One Bite at a Time




Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Interviews

I’ve been an intermittent interviewer for six years, doing a couple a year on average. I enjoy the process and try to strike a balance of questions no one else will ask with questions that are asked often because people want to know the answers. (Never “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve never asked that question, and I promise you I never will.) I have kiddingly patted myself on the back several times when an interview is well received, “reminding” everyone the key to a good interview is in the questions.

Turns out I was right.

I never expected anyone to care enough about Wild Bill to want to ask the author about it. Thankfully, I was wrong about that. I’m in the process of replying to my fourth set of questions this week. Each interview has been unlike the others, and each has been fun. The questioners have approached Wild Bill, and me, in unique manners, so the questions have forced me to think about different things, and even to consider things I hadn’t thought of while I was writing the book. The interviews have been even more gratifying than the good reviews, in part due to the give and take, and, I think, because I’m flattered that someone took enough of an interest in the book to want to know more about where it came from. They have been an unadulterated blessing.

Some interviewers can get away with a list of stock questions they ask everyone. These interviewers either A) are well-known in their own right, or B) have a list of kick-ass questions. Anyone can generate a list of five questions off the top of their head, the questions they hope get asked at a book signing. Those are fine to work into a longer interview, but they don’t tell anything about this author and this book the reader couldn't have found elsewhere. They aren’t the way to get thoughtful answers unless the questions are unique and versatile. (Not “Where do you get your ideas?”)

Based on my experience on both sides of the equation, the best way to get a good interview is to make it obvious you read the book, and have generated questions based on things you found in the book. I don’t mean just about the story; many authors are reluctant to reveal spoilers in their own work. (What can you expect from prima donnas?) Ask about the writing, the characters, something unique about how a plot point was handled, the setting, any influences. Sure you can work in a few like “Why do you write in this genre?” or “Can you recommend a few books?” People want to know that and authors are happy to tell them.

If you really want a good interview, pick something from the book that stands out and ask about it. I have been lucky enough to interview Timothy Hallinan and Leighton Gage, who set their books in Thailand and Brazil, respectively. Both are witty, articulate, and fun. I doubt either of them could give a bad interview from inside an iron lung. Pick out something that stood out about either Thailand or Brazil and let them run with it. They’ll do the work for you.

The key to a good interview, like the key to any relationship, is to make the author feel as though you’re doing this interview because you want to interview that author, not just “I do a series of interviews and I couldn’t think of anyone better.” Don’t kiss ass, but don’t be afraid to stroke the author a little. I doubt you’d get good responses if the tone of the interview is, “Your book is a piece of shit, but I wondered how anyone could write something so horrible.” They may not warm to you; authors have egos, too.

And, if you ask “Where do you get your ideas?” you deserve whatever happens to you.

(Many thanks to Charlie Stella, Tim Hallinan, Pat Browning, and Karen Treanor for teaching me how much fun it can be to be the interviewee.)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

E-Book Pricing: A Concisely Compiled Argument

Declan Burke's Crime Always Pays blog is a constant source of information and entertainment. Dec is also a tireless promoter of other writers and the go-to guy for information on Irish crime fiction. Today he touches all the bases on the current controversy of e-book pricing. Well worth a read for both writers and readers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wild Bill Finds His Secret Santa

Steve Weddle--co-editor of the collection Discount Noir* and contributor to many other fine collections--has posted his Christmas shopping recommendations over at the always worth reading Do Some Damage blog, and--it's a Christmas miracle!--Wild Bill has been included. While not even I would recommend reading this aloud to the tykes if Clement Moore can't be found, it might well make a nice gift for a Kindle- or Nook-toting adult who likes a brisk tale and isn't put off by a little sex and violence and foul language.

Mr. Weddle has put me in with some fast company, as he has also recommended books by Alan Heathcock, Bonnie Jo Campbell, John Hornor Jacobs, Benjamin Whitmer, Frank Bill, Lynn Kostoff, Duane Swierczynski, and Dennis Tafoya. Hop on over to DSD to read more about all of the above, as well as links to make your purchases easy.

Many thanks to Steve Weddle for putting his hard-earned cred on the line and vouching for me.

(* - Steve wrote what, to me, is one of the handful of greatest opening lines ever in his story, "Code Adam." "You just don't have the kind of day I was having and not kill someone.")

Happy Holidays From OBAAT


Another pass around the sun
Is ending for us all
And I confess, the year that ebbs
Has held us all in thrall
With ups and downs and downs and ups,
Our heads we could but shake.
A hurricane was not enough;
We had our own earthquake.

The Sole Heir’s news is only good,
Her options she surveyed,
And changed her school from U of M
To down St. Mary’s way
At southern tip of Maryland,
A place she much prefers,
So strongly that, two hours away,
We still can hear her purr.

Her next year may be better still:
In May she’s off to France
Where studies medical will get
Their first prolonged glance.
She’ll stay six weeks in sunny Nice,
A Riviera clime,
She’ll learn, she’ll work, she’ll play, she’ll tour,
The time should be sublime.

The Spouse Beloved had a year
‘Twould rattle lesser souls
Her craft room’s devastation set
Her back on several goals.
The water of her discontent
Has seen its flow abate,
Its renovation’s tardiness
Is gone, no more she waits
For closet and for storage space,
More room to work her crafts,
It’s coming all together now
Despite some minor gaffes.

My year, it had a couple downs,
Though ups will far outlast,
Like surgery on both my eyes
Means they’re no longer glassed.
Twin cataracts their view had dimmed
Until both were removed,
Bionic lenses took their place;
My vision’s much improved.

A book has been produced, my first
To place in public view,
And though the sales have not been brisk,
I’ve good reviews in lieu.
Kind words from several writing peers
Describe success to me,
Wild Bill was first, two more next year,
How well they’ll do, we’ll see.

A lot of other stuff occurred
But, frankly, little good.
And mighty bored you all would be
If tell it all I would,
So I will pass, because we know
That bad times always fade
There’s no point to remember them,
To rest they should be laid.

Now once again a year will end
And all will celebrate
The winter solstice holidays
Of any faith you fete,
We hope you have a happy time,
Kick back or tie one on
That’s all for now, we’re signing off,
Till Twenty-Twelve is gone.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Discipline

The end of the basement project is in sight. Much still remains to be done, but most of my work consists of carrying boxes downstairs so The Beloved Spouse can put things into their new homes. It’s time to get back to some semblance of normal life. That means my writing schedule has to ramp up.

That’s not the easiest thing to do. Getting back to work after taking off the summer is easy. I know going in I need to get busy again on the day after Labor Day. (Labor Day in the States is the first Monday in September.) It’s a clear-cut, binary decision.

This time the re-start is not so easily defined. Other habits that don’t require so much concentration have eased into what had been small pockets of time between tasks. Those pockets of time have grown, and the other habits have grown to fit the space available. An hour of 30 Rock reruns on Comedy Central now must be accommodated, as well as regular viewing of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Now it’s time to re-acquaint myself with a regular writing schedule.

Writing is not inspiration; neither is it patience. Writing is the discipline of finding something inside yourself that can pass as inspiration while forcing yourself to be patient at the same time you’re ignoring the siren song of something enjoyable that requires a lot less effort. (In my case, any televised hockey game.) To help with this, I have tasked myself with writing a blog post—either here or at From the Home Office—every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Inspiration is not required. Find a topic, sit my ass down and write about it.

This blog post is a example of what results when such a schedule has been set, self-discipline sits my ass down, and I got nothing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Formatting Frustration

Now that sales of Wild Bill are firmly into double digits (36 and the last-minute Christmas shoppers haven’t been heard from yet), it’s time to turn my attention to what comes next. Sure, a lot of writers would see three dozen sales and kick back, figuring the mountain has been climbed. Not me. The public is fickle. Staying out of sight for too long can be death to a fledgling author. Sure, 36 is an impressive number, but drop off the radar and sales plummet. There’s no guarantee the next book would even break the prestigious 30 mark.

Fortunately, I have several novels on the hard drive (“in the drawer,” in traditional terms) that are ready to go, thanks to a myriad of gatekeepers who have for years been not just willing, but eager to tell me I was a fine writer, they liked the book a lot, and were sure I’d have no trouble finding someone (else) to publish it. The plan is to launch one every six months or so until the backlog has been worked down. Target date for Worst Enemies is March 1.

Of course, the book must be formatted for Kindle first. (I have learned the double O in Nook stands for total sales expected, at least in my case. Little time will be spent in that sales channel.) E-Book Architects did a great job with Wild Bill, and I’d go to them again in a heartbeat, but I wondered how hard it would be to do it myself. I work on computers all say. I’m no HTML programmer, but I was curious to see what was involved. I still had a plenty of time to involve E-Book Architects if I got in over my head.

Amazon has an easy to follow checklist with everything that needs to be done, including a free, downloadable program that will do the heavy lifting. I format Word documents well, having done several for POD books put out by my writers group in the past, and have learned to keep things tidy as I go.

I got the list, downloaded the software, and spent a few minutes each night for a week or so following the directions. I loaded what I had onto my Kindle and it looked great, with two exceptions. Chapters did not start on new pages, and all paragraphs had first-line indents, which I didn’t want.

The page breaks were easy. I’d fallen into the shorthand method of using Ctrl-Enter to start a new page. This doesn’t convert properly; I had to use the menu commands, Insert > Page Break. Easy fix. Took no more than fifteen minutes to correct all sixty-plus chapters.

The paragraph indents were made of sterner stuff. (I want the first paragraph of each chapter, as well as the acknowledgements, to be left aligned. The rest can be indented.) I tried a few things, even looked at the underlying HTML and experimented. No dice. Internet research showed those “we know what’s best for everyone” bastards at Amazon have Kindles set up to indent all new paragraphs by default.

(Note: I am using the slang definition of the term “bastard” to describe the powers that be at Amazon. Per Dictionary.com: a vicious, despicable, or thoroughly disliked person. I would never imply, and have no reason to suspect, that Jeff Bezos or any of his minions were conceived under other than honorable circumstances. I think the definition I have chosen is commonly accepted enough to negate any libel issues.)

More research turned me on to a procedure that should work, though it involved downloading two programs (both free), formatting the book in one, saving it as an EPUB file, then opening it in the other program to convert it to MOBI. It doesn’t strike me as being as hard as it looks here, and I have some time off coming up for the holidays.

I also have E-Book Architects’ address already entered in a draft email.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Wild Bill Gets Some Cross-Genre Love

Pat Browning, tireless owner and proprietor of the blog Morning’s at Noon (I wonder if she is a Tom Waits fan*), and author of Absinthe of Malice, has posted a review of Wild Bill to Amazon. Pat writes:

Dana King's debut novel, WILD BILL, is an attention grabber. The title character, FBI Special Agent Will Hickox, engages in a determined pursuit of organized crime, building his case over a period of two years, as crime leaders jockey back and forth for top positions.

Law enforcement does its own juggling act, with the beat cops, the FBI and the Department of Justice jockeying for position, until the DOJ demands that the case be wrapped up pronto.


This superbly written book goes on my personal "Best Of" list for 2011.

Pat also wrote a more thoroughgoing review for the DorothyL list serve. It’s just as flattering, but when a writer who doesn’t normally deal in the level of grit where Wild Bill lives says your book is “superbly written and goes on [her] personal”Best Of” list, there’s no point in gilding the lily.

Pat has also invited me to participate in a virtual conversation with her and Timothy Hallinan (The Queen of Patpong) next month. More details on that as they become available.

Many thanks, Pat. Absinthe of Malice is on my Kindle, ready to go.

(* – Possibly my favorite Tom Waits song is “Better Off Without a Wife,”** which contains the line “I can sleep until the crack of noon.”)

(** - This Humble Correspondent With Much to be Humble About is in no way better off without The Beloved Spouse.)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Up the Amazon Without a Paddle


I own a Kindle and do most of my reading on it. It’s a great way to keep up with authors whose books are hard to find or out of print and beats hell out of loading up a suitcase with multiple books when taking a trip.

I published Wild Bill to Kindle last August and have several more books in the pipeline. (Wild Bill was also published for Nook, but I have since learned the middle two characters in “Nook” describe my first three months’ sales there.) The 70% royalty is a good deal, and it was easy to do. I’m in the process of formatting my next book, and it’s not rocket science, either.

As you can see, I’m tied to Amazon both as a customer, and as an author. Now I feel a little icky about the whole thing.

It started last summer, when word got out about the inhuman conditions workers at Amazon’s Lehigh Valley (PA) had to endure or face dismissal. (Note to too many journalists: the word is “inhuman.” “Inhumane” is how animals are treated.) Earlier this week I learned of Amazon’s efforts to evade California’s attempt to get them to pay sales taxes like every other retailer, which included paying a company three dollars per signature to get a referendum on the ballot. (Amazon has since come to an agreement with California pending the resolution of federal legislation. I wonder how many campaign contributions will be made each way on that issue?) Yesterday’s bombshell was my learning of The Evil Empire’s newest campaign to undermine brick-and-mortar stores by offering shoppers discounts for reporting competitors’ prices back to Amazon via smart phones.

It’s not like Amazon is just trying to level the playing field. They already have dramatic advantages over traditional sales outlets due to lower overhead (which is fine, a direct result of not providing personal assistance, a choice retailers make for themselves) and not paying sales taxes (which is, frankly, an unfair competitive advantage for Amazon). Isn’t making money hand over fist enough? Do they have to subscribe to the Michael Corleone School of Business and crush everyone else? And, when they do, what can we expect from them when we really have no place else to buy or sell?

This kind of decision has been easy for me in the past. I don’t care for Wal-Mart’s business practices, so I don’t shop there. I think the economy in this allegedly Christian nation will not be brought to its knees if the families of retail and manufacturing workers can have one day a week to spend together, so I don’t shop on Sundays unless there is no way around it.

Now Amazon has proven the old saying is true: I laid down with a pig and got dirty. I feel like I joined up with the Imperial Fleet to see the galaxy and found out I'm working for Darth Vader, The question is, what do I do about it? Doing nothing is the same as saying I’m okay with Amazon’s rapacious business practices. Doing too much will hurt only me; Amazon won’t care if I set myself on fire on the roof of the Library of Congress.

  • Here’s where I am today (I mean “today” as I write this. I’ve already changed my mind on this half a dozen times, so this is a fluid position):
  •  I’ll continue to publish to Kindle. I make more money per sale than they do, and no one has to work in triple-digit heat to ship my books.
  • I' ll pick a short list—ten, maybe—of writers whose books I’ll have a hard time getting elsewhere and buy them for my Kindle. See warehouse note above.
  •  I’ll buy the books of other authors who are in much the same boat as I am, on the premise that I’ll hurt them more than I’ll hurt Amazon by boycotting the site altogether.
  •  Other books will be read either after purchase from a brick-and-mortar store or from my public library.
  • I’ll bust Amazon’s balls at every opportunity.

Am I fooling myself into thinking this will making a difference? No. It might if enough people do it, and someone has to go first.

Here’s my question: is my level of rationalization/hypocrisy too great to overlook? I freely admit there some in here, but I have to make my peace with the world as I find it, not how it would be if I were In Charge.

Please comment, and solicit comments from others if you’re so inclined. I’m genuinely curious about this. What do you plan to do, if anything? Why, or why not? Am I making too much of this? Not enough?



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Even More Love for Wild Bill

Leighton Gage is the author of the successful Chief Inspector Mario Silva series, set in Brazil. His books have been praised by outlets ranging from Booklist (“South America’s Kurt Wallender”) to the Toronto Globe and Mail (“Masterful”) to the Boston Globe (“Compelling”) to Publisher’s Weekly (“Intelligent and Subtle…suspenseful and sophisticated). His newest effort, A Vine in the Blood, will be available in hard copy in North America at the end of December, and is available for Kindle now. 


Here is what he had to say about Wild Bill:


I’m no stranger to first novels.


Twice, I’ve served on juries where our task was to recognize the “Best Mystery/Thriller Novel Of The Year.”


Both times, it involved the reading of books written by well over 100 debut authors.


Few of them were anywhere near as good as Wild Bill. And none were significantly better.
Wild Bill is as lean as a whippet.


Dana King, the author, is a guy who has a natural talent for making every word count.


Characters in the books of many first-timers are often about as substantial as cardboard. And just as appetizing.


That’s not the case with King.


His voice is original.


And he’s really good at grasping cliché’s and turning them inside-out.


As a matter of fact, the only bad thing I can say about Wild Bill (and I’m trying really hard now) is that, personally, I don’t like the way it ends.


Not that King ended it badly. He didn’t. But the story didn’t come out the way I’d hoped it would.


Which, in a way, is another good thing to say about it.


Because my investment in the characters was great enough for me to care.


And when it comes to first novels, that doesn’t happen all that often, either.


Many thanks to Leighton for his kind words. Remember,Wild Bill is available now on Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble for that perfect $2.99 Kindle- or Nook-stuffer.

Monday, November 28, 2011

More Love for Wild Bill

Mike Dennis is the author of Setup on Front Street (one of OBAAT’s Best Reads for June), The Take, and Bloodstains on the Wall. His newest book, Ghosts of Havana  launches as a paperback in a couple of weeks and is available now for Kindle, Nook, and iPad. Here’s what Mike has to say about Wild Bill:

Chicago Outfit leaders Junior Bevilacqua and Frank Ferraro are locked in a mortal struggle for control of the organization, but it's not clear who's siding with whom in this well-crafted tale of mob intrigue. On the other side, the FBI and the Chicago PD have their own set of differences, and before you can say, "Godfather II", you realize no one can be trusted. Throw in a beautiful woman, married to someone else, and you have the makings of a great story. Dana King keeps it all together, even in those spots where he could've easily lost control of the plot, he maintains a tight weave with crisp dialogue and great tension. The characterizations ring with authenticity, right down to the minor players, and Frank Ferraro's final gesture makes a fitting end to this all-too-human novel.

Many thanks to Mike for his kind words.

 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What Happens While You’re Making Other Plans

The last couple of months have been less than productive, at least from a writing perspective. I ended my summer hiatus and got about ten chapters into the next project when basement leakage demanded my attention. The Bouchercon trip was cancelled, the basement was emptied, and the floors were dug up with jackhammers to install a water management system guaranteed never to let water into the house again. (It has better not, for what it cost me.)

Then the damage done by the water people had to be fixed. Since The Beloved Spouse had been trying to make her basement craft room fit her needs since we moved in over five years, we bit the bullet and had that job done while the basement was empty. About halfway through that project I rolled over in bed and poked myself in the eye with my thumb, resulting in a corneal abrasion that required an eye patch for a couple of days. (I had a clear plastic eye guard from my cataract surgery, but the only dark patch we could find to shield the eye from light was a Halloween costume pirate patch.)

Dana with Eye Patch

(Photo taken at Subway, where I requested, and was denied, a Pirate Discount.)

Both projects took longer than expected (of course), and everything that lived in the basement is boxed up and jammed into every square foot we could find in the living area of the house. We’ve been living in a place that would repel the hosts of one of those hoarders shows on cable.

At first I tried to write, and what I wrote was, as my friend Declan Burke would say, shite. I tried to re-write, and all I did was re-shite. My Happy Place had been destroyed. Nowhere in my house could I sit and not see work waiting to be done, except in the upstairs bathroom with the door closed.

Things started to get better a couple of weeks ago. TBS and I have painted, rebuilt shelves, laid tile, and generally done our best to qualify for poster children on DIY network. Today we laid the carpet in her craft room and deployed the furniture. The beginning of the end is upon us.

About the same time as we were able to start work, ideas started climbing out from under the rocks where they’d taken refuge. The beginnings of two of the mob stories I’m to write for a collection with Charlie Stella are on the disk now, with the format of a third. A good premise and the beginnings of an outline for the next novel, as well. To prime the pump, I’ve put myself on a schedule of blogging every other day, either here or From the Home Office. Over the long weekend, I hope to have time to look into formatting a novel for Kindle myself. (E-Book Architects did a great job at a very reasonable price for me, and they may still get this one. I’m curious about the process and want to see how close I can get.)

I expect to be back in the swing of things well before Christmas. This is yet another reason I’m glad I stopped worrying about getting a contract. Life intervenes, and life is more important than writing. It’s certainly more unpredictable.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Darker Than Noir

Peter Rozovsky recently resurrected a discussion last year on his award-winning blog, Detectives Beyond Borders. Titled, “What Does Noir Mean to You?” it sparked an even better discussion than it had the first time he ran it. It also got me to thinking about noir, neo-noir, and my perceived differences between them.

This topic has been on my “to-do list” for some time. I’d always managed to find a way to avoid writing about it until Peter got me thinking about it again. I think the secret behind my procrastination is a unwillingness to admit to the conclusion I have drawn, for a couple of reasons. So it goes.

I like classic noir. Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Body Heat (not such an old movie, but in the mold), even Sunset Boulevard. (Peter and I disagree whether this is noir or melodrama. I suspect we’re splitting hairs—I think we both believe it’s a masterpiece—and it might be fun to go back and forth about it for a while.) There’s something about the doomed man, often hoist with his own petard, who struggles unsuccessfully against the inevitable. Sometimes he knows he’s doomed from the start; sometimes not. These kinds of stories, done well, can probe human frailty in ways more “respectable” stories cannot.

We’re currently in a period where a genre called “neo-noir” is in vogue. I’ve read a lot of it. Even been considered a part of it for a fleeting moment, when my story “Green Gables” was included in Thuglit’s third (and, alas, final) anthology, Blood, Guts, and Whiskey. I know several of its leading adherents, at least online, and both enjoy their company and marvel at their chops.

It’s the stories that get me. I just don’t like the stories.

Not all of them, obviously. No genre is so devoid of merit I could not bear to read any of it. I’m sure there’s a chick lit cat cozy out there I’d enjoy, though I’m damned if I can think of what it might be. It’s the general mass of story content I’m talking about.

Traditional noir deals with depravity. Lust, greed, deceit, pick your favorite vice, they’re all in there somewhere. What gives the stories power is not the vice; it’s the effect that vice has on what is usually a relatively unextraordinary protagonist. Walter Neff (Double Indemnity) is not an evil person. A little too slick for his own good, and not as smart as he thinks he is, mainly because he too often thinks with his balls. Ned Racine (Body Heat) is basically a slacker who’s too lazy and apathetic to get into trouble until Matty Walker puts his glands in an uproar. (Testosterone improperly directed is a key element of much noir.) Joe Gillis of Sunset Boulevard isn’t even such a bad guy; he’s just in over his head. All of them could walk away at any time, and they seem to know it. They just can’t. Their helplessness in the face of the events they have set in motion is both fascinating and cautionary, like seeing a train run off a downed bridge in slow motion after watching it approach for several miles, knowing what would happen.

Neo-noir revels in its depravity; it’s the entire reason for the story, to see how bad things—and people—can get. The protagonist does not fall; he was at the bottom when he started. Too often the stories are to see how much other misery he can summon up on his way to the end. Alternatively, he may triumph over adversaries even more loathsome than me.

I’ve read a lot of this over the past couple of years, and I’m tired of it. Much of the writing is good, and the scenarios may be realistic, but only so many stories can send me to the shower after reading before the water bill becomes prohibitive. Maybe the standards/censorship of noir’s original period kept its writers from going here; or maybe they did go here, but those are the stories that did not survive.

I don’t have to root for someone in every story; I do need to care about someone.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Now I Know What Lee Child Feels Like

The first royalty statement for wild Bill has appeared: $26.65. I’m not yet to the income level that will permit me to take over a bar for an evening at Bouchercon, but everyone who introduces themselves to me at next year’s conference will receive a stick of gum (flavor of my choice to be announced) from me personally.

Buy a few more copies, and I’m willing to raise the ante to those bite-sized Tootsie Rolls. Not that I’m begging for sales. Just sayin’.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Best Reads, September–October

With the faint hope that things may soon return to normal here at The Home Office, it’s time to do a little catching up. I was able to slip in some worthwhile reading over the past several weeks. Here are my recommendations, in the order in which they were read.

Little Elvises, Timothy Hallinan. Hallinan’s Junior Bender series (e-book only) is funnier and less intense than his Poke Rafferty thrillers, but no less readable. Junior is a thief who serves as unlicensed PI to the underworld, getting himself out of scrapes by performing certain “services” for those who could do him harm. In Little Elvises he has to clear a cop’s uncle who was a shady music promoter fifty years ago and who may—or may not—be mobbed up. Hallinan has assembled an ensemble of characters that wears well and should provide ample fodder for a successful series.

Big Money, Jack Getze. The sequel to Big Numbers finds Austin Carr no longer living in a camper, but still making bad decisions. This time his boss has gone on vacation, leaving Austin to hold the bag without much to help him aside from the winning Carr smile and his wits, which cannot be relied upon any more than the smile. A New York-New Jersey mob war and federal investigators complicate things. Getze once again is able to pull off showing the reader right off the bat who is/are the bad guy/guys without telling you who they are, so you know how the climax sets up without knowing who is there. A fun read, perfectly balancing comedy, crime, and violence, without spoiling the effect of any.

Fox Five, Zoe Sharp. Sharp writes the kind of books I don’t usually read, unless they’re written by her. Charlotte “Charlie” Fox is a close protection agent (bodyguard to us in the States) who is involved in a series of thrillers. Sharp keeps Charlie believable by making her efficient (not a sexy killbot) yet not perfect (she still needs help from time to time). This collection of short stories is an excellent primer into Fox’s world, and should lead any reader to want to read the Fox novels.

Watch Me Die, Lee Goldberg. I’d forgotten how many humorous books I’d read recently until I put this list together. Goldberg does a great job with Harvey Mapes, a Walter Mitty for the 21st Century. Mapes works in the guard shack for a gated community but dreams of being a private investigator. When he’s finally given an opportunity, he researches investigative techniques by reading Travis McGee books and watching an Mannix marathon. That works about as well as could be expected. Goldberg keeps Harvey likeable and teases you just enough with what can go wrong without giving too much away. The ending is a little somber in tone compared to the rest of the book, but not enough to spoil the fun.

Gun, Ray Banks. Banks is the goods. Gun is a day in the life of Richie, recently released from jail, who is tasked with picking up a gun for a local crime boss. This is a bigger deal in England than it would be in the States, but still should be a simple pick up and deliver. Things go wrong and Richie finds himself far more involved than he intended. A true noir tale of a flawed but not wholly irredeemable character drawn down by circumstances and bad judgment, written by a master.

Road Rules, Jim Winter. Insurance companies, Russian gangsters, cops, feds, and the Catholic Church combine to give this chase story multiple injections of energy ad fun. Winter treads the line between what’s funny and making light of what isn’t funny with a deft touch. A large cast is well differentiated and easy to keep track of, and everything makes sense, in it’s own goofy way. The added twist in the last paragraph is the mint after a great dinner.

Joe Puma, PI, William Campbell Gault. Five first-rate PI stories from the 50s, hard-boiled without being self-conscious about it. There’s nothing neo or retro about Gault. He wrote these when they were the vogue and hold his own with anyone. I’d never heard of him before, and I forget how I heard of this colleciton, but he’s on my radar now.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

As October Circles the Drain…

October is always a tough writing month. I’ve been a seamhead a lot longer than I’ve been a writer, so the baseball playoffs always vie for my attention, even when they’re not compelling. This year’s playoffs were as intense and exciting as any in memory (38 of a possible 41 games were played, 13 of which were decided by one run); a lot of time was spent watching baseball.

This October had other complicating factors. One too many basement floods led to to cancellation of my trip to Bouchercon to have a water management system installed in our basement. This required everything except for furniture too large to be moved to be taken upstairs to the main floor, the bedroom floor, the attic, and even into the back yard, covered with tarps.  There are only two places in my house where I can open my eyes and not see something out of place: in my office, seated at the desk, where patio storage area is beneath my line of sight; and in the bathroom, with the doors closed. Everyplace else reminds me of work still to be done. Even my office, my usual refuge for clearing my head, has stuff jammed into it.

The waterproofing is complete, and the contractors who are fixing the damage done by the waterproofers is almost done. Next weekend we can paint, the following weekend we can lay tile over the new concrete, and then, finally we can start putting things away. The house has been torn up since mid-September; we’ll be back to normal sometime after Thanksgiving.

Two weeks ago I spent a week in California at a business conference. I got to see some friends I don’t often see anymore, and the schedule was not taxing. I did catch a cold while I was there, and, or course, no writing got done. (I did polish a story for Patti Abbott’s writing challenge.)

This week I became complicit in my own demise by accidentally sticking my thumb in my eye, causing a corneal abrasion. (The Beloved Spouse described it as a rug burn on my eyeball.) It’s about healed now, but provided yet another excuse not to do much.

I tried to write through everything at first; several pages of shit were produced before I acknowledged I was terminally distracted and would be not only a happier person but a lot easier to live with if I just took a break and waited for something resembling normal life to resume. There was a time when this would have driven me crazy. Not anymore. I did what I could, and saw no reason to waste even more time undoing much of what I’d done during this period of disorder.

That’s why I haven’t been posting much, or writing much, or commenting on blogs much. Much of what I’ve read in the blogosphere has interested me little—that’s a different post—so I’ve not been as provoked as usual. Count your blessings. It won’t last forever.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Best Part

People who hope to make money from their writing shouldn’t take publishing advice from this blog. I’m happy to share my experiences and thoughts in the hope others can learn from my mistakes, but I’m not here for the money. I had my crisis of faith about that a year or so ago, and crossed the Rubicon into self-publishing e-books just to see what it’s like. Money doesn’t enter into it anymore.

The best news about this attitude is, what I had thought would be the best part has been the best part. Wild Bill has sold thirty copies the last time I checked. At $2.09 per copy, I can take the Beloved Spouse to Longhorn for a steak with the proceeds. Big deal. The good news is that people I never heard of have bought the book, and two of them have posted glowing (and unsolicited) reviews on Amazon. (The other Amazon review is from an old friend, and his support is also much appreciated.)

The best news is that people I cared about liking the book have liked it. I’m not talking about specific names; writers whose work and opinions I respect. Was I flattering myself to think of writers who had success—and, more importantly, who I considered to be my betters as writers—as peers?

Maybe not too much.

Charlie Stella—The Godfather of Organized Crime Fiction—was first. His glowing review and subsequent interview meant more to me than a publisher’s advance. I knew Charlie would be a tough sell; he knows a little of the ins and out of the kinds of people Wild Bill revolves around. For him to like it as much as he did was sufficient to consider the venture enough of a success to bear repeating.

Tim Hallinan’s endorsement a couple of weeks ago, along with its attending interview and comments from his readers, was my idea of a big splash book tour. Tim’s questions required substantial thought on my part (as did Charlie’s), and the comments from his readers were unexpectedly enthusiastic. Sales spiked after both events, and I am grateful to both Charlie and Tim for their encouragement and support.

This doesn’t mean I’m not hoping to sell a few more copies. It also doesn’t mean I’d not consider a publishing contract. What it does mean is anyone who might want to publish me needs to bring life-altering sums of money with them. I have thoroughly enjoyed the process, and the rewards have been more than adequate by my standards, based on the Reward to Bullshit Curve.  I’m not going to give that up for a few thousand dollars and untold demands on my time and limitations on what I feel like writing.

I’ll release another e-book sometime over the winter, trying a few different things on the promotional aspects. It will sell or it won’t. If it receives anything like the attention Wild Bill has seen so far, it will be a rousing success.

(By the way, both Charlie and Tim will have new books available in 2012. Be ready.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tugboat

Patti Abbott has another flash fiction challenge over at her blog. This time the task was Write a story in any genre of under 1000 words based on one of Reginald Marsh's paintings. My contribution is below.




Tugboat



Stinky wondered what kept the tugboat from sinking. Tires and life preservers and ropes and all kinds of shit hung off the side. Taller than it was wide, looked like it might capsize every time a wave big enough to be seen hit anywhere but dead on. A milk run tonight, the harbor smooth as glass. The only breeze in Stinky’s face came from the boat’s movement.

He’d made this trip a hundred times on the schooner Dutch sent to meet the Canucks outside the three-mile limit. Stinky came up with the idea to connect the boats with special ladders, rollers built in to slide the booze between boats. Built-up sides kept the cases from falling off. No lifting, no breakage, and the load got transferred in half the time.

Dutch didn’t pay any attention when Stinky told him. “Yeah, Stinky. Do what you need to. I know you’ll do a good job.” The job Stinky did not good enough to merit a raise. So there was some “breakage.” A thousand cases of hootch come off a boat, some get dropped. Bottles get broken. These became Stinky’s skim. Dutch knew what an acceptable breakage rate was and Stinky knew not to get greedy. He kicked a little back to the Canucks and no one the wiser. Dutch didn’t get cheated, and Stinky and the Canucks got a little extra taste.

A door opened behind Stinky. Light poured onto the bow. Noodles said, “He’s out here, Mr. Flegenheimer.” The door closed and it was dark again.

Dutch walked to stand where Stinky could see him. “Never trust a Dago.”

“You saying me, Dutch? Aronoff sound Italian to you?”

“It ain’t you I’m talking about, Stinky. It’s you I’m talking to. Never trust a Dago. Don’t matter if he’s from Jersey or Canada or right off the goddamn boat from Sicily. I told you not to trust them.”

“You know I don’t deal with them unless I have to.”

“You dealt with them enough.” Dutch leaned on the rail, looked back to the skyline. Light twinkled in the Chrysler Building. “Charlie Lucky’s the worst of the bunch. He’s the one done for you.”

“I met him one time in my life, and it was you took me to see him that time.”

Dutch shook his head. “The guy on the boat. With all those scars on his face from smallpox or acne or something. Nunzio? He’s Charlie’s asshole buddy. Reports back to him of someone even spits over the side. I know about how you’re offloading the booze, and how much you’re skimming. That was clever, those rollers. Stupid thinking you could fool me about it. Why didn’t you just tell me? I’d a give you a raise.”

“You give me a piece of the action?” Stinky waited a few seconds for a reply. “I didn’t think so. You pay like we’re punching a clock. What do I get for a good idea? A twenty buck raise?”

“I paid how I pay when you come on. You was happy for the guarantee. You got no beef coming.”

“It’s been five years and I’m still making a lousy three hundred a week. What are you paying Berman? Ten grand, I hear.”

“Berman’s a genius, you stupid son of a bitch! You got any idea how much he makes for me every week, rigging the numbers in Harlem? You know how many guys there are in the world can do that?” Dutch held up an index finger. “Him. You had one good idea in your life and you kept it to yourself. Look where it got you. Dumb bastard.”

Dutch called for Noodles and Hump and Lulu. Kicked the buckets that held Stinky’s feet. “That’s set about enough. I was going to do you a favor and put your out of your misery before the boys dumped you over the side like the trash you are. Now you can kiss my ass. Give my regards to Legs and Julie when you see them.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Interview at The Blog Cabin

In addition to being a kick-ass writer, Timothy Hallinan is a true humanitarian and gentleman scholar, as can be seen in his erudite and probing interview of Yours Truly at Tim’s blog, The Blog Cabin.

Many thanks to Tim for his support and for questions that made me think about some things I hadn’t even thought about when I was writing Wild Bill.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Blatant (Not) Self-Promotion

Timothy Hallinan is the author of three series of thrillers. His Simeon Grist novels led to the current, highly successful Poke Rafferty stories, which take place in Thailand. To fill the idle hours when he’s not writing a Rafferty book or traveling from California to Bangkok, he has also begun a series of e-books featuring professional burglar and ersatz PI to the underworld Junior Bender. His most recent Rafferty thriller, The Queen of Patpong, was nominated for both Edgar and Macavity Awards.

Mr. Hallinan has read Wild Bill, and was willing to share his thoughts for attribution:

Dana King's WILD BILL is a thriller that derives its thrills from the complex interactions of a group of fully-realized characters on both sides of the law -- although the boundary between one side and the other isn't always clear.  Set into motion by the death of a Chicago crime boss, the story introduces us to a gallery of gangsters -- the best and most persuasive I've read in years -- and the frustrated, complicated, often despairing people who pursue them, both for the Feds and for the city of Chicago.  King pulls together a large and varied cast, an extraordinary sense of place, and the ancient dynamic between good, evil, and the shades of gray in-between, and weaves it all into a juggernaut of a book that (literally) kept me up till all hours.  I loved it.

Much appreciated, sir. Thank you.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Make Me a Job Creator

The economy remains in the doldrums. Most can agree the problem is high unemployment. The differences are over how best to address it. I am somewhat to the left of center politically, so my first inclination is to think the government should do something to put people to work: infrastructure repairs and other public works projects come to mind.


It also occurs to me that Democrats are not always right. (Certainly not the crew we have in there now.) With that in mind, I am inexorably drawn, like a starving wolf to a lame bison, toward the idea of helping the job creators create more jobs. I don’t want to pay lip service to the idea. I want to do it.
I want to be a job creator.


I want to unleash the entrepreneurial whirlwind inside me and no longer be just a wage slave; I want to enslave others with wages I would pay. (Or at least help others to pay.) Here’s how you can help:


Buy a copy of Wild Bill, either for Amazon’s Kindle, or Barnes and Noble’s Nook. It’s only $2.99 at either outlet. Where else can you personally stimulate the American economy for such a paltry sum? Think of the good I can do with sufficient sales:


Amazon and B&N will have to hire additional staff to push electrical pulses through the Internet to keep up with the volume of orders.


Email providers such as Google and Yahoo! will have to hire more people to take the orders from those who want to advertise on the emails sent as gift notifications.


Those may be too abstract and dependent on the marketplace for you. I understand. To address that, I pledge to personally place someone on retainer to mop out my basement after its next periodic flood once sales hit a specific sales figure I have in mind but am not currently at liberty to disclose.


A lot of authors want you to buy their books. They say it’s so they can connect with their readers, that they feel a bond growing with every sale, like some woman with a babushka on her head and a wart on her chin can tell them every time someone reads a word they’ve written. Bull crap. They have payments to make on their villa in the south of France and the Maybach needs a new transmission.


I’m not like that. I don’t want you to consider the fact that I might make a couple of bucks if you buy the book.If you’re thinking of buying the book for me, don’t.


Do it for your country.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Return of Blatant Self-Promotion

Things were so scrambled here last weekend I had to cancel my long-anticipated trip to Bouchercon, so missing my weekly self-aggrandizement should come as no surprise.

As anyone who has ever dealt with a publisher’s marketing department realizes, looking at sales figures relative to promotional efforts is always a good news/bad news scenario. The good news is that Wild Bill has reached the coveted 20 sales threshold. That may not seem like much to Lee Child or Robert Crais, but it does represent a 17% increase in sales in a mere ten days! In your face, Jack Reacher.

The bad news is that it is impossible to tell if this sales pushpin (it’s too small to be a sales spike) was because of the most recent promotional efforts, or due to my skipping a week. Since I’m an American, I’ll do what we always do when information is not definite enough: the same as before, but more of it.

So, to borrow a page from the old National Lampoon, buy this book or these messages will continue.

lampoon

Please don’t make me do something I don’t want to do. Think of it like one of those challenge grants on NPR. If sales are 25 or more, no promotional post will be made. If sales are less than 25 by then…

It will be on your head. My conscience is clear.

Wild Bill is available both for the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook for $2.99.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Little Elvises

Junior Bender is back. Little Elvises, the second installment in Timothy Hallinan’s e-book only series, picks up where Crashed left off. Bender is in trouble not of his own making, squeezed by a cop who may not be bent but is certainly not ethical to help out the cop’s uncle, who may or may not be mobbed up.

Bender is a unique character, a professional burglar who serves as sort of a private investigator for the underworld. He can break into virtually anyplace. Not with high-tech gadgets that no self-respecting crook could afford in the real world. His wits will suffice. His solutions are ingenious, yet so simple that you’ll smack yourself in the forehead wondering why you didn’t think of it yourself.

As in Crashed, Little Elvises treads on tricky ground, a comedic novel with violence. The trick is not to make the violence itself seem laughable, but also not to dampen the humor. Hallinan avoids both with an ease that could make you forget how hard it is, had you not tried it yourself and failed dismally. (Yes, that would be me.)

Hallinan is one of the most diverse talents writing crime fiction today, as his most recent Poke Rafferty thriller, The Queen of Patpong, is up for an Anthony Award at this week’s Bouchercon. The Junior Bender books are nothing like the Rafferty series, yet both do what they do as well as any book written by soemone who specializes in one form or the other. Whichever direction Hallinan turns next, it will be worth waiting for. Fortunately you have have Little Elvises to hold you over till then.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wild Bill Sales Growing

With sales well into double digits, Wild Bill has established its niche in the publishing firmament. (Not unlike a spider in a web way off in a corner of the basement, behind the paint supplies and other stuff you need only once every two or six years.)

Remember how people felt who had a chance to buy into Microsoft or McDonalds on the ground floor? Chagrined and disappointed, that’s how they felt. Not because they lost a singular opportunity for wealth and a life of leisure. They felt that way because their joyless lives of unending drudgery reminded them every day of how they lacked the foresight and daring to move before the rest of the crowd had figured it out.

This is your chance not to make the same mistake. Wild Bill is available for Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook for a measly $2.99. Try buying anything from Microsoft for $2.99. Even McDonald’s, for that matter. (Prices may vary by location. Does not include selections from Dollar Menu.)

This isn’t about me. I only bring it up so you don’t join those who missed the Microsoft and McDonald’s trains and are left standing in the rain at three in the morning at a station in the bad part of town hoping something else good comes along while you’re still young enough to enjoy it.