…and learn more about his upcoming release, 9mm Blues
Annie: Welcome, Keith. First thing I must ask: will you share your Halloween candy?
Keith: Sorry, no. I “earned” my candy from my kids fair and square with a type of Father Tax upon all sweets. I’m teaching them valuable life lessons.
Annie: How would you describe 9mm Blues?
Keith: I consider it an Urban Fantasy Thriller, melding the fantasy elements of my Nightfall world with intense action and suspense scenes, all going down in a gritty part of Providence. There’s an order of modern day knights using a mix of high tech gadgets and guns, ancient weapons, and magic to fight against a hidden underworld of nasty monsters.
In 9mm Blues we have Chris Hill, a young Thorn knight, struggling to rescue a boy kidnapped by ghouls—so there’s a ticking clock element. The urban assault on the barricaded ghouls meets strong resistance, and as the siege draws on, in-fighting and the threat of betrayal grow rampant. The stakes continue to climb, and the sacrifices grow. It’s filled with plenty of cliffhangers, menace, suspense, and gun-blazing, sword-slinging action.
Annie: You’ve written about vampires, werewolves, you have a book coming out with zombies, and now you have ghouls as the villains du jour. What’s next? Demon possessed pixies?
Keith: That could have potential…but I’m thinking more along the lines of a clockwork yeti. Actually, I’m very interested in writing more about the Thorn knights, and about the tension and strain they face trying to protect humanity from the dark parts of the paranormal underworld while keeping that world a secret from larger society. Since these two goals are often at odds it allows me to ratchet up the conflict.
Also, I just like the concept of mixing swords and knighthood with high tech armor and weaponry and throwing them at monsters in a blend of fantasy and techno-thriller.
Annie: The soldier/knight/SWAT team elements are a bit of a change in direction from usual UF themes. What made you want to write about them?
Keith: I love military thrillers, so I wanted to bring in some of the intensity and excitement that comes from men and women striving together to accomplish a mission against all odds. And this mission is especially close to their hearts.
I also wanted to explore what ramifications and challenges a knight following a code of honor would face in the modern world. I wanted to take men and women of honor, dedicated to saving people, and throw them into an increasingly perilous situation where the stakes kept climbing. Would they hold to their vows? Would they make the ultimate sacrifices to save an innocent life? Is it better to sacrifice in order to destroy evil, or to save an innocent life and perhaps allow evil to escape justice?
Annie: So…. No romance in this one?
Keith: Not this time. The story’s time span is too short, and the characters are focused on their mission–rescuing the boy. My next book, The Zero Dog War, which will be releasing from Samhain in February, has a strong romantic subplot.
Annie: The monsters the Thorn knights face in 9mm Blues are ghouls. What new elements do you bring to standard ghoul lore?
Keith: My ghouls are rather nasty creatures who sometimes dig up corpses to feed…and sometimes go after fresh meat. The ghouls are created by a monster called a broodsire, who uses the dead bodies as a type of art canvas, reshaping the mind, scarifying patterns into the flesh before reanimating them under its control.
Believe me, it’s easier to have sympathy for the devil than sympathy for these ghouls. But they’re a relentless enemy, and though the Thorn knights have superior firepower, there’s a house full of determined and hungry monsters waiting.
Annie: We talked about Halloween a little and revealed the fact that you steal candy from your small children in some kind of strange Ponzi scheme. Now I have to ask: what were you for Halloween?
Keith: I went as a writer. Which means I stumbled around unshaven, wearing a flannel bathrobe, holding a half-empty cup of coffee, doing my best thousand-yard-stare and babbling about monsters. I don’t know if it was scary, but the cops sure thought it was great fun.
Annie: Do you believe the cover by Eithne Ni Anluain captures the feel of the book?
Keith: Yes, indeed. Perfectly. I love the colors, love the two-fisted gun action (yes, I’m simple like that), love the entire thing. In fact, I’d be wallpapering the bedroom with it if I could get approval from my better half.
Annie: So what’s on the horizon for you in the coming year?
Keith: That’s a difficult question. I’m usually more tightly focused on finding another cup of coffee and making sure the kids finish their homework.
Hmm, let’s see. After 9mm Blues I have an Urban Fantasy parody called The Zero Dog War releasing over at Samhain Publishing in February 2011 which should be a fun and humorous change. I just finished a new UF novella for Etopia Press set in the Nightfall world. Also, I just handed in the sequel to Blood Vice, for all you vampire mafia fans.
And finally, I’ll be trying out NaNoWrMo in November for the first time because a friend of mine threw down the gauntlet in challenge. My user name is KMelton if anyone out there wants to be a writer buddy. I suspect there will be some crazed writer shenanigans before the month is out.
Annie: *rubs hands in glee* Can’t wait to see them all! In the mean time, care to share an excerpt of 9mm Blues?
9mm Blues by Keith Melton
Cranston, Rhode Island
The sound of teeth gnawing on bone was one Christopher Hill could happily go the rest of his life without ever hearing again. The crunching, grinding noises, sometimes punctuated with a sharp clack, brought a clear image into his mind’s eye of filed-sharp teeth leaving gouges in bone, breaking through to the marrow. The humming made it even worse. The contented, happy mmmmm made him want to shiver in disgust and shoot something in the head. He was a Thorn knight, so at least he could look forward to putting an end to that damn sound forever.
The moon hadn’t risen yet, so Oakland Cemetery huddled in the dark, pressed between busy Broad Street and the black glass calm of Edgewood Lake around Roger Williams Park. Only a short chain link fence at the opposite side of the cemetery separated the gravestones from the steady stream of traffic. Business lights and headlights, engine noise and the whisper of tires on asphalt–all city sounds, all familiar–but he felt severed from them as he and Tashelle hunted something in the dark. He’d felt this before—this cast adrift sensation, this cut off, on his own, outsider feel, where he almost marveled that ordinary people went about their ordinary lives unknowing what he and his fellow knights suffered trying to keep them safe. Keep the wolves from the door and the monsters at bay.
After all, how stupid was it to keep all the vows and oaths and never see a bit of glory for it? No paparazzi. No groupies. No late night talk shows. Not even a damn You-Tube video.
He covered Tashelle with his suppressed MP7 from behind a marble tombstone as they leapfrogged positions. Time to buckle down, quit bitching, and focus. Job to do. Asses to kick. Et cetera.
It had taken five minutes to advance this close to the target, doing the stealth walk, slow steps, setting the outside of the foot down first to reduce the sound of rustling grass or breaking twigs. They’d moved through the scattering of headstones up from the dark lines of oak trees bordering the cemetery to the west. He had his night vision goggles down and the world shone the ghostly green that almost creeped him out as much as just plain darkness. He would’ve felt better with the rest of the team here watching his six, instead of it just being him and Tashelle, asses in the wind, stalking the fucking ghoul in the dark in the middle of a cemetery. Listening to the crack of teeth on bones and that damn, unnerving humming, drifting up from a hole in the ground twenty feet away.
Tashelle took cover, resting her crossbow on a granite tombstone. His turn to advance.
He moved, scanning methodically, gun barrel always tracking back to the open grave and scattered dirt just past a white marble headstone. Close now. Adrenaline popped and jumped in his veins, and he fought to keep his breathing steady. To the north, beyond the ghoul feeding in its happy-hole, rose the massive dark shape of a mausoleum. A huge two-and-a-half story monument of crumbling mortar, broken granite, and busted windows, bound like a wounded prisoner by a chain link fence.
He took cover next to an obelisk-style spire. The disturbed grave lay only ten feet off. He glanced at Tashelle. Her dark skin shone almost sickly in the eerie green, and the upper part of her face was hidden behind her own NVD, hanging off her helmet. She wore the standard Thorn Knight assault gear just like he did: Kevlar body armor reinforced with ceramic plates, black fatigues, combat boots, web harness with ammo and gear, pistol holster strapped to her upper thigh. The front of her body armor bore the black rose-and-thorn sigil. She had a PSE TAC 15 crossbow in her hands, a weird but effective little number that shot arrows instead of bolts and used an AR-15 upper receiver. Very quiet. Except for reloading, it beat out any suppressed firearm he’d ever heard for silence. A curved falcata hung in a sheath over her shoulder, and at her lower back hung her Benelli semi-auto twelve gauge, just in case.
She turned her head toward him, pointed two fingers at her night vision goggles, and then pointed off toward the dug-up grave. She made a flanking motion with her hand–come at the monster from two sides. He took one hand off his submachine gun and formed an OK, then followed with an exaggerated double nod so she could see his affirmative.
Tashelle was the primary shooter on this hunt/kill/run because of the silence of her crossbow. Best case scenario: they’d whack this filthy carrion eater with a two-foot arrow through its brainpan, destroy its body, and withdraw with no civilian ever hearing a sound. More likely scenario: Chris’s vicious little MP7 might have to back her up, and suppressed or not, it would sound like an unmistakable rifle shot as soon as he popped off. And draw every cop and curious civilian between here and the Roger Williams Zoo.
Too bad he didn’t have a mage around to throw down some silence wards, but their magicslinger, Richards, was with Captain Garcia on Tango One team, chasing down leads on the broodsires making all these damn ghouls.
Chris moved out, swinging around the obelisk, weapon up as he scanned left to right in short arcs, headed silently toward the tombstone with all the dirt tossed up around it.
Tashelle advanced on his left, twenty feet off as they did the pincher thing. He had no idea why the ghouls had escalated, switching off from feasting on corpses to eating live, fresh meat. People had been disappearing in the neighborhoods north of the cemetery, most of them past the I-95 freeway in less affluent areas of South Providence. But now that the Order was on it, the hammer was coming down.
Very close now, each step revealing more of the unearthed grave. It wasn’t a nice, orderly dug-up grave, nothing like the neat rectangular holes they showed on TV. This hole resembled a bomb crater, an uneven pit with large piles of dirt flung haphazardly around it. The stench of rot and decay grew thicker and the humming grew louder. His grip tightened on the MP7, though he kept his finger resting along the outside edge of the trigger until he got a visual.
The note of contended bliss in the humming made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He swung in closer, his feet making no sound on the grass. Tashelle moved in from the other side, her crossbow locked against her shoulder. She aimed at the hole, crossing over the piles of dirt. It’d been a new grave—the dirt looked freshly-turned—but still it was serious business digging up that much ground, especially without a backhoe—hell, without a friggin’ shovel. Closer. Step by step. The sound of tearing meat now added to the clash of teeth on bones, followed by gulping. And between those sounds, the atonal happy humming.
He and Tashelle cleared the top of the grave silently, in perfect synch. The ghoul didn’t seem to notice them—it remained squatting over the top half of the casket, which had been wrenched off its hinges. It held the dead man’s arm in its hands and gnawed along the bicep and deltoid with teeth filed to points. The ghoul had been male once, slim, with short, filthy blond hair, but anything remotely human had been transformed into something grotesque. Its cheeks were flayed back from its jaws, showing all its pointed teeth and its blackened tongue.
As Chris watched, it ripped a bite of muscle away. It didn’t chew, just tossed its head back and gulped down the dead meat like a shark, still humming that tuneless little song. The ghoul wore only dirt-caked blue jeans, more dirt on its bare chest and up to its elbows, and gore around its mouth. The flesh of its body had been scarified into strange abstract patterns that looked like fractal art, and its jagged, claw-like fingernails cut into the corpse’s arm.
The ghoul finally stopped humming. It lifted its head and sniffed the air, peering up out of the shadows filling the hole. It flinched when it saw them. The way its mouth had been flayed back made it look like an eternally grinning shark.
“Sorry,” it whispered, words distorted by its ravaged lips. “From inside. Sorry from inside.”
Tashelle stood at the edge of the hole, staring down at it, her finger on the crossbow trigger.
What the fuck was she waiting for? It was her shot, and she had it clean.
“Waste that scrote.” He kept his voice calm and even, though his heart thundered away and he could feel the adrenaline crashing through his veins.
The ghoul jerked and its head whipped around toward him. Drool poured from between its sharp teeth because it didn’t have any goddamn lips. He had the thing dead center in his gun sights, but he was only cleared to fire if absolutely necessary. And he itched to light the fucker up, sorry from inside or not.
It stood and started to crawl up the dirt slope toward him. His finger tightened on the trigger. Two pounds of pull on the trigger already. Just a little more…