Zero Sum and The Persistence Game

Fiction is hard. It’s not neurosurgery-hard or engineer-hard or even bricklayer-hard, but it is far more difficult than most aspiring writers are able to handle.

Some people have a natural gift for spinning yarns, and that is the limit of what ‘talent’ actually provides when you decide to write a book, and even yarn-spinning isn’t enough. Novels have a structure which must either be observed or subverted, plot decided by character arcs which must continually cycle outward in scope and complexity and then circle back into a single point of distillation, and a world (or worlds) which does the same thing.  It’s like a massive jigsaw made up of blank pieces that you have to draw on as you fit them together.

As I worked through Cold Cell, I realized that there was a lot of material missing. Once I’d gotten over the first third of the book and Alexi still wasn’t in prison, it became blindingly obvious that there needed to be a whole other book between the events of Stained Glass and the events of Cold Cell. This is how Zero Sum was born. Cold Cell now naturally slots into the position for Book 4. Phew.

Zero Sum is over half-way done now, through I don’t want to give too much away before the official release post in March. All I can says is… Angkor. Cool magic. Gift Horses. Lots of cat-vs-Morphorde action.

And a harbinger.

Rain began to pelt the windshield when we pulled out onto the road, blurring out the surrounding street as we crept through the bumper-to-bumper lower Manhattan traffic.

“Ayashe can tap the right shoulders and follow that up in the Bureau. I’ll set Talya on it, as well. Girl’s some kind of computer genius.” Jenner’s voice was glutinous. She sniffled loudly, and both I and Angkor twitched. I was about to offer her a tissue when I noticed the edge of a rotten-meat stench cycling into the cabin.

The ambient light outside dropped, sharply. An awful  ripple of energy washed over me in a crawling wave and the water being sluiced away by the windshield wipers turned pink… then crimson.

“What in the fuck?” Jenner eased on the brakes as our view of the road disappeared under a greasy layer of blood and shredded flesh. Screams of horror pealed from all directions. Binah was inconsolable. A  heavy thump struck the roof of the car, and she spat and struck at my hands when I tried to hold her to my chest. She struggled free to the floor of the car and slithered under the front passenger seat to hide.

Traffic froze as mobs of panicked, blood-soaked pedestrians surged between the cars, running into each other, slipping and falling on the suddenly treacherous ground. An older woman in a blue pantsuit was bowled over and fell to hands and knees, screaming as she was drenched in the same rich, gruesome scarlet that was now pounding down in sheets over everyone and everything.”

Next post will be a cover and blurb release, shortly followed by a pre-order!

If you want to jump the queue and see the Zero Sum cover now, join us here on The Book of Face.


The State of Affairs

Let’s face it: shit’s fucked. I foresee a future where the creation of art may be suspended while I’m spending more time away from my keyboard. Until then, I’m balls out on the third and fourth book in the Hound of Eden series.

Speaking of shit that fucked up, I realized as I was drafting Cold Cell, the proposed third book in the series, that there was another whole novel’s worth of information and story that it requires. I realized this after I’d written about 60,000 words and hadn’t yet reached the meaty part of the story in CC. Thus, Cold Cell has been bumped to Book 4 in the series, and the third novel, Zero Sum, is currently slated to be finished by March 2017 and published before April. I will, however, have to create a new cover.

Angkor and the Twin Tigers cat shapeshifters continue to feature heavily in Zero Sum, in which we learn more about the Templum Voctus Sol and the Vigiles Magicarum.


How to load a free ebook to your Kindle or computer

Some people don’t know how to get a free book (Like Burn Artist) to their Kindle or device, so here’s some tutorials I wrote to help you get reading quickly. These methods work with any book, not just mine.

How to get the book onto Kindle via USB:

  • Save the Burn Artist .mobi file to your computer.
  • Plug in your Kindle device with the USB charge cord.
  • Open up the ‘Documents’ folder on your Kindle.
  • Drag and drop (or cut and paste) the Burn Artist file into ‘Documents’
  • Disconnect your Kindle: the book should be in your library!

Kindle for PC:

Download the book. If you have Kindle for PC installed, you should be able to double-click the file and it will open in the Kindle Program automatically.

If the book doesn’t open with a doubleclick, cut and paste the .mobi file into the ‘My Kindle Content’ folder in your ‘My Documents’.


How to get the book on your Kindle or Ereader via email:

If you have a Kindle device (Paperwhite, Voyager, etc), you can send the book to your Kindle by email. To do this, all you need is your Kindle’s email address and to change a couple of settings.

To find this email address, visit using your PC’s web browser.  You will arrive on a page with three options: ‘Your Content’, ‘Your Devices’ and ‘Settings’.

Click on ‘Your Devices’ and select your Kindle or Ereader. Underneath the selected icon, you will see information about your Kindle, including the email address. It usually looks like: <Amazon username>

Now go back up, and click ‘Settings’ and scroll all the way down to the “Approved Personal Document E-mail List.” Click “add a new approved e-mail address,” and add the email address you intend to send your books from.

Remember, your Kindle needs to be attached to a Wi-Fi or 3G network for this to work. It doesn’t have to be your home network, of course; you can go to a coffee shop or a public library, for instance.

Send the Burn Artist .mobi file to your Kindle email address with no message or subject, and voila – you will be able to read the book on your Kindle! Once you’ve set this up, you can do this with any book, not just mine.


How to read a free book on your PC without Kindle:

To read the .epub file, download the free Adobe Digital Editions program here:

Once this is installed, you should be able to double-click your new .epub file and read it in your fancy new e-reader 🙂

Cold Cell: Work In Progress

My escort walked me down to the third level, a narrow hallway faced with cells with red painted bars, the same color as my new coveralls. They stretched off into the gloom of the dimmed lights… a corridor that sounded and smelled like a zoo now that everyone had just come in back from dinner. It was warm in here, and humid with the smell of an old men’s locker room. The ventilation fans did little to remove the scent of cheap bodyspray, sweat, and old toilets.

We were catcalled on the way past my new neighbors. Someone was pacing like a tiger in the darkest part of their cell, stalking from end to end. Another man was smoking, and didn’t even bother hiding it as the three of us marched past. Some men were hidden in the stark shadows cast by the single bulb light outside their cell. Another lunged at his bars with a bestial snarl, and then laughed as he reeled away. Everyone was two to a cell – sometimes three. There wasn’t enough space on Red Row. I could guess that the bunk I was to occupy was one of the ones I’d emptied after Red Dog had come at me in the bathroom.

“Hey! I told housekeeping that I didn’t want the turndown!” A man’s voice called out from the cell, deep, with an accent I pinned somewhere between Minnesota and Canada. “Did you bring me the little chocolate at least, ’cause-”

“Shut your fucking mouth!” My escort snarled back at him, racking my door across. “You! Get in there!”

He didn’t have to tell me twice. I started forward, only to be arrested when the man inside spoke again. “Yeah! Get in there! You can do it! You’re the man now, dawg!”

The guard holding me shifted nervously on his feet as the other one stalked into the cell, hand on his belt. “Do you want my stick up your ass, fuckhole?”

“Oh no sir, anything but the stick!” My celly pitched his voice high and squeaky. “We hates the stick, don’ts we precious?”

“Why you fucking piece of-” From inside, the other man laughed, a sound that fell back further into the cell as the guard lay into him.

“Ooh yes, officer! Harder! Harder!” He called out, still laughing. “Gimme that Federal bureaucracy, man! All over my face!”

“Will you shut the fuck up!?” The nightstick bounced off something metallic.

“Come on baby, bruise me up! Yeah, that’s it! Woo! I’m going to the one dollar bin! The fruit bin! Like one of those bruised up bananas that’s seen WAY too much heroin!”

“Yeah, man! Go score us that infirmary canteen!” Someone down the row shouted up.

“It’s mine! All mine! Get your own fucking crossword puzzle!” Even under assault, my next door neighbor sounded like he was having the time of his life.

As he realized that the beating wasn’t going to get him anywhere, the guard stalked back out and slammed the door across, swearing like a Navy shoreman. The far less enthused officer nudged me forward, and I got my first look at my new roommate as he rolled himself back up to his ass, still wheezing with mirth.

He was huge: a good three hundred pounds of raw beef, none of it fat. He was seated with his feet wide apart, elbows resting on his knees, his back to the white porcelain sink. His shoulders were level with the rim. I’d known some big men in my time and rarely felt small around them. Short as I am, I was burly, built for weightlifting and shotput and showjumping. Tall, cut men like Zane didn’t faze me, but this man wasn’t just tall. My new cellmate was built like a pro-wrestler. He could have body-doubled for the Hulk.

He had a fading outdoorsman’s tan, but it was the geometric blue ink tattoos that lay across his bald scalp, bull neck, and heavy shoulders that distinguished him from just another skinhead bruiser in this place. They were not anything like the mishmash of gang symbols and trashy flash that passed for tattoos in prison. Care and planning had gone into them, and it was the tattoos that flipped the switch of intuition. I hesitated as deja-vu hit me like a baton to the gut, but I couldn’t recall a name, or a place where we’d met before. Just a shadow of a memory, a patterning… like the ghost of something we’d once done together, over and over again. In light of Kutkha’s frank discussion of my other lives, past and present, the recall was accompanied by a nagging sense of being in terrible danger.

“Stop gawking and get in, asshole.” The guard jabbed me in the back. With motions that were already becoming rote, I crossed the threshold and turned, the back of my neck crawling as I held out my wrists to be un-cuffed.

“Mmmm, now that’s what I’m talking about.” The big man chuckled behind me. “That is one hell of a mint. White virgin chocolate… Fair trade and shade grown.”

The guard glanced over my shoulder with something that might have been momentary concern, at least about the liability of locking someone of my size in with the likes of The Hulk… but it didn’t stop him from racking the door closed, locking it, and walking away to join his coworker.

I drew a deep breath and turned around. “Let me guess. You recognize me from somewhere.”

“I’m writing home to-” When I turned back around to face him, the seated man’s voice fell off, even before I began to speak. “That depends. How many pornos have you starred in?”

I flushed before he could find my composure, jaws clenched. “Exactly zero, thank you very much.”

“Listen to you. ‘I’ll have a buttered scone and a bit of tea, thank you very much,’” my cellmate raised his voice to a prim falsetto as he got to his feet. In the claustrophobic enclosure of the cell, I had never seen a bigger man in my life. He was smirking, and holding an invisible teacup and saucer in his hands, the pinky holding the ‘cup’ held out at a jaunty angle. There was absolutely nowhere in this space I could retreat to that this man could not reach.

Everything I will miss in the years to come

I’m going to miss the Great Barrier Reef. I’m sad that I will never get to see it, and regret that I didn’t visit it before I left Australia to throw my lot in with the USA. I’m going to miss the National Parks of the Americas, the forests and valleys that will be leveled, the shale fields that will be pounded relentlessly for the oil that oozes through the cracks of shattered stone.

I will miss being able to able to travel across the USA by road or rail. It is no longer safe. I’m privileged enough to be able to ‘pass’, for the most part, but if I’m taken to the wrong hospital or attended by the wrong EMTs or somehow found out in public, I am not safe.

I already miss the prospect of a cleaner, smarter, better educated global society built on principles of secular liberty and justice: Elon Musk’s future is where we should be headed, but we probably won’t live long enough to arrive. Technology will now progress only for the benefit of dictators.

When the time comes, I might have to let go of my remaining innocence in the face of war or invasion. I will miss the times when I could blog without fear of arrest, or sit in the peace of my home with a full belly and a sense of having a future, however much work that future required. I grieve that in the knowledge that we will live in an ever-warming climate of hate, fear, and bigotry. We have had two world wars to learn from… but we apparently do not learn.

I do not fear death, but in the times to come, I will miss truly living.

Russian Mafia 101: The Russian Mafia Doesn’t Actually Exist

john-wick-2014-full-movie-720p-hd-free-downloadMy novels and stories deal heavily with the (so-called) Russian Mafia – that mythic Eastern European organized criminal organization that was so badly portrayed in Eastern Promises and portrayed with far more realism in John Wick. There is already an established ‘mafiya’ genre in Russia, which is typified by the amazing TV drama series Brigada. But despite this, the Russian Mafia doesn’t actually exist, per-se.

It may seem strange to be writing about something I claim doesn’t exist, but here’s what that means in Alexi’s own words:

The term ‘Russian Mafia’ is a poor analogue for the many unallied brigadi that make up Slavic organized crime. For one thing, any given Organizatsiya has members from all corners of the Eastern Bloc, as well as Turkey, Israel, and Chechnya. For another, the term ‘mafia’ conveys a certain sense of conservative, orderly unity, evoking images of hereditary Families led by a single Don. Every one of the organizations that could be described as ‘Russian mafia’ does things their own way. If the Italian Mob is a family business, then the Russian Mafia is a fast-food franchise: a cluster of para-military cells unified around a team of managers, with each cell branching out further into a web of patsies, fall-men, bookies, dealers and common street thugs.

Vassily and I occupied a strange position within our own brigada. We were both immigrant children born in America to long-time Thieves-in-Law. Our hereditary position conveyed a certain hollow prestige, in that the senior authorities invested more time into us, but they also expected more.

Essentially, the Russian Mafia is a fractured collection of individual criminal organizations, most of which are not Russian at all. They operate internationally and within the former Eastern Bloc, and the ones based in Russia, Ukraine and surrounding countries are heavily involved in business (especially the gas and oil industries), politics, banking and the Eastern Orthodox church. There are some who cooperate (and even hold ‘councils’ between leaders), but more of them are rivals for the same

Eastern Promises was just about the gayest thing ever, which was great, but it was highly inaccurate.

Eastern Promises was just about the gayest thing ever, which was great, but it was highly inaccurate.

business. Russian mafia organizations range from small gangs of semi-rural youth led by petty criminals through to advanced, complex organizations with ties to the Kremlin and access to military-grade weapons. They compete and convolve in ways that have mystified law enforcement for decades, form crazy alliances with forces as diverse as Nigerian pirates, the Mumbai Mafia, Thailand’s tourism industry and ISIS – and this fluidity one of the reasons that they are currently the most successful criminal enterprise in the world.

Fictional Depictions

In terms of fictional depictions, Brigada is without a doubt the best (semi-sympathetic) portrayal of an Organizatsiya, detailing the life of a young soldier returning to his hard-scrabble regional town and entering into a life of crime. Poverty is still a major driving force behind the formation of Eastern European criminal organizations. The old Soviet factory towns where so many people still live are deprived of opportunity and jobs, and are often bleak, conservative places often falling into disrepair. Soldiering, crime, or luck are the only ways a lot of these young men break out. This is especially true of the old ‘Stans south of Russia, rural Ukraine, and Bulgaria – where are not coincidentally where the Russian Mafia draws most of its members.

Eastern Promises really tried, but it was heavily exoticized and basically took Italian Mafia tropes and vaguely converted them to a Russian cast: about the only thing they got right was the mafia’s involvement in human trafficking. But let’s be frank – I think most of us were watching it for the naked Turkish bath knife-fight, right? John Wick reduced the Organizatsiya to a series of mooks whose only purpose was to be gunned down by Keanu Reeves, but the cultural and social depictions were far more in line with the reality.

Next in the series, I’ll elaborate on this inaccurate exoticism a bit more: specifically, the infamous hand tattoos and the ‘language’ of these tattoos that are now practically iconic.

Want to learn how to swear like a sailor in Russian and Ukrainian? Check out this post:

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