Category Archives: J.D. Rhoades

Sooner or Later It All Gets Real


by J.D. Rhoades

I have to confess, I’ve been riveted by and keep coming back to the photograph above. In case you’re not familiar with the photo, this is the Presdent of the US and his advisers watching, in real time, the operation that took down Osama bin Ladin.  A larger, hi-res version is here.

I don’t intend to get into the politics of this, but rather into the human element. Look at that photo for a moment. Look at the  tension in those faces as they watch the whole thing go down, as it happens, knowing that the dice have been rolled and knowing that if the whole thing goes to pieces, there’s not going to be a whole hell of a lot they can do about it.

Now imagine trying to put that scene down as words on a page.

There are excellent reasons why we most likely will never see the faces of the Navy SEALS who carried out the operation. We’d basically be putting a target on their backs and the backs of their families if we did that. But damn, I sure would like to. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you like to know? Would they be calm? Determined? Grim? Furious? Nervous? Scared shitless? I’d love to be able to get into their heads, then write it all down.

It’s rather ironic that I became so transfixed by these thoughts on the same day I made my flippant comment on Tess’ post that “Reality’s boring, that’s why I read.” Because right there, in that picture, is some reality that could come right out one of the very thrillers we read and write.

Problem is, far too many thrillers–some of them extremely popular–feature heroes I can never quite accept as human. Instead of realistic people who feel fear, doubt, tension, you get Bolt Studly, the mavericky, two-fisted, fearless ex-Navy Seal/CIA Agent whose only flaw is that he rushes headlong into the action. I much prefer my action heroes with some vulnerabilties: Charlie Fox, Jonathan Quinn, John Rain, to name just a few. Even Jack Reacher got a lot more interesting when he began to face the possibility he could lose.

Living where I do (right next to Fort Bragg, headquarters of JSOC) and doing what I do as a day job, I’ve met quite a few Special Ops soldiers. No SEALS, but plenty of Rangers and Green Berets, and a few guys I’m pretty sure were Deltas (the haircuts are the giveaway. You meet a guy around here who says he’s in the Army and he’s got hair down over his ears, you’re most likely talking to someone from Delta). They pretty much run the gamut you’d expect of any group of young men: some are great guys, some are blustering assholes. Some are quiet, unassuming family men, some have, shall we say, messy personal lives. A very few, quite frankly, I’m concerned to have walking around loose. And, I imagine, you get the same spectrum in SEAL Team Six, the people who took down OBL.

Which, to me, makes the real life story even more amazing. Because these guys aren’t perfect Bolt Studly (even though some of them may swear to you  that they are, especially if you’re female). They’re not Superman. They’re real. They’re three dimensional. They’re human. Admittedly, humans who can shoot the pips off a playing card at 100 yards, but still, they worry, they fear, they get the shakes. Then they do the job anyway.

For that, we thank them.

What The Heck Do They WANT?

by J.D. Rhoades

A few days ago, a tweet (or maybe it was a blog post) from the extremely cool and uber-talented paranormal suspense writer Kat Richardson pointed me at this cartoon from fantasy writer Jim C. Hines:

It was one of those observations that’s been, in the words of Jimmy Buffett, “so simple it plumb evaded me.”

Sometimes the discussion on book blogs can get a little, as they say, “inside baseball“. Some of us talk about e-publishing and platforms, royalty rates and market shares of various formats. Some of us talk  about process and outlining and marketing,  and we make predictions and projections and pontifications about the future of publishing. It’s interesting to writers, both currently published and pre-published,  because knowing about and discussing this stuff is part of our business.  It’s interesting to some readers, because they like seeing how the business works (or sometimes how it doesn’t work).

But I get the feeling that there is a larger mass of readers out there–Hines’ “average readers”– who couldn’t really care less about why Amanda Hocking went with St. Martin’s or whether Barry Eisler made the right decision to self-pub or whether Joe Konrath is the Antichrist (answer: probably not). They may not even read book blogs, and it’s highly doubtful they read Publisher’s Weekly or Galleycat. They’re the equivalent of Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority”: the “real’ Non-“elite” folks who  every politician of every stripe claims they  represent. 

Which leads us to the question: as authors, how do we reach these people? And what the heck do they want?

The knee-jerk response “they want a good book” is glib but empty, because no one agrees what consitutes a “good book,” at least until enough people like something enough that it sells a great number of copies. In that case, however, there’ll probably be a considerable number of people who’ll tell you that no, that top-ten bestseller is not a good book; it is, in fact, absolute crap, while this book over here that sold less than a thousand copies is, actually, the best book ever written.

It gets even more confusing when you begin to realize that the people whose job it is to determine what that great silent-but-hungry mass of consumers wants often don’t really know either. We’ve all heard the multitude of stories about writers rejected by dozens of publishers who went on to become bestsellers. And how many times have we seen the author that was supposed to be the Next Big Thing in publishing turn out to be the literary equivalent of the Segway? (You remember the Segway. It was supposed to be the future of personal transportation, “transforming the way you work, play and live,” according to the company’s website. So, do you own one?)



Even some of the things you’d think would be reliable predictors of popular success sometimes fail us. Our Alex has brilliantly explained the idea of “high concept”: those ideas that have already staked out a place in our “mental real estate” so that when you see one, you go “Yes. That. Want that.”

 As an example, she uses PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. Because everyone knows pirates, right? They’re cool.  Everyone wants to see a movie about pirates. So explain to me why POTC became a franchise while 1985’s CUTTHROAT ISLAND bombed so badly that it took Carolco Studios down with it.


It even has a monkey, for Chrissakes!

Likewise, one series of  YA books about young wizards at a magical academy spawned multiple sequels and made its author one of the richest women in the world; another, earlier one…well, they’re doing okay, but they didn’t make Diane Duane a millionaire, more’s the pity.



Yes, that “average reader” (or viewer) is an enigmatic critter. They want something just like something else, only different, and every now and then they want something really different.   The only way they speak is with their cash or plastic, and they seem to be saying something different all the time.

So, since no one really knows what’s going to be big and what’s going to bomb, what are we to do? Why, whatever makes us happy and gives us pleasure to write. Unless you can tell me what readers really want….


Hey, Kids, Let’s Put On a Show!

by J.D. Rhoades

Recently, the publishing news website Galleycat reported that multi-million-bestselling novelist Stephen King and legacy rocker John  Mellencamp had teamed up to write a musical. The show, titled Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, “is based on the real 1957 deaths of two brothers and a young girl. Mellencamp is in charge of the ‘roots and blues-tinged score.’ ” 

Well, you know, why not? I mean, if U2 can make a horrendously expensive and insanely hazardous Broadway show based on Spider-Man, who’s to say King and Mellencamp can’t make a major hit? They’ve even played together before:


(This is, apparently, the kind of cool shit you get to do when you’re Stephen King).

Admittedly, “the real 1957 deaths of two brothers and a young girl” does not sound like the kind of subject matter to make for toe-tappin’ musical theater, but whern you think about it, there’s a lot of dark stuff and killing in musicals. Look at Porgy and Bess. Look at West Side Story.  Hell, look at Lion King (so I don’t have to.)

Musicals are huge these days. A quick glance at last years offerings shows that there were musicals based on The Addams Family (with Nathan Lane as Gomez and Bebe Neuwirth as Mortica, because apparently there is a law on Broadway that Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth must be employed at all times);  Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown; and, (Lord give me strength) Love Story.  I guess if you’re trying to get that all important tourist dollar into  your theater on the Great White Way, you just can’t count on packin’ ’em in with Long Day’s Journey Into Night or The Cherry Orchard, unless you set them to music.

Which of course, raises the question: why shouldn’t we jump on this bandwagon? We’ve got some musicians in our midst, and I sing a little. How about So Close the Hand of Death–The Musical, featuring a show stopping rendition by Hugh Jackman of “The Great Pretender”? Or Zoe, we could always do Charlie-The Charlie Fox Musical (“kinda young, kinda wow”!)

The possibilities are endless. Maybe when Mellencamp and King get their show up and running, I can get Mellencamp to pen a couple of tunes for the musical version of  Lawyers, Guns and Money:

(The lights come up on the  southern town of Blainesville, a once prosperous  but now fading mill town. Enter ANDY COLE, stage right He sings to the tune of Melencamp’s “Small Town”):

ANDY: Well I was born in a small town
Practice law in this small town,
Think I got life knocked in this small town.
But there’s a lot of which I’m unaware….

(Enter local crime boss VOIT FAIRGREEN from stage left):

VOIT: I run the crime in this small town,
Make a lot of cash in this small town,
Know where the bodies are buried in this small town,
Cause I’m the one that put them there…

(Then the Chorus of TOWNSPEOPLE enters):

Well a barmaid’s been murdered and Andy’s been hired

To make sure Voit’s brother Danny gets away

 But there’s a lot of secrets hidden in this small town

And when they come out there’ll be hell to pay…


Okay, maybe I’d better leave this stuff to the pros.

So tell me–which of your books–or your favorite books– would you like to see done as a musical? Who’d star? And what woud the score and songs be like? Show tunes? Blues? Rock opera? Most importantly, Where would Nathan Lane or Bebe Neuwirth fit in?

C’mon, kids! Let’s put on a show!


We Don’t Know Jack

Traditional publishing (aka Big Publishing, Legacy Publishing, etc) is in decline, probably on its way out entirely, or at the very least, doomed to become a niche market like vinly records.   You only have to look at the success of independent e-publishers like Amanda Hocking to see that. They’re dinosaurs and their business model is bad for writers. The only sane thing to do is e-publish.


Amanda Hocking, the darling of the self-publishing world, has been shopping a four-book series to major publishers, attracting bids of well over $1 million for world English rights, two publishing executives said.

People who think they’re going to duplicate the sucess of outliers like Hocking and J.A. Konrath are fooling themselves.  Traditional/Big/Legacy publishing may have its problems, but it can still do things that self-publishing can’t. The only sane thing to do is try to find a traditional publisher and let  them handle the whole package, including e-books.


 In a recent interview, novelist Barry Eisler said he turned down a $500,000 book deal and decided to self-publish his work.

The revelation came in a 13,000-word interview with novelist Joe Konrath. Eisler last published with Ballantine Books, but his self-publishing experiment began with “The Lost Coast,” a $2.99 short story. Konrath quipped: ‘Barry Eisler Walks Away From $500,000 Deal to Self-Pub’ is going to be one for the Twitter Hall of Fame.”

So who’s crazy? The young woman who’s had enormous success with electronic self-publishing who’s now seeking to publish with a “Big 6” house, or the NYT bestseller who’s decided to forsake the comfortable traditional route and light out for the digital frontier on his own?

Damned if I know. Right now there are an awful lot of self-proclaimed “experts” telling us with complete confidence how the publishing business is going to go and where we’ll be in the next ten years. But, you know, “experts” in publishing  have been confidently predicting what the public wants for decades. Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM got turned down by a publisher because “it is impossible to sell talking-animal stories in America.” Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel was told his first book was  “too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” And so on.

Meanwhile, remember John Twelve Hawks? He was supposed to be the Next Big Thing. THE TRAVELER was supposed to be the next DA VINCI CODE. Heard much about him lately? Me neither.

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote here about a panel of industry experts who’d frustrated a conference audience because, in the words of a commenter who was there, “there wasn’t an ounce of new think going on.” In that piece, I  quoted one of my favorite thinkers on New Media, Dr. Clay Shirky of NYU:

During the wrenching transition to print, experiments were only revealed in retrospect to be turning points. Aldus Manutius, the Venetian printer and publisher, invented the smaller octavo volume along with italic type. What seemed like a minor change — take a book and shrink it — was in retrospect a key innovation in the democratization of the printed word. As books became cheaper, more portable, and therefore more desirable, they expanded the market for all publishers, heightening the value of literacy still further.

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing.

Two years down the road, and while there are any number of opinions delivered with complete assurance, I can’t say that we’re any closer to really knowing any of the answers. We don’t know for sure what big changes are going to stall, or which small changes are going to spread. People are going every which way, and no one knows if Eisler or Hocking has made the smarter decision…or if, indeed, one can be said to be smarter than the other.

There is this to consider, though: in the end, decisions about what’s going to sell are always made by the buyers, the readers, not by the so-called experts. Decisions on what works are made from the ground up,  not the top down, no matter how we may convince ourselves otherwise. 

So, ‘Rati: seeing as how we’re all experts, and all fools, tell us: who’s crazier, Eisler or Hocking? Are they both crazy like foxes? Look into your crystal spheres, cast the bones,  and tell us: what’s the future hold? Not what you want it to be…what’s it going to be?

Lay some prophecy on me, brothers and sisters.


 by J.D. Rhoades

As writers, we all hit a wall at some point, that horrible moment when it looks as if the damn thing is never going to get done, it’s a huge waste of time, why did I ever think I was a writer, I wish that giant asteroid would just hurry up and wipe out all life on Earth. etc. And, we’re told, to be a real writer. you have to push on through that wall and finish the work.

But according to  this article in the New York Times on  “writers who abandon novels”,  it seems that  lot of, not just “real writers”, but famous,  talented and respected ones,  have started works they never finished for various reasons.

Michael Chabon leads off, talking about how he abandoned his second novel, “Fountain City,” after five and a half years of work because, he says,  he could feel it  “erasing me, breaking me down, burying me alive, drowning me, kicking me down the stairs.” (Wait, that’s not how it’s supposed to feel?)

Some writers who admit to having dropped projects might surprise you. Stephanie Meyer apparently stopped work on her “Twilight”  spin-off  “Midnight Sun” after 12 chapters were leaked to the Internet because,  she says,  she felt “too  sad.” Whether she was angry about the leak or the quality of the work is not specified in the NYT  article.  Harper Lee allegedly quit work on  her second novel, tentatively titled “The Long Goodbye,” after “To Kill A Mockingbird” became such a runaway success.  “When you’re at the top,” she told a relative, “there’s only one way to go.” Maybe she also got “too sad” after realizing Raymond Chandler had already written a book by  that name.

Well, if these people can admit to abandoning their children, I guess I can. Some of my foundlings include:

DEVILS AND DUST- the fourth Jack Keller novel and the wrap up of the series. where Jack has to go looking for his friend and sometime sidekick Oscar Sanchez, who’s disappeared while looking for his sons who went missing while trying to enter the country.

Reason for abandoning: lack of enthusiasm for another Keller novel on the part of my publisher.

DYING BREED- another “redneck noir”  novel about two young men who grew up in foster care. One turned out okay, one went bad, but the “bad” one shanghais the “good” one into a doomed plan to rescue their mother from the clutches of her boyfriend, a small time drug dealer trying to go big time by ripping off his sadistic boss.  Pretty soon everyone’s in way over their heads, including a couple of cynical DEA agents on the trail of said boss.

Reason for abandoning: My agent said, and I quote: “I don’t love it.” I did end up lifting the twin redneck bodyguards, Liberty and Justice,  and using them in LAWYERS, GUNS AND MONEY, where they’re not quite as evil, but still scary.

THE KING’S JUSTICE-definitely not the sort of thing you’ve come to expect from me, this was a medieval-fantasy post-apocalyptic mystery. Several hundred years ago, a  war that culminated in the magical equivalent of a nuclear exchange killed every wizard on both sides, destroyed most of their armies,  and left a huge swath of territory not only devastated, but polluted by residual and unpredictable magic. Now, in time of peace,  the area is beginning to be re-settled, but it’s still a wild  frontier. The King’s authority is maintained by travelling Justices such as the portly, jolly, and shrewd Master Justice Taras Flinn, who travels from town to town  with his Watson-like apprentice and their valet Jacky (a former thief),  holding court, solving mysteries, and looking for the next inn where he can get a decent meal and a tankard of ale.

Reason for abandoning: I’d put a couple of short Taras Flinn pieces up on an early e-pubbing site called MightyWords and gotten some good feedback, (and a couple of dollars). Then MightyWords went toes-up, I  started writing The Devil’s Right Hand, and that’s the one that sold. (And just a reminder: The Devil’s Right Hand  is now available again for Kindle, Nook, etc. for only  .99 for a limited time).

LIGHTFOOT: this sci-fi adventure featuring a lone-wolf, wisecracking space-freighter captain was abandoned because it sucked. I mean really sucked. It taught me that I absolutely wasn’t ready to write SF. Let us draw a veil over it and speak of it no more.

The New York Times article mentions that sometimes “dead” projects rise again: Stephen King’s recent “Under the Dome,”  for example,  was an abandoned project from 30 years ago that finally clicked.

So who knows? One day one of these projects may see the light of day. Or maybe not.

So, fellow ‘Rati, spill: what abandoned children are sitting on your hard drive? Have you ever looted them for parts, characters, dialogue, etc.  for use on other works? Anything you might ever go back to, or is there a project that you feel needs a stake through its heart to stay dead? Finally,  when,  if at all, do you know it’s time to let a failing project go? 



by J.D. Rhoades


It wasn’t  exactly a huge shock when the Borders mega-bookstore chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week. The company had been circling the drain for a while. Still, it was another blow to an industry that’s had at least its share, and maybe more,  of those lately.

The reasons for the Borders filing are numerous and complicated, in accordance with Rhoades’ First Law of History: everything happens for more than one reason. Those reasons are discussed in detail, by some very smart minds, here and here.


The big question on the minds of writers and readers, though,  is most likely: what does this mean in the long run? As a judge who pulled me aside at a break in court on Tuesday asked me, “do you think the printed word is dead?”

I told him I hoped not, and I meant it. Like a lot of you, I like the physical feel of a book in my hand. But we do have to face the fact: it’s a shrinking market, and not just because a lot of the physical locations to buy books are closing their doors. Not just Borders; seems like hardly a month goes by when we don’t hear of  a beloved indie bookstore shutting up shop, and even the venerable Powell’s is laying people off.

The immediate effect of the Borders bankruptcy will be that a lot of  people aren’t getting paid, at least not right away, such as distributors and publishers.  In fact, Borders had started “delaying” payments to publishers in January and trying to turn their outstanding obligations into loans, sort of like calling up the power company and asking if you can just turn the January heating bill into an IOU.  It worked about as well as you might expect, and caused some distributors to stop shipping to them. Now, of course, they’re not even getting the IOU; they’ll get what the bankruptcy court says they’ll get, when the court determines they’ll get it, which might be never in some cases. That can’t help but put extra strain on already stressed players in this business, particularly  small publishing houses that were on thin profit margins to begin with. As for the big publishers…well, they’ll most likely survive. But they’ll be feeling the pinch.

Unfortunately, pinched corporations become more risk-averse, not less. When you consider that offering a writer a lot of cash for his or her work always carries a substantial about of risk, that’s bad news for authors who aren’t already bestsellers or who don’t have ready-made name recognition. Like, say, Snooki.


To paraphrase the classic line from PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN,  Nicole Polizzi, aka Snooki,  may be one of the worst people you’ve ever heard of, but you have heard of her. Therefore, the tiny trollop from Jersey Shore  gets a book deal, despite having only read, by her own admission, two books in her life (DEAR JOHN and TWILIGHT). They had to figure on big sales because, Lord knows,  we all love a good trainwreck, and when it comes to trainwrecks, Snooki makes the Wreck of the Old 97 look like a kid’s Lionel HO-gauge  jumping the track.


Oh, sure, I’ve considered  “being a professional trainwreck” as a marketing strategy. I can do drunk and disorderly, believe me. I’m just not sure I can sustain it for long enough or loud enough to get a book deal out of it before I get thrown in jail. But I digress.

Absent that strategy, though, how do we get our work out to readers in a world where a writer as talented and experienced as veteran SF author Kristine Kathryn Rusch can have an experience like this with her book DAVY MOSS:

The book has made the rounds of traditional publishing (and then some!) and it garnered some of the best rejections of my career. Editors loved this book, but the sales force at Big Publishing hated the very concept.  Books about music don’t sell, they said, and then they’d force the editor to pass.

(Boy, did THAT sound familiar!)

As readers, how do you find a wide diversity of content in a world where a nearly illiterate reality show star  pulls down seven figures and Kristine Kathryn Rusch gets the old, “wow, we love this, but we pass”?

If you’re rolling your eyes and thinking “Oh lord, here comes the bit about e-books…” Well, you’re partially right. Because the world where Rusch gets turned down on a book that even the people doing the turning down admit is good is also a world where fantasy writer Amanda Hocking, online,   sells 99,000 e-books, at 2.99 apiece,  in December alone.

I have to admit that figure staggered me, especially when you consider that writers make more of a percentage on self-published e-books than they do on traditionally published paper books. I’ve never read Hocking. She may be dreadful, she may be the second coming of Hemingway. But as a purely business proposition, it seems to me that, as writers,  we’d be  fools to turn our backs on a market with that kind of hunger. And say, for the sake of argument, that Hocking really is a dreadul writer. Well, I still think I’m pretty good…so how much better could I do?

As noted above, Borders went toes up for a variety of reasons, but we can’t discount the importance of this one: while Borders tried to diversify by expanding things like CD and movie sales, they were diversifying into formats that were already being threatened by cheap, convenient, and quick downloads. While there are a lot of people, including myself, who love the experience of browsing  through books or CDs, we all have to face the fact that there are an awful lot of people out there who want to be able to get a book without having to get out of their jammies, jump in the car and drive down to the store. If that book also happens to be low in price, they’ll be more likely to buy, and read.


Some may call people like that “couch potatoes” and “cheap bastards.” I  call them potential readers. Here’s Rusch, again:


I personally want readers and I want as many readers as possible.  More readers equal more money—of course—but more readers also equal a long-term career.  If my book is in print from a Big Publisher, then theoretically the book is attracting readers.  If my book is in print from my self-publishing arm or an indie publisher, then theoretically the book is attracting readers. And that, my friends, is really what matters.


So, I’m not turning my back entirely on traditional publishing. I’ll keep submitting, and I’ll never stop browsing the bookstores (or trying to get my work into them). 


But in the meantime, I’m diversifying. I’ve repackaged my e-pubbed novel STORM SURGE with a snazzy new cover, by new Zealand artist Jeroen ten Berge,






and my new one, LAWYERS GUNS AND MONEY, goes live on Amazon and Smashwords  today.



After this, the backlist will be going up, starting with the book that began it all, THE DEVIL’S RIGHT HAND.


Hey, if that fails, I can always go the Snooki route.



Great Expectations, or, Let Me Take You To the Movies II

by J.D. Rhoades

This past weekend, I finally got around to seeing THE KILLER INSIDE ME, in which Casey Affleck starred as Jim Thompson’s sociopathic sheriff Lou Ford. Not only that, I got to see it on the brand spanking new Blu-Ray player I’d gotten for my birthday (thanks, hon!).

Seeing the movie  reminded me that I’d written about it back in June as one of the films I’d been looking forward to seeing over the summer. Well, you know how it is. Best laid plans an all that. But I did end up seeing it, as well as most of the other ones on the list. I went back and looked at that June 2 post, just  to see…how did my expecatations hold up?


What I said at the time: I didn’t think Affleck could pull off Patrick Kenzie in GONE BABY GONE, but damned if he didn’t do it, and I do love me some Jim Thompson. And it’s got Jessica Alba, apparently getting nekkid. So this one’s on my list.

    Yes, Jessica does get nekkid, as does Kate Hudson, and they both get way kinky with Casey Affleck. It was a pretty faithful adaptation of Thompson’s book, which means it was dark, twisted, nasty, and one should not expect anything even close to a happy ending. Some of the violence was difficult to watch, but then, it was supposed to be. The people who decried the movie for its portrayal of violence against women were, I think, missing the point. Yes, it was ugly. Ford is an ugly character who does ugly things.

So how did I like it? Well, I reacted to it the way I do to Thompson on the page: I was horrified, but couldn’t look away. My only complaint was Affleck’s high, grating Texas twang, which came close to sounding whiny.


What I said at the time: Oh boy oh boy oh boy. I cannot wait for this movie. I don’t know anything about the director or any of the near-unknowns starring in it, but  Daniel Woodrell’s book was as dark and brutal a slice of redneck noir as you’ll find anywhere. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it as a light and frothy date movie.

       This movie was freakin’ awesome, from the Oscar-worthy performances of Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes, to the absolutely note-perfect re-creation of the lives of the desperate and dirt-poor in the rural South. No, definitely not a light and frothy date movie, but the distilled essence of redenck noir. Riveting. 


What I said at the time:  Why? Why does this this movie exist? What was wrong with the original (the only movie to star two future state governors) that someone felt it needed to be remade? Is there any way Adrian Brody can pull off deathless lines like “If eet bleeds, ve can kill eet” and “GET TO DA CHOPPAAAH!” with the same panache as the Governator? We think not.

Okay, Adrian Brody’s no Ahnuld, and no one in the band of killers dropped onto the Predator Planet to provide sport for the dreadlocked aliens possesses  the sheer badassery of Jesse Ventura or even Bill Duke (although the always wonderful Danny Trejo comes close, he’s out of the move far too soon). No fall-on-the-floor funny lines like the ones in the original, although there are some sly references to other movies sprinkled throughout. Still, all in all, a decent action flick, and better than I expected.


What I said at the time: Looks an awful lot like a rip-off of the 1982 film MY FAVORITE YEAR, another movie about a hapless underling trying to keep a wacked out, substance-abusing  star together long enough to make the big show. Russell Brand plays the Peter O’Toole role in the update, and while Brand’s no O’Toole, he’s still pretty damn funny, as is Jonah Hill. A definite maybe.

I laughed. Sometimes I laughed hard. The leads did not disappoint, and some of the send-ups of rock-star excess were a scream, like Brand’s disastrous “African Child” video, which one magazine called “the worst thing to happen to Africa since apartheid.” And who  the hell knew that Sean Combs/Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/whatever could be so funny? I walked around for days singing “stroke the furry wall…”


What I said at the time: How could this possibly go wrong? Well, plenty of ways actually.  It could be a mess. It could also be the most brain-meltingly awesome movie ever. I have got to be there to find out.

Not a disaster, but not brain-meltingly awesome, either. Mostly Stallone, with a little Statham, while the other action stars weren’t’ really given enough chance to shine, especially Jet li, who was just wasted here. Competent, but disappointing considering its potential.

So what have you read/seen/listened to in the past few months that either exceeded or disappointed your expectations? 

Music, Music Everywhere

by J.D. Rhoades


As I’ve mentioned before, I’m one of those people who likes to have some music on when I write. For one thing, having the headphones on is good for drowning out the other noises in the house. There’s also something about music that tickles the creative lobes of my brain and stimulates better writing.

One of the things that’s really delighted me about the Internet in recent years is the way it’s expanded access to music. I’ve discovered dozens of new artists through friends posting their favorite music on Facebook or their blogs. Sites like, Rhapsody and iTumes  have made it easy–perhjaps too easy– to buy music and download it to your Mp3 player or computer with one click of a button.

But even beyond that, I’ve discovered a number of ways to find and enjoy tunes on the Web. Some do charge a subscription fee, but the majority are free. So, for those of you who may not be familiar, I’d like to share with you some of the stuff I play through the computer while I write and/or goof off.

I’m not trying to start one of those endless and tedious debates over Apple’s hegemony, but I honestly don’t understand why anyone bothers with iTunes when there’s Rhapsody. You can buy and download music at both places, but Rhapsody, for a modest monthly fee (10-15 bucks a month, depending on your plan), allows you to “stream” literally millions of songs–everything from classics to recent major releases– to your computer, as many times as you like. One plan allows you to download and play music on a variety of Rhapsody-compatible portable players for no extra charge. All you have to do is plug the player once every 30 days to renew the subscriptions. If you want to burn tracks to a CD, you do have to purchase them, but it’s only  99 cents for most tracks.  The  Rhapsody software also plays your already existing MP3 library. 

If you want to hear a mix in a specific genre or style, check out  You sign up for a free account, and then create “stations” based on your preferences. Plug in a specific artist or song and something called the “Music Genome Project” will find it, play it, then find songs with similar attributes and play those. As I write this, I’m listening to my “Neville Brothers” station, which treats me to (of course) the Nevilles, along with artists like Little Feat,  Jimmie Vaughn, The Subdudes, etc. I also have a “Deathcore Metal”  Station, a Chicago Blues station, and many more. You can spend some money and upgrade the service, but I find the free one suits me just fine. It’s also available for streaming through a variety of Wi-fi enabled BluRay players.

If you want to be the DJ, there’s always Sign in, search for a song you want to “blip”, and use it to start your own playlist. As you get more familiar with it, you can meet and subscribe to other DJs whose music you like, gather your own listeners, and save songs you hear to your own favorites. There’s even video if you want it. .

If you really want to stretch out and be adventurous,  let me recommend, It’s another free service that provides you with access to online radio stations across the world. Some of the feeds are live from broadcast stations with a ‘net presence, some are homegrown stations created by hobbyists. You can get Top 40, Country, whatever you’re into, but the worldwide natrue of the stations lets you search for and easily find some interesting stuff. For instance, I’ve lately found myself listening a lot  to Serbian pop music from Radio Desetka in Belgrade.  Wonderfully cheesy.

One of my favorite memories of my college days was hanging around and doing the occasional fill-in shift at the college radio station, WXYC-FM. College radio at the time was a blast. Volunteer student DJ’s, freed from the tyranny of commercial playlists, would play damn near anything. True, the results could be a little hit or miss, but that was part of the fun. One of my favorite jocks from those days, a guy named Keith Weston, has preserved some of the spirit of those days with his website, Deeper Into Music. The website’s banner promises “obscure songs mixed with familiar chestnuts,” which about sums it up. It’s a great mix of some of my favorite bands from back in the day mixed with some very tasty modern indie rock. Check it out.

So tell us, dear ‘Rati: where, if at all, do you go to find music on the ‘net? Any goodies you’d like to share?

Spin Offs

by J.D. Rhoades


So I’m looking through my page of bookmarked entertainment sites, scoping out the latest movie news, when what to my wandering eyes should appear but a story about an upcoming project from Judd Apatow. Apatow, in my opinion, is responsible for some of the funniest movies in the last decade, movies like  ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY, THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN, SUPERBAD, and KNOCKED UP. (Comedy being as subjective as it is, you may not agree;  in fact you may hate Apatow’s work like I hate beets, but but bear with me, this is just the background).

      Anyway, KNOCKED UP is one of those movies  I’ll watch over and over, and laugh every time. (Which is a good thing,  because it seems to be on TV constantly these days). So I was quite tickled to see that Apatow was planning another movie, set in the same fictional world, but this time featuring two supporting characters from KU,  Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann, aka Mrs. Apatow). It was not, Apatow was careful to say, a sequel. It was,  instead, a spin-off.

       While cogitating over  this news, I glanced over to the rapidly diminishing pile of the books I got for Christmas, and saw that the top one was Robert Crais’ THE FIRST RULE, the second in Crais’ books about Joe Pike,  the bad-ass sidekick of his franchise hero, Elvis Cole. In other words, another spin-off.

So this is why today, we’re going to be talking about spin-offs. (This has also been your glimpse for today into the lopsided, rusty, sprung  Pachinko machine that is my creative process).

       A spin-off is a book, series, or movie in which a supporting character from one  work gets to take center stage and tell his or her own story in another. It’s an old tradition; in fact, you could argue that THE ODYSSEY is a spin-off, being the tale of Odysseus,  who’s basically a supporting player in THE ILIAD.

    Some of my favorite books are spin-offs:

  • Twain’s THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN is, of course, spun off from THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (and is, to my mind, a much better book).
  • HUCKLEBERRY FINN has its own spin-off by another author, Jon Clinch’s FINN, which retells the events of Huck’s story from the perspective of his drunken,  brutal father, known only as Pap. Let me tell you, as bad as Pap was in the original, he’s truly horrific in FINN, but Clinch is such a gifted  writer, he makes you care about the old monster.
  • Speaking of monsters,  John Gardner’s GRENDEL tells the Beowulf story from the perspective of the doomed slayer of the Danes, who is himself dismembered and slain by the hero from out of town. Needless to say, Grendel has his own perspective on things, and it’s beautifully written as well as heartbreaking.
  • One of my favorite series of all time is the late George MacDonald Fraser’s FLASHMAN series. Harry Flashman was the villain and chief tormentor of the oh-so-good Tom Brown in Thomas Hughes’  book TOM BROWN’S SCHOOLDAYS. In the series, however, Flash Harry  ends up becoming a decorated hero, widely regarded as one of the greatest military figures of the Victorian Era, despite being exactly as Hughes described him: cowardly, sneaky, toadying, drunken, and lecherous. Much of the humor of the series comes from the fact that Flashman, who narrates the books, is wickedly honest about his own failings as well as those of the historical figures with whom he comes in contact,  from Lord Cardigan (inept commander of the Light Brigade at their famous charge, a man “too stupid to be afraid”)  to Abraham Lincoln.

      Spinoffs interest me, I think, because they take familiar characters and show them in a new light. I think there should be more of them. I’d like to see, for instance, a story told from the perspective of Sam Spade’s long suffering secretary Effie Perine. Readers of THE MALTESE FALCON may member her as the loyal, almost slavish  assistant who clearly has a thing for Sam, but that could be just  because the narrator considers Sam the hero. Effie’s got a lot of steel in her, and she’s no mean detective herself; she can tell Iva Archer’s lying about how long she’s been home because she “saw [Iva’s] clothes  where she had dumped them on a chair. Her hat and coat were underneath. Her singlette, on top was still warm. She said she’d been asleep, but she hadn’t. She had wrinkled up the bed, but the wrinkles weren’t mashed down.” This girl deserves her own book.

How about a Dennis Lehane book told by Patrick and Angie’s psycho pal Bubba Rogowksi? Ot an Ian Rankin novel  telling the story of Rebus’ frequent antagonist Big Ger Cafferty from his perspective? Would these not rock?

So, today’s questions for discussion:

1. Favorite spinoff?

2. Character you’d like to see get their own book? 

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

by J.D. Rhoades

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to retake History 11 in summer school.”

-Graffitti on the wall of a Chapel Hll, NC library rest room.


 In Roman mythology, Janus is the god of gates, doorways, beginnings and endings. He’s most often depicted as having two faces, one facing forward, the other looking back. His most obvious influence on our culture is in the name of the upcoming month, after the New Year begins at midnight Friday.

Some people recommned that we spend  New Years Eve and Day as a time for reflection on the year just past and resolutions for the year ahead. But let’s face it, those particular days are often pretty hectic, and the ony real resolution a lot of us can make on January 1st is “Well, I’m certainly never going to drink THAT again.” So I generally use the other days in the dead zone between Christmas and New Year’s for that purpose.

Looking back at the year gone by…well, it’s been a hell of a year for us here at Murderati,  in both the good and bad senses for that word. Some of us lost loved ones, some of us had career setbacks. Some of us saw things that looked like they were going to be awesome turn out to be…not so much. But some of us had things happen to us that WERE pretty awesome.

For instance, I saw a book I’d really put a lot of myself into, the book I’d been thinking about doing for a long time and finally got up the nerve to write, get passed on by just about everyone, always with that infuriating “This is a really good book, but…” response. It shook me, I confess. The recession continued to hammer my business hard, just as I’m sure it did many of you.

On the other hand, I saw my son graduate from high school, get into the college he wanted, and overcome his own serious anxieties and fears to the point where he’s thriving, and (if I may be permitted a little bragging) he nailed a 4.0 average.

And…I wrote another book, which as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, is out on submission. To quote Steve McQueen in the movie Papillon: “I’m still here, you bastards.” 

2010 was, like every year, the best of times and the worst of times.  So ‘Rati, share with us, if you feel so inclined: what  were your best and worst times of  2010?