Sunday, April 30, 2017

Opening the gate: 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN, Reading #43

From my YouTube channel: Jeff defies the possessed pin oak tree to open the gate for the ghost girl:

There are times when you have to seize the initiative in an opportune moment of courage, before excessive contemplation of the circumstances forces you to change your mind. 
Without further comment, I ran in the direction of the gate, and tried my utmost to ignore the sounds of the crackling branches, and the blood-chilling groans of the massive pin oak. 
It wasn't a long run; my sprint carried me to the gate in a matter of seconds. 
I stood before the gate, and the big oak tree. I could feel the earth beneath my feet vibrating now: The tree’s roots were pulsating in the loam and clay underneath the lawn. 
I knew it would be better to ignore the tree and focus only on the gate, but I couldn't resist. I gazed up at the trunk of the tree. About fifteen feet up, near the lowest of the oak’s branches, I saw the impossible.
In the middle of the trunk, the gash of a large grimace proved for once and for all that this was no ordinary oak tree. I could see teeth inside that mouth—in the darkness they appeared to be the same color as the bark, but they were long and serrated. 
I also saw two eyes—these were only slightly lighter than the bark, but clearly distinguishable. The eyes rolled downward to look at me.
Another reverberating, furious sound issued from deep within the trunk of the pin oak. The bark began to crack; the pin oak seemed to sense what I was about to do, and it wanted to stop me....

Monday, April 24, 2017

The autopsy: LILITH: Chapter 3 reading

From my YouTube channel: a reading of Chapter 3 of LILITH:

Dr. Arthur Koenig was in his late fifties. Koenig wore a beard like that of the late C. Everett Koop, the U.S. Surgeon General under President Reagan. Despite his idiosyncratic facial hair, Dr. Koenig was one of the best forensic pathologists in the region. Alan had worked with Koenig on a number of cases. Alan was relieved when he learned that Koenig had been assigned the autopsy of Robert Billings. It was the morning after Grooms’ late-night drive to the home of the murdered man, and he was running on fumes due to sleep deprivation.
Dr. Koenig was silent as he dug the slug from Robert Billings’ head. Robert Billings’ body lay naked on the examination table, surrounded by the antiseptic smells and cool temperatures of one of the autopsy rooms in the Hamilton County Coroner’s building. 
Although the rest of the body had been examined, the autopsy was focused on the bullet wound, the obvious cause of death. There was no other damage to Robert Billings’ body—no marks that would suggest a fight, or the forceful restraint of a man who knew that death was near. And the blood work, rushed through the lab in the wee hours of the morning, showed no signs of incapacitating chemicals. 
According to all the forensic evidence available thus far, Robert Billings had undergone no trauma at all, until someone had shot him in the head and instantly ended his life.
There had been no exit wound, leading Alan to believe that Lilith had killed Billings with a small caliber like a .22. Moreover, a .22 had been used in the previous killings....

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Insights of the world beyond: 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN: Reading #41

From my YouTube channel: 

I was afraid of this girl, as I was afraid of so much we had seen tonight. But I also sensed that if she was offering her insights to us, they might be useful.
“Can anything out here,” I asked tentatively, “can anything out here really hurt us?”
“Oh yes,” she said, turning to me again—and again I saw a brief flash of solid black where the whites of her eyes should have been. “You must be very careful. You aren’t—where you came from anymore, but you already know that, don’t you?”....

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The ghost girl's request: 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN, Reading #40

From my YouTube channel: Reading #40 of my 1980s coming-of-age supernatural thriller, 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN:

I looked at Bobby and shrugged. We didn't know yet if the girl was dangerous. In either case, I didn't intend to let Leah face her alone.
I followed Leah, stepping across the ditch and onto the lawn. Bobby followed me without further protest or comment. 
“Why are you crying?” Leah asked the girl. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t find my parents!” she said, with a loud sob. 
“Where do your parents live?” 
I let Leah ask her question, but it occurred to me that Leah had failed to make an important connection: This girl’s parents probably didn't “live” anywhere anymore. 
“They’re supposed to live here!” she cried. “This is where my family’s apple orchard is supposed to be.”
I might have heard something once about the land around here having been an apple orchard a long time ago. There was evidence for this in some of the street names. The street we were walking down was Applegate Drive. And we had planned to take a shortcut through Old Orchard Lane—before our way was blocked by Mr. Dolby’s bear.
But all that was a long, long time ago, if it had ever been at all. This was a memory that this girl—if she was indeed around our age—could not possibly possess. 
Leah said: “You know, I heard something about this land being an apple orchard.”
“I heard about it, too. But do you know how long ago that was?”
I wanted to get away from this girl on the swing, even though she did not appear to represent an immediate threat to us. If asked, I wouldn't have been able to put my objection into words at that time. Having thought about it over the years, I’ve since decided that there was simply something unnatural and vaguely indecent about the dead and the living mixing in this way. 
The corpses writhing in the mud were still fresh in my memory, their desire for our life force naked and unrestrained. I’ve read in the intervening years that when spirits appear to the living, they never do so idly. A ghost always has an agenda, a desire. Spirits, when they appear to us, always want something.  
But Leah seemed so fascinated with this girl. And as I’ve already told you, I was quite fascinated with Leah. That was what kept me there, even though my better judgment told me to move on...

The inspiration behind OUR HOUSE

This is the new "from the author" blurb on the book's Amazon description page:

A few years back, I heard a (true) story about a young couple purchasing their first home. The American dream come true.

There was only one problem: The owner of the house was a middle-aged couple, and the wife didn't want to sell the home. She had an obsession with the house, in fact.

The realtor advised the young couple to back out of the sale, suggesting that the middle-aged woman might be dangerous.

The young couple didn't listen. They pushed forward and bought the home.

After the young couple moved in, strange things began to happen: Threatening messages were scrawled on the driveway. There were petty acts of vandalism in the middle of the night…

Creepy! I thought.

That story formed the seed of OUR HOUSE. In this novel, you’ll meet the Hubers, a charming couple in their early thirties. The Hubers and their young son move into the house at 1120 Dunham Drive.

And you’ll also meet the Vennekamps: the middle-aged couple who used to own that same house.

Deborah Vennekamp doesn't want to let go of the house at 1120 Dunham Drive. 

Because the house at 1120 Dunham Drive holds some very deadly secrets. 

These are secrets that Mrs. Vennekamp wants to remain buried, and she’ll do anything to frighten the new owners away.

The inspiration behind LILITH

This is the new "from the author" blurb on the book's Amazon description page:

LILITH is a ultimately a novel about the practice of “catfishing”, only with a deadly twist.

The idea for LILITH came from the following question: What would happen if a serial killer started preying on men who use online dating websites? 

The serial killer would, of course, begin by dangling the profile of a beautiful woman in front of her victims. She would target men who were socially awkward, and therefore, eager to believe the online ruse.

LILITH is a police procedural and a murder mystery.

But it’s also a tale about wishful thinking, and how loneliness can make people vulnerable, sometimes with deadly results.

Join Detective Alan Grooms of the Ohio Department of Criminal Investigations (ODCI), as he and his partners pursue the serial killer called “Lilith”… first across the Internet, and then through the dark underworld of Cincinnati, Ohio. 

The investigation begins: LILITH: Chapter 2 reading

From my YouTube channel: Detective Alan Grooms of the Ohio Department of Criminal Investigation (ODCI) makes an initial investigation of the crime scene:

Interstate 75 ran right through the heart of Cincinnati. Alan knew he was getting close to his destination when he passed the vast complex of the General Electric Aviation plant. The plant had been alternately expanded and downsized throughout the years, and now—to the best of Alan’s knowledge—it was focused on the manufacture of aircraft engines for the export market. During the Cold War years, this plant had placed Cincinnati high on the Soviet Union’s target list in the event of a thermonuclear exchange.
Following the directions provided by the Explorer’s GPS, Alan turned off on the exit immediately south of the GE plant. He made a right turn off the exit down a main thoroughfare of old residential buildings and a few gas stations and all-night markets. Then he took a left onto Rosemont Avenue and saw the flashing lights of the police cruisers.
Alan saw at least two black-and-whites in front of Robert Billings’ house, both bearing the insignia of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department. Despite the late hour, it made for a chaotic scene. The lights from the patrol cars flashed kaleidoscopically across the fronts of the surrounding houses, and there was already a crowd of curious neighbors, gathering to see who was going to jail, the hospital, or the morgue.
Alan parked the Explorer on the street just down from one of the black-and-whites. (He now noticed a third patrol car.) As he approached, he was stopped by a female deputy. Twentysomething and blonde, she was neither Deputy Lee nor Deputy Page. The name on her badge was L. Hall.
Alan showed his badge and asked Deputy Hall, “Are Deputies Lee and Page around here? They’re supposed to be my contacts. I spoke earlier with a Sergeant Rayburn.”
“Inside the house,” Deputy L. Hall said, motioning Alan toward the front door.
The house, like so many houses in Cincinnati, was built into a hillside. The topography down here was distinct from the flatland country where Alan lived. Cincinnati had been built into the hills on the north side of the Ohio River basin. Robert Billings’ house was one of a line of turn-of-the-twentieth century row houses. Alan had to walk up two flights of chipped concrete steps, and then through a chain-link gate that had been left open. 
He was about to step inside the house when he heard the sound of a woman sobbing. He looked down to the street level and saw an older woman—perhaps sixty or seventy years old—sitting inside a patrol car. Another female deputy was making awkward attempts to console her. Alan guessed that the woman was Robert Billings’ mother. Or, more properly, had been.
Alan knew that he would have to make a point to talk to her—during the investigation phase, of course, but also tonight. His efforts at consolation would be no more effective than those of the female deputy, perhaps; but he would let Mrs. Billings know that he intended to catch her son’s killer or killers.
The front foyer of the house was mildewy. The ceiling was high and water-stained. There was an old-fashioned open radiator in the front hallway, and wainscoting that should have been replaced long ago.
“Detective Grooms?” a voice said...

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Writing About Sex in Fiction (or Not)

The pulp writer John D. MacDonald once declared that no fiction writer needs to graphically describe the sex act in a novel or short story. Everyone knows what the sex act is, after all—and what it’s like. (And if you don’t know, then maybe you need to read less, and get out more.) MacDonald assessed that to write in detail about sex is a bit like writing in detail about Christmas. “You’ll just bore everyone,” MacDonald declared.

I tend to agree. Most of the sex in my fiction is implied, and takes place “off camera”. I’ve strayed from this rule only on rare occasions—and I’ve always regretted it. Like MacDonald, I’ve never felt the need take readers through a blow-by-blow account of the details. 

Perhaps I’m relying on my sensibilities as a reader—and viewer—in this regard. I’m a huge fan of the FX spy series,The Americans. The Cold War drama is one of the best shows on TV, with complex characters and compelling storylines—not to mention a killer premise.

At the same time, it sometimes seems that the writers and producers of the show are deliberately trying to fit as many flashes of Keri Russell’s butt as possible into each episode. 

Don’t get me wrong: Keri Russell has an awesome derriere. But her skills as an actress are so prodigious that her butt seems little more than an afterthought in the big scheme of things. She totally nails the difficult role of Elizabeth Jennings, the middle-class Washington D.C. travel agent and suburban mother who is actually a Soviet sleeper agent. There are few Hollywood actors whom I would like to meet, but I would like to meet Keri Russell—and not because of her butt. I am genuinely blown away by her acting.

Likewise, The Americans has a tendency to drag out its sex scenes. Sex is often a key plot element on The Americans, so the occasional bedroom scene is by no means out-of-bounds. But when I can count the number of sexual positions performed in each episode, a plot device has become something else. A spy drama should not become a film version of The Joy of Sex. 

But what about novels that overdo it? One of the more egregious fictional examples of overindulgence to come to my attention of late is Ken Follett’s 1991 novel, Night Over Water

Night Over Water is a thriller set on the eve of World War II. The setup is a transatlantic flight filled with thieves, vagabonds, and spies. The book is a page-turner—until Ken Follett decides to take two to three pages to describe a sex scene. And he does this multiple times throughout the book.

Call me a prude, but I don’t need to know that a male character’s erect penis is “purple” and “swollen”. Nor do I need an in-depth description of erect nipples and female secretions at the moment of arousal. I’m not offended or shocked by such things, mind you; but what’s the point? 

I checked the Goodreads reviews of Night Over Water, and I saw that a number of reviewers criticized Follett for all the sex—not because it was crude or excessively libertine, but because it was sexist:

“indulgent sex scenes with every woman desperate for a man and every man reluctant, but passionate, toward a woman…it loses a star…over sexualization of its female characters. Ken Follett makes certain we know each woman's cup size and we can't escape that this is a man writing women.”

Ironically enough, Ken Follett, a British writer, is a champagne socialist who also fancies himself a feminist. Make of that what you will.

Follett is usually a solid thriller writer. Eye of the Needle is one of my all-time favorite thrillers (even though it does include a gratuitous reference to male-on-female oral sex). I think this reviewer sums it up best:

“Follett's plots are always fun but he is also known for his obligatory smut scenes with too much gratuitous (and often silly) detail.”

The takeaway? Unless the writer is creating explicitly erotic material (a task which has never been my interest or calling), his detailed descriptions of sex will probably subtract much more from his work than they could possibly add. 

It’s probably enough to begin a sex scene with a passionate kiss, and conclude with the couple getting dressed afterward. Let the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks of what takes place in-between.

Our House (thriller): Chapter 1

From my YouTube channel: Jennifer Huber gets a first look at the dream home with the dark secrets.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Ghost Girl: 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN, Reading #39

From my YouTube story channel:

12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN: A NOVEL:  On Halloween 1980, three young friends go out for "one last Halloween" in a suburb that becomes a surreal landscape of terror.

Chapter 12

Even from a distance, something seemed unnatural about the girl who was sitting in the tree swing.
First of all, there was the situation itself: Here it was, Halloween night; and although this section of the neighborhood was without trick-or-treaters, we knew that it must still be within the scheduled hours for the activity. Despite all that had happened, we had not been gone for much longer than an hour, we estimated. 
Why would the girl be sitting in a tree swing in someone’s front yard on Halloween night?
And then there was the dress: Girls hadn’t worn dresses like that since before my grandparents were born. No—scratch that—since before my grandparents’ grandparents were born. It was a dress not from any point in the twentieth century, but from much earlier.
The tree swing hung from the branch of a large tree in the middle of someone’s front yard. The house was a simple one-story ranch house. We were in the older part of the neighborhood now, on one of the streets that conjoined with Shayton Estates. The houses on this street dated back to the immediate postwar era, when builders throughout the country had scrambled to provide housing for all those returning GIs.
But this girl would have looked out-of-place even in that era. Her white dress extended nearly to her ankles and it billowed at the bottom. This was a dress from back in the days when women wore full-length undergarments.
As we approached, she continued to swing in the dark, her hands gripping the swing’s thick ropes, her long dark hair cascading down her back. 
Her skin was pale. And it might have been my imagination, but it was faintly glowing in the moonlight. 
We stopped in front of the house. The girl was a sight to behold. It wouldn't do to simply walk by her without comment.
“Don’t talk to her,” Bobby said. “She’s a ghost.”....

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Reading OUR HOUSE, a suburban thriller, on YouTube

From my YouTube channel: The introductory video for the ongoing readings of my suburban thriller novel, OUR HOUSE: book description:

Some dream homes are deadly…Appearances can be deceiving.

On the surface, 34-year-old Jennifer Huber seems to have it all: a handsome, loving husband, a six-year-old son whom they both adore. A respectable job.

Jennifer and her husband have just purchased their first house: The neo-Tudor house at 1120 Dunham drive appears to be their “dream home”.

But everything is not what it seems: The previous owner of the house has an unusual—and ultimately violent—attachment to the house. After the Hubers move in, sinister things begin to happen: Dead animals appear in closets, strange figures disturb the Hubers’ sleep in the middle of the night.

There is more to the house at 1120 Dunham Drive than meets the eye: As Jennifer uncovers the secrets behind the home’s history, she finds herself drawn into a web of lies, violence, and sexual betrayal. 

All the while, Jennifer struggles to contain a secret of her own—and to combat an act of blackmail that could destroy her marriage.

From the author of the crime novel ‘Blood Flats’, and the horror novel ‘Eleven Miles of Night’, ‘Our House’ is a riveting thrill ride through the dark undercurrents that might lie beneath the placid surface of a suburb near you.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Lee McCabe goes on the run: Chapter 6 of BLOOD FLATS

From my YouTube channel: A reading of Chapter 6 of Blood Flats, my Kentucky crime novel:

Perhaps a dozen of Lee’s neighbors saw him emerge from the trailer with the .45 in his hand. Faces scanned the interior of the trailer, where the bodies were clearly visible, and then they appraised Lee. It was not difficult for him to imagine what they saw: a quiet, withdrawn veteran who had recently been discharged from a killing zone. Had some of them even picked up on his dislike for Fitzsimmons? 
He stood before them in the grass. No one made an effort to speak to him yet. The gun in his hand drew all their attention. When he raised it briefly several of them flinched—until he tucked it in the back of his pants.
And then the faces seemed to make further connections. Eyes darted nervously back and forth within the little crowd.
They backed away from him, huddling in a semicircle at what they must have perceived to be a safe distance.  
And someone said: “He’s got a gun.”
“Listen,” Lee began. “I saw four armed men approaching this trailer.” He took a step toward the semicircle of his neighbors. They backed away.
“I didn’t see any armed men,” someone else said. “The only armed man I see is you.”
The sirens were growing louder. A Hawkins County sheriff’s vehicle appeared at the far end of the access road that led into the trailer park. There was a second sheriff’s car behind it. Both patrol cars were going faster than they should have been in this enclosed space. The red and blue light bars atop their roofs were flashing. Their headlights flashed as well.
Even from this distance, Lee could see Sheriff Phelps in the lead car. Their eyes met, and recognition dawned on the sheriff’s face.
As the sheriff’s vehicles approached, the group of onlookers spread out and took a few more steps away from Lee. It had the effect of isolating him. 
Sheriff Phelps’s car came to a halt a short distance away, not far from Lee’s own trailer. He spoke into a handheld mike that amplified his voice from a speaker. “Stand where you are!”
Was Sheriff Phelps speaking to the entire crowd, or had he already singled Lee out? The .45 was still stuck in his pants. Phelps could not see it; but there was no way to ditch the gun without the lawman noticing it. Moreover, at least a dozen people had witnessed him exit a murder scene with a weapon drawn.
Then Sheriff Phelps looked directly at him, and repeated the command. There could be no doubt. His eyes met Phelps’s stare dead-on, and Lee knew that both of them were gripped by the same question: What is this man going to do next?  
Lee felt a surge of blood rush to his head. The situation had escalated too fast. Less than thirty minutes ago he had been contemplating a cup of coffee, and the comfortable routine of his work at the machine shop. Now he was at the center of a horrific crime, and a catastrophic misunderstanding had enclosed around him. His neighbors obviously believed that he was responsible for the two dead bodies in the trailer. And what did Phelps think? 
That, too, was pretty obvious, wasn’t it? Phelps could see him standing there. He would talk to witnesses. And Phelps detested him anyway. 
“Hal!” Lee shouted. He believed he remembered the name of the man who lived across from Tim Fitzsimmons—the peculiar old bachelor who kept to himself. 
Hal appeared in his doorway. He surveyed the situation: The sirens, the gathered crowd. Hal’s face quavered. He clearly found the entire scene overwhelming.
“Tell them!” Lee said. “Tell them what you saw!”
Marsten waved him away. The expression on his face seemed to say: I’m sorry—but I can’t get involved. 
Hal Martsen disappeared into the shadows of his trailer. The only witness who could possibly exonerate Lee had just betrayed him.
“Looks like Hal didn’t see nothin’” a spectator said.
“Don’t be tryin’ to trap ol’ Hal just ‘cause he be a quiet one.”
“Likely story, I’d say.”
Lee was gripped by a sudden urge to drag Hal from his trailer and wring his neck. But he knew that this would do him no good. There were really only two choices before him: He could stay put as Sheriff Phelps commanded and take his chances. Or he could run and take his chances. Either way, there would be accusatory fingers pointed at him. Either option would put his freedom in jeopardy....

The flight from the hellhounds: ELEVEN MILES OF NIGHT

From my YouTube channel: Reading #150 of Eleven Miles of Night:

"On the other hand, it was a little more than a mile between this spot and John’s Mistake. Jason had run track in high school, and he knew that he could cover that distance in about ten minutes, even with the backpack. Moreover, he still had a head start on the baying creatures (albeit a rapidly diminishing one). Would the hellhounds show themselves in town? Everything that Jason had learned so far about the Shaman’s Highway led him to believe that they would not. The forces out here were not averse to showing themselves, but only sporadically and only when the numerical advantage was clearly on their side..."

The Writer and Baseball

Last night I watched a bit of the Reds-Pirates game, one of the first of the 2017 season. I am not much of a sports fan. But I do make an exception for baseball, the only spectator sport I follow with any regularity.

Why not basketball? College basketball is wildly popular in the Cincinnati area; and it’s practically a cult in nearby Indiana and Kentucky. 

Each spring I listen, patient but bored, as locker room conversations turn to March Madness, talk of the Sweet Sixteen and the Final Four. I’ve tried, but I just can’t get excited about NCAA basketball.

Maybe it's a matter of height envy on my part. At 5'10", I cannot relate to a game played almost exclusively by people who are seven feet tall. There is no way I will ever be able to touch the rim—let alone dunk a basketball—without a ladder.

Football, on the hand, strikes me as simultaneously brutal and slow-paced, with its constant starts and stops. I read an article last year describing how the playing time in the average NFL game has declined over the last decade. Why? They want to squeeze in more TV commercial time.

Soccer is the game that every other American under the age of forty plays, or has played. But almost none of us watch it, unless the players are eight-year-olds, and at least one of them is your kid. Based on the televised soccer matches that I have seen, soccer is not a bad spectator sport. But it somehow seems like a game you can only really watch faithfully if you're a European, preferably a Brit, and preferably in a working-class pub in an English town that ends in -ham or -shire. Pass me another pint mate, so I can finish me fish 'n chips while we watch the end of this sodding match!

I was born in Wisconsin, where hockey is popular; but I spent most of the 1968 season crying and soiling my diapers. My parents moved to Cincinnati the following year, before I could acquire an interest in hockey. Several hockey teams have existed in Cincinnati over the years, but virtually all of them have either left the city or simply folded. No one in Cincinnati, with the exception of sports trivia buffs, can even remember the teams' names. Hockey doesn't catch on in any American city that is located more than four hours, by car, from the Canadian border.

But ah, baseball. 

Baseball was the first sport I played during my childhood, and for much of my childhood, it was the only one. Growing up in the 1970s, there was no select-this, select-that. I look at the prodigious amount of time and resources that parents nowadays expend on their children’s pay-for-play “select” sporting activities, and I try to imagine the sputtering fit my father would have had if pressed for such sacrifices. Over kids’ sports, of all things. Back then, you had school sports, and informal backyard sports, and that was more or less it. Maybe a month or two of Little League, if you were lucky.

Throughout the summers of 1978, 1979, and 1980, the kids in my neighborhood played backyard baseball everyday—often all day. Sometimes there were as few as three of us, rarely more than six or seven in total. When the roster was so low that we needed to maximize the bodycount on the field, we propped up a loose sheet of plywood behind home plate, in lieu of a catcher. That was improvisation.

I also grew up in a time and place that predisposed me to be a spectator of baseball. Cincinnati's “Big Red Machine” coincided with my childhood years. Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan—I saw them all play on the championship Reds lineup of the 1970s. During that era in Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Reds and their logo were everywhere—not only on hats and tee shirts, but even on ice cream and hot dogs. I remember hanging out with my grandfather in mid-summer, as he puttered around in his garage, listening to the Cincinnati Reds game on AM radio. In the wider world, the United States was struggling with the aftermaths of Watergate and Vietnam, surging oil prices, and stagflation. But in my little world, it was a fine, fine time indeed.

If my childhood didn't cement my romanticization of baseball, then Kevin Costner’s 1989 film, Field of Dreams, sealed the deal. In the film, Costner’s character plays a round of catch with his long-deceased father. I am both romantic and hopeful enough to believe that someday we’ll all be reunited with our deceased love ones, maybe with baseball, and maybe without. The movie also had much to say about baseball as a constant factor in a constantly changing world. Trends, public mores, politics, the latest technology—they all come and go. Baseball stays the same. 

Then there is the quality of the men who play the game. A stupendous number of NBA players have been sent to prison. Professional football players of recent years have been involved in dog fighting and other criminal activities, enough to fill online databases. And then there were Colin Kaepernick’s self-aggrandizing political displays of last year. Baseball, meanwhile, is still mostly a gentleman’s game. 

Baseball is played slowly, with lots of pauses; but baseball makes no pretense of trying to be fast-paced. It is a contemplative game, more similar to golf than to football or basketball. Perhaps for this reason, baseball tends to attract a lot of writers as fans. Stephen King is a baseball fan, as is Stuart O’Nan.

Anyway, the 2017 baseball season is just beginning. Between now and October, baseball will be a part of my life. I’m looking forward to it—not only the game, but what the game represents. And what it helps me to remember. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

An explanation of the "spirit dolls": LUK THEP: A HORROR NOVELLA

From my YouTube channel: The reading of chapter 5 of my international horror novella, LUK THEP:

Jane looked closer, and now she saw that the small figure seated in the chair was only a doll, albeit a very realistic-looking one. 
“She gave you quite a scare,” Khajee said with good humor. Jane noted Khajee’s use of the personal pronoun. Jane also noted that yes, indeed, the doll had given her quite a scare.
The corporate realm was not a world without fear. The cutthroat competitiveness of the global economy produced a macro-level fear of being downsized, “right-sized” out, or otherwise falling into obsolescence. Jane had not a protectionist bone in her body, but she couldn't help feeling the occasional twinge of admiration-mixed-with-resentment toward her Asian colleagues: They worked so tirelessly, so efficiently. All of the jobs at TRX Automotive Thailand represented jobs that no longer existed in the United States. How long before her job, too, was outsourced to a more efficient Asian or Latin American rival?
Beneath the macro-level fears was the constant uneasiness about where you stood within the company hierarchy—not just the formal organization chart, but within the ever-shifting hierarchy of senior management favor. This was not simply a matter of doing your job well, but of maintaining the outward perception that you were doing your job well.
Although Jane was single and had no dependents, she had much invested in her career. She knew that despite her undeniable hard work, she was fortunate to be where she was at her age. Jane did not want to lose what she had gained. She wanted to continue moving forward.
Anxiety about such matters occasionally kept Jane up at night. But the fear of the genuinely unknown was mostly alien to her existence. No one ever discussed haunted houses or vampires at a corporate meeting, even during the informal pre-meeting banter. To express an interest in the macabre would be (yet another) way to sideline your career prospects. People would think you were unhinged.
Perhaps that was why Jane was momentarily uncomfortable over her reaction to the doll. She now knew, rationally, that the doll was just a doll. But it made her uneasy, nonetheless....

This week on YouTube

I'll be making lots of updates on my YouTube channel this week, including additional videos for Luk Thep: a horror novella, Blood Flats, and Lilith.

I'm also working on a short story format especially for YouTube/web syndication. This is already complete at the concept level, and I have several episodes fully planned. It is just a matter of getting it all done.

Why I am doing all this Internet storytelling? 

My belief is that authors should market themselves like rock bands. That is, we should make it possible for readers to sample our stories easily, and at zero cost. YouTube and other social media platforms make that possible.

Yes, I'll still be writing the occasional blog post about current events, etc. (Some of you have emailed me to say that you really enjoy those posts, and I appreciate the notes of encouragement.) 

But at the end of the day, the focus here will always be on stories. Blogging and essays are fun diversions, but they represent side dishes, not the main course.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Lee steps into a murder scene: BLOOD FLATS: Chapter 5

Lee stepped outside with the .45 in his right hand. He took a moment to assess the situation as coolly as possible: The odds weren’t in his favor. His Marine Corps training and combat experience gave him a certain amount of confidence when facing the average man; but these advantages had their limits.  There were four men and they were armed; they would easily kill him if they chose to make a stand. 
Fitzsimmons’s trailer was only yards away. The screams had stopped, almost as suddenly as they had begun. Whatever had happened in the trailer mere seconds ago, the aluminum structure now emanated an odd sort of quiet, like a building that has been long deserted. 
Lee stood perfectly still on his own stoop and listened for any sounds of movement, any voices. There were no voices and no sounds of movement that he could hear at this distance. Nevertheless, the woman’s screams continued to echo in his mind. These had not been mere figments of his imagination....

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The ghost boy intervenes: 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN, Reading #38

It was the ghost boy. He had interposed himself between Matt and his two friends. I can’t say that I was glad to see him—not after seeing evidence of his true nature. But I was at least somewhat grateful for the distraction. 
“Who are you?” Matt challenged, whirling on the ghost boy.
I thought: Matt thinks he’s a normal kid. I expected Matt to resort to his tough guy routine. Then the ghost boy would turn into something horrible, and Matt would run shrieking away. Maybe the ghost boy would do even worse to Matt. At that moment, I wouldn't have objected....

Monday, April 3, 2017

A corporate thriller set in the American automotive industry

Especially recommended for fans of Joseph Finder, Lee Child, David Baldacci, and John Grisham.

A thriller set in the boardroom of the global automotive industry!

"They call me the Termination Man. I never really cared for that nickname; but once the moniker arose in client circles, it sort of stuck. The Termination Man inevitably calls to mind that series of movies from the 1980s and 1990s, in which a future governor of California portrays a homicidal android who goes about blasting hapless mortals to kingdom come.
There is nothing even remotely science fiction-esque about the services performed by Craig Walker Consulting, LLC. In my job, I am part lawyer, part private investigator, and part crisis management specialist. 
I am called when a company wants to terminate an employee for reasons that cannot be strictly traced to job performance issues. This is more common than you might imagine—unless you have ever worked in corporate human resources, or in one of the corner offices of company management. There is a wide range of factors that might drive a corporate employer to oust one of its own. 
A few years ago, every CEO and CEO-wannabe was reading a management book entitled Good to Great, by Jim Collins. The author stated that in order to succeed, a company has to “get the right people on the bus.” Otherwise, the bus—the organization—won’t go in the desired direction. 
The corollary here is that a company sometimes has to get the wrong people off the bus. This is where my services become essential. I get the wrong people off the bus.
The target employee can fit a variety of profiles. He might be a rank-and-file staff professional who poisons the atmosphere with his bad attitude, turning his colleagues against management. She might be a first-tier manager who has made veiled threats about filing a frivolous sexual harassment or discrimination claim. Or he might be a union agitator.."