Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Book Blitz : Hideous

Guest Post

When I was little, my aunt bought me a hardback copy of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. They aren’t the cute, clean ones we see in Disney movies. They’re dark…twisted…sometimes even a little perverse. I remember being very surprised to read the sadistic punishment that Cinderella and her new hubby had in mind for the evil stepmother. Then there were other stories that I hadn’t seen watered-down versions of in movies and TV shows. “The Little Brother and Sister” was one of my favorites. In this story, a brother and sister escape their abusive stepmother, who is also a witch. The brother ends up being turned into a faun by a magical spring, and a man hunting him turns out to be a prince. The prince meets the sister, they marry, and they all live happily ever after, right? Wrong. The sister marries the prince and has a baby, but the stepmother murders her and has her other, disfigured daughter pose as the queen.

As a kid, that blew my mind. It was insane and unlike the sorts of fairy tales I’d previously been exposed to. But another story fascinated me even more. It was called “The Handless Maiden.” In this story, a demon talks a miller into cutting off his daughter’s hands. She ends up alone and wandering through the wilderness, where she runs into her Prince Charming. Again, this is not a happily ever after moment. Rather, after she gives birth to their child, her husband goes off to war. Meanwhile, the demon intercepts letters between the husband and his mother, trying to convince the mother to kill the queen and the baby. Ah! They end up having to flee the castle, and the king has to set out into the wilderness to find them. Of all the fairy tales, this one fascinated me the most, because it was one of the few that represented a physically flawed princess.

About a year ago, I decided I wanted to do a modernized retelling of “The Handless Maiden.” I liked the idea of a physically imperfect character—one that had to survive despite their handicap. I created the character of Luke in Hideous, who only has one eye and one hand, injuries he sustained when his father was possessed by a demon. I also wanted demons to exist in this story the way they exist in fairy tales. In “The Handless Maiden,” demons aren’t discussed as some bizarre anomaly, but rather something that is a known and common threat in the world. In Hideous, demons are a rampant problem in the world. They’re almost viewed as an epidemic. Those who are possessed are even referred to as “infected.”

Hideous tells the story of a sixteen-year-old boy trying to survive this sort of world. Not only does he have his physical handicap, but he also was scarred with a mark from his demon. Those who bear this mark are referred to as “cursed,” and they are more likely to be possessed than most. However, monitoring curseds discourages demons from possessing them, so the government enslaves curseds and forces them to work in low paying jobs. Luke has worked for the state since he was eight, and now he works at an all-boys high school, where he has to watch all the other kids enjoying life, going about as if there isn’t this global demonic threat. Luke just wants to blend in. He plays by the rules, because he doesn’t want to end up in jail, which is where noncompliant curseds are likely to end up. His desperate attempt to follow the rules falls apart when the demon that possessed his father returns to possess him...

This is the story behind my new young adult novel, available through Harmony Ink Press. If you get a chance, head over to Amazon or my publisher’s site and pick up your copy today.

Thanks for having me on the blog today!

Hideous by Devon McCormack

Publication date: June 19th 2014
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult

Goodreads: Click
Purchase: Amazon | B&N
Eight years ago, Luke Retter witnessed the brutal murder of his mother and sister at the hands of his demon-possessed father. He survived but lost a hand and an eye. The demon also burned its emblem into his skin, marking him as a cursed. Those who bear this mark are at risk of becoming possessed themselves, so they are monitored and enslaved by the state-run UCIS. Working as a slave is hard, but Luke prefers it to the possibility of being controlled by a demon.

One night, Luke wakes to find his worst nightmare coming true. His father’s demon has returned. In a panic, he runs to the only person who might be able to help: Zack, a cursed who ran away from the state and created an underground community to protect other fugitive curseds. Zack helps him suppress the demon. But the city’s become a time bomb, and Luke’s demon itches to escape.

With the UCIS closing in on Zack’s underground operation and Luke’s demon crafting its own, nefarious plot, Luke realizes that he must take a stand.

“GIVE THAT to me, you fucking idiot,” Wahrmer said.
He dropped to his knees and snatched the scrub brush from me. White, foamy suds hopped from the bristles as he pressed down so hard I could hear the plastic scratching against the tile.
“You hear that? That means you’re doing it right.”
He tossed me a raised eyebrow, as if expecting me to signal comprehension of his condescending instruction.
I gave a nod, which was more than he deserved for what he could have conveyed with a simple request. But since I’d arrived at St. Augustine weeks earlier to start my new job, I’d learned that Wahrmer was anything but subtle. He was an asshole. The first thing he’d said to me was, “This is fucked. What kind of useless cursed are you gonna be? And we have to pay you same as the others?”
They didn’t pay me the same. They paid me a lot less. Being a laborer with one hand is about as useful as being a sperm donor with one nut.
Regardless of my rate, Wahrmer was a fucking ass for making such a fuss, especially in front of the other staff. But people like Wahrmer didn’t consider my kind to be people. We weren’t just lower than people. We were a threat to them. We were a disease that should have been extinct but had to be tolerated. So he could go on being as much of an asshole as he wanted, and I just had to take it.
I was a cursed.
When I was eight, my dad was possessed by a demon. Demons were a disease. The darkness, as we sometimes called them. That’s how they came—in billows of black smoke. They were ethereal creatures who hunted for hosts so they could unleash their terror on helpless victims. Pain fed them. Misery brought them delight. They possessed people’s minds, took over their bodies, and forced them to commit heinous atrocities against others.
Like my dad did to my family.
Those who fell under the control of a demon were called infected. Sometimes, when an infected attacked someone, the demon left behind a mark—a spider web patch of purple and blue veins. It could show up on any part of the body. Be any size. Mine was on my shoulder.
Those who had this mark were called “cursed.” The United Cursed and Infected Security (UCIS), the organization responsible for handling cursed and infected regulations, said the mark was like a dog pissing on a tree. Marking its territory. Only dogs mark shit to keep other dogs away. Demons marked humans to signal to other demons that the marked were ideal candidates for infection. These marks also acted as an easy gateway for other demons to enter through, essentially priming us for infection. This made us incredibly appealing targets for demons and incredibly dangerous to the rest of the population.
To decrease our chances of becoming infected, we were forced to register and handed over to the state to work as slaves. That’s not what the UCIS said they were doing. It sounded far more noble when it came from one of their spokespersons. They were just keeping an eye on us. For our own good. For society’s good. By monitoring us, our odds of becoming infected significantly decreased. Demons liked to choose easy hosts they could inflict the most damage upon, but because we were monitored, despite our vulnerability, we became less desirable targets for them—presumably because they knew that the moment they infected us, we’d be reported and dealt with. That’s right. Bad as I had it as a cursed, at least I got to live. All discovered infecteds were put to death.
This approach was how the Assembly, a government-appointed committee in charge of minimizing the demon threat, had ridded the US of the surge of the nineties, when my dad was infected. Since their regulations and the imposed segregation, there had been far fewer infections. This was used to justify continued oppression of my kind.
I’d been working in schools since I’d been booted from the system to ensure I didn’t pollute the rest of society. I wasn’t sure how we offered less of a threat cleaning the schools than we would have if we were sitting in the classes with the other guys, but I always figured it had more to do with controlling us than weeding us from the rest of the population.
Wahrmer handed me the scrub brush, eyeing the sewn-up end of my long-sleeved shirt. I’d learned to sew for just that purpose. I couldn’t sew much else to save my life, but I could, fairly easily, sew the end of a sleeve. No one wanted to see that stump. No one wanted to know how disfigured my body was. Not even me.
As Wahrmer eyed it, I wondered if he was feeling bad for me or just pissed that I wasn’t able to be a better worker because of my handicap. Regardless, I didn’t like him hovering around my work, assessing it, scrutinizing it. I was a good worker. I’d been doing it long enough and employed by enough different people to know that. No good could come from this kind of scrutiny. Even if I was doing everything right, it was easy to find fault—to question a moment spent too long on one spot, to notice a tiny speck that was somehow missed, to judge a sigh that seemed to be disapproval for the work itself. He just needed to get the fuck out of here before he pissed me off. Last thing I needed was a write-up.
I continued scrubbing, acting as if he wasn’t there. It was the only way to get through these sorts of inspections.
Wahrmer prided himself in ensuring that his staff was fully prepped to tend to all the prissy boys who were carted off to this prestigious Catholic academy, St. Augustine. I wasn’t sure if Wahrmer’s salary depended upon performance, or if he just enjoyed being the head of the bottom tier of the school… and of humanity. I assumed it was the latter. After all, when you were as low in the pecking order as a guy like Wahrmer, it must’ve been nice to know there was still someone even lower.
He hunched over me, his thick, chubby arms looking sleek in the oversized navy custodian polo he’d tucked in, accentuating his bloated, taut belly.
Just keep scrubbing.
Eventually, he abandoned my post. Probably went to check on some other staff member, who he’d likely harass as much—if not more—than he had me.
My arm was starting to get sore. Not because the work was particularly difficult, but because when I was being inspected by Wahrmer, I had to work twenty times harder than any normal person. There was a tendency for employers to think that handicapped guys like me were incapable of performing as well as the others. Hence, the pay dock. I had to prove them wrong.
My sore arm was a good excuse for a rest. I hopped up and headed to the faucet. Setting the scrub brush on the counter, I ran my arm through warm water. The heat soothed the burn beneath my flesh.
My eye fixed on the running water to prevent an accidental glance in the mirror before me. I didn’t want to see it. I never wanted to see it. For the most part, any notice of my reflection was an accident. An occupational hazard.
It wasn’t just about seeing the flesh-colored patch that covered my gnarly eye. Or the sewn-up sleeve. I didn’t want to look at them, of course. They were disgusting reminders of how misshapen and undesirable I was. But the missing eye and hand evoked something far worse than extreme dissatisfaction with my hideous appearance. They evoked cruel, horrifying memories. Memories of what my dad had done.
I could never really avoid that reflection. Even as my eye looked elsewhere, my thoughts dwelt on the moments when I had to look at my reflection… or when I inadvertently caught a glimpse of myself. That dark wave of hair, glistening with silver strands. The lonely brown eye, resting in a gray half-moon that suggested how tired and worn I always felt. Pronounced brown scars where the other eye had been. White flesh that I could only compare to a familiar shade I saw when I had the opportunity to beat out some stress. A cross wrapped in a purple ribbon, the regulation tattoo, etched along my jugular to broadcast my cursed status to the world.
Those images, vividly frozen in my memory, stirred the unsettled darkness, nudging my eye toward the glass. They called to me, bidding me to pay it a visit.
As I became increasingly aware of my ignored reflection, I shut off the water. I walked over to my cart—a bulky assortment of bottles, rags, scrub brushes. There had to be enough cleaning supplies to last most households a few years. I slid a dry rag out of a plastic bin on the bottom shelf, wedged between a few rolls of paper towels and toilet paper. Passing back across the bathroom, I slid my hand under the automatic dryers.
My flesh became waves and ripples. I stared at the spectacle, letting it soothe my thoughts. It was a habit I’d gotten into. I’d never had automatic dryers at any of the other schools I’d worked at, so it was a bit of a novelty. I had to keep my one eye on the door to make sure Wahrmer didn’t burst in and catch my moment of paradise. The rag was my cover. If he did come in, I would just act like I was scrubbing the dryer down, and it would seem as if I’d set it off by mistake. Over my many years of working under similar dictators, I’d picked up a few tricks to cover my slacking.
I slid the sore part of my forearm under the heat. It was like wrapping it in a warm washcloth. Rearing my head back, I sighed.
It was a silly thing, but as I felt that rush across my flesh, as I became enchanted by the movement of my skin, for just a moment, I transported from where I was to a quieter place.

What’s the story of Hideous?

I always say it’s the story of a boy and his demon. Luke Retter lives in a world where demons are a known and constant threat. When Luke was eight, his demon-possessed severed off one of his hands and gouged out one of his eyes. It also marked him with its emblem. People who bear an emblem of a demon are called curseds. Curseds are more likely to be possessed themselves later in life, so they are monitored and essentially enslaved by the state. Many years after his attack, Luke works as a janitor at an all-boys academy, where he has to watch all the other kids live out their normal lives. He’s jealous. He wishes he could just make friends and go to school dances, but he can’t and he knows he never will. Then the demon that possessed his father finds him, and things just get even worse…

When did you decide you wanted to write YA books?

I didn’t really ever make a decision to write Young Adult novels. I knew when the idea for Hideous came to me that it was going to end up being most appropriate for a Young Adult audience, but I just write stories as they come to me. I try not to write for genres, but I think that it’s natural for people to gravitate to genres they like. For instance, I’ve noticed that I primarily write paranormal stories, which makes sense, considering those were the types of stories that I grew up loving. I think a part of what interests me about that age range is that there’s so much emotion during that time. And not just emotion, but very strong emotion coupled with very rigid ideas about the world. As I grew up, I discovered that the world wasn’t what I was led to believe, so my expectations changed, and I never have the sort of dramatic breakdowns that I had in high school. But back then, when I was still believing so many of the distortions of reality, I had very strong reactions to not getting what I wanted.

Who are your favorite YA authors?
Hands down, I’d have to say S.E. Hinton. She was the first book I read that was technically Young Adult adult. It was Rumble Fish. I think most people read The Outsiders first, but we didn’t get to that until the following year. Tex was my favorite book, though. He was so cool. He was so interesting. I wanted to be him. My most recent Young Adult adult author favorite would have to be Scott Westerfeld. I adore his The Midnighters series. It’s about these kids who have powers during this special hour where time stops for everyone but them. The stories are so well written and fun. When I first read those books, I stood up and paced my room because I was so excited. They were thrilling. They were riveting. I recommend those books to anyone and everyone. I can’t think of a book that has elicited as much excitement from me as that.
Devon McCormack spends most of his time hiding in his lair, adventuring in paranormal worlds with his island of misfit characters. A good ole Southern boy, McCormack grew up in the Georgian suburbs with his two younger brothers and an older sister. At a very young age, he spun tales the old fashioned way, lying to anyone and everyone he encountered. He claimed he was an orphan. He claimed to be a king from another planet. He claimed to have supernatural powers. He has since harnessed this penchant for tall tales by crafting whole worlds where he can live out whatever fantasy he chooses.

A gay man himself, McCormack focuses on gay male characters, adding to the immense body of literature that chooses to represent and advocate gay men's presence in media. His body of work ranges from erotica to young adult, so readers should check the synopses of his books before purchasing so that they know what they're getting into.

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