"Sun & Stone: Tales of the Dead Man, Book Two" will be launched June 2018. Watch this space!
It was somewhere or sometime in 1974. A five year old sits in the back seat, just behind the passenger seat. An odd, dark beige which would otherwise be found nowhere near good and decent people, this inexplicably pockmarked plastic covered the seats with the blemishes of hundreds of handprints from its many passengers. It was a classic VW beetle, triumphant in exterior yellow splendor, its loud mechanical hummingbird engine vibrating through the seats and floorboard.
It was a familiar car, more specifically a family car. It belonged to Roger, my mother's younger brother, who I strangely hadn't seen in several weeks. And, suddenly, we were in it. My dad sat behind the wheel, right hand expertly finessing the rounded knob from first to second, third, fourth, no hint of a grind or a shudder. The car acted like it belonged to him, but that still seemed strange.
"Mom?" the five year old me asked, struggling to wrap his head around this weird set of facts. "Why are we driving Uncle Roger's car?"
There was a bit of silence, which the grownup me realizes was awkwardness at how to explain this new shift in reality to the five year old me.
"Uncle Roger is... gone," came the reply.
"Gone? Gone where?"
"Just.... he's gone, honey."
The little hummingbird engine kept on thrumming for several more moments while five year old me stared into the unyielding dimples of the back of the passenger seat. It looked like thousands of tan and tiny golf balls had been skinned for the purposes of the car's interior.
"Will he want his car again when he gets back?"
"He isn't coming back, honey. He... he was rafting on the American river with some friends and it flipped over, and... he died."
A five year old's brain is strangely wired. It's a lot of images and otherwise incoherent concepts, all connected with dental floss and those flat squares of gum that come in the packs of Star Wars collectable cards. So, in my little five year old brain, I pictured one of those yellow inflatable rafts, my uncle Roger sitting right in the center, paddling furiously as the raft wobbled towards the frothing inevitability of a waterfall.
In the back of my mind, the song played: "Marshall, Will and Holly..."
Over the falls....
In the Land.... of the Lost.
And it all just kind of made sense to me, then. Roger wasn't really GONE gone. My uncle was in that hollow-earth fairytale world below the world, standing off against the Sleestaks and fighting animatronic and stop-motion dinosaurs. I never really mentioned this. I suppose I somehow understood that the idea of my uncle going toe-to-toe with a raging T-rex was probably pretty silly. And yet, it gave me comfort.
It's been some forty four years now, since that innocent delusion. Recent events have made me flip back to that old page, though, and I'm wondering how he's getting on down in the land literally down under, and though I'm sure his hair and beard are long and grizzled, but after years of living on an ACTUAL paleo diet, I'm sure he'd be pretty damn ripped, like some sort of Jurassic Park Sean Connery.
Death... it's just a weird thing. There's no real answer to what it is, what it does, or any of that. And the past year have been....well, dramatically shaken by it. My father, my grandmother, and even Karma, my old feline writing companion. I thought it'd been bad with David Bowie, and Prince, but then 2017 rolled up on my lawn, and the hits just kept on coming. It's made me look a lot closer at death than I previously had, and for a guy who wrote a whole 6-book series on an 11-year old angel of death and is halfway through a series literally called the Tales of the Dead Man, you'd think I already thought about it enough. Clearly the universe didn't think so, and here we are.
Death, death, death. It's right there, lingering at the fringes of every book, after every chapter, every page, paragraph and period. What's next? Silence? The Great Void? The Blink? I don't have all the answers. And, believe me, I've been looking.
Then again, I've always felt like it's the search that matter. The journey, the quest - the light at the end of the tunnel can be the train, or wherever it needs to be. Maybe it's really just the Land of the Lost, but that's really just another adventure anyway, and that metaphor is good enough for me.
Someday, maybe I'll find my way down there, too, and together we'll keep the Altrusians safe, maintain a proper alliance with the Sleestaks, and keep looking for that elusive way home.
Until then. Keep out a watchful eye, Roger. We'll keep on "Slug-Bugging", and we'll always miss you. Wherever you've gone, we know you're not really lost. None of us. Not really.
Okay, I lied. THIS is the question I get the most: "If I wanted to start picking up your books, which one should I start with?"
For any of you who've been reading since the beginning, I am sorry. I am sorry for OH SO MANY THINGS, but not the least of which is putting out so many books that it has become complicated to sort out where to start.
So. Let me help.
If you've read NONE of my books so far, I recommend starting with "Steel & Sky: Tales of the Dead Man, book one." It's a fine intro to the world, to the characters, and to the drama and adventures found in all the books I've done so far. It's a tale of airship pirates, zombies and giant robots, and it deals with the social struggles found within prejudice and fear of the unknown or different. It's about two women trying to sort out what they want to be, and a man who's never been very good at accepting conventions of any kind, and all the chaos which ensues around them as they go. It's a little bit science fiction, a little bit fantasy, a sprinkle of speculative fictions and a dash of steampunk. And there's a bit about a red panda named Trill who's absolutely adorable. There's a gentle cliff hanger, but I hope you won't hold it against me.
Book 2 is on its way, so you won't have a long wait, and there aren't really any spoilers to be found. Oh, sure, you may have a few questions here and there, but that's kind of the point, so it's all delightful. Now, THAT BEING SAID, the Tales of the Dead Man books do take place chronologically AFTER my first series, but please allow me to elaborate in the next paragraph.
The Chronicles of Aesirium is a six book (plus collection) series which tells a smaller scale story of Rom and her friends, who happen upon a thing called a Morrow Stone whose nature reveals the history of their town and the powers which want to destroy it (the town, not the stone). It is a coming of age series about three young people - Rom, who, yes, dies in chapter one, but this is whole series is about her so I don't think that should dissuade you; Kari, a genius with a monkey wrench with an ear for magic; and Cousins, the young man who knows just about everyone who can get anything for any occasion. This series is as much about discovering the truth about yourself as it is the truth about the world you live in; about learning that some of the things we get told aren't actually how they happened, and how learning these truths can be hard but necessary. It's got monsters, dancing robots, and an angel of death with a lovely black dress.
You can start with the Chronicles, but rest assured whichever place you start won't spoil you in either direction. They take place in different lands at different times, and even though there is some crossover, I was very careful to keep the stories effectively independent of one another.
So, bottom line, if you want my suggestion - start with Steel & Sky - - if, for no other reason than that it makes my publisher happy. And if they're happy, I'm happy. And if I'm happy, I get to put more books out. And more books makes you happy too! So, see? It's all terribly self-indulgent and better for all of us.
And while we're all waiting for that.... I have MORE books to write!
So thank you, and thank you, and thank you for your support! Have a wonderful journey!