Spotlight Bitten by Dan O'Brien

Friday, July 12, 2013

Welcome to the fourth day of the Bitten blog tour. It will run until July 16th and will feature excerpts, new author interviews each day, character interviews, and a casting call by the author. But first, here is the obligatory blurb about the novel to settle you into this dark world

A predator stalks a cold northern Minnesotan town. There is talk of wolves walking on two legs and attacking people in the deep woods. Lauren Westlake, resourceful and determined F.B.I Agent, has found a connection between the strange murders in the north and a case file almost a hundred years old. Traveling to the cold north, she begins an investigation that spirals deep into the darkness of mythology and nightmares. Filled with creatures of the night and an ancient romance, the revelation of who hunts beneath the moon is more grisly than anyone could have imagined.

A few questions for the author:

What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing novel? 

Marketing it. Sitting down and doing it has never been a problem for me. And with more than a dozen written, I think I can say that with some confidence. Marketing is what came the slowest, but is now something I feel like I have a good handle on. 

What do you consider your biggest failure? 

Not doing what I wanted sooner. I can hear the groans and shouts now. Yes, I realize I am only 32. I wrote my first book at 16 and was published by 20 and then gave up because there was no one waiting with a giant check. I traded in novel writing for freelance editing and copy-writing and just waited too long for my liking. Also, I never took piano lessons and I can’t ski. 

Do you research your novels? 

It depends on the novel. If there is something specific from a region, I am most definitely looking it up. Is there lore? Then I am there pouring through the pages. I spent a lot of years in academia, so research is not foreign to me. It can be very relaxing. Then again some people find speed metal relaxing, so it’s all relative. 

How much impact does your childhood have on your writing? 

A tremendous amount in terms of why I got into writing in the first place. I loved science fiction and fantasy when I was a kid. I read hundreds and hundreds of books when I was in elementary school. Had I not that voracious appetite for reading, I might have chosen a different profession.


Chapter IV

The morgue was at the bottom of the only mortuary in the town of Locke. Agent Westlake, Montgomery, and the youthful deputy made their way through the building’s darkened interior, into the bowels of a cold stone structure that could withstand the end of the world.

Montgomery smiled. “Surprised about our simple morgue, Agent Westlake?”

“Not in the slightest. It would be ridiculous to have a separate building given how infrequently violent crimes occur in your small alcove of a town. It is efficient in a way.”

“Well at least some one appreciates…” spoke Collins as they emerged in the wide whitewashed walls of the basement. Collins was wearing her characteristic bee hive, though black butterfly clips held up random, erratic wisps that attempted to free themselves from bondage. “…what I do here.”

Agent Westlake led the crowd, looking over the walls of silver doors that encased empty chambers where the departed slept in a kind of purgatory before finding a home in the earth or the hearth, as they such desired. Montgomery and the deputy hovered near the table where a white sheet covered the bumpy, uneven terrain of a body. 

“How many homicides?”

The sheriff and deputy looked over at the agent with mute glimpses. “Homicides, Agent Westlake?”

Lauren touched the cold metal of the human cabinets. “In Locke or surrounding towns. How many deaths of unnatural causes have you had?”

Montgomery shrugged. 

“One a year, maybe every two or three.”

“And now two in 48 hours. Perhaps there is something to that.”


Collins, her thick glasses decorated with rings of silver balls interlinked to form a chain, pulled back the sheet that covered the woman. “We still don’t have an identification, but what we do have is cause of death.”

Montgomery crossed his arms and the deputy scratched his head. Westlake lingered over the body as the sheet revealed what might have once been a woman. The dark hair was pulled back and laid down beside her pale skin like wet carpet. The make-up was reduced to heavy indentions in the skin from prolonged use. 

Her breasts remained a testament to their creation and construction by the hands of man. Lines along her stomach announced more cosmetic alterations. Lauren reached out and touched the pink wound; deep lacerations carved her chest cavity. 

“Did you swab the wound?”

Collins lowered her head, looking over glasses. “No, we here in the north don’t know nothing about our business. We just put the bodies in boxes up here.”

Lauren smiled at the woman, chagrinned. 

“My apologies, Dr. Collins.”

Collins smiled. The use of a formal title allowed everything to be forgotten. “We did a full autopsy, sent out for toxicology and swabbed the wound for particulates. What is it that you are looking for?”

Lauren placed her hands on her hips. “Whatever did this used a weapon. Knowing the material and construction, we might be able to limit our focus.” The sheriff coughed and Lauren looked down. “Of course, I mean the scope of the sheriff’s investigation. I am merely shadowing.”

“Couldn’t it have been an animal?” echoed the deputy, his face the very picture of absence of thought. “I mean the wounds look like they could have been from a wolf or bear or something.”

Lauren looked to Montgomery and he nodded, giving his silent approval. “If it were animal there would be other markings, not just a singular, purposeful wound. A deathblow as it was. Animals rip and drag. And usually a low chest wound would indicate knowledge of anatomy. A predator would have gone for the jugular.”

Collins replaced the sheet. “We should have the reports back in a couple of weeks.”

“Couple of weeks?”

Montgomery intervened. “Things work a bit slow up here. We have to send the reports out. Get processed somewhere else and wait for results.”

Lauren touched a hand to her mouth in thought, stepping away from the table. “Would it be a terrible insult if I tried to expedite your wait time, sheriff?”

Hands in pockets, he shrugged. “Not at all, Agent Westlake. I would say that would be a very kind thing to do. Go a long way toward that cooperation and professional courtesy you were looking for.”

Lauren smiled tightly and withdrew her cell phone from her coat. “I will see what I can do.”


Dominic McManus walked through the old farmhouse filled with barren walls and aged paintings. There was an unsophisticated smell, a sense of the rustic enhanced by the wilderness. Wood planks beneath his feet alternated in sound, creating a symphony of rhythm. The afternoon sun hid behind the gray cloud cover, creating a lining of beer-colored halos that shielded the world from luminance. 

The woods were silent, tall pines and evergreens sentinels against the night that would come and the day that followed. Dark, surreal paintings were littered about the simple walls depicting creatures roaming the night, dancing a ritual beneath the moon. The living room was home to one wide, strangled rug in desperate need of cleaning. 

Triangles and lines of muted light cascaded onto the antediluvian home. He walked the house: his home. Bare feet touching the ground, he moved with a grace unbecoming for a man of his considerable size. Nearly six feet, his wide shoulders were marked with long, thin scars of memories past. His chest was a mat of tight black hair that made an artistic triangle. 

Sweat dripped down off of him, following the contours of his strong shoulders and slender waist. His shirt was draped over one of two uncomfortable-looking beige chairs that looked as if they had been left in the rain for a century. 

His dark hair touched his shoulders, unrestrained. 

“Friday,” he whispered. 

A Labrador––the sleek color of night––bounded into the room. He knelt, running his hands across the side of the dog in broad strokes. “Good girl,” he whispered, allowing the dog to nuzzle his lightly bearded face. She was his sole companion by choice. 

Standing again, he walked to the single oak table at the center of the room, grabbing his shirt as he walked by. He pulled it over his shoulders and sat into one of the odd-looking chairs that surrounded the table, reaching down again to attend to his friend.

The house was a silent reminder of a past forgotten. He had come to Locke for simple reasons: a life unfinished. There were ghosts of the past haunting the land. That haunted him still. Each night was a journey, a remembrance. 

His kitchen was clean; no dishes in the sink. There were none of the usual signs of a bachelor. Bowls of fresh fruit, some spilled out past the rims covered the counter. There was no refrigerator, no stove. A heavy, off-white freezer lay on its side, humming softly. There was a heavy wood stove, a cast-iron pot setting atop the warm, burning embers inside. A thin string with a white packet hung from it: tea. 

Moving out into the back porch, a mesh enclosure with a single chair that overlooked the backyard and the surrounding property, he contemplated the world around him. There was a rifle on the ground just beside the chair and a wastebasket with torn off days of a calendar. Each had a circled day; every marking was a shrouded secret. 

He stood looking out upon the wilderness, knowing its mysteries. The murders had already spread through town. The word was panic. He knew more than he could possibly tell them. 

Lauren Westlake: her name intrigued him. Born to the west of a great lake, her ancestors must have been hunters or river folk. There had been something intoxicating about her. He walked her home, made sure she made it through the night. 

Things would get worse. 

The whistle of the iron kettle made him turn. He stalked back into the house. The heavy muscles of his arms flexed. Veins formed an interspersed roadmap down his bicep and into his forearm as he lifted the kettle free. 

The tea was poured. He carried the simple mug with him as he returned to the porch, looking out upon the still woods. He knew that they would not be still that night. Things would get much worse. But what could he do? What could be said that would not cast doubt upon his guise? He had come for a reason, for a purpose. That is what had to remain most important. He would have to be vigilant. 


Lauren smoothed out the map on the wall behind the sheriff’s desk. It was littered with light blue lines and no script save for some cardinal directions. The deputy leaned against the long counter of the station. The sheriff sat back in his in chair, arms laced behind his head. 

“You think there is a pattern to the attacks? I thought we needed three points to make a line. We ain’t got but two yet,” spoke the deputy as he took a drink of the stale, tasteless coffee. 

Lauren placed the last tack into the map and stepped back. “Three points would make a perfect line. But we are not looking for a line. We are looking for a connection, deputy. Until we get those toxin and particulates screens back, which by the way, I managed to shave off some time. We should have them in a couple of days. But until then, we need to see if we can’t figure out what we have here.”

“You think there is going to be another murder, Agent Westlake?” said the sheriff, emotionless.

“I believe there will be many more before all of this is said and done.”

The deputy placed down his coffee and folded his arms. “What exactly do you think is going to happen?”

“It starts out as a single murder. Looks like an animal attack. And then another. And another. A pattern emerges. Women and small children attacked, maimed in a fashion meant to look like an animal.”

Mrs. Meadows and the deputy covered their mouths, eyes wide. Lauren touched the map, spreading out the wrinkles and folds from years in a desk drawer. “Then it stops. As quickly as it came, it disappears. We have had at least three instances similar to what you have had here. The second victim is missing flesh, which is disturbing and new. We have not seen that before. In the past, there were missing organs, purposeful disfigurement.”

“You think it is the same person?” queried the sheriff, his monotone voice skeptical. 

Lauren leaned against the wall. “Doubtful. If it is, we are talking about someone who has been killing for thirty or forty plus years, a serial situation. When I took over the investigation, it had been sitting for near a decade.”

The sheriff switched feet on the desk: dirty soles, filthy souls. “I thought you were talking about a recent case. This sounds as if it might be unrelated.”

Lauren frowned. 

She had anticipated this doubt. “When I resuscitated the file from deep storage, it was because there were some strange killings in a rural area outside of a Chicago suburb. There was talk of animal attacks. Investigations produced bodies not just similar to what you have here in your sleepy town, but identical to what was sitting in those dusty case files.”

She placed her hands on the sheriff’s desk. He looked at her hands grimly. “There is a connection,” she finished. Returning to the map, she pointed at a garish red pin marked with white speckles. And then tracing a line to another tack, this one a green best suited for Christmas decorations. “We have two attacks separated by a mile, mile and a half maximum.”

“That’s a lot of woods, Agent Westlake,” whined the deputy. She did not bother to turn around. Montgomery chastised him with a reproachful glare. 

“Agreed, deputy. We need more people to cover the area effectively.”

The sheriff coughed. “What you see is what you get. I could, if it was an emergency mind you, get some extra deputies from Pine County or from over in Laketown. But that would be a while and would require an emergency.”

Lauren glared at him, her wide eyes squinting to angry spheres. “Murder is not serious enough for you?”

Montgomery grimaced, his kind of smile. “Murder is most serious, even to us country folk. But, the fact remains that Collins could not identify the weapon used in the attacks. If there was such an explanation or a connection, it would be that both looked like animal attacks.”

Lauren touched her head. 

The hangover had subsided to a dull throbbing, an angry itch that scratched at her last nerve. “What about the existing case files? What about my sudden presence here in Locke? Are these not sufficient to cause alarm? Certainly a hysterical woman would be enough.”

The sheriff looked at her with a crooked grin. “I would hardly call you hysterical, Agent Westlake,” he spoke with a slight ruffle. 

“What about canvassing the area between the two murders with the personnel you have?”

“Seems reasonable, but I am not ready to call in reinforcements. I think that you might be overshooting your mark.”

“Can we at least have a look at the Leftwich house and then patrol the area tonight?”

The sheriff stood slowly. 

He stretched out his legs as he did so. 

Lifting the mug beside him, he grinned. 

“You can ride with us.”

She thought to argue the point, ask for separate cars, one for each of them to better scout the area. Nodding with a tight smile, she motioned with her hand that she would follow. As they exited the station out into the cold open air of Locke, she realized the day had already begun to shrink away from the coming night. The feeling deep in her gut told her that the night would be a long one.

Bio: A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, he has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) or visit his blog http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com. He recently started a consultation business. You can find more information about it here: http://www.amalgamconsulting.com/.

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