Obama Conspiracies… and a free book

In an era where the outlandish and fantastic has permeated our media 24/7, where mind-bending conspiracy theories shape our views, THE OBAMA INHERITANCE writers riff on the numerous fictions spun about the 44th president… [C]ontributors spin deliberately outlandish and fantastic twists on many of the dozens of screwball, bizarro conspiracy theories floated about the president during his years in office and turn them on their heads. — Maureen Corrigan, NPR

9781941110591_cvr-189It’s release day for a new short story anthology edited by one of our own — Gary Phillips — who conceived of this wild gathering of tales based on conspiracy theories that were floated about Barack Obama, our 44th President. It’s had a nice reception so far, including this week’s review on National Public Radio. Maureen Corrigan highlighted the first story in the collection by our own Kate Flora, calling it a “truly fabulous story” and reading a sampling of it. (We are all thrilled!) Corrigan’s take on the anthology? She calls it  “15 stories so sly, fresh, and Bizarro World witty, they reaffirm the resiliency of the artistic imagination.”

You can read her full review HERE

Also in the anthology are mystery great Walter Mosley, our own Lise McClendon, and a diverse group of writers including Danny Gardner, Christopher Chambers, and, well, here are all the stories:

Michelle in Hot Water by Kate Flora
. . . The Continuing Mission by Adam Lance Garcia
True Skin by Eric Beetner
Evens by Nisi Shawl
A Different Frame of Reference by Walter Mosley
Brother’s Keeper by Danny Gardner
Forked Tongue by Lise McClendon
Sunburnt Country by Andrew Nette
I Know They’re in There! by Travis Richardson
The Psalm of Bo by Christopher Chambers
At the Conglomeroid Cocktail Party by Robert Silverberg
Deep State by Désirée Zamorano
I Will Haunt You by Anthony Neil Smith
Give Me Your Free, Your Brave, Your Proud Masses Yearning to Conquer by L. Scott Jose
Thus Strikes the Black Pimpernel by Gary Phillips

Other reviewers say…

“Pulp fiction for the post-Obama era . . . Readers who enjoy political satire in its many varied forms will certainly enjoy this collection.” —Booklist

“The stories are adrift with white supremacists, secret locations, strange conflicts, and subtle aliens. . . . Truly excellent.” —Publishers Weekly

“A mashup of genre fiction . . . imagines the consequences of white supremacist politics on American society.” —Kirkus Reviews

Already a bestseller on Amazon! Check it out HERE. On Barnes & Noble & iTunes!

Support your local independent bookstore by buying it there!

One last thing! The darkly comic serial killer tale, written by five of us from this group, is FREE this week. Its tone works well with the Obama Inheritance – get them both!

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Beat Slay Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge

Thalia Filbert is a pseudonym for Taffy Cannon, Kate Flora, Lise McClendon, Katy Munger, and Gary Phillips.

FREE ON AMAZON for a limited time.

This incredibly sly mystery has everything you’d want when you bite into a dish: suspense, spice, and a new take on an old classic…  Beat Slay Love is the perfect read.” — Bestselling author Charlaine Harris

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Something new is always a good idea

I’ve been enjoying learning the ropes from a cool bunch of writers on Facebook who are dedicated to writing LOTS of books. They say the more books you have out, the easier it is for readers to find you and thus, the better your revenue stream will be. That means money, to the writer. Crass and commercial as that may seem to some writers and readers, it’s impossible to not think about money. It gives the writer space to be creative, time to dream, and a reason to write another book.

Frenchman announcementAs my fifth book in my Bennett Sisters Mysteries launches I feel this effect. When I run some cheap ads on Facebook for the new book, people discover the whole series. Now at five, there is some heft, some reason for people to think about connecting long-term to these characters.

I’ve also been doing a blog tour for The Frenchman, the new one, and wrote this guest post about how the characters have changed, and I’ve changed in my understanding of them over the years. (See Beth’s post on Shelf Rider.)

As I launch the fifth installment in the Bennett Sisters Mystery series it occurs to me that one of the joys of writing a long series is the chance to really dig deep into the personalities of the characters. Although I originally conceived of the series as linked stand-alones about each of the five sisters, the first book, Blackbird Fly, centered on the middle sister, Merle. When I eventually continued the series, I continued Merle’s journey of self-discovery after the sudden death of her husband. It just made sense that one summer sojourn in France wouldn’t cure all her problems, lovely as France might be.

discoverFranceagainSo Merle has a Frenchman. Initially, like Merle, I didn’t see how a long-distance relationship with a man who lived across an ocean would work. How could she work in New York City and Pascal work all over France’s wine country and they continue a romance? Because, although I didn’t write the series as a romance, women have love affairs— have you noticed? And they like to read about them. Merle’s affair with Pascal might have just been a fling, a curative, that first summer. But as the series goes along it’s obvious that Pascal thinks of it as something more. Although Merle isn’t sure what he thinks— he’s a Frenchman and you know how they are— her feelings mature, especially in this fifth book.

Their relationship is an underpinning in the novels to intrigue, sisterhood, and the joys and trials of mid-life. The sisters range in age from 40 to 55, or so, and I try to find aspects of women’s lives that are interesting and challenging. Life can be hard but reading about how other women make choices and navigate the pitfalls is helpful and revealing to me, and I hope to readers.

As a writer you never know how readers will react to your characters. Will they think them weak and stupid for their choices? (Yes, I’ve had that review.) Or will they identify with them, cheer for them, hope for them? That’s what I live for, that identification from the reader. I am not an Everywoman myself. I am opinionated and cranky and sometimes not that nice. Also, funny, a good friend, a loving parent— I hope. We all have so many aspects. I see some of myself in each of the five Bennett Sisters. I am a middle sister myself though, that’s why Merle appeals to me.

I recently had a review of Blackbird Fly that made all the writing worthwhile. (I love that readers are still discovering the series.) A reader said “The main character, Merle Bennett, could have been me, though I’m not a lawyer, have never inherited a house in France, and never had her problems. The writing puts you in the book.”

Right there, that’s why I write.

Then, if you love France like I do, the reviewer says that for her, at least, I got something right: “I’ve spent enough time in France to know that Albert, Mme Suchet, and the others in the village who snubbed, helped, or sabotaged Merle are just so … French. The story unfolds just as it should along with Merle’s self-discovery and personal regrets.”

And so Merle’s journey continues in The Frenchman. Who is the Frenchman, you ask? There is of course Pascal, Merle’s Frenchman. But there are many more in this book, policemen and old villagers, young punks and charming neighbors. And in Merle’s novel, chapters of which are included in the novel, there are Frenchmen from the Revolutionary period: farmers and rebels, nobles and royals, villagers and strangers. I had such fun writing Merle’s novel— which will be fleshed out and published separately as well— about a goat-herder who flees the terror in Paris for a farm in the Dordogne. Merle calls it ‘Odette and the Great Fear,’ and it will be available soon as an e-book.

I hope your writing and reading goes well as we ease into chilly weather– the best time to read and write! Happy autumn.

Lise

Write Like You Mean it

 

I don’t presume that every visitor to our humble site voted the way I did. If you’ve read my previous posts and/or my work, you probably have a good idea who I cast my ballot for this past presidential election. Nonetheless, the die is cast and at least for the next four years we shall see if the winner is going to deliver on his promises and threats.

But in times like these those moments where you question what it is write as a storyteller. That in some ways I’m jealous when fake news stories on social media sway people. These fictions are propaganda, but not labeled as such. This material is not meant to offer reflection or enlightenment, bsimpsonsut to reinforce pre-existing perceptions and move the needle among the undecided. How do you top that?

The danger then is in feeling the need to redirect your work to make it cynical and didactic, to hit the reader over the head in driving home whatever particular point it is you’re trying to make to get said reader on your side. But then you take a deep breath, pause and collect your thoughts, and once you re-group, understand that what it is you write, be it genre to so-called literate writing, can contribute to broadening the discussion.

Not for nothing those of us who love our pulp stories helped put together Black Pulp and Asian Pulp. Not to be PC, but also acknowledging that for the most part, in the original wild pulp tales of the ‘30s and ‘40s, if people of color were say in a story set in Africa, a black person might be individualized as the gun bearer or the Asian be the villainous Yellow Peril or Dragon Lady. The aforementioned anthologies, and for sure those two examples are among several – the steamfunk novel set in the horror that was the Belgium Congo, Everfair by Nisi Shawl and The Striver’s Row Spy by Jason Overstreet come to mind — was a way to put the background character up front as the adventurer, the aviatrix, the gunslinger, the jungle lord. We can all have a turn playing these iconic characters to fire the imaginations, to have some fun and just maybe plant the seed that diversity isn’t some academic, lefty concept to guilt trip you, but is organic and seamless in the context of enjoyable stories.

In that way I feel renewed to still tell tales of derring-do, of the hardboiled and heartache, of noir and its dark alleys, sometimes with a bit of socio-political content threaded through and sometimes not. But consciously I want to stretch as a writer to put on the page and the stage in your mind, characters of various ethnicities not because I’m all touchy-feely, but because I want to challenge myself and the reader. In my own way counter those false narratives with fiction to hopefully resonate and connect. I’ll also look for ways my work can reach beyond the “Bubble” and into those areas of the rust belt and red states where folks may or may not have an affinity for crime fiction, but not fully indulging. Outreach to those who are hungering for something more than what they hear on AM radio.

I mean hey, VP-elect Mike Pence went to see “Hamilton,” didn’t he? Okay, he got schooled but still. Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won the Pulitzer and the Edgar for his novel The Sympathizer, stated in his recent piece in the L.A. Times Book Review section, “Listen to Radicals, Artists,” that sci-fi/futurist writer Ursala K. Le Guin said writers need to be “realists of a larger reality.”

Come on, y’all, let’s get large.

Happy Thanksgiving

That Old Autumn Feeling

tumblr_maiujcqypo1r3sm6co1_500As writers we sometimes feel blessed — or cursed — with a continuing education. Every day we write we are on some learning curve or other, struggling to remember what happened yesterday in the story, where it’s going, what the research says, and how to put the perfect sentence together. The advent of brisk fall weather reminds us of back-to-school, even though most of us haven’t been to actual school for decades. Autumn is a time of endings, but also beginnings. New pencils, new friends and old, clean reams of paper, spotless notebooks ready to be scribbled in: this is autumn.

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This 9/11 we remember the victims of the terrorist attacks as well as honoring the first responders and those who still suffer physical and psychological trauma from that time.  And here’s to us getting out of the Big Muddy to paraphrase Pete Seeger.


On a happier note, I am glad to be attending this year’s Bouchercon in New Orleans doing a couple of panels, celebrating Down & Out Books’ 5th anniversary, and participating in group signings for anthologies I’m in – The Highway Kind, Echoes of Sherlock Holmes, Crime + Music, Occupied Earth and Blood on the Bayou.

Lise McClendon

img_2048Lise is not happy about NOT attending this year’s World Mystery Convention, Bouchercon, in New Orleans. It’s always a blast, a sort of writers high school reunion. So she adds this silly photo from last year’s event in Raleigh, NC, to remember the good times.

Katy and Lise hope there are some big chairs in New Orleans. Because what is a convention without giant seating?! Laissez les bons temps rouler!

This August marked the release of Lise’s newest Bennett Sisters novel, The Things We Said Today. The third full-length novel (there is also a novella) comes two years after the last things-we-said-webone, The Girl in the Empty Dress. To mark the occasion and thank readers she is giving away copies of Blackbird Fly, the first in the series. Click here to get the details. 

The new one finds the five sisters in the Scottish Highlands for the oldest sister’s wedding. But does she even want to get married at the ripe old age of 55? Weather, whisky, and intrigue threaten to shatter the happy day.

Lise also refurbished her website at lisemcclendon.com and would love to hear what you think of it. Also check out how to join her review team. Free books: were two better words ever combined?

J.D. Rhoades

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J.D. (aka Dusty) will also be at Bouchercon in New Orleans this week, September 15-18.  Come by Mardi Gras “D” at 4:30 Thursday for the panel “Telling Lies”, moderated by the extremely funny Johnny Shaw. See if you can separate true stories from lies told by professionals!


He just turned in final edits on a new Jack Keller novel, HELLHOUND ON MY TRAIL. Check out the cover!

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Here is the cover for Kate’s soon to be released 5th Joe Burgess police procedural, Led Astray. Watch for it on Amazon.

In other news, A Good Man with a Dog, the memoir Kate co-wrote with a retired Maine game warden, won second place in the 2016 Public Safety Writers Association annual writing contest.

May your pencils be as sharp as your mind! Happy autumn 🍁🍂

The Mysteries of Fatherhood

Last month my wife Gilda and I had the pleasure to take a brief week-long vacation to Florence, Italy.  Our American friends were already there, having rented an apartment on the south side of the Arno River which bifurcates the historic city and we stayed with them.  As they say, it was a whirlwind tour which involved seeing the famous Statue of David, renting a car to drive to Bologna, Puertomaggiore  and other environs — “Take the second right out of the roundabout.”

“I took the second right.”

“That was the third,” Gilda would point out.

“I can count,” I would insist, “that was the second.”

Fortunately Siri’s calm directions often resolved our navigational problems and allowed us to enjoy our day trips and the food in local cafes.  For even though my wife’s laptop and phone were hidden but nonetheless stolen from the rental, after the thieves busted out the rear window of the hatchback, and getting back to town that night we were locked out of the apartment after yours truly left the keys some damn place, we had a great time

Walking around a section of Florence one day and marveling at the centuries old architecture, the old daily comic strip Dondi flashed in my head.  The kid, Dondi (the photo for this post is a still from the film based on the strip that starred David Janssen – TV’s Richard Diamond, Private Eye, as the G.I), was a button-eyed war orphan who was befriended by an American G.I. in the closing days of World War II.   Man and boy grow close and the soldier turned veteran and his wife adopt Dondi and they live in Midville, U.S.A.  Dondi never aged so as the strip kept going for many years, his past wasn’t alluded to much.  Nowadays, if Dondi was to be updates as a show on the CW, he’d be an Afghan war orphan befriended by a lonely G.I.  We’d start with him as a tough 11 or 12 year old trying to adjust to small town U.S.A., both damaged individuals helping the other heal. Then if the show was renewed, the second year we’d skip ahead five years to Dondi as a troubled but goodhearted hunky teen who must solve the murder of his basketball coach.

Dondi

The Bicycle Thief, which emerged from the Italian neo-realism period of post WWII films, is another example of a relationship between father and sons.  In the film the father is scraping together work in the war ravaged Italy Dondi has escaped.  He gets a job pasting up movie posters but has to have a bike to accomplish the tasks.  He has a bike but had pawned it and his wife gives him their sheets to pawn in back.  Then on the job, the bike gets stolen.  We follow man and son on an odyssey across this rugged landscape of Rome to find his bicycle as each learns something about the other, and we the audience see what war on your doorstep does to a country.

A Better Life, based on a short story by Roger L. Simon (creator of the Moses Wine ex-hippie private eye series) is a kind of modern day version of The Bicycle Thief.  An East L.A. gardener and his teenage son have a strained relationship, what with the kid gravitating toward the gang life and the son embarrassed by his old man’s thankless work.  The two give us a look at Southeast L.A., far from the damn near lily white one percenter enclaves encountered in Entourage, and come to understand one another better as they search for his stolen pick-up truck.

Not to let fathers and daughters off the hook, in Naomi Hirahara’s Gase-Gasa Girl, her retired gardener amateur sleuth Mas Arai travels from Pasadena to New York City to aide his grown married daughter Mari with whom he also has a strained relationship.  As these things happen, Mari’s ex boss’ body is discovered by Mas and he’s drawn into solving the crime while he and his daughter navigate their relationship.

In comics there’s numerous father-daughter super-hero and super-villain relationships and probably one of the most complicated is Ra’s al Ghul and his daughter Talia al Ghul who is Batman’s baby’s mama.  At times father, head of the League of Assassins, and daughter are aligned and at other times she’s trying to off her pops.  Kids.

Happy Father’s Day, y’all.

I’m Not a Panster, I’m a Cooker

 

Miramichi 018.JPGYou all know how it goes. There is a panel of authors sitting before an audience. The presentation is done and now it’s time for Q&A. Once in a while there’s a question that is delightfully quirky or unpredictable, but most times, along with questions about where we get our ideas, someone will want to know whether the writers outline before they write.

The answers will vary. Some of the writers will be serious outliners, the kind who have a detailed, sixty-page outline before they write word one. They are likely the same folks who carefully keep notebooks about each recurring character. Who give their characters birthdays. Who remember that in book two, Uncle Henry and Aunt Rita were feeling estranged from the main character. Who will have carefully noted when their character’s sister burned down the house or shot the neighbor’s dog. They will have a note on the name of that deceased dog so they won’t use it for another dog later in the series. These people, though I long to emulate them, are just too organized.

Others will work from a shorter outline, possibly the one they submitted to a publisher to Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 12.18.22 PMget another contract. These writers generally know the story they mean to tell, although most will readily admit that the book they end up writing often bears little resemblance to the outline they submitted. Usually, neither the author nor the editors cares when this happens.

Occasionally there are those who admit they start at the end of the book and work backward, making sure that everything that happens leads to that already designed and inevitable ending.

Then there are the pantsers. These are the writers who sit down at the keyboard (formerly Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 12.19.23 PMknown as the typewriter), type Chapter One, and have at it. Many of them will admit that at the end of the writing day or a scene or a chapter, they have no idea what will happen next. For them, much of the joy of writing is in that journey of discovery. It’s in somehow having their creative minds lead them forward into the next chapter. And for pantsers—while they will admit to those moments of despair when they don’t know what to write next and no fluttery little muse is whispering in their ear—this approach generally works.

I am neither an outliner nor a pantser. When I wrote my first mystery—one of the three that reside in a drawer labeled: In the event of my death, burn these—I wrote the pieces I knew. From there, I made an outline of what I needed to write to connect these pieces, and finally, an outline of what needed to still be filled in. I wrote the next in much the same fashion, feeling my way along. Probably following that line that is attributed to many writers including Doctorow that writing is like driving a night. You can only see as far as your headlights but if you keep going, eventually you will get there.

That felt a bit shaky and disorganized, so for the next book, I wrote an outline. Following that outline lasted exactly one chapter. At the end of chapter one, in a book that I had planned to be about real estate and corrupt bankers, a student walks into my protagonist high school teacher’s classroom and says: “You’ve got to help me, Mr. M. I’m in big trouble.” The book became about that trouble.

I’ve lost count, but at book twenty-four or so, I’ve evolved into what I call a cooker. Not meth, thank goodness, but plotting. When an idea comes to me—often only a phrase, or a person in a difficult situation or whatever—I begin the process of wondering. Who is this person? Why is he or she in this situation? What’s in the past that led them here? And once that musing leads to a protagonist and a victim, I wonder about why the victim is dead, what my protagonist’s connection is, and then my mind begins to fill in the details about the crime scene, the clues, the killer, the other suspects, and how it will all be unraveled. I don’t write it down, but I remember it.

During the cooking period, I can get quite lost in my own head. Plot ideas or critiques of what I’ve planned can come flying at me at any time. While driving. In the shower. As I go to sleep and as I’m waking up. During this time, I joke that I should wear a tag like Paddington Bear that reads: Please Look After This Author. Thank You. If Found, Please Return To . . .”

That in-my-head plan can still get knocked awry by a character seizing control—an event that used to scare me but now I embrace. But mostly, I follow the story line I’ve cooked up.

So if I zone out during dinner. If I suddenly get a glazed look in my eyes. If I suddenly whip out my phone and begin typing—please smile indulgently. I’m not being rude. I’m just cooking.