty+ years now VU has been on my homemade mix tapes (remember those?) and then my iPod. I was actually surprised by how intense my reaction to this news was. It’s hard to express what that music meant to me and still does mean to me, and I frankly sound like a pretentious dork when I try to explain or quantify it. Suffice it to say I was pretty upset.

The other day we showed the girls JAWS for the first time. I so, so wish we’d had our phones out to video their response at the Big Jumpscare; you know the one I mean, when Hooper is underwater looking at the remains of Ben Gardner’s boat. They practically leapt out of their skins. Stephen and I, like all good parents, laughed very hard, which prompted an outraged “Why are you laughing at us?” from Princess. (Answer: because it’s HILARIOUS.)

We’ve been watching Justified, which is awesome. We’ve been watching The Sopranos, which is also awesome and I’m kind of ashamed to say I didn’t watch when it came out–not out of lack of interest, just lack of time. We’ve been watching A Young Doctor’s Notebook, which is very awesome, and I highly recommend it. We’ve been watching The Blacklist, which IMO is one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time. And of course we’ve been watching Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, which would be a lot better without isn’t-she-great-look-how-adorable-she-is-don’t-you-love-her-no-seriously-you-must-love-her-it’s-clear-we-expect-you-to-love-her-damnit Skye.

Also saw the new Thor movie, which we enjoyed quite a bit.

I’ve perfected my bread recipe.

My Faerie’s school choir, of which she is a member, participated in a performance of Noye’s Fludde at Exeter Cathedral in October. I’ve never been a fan of the Noah’s Ark story; I get that the whole animals-two-by-two thing is supposed to be charming (or something) and little kids like that and there are lots of kiddie toys featuring the ark and the animals, but I always found it pretty disturbing, to be frank. But of course, this particular show, while still having the creep factor, also had the world’s most adorable duck marching onto the ark in her pink jammies, which made a huge difference in my enjoyment levels.

I’ve been forced to “upgrade” my iPhone’s OS to that new one that sucks. My favorite part of it, aside from it being ugly, and the YouTube app which is practically unusable, and the loss of Google Maps, is the fact that my audiobooks no longer have chapter listings. That makes it lots of fun to try to hunt for a particular scene or bit of information, especially when driving or cooking with stuff all over my hands. Why just hit a chapter number and go right to it when I can attempt to scroll around a five-hour block to find it? It’s like an adventure, right there on my phone. Whee!

So you can see it’s been pretty busy here, aside from the new projects and general other life things happening.

Even then, though… I had something planned, which I didn’t finish in time. So I’ve come up with a compromise, sort of, which I hope you guys will like.

See, it’s been my plan for a while to compile the two existing previously published Downside shorts (HOME, available from Heroes & Heartbreakers, and RICK THE BRAVE from the HOME IMPROVEMENT: UNDEAD EDITION anthology) which I now have the right to re-release on my own, add a new previously unreleased short, and release the three stories as an ebook for the holidays–actually, I’d hoped for a November release. I have the new short, but I totally didn’t get it done soon enough to do all the formatting and cover-art-commissioning and all of that stuff.

This makes me feel Bad.

I think I’ve come up with a solution. A hopefully-fun solution, which will also be a bit of an experiment, so we’ll see how it goes.

Here’s my plan (I am open to and interested in feedback; contact me privately if you wish, using the Contact form here on the site):

I’m going to post this story here, on the blog, starting later this week. And I’m going to set up a Paypal button where, if you feel the story is worth paying for, you can pay whatever you wish to pay for it. But the story is here anyway; I’ll be honest and say I hope you will, but there’s no obligation. And then, after the new year (probably) I’ll get it all formatted and everything, with a cover and all that fancy stuff (I’m hoping pay-what-you-want will at least cover some of the costs there, but if not oh well), and offer it for download here on the site (in all the regular ebook formats).

Then, since I have another short, I’ll package it, plus HOME and RICK THE BRAVE, plus the new unpublished short, all together, and that one will go up on the retail outlets and such and all for a low price (or, if pay-what-you-want is a success, maybe I’ll do that the same way. We’ll see).

I’m also hoping/planning to have the second Terrible POV novella up by late spring. Sales of WRONG WAYS DOWN surpassed my expectations, which was/is pretty awesome, and thank you all so much for that! So since you all seem to enjoy reading from his POV, and since you all seem to want to read his side of the story of UNHOLY MAGIC and CITY OF GHOSTS, that will be the next Terrible story. (Also, I do have the winner[s] in the WRONG WAYS DOWN contest, and will be announcing them next week when the short story wraps up. I honestly thought I had posted those.)

Speaking of retail outlets, btw, Amazon has pulled DEMON’S TRIAD, the X-rated novel I co-wrote with Anna J. Evans for Ellora’s Cave back in 2009, because of the extreme content. They offered us the chance to edit out that content, and we have refused–to do so would have required some story changes we feel would hurt the book, frankly, in a number of ways. So if you’re looking for DEMON’S TRIAD, try EC’s site or whatever other retailers you buy your books from.

So…to sum up:

I’ve been busy but that’s no excuse, and I’m sorry for my absence;

There’ll be a new Downside short here this week & next week that I hope you’ll enjoy and think is worth something;

I have missed you all;

I’ve got a lot of new stuff coming out in the next few months.

What Stace had to say on Thursday, August 8th, 2013
Updates! Details!

We’re UP at B&N! Again, Nook readers, I am so sorry for the delay!

Anyway. New reviews!

Heroes & Heartbreakers:

You get more of the story on how [Terrible] came to be who he is, and there is not one false note as can sometimes happen when authors dive into the pasts of beloved characters. All in all, this is a can’t-miss for Kane fans, and for everyone who has always wondered how Terrible became terrific.

Paperback Wonderland (someone emailed me this; check out the hilarious .gif at the end!):

Well, it’s about half past 5 a.m. and I just finished reading this, that should tell you something… Like all Downside Ghosts books – and do not be fooled by this being called a novella, it was practically the same length as a regular book (yay!) – this was incredibly addictive (ironic, really).

Now. On to the contest! Entries are strong enough that I wanted to add another winner, and then I thought, well, why not add more ways to enter, too? So I am! So there will be more than one winner, and you have lots of ways to enter, and hopefully it’s all fun.

Again, it’s a Character-Name contest, like the one I did for the release of CITY OF GHOSTS. Only this time, I already have a good idea how I’ll use your name(s) and I don’t think you’ll be too unhappy about it. (In other words, what you’re thinking? Yes.) This will be for the next Terrible-POV story, the one that will cover the events of UNHOLY MAGIC and CITY OF GHOSTS.

Don’t forget, all winners will also get a free ebook copy of that next novella. AND a free copy of the next Downside book, period.

So how do you enter?

Well. Buy the book, of course; that gets you two entries. Forward your digital receipt to DownsideArmy AT gmail, or C&P the relevant parts of it (basically, I just need proof of purchase, not your address or–of course–any payment info or anything like that).

I mentioned on Tuesday evening that I was expanding the contest to include the purchase of ANY Downside book. So if you’re not caught up on the series, this is the time to do it! Remember, the US editions of the first three ebooks are at special low prices. Also, in addition to the two entries you get for a purchase of ANY Downside book, you also get two entries if you recommend them to a friend and your friend buys one–you’ll get two, and your friend gets two. Per book. (And yes, it counts if you buy the books for them as gifts.) If you’re buying paperback copies at a physical store, scan or take a picture of the receipt and email that along. If you buy the book at the recommendation of a friend, please let me know who the friend is!

Tweet about the book, using the reader-created #terriblefever hashtag or #wrongwaysdown. I’ll be following both of those and checking them periodically, so there’s no need to email me links. (I’m counting entries retroactively from Monday, btw.)

Talk about the book! Talk about it on Facebook, on your blog, on your website or a book website or wherever you want! If you want to review it on any blog or website, that counts. If you just want to mention it, that counts. Any mention or discussion of it will count; just send me the link (again, at the DownsideArmy email). (Note: I know you guys would never do this but I want to clarify: SPAM DOESN’T COUNT. Please don’t spam people or groups or forums or whatever. If I get any entries that look like spam I’m going to disqualify them, and the people who submit them.)

If you’re sending me a receipt or link and you have also tweeted, please do let me know who you are on Twitter/Facebook/whatever other site, so I can keep all your entries together. I’d hate for you not to get credit for all of your entries.

…and that’s it! The contest will run from today (8/6) until midnight EDT on 8/15; in other words, until 11:59 PM on the 14th 8/22; 11:59 PM on the 21st. I’m adding an extra WEEK because of the delay in release. And because it’s fun.

Also, IMPORTANT: By entering this contest you are agreeing to let me use your name (or whatever other name you may choose) in the book without compensation. You are agreeing not to hold me liable if you don’t like the way you’re portrayed; I promise to do my best not to make you seem like a horrible person, but I can’t guarantee you won’t be a junkie or a prostitute or whatever. I make no guarantee as to the duration or detail of “your” scene, or that you will get a lot of or any dialogue. All I promise is that your scene will feature Terrible.

Seriously. Don’t enter if you don’t agree to this. As I mentioned above, you’ll get a free pre-release copy of the book in question, but I won’t be sending you the mss for your approval or consulting with you on it or anything. Be aware. I want you to be pleased, but I’m making no guarantee.

Thanks so much, guys! It’s been really cool to see how enthusiastic and excited everyone’s been, and the great response the book is getting!

What Stace had to say on Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
Eek! It’s out there!

(NOTE: Systems are still updating and things are still happening. I will be updating this post throughout the day as more links are available.)

CONTEST UPDATES BELOW.

So…here we are! Eek! WRONG WAYS DOWN is officially out there!

Amazon US

Amazon UK

The Createspace print version isn’t up yet, and it’s not up yet at B&N. But I promise it is being worked on and the delay shouldn’t take too much longer; I don’t know when they update their systems etc. so can’t say exactly when it’ll happen, but it will happen. I’m sorry for the delay, please keep checking back!

We have a couple of new reviews, too!

From the lovely, smart ladies at StellarFour:

…Kane takes her well-loved, laconic hired gun, Terrible, and deftly reveals a complex and nuanced antihero, exposing his innermost thoughts and feelings as he solves the mystery of who’s targeting the women who work for his boss. And, if you didn’t have big warm fuzzies for the enforcer before, you will now.

Some lovin’ from the Book Nympho:

Reading this novella has me craving a re-read of the series. … Wrong Ways Down is a MUST read for Downside fans, dig!

Goldilox and the Three Weres loves it:

This is another gritty, spectacular, emotional book in the Downside Ghosts series that will more than whet the whistle of readers waiting for the next full-length installment.

Aaaand…yes, there’s a contest! Updated!

I’ve discussed this a little before; it’s a Character-Name contest, like the one I did for the release of CITY OF GHOSTS. Only this time, I already have a good idea how I’ll use your name and I don’t think you’ll be too unhappy about it. (In other words, what you’re thinking? Yes.) This will be for the next Terrible-POV story, the one that will cover the events of UNHOLY MAGIC and CITY OF GHOSTS.

So how do you enter?

Well. Buy the book, of course; that gets you two entries. Forward your digital receipt to DownsideArmy AT gmail, or C&P the relevant parts of it (basically, I just need proof of purchase, not your address or–of course–any payment info or anything like that).

Tweet about the book, using the reader-created #terriblefever hashtag or #wrongwaysdown. I’ll be following both of those and checking them periodically, so there’s no need to email me links. (I’m counting entries retroactively from Monday, btw.)

Talk about the book! Talk about it on Facebook, on your blog, on your website or a book website or wherever you want! If you want to review it, that counts. If you just want to mention it, that counts. Any mention or discussion of it will count; just send me the link (again, at the DownsideArmy email). (Note: I know you guys would never do this but I want to clarify: SPAM DOESN’T COUNT. Please don’t spam people or groups or forums or whatever. If I get any entries that look like spam I’m going to disqualify them, and the people who submit them.)

If you’re sending me a receipt or link and you have also tweeted, please do let me know who you are on Twitter/Facebook/whatever other site, so I can keep all your entries together. I’d hate for you not to get credit for all of your entries.

NOTE: I’m expanding this. I know there are some people out there who haven’t read any of the books. So for the next week, any purchase of ANY Downside book gets you an entry! If you’ve been waiting, now’s the time, guys. The ebook editions of the first three books are promotionally priced in the US, too.

…and that’s it! The contest will run from today (8/6) until midnight EDT on 8/15; in other words, until 11:59 PM on the 14th. That’s eight days–I’m adding an extra day because of the delay in release on some sites. And because it’s fun. Isn’t it? I think contests like this are fun, anyway, I don’t know what you people like doing. :mrgreen:

Also, IMPORTANT: By entering this contest you are agreeing to let me use your name (or whatever other name you may choose) in the book without compensation. You are agreeing not to hold me liable if you don’t like the way you’re portrayed; I promise to do my best not to make you seem like a horrible person, but I can’t guarantee you won’t be a junkie or a prostitute or whatever. I make no guarantee as to the duration or detail of “your” scene, or that you will get a lot of or any dialogue. All I promise is that your scene will feature Terrible.

Seriously. Don’t enter if you don’t agree to this. I WILL send you a free pre-release copy of the book in question but I won’t be sending you the mss for your approval or consulting with you on it or anything. Be aware. Like I said, I want you to be pleased, but I’m making no guarantee.

Onward! We have more to cover here. A couple more questions from yesterday, for example.

Escape Artist asked:

What I’d like to know is, will we ever find out what Lex’s true feelings for Chess are? Whether she really was just a warm body to him or whether she was more?

He seemed genuinely hurt when she broke up with him. That was a tough scene for me because I was equally thrilled for Terrible and sad for Lex.

It’s certainly planned, yes.

Leah S. asked:

Were there any particular songs or bands that you listened to with this book? Was it more difficult writing from Terrible’s POV?

Actually, I’ve been on a big Velvet Underground kick for a while now, which doesn’t really “fit” because VU is a Chess band rather than a Terrible band. But then I figured, they’d probably remind him of her and he might start listening to them for that reason. So it fits that way. Right? Especially “There She Goes Again,” which is pretty perfect for her.

It was more difficult, yeah, at least in some ways. It was difficult finding the balance between enough Downspeak to make it authentically Terrible’s voice, but enough proper English to make it readable. And I won’t say it was difficult, necessarily, but it was trickier or more nerve-wracking writing from his POV and making sure he sounded and seemed authentically male. Luckily I know several men who were willing to read with an eye specifically toward that.

Honestly? The most difficult thing, I think, was allowing him so many words. You guys know he tends not to talk a lot, and that he’s not always comfortable with talking; he feels that words aren’t his strong suit and he doesn’t use them very well. You and I know he has a much larger vocabulary than he’s actually comfortable using in speech, but it was interesting to actually get to use it and show that. It was interesting to actually just let him go, so to speak, and see what he came up with in his head. But it was very strange, too.

What was really surprising, rather than difficult, was how much he actually sounded like Chess. Of course I know how similar they are in terms of viewpoint and thought process, but I’m used to knowing what he’s thinking and showing it through her eyes rather than actually articulating what he’s thinking through his. And I was able to have a little fun with that a few times by basically aping things she’s said before, but in his phrasing. But really, I was quite surprised by how much he sounded like her and how many of the thoughts he had were things she could have thought without it even seeming out of place. And it was a lot of fun, too.

One or two other quick things: I’m not the only person with a release today! My lovely friends Lauren Dane, Jim Hines, and Kat Richardson both have books out, so go get them, too!

Lauren Dane’s UNCONDITIONAL

Jim’s CODEX BORN

Kat’s POSSESSION

And, which I should have mentioned before, my friend Mario Acevedo has a new one out! GOOD MONEY GONE, written with Richard Kilborn.

STILL undecided about buying WRONG WAYS DOWN? How about another little excerpt?

“People buy this shit?” he asked, scanning the list of products. “Spells to make kids obey? Spells to make worries better?”

“Pretty sleazy, huh?” Her smile, the way her dark red lips curved, made him feel like he was in on some secret with her. Like they were the smart ones. “Those places will sell anything.”

“It ain’t work, aye?”

“Nope.” She lifted her right arm and curled it behind her head, curled her fingers, to gather up her hair and pull it off her neck. Her head tilted to the right as she did it, so her throat was a long pale line rising from the collar of the blue shirt she wore over a black long-sleeve t-shirt. He knew he shouldn’t stare, he should look away fast before she noticed. But he couldn’t help it. It was so…she weren’t even aware of it, how pretty the movement was, how graceful it was, how it made his breath stop.

What Stace had to say on Monday, August 5th, 2013
Questions Answered (and bundles of nerves)

Eep!

Tomorrow WRONG WAYS DOWN will be hitting cybershelves everywhere–at least I hope it will; it’s supposed to and everything is all set for it to, but I am always convinced something is going to go horribly, horribly wrong, and release dates freak me the hell out, so… I’m in panic mode, basically, waiting for the Big Problem Shoe to drop right onto my head.

But on to other things! You guys asked me some great questions the other day, and I’m going to answer them. And post another excerpt, too.

First, though, a couple of reviews have come in! (A reminder, btw, since it’s been a while: all links open in a new window.)

From Vampire Book Club, FIVE stars!

If you thought you had it bad for Terrible before reading Wrong Ways Down, the new Downside novella set between Unholy Ghosts and Unholy Magic, prepare to swoon on a whole new level. … Terrible is truly one of the most complex and dichotomous antiheroes I’ve ever come across. His novella adds a new layer and richness to this fantastic series.

FIVE STARS from Addicted2Heroines!

Terrible has been one of my favorite male characters in urban fantasy for years, and this book only bolsters his credibility as a leading man. If you thought you understood Terrible, you will find that you are mistaken. Kane takes an already beloved character and adds layers to his persona, allowing the reader to understand him on a more personal level. … Stacia’s Downspeech is perfect in this book. It brings such a texture and even a clarity to the characters. And the writing is beautiful. Kane is able to weave a multi-layered story with serious continuity and a twisty plot.

FIVE BASKETS from Little Read Riding Hood!

This story takes place between Unholy Ghosts and Unholy Magic, and it is all in Terrible’s POV. I felt like a cat in a field of catnip, and wanted to just roll around in his mind and make myself comfortable and just stay there.

So, let’s do some questions!

Melissa asked:

Do you have any plans to go into Chess’s background? Who her parents were and why they may have left her? Or a snippet of a current Church employees POV – do they think The City is terrifying, too, but can’t admit it? Are they really “good” or was Haunted Week caused by them so they could come to power? Having The City already there seems like too good of luck.

I don’t have plans to do so, no. We won’t “find” Chess’s parents. I do have a vague sort of story in my head about the circumstances surrounding her birth, which I’m going to explain a bit more in a guest post over at Addicted2Heroines. But her parentage won’t be part of the story.

Most of the Church employees honestly think the City is a lovely place, although they all view it with a healthy dose of awe/respect. I actually think that’s the big reason why they don’t think it’s horrible; much like Chess’s reluctance to go underground because it’s disrespectful, most employees think that to see the City as a “bad” place would be disrespectful. And they like the idea of knowing where they’ll be when they die, and being able to communicate with their friends etc. So they tend to chalk up any discomfort they feel to respect or a reluctance to die (which makes them think their discomfort is wrong, because they shouldn’t be afraid/reluctant to die).

I don’t think the Church as an official body caused HW, but that doesn’t mean some members didn’t inadvertently cause it.

And the City…that WAS there already, because of the location of Triumph City. The City was a government installation; some of it was bunkers and tunnels built for government officials: fallout shelters and the like. The Church expanded it, but it was already there.

Some inspiration etc.:

Hidden Tunnels Under Washington DC

White House Tunnel System

Dupont Underground’s Secret Tunnel (Note: many of the tunnels Slobag uses are old Metro maintenance tunnels or sewer tunnels)

Underground Cities United States (scroll down to DC)

Mount Weather

The Greenbriar

(Now, granted, Mt. Weather and the Greenbriar aren’t located exactly where the Church is. But I figure, in my world there are other projects we don’t necessarily know about.)

Lyssa asked:

I’ve never read a UF book with an unattractive looking hero. Was there a reason behind making Terrible genuinely ugly?

I think only a talented writer can manage to make their ugly hero swoony and attractive through their personality. I get so sick of all the super hot UF heroes who are only sexy because of their looks and not their attitude. Terrible is refreshing.

That was basically it, Lyssa; I am of course a fan of gorgeous men, but I wanted to see if I could create a hero that wasn’t obviously The Hero the second he appeared. It was a big writing challenge, basically, in that I wanted to see if I could create a character readers would find sexy based on personality alone, or largely on personality. (That’s not to say I agree with you about my level of talent, just that it was my goal.)

Plus, one of the major themes of the series is the idea that everyone deserves some kind of love and happiness, that everyone has value, that there’s more under the surface than you might think, that what people DO is what matters more than how they look.

As I’ve said before, I was certainly hoping people would still love Terrible despite his not being outright handsome, but I never expected the response he actually got! I’m so grateful for it.

Allison asked:

I wonder if you plan on expanding on Elder Griffin’s story as it relates to Chess or just in general?

Yes and no. We will learn more about Elder Griffin, and of course there’s a bit of a reference to his home life and past in the free BRAVE TALE OF MADDIE CARVER short, but I hadn’t planned to do a whole story from his POV.

Of course, if it’s something you guys want, let me know!

That’s it for today–I don’t want this to get too long–but I am not done answering questions, so if yours isn’t here, it will be!

And an excerpt for you:

Terrible saw the woman before she moved. Easy. He sidestepped, swinging his arm—the arm holding Wayne—to the right as he did, putting Wayne’s scrawny shoulder in the way of the woman’s blow. The crack the bat made when it hit Wayne’s bone—might even have broke it, from the sound, and from Wayne’s shriek—seemed to echo in the almost-empty room. Coursen it was almost empty. Wayne had sold anything he could.

Damn it. He hated having to do this with dames. He dropped Wayne and grabbed her by the back of the neck, pushing down so first her knees, then her forehead hit the floor. Both she and Wayne were screaming. Fucking annoying.

He knelt between them, keeping his hold on the back of her neck and doing the same to Wayne, leaning forward so his weight pushed both their faces into the dirty floor. “What money you got?”

“Got no,” Wayne said. Hard to understand him, since he were talking into the thin carpet. “Sorry, sorry, got no, waitin on…Louann here, she gonna get me some, she gonna…gonna earn us some…”

Aw, fuck. He gave them both another hard shove into the floor, tightened his fists. Their necks were so fucking stringy and skinny in his hands. “How? How’s she earning it?”

Wayne apparently realized he’d said the wrong thing. “She…she…”

“Aye? What?”

“Only be a couple dudes we knowing,” the dame—Louann—said. Squeaked, more like. “Wanted it from me, them did, not from just any dame. Them ain’t be paying for it any elsewheres, true thing them ain’t.”

“Maybe—maybe she coming work for Bump.” Wayne tried and failed to lift his head so he could look at Terrible. “Maybe she work off my owings. Maybe you wanna take she off inna bedroom, give she a try? Be—”
Terrible shifted his weight, pressed his knee into the dame’s back so he had a free hand. He needed it to smash into Wayne’s face. Which he did, with a satisfying crunch of bone. Fucker. What kind of man whored his woman like that, ain’t even checked with her first?

And as if he had even the faintest interest in that dirty, ragged, starved sack of bones under his knee, with her broken teeth and bruises. Even if he needed to take a whore to his bed, he wouldn’t be interested. Bump’s whores were clean, and most of em were pretty, and he could have any one of them he wanted any time he wanted, for free.

He never did, but he could. He weren’t so desperate he needed to jump whatany dame waved it in his face. Specially not one like this one.

“You knowing how this goes,” he said, loud so they could both hear him over their wails. “Money, or knowledge. Which you got?”

See you tomorrow!

What Stace had to say on Thursday, August 1st, 2013
Winners!

Thank you all so much for entering!

The winners (chosen by the usual extremely scientific method of assigning each entry a number and then having my kid pick a couple of numbers) are:

Drey’s Library (Facebook acct)

and

Mish (commenter here)

Please contact me (email using the Contact form here or staciakane AT gmail) to let me know which ebook format you need. It’s helpful if you email me from the account you want the ebook sent to.

Thanks so much again, everyone! And thank you all for the great questions, which I’ll be going through and answering. For those who asked about Downspeech, if you check the Media page here on the site you’ll find several blog posts and a video about its creation, which may answer your questions. If whatever you wanted to know isn’t there, let me know! (I did get one about whether I keep a dictionary/notes for myself, which I’ll be answering.)