I have a new book. It’s called EXIT. It’s out now. Please buy it.
That’s what I want to say. The story disapproves of my directness. It wants me to delete the above sentence. I don’t. I won’t.
Many authors will tell you that writing is not easy. I’ll happily tell you the same. Once I finish writing, editing, writing some more, deleting, and finally, reading the story, I don’t want to look at it anymore. The story feels the same. We glance at each other across the room in uncomfortable silence. We know too much… of each other and ourselves.
It doesn’t get any easier.
In all honesty, I find writing blog pieces and introductions, like this, the hardest part. I think it’s because it comes at the end. By now, my story and I just want to go our separate ways. However, we have to do this. Since I have the fingers, it’s my job to do it. The story just peeks over my shoulder every now and then in order to correct me or point out a spelling mistake. If ever stories gained fingers. I shudder to think.
So, I want you to give a good home to a story. It’s well-trained in as much as it can be, however, it probably won’t love you. You will probably catch it staring at you from time to time. Those moments when you’re alone in the house or flat and you hear a noise – yep, that will probably be the story.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say it would be nice to forget 2018. I shall not mourn its passing in a few weeks.
Forgetting the bad years isn’t as easy as turning the page on a calendar. The effects and consequences linger on in your life. In some cases, that may be forever. Does it extend beyond forever? We don’t know. Perhaps we do it all over again, only forgetting everything in the process. Perhaps it never really gets any better.
Can we change ourselves? Our lives? Our past? Can we forge a different outcome?
Tommy and Mary would like to think so…
What if the soundtrack to your life was forever stuck, unchanging, on repeat.
How far would you go to change the person you are?
Tommy and Mary wanted to get out of the city and away from the loop that their life had become. Where better than the backwoods to really forget about everything and find yourself?
It is often the quietest places that are the loudest. Silence rings with the echoes of the past bringing with it unwanted memories. Finding himself may prove to be the last thing Tommy wants to do.
Remembering to forget is harder than it sounds.
If you haven’t guessed it already, the story, EXIT, is a little… weird.
I started writing the story back in the autumn of 2017. At the time, I was based in Osaka, Japan, and had recently finished writing 01134 and Wednesday Girl (yours for free… if you subscribe to the website via that semi-annoying pop-up you probably already closed).
I had initially decided to write a flash-fiction about a relatively nice American couple that pay a visit to the backwoods and end up being cooked for breakfast. This is not that story.
EXIT will not appeal to everyone. It isn’t scary. It’s not warm and fuzzy. It might be unsettling, but probably not. It is just… weird.
As author CW Hawes described it after having the manuscript thrust before him to read: “It’s… dreampunk.”
I think that sums EXIT up quite nicely. If you have never heard of dreampunk before, think of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in the excellent Through the Looking-Glass or Neil Gaiman’s brilliant Sandman (amongst several of his other stories). In both examples, there is something… unsettling… behind the author’s words, daring you to look beyond. To perhaps take a second glance at the world you think you know and your place within it. I’m certainly not saying EXIT will do that for you (or that it is on par with either work of those great aforementioned writers), but stranger things have happened.
True enough, the original idea started out as a simple horror flash fiction. The underlying idea for EXIT, however, came to me as a passenger in a car back in 1995. It was just me and a friend. We were driving back from a spur of the moment jaunt to the New Forest in Hampshire, England. I was supposed to be writing an essay for university but decided to procrastinate for as long as possible. When I got a call asking if I was busy, well…
Anyway, we were driving back in her banged-up Mini Cooper when I popped a cassette into the tape deck. It was a second-hand deck, nothing special. I think there may have been a CD as well, but the details of the memory are a little vague now. It was the cassette that we were listening to anyway.
It was autumn. I remember the sun slowly sinking as we drove, casting a golden glow over the fields and trees. It was one of those occasions where you could just drive forever, stuck in that moment.
I was tree jumping in my mind. You know, when you imagine yourself running alongside the car leaping over obstacles along the way.
We were on the outskirts of Winchester when it all went wrong.
We got stuck in traffic on the outskirts near the industrial park. I’ve no idea why, but I remember it being busy. That was when the tape we were listening to started to warble. We tried to rescue it, but as the deck regurgitated the cassette, it continued chewing on its entrails, leaving great loops of tape stuck inside. I think we may have used a pencil to patch it up, but it was in pretty bad shape and seemed reluctant to be played again after its near-death experience.
It was when I would get home that evening that, instead of getting on with writing my essay, I would sit and muse and write. The fragment which stuck in my mind was about that drive back and the unfortunate cassette.
You see, perhaps life is that cassette you used to listen to in the car. You have that favourite track, some others that are pretty good, and a few that you could care less about. We glance out the window and see the world passing by. Sometimes we stop. Sometimes we never get going. Other times, we just keep driving, desperate to reach that final destination…
EXIT is set in America, although it isn’t really defined as to where exactly. The same is true of the year – it could be now or it could be ten or twenty years ago. Of those I asked, the answer was varied. I like that.
In addition, I worked a couple of Easter eggs into the story. They could be rather obscure, but those with a keen eye that share something of the same taste will undoubtedly uncover them. Have at it!
As with 01134, there will be no separate cover reveal. It’s a plain and simple one, as you can see on the device to the right. The cover image is just stock that I retouched. Yet it conveys everything that I wanted in a cover. The print edition will, of course, have a back cover. Perhaps I’ll do a reveal for that. It’s sort of fitting, in some ways. Back cover… exit… you get the picture.
I’ll post a book trailer and the usual playlist of tracks I listened to whilst writing along with some visual pins at a later date.
EXIT is available in digital format from yesterday and can be found at all major online stores. The print edition will likely not be available until a few weeks into the new year.
Anyway, for those of you sitting on the fence, here’s part of Chapter 1, in which Tommy and Mary are definitely not eaten for breakfast… enjoy!
– Finding Lost –
He flicked the turn signal even though the road was empty and had been for the last sixty-odd miles. The impenetrable corridor of trees that flanked them suddenly broke to the left. Sure enough, there was the side-road. They must have missed it earlier. He slowed and checked his mirror. No one was behind him.
“Wow, look at that view, Tommy.”
Despite his natural urge to keep his eyes on the road, he flicked his gaze in the direction of the outstretched finger. Partially hidden behind the thick expanse of the forest was a bright blue lake.
A sudden movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. He shifted his gaze. “Jesus!”
He slammed the brakes. A blue Chevy pickup sounded its horn and swerved, narrowly missing them. Tommy mouthed an apology. The driver of the blue pickup, a large bearded man complete with baseball cap, flicked a finger at him as he sped past on the verge.
Tommy wound the window down “Yeah, right back at you, pal.”
“Tommy, don’t. Remember, we’re here to get away from it all.”
“I know, Mary, but—”
“All right. All right. Let’s go.” He took his foot off the brake and they continued. This time keeping his eyes fixed upon the road ahead as it wound through the trees.
“Over there,” said Mary, spotting a small wooden building with a sign marking it as a general store. Tommy pulled up outside, parking alongside a green Ford Fairmont. A canoe was attached to the roof.
“Looks like this area is better known than we thought,” he said, nodding at another car parked up near the store with camping equipment crammed into the trunk.
Mary smiled. “Well, great minds think alike.”
Tommy kissed her. “Come on,” he said as he got out of the car.
The general store was just that. General. A simple aisle of wooden shelves stood in the middle filled with all manner of items ranging from fishing tackle and trapping gear to detergent and sacks of grain.
As they entered another couple were leaving, arms full of fishing gear. They smiled and exchanged greetings before heading back to their car leaving Tommy and Mary alone.
“Here for the hunting?”
“Are you here for the hunting?” asked the man again, standing up from behind the counter. He was clean-shaven, maybe in his mid-sixties, with a red and black checked shirt finished with a baseball cap that bore the southern cross. As he moved around the counter he walked with a limp.
“Hunting? No. We’re here for the camping. Y’know, escape from the city for a few days.”
The man smiled. “Well, this is the place if you want to get lost.”
Mary smiled. “See,” she said, hugging Tommy’s arm.
“Name’s Luke,” said the old man.
“Tommy. And this is my wife, Mary.”
Luke smiled. The old man cocked his head and regarded Tommy. “Say, have you two been here before?”
“Us?” asked Tommy. “Never.”
“First time,” Mary added.
“Really? I rarely forget a face,” said Luke, scratching at his chin. “Ah well, as I said, this is the place to come if you want to forget.”
Tommy blinked. “Uh, I think you said—”
Mary elbowed him in the ribs. “Happens all the time. We have those sort of faces, I guess.”
Luke smiled and shrugged. “Well, how can I help you folks?”
“Well, Luke,” said Tommy, rubbing his side, “we were just looking for some meat. Y’know, sausages or perhaps some burger patties.”
Luke rubbed his chin. “Well, I don’t have anything like that, but I’ve some steaks out back that you could cook up on a fire if you like.”
Tommy draped an arm around Mary’s shoulder. “How’s that sound?”
“Sounds good, Luke,” said Mary. “We’ll take four.”
Luke nodded. “Four it is. Anything else?”
“No. I think that’s it really. Oh, I don’t suppose you’ve any wine?”
The old man gave them a smile. “Not much call for wine around these parts. Got some beer if that would do?”
“Sure, Luke, beer will do just fine,” said Tommy, gently squeezing Mary’s arm. They shared a smile.
The old man regarded them and offered a nod. “Beer’s over there, in the corner. Second shelf. I’ll go get those steaks.”
Mary browsed the shelves while the old man went out into the back. Tommy grabbed two six-packs. “Look at some of this stuff,” said Mary as she traced a finger across the jagged teeth of an old trap hung up on the wall. “So cruel.”
“Different way of life out this way,” said Tommy shrugging.
They both jumped as the trap snapped shut.
“Careful, there,” said the old man, slapping a parcel of brown paper down on the counter. “That there trap will take your hand clean off.”
Tommy set the two six-packs down alongside the parcelled meat. “I thought the hunting season was over?”
“Well, that might be true elsewhere, but this isn’t elsewhere. Hunting is a way of life around these parts, ma’am. Only way to put food on the table for some folks.”
“What do you hunt?” asked Mary.