Friday, July 29, 2011

COUNTY LINE by Bill Cameron

In Cameron's fourth novel, published June 21, Portland ex-cop Skin Kadash returns from a month's retreat, and Ruby Jane Whittaker is missing. The clues, most notably the dead drifter in RJ's bathtub, take Skin and RJ's ex, Peter McKrall, on a cross-country journey to find her.

County Line begins as a crime novel told with Skin's jaded black humor, but it unfolds into a rich exploration of RJ's guarded past. The novel's second part ambitiously jumps back and forth between key periods in RJ's life. This technique ultimately worked to keep me guessing just how large Ruby's secrets loomed.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Character Names

Today on Do Some Damage, Jay Stringer discusses how he's named characters in the past and the challenge he's facing doing the same in a different genre.

I commented:

I usually don't name my characters after anyone I know, for some of the reasons you mention. I don't want to associate characters with real people.

Other than that, I don't fret much over names. I use the name that first comes to me, and if I think I need to change it later, I do.

I believe characters make names exciting. Ian Fleming picked "James Bond" because he wanted a plain-sounding name, and yet today everyone associates Bond with high adventure. The same might be said of Han Solo.

Make the characters interesting and they will draw readers, no matter what their names are.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Finding a Character's Voice

Today on Do Some Damage, Dave White discusses his skepticism at the writer's claim to have lost a series character's voice, a skepticism that persisted until he lost Jackson Donne's voice.

"What do you writers think?" Dave asks. "Can a [character's] voice just go away?"

I commented:

I think it depends what kind of voice the character has in the first place. A distinctive, intimate, first-person voice can be tough to rediscover after writing others. By comparison, third-person characters rely less on voice.

A writer's method of drafting stories is another factor. A story can only be planned out so far. Its spontaneity comes from the voice(s) telling the story. Voices eventually deviate from plans, and if the writer doesn't follow, the story is often worse for it.

Like any style choice, there are pros and cons. You can probably stay in a character's voice if you write about him exclusively, but if you do, your overall writing may not develop much beyond that character. On the other hand, if you don't write a character for a long while--years, say--you may lose his voice.

I find it helps to make characters as well-rounded as possible, give them room to move within the lines that initially define them. The old adage is characters are consistent while people are not, but completely consistent characters--always do this, always say that--eventually get stale.

"What's he going to do in Book 15?"

Pretty much what he's done since Book 10.

I face the same issue whenever I go back to C.J. Stone. To work around it, I've made C.J. an unreliable narrator. Because the stories he tells most likely aren't the whole truth, I can change or discard details that don't serve future stories.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Do you have the Stones?

I ended up drastically revising "A Little Trouble", the C.J. Stone story I'd planned to reprint for Kindle and Nook. No longer my longest story, it's now called "SeƱora", an almost all-new tale of how C.J. got his hands on Grumman Goose Miss Liberty. Because the finished story is shorter, I'm including two reprints with it:

"Faith". C.J. agrees to fly an arms dealer into El Salvador and rendezvous with him twelve hours later. Things don't look good for the plan when both men are arrested. Originally published in 2007 in BURST, an ezine for mobile devices.

"Gypped". For $100 and a baseball card, C.J. flies a down-on-his-luck gambler from Key West to Havana. Originally published in 2005 in Thieves Jargon and still in the archives. How's that for a free sample?

That's three stories for 99 cents. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Charles Gramlich on WE MIGHT HAVE

Author and psychologist Charles Gramlich commented on Ron Scheer's review of We Might Have that he hadn't read any of my stuff but was interested, so I sent him a copy of the book. He e-mailed me to say that his reading schedule was busy and he couldn't promise a review. I told him not to worry; I just wanted to satisfy his curiosity.

Late yesterday, he followed up, saying he had posted a review to Amazon and Goodreads that reads, in part:

I didn't intend to read this one so quickly. I just got it yesterday. But I read the first few while taking a break from TV and found them addictive. Most are short and pithy. But there's clearly a sound talent behind the words and a lot of feeling in them. I'm 52 now and these poems probably apply most strongly to younger individuals, in their teens and 20s perhaps, but I could easily put myself back in those days and recall when I felt just like this. Good stuff.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Little Trouble with an old story

"A Little Trouble" was the third of seven stories I've written about flyboy-for-hire C.J. Stone. Published in May 2004 on Megan Powell's late, lamented website Shred of Evidence, it remains my longest story to date, detailing how C.J. came to own Miss Liberty, a Grumman Goose well beyond his means.

Given its length and the character groundwork it lays, I thought it would be a good story to sell as an ebook. However, I find I can't buy into certain plot points anymore. Part of me, the part that likes continuity, hates to change things now. But then, the characters, C.J. included, are all experienced liars.

In the end, I prefer to tell more stories than to limit myself to a few that strictly follow each other, so the ebook version of "A Little Trouble" will include some never-before-seen material.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ron Scheer reviews WE MIGHT HAVE

David Cranmer, editor of BEAT to a PULP and author of the Cash Laramie & Gideon Miles Westerns, has been a staunch supporter of my poetry ebook We Might Have. Ron Scheer commented on one of David's blog posts about We Might Have, saying he'd read some of my poetry and enjoyed it. I sent him the first Nook copy of the book as a thank-you.

Read Ron's review here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

LIQUID SMOKE by Jeff Shelby

San Diego P.I. Noah Braddock is approached by Darcy Gill, a lawyer representing a man who claims to be Noah's estranged father. Russell Simington is a hardened criminal on death row at San Quentin, but Darcy, passionately against the death penalty, takes the chance that last-minute revelations to Noah may help Simington's case.

Having never known his father, Noah decides on one visit to appease Darcy as well as his own curiosity. Strangely, however, Darcy does not fly to San Francisco with Noah as planned. Noah visits Simington and returns to San Diego only to find Darcy at his home, brutally murdered.

Noah Braddock debuted as a hip, wisecracking P.I. in the mold of Elvis Cole in the 2005 novel Killer Swell. After a second book, Wicked Break (2006), Dutton dropped the series, and Braddock might have gotten lost in Cole's shadow. Fortunately, Shelby persisted, and with the help of agent Stacia Decker, sold Liquid Smoke to Tyrus Books. Thanks to FSB Associates, I got to read an advance copy.

Noah begins the book as the same wisecracking tough guy, but Liquid Smoke is a true noir in that, try as he might, Noah cannot escape his role in events. Similarly, Shelby's chapters are short, keeping me turning pages, caught up in Noah's mixed emotions, keeping the brooding to a minimum. The result is Shelby's breakout book.

Liquid Smoke's publication date is August 24.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

WATCH ME DIE by Lee Goldberg

Screenwriter and author of the Monk tie-in novels Lee Goldberg recently e-released his novel The Man with the Iron-on Badge under the new title Watch Me Die. Below is my review reprinted from 2006:

Harvey Mapes is an avid fan of PI fiction, TV, and movies. On the night shift as a gate guard at Bel Vista Estates, he dreams of what it would be like to be a hardboiled hero in the mold of Travis McGee, Spenser, Jim Rockford, et al. He sees a chance to live the dream when Cyril Parkus, one of Bel Vista's residents, asks him to shadow his wife Lauren.

Winging his way through the job, Mapes manages to learn Lauren has been secretly meeting with a blackmailer. He proudly reports this to Cyril, who thanks him and tells him the job is done. Once sparked, however, Mapes's curiosity must be satisfied. He sets off to fill in the details of the case with the help of his neighbor Carol.

Goldberg's clever premise allows him to present a refreshingly un-macho hero to whom any fan of the P.I. mystique can relate. Facing the hard realities behind private eye genre cliches, Harvey believably discovers truths about the case and about himself.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Ebookery with Jim Winter

Tech-savvy author and blogger Jim Winter interviewed me about my poetry ebook We Might Have. Read here.

All-Star Games

I'm a fan of all-star games. I enjoy seeing the best players on one team. I don't think the game has to count for anything, but, especially in Major League Baseball, the rules could use some work.

For one thing, I don't think players who are voted in but cannot or choose not to attend should still be All-Stars. That label should apply to those who attend and are able to play. Under the current system, there are eighty-four All-Stars this year—counting those who were voted in but were injured or chose not to attend, their replacements, and those able to play—roughly 12 percent of all the players in MLB.

Also, I don't think fans/managers should be required to choose at least one player from each team, but there should be a limit on the number of starters from one team.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

FLESH & BONES by Paul Levine

Miami Dolphin linebacker-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter is a witness when top model Chrissy Bernhardt shoots her father and faints. Though Harry Bernhardt dies later at the hospital, Chrissy's gunshots are held responsible. Chrissy claims to have recovered memories through hypnotherapy of her father raping her.

Flesh & Bones is the seventh Jake Lassiter novel, and the first novel I've read entirely in eBook form. The case seems open and shut from the start, but Jake is surprisingly able to cast doubt on who was responsible for Chrissy's actions, taking jurors and readers with him.

Ebooks are a great way to acquaint yourself with an author's otherwise out-of-print backlist, and, for a limited time, Flesh & Bones is available for 99 cents with all proceeds going to the Four Diamonds Fund, which helps pay for treatment of pediatric cancer patients at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital.

Here's how to order.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

A Day for the Ages

Derek Jeter became only the second MLB player to reach 3,000 regular season hits with a home run. I've pooh-poohed this milestone because, if you count Jeter's playoff stats, he had 3,183 hits coming into today's game.

Until last season, when he batted .270, Jeter was known for coming up with big hits, seemingly never overwhelmed by the situation. Jeter's average was .256 coming into today, but today was a reminder how clutch Jeter can be. He not only reached 3,000 but finished the game 5-5, including the game-winning RBI single in the 8th inning.

Monday, July 04, 2011

There and Back Again

My mother, brother, three aunts, and I drove to Port Colborne, Ontario for the weekend to visit my uncle, who's on the mend from cataract surgery. While there, we stayed at my uncle's cottage, which seemed to be all wood surfaces. It did have plumbing, electricity, and laundry machines, but still felt like a getaway. Just what I needed.