“Cardinals” – A Cole Wright short story – free here for a few days.

With my last post, I was deep in the heart of writing the ninth Captain Arlon Stoddard novel, Dead Ringers, and as I write this, I’m deep in the heart of writing the seventh Cole Wright novel (as yet untitled), which shows that I go too long between posts here.

With “Cold Highway” the first Cole Wright novella out on November 20th, and the sixth novel Zero Kills out on December 20th, it’s a busy time for my little thriller series. I figure why not make it a little busier with another Cole Wright story free to read here for a few days.

Stay tuned for more news – another free story in December, and plans for Cole Wright and other series next year.

“Cold Highway” is available for pre-order now. $3.99 ebook / $10.99 print.


Cardinals – blurb

Lieutenant Ione Anders of the Spokane Police Department stares at a blade jutting from one of the tires on her new issue vehicle.

Looks like the start of another one of those days.

A day that proves full of surprises.

A Cole Wright story with a difference, putting him right there in the action as he tags along.

Cover illustration © Constantin Opris | Dreamstime.

 

“Cardinals” will also be out as an ebook and in print, usual thing of $2.99 and $5.99, since it’s just a short story.

But in the meantime, free to read below.


Cardinals

Chapter One

Lieutenant Ione Anders of the Spokane Police Department stared at the blade sticking from the rear tire on her new issue Tahoe.

It was a hunting knife, with a black leather grip and a short cross guard at the base of the hilt. A steel butt.

Buried in the rubber to halfway along the blade.

The tire was flat, the rim crushing it to the tarmac at the curb.

The day was bright and cool. One of those fall mornings that are enlivening and refreshing. The street was in Willow Heights, one of the mid to low end suburbs. The plain clapboard houses were separated by wire fences, with the occasional white picket. Kids left their bicycles in the front yards and leaves were everywhere.

Old, fat-trunked plane trees lined the street, their roots pushing up the grass on the verge. From a block or so away came the drone and crackle of a lawnmower.

Closer, the whistling chirp of a bird. Anders glimpsed red feathers.

Old Ford Tauruses and Toyota Corollas and similar vehicles were parked along the curb, both sides, ahead and behind Anders’s vehicle. Some were well-looked after, but others had rust points and peeling laminate and cracked windshields.

A newer vehicle swept by. A Lexus. Moving a little fast for a suburban street. Anders noted the plate number. Force of habit.

She had two takeout coffees in a cardboard carrier,  and she set it on the Tahoe’s roof. Two blocks away some enterprising college kids had set up a coffee spot in an old food cart. Espresso Willow. They staffed it on rotation, only open early in the morning. Their trade was roaring, between locals walking to the bus and their friends. The area was popular for less expensive accommodation for students.

Anders glanced up at the house facing the Tahoe. A two-story place with a tiny front stoop. The ageing carport on one side was empty, save for a couple of local recycling and trash wheelie bins and a stack of firewood. The occupant, Cole Wright, didn’t currently own a car.

The upstairs windows on his room were still drawn, so he was still in bed. Ah, the life of the idle.

Another couple of minutes she was going to have to wake him. He might even help with changing the tire.

The Tahoe was only a couple of months old. Black police livery, with the Spokane decals on the sides, light pack across the roof and crash bars at the front.

When she was behind the wheel, the thing purred and drove like it was riding on air. She’d gotten lucky to have the use of it. The department’s vehicle renewal plan was falling behind, because money.

Now she was going to have to call this in. She was on late starts right now, working eleven AM to seven PM. It took some getting used to, but shifts were part and parcel of being a cop.

She photographed the blade with her phone, using several angles. There was a manufacturer’s mark on the butt. Two stamped in letters. ST. Probably no use in helping to figure out who’d done the deed.

Could be tough to get a decent set of prints off that leather hilt too.

It wasn’t like a planned and pre-meditated thing. Plenty of people around here didn’t have much love for cops, despite the work the police did in the community to try to have a helpful and friendly profile.

All that good work of family park barbeques and bouncy castles and arm wrestling got undone the moment you took someone’s uncle away for dealing meth.

This knife in the tire was more spontaneous. A crime of opportunity. Intended as a little retribution inconvenience. Something they knew wouldn’t be worth pursuing.

And still, she had to call it in. It would take ten, maybe fifteen minutes to get the tire changed. Then she’d have to drop the vehicle at the workshop to get the stabbed tire replace.

“Hey,” someone called from behind.

“Wright,” she said, turning. “Nice neighborhood you’ve picked to live in.”

Wright was a former Seattle cop. He’d quit and become semi-itinerant. He’d settle in Spokane for a little while, then get itchy feet, toss in his lease and catch a bus somewhere. Somehow able to stretch his pension and odd jobs into enough cash for it all.

He was taller than her, by a little, which was nice. He always smelled good. Today he had stubble which, though she would never admit it, was kind of attractive. In a swarthy, rugged way.

Kind of guy most women would be pleased to see show up when they had a tire to change.

“They’re all nice neighborhoods,” he said. He was wearing jeans and a white tee shirt, with a dark blue plaid shirt over the top. Tan MacMillan boots on his feet. He needed to dress more warmly.

“Sure,” Anders said. “All nice neighborhoods. Just with a little work to do in some.”

Wright smiled. It was police courtesy to ‘manage your languaging’ around how you referred to certain sections of town. Like that stupid old adage, there are no strangers only friends we haven’t met yet.

“I saw it,” he said. “I saw who put a blade through your tire’s heart.”

Somewhere nearby a dog started barking. Didn’t let up.

“You saw it?” Anders said. “You saw it and you didn’t stop them.”

“No time. I was in the house.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward the big downstairs front windows. A leadlight hummingbird hung there, right in the center, blue and green.

“You were in the house?” Anders said.

“Sure. I was having breakfast. Cheerios. With milk. Young woman strolls by. She’s got a Kroger’s bag with maybe some groceries. She looks around. Races off up the street. She’s back a minute later. Wearing a black hoodie. She has another good look around. Doesn’t see me, I guess. Too much reflection from the glass, maybe. She stabs the tire and she flees.”

“Again, you didn’t think to stop her?”

“It all happened so fast.”

“She had time to go fetch the knife.”

Wright smiled. “I thought she’d just left. I didn’t imagine that she would come back with a knife. Besides, I’m retired, remember. You don’t like it when I, and I quote, ‘take the law into my own hands’.”

Anders pursed her lips and nodded.

“So then,” she said, turning and reaching for the coffees. She gave him one.

“So then?” Wright said. He took a sip and licked his lips. “Thanks.”

“So then, you can help in an advisory way.”

“Like advising on changing the tire?”

“Funny,” she said. “That too. First, though, you can tell me where she went.”

 

Chapter Two

Wherever it was, the lawnmower shut off. From farther away came the vague growl of traffic. A gust ran along the street of Tauruses and Corollas, lifting leaves, sending them tumbling and rustling for the curbing.

Anders took out her phone and swiped and called in to the department. She got Casey, the guy who’d been running the front desk for the last couple of weeks. Fresh out of college with a forensics degree. The guy was a chatterbox and would make a dreadful cop, but there was some hope that he might train up well for the coroner’s office.

“Ione!” he said, though it should have been ‘Lieutenant’. He did have a certain enthusiasm.

Anders quickly explained the situation. That she would be in once they’d switched out the tire and gone to check on a suspect.

“You said ‘we’,” Casey said. “Are you with another officer? I thought you weren’t on duty yet.”

“I’m, um, taking an advisor.”

“Is it that Wright guy? You’ve been seeing him haven’t you? Getting serious.”

Anders rolled her eyes. Wright saw it and smiled.

“Please, Casey,” Anders said. “Just make a note that I’ll be in a little late on account of someone vandalizing the Tahoe’s tire.”

“Got that. I’ll do an APB.”

“No, Casey. Just a note on the duty roster, please.”

“Sure. Will do. And, by the way, I was kidding about the APB.”

Anders hung up.

“New recruit?” Wright took another sip of his coffee.

“Office guy. Now. Come show me where she went when she got the blade.”

“You’re leaving it here?” Wright said. “At least bag it.”

“I know procedure.” In her waist satchels she had gloves and an evidence bag. But that bag was too small for this blade. Assuming that half of it was hidden within the tire.

Still, she got the bag and shook it out. She put on a glove and crouched to the blade.

“You got that?” Wright said, still standing back from the curb.

“You bet.” She put her gloved hand on the grip and tugged on it. The blade didn’t budge. She tugged again, putting more force into it.

Nothing.

She put her free hand onto the Tahoe’s body, right above the tire. Tugged again. Gritted her teeth.

It felt like Wright’s eyes were boring into her back. She worked the knife back and forth. It came out a little.

She turned, about to say you want to have a try, buster? almost ready to give in.

But he wasn’t even looking at her.

He’d taken a step away from the car and was staring up the street.

“Be back in a second,” he said. He stepped around her and put the coffee on the Tahoe’s roof, right where it had been when he’d come out of the house.

“What?” she said.

But he was gone, heading away at a fast walk. He disappeared around the Tahoe’s hood.

Anders cursed. She grabbed the blade again.

She twisted it. Worked it back and forth.

Once it started moving, it got easier. In moments she had it out.

She put it hilt-first into the bag. Opened the Tahoe’s door. Tossed the bag in.

Slammed the door. Locked it.

She went after Wright, peeling the glove off as she went.

 

Chapter Three

A guy in athletic clothes was running along the opposite sidewalk. Loose shorts, Nikes without socks on his feet, gray Rangers tee shirt. Phone in his hand and buds in his ears.

He glanced Anders’s way, but didn’t slow. His feet set up a constant rhythm on the sidewalk.

She’d lost track of Wright for the moment. Somewhere ahead. Across the street from her Tahoe.

She crossed the verge and reached the sidewalk. It was uneven and cracked. Old, tired concrete.

There was Wright, three houses up. Walking right on the roadside edge of the sidewalk. Walking fast.

“Wright,” Anders said. “Hold up.”

But he didn’t turn. He stopped at the gate to the next house along. Called out to someone.

Wright wasn’t at the front walk, he was at the far corner of the property. Whoever he’d called to was hidden by the house.

Wright inclined his head. Listening.

Anders was still two houses back. Walking fast herself. No need to run.

You ran when the threat was imminent. Walked most other times. She had friends who were paramedics who explained some of that. Walk from the ambulance to the patient. It might be urgent, but you have to ensure you don’t get hurt yourself. If whatever injured the patient is still a threat, you need to avoid that. And if not, if you’re hurrying you might turn an ankle. Then you have more patients.

Wright took a step closer to the property. Another step.

Came right up against the low wire fence. Called out something again.

Then he moved.

Fast.

Dropped his coffee.

Vaulted the fence. Sprinted across the front yard.

Vanished behind the house.

Anders started running.

 

Chapter Four

Dead leaves crunched underfoot as Anders ran. Farther along the street, someone retrieving groceries from their car stared at her. Paper sacks under each arm. Eyes wide.

This wasn’t a great neighborhood, but it was still a surprise to see a cop running.

Anders didn’t vault the fence as Wright had done. She went through the open gate. Missing gate. The square of steel tubing with cyclone wire lay on the ground with grass growing through.

There were more leaves strewn across the lawn. And a fallen tricycle. A baseball bat and ball. A catcher’s mitt on the house’s front step.

It was a single story place. Gray-white. Not too run down, but in need of a paint job.

Anders reached the corner.

Where Wright had gone.

She slowed. Looked around.

No one.

She ran on. There was a narrow strip of half-dead grass along the side, with more of the wire fencing, then the neighbor’s rough concrete driveway. An old Ford pickup parked in the carport there.

Anders reached the back of the house. Slowed again.

No one in the back yard.

Three cars parked there. Non-descript twenty-year old Japanese things. Only one looked like it was in running order.

The back of the property was overgrown with what looked like brambles. A trampoline with half of its springs hanging down. Crates and gas cylinders. Someone at least had mown the grass out here, even if it had been without a catcher.

Where had gone?

Anders crouched to peer under the cars. No one. She moved on, heading for the trampoline.

“Come on Wright,” she whispered. “It’s just slashed tire. These things happen. It’s not worth it.”

She edged on past the trampoline. The air was thick with the scent of the grass and tangle of vegetation. It was bracken, with blackberry all twisted within. Still some of the glistening berries hanging on the spikey vines.

Real easy to let that get out of hand. You could cut it back to the ground and by next year it would have sprouted back from the roots and be almost as big.

Anders looked side to side, along and across the other properties. Better maintain. On the left, there was a clipped pine hedge, and on the other, a six foot wooden fence, gray with age.

Where had he gone?

Anders turned back to the house.

She sighed. He hadn’t gone inside had he?

Nice guy. Smart. Rugged.

But he could be impetuous. Not thinking things through.

As she started back toward the house, starting to think through the next step, the back door burst open.

A kid ran out.

Girl.

In a black hoodie.

 

Chapter Five

The girl came to a stop. Staring at Anders.

A tawny cat appeared from hiding. It leapt onto the hood of one of the parked cars in the back yard. The cat began licking its paw.

On the grass, just out from the house’s back door, the girl faced Anders. Couldn’t have been more than fourteen. Black hair and brown eyes. A mole on her left cheek. Her hoodie was a size too big.

“Hold up,” Anders said.

“He’s going to kill everyone,” the girl said. She took off again. Running around the other side of the house from where Anders had come. Along the driveway.

Anders headed after her, but slowed near the back door.

It was open.

Someone was shouting from inside.

And with that, a calmer voice.

Wright.

Anders cursed again.

She unclipped her holster. Put her right hand on the grip of her standard issue Glock.

She stepped right up to the open back door.

Listened.

“Hey guy,” someone said. Male. Sounded young. “C’mon. This none your biz anyhow.”

“It’s my business,” Wright said, “if I say it’s my business.”

Another curse slipped from Anders’s lips.

The guy just had to go ahead and do his own thing.

Anders stepped right up to the top hardwood of the door frame. The door itself was a simple thing. Three glass panels with a chromed handle and a brass deadlock below.

“Don’t make trouble you can’t end,” the unidentified male said.

There was silence for a moment. Easy to imagine the guy sloped on an old sofa, Wright standing over him.

The doorway led to a hallway through the house. Two rooms at the back, a laundry on the left, with a door that led through to a kitchen. On the right, what could have been someone’s bedroom. Anders couldn’t see well enough. Not from outside.

“I’m just the middle guy.” The guy was kind of whiny. I don’t do anything.”

Whiny could make sense. Wright could be intimidating.

“You don’t do anything?” Wright said. “So what’s all this?”

“It’s not anything. Here. Take this. Walk out. All of this is forgotten. Easy.”

Something thumped quietly.

Anders saw it. A small package. White. Taped up.

The hallway opened into the living room, halfway along the house. Or the dining room. The carpet was a dark maroon. Threadbare in places.

The package lay there on the rough carpet.

“C’mon man,” the whiny guy said. “Someone’s going to get real mad over what you did to Sammy.”

Drugs. Anders took a breath. Reasonable suspicion.

“Sammy,” Wright said, “did that to himself.”

Anders took her weapon from the holster. Right hand on the grip. Finger on the trigger guard. Left hand on top. Steadying.

She stepped into the house.

 

Chapter Six

The house smelled of baking. As if someone was running a bread maker, or had just come back from the bakery with baguettes and cob loaves. The place hardly felt like a baguette and cob loaf place.

More like discount sliced white bread.

The ceiling were paneled, with a couple of panels askew. Anders peered into the bedroom, as she went by. Unmade bed–mattress without a base–with a rumpled quilt and pillow fallen onto the floor. Pringles and Doritos packs, empty, lying around. A poster on the wall of Thirty Seconds of Summer, the boy band looking shiny and young.

The laundry had a machine with the lid up. A box of laundry powder on the windowsill, sagging at the bottom as if it had become waterlogged.

Anders continued along. She kept the gun down. Aimed at the floor.

“Police,” she said. “Put your hands up. Set down any weapons.”

There was another door on the right, before the hallway opened out into the living room.

Ahead of her, in the living room, Wright stepped back into view. He had his hands up.

“They’re unarmed,” he said. “But come take a look.”

Anders relaxed. She kept the gun in hand, but lowered it even more. She dropped her left hand to her side.

“What’s going on?” she said, continuing on.

“You’ll see,” he said, with a vague smile.

As Wright turned away someone burst from the next room in the hallway.

Another kid. In a black hoodie.

He barreled straight at Anders. Shoulders down.

He was bigger than she was. He grabbed her around the waist.

Tackled her.

Like a linebacker sacking the quarterback.

 

Chapter Seven

Anders twisted back. Turned with the tackle.

Most important thing was to keep hold of the gun.

She slapped the wall with her left hand. Dropped her right shoulder.

As they went down, she brought her right knee up.

Right between the kid’s legs.

She didn’t connect.

He was a weight on top of her. Couldn’t have been more than sixteen, but he must have weighed somewhere north of one eighty.

She was closer to one twenty. He had half again her mass.

“Hey!” Wright called from somewhere.

Then, his loud footsteps.

But Anders had this.

She squirmed. Jerked her shoulder around. Pushed off the wall with her left foot.

Flipped the guy over.

It wasn’t so much a matter of body weight. More about leverage.

The kid struggled. Lying face down now, with Anders on top.

Holstered the gun. Whipped out her cuffs. Grabbed his left hand with hers. Flicked the cuffs into place.

Yanked the arm up his back.

The kid squealed.

“Take it easy,” she said. “Relax. This won’t go so bad.”

He tried to roll over. Anders moved her right knee onto his back.

“You’re under arrest,” she said. “Assaulting a police officer.”

She grabbed his right arm. Brought it around. Cuffed the wrist.

Stepped away from him.

He rolled then, wincing as he came onto his cuffed hands.

And it wasn’t a male at all.

She squinted hard at Anders. Dark hair and eyes. Had to be the other one’s sister.

Wright came up beside them.

“She’s the one I saw,” he said. “Sticking the knife into your tire.”

 

Chapter Eight

Anders followed Wright along the hallway. The second room, where the linebacker girl had come from, was another bedroom. Smaller than the other. Bed with no base, Oreos wrappers on the floor, with MacDonald’s boxes and shake cups.

The drapes were drawn.

“I came in through the front room window,” Wright said. “I saw the sister clambering through. She was quick. Raced on out the back.”

“I saw her go.”

“Sorry about the other one,” he said. “I should have checked all the rooms before you came in.”

“You didn’t know I was coming. What have we got here?” Anders had her gun out again. One-handed. Down at her side.

Opposite the door was another poster. The Grand Canyon, standing stark and deep, the layered brown rocks carved away, with the blue twist of the Colorado River below. The top right pin had popped out and that corner was rolled down.

In the living room, there were two men.

One, in jeans and a torn tee shirt, lying back on the sofa, legs out under a wooden coffee table. Slouched any more and her would have been lying down.

Windows above his head faced out across the driveway to the house next door.

The other man was sprawled out too, but on the floor. Face down. Limbs akimbo.

Out cold.

The guy on the sofa stared at Anders.

On the table were more packages. Taped up. There were addresses written on them. Sacramento, Yuma, Jacksonville.

“Sheesh,” Anders said as she crouched to the guy on the floor. She reached for her phone. “We really need backup.”

“Hold on,” Wright said.

“Hey cop,” the guy on the sofa said. “You going to–“

“Quiet,” Anders said. “You have the right to remain silent. I’m sure you know that.”

“He hit Sammy! Knocked him out cold.”

Sammy was out cold, that was for sure.

“Wright,” Anders said. “You can’t just go hitting people. Even if they’re drug dealers. And I’m sure you know that.”

“We’re not drug dealers!” the guy on the sofa said.

Anders looked at him. He must think she was an idiot.

“They’re not drug dealers,” Wright said. “And I didn’t hit him. Same as the young woman back there rushed you, Sammy here rushed me. Too bad for him that he hit my elbow.”

Wright tapped his left elbow.

“Went right into his eye,” Wright said. “Jerked his neck back. I say better not move him. He is breathing.”

“Just!” the guy on the sofa said.

“Stay out of it,” Anders said.

The guy muttered some epithet under his breath.

Anders stood. “We need paramedics for him. I need a couple of cruisers here for these guys.”

“Give me your phone,” Wright said. “I’ll call it in. But follow me. You’re in for a treat.”

 

Chapter Nine

The smell of baking was stronger as Anders followed Wright out of the living room and along the hallway. It led to the front door, which had multiple locks on it. Two more rooms, one on either side. Light streaming in from one, the other dark.

A Kroger’s bag is by the front door. The end of baguette sticking out. Anders smiled. Clearly she had misjudged the residents.

Wright stepped into the darkened room.

“This is where I came in,” he said. He reached up and turned on the light.

Tables on the front and back walls. Shelves either side of the windows. The curtains were closed but moved in the wind. This would be where Wright had come in. Following the girl who’d stabbed the tire.

The front table was piled with tee shirts. Black, blue, red, white. A few green, and a few in pastels. All very plain. The scent of dye hung in the air.

“Brand new,” she said.

The shirts were unfolded and had that flat, even look of something freshly made.

The shelves had boxes with more. And there were more boxes under the tables. A knife like the one that had gone into her tire lay on top of one of the boxes, clearly used for slitting the tape.

“Here,” Wright said.

At the end was some odd kind of printer. Blocky with handles on the side. A laptop plugged into it. An image on the laptop’s screen.

Cardinals. With the stylized sweep, and the red head of a cardinal bird. Almost cartoonish. Looking serious. Threatening.

“The packages aren’t drugs,” Wright said.

“Tee shirts?”

“How much do you pay for a franchise shirt from your favorite team?”

Anders shrugged. “I don’t own any. I don’t have a favorite team.”

Wright smiled. “Forty, fifty bucks, I would guess. Licensed merchandise. All this–” he swept his arm around the room “–is unlicensed merchandise. Someone in Florida wants a Dolphins shirt, but doesn’t want to pay the premium, they order from these guys. They grab an image from the net, use this thing to print onto the shirt. Ship it out.”

“They’re probably getting the shirts at a dollar piece,” Anders said. “Ink’s expensive, but… well, even with shipping, they must be making a tidy profit. Sell the shirt for twenty.”

“In a nutshell.”

Anders shook her head. “That always intrigues me. The money from the licenses supports the team. Those people might earn millions, but, still, if they’re your favorite team, why steal from them, in effect.”

From outside came the sound of a siren.

“How often,” Wright said, “have you been able to fathom the criminal mind?”

Anders closed her eyes and took a breath.

“Never. And every time I see something like this, I get further from being able to fathom it at all.”

“I know it.”

The siren shut off.

“Come on,” Anders said. “Let’s go fill these guys in. Then you and me, we’ve got a coffee date.”

“We do?” he said with a wry smile.

“Sure we do. Remember? I was bringing you coffee.”

“I do remember. So, let’s go do that.” Wright stepped by her.

Anders looked around the room. The ingenuity was impressive.

From the front door came the sound of the locks disengaging.

Anders turned and followed Wright out.

Coffee. And, they still had a tire to change.

Well, that was an all right start to the day.


Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed “Cardinals”. Feel free to say hi in the comments. Always nice to hear from readers.

Cheers

Sean


 

“Sea Skimmers” – a Captain Arlon Stoddard short story

I am currently deep in the heart of writing the ninth Captain Arlon Stoddard novel, Dead Ringers, which is proving to be one of the most complex I’ve ever written – I’m taking more notes as I go than ever, and I’m tinkering a whole lot more with early parts of the story. It’s fun and different, and I hope to have it out in the first quarter of next year, all going well.

Also out is “Ortanide Steppers“, the first novella in the series.


Sea Skimmers

Experienced Captain Ulliana Alvis loves skimming above the forty-five hundred kilometer stretch of the Tegh Sea. Her vessel the Mourave carries fifty passengers in safety and comfort. The calm of the water always reassures and moves her at once.

But safety can be an illusion.

A Captain Arlon Stoddard short story that pits the crew against cascading events and into a desperate attempt to save lives.

A great place to jump in if you’re new to the series, and a wonderful addition for fans.

Cover illustration © Savagerus | Dreamstime.

“Sea Skimmers” is out now as an ebook and a little paperback. Usual thing of $2.99/$5.99.


 

 

Novellas in October and November

I like to have new book releases out on the 20th of the month, and for October and November, these will be novellas from two of my series. The first novellas in both. My novellas sit around a quarter the length of a novel – say around a hundred pages. I think Amazon labels them in with “90 minute reads” or something.


First up in on October 2oth is “Ortanide Steppers” from my Captain Arlon Stoddard Adventures series. Think deep space adventures with mysteries and puzzles around the galaxy. Technically a “novelette” in SF terms, but boy, keeping track of the names for the different lengths…

Ortanide. A planet with a unique geography, a rich history and a strange political system.

A political system that defies Captain Arlon Stoddard and his crew.

Restrained in a dank cell by the very people he came to help, Arlon faces the choice of violating the charters he works to uphold.

Or certain death.

A Captain Arlon Stoddard novella that pits the crew against possibly their most heinous foe yet.

 

Priced especially at $2.99 for the ebook, and $6.99 for the paperback. A bargain, right?


Next out on November 20th is “Cold Highway” from my Cole Wright Thrillers series. Pretty standard kind of thriller, adventure, gunplay stuff here. I’ve always liked those frozen highways and figured that might be a fun place to set a story. I was right, at least in writing it. I hope it’s as much fun to read.

A trip north of the border takes Cole Wright into the heart of snowbound Canada. Friendly people, vast distances, tough vehicles, isolation.

When a breakdown looms, Wright finds himself caught in the white, compacted landscape. A road thirty feet wide, hemmed in by the piled up ridges left by snowploughs. And an endless forest that could hide just about anything.

Unfriendly territory. Dangerous places.

A Cole Wright novella that focuses down on a single moment where the slightest error could be his last.

Still reasonably priced at $3.99 for the ebook, and $7.99 for the paperback.

So far all my paperbacks have come through Amazon, but I’m testing this one through Draft 2 Digital as well, in a slightly larger format, and ending up priced at $10.99. We’ll see how that goes.


As with previous months, I’ll have short stories out in the lead up to the releases. “Sea Skimmers”, which is the first Captain Arlon Stoddard short story, and followed by “Cardinals” which is a Cole Wright story with a difference – Lieutenant Ione Anders as the lead character (you’ll remember her from the first Cole Wright novel The Arrival) and Cole himself tagging along as a background character.

Details to come.

Remember you can explore the series from the pages available in the menu at the top of the page on the website here.

Thanks for reading.

Sean

Writing Liquid Machine

I’m deep in the heart of writing Liquid Machine, the ninth book (though fifth in reading order) in the Karnish River Navigations series.

Mostly I think I wait until I’m done with a book before I post about it, but I’m having a blast writing this one, so I thought I just drop by here and give a little update.

A draft cover here, with main art by Ateliersommerland with the background by Bertrandb, both through Dreamstime. I am enjoying getting a relatively consistent look to the series now. I’m still learning design of course (yes I do my own covers), and feel like I’m improving little step by little step. Trying for a unified look, but still based on the original images.


Need a little more contrast in the text there – the dark red on the yellow aren’t doing it for me. Still, there’s time. Liquid Machine should be done soon, and once it’s edited and tinkered with, and the cover is finished, it should be out in the first quarter of next year.

Then, in keeping with the alphabetical titles there, the next one I’ll write will be Rorqual Saitu or similar. Has anyone read T.J. Bass’s 1974 novel The Godwhale? That’s my touchstone there. I love that novel and, without becoming fan fiction, the Karnish canals will have an android rorqual. Am I giving too much away, for a novel that’s not written yet and likely won’t be out for at least a year?

My story “Scour”, which appeared in the December 2016 issue of New Myths magazine, (free to read at the link) is set in the same world. Different characters, but the scour of the title is a relative of the upcoming rorqual novel.

Which leads me neatly into my next little topic here – short stories and novellas which fit into the worlds of my series.


I’ve been doing it a whole lot this year with my Cole Wright series, which I’ve been working on over the last few years. With each novel, I put out a short story too. It’s been real fun writing the stories with the character. Also a good taster if you want a quick read, and want to see if the character and style matches your taste – the stories are cheaper than a cup of coffee (depending where you get your coffee I guess).

Four novels – The Arrival, Measured Aggression, Hide Away, and Slow Burn, and four short stories “Dark Fields”, “Schedule Interruption”, “The Forest Doesn’t Care”, and “The Handler”.

See the Cole Wright page for details on them all.

The cool part of this is that I put the stories up here free to read in the early part of the month when there’s a novel coming out.

September sees book five Scorpion Bait released, with “One Little Broken Leg” available free to read from about the fifth. Also available in print and as an ebook.


I guess that’s enough of a ramble from me for now. Go check out “Scour” at New Myths – it’s a little dated now, and I like to think I’ve improved as a writer in the meantime, but it’s a fun read. At least, I think so. Also, free to read.

Thanks for reading

Sail Man – new novelette

I have a new standalone novelette out now – “Sail Man“.

_

Alice Briggs has a plan. Send a deep space probe farther out than any before.
She knows how to do it, but faces blocks at every turn. When she meets Tink and Caroline—the sail builders—they make her big ideas seem small.
In a good way. A story of pioneering, relationships, and an AI who might just get her own way.

$2.99 ebook, $5.99 print


I have a few of these hard sci-fi novelettes out now – Problem Landing, Load-Bearing Member, Eyes to the Height, so planning to put together another collection later in the year, time allowing.


 

“Problem Landing”, my Aurealis Award finalist story, now available as an ebook (and in print)

Originally published in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, March/April 2021 issue, my novella “Problem Landing” is out now as an ebook, and in print. The piece was a finalist. in the 2021 Aurealis Awards Best Science Fiction Novella category. The Award went to Samantha Murray for “Preserved in Amber” originally in Clarkesworld #178.


Toughing out life on Mars, Ciananti Burrows finds herself constantly repairing failing equipment and pushing research aside. But when new arrivals declare an issue with their landing vessel, all those learned repair skills might come in handy.

They might even save some lives.

ebook $2.99, print $6.99 – Universal Book Link


In other news, my story “Single Point Failure” will appear in Analog’s July/August issue. A tiny flaw in a station on Io’s surface might just lead to cascading failure. Marli has to think fast and act faster.


In other, other news, the copy-edits on the Cole Wright Thriller Scorpion Bait are almost done. But we’re still doing a switch, and putting it out September, with Slow Burn preceding it July. Planning to have the preorder for Slow Burn ready to go in the first week of June.

 

Finalist for the Aurealis Awards

I’m thrilled and honored to have my novella “Problem Landing” up for an Aurealis Award.

There are a lot of categories there, and I sit in the “Best Science Fiction Novella” category.

This is the second time I’ve been a finalist in this category, following “The Molenstraat Music Festival” from Asimov’s in September 2015.

The awards will be made at a ceremony on May 28th. I would love to attend, but will be otherwise occupied that day. Fingers crossed.


 

“Problem Landing” came out in the March/April 2021 issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact.

The magazine’s cover was by Maurizio Manzieri for Meg Pontecorvo’s story “Flash Mob”. Maurizio also illustrated the cover of the issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction for my story “Crimson Birds of Small Miracles”, and was generous enough to allow me to use one of his alternative illustrations for the story when I put it out as a standalone piece.


I will be putting “Problem Landing” out as a standalone title in the near future. It would be cool to be able to put “Aurealis Award Winner” on the cover, but I know the other stories there are pretty awesome. “Finalist” still looks pretty cool.

Cover draft on the left. Close, but still needs a few tweaks.

Barrens – new novella available May 1st

A beautiful piece of engineering, interstellar ship, Elegia Fortune should function perfectly. When the vessel falls out of warp, Lila Sansom and the crew find themselves with more problems than they can count.

Including an impossible planet in the wrong place

Deep space adventure at its finest.

_________

ebook $3.99, print, $6.99

Universal Book Link here.


Cover image © Algol | Dreamstime.com


Also coming in May, the third Cole Wright thriller, Hide Away,  on May 20th, and available for preorder now, and the Cole Wright short story “The Forest Doesn’t Care”, available to read for free on this site from May 10th, through until the release of the novel.

More details closer to the time.


 

SF Novellas, etc.

I have a new novella, Barrens, out at the start of May. It seemed like a good moment to mention novellas and where they sit in the scheme of things. Well, in the scheme of my writing.

First, a little about Barrens.

***

A beautiful piece of engineering, interstellar ship, Elegia Fortune should function perfectly. When the vessel falls out of warp, Lila Sansom and the crew find themselves with more problems than they can count.

Including an impossible planet in the wrong place

Deep space adventure at its finest.

Available now for preorder for release on May 1st. ebook $3.99, print $5.99


While I do write a lot of SF novels, and a lot of SF stories, I also write plenty at intermediate lengths. Most of my novels run between 300 and 450 pages, and my short stories anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 words, or about 20 to 40 pages.

Novellas are a fun length. Now, it depends who you ask which label gets applied to which length. Some will say anything from 15,000 words to 30,000 words is a novella, and 30,000 words and up is a novel. Some will say even 50,000 words is only a short novel.

Owlcation has a definition that seems to broadly fit – flash fiction: 53 – 1,000 words, short stories: 3,500 – 7,500, novelettes: 7,500 – 17,000, novellas: 17,000 – 40,000, novels: 40,000 + words.

I like the idea the flash fiction starts from 53 words. Very specific. And Hemingway possibly wrote a six word story – see Wikipedia for better analysis than I can provide.

Still, sometimes my stories grow into little monsters, larger than short stories, but not quite novels. I think part of what is fun about them is that I can explore the worlds and the characters with more depth than in a short story, and also that the commitment of time that a novel takes isn’t there.

To blow my own trumpet, a good example is my own novella “Goldie” in this year’s January/February issue of Asimov’s. A longer tale, taking place in a wide world, with numerous characters, over the passage of weeks and months.

To the reader’s advantage here is that they can be priced a little lower than novels (well, they are quicker reads). So my novellas sit at the $3.99 mark for ebooks, and, mostly $5.99 for print. Print is a different beast, so for some of the slightly longer ones, that price creeps up toward ten bucks. Still a bargain, I think. I will keep the ebook price at $3.99 for pretty much anything under the 40,000 word mark.

Universal Book Links here:

Cami, Metta and the Cube

Fubrelli’s Ghost

Lucy Yesterday

Load Bearing Member


Also should mention that in April there are a couple of other things showing up. Book seven of the Captain Arlon Stoddard Adventures, Island Hoppers will be out on the 20th (that one’s a novel), and a twisted time travel novella Lucy Yesterday out on the 10th.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

Island Hoppers – Captain Arlon Stoddard Adventure #7 available for preorder now

I have several series on the go now, and it’s hard to pick a favourite. I like them each for different reasons. The Captain Arlon Stoddard Adventures are really just me writing the kind of stories that I liked to read as a teenager. They’re fun to write, and Arlon’s universe is broad and complex. I’ve had settings in deserts and deep space, ice bound planets and jungle-covered lands. Island Hoppers is set on an ocean world, dotted with islands.


Island Hoppers – Blurb

Captain Arlon Stoddard and his tireless crew patrol the spaceways.

Arriving on Melle, a planet covered in vast oceans, hundreds of archipelagoes and entirely lacking continents, the crew know they have their work cut out for them.

With conflicting jurisdictions, megalomaniac leaders and a mysterious ruin, the planet presents exactly the kinds of problems the crew specializes in. Impossible ones.

But betrayal from an unexpected quarter throws them into a desperate battle for their lives.

A battle that might just have Melle reveal its secrets.


Out on April 20th. Available now for preorder from the usual channels – universal book link here. Paperback available around April 17th. ebook $5.99, print $15.99.


 

 

 

 


If you love space adventure, the Captain Arlon Stoddard series is for you. A close knit crew, devious villians and near-impossible situations, all with a twisted mystery and a genuine heart.


With Island Hoppers, the series draws level with my Karnish River Navigations series with seven books. I’m just about finished drafting an eighth book in that series – Jackpot Kingdom – and hope to have that finished and out later in there year. I enjoy writing in both, so I might be alternating with them for a while.

Thanks for reading.

Sean