Sunday, April 29, 2018

GRAVE DIGGERS - Part V

At last, here is Part V! If you're new to the story, you can catch up with Parts I-IV:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Enjoy!

*****

GRAVE DIGGERS


Part V:

Desi:           
“The military is supposed to notify us of every land Reclamation mission, no matter how small.” Desi made sure to enunciate clearly so the militant monkeys could understand. “We have an agreement with the Council to gather as much historical information as possible before you swoop in and wipe those sites off the face of the earth.” 
The slender soldier who seemed to have some control over his larger counterparts tilted his head to one side, as if he was studying her.
“The military is well aware of that, Miss…?”
She didn't supply her name.
“Then where are the photographs? Even if we are unable to make it to that site, the cameras on the outside of the plane were supposed to have taken photos before that graveyard was destroyed yesterday.”
“Damn your precious photos!” The big soldier who’d stopped them at the door -- his friend had called him Caius? – snarled at her. “What’s so special about that pre-Quake junk that you have to record every useless piece of it?”
Useless?” Years of suppressed frustration rose like bile in Desi’s throat. She was well aware that most Citizens didn’t value the preservation of pre-Quake culture the way the Intells did, but she refused to be treated as a subhuman just because some soldier – a Grave Digger, the lowest of the low even by military standards -- deemed her so.
“You actually consider the conservation of our culture, our identity as human beings before the Quake to be useless? Are you really that stupid or have you just avoided learning anything for your entire life?”
“Desi…” Edmund tried to pull her back and was dislodged by a quick jerk of her shoulders.
“I am the Commander of the squad that handled the mission yesterday.” The hazel-eyed soldier slid again between Caius and the two Intells. “Why don’t we step outside and discuss this?” 
Desi blinked. "You're the Commander?" 
“Good idea.” Edmund muttered.
This time Edmund successfully got his hands on his cousin, propelling her back through the commissary door. Desi could hear the commander dismissing the group of soldiers they’d managed to attract before he followed them out.
Once they were safely outside, Desi shook her cousin off. “That was completely unaccept—”
The commander cut her off with a sharp wave of his hand.
 “I agree there has been a mistake in the protocol set for the Reclamation mission yesterday. However, please understand that I had no knowledge of it and will do everything I can to find out what went wrong with the cameras on the plane.”
Desi regarded him warily, her fury momentarily tamped down. There was something about him, the way he carried himself. He was different from the other soldiers she’d come into contact with. He actually seemed respectful. Intelligent.
“Who are you?” She asked.
He recited automatically: “Squad Commander Puck of Grave Digger squad 027.”
“No,” She shook her head, heavy obsidian braids falling over her shoulders. “I mean who are you? Before you were in the military, what did you do?”
Puck glanced up at Edmund, who shrugged, clearly letting the soldier know he was on his own dealing with Desi.
“If you must know, I was being groomed for politics. My father is on the Council.”
Her eyes widening in surprise, Desi pressed her lips together to stem the flow of highly inappropriate questions threatening to spill out.
Edmund had no such restraint. “Your father is a Councilman? How did you end up as a Grave Digger?" He glanced around, then leaned in closer. "Did you set your father on fire or something?”
“Edmund!” Desi hissed.
“It’s alright,” Puck chuckled, his hands clasped loosely behind his back. “I volunteered to join the military. The fact that I ended up in a less than desirable position is a story for another time.”
“Indeed.” Desi grasped her cousin by the arm in a plea for him to be quiet. It would have to do since she was woefully short and couldn’t clap her hand over his mouth. “What can you do to help us retrieve the footage from the plane?”
Puck said, “Let me speak with one of my superiors, I’ll get permission to access the files and bring them to you." 
“Thank you.” She paused for a second before holding out her right hand to the soldier. “We really appreciate it.”
Puck hesitated briefly before his tan, calloused fingers wrapped carefully around Desi’s hand. She strengthened her grip until he matched it, then she pushed their joined hands down once before letting go. After a not-too-subtle nudge into Edmund’s side, her cousin reached out and the two men clasped hands as well.
“We’ll wait to hear from you.” Desi nodded. The Intells turned to leave.
Puck stopped them. “How will I know where to find you?”
“My apologies, we should have introduced ourselves. My name is Desdemona…Desi.” She smiled, the corners of her blue eyes crinkled slightly. “This is my cousin, Edmund. My father is Artemis, ask for him when you come to the Village and you’ll be able to find us.” 

*****
 
Puck:
Puck woke early the next morning, dressing in the dark purely out of habit. Commanders weren’t required to share quarters with other soldiers, but routines were hard to break. He wasn’t scheduled to run his squad through their drills until that afternoon, and planned to spend his morning tracking down the mission data for Desdemona.
“Desi.” He corrected himself softly. The Intell girl had surprised him. He was aware the Intells still practiced  hand-clasping, but no Intell had ever offered him the courtesy of the gesture before. It was…interesting.
Puck clipped on his ID badge and left the room, the door locked automatically behind him.
All military records were downloaded and stored on massive banks of computers within the Spire. Cold and grey, rising up high over the rest of the buildings surrounding it, the Spire was the first modern structure completed after the Rebuilding began, with the rest of the city spreading out around it in a circular pattern. A spider’s web with the Nation’s government at its center.
The Spire was where Puck had spent all of his childhood, up until his decision to join the military and he was relegated to the Grave Digger barracks on the edge of the city. Not all of the Council members chose to house their families within the Spire, but Puck’s father was a firm believer in keeping his family as close to the heart of the Nation as possible.
This would be the first time Puck had set foot in the Spire in over four years.  He could feel a hard knot of trepidation forming in his stomach. Puck figured as long as he didn’t run into his father, he should be able to get in and out as quickly as possible.
“Good morning, Commander.” The guard on duty at the front entrance greeted him.
Puck scanned his badge over the appointed screen, his face and information popped up on the guard’s tablet.
“Morning.” He nodded.
It was a relief when the cool air inside the Spire washed over him. Even with the protective materials he wore, it was always hot in the city. At least the UV warnings were low today, even the Heat Wave was forecasted to be somewhat less intense later that afternoon.    
Puck made it across the marble-tiled lobby without incident, pausing every so often to either salute a superior or to be saluted. Even a Grave Digger Commander garnered some respect.
The elevator banks went straight up through the center of the building, with walkways extending from each floor to meet them like spokes on a wheel.
It was strange being inside the Spire after such a long time.
Waiting for his chosen elevator to arrive, Puck tilted his head back to read the words carved over and over into the top inlay of each floor:
The Council Decides and Provides
Those words had been burned into his brain at an early age, repeated every morning before beginning school with the other Council members’ children, and the children of high ranking Citizens. The children of the average Citizens had their own schools, while young Intells were taught at home. This was allowed, Puck’s teacher had explained, because the Intells’ research had proven invaluable to the Rebuilding in its fledgling stages. Although exactly what knowledge the Intells had provided was never discussed. 
“The Council Decides and Provides.” Puck murmured, almost without thinking.
The elevator pinged, signaling that a car had arrived. He squared his shoulders and moved forward with the handful of other people waiting in line.
“Destination?” The attendant asked.
“Military records.”
The attendant made a selection on the screen in front of him. Once they were all on board the car jerked up, making its ascent into the Spire.
Puck was let out on the twenty-first floor, not quite halfway to the top of the building. He consulted the floor map beside the elevator bank and made a left, passing several nondescript offices before finding the one he wanted.
Sitting at a desk inside the office, was a soldier Puck recognized.
Unable to handle the physical demands of basic training, let alone the brute strength required to be Grave Digger, Private Edison had been re-assigned to clerical work. Puck had never even thought to ask which office the skinny soldier had been assigned to.
“Hi Ed.” Puck grinned. “So this is where they’re keeping you.”
“Commander Puck!” Ed quickly stood and saluted the other man before smiling back. “What brings you to the records department?”
Always right to business, Puck should have remembered that about Ed.
“I need the data recorded by The Titan on my squad’s last mission.”
“Of course!” The clerk placed a small sign on the desk, letting others know he would return shortly, then led Puck through another door and down a short hallway. The hallway was at least ten degrees colder than the outer office had been. The distinct hum and tick of the computer banks concealed behind the walls of the corridor trickled through the air. Puck could practically smell the electricity it took to keep this place running.
“Here we go.” Ed badged them into another room that held several small consoles, each with its own screen. Sitting down at one of them, Ed’s fingers began to rapidly type out a set of commands and codes that Puck gave up on following. The glow from the computer screen gave Ed’s olive skin a greenish tinge. This soldier was more in his element here than he ever would have been as a Grave Digger. Puck was suddenly glad they hadn’t forced him to struggle, and most likely die, as a Basher or a Burner. Edison wouldn’t have made it very far at all.
Several minutes went by before Ed asked, “Do you have a storage device?”
Puck handed over the memory card he’d brought from his personal stock. The half-inch long chip was inserted into a slot and the data was quickly downloaded into its memory. Ed gave the card back and backed out of the program he’d used to access the mission footage. The final screen before he fully exited the database held a list of all of the sites Puck’s squad had treated.
“Whoa…” Ed whistled, scrolling through the list. “Your squad has been busy.”
“Something like that.” Puck said. His gaze wandered over the list of reclaimed sites, most of them were highlighted yellow with a couple dozen marked in green.
“What do the green ones represent?”
“Hmm?” The other soldier had been absorbed in his own reading of the list. “Oh, those are the sites that have been utilized since they were treated. The yellow ones are pending.”
Puck frowned. That didn’t seem right. Since he'd become a commander, Puck’s squad had treated at least eighty sites. Some had been smaller than others, but still… How could the government have utilized so little? Ed exited out of the screen before Puck could examine the list further. They walked back down the chilly hallway in silence.  
“Thanks, Ed.” Puck held up the memory card in a little salute.
“No problem!” Ed saluted in return and resumed his seat behind the desk.
Puck left the office, waiting impatiently for the elevator to return. He glanced up at the stone inlay set into the top section of the wall:
The Council Decides and Provides
Puck’s chest suddenly felt tight. His grip on the memory card was so tight he thought he heard the plastic creak.
The need to get out of the Spire was almost stifling. When the elevator arrived, Puck practically threw himself into the little car and  barked at the attendant to take him down to the lobby.
Puck hadn't particularly enjoyed living in the Spire, but at the end of the day it had always been home. Now, for reasons that he couldn’t put his finger on, he was feeling less at home and more in danger. 

*****

TBC... 

© Courtney Carter, http://writingdeskblog.blogspot.com, 2018

Friday, April 27, 2018

Author Interview - JD Allen + GIVEAWAY!

Happy Friday!

Quick note: Since I'm posting this month's author interview tonight, I'll be publishing Part V of GAVE DIGGERS tomorrow. 

Don't forget, entries are still open for the 19 Souls giveaway until this Sunday (4/29/2018) at 11:00pm EST. Comment here on the blog, or go like the corresponding Instagram post to enter! JD was kind enough to donate a SIGNED copy of 19 Souls, plus some pretty awesome author swag for the giveaway!

I hope you enjoy our interview. If you've already read JD's debut mystery novel, I'd love to know what you think!

Photo provided by: JD Allen


Writing Desk Blog: Hi J.D.! Thank you for agreeing to this blog interview with me! Your debut mystery novel, 19 Souls, was released in February 2018. What has this experience been like for you? Are you doing many public appearances, or has most of the promotion been through social media?  

JD Allen: Oh my gosh. I've had a ball since release day. I was lucky enough for Jeffery Deaver to come and interview me and joke around some. I had a fantastic cake that was a massive book with my cover and an edible switchblade stuck in it.

Since then, I've been to several readers' and writer's conventions. Reno, Boca Raton, Chicago. The support for 19 Souls has been overwhelming. I'm off to Malic Domestic shortly, then have Killer Nashville and Bouchercon in the fall. 

*** 

WDB: For those who aren’t already familiar with your work, if you could describe 19 Souls in one sentence, what would it be?


JDA: Instead of a straightforward missing persons case, Jim Bean's lead a serial killer straight to her most coveted prey. 

***

WDB: 19 Souls is the first in the Sin City Investigations series, featuring Private Investigator Jim Bean. Can you share what inspired this PI's memorable name?


JDA: Well, in truth it's not his real name. Don't want to give too many spoilers. I think in the third book we find out why he chose that name. In the meantime, he has to correct people from thinking he's Jim BEAM... and uses sarcasm and butter beans to do so. 

***

WDB: What influenced your decision to set this new series in Las Vegas? 

JDA: I needed a place where a guy could go off, change his name and try to forget his past. New York, New Orleans, and LA all qualified. But, Vegas has some grit, an air of desperation about it at times which seemed to fit the character. After all, he's still got an ax to grind with society for ruining his life plans. Vegas seemed the right place for him to do so. 

***

WDB: Has your experience as an author been primarily with traditional publishing, self-publishing, or a mixture of both? If the answer is both, is there one avenue of publishing you prefer over the other? 


JDA: I've done a little of both. The self-publishing came after a publisher I wrote romance with collapsed. It's hard work to do it all yourself. With my dyslexia, I much prefer having a publisher to take some of that off my shoulders. The downside is the slower production schedule that selling to major booksellers creates.

***


WDB: At the launch event for 19 Souls, (which I was excited to attend!), you mentioned that you previously wrote in a different genre. Was it difficult to switch to a new genre, or did you always have an interest in writing mysteries?  


JDA: I'm an anthropologist by education. I always loved mysteries and thrillers. And I intended to write them from the start. My under-the-bed book is a thriller with some paranormal aspects.  But as it turned out, I fell into the romance genre with a short story written on a challenge. Working with a good editor for those years made me a much better writer. I learned the publishing industry and marketing skills along the way too.

***


WDB: These next questions are ones I like to ask in each Writing Desk Blog interview, it’s so interesting to see the range of responses I get!

Where do you typically work from? (Home, office, coffee shop, etc.) Is there any place you find you're more productive than others?

JDA: I used to have to write at home and in quiet. Now I have deadlines and a busy life with promotions and family. I don't have the luxury to go to the perfect spot and wait for the muse to bless me with words. I've trained my brain to be able to write about anywhere I have my laptop. But the best is on the deck on a pretty day.
***

WDB: If you are able to tell us, what’s next for you? Will we see the next installment in the Sin City Investigation series?  

JDA: Yes. The second Sin City Investigation book, Skin Game, is due out in February 2019. I am working on number three right now that will be February 2020.  I smell a pattern. 

***

WDB: Best piece(s) of writing advice? 

JDA: #BICHOK (Butt in Chair  - Hands on Keys.) 

***

WDB: Something about you that people may be surprised to know? 

JDA: I used to show quarter horses in college for the Ohio State Equestrian team. Western Pleasure class. We won the national championships. I have the big shiny belt buckle!

***** 

Have a great weekend, Writing Desk Readers, stay tuned for GRAVE DIGGERS Part V!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

What Am I Reading Wednesday (4/25/2018)

Hello, Writing Desk Readers!

I am so pleased to share this week's pick for What Am I Reading Wednesday. Not only because I've known JD Allen for several years now and have always admired her work in the writing community, but also because JD and I have teamed up to bring you something very exciting!

You'll have to wait until the end of the post to find out though!

Title: 19 Souls

Author: JD Allen 

First Reading: Yes!

Initial Impression: A PI named Jim Bean working in Las Vegas? What could possibly go wrong?

Final Thoughts: I can't wait to see what's next in the Sin City Series!


If there's only one thing I can say about JD Allen's debut mystery novel, 19 Souls, it's this:

I COULD NOT PUT THIS BOOK DOWN!

19 Souls is the first novel in Allen's new Sin City Series, centered around a somewhat down on his luck Private Investigator named Jim Bean. That's right, Jim Bean.

Making a living, such as it is, in Las Vegas, Bean's line of work is largely dominated by stakeouts on cheating spouses and way too much scotch. So, what's a PI to do when a beautiful young woman calls him up and offers a lot of cash to help find her long-lost brother? Sounds like easy money, right?

Wrong. Very, very wrong.

As always, we are in a Spoiler Free Zone here at The Writing Desk Blog, so you'll have to go grab a copy of 19 Souls for yourself to see what happens next. I can promise, you won't see it coming!

*****

About the Author:

Photo and official bio provided by: JD Allen
J.D Allen's Sin City Investigation series launched with 19 Souls earlier this year. She is a Mystery Writers of America Freddie Award-winner. She has short stories in the Anthony Award-winning anthology, Murder under the Oaks, as well as Carolina Crimes: 21 Tales of Need, Greed, and Dirty Deeds. She's the chair of the Bouchercon National Board, a member of MWA, PI Writer's of America, and president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter. She's an Ohio State University Alum with a degree in forensic anthropology and a creative writing minor. 

Keep Up with J.D:

Twitter: @JDAllenBooks
Instagram: @jdallenbooks

*****

Now for the exciting announcement that will mean FREE goodies for you, dear Writing Desk Readers. That's right, it's time for a GIVEAWAY!

The grand prize winner will receive a SIGNED copy of 19 Souls, along with some nifty swag items!
Second and third place winners will also receive some 19 Souls swag!

To enter, either comment here on this blog post or like the corresponding giveaway post on Instagram. Entries will be accepted until this Sunday (4/29/2018) at 11:00pm EST. 

As they say in Vegas, good luck everybody!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

GRAVE DIGGERS - Part IV

My apologies again for the delay in getting this installment of GRAVE DIGGERS published! However, I am pleased to report that my procedure went well, and I am now working with my doctor on a treatment plan.

So, here is Part IV!

*****


Part IV:
 
Desi:
“Desdemona? Are you up here?” Desi's father called up the stairs.
“Yes!” She paused her work. “I’m just going through the recent entries to the database.”
Artemis climbed the narrow staircase to find his daughter. Long and lanky, he had to duck in order to fit his tall frame through the doorway of their home office. Desi was seated in front of a large screen. An array of controls and keyboards dotted the console beneath it, piecemealed from what they could afford and parts that had been rescued from the incineration plant. She was scrolling through the recent reports and photographs added to their archival database within the last week.
“How does everything look?” Artemis dropped into a chair beside her, sweeping his long black braids over one shoulder.
Desi frowned. “There’s not as much new data as there should be. This time last year we were working around the clock to categorize all of the new additions, and this month we only collected a handful.”
“I know.” He sighed. “It’s getting harder and harder to beat the military to the archeological sites.”
“Right. The Grave Diggers and their noble work.”
Early on during the Rebuilding, the Intells had been able to catalogue and preserve nearly all of the remaining pre-Quake culture before it was wiped away. Now, the Grave Digger squads were demolishing sites before the Intells could even get to them. If a site couldn’t be documented, the soldiers were supposed to provide video footage, but the data they’d been receiving was increasingly substandard.
“Artemis? Desi?” Edmund came sprinting up the stairs and into the office, his shorter braids flying behind him. “You have to see this!”
“What’s wrong?” Artemis stood as his nephew crossed the room, a tablet thrust out in Edmund's hand like a shield.
“It’s the Grave Diggers.” Edmund panted. “Those pieces of sh…”
One scowl from Artemis and Edmund switched his choice of words.
“Trash. Pieces of trash. They destroyed another graveyard yesterday without documenting the mission!”
What?” Desi studied the tablet her cousin held out, her lips pursed as the words scrolled across the screen.
“There were at least two hundred graves in that field, all from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.” said Edmund. It was The National Newspaper, and offered praise to the squad for a job well done in reclaiming valuable land for their Nation.
“Unbelievable.” She muttered.
No wonder they hadn’t been able to gather much data lately. The military was withholding the squads' schedules altogether.
“They can’t do this.” Desi grabbed her bag from beneath her chair. Slinging the brown leather strap across her chest, she turned to her father and cousin. “I’m going to find out which of the squads was assigned to this site and have a talk with their commander.”
Artemis hesitated. “Dearest, I don’t think that would be advisable.”
“What else are we supposed to do?” She asked. “They’re required to give us three days’ notice before each mission so we can at least try to get the site catalogued before they destroy it. If we can’t they’re supposed to share the recordings, which obviously they aren’t. If we let them ignore us now, pretty soon they’ll be obliterating sites much more precious than this one and not giving a damn if we care or not!”
Artemis sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “At least take Edmund with you.”
“Me?” Edmund gulped. “Do I have to go? You know they’re conscripting Intell men now, and I’ve got only one more year before they force me to join. I’d rather stay as far away from the military residences as possible until then.”
“Come on.” Desi grabbed the tall boy’s arm and dragged him towards the door. Her long grey skirts swished sharply against her ankles. “I’ll do all the talking and you can just be there for support.”
“Right.” Edmund snorted under his breath. “Me against a room full of soldiers, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that picture.”

******

Puck:
“Go, go!”
“Faster, man!”
“C’mon, what are you doing?”
Puck smirked from his seat at the back of the Grave Digger commissary, watching his squad members cheer and shout at the two soldiers standing on the game platform. The players’ hands were sweeping rapidly across the touch-screens, trying to outdo the other on each level.
Video games weren’t allowed in private residences, where they would be a hindrance to every day productivity, but they were available in military commissaries and community buildings. They provided an opportunity to improve one’s reasoning skills and hand-eye coordination. Currently, the two men on the platform were racing against each other in a series of puzzles that became increasingly more complex the longer they played. These game victories were especially useful for the young men still serving their time in the military. The more rounds a soldier won, the more points he earned, and those points could be traded in for extra necessities or rations.
Out of the corner of one eye, Puck spotted Caius and another Burner quickly weaving their way to the commissary entrance.
“Stop right there!” Caius barked.
The two soldiers blocked the doorway with their bulk. One of the game players, distracted by the noise, slid his hands completely off the screen and nearly tumbled from the platform. His opponent quickly took advantage of the lapse and rushed to finish the last puzzle in the game, earning a mix of cheers and taunts from the others watching.
Puck stood and leaned against the wall for a better view. Three more soldiers wedged in front of the door, arguing with whoever was trying to get inside. Puck was not the tallest soldier in the room, all he could see between the huddled crush of men was the top of a stranger’s head covered in thick, black braids.
An Intell? ’ Puck's head cocked to one side.
Why would an Intell be trying to get into a military building? They generally avoided all government buildings unless it concerned their work.
Puck chuckled. To think of all the time and energy the Intells wasted on collecting useless information about a failed society. Just as he started to turn away, he realized the soldiers weren’t actually talking to the tall boy, they were looking down at someone else next to him.
“Listen!” A petite Intell girl finally pushed her way between Caius and the other Burner. “I have every right to come inside and speak to the commander responsible for the destruction your people caused yesterday by -- hey!” She glared up at the brawny soldier when Caius grabbed her arm.
With some minor reluctance, Puck left his ration of ale behind on the table and calmly strolled across the commissary. The taller Intell had stepped up defensively behind the girl. Caius’s eye line only came to the boy’s chin, but Puck knew if it came down to a fight the soldier would likely beat the stuffing out of the teenaged boy.
“Easy there, Caius.” Puck dislodged Caius' hand from the girl’s arm. “What’s the problem?”
“These Intells think they can just walk into a military building and demand that we answer their questions.” Caius snorted, his broad chest puffed out indignantly.
Personally, Puck thought his friend looked like a toad whenever he did that, but generally kept that opinion to himself.  
“Questions about what, exactly?” He turned to the Intells, and his cool expression faltered.
Blue eyes.
The girl actually had blue eyes.
 Puck had never seen eyes as blue as the ones currently glowering up at him. Come to think of it, he’d never seen blue eyes at all, not in real-life.  
They were a bright, cerulean blue, each one framed by a fan of long, dark lashes. So blue they made the rest of her features almost seem hazy in comparison, and none of the other soldiers standing around them seemed to notice.
Puck tried to focus on what she was saying, and failed. How could the others not see this?
There weren’t supposed to be any blue-eyed humans left. 

*****

TBC... 

© Courtney Carter, http://writingdeskblog.blogspot.com, 2018