Thursday, May 21, 2015

What a Difference a Day Makes: Dog Days

I'll admit that about forty-eight hours ago I believed I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I love Poe, but we've only been together a week. Dakota, my ten-year-old Sheltie, and I have been together her whole life. My anxiety has been off-the-charts. Stress level Code Red. Sometimes all you have to do is wait for something to give. Eventually, it does.

Yesterday I posted about Dakota's extreme vaccine reaction that happened subsequent to her vet visit last Friday. We've been working closely with her doctor, shoving more pills down the poor dog than I'd like, but we're nearing the end of most of that. Last night, for the first time since Saturday, we were able to keep Dakota inside. No vomiting. No diarrhea. 

Getting back to "normal" is a huge priority in the Frisch household these days. 

Dakota's method of dealing with anything or anyone she doesn't like is to head outside into the fenced back yard. It's her sanctuary. Unfortunately, that restful place has been breached. After running from Poe one too many times, she inadvertently taught this wicked smart nine-week-old how to use the dog door, too. Her world has gone crazy at a time when she felt terrible, but in those two days before her shots, we were seeing the tiniest progress. A hint that she might be interested in who he is and why he's in her house.

Once she started feeling bad, she refused to  stay inside. We felt awful. I even put the music on through the backyard speakers so she didn't feel so bad. We always leave her music when we go out. My neighbors have to be wondering why we're out with flashlights in the middle of the night, playing music (softly) all day, if they can hear it. I try to keep it so only she can. Today, she's coming in.

What changed?

Introducing a new puppy to a skittish old dog takes patience and a lot of setting of boundaries. We have an open concept floor plan so a baby gate just won't do, but I've built a barricade of pillows, blankets, and an ottoman to at least let Poe know that he can't run the entire house. That has given me my sanity back, allowed me to get back to editing Fatal Intention with him sleeping peacefully by my side and Dakota resting comfortably in her usual place in the kitchen.

It's great that Poe knows the dog door and in time, when I can trust him, we'll gladly let him out there. For now, he's better behaved knowing what he can and can't do. He's starting to sleep, Hallelujah. I only had to get up with him twice in the night and dear husband took the wake-up call at 5:30. 

I had been oversleeping before Poe's arrival. I can get back to writing and have more productive time on his schedule. 

Dakota, soon, will be back to her pre-last Friday condition. She's alive, and I'm grateful for that. Her appetite will return, but for now to see her sleeping comfortably inside the house has me thrilled. 

Learning a new pup, having him learn me, and doing what I can to maintain my girl's quality of life has been a bit overwhelming, but life is ups and downs. I'm glad we're finally back to climbing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I Have Met My Match (A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Boy, did I go and do it! 

One week ago today, then eight-week-old Poe joined the Frisch household and turned our world upside down. 

Some of you might remember that I lost my dear sweet Ripley last September. Hardest experience of my life. He was a docile, gentle, loyal, and loving companion that cannot be replaced in my heart. His sister Dakota is still with us but having ten-year-old dog issues. Writing FT gets lonely and though Ripley only sat at my feet, he was good company for me. I thought that with Dakota aging, it would be good for everyone to bring a new life into the house. I might have been optimistic.

Dakota has always danced to her own beat. She watches the family (as herders tend to do) from the outside. She's a bit overweight, at least partially due to inactivity, and I convinced myself that a companion might be just what she needed to motivate her. One week later, I realize maybe she didn't want to be motivated. I'm hoping her issues are short-lived and circumstantial.

Last Friday, disaster struck. Dakota was due for her 3-year rabies vaccine and her annual distemper so I scheduled her and the puppy for a two-for-one with the vet to get everyone what they needed. For the first time in ten years, Dakota reacted to a vaccine. Full-on anaphylaxis. We nearly lost her and it's been an uphill battle with a battery of meds since. I can tell you I wasn't aware of the dangers of vaccinations until now. My Ripley had a reaction once in his nine years, but he reacted immediately and the vet was able to reverse the reaction. Oddly, it was also on a rabies year making me suppose rabies vaccines are the culprit. There was no lingering effect for him. Dakota hasn't been so lucky. Combined with the puppy, she's having a terrible week. I took her back to the vet yesterday morning for subcutaneous fluids (a long-acting dog IV essentially) and some new meds for diarrhea. Her biggest issue right now seems to be that the vet chafed her shaving her butt. Oh the joys of long haired dogs with the runs. Had enough yet? Feel like I've bait-and-switched you with a cute puppy pic? Hang in there. This is all very relevant to the week I'm having, and I'm telling you all this because if you have a dog, especially a shepherd of any variety, maybe you'll land here and be more aware than I was.

What can you do about vaccine reactions?

1. Pre-medicate with Benadryl at an appropriate dosage. Discuss this with your vet.

2. Don't give multiple reactions on the same visit. From here on out, we split them. The dog gets overwhelmed, and it's hard to identify the causative agent when so much goes into them at once.

3. WAIT at the vet for up to thirty minutes after the vaccine. Timing is key. Ripley was treated immediately for his reaction. Dakota got all the way home and back (30 minutes). We nearly lost her, and her systemic reaction was hard-hitting with multiple side-effects. It's been difficult to say the least.

At Dakota's age, she will be henceforth exempt from further vaccines. Poe will be treated with extreme caution. Just because your dog has never reacted doesn't mean they won't.

Now onto the puppy battle of wits.

My husband loves the look of a merle mini aussie (and of course, so do I). We had run into someone with a beautiful mini aussie at our local park and asked for information on her breeder a year or two ago. I followed the breeder on Facebook, and Poe found his way into my Facebook feed. We'll call it a perfect storm, or at four in the morning, a lapse in judgment. I had to have him. 

We admire not only the breed's looks, but also their intelligence. That is seriously playing against me right now. Poe and I are at a standoff. He's had me exhausted with his every-other-hour potty runs. He wants badly for Dakota to accept him, but with her not feeling so hot, she's in no mood. She's out on the deck for the season. Every time he's at her, she runs out the dog door. Well, that has taught my now nine-week-old pup to use the dog door himself. He loves the yard. Worse, he loves to dig and is systematically looking for places he can climb under the fence. I resorted to blocking anything he might work at with wood from the wood pile, in case. I can't take my eyes off him for a second. You might imagine the impact this is having on my writing. 

I'm back to editing a little bit and have one hundred pages left of Fatal Intention to edit as well as a new ending to write following my April Fool's corrupt file drama. One might suspect I've broken a mirror with the Lemony Snicket screenplay that is my life at the moment.

The only thing to do at this point is to try to get back to normal. I will "treat" the new pup into submission, and we're working on deluxe long-term confinement accommodations downstairs so I can get some sleep at night. This is short-term terrible twos. I don't remember puppies being so tough, but I think this is a special case. Poe is brilliant. I'm in trouble. I think he'll only behave if he wants to. As soon as he's vaccinated, we're off to training class. Anyone have any tips?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"Afterbirth": A Novel Excerpt

With Departure releasing late this year, I've been listening to and going over Afterbirth, book two in the Strandville Zombie Series to make sure I'm consistent with the story. 

My most highly-rated and raved about novel, Afterbirth brings a whole new meaning to the idea of Mother's Day. What if a human/zombie fetus were created in a lab, inseminated into a captive woman, and left to carry to term? A dozen possibilities exist, not the least of which is the mother's likelihood of eventually becoming one of the infected.

4.7 stars 27 reviews on Amazon
4.28 stars 50 reviews on Goodreads

The survivors of the Nixon Center escape struggle in a post-apocalyptic world where the walking dead aren’t the biggest threats. 

Working from a remote, mountain cabin, Dr. Howard Nixon is determined to salvage what is left of his experiment. 

Allison escapes him, clinging to life and with no idea what's happened in the world. 
Zach is looking for her, but time is running out. 

Reid lives holed up in the Nixon Center and waits for his revenge. 

Tension is high as both Miranda and Carlene’s pregnancies come to term. Miranda, faced with the possibility that her delivery might cause her to become infected, is forced to seek help from the only other person who knows what has happened: Dr. Michael Waters, the physician who sent her to Dr. Nixon in the first place. 

All roads lead back to Strandville where grudges resurface and old decisions must be answered for. Scott, Miranda, and Michael return to the center to face-off against their pasts and each other as Michael’s secret agenda comes to light.

Enjoy the following excerpt and see what readers are hailing as a stand-out original series in the zombie genre. Cure: Book One is available for all e-readers, in paperback, and audiobook (links in sidebar).

Copyright © 2013 by Belinda Frisch
All Rights Reserved


The sun started to set, casting the room in shadows.
Dr. Michael Waters stared from the bedside at the emaciated remains of his favorite patient, an octogenarian named Roy Hogan. The elderly man’s once plump face had thinned down to flesh covered bone and his hazel eyes stared lifelessly at the ceiling. Michael would’ve had a hard time believing this was the same vibrant farmer he knew almost seven months ago when society’s collapse expanded his scope of practice from OB-GYN to general medicine had he not watched the decline. Holed up in the spare bedroom of Michael’s house, cancer was taking Roy slowly.
Michael adjusted the pillows under Roy’s feet to prevent further bed sores. His skin had broken down in two large circles near his hips where his diminishing weight settled against the mattress. Michael checked the dressing on the bone-deep wounds, and finding them no better, changed his choice in antibiotic. The ulcers had been avoidable up until Roy lost his ability to walk. The sores became another in a long line of complications. There was a race between the things trying to kill this poor man, and so far, the skin infection was winning.
“Is everything okay?” Ashley, Michael’s wife, stood in the doorway. Her reddish-blonde hair sparkled in the fading sunlight. Freckles dotted her delicate features. She rubbed vanilla scented lotion into her hands and tugged her sweatshirt sleeves down from over her elbows. A basket of wet laundry lay on the floor at her feet and Adam, their five-year-old son, clung to her hip.
Michael smiled, happy to see them both. He checked Roy’s oxygen tank and shook his head. “The tank’s almost empty and this is the last of them. I sent Earl and Randy to the office for the spare generator.” He unwound a long power cord and pulled an oxygen concentrator to the bedside.
“You really think running a generator is a good idea?” Ashley’s tone indicated she wasn’t entirely on-board.
“You know what Roy did for us, Ash. I won’t let him suffocate.” Michael whispered, though he could’ve shouted and Roy wouldn’t have heard him.
Surviving in the remains of the organized world meant adapting. Clinging to a rigorous daily work routine kept Michael sane. Bartering his services for supplies kept his family comfortable. Roy Hogan had given up an entire cattle farm, which was both a long and short-term solution to their food problems. Michael intended on making every minute of Roy’s care worth the security.
Adam tugged Ashley’s sweatshirt and pouted. “Mommy, I’m hungry. I want peanut butter and jelly.”
Ashley roughed his hair. “Who’d have thought it’d be bread we missed most?” Perishable foods had been the first luxury sacrificed. “I can give you some peanut butter crackers.”
Adam smiled, pleased with the substitution.
“Is that another loose tooth?” Michael covered Roy with the thick, down comforter and squatted down in front of his young son. He looked more like Ashley by the day, except for his almost white-blond hair. That, he got from Michael.
Adam pinched his lips together and grabbed Ashley’s hand. He’d always been a momma’s boy and The Collapse, the survivor’s term for the world going to hell, only made that worse. Michael envied his wife and son’s relationship, but he understood. Ashley had been with Adam twenty-four hours a day, tending to his every need and want since birth. Michael had always been working. Even now, the work came home with him.
“Show daddy your tooth, silly.” Ashley urged him to share.
Adam opened his mouth and wiggled his loose front tooth with his tongue.
Michael smiled. “It doesn’t look like we have to call the tooth fairy just yet.”
Rex, their German Shepherd, barked downstairs.
Ashley looked out the window. “It sounds like they’re back just in time.”
No one went out after dark.
She lifted the laundry basket and went downstairs with Adam on her heels. Michael followed them and opened the front door for the others. A gust of wind blew through the entranceway and knocked over a frame on the hall table. He ran a hand over his brush-cut, blond hair and stood on the porch until the white Yukon backed up.
“Where do you want it?” Earl Tipton opened the hatch and pulled the gas-powered generator toward him. Six feet two and toned, Earl didn’t look near his age of fifty-years-old. Had it not been for the silver peppering his dark hair and beard, he wouldn’t have looked a day over thirty.
Robert, who stood at average height, looked small by comparison. “Here, let me help.” The newest in the group, Robert struggled to fit in.
Randy, the thinnest and spryest of the three, knew better than to offer. Earl didn’t ever want help. He grabbed one side of the generator and lifted. Earl shot Robert a dirty look and waited for Michael’s direction.
“Put it out back.” Michael looked at Robert. “Why don’t you go up to Mr. Hogan’s room? There’s a rope up there on the floor. Throw it out the window and you can hoist up the extension cord.”
Ashley smiled. “Adam, why don’t you help him? Mommy’s going to hang up the laundry and I’ll be right in.”
Adam shook his head. He didn’t want to go, but Michael insisted. “It’s better if you’re not outside this close to dark, buddy.”
There was less than an hour of light left.
Robert reached for the boy’s hand and chatted about monster trucks to get him up the stairs. Earl and Randy set up the generator around back.
“Don’t forget to lock the gate,” Michael called after them. Fences were a first line of defense. He closed the front door, kissed Ashley, and carried the heavy laundry basket of soaking wet clothes for her.
Ashley hung the laundry on a line that stretched the width of their yard, carefully placing the pins where they wouldn’t crease the fabric.
Michael waited for Robert to throw him the line.
“Hi mommy!” Adam waved out the window.
Robert tossed down the rope.
Michael tied the end of the rope to the extension cord and unscrewed the generator’s gas cap.
Randy made two trips and came back with three large, red gas cans, which he set next to the generator.
Michael filled the tank, careful not to drop the gas can with his sweat-slick hands, and tried to steady his nerves as he fired up the machine. He tied the end of an extension cord to the rope dangling from the second floor bedroom window and tugged to signal he was ready. “Pull it up,” he shouted and when nothing happened, he yelled up again. “Robert, come on. Pull up the cord.”
Ashley picked up the empty basket and headed inside.
“Adam, Robert, hello?” Dread set in just before Michael heard Ashley’s scream.
“I got her, Doc.” Earl was the closest to the back door and the first one inside.
Michael all but trampled him to get to his family. “Ashley, are you okay?”
The front door had been forced open and flapped in the heavy wind. An obese woman with a tattered nightdress and hanging skin blocked the hallway. Her right eyelid had been bitten half-off and her eyes were pure white. Fresh blood stained her broken teeth and Michael feared the worst.
“Ashley, Robert, someone answer me.” His heart raced as he waited for confirmation that his family was all right. “Something’s wrong.” Michael rushed toward the infected woman and only stopped when Earl grabbed him by his jacket collar and pulled him aside.
“Watch out!” Earl drove the pointed end of a fireplace poker into the woman’s open mouth and thrust it upward through her palate. He shouted and put all his weight into forcing the woman backward and pinning her to the drywall.  Black blood spilled down her chin and the wrought iron, unable to hold her, let go.
The droning noise of the generator called several more infected from the distance.
Michael hurdled over the woman’s crumpled body, slammed the front door, and locked it. “Ashley!” He took the stairs two at a time, following a set of muddy footprints that warned he was already too late. “Adam!” He grabbed his pistol from the master bedroom nightstand and rushed into the guest room.
A teenage boy wearing slim-fit jeans and a tattered band tee hunched over the queen size bed, clawing and chewing Roy’s brittle flesh.
“Get away from him,” Michael shouted.
A thick lock of blue hair fell over the boy’s white eyes.
Michael fired a single kill shot into the boy’s forehead and called for his family to come out of hiding. “Ashley, Adam, come on. Please, someone answer me. Let me know you’re all right.” He could barely see through his tears.
The generator fell silent and wind blew through the open bedroom window.
“Help me.” Robert lay on the floor beneath the fluttering, floor-length curtain. He’d been bitten and was gasping for breath.
“Come on, we have to get you out of here.” Michael went to lift him up, to quarantine him for his safety as much as for the others, but Robert held him off. It wasn’t the kind of help he was asking for. He grabbed the end of the pistol in Michael’s hand and placed it under his chin.
“Do it,” Robert whispered.
They’d made a pact that no one infected lives.
“I don’t want to.” Michael considered his missing wife and son and couldn’t help wondering if they’d been too extreme. Others in their group had lost loved ones, but he never had, and perspective made all the difference. “I can’t.”
Robert forced Michael’s finger against the trigger. The pistol discharged and the round shattered the dying man’s head, spattering Michael with blood, skull fragments, and teeth.
Earl appeared in the doorway, out of breath and bloody from having dealt with his own action. “Doc, are you all right?” 
Michael looked up, his ears ringing, and the blood making it hard to see. He wiped his face on his sleeve and took a sobering breath. “I can’t find Ashley or Adam.”
Earl lowered his head, his expression one of a man who knew something.
“Have you seen them?” Michael staggered through the carnage, a little off-balance. “Earl, do you know where they are?” He followed Earl’s sightline to the bathroom at the end of the hall. A bloody handprint of delicate, long fingers stained the white trim. The door was closed and Michael stared at the void left by a wedding ring. “Ashley!”
“No, Doc.” Earl thrust his thick arm across the hallway in front of Michael, but he wouldn’t be deterred.
Michael shoved him aside and reached for the knob. He pulled the door open and Ashley lunged at him. Her hands contracted into claws and her expressionless face held only the familiar, possessed hunger of someone newly infected.
Earl threw Michael down on the hardwood floor and pulled his gun.
A shooting pain sparked in Michael’s wrist as he caught his fall and scrambled to his knees, desperate to stop Earl.
“No!” he shouted, but it was too late.
Earl fired his pistol and sent Ashley tumbling backward into the antique claw foot tub. The purple flowered curtain cushioned her fall. Curtain rings tore from the bar one at a time and scattered around the room.
“Fuck!” Michael’s primal scream was full of pain, anger, and hatred and he sprang to his feet, worried that Adam might be next.
Earl’s face twisted with pain and sympathy. “I’m sorry, Doc. We agreed...”
“I know what we agreed to.” Michael punched the wall, his hand narrowly missing a stud as it pierced through the wallpaper and sheetrock. He scanned the bathroom for signs of his son without staring too long at Ashley’s body. He prayed he hadn’t been bitten, too. A scratching noise came from the direction of the guest bedroom closet. He had to get rid of Earl before he heard it, too. “Adam’s still missing,” Michael said, unable to look Earl in the eye. “He probably got scared and went looking for Ashley. I’ll check the house. You and Randy take the yard. He’s got to be out there and it’s almost dark.” 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Departure: Back to the Drawing Board

Tomorrow is the big day. I've been away from Strandville for as long as it has taken me to pen The Missing Year and Fatal Intention. It's time to get back to my horror roots. I have many ideas for what awaits Miranda, Scott, and the now five-year-old Amelie, as well as what fate has in store for Strandville's inhabitants.

Bring on the undead, mutants, and psychopaths. Oh my! 

My recent rash of hours spent battling the undead in Harran (Dying Light) has me excited to stretch genre boundaries (again). The battles, as always, will be epic. There will be gore, lies, betrayal, and some human-on-human issues as Miranda struggles to get Scott on-board with Amelie. Cure touched on the fact that Scott wasn't keen on adoption. Miranda's supposed sterility led them down a path that ended in divorce. Let's see how he does with a child that is not his (and half zombie). For as much as Scott loves Miranda, I'm not sure if their rekindled relationship is strong enough to withstand, especially not with Zach in the sidelines not-so-secretly pining for Miranda and stepping up to compensate for Scott's shortcomings.

Did I mention there's a death in the core group? You  might guess who it is from that previous statement.

Dr. Michael Waters will be at the crux of conflict, mad science finding its place in the world decimated by an ever-changing virus. Amelie being the one truly immune individual means Michael will have to study her, experiment on her, but he'll have to go through Miranda (and maybe Zach) to do it.

Reid returns as a man who has let go of his past, and while he's definitely morally questionable, he might be the least threatening in the group.

So many ideas. No idea how they'll all turn out.

Departure will be an indie release, available across all e-reader platforms, in paperback, and hopefully I can snag Julia Farmer for book three in audiobook. If you haven't already picked up your copies, Cure and Afterbirth are available (e-book, paperback, and audiobook) for you to catch up.

After Departure, I have two thrillers to write and some inclination to begin approaching agents, though no guarantees. The only effect this has on readers is a possible lag between titles, though I am trying to make sure I get two books out a year even as a hybrid author. I've been back and forth on the idea of representation and had even talked to an agent about Fatal Reaction when the Thomas & Mercer deal came in, but at the end of the day I was okay with what the publisher was offering and not inclined to cut anyone in on a done deal. The publisher and I are trying each other out. We'll see what they have to say about Fatal Intention, now in second draft, and see what happens when Fatal Reaction re-releases June 9th. The future of Fatal Intention is at this point undetermined, though I will update with release news as soon as I have it.

In the meantime, I'm off to brainstorm book three, finish up with a beautiful day of reading Sharp Objects and resting after spring planting. Ten  more days until my  new puppy, Poe, comes home and the question of the day is, will Rango be joining him?

Stay tuned. The Frisch family is growing. Luckily, I can write from outside where I'll be spending my days doggie training and fighting zombie hordes (at least in my head).

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Writers Need Vacations, Too

This is my idea of a vacation. Playa Mujeres, Mexico. However, not everything can be umbrella drinks and room service so we've taken a week off to get ready for the warm weather that to this point feels like it's never coming.

We live in upstate New York where it is still snowing in April. Forty degrees feels like a heat wave. I don't think we'll ever open our pool at this rate and the new patio furniture I picked out will languish in its boxes.

Still, it was a week away from everything that started with the husband and I helping put hardwood floors in our friends' house.

We saw Unfriended, which turned out to be a much better movie than I expected. There was some hub-bub about a possible ripoff scenario with something called The Upper Footage, but after suffering that movie I can say I saw no similarities. Unfriended was told entirely through Skype and text in a way that was effective, atmospheric, and unique. In this copycat world, "original" may be the highest compliment. Also, the film people tweeted me this. If you've seen the film, you know how creepy that is. Pretty much everyone who hears from Laura is bound to end up dead.

We finished Dying Light, a game that turned out to be my absolute favorite in years. Running around post-viral outbreak Harran is so much fun once you figure out the weapons upgrades. I'm bummed that we've completed everything but a few challenges and want to start the game over. It's that good.

I am invigorated by all my recent zombie slaying to get cracking on Departure: A Strandville Zombie Novel #3. I'm going into outline on Monday and will be splitting my time 50/50. Mornings (my freshest writing time) will be for Departure. Afternoons will be for Fatal Intention. After the disaster of a corrupt source file and subsequent recovery of most of FI, I'm through chapter thirty-one on the second draft. We'll call that halfway. I have to continue editing, write a new ending, and go through the whole thing one more time. Since Fatal Reaction comes out in June, I'm not in any rush. I am, however, eager to get back to Miranda and crew and to wander through my own post-apocalyptic landscape.

Working on two projects at once during this end stage seems to be my new thing. I like the variety. We'll see how things go when I'm working on three things at once. I'm going to be juggling these new novels with training a new member of the household. Meet Poe (either after Edgar Allan or Poe from Wonderboys, your choice).

Last September I wrote about losing my dear sweet Ripley. It was gut-wrenching letting him go, and I couldn't imagine moving on. His sister, Dakota, turned ten this week, bringing up a lot of discussion about her as the only child. I'm hoping she thrives with a new family member, that it brings her back from the sadness I think she's been feeling right along. Be prepared for puppy stories, folks. This could get interesting.

For not having gone anywhere, this has been an eventful few days. We built a pergola, interviewed dog daycare, had a massage, picked up a new series on Netflix. If you haven't seen Bloodlines and are a fan of family drama, this is a good one. It's been a rejuvenating week, and I feel ready to get back to thinking about stories and publishing come Monday. The break was just what the doctor ordered for this gal on the verge of author burnout.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Tortoise and the Hare: Writer's Life and Continual Self-Assessment

Writer's melancholy. Ugh. I can't say enough  bad about it, but knowing I'm of the brooding variety makes me feel comfortable among similarly manic, self-doubting peers. It's a plague that has afflicted greater authors than me.

Please note: if you write upbeat romance and chick lit, you might be exempt.

If you write dark fiction, chances are we should have a glass of wine (or a bottle). We can commiserate over the eighty-seven thousand times we've changed our mind on our respective writing journeys.

One day I'm the tortoise. The next, I'm the hare. 

Sometimes I'm so driven I eat, sleep, and breathe new writing and edits. I convince myself that I'm both brilliant and worthy, and that if I really keep pushing I'll be super-successful, that you'll read about me in the New York Times

Then reality hits and I start questioning every decision I've ever made, wondering if it isn't just time to be a housewife. Please note, that'll never happen. Even if I'm only writing for me, I can't go more than a week without getting "the itch."

Sales slump, marketing is a trade of the devil, and honestly, mean people suck. That piece of T-shirt wisdom applies to the rejectors, the sock puppets, the jealous, and the petty who undoubtedly surface in the instance you have a modicum of success. 

At some point (and I'm starting to believe this is an age thing), you realize that none of it matters. You will write what you love, what moves you, and it'll either move others or it won't. It will gain traction or it won't. There's no formula, and I am going with the spaghetti-at-the-wall method of career management, comfortable in the realization that at any point I could be committing career suicide. 

Maybe I need an agent. Maybe I write the books in my head in the order they speak most loudly to me and deal with the publishing aspect after-the-fact. Maybe I take a couple weeks off because I have the most adorable new puppy en route and I just want to spoil dear Poe and spend my afternoons basking in sunshine and puppy kisses. The freedom to do all of those things is the reason I love writing without deadlines.

I could explain my recent zen boost with the flooding of vitamin D and outdoor grilling, but the truth is, I'm really introspective lately, working on figuring my newly-empty-nested, adult self out. My enlightened side sees things differently. 

I believe best sellers have earned their place. I read more of them lately and am disappointed much less often. Reading feeds a writer's brain and successful novels are akin to a gourmet diet. Make the time to read if you want to be the best writer you can be. There's always room for improvement.

I no longer want free books. I want good ones, and I have no problem putting money into the machine that keeps authors doing what they enjoy if that means them writing stories I love. I'm grateful for my public voice and for the "indie revolution," but the expectation of free or cheap and the undervaluing of author's time, effort, and expense are worrisome.

I have branched out as an author, and will continue to do so until I find what feels like a fit. I want a career as comfortable as my favorite jeans, something that works on all levels and involves a support team I can count on, defer to, and who has my best interests at heart. Writers are nothing if not idealistic. I believe this perfect existence is out there. I plan on attending more conferences this year in the hopes of finding at least a jumping off point. 

In the meantime, I'm stopping to smell the roses. I've got a bit of author burnout, owing to doing too much at once. I am taking my time, enjoying the spring, and following my gut into Strandville. I'm writing Departure next because I miss the characters and because my version of the apocalypse is like that pair of jeans. I'm wrapping edits on Fatal Intention, but cannot say at this point when and how it will be published. Fatal Reaction  re-releases on June 9th under Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint. We'll see if that spaghetti sticks.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

If you Lost an Entire Novel, Would you Rewrite it?

I had a dozen heart attacks this morning. I nearly fainted from stress. Six months worth of work, ninety-two thousand words, went corrupt. I don't mean in the way that there's a back-up and my thumb drive or hard drive corrupted. I mean at the file level. My last save, April 1st, went shithouse. Unknowingly, I synced that file to both of my PCs because I knew I was shelving Fatal Intention for a few days to deal with audiobook previewing and re-releasing Cure. This left me with zero usable words. No emailing to myself or saving to backup clouds would fix this because it was syncing that file-gone-bad that landed me in this position. I'm prepared for hard drive/thumb drive failures, not Word ones.

If this ever happens to you, here's something that might help: open the file with another word processing software. I was able to recover eighty-seven thousand words this way by copying and pasting out of Wordpad. This is all of the novel, including second draft revisions through chapter twenty-two, minus an ending I wasn't sold on to begin with. I'm taking this as a sign. I've been having a bit of an existential crisis the past year, owing to the fact that I'm way too hard on myself. Without getting too into my own head here, I'll say that I thought Fatal Intention might segue into a spin-off series. The ending made this possible. That ending is gone now, leaving me to ponder an alternate ending as well as the future of the characters.

More than that, I had a brief moment this morning when I thought all was lost that I asked myself if this entire novel is gone, what will I do? 

My knee-jerk reaction was that the past six plus months would have been wasted. It would be impossible to recreate Fatal Intention in its original form (or even close)  because writing for me is not something that is calculated, it's organic. Ideas flow and I convert those ideas to words on the fly. Yes, I have a very rough outline, but in that moment when I thought all was lost, I knew I couldn't get those words and ideas inline, and worse, I didn't want to. Fatal Intention most likely would never see the light of day if I had to start from scratch. My heart wouldn't be in it, and that would come through in the writing.

Fortunately, it hasn't come to that. Fortunately, I'm not under anything other than self-imposed deadlines. Fortunately, this book will go to the publisher, but isn't under contract. I have time and most of my work. I have an idea for the alternate ending because while I know what the original was, I can't recreate it verbatim. Probably not even close. What do I do now? I call this day a wash. I tinker, throw on Wonder Boys, and try again tomorrow. From here on out, I am going to do a brand new daily save file to protect at the file level rather than just protecting myself from hardware failure. It's all I can do. Five novels and this has never happened. Live and learn, and be grateful for the small blessing that most of the novel is saved. What would you do if you lost everything? For me, a book can only be written once.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Turning your Novel into an Audiobook

Cure (Strandville zombie #1) on Audible
Afterbirth (Strandville zombie #2) on Audible
Fatal Reaction (romantic medical thriller) on Audible

Everything is intimidating the first time you do it, but with five audiobooks either completed or in progress I'm familiar enough with the process to have been comfortable by the second go-round.

If you're an indie author looking to dip your toe into the ACX audiobook waters, let me tell you how easy it is (and exciting, too):

  • Log into ACX with your Amazon credentials and "claim your novel."
  • Post the details of the deal you're looking to make.
  • Listen to auditions as they come in.
  • Decide on your narrator.
  • Upload a 2400x2400 square cover.
  • Approve the 15 minute sample and the final work.

That's basically it in a nutshell. Sounds simple? Mostly, it is. I stumbled a couple of times and maybe the following tips will help you avoid the same problems I had.

Your narrator/producer is the key to a smooth ACX experience. 

Choose someone who has done this before and who has production experience and equipment. Repeat! 

ACX has their own sound engineering quality requirements that are way above my pay grade. I don't know sound engineering, but I hired folks who do after learning a valuable lesson. I unknowingly hired one narrator who had a great voice, but who contracted out the production end. This cost her money, and caused more problems than I care to admit. Ask if the narrator does their own production (and has their own equipment) before moving forward. Have a conversation with them if you like their audition and don't be afraid to ask if they've had audiobooks approved through ACX in the past. I was fortunate to snag a studio (Cerny American Creative in Chicago) with expertise after that one bad experience. Once we connected, I worked with them to do all three of my existing audiobooks. They are finalizing Better Left Buried now as a fourth. The person who didn't do their own production and I came to terms that she wasn't going to be able to do my book, and after the contract expired we mutually dissolved our agreement. Cerny took over the novel from scratch. This snafu cost me about two months wait time.

When you contract with a narrator (and this is done via a simple boiler plate contract provided you by ACX), you will pick two dates: one for the first fifteen completed minutes, and the other for the finished audiobook in its entirety. I let my narrators/producers pick which dates work for them. Twice, narrators were unable to meet our previously agreed upon deadlines. Once they pass, an email to ACX is all you need to nullify the contract. It happens. No big deal. 

You'll have to either agree on a pay-for-production rate, or agree to a 50/50 royalty split. The royalty split in no way grants intellectual property rights of your work to another so don't worry. It's about the payment and that's it. This option (and the one I always take) costs the author nothing up front, but 50% royalties in perpetuity. I'm fine with this as I'm not in the audiobook business to make a fortune. I feel every one that gets picked up is another royalty I wouldn't have probably gotten otherwise. ACX handles all of the financials under this arrangement. The author simply collects their half. 

There's a possibility (and this has only happened once in five novels) that ACX will authorize a stipend to pay for production. Again, this isn't money out of your pocket. ACX for whatever reason will pay up to $100 per production hour to a narrator for a particular work, in my case The Missing Year. It's my fifth book with them so maybe that's why they chose to do this. What does this do for you as an author? It entices folks to audition. I had a wider selection of narrators and chose to go with Julia Knippen in NYC. Funny, all my other books are narrated by Julia Farmer in Chicago. I guess I have a thing for Julias. At any rate, you may get this option, but I don't hear it happening a ton.

That's the technical side of it, but there's another side, too, that has more to do with the author. When you're writing your novel, if you're planning on taking the audiobook industry by storm, consider that you're basically writing a script. Long narrative makes for a boring audiobook. Awkward or stilted dialogue comes across tenfold when you listen. I proof all  my books with text-to-speech, and I think that's a good representation of how it will sound (though there's a kind of magic that happens when a truly talented narrator makes the story their own and gives life to the characters via their voices). 

When your audiobook is finalized, ACX/Audible will provide you with as many free review codes as you ask for. They'll send about twenty-five to start, and the codes are US and UK specific. If you're promoting in both areas ask for both codes. They're easy to use and ACX provides instruction for your listeners. All that's left to do after that is promote and wait for the royalties. Easy.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

EXCERPT: Cure, Strandville Zombie Novel #1

Available for all e-readers and in print. (See link list in sidebar)

If you're a fan of experimental medicine and zombies, the Strandville novels might be your next favorite series. Cure starts off with a clandestine experiment that has the women of Strandville disappearing, and sees them inseminated with the offspring of the undead. A rescue plan is hatched, but the results of saving the few endanger the many, kicking off the zombie apocalypse. Taut and hailed as an original take on the genre, Cure has 4.1 stars on 140 Amazon reviews. Afterbirth, book two is available. Departure, book three, will be coming at the end of the year. Please enjoy the following FREE sample, and if you like what you've read so far, both novels are only $2.99 for all e-readers.

Copyright © 2012 by Belinda Frisch
 All Rights Reserved


The oncology unit of the Nixon Healing and Research Center was winding down from a busy day of too many admissions. Dr. Howard Nixon adjusted his white lab coat to hang squarely on his lean frame as he sat on a wheeled stool at a computer station. An unresponsive, middle-aged male occupied the bed behind him and was alive only because of a respirator. Nixon scratched at a tuft of graying hair sticking out from beneath his surgical cap and called up the patient’s records. He scanned the various reports with bottomless dark eyes that conveyed intelligence, experience, and power.
New security recruit Zach Keller watched from the doorway. He clasped his callused hands behind his back and stood with his feet shoulder width apart. Nixon had given him a lab coat to wear, but his stance, his build, and his close-cropped blond hair implied ex-military. He was an answer to a mounting problem. The hospital was in the crosshairs of a rogue group of locals who believed Nixon to be behind a rash of recent disappearances. When their unsupported claims were dismissed by law enforcement, the family members of the missing women took matters into their own hands, causing havoc and destruction as a means of retaliation.
Nixon pointed at a blue plastic binder in a bin on the wall and said, “Hand me that chart, please.” He entered several orders into the computer and remained emotionless as he typed the words “palliative care.”
Zach knew the term from his mother’s final hospitalization when the doctors eased her into comfortable death with calculated doses of morphine. The same end loomed for his young wife Allison, dying from cancer in a room down the hall.
At thirty-two years old, Allison’s diagnosis couldn’t have been more unexpected. The cancer had started in her pancreas and had spread to her liver before she was ever diagnosed. The diagnosing oncologist tried multiple forms of chemotherapy and radiation, but nothing worked. He gave Allison six months to live and offered to keep her comfortable for the duration. Zach refused to accept the finality. Exhaustive research into alternatives landed Zach under Dr. Nixon’s employ, trading his tactical military skills for experimental medical treatment that was Allison’s last vestige of a cure. So far, she was no better off.
The sound of hard rubber clogs on tile caught Zach’s attention. He turned his head to see a panic-stricken intern wearing blue scrubs standing in the doorway with sweat rings extending from his armpits to halfway down his waist.
“Excuse me, Dr. Nixon,” the young man said. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but you’re needed downstairs immediately. There’s a problem.”
“What kind of problem?”
“A delivery, sir. One of the subject’s water just broke.”
It was understood the Nixon Center was a research facility, but the word “subject” gave Zach pause. He had signed a nondisclosure agreement he assumed was because of proprietary information. Given the security problems and random accusations, he wondered if there was more to it than that.
Nixon closed the electronic medical record and shoved the stool out of his way, hard enough that it crashed into the wall. “Let’s go, both of you.” The sound echoed through the desolate ICU, a secluded, security-restricted area of the hospital closed off to visitors with the exception of strict visiting hours. “When did the contractions start?”
“No more than an hour ago, sir. This isn’t her first delivery.”
Nixon hurried past the nursing station to a bank of central elevators and pushed the call button. “An hour ago, and you’re just finding me now?”
“We weren’t sure…”
“I don’t want to hear excuses,” Nixon said. The metal doors slid open, and Zach hesitated at the threshold. “Come on, Keller. We don’t have all day.”
Zach nodded and hurried inside, standing next to the intern, who couldn’t have gotten farther from Nixon if he had tried.
Nixon put a small silver key into the control panel and hit B for basement.
The car descended, and when it jerked to a halt, another intern approached. Sweat glistened on the middle-aged man’s forehead, and his bespectacled eyes darted back and forth between Nixon and Zach. No introductions were made, as the intern staff was more or less a pool of worker drones Nixon kept in their place.
Zach never once heard him address them by name.
“Where are we at?” Nixon said.
“The subject is fully dilated.”
“Unbelievable.” Nixon turned to the intern behind him, who had been taking the brunt of the blame. “She could have delivered by the time you came and found me at this rate. Do you realize the risk involved with a vaginal birth? We could lose the mother and the infant. Cesarean. Delivery. Only. How many times do I have to say that?”
“I know. I’m sorry, sir. She’s three weeks early.”
Nixon opened the door to surgical storage and handed Zach a cap and gown, taking a set for himself and dressing while he walked.
Zach unfolded the one-size-fits-all garment and tried to make sense of its shape. He put it on like a jacket at first but realized it was on wrong when he took a quick look at Nixon.
“It ties in the back,” Nixon said, shaking his head.
Zach turned the gown around without explanation and hurried to catch up.
The basement was a windowless maze. There were no murals, pictures, or flowers like on the upper levels, and the air was heavy with the sickening smell of disinfectant. Most of the rooms appeared to be labs, the stainless steel tables, microscopes, and Petri dishes all unattended.
Nixon waved a grey key fob at the security device to the left of a solid metal door marked Delivery. Behind it, the scrub-clad staff of ten or so interns awaited instruction.
A young brunette in her late teens or early twenties lay restrained on a delivery bed, with her wrists fastened to the side rails by thick leather straps. She looked disheveled, withered despite her obvious late-term pregnancy, and her skin bore the telltale bedsores of someone under prolonged confinement. Her blue-and-white cotton gown rode up and exposed her watermelon stomach. Her hair matted to the sweat on her face as she turned her head back and forth against the pillow while screaming.
The reality of what Zach had signed on for started to sink in. He looked over his shoulder to see the others’ reactions, finding indifference and a flow of calculated movements orchestrated by Nixon.
“Zach, I need you at the door. No one leaves this room without my say-so.”
“Sir?” Zach wasn’t sure what Nixon was asking of him.
“You have a weapon, yes?”
Zach nodded. “Yes.”
“If the subject tries to get out of here, you use it. Understand me?”
“I… yes… I understand.”
The young woman howled, thrashed against her bindings, and locked her eyes on Nixon. “You did this to me!” she screamed.
“Get her legs. Tie them down.” Nixon held the padded stirrups while a pair of interns wrestled her legs into them and fastened her in at the ankles. “Someone hand me that vial.” He pointed at the lone glass bottle on top of a surgical tray and drew up a syringeful of the clear liquid when the intern handed it to him. “I can’t have you shouting at or hurting my staff,” he said to the girl. “And I can’t have you fighting nature. This is going to happen whether you like it or not. You will calm down.”
The patient’s eyes opened wide. “No. No. Please, no.”
Zach averted his gaze as Nixon injected her with what could only be a fast-acting sedative, based on her response. Her eyes rolled back until only the whites were showing. Pain drained from her face, her whole body twitched, and her distant gaze settled on the ceiling.
“There, that’s better.” Nixon deposited the needle into the wall-mounted sharps container and resumed his place at the foot of the delivery bed.
An inky flow spilled from between the woman’s legs, and a rotten smell filled the room.
“The amniotic fluid is black, just like the last one,” said one of the interns.
A metallic tang settled on Zach’s tongue, making it hard for him to swallow.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Nixon said. “Not yet. Hand me the forceps.” He used the enormous set of tongs to coax the infant from inside its mother. A crown of dark, thick hair emerged, and Zach stared, breathless, as the head followed. Nixon rotated the infant until its shoulders were clear, and the rest of its body quickly followed.
The intern took the young woman’s vitals. “Temperature is normal. Pupils equal, round and reactive to light. Pulse stable. No sign of infection.”
Zach waited for the newborn’s first cries, and when they didn’t come, curiosity forced him to see why. He took a few steps away from the door, moving close enough to see the tiny body in the nearby bassinet. The sight triggered his gag reflex.
“Hand me a bulb syringe, now.” Nixon checked the disfigured infant for a pulse.
“Another one dead,” said an intern.
Nixon parted the infant’s lips and cleared thick mucus from its throat with a bulb syringe. Piranha-like milk teeth lined its small mouth. “I’m not ready to make that call, not yet.” The infant remained still, its skin half-digested as if by acid, slipping from its tiny bones as Nixon slapped the soles of its feet. He started CPR. “One, two, three.” He counted out thirty compressions while an intern manned the bag covering the infant’s nose and mouth. “Breathe. Come on. Stay with me.”
The delirious young woman started to come to, her gaze fixing first on Zach and then shifting to Nixon. “Now will you let me go?” she said, the drugs causing her to slur her words. “I won’t say anything. I swear I won’t, but I can’t do this anymore. Please let me go.”
Nixon continued compressions, working to start the infant’s breathing, though Zach couldn’t understand why when it was so obviously dead for so long.
“Four minutes,” said one of the interns. “We need to call it.”
“Time of death, three thirty-one p.m.,” said the intern with the clipboard in the corner.
Nixon kicked the wheeled surgical tray and sent the remaining supplies flying. “Damn it.”
“If the baby is dead, you don’t need me,” the young woman said, her cheeks wet with tears. “Please, please, let me go home.”
Nixon moved to her bedside. A thick purple vein in his forehead began throbbing. “I’m sorry. I can’t do that.” He turned to one of the interns and said, “Take her to recovery. She’s out of commission with the other one.” He patted the young woman’s mattress. “Don’t worry about being a failure. We’ll try again in a month or two.”


Miranda Penton opened the bathroom door, and steam clouded the bedroom of her tiny three-room apartment. There was nothing homelike about her place, just a neatly made bed on a stock metal frame and a stack of packed boxes including one that now doubled as a nightstand. She caught her reflection in the full-length mirror affixed to the wall and sighed longingly, with her hand held over her stomach. Her muscle tone had mostly come back, but the small bulge beneath her belly button reminded her every day of the stillborn infant she and Scott, her now ex-husband, had lost.
The pregnancy had ended her army career. She could have made general. At least, that’s what she told herself on stronger days. They weren’t all so easy.
She picked up the sonogram picture from the box of keepsakes, and a lump formed in her throat. Tears blurred her vision as she smoothed her finger over the image of her lost daughter, Rosalie. Naming her had been Scott’s idea, his point being that there needed to be something to have engraved on her headstone. They buried their daughter in Miranda’s family plot and tried to pick up the pieces. Getting back to who Miranda had been before the pregnancy was harder than she expected. She tucked the picture safely away and rummaged through her camouflage duffel bag for comfortable driving clothes.
A flurry of knocks came at her door before she was even dressed.
“Miranda, are you there?”
It was Scott.
Miranda pulled a pink T-shirt over her head and stepped into the pair of shredded jeans she’d never imagined she would fit back into.
“Miranda, if you’re there, open up. Please?”
Miranda’s shoulder-length auburn hair was soaking the back of her T-shirt, and she wrapped it in a towel before answering.
“What do you want?” She opened the door but didn’t slide the chain. Scott looked distraught, and she averted her eyes to prevent the inevitable emotional tug.
“Miranda, we need to talk. It’s important.” Scott tried to reach through the narrow opening to undo the safety, but his hand was too thick to fit. “Please let me in.” His bloodshot hazel eyes were swollen as though he’d been crying. His hands shook, and Miranda noticed he was still wearing his wedding ring.
“I can’t keep doing this, Scott. Whatever you have to say, I don’t want to hear it. I can’t hear it, not with me leaving.” Miranda felt emotionally raw, on the edge of a breakdown, and the last thing she wanted was another round of Scott’s pleas for her to stay. She started to shut the door.
Scott jammed the steel toe of his black boot against it to keep it from closing. There was no aggression, no hint of anger, only desperation and longing. “Hear me out this one last time, and I’ll give you whatever space you need. Please? It’s important.”
“Five minutes, and then I have to finish packing.” Miranda let him in and headed into the galley kitchen. The dishes were packed, and the sink was empty. She wiped the already clean countertop as a means of distraction.
“Do you want something, a glass of water? I think I have a can of soda.”
Scott looked around at the boxes. “You really are leaving?”
“You of all people should understand. It’s too hard for me to stay.”
“It doesn’t have to be.” Scott smoothed his hand across his forehead. “You just need time. We both need time. Remember when we used to say we could get through anything?”
“I do, but when ‘anything’ happened, we found out we were wrong.”
“Please, Miranda, don’t go to Strandville. The Nixon Center isn’t the right place for you. Michael should have never put you up for this job. It’s too dangerous.”
Michael Waters, Miranda’s OB/GYN and a friend of her and Scott since basic training, had referred her to the medical center where he had worked before going into private practice to have more time to spend with his family.
Miranda trusted him implicitly. “Michael didn’t do anything I didn’t ask him to.” A long-overdue confession swelled inside of her, and she felt the need to finally tell Scott the truth. “There’s something that I never told you, something Michael told me about why I lost Rosalie.” She drew in a deep breath for composure. “I was the reason we lost her.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Miranda. You can’t blame yourself for nature.”
“It wasn’t nature. It was genetics, a genetic defect, to be accurate, that prevents me from carrying a live baby to term. Michael says it will happen again if I get pregnant.” She avoided the term stillbirth.
“He can’t know that,” Scott said.
“He does know that, and he says it will happen every time I get pregnant. That’s why I have to leave, Scott. Michael just helped me find a way to do it.”
“And the divorce?” Scott sniffled. “Was that really necessary?”
“You deserve your own children.”
“I would have considered adoption,” Scott said. “It just wasn’t my first choice.”
“You’d never love an adopted child like our own. There’s nothing wrong with that, but adoption is my only choice. It’s better that I go and that you find a way to get past all of this on your own, without me as a crutch. You’ll find someone else.”
“I don’t want someone else.”
“You will in time. I really do have to finish packing, Scott. I’m sorry, but you need to leave.” Miranda opened the apartment door, and he followed her, but he didn’t immediately leave. He reached for her, to hold her, and she withdrew from him, refusing to cry when, inside, she was falling apart. “Please don’t. It’s better this way.” She couldn’t look him in the eye when she said it. “I need you to leave.”
Scott lifted her chin with his finger, the platinum band cold against her skin. “Why can’t you look at me when you say it then? Please, come home.”
Tears rolled down Miranda’s cheek as she turned away from him. “It’s not my home, Scott. Not anymore.”


Nixon’s office was a richly decorated suite on the hospital’s secluded fifth floor. His grand mahogany furniture glistened in the sunlight, and the air was heavy with the smells of lemon-scented furniture oil and fresh-cut lilies in a crystal vase on the credenza.
“Please, have a seat,” he said to Zach, gesturing at the plush chair opposite his desk.
Zach sank into the soft leather with his arms over his stomach. He was upset, nauseated, and shocked. He wanted to collect Allison and leave—to let the cancer take her if that was meant to be—but he knew Nixon would never let him quit his job after what he had just seen.
Nixon didn’t seem remotely fazed. “I don’t believe it should be necessary, but let me remind you about the confidentiality paperwork you signed and the nature of the work you were hired for. I made it clear to you that we are dealing with a research facility and, like all research facilities, we have test subjects. In this case, they happen to be human. What you witnessed today isn’t to be discussed. Understood? Not even with others here. Not everyone is privy to what happens downstairs.”
Zach nodded, wanting to say that he hadn’t signed up for unlawful imprisonment, that his “arrangement” as Nixon called it wasn’t supposed to make him a criminal, but there was Allison to consider. “I understand,” he said, though he truly didn’t. He had reached a point of no return and needed to know how much further he would be expected to go. “May I ask a few questions?” He had many but would start with the burning ones.
“Absolutely,” Nixon said. “It is necessary for you to know all of what’s going on here, and I’m sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to prepare you for what happened down there. That was unexpected and unfortunate.”
“You mentioned there were other women down there? Where do they come from?”
“From here and there,” Nixon said. “Several are former patients, women who came from bad situations. Others are from town, women who happened to fit our particular needs.”
Clearly, Nixon viewed himself as some sort of savior. “But they’re here against their will?”
“I’m afraid so. They didn’t all start that way, but this is what we’ve ended up resorting to. The women’s stays here will be temporary, and they will be released when we have what we need.”
“Which is what, exactly?”
“The cure you came for. What we’re doing has the potential to save millions of lives, Zach. I know this has been a lot, but trust me when I say this is a greater-good circumstance.”
“I don’t see how what I saw could be for anyone’s benefit. What was wrong with that baby?”
“That’s more complicated than I can explain out of context. Things will be clearer after a proper tour and after you have the chance to spend time with Max Reid, my number one on the ward.”
“The ward?”
“Where the women are held,” Nixon explained.
“The locals who have been coming here stirring up trouble, they’re the women’s families, aren’t they? Why haven’t the police come?”
“They did come, Zach. They came, and those that needed paying off have been paid. The troublemakers are mine to do with as I see fit. I assure you, whatever you have to do to keep order here will go without consequence.”
It wasn’t just legal consequences Zach was worried about.
“Excuse me, Dr. Nixon.” An elderly maintenance man wearing gray-green coveralls appeared in the doorway. “I have the elevator key you requested.”
“Perfect timing as usual, Jim. There’s somebody I’d like you to meet,” Nixon said. “Jim Lockard, Zach Keller. Zach, Jim Lockard. Jim is the person you contact to fix anything you find that’s broken. He’s a miracle worker of machinery and one of our original employees. There’s nothing he doesn’t know.”
Jim extended his hand, hard and cracked from a lifetime of manual labor.
“Nice to meet you.” Zach managed an awkward smile.
“You, too, son. You, too. Is there anything else I can do for you, Dr. Nixon?”
“I think we’re all set.” Nixon handed the key to Zach. “We’re heading back downstairs. I’ll have Zach test that and will let you know if there are any problems.”
“You sure you want to do that?” Jim hitched his thumb in Zach’s direction. “This young man looks like he’s seen a ghost already.”

* * * * *

Miranda rolled down the black Ford Explorer’s windows and breathed in the crisp spring air. Scott had nearly convinced her to stay, though she would never admit that to him. Nothing good would come from her going back to him, because the two of them had become different people after losing Rosalie. She grieved the loss on a visceral level, but she accepted the truth that she was not meant for motherhood, as much as she ever imagined she could.
Moving to Strandville was her do-over, a chance at anonymity and an escape from the pitying stares and apologies that hadn’t yet waned. As she crossed the town line, two hundred miles from the place she had called home for most of her life, the scenic countryside was every bit as peaceful as she had imagined. Old saltbox houses and expansive farms ate up the landscape, crops beginning to emerge from the well-tended earth. Cows roamed their pastures, and the first of the spring’s calves chased each other with sure-footed determination.
Miranda adjusted the skewed rearview mirror, but there was literally no looking back. Boxes of things she didn’t entrust to the movers blocked her view. Low on fuel, she pulled into the parking lot of Porter’s mom-and-pop convenience store to gas up. She stepped out onto the crumbling pavement and opened the SUV’s fuel door.
A rusted Chevy truck with a Confederate flag draped across its back window pulled up to the other side of the pump. Lynyrd Skynyrd blasted through the speakers, and Miranda rolled her eyes at the stereotype.
A filthy man wearing cutoff jean shorts scratched at the knots in his unkempt beard and wolf-whistled at her. His hairy, round belly swelled from beneath his stained T-shirt, and pus oozed from sores covering his thick calves.
Miranda took the kind of mental inventory needed to identify a suspect to the police. When the redneck noticed her looking at him, he made a humping motion in her direction. She returned a confident stare that said he didn’t intimidate her. He stopped the lewd grinding and winked.
Miranda shook her head and locked the truck before going inside to pay. The creaking of a rickety front door announced her entrance to the wood-paneled anything-you-could-want shop. The store had a butcher’s counter; a wall of coolers, windshield wipers, and first-aid supplies; a deli; a bakery; and an unsettling selection of shovels, rope, and duct tape. Miranda imagined she’d adjust to the culture in time. When a heavyset woman came in screaming behind her, she wondered.
The woman shouted, “I need to see Jack!” at the clerk, a pimple-faced young man whose eyes were barely visible through a curtain of greasy bangs.
An elderly man, slight of weight and small in stature, wearing a pair of baggy overalls and an ill-fitting shirt, attempted to coax the woman to leave in a voice just loud enough for Miranda to overhear.
Miranda grabbed a bag of chips from the shelf and an iced tea from the cooler and watched the escalating drama with interest.
A stocky man wearing a bloodstained butcher’s jacket with the name “Jack” embroidered on the chest pocket came out from the back room.
The irate woman shook a missing person’s poster at him. “How could you take Penny’s picture down? We’ll never get her home if no one knows what she looks like, Jack. Why would you do this to us? To Penny?”
Miranda approached the counter with caution and set her items down in front of the clerk along with a stack of pocket money. The obviously nervous clerk flattened the crumpled wad of singles, shifting his gaze between Miranda and the hysterical woman.
“I’m sorry,” Jack said. “I don’t know where the poster went.” The corkboard on the wall behind him held several. It wasn’t hard to believe one could get lost without being missed.
The thin man, the woman’s husband it seemed, set his hand on her trembling shoulder. “Beth, we have to go.”
“I can’t leave. Not without her poster being up.” She handed the one she was holding to Jack.
“I’ll put this one front and center,” Jack said, ripping off two lengths of butcher’s tape, and fastened the poster to the meat counter’s glass. “I’ll make sure it stays there. I promise.”
“Thank you,” the man said to Jack. Tears glistened in his aging eyes, Beth’s emotional display clearly getting to him. “Can we please go now?” he said to her.
Beth turned to Miranda and said, “Have you seen my daughter? Please, look at her picture.”
Miranda didn’t see that she had a choice. She looked at the poster of eighteen-year-old Penny Hammond, whose chubby, pleasant face resembled her mother’s and whose bright eyes sparkled even in black and white. She looked years younger than her listed age, and her smile was heartbreakingly radiant. According to the date listed, she had been missing three months. A quick glance at the other posters showed dates as far as a year or so back.
“No, ma’am,” Miranda said. “I’m sorry. I haven’t. I’m new here.”
“I’m sorry, miss,” the man said to Miranda. “Beth, we have to go.”
“He’s right. I think it’s best if you leave,” Jack said. “I’ll ask around, but I can’t have you upsetting my customers.”
Beth’s husband apologized again, this time all but dragging Beth out the front door.
“I’m sorry about that,” Jack said to Miranda, nudging the clerk aside to finish ringing out her order. “Beth’s taken the loss of her daughter hard. Penny was a good girl. We all miss her.”
Miranda wouldn’t say it, but she understood the woman’s pain and was affected by it more than she let on. “I really hope she finds her.” The fact that Jack spoke in the past tense led her to believe he didn’t think that would happen.
The clerk shook his head and said, “Not likely.”
“Don’t you have a mess to clean up, Billy?”
Billy rolled his eyes and grabbed the mop and bucket in the corner.
“I’m sorry about him, too.” Jack shook his head, clucking his tongue. “There’re an awful lot of apologies flying around here today.” He forced a smile. “Did I overhear you say you were new in town?”
“I am,” Miranda said. “I’m just arriving, in fact.”
“Nothing like starting over,” Jack said. “My name is Jack, Jack Porter.”
She had gathered as much. “Miranda Penton.” She shook Jack’s outstretched hand.
“Nice to meet you, Miranda Penton. Don’t be a stranger.” Jack loaded her few items into a small brown bag and slid it across the counter.
“I won’t be. Thank you.”
“And do me a favor. Be careful, would you? Strandville’s beautiful, but it’s not as safe as it used to be.”


The Nixon Center tour had gone from bad to worse, the basement’s secrets unfolding slowly. Most of the rooms Zach had seen to this point were dedicated clinical. There were gruesome specimens and bloody slides, but they were nothing compared with the room he was in, one that could only be described as a zoo. Metal cages lined the room’s perimeter. Stacked largest to smallest, they piled from the floor to about a foot from the ceiling. The stench of animal urine and feces made it hard for Zach to breathe.
A man in a blue lab coat pulled on a pair of chainmail gloves and reached into a rattling cage with a loaded syringe in his right hand. The animal growled and hissed and only went still after it had been sedated.
Nixon looked down the barrel of one of three high-end microscopes and nodded, appearing pleased. “Ben,” he called the man over. “When you’re finished there, come meet Zach Keller.”
“Zach, did you say? I’m Ben. I’d shake,” he said, “but I don’t dare take my hand off this guy.” The mid-thirties man with the premature horseshoe-shaped bald spot held up a dusky, charcoal-gray rat with milky white eyes and a long, hairless tail. A large tumor-like growth protruded from behind its ear and extended down its back like a furry cauliflower.
Ben must have been someone worth knowing, because he was the first intern Zach was introduced to and that Nixon addressed by name.
“What’s wrong with that thing?” Zach angled for a better look at the sickly rat.
“We gave it cancer,” Nixon said.
For all the people ever diagnosed with the disease, the word “cancer,” in Zach’s mind, belonged only to Allison.
Nixon took the rat from Ben and laid it out on the stainless steel table. He measured the tumor with a flexible measuring tape and marked down his findings on a form held by a clipboard. “I need a sample,” he said to Ben.
Ben aspirated a half cc of blood-tinged fluid from the tumor, and the rat’s back legs twitched. “I think he’s about to wake up,” he said. “The sedative doesn’t last nearly as long as it used to.”
“Mark that down as side effect one million and one,” said Nixon.
Ben put the rat back in the cage.
“Side effect?” Zach said. “The rat is not on the treatment you plan to give Allison, is it?”
“It is, but we wouldn’t give it to her until we have it perfected. We’re working as fast as we can.”
That Nixon acknowledged the risk only went so far to allay Zach’s anxiety. “Can you tell me about this treatment, about where it came from?”
“That’s an interesting story. Six patients were airlifted here from a remote area of Haiti a little over a year ago. Three of them were family—a father, mother, and their son. Two were male researchers sent to investigate a young boy who died from a mysterious illness and then resurrected in front of half of his village. I hate the term ‘zombie.’ It sounds more like a monster movie than an illness, but these people are quite literally, if not miraculously, the walking dead, and they’re infected with a virus that might save Allison’s life.”
“You can’t be serious,” Zach said. His mind went immediately to the disfigured stillborn infant, and the unsettled feeling that had been nagging him since his arrival at the Nixon Center hit a new high.
“I’m not the kidding type.” Nixon examined a specimen under the microscope. “Here, take a look. This is a slide of Allison’s tumor cells from her liver.” Zach looked at the magnified image of liver cancer, though he couldn’t have said what it was if Nixon hadn’t told him. The cells had been stained multiple colors and looked like a test for color blindness. Nixon continued his explanation about his zombie patients as if the idea that such things existed wasn’t ridiculous. “We learned early on that the virus that infected the Haiti patients thrive on oxygen-starved cells. Larger tumors like Allison’s lack organized blood capillaries. They develop oxygen-starved centers. Because of that, the virus attacks the cancer cells from the inside out like a smart bomb, without destroying healthy cells.”
Zach held his hand to his head, unable to fully process the information being thrown at him. “So you cured the patients from Haiti, and you use their virus to treat cancer?”
“Not exactly,” Nixon said. “We’re working on that.”
“Working on what?”
“Curing the infection.”
Zach looked back and forth between Ben and Nixon. “What happens if you put this virus into Allison? Wouldn’t she become infected then? Infected with something else you can’t cure?”
The formerly sedated rat charged its cage door, gnashing its needle teeth around the bars and clawing at its skin.
“Dr. Nixon?” Zach was unsettled by the rat but more worried for Allison’s well-being. “What happens if she becomes infected?”
Ben drew up another dose of the sedative. This time his steady hands were shaking.
Nixon watched Ben intently, doing nothing to step in and seemingly enjoying Ben’s panic. “It’s a matter of timing, Zach. The cancer is killing Allison faster than we can stop it. The infection at least buys her valuable time. That has to be enough if it comes to it.”
Tufts of fur floated in the air like feathers from a pillow fight. The rat shredded its throat with its claws, and the litter tray became soaked with blood.
Ben struggled to open the cage. He lifted the rat’s head with the syringe and slammed the door when he realized that the specimen was beyond salvage. “Damn it! Do you know how hard I’ve been working on that? This was the one.”
Nixon slipped on a pair of examination gloves and assessed the extent of the damage for himself. He opened another of the small cages and pulled out a fresh test subject, a normal-appearing lab rat. “I guess we’ll have to start over. See, Zach, science is three steps forward, ten steps back.” Nixon injected something into the animal and put it back in the cage.
Ben set the mutilated rat corpse on top of the table and began mopping up the blood in its cage.
Nixon snatched up the dead rat and wrung its injured neck, twisting it until its head pulled away from its body. The clicking and crunching of small bones compounded the moist sound of tearing flesh. A chill raced up Zach’s spine. Nixon was like a child with a broken toy whose further destruction didn’t matter. He tossed both pieces of the rat into the medical waste container marked Incinerator and said, “We can never be too cautious.”


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Also available on B&N, Smashwords, CreateSpace, and as an ACX audiobook narrated by Julia Farmer, voice of "Sarita" on The Walking Dead game.