Jean McKinney

Strange Stories for Strange Times

Tag: fantasy fiction (page 2 of 3)

“Run With the Moon” part 2

Every Monday I post new fiction – a completed flash or a segment of a longer story.

Here’s part two of my new Soledad City story, “Run With the Moon.”  If you haven’t read the introduction, start here first.

Slipping silently as his bad leg lets him, Adam pushes the screen door open and peers out. There’s a white full moon hanging just over the mountains, and the sky is turning silver blue with daylight coming.   Across the stretch of empty field out front, a neon sign blazes bright: Holland’s 24 Hour Truck Stop and Cafe. A couple of big rigs and a handful of cars dot the parking lot, but there’s not a soul to be seen.

Adam steps out, good leg first, onto the little deck he’s built out of pallet wood.

And he smiles. Adam’s heart is a cold dark place, But right now, warmth like summer noon spreads right through him.

Curled behind the rusty lawn chair in a nest of her own clothes, she sleeps like a puppy. Long coppery hair streams across her face and her bare legs are streaked with dried blood. There’s a long raw cut on her forearm and a smear of blood on her lips, and Adam’s never seen anything so beautiful in his life.

He leans in and gently pulls a twig of mesquite from the hair behind her ear.

“Mornin, Velocity,” he says.

Her eyes pop open, whiskey gold and wary wide, but then her mouth curves up. “Hey, Adam.”

She sits up cross-legged, her bare skin fairy dusted with freckles and her little nipples hard in the chill of the morning. For a dizzy moment Adam feels like flying. She came. She has the whole desert to run in, but she came here.

What do you think that means? That voice in Adam’s head is his own.  What the hell do you hope that means, boy?

“‘Want some breakfast?” he asks. “I got bacon and eggs, toast maybe.”

“I already ate,” she tells him, glancing at the blood on her leg.

“Guess you did.” Adam leans against the Airstream’s curving side.   “Had a good night?”

Velocity stretches out her arm, examining the cut. “Oh, man. That moon – did you see it? – just burning in our eyes, so bright. Uncle Silver and the pups flushed out some rabbits down by the wash. Me and Auntie Whitefoot and Sweetwater were coming up behind, but we all got some.”

She licks thoughtfully at the wound. “Sweetwater and I jumped the same big old buck. We got into it a little bit, but Uncle settled things down pretty quick.” A flashing grin. “Sweetwater’s all right. That ear’ll heal up fine. She’ll think twice next time, though. You got any coffee?”

Coming July 3 2016: the conclusion of “Run With the Moon.”

Comments? Ideas? Questions? Leave a comment here or say hey on Twitter.

If you like what you’re reading,  please share widely!

Building the World of the Moon Road

TudenceDavisDesertMoonEven the most arcane fantasy world most likely has some real life inspiration.  George RR Martin turned to the medieval societies of Europe for details of life (and death, lots of  death) in the Seven Kingdoms of Game of Thrones.  China Mieville turns to grubby Industrial Revolution-era England for Perdido Street Station and other books.  In the urban fantasy world, the connections are even clearer, with the action firmly set in the universe we know, albeit with some magical tweaks. Think of Charlaine Harris’ Bon Temps, Lousiana, setting for the vampire novels that inspired the TV series True Blood – or the Minneapolis setting of Emma Bull’s famous War for the Oaks.

My novels and stories of the Moon Road are similarly anchored in the “real world” of today’s desert Southwest – a place of big horizons, hot summer days and a mix of Anglo, Latino and Native cultures, somewhere between the Pacific Ocean and the Rio Grande.    The City, Soledad, harbors the usual collection of regular citizens, street people and fringe dwellers, but with a twist: Soledad City sits on a nexus of earth power, carried in the veins of metal that run deep beneath its surface.

Because of this, the City attracts all sorts of individuals who live outside the bounds of everyday reality.  And because of this, it also attracts something much bigger: the Moon Road, that strange semi sentient being that wanders like a living spiderweb through the Universe, linking worlds and peoples from places distant and near.  The Road visits “watering holes” like Soledad from time to time, and those with certain gifts can see it come. Some lucky folk can walk its cool white surface and end up – elsewhere. (Others are not so lucky. As Mama Silva says, there are Cleaners on the Road, who clear away the blood.)

A loose alliance of witchy folk look after the City’s magic, keeping it from spinning out of control.  Mama Silva in the Barrio, Nettie Chubai on the Rez, Cage the voodoo priest downtown and pretty Nina Balova on the tony, New Age-y East Side make sure things stay in balance. Mama Silva talks about this in A Patch of Cool,  my forthcoming Soledad novel.

Catty corner from the mission
Next to the barred up liquor store
She’s open all the time.
Crack heads and knife fights
And sirens in the night:
Mama Silva just goes on.

To create Soledad I’ve drawn from my own years of growing up in the border country of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and many visits to Mexican border cities such as Ciudad Juarez, Nogales, Naco, and Tijuana.

The stories and novels of Soledad’s magic are largely inspired by the people and events I’ve encountered in my time in the borderlands.  And at night I’ve looked up at a brilliant full moon and a sky full of renegade stars and wished to see a wonder or two.

Music forms the backdrop of every story I write – and the musical group Calexico is one of the best inspirations for this gritty, sunburned fantasy landscape. Based in Tucson, the duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino (along wtih various other talented folk) did a music video for their song “Two Silver Trees” that perfectly captures the essence of Soledad.

Want a free flash fantasy from the Moon Road series (or a bit of original art)? Subscribe to my newsletter,  Dark Star, to  get news, updates and freebies right to your inbox every month



Glitter Girl: To Be Continued?

Glitter GirlblogSo Glitter Girl got a bit of a redesign the other day, with some tweaking on the cover,  new front matter and one key detail in the story.    But the core of the piece, born out of a visit I once paid to Beverly Hills High School when I was teaching in LA, remains the same.  Glitter Girl is all those pretty blondes with fathers in the film and music industries.

The story is told from the viewpoint of someone else, though. The Witchman narrates, and one reader said he didn’t learn enough about the character from his “voice.” Another asked if the Witchman will ever get to  star in another story, so that readers could know more about him.

I’ve been thinking that it might be interesting to follow these characters out of this story into the bigger world of the Moon Road. The Glitter Girl herself has quite a journey ahead as she learns what the spell to turn the heart of some rich empty headed hunk will really cost her.  The Witchman called it right – it isn’t love she wants, it’s power.  Will she really rip the heart out of the hunk and walk away?   She’s a card carrying member of the Mean Girls club, so that’s probably what happens. But I would like to see her come to terms with the magic she has unwittingly taken into herself.

And the Witchman, that battered war veteran hunkering down in the desert where he can be alone with his memories and his magic, seems to me to have a world of stories to tell.  So in the parlance of TV shows, I’m making him a regular.  He now has a name:  Adam Voss.  He also has a backstory of service in the Gulf War, a wound and a meager pension – and witchcraft of the darkest kind.  His narrative crosses a little with that of his fellow wounded warrior in the short story  “Cold Wind.”

Adam will appear in the upcoming Soledad City novel, “A Patch of Cool” when musician on the run Lucas Horne takes a terrifying ride through the desert and a disastrous detour at the truck stop/cafe where Adam lives out back.

Adam also has a bit of history with Velocity, the owner of Cafe Colibri in downtown Soledad City – and a magic creature in her own right.  More on Velocity in upcoming character sketches.

Any thoughts, ideas, storylines you’d like to see?  Drop a comment here or share a thought on Twitter.


“Let the Serpent Judge” – Coming to Orthogonal

Let The Serpent JudgeBehind the pulpit the air smells like sawdust and the dry bitter odor of the snakes. From the darkness underneath their cages, you listen to the slow, purposeful rustlings in the straw and count time by the color of the sunlight spilling past the cross painted on the window.

Now it’s lemon-gold and slanting low. He ought to be here in the next few breaths. You grin, testing the newness of your mouth. The long sullen night is behind you now. When he walks through that door, you’ll be ready.

My fantasy/horror story “let the Serpent Judge” is appearing in  “Criminal Variations,” the fall issue of Orthogonal Magazine. Orthogonal is a nifty new addition to the fantasy publishing sphere, with a lovely (and disturbing) webpage that features the first issue, themed “The War At Home.”

Orthogonal bills itself as the “pop-up restaurant of literary speculative fiction.” With five strange stories by Sara L. Johnson, Michael J. Deluca and other gifted authors, “The War at Home” ranges across time and space, lingering in the mind long after you’re done reading.

I’m thrilled that “Serpent,” a tale of abuse, treachery and retribution set among the snake handling cults of Appalachia, will (I hope) be one of those stories too.

Get “The War At Home”  now from Amazon and Weightless Books.  And stay tuned for the release date of  “Criminal Variations.”

The Making of “Black Dog”

My short story “Black Dog” is out  today – nothing like starting the New Year right with a bit of black magic from our friends the Merchant clan. You can read it here, or download your very own copy from Issuu.

“Black Dog” has its roots in a story my mother told me when I was a child. She grew up in southern West Virginia, a hill woman to the core, and i grew up on tale after tale of Appalachian witching, ghosts and wicked souls. The story had to do with a mysterious black dog that appeared after someone died. It showed up at the house during the wake, then at the graveside, and then it went away – and no one ever knew whose dog it was or where it came from.

That story wove its way into other kinds of tales, too, of witches and their familiars, and the eerie stories of strange people in old houses. Joss Merchant and his clan of witches and black magic traffickers came later, when I created the world of Sorrows Hill, with its connections to mid 19th century Appalachia, the world of Faerie and the present day.

Magic runs through the members of the Merchant clan, however hard they try to avoid it. And they do try. This story introduces the granddaughter of the great witch Joss. We’ll see more of her later on.

Through my design site Luna Blue Studios I created the cover art and package for this story, and published it on Issuu. Of the various magazine-style publishing sites I’m most partial to Issuu, even with its drawbacks (which I’ll talk about in another post). Issuu’s publications have a worldwide reach and are very easy to create – a good combination for making visually rich work available to a wider audience.

What did you think of Black Dog? If you like it, please share! And sign up here as a fan to get updates on new stories and other updates from the worlds of Sorrows hill and the Moon Road.

Black Dog: A Sorrows Hill Story

Preacher Said

preachersaidgraphicPreacher said

That humpbacked beast called sin waits just at the edge of sight.

If you turn your back he’s on you

Just like that green slime thing we saw that time on the midnight movie.

Preacher said

You got to pray and pray and pray some more.

Pray for the armor and the sword!  Pray for the strength to prevail!


Well I think I saw that old beast out back in Mama’s garden just last evening.

Under the shadows by the willow tree come twilight

I squeezed my eyes up sideways and I saw him, dressed up just like Sunday in Preacher’s tail coat.

Even had a Bible flapping in the wind.

Wrapping arms around Mama

Till Pappy come round the bend in the old post road.

When Lucy’s Ready

Lucy1When Lucy’s ready

… she’s ready.

None of this slow stepping sweets and roses

Cat dance of attraction:

Forward two back one

While music winds through a still room

And candle flames tremble on wine glasses.


Lucy wants it all:

Hot breath and steamrollers

On the floor where the carpet’s bleached pink

From scrubbing up stains.

Buttons leaping

Whine of ripped silk

Lips burning lips like arrows in the fire

Straight to the heart of it

And windows wide to let the neon in.

When Lucy’s ready

. . . she’s ready for love.

Two Magicians is Out in New Myths

“Two Magicians,” my flash fiction story from the Sorrows Hill series, is now out in the December issue of the online fantasy/horror mag New Myths.  This little story introduces readers to Daniel MacKenzie, the sorcerer born of a Highlands lady and a kelpie from the deep waters of the loch. I’ll be developing Daniel’s story more in these pages in the coming months.

It’s a story born of many influences, musical and legendary as most of my fantasy tales are.  For anyone interested in learning more about the core inspiration, listen to Jethro Tull’s lovely song, “Kelpie.”

Read Two Magicians on New Myths here.  If you like it, let me know.

The Visual Side of Storytelling

Though a picture may not be worth a thousand words, it’s true that the marriage of words and images does produce some powerful and memorable stories. As a photographer and digital jill of all trades, I’m fascinated by the way the two combine to transport us into places we never knew existed. My secret dream is to be a graphic novelist – or to create a “Moon Road” webcomic!.

But while I’m working on that, I’ve been creating the Moon Road universe in images using my street photographs, vintage images and a variety of digital tricks to capture the sense of urban grit and heartbreakingly beautiful magic that dwells at the heart of all the stories, poems and flash fictions from the places the Moon Road touches.


You can buy these and other art photography creations here on the Buy Jean’s Art page, all fulfilled by Redbubble. Or contact me for a downloadable file of the image of your choice.

I’ll be talking about the art and how it was created here and at Luna Blue Studios, my art and design site.

Any tips for a wannabe graphic novelist?

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