Welcome to the fourth day of the Cerulean Dreams blog tour. It will run until July 24th and will feature excerpts, new author interviews each day, and a video blog by the author. But first, here is the obligatory blurb about the novel to settle you into this dystopian world:
Orion, the last city of men. Deep within the desert, a secret lay waiting. Young women found dead in the street. A corporation that controls the sleep of a populace that never sees the light of day. Alexander Marlowe seeks to unravel the mysteries of Orion as he helps a young girl, Dana, flee the city. The closer they come to the truth, the greater the danger that hunts them. Follow them as they search beyond the boundaries of everything they have ever known for answers.
A few questions for the author:
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
From a behavior analysis point of view, I simply remove the antecedent. This is a fancy way of saying I eliminate the possibility of experiencing writer’s block by always having multiple projects to work on, whether it is a another piece of short fiction, a consultation job, blogging, etc.
Do you work with an outline, or just write?
A little of both. I find a living outline to be very useful for the way I write. I will have important ideas and plot points that I want to make sure find a place within the book, but I often deviate as my imagination takes over.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Herbert, Hugo, and Hemmingway probably had the most direct influence on types of books I like to write, as well as my attitude toward writing in general. Orwell and Bradbury helped to cultivate a love of dystopian science fiction and Lovecraft, as well as King, helped to foster a love of all things horror.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
My first book was a space opera that I went the traditional route with. I queried agents and publishers in the early 2000s, right before the vanity press boom that claimed the careers of many writers. It was a relatively lukewarm experience that I am not particularly interested in re-visiting. Needless to say, it was an important learning experience.
Here be an excerpt for your enjoyment:
The doors opened without incident. The lobby looked far more alive than Cedars Tower. Tenants bustled about. Their voices rose, talking about this and that. About Marlowe no doubt, if his paranoid mind had its way.
The pair seemed conspicuous immediately.
Their clothes were dirtied. Their faces were pensive, watchful as they scanned the crowd gathered in the lobby. For a moment, Marlowe could swear that they stopped and looked at him collectively, each of them thinking the same thing: that’s him.
There he is: criminal, terrorist.
“Monsieur,” called the manager. His bristling walk and crimson suit were both polished.
Marlowe looked at him, his face haggard. “What?”
The manager was apprehensive, his hands clenching and posture stiffening. Undoubtedly, Marlowe had answered harsher than the man had anticipated. “We are very much abuzz here, monsieur. There have been OrionCorps all about.”
A pencil-thin moustache and placid features were set upon an unscrupulous face. Marlowe looked at him for a long moment, uncertain if he was more repulsive than the strange transient apparitions that beleaguered him.
“Right, OrionCorps,” said Marlowe dreamily. Dana nudged him hard, giving Marlowe a hard stare. The manager followed her gaze back to the rough mug of Marlowe. “OrionCorps, exactly. I’m Lieutenant Gales,” he started, flashing the badge he had taken from the lieutenant upstairs. He felt a fog lift from his mind for a moment. “I was in pursuit of the suspect. He is in the building.”
The manager looked shocked.
“This building, monsieur?”
Marlowe felt strange, he walked the line between wanting to laugh hysterically at the little man or smack him across the room. He settled on maintaining the lawful air. “Precisely, I was in pursuit of the suspect,” said Marlowe and then looking at Dana, he grabbed her roughly. “Then I noticed that he had accosted this young girl here and I stopped to help her. I didn’t see where he went.”
The manager looked concerned. He grabbed her hand lightly as he spoke. “I am so sorry, madam. That must have been harrowing for you.”
Dana glanced at Marlowe and then nodded slowly.
Marlowe cleared his throat, adjusting his weapon. “I am going to bring this girl in, but I have instructed OrionCorps that the suspect is in this building. You can confirm this when they arrive. Tell them Lieutenant Gales has brought a witness back to headquarters. Can you do that for me, sir?”
The manager nodded, almost gleefully. He was enthralled to be of assistance. “Of course monsieur, it would be my pleasure. Suspect in building. Lieutenant Gales took a female witness downtown. Understood, monsieur.”
Marlowe smiled and moved Dana forward, not bothering to turn around to watch the manager. He could hear the little man delegating to bellhops and other tower staff to search the area and assume security precautions.
As they moved through the gathered crowd, Marlowe was sure not to nudge anyone too hard or draw attention. Marlowe reminded himself that it was nothing short of a miracle that the manager had not realized who he was.
As they pushed through the ornate double doors of the plaza, the open air was alive with the sounds of OrionCorps vehicles. The wailing sound of justice was ever-present. Marlowe breathed out, as if he had been holding his breath. “That was close, Dana. That man obviously hadn’t been on his visor lately, otherwise we would’ve been dead in the water.”
The wailing grew closer and Marlowe turned up his collar, hiding his face as a squadron of OrionCorps poured into the building. Dana watched them with a child-like awe, but Marlowe turned her attention back with a rough tug on her arm.
“Do you think that will keep them occupied for long?”
“Long enough, hopefully just long enough,” echoed Marlowe as he turned the next corner, dragging them down a flight of dirty stairs into the rail station. The station was dark like in Messiah district. Distant, flickering lights were in desperate need of service. They stalked out of the darkness, disappearing for a moment in the light, though only to return into the shadows once more.
Marlowe pressed forward, trying not to gawk at the frightful apparitions. He felt a mesmerizing quality from them that trapped you in their gaze.
That was someplace he did not wish to be.
The station was modern, electronic fixings and long runner boards changed from one advertisement to the next. Marlowe had begun to feel that it was not safe. The world seemed to be talking to him at all times: whispering, not loud enough to drown out the living world, but just enough that he knew it was there.
“Where are we going?” Dana asked, her little frame stopping to draw Marlowe’s attention. Her small face had smudges of dirt, black soot that seemed out of place on her almost pristine features.
Warmth passed over his face.
At first, it was comfortable. But as the warmth grew, with it came dead eyes and pale features. Marlowe realized that the phantoms were now walking through him as they pleased. The dead had no regard for the living. “We are going to take the light rail back to my place,” he began.
“They will be waiting there for you,” she cut him off.
Marlowe ran his hands through his hair, sighing exasperatedly. “Right. Of course, they will be. That is the first place they are going to look…” he trailed off and then jumped as one of the strange phantoms walked right through Dana. For a moment, it was a strange mutated creature that was part beauty and part horror.
“We need to leave Orion,” she spoke.
Marlowe looked at the girl seriously. “You keep saying that like it’s an option. We’ll die if we leave the city. We can’t survive in the desert. Anyone who walks beyond these walls dies in that desert. We’ll have to think of something else.”
“We are dead if we stay here.”
“Very astute answer. Not at all helpful, but very clever. I realize that we are dead if we stay. We are dead if we leave the city, but that doesn’t mean I am going to go off gallivanting into a sweltering sandstorm because you like the heat.”
The sound of the approaching light rail was a high-pitched whistle. They both looked up, watching as the bleached steel tube rocketed into the station, the windows and passengers a blur.
“When the doors open, get on and keep moving from rail car to rail car until we find an empty one. If we can stay away from people long enough, I can figure something out,” he spoke in a low voice.
Grunting, he scratched at his right forearm. His fingers dug at his flesh through the heavy cloth of his trench. The doors of the rail opened with a grinding squeal. Dana stepped through without hesitation, her blonde hair bouncing against her shoulders. The interior was cloaked in a scattered darkness, much like everything else about Orion.
She turned toward him, her eyes sparkling. He couldn’t remember if her eyes had been green before. Hadn’t they been blue? “We can’t ride the rail for long. They will look for us on it,” she stated matter-of-factly.
Marlowe nodded. Swallowing, his throat was barren and salty. “There aren’t a lot of places we can hide in Orion. We will just have to keep on the move. We will take turns sleeping.”
Marlowe placed one foot on the dirty steel of the rail and the other stayed on the ground. He watched the ground with interest. It had moved. The vibration was slight, as if a wave had passed across the ground. “I think something might be very, very wrong,” he whispered.
Dana looked at him coldly, her arms crossed. “Worse than everything that is chasing us?” she asked sarcastically.
Marlowe lifted his foot. A section of the concrete moved with it, a webbed imprint that was a perfect match of his foot. His face slipped to a grimace as he watched the ground bubble, pieces of it popping and sending liquid splatters against the side of the rail.
“I think the ground is melting,” he muttered.
He placed his other foot on the ground of the light rail. The surge of steel and power as the rail started forward rocked Marlowe’s balance, forcing him to grab a hold of one of the poles that ran from ceiling to floor. They were cold to the touch. He lifted his foot––the webbing of sloshing concrete had dissipated.
“Could have sworn….”
Dana looked out the wide windows of the rail. Her reflection was that of a beautiful stranger: bright blonde hair and gray eyes. Hadn’t they been green? Her sigh was announced with the pout of her small lips. “It is worse when you sleep. The Lurking watches us, haunting our every step, waiting for us to lower our defenses, let up,” she spoke.
Marlowe watched the girl. “Why are they after you?”
Marlowe waved his hand dismissively.
“There must be more to it than that.”
She remained silent, her thin arms hugging herself. Marlowe pulled himself forward with the light rail pole, looking at the next car. “We should keep moving from car to car, keep in motion.”
She nodded. Eyes glassy, her little body moved out ahead of Marlowe. Moving through the hunched figures of other commuters who muttered to themselves via their visors, he watched them as they passed. Most didn’t take the time to acknowledge their passing, except one.
“Marlowe.” Her voice felt like a cold spike.
A man had her around the waist. She wiggled against him, trying desperately to find a way to pull herself loose. Marlowe drew his weapon. The man watched, his intense eyes looking from the girl to Marlowe. The blade was sharp. The glinting edge was tight against her throat.
“Let the girl go,” Marlowe growled.
He took a step forward.
The man pulled Dana up, the blade touching her skin, crimson melting into ivory. His teeth gleamed. Some were sharpened to razor points. His face distorted. What had been pale skin was now moldy like old bread. Teeth were decayed, yellow and blackened from lack of care. The cackle that erupted from the man was otherworldly.
“The pretty one is mine now,” he crooned.
Fingers were long and slender.
Nails dirtied and cracked.
The very act was heavy.
He shot once, twice. The first round caught the man in the throat. Greenish blood spilled in a fine arc. Dana fell away. Her shriek fell on his deaf ears. The second shot exploded through the man’s chest.
Dana watched as Marlowe loomed over the man, his wide eyes glazed as he emptied the chamber. Each shot made the man jump, his body lifting from the ground as if pushed from beneath.
“I think he is dead,” she whispered.
Marlowe continued to pull the trigger. The man’s face was a haunting smile, blackened lips and bleeding gums forever frozen. The world around him seemed silent. The click of his weapon, Dana’s words, all of it was a silent symphony.
Then the voices returned.
Low whispering that at first climbed and climbed until there was a raging cacophony of screams that were indiscernible from one another. He looked at Dana, her lips moving, but the words were lost to him.
It came slowly, half of the message lost.
He looked at her strangely. “What?” he asked, splatters of the man’s blood plastered across his chest.
Her eyes pleaded.
“We should leave, get off of the train.”
He nodded, licking his lips again. The world had refocused. “News certainly does travel fast, this kind more so than most. Not often you have a dead demon on a train.”
It was Dana’s turn to look at him oddly. He moved around her, reloading his weapon and aiming at the metal doors. The force of the round charred the steel in a perfect circle.
The screech of the train frightened the passengers.
As the doors opened, Dana jumped through, Marlowe following. Many of the onlookers disengaged their visors. They watched as the blood-soaked Marlowe and an angel of a young woman departed the train and fell into the murky tunnel. Marlowe watched the walls, looking for the crawling figures. Immediately, he regretted diving so blithely into the darkness when there were things that wished to speak to him from the shadows.
Bio: A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, he has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) or visit his blog http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com. He recently started a consultation business. You can find more information about it here: http://www.amalgamconsulting.com/.
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