Interview: the writers of Carmilla

  Carmilla, J. Sheridan LeFanu's 1871 novella that predates Bram Stoker's Dracula, is a seminal work of genre fiction.  It introduces the idea of the lesbian vampire, something that later writers would expand into its own genre (check out Hammer's The Vampire Lovers for a fairly faithful, if overtly sexed-up, version).  It's also surprisingly contemporary in its writing style.  So Read more

Movie Review: Mythica, A Quest for Heroes

Back in 2011, I stumbled on Arrowstorm Entertainment's Dawn of the Dragonslayer, a low-budget fantasy epic that had the look of a much more expensive film. But what really got my attention was the care given to the performances: leads Richard McWilliams and Nicola Posener really dug into their characters, and director Anne Black gave them the time to Read more

Dramatics Interreptus

My younger son turns seven in about a month, and the other day I realized that I was about that age when I realized just how important stories were to me. My parents left me to stay with friends of the family for an afternoon; I have no memory why. But while I was there, I started watching the TV Read more

Seeing It a New Way

In my teen writing class at the Mount Horeb Public Library last week, we segued into discussing Catcher in the Rye, and one of my students made the following observation (which I'm paraphrasing): Some of my friends have said that, since the characters in the book were rich, Holden's problems weren't that significant. But in so many other books I've read, Read more

A True Story of Frog-Gigging and Disappointment

I wrote the following piece for a memoir class taught by Michelle Wildgen, best-selling author of Bread and Butter and You're Not You (soon to be a movie starring Hilary Swank). When I was a kid growing up in rural Tennessee, my dad determined that I would follow in his footsteps and leave a trail of dead small animals behind Read more

The grubby heirs of Excalibur: swords in the world of Eddie LaCrosse

Posted on by Alex in Dark Jenny, Eddie LaCrosse, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare, Sword-Edged Blonde, swordfight, writers, writing | 4 Comments

My friend Teresa Frohock, author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale (my review is here), asked me how the idea for naming Eddie LaCrosse’s swords came about. I thought this might be interesting to others as well.

First came the idea of writing the initial novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, as if it were a 40s detective novel. This was after years–well, actually decades–of trying to tell the story as a traditional epic fantasy, and having it just not work. So, once I’d committed to this new voice, I looked for other aspects of the story that could reflect this.

Swords in fantasy are crucial. They’re not just weapons, they’re symbols of divine right, of kingship, of power itself. Look at Excalibur, the most famous mythical sword: not only does it confer kingship on whoever draws it, but only the right person can retrieve it from the stone (I riffed on this in Eddie’s Arthurian adventure, Dark Jenny, where the analogous weapon is called Belacrux).

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Nigel Terry plundering the silverware in “Excalibur.”

 

There are plenty of others. Terry Brooks initiated his fantasy career with The Sword of Shannara. Bilbo Baggins (and later Frodo) wield a sword called Sting (originally part of a larger arsenal, but it went off on a solo career). And although none of the Jedi weapons have names, each one is an individual, crafted by its creator as a unique weapon specifically for them. (For even more examples, Wikipedia has a helpful list of fictional swords.)

The point is, swords stand large in fantasy, and I knew I had to acknowledge this. But if I was overlaying fantasy tropes with detective ones, I also knew I couldn’t treat my hero’s swords as legendary weapons. Philip Marlowe didn’t have a gun with a name; Lew Archer didn’t retrieve his pistol from a stone. Hell, even Sledge Hammer, whose love for his gun was far from platonic, didn’t call it by name.

Yet the obvious didn’t strike me until I found a clue in the most unlikely of places: a Leonardo DiCaprio film. Specifically, Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet.

In Act I, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s play, to stop a brawl Benvolio says, “Put up your swords; you know not what you do.” In the film, as he says this, there’s a cut to a close-up of the weapons.

benvolio2

And there was my answer. Swords were analogous to guns in Eddie’s world, therefore Eddie would probably have more than one, of different makes and models, each suited for a particular situation.

(Sure, the obvious analogy would’ve been guns=crossbows, but if you’ve seen First Knight, you know how goofy that actually looks.)

So in The Sword-Edged Blonde, I wrote this:

I opened the sword cabinet and took out my old Fireblade Warrior three-footer, the one with the narrow dagger hidden in the hilt. I had bigger swords, but this one wouldn’t attract attention and, since I’d filed the distinctive Fireblade monogram off the blade, it looked a lot more fragile and decrepit than it really was.

And in the upcoming He Drank, and Saw the Spider, I wrote this:

Ajax shook his head, then indicated my sword. “Is that a real Cillian Skirmisher?”

“The hilt is,” I said, and slowly drew it. “The blade’s from a Kingkiller Mark IV.”

“Really? I’ve never seen one, only the Mark III. Even a king’s bodyguard can’t afford the Mark IV.”

I handed it to him across the fire, hilt first. “See what you think.”

Ajax took it and felt the balance. “Nice. But why’d you combine them? If I had a Mark IV, I’d be showing it off.”

“What’s the worst thing about a Skirmisher?”

“The way the blade snaps if it’s parried by anything heavier.” Then he grinned. “And when they see that hilt….”

“Makes people overconfident,” I said. “I like it when my opponents are that way.”

So that’s where the idea came from, and a couple of examples of how I use it. Hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of insight, and if there’s anything else you’d like to know about this or the worlds of any of my other books, feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment here or elsewhere.

The Next Big Thing blog tour

Posted on by Alex in authors, Burn Me Deadly, Dark Jenny, dragon, Eddie LaCrosse, fantasy literature, fiction, film noir, King Arthur, movies, novel, release date, Robert B. Parker, Shakespeare, Tor Books, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writers, writing | 3 Comments

My friend from the Heroic Fiction League on Facebook, Violette Malan, graciously invited me to participate in The Next Big Thing blog series. Each author answers the same set of questions, and passes them on to five more authors, who post their answers the following week and pass them on to five more authors, and so forth.

You’ll find Violette’s answers here, and my list of invited contributors at the bottom of this post. My answers begin right here.

What is your working title of your book?

It’s currently called He Drank, and Saw the Spider. I’m batting .500 in my initial titles making it to print (for example, Wake of the Bloody Angel was originally called The Two Eddies), so we’ll see how this one does. This time, my title is both a line from the book, and also a shout-out to the source material.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It was inspired by The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s last and most complex plays. It’s a genre-bending story of betrayal and reconciliation, and a real head-scratcher the first time you read or watch it. It’s best known for one of its stage directions: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

My initial idea was, “What if Eddie was dropped into the Autolycus role in the plot?” The final book is considerably different, but that was the inspiration.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s sword-and-sorcery, but crossed with a healthy dollop of pulp detective fiction; “sword noir,” I guess. One reviewer called it, “Sam Spade with a sword.”

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’ve said elsewhere on this blog that the ideal casting for Eddie LaCrosse is Alien-era Tom Skerritt.

But otherwise, I prefer not to lock down the images of the characters. Each reader will have his or her own ideas, and I don’t want to get in the way of that. I’ll worry about it when an actual movie deal happens.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

As a young mercenary, Eddie LaCrosse saves an abandoned baby from a bear; sixteen years later, now a private sword jockey, he has to save her again, this time from a complex plot involving magic, murder and an insane king.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published by Tor in 2014.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About eight months. A lot of that was research, reading up on Shakespeare, rereading his plays and internalizing a lot of Shakespearean scholarship. It may seem simple to take a plot or character from Shakespeare, but to do it justice you also have to understand what that character means, and how he or she functions in the play. For example, there’s a character loosely based on Caliban from The Tempest; Caliban has been used to represent everything from Irish bog people to a half-human fish monster to the plight of third-world citizens under Western occupation. If you’re going to put someone like him in your book, you have to decide what he represents for you, and how that affects the story and the other characters.

This is the same approach I’ve used for my other Eddie LaCrosse novels. Burn Me Deadly, for example, is about dragons, so I researched what people thought of them back when it was believed they really existed. Dragons were never simply animals, they were embodiments of beliefs and supernatural powers. If I wanted my dragons to carry that same weight of “believability,” I had to decide what they embodied in the world of my characters.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My Eddie LaCrosse novels are always compared to Glenn Cook’s “Garrett, P.I.” novels and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. The influences I’m most conscious of are two Bobs: Robert E. Howard and Robert B. Parker.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

One of the consistencies of my Eddie LaCrosse series is that each book embraces a set of existing tropes; Dark Jenny, for example, is Arthurian at heart. In this one, I wanted to put Eddie into a Shakespearean story, so I looked for the best one to drop him into. I chose The Winter’s Tale because there’s a mystery at its heart.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a fun and funny story. Eddie’s girlfriend Liz once again plays a major role, the first time since Burn Me Deadly. There’s action, suspense, magic and romance. There’s a mad king, a sorceress, and sheep. Lots of sheep.

Thanks to Violette for including me in this blog trail.  Now, here are my five awesome and talented writer friends who will be posting their answers next week.

Teresa Frohock, author of Miserere.

Kelly Barnhill, author of Iron Hearted Violet

Jen K. Blom, author of Possum Summer

Matt Forbeck, author of Amortals and Carpathia

Kelly McCullough (pending), author of Bared Blade and WebMage

The origin of character names: Eddie LaCrosse

Posted on by Alex in Dark Jenny, Eddie and the Cruisers, Eddie LaCrosse, Sword-Edged Blonde, writers, writing | Leave a comment

One of the most common questions I get from fantasy fans is, “Why is your hero named ‘Eddie’?”

Naming characters, especially the main characters of continuing series, is an art far more than a science. For example, one of my favorite characters, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, has a first name, but in the 40 books Parker wrote (and who knows how many his ill-advised successor, Ace Atkins, will ultimately churn out), it’s never revealed. Parker said in an interview that he initially planned to name him David, after one of his sons, but he didn’t want to make his other son jealous, so he just eliminated all references to it, and it became an ongoing trope.

Similarly, the character who became Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe started out in short stories with names like John Dalmas and Steve Grayce (there’s some debate over whether or not these were the same characters, but if you read them after reading Marlowe, it’s pretty clear). Even Artemis Fowl was originally Archimedes Fowl.

So, when it came time to name the hero of my fantasy/mystery series, my original choice was…Devaraux LaCrosse.

Not, I repeat NOT, a Devaraux (art by Gene Ha)

Yes, my tough-yet-soft-hearted hero had a name better suited to a soap opera.

This began with the earliest glimmerings of the idea, back when I was a senior in high school, reading hardcore fantasy (what is now called “secondary world fantasy”) and trying to impress Ms. Burress, the new teacher (long story that you can find elsewhere on this blog). One of the rules of fantasy seemed to be that heroes could not have ordinary names like “John,” “Bill,” or “Eddie.” They had to be called “Aragorn,” or “Conan.” And they went only by one name. One of the forgotten revelations of Star Wars was that its characters had two names, a first name and a surname, like (dare I say it) real people.

So, I gave my hero his monicker, and continued to work with that name for…oh, two decades. The story evolved (although not as much as you’d think), but the real change came in the tone. Originally I worked in third person, then changed to movie-script form (because I had dreams of being the next Lawrence Kasdan, back when that was cool). By the time I changed the voice to first-person, my main reading had shifted from SF/F to hard-boiled mystery. Still, it took longer than it should have for me to realize that a genre mashup was the way to go, and even longer to comprehend that my hero, and all the other characters for that matter, should have normal names.

And why did “Devaraux” become “Eddie,” and not “Dave” or Bob”?

The main inspiration was P.F. Kluge’s novel Eddie and the Cruisers, one of the few “musical noirs” out there. In the book, Eddie is a memory to the characters, a ghost both figurative and (maybe) literal, and thus incredibly mysterious. The clincher was George V. Higgins’ novel The Friends of Eddie Coyle, about a small-time crook trying to hang onto his sense of honor. There’s a great movie version with Robert Mitchum, but I didn’t see it until much later. Still, it led to a useful guideline: if your hero has a name that in any way connects to Robert Mitchum, it’s probably a good name.

Robert Mitchum in “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” Also not a Devaraux.

So when “Devaraux” became “Eddie,” a whole naming philosophy fell into place, one that I still try to use even when the influences come from somewhere else. For example, in the Arthurian-inspired Dark Jenny, the classic character Sir Kay, adopted brother to Arthur, becomes Bob Kay, adopted brother to Marcus Drake. If someone has an unusual name, such as Queen Rhiannon from The Sword-Edged Blonde, it’s indicative of character (she’s unusual, all right) rather than an attempt to sound appropriately “period.”

Is this anachronistic? Technically no, since this is a made-up world and I can do anything I want with it, as long as it’s logical and consistent. Is it appropriate? Some readers have said no, but the majority seem to not only accept it, but actively like it.

So that’s the story behind the names of my characters in the Eddie LaCrosse series. Have any other questions specific to my books? Leave them in the comments and I’ll try to address them in a future blog.

Addendum: on the same day I posted this, Tor Books (my publisher) posted a blog by an editor working from the exact opposite angle on fantasy character names.  It provides an interesting contrast.  You can read it here.

Dark Jenny mass market paperback release

Posted on by Alex in contest, Dark Jenny, paperback, Wake of the Bloody Angel | 9 Comments

Dark Jenny cover

Today the mass market paperback edition of the third Eddie LaCrosse novel, Dark Jenny, hits shelves. It includes a preview from the upcoming Wake of the Bloody Angel, one that’s different from the preview in the paperback of Burn Me Deadly.

There was no book trailer for the original release of Dark Jenny, but there is one for the new edition.  Check it out below:

Want a chance to win a copy? Leave a comment before midnight on Memorial Day.

 

To Avoid Shark-Jumping

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, Dark Jenny, Eddie LaCrosse, Sword-Edged Blonde, writers, writing | 3 Comments

The writer trying not to repeat himself.

As I await the page proofs for Eddie LaCrosse IV (Wake of the Bloody Angel) and begin the first draft of Eddie LaCrosse V (so far, Eddie LaCrosse V), it occurred to me that every book in the series begins with two concepts, one of which is the same each time, while the other is very different.  If you’re out there and considering writing a series, this might be a useful thought process to explain.

First, the concept that’s the same each time: how do I make this book different from the last, and from all the other books?  Some elements simply have to remain the same, after all: the first-person narration, the hero solving a mystery, the anachronistic tone.  But there are things that can be varied, such as supporting characters, location, and timeline.

For example, the first novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, took place over the main character’s entire lifetime, flashing back to his teenage years and his young adulthood. It also traveled all over his world, from the small town of Neceda to the sprawling seaport of Boscobel.  Since at the time I wrote it, I had no idea that it would begin a series, I swung for the fences, packing in all the ideas I had for the character and his world.  It was an epic, in everything but word count.

In contrast, the second one, Burn Me Deadly, deliberately took place in one locale and in linear time, and included lots of characters Eddie knew well.  The third, Dark Jenny, was a tale told over a winter’s evening about something that happened years before, set in a locale where Eddie knows no one.  And Wake of the Bloody Angel, as the title implies, takes place at sea, again in linear time, and with Eddie having his first true sidekick.

But each book also has a core idea, a central thesis that provides the narrative litmus test for what works and what doesn’t.  In The Sword-Edged Blonde it was the Fleetwood Mac song, “Rhiannon”: anything that didn’t help evoke the same atmosphere as the song (and I realize that the song means different things to different people, so any given reader may go “huh?” at hearing this) was tossed, and since I nursed this story for years, it went down a lot of blind alleys.  Having that core idea helped me eventually figure out the right direction for it.

Once I established this methodology, subsequent books became easier.  In fact, each one could be broken down to a single term that guided the writing of both the narrative and the overall atmosphere.  Burn Me Deadly: dragons=atomic weapons.  Dark Jenny: King Arthur.  Wake of the Bloody Angel: Pirates.  Eddie LaCrosse V: the Wi–wait, I can’t tell you that yet.

This combination of having a core idea and trying not to repeat the form of previous stories helps keep the Eddie LaCrosse novels different and exciting, at least for the writer.  I’ve read my share of series where the author simply stopped trying to be different and essentially rewrote the same story over and over, whether from boredom, lack of ideas, or just to give the fans what they ostensibly want.  I don’t want to do that with the Eddie LaCrosse novels.  Since they’re all about the same character doing the same job in the same world, some similarities are inevitable.  But my job as the writer is to make the rest of the elements as fresh and different as I can each time out.

How do your favorite series succeed (or fail) in keeping themselves fresh and interesting?

Kurosawa meets Eddie LaCrosse

Posted on by Alex in Akira Kurosawa, Dark Jenny, Eddie LaCrosse | Leave a comment

Quite a while ago, I posted the trailer to Akira Kurosawa’s crime thriller High and Low, and mentioned it was one of the influences on my novel Dark Jenny. I never got around to explaining that until now.

High and Low is based on one of Ed McBain’s “87th Precinct” series of police procedurals, in this case King’s Ransom. And although the film changes many of the details of plot and setting to make it work in postwar Japan, the central dilemma remains the same. A wealthy businessman is sent a ransom note saying his son has been kidnapped, but it’s actually the son of his chauffer, taken by mistake. Does he pay the ransom anyway, even if it means financial and professional ruin?

But it wasn’t the plot of High and Low that influenced my novel, it was its structure. The first hour of the film takes place in the businessman’s apartment, mostly in the living room that overlooks greater Tokyo, making it the “high” of the title. The claustrophobia adds to the tension, as Kurosawa invokes the sense of evil forces watching from below in the labyrinthine streets. The police must crawl on the floor to avoid being seen at the windows, and each time the phone rings everyone stops dead.

 

I wanted some of that same vibe in my scenes at Nodlon Castle, which occupy the first fourteen chapters of Dark Jenny. I tried keeping everything in the great hall, but since I’m not Kurosawa, I wasn’t quite able to make it work. Still, I hope I conveyed some of the sense of cabin fever, of Eddie trapped within stone walls and ceilings, unable to do much of anything except wait and hope for a break.

SPOILER ALERT! Both for my book and Kurosawa’s film!

Once the ransom has been paid, the police are free to use all means at their disposal to track down the kidnappers. The film then turns into a documentary-style chase through the city’s rougher sections, the “Low” of the title. It’s as different from the spacious, sparsely-furnished apartment as it’s possible to be: “a sordid sin-market filled with mixed-race couples and manic frugging, squabbling sailors and cat-eyed slatterns, ravaged junk-zombies and undercover cops from Hell,” according to the DVD liner notes by Chuck Stephens.

 

Similarly, when Eddie is finally allowed to leave, he travels across the breadth of the island of Grand Bruan, visiting towns, villages and manor houses all very different from Nodlon Castle. I wanted to get the sense of freedom and relief Eddie feels at finally being allowed to do something, the same way Detective Tokura and his men do in the Kurosawa film.

Part of the fun of writing any Eddie LaCrosse story is finding a way to use influences that are about as far from sword and sorcery as you can get, so working in elements of a sixties Japanese crime thriller appealed to me immensely. It also provided a structure for my faux-Arthurian story that let me deal both with court intrigue and full-on battles without bogging down in either. Without it, Dark Jenny would not have been as lean and fast-paced as I hope it turned out to be.

Help the southern storm and flood victims (and get cool swag)!

Posted on by Alex in auction, charity, Dark Jenny, Excalibur | Leave a comment


I’m donating both a signed copy of DARK JENNY and my personal DVD of “Excalibur” as part of the HELP WRITE NOW auction to aid victims of the recent southern storms, tornados and floods. Bidding starts at $5!

The Betrayal of Arthur and the scent of disdain

Posted on by Alex in criticism, Dark Jenny, King Arthur, Sara Douglass | 2 Comments


About five years ago, when I was first thinking about the story that became Dark Jenny, I began looking for books that dealt in a critical and scholarly way with the meaning of Arthurian stories. I’d read the basic, classic fiction texts–Le Morte d’Arthur, The Alliterative Morte Arthure, The Once and Future King, The Mists of Avalon, The Wicked Day–but I wanted to understand what about these stories kept them in society’s consciousness for over a thousand years. This lead me to Sara Douglass’ The Betrayal of Arthur.

Finding the book in a local used bookstore was utter serendipity, since it’s never been officially released in the U.S. Douglass, a noted Australian fantasy author (The Axis trilogy), is also a scholar and brings both perspectives to bear on the Arthurian tales. She traces them from the eariest oral traditions up to the present (or rather, 1999 when the book was pubished). As her title implies she sees betrayal as the central theme, but not in the simple way you might expect. She acknowledges the Lancelot/Guinevere duplicity, but sees it as just one more example of a life sunken in perfidy. From the moment of conception–Uther Pendragon raping Ygerna, whether by deception or force–Arthur’s life is doomed. Sexual betrayal becomes the central theme. She explains why the various eras have responded to Arthur, how and why they’ve changed it to suit their times, and what it means to them.

I was so fascinated by all this the first time I read the book that I missed what is actually a sizable undercurrent: her utter contempt for anyone since T.H. White who has dared to write about Arthur. From Marion Zimmer Bradley to Rosemary Sutcliffe, she implies that these authors simply lack the capacity to understand the material with which they’re working.

On her web page, she devotes a fair bit of space to describing the process behind this book. Even here, her disdain for modern versions of the story is plain:

“Firstly (and uncomfortably for our modern age which doesn’t like such things), the Arthurian legend as it was developed in the medieval period was a moralistic tragedy…Secondly (and this is bound to be an unpopular theme), Arthur failed because he was himself a flawed king and man.”

There are other examples, but if the disdain is so thick it comes through in the author’s own web page synopsis, you can imagine how it permeates the book.

And that annoys me, both because I’ve written my own “Arthurian” novel, and because despite being a modern fantasy author, I feel quite capable of understanding any aspect of folklore or mythology that interests me. I have no doubt Ms.Douglass would dislike Dark Jenny for several reasons (that I can’t go into because they’re spoilers). But the elephant in the room that she seems to miss is that we (contemporary authors) are doing the same thing Geoffrey of Monmouth, Thomas Malory and TH White did in their times: creating Arthurian tales for our audiences. We may not recite ballads around campfires, or perform with lutes for royalty, but we know our readers as well as those great storytellers of the past knew theirs. In a thousand years, who knows which current works will be held up alongside Malory, et.al.? Bradley certainly seems well on the way to standing the test of time.

In the conclusion of her webpage synopsis, Ms. Douglass says, “The Betrayal of Arthur is not a sop to popular culture, expectations or needs.” No kidding. It remains, for me, a classic and a crucial step in the development of Dark Jenny. I wish it didn’t also, after my recent re-read, leave such a sour aftertaste.

Release day for DARK JENNY

Posted on by Alex in Dark Jenny, Eddie LaCrosse, release date | 5 Comments

Today is the official release day for the third Eddie LaCrosse novel, DARK JENNY. It drops as a trade paperback, e-book for all the usual platforms, and audiobook, read once again by Stefan Rudnicki.

And how, you ask, does this novel stack up to the previous ones?

“Bledsoe skillfully combines humor, action, deduction, and emotion to make the material fresh and engaging for fans of both fantasy and noir.” –Publishers Weekly starred review

“Bledsoe’s clever combination of noir and myth makes for an engaging story, and placing investigator Eddie at the center offers a fresh twist.”–Booklist starred review

“The third Eddie LaCrosse adventure delivers a skewed version of the King Arthur legend that is at once both tongue-in-cheek and strangely powerful.”–Library Journal

“Dark Jenny is unlike any fantasy novel I have ever read before.”–Bookworm Blues

“Bledsoe’s latest is a superb work of fantasy; he treats the Arthurian Legend template with respect, and does some great imaginative updates.”–The Agony Column

“Dark Jenny is a lot like the movie Clue on a twisted date with The Princess Bride.”The World in the Satin Bag

“(It can) heal the sick, raise the dead, make the little girls talk outta their heads.”–Jerry Lee Lewis (okay, he was talking about himself, but I like to quote the Killer whenever possible)

DARK JENNY is available at all major online and brick-and-mortar outlets.

Read the first chapter of DARK JENNY

Posted on by Alex in Dark Jenny, Eddie LaCrosse, writing | Leave a comment

Check out the first chapter of Dark Jenny here.