The Death laughed. He waved his scythe and the world behind her vanished. Two immense eyes rose behind him, surrounded by leathery skin. She heard the beating of wings.
“You are weak,” said the Death. “You’re nothing at all, Suzie. Just a girl.” He laughed again.
“Leave me alone,” shouted Suzie. She walked forward but stopped as a sharp, shooting pain coursed through her.
“So weak, so worthless.”
“Go away! Leave me alone!”
The man, the strange eyes, and the entire world shattered, splitting into fragments of glass. Shards flew toward her, burrowing beneath skin. So much pain.
She looked down. The glass was gone. Markings covered each hand. The marks crawled upwards, moving onto Suzie’s neck—strangling her.
Something clawed at her throat, pulling her down, ripping her apart. She gasped for air.
She exploded into a burst of light.
THE SCYTHE WIELDER’S SECRET CONTINUES
Susan Sarnio made a choice, and will spend the rest of her life as the only female Death. Last year she was bullied and ostracized. Now, to her complete bewilderment, four Deaths vie for her affection. Yet, something is terribly wrong at the College of Deaths. When a ship carrying scythe metal is attacked, many blame the newly-freed Elementals, but Susan knows the Elementals are innocent.
Shadows from the distant past come to light. Dragons circle the horizon, blood spills, and nothing is what it seems. Susan and her friends struggle to stop a war. They search for the fabled First Scythe, hoping to sway the balance, but who is the true enemy?
Frank inhaled the muddled air. A blend of confused smells accosted him. Metal, smoke, and wood filled his nostrils, mixed with the unpleasant aroma of grease and Death foods. Beneath it all, the gentle, enticing salty air of the sea lingered.
“I never dreamed they’d have an amusement park in this world,” said Suzie. They stood on a line by the main entrance. Roller coasters snaked overhead, and yells and shouts punctured the air every few seconds. Deaths thought the ’Mentals were strange, yet this place outstripped any odd behavior he’d seen. Once inside, they came to an open field. A dozen Deaths demonstrated how to use boskery blades.
“Hey, it’s Billy and Frank, from the Gray Knights,” yelled a voice in the crowd. “Show us some moves, guys.”
Frank picked up the double-bladed boskery scythe and whirled it into a circle of steel, spinning the blades faster and faster. Billy did the same, and Frank approached him. The two exchanged a few light blows, and the crowd cheered.
“Come on,” said Suzie, “I want to ride a roller coaster.”
Frank handed his blade to another Death and joined Suzie in a line for the Silver Scythe, a rickety, dangerous-looking wooden contraption. Frank climbed into one of the carts, with Billy and Suzie in the cart in front. With a shudder, the cart lurched forward.
“You’ll like this,” said Suzie, turning around. Were they holding hands?
The cart shook violently, stumbling its way along the track. It turned, and then climbed upward. Frank looked over the city, peering for miles. The coaster rose high above the fair. The sea swam on one side of sight and the distant forest stood to the other. He smiled. This jealousy over Suzie was so—
His thoughts broke off, and his heart pulled its way out of his chest into his throat, as the coaster suddenly dove. Suzie screamed. He fought the urge to vomit. The coaster veered to the left, and dove a second time. Suzie turned around, a massive smile plastered across her face. His fingers tightened on the sides of the cart, and the coaster climbed again. Deaths liked this?
An agonizing five minutes later, he staggered off the ride. Suzie and Billy walked to a food stand and bought a lump of spun sugar, called cotton candy, though Frank couldn’t see any cotton in it.
“Come in, come in,” shouted a Death with long blond hair. He waved toward an assortment of scythes in the back of a tent.
“Finest scythes in Mors,” he said. “Made with the purest mortamant, and able to cut a soul in half.”
“No,” shouted another Death, this one with an eye patch. “Look at these scythes. One look at mine, and your thoughts will slice in two. Finest blades this side of the Sea.”
They walked past tent after tent and stopped at a large field. Wooden signs painted like cartoonish dragons stood in a row. Each dragon had a large bull’s eye in its center.
Frank jumped when a bang rang out across the field. Nearby Deaths pointed long rifles toward the targets.
“Deaths young and old,” shouted a man behind them. “Behold the only firearms allowed in this world for recreational purposes. Stolen from the Mortal World, and now used for your pleasure! Step right up, step right up. Only ten tickets and you can blast the hearts out of our army of Dragons!”
“Army of Dragons,” laughed Frank. “They’re just wooden targets.”
“Ah, that may be true,” said the man. He stepped into a view: a tall, chubby Death with a bright red coat and a moustache two times too large for his face. “Where is the challenge in shooting wooden targets, you ask? Well, have no fear, young sir. The Range isn’t the most popular attraction at Silver Fair for nothing! Just watch.”
He waved to a group of Deaths holding rifles. They aimed at the targets. Then, a half-naked man with bright purple hair ran into the field.
Frank’s stomach clenched. A ’Mental.
“Stop!” shouted Suzie. “They’ll shoot him.”
The Deaths fired and the purple-haired man stretched out a hand. A wall of ice appeared in front of him. Two of the Dragon targets shook when bullets hit them, but the man seemed unhurt.
“This is awful,” said Frank. “They’re making him defend himself for their amusement.”
“Isn’t it wonderful,” said the red-coated Death. “If they can’t block the guns, they die.” He laughed. Frank stared at him, fighting the urge to use his power and rip apart the Death’s mind.
“That’s horrid,” said Suzie.
“We need to stop this,” said Frank. He jumped over the fence and ran out onto the Range.
“What do you think you’re doing?” shouted the ringleader. “Get out of there.”
The purple-haired ‘Mental turned to Frank with a frightened expression. His feet were chained to the ground.
Christopher Mannino’s life is best described as an unending creative outlet. He teaches high school theatre in Greenbelt, Maryland. In addition to his daily drama classes, he runs several after-school performance/production drama groups. He spends his summers writing and singing. Mannino holds a Master of Arts in Theatre Education from Catholic University, and has studied mythology and literature both in America and at Oxford University. His work with young people helped inspire him to write young adult fantasy, although it was his love of reading that truly brought his writing to life.
Mannino is currently completing The Scythe Wielder’s Secret series and is working on several adult novels.
Where are you from? Does the area you live in influence you writing?
Originally from Western Massachusetts, I now live outside Washington DC. I think my time as a young child living in a very rural area in the mountains helped shape my love of nature and the outdoors. Even now, describing unique setting, particularly natural environments, is one of my strengths as a writer.
Tell us your latest news??
Acclaimed YA Series “The Scythe Wielder’s Secret” continues in book two “Sword of Deaths.” The novel releases August 25th in ebook and paperback, and the audiobook versions of both books one and two are scheduled for release in January, 2016. Another major piece of news is that my wife, Rachel Mannino, has just signed publishing contracts for her first two romance novels, and starting this holiday season, we plan to do book events together.
When and why did you begin writing? What inspired you to write your first book?
The idea for School of Deaths emerged when I was finishing my graduate degree at Oxford University. I spent four months abroad, far from everyone I knew. Every week, I traveled somewhere I had never been before. I would climb castle ruins in Wales and visit cathedrals in England. One of my favorite trips was to Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. I crept to the cliff face of Barras Nose, a stony peninsula jutting into the North Sea and overlooking the ruins of Tintagel, which some believe to be the birthplace of King Arthur. It was dawn, there were no other people in sight, and I had to struggle against the wind, fighting to keep my balance so I didn’t crash into the ocean. I imagined being buffeted by winds, alone, and what that would do to a character. That’s how I came up with the character of Suzie, alone in a world of men, buffeted by sexism.
Returning to Oxford, I envisioned Suzie alone in a strange school. The idea of a school of trained Reapers appealed to me, giving a fantasy edge to her story. In an early draft, the school of deaths resembled Oxford. However a beta reader told me, very correctly, that Oxford was the inspiration for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I eventually changed the setting drastically to avoid that parallel.
What book(s) / author(s) have influenced your life and writing?
I read voraciously as a child. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Asimov’s Foundation, and Tolkien’s Middle Earth were some of my favorite locations to dream about. JK Rowling energized the book world in a way I’d never seen before (I was working at Borders during those releases) and have never seen since. I think every book I read, whether it’s a new favorite, or a book I didn’t love, adds to my writing style and appreciation for the craft.
Tell us about your characters and how they came to be? Have they been in your head for a long time?
Susan Sarnio was inspired by the trip to Oxford, mentioned in a question above. When I wrote School of Deaths I wasn’t sure if the series would continue. I knew where I wanted the series to go, and exactly how it’d end, if it became a series, but I did not want to self-publish, and if it didn’t get a publishing contract, I was prepared to end the story with book one. It took a year to find a publisher, but I was glad when I did.
I am currently working on Daughter of Deaths, the final book, and I can honestly say that the scenes I’m writing and working on have been in my mind for over four years. It’s exciting to finally put them down in paper. Of course, many of the other characters and events along the way emerged as surprises.
What motivates you to write?
I have so many vivid ideas and stories within me, which I really want to share. Stephen King referred to writing as the truest form of magic. I can transfer an image from my mind into a reader’s mind, through language. It’s truly an amazing thing.
What is the hardest part of writing?
For me personally, time management is the most difficult thing. I am a full-time theatre teacher. I do the bulk of my drafting over the summers, but I work part-time jobs in the summers as well. Then there’s all the other things which take immense amounts of time, from marketing to editing. Finding time to manage all of these is difficult.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned that writing the book is the easy part- and it’s not easy. Editing can be hard. For Sword of Deaths, my editor hadn’t read book one in the series, which made the editing part even more tricky. Then, of course, comes the marketing phase. Marketing is time and money consuming, and can become frustrating. You’ve written a book you’re proud of, one that gets great reviews, but no one knows about it. Getting the word out, especially in a shrinking market that’s crammed with self-published titles, can be very challenging.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. Dreams, nature, travel, conversations, etc. I keep a journal of future book ideas- I currently have approximately twenty spanning many different genres. Following “The Scythe Wielder’s Secret” I plan to write an adult science-fiction thriller.
What does your family think of your writing?
They are very supportive, especially my wife who is a romance novelist herself. My wife says that my writing helped encourage her to start writing.
What is the best advice you would give to inspiring authors?
Never give up. Believe in your work, and don’t expect the ten million dollar contract or the movie deal. Write because you have stories to share, and because you can’t imagine not sharing those tales.
What book are you reading now?
Currently reading “Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography” and Robert Jordan’s “The Eye of the World”
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