Chapter 1 of “The Man in the Box”

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Vol 1, No 1: Paradise

Robby downed the last of his neat whiskey and dropped the glass on the roaming server’s tray, chinking the remaining ice. He checked his phone and noted that his scheduled massage was in twenty minutes. The resort’s app instructed him to ask for Alana at the spa’s front desk. He watched a young couple necking each other on the pool steps, the water licking their waists. As he admired the tanned lovers, he lathered more sunscreen on his arms; he could feel a light, threatening burn fester on his skin. He also coated his face, careful not to get any in his eyes.

He basked in the tropical sun and listened to the seagulls caw overhead as they glided above the ocean just steps from the pool area. The faint rumble of the tide swooned and sighed with each swell.  He had just come in from riding those waves, and now his arm and leg muscles rested, along with his mind. At long last, he, Robby Lake, had reached paradise.

He eyed a pretty dark-haired woman as she strolled past him in a green and white string bikini, bouncing her round hips not unlike the pendulum hanging from his boss’ wall clock thousands of miles away. The woman batted her eyes at Robby and her lips curled into a smile as her feet made soft schluckingsounds through the puddles of pool water on the sizzling concrete. A wisp of her coconut-lime sun lotion drifted into his nostrils as she glided past, her breasts bouncing perfectly in rhythm. He closed his eyes when she exited the grounds through the gate and lost himself in the heavenly “Ka Loke” wafting from speakers concealed behind palm trees around the crowded yet perfectly still pool area.

Another server, a native, in the resort’s issued soft white button-down and a black bowtie, placed another whisky on the frosted glass table beside Robby and asked him if he needed anything else.

“Bring me a plate of pulled pork and chocolate-covered pineapples,” he answered dismissively. He was already dreaming of the hula dancers he’d soon be lusting after later that on the star-lit beach, the campfire embers dancing their own hula at his bare feet.

“Right away,” the server said. And then his voice dropped: “You’re dead.”

Robby eyed the server curiously who still had a soft smile on his face as though still happy to take his order. Then he said it again.

“Dad, you’re dead.”

Robby turned his head toward the voice and saw his son sitting next to him where the server had been. The sun was gone now; in its place was a scoreboard hanging on the far end of a high school gymnasium. Below it, a volleyball court replaced the sparkling blue pool, with sophomore girls dotting both sides, his daughter being one of those dots. And the chill of an overworking A/C blew away the sauna warmth of the great Pacific.

“Give it over, Dad,” Jeremy said to Robby. “You’re dead. It’s my turn.”

Robby glanced down at his son’s Nintendo 2DS and saw that he had indeed died; it was Jeremy’s turn to play. He passed the device over to him and looked out at the court six rows down from the bleachers.

East Louisville High was hosting the JV volleyball game this evening, which had drawn several friends and parents of the players from the early May rain that thudded on the gymnasium roof like a steady applause.

On the scoreboard, the bulbous number 16 blinked to 17, causing a handful of people to clap their hands with little enthusiasm. (Let’s face it, it wasn’t exactly the Barnum and Bailey circus.) The pullout bleachers groaned underneath Robby as a few patrons stood to their feet. “That brings the score to a tie at 17,” the young adolescent voice announced through the loudspeakers.

Rosalynn sat on the other side of Robby cheering Taylor on, doing her best to ignore Robby’s video gaming. She’d expressed her disdain for it, arguing that Taylor looks up and sees that he’s not interested in her game, but he had argued that at least he was there, being a good dad. Most of her teammates didn’t have dads that cared enough to show up, or were stuck at work, he had said. His presence had to count for something, right?

While Jeremy took his turn with the Nintendo, Robby applauded along with everyone else. His arms were once again pasty white and dry, no longer brown and oily from his creamy Sisley sunscreen. He managed a wane smile when Rosalynn looked over at him to see if his excitement matched hers. She saw that it didn’t, and she knew he was somewhere else. God, how that annoyed her. Many of their fights were spawned because of his incredible ability to zone out at crucial times like during Taylor’s volleyball games, conversations about budgeting, at the dinner table, and on occasion, even during sex. She returned the smile then turned her attention back to the game when the applause died down and the ball on the court was back in motion.

Robby glanced at the clock on the scoreboard with a sigh as everyone else sat back down and the excitement morphed into a casual anxiety to see who would break the tie. But try as he might, Robby could not properly invest in his daughter’s game. Each Thwump! of the ball was like a clock ticking painfully slow through the workweek: Tick … Tock … Tick … Tock …Tick…

Tomorrow was Thursday, which marked his eleventh anniversary at CipherMill Publishing House. To celebrate his tenure he had splurged and bought himself a present, which was currently tucked away in his nightstand: a plane ticket to Hawaii. Yes, in just fifty-six hours, he would be on a plane headed west to the Aloha State.

Of course, three other tickets for his family were paper-clipped to his, but he made sure they all knew that this was his vacation. Like when Rosalynn had asked him what sort of tours they should schedule, Robby said, “You guys can go do anything you’d like. I’m renting a surfboard and taking on the waves. And when you get back from your little lava tours, you’ll find me at the pool with a book.” And one day, Jeremy had asked Robby what kind of food they served in Hawaii. Robby answered, “Anything and everything that can’t be found in Kentucky or anywhere else in the continental United States.” “No fried chicken, then?” Jeremy had asked. “Not unless they can catch it in the ocean,” Robby responded. “And even then, we’d eat it raw, because that’s what they do on de islands, mahn.” (Robby had taken up the annoying habit of calling it de islands, much to his family’s chagrin.) Naturally, this caused Jeremy to lose his excitement for the trip and Rosalynn had to spend a lot of time building it back up, assuring him that they’ll find fried chicken somewhere, or pizza, or whatever.

“She’s doing good out there,” Rosalynn said during a long match.

“Uh-huh,” Robby said, pulling himself back to the present. The ball popped and zipped back and forth, sneakers squeaking jerkily on the gym floor. He couldn’t even tell what position Taylor was playing. “She’s doing great,” he added.

“Do you even know where she is?” Rosalynn pressed with an annoyed smirk.

“Yeah, she’s uh—”

But more cheers mercifully cut him off as people got to their feet. The announcer declared that the Owls had won, which meant Taylor would be going out with the team to celebrate. The spectators all stood to their feet to descend down to the court to congratulate the players. Typically Robby and his family waited until the crowds died down before going down, but Robby noticed the old man in front of him struggling mightily to stand up. He had told Robby and Rosalynn before the game that he had flown in the day before to surprise his great granddaughter for her birthday.

Seeing the man unable to stand up on his own, Robby went to help him.

“Thank you, sir,” the elderly man said. “I hope to be as kind as you when I get to be your age.”

Robby laughed. “When you get to be as old as me, I’ll challenge you to our own volleyball match.”

He helped the old man all the way down the bleacher steps to the court. He figured since he was already there, he’d look for Taylor.

Robby nudged his way down to the court through pockets of friends, siblings, and parents while Rosalynn and Jeremy hung back in their seats to chat with a neighbor. He spotted Taylor and was about to stretch his arms out to offer an embrace, when a college-aged guy, dressed in a tight black T-shirt with a red scarf wrapped around his neck (and equally tight faded jeans), unapologetically invaded Taylor’s personal space by putting his arm around her waist and kissing her.

Robby would not have been more furious if the kid had kissed Rosalynn. He strode up to the two spit-swappers and asked invasively, “Who’s this?” It did notseem like Taylor’s first kiss.

Taylor pulled away from the lip-lock, masked her embarrassment with a grimexpression, and grumbled, “This is Dwayne. Dwayne, my dad.” Her voice dropped down to a mutter at the word Dadas though it was painful to admit.

“If I ever catch your mouth on my little girl again, I’ll neuter you with a lawnmower,” Robby wanted to say. Instead, he settled for something a little less aggressive and said, “I’m Robby.” He stuck out his hand and squeezed the kid’s own damn near as hard as he could. He released when he counted three cracks that sounded like popping bubble wrap.

Dwayne didn’t show any response except to say, “Your daughter played great tonight, didn’t she, Mr. Lake?”

“She always does,” Robby responded as though this kid had just stated the obvious.

“Dad,” Taylor said before he could say anything else, “can Dwayne come over for dinner tomorrow night? You know, since we’ll be gone all next week?”

Robby had to choose his words carefully here. He’d already refused to let her go out with another guy a month ago because his Facebook profile was a picture of him sticking a gun at the viewer, holding it sideways gangstastyle. Fearing the same situation and imagining his family laying in pools of their own blood at the dinner table while this Dwayne guy stood over them and laughed mightily, Robby said, “Let’s keep it just the family tomorrow to celebrate, huh? Maybe next time after we get back from de islands?” Because next time, this guy would be out of her life and no longer an issue.

Taylor shot her dad an icy look, but he stood his ground. These high school-college romances never lasted.

“Do you have a ride to the party?” he asked, changing the subject.

“I was going to take her,” Dwayne cut in.

“The hell you will,” Robby snapped with a humorless smile before thinking.

This earned Robby an exasperated look; wide eyes, open mouth, the kind of look Rosalynn always gave him whenever he said anything inappropriate in front of the kids. “Taylor, why don’t you just let us take you?” Robby tried, pretending he hadn’t just utterly humiliated her.

“The hell I will,” Taylor snapped, mockingly.

Now it was histurn to return the look. Dwayne stood helpless beside the two, tick-tocking his head back and forth as though watching another volleyball match. “Um, should I leave you two alone?” he asked.

“No, it’s fine,” Taylor said. “Just take me to Michelle’s.”

Robby couldn’t stop his daughter from grabbing Dwayne’s arm and pulling him through the small crowd away from him. For a split second he saw his four year old girl in pigtails grabbing her best friend’s hand and running off to play.

“Eleven o’clock, then! It’s a school night!” Robby yelled after her. He wasn’t certain but it almost looked as though his daughter flipped him the bird just before a fat woman with a loud laugh stepped between them. “Love you,” Robby tried anyway.

He pursed his lips, knowing he had just blown it again with Taylor. He kept hoping for one of those moments where they’d connect again, share a smile, laugh at something stupid like they used to all the time when she was younger. It was hard to believe that once, he was her whole world, and now … well, now it seemed the whole world was pushing them further apart from each other.

Taylor was going through the stage where she was embarrassed to be seen with her parents, especiallyher dad. She had stopped talking to him the moment she realized his jokes were outdated and he couldn’t keep up with the latest music, movies, or fashion trends. Robby had long ago resigned to the fate of just waiting it out until she grew out of it. But why was that so much harder than intervening?

“You can’t keep saying no to everything she asks,” Rosalynn said from the passenger seat of their Honda Accord on the drive home. The Accord hummed along the road as the rain began to disappear behind a darkening sky. The evening’s curtain call.

“So, what, you’re saying I should just give in to her every request?” Robby asked.

“I’m saying you should at least give in a little. It’s not like we had anything special planned for tomorrow night. What was he like?”

“What do you think?” Robby said, glancing over his shoulder to merge. “He’s a sex-crazed twerp.”

Rosalynn laughed. “You say that about all of them.”

“That’s because I wasone of them. Guys that age don’t hang around Taylor because of her ability to pull off knee-high socks.”

Robby glanced in the rearview mirror and called to the back seat, “Hey Jer, check out the dinosaur outside your window. It’s eating someone. Blood, guts, everywhere.” The mirror reflected Jeremy glued to a game on his Nintendo 2DS. Robby turned back to Rosalynn and said, “We can talk candidly. We’re not being bugged.”

Rosalynn gave Robby a wry look. “I know we agreed to be firm with her, but there also comes a point where we could ease up.”

He knew she was probably right, but still, Robby insisted, “I’ll look him up on Facebook tonight.”

Rosalynn sighed and stared blankly out the window, signaling the end of the conversation.

“Did you learn anything at school today, buddy?” Robby asked Jeremy, hoping to break the silence. But he was again met with no response.

At least Jeremy would be easier to manage when he turned sixteen. He wasn’t bound to be as moody and hormonal as Taylor. His problem would likely be complacency with the bare minimum. Jeremy was pretty stellar at just about anything he put his mind to, but when he didn’t apply himself, he failed big, and he didn’t apply himself often.

Unlike Robby, who had spent most of his adolescent years competing in extreme sports and making local newspaper headlines. So he pushed Jeremy, too hard sometimes, to excel at what he might be good at, like computers and video games. “You could be a computer repairman,” he had told his eleven year old recently. But the suggestion seemed to push Jeremy away from that field and he started reading more comics instead. It didn’t matter that he had more of an interest in video games, the higher priority for him was giving his parents adequate pushback to whatever they said.

The summer before, Jeremy had set up a lemonade stand per Robby’s suggestion. He put a little effort in setting it up on the corner by the street but ended up back in the house watching videos about video game engineering with a sign outside that said, “Help yourself. $1.50 per cup.” When he had gone back out to count his earnings, he found that his Igloo cooler had been stolen and the table was flipped upside-down on the street, cars swerving around it to get by. But he just shrugged his shoulders, cleaned up the mess, and disappeared back inside the house, kissing entrepreneurship goodbye.

And now, as Robby studied his son through the rearview, he imagined him five years older, Taylor’s age, still engrossed in his stupid video games while colleges from all over stood by to receive his applications. The applications he would never fill out because he would rather beat level eight in Beasts and Dragons or something dumb like that.

“You were spacing out again earlier. You okay?” Rosalynn inquired, snapping Robby back.

He waved her off. “Yeah. I’m fine. Just trying to hold it till I get home. I don’t want to use those nasty high school bathrooms. Might slip on some teenage jizz.”

She hit him on the leg for dropping the J-bomb, but said, half-smirking, “Liar.” But really, Robby hardly ever lied to his wife when he could help it. His dad beat him with the metal end of a belt when he was six after denying taking a paperback novel out of his nightstand and ripping the pages out to fold airplanes. From that time on, lying became the very last resort in any circumstance. Except when it came to his pot habit. He had lied to Rosalynn on more than a few occasions when he continually relapsed as a newlywed.

“How are youfeeling?” he asked, turning the conversation around.

“I’m fine. I didn’t sleep much last night.”

“Pre-flight jitters?”

“Something like that.”

Robby could almost sympathize. As much as he was looking forward to his Hawaiian vacation, he couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be the last good time of his life. But what he didn’t know was that he wouldn’t even get to have that, because he would never make it to de islands.

At least not the ones he was planning on.

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Let’s Address Your Stubbornness

Leona, 7, poses inside a labyrinth installation made up of 250,000 books titled "aMAZEme" at the Royal Festival Hall in central London

Leona, 7, poses inside a labyrinth installation made up of 250,000 books titled “aMAZEme” by Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo at the Royal Festival Hall in central London July 31, 2012. REUTERS/Olivia Harris (BRITAIN – Tags: ENTERTAINMENT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) – RTR35PZS

If you follow my blog, it’s likely you love books as much as I do. Not more than I do. But at least as much.

But why?

In an age saturated with HBO, AMC, and MGM, why do we remain so stubborn as to cling to our paperbacks and hardcovers and tablets? When supervillains dominate the silver screen with special effects and bright colors and zombie hunters invade the big screens in our living rooms, what is it about the written word that keeps us captivated?

For me, I just love that I can leave the story and return at a whim. Toilet breaks, walks, red lights . . . Those characters are still going to be there. But the same can be said of visual entertainment, so that can’t be it. . .

Maybe it’s because narrators can take us deeper into a character’s psyche. But then, there are some pretty intense character studies in movies and films, so it can’t be that . . .

What about you? Do you have any ideas? What separates a book from movies and TV? What makes you choose to pick up a John Grisham book over watching the newest episode of “Game of Thrones”? I’m not saying we replace TV and movies with books, but we bibliophiles are stubborn, refusing to let go of one of the most primal entertainment mediums.

What makes you so stubborn?

 

New Serial Novel: “The Underneath”

Be advised that this is a condensed version. To read the segment in full, click here.

Endever Publishing Studios presents

The Underneath: Part 1

Written by Coral Rivera and Andrew Toy

It’s heavily overcast, the clouds an inky black…he’s never heard sirens sound like this before. It’s a high-pitched whistle as well as a deep reverberating humming that he can almost feel under his feet. The sound comes from all around him.

The air is oddly still, but he figures the wind will kick up soon enough. He walks toward the horse pen and pets Kiss on the snout. She’s snorting and huffing more than usual, but that’s understandable with the sirens being as loud as they are. God, they’re getting louder. He almost has to cover his ears.

He watches as a hawk circles above several yards away and eventually swoops down to snatch its prey. It darts back up over the road that leads to his home and Kyle can see a mouse’s tail swooshing wildly in the bird’s beak.

Kiss just keeps shaking her head, snorting loudly and viciously. “What’s the matter, girl?” Kyle asks, trying to pet the long nose.

But Kiss does not calm down. She stomps her front hooves, kicking dust up all around them. Then without warning, she takes off running around the pen like a dog set free.

Suddenly the ground shifts under Kyle’s Converse and he has to catch himself. There’s a deep rumble in the earth as the entire countryside tremors as though the earth just got itself into a fender bender, or else the ground underneath just had an upset stomach. Either way, it’s enough to make Kyle have to regain his balance. Kiss stumbles, but continues her stride.

Silence fills the air.

It is utter and complete silence. No birds sing. There’s no breeze. And the sirens have stopped. A ghostly eeriness threatens to take hold as the clouds darken up above. There is still no wind, and even though it’s midmorning, it’s dark enough to be getting on midnight.

A sinking feeling pokes Kyle’s stomach, but he dismisses it as just immature paranoia. Tomorrow, after the storm blows over, the sun will shine and the neighbors will swap their storm stories with one another about how they had to live on their generators all day and how cleaning up the debris will set them back a day.

He turns his attention back to the hawk, gliding higher and higher with its prey clenched in its beak. Then suddenly, as though hitting a ceiling, it descends toward the earth. It doesn’t swoop down in one majestic motion like it had before. Instead, it’s falling clumsily to the earth like a rock. There was no gunshot, nothing. It’s as if the bird just stopped working altogether and now it’s falling as though some kid dropped a stuffed bird out of a plane.

Kyle furrows his brow and directs his attention out across the sea of grass. A few of the metal bars that holds up the fencing have been slightly bent, now leaning instead of standing erect.

He decides to go into the nearby town to pick up a shovel from the hardware store to fix the pen…He locks Kiss up in the barn, grabs the keys to his truck, hops in, and hopes to hell he makes it back before it starts coming down.

He slows his truck when he passes the fallen hawk and sees no abnormal abrasions. It lies stiff on the side of the road, its wings still spread as though posing for a picture for a museum brochure. In its beak the mouse still squirms and fights to get loose from its clenched beak, scratching the ground as though running in place.

 

READ THE FULL SEGMENT HERE

Cover Design Artists, Apply Here!

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Endever Publishing Studios, LLC is making tremendous headway toward our first book releases. First off, I cannot thank all of you enough who submitted your manuscripts and/or book ideas. I’m amazed at how many awesome ideas there are out there! And feel free to keep ’em coming.

My company has some wonderful news I’ll be sharing in the near future, but before that, I want to open up the floor to artists this time.

As a new and unconventional publishing company, we are mulling over a few different ideas to proceed with our book covers. I’m particularly excited about a few of them, but I’ll refrain from sharing them just yet.

Now, though, I would like to invite anyone and everyone who considers themselves an artist to submit samples of your work and your style to Endever. Here’s how to go about it:

Send up to four pieces of artwork you’ve created that depicts your differing styles. This can include watercolor, Photoshop, photography, CGI, realistic, cartoony, whatever your style(s) is. Show us what you’ve got. Send them as attachments to Endeverpublishing at gmail dot com.  

In the body of your email please include your name, residence, website/blog, and any other pertinent information condensed into a paragraph or shorter. If we are interested in what you show us, I’ll ask for more samples.

By the way, here’s Endever’s blog so you can snoop around and see what we’re about in case you’re still unfamiliar with us: Endeverblog.wordpress.com.

So get submitting and we look forward to seeing what you’ve got!

Review A YA Novel: “These Great Affects”

love+shadow+couple+silhouette+sunset+kiss

“You know when you’re fifteen, you’re at that awkward stage where your parents still think you’re a kid and it seems like they’re prohibiting you from crossing over into adulthood? That was a terrible age. And it was an even worse age for me than others because that was the year I killed my first love. Only, we didn’t fall in love until after that happened.”

Meet Adelle Hitchens, the center of my upcoming young adult book, These Great Affects. She’s an unambitious writer who is a “hardcore introvert” who watches The Walking Dead behind her parents’ backs. Like most adolescents, she thinks love isn’t for her.

Enter Trill Vikus. Self-obsorbed, handsome, unpredictable, and a terrible driver. He’s obsessed with the band Fun. and is convinced that if he ever met Elle Fanning he would propose to her on the spot.

Most love stories are about two people who are completely different from one another. How different can you get than one being alive and the other being…well, not?

Want to be the first to read it? Check out the video below or read on to find out how to score an advanced reader’s copy.

HOW TO READ AN ADVANCED COPY:

Email me at author.andrewtoy@gmail.com and just ask! I’ll put you on a list and when the book is complete I’ll send everyone out a copy and post your video review online, and print your name in the book, and share your blog or any other social media outlet you would want publicized.

Like my Facebook Page for updates on the book and other projects by me!

The Grisham Challenge, Book 2: The Firm

403coverI read John Grisham’s The Firm back in high school for class. For an assigned book, I remember being pretty impressed. But as a high schooler, I didn’t allow myself to fully accept how awesome an assigned book could be.

Having just read it again as an adult as part of the Grisham Challenge, I’ve got to say that this book is now considered one of my desert island books. Couldn’t. Stop. Reading. It.

No wonder John Grisham gained such a heavy and substantial following with the release of this book. Even if all the circumstances in the book aren’t completely believable, it’s sure one heck of a fun read!

Imagine getting your dream job, and not only that, but they pay you out the nose, with virtually unlimited vacation time – paid in full – money for a down payment on a house, a company car, the works. That’s the sort of job our protagonist signs up for. But unfortunately he comes to realize that it really was all too good to be true and nothing – absolutely nothing – is as good as it seems.

There’s very little violence in this book – maybe a page worth, but the drama and suspense runs at virtually a 10 from page one. Grab ahold of this Grisham thriller and dazzle yourself.

Why Books Are (Almost) Always Better Than the Movie

bored-audienceIt’s not uncommon to go watch a movie and be completely disappointed by the outcome, especially when it’s a movie based off of a book that you love. Only once in a blue moon will the movie be better than the movie (Forest Gump) or the movie will not completely change key points in the story (Unbroken). Here are a few reasons why I think the book is often better than the movie.

1. It’s All About the Details

We are a people that need detail in order to color in the context of any given situation. I mentioned Unbroken above, and while the movie gets and A+ for not changing anything from the book, it still cannot hold a candle to the book because it cannot describe the details of the anguish the hero felt or the true expanse of struggles he endured, both internally and externally.

2. Unlimited Runtime

We all know someone who will talk and talk and talk even though everyone around them has completely lost interest. Well, movies don’t have that luxury. They’re given strict time limits to tell their stories (usually between 90 and 120 minutes). But books, thank goodness, do not have a limit of page numbers (or volumes) to tell their story. Therefore, they are able to really stretch the story out and let it linger longer where it needs for impact, whereas movies need to hit the point and move on. I think The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy would have been a lot less successful if Peter Jackson were forced to cut back the runtime.

3. Wrong Place, Wrong People

Most people have vivid ideas of who the main characters look like when they’re reading books (except me – everyone sort of just have blank faces). But if a movie is cast wrong (like so many complain about Prim and Peta in The Hunger Games movies), then it’s game over for many people. But then again, sometimes those miscast people can really grow into their roles (again, like Prim and Peta).

4. True Love

When a producer is picking a director to adapt a book into film, it’s extremely important that the director chosen is a die-hard fanboy of the book and has a true appreciation of fellow fans. The director must appreciate the original work so much so that he or she feels compelled to match it as closely as possible so as to the do the book and author justice. I know it’s not technically based off of Crichton’s work, but what the director did for Jurassic World was beyond everyone’s hopes and expectations. Why is it so popular? Because he is a true, die-hard, Jurassic Park fan. And it shows.

Do you agree with my list? Disagree? Add some more thoughts below as to why books are usually so much better than the movies. 

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