I am thrilled to have been invited to participate in the “Death & Damages” box set anthology with a stable of talented bestselling authors like the one you are about to meet.
These amazing writers have graciously agreed to let my blog readers share in an exclusive interview AND get a sneak peek at the book they have contributed to the Death & Damages box set – 25 stories for 99 cents!
Today, we sit down with John Ling, author of “Vengeance”
DAN: Tell my readers briefly about the story you are contributing to the Death & Damages anthology. What inspired your story?
JOHN LING: My story is VENGEANCE, and it’s the latest entry in my Raines & Shaw thriller series.
My hero is Maya Raines, a spy who’s haunted by the death of her father. For years, she has tried — and failed — to find the mysterious sniper responsible for the murder. The trail went cold.
But now, in a twist of fate, the sniper has suddenly emerged from the shadows. And Maya is seizing the opportunity to hunt him down. But what will her quest for revenge cost her? And will she be willing to go in order to embrace her own heart of darkness?
What inspired this story?
I grew up in Malaysia, but I’ve spent my adult life in New Zealand. So I’m very much fascinated by the collision between Eastern and Western cultures.
VENGEANCE is a way for me to explore my own feelings about the East-West dichotomy, set against the backdrop of the War on Terror.
How long of a piece is it?
VENGEANCE is a novella-length thriller. Just over 30,000 words.
Tell me a little bit about you. Where do you do your writing?
In my day job, I’m a digital marketer, and I work in central Auckland. That means a lengthy commute for me on the train — 50 minutes each way.
I use this time as my golden hour, where I can whip out my laptop and write!
I know that some people have their favourite writing corner in their home. Others love to write in coffee shops or libraries.
“Oddly enough, I find the rocking and swaying of the train very beneficial for my creativity.”
What does writing success look like to you?
Not long ago, I received a piece of fan mail that really moved me. It came from a devoted husband who was taking care of his terminally ill wife. She was bedridden and suffered from dementia. She no longer recognised him anymore. That made the situation even more heartbreaking.
This reader thanked me because my stories had allowed him to take his mind off his heavy responsibility, if only for a few hours.
Now, that letter actually left tears in my eyes. Because
“that’s what every author hopes to achieve — making a positive impact on a reader’s life, no matter how small.
That, really, is what it’s all about.”
Do you ever collaborate with others?
Ooh, that’s a loaded question, isn’t it? For the most part, writing is a solitary pursuit, and for good reason. We authors are notoriously protective about our characters and plots. In fact, I dare say that we’re downright neurotic about it.
However, that said, I’m always looking for the right opportunity to collaborate! That is, if I can find someone willing to put up with my eccentricities as a writer. That could be a tough ask, though!
Tell me a little bit about your process. What is the path from idea to finished story? Do you use critique partners? Do you have a favorite editor?
I am very much a pantster. I have a vague idea of how a story should begin and how it should end. The connective issue — the narrative middle — is what I try to figure out as I write.
“And that’s the fun part!
Dropping my characters right in the middle of a conflict situation and see them try to deal with it.”
It’s revealing almost as much as it is entertaining.
When it comes to proofreading and editing, I rely almost entirely on my mailing list. I have an enormous pool of talent there — teachers, engineers, soldiers. Yeah, every possible profession and skillset imaginable.
These fine folks help me squash all those typos dead, as well as get all the tradecraft details right! Such a blessing, truly!
What do you do for your cover? It’s always hard to find a good cover. How do you find yours, or the artwork?
Ah, I just love using 99designs. Have you ever tried it?
Here’s the elevator pitch — 99designs is a crowdsourcing platform where you post up a design brief, and you get talented artists from all over the world competing in your contest to give you the best possible result.
During my last design brief, I got well over 100 design variations to choose from! I narrowed those covers down to the top five, and I showed them to the readers on my mailing list to vote on. And, boom, I got the final cover that I wanted to use.
So, yes, I can’t recommend 99designs enough! It’s a great way to secure that book cover that you love! And, more than that, it’s great way to find that artist that totally understands your creative vision!
What about your blurb and tagline? What is your process for arriving at a really killer tagline and then a blurb that makes readers want to buy the book?
You know, I think
“…that’s one of the great ironies of being an author. We can cheerfully bang out a 50,000 word manuscript in record time.
But we seem to freeze up like deer in the headlights when it comes to writing a 50-word blurb.”
I think a lot of it has to do with the pressure of expectation. As authors, we’re natural storytellers, but we’re not natural salespeople. We get tense and fidgety at the thought of condensing our vision and selling it.
But here’s what most people don’t realise: storytelling and sales actually go hand-in-hand. It’s an organic process.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Way back in 1957, his is what legendary copywriter David Ogilvy wrote: ‘At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.’
An absolute classic. Direct. Punchy. Responsive.
We should all aim to write like that.
Two questions to ask yourself:
- Who’s my ideal reader?
- How can I craft a message that appeals to the heart and soul of my ideal reader?
Once you can clarify those two questions, you’ll find it easier to write your blurb.
* EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK *
There is love in me the likes of which you’ve never seen. There is rage in me the likes of which should never escape.
—Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Maya Raines hated the idea of walking into a trap, but she decided to do it anyway.
She was dressed in a Muslim robe — long and loose and rustling in the wind. Her face was covered by a veil. She carried a grocery bag as she moved along the sidewalk, being careful not to trip on the pockmarked concrete and scattered rubble.
All around her, ominous black flags hung from the shopfronts and soared from the rooftops, declaring the rise of an Islamist caliphate. And just ahead, a roadblock had been set up, manned by jihadi fighters. A modified pickup truck — a technical — was parked on the intersection, with a machine gun mounted on its rear bed.
Maya could hear Arabic being spoken in the distance. It sounded harsh and strident; completely different to the gentle melodic rhythm of the Malay language that she was used to. These men were foreign Sunnis. They had come from as far afield as Egypt and Libya, drawn to Malaysia by the promise of killing local Shiites.
Maya felt the slow burn of anxiety in her stomach.
Sure, she could try to go through the barricade. With her Asian features and Muslim headdress, she could fool them. If she was lucky, the jihadis would just give her a brief glance and allow her to pass. But if not, they would stop her. And if they happened to be in a foul mood, well, things could get dicey real quick.
Maya didn’t want to have to deal with that. So the only other option now was to get creative. Take a circuitous route around the block. Avoid the checkpoint entirely.
When there is doubt, there is no doubt…
It was something Papa had taught her.
So Maya veered off the footpath and ducked into a nearby alley. It offered her a tactical advantage. Not much, but she would settle for what she could get.
She didn’t have the luxury of being choosy. She had no backup. No contingency plan. No convenient exfil if the situation went to shit.
The CIA and JSOC called this place the badlands. Venturing out here was referred to as ‘going outside the wire’. It was so far beyond the safety of the Blue Zone in Kuala Lumpur that you had to be either crazy or stupid to attempt it.
Maya smiled a bitter smile.
Well, maybe that’s what I am. Both crazy and stupid at the same time…
She was beginning to wonder if she had pushed her luck too far by coming out here. Especially when she was doing it based on the flimsiest of leads. But she just couldn’t help herself. She was like a moth drawn to a flame; her obsession driving her forward.
She desperately needed answers.
She had to know for sure—
That’s when her miniature Bluetooth earpiece buzzed and vibrated. She was getting an incoming call. She touched a button on her wristwatch to answer it.
It was Farah, her voice low and taunting. ‘You’re going in the wrong direction, my dear.’
Maya inhaled and stopped, pressing her back against a crumbling wall. She swept her gaze left and right. Farah was obviously watching her, but where? From a rooftop?
Maya spoke into her throat microphone, ‘If you’re seeing what I’m seeing, then you know that I was about to run into some bad company. I needed a better route.’
‘There is no other route. You will need to turn around and go back.’
‘Do as I say. Go back.’
‘So we can test your commitment.’
Maya scoffed. ‘You want me to walk straight into the hornet’s nest.’
‘For your satisfaction?’
‘That’s insane. You’re stringing me along and playing me like a fiddle. I’m sick of it.’
‘You will stay the course. You will be rewarded soon enough.’
There was a click, and all Maya heard was a dead tone.
Maya slapped her palm against the grimy wall. She was tempted to hit redial and get Farah back on the line. But what would be the point? She had no leverage. No room to negotiate.
The irony of her situation wasn’t lost on her.
Oh God. This is like Kepong all over again…
Maya resented Farah. The woman was a mole with a slippery agenda. A history of playing different sides. And during their last confrontation, a lot of innocent people had ended up dead over a twisted game of cat and mouse.
Was this just going to be a repeat?
More of the same?
There was nothing Maya wanted more than to give Farah the proverbial finger and walk away right now. But she couldn’t. Her obligation to Papa wouldn’t allow her to.
So, for now, all Maya could do was follow Farah’s trail of dubious breadcrumbs, even if that meant going against her better instincts.
Maya rubbed her temples, groaning through her teeth. She was being manipulated, for sure. But she would allow things to run their course. After all, what the hell else was she going to do? She’d already broken all the rules by coming this far.
Might as well seal the deal…
Resigned to her fate, Maya straightened her headdress. Then, retracing her steps, she exited the alley and returned to the sidewalk.
Maya shuffled forward, her posture timid, her neck bent. She clutched her bag closer to her. She had to play the role of a frightened civilian, and her disguise was all part of the illusion.
Right now, that was the only thing she could rely on.
The checkpoint was just ahead.
Twenty metres and closing.
Okay. Stay calm. Stay collected. Easy does it.
Maya studied the opposition. There were four jihadis in total. Three of them were leaning against the barricade, and one was standing on the bed of the technical, handling the machine gun. It was a swivel-mounted .50 calibre. The kind that vaporised flesh and bone on impact.
Maya chewed on her lip.
Sweat gathered on the back of her neck.
I just need to slip past. No drama. No drama at all…
Maya reached the barrier and skirted the edge of it.
The men there barely paid her any attention at all. They were engrossed looking down at an iPad tablet that one of them was holding. It was live-streaming a soccer match with commentary in Arabic.
Qatar versus Bahrain.
Bahrain was leading 1-0 going into half-time.
The video was jerky and pixelated, the result of piggybacking off one of the few functional Wi-Fi connections in town.
Maya was thankful for the distraction.
Yep, just keep going…
She began to feel good about this—
That’s when one of the jihadis looked up and gave her a sideways glance. He was greasy-haired and scarecrow-thin, toting a Kalashnikov assault rifle.
Maya willed herself not to make eye contact with him. She kept him only on the periphery of her vision. But — damn it — somehow that didn’t quite work.
The fighter turned and pointed. He spoke in English, ‘Woman, wait…’
Maya pretended not to hear him, coyly inching her way past the technical.
‘Hey, woman. I am talking to you…’
Maya kept her gaze fixed on the edge of the building just ahead. Maybe thirty yards. So close yet so far. If she could just get there and shimmy around that corner, she could lose this bastard.
The jihadi began striding towards her. ‘Woman, did you not hear me? I said stop!’
Everything inside Maya screamed for her to break and run. But if that machine gun on the technical swung her way and started firing on full auto, how far would she get? She was right out in the open. No cover. No concealment. Not for thirty yards.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck…
Cringing, Maya scooted to a stop. She kept her head downcast, submissive, like a good Muslim woman. She flexed her fingers, her shoulders stiff, like a spring coiled up to its tightest.
These jihadi bastards didn’t know it yet, but she had already mapped out their positions and calculated all the possible lines of fire.
She knew what she needed to do.
The front of her robe was fastened by magnetic clips. It would allow her to rip open the fabric in a split-second. Beneath, she wore street clothes and a combat chest rig, along with an MP7 sub-machine gun attached to a tactical sling.
She would draw it and bring it up to bear.
It would be all about speed, surprise and violence of action.
The most immediate threat was the fighter coming towards her. She nicknamed him Alpha. He had to be eliminated first. Then she would hit the jihadi on the technical — Bravo — knocking the machine gun out of the equation. That would leave her clear to stitch up the remaining two jihadis — Charlie and Delta — still standing by the barricade, bunched up together, offering juicy targets for her sight picture.
That was the plan.
Alpha. Bravo. Charlie. Delta.
All targets triangulated for the sequential takedown.
A game of dominoes.
Maya breathed in and breathed out. Conscious of her strumming heartbeat. Felt the adrenaline spiking in her veins.
Alpha was drawing closer now, coming in at her four o’clock. She was aware of his footfalls crunching on grit, kicking up dust. The sun reflected off the barrel of the machine gun on the technical, which thankfully wasn’t aimed her way just yet. The chatter and cheering of the soccer match still played on the iPad.
Everything felt hyperreal; magnified.
Maya pivoted ever so slowly, shifting her body into a bladed stance to reduce her profile. She cocked her head, watching Alpha through tunnelled vision.
Timing was everything.
She was already imagining how she would go for a killshot, drilling him right between eyes. She wouldn’t miss. Not at this distance.
Her skin was tingling.
Her muscles were loosening.
Maya was ready to unleash hell.
But — whoa, whoa — she stopped herself. Just about managed to ease back on her intended aggression. Because she spotted a change in Alpha’s body language. He had casually slung his weapon over his shoulder, and he was strolling towards her, his expression carefree, almost arrogant.
It was obvious that he didn’t see her as a threat.
He wasn’t hostile.
At least not yet.
Alpha jabbed his finger in her direction, more annoyed than angry. ‘Woman, I apologise if I frightened you. But we are hungry. We have been guarding this post since dawn. You have just come from the marketplace, no? Do you have some food on you?’
Maya blinked and swallowed. That disconnect in the moment threw her, but only for an instant. She improvised. ‘Sorry. My English no good. Sorry.’ She repeated the phrase in Malay.
The man snorted. ‘I speak no Malay. We will make do with English.’
Maya nodded, her face flushed. She faked a giggle. Slowly, very slowly, she held her grocery bag open. ‘Please, sir. Take what you want.’
The man took a look and pulled out two plump mangos. He grunted his approval. ‘I have money. I am willing to pay.’
‘Thank you. Terima Kasih.’
The man pressed ringgit notes into her hands. ‘Be gone, woman.’ He waved her off, his gesture dismissive.
Maya bowed demurely, then turned and continued on her way. She was clenching her jaw so hard that it hurt. Her disguise had held up, but still, she was flustered.
It was too damn close for comfort.
Once Maya had glided past the corner of the building ahead, her earpiece buzzed. She took the call. ‘Enjoyed the show?’
‘You did well,’ Farah said. ‘Better than expected.’
‘Save it. Where do I go next?’
Once upon a time, Rawang had been a prosperous town. Industrial manufacturing supported by oil palm plantations. A mix of the urban and the rural. A place for new settlers and migrants looking for a fresh start.
Today it was scarred by bullet holes and mortar craters, and the persistent stench of chemical smoke and gunpowder hung in the air.
It was ground zero for a new sectarian conflict — a religious war between Sunni and Shiites. The fighting had been fierce this past two weeks as the two sides had fought building to building, street to street, butchering each other in close-quarters battle.
Eventually the Sunni jihadis had gained the upper hand, driving most of the Shiite fedayeen out of town.
Now Maya saw the horrific aftermath as she walked past a row of street lamps. Dead men and woman were strung up high with ropes, their bodies flayed, baking in the heat, attracting flies.
This was hudud — uncompromising punishment for anyone who dared to resist.
As hard as it was, Maya did not look away. She owed it to the victims to stare upon their mutilated faces, searing the grisly sight into her memory for all time.
What was it that she felt?
Guilt? Shame? Rage?
This was what failed nation-building looked like.
The consequences of bad foreign policy.
That’s when Papa’s gravelly voice resounded in her ears, as if he was right beside her.
There’s no such thing as permanent enemies, kiddo. Only permanent interests. Don’t believe me? Think about it. A few generations ago, we were fighting the Germans and the Japs. We dehumanised them. Called them evil. Did everything we could to annihilate them. And afterwards? Well, lo and behold, once we had settled our argument, they saw the light and ended up becoming our best buds. Yeah, that’s history for you. So who’s to say that the extremists we’re fighting today won’t become our allies tomorrow? We just have to cut them off at the knees first and bring them to the negotiation table…
Papa’s wisdom was crude but undeniable.
Everything he had foretold was coming to pass.
Once upon a time, the Sunnis were their allies. The Shiites were the enemy. You supported one side; fought the other.
But now the atmospherics weren’t so clear anymore. The balance of power had suddenly shifted. It was a seismic event, like tectonic plates grinding violently against each other, upending the traditional order of things, trying to find a new equilibrium,
You had to be a fool not to feel it.
Seemingly overnight, it appeared that the Sunnis, with their genocidal fanaticism, had become the Big Bad. And maybe — just maybe — the Shiites were now the lesser evil.
Maya was still coming to terms with this new reality.
What does it mean? And where do we go from here?
The answers were far and few between.
Maya shook her head, her nerves raw, as she hit the next intersection. She was glad to leave the strung-up corpses behind.
Just ahead was a warung. An old-fashioned café in a two-storey shoplot. The welcome smell of roasted snacks and milky beverages beckoned.
As Maya approached, she saw that there were only two men visible — an elderly patron sitting on a stool, hunched over a cup of tea, and the middle-aged proprietor, standing behind the counter, pan-frying what looked to be a dish of pisang goreng.
It all looked innocent enough, but Maya hesitated.
Never walk into a place you don’t know how to walk out of…
She was thinking about operational security.
Ideally, she wanted to do some recon before moving in. That meant carrying out a thorough sweep of her surroundings. Identifying all the points of ingress and egress. Pre-empting the hazards.
But with Farah keeping a close watch on her, that was impossible. The woman was inflexible and would never allow her to deviate from the established route.
Maya hated that feeling of being played like a puppet on strings.
But, for now at least, she had to bear with it.
The only way out of this situation is straight through…
So Maya went with the flow.
She walked right into the cafe.
Both men were rheumy-eyed and gave her hollow stares as she entered. It was a look she had grown accustomed to. The expression of strangled anguish. Trying to maintain the appearance of being dignified in an undignified time.
Maya did a polite curtsy. ‘Salaam alaikum.’ Peace be upon you.
‘Alaikum salaam.’ And upon you be peace. The proprietor grunted, wiping his hands on his stained apron.
Their exchange of greetings sounded ironic — almost phoney — especially given the current state of affairs in this town. But, futile as it was, it served as the best form of resistance now. Perhaps all they had.
Just then, a convoy of three technicals rumbled by on the street outside, trailing dust. The jihadis were cheering and whooping, black flags fluttering on their vehicles. An impromptu victory parade.
Maya watched the bastards drive past.
When they were gone, she turned back to the proprietor. ‘It’s a hot day today.’
‘Indeed. Very hot. I am hoping it will rain.’
‘Yes, may it rain and wash away all the dirt and sin.’
The script was correct.
They had established their bona fides.
The old man who was the patron pushed back his chair and stood. With practised slowness, he sauntered to the rear of the shop and ascended the wooden staircase there. The steps creaked as he moved up.
‘Terima kasih.’ Maya gave the proprietor an appreciative nod before following the old man.
About The Author
John Ling is the author of international thrillers that have appeared on the USA Today and Amazon bestseller lists.
He was born and raised in Malaysia. He now lives in New Zealand. His exotic cultural background, straddling East and West, informs his storytelling.
He’s always eager to hear from you.
Visit his website at johnling.net
Gang, please join me in thanking John for sharing these authorly insights with us.
Click HERE to order your copy of Death & Damages TODAY and read the rest of this great story when it is released in the Death & Damages boxed set!
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Danger lurks around every corner as these courageous cops, adventurous agents, and daring detectives hunt for the answers to stop the crimes by vicious killers.
But what if the damage is already done?
Inside these pages, you’ll find 25 adventures full of captivating conundrums, hair-raising homicides, and suspenseful secrets from today’s USA Today & Wall Street Journal bestselling and award-winning authors.
Become a private investigator yourself when you inspect plots of deadly assassins, cold-blooded killers, and bone-chilling suspense inside the pages of DEATH AND DAMAGES, an enthralling mystery and thriller boxed set.
Fans of Lee Child, James Patterson, Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, and John Grisham will devour these puzzling mysteries and gripping thrillers.
Including Stories From…
- New York Times bestselling author Patricia Loofbourrow
- USA Today bestselling author Pauline Creeden
- USA Today bestselling author John Ling
- Award-Winning author Alexa Padgett
- Siera London
- USA Today bestselling author Shereen Vedam
- Multi-Award-Winning author, Deborah Shlian
- USA Today bestselling author Kelly Hashway
- USA Today bestselling author JB Michaels
- Maggie Carpenter
- USA Today bestselling author Tiana Laveen
- Angela Sanders
- Award-Winning author Karen M. Bryson
- Aime Austin
- Lisa B. Thomas
- USA Today bestselling author Fiona Quinn
- Kerry J Donovan
- Jane Blythe
- Bestselling author Dan Alatorre
- USA Today bestselling authors Muffy Wilson and Dariel Raye
- Ja’Nese Dixon
- USA Today bestselling author Terry Keys
- Bill Hargenrader
- Wall Street Journal bestselling author Judith Lucci
- Award-Winning author Maria Grazia Swan