Featured Reviews & Interviews
- Could America Collapse? by James R. Duncan
- Write What You Know, Y’all by Neliza Drew
- The Sequel: A Long Road to Book 2 by Eric Beetner
- Shakedown of the CIA in Books and Movies by Tantra Bensko
- Reboot/Reborn by Arlene Hunt
- Women’s Humanity in Crime Fiction by Marie Crosswell
- Wake From Death and Return to Life by Andrez Bergen
- A Lot of the Story Left to Tell by Joe Clifford
- » View The Archives
Recent Editing Projects
Shakedown of the CIA in Books and Movies
Nearly every big spy novel and movie in existence has been based on the tired formula of black vs white, the good guys save the world against the terrorists, moles, and evil enemy nation. I personally have limited interest in reading books in which a simplistic glorious CIA saves the day, or a rogue agent (in a good agency) goes bad.
Since I’ve studied the CIA in-depth all my adult life, I want to see more narratives, such as the very popular Barry Eisler’s books, like Inside Out, which refuse to glorify intelligence agents as the default good guys protecting the best nation on Earth. We saw the transition in perspective when Patrick McGoohan switched from starring as a secret agent in the TV show Danger Man to The Prisoner.
The trend is finally picking up momentum, for Suspense/Thrillers especially, in indie books and movies toward realism and questioning the role of intelligence agencies like the NSA and CIA, based on admitted atrocities; the bold move of including that uncomfortable reality in literature is a big step toward freedom.
It was a typical wet dreary Irish day. I was flailing about my office trying to peal off sodden running gear (not as easy a task as one might expect). Archer, my trusty – also wet – GSD, was staring at his empty food bowl as though it had personally let him down by being not full of delicious food. Nearby, a very old cat (RIP Binkley, much missed) was snoozing in his tartan sheepskin bed, for he, and he alone, had scanned the skies earlier that morning and decided the outdoors was not for him.
Cats are very wise that way.
I fed the dog, showered, dressed in various layers of fleece and plonked myself down at my desk, ready to commence battle with a YA manuscript I had been struggling with. Then I noticed an email from my agent.
‘Hello,’ I said aloud, for that’s how I roll. ‘What does she want?’
Since neither office animal answered me I thought it prudent to read the email and find out. Click. I love my agent, but she is succinct to the point of brevity.
‘Pub house UK, The Chosen. Interested?’
Women’s Humanity in Crime Fiction
The issue of keeping women human in the crime genre is one that I’ll wrestle with probably for the duration of my career. Writing Texas, Hold Your Queens challenged me to do it in the most difficult situation: taking an unidentifiable female victim of rape and homicide with a life and personality unknowable to the reader, and making her more than just a catalyst for the protagonists’ story.
Too often in crime fiction, women are props, one-dimensional characters limited to the roles of sex object and violence object. They exist only in relation to men: the men who kill them, the men who avenge them, the men who investigate the crime they suffered, the men who fuck and fall in love with them.
I wanted more for Reina, the murder victim whose life remains a mystery, and to a degree, the story having female detectives tracking down her killer, instead of men, did a lot of the work for me. Through Farrah and Mason’s treatment of Reina, I hope that I succeeded in keeping her human, in making her more than just a reason for readers to feel pity.
Despite the fact that she is killed on American soil, Reina’s character is symbolic of the women who have made Juárez, Mexico internationally notorious: the victims of hundreds of unsolved murders and disappearances since the 90s, most of the women young and poor, some of them teenagers. Their bodies have littered the desert outside city limits, dumped like garbage to rot, the casualties of Mexico’s drug cartel wars, sex trafficking, and the misogyny endemic to Mexican culture. Many of these women’s stories remain unknown, their cases all but ignored by police, but whether the public ever finds out who they were, why they were killed, and where the missing are, their humanity endures. I hope the same is true of Reina.
Wake From Death and Return to Life
Ever had a character you’ve channeled that it hurt to let go? Once I finished writing One Hundred Years of Vicissitude in 2012, that was how I felt about Kohana, one half of identical twin geisha born on the first day of the Great Depression in 1929. I pulled an all-nighter to complete copy-editing, sent the finished thing to my publishers Perfect Edge Books, lay down – and dreamed about the woman.
She’s been hovering (on precarious geta clogs) in the peripheral ever since.
I’ve had other characters that mean a great deal to me, like Floyd from Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, Mitzi (Bullet Gal), Jacob/Jack in Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, and most recently Trista’s role in Black Sails, Disco Inferno – the new book I did with fellow writer Renee Asher Pickup.
Yet Kohana remains some kind of personal enigma, a representation of so many concepts, with human dreams, strengths, and failings all the same.
A Lot of the Story Left to Tell
A week from today, December Boys, my second book in the Jay Porter thriller series, comes out with Oceanview Publishing. I won’t say I almost forgot about it because that sounds terribly disingenuous and ungrateful, neither of which I am. But the release did creep up on me a bit, only because since writing DB, I’ve completed two more novels, including the follow-up, Cold, Cold Hills (technically you don’t italicize until the book is actually published. My editing nerd runs deep), and a standalone.
I feel almost guilty writing that. Raised Catholic, I’ve had that particular emotion hammered deep. I was talking with my buddy Tom Pitts the other day, remarking how strange it is that we both published our first books little over five years ago. Time is relative (as is, well, everything), but it seems nuts when I think back to getting out of grad school in Florida, hobbled from a motorcycle wreck, $100K in student loan debt, and living, to quote Craig Finn, in a rented room. Back then having a single book published seemed so fantastic. Perhaps the only thing stranger is that I’d find myself writing a series.
When I was penning Lamentation, the first Porter book, I did leave enough threads for a possible sequel. But in all fairness, I’ve always been delusional when it comes to art, where I’ve employed a Go Big or Go Home philosophy. My friend Joe Loya says a writer needs to know his/her audience, and then write the hell out of his story for that audience. Meaning, if you want to write an old-timey yarn with a hard-drinking PI come Sin City, which is what my first novel, Wake the Undertaker, is, fine. Just know you are going to have a different (i.e., smaller) draw than if you target a bigger, broader crowd. Niche is nice; I’d rather be Gillian Flynn or Paula Hawkins.
My Journey With Hard Times
Elizabeth has given me a wonderful opportunity to appear on her blog, and she told me I could talk about anything I wanted to except I wasn’t to even mention a certain basketball player who I won’t name, but whose initials are Stephen Curry… So, I won’t.
I thought this might be a good opportunity to talk about the writing process. At least the writing process that I employ.
Whenever I begin a novel, I always begin with an idea that has been rattling around in my brainpan for at least ten years, oftentimes more.
The novel I’ve begun to write these days has had a much longer gestation period. Its genesis stems from a short story I wrote when I was eleven years old and was published in several places. It was originally titled “A Mother’s Love,” which is fairly representative of the callowness I labored under at the time. When it came out in The Analecta, I had shed some of the sentimentality I labored under as a beginning writer and it emerged with the new title, “Hard Times.” It was later included in my first story collection, Monday’s Meal, with that title.
For many years, I was haunted by the woman in the story. From time to time, I’d begin writing a novel based on her original story, but nothing ever came of it. The thing was, the story hadn’t yet jelled in my mind enough to allow me to pen 75,000 words or more about her. I came close, several times, but the truth is I hadn’t yet gotten to the place where I could write her bigger story.
“You started out this morning in the morgue, and you ended with a room full of people who are getting ready to take the big dirt nap. If you work homicide, it doesn’t get any more fun than that.” — Terry Biggs
As much as Detective Mike Lomax really doesn’t want to undergo his prostate exam, finding himself in the middle of an active shooter situation is not the way he’d have preferred to get out of it. Yet, in perhaps the ultimate case of being in the wrong place at the right time, Lomax springs from the exam table and responds, complete with ass hanging out of a flimsy exam gown, to the unmistakable sound of shotgun fire in the medical office complex where his doctor is located.
He arrives just in time to witness the shooter kill himself while standing over the body of the doctor he’s gunned down. Investigation reveals the shooter, Cal Bernstein, was terminally ill with a brain tumor, and though there was no connection between him and his victim, a fertility doctor, it still seems like an open and shut case.
If you missed Hustle by Tom Pitts when it was first released, good news—a new edition is now out from Down & Out Books! Jacket copy:
Two young hustlers, caught in an endless cycle of addiction and prostitution, decide to blackmail an elderly client of theirs. Donny and Big Rich want to film Gabriel Thaxton with their cell phones during a sexual act and put the video up on YouTube. Little do they know, the man they’ve chosen, a high-profile San Francisco defense attorney, is already being blackmailed by someone more sinister: an ex-client of the lawyer’s. A murderous speed freak named Dustin has already permeated the attorney’s life and Dustin has plans for the old man. The lawyer calls upon an old biker for help and they begin a violent race to suppress his deadly secret.
I reviewed the book when it first dropped, and here’s a taste of that: