Monday, August 20, 2012

Two new novellas

A special treat today. I have released two novellas--both set in the Oak Villa universe. Though the first, Carpetbagger, is a kind of a stretch since 95% of the story is actually set outside of Oak Villa. Nevertheless, it features characters from that universe and it has a direct impact on future events. Retribution is also set in the same universe, though it involves a brand-new cast of characters. Both are $1.99.

Here are links to their respective Amazon pages:



And here are the covers:

First, Carpetbagger:

And here's Retribution:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Conduit cover

My first novella, Conduit, is the latest story in the Oak Villa series. Like Coercion and Avarice before it, you need not have read the others to enjoy this story. My plan is to have pretty much every story be self-contained in its own right. That doesn't preceding stories don't have an impact; they do, but often times they have a greater impact on minor characters than on the main characters.

Conduit revolves around an ambitious Narcotics cop and a young drug dealer and is set in the middle of summer 2012 in Oak Villa. And though I don't make mention of it in the story, I am sure the temperature there is boiling like it is in Chicago right now. Today will be the first time in seven years the mercury is going to pass 100 degrees.

Here is the cover for Conduit. It is on sale for $1.99 for Kindle only. I hope to submit the story to the Kindle Singles program in a week or two.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Avarice released

Avarice, the second novel in my Oak Villa Series, is officially live and ready to be sold on the Kindle. Any support you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Click here if you have any interest.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Avarice and future updates

Well, editing is completed on Avarice after a few marathon sessions. It will be released on May 29, 2012, for the Kindle only. I might expand to the Nook and others in the future, but right now I'm going to stick with the Kindle for the duration since it seems to be in a better position market-wise. The book will be sold for $4.99 USD. You can learn the basic premise of the book on the Avarice page.

It is the second book in the Oak Villa series, but I don't know if I'd call it a sequel to Coercion. They are set in the same universe and Coercion is referenced to several times throughout the text, but these are new characters, for the most part. Only a few characters from Coercion make appearances in Avarice. It's kind of fun that way.

As far as the timeline goes, Avarice is set in April 2012, ten months after Coercion (do the math). I wrote the book in early 2012 and did my best to reflect current events, but don't expect a 1:1 comparison (it's too much work), but it's pretty close to what you would expect.

My third book is in pre-production right now. I don't want to speculate when the book will be done (because I'm always wrong). All I can say at this point is that it will be another Oak Villa novel and it will focus predominantly on the Italian mob. Events in Avarice will be closely linked to this book, which remains untitled. Apart from that, I don't want to speculate because I don't even know what's going to happen yet. I do know it will be fun, though. If it weren't fun I wouldn't be doing this.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Top 10 Elmore Leonard Books: #7

As promised, I will continue my list. It likely won't be one a week, though. I might just run through them in the next couple of weeks.

7. Rum Punch, 1992

Rum Punch is better known for the 1997 Quentin Tarantino movie it became, and as well it should be, which I will get into a little later. As a book, though, this is easily one of his best because Leonard is able to take multiple story lines and weave them together without even breaking a sweat.

In fact, the prose is what stands out to me in this book. I can't think of a book where Leonard was so at ease and so lyrical. He moves from scene to scene, character to character, and making it look so relaxed and so good. In the previous book, Maximum Bob (not on the list) it didn't look so easy. The characters weren't that interesting, though they were colorful, and the plot seemed to be stuck on autopilot. Not so with Rum Punch. Double-and-triple crosses happen with regularity and when they aren't talking Leonard is making his prose work for him like never before.

Rum Punch is an ensemble book like Maximum Bob with a woman in the lead, more or less. It is worth noting, though, that she debuts fifty pages in and even then she's only in the book maybe thirty-five, forty percent of the time. She's certainly the catalyst for the plot, but as far as scenes go she's competing with Nicolet, Ordell, Louis, Max, and even some jackboy thugs who learn why they should have stayed in school in one hilarious scene. We start with all of these disparate threads and Leonard keeps building and building until the final fifty pages when the body count explodes. The best part? Doesn't feel rushed or sloppy.

If there is a flaw, I would have liked more time with Jackie and Ordell and Max. Nicolet and the cop angle, while important, seems more like an aside. I was more interested in the half-million dollars and less about the guns Ordell is selling.

Fun Facts: Leonard aficionados know this is, of course, a quasi-sequel to The Switch, which features Louis, Ordell, Melanie, and Cedric Walker. Walker makes a return of sorts in 1995's Riding the Rap as an off-stage catalyst for a crucial scene in the book.

Movie capsule review: Tarantino's 1997 version, Jackie Brown, changed Jackie's name and her skin color, but none of her spunk. Tarantino was a huge fan of Leonard and it clearly shows. He is able to retain most of the dialogue while adding a few touches of his own in spots. He streamlines the story a bit by cutting out the gun subplot with the Neo-Nazis and keeps the focus on the characters and on their language. It may run a bit long for some, but with dialogue and characters this good why quibble? Until Justified came along this was the definitive Elmore Leonard adaptation. Grade: A

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Apologies for the absence

Well, I haven't been on this thing for two months or so, but I had a pretty good reason, I think. I went to the wall fighting what will be my second book, Avarice, and the production consumed me to the point where I didn't want to be distracted by anything else so I went dark. The book was finished three weeks ago and is going into the editing phase now. I don't think a lot of major work needs to be done, though there will be a few scenes added to help a few characters and a few things re-written, but overall it turned out pretty well, considering. Is it a better book than Coercion? I don't know. Artists are their own worst critics so you probably shouldn't take anything we say too seriously in the first place. The best thing I can say is I don't feel like I repeated myself with this book, which is often the challenge a lot of writers face with their second book. Granted, this isn't my second novel in the grand scheme of things, but in terms of this being my second "published" book it was a challenge because I wanted to make sure it was different enough to stand on its own merits. While it is certainly a crime novel and is set in the same Oak Villa universe, there are enough differences to where they don't feel like clones.

I do regret leaving this blog for the reason that I never got to finish my top 10 list for the Elmore Leonard books. It was probably a mistake to put myself under that kind of artificial deadline in the first place, particularly when I try to avoid reading books whilst in the middle of production. I might continue with the rest of the top 10 just so I don't feel like I cheated anyone who might have been reading this. The traffic from the fans on the Elmore Leonard facebook page are appreciated along with the webmaster, Gregg Sutter, who was kind enough to link my posts.

As for the third season of Justified, well, it was the best season yet and they have set the stage for a great fourth season. I hope Adam Arkin returns as Theo Tonin and I am very interested to see what kind of situation Boyd and Wynn find themselves in as well as Limehouse. They have to bring that triangle back and see what develops from there. As for the rest, well, we'll see.

Hopefully I return to a semi-regular posting state here. Beats the shit out of doing an interview. Not that I've received an offer as of yet.

Avarice, with any luck, will be released by June 1.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Top 10 Elmore Leonard books: #8

The most recent entry on the list and in some ways the book he was born to write.

8. The Hot Kid, 2005

It seems fitting that Elmore would write a book about the Prohibition/Depression Era, which he grew up in during his early years. You just didn’t think it would take close to 55 years since his debut to write one. Nevertheless, it is a wondrous piece of work and easily the best book he has written in the 21st Century.

Like last week’s Get Shorty, the book deals with a number of characters looking for fame and fortune. Difference is fame and fortune often comes with the caveat of death. Jack Belmont, the antagonist of the novel, has no qualms about death as long as he’s the one dealing. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shop, but what he lacks for in brains he more than makes up for in tenacity and violent aggression.

The protagonist, Carlos Webster, isn’t too far removed from Belmont. The difference being he’s a U.S. Marshal and is more likely to deliver violence to those who deserve it. In a lot of ways, he’s very similar to Raylan Givens, who would have been right at home in the 1920’s setting. Carlos is a little more restrained and a little more aware, but the parallels are obvious and hard to ignore.

Leonard even has some fun with a little self-awareness in Tony Antonelli, who has a habit of breaking the rules Elmore Leonard set down in 2000. Antonelli, like the others, is looking to strike it big, but he’s more comfortable on the sidelines and orating in such a way that calls attention to the writer instead of the story. Practice makes perfect. Elmore cut his teeth in the Western genre for close to two decades and he had his share of bumps along the way, but he learned the game and in an interesting way he’s come full circle with this book.

While Leonard spends more time with backstory than he has in previous novels, the vignettes and characters are among his strongest and Leonard’s love of the prohibition/depression era and the characters and myths and heroes are front and center.

Fun fact: Veterans of Leonard’s novels will of course recognize Carlos Webster’s father Virgil as one of the main characters of his 1998 novel Cuba Libre.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Top 10 Elmore Leonard books: #9

Arguably the most well-known of Elmore's books slides into the #9 slot.

9. Get Shorty, 1990

By 1990 the “Dickens of Detroit” had found a second home in Miami for his novels, which served as the primary setting for many of his works in the 1980’s. Get Shorty starts in Miami before going to his unofficial “third” home: Los Angeles. His debut on the West Coast is a great look at the people looking to strike it rich in Tinseltown. The book isn’t quite as overt or as funny as the very good 1995 film by Barry Sonnenfeld, but as a story it still works.

Chili Palmer, introduced to us in one of those long first chapter intros that has been a Leonard trademark for years, has dreams and aspirations of hitting it big in Hollywood. He has a good story, drawn mostly from real life, and characters like Harry Zimm, Karen Flores and Leo Devoe, our hapless, “dead” drycleaner who gets the story rolling, are among the people he encounters looking for a second lease on life. Or at least a brief flash of glory.

Harry Zimm, who is a notch or two below “B” movies, sees a chance at the big time with an original screenplay that has Oscar potential and an A-list star interested. Problem? He’s got limo drivers who deal drugs on the side on his ass over investment money he wasted trying to buy the “legit” property. He also has trouble making inroads to the “A” list star, Michael Weir, who happens to be Karen’s ex (Harry also used to be in a relationship with Karen) because he isn’t on the “ins” with mainstream Hollywood.

Chili’s impact on these characters is what keeps the story going and the individual scenes make up for some of the scenes involving Bo Catlett and Bones, who aren’t quite as interesting as the rest of the characters.

There are also some playful digs at Hollywood, who had screwed up Elmore’s stories once too often. By 1990, the only decent adaptations were the original 3:10 to Yuma, Hombre, and 52 Pickup. And 1989 saw the release of Cat Chaser with Peter Weller and Kelly McGillis. Another bomb. He also had to deal with the prima-donna side of Hollywood when trying to get LaBrava made because Dustin Hoffman was a tad difficult, shall we say. You think Elmore forgot? Guess again.

Get Shorty is definitely one of the most accessible of Elmore’s novels and a very good choice for a newbie looking to enter the Leonard canon.

Fun facts: Jimmy Cap is seen off-stage in this book, but he’s been seen or referenced in a few other novels including the aforementioned Cat Chaser and Raylan’s debut in Pronto, where he finally met his end.

Movie capsule review: The movie by Barry Sonnenfeld is, like a love letter to Hollywood. The more classic films you know, the better the experiences. References to Rio Bravo, Touch of Evil and James Cagney? Not bad. John Travolta does his performance in Pulp Fiction one better as Chili and Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny Devito are clearly having fun playing Hollywood caricatures. The violence never seems to work all that well because the comedy is so good and so prevalent, but it’s a minor quibble. And hey, it’s better than Be Cool, which never happened. Grade: A-

Monday, February 6, 2012

Top 10 Elmore Leonard books: #10

I'm still working out the kinks for this formula, but figure they'll be more detailed as we go along.

10. Unknown Man #89, 1977

Elmore Leonard’s follow-up to 52 Pickup and Swag opened with a setup that he would use time and time again: The short story as the first chapter.

The first chapter of an Elmore Leonard novel often seems disjointed and out of sync with everything going on. It doesn’t always have to do with the main plot and it feels more like straight narration. The opening chapter is often essential in establishing the main character for Leonard’s narrative, though sometimes that isn’t always the case (see Rum Punch and Killshot).

In Leonard’s 1977 caper, he introduces us to Detroit process server Jack Ryan (no, not that Jack Ryan), who was in the 1969 crime novel The Big Bounce. The previous novel is not required reading, though recommended. In fifteen short pages, he fleshes out the character’s personality, his past, and even offers a few vignettes that run from sad to funny and, in one case involving a doctor, both.

The opening chapter technique is something he has repeated in numerous novels including Get Shorty, Tishomingo Blues, The Hot Kid and many more.

How is the rest of the novel? Very good. Ryan is a more sympathetic hero than in the previous 1970’s crime novels. Stick and Harry Mitchell aren’t bad guys, but they aren’t terribly sympathetic, either. They’re made good by the characters they associate themselves with. Ryan is flawed, but he looks really good compared to the cast he surrounds himself with. None is worse than Raymond Gidre, a racist sociopath with a few memorable scenes where his penchant for murder hits home. Even the guy Ryan is looking for at the start of the book, Robert Leary, has a few murders on his sheet.

The story doesn’t always hit dead center, but the pace is very strong and it was clear, even then, that Elmore Leonard was going to be something special in the crime genre. He had the dialogue skills of George V. Higgins and a lot more skill at prose. If you need proof, just read that opening chapter and find yourself being sucked into a world that seems long and forgotten.

Fun fact: Jack Ryan is mentioned by name in the previous Elmore Leonard novel, Swag, by Sportree, the main antagonist of that novel. I suppose that name-check is what inspired Leonard, though it is also possible he might have been working on both at the same time.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The top 10 Elmore Leonard books overview

It is impossible to overstate the influence Elmore Leonard has had on me and many other crime novelists in this game. He's been writing for sixty years, starting in Westerns, and then moving on to the crime genre in the late sixties when the Western genre pretty much keeled over and died in fiction. His dialogue and prose are virtually unmatched. Authors like Hemingway, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, Richard Bissell and George V. Higgins, in particular, helped shape his voice, but he has proven over the years that he is not an imitator. He follows his own path and the authors who have followed in his footsteps now they are looking up at him. Authors like George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, Richard Price, Michael Connelly, and James Ellroy have all been influenced in some way by his work and have made their own names with their work, but to a degree their paths wouldn't be possible without Leonard's.

I started looking for a list of the best Elmore's, but I had a hard time finding one. There are a number of camps for what they believe to be his best era and they are quite passionate in their own way. Some prefer the gritty 70's stories in Detroit, some prefer his Miami era during the early 1980's, some like his more humorous side in the 1990's, and there are even a few, I bet, that like his diverse setting pattern in the 2000's to the present. You even have a few die-hards who love his Westerns best. He has definitely done good work in all the eras, so starting tomorrow I'll be counting down 10-1 his best novels, one a week, and the final one will coincide with the season 3 finale of Justified.

What's the criteria? Nothing major. Great writing, great characters, and elements that make me want to read it again. I don't expect this to be the definitive list, but if nothing else it'll be a fun rip through some of the best novels written by the greatest crime novelist ever. I'll throw in some critical analysis and favorite scenes and favorite character and what have you.

So get ready for some fun. I know I'll be.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Observations on Justified season 3 (so far)

Three down, 10 to go. Hard to believe I'll only get ten more weeks of this before I have to go back into withdrawal mode like those junkies trying to go off of oxy. Thus far, season 3 has had its share of surprises, thrills, and the occasional funny moment thrown in. It's too early to tell if this season is better than the second one. The first episode was great and did a marvelous job setting the standard. The two more recent episodes haven't been bad, but they're more like transition episodes. They help advance the overall plot, but they have tended to be more in the background. The final ten minutes of tonight's episode have started to bring the story around a bit, but I'm sure Yost and his cadre of writers are going to have a couple more episodes that have an "A" story that stands on its own while the "B" stories keep serving the overall plot.

The one noticeable difference I've seen in season three so far is that this season is darker. There's always been violence in Justified, but the cold brutality hasn't quite sunk in like it has in this one. Take the first episode with the character Nix (who is a combination of Anton Chigurh and Killshot's Armand Degas with his partner's last name as an homage) when he kills the pizza guy and the other man. The cold-blooded delivery combined with the splatter is quite jarring compared to what has been done in the first two seasons.

This reminds me of Elmore Leonard when he was a tough dude writing in the seventies and eighties. In books like Swag, Split Images, and Glitz bad things happened to good people as well as vice versa and it left you on edge. While this is TV and we can be pretty sure of who'll live and die, the uncertainty of the peripheral characters and even secondary characters is growing. Pretty good bet Rachel lives during the situation in the second episode, "Cut Tide," but not a guarantee. Not after the first episode.

In the third episode there is an unsettling scene involving "Harlan Roulette," which goes along the way we expect until the end when the man playing meets a much colder fate than the one we expected. And then there's Neal McDonough at the end giving Raylan an ice-cold warning. And boy, do we believe him after the first episode. He's looking poised to be the best villain yet for the series (apart from Boyd, who is in another realm).

The stories themselves have been very good and I look forward to what they have planned for all the disparate storylines, but if the series does end after season three (which might not be a bad idea) expect it to go in some very dark directions with characters being given fates you wouldn't have guessed in seasons one or two.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I'm back...

Been a while since I've been on here. There are a lot of reasons for that. The main one being I wanted to get my house in order, so to speak, before going back at this. There was a lot going on and I couldn't focus and what have you on the eight or nine things already going on on top of the book I was trying to sell. So, I let it go by the wayside and got my shit together.

But now I'm back and I am ready to get back to work. There are some changes for my book Coercion and some general changes for how it'll be sold.

First and most obvious: It has a much more visually appealing cover now. That was another reason for the delay, but I am quite pleased with the results.

Second and equally important: The book will only be available on Kindle. It has the biggest market and the most friendly towards writers. It will be available through KDP select, as well, because I like what they have going on. While I am apprehensive about some of the limitations, the pluses, I believe, outweigh the minuses. Things may change, but for the moment that's where I'm at. The book's price will be $2.99 USD.

As for the future, I haven't the foggiest what it will bring. I'm about 100 pages into a book right now, but I don't want to say anything because I have a tendency to jinx it. All I will say is that it takes place in the Oak Villa universe, some of the characters in Coercion (though not many) will be making a return in some form or another, and that it takes some ideas from aborted cuts I've been trying for a second book. When they say a second book is tougher than your first, they ain't kidding. This isn't the second book I've ever written, but as the second published book I do feel the same weight and expectations to do even better than the first time.

The actual re-release of the book will be in a couple of days. I made a couple of minor continuity adjustments (names, that sort of thing) and updated some of the first page info.

Stay frosty and stay tuned for updates.