Thursday, August 4, 2022

Am I an Introvert?

 A Facebook discussion erupted a couple of weeks ago over whether I am an introvert or an extravert. While those who know me best understand I am very much an introvert, I can appear to be extroverted at times. The person with whom I had the discussion knows me only through Facebook, so the error is excusable, as I am not bashful about posting there, and I have over 1600 friends.

 

The fact that I may appear quite the social butterfly on Facebook is misleading. I’m out and about online because it does not require me to actually go out and about. The first year of the pandemic was no great hardship for me. I was already working from home, and having most of our groceries delivered meant I only had to shop about half as often. Even prior to the pandemic restrictions, it was not unusual for me to go six weeks or more without having to buy gas.

 

Many of my Facebook friends are people I have never met in person, and quite likely never will. (You’re welcome.) They came across me through someone else, or read an interview in conjunction with one of my books, or saw a blog post they liked. That’s part of being a writer, which is an occupation made for introverts.

 

So what is an introvert? To me, courtesy of The Beloved Spouse™, it’s someone who draws energy from solitude and expends it around others. There’s only so much interpersonal interaction we can deal with before we have to be by ourselves to recharge the batteries.

 

A note in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary entry reads:

 

Introverts are typically more comfortable interacting with small groups of people rather than large groups (as at parties). The psychologist Carl Gustav Jung first introduced the terms introvert, introversion, extrovert, and extroversion in the early 1900s to describe personality types that focus a person's energy on either the inner or outer world. The terms introvert and extrovert have since become widely popularized, with introvert often broadly used to mean "a quiet or shy person."

 

Few who know me would think me either quiet or shy, but that’s because they know me. I’m comfortable with them, so I feel free to open up. Until we reach that point, it kills me to approach someone I don’t already know well. I literally sometimes have to pretend to be a character (“What would Nick Forte do?”) before I can introduce myself to someone, even if this person is already aware of me and I know would be happy for the introduction.

 

The question also arose as to how I can speak in public at readings and conference panels with no apparent strain. I used to teach, both at the adult and scholastic levels, and always enjoyed it; if I was born to be anything, it’s a teacher. I’m one of those relatively rare people who enjoys public speaking.

 

So how does that fit into my introversion?

 

If I’m on a panel, or doing a reading, or teaching a class, the people I’m speaking to are there, at least in part, to listen to me. The introductions have been made, and I didn’t have to do it. It’s easy now for me to tell myself these people want to hear what I have to say, which makes it a bit of a performance. As a recovering musician, I understand performances, and respond accordingly.

 

That said, after such an event, especially a large conference such as Bouchercon, I’ll be exhausted for a few days. I was speaking to a man at Bouchercon several years ago when I realized I had no idea what he was saying. It was midnight on Saturday and I had hit the wall. Luckily, I ran into him the next morning and apologized for my abrupt departure. He waved it off. “We’ve all been there.”

 

I spend a lot of time in my own head, where often there’s barely room for me. While I enjoy contact with others, I rarely seek it, and I typically need a reason. “Let’s get a few beers” is not a reason; I have beer at home. “Let’s get a few beers and meet some people.” Fuck no, for reasons cited above. I vet Facebook friend requests by checking to see how many mutual friends we have, and, often, who they are.

 

I am not evangelizing the benefits of introversion; I understand there are many things I miss out on. You either are this way, or you aren’t. It’s a spectrum, and each person exists on a different level. I am comfortable where I am, and sometimes have a hard time imagining living any other way. I’m sure the same is true for you, no matter where you fall on that spectrum. It’s a primary reason writers enjoy writing. We get to imagine doing things we’d never do in a million years, even if the opportunity was staring us in the face, without having to leave the house.

 

 

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Blasts From the Past

 I’ve been traveling and didn’t have time to do justice to the post I had scheduled for today, so we’ll hold that for another time. My conscientious nature (read: OCD) compels me, almost literally, to post something every Friday.

 

So I wondered what I posted ten years ago. (An idea I stole from Ken Levine’s award-winning blog, as I am nothing if not unoriginal.)

 

As it happens, the posts in July 2012 covered two subjects:

·       The release of my novel Wild Bill, which might be my favorite of the 14 books I’ve written (it’s in the top three for sure)

·       A brief review of an underappreciated film, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead.

 

Here’s a link to purchase Wild Bill, which was my most ambitious book, and I absolutely guaran-goddamn-tee you it’s worth every cent of the buck a Kindle copy will cost you. (Unless you have Kindle Unlimited, in which case I guarantee you your money back on any free download if you don’t like it. Try beating that deal with any other publisher. I dare you.)

 

Need more info on Wild Bill? Here you go.

 

Will Hickox is a decorated FBI veteran with a legendary ability to cultivate informants, much closer to retirement than to the days when he earned the nickname “Wild Bill.” Operation Fallout should cut the head off of the Chicago mob and provide a fitting capstone to his career. When Outfit boss Gianni Bevilacqua dies and the resulting war places Fallout in jeopardy, Hickox does what he can to save it, and his retirement plans with his lover, Madeline Klimak.

 

Wild Bill examines the stresses of Operation Fallout from the law enforcement, criminal, and personal perspectives, as Will and his peers fight to keep the investigation afloat amid the power struggle between Gianni’s son and elder statesman Frank Ferraro. Torn between wanting closure to the investigation and starting his retirement, Hickox weighs the dangers of involving himself and Operation Fallout in the war, blurring the line he walks with his informants.

 

And here’s what I had to say about TDDIDWYD:

 

I only heard of this movie because it stole its name from the Warren Zevon song. All I knew about it was the title.

 

So I wasn’t expecting much when the credits started to roll. Andy Garcia. William Forsythe. Christopher Lloyd. Treat Williams. Jack Warden. Steve Buscemi. Bill Cobbs. Oh. “And Christopher Walken.” (Don Cheadle also has a cameo not noted in the opening.)

 

Now they have my attention.

 

This is a solid movie about what happens when you mix with the wrong people and things go tits up. (In this case literally, when Garcia’s crew accidentally kills the girl they’re supposed to be bringing back to the crime boss’s son.) I’ve always liked Andy Garcia, and I appreciate his skill as an actor more all the time. (For a role you’d never expect to see him in, check out Confidence.) Here he pulls off subtlety most actors wouldn’t have the nerve to attempt, especially in a touching scene with Lloyd. This is also the first time I’d seen Lloyd in a straight dramatic role, and he is convincing as the senior member of Garcia’s crew.

 

The story moves along, the dialog sizzles, and the performances are spot on. The movie lost its ass, according to IMDB. (Budget of $7 million; American gross of about $500,000, though it did better in the UK.) It’s a shame. This is a good example of what can be done on a fairly limited budget, working with professional actors for whom the job is worth more than the check or the media coverage.

 

Will your life be forever diminished if you don’t see Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead? No. If you like solid, gritty crime stories with solid performances, sharp dialog, a little tongue-in-cheek humor, and bits of pathos that never become maudlin, it’s a well spent couple of hours.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Peaky Blinders

The Beloved Spouse™ and I recently dedicated 18 consecutive evenings to watching the BBC/Netflix series Peaky Blinders from start to finish. We saw the first five seasons a couple of years ago and were frustrated we’d have to wait for Season 6 due to covid. When the last episodes finally dropped on June 10, we resolved to watch it from the start to refresh our memories.

 

I have a lot to say about this show, too much to fit into one blog. It is not a perfect show, and its flaws are fairly close to the surface. That said, the tone, attitude, and pace of the storytelling make these issues recede until reconsidered in the light of the next day. Sometimes the next week.

 

What makes it so compelling? As usual, the characters. The Shelby family are gypsies who have settled in Birmingham, England in the years prior to World War I. The multi-tiered dynamic of the Shelby family, their alliances, and the willingness of upper-crust English society to accept Tommy so long as he does their dirty work, is continually fascinating.

 

As with any such story, this works because of excellent writing and superb acting. Cillian Murphy as Tommy, Paul Anderson as his older brother Arthur, the late Helen McCrory as Aunt Polly, Sophie Rundle as sister Ada, and Natasha O’Keefe as Lizzy stand out, but everyone is outstanding. If your impression of Sam Neill is based on Jurassic Park and The Hunt for Red October, look again. He is the pluperfect bastard as Major Campbell. (Of course, Tom Hardy dominates every scene he’s in, and the creators have the good sense to use him judiciously.)

 

The setting is generally bleak. The Shelby gang, known as Peaky Blinders for the caps they wear and the razor blades sewn into the brims for blinding adversaries, live in the Small Heath section of Birmingham. The residents’ homes, the factories where they work, the pubs where they drink, are close together as herring in a tin. Cars and horses occupy the cobblestone streets together in early episodes. Narrow boats ply the canals. Flames erupt randomly from factories to remind everyone that, no matter how tender a moment may be, the harshness of life in Small Heath is ever present.

 

The music serves the story and the tone as well as any I have heard. Wholly inappropriate to the era, the frequent outbursts of punk rock put an edge to how the Peaky Blinders do business. There is no relaxation when they’re around. They run things in Small Heath, so much so it’s no rarity for Tommy or Arthur to proclaim an edict, or commit some heinous act, and all anyone needs to know is contained in the shout of “By order of the Peaky Blinders.” The theme song - “Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave - may appear at any time, especially during the earlier seasons. The song does an excellent job of describing Tommy Shelby, even though Cave wrote it more than 15 years earlier.

 

The show does suffer from what I call “plot conveniences,” notably the ease with which characters can get information when they need it, without explaining how they came by said information. It’s not a deal breaker, and the pay-offs are more than adequate, but they do become evident when bingeing the shows, where what a British audience might have forgotten was left hanging last week is fresh in my mind.

 

Another point is both a strength and a weakness: characters’ accents. I’ll defer to the BBC as to their authenticity, but the Birmingham/Midlands accents are thick, as are the Irish, and all bets are off when the gang from Glasgow makes an appearance. The Beloved Spouse™ and I used subtitles when we first watched, but were more ambitious this time, now that we had an idea what was going on. (I dislike subtitles as a rule, because I find myself reading instead of watching,.) On the other hand, the accents do as much as the locations for setting the tone and atmosphere.

 

Maybe the greatest strength of Peaky Blinders is its ability to provoke thoughts. The setting and time are just far enough away from our own to grant some perspective while still occasionally prompting thoughts of “some things never change.” That’s high praise, especially for a vehicle as entertaining as this. I’ll have more to say about some of the thoughts inspired in future posts.

 

 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Why I Doubled Down on Amazon

 Amazon takes its share of abuse, and deservedly so. I have several problems with them myself. This is not why I am writing today; there’s no lack of places to read Amazon bashing. This blog is about writing, typically my own, so what we’ll discuss today is Amazon’s relationship with my writing.

 

First, a brief digression. I can’t remember going to a mall back in the day without browsing both B Dalton and WaldenBooks. Local bookstores are wonderful places to get recommendations from knowledgeable staff in a relaxed and friendly environment. I love small, independent bookstores.

 

The problem is, they don’t love me back.

 

First off, they won’t stock my books. Even when I am able to talk my way into an event, book sales are on consignment. I have to take home anything that didn’t sell.

 

I understand the reason for this. My publisher doesn’t accept returns of unsold copies. Small stores can’t stay afloat without this consideration; my publisher can’t stay afloat with it. Where does that leave me?

 

Amazon.

 

I know the arguments.

 

“People can order your books from the local bookseller if they don’t have it.”

 

“People can order it online from the store’s web site.”

 

That only works if the potential reader is specifically looking for my book. They can’t come across it while browsing. Speaking for myself as a reader, local bookstores tend only to stock either new releases or classics. The great majority of books I like to read are neither, so the odds are the store will have to order it. (I understand their space and inventory restrictions. Bear with me.)

 

Let’s look at a real-world example. Say, for the sake of argument, I have seen the film The Drop and want to read the novel by Dennis Lehane, a bestselling author. I could drive to the store only to find they’ll have to order it. (I checked the web site for my bookstore of choice, which is, by the way, 32 miles distant. The Drop is not in stock.)

I could order it directly from their web site and save myself the trip. The book is $16.99 plus $1.02 tax, then another $6.05 to ship via media mail to arrive in four-to-seven days, for a total of $24.06. Or I could order it on Amazon for $10.90 plus $0.65 tax (total $11.55) and have it the day after tomorrow. (I’m not counting the annual fee for Amazon Prime, as it covers lots of other things as well.) Multiply that by the fifty or so books I buy in a year and we’re talking real money to support someone who won’t stock my book. ($12.51 times fifty books comes to $625.50 a year.) Throwing that kind of support to a store where the business model prohibits carrying my books is a bad business model for me. (My writing income has never been $600 in a year.)

 

The bookstore I noted above is a pleasure to work with; no one treats writers better in person. Not all are so friendly. A few years ago I appeared at a local book festival. The bookseller who handled sales for the event was willing to take five copies of my newest book on consignment, but they wanted 60% of the sale price instead of the standard 50%; I can only assume because they are “D.C.’s premier independent bookstore and cultural hub” and who the fuck was I? I cruised the sales area before I departed for the day, saw none of my books and left elated in the hope they’d all sold.

 

Several weeks later I contacted the store to ask about my check only to learn none of the books sold. I requested their return, and a mere six months later I got them back. It’s possible I missed my books when I looked for them, but I also have to wonder if the seller even put them out, crowded as they were for space.

 

I understand independent bookstores’ business model. I have a business model of my own, and it involves getting my books into the hands of people who want to read them and are willing to pay for them. Amazon does that. So, whatever my problems with The Big A may be, and however sympathetic I am to the plight of the indies, I’m not going to commit professional suicide and take my business away from Amazon and place it…where?

 

 

Thursday, July 7, 2022

White Out Debuts This Coming Monday

 

The seventh Penns River novel, White Out, debuts Monday (July 11). The preliminary feedback has been as good or better than any novel I’ve written, and I have high hopes. The book is currently only available through Amazon in either paperback or Kindle for marketing reasons I will discuss below for those who are interested.

 

Inspired by such encouragement, I am making an effort to create more of a presence on that Internet thing, which I have finally decided is probably going to stick around. (I am not someone who likes to get too far ahead of any curve. There’s a reason it’s called the “bleeding edge.” The Beloved Spouse™ and I are only now watching Frasier.)

 

I’m working on making my Facebook author page more active, and attractive, by moving all writing-related announcements away from my personal page. The author page is https://www.facebook.com/DanaKingBooks.

 

I have also joined the Dark Side™ and become more active on Twitter, for those who prefer it to Facebook. The handle there is @DanaKingAuthor.

 

I am also starting a newsletter for subscribers only. The web site has threatened such a publication for years, and a goodly number of folks have signed up. Now I’m going to hold up my end. I intend to publish two or three times a year, which I hope will be often enough to stay on people’s radar without becoming spammy. Please sign up here and I’ll get the first edition out around the end of July.

 

While COVID is not fully behind us, The Beloved Spouse™ and I have decided to pick up the pace of getting out and about. We attended Left Coast Crime in April, and have several events on the horizon.

 

·       July 21 Noir at the Bar, Yonder Southern Cocktails and Brew, Hillsborough NC.

·       July 26 Noir at the ‘Voir ,The Boathouse at Sunday Park, Midlothian VA.

·       September 8 – 11 Bouchercon, Minneapolis MN. (Panel assignment: The Place It Took Place: Setting in Mystery, Sunday @ 9:00)

·       September 30 – October 2 Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity Conference, Columbia MD.

 

Thank you to everyone connected with Down & Out Books, especially Lance Wright and Chris Rhatigan. No one works harder than Lance, or is more responsive to authors’ needs, to the point where I sometimes feel guilty asking him for something. (Not that my guilt prevents me asking.) Chris’s editorial suggestions improve every book, whether I accept a specific edit or not, as he consistently makes me think about whether what I chose is the best choice.

 

Additional shoutouts to David Ivester for his marketing assistance; Erin Mitchell for her friendship and much-appreciated counsel; John DeDakis, Brendan DuBois, and J.D. Rhoades for their generous blurbs and kind personal comments; and, of course, to The Beloved Spouse™, who assisted/put up with/improved the book every step of the way.

 

A “special thanks” to white supremacists. Every time the book needed some dastard act or opinion for their characters, five minutes research showed they come up with worse rolling out of bed in the morning. This book would not have been possible without such evolutionary cul-de-sacs.

 

Penns River goes on hiatus after White Out, as I focus on a couple of Nick Forte PI stories that have been nagging me for months. Doc and his cohort will return a couple of books down the road. A three-novel story arc is already taking shape, but it needs research and time to ferment. Till then, I’m a private eye writer again, which is good. I still think the PI story, when done well, is the highest form of crime fiction.

 

(The decision to sell only through Amazon is part of placing all Penns River books on Kindle Unlimited, thus hopefully increasing my review totals, which figure into their marketing algorithms; payment for page views figured into it, as well. I know some of you see Amazon as The Evil Empire™; I have issues with them myself. Check this space next week for a detailed and nuanced discussion of my thoughts on this decision.)


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.” www.johndedakis.com

 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.”

Nothing.

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.