The Actuals: Book Seven of the Oz Chronicles


Oz Chronicles – West Coast

Here is the early version of chapter one of The Actuals, the seventh and final installment of the Oz Chronicles. What you’re going to notice right away is that this story isn’t told from Oz’ point of view like the other books. There are a number of reasons for that, but the primary reason is that this book is going to be a standalone book. In other words, you won’t have to have read the others to know what’s going on. I had to have a new character who is unfamiliar with Oz so he could learn about the journey Oz has been on. I also wanted the challenge of trying to make a cannibal likable.

Without any further ado, I give you Sunshine Carter.


We ate a guy named Bill in Laguna Beach.

Wait, was his name Bill?  It may have been Bob now that I think about it.  That’s so rude. I should at least remember the name of some guy I ate. It’s like polite or whatever. He was a nice guy. Didn’t taste that great. And, no he didn’t taste like chicken. More like lamb.  I hate lamb.

Eating people’s kind of a thing now. The world ended a while back.  Not sure how long, but there isn’t a lot of food. No restaurants and junk, that’s for sure, and all the cows and pigs and stuff disappeared.  No one knows where the hell they went. So people just kind of eat people.  That’s how it is on the West coast anyway.  I’m not sure what they do on the other side of the country.  There’s no TV or computers or anything like that. No phones either. Cars, airplanes, trains, nothing works.  I don’t even know if there are any people on the East coast or the rest of the world for that matter.  Bob or Bill said he came from Baltimore.  We probably should have asked more questions before we ate him, but the truth is we were really hungry.

We are The Actuals.  I have no idea what the name is supposed to mean. Rook, this woman in our group, got it from some comic book she carries around.  She is nuts for that stupid thing.  Goes off by herself and reads it like she was studying for a test or something.  She’s a real wacko, that one. I don’t know if she was that way before or not.  A lot of people went crazy when everything ended.  Mostly because of the way it ended. 

I heard my parents talk about something called the Cold War.  Not sure what made it cold, but they said folks thought a nuclear bomb would cause the planet to blow up back then.  I saw this old preacher on a street corner when I was a little kid talking about Jesus wrecking everything.  Got no idea why he’d do something like that. I swear I heard Jesus was a good guy. On the news they went on about super diseases and things like that.  They all got it wrong.  Way wrong. 

It was monsters. I don’t know where they came from, but I’m telling you, as sure as my name is Sunshine Carter, monsters caused the end of the world.  And yes, my name really is Sunshine.  My mom and dad were these things my grandparents called hippies.  The best I can figure is that being hippies means they had a lot of fun and went to concerts most the time.  As far as I can tell, the only drawback to being a hippie is that something about it causes you to give your kids silly names.  My best friend’s name was Charm and I knew another kid named Raspberry.  All of us were boys who got in more than a few fist fights because our parents were hippies who went to concerts and had fun instead of thinking of real names for their kids. 

None of that matters much anymore.  Not since the monsters came.  They got my parents and Charm, too.  Not sure about Raspberry, but I wouldn’t bet money that he survived.  He was about as delicate as his name would suggest.  Poor kid never won a fight.  Never walked away from one, but he never even got in a good lick when it came down to it.

The monsters would have gotten me if it wasn’t for Cutter. I wasn’t much older than 8 or 9 when he found me hiding in a dressing room in a department store.  Dude is badass.  He was some kind of soldier.  Like a real serious type. Killed terrorists and assassins and dictators, every kind of bad guy you can think of. The President even had his phone number on speed dial. If POTUS ever needed something taken care of, he called Cutter. That’s the story I heard spread around The Actuals anyway. He doesn’t talk about anything before the monsters. He thinks it’s a waste of time.  “FWSD!” is pretty much all Cutter says.  Stands for food, water, shelter, and defense.  That’s all he wants us to think about.  Anything else is useless. Whenever we get together and start gossiping about this and that, one of us is supposed to yell out “FWSD!” It’s meant to get us back on track.  It doesn’t work most the time. I feel stupid doing it. Besides I kind of like the gossip.  Makes things more normal.

I miss normal.

There’s about twenty of us in The Actuals, and we’ve all got tattoos on our foreheads that identify us as such and what number we are in the group.  I’m The Actuals number 17.  Numbers 3, 8, and 11 are all dead, so I’m really number 13 in line.  I don’t know what I’m in line for, but that’s the way Cutter puts it.  He doesn’t call any of us by our names.  Just by the numbers on our foreheads, which is fine by me because I never was thrilled with being called Sunshine or even Sunny.

“Seventeen,” he’d bark. “What is your mission, son?”

To which I’m supposed to say, “Whatever the hell you say it is, sir!”  I didn’t know that first the time he asked, and he had numbers 6 and 12 hold me down while he pulled one of my front teeth out with a pair of pliers.  Sounds rough, but it’s better than being eaten. It was effective, too. I have done whatever the hell Cutter wants me to do since that day. 

Most of us are missing one front tooth. Cutter keeps them in an old beer can and rattles them around every now and then just to let us know he’s in charge.  The most you’ll ever be rid of is two teeth.  After that, you’re lunch, literally.  That’s what happened to number 11.  He tasted like cheddar cheese. 

I don’t like Cutter that much.  I’m scared of him, and I’ll do anything he says, but it wouldn’t bother me a bit if he just vanished one day. 

You know what?  I think that guy’s name in Laguna Beach was Ted.  Number 2 started dancing around and chanting “Ted is dead” right after we killed him.  He was doing it to be goofy, but rhymes like that can help you remember things.    

Yeah, that was it. Ted.  Bob or Bill was a guy we ate on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood.  I don’t feel bad about not remembering his name because that guy was a total jerk and a half.  He tasted like a pepperoni pizza though.  That was kind of cool.   

This is how I celebrate – Bad Way Out will be Free Nov. 26 – 30

bottle cover3

Free on Kindle from Nov. 26-30 – Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ve got a lot to be thankful for and celebrate this Thanksgiving.

  1. Contract singed and in transit
  2. Second Draft of outline for Pearl of Justice Book 2 done
  3. Plenty of room in my belly for ungodly amounts of delicious, delicious turkey and fixin’s

So, I’m celebrating the only way I know how, I’m making C. Hoyt Caldwell’s first book, Bad Way Out, free via Kindle. It’s Southern noir-ish featuring my brand of backwoods humor, a few passages of unflinching violence, and tons of awkward sexual situations. Because that’s how I roll.  It will be free on the Kindle store from Nov. 26-30. Here’s the link. Bad Way Out is free! Share it. Spread the word. And let everyone know the first book The Pearl of Justice Mystery series will be available July 12, 2016.

Here’s a review from a British reader:


Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Could this book start off a craze of what can only be called Appalachian crime noir? Meet E. R. Percy, mountain man and the brewer of the best moonshine you will ever sip. Life has always been hard for the mountain folk, but illegal stills and their product is nothing compared to the drugs trade. When E. R. first refuses to work in the drugs business he is at first threatened, but this escalates to a feud. Throw in a mysterious mountain of a man that suddenly appears in his brewing shed and you find there is a lot of comedy to what would otherwise be a bloody and dark tale.

Fun to read and hard to put down this is a great tale of hillbillies and their culture versus the modern drug lord. The characters come to life in all their glorious eccentricities, from a man mad seventeen year old girl to the corrupt reverend. Unfortunately this book will probably get overlooked, which is a shame, as it is such a great read and should appeal to a lot of people.

There are a few typos in this, but nothing that should really detract from or disrupt your reading experience. Certainly original, this is full of violence and humour, and certainly a thing that Quentin Taratino would love to get his hands on.

BTW – The typos he mention should have been addressed in a later version.
Happy Thanksgiving!

The number one question I’ve gotten since announcing my book deal


Please silence your cell phones. The movie version of The Takers is about to start?

So, this weird and wonderful thing has happened since I announced my book deal with Penguin Random House. Beyond the incredible support from friends and fans, I’ve gotten one question over and over again.

Does this book deal mean there will be a The Takers movie?

The short answer is no. I signed the deal under my pen name, C. Hoyt Caldwell. Hoyt writes Southern thrillers. The deal is for a mystery series called The Pearl of Justice Mysteries. Deputy Dani Pearl is woman trying to make it in a man’s world in God’s country.  She’s got a  foul mouth, a nose for trouble and a mean left hook.  The Takers and the other Oz  Chronicles books feature Oz Griffin trying to survive a post-apocalyptic world. By contrast, Dani is trying to survive a pre-apocalyptic South.

The Takers, at one time, had interest from the big publishers, and I even talked to a couple of guys from Paramount about a movie version back in 2007. I have no idea how high up in the organization they were. They could have been part of the maintenance crew for all I know, but they did have Paramount studios email addresses. At any rate, the interest from publishers and studios alike has waned. That is to be expected. There’s a lot of great material out there, so it’s tough to even get your foot in the door.

A foot in the door is what I now have. Should The Pearl of Justice Mysteries do well, there will be more books, and perhaps renewed attention will be given to Oz and his plight. So, will there be a movie version of The Takers?  If I do my job and deliver on The Pearl of Justice Mysteries, the chances are greatly increased.

It’s contract day!

  Even though I announced the deal with Penguin Random House weeks ago, today is the day I sign the actual contract. Legal stuff is complicated, and some final details had to be ironed out, but we have arrived at the big moment. I won’t divulge the money involved upon signing, but let’s just say that new Tesla I’ve always wanted has been downgraded to a used Schwinn.  And, I could not be happier.

What I now fear most


Still not as scary as Donald Trump

Before this year, I feared spiders more than anything. Now, what I fear most is that I will come across a photo on Facebook of a Trump rally and spot someone I know in the crowd. I’m a blue state redneck living in a red state redneck world.


Charleston is a funny place – literally.


Charleston is a funny place!

You may remember – because I went on and on about it a few months ago – that my play Never Living had a staged reading at 5th Wall Productions in the western part of the Ashley in what we in the Lowcountry like to call Charleston, SC. You may also remember that I humble-bragged how great the experience was because the cast and director were perfect, blah, blah, blah.

In this case, the blah, blah, blah is skipping over even more effusive and mushy praise that is all 100% true, but that’s not what this post is about. This is about the actor who read the part of Ned Smiley, Deshawn Mason. My wife and I chatted with him after the reading, and it turns out in addition to being an actor, he’s also a stand-up comedian. He informed us that he was in a comedy festival competition and invited us to come to the show. I was, of course, petrified. I have a terrible poker face, and if I see him perform, and he’s not funny, I won’t be able to fake my way through phony accolades.

But he had done so well with the reading, and he’s such a personable kid, we decided we owed him the courtesy of watching him perform his art. In short, we went with the intentions of supporting a new friend, but we had somewhat muted expectations. Comedians are hard to find in huge metropolitan areas, one would think the odds are greatly diminished in a community the size of Charleston. We walked into Theatre 99 and committed ourselves to watching 10 comedians perform their best six minutes of material. To borrow a Mitch Hedberg sentiment, we were either going to hate it or love it – or feel so-so about it.

Much to our relief, the first comedian took the stage, and he was actually funny. I mean really funny. The second comedian took the stage, and the same thing. And then – DeShawn. Well, I’m a little embarrassed to have to admit that I had nothing to worry about. The kid was funny as hell. He knocked it out of the park, and it was such a relief. My ineffectual poker face could take the night off.

The comedians that followed delivered, too. There was zero bad material. Every comedian provided a lot of laughs.  There were a few that just needed a little more stage work, but that will come. They all clearly know comedy.

Deshawn (2nd place), Jeremy McLellan (1st place), and Nick Alexander (3rd place) made it to the next round in the competition. They will be performing in December with the three comedians selected from tonight’s performance. If you’re in Charleston, I highly recommend you get your tickets for this evening’s round of the festival competition. If it’s anything like last night, it will be full of laughs.

I’ve spent my day what-if’ing.

I’ve completed the first “flesh-out” of 40 chapters in my adventures of outlining, meaning I’ve added on average a 70-word description for each of the first 40 chapters in the second Pearl of Justice Mystery.  I only have 61 chapters to go.  The awkwardly worded, one line per chapter outline has been a huge help in speeding up the process. The next iteration of the outline should be even easier to create. I’ve never created an outline from nothing before. I’ve written 40 pages of a book and then outlined from there, but to create an outline from the storytelling ether with no baseline to work from is much more exhilarating than I had imagined. I’ve spent my entire day so far asking myself “What if?” And I can think of no better way to spend my time.

I took a lunch break and watched the documentary Chaos on the Bridge by William Shatner. It’s about, of all things, the making of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Apparently, it was an epic challenge because of one person, Gene Roddenberry. He put a lot of constraints on the cast and crew, in particular the writers. Thirty members of the writing staff quit the first year of the show! He wanted them to do the impossible, he didn’t want the Enterprise to have any conflict among the crew. It was to be presented as a Utopian paradise. It’s a maddening thing to ask writers to do. Conflict is at the core of character development. I highly recommend the doc to all, but in particular I think writers should watch it. I was enthralled.