Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Geez, That Was Quick

(No, that’s not what my wife routinely says. Not routinely.)

It’s only been six months since Wild Bill made its appearance in the e-booksphere. Hardly enough time, one would think, to have written another book and gotten it ready for public consumption. Approach with caution. This $2.99 might not be any better spent than the dollar store earmuffs that fell apart the third time you put them on.

Well, there’s a story behind that.

I’ve been backed up for several years. (Not like you’re thinking. Two cans of V-8 a day take care of that for me. Now relax and let me get there.) Early on in my writing efforts, I heard what sounded like good advice: keep writing. So I didn’t stop after the first book was done and I looked for an agent. I kept writing while the agent flogged the book to all the big publishers. I even kept plugging away when a smaller, but highly respected publisher of crime fiction strung me along for two years before sending me a two-line, grammatically incorrect rejection.

Agent One and I parted ways amicably when I decided to take the tone of my stories in a different direction than she was comfortable with. I wrote while I found another agent, and while she pushed what had been the second novel around New York houses. We parted ways when she declined to send out Wild Bill, though she indicated she would be happy to pocket her 15% if I found a publisher on my own. Since querying is my most hated part of the process, I declined and we each went on to other opportunities.

I made a half-assed effort to find another agent, but by this time I’d done my research on what happens after you get a contract, so my enthusiasm was somewhat lacking. Kept on writing, though. About a year ago I’d learned self-publishing an e-book was less odious than carrying hod up a ladder, and looked into having Wild Bill  formatted. All that time I kept on writing, though I had started taking summers off.

Now what I have, in addition to Wild Bill and Worst Enemies (available on Thursday for a paltry $2.99; you had to know you couldn’t get through this without more shameless self-promotion) I now have five books gathering dust on my hard drive, plus enough shorts and flash pieces for a collection, and the work-in-progress. I figure I can keep writing at my current leisurely pace for four more years before I get caught up, assuming I drop a book every six months.

Not that I’m OCD, or anything.

Rest assured, the quality of my writing (such as it is) will not suffer.  (I know some people are thinking, “How would we notice?”) I’m dedicated to producing the same level of entertainment for a measly $2.99 per installment. Two ninety-nine, folks. I looked it up on the Internet and was shocked to learn that’s less than three bucks! With summer approaching, no one wants to damage their e-reader with beach sand; beaches are for paper books. That’s why Worst Enemies is available now, so you can get it read and go on with your summer without worrying about the Three Esses ruining your expensive Kindle: sand, salt, and sea gulls.

Some day you’ll thank me for it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Tumblin’ Dice

Obscured so far by all the hullabaloo over the imminent release of Worst Enemies (March 1 for Kindle and Nook, only $2.99) is the news that John McFetridge’s newest, Tumblin’ Dice, will also be available March 1, and in a more corporeal sense in that it’s an actual physical book, with pages and a cover and dust jacket and binding and all that stuff that keeps IKEA in business selling us shelves to put them on. I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy and finished it last week. My full review will appear in the April edition of New Mystery Reader, along with an interview with John. Because we’re friends, I’m going to let you in on a little secret ahead of time:

Buy this book. Read this book. It might be the best book you’ll read this year.

John has found a way to write a series that isn’t. He uses the universe he created way back in Dirty Sweet, but only enough to provide a common shared experience; each story has its own primary cast. His dialog sizzles, as always. The crime elements of the plot serve as setting more than plot. The story is about the people involved with the crimes and their collateral effects. Richard Price would be proud.

Don’t wait. John writes for a small Canadian press, so it’s not like there are millions of copies holding up display tables in bookstores across North America. You don’t want to get caught up in an ugly Vancouver mob when they find out the Canucks will lose the Cup again this year and Tumblin’ Dice is temporarily sold out.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Worst Enemies–Chapter 1

Worst Enemies will be available for Kindle and Nook on March 1 for the highly affordable $2.99. Here’s the first chapter:

Tom Widmer needed to pay attention. It’s not every night someone tells you how to kill his wife.

Hard enough to hear in Tease as it was, the tekno/disco/hip-hop cranked to Volume Eleven, so loud the pulsing in his eardrums ruined the floor’s foot massage. Chastity’s nipple in his ear didn’t help. She had the rest of her tit wrapped against his cheek like she was about to go off shift in fifteen minutes and needed to get him into the VIP Room now, which she was and did. This was her go-to move when time got short: sit on the arm of his chair, slip the teddy or camisole or whatever they call that thing she wore off-stage out of the way, then ease it in. Usually he didn’t mind. Usually it cost him an extra fifty for a trip to the VIP Room. Not tonight.

Tom turned his head and Chastity gave him a mouthful. He couldn’t resist a quick lick before he pulled away. “I’m sorry, baby. Marty and I gotta talk. Maybe later.”

Chastity pulled a pout. “I go off shift in fifteen minutes, Tommy. Can’t it wait?”

Tom looked at Marty and saw no, it couldn’t wait. “Sorry, babe. Next time.”

“You’re just a tease.” The smile that never reached her eyes didn’t hide the irritation in her voice. Fifteen minutes wasted. She made a show of tucking the nipple away and ran her tongue around his ear. Bit the lobe for good measure. “Next time. You’ll be sorry you passed.”

Marty waited for her to get out of hearing range, about three feet. “Can I have your attention now, or do I have to wait for your dick to get soft again?”

“You’re sure it has to be tomorrow?” Tom swallowed the bottom half of his gin and tonic, looked for the waitress.

Marty put his hand over Tom’s and forced the empty glass onto the table. “Pay attention. This has to be done before Monday. She hired a lawyer. You understand me? She already hired a fucking lawyer. Once they serve me with papers, there’s no way anyone will believe a burglar killed her. Thursday’s my regular night out and we have this thing with her family over the weekend. It has to be tomorrow.”

“That’s not a lot of time to plan.”

“Fucking A, and I got tired of waiting for you to do it. Everything you need’s in the car.”

“My car?”

“No, dumbass, in my car. How the fuck would I get it into your car?”

Tom really wanted that gin; the tonic had become optional. He’d had fun the past few months, basking in young pussy while he and Marty talked about killing each other’s wives, a couple of lap dances for the road. He figured his divorce was almost as close as Marty’s, and Marian would get half of what was already only half as much as it had been, the market’s death by a thousand cuts bleeding him every day. The sun would shine brighter in a world without Marian.

Now Marty was good to go. Carol had a lawyer and Tom didn’t know for a fact that Marian didn’t. Marty was right: once papers were filed, neither wife could catch cold without her husband falling under suspicion. Of course, wife killing was much more entertaining as an abstraction, and Tom had never killed anything more evolved than an insect in his life. Buried the whole cage when the kids’ pet hamster died so he wouldn’t have to touch Fluffy. Still, it was now or never. Kill her or face the idea of living like an intern again, running the copier for guys whose cufflinks cost more than his car.

Marty was talking. Probably had been, now that Tom thought about it. “You gotta be there at ten o’clock. Earlier and she’ll still be up. Later and it’s too close to when I come home.”

“Huh? Wait. Run that first part by me again.”

Marty squeezed Tom’s wrist until he grimaced. “Pay attention, dickhead. You fuck this up and I’ll come after you myself. There’s no way you’re doing this half-assed and taking me down with you. You listening to me?”

Tom nodded, tried to make eye contact with the waitress without moving his head. She wanted fifty bucks, he’d give her fifty bucks. A hundred. Just someone bring him a drink, for Christ’s sake.

Marty didn’t need a drink. “One more time. The stuff’s in the car. Black pullover, black jeans, black shoes and socks. One of those head things like Hines Ward wears when it’s cold.”

“What? You mean like a helmet?”

“No, not a helmet. Jesus Christ. Are all stockbrokers this dumb? No wonder the economy’s in the shitter. It’s like a skull cap, tight, pulls over your head, covers everything except your face. Race car drivers wear them.”


“If you say so. At least you’re listening. Put everything on, darken your face up some—”

“How should I do that?”

“Do what?”

“Darken my face.”

“I don’t know. Use some charcoal from the grill.”

“We have a gas grill.”

“Then buy some charcoal. Jesus Christ. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars here. Spend three bucks on a lousy bag of Kingsford.”

“It’s not the money. How am I going to explain the charcoal when I have a gas grill? It won’t look right.”

Marty rubbed his forehead with a thumb and index finger, closed his eyes for a couple of seconds. “What are you, autistic? Throw the rest of the bag away. It’s just charcoal. It ain’t like they got serial numbers on them. Use dirt if you want to. Just darken up your face.”

Tom had a thing about being dirty, showered before and after work every day. Sanitized his hands after he blew his nose, snot on them or not. Right now he’d swim naked through a pig trough if someone would just bring him a beer. Lite beer, even.

“Look at me, you son of a bitch.” Marty grabbed Tom’s cheeks between a thumb and forefinger. “I’m desperate here. This has to happen, and it has to happen tomorrow. You don’t do this and I’ll ruin you. I’ll tell your wife what I know and she’ll get half of what you got left plus child support. And you’ll probably lose your license. Then what are you gonna do?”

“How you figure to get my license?” Marty could tell stories about Tom lawyers would line up for like politicians at a microphone. Being a randy drunk wouldn’t cost him his stockbroker’s license.

“Remember that time you told me about that old broad—what’s her name?—Finnegan? How you used money in her account for what you called ‘leverage’ to float that hedge fund thing a few years ago? You made a bundle off that, didn’t you?”

“She didn’t lose a dime.”

“She didn’t make any, either. You told me how you got her to sign shit she wasn’t sure what it was? Got to be records of that, right? You move money around, something she has to sign for, I can’t believe they just throw the paperwork away when the money gets moved back. I’m no stockbroker, but they must be pretty fussy about their bookkeeping. I mean, it’s money, right? No other reason for a stockbroker to be in business.”

Fuck. Fuck. Marty told anyone about that and it was over for Tom. He’d be lucky if his old man could get him a job delivering uniforms. If he didn’t go to jail. He opened his mouth to talk. Marty beat him to it.

“Wait. Don’t say it. How do you know I won’t tell anyway? Right? That’s what you’re thinking. Well, think again. You already have me dead to rights for solicitation of murder. That’s a capital offense. If we quit dicking around and go through with it, both of us have enough on the other guy that neither one can afford to talk.” Marty cocked his head, raised his eyebrows. Showed the palms of his hands like he’d just said something so self-explanatory a retard would understand.

Tom was drunk, not retarded. He understood perfectly that he was well and truly fucked. Didn’t matter anymore whether he killed her or not. Don’t kill her and Marty would ruin him, maybe even send him to jail. Much as Tom disliked getting dirty, he liked the idea of taking one up the ass even less. Kill this woman he’d never met, never ever seen, who’d never done him any harm, and he knew Marty would hold up his end of the deal. Just watching him, the way he acted when he talked about it, Tom knew Marty wanted to do Marian. Hell, he was looking forward to it. Then Tom would be out from under forever.

Maybe he should pretend she was Marian

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Worst Enemies Cover


Heartfelt thanks to Sam Griffiths for kindly allowing the use of the photograph that perfectly conveys the atmosphere, and to The beloved Spouse for her PhotoShop artistry in turning an evocative photograph into what I think is a fine cover.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Worst Enemies–Cast of Characters

When most people talk about a book, they talk about the plot. It’s the most obvious facet of any work of fiction. Plot is what makes best sellers sell, and gets movies made. When someone decides to re-read a book, or author, it’s the characters that bring them back.

Some books have too many. The Phone Book comes to mind, so busy doing information dumps on characters there’s no time to get to know any of them, and the story goes nowhere. There can also be too few, if the main character lacks enough stimulation and conflict to be interesting. The trick is to hit the right balance.

Have I found that balance? Probably not. I lean toward multi-layered stories that require several people to tell them. The trick is to keep each character memorable and interesting, so readers will not only remember them if absent for a while, but will want to read what happens when they do re-appear. Here are the characters who carry the most water for me in Worst Enemies:

Ben “Doc” Dougherty, Detective, Penns River Police. Penns River native who returned after several tours as an MP, one of which took him to Abu Ghraib, where he was not involved but knew people who were. Mid-thirties, lives alone, eats Sunday dinner with his parents, meets his father to shoot pool one night a week at the American Legion. The kind of man who attracts women better than he can hold onto them. Not quite sure how he feels about how the future looks for Penns River.

Daniel Rollison. Private Investigator, rumored to be a retired spy. Rollison makes a good living using information gained in one case as leverage in others, and can often get facts faster than the police, as he’s not concerned with warrants and other legalities. Brought in to work on the defense team of a key suspect, he’s not above using what he learns on this client’s tab to his own ends.

Mike “The Hook” Mannarino. Boss of the Pittsburgh mob, lives in Penns River. Nickname derives from his success as a high school pitcher with a devastating curve ball, at least to high school hitters. Attended Auburn on a baseball scholarship for one year, expelled for selling steroids. Fancies himself an old-school Don, keeps most crime out of Penns River through his own methods, one of which includes tying offenders to a backboard and throwing baseballs at them.

Jefferson West. Retired army, working as a handyman. Survivor of the Vietnam War’s “Lost Battalion,” which suffered 80% casualties during the Tet Offensive. Lives in the townhome next to the unit where a murder takes place. A widower estranged from his children, West wants nothing more than to be let alone, bit refuses to close his eyes to what happens around him.

Marian Widmer. Mother of two, married to securities trader Tom Widmer. Still hot in her early 40s and knows it, also knows Tom is in the process of no longer being able to provide for her in the manner to which she would like to become accustomed, and is not the kind of person to take an affront like that lying down.

There’s more to tell about all of them, and several others in Penns River, but I’m a whore, not a slut. No giving it away here. Go to Amazon or Barnes or Noble on March 1 with at least $2.99 left on credit card limit and see for yourself.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Penns River

My second novel, Worst Enemies, is set in the fictional town of Penns River, Pennsylvania. About twenty miles northeast of Pittsburgh, Penns River has about 30,000 inhabitants, mostly blue collar, if they’re working at all. The bottom fell out of the economy when the steel and aluminum mills closed in the 70s, and the economic renaissance that turned Pittsburgh from a mill town to a medical and education center manages to miss The River every time, no matter how many presidential candidates use the abandoned strip mall as a backdrop for a campaign appearance, promising this is just the kind of town that will rise from the ashes under his administration.

Here’s a brief description from the book, about why Stan “Stush” Napierkowski’s job as chief of police has become so much harder in recent years, Stush listening to a harangue from Willie Grabek, a retired Pittsburgh detective he has brought in to provide some experience:

Stush already getting sick of listening to Grabek tell him how to be a cop. Not that he had any illusions about being Dick Tracy. Stush got his job the old-fashioned way: some seniority, a willingness to do dirty jobs, and his sister’s husband was mayor. Smaller town then, different demographic. Not much to do but break up the occasional millhunk fight born of too many boilermakers and not enough work. No serious poverty then, no one dramatically more affluent than anyone else, except for the handful of doctors and lawyers on Pill Hill, by the country club.

That all changed when the steel and aluminum mills started closing. After a while even the diehards gave up on an industrial renaissance. Small subsistence businesses popped up, locals selling things to their neighbors and buying in return. Money moved back and forth, no one getting rich so much as they were helping each other go under slower.

Pittsburgh rode medicine, finance, and education into the Twenty-First Century and parts of Penns River became a bedroom community for young professionals with more income than patience. The old Meadow Gold dairy farm was broken up into multi-acre lots for McMansions. The yuppies treated Stush’s cops like their personal security detail and spent their disposable income at Pittsburgh Mills, the Strip District, and Walnut Street, not in Penns River.

Only a matter of time before someone figured out it was easier to drop drug shipments off in a little town with forty cops and a lot of abandoned real estate by the river than run the risk of dealing with serious police downtown. Stush Napierkowski found himself the chief of a town with its demographics stretched both ways, and law enforcement problems he never signed on for. Knowing he was in over his head didn’t make it any easier to listen to endless rations of Willie Grabek telling him how to be a cop. Right now he needed Grabek more than Willie needed this job.

Worst Enemies is scheduled to be available for Kindle and Nook on March 1.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Worst Enemies Available March 1

Now that Wild Bill’s sales are comfortably into double digits, I am pleased to announce my next book, Worst Enemies, will be available for Kindle and Nook on March 1. (I hope. I’m awaiting permission to use a photograph for the cover. This is not Trestle Press.) Don’t think Worst Enemies is something I dashed off over the past few months because of the whelming success of Wild Bill. It took a full year and then some to write, slumbering on my hard drive while I got my act together deciding what I wanted to do with it.

Worst Enemies is the first of what I hope will be several books set in Penns River, a fictional town in Western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh’s economic recovery never seems to make it as far up the Allegheny as Penns River, though some of the yuppies looking for good home prices have established a bedroom enclave. Worst Enemies is the story of a small town and its cops, pulled between conflicting economic forces. The population is aging, the tax base is shrinking, and the crime situation is becoming more than its police force can comfortable handle.

Oh, and there’s murder. More than one.

More on Worst Enemies will follow, including excerpts and a look at the cover when it’s ready. You have been warned.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Foolish Inconsistency is the Hobgoblin of Small Minds

Yes, I know I got the quote wrong. In the context of today’s post, what I have here is correct.

Thomas Pluck recently posted an excellent blog to Crime Factory about foul language in books. The topic occasionally pops up, is debated for a couple of weeks, then subsides as writers find other things they can’t control to vent about. Pluck’s comments were timed with something that came to notice here.

The Beloved Spouse and I will occasionally watch a bit of stand-up on Comedy Central before turning in. Hop over to Channel 690, see what’s on, and stick around a while if it looks promising. We’re also regular viewers of both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. With the Supreme Court currently looking into what can, and cannot, be said on television, one thing struck us: there is a strange inconsistency in what network Standards and Practices will allow, and what they won’t.

Let’s take Comedy Central, notably stand-up comics, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert. They can’t say “fuck” or “shit” and get away with it; either word will be bleeped every time. This is in keeping with the late, great, George Carlin’s definition of the seven words you can never say on television. “Shit” is, however, permissible on FX, which is owned by Fox, which is the Official Network of Family Value Conservatives, as is “piss.” On Comedy Central—near as we can tell—you can be pissed off, but you can’t take a piss. A little weird, but it gets better.

CC allows the word “dick” as a reference to someone, but it can’t be used as a body part. You can be a dick, but you can’t have one, never mind why calling someone a dick is an insult. People act “dickish” all the time. “Balls” is okay, unless in the context of body part, so someone can have balls (“It takes a lot of balls to do that,” “You got some balls on you.”) but he cannot actually have balls. The origin of the phrase is, again, neglected. The secret here may be in the connection to what Archie Bunker so eloquently called “the groinal area.”

"Asshole” is a good one. You can say “ass” and you can say “hole,” but you can’t say “asshole.” Even better, they won’t bleep the whole word; just the “hole.” So “ass” is okay and “hole” is okay, but they are banned when combined, and it’s the “hole” that makes it obscene.

Then there is “goddamnit.” This one is okay for reasons that escape me. The Cultural Wars in this country are generally between the Christian Right (sometimes referred to as The Right) and people who generally want to be left alone and think we have bigger fish to fry (also known as The Wrong). A couple of ministers keep themselves in the public eye—and, not coincidentally, keep those contributions rolling in—by periodically pointing out the road to Perdition is paved with foul language and semi-second glimpses of Janet Jackson’s nipple. How does “goddamnit” get past these sentinels of propriety? I’m no Bible scholar, but isn’t taking the Lord Thy God’s name in vain one of the Ten Commandments? How does that get a pass, and “balls” doesn’t?

A study was recently released that says conservatives and racists are less intelligent. (Than what, we’re not so sure.) I don’t believe this—I’ll have more to say on From the Home Office in a couple of days—though inconsistencies like the above do give me pause. I sincerely don’t want to come across as insensitive—though, as regular readers know, I will if I feel the need—I’m genuinely curious about how this works, especially the “goddamnit” business. Feel free to enlighten me in the comments.