Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Blood Flats FREE on Amazon Kindle August 20th and 21st



Amazon reader reviews:


"Action-packed thriller…This is one of those stories that really rewards the reader for making it to the very end."

"On edge..."

Book description:

“Meth, murder, and the mafia---a vast tapestry of a southern gothic crime novel with a Dickensian cast of characters.”

Available for the first time on Amazon Kindle.

***Lee McCabe is home from Iraq, but home has changed.***

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and recently discharged U.S. marine Lee McCabe never imagined the dangers awaiting him in Hawkins County, Kentucky. While Lee has been in the Middle East, a network of violent methamphetamine traffickers have established a foothold in the county, corrupting, intimidating, or murdering anyone who stands in their way.

***Charged with murder and marked for death***

Lee quickly discovers that his neighbor, Tim Fitzsimmons is a meth dealer. When Fitzsimmons and his girlfriend are killed in a drug-related hit, Lee attempts to intervene. The law and the community blame Lee for the murder. The meth traffickers target Lee for death, knowing him to be a witness to the crime.

***Enemies motivated by passion, greed, and desperation ***

Sheriff Steven Phelps has his own personal reasons for hating Lee: Twenty-five years ago, Lee’s now deceased mother had a youthful affair with the sheriff. The sheriff planned to marry her--until she jilted him to be with the man who became Lee’s father. Phelps is torn by his duty to justice, and his obsession with the doomed love of his adolescence.

Lester Finn is a classics-quoting, self-aggrandizing local hoodlum and meth dealer. He is caught between the law and the Chicago-based mafia, which wants a greater share of the southern methamphetamine trade. From his bar, the Boar’s Head, Lester controls a sordid regional enterprise that consists of gambling, drug trafficking, and prostitution. Lester is torn by his grudging respect for Lee---and his need to see the ex-marine dead.

Paulie Sarzo is a Chicago mobster, a rising star in the Coscollino crime family. He despises Kentucky, Lee McCabe, and most of all, Lester Finn. But Paulie has an important mission to accomplish in Hawkins County: If he fails to eliminate Lee, he risks the ultimate punishment for failure in la cosa nostra.


***A journey toward death or redemption***

Dawn Hardin is a former golden girl, honor student, and premed whose life has fallen into a downward spiral of meth addiction and prostitution. Dawn had a tumultuous relationship with Lee before he went to Iraq. Now she tries to help him wage war against the mafia, even as she struggles with her own inner demons, and a family that wants to deny her existence.


The Hunter is a mysterious figure who compels Lee to go on the offensive against the forces pursuing him. But will the Hunter offer any concrete assistance, or only advice?


Brett St. Croix is a journalist who offers to tell Lee’s version of events. But Lee suspects that St. Croix has a contrary, private agenda of his own.


Ben Chamberlain lost his wife to a meth-related murder. Will he assist Lee; or will Ben’s desire for revenge destroy them both?


***A battle in Blood Flats***

Pursued from all directions, Lee embarks on a cross-country journey toward the town of Blood Flats. There he faces a showdown---in which he must pit his wits and determination against the ruthlessness and superior resources of his enemies on both sides of the law.





Why “The Caliphate” is set in Canada


The other day a reader asked me why “The Caliphate” is set in Canada. Why not in the United States—since I’m an American? This is a good question, and one worth answering here.

First a bit of background, for readers unfamiliar with the story. “The Caliphate” is a short story set in the near future, in the Canadian province of Ontario. After a prolonged battle with Canadian authorities, an Islamist group called “Harb” (“war” in Arabic) has smuggled nuclear weapons into Toronto and set up a miniature Islamist state in and around the city.

This is the background of the tale. The main plot concerns a conflict between Marty and Phil, two young Canadian men who react differently to the new status quo. Marty is a willing, if cynical, collaborator. Phil begins the story as an acquiescent collaborator; but he later finds that he cannot stand back and allow his own corner of Western civilization to be destroyed by savages.

But back to the reader’s question: Why is “The Caliphate” set in Canada?

The basic idea of this story occurred to me back in 2007 (though several years would pass before it would fully take shape on paper.) This was more than half a decade after 9/11. The initial outrage over the terrorist attacks had long faded in the mainstream media, and was giving way to hand-wringing about the dangers of “Islamophobia.” Patriotism was out; political correctness and cultural relativism were in.

At the same time, a fresh wave of Islamist extremism was beginning to rear its ugly head in Europe. In 2004 and 2005, bombings in London and Madrid resulted in numerous deaths. America was not the only target of Islamic extremism. Any liberal Western democracy was a potential target.

And we were behaving like targets. When the Pope visited Turkey in 2006, he was burned in effigy in the streets of Istanbul. How did the Pope respond? He apologized for making a brief and innocuous reference to an ancient Byzantine text. Around the same time, Muslim extremists in various European countries rioted and incited violence because of…a newspaper cartoon. Rather than boldly standing up for free speech and Western democratic values, the newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, issued an apology.

Throughout the West, the pattern was always the same: Muslim extremists trampled on civil liberties and indulged in orgies of violence and destruction. The West responded with apologies. And more apologies.

It became clear to me that what was going on was not just a battle between America and al-Qaeda. This was a battle between the free, liberal, democratic culture of the entire Western world, and a group of amoral barbarians who wanted to drag us all down into their medieval version of hell.

On the battlefield, the West was responding forcefully. Law enforcement agencies and military organizations in America, the United Kingdom and Europe did the work they needed to do. But our intellectual institutions—our media, our universities, our political leadership—were hampered by the straitjacket of political correctness. No matter what atrocity Muslim extremists committed, the press and the liberal university professors would always concoct a long-winded explanation of why it was actually America’s (or Western civilization’s) fault. The doctrine of radical cultural relativism was dominant in American institutions; but the situation was even worse in the UK and the Netherlands. I saw that this was not just an American problem—but also a European and Canadian problem.




I therefore decided that “The Caliphate” should not be set in the United States. Had the story been set in the U.S., it would have become a specifically “American” story. I wanted “The Caliphate” to be a story about the fight to preserve not only America—but Western civilization as a free, liberal, and rational cultural sphere.

I chose Canada as the particular setting for several reasons. First of all, I have spent some time in Toronto and Mississauga, so I was confident that I could accurately write about this area. I also chose Canada because Canada is the non-American country that is most like the United States (though some Canadian readers might disagree). A story set in Canada, I believed, would appeal to an American readership, while still maintaining the depiction of a larger, worldwide struggle for freedom and Western values.

For me, the central conflict of “The Caliphate” can be summed up in an exchange between Marty and Phil. After the Islamists execute two Christians in Mississauga, the simmering hostility between Marty and Phil erupts into a violent confrontation. (Note the final two paragraphs of this excerpt, which I have bolded below.)

****
“No, Marty. Collaborating with Harb and murdering the Donovans was insane.”
Don’t you see?” Marty said. “We had no choice but to go along. Harb was going to execute the Donovans one way or another. You couldn’t have saved them. If I hadn’t stopped you, Ali would have had you killed and then killed the Donovans too.”
“Marty, sometimes saving your own neck isn’t the most important consideration. There are some things that you shouldn’t be a party to, no matter what.”
“You don’t get it, do you Phil? Have you read the news recently? There were Harb uprisings in London and Paris last week. It’s Toronto and Amsterdam all over again. Ali tells me that they’ve got a lot of sleepers in New York and Los Angeles, too. The United States is going to be next.”
“So you think they’re going to take over the world, huh?”
“I don’t know, Phil. I really don’t. What I can tell you is this: They believe in their value system, as warped as it is. And they’re willing to fight for it. They’re not ashamed of who they are. That’s their advantage.”
“And what does that say about us, Marty? Are we ashamed of who we are? Are we willing to stand up for our values? Or are we going to roll over and tell ourselves that an Islamic society is just the next phase of our history?”   
   
****
The West, in short (and not only the U.S.), needs to stop apologizing to extremists. That is the real message of “The Caliphate,” and the reason for its Canadian setting.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Monday, Tuesday Kindle giveaway

The short story "Last Dance with Emma" will be free on Amazon Kindle Monday and Tuesday (August 18 ~ 19). 

"Last Dance with Emma" is part of my Hay Moon short story collection, which is also available on Amazon.. 

  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Friday, Saturday Kindle freebie

My short story "The Dreams of Lord Satu" will be available free on Amazon Kindle August 15 & 16.






This is part of the collection Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen Modern Tales of Horror and Suspense.

Blog and comment policy announcement: August and September

Well folks, I've got several "hot" writing projects that I need to finish in the next couple of months: I have to complete the edits and revisions for Our House, as well as the initial draft of another novel. 

That will mean some changes in the time and attention I can devote to the blog and comment moderation, and a temporary policy change. 

Throughout most of this year, this has been a news-driven blog, with lots of blog posts about current events. 

For the next several months, it will become more of a typical "author blog" with updates about book releases, etc. (plus the occasional Kindle giveaway). 

Blogging about news events and politics is fun, not to mention cathartic; but there are only so many hours in the day, and you know--the priorities thing. 

As a result, I'm going to be shutting off comments for a few months as well.

I generally take the position that when I'm blogging about current events, it's bad form to suppress comments. But for the next few months, political/cultural posts will be few and far between, anyway. Comments moderation, moreover (including spam management) is time-consuming. (Each day I have to delete about a dozen spam comments from recent posts.) 

I will still be posting essays here--but they'll generally be longer and more infrequent, and probably won't involve current political topics. 

I'll turn comments on again when I have more time to devote to moderating and responding to them. That will probably be sometime in the fall.

In the meantime, a special thanks to those of you have been regular commenters and emailers (especially Brian L, Boxty, and Mary L.). I've enjoyed your feedback and suggestions immensely, and look forward to engaging with you again in the future. 

Now--I have to get back to the books.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Wednesday, Thursday short story Kindle giveaway

My short story "Giants in the Trees" is free on Kindle August 13th and 14th.




If you're video enabled, you can listen to me read this short story aloud here. But why not download it while it's free, anyway?

If you like the story, you might consider the entire Hay Moon short story collection (of which "Giants in the Trees" is a part) or my horror novel Eleven Miles of Night.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Monday giveaway: Termination Man FREE on Amazon Kindle


Get it FREE on Amazon Kindle (August 11 only)

Book Description:

A long forgotten double murder of two young women in Ohio. A struggling corporation in turmoil. Two powerful men, two bitter rivals, each one hiding his own secrets. One driven by lust and rage, the other driven by a conflicted sense of right and wrong.


***TERMINATION MAN***

“The novel that takes an unflinching look at the dark underside of the 21st century workplace.”


CRAIG WALKER is a hotshot young MBA with his own consulting firm. He’s handsome, rich, and in demand. His Fortune 500 clients—the most powerful men and women in industry—call him “The Termination Man.”

Craig Walker is no ordinary management consultant. He’s a spook, a workplace spy. Assuming false identities, Craig works undercover, building the evidence that will allow his corporate clients to terminate unwanted employees without legal repercussions. His targets are the troublemakers, the agitators, the employees whom management believes are no longer “good fits” for their hyper-competitive organizations.

Craig Walker believes that he serves the cause of economic efficiency, and in a way, the greater good. Most of his targets don’t like their jobs anyway. In a free market, “a firing isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. Sometimes an employee needs to leave a bad a situation.”

SHAWN MYERS is a manager at TP Automotive, a global giant in the automotive industry. Shawn struggles to control his lust and rage, and to escape a hideous past that might catch up with him at any moment. His forbidden desire for a girl young enough to be his daughter threatens to drive him over the edge.


When TP Automotive hires the Termination Man to remove two innocent employees from its payroll, Craig Walker is forced to reexamine his notions of justice and morality. But these questions are soon overwhelmed by the dangers that he faces from the TP Automotive management team. After Shawn Myers commits a heinous act in Craig’s presence, the Termination Man discovers that his new clients will resort to any means in order to protect one of their own.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Reads I remember

I am occasionally asked: “What books influenced you as a writer?” and the closely related question “What sort of fiction do you like to read?”

There is no simple answer. Like most writers—and readers—I found that my tastes and influences changed as I changed. What appealed to me twenty years ago, in other words, doesn’t necessarily appeal to me now.

Therefore, to answer the question, I am going to have to break my reading and influences down into stages.

Stage 1: My “Everything Star Wars is cool!” phase

My first real interest in storytelling was prompted by the original Star Wars craze. This was back in 1977, before most of the actors in the recent Star Wars films were even born. (And, perhaps, before many of the readers of this post were born.)

Star Wars has been with us for so many years that it is easy to overlook its initial significance at the time (a subject that I might return to at a later date.) More to the point of this entry, though, the film had a major impact on my nine-year-old self.

If you weren’t around in the late 1970s, suffice it to say that the first movie about Luke Skywalker and friends was a major cultural influence that no one could completely avoid. Star Wars—and Star Wars merchandise—was everywhere back then. (I believe that even the Carter Whitehouse made the occasional reference to Star Wars. If ever there was a president who was sadly in need of help from the Force, it was Jimmy Carter.)

But back to me. I not only wallpapered my room with Star Wars posters from Burger King, I also wrote my own nine-year-old’s version of the science fiction saga. Pretty bad and imitative stuff—but at least it wasn’t outright fan fiction: I created my own galactic villain: a stand-in for Darth Vader named “Karn”. I wrote myself and my family members into the protagonist roles. (Yes, I’ll spare you further details.)

Throughout the late 1970s and into the early 1980s, there were a large number of Star Wars comic books on the market. These were followed by comic books inspired by the original Battlestar Galactica television series. (I was an even bigger fan of Battlestar Galactica.)

I pestered and begged my parents every time a new issue of one of these comics appeared on our local grocery store’s magazine rack. Before long I had a massive pile of these books, most of which quickly became dog-eared and tattered.

I outgrew these around the age of ten. This was the time at which I began to read “real” books—defined as books that didn’t contain a significant number of pictures.

Stage 2: Detective Fiction and Ghost Stories

After science fiction, I suppose that detective fiction was the next logical step.

I was ten or eleven years old now. The Hardy Boys would have been the path of least resistance; but The Hardy Boys never appealed to me much. I don’t know exactly what it was—but somehow The Hardy Boys seemed passé even in 1979 or 1980.

Instead I became a big fan of the Three Investigators series. This series of books was similar to the Hardy Boys in concept: it involved a recurring cast of teenage sleuths. However, the plots, characters, and writing styles (the books were written by multiple authors) were more engaging, and less of a burden on the attention span of an eleven-year-old.

Most of the Three Investigators novels were already out of print even then. But I snapped up the ones I could and read them compulsively. (Today the Three Investigators books are nearly all out of print and almost impossible to find. So if you are looking for a great series of books to hand to your own eleven-year-old, you will have to look elsewhere.)

During this period, I also discovered my love of ghost stories and supernatural fiction. I read a lot of books in this genre, but one stands out in particular.

This was a collection of juvenile ghost tales (published by Scholastic, I believe) that contained one especially memorable short story called “The Demon of Detroit.” “The Demon of Detroit” was a yarn about a demon that haunted a bedroom in Detroit (no big surprise, based on the title). This story really spooked me out; and it appears that I’m not the only one. I have seen the story mentioned by other middle-aged adults in various places on the Internet.


Stage 3: High school and Stephen King

Throughout my early teenage years, I read very little. I was seduced by two other pastimes: football and rock music. I had only minimal aptitude for either of these: I sat the bench for one season of high school football. I also took guitar lessons; but I never advanced beyond the novice stage.

Then, in 1984, I happened upon an old copy of Stephen King’s novel, Salem’s Lot. I was working in my high school library as a student aide at the time, and I picked the book off the shelves out of boredom as much as anything else. 

I was blown away. I read Salem’s Lot in a matter of days. And I realized that it was time for me to return to that old world of stories—the one that I had loved so much in my early childhood. I had forgotten what it was like to fall into an imaginary world and get lost there. Salem’s Lot brought that all back for me.

I then began to methodically work my way through all the other novels that Stephen King had written up to that point: Carrie, The Dead Zone, The Stand, Firestarter, The Shining, Christine, Pet Sematary, plus his short fiction collections.

Stage 4: Others

After exhausting Stephen King’s corpus of work, I dabbled with other horror novelists, but few of them were able to capture my attention the way SK could. (King’s talent, in my view, is not so much his ability to scare, but his ability to create characters and situations that can instantly strike a chord with so many readers.) I got into Lovecraft for a while; but Lovecraft was not the world’s most prolific writer, and it didn’t take long for me to read every Cthulhu tale in print.

Nevertheless, that early interest in supernatural tales continues to be reflected in my writing. One of my first published works of fiction was a short story collection entitled Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen modern tales of horror and suspense.






Next I started reading other types of fiction. During my late teens and early twenties, I was especially influenced by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck. (These were writers covered in my high school literature classes that I happened to like.)

I am not much for rereading novels. Therefore, I am constantly on the lookout for new fiction to read. As of today, my favorite novelists include:

Cormac McCarthy
Stewart O’Nan
Stephen Hunter
Frederick Forsyth
Ken Follett
James Lee Burke
Tom Perrotta

The above list is by no means exhaustive, but these are the ones that come to mind right now.

In the next installment, I will answer the second question mentioned above. (What sort of fiction do you like to read?”) I do, as it turns out, have some definite ideas regarding what fiction should be—and what it shouldn’t be.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Writers with multiple personalities

I have a lot of interests--which accounts for the many different books I've written.

Still, I've often wondered if I diversify too much.

I blog here about politics and cultural issues. 

I've written a number of nonfiction books on various topics, including foreign languages, history, and business.

And, of course, there are my novels. Even there I branch out a bit. Eleven Miles of Night is a horror novel (and a scary one too, I think). Termination Man is a corporate thriller. Blood Flats is a Southern crime novel.

After reading JA Konrath's blog today, I no longer feel any guilt about my diversification.

I've long known that JA Konrath writes horror fiction under the pen name Jack Kilborn. No big deal: horror fiction and crime fiction are both genre fiction. There should be some overlap in their readership, but it still arguably makes sense for Konrath to separately "brand" each set of books.

Today I learned that Konrath has yet another sideline: He writes erotica under the pen name Melinda Duchamp. (That pen name probably makes a better brand than one attached to the middle-aged male Konrath.)

No: I don't intend to follow Konrath's example. Don't look for 50 Shades of Termination Man. I know my limitations. 

But I now realize that my diversification is minor and very manageable, at least compared to Konrath's. 

Furthermore, as Konrath states:

“Self-publishing has given writers an unprecedented opportunity. We can be whomever we want to be, write whatever we want to write, reinvent ourselves as often as we want to.”
I can certainly agree with that.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Albums I remember

The Silliest Metal Album Covers of All Time

I recognized only one of these: Black Sabbath's 1971 album Paranoid.





Black Sabbath was always just a bit too British working-class and "out there" for my tastes (though I did go through a brief Ozzy phase in the eighth grade). 

But as for the album artwork…Well, it was 1971, after all.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Not enough Americans to work in tech?

Tell that to this fellow:



The H-1B is about lowering tech wages…not about providing businesses with the tech workers they need.

There are currently 314 million people in the U.S. …That number should include quite a few network administrators and programmers.

Plague fiction through the years



Plague fiction is actually much older than you might imagine. (Think Edgar Allen Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death".)

For me the best one is still The Stand, by Stephen King.

Hay Moon and Other Stories: FREE on Kindle August 4 - 5

During Monday and Tuesday of this week, you can get my short story collection, Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen Modern Tales of Horror and Suspense free on Amazon Kindle.









Book Description

- During the Great Depression, a young boy confronts zombies

- In the present day, a software salesperson discovers that he can commune with the dead at airports.

- A business trip is cut short when three corporate colleagues stray into a den of vampires near a major interstate.

- A Russian gangster makes a killing in America---murdering romantic rivals for hire.

These are just a few of the bizarre scenarios that you will find in the pages of Hay Moon and Other Stories…

Sixteen modern tales of horror and suspense. 270+ pages in print.

***Hay Moon***

In the summer of 1932, the undead invaded a corner of rural Ohio. Nearly eight decades later, one man still lives with the nightmares, and a horrible promise left unfulfilled.

***Giants in the Trees***

Jim knew that his older coworker, Paul Taulbee, had a checkered past. But he was unprepared for the horror he discovered on the night he gave Paul a ride home from the office.

***The Vampires of Wallachia***

Three corporate employees on a business trip stop at the wrong place for a late-night dinner: a restaurant in central Ohio that hides a terrifying secret.

***Bitter Hearts***

Have you been wronged in love? An Internet company promises to make things right for you---for a price.

***Gate Time***

Traveling software salesman Josh Gardner had never been afraid of airports---until he discovered that some of his fellow travelers were not what they appeared to be.

***By the River***

The old man who lived on the houseboat warned people about the shadows lurking beneath the waters of the Ohio River. But some failed to heed his warnings.

***The Girl She Used to Be***

Thirty years ago Allison disappeared on the night that her college boyfriend was planning to give her an engagement ring. Now Allison is back--- but she’s not the girl she used to be.

***The Caliphate***

When a terrorist organization stages a bloody takeover of a Canadian city, two friends are forced to confront their innermost demons---and each other.

***The Wasp***

Leo had always been afraid of wasps---especially wasps that learn to assume human form.

***The Red Devil***

A security guard at a car dealership learns that death lurks in the nocturnal hours in a city torn by gang warfare.


***The Robots of Jericho***

Pete Greer suspected that the industrial robots purchased by his company were more than mere machines. Alone in a West Virginia factory with them over an extended summer weekend, the robots threaten his sanity---and his life.

***Last Dance with Emma***

University of Minnesota graduate students Eric and Randy travel back in time for hedonistic purposes. But when they visit New Year’s Eve 1978, Randy unexpectedly falls in love. Determined to secure an impossible future with a doomed young woman named Emma, Randy battles his friend, and the cruelty of a random universe.

***Gaia Cried Out***

When Kara Teller met Nicholas Naretti in the student union of her university, she believed that she had found the ideal man. But there is something horribly wrong with Nicholas’s friends…And Kara reluctantly discovers that Nicholas harbors sinister intentions of his own.

***Citizens***

Robert and Susan Craig discover that the politics of the twenty-second century in America can be deadly. A leisurely time travel voyage lands them in a cell in the bloodiest days of the French Revolution. Condemned to the guillotine by the Jacobins’ Committee of Public Safety, they suspect the hand of the rising American demagogue, Senator Barry Olsen.

***Whatever****

Corporate middle manager Greg Hensley simultaneously desires and loathes his new subordinate, Jessica Tanner. A bit of research into Jessica’s past reveals that Jessica may be dangerous. But Jessica may not be the only one who is hiding evil secrets.

***The Dreams of Lord Satu***


Rapid GeoWorks salesperson Marc Jonas is ordered to visit the remote planet of Kelphi, where his customer is a spiderlike alien that preys on human flesh.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

South Korean Cool


"In an ad that aired in Thailand last year, a boy trying to impress a girl takes a sip of Lipton iced tea. He suddenly starts speaking Korean. The girl, naturally, falls for him. “What’s not cool about Korea?” asks Jeff Yang, a Chinese American who writes about Asian culture. “It’s a land of sleek consumer electronics, long-legged and beautiful women, men who combine soulfulness and emotion with manly good looks.”  
The anecdote and observation come from Euny Hong’s The Birth of Korean Cool, an insightful book about the country’s plan to use its pop culture as a means to achieve international superpowerdom. In Asia and many other places—no, not yet America—South Korea is increasingly hip."
As the article notes, the new fascination with South Korea is still mostly an Asian phenomenon. 

I wish it were otherwise. In place of our media's bizarre obsession with LGBT issues (ex: celebrity "coming outs"), it might do more to promote a grassroots interest in Asia, a part of the world that many of us now compete with (or work for) in our economic lives.

Personal note: My father was stationed in South Korea as a U.S. soldier in 1966, a little more than a decade after the end of the Korean War. The country was still desperately poor then. 

In less than 50 years, South Korea has gone from one of the poorest countries on earth to one of the more prosperous. That fact alone makes South Korea worth studying.