Please welcome TJ Klune and
Withered + Sere
with an exclusive excerpt and a first look at the amazing graphic art within!!
Once upon a time, humanity could no longer contain the rage that swelled within, and the world ended in a wave of fire.
One hundred years later, in the wasteland formerly known as America, a broken man who goes only by the name of Cavalo survives. Purposefully cutting himself off from what remains of civilization, Cavalo resides in the crumbling ruins of the North Idaho Correctional Institution. A mutt called Bad Dog and a robot on the verge of insanity comprise his only companions. Cavalo himself is deteriorating, his memories rising like ghosts and haunting the prison cells.
It’s not until he makes the dangerous choice of crossing into the irradiated Deadlands that Cavalo comes into contact with a mute psychopath, one who belongs to the murderous group of people known as the Dead Rabbits. Taking the man prisoner, Cavalo is forced not only to face the horrors of his past, but the ramifications of the choices made for his stark present. And it is in the prisoner that he will find a possible future where redemption is but a glimmer that darkly shines.
The world has died.
This is the story of its remains.
When I finished Withered + Sere (and its sequel, Crisped + Sere) after two years of work, I was exhausted, ecstatic, annoyed (the book(s) took forever.) and thrilled that the story ended just like I had planned it too, which is not something that always happens. To give you fixed points for just how long this book took me, I started it before I started The Art of Breathing and finished it after I’d written How to Be a Normal Person.
I knew I’d written something completely different than my other works. It had my largest cast of characters, the biggest world, and, in my opinion (obviously), some of the best writing I’ve done.
But it wasn’t enough.
The book was different than my usual offerings, yes, but I wanted more.
So I got to thinking.
What could make this book more? What is something rarely done in this genre?
What if I could make this book a graphic novel?
But I discounted that almost immediately. A graphic novel is essentially a long comic book, and I had over 200K words in front of me. This was a novel (two novels, as it turned out), and I couldn’t see condensing that into a comic book.
Even as I threw out that idea, it still stuck with me.
I was looking through my old Facebook photos when I came across some postings from 2012 and 2013 where a young artist named Blake Dorner had drawn some fan art for my novel Burn. They were beautifully done, and touched me as much then as when I first received the drawings years before. There was a talent there that I could never understand (as people who read my illustrated BOATK Christmas stories could probably attest to).
So, on a whim, I reached out to Blake and asked if he wanted to be part of a new project I was working on.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Withered + Sere has 10 black and white illustrations that are above and beyond anything I could have asked for. The next two blog stops after this one, you’ll get to meet Blake and learn more about how he came up with the art for Withered + Sere.
But first, I wanted to show you just how truly talented he is. Below, you’ll find an excerpt from near the beginning of W+S, where our anti-hero, Cavalo, is finds himself in the irradiated Deadlands, coming across a man who will alter the shape of things to come. This is the first illustration in the book, and it gives you a look at the main characters from Withered + Sere. Enjoy!
The forest was dark. The birds had quieted. Nothing moved.
He stood upright. Took a step. And then another. And then another.
He didn’t even hear the footsteps behind him. Didn’t sense anyone approaching. At first there was nothing, and then a large, heavy blade was at his throat, the heat of a body pressing up against him from behind. Cavalo glanced down and saw a thin, bony hand holding the knife steady. He could feel the breath through his pulled-back hair. The reach and the breath meant the man was shorter, but not by much. Another hand appeared from his left and tapped the gun once, twice, then motioned for Cavalo to hand it over.
Seconds passed. No words said. The blade pressed against his skin and there was a brief sting, but Cavalo was beyond it. His vision had tunneled down to tiny points. His skin felt heated. His head pounded. His hands gripped the rifle so tightly he thought either metal or bone would break. For the first time in a very long time, Cavalo was angry.
Not the underlying anger he typically felt at life’s injustices. At that swarm of bees that buzzed angrily in the back of his mind, whispering things like It’s your fault they’re gone and daddy, daddy, daddy. That was always there, and there were times the man thought it always would be.
No, this anger was different. It was blinding. White hot. It was fury. Not at the person behind him, not completely, but more at himself that he allowed this to happen. That he had allowed himself to get caught. Getting old, he thought. Getting too old for this shit.
But there was no way he was going to die in this dead forest on the wrong side of the divide, so close to the Deadlands. He wouldn’t let it happen.
The knife pressed harder into his skin. The other hand tapped on the rifle again, turned over, fingers motioned. Hand it over, those fingers said. Do it now, the hand holding the knife said. Do it now before I cut your throat.
Yeah, Cavalo thought, watching as the fingers raised to tap the rifle again. Now. Now.
Almost quicker than the eye could follow, Cavalo brought the butt of the rifle down and back, past his left side. He felt it connect with something solid, and there was a rush of air near his ear, a heavy exhalation. Without stopping he brought the rifle back up, close to his body, thrusting his arms up. He felt a head press against the back of his shoulder as the person behind him gasped for air. The sight of the rifle scraped against the side of Cavalo’s face, tearing the skin, but he felt nothing. All that mattered was the barrel of the rifle was now between his face and the hand with the knife. With all the force he could muster, he brought the barrel down against the forearm around his neck. The hand was knocked away, the knife dangerously close to cutting his throat open before the blade left his skin.
Cavalo stepped forward, flipping the rifle in the air, grabbing the barrel as he spun in a circle, swinging the butt of the rifle out in a wide arc. It struck out through empty air. The force of his swing kept his body spinning and as he turned, Cavalo saw a flash of silver and jerked his head back in time to avoid the blade, more machete than knife.
Before he could correct himself, a foot lashed out, and the rifle was knocked from his hands, landing in the shadows. The machete pointed at his throat, inches away. Cavalo’s eyes followed the blade, flat and pockmarked with rust. It was held by a hand wrapped in black material, fingers exposed. The hand led to an arm, the skin covered in the sleeve of an old jacket. The arm was connected to a lithe body, all in black, intersected with red wraps around the waist and thighs. A black band around the bicep. Around the eyes were smudges of what looked like charcoal, thick and cracked, creating a mask.
Those eyes glittered in the dark. Beyond them lay the thicket.
Cavalo was furious. His voice was calm. “You got me,” he said. He raised his hands slowly in the air.
The man opposite him (though man felt too strong a word; even in the dark, Cavalo thought him nothing but a boy) said nothing. The blade did not move.
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About the author:
When TJ Klune was eight, he picked up a pen and paper and began to write his first story (which turned out to be his own sweeping epic version of the video game Super Metroid—he didn’t think the game ended very well and wanted to offer his own take on it. He never heard back from the video game company, much to his chagrin). Now, over two decades later, the cast of characters in his head have only gotten louder. But that’s okay, because he’s recently become a full-time writer, and can give them the time they deserve.
Since being published, TJ has won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Romance, fought off three lions that threatened to attack him and his village, and was chosen by Amazon as having written one of the best GLBT books of 2011.
And one of those things isn’t true.
(It’s the lion thing. The lion thing isn’t true.)
Withered + Sere Blog Tour:
April 12 - MM Good Book Reviews
April 13 - My Fiction Nook
April 18 - Just Love Romance
April 19 - Divine Magazine
April 19 - Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words
April 19 - The Novel Approach
April 20 - Kimi-chan Experience
April 21 - It's About the Book
April 21 - Love Bytes
April 22 - Prism Book Alliance
Promotional post. Materials provided by the author.