UPDATE: Upcoming Projects Galore!

If you’ll recall, at the very end of 2020, I announced a slew of new projects that, at the time, I thought would be hitting shelves this year. As it turns out, I vastly underestimated how hectic 2021 would be from a professional standpoint, so the release dates I promised in that original post are…not going to happen.

But those projects are still in the works, and I wanted to offer an update on their progress (since more than one of you have reached out and asked about them).

Also note: the next installment of the Jill Andersen series is in the works. What was originally going to be Bitter End will now be split into two books: Bitter Divide, which will hopefully release in early 2022, and Bitter End, which will (hopefully) follow in late 2022.

Operation: Hellion series
Several months ago, there was an attack on our nation’s capital.

The mad Underworld king, Seraphus, summoned a demon from under the Earth and watched as the creature rained death and destruction on Washington, DC–even tearing through the Capitol and killing three members of Congress. A small group of unknown heroes defeated the creature and eventually saved the world, but the damage had already been done. A message had already been delivered: Monsters were real and America wasn’t ready.

Newly-elected President Amanda Crawford, in conjunction with both her predecessor and disgraced former Army scientist Dr. Sebastian Lo, has an idea for how to deal with the growing supernatural threat: a clandestine task force called Operation: Hellion. Dr. Lo supplies the technology, while President Crawford’s various contacts have allowed her to recruit some of the world’s sharpest supernatural minds and strongest demon fighters.

Borrowing from both Notna and the Jill Andersen series, the Operation: Hellion series will act as a cross between The West Wing and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The Operation: Hellion series will debut in mid-2022, with the first book, Land of the Free. Look for a short story collection titled Prelude to Hellion by the end of 2021.

Not the final cover.

Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries
Summer Rhoades kills people for a living.

Except when she doesn’t. Which usually isn’t a problem, unless she promises she will and then doesn’t follow through. Assassins command top dollar, so to take a job and not follow through with it is almost unheard of. But Summer’s target is not who her employer told her, and Summer makes a judgment call.

Which is fine and dandy, until her employer comes after her.

So now Summer is on the run, during the time of year she refuses to work. Several of her former colleagues (if you can call them that) are after her, but one assassin in particular is especially eager to have Summer in the crosshairs.

Summer has 30 days to survive the price on her head. Where she goes from there…even she doesn’t know.

Some of you may recognize this as my 2020 NaNoWriMo project–the one I’ve already knocked out 73,000 words on…only to discover I’m not even halfway through the story yet. Chances are, Summertime, Assassins, and Other Skullduggeries will be broken up into a trilogy–the sort where I write the entire thing before publishing any of it.

The Summertime trilogy is tentatively set to release in the summer of 2022.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Writing About Law Enforcement in the BLM Era

I published Behind the Badge, the third book in the Jill Andersen series, in 2016. Not only was it a consequential book in terms of the overall series arc, but it also marked the first time I wrote about the issues of police brutality. On the heels of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and too many others, Behind the Badge was my attempt at examining how Jill Andersen would respond to a case in which the suspects happened to be her own colleagues.

Behind the Badge, which was loosely based on the Gray case, is my worst-selling book (not that surprising, given the subject matter). It is also, sadly, still my most relevant.

It’s a simple concept at face value: the police should not be indiscriminately killing people, particularly Black people who have already endured centuries of violence and oppression and indignities for no other reason than the color of their skin. There are those who disagree with that idea, and they need to be called out for what they are and cast aside as social pariahs.

Then this past summer saw George Floyd murdered by police. In front of a crowd. In broad daylight.

It felt like the discussion surrounding race and police brutality shifted after that. Got deeper. It was no longer enough to call for the cops to stop killing Black people. Now the very notion of policing itself is under scrutiny. The history of it. The need (or lack of need) for it. Some will tell you how bad a slogan “Defund the Police” was from a political strategy standpoint, but it struck at the very core of what the discussion had become, a reality made apparent following Floyd’s murder: what if the police can’t be reformed?

Considering my flagship work features several characters who work in law enforcement, and I’ve already used the series to examine the issue of excessive police force, it feels like I’d be doing a disservice if my series didn’t continue to touch on and examine the same conversation that’s going on in our country.

That’s not to say that’s all the series will become — this is, after all, a story about a cybernetically-enhanced superhero. But the fantastic can offer a window into the mundane, and the overall notion of what role, if any, law enforcement has in society is a thread that fits into Jill’s character narrative. Jill always wanted to be a cop, looked up to her father who also served, and she steadfastly believes that at its best, law enforcement can be a good and vital thing.

But what if she’s wrong?

What if everyone who believes that is wrong?

The entire reason Jill became a superhero was because she saw, early in her law enforcement career, that simply being a cop wasn’t good enough. The reasons for that are numerous, and go far beyond the “cops shouldn’t kill Black people” argument. They strike at the core of Jill as a character, and they strike at her relationships with so many of the people closest to her.

Is Jill a hero? If so, is it because of her badge, or because of her suit, or because of her deeds?

I feel like I have a moral imperative to tackle the issue of police violence and inherent bias and everything tangled within, but tackling Black Lives Matter and police brutality and racism and the role of law enforcement more broadly provides me, as a writer, with a tremendous opportunity to really dive into my characters and examine the reason this series still exists.

I feel like so much of what we, as a society, think of law enforcement stems from popular culture’s portrayal of it. Between mystery novels and buddy cop movies and the umpteen thousand TV shows about detectives and SWAT teams and federal agents, we’re being fed this all-American, badass version of law enforcement where the violence is justified, the heroes are never wrong, and those with badges should never be questioned.

Maybe it’s time for some law enforcement-centered fiction that pushes back on that a little?

SNIPPET: Life at the Speed of Time

This is the first chapter of my short story, “Life at the Speed of Time,” which is featured in the anthology Cracks in the Tapestry, which was released last month. It’s the first Cracks in the Tapestry coveranthology I’ve been a part of, and this story was a lot of fun to write. Enjoy!

The steering wheel shaking in my hands is actually soothing.

It distracts me from the bead of sweat running down the right side of my face. It gives me a reprieve from the oppressive heat in the cockpit, a stifling one hundred and forty degrees according to a thermometer placed on my seat. The cooling unit attached to my helmet gave out back on lap 120, not ideal for a muggy day in central Florida. I can barely make out my crew chief or spotter when they talk into my ear, the roar of my engine drowning them out.

But all things considered, I’m having a good race. Daytona has never been my favorite race track; I don’t care for this style of racing. I’m surrounded by forty of my closest enemies, our beasts of speed inches apart as we barrel along the banking so fast we should be soaring into the air. This is all I’ve known my entire life, but even if I’m more comfortable at a half-mile bullring, this place is the pinnacle of stock car racing.

And I’ve led laps today. The car’s fast. But a bad pit stop thirty laps ago has me stuck in 30th. I have nowhere to run. I’m stuck in the middle of the pack, with cars on either side of me. If one of us sneezes, or someone gets an itchy arm, calamity is sure to follow.

The field barrels into the first turn. To the fans, we’re little more than a blur of color. But with my competitors going as fast as me, I can read every sponsor logo on their quarter panels. Freddy Bocelli, who wrecked me going for the win at Bristol last season, is to my outside. He has a new team this year, but the way his left front tire twitches tells me he still hasn’t learned how to hold a pretty wheel.

To my inside is Stan Gordon. No relation and not even half the talent of the Gordon you’ve actually heard of. He’s only in that car because he has a sponsor – his father’s chain of hardware stores.

Don’t get me started.

The banking gives way and we’re screaming down the backstretch. Only a concrete wall with energy-absorbing protection, a catchfence, and a row of billboards separate us from the airport behind the track.

Three wide middle. Three wide middle.

My spotter, Earl Webber. He’s probably staring at my car through binoculars from his perch above the press box on the frontstretch. I can only see but so much in this car: out the windshield and through my rearview mirror. Earl helps me navigate through trouble and tells me what’s going on around me. His information is paramount, especially here where the drivers can’t get away from each other.

Clear high!

As soon as the words leave Earl’s mouth, I jerk the steering wheel to the right. My momentum carries me past Stan, then I find myself passing two more cars. Finally, I’m getting somewhere. Earl’s in my ear again, but I’m not listening as the banking tilts me going into the third turn. Several rows ahead, I see a car jump out of line on the high side, making it three-wide.

No one goes with him, and he loses several positions.

Ten laps to go.

I curse under my breath. Ten laps?! I thought I had more time.

Clear low!

I turn left. The tires squeal in protest, but the car does what I need it to. Coming off the fourth turn, coming back to the start-finish line, I’ve picked up three more spots. I can feel the air propelling my car forward. I can’t see the air, but I can definitely feel it.

But I do see a car in the infield grass, on its roof and on fire. I blink and shake my head. The vision’s gone.

What the…?

I pass another car going into the first turn, but I have to jerk the wheel to the right when my rear tires lose traction. If I hadn’t caught it, I’d have wrecked at least five or six cars. That’s how close together we are. I catch my breath by the time we’re on the backstretch again; at this late stage, it feels like we’re taking forever to race along this two and a half-mile track.

The image of the burning car returns. But this time, I hear the crunch of warped sheet metal. Someone screams. The sky above is a ghastly mix of coal black and burnt orange.

But as I barrel into Turn 3, the image is gone.

“What the…?”

You okay in there, Randy?

Before I can answer Scott, my crew chief, Earl’s yelling in my ear.

The leaders are wrecking on the frontstretch!

Another scream startles me. I cry out and have to corral the car as it swerves back and forth. No one hits me, and I scrub off enough speed that I’m lingering hundreds of feet behind the pack. The scream returns, louder, and when I squeeze my eyes shut, the car on fire explodes. The driver was still inside.

I know because that’s when the screaming stops.

Randy! Randy?!

Other than Earl’s voice, everything is silent. My car comes to a complete stop by the entrance to pit road. My grip on the steering wheel is so tight my hands start to cramp.

Then I open my eyes.

Nearly half the field is wrecked in the curve along the frontstretch, torn sheet metal and roll cages strewn about the asphalt and infield grass. Safety vehicles have already begun approaching the carnage, and some of the drivers have exited their cars after lowering the black netting over the drivers-side window.

Most of the safety crews are heading for the infield grass. When I see why, my heart stops and my stomach drops. In the grass, there is a car, upside down and on fire. The red No. 54 car, piloted this season by hotshot rookie Chase Flanigan.

Randy, you alright?

I yank the cords from my helmet – both the cooling unit that no longer works and the radio. Gritting my teeth, my heartbeat far quicker than it had been when I was going 200 miles an hour, I pull off my helmet, and the neck restraint device attached to it, and head sock underneath. I dislodge the steering wheel from its column, tear down my window net. The six-point harness trapping me in my cocoon of a seat is the next to go before I pull myself out of the car and run toward the wreckage.

No one sees me. The safety crews and ambulances are too busy tending to the wrecked.

Stock car racing is as safe as it’s ever been. To the point where we sometimes foolishly think we’re invincible. Never mind the guy who at this track a couple years ago hit a concrete wall so hard he snapped both of his legs. Or the fact that our most beloved driver had to hang it up, in part, because of head injuries.

But no one’s died in almost twenty years, so…

The fire’s grown by the time I reach the grass. The car’s on-board extinguishing unit must have broken. I push my way through three safety workers, unable to shake the déjà vu. I gulp down air as fast as I can, willing myself not to drop to my knees and hurl. I’ll be sick later. Right now, I have to get Chase out of that car.

“Hey!”

I ignore the safety worker. Once I’m within feet of Chase’s car, the heat pushes back against me like a wall. I cringe and push through it as best I can, shielding my eyes from the brightness. The smoke is black as night pouring into the sky, and I drop to my knees by the passenger’s side. Peering into the window, I see Chase’s eyes wide as they can go through the visor of his helmet. He stares right at me, tugging on his belts. We’re always told to pull those belts a little bit tighter before the green flag waves; right now, Chase needs them to loosen.

Springing back to my feet, I run across to the driver’s side. One member of the safety crew grabs me by the shoulder. I shake him off and point at the fire. “Put that out!”

No… no no no no no!

Not even five minutes ago, I had seen this exact scene unfold. And the first time Chase screams, I freeze. It’s the exact sound I’d heard just moments before the wreck happened. I still don’t know how it started. I imagine TV will be playing the incident over and over again on a loop, and non-racing media will even pick up on it. Train wreck spectacle, nothing more.

But Chase needs to get out of the car before the worst happens.

Reaching in, I tug with all the strength I’ve got. But those belts won’t budge. Cursing under my breath, I turn my head to cough. The smoke is so bad my eyes are watering. I gag and nearly lose my lunch. But a deep breath keeps me from blowing chunks all over the rookie, and I reach in again with both hands.

Still, the belts won’t move.

“Help!” he screams.

Part of me wants to be sarcastic in return, but the kid’s freaked. As he should be. His car’s on fire and he’s stuck in it. The plume of smoke has grown to the point where the wind gust is carrying it into the grandstands. Fans are fleeing, covering their faces as they seek refuge. Some fans have stuck around, either to get photos or to see Chase emerge from the car.

But if I can’t those belts off…

Three safety workers grab me by the shoulders and pull me away.

“No!” I try to free myself, but a fourth worker joins the fray. “I have to help!”

“There’s nothing you can do!” one worker, his firesuit reading Jenkins, shouts. “The car’s gonna blow at any minute!”

I whirl around in anger. “So you’re just gonna leave him there?!”

Jenkins points, and over my shoulder, I see two men in fireman gear drop to their knees. One reaches in, and after what feels like an eternity, both he and the other fireman begin the process of extracting Chase from the vehicle. What’s left of the crowd roars in excitement when Chase’s head emerges from the window, but his shoulders get caught on the damn belts.

Those six-point harnesses are great when you’re in the car. In a situation like this… my stomach falls again.

The four crewmen who had pulled me from Chase’s car grab me and yank me back again. We retreat to pit road and leap over the wall separating the crews from their pit stalls, and I don’t know why. I trip over the wall and grunt, scraping my hands on the pavement. When I turn around to yell at the crewmen, I don’t see them. Because they ducked.

Then Chase’s car explodes.

He had only been halfway extracted. Both he and the two firemen trying to rescue him are engulfed in the fireball. Fans scream in horror. Fellow drivers fall to their knees on the track.

And I throw up all over a set of unused Goodyears.

 

Like what you read? Check out the rest by picking up your copy of Cracks in the Tapestry, available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions! The anthology also features work from Leslie Conzatti, Arthur David, C. Scott Davis, Benjamin D. Pegg, R. Eric Smith, and Lorna Woulfe.

 

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads, and you can also become a Patron.

RELEASE DAY: Behind the Mask

TODAY IS THE DAY!

Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask, the fourth installment in the Jill Andersen series, is now out! This entry promises to change everything going forward, and after the events of Behind the Badge, things are about to get even more intense.

About Behind the Mask

It’s hard to be a hero when everyone’s out to get you.

Once upon a time, Jill Andersen considered herself a hero. Not just because of the badge handed to her by the city of Baltimore and the pledge she once made to protect and serve. Her secret life, as the vigilante Bounty, had allowed Jill to protect her native Baltimore in ways her day job never could.

But all that has gone to hell now. One case pushed Jill past her limits, to the point where she made choices she can’t take back. As a result, the entire city is on the lookout for her. Allies can no longer be counted on. People who were once in her corner might very well be trying to bring her down… to say nothing of those she has crossed along the way.

But that is the least of Jill’s problems. A shadowy figure emerges among the chaos, and his link to Jill’s past has the potential to be her ultimate undoing. Jill thought every link to Project Fusion has been settled once she solved Dr. Trent Roberts’ murder almost one year ago, but if she’s not careful, her past might just kill her.

Behind the Mask, the gripping, hard-hitting fourth novel in the Jill Andersen mystery series (Bounty, Blood Ties, Behind the Badge), gives readers yet another taste of author J.D. Cunegan’s comic book-inspired brand of fast-paced prose, with chapters that fly by and plot twists that will leave readers guessing and waiting for more.

About J.D. Cunegan

J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Pick up Behind the Mask today in the following formats: Paperback | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Indigo | Angus & Robertson

Check out the rest of the Jill Andersen Series.