Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Devil's Hand by ME Patterson-Interview: PUYB Tour Stop

About Devil’s Hand:

A Las Vegas poker ace with supernatural luck is swept into a world-ending conflict between fallen angels and otherworldly shades, in a thrilling debut novel for readers who enjoy Dean Koontz, Jim Butcher, and Tim Powers.
The lone survivor of a tragic plane crash, Trent Hawkins inherited a mysterious lucky streak that made him famous, and hated, in the poker circles of the City of Sin. It wasn’t long before the eyes in the sky threw him on the blacklist and chased him out of town. Now, after years away, Trent returns to Las Vegas, and walks right back into trouble.
As a serial kidnapper terrorizes the city, Trent and his wife, Susan, rescue a strange, thirteen year-old girl, only to find themselves caught in a fallen angel’s plot to cleanse Las Vegas with an unholy blizzard.
As the neon dims and the city freezes, Trent is forced to make terrible sacrifices in order to protect his new charge, and learns dark truths about himself and the creatures plotting against mankind. Poker-playing demons, fallen angels, and otherworldly shades all vie to enlist his strange luck, and Trent must choose his role in the coming War, or watch our world fall to ruin beneath a blanket of shadow and ice.


Chapter 1

“The end times are nearly upon us! We will all stand in judgment beneath the watchful eyes of our Lord! Come now, to the arms of the King, and repent! Repent for your sins, and you will find everlasting love in the—”
Bullshit, thought Trent Hawkins as he punched the tuner button and sent the radio frequency careening toward the next solid signal on the band. End times? Who even believes that shit anymore?
He had only listened to “Eddie Palisade’s Hour of Faith” for a few minutes out of sheer curiosity and a certain morbid fascination. Too hellfire-and-brimstone for Trent’s taste, but the syndicated radio show was immensely popular with the God-fearing crowd. Trent had found it on three separate stations as he searched the band for some decent music.
Thick drops of rain splattered against the windshield of the rented moving van. Ahead, the flat horizon glowed like a neon tube set in the sand of the south Nevada desert, and beyond stood the hypercolor wasteland of Las Vegas, a neon monstrosity to which Trent had no interest in returning. He looked sidelong at Susan, asleep in the passenger seat, smiling, blonde hair half-covering the pixie-like features of her face. He would do anything for her, though, even if it meant coming back here.
The radio hissed through a patch of white noise and then settled on an oldies country music station, a bit weak in strength, but listenable. Johnny Cash cried from the van’s tinny speakers, barely audible above the endless drumming of the rain atop the metal roof. Trent smiled. To Hell with Eddie and the “Hour of Faith.” He’d take Cash as his preacher any day.
He shifted uncomfortably in the driver’s seat as the van bounced along Interstate 15. His right thigh ached—an old injury from the crash—the only physical wound that had lasted. The wet-slick road trashed the van’s handling, making every steering adjustment a nerve-wracking event. He had always hated traveling. But after the crash, the hatred had become dread. He wondered again why he had let Susan talk him into coming back here.
He glanced at her, and then at himself in the rearview and used a free hand to adjust the angle of the gray cowboy hat. He didn’t think the hat looked silly. She had said that to him a few months back, on his thirtieth birthday no less, when he’d insisted on wearing it out to meet friends at a bar. She had been teasing, he knew, but still…
“You look ridiculous,” Susan had said. “Like you’re trying to be that guy from Pale Rider.”
“You mean Clint Eastwood?”
Susan frowned. “No, the character, not the actor.”
“The Preacher?” Trent laughed. “You think I look like an old-west preacher? I’m more like the guy in High Plains Drifter.”
Susan had smiled at him then, one of her smiles that made him feel weak and strong at the same time. She leaned in and kissed him on the forehead. “You’re not that guy,” she whispered. “That guy’s pure evil. He only looks out for himself. And that’s just not you, honey.”
Trent smiled at the memory and turned his attention back to the road, fingers drumming on the steering wheel.
Johnny sang out from the radio, “Well, there’s things that never will be right I know—” And then an intense, screeching burst of static, timed perfectly with a shuddering thump upon the roof of the van that set the entire vehicle to ringing. The noise dashed Trent’s smile and he ground his teeth together in surprise.
Susan sat up, alert and confused. “Wha—?”
Trent gripped the steering wheel even tighter as another massive bang rang out from the roof above him. The van skidded wildly on the road. He peered through the window, up at the sky, and saw white dots growing larger and larger until one of them resolved into a chunk of ice that slammed into the windshield right in front of him and exploded, sending icy shards in a radial spray across the glass.
Trent snapped back and his foot hit the brake. The cowboy hat flipped backwards off his head and dropped behind the seat. The moving van squealed and fishtailed, the popping coming faster now, rapid-fire against the metal panels, a sudden and tumultuous barrage of softball-sized hail.
He over-corrected and the vehicle swerved on the two-lane interstate and crossed over the middle before he managed to bring it back into its original lane. Balls of ice smashed against the road and the van and it was all he could do to keep the tires tight against the pavement. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Susan, fully awake now, gripping the door handle in frozen panic, her lips moving, but he couldn’t hear anything except the pounding hail.
He turned his full attention forward again and suddenly saw the thing in the road. A tire? A hubcap? No, something green and rigid, like a piece of a highway sign. Trent threw the wheel to the left, desperate to avoid the debris. The van screeched, swayed, and veered off into the left lane again and then he heard the loud pop and felt the sickening sideways drift as the van careened out of control.
He jammed the brake to the floor again and squeezed the wheel in a death-grip, gritting his teeth as the van pitched off the left shoulder and headed for dirt. He wrenched his right hand free of the wheel, threw his arm across Susan’s chest, and felt her slam against it as the vehicle dove into the muddy desert and slid to an awkward stop.
The hail continued its staccato rhythm upon the metal vehicle as Cash sang, “Well I know I had it coming, I know I can’t be free—”
“Susan, baby, you alright?” Trent leaned across the cab, arm still pinning his wife to her seat.
She looked up at him, eyes wide and mouth agape. She blinked, and then formed a weak smile. “Holy shit,” she said.
Another massive ball of hail splattered against the windshield, making them both jump.
They looked at each other for a long, silent moment and then began to laugh, quietly at first, inaudible above the din, and then louder, until they were both cackling, foreheads pressed together. Trent kissed her and could feel her shaking with both laughter and adrenaline overload. He pulled back, looked at her with a crazed grin on his face, and shook his head.
“I think we blew a tire,” he yelled, gesturing behind him with his thumb.
“Holy shit,” she said again, still chuckling.
Trent looked around the cab for something—anything—that he might use as a shield against the falling hail. He thought about waiting the storm out, but it didn’t look like it intended to let up soon. He needed to get the van moving, or they might end up stuck in the gathering mud. He couldn’t see anything useful, just the old gray Stetson behind his seat—the hat the hospital staff had given him from the wreckage of the plane. They had thought it was his but he never had the heart to tell them it wasn’t. He grabbed it and put it back on his head, covering up his short black hair. He shrugged and kicked open the driver-side door with his foot.
Trent!?” shouted Susan.
He turned to look at her. “What?”
She gave him one of those you’re-doing-something-stupid-again looks that both infuriated him and made him smile. Susan had an arsenal of those kinds of looks; it was part of what made him love her. And Trent had a history of doing stupid things since the crash. Maybe it was facing certain death and winning that had left him dull to the sense of threat. Or maybe the impact with the ground had just knocked a few screws loose. He wasn’t quite sure.
“It’s too dangerous!” she shouted. Another icy softball punctuated her statement by smashing against the windshield right in front of her. She winced.
“Gotta change the tire!” Trent replied. “Or we’ll get stuck in this mud!”
She stared at him for a moment and then, with a determined look, she grabbed the hardcover novel in the passenger-side floorboard, lifted it above her head, and popped open her door.
“Wait—” said Trent, but she was already out, yelling at the top of her lungs, the book barely covering her head.
He stared for a moment, irritated but not surprised. Susan was like that. Farmer’s daughter, never one to stand by while others worked. He shrugged and leapt out the driver’s side and into the pounding hail, expecting that he could make it to the back of the truck without any major damage. After all, he was the luckiest man alive, right?
The first ball smacked against his arm, bringing up an immediate welt and intense, stinging pain. The second smacked against his denim-covered thigh as he dashed toward the back of the van. The third chunk of ice crashed down atop his head. The sudden shot of pain was like a hammer blow, blinding, and he reeled and barely caught himself on a handhold at the back of the U-Haul as the cowboy hat tumbled to the ground.
Susan was there and already had the back of the van open and had jumped inside. She was rummaging through the few pieces of furniture and boxes. Trent grabbed the fallen hat and then managed to climb gingerly in next to her. He slumped down in a beat-up old recliner they had taken from her apartment. Most of the stuff in the van had belonged to Susan. After the Gaming Control Board blacklisted him, they needed money. Trent’s expensive items brought in more cash at the pawn shops. Pawn shops and the GCB—two more reasons he hated seeing that glowing city on the horizon again.
“Yes!” She held up an old whiteboard she had used while studying for her nursing exam. It was large enough for them both to hide under if they crowded close.
“That’ll work,” said Trent. He reached up to touch the sore spot on his head. His fingers came away with sticky blood. “Dammit.”
“Oh, honey, are you okay?” Susan set the whiteboard down and rushed over to him.
He waved her off. “No, no, don’t worry about it. It’s fine.” He jammed the Stetson back onto his head and grinned at her, but her expression still showed worry. “I’ve had a lot worse.”
She gave him a plaintive look.
“Come on,” he said and got up from the recliner. He walked over to the spare tire hanging on the inside wall of the van, next to a hand-crank jack. “Let’s change a tire.”
The off-road jaunt had sent the front driver’s-side tire across a jagged chunk of rock, cutting its rubber flesh like a knife. No way would this roll any further. Trent brought the new tire over, trying his best to avoid the crashing hail as Susan struggled to keep them both beneath the whiteboard.
They worked as a team, Susan holding the flashlight and whiteboard as Trent worked to break the lug nuts on the ruined wheel. Every few minutes, he heard her yelp as a ball of ice crashed down on some part of her that had snuck out from beneath the rectangular shield. He wanted to tell her to quit—to get back inside the truck and let him handle this—but he knew better. She wouldn’t leave him here by himself, even if he told her to.
Trent forced his weight down on the tire iron, struggling to break the last nut. “Dammit!” he swore, as the hail battered the whiteboard over his head. He summoned as much strength as he could find and gave the tire iron a powerful shove. The lug nut broke with a pop, nearly sending Trent pitching forward to the ground as the tire iron started to spin. He dropped to his knee, removed the final nut, and pulled off the useless tire.
The hail stopped, as sudden as it had come.
Susan looked up at the sky and then down at Trent with a quizzical look on her face. He shrugged. The rain had not abated, but at least the pounding hail had quit. She hesitantly lowered the whiteboard. A sudden, sickening thwack startled them both. They looked at the top of the van as Susan shone the flashlight on it. A thin stream of—blood?—was running in a rivulet down the white side-panel.
Trent dropped the tire and stood up. “What the—?”
Another splat as something landed on the van’s hood and they both jumped again. A fish? Another slammed down next to it, splattering Trent with blood. He grimaced and leapt back, away from the van.
Susan screamed as a sudden multitude of fish began to rain down. Panicked, she dropped the whiteboard and ran for the back of the truck, still shrieking, hands covering her head.
Trent watched her go, astounded. He had never seen her so terrified, not once in the years they had been together. She usually had a remarkable fortitude and a stern strength in the face of obstacles. But this… He looked up as dead fish began bouncing off the top of the van.
Fucking Eddie was right, he thought. It is the end times.
He grabbed the fallen whiteboard and sprinted for the back of the van. He reached it and found Susan curled up inside the truck, tears streaming down her face.
“You okay, baby?!” he shouted.
“Jesus Christ!” She looked at him with tears in her eyes. “What does it look like?”
Trent climbed in and put an arm around her. “It’s just fish.”
She sobbed. “It’s not about the fish, Trent.” Tears streamed down her face. “It’s everything. Everything’s gone wrong. We shouldn’t have come back here. The job at the hospital and fucking James and you didn’t want to be here anyway and your head and this place fucking hates us both—”
Trent grabbed her by the shoulders and kissed her on the lips. She kissed him back, hard. After a moment, they pulled away and Trent looked her in the eyes and smiled. “Come on, babe,” he said, gesturing toward the storm raging around them. “It’s just fish. Happens sometimes. Bad storm, tornado picks up some garbage from a lake and throws it a few miles. It’ll be over soon. Least it’s not hail.”
They stared at each other for a moment. Finally, Susan cracked a tentative smile.
Trent laughed. “You gotta find the humor in this, right?”
Susan nodded and took the whiteboard from hand. “Okay,” she said. And then, “Thanks.”
After a minute or so, the rain of fish lightened, and they made their way to the front of the van, to the ruined tire. Susan lifted up the whiteboard, just in time to catch another bloody slap on top of it. Trent dove under the shield and grabbed the spare tire. Something about fish dropping from the sky encouraged him to work harder on the tire. Then the pace picked back up again, as another wave of slimy bodies splattered against the van and the pavement and the muddy shoulder, some still alive, flopping and writhing as they died.
“This is awful!” shouted Susan, struggling to be heard over the thumping sounds of flesh against the metal van.
“At least it doesn’t hurt as much,” Trent replied without looking up from his work. He had two of the lugnuts back on the new wheel; two to go.
Susan stumbled as a particularly hefty fish slammed down atop the blackboard. Blood ran off the edges in glimmering red streams. “Hurry up!” she yelled.
“Okay, got it!” Trent torqued the final nut down and kicked the release on the jack. The van slumped back down, mud squelching from beneath the shiny new tire. “Let’s go.”
They dove into the cab and slammed the door shut. Susan scrambled across the center into the passenger seat. She dumped the whiteboard into the space behind them.
She looked at the windshield, now nearly opaque with fish guts and bloody smears. The periodic thumping against the roof seemed to have a predictable rhythm. “What the fuck?!” she exclaimed, laughing. “This is insane!”
Trent looked at her wryly. “You never been in a fish-storm before?”
She punched him in the shoulder.
He chuckled. “Well we better get this thing out of the mud. Hope it can still move. You need to be at work in the morning.”
The statement made him feel worthless. He had no job. It had only taken a year of unbeatable pro gambling before they blacked him out. A lot of money gained and a lot of money lost; now he did odd jobs if he could find them, and those rarely lasted long. Bad things happened at job sites when Trent was around. After the crash, when the swelling had gone down and his spine turned out to be intact, the doctors called him the ‘luckiest man alive,’ but he didn’t really feel it, not anymore at least. Except at the poker table, he felt just the opposite.
He glanced at Susan, who had pulled her blood-smeared rain slicker around her shoulders. The storm had brought an unusually cold chill with it. She grinned at him, still shaking her head. He smiled back. Well, mostly unlucky, he thought.
A trio of fish smacked wetly on the glass in front of him and then slid slowly down onto the hood. He flicked on the wipers, creating a transparent pink window amidst the blood, illuminated weirdly by the coruscating shafts of colorful light from Las Vegas in the distance.
He gunned the engine. The wheels spun in the mud, but eventually caught, and the van hauled itself back onto the road. The hail chunks had nearly all melted, but the dead fish were not going anywhere, making driving even worse than before. It felt like riding on grease.
Trent eased the vehicle back into the proper lane and gave it just enough gas to set it trundling down the Interstate, barely topping 10 MPH. Only twenty miles to go, but he figured it would be near-morning before they made it to the new apartment.
“Hey, hon?”
Trent glanced at Susan. “Yeah?”
“Thank you.”
Trent nodded, then ran his hand through his hair, matted and wet with rainwater and blood. He winced when he touched the spot where the hail had struck.
“It’s okay,” he said.
But he wondered at the truth in that. It didn’t seem like Vegas wanted him back any more than he wanted to be there. It definitely did not seem okay.

Read my review HERE.

Listening to The Man in Black
by M. E. Patterson

In another blog post, I talk about looking for your next door muse – finding that activity or source that inspires and seeds and stretches your brain with new and fascinating ideas. But, in my writing experience, there’s lots more that you can do to put your head in the right space to generate badass fiction. And one of the big things for me has been music.

Now, I’ll admit that some days I find music distracting and have to turn it off and write in silence. For whatever reason, this often seems more conducive to generating the quiet, carefully-plotted creepy scenes. It’s hard to concoct a moment where the protagonist is beset upon by silent, lurking shadows when you’ve got Lady Gaga blasting in the background.

But when the moment’s right and the scene is right, the perfect music accompaniment can draw out more nuanced emotion, more complicated behavior, and sometimes a surprise left turn when you were expecting the character to go right. It’s almost as though the characters themselves can hear the soundtrack, and respond accordingly.

For Devil’s Hand, several musicians had pretty direct influence on the story, even going so far as to actually suggest a major plot point with one lyric. Sister Machine Gun’s [R]evolution album figured heavily in the makeup of Trent’s character, especially songs like “Carbon Copy Man” and “Strange.” Albums by Evanescence and Tool were on frequent rotation when working on characters like Celia and the Prince of the Shadow Realms. And other artists snuck in too: Morphine, Beck, Nine Inch Nails, and Bonnie Prince Billy, to name a few.

But no musician influenced Devil’s Hand and it’s upcoming sequels as much as Johnny Cash.

As a child of the Appalachians, I have roots that stretch into the soil there and remain connected, even now that I live under the hot sun of Texas. The music of the mountain folk, the bluegrass, and the religion-hued old-style country still speak to some deeper part of me, and I find myself returning to them whenever digging into the world of Trent and Celia and Ramón and the demons. And, for my money, no man draws the listener into that musical world better than Mr. Cash.

From his classics like “Ring of Fire” to his more recent covers of powerful songs like “There Ain’t No Grave” and “Hurt,” Johnny’s voice and styling evoke a deep and complicated relationship between man and God, sin and redemption, and law and rebellion. Of course, these are all direct themes in Devil’s Hand. Johnny Cash’s songs, and indeed his own life, reflect the more difficult aspects of stories tied to the Judeo-Christian traditions. It’s simply not that easy to be a pure man of good in a world so dark. Every choice made has both light and dark repercussions. Every path taken can lead to Hell if you don’t pay attention to the road signs.

Johnny Cash understood this better than anybody. He walked those roads, turned around, came back, then found himself heading right back down them again. This personal struggle defined his life and music and, instead of burying it behind a glitzy mask and effervescent smile like so many other popular musicians, Cash brought it out, full and clear and uncompromising, in his songs. As far as I’m concerned, Johnny was the musical equivalent of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno.

The next time you lay fingers down on your keyboard, ready to build up your newest hero or villain, think about their personal soundtrack. What musician or song encapsulates your fiction in five minutes of tune and lyrics? What speaks to the incidents and decisions and personal demons that drive your character forward, hold them back, haunt their waking hours? What music would make them happy, giddy, jubilant, triumphant?

Yours doesn’t have to be dark and brooding like Cash; that works for me because of the story I’m writing. But maybe your heroine sashays to the sultry sounds of Norah Jones. Perhaps your hero rolls on waves of bass beneath the Los Angeles sun. Your mad scientist works feverishly against the violent, building crescendo of a great symphony. And when an important character dies, is a full military band playing taps, or is a lone vocalist standing just out of sight, her song quiet and forlorn?

When I sit down to write the more challenging, nuanced parts of Trent Hawkin’s journey through the dark reality of the Drawing Thin series, I find myself associating his fictional trials and tribulations to those real ones that faced The Man in Black and the characters that figured in his lyrics. Trent struggles, like Cash and his subjects, with the repercussions of terrible mistakes, with the realities of an imperfect nature, with Faustian choices where the road leads into darkness either way, with the struggle between doing what’s right and doing what must be done. Yet, through it all, Trent never forgets where he came from or who is important to him. The music of Johnny Cash never fails to echo that with grace and perfection and that signature gritty toughness. With The Man in Black backing him up, Trent won’t forget who he really is, no matter what situation I send him into.

With the right soundtrack, there ain’t no grave that can hold Trent down.


M. E. Patterson is an author of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and thrillers, as well as an information technologist. He received an English/Fiction Writing degree from Virginia Tech, where he studied under nationally-recognized writers and poets. He has published short stories on RevolutionSF and his first manuscript for his book, Devil’s Hand, placed in the top five in the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest.

You can visit his website at  or his blog. Connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.


Wednesday, October 12
Thursday, October 13
Interviewed at Blogcritics
Friday, October 14
Book spotlighted at Book Marketing Buzz

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