Friday, June 28, 2019

S. W. Lauden, Author of That'll Be The Day

I can appreciate how good a writer George Pelecanos is, but I never got into his Derek Strange books because he spends too much time talking about cars and music I know nothing of. S.W. Lauden’s new novelette, That’ll Be The Day, revolves around music I know practically nothing of—it’s damn near about music I know nothing of—yet I read it in a single sitting. Literally couldn’t put it down. That’s some storytelling.

Steve stopped by to dish about the book, writing, and music.

One Bite at a Time: We’ve discussed how much I like That’ll Be The Day, yet the more I think about it the more things I find to like. Let’s start with the characters. It’s often said of a book that no character is all good or all bad, but you pulled that off in convincing ways I’d not seen before. Did you have the characters sketched out in advance?
S.W. Lauden: Thanks so much for the kind words! It definitely helps that I played in bands myself for many years and have plenty of personal experience to draw on. And there’s something about a story of this length (17,000 words) that I find easier to write than either short stories or full-length novels. There’s an immediacy to the pace of the storytelling, but the end is always in sight. All of that makes it easier (for me, at least) to focus on the characters.

OBAAT: Jackson Sharp is a man who can hold a grudge. He wants the fifty grand he had to leave behind when he was sent up mainly so he can afford to find and kill his father. He undergoes quite a change by the end. Was that the point of the book when you started, or did things evolve to there?
SWL: Music and fandom are the framework, but I always thought of this story as Jack’s journey to accepting that his dreams weren’t going to come true (at least not the way he once envisioned them). Jamie has made a kind of peace with his shitty life and found ways to be happy, but Jack can’t even see the point in trying. A big area of focus for me was their simultaneous relationship with music and crime, because that’s what’s in their bones. I wanted the guns and guitars to seem interchangeable to some degree. I was also riffing on the proud history of battling brothers in rock bands (like Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks, Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis, etc.).

OBAAT: Russell Patterson is as fucked up a character as I can remember and in a completely unique way. I suppose people as rich as he is can afford all kinds of off the path hobbies, but what gave you the idea for his personal rock-and-roll memorabilia Hall of Fame?
SWL: Patterson’s definitely a piece of work. I wanted him to embody an overblown version of ‘toxic fandom.’ With any artform, there is always a small but extreme group of fans who take their passion too far and kind of lose sight of the innocent reasons they connected with something in the first place. He’s a shady (sometimes violent) businessman with a very specific kink when it comes to music, but his outrageous collection is really just an extension of his massive ego. The music isn’t enough for a guy like Patterson, he needs to hoard important artifacts from the band’s history and keep them to himself.

OBAAT: Having been a musician myself, I think the reason I’m able to get past the fact I don’t know a lot of the music in the book (I’m more of a classical and jazz guy) was because, unlike the Pelecanos reference above, your musical references are more about the life of a musician than the music. I don’t want to spoil a nice plot point, but I was particularly taken by how Jack and his brother need to make a detour on their way to a job so they can afford to do the job. Musicians live that way, one job to the next. You came up with a creative way to show that while not lessening the motion of the story. (Yeah, there’s no question there. Talk about it.)
No more ever says, "More cowbell!" when
Steve Lauden's around.
SWL: There was an earlier version of this book (in my mind only) that was just going to be the two brothers driving to the heist—kind of like a rock ‘n roll Waiting For Godot or My Dinner With Andre. I ultimately didn’t take the story to that artistic extreme, but I still wanted to capture the mind-numbing delirium of life on the road. Bands tackle a lot of the world’s problems while barreling down the interstate in the middle of the night. They also get into pointless, heated debates about their favorite bands and songs.

Then there’s the musical genre that inspired this story. I previously published a trilogy of books about a punk rock PI (Bad Citizen Corporation, Grizzly Season and Hang Time) that was more aggressive, much darker and almost cartoonish in some respects because I felt that embodied the punk rock lifestyle I had seen firsthand growing up. Power pop, on the other hand, is melodic (sometimes jangly) guitar pop that includes everybody from Raspberries, Big Star and The Knack to The Bangles, Fountains Of Wayne, and The New Pornographers. Power pop bands are usually inspired by the early music of 60s bands like The Beatles, The Who, The Byrds and The Beach Boys. All of that’s a bit more nuanced than punk, especially hardcore punk. So much of the tone, pace and dialogue was set by the music I was listening to.

OBAAT: Jack never wants to play again and his brother Jamie doesn’t really want to do anything else, making great sacrifices to allow him to keep his hand in. To me, the two brothers represent an internal struggle a lot of less than successful musicians have within themselves. Is that what you were going for?
SWL: You hit the nail on the head. Music, especially commercial music, is mostly a young person’s game. It’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears (hey, that would make a good band name!) that most often leads nowhere. So it can be difficult to keep doing it simply for the love of music, especially when it comes to lugging gear around and playing to empty bars in middle age when you should probably be home with your family and/or trying to achieve more reasonable goals.

OBAAT: What’s up next? Will we see you in Dallas for Bouchercon?
SWL: Funny enough (especially given my answer to your last question), I just recorded an album with some good friends as The Brothers Steve. We have a digital single coming out at the end of June. The vinyl album will be available in late July.

I also co-edited an essay collection about power pop with Paul Myers called “Go All The Way” that will be released in October by Rare Bird Books. As you can tell, I really love going down musical rabbit holes like this.

No Bouchercon for me this year. I’m too busy with the book projects, the Writer Types podcast, and music. That’s in addition to the day job and my amazing family. Speaking of which, I should probably go…Thanks again for having me back!

BIO: S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series including Bad Citizen CorporationGrizzly Season and Hang Time. His Tommy & Shayna novellas include Crosswise and Crossed Bones. A new novelette, That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist, was released on June 18, 2019. S.W. Lauden is the pen name of Steve Coulter, drummer for Tsar and The Brothers Steve. More info at

Friday, June 21, 2019

Diversity Friday: Why I Had to Write Eye of the Eagle by Sharon Buchbinder

Eye of the Eagle is the third book in my Hotel LaBelle Series. Many would say it should have been easier than the first two, but in fact, it was my most challenging to write. Out of all my books, the heroine in this story is my most personal. Phoebe Wagner is based on my grandmother, Bessie T. Engelman, who gave me unconditional love when I needed it most.At the age of three years old, my mother put me on a plane in Washington, D.C., and sent me to Connecticut to live with my deaf grandmother, my aunt, uncle, cousin, two Chihuahuas, and a parakeet. At night, I would cry because I missed my family. As I sobbed, my grandmother would take me in her arms and hug me. I’d fall asleep wondering if I’d ever see my family again, not knowing that my parents were divorcing.

A year after being shipped north, I was reunited with my family. Another year
later, we moved out of my aunt’s basement and into government subsidized housing. The years passed, marred by poverty and abuse at my mother’s hands. During the first semester of my freshman year, my grandmother became ill and died at home at the age of eighty-nine. Claiming that she didn’t want to “disrupt” my studies, my mother withheld the knowledge until I came home months later. I was devastated. I never had the chance to say good-bye to the woman who loved me unconditionally.

When I hit my fifth decade, I felt compelled to research my family tree, beginning with my beloved grandmother. My only clues were embedded in childhood memories of kitchen table conversations between my mother and aunt. The family legend, told and re-told, with American Sign Language (ASL) consultations for verification, was that my grandmother was born hearing and healthy to a wealthy family. My research gave me much more than I expected: it gave me a love story and insight into this feisty woman.

Born in 1881, my grandmother contracted spinal meningitis at sixteen months of age and lost her hearing. She was a resident at what is now the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville, Kentucky from age seven to twenty-one. An educated and strong woman, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for a Congressman addressing envelopes with her beautiful penmanship. She met my grandfather, Carl Rhodes, on a blind date. A wild man on a motorcycle, Carl was born deaf, became a ward of the Department of the Interior, and attended Kendall School housed on the campus of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.  Defying her wealthy Kentucky family, my grandmother married her “bad boy” and raised six hearing children in Washington, D.C. where my grandfather worked for the U.S. Botanical Gardens and the White House.

Every day I thank my grandmother for defying her parents, for marrying my grandfather, and for showing me the most important of all abilities: persistence, hope, compassion, and love. I know she is my guardian angel, always looking out for me and my family. Eye of the Eagle is my love story for my grandmother, inspired by her love for me.

One soars like an eagle. One strikes like a thunderbird. But for both hearts, revenge can be deadly when it's nourished.

Anomaly Defense Director and shapeshifter Bert Blackfeather doesn't need a boss with no experience. So what if she's beautiful or gives him a jolt when she shakes his hand? He never plans to get seriously involved with another woman—not in this lifetime.

Phoebe Wagner, an empath with psychometric abilities and an advocate for the deaf, gets more than she bargained for with Bert. One touch and she relives his IED injuries. So what if he's handsome and hot? She doesn't need to add his secrets to her own. Phoebe's are bad enough.

When his niece goes missing from Hotel LaBelle, Bert goes to Montana to help—and Phoebe insists on going with him. Can these two hard-headed people share their darkest secrets in order to work together? It may be the only way to save an endangered child—and their own hearts when Bert's past rears its ugly head.

Buy Links:
You, too, can have a spot on a Diversity Friday. Drop me a line at danakingcrime (at) gmail and we'll set it up.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Taking a Step Back

This is the 886th post to this blog since I started it August 17, 2008. Blogs fall by the way all the time, especially the past few years. There are more and less labor-intensive social media platforms to use now. Instagram and Twitter come to mind. Hell, there may be direct telepathic communication for all I know. I’m old and tend to stick with what I’ve grown comfortable with.

Anyone who has maintained a regular blog schedule can tell you it’s a lot of work. Blogs are most effective when they have some kind of regular schedule and it’s the regular schedule that can be a grind. Writers have other obligations and other deadlines both hard and soft; the blog is just one more thing to try to stay ahead of. I have also made every effort to keep this from being a place where I rant about whatever the hot topic is that day. I sometimes rant, but I thought about it and went through at least two drafts before going public. That takes time.

With this in mind, there are questions that need to be asked and answered from time to time if any blogger is to carry on. Questions that have nagged the back of my mind for quite a while it’s time to bring out into the open. Questions such as

Is the blog worth the time and effort expended?

This one has several elements, but two come to the front:
·       Does it help to sell my books?
·       Does it help to sell the books of others?

I see no evidence either of these are true.

Does the blog take time away from things that might actually help sales?

You know, like actual marketing or writing short pieces—fiction or non-fiction—that might get published in outlets where someone who doesn’t already know me can stumble across my work. By “take time away” I don’t just mean, “keep me too busy.” Does the blog sometimes serve as an excuse not to do another task that needs doing but I’d rather not?

Goddamn right it does. Regularly.

Does anyone else really care what I think about the things I write about?

I’m not sure I care all that strongly, or I wouldn’t have so much trouble coming up with topics from time to time. Views are down and comments here and on Facebook are low, with the notable exception of the May 29 post. There are things I feel strongly about, and feedback both here and on Facebook implies there are people interested when I have something interesting to say. Is this blog the place to bury it, or should I seek wider distribution, as mentioned above?

So what’s the upshot?
I’m stepping back. The blog will run once a week, on Fridays. (What’s that, you say? You thought it only ran once a week already? That’s why I’m cutting back.) Alternate Fridays will still be Diversity Fridays, assuming anyone in the target demographic wants to participate. (Thanks to next week’s guest, Sharon Buchbinder, and apologies to Danny Gardner. I haven’t forgotten, just too busy. You’ll hear from me.) This should allow me to relax a little and, oddly enough, make it easier to remain topical, as I won’t feel a need to stay a few weeks ahead lest I get busy.

Enjoy your summer. Anyone interested in a Diversity Friday slot, please send an email to danakingcrime (at) gmail (dot) com. 

Friday, June 7, 2019

Frank Zafiro and Colin Conway, Authors of Charlie-316

I always thought of myself as an ensemble player when I was a musician, so a collaborative effort is nothing new to me. That said, I’ve always been a little in awe of writers who can collaborate well, as I can’t imagine doing it. The thing is, collaborating in a musical is a simultaneous thing; collaborative writing is much more of a taking turns thing. The rough edges don’t disappear after a fleeting second as in music. They live forever.

That’s why I was so knocked out by Charlie-316. Frank Zafiro and Colin Conway have created a seamless, fast-paced, and engaging police procedural/thriller that kept me engrossed throughout. I wondered how they did it—all of it—and it was a pleasure to get them both to sit and pull back the curtain a little.

One Bite at a Time: Charlie-316 is an officer-involved shooting story with a couple of twists, so I don’t want to say too much about it. Why don’t you fill us in?

Colin Conway:  Charlie-316 is the lead character’s patrol designation.  It was also my call sign for a year while assigned to a power shift team on the Spokane Police Department. 

As a writer, I always liked the sound of that call sign – Charlie-three-sixteen.  Not only does the name ‘Charlie’ have a nice sound to it, but the numbers “316” are very familiar to most of us because of the biblical verse John 3:16 which states that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have ever lasting life.”

It was the marriage of those two ideas, the police officer and sacrificing a loved one for the sins of others, that became the germ of this story.

Frank Zafiro: Colin had this great idea to start with, and we really built on it (and continue to build on it in the remaining three books in this arc). We knew we wanted to show how all kinds of different people reacted to a controversial shooting – the officer himself, his peers, the investigators, the brass, the media, different interest groups, and city hall, just to name a few.

Throughout the whole book, we kept to the ideas that a) everything is not always as it seems, b) perspective matters, and c) people are complex, gray creatures, not a good or evil archetype. Most of them, anyway.

OBAAT: Officer-involved shootings are now a hot topic. (The next book I have planned for the Penns River series revolves around one.) You took this one down a wholly unexpected path. Or two. Three, even. Did you get together and plot everything out like The Wire or Ray Donovan, laying out all the story beats in advance so whoever writes each episode knows what needs to happen? Or was it more organic?

Frank: Colin had a pretty good skeleton of a plot when he brought the idea to me, and we expanded on that considerably. As I remember it, we developed a fairly detailed bullet point outline, so we both knew what was coming. That said, we discovered a few surprises we didn’t expect.

We also flipped the script to explore the scenario in a different way. Spokane is over ninety percent white, so the racial dynamics are different than in some of the cities that have seen controversial shootings. By reversing the races of the officer and the civilian/suspect/victim (depending on how you see it), it opened a different way of discussing the event.

OBAAT: I had to keep reminding myself this was a collaboration. No seams at all. What was your writing process? Did you edit each other’s work? Take turns chapter by chapter?

Colin:  Thank you for the compliment on seamlessness.  I think a lot of
that came from how we prepared for the story.  After drafting our outline and developing the character whose POVs the readers would see, we both selected a couple of characters that would be “ours.”  After that, we shared the writing duties on several characters and tried to evenly distribute the workload.

For example, I would write a character’s POV, then send it to Frank for his review/addition/subtraction, then he would write his chapter and send it to me.  I would then go back to my original chapter, review the changes he made and approve/add/delete, then edit his chapter, and write my new one.  Afterwards, my work would be sent to him.  The result would be a long snake of edits which would get cleaner as we moved deeper into the story.

When we finished the first draft, it was the cleanest I’d ever seen.  It was a wonderful experience.

Frank:  I love our process for several reasons. It keeps us both involved
in 100% of the work. There’s no mine/yours, just ours. By the time a passage has been written and revised and revised again, it’s no longer mine or Colin’s, but something separate. That’s probably why it seemed seamless to you – there was only one voice, in the end.

The other great thing about our process is that it spurs some great discussions and ideas that can really improve the work. We hash out suggestions, ideas, and resolve differences of opinion pretty fluidly this way.

From a technical standpoint, the extra revision as we go also means that by the end of the first draft, it’s very tight.

OBAAT: How did you two get together?

Colin:  We first met when I was on the department while we were working patrol.  Frank was a corporal and I was a rookie on his team.  Neither of us knew the other wrote at that time.  I was just trying to make sure I showed up on time, did my job professionally, and went home safely at the end of shift.

Fast forward a few years, I ended up in an administrative gig across the hall from Frank, who was a Sergeant at the time.  We began talking and somehow writing came up.

Most of my writing then was short stories.  I was essentially learning the craft and spent hours alone (as most writers do) creating weird and odd crime fiction tales.  They were fun to write then, but they are painful to read now.

Frank was much further along in his writing when we first met.  He had a vision and really understood what he was doing.  It was great to have someone like that around who I could bounce ideas off.  I always felt motivated after one of our writing conversations.

Frank: I have to credit Colin with really super-charging my desire to get back to my writing, and to write crime fiction in particular. I’d written a draft of Under a Raging Moon (River City #1) back in 1995, but it went into a drawer. These were the days when it literally went into a physical drawer because it was printed out on a dot matrix printer… Anyway, in 1996, I was working full time as a cop, and I went back to college full time. From 1996-98, I wrote a lot of police reports and a lot of papers for my history degree, but no fiction. Then, in 1999, I got promoted to corporal, so I was busy learning a new job. In 2001, I made detective – new job. Same in late 2002 – made sergeant, new job. By 2004, though, I’d settled into that role and got assigned to Volunteer Services, where I oversaw five different volunteer programs with about 140 total members ranging from fourteen years old to ninety. It was a challenge, but it was an office gig… so my hours were a little steadier, and I could stop and grab coffee or lunch with Colin, and we talked a ton of writing. It really spurred me on, and from 2004 onward, my output has been pretty good, with a few minor dips due to life events.

I think this illustrates how important it is to find people in your tribe, and to support each other. With technology today, those connections don’t even have to be in person. One of my earliest and best writer friends (and a hell of an editor) is Jill Maser in New Jersey, and we’ve never met face to face. This is someone I’ve exchanged Christmas gifts with, but never hugged. It’s weird, but that’s our world, right? I finally got to meet Eric Beetner in person at Bouchercon in 2018, and will meet Jim Wilsky (and hopefully Larry Kelter) at Bouchercon in Dallas in 2020. I’ve written books with these guys!

I’ve also written a book with Bonnie Paulson, and we’ve met, so that’s more normal. And then there’s Colin and I. We’re good friends and there’s something uniquely powerful about that friendship/collaboration connection that really drives the creative process. When we’re able to get together in person and brainstorm or outline or just talk about one or the other of our solo projects, it is such a positive thing for me.


Frank Zafiro writes several different series by himself (River City, Stefan Kopriva, SpoCompton) and teams up with other authors like Colin Conway, Eric Beetner, Jim Wilsky, Larry Kelter, and Bonnie Paulson for additional mayhem. He is a retired cop and a tortured guitarist.

Colin Conway is the author of The Side Hustle, the first book in 'The 509 Crime Stories' series.  He is a former police officer and currently works in the commercial real estate industry.

Monday, June 3, 2019

May's Favorite Reads

A Man on the Moon, Andrew Chaikin. The Beloved Spouse™ and I watched the 90s HBO series To the Moon and Back a while back (in large part to get the taste of First Man out of our mouths) and that put me into the 50th anniversary spirit. A Man on the Moon is the book that provides much of the source material for the mini-series; the producers chose well. What looked to us (or at least to a twelve-to-fifteen-year-old at the time) to be flawless missions with minor inconveniences (Apollo 13 the notable exception) were all way more dangerous and exciting than NASA let on, up through about Apollo 15, by which time they pretty well had things figured out. Chaiken conducted exhaustive interviews with astronauts, ground crews, and wives to piece together a definitive history of mankind’s greatest exploration to date.

A Drink Before the War, Dennis Lehane. I’d been meaning to get back to Lehane’s PI stories for quite a while, wondering how well they’d hold up after reading so much of his recent stuff. A Drink Before the War is the first Kenzie-Gennaro book, and it deserved all the fuss. Lehane observes the usual tropes in PI stories—more to the case than the PI expects when he takes it, psycho sidekick who’s available as needed, untrustworthy client—yet puts his own spin on them. If you’ve never read the books that put him on the map, this first one is a good place to start.

That’ll be the Day*, S. W. Lauden. Lauden falls into a category I call “People Whose Books I Ran Into Once in a While Before I Finally Realized I Should Read Everything They Write.” (I didn’t say the category title came trippingly to the tongue.) This novelette pulls off the estimable of writing a book in a musical universe I know nothing about and, frankly, care nothing about, and kept my aging ass up till 12:30 on a work night to finish it in one sitting. The characters are multi-tiered and believable and the action moves along without become too breakneck to be believable. Highly recommended.

(*--I read an ARC. Be ready for this one when it drops later this month.)