Category Archives: Gar Anthony Haywood

DAMN YOU, STEPHEN JAY SCHWARTZ!

by Gar Anthony Haywood

Actually, that blog post title’s a little harsh, because all SJS did to deserve it was blog about New Year’s resolutions here before I could.  Oh, well.  How about the next best thing, i.e., a list of all the things I resolve to stop doing in 2013?

Because the key to being happy and successful, it seems to me, is not only a matter of developing a host of new, constructive behaviors, but putting an end to those things we habitually do to sabotage ourselves.  For instance, I am promising here and now that I will try my damndest not to do the following things in 2013:

–  Procrastinate

Putting things off that need doing is a sure-fire way to guarantee they’ll either get done poorly at the last minute, or won’t get done at all.  In 2013, I’m going to take care of business now, not later, no matter how boring or inconvenient it may be to do so.

–  Make excuses

There are no doubt several reasons your latest manuscript failed to sell, or the last six agents you queried turned you down,  but using them as a rationale for not working harder is a recipe for disaster.  Nike may have turned the expression “Just do it” into the punch line of many a joke, but as a philosophy, it’s sound as hell.  Don’t obsess over why you can’t do something; just do the damn thing already.

–  Work without a plan

Zoë touched on this subject last week, and it really struck a nerve with me.  Creating a work schedule that you’re absolutely, positively committed to following has always sounded to me like a great way to make widgets, not write a book.  We creative types need to be free from such conventions, right?  To do our best work, we need to allow it to come naturally, not in accordance to some predefined set of parameters.

At least, that’s how I’ve been approaching my writing up to now, and the results would suggest it may be time to re-think things.  Structure is not a four-letter word.  Neither is discipline.  Writing like a free spirit is okay if you’re a poet with no career ambitions whatsoever, but if you expect to make a decent living as a writer, attention must be paid to output.  This year, I’m going to write as if my life depends on my making a daily page quota — because it just might.

–  Devote more time to social networking than is necessary

Yes, I’ve made a lot of professional contacts and brought more than a few new readers into the fold via Facebook.  But more than half my FB time of late is spent on highly entertaining nonsense, and that’s time I can’t afford to waste any more.  In 2013, I’ll continue to have a strong and regular FB presence, because dropping off the site completely would run counter to contemporary laws of productive self-promotion, but anybody expecting to find me “liking” this or commenting on that thirty-five times a day is destined to be gravely disappointed.

–  Renege on any of the above

Making promises is easy.  Keeping promises is hard.  Highly successful people do what they say they’re going to do, when they say they’re going to do it.

You guys are my witnesses.  If any of you catches me making a liar of myself, please don’t hesitate to call me on it.

Happy New Year!

The Wildcard Tuesday New Year Interrogation

Zoë Sharp

The first moon of 2013

Welcome to the first Wildcard Tuesday blog of 2013, and an enormously Happy New Year to you all. For this I asked a few lighthearted questions of fellow ‘Rati past and present, and below are their answers. I hope you find them worthy of a giggle.

(As a small aside, I started off searching for sensible author pix, but what I’ve actually ended up going for are the silliest pix that came up on the first page of a Google Images search on that author’s name.)

ALLISON BRENNAN

Where did you choose to celebrate the holiday season this year?

Home, as usual.

What would have been your ideal location?

Home! (Though, I would have liked to have gone to Disneyland right after Christmas … maybe next year!)

What was the best—or worst—gift you’ve ever received?

My husband once gave me an electric grout cleaner. Needless to say, I never used it.

The best—or worst—meal or item of food you’ve been served—or served to others?

The absolute best Christmas dinner we’ve had was when I decided to cook prime rib instead of the standard turkey or ham. It was pricey, but oh-so-delicious! I think that was back in 1997 …

What’s your idea of the Christmas From Hell?

Traveling for Christmas.

Looking back, what was your favourite moment from 2012?

Watching my oldest daughter graduate from high school—and hearing her and the Seraphim Choir sing the National Anthem. They were amazing.

I’m not going to ask about New Year’s resolutions, but do you have one ambition, large or small, you’d like to achieve in 2013?

Walk daily, meet my deadlines, don’t sweat the small stuff.

And finally, what book(s) have you brought out this year?

Two Lucy Kincaid books from Minotaur/SMP—SILENCED and STALKED; a short story in the anthology LOVE IS MURDER; an indie published novella MURDER IN THE RIVER CITY.

And what’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

A Lucy Kincaid novella in March (RECKLESS), and two more book STOLEN and COLD SNAP. Plus a short story for the NINC anthology and maybe another indie novella. If I have time.

 

DAVID CORBETT

Where did you choose to celebrate the holiday season this year?

Home alone, if “choose” and “celebrate” are the correct verbs. Mette arrives on the 28th, so things should get merrier at that point.

What would have been your ideal location?

Buenos Aires. Ireland. A beach in Mexico.

What was the best—or worst—gift you’ve ever received?

Best gift I ever “received” was one I gave. As a gag gift I bought my late wife a red flannel union suit with a button seat flap that she absolutely loved. Slept in it all the time. Cozy as hell. Damn, she was happy.

The best—or worst—meal or item of food you’ve been served—or served to others?

When I was a kid one of my classmates’ families came over during the holidays and brought cookies that literally made me gag. I picked one up, sniffed it like a cocker spaniel, recoiled, and put it back. My brother started bellowing, “You touched it, you have to eat it.” Unfortunately, King Solomon (my father) agreed. I almost upchucked trying to get it down.

What’s your idea of the Christmas From Hell?

Oh, let’s not go there.

Looking back, what was your favourite moment from 2012?

A weekend in San Antonio for the wedding of one of Mette’s dearest friends, when I got introduced to the inner circle. Also, the moments when I read the cover quotes I received for THE ART OF CHARACTER. I was incredibly humbled and grateful so many writers I respect said so many kind and generous things.

One ambition, large or small, you’d like to achieve in 2013?

Make the new book a success, and wrap up the novel I’m working on to my own persnickety satisfaction.

And finally, what book(s) have you brought out this year?

Open Road Media and Mysterious Press re-issued all four of my novels in ebook format in 2012, with a brand new short story collection titled KILLING YOURSELF TO SURVIVE.

And what’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

The new book, THE ART OF CHARACTER, comes out on January 29th, 2013 from Penguin.

 

ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF

Where?

New Orleans.

Ideal location?

It’s hard to top New Orleans.

Best/worst gift?

Well, there’s this pretty spectacular amethyst necklace…

Best/worst food?

I’ve served many a bad meal to others. For everyone’s sake I stopped trying to cook long ago. Personally I don’t care much what food gets served, but I do remember one Christmas morning in London with blackberry jam on waffles and whisky for breakfast. The blackberry jam ended up all sorts of places and it was all very lovely.  I could do that again.

Christmas From Hell?

It’s hard to narrow that down, actually. Endless scenarios spring to mind. I hate being cold, though, so winter is perilous.

Favourite moment from 2012?

For public consumption, you mean? The general reader response to HUNTRESS MOON has been a real high.

One ambition in 2013?

I’d like to find a really wonderful place to live.

Books this year?

My crime thriller HUNTRESS MOON, a boxed set of three of my supernatural thrillers called HAUNTED, a novella called D-GIRL ON DOOMSDAY in an interconnected anthology with three other dark fantasy female author friends: APOCALYPSE: YEAR ZERO. And I got several backlist titles back and put them out as e books at wonderfully affordable prices: THE UNSEEN, BOOK OF SHADOWS, THE HARROWING and THE PRICE.

And for 2013?

The next book in my Huntress series comes out in late January:  BLOOD MOON. My next book in the paranormal Keepers series, KEEPER OF THE SHADOWS, comes out in May.

I’m selling my house in January and buying another as soon as possible, probably in California.

 

PD MARTIN

Where?

Every year we have Christmas Day at our home (in Melbourne) and then go down to the Mornington Peninsula (seaside) for most of January. It’s the hottest time of year here in Oz, so it’s great to be near the beach. We stay in a 1970s holiday house my grandparents bought in 1972, and given I spent summers down there as a kid it’s particularly special to now be going down there with my children.

Ideal location?

The Peninsula is pretty good 🙂 Although we’ve always said that one year we’ll do a white/winter Christmas in New York or something.

Best/worst gift ever received?

Best gift I ever received was actually for my birthday this year—my Kindle. I’m a complete convert to the point where I can’t imagine ever reading a ‘real’ book again. I prefer the Kindle reading experience for some reason.

Best meal?

I am biased, but I make a mean Tira Misu. I got the recipe from a chef and it’s divine! And great because you make it a day or two before, so it’s one thing to cross off the food preparation list early.

Christmas From Hell?

Mmm….I guess having to run around. You know, multiple visits. We do that a bit on Christmas Eve, but I enjoy the fact that then on Christmas Day we just kick back. We start with oysters at midday, then it’s prawns (yes, on the BBQ), then an Asian style salmon fillet dish then Tira Misu (at about 4pm). Then a movie!

Favourite moment from 2012?

That’s easy for me—picking up our son, Liam, from Korea and making our family of three a family of four 🙂

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I’ve got a few books I’d like to finish. And hey, a best seller or a lotto win wouldn’t go astray either.

Book(s) this year?

THE MISSING (two short stories), WHEN JUSTICE FAILS (two short true-crime pieces), HELL’S FURY (new book in spy thriller series), and two novels for younger readers that I’ve released under the pen name Pippa Dee—GROUNDED SPIRITS and THE WANDERER.

What’s next?

Probably what I’ve been doing the past few months—juggling motherhood and writing…and feeling like I’m going to crack under the pressure! 

 

JT ELLISON

Where?

Nashville and Florida.

Ideal location?

A family trip to Italy would have been fun.

Best gift you’ve ever received?

I got engaged during Christmas 1994, so that ranks up there….

Worst meal?

Italy, Cinque Terre, a large full fish the size of a cat, with its baleful eye staring up at me… I swear the thing was still breathing. Ugh! 

Christmas From Hell?

There’s no such thing. I love Christmas.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Seeing my DH in his gorgeous new kilt for the first time. *fans self*

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I want to learn how to paint. In oil, large canvas abstracts. 

Book(s) last year?

A DEEPER DARKNESS, EDGE OF BLACK, STORM SEASON

And for 2013?

Writing, writing and more writing. Deadline January 30!

 

 MARTYN WAITES (half of Tania Carver)

Where?

At my in-laws. The kids wanted to go to see all their cousins. They love a big family get together. As for me, I’m pretty bah humbug about it. I don’t care where I go or what I do or whether I get any presents or not. As long as I get to see Doctor Who, I’m happy.

Ideal location?

Somewhere abroad. Morocco would be good. If they were showing Doctor Who.

Best/worst gift ever received?

I’ve been lucky enough to get plenty of presents. I can’t think of specifics in terms of best or worst, but for me the worst kind of gift is the thoughtless kind that someone has put no effort, time or care into. The best ones are the ones you absolutely want. Even if you don’t know you do until you get them. I was lucky enough to get one of those this Christmas.

Best/worst meal?

At Christmas? It’s all the same. I’m not a fan of Christmas dinner. Or any roast dinner for that matter. I eat it, but that’s because it’s what you do at Christmas. Like getting into water and swimming. The best meal I was ever served was at a Persian restaurant in Birmingham in 1988. It involved chicken and pomegranates and I’ve never tasted anything like it to this day. The restaurant disappeared soon afterwards in a kind of Brigadoon fashion and I sometimes wonder whether I actually went there. As for bad food . . . loads. In fact, it probably outnumbers the good food. That’s why I try to remember the good ones.

Christmas From Hell?

Being forced to spend time with people I hate. That goes for the rest of the year as well. And not seeing Doctor Who.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Well, I wrote about my favourite cultural things on the last Murderati post—Y Niwl and the Hammer films retrospective—so they would be there in a big way. But other than that, it was something very small and personal that I’m afraid I couldn’t share and that I doubt anyone would be particularly interested in.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I do. I can’t say anything about it in case I jinx it, but it will be the culmination of a lifetime’s ambition. Or at least I hope it will.

Book(s) this year?

CHOKED, the fourth Tania Carver book came out in September in the UK. THE CREEPER, the second one, came out in the States. There have been other editions round the world and I think Russia finally got round to publishing my 2006 novel, THE MERCY SEAT.

And 2013?

Finishing the new Tania, THE DOLL’S HOUSE, which I’m uncharacteristically quite pleased with. Although it could all go horribly wrong. And then there’s the afore(not)mentioned secret project . . .

 

GAR ANTHONY HAYWOOD

Where?

At the family’s new home in Glassell Park, which we moved into in October.

Ideal location?

At the family’s new home in Aspen, Colorado, which doesn’t exist.

Best/worst gift ever received?

The best was a dictionary.  It was given to me many years ago by a wonderful woman who at the time was my mother-in-law to be.  She knew I was an aspiring writer and gifted me accordingly, which, oddly enough, no one in my immediate family had ever thought to attempt before.  I still own that dictionary, too.

Don’t get me started on the worst gifts I’ve ever received.

Best/worst food?

The best, far and away, is the egg nog my godfather makes over the holidays. It tastes great and man, does it have a kick to it.

Never been given a fruitcake as a gift, and I pray I never am.

Christmas From Hell?

I think I actually experienced it last year.  Attended the worst Catholic midnight Mass possible: cornball music, pointless sermon, and theatre lighting (the service was being video-taped) that would make a mole cover its eyes.  Awful.

Favourite moment from 2012?

The family’s spring break vacation in the Galapagos.  Unbelievable!

One ambition for 2013?

Completion of a manuscript that a conventional publisher buys for a tidy sum.

Book(s) last year?

Didn’t have a book published this year, though my Aaron Gunner novels were re-released as e-books by Mysterious Press/Open Road.

And for the early part of 2013?

Early?  Maybe my first book for middle-graders, which my agent is shopping now.  Later in the year?  With the grace of God, a publication deal for my first Aaron Gunner novel in almost 10 years.

 

STEPHEN JAY SCHWARTZ

Where?

Stayed at home with the wife and kids—enjoyed the beach and the beautiful Southern California weather.  Played Scrabble and hung out in cafés.  Enjoyed a big meal of matzoh ball soup and tofurky.

Ideal location?

Ireland.  Clifton or Dingle, to be precise.

Best/worst gift ever received?

I haven’t paid attention to holiday gifts for a long time.  I think the worst gift I ever got was for my bar mitzvah—it was a belt buckle.  No, actually, perhaps the worst was the beer stein my father gave me for my high school graduation.  This, instead of the car I had my eyes on.

Best/worst item of food?

Probably that tofurky we had last week.

Christmas From Hell?

Again, tofurky takes the price.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Seeing my son come back healthy and happy after a two-month hospital stay in Wisconsin.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

Main ambition—work to live a creative life, 24/7.

Book(s) this year?

Move along, nothing to see here.

What’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

Move along, nothing to see here either…

 

BRETT BATTLES

Where?

The first half I spent in a hot, tropical location with my feet in the water, a beer nearby, and a Kindle in my hand; the second half at home in L.A. with my kids, my parents, and my sister and her kids.

Ideal location?

Nailed it this year.

Best gift ever received?

This year I got the complete set of Calvin & Hobbs from my parents. It was perfect!

Best food?

I made a pretty awesome ham this year that was juicy and delicious. Hmmm, I’m craving leftovers right now!

Christmas From Hell?

Not being able to spend time with my family.

Favourite moment from 2012?

It was a pretty good year all around, so one event…? Going to San Diego for a week with my kids and parents was pretty damn fun!

One ambition for 2013?

Just more of the same … write, travel, and spend time with friends and family.

Book(s) last year?

2012: THE DESTROYED (Quinn #5), PALE HORSE (Project Eden #3), THE COLLECTED (Quinn #6), and ASHES (Project #Eden #4)

And for 2013?

At least four more novels (hopefully five), including a secret collaboration I can’t quite talk about yet.

 

TESS GERRITSEN

Where?

At home. With family.

Ideal location?

Exactly the same place.

Worst gift you’ve ever received?

An orange pantsuit.  I mean, really. My husband has not bought me anything orange ever since. (I’m guessing it didn’t look like this, then, Tess? ZS)

Best/worst meal?

For Christmas?  Not one bad meal sticks out.  On Christmas, everything tastes wonderful.

Christmas From Hell?

Being stuck in an airport. Far from family.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Standing on the Great Wall of China, with my husband and sons.

One ambition, for 2013?

To finally plant a vegetable garden that the deer can’t demolish.

Book(s) out last year?

LAST TO DIE was published this past summer.

And what’s on the cards for 2013?

Early 2013, I am headed to the Amazon River.

 

PARI NOSKIN TAICHERT

Where?

At home in peace. No requirements, no expectations. I just let myself be.

Ideal location?

The only other place I can imagine being this calm and relaxed would be Antibes . . .

Best gift?

Probably the best gift I’ve received so far is an essay my younger teen wrote about a difficult incident we shared last year and how it has taught her empathy. Made me cry, it touched my heart so.

Best/worst meal?

The best meal remains one brunch I had in Puerto Rico: fresh flying fish brought in that morning from a catch in Barbados, steamed bread fruit, Barbadian yellow hot sauce, fresh mangos picked minutes before from a tree just steps from where we ate.

Christmas From Hell?

I think it would be one filled with efforts to make it perfect, so many efforts that they’d hit the tipping point and tumble down to the other side of happiness.

Favourite moment from 2012?

The one where I finally realized I’m going to be all right, that the trials of this last year may continue . . . but they’re not going to pull me down into the depths of despair anymore.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

Yes.

1. I’d like to e-publish the book that “almost” sold to NYC. It’s the first in a new series and I’d like my character to meet readers and vice versa.

2. To continue to explore my creativity in whatever ways it’s now manifesting, to give myself permission to let it fly.

Book(s) last year?

Nothing in 2012. I’ve been in hibernation for many reasons including the whole copyright issue and the divorce.

And for 2013?

To begin writing again and to enjoy it . . .

 

ZOË SHARP

As for me, I also spent Christmas this year with my family, which was where I wanted to be.

My ideal would probably have been a ski-in/ski-out chalet somewhere with plenty of snow. Not necessarily for skiing, but definitely for sculpting. I never did get to finish that Sphinx …

As for my ambitions for 2013, to find a life/work balance and to continue to improve my craft.

And books? In 2012 I brought out two e-boxed sets of the first six Charlie Fox novels, plus several short stories, and of course, DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten.

In 2013, DIE EASY is hot off the press in the States. I’m also editing two new projects—a supernatural thriller called CARNIFEX, and a standalone crime thriller called THE BLOOD WHISPERER, as well as working on the first in a new trilogy, the first in what I hope will be a new series, a novella project I can’t say too much about yet, and—of course—Charlie Fox book eleven. That should keep me going for a bit 🙂

So, it only remains for me to wish you all an incredibly Happy New Year, and to thank you for your comments and your feedback during 2012.

DECEMBER 14, 2012

by Gar Anthony Haywood

There’s an elephant in the room, and its name is “Newtown.”

Sure, I could pretend it isn’t there.  Post something today similar to all my other posts in the past, an essay on writing or the writer’s life that would amuse or inform but say nothing whatsoever about the nightmare we’ve all been living since last Friday.  But I’m not going to do that.  This seat I have at the Murderati round table is an opportunity to contribute to the discussion we as citizens of this great nation must have, and have now, regarding responsible gun ownership, if we are to avoid such horrific events in the future, and hell if I’m not going to take advantage of it.

We authors here at Muderati, as the blog’s very name implies, write about murder every day.  To varying degrees, death is our stock in trade.  Whether we write about single-victim crimes of passion or serial killers who claim multiple lives, we are all deliberately counting on the perverse thrill readers find in the act of one person murdering another to sell books, so being silent on the subject of the Newtown massacre, as if we are wholly unqualified to discuss such matters, would seem somewhat cowardly to me.  None of us have all the answers — we barely know all the questions — but I’m certain each of us has some idea why those 26 people — 20 of them small children — died in Newtown, Connecticut, last week, and what we can do — what we must do — to try and make it the last tragedy of its kind on American soil.

I’ve decided to couch my statement, such as it is, in the form of a point-by-point response to what I believe is the general attitude most intelligent, reasonable gun rights advocates have toward this crisis, based upon the online comments I’ve seen some make on Facebook and elsewhere.  That attitude goes something like this:

  1. First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost children in the Sandy Hill Elementary School shooting.  No one grieves for those kids or their parents more than we do.
  2. However, what happened in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday was not about guns.  It was about mental illness.
  3. No gun control law could have prevented this tragedy.
  4. Further, no gun control law can ever guarantee that such terrible events will not occur in the future.
  5. Gun control laws only serve to inhibit the ability of law-abiding citizens to secure weapons of self-defense.  Properly motivated, criminals and the mentally disturbed will always find ways to arm themselves.
  6. Any attempt by the government to limit the kind of weapons a U.S. citizen can legally acquire is an infringement upon our Constitutional right to bear arms, and should be viewed as the first step down the slippery slope that inevitably leads to tyranny.
  7. We can’t allow the emotions of the moment to spur us into taking legislative actions we may regret later.
  8. As tragic and heartbreaking as the deaths of 20 innocent children are, this is a relatively small price to pay for the freedoms our Founding Fathers granted us.

To which I would reply:

  1. I’m quite sure this is true.
  2. Actually, it was about mental illness combined with a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle and two handguns: a Glock 10 mm and a Sig Sauer 9 mm.  All legally purchased by the shooter’s mother, who needed such an arsenal for self-defense like Donald Trump needs a home equity loan.
  3. Prevented?  Perhaps not.  But a ban on the AR-15 — such as that which was in effect until 2004, when Congress repealed it — would have gone a long way toward making this tragedy infinitely less deadly.
  4. Can we please stop talking about gun control as if it has to eliminate every gun-related homicide for all time in order to serve any purpose?  Traffic laws don’t prevent all speed-related accidents, but surely we can agree that our streets are a hell of a lot safer with such laws in effect.  Merriam-Webster defines “control,” in part, as “to reduce the incidence or severity of especially to innocuous levels.”  Get it?  Gun control is about the reduction of gun-related crime, not the eradication of it.  Opposing any form of gun control on the grounds it can’t accomplish the impossible is both foolish and indefensible.
  5. Again, sensible gun control laws aren’t designed to keep guns out of the hands of every bad person who wants one — they’re simply designed to make the task of acquiring a gun as difficult as possible for criminals and the mentally unstable.  Sure, a highly motivated nutcase could probably find someone somewhere to sell him an illegal handgun, but not with the ease of going down to his local gun show and picking one off the shelf, no questions asked.  Gun control laws create layers of complexity in the process of acquiring a firearm that not every criminal or would-be murderer is up to dealing with.  Dissuading those who would use a gun to harm others from seeking one out is the logical first step in preventing gun-related homicides, and it shouldn’t be dismissed as ineffectual simply because its reach is not absolute.
  6. I don’t want to say this is paranoid bullshit, but it’s paranoid bullshit.  Every law ever enacted could potentially lead to a slippery slope; slippery slopes are everywhere if one cares to look for them.  Our government is imperfect, and it deserves something far less than our unquestioning trust, but staying up at night worrying about it becoming an authoritarian gulag any time soon is the rational equivalent of wearing a colander on your head to keep the Martians from reading your thoughts.  While you fret over being ever-vigilant for the first signs of democracy’s decay, kindergartners are being sacrificed at the altar of your ignorance.  Wake up and take fresh stock of your priorities.
  7. On the contrary, no moment in our history has called out for us to change our way of thinking about guns with greater urgency than this one.  If we don’t do it now, we never will.
  8. I vehemently disagree, and suspect every parent who lost a child in Newtown, Connecticut, would as well.

I’m a father of four children.  Up to now, I’ve been happy to watch the gun control debate from afar.  Who needs my opinion?  I write about crimes that are merely fictional, why should anyone care what I think?

But silence isn’t going to work for me any more.  Whether twenty children dead is sufficient cause for others to demand change or not, it is more than enough for me.

To those of you still unmoved, clinging yet to the idea that we dare not let what happened in Newtown inspire us to question the sanctity of our Second Amendment rights, I will leave you with a comment I made to a similarly recalcitrant gun-rights advocate on Facebook earlier this week:

“We can’t keep giving these people EASY access to WEAPONS DESIGNED FOR WARFARE. The caps here are significant, because they’re meant to make it clear that I am not advocating a ban on weapons reasonable people could own and use for self-defense, nor am I suggesting that there’s anything we could do to keep ALL assault weapons out of the hands of crazy people. The time has come for us to MAKE IT SIGNIFICANTLY MORE DIFFICULT for average citizens to buy any kind of weapon that can kill dozens of people in a matter of seconds. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, can make an intelligent argument for allowing people like you and me, let alone sick bastards like the Newtown shooter, to buy a fucking assault rifle that does not boil down to ‘because it would be fun to play with, and the Constitution says I should have the right.’ And don’t give me any of that ‘well-armed militia’ crap, either, because that’s just a crux people use to justify the war games they like to play in their backyard. If the death of 20 kids in the span of a half-hour isn’t enough to convince you people that something about the way we worship the Almighty 2nd Amendment in this country has to change, how many dead kids WILL it take? 40? 100? What’s the number that’ll finally move you to surrender your right to legally buy a goddamn AR-15?”

I’m still waiting for his answer.

NEXT? YES. BIG? JESUS, I HOPE SO.

by Gar Anthony Haywood

You know how, when you’re playing paintball (if you don’t play paintball, just roll with me for a minute and pretend you do) and you’re lurking around a corner, sniffing out the enemy, weapon at the ready, and you turn just three inches to your right and . . .

SPLAT!  You’re dead.  Shot right between the eyes.  And your first thought is, “Ugh.  They got me.”

Well, that just happened to me.  They got me.  Only in this case, it wasn’t a paintball game, it was an email from Naomi Hirahara.  Wonderful writer, wonderful friend.  Who could have guessed she would draw me into participating in the latest self-promotional time suck known as “The Next Big Thing”?

By now, you have to know what this is (even though I somehow didn’t), because even the lovely Zoe Sharp has done an NBT blog.

Here’s the deal: I answer a bunch of questions about myself and my latest work-in-progress, trying to avoid coming off as a self-absorbed drone in the process, and then I point you to the blog sites of some other suckers, er, writers, whom I either honestly believe you should be reading, or simply found to be dumb enough to agree to be named when asked.  I’ll let you decide which of the two is the case, respectively.

So enough with the introduction, it’s time to get on with the show.  Remember: This wasn’t my idea.  I’m just going along because I’m a man of my word, and such a man never knows what will sell a copy or two of his books.

What is the working title of your next book?

GOOD MAN GONE BAD

Where did the idea come from?

This is the long-awaited (well, at least I like to think so) seventh novel in my Aaron Gunner P.I. series, and the genesis of the plot sprang from an epiphany I had while sitting on a crowded Los Angeles freeway listening to a police helicopter drone overhead.  That’s essentially how the book opens, with Gunner stuck on that crowded freeway instead of me — and more than that, I’m not gonna tell ya.

What genre best defines your book?

Hardboiled detective, though I’d like to think the book is a little more complex than that label would suggest.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

As the character of Gunner is over 20 years old, the answer to this question is constantly changing.  But as of this moment, I think the best fit for Gunner would be Idris Elba.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In the wake of an apparent murder-suicide that claims the lives of his cousin Del Curry and Curry’s wife, and leaves their daughter on the brink of death, Central Los Angeles private investigator Aaron Gunner tries to determine what chain of events led Curry to pull the trigger — if in fact, he did.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

That remains to be seen, though it will certainly be shopped by an agent initially.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?

I can only wish I was finished with a first draft.  A completed first draft is probably another five or six months away.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Can’t think of any.  I’m a complete original.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

It’s been over 13 years since I last took Gunner out for a full-length spin, and I miss him.  It was time to spend some quality time with him again.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Uh, good writing, hopefully?

And there you have it.  My Next Big Thing.  Curious as to what some other fine writers might be doing for their Next Big Thing?  Drop in at the blogs of the following people next Wednesday, December 12, and find out.  And by the way — I was just pulling your leg earlier.  All of these guys are terrific writers you should be reading right now, if you aren’t already.

Bruce DeSilva

http://brucedesilva.wordpress.com/

Paul Bishop

http://bishsbeat.blogspot.com/

Gary Phillips

http://7criminalminds.blogspot.com/

(NOTE: Gary’s NBT post won’t run until Friday, December 14.  Why?  Because he’s a contrarian, and who the hell is gonna argue with him, that’s why.)

BLACK FRIDAY, CYBER MONDAY AND NOW: MURDERATI TUESDAY!

by Gar Anthony Haywood

Though I rarely take part in all the fun, cash-strapped as I am, I kind of dig Black Friday.  The idea of retailers throughout the country holding a joint super sale to end all super sales on a single day is kind of awesome, and when you extend that concept to a tech-only version the following week on Cyber Monday, well . . .  What’s not to like?

(Except for the crowds . . .

. . . the traffic . . .

. . . and the gunfire on Aisle 9, that is.)

But neither Black Friday nor Cyber Monday is the super sale I’d really like to see.  The one-day discount extravaganza of my dreams would involve merchandise only we writers care about.  Things that we wish existed, but don’t.  I’d call this day immediately following Cyber Monday “Murderati Tuesday” (what else?), and the price-slashed goods would look pretty much like this:

 

A BIG-SCREEN TV THAT ONLY WORKS WHEN YOU DO


This set connects to your laptop or desktop computer via USB cable and monitors your daily progress toward the deadline and word count you’ve committed yourself to meeting.  Once your deadline passes, if you haven’t delivered a complete manuscript, the set can be programmed to either shut down completely or only tune in to over-the-air stations showing old Bosom Buddy reruns.  Want to watch the Super Bowl on something other than your smart phone?  Better get your ass in gear and finish that damn novel.

 

A GPS DEVICE THAT CAN TRACK THE WHEREABOUTS OF BOOK CONVENTION UNDESIRABLES

You know the kind of undesirables I mean.  You see the poor devils wandering the hallways of the convention hotel every year, and usually too late to avoid being cornered by one of them.  They wear quadruple-X-sized T-shirts and unisex khakis, and drag three fully-loaded canvas book bags behind them like balls-and-chain.  (Bags which, in total defiance of the odds, never manage to contain a single title of yours.)  They tell incredibly unfunny stories and rave about authors you wouldn’t pay to write a squirrel’s obituary.  This handheld device alerts you the minute one of these geeks steps within fifty yards of your present location, and it comes with a panic button that will sound an ear-splitting alarm should you fail to heed its warning and blunder into the men’s room where, say, good ol’ Bob Fussblott of Dunwoody, Illinois, is waiting for you.

 

INFLATABLE FANS


Sold in packages of 25, these rubberized mannequins can be used to populate the audience of an otherwise scorched-Earth-desolate, mall store book signing you don’t know why you ever scheduled in the first place.  Why read to yet another host of empty chairs when you can read to over two-dozen, somewhat human-looking blow-up dolls that have been specifically designed to appear as if they’re hanging on your every word?  They can’t ask questions or buy a book to be signed afterward, but then, none of them will fall asleep on you, either.

 

AN E-READER THAT TRIMS THE FAT


The Zook e-reader does what few professional editors have the guts to do anymore: It cuts all the unnecessary crap out of the books you download to it.  Never again will you have to suffer through 131 pages of drivel wholly unrelated to the story at hand.  The Zook scans e-book text for excess prose and sends it straight to the trash where it belongs.  The reader features four specific settings that allow you to fine-tune its editing functions to meet your reading needs: Verbosity, Digression, Literary Grandstanding and Filler Only Included at the Eleventh Hour to Meet the Author’s Contractual Word-Count Obligations.

 

HEADGEAR FOR THE CLICHE-IMPAIRED


Writing while wearing the ClicheBuster headset won’t make you a New York Times bestselling author overnight, but it will discourage you from filling your work with the trite and overwrought.  This brainwave interface device fits snugly over your dome to read your every thought, and the minute a cliche of any kind enters your mind, you’re treated to an electrical shock guaranteed to make you think twice.  Good cop, bad cop?  Zap!  “But all was not what it seemed”?  Zot!  The spunky female heroine dating the handsome homicide detective while sharing barbs with her feisty, irascible mother?  Zow!  (Note: The intensity of the jolt you receive corresponds to the degree of unoriginality the cliche being considered indicates, so first-time authors are warned to use the device only under the direct supervision of a professional writers’ camp counselor.)

 

A PROCASTINATION-PROOF OFFICE CHAIR


Ever wish your writing chair was as ruthless a taskmaster as your agent?  Well, now it can be if your chair is the beautiful, ergonomic restraint device shown here.  Sit down, strap yourself into the locking three-point harness and start writing, because you won’t be getting up until your agent calls or emails you with the lock’s combination, which changes daily.  Want to go to the window and blow a good hour watching that crazy neighbor of yours try to trim his shrubs with a weed whacker?   Forget about it!  Thinking about running downstairs to catch the last forty minutes of The View?  Not a chance!  Need a potty break?  Well . . . better hope your agent liked the last 30 pages you  delivered.  Otherwise . . .

EVERYTHING OLD IS OLD AGAIN

by Gar Anthony Haywood

An author learns a lot when he volunteers to be a judge on a literary awards panel.  Such as:

–  A slow start is an absolute deal breaker.

–  There are a ton of books out there.

–  Most of that “ton of books” is unreadable.

–  If you believe everything you read on a book’s cover, there are approximately 8,417,212 “international bestsellers” writing crime novels at present.  Who knew?

–  There are some incredibly talented writers today working in a state of obscurity their storytelling skills simply do not warrant.

–  Great cover art guarantees nothing; awful cover art, on the other hand, is usually a perfect compliment to the book to which it is attached.

And finally, the most important lesson to be learned of all:

–  We all need to try a little harder to come up with some new ideas.

Quite a while back, I promised you a Murderati post in which I list all the crime novel premises I think are begging to have a fork stuck in them.  These are premises so overused, so tired and ubiquitous, that at this point, any book based upon one should just be given a number for a title, as in “THEY KILLED HIS FAMILY AND NOW HE WANTS REVENGE #46,808.”

Well, here’s that list, at least in part:

–  The loving widow who discovers her recently deceased, ostensibly perfect husband/boyfriend was not the man she thought he was (because he was in fact a spy/crime boss/assassin/serial adulterer/etc., etc.).

–  The triple-crossed espionage agent who must travel the globe in search of those who betrayed him before the multiple contracts on his life can be filled.

–  The amnesiac who wakes up in a strange place and must piece together his/her past while simultaneously evading an army of people trying to kill him/her for reasons unknown.

–  The serial killer survivor who, years after the attack that nearly killed her (and it is almost always a woman), finds herself being stalked by either that very same serial killer, or someone mimicking him.

–  The ex-con, fresh out of prison, forced to pull one more job by his former partners in crime, who are holding his wife/child/mother/brother/family dog hostage to ensure his cooperation.

–  The unstoppable professional assassin with the catchy code name (the Wolf, the Hound, El Tigre, El Diablo, etc.) who suddenly finds himself being hunted by his most ruthless professional rival (the Snake, the Dog, Sir Muerte, La Leona, etc.).

–  The grizzled, addiction-addled cop forced to play cat-and-mouse with a diabolical serial killer whose M.O. is so twisted, half the CSI team loses its lunch at every crime scene.

–  The grizzled FBI agent-with-a-past forced to play cat-and-mouse with a diabolical serial killer whose M.O. is so twisted, half the CSI team loses its lunch at every crime scene.

–  The grizzled, addiction-addled FBI profiler-with-a-past forced to play cat-and-mouse with a diabolical serial killer whose M.O. is so twisted, half the CSI team loses its lunch at every crime scene.

–  The haunted, addiction-addled psychic who reluctantly helps the police play cat-and-mouse with a diabolical serial killer whose M.O. is so twisted, half the CSI team loses its lunch at every crime scene.

–  The grizzled, addiction-addled EX-cop-with-a-past forced out of retirement to play cat-and-mouse with a diabolical serial killer whose M.O. is so twisted, half the CSI team loses its lunch at every crime scene.

–  The grizzled, unshakable ex-military policeman who plays cat-and-mouse with a diabolical serial killer whose M.O. is so twisted, half the CSI team loses its lunch at every crime scene.

–  The grizzled . . .

Well, you get the idea.

If I were nothing but a reader, I’d be way tired of this stuff.  I mean, seriously, enough is enough.  But speaking as an author, I have to admit that avoiding such overly-familiar concepts is easier said than done, because there are only so many promising crime or thriller novel premises to be had in this world and devising one that’s never been done before is damn near impossible.  Also, let’s be honest here: The reason people keep writing books based upon these retreads is that people keep buying and reading them.

Still, I think any author seeking to create truly great work must make a concerted effort to take the tried and true and make something relatively fresh and new out of it.  Adding a twist here or there is not enough; true creativity demands that an author deconstruct these belabored premises and rebuild them from the ground up, so that a reader cannot instantly identify — or worse, dismiss — their latest book as “WRONGFULLY ACCUSED WOMAN SEEKS MISSING CHILD AND HUSBAND’S KILLER WHILE RUNNING FROM THE LAW #24,909.”

A unique voice and/or intriguing protagonist can only do so much to separate a book based upon a tired old idea from the hundreds of others based upon that very same idea.  To be memorable, to stand out from the crowd, such a book must break the mold in some significant way, not merely massage it into a slightly different shape.

If all you want to do is sell thousands of paperback originals at Walmart (and come to think of it, who doesn’t?), this may all sound like way too much work, and you’re probably right.  But if your goals are a little loftier — if you want to build your reputation on more than just an ability to create suspense using the same limited tool box hundreds of other authors are drawing from — you have to go the extra mile and yes, reinvent the wheel.

Otherwise, you risk turning off readers and award judges alike for whom unadulterated familiarity may not only breed contempt, but qualify a book for the Been-There, Read-That-a-Million-Times-Before rejection pile.

GOOD VS. EVIL, POST-ELECTION EDITION

by Gar Anthony Haywood

By the time you read this (I hope), someone will have won the U.S. Presidential election and someone will have lost it.

To most Americans, the election was a battle between two men with fundamentally different ideas about the role government should play in our everyday lives.  For others, it was something much greater, a virtual war between the Powers of Darkness and the Agents of Light over the very soul of this nation.    If you think I’m exaggerating, you haven’t been reading some of the Facebook “discussions” I have been over the last several months.

Because it’s easier to get people to the polls by convincing them their vote could make the difference between putting the Son of Satan in the White House and a decent, God-fearing human being, the political arena is an ideal setting for this kind of silly, provocative oversimplification.  But politicians are not the only ones who like to describe every human conflict as one pitting Good against Evil.

We crime writers have a tendency to reduce things to those very same extremes.

Of course, we do it for the sake of high drama, not election results.  In the interests of maximizing the stakes in a thriller, for instance, we often go in for villains who are simply heartless monsters, rather than complex people with conflicting motives.  Conversely, our protagonists are soldiers of righteousness, angels with dirty faces who have no doubts, whatsoever, about the virtue of their cause.  God is on one side and the Devil is on the other, and there’s no way to mistake which is which.

Gray areas are okay for literary fiction, the reasoning goes, but readers of mysteries and thrillers only have eyes for black and white, the better to root for the latter as they hungrily turn pages.

I can’t view the world that way, no matter how popular such fiction is.  Just as I know Barack Obama is not a freedom-hating Muslim and Mitt Romney is not a Scrooge-like robot with contempt for all poor people, I also know that real “good guys” and “bad guys” come in all stripes and colors, and that their needs and motivations cannot always be described in a single line.  I keep this thought in mind whenever I enter my polling booth and whenever I sit down to write.  Nobody in this world wears horns and a barbed tail, nor walks with a halo consistently overhead.

The shorthand of Good versus Evil might win (and lose) elections, and it might sell a boatload of crime novels, but it’s just not for me.

Sorry.

IT’S (NOT) ALL IN THE BOX

by Gar Anthony Haywood

Three weeks ago, the family and I moved into a new home.  We’d been renting a place in Alhambra until we could find a house both within our budget and big enough to accommodate our ever-expanding need for space, and we finally lucked into a four-bedroom, single-story mid-century number in Glassell Park that fits the bill.  It was a great blessing.  The new joint needs a lot of work, God knows, and most of the heavy lifting has already been done, but there’s still a hell of a lot of sweat equity left to invest to make it our “home” — starting with unpacking all these @!*#%!*@ boxes we’ve vacuum-packed our lives into.  Boxes just like this one:

If you’ve ever made a similar move yourself, you know what I’m talking about.  First you spend weeks stuffing and taping everything you own into cartons three sizes too small, and then you spend weeks yanking it all out again in a different place, always thinking along the way:

“What the hell is this?

“So that’s where that damn thing went!”

“Why in the world do I own one of these?

“I’ve got absolutely no use for this, and I probably never will — but as soon as I toss it, I’ll find a use for it, so I’d better hold onto it.”

You learn a lot about yourself as you take this item-by-item inventory of your earthly existence, and one of the most fascinating is all the things you’ve accumulated not with the intent of using it in this life — the one you’re actually living — but in the life you hope to have someday.  Clothes you plan to fit into; brochures for exotic cars you intend to own; toys you’re going to play with just as soon as you’re making enough money to slow down a little.  Some of this stuff is as new as the day you acquired it; it comes in packages that have never been opened, inside plastic bags that are still sealed air-tight.

These possessions are pieces of a dream you can’t let go of.  Giving them away or selling them off at your next yard sale would be a form of surrender, an admission that time has run out on the future you’ve always thought would be yours.

So when the time comes to change addresses, you stick these things in a box, rather than leave them behind, and then you find a place for them in your new home — the closet, the garage, the attic — when the box gets opened again.  If it gets opened again.

Some things go into boxes that stay sealed forever.

Of course, as I’m a writer, most of my moving boxes are filled with ideas.  Fragments of stories yet to be written, dogeared notebooks brimming with single-line plot synopses and half-formed character profiles.  Throw this stuff away?  Are you nuts?  There’s a bestseller in there somewhere, I know there is, and one day I’m going to find it.

Ultimately, for all our mindless attachment to them, it’s not the things inside the boxes that really count.  It’s the things we can’t box up: the people we love, the memories of good times past, the hope that tomorrow will only bring more of the same.

As I write this, late at night in my new office upstairs, I see boxes all around me; numbered and labeled, every one filled with odd bits and pieces of this poor man’s treasure.  But what I value most isn’t in any of these boxes, nor anywhere here in this room.  They’re downstairs, occupying three different beds in three different bedrooms.

And that’s what makes this home.

THE UNDECIDED WRITER’S SAMPLER

by Gar Anthony Haywood

The family and I just moved into a new home, and because of that, I’m sure I have the sympathy of anyone who’s ever had to place all their earthly possessions in 487 cardboard boxes and then try to make sense of them in a new location.  My life is a living hell of U-Haul boxes right now, so the time to do a real, honest-to-goodness Murderati post just isn’t there.

However…

I would like to take this opportunity to seek your opinion on something.  The following are excerpts from several works-in-progress that I may or may not feel inspired someday to complete.  I won’t tell you much about them — I’d rather leave you guessing as to what these planned books will eventually be about, if in fact I ever get around to re-visiting them.

I think they all have promise, but only one or two deserve the time and attention it would take to round them out into full manuscripts.

Give them a read and let me know what you think.

EXCERPT ONE:

Fourteen years after he was sent to Corcoran State Prison for a murder he didn’t commit, Woodman Graham came home to discover that the only thing he’d left behind that time hadn’t changed forever were his clothes.  Every stitch he owned was still there in his closet, either hanging enshrouded in dry cleaning bags or folded up neatly in moving boxes: shirts, slacks, underwear—even his three pair of shoes.

Of course, nothing but the shoes fit him right anymore.  The last time they’d put him on a scale at Corcoran, Woodman had weighed a meager 207 pounds, more than twenty pounds lighter than he’d been going in, so the old shirts hung on him now like bed sheets with buttons and the pants slid off his waist to his hips, leaving the cuffs to drag aimlessly around his feet on the floor.  Woodman didn’t care.  Aside from his late mother’s house in Inglewood, and the few pieces of furniture his ex-wife Fiona had seen fit to abandon there before departing, the clothes were all he had, so he resigned himself to wearing them until a few months of eating real food for the first time in over a decade could render his 6′-3″ frame formidable again.

For his first few weeks of freedom, his older sister Patrice, who’d packed the clothes and taken care of the house in his absence, was a fixture at his door, as committed to keeping him alive and well as it was possible for anyone not bound by the Hippocratic oath to be.  The big woman’s constant delivery of food and solace were an intrusion upon his depression Woodman found mildly annoying, but he knew better than to ask her to desist.  No one had fought harder for his release from prison than Patrice, nor taken the injustice of his incarceration more personally.  She was entitled to dote upon him, and he was obligated to tolerate the attention.  He knew she would tire of encouraging him soon enough, in any case; all he had to do was wait her out.

Before his arrest, Woodman had been a musician.  A jazz pianist and sessions player who made a comfortable living backing others in the recording studios of Hollywood.  He modeled himself after Bill Evans and was often compared to Bud Powell, and he always had work.  But life behind bars, and the ever-increasing prospect of dying behind them, had eventually stripped him of his need to play, and it had been over six years now since his hands had last touched a piano, despite the fact his old upright was still in the house.  Either to be generous, or to save herself the bother of moving it, Fiona had left the instrument in its customary place in the living room, where it sat all day and night, beckoning to him.  It may as well have been an old couch; all Woodman could do now was sit on the bench before it, arms down at his sides, afraid to so much as raise the lid away from its ivory keys.

He didn’t know if he could make music—of any kind—ever again.

EXCERPT TWO:

Journal Entry – Friday, April 4

She doesn’t know how beautiful she is.  Somehow, they never do.

They look in the mirror and see only the negative.  The gathering lines in the corner of an eye, the soft folds of fat ringing the waist above the hips.  The nose that isn’t quite, the lips that don’t measure up, breasts too big or too small or too much the victim of time.

I don’t see any of that.

I have a gift.  The capacity to find the one physical attribute every woman possesses which can make the heart race or the breath catch in one’s throat.  Hair like woven silk, a mouth that pleads to be kissed, a throat as smooth and elegant as a swan’s.  The magic is always there.  Always.  It doesn’t matter that the rest of her is ordinary.  Her special beauty shines like a beacon for me, and alas, all too often, for me alone.

Some people would say I’m cursed.

But if it is a curse, it is only because my eagerness to appreciate that which would otherwise go unnoticed is so often misconstrued.  It is not an illness or a disease, nor the symptoms of an untreated psychosis, as some so-called medical experts have suggested.  It is merely an added level of perception I share with very few.  I am stronger for it, not weaker, and had C only understood this, she would be alive today.  Fearing nothing, needing nothing.

The new one will be different.

She is smarter than C.  More self-assured.  Like C, she will probably reject me at first, unsure of what to do with someone who could love her so unconditionally.  But then she will do what C ultimately could not, allow me to prove that my devotion masks no sinister intent, and she will open her heart to me.  Gladly, willingly.  She will learn to love me as I love her, and I will at last have found a partner worthy of all the goodness I have to offer.

She must.

Darkness, after all, is her only alternative.

EXCERPT THREE:

The woman formerly known as “the Queen” was driving out to the clinic for her seventh chemo treatment in eight weeks when she decided to go to Los Angeles instead.  From downtown Scottsdale, it was only a difference of about four hundred miles.

Exactly sixty-one days earlier, Margaret Dodd’s oncologist Henry Chow had calmly informed her that she had developed something called an “infiltrating ductal carcinoma,” which turned out to be nothing more than just long-winded doctor-speak for the Big C.  The next thing Margaret knew, Chow was cutting a tumor out of her left breast the size of a dwarf’s fist, then following that up with a warning that the worst was most likely to come.  If surgery had been the end of it, she might not have found this trip to Los Angeles necessary, but surgery was just the beginning of the treatment plan Chow had in mind for her.  Weeks of chemo and radiation therapy were next.

She was only fifty-two years old, shit!  Naturally, she was terrified, but it wasn’t death that scared her the most.  It was the flight from death that really spooked her, this convoluted game of chicken the doctors encouraged you to play with whatever disease was chasing you down without ever offering you anything in the way of a guarantee.  Maybe fighting would work and maybe it wouldn’t—who could say?  Just swallow the poison pill and hope for the best, or pray for a miracle if you were so inclined.

Margaret had seen firsthand what could happen when the tease of remission refused to take root.  She had lost her father and her sister Daphne in just that way.  Between all the chemo and the radiation, they’d died a thousand deaths instead of just the one that eventually took them.  Quality of life went all to hell.  Food, sex, love—nothing gave them pleasure anymore.  Hairless and withered, her father and sister had lived their last days in equally depressing hospital rooms, each nearly lacking the strength to breathe, let alone hold a loved one’s hand tight enough to signal a final good-bye.

Margaret wasn’t going out that way.

For all of Chow’s assurances that her particular type of cancer was beatable, she could see this thing ending only one way, with an IV needle stuck in a withered arm she’d never have the power to move again, and six sessions of chemo into her post-operative treatment plan, this vision of her passing had finally driven her over the edge.  Yes, she was afraid, but she was also pissed, angry enough to chew nails and spit them out as bullets, and the combination of rage and terror she’d been fighting to quash over the last few weeks had become a beast she could no longer contain.

Weary of the vicious circle of lethargy and depression the chemo and her meds had her running in like a hamster on an exercise wheel, thoughts of her old California stomping grounds, and the plethora of scumbags she had come to know there, had been running roughshod through Margaret’s mind.  She wasn’t big on retrospection but hell if the prospect of death didn’t move a person to dwell on her every little fuck up and regret.  Like most people in her former profession, when she had retired five years ago, she’d done so with the sharp bones of a few demoralizing defeats sticking in her craw, and on those rare occasions she gave them any thought, the bitter aftertaste they left behind was still there.  She lost little sleep over such things because they were immutable, moments in time she could neither revisit nor undo, but they irked her all the same.

Now she had an excuse to entertain the wild idea of doing something about them.  She had cancer, and a better than average chance of dying sooner rather than later, and suddenly she couldn’t see where she’d have a damn thing to lose by spending the next few days of her life—maybe even the last few—trying to settle some old scores.  She was, after all, utterly alone in the world.  She had no husband or steady boyfriend to speak of and Early, her only child, lived seven hundred miles away in San Francisco.  If she got herself accidently killed on purpose before her cancer could do the job for her, who would be around to care?  And what in the way of a future truly worth living would she be giving up?  Twenty or so more years of golf and volunteer work at St. Michael’s?

No.  Margaret Dodd wasn’t built for a life in the slow lane and she sure as hell wasn’t built for dying in it.  A big, glorious, blood-red finish—that was what she’d always wanted when she’d been on the job, and that was what she wanted now.  That, and the satisfaction of blowing up some deserving asswipe from out of her past in the bargain.  God knew there were plenty to choose from.

I CAN’T FORGET THIS BOOK

by Gar Anthony Haywood

I’ve written more than once about the great fear I have of being forgotten, of all my work fading from the reading public’s consciousness like a half-remembered dream the moment I take my last breath.  Or maybe even sooner, while I’m still around to suffer the indignity.

I have this fear because I’ve seen it happen to others; talented writers who wrote great books but, for one reason or another, missed out on the fame and fortune they deserved.  Their names were known to readers for a while and then, suddenly, they weren’t.  One day, these people just vanished from what I often refer to as “the conversation” and were never heard from again.

This is what happened to a damn fine crime writer named Terri White, and hell if I can understand it.

One of the greatest compliments a book reviewer ever paid to something I’d written was calling it “the best Elmore Leonard rip-off since Elmore Leonard.”  Publisher’s Weekly was referring to my 2003 standalone MAN EATER, but the reviewer could have easily said the same thing fifteen years earlier about White’s terrific crime novel, FAULT LINES (Mysterious Press, 1988).  I have yet to come across another book that nails the quirky, deceptively scary flavor of a Dutch Leonard novel quite so flawlessly.

True to the often-imitated but rarely duplicated Leonard formula, White populated FAULT LINES with a cast of off-beat, complex characters and then spun a tale in which their separate misadventures would ultimately collide.

Bryan Murphy is an ex-New York City cop who, forced into early retirement by a near-fatal heart attack, now makes his home in Los Angeles, where’s he’s bored to tears.  So bored that he strikes up an uneasy friendship with an ex-con named Tray Detaglio, who’s only recently gotten out of the joint.  Detaglio’s trying to find his ex-girlfriend Kathryn Daily, a cold-hearted hustler and pole dancer who claimed to be pregnant with his child when he last heard from her, but his clumsy attempts to track her down only land him in jail.  When Murphy bails him out, being the only person Detaglio could think of to call for help, the two strike a deal: Murphy will look for Kathryn if Detaglio will take over some home repair work Murphy’s weak heart prevents him from tackling himself.

Meanwhile, Kathryn—having aborted Detaglio’s child years ago—is shacking up elsewhere in L.A. with two more ex-cons, former cellmates Dwight St. John and Chris Moore.  Psychotic career criminals who make  Detaglio look like an altar boy, Dwight and Chris seem resigned to pulling one stupid, meaningless liquor store robbery after another, until Kathryn offers them a chance at something much better: the Big, once-in-a-lifetime heist they’ve always dreamed of pulling.  One of Kathryn’s many ex-boyfriends, post-Tray Detaglio, was mobbed-up drug dealer Michael Stanzione, and before she left him, she learned all there was to know about where Stanzione likes to keep a cool half-million in his palatial Beverly Hills mansion. . .

Get it?  It’s a terrific set-up, and White works it all to perfection.  Tight plotting, solid dialogue—it’s all here.  But Kathryn—hot, sexy and oh, so wicked—is the poisoned straw that stirs this drink.  Bedding and playing all three men at once—Dwight, Chris and Tray—as if they were suckers in a shell game, she leads the reader on a hardcore thrill ride reminiscent of. . .

Well, yeah: a great Elmore Leonard novel.

By now, writers “doing” Dutch Leonard are a dime a dozen; you can find Leonard knock-offs wherever books are sold.  But great ones?  Those are still a rare commodity, which is why FAULT LINES to this day continues to occupy a spot in my top ten of best crime novels ever read.  The book should have made its author famous.  It’s that unforgettable.

Or at least, it has been for me.

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