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?




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


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.)