Of Widgets and Craft

We over here at TPAC think about writing a lot. The doing of it and the marketing of what it is we produce. Particularly in an era when the fight for, dear reader, your attention is an unrelenting and quite daunting task given how many ways you can spend your free time. For instance, there are cable television shows I used to watch every week, Longmire and Hell on Wheels to name two. I got behind on these programs, keeping up with the storylines of other shows, then figured out why sweat it. Wait until the episodes were streaming on Netflix, Hulu or some damn thing yet to come along, and binge watch – a phrase spawned by our digital age. The age where stuff never truly goes away and we can find something to entertain us around the clock via various outlets.

Amazon is a factor in this as the Kindle and other e-readers have had their effects on the pursuit of creative writing as a career. Those who self-publish solely or as part of their writing life as I do, have felt the crush to constantly feed the machine. That it’s not unusual for some writers to produce four novels or mixed with novellas per year. I know at least a couple of writers who work full time at their craft and have managed to pull this off. They write across genres, under a different name or two, and maybe with a partner on one or so of the books they have to get out there. It’s a time when a come on to gather potential readers of your book is not so much a glowing review in the New York Times but putting it on sale for .99 or giving it away for free for a limited period. The book as commodity as opposed to an appreciation of its individual merits, what it gives to you the reader.

Lorraine Devon Wilke in a recent piece in the HuffingtonPost Book section decried these practices of producing books as if making your quota supplying the conveyor belt. She self-published her first novel called After the Sucker Punch. She’d worked years on this effort, wanting it to be a work of art, a book of depth and merit. I can dig that. I too want to write books that have something to say in big and small ways. And that does take time to make happen on the page. Writing and rewriting, thinking about does this passage work as I intended…maybe my man character should really want this and her antagonist talks in this way and those changes will alter the plot That even if you write genre, you might elevate the genre at times.

Carl Kolchak at his typewriter

This versus the grind to turn out x number of pages a day to get to the finish line so you can start all over again. Little time to shape and hone that one sentence just so or be reflective on how to shade the nuances of your characters as the story unfolds. That like the pulp writers of old, you pound out the work because writing’s a job and you have a deadline to make. The Raymond Chandler versus Erle Stanley Gardner school. The two were friends and Gardner it’s been reported could dictate three novels on a given day, each at its own stage, to his secretaries Even when he was doing his own two finger hunt and peck typing, Gardner was known to write two short stories a day for the pulps with a goal of producing 100,000 words a month – while maintaining his law practice. Chandler penned less than 10 complete novels and a few screenplays, and he sweated long and hard on what he put down on the page. Could you find Gardner more formulaic, yes. Was Chandler more evocative in what he wrote, certainly.

Arguably Chandler’s work has endured but you can’t dismiss Gardner so easily as his ultimate creation, keen witted criminal defense lawyer Perry Mason, has endured as well.

Is there a happy medium between these two approaches? For some it’ll remain a numbers game and for some, they can be prolific and hit a certain standard of writing that can entertain and be insightful. Other can’t be rushed and will take the time they need to write the book and there’s nothing wrong with that either. For yet another recent riff indicates readers like writers are becoming hybrid and consuming their books electronically and the tried and true method of paper.

Could be there’s room for all types of approaches, levels of output and how those stories are received..

That Asian Pulp Thing

Back in the ‘60s, this comics artist-writer Jim Steranko, a cult figure today, was drawing and writing for Marvel Comics Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. which would prove to be some of the source material for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on TV now. One of the storyarcs Steranko did was revive this admittedly “Yellow Peril” character, the Yellow Claw, a super-villain who for a brief moment in the late ‘50s had his own comic book title when Marvel was still known as Timely.

The Claw’s nemesis was FBI agent Jimmy Woo, an All-American Chinese-American.  Smoking a cigarette, Woo tells Fury and a guest-starring Captain America, “Back a few years ago, I fought one of the most sinister evil masterminds who ever lived.’

Steranko, who drew his spies in a kind of cool “Mad Men” style in tailored suits, thin ties and tricked out Italian sunglasses, while piloting flying sports cars, also brought back Woo, turning him into a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.

In my short story, “Bret Khodo, Agent of C.O.D.E.”, which is in the just dropped Asian Pulp (a follow=up to the well-selling Black Pulp of two years ago from Pro Se Press and a prelude to Black Pulp II) I sought to capture some of that élan Steranko ushered in on the page having himself been influenced by the Bond and Flint films – gadgets, sexy, smart women, fast cars, swinging sixties threads and a dastardly villain.  Asian Pulp cover

Here’s a sample from the opening of the story:

The scuba diver in nylon trunks and flippers swam as fast as he could, pursued by two mermen. One of the sea creatures had a spear gun and the other a good-sized knife. A spear hit the tank of the scuba diver but only dinged its surface. He descended toward a rusting hulk of a freighter partially buried in the ocean floor below. He shot through undulating seaweed and into the ship.

The two mermen, grey-blue scaly bodies, with gills on the sides on their necks and large, bubbly slit eyeballs, slowed as they got closer to the ship. They signaled to each other and one went in through the opening to the cargo hold, the other through a jagged hole in the side where the long useless ballast tanks were located.
There was an oily gloom pervading the interior of the freighter.

The two pursuers proceeded cautiously from opposite ends, essentially trying to box in their quarry. The one with the knife came to a bend in a passageway, on the lookout for tell tale air bubbles. But the scuba diver had been holding his breath and he jumped on the merman’s back as he swam past. They thrashed and twisted as the scuba diver held the wrist of the merman’s knife hand. He had his other arm around the merman’s neck. But rather than try and pull his grip tighter, the scuba diver relaxed his hold. Like an underwater Fred Astaire, he let him go, spinning him away from his body and into the bulkhead.    Woo

The merman with the spear gun had arrived and, having reloaded his weapon, shot a spear again at the scuba diver. The diver reacted fast enough that the spear didn’t impale him dead center. Still his bicep was nicked by the tip and blood eddied from the wound. The spear gunner moved in. But the scuba diver struck with the stiffened ends of his fingers, right into the area of the merman’s Adam’s apple.The merman gagged, a wreath of air bubbles escaping his open mouth. He tried to clear his head but the scuba diver struck him again and then ripped off the combination mask and regulator, also tearing lose the hose to the oxygen tank hidden underneath the ribbed rubber dorsal fin on his back. He broke for the surface as the other pretend merman attacked the scuba diver anew.

The two fought with their knives, the scuba diver having unsheathed his as well. As they engaged in their underwater ballet of parry and thrust, a great white Shark suddenly shot into the passageway, attracted by the blood in the water. The combatants went still at the sight of nature’s near perfect killing machine. The scuba diver went horizontal, stomach up and kicked the merman in the chest. This sent him toward the shark and it did what sharks do, and promptly clamped his jagged teeth on the merman’s thigh. He screamed a burst of air bubbles as the shark shook him like a poodle’s chew toy and began devouring him.

While the great white was busy rending and biting his disguised human prize, the scuba diver cut the other merman’s mask into strips. Swimming away, he tied them around his wound to prevent trailing blood. Up toward the light, he could see the remaining merman swimming across the water’s surface. The scuba diver increased his speed…

The beachgoers lazing or playing on the warm white sand stared at the scuba diver coming out of the ocean. He took off his mask to reveal a chiseled handsome six-foot Asian man, stark eyes, tawny skinned and muscular in a lithe way with high cheekbones and black hair, a bit long over his ears. That’s not why he attracted attention, other than turning the heads of a few pretty women. It was the man in the sea creature costume he dragged with him by the collar of his rubber suit that was the grabber. Some looked around for movie cameras but saw none. A pretty brunette in a turquoise bikini listened to a transistor radio laying on a blanket. Playing was “Midnight Confessions” by the Grass Roots. She stared slack jawed at the newcomers.

The scuba diver let go of the unconscious man who plopped onto the sand as something buzzed. He unhooked a square compass from his weight belt and clicked a hidden button on the side of its casing. The compass was a disguised two-way radio.

“Agent 77?” a query sounded over the radio-compass. It was a whispery, ethereal voice. It was as if a specter had materialized on the other end of the connection, and was experimenting in how to speak to humans via their artificial devices.

“Yes, sir,” the scuba diver said to the head of CODE, Confidential Operations for Defense and Enforcement.

“Have you had success dealing with the saboteurs?”

“I have, Zero-One,” Bret Khodo, Agent 77 of CODE answered.
Zero-One’s true identity and even what he looked like were known only to a select few. His office in CODE’s headquarters was sealed and guarded, and he communicated with his personnel via radio speakers. If it was necessary for him to be in person, he wore gloves and a silken hood with reflective material behind the eye slits.

“Good man. As you’re already on the West Coast, I’m sending you in to rendezvous with Agent 82 in Los Angeles.”

“What’s the situation?”

“Briefly it’s this…”

To read the rest, click here to buy.

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