Changes at UFM

This is one of those announcements I hoped as an editor I would never have to write.

Both myself and our slush editor Frances will be stepping down from our positions in December. This is not related to any creative differences; we have loved working together. Rather, our professional lives are simply not allowing us to give this magazine the time and attention it needs. This is not a decision either of us have made lightly. (For myself, as I have been largely funding the magazine, there are also financial reasons to consider.) UFM has been a huge part of both our lives and we sincerely hope to see it flourish. Many magazines do not complete their first year, and we have reached that milestone. We are proud and honored to have worked with so many amazing people along the way.

What does this mean for UFM subscribers?
The magazine will go on hiatus in January. These are two big gaps in our staff, and we will need time to find the right people to fill them. We will contact our annual subscribers over the next few weeks to discuss what this means for their subscriptions.

What does this mean for UFM authors?
We will continue taking submissions up until 11:59 EST November 1st. After that, we will be closed to submissions until at least January 2nd. (Again, when we re-open will largely depend on when/if we find the proper staff to take our places.) To help our staff move through the stories in the queue a bit quicker, we may have to send form rejections to some stories, though we will try to give personal feedback whenever possible. We completely respect any author’s decision to withdraw their story given this announcement.

What about the upcoming issues?
There will be a October issue, a November issue, and a December issue. That much is certain. The October issue is available for purchase now, and we think it is awesome. We hope you do, too.

Creating Rot & Ruin: An Interview with Jonathan Maberry

Jonathan Maberry is a New York Times bestselling writer and the author of this month’s pro story, “Ink”. One of his most popular series is ROT & RUIN, which follows a group of teenagers struggling to survive in a zombie-infested wasteland. The latest book in this series, BITS & PIECES, is out in stores September 22nd.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: You’ve written successful series for both adults and teens. Do you feel like there’s some crossover between the two audiences?

JONATHAN MABERRY: There’s always been a crossover between the adults and teens that read fiction. That goes back a long, long way and it’s only now that we’re deliberately marketing to teens and adults as separate demographics that it’s being viewed as a phenomenon. When I was eight or nine I was reading Conan stories, Ed McBain mysteries, and Edgar Rice Burroughs along with the Hardy Boys and that sort of thing. In my teens I devoured John D. MacDonald, Roger Zelazney, Richard Matheson, and countless others, while reading To Kill a Mockingbird in school. Most of the adults I know read some YA books, and virtually all of the teens I know ‘read up’.

This is one of the reasons I brought characters from my adult-oriented fiction into my teen novels. Joe Ledger, who stars in his own ongoing series of weird science thrillers, appears as a much older man in the final three books of my post-apocalypse zombie teen novels, Rot & Ruin. So does Iron Mike Sweeney. And there is a crossover character, Sam Imura, older brother to the Imura brothers who star in Rot & Ruin. I did this partly for fun (because I always want to have fun while writing), partly for business (because crossover audiences are good for sales), but mostly so that adults and teens will have a common ground and a book they can share.

Urban Fantasy Magazine:: Rot & Ruin has been featured as an ideal book for reluctant readers. What do you think makes a book appeal to a teen who’s struggling to stay engaged? Any suggestions for adults who feel like they have a hard time “getting into” fiction?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I write the books I would read. Rot & Ruin was written for the fifteen-year-old who is still very much alive inside my head. I’ve loved zombies, swords, martial arts, rough-and-tumble action, girls, adventure, and the end of the world ever since I was a kid. I read about it, I made up games for my friends and I to play, I day-dreamed a lot about surviving a zombie apocalypse. Even though I was an avid reader as a kid, many of my friends were not. I used to find books they’d dig. The reprints of the Doc Savage novels, the Conan and King Kull adventures, anything with space ships, exotic princesses from other worlds, swords and ray guns. I did a bit of Tom Sawyer by playing up the adventure elements to draw my friends in, and then we’d hang out and talk about how we’d fare if we wound up in Pellucidar or at the end of time or whatever.

When I sat down to write Rot & Ruin I didn’t plan the book as a campaign for reading, but I knew what kinds of things would have appealed to me –and to my friends– when I was a kid. I wrote that book. The fact that it went on to appeal to reluctant readers is great, it validates the con-man approach I’ve used all my life to get my friends to read the kinds of books I want to talk about with them.

The same goes for adult readers. Write books that you’d want to read, have a hell of a lot of fun with them, make them fun for anyone to read, and you’re doing it right.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: Tom Imura is the closest thing Benny has to a parental figure in Rot & Ruin. Yet unlike many parents in the genre, he takes an active role in the story and advances the plot along with Benny. What made you decide on this approach?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Although I had no reliable parental influences (my father was a career criminal and a very, very bad guy), I had solid and very positive role models in some of the older students and instructors at the dojo where I studied jujutsu. Tom Imura is a blend of some of the best qualities in those role models. Kind and strong, and someone who accepts that compassion is a strength rather than a weakness. Humor and patience. Those are qualities I genuinely admire. So, since I had these ‘older brother’ role models in my life, I wanted to explore than dynamic in Rot & Ruin. As a result, Tom became one of my most fully realized characters, and he is a runaway fan favorite.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: Zombies are never just shambling monsters in your books. Each series places some emphasis on the idea that “zombies were people, too.” How is this concept important in your work?

JONATHAN MABERRY: First, let me say that I’ve been a fan of the zombie genre since I saw Night of the Living Dead on its world premier in 1968. I was ten. Having grown up with the genre and watched it evolve over the years, I saw an alarming trend toward a dehumanization of the living dead. Granted the zombie is scary and dangerous and lethal, but in virtually all of the books, movies, and comics the zombie is a mindless shell. It has no malice, no evil intent because it’s incapable of emotion. That’s one point. The second is that too many of the genre’s entries tend to make killing a zombie in funny ways a trope. It totally disregards the fact that every zombie was once a person, and each of those people died in fear and pain. Their lives, their world, their futures were stolen from them by the disease that killed them. So, while it is necessary to defend against the zombies, it is a definite step away from our own humanity to forget those facts. It’s typical of a certain kind of war mentality that we demonize and dehumanize our enemies. We see it also in video games and movies where the ‘enemy’ is just another thing to be killed. It becomes about body count rather than a connection to our shared humanity. When I wrote Rot & Ruin that was a core element of the entire story.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: Some characters inevitably get more time on the page than others. How do you go about planning a character who isn’t going to get much space?

JONATHAN MABERRY: ‘Stage time’, as I call it, depends on a character’s importance to the story. Even in character-driven novels, in the end every scene and every character has to serve the plot. I always start a story by thinking about the experiences and reactions of an individual character, and I work outward to create a cast of supporting characters. Those characters whose dynamic will either help deepen the overall understanding of the story or drive the narrative forward get bigger roles.

That said, sometimes characters grow in the telling. In the first draft of Rot & Ruin the character of Nix was very minor, originally intended for one or possibly two small scenes. She was there to help Benny, the main character, come to grips with what he wants in life, at least in terms of friends and possible romance. I had every intention of having Benny fall in love with Lilah, the Lost Girl. But in the writing of those early scenes Nix became much more interesting than I’d anticipated. I based her, to a great degree, on a girl I went out with in ninth grade, and in the writing the personality traits of that girl blossomed in Nix. She became much more complex, more opinionated, more dynamic, more nuanced, and therefore she clearly needed a bigger part in the story. Eventually she became the costar of Rot & Ruin. Like my own girlfriend of ninth grade, Nix Riley refused to be only ‘someone’s girlfriend’ and had no intention of being relegated to a minor supporting role. Benny grew in his understanding of girls in pretty much the same way I did. Good lessons for both of us.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: In a genre that’s historically featured a lot of damsels in distress, you’ve written some complex and capable female characters. I believe Dead of Night was your first book to feature a female protagonist. How was that experience, and are there plans for more leading ladies in future books?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Dead of Night was the first of my adult novels to feature a female lead character. There were very strong female co-leads and secondary characters –Val Guthrie in my Pine Deep Trilogy; Grace Courtland, Junie Flynn, Aunt Sallie, and Lydia Ruiz in the Joe Ledger novels; and Nix Riley, Riot, and Lilah in the Rot & Ruin novels. But Dead of Night started with the character of Dez Fox. She IS the book. It was all about her and how her childhood damage made her at once very strong and very vulnerable. She is a hard-assed redneck police officer in a tiny Pennsylvania town. Her damage is the core of her strength, and that’s a delicate balance for a character. So much fun to write. And she was such a huge hit with the fans that I brought her back in Fall of Night, which takes place one minute after the end of Dead of Night. She makes a brief cameo in the 8th Joe Ledger novel, Kill Switch.

I am about to start writing Glimpse, which is one of my rare solo-point of view novels. I generally like a shared POV told via an ensemble cast. However Glimpse is a horror novel about a young woman –a recovering junkie– searching for the child she gave up for adoption six years earlier. It’s also one of only three standalone novels I’ve written. And the lead character is in no way a typical action hero. She isn’t a cop or soldier, she isn’t tough in any action-movie kind of way. She’s a mother who knows that her child is in danger, partly because of the mistakes she made earlier in her life. That will make her fierce and relentless in ways I haven’t previously explored. I’ll start writing that book in a couple of months and I cannot wait.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: You’ve also done quite a bit of writing for Marvel. Could you describe your first experience writing a comic book?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I grew up as a Marvel Comics kid. My first comic was Fantastic Four #66. I had been planning how to approach Marvel with a pitch when I got a call out of the blue from Axel Alonso, the editor-in-chief. He’d read my novel, Patient Zero, and thought my skills in action, character and dialog would be a good fit for comics. I jumped at the chance, and my first two projects were a Wolverine short (“Ghosts”) used as a back-up piece for that year’s annual; and a 32-page Punisher Max (“Naked Kills”) for their adult line. I went on from there to do a slew of projects for Marvel, including a short stint on Black Panther, and lots of limited series, DoomWar, Captain America: Hail Hydra, Marvel Zombies Return, Marvel Universe vs The Avengers, and others.

I’ve also explored some creator-owned projects because I love horror comics and Marvel doesn’t do a lot of horror books these days. So I did Bad Blood for Dark Horse, with amazing art by Eisner Award winner Tyler Crook, and it won the Bram Stoker Award for best graphic novel. And I’ve two projects so far with IDW. A limited-series Rot & Ruin adventure and V-Wars, which is my franchise with IDW. It’s a series of prose shared-world anthologies, it’ll be a board game this Christmas, and we have a TV series in development. So far I’ve done two V-Wars graphic novels.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: If Marvel suddenly asked you to create an original superhero series (not based on any of your existing work), what do you think that would look like?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I’d love to do a story with the daughter of Doctor Doom who becomes a hero. International celebutante by day, armored crime-fighter by night, and working to save her own country from its dictator who happens to be her father.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: Okay, last question. You’ve already shared some of the fun parts about writing for Marvel, but what about the challenges? Is it a struggle to write about characters that are already known and loved by the audience?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Well, a lot of the heavy lifting is already done in terms of establishing who and what the character is. However a writer’s job is to find something new, something interesting to say about that character. When I did Black Panther: Power and its spin-off DoomWar, I went old-school. Doctor Doom was the central villain and I’ve always loved Doom when he was written as a nuanced, sophisticated, and introspective head of state who also happens to be a super villain. I don’t like versions of Doom where he’s raving mad or merely there to be the villain du jour as opposed to having a reason to appear. My Doom was very political, as was my take on the two Black Panthers in the story, T’Challa and his sister, Shuri. So my approach to the whole book was to focus on a national crisis, an economic crisis, and the ways those things impact political brinksmanship. When I did Captain America: Hail Hydra, I set each of the five issues in different eras of Cap’s life, starting with the 1940s. There are elements of the character that have remained essentially the same –the personal honor and integrity, his problem solving, and his courage– but at the same time he’s changed with the times. So I did five different personal interpretations of Captain America at five key points of his evolution. Those kinds of challenges are what a writer lives for.

Dead Records Part 7

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When we got to the stage I realized I’d forgotten the camera I’d intended to use to take pictures of her from just off-stage for her fansite. She had a fansite now, by the way. Harvey had built it. I’d just returned when I heard a noise from across the hall. It was a dull, but powerful thump, as if something incredibly heavy had hit the ground with force.

The silence that followed was almost total, except for the quiet crackling of a radio playing Blue Oyster Cult. I looked down the hall, first one way and then the other. Nothing but blank concrete punctuated by the occasional green garbage can. I released the handle of Aura’s dressing room. Shouldn’t I have heard Martine’s entourage through their dressing room door? They hadn’t been a quiet bunch when I’d met them in the hall earlier. And where were the production assistants? Shouldn’t they be streaming in and out of that door, liaising with the media, or airing some petty grievance suffered by Martine to stadium management?

I hadn’t forgotten what I done to the steaks in Martine’s dressing room, but I’d only intended to kill her appetite–less human steak meant less power for her performance. Instead, I’d given a flesh-eating demon a massive dose of medication that included psychosis among its commonly reported side effects. That thought wouldn’t occur to me until I was hiding in the wet and the dark under the Wembley stage. It’s not a comforting thought to be having when said psychotic sex demon was about five feet from your head, but I digress.

Instead, I took my cell phone out of my pocket and swept a finger across the screen to unlock it. I wondered if I should call the police. What would I report? A suspicious thump heard inside a dressing room? What if they found out I’d attempted to dose Martine with antidepressants? I had Rick Casterly’s new number programmed into my phone, and he was ostensibly in charge of this whole gig. I punched it into then phone and then took a few cautious steps across the hall, thumb hovering above the call button. My instinct for self-preservation warred with my desire not to look like a fool by placing a panicked phone call over nothing. Any minute now, some assistant might pop out of that door on some errand.

Any minute now.

Come on errand.

Any time you like, I thought.

Now’s good.

But I still couldn’t hear any signs of activity from Martine’s dressing room. Blue Oyster Cult faded into Kenny Loggins as one song ended and the next began. I put my hand on the door handle and then leaned close to the door, not quite willing to put my ear to it. Now I could hear movement from the other side, a shuffling that stopped just as quickly as it began. There was a kind of weird whiffling sound and then a quiet, repeating whisper that I couldn’t discern. All of a sudden the door shook and I darted backwards. Something slid against it and fell onto the floor.


Terrified, I squatted and peered under the door frame. A head of black hair plastered with wet blood lay just on the other side. It shifted lifelessly, as if something had bumped into it and then it was slowly lifted out of my field of view. Several drops of blood splattered onto the ground like falling hammers.

Not good.

Actually the opposite of good.

Way over on the other side of the spectrum.

I stood slowly and, in perfect silence, placed my cell phone in my pocket. With my eyes locked on Martine’s door, I lifted a knee and removed first one loafer and then the other, and then set them down beside me so that their heels wouldn’t click on the concrete. I wore thin dress socks, and the ground was cool on my feet.

The door shook again.

Every instinct in my body screamed to run.

Death was no more than three feet away and I was swimming in shark-infested waters without a cage. An electric crackle followed, and then the sound of metal bouncing across the floor. Death was probably closer to two feet away now.

I chose my footing carefully, placing the ball of my foot on the ground, then the heel. Step after step, I made my way down the hallway, leaving our own dressing room behind. There was only one entrance, and as soon as Martine finished with hers, ours would be the next natural target.

I’d only managed to make it a few steps before my phone rang.

I panicked and tore off my jacket, spinning it around the phone to try and muffle it, but I was wearing silk and the happy little chirp was still clearly audible. It would have been quicker to answer it, obviously, but that would have entailed having some wits about you and my wits were on that plane to Ghana that took off all those weeks ago.

The handle of Martine’s dressing room turned and then slowly swung open.

Completely naked, her blond hair was plastered to her skull by clotted blood and hung in strands around her viscera-smeared face. Her feet slapped wetly on the concrete and her legs and torso were crimson with even more blood. Way too much blood. I doubt a blood bank had as much blood as she had on her.

She turned to face me, rubbing spread fingers up her waist.

Her eyes focused on me as she shook crimson droplets off her hand and onto the wall. A dark purple snake freed itself from her hair and dropped onto her chest and then slid off her breast. I realized with horror that it was an artery.

My cell phone still buzzed merrily in my jacket and she looked down at it.

“Uh…it’s for you!” I yelled and tossed the jacket at her face.

I turned and bolted.

I hit the end of the hall at a full run, and my stockinged feet slid as I attempted to make the turn. My shoulder hit the wall hard, crunching the safety glass in a framed One Direction poster. I was vaguely aware of stabbing pain in my shoulder as I pushed off the wall, but I knew that pain would get much worse if Martine caught me. I windmilled as I struggled to keep my balance and careened into a nearby dustbin, scattering its contents across the hallway. Inhuman screeching filled the corridor behind me, a sound that ran its way up the ladder of my spine and set my nerves aflame, but I had no way of telling how far behind me she was.

I turned into another long hallway.

At the far end I could hear the deep thump of bass speakers, Aura’s crystal clear voice, and the wavelike sound of the crowd. Even if I was somehow able to sprint to the end of the hall before Martine caught me, I’d emerge backstage and bring her down on Aura and the band, as well as any number of innocent concert go-ers.

Choices choices. I’m not proud to say my first thought was better them than me.

Two orange metal doors were set into one wall from which a tangled mass of electrical cords emerged and were then plugged into the wall just outside. Praying that I wasn’t about to trap myself in a utility closet, I darted for it and hauled the door closed behind me, except for a small opening for the cables.

I emerged into a huge space that must have been under the stage.

Metal scaffolding held up black perforated tile, above which was plywood and flooring material. Orange extension cords bound together into mega cords snaked across the ceiling and down to electrical sockets set at regular intervals into the floor. The cable that led outside of the room provided power to about a dozen snake lamps that shed small pools of LED light into the otherwise dark area.

There were no exits.

Martine was too close behind me to risk going back out into the hallway, so I leapt over a few metal obstructions and found a place where the stage sloped downwards and crawled into it. There was very little clearance, but I was able to pull a few sets of cables around me into an attempt to hide. I concentrated on trying to make myself as small as possible.

I could hear stomping on the stage as various band members and techs moved around above me. I was tempted to call out to them, but I didn’t see how help could arrive before the succubus. And besides, I really didn’t want to draw Martine’s attention. Look, some people are proud of their survival instinct. Look at Darwin, he had an entire theory about survival of the fittest. Right then I was fit. The fittest I’d been all of my life.

Suddenly all the lights went out.

Martine had unplugged the cable in the hallway.

The darkness was almost absolute, punctured only by the flashing blue power light of a closed diagnostics laptop that lay a few columns over. Even as my eyes adjusted, I could barely see my hand in front of my face. The door opened, bathing the area in light and a dark shadow stepped through, disappearing into the blackness as it closed behind her.

Martine was in the room with me.

I stayed perfectly still, clutching cables to my chest to camouflage me. If she’d had night vision, as some of our less savory children of the night do, I would have been fucked. And not in that good way I wanted to go out of this life. The bad way. The eaten by a sex demon way. Actually. Okay. Maybe there’s something to being eaten by a sex demon. I’ll have to think about it. It’s certainly a different way to go not so softly into that endless winter night. I’ll get back to you on it.

I shifted positions and spotted a small shaft of light in the wall.

Moving carefully, I managed to crawl over to it. Just outside stood a huge security guard with long greasy jerry-curls. He had his back to me. The crowd beyond was silent as they looked up at Aura. A high school-aged girl, whose eyes were deep wells, twisted a grey cotton beret in her hands as tears ran down her cheeks. Two more girls held hands as they mouthed the words of the chorus of the funeral dirge for drowned sailors I’d written only a week ago.

I was grateful that Aura was having an effect, but I have to be honest, I was more interested in the Taser the security guard had holstered at his side than the whole teenage fanclub thing. There’d be hell to pay if one was used on a concert-goer, but ever since three fans had been killed rushing the stage at Leeds, stadium security had been mandated to carry them. It was a short hop skip and a jump to AK47s being handed out with the earplugs at the door.

I felt along the edge of the crack, hoping to find a latch or handle that might open it further.

There was a noise in the darkness behind me. I looked back. Nothing. I stared into the darkness and was rewarded when the light from the closed laptop winked out and then back on as Martine moved in front of it. Her breathing sounded low and bestial and her breath stunk of wet carrion. Not sexy. Very much demonic.

My fingers finally found something metal, but it was not a latch. It was a screw. I clamped on to its edges and twisted, and there was some give, but not enough. I twisted harder and felt the metal bite into my fingertips.

I looked through the crack again. The guard was so close. I could call out to him. But Martine was closer, and there wasn’t a sheet of painted plywood between the two of us. I felt around in my pockets–nothing but a set of keys, my wallet, and some change. There wasn’t much I wouldn’t trade for a Swiss army knife at that point. I probably would have taken a Swedish army or any other army, neutral country or not, as long as it had the word knife at the end. I took out the change and groped blinded for a ten pence coin. Finding one, I turned it on its edge and pressed it to the top of the screw. If it was a Phillips head I was a dead man.

Praise be to the god of ironmongery, the coin fit into the slot.

I twisted, willing the screw to turn, and finally I was rewarded with some give. Two more twists, and the screw came out of its hole so abruptly that it dropped to the floor. Tink tink…

The darkness shifted behind me.

One of the metal struts collapsed as Martine scrambled towards me.

For a heartbeat I saw her blood-covered face in the light from the crack between panels and it was terrifying. Her eyes bulged out of their sockets and her pupils were dark and full of fire. Every tendon was clearly visible in her face and her jaw had come unhinged. That was the worst of it. The absolute worst. The jaw. In that jaw were her perfectly formed, dentist-implanted human teeth, but they were spattered crimson and her gums had retreated so that they appeared to be as long as knives.

I launched myself away from her, cracking my head against the plywood stage covering. There must have been another screw holding it in place. I used a metal strut for leverage and shoved backward again with all my strength. A small cry escaped from between my lips as I heard wood crack and the panel begin to give.

Sharp points of fire fastened around my ankle as Martine’s clawed fingertips dug into my skin. I kicked out and my foot smashed into her face, but it was like kicking an oncoming car. She pulled and her nails carved furrows in my foot, but instead of pulling me back towards her, all she managed to do was remove my sock.

Once free I pushed forward again, and was birthed into the stadium proper by shattered plywood. The security guard had turned around, but despite all the commotion, he only spared me a glance. He was looking up at the stage.

I launched myself at him and snatched at his holster.

I had the safety snap unlatched before he could react.

Once armed, I aimed the weapon and fired into the darkness. Wires flew away from the muzzle and then crackled as they hit. The smell of ozone burnt the air, and I could feel Martine grasping and tearing at the cords. The Taser jumped forward in my hands and I barely kept my grip. Desperately, I pumped the trigger. How many volts would it take to bring down a psychotic succubus?

A lot. A fuck of a lot. A whole lot of fucking lots. Job lots of fucking lots. We’re talking more than a three-for-one or BOGOF deal of lots.

Green lights turned red on the side of the Taser as charge after charge was depleted, but Martine’s struggles began to weaken. Finally, I felt her convulse at the other end of the wires. They tightened suddenly and went slack.

I felt like screaming, “I’ve got the power!”

I stepped away and dropped the weapon, and then looked around, baffled that I hadn’t been tackled to the ground yet. No one was paying the least bit of attention to me. What was more important than a seeming madman bursting out the stage and firing a Taser back the way he’d come?

The nearest security guard’s face was upturned and I followed his gaze. We’re talking holy rapture drunk the Kool-Aid upturned, just so we’re clear.

The stage was lit by blue and violet overhead lights that hung from metal scaffolding at least forty feet above. Controlled by the laptop beneath the stage, they highlighted each member of the band in turn, brightening and fading according to their programming. Our drummer Eileen sat on a raised pedestal, tapping a high tom-tom with one drumstick and silencing her crash cymbal with the other, as if she’d just finished a solo. Marnie stood on the other side of the stage, completely oblivious to anything but her bass guitar. She wore the big black headphones I’d suggested as a remedy to Aura’s singing. Alice was closest to me, dressed in pleather pants and a black pleather jacket, which left her red bra mostly exposed. Her fingers danced over the frets of her guitar, but I could see her occasionally glance into the rafters.

Nearly forty feet above the stage, Aura balanced precariously on the metal scaffolding that was holding up the lighting. I had no idea they could even hold a person’s weight, but Aura didn’t weigh much more than a couple of light clusters. Her blue dress cascaded down behind her; she looked like a woman leaping out of the waves. She wasn’t wearing any safety gear and this wasn’t a part of her act. Since she was above most of the lighting, the concert director had lifted the lights in the stadium proper, and I could see that her eyes were closed and her chin lifted as she sang the purest notes of sadness into the microphone.

I felt her sadness radiate out from her like I’d felt her hunger in the Broken Doll. It slammed into me like a tidal surge and thrust me beneath the waves. I staggered under its weight. Some members of the audience were crying openly, while others screamed in fear every time Aura took a step.

I seized control of myself. Puppies and football and yesterday’s news. I didn’t care who was at the top of the Premier League. All I cared about was getting Aura down before she hurt herself. She might be incredibly strong, but she was a creature of the sea not the sky. She wouldn’t survive a fall from that height.

“Aura!” I yelled, but my voice was drowned out by her song.

I tried to get Alice’s attention, drawing my hand across my neck to indicate that she needed to cut the show short, but she was looking up, not down, and didn’t see me.

Frustrated, I spun around and grabbed the bouncer’s arm, but his face remained upturned towards Aura. The reason he hadn’t reacted when I’d stolen his Taser was because he hadn’t been able to. He was a victim of Aura’s voice as much as any audience member.


Above me, Aura held a foot over the abyss, testing her balance. I realized that the song she was singing was the one about calling to a young shepherd boy from the bottom of the Cliffs of Moher. At the end of the song, she coaxed him into jumping to his death on the rocks far below. She was going to throw herself from the lighting rigs at the end of the song. When she’d told me she didn’t know if she could make it through the gig, it wasn’t because she was nervous. It was because she was suicidal. Great. A suicidal siren sings the blues. Just fucking marvelous.

There was no way I could reach her.

And if I tried Aura would simply jump the moment she knew she had company.

She couldn’t hear me over the music, so there no way I could communicate with her.

She was going to jump and I couldn’t stop her.

My mind was racing.

I looked at the security guard. He was a big fat boy. He’d probably argue it was muscle or he was big boned but I wasn’t buying it. He was cushioned… so maybe he could cushion her fall?

The guard wore a headset and battery pack, both of which I was able to remove without protest. I ran to one of the giant speakers that belted music into the stadium, held the microphone to it, and hit the send key. The microphone howled with feedback and up and down the front of the stage, large men with black security shirts doubled over in pain and clutched their ears. How was that for mental wax? It was fucking mental, that’s how.

I had maybe half a minute until the end of the song and Aura’s whole crowd surfing thing took a literal dive, so I spoke quickly into the microphone. “This is Marcus Reardon, Aura’s manager. Take down the barriers. Let the crowd rush the stage. Do it! Now!”

The security guards seemed to move like molasses, but if they’d been in full control of their senses they might not have moved at all. Sure, I was Aura’s manager, but removing the barriers was very dangerous–as that fateful concert in Leeds had demonstrated–and required approval from stadium management, not just the manager of the support act.

Above me, Aura began the closing notes of the song. She clasped her hands together over the microphone like a supplicant praying for forgiveness. Her blue dress came alive in the stadium light and instead of the ocean surging around her, it now looked like the sea was reluctant to let her go.

There was an enthusiastic scream from somewhere in the crowd as the first chains around the security fencing slithered to the ground. A few audience members pushed their way through, but most stood in place, mesmerized by the spectacle unfolding above them. More chains were loosened, but the crowd remained lethargic.

Out of desperation, I threw the headphones at Alice.

They whizzed past her left shoulder, failing to connect, but they got her attention, she turned and gave the crowd the finger and that’s when she spotted me.

I signaled like a disheveled madman, and she walked over and squatted before me, still expertly strumming her instrument.

“She’s going to jump!” I yelled, pointing at Aura.


“You’ve got to play something else! Something to break the spell!”

Her eyes hardened. She’d been at the Broken Doll too. She knew what was happening. She nodded, stood, and her posture changed. She played a few more notes of Aura’s sad funeral dirge and then immediately launched into the first riff of “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols. Oh how I would have given anything for a fascist regime… or at least to hear Aura belting out those words.

The effect was like being punched it the face.

Some audience members blinked, and that was all it took.

The ones in the front rows noticed the opened fences and surged forward.

Above them, the song came to an end and my sad siren launched herself off the lighting rig and plunged towards the concrete below.

I saw her disappear into the crowd amidst a chorus of screams, and then she was lifted aloft triumphantly.

I punched the air as she surfed the crowd, spinning over and over, before they let her down.

She walked among them.

She cupped a face here, pressed her forehead against another’s there, sharing their sadness. Then they parted and she walked back to the stage like Moses through the Red Sea.

All That Glows by Ryan Graudin Reviewed by Kayla Dean

All That Glows by Ryan Graudin

Reviewed by Kayla Dean

ISBN: 0062187414 (Paperback)

Harper Teen — 463 pages. Ebook also available.

The Book

When fairies and humans come together, things can get tricky. But when they fall in love? Boundaries are crossed and life gets even more complicated for everyone involved. This is exactly the case for the main characters of Ryan Graudin’s All That Glows, a fairy romance rich in urban lore.

Once upon a time, the Fairy Court worked alongside King Arthur, and their leader swore an oath to protect the English Crown from all supernatural forces. What they got in return were magical powers which made the immortal Fae even more invincible. Fae inhabit human bodies, but they are also shapeshifters, magic users, and invisible to humans. Fae are made up of elemental force, destined to live forever.

Emrys, a centuries-old Fae, loves the Highlands of England where the fairy court dwells, far from technology and the strain of pollution. When Emrys is once again asked to rejoin the Faery Guard, she has to take on one of her greatest challenges: guarding the Prince of England.

Prince Richard is known for his bad boy ways: he parties too much, comes home in the middle of the night hung over, and almost never does what he’s told. When he graduates from Eton, he knows that the time for him to be King is drawing closer, but all he wants to do is ignore all the rules. His parents and sister are fed up with his partying, and want him to focus on his duties, but it’s much easier for him to block out what makes him afraid.

It isn’t long after meeting Richard that Emrys wants to know him as more than his invisible guard. Humans don’t know that Fae exist. The Fae must veil themselves at all times while they guard their humans from Green Women, Banshees, and Black Dogs: all things that Emrys has seen before on the ancient moors of England. But a sinister spirit is after the monarchy. The Fae think it is an ancient one who craves the magical blood of England’s royalty, and wants to break down the barriers between the Fae and their beloved London.

Emrys and Richard quickly form a bond over their mutual rejection of responsibility and fear of the future. Before long, they start to go everywhere together, flying high over the city in The London Eye and taking in the world from the banks of the Thames. Emrys and Richard go from the seedy bars on the sketchy end of town to the polo matches of the rich and famous. But Richard can’t escape the paparazzi and the pressure of the Crown looming over his head. Emrys can’t get away from her fellow Fae and the responsibility to act as a leader over her younger peers crushes her. The worst thing is that every day she spends with Richard, Emrys falls hopelessly in love with him. There’s just one problem: if she falls for a human, shell have to give up her immortality and her powers forever. But if Richard feels he can’t love her forever, Emrys can’t promise her heart to the young, handsome prince.

The Rating

Graudin’s writing is heavy with descriptors. We have a distinct view of London and the environs that the characters experience through the writer’s descriptions of the city. We see through Emrys eyes the contrast between the green countryside of England and London, which has its own nods to the past, even as it is propelling towards the future. The pages of the book are also filled with long-winded similes that give a little too much weight to descriptions that occasionally slow down the narrative. There were moments that could have moved along more swiftly.

I did really like the dynamic between Emrys and Richard. I almost got the sense that they fell for each other over their mutual love of England. One of the most endearing parts of the book is when the two of them dance to records together in Richard’s room. The gesture was simple, but this scene showed us that Richard is more than a partier: he is a good guy who loves his family and wants the best for his country. Which brings me to my next point: Richard’s role as a bad boy was a little half-hearted. At the beginning, we are made to think of him as a bad boy, but we never really get the sense that Richard is as bad as people say he is. We see girls fawning over him, but dent meet heartbroken exes. We see that he drinks way more than he should, but not how it alters his behavior. We see him run from his responsibilities, but he never does anything that a normal teenager would not do.

Richard is a good guy, but he isn’t a bad boy. Before he even knows Emrys, he defends her from a manipulative man. Later on, he gives her a cute nickname, Embers. Richard is really more of a misguided future leader who doesn’t want to accept his place as a royal. But his love for Emrys makes him a better man. The only thing that was not clear to me is why Emrys fell for Richard in the first place. We are made to believe that Emrys is tired of all the rules that tie her in to being a fairy. It turns out that even an immortal fairy is not immune to the gaze of a handsome prince. And even if she gives up one claim to royalty, she may soon gain another crown.

As for whether I’d recommend the book, I think there are other reads that could better occupy reader’s time. What bothered me most about the story was that the characters just weren’t all that distinctive. As mentioned earlier, Richard is described as a bad boy, but except for a few drinking stints, we never see the true extent of his behavior. I didn’t really get the sense that it was difficult for Emrys to change him. Plus, the love story didn’t make me feel anything. I didn’t really care that much if these two ended up together.

For being as old as she is, Emrys sure acts like a teenage girl. The plot wavers between mushy love story and fairy adventure, and it didn’t toe the line effectively. If you like Marissa Marr or Aprilynn Pike, and have a bent for fairy novels, this book might be worth a try, but otherwise, move right along your to-read list to the next book you’ve been eagerly anticipating.

Red Hot Steele by Alex P. Berg Reviewed by Kristin Luna

Red Hot Steele by Alex P. Berg

Reviewed by Kristin Luna

ISBN: 1942274033 (Paperback)

Batdog Press — 297 pages. Ebook also available.

Jake Daggers. Tough, grimy cop. Used to roughing up a dark-elf or two. Carries a big stick, and her name is Daisy — Daggers’ trusty nightstick.

The Book

In his years as a beat cop, Jake Daggers has seen it all and thought nothing could surprise him. Nothing, that is, until an attractive half-elf walks into his precinct as his new partner.

Shay Steele has a lot to prove. She’s young, looked down upon for being half-elf, and she’s a woman in a male-dominated profession. But her keen power of observation helps put her in the big leagues as a detective. Unfortunately, she’s paired with misogynistic Jake Daggers.

Despite their differences, Daggers and Steele must work together to solve a murder. A man has been found with a large hole burned through his chest. All signs point to his soon-to-be father-in-law, who happens to be a fire mage. However, things get a bit hairy when the two detectives start piecing together the mystery, where no one is who they seem.

Red Hot Steele has all the virtues of a hard-boiled detective story with a surprising injection of well-timed humor. Red Hot Steele doesn’t have the regular cast of characters. Dark-elves, trolls, and other scum of the underworld also grace its pages. If you like your mystery and crime novels with an imaginative twist, this may be the book for you.

The Author

Alex P. Berg has a PhD in nuclear engineering by day and writes fantasy, mystery and science fiction by night. Red Hot Steele is his first book, but the next two books in the series, Cold Hard Steele and Time to Steele, are now available for purchase. He currently has three other books available.

The Rating

All art is subjective, and the best I can do is give my thoughts and opinions. On an arbitrary scale of roller coasters, I give Red Hot Steele a very commendable Detonator. When you first get on the Detonator, you get strapped into this heavy-duty seat and you’re wondering just what you’re in for. But then you shoot into the sky at 45 miles-per-hour and you’re in awe of how fun it is to be weightless for a while. The same is true for Red Hot Steele. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but found myself enjoying the pace and characters, especially Jake Daggers. But also like the Detonator, the ride gets slightly predictable. You shoot up into the air, you go down, you go up, and then down, and the ride is done. However, that didn’t stop me from enjoying the witty banter between Daggers and Steele.

Interesting fact: Jake Daggers has a son, but he doesn’t see him often.

Interesting quote: “Daisy is the worst kind of woman, a heartbreaker and a home wrecker, but in the literal sense not the figurative. she’s a foot and a half of steely eyes and cold shoulders, and she’s got the meanest slap in the seven boroughs. She’s my nightstick.”

The Singing Tree by Rati Mehrotra

The singing tree blooms once a year in May, for about forty seconds. We’d been trying – and failing – to catch it in the act for as long as I could remember. This year was no exception. We piled into the wagon and drove away from Ennismore, Dad singing loud, tuneless road songs that made me want to close my ears.

Mum twisted back and gave a big, fake, isn’t-this-fun smile. “We’re going to hear it bloom this year. I can feel it in my bones. I can smell it in the wind.”

I rolled my eyes. She said that every year. And every year we came back disappointed, while news channels gushed with breathless reports of lives transformed and wounds healed. All malarkey, as far as I was concerned.

Ria, my older sister, snorted. “Why can’t we do normal things on the long weekend like other families?” she said. “Go to the beach, stay in a hotel for a couple of nights. Something I can actually tell my friends about.”

Dad stopped singing and Mum’s mouth pressed in a thin line. “Hotels are dirty,” she said.

“And they cost money,” I added under my breath.

Mum frowned. “What did you say, Kitty?”

“The name’s Kitari,” I snapped. I hated it when she called me Kitty.

“I should know,” said Mum. “I named you, didn’t I?”

To my relief, June and Jade began to fight. I could always count on the twins to divert Mum’s attention. I looked out of the window, feeling the breeze on my face, smelling the bright freshness of spring. It was a sunny day, just perfect for being out, and if I hadn’t been feeling so rotten I would have appreciated it a bit more. All I could think was – here I was, stuck with my family on a stupid road trip, while Tanya and Mikkel made out on Cobourg beach. Their families had decided to go together this year, and Tanya had made no secret of her delight. Poor Mikkel, he didn’t stand a chance against her. Neither did I, with my flat chest and mousy hair.

Perhaps it was better this way. At least I didn’t have to see him kissing her. I sniffed and gulped back a sob.

“Getting a cold, ‘Kitty’?” said Ria.

I turned away from her. Rural Ontario whipped by in a blur of green fields dotted with horses. I concentrated on the scenery until I’d stopped wishing Ria deaf, dumb and mute. I had to remind myself that despite the fact that she was sixteen, two years older than me and way more beautiful, she had it harder than I did. Last summer she’d tried to kill herself.

Of course, Mum and Dad didn’t admit it, not even to themselves. They talked about Ria’s ‘accident’ as if the pills had walked up to the breakfast table and jumped into her cereal when she wasn’t looking. Her ‘troubles’ were whispered about as if they were something apart from her – the lank-haired boyfriend who turned out to be a small-time drug dealer, the eating sickness that turned her into a rake-thin shadow of her former self.

Ria had been clean for months now. She went to a counsellor every fortnight and I even saw her eat real food sometimes. But she’d dropped out of school and become all moody and withdrawn – not a bit like the sister I used to have. The Ria I’d known used to whisper secrets to me at night, play silly games with the twins, and bake cookies with Mum in the kitchen. Not mope around with a hangdog look on her face and a chip the size of a brick on her shoulder.

At least she was still alive.

Four hours and three restroom stops later, Dad brought the wagon to a stuttering halt. I jerked out of my daydream, annoyed – Mikkel had just begun to kiss me on the lips – and then I saw the jam of cars ahead.

“What the hell?” muttered Dad, sticking his head out of the window. “What’s going on?”

A trooper shouted instructions, diverting traffic away to the right. He neared our wagon and said, “Please keep moving, sir. You’re holding up the cars behind.”

“But we need to go straight ahead,” said Dad. “We’re camping at Singing Tree Park tonight. I have a permit.”

“Singing Tree Park has been closed,” said the trooper. “Someone vandalized the tree and it’s been fenced off for the season.”

“Who on earth would do that?” exclaimed Mum.

The trooper shrugged. “Some kids. They’re in custody, but the damage is done. Sir, I have to ask you to move now.”

Dad started the wagon. We sat in stunned silence as he turned right, following the line of cars leaving the area. People milled about the police roadblock, taking photographs of themselves.

“Bloody tourists with their stupid selfies,” said Dad.

“Language dear,” said Mum automatically. “Oh, this is bad news. They may never re-open Singing Tree Park. And there isn’t another singing tree in the entire province.”

“Thank God,” said Ria, rolling her shoulders with exaggerated relief. “Maybe we can go home and have a normal weekend now.”

Without any warning, Dad twisted the wheel of the wagon and we lurched onto a narrow county road to the left of the highway.

“Don’t be too sure of that,” I muttered. Ria gripped the sides of her seat and shot me a glare.

“This isn’t the way home, Dean,” said Mum.

“Want to show you something,” said Dad, and that was all we could get out of him. We bumped along the pot-holed road, teeth on edge. The twins fought and Ria and I bickered. Dad took another turn and the road degenerated into little more than a dirt track, cutting through dark green wood.

At last, when I was just about ready to scream from boredom, Dad brought the wagon to a halt. We got out, struck speechless by the sheer nowhereness of it all. Dirt track, tall trees that gathered thickly overhead, and the loud chittering of insects. That was it. Dad had really exceeded himself this time.

Ria, of course, was the first to find her voice. “Great. Just great. I need a restroom.”

Dad waved his hands expansively. “Left side or right? Take your pick.”

“Why are we here?” said Ria. Her voice had gone quiet and dangerous.

Dad didn’t seem to notice. “Want to show you something,” he repeated, and he grinned like he had something amazing hidden up his sleeve that would make us jump up and clap our hands. And maybe about ten years ago he would have, but he was old now, or maybe we were too old to fall for his tricks. Even June and Jade looked down and scuffed their shoes, like they were embarrassed for him.

“You’re crazy, you know that?” said Ria.

“Ria,” said Mum, “watch your mouth.”

Ria turned on her. “And you just encourage him in his craziness. Every year it’s the same. Like we’re stuck doing the same thing, over and over. Just because he heard it once half a century ago, he forces us to go on these stupid, pointless trips.”

“Ria…” began Dad.

“No!” she shouted. “Don’t say anything. If you tell us one more time what it was like, I swear I’ll scream. I don’t care what it was like for you, Dad. It’s not going to happen for me.” She began to cry, big hiccupping sobs racking her chest. Mum went up to her, and I drew the twins aside for a game of snap on the grass beside the path.

When the twins had won – they always cheated – I left them to squabble over the deck of cards and got up. Mum and Ria were nowhere to be seen. Maybe they’d gone to pee behind the trees. Dad stood by himself near the wagon, a lost look on his face. I felt sorry for him, even though it was his fault that Ria was having a meltdown.

I walked up to him. “Dad,” I said, “if we start now, we can be home before nightfall.”

Dad gave me a puzzled frown, like he couldn’t place who I was or what I was saying. I repeated myself, and he said, “I thought we could camp here tonight. There’s something special here, something I spotted a couple of years ago when I took the wrong turn for Roseneath. It was small then, but perhaps it’s big enough now.”

What’s big enough?” I said.

“The singing tree,” said Dad.

I stared at him. ‘Dad,” I said, with as much patience as I could muster, “you must have seen something else. It can’t be a singing tree. The Forest Department would have mapped it.”

“Not everything can be mapped,” said Dad. “How can you track the path of a song?”

It’s a fallacy that the singing tree reproduces through its songs. A single blossom from a dying tree carries the seed of the daughter tree. It’s why there are so few left in Canada – or in the rest of the world, for that matter. But I didn’t have the heart to correct him.

Mum and Ria emerged from the trees. My sister’s eyes were red, but at least she wasn’t crying or shouting any more.

“Dean, we’re going home,” said Mum in her no-nonsense, brook-no-argument voice.

I cleared my throat. “Dad says there’s a singing tree here.”

There was silence for a few moments while Ria and Mum digested this.

The twins, who had snuck up behind me, shouted in unison, “We want to see it!”

Dad beamed and stood up straighter. “Follow me. It’s a short walk from here.”

He strode down the path before Mum could stop him, the twins skipping behind. I ran after the twins – they needed someone sensible in case something happened – and Ria came after me, so of course Mum followed too.

Ria caught up with me as we entered the woods behind Dad. “Another wild goose chase,” she said, but I could see that she was curious, like me.

I pushed ahead through the undergrowth, cursing whenever something scratched my face or poked my skin, which was often. Ria laughed once when she fell– a high, crazy sound that made me wonder if she was taking her meds. Mum grunted with the effort of keeping up with us, calling out now and then to make sure we were all there.

A little later, I bumped into Dad. He stood at the edge of a small clearing, June and Jade on either side of him, clutching his arms.

In the middle of the clearing stood a small, black-limbed tree with silver-green leaves that caught the sun. A singing tree. I swear in that moment I forgave Dad everything. I even forgot about Mikkel.

“I don’t know if it’s old enough to sing,” said Dad. “But I thought I’d show you anyway.”

Mum stumbled up behind us and gasped. “It’s beautiful, Dean” she said, her voice all quivery.

“Our very own Queen of the Forest,” said Ria. “We could chop it down for firewood and no one would know.”

Dad rounded on her, eyes blazing, fists clenched. The twins shrank back and even Mum was paralysed. For a moment I thought he would hit Ria, and I prayed, don’t Dad, don’t. Can’t you see she doesn’t mean it?

Dad dropped his fists and said, “But you’d know. You’d go through life knowing you killed something beautiful. The way you tried to kill your own beautiful self.”

I closed my eyes, feeling sick. Ria made a gulping noise. Mum said faintly, “Dean, don’t…”

Dad ignored her. “What’s beautiful must be loved and cherished, the way we love and cherish you,” he said. “I’d give up my limbs to get back my girl, to take away her hurt. But I can’t. I can only tell her that I love her and I’m sorry I wasn’t there when she was hurting, when she was scared. And if there’s any way on earth to make up for it, by God, I will.”

Ria’s face crumpled. To my amazement, Dad held his arms out to her, and she stumbled into them.

We camped that night under the moonlight-dappled branches of the singing tree. It didn’t sing, after all. Like Dad said, it was still quite young. But we played an old recording of a song from Singing Tree Park. Maybe it wasn’t the same as actually being in the presence of a blossoming tree, but it was close.

The song was like nothing I can describe. I could say it was like spring: the trilling of birds and the pattering of rain and the smell of new life. But it was also like the crunch of autumn leaves and the feel of cool wind and damp grass underfoot. And that is also not true, for was it not something else entirely, something alien that I cannot put words to?

For as the song reached its crescendo, I saw, shining in the dark, the invisible cords that connected us. Silver cables ran like nerves between myself and the twins, the twins and my parents, my sister and the tree. The cords stretching from my sister to the rest of us were thin and frayed, almost completely unraveled. She was hanging on to us by mere threads. But the song was healing them, twisting the strands into thick cable, binding her back to us, until we were surrounded by a great silver web of light, so bright it hurt the eyes.

The recording finished and the light faded away. I found myself crying, and then Ria was crying too, and hugging me so hard I thought my ribs would break. I could no longer see the silver cords, but I knew they were there, just like the song was still there, echoing in the chambers of my heart.

All that night I lay awake, listening to the hum of wind and the whisper of leaves, and I wondered where it had come from, this lone tree that stood sentinel over us. How it had escaped the tourist hordes and the park officials.

I like to think of it as our tree, the tree that gave me back my sister. I like to think that no one else will ever find it, that it grows only for us, in those spaces where we overlap and belong to each other, and love and hate each other.

Just before dawn, I fell into a light sleep and then I dreamed that I ran through the forest, hand-in-hand with Ria. Every tree was a singing tree, and they were all in bloom.

Welcome to the September 2015 Issue of Urban Fantasy Magazine

September is a time of change. For me, it means walking into a classroom full of new faces and remembering just how much a person can learn over the course of a year. For Urban Fantasy Magazine, it means only one more month before our first anniversary. We’ve come a long way since our inaugural issue, and it’s exciting to see where we’re headed.

Sometimes years of changes can pull a family apart; in Rati Mehrotra’s “The Singing Tree”, a father seeks a unique way to mend those bonds. There is no magic in this story that can re-create the past, but perhaps there is a way to make a new, brighter future.

Our solicited stories are back this month, with an original short story by New York Times bestselling author, Jonathan Maberry. His characters have fought off zombies and evil masterminds across a whole series of novels. In “Ink”, his new character Monk Addison must search for the villain at great cost to himself. (Note: Our stories this month handle some heavy topics, including suicide, child abuse, and sexual assault.)

In the seventh installment of Steven Savile and Ryan Reid’s Dead Records, we find Marcus racing to save Aura from the overwhelming sadness in her songs, while saving himself from another, less kind-hearted, magical singer named Martine.

Finally, our reviewers this month take a look at All That Glows by Ryan Graudin and Red Hot Steele by Alex P. Berg. Both books feature characters working with a partner they don’t like at first, but must learn to tolerate if they want to survive.

We hope you enjoy this issue of Urban Fantasy Magazine, and thanks for reading!

-Katrina S. Forest