Andrea Speed on Soundtracks, Writing and her latest Lochlann (Order of the Black Knights #6) (guest post and excerpt)

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Lochlann (Order of the Black Knights #6) by Andrea Speed
D
reamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Aaron Anderson

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Andrea Speed here today. Andrea is talking soundtracks for her stories, specifically her latest novel in the Order of the Black Knights series, Lochlann.  Welcome, Andrea!

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Soundtracks for Lochlann by Andrea Speed

I love making soundtracks for my stories. I have a ton of them, and I’ll admit they’re mostly pretty weird. I know people are supposed to mellow out as they get older, but I’m just getting stranger.

Music played a big part in my Infected series, but less so in my other stories. But just because music doesn’t play a direct part on the page in my Josh of the Damned series, doesn’t mean I didn’t have a soundtrack in mind. (Josh went through an embarrassing emo phase that he refuses to talk about.) The same is true of Lochlann, where music plays no part in the story, but I’m keenly aware of what should be there. I’ve already put together an online soundtrack you can listen to, but I’ll pick out a couple of songs to highlight Lochlann’s musical taste. .

To my way of thinking, Lochlann is a fan of gloomy music. Dark ambient stuff that lasts twenty minutes or so, longer than ever necessary. Stuff you think should be over long before it is, but is still undeniably creepy.

The Inward Circles – The Soul Itself A Rhombus

https://youtu.be/myk_wALF0_0

If you’re saying to yourself “What the hell is this” – congratulations! You have grasped dark ambient as a genre. I feel I can say that as I like quite a bit of it myself, but there’s no dismissing the fact that most of it can be boiled down to “why does this exist” and “who is this for”. An argument could be made it exists for soundtracks, but truth be told, dark ambient isn’t used in soundtracks like it should be, because people who put them together aren’t aware of the genre? Or don’t want to creep people out. Really good dark ambient can freak you the hell out. That’s a feature, not a bug.

Arovane & Porya Hatami – Becoming

https://youtu.be/dwPYry0v0q8

Now this is really dark ambient stuff, in that it’s a concept album. Yes, a collection of subtly shifting tones and notes is somehow a concept album. A really good one too! I encourage you to sit down and listen to the whole thing. I never really considered what a micro-organism might sound like, but this is probably close.

Verge – Deluge

https://youtu.be/y_833qIfDGI

A mild cheat, as this often falls under experimental, but it is very dark ambient sounding. Sometimes you do get genre creep with this style of music, as it is so damn strange. It also sometimes gets filed under electronic or metal, depending on whether it’s heavier with keyboards or guitars, alternate, post-rock, and a few other genres as well. It comes down to opinion of the artist or the listener a lot of the time. In that way, there’s a freedom to dark ambient that is kind of intriguing. It’s hard to define, but you know it when you hear it.

Lawrence English – Hard Rain

https://youtu.be/IrxDvJbZ9VQ


Another one that gets slotted into experimental more often than not, and that’s fair, as all his music doesn’t sound like this. But this is definitely dark ambient style experimental, and I feel that should be encouraged.

I think this puts you into Lochlann’s mindset quite easily, and I hope I encouraged at least one person to look up more dark ambient music. Because believe me, it’s so easy to write to, especially if you’re working on a dark or dramatic story. Let the creepiness commence!

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Blurb

Violence has been Lochlann O’Connor’s companion since he was born into a family of old-school Irish terrorists. From there he is recruited into Alpha, a secret government agency dedicated to fighting terrorism—with extreme prejudice. Lochlann’s bravery, efficiency, ruthlessness, and the natural dead eye that lets him hit anything that moves, quickly make him one of the shadowy organization’s most valued operatives.

Cas Vega joins Alpha because it’s marginally better than a prison sentence. He’s a former drug cartel assassin—or at least that’s his story. But Lochlann is suspicious. Despite an irrational and overwhelming attraction to Cas, Lochlann has questions, and they soon lead to a deeper and deadlier mystery. What is Alpha’s true purpose, and why does it seem they want to eliminate Lochlann?

Lochlann and Cas must work together to get to the bottom of Alpha’s scheme and escape it—and all while Cas keeps secrets that could cost him his life if they’re revealed. But it’s not an alliance that can last. Duty turns the men into enemies, even while fate compels them into each other’s arms. Before they can contemplate which will prevail, they must figure out how to survive.

 

Excerpt

 

Lochlann knew the mission had gone bad the second before Anze came over his earpiece and said, “We’ve been comp—” The rest of the sentence disappeared in a burst of static.

Not that it mattered. He knew what Anze was trying to say. And yet he barely quickened his pace as the emergency siren ripped through the building. Hoping security hadn’t been shut down yet, he ran Dr. Waters’s ID keycard through the door scanner. It beeped, and the light turned green as the lock released with a faint clunk. He opened the door and ducked inside as lights pulsed on the walls.

He was in the lowest level of the Kishigawa Pharmaceuticals building in Prague, which was actually a needless detail, as the building could have been any one of the two dozen or so Kishigawa Pharmaceutical buildings across the globe. The layouts were cookie cutter, exactly the same, which made it easy to find points of entrance and egress. But getting into the building was never the hard part of any operation. Getting what they came for and leaving were the issues.

He was on the second sublevel, which, according to the official records, was an empty storage area but was actually a secret lab, cooking up a biological weapon that made sarin gas seem like hot sauce. Alpha wanted to get the formula before Dr. Laska put it on the open market. That was Lochlann’s job—to neutralize the creator, and retrieve the only known sample of the finished product. And get out alive, which was the biggest challenge.

A lab assistant wearing thick glasses ran up to him. “Dr. Waters, do you know what’s going on?”

He was supposed to neutralize any witnesses. He had his Glock 30SF and his tactical knife, or he could simply punch the assistant in the larynx and kill him with a single blow. He would be neither the first nor the last innocent bystander Lochlann had killed.

So why didn’t he?

“Fire,” he said, jerking his head back toward the door. “Evacuate immediately.”

The assistant looked confused as Lochlann continued down the corridor. “Sir, what about you?”

“I’ll be right there. I have to get Dr. Laska. Go outside.” The comms were off. That burst of static that cut off Anze sounded like a jamming signal. If you couldn’t receive, you couldn’t send either. So officially none of it ever happened.

Laska’s lab was at the end of the hall. It was an airtight room with its own filtration system and its own inner airlock. No one ever asked why Dr. Laska needed those precautious. It was an idiosyncrasy everyone tolerated without knowing the reason behind it.

Dr. Laska’s assistant, Tinordi, turned to face him as Lochlann entered the room. “Dr. Waters, you’re not—”

Lochlann punched Tinordi square in the throat, crushing his larynx and windpipe. He crumpled to the floor and made terrible rasping sounds in lieu of breathing. He had to die—he worked on the project—but at least he’d die fast.

Laska was in his inner lab with his back turned to the outer chamber. That allowed Lochlann to cycle the airlock without being noticed. In there he couldn’t hear the emergency alert siren, which seemed like a tragic oversight. Laska would never know.

Once the airlock irised open, Laska, without turning around, said, “Bring me a number three flask, would you?” Laska assumed Lochlann was Tinordi. He didn’t know his assistant was dead in the adjoining room.

Lochlann didn’t answer immediately. He pulled out his Glock first. “I’m not your assistant.”

The strange voice made Laska spin on his heels, and he froze the second he saw the gun. His small eyes narrowed until they almost disappeared into the soft, white moon of his face. “Who do you work for? The Russians? The Chinese?”

Lochlann didn’t answer. Instead he fired, put a neat hole in Laska’s forehead, and blew his brains over the white wall behind him. Crimson bloomed messily and dripped down the wall, while grisly chunks splattered to the ground. Laska crumpled like a marionette that just had its strings cut. Lochlann stepped over the body and made his way to the wall safe, where the sample dubbed “formula X213” was stored.

Alpha had infiltrated Laska’s home and business computers a while before. The tech team had stolen all data on the formula and destroyed it, damaging the research from the inside out. They knew the safe code and all Laska’s other codes, because when Alpha targeted you, you were as good as dead in every sense of the word.

The safe opened with a pneumatic hiss, as it was temperature controlled, and Lochlann found the formula inside a vacuum-sealed thermos. He held it in his hand as he scanned the room and saw the incinerator in the corner.

A huge metal box, plastered with warning stickers, it used microwaves and intense heat not just to bake an object, but essentially to vaporize it and leave barely even a char mark. That was how Laska got rid of his previous failed formulas and kept industrial spies from taking even the tiniest samples of his work. Nothing survived that incinerator, not even clues.

Why did Alpha want formula X213? At the briefing Number One instructed them to wipe out all records of it, along with the scientist who created it. It was too deadly. A teaspoon of the stuff could kill everyone in a crowded mall, and in the open it could contaminate soil, air, and water for decades. But they wanted the sample. Yes, they had the formula, so they could make it themselves, but there was something tricky about the mixture. He didn’t know what. He didn’t need to. He was a field operative, not a tech.

The operation had never felt right to him. Alpha had plans for it, and he didn’t trust Alpha. They were supposed to be the good guys, but questions had been eating at him since the Rome incident. Alpha worked in deception. Could anything that relied on obfuscation be exactly what it seemed?

Before he could think about what he was doing, he went to the incinerator, dropped the thermos in, and activated it. He had to step back because the heat it shed was impressive, and the noise it made, while brief, was incredibly loud… which might have explained why Laska’s lab was soundproofed.

He had no idea what he was going to say to Number One, but he’d figure it out. Working for Alpha had made him an excellent liar.

He planted the explosive charge and shed his lab coat and fake Dr. Waters ID. Then he grabbed Dr. Laska’s security badge from his bloodied corpse and left the lab. Lochlann kept up his normal stride, as though he were leaving at the end of a shift, but he still had his gun out, held casually down at his side in his left hand. According to his trainer, he was one of the rarest of people—a truly ambidextrous shooter. He could use either hand with virtually the same results.

Lochlann met no one on his way to the exit. He’d have to kill anyone he encountered. The exit door had a security lock, and there was a chance that, if they’d locked the entire system down, it wouldn’t open even for Laska’s high-clearance badge. Hopefully the interruption to the comms hadn’t completely locked Alpha out of the building’s systems.

The first time he ran the badge through the lock, it made a negative noise and the light stayed red. He ran it again, and got the same response. Lochlann counted down in his head the time remaining to detonation as he ran the badge a third time and it worked. The light flashed green, and the lock released with a clunk. He flung it open and was out in the subterranean parking lot within five seconds. And despite the low lighting, he knew he wasn’t alone.

Buy link: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/lochlann-by-andrea-speed-8493-b

About the Author

Andrea Speed is a random collection of newspapers and food scraps that somehow became sentient. Perhaps this explains her fear of goats. If you see her, just nod politely as she tells you how composting is an Illuminati conspiracy, and try not to make any sudden moves.

Author contacts:

Review: Infected Lesser Evils #6 by Andrea Speed

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Rating: 4.75 stars

“In a world where a werecat virus has changed society, Roan McKichan, a born infected and ex-cop, works as a private detective trying to solve crimes involving other infecteds.”

When Roan gets a call from the police about a shifted Infected at Club Damage, that there are injured people, and the cat cornered in the club bathroom, he heads out to investigate and take down the cat.  But almost immediately Roan realizes there is a larger problem than just an infected cat on the loose.  The cat is dying and smells off, it has almost a chemical aroma to it.  Then another cat shifts out of  schedule and dies and then another.  The autopsy reveals a chemical in their bloodstream, a new drug that forces the Infected people to shift early and die.  Roan and the police force realize that someone has targeted all Infected’s and it’s up to Roan to find that person before they have a wave of cat deaths throughout the city.

Holden is also having a very bad day.  He is beaten up by one of his john’s and needs Roan’s help to get back to his condo.  But his john is not finished with him yet and an already anguished Roan takes on the role of an avenger something that is happening in greater frequency.  Because the infected population is not only being targeted by a drug pusher, a serial killer is hunting them down as well.  As Roan tries to find the supplier of the poisoned drugs and track the killer with Holden’s help, he also has to deal with increasing migraines and the fact that the lion just might be taking over.  It’s almost enough to make Roan want to die if the virus would let him.

Lesser Evils is the sixth book in the Infected series that remains one of my all time favorites.  This is quite simply a mesmerizing saga at every level starting with the central premise of an out of control virus. The virus is spreading throughout the human population with the disastrous effect of changing those infected into beings no longer completely human before killing them.  The origin of the virus is unknown, although the speculations include the most favored “secret government agency trying to build a super soldier” one.  But it could also include a feline virus not unlike the avian or swine bug run amuck.  I love the idea of a nebulous background for the virus although it remains to be seen if the author leaves it this  way or has something totally different planned for us and Roan.  Trust me, it would be just like Andrea Speed to have some utterly confounding explanation just lying in wait for us in future books.

The Infected series also includes some of my favorite characters, again starting with the heart of the series, Roan McKitchen.  He is an Infected child, born of an Infected mother instead of someone infected after birth.  Roan is also the only known child to not only survive but thrive with the virus inside of him.  But thriving physically is not the same as surviving emotionally or mentally and Roan continues to battle both his emotions and mental state as the virus mutates within him.  And it is this constantly changing state that Roan finds himself in that speaks to so many fundamental questions within us.  What does it mean to be human?  Is who we are internally, in our mind and soul tied to who we are physically?  If who you are physically is no longer within the realm of human specifications, does that outsider status remove you from the human condition and people all around you to the extent you can’t relate to them any more?  Question after important question is brought up but the answers are constantly evolving as is Roan.  I love the high level of complexity here and the fact that with each book, who and what Roan is becoming more bewildering and convoluted as well.

Just as there are no “reasonably” simple human beings, you won’t find them within these pages either.  This includes Holden Fox, another favorite. Holden started out as a high priced hooker but now seems to be evolving into Roan’s investigative partner and fellow vigilante when necessary. He is not just familiar with the dark underbelly of society, but is a top denizen there.  His outlook is a needed contrast to Dylan, Roan’s artist husband and part time bartender.  Dylan, another beautifully layered portrait, loves Roan and is trying to accept the changes he sees in him.  Dylan also is in the unpleasant role of being the one man who can never quite measure up to Roan’s true love, Paris Lehane and now must live with a ghost always present in their relationship. And then there are all the characters that circle around Roan, from the hockey players (Grey, Scott, Tank…all memorable) to Seb and Drop Kick, the police officers Roan works with.  There is no such thing as a cardboard character in a Andrea Speed novel.

Lesser Evils tackles several problems at once, much the same as the other stories.  One strand that is running through the last few books is that there seems to be a mysterious organization, perhaps one with white supremacists, that is targeting Infecteds, trying to wipe them out by various methods, in this case by poisoning a favored club drug.  Only those infected by the virus die and die horribly.  So Roan, the police, FBI and others are trying to track the source of the drug to its manufacturer in a race that also includes a antidote as more and more die on the streets.  In addition, someone is hunting the Infecteds like big game and the police with a couple of exceptions don’t seem to be taking this as seriously as they would if the serial killer was hunting “people”.  This infuriates Roan as he starts to feel like he must take the “savior” role he has always avoided.

As Andrea Speed pulls all these threads together, she also weaves Roan’s torment over his changing physical and mental state into the pattern as well.  The lion inside is coming out more and more and Roan is struggling with his emotions and temper to the point he thinks Dylan is in danger.  We feel his anger, the level of his depression and even his rage at those who remain unconcerned and removed from the plight of the Infected.  The author forces us to think about what makes us who we are as Roan loses the certainly we take for granted.  The virus also seems to be protecting him in startling ways even as it is morphing him into  something the world has never seen before.  And with increasing dread, we “hear” as the government starts to talk about making Infecteds register themselves, which sounds like a precursor to concentration camps, for their own good of course.  As I stated, so many elements are in play here, and the future for  all is becoming increasingly muddied. Especially for Roan, our most reluctant of heroes but for which race?

For even as Dylan reminds Roan that he is still human, and we know he is not, and Holden abjures Roan to renounce the human race and accept his non human status, Roan in his anguished, drugged state tries to find a median ground that probably does not exist.  And we are there with him for every angst ridden step he takes in the journey before him and the rest of the world.  And that is the cherry on top.  The tantalizing glimpses that Speed allows us to see along Roan’s path.  It’s these small windows that open up into a possible future for Roan and the other Infecteds that give me shivers and make me undeniably one of her biggest fans even when she leaves me and all the other readers hanging as she does here in Lesser Evils.  Yes, even as we find out the new mutations the virus has caused in Roan, it also has a debilitating effect on him that turns into a cliffhanger at the end.  *Head desk*.  Roan pulls out all the deepest emotions in the reader because he is so well crafted, that he becomes real to us which makes the cliffhanger at the end so frustrating because we need to know what happens next.  Sigh.

As I have commented on how much I dislike cliffhangers in other books, so that is the reason my head pounded when I found it here.  So as we wait for Dreamspinner Press to bring out the next in the series and for this situation with Roan in the hospital to be resolved, I will placate myself by going back to the beginning and starting to read the series all over again, looking for new clues I might have missed, and uncovering elements the author may have hidden away.  So even with the dreaded cliffhanger in place, grab this one up.  Or if you are new to the series, go back to the beginning and become acquainted with  one of the most complex and enthralling characters to cross a page.

Andrea Speed also compiles a playlist for each book.  They can be found at her website In Absentia. Here are the books in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and the saga:

Infected: Prey

Bloodlines

Life After Death

Freefall

Shift 

Lesser Evils

Cover: Cover by Anne Cain is just magnificent.  The cover art is available for download as screensavers at Andrea Speed’s website.