The Origin Key: Fantasy and Sci-Fi Collide


I’m thrilled to feature another Alabama author on my blog this month. Susan is such a sweet spirit and has always been so kind to me. Sometimes when you meet people you automatically think, “I like her. We’re going to get along just fine.” Believe me when I say those types of people are in short supply.

With that being said, it doesn’t mean she’s too sweet to write a nail-biting fantasy book with a dash of science fiction because she did the thing. Are you intrigued? Good! Keep reading.

Susan McPhail spent years writing technical documentation and developing marketing materials for high-tech engineering firms. She is now a fantasy/science fiction author living in Huntsville, Alabama (aka the Rocket City) with her husband. When she’s not writing or catching the latest movie, Susan enjoys handcrafts like crocheting and quilting because it looks like she’s doing something useful while in fact she is pondering how to work out tricky plot points.

The Origin Key is her first novel, and is the first book in the Treasures of Dodrazeb series. You can find her online at and on Twitter @susan_mcphail.



The Origin Key on Amazon

Author Questions

A. When did you realize you wanted to be an author?

S. I’ve always been a voracious reader and welcomed opportunities to get creative with words in my work life. A few years ago when I transitioned out of a full-time job, I decided to challenge myself and see if I could write fiction. About halfway into the first draft of my first novel, I realized that I had also always wanted to be an author—I had just not taken the time to acknowledge that passion.

A. In what genre do you write?

S. My first published novel is Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key. It’s historical fantasy adventure, a heroic quest that I describe as “sword-and-science” because there is an element of sci-fi in it as well.

A. Is there a genre you haven’t written in, but want to?

S. I have plans for a humorous cozy mystery series featuring a smart wife/mom/working woman who reluctantly gets drawn into murder investigations. It’s set in a small, rural southern town filled with marvelously eccentric characters.

A.Oooo! This sounds so fun!

A. What is your writing process? Such as, outlining, freehand, computer vs paper and pen?

S. My process tends to be less outline-oriented and more seat-of-the-pants. I start out by jotting down notes about major plot points that turn into a somewhat vague synopsis. Then when I start working on a first draft, I develop new and better ideas as I go, so the story starts to diverge from my original notes. The basic story I had in mind remains the same, but taking my characters from the beginning to the end is a very satisfying creative endeavor.

I’m always jotting down notes about different ideas for different stories, so much of that is done with pen and paper (or notebook or napkin or whatever is handy when an idea strikes). But when I have big chunks of writing time, I like to be on my computer. I can type faster than I can write legibly!

A. Who are you writing inspirations, famous or not?

S. Stephen King has been a favorite author of mine for decades. I don’t like every book he’s ever written, but he is a master story teller. I love J.K. Rowling’s imagination and world-building skills. I was also influenced by lots of science fiction writers from H.G. Wells to Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. One of my all-time favorites is Anne McCaffrey’s science fantasy series Dragonriders of Pern.

A. YES! Rowling is an artist!

A. How much research, if any, did you have to put into your novel(s)?

S. Since my series Treasures of Dodrazeb is grounded in real human history, I have to do quite a bit of research. The hero is a third-century Persian warrior-prince, so I’ve done extensive reading about ancient Persia and that region of the world. In addition to historical research, it’s also necessary to get the details right on a hefty amount of science. While on a quest to bring a criminal to justice, the Persian warrior-prince discovers a hidden kingdom using what we consider to be modern technology in everyday life. That means I have to understand their technology and then be able to describe how an ancient warrior would react to it.

A. Do you listen to music while you write or edit? If so, who do you listen to?

S. No, I’m not usually listening to music while I write—I listen to the TV. It’s an old habit from when I was in school. I would do my homework in the living room with the TV on. Apparently, that works for me just like listening to music works for others.

A. Interesting. I’ve never heard that before.

A. When you’re not being an amazing author and writing away, what do you for fun?

S. What’s more fun than reading? I read a lot. I like going to the movies, too. Touring historical sites is fun. I recently got to tour the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta. Her novel, Gone with the Wind, was an incredibly successful historical novel with vivid, unforgettable characters. I was able to celebrate a love of history, movies, reading, and writing all at once in one afternoon!

A. What has been the most exciting experience for you since starting your writing career?

S. Receiving the first print copy of my first novel was too awesome for words. Being able to hold an actual copy of a book that I had written made it real for me. I wasn’t just an aspiring writer any more—I was a published author!

A. There is no greater feeling!

A. Who created your amazing cover art?

S. I did! We tried working with a cover artist, but he just never could quite capture the look I wanted. So I put my years of marketing experience and working with graphics to good use.

A. That’s awesome. Maybe I’ll be hitting you up for some tips on that. 😉

A. Is there an artist, book blogger, editor or anyone else that you want to give a shout out to?

S. Absolutely! The Rocket City Lit Fest in 2015 was a major catalyst in spurring me to take the final steps and get my first novel published. Thanks to Ashley Chappell-Peeples and A.G. Porter, both wonderful writers themselves, for all your hard work on that event.

I also want to thank my amazing editor Molly Felder. With her help I was able to polish my pretty good story into a true gem of a first novel. I appreciate her patience, eye for detail, and willingness to teach me how to be a better writer.

A. The Lit Fest was amazing! Thanks for the shot out!

A. Give us a brief description of your WIP (work in progress) or your newest novel.

S. Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third century. While on a quest to avenge a horrific attack on his father the king, a Persian warrior discovers a strange kingdom isolated from the rest of the world. He thinks the villain is hiding there, but a sly princess is determined to sabotage the Persians to protect her kingdom’s ancient secrets. What is she so desperate to keep hidden?

Halloween Questions

A. This is a Halloween blog post so you must tell us, do you enjoy Halloween? Why or why not?

S. I do enjoy Halloween. I like seeing children donning costumes and exploring the idea of becoming someone or something else for a little while. I like seeing the older kids and adults freeing themselves of their conventional identities for a time and getting creative. I like the idea of costume parties. Perhaps most of all, I like CHOCOLATE!

A. Do you have any Halloween traditions?

S. I like to watch favorite old spooky movies or fun ones like Hocus Pocus or Nightmare Before Christmas leading up to trick-or-treat night. Then we usually order in pizza and have fun answering the door to shower neighborhood kids with candy on Halloween night.

A. Do you believe in the spiritual realm?

S. Yes.

A. Have you ever had an encounter with a ghost or something happen that you just explain?

S. Yes.

A. What is your favorite scary movie and/or book?

S. Donnie Darko. Not necessarily scary, probably because I’ve seen it so many times, but that’s the kind of movie that haunts me.

A. Most importantly, what is your favorite Halloween candy?

S. Tootsie Rolls. Hershey minis. M&Ms. Milk Duds. Chocolate!

Reader Questions

A. What author would you geek out over if you met them in real life?

J.K. Rowling. She is my idol!

A. Yes! She’s on my list. I would probably faint. Haha!

A. Hands down, what is your favorite book of all time and why?

S. It used to be Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. Reading it as a teenager introduced me to so many questions about so many things, I began to develop the ability to think independently, examining issues from many sides.

If you consider an entire series as a single story, it might now be Harry Potter. That story is just magical in so many ways with layers upon layers of meaning.

A. What book would you like to see in film or do you believe that books should be left alone?

S. Other than my own book? 😉 I think, if done correctly, any good book can be a good movie if filmmakers respect the source material. The book will always be better, but sometimes it takes a movie to get a person interested in a book. The Harry Potter series was done well as movies and I was also impressed with The Hunger Games films.

A. As a reader, what about a book turns you away?

S. I don’t care too much for whiny, one-dimensional characters.

A. If you find you can’t get into a book, do you put it down or be a trooper and finish it?

S. When I start a book, I’m usually committed to finishing it. I keep thinking that if I stick with it, the book will eventually get better. This is not always the case.

A. Do you stick to one genre or do you like to read around?

S. My personal preference tends toward speculative fiction, but I’m game for lots of other genres. The one I tend to avoid is Romance, unless there is a strong element of mystery, suspense, humor, horror, or some other kind of genre mash-up.

A. Are you a book-in-your-hands reader, e-booker, or both?

S. I like to acquire autographed books, and there’s something about turning pages and never worrying about battery life that is appealing. But I also read e-books for their convenience, portability, and affordability.

Random Questions

A. Favorite movie?

S. Donnie Darko

A. Favorite TV show?

S. All time: Star Trek (every one of them). Currently: Game of Thrones, Westworld, Big Bang Theory

A. If you could eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?

S. That’s a tough one! If I could or if I had to? What keeps popping into my head as I ponder this question is pizza, so I guess that’s my answer.

A. You can’t go wrong with pizza!

A. What’s your favorite candy/dessert?

S. Did I mention chocolate already? Warm brownies with a scoop of ice cream!

A. What band or musician can you listen to over and over again? You can list more than one.

S. Beatles. Styx. Michael Jackson. Adele. Is my age showing yet?

A. What’s your hidden talent?

S. Sarcasm. No, wait—that one shows up pretty frequently. My hidden talent is appearing confident in public when I’m ready to shrivel up and die inside.

A. I know what you mean!

A. What is your dream vacation?

S. Leisurely touring Great Britain and Ireland, staying in castles that have been converted into 5-star luxury hotels.

Contact Information:

Author Name: S.D. McPhail


Facebook: S.D. McPhail, Author

Twitter: susan_mcphail

Goodreads: S.D. McPhail

Book Links:



T.K. Bradley Talks About Her Debut Novel, Shade (Shade Chronicles)

I’m really excited to introduce you to author T.K. Bradley, my first author interview for this month! If you read my previous post then you know that I’ll be featuring authors throughout the rest of October. I met T.K. through a mutual friend and while we’ve never met in person (you know, that Canada/America distance thing) I found that we have a lot in common. For one thing, we have great taste in friends, great taste in zombie shows, and we both love to write!


There isn’t much to be said about T.K. Bradley. She lives north of The Wall, in the great white expanse of Canada, with her husband and two children. She has a variety of pets, all with ridiculous names that only children can be blamed for.

Shade is her first publication, so please excuse her stumbling. Even authors must learn to walk before they can run.

T.K. is the author of Shade (Shade Chronicles Book 1), a Post Apocalyptic/Sci-Fi Thriller.  




Lakes evaporate. Plants die. Skin blisters. All from a sun that now burns too hot.

If James hadn’t made his wife a promise to stay alive at all costs, he would have given up long ago. All he has in life is a small group of survivors, and his little sliver of shade. But there are worse things to fear than the light. In order to survive in this cruel world, James will have to live by two rules.

Hide from the light. Fear the night.


Author Questions


When did you realize you wanted to be an author?

My earliest story was a Cinderella retelling, fully illustrated of course. I was probably around 9 or 10? While my artistic skills left something to be desired, the editing was atrocious, and it was essentially plagiarized from my favorite book, my mother told me it was the best book she had ever read. It’s amazing how a little bit of positive reinforcement can drive a person to do even the most impossible things.

In what genre do you write?

Though my reading tends to be eclectic, my writing tends to lean towards science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. I love writing scenes that get the heart pumping and the imagination turning!

Is there a genre you haven’t written in, but want to?

I have a confession to make… I have a soft spot for angsty romance. Love triangles, forbidden romance, star-crossed lovers; I want it all! I’ve never felt brave enough to attempt putting that kind of angst into my stories yet, because I’m terrified that I won’t get it just right. One day maybe…

What is your writing process? Such as, outlining, freehand, computer vs paper and pen?

All of the above? I haven’t had any particular writing method win out over the others yet. They seem to be in a bit of a cage-match at the moment. Recently, I’ve tried dictating my story, but there’s one major flaw; there’s no backspace key, no delete, AND typos! The OCD in me is slowly being driven crazy, one homophone at a time.

Who are you writing inspirations, famous or not?

I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious, but I don’t know that I could pinpoint just one or two authors and say, “Them! They made me who I am today!” Whenever I read a book that resonates with me, I try to hold a part of it inside, for as long as humanly possible. Then, when I’m trying to write a scene, I think about what kind of emotion I’m aiming for, and delve into my “previous-reads” file.

How much research, if any, did you have to put into your novel(s)?

A lot of my stories are post-apocalyptic or alternate realities, so research is difficult to do. I do spend a lot of time looking at maps and finding the right geographical locations. I use my family vacations as fact-finding missions… does that mean I can write them off as a business expense? 😉

Do you listen to music while you write or edit? If so, who do you listen to?

Absolutely not! Total silence, please! It is one of the major barriers I run into while writing. I try to encase myself within a soundproof bubble, that seems to be largely invisible to my children. Writing outside of the house is similarly distracting. I get my best writing done after everyone has gone to bed. It’s a good thing that I need fewer hours of sleep than the average human. I’m able to run off anxiety and caffeine.

When you’re not being an amazing author and writing away, what do you for fun?

Netflix and chill. Coffee and book. Couch and nap. These are the real-world power couples.

What has been the most exciting experience for you since starting your writing career?

If I’m being honest, I would say being interviewed is right up there! My professional writing career has just begun, so every step I’ve taken has been a first. Everything is shiny and new! The best experience so far, though, was probably when my parents surprised me with a box full of paperbacks. My first story was so short that I hadn’t planned on getting any printed, but they went all ninja, and enlisted my best friend’s help to plan the best surprise ever.

Who created your amazing cover art?

Ooh! I love that you asked this! My cover art was done by Lori Parker at Contagious Covers. She had asked me what I was looking for, and she suffered through my vague descriptions. She came out with the most eye-catching piece of art I ever could have hoped for! She’s a magician!

Is there an artist, book blogger, editor or anyone else that you want to give a shout out to?

As a hard-core introvert, I’ve found it incredibly hard to break out of my shell. There have been members of the book community, however, who just won’t let me hermit. Toni, over at My Book Addiction, has been so great with her support. Erin Hayes, an amazing author in her own right, has also given me gentle nudges towards human interaction. Lori Parker, author/cover artist/best friend in the world, has been more aggressive with her help, and I literally wouldn’t have published my first book without her.

Also, a huge thank you to every single reader who has given my story a shot! I know it’s a little scary to try a new author, so I genuinely appreciate every page-turn.

Give us a brief description of your WIP (work in progress) or your newest novel.

I’m currently writing Prey, the next story in the Shade Chronicles. It takes place before Shade, telling the story of a young teenage girl, who has lived in an enclosed compound for over a decade. When she finally sets foot outside, with her father and brother, she finds that the world as she knew it is dead. The sun is hot enough to blister skin and bleach the earth, but there is something even more dangerous at night.


Halloween Questions


This is a Halloween blog post so you must tell us, do you enjoy Halloween? Why or why not?

I like Halloween, in theory… but I’m also ridiculously lazy about it. I take my kids trick-or-treating, and I’ll even throw on some face-paint. That’s the extent of my effort.

Do you have any Halloween traditions?

Since we’re out most of the evening with the kids, by the time we get home we only have a handful of people come to our house. Those few, those lucky few, get a stupid amount of candy. It is my goal to have zero candy left at the end of the night, but we also don’t want to run out. It’s a bit of a game.

Do you believe in the spiritual realm?

Hmmm, that’s a tough one. Yes? I definitely believe that there is more to this world that what we can see or explain. I’m not ruling anything out, just in case. You can be sure that if there is a spiritual realm, I’m going to be rocking it!

Have you ever had an encounter with a ghost or something happen that you just can’t explain?

I’ve heard plenty of stories, but I only have one thing that has happened (though more than once) that I guess could be called second-sight. Once, it narrowly avoided a car crash, so I’ll gladly take that kind of phenomenon!

What is your favorite scary movie and/or book?

I can’t say that there are many books that have scared my pants off, but movies are a different story entirely. I’m a “watch with the lights on” kind of girl. I may have paused The Ring a few times to catch my breath, and I had to keep my eyes closed when I was watching Blair Witch because I got motion-sickness (although I think that made it scarier, since I had no idea what was going on). I really love cheesy gore, though! Nightmare on Elm Street is a classic go-to. I also giggle uncontrollably when watching The Walking Dead. Love it!

Most importantly, what is your favorite Halloween candy?

Anything with sugar. Although, I swear my kids’ candy tastes better than mine. I’d better test it.


Reader Questions


What author would you geek out over if you met them in real life?

I am an awful fangirl. I mean, I’m really not good at it. I tend to get awkward, and sweat uncontrollably. The author I was most excited to meet was Julie Kagawa, and I was so happy to find that she was really down-to-earth.

You mean… authors are just like regular people?

Hands down, what is your favorite book of all time and why?

My favorite book is probably The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. We’re talking old-school, here. Written in 1951, it has largely fallen out of popularity (imagine that), but I will gladly read that book a dozen times more.

What book would you like to see in film or do you believe that books should be left alone?

I’m all for film adaptations, especially for books I will never read. No offense to Nicholas Sparks, but I’m not a fan of his books. His movies, however, are angsty-romance gold!

As a reader, what about a book turns you away?

Cliches are a book’s instant death, in my opinion.

If you find you can’t get into a book, do you put it down or be a trooper and finish it?

Super good question! I used to stick it out, push through to the end. But then I realized something; life is short and I’m wasting my time! It seems ridiculous to look at your life and mourn the loss of time because you won’t get all the books read. On the other hand, if that’s all you regret, it’s a life well-lived.

Do you stick to one genre or do you like to read around?

I definitely read a full-genre spectrum, though I sometimes do it in bursts. I read only mystery books for about three years straight, and actually toyed with the idea of writing a mystery novel. Then one day, I woke up and realized that I was exhausted by mystery novels. I quit, cold turkey. I actually haven’t picked one up in over five years. Right now I’m reading contemp romance, science fiction, and a lot of dystopian.

Are you a book-in-your-hands reader, e-booker, or both?

Both, but if I can get my hands on a physical book, I prefer having something tangible. They just take up so much space! I’m at the point of over-stuffed bookshelves spilling out onto the floor.


Random Questions


Favorite movie?

Princess Bride

Favorite TV show?

Depends on what I’m binge watching at that moment. Let’s go with Penny Dreadful.

If you could eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Does dessert count as a dish?

What’s your favorite candy/dessert?

Those cheap chocolate bars they sell at the grocery checkouts. I just can’t seem to say no.

What band or musician can you listen to over and over again? You can list more than one.

I’ve been a Beatles fan since I was seven, and I’m so proud of my younger self for having such good taste.

What’s your hidden talent?

It wouldn’t be hidden if I told you…

What is your dream vacation?

Hiking the Milford Track in New Zealand. Now I just need someone to bankroll that vacation.


Contact Information:

Author Name: T.K. Bradley



Book Links:



Christmas Nightmare (Not Really, but Seriously)

OK, maybe my title is a little dramatic, but that’s how I’m feeling right about now. This is a result of hand making my Christmas gifts and getting a writing itch at the same time. That does not sit well with my home office. My house is no where big enough to have a room for crafting and a room for writing so they occupy one space. That has to be a paradox, right?

There's a desk under all of this, right?

There’s a desk under all of this, right?

That's sweet tea aka my fuel.

That’s sweet tea aka my fuel.

I mean, what the heck?!?

I mean, what the heck?!?

My desk has been taken over by crafting supplies. You want gadgets and gizmos? I’ve got plenty and then some! I think I’ve lost myself and my sanity in all of my wares. I wonder how many days it will take my husband to notice I’m missing?


And I wonder why I can't any hair clips when I'm getting ready...I leave them all in my office!

And I wonder why I can’t find any hair clips when I’m getting ready…I leave them all in my office!


So, I’m still not done with crafting. Yes, I know tomorrow is Christmas Eve, but I’m at my best under pressure, alright? Anyway, that’s why I can’t put all of this stuff away. I do have a place for it, but right now it must stay where it lies. Even if it must lie in my way. My solution was just to clear a space and plop my laptop right in the middle.

I feel you silently judging me for my Twilight books.

I feel you silently judging me for my Twilight books.

It seems to be working, but at the same time, I keep getting distracted by how messy my surroundings are. Why did you have to come at Christmas time writing muse? You must really hate me!

Oh, and this weather has gotten my lips all chappy so I’ve spent the last several minutes looking for my Chap-Stick, thinking I’ve left somewhere in this junk pile. Just so happens I put it in my purse, where it’s supposed to be and that’s the last place I look. This clutter has got me all up in…in…I don’t even have a nice word to use right here.

My lips are saved!

My lips are saved!

(Deep breath) Despite my humbug attitude, Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. I enjoy the gift giving and joyous spirit. I love all the different songs and customs. Celebrating my Savior’s birth always brings a smile to my face. So, please Jesus, help me before I throw everything on my desk into the floor.

See, I really am in the Christmas spirit!

See, I really am in the Christmas spirit!

Merry Christmas, y’all!


Local Authors Expo at the Birmingham Public Library

Hello y’all,

This Saturday I’ll be in Birmingham, AL at the Local Author Expo at the Central Branch of The Birmingham Public Library. It starts at 9:00AM and is ends at 3:00PM. From what I understand there will be over 100+ authors at the Expo of all genres! This event is going to fantastic!

local authors2015

Some of my authors will be there! Here are a few you need to check out!

Author Ashley

Ashley Chappell is a YA author of many talents and sweet to the core. She also writes satire and if that is your thing then you must check out Of War & Taters! It is hilarious! Not only does Ashley write, but she, I and several other superduper ladies are heading up the first ever literary festival in Huntsville, AL this year. It is the Rocket City Lit Festival (RCLF). Ashley has put in many, many hours to make our festival dreams come true. We are a team, but every team needs a great leader, she is definitely ours and boy has she done the most amazing job! If you want to know more about the RCLF then just follow these links:


Amazon Page for Ashley:


Kyle Hannah

Kyle Hannah is one of those gentleman who is just that, a gentleman. He has a love for history, which translates well into his Time Assassins series. Time Assassins is a time traveling adventure like no other; just imagine having the job of protecting our history?!? Being in the military for over 28 years you would think that Kyle would be this hard-nosed, rule following and hard to talk to sort of guy, but in truth, he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Still, there isn’t a shy bone in his body! 😉

Amazon Page for Kyle:



B.J. Keeton is the phenomenal steampunk author of the Nimbus series and Birthright, the first in his science fiction trilogy. B.J. wears many hats; he’s not only a writers, but also a teacher and a runner. He has impressed me with his ability to mesh his love of all things geek with a healthy lifestyle. The dedication that it takes to write, get your health under control, teach and just mange your day-to-day life is astounding! If it sounds like something you’re interested in then check out his Facebook page here:

Amazon Page for B.J. Keeton:


Amy Leigh Strickland

Amy Leigh Strickland is well known for her Olympia Heights series and for a good reason. My stepson is currently on the first book of the series, Olympia Heights: The Pantheon, and is enjoying it immensely. When I first met Amy at the Alabama Phoenix Festival last year on the panel we shared, my first thought was, “Who the heck is this girl, where did she come and why do I love her brain so much?” Amy is so well spoken, spunky, witty and downright adorable.

Amazon Page for Amy:


Brian Weimer

Brian Weimer was another author I met at the Alabama Phoenix festival. We were both new to the convention scene so we became fast friends. His book, Nexus, caught my attention right away and after the convention I started reading it and devoured it within a few days! I probably could have read it in sitting if I didn’t have to do inconvenient things like eat, sleep and work. The novel took the supernatural and science fiction and blended the two in a way that I hadn’t seen in long time or ever really. I am eagerly awaiting the sequel to Nexus, Brian!

Amazon Page for Brian:

Author M. Pax talks The Rifters and Urban Fantasy


M. Pax is author of the sci-fi series, The Backworlds, and the new adult urban fantasy Hetty Locklear series. Browncoat and SG fan, she’s also slightly obsessed with Jane Austen. In the summers she docents as a star guide at Pine Mountain Observatory where the other astronomers now believe she has the most extensive collection of moon photos in existence. No fear, there will be more next summer. She lives in stunning Central Oregon with the Husband Unit and two lovely, spoiled cats.

M. Pax isn’t leaving you empty handed! She is giving away 2 ebooks and 1 audio book from her works. Enter here:

Author Questions

When did you realize you wanted to be an author?

It’s always been part of me. In high school, I used to write stories about my friends and I, a running soap opera, and I’d stick the installments in their lockers. In junior high I either wanted to be an aerospace engineer, a horse trainer, or a writer.

In what genre do you write?

I write mostly speculative fiction, science fiction and fantasy.

Is there a genre you haven’t written in, but want to?

Yes, I’ve begun work on a historical fiction series, and I’d like to try my hand at womens fiction.

What is your writing process? Such as, outlining, freehand, computer vs paper and pen?

I start with jotting ideas in a journal. Each project gets a journal. When enough of the ideas and research have gelled, I’ll type a draft tagline, blurb, and an arc for each major character in the story. Those are at the top of my document. At the end of my writing session, I print out what I wrote. Later, I hand edit it and make a very brief sketch of the next couple of chapters.

This makes for a slow first draft, but it’s how my brain works. I do more outlining than I used to. I find I write more during each session if I do the brief scene sketches.

Who are you writing inspirations, famous or not?

Definitely Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury. Thomas Hardy had a big impact on me and Hermann Hesse. I read a lot of classic literature.

How much research, if any, did you have to put into your novel(s)?

Research is one of my favorite parts to writing. I love learning new things. I put quite a bit of research into every book. First off, there’s the science. With The Rifters, one of the characters is an actual historical figure. So, I read several biographies to get into his head as best as I could.

Do you listen to music while you write or edit? If so, who do you listen to?

No, I prefer silence. However, there are often cats yipping at me.

When you’re not being an amazing author and writing away, what do you for fun?

I volunteer at an observatory in the summers as a star guide. The reward is looking through the big telescopes. What’s out there is so amazing.

Husband Unit and I like to watch bad sci fi movies, and we enjoy exploring the wilds of Oregon. I like taking a lot of pictures. It takes us 3x as long to get anywhere as other people, because I have to stop every five miles or so to take photos.

What has been the most exciting experience for you since starting your writing career?

Hearing from fans is the best and most exciting part of being an author.

Who created your amazing cover art?

Erin Dameron-Hill of edhgraphics handles all of my graphic needs.

Is there an artist, book blogger, editor or anyone else that you want to give a shout out to?

Kelly Schaub is my awesome editor. She keeps me from creating Sharknados, and a huzzah to my author pack, Untethered Realms. We have an anthology coming out October 14th, Twisted Earths.


Give us a brief description of your WIP (work in progress) or your newest novel.

I just released the first two books in a new urban fantasy series, The Rifters and The Initiate. The stories are set in the fictional town of Settler, Oregon. There’s a misplaced outlaw from 1888, a misplaced librarian newly transplanted from New York City, quirky residents, a secret society, a rift, beings from other worlds, and a rift.

Reader Questions

What author would you geek out over if you met them in real life?

Is it possible to raise Jane Austen from the dead? I took a workshop from Ursula K. Le Guin a few years back. Awesome. It’d be cool to hang out with John Scalzi, Stephen King, and Neil Gaiman for an afternoon. Oh, I’d love to meet Tanya Huff, Margaret George, Tanya Huff, Peter Hamil, and Peter Mayle. I should shut up now…

Hands down, what is your favorite book of all time and why?

2001: A Space Odyssey. It made me think and wonder. The sense of awe inspires me every day.

What book would you like to see in film or do you believe that books should be left alone?

There can never be enough movies based on Jane Austen and her work. Other than that, I’d love to see Tanya Huff’s Confederation novels on screen. Fantastic series.

As a reader, what about a book turns you away?


If you find you can’t get into a book, do you put it down or be a trooper and finish it?

I used to be a trooper. Now I put it down.

Do you stick to one genre or do you like to read around?

I read around.

Are you a book-in-your-hands reader, e-booker, or both?

Both, but I’ve grown to prefer my Nook. However, the big publishers charge too much for their ebooks, so I opt for paperbacks there.

Random Questions

Favorite movie?

The new Star Trek.

Favorite TV show?


If you could eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?


What’s your favorite candy/dessert?

Ice cream

What band or musician can you listen to over and over again? You can list more than one.

Elvis Costello, Muse, The Cure, and Radiohead

What’s your hidden talent?

I don’t like baking, but I bake a mean pie

What is your dream vacation?

Iraq, to see the ruins of the ancient cities of Sumer and Babylon… if they still exist. Second, is the Alsace region in France/Germany.

Contact Information:

Author Name: M. Pax






Book Links:

The Rifters [Free until end of the year Amazon / AmazonUK / B&N / Smashwords /Googleplay / iTunes / Other

Author, Dancer, Choreographer…Is There Anything That John Robert Mack Can’t Do?

I met Author John Robert Mack on…wait for it…Facebook! You know that part of the Internet that’s pretty much a black-hole for a creative person. Why? Well because it just sucks you in and before you know it you’ve traveled in time and it’s time to either go to bed, work or you know…feed your kids.

Meeting John was one of the pleasant experiences of that dark and dangerous land of The Web. He’s a true sweetheart and after interviewing him I found that I was smiling. You’ll see why!

John Robert Mack

John Robert Mack

John studied writing in college, published the short story “Jonny Hates Jazz” in a literary journal, wrote a column “Dancing The Rainbow” for two years in the regional Texas dance periodical The Dancer’s Guide and has written and produced five plays (one on commission). His play Talking with Jacob won statewide recognition in Wisconsin and landed John’s face on the cover of three magazines. He produced an adaptation of the Ray Bradbury story, “The Better Part of Wisdom” with the author’s input and blessing. He also self-published (before it was cool and edgy) a book called KEEP BREATHING: Zen and the Art of Social Dance.  Choreographer

For the past twenty years, John as worked as a dance teacher. He has choreographed musicals like West Side Story and Jesus Christ Superstar and helped create and coach the original Radio Disney dance team in San Antonio, TX.

Now, John has moved to Virginia in semi-retirement to focus on his writing. He has taught workshops for the Hampton Roads Writers and is on staff at the Muse writing center in Norfolk, VA. He has a total of twelve completed novel manuscripts, six plays, and ten screenplays. As a dance teacher, he has been featured twice in the international education periodical Quality in Action.

Books by JRM

Books by JRM

Author Questions

When did you realize you wanted to be an author? When I was about nine years old and first read The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s descriptive writing enthralled me. To me, writing novels was how adults played games of make believe. Then in high school I discovered Kurt Vonnegut, who taught me that “literature” (which you have to say with a snooty accent) could also be vulgar. I was hooked.


In what genre do you write? I like the broad term “speculative fiction.” I’ve written sci fi, fantasy, supernatural, horror, paranormal, steampunk, thriller, mystery, adventure, super hero, Arthurian. I love crossing genres and trying to find a fresh spin on genre clichés. I wrote several episodes for an indie sci fi/paranormal internet series that died before it was born. I have written a number of plays actually set in the real world, and a bunch of “inspirational” stuff for dancers, including a column for a Texas dance magazine and several operational manuals for dance studios and teacher training programs.


Is there a genre you haven’t written in, but want to? You know, I’ve tried to write romance a couple of times. I have a friend who edits for a romance press who wanted to publish me, but I just couldn’t get it to work. On the business side, there’s a bit of money to be made in romance and all its various permutations. Maybe I need a writing partner for that?


What is your writing process? Such as, outlining, freehand, computer vs paper and pen? Gonna work backward on this one. I use both paper and computer. I have a tablet for when I need to get away from the house, but there are times I just need to grab a notebook and sit under a tree. To be honest, the more I try to create a professional routine, the less I use notebook and pen. Transcribing always takes longer than cutting and pasting. As for process, I don’t trust outlines for novels. I paid for college as a debate judge and graduated with an English/philosophy major. In an outline, for me, every A needs a B and a C, and that can lead to very predictable stories. I use what I call “sketches.” I brainstorm into the computer with bits of story and snippets of dialog. With all the playwriting I’ve done, scenes often find their shape in dialog. I let myself freestyle the novel this way, following the advice of Alma Katsu: whenever I find myself stuck for the next plot point, I ask myself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to my character?” I reject that and ask, “What’s even worse?” I reject that, too. When I figure out what’s even worse than that, then I start sketching again. On a side note, a lot of my writing is done in my head on long walks or staring at a tree. Once I have a scene sketched out, I play it over and over in my head until I know exactly how I want it to run, dialog included. Of course, once I actually start writing I often surprise myself.


Who are you(r) writing inspirations, famous or not? My friends inspire me. I have been amazingly fortunate to have some of the most amazing friends on the planet, far more than anyone else I know. I consider them my family. These are people for I’d take a bullet for (and end a sentence with a preposition for). My main goal as a writer is to share these amazing relationships with the world. So, when it comes down to it, I guess I’m still playing make believe games with my besties. They just don’t always know it. Bwa ha ha.


How much research, if any, did you have to put into your novel(s)? Ha. Ha ha ha. Bwa ha ha ha ha ha. Oh dear gods. TONS! I’m revising an apocalyptic sci fi novel about the return of Jesus (it’s not what you think). I realized I was doing too much research when I decided to take my King James Bible with me to the coffee shop to study because it was by far the smallest book I had. I’m also working on a steampunk novel set in an alternate history where the Civil War lasted twenty years and the industrial revolution never happened. I took my nephews to the library yesterday and was browsing DVD’s. “Holy crap!” I exclaimed. “This is awesome!” Of course they wanted to know what amazing movie I’d found for us to watch. “It’s a biography of Nicolai Tesla! Oh my God, they have two!!” Sigh. The challenge is taking all that intense research and then rendering it invisible. No one cares but the author, but I like to think that it creates an authenticity the readers sense, even if they don’t know it. Also, I want to make sure I know my crap when I’m interviewed by Jon Stewart. Ha ha.


Do you listen to music while you write or edit? If so, who do you listen to? Writing and revising always. Editing not so much. Every novel has a different sound track. A Consequence of Folly favors Mumford and Sons. Third Testament likes Sneaker Pimps. Tango with a Twist worked well with Korean Pop artists like Boa.


When you’re not being an amazing author and writing away, what do you for fun? That’s a funny question. I moved out to Virginia Beach two years ago on a sort of sabbatical from teaching dance to work on my novels. I have an amazing opportunity to live out here rent free, so I’ve been trying to spend as much time as possible writing so as not to waste the generosity of the friends who invited me. I’ve gained fifty pounds as a result! So now I’m trying to find more of a balance, getting outside more, hitting the beach, running, swimming and dancing.


What has been the most exciting experience for you since starting your writing career? The phone call I received from Ray Bradbury! I’d adapted his short story “The Better Part of Wisdom” into a stage play and had written to him for permission to produce it. I corresponded with his agent a few times and sent a copy of the play. A few weeks later, the phone rang and this deep voice said, “Hello. This is Ray Bradbury.” He sounded exactly the way he’d introduced his TV show and I looked up at the row of his books lining the shelf in front of me. He liked the adaptation and offered a few suggestions, as well as asking if I’d consider a production with one of his own plays, since the script was a fairly short one. Best. day. ever. Unfortunately, the night of auditions was the worst snowstorm of the decade, so no one showed up. Then my personal life interrupted everything and the production never happened. I’ll always think of it as “the one that got away,” but that phone call was exhilarating.


Who created your amazing cover art? Me. Thanks! I do all my own design work, and most of my own photography.


Is there an artist, book blogger, editor or anyone else that you want to give a shout out to? I always need to thank Ryan and Hope Rooyakkers, who let me live here for free and make all this possible. I should also mention my editor Lauran Strait. Woot! Oh, and Rhea Gropper Petit just painted a wonderful portrait for the cover of “Consequence.” Google her and check out her stuff!

Tango with a Twist by John Robert Mack

Tango with a Twist by John Robert Mack


Give us a brief description of your WIP (work in progress) or your newest novel. Okay. Brief. Well, the series I’ve just started publishing is the Tango Triptych. The first novel is Tango with a Twist (available for FREE on my website ( It has dancing, romance, bromance, a gay single dad, witchcraft and a devil bunny rabbit. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Glee. No. Really. Two other projects are racing to be the next published. Third Testament: The Book of John is affectionately known as the “Jesus Clone book” and is being considered by a publisher!!! (So stoked.) It’s an apocalyptic sci fi/paranormal novel set in a future where Jesus makes a comeback, but isn’t what anyone expected. A Consequence of Folly is a steampunk novel where aliens invade Earth to enslave the human race and the only ones who can save the planet are a gay pirate and the First Lady. Hold onto your goggles and pack a clockwork monkey, the dirigible leaves at dawn!


Reader Questions

What author would you geek out over if you met them in real life? Terry Pratchett. You have no idea. He is the only author I can read again and again. I actually wrote the entire steampunk novel (A Consequence of Folly) just to enter an alternative history contest he sponsored, only to find out I can only enter if I’m a British citizen. Always read the fine print!


Hands down, what is your favorite book of all time and why? How about series? The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. I’ve read all of them at least 3 or 4 times, and I’m not one to do that sort of thing. His language is so interesting that each and every sentence is a joy to read. Many editors claim that the goal of a writer is to keep the narrator/narration as invisible as possible, but Mr. Pratchett proves (to me anyway) that’s just silly. Why write all those words just to keep them inconspicuous? Also, he manages to write fun, fanciful tales while also creating brilliant satire. (By the way, don’t start with book 1 in the series. It took him a couple of novels to really figure out his style. I recommend Equal Rites as a good entry point. Another good place is The Wee Free Men, a recent YA novel in the same universe, but it exists as a standalone.)


What book would you like to see in film or do you believe that books should be left alone? Books should never be left alone. They get lonely. They deserve all the attention they can get. I like the new trend (especially since The Lord of the Rings) to remain as faithful as possible to the original. Other than my own books (all of which I’d love to see on the big screen or the small) I’d have to say Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling. Forrest Gump the movie should NEVER have been made. The book was brilliant, the movie appalling. Don’t even get me started.


As a reader, what about a book turns you away? Bad grammar. Get an editor people! Oh, also getting twenty pages into a novel and A) nothing has happened or B) I already know how it’s going to end.


If you find you can’t get into a book, do you put it down or be a trooper and finish it? Oh good Lord, put it down and don’t look back. There are too many novels out there who deserve our time and attention to waste it on books that need revision and editing. If you can’t grab me in 20 pages, it’s not worth my time. Isn’t that what we’re all told as writers? Novels by friends are a different story. Those I will trudge through. I often go to the library and grab ten books from the new arrivals section to keep up with what’s getting published. (There’s that research thing again.)  Most of it is crap, and I can’t get through it. Mind you, there are a number of amazingly successful books (Twilight and 50 Shades come to mind) that I forced myself to finish (while cutting myself with razor blades) in my ongoing effort to understand what sells. If you ever figure it out, please tell me. No. Really.


Do you stick to one genre or do you like to read around? I’m a whore. I’ll read any style of writing. I look for characters and relationships. Give me a group of friends battling together (or against one another) to overcome adversity and I’m hooked. Doesn’t matter if “adversity” means an alien horde or paying the rent on time.


Are you a book-in-your-hands reader, e-booker, or both? Both. I’m old enough to love the smell and feel of a good book, but I’ve moved around a lot in the past several years and understand that 1,000 novels are much easier to transport across the country on my e-reader.


Random Questions

Favorite movie? Room with a View. Go figure.


Favorite TV show? Okay, massive guilty pleasure. Beastmaster. New Zealand scenery, constant eye candy in a loincloth, and the best bromance in TV history. I can’t help myself.


If you could eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be? Anything with curry.


What’s your favorite candy/dessert? Carrot cake with way too much cream cheese frosting.


What band or musician can you listen to over and over again? You can list more than one.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sneaker Pimps, Peter Gabriel, Debussy, Danny Elfman, Bitter:Sweet, Pink Martini, oh hell, I could go on and on.

What’s your hidden talent? If I tell you, it’s no longer hidden is it?


What is your dream vacation? Me and a few close friends on our own private island in the tropics. Naked.


Thank you  John for taking the time to join me here on my little ‘ol blog! I really hope all of you enjoyed this funny and fantastic interview! Also, remember to get in contact with John!


Do you want to get in contact with John? Well here’s how!


Contact Information:

Author Name: John Robert Mack


Twitter: Twitter shall be the downfall of the American Empire.

Goodreads: I suck. Still making this happen.

Book Links: FREE!!








Short Stories and Fan-Fiction

Some of you may know that I wrote a short story for an online competition about Alice in Wonderland. It was a horror take on the beloved classic. Unfortunately, I didn’t win, but it helped inspire an idea. I want to take that story and expand on it. I’ve read fan-fiction before or different takes on a well known story, yet I’ve never thought about pursuing that for myself. However, I find that I want to challenge myself to do this. It was weird writing this story. Sure, my books are dark, but there is always this element of light. After writing this story, there seemed to be only just a tiny bit of light in it. So, I may have to brighten things up a bit!! 🙂

There isn’t a timeline I’ve set for the completion. The reason being, I am currently working on the third book in The Darkness Trilogy. So, this may have to wait until that is complete. Until then, if you want to read the short story that is available on my DeviantARt page, you can go to this link:

To Die in Wonderland


Or you can read it here:


The young girl with pretty blonde hair knew that her time was coming to an end and it was coming fast. Although, she suspected that it wouldn’t come in quite this fashion. She was young; full of life and promise, dying had never really crossed her mind. Of course there had been that one fleeting moment of death tickling at the back of her thoughts. It was after she lost her first puppy to the neighbor’s much larger canine. Yet, it was just that, a fleeting moment, a blink of an eye and then it was gone.
Now here she stood, death looming over her in the form of things that weren’t supposed to be real.
“Alice,” her mother would say. “There is no such thing as talking caterpillars or rabbits with pocket watches.”
Her imagination was very vivid for most children. In fact, her parents had often scoffed at her stories when she would tell them that she was being chased through the gardens by a boy with his heart on the outside of his chest.  In her childlike mind, he had been real.
She had seen him lurking in the shadows of the trees while she sat on the ground, dirtying her dress that her mother told her not to dirty, playing with her dolls. At first she didn’t think he was truly there, that he were a mirage created by the shadows. Then as he moved closer to her she could see that he was indeed, a breathing person, much alive yet with the look of death about him.
The boy had a pale face with dark, black eyes and wore a torn and tattered suit. It looked like a suit her father would wear when he and her mother would dine out or go to the opera. His top hat was bent and sat crookedly on a mess of matted black hair.
When he had moved into the light that was when her crisp, blue eyes saw that his heart was on the outside of his body, coloring his white shirt red with the blood that seeped from his heart. As Alice looked closer she could see that it was still beating.
That was only one of many occasions where Alice saw something she wasn’t supposed to see. After a while she learned to keep those things to herself otherwise she figured that she would end up in the local asylum. Despite the fact that she chose not to share her encounters with her parents, she still acknowledged they were occurring.
Looking back, she wished that she’d just ignored them all together. If she had, there was a good chance that her current predicament would have never taken place. She would have never followed the rabbit with sharp fangs, a bent ear and suspicious red stains around its mouth, to that cemetery. Also, she never would have taken a tumble down the hole in the crypt and ended up here.
In retrospect, she would have never met a cat that could disappear when it wanted and that seemed to be more human than feline. He would have never gotten the chance to taunt her about needing to “fill out” the dress she was in before he would even consider helping her. Or the caterpillar that only wanted her blood so he could smoke it.
“Human blood is more potent than any other blood I’ve tried,” he had said, his eyes glazed over and his many hands fumbling with a small cookie he put in his slimy mouth.
“I need my blood,” she had told him, strapped to a table in his house.
Alice had stumbled upon it after ending up in “Wonderland” as the locals called it. At first, she had been bewildered by her surroundings. It wasn’t like her home, where things had rhyme and reason to them. Here, gravity was askew and so were the laws of physics for that matter.
He had found her huddled next to the giant mushroom he claimed to be his dwellings. Alice didn’t even scream when she saw him approach. Her young mind had accepted the fact that she was somewhere that things were weird and terrifying. That still didn’t prepare her for the caterpillar trying to intoxicate himself on her blood.
He had sat her down at a very large table and given her an oversized bowl of mushroom soup. She had to say that he was the nicest caterpillar she had ever met. He was also very pretty. He was a caterpillar, so his many legs naturally made her skin crawl, but his colors were bright and vibrant. He had a bright purple body and bright green and blue spots that ran the length of him.
While Alice was admiring his markings she began to feel rather odd. His face started to swim in her vision and the next thing she knew she was strapped to a table with a needle in her arm.
“I’m just a young girl,” she told him.
“The younger the tastiest, sweet one,” he said, his words hissing on the “S.”
She struggled with her restraints, which only seemed to make them tighter. Her eyes wandered around the room, looking for something or anyone that might help her out of the straps. This room was nothing like the kitchen she was just in. It was dark, damp and smelled horrible.
She looked to the left and saw the caterpillar, busy mixing her blood with other items. Then she looked to the right and felt a bit of vomit work its way up her throat. There was another girl in here, but she was far gone from this world. Her body looked shriveled, her hair dried and her eyes wide open in horror.
“Do you think you’re the only naive girl to follow the rabbit here?” the caterpillar chuckled as if it were the funniest thing ever to be said.
“You can’t do this to me,” she struggled against the ropes again. “Caterpillars don’t smoke blood.”
“Perhaps not where you’re from,” he had laughed. “But here in Wonderland things are far darker than in your world of light.”
Alice knew then that she was in a terrible situation. She would have died a very slow and painful death if it weren’t for the tall boy with his heart outside his body who burst through the door at that very moment. He looked down at her and then up at the caterpillar.
“I knew it!” he exclaimed.
“Mad, really, have you ever heard of knocking?” the caterpillar asked, his voice thick with annoyance.
“Cater, I told you if the blonde girl came down the hole you were to leave her alone,” Mad said taking off his top hat and bobbing the caterpillar on the head. “She has a mission.”
“Oh, I think I do remember that now,” the giant bug said. “Sorry about that, Mad, really I am.”
“You’re forgiven dear old friend,” the boy said, laughing.
He turned around and looked at Alice. Her eyes were wide with confusion and she flinched as he approached her.
“You’re pretty,” he told her. “I think I should like to kiss you one day, but today is not that day. We have things to do!”
Mad untied the knots that had her bound to the table. She was a bit wobbly so he helped her to her feet and she leaned on him as he helped out of the mushroom house.
The sky had turned dark and there were two super moons in the sky, yet there were no stars. She felt so isolated in this place called Wonderland. Mad lead her toward a carriage. When it came into full view Alice considered going back inside.
It was a carriage made of bones. She could see femurs, skulls and phalanges scattered all throughout the contraption. The driver was a fat, squat boy with a perplexed look on his face. Another boy, who looked exactly like the driver, opened the carriage door for them.
At the front of the cart stood four horses, kicking at the blue colored dust on the path. These weren’t normal steeds. Instead of the beautiful, majestic beasts that pulled her family’s carriage, ones that were covered with skin, these weren’t. The muscles, veins, arties and sinews were all visible. One of the monsters looked back at her with its lidless eyes and snapped its large teeth at her.
“Behave yourself, beast,” Mad waved his hand at it and the horse “nayed” in response.
Without her even realizing it, Mad put Alice in the carriage and they were off. She really wanted to fall asleep. Her eyes burned and her lids were heavy, but being in a bone carriage with a clearly deranged boy sitting across from her, she forced herself to stay awake.
“You’re probably wondering why I’ve brought you here,” Mad said, a creepy smile on his otherwise handsome face. “You’re going to kill the Queen of Hearts.”
“I’m what?” Alice wasn’t sure if she had heard him clearly.
“Here, you’re going to need this,” he said and handed her a sword.
He seemed to have pulled it straight from the carriage walls as the handle was made of someone’s leg bone. The blade was a brilliant silver and sharper than the best sword there ever was. Alice held it in her hands, wondering why she was sitting here in this carriage with this strange boy, holding a sword.
“I have to warn you though,” Mad laughed. “The Queen is deadly. See my heart? It was once inside my chest. I tried to defeat her myself, but you see where that got me. Then the White King tried to stop her. There is no more White King. Actually, you’re sitting on his chest bones right now. The Queen of Hearts cut off his head and had his liver for dessert. So, it has to be you.”
“I don’t understand,” Alice felt sick and moved herself over toward the carriage window.
“A quick history lesson then,” Mad crossed his legs so that he looked like he was getting ready to mediate. “The White King was once ruler of all you see. Here it was as things should be. We could roam your world and ours freely, using the magical portal that has always been there, feeding when we needed to.”
“Feeding?” Alice gulped.
“Don’t interrupt, but yes, feeding,” he smiled. “We like the taste of human flesh if you must know, don’t worry, I won’t eat you. You’re going to save us. But anyway, then the Queen of Hearts rebelled against the White King, who was her husband mind you, and takes over the kingdom. Now, we can only feed when she says we can. It’s been terrible these past two thousand years.”
Alice sat there for a moment, wondering at what Mad had told her. She had two choices the way she saw it. She could do as Mad said and kill the Queen of Hearts or she could not kill the Queen of Hearts and fight her way back to her own realm. She would then find a way to close the portal between the worlds so that these hellish creatures could never return and hurt anyone else.
Alice looked at Mad and then suddenly she pointed the sword at his throat. He held up his hands as if he were surrendering, but he was smiling widely at her.
“If you eat humans, why would I help you?” she asked, pressing the blade harder into his skin.
“Because it is written,” he said. “You’re the Savior or whatever.”
“Find another one,” she told him.
“We’ve tried, over and over for two thousand years,” he said. “ Who do you think that girl was in Cater’s room? A failed attempt; a false Savior. I’ve got a good feeling about you though. I mean, I’ve never wanted to kiss one of you before so that has to mean something. You’re my food, not something I would want to mate with, but with you I’d consider it.”
“You’re disgusting,” she hissed.
“Why thank you,” he replied, his smile bigger.
“Stop smiling! Why are you always smiling?” she screamed.
Suddenly the carriage jerked to a stop. Alice lunged forward, the sword plunging into Mad’s neck. Thick, black blood sprayed all over her, covering her from head to foot. More and more gushed out, running down Mad’s chest, as he struggled to breathe.
“Oh no! I’m sorry! I wasn’t…it was just a threat…oh no!” Alice cried, trying to use her hands to stop the blood from pouring out.
It was useless, it gushed and poured and colored her pale skin black. One of the twins yanked opened the carriage door. She looked at him pleadingly. His expression wasn’t what she expected. He looked…well…he looked bored.  Then he actually rolled his beady, black eyes.
“Mad, we’re here,” he said.
Alice looked at him in shock then back at Mad. He had stopped gasping for breath and was smiling at her again. He gripped the blood covered blade with both hands and yanked it free from his neck. Alice watched in awe as the wound on his neck healed over quickly.
“You were faking it?” she gawked at him.
“Of course I was,” he laughed climbing out of the carriage and dragging Alice along with him. “You can’t kill me with a stab to the neck.”
“Then how do I kill the Queen?” Alice wondered.
“Easily,” he said. “You cut out her heart and no, before you get an ideas, you can’t cut mine out because it’s already out. Now come on.”
Alice and Mad were standing in front of a giant hedge maze. At first glance it didn’t look as if there was an entrance, but with a tip of his hat they were suddenly inside, the plump twins and bone carriage were gone.
Mad lead the way down the dark path of the maze. He hummed a tune as they walked for what seemed like hours. As young Alice contemplated her escape, trying not to think of her inevitable demise, she heard something snap behind her. The sound was that of a twig being broken in two by a heavy foot. Yet, when she looked there was no one there.
She turned to face Mad, to ask if he had heard it too, but he was nowhere to be seen. Alice spun back around as the feeling of being watched crept upon her. She looked from side to side. All that she saw as green, green and more green. There was nothing and no one there except her and the walls of the maze.
Then, out of thin air, a being appeared right in front of her. It was tall, hairy and smelled of decay. When Alice looked at it bit more closely she saw it for what it was. A monster made of all things dead. Its body was made of dead animals, all kinds of vermin. Alice felt her stomach turn for more than once that day. She looked for Mad but yet again, he was gone.
Remembering she had a sword she pointed it at the beast. It looked down at her and the blade and then easily knocked it from her hand. Her eyes widened and her chest began rising and falling rapidly. She did the only thing that seemed rational for a young girl to do when faced with an otherworldly monster. She ran.
Alice ran as fast as her slender legs would carry her. The monster gave chase. She could hear its unnaturally made feet of rodent heads hitting the ground, catching up to her fast. A surge of self-preservation passed through her body and her limbs pushed her even harder than she had ever ran before.
Alice, rounded corner after corner, turning left and then right. Her chest was hurting and her lungs were on fire. The muscles in her legs felt like rubber, but she tried not to think about it. If she stopped now then she would surely be eaten by this beast and this was the last place she wanted to die.
As luck would have it, she made a turn that lead her to a dead end. She felt along the surface, feeling for a way to break through, but the shrubbery was too thick to squeeze through. She turned around quickly as the monster came around the corner. It smiled at her, revealing blood stained teeth that looked too large to fit its carcass covered head.
“You stay back!” she yelled at him suddenly. “I’m the chosen one! It is written. I’ll kill the Queen of Hearts and if you kill me then you’ll be condemned to…to…uh…to feed only when you’re told to.”
“I feed when I want, Child,” it hissed at her.
It inched closer to her, the smell of rancid meet greeted her and she nearly passed out from the overwhelming stench. Alice closed her eyes, waiting to be devoured.
“But you’re not my type,” it told her.
“What?” Alice opened her eyes in disbelief.  “You’re not going to eat me?”
“No, of course not,” it said, sitting on it hind legs.
“Then why are you chasing me?” she asked.
“Because you ran,” it told her.
Alice looked at him with the most surprised expression one has given to another. He reached inside his body and pulled out the sword. It was covered in blood and rotted parts of animal flesh. He extended it to her.
“You dropped this,” he said.
“Technically you knocked it out of my hand,” she told him, reaching for the thing nervously.
“Ah, you’re right,” he laughed. “I forget my own strength sometimes. I was trying to shake your hand.”
He reached for her hand gently this time. Trying not to vomit on him she shook his hand.
“Now that we are friends, shall we have tea?” he asked and then waved his hands.
The maze wall peeled back to reveal a large house made from a giant teapot.  A plume of smoke was swirling out of the spout and lights were on in the windows. Alice followed after the beast, not sure if she were any safer with him or alone.
“I’m Mir, by the way,” he said.
“Mir? What a peculiar name,” she expressed.
“And Alice isn’t?” he barked. “Besides, it’s short for Mirror. My parents called me Mirror because of my eyes.”
He looked back at her and she saw that his eyes were in fact just like a mirror. Alice didn’t know if she should be afraid of that fact that his eyes were grossly unnatural or of the fact that he had parents. That meant there were more things like him out there. Since he was being so nice, she decided it was best to stay with him than try to escape just yet.
When the odd pair, a pretty young girl and a decaying monster, entered the house a rather cozy atmosphere greeted them. There was a fire burning in the hearth and company sitting around a large wooden table. Besides the fact that there were platters of worms, eyeballs and what looked like kidneys, it looked like a gathering of friends.
The white rabbit that had lead Alice to Wonderland sat beside the two plump boys she had seen earlier. The invisible cat, who was now visible, sat next them. Then, right in the front sat Mad, sipping on something dark and gooey with his top hat askew. Alice marched over and slapped him square in the face.
“You foul, sniveling maggot!” she screamed at him.
“That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me,” he beamed at her.
“What? Oh never mind! You left me! Why?” she demanded.
“Call it training,” he replied simply. “How did she do, Mir?”
“Well, she can ran really fast,” he commented and took his seat at the other end of the table. “She’s crap with a sword though.”
“We can teach her,” the twins said together.
“Nonsense,” the white rabbit snarled. “You two fat slobs are only good at lifting your fork to those gigantic holes in your rotten faces! I’ll teach her.”
“You limbs are too short, Whisk,” Mad stated. “It only makes sense that I teach her. I’m better than all of you put together.”
That caused uproar from the others. Alice backed up against the wall as a fight broke out. It wasn’t just a few shoves here and there. The creatures in front of her tore at each other. There was biting, clawing, flesh ripping, blood spraying and she was certain she saw someone’s ear land in the pot of tea sitting in the middle of the table. When a splatter of blood landed on Alice’s head, she stomped her foot on the ground and clenched her fists in frustration.
“Shut up!” she bellowed.
The occupants of the table stopped mid fight, turned and looked at her. They had malice in their eyes from the their quarrel, but it seemed to slightly soften as she came forward.
“Is killing the Queen the only way for me to go home?” she asked as quietly as she could because she was afraid if she didn’t, she would scream so loud their eardrums would burst.
“Well, technically…” Whisk began.
“Yes, that’s the only way,” Mad interrupted and let go of one of twins heads he had in a headlock.
“And the only way to stop her is with a sword fight?” she asked.
“It’s the easiest way if you want to cut out her heart,” Mad responded. “And you must challenge her to a fight. Those are the rules. She has to accept any challenge or forfeit the crown.”
“OK, alright then,” she took in a deep breath. “Teach me.”
The group headed outside where there was more room. Mir lit the torches that surrounded his courtyard. Alice joined Mad in the center of the stone floor as the others sat on porcelain chairs that looked like broken teacups. After Mad showed Alice the proper way to hold the sword he began to teach her how to duel.
Over and over he unarmed her, tripped her and pinned her arms behind her back. For hours she failed time and time again. When the sky above then began to brighten, the darkness bleeding away, Alice declared that she needed rest.
“Do you think the Queen will let you rest?” Mad asked, unarming her again.
“I can barely hold up this sword and my eyes are nearly bleeding they’re so dry,” she stated. “If you want to kill this Queen then I need to sleep!”
“Fine!” he snapped and walked away. “Mir, give the puny human a bed!”
Mir showed Alice to a bed that looked as though the sheets needed to be washed. At that moment she didn’t care. She threw herself on the spring mattress and went fast to sleep.
Her dreams were odd and dark. Mad was there, teaching her to fight; yet this time she could hear music playing. Soon, they were dancing to a tune that made her think of the carnival her father and mother took her to on their last summer holiday. They were spinning, waltzing and twirling.
Painted faces with crooked smiles swirled past them. Thick smells of sweets mixed with something putrid tickled her nose.  Then there was something looming in the distance. A figure rushed toward her, black hair and red lips. She felt someone reach inside her chest, clutch her heart and yank it out.
It dangled there, swinging like a pendulum on a clock. Alice awoke, screaming in her sleep. Mad rushed over to her and shook her until her eyes opened.
“It seems as though you’re upset,” he said, staring into her eyes.
“What gave you that idea?” she asked sarcastically.
“You were screaming,” he said plainly.
“Have you ever heard of sarcasm?” she pulled free from his grasp.
“No,” he replied.
He sat there staring at her for a moment. Then her reached up and touched a blonde strand of hair that was in her face. Alice flinched and backed away. He didn’t seem to take that as her not wanting him touching her because he reached for her again, this time running his hands through her hair.
“Where I come from males do not touch females unless they are invited to do so,” she told him.
“Where I come from there are no females,” he told her.
“Excuse me?” she was surprised. “Then how do you…how are you here?”
“We are just here, well some of us like me,” he said, leaning forward, sniffing her neck.
“That is entirely too close, Sir,” she pushed him back.
“You smell,” he told her.
“Well, I’m covered in filth and God only knows what else,” she wrapped her arms around her body.
“That isn’t it,” he told her sniffing her again. “You smell too clean, too human.”
“Well, I’m so sorry,” she rolled her eyes.
“She’ll smell you coming,” he told her. “You need more dirt.”
“Wonderful,” she sighed.
“Indeed, isn’t it,” he said joyfully.
He didn’t wait for Alice to respond, not that she intended to, and grabbed her by the arm to lead her outside. There he covered her once pretty light, blue dress with dirt and grime. As he took a handful of mud that had something grotesque mixed in with it and rubbed her cheeks with it he began to smile. It was a smile that Alice was sure she had never seen from him before.
“You are not like most humans,” he said to her.
“Why? Because I’m not running and screaming from you because you’re about to eat me?” she asked sarcastically.
“Well, there is that,” he said seriously. “Also, you’re stronger than most humans I’ve met. The majority of humans are too busy with their precious lives to stop and look around them.”
“You sound half way normal right now,” Alice pointed out.
“I and the others in Wonderland are creatures of death,” he said. “We hand it out because it is our job and it is in our nature. We’re busy running toward it while you spend money and precious time trying to outwit it. We embrace it while you run from it. It is just a part of nature. There is no stopping it…however, for you, you must.”
“Why?” Alice wondered, feeling in her bones that his words had more meaning.
“It is written:
A human girl of the World of Light;
Will save the monsters of the night.
She’ll carve the heart from the Queen;
She’ll wear the raiment of blood and of spleen.
She will bring order and bring peace;
So all the monsters are free to feast.
Yet, if the human girl shall die;
The end of creatures shall be neigh.
Only the sword of which she yields;
Can dig the graves in the fields.” Mad quoted.
“That’s inspiring,” Alice said, feeling weak in the knees.
“So, you see, you cannot die,” he smiled. “You must free us.”
“Do you understand what you’re asking me to do?” she grabbed his face in her hands. “You want me to free you, to save you so that you can kill and feed upon my kind. Why would I do that? I should kill myself right now. Isn’t that what the prophecy is saying? If I die, you’ll all die.”
“There is more to that riddle,” the invisible cat said appearing beside them, making Alice jump. “It goes like this:
The girl cannot die from her own two hands;
To keep the monsters from her land.
If she tries and she succeeds;
There is nowhere her people can flee.
She’ll unlock the Queen’s red rage;
Her world will be torn like a withered page.
So you see, dear Alice, if you kill yourself, you give passage to your world right into the hands of the Red Queen. Just because she limits our bloodlust doesn’t mean she limits her own. Why do you think she wants to oppress us? She wants to rule Wonderland and Earth. If she gets her hands on you, captures you, she will make you take your own life. She’ll fill your heart with so much pain; you’ll want to rip it out of your chest. She has her ways.”
Mad, for the first time since she had met him, looked pale with fear. She glanced down at his beating heart and saw that he was clinging to it. It dawned on her then that this is what the Queen had done to him. While she wanted to hate him for what he was, she couldn’t help but sympathize with him. How terrible would someone have to feel to rip out their own heart?
“Where is this Queen?” she asked, grabbing her sword and walking toward the door.
Mad let go of his heart and gave her one of his creepy, yet oddly charming smiles.  The two of them left the teapot shaped home and headed deeper into the hedge maze. As the hours passed they said little to one another. It wasn’t until Alice’s stomach started to grumble that they stopped. Mad expressed that she should have eaten at the house, but she politely replied that she would rather die of hunger.
Luckily for Alice Mad knew that her human body couldn’t live on the flesh of her own so he had brought along a piece of bread. He explained that while they did enjoy a more meaty meal, they did dabble in wheat and flour. Alice took the bread gratefully and ate it with boundless joy.
“Have you ever thought of another way?” she asked him as they continued down the path.
“I don’t understand the question,” he stated.
“Another way to live? I mean, who said you had to eat humans to survive?” she wondered.
“Things are just the way they are because that’s the way they are,” he said which made Alice’s head spin.
“But if you could, would you live another way? Would you survive on the flesh of animals? What about fruits and vegetables?” she asked, taking another bite of bread. “Or of wheat? Bread is very filling.”
“I like the taste of human flesh,” Mad said licking his lips at her. “But to answer your question, why would I want to find another way, to save your pesky brothers and sisters? What makes you so special that you should be spared?”
“I could ask the same about your people,” Alice said crossly.
“That’s simple,” Mad laughed. “We are a unique species with a great purpose. We keep the balance of life and death in your realm. Without us you’d overpopulate your planet. We kill you, you nourish us, and the circle keeps spinning. There is a food chain and an order.”
“I think when it comes down to it, you’ll choose a different path. You’ll find another way,” she told him.
She and the boy who looked like a monster finally came to a stopping point. They stood at a wall that appeared to be some sort of black stone. In the center of the black wall was a white rose that was literally dripping with something red. Alice had an idea of what the substance might be, but didn’t want to think about it.
Mad reached up, cupping the blood in his pale hands until it made a tiny pool in his palm. He dipped his finger into it and began drawing an odd looking symbol that Alice didn’t recognize onto the surface of the wall. When he was finished he took Alice’s hand and brought it to his lips. Just when she thought he was going to kiss her fingers, he bit them instead.
“Ouch!” she said as one of his sharp teeth pricked the tip of her index finger.
“Tasty, just like I imagined,” he stated and then put her finger in the center of the rose.
The ground shook slightly beneath them and then the wall slid up. They entered the courtyard of the Queen of Hearts. Instantly, Alice could tell it was different here. The air was thicker and somewhat hotter. Alice was about to comment on how much darker it seemed here when Mad gave her a push.
“Run!” he screamed.
Alice stumbled forward and began to run, trying her best to keep up with Mad. She risked the chance of looking back and regretted it. There were around fifteen or so guards that were chasing after them with weapons in hand.
It wasn’t just her being chased by guards that brought fear to her mind. Alice thought she had become accustomed to the grotesque nature of the creatures in Wonderland. However, she wasn’t prepared for the monsters that were pursuing them. They were all shapes and sizes, but with similar facial features. They were gigantic for starters with matted hair the color of snow. Their eyes were cat like in appearance and a luminescent yellow. The skin that covered their misshapen noses was black as soot with patches of a muddy green color.
The two of them came around a corner and stopped in their tracks. Twenty or more guards were heading straight for them. They turned back around as the other group reached them. Alice brought up her sword and struck one of the guards straight in the heart that was hanging outside of his chest. He fell to the ground with tremendous force.
Alice was about to strike down another one, but Mad stopped her.
“Save your strength,” he said.
Alice looked confused for a moment, but then nodded her head as they held up their hands in surrender.  One guard moved forward and bound their hands behind their back. Alice struggled against the guards, but allowed them to move her forward.
They moved from one courtyard to another. In this area there was more plant life, sort of like the garden her mother had back home, but the flowers here looked dead. Gray vines grew up the walls of the palace and wound their way around the nearby trees, choking their growth.
“And here she is,” a screechy voice echoed around them.
Alice looked up and saw a slender woman walking down the steps of the palace. She had a croquet mallet in her hand, leaning against her shoulder like a member of a dark military. She sneered down at Alice and then glanced at Mad.
“Mad, my darling, have you come to finally die?” she smiled revealing sharp teeth, stained red.
He hair was pitch black; the tips were that of sharp metal claws. They made a tinkling sound as she moved. The Queen had snake like eyes that were as red as her teeth. Her pale skin looked like death.
“You know me, Your Highness,” Mad laughed. “I’m always ready to die.”
“And I’m always ready to appease my subjects,” she said, stopping in front of them and placing the croquet mallet under his chin.
“Leave him alone!” Alice pushed herself in front of Mad.
“I’ll get to you soon enough, sweet Alice,” she told the young girl. “But first, Mad and I have some unfinished business.”
The Queen shoved her to the side and her bands of black hair reached for Mad’s heart.
“Take me!” Alice screamed, jumping in front of Mad again.
“You’re in no position to negotiate, Child,” she hissed.
“I challenge you,” Alice barked. “I challenge you and you must accept.”
“Blasted!” she hissed and her claws retracted. “I see Mad did what he does best and blabbed his mouth about the rules.”
“He did,” she said. “Now untie me and let’s get this over with.”
The Queen waved her hand and the guards removed her bindings. She led Alice to the center of the courtyard and then stood to face her. The croquet mallet that she held in her pale hands suddenly turned into a sword. She brandished it in front of her.
“Shall we begin, sweet girl?” she bowed to Alice.
Gulping, Alice pointed her sword at the Queen. Faster than Alice had time to see the Queen’s blade sliced her arm. Alice cried out in pain and grabbed at the bleeding wound. She brought up her blade just in time to stop the Queen’s sword from slicing through her head. Then just as quickly the Queen brought her sword around and sliced along Alice’s back.
Once more Alice screamed in pain. She fell to her knees just as the Queen stabbed her through the shoulder. Alice’s red blood covered the blade. The Queen brought the sword to her mouth and licked the blade clean as Alice withered in pain.
“You know, dear Alice,” The Queen began. “Your blood tastes of fear. If I were you, I’d give up.”
“Good thing you aren’t me,” Alice said, trying to stand up.
“Let me guess,” The Queen said. “Mad and is little band of misfits told you of the prophecy and how you were going to save their world and yours, right? Well, isn’t that nice. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in the prophecy, but what I don’t believe is it’s about you. How could it be? From your blood I can tell you’re a selfish child. The only reason you’re here is because you followed the White Rabbit out of pure boredom. You were never satisfied with your life and wanted something more. From what I can understand you were well taken care of and had everything you needed…oh, I see…you felt unloved. Well, that is true. You were unloved. Your parents never had any time for you. Your father always worked and your mother never believed your stories. It would be better to just end it all, don’t you think, just end your own suffering?”
Alice felt the weight of the Queen’s words. She knew in her heart that it was all true. Without thinking about it she felt herself reaching for her chest. There was a slight pain that raced across her chest as she dung her fingers into her flesh. Blood ran down her torso as she dung deeper and deeper.
“Don’t listen to her, Alice!” Mad yelled out suddenly. “Remember, you can’t die from your own hand or she’ll break free.”
“That will never happen,” Alice said, the spell the Queen had cast over her broken.
“So brave,” the Queen remarked. “Let’s finish this.”
Alice stood up and they began to fight.  Alice swung her blade over and over and missed each time. The Queen was much luckier. Each of her swings cost Alice another drop of blood another deep gash. At last the Queen unarmed her. Alice watched as her sword went flying into the group of guards.
“Off with her head,” the Queen said in a menacing whisper and then brought up her blade.
At the last possible second Alice reached up and grabbed a handful of the Queen’s sharp black hair. She yanked off one of the silver claws and jammed it into the Queen’s chest. Black blood splattered Alice’s face, but she kept pushing the claw into the Queen’s chest until she felt something snap and splinter. Alice shoved the claw one last time, twisted it and then pulled out the Queen’s heart.
“You lose, Queen of Nothing,” Alice said.
She walked over to fetch her blade. She gave the Queen one last look and then plunged the sword into the black heart in her hands. The Queen without a heart gave one terrifying scream and then died on her courtyard grounds. Alice threw the heart at the dead Queen and slumped to her knees, exhausted.
Mad broke free of the guards and came over to her. He hugged her close to him and then looked at her.
“You served us well, dear Alice,” he told her. “You are not like other humans.”
“You’re wrong, Mad,” she told him. “There are many humans like me. We are weak and frail, but when the lives of others are on the line we will stand up for what is right.”
“What is this on your cheek?” he asked her as a tear escaped from her eyes.
“Only an expression of happiness, dear Mad. Knowing that I saved many others here tonight has given me great joy,” she told him.
“I think that I might kiss you now,” he said.
“I think that I might actually let you,” she responded.
Mad leaned forward, placing his cold, dead lips on hers. He could feel all of the strength that coursed through her body. Inside he struggled with controlling the hunger he felt, the desire to devour her. He knew that being consumed was not her fate for she was far too precious. Instead, he took the sword from her hand and plunged it into her chest. Alice gasped.
“Thank you,” she told him and died in his arms.
“Why did you do that?” one of the guards asked.
“She couldn’t die by her own hands or we would have reign over her world,” he said. “Yet, if she died by the Queen’s sword her world would be cut from ours forever, severing the portal.”
“You’ve killed us all, Mad!” another guard screamed. “We’re going to starve to death!”
“No!” he turned and looked at them. “We will find another way. In honor of the girl with pretty blonde hair, we will find another way.”