Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Contract offer from Tyndale

Great news gentle readers! Tyndale House has extended an offer for a 3rd novel!! The working title is: "The Soul Eater" and is tentatively scheduled for an April 2011 release date. I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to continue working with Tyndale and look forward to writing this next novel.

I don't want to give away too many secrets but the story involves some mysterious creatures and a remote town where all is not what it seems.

Now you might be saying, "Hey, Pawlik, that sounds just like your first two books." But rest assured, this story will be distinct from "Vanish" and "Valley of the Shadow."

It's a brand new storyline with entirely new characters. However, it will still have the same level of weirdness and suspense to satisfy those of you who enjoy those elements in your novels.

Thanks again to Tyndale for another great opportunity!

Jump in. Hang on.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

2009 Christy Award!!

It's late but I wanted to post a bit on my thoughts after winning a Christy Award in the "Visionary Category".

1. I'm happy for my wife who has invested all of herself in me. I'm so thankful for her... that my sons can see an example of the kind of godly woman they should seek in a wife some day; and that my daughters can see the example of the godly wives I pray they will become. Colette is the 2nd greatest blessing God has placed in my life.

2. I was excited to see Jerry Jenkins at the award ceremony--and even got to sit next to him. Jerry has devoted so much of his time, money and energy into helping aspiring writers get published. His selfless work with the Christian Writers Guild and the annual Operation 1st Novel Contest is the reason I'm published today. With as much success as he has had as an author, he could be living comfortably on his own island somewhere, but instead, he is following God's leading to help others. He is the real deal.

3. I'm continually grateful to Tyndale for taking the chance on a book that fell outside their normal genre. Their staff is quite simply a pleasure to work with. My heartfelt thanks to Karen Watson, Stephanie Broene, Cheryl Kerwin, Vicky Lynch, Jeremy Taylor, Babette Rea, Kathy Olson, Sarah Mason, Dean Renninger and the entire sales team for helping bring "Vanish" to market.

4. And I'm grateful to the Christy judge panel for the award. It was an honor just to be a finalist with two very talented and experienced authors as John B. Olson and George Bryan Polivka.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour

Last week I participated in my first official blog tour! The CSFF (Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy) alliance was kind enough to feature Vanish for their June tour. My heartfelt thanks goes out to Rebecca Luella Miller for organizing, and the list of bloggers who took the time to read and review.

I have linked to Becky's blog. She has a list of blogs who participated. As soon as I can figure out the easiest way to do it, I'll list them here as well.

But if you enjoy Speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural thrillers etc) please visit these sites as I think you will enjoy them!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Contest Winners

Congratulations to Gail Medeiros for winning my eMailing List Contest!!

Gail signed up eleven of her friends and has proven to be a most enthusiastic fan!

Gail wins signed copies of VANISH and VALLEY OF THE SHADOW!!

Nice job Gail!!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Sneak Peek: "Valley of the Shadow" Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Mitch Kent stepped onto the back porch and stretched. Thick, tattooed arms reached toward the overcast sky, forcing an expansive yawn. He twisted at the waist, rolled his head, and then eased his burly frame into one of the lawn chairs.

A tall, gray-haired man strolled up from the barn. He seemed irretrievably gaunt, like a dry stalk of November corn bent by the wind. But his face bore a wide, yellow-toothed grin.

“Mornin’, Hoss.” He spoke with a slight bucolic twang. His voice was soft and gravelly, as if he were constantly on the verge of laryngitis. In an odd way, the sound of it both soothed Mitch and grated on his nerves.

Mitch nodded. “Morning, Howard.”

The old man squinted at the layer of gray clouds. “Y’know, we gotta make another run for gas today.”

“Mmmm . . .” Mitch groaned. “Let me check my schedule. I think I may have a conflicting appointment this morning.”

Howard chuckled and leaned against the porch railing. “I know it ain’t your idea of fun, but you don’t really want us to run outta gas, do you?”

“Heaven forbid.”

Howard laughed harder. “Better get some breakfast. I’ll get the truck ready.”

Mitch rose, shuffled into the kitchen, and pulled out a box of stale crackers and a jar of peanut butter. Twisting off the lid, he peered inside and sniffed. They were nearly out. They’d need to stop for food on the way back.

He ate, downed four glasses of water, and trotted out the door as Howard pulled up in the old milk truck.
This had been their routine for nearly five years. Mitch had struggled to keep track of how long it had been since he’d first come to the farm. It was just after he’d met Conner, Devon, and Helen. Nearly five years ago.

It felt like an eternity.

Howard, for his part, was bearable at best. Mitch had grown accustomed to the old man’s hygienic idiosyncrasies and quirky jocularity. But it was his insufferable optimism that Mitch found most wearisome. It seemed the farmer could put a positive spin on any event, no matter how dismal. Every cloud had its lining. Every trial, its lesson.

Like the night several months back when they were rudely awakened by the shrieks of an old woman—Noreen, or something—who’d arrived at the farm the day prior. She had wandered away from the compound that night, no doubt seduced by some vision of a loved one promising that the answer to all her questions lay within the brooding forest out yonder. Her bloodcurdling screams echoed for several minutes, growing more distant until they eventually stopped. Mitch had to cover his ears. He’d warned her repeatedly not to pay attention to anyone who might try enticing her out into those woods. Especially after dark.

And to that tragedy, Howard’s only comment was that at least now they knew the creatures were still out there. They had been experiencing a dearth of visitors and alien activity at the time. Normally someone would happen by the farm at least once or twice a month. By car or truck. Many of them on foot. They’d stay for a day—two at the most—and then just disappear. A few into thin air. But most would fall prey to, among other things, a woeful lack of discernment by following an enigmatic vision into the darkness.

They had gone several months without a guest until Nadine, or whatever her name was, had stopped by the farm. In fact, Mitch had started to hope that perhaps this whole alien ordeal was finally over.

But it wasn’t. Much to his despair. Mitch sank further into despondency and Howard . . . well, Howard continued to look on the bright side.

And so the months wore on. Long weeks of dismal gray solitude, punctuated by brief periods of terror. Oh, and once a week, they would spend the better part of the day siphoning gas from abandoned vehicles and empty gas stations. All to keep the generators running and the lights burning at night.

This was their routine. This was their life.

But Mitch was growing weary of it. All of it.

Some time ago, he’d developed a keen interest in books, but even that had started to grow stale. He’d begun reading at first just to pass the long hours of tedium, starting with pop fiction novellas and working his way up through more arduous tomes. After the first two years on the farm, he’d amassed quite a literary collection during their weekly jaunts into town. Besides fiction he had also dabbled in biochemistry, astronomy, and philosophy. He would always make sure to stop by a library or bookstore to pilfer an armload of anything that caught his interest. Though 'pilfer' wasn’t exactly an accurate descriptor. More like 'confiscate', 'impound', 'sequester'.

He’d also collected several dictionaries, a set of Encyclopedias Britannica, and something called a thesaurus.

The truck rattled and squeaked as they drove along. Mitch slouched against his window, watching the drab landscape roll past while Howard whistled a cheerful tune.

“It’s time for an oil change again,” Mitch muttered, noting that the engine was sputtering a bit. Howard had certainly made use of Mitch’s skills as a mechanic during their time together. Mitch didn’t mind, though. It kept him busy and passed the time.

Howard interrupted his tune to reply. “I think there’s still plenty left in that quick mart over on Highway 20. Remind me to stop by on the way home.”

“And we also need more food. I noticed a paucity of peanut butter this morning.”

“Paucity, huh? I just picked some up last week.” Howard snorted. “Boy, you’re eatin’ me outta house and home. Where d’you put all that food anyway?”

“It would seem my appetite is rapacious.”

“I think I liked you better before you started all that reading.”

They rolled into Harris, a small town just thirty miles south of them. They had come across it only two weeks ago, so there was still plenty of gas left to siphon. Mitch had stopped wondering why the gasoline in all these abandoned vehicles had not gone bad yet. There was no telling how long they had been sitting there dormant. And after a time, gas just went bad. But thankfully they never had any issues. The gas always seemed to work just fine.

They spent the next three hours canvassing the whole northwest quadrant of the town, working their way toward the quaint downtown business district. A variety of shops and stores lined the wide main street. Howard had compiled a shopping list and was headed for the hardware store. Mitch, however, spotted a small bookstore down the street and said he was going in for a peek. Howard muttered something about not being surprised and waved him off.

Mitch entered the darkened store and listened for any odd sounds. The aliens generally kept to the shadows, so one never knew what one might find in a darkened building. But the place seemed quiet enough. The musty scent of old paper filled the shop. Enough daylight filtered through the front windows to allow Mitch to scan the shelves as he strolled up the aisle. He ignored the magazines, the weight loss and the workout books. He paused for a moment at the how-to section for anything that might prove helpful, but nothing caught his eye.

Next he came to the fiction aisle: romance, romance . . . more romance. Historical romance, suspense romance, Western romance, romantic comedy. Coming to the end of the aisle, Mitch was turning to go down the next when he stopped in his tracks and let out an involuntary gasp.

Another man stood in the aisle before him.

He was a slender black guy, just over six feet tall, probably in his thirties, Mitch guessed, with short-cropped hair and a goatee. He wore plain faded jeans and a black T-shirt. And sunglasses.

Mitch blinked. Sunglasses? He hadn’t seen the sun in five years.

“Who—who are you?” Mitch stammered, trying not to sound startled.

The stranger removed his glasses. His brown eyes held an intense, almost wild look. “You need to leave that farm,” he said. “You have to get away from him.”

Friday, April 3, 2009

New Contest!!!!

In an unabashed effort to beef up my fan-email list, I thought I'd run a special promotion for whoever can get the most friends to join the crew. Here are the rules:

1. Tell a friend or family member about Vanish
2. Tell them to send an email to with the words "Jump in. Hang on." in the subject line.
3. Tell them to indicate their name AND your name as a reference so I can keep track!

The reader with the most friends signed up will win free signed copies of Valley of the Shadow and Vanish.

Second place will win a signed copy of Vanish.

The contest starts today and runs through May 31st. I'll announce the winners the first week in June when Valley of the Shadow is released!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sneak Peek: "Valley of the Shadow" Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Two Months Later

Conner Hayden fought his way through the woods. Branches snapped at his passing, disintegrating into puffs of dust, as if every drop of moisture had been sucked out of them. Tendrils of mist curled around his legs like serpents seeking to pull him to the ground. He could feel their weight as he struggled to walk. But he had to press onward. He had to keep going.

He had been here before.

Darkness fell around him like a thick blanket, almost smothering him. His chest pounded as much from the strain of his movement as from the fear rising inside him.

He knew what was out there.

But he heard no voices this time. No ghostly whispers from the dark, save one. One single, moaning plea.

Help me!

His breath came in steamy puffs. The passing branches lashed at him like razors, slicing into his hands and face. The trees seemed to lean their gnarled limbs into his path, blocking his way and closing in again behind him. He would never find his way out.

Please, someone help me!

“Mitch!” Conner hissed through his teeth. For two months Mitch Kent’s face had haunted his dreams. The thought of the young man he barely knew, trapped inside this place—trapped between life and death—gnawed at him day and night. Conner had to help him. This was his sole mission. This was the reason God had saved him. Brought him back from the dead. Back from the edge of the abyss.

A light flickered between the twisted branches. Conner lowered his head, threw his arm across his face, and plowed through. The trees seemed to claw at him like a swarm of angry cats. He almost thought he heard them hissing as if not wanting him to pass. Trying desperately to keep him from moving forward. It was the only way he could tell he was headed in the right direction. It seemed to be the one place they didn’t want him to go.

Conner stumbled into the clearing and found himself staring at the old cabin. Again. It stood weathered and barren, the roof sagging under its own weight. A dull, orange light poured out from the crusted glass of the single window in the front.

He stepped closer. “Mitch?”


Conner peered through the window. The cabin was empty, just as he remembered it. He cracked the door open and slipped inside. And winced. The odor flooded his nostrils like an overflowing sewer. He turned toward the door, gagging. His head swam from the stench. This was not what he remembered.

Conner gathered himself and inspected the interior more closely. The wood-burning stove poured out a sickly orange light. But there was no heat.

“Mitch, where are you? It’s me. It’s Conner.”

Something thumped against the wood. Conner spun around. The doorway stood open and empty. Nothing moved in the darkness outside.

There was a second thump and a sharp crack. The entire cabin shuddered. Then something burst through the floorboards directly in front of him, splintering the wood. An arm reached up. Blackened flesh dangled from the bones. Maggots poured from abscesses in the rotting skin. A skeletal hand gripped Conner’s ankle like a bear trap. He couldn’t move. The stench flowed up stronger now, overpowering him. His eyes rolled back, and the cabin seemed to sway beneath him. Conner tumbled backward onto the floor, but the hand kept its grip.

A second arm burst through the boards and clutched his hair. Then two more crashed through, pinning his shoulders to the floor. Conner screamed. . . .

He sat up straight. Chest heaving.

The cabin dissolved into the shadows of his bedroom as Conner gasped for breath. Cold sweat soaked his T-shirt. He felt something stir beside him.

Marta rolled over and reached for the nightstand lamp. “Connie?” Her voice was hoarse with sleep. She sat up and slipped her arm around him, pressing her hand lightly against his sternum. She held it there as she rested her cheek on his shoulder. “Was it the dream again?”

Conner could feel his heart pounding under her hand. He sucked air into his lungs, deep and slow. He had to control his breathing. He had to calm himself. Finally he nodded. “Yeah. The same one.”

“Can I get you anything?”

“No.” His heart rate began to slow. He rubbed his eyes and lay down again. “I’m all right.”

He closed his eyes but could still feel Marta’s stare. She was worried about him; he could tell. More so than usual. In the two months since his heart attack, he hadn’t made it through more than three consecutive nights without having that dream. But he’d only described it to her in vague terms. He didn’t want to give her the details. He didn’t want her to press him with questions about his “experience” during the heart attack.

Because he hadn’t told her everything.

“Something’s bothering you,” she said.

Conner yawned, trying to shrug off her insinuation. “D’ya think?”

“I mean there’s something else. Something you’re not telling me. I can tell when you’re hiding something, Connie. I always could.”

Conner glanced at the clock. “It’s three. Let’s talk about it in the morning.”

“You know I’m going to keep pestering you.” She leaned against him and trailed her finger through his hair. “I can be very persistent.”

Conner tried to roll onto his side, but Marta pressed her weight harder against his shoulder, pinning him in place. He chuckled. “Believe me, no one knows better than me.”

Marta stared at him for a moment, one eyebrow raised. Then she leaned over and flicked off the light. “Just so we understand one another.”

Three and a half hours later, after Conner had showered and sat down for breakfast, Marta slid a plate of toast in front of him. Conner downed his orange juice and spread some jam over the toast. He could feel her stare again and wondered what she would think of him if he told her the truth. What would she do if he actually told her everything?

She’d want him to see a shrink. . . . No, the old Marta would’ve had him see a doctor. This one would want him to speak to their pastor.

Conner had been going to church with her for the past five weeks—since they’d gotten officially remarried—and she’d been pestering him to set up a meeting with the pastor. Conner’s journey to his newfound faith had been dramatic to say the least, but he was still an independent thinker. He didn’t want somebody else telling him what to believe. He wanted to discover it on his own. He needed to figure it out for himself. It wouldn’t seem real to him otherwise.

Conner bit into his toast, avoiding Marta’s gaze.

“So anyway,” she said after several seconds, “I think I’ve had about enough of this.”

Conner stopped chewing and looked up. “Enough of what?”

“Of you keeping all this stuff penned up inside you. What’s it going to take for you to figure out that you can talk to me? A heart atta—? Oh, wait . . . that’s right.”

Her sarcasm was improving.

Conner started to laugh and that at least felt good. “You’ll think I’m going crazy.”


“Very funny.” He paused, taking another bite of toast to buy himself some time. “Actually, I have been wanting to tell you something. It’s just that . . . well, it all sounds a little . . .”

Marta lifted an eyebrow. “Crazy?”

Conner sighed. “The night of my heart attack, I told you how I found myself standing at the edge of this cliff. This huge chasm.”

“I remember.”

“Well . . . what I didn’t tell you was how I got there.”

“What do you mean?”

Conner drew a deep breath. “When I was dying . . . I didn’t actually know I was dying. I didn’t know what was going on. I was in my study that night when I saw this weird storm outside—big black clouds rolling across the sky with lights flashing inside them. It wasn’t like any storm I had ever seen before. Then I blacked out, and when I woke up the next morning—or what I thought was the next morning—I found myself all alone. Everything seemed as real as this does now. But Rachel and you . . . and the entire world had just . . . vanished.”

Marta frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“There were buildings and cars and trees, but no other people. I drove around town, but the entire city was deserted. It was like I was the last man on earth. Then I saw these things—these creatures watching me. Following me. For a while there I thought they were aliens.”

Marta leaned forward. Her frown was deepening but she didn’t say anything.

Conner went on. “I finally met up with some other people who’d all had the same experience I did. They had seen the storm too and woke up the next morning all alone.”

“So that’s what that list of people was all about. That you had asked your assistant for?”

“Yeah. Mitch Kent and Helen Krause. And Devon Marshall, Ray Cahill, and . . .” A slight shudder rippled down his spine. “And Howard Bristol.”

“You actually met them? spoke with them?”

“Yes,” Conner said. “They were as real as you are right now. I swear. But we were all dying. My heart attack, Mitch’s accident, and Helen’s overdose. Devon had been shot. But Howard . . . Howard wasn’t what he seemed.”

“What do you mean?”

“He saved us from some of those creatures. They were attacking us. They had dragged Ray Cahill off into the darkness. And they were coming for us, too. But Howard showed up and saved us. He took us to his farm and we thought we were safe. But he was . . . working with them. Or maybe he was really one of them . . . some kind of being that could make itself look like a friendly old farmer.”

“And when they dragged people away,” Marta said, “these things . . . they brought them to that chasm?”

“That’s where they brought Helen. A bottomless, black abyss, and I would have ended up there too if they hadn’t revived me.” Conner closed his eyes. After several seconds he regained his composure. “But Mitch isn’t dead yet. He’s in a hospital in Winthrop Harbor, hooked up to life support—his body is, anyway. But his . . . his soul is still in that place. Howard called it the Interworld. Mitch is still there with Howard. And he doesn’t even know what’s really happening to him.”

Marta leaned back and bit her lower lip. She didn’t say anything for what seemed like an eternity.

Conner spoke up again. “So that’s it. Now tell me . . . do you think I’m crazy or not?”

Marta’s eyes traced a path around the kitchen. Conner could tell she was trying to process the story. She looked like she was trying to understand . . . or decide if she believed it.

Finally she shook her head. “It’s just . . .” She seemed to struggle for words. “I mean, I’ve heard of people having near-death experiences. But never this detailed. Nothing like this. This just seems so . . . so unreal.”

“But it was real.” Conner grew solemn. “I didn’t believe it myself at first. I kept telling myself it was just a hallucination. But when Nancy came with my list of names, when she found those people—people I had never even met before . . . I knew it was real.”

Marta folded her arms. “That’s who you’ve been trying to get in touch with? Mitch’s father? That’s what you’ve been so worried about?”

“I know it probably seems like I’ve lost my mind,” Conner said. “I hardly know Mitch. I don’t know anything about him. But I can’t just leave him there. I know what’s waiting for him if he gets disconnected. I’ve seen it. If they let him die . . . Marty, I can’t get it out of my head. I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“But what can you do about it? It’s not your decision.”

Conner shrugged. “I don’t know. But like Rachel told me once, God brought me back for a reason. He saved me for some purpose, and I think it’s to try to help Mitch. I think He wants me to save Mitch.”

“But how do you know that? How are you supposed to save him? What are you supposed to do?”

“I don’t know.” Conner slumped in his chair. As though a weight had just been dumped onto his shoulders. “That’s what’s so frustrating. I feel like God wants me to do something, but I have no idea what it is or how to do it. And in a way, I feel like I’m getting angry at Him all over again. Why doesn’t He just come out and tell me? Why does everything have to be so difficult?”

“I know you’ve been trying to avoid this, but why don’t you talk with Pastor Lewis?”

Conner started to protest, but Marta cut him off. “Please? We’ll go together. This is something neither of us has any experience or knowledge about. Please, Connie? Let’s at least try.”

“I’ll think about it.” Conner glanced at his watch. “I need to get going.”

He’d been back to work for three weeks already. But he found he was having trouble getting into a routine. He was also finding it difficult to concentrate.

He could no longer view his job the same way. There were things he used to do, tactics he once had no problem with, that now caused him a sort of inner turmoil. He wasn’t the same man he had been. He found he was developing new priorities, new values that were beginning to conflict with his old ones.

And he knew it was only a matter of time before it would affect his job.

Conner packed up his laptop and went out to the car. He had to get to the office.

But there was something he needed to do first.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sneak Peek: "Valley of the Shadow" Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Freezing. Devon Marshall was freezing.

Darkness enveloped him. Thick and heavy, wrapping around him like a blanket. He could feel its weight pressing in on him. Squeezing him. Smothering him. And far off in the darkness, he heard sounds. A deep rumble mixed with a jumbled, muddied squawking. The noises were muffled and distant but growing steadily louder. Like a train approaching: the thunder of the engines and the clacking of its wheels on the tracks.

A pinprick of light blazed in the darkness. Tiny at first, but getting closer. Every second it grew larger and more intense. The sound roared now as the light rushed toward him and then . . .

Everything exploded into chaos.

Light and sound washed around him like a giant whirlpool. He could feel himself spinning inside it. Being buffeted and pulled along by a current.

And he was still freezing.

Lights flashed in his face. A dizzying array of reds and blues. Light and darkness. Shadows loomed over him and moved about. He tried to focus on the shadowy images as they swirled around him. Then he recognized them.


He was surrounded by people. Actual human beings! They were speaking to one another. Devon could hear distinct voices but still couldn’t make out the words. And the voices sounded worried. Anxious.

Devon’s vision was becoming clearer. Several people with uniforms and badges hovered over him. An ambulance was parked nearby, and two police cars, their lights flashing.

Paramedics? And cops? Was there an accident somewhere?

His mind was a jumble of thoughts and he tried to recall what had just happened. Images flashed through his mind. Terrifying ones. Disjointed and vague memories of huge, empty buildings. Skyscrapers. An entire city, void of life. A dull, overcast sky. Gray, faceless creatures reaching out hands with long, bony fingers like enormous spider legs.

And a farm out in the middle of nowhere . . .

Terrell. Where was Terrell? They had been together just a few days ago. Or had it been only a few minutes?

Devon tried to turn his head but couldn’t. Something was holding him in place. He struggled to move but was too weak.

He had to get out of here. He had to find Terrell.

He could hear the voices better now. One of them called for help. Something about a stretcher. Legs and feet shuffled out of view, then back in again. More lights.

Not far off, a row of strangers huddled together, watching. Devon scanned their faces, and one of them caught his eye. One face seemed out of place in the group. One man was standing off a little ways by himself. Standing in the shadows, staring right at Devon. His face seemed to draw Devon’s gaze toward him, as if pulling him down into a pit.

It was long and narrow. Pale skin almost glowed against the shadows behind him. His cheeks were gaunt and sunken. And his eyes . . .

His eyes shone a pale yellow. But they seemed hollow. Then he smiled. His thin, puckered mouth expanded into a wide grin. Rows of brown, rotted teeth dripped with black saliva.

Devon couldn’t take his eyes off the man. Then someone passed between them and he was gone.

Suddenly Devon felt himself moving. Floating. He could see several people standing around him. Cops and paramedics. They slid him into an enclosed space where white light surrounded him. Two people climbed up beside him.

What was going on?

Devon heard doors slam shut with a thud and a click. A moment later, he could feel himself moving again.
His eyes widened and his breathing grew more rapid. The crowd. The paramedics. The cops . . .

They were there for him!

They had put him into the ambulance!

One of the paramedics leaned close. He had reddish brown hair, green eyes, and a broad, freckled face. “. . . what I’m saying? You’ve been shot. . . . going to be all right . . . Cook County Memorial . . . understand?”

He was pressing something against Devon’s chest. Devon glanced down. Now in the light he could see his shirt was cut open and drenched in blood. A large, white piece of gauze was taped to his chest.

Devon looked back up at the medic and his breath caught in his throat.

The man’s face had changed. His eyes glowed yellow. His lips parted in a twisted grin, showing dozens of teeth. Dark and rotted, all jammed together in his mouth. Black liquid, like tar, dripped onto his chin.

“The door is still open,” he croaked. His voice was gargled and deep.

“Leave me alone!” Devon squeezed his eyes shut. “Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”

He felt a hand on his forehead and opened his eyes again. The medic’s face had returned to normal. The guy was working on Devon as if nothing had happened.

Devon tried to slow his breathing. His chest burned and a sharp pain knifed through his ribs with every breath. He struggled for air as darkness began to close in around him. Sounds grew muffled. The medic’s voice sounded urgent but began to fade. Devon could feel them moving around, trying to save him.

And he could feel himself slipping away.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sneak Peek: "Valley of the Shadow" Prologue



“There’s two guys—two kids in a car.” Jim’s voice was shaky. Out of breath. “I think they’ve just been shot. I saw another car tear off and . . .”

“Sir, where are you located?”

“I’m—I’m on the corner of Jefferson and West. Just a ways down on West. I think it was like a drive-by or something.”

“Are they conscious?”

“No. No, I think they may be dead.” Jim’s breath rasped over the phone. “Oh, man, there’s blood all over.”

“Sir, are these children?”

“No . . . I think they’re maybe teenagers.”

“Is the car unlocked? Can you get to them?”

“Uh . . . the window’s shattered. The driver side window.”

“Can you tell if they’re breathing?”

“No. I don’t think . . .” Something scraped against the cell phone. “I can’t tell. I don’t—he’s not breathing. The driver’s not breathing. Man, they’re just kids. They gotta be no more than seventeen or eighteen.”

“Sir, I have the police and paramedics on the way.”

“I’m checking . . .” Jim hurried to the other door. “I’m checking on the other side. The other kid.”

Jim fumbled with the door handle. He could hear a siren in the distance. The passenger door opened and the boy tumbled out, limp. Jim dropped the phone and caught him. Pulled him out of the car. Laid him on the cement. The boy’s head flopped and rolled. A cherry-red stain spread across his gray Nike T-shirt. Jim felt himself gag. He’d never touched a dead body before.

He picked up the cell phone. “I’m on the other side. I got the other kid. He nearly fell out when I opened the door.”

“Is he breathing?”

Jim bent and listened. He watched the bloody chest for movement. It was motionless. “No. I—he’s not breathing.”

“Sir, are you able to perform CPR?”


“I can walk you through it. Until the ambulance arrives. Are you able to perform CPR.”

“I, uh . . .” Jim stammered. He’d taken a course back in high school. That was twenty years ago already. “I—I can try.”

The operator walked him through the steps. Clear the airway. Administer mouth-to-mouth. The kid had been smoking; Jim could smell it. He pushed on the boy’s chest, not sure if he was pressing too hard or not enough. He prayed silently.

He glanced up into the car. The driver was slumped forward against the window. Blood was pooling on the seat. Dripping onto the floorboard.

Jim could only help one of them.

“Somebody help me!” His voice echoed down the street. Cars rolled by on Jefferson. But nobody turned down West. He was half a block down. Too far down. They couldn’t see him in the dark. No other pedestrians approached.

The siren grew closer. Jim worked through another set and breathed in two quick breaths.
His heart was pounding yet he found himself strangely calm.

“Jesus, please help me. Help this boy.”

Five minutes ago he had been sipping a beer at Frank’s Tap around the corner on Jefferson. He’d had his own problems to worry about then. They seemed like pretty big ones at the time, but he hadn’t been in the mood to pray. He’d been too angry.

A Chicago Metro Police car pulled hesitantly onto West, spotlight sweeping the street. Jim stood up and waved and the squad car rolled toward him. He went back to CPR. He could hear the car doors open and close. Two officers moved slowly. Cautiously.

Jim was careful not to make any sudden moves. They’d heard a report of gunfire and probably had their own weapons trained on him. He glanced up, squinting into the glare of flashlights. They lit up the sidewalk around him. Jim looked back down and gasped at the amount of blood.

He’d better explain. “I was coming out of the bar.” His breathing was labored. “Coming back to my car over there. I saw a black sedan pull away. It just tore off. Then I saw these two kids in the car here. I saw the window shattered. But I didn’t hear any shots. No gunshots.”

One of the officers knelt beside him. “I can take over.”

The other cop was shining his light into the driver-side window. “This one’s not breathing either.” He spoke into his shoulder radio, relaying information to the dispatcher. He described the scene, then opened the door and pulled the driver out.
Jim sat back and caught his breath. His forehead was dripping. He could hear more sirens now. Getting closer.

A second squad arrived and shortly after that, the ambulance. There was a flurry of lights and activity. A second ambulance was on its way. The medics unpacked their gear. They seemed to work without emotion, speaking to one another in tight, clinical phrases.
Jim’s head was swimming. He’d never been this close to death before. Well . . . except for once.

The second ambulance arrived. A row of spectators had gathered, watching from the shadows. Jim just shook his head. Sure, now there was plenty of help.

The medics unpacked more equipment. They had cut off the boy’s Nike shirt, exposing his chest. Jim could see a bullet wound up near the shoulder. One of the medics checked for an exit wound and set about packing gauze around it.

They had an oxygen mask on the boy now and a medic squeezed air into his lungs. The other listened with a stethoscope. He turned and reached for the portable defibrillator. Flipped a few switches, pulled out the paddles. “Charging,” he said to his partner.

The medic laid the paddles against the boy’s flesh. “Clear.”

Jim heard a click and soft hum. The boy’s body stiffened for a moment then fell limp again. The medic checked for a pulse. Finally, he nodded.

Jim’s eyes widened. He couldn’t contain himself and blurted out, “He’s alive?”

But they ignored him and continued giving the boy oxygen. Three cops gathered to help lift the boy onto a stretcher and wheel him to one of the waiting ambulances. Jim watched them go, then remembered the other kid. The driver. Had they been able to save him too?
Jim moved closer for a better look. But they had covered that boy with a sheet already. Jim felt his stomach tighten. The kid was just a faceless shape lying on the asphalt under a blue sheet. Jim couldn’t even recall what he looked like.

One of the officers pulled Jim aside. “Good thing you happened along when you did or they’d both be dead.”

Jim stared at the sheet.

The officer held a notepad. “Sir, I’m going to need to ask you a few questions.”

Jim nodded.

“Let’s start with your name.”

His name? Jim couldn’t take his eyes off the sheet. Or the body underneath it. Thoughts started peppering his mind like crows diving for corn. Swooping down and flitting away. What if he had pulled the driver out first? Would that kid have been in the ambulance now instead of under a sheet? Why had he even gone to the passenger’s door in the first place? For that matter, what if he had just stayed at the bar for another beer like Danny had wanted? Or what if he hadn’t gone to the bar at all? What if he’d stayed home with his wife instead? She had asked him to stay. She’d said they needed to talk. They had a big decision to make. But he’d just wanted some air. To clear his head and have a beer. There were so many tiny decisions that night. So many choices that led him here.

“Sir?” The officer’s voice broke into his thoughts. “Can I get your name?”

Jim blinked and nodded. “Uh . . . Jim,” he said. “Jim Malone.”

Monday, January 26, 2009

Teaser coming for Valley of the Shadow

Sorry it's been so long since I've written anything. My New Year's resolution this year is to faithfully update my blog every week. And next year, my New Year's resolution will be to stop procrastinating so much.

In anticipation of the sequel to Vanish, I will be posting a new teaser chapter each month leading up to the summer release date. The Prologue (yes, there's a prologue--it's a sequel after all) will be coming in February, Chapter 1 in March, Chapter 2 in April, and Chapter 3 in May.

I'd love to hear back from you on your opinions. Of course by now it's too late to change anything, so bear that in mind if there's something you don't like.

Also, if you have any friends who haven't yet read Vanish please encourage them to do so. If they won't listen to you, send me their email addresses and I'll personally ask them to read it. Don't worry, I'll be polite. And if you don't have any friends... well, then we have more serious things to work on.

Lastly, I'm working on a contest, the details of which I'll divulge in my next posting. It's my first official contest, so I'm very excited about it. Be sure to check back next week, and if I haven't updated my blog by then, feel free to email me a scathing rebuke.