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Was the online world occupied by ghosts?

Alex Austin Author Interview

End Man follows a man who hunts people pretending to be dead. On his next case, he unearths the secrets of his own phobia-plagued life and the inner workings of the company he works for. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

The idea for End Man came from an online experience. I’d been trading pages with a fellow writer. We’d been in this relationship for months, and we thought the swapping beneficial. I emailed her some new chapters and asked her to send her material. She didn’t get back to me acknowledging my new chapters or sending hers. I sent several messages, which also got no response. In her story, her main character was battling an incurable disease. Had she fictionalized her own ailment? Could she be hospitalized—or worse? I checked her Facebook and Goodreads pages, but I found nothing to explain her silence. As I reviewed more of her online haunts, I realized if she had succumbed to an illness, everything she had posted online would remain intact. She would still get likes; people would continue to comment on her posts, friend her, spam her. As if her life went on. How many internet users was this already true of? Was the online world occupied by ghosts? This seemed to be the stuff of a speculative novel. As I developed the plot, I recalled Gogol’s novel Dead Souls in which the main character figures out how to profit off of dead serfs (Gogol gets a shout-out in End Man). Now I had to come up with a contemporary (2030s) business plan to match the Russian author’s slick scam. Over many drafts,  I recognized I had to provide details sufficient to raise venture capital if I were pitching Norval Corporation in the real world. As to my missing writer, I discovered that—ironically—she was “ghosting” me, a term that came into play while I was writing the novel. To that point, yesterday, Linkedin invited me to congratulate a former colleague on his work anniversary. The man is five years dead.

Raphael Lennon is an intriguing and well-developed character. What were some driving ideas behind your character’s development?

In early drafts, I had two POV characters: Raphael Lennon and Clark Ramfree. Clark was a middle-aged former journalist who lived the good life abroad; Raphael was a 26-year-old IT worker with a lifelong phobia that made it impossible for him to leave his Los Angeles neighborhood. Clark was free, and Raphael unfree. I wanted to explore how Raphael’s phobic prison affected every aspect of his life to produce a shy, self-conscious person whose boundaries occupied him. With Clark, I wanted to see what would happen if his freedom proved illusory. Unable to weave the two character threads,  I extracted Clark from the novel, leaving Raphael alone to explore the notions of freedom and imprisonment. Raphael suffers from dromophobia, the fear of crossing streets, but he has a rare form. It’s only four streets that he can’t cross, but the four intersect to form a rectangle of about one square mile. Each of the four streets holds its own terror. Because his phobia is so unrelatable to others, he has hidden it, making far-fetched excuses why he can’t go to the beach at Malibu or the class trip to Magic Mountain. In his own eyes, he is weird, and believes others view him similarly (crank up Radiohead). Saddling Raphael with this heavy load, I lightened it a bit by making him an expert skateboarder, which provides physical exhilaration. I also gave him a love of music, which I view as transcendent. Guided by his mother, a museum curator who died young, Raphy also loves art and is a painter himself. He works on a canvas that stretches across his living room ceiling, and may be the key to his freedom. He resembles David Bowie, but his name is Raphael Winston Lennon, and there are parallels with both artists in his character. John Lennon’s mother, Julia, was killed by a car at age 44. Her death devastated Lennon, and he wrote several songs about her, reflecting his grief. In End Man, Raphael’s mother, at about the same age as Julia, dies of a horrible disease that turns her to stone; Her memory and suffering haunt Raphael. End Man is a dystopia in the making. Winston is the protagonist in Orwell’s 1984. It’s also John Lennon’s middle name. David Bowie’s favorite book? 1984. David Bowie created his last album around the theme of death.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

Our appointment with death, and our refusal to accept it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The eroding of death’s meaning. Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy; one million deaths is a statistic.” I’m not sure that one death remains a tragedy. We get numb. We can’t keep count of all the mass shootings. The extent to which our personal data is accumulated and the ends to which it is being put. What is consciousness? Can a machine (AI) become conscious? Our frames (the rectangles not found in nature): cell phones, computers, coffins.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

The publisher has asked me to write a sequel. I’ve been mulling ideas for the plot. In End Man, I set up a new pantheon of minor gods, influencers, and I’m sure they’ve been up to mischief. I’m also finishing a rewrite on a realistic novel called Blood Marriage about a young woman who escapes an arranged marriage in Pakistan. The novel has been up on Radish, but its second half is a mess. The beat goes on.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | LibraryThing

Once your life is diluted to ones and zeroes on the End Man’s desk, it’s over. Or is it?

Afflicted with dromophobia, the fear of crossing streets, 26-year-old Raphael Lennon must live out his life within the four thoroughfares that border his Los Angeles neighborhood. Luckily, he found a fulfilling job within his space as an End Man at Norval Portals where Raphael is the best possum hunter in the company. He hunts the dead who live, people hiding under the guise of death. He doesn’t want to bring these “possums” to justice but to keep them out of his firm’s necrology database so their presence doesn’t crash the whole system.

When the company founder assigns Raphael a fresh case, he sets aside all other work to investigate Jason Klaes, a maverick physicist with boundary-pushing theories that may have attracted unwanted and sinister attention. Raphael soon discovers messages sent by Klaes after his supposed death—threats to people who have subsequently died. As he digs deeper, he receives his own message from Klaes, a baffling command to pursue the truth.

As he unravels the mystery, he unearths the secrets of his own phobia-plagued life and the inner workings of Norval, whose corporate ambitions include a nightmarish spin-off of its product. Raphael must stop them or he’ll never be free and neither will anyone else.

End Man

End Man is a tech-noir thriller set in the near-future. Raphael Lennon is an End Man, someone who works for the NDMN: “Norval Department of Marketing Necrology.” These IT workers have the jolly pleasure of gathering every bit of digital data left by the recently deceased and packaging it into a marketable product. As Raphael tries to track down an elusive “possum” (someone who faked their own death) he discovers a plot that could alter the course of life, and death, as we know it. To top it all off, Raphael suffers from dromophobia, a fear of crossing streets. This leaves him trapped in a tight square mile of dystopian Los Angeles.

I really enjoyed End Man. Raphael’s day-to-day work, with its “mindfulness videos,” horrible bosses, and questionable morality, feels all too real. Future L.A. is different, but grounded, being based on the real-life area surrounding the La Brea Tar Pits. Raphael is plagued by hallucinations of deadly winds to the south, fires to the north, a glacier to the east, and chasm to the west. This gives the story a claustrophobic feel as the walls close in on the him as he delves deeper into the mystery of the possum Jason Klaes, ominous warnings, and strange murders.

While I really enjoyed this absorbing technothriller I felt that the story took a little while to get going. The mystery-thriller aspect is the meat of the story, but I felt that the book gets bogged down a bit in the beginning with the inner workings of Norval. A few characters are introduced with a handful of sentences and disappear with little consequence, while the inner workings of Raphael’s mind and his self-imposed artistic therapy are prevalent. Raphael’s character is one that I enjoyed following otherwise. The plot and his character make for a unique read that was wildly entertaining and fun.

End Man is an exciting cyberpunk novel that creates a fully realized and compelling world for a fascinating protagonist to exist in. It’s a really interesting read that is incredibly relevant to the technological and social state of the world today. This is a slick and explosive dystopian thriller that I highly recommend to science fiction fans.

Pages: 379 | ASIN: B0B649S5B9

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Demanding To Be Written About

Matty Roberts Author Interview

Child of Etherclaw follows two siblings as they investigate the mystery behind an opal necklace and its otherworldly powers, encountering danger along the way. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

Child of Etherclaw began as a short story exploring a rather radical approach to climate change mitigation—the Void Pillars. These are the massive hollow superstructures that reach into space and act as heat sinks that cool the planet. When I started to consider how they could be constructed, who (or what) could construct them, and why, that short story quickly took on a novel length. Most importantly, it turned out to also be the perfect setting for several characters that had been banging around loudly in my head for years, demanding to be written about.

Fenlee discovers her life is not as simple as she suspected as she discovers more about her family and her past. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

One of the reasons I love young adult fiction is the growth arcs of the characters. Fenlee is no exception. With her, I wanted to portray a character who could be considered “strong” but is realistically flawed, and has to overcome moments of weakness and doubt. A great deal of Fenlee’s strength comes from her friends and her family, and as fiercely independent as she wishes herself to be, she must come to terms with the fact that she needs them as much as they need her. As the story moves along, Fenlee’s motivations also change as she begins to see the true depths and darkness of the world around her. Getting knocked down repeatedly but continuing to get back up for both yourself and those around you is a real challenge, but Fenlee is up to it, despite the odds.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

Found family has always been one of my favorite themes, and one that I wanted to make central to Child of Etherclaw. There are so many different ways to explore family dynamics, but when non-biologically related characters get mushed together in an unlikely living situation, their personalities really tend to shine through in their interactions. I believe this is largely because there isn’t the expectation of the same sort of “default loyalty” we afford to those we’re related to; how we treat found family shows us who we really are. It was also important to me to ensure the feeling of hope. While this may be a dystopian novel, it’s not without positivity. I wanted to demonstrate that, no matter what the world around us looks like, we can always make it a better place, even in small ways.

What is the next book in the series going to hold for readers, and when will it be available?

The next book is currently set for release in late 2023. There are a number of things hinted at throughout Child of Etherclaw, such as certain characters’ backgrounds and mysteries around how the world got to its current state, which will be answered in the next book. A dire threat, much darker than anything in Child of Etherclaw, will also emerge, and certain characters’ roles and destinies will become clearer.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Website

The bonds of family go well beyond blood.
But can those bonds hold when the blood itself carries a devastating secret?
Fenlee’s opal necklace had always radiated a certain warmth since her mother’s death. But now, at sixteen, her world begins to unravel as the stone sparks to life, revealing itself to be an otherworldly artifact of untold power.
Between her mechatronics studies at the academy and scavenging expeditions beneath the sprawling city of New Cascadia, Fenlee and her adopted brother, Elliot, try to decipher the mysteries of her necklace and its link to events in Fenlee’s past.
But they’re not alone in their search.
Strange undercity dwellers offer cryptic warnings, drones track their movements, and deadly corporate agents lurk in the shadows. When tragedy rips Fenlee’s family apart, she must learn to use the artifact’s power to save those who are deeply precious to her. But nothing can prepare her for the dark truths that she will uncover on that journey…
“Lee,” Elliot mumbled. “I’m not who you think I am.”

Child of Etherclaw 

Humanity was on the brink of extinction, their last days upon them. That is, until the mysterious entities known as Aeons arrived and gave the humans of earth a second chance. Now, under the control of a universal conglomerate, the world begins anew. Fenlee and her brother Elliot are two poor children, who spend their days scavenging the now abandoned undercity for anything they can sell. When Fenlee has her life saved by a stranger, it sets off a chain of events that will not only change her completely but also affect the lives of those closest to her.

Child of Etherclaw by Matty Roberts is a riveting young adult, sci-fi adventure that is set in an intriguing dystopian future. The story follows Fenlee and her younger brother, Elliot, two young scavengers. One day, Fenlee has her life saved and discovers a secret about herself, her family and her future that will have her question everything she ever knew.

I enjoyed the unique and detailed world that Roberts has created in this futuristic story. The backstory feels deep and is well suited for the methodical plot that unfolds slowly and in interesting ways. This creates a fantastic foundation for what can be a fascinating series where the ideas in this novel are fleshed out and explored further.

If you are a fan of dystopian fiction then you will find yourself right at home with Matty Roberts’ cyberpunk thriller. I enjoyed the diversity in the characters and wanted to see them develop further; which is one of the reasons why I can see this being a series where the characters go through more evolution. This is a novel that thrives on its compelling plot and its ability to wield genre tropes to great effect. If this is your first foray into young adult science fiction then this novel will feel fresh and exciting.

The author has created a compelling universe for their intriguing plot to wind through. Child of Etherclaw is an engrossing post-apocalyptic story that will send readers on a spellbinding adventure.

Pages: 350 | ASIN: B09WKQPRWM

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The Interplay of Memory and Dream

Duane Poncy Author Interview

Skyrmion follows a man who enters a virtual world for the first time and navigates through dangers and dangerous relationships to find his daughter. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

The Dreaming Earth by John Brunner had a big influence on me when I read it years ago as a teenager. The idea that you could be transported to another world by a street drug seemed translatable to the realm of virtual reality. Another book that influenced me in my youth is John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle. Despite all of your doubts, in the end, you do the right thing.

Joe Larivee is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind his character’s development?

First of all, I wanted my protagonist to be an ordinary man, not a cop or an ex-military hero, or any of the common tropes in this sort of fiction. I knew he would be conflicted and a tad cynical and have regrets over a past betrayal. And the child of radical parents who have left him with a social conscience. He also loves his daughter very much and tries to do what’s best for her.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

I wanted to explore a few themes that have been important to me over the years: utopia v. dystopia, and the impossibility of either one; the role of (social) memory and dream in reproducing our everyday world; and my own indigenous roots, a theme which doesn’t show up so much in this first novel but is a major factor in the full arc of the Sweetland Quartet. Using the realm of virtual reality to address these themes, particularly the interplay of memory and dream, seemed like a natural to me.

This is book one of the Sweetland Quartet. What can readers expect in book two?

I can’t say too much without it being a spoiler for Skyrmion. But it takes place seventeen years in the future in a utopic society on the verge of invasion. It follows Jessie Larivee and her half-sister, Molly Whitedeer, as their family is torn apart by the machinations of New America Corporation.

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In the minds of those left behind, the act of crossing over to Sweetland is, literally, no different than death. But is Sweetland really a new planet, ready to accept a humanity suffering from war, economic collapse, and environmental catastrophe—or is it another kind of escape entirely?

Joe Larivee believes he has seen the other side, and now he must decide: is Sweetland real, and, if so, does he follow his daughter and lover and escape from the hell Earth has become, or does he stay and fight for the unfortunate ones he has spent his life serving, and, in the process, just maybe redeem himself for the betrayal which eats at his conscience?

Joe Larivee is an Everyman, a single father, a tireless social worker trying to help the growing legions of the poor while keeping his own head above the water, and in 2038 the water is rising fast, fed by global warming and collapse of the ice caps. America is on the verge of war and economic disaster. For the starving many, rumors of a new answer have arrived. It’s Sweetland, a newly-discovered earth-like world. And there’s a novel way to get there — through the virtual reality called New Life.

Fourteen-year-old Jessie Larivee wants to go to Sweetland. There is no future on Earth for children like her. She has been taking virtual training classes at an online university, and she is determined to emigrate, no matter the cost. But she hasn’t figured out how to tell her dad, who is a bit of a luddite. She desperately wants him to go with her, but how can she convince him?

Meanwhile, virtual private eye, Claire Deluna, has been hired to spy on a mysterious corporate upstart by it’s parent company, New Life, Inc. Now she has the big players on her tail, but is it the mob, the government, the Bolivarians, or someone else? More worrying, why are bodies of mostly poor, young people turning up everywhere? And what does it have to do with the Temple of New Life and something called Sweetland?

Public Opinion

Public Opinion’s goal is clear. Pettijohn wishes to write an expose on the seedier aspects of the Hollywood elite whilst also writing an entertaining novel. He is one hundred percent successful.

The protagonist, Melvin (or is it Herbert?) is a modern-day chameleon and con man. He claims to be an IT consultant to the Hollywood elite but in reality, he is a grifter and con-man. His specialty is acting as a go-between for blackmail, where he likes to play both sides. He is also a public opinion hit man for hire. Give him a target and he will troll anyone’s good reputation into the dirt. For enough money, he’ll get you sent straight to jail.

Despite his moral reprehensibility, Melvin is a likable protagonist, even if in any other book he would be the villain. He is charming and witty with a worldview that makes a certain amount of twisted sense. He has dirt on everyone and he’s only scamming bad people who deserve it, so what’s the harm? He is also arrogant and selfish. Totally destructive to those he claims to love. Everyone has it coming.

As Melvin’s reputation as a modern-day Mr. Fixit improves he is pulled deeper and deeper into the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. Soon he’s no longer just a petty con-man but someone who helps cover up the worst kinds of crime imaginable. Soon Melvin’s already shaky moral compass is completely lost. Maybe he’s not as good as he thinks he is.

The villains in the book are too many to count but are obviously inspired by modern-day monsters like Weinstein and Epstein. The book is an expose on the ways these powerful men stay in power and those who help them.

Public Opinion is an excellent book but it’s not for the faint of heart. It is salacious and graphic. Pettijohn pulls no punches and certain scenes may upset some readers.

I spent the entire book rooting for Melvin to succeed whilst also rooting for him to fail. He is a protagonist who appeals to our baser urges. When the ending comes, it isn’t really a surprise, but it feels well earned. Any other ending to such a story would have felt false. I enjoyed Public Opinion immensely. Pettijohn knows his stuff and makes a good guide and an even better storyteller.

Pages: 264 | ASIN : B0B1PFWP9X

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Sweetland. The mystery on everyone’s lips. When a group of teenagers are found dead in a warehouse, a mystery unfolds in the real world and the virtual world of New Life. But what is Sweetland? That’s what Joe Larivee is going to find out. Is Sweetland real or another part of New Life that Joe accesses through his citspecs? When Joe’s daughter, Jesse, goes missing, Joe must venture into New Life for the first time, create an avatar, and navigate his way through new dangers and relationships to find his daughter.

Skyrmion, by Duane Poncy, is the thrilling first book of a cyberpunk series about Earth’s future, embroiled in war and poverty. Poncy masterfully weaves the real and virtual worlds, switching between the cast of characters and their real selves and virtual avatars.

During his adventure, Joe finds himself falling for an avatar named Claire, and he wonders if his feelings are for the avatar or the actual human behind the citspecs. Hounded in the real world and in New Life by his villainous ex-wife and the FBI, Joe finds himself trying to solve the mystery of Sweetland, find his daughter, and stop a revolution that threatens to destroy Planet Earth once and for all.

Readers will enjoy the exciting mystery of Sweetland, the corporation New America, and the dying Planet Earth. Poncy’s novel is long but the author uses that length to create a story with intriguing depth and a vast array of characters, which can be confusing since some characters have two names—one real name and one avatar name. Science fiction fans will enjoy this immersive novel and be able to relate to the characters’ real-world struggles and aspirations.

Skyrmion is a riveting technothriller with a unique voice and something to say. Readers who enjoy well constructed worlds and thought provoking sci-fi ideas will have plenty to enjoy in this novel. I enjoyed how this story created a space where the virtual world and the real world become indistinguishable.

Pages: 412 | ASIN: B09YN7MS6Q

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Into A Possible Future

Denna Holm Author Interview

Silvano’s Redemption follows an Earth woman and a cyborg as they fight for the freedom of cyborgs while finding romance between them. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

I’ve always been fascinated by the thought of cyborgs. Would they still be considered human or not? How much of their bodies would have to be replaced before they aren’t considered human? For this story, I wanted to send women from our time into a possible future where cyborgs exist. I wanted them to see how far the human race had fallen. I also wanted to touch on who should be blamed when we are dealing with evil people in charge of society. Silvano and the other cyborgs hate all humans when this story begins. They have been severely abused, but they slowly come to realize through Tessa and the other women that not all humans are evil. Is there a point where Silvano can learn to let go of past abuse? If he can’t, then he might be missing out on a brighter future with Tessa. Life can be difficult, but I wanted to bring across that there is always hope for a better tomorrow.

Did you create an outline for the characters in the story before you started writing or did the characters personalities grow organically as you were writing?

I’m not very good at outlining. I know where I want my story to start, and I know where I want it to end. I basically follow where my characters want to take me in the middle. They rarely let me down.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

….Listening with an open mind rather than be judgmental. Forgiveness, redemption, courage, love, perseverance.

What can you tell readers about the next book in the series and when will it be available?

“Saving Mathis” is available for pre-order now. It will be released on May 10th. Questions concerning Tessa’s sister Tara will be answered in this book. We will also be given a hint as to where these cyborgs, the women, and their children are headed for. The full story will be slowly revealed throughout the series.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Silvano is Commander of the Cyborg ship Freedom. He feels responsible for his Cyborg crew and has spent the past century trying to keep them free of the Human Alliance. Humans represent everything Cyborgs hate, a plague upon the universe, destroying everything in their path. Before they fought for their freedom, Cyborgs were considered little more than expendable slaves.

Tessa and her twin sister Tara are abducted from Earth by aliens that resemble man-sized lizards to be used for breeding. They are rescued from the lizards by these strange, emotionless beings who claim to be Cyborgs. Tessa isn’t sure what to think about the stern commander but can’t deny she finds him as attractive as she does terrifying.

Things heat up between Tessa and Silvano when he is forced to use her to lead a traitor Cyborg away from his ship.
**Standalone Story. No Cliffhangers.**
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