Today I would like to welcome to the blog Anton Strout, USA Today bestselling author, a popular podcast host, and a seriously funny man. 🙂 Anton has a new Kickstarter project, an urban fantasy anthology called Claw & Order, and since a lot of you enjoyed his work in the past, I didn’t want you to miss this.
For those of you who haven’t read him before, Anton writes two different series, Simon Canderous and The Spellmason Chronicles, set in the shared world. The anthology is a chance to revisit old friends and make some new ones.
I asked Anton for an exclusive snippet for you and he was kind enough to send me one.
Here’s the snippet, which is the opening of the short story Solus. It originally appeared in Shadowed Souls, edited by Jim Butcher & Kerrie Hughes. It is a tale of Simon Canderous’ early days with the Department of Extraordinary Affairs, taking place shortly before the events of Dead To Me.Anton
The word echoed across the elevator on tiny wings of hope. Something had to kill the awkward silence between me and the man assigned the Herculean task of keeping me alive these days.
Connor Christos’s attention shifted from counting the passing floors. He gave me a sidelong glance meant to shut me down.
“No,” he said.
Short. Curt. The pit of my stomach sank, and it wasn’t because of the motion of the rising elevator car. Breaking through to him was quickly becoming my personal pastime, my quest, the windmill-giant task to my question-jousting Don Quixote, but I fought to shake off my mounting failure.
“Gnomes?” I tried next, undeterred. These damned Department of Extraordinary Affairs stuffed shirts would like me, dammit.
Connor’s eyes went back to the numbers on the wall, the display rolling through the seventies. “Uh-uh.”
My mentor paused for a moment before he answered, and scratched his head, which only mussed the lone gray streak that ran through his otherwise sandy sea of hair.
“Not even sure what that is,” he said. “But probably not.”
“It’s from the Monster Manual,” I offered.
He shrugged, the shoulders of his tan trench coat rustling in the silence of the elevator. “If that’s a new training pamphlet going around the office, I must have missed it.”
I shook my head. “Not quite,” I said. “It’s from D and D.” Then, catching his blank stare in the mirrors of the door, “Dungeons and Dragons?”
“Ahh,” he said, his eyes lighting with recognition. “Well, don’t believe everything you read, kid.”
His eyes shifted back to the ever-fascinating crawl of numbers as silence once more fell between us.
I took it as a small victory, if not a bitter one. I had hoped to impress. One of the perks of being a psychometrist was absorbing knowledge that I would have normally written off as useless. When I came across a used Dungeons & Dragons book a few weeks back, it gave me a chance to show Connor I had at least taken an interest in versing myself on a whole paranormal world I was unfamiliar with. As a new recruit in Manhattan’s Department of Extraordinary Affairs, I thought my initiative might earn me a pat on the back, but apparently not.
Frustration filled me right down to my nerves. How else was I supposed to learn the truth from pure fantasy out there on the supernatural streets of New York City anyway? So far in these first few days of partnership with Connor, the only thing I had learned was how to brood. If the Department quizzed me on how to be barely tolerated by a mentor, I’d easily have an A++.
I bit my tongue for the next several floors. It was clear Christos came predisposed to hating on me for reasons I could not fathom, and given my fruitlessness at finding out why, I instead took a moment to regain my composure before going back to my previous line of questioning.
“Mermaids?” I asked, pressing my luck.
He sighed, turning to face me for the first time during our entire ride. Although his face didn’t look much older than my twenty-three years, his deep-set eyes held a lifetime of otherworldly horrors in them that aged him considerably when he met mine.
“Unconfirmed, at least not since early sailor records we keep down in the archives,” he said. “Most agents write them off as the delusions of old-timey hardcore drinkers, victims of long-sea-bound scurvy, or possibly those stricken with a bit of syphilitic madness from their adventures when in port. If I were you, Mr. Canderous, I wouldn’t worry about those fishy ladies of the sea. You’re better off, though, assuming all fantasy creatures are real.”
“I am?” The idea that I’d need to memorize the totalities of the Monster Manual drove a mind-numbing spike straight down into the center of my brain.
Connor nodded. “One of the prime tenets of working for the Department of Extraordinary Affairs is Believing is seeing. Don’t rule anything out, because that’ll be right about the time that ruled-out monster eats your disbelieving face right off. Trust me on this.”
“Okay,” I said, paling at the thought, wanting to move the conversation on. “How about zombies, then?”
“Also real,” Connor said with a shudder. “You haven’t taken Shufflers and Shamblers yet?”
I shook my head. “The department isn’t offering it until next month,” I said. “Although I suppose I’m encouraged that they think I’ll survive on the streets until then.”
“Typical Department of Extraordinary Affairs,” Connor said, shaking his head. “Where keeping agents alive is job two. Or three.”
“On-time training alone would cut the Incident Reports paperwork in half,” I said.
Connor glanced over at me, annoyed again. “Are you trying to apply logic to our line of work, kid?”
Kid. Did being twenty-three technically count as being a kid? Hell to the no, I thought, especially when coming from someone I guessed was in his mid-thirties. Before I could cut into him, my stomach lurched as the elevator slowed to a halt and its doors opened.
Wind. Strange that I could feel it as we stepped out, but it became clear immediately: we were on the very roof of the building itself. A set cobblestone path lay at my feet, and as odd and out of place as the stonework looked, it was nothing compared to the multispired stronghold that stood off across the vastness of the roof. If I were looking at a photo in front of me, I would have laughed at the cut-and-paste job of slapping an entire medieval structure onto the top of a modern Manhattan skyscraper, but seeing it there for myself struck me with awe instead.
“We have castles?” I asked, trying to keep cool and mask the sheer wonder in my voice.
Connor nodded. “Where there’s money, there’s eccentricity . . . and castles.”
My position as part of Other Division presented challenges every damned day, but processing an elaborate Disney-style castle jarred me in a way that the rooftops of Manhattan usually didn’t. Standing upon them often brought a strange comfort to my soul, or at least to the soul of my criminal past, anyway: casing joints, finding convenient escape routes . . .
Black, tarred weather sealant or concrete ruled the usual places I frequented. Stately sights such as this one rarely entered the picture.
“How do you even know about places like this?” I asked, trying not to lick my lips at the promised opulence of it all. The criminal opportunist might be suppressed these days, but he definitely wasn’t dead.
“We’re the Department of Extraordinary Affairs, Simon,” he said. “Dealing with places like this is the new norm. Extraordinary is right there in our name, and I think you’ll agree this fits the bill, no?”
I nodded, a wicked grin spreading across my face. “I can’t believe this is my job.”
“Technically, it isn’t,” Connor said as he started walking away. “We’re off the clock on this one.”
“We are?” A tension released in me that I didn’t realize I had been holding in, and my shoulders relaxed. Trying to impress my partner/boss of me on the job was one thing, but knowing this wasn’t actually work helped take a real load off me. “Then why are we here?”
“This?” Connor said, stopping to point at the castle. “This is just a spot of fun. A bit of paying it forward, if you will. Consider it field training. Plus, if you screw up, we won’t end up generating an avalanche of paperwork back at the office.”
“Such a vote of confidence,” I said. “I’m touched.”
Here is the link to Claws & Order on Kickstarter. Anton has provided some cool rewards, and the Kickstarter run ends on November 13th, so if you’re interested, you have until this upcoming Friday to grab the goods.
Fantasy and science fiction author Anton Strout has given readers equal shares of chills and laughter since the first book of his Simon Canderous paranormal detective series, Dead To Me, came out from Penguin/Ace Books in 2008. He continued his tales of mayhem in Manhattan with his second series, the Spellmason Chronicles, as he treats readers to the story of a girl and her gargoyle, and explores themes of friendship, loyalty, and love with his trademark snarky twist.
He also hosts The Once & Future Podcast , where he endeavors as Curator of Content to bring authors to listener’s ear holes one damned episode at a time..
Claw & Order is a Kickstarted collection of tales set within the shared world of both his urban fantasy series.