Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today: Raymond Bolton lives near Portland, Oregon with his wife, Toni, and their cats, Max and Arthur. He has written award-winning poetry and has published six novels.
His crossover epic fantasy/sci-fi quartet, The Ydron Saga, which consists of Awakening and it prequel trilogy, Thought Gazer, Foretellers and Triad, are published by WordFire Press, publisher of many bestselling and award-winning authors including Frank Herbert, Kevin J. Anderson, Jody Lynn Nye, Alan Dean Foster, Mike Resnick, Brian Herbert, Tracy Hickman, and David Farland, as well as the Dune and Star Wars series.
His work has been endorsed by the late Mike Resnick, who says, “In AWAKENING, Raymond Bolton presents us with an intricate and interesting problem, characters you care for, aliens who -are- alien, and a carefully-thought-out future.” International award-winning author of more than 100 books, Paul Kane, describes his work as, “Thoroughly imaginative, with an eloquent writing style and characters that live and breathe on the page.” D. J. Butler, author of Witchy Eye, calls his fifth novel, Folder, a self-published Young Adult science fiction novel, “A wild young-adult alternate-worlds adventure that will leave you guessing right up to the end! Fans of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials will love this!”
Wraith, his most recent work, has received a pre-publication endorsement from Michael R. Collings, who was named Grand Master at the 2016 World Horror Convention.
Thanks so much, Raymond, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Raymond Bolton: In 1996, in the midst of a failing marriage, it occurred to me that I’d always wanted to write a novel, and that the only way to do that was to actually sit down and write. My early efforts were essentially garbage, but I kept plugging away until my writing began to improve. Along the way, I entered several writing competitions, but it was not until 2013, after several earlier failed attempts, that I submitted my debut novel to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s annual literary competition under the working title, Renunciation, competing with more than 950 other manuscripts, where it became one of eight finalists. That convinced me that my story had developed to the point I ought to publish it. And though I still could not convince any agent to accept me as their client, self-publishing was just taking off, so I decided to risk going that route.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
RB: I write speculative fiction. It’s a broad category that encompasses science fiction, fantasy, the paranormal, and horror, and I’ve written novels that fall into each of those categories.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
RB: In 1994, I published my debut novel under the title Awakening. It is an epic other-world sci-fi/fantasy crossover set in a world with binary suns. In it, a mediaeval society on the cusp of an industrial revolution unexpectedly find themselves facing an alien invasion by telepathic shapeshifters and a technology beyond their imagining. The late Mike Resnick endorsed it saying, “In Awakening, Raymond Bolton presents us with an intricate and interesting problem, characters you care for, aliens who -are- alien, and a carefully-thought-out future.”
JSC: How did you deal with rejection letters?
RB: Rejection letters don’t faze me. I am reminded of the time when a literary agent showed authors how hard it is to get publishers to accept your work. For the experiment, the agent contacted the author of a book that had won the American Book Award and asked if he could re-submit it, but under a different title. The agent then sent it off to ten major publishers. All of them rejected it, including Random House… who had actually published it.
JSC: How do you approach covers for your indie stories?
RB: A cover is crucial to the success of a book. It is one of the things that compels a prospective reader to pick of the book and open it. Consequently, I hire the best cover artists I can find because, if the cover is slipshod, the book will surely fail.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for Wraith?
RB: I was thinking about writing a ghost story when the movie “Ghost,” starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, came to mind. I thought it wasn’t as dark as it could be, so I took the basic premise, and inserted a less admirable protagonist, a more depraved antagonist, more cringe-worthy ghosts and villains, and let the story run where it wanted.
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
RB: Dean Samed of Ramsgate, England was my cover designer. He came highly recommended by my author/editor friend, Lyn Worthen. After visiting his FaceBook page and finding image that I thought might be a prototype, then settling on a price and timeline, I left him pretty much on his own. Except for telling him how I wanted the eyes to appear, and telling him that I wanted the cover to be done in black, white, and grays, everything is Dean’s creation.
JSC: What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
RB: Over the years I’ve driven trucks, been an FM disk jockey, produced concerts, served as a mainsail trimmer on racing yachts, piloted gliders, written software, worked as a hair stylist and owned and operated my own business.
Wraith, makes reference to a “Santana 22—a beamy little racing sloop that took off like a rabbit at the slightest hint of a breeze” and a moonlight sail similar to one I’d taken on San Francisco Bay. The book is set in and around the town of Tiburon, where I owned hair salon for more than four decades. Many of the characters and situations are derived from conversations I had with my clients.
JSC: What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.
RB: “How much of your book is based on reality?”
Most of my novel is based on reality. The buildings’ interiors and exteriors are real. The Tiburon restaurant is a well-known landmark. Its interior description and picture window views are real, as is the downtown pastry shop, and the yacht club at Main Street’s elbow. The micro surgeon who works at California Pacific Davies Medical Center, and who operated on Jordan is real, as is the story about him fashioning an opposable thumb from the big toe of a young man who was injured in a farming accident. The bodyguard Jordan hires is based on one of my clients who protected the daughter of a Cosa Nostra capo. The incidents he relates to Jordan are based on experiences my client related to me. The story of the principal of a Tiburon investment firm, who had absconded with the retirement accounts of several local residents, is also true. The Bay Area real estate tycoon, whom I called Matt Breitenbach after one of my co-workers, was based on a former client who really does have a street named after him running through Oakland International Airport. The woman whom Sabrina goes to visit at her home near Dominican University, is based after another client whose “whose surname was synonymous with one of the nation’s largest polling organizations.” She really does exist. The San Francisco ghosts Warren learns about, when he returns from the dead, are based on actual legends. Brandi’s “house in a neighborhood close San Rafael’s Dominican University,” is a home I once visited. The story of her performing private concerts parallels woman who lived there. So is the midnight sail on a Santana 22. I could go on for pages.
JSC: We know what you like to write, but what do you like to read in your free time, and why?
RB: My current WIP involves wizards and sorcery. Consequently, I’ve been reading Jim Butcher, Kate Griffin, and C. L. Polk. I’ve also been reading grimoires and other books related to magic.
And now for Raymond’s new book: Wraith:
Infuriated over the late night attack that has left him and his children murdered and his wife in an ICU, fighting for her life, Warren returns to the world of the living to take revenge against the trio of street thugs who attacked them, and also against Jordan, his business partner, who has embezzled their investment firm’s assets.
It’s a race against time as Jordan prepares to flee the country, taking millions of dollars with him in an elaborate scheme to elude law enforcement. In order to to keep the firm from collapsing, leaving all of its employees and investors destitute, Warren struggles to find a way to stop him… not an easy task for a disembodied person with no easy way to communicate with the living.
“Bolton gets into the meat of relationships, and makes you care about his characters – which is all too rare, yet essential, in horror. Combined with a cracking story, it makes for quite the read!”~ Paul Kane – award-winning and bestselling author of Hooded Man, Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, and Arcana.
“Raymond Bolton’s Wraith presents an intriguing view of the intersections between the living and the dead. Beginning with a triple murder, this dark paranormal novel explores the consequences of betrayal, greed, infidelity, and vengeance on both sides of mortality…and in each instance, provides unexpected twists that propel readers onward, page after page. Bolton deftly shifts perspectives between the world of the Wraith and those he pursues with a fury that transcends death itself.”~ Michael R. Collings, named Grand Master at the 2016 World Horror Convention
“This expertly paced novel of gruesome vengeance will provide readers with a sense of unseemly pleasure as they watch it all play out.”~ Kirkus Reviews
“I’m a’right,” Warren slurred as he lurched through the hotel’s front door. Reaching out, he failed to grab it and stumbled onto the sidewalk.
“Sure you are,” Jordan called after him as the doorman held the door open for the rest of their party. “You should have gone easier on the Irish cream.”
Warren turned and grinned at the ones who were following him, his eyes flashing wickedly. “It was just desert,” he said. Then, appraising his partner through the corner of an eye, he grinned and added, “You do believe in just deserts, don’t you, Jordie?”
Jordan scowled and Warren decided he didn’t much give a damn. While a small amount of alcohol relaxed him, a large enough quantity made Warren downright euphoric. It also loosened his tongue and made him undeniably obnoxious. He knew that in the morning he would hate himself for having acted like this, especially since he would have preferred a more subtle approach to addressing the matters that were recently brought to his attention. The thing was, for the moment it did not matter one single whit and that made his grin even broader.
“ ’Sides,” Warren chuckled, legs splayed, his body weaving when he halted. “A li’l Brandi will fix ev’ry thing, won’t you, Sweetie?”
Warren’s wife, Brandi, in the face of the example he was setting, was struggling to keep their two wriggling children under control. If she had heard his attempt at being clever, he could not tell, but she didn’t react to him one way or another. In the course of snaring their ten-year-old son’s wrist with her right hand and their eight-year-old daughter’s with her left, lest they rush out into the night and beyond her control, her purse had slid from her shoulder to her elbow and now was dangling by its strap. Caught between the requisites of motherhood, while her children were complaining loudly, and maintaining a difficult decorum in the wake of her husband’s inebriation, she was working hard to keep up. Bringing up the rear, Jordan’s wife, Nancy, was frowning and her eyes flicked back and forth between Warren and her husband.
Ignoring Warren’s harangue, Jordan looked up one side of the street and down the other. “Does anyone remember where we parked?”
They were on the west side of Powell Street, opposite Union Square, and Nancy reminded him, “We’re in the underground parking garage.”
“Oh, yeah,” Jordan acknowledged, only a trifle less tipsy than his business partner. “What about you guys?”
“Warren refused to pay,” answered Brandi, “so we’re parked on the street a block or two above Market.”
Warren chimed in, “Do you know how much those crooks wanted to charge us?”
“At this time of night,” countered Jordan, “what’s a few bucks in exchange for a little convenience? And besides, you’re not exactly hurting for money, are you pal?”
“No thanks to you,” Warren growled.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’ll need a clear head when I talk to you about it, so you’ll just have to wait till I see you at the office.” Warren was starting to head downhill when he halted. Turning back, he looked Jordan in the eye and said, “Give it some thought. I’m sure you can figure it out.”
Glancing around at the almost deserted streets, Nancy asked in her gentrified Texas drawl, in an obvious attempt to diffuse the budding argument, “Walking this late at night would make me nervous. Why don’t y’all let us give you a lift?”
She was referring to the fact it was edging into the hours when only questionable sorts were out and about. San Francisco was never a twenty four hour city like New York or Las Vegas, even on Friday. Already well past ten, late night diners were on their way home and avid partyers were now ensconced in fashionable lounges and cocktail bars.
“I need to sober up,” grumbled Warren. “I have some business to attend to tomorrow morning and I’m gonna need the car. ’Sides, a little hike will do the kids good.”
“Really?” asked Jordan. “Look, I honestly don’t mind. I’m always up by five. I can drive you back bright and early.”
“Please, Warren,” Brandi begged. “I think Nancy’s right.”
“It’s just a few blocks. We’ll be there before you know it,” Warren argued, beginning to grow more than a little angry at having to justify himself.
Jordan tried to intervene. “Hey, Bud… ”
“I said no!” insisted Warren, pointing his finger at Jordan. Then, in a measured tone, he continued. “It’ll be fine. This is San Francisco.”
“That’s what I’m talking about.”
“Don’t push!” Warren snapped, extending his hands, palms facing outward. Then, in a less strident tone, he reiterated, “Anyway, you and I have something serious to discuss on Monday.”
Jordan retreated a step, sighed, then relented. “All right. Just be careful.”
As Jordan and Nancy headed for the crosswalk, Warren stuffed his hands into his pockets and stormed off in the opposite direction.
“G’night, bud,” Jordan called after him. “We really enjoyed ourselves.”
Warren heard Nancy add something more, but whether it was to him or her husband, he could not tell. The clanging of a bell and steel wheels rolling over the iron rails running up Powell, as one of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars trundled past, trampled over her words.
“I think we should have followed them to the corner and turned left,” suggested Brandi, trying to keep up while pulling the children along with her. When she caught up with him, she asked, “And what was all that about? That thing about Monday?”
Warren wheeled on her. “Did you honestly think I wouldn’t find out?”
“About what?” Brandi asked.
“About the trip.”
“Mommy? Are we going on a trip?” asked Robbie.
“Shh! Not now,” Brandi hushed.
“Hah! Naturally, you couldn’t tell the kids or Daddy’d find out.”
When Brandi presented an uncomprehending look, Warren rebuffed her attempt at innocence. “I’ve seen the reservations.”
She fell silent and returned a minimal nod.
“Were you planning to leave a note on your pillow saying, ‘Nice knowing you, Honey. Happy anniversary’? You do remember that our anniversary is coming up pretty soon, don’t you?”
Brandi came erect and countered, “You’re continually drunk and the children need someone to set a better example.”
“And when you were going to tell them they had a new father?”
“You’re still going to be our daddy, aren’t you?” pleaded Robbie, gazing up at him.
Amazed at how someone so young could follow the conversation and perceive its nuances, Warren squatted down on his haunches, gripped Robbie by the shoulders and looked him square in the eyes.
“Of course I’m going to be your daddy. I’ll always be your daddy and nothing’s going to change it.” He looked up at Brandi and glared. “Do you see what you’re doing?”
He attempted to rise but instead stumbled backward, arresting his fall by placing one hand on the pavement.
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Look at yourself! You should be ashamed. You can’t even stand.” Rebecca sneezed and Brandi glanced at her, then back at Warren. “We need to get them out of the cold.”
Angry, but unable to argue against the obvious, Warren lowered his head, struggled to his feet and once again headed downhill on Powell. When he turned right at the next intersection, he ran into a wall of wind roaring up from the Pacific Ocean. Gripping his lapels, he drew his jacket around himself as the gust buffeted his pant legs, whipping them against his ankles and shins.
“Mommy, I’m cold!” cried Robbie.
“I want to go home,” pleaded his sister.
“Hurry up, now,” urged Brandi, grabbing Robbie by the hand. “We don’t want to lose track of your father.”
“You’re hurting me!” the boy objected.
Warren, who, by this time, was rapidly moving downhill, slowed his pace to accommodate his children. You’re such an idiot, he reprimanded himself. Despite what he had learned only this morning, he knew he should have taken Jordan up on his offer. San Francisco’s streets running from west to east function like wind tunnels, funneling wind from the ocean to the bay. And while the gusts that were surging through Geary Boulevard weren’t as strong as the ones driven up streets with higher elevations like California, he knew he needed to get them into some kind of shelter or they would all most likely come down with pneumonia.
He decided to turn left onto Mason, thereby putting its buildings between his family and the gale, before turning west again farther downhill where the wind was certain to be calmer. This stretch of their walk did seem somewhat better and, after traveling two more blocks, Warren turned west again with Brandi and the children close on his heels.
At one point, she looked around and observed, “I don’t remember parking on Eddy.”
“We’re almost there,” he insisted, uncertain at this point whether he had indeed parked on Eddy, rather than on Ellis which they had passed a block higher up.
He was not at all pleased with their current surroundings. Like many American cities, San Francisco is a hodgepodge of diverse districts and neighborhoods. At night, as one proceeds westward of Powell and farther downhill from Geary, the buildings become less illuminated and the darkness increases. In a matter of half a dozen blocks, it is possible to transition from the well‑heeled and tony to the dregs of despair. Instead of brightly lit restaurants, hotels and glamorous boutiques, the storefronts become shabby, more dilapidated than the ones that lie only a few blocks farther uphill or eastward. Hotels turn into low income extended residences and the spaces between are salted with dimly lit bars, tiny cafés, small, multicultural food marts and family-owned grocery stores. Along this portion of Eddy, the disparity between where they’d begun and the place where they had landed was obvious.
On their right, between two buildings situated like bookends, gaped a cavern a third building had occupied. A wall of plywood, thrown up by the demolition crew, was all that separated the pit from the sidewalk. As Warren and his family continued westward, they could not help but notice bodies in sleeping bags, looking like cloth-covered slugs along the buildings’ foundations, or else tucked into iron gated entranceways. Windows were barred and outdoor lighting was minimal, providing the scantest assistance to pedestrians.
As Warren scanned their surroundings, he thought he detected movement ahead, only seconds before a large masculine form peeled away from the shadows and planted itself squarely in front of them.
“Warren,” gasped Brandi and grabbed him by the elbow.
He halted as two other figures, both shorter than the first, stepped out to flank it.
“Hey,” called Warren, raising a hand in feigned nonchalance. “It’s all right.”
“Bet your ass it is,” countered the man in the center.
“I mean, we don’t want any trouble. If you’ll just let us pass, we’ll be out of your way before you know it.”
Warren attempted what he hoped they would interpret as a good-natured laugh. Instead, it emerged like a cough. He tried clearing his throat, but like his mouth, his windpipe had gone paper dry. Met only with silence, he rasped, “What do you guys want?”
“What do you have?”
“N-nothing. We don’t have anything.”
“Don’t give me that crap.”
Brandi tightened her grip, digging her nails through Warren’s sleeve and into his forearm.
“Do you want my wallet? I have some money,” Warren offered as he reached back to retrieve it.
“I want everything.”
Before Warren could finish, the stranger strode forward and, with both hands, grabbed his collar and lifted him up so that only his toes touched the pavement.
“Every. Fucking. Thing! I want your wallet. I want your watch, the lady’s purse, her jewelry, anything inside the kids’ pockets,” he demanded, freeing a hand to point at Robbie and Rebecca.
“Warren! Give the man what he wants.”
“Do what the bitch says!” the man shouted, returning his hand and tightening his grip to the point Warren could hardly breathe.
Before Warren could answer, one of the others wrenched his arms behind him and the tendons in his shoulders started to tear. When that one had secured him well enough that all he could move was his head, the leader released his grip and circled around to a place Warren could only imagine. In a matter of seconds, Brandi screams were followed by the children’s.
“My God!” he cried, straining to see. “I’ll give you anything you want. Anything! But please leave my family out of this.”
What had he been thinking? Too late, he realized that he hadn’t been thinking at all. He had allowed the haze of alcohol to lead him blithely—blindly was more like it—from one street onto the next and into the very heart of the Tenderloin district, the city’s soft underbelly of vice. Warren berated himself. Why did I have to bring the kids? All three were crying now, Brandi’s gasps intermingling with sobs. He had brought the children to dinner, he now remembered, because of the price of a baby sitter. A baby sitter? You cheap bastard! Another round of cries brought him upright. Despite his recriminations and Brandi’s infidelity, nothing justified whatever his family might now be enduring. When he endeavored to turn and get a better view, the man who was holding him yanked him back again. Brandi, sweet Brandi, he thought. I’ve been such a jerk. You don’t deserve any of this. She cried out loud and the leader of the group laughed, before his voice hardened.
“I don’t have time for this.”
“Just do them,” one of the men holding Warren urged. “Do them. Let’s take what they have and get out of here.”
“Mommeee!” shrieked Rebecca, agonizing Warren to the core.
“I’ll get you!” Warren shouted. “If it’s the last thing I ever do, I promise I will get you.”
“Yeah, right,” the first one snickered.
In the next instant, someone grabbed a fistful of Warren’s hair and yanked back his head. Something sharp sliced through his throat and severed his windpipe. As the blood flowed away from his brain, his vision tunneled, the colors of the neon signs faded, and Brandi screamed.