It was the howling that first alerted me. I heard the sound of howling and peered out of the kitchen window. The dog was in the ivy, pacing and howling near my neighbor's side door. I did not see a human companion. Just the dog, bounding around and howling. Clearly something was wrong. I went out my front door and crossed to my neighbor's yard. The dog looked dubious. "Hey boy. What's wrong?" The dog bounded past me and returned, tilting its head quizzically. The side door of my neighbor's house was open. Not good. I approached and called out "Mike? Robin? You there?" No response. The dog came and went always just out of arms reach. "Good boy." I nudged the door open a bit farther with my foot. "Anyone home?" And then I saw the blood on the floor...
This thriller intro was written by my neighbor, Steven Jones. It isn’t the opening of a book, a short story or flash fiction—it isn’t even fiction. It is from an email he sent describing what happened on Wednesday. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
For those of you keeping track, this last Wednesday was the official release of Rise of Empire, the second in the Orbit Riyria trilogy, and Robin and I were in New York. While there, maybe it was the season, or the fact we took a train, but I kept hearing lines from It’s a Wonderful Life, most notably:
You wouldn't mind living in the nicest house in town, buying your wife a lot of fine clothes, a couple of business trips to New York a year, maybe once in a while Europe. You wouldn't mind that, would you, George?
New York is a giant movie set. You see scenes, or what might have been settings for films and shows everywhere you look, everything from thirties gangster films to present day romantic comedies. The city appears to be conscious of this and the stores, coffee shops, and bars play music from the forties that fit just as well with your classic holiday movie as it does with the more modern Nora Ephron film.
After a day of walking down Fifth Avenue and ogling the Christmas window displays of the major stores—Macy’s wins hands down—we met with my agent in a swank hotel bar. Everything in New York is dark inside. Every bar and restaurant I’ve been in makes me wish I brought a flashlight, and yet outside due to the electronic billboards, its bright as day. We had drinks, chatted about the release that was only hours away, if there was any news on the movie or video game frontier, and I signed contracts for the Japanese version of the Riyria Revelations.
It all felt kind of dream-like. I suppose Manhattan can do that. You’re either walking around in a dream or a nightmare depending on your circumstance. I never bought into the vision of life as an author. I never fantasized about the lifestyle. I think there are some aspiring writers who—that’s all they think of—and maybe a few accomplished novelists actually live in that world. I personally never believed it was real and I certainly never thought I would have the chance to taste it. This idea of being wined and dined by agents and publishers as if you were famous, is the stuff of movies and mystery/detective television shows. First, I didn’t think it really existed, and second, I’m not a big name author—I’m barely an author at all. But there I was with my wife in this world of glamour, one book out and the second about to hit. In this episode of Living the Dream, the part of "rising star" will be played by Michael Sullivan. I didn’t walk around in a daze, but every once in a while it would sneak up and thwack me on the head.
Look at you all spiffafied! Walking around Manhattan like you have a right to be here. It felt like catching a perfect snowflake. Beautiful, but you know the moment it hits your glove, the moment you have the opportunity to really see the beauty, it will melt. I didn’t want to get attached to something that was fleeting.
The next morning I was up early because a newspaper reporter was desperate to interview me before her deadline. So I sat in my tiny New York hotel room, feet up on the modern art table looking out the window at the myriad of architectural styles as I recounted my life story to Lois Lane. Yes, it’s true, I crashed to Earth in Smallville, Kansas… I sipped my Starbuck’s mocha watching as people entered their offices across the street and watered their plants, the sun glinting off a Petticoat Junction style water tank while in the background it did the same with the gold-leaf covered pinnacle of a skyscraper . This was all too weird.
We did some Christmas shopping, and couldn’t help stopping in every bookstore to sign their copies of Theft and Rise. Store clerks can get surprisingly excited, even if they don’t know who you are. It was nice to see the books on the shelves and gracing the New and Noteworthy tables.
Later that day we met my publisher—my editor Devi, and marketing and publicity director Alex—for lunch near Grand Central Station. Turns out Theft of Swords already sold out its first print run, as has Rise of Empire. A second print run is underway. Also Theft and Rise were number one and three on Hottest New Release in historical fantasy both in book and ebook. This had everyone at the table smiling and made for a very nice lunch.
The one hair under the iPhone protector in all this, (fly in the ointment—seems dated so I thought I’d modernize the adage,) was an email that came in from my neighbor.
You see my wife and I have a dog. He’s an American Foxhound mix. We got him from the local pound three years ago. Hounds like packs and he hates to be alone. He’s also learned how to open the front door. Even though my daughters and son were home they were at work and school, that morning and Tobi did his magic trick. Unfortunately for him, his door opening Houdini cut his paw and he proceeded to smear blood all over the inside of the door and on the floor before getting out, looping around the neighborhood and howling. Apparently he figured we’d hear him in New York. Oddly enough, he was right.
I received an email from my neighbor who, as you might be able to tell from the opening paragraph of this post, was a bit concerned that he should call the police. After speaking to me on the phone, Steve was kind enough to coax Tobi back in the house and lock it up, and I am extremely grateful for his help. It’s wonderful and reassuring to have a neighbor like that. I haven’t always.
So thanks Steve, thanks Teri, thanks Devi and Alex, and thanks to everyone who bought a copy of Theft and Rise. The snowflake on my glove might not last long, but you all contribute to make it awfully pretty.