Thursday, June 30, 2022

White Out Available for Purchase July 11 from Down & Out Books


The seventh Penns River novel, White Out, drops July 11 from Down & Out Books. (Available for Kindle pre-order now.) The crux of the story is

·       A Black cop shoots and kills an unarmed white man.

·       The white man was also a white supremacist.

·       White supremacists decide to converge on Penns River for the funeral.

·       The Allegheny Casino is having a winner-take-all poker tournament the same day as the funeral. The winner will walk away with ten thousand hundred-dollar bills.

·       A snowstorm drops over a foot on the town the same day.

 The initial feedback for the book has been outstanding.

 In his latest Penns River crime novel --- White Out --- talented author Dana King reminds us again that in those small towns and cities, sneeringly called ‘flyover country,” the problems and challenges of the outside world often come to play a deadly visit.  In White Out,  a shooting involving a Black officer and a seemingly unarmed white supremacist sets off the proverbial spark that threatens to become an inferno.  With protestors and counter-protestors arriving, along with the news media and agitators, the strained police department desperately works to keep the peace as an approaching snowstorm and a casino poker tournament complicates matters even further.  A gritty crime novel that deserves wide attention.

 ---- Brendan DuBois, award-winning and New York Times bestselling author


It’s been a long time  since I read a book that pulled me along as urgently as Dana King’s latest Penns River novel White Out. King writes about his cops and their town with the kind of real affection that has you not just wanting, but needing, to know what happens to them next–and there’s plenty happening in this fast moving, deftly written thriller. Highly recommended.

 -- J.D. Rhoades, bestselling author of the Jack Keller series and the Cade and Clayborne historical thrillers.


We’ve all heard the stories of White cops shooting and killing unarmed Black men. But what happens when the scenario flips?  In White Out, Dana King kills in this gripping behind-the-badge drama. One cop I know wonders how Dana is able to get it so right.


~John DeDakis, Novelist, Writing Coach, and former Senior Copy Editor for CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”

 Since I already gave away the inciting incident, I see no potential spoilers in supplying a brief excerpt.

 oston reached for a wrist to cuff. Richie slapped him open handed across the face and ran for the front of the building. Took Boston half a second to recover from the shock before he began pursuit. Almost collided with the ambulance crew on their way in. They’d been to Fat Jimmy’s before and knew the drill. Stepped back to make room. One pointed to Boston’s right. “He went that-a-way.”

Footprints in the fresh snow led around the side of the building. Boston took his time, stayed away from the corner, flashlight in hand. Clear. Followed the tracks to where they went around back. Moved at an angle to give himself room in case Richie was hugging the wall. Saw a horror show of empty beer and whisky cases, pallets, and an overflowing dumpster that created an alley along the back side of the building. Stray bottles, broken glass, bottle caps, and pieces of paper and cardboard littered the path.

The cases and pallets stacked on either side would limit Boston’s freedom of movement if he walked between the dumpster and building. Going around the outside limited his line of sight and could allow Richie to run back the way he came without being seen.

Boston paused to listen for movement. Nothing. Drew his weapon, finger outside the trigger guard. “Penns River police! Show yourself with your hands up.”


Boston considered his options and moved into the path defined by the bar’s detritus. Flashlight in his left hand, gun in his right. Small steps, head on a swivel. No ambient light. The snow, coming down harder, reflected the flashlight beam into his eyes. Paused after each step to allow space between crunches in the snow, alert for any sound.

There. To his left. Near the dumpster.

Quiet again. Cat, maybe. More likely a rat.

Or a man shuffling his feet.

Glass broke and Boston froze in place. Raised the gun. Eyes scanning between the rows of garbage, looking right when Richie came from behind the dumpster on the left. He turned. Would have said Freeze or Stop but Richie was too close. Boston fired. Richie appeared to slip, came up lunging. Boston fired twice more. Richie dropped to his knees with an expression equal parts rage, pain, and disbelief. Fell hard enough for Boston to hear his nose break as it bounced off the hardpack and gravel.

 This will not be the most comfortable book for some to read, as it deals with white supremacists in a realistic manner, i.e. any time I thought I might have been too harsh, a little research showed I’d barely scratched the surface. Some of the language is both unforgiving and unforgivable. I didn’t set out to write a book that dealt with racism that wouldn’t offend anyone. I don’t see how anyone could, considering how offending racism is to anyone who gives it more than a second’s thought. What I aimed for was an entertaining story with an honest depiction of the antagonists. You’ll have to tell me if I succeeded.


Thursday, June 23, 2022

Favorite Reads, Spring 2022

 Squeeze Me, Carl Hiaasen. Savagely funny satire of a president (code name: Mastodon) and his wife in their palatial south Florida digs. The inciting incident - a python eating an old woman at a charity gala - sets the tone gloriously. Maybe Hiaasen’s funniest book, which says something.


The Second United States Sharpshooters in the Civil War, Gerald R. Earley. Meticulously researched and detailed history of a unique Civil War regiment. Unlike most others Civil War units, the sharpshooters hailed from multiple states and had to pass through a rigorous screening process before acceptance. They also had their own tactics, making them the forerunners for specialized units such as Rangers and paratroopers. A little down in the weeds at times, but the best look at day-to-day life during the war as I have read.


The Side Hustle, Colin Conway. The first of Conway’s 509 series deals with the ripple effects of the murder of a financial planning blogger. Conway takes a relatively detailed look into an arcane subject and makes it easy to understand and relatable even to those with little interest in such things, while still nailing the police elements.


Rum Punch, Elmore Leonard. The basis of the film Jackie Brown, and maybe Leonard’s best crime  novel. He was at the height of his powers here, and the plot meshes perfectly with his dialog and attitude. It had been a while since I read it; I chose wisely to come back.


The Premonition, Michael Lewis. Brilliant examination of the CDC’s role in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and why the organization is better suited for looking back through gathering data than working well on real-time solutions. Once again, Lewis takes a complex subject and makes it not only eminently readable for nonprofessionals, but highly entertaining.


A Baker’s Divorce, Frank Scalise. The story of a trend-chasing, aging rocker whose impending divorce (Number 13) triggers a mid-life crisis. Cal Baker is as self-centered and clueless a character as you’ll ever read, but there’s little or no malice in him; he just doesn’t get how his selfishness affects other people. I have never read a funnier book.


Sacrifice Fly, Tim O’Mara. The first of the Raymond Donne novels. O’Mara hasn’t had a Donne book published recently, which is a shame. Re-reading Sacrifice Fly reminded me of what a fine and nuanced writer he is.


A Bridge Too Far, Cornelius Ryan. Masterful depiction of World War II’s greatest Allied disaster, the airborne drop into Holland, code named Market-Garden. Poorly conceived and not well executed on the ground, it was a catastrophe for the British 1st Airborne Division in Arnhem and helped to change the philosophy of airborne infantry forever after. Ryan uses the same scholarship and writing techniques that worked so well in The Longest Day to describe a longer operation. Strongly recommended for anyone interested in the war in Europe. (Link is for the Library of America’s combined reprinting of A Bridge Too Far and The Longest Day. Highly recommended for the improved maps and other features.)


Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, Lawrence Block. I was unaware of this gem until I stumbled across it while looking for the next book in the Scudder series. Funny and always on point, this compilation of advice columns originally written for Writer’s Digest should be on every author’s bookshelf.



Thursday, June 16, 2022

Another Blown Deadline


I’ve been away, which is why last week’s post got no love in social media. I was a little different for me, and I like how it turned out, but last Friday was action packed, so I didn’t get to tell anyone about it. If you’re interested, here it is.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

I Got the Music in Me

 You may or may not know (or care) that music was my career of choice. I was a good enough trumpet player to obtain a bachelor’s in music education, play three years in an Army touring band, and earn a Master’s in Performance from New England Conservatory. I wasn’t good enough to earn a living that would support a family, so when The Sole Heir came along, I found real jobs. It was a good trade for me, and, frankly, for music.


That doesn’t mean music doesn’t still have a role in my life. While music once  captured at least part of my attention most waking minutes, now it provides mental and psychological comfort zones.


Among the benefits of having been a musician was a broadening of my musical interests. My father listened primarily to country music; my  mother was more eclectic. (It was Mom who introduced me to Blood, Sweat, & Tears.) I played in big bands in high school and college, where I was also introduced to classical music. In the Army I played whatever they needed a trumpet for, which included marching band, concert band, jazz big band, brass quintet, Vegas-style review, and Dixieland band.


I also learned to appreciate excellence in any form. While I never played in bands that performed these specific kinds of music, I developed an affection for blues, rhythm and blues, roadhouse, zydeco, show tunes, Tom Lehrer, Alan Sherman, and whatever you want to call what Tom Waits does.


So what do I listen to?


Most often, nothing. The older I get, the harder it is to multi-task, and it’s often difficult to have music around me and not actively listen to it, which detracts from whatever else I’m doing. It’s not a great loss, as I am rarely without an ear worm, so I have music with me virtually every waking moment.


What comes to me as ear worms? Anything. In the course of a week the music in my head could range from Mahler to Maynard Ferguson to Merle Haggard to Tower of Power to Beethoven to Delbert McClinton to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to…you get the picture.


There are times when I want, or even need, certain music. Where do I turn when I want to listen to music as my primary activity?


Country takes me to a safe place, not unlike waking to the smell of bacon. I’m drawn to the songs that tell stories, and funny or self-satirical is fine with me.


For fun it’s either jazz (usually big bands: Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, Doc Severinsen) or rhythm and blues (TOP, Blues Brothers); Delbert McClinton sometimes serves as a bridge when I can’t make up my mind.


If I want to elevate myself, it’s usually classical. Listening to Mahler, Beethoven, Mozart, and their peers takes me back to when I was the happiest in my work, playing in orchestras. This is where I go when I want the rest of the world to fade away.


It’s been over twenty years since I played worth mentioning. I take a trumpet out of its case every couple of years, play for five minutes, and put it away. My face hurts and the sound not only doesn’t meet my standard, I know how distant I am from producing an acceptable sound, and it’s not worth the trip.


That said, I don’t regret a second of my time as a musician. Nothing except parenthood ever provided me with anything like the personal reward I got from playing. I went places, did things, met people, and learned things I never imagined growing up working class in Western Pennsylvania. I am grateful every day for having those opportunities.


Why am I talking about this in a writing blog? Because my life as a musician shaped my writing in ways I am still discovering. I’ll talk about those someday, but that’s a different discussion.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Dietrich Kalteis, Author of Nobody From Somewhere

 Dietrich Kalteis is the critically acclaimed author of ten novels and winner of the 2022 Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence for Best Crime Novel for Under an Outlaw Moon. He enjoys life with his family on Canada’s West Coast.


I met him at Bouchercon several years ago and took to his writing immediately. He’s always a good interview and I look forward to each of his books almost as much for an excuse to interview him as I do for the book. Almost.


One Bite at a Time: Welcome back to the blog, Dietrich, and thanks for having me on “Off the Cuff.” (Don’t look for it, folks. It hasn’t run yet.) Let’s start with what you’d like people to know about your new book, Nobody From Somewhere.


Dietrich Kalteis: Nice to be back, Dana. Thank you.


Here’s the pitch: Long retired cop, Fitch Henry Haut, is terminally ill and living

out his final years alone. As he sits in his favorite diner enjoying the meatloaf special, he watches as a young girl steps in, getting the attention of two rough-looking men at the counter. Seeing them, she runs off and they give chase.


His cop instincts kick in and Fitch follows, catching up with them in the parking lot. As the two men try to force her into their vehicle, Fitch manages to get the upper hand, and he and the girl take off in his broken-down Winnebago.


The girl is Wren Jones, a runaway from an abusive foster home. She tells him how earlier that day she came to overhear the two men going on about a casino robbery they just committed, and how this was the second time she got away from them that day.


Fitch realizes the men will come hunting for them on account of what the girl knows, and that the ailing rig he’s driving won’t be hard to spot. A bond forms as Fitch and Wren struggle to escape out of town, both aware that time is not on their side.



OBAAT: You have essentially three storylines in this book.

1. Valentina’s crew rips off the Chinese businessman.

2. The triad decides to get even.

3. Wren and Fitch’s accidental involvement with the crew


I know from having spoken with you before that you don’t outline. How did you keep the pacing so well organized while flying by the seat of your pants?


DK: From the first draft, there was an awareness of the balance between description and pace. I tend to keep the descriptions lean and that helps with the pacing. When I had the first pass complete, I went back over it and did the usual necessary trimming, getting rid of whatever didn’t work and tightening up what did. When I’m choosing details from my research, I’m looking for what will give the biggest bang as far as visual impact, and what will lend authenticity. Once I was basically happy with the story, I did a time outline and went back over it, just to be sure it all made sense, so it’s a little like outlining in reverse.



OBAAT: Your three previous books were period pieces. What brings you back to contemporary life?


DK: I got the idea for this one while I was walking along the North Vancouver waterfront a couple of years ago, an area where boondockers were parked around a couple of city blocks slated for redevelopment. I met a man who was living out of his rusting motor home, and we got to talking. A friendly, colorful character who gave me some insight into his way of life. It opened my eyes, and I was intrigued by his stories, and as chance would have it, I ran into him a couple more times before he pulled stakes and moved on. I loved his tales of life on the road, traveling through the province and up and down the coast. He became the jumping off point for the Fitch character in the novel.



OBAAT: Looking into the Way-back Machine, when you were first here in 2014, I asked what piece of advice you’d give to yourself as a novice writer. That was after your first book (Ride the Lightning). You begged off, saying that you still considered yourself a novice. The next year I asked the same question when we spoke about The Deadbeat Club; same answer. Now it’s been eight years and ten books, so no shirking: What piece of advice would Today Dietrich give to Fledgling Writer Dietrich?


DK: I appreciate the persistence, Dana. I guess the best advice my today self would have would be something that was expressed to me by my publisher, Jack David, back when the first book was coming out. He told me not to guess at trends, or at what the next best seller may look like — just to do my own thing and to write the best story that’s in me.



OBAAT: We’ve spoken before about the influence Elmore Leonard has on both of us. It’s been a while; are there elements of your writing that are less influenced by him than before? More influenced? Anything he did you’ve decided to stay away from?


DK: There have been other authors who inspired and influenced me along the way, but he was one of the greats, and his writing was certainly an early influence. And it still is. I just reread Riding the Rap, a true crime classic and a goldmine of inspiration, not to mention a master course on how it’s done.


Anything he did you’ve decided to stay away from? Some of what he touched on those decades ago may seem like hot-button issues these days, yet, a certain amount of grit is required for a crime novel to feel authentic. So for me, there’s sometimes an awareness, a fine line between offending a nowadays reader and writing what feels real.


OBAAT: The obligatory last question: What are you working on now?


DK: I’m working my way through another period piece, this one set in Chicago during the roaring twenties: a time of prohibition, gangsters, lingering tension from the aftermath of a smoldering race riot, and rival businessmen shooting it out in the streets.


Thank you again, Dana. It’s always a pleasure.


Thursday, May 26, 2022

Colin Conway, the Brain Behind The 509

 Colin Conway is a force of nature, though you wouldn’t know it to look at him. Author, editor, publisher, not to mention a list of side hustles I can’t kee straight. Writes not only police procedurals and dark crime stories, but his own unique brand of cozies. Top that off with his easy-going personality and you’ve got someone you’d do well to seek out at a conference. I’m lucky to be able to call him friend.


Colin’s newest effort is an anthology titled Back Road Bobby and His Friends, the tired of a series of anthologies set in Colin’s 509 uniuverse. I could explain to you what the 509 is, but we’d all rather hear it from Colin, so…


One Bite at a Time: Before we get into talking about the book itself, it’s billed as “509 Crime

Anthology.” What’s the deal with the 509?


Colin Conway: Hi, Dana! Thank you for having me on OBAAT.

The 509 area code covers two-thirds of Washington State, essentially everything east of the Cascade Mountains. Of the twenty-one counties served, Spokane County is the largest with a population just over 500,000.

On the west side of the mountain range, there are five area codes for cities like Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia. That region gets hyped due to its professional sports, Starbucks, and Microsoft but we’ve got four seasons and a better quality of life.

My flagship series is the 509 Crime Stories. Most novels occur in the Spokane Police Department, but I’ve also featured the Spokane County and Whitman County Sheriff’s Offices.


OBAAT: Back Road Bobby and His Friends is the third 509 anthology, following The Eviction of Hope, (in which I was delighted to participate), and A Bag of Dick’s. Catch us up on the premises and themes of them all. Are they related other than by the 509 universe?


CC: Each anthology had a central premise to which the authors were required to adhere.

In The Eviction of Hope, the residents of a low-income apartment were being evicted to make way for a condominium redevelopment. The contributing authors wrote stories from different residents’ perspectives—each of whom waited until the last day(s) to leave the building. The collection turned out fantastic.

In A Bag of Dick’s, a detective from my flagship series gave a drug addict an opportunity to wipe his slate clean. Unfortunately, the addict couldn’t keep a secret and told everyone he knew about the break. The anthology was based upon the childhood game of telephone—where one person tells another something, and the phrase gets passed around a room until the original intent is lost. A Bag of Dick’s resulted in a wild bunch of stories.  

Back Road Bobby and His Friends centered around a legendary driver on his deathbed. The stories included feature tales of some who want to pay their respects to the man while others seek a taste of revenge before he dies.

Initially, the only connection I planned with the anthologies was setting them in my 509 universe. However, some authors used a few of my reoccurring characters in The Eviction of Hope, so it tightened the link. In both the second and third anthologies, I used (with permission) a couple of characters created by Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts, the Peanut Butter & Jelly of Crime Fiction. That added another layer of depth to the series.

With A Bag of Dick’s, I added a prologue to set the anthology in motion. It worked so well that I did it again with Back Road Bobby. However, an epilogue was needed to provide a proper conclusion in that third collection.

Each anthology reads like a book rather than a collection of short stories.


OBAAT: Who are the writers in Back Road Bobby?


CC: In alphabetical order – Trey R. Barker, Eric Beetner, Nikki Dolson, Spencer Fleury, Greg Levin, Rob Pierce, Kevin R. Tipple, Gabriel Valjan, Susan Wingate, TG Wolff, Frank Zafiro, and Dave Zeltserman.

I mention this in the Back Road Bobby introduction, but I look at anthologies like a short story buffet. We don’t have to connect with everything we read, but hopefully, there’s something we do like. That’s when we go back for seconds by reading more works from that selected author.


OBAAT: You supplied several pages of guidelines for The Eviction of Hope: characters we could use (as well as sketches to tell us what kinds of people they were), dates and settings, things we couldn’t do, such as kill off a character someone else might be using. How much information did the Back Road Bobby writers receive?


CC: I provided a three-page treatment for the Back Road Bobby anthology. Not only did I have the collection to think about, but I needed to consider the 509 Crime Stories. I couldn’t have a major character killed off or a vital location permanently destroyed.

The contributing authors were given ‘bumper rails’ about what they could and couldn’t do. I even specified what day the anthology took place—last Friday in May, which was sunny and mildly warm.

This might sound restrictive to someone who hasn’t participated, but once those rails are in place, you’d be amazed at what an author can create.

My favorite guideline for the latest anthology was that every author had to create a character with a nickname that had to appear in the story title. This was the ‘and His Friends’ portion of the anthology.

For example, Frank Zafiro shared “The Escape of Jimmy the Saint,” and Dave Zeltersman offered “Robbing Banks with Gator Wilson.”



OBAAT: That nickname bit is outstanding. I remember being a little surprised when I got the guidelines for The Eviction of Hope, but they actually turned out to be helpful by restricting me a lktitle. Then hardest things for me to overcome is staring at a blank page or screen. You spred me that. Given the restrctions you gave the authors, what kinds of stories can readers expect to find in Back Road Bobby?


CC: This anthology centered around Hardy Fry, a legendary driver who is not expected to make it through the weekend. Every story featured a driver from Hardy’s lineage—either directly or trained by someone Hardy taught. As you can imagine, there are some car chases—Spencer Fleury took it to a delightful extreme with “Larry the Bag Man.”

Nikki Dolson and Gabriel Valjan shared a couple of beautifully told stories among some hard-hitting tales from authors like Eric Beetner and Greg Levin.

This collection has so much variety that readers will easily find something in the buffet to enjoy!


OBAAT: Tell us a little about Original Ink Press.


CC: Original Ink Press is the imprint I created. I’m an independently published author by choice. I love that decision for a variety of reasons which I don’t need to go into here. Creating OIP added a layer of professionalism to my craft.



OBAAT: You, in conjunction with your frequent co-author Frank Zafiro, put out more books than I can keep up with while editing anthologies, posting a blog, and doing all your own marketing. How do you keep up such a pace?


CC: Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

I also get up every morning at 4:30 to start writing. I average 1,500 words a day, and I can do better than that on the weekends. I don’t give myself any breaks for holidays or birthdays either. Even when I travel, I wake up early to write.

Thank you for mentioning my blog, by the way. I didn’t do much with it for years, and it withered. Recently, I realized there was an opportunity to share additional long-form ideas that would never make it into a book. These thoughts weren’t a good fit for the temporary world of social media. This year I set a goal of writing one blog post a week. It has turned out to be a wonderful experience and a way for me to take a quick break from the books. I only write the blog posts at night so that it won’t impact my routine.



OBAAT: What’s next?


CC: In June, the fourth John Cutler book will come out. Cutler’s Cases is a collection of short stories. The final tale sets up the fifth book which is written and in the publication chute.

The Only Death That Matters is the seventh book in the 509 Crime Stories, and it will drop in late August. The eighth book in that series is also finished and going through edits now.

And in the Cozy Up series, I’m working on the sixth book with plans for the seventh and eighth to follow quickly.

Recently, Frank Zafiro and I started discussions for the sixth book in the Charlie-316 series. We’ll outline it soon, but the writing won’t begin until early 2023.

Thanks for the chance to chat, Dana! I genuinely appreciate it.

Thursday, May 19, 2022


 It has been my good fortune of late to have several friends nominated for – and sometimes win – significant awards. (Or maybe it’s their good fortune. None of these folks won dick before they knew me. Coincidence? You decide.) I was also a judge for a national award this year, so awards have been on my mind.


Last week The Beloved Spouse™ and I watched the classic movie The Hustler. (More on that to come.) In looking at the trivia in IMDB, I saw that George C. Scott declined his nomination for Best Supporting Actor, saying that actors should not be in competition with each other except when auditioning for the same part. I knew Scott refused his Oscar for Patton, but was unaware he had already established his opposition to the entire idea of awards.


What does George C. Scott have to do with writing awards? Bear with me. I promise to be brief.


Working with the other members of the committee I served on was a pleasure. I knew them at least a little before we began, and I now feel closer to all of them. It was also supremely flattering to have been asked to serve.


I requested the Best First Novel committee, to avoid having to pass judgment on friend’s books. I figured the odds of me knowing a first timer were slim, and I was right. I recognized a couple of names, but no one I knew entered the competition.


I still found the process to be unpleasant, at least as far as making my decisions went. This is no reflection on the books submitted. I was a lot more uncomfortable than I thought I’d be in passing judgment on the books of strangers.


I should have known. I stopped doing anything other than positive reviews years ago. Once I understood how much goes into completing a novel, then the challenges of finding a publisher, marketing, getting reviews, and all the other things that exist in the penumbra of a book, I wasn’t about to make things harder for anyone.


I’m not against the concept of awards. I have two Shamus nominations myself, so I appreciate the sense of validation that comes through public recognition by one’s peers. I’ll always be grateful to PWA for the nominations. Should I ever win one, I will accept graciously and gratefully.


That doesn’t mean I’m any less uncomfortable with making the evaluation myself. I understand someone has to do it, and I applaud those who carve out the time and energy to make fair and reasoned decisions. It takes a special kind of care, skill, and mindset to be a good and conscientious award judge. I just don’t appear to be one of them.


Congratulations to everyone who makes a short list. It’s harder every year to rise above the crowd as more books get published and online marketing becomes more sophisticated. Enjoy the moment, whether you win or not. I have nothing but fond memories of the Shamus dinners I’ve attended, and I lost both years I received nominations. No one will applaud louder than I for this year’s winners.