Thursday, September 21, 2023

Re-branding Nick Forte

 It’s been a while since I released a new Nick Forte novel. January of 2018 to be exact. While he has appeared in a couple of Penns River books (Grind Joint and The Spread) he has not been the star of his own book since Bad Samaritan.


That doesn’t mean he hasn’t asked for more attention. Ideas have been percolating from my subconscious all the while. Since the next Penns River book is going to require more research and thought than usual, I took a break from that series to write a new Forte novel. Off the Books will drop in the spring of 2024.


Since it’s been a while since Forte made an appearance, I thought it would be a good idea to relaunch the entire series as a lead up to Off the Books. I had hoped to get the first book (A Small Sacrifice) out by now, but a little research quickly showed me it would be in my best interest to dig deeper into how Amazon handles the metadata, so the first re-branding effort may slip a little.


Since I mentioned Amazon, I might as well go all the way: these books will be available only through Amazon. It’s a better deal for me to do it that way, and bookstores won’t carry my books, anyway. So to all those independent bookstores out there, I love you, but please understand this is strictly business. Just as I understand that’s the reason you won’t stock my books.


The tentative schedule is below, but please note: Except for Off the Books, all of these are re-releases of books that have been out there for five years or more. If you already own one, there is no need to buy another. All that will change are the covers and the metadata. Save your money for Off the Books. Or gift purchases. Those of you who have yet to read any Forte novels, here’s your chance.


The dates are tentative, and promotional pricing is still to be decided. I’ll give full notice when the time comes.


September 2023: A Small Sacrifice, the first Forte novel, in which Nick investigates a cold case loosely adapted from the JonBenet Ramsey killing. Nominated for a Shamus Award as best Independently Published PI Novel.


October 2023: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of. My tribute to The Maltese Falcon, of which Peter Rozovsky wrote in his sadly discontinued blog “Detectives Beyond Borders, “I can imagine this book finding its way into a class on writing crime fiction as an example of how to pay tribute to one’s predecessors while at the same time writing a story that can stand on its own. It’s an impressive accomplishment.”


November 2023: The Man in the Window. What begins as an adultery case ends up involving terrorists. Nominated for a Shamus as Best Paperback Original.


December 2023: A three-book set, yet to be titled, to include the three novels noted above.


January 2024: A Dangerous Lesson, my only serial killer story.


February 2024: Bad Samaritan, in which Forte takes on men’s rights activists.


March 2024: Off the Books. This is the new one, showing Forte in his post-agency life as he treads the line between Spenser and Ray Donovan.


Late 2024: A second three-book boxed set.


I’ll be busy otherwise, as well. My first Western will drop sometime next year and another Forte, as yet untitled, will come out in either late 2024 or early 2025. If the next Penns River novel has come together by then, I’ll return there for a three- or four-book run to complete the series. And another Western. Probably more Forte. And other projects I have in mind.


Ain’t no flies on me. Not yet anyway.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity X

 The tenth Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference took place last weekend in Columbia, MD. I’ve been to nine (missed the first for reasons I do not remember) and, while I can’t say this was the “best,” there have been none better.


Austin and Denise Camacho never fail to create a welcoming, familial atmosphere that not only inspires repeat visits, but embraces newcomers. A friend attending her first C3 told me she hadn’t been sure what to expect, but was made to feel at home as soon as she entered the registration area. She was not alone in that sentiment.


C3 always gets high-level keynotes. This year Jeffrey Deaver reprised his role as the original crime speaker, with Nancy Holder covering the sci-fi/fantasy side of things. Both were excellent speakers, outstanding panelists, and were more than accessible to the other 140 writers and readers who wanted bits of their time.


I’ve been going to conferences since 2008, so there isn’t as much new to me as there once was. I used to break out comments by individual sessions, but now my notes are thinner. Do not infer I didn’t learn anything. My personal highlights are below.


·       Taglines have vexed me since my first book came out. The panel that focused on them had several takeaways I can use as I begin a new project we’ll discuss more in next week’s blog:

o   John DeDakis: the tag should only be a sentence or two to hook a potential reader. Tags should be short enough to be read comfortably in one breath.

o   Susan Tullio: a tag is similar to a newspaper headline and should set the genre.

o   Sharon Buchbinder: tags should give a sense of the book so readers aren’t misled.

·       Jeffrey Deaver: The part of the brain that forms attachments with real humans is the same part that forms attachments with fictional characters.

·       About writing fight scenes:

o   Bryan England: the stakes in a fight can change as the fight progresses. A cop must write a use of force report every time he draws his gun, sprays a chemical, uses a Taser, or throws a punch; cops are writing the report in their head as they fight.

o   Teel James Glenn: Bruce Lee said people will fight the way they think; Those who are afraid will fight most desperately. The mindset of the individual may be key, as he or she must decide how dirty they are willing to get; running may be the solution.

o   Mark Bergin: the fight description should not be too detailed. Clarity and brevity are the keys.

o   P.A. Duncan: No one escapes a fight without consequences.

§  All: If you’re going to show the fight, you must show the consequences, including both mental and psychological.

o   There are differences of opinion about who to take out first when outnumbered.

·       On discussing the importance of realism:

o   Bryan England: Taser victims are only incapacitated while the current is running; it does not knock them out. Everything a cop does must go into a report before they can go back on the street, even if all they did was give someone a ride to the station.

o   Glenn Parris (an MD) sees too much “magical healing” and not enough medical complications. Tasers will not trigger cardiac arrest, even in those with pacemakers or defibrillators.

o   Mark Bergin never sees enough of how much cops rely on the radio or how calls can get garbled when passing them to jurisdictions with different 10 codes.

I can’t take notes on my own panels, for obvious reasons. Both “Rejections” and “Noir” had worthy takeaways. The one that sticks in my head is Terrence McCauley’s comment that Glengarry, Glen Ross, is a woefully underrated noir with nary a corpse shown nor punch thrown, to which I immediately thought, “Of course it is!” though it had never occurred to me before.


That’s the joy of a conference such as this: you learn things and have an opportunity to follow up on them. You also get to see old friends and invariably make new ones.


I would be remiss if I did not thank the panelists I worked with last weekend: Arlene Kay, Jeff Markowitz, Rick Pullen, and Ilene Schneider (Rejections); Christopher Chambers, Lanny Larcinese, Terrence McCauley (Noir).


Last, but by no means least, a shout out to those who read at Friday’s Noir at the Bar event. C3’s N@Bs are different from others, as horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and even steampunk may be included. This year’s readers were exceptional from start to finish, even though several had never read at such an event before. Some of the credit goes to the atmosphere Austin, Denise, and everyone involved in putting on the conference creates, but I cannot compliment highly enough the effort put forth by the readers: LC Allingham, Rob Creekmore, Ef Deal, William J. Donohue, Jeff Markowitz, Joanne McLaughlin, Josh Pachter, and Tom Sterling. You all conducted yourselves above and beyond what were high expectations. Well done.


Next Year’s event is September 13 – 15, again in Columbia. Early registrations get a discount, so head on over to to beat the rush.


See you in Columbia.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

What Do We Owe the Public?

 When I say “What do we owe the public?” I’m not talking about our readers. To them we owe our best effort. It’s not our job to write the book they want; our task is to make the book we chose to write as good as our skills can make it, every time. There is no excuse to do other.


What I’m asking here is, “What we owe the public at large?” We speak directly only to our readers, but they interact with countless others. What our readers pick up from us is always at risk of extending beyond our intended reach.


Let’s take what has become known as the “CSI Effect” in criminal courts. The CBS phenomenon “CSI” and its spinoffs have led to jurors refusing to convict unless the prosecution presents compelling DNA or trace evidence. A lot of cases, maybe most, don’t have the forensic version of a smoking gun, nor do many cities (read: none) have the resources depicted in the shows. The situation has gotten so bad judges now include warnings against it when giving jury instructions.


Why is that? Enough people have seen enough stuff “CSI” puts forward as “how this works” that they think these things have to be there for a defendant to be guilty. In fact, any such lack does not imply anything except there was no DNA/fiber/fingerprint evidence at the scene. Such an absence does not nullify a potential mountain of other evidence.


Why has this become such an issue? Because, for all the entertainment value shows like “CSI” and “NCIS” and others of that ilk provide, things don’t work that way. DNA and trace evidence results don’t take as long as they used to, but they still don’t come back in a few days, and they sure as hell don’t come back while the detective is standing there waiting. To manufacture such beliefs creates unrealistic expectations in the public’s mind. DNA and trace evidence can be instrumental in getting a conviction, but they rarely come through in time to identify who to arrest. Even if they do, the police need a suspect to compare it to.


Magical computer work is another. How many shows have you seen where the detectives stumble around for 45 minutes before happening onto a tiny piece of evidence or off-hand comment they can give to their computer savant and say, “See wat you can do with this?” Said savant types a little, may grunt something like “gotcha” under his or her breath, the turns around to tell the star of the show the suspect’s

·       Name

·       Date and place of birth

·       Parents

·       Siblings

·       Education record

·       Military record

·       Employment history

·       Arrests, convictions, time served (both where and when)

·       Known associates

·       Recent sexual partners

·       Hobbies

·       Last known address

·       Where he is now

·       Where he’s going to be by the time the cops can get there

That’s an exaggeration, but not as much as it should be.


There are other examples. What does it take to get a search warrant or a wiretap? Granted, these are tedious processes and no one wants to see how that sausage gets made. That said, the delays and work inherent in getting them should at least be addressed.


Why do you think people assume police brutality when five cops take down a single suspect? Because they see cops do it alone all the time on TV. They don’t see that going one-on-one for an arrest is not only dangerous for the cop, it’s dangerous for the suspect. The solo cop must beat the suspect into submission to take him in, all the while fighting for his own life because the party’s over if this skel grabs the cop’s gun. Five cops show up to take him, it’s going to be a much shorter fight, and shorter fights mean fewer chances for injury on either side. That’s if there’s a fight at all, as even a hardened criminal is a lot less likely to try to fight it out at five-to-one against.


Medical shows have similar issues that can lead to people thinking they know more about medicine than they do, which is a potentially dangerous situation. There are those who argue with their doctor over a diagnosis because they saw someone with what they think are similar symptoms on “House” and what that poor bastard had was way more serious than the quack standing in front of them is willing to admit.


Don’t believe me? Much like the “CSI Effect,” there’s a medical equivalent known as “60 Minutes Syndrome,” in which calls to doctors to check for a specific disease spike immediately after “60 Minutes” runs a segment on it. It’s great that some people bring this to their doctor’s attention when they might not have otherwise, but there is also an apparently natural tendency to take any symptoms one might be having and turn them into a warning sign for this disease. “Man, I’ve been tired all weekend. Stiff and sore. Ohmigod! Scott Pelley says I have Lyme Disease.” Never mind that said viewer spent the past week cutting down trees and clearing brush from the new acre of ground he added to his yard.


I hear you. “We don’t have time to go around all that. Readers and viewers want action.” I get that. Honest to God I do. But to let these convenient devices take the place of proper plotting and storytelling is lazy writing, especially when done to the extent that readers think things really work that way. At least make a nod to reality and craft a reason why what you’re doing is the exception, and the potential effects on the investigation. We’ll all be better off.



Thursday, August 31, 2023

Artificial Intelligence, Part Two

 Last Friday I ranted about artificial intelligence. That post was written several weeks ago, its publication postponed due to other, more time-sensitive pieces. (Sleuthfest and the launch of The Spread.) In the interim I was alerted to an article titled, “I was fired by a client for using AI. I'm not going to stop because it's doubled my output, but I'm more clear about how I use it,” by Tina Sendin, which, if nothing else, shows she’s badly in need of a title editor. I gave her article a read to see if Ms. Sendin had thought of anything I missed in last week’s post. Her piece is a little under a thousand words, and I realize not all of you have the time, so I’ll digest it:


Ms. Sendin works full-time in marketing, and part-time as a freelance writer. A long-time client came to her with more work than Ms. Sendin could do in the time allotted. In her own words, “Since I couldn't clone myself, I tried what I thought would be the next best thing: I used AI…. Jasper did most of the work and I did minimal editing. AI lost me a longtime client.”


To which I say, “You go, client!”


Ms. Sendin continues:

“I learned a valuable lesson the hard way — AI is a tool, not something that should replace you.”




“Looking back, I know things weren't right when I was letting AI do the work and not communicating this to my client.”


She should have known “things weren’t right” when she “[let] AI do the work.” Failure to communicate that to her client wasn’t the crime; it was the cover-up.


Having seen the error of her ways, Ms. Sendin now discusses her use of AI with prospective clients before starting work. She claims she no longer uses AI to write the draft, only to “enhance” it by “using the paragraph generator to expand a sentence into a paragraph,” among other things.


She might want to consider getting into political consultancy, as she appears to have at least a Master’s Degree in obfuscation. “Using the paragraph generator to expand a sentence into a paragraph” is not “enhancing” the draft. It’s writing significant portions of it.


Among her other dodges:


“I use AI to give me ideas on sources and statistics.” Or, as we used to say back in the day, “research.”


“AI helps with the tone of voice and brand voice.” In other words, “the hard part.”


“AI helps with condensing large volumes of text.” Also known as “editing.” (Some of which would have helped her title.)


“AI has cut my writing time in half.” Goddamn right. She’s doing less than half as much writing, since it takes her half as much time and AI is doing a goodly portion of that. Hopefully that “level of effort” on her part is reflected in her rates.


“AI still scares me sometimes, but early adopters of new technology have historically reaped more rewards than punishments.”


Writers have always been our own worst enemies. We work for peanuts because we will. Publishers take advantage because they can. You don’t like it, there are a hundred others who’d love to have us screw them the way we’re screwing you, if not worse.


Now we have writers who think they’ll get ahead of the game by using AI. It’s not unlike athletes using steroids. Steroids don’t allow you to do things you couldn’t do before; they just allow you to “enhance” your physique so you can do better than you could have done without them. It’s still cheating.


I realize this is a “Get off my lawn” post. So be it. This is the hill I’m willing to die on as a writer.


(Full disclosure: I used Word’s “Check Document” function to proofread this piece before posting, after Word read it aloud to me. Everything prior to the reading and proof is all mine.)






Thursday, August 24, 2023

Artificial Intelligence

 (Full disclosure: I use what some might consider artificial intelligence at times in my writing, by which I mean the text-to-speech, Check Document, and Dictate features in Microsoft Word. I use them to compensate for some of my vision issues when proofreading and notetaking.


The Beloved Spouse™ and I also have Alexas all over the house. They are mostly quite useful, especially in setting timers and alarms, and occasionally answering questions when I’m too lazy to look something up. Alexa is also a pain in the ass, and shows signs of what we call “artificial dementia. I’ve given up asking her to turn lights on and off.)


I have no firsthand experience with this, but a trusted friend told me there are places that now review AI-generated writing. The Facebook post asked what his friends thought of this.


My reply: I cannot conceive of any circumstance under which I'd read a book even partially written with AI, so I obviously have no reason to want to see reviews.


Anyone who uses artificial intelligence as part of their creative process is not a writer. What are they? Off the top of my head I come up with charlatan, shirker, cheat, lazy. This is someone who cares more about getting over than creation. A person who takes less pride in accomplishment than in passing something off as their accomplishment. An untrustworthy, dishonest, con artist who is only interested in what he can get from writing than in investing something of himself to enhance the craft. This is worse than plagiarism, as plagiarists at least take the time to find what they rip off.


Writing with AI is like giving someone else money to buy the ingredients, hiring a different person to make the cake, then taking credit for the end result. It’s hitting a baseball off a tee, then claiming Justin Verlander is your bitch. It’s running a 5K on a Segway. You’re the man with a two-inch erection who, when asked by his potential lover who he intends to satisfy with that, says, “Me.” All you care about is what you can get from it.


Artificial intelligence will be able to do many wonderful things. It may also take over and make the Terminator scenario look like a Labor Day picnic. What it cannot be allowed to do is replace what makes humans human.


In the Dune novels, Frank Herbert creates the Orange Catholic Bible. One of its tenets is “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.” I am by no means a religious person, but this is good advice. I don’t want to see Commander Datas or Blade Runner replicants roaming the Earth, no matter how hot Joanna Cassidy was. There should never be a dilemma of conscience when debating whether to turn off a machine.


Most important, turning off the machine should always be a human choice.


AI and robot technology can remove tedious and dangerous tasks from the human to-do list, freeing us to explore and embrace more of what humans might be capable of if not bound by those tasks. To use AI in a creative act denies what it is that makes us human by saying a machine can do everything we do, and acting like that’s a good thing.


I have no interest in reading a novel or a short story or even a reference book written with AI. I have no desire to see a motion picture created through AI. I see no joy in replicants or androids or whatever they will be called playing sports or performing music or dancing.


I applaud and encourage all efforts to promote diversity among humans. There’s a line. Nothing should ever blur the line between what is human and what is not.



Thursday, August 17, 2023

Hugh Lessig, Author of Fadeaway Joe

 Hugh Lessig spent more than 30 years as an award-winning newspaper reporter, covering everything from city council meetings to the earthquake in Haiti. Along the way, he’s met people at the highs and lows of life, interviewed accused murderers and governors, welders and lawyers, and old men who fought our nation’s wars. Born in eastern Pennsylvania, he moved to Hampton Roads, Virginia in 1997.


Hugh’s short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory and Needle, as well as the following anthologies: Mickey Finn 21st Century Noir, Volumes I and II; Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties and Guns & Tacos. Fadeaway Joe is his first novel.


One Bite at a Time: Welcome to One Bite at a Time, Hugh. This is your first visit, so I’ll be gentle. Your new book, Fadeaway Joe, drops August 22 from Crooked Lane. Tell us a little about the book.


Hugh Lessig: First off, thanks for being gentle. I am a fellow Pennsylvanian, after all.


The central character of Fadeaway Joe is Joe Pendergast, an aging bouncer and tough guy. He works for a small-time loan shark and gambling ring operator. But when Joe is diagnosed with early-stage dementia, his boss abandons him. Now Joe wants revenge, conscious of the clock ticking inside his head.


His plans are complicated through a chance meeting with Paula Jessup, a 22-year-old wisecracker on the run from labor traffickers. She’s freed a woman from the traffickers’ grip and needs protection, the kind that Joe can provide. Even with his diagnosis, Joe is not someone to mess with.


Meanwhile, Joe is having a hard time devising a revenge strategy, other than “beat my old boss to death before I end up in a nursing home.” Not much of a plan. Paula has ton of street smarts and she’s devious. She helps Joe concoct a scheme to financially ruin his boss, which will hurt more than a right cross. They end up depending on each other.


As the story progresses, Joe finds himself worrying more about Paula’s fortunes than his own. He’s looking back at the choices he’s made. Maybe putting Paula on a path to success is more important than exacting his pound of flesh.



OBAAT: Joe Pendergast finds himself in an interesting situation. Give us a little insight into Joe and how things got this way.


HL: Joe is in his mid-60s. He has spent all his adult life working for his boss, Maxie Smith, a man he considers an older brother. The two go back to Joe’s childhood days, when Joe worked in his parents’ cut-rate store and Maxie came in, flashing cash and telling Joe to keep the change. Over the years, Joe has worked the door at Maxie’s bar, fetched his dry cleaning, mixed his martinis, and collected his debts. He’s beaten men. He’s killed. All for Maxie.


But then Joe began screwing up. He missed assignments and his collections didn’t square with what is owed. Maxie accused Joe of skimming and the two men brawl. There’s nothing quite like two tough-as-nails old men going at it with haymakers. Joe ends up in the hospital with a concussion, and tests reveal further problems that lead to the diagnosis of early-stage dementia.


As the story opens, Joe has been banished from Maxie’s operation and he’s moved back to his old neighborhood. He’s eking out a living by running a food truck.


OBAAT: Paula Jessup is an unorthodox sidekick. What’s her deal? Is she more of a help or a hindrance to Joe?


HL: At the outset, she’s a pain in the ass. Paula fancies herself a detective, which gets her in trouble. I can’t say exactly how she hooks up with Joe Pendergast, because it would give away a key point, but it comes after a bloody act on Paula’s part.


She’s also homeless, living in a vintage 1975 Chevy Nova. She is oddly fascinated by Joe’s penchant for casual violence and throws herself into developing his revenge plan. Her philosophy: Killing someone is easy. Ruining them, that’s hard.


Another thing: Paula is biracial and sports a Mohawk. Joe is a grumpy old white guy who never had kids and whose father was Klan. They have a few things to work through.


OBAAT: You’ve been around for a while as a short story writer. What made you decide to write a novel?


HL: The guardrails of a short story give me comfort. It requires economy and conciseness. Fadeaway Joe started as a piece of flash fiction in Shotgun Honey – different characters and settings, but a similar idea of cross-generational relationships in a criminal landscape. Honestly, the idea just kept expanding and I wanted to try it. (I’ve written two novels that ended up in the drawer before this one, including a science fiction novel.  So, I’m batting .333.)


OBAAT: Who do you consider to be your primary creative influences? Authors, books, movies, TV, whatever.


HL: For authors, I love the rural noir of David Joy and Daniel Woodrell. I enjoy stories set in the country or in small towns, maybe because I grew up in a tiny Slate Belt town in Pennsylvania. (Think coal town, but with slate quarries.) Elmore Leonard of course. I still love the old Black Mask Boys – Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler, Frederick Nebel, Norbert Davis, and others. Those guys wrote to the end of the scene, then started another.


Currently, I’m holding high Eli Cranor, Rachel Howzell Hall, and Adrian McKinty. S.A. Cosby holds a special place. He lives about 45 minutes up the road from me in Virginia, and I interviewed him in 2018 for “My Darkest Prayer” when I was still a newspaper reporter.


OBAAT: Authors shopping their first book always want to know this, so how did you get hooked up with Crooked Lane?


HL: I wish I had a dramatic story to tell. I looked up the agents who attended Thrillerfest because I knew they were open for submissions. The list included Sara Henry, an editor at Crooked Lane. I sent a query letter to that group, tailored for agents. (“I am seeking representation for . . .”)  I really should have changed the opening line for her. But she picked that letter off the slush pile, loved it and the rest is history. She deserves a big thank-you for helping to get the story into shape.


OBAAT: The standard closing question: What’s next?


HL: It’s back to short stories for the near future. I have a story included in an anthology of private eye tales set during Prohibition. Watch for “Prohibition Peepers” in September from Down & Out Books. I also have a novella included in an upcoming series from Down & Out where every story is centered around a chop shop in Dallas. The series is called Chop Shop and my story is titled “Hunka, Hunka Burning Rubber. It features a car thief who steals a vintage Stutz from the parking lot at an Elvis Presley tribute convention.



Thursday, August 10, 2023

An Interview with Jeffrey James Higgins

 Jeffrey James Higgins has been a journalist, deputy sheriff, federal agent, writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and a restauranteur. In his copious free time he appears at conference and readings, as well as organizing writer’s events at the restaurant he and his wife operate, Elaine’s. (More on that later.) I have served on conference panels with Jeff and had drinks with him, so I speak from experience when I say he’s not only smart and articulate, but a hell of a nice guy who has that too-rare ability to make you feel like he's glad to see you, as in “you personally as opposed to anyone else.” It was a treat to get to talk with him for the blog.


One Bite at a Time: Jeffrey, welcome to One Bite at a Time. To say you’ve been around is putting it mildly. Please give us a capsule description of what you did before you got into writing fiction.

Jeffrey James Higgins: Thanks for having me as a guest. I’m a big fan of your work, and I always enjoy chatting with you at conferences. It’s an honor to be interviewed and to share my work with your readers.


I always wanted to be an author, but after working as both a newspaper reporter and editor, I took a 25-year detour into law enforcement. As a deputy sheriff, I worked in patrol, auto theft, street crimes, and the organized crime bureau. As a DEA special agent, I investigated transnational criminal groups in New York, but that changed on 9/11 when I was first to arrive at the WTC’s north tower after it collapsed. Standing in the rubble, I vowed I’d find a way to hunt terrorists. I accepted temporary assignments on the Joint Terrorism Task Force and as a liaison at the Department of Homeland Security. When DEA’s nascent Kabul Country Office opened, I became assistant country attaché and led Afghan police on operations. As a member of FAST, DEA’s international tactical team, I fought in combat with special forces and made the first narco-terrorism arrest. I spent years chasing terrorists around the world with the Special Operations Division’s Narco-Terrorism Group. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to serve my country.


OBAAT: Your books are all standalones that cover a wide range of topics:

How did your prior experience affect the creation and development of these books?

JJH: Personal experience influences the work of every writer because we view the world through lenses colored by the past. I’ve traveled to over 50 countries and fought for my life dozens of times, and I used those experiences to infuse my work with gritty realism. My published work and upcoming novels are all grounded in personal and professional experience. I understand how agents and cops behave, which tools they use to target criminals, and what it feels like to have bullets and RPGs fly over my head. All that makes my characters and plots more authentic.


OBAAT: How much of what you saw or did in your previous professional life is in these books?

JJH: My novella, Forsaken, is set in eastern Afghanistan where I spent years hunting terrorists. My protagonist is also a medic, which was my collateral duty, so the story is realistic. My protagonist in Unseen is a detective, and in two soon-to-be-published manuscripts, my protagonists are federal agents, so all of those are also rooted in my professional experience. I chased terrorists and criminals through many of the countries where I set my novels. The opening scenes in my thriller, The Forever Game, is loosely based on one of my real-life missions. That book comes out on February 29, 2024, which is a cool launch date. Even my books not involving crime or war have personal elements embedded in them, like blue-water sailing in Furious. 


OBAAT: You’re retired now, but did any of your books require vetting by the security agencies before publication?

JJH: The short answer is no. I’ve written one nonfiction book about the first narco-terrorism case, and I’m considering another book with true cop stories, but I mostly write fiction. When I describe the military or intelligence agencies in my books, I stay away from classified material, and I reveal nothing that would harm national security. I wanted to be a writer all my life, but during 25 years in law enforcement, the government prohibited me from publishing. Now that I’m retired, I appreciate my freedom to tell stories.


OBAAT: Apparently writing didn’t keep you busy enough, so you and your wife have opened a restaurant in Alexandria, VA. Tell us about Elaine’s.

JJH: Thank you for asking about it. Elaine’s serves modern Mediterranean cuisine, which is Middle Eastern with French, Greek, and Italian influences. Elaine’s offers semi-fine dining at 208 Queen Street, Alexandria, VA, one block from the Potomac River in the heart of Old Town’s Historic District. My wife, Cynthia, is a terrorism expert and an author, but she grew up in a restaurant. When she was 12 years old, she promised her grandmother she would own a restaurant and name it after her. Opening Elaine’s was one of Cynthia’s dreams, and though it took a while, she did it. Check out the beautiful decor and food at


OBAAT: You hope for Elaine’s to become more than a restaurant, especially for the writing community. What are your plans there?

JJH: Elaine’s is fast becoming the literary hub for the Washington, DC area. We offer free space to authors for book launches, interviews, signings, and readings. We also host several writing groups and will soon launch other literary events like Noir at the Bar and a monthly happy hour for mystery and thriller writers. My wife and I understand how hard it can be for new and mid-list authors to find venues to celebrate their books, so we’ve made Elaine’s a home for all writers. Authors can email me at to discuss scheduling an event.


OBAAT: What’s next on your writing agenda as things calm down after getting Elaine’s up and running?

JJH: My wife oversees Elaine’s, and I only run the literary events, which frees me up to write novels. I recently signed with a new literary agent, Jackson Keeler at Inkworks, and we’re working on a trilogy with an eye on Hollywood. I have two novels coming out with different publishers in 2024. The Forever Game is a techno-thriller and Shaking is a murder mystery. Once they’re available, I’ll post links to them on my website ( I also have a psychological suspense novel on submission, and I’m editing two new thrillers. My goal is to publish at least two books each year.    


Thursday, August 3, 2023

We Have a Winner! Well, at Least a Participant.

 The winner of the signed copy of The Spread is Ef Deal, with three points. EF and I will get together at this year’s C3 conference to make the handoff.


The answers are below:


“They’re against the wall! Skip on down.”

--Robert Redford (The Sundance Kid), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.


“Hold up your badge. So they’ll know you’re a policeman.”

--James Cromwell (Captain Dudley Smith), L.A. Confidential.


“I was misinformed.”

--Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine), Casablanca


“I like talking to a man who likes to talk.”

--Sidney Greenstreet (Kasper Gutman), The Maltese Falcon


“I can’t wait for you to be dead.”

--Delroy Lindo (Bo Catlett), Get Shorty


“Come on, you lazy bastards!”

--William Holden (Pike Bishop), The Wild Bunch


“In my case, an accident of birth. But you, sir, you’re a self-made man.”

--Lee Marvin (Henry "Rico" Fardan), The Professionals


“Those guys are spending money like the Russians are in Jersey.”

--Gene Hackman (Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle), The French Connection


“in this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.”

--Clint Eastwood (Blondie) The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly


“That some bad hat, Harry.”

--Roy Scheider (Chief Martin Brody) Jaws



Thursday, July 27, 2023

Win (Earn) a Signed Copy of the New Penns River Book, The Spread

 Penns River Book 8, The Spread, drops next Monday (July 31) from Down & Out Books. In a break with all tradition, and everything I hold dear, I’m giving away a free, signed book to one lucky person. (Or unsigned, if you think my signature will decrease its value.)


It won’t be all luck; you’ll need some chops. Below are ten of my favorite movie quotes. Not the greatest quotes of all time. Not even the ten I think are the greatest of all time, Not even even necessarily my ten favorites. Ten of my favorites. To receive the book, reply in the comments with the following information about each:

·       The actor who speaks the line.

·       The name of the character played by that actor.

·       The film it is from.


There are ten quotes, so 30 possible points. The person who earns the most points by midnight Eastern Time on July 31 gets a book. It’s that simple. In case of a tie, the person whose comment has the earliest time stamp is the winner.


Sure, you could scour the internet and find all the right answers, but what fun would that be? Is it worth saving a few bucks to have to live with the gnawing guilt of knowing you violated the spirit of a friendly competition, one that may involve friends of yours, just to get ahead? Only you can judge that.


The winner will be announced in next Friday’s blog. Have at it.


1.) “They’re against the wall! Skip on down.”


2.) “Hold up your badge. So they’ll know you’re a policeman.”


3.) “I was misinformed.”


4.) “I like talking to a man who likes to talk.”


5.) “I can’t wait for you to be dead.”


6.) “Come on, you lazy bastards!”


7.) “In my case, an accident of birth. But you, sir, you’re a self-made man.”


8.) “Those guys are spending money like the Russians are in Jersey.”


9.) “In this world there's two kinds of people, my friend: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.”


10.) “That some bad hat, Harry.”


Thursday, July 20, 2023

The Spread Drops July 31


My eighth Penns River novel, The Spread, drops July 31 from Down & Out Books. (It’s currently available for pre-order.) The Spread sets up a bit of a new direction for the Penns River books, and the series will go dark for a while as I research what I need to know to make sure I don’t paint myself into a corner. That’s all I’m going to say about that now.


(It’s not like I won’t have anything going on. The next Nick Forte story, Off the Books, is ready to go, and I’m deep into research for a Western.)


Here’s a bit of what The Spread is about:


School is back in session in Penns River, which means it’s football season in Western Pennsylvania. The Penns River team is loaded after a few substandard campaigns and the town is so revved up a new gambling ring opens to allow PR supporters to put their money where their hearts are.


The “entrepreneur” responsible has no idea how to set point spreads and nowhere to look for help; it’s not like Vegas handles small town high school football games. The vast majority of money put down is on the locals—who bets against their own kid, or the one next door?—and the team covers all the spreads; the cash paid to winners far exceeds what the operation takes in. Only organized crime offers loans to cover the shortfall, which opens the door to a whole new world of problems, including murder.


If only this was the only problem facing detective Ben “Doc” Dougherty and his fellow police officers but

• A motorcycle gang is solidifying its position in town.

• A civilian ride-along sparks controversy and an official complaint that re-opens an old wound for the department.

• A baby shower turns violent.

• A routine investigation leads to signs of possible police corruption.

• Doc’s cousin, Chicago-based private investigator Nick Forte—a man not prone to leaving things as he found them—comes to town to visit his parents.


Welcome to Penns River, where incomes rarely increase and crime rarely decreases. This would be bad enough if it were the same old crimes, but the changing criminal landscape constantly demands more from a police department in transition.


Not to blow my own horn, but the pre-release comments have been beyond flattering.


“Dana King writes in a gritty crime noir style with a modern flair all his own. His books grab you from the first page and don’t let you go.” —Terrence McCauley, award-winning author of thrillers, crime and westerns

“Readers who like police procedurals will love Dana King’s The Spread—the latest in his Penns River Crime series—and they will have to know, page after page, what happens next! ” —G. Miki Hayden, Writers Digest mystery and thriller writing instructor and author of the how-to Writing the Mystery

“If Joseph Wambaugh and Ed McBain adopted a child and raised him in the 87th Precinct, that kid would grow up to be Dana King. The Spread is a joy for people who love to watch police work and hear cops talk.” —Tim O’Mara, author of the Raymond Donne series and creator of “Murder in Halifax”

“Dana King is an attentive student of the crime novel who knows the formula: how to end a chapter with a cliff hanger, how to write snappy, wise-cracking dialogue, when to introduce intriguing and quirky characters, and to surprise the reader with a plot twist. If you enjoy crime fiction, but want something a bit more challenging and, in my opinion, much more inventive and artful, this is the novel for you. The Spread will broaden your notion of what a crime novel can do.” —Ron Cooper, author of All My Sins Remembered

“Plot is king in The Spread. Sharp, crisp characters, and dialogue that snaps to a snare-drum cadence move the reader through this hard-rushing police procedural.” —Joe Ricker, author of All the Good in Evil

I have a few events scheduled around the release.

·       July 28 (next Friday) – I’ll go against every fiber of my nature and give away a book to the blog reader who correctly identifies the origin of several of my favorite movie lines. This once in a lifetime (probably) opportunity is available to everyone on the planet. (Those of you on the International Space Station will have to wait till you get home. I’m not paying Elon Musk to fly one up to you. I’m willing to give away a book, not blow it up.)

·       August 6 – My dear and long-time friend Elizabeth Bruce hosts a private event in her home to celebrate both the launch of The Spread and the new book of poetry by her husband, Michael Oliver. (Yes, this marks the first time a book of mine and “poetry” appear in the same sentence. I checked.)

·       August 26 – I’ll be interviewed by Jeffery James Higgins at Elaine’s Restaurant, 208 Queen St, Alexandria, VA at 1:00 EDT.


The Spread will be available at the Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference, September 8 – 10 in Columbia, MD, where I’ll be appearing.


Hope to see you soon.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Sleuthfest 2023

 Last week The Beloved Spouse™ and I made our first trip to Sleuthfest. It’s an annual event put on by MWA’s Florida Chapter and their experience shows. I’ve never been to a better run conference.


Unlike readers’ conferences such as Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime, Sleuthfest is a writers’ conference, where craft is king. Craft discussions are what I enjoy most about such get-togethers, and I was not disappointed.


The agenda is a combination of presentations (essentially classes put on by a single individual), panels, and speeches by featured guests. To be frank, the presentations are probably of more benefit to less experienced writers. I’ve been writing seriously for over twenty years, so I already knew much of what was presented. Not all, but enough that the primary benefit I got was a reminder that I didn’t always know these things. Someone taught me. The less advanced authors are not necessarily less talented or less serious or not as smart; they’re just not as far along on the same journey. It’s an exercise in humility and a reminder that a conscientious practitioner of any craft has an obligation to steady the ladder for those on the way up.


(An exception to this was Bruce Robert Coffin’s police procedural presentation. I’ve read Bruce’s books, shared panels, and spent hours in bars with him. He can speak knowledgeably about this stuff for hours. The seventy minutes we got here barely scratched the surface. He’s also a laugh a minute. If you get a chance to hear him speak, jump on it.


The panels were as thorough as any I’ve experienced.



James D.F. Hannah, Terrence McCauley, Alan Orloff, Aggie Blum Thompson.

Micki Browning, moderator.


Key takeaways:

Aggie Blum Thompson – watch the video of Matt Stone and Trey Parker talking about “therefore…but” storytelling.


Micki Browning quoted an author whose name I can’t read in my notes. The Interwebs have differing opinions on who it is. Absent solid evidence to the contrary, I’m crediting Micki. Whoever said it first, the advice is solid: “Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.”


Aggie Blum Thompson tries to answer one question in each chapter and ask another.


James D.F. Hannah quoting Neil Gaiman: “The goal of the second draft is to make it look like you knew what you were doing in the first draft.”



Marty Ambrose, Lisa Black, M.E. Hilliard, Eliot Kleinberg, Alyssa Maxwell.

Rena Koontz, moderator


Alyssa Maxwell – Facebook has groups for everything.


Eliot Kleinberg – check into (Pay site.)


Eliot Kleinberg – a lot of expensive resources can be accessed for free at a public library.


Lisa Black – documentaries on streaming services are useful. Not just History Channel.


Eliot Kleinberg – jstore is a good source for well-sourced, academic writing.



Lynette Austin, Micki Browning, Bruce Robert Coffin, K.L. Murphy, Charles Todd.

Alan Orloff, moderator.


This was a well-paced panel that served mostly to reinforce things I’m already doing, so my notes are less than copious, as I was busy posting ideas that came to mind. A key takeaway was a reminder to do a light edit of yesterday’s work when writing the first draft. I’ve gotten away from that and returning will save me time in subsequent drafts.


I was a member of the other panels I attended, which tends to fully occupy my attention. Suffice to say the other panelists were well received and none of the fruit hurled my way made contact.


Other events included an excellent Noir at the Bar, speeches by Neil Nyren and Guest of Honor Melinda Leigh, interviews with Lori Rader-Day and Rachel Howzell Hall, and free food every evening. And it wasn’t good just because it was free. It would have been good even if I had to pay extra for it.


I’d like to talk a bit about the extended panel times. Conferences seem to be moving toward shorter panels with more authors, trying to get as many people as possible onstage. I appreciate the intent, but the effect on the audience is to dilute what the panelists can get into. Seventy-minute sessions are much more satisfying. I realize this could mean a large readers’ conference may have fewer writers on panels, but let’s be honest: if you want to be on a panel at Bouchercon or Left Coast or one of the big ones, you should have to show a little game first. Self-publishing a novel or two that sank faster than the Titanic may make you an author, but it doesn’t necessarily make you panelist material. I’d rather be passed over myself than see things diluted any kore than they are. Except here at Sleuthfest. Well done.


Having gone to conferences for 15 years now, my best memories will be of renewing friendships and making new ones. I’ll not name names here for fear of leaving anyone out, but rest assured, if we interacted last weekend, I have fond memories, and the more we interacted, the fonder the memories.


See you next year.



Thursday, July 6, 2023

An Interview With Reed Farrel Coleman, Author of Sleepless City

Reed Farrel Coleman has won more awards than Tom Brady. (See below.)  Called a hard-boiled poet by NPR's Maureen Corrigan and the "noir poet laureate" in the Huffington Post, Reed is the New York Times bestselling author of thirty-two novels including six in the Jesse Stone series for the late Robert B. Parker. He is a four-time recipient of the Shamus Award for Best PI Novel of the Year and a four-time Edgar Award nominee in three different categories. Reed has also received the Audie, Scribe, Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards. His latest novel, Sleepless City, will be published July 11 by Blackstone Publishing. He lives with his wife on Long Island, and it’s a real treat to have him on the blog.


One Bite at a Time: Reed, we’ve known each other quite a while, but this is the first time I’ve had

you on the blog. Welcome, and thanks for stopping by. Your new book, Sleepless City, drops July 11 from Blackstone. Tell us a little about it.

Reed Farrel Coleman: Thanks for having me, Dana. Ooh, “tell us a little bit about it.” Danger, Will Robinson!!!! That’s a trap for an author. Over the years I’ve found it best not to directly fall into that trap. I hope my answers to your other questions give the people reading this a better sense of the novel than I could with some pithy or longwinded response.


OBAAT: You’re best known for your Moe Prager books, though I like the Gus Murphys at least as much. How is Nick Ryan different from either Moe or Gus?

RFC: Nick is different from them in ways both latent and manifest. Neither Moe nor Gus ever made detective. Both spent their careers in uniform. So, when it came time, either out of choice or circumstance, to try their hands at PI work, they were ill-prepared for the task. Competent as they were at their jobs in uniform, they stumbled around as detectives, making all manner of missteps and mistakes. Nick on the other hand, is still on the job. Unlike Moe and Gus, he’s a detective and a damned good one. He’s superb at UC (undercover) work. The best on the NYPD. Furthermore, Nick, having spent two tours in Afghanistan, has a different sense of right, wrong, and justice from Gus and Moe. Nick is not afraid to act alone and to take matters into his own hands. Whereas Moe and Gus were stumbling about, Nick is a natural leader of men. He’s younger than Gus and Moe and he’s unattached. Well, at least he thinks he is. But when it comes to heart and protecting the lost and less fortunate, he’s not unlike them at all.   


OBAAT: Sleepless City is a departure for you. While it still has the same moral dilemmas that made your other books so compelling, Prager and Murphy often had to find ways to work with, or around, the system; Ryan has the juice to bend the system to his will when necessary. What sent you in that direction?

RFC: It grew out of a discussion with my agent, Shane Salerno. Shane, a famous screenwriter in his own right, and I were kicking around the idea of a different kind of protagonist. One who could both work within the system and outside the system. One who had the full power of the system behind him when he needed it, but who could still be a lone wolf when the situation called for it. You alluded to Moe Prager and Gus Murphy in your question. I loved writing those guys, but as I stated in my previous answer, they were both stumblers, sometimes barely able to tread water, guys almost always in over their heads. In Nick, I finally got the chance to write someone who wasn’t afraid to swim with the sharks, a character whom the sharks themselves might fear. It was a revelation to me to write a competent character, but one who still has the interest of the little guy at heart. That’s why the book works, I think. Nick may draw outside the lines, but he never forgets who’s important.


OBAAT: You’ve been called the “noir poet laureate” with good cause. While Sleepless City does not lack hard-boiled poetry, I sensed more of an edge to the writing than typical in your work. Was that deliberate for this book/series? Or is your style evolving in this direction?

RFC: I hope I never stop evolving as a writer and I hope I never stop being inspired and influenced by other writers. It’s impossible for me to state the importance or how much I have learned by reading other authors’ work. As to Sleepless City, I did make a conscious decision to be a bit more plot driven and action oriented. One of my early readers called Nick Ryan the love child of WB Yeats and John Wick. I think that sums it up perfectly. One of the challenges of taking this on was to see if I could write a Jack Reacher-ish novel and still maintain that lyrical quality of my style. Lee Child once said to me that if I left three words out of all my sentences, I’d be a bigger seller. He said it with a smile. I understood what he meant, but I write how I write.

         More importantly, I wrote a portion of this novel during the pandemic and in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Anyone reading Sleepless City will immediately recognize the influence outside events had on my work. I usually try to shut out the world when I’m working on a novel because the only world I want to think about is the one in my head, the one I’m creating. Only here that was impossible. During that period it seemed the entire world was all sharp edges and moral dilemmas. How could I ignore it?       


OBAAT: I mentioned earlier that you were best known for the Moe Prager books, as the list of awards and nominations earned by that series attests. In fact, you may well be better known to the general public for carrying on Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series. As self-assured as your writing always reads, what was it like to have to write in someone else’s universe?

RFC: I love answering this question. To do what I did with Jesse Stone or what Ace Atkins did with Spenser, you have to do two things: find a way into someone else’s character, and, more importantly, find a way to make that character your own. My way into Jesse Stone was through struggle and disappointment. Jesse struggles with alcohol. We all struggle, some of us with weight, some with drugs, some with our emotions, our relationships. But struggle is a common and unifying human quality. So, it was easy for me to relate to Jesse’s struggles, though I’m not an alcoholic. Jesse was also one phone call away from being the starting shortstop for the Dodgers. But he hurt his shoulder in a meaningless exhibition game. Talk about disappointment! Again, like struggling, who hasn’t dealt with big disappointments in life? Who doesn’t carry around those “What if …” questions with them? It took me three books until I really felt as if Jesse were my character. Although I’d gotten inside him, it took a few books to feel as comfortable with him as a character as say, Moe or Gus.  


OBAAT: You’ve said your greatest influencer was your college poetry professor, David Lehman, in part for helping you to learn how to self-edit. Please talk a little about that. (Full disclosure: My first agent, the late Pam Strickler, did the same for me. I use her lessons every day, so it’s a topic, and skill, near and dear to me.)

RFC: Writing and reading poetry are perhaps the best teachers for future prose writers. Poetry teaches you several important lessons: economy, rhythm, power of language. Poets sweat each word that goes on the page. I have often wondered how many drafts it took William Carlos Williams to write “The Red Wheelbarrow”, a sixteen-word poem or how many drafts it took Ezra Pound to write “In a Station of the Metro”, a six-word title for a two line, fourteen-word poem. On the other hand, “Prufrock” was once almost twice as long as the version we all know. The most important thing David taught us was to think of ourselves as writers. He had us take an oath that from that day forward, regardless of what we did to earn a living, we would always think of ourselves as writers. When many years later I went to a book signing of David’s, he said he had totally forgotten the whole oath thing. 


OBAAT: What’s next for you?

RFC: I’ve already written Nick Ryan #2, Blind to Midnight. And the pandemic has given me ample time to complete Gus Murphy #3, All Buried Things and two other standalone novels. Where Gus and the other stuff gets published is yet to be determined.


Thursday, June 29, 2023

How to Write an Action Scene

 The woman stood near the door, where she had gone to talk to the landlady. She was staring at the Frenchman and the Kid. I wasted precious minutes that seemed to run into hours trying to catch her eye. I finally got it.

I looked at the light-switch, only a foot from her. I looked at her. I looked at the switch again. At her. At the switch.

She got me. Her hand crept sideways along the wall.

I looked at the two principal players in this button-button game.

The Kid’s eyes were dead – and deadly – circles. Maurois’ one open eye was watery. He wouldn’t make the grade. He put a hand in his pocket and brought out the silk bag.

The woman’s brown fingers topped the light button. God knows she was nothing to gamble on, but I had no choice. I had to be in motion when the lights went. Big Chin would pump metal. I had to trust Ines not to balk. If she did, my name was Denis.*

Her nail whitened.

I went for Maurois.

Darkness – streaked with orange and blue – filled with noise.

My arms had Maurois. We crashed down on the dead Billie. I twisted around, kicking the Frenchman’s face. Loosened one arm. Caught one of his. His other hand gouged at my face. That told me the bag was in the one I held. Clawing fingers tore my mouth. I put my teeth in them and kept them there. One of my knees was on his face. I put my weight on it. My teeth still held his hand. Both of my hands were free to get the bag.

Not nice, this work, but effective.

The room was the inside of a black drum on which a giant was beating the long roll. Four guns worked together in a prolonged throbbing roar.

Maurois’ fingernails dug into my tongue. I had to open my mouth – let his hand escape. One of my hands found the bag. He wouldn’t let go. I screwed his thumb. He cried out. I had the bag.

I tried to leave him then. He grabbed my legs. I kicked at him – missed. He shuddered twice – and stopped moving. A flying bullet had hit him, I took it. Rolling over on the floor, snuggling close to him, I ran a hand over him. A hard bulge came under my hand. I put my hand in his pocket and took back my gun.

On hands and knees – one fist around my gun, the other clutching the silk sack of jewels – I turned to where the door to the next room should have been. A foot wrong, I corrected my course. As I went through the door, the racket in the room behind me stopped.


From “The Whosis Kid” by Dashiell Hammett

Black Mask Magazine

March 1925


(* - A nautical term for a pig; an insulting name.)