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Clink Street Blogival: The Expansion by Christoph Martin

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Clink Street Blogival: The Expansion by Christoph Martin The Expansion by Christoph Martin
Published by Clink Street on May 2, 2017
Genres: Thriller
Pages: 273
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In politics and big business, truth is a matter of opinion.

Straddling the storyworlds of Panama, Washington and London, The Expansion follows British-born geomatic engineer Max Burns, whose revolutionary water-saving system wins him the esteemed position of head engineer for one of the 21st century’s most politically contested megaprojects: the expansion of the Panama Canal.

For Max it is a dream come true: not only is he able to work closely with construction giant and old high-school friend Godfredo Roco in one of the most beautiful tropical environments, but it’s the kind of job Max has been working toward his entire career.

Yet in the arena of global trade and diplomacy, stakes are high, and when a senior official of the Panama Canal Administration is found dead, Max finds himself in the frame for sabotage and murder, and at the centre of a web of political intrigue and betrayal that reaches far beyond the idyllic shores of Central America. The only person Max can trust is his new-found love, Karis Deen, a scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Except Karis herself holds a secret that could not only destroy Max, but could change the entire balance of world power.

The Magic of Collaboration

The Expansion is the first in a series of political thrillers written by a collaborative writing team: Christoph Martin Zollinger and Libby O’Loghlin. Here, Christoph and Libby talk about the collaborative writing process.

Christoph Martin Zollinger

I came up with the idea for The Expansion book while I was in the air, on a flight from Panama to Switzerland, and I knew it was going to need to be a collaborative effort from the beginning, because the scope of the story is huge! It starts in the UK, moves to Switzerland, then to Panama and the US (Washington, D.C.), and amongst all that we have a cast of very colorful characters who carry the story through all the politics and clandestine twists and turns behind the ‘seemingly’ straightforward project: the expansion of the Panama Canal!

One of the best aspects of working as a writing team is that Libby’s and my skills and strengths are very complementary, but we have also had very different life experiences—we’ve both lived and worked in different countries—so we were able to bring a lot of points of view to the process and to the characters.

In 2015, we travelled together to Panama to visit some of the locations that would play a part in the story. That was great, because we then both had impressions of Panama that we could draw on when we were creating scenes. It meant we could also discuss the geography easily. So if, for example, a character had to drive from A to B, we both knew what that looked like and how they’d get there.

We also visited the site of the canal expansion itself, which is breathtakingly huge! And we were able to talk to a range of people in Panama, including the Director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and even some ex-street gang members, who had lived through very violent times on the streets of Panama City, and who now run tours of the Old Town.

For the next book, we have been doing a lot of reading about Russia and the Cold War, and I’m planning a trip to the Arctic … perhaps that will give you an idea of the scope of the next story!

Libby O’Loghlin

Before The Expansion project I hadn’t ever written a collaborative novel before and, from a writing perspective, I found working with Christoph to be a great way to ‘level up’ my writing skills, and to get better at moving consistently forwards. We expect to be working together for some years, so it’s great to have a strong working dynamic as a basis for that.

Apart from being a lot of fun, collaboration is a great process for learning to be able to critically assess the relevance and usefulness of your own ideas—without getting too attached to them. You get really good at ‘killing your darlings’, as the saying goes. Christoph and I always respect each other’s inputs and creative ideas, and we always discuss everything until we’re in agreement about which way it should go, with the bottom line being: Would this character do/say that? And will it move the story forwards?

I’m a big genre reader/watcher (Le Carré, Ludlum, Goldman, etc.), so I love that I’ve had a chance to tackle the political thriller genre. And there’s no denying that having two minds on a story (especially one that has a huge geopolitical scope) opens up whole worlds of ideas and perspectives that I’d never be able to imagine if I were writing on my own. I think that’s really the magic of collaboration.

Read an Excerpt:

This is the moment the protagonist, Max Burns, has secretly longed for, ever since he shared one night of bliss with the beautiful paleontologist Karis Deen, on the night his team won the contract to expand the Panama Canal. Except things don’t go quite as Max had hoped, and we start to see a different side of the usually easy-going Max; that the great prestige that’s associated with his job as the Chief Engineer on the canal expansion project doesn’t make up for the loneliness of the lifestyle.

“Max, I feel like I should apologize to you.”

He shook his head. “No, no, you don’t need to—”

She interrupted him with a short laugh. “Just wait and listen, Dr. Burns!”

“I’m sorry … what do you mean?” He steered the car across the intersection.

“Max, I’m not apologizing about our night together, or about the fact that I haven’t been in touch.” She seemed amused by his confusion. “I’m apologizing because I want to talk about work, and I realize it’s after hours for you.”

“Ah. I see.” Max kept his eyes firmly on the road as the reality sank in: she was more interested in Max-the-engineer than in Max-the-person.

But that had been his experience generally over the past year or so: everyone seemed to want to talk to him because he was the one the media had blithely labelled ‘the expansion’s brainchild’—the expert engineer that everyone called on for comment. He’d almost become the CISCO spokesperson. Wearily, he switched back into work mode.

“So let me guess: you’re back because of the prehistoric feeding grounds. You’re not the boss, but you figure you’re on a first-name basis with the chief engineer, so you want to find out how much we can massage the schedule to allow you to excavate at the site as long as possible. Am I close?” He glanced at her.

Karis nodded. “Good guess. You’re not just a pretty face.”

Suddenly, he felt irritated. It had been a long few weeks where he’d been at loggerheads with Paco over the timeline for the concrete pouring and, frankly, he didn’t think he had it in him to try and decode whether the woman was flirting or not. Mixed messages were tedious at the best of times.

“I’ve negotiated four weeks already,” he said drily, as he came to a stop for a red light. “I can’t give you longer. There are too many stakeholders that can’t be put off at this stage.”

Karis nodded. “I thought you might say that. Oh, well, it was worth a try.”

About Christoph Martin

Christoph Martin is the writing team of Christoph Martin Zollinger and Libby O’Loghlin. Christoph Zollinger is a Swiss entrepreneur whose career spans legal, military, corporate and private enterprise. Christoph graduated with a law degree from the University of Zürich, after which time he went on to live and work in Panama in corporate and private enterprise for more than a decade. In 2012 he returned to Switzerland with his wife and children. He divides his time between his home in Zürich and a tiny Alpine village in Graubünden. Libby O’Loghlin is an Australian novelist and prize-winning short story writer who has a career in narrative media production, including film and television, as well as print and digital publishing. She has lived in the UK, USA and Malaysia, and she now lives with her family in Switzerland.

Clink Street Blogival: Soho Honey by A. W. Rock

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Clink Street Blogival: Soho Honey by A. W. Rock Soho Honey by A.W. Rock
Published by Clink Street Publishing on May 5, 2016
Genres: Thriller
Pages: 356
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This contemporary crime story takes place over three weeks in November and unfolds against the multi-cultural backdrop of Soho, London. Branen had to leave the UK six years before to escape his complex clandestine history and the consequences of a crime that achieved worldwide notoriety. When his daughter is brutally murdered in Soho he believes that he could be the reason. He returns to his old hunting grounds to find the killer. His search brings him into conflict with the British Secret Service and Soho's underworld. He is forced to flee Soho again after a tragic meeting with his ex-wife. His past has caught up with him and the hunter becomes the hunted. Now forty years old Branen wants to stop running and to remove forever the continuing threat to his life. In an effort to get rid of his pursuers he is faced with the prospect that his only chance of survival could lead to his death.

Read a couple excerpts:

#1 Having just returned to Soho Costas has recommended a cheap hotel for Branen to stay in on his first night…

Hotel California had a small entrance in Tisbury Court, a paved alleyway between Wardour and Rupert Street.

The frosted glass door had a red glow behind it; the kind that brothels have. He mentally thanked Costas and tried the door, noticing it swung both ways, he suspected like some of the guests, and making it easier to eject unwanted customers.

The reception area was particularly attractive. On the right-hand side there was a desk, resembling a cheap pulpit. Behind it sat a tabloid newspaper which didn’t reveal its reader.

“I need a room,” he said. The newspaper seemed to be studiously ignoring him. “Have you got a room?”

The newspaper lowered revealing a shabby, unshaven man with a thick neck and the shoulders of a wrestler. Without looking up he pushed the register across the desk and the movement of his paper wafted fumes towards Branen; the man had been drinking and hadn’t been washing.

“How much?”

He examined Branen then looked past him. Branen followed his gaze and was met by an apparition in black leather sitting on an orange plastic sofa. She returned his stare and smiled from underneath her maquillage. She had a kind face, or was it desperation? The melamine table lamp had an orange shade and the walls needed another coat of maroon paint. He had no idea why red was considered sexy in this environment; it did nothing for her complexion or the view up her skirt.

He could have waited an hour for his answer.

Eventually the owner asked, “Fer ‘ow long?”

“A couple of weeks.”

“Fifty quid.. cash.. a day.”

Before Branen could answer he pulled back the register and returned to his newspaper.

#2 Branen returns to one of his old haunts after being away for eight years… 

A few months into the new job, whilst he was back in London to photograph an anti-government demo, Branen decided to drop in on the Empire Room in Dean Street.

He was familiar with the club from his early days in Soho and he wanted to catch up with the owner, Ayo Wood.

“Look who we’ve got here, darlings…” said Ayo, as Branen hesitated in the doorway. “…My God man, come in… where have you been?”

There was the sharp smell of spirits mixed with stale cigarette smoke.

A punter sitting at the bar turned to look and fell off his stool.

Branen squeezed in and put his camera on the bar.

“What can I get you, Ben?” asked Ayo, who only knew him by his real name.

“Give me a whisky and water and get yourself a drink… how’s tricks?”

“Same as ever… same old faces, hiding from reality, not wanting to go home. I hate ’em and love ’em… and they pay the rent,” said Ayo, turning to the man who had struggled back onto his stool. “Time to face the real world, Nigel.”

“The real world is an illusion… reality is here in the bottom of my glass…” said Nigel as he tried to stand up. “…Fuck the real world…” He smashed his glass down onto the bar. “…I want love.”

Ayo showed him the door. “I don’t want you kissing my customers again… be careful on your way down the stairs.”

Nigel descended the stairs one by one swearing revenge at every step.

About A.W. Rock

Based in London AW.Rock has been a regular on the Soho scene since the 1960’s working in various sectors of the entertainment industry.

When the Sky Falls by Joseph Bendoski

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When the Sky Falls by Joseph Bendoski

When the Sky Falls by Joseph Bendoski When the Sky Falls by Joseph Bendoski
Series: Sky Fall Event Series #1
Published by the author on March 24, 2017
Source: Pump Up Your Book!
Genres: Thriller
Pages: 408
Format: Paperback
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In 1938 the War of the Worlds hoax panicked millions of Americans, then in 1988 another fictional media broadcast convinced nearly half of Portugal that sea monsters had risen from the ocean to destroy their cities. A team of CIA agents was sent to study the aftermath of this 6th Skyfall Event in the hope that they could turn it into a weapon of war. When the team consultant turns up dead, everyone scrambles to be the last man standing: the one who will decide if or when the sky falls.

I loved the concept of When the Sky Falls and it was clearly well-researched. Sky Fall Events cause mass panic in a population, but the “news” itself is fictional. It’s a little complicated subject, but fascinating really. The writing style is direct, which works here.

The book starts off with a really gripping scene, which you can read below.

A couple of complaints. First, there are a lot of characters. It was a bit difficult to keep track of them and several of them are not as well-developed as they could be. Second, there was a bit too much violence for me personally, especially in the second half of the book. I guess I just wasn’t expecting it.

Read an excerpt:

Porto, Portugal. October 30, 1988

The lights flickered and went dark, that’s when it started. Luis reached up and adjusted the bulb with his fingers. The hot glass burned his skin. He gritted his teeth as the sensation grew stronger. He doubted the bulb was the problem. The TV, fan and even the street light outside the apartment all died in the same moment. “Is this normal for an earthquake?”

Car headlights flashed through the windows reflecting off Renata’s long, dark hair. “It’s not an earthquake. They already said that.”

Luis let go of the bulb. Only a moment ago, the emergency broadcast system had come on the air. It’s strobing red light, and high pitched siren blared through every apartment. It was followed by men in lab coats being interviewed. They warned everyone that something was coming, and before they could finish the power cut out, the one thing they had said was, “it’s not an earthquake.”

The street outside the window was still lightless, and Luis went to check the fuse box. It wouldn’t do much good. If the entire neighborhood lost power, it clearly wasn’t a fuse, but at least it was something to do.

Renata took his hand. Her fingers trembled. “It’s not the fuses; it’s not our lights. Let it go.” Behind her, the old cement walls were spidered with cracks. They had been like that when they moved in.

“I don’t know what else to do.” He pressed his lips together and looked out the window. Outside, a family loaded into a car; the trunk overflowed as the father kicked at it until the latch held. They piled in, each with a pack on their lap. The mother sat in the passenger seat. In her hands, she held a pistol. Her husband got in, and the car roared to life. A few people emerged onto the street carrying packs, or bags. They all headed east, away from the coast. That’s where the scientist said it would start, on the coast.

“The phone lines,” Renata’s voice wavered, “They use a different power source than the electrical grid, right?” She wiped at beads of sweat forming on her forehead. “For emergencies, right?” She swallowed hard. “I’ll try and call my mom,” She picked up the receiver and held it to her ear. The lines in her face deepened the longer she held the phone. She frowned and jabbed at the disconnect lever several times. “The phones are dead.” Her skin paled. “The phones,” she licked her dry lips, “are dead.”

Luis was still for a long time. Strange muscles deep in his stomach twisted. Something terrible was happening, and he couldn’t do anything to stop it. He didn’t even know what it was. There was a worry in her soft brown eyes; he wanted to protect her, keep her from feeling this way. He walked over and put his hand on Renata’s cheek then kissed her. “We’re leaving.”

She nodded towards the bags they’d started to prepare midway through the broadcast. “Do you think this will be enough?” She rested her head on his chest.

The electricity surged back, lights blazing to life. The TV flashed it’s red warning again. After a moment, it changed to a camera feed from inside a helicopter. A reporter bobbed in and out of the frame. “We’re flying over the city of Vila de Conde, only a few kilometers from Porto.” He pointed to something off camera. “While it seems a much weaker force is headed this way, it will strike here first. That should give us some idea of what to prepare for.” The wind whipped his hair wildly and drowned his voice out. The camera focused in over the ocean. White edges of curling waves shifted as they crashed against the shore. City lights reflected on the water; then the whole city blinked out. “What the hell?” The camera jerked up over the blackened city. A loud guttural cry screeched through the TV speakers, and the reporter’s voice shouted, “What in God’s nam—” The image on the TV shook and rotated like someone dropped the camera, then the screen cut to static.

Every beat of Luis’ heart pounded in his chest, teeth, and fingers. He waited for the static to end, for someone to come back, to tell them what happened.

Renata grabbed his hand; her pulse was rapid; throbbing in the vein on her neck. When she spoke, the words sounded strange like her mouth was dry after hanging open for too long. “What’s happening?”

Through the window, they saw a car slam into the small market across the street. Glass shards toppled down and shattered on the hood. Two men got out and kicked at the remaining jagged edges. With sacks in their hands, they hustled inside and filled the bags with food and supplies. They tossed them into the backseat and doubled back for more. A box of spaghetti fell out of the passenger side and burst open. Noodles splayed out on the pavement, breaking under the boots of the men as they hurried back and forth.

“I need to get something.” Luis rushed to the bedroom and pulled a pistol from under the bed. He loaded it and placed several ammo boxes in a bag before returning to his pack in the living room.

The static on the screen finally ended. A news anchor sat at a desk; sweat dripped down his face. He wiped at his brow. “It’s clear now, from this footage.” A small image on the side of the screen grew larger. It was a distant shot of the city of Vila de Conde. The entire coastal edge was gone. The hotels, resorts, beach houses. All gone. Some bits of rubble smoldered in the darkness. “This has been some sort of attack.” He stopped, and his face became stern. He sprayed saliva as he shouted at someone, “I can’t … God damn it … I can’t say that on TV. No one will believe it!” He shoved the desk over and stood; then turned and walked a few steps towards the back of the set.

A husky male voice came from off screen. “Do you believe it?” There was a pause, but the anchor kept walking. The husky voice spoke again, pleading this time, “Someone has to tell them. They have to know.” He yelled with urgency in his voice, “We saw them!”

The newscaster stopped and looked over his shoulder at the camera. “Tell them to run.” He disappeared off camera, and the screen went to static.

The lights flickered a second time, then went dark. Luis held his hand over his mouth. He stopped breathing for a moment and counted his heartbeats. He waited, but the lights didn’t come back.

With heavy packs strapped to their backs, Luis and Renata staggered into the street towards their car. A traffic jam built up behind the vehicle that had crashed into the market. People dashed inside, stealing food. The narrow European street swelled with a growing mob as they disembarked their cars to investigate the problem.

A man got into the obstructing car and attempted to reverse out. The center of the frame teetered on the curb, and the wheels spun over the slick cobblestones.

A massive man with a thick beard exited his truck. “What’s wrong with you?” He thrust crude gestures with his hands, then stopped and summoned the other stalled drivers to the stranded car. He pantomimed his intention.

Seven men gathered around the small European car and tipped it onto its side, but the vehicle still blocked the road. They shoved and kicked, but the road wouldn’t clear. Thick-beard threw up his hands, gathered his gear from his car and started walking.

Luis’s eyes widened. “I don’t understand it.”

“Do you need to?” Renata gripped his shoulder, the tips of her nails bit into his skin. “They told us to run.”

Abandoning their car, Luis and Renata joined the panicked herd. They ran, shoved and bumped into each other as they maneuvered around the empty cars. The weight of the pack made Luis unstable as people jostled against him. As each person collided into him or reached out to stabilize themselves, his balance wavered. The straps dug deep into his shoulders. The heavy load labored his run. People were constantly pressing past. He made Renata go first so he could keep an eye on her.

A tall man with wide shoulders shoved Luis into the side of a car. He stumbled and grabbed the mirror to keep from falling. Renata screamed. He turned as she plummeted to the ground a few feet away, disappearing into the mad swarm of human bodies.

Luis surged forward ramming people until he found her. He tried to help her stand, but the mob kept pressing forward, and Luis fell on top of her. A foot crunched down on his hand; then a knee jabbed into his ribs. Droves of people crashed against his body. His hair got caught on something, and it ripped a patch from his skull. A trickle of blood dripped from his scalp onto Renata’s face.

Luis pressed his lips to her ear. “The gun is in my pack. Fire the gun.” He didn’t feel her searching the bag, too many hands, knees, and elbows jabbed and thrust into him, but he heard the gunshot, next to his ear. It thundered, and his whole body tensed. The thundering didn’t end. His ear rang, and it felt like someone was trying to hammer a nail into his brain. He saw Renata’s face, she was shouting, but he couldn’t hear her anymore, couldn’t hear the crowd, the waves of pounding feet on stone, just a high-pitched pierce in his ears.

The crowd stopped pressing down on him. They’d backed away. He got to his feet. Renata still lay on the ground. Luis dragged her into the bed of a truck. She cried and kept trying to say something, but he couldn’t hear it. Her face flexed in pain. He scanned her body and saw the ankle. Human bodies, human feet don’t bend like that. The tibia seemed to be jabbing down through the foot, forming a large bulb at the bottom, and the ankle swelled thicker than her leg.

The crowd swarmed back. Luis slumped down beside her. His eyes lingered on her face, her eyes. She couldn’t walk, not on her own. Whatever was coming would catch them. How will you take care of her? Luis took the gun from her hands. He studied the pistol for a long time, its dark oily finish, the weight of it in his hand, a weapon. If he couldn’t run, then he would fight. He crawled out of the truck bed to the car just behind. He rested the pistol on the hood and stared out into the darkness. Luis saw the white curling waves. Whatever it was, came from the ocean, he knew that. He waited a moment, watching the water, trying to see it. Nothing, just darkness. He pulled the trigger then looked at Renata. Broken. Helpless. His eyes welled up with tears. Fight. Even if you can’t see it. Fight. He fired again, fired until the gun was empty.

About Joseph Bendoski

Joe Bendoski study psychology in college and was fascinated by all the insights it provided into human behavior, only to realize most the information never reach people, and when it did, rarely was it in a form that allowed for practical application. He started writing non-fiction, but soon came to understand how few people read that genre and began the difficult transition into fiction writing. His non-fiction works include; the Chemistry of Attraction and the Language of Emotion.
He worked as the head writer for the television show ‘Saved by Grace.’ After being frustrated with comments like “make this scene cheaper,” “What’s my motivation?”, and “Do we need this scene?” he decided to go in to literature.
His latest book is the thriller/espionage/conspiracy/historical novel, When the Sky Falls.

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