Check This Out: Chasing Bedlam

Return to the Shattered States
for a tale of love between a woman & her jeep!

Cover Art by Jon Hunsinger

Cover Art by Jon Hunsinger

Lloyd and Cassidy’s last adventure was to honor a life. This time they are out to end one.

It was a normal, violent mission to Texas that should have had nothing more than beer-induced hiccups. That is until an old enemy makes off with Cassidy’s jeep and most of their gear. Needless to say, she’s pissed off and challenging Lloyd for the psychopath of the month award. With the mouthy serial killer by her side, she is going on the warpath from Dallas to Miami even if it means declaring war on the drug cartels.

So strap in for another wild ride through the Shattered States and learn why you never mess with Cassidy’s jeep.

Available on Amazon for 99 cents!

Want a taste?

“So your boss thought she could send assassins to kill the Riflemen,” the black-haired leader says, earning a cheer from his men. A firm smack to the prisoner’s head silences her gurgling attempt to deny the charge. “Nothing you say can prevent the inevitable. Don’t go thinking that pet serial killer will save you either. The idiot brought a paintball gun to Texas and thought he’d win a gunfight? I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did. All we need to do is find the body and we can collect the bounty on him too. Guess you’re lucky that he’s wanted dead and you’re wanted alive by that warden up north.”

“I’d be careful, boss,” a sword-wielding gang member warns. She leans away from the angry glare, but rolls up her sleeve to reveal a sloppily stitched wound. “While this one isn’t as tough as her reputation says, she can still hit hard. Lost two men before we restrained her and three more are nursing broken balls. Maybe we should use some of our tranquilizer stash and keep her sedated.”

“No reason for th-” Top Hog begins as he runs his hand across the prisoner’s forehead. He rubs his fingers at the sensation of something sticky between his fingers and looks closer to figure out what he has touched. “This scar is fake. Made from glue or something. Are you sure this is Cassidy?”

“She was with Lloyd Tenay at the bar,” a one-eyed man replies in a shaky voice. He shifts from one foot to the other when everyone else takes a step away from him. “You told us to look for him and a blonde woman. She had the denim jacket, the forehead scar, cursed a lot, carried two pistols, and even has the correct tramp stamp. Everyone was calling her Cassidy after she drove up in the blue jeep too. We made sure that everything checked out, boss. Even bribed the bartender and two waitresses.”

Sweat beading on his face, Top Hog draws his large gun and presses it to the prisoner’s temple. He leans around her, his eyes repeatedly darting toward her hands to make sure they are still bound. Lifting her white shirt, he sees the unique tattoo that the widespread stories mention Cassidy getting a little less than a year ago. The design is two pistols back to back with vines of bone curling around and binding them together. A strange discoloration catches the gang leader’s attention and he rubs his thumb along the woman’s side, pushing his weapon harder against her head to prevent wiggling. He swears that he feels a seam, so he gets a dirty fingernail beneath what turns out to be a flesh-colored sticker. Top Hog yanks it off and shows it to his men, the prisoner biting her lower lip to avoid screaming. He can already see that the tattoo is smeared from where he has touched it with his meaty fingers.

Enraged and embarrassed, the gang leader is about to kill the fake Cassidy when he hears distant rock music. Within seconds, he realizes that the source is getting closer and is soon joined by maniacal laughter coming over a crackling megaphone. With a snap of his fingers, Top Hog orders one of his men to take the prisoner to his office while the others run for the exit. Nobody gets very far before a blue jeep, which has been outfitted with a wide battering ram, smashes through the front of the warehouse. The vehicle leaves a gaping hole in the wall, which is made worse by hooked chains on the rear bumper that catch and tear more of the obstacle down. The jeep continues at full speed through crates, shelving units, and the slower gang members whose deaths are celebrated by honks of the horn. Tires screech as the driver hits the brakes and gets the car to spin, the move appearing to have no purpose beyond making those inside dizzy. With an embarrassing thud, the vehicle hits the back wall and hisses to a stop.

The gang have already drawn their weapons and are cautiously approaching the jeep when the sunroof opens. Bullets fly at the blonde figure that leaps out, the projectiles creating so many holes that the top half of their target falls off. The legs of the cardboard cutout are casually tossed to the floor before the shriek of a megaphone makes everyone cringe and cover their ears. With the tattered remains laying face up, the frustrated criminals realize that they have destroyed another Cassidy decoy. They are about to inch closer when the jeep briefly roars to life and a man inside begins making engine noises. The sounds change to the exaggerated screams and detailed begging of those whose parts are still stuck to the scuffed battering ram.

“So that was your plan, Cassidy?” Top Hog asks with a chuckle. He turns to see their prisoner is trying to roll away and fires his gun into the air to stop her. “Two decoys, so that you could get the drop on us. Guess you thought more of us would get run over. You still have thirteen of my crew standing and you’re cornered in that jeep. Now, the only question is if I send a piece of you back to the Duchess as a message that she should stay out of my business. Damn northerner needs to stay out of Texas’s business.”

“Actually, that young woman was the bait and I was the distraction,” Lloyd announces from inside. With a gleeful laugh, he opens one of the doors and yanks it back when the gang shoots at him. “Well shit. That was my favorite power window button. Anyway, people make that mistake all the time. You see, bait draws you in and, at least here, allows the real predators to follow you back to the previously hidden hideout. Not even a sign to help us out, which is very rude and unaccommodating. Now, the distraction’s job is to keep you looking in one direction while a mischievous maiden of mayhem prepares her new toy somewhere else. Don’t bother running, boys, because she’ll take that as an insult.”

Top Hog and his men turn toward the hole in the wall, which has exposed them to the large parking lot. The sun forces them to squint at the lone figure standing behind a loaded mini-gun, the weapon glinting in the midday light. Clouds move across the sky, which makes it easier for the gang to identify the denim jacket and blonde hair of their enemy. They take a few shots at the distant woman, but their bullets either miss completely or bounce off several riot shields that are strapped to the weapon. A slamming car door causes them to jump, but they turn in the wrong direction and are unable to stop Lloyd from racing toward the prisoner. Wearing orange pants from his time as a prisoner and a red shirt with a lightning bolt, the black-haired serial killer seems like an obvious target as he scoops up the young woman and dives behind a box of grenades. Suddenly afraid for their lives, Top Hog and his men attempt to scatter and hunt for cover.

“I hate moving targets,” Cassidy growls.

And don’t forget how it all started in
CROSSING BEDLAM!
Also on sale for 99 cents!

charles

About the Author:

Charles Yallowitz was born and raised on Long Island, NY, but he has spent most of his life wandering his own imagination in a blissful haze. Occasionally, he would return from this world for the necessities such as food, showers, and Saturday morning cartoons. One day he returned from his imagination and decided he would share his stories with the world. After his wife decided that she was tired of hearing the same stories repeatedly, she convinced him that it would make more sense to follow his dream of being a fantasy author. So, locked within the house under orders to shut up and get to work, Charles brings you Legends of Windemere. He looks forward to sharing all of his stories with you, and his wife is happy he finally has someone else to play with.

Blog: www.legendsofwindemere.com
Twitter: @cyallowitz
Facebook: Charles Yallowitz
Website: www.charleseyallowitz.com

“Something” or “Nothing”: What Do You Mean?

Back when I first began writing curriculum—da Vinci was still at the sketch stage of the Mona Lisa at the time—supervisors told my fellow co-workers and me to make our lessons engaging and fun. Though we saw the merit in lessons fitting that description, this sort of feedback frustrated my coworkers and me, because both terms are subjective, rather than measurable. What’s fun or engaging to one person might not be the same to another. But I gave it a shot. Sometimes I reached the target. Sometimes I didn’t.

Mona_Lisa

That feedback returned to my mind as I read a recent review of a young adult novel. Sorry. I don’t plan to divulge the name of the book or the reviewer. (Hint: The book was not written by anyone I know nor reviewed by anyone I know.) Her review interested me, because she spent the whole post explaining why she did not finish the book. Her biggest complaint was that nothing happened.

How many times have you said the same thing about a book or a movie? I know I’ve said that phrase dozens of times. But now that I think about it, what does “nothing” really mean in this context? “Nothing that engaged me?” “A lack of good action and tension”? “I was bored”? It’s really subjective, isn’t it? I struggle with filling in the blanks.

Do you ever ask yourself, What is the “something” that should have happened? Depends on the story, right? We might define “something” as “an event that moves the plot forward”; “exciting action”; “a scene that made me laugh”; “realistic dialogue that made the characters come alive”; or in other ways.

I’m reminded of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Doerr spent three whole paragraphs talking about discoveries one of the main characters—Marie-Laure—made in the drawers of a cabinet. Drawers. In. A. Cabinet. Would you categorize that scene as “nothing happening”? Yet I was mesmerized by those paragraphs. Many other people probably felt the same way, because this book is a best-seller, a National Book Award finalist (click on the award to watch Doerr read a chapter of this book), and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

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We can credit Doerr’s magical prose. But some of the “zing” that makes this scene “something” as opposed to “nothing” is due to the imagination of the reader. Doerr invites us to come along on Marie-Laure’s journey of discovery. Oh, did I mention that this girl is blind? That’s not a spoiler. The book jacket tells you that much. We see what she can only “see” through touch.

I’m tempted to quote lines from that scene. But I won’t. I’m not trying to be obstinate, honest. As I mentioned, I was mesmerized. You might not feel that way, however. Some of the people who commented on an article I read recently on Doerr’s prose had a negative view of his work. But if you are curious about which scene I mean and want to decide for yourself whether or not it has that certain “something,” you can find it on pages 29-30 in the hardback.

Engaging. Fun. Nothing. Some aspects are purely subjective. But when offering feedback, the more specific and measurable one is, the better.

Why measurable? Well, I have to go back to curriculum writing for that. My colleagues and I were always told to make lesson objectives measurable. I found a quote on the subject in the Web article, “Writing Measurable Learning Objectives”:

When you begin creating a course, you want to design with the end in mind. The best way to approach this is to start by writing measurable, learning objectives. Effective learning objectives use action verbs to describe what you want your students to be able to do by the end of the course or unit.

“What you want your students to be able to do.” So, measurable feedback at the manuscript stage helps an author know what it is you want him or her to “be able to do”; in other words, to effectively fix his/her manuscript. Yeah, I know. Telling someone, “Nothing is happening,” is easier than saying, “This scene feels static to me, because Angela is passive, rather than active” or “This scene does not advance the plot. Perhaps you could take the character to the next threshold quicker.” But such feedback gives the author a more specific idea of the “something” you have in mind.

Some people are better able to gauge what nothing happened means. Not me. I need people to spell out what they mean. And I hope I can make the effort to provide clarity for someone else too.

Smith, Tracy. “Writing Measurable Learning Objectives.” TeachOnline. Arizona State University, 02 July 2012. Web. 13 June 2015.

Mona Lisa from en.wikipedia.org.

Check This Out: All Night

Welcome to the blog. imagecumyn2Today, it is my privilege to talk with the awesome Alan Cumyn, one of the faculty members at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and an award-winning novelist. Alan has written eleven novels for a variety of ages. He’s won awards like the Ottawa Book Award and Mr. Christie’s Book Award for children’s literature, and has been short listed for awards like the Giller Prize, the Trillium Award, and many others. Cool, huh?

He’s here to talk about his latest novel, All Night. I’ll be giving away three copies of it. But before I get to that, let’s talk to Alan, shall we?

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
14273Alan: (1) I have studied and practiced tai chi, a slow-motion Chinese martial art and moving meditation, for nearly 30 years. It starts my day, helps me keep my focus when a lot is going on. (2) I live four blocks from my old high school in Ottawa, Canada, but have also lived in many other places, including China and Indonesia. (3) When I was 24, I did a Master of Creative Writing under Alistair MacLeod, who would go on to win one of the world’s richest literary prizes for his novel No Great Mischief. (4) I am surrounded by writers, actors, and artists. My wife, Suzanne Evans, is a nonfiction writer particularly interested in women and war. My older brother, Richard, writes mainly short stories; my younger brother Steve is a professional actor, as is my daughter, Gwen; and both my mother, Suzanne, and my other daughter, Anna, are talented painters.

El Space: Your latest book, All Night, was written as a literacy project. How did that come about?
944171Alan: My eldest daughter, Gwen Cumyn, graduated from theater school a few years ago into an uncertain life as an actor. Her partner, Colin Munch, is an improv comedian. As a graduation gift I decided to write a one-act play about a similar couple struggling through a difficult night after a dear friend has suddenly died. The play is a romantic comedy showing the couple coming to grips with economic realities, the limitations of dreams, and the power of their own love. I got to spend a week in Toronto workshopping the play with Gwen and Colin in the lead roles, directed by Kat Sandler, a talented young director. We are still figuring out the best way to present this material to audiences. In the meantime, I was contacted by Laurel Boone, who edited my first novel in 1993, Waiting for Li Ming, which I wrote after spending a year teaching in China. Laurel was editing a series of novellas called Good Reads in which prominent authors were asked to write short, plain-language novels for adults who are learning to read. I decided to adapt the play, and that’s how the book was born.

El Space: You’ve written books for children, teens, and adults. What are the challenges in toggling between the age levels?
image002Alan: I started my career as very much an adult writer, and only turned to writing for younger audiences after having my own kids and being reintroduced to the wonders of children’s literature. Some of my novels for adults are dark and intense, and I literally needed a break—I needed to work on something light and funny. That’s how The Secret Life of Owen Skye came about—as a series of stories written for my own daughters as Christmas or birthday presents, and later adapted into linked stories for publication. I’m interested in a lot of different issues and material—there’s so much in life to write about! So I try not to repeat myself in books, and I really like the feeling of switching gears, of moving from one type of book to something quite different. So in choosing which project to work on next, I think of my own energy level and the next sort of challenge I want to take on.

1190526El Space: I read this article on Guy Gavriel Kay, who talked about the theme of exile in his books. What theme, if any, can you see running through your novels?
Alan: In many ways my novels are all over the map. I have some about human rights (Man of Bone and Burridge Unbound), about war (The Sojourn, The Famished Lover), one on madness (Losing It), some coming-of-age novels (Tilt, Between Families and the Sky). But I am most interested in how people form bonds, in what love does to us and how we find it and try to keep it. So my Owen Skye trilogy (including also After Sylvia and Dear Sylvia) traces an epic love story between Owen and Sylvia Tull, the little girl who sits across the classroom from him. She is so beautiful he can hardly look at her, but she breaks his heart when she moves away. Often, when I read an Owen story in a classroom, I talk about how we all have to deal with love in our lives, no matter what age and stage. As Paul Simon sings [in “Oh, Marion“], “The only time that love is an easy game is when two other people are playing it.”

El Space: In two lectures at VCFA, you quoted some advice from one of your writing professors about remembering the “cheese sandwich” in regard to story—how a reader might walk away from a story if she’s not captivated. In both lectures you talked about connection. How can a writer aid a reader’s connection to his/her story?
grilledcheeseAlan: My writing professor, Alistair MacLeod, an irrepressible storyteller, often used to round out his advice to writers by saying, “If you don’t do it right, if you don’t nail the reader to the page, then she will put down your book, wander into the kitchen and make herself a cheese sandwich . . . and never come back!” The idea is that readers are so easily distracted that even processed cheese food will be too much competition for writing that doesn’t quite work. I like fiction that works in all the major ways—that is about interesting people who find themselves in odd and trying situations, and are honestly seeking a way through. We do need to connect to those characters, to care about them, and readers do need to feel like they really are in partnership with the author—it is “their” book, too. And that often means not explaining everything, leaving lots of room for the reader’s imagination.

El Space: You’re off to be a writer-in-residence at Mount Royal University in Calgary and elsewhere. For me, writer-in-residence always conjures up the image of a writer sitting in an office with a window and everyone staring at him or her and murmuring, “He’s/She’s writing” in an awed voice. But what are the responsibilities of being a writer-in-residence?
Alan: The responsibilities of a writer-in-residence can vary greatly depending on the setup. At Mount Royal University in Calgary I will be spending a fair amount of time in classrooms speaking with creative writing students and in office time meeting students and other writers from the university one-on-one. I will only be there for a week, and I’m not expecting to get much of my own writing done! But I will be at Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon, for three months—from April through June 2014. As writer-in-residence my only official duties will be to give a public reading in Dawson, and another in Whitehorse. I expect I will have lots of other public interactions, both official and unofficial, but mainly the idea is that I have time, money, and a space to do my own writing away from my regular life. How heavenly!

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El Space: What are you working on now?
Alan: I am working on a new young adult novel that I don’t talk about publicly yet, but hopefully soon.

Thanks, Alan! I can truly say you’re a gentleman and a scholar. 😀

Thanks to all who stopped by. You can find All Night at the following places:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble

Looking for Alan? You can find him at his website, Facebook, and Twitter. But three of you will win a Kindle version of All Night. Just comment below! Winners to be announced on Friday, February 7.

Cheese sandwich image from simplerecipes.net. Book covers from Alan’s website and Goodreads. Photo of Alan is from his website.