Indie Author Spotlight – Frog Jones and “Grace Under Fire”

Indie Author Spotlight – Frog Jones and “Grace Under Fire”

I always enjoy introducing new indie authors to you, and I’ve got one today – Frog Jones…

Grace Under Fire Pictures 006

 

Frog was born at a very young age in a small town in Eastern Washington, where he still managed to grow up nerdy despite all social pressure to the contrary. Oh, sure; he bucked hay and rode truck with the good ol’ boys, but he also played a fair amount of D&D when he could. An Eagle Scout and a jazz saxophone amateur, Frog came out of his childhood a little twisted, just perfect for an artist.

At Eastern Washington University, whilst wearing a fedora and a trench coat and carrying a cane, he met Esther, fell in love, and graduated with a couple of worthless degrees. Frog then went on to the grand University of Idaho Law School, wherein he passed with honors.

Frog now practices in Northeast Washington, and writes from his home in Spokane. He has hand-constructed a Roman onager, which sits in his garage.

As it is Frog writing this, Esther is the most wonderful lady, ever. Of all time. She hails originally from Renton, Washington, and met Frog at Eastern Washington University. They were married ten years before figuring out they should write together.

You can follow Frog at his blog and also on Facebook, where he runs the Friday Indie Review.

Frog’s book is “Grace Under Fire”

Grace Moore doesn’t think her life can get any more complicated. After all, she’s already an operative for an organization of underground magic-users known as the Grove.

Hated by the public and hunted by police because of their magic, Grace knows she’ll be imprisoned or executed if anyone on the outside discovers her real job. With her impulsive nature and zany fashion sense, she has her hands full just keeping under the radar. And that’s before something mysteriously kills all the members at the organization’s Spokane headquarters.

Chosen, in her opinion, as an expendable way for her superiors to save face with other Grove branches, Grace sets out to find who or what could kill a group of people even more talented than herself. She’d much rather be home, eating a steaming plate of four star Phad Thai, with a dusty tome of rune descriptions open in front of her. Instead she’s in over her head, and alone on scene of the most public hit against the Grove system in generations.

If Grace has any chance of completing her mission and living through this, she must team up with Robert Lorents– a powerfully talented, but untrained and untrusting, foster kid with a genius for trouble.  That’s assuming, of course, that she can convince Robert she’s not evil, evade the police investigation, and come up with a plan before she and Robert become the next victims.

You can buy it right here

Frog’s also very kindly provided an excerpt from the book…

ROBERT

            They say in high-stress situations the human body has two basic responses: fight or flight. Standing in front of the arcade, hearing the crashing and the screams, I found that there’s a third possible reaction.

Paralyzing fear.

And so, with crowds of people blowing past me through the mall exit, with Jake screaming “Come on, dude” and running back through the arcadeto its own exit, I stood there and stared at the second floor of the Sears. I knew something abnormal was happening. I knew I should be running with the herd of people. But I stood, and stared, waiting to catch a glimpse of whatever was causing this panic. It came out of the top floor entryway of the Sears like a…

I got nothing. There was nothing I could compare it to. It was a horror, and I had never seen its like. I can’t give you a comparison that would mean anything.

I used to read Ranger Rick when I was a kid, cute-little-raccoon-teaches-kids-about nature stuff. I loved it. I even forced my (real) mother to sew me a Ranger Rick costume for Halloween. I loved Ranger Rick.

Yup. I was a nerd from the beginning.

Point is, this thing was Ranger Rick on a cocktail of steroids and PCP. It was huge, maybe thirty feet long and ten feet high. It was covered in bright reddish-orange quills, which had impaled a good chunk of the Sears Men’s Wear section and an “As Seen On TV” advertising sign. It’s tail was this massive, chitinous mass twitching back and forth in the Sears, destroying the bedding section and rupturing perfume bottles. The sweet, sticky smell wafted through the mall.

It stood above me, sniffing the air, and then it stared straight at me. Our eyes met; PCP Junkie Rick had a pair of burning, empty eyes. I involuntarily shuddered, but I remained motionless. Some natural instinct grabbed me, held me, told me if I didn’t move, it couldn’t see me.

This, by the way, is a stupid instinct. Never, ever listen to it; it gets you into trouble.

Rick jumped. It was more than just a jump; a cloud of air seemed to blast away from the floor as he did it, resonating with a deep-pitched “woomph” sound. He cleared the escalators between me and him, landing on the tile floor in front of me. My body finally let me move, ducking behind the entryway of the Arcade.

I could feel the hot stench of Rick’s breath as his jaws snapped inches from my face. He hit the tile and slid, slamming half his body into the arcade, leaving half in the mall hallway.

Right in front of the exit.

“Sonofabitch” I muttered to myself as I realized that I was now trapped in a mall with something out of a nightmare. Choose flight, folks.

That’s when I first saw her. She came hurtling out of the downstairs of the Sears like a crazed gypsy. She was short, far shorter than I, but in her mid-thirties-ish, I guessed. Her hair was done backin this semi-ponytail, and her arms clattered with bangles. Her belt was a linked series of medallions. She had a bag slung over her right shoulder that had several vials in the strap; it looked like a cross between a chemistry set and a bandolier. Her right arm had some kind of weird rectangular buckler on it. Her long, maroon skirts whipped and whistled in crazy patterns as she moved faster than any human I have ever seen.

Straight at Rick.

Rick was standing up from his crash into the mall exit as she whipped a piece of paper out of her bag. As she took it out, I saw the runes. Runes on the paper, on the belt, on the bangles, and on the shield. Runes on her ring. Runes everywhere. There was no doubting it; this was a summoner. Not a dabbler like me, taking on a bit of taint for vengeance. This was the full-on evil.

I was about to watch a demon battle a devil.

“Run, you idiot!” She screamed at me as she slid past, her left foot sideways and her right leg bent low. She flicked one of the vials from her purse/bandolier onto the tag in her hand, covering it and her hand in what could only be blood. The tag flew into the air as I began to run, ducking behind the summoner as she focused on her spell.

I crossed the hall into the main section of the mall. I saw a chunk of lumpy, grey material pop out of the tag and impale itself on one of Rick’s quills. The summoner wiped the blood from her hand onto one of her bangles and began to run at me.

Was she going to attack me next?

“I said RUN, dumbass!” She turned, sliding in next to me, and extended her bangled left arm at Rick. I remembered Jake’s shirt: “I am a bomb technician. If you see me running, try to keep up.”

Rick’s left side exploded, blowing up the entrance to the arcade and crashing it down on him. The shock wave tore through my body, half-deafening me. She’d done it! I looked up at her, afraid to know what she was going to do next, but she looked at me with little more than contempt.

“Forthethirdandfinaltimebeforewebothdie RUN!” She screamed at me with the intensity of someone who is absolutely convinced she has only managed to piss off a giant raccoon demon. I was sold.

I ran. Then I saw she was running next to me. That was also probably not a good sign. Behind us, the sound of one giant, angry, possibly rabid raccoon beast started to crescendo; I assumed that meant it was getting closer, but I was not about to take the split second to look over my shoulder.

A couple of mallcops, in their white and black uniforms, ran past us at Rick. They had their flashlights out, held in the club position.  Up until that point, I’d always thought of mallcops as being sort of laughable, but these were some brave, committed souls right here. I resolved never to mock them again.

Not that it was going to be an issue with these specific mallcops, of course.

I never did see what exactly happened to those two. They were heralded as heroes on the news for their brave action, and I can’t dispute that. By the sounds of it, they delayed Rick for a couple of seconds. I’m not sure what would have happened to me without them, but as it was I made it to the center area of the mall, the summoner hot on my heels. I sped through the central gallery as quickly as I could.

She did not. I was a good fifty feet down the mall when I realized she had turned to face Rick down. There were four corners to the mall center, an intersection of sorts. A group of staffers wearing redshirts that said “Shop till you rock” on them were helping to herd people away, out the far end of the mall. That insane little gypsy-looking lady slapped up two tags on each of two of the corners of the center mall, sprinkling blood on both. Then she stepped back into the section of hallway I was in, and started playing with her buckler.

Only it wasn’t a shield. I realized then it was more of a magnetic blackboard. It was covered in magnets with pre-scribed runes and runephrases on it. It reminded me of those cheesy refrigerator poetry kits,the ones that stick random words to your fridge and let you make meaningless sayings with them.

Except these were runesets. She was slapping together a complicated spell, and she was doing it in fractions of a second using this board. Ok, she was evil, but…there was a part of me(probably the same part that made me learn from Uncle Herman’s notes) that just thought she had style. Evil, corrupt, and out to control the earth, sure. But style.

Besides, only one of the two legendary evils in this mall had tried to eat me. I was going to root for the other one.

She splashed a little more blood on her rune-magnet buckler, thumbing the vial with the surety of someone for whom such an action was second nature. She held the board out at Rick, who was barrelling down on her, and a sheet of what looked to be solid metal shot up between her and Rick. I heard a loud CLANG as ten tons of furious demonic raccoon slammed into what looked to be inch-thick steel.

I had to admit it. That was impressive on a Looney-Toons level.

The steel wall managed to buy the people in the mall some time to try to get out, though I was confused as to why a sworn enemy of humanity gave anything resembling a shit about those people. I stood, though, and watched, fascinated by the raw power in front of me. I knew it was going to get me killed, but this was better than any movie. The adrenaline was cracking through my veins, and I no longer cared about Jeanelle, or Duane, or anything. For the first time in a week, I felt alive.

It was only ten or so seconds after the clang that I heard the now-familiar “woomph” sound. The ceiling over the mall hallway was two stories, plus a cathedral-style skylight. Rick came sailing over the steel plate, and in the blink of an eye the summoner was next to me, and we were running again.

I could hear her mumbling under her breath. At first I thought it was some sort of a spell, but then I caught some of the words, and I realized that she was cursing. Her wrath seemed to be directed at the “Grove Elders,” whoever they were, as well as a “complete fucking idiot novice,” which I feared was a reference to me.

“Umm…this isn’t my fault?” I tried tenatively as we sprinted away from Rick. She glanced at me with disgust, then cut my legs out from under me with a word.

“Bullshit.”

Was it? I hadn’t summoned this thing, I didn’t want any of this to happen. I had no idea how this thing got here, but it had come straight at me. I didn’t know what was going on, but I did know that severalpeople had been killed by this thing. Attached to a quill, along with the men’s wear, was a bloody red shirt reading “Shop till you Rock.”  Not everyone had made it out of the mall’s center.

I put it from my mind. She was angry, but she hadn’t been here when the thing broke in. In fact, she had chased it in. I didn’t want that blood on my hands, so I chose to ignore her comment. Besides, it’s not like I had a long time to think about it. Rick was mid-air, and we were coming to the far end of the mall.

“I have an idea.” she said to me as we ran. “Up the escalator.”

There was a second escalator at the end of the mall, and by now it looked like the mall had been cleared of almost all bystanders. We sprinted up the escalator two moving steps at a time, and saw we’d made a mistake as soon as we made it to the top.

The second floor on this end of the mall held the daycare center. Inside, children huddled behind and under pieces of play equipment, some of them with parents who had made it here but no further, some of them alone. The supervisors had stayed with their charges, much to their credit. Their eyes went wide as they looked at my companion’s outfit.

“Shit,” the summoner said, looking at the children. “This way.” We whipped to our right, around the front of the Macy’s store. Rick wascharging along the bottom floor, but he wasn’t going to need an escalator to get up to us. Another vial flicked out of the summoner’s bandolier as she slapped a tag in front of her. She hit the tag and another one of her bangleswith some of the blood, then stood up and stared at Rick as he barreled toward us.

“Get ready to run again,” she said under her breath to me. “In theory, this should work.”

I was ready to run, al….wait, what had she said? My head whipped up at my savior. “In theory?” I asked in a tremulous voice. She flashed me a crazed, toothy smile, and then we both heard the “woomph” of Rick taking to the air. Her left arm stretched out at the monstrosity flying toward us, and suddenly I heard a second “woomph.”

Rick turned upside down as some invisible force hit him mid-air, sending him up over our heads and tail-over-teakettle into the Macy’s.  My new companion burst into what can only be described as an insane cackle as she slapped her left hand into the tag she’d posted and pulled a freaking rocket-propelled grenade out of the paper. She spun with the motion of her draw, bringing the RPG to her shoulder and blasting Rick in his soft underbelly before he had the chance to stand.

Rick screamed in pain as the rocket hit him in what would appear to be the only point on him without quills. Once the smoke cleared, I could see that his flesh was singed, but not broken.

“What can kill this thing?” I asked as the two of us broke into a run yet again, this time on the second-floor walkway. We headed back in the direction we had originally come.

“No idea,” she said. “So far, I’ve tried rocks, a treant, C4, a steel plate, and an RPG. So we can check those off the list. One sec.”

Rick was woomph-ing in between the bridges between the two walkways on the second floor of the mall, and the summoner turned around and hit him mid-air with another burst of force. He spun and landed on the bridge he’d just jumped off of, then continued his pursuit. She turned back around.

“He’s learning,” she said. “We need to complete the field.”

“The field?” I asked.

“Never mind. Just jump.”

“Jump?”

“Cut the broken-record act. We’re going over the edge.”

There was about a twenty-foot drop back down to the first level.  The food court was to our left, as well as a second-story exit to the mall. I looked at that exit longingly as the lunatic I had followed here pulled me over the railing and into freefall.

She had pre-coated another tag with a vial, and as we fell a pile of feathers sprung into being beneath us. We landed, not gracefully, in a poofy pile on our backs. I saw a couple of red-shirted corpses and the steel plate, no longer flat, standing between the two corners.

She rolled out of the feathers toward the other two corners, tags coming out of her bag. She slapped one tag each on the two corners shehad not used yet. Was she trying the plate trick again?

“A steel plate isn’t going to do any more good this time” I called, as I heard the “woomph” on the other side of the first steel plate that told me Rick agreed.

“Just get out of there!” she called, and I ran for the JC Penney’s store to the north, over the “Shop Till You Rock” display. She hit Rick with another blast of force, but he shrugged it off as he came in for a landing smack-dab in the middle of the mall’s center. He turned toward the summoner, who was fiddling with her magnets. He lunged at her, jaws open, as she smeared blood over her board.

She held her ground.

I felt the power she expended. It was a ringing rush through my head, like being in the middle of a waterfall. Her eyes were closed, and Rick’s incisors got to within inches of her face before they just…disappeared. A hole opened up under Rick, and he fell, scrabbling at the edge. I couldn’t see how deep the hole was, but it was a perfect square, formed by the tags she had placed onto each of the columns.

Rick, though, had other ideas. He braced himself against the corner of the hole, and gathered himself for another one of his jumps out. His blazingly empty eyes locked onto the summoner, and he leapt upward. This was it; she was out of tricks. She stood there, head bowed, eyes closed, and unmoving. She was waiting, it seemed, for the inevitable end; she’d given up, and she’d given me up with her.

Steroid-rabid Rick was on his way up into the air when a column of dirt and rock roughly five hundred feet long crashed through the skylight. It took him in his back and drove him like a piledriver down into the hole. The summoner’s head raised up, and she was smiling her huge, toothy, insane smile as the column of dirt rushed feet past her face, driven by gravity down into its resting place. It crashed down into the ground, burying Rick hundreds of feet below the earth.

When it finally came to rest with a pillowing cloud of dust, the topof it was covered in shattered tile floor pieces that matched the mall; she’d summoned the ground out from under Rick and above him. Then she’d stood there and gotten him to jump up at her just in time for Rick to get hit with the falling pillar. Judging by the time of the fall, it had to have been travelling at or near terminal velocity when it fellon him, and he had been propelling himself upward into it. My mind teetered with the forces that came to bear in that kind of a collision.

Like I said, she got points for style.

So why did she have a worried expression on her face? “Let’s go,” she said, catching my wrist and dragging me through the JCPenney’s, and into the Saturday afternoon. The sirens converged on the mall as we ran away from it.

I had gotten away from Demonic Rick, but I had ended up with the thing that took him out. She might have been out of danger, but me?

My danger was just starting.

AND, I’ve also got an interview with Frog. Enjoy!

How did you start your writing career?

Purely by accident.  My wife, Esther, began doing writing prompts with a friend of hers.  One thing led to another, and eventually she was entering the writer’s competition at Spocon.  She and I were commuting to work together at the time, and we began talking about this world where people could rearrange force and matter.  Working such magic was necessary to hold the world together, but it was also considered evil and felonious by the population at large.  We conceived of criminal organizations called “Groves” who operated much like the mafia of prohibition times, trying to keep the fabric of reality together.
Honestly, I was driving and talking, just trying to pass the time.
Then I read her short story, and I was amazed.  “Honey!”  I called down the stairs.  “This is crap!”
A discussion ensued, the details of which I am sure we can simply gloss over.  The result of this discussion, though, was that I ended up editing her story prior to submission.  We went over it a couple of times, and we produced a much better story along the same lines.  It won the competition.
The problem was, it didn’t deal with hardly any of the major issues we’d invented.  It was far too short to touch on the entire world we’d built.  The next day in the car, we realized that we were a heck of a team for writing, and The Gift of Grace series was born.  Now apparently I’m a writer.

Has someone been instrumental in inspiring you as a writer?

Who hasn’t?  Every week I’m reading a new indie book, and every time I do I learn a little more about our craft.
As far as inspiration goes, I pull a lot from Jim Butcher’s style of writing.  I like that he can write in the first person and pretend the audience is right there in the room with him.  If you read the series, or even the excerpt, you’ll see that Robert does that a lot.  I also pull from Lois McMaster Bujold, in her wonderful sense of timing, and Robert Cormier, who is probably the best writer of teenage characters I’ve ever read.  Robert is, oftimes, the cheese.
I also need to give a vast amount of credit to Maggie Bonham and SA Bolich.  Maggie is our small-press publisher, and has been nothing but supportive this entire time.  SA Bolich is our editor, and I have learned more about the craft of writing simply by reading and responding to her notes than I have doing anything else.  She is an amazing author and editor, and the chance to get mercilessly flogged by her was a once-in-a-lifetime.  Finally, I need to give a shout-out to Phyl Radford, who was really the first person to introduce us to the larger world of being authors.
What are the most important attributes for remaining sane as a writer?
If you find out, let me know.
Where do you research for your books?
They say write what you know, so we did.  The Gift of Grace is set in the Inland Northwest, largely in the Spokane Valley and surrounding areas.  We often take road trips to look at what’s actually there in order to incorporate it into our book.  The mall-fight scene I sent in as an excerpt actually came from Esther, our Proofreading Panda, and I walking around the mall to get a sense of what could happen in the fight.  Every store described is exactly in the right place (or, at least, for 2011.  Stores change).  Later on we have a big set piece at the Post Falls Dam, which was great fun to go check out.  That dam is pretty interesting in the way its set-up, and the canyon after it was just…
No, you know what?  Just read the book.  You’ll see it.
Anyways, in our upcoming Coup de Grace, we even use our own house for one bit.  If there’s a location we can pull in to add spice, we do it.

Plotter or Pantser? Why?

A bizarre hybrid of the two, and out of necessity.  Esther and I are both writing the same novel, from two perspectives.  The chapter you have is written by me from the perspective of Robert, an erstwhile foster-kid who’s just starting to come to grips with his heritage.  But Robert’s only half the story; the other half is Grace, the savvy, professional summoner who’s irritated her Grove long enough, and has been sent out on a suicide mission.  Half of the chapters in the book are actually written from Grace’s perspective, because they’re written by Esther.
That means the story rotates from one frame of reference to the other.  When it does so, it also changes writing styles, so the reader feels like she’s really hearing from two people.  Fun fact:  she is hearing from two people.
This kind of writing requires that we plot out before we sit down.  Since we’re always writing simultaneously, we need to know where the handoffs happen in the story, and we need to make sure we get our time frames right.  So we plot.  When I sit down to write, I know roughly what happens at the beginning of my chapter, what happens at the end of it, and how much time elapses in between. 
Past that, though, I freestyle.  Our characters are pretty organic, and they’ll get into arguments with me about what I’m trying to make them do.  They win these arguments more often than not, which means they go off and do something else instead.  Honestly, I think without that the characters would lose some of their realistic flavor.  Overplot and you get a stale book.
What would we find under your bed?
Ha!  I sleep on a mattress on the floor.
Tell us about your next release.
Book 2 of The Gift of Grace is in its final stages, and entitled Coup de Grace.  It’s a little harder-core than Grace Under Fire was.  Grace is forced to deal directly with internal Grove politics, an area where she utterly fails to excel.  Robert is forced to deal with the concept of family and sacrifice, and stages a bit of a nutty as a result.  The cops that lived through Grace Under Fire are in the middle of their own problems with the FBI, and (scariest of all) Robert is graduating high school and entering the real world.  Grace Under Fire was written to be a fun introduction to the characters and the world.  Coup de Grace will start using those characters and that world to explore some deeper issue about what it really means to have a family.

 

 

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