A Star Has Died – Brand new short story

A little while ago I was approached to write a short story for an anthology called “Side Quests”. It was a cool concept, with all the contributing authors writing stories featuring characters from their existing series. I thought it was a great opportunity to write a Silhouette story. Silhouette, from The Alex Caine Series, is a character I love to write, and I get loads of feedback from people saying how much they like her. I want to write more of her story, and will hopefully get around to that, but in the meantime, there’s this one.

Sadly, “Side Quests” fell through, but the story is still there. So I’ve published it on my Curious Fictions page here. This is a brand new, previously unpublished short story. I could have gone through the usual submissions process and seen if a magazine wanted to buy it, but the original anthology paid a small kill fee and it’s a bit of a niche yarn. While it certainly stands alone and will make sense whether you’ve read Alex Caine or not, it’s also part of that larger universe, so it seems fair to publish it for free. Of course, if you do enjoy it and feel like tossing a coin to the writer, you can either subscribe to my Curious Fictions page, or shout me a virtual coffee here.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it! Please do spread the link around and it’ll hopefully entertain lots of readers. Stay safe, everyone.

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Free stories at Curious Fictions

There are three free stories on my Curious Fictions page right now – Australian post-apocalypse, horror sf, and ocean horror. Everything else there is $1 each read (or it’s all free for subscribers). I’ll post more soon. Find it here: https://curiousfictions.com/authors/450-alan-baxter

Of course, if you really enjoy the free stuff and you think, DAMN, I need to pay for that! you can always shout me a coffee* here: https://ko-fi.com/alanbaxter Or just spread the word. In the long run, it’s all about readers.

*whisky

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A strange thing happened at class tonight.

I told a little creepypasta tale on Twitter last night, and it’s proven pretty popular. I’m posting it here for posterity. It all started with this tweet:

You can click though there are read the yarn as I unfolded it on Twitter, or here it is below, still in the bite-size Twitter format:

 

You guys know I’m also a martial arts instructor, huh. I’ve been running my classes online during this pandemic. But something weird has happened.

I go into the studio because I don’t have the space or the bandwidth to run the classes at home. But I’m alone in there, so distancing is no problem.

I was teaching tonight, watching my students in all the little screens tiled across my laptop. I get them to keep their mics off to avoid noisy confusion.

They tap on the mic if they have a question, but otherwise I demonstrate, they follow. Then I count them through and watch them to give feedback. It works okay.

One of the tiles is me, of course. I can keep an eye on my position in the room, make sure everyone can see all of me, and so on.

There’s always a bit of lag, of course. Sometimes I’m counting and my students are a second or two behind. But it’s easy enough to manage.

Sometimes even my own image that I’m keeping an eye on lags or stutters. Or I do a Nightcrawler and teleport a few steps with no movement in between. But this time it was different.

I noticed myself in the top left tile moving out of sync. I waited a moment for it to catch up, but I kept going.

I started doing techniques I hadn’t got to yet.

As I watched, dumbfounded, me on the screen carried on with the class while I stood still in shock. I watched my students following him.

“Hey!” I said. “Everyone wait a minute!”

Everyone paused and I had a moment of relief, but then realized the me on screen was still moving. His mouth, at least, as he explained something. Some martial theory, no doubt.

“Can anyone hear me?” I said, my voice a little wavery now. The me on screen gestured, laughed. A moment later my students laughed too. All in silence. I couldn’t even hear the wrong me.

I yelled again, tried tapping up the chat and typed WHAT’S HAPPENING?

No response.

The class carried on, the wrong me leading them through drills again. He… I was teaching the stuff I’d planned for this class. But I wasn’t doing it!

I tried hanging up the meeting, ending the session, in a panic to just make it stop, but my laptop was unresponsive.

I sat on the floor, sweat drying on my skin, watching in horror as the class went on.

Then everyone was bowing out, waving. Some tapped their mics on, said “Thanks, Sifu!” and “See you next time!”

The wrong me said goodbye, smiled and waved, but I couldn’t hear him.

When all the students had logged out, the wrong me leaned right up to the camera, his face… my face too close and out of focus as he tapped at the keyboard or something. Then the whole screen went black.

I couldn’t understand what the hell was happening. I couldn’t shut down my laptop, so I just closed it and put it in my bag.

Then I realised all the space behind it was kinda dark. I can’t see the back of the studio, the darkness starts before that. I can’t see the door.

One end of the studio, that my laptop camera could see, where I was training, that’s fine. Normal. There’s an emergency exit in one corner there, but it’s jammed. I can’t open it.

The other side of where my laptop sat is just a sort of deep shadow. Like there’s absolutely nothing there.

I’m trapped inside the box of what my camera saw. There’s nothing else.

If I press my ear to the wall, to the emergency exit door, I can’t hear anything. Not a single sound.

No cars, nothing. I know we’re all staying in, but there are still some people driving around. Like me, having to work from somewhere other than home. Or out for food.

But there’s nothing. No sound but my breathing.

There’s not even an end to my studio. Just darkness. And the dark is cold.

I can’t get closer than a metre or so from it before the chill is so icy it drives me back.

I don’t know what to do. Do I rush into the frozen dark, take my chances I’ll break through?

I don’t even know if these tweets are getting out. Is anyone reading?

Hello?

HELLO!?

*****
I hope you enjoyed that. If you did, check out any of my books for more horror and fantasy fun. See the menu at the top of the page.
Or you can shout me a coffee here: https://ko-fi.com/alanbaxter
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New story excerpt on my ko-fi page

In an attempt to diversify both my income streams and where my content goes, I’ve now got a ko-fi page. It’s like a tip jar really, where you can chip in and buy me a virtual coffee if you like. At some point I may start adding some subscriber-only content, but for now everything is available to everyone. And I’ve just added an excerpt from a new short story I have coming out soon. The excerpt and details are here:

And if you do fancy shouting me a coffee, thank you! If not, no worries and I hope you enjoy the excerpt.
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New release – Jake Crowley 0 out now!

David Wood and I had been working on a new Jake Crowley book, called SANCTUM. This is effectively Jake Crowley 0, taking place before the events in BLOOD CODEX. You can read it any time, but it’s also a great way to start the series if you haven’t yet. It’s a novella, but a fairly big one, about half the size of a full-length Crowley novel. We were planning to release it later this year, but with everything going on in the world right now, we decided to boost it up the schedule and put it out right away. So it’s out now! Here’s some details:

A quiet English village harbors a dark secret.

Trying to escape his past, veteran Jake Crowley takes a teaching position in the village of Market Scarston. But his slow rehabilitation is interrupted when a group of students are apparently attacked by Black Shuck, the legendary demon dog, and Crowley attracts the attention of a secret society dating back to the days of the Roman Empire.

See how it all began for Jake Crowley and Rose Black in this prequel novella, SANCTUM.

Here’s a page all about it with all the links you might need. If any links are dead, they’ll be updated as and when the book propagates out through the system. If you haven’t given the Jake Crowley books a go yet, this is a prime starting point. They’re a little bit different to my solo stuff, more action/adventure fare. If you do give it a go, thank you! And please pass on the details to anyone you think might like it.

Vale Gertrude Mary Baxter 21/6/1915 to 12/3/2020

My 104yo grandma died on the 12th March. We were supposed to go to the UK for a visit, leaving on April 2nd. Obviously we’re not going now, thanks to COVID-19, and she didn’t make it anyway. But also due to COVID-19, her funeral will have no one there but the celebrant. She’ll be buried without ceremony. Which is so fucked up. Man, this virus is taking so much in so many different ways. There’ll be a booklet produced and sent to everyone who should have been there, and then a celebratory event at some future point. Maybe I can make it to that, who knows. I wrote a piece for the booklet, which I’ll share below. She probably wouldn’t mind, she always said she never liked to make a fuss. But I’m putting all this here to at least make some kind of permanent record of the event in these dark times.

This is the last time I saw her was on her 100th birthday, with my son (1 and 1/2 at the time), in 2015.

Here’s the last photo I have of her.

Here’s what I wrote for my grandma’s memorial booklet:

Trudy wasn’t my blood grandmother, but she was the only grandmother I ever knew on my dad’s side of the family. Some of my earliest and strongest memories are of going to visit her and Ernie, my Grandad, at their house on Ridgeway Drive in Bromley. To me, Trudy will always be the warm and welcoming grandmother in her kitchen, wearing an apron, making snacks and meals. She would always serve prawns when we went to visit because she knew how much we loved them, but couldn’t afford them. Even later, when things weren’t so tight, we’d always get prawns at their house.

I remember Ollie the black cat, who seemed to live forever. When I was little, Trudy would always admonish me, “Be gentle with Ollie, he’s an old cat.” Many years later, she’d say the same thing, “Be gentle, he’s an old cat!” Seems like Ollie was always old, but he went on forever. I thought he was immortal. When he finally died, I had trouble processing it, because he’d always been there.

I’ve felt the same way about Trudy for some time now. She was old when I first knew her in the 1970s. Of course, she wasn’t that old then, but to a little kid, anything over 40 is ancient. To me, Trudy has always been old, but she’s always been there. Always so proud and regal, tall and strong, well-dressed, even with an apron on top. Practical and pragmatic, reliable and welcoming. There was a calm strength about Trudy, an unshakeableness that was truly admirable. I thought she would be around forever. But like Ollie, that was obviously not to be.

Writing this now is so hard, because it’s finally saying goodbye. I’ve been saying goodbye to Trudy for more than 20 years. When I moved to Australia and she was nearly 80. It felt like every time I visited England would be the last time I saw her. We’d hug and say goodbye, then a couple of years later I’d visit again and she’d still be there. Still the same as ever.

Even as her body failed, it was always Trudy in there, proud and wonderful. At first I’d say, “Maybe see you next time” and she’d reply, “I doubt it, we’ll see.” And we’d say goodbye. It became something of a joke. Eventually, when it was time to leave again, I’d say, “Goodbye then” and we’d hug. She’d say, “Goodbye, dear. God bless.” And we’d both have a half-smile, wondering if maybe there’d be one more, but we never mentioned it again. We said goodbye each time assuming it was the last.

Now there are no more goodbyes. This is the last time. Few people live as long a life as Trudy, and few live a life as amazing, and interesting, with as much love around them. I wish I could have been closer, in the last few years especially. I wish I could be there now, I feel very far away. The world is a strange and unpredictable place, which only makes the stoic, reliable, loving people like Trudy all the more valuable, all the more important.

There’s a Trudy-shaped hole in the world that will never be filled, but we’ll never forget her.

Goodbye, Grandma. For real this time.

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This is the house in Bromley I refer to above. Always a special place in my heart. At some point, when all this madness is over, we’ll make that trip to the UK and I’ll visit her grave, and make a pilgrimage back here with my family. We’ll do our best to celebrate her then.

Being this author during the COVID-19 pandemic

There’s a curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” These are certainly interesting times and it does feel like we’re living under a mass curse. The speed of disruption has been breathtaking. And I find myself in a double whammy situation. My two primary forms of income are being an author and being a kung fu instructor. Realistically, the bigger portion of my income usually comes via my kung fu school, and that’s been indefinitely shut down. I’m looking at a long period of little or no income beyond sporadic royalties (which are not that much, sadly, I’m no bestseller), and that is pretty terrifying.

With regard to the kung fu school, we’re looking into the possibility of running our classes streamed online to at least claw back some of that revenue, as well as providing our students with a version of normal life they can enjoy while in isolation.

Meanwhile, several income streams from my author livelihood have also been disrupted – all future events where I can hand sell books or get paid to speak or run a workshop are all cancelled or indefinitely postponed. To say things are truly fucked right now is an understatement. But, like everyone, I will persevere and there are others far worse off than me. We’ll get through this, and hopefully it’ll be as short-lived as possible before life starts to return to something resembling normal. Although, this feels like a world-changing event. Normal will have a new coat on at least after all this, if not be irrevocably altered. And that might not be a bad thing.

In the meantime, I exhort you to please support the arts and freelancers in whatever way you are able. This includes me, of course. We need the arts – especially in times of strife, we turn to them for comfort. The books you read, the shows you watch, the music you listen to, it’s all made by artists scraping by. Now we’re all scraping deeper than ever. For me personally, if you’re keen to help out, here are some things you can do:

– Buy my books, in whatever format from whatever store you favour. Supporting indie bookstores at this time is also more valuable than ever.

– Request my books at your local library, to help me sell more copies and reach more readers.

– Talk about my stuff online and wherever you can, again to help me sell more and reach more readers.

– I have a Ko-fi page, where you can buy me a virtual coffee (probably whisky, actually), if you simply want to offer some financial support.

– And this one is only for the Aussies (sorry overseas folks, international postage costs are just insane) – I have the books in the picture below here at home and I can send out signed copies anywhere in Australia. One book is AU$30 including postage, two or more books are AU$20 each plus AU$15 postage (so two books would be AU$55, three books would be AU$75, etc.) I have plenty of copies of most of them, but it’s first come, first served. To buy these, please PayPal the right amount to [email protected] and make sure you mention in the comment section which books you want, who I should sign them to, and ensure your postal address is up to date. Available books are The Alex Caine Trilogy (Bound, Obsidian, and Abduction), Hidden City, Devouring Dark, Served Cold, and Manifest Recall. (Image updated, thank you so much for the support, everyone!)

Thank you so much for anything you can do, and I hope you all come through this entire period of interesting times healthy in body and mind. It’s a trial, that’s for sure. It’s okay to not be okay – honestly, I’m struggling right now, but I’m focussing on the things I can control. It’s not much, but it helps. Above all, let’s all do our best to be kind. Let’s listen to scientists, not politicians. Big love to all.

Eli Carver returns in RECALL NIGHT

I’m so excited to have signed on with Grey Matter Press once more, with the sequel to 2018’s novella, Manifest Recall. The sequel is called Recall Night and it’s the second in what we’re now planning to be an ongoing series of supernatural thriller novellas featuring haunted protagonist hardman, Eli Carver. Here’s the official press release:

Alan Baxter Expands his ‘Eli Carver’ Supernatural Thriller Franchise with Recall Night

CHICAGO, March 10, 2020 — His name is Eli Carver, and he’s not a good man as supernatural thriller fans learned in last year’s breakout novella Manifest Recall by award-winning author Alan Baxter.

Eli Carver, a mob hitman haunted by a checkered past, returns in Baxter’s next installment in his second fiction franchise when book two of the Eli Carver supernatural series, Recall Night, is released this summer by Chicago-based independent publisher Grey Matter Press (GMP).

In 2018, Baxter’s successful Manifest Recall struck a thunderous chord with readers who demanded more Carver, the anti-hero who captured the imagination of fans in the original genre-busting thrill ride of horror, noir and southern gothic. Expanding on the themes introduced in the first chapter, Carver returns from self-imposed exile in Recall Night to find himself embroiled in dangerous intrigue as he navigates the mystical world of ancient religion and deadly occult practices.

“I knew there was more to Eli’s story,” said Baxter, the critically acclaimed author of several novels, including the popular Alex Caine dark fantasy series, short story collections Served Cold and Crow Shine, and more than eighty works of short fiction published in venues worldwide. “When people kept asking for more after Manifest Recall, I was excited to revisit the character. I’m so pleased Grey Matter Press is along for the ride.”

With two chapters of the Eli Carver saga complete, Baxter intends to expand upon the character in additional chapters of this rapid-fire supernatural thriller series.

Final cover artwork for Recall Night will be revealed by the publisher in the upcoming weeks.

When Recall Night is released this summer, the title will be available from Grey Matter Press in both trade paperback and common ebook formats at booksellers worldwide.

Golden Fortune, Dragon Jade out soon!

My next venture in self-publishing is officially released on March 3rd. Golden Fortune, Dragon Jade is a kind of re-release. I’d always wanted to write something in the vein of the great wuxia (martial heroes) kung fu epics I’ve loved so much my whole life. I’ve been a career martial artist for four decades, so kung fu has been an integral part of me for pretty much forever. But I’m a horror and dark fantasy writer for the most part, and had never got around finding a good story to scratch that wuxia itch. Then, back in 2016, Lindy Cameron of Clan Destine Press asked me to write a story for her new anthology. She wanted big stories, full of epic adventure, with fantasy or science fiction cores. But the story also needed to be a bit more family-friendly than my usual fare. And it needed an Australian connection. This is what came of that request.

The two protagonists in this yarn are cousins – he a Shaolin monk, her an accomplished geomancer. The Shaolin monk, Yong Fa, shares his first name with my Sifu, my kung fu teacher, in a subtle homage to him, and the character shows some of my teacher’s irreverence and cheekiness, but is otherwise an entirely made up person. The character certainly is not based on my Sifu. The geomancer, Zi Yi, is altogether more serious and focussed, but an accomplished mage in her own right. Together their skills are complementary and that’s just as well when they realise the scale of their task, the distance they have to go to track down their missing jade dragon, and the kind of unforgiving country they’ll be led to.

I’d had a nebulous idea for this Chinese-inspired fantasy story in mind for ages, with Shaolin martial arts and spirit magic, travel and adventure, but never quite had the framework to make it sing. Then the request for the story from Clan Destine Press said it needed an Australian connection of some kind, and I realised that setting this Chinese fantasy towards end of the Aussie gold rush would be perfect. It made the original idea better, and I was able to give a historical nod to my adopted country. It all catalysed into what I hope is an exciting novella.

You should check out the two volumes of And Then..? from Clan Destine Press, but as this is a story that’s unlikely to ever find its way into one of my collections, I thought it would be a good idea to release it on its own as a chapbook. And as I have more room to spare now, this is a slightly expanded and embellished version compared to the one originally published. I got to add a few flourishes I had to cut out before.

It was a hell of a lot of fun to write, and I hope people have at least as much fun reading it.

Here’s the blurb:

The Jade Dragon protected Long-En for centuries – until it was taken.

When the Jade Dragon is stolen from the temple in the quiet village of Long-En, the locals are stunned. The very idea of such a theft is unimaginable. And without the protection of the powerful icon, what awful fate might befall the peaceful hamlet?

Two young cousins, Li Yong Fa, a martial monk recently returned from years of training at the Shaolin Temple, and Li Zi Yi, a potent geomancer, team up to track down the thief, recover the priceless statue, and return it safely to Long-En. Little do they know how far afield they will be taken, and what dangers they will face in strange and inhospitable lands, before they even get close to their goal.

You can pre-order the ebook now and the paperback will be up for pre-order any day now. The book is out on March 3rd, so not long to wait. I hope you’ll give it a go. All the details and links are here.

 

Ditmar Awards open for nominations.

The Ditmar Awards are open for nominations. Any creator or fan can nominate for these awards. My eligible works are:
 
Best Collected Work:

Served Cold by Alan Baxter, Grey Matter Press.

 
Best Novella or Novelette:
 
“Yellowheart”, Alan Baxter, in Served Cold, Grey Matter Press.
 
Best Short Story:
 
“Exquisite”, Alan Baxter, in Served Cold, Grey Matter Press.
“The Ocean Hushed the Stones”, Alan Baxter, in Served Cold, Grey Matter Press.
“The Throat”, Alan Baxter, in SNAFU: Last Stand, Cohesion Press.
 
Be sure to nominate all the work you’ve enjoyed last year – the more people involved and the more nominations cast, the better the awards reflect the strength and variety of our genre. The rules for the awards are here: https://wiki.sf.org.au/Ditmar_rules

The eligibility list is here: https://wiki.sf.org.au/2020_Ditmar_eligibility_list

And you can nominate easily online using this form: https://ditmars.sf.org.au/2020/nominations.html
Have at it, folks!