GUEST POST and GIVEAWAY
End of the Road
by L. S. Hawker
End of the Road by L. S. Hawker is currently on tour with Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. The tour stops here today for a guest post by the author, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.
Great minds can change the world
or leave it in ruins ...
or leave it in ruins ...
When tech prodigy Jade Veverka creates a program to communicate with her autistic sister, she’s tapped by a startup to explore the potential applications of her technology. But Jade quickly begins to notice some strange things about the small Kansas town just beyond the company’s campus - why are there no children anywhere to be seen, and for that matter, anyone over the age of forty? Why do all of the people living here act uncomfortable and jumpy?
On the way home one night, Jade and her co-worker are run off the road, and their lab and living spaces are suddenly overrun with armed guards, purportedly for their safety. Confined to the compound and questioning what her employers might be hiding from her, Jade fears she’s losing control not only of her invention, but of her very life. It soon becomes clear that the threat reaches far beyond Jade and her family, and the real danger is much closer than she’d ever imagined.
Jade Veverka unwrapped the frozen bomb pop she’d bought from the gas station on the corner of Main and 3rd and took a bite. She sat gazing at the pile of magazines on the barbershop coffee table while a rhythmic alarm-clock buzz went off in her head. Not an urgent warning, just buzz buzz buzz.
Her friend and coworker Elias Palomo sat in the barber chair, getting his customary fade crew cut, the same one he’d presumably sported since his plebe days at the Naval Academy. So the background to her mental alarm clock was an actual buzzing from the electric razor punctuated now by a sharp yip of pain from Elias.
“Sorry about that,” the barber said.
Elias rubbed his ear, and Jade attempted to keep her face neutral, looking at his scowl in the mirror.
Buzz buzz buzz.
She leaned forward and fanned the magazines—Popular Mechanics, Sports Illustrated, ESPN—all this month’s issues. Jade took another bite of bomb pop and grinned.
“What are you smiling at?” Elias grumbled, rubbing his nicked ear.
“I don’t know how to tell you this,” Jade said, “but you are not the center of my universe. I do occasionally react to things outside of you. I know it comes as a shock.”
“Shut up,” he said, his dark eyes flashing.
Jade stared now in fascination as the razor tracked upwards on Elias’s skull, his glossy black hair—or what was left of it—uneven, his scalp an angry pink. This guy was the worst hair dresser Jade had ever seen. And the least talkative. In her experience, growing up in rural Ephesus, Kansas, barbers had always fit the stereotype—gregarious and gossipy.
Elias was the shop’s lone customer, and only a few folks walked by outside the window, through which Jade could see the hardware store and the occasional slow passing car.
Buzz buzz buzz.
It struck Jade now that this was less a barbershop than what amounted to a barbershop museum, complete with an actor playing the part of the barber. She wanted to point this out to Elias, but it would mean nothing to him. He’d grown up in Reno, Nevada, a vast metropolis compared to Jade’s 1200-population hometown an hour southeast of this one, which was called Miranda, Kansas.
Not only was this man not a barber, he wasn’t a Kansan either, Jade would have bet money.
“Hey,” she said to him. “What’s your name?”
The man went on butchering as if she hadn’t spoken. Elias’s eyes met Jade’s in the mirror, and his dark thick brows met on either side of a vertical crease, his WTF? wrinkle. He leaned his head away from the razor, finally making the barber pay attention.
“The lady asked you a question,” Elias said.
Jade had to hold in a guffaw. This never failed to tickle her, him referring to her as a lady. No one other than him had ever done that before. Plus she loved the authoritative rumble of his voice, a trait he’d probably developed at Annapolis.
The barber froze, his eyes locked with Elias’s. Weird.
“Need a prompt?” Elias said. “Your name.”
The man cleared his throat.
“Is it classified?”
Jade did guffaw this time, and she watched the barber’s jaw muscles compress as she clapped a hand over her mouth.
“My name’s Richard.”
“Hello, Richard, I’m Elias. This is Jade. We work out at SiPraTech.”
Jade could see from Richard’s face he knew very well where they worked. He nodded and got back to destroying the remains of Elias’s hair.
“Whereabouts you from, Richard?” Jade said.
He pulled the razor away from Elias’s head and blinked at her.
What in the world was this guy’s problem?
Buzz buzz buzz.
Elias emitted a loud sigh, clearly exasperated by the guy’s reticence, and waved a hand as if to say, “Carry on, barber-not-barber.”
Jade laughed again.
“Here,” Richard mumbled. “I’m from here.”
Like hell. What was he, in the witness protection program or something?
And then it hit her. The magazines, every last one of them, was a current issue. In a barbershop. The place where back issues of magazines go to die.
She’d worked for SiPraTech just over three months now, and Miranda, the closest town, had always given her an itch. Something about it was slightly off, but she couldn’t say what. She’d brought it up to her team members—Elias, Berko Deloatch, and Olivia Harman, and each of them had looked at her like she was schitzy. They all came from big cities, so Miranda struck them as weird in general.
Buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz.
As if drawn by static electricity, her eyes tracked to the window where a man in mirrored shades peered into the barbershop. The man had a dark mustache and wore a blue baseball cap pulled low over the sunglasses.
What was he staring at? She glanced behind her, but there was nothing to see but a white wall. When she turned back, the man mouthed something at her, his exaggerated soundless enunciation wringing a sharp intake of breath from her.
“What?” Elias said in response to her gasp.
Was it her imagination, or did this man she’d never seen before say her name?
She looked at Elias, and said, “There’s a man out there—”
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]
Praise for the Book
"Ms. Hawker has done it again! Another fascinating tale told with many twists and turns. Her grasp of modern day technology, film, pop culture, and the human psyche is unnerving. End of the Road will take you on a startling journey through some of the scariest realities we face in 2017 as well as giving you insight into the world of autism and its effects on the family system. If you enjoy a thriller with true depth, or if you are in anyway a part of or involved with 'nerd culture'. this book will be a real treat for you. But even if you don't know every scene from Star Trek or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you will still enjoy the depth of the story and the development of the characters. In all three of her novels, Hawker has proven herself to be a great architect of perfectly timed twists and turns so that the reader closes the last page feeling like they just rode one of the greatest American coasters - a bit winded, heart pounding, but thrilled by the ride and ready to go again and again. The beginning of the tale is like being pulled up the first big hill of a coaster, link by link, knowing that a big drop is coming, full of anticipation, not really knowing when you will go over the top and be caught up in the thrilling speed of the fall. And then you are off and you better clear your day because you won't be able to get off the ride until you pull into the station. I truly can't wait to see what this author will bring to us next." ~ Nicole L Heisler
"Another single-sitting read from L.S. Hawker. With a diverse and unique take on the potential apocalyptic genre, L.S. Hawker kept my on the edge of my seat with every word. Featuring diverse characters, not to mention the in depth view and understanding of Autism portrayed through Clementine, this book was structured to leave the reader unsure of what was coming next. I particularly enjoyed the peppering of pop culture references, (especially about Dean's baby, being a Supernatural fan myself) that made this book a fantastic read for all age groups and backgrounds. I simply could not put this (digital) book down. Kudos!" ~ Parker Heisler
Guest Post by the Author
A Thriller Writer’s Worst Nightmare
As a thriller writer and reader, I'm well acquainted with the trope of kids abusing their disabled peers, as in Stephen King's Carrie. My latest release, End of the Road, features an autistic character named Clementine who's been the victim of this phenomenon. In the novel, her father tells of the time some kids in a park tormented the then three-year-old Clementine. But her sister Jade, the novel's protagonist, came to her rescue and made them stop in shocking and spectacular fashion.
So typical of kids, right? Casual cruelty toward anyone who's different. I know this all too well because my youngest daughter Layla is autistic , and our family has lived this nightmare her whole life.
As a fiction writer, I've spent my life observing people and trying to understand them. But watching my daughter's interactions has shown me things about human nature I wish I didn't know. Layla’s high-functioning autism wasn’t diagnosed until she was almost 14. By then, we despaired of her ever living an independent, fulfilling life. Layla's had to deal with more cruelty in her 17 years than most of us will in a lifetime.
Surprisingly, not the cruelty of children.
It wasn't fifteen kindergartners who decided not to go to Layla's fifth birthday party, leaving our little girl staring at the door, waiting in vain for someone, anyone, to arrive.
It wasn't a child who believed Layla "just liked to hurt people" or who said, right in front of Layla, "When someone told me she was Chloe's sister, I didn’t believe them! Chloe’s so bright and talented!"
It wasn't a classmate who disregarded the instructions for Layla’s abbreviated assignments and flunked her because she "refused" to complete the same level of work as the neuro-typical students.
No. It is the casual, entitled cruelty of adults that has made Layla's existence so painful.
When we finally received the autism diagnosis, our relief was enormous. We knew that now adults would be more compassionate, patient, kind. Except they weren't. Because deep down, they clung to the belief that high-functioning autism is a behavioral problem that should be punished and not a neurological disorder.
It's easier to assign a kid's strange behavior and difficulty in school to bad parenting, because then it’s not your responsibility. Parents may have told themselves they were "protecting" their kids, but the truth is Layla embarrassed them, made them uncomfortable, inconvenienced them.
But even deeper, as parents, we don't like to be reminded that the hand of fate can just reach down and turn our kid's brain into her worst enemy, that makes her scream for hours after a loud thunderclap, and forces her to obsessively fear vomiting to the point of starvation and near death, wasting away to a skeletal 67 pounds and developing an irregular heartbeat before we find an effective medication.
When I urged my daughter Layla to write a paper for her high school psychology class regarding her bout with emetophobia (the irrational fear of vomiting), I told her maybe her teacher would learn something new.
But what I thought was, Maybe now Ms. B will finally believe my daughter isn't "faking it" to get special treatment. Maybe she'll finally see that Layla's problem is real.
What Ms. B sees is a kid who doesn't try very hard, who doesn't care about school or the social contract or the feelings of her fragile teacher. What Ms. B doesn't see is Layla's desperate daily efforts to maneuver this confusing, chaotic world. To belong.
Friends have told me for years I should write about our family's challenges, to help people understand what autistic people go through. But writing about them meant reliving them, and we'd barely survived the first time around. Instead, I poured all my grief, frustration, and rage into a thriller called The Drowning Game (HarperCollins Witness Impulse, September 2015).
When I first shared a chapter, a friend commented, "Your main character is really interesting, really unique. She seems - what’s the word? Autistic?"
Unknowingly, I'd fashioned a character who mirrors Layla's autism, and it eventually gave me the courage to write a truly autistic character, who turned out to be Clementine.
Clementine is on a more severe part of the autism spectrum than my daughter, but she encounters many of the same problems Layla does. Like Layla, Clementine often battles against the ignorance and self-involvement of others. And like Layla, she receives Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), a therapy that helps autistic people learn to navigate and connect to the world.
It was painful writing Clementine, but it also reminded me of the gifts Layla has given to our family, to the world, and to me personally - patience, faith, and a wider perspective on the world, to name a few. But the fact remains that Layla, like Clementine, suffered at the hands of "adults".
Have all the adults in Layla's life been cruel? Of course not. But too many of them have, and most kids on the autism spectrum suffer the same kind of nonchalant abuse. The fact that their neurological disorder makes others' lives difficult is beyond their control. We are the adults, and they are children. We need to protect and nurture them. Kids like Layla and Clementine are not evil. They're not throwaways or obstacles. Like the rest of us, they're just doing the best they can.
About the Author
L. S. Hawker grew up in suburban Denver, indulging her worrisome obsession with true-crime books, and writing stories about anthropomorphic fruit and juvenile delinquents. She wrote her first novel at 14.
Armed with a B.S. in journalism from the University of Kansas, she had a radio show called "People Are So Stupid", edited a trade magazine and worked as a traveling Kmart portrait photographer, but never lost her passion for fiction writing.
She’s got a hilarious, supportive husband, two brilliant daughters and a massive music collection. She lives in Colorado but considers Kansas her spiritual homeland. She is the author of The Drowning Game, a USA Today Bestseller, and Body and Bone.
Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of three ebook copies of End of the Road by L. S. Hawker (US only).