Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Review: Lust, Money & Murder by Mike Wells

Elaine Brogan was born in a poor Pittsburgh suburb to a doting working class construction worker father. As a child, he regaled her with tales of fictitious royal ancestors and he provided her with everything she could want or need, even if he had to beg, borrow or steal (mostly steal) to provide it. As a young woman, her aspirations were to enter the modeling profession to stake her fortune. She was content, comfortable and proud of the life she and her father had staked out for themselves. That all changed, however, when a seedy scam artist running a modeling school con set her father up to take the fall on a counterfeiting dodge.

Unable to face life behind bars, Elaine’s father, Patrick Brogan, commits suicide, and Elaine sets out to avenge his death. Men continue taking advantage of Elaine’s naivety and trusting nature through college and into her career in both the Secret Service and the US Treasury Department. Elaine makes a name for herself due to her uncanny ability to spot the flaws in counterfeit US currency, and this attracts the attention of various unsavory types.

Lust, Money & Murder by Mike Wells is a story in three parts. The narrative follows Elaine’s life through a trio of novelettes combined into one story, detouring only briefly toward the middle of the third novella to tell us the story of a Mafioso Elaine becomes entangled with. There’s sex, car chases, cons, moral ambiguity, and descriptions of scenes of both beauty and of utter destitution. The story follows a well-worn path making it sometimes predictable, but it does it all in a way that feels fresh and unique. The writing is informative and inventive. The plots, especially one concerning a smuggling operation, are so believably inventive that one wonders how much of the story is based on true criminal events the author was somehow privy to.

The omnibus is available as an eBook, but I was lucky enough to receive the audio version of the book, recently made available on Audible, Amazon USA, and iTunes. Competently narrated by professional voiceover artist Sue Sharp, the recorded version avoids all of the trappings I tend to dislike in an audio-book. Often, producers feel the need to create a sort of radio-play experience, adding such superfluous Foley-fluff as music, sound effects, and multiple voice actors. Personally, I don’t need those things. An audiobook, in my opinion, should be as much like a reading experience as possible. When I sit down with a coffee and a tablet, I don’t generate the sound of footsteps to set a mood. I don’t bring in women to read the female parts or children to read the kids’ roles. Just give me the story, and let my imagination do the heavy lifting.

To that end, the choice of Ms Sharp was fairly spot-on. With a few exceptions, she kept me inside the story the entire time. Considering that the tale was penned by a man, it actually helped make the feminine voice of the narration more palatable having an actual female voice read the words. Ms Sharp expertly assigned nuanced inflection changes in her voice to represent different characters, both male and female, and her southern drawl and Russian accents were – to my ear – accurate. Unfortunately her Italian accent and her Irish brogue seemed to have been learned watching Mel Blanc or Cid Caesar at work, but that can be forgiven.

I listened to the story over several days while commuting to and from work. The fact that by the second day I found myself actually looking forward to the drive should tell you all you need to know about whether the experience was a good one. I thoroughly enjoyed Lust, Money & Murder. It had a Patterson/DeMille/Baldacci vibe I like, and a female protagonist that I found compelling and sympathetic enough to put me in a mind of Evanovich/Larsson/Paretsky.



Mike Wells can be found at his blog (http://mikewellsblog.blogspot.com/) on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/MikeWellsAuthor) and on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/MikeWellsAuthor.) The eBook and audio version can be downloaded from a number of sources.

Excerpt

When they got back to Sofia, Elaine seriously considered asking for a transfer to another Secret Service office. Her one-year anniversary was almost up. Technically, it was possible.
Why should I keep torturing myself? she thought. Working side by side with a man she was madly in love with, but who would not return her feelings? It was masochistic.
Finally, Elaine could stand it no longer. Two days before her one-year anniversary, she downloaded the Request for Transfer form on her computer and started filling it out.
When she reached the blank that said, Reason for Transfer Request, she hesitated, her fingers hovering over the keyboard.
Can’t take this anymore—have the hots for my boss, and it’s driving me insane.
“Morning, Elaine.”
She looked up sharply. Nick was standing in her doorway, smiling at her.
She quickly minimized the window on her screen. “Good morning.”
“Are you free Friday night?”
“Why?” she said guardedly.
"I thought we’d go out and celebrate your anniversary.”
“I—” She feigned surprise. “Has it been a year already?”
“Sure has.” Nick grinned. “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
Elaine watched him a moment, standing there in his jeans and leather jacket, his hair disheveled. He looked like he just tumbled out of bed with one of his bar girls.
She wanted to strangle him.
With a sigh, she said, “Nick, I really don’t want to go out with you and your...”
He looked puzzled. “My...what?”
“Groupies.”
“My groupies?” He laughed. “Is that how you think of them?”
Elaine didn’t answer. He stood there a long time, gazing at her. “If I didn’t know better,” he said, “I’d think you were jealous.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said, blushing. She opened the window on her screen. He couldn’t see what she was doing, so it didn’t matter.
He said, “The only reason those girls like me is because I spend money on them.”
She looked up at him. Smiling, he reached into his pocket and took out a small cardboard box. It was about the size of jewelry box for a ring.
Keep dreaming, she thought, but her heart beat a little faster as he set it on her desk in front of her. “Just a memento of your first day in Bulgaria.”
All she could remember about the first day here was how good her hand felt in his. Hiding her bitterness, she opened up the box.
Inside was a little plastic turkey, with funny little legs hanging down. Nick picked it up, wound the knob on the side, and let it go. It waddled crazily around the desktop, making an awful grinding noise.
T hey both started laughing.
“The Turkey Roll,” Elaine said.
“Bet you’ll never forget that day, will you?”
No, Elaine thought, but not for the reasons you think.
He just stood there and they both watched the little toy wind down until it fell over on its side.
“Well?” he said.
“Well what?”
“About Friday night. Do you want to go to dinner, or not? I made reservations at Maison Godet. It’ll just be you and me.” He smiled. “No groupies allowed.”
Maison Godet was the best restaurant in Sofia, an, intimate, romantic setting.
No way was she going to set herself up for another letdown.
“What time?” she said.
“About seven? Pick you up at your place.”
After he walked away, she looked after him, thinking that the dinner would be a good chance to tell him that she was requesting a transfer.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

NaNoWriMo, 2013

I wrote the first installment in my mystery novel series way back in 2002. A year later I wrote the second novel, backed it up on floppy discs and began shopping the first novel around to various agents. Got a few nibbles, but no takers. Meanwhile, over the years I continued writing the stories, posting one of the novellas on its own dedicated blog and creating a video installment vlog of another. Two years ago, for NaNoWriMo, I wrote a third novel in the series, and then last year, I wrote the fourth novel in the series.

Then I decided it was time to roll the stories out, so in February of last year, I published ExtremeUnction, the first novel in the series, in paperback through the POD printing service, Lulu. Shortly after, I published it to the Kindel through KDP then the Nook service PubIt. I began also publishing novellas and shorts I had either previously written or had been thinking of writing for years.

However, the whole time there was one thing nagging at me. I wanted to publish the rest of that mystery series. I even made up some covers for them which are all set and ready to go. Unfortunately there was a problem. In the years since I had first written that second novel, the computer I’d written it on had crashed and the discs had mostly become corrupted. I know I had printed out a few copies, but I cannot for the life of me find any of those. My computer savvy friend tried several times to retrieve the files from that fried hard drive to no avail. We managed only to save chapters one, two and five. The rest was gone forever. I had no option, but to re-write 33 chapters of the 36 chapter novel.

So in October, I outlined the story anew, and prepared myself for NaNo 2013.
Well, here we are one day shy of the last day of November, and today I will exceed 50,000 words early in chapter 35. I may even finish the final chapter tonight, but I will not post my results until sometime on the 30th. For the second time in two attempts I will complete NaNoWriMo a winner.

So what is NaNoWriMo? What’s it all about? Well, for most people who commit, it’s a social way to push one’s self to complete a novel. It’s a personal challenge that one shares with other writers through a social network. It’s a way to connect with other people who share a similar personal goal – like Weight Watchers for bibliophiles. The same way going to a gym and having a friend spot you keeps some people on track better than using a home weight system, NaNoWriMo has writing buddies and motivational notes from successful writers or regional leaders.

Personally, I don’t bother with any of that. I self-motivate just fine. I wrote novels one and four in the series with no assistance from NaNo, and novel two is in its second completion; the first non-NaNo, the second as a NaNo project. And, no, it isn’t really “done” done. I still have to do edits and re-writes, then get a few beta readers to find the inconsistencies and grammar and spelling errors I missed. But draft one will be in-the-tank, and that feels like success somehow.

But there’s something about getting to brag that I finished NaNo that makes the experience more satisfying. When I finish a novel in June, I can turn to my girlfriend and say, “It’s finished.” But her reply is usually something like, “Good. Now get to sleep. We have things to do tomorrow.” When I finish NaNo, I can post that to Facebook or this blog and know that – while nobody really cares – at least I can pretend that my boasts are helping somebody else achieve their personal goal as well. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Review: Daddy's Little Felons by Rick Bennett

Morgan Rapier is a retired Navy SEAL and an expert at creating computer code who has been surviving in San Francisco but not really living since the death of his wife. In his lonely free time, he comes up with a plan to send a virus to the next hacker who attempts to infiltrate his home computer network. That hack comes just as he receives a call from his old friend, Judge Patrick O’Shea, who pleads with him to come to Salt Lake City to help investigate the murder of a friend of the judge’s wife. This sets off a chain of events that doesn’t end before Morgan has solved the murder of Olive Jenkins, has become internet famous for subduing some redneck thugs on video – twice, has started a minor holy war in the Middle East, has crippled the internet infrastructures of both China and Russia, has helped the FBI track down a serial killer, and has taken a ride on AF1.

Daddy’s Little Felons by Rick Bennett is a thriller which takes its title from a term of endearment bestowed by the Mrs. O’Shea character on the criminal wards of Judge O’Shea’s court. Bennet is clearly computer literate, and the sub-plot concerning the hero’s takedown of the would-be hacker-world (if it can be called a sub-plot since the entirety of the plot is several interwoven subs) is easily the best aspect of the book. In fact, Bennet seems to understand this, as the text is riddled with hyper-links taking the reader to a website established by the author to serve as an encyclopedic set of footnotes explaining the creative concepts the author developed when conceiving the virus plot.
The book also contains several action and/or fight sequences which build in intensity as the story progresses … like a Bruce Willis movie. Early fight and action sequences read realistically, however later sequences are a little over-the-top – making them less Die Hard-like and more Hudson Hawk-ish. The characters are interesting, but a little one-note. The good guy characters and even one of the bad guys all seem to see the world through the same neo-con prism. Meanwhile three “liberal’ characters (all of them female) are shrill, belligerent, and self-destructive in their efforts to “discredit” Rapier.
Personally, I disagree with much of the political bias of the novel, and for some reason the fiction is heavy on the political bias. Nonetheless, I tried to approach it as a neutral reader, and it still came off to me as if the author had taken the actual personalities of Michelle Malkin, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachmann and simply superimposed them on fictional versions of Christiane Amanpour, Hillary Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi.
That said, I actually did enjoy the historical aspects of the story which include a detailed description on the Monroe Doctrine and the concept of “letters of marque” as well as some true-to-life history on the foundation of Salt Lake City and the episode of “The Mountain Meadows Massacre” and a real life villain named George Wood. I was also very impressed with the argument Rapier puts forward for deputizing American hackers to bypass international law and take down overseas cyber-terrorists due to the potential they have to disrupt commerce.
Overall, if your fiction tastes run toward Jack Reacher and your non-fiction tastes run toward George Will, you will probably enjoy Daddy’s Little Felons. If, on the other hand, your non-fiction tastes tend to favor Al Franken; you still might enjoy it, but you’ll probably put it down in a huff a few times along the way.
Rick Bennett’s website is The Morgan Doctrine and his book is available in electronic formats through Amazon.
Excerpt 
     Alas, Lavar didn’t take my apology in the spirit I’d intended. Instead, he did his smirk toward Lamar, incorrectly assessing my honest apology as cowardice. Then back to me, “Too little. Too late, Morgan.”
     “So I don’t suppose you’ll let me buy you guys a beer and call it even?” I asked.
     “You’d probably get arrested for walking into a bar without your pants on,” smirked Lavar.
     “Ah, quid pro quo,” I said.
     “What’d you call me?” said Lavar, flexing to keep his pump-up going. Lamar looked equally confused and flexed, too.
     “Boys, that means eye for an eye. Pants for pants.”
     “Yes it do,” said Lamar, wanting to keep up his end of the conversation.
     “Too bad you feel that way, Lamar, Lavar,” I sighed. “Let me therefore apologize in advance.”
     “In advance of what,” said Lamar.
     “I truly didn’t want to hurt you guys, but you’re not leaving me much choice.”
     The faintest shadow of concern registered as Lamar’s eyebrows seemed to grow together. He looked about to step back, but Cousin Lavar seemed to miss the implication of my pre-pology. He snickered and said, “We’ve taken down big guys before.”
     “In a bar fight, maybe,” I said. “Fair warning. I’m a US Navy SEAL. Team Three if you know anything about SEALs. I’ve seen a lot of combat, and I could whip ten of you. So, last chance Lamar and Lavar Kendrick.”
     I repeated their last name, for my streaming video record.
     “Don’t forget Cousin Laverl,” said a voice behind me. Obviously, he couldn’t get to me with the car to my back, but perhaps he wanted me to turn so the other two could sucker punch me. My only risk in not assessing the threat might be a baseball bat to the head, but I mitigated against that threat by stepping away from the car and toward the two guys in front of me. Laverl would have to throw his bat, if he had one.
     My forward motion threw off the timing of Lavar’s round house punch, which glanced off my shoulder, instead of my jaw. Lamar also stepped forward, which accelerated his throat into my two right knuckles headed for his larynx. Luckily, I pulled the thrust at the last instant, thereby saving Lamar’s life. But even the pulled punch put him out of the fight, which I knew it would. Lavar had quickly followed his right-hand round house with a left jab to my solar plexus, and it might have hurt me if I didn’t have the reach advantage. A split second after I’d slugged Lamar in the throat, the heel of my left hand slammed into Lavar’s unprotected chin. Combined with his forward momentum, the force snapped his head back and into a garage supporting post. He bounced rather nicely with eyes rolled back before he hit the ground. Now, where was that little scamp, Cousin Laverl?
     I turned to see a wide-eyed statue on the other side of my car. He hadn’t moved since his opening line of the scene. A quick glance behind me at Lamar on his hands and knees and breathing, albeit with difficulty, reassured me that I hadn’t killed the poor devil. Maybe time for an olive branch?
     “Laverl is it?” I said. “You want to take a crack at me, that’s fine. Or you can give me a hand with your cousins to make sure I haven’t hurt them too badly. Your call.”

Friday, November 8, 2013

Author Interview: Dr. Glenn Shepherd, author of Not for Profit

Glenn Shepherd was raised on a farm in eastern Virginia, went to undergraduate school at UVa on an academic scholarship, and graduated in 3 years. There he lettered in wrestling four years,  was a pitcher in fast pitch softball leagues from high school through his military tour of duty, and on into private practice until fast pitch leagues were replaced by slow pitch softball. The certificate he  
values most is the award for being the pitcher on UVa's all Mad Bowl team; also, his participation in the Army's south eastern regional finals game.

He completed a surgery internship and general and thoracic surgery residency at Vanderbilt, completed Plastic Surgery Residency at Duke, and did a hand fellowship at the University of Louisville. He spent two years in the Army at the Ft. Gordon Hospital and the Second Surgical Hospital in An Khe Vietnam.
He entered the private practice of plastic surgery in Newport News, Virginia and worked for 28 years before retiring. For most of those years, he directed the Riverside Facial Anomalies Clinic where with the help of numerous volunteer specialists in ENT, Pediatrics, Oral Surgery, Orthodontics, Speech Therapy, Audiology and Psychology, he treated 500 patients.
He was the director of the Riverside Laboratory of Microvascular Research for 20 years where he financed and participated in basic research in wound healing, cleft palate repair, nail bed growth and repair, development of capsule formation in breast implants, vascularization of  the breast, and nail bed growth and repair. Numerous scientific articles resulted from the research. Three awards were given by the American Society of Plastic Surgery for this research.
He has been on the editorial staffs of The Journal of Plastic Surgery, Journal of Surgery Gynecology and Obstetrics, and the Virginia Medical Monthly.
He is the author of Not for Profit, the first in the Dr. Scott James thriller series. A second project in the works is a biography of Barclay Sheaks, a great painter who battles Parkinson's Disease and self-wills himself to a remarkable come-back from the disease. He is currently writing a novel entitled Relief Aid, Haiti, which is in the Scott James series, in which the plastic surgeon goes to Haiti to assist the surgical load of a physician friend who lives there. The villain of Not for Profit, Omar Farok, plans a nuclear attack on America and wants revenge for Dr. James' and Ethel Keyes' disruption of his earlier attack on the US.

I recently conducted an email Interview with Dr. Shepherd.
Who are your influences?
My chiefs of surgery, Dr. Scott at Vanderbilt, Dr. Pickerell at Duke, and Harold Kleinert in Louisville influenced everything I do. They taught that discipline and dedication are the backbones of every successful undertaking in life.  It's as important not only in becoming skilled at surgery but in all things, whether it's learning golf for the first time after one retires or writing a book.
When did you begin writing?
I wrote my first novel, SURGE, while a surgical resident at Vanderbilt in 1969. I was inspired by Richard Hooker's book, MASH, which was published in 1968. I used notes I wrote while working at the Second Surgical Hospital in Viet Nam 1964-65.  There was little humor in my book as I dwelt on actual happenings at the military hospital and the serious business of caring for the injured in the early part of the war.  The rigors of my training prevented me from completing the book, but it stimulated my writing which I started again with the book, The Hart Virus, a 1000 page manuscript that I finished in 1986.  It picked up newspaper headlines about the AIDS virus and I built a story based on my predictions of the eventual outcome of the AIDS crisis. Again, my plastic surgery practice left little time to pursue publication.  In reading it now, I was surprisingly accurate in predicting the course of the virus over the years.  It became outdated as did my book that followed, Faces in a Bamboo Garden, a story about the Vietnam War. And there were three other books that I wrote while I practiced medicine, The Crypt of St. James, Timeshare, and A Funeral in Texas. It was not until I retired from plastic surgery practice that I had time to devote to my books.  With the direction of the author and writing teacher, Richard Krevolin, I recently published Not for Profit. and Relief Aid, Haiti will be printed soon, hopefully in November.
How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
My stories all have come from newspaper headlines. For example, my unpublished Hart Virus came from the new at that time, HIV and its influences on the perception of gays.  Initially, there was a social stigma to AIDS that was followed by acceptance of gays in society and led to the current day integration into society, even to the recent legalization of gay marriages. Not For Profit uses the news media hype about potential flaws in the non-profit hospitals, combines it with the drones and their almost daily accomplishments in the war on terror, and links this with the horror stories of terrorist atrocities.
My characters are combinations of people I've met, people I see in everyday life at the food market, on the street corners, at restaurants, and everywhere I go. I am an observer of people, which was important in my plastic surgery practice as well as in my books. These characters are real to me, and I've used the "star" of Not for Profit in four of my unpublished works. Detective Harris is a person alive in me and was an old, wise professor in the Hart Virus. He also did "cameos" in several others of my novels, as did many other of the people of Not for Profit
Do you work from an outline?
I always start with an outline, but my characters drive the story. They decide themselves where they go and what they do. I lose control of them. And so, I cannot be compelled to follow that initial outline. My initial POV was third person, but the publisher, Paula Munier directed the use of first person for scenes of the primary protagonist and third person for other scenes.
Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
My favorite scene is the final paragraph of the book. Dr. Scott James had spent his life creating beauty, peace, and harmony only to have a quirk of fate mess it all up. The opening paragraph of the book tells the mythological story of Orchis, who did wrong and was punished by the gods by their tearing him to pieces. Orchis' father prayed to the gods to restore him, but instead of bringing him back as a man, he was transformed into an orchid.  Orchids references are used throughout the book to bind the diverging elements of the book and the final scene describes Dr. James' vision of seeing the moth-like shape of the Phalaenopsis orchids take flight and restore Orchis to a perfect human body, just as Dr. James has done daily in his plastic surgery practice.
Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
I am a story teller, as my artist friend Barclay Sheaks told me often in my 50 year friendship. I spent considerable time honing skills as a writer so people would be entertained by my stories. But in this entertainment, I have interjected my personal ideas. In the current book, I deliver my personal feelings about the high cost of medicine and how some hospitals may have used their tax exempt status to compete successfully with private enterprises, take the profits they reap and buy more and more businesses, and build giant, hundreds of million dollar corporations, and demand multi-million dollar salaries for the CEO's, all these things adding to the hospital bills individuals and insurance companies have to pay.  A second philosophy I throw in is the great benefits our country has from its successful drone operation. 
A third idea I float is the horrors of terrorism. Some have said I was too graphic in describing acts of terrorism.  But I say that when the actual scenes of a terror attack are glossed over by a summary report of numbers-numbers killed and wounded, the horror of the terrorist attack is lost, as in the recent attack in Boston.  I have seen a few rare scenes filmed at the actual bombing sites immediately after the attack-sights of bodies torn apart, of the pain and anguish people suffered, the ripped apart bodies of the dead-but the media glossed over this to protect our experiencing the actual bombing, and seeing the lack of drama in the court room as these terrorists are tried.  I did not shield my readers. They see the entire thing. I want them to feel what I feel, and what I felt when I've treated victims in Vietnam and in the emergency rooms of hospitals.  I want not to glamorize the terrorist philosophy but to demonize the terrorists.  As with the few sexual scenes - Ethel Keyes was a victim of sexual abuse in her foster homes. Giving sexual favors was the only means this brilliant girl had of surviving in the London bowery.  She was trapped by the terrorists.  If she failed in her missions, she would suffer horrible punishment. I had to show in this book the actual scenes to take the reader along with her as she engaged in pleasurable and loving sex. To have a "jump in bed, screw, and smoke a cigarette" does not show the rehabilitation process that had to occur before her attitude toward sex was changed.  This is established in this book and the triplet, Jump, Screw, and Smoke may well be appropriate for Relief Aid, Haiti. Everything in my book has a purpose.  I am not interested in the sensationalism of sex and violence, but in building a basis for believable protagonists in future books. I hope Dr. Scott James and Ethel Keyes have a lot of stories to tell.
Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
No. All my writings have been in the mystery genre. Rich Krevolin transformed my writing to the "thriller" category by abbreviating the back stories and getting quickly to the action sequences. Several hundred pages were trimmed from Not for Profit to make it move fast. In fact, the last 100 pages move so fast that I have difficulty proof reading them. Even after reading the book a thousand times, I still get caught up in the action and read so fast, I overlook even obvious errors.
Not for Profit is available in both print and Kindle versions here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Announcing: Something to Read on the Ride - an anthology for children's charities

A few months ago I learned of a flash fiction anthology project that was designed to raise money for various children's charities. The premise was that each story would be brief enough for a commuter to enjoy while on the bus, trolley, train or carpool. The idea appealed to me, so I submitted a short piece, A Routine Sunday, which is a third person omnipotent story about a typical Sunday in the life of a few of the characters from my mystery series.

Frank Zubek, one of the contributing writers, is handling promotion, and he describes the book as follows:
Book cover art by Allessandro Fiorini
An excellent collection of 27 short stories aimed at commuters and travelers who have only a limited amount of time to read on the journey. This book is a Charity Anthology, with all proceeds (not just profits!) donated to children’s charity.
Suitable for all adult readers from 18 - 80. This book covers a large range of subjects, from space travel to zombies, romance, humour and tragedy, and from unusual occurrences to every day situations. Stories were donated by a wide variety of authors, all with very different styles, so there is plenty for everybody.

Authors: Neil Bursnoll, Samuel Clements, Andrew Vu, Amanda Brice, Stella Wilkinson, Neil Sweetman, L.G. Castillo, Landon Porter, Debbie Bennett, Frank Zubek, Pru Moran, Louis Hessey-Antell, Dan Brady, J. David Core, Monica La Porta, Paul B. Kohler, Dan Fiorella, Ruth Banda-Banda, Penny Darling, James Griffiths and Pauline Drummie
The book is the brainchild of Stella Wilkinson, who conceived the idea, collected the stories, and acted as editor. The book, which is entitled Something to Read on the Ride: A Charity Anthology, is now available for the Kindle at a cost of $3.99.

UPDATE: The price has been reduced to $2.99, and there is a paperback version coming soon.

UPDATE 2: The specific charity has been chosen. It will be Wallace and Gromit's Grand Appeal, A Children's Hospital Charity.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Wingman, A humorous novellette is going live on Kindle this Monday

"That’s brilliant,” Mac said. “It takes off all the pressure of dealing with personal rejection and it creates a sort of mystery. You’re not hitting on her directly. You’re doing it by proxy, and if she wants to find out who is hitting on her, she has to accept the drink offer.”

If you’ve ever wished you could be a fly on the wall to observe as a group of friends play wingman to each other, this story has you covered. A high school dean, a construction worker and an off-duty cop head out for a night on the prowl in this quirky comedy of errors. When each agrees to seek-out and introduce another of the trio to a woman fitting his ideal type, only the annoying fly that keeps buzzing the table is privy to all the behind-the-scenes goings on.

Wingman looks at the gameplay and pitfalls of clubbing through a multi-faceted sardonic eye – literally.

UPDATE: Wingman is now available for the Kindle and the Nook.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Book Review: An Ounce of Prevention by Adam Graham

Gerald “Jerry” Newton runs a detective agency in Boise, Idaho; not Los Angeles, not Chicago, not even Brooklyn. It isn’t exactly the locale one first envisions when imaging a classic gumshoe tale. For the most part, one would be right. Most of the cases Jerry and his crew investigate are run-of-the-mill, boring security details. Then a Mr. Durand, a lowly fourth grade teacher and part time counselor at a soccer camp, brings him an unusual case. Durand has been receiving threatening letters, and he suspects that somebody is out to kill him. Jerry takes the case, thinking it’s probably just a kid angered over a failing grade blowing off steam. Then Durand’s car explodes, and the mystery deepens. It seems Durand is keeping secrets.

An Ounce of Prevention by Adam Graham is a modern take on the traditional Marlow/Spade detective story with all of the tropes and none of the clich├ęs. Yes, the detective is a former cop with friends on the force, but he wasn’t drummed out for breaking the rules, and he didn’t quit because of departmental politics. His reason for leaving the force is much more personal and believable. Yes, there’s a femme fatale, but she’s neither cold-blooded nor calculating. And unlike the counter-culture anti-heroes most shamuses turn out to be, Jerry goes to Church, he loves his mother, he drinks Mountain Dew, and he hates when his employee chews gum.
The dialogue is well crafted and flows nicely and realistically. The characters have actual depth for the most part, although the villain is a bit on the caricature-side. The narration is appropriately hardboiled without seeming forced. Even the denouement and post-script are satisfying and unexpectedly more than a simple wrap-up. The story does have one flaw, however.
Without giving too much away, there’s a science-fiction twist to the story which is necessary to the tale the author wants to tell. However most of the players are either too eager to accept the discordant reality; or even if a character doesn’t embrace it, or if he explains it away, he’s too unconcerned about the mental states of those who do accept it. A few lines about a character being unable to process what he’d seen, or another character suggesting that his friend should see somebody professionally to deal with his delusions would have gone a long way to alleviate that issue.
Overall though, An Ounce of Prevention is a fun, short read that’s prefect for fans of both genres who enjoy a good cross-over storyline.
Adam’s novella can be purchased for the Kindle.
Excerpt
 
"You sound like an expert."
I nodded. "I should be. I was a cop for about eight years. Towards the end I worked the juvenile division."
"How long?"
Long enough to find four kids starving to death living in one room of an apartment with the body of their one year old dead baby brother thrown in a trash bag while the mother worked her meth lab. Long enough to spend ten straight days barely sleeping, looking for a missing boy, only to find he'd been dead the whole time with the mother covering for her psycho boyfriend. Long enough to hear people joking on the radio about a thirteen year old boy who was molested by his female teacher and long enough to attend the funeral after he committed suicide.
I stopped, rubbed my hand across my face, looked at the sky, and shook my head. "Too long."
"What do you do now?"
"I run a private investigations and security agency."
"So you're a shamus?"
I blinked and chuckled. "Shamus? Just because the dances were from the 1940s doesn't mean our dialogue has to be."
She laughed. "Last semester, I taught on Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler."
I raised a hand. "The life of a real private investigator is nothing like fiction. My firm has almost no interaction with the police. Most of our work is insurance investigation and security for businesses."
She grunted. "I know the difference between fiction and reality, thank you."
"Some people don't and they want to know about the last femme fatale I met or the last time I was knocked unconscious by a gangster."
We crossed the street to the parking lot. I pulled the parking stub from my pocket.
She asked, "Hasn't anything interesting happened at all recently?"
I walked towards Row H. "Only thing was a client was car bombed when we were watching him."
"Police have any clues?"
"I doubt it."
"Do they have any idea what the motive is?"
I shrugged. "Who knows?"
"Maybe he deserved it."
    I found my car and leaned on it. "I much prefer God and the courts mete out justice. Somebody other than my client could have gotten hurt. The courts may take a while, but they won't hurt innocent bystanders."

Monday, September 16, 2013

FIND, READ, LOVE and THE FUSSY LIBRARIAN: two new Promotional Tools for Indie Writers


Two new startup websites aim to help promote indie authors by allowing writers to promote their work to each sites’ users.
Find, Read, Love is basically a blog that uses Wordpress functionality to promote books in a variety of genres. When new books are listed, the site automatically updates its Facebook and Twitter feeds to announce the additions, and all of the new additions are created manually after the site administrator vets them. The genre pages show the covers of the books which display a blurb when the curser hovers over. Users can then click through for more information before finally clicking through to Amazon to make a purchase.
The Fussy Librarian is a website designed to alert readers via email when a new entry fitting their pre-described genre and other preferences is added to the database. Readers sign up, list their preferred media (including audiobooks,) which genres they fancy, preferred language, and whether or not they want titles with excessive violence or sexual content in their recommendations. Titles are then submitted by authors, vetted, and the emails go out.
FRL allows authors to include up to three reviews their books have received, while TFL requires that a book have ten reviews. FRL is free and intends to remain free by generating revenue through Amazon’s affiliate program. TFL, on the other hand, is free while still in beta, but eventually intends to charge writers to be included. FRL is limited to books available on the Kindle only, while TFL accepts Kindle and Nook as well as books listed with Apple and Smashwords, but will not accept books over $5.99 in price. Both FRL and TFL offer a variety of fiction genres to select from, but TFL also offers a few non-fiction genres as well. As best I can determine, neither site is available for markets outside of the US.
Ironically, while TFL is the site that intends to charge writers and is the one professionally designed by somebody called Global Reach Web Development; the free site, FRL, is much slicker and professional looking in terms of site design and usability.

Both sites are geared to indie pubbed writers, though TFL will accept trad pubbed titles down the line. I can’t really recommend one over the other as far as value to the writer or end user goes, although clearly Find, Read, Love is more accessible and immediate as it does not rely on readers accessing their emails.

 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Book Review: Last Night at the Monarch Motel by Mark Valenti


Martin Van Dyke is a man with a plan – literally. Ever since his one and only girlfriend dumped him for his lack of ambition and prospects, Martin has carried a laminated sheet of paper in his breast pocket which outlines for him a course of action which he hopes will carry him through to the top of the guest relations industry ladder. Filled with Stewart Smally-esque platitudes and work-a-day advice, the plan is the one thing in Martin’s miserable life that gives him hope of a better tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the slack-spined Martin continues working the night desk at the fleabag Monarch Motel, just outside of Sparks, Nevada. His boss, Mr. Finley, is a demanding and lazy loner who has no faith in Martin’s abilities. Yet, Martin must find a way to impress Finley if he ever hopes to advance as his plan dictates. It is with this reality constantly in the fore that Martin is forced to deal with the worst night of his life. There’s been a robbery at the nearby Nugget Casino, and every character who arrives at the motel that night is suspicious and in a variety of ways, ultimately more than a little dangerous.

Last Night at the Monarch Motel by Mark Valenti is a farce in the vein of Get Shorty, Seven Psychopaths and The Ice Harvest. As black comedy, LNatMM is strongest toward the end. As straight up farce, it works all the way through, from its Joe Vs the Volcanoe-style opening chapters to its Repo Man-like conclusion. Some of the scenes had me literally laughing out loud.
The book almost reads as a film treatment in many ways. One scene in particular, involving a corpse dangling just out of sight of a local police officer as it slowly shifts under force of gravity while Martin watches nervously, is hilarious mostly due to the visuals it paints. Yet those visuals are so easily imagined because they feel familiar, as though I’ve seen Rowan Atkinson play that scene already.

The characters are all cartoonish by design. Some, such as the pot smoking homeless family and the secretive guest who demands privacy, are more believable; while others such as the overly amorous gun moll and the wandering religious cult are a little too stereo-typically obvious. However, all of the characters contribute a necessary story driving utility, and each brings a laugh or two.
The book can be found at Amazon and Tower Books, and Mark Valenti can be found at his blog.

Excerpt
While Martin mentally maximized his predicament, the man took a slow walk around the office. He finally stopped, struck a match against the wooden front desk and lit a filterless cigarette. He stared at Martin and blew smoke rings, making his Adam’s apple bob obscenely.
     “You scared?” he asked Martin.
     Martin, guessing at the answer least likely to get him killed, said, “Uhh…no?”
     The man leaped forward and poked the gun in Martin’s neck. “Why not?” he said. “I got a gun on you.”
     “I meant yes! Yes, I am afraid of you,” Martin said, changing course.
     “What are you saying?” asked the man. “You think I’m dangerous?”
     Martin stopped, considering his words carefully. “I think you’re…serious,” he said.
     Apparently this was the correct answer. The man moved away slightly.
     “Goddamn right I’m serious,” he said. He began pacing back and forth in the office in front of Martin. Finally, the man leaned against the front counter, his elbows propping him up.
     “So. Nothing much to do here at night?” he asked Martin.
     “I read sometimes,” Martin said, hoping to lead the conversation in a friendly direction. He tilted his head toward a paperback book on the counter. The man picked it up.
    “Self-Esteem for Dummies?” he asked, reading the cover. Then, sneering at Martin he said, “What are you - one of them new age scumbags?”

 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Confessions of the Cuckold is LIVE

Today is the release date for Confessions of the Cuckold, a revenge noir short on Amazon Kindle, but for some reason, Amazon is not posting updated "Look Inside" functionality at the moment. With that in mind, the following is a brief excerpt from Confessions of the Cuckold by J. David Core:

Chapter One



“You know the prophet Mohammad married his wife when she was six years old, and they consummated when she was nine.” The guy in my backseat was a real gold mine. Not only was I going to receive a boatload of money for bringing his sorry butt in, but I got the pleasure of listening to him justify his crimes for the whole trip in. 
“Do I look like a Muslim to you?” I asked. “Take my word for it, I’m not; so anything Mohammad may or may not have done has no bearing on what you did, sicko.”
          “I’m just sayin’,” he continued, “not every society has the same standards. In the US in Appalachia, it was not uncommon for girls in their early teens to be taken as brides.”
          “You didn’t marry anyone,” I pointed out.
“I might have,” he said, “if society would allow it.”
“So you’re blaming society for what you did?”
“Well, yeah, think about it. From the time that we’re old enough to understand that girls are different from boys, we’re conditioned to find young girls to be sexually attractive. We’re told that it’s okay to think the little girl in the next desk is pretty. Then by the time we’re sexually mature enough to appreciate them, we’re told that it’s wrong to find them attractive now. How does any of that make sense?”
“It makes sense because when the time comes that you are sexually mature enough to appreciate them, the ones you were finding pretty at the time are also sexually mature enough. Back then not only were you sexually immature, but so were they. And so are the ones who are that age now.”
“That’s not true,” he said. “Girls mature faster than boys.”
“Not that much faster,” I said. “You’re thirty-seven. She said she was — what — eleven?”
“Jerry Lee Lewis was in his twenties when he married his thirteen-year-old cousin.”
“Once again, you didn’t marry anyone, and Jerry Lee Lewis was kicked out of England when they learned of it.”
“But nobody from his hometown thought anything of it.”
“Right, that’s true. Nobody in Louisiana in the ‘50s thought anything of it. Unfortunately for you, this isn’t Louisiana and it’s not 1957.” He was quiet for a minute, so I thought the conversation was over. It wasn’t.
“I almost made it to Louisiana.”
“You made it to Georgia,” I said, “and now you’re going back to Pennsylvania to face charges. Besides, it wouldn’t matter if you had made it to Louisiana. I’d still have found you, and you’d still be in my backseat headed for justice.”
“Justice? How is it justice? She was willing.”
“She was an undercover cop.”
“But I didn’t know that. It’s not like I jumped her from the bushes. We had been talking online. We had a relationship. She told me she wanted to.”
“She told you she was eleven. That means you thought she was eleven, and an eleven-year-old cannot give legal consent.”
“Mohammad had consensual sex with Aisha when she was nine.”
“Is that the only example you can give?”
“The first recorded age of consent statute was twelve years old in England.”
“When was that?”
“I don’t know. Around 800 years ago.”
“So even 800 years ago they thought eleven was too young.”
“In Colonial Virginia, families often married off their nine-year-olds.”
“To other nine-year-olds,” I said, having no idea whether that was true.
“I’m just saying it’s arbitrary. When I was eighteen it would have been just as illegal for me to have sex with my sixteen-year-old girlfriend. But if some guy knocked her up at seventeen and if she had a daughter, that girl would be eighteen today, and I could legally have sex with her — no problem.”
“Yes, because eighteen is sexually mature and over the age of consent.”
“It’s arbitrary.”
“It’s not strictly arbitrary. It’s based on societal norms and psychiatric studies.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s not arbitrary. There are statistical exceptions in all studies. Some girls aren’t sexually mature until they are in their twenties, but nobody calls Hugh Hefner a pedophile do they?”
“Yes,” I said. “Some people do.”
“But society doesn’t.”
“Maybe they should,” I said.
“You realize you just contradicted yourself?”
“No, I didn’t.” I wasn’t really so sure.
“Yes, you did. A minute ago you said there would be nothing wrong with me having sex with an eighteen-year-old because she’d be sexually mature. Now you’re saying Hef should be considered a pedophile for having sex with eighteen-year-old girls if they aren’t as mature as the average eighteen-year-old.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Yes it is,” he insisted. “Now you’re just trying to justify it and avoid the cognitive dissonance. Why? Because you know it’s all arbitrary.”
“Well,” I said, “arbitrary or not, it was illegal and you knew it was illegal.”
“You never heard of civil disobedience?”
“So you’re saying it’s a civil rights issue?”
“I am who I am. I prefer what I prefer. I can’t help it. Nature or nurture, it’s what I am. So I try to find ladies …”
“Girls,” I corrected him.
“Girls,” he agreed.
“Children,” I interjected.
“Females,” he hissed, “whose tastes line up with mine. In another place and time, nobody would have thought twice about it. The taboo is cultural, not natural. I did nothing wrong.”
“You broke the law.”
“So did Gandhi. So did Rosa Parks.”
“So you are saying it’s about civil rights?”
“Of course it’s about civil rights.”
“Then why don’t you join NAMBLA?”
“Those guys are creepy. Don’t associate me with them.”
“How are you different?”
“I’m not a fag. They like boys. I like girls.”
“You argue that you’re being discriminated against; so do they. You’re arguing that in different cultures what you like is accepted; so do they. You’re arguing that it can be consensual; so do they.”
He leaned forward, and I could feel his hot breath on my neck. “But I’m not a fag.”
“Why are we having this discussion anyway?” I asked. “What do you hope to accomplish here? You don’t have to convince me that you’re innocent of any wrongdoing. And you’ll never convince a judge or a jury. The only ones you have to convince are yourself and your god.”
“I don’t like anyone thinking I did something wrong,” he said. “We’ve got a long night of driving ahead of us. I just wanted you to understand my position.”
“I’m not convinced,” I said. “Lots of people have sat in that seat and tried to make me see things their way. None has ever succeeded.”
“Have any ever come close?”
I considered the question. “Yeah,” I said finally. “A guy named Eric almost had me sold once.”
“What made his pitch so special?”
“Just his sincerity,” I said.
“Well, what did he say exactly?”

Chapter Two


When I first met Eric Dadjov he was thin and his eyes, set back in his skull, were rimmed in dark rings. His hair was overgrown and unkempt. His pants were dirty and his hands shook. If I hadn’t known why he was being taken into custody, I might have assumed it was drug related. As it was, he had simply missed a court date on a charge of vandalism.
I walked up on the porch and knocked on the door. Eric said, “Hello,” when he saw me with none of the usual suspicion that normally greeted my presence.
“Eric Dadjov?”
“Yes,” he said.
“I’ll need you to come with me. You missed your court date, and I’ve been contracted to make sure you appear before the judge this afternoon.” I turned so that he could see the weapon I had holstered on my hip.
“Are you going to handcuff me?”
“Should I?”
“You may as well. That way my humiliation will be just about complete.”
We drove in relative silence for the first several blocks. It was not until we had left his neighborhood that he began loosening up. “I know you probably don’t care, but I didn’t skip court because I was trying to run.”
“That’s pretty obvious,” I said. “I assume you were just too embarrassed to go in. That happens a lot.”
“It just bothers me that I am going to have to make restitutions to that asshole.”
“You smashed his car window, right?”
“Yup.”
“Then why shouldn’t you have to make restitutions?”
“Because I have no legal recourse to demand the restitutions he owes me.”
“Sure you do. I mean if he destroyed something of yours …”
“He destroyed everything of mine.” Eric said as tears filled his sunken eyes. “He destroyed my life. He broke my future, so I broke his windshield. I shouldn’t have to pay for that.”
“This is beginning to sound like a domestic …”
“That’s exactly what it is. Let me ask you something, if somebody stole your wife, wouldn’t you feel justified in smashing his car window?”
“I’d probably feel justified in smashing his knees, but the law …”
“Of course the law; I understand that. But if I’m justified in smashing his window, shouldn’t he just man up and pay for it?”

Available now for the Kindle and Nook.