Today we're going apocalyptic with R. James Stevens and his Epsilon series . The Witch's Lair has been edited, formatted, and is ready for pre-order. Make your Valentine's day darker and get your copy. Info about my stories can be located at the bottom of the post, in the mean time R. James take it away -
|Close up of the Author|
I find writing about myself in third person to be a very odd experience. This is about me, and written by me – so I'm forgoing the usual.
I was born in a tiny Western Pennsylvania burg – New Castle, to be exact. That's right - Cascade Park, 'the Hot Dog Capital of the World' and also similarly 'the Fireworks Capital of the USA'. While several very famous fireworks companies do call it home, I'm not certain how or when the hot dog moniker came into being (although I had been known to enjoy a Coney Island dog or two during my time there).
My family was not affluent, and as such, we moved around a lot. That's a misnomer – we moved around a ton. By third grade, we had already relocated (significantly – as in across town and into new school districts) no less than six times. So it should come as no surprise that I often found myself with not many friends to speak of – forcing me to be more introverted than I wanted. Subsequently, I developed quite an imagination. I spent a fair amount of time at the NC Public Library (as well as individual school libraries) and read more than my fair share of Science Fiction and Fantasy (my personal favorites) – I also found historical account novels fascinating.
Upon reaching my teenage years - and when we had finally started to solidify our residence to one side of town or the other – I took interest in what most average teenage boys do: sports, fun, girls. To my detriment, I strayed away from reading to any great extent.
However, I have to credit a couple of my English Lit teachers in high school for planting the seed of writing – despite my outside interests: Mr. Gryn and Miss McLaughlin. No one can force you to write, and no one can ingrain the ability to be a writer. These two, however, freed me up to put my imagination down on paper – without overly worrying about rigid storytelling structure. My most vivid memory was a day when Mr. Gryn came into the class, held up a Moody Blues album (hey kids, ask your parents what an LP is!) – and said simply "Write about this cover". No rules. No structure. Just... write.
This wasn't a one-time assignment, either. It continued. He would show us pictures, give us a setting, an event – and sometimes just a phrase. "Write about it..." he would say. Simple enough.
My assignments tended to be more on the odd side – many times macabre – and my peers would laugh at the strange stories I would concoct seemingly out of thin air. But I will never forget the day that Mr. Gryn read my paper aloud in class and followed the laughter by saying "This is a very profound story" – and he clapped. After class, he pulled me aside and said "You have a gift – you need to keep writing!".
A fair amount of time has passed since those carefree days of my youth, and many things have drawn my interest away from writing. I served in the military during Desert Storm and met my wife near the end of my enlistment.
One day in 2003 I told my son-in-law, Karl, that we should make a comic book – knowing that he was a great artist in his own right, and after all, how hard could it be? He said "sure, but who's going to write for it?" Seven hours later, Brigadier Stroud was born. His remark to me woke up the writing spirit – "I never knew you had it in you..."
Blurb for Clarity - Salvation. Redemption. Discovery.
In the year 2077, the world is stricken by an epic natural disaster, sounding the death knell of modern technology. Sent back to the Dark Ages, billions perish in the aftermath. Seven years later, the scattered populace is left to fend for themselves against rogue organizations that seize the opportunity for a power play in a world without power.
Blurb for Duality - Salvation. Redemption. Discovery.
The world has lived behind a dark shroud since the cataclysmic Event of 2077 – a solar flare the likes of which has never been recorded, destroying all technology. Two-thirds of the population has perished in the aftermath of the Event itself, or from rampant violence plaguing the world over.
Main Character's motivations
With Epsilon, it would be easy to say that Brigadier Stroud is the main, but his story is just one of several (3 to be precise) that drive this entire series. The reason I hesitate to call Brig the absolute main is that all of their stories are so interwoven that one doesn't really operate well above and beyond the others. Without Steele Fox or Clive Underwood, Brig's story really comes to an abrupt end before anything ever takes flight. The same can absolutely be said about the others.
With that said, the primary motivation that they all have in common is a search for something that has plagued them, respectfully, for years – Salvation, Redemption, Discovery. A tumultuous whirlwind of circumstances and experiences grants them the painful realization that their fates are dependent on one another. In a world where unity is key, selfish motivations could spell disaster for them all.
Any philosophical issues in this story? If so how do you address them, how does MC live and over come them?
I would say that one of the handful of issues is the reliance on technology. As the first book unfolds, you get a visceral glimpse into a world that has been devastated by the "Event" of 2077, shoving a once proud technological society past the brink of chaos. While the Event really only provides a backdrop to the stories of the main characters, it definitely is the "dividing line" between what was and what will be – and hence, is the molding force behind many of the characters' actions.
The second book, Duality, continues the examination of the landscape, both political and personal, as more secrets of the past are uncovered. Conspiracies abound, and the loyalties of those once thought to be on one side or the other, are tested and revealed. Nothing is what it seems.
Any offbeat obscure or 80s references?
I've mentioned in the acknowledgments for Duality that I love "Easter Eggs". For those that don't relate to that term – it's an old 80's word that originated in the video game developing world, where a programmer would put something (usually their initials) inside a work of theirs for gamers to find by performing specific (and arcane) tasks. Anyone that has read either book in the Epsilon series knows that I love to layer my work, and as such, there is always the opportunity to throw in hidden references – whether thinly veiled or outright buried beneath several levels.
While I could list them here (there are plenty to be found), I know as a reader I find it more challenging to find them myself. I've had several readers come to me and ask about a particular reference and whether it was intentional. As I like to say – everything I write is intentional, there are no "happy accidents".
When did you start to write this one and why?
After releasing Clarity (Book 1) in July 2013, I took a couple of months off. Penned a short that released in October of that year (Homecoming: Terran Z Prelude – more on that later) and then began the outlining process for Duality in November 2013. As mentioned previously, I tend to layer my work, so there is a lot of planning that goes into a series of this scope. I know that many authors like to "wing it", but to put it simply – Epsilon would suffer if I did that. So I planned (outlining, character exploration studies, brainstorming, etc) for about 2 months. At the same time, because I had already outlined what would become the first 5 chapters of Duality, I began writing in November 2013, as well. By the end of January 2014, I had already completed those first 5 chapters. The realization that it finally released in July 2015 should speak to the scope and complexity of this work.
I wrote Duality because it was a planned-out extension of the Epsilon series. Originally designed as a comic book 100-issue series, I had to rework the sequencing to fit it into the planned number of books that would complete the Epsilon world. While some may complain about the abrupt endings, if you view the work as a whole across the entire set – it makes sense and I think is much more satisfying than if I had put a definite end to either of the first two books.
What's next in this series or in your next book?
For various reasons, not the least of which was the amount of time and effort it takes to plan just one book in this series, my plan was to take a year off from Epsilon and pick up sometime in 2017 with the main "heavy writing". The good news is that I have already completed a good portion of the brainstorming for Book 3. I don't foresee it being released in 2016, but sometime in 2017 would still be a year or so earlier than I had initially thought.
There are more twists and surprises in store beyond Clarity and Duality – ones that stretch the complex storyline even farther than imaginable. Because of the nature of this series, it's hard to come out and tell you specifics of the new book without releasing major spoilers to the first two. Suffice to say, the scale of the Epsilon universe gets much larger.
As for other projects, I've got two anthologies (1 horror, 1 SciFi) slated for this year, as well as (hopefully) finishing up a non-Epsilon novel, Terran Z.
Preview of your next book?
Epsilon is hard to preview without destroying the final portions of the book before it. So to that end, I'm going to do a deep dive of both Clarity and Duality, much more than the Amazon free previews would permit.
Clarity (Copyright 2003-2015, R. James Stevens)
The stars shimmered in the cold, Baltic Sea night sky like silvery beads of dew across a dark canvas. Several barges and other assorted sea vessels called out to the loneliness, as they slowly and quietly moved past one another in and out of the harbor on the way to their destinations.
Unnoticed by the dock workers, who diligently went about their daily tasks, loading and unloading various crates and pieces of equipment from cargo ships that made port; seven dark dots silently descended from the cloudless sky and drifted inland, staying aloft as they passed over the busy docks.
The small team of Epsilons, led by Brigadier Stroud, sailed forward into the pitch, dropped moments earlier from their undetected transport kilometers above them. Each carried an M74 Assault Special on their backs tucked underneath a black, state-of-the-art jump outfit.
The outfit, playfully referred to as the “bat-suit” by both EWs and the DMST engineers that designed it, allowed the wearer to not only dive and control his descent, but also to decelerate and land on the ground without the need of a parachute. The design eliminated much of the bulk of a normal drop, and provided an incredible amount of stealth for such an insertion.
As the team drifted over a darkened stretch of highway below, Brig signaled to the others that it was time to make the final descent.
Like a well-traveled flock of gulls, the Epsilons performed an incredible, synchronized roll and darted towards the ground. They stretched their arms outward and slowed their descent, then stealthily touched down, one after the other, into a small, lightless field next to the road.
The group quickly came together to plan their first move.
"We need to get a scan of the area ahead to see what we're dealing with. I could see the grouping of bogeys in the square on our way down," Brig said to Ballard.
"Already counted them. Forty-four, Major," Ballard replied immediately.
Not wanting to repeat what was the perception of failure from the last mission, Brig ensured that everyone on the team had taken the Catalyst prior to their insertion.
And it was already paying off.
"Forty-seven, actually," McGraw shot back, snidely.
"Good, then those extra three are yours," Ballard quipped back to McGraw, returning his sneer to his much taller teammate. McGraw answered the stocky Ballard with a one-fingered salute.
"They knew we were comin'... again," Brig muttered aloud, staring into the distance where the light from the square emanated upwards into the dark sky like a beacon. "McGraw - I need you and Johannsen to scout ahead and make sure we didn't miss any snipers hanging around the rooftops."
Brig turned to face the other four Epsilons.
"Major... I'm not feelin' so hot," Johannsen said, kneeling down and holding his hands against his stubbly, blonde hair. "Headache... kinda nauseated..."
"You gonna be okay to go on with the mission or do I need to keep you back?" Brig asked, placing one hand on Johannsen's shoulder.
Johannsen waved Brig off with one hand. "Nah, I should be okay in a few. Think I just got vertigo on the way down is all."
McGraw shook his head in disgust at both men.
"Okay then, Evans - go with McGraw. Make sure we're not goin' in blind," Brig ordered. Evans, his tall, lanky frame silhouetted in the moonlight, nodded and then sprinted off into the darkness with McGraw.
"So what's the plan, boss?" Swanson asked Brig in a hushed tone, as the remaining EWs gathered together.
"We wait to hear back from our scouts, then we move ahead and station ourselves as close as we can to the square," Brig answered. "They're guarding somethin' big with those numbers."
"Forty-seven to seven's kinda some tough odds, don't you think, Major?" Ballard added to the conversation. "We actually gonna try that?"
"I'm not worried about their numbers, Mitch," Brig told him. "I've already got that part of the equation figured out."
Duality (Copyright 2003-2015, R. James Stevens)
James Muldoon stood on the observation platform, the determination pressed on his patient face like a tailored suit. He glanced at his wrist-holo for the time, watching a tube car jet past into another tunnel out of sight, on its way to a distant city.
The MagnaRail - or ‘Tubes’ as they came to be known - were a multi-city hub of underground pneumatic tunnels that allowed high-speed travel between the east and west coasts of the URA. While not as glamorous as air travel, it did offer the opportunity for chance meetings such as today.
His partner, McGintry, leaned back on the railing, toked at a cigarette and studied the opposite direction.
"What'r we waitin fer?" McGintry's Scottish was thick as frozen gravy.
"Oh, the young McGintry. So full of questions," Muldoon replied, his own accent a smooth Irish. He tapped the railing in an uneven rhythm.
"It jes seems like an outta the way place te do business. Someone from outta town, yah?"
"Nothing gets by you, my young friend."
He glanced at McGintry, who was still staring with intense eyes at him. "If you must know," Muldoon added, "we have a government official making a visit."
McGintry raised his eyebrows. "Now why would we be seein' someone like that?"
"A deal," Muldoon said.
McGintry tossed his smoke, snuffed it with a boot heel, and then pointed an angry digit at Muldoon. "Are ye daft? Ye know that the Royals don' deal with the Feds!"
"Daft? No. I would say I'm... determined," Muldoon replied, a blind eye to McGintry's outrage. "This organization has always been one step behind in becoming truly world class. It's time to change that."
McGintry snorted and propped his hands on his hips, stared at Muldoon.
"It's time for a changing of the guard," Muldoon hissed. "It's time to sever the head of this shortsighted group."
The round face of his partner grew ever crimson; without turning to face him, Muldoon grinned.
"We will single-handedly usher in a new paradigm for the Royals, McGintry. Whether they want it or not." He smiled coyly. The latest tube whizzed by in a blur, wisping a single clump of hair across his forehead. The rest of his mane, slick and black, coiled behind him.
The Royals considered themselves kings among men, never offering a doubt as to their namesake. One would be hard pressed to find a facet of life without their elusive fingerprint stamped within the framework. Their connections ran deep: gambling, banks, law enforcement just to name a few. The genius of their operation, however, lay in their deliberate aversion to mixing their hand in government. It was this internal law that kept them away from federal prosecution, and with the formation of the United Republic of the Americas in the late Twenties, each territory managed their own law enforcement independent and sovereign to the federal government. A perfect storm.
While racketeering and money laundering had kept their organization running rich for many years, the gradual switch to a credit based system - one that was overseen by the federal Republic - was the storm on the horizon, and the organization brass were too stubborn to see the light bearing down on them in the tunnel.
"I'm not gonna let ye do that, James!" McGintry grabbed Muldoon's jacket with a ham fist.
Muldoon glanced down at the Scot's pink flesh, and then shot a vicious glare at him. "Perhaps a retraction is in order, McGintry," he said with smoothness. "You'll be the first I kill."
A chill traveled McGintry's spine. Muldoon's cold, black eyes stared through his soul. He released the Irishman.
Muldoon calmly brushed off the shoulder of his jacket. "Don't ever touch me again." He once again leaned onto the railing.
When will it be available?
The Epsilon series launched in September 2013 with Book 1: Clarity. Book 2, Duality, was released in July 2014. Both are available worldwide via Amazon in both print and Kindle formats.As I mentioned previously, Book 3 is currently in the deep planning stages, with a completion date somewhere around mid-2017. It could be sooner, depending on how things go with other projects, or simply whether I just decide to shelve the others and dive back into Epsilon – which is always a fun place to be.
The anthologies should be paced out probably in March/April 2016 and July/August 2016, with Terran Z sometime around Halloween (good timing, as you will soon see).
Short Stories -
Thank you James. The Inquisitor Series is growing. The Witch's Lair is done, and awaiting to be released. Pre-order is now available and you can make your Valentine's Day darker with the click of a button.
Junior Inquisitor Book One
Amazon - http://goo.gl/D6KrbX
Inquisitor Series - http://goo.gl/mJtTf8
Soulless Monk Book Two
Smashwords - https://goo.gl/NXw3Gr
Amazon - http://goo.gl/p9fBn0
Inquisitor Series - http://goo.gl/5lCyaX
The Witch’s Lair Book Three
Book release on Valentine's Day
Amazon - http://goo.gl/ZRO6Jw
Smashwords - https://goo.gl/MokJnC
Inquisitor Series - http://goo.gl/mJtTf8