Celebrating New Adult Author Stacey Wallace Benefiel’s 3rd Indieversary
FOUND (Penny Black #1)
From Stacey Wallace Benefiel, the author of the Zellie Wells trilogy, comes a new NA trilogy set in the Society world.
Penny Black hasn’t had it easy. Just about everything you’d expect to happen to a harassed foster-kid turned junkie has happened to Penny. Add in the mysterious power to rewind time, conducting events around her, and it’s a wonder she held up on the streets for so many years. Now, at seventeen, the New Society has found her. Finally, Penny is where she belongs. But that doesn’t stop the visions, or the need to protect the victims shown to her.
Wyatt Adams is excited and intrigued when his sister Melody assigns him to be Penny’s Lookout. Being the youngest, and hopelessly ordinary in the family that created the New Society, has left Wyatt feeling like he has a lot to prove—and Penny is a big deal. She’s got abilities that surpass any he’s seen before… and pretty much every quality he looks for in a girlfriend, but no one needs to know about that, especially Penny.
*The Penny Black trilogy is a companion to the Zellie Wells trilogy and not a continuation of the series. (PBT is set 18 years in the future with a new cast of characters.)
*Due to language and sexuality, FOUND is recommended for older teens (Most of the characters are out of high school and preparing for college.)
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Ben Fontenot fits his Ret-tech onto his head, flips the microscreen down in front of his right eye, and continues cramming all of his and Christopher’s belongings into their suitcases. “Zellie Adams,” he says in a clear and clipped manner. He has two Zellies and a few Adams’ listed in his contacts and half the time his Ret either techs his daughter Zellie or adult Zellie’s husband, Avery. It makes him wonder why he ever got rid of his iPhone 23.
He is bent over, looking under the bed for his shoes—another thing he wonders about, after all of his years spent on the road, is why does he always misplace his shoes in motel rooms?—when Zellie answers.
“Beeeeeen. It’s early.”
He smiles as her image appears before his eye. Is that a pillow behind her head? She hasn’t even bothered to get out of bed. “Hey Doc,” he says, his smile growing wider. She rolls her eyes at him. Zellie hates it when he calls her Doc. He can’t help it. He’s excited. “You might want to sit up for this, I have some news.”
Zellie rocks back and forth, her long red hair working itself into a rat’s nest against the pillow. She is either trying to roll onto her side or fall out of bed… Ben isn’t sure which.
Finally, she says, “Avery, help me.”
Ben hears Avery chuckle and then sees him come into view above Zellie. He’s doing a crappy job of hiding his amusement over his pregnant wife’s predicament.
Zellie swats him on the arm. “Knock it off and help me up. It’s all your fault I’m ginormous, asshat.”
“Can you believe people come to her for advice?” Avery jokes to Ben as his face gets really close to Zellie’s, and then they are moving backward. “There, all better.”
Ben locates his shoes and sits on the bed, slipping his special edition hemp-fiber Chucks on. When he is sure that he has Zellie’s full attention, he takes a deep breath and says, “We’ve found her.”
“Penny Black? In DC?” Zellie asks, her voice going up an octave with each question.
“Yup.” Ben nods enthusiastically. He rights his Ret-tech. “Lookout Command sent us new video a few hours ago.” Ben moves his eyes across the microscreen, focuses on the video icon in the top left corner and blinks once, bringing up the latest clip for Zellie. “You’re not the only one who got a 5 a.m. wake up call.”
He waits while Zellie watches the clip of seventeen-year-old Penny Black, a Retroact who has managed to elude capture for the past seven years, as she pauses time and rewinds a twelve-car pile-up on Interstate 66 in Virginia.
Ben shakes his head, in awe. “She collapsed after that display of badassed-ness, which is consistent with all the intel Melody’s gathered. The Highway Patrol picked Penny up off the side of the road an hour later. They were completely unaware of what she’d done and how many lives she’d saved. The cops delivered her to a juvenile detention center twenty miles from here. Christopher’s on his way now to work his mind mojo.”
“Wow,” Zellie says. “She’s just… amazing. I don’t know how she’s made it this far on her own, Lookout-free, maybe not even knowing what she is. You and Christopher will be on a plane with her in the next couple hours, I assume?”
“Our flight for Cali leaves at eleven DC time. I can’t believe we found her right before the term begins. The Universe seems to be goosing me again.”
“You love it,” Zellie teases. “All right…” Ben can practically hear the gears in her shrink mind click into overdrive. “I’ll meet you at the Society School for an intake at three. We can put off the full psych eval for a few days.”
Ben grins, blinking to close the video and send it to its folder. “Hers or mine?”
Zellie snorts. “Dude, like you didn’t fail yours the second we met. I still love you, though.”
“Hey!” Avery says, from Zellie’s left. “Enough with the sweet nothings to Benji while you’re carrying my spawn.”
It’s Ben’s turn to snort. “Your spawn? Nice way to talk about your son, Adams. So, I guess that makes Zel some kind of reptile?”
“Seriously?” Zellie moans, her face moving toward a beaming Avery. She kisses him. “Boys, it’s been eighteen years. Get over it.”
The caseworker hoists my red hemp-fiber backpack out from underneath her desk and drops it at my feet. I stretch forward to pick it up and nearly wince at the pain that shoots up my side, but I hold back. I can’t go to the doctor. A doctor might have more time or obligation to care about me. A doctor might ask the right question, the one that makes me break down and blab about my dreams.
I get a hold on the worn straps of my pack and stand, slinging it on. Before I turn to walk out the door and go meet my supposed uncle, I reach back and feel for my knife in one of the side compartments. It’s there.
A man with dark hair who’s wearing a fitted black t-shirt and moss green trousers gets up from one of the chairs in the waiting area. He comes at me, his hand extended, his brown eyes trained on mine.
I should think he’s creepy. But I don’t. His palm hits my palm and then we’re shaking hands.
“The resemblance to her mother is remarkable,” he says to the caseworker, who nods back at him with stars in her eyes. “Well…” He hooks his left index finger under my chin and turns my face from side to side. “Her mother didn’t have all of these piercings or model her hairstyle after Emo Brite, but it’s there. In the eyes.”
This statement isn’t true. At all. I look more like my olive skinned, brown-eyed dad than my fair skinned, blue-eyed mother. The caseworker would’ve known that if she’d bothered to check my file and seen the two crime scene photos that have followed me no matter how hard I’ve tried to get away from them. Still, I don’t care.
“Ready to go, Uncle…?”
“Christopher.” He places his hand on the back of my left arm and guides me toward the parking lot. “Thanks for all of your help,” he says over his shoulder to the caseworker.
“Anytime,” she practically purrs.
Uncy Christopher’s fingers tighten around my arm as we exit the juvie center. He’s not hurting me, but he’s definitely got a good grip. Panic flares in my chest. I twist away from him and swing my backpack off, going for my knife.
“Hold on,” he says in a soothing voice. “You can trust me, Penny, I promise. I’m like you.”
Like me how? I leave the knife in the side pocket. “You’re a seventeen-year-old girl?” I give him an exaggerated once over. “That sure is one hell of a believable ‘middle-aged-man-aging-gracefully’ get-up you’ve got going on there.”
“My car’s over here.” He takes my arm again and walks me to a silver two-door Toyota with Arkansas plates. Arkansas being the state I was living in prior to Virginia. The dreams plagued me something awful there.
“You’ve been looking for me,” I say. He lets go of me as the passenger side door slides open.
“Not just me, Penny. The New Society has been searching for you since you disappeared off our radar seven years ago.”
I toss my pack into the back seat and get into the car. I…don’t know why. I’m just not threatened by him or suspicious of him and that doesn’t ever happen. I’m a damn bueno judge of character. Eerily bueno. “I don’t have the first clue what you’re talking about, man. I think you’re going to have to spell it out for me. The New Society? Does that mean there’s an Old Society?” I joke.
My door slides shut and Christopher goes around the front of the car, climbing into the driver’s seat. He pushes the ignition button. “Actually, there is an old Society, but most of its members have made their home in Europe for the past eighteen years. We’re not affiliated with the other branches any longer.”
Christopher programs in our destination (the Sheraton by Dulles International) and puts the car in autodrive mode, presumably so he can focus less on driving and more on telling me WHAT THE FUCK IS UP. I’m not getting any bizarro vibes from him, but this whole scene, this whole New, Old, whatever-the-hell, Society deal is out there.
The car backs up, exits the parking lot, and enters the flow of traffic gracefully. We’re on our way. “I know you have a lot of questions. Perhaps a visual aid?” Christopher takes his Ret-Tech off of his head and hands it to me. “I assume you don’t have one of these?”
I give him a “duh” look and then strap the Ret-tech on. This is only the third time I’ve ever used one, and it takes me a second to remember how it all works.
“Be careful with your blinking, the New Society won’t spring for the latest model until the end of next month, so the commands are a little touchy.”
I close my left eye in order to steady the gaze of my right. “What am I looking for exactly?”
“Blink on the video icon.”
A clip appears on the microscreen, the text at the bottom reading Camera 58, Hwy. 66 with a scrolling digital timestamp next to it. 3:21, 3:22, 3:23.
Cars whizz by, semi-trucks, bio-buses, all headed into Washington DC. The traffic is light. Well, as light as traffic in a metro area can be. The highway is ten lanes wide and a clunky station wagon swerves from lane six into lane seven. This is familiar to me. I fist my right hand and push it against my stomach to keep from throwing up.
“My dream,” I whisper to Christopher.
“Keep watching,” he says, taking my left hand. His touch is comforting. “You did more than dream this, Penny.”
Interview with Stacey Wallace Benefiel
Q: In the description for FOUND, you write that the Penny Black trilogy is a companion to the Zellie Wells trilogy (Glimpse, Glimmer, Glow) and not a continuation of that series. Can you tell us why you decided to write another trilogy instead of Zellie Wells #4?
A: I ran out of “G” titles that were appealing. Gastroenteritis? Gangrene? Gluten-free? Ha. You know, I did consider writing a Zellie #4. I have all sorts of starts…that I won’t rule out as good material for bonus short stories. They’re all episodic and not enough to base an entire novel on.
I felt like I’d got Zellie through the worst of it. She’d gotten the guy and he was safe. Her relationship with her parents was moving in the right direction. Melody came into her own and wasn’t just her annoying little sister. Ben and Christopher were on their path to open the Society School. Zellie’s gifts had gone from being a burden to a blessing. She’d owned it.
And, I’m not going to lie, I wanted a fresh love story, a new location, and a more evil villain.
Q: Several characters from the ZWT make an appearance in FOUND, though?
A: Yes! The main characters in FOUND are Penny Black (basically the new Zellie) and Wyatt Adams (Zellie and Avery’s baby brother in the ZWT). The kids from the Zellie books are now the adults and the supporting characters in the Penny books. I had the best time writing about them as adults! Ben is still hot and a gigantic pain in the ass.
Q: FOUND is set eighteen years in the future. Was that challenging?
A: It was challenging in that I’m kind of a techno-phobe. I just started texting last fall. Seriously, it was too much for me. That’s why Zellie didn’t have a cell phone. ☺
So, here I go and create a world where cars have autodrive and everyone walks around with micro computers strapped to their heads. It was especially interesting for me to write Phoebe. She’s the youngest of the group at 16 and therefore, the most savvy with tech. But, at the end of the day, I’m a writer. I looked at what was possible now and expanded on that. Hopefully, it comes off as plausible.
Q: You’ve also included some new slang in FOUND. How did that come about?
A: I wanted this new group of kids to have their own slang. Cool and OMG were done to death in the Zellie books (and the adults continue to say those things) so I looked to use words that meant the same thing, but were new. I looked to Spanish. It made sense to me that eighteen years in the future, people in the U.S. would speak spanglish even more than they do today.
Q: If you consider Penny to be the new Zellie, how are they alike and how are they different?
A: Penny’s life has been infinitely harder, obviously. She’s been abused and bounced around from foster home to foster home until she ran away to live on the streets. Penny’s more closed off, more skeptical, more afraid. But, she’s as funny as Zellie, as self-deprecating. Penny has no more of a chance against the draw of an Adams man than Zellie or Zellie’s mom, Grace, did.
Penny’s powers are not the same as Zellie’s, but they go through the same type of discovery. This is one aspect where Penny didn’t have to go it alone, while Zellie did. Penny has a whole school and group of peers to guide her.
Writing the scenes between Zellie and Penny was the best. I was really proud of Zel and the advice she gave. ☺
Q: What’s next?
A: I’m in the plotting stage for FRAYED, the next Penny book, while I finish up working on CROSSING, my first Contemporary NA Romance that should be out within the next month or so. Definitely by summer!