Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Little Conversation with...Cynthia Echterling

I came to know about Cynthia Echterling when her daughter Jenny Humphries, who I worked with at Joe's Crab Shack, told how her mom was a write/artist like me. I connected with her on Facebook, but circumstances kept me from really connecting with her. I recently started following her on Twitter and downloded her latest book, Called Torqed: The Quest for Earth and started reading it. Very good stuff. Hence, the request for an interview went out and after, some e-mail tag, we got it done and here she is...

FOC: I grew up in East Hammond, near Calumet Ave. What part of Hammond did you grow up in?

CD Echterling: First of all, thank you, Wesley, for the interview.

I started life near downtown Hammond. Across our street were train tracks and behind it was L. Fish furniture. That was great. We didn't have many toys, but there were always lots of big cardboard boxes and packing materials to turn into houses, forts, and vehicles and the loading ramp to slide down on with a piece of cardboard when the store was closed. Later, we moved to Hessville. There were still areas that were wooded before they built the new Morton H.S. and Briar East Shopping Center. My brothers and I spent a lot of time in the woods, hunting for critters and playing Indians or pirates, or just exploring nature. Along with the normal dogs, cats, fish and hamsters, we always had bugs, frogs, turtles, snakes and such that we kept as "pets." Mom didn't care much for the crayfish and leeches, or the alligator snapping turtle and the baby copperheads, but she really got upset about the duck. It pooped too much. We also had relatives with farms out in Crown Point and Crete, so we spent a lot of time there too, learning about farm animals, crops and more fun things to do in the woods. Oh, and I attended All Saints and Saint Catherine, so I learned a lot about nun abuse. I went to high school at Morton and Lake Central where I was involved in speech and theater.

FOC: How long were you in the army? Did any of those experiences filter into your work?

CD Echterling: I did a three-year enlistment in a tactical communications signal unit and was stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC. When I first reported to my platoon, I was told that I wouldn't be there long because the platoon leader hated women. All the other women had requested transfers after a few weeks, but I'd grown up with brothers out in the woods. Once they learned I was willing to do anything the guys did, including maintain vehicles, bury cable, pitch tents and clean out the port-a-johns, I was okay. I also ate ants and snakes and could out shoot most of them. I couldn't drive a deuce and a half vehicle though. Too short. And yes, my military experience does work its way into my writing, even though I don't write much about war. There is more survival and hand-to-hand combat. I also learned that when you take a bunch of guys out on maneuvers, they mostly talk about food and how horny they're going to get. Also, when girls talk about something that has happened, they listen and empathize. Guys "one-up" each other:

"Oh, I cut my hand."

"Aw, that's nothin'. One time I slid down a pole and drove a splinter through my chin into the roof of my mouth."

"Oh, yeah? Well, one time I ..." Such fun. Oh and I learned a lot about bureaucrats, rules, regs and talking in acronyms.

FOC: One of your favorite genres is Science Fiction. What is it about Sci-Fi that draws you to it as a writer and a reader?

CD Echterling: I had always enjoyed science books -- biology, paleontology, archeology and astronomy especially. When I was about eleven, I read Red Planet by Robert Heinlein almost by accident. After that I was hooked. I loved the endless possibilities of it -- exploring new worlds, encountering beings unlike anything on Earth. There were no limits to what could happen in the human imagination. And science fiction isn't just about the science to me. You can explore human nature in contrast to alien nature in an endless variety of ways. That's what I tend to do in my writing, examine how the individual responds to new, unexpected situations. How do they adapt? What human qualities aid or hinder them?

FOC: Who are some of your favorite Sci-Fi authors and how do they influence your work?

CD Echterling: I tend to prefer more humanistic works rather than the technical or empiric battles. I like Ray Bradbury, Philip Jose Farmer (a fellow Hoosier), and Orson Scott Card. I love the humor and twisted science of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. I also am a big Vonnegut fan, though some would say his work isn't really Science Fiction. Some people say that about me too. People tell me, "I don't like Science Fiction, but I like what you write."  I suppose because my work has well-developed, unique characters. Science fiction is often criticized for flat, stereotypical characters, but much of Sci-Fi is more about the technology than the individuals who have to deal with it. I also enjoy works with well-developed worlds. That to me, is the fun part -- working out how the world works. There are so many things to consider: the environment, how that affects the inhabitants both physically and culturally, the economy and customs.  I also read non-SF. I love Twain and Dickens, Malamut and Ecco. I think TV has been a big influence also, growing up with Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. I think my favorite recent series were Farscape and Firefly.

FOC: Who are some of your favorite artists? Are you influenced more by painters or Comic Book Artists?

Oh, I don't know. Hieronymus Bosch? He was weird. I like Medieval art, cave paintings, Indian and Chinese art. I also like impressionist artists like van Gogh and Monet and the way they used light.  I would say my style tends to be somewhere between realistic and impressionistic. I think of myself as an illustrator rather than a fine artist. My favorite illustrators are George Catlin who traveled among the Native American tribes, painting portraits and scenes of their lives before their way of life was changed by white incursion. NC Wyeth, whose most famous work is probably Treasure Island. Science Fiction illustrators such as Frazetta and Vallejo are interesting, but I always wonder if those women didn't need better bras. I'm sorry if you're a fan, but I don't like Anime. There is something about the faces I find a bit creepy.

FOC: Humor is a large part of your work. Is that by accident or design?

CD Echterling: I can't help it. I think it's how I handle stress. I get funny. Even when I was writing Scavengers, which is a dark psychological post-apocalyptic novel, I would get so upset, I had to occasional insert chapters that were for my own comic relief. I think humor helps us, not only laugh at ourselves but it opens us up to learn new ideas. It gets your defenses down so you’re ready to have your brain invaded. Bwah-Ha-Ha!

FOC: What are some of the newer projects that you’re working on? What’s coming out next?
CD Echterling: Right now, I'm re-editing my e-book Torq: The Quest for Earth for print publication, which I hope to have available on Amazon by August or September. I am also working on a novel entitled Courting Corporal Coogan. I've never written a novel with a female lead character before and I am incorporating more of my military experience. A problem I've always had with some  Sci-Fi films is all the big high tech weapons which I think are more Freudian than practical. Who fixes that stuff? So, my military unit in the Coogan novel is the Technical Weapons and Electronics Repair Personnel (TWERPs). Coogan is the medical tech. There are some unknown aliens who have been relocating humans to an uninhabited planet the way we might relocate wildlife to a sanctuary. There is only one rule: get violent and you'll disappear. The humans come from many different places and times, so our TWERPs find themselves in a village with Neanderthals, Upper Paleolithic hunter gatherers, former slaves from a 17th century Caribbean plantation, a few Vikings, pre-Columbian Indians, a Civil War doctor and his daughter and a WWII bomber crew all trying to get along. I know the title sounds like it might be a romance novel, but only if you think having a Cro Magnon trying to give you gifts of raw hearts and wanting to show you his man parts is romantic. It's more about gender roles, diversity and community. It won't be done for some time. This one requires a lot of cultural and historical research. I'm finding the Civil War era medicine fascinating. They were still leeching and bleeding people, but they had stethoscopes and ether. And there's a lot on basic survival skills like fire starting, flint knapping, hunting with a spear thrower and food preservation. Oh and voodoo.

By the way, You should go to Amazon or to Cynthia's site and support her because, if, for no other reason, she's a fan of Firefly! She gets all kinds of cool points for that!

          Cynthia Echterling

Torqed: The Quest for Earth




Beer Wars: The Legend of Utti

HWH Book Cover

Help Wanted Human book cover link

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Excerpt from Facets: Without a Paddle

I've been at the keyboard, getting Facets ready to become an e-book and I realized, I didn't do an excerpt from this story. It's called Without a Paddle and you folks get the pleasue of meeting Mr. Daniel Ryan O'Riordan...

                                    Facets is available on the Kindle Market!

The Gods were pissed off.

They had to be. How else could I be stuck in the woods, surrounded by an angry pack of werewolves and have only two rounds of Were-ammo left? Oh, let’s not forget I have a fifteen year old boy with me who’s scared outta his gourd and my right arm, my shooting arm, got slashed practically down to the bone and I can barely lift it.

This was supposed to be a simple recon op, just follow this werewolf pack to their meeting place, find out who their new Alpha was going to be, along with all the members, and quietly take all of them out in their normal guises. Some kid coming along and photographing the pack after they’d shifted was an unforeseen complication. The recon op became a rescue mission and it snafued from there.

The plan was to get us back to my Hummvee. Once we were there, the kid and I‘d be home-free; Armor plating that could stop an RPG shell or angry claws and an auto-weapons system that could track and take out any number of monsters within a 500 yard radius. The problem is my GPS tracker got trashed along with my arm when I jumped in to save the kid. So, on top of everything else, I’m lost. Joy.

“Hey, kid.” I said. He looked like he was in shock and didn’t hear me. Seeing something that’s supposed to be nothing more than a character in a horror movie trying to kill you could have that kind of effect on a body.


“W…W…What? What?”

“What’s your name?” I asked as I looked around. I thought I heard something.


“Willard, I need you to take the gun in my hand so I can bandage my arm.”

He looked a little confused. I looked around again. I definitely heard something. Frustration rose inside me and I wanted to grab Willard by the shoulders and shake him out of it. Instead, I took a deep breath, tamped down the pain and frustration and led Willard towards a cave that was a small ways away from us.

Once inside, I took off my backpack and pulled out first aid supplies, a bottle of water and a bottle of rubbing alcohol. I put the stuff on the ground and leaned against the wall. My arm was throbbing with pain and I was starting to get lightheaded from blood loss. The rough wall of the cave felt so nice and cool and I was so tired…No! I can’t pass out. If I do that, the kid and I are toast. I took a deep breath and focused past the pain and fought to keep the black on the edge of my vision from creeping over me.

“Kid!” I rasped. “Will!”

He looked at me like I was an alien. Bloody hell.

“Will, I know all this is scaring you half to death, but I need you to be here with me and keep your head if were gonna get through this, okay?”


Thank God. “’Kay. Take the gun. Watch the entrance, if any hostiles come, shoot them.” I opened the bottle of water and washed off my arm as best I could.

“How does it work?” Will asked.

“Which hand are you holding the gun with?”

“My right one.”

“The safety’s on the left side of the gun, by your thumb. Just flip it up and the gun’ll shoot.” I opened the rubbing alcohol. I was gonna hate this next part. “You know how to shoot?”

“F…from playing video games.”

 “Well, unlike the video games that gun’s gonna kick like a mule.”

“A couple of ‘em have guns that kick like the real thing…”

“Believe me, that gun there will kick harder. Hold it in your right hand and use your left hand to steady it, ‘kay?”


“And squeeze the trigger, don’t pull it.”


I hissed out a breath as I poured the alcohol on the wounds. Next, came the gauze. It was treated with chemical compounds that would make my blood clot a little quicker.

I finished with that and pulled out a pneumatic syringe. It contained an experimental lycanthrope vaccine my boss, Joshua Van Dieter extrapolated from a rabies vaccine. He noticed that lycanthropy manifested itself the same way rabies did and shared a lot of the same symptoms, so he made a serum that should cure lycanthropy in anyone who was infected and still in the incubation period. The keyword here is ‘should’ because it hasn’t been properly tested on a human yet.

Say hello to Mister Guinea Pig.

I put it on my thigh and hit the button. The fucker hurt going in, but if it’ll keep me from goin’ furry, I’ll deal.

“What was that?” Will asked.

“What were you doing in the middle of the woods on a school night?”

“I asked you first.”

“A lycanthrope vaccine. It’s supposed to stop me from turning furry.”

“Supposed to?”

“First time it’s been used. My boss, who also designed the gun you’re holding, reckons it’ll work.” I grinned, but I’m sure it looked more like a grimace. “We’ll find out.”


“Your turn.”

Will took a deep breath. “There were stories goin’ around that people were disappearing in these part of the woods, Y’know? The popular kids dared me to come out here tonight for two hours and take pictures of anything strange.”

“I walked up on this bonfire with a bunch of people dancing around it. I thought it was some kinda hippie thing ‘cuz they were all buck naked. Remember that dancing in the moonlight song?”

“By King Harvest? Yeah.”

“They were listening to that and I was getting into it when they all started to change into werewolves. I took a couple of shots. Somebody probably saw the flash, ‘cuz they all turned and looked at me. The last thing I heard before I started running was the lyric about how people don’t bark and they don’t bite.” He grinned, but the fear in his eyes leeched any humor out of the gesture. “Kinda ironic, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, a bit.” There was a rustle off to the left, by the front of the cave.

“Will!” That was all I got to say as a werewolf sprang straight towards him. Will turned and drilled the werewolf twice in the chest. All those years of playing first person shooters came in handy, obviously. He did wind up on the ground, though.

As I limped over to Will, the lycanthrope howled in pain as it changed to human form. There were hundreds of little pops, cracks and tearing sounds.

The werewolf ordinance contained a compound that caused immediate osteoporosis and triggered a lycanthrope’s transformation into human form. Basically, the stress of changing shape broke bones to splinters and cut internal organs into useless meat with way too much damage to heal. Eventually, the howling changed to gurgling screams. Then all was quiet.

“Whoa,” was all Will said.

“Thank you, Keanu,” I retorted as I helped him up. An idea came to me and I took the gun and put in the vampire ammo. Since it contained silver nitrate and a very powerful anti-coagulant, it might be more helpful against the werewolves than the zombie load. What the hell? It couldn’t hurt. Speaking of hurt, my arm didn’t hurt so much anymore and I could move it some. Strange.

Will walked over to where the ruined body lay. I was about to stop him, but he’d gotten close to it and promptly lost his lunch. While he did that, I gathered up everything and stood behind him as he got his breath back.

            “I’ve never shot anyone before. For real, I mean,” He said.

            “I’m sorry you had to.”          

            “It was like a video game, but real, y’know?”

“No reset buttons in the real, Will, and no extra lives if you make a mistake either.” Will looked like he was about to get all queasy again, but he swallowed and asked how someone became a werewolf.

            “Attacked or scratched by one,” I explained. “Sometimes it’s caused by magic, like a curse or an amulet or, very rarely, a body’s born a lycanthrope.”

I searched through the stiff’s pants and found a wallet. Will threw up again as I did this. The I.D. said the stiff’s name was Jayson Plano and lived in an address in Manhattan. I reached into my back pack, pulled out a mini-pc roughly the size of a hardcover novel, fired it up and made a video call to Joshua. In a few seconds, he was on-line and his face, earnest, intelligent and bespectacled, filled the screen.



            “Have you tracked down the wolfpack?”

            “Yeah, but I’ve encountered a few sticking points along the way.”

            “Explain.” I did.

            “So did the vaccine work?”

            “Seems so. I’m able to use my right arm again. Frankly, I ‘m surprised by that.”

            “You should be. The wounds you described should take a few months to heal, including physical therapy.”

            “What does that mean?”

            “I’ll have to look into that when you get back. Where’s the young man you were telling me about?”

            “He’s puking his guts out in a corner. His name’s Will. He’s freaked out by all this, but he seems to be coping awfully well, even so.” I paused as Will stopped and stood on shaky feet. “I gotta get him home, Joshua.”

            “Absolutely.” Joshua tapped on the keyboard in front of him. “I’m downloading the GPS program into your notebook so you can find the Hummer.”

A window opened to show that the download had started. Once it was done, I launched the GPS finder and a window opened with a map and a blinking red dot that signified the location of the Hummer. According to the map it was about three miles away. If I was by myself, that wouldn’t be a problem, but I had Will and he couldn’t move nearly a quickly as I could. Problem was we couldn’t stay here either. The other Weres had probably heard the death throes of their fellow pack member and were on their way with vengeance on the mind. We had to move.

“Thanks, boss.”

“As you Americans say, no problem. I wish there was more I could do.”

“You’ve done enough. I’ll call you after I’m done.” Joshua nodded and broke the link. I closed the notebook and walked over to Will. Hmm. No limping. And my arm definitely doesn’t hurt anymore. Fuck.

“How d’you feel?” I asked him. He nodded as if he didn’t trust himself to speak.

“Come on. We have to go.”


“Yeah and plenty of it. C’mon.” We walked out of the cave and I opened the notebook to get our bearings. We had to head east towards the highway.

“’Kay. Will, your job is to hold on to this notebook and navigate us to where the red dot is. That’s my Hummer. The sooner we get there, the sooner I get you home. Stay close, keep up and be quiet, clear?”

He nodded. I closed the pc, stuffed it in its’ carrying case and gave it to Will. As he strapped it on, I pulled out my gun, checked the load and slung it on my shoulder. I also pulled out a 9mm Beretta, pulled back the slide, turned on the safety and handed the pistol to Will.

“There’re silver bullets in the clip. They won’t have the same effect as the Lycan ordinance; it’ll slow down their ability to heal. Go for head shots. Same as before: squeeze the trigger, don’t pull it,” He swallowed and nodded his head.

Will looked pitiful in his ripped, black Beastie Boys t-shirt, dark colored jeans and dark blue Chuck Taylors. His arms and face were full of scratches from the trees and brambles he ran through. There were leaves and branches in his dark hair and a fine trembling shook his whole frame. Will was scared, but there was a resolve in his face that wasn’t there before. He wanted to go home and he trusted me to do it. I just hoped I didn’t fail him.

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