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Looking Backward

 (A Foreword)

 

 

A Strategy of Presentation:

 

Traditionally, anthologies of a specific author's work are a means of looking back over that author's career, and Twilight Junction is no exception in that regard. One difference between this and most other anthologies is that none of the work anthologized herein has ever seen the light of day.

Initially unintended for public dissemination, this volume was originally conceived as an exclusive showcase of one author's work, for agents and publishers. However, during the formalization process, resistance to the prospect of releasing the book formally in an extremely limited edition became harder and harder to justify. At the point, creating this book became an experiment without readily available precedent.

The "formalization process" refers to the presentation of material in a sequence that doesn't just progress, but evolves, but from what into what? Resolving this question was the first hurtle. Is there a difference between what a reader of thrilling fiction seeks for entertainment and a businessperson looks for in the process of providing said "product" to its intended audience? I felt, ultimately, yes ... and no. The consideration had enough merit to produce a brief mental paralysis concerning how to proceed. As the reader will find, the work in this volume displays wide range, often blending genres, and it was this eclectic aspect of the project which provoked a lingering hesitance over what to present first, last and so on.

In an attempt to swiftly deconstruct, we begin with:

1.      A piece from a holiday thriller;

2.      The complete third part of a four-part novel, itself a psychological thriller, in the sense that the main character suffers from hallucinatory delusions;

3.      Excerpts from a comic thriller about writers;

4.      The prologue to the third book of a trilogy incorporating elements of religion, evolution, mythology, and espionage--progressing in the nature of (surprise!) a thriller. The character who operates as the trilogy's overall protagonist is never formally introduced here, but alluded to in a second excerpt from the same book called "To the Winds, the Witness," formally from chapter 3.

5.      After that, a complete horror/western short story keeps us within the same world of the trilogy, but actually prefaces Lazarus Cane, the first book of The Mosaic. As a standalone piece, it hails from The Night Show, Vol. IV.

6.      Another complete short story returns our feet to the ground, selected from the forthcoming third collection of short stories from The Night Show, in which "writing" is inherent to every plot, and all the plots are (wait for it) ... thrillers!

7.      From The Night Show, Vol. II, a collection of short work inspired by the greatest conspiracy theories of the twentieth century, comes a story in which memorabilia either proving or disproving many famous conspiracy cases, (otherwise known as "missing evidence"), is traded (or stolen) between members of an exclusive group of collectors.

8.      Second from last is the first chapter of a novel set in a remote rural Texas motel, in which a strange gallery of characters cross paths, each having arrived for different reasons and unaware of the  others, yet destined to alter each other's futures.

9.      And finally, at the summit, we find the first complete volume of a six-part novel thirty years in the making. It's a monster blended from the parts of two prior attempts and then expanded. In Risk We Trust is my effort to honor the great tradition of work by such writers as Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, and James Ellroy. In league with Mosaic, I consider it a cornerstone piece of my repertoire.      

The Question Deepens:

 

            Given suspense as a consistent ingredient, why start in one place as opposed to others. No particular piece was written with a view toward making it especially more engaging than the other animals in the stable. Can a progression exist which remains true without quarter to its intention to keep eyes from closing to the rest? When the show has a little something for everybody, which project should open, and which should close?

            There's a rule in the arts: always frontload the best material. Unfortunately, it's hard to define "the best" when describing one's children. Another concern: that a book meant for everyone is within spitting distance of becoming a book meant for no one in particular. Such is not the case with Twilight Junction, but the reader cannot know this without taking the full ride. To this concern, I can only say: when traveling through unconventional territory, there is something to be said for suspending conventional wisdom. For my own piece of mind, assurance lies in knowing that denizens of a thrilling story are usually ready for anything, and will soon realize despite the unfamiliar landscape that they have come to the right place.

 

 

 

Great American Night Expanded 1 copy.tif

The 15th Anniversary cover of The Great American Night

 

Question #2:

 

If the first question is which project to present first, the second consideration begs the question: which excerpts from each project should be used? One might expect a kind of highlights reel from a stable of 10 novels, 33 short stories (twice that many if including unfinished work) from 4 collections (two of which are in progress), and various screen/teleplays, but such is not the case. This anthology represents work either finished or in imminent proximity to being so, but it doesn't quite represent everything. The scripts are left out entirely; likewise, all fourteen stories from the first volume of The Night Show collection, The Great American Night, which was released in two printings, in 2002 and 2004. Four novels are left out, as well: Primaland, released in a limited edition in 2003, is not represented here, nor the first two books of The Mosaic Trilogy, Lazarus Cane and Running the Infinite. Finally, a fourth novel, The Truth Variations, is currently undergoing major expansion (a la Risk).

Besides, what is a "highlights reel" when talking about books? It's apparent that the so-called highlights of any story can only be appreciated once we, as readers, are invested in the characters. Speaking of fiction in general, the most powerful moments often appear as resolution to the story, but how can an anthology of work no one's read be a mere collection of endings? It can't. The same logic applies to putting forward a bunch of beginnings, sections which ultimately peter out and leave the reader unfulfilled. The effect might leave a reader feeling set adrift on a river that perpetually drops off into nothing.           

This work represents the past twenty-nine years of my life, and the longer I considered these questions, the more the project took on the gravitas of walking backward through a mine field, minus the physical consequences of a misstep. And yet there is definitely something to lose if the wrong choice is made--the reader's faith. Thus, the challenge became choosing excerpts that leave the reader wanting more, yet also feeling satisfied they've had a lingering peek behind the curtain. Once the reader feels confident that an "excerpt" can be illuminating and satisfying, an anticipation can easily draw the reader to the next ride as inexorably as one chapter leads to the next. It is, of course, valuable to remember that these are not chapters in a novel, but chapters from an entire body of work.

In the two cases where "inner sections" are included (Santa and Flip City), the reader is given enough context in a specific foreword to appreciate the view from the window provided, through the eyes of characters never reduced to mere vehicles of convenience for the purposes of isolating a thrilling moment or two.

My  characters, in my attempts to build stories greater than the sum of their parts, often inhabit a state of mind anathema to their surroundings. In the case of Flip City, Billy Reynolds is hardly a criminal, but his condition causes him to feel like a fugitive in a society he perceives as normal, even though it seldom is. He feels rejected by the world when the world is every bit as crazy as he is. During a long catharsis, he slowly begins to realize this.

Likewise, Lee Hennessey (codenamed Risk), upon returning home to Port Haven on the run from his misadventures in New York City, learns that people he hasn't seen in years have come to live inside a "corporate mafia" state of mind as a result of events he initiated years earlier. It's a story of a man fighting to exist with his own past, the memories of which have bred monsters which now operate as his security from the forces seeking to undo him over the fallout from the "New York Job." From his new perspective, an assassin sees his own violent world for the first time with new eyes.

Clashes of intention among the like-minded, I've found, seem to provide the best framework for stories that blow up in ways I never expect.

 

Question #3:

 

The third consideration belongs solely to the reader. Given that reading this foreword is akin to standing on the threshold of work completely unknown at the time of this writing, why should readers feel compelled to take a journey through the creative output of someone they've never heard of, with only the barest idea of what they're getting themselves into and frankly no reason to take the trip in the first place? The combined features of suspense and a singular voice are tenuous draws at best.

Not only might there be initial ambivalence toward the work itself, but also toward the biography of the author, and understandably so. Why should the reader care about the background of a storyteller who's given them no reason to believe they'll even enjoy the story(ies)? On the other hand, the reverse could make its argument as well.

I've decided to save the biography for later, in the interests of dedicating the space to the projects themselves. I'm fine with letting the work speak for me. Let it suffice to say no writer can do what they do without drawing from their own biography. Therefore, let the work itself be a kind of surrogate biography for the time being.

As stated earlier, is the lover of suspense not also a fan of adventure and mystery? Nothing heightens adventure more than the mystery of what might be found, felt or mentally observed by the payoff. Fans of mystery and suspense are hardly a group disinclined to face the unknown. I intend to see this as an advantage.

Twilight Junction delivers the fruits of nearly three decades in personal pursuit of something nearly unexplainable: the formulation of elements which make a perfect story, if only in my opinion. These projects are like test tube babies that never moved out of their father's house; not because they're lazy or lacking, but because the creation of their DNA was a period of endless consideration and, in some case, experimentation to achieve the right balance.

Imagine the joy on the day these "children" reach precisely the intended end result, all running for the door at the same time, eager to find their audience. Nevertheless, like a Stooges routine, the greater mass must cede to a first impression that gets through the door before the others. Don't believe this means if Larry gets through first, Moe, Curly, or Shemp won't steal the show.

 

 

Formal Introductions:

 

"Santa's Secret Weapon":

It should be specified that just because suspense is a constant thread, it's often a symptom of a situation not technically defined as a thriller (Savage Pursuit of Serenity, Flip City Blues), but such is not the case in Santa's Secret Weapon, a holiday thriller set in Columbus, Ohio during Christmas. Here, the challenge was to build a suspenseful plot that was also dependent on Christmas' themes. A desire to "put things right" is personified through the machinations of a killer who's convinced his murderous sins in the name of country are forgiven as long as he always leaves the scales balanced before vanishing once again.

 

"Flip City Blues":

The second offering is part three of a four-part novel called Flip City Blues, about a character suffering from hallucinatory delusions who finds himself lost in a world which has always rejected him. Why Part 3, because it's the best of the four? No.

Despite each part's intention to be enjoyed on its own, or read out of order, the reason for previously publishing Part 1 ("The Restless Age" from The Great American Night) and Part 3 ("The Hostage"; here) is that "The Hostage" provides a handy entrance to the story for new initiates to the exploits of Billy Reynolds' wild journey-in-progress, while at the same time restarting the story from the perspective of new characters, for those familiar with the first part.

 

"The Savage Pursuit of Serenity":

Excerpts from the two previous novels establish a tone abruptly reversed by three excerpts from a novel about five west coast screenwriters left adrift by the passing of their benefactor (the infamous "Slasher Bob"), whose failing Left Field film production company--with their contracts--has been bequeathed to an oblivious new benefactor from Nebraska. Max, a twenty-eight year old orphan, has lived his life believing he would never truly know biological family ties, until he gets a phone call from an attorney in Los Angeles, who informs him his recently deceased uncle has left him everything. Max has no particular affinity for what they're peddling, but each of the writers circle him like vultures, anyway, all intent on convincing him their script should be the next film produced with the last of what was in the till, that their idea will save the company by providing a blockbuster.

Serenity is a story that breeds suspenseful moments as each tries to undo the others without making it obvious to the hapless protagonist. At its core, it's about spotlighting those who maintain creative lives, highlighting the eccentricities and self-condemnation often produced within creative people. The element of suspense arrives from Max's dawning realization that he's at the center of a game he's never even heard of, let alone played, and that his fellow players are lunatics all trying to save their own hides.

 

"The Mosaic" (A Trilogy):

Next, we embark on one of the more ambitious projects in the canon. It can't succinctly be unpacked, but the plots encompass historical mystery, folklore, mythology, legend ... and espionage. The Mosaic incorporates clashing genres across all three books with a logic befitting the material: western and science fiction (Running the Infinite); horror and mythology (Lazarus Cane); political history and the controversy between evolution and religion (Godwin & Deville). An example: the clashing principles of Christianity and Evolution leave a pervasive sense that the origins of man emerge from a grayer history. What don't we know about the origins of the human race? Such questions are but drops in an ocean now chartered in The Mosaic, but now a character exists to take us into the past or future as far as we want to go, no matter how dangerous the answers we might find in either direction.

From this trilogy, we begin with an excerpt from the third book, Godwin & Deville, in a place where science and religion once conspired to birth the first man, giving forth a hybrid creature appropriately named "Adam" by its human and alien creators. Our view of this genetic experiment-in-progress is provided through the eyes of the first man, himself, during his daring escape from the surgical theater in which his genetic structure has been altered. To what end do these activities lead?

To the illumination that many time-honored guests were present during this "creative process" as spectators, among them Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and the enigmatic Charles Darwin, among others.

Such an introduction to this trilogy should present one burning question before any other: How is it possible, and who could hope to engineer such a gathering in the first place, during a moment in human history when we'd barely risen above the station of primates.

Those familiar with my two previous books might recall a character with the technological ability to manipulate time travel via Quantum Spatial Theory. For those unfamiliar, unwinding the mysteries of "Malabar" is a process best begun in the proper context. He's a travel agent, of sorts; an opportunist by proximity to knowledge that has fallen into his lap. Some call him, at best, the loose screw in the system, the trickster--at worst: the man behind the curtain with an unknown agenda.

Following a hasty evacuation from his father's home during what might best be called a "corporate coup" in the year 4984, he has since made vast fortunes selling access to the technology he managed to grab during the course of his escape by delivering well-heeled tourists to destinations thought long lost to the passage of time. Along the way, spies have infiltrated his growing organization, carrying some of these secrets home to their various governments. Events of the story take place in a global  atmosphere where all world powers own pieces of a puzzle none fully know, relating to our origins and untapped technological destiny. For his knowledge alone, the mysterious figure known as "Malabar" is considered the Holy Grail of every intelligence agency in the world.

The endeavors of those who've sought to acquire and control various pieces of information have not always operated under a purview toward the betterment of mankind. Malabar is very much a fugitive, longing to repair his own past, while dodging the attempts by interested parties to chase him down. For what he can do, he is the most sought after company to keep in any century--past, present, or future.

 

"The Night Show" Collection:

Malabar brings us to an interesting crossroads along the path through this anthology, to a story that compliments the trilogy by prefacing the first book, Lazarus Cane, but also stands alone as a short story from the fourth volume of The Night Show, titled In the Parlance of Our Crimes.

"Natives" describes the realization of a group of Rocky Mountain settlers, circa 1949, that they are not the only residents of the surrounding wilderness. It's inclusion here provides a convenient segue back to the short story collections: volumes collectively known as The Night Show, in the tradition of The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Outer Limits.

            The next two entries are representatives of Volumes 2 & 3, respectively titled Signals from Noise and Crackpot Visionaries. Each volume's stories are inspired by a common theme. Signals from Noise consists of 14 stories inspired by the greatest conspiracy theories of the twentieth century. It's emissary to this anthology is the complete manuscript for the first story, "The Collective (part 1)," which begins the saga of a group of faceless players who acquire and trade "memorabilia" from famous conspiracy cases. Any or all of these lost artifacts are actual evidentiary elements gone missing from real cases, knowledge of which is culled from nearly thirty years of studying the vastly rewarding world of conspiracy research. More specifically, from the study of dedicated scholars such as Robert Groden (JFK), Richard Dolan (UFOs), and Jim Marrs (Both), as well as a gallery of others listed in the appendix to this anthology.

In Volume 3, Crackpot Visionaries, the stories feature writers as protagonists and their work as essential ingredients in tales ranging (and rearranging) genres while somehow echoing similarities to their siblings, even across volumes. The only parameters for Volume 4, In the Parlance of Our Crimes, were that each story incorporates horror and crime. Crimes is an homage to the masters I grew up admiring: Lovecraft, Barker, King and Detroit's own Elmore Leonard.

Concluding three complete manuscripts from The Night Show, we then return to novel-length projects with excerpts from the two animals most different from each other; the latter of which is thirty years in the making.

 

"Things That Never Happen":

The first excerpt is the prologue from Things that Never Happen, a fly-on-the-wall's view of six people who arrive in a desolate Texas town to take up temporary residence at the Diamond in the Sand Motel. Each is there for different reasons, yet their paths cross like elements in a human Rube Goldberg machine. Only a waitress in the nearby diner--the Oasis--holds the potential for seeing the connections, but does she realize what she's seeing?

Things' placement in this collection is to introduce an off-shoot series of novels which exist under the same Night Show umbrella as their shorter counterparts. While we're at it, so is Flip City Blues, due to its first part appearing in The Great American Night. 

 

"In Risk We Trust":

Lastly (which in earlier versions opened this anthology), we come to a novel which I began somewhere around the age of 11 or 12. As of this writing, I'm forty-one, and the overall piece (in its third incarnation) still undergoes light edits as of 2013. In print for the first time, the vigilante society of In Risk We Trust is finally represented here by A Call to the Riled, the first complete manuscript of six.

This whale of a journey began as one thing somewhere around '85, but before its completion in 2013, its many permutations have expanded the mythology of the main character far further than ever intended, and there are still corners unexplored. Seeing as how I intended the first version of Risk to be a practice novel at the ripe old age of twelve, it's also a piece that's outlived most of the relationships in my life. In many ways, it may be the defining moment of this anthology, although Malabar's trilogy makes that assertion debatable.

Finally, it appears an order has formed itself. The time has come to stop speaking about the work and let the work speak for itself or, in the case of this anthology, time to unbar the gates of the amusement park and get out of the way.


 

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