For ex-combat medic Camaro Espinoza, doing the right thing is more than a lofty concept—it’s the way she lives every day of her life, and the standard by which she evaluates every decision she makes.
To be clear, in Camaro’s mind doing the right thing and doing what’s legal are not necessarily the same, and as such Camaro has accordingly had her fair share of trouble over the years.
A particularly bad bit of it in New York City roughly a year ago ended with five men dead and Camaro relocating to a low-profile gig in Miami. Acting as captain and sole crew member of a fifty-foot Custom Carolina charter boat, Camaro takes groups out for catch-and-release deep-sea fishing excursions.
Things seem to be going fine for Camaro, until ex-con Parker Story shows up. Parker wants to book Camaro for a night charter for himself and a few friends. Only thing is, they aren’t looking to fish. They want Camaro to run them out to just off the Cuban coast to pick up a special passenger. Initially reluctant, Camaro finds it difficult to turn Parker away once she finds out he is a single father to a teenage daughter, and that his associates have made it clear things won’t go well for Parker, or his daughter, if he doesn’t make the charter happen.
It’s So Miami
I watch a lot of Miami Vice. I’ve been watching it for thirty years, and I’ll probably watch it for thirty more, or for however long I have left. I’ve even been reviewing every episode, week by week, for over a year and am finally coming to the end of all five seasons. Everything about this show is embedded in my brain, from the storytelling to the politics, and has followed me through my writing career up until this day. So it makes sense that I would end up here, with the publication of The Night Charter, in the city of Miami.
This is the story of Camaro Espinoza, Iraq and Afghanistan veteran with the damaged history of someone who spent a thousand days in war zones, and an entire life dealing with the fractured pieces of her past. She’s a fighter, and though she no longer wears a uniform she has discovered the warrior’s path is one that has no end.
As The Night Charter begins, she works as the captain of a charter fishing boat, trying to forget that one year before she helped kill five bad men in New York City, and trying to reconcile the memory of all the people she’s killed over the course of her life. But circumstances change to the point that she had no choice to pick up a gun again. And maybe some part of her wanted to do it all along.
The setup of The Incurables, the latest offering from Jon Bassoff, is both incredibly straightforward and wonderfully disturbing.
In the early 1950s, after decades of treating patients and pioneering the transorbital lobotomy, aka the “icepick lobotomy,” Dr. Walter Freeman is put out to pasture by the board of directors of the facility where he works.
Seems they’ve finally realized Freeman’s method of “curing” patients suffering from mental illness—inserting an icepick into the corner of each eye socket, hammering it through the orbital bone with a small hammer, then moving it around in order to sever the connections of the prefrontal cortex— isn’t the most humane.
Crushed that his work is being cast aside for newfangled measures and meds, Freeman decides to take his show on the road, and absconds with his last patient in the process. Going from town to town, Freeman “preaches” the power of the transorbital lobotomy to cure what ails you, or a loved one. He uses his patient, Edgar, as living proof of the miraculous power of the pick.
Short-Changing the Noir
The writing of my fifth novel, Small Change: A Casebook of Scherer and Miller, Investigators of the Paranormal and Supermundane (out December 11 through Roundfire Fiction), has meant a rediscovery of roots plundered in the very first novel I did, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.
And not just regarding long-winded titles.
No, I’m talking up the hardboiled stuff.
Not that I forgot – or set aside – my love for all things Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but with subsequent books I found myself determined to also push the envelope and explore other terrains.
The genre I prefer to call ‘noir’ – since it can then relate to film as well – lends itself nicely to being coaxed into a corner with a fistful of ulterior styles. I mixed it with dystopia and sci-fi in TSMG, decanted the brew into more surreal bents – verging on, dare I say, magical realism – with One Hundred Years of Vicissitude and Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth, while Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? matched noir up in a ring with pulp and the silver age of comics.
Reading as a Writer
The first book I have a conscious memory of is Make Way For Ducklings. I can distinctly remember as a Pre-K being pressed against my mother’s side as she read it to me. We sat on a yellow sofa in our family’s living room, the sun streaming in a window. Or maybe that sofa was robin’s egg blue? That tidbit is a bit unclear, but no matter. Thus began a lifelong love of books.
Reading brings me joy. When it comes to books, I’m down for just about anything—biographies, detective novels, literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy—you name it. Practically every day of my life, one book or another has occupied a spot on my nightstand.
Like a lot of book lovers, I always had a vague notion that one day I would write something myself. And by something, I mean fiction. But I never got around to it, at least not until I hit middle age. That’s when I was working in the corporate communications department at a tech company in Silicon Valley. Each week I would go to lunch with two of my co-workers. Like me, they both wrote for work—webpage articles, speeches, press releases, video scripts—that sort of thing. But unlike me, they were also writing fiction on the side (novels and short stories). One day, one of them asked me, “Dude, when are you going to write something?”
Glitter Faggots from Space (or Why I Wrote Young Americans)
“Who was the original Bond?” my son Dylan asked me Saturday driving home from our weekly date.
“Sean Connery.” I was confident I had this one.
“Wrong, Dad. Pierce Brosnan.” I started to argue, but realized he was correct. Dylan was using original to mean best, truest. The best Bond is who played him when you became old enough to discover cool. Cool is personal and generational. Same is true for music.
In the mid 1970s I discovered musical cool, Glitter Rock (or Glam – the predominant label outside of a few of us NorCal kids.) The four years between the ages of 13 to 17 were wild flashing stoned drunk dancing fucking fighting four-wheel-drifting in a Bonneville heartbreaking transforming years. We, to paraphrase Bowie, balled and played and moved like tigers on Vaseline. A magical time of sexual exploration and fluid gender boundaries. Punk’s anger was tame compared to Glitter’s mantra of we fuck anyone. It never occurred to me that Freddie Mercury was gay, because it didn’t matter. We experimented with everything—drugs, sure, but also 8mm filmmaking, storytelling, writing, theater, music. We were young, hung and way too bright for our own good. These were the beguiling years before AIDs, heroin overdoses and that killer of so many of our best minds: household bills and the jobs we took to knock them out.
The Unmeaning of Life
There’s a telling moment in Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon where Sam Spade learns of his partner’s death and proceeds to very calmly roll a cigarette. It is clear that there is no love lost between the two—hell, Spade was sleeping with his partner’s wife—and yet Spade feels compelled to avenge his death. As Spade says, “When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.” There’s no compelling reason for Spade to redress his partner’s death other than his own seemingly arbitrary moral code.
Or take Flannery O’Connor’s southern gothic novel Wise Blood. Hazel Motes, angered by the hypocrisies and failings of Christianity, begins preaching a new nihilistic gospel, calling it The Church Without Christ. But no matter how hard he tries to separate himself from Christianity and those who preach it, he is unable to fully escape (even the suit he purchases causes people to mistake him for a Christian preacher). He finds himself falling further and further into despair, and by the time the novel ends, perhaps in a desperate attempt at redemption, he has blinded himself with lime, placed broken glass in his shoes, and wrapped barbed wire around his chest. Hazel essentially martyrs himself for his intense faith in nothing.
When readers first meet Station Sergeant John Barlow in The Station Sergeant, he’s peddling his bike through the countryside of Northern Ireland in a raging downpour on the way to visit one of the farms in his Ballymena constituency. It’s a wonderful image, and one that sets the tone for what’s to come.
Barlow is a man not easily deterred, by nature or his fellow man. As a wily veteran of both the military (World War II) and the local constabulary, his hardheaded nature is a quality that serves him well and sets his direct supervisors—who are not quite comfortable with Barlow’s rough edges and rule-skirting approach to policing—on edge.
As The Station Sergeant opens, Barlow rides into a storm both literally and figuratively.
Mixed in amongst the crashing thunder, Barlow hears the distinctive sound of gunfire. Pushing on to the farm the shots appear to be coming from, Barlow happens upon the body of farmer Stoop Taylor. Given that Stoop was not the most popular man, the list of suspects is initially somewhat daunting.
The case would be challenging enough in itself, but adding to the uphill battle is the fact Barlow’s recently been saddled with a new District Inspector, one who appears ready to stop at nothing to see Barlow busted down in rank and transferred, if not outright booted from the force. Add into the mix the Dunlops, a local family of ne’er-do-wells and aspiring criminals, and Barlow has his work cut out for him. And that’s just on the professional front.
Despite being trapped in a dead-end job at a greasy-spoon diner in the middle of nowhere (Miles away from anything interesting and too far to make a run for it. Boredom was our chief export and business was good.), Reese has been content to just grind out a life and keep his nose clean.
Well, mostly clean.
He’s recently started sleeping with fellow diner employee, Moira, who also happens to be the wife of the joint’s owner. Not the most upstanding behavior, but still nothing to call the cops over. That call is coming, however, because Reese happens to have the worst luck, and the worst decision-making skills, in history.
Moira, you see, has a scheme in the works, one she wants Reese to help her pull the trigger on. When Reese refuses to assist, Moira takes matters into her own hands in a way that points the finger at Reese. Instead of sticking around to try and clear his name, Reese does the first thing that comes to mind: run.
Of course, having no money to speak of and being in the aforementioned middle of nowhere, he doesn’t get far—barely an hour down the road, in fact. As he rolls into a strange town and heads to a dive bar to take stock of his miserable situation, Reese is about to experience firsthand the concept that no matter how bad you think things are, they can always get worse.
Ten Things I Learned Writing My First Novel
I published my first novel, The Shadow Broker, in October of 2014. It was a fascinating experience, and after releasing my second novel, Scar Tissue, last month I took some time to reflect on the process.
Your mileage may vary, but here’s what I learned along the way.
1. Writing a novel is only as intimidating as you make it. Starting a novel is like holding your newborn for the first time. You’re ready to crap yourself thinking about your newfound responsibilities of raising a living, breathing human being. Taking on a novel can feel the same way, but it’s only as bad as you make it out to be. Take it one word or one page at a time and one day you’ll wake up with an 80,000-word novel.
2. Outlines make the process easier. Other writers will debate this, but for me creating an outline kept me on track. I create a brief outline for each chapter, including no more detail than can fit on one side of an index card. After I have the story fleshed out, I sit down with my stack of cards and write each scene or chapter. Yes, the story changes. Yes, you’ll throw away some of your ideas or characters, but having a road map will help you get to your destination, even if you take a few detours along the way.
3. It takes a long time. If you want to unleash quality work into the world, put on your patient pants. If you work with a traditional publisher, it can take a year or more to bring your novel to market. But even if you self publish, it takes time to write, edit, solicit beta reader feedback, rewrite, edit again, create a cover, layout the novel, and more.
I Have A New Book Out. I’m Sorry.
I’ve just released my fifth book this year, Nine Toes In The Grave. Much of this unusually prolific year is cheating since Nine Toes is a novella so it’s fairly short. Two of the novels, The Backlist and Over Their Heads were cowritten so I only had to write half a book. My novel Rumrunners was written four years ago and rescued from the slush pile. And The Year I Died Seven Times was serialized last year but compiled into an omnibus this year.
But I did still write them all and I should feel proud, but mostly what I’ve felt is apologetic. I don’t want to plaster people every two months with a new round of, “Buy my book!” interactions. I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to dominate the conversation or take attention away from anyone else who is rightly proud of their book.
Well, screw that. I need to learn to embrace being a prolific author. I enjoy writing, so I do a lot of it. The idea that someone would publish my work is a privilege many authors are still seeking. I work hard at it. I support other authors as best I can. I host reading events for people to get their work out there. I tell people about books I love and try to spread the word. I need to just get over it. Right?
Lurking underneath is the fear that being prolific has the appearance of tossing out any old thing whether it’s fully baked or not. This accusation has been leveled at every prolific author from Stephen King on down. Although I will mention that one of our least prolific authors, Harper Lee, has many in agreement she should have stuck to only the one book so it cuts both ways.
Wondering how he ended up in yet another mess isn’t really a new question for Jersey Shore broker Austin Carr, who seems to have a unique talent for finding himself up to his eyes in one sticky wicket after another (Big Numbers, Big Money, Big Mojo). Unfortunately for Carr, he’s really gone and done it this time.
In a classic case of too little too late, Carr has finally decided to break ties with his partner at Shore Securities and make a fresh start. The hitch in that giddyap? His partner Vic Bonacelli is the son of infamous mobster Angelina “Mama Bones” Bonacelli, and no one just walks away from Mama Bones.
Complicating matters further, Carr’s best friend and confidant, Luis Guerrero, is arrested by crooked cops at the behest of mobster Johnny “The Turk” Korsay. Why? To put pressure on Carr, who witnessed The Turk commit a murder, or so The Turk is convinced.
And because Carr can never get out of his own way, he manages, in the midst of everything else, to turn his obsession with redheads into the ultimate Achilles’ heel when he hits on the wrong firebrand one too many times.
Now, Carr is caught between Mama Bones, who wants him alive to help run a part of her empire, and The Turk, who wants Carr dead because he’s the last piece standing between The Turk and expanding his empire into Mama Bones’ territory. Oh, and did I mention the illegal, underage sex ring and massive horse racing fix? Yeah… Carr is definitely in it up to his eyes. Again.
Casting the Book
The first time someone asked me, “Who would you like to see play Austin Carr in a movie?” the actor I immediately thought of was Vince Vaughn. Tall, good looking, smart enough in appearance to dish out top-notch, cackle and chuckle-producing wisecracks. That’s the guy—Austin Carr to a T.
And then years later I saw this picture of Johnny Depp.
My world ripped to pieces. Vince Vaughn was already embedded in my psyche, a mainstay visual as I wrote the next Austin Carr adventure. How could I change? I had a few drinks that night and put my e-purchased glossy photo of Vince Vaughn onto the wall with a thumbtack. (My wife was not pleased.) Beside him, I attached a poorly reproduced version of the above, movie-promo shot of Johnny Depp. I stared for long minutes, first Vince. Then Johnny. My thoughts crystalized: Johnny was Austin Carr — cute, smart and goofy. Look at that hair! Vince was not goofy enough.
For most people, the idea that something is lurking beneath the bed waiting for just the right moment to leap out and grab them is a routine part of childhood, but one that goes away as we grow into adolescence and come to understand there’s no such thing as monsters.
Except…what if there is?
Sixteen-year-old Billy knows all too well that the things that go bump in the night are, unfortunately, real. And that they aren’t confined to either the night or under the bed. You see, not only can Billy see monsters, he’s actually been to the other side, to their realm.
There, he received training that allows him to move through our world fully aware of the monsters among us, and which gave him the skills to do what he can to fight those monsters that seek to do more than coexist on our plane.
Yet even Billy had no idea just how ambitious some of the more aggressive members of the realm of monsters were, or what they had planned.