Extraordinary Lives

This being the week of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, I’m thinking of my friend Herman. (Actually, I think of Herman quite often, since he’s one of a small group of attorneys I eat lunch with several times a week). Herman’s 84 now, and still practicing part-time. And man, has this guy seen some history. In 1963, he was a schoolteacher, teaching in an all-black school in St. Louis. After his daughter discovered she couldn’t enter the segregated amusement park in town, Herman joined up with CORE, The Congress For Racial Equality. When St. Louis’ Jefferson bank fired all its black tellers, CORE picketed the place. Herman was one of the 19 protesters arrested. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail and did about two weeks of it before a team of volunteer lawyers, both black and white, got the sentence overturned. After that, he became interested in the law, but he hesitated to leave his safe job. When he met Dr. King at a CORE conference in Miami, though, the great man put things in perspective. “Young man,” he told Herman, “I get death threats and threats against my family nearly every day. You don’t know what fear IS.” That settled it. Herman finished law school and has been going strong ever since. Recently, he attended the 50 year anniversary of the Jefferson Bank March, which was one of the turning points in overcoming segregation in St. Louis.

A few nights ago, my wife and I had dinner with my mom at the retirement community where she lives. We were joined by a fascinating gentleman named Mohsin and his wife. Born to a well-to-do family in Northern India, he served in the RAF in Asia in World War II, after which he became the diplomatic reporter for Reuters for 30 years, covering the Korean, Vietnamese, and Cambodian peace negotiations, nuclear non-proliferation and test ban talks, and a host of other historic events. When he retired from Reuters, the Queen made him an officer of the Order of the British Empire. Mohsin’s wife is equally extraordinary; she was a scientist with the EPA when female scientists were rare. While at dinner, Mohsin loaned me a copy of E.M. Forster’s  classic novel A PASSAGE TO INDIA–which is dedicated to Mohsin’s uncle. The copy Mohsin loaned me has a picture of him with Forster, who was his guardian when he came to England.

So what’s the point of this? Just that wherever you are, there are people all around you with fascinating stories to tell, people who have seen and done amazing things. As storytellers and lovers of great stories, we owe it to them and to ourselves to find them and let those stories be told.

So who are some of the extraordinary people YOU know? Tell us their stories.

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Happy holidays from the Muse

All our best for the holidays, readers! Have a wonderful time with friends and family.
Here’s what’s happening with the Thalians at the end of the year. 

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Sparkle Hayter

Sparkle’s Robin Hudson mystery series has been re-released in digital by Open Road Media. Sexy, irreverent, outspoken, and newly single, Robin Hudson is a TV news reporter living with her cat in New York City’s East Village and occasionally moonlighting as a sleuth. Life in the big city isn’t always easy, and Robin keeps finding herself tangled up in outrageous crimes perpetrated by outlandish characters. Run-ins with mobsters, S&M enthusiasts, and licentious chimpanzees are all in a day’s work for Robin Hudson as she steadily moves up the professional ladder in television journalism and in and out of love with a wide variety of cute guys. The first novel in this smart and uproarious mystery series, What’s a Girl Gotta Do?, was awarded the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel and the series won Britain’s Sherlock Award for Best Comic Detective.

Sparkle Hayter has been a journalist for CNN and other news organizations, a stringer in Afghanistan, a producer in Bollywood, a stand-up comic in New York, a caretaker for an elderly parent in Canada, and a novelist of seven books. She currently lives in Canada with her rescued Nepali street dog, Alice, and is working on a new book.  Amazon       Barnes & Noble      Mysterious Galaxy

Gary Phillips

Birthed full-blown in the comics mini-series, Angeltown, L.A. private eye Nate Hollis makes the jump to prose in six new short stories in Hollis, P.I. New York Times bestseller Juliet Blackwell, acclaimed young crime writer Aaron Philip Clark, new pulp luminaries Bobby Nash and Derrick Ferguson join Hollis’ creator Gary Phillips in penning these tales.  As Kevin Burton Smith in Mystery Scene said of the character, “Slick as spit, big-shouldered Hollis walks the walk and talks the talk…”  In tradepaper and e-book from Pro Se Productions — http://tinyurl.com/kycvqqz

J.D. Rhoades

J.D. Rhoades’s first three Jack Keller books are being re-issued in e-book format and are available for Pre-order at Amazon. His first new hardcover in six years (and the fourth Keller book) DEVILS AND DUST is also available for pre-order.

Lise McClendon

New this week is Lise McClendon’s Bennett Sisters series novella, fresh out for the holidays. ‘Give Him the Ooh-la-la’ is the third installment in the series, after last summer’s ‘The Girl in the Empty Dress.’  Fun, food, wine, fraud, and Frenchmen feature in this book set in New York City. Look out for the drag queen and more as Merle Bennett juggles her French policeman, family holiday drama, and more than a bit of wine intrigue.

Amazon       Barnes & Noble

What I Read On My Summer Vacation

So I’m back from my  long-awaited and sorely needed vacation, in which  the missus and I spent a week on lovely Oak Island, NC. There’s just something about the ocean that makes it impossible to hold onto stress for long. A few days next to that immensity and that steady, eternal rhythm constantly in your ears is better than a truckload of Valium, IMHO.

I confess, I’m pretty boring at the beach. Some people seem to regard the beach as a place for vigorous physical activity. They bring volleyball nets, footballs, Frisbees, etc. Me, I tend to sit by the water and read, pausing only to take a dip when it gets too hot or a walk (and by “a walk” I usually mean a trip back up to the beach house for more beer). It’s great to have that leisure time to really be able to focus. It also helps that I’m usually away from the Internet. This time, my only connection was a weak (and let’s be honest, not totally legal) connection to the unsecured Wi-fi next door. So my web surfing, Facebooking, Tweeting, etc. was nearly non-existent, which gave me more time to read and fewer available distractions from it. And when I have that kind of time, I really plow through them.

So, this is what I read while at the beach:

 HOSTILE WITNESS, William Lashner: Dave White was raving about this underappreciated author a while back,  and Dave’s a damn fine writer himself. So I downloaded this one, and let me tell you, it’s great.

Victor Carl is the perfect noir protagonist: grasping, resentful, bitter that his legal career never put him amongst the elite of Philadelphia society. When he’s offered a chance to take over as counsel for what seems to be a minor player in a Federal racketeering and extortion trial, he jumps at the chance to play in the big leagues. Victor initially balks at the fact that the trial is in two weeks, but the blue-blood society lawyer defending the main player, a flamboyant city councilman, assures him that all he has to do is follow the lead of the big boys, show a united front, and keep his mouth shut. Pretty much everyone but Victor can see he and his client are being set up to take the fall. Fall he does, in spectacular fashion, including falling for the councilman’s mistress, a classic femme fatale if ever there was one. But he keeps getting back up….

This is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time, and I can’t wait to read the next ones in the series.

 NEVER GO BACK, Lee Child: Jack Reacher finally makes it to Virginia to meet the woman who he’s been trying to get to for the last two books, an Army Major (and commander of his old unit) who he only knows as an interesting voice on the phone. When he gets there, she’s in jail, Jack’s charged with the murder of someone he barely remembers, AND he gets hit with a paternity claim from a woman he doesn’t remember at all. Clearly somebody’s trying to make Reacher run away and abandon the damsel in distress, and we all know that’s not going to happen. Asses are kicked, names are taken, Jack does what Jack does. It’s the same old thing, but it’s the same old great thing. Recommended.

CALIFORNIA FIRE AND LIFE, Don Winslow:  Disgraced former cop Jack Wade, currently an arson investigator for the titular insurance company, is convinced that the fire that  destroyed the house of real estate mogul Nicky Vale and incinerated Vale’s beautiful estranged wife Pamela was not, as his former colleagues in the Sheriff’s Department ruled, an accident. No, he thinks it was arson and very possibly murder. As he digs into the evidence, both literally and figuratively, he discovers a web of deceit, betrayal, and counter-betrayal that may just lead to his own immolation.

All I can say about this book is: Wow. Only a writer as skilled as Don Winslow could make a plaintiff’s lawyer like me love a book with a claims adjuster as its protagonist. A surfing claims adjuster, of course, because this is, after all, Don Winslow. But he keeps you guessing, twist upon twist, until the final surprise and an absolutely perfect twist at the end. Highly recommended.

THREE GRAVES FULL, Jamie Mason: “There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard,” this book begins, and there’s even less for hapless nebbish Jason Getty when the landscaping crew he’s hired turns up two other bodies, neither of which are the man he killed a year ago and buried to cover up the crime. When a pair of engaging small town detectives (and a dog who always follows her nose) pursue the investigation into the two bodies in the front yard, they turn up evidence of another crime they can’t identify…and then things get a little crazy.

One of the cover blurbs compared this to a Coen brothers movie, and there are definite similarities, particularly in the Fargo-esque setup of good hearted small town cops vs. a Casper Milquetoast scrambling to cover up the crime he committed when pushed too far. But Jamie Mason’s worldview isn’t quite as bleak as the Coen’s. The book’s a lot of fun, and I have to admire the skill of a writer who can use a dog as a viewpoint character and not make me roll my eyes. Recommended.

THE SECRET SOLDIER, Alex Berenson: Pretty standard stuff for an international thriller. Troubled ex-CIA agent John Wells is your usual two-fisted thriller hero in the Bolt Studly mold, who gets called in to set things right in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by no less than King Abdullah himself. There’s some interesting stuff about the House of Saud and how they came to power, and the villain is suitably scary and believable. There’s a long stretch in the beginning where Wells and his sidekick are chasing a renegade CIA agent turned drug dealer which I kept waiting to connect with the rest of the book, but which never really does.  Still, it was entertaining, and good for a beach read.

 THE LIVES OF TAO, Wesley Chu: Human history has been influenced since the dawn of mankind by a group of non-corporeal aliens who crashed here millennia ago and have been possessing human hosts ever since, using them to try and nudge human progress to the point where humanity has the ability to get the aliens home. A while back, they split into two factions, one more ruthless and violent than the other. When one of the more peaceful aliens suffers the unexpected and violent loss of his host, he winds up in the body of overweight and aimless computer geek Roen Tan and is forced to make the best use of his raw material. The “Zero to Hero, with hot ass-kicking chicks in leather along the way” trope is pretty obviously aimed at what the publishers assume is SF’s core demographic. The book takes a while to get going, but eventually ends up being a fun action romp. Still, I don’t think I’ll be getting the sequel.

FIDDLEHEAD, Cherie Priest: The final chapter in Priest’s “Clockwork Century” series (or so she says) ends up being the best one I’ve read so far. It’s got all the wild inventiveness of BONESHAKER (how can you resist an alternate Civil War history steampunk zombie story, with airships?) and the breakneck action of DREADNOUGHT (same thing with steam powered mecha and armored trains), without the clumsy characterization and stilted dialogue of those two. I liked it a lot.

So, what are you folks reading?

 

 

Why Stories?

Kate Flora: Recently, at Thalia, we decided to do the occasional group post, and the topic for this round was: Why Stories?

In the new information age, we google everything, so I looked up “Why stories” and got pages and pages of blogs discussing the topic. The quote below is from a New Yorker article by Adam Gopnik, reviewing Gottschall’s book:

“the constant firing of our neurons in response to fictional stimuli strengthens and refines the neural pathways that lead to skillful navigation of life’s problems” and that the studies show that therefore people who read a lot of novels have better social and empathetic abilities, are more skillful navigators, than those who don’t.” Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal

Other writers had different takes. They wrote:

Stories give shape to experience

Stories provide rehearsals for life

I posted these quotes to the group, and dark responses began to flow: Continue reading “Why Stories?”

On (Not) Writing

“So, what are you working on?”

When people find out you’re a writer, they tend to ask this question a lot. Sometimes I’m glad to answer: “I’m working on my fourth Jack Keller book,” or “I’m working on my sci-fi vampire space opera.” Other times, the question makes me flinch, because the project’s at an early stage where I’m not really quite sure what the heck it is yet, and it feels like if I say something out loud, it’ll congeal into something unformed and unready, like an experiment that comes shambling out of the lab too soon as something grotesque and horrible.

Lately, however, I’ve had to answer that question “nothing.” Because I haven’t been writing any fiction at all. I’m writing my weekly newspaper column, but that’s about it. Looking back, it’s literally the first time I’ve been able to say that  in the last ten years. I’ve always had some project in the works. Oh, sure I might have been procrastinating on it, but for the past ten years, I’ve always at least had something to feel guilty about not writing. So why am I on hiatus now?

Well, every time I finish a book, I always say it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever written. This one, however, really took it out of me. To begin with, I accepted one of the shortest deadlines I’ve ever had, because I really wanted to work with Jason Pinter and his new venture, Polis Books. I saw that Jason was not only putting out some exciting new stuff, he was also doing reissues of great, neglected works like the ones in Dave White’s Jackson Donne series. So when he responded to my query asking if he would be interested in re-issuing the Jack Keller series by shooting back “would you be interested in writing a fourth one?” I said, “oh, HELL yeah.” After all, I’d had a fourth one in the works when I parted ways with St. Martin’s. So all I had to do was dust off the old notes and the 10,000 or so words I’d written as a starter and it’d be smooth sailing all the way, right? I think I may have even said the words that have gotten me into the most trouble of any throughout my life: “how hard could it be?”

As always, the answer was “harder than it looks.” Getting back into Jack’s head was more difficult than expected, especially since the events at the end of SAFE AND SOUND left him kind of a wreck. The other characters didn’t seem to want to come alive, either. But slowly, they did, and things proceeded as well as can be expected for a first draft.

Then, right before Christmas, my father died. I don’t want to go into too many details, but he did not go easily or painlessly. It was, in fact, thoroughly emotionally shattering for everyone concerned, and getting back to the computer after grueling hours at the hospital with my mom proved to be impossible. Then, when that was finally over, it was (oh joy) the holidays, and then at the first of the year, I launched into a busy trial schedule at the day job. But finally, I pulled it together, got back on the horse, pulled a lot of long writing and revising sessions, and managed to stumble to the finish line, or at least eke out a decent draft, which I turned in only three weeks late. It’s the first deadline I think I’ve ever missed. When it was over, I was drained, emotionally and creatively. I needed a break, and the rest of life wasn’t giving me one, so I took one from writing while waiting for my editor’s notes to get back to me. That process has taken longer than expected (for what turned out to be some very exciting reasons), so the hiatus went on longer than expected as well.

So what have I been doing while not writing? Well, I’ve read a lot. Watched a lot more TV than I usually do. Walked the dog. Played a lot of computer games I haven’t played in years. Probably drank more rum than is strictly good for me. Eventually cut back on that. In general, though what I’ve mainly been doing is feeling kind of aimless, restless, bored and oddly anxious, as if I’ve forgotten to turn the stove off or as if I can’t remember where my car is. I guess I’m one of those people who writes because not doing it is like having an itch you don’t scratch.  So I suppose it’s time to get back to it.

Thalians, guests, and others: how do you typically react to the question “What are you working on?” And while we’re on the subject, what ARE you working on? What’s your longest hiatus, and what are you like when you’re not writing?

Summer reading anyone?

So what are you reading this summer?

Got something new on your Kindle or Nook or iPad? Time to load up for vacation, trips, and lying around in the hammock. Here’s what the T-PAC crowd has written recently, plus some tantalizing new stuff coming out soon.

BP_FC_low_resBLACK PULP, co-edited and contributed to by Gary Phillips, is out now.  It’s an anthology of original stories featuring black characters in leading roles in retro stories running the genre gamut.  Black Pulp is rip-roaring fun offering exciting tales of derring-do from larger-than-life heroes and heroines; aviators in sky battles, lords of the jungle, criminal masterminds, pirates battling slavers and the walking dead, gadget-wielding soldiers-of-fortune saving the world to mysterious mystics.  Available in ebook and print-on-demand, and here’s a riveting review on Los Angeles Review of Books

“Literature for the masses kindled the imagination and used our reading skills so that we could regale ourselves in the cold chambers of alienation and poverty. We could become Doc Savage or The Shadow, Conan the Barbarian or the brooding King Kull and make a difference in a world definitely gone wrong.”–Walter Mosley from his introduction.

 

Redemption, by Kate Flora

Kate Flora’s Redemption takes us to Portland, Maine, but not to the postcard Maine, or to the action-packed world of police procedurals where handsome big city detectives eat, sleep (with sexy broads,) drink, get beat up (occasionally, and with little bruising), and solve complicated high powered crimes that save the world from catastrophe. No, Kate Flora’s detective, Joe Burgess, is a regular guy. He wishes he could take more showers and get more sleep. He argues with his girlfriend and she moves out. He’s not always happy with his fellow police. And the murder he’s trying to solve in REDEMPION is that of an alcoholic Vietnam vet who has PTSD and supports himself by collecting bottles in the streets of Portland. Flora takes us inside Joe’s world and shows us the underside of Vacationland. It’s not pretty. But it’s real, and Joe is real. Justice ain’t easy. Reading REDEMPTION, I wanted to believe that Joe Burgess wasn’t fictional. Because if I’m ever in trouble, he’s the guy I’d want on my side. In the meantime, I’ll take more books about him from Kate Flora. — Amazon reviewer

Louise’s Gamble, by Sarah R. Shaber

“Shaber brews a delightful mix of feminine wiles (long before women’s liberation) and real-life history that will keep readers turning the pages.”–Publishers Weekly
“Shaber plunges readers into the life of a widow, a working woman in the middle of the war-time shortages and secrets.The suspense and details of life in 1942 all add up to a fascinating story.”-Lesa’s Book Reviews
“This is the second in a series set in Washington, DC during WWII.  Shaber has created a wonderful cast of characters, and the descriptions of 1940s life, including shopping, dining at the Mayflower Hotel, working at the OSS, and living at a boarding house make for a wonderfully entertaining read.”–Historical Novel Society

Angel Among Us, by Katy Munger

Munger follows Angel of Darkness (2012) with another installment in the adventures of Kevin Fahey, the Dead Detective, who continues his postmortem roaming in a small Delaware town, seeking redemption for his past misdeeds. His latest effort involves the disappearance of Arcelia Gallagher. The beloved, pregnant preschool teacher’s distraught husband doesn’t know that his wife has a violent past. The illegal-immigrant community in the town may know why she is missing, but its members are too afraid to speak up. The police investigation keeps officers returning to the local Catholic church and to Delmonte House, a recently restored mansion. The search will keep readers in suspense as officers look for Arcelia, and Fahey stalks the mansion’s halls. Will the police locate Arcelia and will she be alive? Readers who enjoy Mary Stanton’s Beaufort & Company novels will like this series as well, but it will also appeal to procedural fans who can accept the paranormal angle. –Barbara Bibel, BOOKLIST

BROKEN-SHIELD-HI-RESBroken Shield, by J.D. Rhoades

Chief Deputy Tim Buckthorn and his beloved hometown of Pine Lake thought they’d seen the last of FBI agent Tony Wolf. But when evidence of a kidnapping literally falls from the sky, Wolf returns to assist in the search for an abducted young girl. Buckthorn, Wolf, and brilliant FBI prodigy Leila Dushane race against the clock to piece the clues together. When the evil they find follows them home, Pine Lake once again suffers terrible tragedy at the hands of violent and lawless men. Tim Buckthorn, who’s lived his life as a sworn officer of the law, will have to cross every line he ever knew on a quest to protect the people and the place he loves.

“A blistering follow-up to BREAKING COVER. The prose is fast and smart, the pace frantic and the characters driven, dangerous and yet full of heart. BROKEN SHIELD reaffirms JD Rhoades’ position as the king of redneck noir.” -Zoë Sharp, author of the Charlie Fox crime thriller series

Deus ex Machina, by Sparkle Hayter

Two short stories. In Deus ex Machina, a starving writer splurges on a cab ride after missing the last Metro, and ends up on an unexpected journey. In Diary of Sue Peaner, things get a little too real for a reality show contestant.

Open Season on Lawyers, by Taffy Cannon

“Somebody was killing the sleazy lawyers of Los Angeles. In the beginning, hardly anyone even noticed,” begins Taffy Cannon’s (Guns and Roses) sharply clever Open Season on Lawyers. LAPD homicide detective Joanna Davis pursues a murderer whose vengeance takes strange parallels to the lawyers’ perceived crimes (a lawyer who defended a caterer against charges of food poisoning later dies of it, for example); readers just might be torn between wanting her to catch him and wanting him to get away. — Publishers Weekly. This classic from Taffy Cannon is now available for Kindle.

        Coming soon!

plan x mockup 12Rory Tate (also known as Lise McClendon) has a new thriller coming out in early June. PLAN X tells the intriguing story of police officer Cody Byrne, charged with finding the next-of-kin for a professor of Shakespeare injured in a lab explosion. What should be a simple task leads to ancient manuscripts that may or may not be truly Shakespearean and secrets someone is trying very hard to keep.
PLAN X is both thrilling and sophisticated. In a serpentine story that races from small-town Montana to the vaulted halls of Windsor Castle, nothing is as it seems, including the works of the great Shakespeare himself. Former military and current police officer Cody Byrne is unforgettable–a heroine you want to root for. I love this book! –New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author J. Carson Black

A thrilling police procedural as (Iraqi war veteran turned) police officer Cody Byrne investigates the death of a Montana professor who may have been hiding one of the biggest secrets in academia—or perpetuating one of the biggest frauds—one that could scandalize the royal family of Great Britain. An entertaining read!     –Robin Burcell, award-winning author of THE BLACK LIST