Collapse Dark Days Book 1 by Mark Lukens Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Horror
It started with rumors of a plague that turned people into flesh-eating predators. The governments of the world and the media tried to suppress it, but little by little the truth got out. The economy had been in a freefall, banks closed, protests turned into riots, people began hoarding and panicking. And then on a Friday morning, the collapse came.
After the government office where Ray Daniels works shuts down, he just wants to get home to his wife and kids. On his arduous journey home, Ray gets a call from Craig, his supervisor, inviting him and his family to his home where the answers to the collapse and the Ripper Plague are waiting for him, but the phone call breaks up and Ray only hears the word Avalon.
When Ray gets home to his family, the TV stations have been replaced with a loop of the President of the United States declaring martial law. The electricity and water are shut off soon after that. They hole up in their bedroom for the night - they have no weapons, little food, and no information about why everything collapsed so quickly.
After Ray's neighbor, Helen, holds a secret meeting to try to fight back against martial law, she asks Ray to help her blind daughter Emma, promising that Emma can help him and his family find the way to Avalon. But what is Avalon, and what does Emma know about it?
Hours later, after soldiers in gas masks take Helen away, Ray has no choice but to flee with his family. Society has crumbled within the last twenty-four hours. Hordes of flesh-eating infected are loose on the streets. The police and military are doing their best to fight back, but they are losing the battle now. The collapse is here, and Ray wants the answers that Craig has, but he must keep his family alive first.
Josh Hooper has always been a screw-up. He's done his share of jail time and has battled drugs and alcohol throughout his life. But since moving to Pittsburgh with his sister, Josh has gotten clean and turned his life around . . . just in time for the apocalypse.
As society begins to collapse on a Friday morning, Josh drives into the city to get some lifesaving medications for his nephew. When he tries to avoid the mass of panicked people and gridlocked traffic downtown, Josh is arrested, beaten, and detained.
Josh and some of the other uninfected are taken to a FEMA camp miles outside the city as the Ripper Plague continues to spread. They are taken to the camp for their protection, but Josh soon realizes that the camp is not what it seems to be . . . he believes terrible things may be happening there. Not only does he need to get back to his sister and nephew, but he needs to escape the evil brewing in the camp.
At night, while making his plans to escape, Josh dreams of a beautiful blind woman who calls to him, inviting him to head south to join her and others. And there's someone else in his dreams, a man in the shadows with eyes that shine in the darkness, an evil man who will try to stop Josh and the others. But Josh can't worry about people he sees in his dreams, people that he convinces himself aren't real, because even though the chances of his sister and nephew being alive and uninfected are dwindling, he has to try to get to them.
Luke is not a nice man. He's not a good person. But he's a fighter . . . a survivor. A former MMA fighter who was sent to prison for attempted murder, Luke is accepted into a crime family run by Vincent, and during his years there he's trained in weapons and the art of delivering pain.
When civilization collapses, Luke is sent to protect Vincent's brother and his family. Luke finds the family slaughtered and the brother responsible, already infected by the Ripper Plague. After killing the brother, Luke knows he needs to flee the city. But with martial law declared and Vincent vowing revenge, sending the assassin who trained Luke after him, Luke's chances of getting out of the city don't look very good.
But Luke won't give up, and with help from a woman who's nearly as skilled and deadly as he is, Luke finds himself heading out of the city, on a new path, a journey south. In his dreams, Luke has seen a beautiful blind woman calling him south to be with her and the others. But there's someone else in his dreams, a shadowy man of pure evil who is amassing an army to collect and control all the food and dwindling resources left behind. Not only will Luke and Wilma have to contend with the hordes of rippers on their journey, but they will have to run right through the shadowy man's dark army.
Ray, Emma, and Mike are on their way to Doug's cabin in the woods, their hope of refuge, when they drive into a trap in a small mountain town in West Virginia, a trap set by the Dark Angels, a gang controlled by the shadowy man they've seen in their dreams, the man who calls himself the Dragon.
Just when things are bleakest, Josh helps save Ray and the others. Josh is shocked when he sees Emma, the woman he's seen in his dreams, the woman who has helped him along the way. And Josh has also seen Ray and Mike in his dreams. And he's seen Luke and others. He knows that they are all meant to be together . . . if they can survive.
Miles away, Luke has made his way south from the Camp, but he gets trapped in the small town of Heaven, West Virginia, hunkered down in a building, the place surrounded by Dark Angels. But Luke has weapons and ammo to hold them off for a little while. A Dark Angel calls out to Luke on a megaphone, trying to convince him to surrender and promising that he has a surprise coming for him.
After a nearly-deadly encounter with a horde of rippers, Ray drives Josh, Emma, and Mike right into the battle in Heaven, West Virginia. And soon they are banded together with Luke. But now they are trapped together, making plans to escape, as the surprise the Dark Angels have promised comes into town.
Will they make it to their refuge, the cabin in the mountains? And if they do, is the refuge truly the safe place they've been dreaming of . . . or is it even more dangerous?
Kate Crawford's world was shattered when the Collapse came. It seemed like one moment she was a university professor of Anthropology, and the next moment she was hiding in her home from the Ripper Plague, tortured by nightmares of a shadowy man with shining eyes. And then the Dark Angels came to her neighborhood, marking front doors and searching homes - she had no choice but to leave.
She planned to travel west, back to her hometown in the mountains of North Carolina, back to an oppressive family she vowed never to return to . . . but she has nowhere else to turn now.
Before she can even make it out of the city, she's stuck on the roof of a building with a possible madman, the streets below overrun with tens of thousands of rippers. But she knows she needs to get out of the city, because the blind woman in her dreams tells her to head west, telling her that there are others like her, that they will all be together . . . they just need to find each other first.
Ray, Mike, Emma, Luke, and Josh think they've found their refuge at the West Virginia cabin, but it all falls apart when Luke finds tracks in the snow at the edge of the woods. Someone has been watching them. A ripper? A Dark Angel? Someone else? Soon they find their stalker, a young woman, but is she who she says she is? Can they believe her story?
To the south, in North Carolina, Lisey brings a horde of rippers to Kate's parents' home where Kate, Brooke, Petra, and Max are holed up. They don't have time to pack their truck as they try to get away from the mob of rippers. But even if they get away, they don't realize that something is waiting for them in the shadows of the woods just down the street.
Each group faces its own challenges, yet they are getting closer and closer to coming together. They need to be strong because the Dragon and his evil forces have ramped up their game, herding them where he wants them, ready for the final attack.
Mark Lukens has been writing since the second grade when his teacher called his parents in for a conference because the ghost story he'd written had her a little concerned.
Since then he's had several stories published and four screenplays optioned by producers in Hollywood. He is the author of many bestselling books including: Ancient Enemy, Sightings, Devil's Island, The Exorcist's Apprentice, Followed, and more. He is a member of The Horror Writers Association.
He grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida. But after many travels and adventures, he settled down near Tampa, Florida with his wonderful wife and son ... and a stray cat they adopted.
He loves to hear from readers! He can be found on Facebook at Mark Lukens Books, on Twitter @marklukensbooks, and you can follow his blog at www.marklukensbooks.wordpress.com. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING?
As my bio states: I’ve been writing since the second grade. But I may have tried to write stories even before that. But I remember the first time I knew I really wanted to be a writer. I was about ten or eleven years old, and I read a book of sci-fi stories from the bookshelf in the living room (both my mom and dad always loved reading sci-fi fiction). It was called 18 Greatest Science Fiction Stories. The stories were mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, but I discovered authors in that collection like Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. I tried to find everything by Ray Bradbury, and soon I was writing stories that were poor imitations of Bradbury’s stories.
When I was fourteen years old a friend told me about a book he was reading called The Stand by some guy named Stephen King. I went to the small public library across the street from our trailer park (the library has since moved and is now huge) to look for the book. I didn’t find The Stand, but I found a few other books by Stephen King. I looked over the few books they had, trying to decide which one I wanted to read. I read the description of Christine; it was about a haunted car. I loved muscle cars, so a haunted muscle car—how cool was that? I checked the book out and took it home. I was hooked. I couldn’t stop reading it. I hadn’t really read much horror up until then, but I knew at that moment that this was the kind of stories I wanted to write. I checked out every Stephen King book at that small library that they had. I read ‘Salem’s Lot next. Then The Dead Zone. Then Different Seasons. Then Pet Sematary. Eventually I bought a paperback copy of The Stand.
Over the next two decades I was working a lot, but I was always reading and always writing. I didn’t take my writing too seriously, sending a story out here and there, sending query letters off to publishers and agents every so often. It wasn’t until I was in my late thirties that I decided to get serious about my writing and I began studying the craft of screenwriting. I found some success right away with my screenplays; producers and managers in Hollywood (some of them not so famous then, but famous now) requested to read my scripts. A few years later I had a few options and two really close calls with major studios. But the stars didn’t quite align and things fell apart. I was devastated, but then I heard about Amazon/Kindle publishing. I decided to quit my job and turn one of my scripts, Ancient Enemy, into a novel. And I’ve been writing full-time ever since.
WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH DO YOU DO BEFORE YOU BEGIN WRITING A BOOK?
Research can be important, and it has been important in some of my books, more for some than others. With the internet, research is so much easier. I did a lot of research for my books Ancient Enemy, The Exorcist’s Apprentice, Devil’s Island, and my Dark Days series.
Before I begin a first draft of a book, I usually start with a six to ten page outline. If I know I’m going to need to do some research before I even begin writing, then I’ll do it. But often, as I’m writing the first draft, I’ll come across areas and details that I need to research. Sometimes I’ll do a little research then, but usually I just leave myself a note right in the first draft to research something in the subsequent drafts and edits so I don’t slow down the momentum of completing the first draft.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CURRENT PUBLISHING MARKET?
I think self-publishing, or indie publishing as it’s sometimes called (and Amazon/Kindle specifically), has opened a lot of doors for writers. I know some people may still look down on anything self-published, but people should remember that self-publishing is not new, and there have been many success stories from self-publishing recently (Wool, The Martian, and The Shack come to mind immediately). Just because someone wasn’t traditionally published doesn’t mean that their writing or their stories aren’t any good. Traditional publishing is a numbers game, and often luck is involved—the right publisher or agent at the right time. I’m sure publishers and agents have turned down a lot of great works because they can only publish or represent so many authors at a time. Also, I believe that publishers may be concentrating on the stable of authors they have now rather than taking on a lot of new authors.
I think traditional publishing and printed books will always be around. People have been declaring the death of the book for a long time: First, movies were going to kill the book, then TV, then DVDs, and now self-published e-books. But books and traditional publishing have survived, and I think they will continue to survive. But I think publishing has changed drastically in the last ten to fifteen years. I don’t believe a lot of readers look at who published the e-book before buying or borrowing it. Also, I think many independent authors have chosen to be self-published, and I’ve heard of many authors who used to be traditionally published who are self-published now. I know of some self-published authors who are so successful that they would most likely turn down a publishing deal unless it was a multimillion dollar deal from a large publisher.
DO YOU READ AND IF SO WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE GENRE?
Yes, I still love to read. I think reading, along with a consistent writing schedule, is one of the most important things a writer can do. I still have authors that I love to read, but I’ve also discovered so many new authors on Amazon/Kindle in the last five years. I still read a lot of horror and thrillers, but not as much science fiction as I used to. But what it really comes down to for me is that I love a good story.
DO YOU PREFER TO WRITE IN SILENCE OF WITH NOISE? WHY?
When I’m writing the first draft, I like to have some music on. I mostly write in my office (but sometimes in the living room—I can write just about anywhere) and I’ll listen to the radio, some CDs, or my playlist on Amazon. My taste in music is as eclectic as my tastes in reading, so I listen to all kinds of music.
When I’m editing or rereading drafts, I like to have the music off.
DO YOU WRITE ONE BOOK AT A TIME OR DO YOU HAVE SEVERAL GOING AT A TIME?
I’m always working on several projects at the same time in various stages of development; I’ve always done that. I guess it’s good that I can multitask, but one of the downfalls is that if I get a new idea for another story or a book, I’ll abandon the one I’m working on to start the new one. Also, if I get stuck in a novel I’m working on, it’s too tempting to go work on something else.
In the last few years I’ve learned to be a little more disciplined about keeping to one project at a time and finishing that one up before moving on to something else. Of course if I get an idea for a story or book, or a breakthrough on something else, I’ll jot those notes down or even work on it for that day, but then I like to get back to the main project I’m working on at that time. These days, even if I get stuck on part of the book, or things aren’t coming out exactly like I want them to, I’ve learned to just power through those drafts.
I still find myself going back and forth between projects. It’s a hard habit to break, but I’m getting better about it. But I guess I’ll always work on several projects at a time. I have more ideas than time to write them, but I guess that’s a good thing.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN AUTHOR?
This would be a typical day for me:
I write for a living now so I don’t have a set time to wake up (I had too many years of that), but I try to get up before nine o’clock. The earlier I can get started, the more I seem to get done. I can write at night (or anytime), but I really like writing first thing in the morning. I get out of bed, make some tea, and maybe have a small breakfast, then I go into my office. I do a quick check of my emails to make sure there isn’t something important that I need to respond to, and then I get started on the day’s work. I like to get in at least three to five hours of writing (or rereading, editing, or whatever stage the writing project is in). I don’t really have an actual page count or word count that I adhere to, but I know if I’ve gotten enough work done that day.
I’ll take a break in the afternoon and run any errands I need to run or do a quick workout. I’ll eat a late lunch or early dinner, then I like to go back to work for at least an hour or two in the late afternoon or the evening. If I’m not writing then, I’ll at least work on some marketing or social media stuff. Then I’ll watch some TV with my wife and read a little before going to bed.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR NEW AUTHORS?
I like Stephen King’s advice from his book On Writing: Read a lot and write a lot. I think those two things are the foundation for any writer. I think any writer needs to love to read before he or she can really think about writing their own stories, and if you want to write in a certain genre, then I think it’s important to know and love that genre; I think the readers can tell if you don’t. As for writing a lot, I think every writer should have some kind of consistent writing schedule. It doesn’t have to be every day, or so many hours or pages a day, but I think it’s important not to let too much time slip by without writing. I don’t always write every day; I tend to write more in spurts, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that I’ll get back to writing if I take a day or two off. But it’s also important to remember that writing is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly so it doesn’t become weak and waste away. A writer writes.
A few other things to keep in mind:
Don’t expect your early stuff to be great (although it may be). You need to get the early books, stories, screenplays, etc. out of you and hone your craft as you go. As you write, year after year, you will get better and better. But the important thing is to keep writing.
Don’t expect your first draft to be perfect—it rarely is. Just get that first draft down on paper so you have something to improve. I get caught in this trap even to this day; I will procrastinate or go back and begin editing the first draft I’m working on if I get stuck on something because I want the first draft to be perfect. But I have to remind myself that it’s not going to be perfect and that I can always go back and change minor things here and there in the subsequent drafts.
Whether you outline or fly by the seat-of-your-pants, you should try to power through your first draft as quickly as possible. If you’re stuck on a word or phrase, just use a placeholder there, anything to keep moving on. I’ll often write notes to myself in my first drafts such as: Look this up, or Research this, or add more detail here, or explain how she got this job, etc. As you go through the second, third, or even tenth draft, you’ll keep improving the story, tweaking it, making it better and better.
Keep learning the craft. I think it’s important for writers, new ones especially, to learn everything they can about the craft of writing. Read books on it, watch videos, read articles, listen to podcasts. And, of course, keep practicing.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD STORY?
I think all good stories are mysteries. We read all stories, no matter what the genre is, to find answers to mysteries or questions. Will the hero survive? Will the main characters fall in love? Will they save the world? Will her mother discover the secret she’s been hiding? I think a good story sets the reader up with questions that need to be answered and mysteries that need to be solved, compelling them to keep reading.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS LIKE?
This is my writing process, but it could be very different with other authors.
For me, it all starts with the idea. An idea will pop into my head and begin to form there, just the glimpse of a story at that moment. Where do ideas come from? That’s hard to say. They can come from a TV show I’m watching, or something I’m reading, or something I see while driving, from dreams (or nightmares), or sometimes they just seem to pop into my mind fully-formed.
I don’t like to act on an idea right away, I like to let it kind of grow a little in my mind until it gets too big to ignore. I’ll jot down some notes about it, maybe a page or two, not really an outline or even a synopsis yet, just the bare essence of the story that’s forming.
If I’m still excited about the idea, then I’ll begin to outline it. My outlines can run anywhere from five to twelve pages. Sometimes they start out simple and grow more complex as I work on them. In my outlines, I just hit the major beats of the story: the beginning or setup, the introduction of the main characters, an inciting incident(s), the characters working towards goals or away from dangers, twists and turns, the ending, and then an epilogue if there is one.
I like to have an outline because it helps me write the first draft faster, and it gives me a rough framework, a trail through the woods to go by. But that doesn’t mean that my outlines are set in stone, and twists and turns, characters, and scenes can all change as I write the first draft. There is something magical that happens when you begin writing, the story just seems to unfold and sometimes it moves in a different direction on its own, and ideas kind of pop into your mind as you write. Even though my outline isn’t set in stone, I still like to have a pretty good idea of the beginning, middle, and end of my story. I know there are writers who can just start writing and see where the story takes them. I wish I could write like that, but I can’t. I’ve written myself into too many corners in the past. So I think my writing is a combination of the two: an outline and seeing where the story takes me.
I like to try to get through the first draft as quickly as possible. I usually try to write my first drafts by hand on notebook paper or in spiral notebooks, but often, about halfway through, I’ll begin typing the first draft as I finish it.
After the first draft is done, I like to set the project aside for a while, usually a few weeks, and work on something else. Then I can come back to the first draft with fresh eyes and look at some of the things objectively. I’ll find some things in the draft that I loved, and I’ll find things I don’t love. So, for me, taking a break between the first and second draft helps a lot.
Now the real work begins: editing, revising, rereading, writing the next drafts, whatever you want to call it. I’ll usually go over my book at least five to ten times, re-reading and editing, tweaking here and there. When I get to the point that I’m reading it through without changing too much, then I know I’m almost ready.
It’s at this point I like to send the book off to any editors I’m working with and beta readers. I like to have the manuscript as close to publishable at that point. I get their feedback, make any necessary changes, read through it once more, and then I’m ready to publish.
And then it’s on to the next book.
HOW LONG ON AVERAGE DOES IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE A BOOK?
Every book is different. Since I’ve been doing this as a job for the last seven years, I’ve discovered that each book is taking less and less time to write. Some books took me longer than others to write. Devil’s Island took me three years to write, and I worked on and published quite a few other books while working on it. Other books like Ancient Enemy and Sightings were quick, but they were also based on my screenplays, so it was like having a very detailed outline to work from. Neither book changed that much from the script.
I would say at this time, that I try to shoot for two to four months to write a book, but I’m always trying to get them done quicker. One way is to work more hours in a day. I try to get anywhere from three to six hours of work done in a day, but it can depend on other things I need to do that day or how I’m feeling. There are days where I just can’t concentrate, or I’m just not feeling it. If I have one of those days, I allow myself a day off or I work on marketing and social media stuff, or work on another project I have in the beginning stages. But I don’t take too much time off, and I’ve been writing long enough that I can trust myself to get back to work in the next few days. One thing I’ve learned over the last five years is that even if I’m stuck or not feeling like writing, if I just tell myself that I’ll write a few lines or just one page, I’ll find that those few sentences may turn into pages as inspiration comes. Sometimes all it takes is to sit down in the chair and start writing.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN WRITER’S BLOCK?
The dreaded writer’s block. I believe it’s real, and it can happen in some form or another to all writers. I call it getting stuck at some point in the book or story I’m writing. I’ll get stuck at a point, not sure where to go, or how to get from this scene to the next one.
Here are some ways I deal with writer’s block or what I call getting stuck:
I try to just power right through it. Even if what I’m writing doesn’t sound good to me or it isn’t perfect, I’ll just keep powering through it and getting those words down on paper because I know I can go back and make changes later. And, like I’ve said before, sometimes magic happens as you begin writing, and ideas just seem to appear like magic; you get those “ah-ha” moments as you write, and sometimes the problems in the story just seem to work themselves out.
I’ll take some time off and either take a break or work on something else. Sometimes if the block or the part in the story I’m stuck on isn’t working itself out, I’ll just walk away for a little bit. Sometimes I’ll just take that day or the next day off and watch a movie or read a book or exercise, anything to take my mind off of it. But sometimes taking my mind off of it for a while causes an answer to kind of just pop into my consciousness from my subconscious. Or, after I’m rested mentally from the problem, I can go back to it with a fresh pair of eyes.
Talking out the problem with someone else can help sometimes. My favorite sounding board is my wife. I’ll be stuck in a part of the story, or frustrated with something, so I’ll talk it out, and sometimes just talking it out helps organize things in my mind. Also, my wife will offer suggestions.
One trick I’ve learned if I can’t seem to get into writing or I’m stuck, is that I’ll take out some notebook paper and write down what I want to write about. I’ll write something like: In this scene, Billy and Jenny are going to the store when the criminals barge in to rob the place. And then I’ll write down what might happen next and then next, and before I know it I’ve written a page. What I’ve written won’t be perfect, but at least the skeleton of the story is there to work from. I think it’s that magic thing that happens again when you start writing something down, the creative forces in the mind seem to work differently (to me, anyway) when something is written down rather than just thinking about it or daydreaming.
Writer’s block used to plague me more when I was younger, but I use the above techniques now, and they really seem to help.
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