Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Even More Love for Wild Bill

Leighton Gage is the author of the successful Chief Inspector Mario Silva series, set in Brazil. His books have been praised by outlets ranging from Booklist (“South America’s Kurt Wallender”) to the Toronto Globe and Mail (“Masterful”) to the Boston Globe (“Compelling”) to Publisher’s Weekly (“Intelligent and Subtle…suspenseful and sophisticated). His newest effort, A Vine in the Blood, will be available in hard copy in North America at the end of December, and is available for Kindle now. 

Here is what he had to say about Wild Bill:

I’m no stranger to first novels.

Twice, I’ve served on juries where our task was to recognize the “Best Mystery/Thriller Novel Of The Year.”

Both times, it involved the reading of books written by well over 100 debut authors.

Few of them were anywhere near as good as Wild Bill. And none were significantly better.
Wild Bill is as lean as a whippet.

Dana King, the author, is a guy who has a natural talent for making every word count.

Characters in the books of many first-timers are often about as substantial as cardboard. And just as appetizing.

That’s not the case with King.

His voice is original.

And he’s really good at grasping cliché’s and turning them inside-out.

As a matter of fact, the only bad thing I can say about Wild Bill (and I’m trying really hard now) is that, personally, I don’t like the way it ends.

Not that King ended it badly. He didn’t. But the story didn’t come out the way I’d hoped it would.

Which, in a way, is another good thing to say about it.

Because my investment in the characters was great enough for me to care.

And when it comes to first novels, that doesn’t happen all that often, either.

Many thanks to Leighton for his kind words. Remember,Wild Bill is available now on Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble for that perfect $2.99 Kindle- or Nook-stuffer.

Monday, November 28, 2011

More Love for Wild Bill

Mike Dennis is the author of Setup on Front Street (one of OBAAT’s Best Reads for June), The Take, and Bloodstains on the Wall. His newest book, Ghosts of Havana  launches as a paperback in a couple of weeks and is available now for Kindle, Nook, and iPad. Here’s what Mike has to say about Wild Bill:

Chicago Outfit leaders Junior Bevilacqua and Frank Ferraro are locked in a mortal struggle for control of the organization, but it's not clear who's siding with whom in this well-crafted tale of mob intrigue. On the other side, the FBI and the Chicago PD have their own set of differences, and before you can say, "Godfather II", you realize no one can be trusted. Throw in a beautiful woman, married to someone else, and you have the makings of a great story. Dana King keeps it all together, even in those spots where he could've easily lost control of the plot, he maintains a tight weave with crisp dialogue and great tension. The characterizations ring with authenticity, right down to the minor players, and Frank Ferraro's final gesture makes a fitting end to this all-too-human novel.

Many thanks to Mike for his kind words.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

What Happens While You’re Making Other Plans

The last couple of months have been less than productive, at least from a writing perspective. I ended my summer hiatus and got about ten chapters into the next project when basement leakage demanded my attention. The Bouchercon trip was cancelled, the basement was emptied, and the floors were dug up with jackhammers to install a water management system guaranteed never to let water into the house again. (It has better not, for what it cost me.)

Then the damage done by the water people had to be fixed. Since The Beloved Spouse had been trying to make her basement craft room fit her needs since we moved in over five years, we bit the bullet and had that job done while the basement was empty. About halfway through that project I rolled over in bed and poked myself in the eye with my thumb, resulting in a corneal abrasion that required an eye patch for a couple of days. (I had a clear plastic eye guard from my cataract surgery, but the only dark patch we could find to shield the eye from light was a Halloween costume pirate patch.)

Dana with Eye Patch

(Photo taken at Subway, where I requested, and was denied, a Pirate Discount.)

Both projects took longer than expected (of course), and everything that lived in the basement is boxed up and jammed into every square foot we could find in the living area of the house. We’ve been living in a place that would repel the hosts of one of those hoarders shows on cable.

At first I tried to write, and what I wrote was, as my friend Declan Burke would say, shite. I tried to re-write, and all I did was re-shite. My Happy Place had been destroyed. Nowhere in my house could I sit and not see work waiting to be done, except in the upstairs bathroom with the door closed.

Things started to get better a couple of weeks ago. TBS and I have painted, rebuilt shelves, laid tile, and generally done our best to qualify for poster children on DIY network. Today we laid the carpet in her craft room and deployed the furniture. The beginning of the end is upon us.

About the same time as we were able to start work, ideas started climbing out from under the rocks where they’d taken refuge. The beginnings of two of the mob stories I’m to write for a collection with Charlie Stella are on the disk now, with the format of a third. A good premise and the beginnings of an outline for the next novel, as well. To prime the pump, I’ve put myself on a schedule of blogging every other day, either here or From the Home Office. Over the long weekend, I hope to have time to look into formatting a novel for Kindle myself. (E-Book Architects did a great job at a very reasonable price for me, and they may still get this one. I’m curious about the process and want to see how close I can get.)

I expect to be back in the swing of things well before Christmas. This is yet another reason I’m glad I stopped worrying about getting a contract. Life intervenes, and life is more important than writing. It’s certainly more unpredictable.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Darker Than Noir

Peter Rozovsky recently resurrected a discussion last year on his award-winning blog, Detectives Beyond Borders. Titled, “What Does Noir Mean to You?” it sparked an even better discussion than it had the first time he ran it. It also got me to thinking about noir, neo-noir, and my perceived differences between them.

This topic has been on my “to-do list” for some time. I’d always managed to find a way to avoid writing about it until Peter got me thinking about it again. I think the secret behind my procrastination is a unwillingness to admit to the conclusion I have drawn, for a couple of reasons. So it goes.

I like classic noir. Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Body Heat (not such an old movie, but in the mold), even Sunset Boulevard. (Peter and I disagree whether this is noir or melodrama. I suspect we’re splitting hairs—I think we both believe it’s a masterpiece—and it might be fun to go back and forth about it for a while.) There’s something about the doomed man, often hoist with his own petard, who struggles unsuccessfully against the inevitable. Sometimes he knows he’s doomed from the start; sometimes not. These kinds of stories, done well, can probe human frailty in ways more “respectable” stories cannot.

We’re currently in a period where a genre called “neo-noir” is in vogue. I’ve read a lot of it. Even been considered a part of it for a fleeting moment, when my story “Green Gables” was included in Thuglit’s third (and, alas, final) anthology, Blood, Guts, and Whiskey. I know several of its leading adherents, at least online, and both enjoy their company and marvel at their chops.

It’s the stories that get me. I just don’t like the stories.

Not all of them, obviously. No genre is so devoid of merit I could not bear to read any of it. I’m sure there’s a chick lit cat cozy out there I’d enjoy, though I’m damned if I can think of what it might be. It’s the general mass of story content I’m talking about.

Traditional noir deals with depravity. Lust, greed, deceit, pick your favorite vice, they’re all in there somewhere. What gives the stories power is not the vice; it’s the effect that vice has on what is usually a relatively unextraordinary protagonist. Walter Neff (Double Indemnity) is not an evil person. A little too slick for his own good, and not as smart as he thinks he is, mainly because he too often thinks with his balls. Ned Racine (Body Heat) is basically a slacker who’s too lazy and apathetic to get into trouble until Matty Walker puts his glands in an uproar. (Testosterone improperly directed is a key element of much noir.) Joe Gillis of Sunset Boulevard isn’t even such a bad guy; he’s just in over his head. All of them could walk away at any time, and they seem to know it. They just can’t. Their helplessness in the face of the events they have set in motion is both fascinating and cautionary, like seeing a train run off a downed bridge in slow motion after watching it approach for several miles, knowing what would happen.

Neo-noir revels in its depravity; it’s the entire reason for the story, to see how bad things—and people—can get. The protagonist does not fall; he was at the bottom when he started. Too often the stories are to see how much other misery he can summon up on his way to the end. Alternatively, he may triumph over adversaries even more loathsome than me.

I’ve read a lot of this over the past couple of years, and I’m tired of it. Much of the writing is good, and the scenarios may be realistic, but only so many stories can send me to the shower after reading before the water bill becomes prohibitive. Maybe the standards/censorship of noir’s original period kept its writers from going here; or maybe they did go here, but those are the stories that did not survive.

I don’t have to root for someone in every story; I do need to care about someone.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Now I Know What Lee Child Feels Like

The first royalty statement for wild Bill has appeared: $26.65. I’m not yet to the income level that will permit me to take over a bar for an evening at Bouchercon, but everyone who introduces themselves to me at next year’s conference will receive a stick of gum (flavor of my choice to be announced) from me personally.

Buy a few more copies, and I’m willing to raise the ante to those bite-sized Tootsie Rolls. Not that I’m begging for sales. Just sayin’.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Best Reads, September–October

With the faint hope that things may soon return to normal here at The Home Office, it’s time to do a little catching up. I was able to slip in some worthwhile reading over the past several weeks. Here are my recommendations, in the order in which they were read.

Little Elvises, Timothy Hallinan. Hallinan’s Junior Bender series (e-book only) is funnier and less intense than his Poke Rafferty thrillers, but no less readable. Junior is a thief who serves as unlicensed PI to the underworld, getting himself out of scrapes by performing certain “services” for those who could do him harm. In Little Elvises he has to clear a cop’s uncle who was a shady music promoter fifty years ago and who may—or may not—be mobbed up. Hallinan has assembled an ensemble of characters that wears well and should provide ample fodder for a successful series.

Big Money, Jack Getze. The sequel to Big Numbers finds Austin Carr no longer living in a camper, but still making bad decisions. This time his boss has gone on vacation, leaving Austin to hold the bag without much to help him aside from the winning Carr smile and his wits, which cannot be relied upon any more than the smile. A New York-New Jersey mob war and federal investigators complicate things. Getze once again is able to pull off showing the reader right off the bat who is/are the bad guy/guys without telling you who they are, so you know how the climax sets up without knowing who is there. A fun read, perfectly balancing comedy, crime, and violence, without spoiling the effect of any.

Fox Five, Zoe Sharp. Sharp writes the kind of books I don’t usually read, unless they’re written by her. Charlotte “Charlie” Fox is a close protection agent (bodyguard to us in the States) who is involved in a series of thrillers. Sharp keeps Charlie believable by making her efficient (not a sexy killbot) yet not perfect (she still needs help from time to time). This collection of short stories is an excellent primer into Fox’s world, and should lead any reader to want to read the Fox novels.

Watch Me Die, Lee Goldberg. I’d forgotten how many humorous books I’d read recently until I put this list together. Goldberg does a great job with Harvey Mapes, a Walter Mitty for the 21st Century. Mapes works in the guard shack for a gated community but dreams of being a private investigator. When he’s finally given an opportunity, he researches investigative techniques by reading Travis McGee books and watching an Mannix marathon. That works about as well as could be expected. Goldberg keeps Harvey likeable and teases you just enough with what can go wrong without giving too much away. The ending is a little somber in tone compared to the rest of the book, but not enough to spoil the fun.

Gun, Ray Banks. Banks is the goods. Gun is a day in the life of Richie, recently released from jail, who is tasked with picking up a gun for a local crime boss. This is a bigger deal in England than it would be in the States, but still should be a simple pick up and deliver. Things go wrong and Richie finds himself far more involved than he intended. A true noir tale of a flawed but not wholly irredeemable character drawn down by circumstances and bad judgment, written by a master.

Road Rules, Jim Winter. Insurance companies, Russian gangsters, cops, feds, and the Catholic Church combine to give this chase story multiple injections of energy ad fun. Winter treads the line between what’s funny and making light of what isn’t funny with a deft touch. A large cast is well differentiated and easy to keep track of, and everything makes sense, in it’s own goofy way. The added twist in the last paragraph is the mint after a great dinner.

Joe Puma, PI, William Campbell Gault. Five first-rate PI stories from the 50s, hard-boiled without being self-conscious about it. There’s nothing neo or retro about Gault. He wrote these when they were the vogue and hold his own with anyone. I’d never heard of him before, and I forget how I heard of this colleciton, but he’s on my radar now.