Cover reveal: Wildfire



The first book in a brand-new mystery series

Launching March 22, 2018

That’s right, a brand new mystery series, about a young legal investigator named Tara Rezeck, will launch in less than a month. And here’s your first look at it—a striking cover by the one and only David C. Cassidy.

The book is now with my outstanding editor, Gary Henry, and after that it will go to the eagle-eyed Joy Lorton for proofreading.

In the meantime, I will soon set up pre-orders on Amazon and other e-tailers, and I’ll let you know when it’s available.

What’s it about?

Wildfires swept across California wine country in 2017, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, and killing dozens of people. Law school grad and single mother Tara Rezeck finds herself in the middle of the catastrophe. When she returns to her job after evacuating she finds her employer’s, body in the ashes.

The question that challenges her brains and her legal training is: was it an accident? Or was his body burned to hide evidence of murder?

Subscribe to this blog so you don’t miss your chance to pre-order it!

 

A new writing year beckons



It’s January. A new year spreads before us like a blank page, waiting for anything we want to do . Ready for us to write our own story.
And I plan on writing that story—in fact, several stories.

For you, my wonderful readers, I am going to publish a whole whack o’ stuff for your reading pleasure.

What to look forward to

I promised, and I will deliver. The first book in the brand-new mystery series, Wildfire, will be out in March. This features a new lead character: Tara Rezeck (it means “risk”), law school grad and single mom, trying to make her life in California when wildfires break out. Her new boss is killed. Was it the fire, or was it something or someone else?

The third draft Wildfire is now with beta-readers. Then I will respond to their reactions, incorporate suggestions (or not), and send it to the editor. Then there’s more re-writing, and then I will send it to the proofreader.

In the meantime, I have a great designer dreaming up the cover. Hold onto your socks—David C. Cassidy is going to knock them off again.

A boxed set

While that project is in the very capable hands of beta-readers, editors and publishers, I’m going to do two things to the Eastern Front trilogy (Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War).

First, I’ll be publishing all three volumes on all major e-tailers: Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes/iBooks and Barnes & Noble. So far, they’re only available on Amazon, but with this move, they’ll be available more broadly, and in different formats.

The second thing is that I will release the whole trilogy as a boxed set, so readers can buy the whole story as one bundle. Continue to follow this blog for updates on both projects.

Click on the cover image for a sample of the book.

Writing more fantasy

As I promised before, I am returning to the sequel to The Bones of the Earth, The Triumph of the Sky. After finishing parts 1 and 2, I took a break from it to write Wildfire. Now that that’s done, I can focus for a while, at least, on completing the next five parts.

Sales and promotions

Somehow, in between writing and publishing three titles last year, I developed a marketing and promotions plan. Now it’s the time to see how well it will work.

What that means to you, dear readers, is that you’ll have even more opportunities to get books from me, and other authors I know and whose writing I like, on sale or sometimes even free. There will be other prizes, too, that readers will love.

But to get them, you’ll have to do something, too.

Promotions will be emailed to you. To make sure you’re eligible, subscribe either to get Forewords, my advance information email newsletter (click the book cover under “Get your free book.” the first item in the right-hand sidebar, and you’ll be taken to another webpage) or to receive this blog in your email (scroll down a bit to the item in the sidebar, “Get your FREE bonus e-book,” and enter your name and email below the cover image).

I hate spam as much as you do, and I promise again never to release your information to anyone else.

Let’s stay in touch

Subscribe to Written Words and Forewords. Both will give you a free e-book, and you’ll also be eligible for future promotions, sales, giveaways, surveys and contests.

Yes, I said surveys. I want to hear from you—what you like, what you don’t like, what you wish writers would write and what you wish we’d stop doing.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Happy Hallowe’en! A spooky story for those who liked Dark Clouds



As a Hallowe’en treat, I’m reprising here a little story I wrote as an entry in a writing competition about four years ago. The idea was to start with “Shadows crept across the wall.” Extra points were awarded for ending with “everything faded,” and using the word “orange.”

This vignette follows the action in Dark Clouds. See if you can guess where Matt and Helen will turn up next.

Helen’s prison

Shadows crept across the wall, then slithered across the floor. Their teeth reflected the orange sunlight that slanted through the dirty, narrow window.

Slumped on the floor, back against the wall, Matt watched it slide onto his thigh. It grinned at him. Its fangs tore wide rents through his jeans.

The shadow laughed, a sickening hiss. Its fellows joined it in shredding Matt’s pants. The lead shadow laughed again and sank its teeth into his skin.

Matt sighed and shook his head. Won’t she ever learn?

The shadow teeth did nothing to him. How could they? They’re just shadows.

All the shadows hissed, frustrated. They merged and faded into the gloom of the doorless cell. A new shadow appeared on the floor. It grew into Helen.

“So you are immune,” she said.

“Hello, Mom. Do you have anything to drink?”

“Wipe that smirk off your face…you’re no good to me here. And you are my son.” A door appeared in the concrete-block wall and swung open slowly.

“You’re letting me go?”

It was Helen’s turn to smirk as she faded back into shadow.

The last of the sunlight disappeared. Matt crawled out the door just as everything faded.

Dark Clouds: a cross-genre occult paranormal espionage thriller in the making.

Matt always knew when his mother was about to arrive: the wind would swirl from every direction at once and dark clouds would mass in the sky.

He and his pretty wife, Teri, try to get out of the way, but as the Witch’s Son, Matt is drawn into a spider’s web.

He has to use his special abilities to spoil the Witch Queen’s plans—but the price for that is to be paid in blood.

Fortunately, Teri has a few special abilities of her own …

Find it on Amazon or download it for free.

Writing amid calamity



Redwoods in the Muir Woods, Marin County, California.

California is a land of extreme beauty and extreme horrors. From the contrived glamour of Hollywood and Los Angeles to the awe-inspiring majesty of the redwood forests. From the unique personality of San Francisco to the wind-blasted isolation of the northern coast.

It’s also home to disastrous extremes. For the past three days, I’ve been at the Lei Crime World Authors Retreat in Monte Rio, a hamlet between the devastated Santa Rosa and the rocky coast of Bodega Bay. From day to day, the skies can be high and blue or a low, gray-brown haze as wildfires tear through the Napa Valley and leap over mountains into Sonoma. As I write this, more than 25,000 people have had to abandon their homes and flee the fires, thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed, more than 200 people are missing and 31 people killed.

For the past three days, I have been participating in the first Lei Crime World authors’ retreat in Monte Rio, a hamlet halfway between the devastated city of Santa Rosa and the coast at Bodega Bay. It’s safe, for the moment, anyway, although the first thing we all do when we get up in the morning is look to see whether the sky is blue or hazy, and sniff for the odour of smoke. From time to time, ash drizzles down, coating surfaces with gray. As another participant, Erin Finigan said, “That could have been someone’s home falling on us.”

A terrible juxtaposition

It’s not guilt that I feel, but there is relief mixed with helplessness. We gather in the the hotel bar to watch the news on the big TV. In night scenes, the fires dance bright orange among the trees. Day scenes show destroyed towns and weeping, shell-shocked residents. Stories people who left everything to the flames, grateful for having their family alive. Others crying because they cannot find a mother, child or sibling.

The situation, only a half-hour’s drive away, comes even closer when an evacuated family arrives at the hotel: wife, husband, daughter, son, dog and cat. They had minutes to gather family, photos and pets ahead of the fire when the power went out. In the dark, they found the cat, jumped into their car and fled before the fire consumed their home. They had to leave their computer behind, which held more precious family photos and memories, because it was in another structure which housed their family business, and which was already burning. They arrived at the hotel, shaken, pale, their faces drawn, their eyes wide but dull.

We writers, nine of us, pool what cash we can to help console them. It’s a moving moment, and one that underlines how small each of us is in the face of an elemental force like fire.

We are safe. For now. But we keep our suitcases packed, ready to go.

The most compelling stories

Today, I look out over my hotel balcony. The leaves on the trees that I cannot identify are turning red. Above, orange-tinted gray clouds accent the blue sky. Is that smoke? Or just a cloud? The news reports that the situation has become worse. The fires continue to grow. Long-time residents recall fires in 2007 and 2008 that were extensive, but not as bad nor as deadly.

We prepare to leave, to head south to Santa Cruz and Monterey. We will escape the fire zone easily, and in a few more days, will fly home to Ottawa. We may face other dangers there, but from everything I can gather, no existential threats.

We are all writers here at the Russian River town of Monte Rio. We tell stories for a living. We strive to make our books engaging and immersive, entertaining and evocative. We have come to reinforce our ability to write new stories.

But there is nothing that we could write to rival what evacuees are living now, whether they’re from Napa and Sonoma, or Puerto Rico, Afghanistan, the Congo, Libya, Syria and many many more are living now.

They have lost everything. The rest of us are unscathed purely through luck, or the grace of whatever god you believe in.

Let’s remember that.

A story that twists like the Rio Grande



Review of Place of Skulls by Caleb Pirtle III

One of the most satisfying literary discoveries is a truly unique story. This is particularly rare in the mystery-thriller genre. Many thrillers seem to be emulating another derivative book, trying to ride a bandwagon to market success. Far too many read as if the author were trying to write an episode of his or her favourite TV show.

So when I opened Place of Skulls by Caleb Pirtle III, I was prepared for disappointment. But what I found were realistic characters, solid writing and a satisfying, completely original story.

The plot twists and turns, but holds the road.

Place of Skulls is the fourth in Pirtle’s Ambrose Lincoln series, a spy-thriller set during the Second World War. A lot of authors give their main characters a huge character flaw—alcoholism, a history of abuse, a physical disability—and Lincoln has what seems to me to be the most debilitating for a spy: amnesia. Ambrose Lincoln has no memory of his past, and cannot remember why he knows the things he does and cannot account for certain skills he has, such as the ability to pick a lock with a hair pin.

But he does have ghosts—at least one. He’s followed by a dead man only he can see, and only at night, the ghost of a man he killed in a military engagement that he cannot remember.

A rich Dallas oilman named Eliot Bergner hires Lincoln to find whoever killed his brother, Danny. “Danny B.” is a DEA officer who was investigating the smuggling of drugs from Mexico into the U.S., carried by poor, desperate migrant workers. One night, his mutilated body arrives in Texas in an empty boxcar. But not before he sends a message to his brother, Eliot—an observant Jew—that he has found incontrovertible proof of Christ’s appearance in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest in 1492.

Drugs and religion: that would seem to be enough for one book, but then the author adds the idea that Nazi Germany is lacing the cocaine and heroine the migrants are smuggling with Thallium, a potent and undetectable poison. Their idea is to addict as many Americans as possible, and then kill them.

As if that’s not complex enough, shady U.S. government operatives are about to launch an invasion of Mexico to stop the influx of addictive poison, but because Mexico is a sovereign nation that, at the time the story is set, has not yet declared which side of the war it’s on (which would have to make it between December 7, 1941 and May 22, 1942, when Mexico declared war on Germany), they have to keep it secret, even from the President.

No, it’s not impossible to make this story plausible.

If any author had come to a publisher with an idea for a novel about a detective finding incontestable proof that Jesus Christ came to Mexico before 1492, and getting caught up in a US government plot to invade Mexico to throttle the drug trade, mixing in Nazi spies, he probably would have been advised to pick an easier mystery to pen. But Pirtle handles the challenge well, giving the readers just enough information as the plot builds to keep us readers turning pages.

There were a few places where I was afraid the novel would become excessively Christian, where a plot point could only be explained by a miracle or an answer to true faith, but thankfully, Pirtle avoided that. Everything made sense, and while there is a definite religious motif to this book, it makes sense.

The characters ring true.

Author Caleb Pirtle III

Pirtle gives us a wide range of believable characters, all with strengths, weaknesses and flaws. I loved some of them, and detested others, but I reacted to each one. All their actions and reactions logically proceeded from their situations and personalities, with no unbelievable transformations. Eliot Bergner’s agonized family relationships add some surprising depth to the story. I suspected the femme fatale at first, but Pirtle’s iron-tight plot made her completely believable.

The author  gives us a satisfying closing.

Pirtle also avoids a facile story arc. Lincoln struggles against drug cartels, traitors, cowards and ghosts, all of whom leave scars. At no point do we know for sure who’s going to survive the next battle, and it’s never certain who’s going to win.

Pirtle doesn’t cut corners. The book has been produced professionally, meeting or exceeding the standards of commercial fiction. In fact, this book was much better than the commercially published stuff I have read lately.

5*

Visit Caleb Pirtle III’s website for links to buy this and other books.

Dark clouds in Bohemia



The wind ruffles the surface of the Tepla River in southern Bohemia, Czech Republic, just before the dark clouds roll in—very similar to my 2011 short story, Dark Clouds: The Mandrake Ruse.

Elmore Leonard said “never open with the weather.” But he never said anything about opening with his admonition against opening with the weather.

Another writer’s rule is to avoid clichés like the plague. I guess I’m going to break that rule, too.

Opening with the weather

Last month, my wife and I travelled to the Czech Republic. On our last night there, we had supper on a patio overlooking the Tepla River in southern Bohemia. Darkness came early, presaging a summer storm.

We had thankfully finished our dinner and were enjoying the last of our wine when I looked up and across the river. Dark clouds had covered most of the sky, but under them, a lighter-coloured cloud was moving fast, like a carpet unrolling—straight toward us.

The ragged edges of the cloud reached for us, some like ragged fringes, others like grasping tendrils of an undersea predator.

The sight unnerved everyone on the patio that night—not just my wife and me, but also the group from Poland at the table next to us. I could see gusts ruffling the river’s surface into flotillas of tiny ripples that dashed from one strand to the other.

Life imitates art

The second work of fiction I published was called “Dark Clouds: The Mandrake Ruse.” There’s a scene where the heroes see a dark cloud moving fast toward them, across the sky. When the cloud reaches the protagonists, the son and daughter-in-law of the Witch Queen, it throws up a storm of dust and pebbles, blinding and stinging the couple.

In Bohemia that night in June, the strange dark cloud continued to unravel over our heads—but if it had been unrolling, the rolling motion was counter to the movement of the overall cloud, itself.

When it hit us, the wind whipped a napkin off my lap and a glass bottle off the table. My wife stood up to move indoors, and her chair flew off the patio, landing three metres away, then sliding down three stone steps.

The wait staff reacted immediately, picking up napkins and cutlery and small items, sweeping up broken glass before the wind scattered the pieces. We guests retreated indoors and watched the clouds come lower and closer.

Then the rain hit like surf crashing on a beach. When the lightning began, it illuminated the forested tops of the rides and hills surrounding the hotel. It continued flashing for hours, light filling the dark hotel room, providing entertainment unmatched by any summer blockbusters.

Living what I write

It was a memorable moment, a memorable night. Even my wife said “It’s like your story, ‘Dark Clouds.'”

It’s always been important to me that my writing is as realistic, as believable as possible. That’s why I do so much research about the settings of my stories and the history behind them. It’s why I describe little details about the places, the furniture, the light and, yes, the weather. It helps put the reader into the story, helps them understand and, ultimately, experience the story.

Because that’s why readers enjoy books: they take the audience out of their everyday reality, and allows them, in a small way at least, to experience the exotic, the fantastic or the downright impossible.

So when something happens to me that echoes so closely what I described six years ago, I have to admit—it’s gratifying.

When has your life reflected art?

Tell me about something that happened to you that seemed to echo something you read or saw in a book, film, song or picture. Leave your description in the Comments.

Preview of Rescue in Reno: A new #LeiCrimeKW novella coming May 12



LeiCrime-50titles

May 12 is the launch date for 11 new titles in the Lei Crime Kindle World—new stories by professional authors in the fictional universe of Lei Crime, the creation of bestselling author Toby Neal.

One of those titles is mine: Echoes, featuring my Lei Crime character, FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm. You will find it on Amazon as of May 12.

Over the next several days, you can keep coming back to Written Words for sneak peeks of other titles. Today we have Julie Gilbert’s Rescue in Reno, featuring another favourite Lei Crime character, FBI Special Agent Marcella Scott.

Rescue in Reno

By Julie Gilbert

“Did the doctor say you’re well enough to leave yet?” asked Marcella.

“This is a city hospital, honey. Spotting a doctor is like winning the lottery,” said Angela. “Sadly, it comes down to ‘he who makes the biggest stink gets helped first around here.’ I was drugged most of the morning, so I’m behind on my stink-making.”

“I can help with that,” Marcella promised. “If you’re truly well enough.” She leaned down and gave her friend an awkward half-hug then handed over the teddy bear wearing a Get Well Soon T-shirt. Angela looked like she needed to cuddle something.

“The bandage is on the wrong leg,” Angela teased, smiling her thanks. She turned the bear around and folded her arms around it, so that the thing stared up at Marcella with big, glassy black eyes. The bear’s right leg was swaddled in white bandages, and it had a soft, plushy crutch tucked up under its right arm.

“Sorry, they were out of left-leg bandages,” said Marcella.

“At least you got the flowers right,” Angela noted with a wink. “I’m touched you remembered I love irises.”

“Anybody who’s ever stepped foot in your office would remember you like them,” Marcella commented. “I think—”

Two sharp raps at the door interrupted her. Something slid across the floor.

Marcella dashed around the bed to get a better look at the thing.

It was a cell phone.

About Rescue in Reno

RescueInReno-Gilbert

The Biggest Little City might be the death of her …

FBI Special Agent Marcella Scott is still officially on vacation in Las Vegas, but the previous night’s violence has made her aware of the crimes against humanity going on in the tunnels. Before she can investigate too hard, the bad guys get proactive. They kidnap Anthony Pierce, the husband of Marcella’s good friend, and warn her to back off.

Predictably, she doesn’t react well to the threat. Marcella has several problems, including the fact that she’s being watched in Vegas while she really needs to be up in Reno if she wants to help Anthony.

Much as she likes her independence, Marcella’s going to need some high tech and highly skilled allies if she wants to pull off a rescue in Reno. 

*Note: the events in this story follow Violence in Vegas. It’s highly recommended that you start your journey there.

About the author

Julie Gilbert 2013 (5 of 25)Julie is a high school chemistry teacher who writes in several genres. She enjoys warm weather, hot tea, sweet coffee, reading, writing, teaching, and audiobooks.

If you love audiobooks, join Audiobook Edge for the chance at meeting a ton of great indie writers and narrators.

Visit juliecgilbert.com for info on getting a free sci-fi or mystery book.