Exclusive Interview with David M. Mannes
Today, we're doing something a little different. This is our 17th guest author interview on the Marie Lavender's Books! blog, and fellow author Susan Lynn Solomon is visiting us.
Hi. Thank you for letting me visit.
My pleasure! :)
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book? When did it come out and where can we get it?
I’ve actually had two books come out in the past six months. The first was in August. The Reptilian Encounter is an action-adventure sci-fi novel.
The second novel, a western, Scarlet Justice, was released in November. Both are the first in their projected series. They are available from Amazon and Barnes& Noble, and locally at Audrey’s Books in Edmonton, Alberta.
So, did anything prompt these books? Something that inspired you?
The Reptilian Encounter is actually the third book of a trilogy (the first two books, The Roanoke Invasion and Reptilian World, are available on Amazon Kindle), but it’s also a spin-off in the first of a continuing series featuring Damian Wynter, an agent for the clandestine Majic-12. The inspiration for this current book came from a 1909 newspaper article in the Arizona Gazette, mixed in with some UFO urban legends.
Scarlet Justice started out as a screenplay that I converted into a novella after not finding backing for the movie. I enjoyed the characters so much I went on to write three more novellas that have been divided into two books. I got the idea for the screenplay while doing research on a documentary for Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park that I was writing and producing.
I’ve been writing since I was in upper elementary school. I took creative writing classes in Jr. and Sr. High. I’ve worked as an educational writer and scriptwriter. I started writing my first novel in high school which I used parts of in my upcoming humorous literary novel, The Cantor’s Son.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I have an overactive imagination.
Well, I can certainly relate to that! ;)
Do you have any favorite authors?
Lots. Robert B. Parker, Robert Crais, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Ian Fleming, John Le Carre’, to name a few. I have a voracious appetite for books.
Since I do have a part-time (LOL) day job, I usually write afternoons down in my Batcave (my basement home office). Sometimes on weekends. Often I’m working on more than one book or story at a time.
If writing is a constant compulsion, go with the flow. The most important words you can ask is “What if…”
They say write what you know, but then you can research anything. So don’t limit yourself. Use your interests and curiosity to find stories to write about.
David Johnson wiped the stinging sweat from his eyes and replaced his dust-streaked spectacles. He looked up the canyon walls at the towering, jagged cliffs that made him feel miniscule and insignificant. A smile stretched across his face as he saw a hawk soar above the canyon walls. His arms and back ached from rowing. Though he had looked forward to the expedition, David hadn’t realized how arduous the journey was. They had left Washington by train arriving in Flagstaff. From there, they rode on horseback to Lees Ferry to get onto the Colorado River. They secured a boat from the reserve Navaho Indian agent and been traveling downriver for the past two days..
The river pushed the heavily laden boat along. George Kincaid sat in the stern steering, while Professor Jordan sat in the bow. Jordan, a representative of the Smithsonian, had spent some time working for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago before gaining the prestigious opportunity, through some contacts of his father's, to obtain a position at the Smithsonian. It had been a number of years, though, since he'd last been in the field. When he'd been assigned to investigate Kincaid's reports, he had done so enthusiastically. But looking at the beautiful yet harsh landscape, Jordan wondered if perhaps he'd gotten a bit too old.
“Are we getting close?” asked Jordan, wiping his hand across his brow.
“Soon.” Kincaid’s gray eyes scanned the towering cliffs for the telltale sedimentary streaks in the rock face, the visual clue he needed. The cavern was approximately forty-two miles upriver from El Tovar Crystal Canyon. During his initial journey that had started from Green River, Wyoming, Kincaid had boated down the Green and then onto the Colorado River, looking for possible mineral deposits, gold or silver. It was a fluke that he had discovered what he had. As he was coming down the canyon the previous summer, he had noticed some unusual rock strata and stopped to investigate. Kincaid found a small opening on the lip of an outcrop of rock some 2000 feet above the floor of the canyon. There was a narrow deer trail leading part way up, but the rest was a terrifying climb. He had kept those details from Jordan for now, but he knew the scientist would not be deterred. Like him, he was a man possessed, with an active, ingenious mind.
George Ethan Kincaid’s wandering path as a hunter, trapper, guide, prospector, self-taught geologist and archaeologist made him useful to many scientists who combed the west in search of discovery and knowledge. Exploration, that wanting to know what was around the next corner, possessed Kincaid like a demon at times. Forever restless in search of adventure and knowledge, he traveled extensively. Kincaid had grown up in the northwest, where his immigrant father worked for the railroad, then turned to prospecting in the northern California goldfields, abandoning the family for a short time until he returned, broke. Kincaid’s mother worked in a laundry to support the family, and his two older brothers, as soon as they were able, worked in lumber camps and mines to help the family survive. School was sporadic, but George was an avid reader, borrowing books from wherever he could. What had been denied in formal education hadn’t slowed George down at all. He’d helped several previous Smithsonian expeditions and this one promised to be the mother lode, the discovery that would put him in the history books and ensure enough funds to continue his personal studies.
The boat continued its journey as the sun faded, drawing deep shadows mixed with golden streaks across the tops of the steep river canyon system. And there it was, the light hitting the rock wall just right. Kincaid saw the multi-colored streaks.
“Make for shore,” he yelled as he guided the boat across the current to the opposite shore. Johnson and Jordan paddled until they thought their muscles would seize. Sweat streamed down their red faces in rivulets, staining their already soaked collars.
“That small rock shelf up there,” nodded Kincaid, “is where the entrance is.”
Jordan looked up, barely able to focus through his streaked spectacle lenses. “It looks a rather harrowing climb.”
“That’s why I insisted we needed all those ropes. There’s a narrow trail leading part way up, then we must scale the cliffs like mountain goats,” said Kincaid. He felt the boat scrape bottom and jumped out, pushing the boat onto the stony, sandy beach.
Johnson rolled out and grabbing a lead rope, pulled.
“We’re here.” Kincaid grinned as he trudged ashore, water oozing off his sodden pants and high black boots. The sand and shale crunched underfoot. “We’ll make camp here and climb tomorrow.”
Professor Jordan nodded in agreement and started handing a backpack to Johnson.
Kincaid turned to David. “Maybe you could scare up some firewood. There’s some shrubs and driftwood around. Professor Jordan and I can unload the supplies and set up camp.” Kincaid bent over and started lifting a small crate from the boat bottom. He was a spare tall man with wiry muscles.
“Okay, Mr. Kincaid.” Johnson looked uncertainly around at the bits of scrubby brush poking out from the stony beach. A few broken bits of weathered gray driftwood lay further down.
Wisps of gray smoke rose from the crackling campfire as the three men sat around it. Two large tents had been erected on a narrow, stony beach surrounded by boulders and chunks of fallen rocks. Stunted trees and shrubs poked through the fine dusty soil. Above them, bright stars like flickering torchlight beckoned in the black sky. Dark contrasting outlines of the cliffs made them feel as if they were in a land of giants. They could hear the water lap the shore. There was a sense of timelessness in this place, and silently they wondered what stories they'd uncover tomorrow.
The smell of coffee drifted in the wind and wafted into the tent. David Johnson rolled over and fell off his cot. Sunlight streamed in through the crack in the tent cover.
“Rise and shine,” boomed Kincaid. “There's work to be done.” David listened to Kincaid's retreating footsteps and picked himself up off the ground.
Kincaid walked over to Jordan. “I think the best thing for us to do is for the two of us to go up to the cavern. At the top, I'll attach a pulley with one of the ropes and we can lower it down, and David can tie up the supplies we need. Once we get it scoped out and the supplies are up, David can join us.”
David came out of the tent, gazed up at the towering wall and shuddered.
“Sounds good to me.” Jordan tapped his pipe out and set it down on a rock. He stood up and placed his Stetson over his thinning brown hair. “Let's get started.”
Two hours later, they sat on a narrow ledge at the end of the deer trail, sharing water out of a canteen. Sweat had soaked their shirts and they were breathing heavily, Jordan more than Kincaid.
“We've come about nine hundred feet or so. We'll secure ourselves with rope, then I'll pound some pitons into the rock and use to attach the rope. Just follow my lead to the foot and handholds.”
Jordan flexed his short fingers. His leg muscles ached. He’d spent too much time sitting at his desk the past few months, and now he was paying for it. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. The sun was getting higher and warm sunlight was streaming down, washing the colorful red and gold rock into dull gray and brown. Pulling up the canteen that dangled from a strap across his shoulder, he took a long swig. The water was warm, but it made no difference. His throat was parched.
Kincaid climbed cautiously, testing each handhold and foothold, not wanting to break his bones by bouncing down the steep cliff. Periodically he stopped and hammered an iron piton into the rock wall, then secured the rope from the band around his waist. Kincaid’s arms ached by the time he reached the shelf. A fine sweat dripped from his hatband. He sat on the shelf and looked out over the majestic canyon, gouged and carved as if by a giant mad sculptor, and swathed repeatedly by a painter’s brush. Below, Jordan was scrambling cautiously up. The sound of rolling pebbles echoed up the cliff wall.
“Watch your footholds, Albert,” cautioned Kincaid. He edged back and got a firm hold on the rope. He heard a scraping noise and the rope went taut. Kincaid’s muscles bulged and he braced his feet upon a narrow rock sticking up on the shelf and pulled. It was like trying to hoist an anchor of a transatlantic ship. Kincaid swore under his breath. He’d cut Jordan’s portions tonight. His muscles burned. The rope slackened slightly; Jordan must’ve regained his footing. Ten minutes later, the Professor’s scratched and bleeding hands grasped the edge of the shelf. Kincaid came forward and grasped the wrists. He pulled the scientist towards him. Jordan lay prostrate on the hard rock shelf, huffing and puffing shallow breaths like a beached whale. Jordan could feel his heart pounding. His arms and legs ached. Sweat poured off him in meandering streams. His shirt was stained, as damp as if he'd been walking in a summer rainstorm. He flexed his fingers. They were stiff and sore. He’d had a close call when he’d lost his foothold, dangling like a caught trout above bone-breaking, jagged rocks. It’d been quite a while since he’d done any serious fieldwork, and he was seriously out of shape.
Kincaid handed him a silver flask. “Have a swig of this. It’ll revive you.”
Jordan took the flask, uncapped it and took a deep swig. He choked as it burned his throat and he felt the fire pour down to his belly. “Thanks,” he wheezed.
“Rest up a bit. We’re here.”
Jordan peered up at the dark cave entrance. The shelf was wider than it appeared from the river valley; it was some twenty feet in width. A short series of carved stairs led to the cavern entrance.
“As you can tell by the water marks,” pointed Kincaid to some lighter strata below them, “at one point, the river was quite deep.”
Jordan noted the marks. “I believe it was several hundred thousand years ago when water had almost fully filled this canyon.” He picked himself up and brushed himself off. He could feel the adrenaline rushing through his veins. Energized, he hobbled to the entrance. Kincaid, smiling, followed him. Before entering the cave, Kincaid stopped and removed a carbide lantern from his pack. He lit it, and together the two men entered.
They walked in silence through air that was cool and refreshing. Several hundred feet later, the tunnel widened, the walls slanting back at an angle of about 35 degrees. On tiers of hewn stone shelves were a number of wrapped mummies. Near the lower shelf on the right was a stone bench. Copper cups, pieces of broken swords and urns lay scattered on it.
“I call this the crypt.” Kincaid swung the lantern around. On shelves carved out of the rock wall lay several mummies. Shards of pottery were scattered on the floor.
Jordan examined one of the mummies. Some of the mummies were covered with clay, but all were wrapped in a bark fabric. He touched the wrapping. “This is extraordinary!”
“This looks like it was some sort of barracks for warriors. They obviously guarded the entrance.”
“And so when they died, they were honored by being interred here,” surmised Jordan.
“I don’t know what they subsisted on, though,” admitted Kincaid. “I’ve found no bones of animals, no skins, no clothing, no bedding, or dried waste material. Most of the rooms are bare but for water vessels. One room, about 40 by 70 feet, looks like a dining hall. I found some cooking pots and cutlery of sorts there; but there’s no sign of bones or food remains. Given that the river would’ve been considerably higher, perhaps they just dumped their waste there.”
“That is most puzzling.”
“Nor have I found any evidence that they grew crops,” said Kincaid.
“Perhaps others brought them food and supplies,” theorized Jordan.
“That still doesn’t account for the absence of waste material; though I suppose they could’ve they burned it.”
“It seems too, that they were separated for some reason from the rest of the population. A plague? Some sort of religious taboo?”
“Who knows? We shall see what we can discover as we explore this cavern.” Kincaid tapped Jordan on the shoulder. “There’s more, come. I’ll give you a quick tour, then we can set about exploring in some orderly fashion.”
Kincaid led Jordan further down the tunnel. The passageway started out at about twelve feet in width, then narrowed to around nine feet, but still wide enough so that they could walk abreast. As they proceeded further, Jordan saw branched side passages leading off on both sides. The rounded doorways led to what Jordan considered rather large rooms. They entered one, which was empty, and Jordan estimated it to be around thirty by forty feet square.
“The rooms are ventilated by round air spaces. I measured the walls between them. They’re about three to six feet in thickness. The passages have a chiseled look to them.”
“ Agreed. The stonework is amazing, very straight.”
“Yes, incredible engineering,” agreed Kincaid.
The two explorers walked on, their clicking footsteps echoing softly. Elongated shadows of the men spread weird designs on the wall under the flickering light.
“And now we come to the most amazing sight,” said Kincaid. He shined his lamp on the doorway. Jordan blinked, looked around, then gasped.
The room they were in was several hundred feet long. Against the far end of the wall was a huge golden statue. The statue was of a humanoid figure sitting crossed-legged on a table. A pointed hat sat upon the strangely oriental-looking face. A representation of flames sprouted out from behind it. Coming closer, Jordan noticed a series of hieroglyphics carved around the base of the table. Two smaller carvings of squat men sat slightly behind the larger idol.
“The idol’s face looks Oriental,” commented Kincaid.
“Yes, it does, in some ways. But that would mean that the Asians traveled to North America long before Columbus. If this is proven true, it will revolutionize history,” said Jordan.
“What do you make of the markings?” asked Kincaid.
Jordan bent down in front of the idol and placed his hands over one of the symbols. He felt the indentations in the cold stone. He peered closely. “I want to make some rubbings, and have a chance to study these. I brought some books with me. I’d like to compare them.” He turned and looked up at Kincaid, who was standing a few feet back, his eyes ablaze as he studied the statue.
“It still amazes me, Albert. I couldn’t believe it when I first discovered it. What do you think it’s made of?”“Polished rock of some sort, maybe marble, though I haven’t seen any marble this color. It’s obviously a deity. It reminds me of Buddha.” A cold chill went down his spine. Suddenly the burst of the discovery froze his very core of being. There was something wrong. He could sense it. Was this all an elaborate hoax? Jordan didn’t think so, for the work involved was too elaborate, but there was some feeling of dark forces, of something not quite right.
Gold Butte, Montana
June 15, 1887
The solitary rider paused on top of a grassy hill. His dark, deep eyes set in a copper tight wind-burned face watched the orange, pink and crimson sunlight of early morning stretch its fingers across the rich prairie grasslands below and part curtains of golden light into the purple shadowed coulees. Cold wet dew glistened brightly under the dawn’s light. Breath steamed from his horse’s nostrils. The horse shivered. Underneath the flat wide brim of his black hat, Joe Manyfeathers let a smile ripple across his stoic face. It was going to be a beautiful day for a robbery.
Though the Indians had known about the gold in the Sweetgrass Hills of northern Montana since the 1860s, they had little use for it; and having no use for the white man, they didn’t see any reason to mention it to the few who crossed their trail. Surveyors working in the Sweetgrass Hills a decade later found traces of gold; but having no experience in mining, and having other more important matters, if one can believe that where gold is concerned, their brief discovery faded from their memories. Finally in the fall of 1884, a group of prospectors, Marion Carey, Fred Derwent, George Walters and John Des Champ, rediscovered the gold. Too late to begin excavation, they wintered in the hills and began prospecting in earnest the following spring. They placer mined along the west gulches high up in the pyramid-shaped middle-butte mountain. A few weeks later, Marion Carey brought in five ounces of gold dust to purchase supplies for himself and his partners. Word spread like a prairie fire. The River Press in Fort Benton published the news of the gold strike on May 27, 1885 and soon, like elsewhere in the state, fortune hunters and prospectors swarmed into the hills like locusts.
The town of Gold Butte, a rowdy, brawling mining camp, was quickly established at the upper base of the mountain. The jail, stable, bank, general store, a saloon and a handful of houses were the only permanent structures. Spreading around the town and over the area were makeshift shacks and tents, dwelling places for the migrant population of miners.
Unfortunately the gold strike also attracted the attention of the United States government, who were quick to point out to those interested parties, and there weren’t any, that the gold was located on part of the Blackfoot reservation. When these minor legal annoyances failed to dissuade the residents, a cavalry troop from Fort Benton was sent in to police the area. In fact they could do little to deter the miners, businessmen and other miscreants who drifted into the area. So, the army with its obsession of discipline and orderliness, established an eight p.m. curfew, and patrols monitored the comings and goings of the town’s inhabitants.
That had been two years ago. Mining was still booming, and the discipline of the cavalry troops broke down to the vices that moved into all prosperous mining camps. Joe Manyfeathers had studied the town for two days. He noted the number of army men, and the infrequency and laxity of their patrols, though most of the time they were busy settling drunken brawls or being part of them. So he decided to stage the robbery in the early hours, when those men awake were tired and less alert, the day after the army payroll had arrived, but had not yet been distributed.
Joe entered the town from a dusty back road and tied his horse in an alleyway beside the bank. He took his saddlebags and slung them over his left shoulder. He peeked around the corner and scanned the deserted main street. Joe Manyfeather’s senses took in the silent sleepy landscape. Everyone was asleep, except for the bank teller whose job it was to prepare the gold shipment for its delivery to the main branch in Fort Benton.
Joe peeked in through a crack in the shaded window. The safe was open, and the clerk, a short stout balding middle-aged man, was straining to move the bags of gold dust as he took inventory of the shipment. Joe slid away from the window and glided to the back door. It was locked. He drew his knife from its sheath that was strapped to his left leg. He drew his revolver, a single-action Smith & Wesson Schofield .45, in his right hand. With his left, he jammed the knife between door and the lock bolt. Using the knife he quickly pried the bolt back and he hit the door with his shoulder.
The door crashed against the wall and the clerk spun around, his eyes rolling in horror at the fearsome buckskin-clad outlaw. Joe held a finger to his lips and waved the clerk against the wall with his revolver.
“Don’t you scream or I’ll cut your tongue out,” hissed Joe. “Lay on the floor, face down.”
The clerk dropped to his knees and lay flat. “Don’t kill me, please,” he pleaded.
“Shut up,” growled Joe.
The clerk shut up.
Joe stepped over the trembling clerk. Re-sheathing his knife, he helped himself to several bags of gold dust from the safe. These he packed into his saddlebags. When the saddlebags were full he stood for a moment and stared wistfully at the loot he couldn’t pack. He thought too for a moment about the army payroll; but he knew that often the money was traceable. Besides, he didn’t need the army after him and their motivation would be less inclined if they got paid in spite of the robbery. Joe then turned his attention to the clerk. The clerk was a witness and could identify him. He thought about the additional charge of murder; but then, if there was no witness, who could say he did the robbery?
Joe knelt over the clerk and put his left knee into his back.
“W-what are you doing? I can’t breathe,” wheezed the clerk.
“What’s yer name?” asked Joe.
“Hiram Gadsby,” whispered the clerk. “Please, you got the gold. I won’t tell nobody.”
“Sorry Hi-ram. It’s just ain’t your day.”
Joe jerked the man’s head back. For three seconds the pitiful liquid brown eyes stared at him. Then Joe’s right hand in a single motion slid his knife from the sheath tied above his boot and slit Hiram’s throat. Joe dropped the clerk’s head as a pool of blood oozed to cover and stain the wooden floor.
Joe rode out of town the same way he had entered—calmly and quietly, until he hit the main road, and then he kicked his horse and took off leaving clouds of dust in his wake.
Town of Lethbridge
Northwest Territories, Canada
June 16, 1887
Constable Alfred Kingsley’s polished black boots echoed softly on the wooden boardwalk. Lights burned in the saloons and cafes as cowboys, newly arrived from some local cattle drives, partook of the limited refreshments and the refined company of the ladies of the evening. Lethbridge had grown up around Fort Hamilton, founded by two Fort Benton men, John Healy and Alfred B. Hamilton, in 1869. Its nickname ‘Fort Whoop-up’ fit the trading post much more accurately back eighteen years ago when it did a lucrative trade in furs for whiskey with the Indians—until the Northwest Mounted Police showed up in 1874. Their setting up a major presence tended to put a damper on the activity.
Kingsley’s pace quickened as he neared one of the local watering holes. It was not thirst that motivated his pace, but his mission.
Kingsley halted at the saloon, opened the door and peeked in. His brown eyes surveyed the scene. Several groups of men huddled around tables playing cards. At one table two young scantily clad ladies were observing the game. A dirty buckskin-clad trapper snoring loudly sat with his chair leaned back near the potbellied stove. Leaning against the bar were several men with glasses in hand. Suddenly a glass broke.
A tall, bear of a man with a shock of black hair and a thick beard and dressed in a brown checked suit, roared, “I ain’t sharin’ space with no drunk breed!” And with that exclamation he picked up the short, silver-haired man dressed in buckskins and wearing a derby, who had been standing next to him, and hurled him down the counter. The ‘breed’ flew off the edge of the counter and shot through the door, whizzing and landing on the boardwalk, and tumbled out into the dusty street.
Kingsley walked over and looked down at the victim. “Nice to see I found you, Charlie.”
Charlie looked up at the scarlet tunic of the constable. He doffed his hat in salute.
“Pardon me, Freddie, but I got some unfinished business with that sonofabitch.” Charlie Buck, scout for the Northwest Mounted Police, picked himself up and dusted off his derby. He carefully set it back on his shoulder length mane of silver locks.
Kingsley put a gloved hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “Sorry, but it’s my business now. This is McGregor’s fourth offense. He’s had his warnings.”
“Aw, you ain’t gonna try to arrest him, are you?”
Suddenly a shadow loomed over them and Kingsley looked up to see the giant who had tossed Charlie out of the saloon. A crowd of men had gathered outside on the boardwalk.
“Arrest who, Mountie?”
“McGregor, you’re under arrest for disturbing the peace.”
“You ain’t serious.” McGregor laughed. It was a deep-barreled laugh, with no hint of humor. “He’s just a breed.”
“He’s a citizen and a police scout. Last week it was that young ranch hand. You can’t bully and beat up everyone who offends you for no reason at all.”
“No shit.” McGregor glanced at Charlie, and back to Kingsley. His right paw curled into a fist. He shot it at Kingsley.
But Kingsley had been watching the man. He ducked and his right fist exploded into McGregor’s stomach. McGregor grunted and swung again. Kingsley sidestepped the blow and McGregor lost his balance and stumbled off the boardwalk and into the dusty street.
McGregor regained his balance and turned. Eyeing Kingsley, he charged. Like a toreador, Kingsley slid to the side. As McGregor passed him, Kingsley brought down his fists in a hammer blow behind McGregor’s left ear. McGregor’s head hit the wall of the saloon and, stunned, he slid to the ground.
Kingsley pulled out his handcuffs and bent over McGregor. He took hold of his left hand. Suddenly McGregor twisted and shoved Kingsley aside. Kingsley lost his balance and crashed through the doorway into the saloon. McGregor regained his legs and leaped off the boardwalk. He ran across the street towards his horse.
Charlie Buck, who’d been casually watching the affair, shook his head at Kingsley, who was picking himself up. He pulled out his gun, an old Colt .45 Peacemaker with a 7 1/2 inch barrel, which he wore butt forward on his left side for cross-drawing, belched loudly and aimed. The gunshot reverberated in the street. Its roar spooked several horses. The bullet reached its mark. McGregor’s boot heel vanished. The big man tripped and fell headfirst into the dust.