Today is October 16th. I can hardly believe it was a year ago today that I published my first novel, Noble. The memories are still so fresh in my mind: The fighting with an ever-changing outline. The extensive research about life in the 1940s. The late nights where writing a thousand words was impossible to do in less than three hours. The road to publication was long and difficult, but I don’t have a single regret.
Okay, that’s a lie.
I regret all the mistakes that I made as a first time self-published author. I regret not hiring a professional editor. I regret investing $5,000 into a PR agency that netted me a grand total of seven followers on Twitter. I regret rushing the book to market without a marketing plan. I regret most of all that I didn’t deliver my best effort. My readers deserve better than I gave them.
Most writers are hard on themselves, but this is not just me being overly critical and holding myself to some ridiculous standard. I believe in the story that I’m trying to tell with the Noble trilogy and I believe in its strength as an intellectual property. In my heart, I believe that this trilogy has legitimate potential to sell some books and entertain many more readers than I have already reached.
That’s why I made the decision to go back to the drawing board and create a second edition for Noble. Call it “2.0” if you like, but I’m calling it Noble: Revised & Expanded. It’s the version of the book that the original should have been. I’m doing this not just in honor of Noble’s one-year anniversary, but also as a precursor to the next book in the series, coming in early 2012.
What’s new in Noble: Revised & Expanded? Everything! I hired a professional editor to tear through the original manuscript. Long gone are the typos and grammatical errors. Long gone are the wordy, confusing sentences that don’t make sense. Long gone are the lengthy stretches of exposition and information dumps without giving the reader a break. All of these mistakes have been replaced with clear, clean sentence structure and short, succinct thoughts that capture the moment in greater detail. Old, tired exposition has been replaced with new dialogue between characters and additional devices to flesh out the backstory. I’ve also re-hired James McDonald (The Jumper) to lend his unique vision of the Noble universe to the brand spanking new front cover. This is not just a simple re-issue. This is a complete re-launch with oodles of new content, and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with you!
But don’t just take my word for it. Please, celebrate this special anniversary with me and read for yourself. Below you will find the new and improved first chapter from the book. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
“(Heavy breathing) My name is Jane Em—“ [Crackle] “and if you’re hearing this, please, I beg you, help us. They brought us, here, but I—I don’t know where here is. They told us that they were—“ [Section missing] “But they didn’t tell us why. Something about, oh, I can’t remember. It didn’t make any sense. They rarely told us anything at all. We just had to do what we were told to. But they lied. Ph—“ [Crackle] “did exactly what he was told to and they just—they just let him die. Didn’t even try to help him. Those bastards! They knew all of this was going to happen!” [Pause] “Mom, for what it’s worth to you now, I’m so sorry. If I had known that it would have ever come to this, I—I would’ve—“ (Sobbing) ”How could you do this to your own child, mother?”
“We were brought here in blindfolds and handcuffs. They didn’t speak at all until we arrived. I remember being on an airplane and then a big vehicle. A bus, maybe. We were all so scared. Well, almost everyone. It seems like ages ago when I first met Alyssa. She was so strong and refused to break down and cry. She said it would only give them the satisfaction they wanted, but I couldn’t keep myself from falling apart.” [Pause] “Alyssa was part of the second group from our cell that was sent into that place. I don’t even know how to describe it other than to say that it looks like something left over from an—“ [Section missing] “—ion. Despite how frightened I am, I feel a sense of awe when I look at it. The architecture is unlike any I’ve ever seen. How could something like this exist un—“ [Crackle] “I told Alyssa about my suspicions, but she didn’t care much about my theories. She focused only on our escape. The rest of us never felt like we had a chance, but she refused to give up.” [Pause] “God, I miss her so much.” [Pause] “When they came for her, I think we all knew what was about to happen. We lost all hope. Still, there was a part of me that believed she would come back. I refused to believe that anything could stop Alyssa. She wasn’t a soldier, but she was just, I don’t know, different somehow from the rest of us. Phillip used to call her ‘Bitch on Earth’ because he thought that she was scarier than any kind of hell.” (Laughs) ”And yet, she wound up disappearing too. Just like the rest.” [Pause] “Yesterday I saw a blinding blue glow coming from that place. What was that? Please be alright, Alyssa. We need you.”
“I don’t know how this is legal. Aren’t there laws to prevent this type of treatment? That’s why I took this recorder. The carelessness of that guard leaving it behind might be our only hope for rescue. At the very least, it could be the last chance to document of our final days. They would kill me if they knew I had it, but I don’t care. Any day now it will be my turn to go in and then I’ll be dead anyway. Maybe death be better than this. Whoever finds this, just know that we were here. [Crackle] “ I hope this tape is found some day. If we can’t be saved, then I hope our story can help save the others like us. There’s just so much that I don’t know or understand. I think that’s what is scaring me the most. What is happening to the others when they send us into that—that thing? Listen. You can hear their screams even now.” (Crying) ”Are they real? I can’t even tell anymore. I hear them inside my head all the time. So much pain.”
“Shit! Here they come! They’re right outside the door, I need to—“ [Crackle] “Wait. It can’t be! Is that really you?” [Crackle] “Aly—“ [Crackle] (Screaming)
I will never forget the day that I first heard that recording, nor will I forget the events that led up to it. That message was recovered from a government issued tape recorder at the area formally known as Location 2208-C on October 16th, 1948. It’s hard to believe that it was nearly two years ago when I first heard it. I still remember it all like it was yesterday. So much has happened over the past three years and the world has not looked the same to me since. I suppose it will ever look the same to me again. The unsuspecting people of this world were carrying on about their everyday lives, completely clueless as to the dangers that had been lurking beneath them for centuries. A great battle was waged and many lives were lost. It was one of the most tragic events to ever happen in the history of humanity and the people of the world don’t even know the story… but they’re about to.
My name is Miller Brinkman and I am, rather, I was a private detective for the better part of my adult life. Murder is a rare occurrence in a place like Ashley Falls, but it does happen from time to time. No matter how much on the job training you receive, there is no way to prepare for the horrors that you will see. I had nothing but respect for the brave men who fought tirelessly to protect our community, but in the end, it just wasn’t meant for me.
Nevertheless, I still had a special place in my heart for helping other people, and I knew that I was meant to put it to good use somehow in this crazy world. I suppose you could say that the desire to protect people was my calling, if you’re the type of person who believes in that sort of thing. To me, there was no greater feeling in the world than the sensation I got from helping others who couldn’t otherwise help themselves. So, I decided to become a private investigator. My client base was limited to folks with what the Sheriff’s boys would consider minor needs, petty complaints, but I didn’t mind that at all. To me, there was no case too insignificant to pursue.
I investigated things like crooked business partners accused of taking a little extra off the top, or lowlife con men trying to scam honest folks out of a few extra bucks. I was once even called upon to put a preacher under surveillance by a jealous wife who thought that her husband had been pursuing interests outside of their home other than scripture. I kept an eye on the preacher for about a week, and was happy to report back to her and tell her that her suspicions were unfounded. As it turned out, the good wife did not allow even a drop of alcohol in the house, and the preacher couldn’t seem to completely exorcise his internal desire for the occasional glass of wine in the evening. That was about as exciting as things ever got around these parts.
Ashley Falls sits on a sprawling piece of land, but much of it goes unused and the actual town itself only consists of three main parts. You’ve got the farm lands, which run along the river, then the residential area where most people live, and finally the sizeable unpaved downtown area which houses the shops, the diner, the church, the bank, the bar, and other things of the like. Outside of these main sections is a vast wooded area that encircles the town. It was a strategic location for the American patriots during the Revolutionary War because the woods helped to fortify their hideouts.
On the outskirts of town is a place called Sunset Hill, which is a popular spot for the younger people. I recall spending a lot of time there in my youth as well. It’s located near a sheer cliff where the river that runs through town, drops off into a waterfall, and connects to a sister river at the bottom many feet below. Because of its elevation, it does provide a beautiful view of the sky and the world below it. It faces the setting sun at dusk, which is as gorgeous as anything you could ever put on a postcard, and obviously is how it gets its name. I had once asked the Mayor if the name Sunset Hill had been chosen because they’d finally run out of family names, but all that seemed to do was illicit a dirty look. I’ve never been able to prove it, but I feel confident that my votes haven’t been counted during an election ever since.
Sunset Hill is a great name, though, and at least it was awarded its name because of something pleasant that makes people feel good, unlike our town.
As the story goes, back during the time of the Revolutionary War, there was a family that settled out here amidst the beauty and marvel of the lands. They were the first family to ever call this place home, as best anyone can tell. Because of the secluded nature of the area, it was a popular piece of land for those opposing the British to seek shelter and plan their next move.
One night, British soldiers were in the area chasing after an escaped American patriot who had caused quite a ruckus. The soldiers found the home of the Carroll family, and were convinced that the patriot must be seeking refuge inside. They stormed the front door and questioned the frightened family, but no answer they could give was deemed acceptable to the soldiers. The Carroll’s were accused of harboring a fugitive, and told that they would face certain death if they continued to defy the crown. Just then, a pale child with curly red hair made her way down the staircase, with her favorite doll clutched by its arm in her right hand. Seeing an opportunity, one of the soldiers grabbed the child violently and demanded that they give up the fugitive, or the child would suffer as punishment. The Carroll’s pleaded with the soldiers, and maintained that they knew nothing of a fugitive. They were just ordinary farmers living a quiet life out in the woods.
Angered and frustrated, the soldiers finally lost their patience, and bound the family at the wrists. They marched them through the woods and to a clearing where they spotted the cliffs. They forced the man and his wife to their knees and told them they had just one last chance to surrender the fugitive. Sobbing uncontrollably, and still without an answer, they could only plead for the mercy of the British soldiers. In a fit of rage, one of the soldiers grabbed the little girl and lifted her up on to his shoulder. He then walked over to the edge, and dropped the petrified girl over the waterfall to her death.
Stricken with immense sadness and rage, the man got to his feet and charged at the soldier in front of him. With two shots from his pistol, the other soldier downed the man before he could reach his target. The two men then cut the woman loose and instructed her that she was to live, and tell the story of what happens to those who oppose Britain. The woman wrote down her horrific story in a journal and left it out on a table in the front room of her home before taking her own life with a blade from the kitchen. In the journal, she mentioned wanting to find the afterlife so that she might seek the forgiveness of her darling Ashley.
When discovered by colonists looking to establish a township years later after the war had ended, the settlers decided to name their new home Ashley Falls to honor the memory of the poor child spoken of in the sad tale left behind. The Carroll’s home, now treated as a historical monument by the town’s leaders, still stands to this day. People are allowed to visit it and pay their respects, but are not permitted inside. It has sat there uninhabited for over a hundred and fifty years, and has become fodder for many generations of local ghost stories. I still remember my grandfather spinning yarns when I was a child that scared me half to death!
Life in Ashley Falls was pretty quiet most of the time. It might have even been considered dull by some standards, but it was a tightly knit community of mostly honest people just doing their best to get by. It was a small town where everyone knew everyone else, which wasn’t all that hard to do with a population of roughly 4,200 people. It wasn’t the kind of place that people from the outside desired to move into, and the people who were already there rarely had any interest in moving out.
There’s an inside joke about Ashley Falls that goes something like “stick around long enough, and you’re bound to have something named after you.” Well, it’s probably not all that funny of a joke, but I suppose that depends on your familiarity with Ashley Falls. Most everything here is named after one family or another. Either our town does it in an effort to pay respect to the families that made our community great, or they’re just severely lacking in creativity.
Most of the families that live there have been there for several generations. Around these parts, most families are either farmers or shop owners. Visitors from the city come to stock up on fresh produce, or to purchase quality hand-made goods from the shops, and then they’re gone just as quickly as they came. It’s the life and survival of a small town, and we embrace it. People from here don’t dream of growing up and becoming politicians or lawyers. Especially not since the war ended. People dream of preserving Ashley Falls exactly how it is, and living in a community of people that are just as much a family as their own parents.
The legend of the haunted Carroll home became a staple of our little community. Parents used those stories to scare their misbehaving children, and the school kids would then use those stories at sleepovers and play tricks on the first person to fall asleep. The story has changed many times over the years, but I remember the version from when I was a child.
My grandfather said that Lady Carroll would walk through the town at the stroke of midnight every night looking for her darling Ashley. She would peek into the windows of every child’s bedroom and take the ones that were awake instead of sleeping like they were supposed to. There was a two year period in my youth where I was starting to go to bed at around eight o’clock to insure that I would be fast asleep long before midnight came around. My parents always loved to tell that story whenever I started hanging around with new friends, or God forbid a girlfriend. It was all in good fun, but everyone understood the seriousness of the source material.
My mother once thought that I was going to move to the city one day and become a famous writer or some nonsense like that. I will always remember the day that she referred to me as a genius while talking to some of her friends. She loved it when I would bring home my written stories from school because she thought they were so creative. She’d ask to read them right away, and when she was done, she’d pin them up on the kitchen wall so that she could read them again while preparing supper. I never did envision myself as a writer, though I did win an award in school once for my report on Ashley Carroll, but I’m not trying to boast.
Years later, after my folks had passed, I pretty much gave up on writing all together, but I never forgot what they had taught me about finding my own way in this life. I owed them that. It wasn’t long afterwards that I took up an interest in law enforcement, which then eventually led to me opening up shop downtown. The day that I officially had opened my very own practice was the proudest day of my life. It was quite the accomplishment for me back then, and to think about it now reminds me of a very happy time of my life.
Working downtown took a lot of getting used to for me. Since I essentially grew up on the mill, I didn’t have many occasions to go downtown as a child. Once in a while, dad would let me go to the bank with him, or mom would take me shopping for new school clothes when I grew out of the old ones, but we pretty much kept to our side of town. I remember how much smaller the downtown area was when I was a child. Our little town has done some growing over the years.
Ashley Falls certainly isn’t the type of life for everyone, but I’d say that most of its people are very happy. From time to time, you’d hear rumblings from people that didn’t quite see things that way, and would convince themselves that there was a better life waiting for them in the city. One such person comes to mind, as a matter of fact. Coincidentally enough, it’s the very person whose story started a chain reaction of events that came to an end with the discovery of her recorded message.