Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Monday, December 31, 2012

Mastering the Art of the Three-Section Clock

We all love Beginning Time in any thing we do.  If you've ever quit smoking, you'll smile and agree:  the opening rush is as good as it get:  that fabulous sense of adventure, the positive kick of commitment...the sure and certain knowledge that this, Yeah Baby, this is IT! And if you haven't quit the evil weed, you've quit or started something else and felt the same sensation.  You sure as hell have felt it if you've ever started a book.

But somewhere in Beginning Time,the sense of purity deserts us.  The great opening pages that came at our call...the almighty thrill of smoke-free air that made it a snap to swear Never again...We forget these things and look in horror at the looming outline of a great beast coming our way soon: the monstrous stretch of Middle Time.  Christ, Beginning Time was 50-75 pages...and now we're talking, like, maybe 200?  We see the mountains of creative earth that we must move and feel the exhaustion already.  Just as we would if we'd quit smoking and at the heady three-month mark we realized that our one-year anny was nine more months ahead.  Middle Time is where, more than ever, we need to focus on the process...and somehow learn to love the journey in each step we take.  To love the daily challenges, the little victories, even the fatigue.  If we don't love this part of the journey, our lovelessness will show in the final product:  in lack of attention to detail, loss of rhythm, missing zing.

End Time is glorious, but the temptation is enormous to hurry the process and finish the book, reach the one year anny, cross whatever finish line.  It's much shorter than Middle Time and that is sweet.  Plus End Time is attended by invigorating feelings of pride, accomplishment and joy.  But the best of it can still be lost if we let ourselves be rushed.  End Time, after all, brings us to a set of new beginnings:  the second draft...and the third...and the fourth...each of which have their three stages.

Let's enjoy each phase as best we can.  Our work will be the better for it if we treat every step of the journey with all due respect.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Meet My New Pal, Pressure

I ran into the first major hurdle since starting work two months ago on the third Boss MacTavin novel.  As you may recall, this is the first time I've drafted a book start to finish without stopping to rewrite every batch of fifty pages.  I was going  great guns and grooving on the difference when I came to a critical juncture.  Following the outline, I'I faced a heap of exposition that needed to be done.  I froze.  I couldn't kill the action, but I had to take care of this business.

In one form or another, I'm sure you've all faced the same thing.  Suddenly, faced with your Wall, you feel your confidence start to collapse...

I write by hand.  I always have.  That day though, out of nowhere, an idea occurred to me:  What if I changed the way that I wrote by hand?  What if I wrote more slowly, applying a little more pressure, getting into the feel of the tip of the pencil burrowing into the Moleskine?  I did.  The pressure forced me to concentrate on every word, savoring the language.  And at one point I paused to note that if I wrote only 6 words a minute, I'd meet my quota of 500 words in a little over an hour.  No need to hurry or worry.  None at all.  I ended up writing 1200 words and getting well over the hurdle.  And, for now at least, I keep on working at the same more relaxed speed.  

New foot work, new hand work, whatever it takes to get our books on paper, eh?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Vegan Fu Report #1: Viva, San Francisco Kid!

Eden's doors aren't locked but licked by repeated failures on two fronts:  first, memory...second, imagination.  We forget how good we had it once.  Then, tragically, we can't imagine ever having it that good again.

Way back when, a younger Reb crossed the country with $300 and dreams of finding happiness in a fabled city: San Francisco.  Within a year, I'd stopped drinking, begun working out, adapted an all-natural diet...and maybe not so coincidentally, started on what would become my first book, THE SUITING.  I grew thin, ripped and passionately committed to becoming The Francisco Kid.

I could tell you some stories of heartbreak and loss that led to the loss of that Eden.  But I'd rather focus now on getting back again inside those locked and pearly gates.  So let's wrap the past up with a neat little bow:  I married unwisely, my wife despised my writing and natural diet, we fought and fought, the fights grew worse, I left her and headed south--where, in the grips of a bloody divorce, the pressure of a new job, the grief over my father's death--I started smoking again after 12 years.  I stayed off booze, I'm pleased to say, but I was back on junk food and smoking like a chimney...and so began the great battle to kick tobacco once again while my blood sugar spiked and yo-yoed.

Enough.  No more excuses.  It is time now get back to Eden.  I've been back off tobacco for 2-1/2 years.  Off caffeine and red meat for as many.  So I've got a head start on my journey and the battle I now face against some mortal enemies:  sugar, fructose, the wrong carbs and their gang of wicked cronies.

Battle plan:  from now until New Year's, I plan to continue painting myself into the corner I want:  increasing the daily amount of fruits and salads I consume...progressively eliminating dairy and chicken--the last meat I eat...decreasing the number of my daily decafs--and eliminating cream and the sweetened flavors Starbucks adds...

Special strategies:  I work third shifts, 7 nights on, 7 days off.  This plays havoc with my energy, causing cravings for sugary snacks to keep me in the zone.  I'll need to start packing alternative snacks: especially low-calorie treats like shredded carrots and sliced apples,

Power packing:  I'll need to set out daily armed with both physical and spiritual boosts:  veggie wraps, juices, distilled water, fruits...Principles I've learned are true:  Cravings create cravings--so cultivate great cravings...Baby foods make baby thoughts--so eat like an adult to think like a man...Lose the ounces, not the pounds--and find the journey in the steps, not the destination...

Goal:  by following an all-natural diet, about 80% raw...and by eliminating entirely all meat, sugar and dairy...to return to that lost Eden.  The great joy in my heart when the Mexican bus driver sang:  'Sahn Furahn-seeeeees-cooooo!' and I saw the fabled skyline and knew my life's greatest adventure was just about to begin.

Well, here I am in Charlotte, where I rather wish I weren't.  But, God, I hear that driver sing.  And, oh, I know it's time again to crash the gates of Eden.  The S. F. Kid's come home again.

This is my report.





Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Great Freebie Jubilee: 12 free books

For two days, 12/21-12/22 you can brighten your Kindles with 12 free ebooks by 10 rising stars.  There's something here for everyone...including two holiday thrillers by, you guessed it, Reb MacRath.

Check it out at:

http://tinyurl.com/ccb25g9

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Delay by Sabotage

The Vegan Fu Report has been delayed by the slow death of my laptop, caused by the Meat and Dairy Lobbies' combined cowardly attempts to silence me. :)

But never try to cow a man who's given up on cow meat, as well as chickens, hogs and fish.  The first report--Viva , San Francisco Kid--will arrive next week.  All natural, organic and written by hand.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Vegan Fu Report Update

The first weekly report has been delayed one day because of a wonderful stroke of good luck:  I was asked by my friend Kirkus MacGowan to participate in a two-day team giveaway 12/21-12/22.  I jumped at the chance and am glad that I did because my progress on the learning curve has taken a real quantum leap.  The amount of work that goes into a properly staged event is staggering,  I needed two entire days simply to list my books with a slew of sites promoting giveaway events.  For most, I needed to approach each site three times--once for each book I'm including.  And the work's barely begun.

I'll write about this at greater length after the event, when I can compare download results with my previous solo efforts.

For now, look for the first Vegan Fu Report Sunday night!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Coming December 15: The Raw Truth and Writing

A periodic chronicle of one strayed man's attempt to regain his lost Salad Days, his first stay in California as The San Francisco Kid: the juice and raw food loving health nut who'd put booze and tobacco behind him, along with meat and flour and sugar...

How many times I've strayed since then!  Though I stopped drinking completely, I've yo-yo'ed on pretty much everything else.  In my year now without a smoke, and thirty years off alcohol, I set out now as a serious man to regain the vim and vigor of The S. F. Kid.

But you come here for news about writing, you say.  Ah, but what could be more about writing than the fuel I feed both my body and brain?  What could be more about writing than earning more time and health to compose?

I'll keep my reports short and lively.  I'll be totally upfront and candid.  Drop by on December 15 to witness my poignant, heartbreaking goodbye--and that's goodbye forever--to Dove Chocolate, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Red Baron's pizza and the whole rest of the gang.  Forget Rhett and Scarlet.  You'll hear the cellos hit low G and strings take wing.

Till then.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

One-month Report on Marathon First-Drafting

By setting, and sticking to, a minimum goal of 500 words daily, I've nearly drafted the first third of the new Boss MacTavin novel since November 5.  Generally, I've managed 700 words, occasionally 800 or 900.  From now on detailed outlines are the way I plan to fly because I enjoy the security...and the rush that always follows deviating from the plan.

Next challenge: starting the clerical duties--typing what I've written on a schedule that I must determine.  Wren Doloro has suggested Moleskine's 'EverNote' notebook, which transmits written text into digital form.  I'll use that for the next book!  Now, without sacrificing speed, I must begin the typing--or face a massi ve typing task three months down the road.

Motivational tactic:  regard the weekly typing as a substitute for things I liked about the old cyclical method:  write 50-75 pages...stop...put it through three drafts...then carry on again.  As I type I can refresh my memory on key character and plot points...determine if the pacing is still on point...etc.

What do I like best about Marathon First-Drafting?  I'm high on the sense of momentum.  I love the creative adventure, undiluted by clerical drudgery.  Each page is a fresh discovery.

And what's the greatest challenge, for me?  Going with it in the spirit of making the world's greatest mudpie--something that needs worlds of work but is a living blast to bake.  Shaking that ancient sense of right and wrong, that old fear of 'mistakes'.

I'm having the time of my life. :)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

How 1 and 2 Equals One

SOUTHERN SCOTCH and THE ALCATRAZ CORRECTION are both Boss MacTavin novels...but they're very different books in terms of tone, style and character.  For readers who've downloaded both, it may be useful to know a few things.

SOUTHERN SCOTCH is a genesis story, subtitled "The Bloody Rise of Boss MacTavin".  Though Boss bears next to no resemblance to James Bond, I had in mind a three-book arc similar to what Daniel Craig seemed to have planned with Casino Royale."  When Pete McGregor, a flamed-out Scottish athlete, ends up in the wrong place in Atlanta one night, he's half-blinded and beaten terribly.  Five years later, he comes back with a new name and a new look, on the trail of the bastards who beat him.  Boss has grown in wealth and power, but his spirit is still crude--largely shaped by his passion for Mickey Spillane and his towering thirst for revenge.  This first tale is narrated by Dodge Cunningham, a young rogue who'd indirectly helped cause the beating that night.  Through other eyes, I believe, we can better see the change in Boss as the trail leads him to the heart of the Atlanta porn trade.  It's a wild, bloody ride but at the end Boss has changed and is prepared for higher ground.

THE ALCATRAZ CORRECTION takes place three years later.  Boss is partly based in San Francisco and he's doing quite nicely in business and love.  Though he still has his quirks and edge, and though he can be brutal,  he's developed a a strong code and a passion for proper Corrections.  Boss tells the story this time.  I know readers will warm to the difference.

And for those who miss the Dodge Charger that only seemed to be 'talking' in SS, there's a Hertz in TAC that's anything but 'just' a Hertz.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I can scarcely excite my containment!

The magic days are almost here: four free books for two full days:

Friday 11/30 through Saturday 12/1

The four titles and links appear on the right side of this blog.  I've devoted my life to my writing and I celebrate this chance to share what I've learned with you.

Four tales of mystery, romance and suspense...delivered with style and passion and wit.

Welcome to MacRathWorld.  You won't regret your visit.  Cheers!

Reb

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

MACRATHWORLD GOES TOTALLY FREE

Yes, for two days my four ebooks  will be reduced to a Yule-perfect price:

Dates:  11/30-12/1.  All book links appear on the right, under "MacRathWorld Rides on Kindle".

Download...Sample...Then enjoy, knowing that you're in good hands.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Do that sexy thang, First Draft!

An older dog learns a new trick:

I've always favored the cyclical approach: composing a novel in sections and stopping to do a few drafts of each part.  And don't let anyone tell you there aren't advantages to this.  There are.  The  biggest two are that the writer's confidence is boosted, as is his/her memory of particulars/placement of clues, etc.  Plus, of course, it's far easier to do the end-drafts than it is to start revising a novel of 300 pages or more.

But to survive the new ebook jungle, I needed to learn some new footwork if I were to put on some speed.  Two to five years between books wouldn't do.

One month into the new novel, I'm able to say this:  There's a greater sense of momentum and thrust in just getting the tale on the page, not stopping to polish every other month.  I enjoy the fearless pleasure of this mudpie-making phase--playing, taking chances, discovering as I go.  And I've learned to steel my mind against thoughts of the rewriting chores I will face.

Four months to get it all down on paper.  Four to five months to revise.  Then three months to plot and outline the following year's work.  I'm stoked!

Memo to myself, though:  Be sure to type up the handwritten pages at least every other week to avoid a month of typing at the end of the first draft.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

THE BIG BRAWL: CLAUDE BOUCHARD & HENCHMEN


I had a dream. I got to spar with four favorite ebook writers whom I've never met:

CLAUDE BOUCHARD (CB). You all know Claude: the charming and amiable author of The Vigilante series. Claude, in fact, uses his charm to conceal his deadly skill at entrapment.
RUSSELL BLAKE (RB). You know Russell too, or think you do. Prolific isn't the word for this man. His output is staggering. So is his hype. I see Napoleon reborn—with the heart of a komodo dragon. Beware!
JOHN A. A. LOGAN (JL). You love the brilliant mind behind THE SURVIVAL OF THOMAS FORD and STORM DAMAGE. But did you know that Logan boxed and also served as a trainer? He'll pound all hell out of my penchant for fun unless my wits are reinforced.
KIRKUS MACGOWAN (KM). You know the gentle giant behind THE FALL OF BILLY HITCHINGS and WRATH. But did you know he's almost mastered the Karate technique 'The Black Hug'?


LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!
The stadium has filled.  And refreshments have been served.  Please refrain from throwing beer or carrot juice at the contestants.  The Big Brawl begins in 4...3...2..Go!


ROUND ONE

CB: You've got so many names, Reb, I hardly know where to begin. El Reberoo, The Rebster...You've also gone by Kelley Wilde?
RM: Don't stop there, babe. Carry on: My other pen names include Dodge Cunningham, Johnnie Allegro, Nick Mercurio, Cherokee Blacke...
CB: But your birth name--
RM: Bubba, stop right there. Or I'll tell the world you're Italian.
CB: You watch your mouth, I was born in Quebec!
RM: But your accent's Italian.
CB: As if you would know! I've never even talked with you!
RM: Hey, whose dream is this anyway?
CB: Let's back up a second. You're not even Scottish, dude. You were born in Buffalo.
RM: Oh, for crissake. Next you'll be telling the world that I'm not pint-sized either.
CB: You're over six-feet talL, Reb!
RM: Okay, now I'm taking the gloves off. I 'd like to remind you my Aunt Esther said: 'From my earliest girlhood I worshiped men's feet. But now that I'm older I've had to cut down. One foot, give or take an inch, is all my doc allows me. Even so, I'm proud to say, there's no rest for the wicket in my door.'
CB: WHAT'S THAT GOT TO DO WITH ANYTHING!
RM: As much to do as my having been born in Buffalo or anywhere. We find our real roots through long searching. The answer's in our blood, our bones. I'm from Edinburgh, not Buffalo.
CB: Reb, have some Ben and Jerry's ice cream...gargle with salt water...and you'll be fine. Maybe then I'll be able to tell if I'm talking with Groucho Marx, Oscar Wilde or Andy Warhol.
RM: Lunch, you say? You're paying? Swell! In that case, you can bring a companion. Hell, bring one for yourself as well. I promise not to tell a soul who won't swear to repeat it.
CB: AUGHHHHHHHH!

(CB retires to his chair, signaling he's won the round.)

ROUND TWO

RB: Hey, everybody, check out these amazing 5-star reviews for Jet 3, 4, 5 and 6, the four latest installments of my new action series--
RM: Russ, please. Remember the rule? No touts or links allowed here.
RB: Rules are meant to be broken.
RM: Not in The Big Brawl.
RB: But I can't engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent. What else can I do but promote my own work? You're not exactly setting the charts on fire, kiddo.
RM: True.
RB: I mean, just to set the record straight: You've published four novels a lifetime ago with two major publishers. One award but crappy sales. Now you've published four online. I publish eight in a year, at the least. So Big Brawl is a little misleading.  More like Mosquito Smackdown?
RM: Yes and No.
RB: I get the Yes. But how's the No?
RM: Aunt Esther once said of her old friend Estelle: 'That woman adored getting married. The gowns, the gifts, the bands—the gifts! But terribly, invariably, the honeymoon always...began. Back to the salt mines on white satin sheets.'
RB: It would take me a lot more tequila than I'm able to afford to start to fathom what that means.
RM: In its own way, it celebrates nonsense. Just as you or I celebrate nonsense if we believe for a moment that we can control our compulsions in art. I don't believe you deliberately chose to work 20-hour days in order to turn out a novel a month. And length of composition is no guarantee of quality.  If it were, no one would read a great quickie called ON THE ROAD. You do this because you must—you were born to write your way. And I never chose to spend 20 years on THE ALCATRAZ CORRECTION.
RB: You just touted your own work!
RM: Why not, it's my dream. If I can't cheat here, where can I?

(RB storms back to his chair, flashing links to those reviews.)

ROUND THREE

JL: All right, lad, you've had your fun. What are you really up to? You've got two series going now that couldn't be more different, not only from each other but from everything else online. On the one hand, we have two short Christmas thrillers filled with poetry and romance. On the other, we have the thrillers starring Boss MacTavin, hardboiled and bloody and loaded with shocks.
RM: True, they do seem to be miles apart. But the Xmas thrillers have their shocks and the other books have their romance. 'Hard-won' happy endings are common to them all. There's more violence, for sure, in the MacTavin novels. But I'm as meticulous as I can be about the way I edit it—I've always preferred the Hitchcock way of cutting at the moment of impact.
JL: Do you think it's wise to proceed with your plan to re-issue your first book, THE SUITING, written all those years ago? That's much darker than your writing now.
RM: It's still a fun book. Why disown it? Besides, I'll reissue it as “The Perfector's Cut”, using the skills I've acquired since then to finetune and clarify, expand. I'll also add a new original piece. Re-owning this piece of my past is a vital step for me in owning my new work.
JL: One thing about you troubles me. May I...come out with both lips blazing?
RM: Do. But I'm demoralized that only one thing troubles you. Me, I love having high-maintenance friends, worth every emotional penny they cost. After all, as old Aunt Esther said--
JL: Reb, please. I swear to Jesus, I'll be ill.
RM: I hope not. You can't have your cake and toss your cookies, you know.
JL: Aren't you concerned in the slightest about this madcap persona of yours? You're a serious writer who acts like a clown. Show more respect for your work, for Christ's sake!
RM: I show due respect for my work, lad, any time I drop a jaw or turn an ear my way, perhaps catching sufficient attention to inspire a beleaguered, busy soul to download some opening pages. In a landscape that's cluttered with more and more signs, I do whatever it takes to stand out, proclaiming simply: Eat at Reb's.
JL: Will you just try that someday without dressing like Ronald McDonald?
RM: I can only quote Aunt Esther: 'Strictly stylistically speaking, sometimes I feel like a 44D stuck in a roomful of Twiggies.'

(JL, with enormous dignity, throws up his hands, says 'My round' to the judges and goes back to his chair.)

ROUND FOUR

KM: Reb, as you've said, I'm a plain speaker. I want to come straight to the point--
RM: You know, I lived in San Francisco—where a strayed loin was the quickest way to get from Pant A to Pant B.
KM: That may be. But I'm talking about points and not about pants. My position on your work's grown stronger. Your word play really is unique—but it gets in the way of the story.
RM: In what way?
KM: In what way what?
RM: In what way does it get in the way?
KM: Sometimes a sentence feels....loaded, you know? Like, the sentence has more than one meaning. And every now and then I stop to wonder WTF or to enjoy the word play. Reb, the style should be in the background of a proper thriller. We shouldn't be aware of it. We shouldn't even be aware that we're reading something that's been written. I mean, we should feel smack dab in the middle of a movie on the page.
RM: Aye, that's one way of reading a thriller. And one way of writing one. But—let me mention two dear dead old names—if you read a thriller by Richard (The Manchurian Candidate) Condon or Lawrence (The First Deadly Sin) Sanders, you'd be amazed at how wonderfully and wittily they write.
KM: Okay. But times have changed. And, remember, we're writing for Kindle.
RM: Too true. But let's give readers whole worldfuls of choices, from enjoyable quickies they read in a night to books they may play with a couple of days.
KM: Dude, your sales are gonna blow.
RM: That depends on whether my instincts are right.
KM: And what do your instincts tell you?
RM: That there are others like myself in search of books they can, and must, and will put down repeatedly. To gather a tan in the sun of the style. Or savor a tryst with a foxy young phrase.
KM: Still, sometimes I like your Tweets better.

(KM goes back to his chair, certain his last quip has won him the round.)

The panel deliberates. And it's anybody's guess who's won. The Rebster may still have a chance—till Claude Bouchard springs from his chair, pointing a finger at Reb.

CB: As my Aunt Francine said, 'There's no Battle of the Sexes—just a Battle of the Sixes, waged by men who are jealous of those blessed with nine.”

Reb falls to the floor, mortally wounded, it seems. The hardly-needed countdown starts. 10...9..8..

But at 6, Reb's fingers twitch.

And at 4, he sits bolt upright.

And at 2, he's on his feet.

And before he's counted out, he roars:

Abstinence makes the fond grow harder!”

The judges cheer. MacRath wins by a point.

NOTE: The above verbal exchanges took place only in my dream. But I thank my assailants for coming and I also thank all four for the fabulous novels they've written.



Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ken McKea's Narrative Mischief and Magic

If you haven't discovered Ken McKea (aka Brad Strickland)'s high-powered Jim Dallas thrillers, you're in for a real treat.  now's the right time to catch up.  Eden Feint is the third installment of the proposed thirteen-part series, at once a tribute to the great John D. MacDonald and a fresh departure.  Taken together, the first three books are like the opening movement of a rich classical score.  McKea's about to shake things up, I believe, in the second movement.  So start now and be prepared.  Here's my Amazon review of Eden Feint:


The third in the series of Jim Dallas thrillers should signal the end of Phase One, if author Ken McKea's on point...as I suspect he is.  I say this because the first three books are variations not on a theme but on a narrative tack:  we don't meet the villain till very late in each book.  In Atlanta Bones, we're ungraware of the villain's existence for quite some time.  Cuban Dagger pulls off a magical twist on this technique by naming the villain early on...having Dallas spot him in passing--and then seeing the results of the assassin's cruel work with the knife, building up our sense of fear before the big brawl at the end...and Eden Feint?  I'll avoid plot spoilers except to say that there are more than one and once again we're made to wait.

This is a wonderful, beautifully written novel with a crackerjack mystery at its core.  And Dallas and his huge part-Seminole semi-pacifist friend Sam have grown into one of the great mystery teams.  McKea has shown painstaking care in developing the theme of Jim Dallas's transcendence of his burn scars.  The other theme, Dallas's drive for revenge--and his ticking off the days on the calendar until his wife's killers leave prison is really picking up steam here.


But:  my New Year's prayer is that a second phase begins with the fourth Jim Dallas novel.  In the next outing I want some serious action on the page, not off.  And I need for Dallas to square off against a terrifying foe--one who's in sight from the get-go.  In other words, I need the big guy to get in more serious trouble.


That said, five stars--because McKea writes wonderfully, his settings are terrific, the characters are compelling and deep...and because somewhere John D. MacDonald is smiling.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

But Reb Baby, What is an Anytime Yule?

Strategy must never lag in an attempt to become a brand name.  So I reviewed my branding progress...

At this point, I have four books that fall evenly into two camps: Reb's Rebel Yell Crime Tales for Bad Boys and Girls comprises SOUTHERN SCOTCH and THE ALCATRAZ CORRECTION, both starring Boss MacTavin, the very soul of Southern Scotch. The second camp I labeled Reb's Rebel Yell Yuletide Chillers, containing NOBILITY and THE VANISHING MAGIC OF SNOW.

The first camp seems effectively covered, the camp tag suggesting that these are both thrillers and wild rides.  Definitely not for those who prefer cozies...but tailor-made for those who like bloody good, good bloody fun.  And I regularly reinforce the Southern Scotch connection on this blog, Twitter, Facebook and my website.

The second camp tag, though, I've started to think may be selling these Yules short.  When I set out, years ago, to revolutionize the Xmas book industry, I envisioned a series of short, suspenseful tales that could be read any time of the year.  Not tales that just happened to be set (Die Hard, for example, or Reindeer Games), at Christmas.  Not sentimental schlock that could only be read in December.  No, I saw something new and different and exciting:  little thrillers fusing Christmas with other holidays...while remaining top-notch reads any old day of the year.

NOBILITY commemorates Christmas and July 4th in the story of a Man Without a Country who takes on a gang of pickpockets on board the Amtrak Crescent.  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008VAGH7Q

THE VANISHING MAGIC OF SNOW celebrates both Christmas and Thanksgiving in the tale of a man who uses magic to transcend the recession that's ruined him.  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007VCCI0K


The third book in the series will fuse Christmas and April Fool's...

The camp tag, I decided, had to reinforce my binary approach.  And so I've decided to change it on Amazon to "Reb's Rebel Yell Anytime Yuletide Chillers".

Fingers crossed.  We grow as we go or we perish.

Hi-ho!





Thursday, November 8, 2012

Coming Attractions

11/12:  A provocative piece about my "Anytime" Yule chillers"....and why they can and should be read any ole day of the year.  Including April Fool's Day, when the third one will go Live.

11/15:  A review of Ken McKea's third Jim Dallas thriller, Eden Feint.

11/18:  A wild and woolly Q&A with Reb MacRath himself!  Not even CLAUDE BOUCHARD UNCHAINED has prepared you for this free-for-all.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Getting Back to Five

Brad Strickland repeats some terrific advice on his blog http://kenmckea.blogspot.com Do three things daily to advance your writing or your work.  If you think about it, that's about a thousand steps a year.  Quite a bit can be accomplished if those steps are well-directed.

I plan to up the ante, though, returning to a little game I played years back, called Five.  I'd had a five-year plan, in fact, and worked with daily lists of five.  The trouble was, I'd stumbled on so many different fronts that my lists were too dispersed: I needed a new job in a new city, a decent apartment, good furniture and clothes, etc.  I needed to get back in shape.  I needed a new circle of friends.  As you can imagine, five years turned into six...then seven...and then eight...and on till I stopped with the practice of five.  I never stopped struggling, I never stopped writing, I never stopped sending out queries--but I abandoned the practice of Five.

Brad's inspired me to return to it...and this time to narrow my focus.  Right down to the head of a pin.  Five things daily, without fail, related to my writing, publishing online and starting to build more momentum. The main step, taken daily--ah, these multiples of five!--will be getting  500 words down on paper.  I must also work daily at strengthening my presence on Twitter, Facebook, and various book forums, etc.

Soon I'll record a sample log for one week, either here or on Brad's blog.  Brad liked the concept of Five, but suggested 3 daily writing goals and 2 daily personal goals.  I like the idea of the two personal goals...but will hold fast to five for the writing.  At this point in my life, 1825 steps a year appeals to me more than a thousand.  And 730 personal steps may help put a still bigger smile on my mug. So, seven is heaven, though I'll call it Five.

Stay tuned for occasional updates.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Q&A: CLAUDE BOUCHARD UNCHAINED!


Q:  Claude, to repay you properly for the many happy hours in which you've scared me witless, I'd like to take you to a dark place you'd probably rather forget.  Are you game?

A: I certainly am, Reb. The question is, are you?

Q:  Oh, I'm always prepared to be completely unprepared.  Let's see...The year is 1997. You've spent the last two years composing a series of thrillers you'd hoped would make your name and fortune.  Tell us of the volley of queries you sent...the number of rejections, form, full and partial reads...and how it felt when, at last, you surrendered.

A: Though I’d written three novels by mid-97, the only one I’d worked with on the query side was the series opener, Vigilante. I’m going on memory here but it seems to me most of my querying activity was during the first half of 1996. This was back before email when any efforts at seeking agent representation were done via mail with a SASE (that’s Self-Addressed-Stamped-Envelope) included. Most agents were located in NYC and L.A., so my uncle in Burbank had sent me a roll of U.S. stamps which weren’t readily found in Canada. I don’t remember exactly how many queries I sent, maybe 75 or so at the rate of 2 or 3 per week to avoid too much concurrent interest. However… Most of what I got back were rejections: some personalized...others, form letters...and a couple of hand scribbles directly on my query letters. I did receive three requests for partials and one for a full but nothing came out of those in the end. What really annoyed me were the 20-30 who never responded. Bastards were probably in the business just for the free stamps. The experience left me disappointed though not to any major extent. At the time, the writing and dreaming of selling my stories was more of a game than a career plan.

Q:  And so began a silence of twelve years.  At some point, I remember reading you were represented by an agent for a while. What happened?  

A: Just to clarify the timeline, the agent representation happened once I got back into writing in 2009. I had reviewed, re-edited and self-published my three manuscripts in the spring and was working on getting my name out via social media, particularly Twitter. As it turned out, an editor with whom I chatted frequently was learning the ropes to become an agent, her tutor being a childhood friend and seasoned agent himself. When they launched the agency in December, 2009, I was offered representation along with fifteen to twenty other writers. The relationship lasted eighteen months, after which our agent either melted, imploded or spontaneously combusted. The incident was not recorded so we never learned what exactly happened to the bit--uh, lady. :)

Q:  Going back to 1997 after you wrote your third novel, did you believe that you were quitting for keeps...or was your spirit 'taking five'?

A: To be honest, neither. I had written Vigilante because a story had grown in my head and I needed to let it out. While working on it, a sequel formed and the result was The Consultant. Mind Games was waiting for its turn next. Once I finished the third novel, nothing else was screaming for release. As mentioned earlier, it’s not like I harbored a secret desire to become a bestselling author at the time. My studies and career were in human resources management and I considered my writing as a hobby, much like my painting and guitar. These were leisure activities which allowed me to express myself, nothing more.

Q:  So, twelve years of silence.  At what point did you start to feel the itch to write again?  Did you jump right back into it as if you'd never stopped...or did it take you a while to get back in the groove?

A: What got the itch going again is when I decided to bring my first three novels back to the surface in April 2009. Times had changed during those twelve years and POD suppliers suddenly made it possible for me to see my books as books, not stacks of 8.5 X 11 inch paper. Revising and editing those manuscripts anew slipped me back into the sport and by the time I was done with the third, my characters were raring to go and looking for some action. I published The Homeless Killer less than seven weeks later.

Q:  You made a remarkably bold decision in keeping the three completed books set in the decade you wrote them--then picking up in the present.  What can you tell us about that?

A: When I reviewed the first three books twelve years later, I felt they still stood up and therefore saw no need to make them more current. I laughed when reading a recent review where the reviewer suggested Vigilante needed updating to get away from the 90s feel. The story took place in 1995 and, apparently, I did a decent job of reflecting that. I could have gone ahead and set book number 4 in 1998 and kept my characters younger. However, it just made sense to write in relatively real time as I had in the past. After all, I’d gotten older during that twelve year period. Why should my characters get a break by enjoying existence without aging?

Q:  Cut to the moment of truth now.  The year is 2009.  You've decided to self-publish your first three books and quickly followed up with a fourth. Were you afflicted with feelings of failure at first?  Did you have any inkling of the pot of gold in store?

A: To be honest, my initial goal in self-publishing the first three was to hold actual finished products in my hands. I ordered a bunch of copies of the first edition of Vigilante which I signed and gave to each member of my immediate family. That was my satisfaction… Until a complete stranger bought the book… That’s when I started seriously thinking about recreating such transactions over and over and got busy working on promoting. Sales were dismal for a couple of years but I never considered it as failure but rather, frustration, learning curves and opportunities for persistence. As for the pot of gold, I’ll let you know as soon as I find it.

Q:  You're justly famous, Claude, for your Twitter following:  about 1/3 of a million, and growing.  And you've told most if not all of your secrets online, sharing the wealth with new talent.  But what sets you apart from your rivals still more is the pleasure that you clearly take in the social side of Twitter.  You're accessible, supportive and really seem to care.  Have you always been this way or did the long silence change you?

A: That really is how I’ve always been and it’s no doubt part of my upbringing. Wherever I worked throughout my corporate career, I always ended up being a “go to guy” when someone needed a hand or information. If I can help someone out, I’m happy to do it. Over the years, I’ve always been grateful for any help I received when I was stuck and I simply believe in passing it along.

Q:  What percentage of your time is spent on social media?  Am I right in thinking you enjoy that as much as the writing itself?

A: It’s difficult to measure as it’s not a scheduled activity but rather an ongoing, as needed, one but I’d guesstimate that percentage to be roughly 30%. Twitter, which is my primary social media platform, is up and running 10 to 12 hours per day while I’m doing a number of other book related activities in addition to tweeting. Like many jobs I’ve held in the past, I enjoy the variety involved in being a self-published author and part of that is the social media aspect. In a sense, it replaces the social interactions I once had with others back in the corporate world.

Q:  Productive though you are, you don't seem to be in a hurry.  What's the dream scenario of your production schedule?

A: I’m not in a hurry and there is no scenario dreaming involved in my production schedule. I start writing a book when I do and finish at the end. I don’t map out my stories so establishing timetables or deadlines doesn’t make sense to me. I write when it’s time, sometimes thousands of words in a day, sometimes hundreds, some days not at all. If I get something done quickly, it gets out sooner; if not, I release it later.

Q:  Please define your ideal reader.

A: This was an interesting question which required much thought and consideration in order to come up with an appropriate answer. Having carefully weighed all applicable factors, I’d have to say my ideal reader is anyone who loves my books.

Q:  What are the narrative values you cherish the most as a writer?

A: Writing is an art form and art, among other definitions, is a method of expression. Where an artist recounts his story with hues and shapes or a musician organizes notes and tempo to share her auditory tale, a writer composes his vision with narrative. Although I’m an artist and musician as well, my preferred mode of expression is writing as I find it offers the most extensive palette, allowing me to create not only an image or a moment but rather, a continuous flow of sights, sounds, movement, thoughts and behaviors which, combined, meld into a story. I was recently asked, “How did you learn to write scenes?” to which I replied, “The best way I can describe how I write scenes is that I visualize them as I'm writing (kind of like a movie playing in my head) and then describe what I'm seeing.” Though I could produce a reasonable portrayal of a scene with paint and brush, it would never have the dimension made possible with narrative.

Q:  How close do you feel to producing the best of all Claude Bouchard books--and what would set it apart from the rest?
Another interesting question, Reb, which brings to mind a WIP I currently have simmering in the background. I started writing The Last Party, a stand-alone, in February this year and this is one which I am definitely taking my time with. It requires a great deal of research and the storyline is intricate with a number of distinct but related sub-plots. I won’t go into detail for now but I envision a work which, in the end, will highlight how little humankind is, both physically in relation to the planet and nature as well as in mindset in terms of pettiness and selfishness. Once it’s complete, it should rock.

Q:  Do you feel more blessed or rewarded--or both?

A: I’m blessed for all I have which matters, meaning health, family, love and friends. I’m rewarded for my efforts. It’s all good.

Q:  Which famous historical figures might you have liked to have been?

A: A difficult question to answer with so many great folks to choose from but I’ve narrowed it down to two. It would be either Benjamin Franklin, because he was highly talented, intelligent and versatile, as demonstrated by his accomplishments as a statesman, diplomat, inventor, writer and scientist or Karl Marx because growing up with Groucho, Harpo and Chico had to be a riot.

Q:  Of your two protagonists, it would be safer to say that you relate to lawman Dave. But...Chris Barry shares you initials.  Do tell...

A: I actually relate to Dave and Chris equally well as they both remind me of myself to some extent. We all share a very similar sense of humor and way of thinking. When I think about it, it’s actually somewhat strange how alike we are in many aspects. In regards to the initials, Chris went on with that for a while, particularly when I got onto Twitter as ceebee308. He kept teasing with how I liked him better than Dave. Crazy guys, I tell you.

Q:  Looking back, can you see any ways that your life was enriched by that silence?

 A: I have to admit, I don’t tend to look back very much. What’s done is done and we can’t change the past. However, to answer your question, I wouldn’t say the silence is what enriched my life as much as writing my first three novels before my twelve year hiatus. I can’t say for sure but I don’t know if I would have suddenly decided to write novels in 2009 if I hadn’t had that three book foundation already in place. What I do know for sure is I’m damned pleased I did write them at the time.

Q:  What's the baddest and best about the man Bouchard?

A: Baddest: Putting it lightly, I frown when I’m annoyed. Best: I respect anyone who deserves it.


Q:  Can you let a whisker or two of the cat out of the bag about your future books?

A: I’m currently working on Femme Fatale, the seventh in the Vigilante series. It’s based in Paris and though past central characters are present, it features Leslie Robb, who made her first appearance two books earlier in 6 Hours 42 Minutes and was then quite present in Discreet Activities. I’m not sure exactly when it will be finished but it could release before the New Year. As mentioned earlier, The Last Party will eventually see the day but only when it’s good and ready.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Reb's Yule Extravaganza & The 7 Magic Questions

I've had a great year, seeing four of my books appear Live on Kindle after those years in The Desert.  Enough  about me, though.  Let's talk about you.  With so many authors to choose from and so little time to read, it's hard to know where to begin.

Start right here, with a short list of questions to help you decide:
1) Does the cover grab you, suggesting something different and colorful and fun?  Good question. Nothing shallow about judging a book by its cover.
2) Does the title catch your eye, suggesting not only the theme or the hook but a hint of the tone or the style?
3) Do the sample pages ring your bells?  Does the author command your attention or beg like a pooch for your dough? Is the prose clean and quick and compelling?
4) Do the author's credentials impress you at all?  Ten years to mastery, they say.  Where did the author go to school?  What does he or she bring to the table in terms of an apprenticeship--experience as an editor or journalist, etc.?  Other publishing credentials?
5) What about the reviews?  Do they all sound like party favors from family and friends...or have some of the reviews come from writers you know and admire?
6) Has the author made any effort to bond with readers as people, not just as possible sales?  What is the ratio of warm Hellos to strident Buy Me's on Twitter?
7)  Finally, how about the price?  Do you feel the author is picking your pocket or giving you a handshake in the form of a price that says Give me a try?

Ladies and gentlemen, vote for MacRath.  If elected, I'll give you two Sundays a week and bring Free Love back to the mainstream.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

CLAUDE BOUCHARD UNCHAINED is coming!

Claude has sent back his answers for the November Q&A.  The final version will appear here on Saturday, November 3.

Trust me when I tell you this:  Claude's in rare form and you don't want to miss out!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Alcatraz Correction: The First Person-Plus

Have you written an I or a S/He book?  And which do you prefer to read?

Some time ago, Gore Vidal predicted that more and more novels would be written in the first person.  Why?  Because writers, mistakenly, believe that this p.o.v. is easier to write--requiring less description and talent for prose.  And because, as readers, we enjoy the warm, instant connection.  Now, Vidal was a bit of a Sly Boots, for some of his own best work was told in the first person, providing him the benefits he'd had such fun condemning.  And, despite his pedophila, Lolita's Humbert Humbert wins us over while turning our stomachs because of his witty and engaging tone.

But the first person p.o.v. isn't nearly as easy to write as a gifted writer may make it appear.  Because we're spared--or should be spared--many pages of purple prose settings (When you keep a diary or a log, do you wax over-poetic about the great McCotter trees, grown from seed imported from Southern Caledonia in 1668 by Esmerelda Squanchez?), we need swift suggestions of setting...and superbly tended interior landscaping.  Above all, we need both a writer and a hero with an interesting mind.  This can't be faked.  Take enough time to compare as little as five pages by a couch-bound geek from Podunk with those by a well-traveled, adventuresome soul wielding a pen that was warmed up in hell.  And in that light you'll feel the difference in your blood and bones.  First person genre masters:  John D. Macdonald, Raymond Chandler, James Lee Burke, Robert B Parker, Brad Strickland/Ken McKea...

Some favor the third person limited, with alternating p.o.v.'s, because of its obvious advantage:  Readers can see what the hero cannot:  the beast lying in wait on the door's other side...In novel after novel, James Patterson shifts back and forth between two p.o.v.'s: that of his latest sicko and endangered hero.  The formula works.

And yet I wondered for decades:  How could I keep the intimacy of the classic first-person narrative and respect its built-in limits...while milking the suspense of the mixed p.o.v.?  I repeat:  first-person all the way, told by just one narrator--but raiding the great benefits of the mixed p.o.v.

THE ALCATRAZ CORRECTION brings something new to the table:

The First Person-Plus.

And the difference, I think, will surprise and delight.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Brad Strickland Q&A: The Doc is In & Smokin' Hot!



Q: How does it feel to be an 'overnight success' as a new mystery writer...after publishing 70 novels in the past 25 years?

It’s been a long road. When I first thought about being a writer, I went immediately for the mystery field. At sixteen, I wrote my first short story, “The Third Grave,” and almost immediately sold it to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. That was also the last time I sold to them! I got busy with college, with starting a teaching career, and so on and drifted away from writing for years. And then when I came back, I wrote fantasy and sf, and other things came along, too. So if I’m an overnight success, I must have overslept.

Q: You wrote a lot of fantasy and science fiction, and also before you got back to the mystery field, you published in many other genres, correct?

Yes. Years after that first story, influenced by friends who were in the sf and fantasy field, I wrote and sold short stories to sf/fantasy magazines. That led to Richard Curtis, the agent, contacting me to ask if I could write an sf novel.

You never say “no.” So I said sure, I’m working on one right now. He asked me to send it to him when I finished, and six months later I did. He sold that one (To Stand Beneath the Sun) and that got me started as a novelist. Since then I’ve written science fiction, fantasy, horror, historicals, and tons of YA books.

Q: Is there an advantage for a writer to work in so many different fields? Is that something you might advise younger writers to try?

Actually, it may have been my worst mistake. Richard Curtis always said that if I do ONE damn thing I might make a name for myself, but I tended to write the story that came to mind, so I wrote fantasy, horror, sf, a mystery, you name it. The result was that I landed firmly in the midlist and stuck there! And when John Bellairs died and his son Frank asked me to finish up some books in his father’s series, that cemented me as a YA writer for a long time.

Q: And you also wrote for that TV dog that liked to dress up in costumes.

Sure, Wishbone the Jack Russell terrier. Those were fun to write, but my gosh, they wanted a ton of them. Eventually I co-wrote a good many Wishbone books with Thomas E. Fuller, with whom I worked on radio scripts for the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, and also with Barbara.

Through it all I still loved mysteries. When I was in college I corresponded regularly with Fred Dannay, half of the Ellery Queen writing team—a wonderful, encouraging guy—and also with Ken Millar, who wrote as Ross MacDonald. Our letters were often about the art and craft of mystery writing, and without being formal teachers, they gave me a great deal of instruction in the form.

Q: Tell us how you came back to the mystery field after all those other books.

Before Jim Dallas, I launched another collaboration, this one with my daughter Amy, a theater person—we created “Bailey Macdonald” (see the homage?) as a pen name for YA mysteries that call in a historical character—as a youth—to act as detective. The first of those was Wicked Will, in which a twelve-year-old Will Shakespeare solves a murder; the second, The Secret of the Sealed Room (I had a better title, but the publisher didn’t like it) does something similar with a teen-aged Ben Franklin. We have plans for one with a young Sam Clemens, but for some reason my daughter got married recently, so that one’s on hold! But before starting those, Thomas Fuller and I planned and even wrote in the adult mystery field. We had come up with the germ of Jim Dallas back around 2000.

Q: You'd intended a series of novels inspired by Travis McGee, right?

Yes, Tom and I had already published one mystery, a kind of romantic cozy, called The Ghost Finds a Body, very much in the classic amateur-sleuth mold. It was set in Florida, a place both Tom and I liked a lot. While we were working on a completely different project—an ARTC radio production—we were taking a break and Tom said, “Dammit, I want to read a new Travis McGee!”

I pointed out that, John D. MacDonald having died a few years earlier, that was not likely to happen. But Tom asked, “What if we wrote a tribute novel, one that isn’t a McGee but is in the same mold?” I was willing if he was, and he came up with the germ of the idea (I won’t spoil it), the odd fact that would make the mystery possible.

Q: How did you two collaborate? How’d you divide the work on the Jim Dallas book?

With Atlanta Bones, I suggested “Dallas” as the name for the character, since it is pretty widely known that MacDonald’s original name for his beach-bum adventurer was Dallas McGee. Unfortunately, his proposal landed on his editor’s desk on November 22, 1963. “Dallas” was, at that historical moment, a bad choice. But today the curse is off it. Originally our man was just going to be Dallas, no other name (like MacDonald’s Meyer), but that got to be awkward, so one day Tom said, “He’s Jim,” and that was that.

Tom and I met and plotted out the novel pretty thoroughly, about fifteen double-spaced pages or so, and we laid out the kind of research we’d need to do. We took a run at writing a few chapters, six as I recall, three by me and three by Tom—we did alternate chapters. To distinguish these from Travis, we decided they’d be third-person. That didn’t work, and we decided that we’d need to go first-person instead. But at that moment we sold two YA series and got really busy working on them, so we tabled the novel. That’s where matters rested when Tom died of a sudden heart attack in November, 2002.

Q: I understand that your pen name, Ken McKea wasn’t meant to conceal your identities. True?

Not at all. By this time in our careers, we were identified as a YA team, and so we decided we’d do the Dallas novel under a pen name—not to hide our identities, but to brand them as PG-13! Tom suggested a “Mac” name to reference both McGee and MacDonald, and our first thought was McKee, but that seemed too heavy-handed and obvious. Then McKay. I came up with Ken as a tip of the hat to the OTHER MacDonald, Ken Millar. Trouble was, we discovered a whole host of Ken McKays. So we thought we’d spell it weird: McKea (pronounced McKay).

Q: Were you tempted to abort the novel with Tom’s death?

Oh, yes. Tom died intestate, so there were legal issues as well as the shock of losing a close friend. However, the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company began work in 2010 on recording The Dancer in the Dark, a Lovecraftian horror tale that Tom had written as a two-and-a-half-hour radio serial, and I was cast in it.

That reminded me that Tom had a very rough draft of a novel version of the story that we had planned to work on together. I dug that out, completed it, and published it as an ebook. That in turn led me to look at the groundwork we’d laid for Atlanta Bones, and I still liked the idea, so I began from scratch to write the novel from the outline plans.

Q: Once you'd decided to go on, was there any change in your thinking about the nature of the series? As I went on from the first book to the second, I found myself thinking: Here's a tribute that knows when to go its own way.

The first idea was a one-off homage. I think we put maybe too much backstory in Atlanta Bones because of that. But, doggone it, I grew to like the character so much that I figured there must be more stories to tell.

There’s a lot of Tom and me in the characters, you know. Physically, Sam Lyons is a lot like Tom—tall and bulky. He wears my Hawaiian shirts, though. The byplay is a lot like discussions Tom and I would have.

Detour for a story: Tom and I were on the way to a meeting of our writers’ group one Sunday. It was in Atlanta, south of our homes, but since I lived farther north than Tom, usually I’d stop by his house and pick him up and we’d drive down together.

This Sunday we had to pull over. Coming toward us in the other lane was a police car with a flashing light; behind it was a hearse. Behind that was one car. That was the entire procession. I said to Tom, “Nothing in the world looks sadder than a clown’s funeral.”

He didn’t react. Then, an hour later, in the middle of the meeting, Tom suddenly roared with laughter and yelled, “Because they’re all in the same car!” Everyone thought he’d lost his mind.

That kind of joking around shows up in the books and it always reminds me of talking with Tom.

Okay, physically Jim Dallas is . . . not me. Not Tom, either. Kind of an ideal man of action, but damaged both physically and psychically.

Anyway, with the two strong characters as a grounding, I thought there were many more stories to tell. Before I had finished Atlanta Bones, I had come up with two more ideas, and with a little ingenuity I found a title pattern. MacDonald’s McGee was color-coded: The Deep Blue Goodbye, A Purple Place for Dying, Cinnamon Skin, and so on. Instead of that, I decided that each book would have an alphabetical title: Atlanta Bones, Cuban Dagger, Eden Feint, Glades Heist….so I could do thirteen books, until I get to Washington Xray and the Y-Z one, which I know but which I’m saving. I can see a character arc for Jim now and I think it’s sustainable.

Q: What does Jim Dallas bring to the table that's new and refreshing and different?

I see him as a man struggling with despair. He is not by nature pessimistic. He has a great sense of humor and a real interest in life. But life has damaged him and has made him bitter and cynical in ways he’s aware of and doesn’t like. He’s solving his own mystery, in a way, through the books, trying to find his way back to a point of balance and evenness in his own life.

Jim’s obsession—and he is compulsive—can be taken off his own problems by the intricate details of the cases he discovers and works on, but that’s at best temporary, leaving him antsy and disturbed between cases. Sam Lyons senses his potential for violence and destruction, but also senses that he is salvageable, and so he does what a friend can to help Jim deal with the explosive matters in his own past and his own psyche.

So I think the new element here is actually a very old one: the detective ultimately detecting himself. Oedipus the King is a detective story in which the detective is simultaneously the murderer he is pursuing, without realizing it. That can be incredibly powerful. That’s what I’m driving at right now in the series.


Q: Had you always planned on doing this as a limited, thirteen-part series? An inspired idea, by the way—the doubled-up alphabetized titles: Atlanta Bones, Cuban Dagger, Eden Feint...!

Well, you never know! You launch out on a series, maybe people hate it, and it dies. But I do see a clear character arc for the thirteen books. After that…I don’t know. Maybe, depending on how Y-Z turns out, there could be further adventures. At the moment, I’m concentrating on lucky thirteen, though!


Q: A fair number of writers, including myself, have switched from traditional to ebook publishing. You're one of the handful who work on both sides. Though you've been with the same agent for decades, he can't handle all your work...and has turned down a few precious projects, I think. You've written them, regardless. What have we here? A commercial, genre writer who writes what he will, from the heart?

The market is dismal at the moment. Traditional publishers don’t know how to deal with ebooks, but they need to learn, and damn fast. Really, what’s the point of bringing out a hardcover priced at $28.00, a paperback version priced at $7.99, and an ebook priced at…$14.00? That deters readers.

The midlist author is right now persona non grata as far as most traditional houses go. They want guaranteed best-selling writers, so we have pop stars getting six-million-dollar book deals, while talented writers can’t break in. That’s a shame, and it’s no wonder that writers are turning to independent publishing.

As for me, I want to write what I’d like to read. That’s why I never settled on a genre—an idea comes up and I want to follow it down the rabbit hole, and whether the hole leads to sf, fantasy, historicals, or mysteries, I want to go along on the trip.

And like all writers, I want readers, people to go with me.

Q: How goes life in EbookLandia? Have you succeeded in learning everything you need to know but hoped you'd never have to ask?

Getting there, not there yet. I’ve become pretty good at formatting for ebooks, and I design my own covers. The costs are minimal—you really have to have an ISBN, and they’re $125.00 each if you buy them one at a time, and you really need to register your own copyright, which is a further $35.00. Earning that back is a big milestone! Fortunately, ebooks have a higher royalty rate than paper books, and that helps get you to the break-even point (which, by the way, I passed fairly quickly with both the Dallas novels now out). I’m not getting rich, but I like to see the sales mount up. They provide some validation—“Somebody actually is willing to pay to read my story.”

I’m already getting emails asking why the books aren’t in paper. The answer is that no publisher apparently wants them. It’s barely possible that will change as the series goes on, but if it does, I intend to hang onto the ebook rights because I enjoy the process of controlling the book so much.

Which is not to say that I don’t need editors. Fortunately my wife Barbara has a good eye for a syntactical faux pas or a plot hole, and the members of my writers’ group backstop me on story logic and character and so on. Honestly I think at this stage the ebooks are as well-edited as most of my paper books have been.

But I am still learning. Actually, that’s a good thing. I can honestly say that I have learned something new with every story, every book I have ever written, and that keeps the process lively for me.



Q: What handicaps do you have to fight to succeed as an indie writer?

There’s the kneejerk response, of course: “If it was any good, it would be in hardcover.” I think that prejudice will fade over time. Right now ebook sales are outstripping traditional book sales.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of drek out there! It’s hard to carve a niche in a field where the really bad stuff, the stuff that doesn’t cut it on any level, outnumbers the good so decisively. That’s always true, though—Sturgeon’s Law in science fiction is “Ninety percent of everything is crap.” So you have to learn to trust the readers to find you and to make up their minds. If they like you, it would be nice if they’d tell five other people to buy the book!

With self-publishing in the traditional sense, distribution is the big problem. With ebooks, it’s publicity, letting people know the story is there and that it’s worth reading.


Q: What company would you like your work to keep on discriminating readers' shelves?

As a mystery writer, I’d love to see my stuff up there with all my idols: Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, Ross MacDonald, John D. MacDonald. They are the ones I began to read before I was even a teen-ager and the ones whose stories linger in the mind. And there are writers in other fields who touch on mysteries now and then that I’d be honored to keep company with: Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and my long-time favorite writer, Robert Louis Stevenson. Among the ladies, Connie Willis, Dorothy Sayers, and Sue Grafton—who like me was inspired by Ken Millar to become a writer. And of course as you know I like your character Boss MacTavin, a hardboiled guy in a whole nother way from Dallas, but a hell of an interesting figure!


Q: What books can we expect from you besides more Jim Dallas thrillers?

My next paper book is a biography of Eddie Carroll, the most well-known actor that no one’s ever heard of. He was the voice of Disney’s Jiminy Cricket for 37 years. Wonderful guy with wonderful stories, and his widow Carolyn and I have co-written his bio. That one’s coming out early next year and is in the editing stage now.

One of these days, Sam Clemens, Detective. And Tom and I had a steampunk novel underway, The Empress of Time, that I think has real potential. A publisher has expressed interest in my writing another show-business biography. And—well, that’s probably enough to be getting on with!

Q: You've worn a lot of hats, Brad, and worn them very well: Professor (full title—where), son, husband, father, author of horror/sci-fi/fantasy/nonfiction/mystery...Which hats remain for you to wear—and which do you most yearn to wear?

Professor of English at the University of North Georgia (formerly Gainesville State College)

I’d like to be a grandpa one of these days! And I’ve always wanted to be…a lumberjack!

No, actually I love the sea and ships and boats, and though I don’t want the aggravation and expense of actually owning one, I’d really like to learn how to sail a sailboat one of these days.


Q: Do you close the bathroom door when you're home alone?

I do, because I hate peeing on my dog’s head. And it’s hard to avoid because he wants to look in there and see what’s happening.


Q: What's one thing about you that drives people nuts?

Barbara says I lie a lot—not maliciously, but I’ll start telling a story and if she doesn’t seem to be paying attention, I’ll keep embroidering it until it breaks down of its own weight. My kids say I shouldn’t sing in the car because my voice can cause sterility.


Q: Do you have any strength as a writer that some consider weakness? When Ovid's friends listed three lines of his work that they felt were too 'clever' to keep, those were the same three lines he swore he'd die before he changed. And Byron's friends begged him to abandon his work on Don Juan.

Some readers think I over-analyze now and again and explain things in too much detail—but I’ve learned that unless I do put some effort into it people tend to misread the story and get the wrong idea! So I suppose it’s a case of trying to balance clarity and leaving room for the readers’ imaginations.

Q: Has your adult fiction benefited from your efforts in YA?

Just the practice of storytelling helps, of course. In YA I’ve fortunately had a great deal of freedom. When I did the Wishbone adaptation of Treasure Island, I told the editor, Kevin Ryan, that every young-reader adaptation I’d ever seen soft-pedaled the story by omitting the onstage deaths of both good and bad guys, and I told him that in my version them what died in the original would similar die in the Wishbone version, by the Powers! And he let me do that. After all, pirates are not nice people. The line editor said that young readers wouldn’t understand Trelawney’s line, “Hawkins, I put prodigious faith in you!” but he let me keep “prodigious” in. I think kids get it—from context if from nothing else—and so both in style and substance I treasured the freedom I have had in writing for a younger audience. Traditional YA mysteries don’t kill anyone—but in my YA murder mysteries, murders are real, and kids help to solve them.


Q: Are you the guy who sits at the end of the bar secretively taking notes...or the wild party animal who jumps right into the action and hopes to remember it later?

More the quiet guy. At parties I talk with friends and strangers and don’t drink much. One thing I have to do with the Jim Dallas tales is to get connoisseurs to tell me what beers, wines, and liquors he would buy. Dallas didn’t start out as a man devoted to high living, but one way he copes is to make his existence as pleasant as possible, so he tends to seek out good beverages and good food. He’s not saving up for the future, so his simple life is spiced by a bit of indulgence (which he pays for with a rigorous exercise routine).

Me, a beer is usually all I want, just one. Not fussy about it. I actually have more fun watching, listening, and mentally filing things away than by trying to be a party animal. You get the seeds of stories by people watching. The fun is seeing what they grow into.