Thursday, November 7, 2013

Try Not to Burn by Michael Matula: Character Interview and Excerpt


The character I've chosen is Samantha Reiss, one of the three main characters from Try Not to Burn.  She’s a former bank robber turned death row inmate, who was killed by lethal injection and is now trapped in Hell City with the two other main characters, Brandon Morales and Jane Calrin.

Who is your favorite author?

Sylvia Plath, I guess.  I had to read that book of hers back in high school—you know, the one about the jar—and it was a bit morbid, but it wasn't half bad.

What do you think makes a good story?

A happy endin’.  Man, I could sure use one a’ those. 

Tell us about your family.

Me and my brother were real close.  Always had been.  But I never got along with my parents.  They were ultra-conservative, straight-laced types, and we clashed heads a lot.  After my mom kicked me outta the house, I ended up leavin' Dallas with my boyfriend.  That’s around when I started helpin’ out with the bank jobs. 

What was the scariest moment of your life?

That needle was pretty scary, I have to admit.  Lethal injection’s no joke.  But wakin’ up for the first time in Hell, surrounded by killers and scumbags, without a friend in the world...there ain’t nothin’ scarier than that.

What songs are most played on your Ipod?

What’s an Ipod?  Is it like a Walkman or something?  I died in 1993.  You’d have to ask Brand and Jane that question.  They died in the future.  I mean, they died in your present, which is my future…Ugh.  Never mind.  This place likes to mess with your head.

What would we find under your bed?

Well, if I had a bed, I’d stash my gun there.  I never let that bad-boy outta my sight.  You can never be too careful here, you know?  All the other inmates I’m trapped with are bad enough, but you won't even believe some of the things I’ve seen here.  Like, who thought it was a good idea to put zombies in the afterlife?  Or spiders with blades on their legs, for that matter.  Or giant freakin’ snakes.  I mean, seriously.  It’s not even fair.

What one word best describes you?

Survivor.  I won't let this place get me.  No matter what it takes.  I don't quit.  For better or worse, that's one thing I just don't do.

Do you have any special routines or rituals?

Every mornin’, we all wake up wearin’ the same clothes we had on when we died.  So every mornin’, I gotta change outta this ugly old prison jumpsuit and put on somethin’ else.  As Jane often says, orange ain’t really my color. 

Shot to death in the line of duty, Officer Brandon Morales awakens in a much darker world than the one he left.  Trying to makes sense of it all, Brand stumbles across Sam and Jane, two women simply struggling to survive. With their souls hanging in the balance, and eternal damnation never more than one wrong turn away, these three strangers will need to put their trust in one another in order to stay one step ahead of the flames of Hell. But when enemies pose as trusted friends, when lost loves crumble the will to continue, and when hidden desires threaten to tear allegiances apart, it will take more than faith and determination to pass God's final test.  It will take a miracle.

Brand’s mind raced as he tried to think of something to change the subject, for his new buddies were starting to get rather combative. He thought of something that they had said before, while he was in black, but had never asked him while he was awake.  
“What is a Mark?” he inquired.  
Jane and Sam both looked at him, stopping what they had been doing, which was glaring daggers at each other.  
“Oh yeah,” Sam said, shaking her head a couple of times. “I forgot to tell you. I’ve had a lotta’ shit to fill you in on, an' it slipped my mind.”  
She walked over to him and pointed to the inside of her right forearm, where after a moment of study, he saw a small faint circle, made of a thin white line.  
“What’s that?”  
“A Mark. It’s where you received your fatal wound. Everyone here has a Mark somewhere. Some of ‘em are hard to find, but other ones are right on their faces.”  
He was about to ask how a wound on her forearm could be fatal, but stopped himself. He knew. He remembered the prison uniform she’d been wearing when she awoke. She had died by lethal injection.  
“Do you see where mine is?” Brand asked.  
“No. How’d you die?”  
“I was the head. I don’t know where, though. I can’t remember much of it.”  
She stood on her tiptoes, and looked closely at his face. “It could be under your hair,” she said. “Or behind your ear.”  
Brand started to feel a bit uncomfortable, being examined like a “Where’s Waldo” picture.  
“I have one at the top of my mouth,” Jane said. “It took Sam a long time to find that one. I still haven’t seen it, ‘cause there aren’t any good mirrors here, and the lighting really sucks.”  
Sam examined him a couple more minutes, during which Brand tried not to breathe out of his mouth, for he wasn’t entirely certain how his breath was. He had used mouthwash the morning before he died, but wasn’t sure if that stayed with him along with his clothes.  
Finally, she said, “I see it!” and waved for Jane to come forward. “See? It’s right there.”  
She pointed at his right eye, her finger about an inch away.  
“Oh, I see it,” Jane said, then cringed. “Ouch. That must’a hurt. You got shot right in your eye.”  
Brand tried to back up, but he wasn’t far from the wall. They were still staring at him.  
“Actually, I didn’t feel anything,” he told them. “It just all went dark. And the next thing I knew, I was hearing both of your voices.”  
“Yeah,” Jane said. “Me and Sam were talking, and then suddenly there you were, right on the floor. Scared the shit outta’ us.”  
“What’s the point of a Mark?” Brand asked Sam. “Is it just a scar, or what?”
“I think it’s a reminder,” Sam replied, lowering her hand and taking a step back. “I mean, I’ve met ‘mates before who got sliced up with a razor blade before they died, or got stabbed in the back ten times before gettin' shot in the head. But none of those cuts had been fatal, an’ they didn’t have any scars from them when they came here.” Sam grinned. “Jane’s got a theory about that too.” 
“Well, there’s not much to do here other than think and talk,” Jane said in her defense.  
“I don’t know if I can handle another theory,” Brand said, taking a seat on the floor, his back against the wall.  
“You don’t know how grateful I am that you said that,” Sam said wryly, and Brand returned her smile.  
“I’m not gonna’ dignify that with a response,” Jane said, and Sam’s grin widened.  
“So where you from, Brand?” Sam asked.  
“San Francisco. You?”  
“A town about an hour from Dallas,” she said, looking toward the window, getting a faraway look in her eyes. “Ended up in New Jersey with my boyfriend, after he needed a sudden change of scenery. Goin’ with him wasn’t the greatest idea, in hindsight. Guy didn’t make stellar career choices—let’s just leave it at that. But after my mom kicked me outta’ the house, I didn’t feel I had much of a choice.” 
“I was born in Minneapolis,” Jane offered, fiddling with her fingers, “but we moved to Florida when I was about ten ‘cause my dad got a job offer there. I spent the last couple years in Miami.” After a moment, she asked, “Is anyone else really freakin’ hungry?”  
Both Sam and Brand nodded. Brand hadn’t even realized how hungry he was, though, until Jane said something. He hadn’t given any thought to food. He just figured that he was dead and no longer needed to eat.  
Jane made her way over to where she’d plopped her duffel bag on the floor and knelt down by it. She pulled on the zipper a few times, but the zipper seemed to be sticking.  
“You two are lucky I packed a lunch when I went to school,” she said, “and that I didn’t always just buy one at the cafeteria. We raid my lunch every day. It gets really boring, eatin’ the same junk every day, but at least we don’t have to go to Eden for food.”  
“Eden?” Brand asked, not really worried about the answer, for his mouth was starting to water.  
“It’s the park at the edge of the city,” Sam informed him. “I don’t know why they call it Eden, ‘cause it sure ain’t no paradise. But some of the ‘mates seem to have a deep appreciation for irony. It can be even more dangerous than the city.”  
“What kind of food?” Brand asked.  
Jane continued her efforts to unzip the bag. “Shit, it does this every fucking day,” she said, frustrated. She paused for a few seconds, looked up at Brand and answered his question. “Fruit, mostly. There are a lot of fruit trees in there. But don’t eat the apples.”  
Brand frowned. “You’ve got to be joking.”  
“She is,” Sam said, smirking. “There aren’t even any apples in the park.”  
Seeing Jane was still having trouble with the bag, Brand, growing hungrier by the second, walked over to her and asked, “Mind if I try?”  
She shrugged and backed up a couple steps. “Fine. But you have to jiggle it, pull it back, then forward, and back again and it should—”  
She stopped talking as she saw Brand grab the bag on both sides of the zipper and yank, ripping the stitches open on the left side.  
“What did you do that for?” she asked, eyes wide.  
“Don’t worry,” he told her, standing straight. “It should be fine tomorrow.”  
“You’re a fast learner,” Sam said.  
“Why don’t you just leave it open when you take out the clothes?” Brand asked Jane. “It opened fine then.”  
“I've asked her that before,” Sam told him. “She’s too stubborn to listen to me.”  
“Why do you two have to gang up on me?” Jane asked, pouting. She knelt back down and produced the large brown paper lunch bag from the duffel bag.  
She opened the bag, peered in and said, “Well, we got a ham and cheese sandwich, a pear, a can of warm soda, a bag of corn chips, and...a piece of leftover lasagna.”  
“Wow, you used to eat all that?” Brand asked, surprised she still had her slim figure.  
“I was a growing girl,” she answered. “An’ I got a quick metabolism.”  
“I don’t want to impose—” he started to say, but Sam cut him off. 
“The days don’t last very long here, so it’s not too hard to ration out the food to make it last. An’ tomorrow, we’ll have the same amount of food again. Besides, I’ve never seen anyone here Burn from starvation. You pretty much start the next day fresh every time. Though if you never eat anything, the hunger starts to grow ‘til it’s all you can think about.”  
“We’ve split the food three ways before though, so it’s no big deal,” Jane added.  
“What are you two having?” Brand asked.  
“I usually start off with a half of the sandwich,” Sam said, “an’ Jane starts with some of the lasagna and a few of the chips.”  
Jane had already taken out a plastic fork and cut the lasagna in half with it.  
“Um...I guess I’ll have some of the sandwich too,” Brand said.  
Jane nodded, drawing out the sandwich, wrapped in a clear plastic bag and already cut in half diagonally. She tossed it to Sam, who captured a half and tossed the rest to Brand.  
“Thanks,” he said, as they all took their seats. He noticed that Sam had finally set the gun down.  
Brand took a small bite from the sandwich, wanting to make it last.
A few minutes later, after he had finished eating, he said, “You said a bit ago that you split the food three ways before. If you don’t mind my asking, who’d you split it with?”  
The girls looked at each other, then at him. Sam said, sorrow in her voice, “We met a guy a while back, named Eddie...damn, I can never remember his last name. I wish I could’ve written it down somewhere, but you already know why I couldn’t. Anyway, he was a good guy—did a few bad things on Earth, but he was still a decent guy—but he didn’t last very long here.” Her eyes grew watery. She looked away and blinked a few times to clear them, before continuing. “It’s hard to make friends here, ‘cause they can get taken away from you much too easily.”


 Michael Matula once dreamed of becoming a comic artist, sketching pictures and caption bubbles in class when he really should have been studying. Unable to draw fast enough to keep up with all the words and images tumbling in his head, he started writing stories based on his vast array of characters instead.  He's now the author of Try Not To Burn, and has recently finished writing the sequel, tentatively titled, "Second Chance: Try Not to Burn, Book II."

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Michael Matula said...

Thank you very much for featuring the book, Laurie! :)

Suleika said...

This book sounds awesome!!! I guess something minor that should send people to Hell city would be reckless driving. I have a thing for bad drivers, they annoy me to no end. I wish them all to Hell city ;)