Check out this week’s topic: ITW Thriller Roundtable June 4-11, 2018
This is a little piece I wrote about how my novella SKINSHIFT came to be. It’s actually a rather creepy story unto itself. This piece was published in DarkFuse magazine at SKINSHIFT’s original launch. SKINSHIFT was recently re-released by Crossroad Press and is available in ebook form at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and more.
INSPIRATION STRIKES IN THE STRANGEST PLACES
What would you do? Would you stay—or would you be too scared?
Forget cruises, fancy destinations, and anything involving a commercial airplane. Give me a good road trip any day! My boyfriend and I have driven through quite a lot of the Lower 48 over the years, with a ton of pictures to prove it. We love to hit the back roads, to find the unusual and the weird. The weirder, the better.
In the summer of 2013, we were roaming through the middle of nowhere (Middle of Nowhere being one of our favorite spots), hunting for a campsite we’d seen on our map app—when we had cell reception, that is. By this point, there was no signal to be had, so we were off the grid, incommunicado, and hoping for the best.
After heading down a lonely dirt road for a while with nothing at all on either side, we saw what looked like a site amongst some trees and turned toward it. The remains of what appeared to be a cow skeleton lay scattered right at the turnoff. We pulled in farther, and lo and behold, there was a weathered old picnic table. And not another soul in sight. Not a vehicle. Not nothing. We’d found our place to stay for the night.
We started unloading the camping gear and getting the feel of the place. There were some menacing-looking biting flies around, but nothing too bad. We had a table (albeit a little the worse for wear), a fire ring, a nearby stream, trees surrounding the site, and what appeared to be an ancient wooden outhouse a short distance away at the end of a narrow path. And we had it all to ourselves. Cool.
Then we noticed the bonus feature: skulls. Skulls of all kinds. In all sorts of places.
There was one on the picnic table that appeared to be from a deer-like creature. Just sitting there on the far end, facing us, as if it’d been expecting guests. There was what appeared to be a horse skull and another sheep- or elk-like creature’s skull fastened to the birch next to the site. A bovine-looking skull lay on the ground on the other side of the picnic table. Hung on another tree were more elongated skulls, like wolf or fox. All the skulls were well-cleaned and in excellent condition.
While we were standing there trying to make sense of what we were seeing, something made a loud bang. I nearly jumped out of my skin before realizing it was just the outhouse door slamming. I hoped it was just due to wind.
But there wasn’t any wind.
Never did figure out why it picked right then to bang like that.
We stood very still and listened as hard as we could for sounds of humans, animals, anything. What if some survivalist type had taken over the site and we’d walked into what he considered home? We didn’t see any other sites nearby. This certainly wasn’t an organized and patrolled campground by any stretch of the imagination. But there was nothing more. Nothing but the buzz of some big black flies and the sound of the nearby creek coursing over stones and logs.
When had these skulls been left there? By whom? And why? We stalked around, looking for answers and finding none. Eventually, we decided whoever’d left them wasn’t going to join us—or at least we hoped not. So, after watching some bats flit around for a while, we settled in for the night. Nothing bad happened, and we left everything as we found it when we left the next day.
Of course, now a seed was planted in my head. How could I not use this as the germ for a new tale? At the time, I was still in the midst of writing BLOCKBUSTER, so I had to set the idea aside for a while. When I wrapped BLOCKBUSTER up in early 2014, I decided I wanted to do something shorter—a novella—and I just had to use the skulls in there somehow. And so began the concept for SKINSHIFT.
The skulls made an inspiring image, a great start, but they were only that: a start. How to build a story around them? What characters would I create, and what role would the skulls play? As I noodled it around in my head, a character came to mind. Dominic Donato. He’s not a good man. In fact, he’s a rather evil man. He begins the story alone, injured and abandoned in the Mojave Desert, seething with rage and hell-bent on revenge.
Dominic learns some powerful new skills, skills that enable him to survive his ordeal, to convert his rage into action, and the skulls figure into this. And that’s as much of a spoiler as you’re going to get out of me. I hope you enjoy SKINSHIFT, and that it makes you think twice the next time you’re driving along a desolate desert road and you see a vulture circling high in the air. You’d better watch out. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
As always, thank you for your support and thanks for reading!
Pleasant dreams—or not,
Lisa von Biela
My two novellas previously published by DarkFuse, ASH AND BONE and SKINSHIFT, have been re-released by Crossroad Press with great new cover art! They can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and more…
Thanks for reading!
Well, here it is. 2018. I always try to imagine what every new year will hold. And let’s just say, I’m no oracle! 2017 had its surprises–good, bad, and in between.
On the publishing front, I kicked off 2017 by self-pubbing a novella that I’d originally written at a particular market’s invitation. They declined the final product, so I took the bull by the horns and published it last New Year’s Day. That’s my little thriller, Moon Over Ruin. It’s set (mainly) in an abandoned resort we ran across on a trip to Canada a couple of years ago that got caught in my mind.
Then, around the beginning of summer, my long-time publisher, DarkFuse, closed down. They reverted rights to me, but this of course meant my titles went off-market. I had 6 titles with them at the time, and 2 completed manuscripts that had not yet been published. I was very fortunate to join up with Crossroad Press soon afterward. So far, they’ve republished my 4 novel-length works (with new cover art) and one of my previously unpublished titles (Down the Brink). And, they published an audiobook of The Genesis Code! The 2 novellas (Ash and Bone and Skinshift) and the other previously unpublished work (Incidental Findings) are in the works and will be out soon. Meanwhile, I’m in the second draft of a novel-in-progress that concerns a drought of historical proportions and a young family’s desperate escape from a mega-fire into…even worse things.
This has been a big year for my artwork, too. I picked up some cheap watercolors a couple of years ago and started dabbling around (I hadn’t painted/drawn in some years). One thing led to another, and I also got involved with colored pencils about a year ago. My skills have noticeably progressed, and I’ve posted work on RedBubble and Pixels. Made a couple of small sales, too. I also drew a blue and gold macaw with colored pencils and donated the image to Zazu’s House Parrot Sanctuary for use on their Pixels site. I hope it’s sold a lot for them!
On the travel front, I’ve had some mighty interesting/contrasting trips! In the summer, we returned to Canada, and took a flight to the icefields in Kluane National Park. We actually landed on a huge icefield (see the picture below) in a Helio Courier. Awesome! Then in November, we visited Death Valley National Park, parts of which are well below sea level. So from high-altitude snow to low-altitude desert, all in the same year. Not sure how to top that!
So, a big thank you to my readers and those who have purchased my art, and to everyone reading this, best wishes for 2018!
I’ve been working on my art the past couple of years–in addition to writing, and working, and more. I recently created several portfolios on Redbubble, and one piece of my work is featured on Zazu’s House Parrot Sanctuary Pixels site.
I found out Pixels/Fine Art America was offering yoga mats and that did it (well, not just yoga mats, lots of different products, but the yoga mats put me over the edge in deciding to set up there!). I set up a page there and uploaded my work. It’s “live” now. Please check it out and let me know what you think. Thanks!
No, I don’t “just” write novels, I’ve also been working on my art. I mostly work in colored pencil (Prismacolor Premier) and watercolor. I finally got a chance to post a new collection up on Redbubble, entitled: Abandoned, Roadside, and Retro. I have a number of birds and abstract pieces I plan to post in their own collections, as time permits.
Meanwhile, please stop by Redbubble and check out my collection. You can get the images on various sorts of products to suit your fancy. Thanks!