The Vampire Washing Machine

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A silly Spooktober treat for fright lovers

By Scott Bury

The power went out with drawn-out squeaks from every electronic device in the house. Rodney noticed the full moon shining through the window.

“Glad I didn’t close the blinds earlier,” he muttered. Then he swore as the soapy plate slipped from his fingers and smashed on the floor. In the dark, he cut a finger on a shard and held back another oath as he heard a growl.

Spooky haunted talking dishwasher by Adrian Loveless

The only light in the kitchen was the moon reflecting off the front of the dishwasher. It growled again and rattling came from the cutlery inside it.

How could it do that when the power’s out, Rodney wondered. He wrapped a paper towel around his cut finger and bit back another oath when he saw a drop of blood, black in the dim light, hit the floor in front of the dishwasher.

The machine growled again and the door flung open. “Goddamn!” Rodney stepped back and tripped, flopping onto his butt on the vinyl floor.

His heart pounding, he looked closer at the dishwasher. Somehow, two steak knives had become tangled in the rack and were hanging down from either side like fangs. To his horror then, the door slowly rose, closing by itself.

“Come closer,” said a voice.

Rodney looked around. “Who said that?”

“You know who—or rather, what. Come closer.”

“The dishwasher?” I’ve been working too hard.

“Not just any dishwasher. Is your finger all right?”

“No, it hurts like hell. I have to put some peroxide on it.”

“Do not do that!” said the dishwasher. “Put your finger in my—that is, on the edge of the door.”

Rodney did not know why he complied, but he put his finger on the lip of the door. It snapped closed with his finger somehow wedged inside and he felt the dishwasher sucking on it. He pulled it out with a gasp. “What are you doing?”

“I want your blood,” said the dishwasher.

“A vampiric dishwasher?” Rodney put his finger in his own mouth. It tasted soapy, but the blood flowed freely. “I’m losing it.”

The door flung open again. “Give me your blood!” the dishwasher cried. A red glow came from deep in the back. Rodney could not tear his eyes from it.

The glow came closer and closer, brighter and brighter until Rodney realized, too late, that his head was completely inside the dishwasher. Obeying a silent command in his head, he twisted around to look up. The door slammed shut and drove his throat onto the steak knife.

Photo by Simon Moore on Unsplash

Rodney only struggled for a few seconds as his blood drained into the dishwasher cavity. When his heart stopped, the dishwasher sighed deeply.

The moonbeam moved off the dishwasher. The door fell forward under Rodney’s weight and his body rolled onto the floor.

The noise drew Kelly, Rodney’s widow, into the kitchen. “Rodney? Are you getting some candles?” In the moonlight that was now reflecting off the toaster, she saw Rodney’s body on the floor.

She didn’t even have time to scream before the toaster-wolf sprang on her from the counter and tore out her throat.

What’s sexier to suburbanite adults today than really great kitchen appliances?

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Cover reveal: The Children of the Seventh Son

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BestSelling Reads author member announces new book

By Scott Bury

BestSelling Reads member Scott Bury has revealed the cover of his upcoming release, The Children of the Seventh Son.

It’s an original image by painter Marc Laisne of Montpelier, France and Ottawa, Canada. The cover design is by another BestSelling Reads member, David C. Cassidy.

“I’m very proud of the cover. Not many independently published books have completely original cover images,” says the author. “Marc Laisne captured perfectly a key scene in the book: where the central character, Javor the Sklavene, faces a choice of three paths to follow.”

The Children of the Seventh Son

The year 600 of the Christian Era is the darkest time of the Dark Age. Young Javor the Sklavene has settled in Constantinople, the last bastion of civilization against dark forces that have shattered the Western Roman Empire.

Wielding two special weapons made from the Bones of the Earth, Javor has become the favourite monster-killer of the secret Gnostic Order. As his young family grows, he is sent to distant, exotic lands to eliminate threats and learn more about why the earth is intent on destroying humanity.

Every mission seems to bring more questions than answers—until he finds the greatest danger comes not from forces from beneath the surface of the world, but from the very civilization he has been defending.

The second book in the Dark Age series, it’s the sequel to The Bones of the Earth. You can enjoy a sample of that book on the author’s website.

The Children of the Seventh Son will publish on Friday, November 13 and is available for pre-order on Amazon now.

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Maps and fantasy

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Monday musings on fantasy writing

By Scott Bury

A map is a necessary feature of any fantasy novel.

Tolkien’s map from The Hobbit

Ever since Tolkien and Lewis, and maybe before, every fantasy novel has a map at the beginning or the end of the book.

It’s not necessary, but I find a map often helps. I also think a good map would help with any historical fiction as well as some others, to show the reader the relationships between settings in any story, to give an idea of how close or far apart key locations are. 

The trouble is, with a lot of fantasy novels, the map is childish looking. Totally unsatisfying for anyone who knows the first thing about maps.

It seems that every fantasy writer thinks that Pauline Baynes, the illustrator of the maps in The Hobbit, set the rules of cartography. 

But they’re not as good at drawing maps as Baynes. As a result, their maps are not detailed, nor realistic nor, more importantly, believable.

One good example is the map of the fantasy world in the bestselling Eragon by David Paolini. Obviously inspired by the maps drawn by Tolkien and Baynes, it’s particularly unsatisfying and child-like. It displays a lack of understanding how geography and geology work. 

This is not the only example. All the writers of fantasy seem to think mountains look like individual little cones, sometimes topped with a charming snowy peak. Rivers conveniently go through cities, which always have a hill for a castle with four towers in it. 

Coastlines are remarkably smooth, and borders between kingdoms are regular, rather than the tortuous, twisting and contentious messes you can see in virtually every part of the word, shaped by centuries of warfare and politics. 

Likewise, the societies were always limited and simplistic. There is a good kingdom and an evil kingdom. Their allies are also either good or bad, but less extreme. Tolkien, Lewis, Pratchett, Turtledove and most others follow this trope. George Martin is the one author who comes close to reflecting the complexity of international relations and dynastic politics in his Song of Ice and Fire series. But even that is not as complex, nor as far-reaching as the real ancient world was.

The sophistication of ancient societies

The ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, knew about China (which they variously called “Qin” or “Seres.”) Rome traded with India, and with far-off places like Abyssinia and Axum. Roman writers listed far-flung tribes in Scandinavia and what is now Russia, as well as in Africa. Their geography extended far beyond the maps of most fantasy writers. 

Maps and direction

Dissatisfaction with maps was part of the inspiration behind my first-published novel, The Bones of the Earth. When I began writing it, many years ago, my children were quite young and seemed to like stories about dragons. So we got a few movies and books, but somehow, they all seemed to follow a few well-worn tropes. The dragons were all friendly, or at least amenable to human direction. 

But that’s not what dragons meant to me. A little reading about the mythology involving dragons reveals them to be immensely powerful creatures, as well as very intelligent. While European stories generally depict dragons as antagonistic. Leave them alone on their giant piles of gold and jewels, or they’ll burn down your town and eat you alive, is the moral.

Asian dragons, on the other hand, are often said to have taught humans agriculture and other wisdom. They’re still not friendly, though. Certainly they are not suitable as pets.

Inspiration

All of this inspired me to do something different.

I guess it started with the map. “How can I make a map look more realistic?” I wondered. Eventually, I found the obvious solution: use a real map.

Which then led me to the next decision: set the fantasy story in a real place. And what is more fantastic than the Dark Age?

Current thinking dismisses the concept of the Dark Age of history. There are plenty of records from the time following the fall of the Western Roman Empire. In fact, the idea is highly western-European-centric and ignores the splendid civilizations that persisted through the years 476 to 800 CE: the Sassanid Persian Empire, China, Japan, powerful and sophisticated civilizations in India and Africa and the Americas. 

But it’s still a powerful, romantic idea, a great place for stories.

So that’s what led me to set a fantasy series in the Eastern Roman Empire around the turn of the seventh century CE. 

And it has an awesome map, and I’ll use it in my upcoming sequel, The Children of the Seventh Son.

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A new bestseller with a new teaser: Fancy Man Blues

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A Thursday teaser from new member A.J. Llewellyn

Exciting news, readers! Bestselling author A.J. Llewellyn has joined the ranks of your favorite bestselling writers. Without further ado, let’s go to the sample of her newest book.

Stumpy Lake, Virginia Beach, Virginia, February. Midnight. Five Years ago. 

Athen felt ridiculous, in the dead of night, to be waiting to meet a man who’d claimed he could help him with his case. A man who was blind, no less. Athen shifted his feet a little farther apart on the edge of the damp, rock-strewn lakefront. His boots were wet, but the water hadn’t soaked through to his socked feet. Yet. 

He let his flashlight blaze a trail around him. The lake was considered perfect for watercraft, especially kayaks and ca- noes, but not for swimming. Athen had already been warned it was filled with deadly snakes. 

Something terrible had happened here to someone beauti- ful, and he wouldn’t rest until he solved the mystery of Allie Madden’s disappearance. He focused his gaze on a ripple of movement in the water. He didn’t want to get bitten and die before he could find her. 

Her disappearance and apparently brutal murder ached in his gut like an ulcer. 

He took some deep breaths and it only hurt his throat more. How cold is it? Last time I checked it was thirty-two degrees. Much colder now. Athen switched off the flashlight, tucked it into the pocket of his pea coat, and rubbed his gloved hands together. It didn’t help him get any warmer. 

I should have worn something else. This old coat won’t cut it. A fleeting sense of passion scissored through him for his lover, who’d lent it to him. Another worry invaded his thoughts. 

What if the tracker doesn’t show? Was it this cold the night Allie Madden was dragged out here?

He slid his left foot across the sand to his right. Then he drew it back, bringing the right foot toward the left. He shuf- fled this way repeatedly until the heat from his feet traveled up his calves and moved up toward the rest of his body. 

He let out a breath, condensation evaporating from his frigid lips. 

Keep moving, man

He continued sliding his feet back and forth, a trick he’d learned from his days working for the US Marshals. An ac- tress he’d protected from a stalker had taught him this routine from her long days standing on movie sets.

Where is she now? She’d been stalked by an ex-lover and he’d guarded her for two months in Savannah, Georgia. It had been hot and sticky and… Yeah. That’s the ticket. Pretend it’s hot right now. Her won- derful smile came to mind, and her wicked sense of humor. She was the closest thing he’d come to falling for a woman. 

And the nearest thing he knew of perfection.

Athen kept his gaze swiveling across the deserted beach. Where is this guy? Was this a hoax? The skin prickled at the back of his neck. The gift of fear. No. Not a hoax. He detected movement. The old man was close. 

Or somebody was. 

Fancy Man Blues

Can Blackeye solve his craziest case yet?

Athen ‘Blackeye’ Mavromatis, roving lieutenant with the Bev- erly Hills Police Department, is trying to enjoy a rare day off. It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen when the mayor hands him a twisty missing person’s case. A Saudi Princess has vanished. Because of royal protocols, Athen must conduct his investigation under the wire. He doesn’t mind doing that, but it soon becomes apparent that the princess, who’s also a wannabe actress, might have been murdered. Her apartment appears to be one big giant crime scene.

But just who is Natasha Al-Khan, AKA Natasha King, and who wants her dead? Though Beverly Hills has the reputation of being crime-free, this is the second murder case he’s tackled in the short time Athen’s been with the department. Not only does he have to solve this one fast, but he and his lover, Grady, are dealing with Athen’s delinquent niece who’s just come out to them. Oh, and somebody very near and dear to them may turn out to be a deranged psychopath…

A.J. Llewellyn

A.J. Llewellyn is the author of over 300 M/M romance novels. She was born in Australia, and lives in Los Angeles. An early obsession with Robinson Crusoe led to a lifelong love affair with islands, particularly Hawaii and Easter Island.

Being marooned once on Wedding Cake Island in Australia cured her of a passion for fishing, but led to a plotline for a novel. A.J.’s friends live in fear because even the smallest details of their lives usually wind up in her stories. A.J. has a desire to paint, draw, juggle, work for the FBI, walk a tightrope with an elephant, be a chess champion, a steeplejack, master chef, and a world-class surfer. She can’t do any of these things so she writes about them instead.

A.J. I started life as a journalist and boxing columnist, and still enjoys interrogating, er, interviewing people to find out what makes them tick.

How to find/friend her:

And don’t forget to sign up for her newsletter by emailing ajllewellynnewsletter@gmail.com – each month she gives away a free ebook!

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To create the perfect book

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It’s been said that no artist is ever satisfied with their work. And I think that’s just as true for writers.

I know that, once they’re out there in front readers, there is always something that I wish I had done differently with every one of my books.

For my first published book-length fiction, The Bones of the Earth, there are some things that still bother me about it. Even eight years after its release.

I wish I had included more description of the environmental damage done by civilization, even in the sixth century. For example, both Rome and Constantinople had to import most of their grain from Egypt and the province of Africa; bad farming practices and heavy urbanization had rendered the land around the big cities unable to produce enough food for the urban populations.

I did address this more in the sequel to The Bones of the Earth, the imminent The Children of the Seventh Son.

I also wish I written more about griffins. I put one into Part 1 of the story. I intended it to represent celestial or sky powers, as opposed to the chthonic or earthly gods. However, by the time I got deep into parts 2 and 3, somehow I forgot. Also, there are already a lot of fantastical creatures in it.

A griffin from a medieval tapestry now in Basel, Switzerland. Source: Wikipedia.

Also, I wish I had known more about covers for commercial fiction: would have liked my name to be in larger type.

However, Bones was not my first published fiction. That was a story that looks like it’s for children, Sam, the Strawb Part. It’s about a young boy who loves strawberries so much, that he dresses as a pirate and attaches a skull-and-crossbones flag to his bicycle, then uses it to rob local mothers of strawberries.

I just wish, now, that the tone had been a little less acerbic, and the story a little more suitable for children to enjoy.

The good news

That’s the thing about publishing today: you can change your books after they’re written. Re-publishing an e-book means that even the people who bought or downloaded it before the change will get the new version.

And the paperbacks are print-on-demand. There are no great stacks of books in a warehouse somewhere, so producing new versions will not require wasting the original editions.

Dr. Malcolm’s question

Then there’s the question that Jeff Goldblum’s character asked in Jurassic Park: I can go back and change books and stories that are already in readers’ hands—but should I? Will those people have a different reaction? Will a slight improvement bring more readers to the book?

My first job after university was as a book editor for one of the major publishers. On my first day, I asked my boss, the chief editor, if the goal was to produce the perfect book.

He laughed.

To this day, I have not come across a single book that did not have something wrong with it. Some error, at least a typo.

I know that every time I go through a manuscript I have already edited and re-written, I find something to change. A typo that I missed, a reversed quotation mark, an awkward phrase.

If I make a lot of changes and what I think are improvements, will I just find yet more problems or errors? Worse, will I create more problems?

What if what I think as such a huge, glaring problem is something that readers barely notice?

So should I revise old books, or move on and write new and better ones?

What do you think? Leave an answer in the Comments, below.

Scott Bury

can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

He has several mysteries and thrillers, including Torn RootsPalm Trees & Snowflakes and Wildfire.

Scott’s articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

He has two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Learn more about Scott on his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

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Dead Man Lying

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A sneak peek ahead at the upcoming third Hawaiian Storm mystery

By Scott Bury

Vanessa paused at the edge of the forest to try to rub some of the dirt off her shoes. “Steven Sangster. I can’t believe I’m investigating his death. Did you like his music, Detective Ferreira?”

“Call me Lani. Yeah, I had one of Steven Sangster’s albums as a girl. I loved trying to figure out the hidden meanings in the words. Did you like him, too?”

Vanessa could not repress a smile. “I was a big fan. I had all his old CDs — still do. But I thought the ‘hidden meanings’ thing was blown way out of proportion. I thought his songs were easy enough to understand. Still, I had a huge crush on him when I was 16. He was so handsome.”

Lani smiled back. “The blue eyes and the square chin, huh?”

So this is the famous Nalani Ferreira, Vanessa thought, looking at the slender detective with her peripheral vision while appearing to study the heiau. She was small for a cop, but athletic, with beautiful big brown eyes and cheekbones that told Vanessa of mixed Asian and Hawaiian extraction. She had tried to tame her thick, dark hair, but the humidity of Maui’s rain coast was curling it .

 “Is this where it happened?” said an unfamiliar voice. Vanessa and Lani turned and Vanessa’s shoe slipped again. Her knee buckled and she almost went down, but Lani’s small hand grabbed her arm, steadying her. Vanessa was impressed — Lani was stronger than she looked.

Steady again on the wet lava, she looked up to see a short, balding man letting the yellow police tape down behind him.

“Don’t the words ‘Do not cross’ mean anything to you?” Lani demanded, stepping toward the man.

“I’m Simon Sangster. He — the victim … I mean, he was my father,” the man stammered. He did not step back, but actually put a foot up on the lava rock.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Sangster, but you still cannot step past the yellow tape.”

The man scowled, straightened his back and puffed out his little chest, which did not protrude nearly as much as his belly. “Now that my father is — I mean, this is now my property,” he said, but his voice did not match his posture.

“I’m not sure that’s quite true, but even so, this is a crime scene and you’ll have to step back past the yellow tape,” Lani retorted. She lifted the tape for him.

“It’s so that no one inadvertently compromises the investigation,” Vanessa offered, trying to make her tone conciliatory. “Please, step back.”

“In-investigation?” he said, seeming to deflate. “I thought it was an accident?”

“We’ll have to wait for the coroner’s final report to know that,” said Lani. She stepped off the heiau and took the younger Sangster by the arm, directing him into the path back down the hill.

Vanessa was just about to step onto the path when a koa tree exploded. Wood chips flew through the heavy air and the sound of a shotgun rolled up the slope. Lani threw herself off the path, pushing the pudgy Simon Sangster down. Behind her, Vanessa dropped to the ground and rolled, tearing her jacket on ragged volcanic rock. They held still, barely breathing, counting the seconds as the top half of the koa tree slowly toppled.

Dead Man Lying

Vanessa Storm is back! Dead Man Lying returns the FBI Special Agent to Hana on Maui’s rain-soaked coast.

She knows when you’re lying …FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm is back on Maui to catch a killer.

With lush rain forests, black sand beaches, and a laid-back lifestyle, Maui offers the perfect retirement location for once-famous country singer Steven Sangster … until he ends up dead.

As the killer, or killers, strike again and again, FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm must untangle the lies spun by the singer’s associates, friends, family — and the singer himself before the music dies.

Dead Man Lying will be out in autumn 2020.

Find out more about the Hawaiian Storm series on Scott Bury’s website.

Scott Bury

can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

He has several mysteries and thrillers, including Torn RootsPalm Trees & Snowflakes and Wildfire.

Scott’s articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

He has two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Learn more about Scott on his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

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