Saturday, March 31, 2012
When you write crime novels, as I do, you tend to read them differently - and your experience often detracts from your enjoyment.
Instead of being borne away by the story, as the author intended, you get distracted by craft. You get hung up, for example, on how a writer is getting his effects, and the tricks he uses to delineate character.But every now and then a new author comes along, whose touch is so subtle, and whose talent so well-developed, that you lose yourself within his pages.That's the way I feel about Dana King.I loved his first book, "Wild Bill".But, as every writer knows, a first book sometimes takes years to create and polish, arduous months of re-writing and re-writing. And, in the rush to get another book before the reading public before the first one is forgotten, that luxury of time is often lost.Hence the dreaded sophomore slump, the pit into which many an author falls when his second book is nowhere as good as his first.Not so with King. "Worst Enemies", his second outing, is a book every bit as good as his first - and maybe better.In the very first pages, he describes, in some detail, the killing around which the whole book rotates. He identifies the victim, identifies the murderer, and tells us why the killer was motivated to do what he did.What kind of murder mystery is this?Read it and find out.You're going to be surprised and delighted.It's a great book, and I recommend it unreservedly.
Many thanks to Leighton for his kind words. You can get your copy of Worst Enemies by clicking here.
Monday, March 26, 2012
A brief, yet solemn, memorial will be held prior to recycling. In lieu of flowers, please honor her memory through diligent back-ups. Mine weren't as diligent as they should have been, though all data will be recovered once I get a functioning cable to replace what came with my hard drive enclosure.
Due to this untimely event and some work responsibilities, I will be operating at reduced capacity into next weekend. Don't take it personal if you don't hear from me much.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Yesterday was whack job Amazon reviewer day, where people went out of their way to ruin the reputation of an already barely credible institution.
First I learned of a “review” of John McNally’s America’s Score Card. I placed quotes around the review because it was really a personal attack on McNally in the guise of a review, even going so far as to drag another member of the Wake Forest faculty into the mud, though the review of that author was even more vicious. (Full disclosure: John McNally was my teacher at George Washington University’s Jenny Moore McKean Workshop in the spring of 2002 and has encouraged my writing ever since.) The reviewer came across as either someone who had been denied admission into Wake’s MFA program, or a student whose literary genius had yet to be accepted by his professors. Either way, the review told us nothing about the book or McNally’s writing, though it spoke volumes about what a whiny douche bag the reviewer was.
Not half an hour later I read of a somewhat similar attack on the anthology The Lost Children. The book consists of thirty stories; the proceeds will aid Scottish children. That’s apparently not good enough for one reviewer, who had nothing to say about the stories or the writing because she hadn’t read the book. Won’t buy it, because the proceeds go only to Scottish children, who, she asserts, already have it pretty well. Why not include Irish or Welsh kids, while they’re at it? Why be so discriminatory?
As someone else pointed out on Facebook, why stop there? Why limit the generosity to the British Isles? Why not include French kids (petit grenouilles, as they’re called in France)? Spanish? Why stop with Europe? Kids need help in Africa and Asia even more. Let’s dilute the gesture so thin it benefits no one and decry it for what it is not—a panacea—instead of celebrating what it is.
This is why I so rarely read or submit Amazon reviews: you play with pigs, you get dirty. There are a lot of well-intentioned people writing Amazon reviews. There are also people shilling for friends and relatives (and themselves, if they’re clever enough), as well as those who will give a book one star because they don’t think any e-book should cost more than $1.99. Then there are the [insert disparaging term of your choice] like the two mentioned above, with axes to grind who have been provided a forum without fear of any real consequences.
I used to write a lot of reviews. I occasionally still do, for books I like. After struggling with the issue for some time, I was led by several reviewers wiser than I to a simple conclusion. The only reason to write a review is to help others decide if the book is worth their time and money. Period. All reviews are subject to the reviewers tastes and experience; all opinions expressed should be justified in writing. Personal opinions about the author should be sublimated as much as possible. When in doubt, identify them. (The author has been a friend of mine for twenty years. I think the author is a vile glob of pig’s vomit.) Let the reader know how much to discount your opinions.
The key to a good review is always to remember it is not a soapbox, nor it is a forum to show how superior and/or clever you are. Reviews are to help the reader to decide if this book is worth the money. If you can’t do that honestly and with fair intentions, don’t go public. If you don’t like the book, by all means say so, but show what it was about the book that doesn’t work. The reviewer’s conclusions should be supported at least as much as the author’s, especially when reviewing fiction, where the author is permitted a fair amount of license.
And for God’s sake don’t spoil it. Too many reviews are book reports, basically plot summaries with a paragraph at the end to say if the reviewer thought everything held together. Lay out the premise, critique the writing and how well things work, and let the reader find out what happens. There’s more to enjoying a book than the ending.
Monday, March 19, 2012
If anyone in the small universe of this blog’s readers—and I thank you all sincerely—is as yet unfamiliar with Ray Banks, you really need to knock that shit off. Banks is a keeper.
Wolf Tickets is my third Banks. No More Heroes (part of the Cal Innes series) was a hell of a novel; Gun was as good a novella as I’ve read. Wolf Tickets may be a short novel or a long novella; it’s hard to say on a Kindle. What’s easy to say is the book is exactly as long as it needs to be, with no more words than is necessary; no fewer, either.
Jimmy Cobb and Sean Farrell are mates from way back, grown distant both geographically and psychically due to Farrell’s involvement with a woman named Nora. Farrell and Cobb are brought together again when things go pear shaped between Farrell and Nora and her ex-boyfriend re-enters the picture. And a large sum of money is in dispute. Oh, and a leather jacket.
The story is told through first-person point of view, alternating from Cobb to Farrell and back. It’s an effective device for allowing the reader to see through a character’s eyes and feel his emotions, yet still know more than either of them alone. Farrell and Cobb are operating from two disadvantages: they don’t know everything they should to make good decisions, and their decision making processes don’t kick any ass, either. One of them isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. To find out which, read the book. I’m not here for spoilers.
The only downside to American readers is the language. Banks is a Scot; the two POV characters are a Brit and an Irishman. They speak the language of such criminals, which at times resembles American English the way a pork chop resembles a ham. Deal with it. You may wonder about a word or two, but the meanings are still clear, if imprecise to the untrained ear. The language is an indispensible part of what drives this story and draws Farrell and Cobb so clearly. Besides, there’s nowt a thing wrong with a gadgy chancer such as yourself learning a thing or two, is there?
Any book that opens with a quote from Tom Waits has set the bar pretty high. Banks clears it with a foot to spare.
Now that I have your attention and have piqued the reading part of your crocodile brain to go over to Amazon right this minute and buy Wolf Tickets for a measly $2.99, you might as well pick up a copy of Worst Enemies while you’re at it. Save wear and tear on your keyboard and mouse, not to mention minimizing the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome from typing the URL too often. It’s also $2.99, and worth every penny more you don’t have to spend on it.
Friday, March 16, 2012
I’m a year late reading Adrian McKinty’s Falling Glass. It’s not all my fault. No American publisher saw fit to offer a contract. I thought it was the usual business of different release dates and bided my time. Bided it so well the book fell off my radar completely until I started to see notices for The Cold, Cold Ground. At that point I realized Falling Glass wasn’t going to be released here and I would have to arrange to have a copy smuggled across the sheugh if I wanted to read it.
Well worth the trouble, that was.
Falling Glass spreads its suspense across the world: New York, Boston, New Hampshire, Hong King, large swaths of Ireland, and a bit of England. The lead character, Killian, has seen the Irish recession put a crimp in his plan to go straight. He comes out of retirement for one job, then is enticed to stick around a bit when a commission of half a million euros is mentioned. Irish business megastar Richard Coulter’s estranged wife has absconded with their two children. Coulter wants them back half a million’s worth.
Of course there’s more to it. Killian is sent on his way without a couple of vital pieces of information. Bringing Rachel Coulter in has been hard enough no one else was able to do it, even given Richard’s vast resources. It’s supposed to be a simple child retrieval, yet the police are not involved. How Killian navigates the maze of deception with what little information he is given will keep you turning pages well into the night.
McKinty writes the way James Ellroy might if Ellroy were properly wired up. No wasted words or time, characters described through their words and actions for the reader to decide about. His descriptions of Pavee life taught me about something I not only didn’t know, but had never been aware of.
Falling Glass is McKinty’s most Irish work. The language, situations, and settings may be what deterred American publishers, never renowned as risk-takers. (In fairness, American readers are famous for tastes ranging from exactly what they’ve read before to almost exactly what they’ve read before.) Don’t be so faint of heart; Falling Glass is worth sticking with. What may be the most foreign element—what is a Pavee, or tinker, and why is Killian looked down upon for being one?—is amply answered and provides the keystone of the story.
Falling Glass builds on the universe created in the Michael Forsythe trilogy, yet is not part of the series. Forsythe makes a cameo, and his presence hangs over the book. This is still Killian’s story, who knows better in his heart than in his head that you can go home again, though you may not be able to stay.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
A week ago I reported about how the work-in-progress had come off the rails. Last night I made a decision I’ve never made with a novel-length project before: I set it aside. It’s the wrong story for this character at this time.
I’m not going to throw it away. Among the benefits of writing on a computer is the ability to save everything. There are a lot of good scenes in this draft, and I may want to revisit it some day to see if a way around its problems has appeared. There are several scenes that can be adapted into whatever I come up with to replace it. The time hasn’t been completely wasted.
This episode serves as a reminder of another of the benefits of self-publishing: no deadlines. I had an target date of getting it out by March of 2013. That’s not likely to happen with whatever replaces it, and that’s fine. I don’t have to lose sleep and re-arrange the rest of my life because a publisher has set a delivery date to suit his convenience. The next book will come out when it comes out.
I already have the germ of an idea. It’s been rattling around for several years now, the time never right to start work. (At least I knew the time wasn’t right for this idea.) Now the time may be damn near perfect for several reasons.
In case anyone is wondering, this is not a case of writer’s block. Even if I believed in writer’s block—which I emphatically do not—I’ve been cranking out good pages all along. The problem was not an inability to write; it was an inability to write myself out of the cul-de-sac I’d taken myself to. I’ll work on a short story for the organized crime collection as a way to cleanse my writing palate. The shorty is already mostly sketched in my head.
The abandoned project had a tough life. The plot keystone I needed to tie the two halves together never materialized. I took six weeks off early in the draft when the basement waterproofing and remodeling project demanded too much attention. I had to fight a little to find this character’s voice again after having set him aside for a few years. On balance, this was a good ox, with a lot of potential. He flat out wouldn’t go where I wanted him to go.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Timothy Hallinan is a 2011 Edgar and Macavity Award nominee for his fourth Poke Rafferty book, The Queen of Patpong. (A Nail Through the Heart, The Fourth Watcher, and Breathing Water are the others.) He’s also the author of the Junior Bender series of e-books (Crashed and Little Elvises), which are about as much fun as you’re likely to have while reading. (Unless you can get Scarlett Johannsen to read to you. Then the phone book might be a lot of fun.)
Turns out Tim did not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus with A Nail Through the Heart. That’s just when I learned of him. He had previously written a six-book series featuring LA PI Simeon Grist, all of which were well-received.
This weekend only, the sixth Grist novel—The Bone Polisher—is available free for Kindle. Here’s the Amazon blurb to pique your interest:
2011 Edgar and Macavity nominee Timothy Hallinan's sixth and final novel featuring erudite Los Angeles private eye Simeon Grist takes place in the West Hollywood of 1995, where the community is shaken by the brutal killing of an older man who was widely loved for his generosity and kindness. In a time when the police were largely indifferent to crimes against gay people, Simeon is hired to catch the murderer—and finds himself up against the most dangerous adversary of his career, a man who kills his victims one once, but twice: once physically and once in spirit. The story's climax takes place at a memorable Halloween-themed wake, but there's a big plot twist yet to come."
The man can write. Aside from memorable characters and entertaining dialog, he has a knack for coming up with endings that are not only satisfying, but not quite what you expected while seeming inevitable. I’ve not read The Bone Polisher, but I have read Everything But the Squeal, which was a kick-ass book calculated to make me want to read more. I’d jump all over this freebie, except I already have The Bone Polisher on my Kindle.
Warning: Hallinan is like a drug dealer. He’s giving you this one for free. You’re going to want more.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Charlie Stella (Johnny Porno, Mafiya, Rough Riders coming in July) isn’t just a kick-ass writer; he’s a friend to any writer he comes in contact with. He tirelessly promotes other writers on his blog, and has been more than generous to me, both with support and spot-on advice.
Charlie has a problem with Worst Enemies: the names. Not the title; the characters’ names. “I can’t pronounce the names in my head,” he said after reading a draft. “Isn’t anyone named Smith in this town?” (There is in the final version, just for Charlie.)
Penns River exists—as much as it exists at all—in Western Pennsylvania, up the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh. It’s a heavily ethnic area: Italian, German, Irish, and Eastern Europeans of all heritages: Polish, Croatian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Slovak. Names that stymied Charlie roll off the tongues of locals like Henry Higgins reading Doctor Seuss.
I would, however, like for people who did not grow up in the area to have a fighting chance. So, to enhance your reading entertainment, here is a pronunciation key for some of the characters' names that may be less than intuitive:
Dougherty – DOCK-ur-dee
Dolewicz – DOLE-uh-wits
Faison – FAE-zahn
Frantz – France
Grabek – GRAY-beck
Napierkowski – napper-KOW-ski
Neuschwander – NOO-shwan-der
Orszulak – OR-suh-lak
Pranewicz – Puh-RAN-uh-wits
Wierzbicki – weerz-BICK-ee
Schoepf – Sheff
Zywiciel – suh-WISS-ee-ul
It’s not as hard as Dostoevsky, but there ain’t no Muffys or Biffs in Penns River.
Monday, March 5, 2012
No, Rush Limbaugh didn’t drive his car off the road. This is worse.
I’m 52,000 words into the work-in-progress and realize I’ve written myself into a corner.
I’m a plotter by nature. I write brief notes about every scene on index cards, then order the cards in what I think is the best story-telling sequence. The cards can change as I go. Scenes are added, some are deleted. The cards have only a sentence or two about what has to happen to move the story along. I decide how it gets moved along as I write.
This system has worked well for me. It provides the structure I need to feel comfortable with a scene while leaving me free to tell the story as I wish. Why I didn’t do it this time is a bigger mystery than the reader will find in the book itself.
I started this book last September. The outline looked good to a point; after that I wasn’t sure what to do. Rather than examine my navel for another couple of weeks, I sketched out the first ten chapters or so and started writing. By the time I got to the end of the outline, ideas presented themselves for the next several chapters, and I moved on. Yesterday, working on Chapter 32, I had the dreaded Oh, Shit Epiphany and realized much of what I’d written so far could never have happened as I described it.
My PI is investigating a case nine years old, in which his client has already been convicted. Much of what I’ve had him looking into would already be known. Even worse, I had no idea of what he needed to find he wouldn’t have been known already from reading the trial transcripts, as the police would have investigated these angles thoroughly.
This is fixable. In fact, a good night’s sleep and a shower have given me 80% of what I need to unravel this 300-foot tangle of Christmas lights. One key question still needs to be answered, and some examination of the PI’s psyche has to happen. (Thanks to The Beloved Spouse for giving me the idea of how to fix that last bit.) Very little will have to be thrown out, though quite a bit will have to be re-written. No deal breakers. This will get done.
But not until I have an outline I like.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Just because Worst Enemies has received most of my attention this week, don’t think Wild Bill has gone gently into that not-so-good night. Benjamin Sobieck, author of Cleansing Eden (five stars on GoodReads) and the highly entertaining Maynard Soloman series of short stories, has read Wild Bill and waxes enthusiastic over at Crimespace.
Many thanks to Ben for his generous review.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Yes, the daily onslaught on anticipatory hype is over. Worst Enemies is now available for Kindle for a measly $2.99, or its rough equivalent in various other countries.
From what would have been the dust jacket copy, had the book had a dust jacket:
Penns River rarely sees two homicides in a year. Two in little over a week is almost too much for the police force to handle. The assigned detectives—Ben Dougherty, a former MP and Penns River native, and retired Pittsburgh cop Willie Grabek—find links to bind the two cases, but their investigation is complicated by the involvement of private investigator Daniel Rollison, a retired spy on a suspect’s payroll who is really working for himself. Pittsburgh mob boss Mike Mannarino also lives in Penns River and has more than a passing interest in the case. The two cops’ savvy competes with the limitations of their small town’s resources and the interference of Rollison and Mannarino in a story that shows identifying a killer and proving it are separate things.
To everyone who read and, I hope, enjoyed Wild Bill, thanks for reading. Worst Enemies is different, but you may enjoy it just as much.