Monday, December 12, 2011

Black and Orange by Benjamin Kane Ethridge - Interview, excerpt:PUYB Tour Stop

Forget everything you know about Halloween. The stories are distortions. They were created to keep the Church of Midnight hidden from the world. Every October 31st a gateway opens to a hostile land of sacrificial magic and chaos. Since the beginning of civilization the Church of Midnight has attempted to open the gateway and unite with its other half, the Church of Morning. Each year they’ve come closer, waiting for the ideal sacrifice to open the gateway permanently. This year that sacrifice has come. And only two can protect it.

Martin and Teresa are the nomads, battle-hardened people who lack identity and are forever road-bound on an endless mission to guard the sacrifice. Their only direction is from notes left from a mysterious person called the Messenger. Endowed with a strange telekinetic power, the nomads will use everything at their disposal to make it through the night alive.

But matters have become even more complicated this year. Teresa has quickly lost ground battling cancer, while Martin has spiraled into a panic over being left alone. His mind may no longer be on the fight when it matters most… because ever on their heels is the insidious physical representation of a united church: Chaplain Cloth.


October 31st of Last Year
Where was Tony Nguyen? Where was the Heart of the Harvest?
Martin couldn’t answer that. He’d lost his gun, his mind could not conjure another mantle– he was powerless. The answers he desperately needed escaped him. He just ran. Teresa wove through a field of tall grass and he followed. The brittle blades swept across his face, snapping and hissing as they went. The children flooded into the field, their dark orange jaws snapping in concert with the disruption in the grass. Martin could hear Teresa wheezing. Her pace slowed. He had to match it; she wouldn’t be left behind, not like–
Where was Tony?
Thousand of little fiends chomped hollowly, hungry to fill that hollowness– instinctively Martin attempted to throw a mantle and dissect the crowd, but his brain had gone completely dry; he’d overdone it. There was no mental power left. He’d failed Tony. They both had. Now the Church of Midnight would have their sacrifice. The same realization flooded into Teresa’s cold face as she sprinted through the darkness ahead. He’d wasted his power, she was ill and the Church was too damned powerful now.
Chaplain Cloth was too damned powerful. And he took Tony. Somewhere along the line Martin and Teresa had lost the Heart of the Harvest, Tony Nguyen, that single soul that was theirs to protect from sacrifice.
The nightscape sloped. One of the children clamped onto Teresa’s leg with its serrated teeth and twisted its head to rip at the tendons there. Martin brought down a boot on its pumpkin shaped skull. The head trauma forced the jaws open. Martin jumped forward to crush it. The thing growled and jumped to meet him. Teresa swung around and stopped the creature mid-flight with the butt of her handgun. Her frayed jeans grew dark with blood but she ran on. The other children gained. Colorless trees flooded past, the open field turning into dense forest.
Maybe Tony had gotten away somehow. They couldn’t lose another Heart of the Harvest. The gateway grew too wide already– another sacrifice would bring the other world too close to theirs. Goddamnit, where was Tony Nguyen? Did he trip and fall somewhere? Martin’s foot hit a root. He tumbled sideways, landed on his elbow in a wet bed of leaves. Teresa took his hand and ripped him to his feet. But it wasn’t Teresa. This person wore a new face and new eyes.
Martin twisted away from the old monster. The shark-belly skin, the night black suit and orange tie. Trees exploded behind Martin in a rush of splintery debris. He found his strength, forced on a path of adrenaline, and brought up a mantle that moment. The invisible shield wrapped around his body and deflected the attack. Martin’s heel caught mud and he slid fast into a black ravine. He lost hold of the mantle when he splashed down. His protection vanished. Where was Teresa? Where was Tony? Martin was alone.
His legs slopped through a waist-high stream. Chaplain Cloth hadn’t come down after him and as much as that might have been a relief, it meant his direction had turned elsewhere. Martin couldn’t let that happen, not to Tony, not to Teresa. He charged hard through the cold stream and broke out of the arresting water onto a steep embankment. The memory of Cloth’s face burned in his mind: needles of pitchy hair swinging over one black eye, and the orange eye engulfed in hate. His teeth were raw pink like flayed muscle, colored from past harvests, colored with those Hearts that never saw another November.
Screams echoed from a bubble of light somewhere north. Martin’s legs burned red-hot. Can’t stop. He focused to build another mantle. The cold spot in his brain, where mantles were drawn, bloomed with power. The light in the forest intensified. Shadows became more distinct. A voice yelled for him.
“Martin! Here!” Teresa peered out between some stunted trees. Her face was streaked in dirt and dried blood. “Get over here.”
He dove into the hiding place and sidled up next to her. Her words came out between gulps of air. Her wheeze sounded dry, but he knew it’d get worse soon in this dampness. “We have to get back to the van. We’ve lost him Martin. They have Tony. Tony’s gone! Let’s go.”
“How do you know? Did–?”
She guided his face over, leaving dank mud on his chin. In his confusion he’d overlooked a nearby ledge over a washout. Pine trees wreathed the area in a nighttime vertigo. At the other side of the washout stood an old brick structure, a primary school left to ruin. A gaping mouth opened through the bricks. The gateway leading to the Old Domain stretched forth impatiently, power-starved. At the other side of the bilious corridor, human arms pushed and pulled and wrenched to open a fist-sized hole separating the worlds. The arms withdrew a moment and a woman’s face filled the hole. Smiling. It was a lovely face with corpse cold eyes.
They shrunk back as Chaplain Cloth strode from the gathering of trees adjoining the school. Tony Nguyen’s furrowed body hung limp in Cloth’s arms. He was alive, but Martin knew that wouldn’t last long.
“We have to do something,” he whispered.
“You know there’s nothing we can do now,” said Teresa. “We can only hope it gateway will shut again. This was bound to happen again.”
“We can try–”
“No,” she said, firmly, “I’m calling this one.”
Tony wasn’t scared, although the abrasions from Cloth’s children had almost bled him out. So very brave– thought Martin. How had they let this happen? They were too slow.
Without warning, the boy’s torso twisted back; the spine snapped in three places. The Chaplain rested his hand on the damp white shirt and it jumped apart at the poisonous touch. Through Tony’s abdomen, the ribcage surfaced through the skin like the hull of a sunken ship. Once each bone was exposed, they shattered in succession. Cloth blinked back at the chalky discharges. Strands of muscle and skin ignited and burst into tiny organic filaments. Cloth worked a pale finger around the dense muscle in the cavity. Pulled the heart free from Tony’s chest.
The Heart of the Harvest didn’t glow, or shimmer, or change colors. It looked like a human heart, like any mammal heart, a tough piece of bloody flesh. But then Martin saw– everything for miles around had been deprived of color. Teresa’s face looked gray beside him. Even Cloth’s black and orange eyes were two smoky discs. Yet the heart had a burgundy hue so ferocious it looked like something from a surreal dream, an apple galvanized with cinnamon steel.
Tony’s jaw clicked as his body met the forest’s carpet of twigs and leaves. He was carrion now because of them. This kid, this great kid that once explained in detail how he planned to code videogames after college, and once he mastered that, wanted a large family– he wasn’t one of those guys who hated the idea. Becoming a good father someday was his ultimate goal, because his own father left so much to be desired. Tony had wanted to have a life after this Halloween. And now he would be fertilizer for the forest. Dust.
The heart was placed outside the gateway. The arms inside thrashed frantically as the brilliant red lump boiled. A swarm of children attacked the organ, taking measured bites of the fruit. Their bulbous bodies fled inside, charged with radiant power. Hundreds detonated. Through the eclipses of darkness and light, layers of the hole collapsed into soot. The opening widened and a slender arm, the woman’s arm, came through with her head. She moved quickly through, for the gateway would repair and soon.
“They’re coming through.” Teresa swallowed the words.
“I don’t think it will stay open forever,” Martin told her. They’d lost Hearts before, but he still wasn’t sure.
Laughter scaled the peaks of the hovering pines. More Church members clamored through the forest toward the new arrivals.
Teresa tugged at him, but Martin couldn’t move. All he could do was think about the end. His body came off the ground with a surge of strength. “This is done, Martin. We have to go!”
Thousands of demented orange faces exploded around them. Teresa flung a mantle and it powered through the children like a cannon ball. Martin followed her through the maze of twisting trees, trusting her to lead them to the van.
Chaplain Cloth’s laughter followed them all the way back.


What does your significant other and family think of your writing career?

They’ve always supported me. Growing up, my parents were kind enough to let me use their typewriter, then their word processor, then home PC. They always knew I wanted to write novels and never tried to talk me into something else. My wife also has been there for me. She’s sacrificed to let me go to writing conventions, while leaving her behind with our daughter and all the responsibilities thereof. I’m very lucky to have the family I do.

Do you have critique partners or beta readers?

Absolutely. I know of some anecdotal instances when a certain writer can shoot off a draft and there’s no real cause for an edit, but that’s freakish. I would paraphrase what the very funny and powerfully excellent writer Jeff Stand once said to me, “I want as much help as I can get to save myself any future embarrassments.” A different set of eyes is crucial in providing feedback about how a piece is interpreted. Here you have sweated, bled, cried, maybe even sought chemical and/or emotional therapy from all the agony of creation, and it has come down letting somebody else sit in the vehicle you built. You’ve obsessed this far about how the story is TOLD, but until you have another reader’s response you’ll never know how the story is READ. It’s like singing. You can wail out a high note and in the moment think it’s terrible, only to later listen to the recording and say, “Wow, that’s not half bad.” And vice versa, of course.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing your books?

To me it’s different from book to book, but I’m always surprised how some stories come together quickly and neatly, while others fight, struggle and claw into existence.

How do you describe your writing style?

I approach style like a chameleon. If the story calls for a florid, verbose form of prose, that’s what I want to do. If the story is a straight forward action driven piece, I tend to focus on word economy. I think its hilarious how some folks, readers and writers both, believe there’s a correct style or an incorrect style. Turns out, there’s not; it’s just what they prefer reading.

In the end, it’s all about what works best. Consider an action-driven “pager-turner” coming in at over a thousand pages. Not to pigeonhole anyone, but most of my friends who diet heavily on action movies think two hours makes for a lengthy film. So maybe a nice, brisk novel is better suited for the action genre. You can disagree and try to bring all the skeptical short attention spans along with you, but that might be an uphill battle there. How about writing an epic fantasy as a minimalist novella? Can it be done? Sure. But should it be done is a better question. I just try to choose the most appropriate style per story.

What do you think makes a good story?

There are some who have an immediately accessible answer for this, just as they do for style choice. A reader should consider what a story sets out to do and judge it on those merits. It drives me nuts when I see internet reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and elsewhere slamming a certain book for asinine reasons. You can tell they desire to hear their critical voice come out more than approaching a fitting critique.

These types follow the classic literature guidelines for everything they read. And I say this, hey, if you’re going to read an expanded universe Star Wars novel, don’t expect greatness—expect lightsabers and lots of them. If you find greatness in an unexpected place, that’s a bonus, not an imperative. I try to understand what I’m getting into with some genre pieces. I’ve actually read a review once that stated an extreme horror novel was too gory and disturbing. That got me scratching my head because the only way an extreme horror novel can fail is if it isn’t gory or disturbing enough.

What book are you reading now?

I’m reading DEMON by Erik Williams and enjoying its fast paced, military-horror action. Williams has thriller-novelist written all up and down him, and I expect to see his books in many paws not before too long.  I’m also reading the short story collection WONDROUS STRANGE by Robin Spriggs. It is, in a word, amazing. Beautiful prose, creepy-disturbing-insane-wicked stories. Spriggs really has become one of my favorites in the past year. I do hope he does a novella or even a novel in the Dark Fantasy genre. That will get me jumping up and down in a hurry.

What is your favorite meal?

I’m so simple-stomached. Spicy chicken burrito meal from Del Taco. If it feels wrong, it has to be right.

What group did you hang out with in high school?

The death metal crowd primarily, but we also included some outliers from the jock group, the computer nerd group, and the indie rock group. We were pretty accepting of anybody, just as long as you allowed us to make fun of you nonstop.


Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s fiction has appeared in Doorways Magazine, Dark Recesses, FearZone, and others. His dark fantasy novel BLACK & ORANGE (Bad Moon Books 2010) has won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in First Novel.

Beyond that he’s written several collaborations with Michael Louis Calvillo, one of which is a novella called UGLY SPIRIT, available in 2011. He also wrote a master’s thesis entitled, “CAUSES OF UNEASE: The Rhetoric of Horror Fiction and Film.” Available in an ivory tower near you.

Benjamin lives in Southern California with his wife and daughter, both lovely and both worthy of better. When he isn’t writing, reading, videogaming, he’s defending California’s waterways and sewers from pollution.

You can visit his website at

Say hi and drop a line at


No comments: