Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have T.J. Klune here today to share his thoughts on writing, and the release of his latest novel, Withered + Sere. Welcome, T.J.
When I started writing Withered + Sere, I knew that what would make or break the book would be the secondary characters. Given that W+S contains the largest cast of characters I’ve ever written, the book would die a quick and violent death if those characters weren’t memorable and unique.
Aside from the two leads, there is one character that is in almost every scene in W+S and it’s sequel, Crisped + Sere, and that’s Cavalo’s mutt, the aptly named Bad Dog. The relationship between Cavalo and Bad Dog is almost as much of the heart of the novel as is the love story between the two main characters. Bad Dog is more than a constant companion to Cavalo. He’s also a sign that Cavalo’s mind might not be as it once was, as you’ll see from the excerpt below. W+S and it’s follow up deal with the ideas of what is real and what isn’t, how far the depths of insanity can go, and the bonds that ties us all together.
This scene takes place at the beginning of the book, and serves as an introduction to the relationship between a man and his dog.
The doe had made it farther than Cavalo would have thought. The blood trail led them to the edge of the woods. Beyond the stunted forest lay the remains of a massive old road, broken into pieces, chunks of black rock upended. Cavalo knew this was called a “freeway” in the Time Before. People used these roads for travel in motor cars. He’d seen the remains, the burnt-out husks of these motor cars, dead as the area around them. No one could remember how they worked, only that they had been. There had been rumors years ago that someone in the east had a working motorized car, but it had never appeared.
Long distances in such short time. It seemed impossible.
Now this freeway meant something different. It was a line. A division. One that was foolish to cross. To cross was to go west. To go west meant to enter the Deadlands.
Cavalo looked at the blood trail on the ground. Fresh drops at his feet. Away from the forest he knew.
Onto the freeway.
Across the freeway. Into the other side of the woods. West.
“Shit,” he whispered.
Shit, Bad Dog agreed, sitting next to the man.
He couldn’t just let the deer go. She was fat, which was surprising. Good, but surprising. Cavalo didn’t think her pregnant, not with the deformities she had, but she had to have come from somewhere herself, so it was possible. But if she wasn’t, it would be enough meat to last weeks. He could avoid the town. He could avoid the people. Hank and Alma would be worried about him, he knew, but he’d been gone for longer. What had it been now? Three months? It couldn’t be that long, could it? They would understand. They always did.
“What do you think?” he asked.
Bad Dog rose from his haunches and sniffed at the blood again. If we do it, we must be quick. Like the wind.
“Yeah,” Cavalo muttered. “Like the wind.” He looked across the freeway again. It looked no different than the forest behind him. But it was different, he knew. Far different.
The first deer in weeks. Probably just over the road. Right into the tree line. “Probably already dead,” the man said aloud. “Just waiting for us.”
Dead, dead, dead, the dog said, rubbing against him.
“We get in and get out.”
Like we were never there.
“They won’t even know.”
No one will. In and out.
Bad Dog yipped and watered a dusty bush. I pissed, he said proudly. That bush is mine. Now I’m ready.
The man nodded. “Let’s go.” He hesitated only for a second….
… and stepped onto the freeway.
Bad Dog immediately followed, his toenails clicking against the broken road, nose to the ground against the blood trail. Cavalo looked from side to side, scanning the tree line ahead of him. The shadows were beginning to lengthen. Nothing moved among the trees aside from the birds, calling their songs as loudly as they did on the other side of the freeway. It looked the same. It looked exactly the same.
But it felt so very different.
The man felt it even as he put one foot in front of another. There was a chill here that had nothing to do with the mute sky overhead. It was darker, the trees more dense and stark. The air felt thicker, as if pressing into a barrier that shouldn’t be crossed. He looked down and saw the blood trail, still bright and fresh. He looked back up into the woods, searching for movement.
Only the birds.
He stepped off the freeway and slid down the shallow bank. Bad Dog jumped down behind him, bumping into the back of Cavalo’s legs. They almost fell.
Sorry, Bad Dog said, looking embarrassed.
“It’s okay,” he said quietly, adjusting his back. He tried not to think of the last time he’d crossed the freeway. It was almost impossible to do on this side. He could hear their voices, somewhere far off, calling for him, lost in the haze. The man named Cavalo believed his dog could speak to him and didn’t know it was his fortieth birthday, but he most certainly did not believe in ghosts. Even if he could hear them.
Bad Dog went to the tree line, following the blood trail. He reached the trees and looked back at Cavalo, his tail still, ears perked. Coming? he asked, unaware of the other voices.
Which means they aren’t real, the man thought. Sweat dripped down his forehead. He wiped it away. He thought of the bow. It didn’t seem to be enough. Not with what was on this side of the woods. Not with what they could do.
He unclipped the rifle from his pack. It felt heavy in his hands. He checked the chamber. Loaded. Sight was clear. Safety off.
Bad Dog watched him, eyeing the gun warily. He did not like the noise that came from it. Too loud, he said, flattening his ears. Hate the boomstick. Hate it. Hate it.
Cavalo nodded. “Can’t be helped. Not this time.”
Bad Dog sighed but said nothing. He turned and trotted into the trees.
They aren’t real, the man thought, because he didn’t believe in ghosts.
He followed the dog into the woods.
Withered + Sere Blurb
Once upon a time, humanity could no longer contain the rage that swelled within, and the world ended in a wave of fire.
One hundred years later, in the wasteland formerly known as America, a broken man who goes only by the name of Cavalo survives. Purposefully cutting himself off from what remains of civilization, Cavalo resides in the crumbling ruins of the North Idaho Correctional Institution. A mutt called Bad Dog and a robot on the verge of insanity comprise his only companions. Cavalo himself is deteriorating, his memories rising like ghosts and haunting the prison cells.
It’s not until he makes the dangerous choice of crossing into the irradiated Deadlands that Cavalo comes into contact with a mute psychopath, one who belongs to the murderous group of people known as the Dead Rabbits. Taking the man prisoner, Cavalo is forced not only to face the horrors of his past, but the ramifications of the choices made for his stark present. And it is in the prisoner that he will find a possible future where redemption is but a glimmer that darkly shines.
The world has died.
This is the story of its remains.
About the Author
When TJ Klune was eight, he picked up a pen and paper and began to write his first story (which turned out to be his own sweeping epic version of the video game Super Metroid—he didn’t think the game ended very well and wanted to offer his own take on it. He never heard back from the video game company, much to his chagrin). Now, over two decades later, the cast of characters in his head have only gotten louder. But that’s okay, because he’s recently become a full-time writer, and can give them the time they deserve.
Since being published, TJ has won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Romance, fought off three lions that threatened to attack him and his village, and was chosen by Amazon as having written one of the best GLBT books of 2011.
And one of those things isn’t true.
(It’s the lion thing. The lion thing isn’t true.)
Facebook: TJ Klune
Withered + Sere Blog Tour:
- April 12 – MM Good Book Reviews
- April 13- My Fiction Nook
- April 18 – Just Love Romance
- April 19 – Divine Magazine
- April 19 – Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words
- April 19 – The Novel Approach
- April 20 – Kimi-chan Experience
- April 21 – It’s About the Book
- April 21 – Love Bytes
- April 22 – Prism Book Alliance