The Breed Flash Fiction Twitter Experiment

Starting October 15th, Midian Entertainment posted an experiment on its Twitter page, where some of the signed authors wrote a flash fiction piece in the Breed multiverse, each story being unveiled 1 tweet at a time over the course of 15 or so days. It was fun to watch each story unfold, the tension building over time.

I’ve decided to compile my story into one piece, which can be read below. It tells a little bit of the backstory of Gillian MacLeod, one of the central characters of my upcoming novel Black Sheep Chronicles: Shadow Dogs, to be released in 2019.

Please keep an eye on this page, on the Midian homepage, and the Midian Entertainment Twitter page for more information, release dates, and behind-the-scenes tidbits about the Breed.

 

Screeching awoke Gillian from a sound sleep. In her dreams, it had been the wailing of a mother grieving a dead child, a bitch mourning pups pulled too soon from the teat, the anguish of a tormented soul ripped from the world prematurely. In waking, the sound was worse. It seemed to be coming from just outside.

She slipped from the warmth of her bed and crept on bare feet across the cool wooden floor to investigate. She met her bleary-eyed father in the hallway, 12-gauge in his hand.

“What’s that sound, Da?”

“Sounds like a wolf, Gill.”

“You’re not going to kill it, are you?”

“Dunno about you, but I can’t sleep with all that howling outside my window.”

“Da, please don’t kill it. Miss Beck says it’s bad luck to kill a wolf.”

“Why you been talking to that ol’ witch? I don’t want her filling yer head with such nonsense.”

“It’s not nonsense. Da, please.”

Mr. MacLeod grunted noncommittally as he unlatched the kitchen door.

Outside stood the largest wolf Gillian had ever seen. It bared its teeth and growled as Gill and her da appeared. Its eyes glowed hellfire red.

The screeching came again, but it wasn’t the wolf. Gillian’s gaze was drawn upward.

Hanging under the eaves was a woman clad in filthy gray rags. The horrible keening sound was coming from her.

“Dear Christ!” her da yelled. He fumbled with the shotgun, not knowing where to aim it.

Gillian tugged his arm, frantically seeking to return to the safety of the house.

The gun fell from his hands.

A deafening bang and a blinding flash of light.

The keening stopped. As Gill’s eyesight returned, the image of the banshee’s grinning face was imprinted upon her memory, even as the specter itself faded. The hellhound was gone, as was her father’s body.

As the tears came, one thought entered her head: He said the monsters weren’t real.

©2018 John H. Howard
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They Grow Up So Fast

My baby turns a year old today! I have no idea where the time has gone. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a year since I published my novella Ordinary Heroes.

In celebration of it’s first birthday, I’ve lowered the price on the Kindle version by $1. (I’m working on dropping the price on the paperback version as well, but Amazon is moving everything over from CreateSpace to Kindle Direct Publishing, and the update hasn’t gone into effect yet. I’ll update this page when it does).

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Preliminary sketch of Jackie

Jacqueline Nelson is a single mother, barely scraping by as a waitress at a superhero-themed restaurant named Sidekicks Grill. She lives in a world where epic battles between superheros and supervillians dominate the news.

A cancer survivor, Jackie has undertaken an experimental treatment, with one side effect — the ability to read people’s auras. But she prefers to keep this to herself; she’s no superhero, after all.

And, as if she didn’t have enough to worry about, Jackie is also trying to decide whether her admirer Michael is one of the good guys or one of the bad guys.

When she and her son Lucas are caught in the nightmare of an apparent supervillain attack, Jackie must make a choice that will define who she is, to herself, her son, and the world. After all, not every hero wears a cape.

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Jackie Painted

All artwork ©Chaz Kemp 2017. If you like what you see, go check out his stuff.

I Have a New Thing and It’s a Good Thing!

I’m excited to announce the launch of my new website, johnhowardbooks.com.

 

After a fairly long hiatus from writing and an even longer one from blogging  — and despite my writing tools having grown somewhat rusty — I’ve decided to jump back into the pool with both feet, knees tucked under my chin, eyes closed, and try to make the biggest splash possible.

 

In 2019, you should be able to look forward to at least 4 stories from me. Starting off, my short story “Low Magic” will appear in the anthology Ladies and Gentlemen of Fantasy 2019. Following that, in no particular order will be an illustrated fairy tale, a horror novella, and a short fantasy/SF novel to be published by Midian Entertainment (more details on that to come).

 

Publishing dates are yet to be determined, but keep an eye on this space for more information to come in the near future.

 

So, I invite you check out my website. While you’re there, feel free to leave me a message, ask a question, or browse the anthologies my work has appeared in. You can also pick up a the Kindle version of my novella Ordinary Heroes at a discounted price for a limited time.

 

Finally, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to my dear friend and sister from another mister, Julia Press Simmons, who took the time out of her very busy schedule to create this website from scratch.

Where the Monsters Live

Starting tomorrow, October 16th, please join me over at the Midian Entertainment Twitter page for 3 original flash fiction stories — including one written by yours truly — that will unfold 1 tweet per day until Halloween.

And over the next couple of months, as we get closer to the rollout of the very first Breed novel, Deadeye by David Rex Bonnewell, on January 1st, keep an eye on this page or the Midian Entertainment homepage for updates and more information.

Transitions Part II: Marriage and Black Belts are Hard but Totally Worth It

On a crisp, clear Saturday morning in spring, twenty years ago, I spent the better part of the day fighting off multiple attackers.

I was seventeen when I took up Tae Kwon Do. Like almost everyone starting out in the Martial Arts, that elusive black belt was my end goal. “Once I get my black, I’ll know everything there is to know,” I thought.

A few years later, and I had switched from Tae Kwon Do to a street fighting based mixed Martial Arts. The day I tested for my red belt, everything came together for me: My forms, my strength, my flexibility, my ability to learn and employ new techniques. That day stands out in my memory as an excellent day. I was at my prime and knew it. Nothing was going wrong for me. Other students apparently noticed as well .

At one point when my instructor, Mr. Smith, took the other black belts out of the gym in order to discuss everyone’s performance, one of the other students came up to me and said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they were talking about skipping red and advancing you straight to black.” I was honestly stunned. I felt good about my performance that day, but not to the point where I felt I had earned the rank of black. Moreover, I thought, but I’m not ready. I don’t know everything about the Martial Arts yet.

And that’s also when a prior comment by Mr. Smith came back to me, that when a Martial Arts student attains his or her black belt, that that is when the real learning —the real work — begins. Of course, most forms of Martial Arts have more than one level of black belt, usually ten. And this is when I realized that there’s a reason for this — everything up to that point is basics.

***

On a damp, slightly overcast Saturday morning one year ago, I pledged myself to the woman I intend to spend the rest of my life with.

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And that was the day that, even though we had already been together for more than five years and had lived together for the majority of that time, I knew the real work in our relationship would begin.

Looking back, I realize that dating is really just the training phase for marriage. It’s when you discover your strengths and weaknesses as well as what you look for in a partner, what qualities you like and don’t like. Dating is belt levels white through red. This is the time to make your mistakes, look for guidance, pay attention, learn from your peers, take your hits. And then, when you’re ready to take the next step, that’s when the real work begins.

When you say “I do,” you advance from learning what makes up a relationship to how to sustain one. And that takes care, patience, understanding, and a willingness to continue to learn. After all, you can’t earn your second degree black belt if you stop learning once that first black is around your waist. Nor your third, nor your fourth.

I won’t lie. It’s hard. It takes commitment. It tests you in ways you’ve never been tested before. And, yes, you’ll still take some hits. Harder ones, in some cases, because the difficulty level has been amped up. This isn’t something for amateurs. A lot of marriages fail for a lot of reasons, just like a lot of Martial Arts students drop out before and after attaining their black belts. In many cases, they’re simply not prepared for how difficult it is. Yes, it’s hard. But it’s supposed to be. And you have to commit to it every single day.

As for me, I was happy to receive my red belt that day I tested. I wasn’t ready for black and my instructors and I all knew it. I still had a lot of training to do.

A year ago today, I said “I do,” and entered that next level in my relationship. This time, I was ready. It’s something that still overwhelms me at times (in a good way). I won’t say I have all the answers, that I know everything there is to know about marriage, but simply by knowing this and by treating each day as an opportunity to learn and grow, I’m confident that we’ll both succeed in the many years to come.

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Transitions Part I: Saying Goodbye

It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything with this space, I know. In my defense, the last year and a half have been challenging, to say the least. I’ll fill you in, but I’m going to start at the end and work backward through subsequent blogs.

My last blog entry was posted on Mother’s Day last year, celebrating the strong, intelligent, capable woman my mother was, highlighting the challenges she had been through and the battles she’d had to fight, including multiple recurrences of breast cancer.

Today is the one-month anniversary of her passing. After 18 years, the cancer finally won.

The end came sooner and quicker than expected — at least in part because her cancer was further advanced than we knew (we knew about the mets to the bone, but not those to the brain or the liver involvement. She had recently found out but hadn’t told anyone). Still, even though her passing was ultimately expected, it didn’t make it easier to say goodbye to one of the most important and influential people in my life and one of my main role models.

I mean, seriously, I wouldn’t be on this earth without her. She was a part of my daily life.  She was there for all of my successes and many of my failures. She got me through some of the most difficult times of my life. And now she’s gone. Just…gone.

This isn’t meant to be a pity party, rather an introspection. Because it’s been a month and I feel like I’m doing better than I should be. Likely, this has at least something to do with the relief that the long hike toward the inevitable is over and that she’s no longer in pain (for the last couple of years, she had severe neuropathy in her legs from both the chemo and the bone metastasis, which made it extremely difficult for her to do much of anything, including walking) and knowing that she’s in a better place.

Possibly it has to do with the fact that I was forced to go through all the stages of grief in the week before she passed (boy, that was ugly), up to and including the acceptance stage.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that my wife, step-father, and step-sister were going through it with me and that I had some really amazing friends to lean on, some of whom had also laid parents to rest, including a couple of good friends who had also lost their mothers to cancer. They did an absolutely amazing job escorting me through my own personal transition, just as the hospice facility did an excellent job escorting my mother through her final transition.

And maybe that’s another part of it. From the moment she entered the hospital on Tuesday, September 6th, until the time she passed the following Tuesday, Mom was in outstanding hands. She spent most of her final week at Hospice of Dayton and they took exceptional care of her. Even though she was all but unresponsive, they still maintained her privacy and dignity (by shutting the blinds in her room whenever they moved or cleaned her, for example) and still announced themselves and talked to her, telling her what they were going to do before they did it if it involved personal contact.

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Mom gets love from Poohbear, Disney World, 2011

Because Mom was a nurse — even having worked home hospice early in her career – the facility held an honor guard ceremony for her, honoring her work and thanking her for her service. I had been told early that morning by the nurse leading the ceremony that due to a scheduling mix-up on her end, it would likely be only her and one other nurse performing the ceremony. I told her that was fine, as long as we were still able to do it. I was shocked, however, when she came into my mother’s room in full traditional nursing regalia — think Florence Nightingale, complete with nursing hat and cape — trailed by no less than eight nurses. Between me, my wife, my step-father and his brother, my step-sister, and one of Mom’s nursing friends who was able to make it, the room was packed.

The ceremony was brief, but beautiful. Several of those performing it, including the nurse leading it, got choked up. They recited Mom’s successes, accolades, and the impact she had on her patients, nurses, family, and friends, after which they recited the poem She Was There, by Duane Jaeger, RN, MSN, followed by the nursing pledge. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room at the end. I just wish Mom could have seen.

She passed away peacefully around 5:30 that same evening.

Like I said, that was a month ago today. It’s strange for me to think that I haven’t seen or spoken to my mom in the last month, when we used to talk on the phone several times a week. It seems like I just spoke to her a few days ago.

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Mom with Sarah, who’s wearing the Dorothy dress Mom made for her, 2008

I’ve been told that the months following the passing of someone close can be harder than the period of time immediately after. While I’m not looking forward to that if it happens, it is nice to know because I can be ready for it and recognize it if and when I experience it.

That’s not to say that I don’t miss Mom, because I absolutely do. There are little moments that sneak in, when I get home from doing a 5K or something, where I briefly think “I need to call Mom and tell her about this” and then immediately realize I can’t. Or when my wife and I are making plans and I have the thought that it’s something Mom would enjoy doing…except she can’t. Little moments like that are tough, but pass quickly. Not like the raging, screaming, crying fits when I realized that Mom wasn’t coming home from the hospital this time.

And I’m not looking forward to the upcoming holidays, Christmas in particular – that was always her favorite and remains my favorite holiday. It’s just not going to be the same. Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother’s Day, her birthday. Even my birthday because no longer will I get that phone call at 10:54 in the morning – the time I was born – with her singing “happy birthday” to me on the other end of the line. I used to give her a hard time about it, but I secretly enjoyed it. And I know she knew I did.

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Mom and my daughter Kaitlyn with T-Time of the Harlem Globetrotters

I know the next year is going to be rough. But for now, I’m doing okay. If that changes, I’ll let you know. I think experiences like this warrant sharing, especially if one person who’s going through something similar happens to stumble upon this and finds it helpful.

Below is the full text of She Was There, by Duane Jaeger, RN, MSN, which perfectly suits my mom:

When a calming, quiet presence was all that was needed, She was there.

In the excitement and miracle of birth or in the mystery and loss of life, She was there.

When a silent glance could uplift a patient, family member or friend, She was there.

At those times when the unexplainable needed explained, She was there.

When the situation demanded a swift foot and sharp mind, She was there.

When a gentle touch, a firm push, or an encouraging word was needed, She was there.

In choosing the best one from a family’s “thank you box of chocolates,” She was there.

To witness humanity – its beauty, in good times and bad, without judgement, She was there.

And now that it is time to be at the Greater One’s side She is there!

If you can, call your mom, tell her you love her. Call your dad, your sisters, your brothers. Hug tight your husband or wife, your children. Take a moment to appreciate all they’ve done — and continue to do — for you and what they mean in your life and let them know how important they are. It only takes a moment, but makes all the difference.

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Me and Mom at my wedding in May

Happy Mother’s Day

Today is a day for honoring mothers. Because, really, where would any of us be without them?

I’ve never told her this, but I admire my mother greatly. She may not have been a perfect mother, but she did her best and I think, looking back, she did pretty OK. She all but raised 3 kids by herself (my dad was around throughout my childhood, but wasn’t exactly present). She’s the one who sat me on her lap from as early on as I can remember and read to me, everything from books to comics to the Sunday comics. She told me when I was older that she was actually disappointed when I learned how to read for myself because she knew she would miss that time with me.

She’s the one who donated her Sunday mornings to spreading God’s word by teaching Sunday school at the Methodist church. I still have friends who had her for their Sunday school teacher who say she was their favorite.

She’s the one who worked evenings making appliances for a local orthodontist for something like $7 an hour.

She’s the one who made sure Santa came every Christmas, staying up until the wee hours to make sure everything was perfect for that one magical morning.

She’s the one who made the tough decision to go back to school at age 40 to get her RN degree in order to be able to provide better for herself as well as her children because she was tired of struggling to make ends meet because it was more important for my dad to go to bowling tournaments in Reno than make sure his family was provided for.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, subsequently underwent a mastectomy, and then had her first recurrence about ten years later. On the same side she had had it in the first time, which should have been impossible because everything including her lymph nodes had been removed.

She’s the one who sponsored a trip to Disney World a few years ago with my family as well as my stepsister’s so that she could share the experience with her grandkids.

Lunchtime at the 50's Primetime Cafe, October 2011.
Lunchtime at the 50’s Primetime Cafe, October 2011.

She’s the one who fought hard for the privilege of caring for her own mother in her old age, which she was able to do for about three years before that choice was taken away from her by family members with an agenda.

She’s the one who tries to make sure that her granddaughters are exposed to positive female influences.

Like T-Time from the Harlem Globetrotters.
Like T-Time from the Harlem Globetrotters.

Then, after working as a nurse for close to 25 years and earning several awards for the quality of care she provided, last fall Mom was finally forced to step away from the job she loves due to the third recurrence of her cancer, this time with metastases to her bones. Still, though, she’s a fighter and still plans on hanging around for some time to come.

I’m honored to call her my mother because she’s one of the strongest women I’ve ever known. She’s a role model not just for what a mother should be, but what a daughter, grandmother, nurse, and woman of God ought to be.

Mom getting some lovin' from Poohbear.
Mom getting some lovin’ from Poohbear.