Mysterious Ways: Chapter Six
In this chapter I get to describe a few of the circumstances that caused Connor Moran’s writing career to crater. I’ve never heard of all of them happening to a single book, but I have heard of all of them happening to a book. Publishing can be a very tricky game, and this part was written before the advent of digital publication. Digital makes things better for authors but, thank goodness, not so good that Connor will be moving out on his own. Just thinking about having to replace him in Bloodstone’s world gives me a headache.
Even with the light traffic on a Sunday, the trip back to the house takes a good forty minutes. “So, what possessed you to come down here and watch soccer?”
“I was a bit curious. I knew you played but had never seen a game.”
I frowned from behind sunglasses. “I don’t remember mentioning playing soccer.”
She shook her head. “You didn’t. I’m an English teacher, remember? A student of mine did a book report on one of your novels. He got that tidbit from your Wikipedia page.”
“You let a student do a report on one of my books?” I hit the gas as a green left-turn arrow lit up, sending us north along 23rd Ave toward Camelback. “There’s lots better books for him to read.”
“The key, Connor, is to get kids to read at all. Besides, the book was good. I read it, too, so I could discuss it with him. You write well, but you’ve not had a book out since Ganelon’s Curse.”
I nodded. “Should have been titled Connor’s Curse. It died, and so did my career.”
The sympathetic look on her face could have melted a heart of stone. Somehow I resisted the impulse to stop the car and kiss her. “But that was a wonderful book. The cover was horrible, but folks know better than to judge a book by its cover.”
“True, unless you’re a chain book buyer. Well, that was back in the day when there were book chains.” I sighed. “That book was just snakebit. My first two did better than expected, so the publisher thought this would be my breakout book. They were going to print a bunch and even promote it; at least, that was the plan. Then my publisher got bought by another publisher and the two science fiction departments got combined. My editor got fired so the book was orphaned. Since it wasn’t acquired by any of the editors at the new house, it got relegated to second class status. The cover was the kiss of death, so the initial orders were low. I knew that would be tough, but I was hoping for good word of mouth.”
“I’ve recommended it to friends. I even wanted to use it in a course, but rounding up twenty copies is impossible.”
“Yeah, well, they’re in a landfill in Jersey somewhere.” I turned left on Camelback and begin the long shot east. “Thanks to global warming, a freak tornado trashed my publisher’s warehouse right after the books had been delivered. I guess a few copies had gone out, but most were sitting there and were sucked into oblivion. There’s munchkins in Oz who’ve made houses out of them. Anyway, the insurance company settled, but the publisher didn’t reprint since there was no reorder demand. I think six thousand copies were distributed and most all sold, but that kinda punched a stake through the heart of my career. Sales figures like that mean nobody wants my books.”
Julia laid a hand on my arm. “I’m sorry.”
I shrugged. “It sucks, but those are the breaks of the game.”
“You’re still writing, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, working on an alternate history, right wing American thing. It’ll be a series. I’m calling it Homeland Security Services. I work on it in my spare time.”
“Dr. Bloodstone keeps you occupied doing things?”
“Yeah, but if not for him, I’d have to get a real job, so it’s okay.”
She nodded. “Your bios all talk about you being a skeptic, and the hero in Ganelon’s Curse, he didn’t believe in any of the fantasy stuff going on around him. It was autobiographical, wasn’t it?”
“So how come this association with Dr. Bloodstone?”
“Started as one of those ‘any port in a storm’ kinda things.” I sighed. “I first met him when there was a psychic surgeon working Phoenix. I was digging through the newspaper archives at the Burton Barr Central Library for the Phoenix Skeptics when he came wandering over, looking for the same articles I was. He had a guy with him then named Mansfield. He was big, ex-special forces, I think. Never said much. I shared the clips with Bloodstone and kept him informed about what I was doing. He did the same with me and the DA finally busted the psychic surgeon thanks to stuff we both sent over.
“After that, I’d hear from Bloodstone from time to time. Articles he thought I might find interesting, little things like that, would appear in snail mail. He never invited me for dinner or tea, but he did come to a book signing I had—the one for Ganelon’s Curse, in fact. Then he went off on that Everest expedition.”
Julia shivered and I could feel it through the hand on my arm. “I read about that online. It must have been horrible. A party of fifteen going to the summit and that storm blows in.”
“And one guy comes out alive.” I shook my head slowly. “Mansfield died up there. Bloodstone never talks about it, just kinda poured all the emotion and hurt into the memoir he wrote about the ordeal. I guess Oprah almost picked it for her club, but she thought the ending was too much of a downer.
“Anyway, after that, which was about six months after Curse tanked, I got a call. He offered me a job as his confidential aide. Generous salary, room and board, light hours which usually give me plenty of time to write. It pissed off the local skeptics when I went to work for him, so I don’t do much of anything with them these days; but it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
I smiled over at her. “Know what the first lesson is in the Author’s-second-career training program?”
“Repeat after me, ‘Would you like fries with that?’”
Julia giggled and I laughed. “Bloodstone is eccentric, and quite often is a bit much to take. Still, working for him beats making change and selling lottery tickets.”
“Well, I do hope you keep writing. You have a good handle on character. You’re very insightful.”
“Thank you.” I smiled. “So, mind if I ask you a personal question?”
“Okay.” I paused for a second as I swung the Cougar into the left turn lane at 44th street and Camelback, narrowly missing a beat up pick-up with Sonoran plates that had the same idea from two lanes away. “How long have you been a witch?”
She covered her surprise quickly, but there was no missing it. “What makes you think I’m a witch?”
“You went to bat for a student who is a self-professed neo-pagan. You asked Bloodstone if he thought there was no validity to pre-Christian religious traditions, and that was a leading question if ever I heard one. You were ready to debate him on that point, which most Christians wouldn’t even be thinking about.” I smiled. “And, on your keychain, you have a Thor’s Hammer amulet.”
“You saw it? Good eye.” Julia settled back in the Cougar’s bucket seat. “It was like the bumper sticker says, ‘Mom, sorry I’ve missed mass lately, but I’ve been studying witchcraft and becoming a lesbian.’”
She smiled. “Sorry. Not like I had any say in the matter.”
“I know.” I gave her a grin. “Any chance you have a sister?”
“I do, in fact.”
“Ah, a reason to live.”
“She’s happily married, five kids.”
“Well, lot of good you’re doing helping me get women for the team.”
“Back to your original question…” Julia smiled warmly. “I was raised Catholic, so have a taste for ritual, but didn’t like the Church’s male domination. I was looking for something else and found Wicca. I practice alone for the most part, trying to stay in touch with what’s natural and pure.”
“Do you work ritual magick?”
“When I started out I was doing that. Bought some books, an athame—it’s real nice, it’s a Jaeger.”
I smiled. “Jaegers are great knives. I have a couple in my collection. He’s the best blade smith in Arizona and probably the southwest. But you don’t do spells?”
“I don’t really feel the need.” Julia pursed her lips for a moment. “I find Wicca spiritually satisfying because it confirms how everything is connected, how Mother Earth really is alive and really is our mother. I like hooking into that feeling, but I have no desire to manipulate it, you know? I guess I’d rather be floating along with the current than in some motorboat, if that makes any sense.”
“Yeah, it does…” I downshifted as McDonald’s speed limit dropped to 25 through the Paradise Valley section. Since there are never any kids playing in the area, my assumption is that the rich folks here had the limit lowered so the rest of us peasants would have to marvel at their expensive houses. What I spent my time doing was calculating how much they shelled out to cool those monsters in the summer.
“What about you, Connor, what do you believe?”
“I’m a philosophical Christian.”
I shrugged. “Catholic by family tradition, but not so sure about all the miracles and such. I like the philosophy, but the theology leaves me cold. I’d probably never step foot in a church again, but I always get good story ideas when I’m daydreaming during sermons.”
Julia laughed lightly. “I get the same effect from curriculum meetings. I take it, from what he said, Dr. Bloodstone doesn’t perform ritual magick, but he does have powers, right?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know what he does in his sanctum: he could be working magick or scraping the numbers off lottery tickets. As for powers, um, care to give me an example?”
“Sure. In his office yesterday he told you what type of tea you’d have.” She turned in her seat to look at me. “Did he pluck that out of your mind?”
“That didn’t take any magick or telepathy.” I reached up and hit the remote control for the gate, then turned left into the driveway and around left to the carriage house. “He was being prickly, which makes me contrary. He ordered tea for the two of you, and for himself. Since he knows me, and figured I’d buck the trend, he assumed I’d go for a tisane—a non-tea tea since it doesn’t contain any tea leaves. Rooibos is one I like.”
“So you’ve never seen any evidence of any powers?”
I pulled the Cougar into bay three. “We’re here.”
“You didn’t answer…”
“Nope, I didn’t.”
We got out and she waited at the southern arc of the circle while I nipped into the house to let the boss know I was back. Phillippe saw me coming in still wearing my goalie gear and swore at me. I didn’t care because, even as sweaty as I was, I smelled better than whatever he was fixing for lunch. I gave him the message to pass along, then returned to my guest.
I ensconced Julia in what passed for my little sitting room and cued the clip up for her from the server. I left her sitting on the couch as I retreated to my room and hit the shower. Toweling off quickly, I pulled on a black t-shirt and pair of jeans. Barefooted, I padded back into the sitting room and discovered she’d helped herself to a glass of water.
She glanced up at me and nodded. “Not good, is it?”
I dropped my butt into the mission-style chair that matched the couch. I twisted around to face her. “Not particularly, no.”
“What are we going to do?”
I frowned. “Well, the first thing, and pretty much the only thing, is to talk to Sara and see if she wants to recant. I’d recommend calling her, doing it from another area code and not holding the phone too close to your ear.”
Julia feigned surprise. “You expect me to do that alone?”
“I’d be glad to help, but I only have your number, not hers. We could send her e-mail, but her reply would melt the net.”
“It would. If she agrees, it all goes according to his plan. If she doesn’t, he hammers on Dr. Bloodstone.”
“Don’t worry about Bloodstone. He’s always got tricks up his sleeve. When we talked about things last night he pointed out that Thickett only wins if we go along with him. We can’t because we’ve got nothing to trade him, nothing to satisfy him. He wants a spectacle. Carmody gives him one, though not much of one. He wants to make Sara into the new Lily, and we know that’s not going to happen.”
“But, Connor, if we do nothing, Dr. Bloodstone will have trouble he never asked for.”
I shrugged. “It’ll be good for him. Builds character.”
She shook her head, her blue eyes narrowing. “It will mean trouble for you, too. Too much work and that means you’ll not be writing.”
“That’s not to worry about, trust me. Remember, there are fights you can win and fights you must win. This is becoming one of those ‘must wins.’ We will win. Bullies like Thickett back down when someone shows some fight.”
“I’d rather there be no fighting at all.”
“Agreed, but doesn’t look like that’s an option, so we’ll do what has to be done.” I stood and gave her a warm smile. “You said something about buying me something to drink. Let me find some shoes and I’ll spring for some eating to go along with your drinking. After we have our last meal, we’ll talk to Sara and play things from there. Sound like a plan?”
“It does, Connor,” she replied sweetly, “And one I think will work very well, indeed.”
Mysterious Ways comes in three different editions, with the novel itself running around 90,000 words. If you choose to purchase from Stormwolf.com, you get both the .mobi and .epub files, and don’t have to worry about DRM.
Super Delux Edition: This edition includes not only the novel and the essay about how it came to be written, but I’ve also included a novella and two short stories.
Delux Edition: As with the Delux Edition of In Hero Years… I’m Dead, I’ve included an essay that talks about the writing of the novel, it’s long journey to publication, inspirations for characters and hints at where the series will go from here. You get to read the novel, then peek behind the scenes.
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