The ‘Empire’ Challenge: Writing the second book in a trilogy

Trilogies and books in a series have become standard mode-of-operandi for authors in recent years. A trilogy is born when the story is too big to complete in just one novel, whereas books in a series simply continue the adventures of the characters established in the first book, introducing new plot-lines for each installment. The Night Flyer Trilogy is an example of the first.

I chose to pattern the three-novel arc on my two favorite trilogies–the Lord of the Rings and the original Star Wars Trilogy. In both of those celebrated works, there existed one over-arching plot, villain, and mission for the heroes to accomplish while being broken into three self-contained acts. Rather than employ impossible cliff-hangers to lure readers to the next book, I chose to follow the examples of Tolkien and Lucas by ending books one and two with a satisfactory wrap of the crisis at hand while still leaving the ultimate goal unfulfilled.

Some readers and movie goers are disappointed when a sequel does not live up to the original; much of my focus in writing Secrets of Milan was to ensure this was not the case. Thus far I have been relieved to read reviews stating the reader thought it was even better than Merchants of Milan.

The main plot line had already been laid out before I even started to write Secrets, but details emerged as I went along. One example is the heart-to-heart conversation between Madelena and her sister-in-law, Portia. Such an intimate scene was not part of the original conception, whereas big things like the church bombing was; but as I wrote Maddie’s story and saw that she longed so much to have someone to share the secret of who she loved with, I considered Portia–an older woman who shared the same household and was thoroughly in love with her husband, Alessandro (Maddie’s doting brother). If anyone in the cast of characters would be sympathetic to Maddie’s dilemma, it would be the pretty, petite Portia. I tried to broach the subject as organically as possible and hope it came across as such.

This book is somewhat longer than the first, but in the same basic word count range. One challenge was to keep the word count near to that of Merchants of Milan without skimping on anything important. Another decision that vexed me was how long to keep up the separation between Maddie and Florentina in the first segment of the novel. I wanted it to be long enough to create the desired tension and release, but not so long that it became tedious.

If anyone noticed, this book had its own internal trilogy, or three acts. The first was solving the romantic problem between the two lead characters while following some dead ends in the investigation. This culminated in the church bombing and Maddie resolving her issues. In the second act, the Night Flyer hunts down the man responsible for the church bombing while they work together on solving the mystery of the secret society which may have claimed another victim in one of Maddie’s friends. The third and final act is their trip to Rome for the exciting climax. As in the first book, this one ends with one villain defeated while the illusive mastermind is still at large.

In the third act, my researched paved the way for details to take form as I learned something new. Before writing Secrets of Milan, I had never heard of the Church of Quo Vadis south of Rome along the Appian Way. Upon discovering this unique landmark, I went back and included a reference to it in the clues so that Florentina would think of it when trying to find the suspected meeting place of the clandestine organization they sought to uncover. It is a small chapel built on the supposed site where Jesus appeared to St. Peter and told him to go back to Rome. Inside is on display a stone that has the impression of a set of human footprints that they claim belong to the risen Christ. The area near that chapel is home to one of many catacombs of Rome. From the original book outline, Florentina would seek out the shadowy cadre in catacombs, but discovering this tidbit provided me with the means by which she would find them. The catacombs dated back well over a thousand years in 1503, but had fallen out of use hundreds of years earlier and were not officially rediscovered until the mid-1500s, so Florentina needed another way to learn of an entrance. Enter the fascinating Church of Quo Vadis.

I have enjoyed researching and writing Secrets of Milan and hope readers think it lives up to my expectations for the second book of a trilogy. Characters and relationships grow and transform while we inch closer to uncovering the mysteries that lie hidden in the shadows. Look for lots of action in the final installment, Chaos in Milan


Edale Lane is the author of an award-winning 2019 debut novel, Heart of Sherwood. She is the alter-ego of author Melodie Romeo, (Vlad a Novel, Terror in Time, and others) who founded Past and Prologue Press. Both identities are qualified to write historical fiction by virtue of an MA in history and 24 years spent as a teacher, along with skill and dedication in regard to research. She is a successful author who also currently drives a tractor-trailer across the United States. A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Edale (or Melodie as the case may be) is also a musician who loves animals, gardening, and nature. Follow her on Twitter at @edalelane or on her website!


While Florentina as the Night Flyer searches for a mysterious underworld organization that has attempted to murder the woman she loves, Maddie struggles to deal with the danger Florentina is courting. Her brother, Alessandro, has become the most prominent merchant of Milan, but the Night Flyer uncovers a secret so shocking it could destroy them all.

Secrets of Milan is the second book in Edale Lane’s Night Flyer Trilogy, a tale of power, passion, and payback in Renaissance Italy. If you like drama and suspense, rich historical background, three-dimensional characters, and a romance that deepens into true love, then you’ll want to continue the Night Flyer saga.

Follow the rest of the Secrets of Milan blog tour!

Buy it now! Kindle Version or Print!

Bringing the stories together

Today’s guest voice is Michael Williams of Seventh Star Press, one of our partners here at Literary Underworld. Over the past 25 years, Michael Williams has written a number of strange novels, from the early “Weasel’s Luck” and “Galen Beknighted” in the best-selling DRAGONLANCE series to the more recent lyrical and experimental “Arcady,” singled out for praise by Locus and Asimov’s magazines.

Williams’ highly anticipated City Quartet was completed by the publication of Tattered Men in October 2019. The four volumes may be read in any order–four stories that intertwine, centered in the same city, where minor characters in one novel become central in another:

  • “Vine: An Urban Legend” is the story of an amateur stage production In Louisville’s Central Park, gone darkly and divinely wrong.
  • “Dominic’s Ghosts” takes up the story of a son in search of his father in the midst of a murky conspiracy involving a suspicious scholar, a Himalayan legend, and subliminal clues from a silent film festival.
  • “Tattered Men” is the account of a disheveled biographer, writing the life story of a homeless man who may have been more than he ever seemed.
  • And “Trajan’s Arch” is a coming-of-age story replete with ghosts, a testimony to hauntings both natural and supernatural.

Bringing the stories together

It’s no great wisdom to say that setting is character.  Most writers know this implicitly, especially if you’re writing fiction that resides in alternate, changed, or parallel worlds.  Tolkien’s Middle Earth is as much an actor in the epic story as Frodo or Gandalf: it shapes events, uncovers mysteries, guides possibilities.  The same for Martin’s Westeros, Le Guin’s Earthsea, Ray Bradbury’s Mars.

But also Garcia Marquez’s Macondo, Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria, William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.  Place is a factor not only in speculative fiction, but in many of the other stories that shape our reading.

I’ve been asked to comment on how my City Quartet is put together, how it addresses the primary task of writing interrelated novels that stand alone—an odd tactic in a publishing industry that is fond of the series.  Because the City Quartet is by no means a series: instead it is an arrangement of books, a world of four worlds that the reader can enter from any of its four volumes, can read in any order.  I like to think that in some ways it is like a musical quartet, in which four parts commingle and interweave, forming a work that is larger than the sum of its components.

And it starts with setting.

The City Quartet takes place in a modern Midwestern city that is and is not my native Louisville.  Composed of the streets and neighborhoods, the suburbs and the sites that would be recognizable to any native or visitor, the fictional city is nonetheless a bending of the actual one, layered in time and in alternative versions, but ultimately anchored in the very real city I remember, work in, and visit.  And as every city has its lore, from history to urban legend, so does mine, and it intersects with that of the actual Louisville, draws from the stories I heard in childhood and read about in newspapers and local chronicles; nevertheless, a lot of my city is invented, made up by and around the characters I put in the books.

Each of the books is a self-contained novel.  Each has a narrative arc that I hope is successful.  Whether you read Trajan’s Arch or Tattered Men, Dominic’s Ghosts or Vine: An Urban Legend, you get a beginning, middle, and end to a story; you have characters who change and grow because of what happens to them; I hope you turn the pages eager to find out what those changes are.

You get that if you read only one of the novels.

If you read a second, and a third or fourth, you get the design and pattern and weaving of the books.  Primary characters in one book appear in secondary roles in another, perhaps about the business of one of the stories you are not reading at the time, glimpsed in an excerpt or a cameo.  Or perhaps they’re on an adventure only implied in a third book, or you see the same scene from a different point of view: an encounter you saw in Trajan’s Arch you will see again in Dominic’s Ghosts, but from a different point of view, so that it feels differently and means a different thing, and the meaning of that encounter complicates and deepens.

But if you see the encounter only once, only in one book, it should still make sense.  You should understand it in terms of one version without needing to refer to another novel to find out what the hell is going on.  The novels relate to each other more than they depend on each other: their connection is more textural and musical than linear and causal.

So you can enjoy each by itself; taken together, however, you get more of the jokes, see more connections, and slowly come to the conclusion, I hope, that our stories, like ourselves, are part of each other.

Follow the rest of Williams’ blog tour through Tomorrow Comes Media!

Dominic’s Ghosts

Dominic’s Ghosts is a mythic novel set in the contemporary Midwest. Returning to the hometown of his missing father on a search for his own origins, Dominic Rackett is swept up in a murky conspiracy involving a suspicious scholar, a Himalayan legend, and subliminal clues from a silent film festival. As those around him fall prey to rising fear and shrill fanaticism, he follows the branching trails of cinema monsters and figures from a very real past, as phantoms invade the streets of his once-familiar city and one of them, glimpsed in distorted shadows of alleys and urban parks, begins to look uncannily familiar.

Vine: An Urban Legend

Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn the attention of ancient and powerful forces.

Michael Williams’ VINE: AN URBAN LEGEND weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.

Trajan’s Arch

Gabriel Rackett stands at the threshold of middle age. He lives north of Chicago and teaches at a small community college. He has written one novel and has no prospects of writing another, his powers stagnated by drink and loss. Into his possession comes a manuscript, written by a childhood friend and neighbor, which ignites his memory and takes him back to his mysterious mentor and the ghosts that haunted his own coming of age. Now, at the ebb of his resources, Gabriel returns to his old haunts through a series of fantastic stories spilling dangerously off the page–tales that will preoccupy and pursue him back to their dark and secret sources.

Tattered Men

When a body washes ashore downstream from the city, the discovery saddens the small neighborhood south of Broadway. A homeless man, T. Tommy Briscoe, whose life had intertwined with a bookstore, a bar, and the city’s outdoor theater had touched many lives at an angle. One was that of Mickey Walsh, a fly-by-night academic and historian, who becomes fascinated with the circumstances surrounding the drowning.

From the beginning there seems to be foul play regarding Briscoe’s death, and, goaded on by his own curiosity and the urging of two old friends, Walsh begins to examine the case when the police give it up. His journey will take him into the long biography of a man who might have turned out otherwise and glorious, but instead fell into and through the underside of history, finding harsh magic and an even harsher world. Despite the story of Tommy’s sad and shortened life, Walsh begins to discover curious patterns, ancient and mythic, in its events—patterns that lead him to secrets surrounding the life and death of Tommy Briscoe and reveal his own mysteries in the searching.

Blending history and romance with Edale Lane

Edale Lane is the author of the award-winning 2019 debut novel, Heart of Sherwood. She is the alter-ego of author Melodie Romeo, (Vlad a Novel, Terror in Time, and others) who founded Past and Prologue Press. Both identities are qualified to write historical fiction by virtue of a masters degree in history and 24 years spent as a teacher, along with skill and dedication in regard to research. She is a successful author who also currently drives a tractor-trailer across the United States. A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Edale (or Melodie as the case may be) is also a musician who loves animals, gardening, and nature.

Merchants of Milan, Book One of the Night Flyer Trilogy, is a work of alternative history/historical romance. It isn’t entirely historical as there are no accounts that I am aware of after exhaustive hours of research that refer to a flying vigilante in Renaissance Milan. However, the period accuracy in regard to science, culture, art, architecture, political, and military history declare it is not a fantasy composition by any means. The novel falls into that branch of fiction where the author asks the question, “What if?”

What if there had been a 16th century superhero?

Neither is this story a classic formula romance. I like to include romance as an element in my novels because, well, people really do fall in love. There are few universal truths, but one of them is that everyone wants to be loved. Furthermore, most normal people also want to bestow love upon another as well, be it a friend, parent, child, or romantic partner. In Merchants of Milan, all of those expressions of love are realized. 

One initial reader was skeptical, however, about how I would pull off a same-sex relationship in a historical setting. In this case, it was not as difficult as one may think. The Renaissance was first and foremost a “re-birth” of science and learning from the Classical Age. While the Roman Catholic Church still held much power and influence in the Italian city-states, by 1502 the philosophy of Humanism had burst into full bloom. Educated citizens (and Italy boasted more of those than the nations of northern Europe) looked to the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations for knowledge that had been lost during the Dark Ages.

It was noted that these societies placed little emphasis on who one chose to love and same-sex relationships were accepted for those who wished to pursue them. While the masses still engaged in the most fundamental activities of the Church – baptism, paying of tithes, weddings, and funerals – they no longer abided by every directive laid down by the clergy.

As Madelena stated, “The Church has no moral authority to speak to such matters, not while we have a Pope who openly keeps a mistress and has fathered children with her despite his supposed vows of celibacy. The Church can mind its own business and keep its hypocritical nose out of ours.”

Historians know that some Renaissance artists, members of various noble and royal families, and even clergymen were gay, but there was very little fuss made about it at the time. No one was arrested, beaten, or imprisoned for their sexual orientation, but that didn’t mean nonconformance went without a price. Gossip could ruin reputations, money could be lost if one’s business was boycotted, and if a man persisted in practicing no discretion, he could be excommunicated (which was a big deal). Therefore, Florentina and Madelena determine that it would be in everyone’s best interest to keep their liaison private.

Florentina has a lot of sneaking around to do. First, she can’t let anyone know she is the masked vigilante the whole city is talking about, and then she has to hide her relationship with Maddie from everybody in order to protect her family from any potential backlash. It’s a wonder she gets any sleep at all. But I remember college days when I was twenty; I managed on very little sleep, so I figure Florentina can do the same!

Three powerful merchants, two independent women in love, one masked vigilante.

Florentina, set on revenge for her father’s murder, creates an alter-ego known as the Night Flyer. Madelena, whose husband was also murdered, hires Florentina as a tutor for her children and love blossoms between them. However, Florentina’s vendetta is fraught with danger, and surprising developments threaten both women’s lives.

Merchants of Milan is the first book in Edale Lane’s Night Flyer Trilogy, a tale of power, passion, and payback in Renaissance Italy. If you like gadgets and gismos, rich historical background, three-dimensional characters, and fast-paced action with a slow-boil lesbian romance, then you are sure to love this series. Buy this one of a kind novel today and let the adventure begin!

Twitter:   @EdaleLane

Official Site:  https://pastandprologuepress.lpages.co/

The Best is Yet to Come from John F. Allen

John F. Allen is an American writer born in Indianapolis. He is a founding member of the Speculative Fiction Guild and a member of the Indiana Writers Center. He began writing stories as early as the second grade and has pursued various forms of writing throughout his career. John studied liberal arts at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis with a focus in creative writing and literature, received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force and is a current member of the American Legion. John’s debut novel The God Killers was published in 2013 by Seventh Star Press, and he has had several novellas, short stories and articles published since. He is also an avid reader, accomplished visual artist and jazz music aficionado.

I knew early on in my writing career that I wanted to explore stories written in a wide range of genres. This also reflects my diverse reading tastes. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into writing the same type of stories, because my readers only expected them. I’ve seen other writers who are known for one particular genre for years, who later write in another and aren’t as well received, mostly because they aren’t known for those genres. I’m not saying that is the case for all authors who cross genres later in their careers, but it happens and when it does it’s very unfortunate.

It has been my philosophy that I’d write stories and novels in various genres from the beginning of my career and publish a short story collection which contained multi-genre stories, so that my readers can get a sampling of my versatility as a writer. This is why my first short story collection, The Best is Yet to Come, contains ten multi-genre stories which range from literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror and beyond. 

During my time as a writing student, my assignments were largely literary fiction stories and the mechanics of story-writing in general. This was actually of significant importance to my genre fiction writing, as it helped me to ground my writing in the commonality of the human condition, which is the most important through line for all fiction writing, in my opinion.

However, there are many specific and unique elements which each individual genre offers for both the reader and the storyteller.

For example, science fiction offers the writer and their readers to explore the scientific and technological marvels of our world, as well as those expanded possibilities from the storyteller’s imagination. As a writer, I personally find science and technology to be fascinating subjects and often read news articles, magazines and academic journals for my own interest.

So when an idea for a science fiction story presents itself, I’m able to utilize the knowledge from my reading to add validity to the fiction and ground it in our reality. This accomplishes two things. Firstly, it acknowledges the scientific and technological progress mankind has made and is continuing to make. Secondly, it offers hope that the progress made will create a brighter future for generations to come or serves as a warning for the consequences of misusing that progress and potentially darker times ahead.

Another example is the fantasy genre. This particular genre allows the reader to experience things from the perspective of a foreign world, usually steeped in magic and mysticism, with an ancient-like setting that is devoid of scientific and technological progress. This genre challenges the storyteller to utilize human history and folklore as elements in their tales, while maintaining the human condition through line. As an armchair historian, this fascinates me in that it allows me to reach into the rich tapestry of human history and pull from the real-life stories, people and settings to create.

When the idea for a fantasy story begins to percolate in my mind, I draw upon ancient histories, people and their cultures as the base for my world building. This serves as the bridge and connective tissue with which the reader can relate and accomplishes similar objectives to science fiction. Firstly, it acknowledges the historical and cultural progress mankind has made and is continuing to make. Secondly, it offers hope that the progress made will continue to move forward in positive and progressive ways, while we learn from the mistakes of the past and avoid repeating them.

Genre writing also gives the storyteller and the reader, the opportunity to explore cultural and racial diversity from the human vantage point. This is particularly important in opening new and exciting settings to the reader, as most genre fiction is it often told from a Eurocentric perspective lens.

Human diversity in genre fiction opens up new settings and points of view to the reader and allows the storyteller to express themselves in a much more personal and passionate manner. With any luck, this very same passion from the writer is translated in their work, the benefit of the reader, which affords them a new and exciting experience.

Featuring ten stories collected for the first time, The Best Is Yet to Come presents nine years of creativity spun from the mind of John F. Allen. Action and adventure are ever-present in these stories, but be prepared for some drama, horror, fantasy and science fiction as well.

This volume includes a holiday story, “An Ivory Christmas,” featuring Ivory Blaque, Allen’s bold heroine from his acclaimed urban fantasy series The God Killers.

Also included are:

“Forest of Shadows” is the debut of a fabled, ancient warrior named, Jaziri, Prince of Kimbogo Province.

You may want to think twice before venturing out into the dark woods of rural Indiana in “The Legend of Matchemonedo.”

A young set assistant of a 1950s science fiction serial gets to embark on the journey of a lifetime in “The Adventures of Star Blazer.”

A young woman in late 1970s Indianapolis learns to be careful what you wish for in “HoodRatz.”

When a woman struggles to care for her ailing father, she discovers the truth behind her troubled past in “The Sweetest Autumn.”

Long ago, a noble samurai finds forbidden love with a beautiful, ebony-skinned princess in “The African Princess.”

A mysterious, military operative is sent on a covert mission in Egypt, when he encounters an alien monster bent on revenge in “Lazarus.”

Forty years ago, a young boy discovers that family means everything in “The Chocolate Malt.”

The Best is Yet to Come also features the special bonus short story, “Witch Way is Up.”

Explore the words of John F. Allen today!

Anybody Want to Play War?

Tommy B. Smith is a writer of dark fiction, author of The Mourner’s Cradle, Poisonous, and the short story collection Pieces of Chaos, as well as works appearing in numerous magazines and anthologies throughout the years. His presence currently infests Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he resides with his wife and cats.

Did the experience of writing in a new genre help you grow as a writer and storyteller, and if so, in what way?

While my previous works have landed within the realms of horror and dark fiction, and even fantasy in the case of a few short stories, my newest novel is a coming of age story—or as I’ve also called it, a coming of rage tale, titled Anybody Want to Play WAR?  

It’s the story of Bryce Gallo, a teenage boy attacked by a dog, who suffers terrible injuries. He recovers in the hospital, but is left with a terrible scar, a stark reminder of his narrow escape, and here the story just begins. It’s the tale of an outsider, of family dysfunction and consequences, and Bryce’s struggle to adjust and ultimately face the world. 

While this one doesn’t fall into the horror genre, past readers will find whispers of the darkness they’ve come to recognize, and it’s my hope that newer readers should also find plenty to enjoy in this character-driven story. 

As an author, I appreciated the freedom afforded in writing this particular book. Remaining squeezed inside a box for too long can become uncomfortable. 

As with other occasions, once I found the proper “zone” for myself to begin this undertaking, I adapted my approach to suit the story and its direction. 

I recognize the value in reading outside one’s oft-chosen genre and exploring other creative arenas. These experiences offer fresh alternatives and learning opportunities. For the sake of growth and development as an author or otherwise, it’s useful to remain open to areas for potential development. 

This book allowed for me to exercise character development on a higher level, and also proved a deeper experience in world building. There are many layers to the setting of St. Charles, and that includes my release of 2018, The Mourner’s Cradle.  

If handled properly, character development and world building are valuable tools which enable a seamless spectrum of possibilities. These are tools which transcend genre, skills which may serve to enhance our storytelling arsenal. To commit my best, I owe it to my readers to keep a multitude of tools within reach. 

As well, I found a challenge in labeling a story which does not easily fit in the molds of standard genre fare, but authors have penned coming of age stories across many years, decades and even centuries. Why shouldn’t I establish my variation on the concept? 

In the end, I’ve carry forward with my motivations, and this time, it was Anybody Want to Play WAR? A liberating task, and at its best moments, a learning experience. Just as our stories are works in progress until the final edit’s completion, as purveyors of words and worlds, so are we, as long as we are willing and determined to make it so. 

— Tommy B. Smith

Follow the rest of Tommy B. Smith’s blog tour at Tomorrow Comes Media!

Brutal injuries can leave scars. As the teenaged survivor of a savage dog’s rampage, it’s a lesson Bryce Gallo will never forget.

Struggling to cope with his damaged appearance, along with a newfound fear of dogs and mounting anxieties at home and school, he flees his suburban home into the moonlit streets of St. Charles.

Along the roads of suburbia and through the shadowed heart of the city, he encounters Wheels, a maintenance worker for a series of apartment buildings; Paloma, known to some by the moniker of Lady Luck; and a woman in a dark house who is, as far as Bryce can fathom, like no one else he has met before.

His new life is not without obstacles or enemies, he learns. The future is a battlefield. Fire and smoke loom on the horizon, and his dangerous course may see the lives of his family and friends forever changed.

Kindle Version:  https://www.amazon.com/Anybody-Want-Play-Tommy-Smith-ebook/dp/B07Y45ZYG2/

Amazon Print Version:  https://www.amazon.com/Anybody-Want-Play-Tommy-Smith/dp/1948042843/

Barnes and Noble Link:  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/anybody-want-to-play-war-tommy-b-smith/1133901518?ean=9781948042840

Guest post: Elements of a compelling thriller

Today’s guest author is Michael Houtchen, whose debut novel Tybee Island H-Bomb premieres this week from our friends at Seventh Star Press. Here’s Michael’s story in his own words:

Kentucky has always been my home. I was born in Owensboro and raised in Daviess County. Life was simple back then. I grew up with outhouses, hand-pumps, and coal stoves. If you wanted hot water, you heated it on the stove.

Michael Houtchen

Both of my parents have passed on. I have a half-brother, Danny, but most of our younger lives he lived with his father, so we didn’t get to see each other often. Looking back, sadly, it was like being an only child. My closest friends were the cows, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, turkeys, geese, ducks, and horses my dad kept on our small farm. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out. Farm animals can be so jealous. Our grocery store – mason jars of mom’s canned vegetables and the occasional trip into town to the IGA.

My dad was a woodsman. You could give him a shotgun, a box of shells and a book of matches, and he could disappear into the forest for weeks. I used to hunt with him, but I was never the woodsman. I can’t tell you how many deer, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons and ground hogs I’ve eaten.

My wife, Stephanie, and I have five kids (three boys and two girls) and eight grandchildren (five boys and three girls). All but one son live here in town. You should see Christmas day at our house.

I’ve had several jobs during my lifetime. When I was thirteen, I had a summer job. I was a soda-jerk at the Utica Junior High School playground. The school is now defunct. It is not my fault the school went defunct.

As an adult, I started out as a janitor. Loved the work, but not the pay. Mapping came next. In other words, I was a draftsman who created maps from surveys. I did that for over twenty years. Mapping full time and going to Brescia College (it’s now a university) at night, I got a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Career change: I was a computer analyst for over twenty years.

There came a day when I realized I was the dinosaur of computer science. Technology had passed me by. So I up and retired. That was in 2014, and I haven’t missed working a day. Truth be known, I do miss the people I worked with.

Notice: I’ve said nothing about writing. I could tell you a pretty good story, but putting it on paper was another thing. Stephanie, my wife, asked, “And why not?” I had no answer.

I should keep this short, so, I will tease you with two important events that happened in my life; two events that I haven’t already discussed. When we meet each other, don’t hesitate to ask me about them.

Monday, September 6, 1965, was a Labor Day, and I was out of school. On that day, I came in contact with a high voltage powerline. Seven thousand two hundred volts entered my hand and exited my head and my feet.

That’s not a typo. It was 7200 volts. I was given up for dead for three days. There is a “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. Ask me about it when we meet.

The second event: September 17, 2017, I was ordained a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church. It keeps me busy these days. If you’re not sure what a permanent deacon does, Google it.

There you have it: My life story summed up in 1,000 words or less. It sounds like a writing contest, doesn’t it? There’s so much I left out. I could tell you about riding the rails, or the time I hung myself. But those will have to wait until we meet.

Michael on the elements of a good thriller:

A solid series plot.

I like for each book in a series to be standalone, but the overall series could have a well thought out plot, a “traveling” storyline, if you will, traveling from book to book.  I wrote a four book series, and I knew were each book was going and how each book tied together.

Interesting characters.

Without interesting characters, the series could/would get boring or grow stale.  Adding/removing characters helps keep the storyline fresh.  Yes, after a while, there’s nothing wrong with killing off main characters or having them move away.  People will hate you, but that’s real life.  Never, never kill a pet!  Just look at John Wicks.

Realistic situations.

A thriller takes place in the world with real world situations — no hocus pocus.  Even if the series takes place on, say, one of Saturn’s moons, it should still have real world situations, like the 1981 movie Outland staring Sean Connery.

Plot twists.

A good series will take you down an expected path, just to come to a dead end.  But don’t drop the solution in the last chapter, or by the introduction of a new character with the solution near the end of the story.  Work your way, chapter by chapter, to the solution.  Keep the reader, guessing.  I love hearing people say   ̶   I thought it was this person until you killed him.

Research.

Take the time to do the research.  I once had a “scene” where a person was starting a helicopter.  I went through all the buttons and gauges just fine, only to find out, I had the pilot in the wrong seat.  The helicopter inventor was left-handed, so pilots sit in the right seat.  A pilot friend, who flew helicopters in Vietnam, pointed out my error.

Tybee Island H-Bomb

The government lost a hydrogen bomb around Tybee Island, Georgia, in 1958, or is that an old wives’ tale?

If it is only a tale, then why are three young men trying to find it, in hopes of selling it to make a dirty bomb?

Before the week is out, six friends from Kentucky will get caught up in kidnapping, murder, and treason, while trying to save one of their own and perhaps the citizens of Tybee Island and Savannah, Georgia.

Kindle Version:  https://www.amazon.com/Tybee-Island-H-Bomb-Michael-Houtchen-ebook/dp/B07V6T7BWC/

Amazon Print Version:  https://www.amazon.com/Tybee-Island-H-Bomb-Michael-Houtchen/dp/1948042789/

Barnes and Noble Link:  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/tybee-island-h-bomb-michael-houtchen/1132868604?ean=9781948042789

Guest blog: The biggest hurdle of being indie

Today’s guest blogger is Joann H. Buchanan, whose latest book is being released this week from Seventh Star Press. Joann was raised in a military family and at the age of 19, followed in her father’s footsteps and joined the Navy. She went to college at OPSU in Oklahoma, majoring in CIS, but the love of writing made her ultimately come back to it. After Dark is Joann’s fifth book. Joann and her husband John have five children and live happily in the heartland of middle America.

The hurdles of being indie

Everyday there are over 500,000 books published on Amazon. That is the biggest hurdle. How to stand out in a sea filled with water?

The most obvious answer is marketing. There are a lot of indie authors who can’t afford to market a book the way it should be.

There are a few ways to get around this.

One, hire someone who is versed in marketing and can make it easier on you or two,  gather a few people who are in the same boat and work together. The second is probably going to end up being the most rewarding because you make friends in the journey and you don’t feel so alone. Also, set your expectations one day at a time. If you receive a review about your book and it’s fabulous, use that to keep moving forward. If you are able to help a friend spread the word, use that to keep moving forward.

That’s the most important thing… keep moving forward. Ultimately you are your own worst enemy. If a new author focuses on the fact that you aren’t a number one best selling author right off the bat, then you are focusing on the wrong thing.

As a friend of mine has told me, this is a marathon, not a sprint. In other words, be prepared for a long journey and celebrate every step that moves you forward.

I have been fortunate in this business in that I have not only made money, but I have connected with some amazingly talented people. They have given me a map when I was lost, an ear when I wanted to vent and a laugh when I have felt down. Allow yourself to exist in the moment. Eventually the bottom line will take care of itself as long as you are existing in the moment.

The other thing, appreciate your fans. They don’t have to buy your book. So even if they don’t particularly enjoy one book but they loved another, tell them thank you for reading it. I think some writers forget the fans. One of my favorite things to do is answer emails from fans. They are everything when it comes to the literary world.

The question is what is the biggest hurdle for an indie writer—I think the biggest hurdle is ourselves. We should band together to make things easier. I’ve seen authors put others down instead of celebrating accomplishments. Don’t do that. Remember that today it is their turn but tomorrow it may be your turn. Wouldn’t it be better to celebrate one another and help one another than to walk all over one another or allow jealousy to rule?

If you are an indie writer and you want to work together to move forward, let me know.  I will gladly be part of your group to help one another move forward. To me, that’s what it’s all about.

After Dark: Children of Nox series No. 3

The time of three arrives….

The stained one is revealed.

The dream protector’s power grows.

A demon possesses the body of Jonah.

All the pieces are in place, guided by Trinity.

Gods, goddesses, and supernatural forces converge, and a clash of powers looms that will determine the fate of the world.

What will come after the dark?

The thrilling conclusion of the Children of Nox Series awaits you!

Joann Buchanan

Two new titles from Shrewsbury!

Longtime Underlord Steven L. Shrewsbury has two titles new to the Literary Underworld! Shrews, as we call him on the circuit, is famous for raw, powerful fiction in fascinating and detailed alternate worlds. He’s also famous for his readings, which can blow down walls.

His latest in the Weird West series is Mojo Hand, which crosses from Peoria, Illinois to the voodoo dens of New Orleans.

After a gun battle in an 1884 Peoria cathouse, one-armed ex-Confederate guerrilla Joel Stuart has new problems. A small group arrives from New Orleans to inform him that his old friend and fellow Missouri Raider needs his help… and that someone is systemically killing all Confederate veterans in the area. Since all in the party perished in the gun battle but the young lady, DeVore, and the law will be on his tail, Joel offers to just return her to New Orleans.

After the train ride, Joel quickly discovers the city in the grip of a voodoo game with Pap Bon Deux and his estranged mate, Maman Elizi. While there, Maman attempts to contract Stuart to attain an article for her from Bon Deux: the soul of Marie LeVeaux, famed eternal voodoo mistress.

Joel finds himself at odds with dire magical forces. He runs headfirst into an army of the undead, a demon guard, the persona of African god Damballah, and even finds himself beneath the lid of a coffin.

The other is new to us, but has been in circulation for a few years. Shrews returns to his roots in dark fantasy, but this time with a biblical twist in Philistine.

The Philistines, a mysterious warrior people known now for mainly one man: Goliath. The giant.

Goliath. A name grander than even the man himself. You’ve heard of his infamous end at the hands of a shepherd as written in a famous book, but what of the life of the man himself? What book tells his tale?

A warrior among warriors, the son of a god, a living legend. Goliath, the warrior champion of the Philistines. On the battlefield, he runs like a horse, wields killing instruments no normal man may heft, and revels in the fear his presence evokes. Off the field, his will is immutable, his trust invaluable, and his appetites unbearable. Goliath. This man knows no challenge.

But such a reputation will not discourage all men. Scheming rulers and generals, prophetic priests and powerful cults, dauntless warriors looking to make their own legends. Monsters. Gods. For one seemingly unkillable, at the very least, these things can ruin an otherwise pleasant day.

Along with his shieldbearer Abimelech, and soldiers more in awe than they are useful, Goliath will set out on missions for kings, face foul magic users, and walk in the shadows of mysterious halls.

History tells us Goliath died at the hands of an Israelite.
Goliath may have something to say about that.

Enjoy these and the rest of Steven Shrewsbury’s amazing and prolific body of work at Literary Underworld!

Search History and the Writer’s Spark

From Seventh Star Press!

There is the standing joke about not checking the search history of a writer.  Questions, often of a criminal nature, find their way into long, damning lists (How to dispose of a body? or domestic terrorist organizations or importing poisonous animals might pop up in histories of friends), as writers research things that, given our more sedentary and timid natures, we probably don’t know first-hand. 

This research is usually for the obvious purposes.  Writers anchor themselves in plausible fictional worlds, creating a kind of dream they invite the reader to share, and any time the dream veers unnecessarily and unintentionally from plausible stuff, you’ll have a reader out there who knows the terrain: when your errors emerge, there’s a reader out there who’ll catch them, whose whole absorption in the book is punctured by your ignorance of what you may have thought was a small matter, but becomes enormous to the reader who knows you’ve made the mistake, then begins to speculate that if you’ve made a mistake he knows about, what is keeping you from others?

When I found out how to tap a telegraph wire, I resolved I’d be damned if I didn’t use all that reading and consultation and leg work in the piece of fiction I’d researched it for.  Then discovered, of course, that parts of my newfound knowledge deflected from the power and dream of the story—that if I talked about this fascinating subject for as long as I wanted to go on with it, my readers would forget what was going on in the book.

How reliable, in short, is the world you’ve created?

So, for the most part, research guides you through uncertain country, maps out the signposts so you can steer the reader’s belief in the story around swamps and sinkholes and perilous bluffs.  That’s why I spent days researching how to tap a telegraph wire—because I both dreaded and respected that informed reader who’d have the information, who was trusting me to unfold the story and whose trust I needed to have for my fiction to work.

It’s also why I steer away from technical passages on firearms in my books.  I grew up around guns, but they held little interest for me, and when they come into play in my stories, it’s always with reluctance that I bring them up, because somewhere out there are a dozen readers whose version of the way that a specific gun works is both authoritative and enough different from the other authorities to cause disputes. For which I am blamed, and my story is discredited.

In short, you can’t be a thorough-going font of specific knowledge, but you can do your best.  And when you do your best, it often patches the worst holes in narrative detail, thereby making the dream of your fiction more vivid and plausible.

But the practical benefits of research are only part of the reason I’m doing it constantly.  Good research not only patches my ideas, but it gives me new ones.  The older I get, the more I glimpse the vast interconnectedness of all the things I learn—how a discovery, say, of a particular medical phenomenon might take my thoughts back to an historical moment that might have only a metaphorical connection to medicine, or to an architectural structure or to a move in a chess game.  What this kind of research does, if you enter it openly, is bend or disorder what you expected.  It’s research in the romantic/academic vein—research as discovery and poetry and play. 

And there are always dangers special to this kind of research.  It’s like the lotus-eaters of the Odyssey, where you bite into the plant and want to stay on the island forever.  For why write when there’s all these good things to discover?

Then you recall that writing is discovery as well.  That it is poetry and play and insight, and that such pleasure are why you got into it in the first place.

And the other principal danger is the temptation to use it all. 

Nowadays, I couldn’t even tell you what I learned about the telegraph.  But no knowledge you gather dies unheeded or untransformed: it lies fallow for years, or floats out to connect with something far-fetched and more useful and wonderful.  Knowledge is the parent of playfulness, which is the parent of knowledge. 

So cut perpetual slack to search histories.  And above all, don’t erase them: we’re going to revisit them in a month or two.

Trajan’s Arch by Michael Williams

Gabriel Rackett stands at the threshold of middle age. He lives north of Chicago and teaches at a small community college. He has written one novel and has no prospects of writing another, his powers stagnated by drink and loss. Into his possession comes a manuscript, written by a childhood friend and neighbor, which ignites his memory and takes him back to his mysterious mentor and the ghosts that haunted his own coming of age.

Now, at the ebb of his resources, Gabriel returns to his old haunts through a series of fantastic stories spilling dangerously off the page–tales that will preoccupy and pursue him back to their dark and secret sources.

Michael Williams

Michael Williams

Over the past 25 years, Michael Williams has written a number of strange novels, from the early Weasel’s Luck and Galen Beknighted in the best-selling DRAGONLANCE series to the more recent lyrical and experimental Arcady, singled out for praise by Locus and Asimov’s magazines. In Trajan’s Arch, his eleventh novel, stories fold into stories and a boy grows up with ghostly mentors, and the recently published Vine mingles Greek tragedy and urban legend, as a local dramatic production in a small city goes humorously, then horrifically, awry.

Trajan’s Arch and Vine are two of the books in Williams’s highly anticipated City Quartet, to be joined in 2018 by Dominic’s Ghosts and Tattered Men.

Williams was born in Louisville, Ky. and spent much of his childhood in the south central part of the state, the red-dirt gothic home of Appalachian foothills and stories of Confederate guerrillas. Through good luck and a roundabout journey he made his way through through New England, New York, Wisconsin, Britain and Ireland, and has ended up less than thirty miles from where he began. He has a Ph.D. in humanities and teaches at the University of Louisville, where he focuses on the modern fantastic in fiction and film. He is married and has two grown sons.

The writing process that works for me

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the writing process.  Each writer develops their own process, over the course of time, that works best for them as an individual.  The sooner the writer understands this, the better it will go for their writing.

My approach has been honed since the mid-1990s, when I dedicated myself to writing fiction with an intent of being published.  Looking back, I have made some small refinements to my process, but by and large I found what worked for me during the first few years and did not deviate from it.

One of the best early decisions I made was to have a dedicated space set aside for writing only.  I made the conscious decision to have one computer committed to being my writing computer, and to have it located in a different room from the one that I conducted business on.

Author Stephen Zimmer

Over time, this had the effect of snapping my brain into writing mode when I sat down at this particular computer.  I attribute this as a big reason why I have not had problems during my career with writer’s block.

I started playing music while writing to block out sounds in the house or out on the street, creating a sort of bubble that further reinforced my writing mindset when in a session.  Music also can help with the mood of a scene, providing another benefit for my process.   

As the internet grew to greater prominence (long before the rise of social media), I also recognized the potential distractions of the online world and saw to it that the computer that I wrote on was offline.  When social media emerged into the pervasive force that it is today, that decision turned out to be a great one, as it is very easy to be distracted by notifications, the urge to check messages, or browse online. 

Despite writing in large word count formats like epic fantasy, I have never put my focus on word count goals for my writing sessions.  The most important thing to me then and now is writing regularly, whether I write a couple hundred words or several thousand in a given session.  Writing on a consistent basis keeps my mind in the right kind of zone for the creative process, even when I go about my daily activities in between sessions.

I also do not allow myself to become bogged in a particular scene.  If I find myself becoming a little stuck in a particular scene, I will move ahead with another, and come back to the earlier one later.  This “walking away” from the problematic scene for a short time has worked out well in giving me a fresh perspective, as when I return to it I usually have figured out what I want to do with it and what it needs to accomplish for the greater story.   

From the beginning, as a writer of multiple series, I deemed it important to know the destination of my stories and have a basic framework for getting there.  At the same time, I understood how new ideas, plot lines, and characters can crop up over the course of writing a manuscript. 

I embraced balancing the need for having a road map in the form of an outline while leaving room to breathe for the creation of new characters and story ideas.  I have never sensed that I have boxed myself in too tightly with my initial outline, and I have always had a very clear vision of the general course I envision for a manuscript. 

The part of the process that had to come with time and experience was knowing when I was ready to hand off a manuscript to an editor.  Virtually all writers are capable of making changes and rewriting endlessly, if they allowed themselves to. 

When doing passes through a manuscript, a writer will always come across a word, phrase, or even scene that they will feel a need to change.  A very important part of the writing process is having the sense to know when a manuscript has reached the right state to declare it finished and ready for the editing process.  

During the course of the past ten years, I have tightened up this window and I recognize the point where a manuscript is ready much clearer than I did before.  Rewriting and additional passes through the manuscript take less time than they did before and my editors have remarked that I have been delivering extremely clean copy on my last few titles (which allows them to spend extra time analyzing content, as opposed to correcting things they come across).  It is a sense that I had to develop through seasoning, growth, and experience.

Going forward, I am open to adjusting things in my writing process to make sure that I have the process that best suits me.  I share my process as I enjoy seeing the writing processes of others, and I never know when I might come across a good suggestion that could work for me as well.

Writing is quite the journey and it is a path of constant growth, but it is very individual in nature.  Just remember, there is no right writing process for everyone. 

You have to find what works the best for you. 

About the author:  Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based out of Lexington, Ky. His works include the Rayden Valkyrie novels (wword and worcery), the Rising Dawn Saga (cross-genre), the Fires in Eden Series (epic fantasy), the Hellscapes short story collections (horror), the Chronicles of Ave short story collections (fantasy), the Harvey and Solomon Tales (steampunk), and the forthcoming Faraway Saga (YA dystopian/cross-genre).

Stephen’s visual work includes the feature film Shadows Light, shorts films such as The Sirens and Swordbearer, and the forthcoming Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of a Lionheart TV pilot. Stephen is a proud Kentucky Colonel who also enjoys the realms of music, martial arts, good bourbons, and spending time with family.

Find out more about Stephen Zimmer’s new book, Prowling the Darkness!

Dark rumors and whisperings of unholy sorcery bring Rayden Valkyrie to the remote city of Sereth-Naga. There she finds a populace cowering in fear of the city’s ruthless, mysterious rulers, who remain behind the high walls of their citadel.

An even greater mystery surrounds the city. Something is prowling the darkness.

Something that has kept the enigmatic rulers for centuries from escaping Sereth-Naga to spread their wickedness to other lands.

Prowling the Darkness is a stand-alone novella that is part of the Rayden Valkyrie Tales.

Blog Tour!

Website: www.stephenzimmer.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/stephenzimmer7
Twitter: @sgzimmer
Instagram: @stephenzimmer7