Tuesday, August 20, 2013

JOYLAND review

JoylandJoyland by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First, the cover: I loved it. A callback to pulp fiction at its finest. There's a hardcover edition, but I far prefer this art.

I like King when he writes small (small is less than 300 pages - for King, anyway). No huge cast, just Devin Jones and the people he interacts with. It's a coming of age novel, which I'm always interested in (or writing about). It's got an amusement park, which I'm always fascinated by (strange, considering I don't ride rides, never have). And it's horror, King style.

Except it's not that horrific. No, it is, but it's not in your face monsters-aliens-supernatural horror. No spaceships here. It's quieter. Matured, the same as Mr. King. It's the monsters that adults recognize - the ones that come for little kids and adults in the form of disease, that comes for others in the form of a psychopath.

Sure, the story has a hint of other-worldness, ghosts flitting around the edges of the frame, but mostly it's life and death and courage, lost love and growing up. It's not fast-moving, but it's good, fascinating characterization.

As for the ending - my guess was correct well before the reveal. It didn't hamper my enjoyment.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 5, 2013

extended version of RISING WOLF excerpt - includes a scene of Mal and Zach together again


Mal walked out of his apartment Saturday evening, his stomach a jumble of excitement and nerves. He'd gone to the store earlier that day and picked up more food and some household supplies. There had been no smell, no sound, no one from the wolf pack near by. If his luck held tonight, finally, finally he'd get to see Zach again. He couldn't remember feeling anything close to this before, his body taut with anticipation, pulse hammering in his throat and beating at his temples, adrenaline surging. All of it because of how much he wanted to see Zach, touch him, feel Zach's breath against his own skin. Make sure he was okay, and that he still wanted them enough to risk the danger involved.

Mal reined himself in, keeping his control with tight effort. He stepped outside. The Meadows' porch spanned the width of the building. A wooden swing hung from the ceiling on one side, two rusted chairs on the other end, a table with a shallow clay pot of mother-in-law's tongue reaching toward the porch ceiling. A crumpled cigarette butt was half buried in the dirt at the base of the plant.

The sun was almost gone, twilight settling in. The wind blew, short little gusts, hard enough that the porch swing creaked on its chains. An inebriated girl walked unsteadily on the sidewalk in front of the apartments, short shorts in neon pink contrasting with her tan. Mal saw no one else.

It didn't matter. He smelled another wolf nearby, and not just any wolf. Kane, one of his captors from the weekend, had been on the porch recently. The scent was faint but clear.

Mal bit his lip, excitement strangled, stomach plunging sickly to somewhere around the vicinity of his shoes. He couldn't go to Zach. He'd been stupid to think he could without endangering him. His hands doubled into fists, a hot ball of rage growing in his gut.

His eyes swept the area left and right to the apartments. Mal headed around the building for the parking lot. Kane's scent grew stronger, and he turned in a circle, the wind whipping his hair away from his face. Kane was definitely somewhere in the parking lot.

The streetlights blinked on, the glass in the asphalt glittering. The edges of the lot remained mostly in darkness thanks to wild hedges growing tall and hanging over the pavement. The asphalt held heat from the day. It seeped up through the bottom of Mal's shoes.

Each step he took mocked him. Had he thought it would be easy, that he could just go to Zach without the wolf pack interfering? He had known his time was running out. He hadn't wanted to see it, couldn't accept not seeing Zach again.

Kane stepped out from the shadows at the end of the lot where Mal was staring. He walked fluidly toward Mal, an easy stride. His hair looked black in the lowering light. He was shorter and thinner than Aaron, but despite that fact, no less imposing.

Mal moved to stand by his car, raising a palm to the rooftop and resting it there. He smirked. "Where's Aaron?"

Kane nodded an acknowledgment, eyes narrowing. "He's healing. And he will heal. Where'd you get the bright idea to hit him with silver?"

Mal ignored the question. "What do you want?"

"It's not just me or Aaron you're fighting against. It's all of us. Your pack, like it or not. You can't wipe all of us out."

Mal's fingers drummed on the roof of the Audi. "You guys have a lot of trouble with the words no and fuck off, don't you? If I wanted to be part of a pack, the last thing I'd do is join in with the bastards who forced me into this in the first place."

Kane stopped on the other side of the Audi, propping his elbows on the hood.

"And get the fuck off my car."

Kane grinned and dropped his arms to his sides. He sighed. "Alphas. Even amongst their company, you've given new meaning to the word difficult." He waited a moment. "And Aaron says fuck you, by the way."

"Too bad he's not here to tell me himself. You already have a pack alpha, don't you? Seems like they wouldn't want competition around."

"We have two. Argent and Kyra. You'll probably compete with them eventually, but that's the way it works." Kane shrugged. "Leadership is earned, not given. Our pack is as strong as each of us makes it. You, brother, are strong. We want you in." He gave Mal a pointed look. "You'd know this already if you'd stop fighting us."

Mal shook his head, short and tight. He could feel his upper lip trying to curl. "Not in my nature."

Kane nodded, his eyes dropping to Mal's mouth. He held up his hands. "You've made that clear. But I'm here to deliver a message."

"From who?"

"Kyra. The female alpha protects the whelps—for a short while, anyway. If you make it difficult and Argent has to bring you in after her protection lapses … " Kane smiled, giving a quick nod of his head. "I wouldn't mind seeing that, after what you did to Aaron."

"I don't give a damn about her message."

"Listen to it anyway. Kyra invites you to a pack meeting. Sunset, the night of the new moon. At the cabin where we turned you." Kane walked backwards, slow step after step. He grinned at Mal. "And remember that if you don't show, Argent will come after you, whelp."

Mal took quick steps after him, grabbing by the collar and pulling his face close. "Call me by my name. Nothing else, you got that?"

Kane looked into his eyes, then dropped his gaze.

Mal flung him away. He turned his back to Kane and walked to the car. He smelled Kane, the scent lingering closely, sweat and menace and anger. Fear. And there was the scent of other wolves nearby, too. Three others from the shadows beyond the parking lot.

Mal unlocked his car door. He started the Audi, pulling out onto the drive that led to the front of the apartment building. He turned right onto the road. At the stop sign he looked back. Two cars pulled out of the lot behind his apartment, following.

It was after midnight before he lost them. He parked in a Kroger parking lot, walked in the store. At the end of the aisle, he looked back and saw Kane and three others, walking shoulder to shoulder, approaching the automated doors. He found a swinging door at the back of the store and went inside the stock room, finding a back door, locked from the outside but not inside. He took it and ran across a road behind the store, keeping to shadows, under trees, stopping and listening, then cutting through yards, running and finally slowing to a fast walk. He didn't let himself think about what could have happened if he'd went to Zach without realizing the wolves were after him. Self-recrimination was for after they were gone.

He didn't know where he was. He didn't know where he was going, and he didn't care. He walked until he was sure he couldn't smell them, couldn't hear or see them, and then he kept walking.

Oh God, I almost brought them to Zach. He said it over and over, shock waves expanding inside his head, imagining what might happen to Zach if Mal was ever so goddamn fucking stupid as to actually lead them to Zach's home. He had to remember this moment and make sure he never, ever again let his own need to see Zach overcome caution and good sense.

He began to panic after the fact, another stupid thing, but undeniable. The night air was comfortable but he was sweating buckets, panting in great breaths of air. He couldn't stop moving. He started across a small neighborhood park sandwiched between two narrow roads. Either side of the park was lined by trees at the street.

His cell rang again. It'd been ringing off and on for the last couple of hours. Mal started violently, looking up and down the park. No one. He smelled nothing but grass and a cat who'd marked the trunk of one of the trees recently, and further beyond it the faint sharpness of chemicals from a pool in someone's yard. He heard frogs croaking. He dropped the phone and cursed, picked it up and put it to his ear. His hand trembled.

"Mal? Are you there?" Zach said, the words quick and hard.

Mal heard him breathing, waiting for him. He sank down on the end of a sliding board some two feet off the ground. It was one of those enormous, colorful plastic and metal contraptions.

"Mal? Say something. Are you okay? Where are you?"

"I can't. Can't come see you," Mal said, struggling to say the words. "I'm sorry."

"Just—shit, Mal, are you hurt?"


"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Stop asking stupid questions," Mal said, each word strangled, jerked out of him.

Zach laughed. It was all wrong, terrified. "Where are you?"

"Walking." He guessed the attempt at casual hadn't cut it.

"Walking where?"

"I don't know."

"Find a road sign."

"You can't come get me."

"Jesus, you're scaring the shit out of me. Tell me you're safe."

Mal swallowed. He couldn't get control of his fear. "Yes."

"If you're safe, why can't I come get you?"

"Because they followed me and I fucking almost led them to you. We can't do this. They'll find you."

Zach huffed through the phone. "Are they gone?"

"Aren't you listening? They'll find you, and it'll be my fault. No."

"Are they gone?"


"Then there's no way they can find me. Find a goddamn road sign or I'll go to your apartment and wait for you."

"No!" Mal sprang up. The muscles in his legs quivered. "Promise me you won't!"

"I'm sorry, okay, I won't," Zach said, sounding pretty worked up, "but find a road sign, Mal. I'm going crazy."

Mal knew he should leave and find his way home, but he was afraid Zach would show up at his place if pushed too far. He stood and walked out of the park, phone in hand. He stopped on the sidewalk looping around it. Bugs crawled underfoot, and a black shadow flew over one of the streetlamps. He saw a street sign at the end of the block but he couldn't make it out yet, so he started walking.

"Mal. Mal? Talk to me."

"It's Calhoun. I'm on Calhoun at the intersection of Rogers."

"I'm coming after you. Wait for me."

"Please don't. I said I'm okay, Zach."

"I know what you said. Promise me you'll wait."

"I'm in the park," he said, and hung up, walked back to the park to wait. He paced to and fro. He felt better, concealed somewhat inside the circle of trees.

After a while he heard Zach's truck approach. His legs felt rubbery all of a sudden, so he moved to the bottom of the slide again and sat on it, waiting. The truck's engine cut off in front of the park. He heard the truck door open and close, heard Zach approaching, his breathing and his heart rate both too fast. He sat still, waiting, the air flooded with the smell of Zach, heat and aftershave, soap and sweat, pheromones, and he wanted. Hands on Zach's skin, touching shoulders and under his arms, everywhere, mouth on him, licking and biting, kissing and fucking, close enough to breathe in and smell Zach as if he were part of him. But each step Zach took that brought him closer clarified things for Mal. Zach's pupils were black and dilated, his heart racing, and his face was pale like when Zach had come after Mal at the store. All the fear he read in Zach was overwhelming. It made him ashamed and paralyzed.

He was fucking everything up. He couldn't afford this. Zach couldn't.

Zach stopped, standing over Mal, a black shadow.

Mal looked up. "I can't do this." The words came out ragged. He licked his lips.

Zach swallowed, a dry click in his throat. "Why?"

"You know why."

"I know you're worried about me, but you're the one in danger. You can't expect me to ignore that."

"I can. I'll beg if it'll make a difference. You're the one good thing to get out of that fucking basement. You don't know what it'll do to me if you get hurt."

Light came from the streetlights behind the trees, pouring over Zach's head. He leaned over Mal, eyes glittering, chest heaving. "You're better than I could ever hope to be, dammit." He grabbed Mal's jaw in his hand, forcing his head up higher. "Don't talk like you don't matter when you know how much you matter to me. Don't ask me to go, Mal. We'll figure out how to fight them, I promise." He bent, covering Mal's mouth with his.

He was too gentle to fight. A small, surprised breath left Mal's lips, puffing into Zach's mouth. He felt Zach breath it in, tasting it, tasting him, and then Zach's tongue was pushing into Mal's mouth, sliding over his teeth and rubbing against Mal's tongue, coaxing. Zach's hand slid from his jaw to cradle the back of Mal's head. He moved in deeper, all heat and slow, pained desperation, kissing Mal gently and thoroughly.

Mal grunted, a short, bitten off sound. He felt naked, exposed in a way he couldn't remember feeling before, wanting someone so much, more of Zach's hands on him, his mouth, all of it feeling like coming home, something they were together that he'd never felt before.

Zach tipped Mal's chin back further, a defenseless posture Mal would never allow since being bitten and turned. But it was Zach. It felt so incredibly good, letting go.