One Bite at a Time




Thursday, February 25, 2010

Coming Clean

It's been a week, so I might as well fess up as to which lies I told in the Blatant Liar—Creative Writer challenge.

Everything I said was false. Except for being a close personal of Larry King. Hell of a nice guy. I worked with him at Computer Associates for a few years and we've stayed in touch ever since. Runs a small English language school in Japan now, we try to get together for Hooters' wings whenever he comes this side of the International Date Line. Larry's good people.

What? You're trying to tell me there's another one?

Sanctuary

Dan O'Shea has a flash fiction challenge over at his blog, Going Ballistic. My contribution is below; hop on over to Dan's blog for links to the rest.

SANCTUARY

"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned."

"How long has it been since your last confession?"

Pause. "Long time. Twenty years, anyway."

"And now you've done something so bad you feel you have to come in?"

Another pause. "No, it's not that. There's something I'm going to do. Nothing bad. I just want to, you know, clear my conscience."

"What do you want to confess?"

An even longer pause. "I've done a lot of bad things. I never hurt anyone that didn't deserve it. I kinda fell into things and, well, I mean, times were tough and I was doing what I had to do. Pretty soon you're working for people you shouldn't be spending time with, and—look, I ain't proud of any of this, but I was making a living. A good living."

Late at night, the settling of a beam ricocheted through the empty church.

"That's pretty vague for a confession. If you're done, that is."

"This is hard to talk about."

"It's supposed to be. Contrition is the first step toward absolution."

Silence. The clearing of a throat. "You're saying I have to be sorry for what I did?"

"Going to confession doesn't hand you a Get Out of Hell Free card. Your sins can't be forgiven unless you repent."

"I wish I never did any of that stuff. Does that count?"

"Any of what stuff?"

"Jesus Christ, Father, do I have to spell it out for you?"

"Watch your mouth, and yes, you do."

A deep breath let out through the nose. Shifting feet. "I don't know where to start."

"Let's start with why you're here tonight."

"What do you think I came here for? I came to confess."

"Why tonight, of all nights? You said you haven't been to confession for at least twenty years. What's special about tonight?"

"I'm in trouble. In case things go wrong I want to be in a—what do you call it?—a state of grace."

"Are you in danger?"

"Yeah."

"Because of the things you came to confess?"

"Yes. No. It's complicated."

"You said before you were going to do something, but it wasn't bad. Is that why you came now?"

"In a way. Yeah, I guess." He blew his nose. "I said before I worked for people I shouldn't a spent time with. There's this guy, Mike Mannarino. People call him The Hook. Anyway, I started doing little things for him and he liked me. At least I thought he liked me. Worked for the guy twenty years, then I find out he sent me to do a job might be a set up, you know, to be sure everything was jake before he really committed to it. Like I was contrary in a mineshaft, or something.

"So he was right, and the job was screwed up and I got pinched. He either forgot or didn't care I had some things over my head, I couldn't take a fall. The cops bring me in, keep me there almost a week, I can't make bail. Talk to me every day, twice a day, and I stand up the whole time. I wouldn't tell them if they asked me who the quarterback for the Steelers was. They offered me deals. New life. All charges dropped. Uh-uh. I'm looking at five years and I don't say a word."

"Loyalty is admirable, even when it's misplaced."

"Loyalty, huh? Let me tell you about loyalty. This Mannarino, he bailed me out this afternoon."

"Didn't you want him to?"

"Yeah, a week ago. Today, maybe two hours after I'm out, I'm leaving Big Boy and someone takes a run at me. Like the word's out I talked, or something."

"You said you didn't."

"I didn't. That don't appear to be the word that got out."

"It could just be a misunderstanding."

"Guns don't misunderstand, Father. What I think happened is, Joe Rienstra let slip what happened that night I got picked up. He got a case hanging over him, too, and I was what they call collateral damage. Joe got to Mike first, with me in jail, and told him I talked, that's why bail was so low. Which it wasn't, or I woulda bonded myself out."

"I don't understand how any of this brought you here tonight."

"Because I ain't safe anyplace else, Father. I want to get good with God, then tomorrow I'm going to make the deal. Fuck Mike Mannarino, and fuck Joey Rienstra. I never did anything but stand up and this is what I get. I want my soul clean in case they get to me before I can get protection."

"I understand. I think your willingness to make things right with the police counts as contrition. Say a Hail Mary for me, and I'll pray for you."

"Just one Hail Mary? Thanks, Father. That seems pretty light."

"It's all you got time for, you rat bastard." Two shots from a .22 sounded like not much more than a couple of hard hand claps in the hollowness of the church.

Stretch Dolewicz eased himself out of the booth. Not squeamish, but sitting in a confessional for forty-five minutes with a dead priest who thought he was a hero not his idea of a good time. And now The Hook would want him to take care of Rienstra.

Fucking job.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Your Chance to Aid All Mankind, One Book at a Time

Irish author Declan Burke can write the ass off an elephant, but he has buzzard's luck. (You can't kill anything, and nothing will die.) A couple of years ago, The Big O was one of my annual recommended reads after Dec drug himself up by his bootstraps, made a partnership deal with a small Irish publisher (Hag's Head), and worked his way into a two-book deal with Harcourt. Unfortunately, Harcourt picked up its petticoats and ran screaming from the building at the first sign of recession, laying off editors (his, of course), and cancelling contracts (his sequel, of course). This left Dec an orphan in the classic literary sense, as there were more books with canceled contracts than there were soft landings, and the music stopped before Crime Always Pays found a chair. (Yes, that's a mixed metaphor; get over it. This isn't about me, and Dec's a better writer, anyway.)

The Big O and Crime Always Pays read like Elmore Leonard-Carl Hiaasen collaborations: great dialog, no one quite as smart as they think they are, and plots that roam all over the place, both unpredictable and plausible. (I was fortunate enough to read an electronic copy of Crime Always Pays.)

Dec has another project ready to go; he can describe it better than I, and does so here. Of course, this is Declan Burke, the Joe Bftsplk of publishing, so there's a catch. Bad for Good/A Gonzo Noir is a little experimental for publishers to get behind, given their craven unwillingness to take a chance unless they think a writer has the next Da Vinci Code no more than one book away. I've seen bits of Gonzo; if it was a movie, Terry Gilliam would direct it. I happen to like Terry Gilliam movies; so do a lot of people. Just not people in a position to sign off on a publishing contract. (Michael Bay is more to their taste.)

Anyway, Squire Burke has decided to take the bull by the balls and try something new and different, which is why he doesn't have a job in publishing. He's going to take Bad for Good directly to the people who'll know what to do with it: readers. He's currently exploring options for raising interest and capital to have the book done himself; details are on his blog. Go on over and take a look; he's posting updates as he gets them. There's no risk; he's only asking for pledges for the cost of a single book, about $10 American. If the book gets published, you get a copy; if not, you'll get your money back. (I tried to talk him into a scheme worthy of The Producers, but he's too much into this whole role model thing for his daughter; any of his characters would have jumped on my idea like Madonna on a troop ship.)

Hop on over to Crime Always Pays and get the details from Dec himself. Drop him a note if you're at all interested; he needs some idea as to the level of interest before he can move forward. That autographed copy will be nice to have when he becomes the Hunter Thompson of Irish fiction.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Do Blogs Work?

There appears to be no empirical evidence attesting to the efficiency of marketing techniques, at least as far as books are concerned. National tours are expensive and becoming passé for all but the heavyweights. Book trailers seem to be losing steam. Facebook? Twitter? Maybe. Blogs? Definitely sometimes. I've discovered a lot of new authors from reading trusted blogs, and from the Crimespace community, as I've come to trust the tastes of certain individuals much more than I do reviewers'.

What about your own blog? Can it create new readers? Granted, I'm an anecdote, not a data sample, but I'd say yes, and I can prove it.

I met Dan O'Shea at Bouchercon last fall. He was in a small group I was invited to tag along with for some munchies at an off-site location. Never met him before. To be honest, I'd never heard of him before. Seemed like a nice guy, and entertaining as hell. When someone else's blog referred to an interview he'd posted on his blog, I signed up for the feed. I've dropped a few comments, he's replied, and I've participated in one of his flash fiction challenges. I enjoy reading his blog, and the shorts of his I've read are fun.

As fate would have it, Dan has also been tagged for the "Outrageous Liar" meme. Here's the title of his post: A Complete Waste of Time You Can Blame on that Bastard Keith Rawson. That's got my attention right away. He begins the post with, "Fucking bastard, that Rawson. I mean if you get one of these things on your Facebook page, some "Which Prehistoric Farmville Mobwars Unicorn are YOU Most Like in Bed" quiz, you can just ignore that." I'm now chemically forced to read the rest, which has more laugh out loud lines like that, none of which will be quoted here. Go over and read his blog yourself. Check out some old posts. This is an entertaining man.

Having read his blog for a few months, and now seen this classic, will I look for his books? Damn right.

Outrageous Truths. Or Not.



John McFetridge has has pegged me to take part in the Bald-Faced Liar (no wait, “Creative Writer”) Blogger Award. Thanks for thinking of me, John. I think.

Here are the rules:

• Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth – or – switch it around and tell six outrageous truths and one outrageous lie. (See below.)

• Nominate some more “Creative Writers” who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies of their own. (Check the end of this post.)

• Post links to the blogs you nominate.

• Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know that you have nominated them.

Here goes:

Footage of me being tear-gassed appeared on the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.

The TV character The Equalizer was based in part on my uncle, a retired Green Beret.

I am a close personal friend of Larry King.

I once stole a snowmobile that was being serviced and drove it into a tree. In July.

I have lost 100 pounds. I have since found 70 of them.

I was a one-handicap golfer who missed qualifying for the 1982 US Open by two strokes. (I'm old now, so my handicap is 6.)

Let's see who can guess which of these is true; or false. It's either five true and one false, or vice versa. I ain't saying.

I'm tagging Declan Burke, Austin Camacho, Tim Hallinan, and Charlie Stella.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

January’s Best Reads

Complications, by Atul Gawande. Non-fiction look at the medical profession, and the relationship between doctors and patients, written by a surgeon who readily admits he, and his peers, don't have all the answers. Timely reading, considering the current debate over health care and costs. Gawande has an easy style which keeps what could become a chore to read moving along nicely. Recommended for all, but especially if you or someone close has a medical issue on the horizon.

Deadwood, by Pete Dexter. Written well before the HBO series, it can be assumed David Milch read this before doing the show. Dexter sets the atmosphere perfectly through the voice, with most of the story told through the eyes of Wild Bill Hickok's friend, Charley Utter. Every character—save one—actually existed, though Dexter fabricated most of the events to suit his purposes. One of those books I started reading slower toward the end, to delay getting there.

Gun Monkeys, by Victor Gischler. I caught Gischler at a Bouchercon panel last year and asked him which of his books he'd recommend as a starting place for someone unfamiliar with his work; this was his suggestion. Smart man. Reads like Mickey Spillane with a sense of humor, just enough Carl Hiaasen to provide a girlfriend who's a taxidermist. Old-fashioned pulp for the 21st Century.

Great Advice

I expect everyone who stops by this blog is at least familiar with the name Joe Konrath. He's a successful midlist writer of crime fiction, with a six-book series to his credit. Recently he's branched out into horror and science fiction. You can't miss him at a conference: no one works the room as tirelessly as Joe. In the promotion department, he's James Brown, the hardest-working man in publishing. The numbers of signings and guest blogs he's done while still knocking out a book a year are staggering.

I've read a couple of his books, and they're not my cup of tea. That's on me. They're solidly written, funny, and are good stories well told. I'm just not into serial killer/mass murderer stories. I only mention it to show my comments below aren't a matter of me promoting someone I'm already in the tank for.

Joe has a blog titled A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, which is highly recommended by people a lot smarter than I as a place to learn about the writing business from the writer's perspective. He's on the leading edge of the electronic publishing issue, and is selling books both electronically and in print. His ideas on each are well worth reading. It's definitely worth checking out in light of the recent (current?) Amazon/Macmillan pissing contest.

Don't stop there, though; scroll on down. Around the end of last year, first of this year, Joe wrote a series of posts every writer should read and be aware of. The links are below. Take a few minutes and check them out, then more than a few minutes to ponder them. Well worth the time.
http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2010/01/luck-you.html

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2009/12/what-i-know.html

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2009/12/resolutions-for-writers-2010.html

Monday, February 1, 2010

Clash of the Titans

This post may do nothing more than re-assert my ignorance. It won’t be the first time.

I have no dog in the Amazon-Macmillan pissing contest. I’m not published, and I’m not particularly hopeful about the prospects, so it doesn’t have much of an effect on me, other than potentially forcing me to buy books by Macmillan authors elsewhere. I have friends who are potentially effected by this, and I feel for them (John McFetridge must feel like Joe Bftsplk by now), but I have a little objective distance, which leads me to say,

A pox on both their houses.

As several others have noted, this is not about serving customers, and it’s sure as hell not about doing anything for writers. It’s about control. Period. It was brought to a head by Apple’s introduction of the iPad last week, but its roots have grown in the fertile soil of publishing’s inane distribution policies.

Let’s all forget we’re readers and/or writers for a few seconds and put on our MBA hats. (I know, that’s as demeaning as asking Jackson Pollock to paint your house, but bear with me.) No matter how much we treasure books, in the grand scheme of capitalism they’re widgets. Someone makes them, and someone sells them. The manufacturer (in this case, Macmillan) sells the widget (in this case, a book) to a retail outlet (in this case, Amazon) for whatever the traffic will bear. Amazon then sells it to the general public, fixing its price in a similar manner. Both set their prices just high enough to maximize income, but not so high total sales are too adversely affected.

This is as it is for just about everything sold in this country. If Macmillan sets its wholesale price too high, Amazon will but fewer, or no, books. Same deal for Amazon vis-à-vis the public. It should be none of the manufacturer’s business how much the retailer charges its customers for the product; that’s restraint of trade. They can set a manufacturer’s suggested retail price, but that’s about it.

This would necessitate two dramatic changes in publishing. First, advances and royalties would have to be pegged to the wholesale cost of the book, as the publishers have no say in what it can be sold for. Second, and possibly more stressful—because neither side in this dispute really gives a rat’s ass about the writers’ profits*--returns would be forbidden. Imagine ordering 100,000 tires, then telling Goodyear they had to take 50,000 back, at their expense. Right.

I’m sure there’s a hole in this logic somewhere; arguments born of as much ignorance as mine usually have several. “This is the way it’s done,” or, “This is the way we’ve always done it” don’t count. If nothing else, it sure would make bookkeeping a lot easier.

* -- Before someone sticks up for how concerned publishers are with making sure their writers make a good living, ask yourself one question: do you really think your publisher would pay you—at all—if they thought they could get you to give them your rights for free?