Monday, June 29, 2020

Excerpt & Giveaway: GATES OF MARS

The Halo Trilogy #1
Genre: Science Fiction / Detective (hard-boiled) 
Publisher:  Pumpjack Press on Facebook
Date of Publication: June 16, 2020
Number of Pages: 336

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The year is 2187. Crucial Larsen, a veteran of the brutal Consolidation Wars, is working as a labor cop on Earth. The planet is a toxic dump and billions of people are miserable, but so what? It’s none of his business. He’s finally living a good life, or good enough. But then Essential, his beloved kid sister, disappears on Mars. When Halo—the all-powerful artificial-intelligence overseeing Earth and Mars on behalf of the ruling Five Families—can’t (or won’t) locate his sister, Crucial races up-universe to find her. 

In the Choke, the frigid, airless expanse outside the luxury domes, Crucial uncovers a deadly secret from Essential’s past that threatens to shatter his apathetic existence … and both planets. Blending science fiction with the classic, hard-boiled detective story, Gates of Mars is a page-turning, futuristic thrill-ride featuring a gritty, irreverent anti-hero, Crucial Larsen. The first book of the Halo Trilogy, Gates of Mars is the eighth novel by award-winning authors, Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall.


"An indelible introduction to an interplanetary saga and its sublime characters."
Kirkus Reviews

"The authors' imaginations again run wild, this time a science fiction/detective series looking at what our lives may hold in the not too distant future if everything that can go wrong does go wrong. And they've done it with their trademark undercurrent of humor that lifts an otherwise dreary future into something resembling—do I dare say?—hope. Their best work to date. And the giraffes? You'll have to read Gates of Mars to find out. I'm already wishing they could write faster." —Renee Struthers, East Oregonian newspaper

"With twists and turns true to some of the best noir detective pieces—but with an other-world setting and futuristic society—along with psychological insights and connections, Gates of Mars is a riveting, unexpected story, filled with intrigue and change. Sci-fi and detective story readers alike with find Gates of Mars one of a kind, worthy of avid pursuit." —Midwest Book Review


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By Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall

10:20 a.m., August 31, 2187
Multnomah Ward, DuSpoles Consumer Protectorate Unit, Earth

     “Please state your full name and occupation.”
     The voice is soft, soothing, with an undercurrent of authority but not threatening. Perfect for me.
     I stare into the unblinking eye of the camera and think about the room full of security analysts and intel hacks listening in on the other side of the wall. Or the other side of the ward. Or on the other planet, more likely.
     They’re watching and listening like they need to be there, but that’s really ego on their part. Halo does all the work. It doesn’t need them, doesn’t need any human at this point. Halo is monitoring everything—the dilation of my eyes, the pace of my breathing, the sweat gathering in the small of my back, the clothes I wore to this little inquest and why. It knows what I had for breakfast—mirror-gin and a squirt of nut protein on a square of kelp cake. It knows my debt (too much), the kind of avatainment I watch (also too much) and the day I will likely die and how.
     Halo knows everything about me.
     Almost everything.
     Halo lives on data, and it’s identified a gap in my story. But the biggest, most advanced AI the two planets have ever known can’t piece together the missing data.
     I need to keep it that way to avoid death. Or worse. Like being sent through a labor-loyalty reconditioning module. But the truth is I don’t much care what happens to me right now. What I do care about is keeping Halo guessing about that data gap for at least twelve hours. That should be enough time.
     It’s going to be a long night. And day.
     “My name is Crucial Larsen. I’m an officer in the Law Enforcement Corps, Labor Division, Multnomah Ward.”
     After a small pause, Halo talks again.
     “Thank you, Crucial. May I call you Crucial?”
     “Sure,” I say. “May I call you Halo?”
     “Of course, it’s a common nickname.”
     Another pause, a learned pause.
     “Crucial, were you recently on Mars?”
     The pause is learned because the q-machines can do everything much better and faster than us, but Halo knows not to rush because speed tends to put humans, slow and sloppy, on the defensive. Sometimes that’s a good thing, and Halo knows that too. I guess I should take pride in the fact that it’s trying harder with me. Small victories.
     Halo already knows ninety-nine percent of everything about my time on Mars. But it wants to know the rest. It’s what’s in the one percent that counts, what it cares about.
     To be accurate, it doesn’t care. The Five Families want to know the rest. Halo does their bidding.
From here on out, anything I say will be cross-checked with a million possible answers, correlated with my tone and vitals and eye movements, and compiled into a billion possibilities that can be tested and retested and analyzed for probabilities, and all of that in half a millisecond as it tries to get me to talk too much.
     “I was on Mars,” I say. “But you know that already. You can only leave Earth on the Dart, and you run the Dart. Why don’t you be direct and ask me what you really want to know?”
     “Would you like some water? You are dehydrated.”
     “Water would be fine,” I say. “Or something stronger.”
     “That’s not allowed under the current circumstances.”
     “Exactly what are the current circumstances?” I ask. “Am I under arrest?”
     “Of course not,” Halo says.
     “I’m free to go?”
     “That’s not the case either.”
     I shift in my seat and try to get comfortable. “Then how about a cup of tea?”
     Tea, real tea, hasn’t grown on this dumpster fire of a planet in gods know how long but they brought it back on Mars. Up there, I had a variety called Irish Breakfast. It knocked my taste buds back to childhood.
     “Do you have a preferred flavor profile, Crucial?”
     “Something smoky?”
     “Irish Breakfast?”
     Of course, it knew that’s what I drank on Mars. “That’ll do.”
     “Excellent choice.”
     “I’m glad you approve, since you have no taste buds.”
     “Sweetener or cream?”
     I shake my head.
     A square on the silver desk slides back and a steaming mug of tea lifts up on a silent pedestal.
There’s a whirring sound as the optics adjust. The room brightens. It’s planned of course. To signal that the time for pleasantries has ended.
     “Why did you go to Mars, Crucial?”
     I didn’t want to go to Mars. I spent the first forty-one years of my life trying to avoid that very thing.
     “To find my sister, Essential Larsen. She disappeared. I was asked to help locate her.”
     “Did you find her?”
     “Yes. But I was too late.”
     “That must have been hard. You spoke to your sister before she disappeared. When was this?”
     I sip the tea. It burns the roof of my mouth. Halo can optimize temperature. This is intentional.
     “About two weeks ago, give or take,” I say.
     It’s a lie, of course, but it’s a half-lie, which is the best kind because I might be able to slip it past Halo. I did talk to Essential two weeks ago, but it certainly wasn’t the last time.
     Halo knows about that first call she made to me from Mars. It was recorded, like everything else. It was the call that started the whole supernova of events that landed me here in this sterile room being questioned by an all-knowing godsdamned machine.

To continue reading, please visit All the Ups and Downs blog, 7/2/2020 or later.

Clark and Kathleen wrote their first book together in 1999 as a test for marriage. They passed.

Gates of Mars is their eighth co-authored book.

Connect with Kathleen

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TWO WINNERS: One Winner: First edition copy of A Very Unusual Romance 
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June 29-July 8, 2020
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Monday Roundup: Texas Literary Calendar June 29-July 5, 2020

Bookish goings-on in Texas for the week of June 29-July 5, 2020, compiled exclusively for Lone Star Literary Life by Texas Book Lover.   

Most events are still online via Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Zoom, and other venues. 

For a complete calendar of bookish events in Texas this week, including special events, daily listings, and exhibits, visit the GO! Calendar at Lone Star Lit

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Lone Star Literary Life - June 28, 2020

This Sunday morning and every Sunday morning, the new edition of Lone Star Literary Life is hot off the pixels!  

Follow the link for the latest Texas bookish news, reviews, interviews, and goings-on, then subscribe to the newsletter--it's free!

Friday, June 26, 2020

Author Interview & Giveaway: ALL THINGS LEFT WILD

James Wade

Genre: Adventure / Rural Fiction / Coming of Age
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publication Date: June 16, 2020
Number of Pages: 304 pages

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After an attempted horse theft goes tragically wrong, sixteen-year-old Caleb Bentley is on the run with his mean-spirited older brother across the American Southwest at the turn of the twentieth century. Caleb's moral compass and inner courage will be tested as they travel the harsh terrain and encounter those who have carved out a life there, for good or ill. 

Wealthy and bookish Randall Dawson, out of place in this rugged and violent country, is begrudgingly chasing after the Bentley brothers. With little sense of how to survive, much less how to take his revenge, Randall meets Charlotte, a woman experienced in the deadly ways of life in the West. Together they navigate the murky values of vigilante justice.

Powerful and atmospheric, lyrical and fast-paced, All Things Left Wild is a coming-of-age for one man, a midlife odyssey for the other, and an illustration of the violence and corruption prevalent in our fast-expanding country. It artfully sketches the magnificence of the American West as mirrored in the human soul.

PRAISE for All Things Left Wild:
"A debut full of atmosphere and awe. Wade gives emotional depth to his dust-covered characters and creates an image of the American West that is harsh and unforgiving, but -- like All Things Left Wild -- not without hope." — Texas Literary Hall of Fame member Sarah Bird, Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

"James Wade has delivered a McCarthy-esque odyssey with an Elmore Leonard ear for dialogue. All Things Left Wild moves like a coyote across this cracked-earth landscape—relentlessly paced and ambitiously hungry." — Edgar Award finalist David Joy, When These Mountains Burn
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Interview with James Wade
Author of All Things Left Wild

How has being a Texan (or Texas) influenced your writing?

Texas has produced historically good writers, from J. Frank Dobie and James Michener to Edna Ferber and Molly Ivins, and so many others. And as cliché as it sounds, Texas authors, more often than not, have that hard-scrabble tint to their work. Also, our state is a big place, so there are different styles of Texas writing—from Joe Lansdale’s East Texas capers to Larry McMurtry’s wind-swept stories of the Texas Plains. As a reader and a writer, Texas encourages you to explore different genres, different geography, and different voices. I was lucky to grow up with so many literary influences from my home state. 

Who are some of the authors you feel were influential in your work? 

So many. The first few to come to mind are Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Larry McMurtry, and Owen Egerton.

What are some day jobs that you have held? Have any of them impacted your writing?

People say this a lot, but I’ve had almost every job there is, and every one of them has made my writing more informed. I’ve worked in a warehouse, in a handful of kitchens, in retail, and at a call center. I’ve delivered beauty supplies to salons, taught summer school to Hispanic students learning English, and worked at a bank for almost a whole month. I’ve worked on lobby projects for the Texas Water Development Board, served as a legislative director in the Texas House of Representatives, and spent a couple years as a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Transportation. I’ve written and edited for online news outlets and magazines, and my longest job was as a reporter at my hometown newspaper, the Lufkin Daily News. Every one of those positions exposed me to different industries, different people, and different circumstances, which all play a part in storytelling.

How has your formal education influenced or impacted your writing?

My informal education has had a much larger impact on my writing. And even though I only owe student loans for my formal education, I had to pay for the other in plenty of ways.

What did you find most useful in learning to write for publication? What was least useful or most destructive?

The most useful advice I’ve ever received (thanks, Joe) was to put my ass in the chair and write. That’s it. That’s the endgame. Other things that helped: striving for routine and discipline, and also reading as much as I could. Oh, and coffee. Lots of coffee.

I don’t know that there’s a lot of destructive advice or practices out there, but certainly there are things that work for some folks and not for others. I’m not a big workshop guy. It doesn’t help me to have a room full of people tell me how they would’ve written it. My wife was the only person to read All Things Left Wild before I sent it to my agent. Feedback can be valuable for writers, but at some point, you have to trust yourself, close your eyes, and hit send. 

James Wade lives and writes in Austin, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He has had twenty short stories published in various literary magazines and journals. He is the winner of the Writers' League of Texas Manuscript Contest and a finalist of the Tethered by Letters Short Fiction Contest. All Things Left Wild is his debut novel.

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TWO WINNERS: A signed copy of All Things Left Wild
JUNE 18-28, 2020

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