Monday, December 29, 2014

Opinion: Free Speech and Bad Taste in re The Interview

I watched The Interview last night. It’s a silly movie with a ridiculous plot, but it’s funny in a way that only dark humor can be. I had decided that I wanted to watch it long before the controversy began over the movie. (I wouldn’t call it a film. That’s a highbrow word used to define art-house/Oscar contenders.) I like Seth Rogan and James Franco. Always have ever since their Freaks and Geeks days. I enjoyed Pineapple Express and This is the End. So I was looking forward to spending my Christmas day in a movie theater enjoying the two of them being ridiculous together. That’s it. I had no political agenda, and I didn’t assume the movie had one either.

Now, I’m not going to bother analyzing or deconstructing the free thought issues or the geo-political ramifications of Sony buckling under to hackers who may or may not have been acting on behalf of the North Korean government. Rather, I’m going to answer an annoying meme which has been riding coattail on the political discussion associated with Sony’s decision to yank the movie from most movie theaters. That meme being that the film crossed some imaginary line by making a joke of the assassination of a living political leader.

Crossed a line? What line? It was an American comedy movie. A farce. It was over-the-top, socio-political mockery. There is no line.

Did it cross a line because it was a comedy about murdering somebody? If so, then a lot of American movies have crossed that line over the years: Arsenic and Old lace, The Trouble with Harry, Throw Mama from the Train; and some of them were about true stories where actual people were either murdered or attempts were made: I Love You to Death, The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom, Fargo, Bernie. Comedies about death and suffering are as old as comedy itself. Humour noir can be found in the writing of Voltaire (Candide,) Edgar Allen Poe (The Cask of Amontillado,) even as far back as Aristophanes (The Frogs.)

So what line does The Interview actually cross? Did it cross a line because it suggests that governments make assassination attempts on foreign dignitaries? Because it is not the first movie to make that claim: Inglourious Basterds (American service men attempt to assassinate Hitler,) Assassination Attempt (Germany conspires to kill FDR, Churchill, and Stalin,) JFK (movie which posits that the Kennedy murder was a giant intergovernmental plot and cover-up.) Or is it simply wrong to spoof the leaders of foreign governments? Because that has been done before as well by everyone from the Three Stooges to Charlie Chaplain to Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase.

Perhaps it crossed a line because it suggests that the American government utilizes celebrities and other non-government persons to do its dirty work. If so, somebody should have told George Clooney he was off base when he made Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. And nobody better ever make a movie about the 1960 plot to kill Castro where the CIA asked for mob boss Sam Giancano’s help. And speaking of celebrity spies, Mata Hari anyone?

Or maybe it crossed a line because since 1976 it has been American policy that we do not assassinate foreign leaders. “Yeah, right,” said Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and Hugo Chavez.

Was it line-crossing because Kim Jong-Un is a living person, and it’s wrong to make a comedy movie about a real person’s fictional death? If so, this is the second time Rogan and Franco have made that gaffe. In This is the End Michael Cera playing Michael Cera is impaled by a light post, Rhianna as Rhianna falls into an abyss, and Jonah Hill as Jonah Hill is engulfed in flames among others. Other movies where actual living persons are fictionally killed include Bill Murray in Zombieland, and Alec Baldwin in Team America: World Police. There was also a film made in 2006 in Britain about the fictional assassination of then living and acting US President George W. Bush. The film was called Death of a President, and it pissed off a lot of people, but nobody tried to ban it, and it got little attention because – frankly – it wasn’t that good a movie.

The bottom line is that The Interview doesn’t really break any new ground nor does it flout any unfloutable taboos.  It’s satire and it’s a black comedy, and whether it’s a good or bad movie doesn’t really matter. They had a right to make it, and we have a right to watch it. Good taste, bad taste, appropriate or not, that’s a personal matter for individuals to decide for themselves. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Return of the Dragon now available online!

My graphic novel, The Return of the Dragon, is now available for purchase from Amazon for the kindle and for purchase as a physical copy from Createspace and all online retailers.
   According to legend, King Arthur of Camelot did not die at the battle of Camlann. He was taken by the faeries of Avalon to await the time when he will again rise to prominence and lead the world in a new Camelot. 
    A mysterious influential leader with ties to no countries has emerged on the world stage. Arthur Penn has influenced most of the nations in the UN to adopt a new charter: one without veto powers and a new cooperative form of economic inter-dependence at its core. The US and Russia are dubious and are the last two hold-outs in establishing this new utopia of federated yet autonomous governments.
    Ferapont Vernyy and Karen White are sent by their respective governments to meet with Arthur at a secret compound in the Olympic Mountains in Vancouver. They are both drawn in by his principled charm and magnetic personality, but neither is comfortable with his nocturnal nature … and neither understands his urgency to come to consensus. 
    A modern take on the Lancelot/Guinevere/Arthur saga with a vampire twist, The Return of the Dragon is a graphic novel blending elements of political intrigue, romantic fantasy, Arthurian legend, and vampire lore.
Eventually, I hope to also make it available through Comixology, and perhaps a few other comics related sites. It's presently enrolled in KDP select, and is available for the kindle at the low introductory price of only $2.99. Or you can get it for free if you are enrolled in KU. I will be raising the price after the holidays, and there may or may not be a countdown deal or a few free days, but I'll only be announcing that through my newsletter and eBook related marketing sites.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Thriller, horror, mystery, adventure, crime stories wanted for new podcast

A few months ago I announced that I was beginning a website for mystery/thriller/crime writers and their fans called The basic idea was for indie pulp writers to post a fraction of a short which readers would upvote for inclusion in an anthology. But the community never got excited about that idea. So I’m tweaking it.

Beginning next year, I’m adding a podcast element. Once a week I’ll release an audio version of one of the stories, so people who find the website can subscribe to the podcast, or vice versa. Stories included in the podcast will be bookended with front and back matter promoting the featured writer so we can promote your website,  your blog, your Amazon author page, or your newsletter, or whatever you like.

Stories featured on the podcast will also appear in the anthology, and the writer can have the option to read his/her story him/her self if he/she prefers.

The idea here is discoverabilty. This only works if we blog about it, share on social media, mention it in interviews, etc. I’m paying for the webhosting out of pocket. There will be an rss feed and availability through iTunes. And all YOU have to do is submit stories and tell people about YOUR story.

So come on, dust off that revenge story you wrote a few years ago, or finish that heist yarn you began but never finished, or write up that nightmare you had last week where you were being chased through an old vacant apartment building, and submit it. I don’t ask for any ownership, just the right to podcast it and include it in an anthology.

What are you waiting for?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Something to Read, Omnibus Edition

Cover design by
Earlier this year I participated in two editions of a charity anthology collection to help raise funds for Children's Hospital charities through Wallace and Grommit's Grand Appeal. The three collections were entitled, Something To Take On The Ride, Something For The Journey, and Something To Take On The Trip. My stories, A Routine Sunday and The Not Wanting, appeared in issues one and three respectively. To date, those projects have collected £250 or nearly $400 American. Now all 100 stories have been collected into one omnibus edition which was first made available on Amazon for "Black Friday" sales on November 28 of this year. Soon, a paperback version will also be made available.

The collection features stories by authors of such renown as Kevin J Anderson, David Gerrold and Ron McLarty. There is a dedicated Facebook page for the Omnibus version available here.

UPDATE: Here's the Amazon page! eBook, Paperback

Monday, November 24, 2014

Author Interview: Ted Cross, Author of The Immorality Game

Today we feature Ted Cross, author of The Immorality Game.  Ted has spent the past two decades traveling the world as a diplomat, all the time dreaming about writing fantasy and science fiction. He's visited nearly forty countries and lived in seven, including the U.S., Russia, China, Croatia, Iceland, Hungary, and Azerbaijan. He's witnessed coup attempts, mafia and terrorist attacks, played chess with several world champions, and had bit parts in a couple of movies. He currently lives in Baku, Azerbaijan with his lovely wife and two teenage sons.

Here’s how Ted describes his book which releases today: Moscow, 2138. With the world only beginning to recover from the complete societal collapse of the late 21st Century, Zoya scrapes by prepping corpses for funerals and dreams of saving enough money to have a child. When her brother forces her to bring him a mysterious package, she witnesses his murder and finds herself on the run from ruthless mobsters. Frantically trying to stay alive and save her loved ones, Zoya opens the package and discovers two unusual data cards, one that allows her to fight back against the mafia and another which may hold the key to everlasting life.

Who are your influences?  
So many fantastic writers have influenced me, but the main ones are George R.R. Martin, Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Colleen McCullough, Stephen King, and Richard K. Morgan.

When did you begin writing?
I always did well with writing in school, but I always thought I was too much of a procrastinator to actually write a novel. As I got older, though, stories kept invading my daydreams and they got more and more insistent. I still didn't seriously consider writing these stories out until I read A Game of Thrones by Martin. I had an 'a-ha' moment there, because the way he wrote, with each chapter rotating between different POV characters, really appealed to me and fit well with what I wanted to do with the first book I wrote (an epic fantasy I plan to publish next year).

How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
In different ways. The first was one that evolved over decades beginning in my teens with my love of role-playing games. I was never satisfied with any of the novels I read based on such games--I always felt they condescended a bit to readers. I wanted a great writer to write in a role-playing style world, but treat it seriously. 
Cover Illustration © Stephan Martiniere

Do you work from an outline?  
Not really. I mostly wing it, though I do write out a list of plot points once things begin to get a little complex. 

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.  
The scene I loved most is one that I know some readers won't like. You're in the middle of a sci-fi novel and suddenly a chapter starts with what seems purely like a fantasy story. It turns out later that it's just a very realistic virtual reality game that one of the main characters likes to play. But this scene plays an important role in the book, not just to establish how amazingly real virtual reality becomes in the future, but also in one of the climactic scenes.

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?  
I like to be extremely patient. I'll let each coming chapter simmer in my imagination for as long as it takes for me to be satisfied that I 'have it'. I can write one or more chapters a week when things are hopping, but when a chapter isn't really ready in my mind, I'll stop writing for weeks or even months until I can get it right. Each of my two completed novels has taken me more than three years to write. I do hope I can work faster when I retire!

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?  
Like I said, my first novel was epic fantasy. I do believe I'll mostly stick with fantasy and science fiction, though I do have some story ideas outside of these genres.

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
Oddly enough this debut novel of mine began entirely as back-story to one of the characters in my epic fantasy! I get very detailed with the back-story of my books, and the particular back-story of one of the characters in the fantasy was so compelling and unusual to me that I eventually decided to write it. How a sci-fi thriller can lead to epic fantasy may sound odd, but it ends up being quite logical, based upon some hints within this first book.

Ted can be found at his blog: as well as on Facebook and Twitter. His book can be found in electronic format at Goodreads, Kobo, Google Play and and will soon be available at Nook and iTunes. He also plans to make a paperback available shortly.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Author Interview: Margo Bond Collins, Author of Sanguinary

Today’s post features an interview with Margo Bond Collins, author of urban fantasy, contemporary romance, and paranormal mysteries. She has published a number of novels, including Taming the Country Star, Legally Undead, Waking Up Dead, and Fairy, Texas. She lives in Texas with her husband, their daughter, and several spoiled pets. Although writing fiction is her first love, she also teaches college-level English courses online. She enjoys reading romance and paranormal fiction of any genre and spends most of her free time daydreaming about heroes, monsters, cowboys, and villains, and the strong women who love them—and sometimes fight them. Her latest release is a vampire yarn entitled Sanguinary. Here’s the blurb:

Only fifty years left before vampires rule the world.

When Dallas police detective Cami Davis joined the city's vampire unit, she planned to use the job as a stepping-stone to a better position in the department.

But she didn't know then what she knows now: there's a silent war raging between humans and vampires, and the vampires are winning.

So with the help of a disaffected vampire and an ex-cop addict, Cami is going undercover, determined to solve a series of recent murders, discover a way to overthrow the local Sanguinary government, and, in the process, help win the war for the human race.

But can she maintain her own humanity in the process? Or will Cami find herself, along with the rest of the world, pulled under a darkness she cannot oppose?

Who are your influences?
That's a tough question! Because I'm a college English professor, I've spent my whole life reading. I think every writer is influenced by everything he or she reads—along with every life experience and every interaction with the world and the people in it. That said, I think that my love of the old tales of heroes and monsters (The Odyssey, Gilgamesh, Beowulf) along with my love of eighteenth-century literature (Eliza Haywood, Jane Austen) and recent urban fantasy (Carrie Vaughn, Rachel Vincent, Ilona Andrews) probably combine to create the strongest influences on the stories I tell.

When did you begin writing?
The first story I remember actually writing down was basically fan-fiction of The Wizard of Oz. I wrote it in long-hand in a yellow legal pad. I’ve been writing ever since.

How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
I take inspiration from everything around me! Mostly, though, a character shows up in my head and starts talking. Currently, my favorite quote about this is one from Neil Gaiman: "You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it."

Do you work from an outline?
Sometimes. I used to be a total pantser (writing by the seat of my pants), but now I often sketch out the series of event.

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
Ooh. The scene where Lili realizes that the voices in her head are real—she's not crazy, but rather is infected.

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
Write every day. That's it. Sometimes it's hard, sometimes it's easy—but it's always valuable, because continuing to write no matter the situation allows the writer to treat it as a job.

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
I'm always trying out new genres! Most of what I write is urban fantasy, but I'm working on a three-book contemporary romance series at the moment (due out in 2015 with Entangled), and I have a science fiction book twirling around in my mind right now.

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
I'm in the process of working on a sequel to my urban fantasy Legally Undead, which is set in the Bronx, where I lived for several years. On my last trip there to visit friends, I took a walk around my old neighborhood to take some pictures of likely places for various scenes. New York City is great because it's full of strange little nooks and odd buildings—and I came across a tiny building that looked exactly like the top of a castle tower that had been sawed off and dropped down on the street. It was a business of some sort, so I decided I had to see the inside. But when I marched in with my camera and asked the people in the front if I could please see their back offices, they declined, vehemently, in very strong New York accents. They clearly decided I was insane—but that's okay, because I decided that there must be nefarious villains committing evil deeds in the back offices (what other reason could they possibly have for declining to let me see the whole building, right?). And in my book, the back part of the building, which has no windows, is a vampire stronghold.

    It hit me, hard, that no matter how I twisted it around in my head, Reese was going to be more than just an informant to me. I didn't know if I could trust him, this cowboy-vampire I had been thrown together with. But something about him sang to me, like a tune just out of hearing, almost recognized—a song of protection and death. And I wanted to dance to it, almost as much as I wanted to escape it.
   The department wouldn't force me to stick it out, wouldn't expect me to team up with a vampire for anything more than the most superficial of connections.   I could walk out at any time.
   But I wouldn't. He'd help us find and stop whoever was killing these women.
   That's why I'll stay in this.   "I'll tell you everything," I said to the vampire snarling at me. "But I'll need your help."Reese's lip dropped back down, covering the fang.
I was glad—it was easier to contemplate joining forces with him when he wasn't reminding me that he was one of the monsters.   "Talk," he said.   I shook my head. "Not here," I said, speaking quietly. How good his hearing might be was only one of the many things I didn't know about vampires.   He slid up to the bar beside me.   "We can't leave," he said, equally softly. I had to lean close to hear him.   "Why not?" I asked.   "Mendoza all but dared me to Claim you, back there." He didn't look down at me. "If I don't bleed you at least a little before we go, he'll be suspicious."   At his words, the half-healed bite mark Reese had left on my shoulder throbbed once, sending a hot pulse throughout my entire body.
   I wanted the response to be revulsion.
   Almost everyone who went undercover with the vamps came out addicted to their bite. The ones who could still string two sentences together, like Garrett, stayed on the force.
   The others . . .
   The press portrayed us as bumbling and stupid—and maybe we were. Sending detectives in against humanity's worst nightmare? We were like little kids trying to hold back the dark with matches, bound to get our fingers burned, and worse, maybe burn the house down around us.I paused and swallowed.

Sanguinary is available in electronic format from KindleNookKobo, or in paperback at Amazon

Margo can be found at her Amazon Author Page, through her website:, her blog, on Twitter: @MargoBondCollinGoogle+, her GoodreadsAuthor Page, her Facebook Author Page, her Pinterest, or contact her via her Email:

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Return of the Dragon in Pre-Orders

My graphic novel, The Return of the Dragon, has been beta read, and the changes have been made. It will be released through CreateSpace and Amazon for the Kindle on December 20 of this year. When it comes out, it will be enrolled in KDP Select for a 90 day period, which means these are the only two publishing venues where I will place the book until April of 2015. During that time, you'll be able to get a paper copy from B&N and many other online retailers, however, the digital format will only be available for the Kindle.

There is a Kindle app available which can be loaded onto many devices other than the Kindle, so if you have the app you won't have to own a Kindle to enjoy the digital version. Since the book will be enrolled in Select, if you have an Amazon Prime membership, you will be able to borrow the book or download it for free as part of your monthly allotment. Either way, I get paid, so don't be shy. Just make sure to read at least 10%; although once you start you won't want to quit.

But here's the best news. Since it is not coming out until December 20, I was able to enroll it now for pre-orders. That's right, you can order your copy now, and it will load onto your device or into your email account the minute it is released. The more people who pre-order, the better the chance that the book will debut at a higher position on the charts, so click this link now, and pre-order your very own copy.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Guest Post: The Writer as Anthropologist by Russ Hall

When I first moved to Austin, TX, from New York City. I found the people friendlier on the face of it than those I’d left behind in Manhattan, but also different. I’d been an editor sent to Texas by Harper & Row (now HarperCollins) to do some rite-of-passage sales work. But it wasn’t long before I called New York and told them, “I’m not coming back, y’all.” I loved Texas and still live here. I started right away letting a little twang and drawl show in my voice and I worked that into my writing as well.

It was that initial splash into the cold water of the differences that turned me into something of an anthropologist, observing and comparing the stark differences between the cultures, and later using that sort of thrill of newness to color the settings of novels. I wanted to share that early excitement with readers.

The setting of a book needs to support and help drive the action and character development of a novel. With Texas the choice of backdrop is vast, from the flat desert Southwest in the state, to the mountains of Big Bend, to the tall piney woods of Eastern Texas ranging from Nacogdoches to Houston, to the flat cotton fields of the panhandle, to the rolling, curvy hill country near Austin where the novel To Hell and Gone in Texas takes place. But it is the people who spice and flavor any setting.

As a newbie to Texas, I drove around with my eyes open and my jaw at times dropped. From the liberal pocket of Austin I had only to drive in any direction in those days to start seeing pickup trucks with gun racks in the back windows. The law said it was okay then to have an open container in a vehicle and many considered it a right to have a beer in one hand while driving.

Whole Foods then was a hippy-dippy communal grocery on South Lamar where everyone wore tie-dyed shirts and I didn’t see a bra for the first five years. How those times have changed! And the festivals were bold mixes of people, like those who celebrated chili cook-offs. But no one dared to use beans in a contest. In fact, that’s how you could insult someone. “I’ll bet that low-life puts beans in his chili.” And, yes, it was “he,” since only men could be the cooks in such contests.

At times it was hard to sort through what were normal customs and what were not. On a trip to San Angelo once I stopped at a convenience store in the middle of bumfart nowhere and a guy came out of the store drinking from a can of cold gravy. Turns out, that was not normal. Though warm biscuits and gravy is an everyday breakfast. Chicken-fried steaks were ubiquitous as well. But at the Texas State Fair they were deep-frying Snickers bars, cotton candy, and all manner of things, And folks, that’s just not right no matter what state.

An aspect I grew to like was that, when driving on a country two-lane road, the driver of an oncoming truck would wave, and I would wave back. Now, how nice is that? If the vehicle in your lane, say an old truck or tractor, was going slow, the driver would almost always pull over onto the shoulder to let you past. Then you were supposed to wave and he would wave back. If you just wanted to go slower and look at all the wildflowers, and Spring is a surprising circus of them, then you can pull over and trade waves—common courtesy then, but now easing out of fashion with the newcomers.

People were so darn friendly it made me giddy at first. While looking around on Austin’s 6th Street one morning (that’s the city’s version of New Orleans’s Bourbon Street) I saw a big old boy getting out of his pickup truck. The interesting bit was that on the back of his belt it said: Jim Bob.” Imagine going about with a name label like that, as if life was a constant convention. When he turned around I said, “Jim Bob, how’ve you been?”

He looked at me closely as he shook my hand and said, “Fine. Fine.” He was thinking, no doubt, that he didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat, but maybe he’d been drunk when we met. I knew his name, after all.

“How’s the family?” I asked, since just about everybody has one.

“Fine. Fine.”

This went on for a spell until he pried himself loose and went about his day, still shaking his head.

The range of characters varied, ripe picking for a writer. The brakes went out on my car once out in the middle of nowhere, which is easier to find than you think in a state this big. I drifted into the parking lot of an unpainted building that turned out to be a mechanic’s shop. I asked the fellow who came out if he could fix the car, and he said that reckoned he might could do just that. “Might could” is common speech, as is “fixin’ to go yonder.” As he spoke, though, I found myself hypnotized by the fact that he had only one tooth in his head. It was a solitary top front tooth that was green and had eroded in the middle until it had a waist. I could NOT take my eyes off that tooth. I tried to make myself, the way you do if someone’s showing too much cleavage, but I wasn’t strong enough. I stared and stared, thinking all the time, “Do NOT say anything about the tooth. Don’t say, ‘That’s the tooth of it’ or anything of the like.” I was mesmerized. Then I began to think of a pimento cheese sandwich on white bread with one bite out of it, and the bite mark showing the imprint of that lone tooth. I tell you, it about killed me to keep my mouth shut. And I haven’t used this fellow in any book I’ve written yet.

Texans also have fussy ways about how town names are pronounced. If you don’t catch on, they have phrases like, “It’s Burnet, dern it, learn it.” Carol Burnet had best never visit. And the town of Tow is pronounced to rhyme with “now.” I don’t know what they’ll do if they ever get a tow truck. There is much to be learned from the way people pronounce the simple word “oil.” You can detect geographical origin within the state as times depending on whether you hear: “earl,” “ol,” or “oh-well.” I’m told the young ladies of Dallas are encouraged to ask suitors, “Does your daddy have any oh-well on his spread.” (Spread means property or ranch, and ranch is not the dressing.) I’m not sure if that Dallas yarn is true or apocryphal, like the saying, “Contrary to popular belief, armadillos aren’t born dead beside the road.”

The other aspects useful to an anthropologist of an author are the physical ones. As I said, anyone thinking of Texas as being flat as a fritter everywhere is due for a surprise. Anyone hoping to see a saguaro cactus is in for another surprise. There isn’t a single native one in the state, though I have yet to learn of a New York publisher that hasn’t put one on the cover of a book set in Texas. Another surprise is that there is only one natural lake in Texas and it shares the border with Louisiana. ALL other lakes are man-made. And we have droughts, and I have put those to good use in books.

The critters round out the spice one can sprinkle into a book. From hand-sized furry brown tarantulas, scorpions, fire ants, mountain lions, to coyotes there are many colorful natives to choose from. I once got out of the car near a bridge over a long wash where I had actually seen some water. Seeing water in a West Texas river is not common. That’s why they are called washes or draws and only get business during floods when the rare rain hits the hard ground. I almost stepped on a squashed armadillo while getting out. It had been run over so many times it was the size of a manhole cover and no thicker than a dime and was going to have to be buried in a pizza box. Down closer to the water I wove through mesquite trees, mostly dead, and went past huge stands of prickly pear cactus covered in yellow blooms. I heard a rattle, and stopped. I thought, “Rattlesnake!” I looked down. The noise came from an enormous grasshopper. I’m talking biblical pestilence big. I took a couple more steps, and heard a rattle. I looked down. Rattlesnake! Its head was three inches from my shoe. The next thing I recall I was back at the car, already in the driver’s seat, may have even stepped on the squashed armadillo on the way in, or flown over the top of it. When I got my breath back to normal I drove away from there, returning a wave from an oncoming truck as I did.

The tool box is full of colorful details from a state like Texas, or any state. The trick is having fresh eyes and savoring everything the way a reader might.

A writer of mysteries, thrillers, westerns, poetry, and nonfiction books, Russ Hall has had more than twenty books published.

In 2011 he was awarded Sage Award, by The Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation--an award for the mentoring author who demonstrates an outstanding spirit of service in mentoring, sharing and leading others in the mystery writing community. In 1996 he won the Nancy Pickard Mystery Fiction Award for short fiction.

In 2014 he won First Place in the Austin International Poetry Festival.

His latest novel is To Hell and Gone in Texas. Al and his brother Maury haven’t spoken to each other in twenty years, but they’re going to have to soon when they are swept into the vortex of the Texas drug scene and come up against one of the fiercest cells of the Mexican mafia. Maury’s life as a lady’s man is in stark contrast to Al’s woodsy life as a retired detective. Yet they’re brothers, and blood will have its way, especially when others seek to spill it in the brutal style that is becoming their trademark.

You can find out more about Russ and his books at his website,

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: Jo by Leah Rhyne

Jolene Hall is a normal college student matriculating at Smytheville University in the Northeastern US. She has loving parents, is besties with Lucy – her dorm roommate (a beautiful red head with a politically
connected mother,) and she has a volatile but loving relationship with her boyfriend, Eli. Then everything changes one evening when she has a fight with Eli on the night of a major blizzard. She foolishly decides to walk home, and the next thing she knows she’s been revived from death as a Frankenstein-like monster. Her flesh is beginning to decimate, her organs have been replaced with pumps and electrical wiring, and her blood has been swapped out for some kind of viscous fluid.

Jo by Leah Rhyne is a novel which walks several edges. It’s not exactly young adult, but it’s also not adult enough in its treatment of some of the more emotional elements to classify it as a classic thriller. It’s not a mainstream horror or sci-fi story either. There is some generic discussion of the mechanics of the lead character’s reclamation over death, but not enough to satisfy a purest; and the story only has one tropey horror scene when Jo and Lucy find themselves surrounded by reanimated zombie-like monster-girls in a poorly lighted laboratory.

There’s a lot of humor in Jo, most owing to Jo's rapidly escalating stench; and the characters interplay well and believably for the most part. In that sense, it reminded me of the recent low budget cult movie Life After Beth. As with most books in these genres, we’re left wondering about how the characters so easily deal with situations that would throw most of us into psychotic breakdown, but if we readers actually refused to suspend disbelief on that score, we’d never get past the premise of zombies or reanimated corpses at all. Would we?

A few of the story’s weaker elements include the introduction of a high-level underground conspiracy which is capable of killing and reanimating an army of fembots, but has such poor security that two college girls are able to escape and destroy their lairs not once, but twice. Also, this shadow governmental agency is peculiarly unable to capture and prevent the girls from investigating their motives despite actually having them in their sites the entire time. Also, I felt the villains were telegraphed a little too much. This could have been avoided by perhaps having a few additional ancillary characters for the others to interact with, but it didn’t really harm the story because that wasn’t really supposed to be a mystery for us to solve.

Ms Rhyne is, however, very adept at figuring out ways to explain away and conceal the smell of a cadaver and to disguise a young girl whose face and limbs are falling away every ten minutes. And the relationships between the various members of Jo’s circle are reverently treated with discreet emotion and beautifully portrayed loyalty. I enjoyed their friendships and sense of family, and it genuinely helped me to relate to and root for the characters.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Jo, and I think it would make an excellent late October book discussion for a group of twenty-something college grad girlfriends looking for something escapist and light for their coffee klatch.

Leah's website is and her books can be found at all online websites. 


   Crossing my arms across my chest, cringing at the snap-crackle-pop sound from my shoulders and elbows, I sat in the car and watched the world outside. The bird was gone from sight, and in the darkening evening sky, the lights of the emergency room bay spotlighted the emergent chaos.   A father walked by, carrying a little girl who held a towel to her lip. Her face was flushed with tears, but she looked safe, riding in her daddy’s arms. Despite the terror in her eyes, I longed to be her for the fleeting moment. To be safe in my father’s arms. It sounded like heaven.   An ambulance pulled beside the squad car, and technicians unloaded a gurney. On it laid a person, covered entirely by a white sheet. Dead. Blissfully dead, I thought. It must be so nice. So much better than this.
   Then I cursed at myself for being weak. Outside, there were shouts and cries as the gurney slid on some ice. A smallish woman dove after it, quicker than the massive men around her. She saved it before it toppled on its side, but it tipped just enough to dump the white blankets into the filthy snow. The body lay, still strapped to the gurney,silent because it wasn’t a half-dead freak like me. The medics were paralyzed for a moment, but then, sheepish, they picked up the soggy blankets and covered the body’s face. I tried not to care that the dead body looked far more alive than I.   Others came and left as the sky around the hospital darkened completely. They faded into a time-lapsed blur, and as they did I thought about Lucy. Lucy, who was inside the hospital, possibly dying from exposure and hypothermia. Lucy, who stood by my side while I literally fell to pieces. Lucy. My best friend.   Please be okay, Lucy. Please be okay. Don’t be dead. I can’t handle it if you’re dead. Please be okay, Lucy. Please be okay, Lucy. It was my mantra as I stared out into the night.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Author Interview: Christopher S. Bell, Author of Modern Hobbies

Christopher S. Bell has been writing and releasing literary and musical works through My Idea of Fun since 2008. Modern Hobbies is his 14th published book to date, and 10th novel overall. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones, and Fine Wives. My Idea of Fun is an art and music collective based out of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. ( . Christopher’s work has recently been published in The Broadkill Review, Mobius and He is also a contributor to Impression of Sound.

He describes his latest release, Modern Hobbies, as the tale of accumulated memories tied to the staying quality of inanimate objects.  Lawrence Thorne stands firm as one of the last survivors of a non-digital age, inevitably imprisoned by a thickened experiment meant to propel the human race forward, while still taking them two steps back.  Amongst his jilted ego, a frantic rebel resides waiting for the inappropriate moment to lash out on society before his insides do so first.  The subsequent consequences are beneficial albeit crippling to the fading mementos meticulously catalogued on his shelves.

This novel will appeal to fans of Kurt Vonnegut, Phillp K. Dick, Anthony Burgess, Hunter S. Thompson and George Orwell.

Who are your influences?
On this particular novel I was most influenced by the works of Kurt Vonnegut. Something like Player Piano or Slaughterhouse Five, which contain very significant Science Fiction elements, but are still highly focused on character interactions, no matter the time or place. That’s kind of how I approached Modern Hobbies, while Orwell’s 1984 is like the mold for any dystopian novel. That book still gets under my skin, but in the best of possible ways.

When did you begin writing?
I would definitely scribble endlessly in middle school. Most of my later English teachers were pretty good at inflicting standard arthritic pains from daily journal writing. Towards the end of high school, I really got into writing screenplays. I did that consistently through college, which certainly helped me write dialogue, not to mention plotting from one point to the next. Towards the end of college, I tackled my first novel and have pretty much been writing those or short stories ever since.

How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
Usually I’ll get the first of many ideas when I’m stuck somewhere, not so much forced to be quiet, but not feeling the necessity to talk. I think most writers’ brains run endlessly, no matter their current situation. From those initial sparks, I’ll build up little plot elements as they come to me, occasionally jotting something down here and there.

Months could pass before I finally sit down and plot out the entire work. Names are usually pretty easy. Pulling together different combinations from the phonebook or many indexes online, seeing what really suits the character. It has to be something you live with from that point forward, so you should go for the gold. Locations are usually based on some semblance of where I’ve already been, with the occasional added element. Like anything else, writers have to pull from life.

Do you work from an outline?
Yes. I usually have most plot elements worked out in some degree before I begin. The way these same elements change in the course of writing is usually the best part about the experience.

Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
There are obviously quite a few, but in this particular case, the climax still stands as my favorite. Without giving too much away, it’s the point where Lawrence reaches his breaking point, every element both outside and in, organic and synthetic, failing him before starting a new. There’s a flood happening, before an unlikely confrontation. I realize I’m being vague, but it’ll all make sense in-between the lines. At least, I hope anyway.

Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
I try to write every day, or at least do something in the context to writing every day. Being regimented in this particular case is never a bad thing. Just to set aside some time every evening during the week to write and listen to a record is very therapeutic for me at this point. I tend to get out a great deal of my frustrations this way, in addition to the occasional choice phrase.

Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
While Modern Hobbies is Science Fiction, my other books run the gamut. A lot of my earlier works are more youth based, pulling together elements from college and high school to tell a cohesive story. That’s not to say those works don’t also have an occasional WTF moment in them. I think it’s good to stretch out as far as you can with your writing. My recent short stories are all pretty standard literary fiction, nothing like this book, but still one could easily find a similarity in there.

Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
Unfortunately, nothing comes to mind. It’s funny because while I know a good amount of people who write or work creatively, most of our anecdotes are about other things entirely. I think good writing comes from the truth in the most awkward and often rewarding of situations. It’s something I do alone with the exception of songwriting, which can be highly beneficial with another person around to give it their all.

All of Christopher’s works are available at

Monday, October 13, 2014

Author Interview: D.J. Donaldson, Author of Louisiana Fever

D.J. (Don) Donaldson is a retired medical school professor.  Born and raised in Ohio, he obtained a Ph.D. in human anatomy at Tulane, then spent his entire academic career at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.  In addition to being the author of several dozen scientific articles on wound healing, he has written seven forensic mysteries and five medical thrillers.

His latest novel, Louisiana Fever, features Andy Broussard, the “Plump and Proud” New Orleans medical examiner, who obviously loves food.  Less apparent to the casual observer is his hatred of murderers. Together with his gorgeous sidekick, psychologist Kit Franklyn, Broussard forms a powerful, although improbable, mystery solving duo.

When Kit goes to meet an anonymous stranger—who’s been sending her roses—the man drops dead at her feet before she could even get his name. Game on.

Andy Broussard soon learns that the man carried a lethal pathogen similar to the deadly “Ebola”—a highly contagious virus, feared worldwide for killing its victims (grotesquely) in a matter of days. When another body turns up with the same bug, widespread panic becomes imminent. The danger is even more acute, because the carrier is mobile. The man knows he’s a walking weapon and… he’s targeting Broussard.

And when Kit Franklyn investigates her mystery suitor further, she runs afoul of a cold- blooded killer, every bit as deadly as the man searching for her partner.

Louisiana Fever is written in Donaldson’s unique style:  A hard-hitting, punchy, action-packed prose that’s dripping with a folksy, decidedly southern sense of irony.  Mix in Donaldson’s brilliant first-hand knowledge of forensics, along with the sultry flavor of New Orleans, and readers will be fully satisfied with this irresistibly delectable mystery.

What inspired you to start writing, and when?
Oddly, the thought that I wanted to become a novelist just popped into my head one day shortly after my fiftieth birthday.  Part of this sudden desire was a bit of boredom with my real job.  I was an anatomy professor at the U. of Tennessee and had accomplished all my major professional goals: course director, funded NIH grant, teaching awards, and many published papers on wound healing.  So I guess I needed a new challenge. And boy did I pick a tough one. 

I wondered, how does a novice like me learn to write fiction? Taking a few writing courses is an obvious answer. But I had the vague feeling that there were a lot of unpublished writers teaching those courses and I worried that all I’d learn was how to fail.  I’m not saying this was the best way, but I decided to just teach myself.  I bought ten bestselling novels and tried to figure out what made each of them work. What tricks were the authors using to hold my attention?  What made these books so popular?  In a sense then, maybe I didn’t teach myself.  Maybe Steven King, Robin Cook, Pat Conroy, Michael Palmer, Larry McMurtry, and James Michener did.  In any event, eight years later, I sold my first book.  So, it took me about as long to become a published novelist as it did to train for medical research and teaching.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
There’s nothing easy about any of it. But titles are a particular challenge.  I often can’t figure out what the title of a book should be.  Oh, I know when a title is great and so do you… It’s like the dealer at a flea market who once said to me when I picked up an expensive item to look at more closely…”You have good taste.”  Then, while I was secretly preening at his compliment, he added,  “Of course, it’s not that hard to spot quality.”   It’s the same with book titles.  Here’s a test:  What do you think of this title?  THEY DON’T BUILD STATUES TO BUSINESSMEN.

To me, it’s awful.  I’d think so even if I’d been the one to come up with it.  Actually, it was the famous writer, Jacqueline Susann, who crafted that one for a book that eventually became a mega best seller as VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.  Could there be anybody who likes the first title better?  Okay…. there’s always someone who enjoys being a contrarian.  But that still doesn’t make the first title any good.

Let’s try another.  How about ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL?  That’s actually not horrible.  But it doesn’t sound like the sweeping saga the author wrote.  I certainly think the title it was eventually given, WAR AND PEACE, is far better.

So, it’s easy to know a great title when you see it, but boy is it hard to come up with one, especially when you’re writing a New Orleans series that needs to have a title that reflects the locale.  I usually sit for hours playing with words and rearranging them in what I hope are creative ways.  No matter what title I eventually settle on for a book, I have this nagging suspicion that even if I really like the one I pick, there was a much better one I could have used.  I just couldn’t find it.  My WAR AND PEACE was out there, just beyond reach. 

Of all my New Orleans books, I’m the most satisfied with the title for LOUISIANA FEVER. Although the title doesn’t specifically mention New Orleans, it lets readers know a lot about the locale. It also strongly suggests that the story involves some kind of contagious disease.  The fever part of the title actually refers to Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, a bleeding disease similar to Ebola. Most writers would be thrilled to have written a book that could be related to unfolding world events.  Normally, I’d be among them.  But in this case, I’d much prefer that there be no reason for Ebola to be in the news every day. I hope this threat is contained soon.

What was the hardest part of writing LOUISIANA FEVER? Did you learn anything from writing that book and what was it?
My intention in each book is to reveal more about my two main characters, Andy Broussard and Kit Franklyn by putting them in situations that cause them to change and grow. And the more books I write about them, the harder it is to develop these little character arcs. LOUISIANA FEVER was number four in the series, so my two protagonists were already fairly well fledged out when I began work on the book. At that time, I had no idea what would face them in the new story, or how they would react. But as pieces of the project took shape, opportunities appeared, as they always seem to do. In fact, those arcs for Andy and Kit turned out to be more significant than I ever expected. Strange as it sounds, in each book my characters teach me something new about themselves.

Why New Orleans?
When I first started writing, I had no idea if I could produce a book good enough to find a publisher.  That’s of course the big question in anyone’s mind when they think about writing a novel. But I figured I could improve my chances by setting the book in a place that provided a lot to write about and could be used to give my story a palpable atmosphere. I had lived in New Orleans for five years during graduate school, and even though that was a long time before I got the urge to write, those years remained burned into my memory. Is there any other city in the country that better served my objectives for a setting than New Orleans? I thought it was the perfect choice then, and I still do.  Also, coming from a biology background, swamps and bayous hold a natural attraction for me.  Whenever I see an interesting body of water, I want to get out of the car and walk the bank, looking for wildlife.  Maybe one day I’ll tell you how that kind of curiosity once resulted in me heading over to pick my wife up after work with no knowledge that there was a live cottonmouth moccasin loose in the car.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t write for wealth or fame because most writers in the world, even those who have sold books to major publishers, can’t claim either of those status symbols.  There’s an old quote that says, “You can get rich in this country by being a writer, but you can’t make a living.”  Write because you love it.  If you don’t love doing it then you can be crushed by the difficulties inherent in the pursuit. 

All of D.J.'s books in this series are available for the Kindle at a cost of $0.99 through the end of October. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why There Will Probably Never Be A Podiobook Version of the Lupa Schwartz Mysteries

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of podiobooks. A podiobook is a novel which has been broken down into installments, recorded as an audio series, and released as a serialized limited-run podcast. The books I have been listening to are mysteries archived on, but there are other sources for podiobooks available. For example, the folks who brought us the Self-Publishing Podcast have begun something they call the Indie Fiction Podcast.

I find the format interesting, and consider it a great way to introduce new readers to a series. Most podiobooks differ from audiobooks one might find on such sites as in three major ways. First, obviously, is that they are serialized. Second is that they are offered for free – something which audible does not do unless one is also a member of a paid service. The third difference, however, is a major distinction. Podiobooks are generally read by the author whereas for-purchase audiobooks are generally read by a paid actor.

There’s a reason for this, obviously. If a reader is buying a novel, they expect it to be as professional and well-made as possible. Since podiobooks are offered for free, not only is it cost prohibitive to pay the high costs of voice talent, it’s also not something most listeners are going to expect or complain about.

The problem for me, though, is that the books in my series are clearly narrated by a woman. I would love to be able to narrate my books, but it would be very strange to hear a man’s voice saying such things as, “Mia was the only one there, and when I saw her, I was glad that Trevor had made a point to ask me to invite her along for his friend. It helped diminish the overwhelming envy I was feeling for her.”

That has to be read with a feminine voice to translate correctly. I would have to read every word of the narration in a fabricated feminine octave. I suppose I could use software to change the timbre of my voice, but I’d have to remove the filter for the male characters, which would create a false impression that the book had two distinct narrators.

When the first book was initially released, a friend made several sample audio files for a series of brief ads. The woman who volunteered to read that had the perfect voice for it. She did an amazing job, and I would love to be able to hire her or somebody like her to narrate the entire novel – maybe even the entire series – someday, but I’m not financially there yet.

In the meantime, here’s the series of commercials which I’ve compiled into a sort of book trailer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Atheism in Television

The following article is a reprint of an article I wrote for the Godswillchurch website last year. The article is no longer available through Godswill, but I found it on the Internet Archive
Several years ago, I determined to create a fiction series about an atheist private detective. As an atheist, I felt that the world needed a realistic heroic character that had no need of a religious belief system to base his or her good deeds upon. I began writing the series a decade ago, and in that time, I’ve noticed that perhaps some others had the same or a similar idea; especially in the television writing field.

Popular atheism as depicted on television.
Recently, it seems to me that television has made something of a leap forward in the portrayal of atheists, at least in the fictional realm. Numerous characters have either expressed atheistic ideas or have declared themselves to be atheists and that skepticism is a vital part of their character identity.
Granted, some have done so only in passing, Chris Colfer’s character, Kurt Hummel, on the television show Glee announced his atheism on one episode where the plot involved his father dealing with a heart attack. The issue of his disbelief was handled tactfully and respectfully by the show’s writers, and then was never mentioned again. Meanwhile, several other characters on the show frequently talk about their own Christianity or Judaism, and in a more recent episode, the Kurt character was unfortunately shown being superstitious about the color shirt his father wore at a follow-up visit to the doctor. Superstitiousness is a decidedly unskeptical characteristic.
Another series where the issue of a character’s atheism was handled matter-of-factly was the Joss Whedon space-western, Firefly. Whedon is an atheist himself, so the fact that his alter-ego, Malcolm Reynolds, is also one should not come as a surprise; however, Whedon deftly handles the topic by also introducing a minister with a questionable past, a naïve ingénue, a self-assured prostitute, and a primal wild-woman character to struggle with the ideas of morality, evil, lust and other vagaries which the religious would otherwise reasonably have to consider as pat and settled. In one memorable scene, the wild-child, River, is seen cutting up the minister’s bible to reassemble it in a way that would make it internally consistent. “Bible’s broken,” she tells him. “Doesn’t make sense.
Other current programs featuring atheist protagonists include Bones (Temperance Brennan played by Emily Deschanel,)The Good Wife (Alicia Florrick played by Julianna Margulies,) Dexter (the title character portrayed by Michael C. Hall,)The Big Bang Theory (Sheldon Cooper played by Jim Parsons,) Family Guy (Brian Griffin voiced by Seth MacFarlane,) Scrubs (Dr. Perry Cox played by John C. McGinley,) House (the title character played by Hugh Laurie,)The Cleveland Show (Cleveland Brown Jr. voiced by Mike Henry,) and one probable atheist on The Mentalist (Patrick Jane played by Simon Baker.)

The Mentalist never directly addresses Jane’s belief-system; however they frequently walk that line. A comparable program, Psych, features the identical premise, a fraudulent psychic working with the police to solve crimes. Even the theme song to that show joyfully declares “I know you know that I’m not telling the truth.” On a personal note, this plot device represents a dilemma for me. On the one hand, it’s entertaining to see the conceit that psychic talents have merit lampooned as being simple parlor tricks. On the other hand, in real life, we as skeptics know that self-declared psychics are self-serving ghouls. Do I root for the hero who is in many ways no better than an evangelist at a tent revival, or do I ignore the fictional chicanery to admire the theme of “psychics aren’t real?”
Another unfortunate issue with atheistic characters on television is that so many of them get their atheism from a lack of empathy. Bones, Dexter, Doctors House and Cox, and Sheldon Cooper are all emotionally stunted characters, and one is an outright sociopath. Also, it seems that when the writers want to humanize the characters, they often do so by resorting to having the characters temporarily question their atheistic resolve. In a recent episode of Bones, the character dealt with a traumatic event by receiving visions of the ghost of her dead mother. The Sheldon Cooper character frequently deals with shock or fear by calling out to “the God he doesn’t believe in,” as the show’s Hindu character, Raj, once put it.

Atheists in classic TV fiction.
Also, it should be noted that it’s not as if atheism as a characteristic in fiction is entirely new on television. The character of Mike Stivic played by Rob Reiner on All in the Family in the 1970s was a lapsed Catholic atheist. In the mid to late 80s, the series Moonlighting featured Cybil Shepherd in the role of Maddie Hayes, an atheist. In 1999, the teen comedy/drama Freaks and Geeks featured the atheistic character Lindsay Weir played by Linda Cardellini.  Battlestar Galactica, which ran from 2004 to 2009 featured the atheist character Billy Keikeya played by Paul Campbell. In fact, all of these characters were much better drawn, more rounded, empathetic characters than most of the atheists we see in television today. Yet they were fewer and further between.

In film, it often seems that atheistic characters are only played by real-life atheists who often create the characters for themselves to portray. Woody Allen often writes the characters he portrays as atheists. Jodie Foster portrayed the role of an atheist in the film version of Carl Sagan’s novel, Contact. Kevin Bacon played an atheist in Flatliners. Simon Pegg wrote and played an atheist in Hot Fuzz. Each of them has a spot on the list of atheist celebrities. Even Spencer Tracy, an atheist, was chosen to portray the atheistic lead, Henry Drummond, in Inherit the Wind.

In other fiction: novels, comic books, video games; we seldom come across sympathetic or heroic atheistic characters. They do exist of course, Tony Stark (Iron Man,) Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye,) Robert Langdon (The Da Vinci Code et al,) and sub-textually most of what has been written by John Updike are some notable examples. But I suspect that most of the modern fictionalized characterization of atheists as emotionally stunted intellectuals or cynical social outcasts originated in the character of Sherlock Holmes.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s groundbreaking private investigator is the archetypical forerunner of Robert Langdon, Temperance Brennan, Gregory House, Sheldon Cooper, and others in that he is emotionally stoic, quirky, smugly superior, and obsessively focused on the problem at hand. Like Tony Stark, Holden Caulfield, Henry Drummond, Malcolm Reynolds, Dexter Morgan, and others; Holmes operates from his own moral center. The rules don’t have to be apparent or understandable to others, so long as they are “internally consistent” and make sense to him.
Having been written for a mass audience during the Victorian era in British history, Sherlock Holmes was not an overt atheist. He expressed disdain for philosophy and cared little for the interpolations of social mores onto his objectives, but he never said in so many words that he rejected the concept of God or heaven. Rather, he simply ignored the topic. Holmes’ creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, was not, himself, an atheist per se. He spoke against organized religion, but he was a believer in spiritualism. Still, he created a character who had no need for such considerations as the heliocentrist vs. geocentrist debate (A Study in Scarlet.) Holmes also quoted the bible, but never insisted on its veracity. This tradition of ignoring metaphysical questions and postulates has generally persisted in the genre Holmes spawned. With popular fictional detectives from Phillip Marlow to Sam Spade to Nero Wolfe to James Rockford, the reader/viewer is seldom ever privy to the religious views of the gumshoe. In fact, when confronted with philosophies of a religious nature, the detective character more often than not either expresses disinterest in or disdain for the religious pontifications of the holier-than-thou.
With this history in mind, and with the new openness toward non-belief as an impetus, when creating my own fictional detective series I  determined to make my detective an overt atheist, disdainful of the pontificators, distrustful of the devout, and willing to say so in so-many words. His moral foundation is unimpeachable despite his “European” attitude toward monogamy. His patience for the religious delusions of others is predicated solely on their patience for his lack of same. Yet still, he shares the same observational talent, the same obsessive single-mindedness to task, and the same abundance of quirky habits that have become staples of the genre.
The one trap of writing a fictional atheist that I wanted to avoid was making him socially awkward. To that end, I gave my character a stubborn charm that a certain type of intellectual beauty finds irresistible. He’s a lothario but not a heart breaker. He’s careful and caring about the kind of woman he courts, preferring a more worldly type over the slavishly adoring.
I also determined to create a foil in the form of an intelligent and religiously neutral woman who genuinely does not see the appeal he holds for so many. She narrates the stories, the Watson to his Holmes, with more social awkwardness on her end than his. Through her eyes we come to understand both POVs, his atheism and the theistic individuals (both good and bad) that he interacts with in his casework.
Today’s audience, one hopes, is finally primed to accept an atheistic character who simply is. In real life, theists and non-theists interact daily. Believers and non-believers work side-by-side often sharing jokes and family stories, neither one knowing or caring if the other shares their belief-system unless it somehow comes up in conversation. So why should fiction writers be afraid to create atheistic characters who simply are? After all, there was a time when the homosexual down the street was portrayed as the confirmed bachelor; gay couples never came to dinner on the Dick Van Dyke Show; none of the Brady kids ever questioned their sexuality or mentioned “that one time at camp.” Yet today, every show has a gay neighbor. Stan on American Dad has dinner with the gay couple that reads the news. Every teen-centered show from 90210 to Glee deals with the personal drama of coming out to mom and dad, some shows on an almost weekly basis. That more than almost anything has probably affected the zeitgeist leading to the almost universal acceptance of homosexuality in the upcoming generation. Hopefully fiction can do the same thing for atheism. It’s worth a shot.