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The world is burning, one person at a time. A new sort of plague, a spore known colloquially as Dragonscale, is infecting hundreds of thousands around the globe. It begins with something small. It gets into your head. It grows. You feel fine until you see it on your skin-a small stripe, like a gold-flecked stain. You might even mistake it for a bruise at first. But then you know you have it. You know that you’re going to burn, and it’s only a question of when. No one knows exactly how it spreads, and there’s no sign of a cure short of being killed before you ignite. You’ll smoke a bit first, and then you’ll combust, unless someone decides to end your life before then.

In the midst of the chaos is Harper Willowes, a Portsmouth nurse who sincerely wishes for nothing more than to be able to help others through the crisis. She volunteers her services caring for the infected while her husband Jakob works for the Public Works Department, helping to clean up the devestation left behind by the burning infected. It’s at work that Harper first meets the Fireman. He brings a child in for treatment, not for the Dragonscale covering him, but for a ruptured appendix. After the boy, Nick, is taken in for surgery, the Fireman vanishes. A few days later, Nick is gone as well, leaving only questions in his wake. Then, disaster strikes and the Portsmouth Hospital burns to the ground. Harper escapes, but soon makes two discoveries. She’s pregnant and she has the ‘scale. Believing himself to be infected as well, Jakob snaps and Harper is forced to flee for her life and that of her unborn child.

When all seems lost, the Fireman intervenes. He rescues Harper from Jakob’s pursuit and secrets her away to a small camp where over a hundred and fifty infected are living in hiding, including Nick. Living and thriving, to Harper’s great surprise. While there’s no cure for the spore, the people of the camp have found a way to live in harmony with the Dragonscale, under the leadership of Nick’s grandfather. Harper’s medical skills quickly make her indispensable. The camp, however, is no paradise. As panic grips the nation, marauders seek to eliminate any infected. Harper only wants to survive long enough to deliver her baby, but internal power struggles in the camp threaten to expose them all to the roving Cremation Crews. The Fireman may be the only one who can save them all, but he hides a dark secret of his own.

Joe Hill takes on an apocalypse of his own, one that rivals The Stand in scope and violence (not to mention pop culture references). As the world around them burns, his characters must face the fact that other humans may be a greater threat to them than the Dragonscale ever was. The Fireman is a hell of a ride from beginning to end, and is every bit as intense as the flames it evokes.

The Fireman, hits store shelves on 5/17. Go check it out.

[My most sincere thanks to William Morrow for the Advance Reader Copy of The Fireman, acquired at PLA 2016]

Election day has come and gone. I have mixed feelings about the results, but I’m feeling positive for Colorado overall. That’s about as political as I’m going to get here, at least as far as real-world politics go. However, it did get me to thinking about the concept of politics within fictional realms.

Some stories revolve almost entirely around political intrigue. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the most prominent examples of this today. With plot details inspired by The War of The Roses, among other things, ASOIAF is filled with characters who live for gain of power and wealth. They don’t care if they have to spy, steal, or murder to achieve it, and no one will stand in there way, neither kings nor innocent children.

Writers like Tom Clancy became famous for writing thrillers inspired by real-world political events, focusing on them in a modern setting. Drug wars, assassinations, and bids for the US presidency serve as the core for Clancy’s books. Events could easily be pulled from headlines and adapted to fit a plot, provided that it be done carefully.

How much sway should politics hold over your story? That’s really up to you. Do you want your piece to become an Author Tract, where it’s little more than a way to express your opinions via fictional characters? That’s okay, it can be done well. Do you want your piece to be critical of existing political systems in the real world? Or would you prefer to establish a new system as a thought experiment?

Frankly, I like the idea of trying all of them on for size, along with things that involve a complex world without getting into politics whatsoever. Developing a somewhat functional political system can be a fun part of world building, but be sure that you don’t let it overwhelm the story.

Sometimes it’s the little victories that bring us the most joy. For me, one of the biggest such triumphs is knocking out a title from my “to-read” list. I’ve finally gotten it under control recently, though one of my coworkers at the library has described making progress on a reading list as a feat akin to slaying a hydra…

No, not the kind from “Captain America”

In my line of work, I’m generally adding a new book to my to-read list every other day. After a staff meeting a few weeks ago where one of my coworkers introduced us to the concept of the reading map via this example she created, I knew that I had to add yet another. You see, this reading map introduced me to Erin Morgenstern and her debut novel, The Night Circus. I was absolutely blown away by the book, which is a strange and fantastic combination of the magic competition presented in The Prestige and the environment presented in Something Wicked This Way Comes. Morgenstern weaves a tale of intrigue and romance as two young illusionists compete in a game with a mysterious circus serving as the venue. Celia and Marco are bound to the game by their masters, neither of them fully aware of the rules, including the fact that only one of them can survive. The Night Circus is a series of complex rings, much like the black and white striped tents that make up the titular location. I couldn’t put it down. Finishing it is one of those little victories. I can’t recommend it enough.

Next up on the reading list is another debut novel, A Once Crowded Sky. See you soon.

I woke up a few days ago and I found this in my twitter feed. Now I like good zombie fiction as much as anybody else (and probably a hell of a lot more than some of you), but the topic is one that I’d tried to avoid mainly due to the over-saturation of modern popular culture. Well, that and I’ve worked in retail over Christmas, so I’m pretty certain I’ve already had some first-hand experience with fending off zombies. NO! BACK! YOU CAN’T HAVE MY BRAIN! HAVE THIS DELICIOUS HOMELESS MAN WHO HAS BEEN CAMPED IN FRONT OF THE STORE ALL WINTER INSTEAD!

The zombie craze has been going strong for several years now, and I am pleased to say that I think the vampire sex fantasies are dying off slowly, as exposure to light generally shows how stupid that concept is. (Disclaimer: I have read the Twilight books, and once I was done, I found myself wondering if I hadn’t briefly been turned into a zombie… I got better once someone handed me a copy of A Game of Thrones, and I am fully convinced that this is a legitimate cure. If nothing else, you can use the hardcover editions for bludgeoning weapons and a layer of the paperbacks as a sort of lightweight but still nearly bulletproof armor. Thank you for saving me, George.) Not that vampire stuff can’t be done well. Bram Stoker’s Dracula give me chills, three readings later, and Anne Rice had a great thing going with her earlier work. Or there’s always the Sookie Stackhouse books. You might know them as those stories that Stephanie Meyer completely ripped off when she wrote Twilight, or like A Game of Thrones, you might know of the story from the sexy HBO adaptation (I’m still waiting for the HBO version of my own life to kick in).

This isn’t to say that the zombie fiction isn’t just as ridiculous as the vampire fiction. Far from it. However, it is technically a little more plausible, especially given recent events. People are even catering to the zombie apocalypse with “anti-zombie” ammunition, bladed and blunt weapons, and fortresses. Zombies are in our video games, our movies, our books, and even our news articles. Combine pop culture’s love of this kind of shit with the fact that some people are legitimately convinced that the world’s going to end because a calendar carved in stone around 2600 years ago is running out of room (oh, hey, look, my calendar printed on paper is going to end this year too, I wonder if that means that the world really WILL end…) and people start to get a little twitchy. I must admit, though, that I am curious as to how a civilization that has supposedly predicted the end of the world couldn’t have foretold their inevitable downfall… I mean, it’s not like anyone who’s ever predicted the end of the world has ever been wrong. Wait, what? You mean they’ve ALL been wrong? Oh man, I need to rethink my strategy… But I digress. In all seriousness, the zombie apocalypse could be a lot of fun. There are some great depictions of it. I just can’t help thinking that any disease or thing like that might likely just kill everyone rather than creating living dead. You can blame my recent reading of Margaret Atwood for this.

Anyway, I should get some sleep. Zombies are making me sleepy. What’s that sitting beside me, you ask? Nothing, nothing, just a little shotgun in the event that you start moaning and craving brains in the near future. Can’t be too careful.