Hope Through Stories. Freedom from Fear.

We can reenact the scene and argue what happened. Michael Brown was shot as he reached into the car, or he was 135 feet away. He grabbed the gun, or he had his hands up. Whichever you believe, the prosecutor’s choice not to request indictment of Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown, and to allow him to speak to the grand jury, and to show all evidence instead of those pointing to probable cause to indict, are all disturbing, if not infuriating. We have a court system to decide these things, and gaming it to get the result you want only confirms that the system only works for the powerful, affluent, and connected.

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A young man is dead, who didn’t have to be, for many reasons. He was “no angel” as the so-called liberal media decided to say in one of his obituaries, but neither was Officer Wilson–who was fired when the Jennings Missouri police department was *disbanded* for corruption and racial profiling, who had previous fired at an unarmed black woman and child who refused to pull over in a traffic stop–was hired again, and went on patrol alone, with no Taser, because “he did not feel comfortable” with one. When a white suburbanite sees a police officer, he sees safety, someone on his side. In neighborhoods like Ferguson, where arrests for misdemeanors and fines drive the local budget, you see the tax man with a gun coming to empty your pockets.

We’ve always been a violent country enamored of violent solutions, but in the last 20 years or so, the blinders feel like they’ve been belted on more tightly. He hit a cop; did he have to be shot, while fleeing? Does a car have to be chased until it kills a pedestrian? Crime rates are at a historical low, and fear is at a hysterical high. We are segregated, rich from poor, black from white, right from left, and have difficulty seeing why the other side is “crazy” because they don’t think the way we do. We’ve been carved into demographics and gerrymandered to death, to where there are more than “Two Americas” as one pol said, but more than we can count.

I don’t expect to solve our problems with a blog post. You don’t have to agree with me. My father was a cop, I’ve known good and bad. They have a tough job, even if it isn’t as dangerous as we like to think it is, thanks to television; it’s not even in the top 10 dangerous jobs. 100 officers died from work-related injury in 2013, out of 900,000 officers. So while it is a position I respect, when loggers and farmers die on the job more often than you do, the argument that you have to shoot unarmed suspects to be safe doesn’t hold a lot of water. Officers have batons, Tasers, pepper spray, at their disposal. More less-than-lethal tools than ever before. I want police and citizens to be safe. With all the money we dump into policing, you’d think we could protect our officers by having them patrol in pairs. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? And patrol on foot, hire more officers if need be. Know the people you’re protecting. Our town has a “Coffee with a Cop” session, where you can meet the officers, and they can meet you. There are neighborhood organizations, the police should have to go to them regularly, to know what the concerns are, and to be seen as a face, a person, not a threat.

Or maybe we can pass a law that every police chief has to watch THE WIRE, I dunno.

One thing we should all be able to agree on is that the kids affected by this deserve better. The schools in Ferguson are closed, but the library is open. Many kids are going there to read books and play. Joelle Charbonneau, author of The Testing Trilogy, has a page up to solicit donations of signed books from authors, called Hope Through Stories. You can start there. Ashley Cassandra Ford has a great idea too, she’s asking for cash donations to the Ferguson Public Library, which has a Paypal donation page. I sent them a few bucks, and a few books, too. Not a signed copy of my book, but three books by Octavia Butler, one of my favorite authors, who uses science fiction to depict the difficulty of different cultures living together. Something we can all benefit from reading.

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We’ll be seeing this image a lot in the coming months. Some will see it as affirmation that “those people” act like “they do,” forgetting that majority white cities have rioted over sports, pumpkins, or a coach who tolerated a child rapist in his midst getting fired recently. It’s easy to hate, they want us to hate. Angry and fearful, we are predictable and easy to control. Don’t let your fear rule you. You’re a whole different person when you’re scared, to quote Warren Zevon. And it’s not pretty. No, it ain’t that pretty at all.

Who Asked You? 5 Writing Habits That Work For Me

I do not consider myself a success.

That is not self-deprecation, nor am I trolling for compliments. It is a state of mind, meant to stave off complacency, the enemy of all artists, writers in particular. I resumed writing regularly in November 2010, and three years later I have had 50 stories published, published three anthologies, and written one novel, with another novel and story collection nearly completed. I’ve won a Bullet award, had an anthology nominated for a Spinetingler, I’ve made dozens of new friends in the crime fiction community, and one of the stories I edited- Dave White’s excellent “Runaway” in the Protectors anthology- was listed as a distinguished story in The Best American Mystery Stories 2013.

Not bad. But it’s never good enough.

This from nothing. It began with a big bang of enthusiasm after I was coaxed into writing a novel in one month for NaNoWriMo 2010, which I called “Beat the Jinx.” Two revisions later I call it Bury the Hatchet, and I am about to unleash it into agent slushpiles everywhere.  How did I do it? Same way I went from being a chubby weakling into the man-ape hybrid you see before you, who outwrestles athletes half his age and can lift over a quarter ton.

By observing successful writers I admire and cultivating their habits:

Drive

Friends have called me the most driven writer they know. I  write nearly every day- 3-5 hours, until I feel tiredness at the edge of my eyes, when I know any further effort will have diminishing returns. But in my mind, I’m a slacker. And that keeps me driven.

If writing is a chore to you, perhaps writing isn’t for you. Let’s face it, it is work. But it should be a pleasurable work, like building one of those cakes that look like they require a degree in architecture. There will be failure and struggle as you learn by doing. But you get to lick the spoon. Write every day for a month. Pick a time that works, whether you can devote a half hour or three hours. Say you will write for 5 minutes. You will usually write longer. Force yourself to do it for three weeks to a month and it will become a habit. When you skip, you will feel a pang of guilt. You will scribble things down whenever you can. If you don’t know what to write about, maybe you’re not a writer. Ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s what you do with them that matters. In the beginning, I said “yes” to everything. Guest blog, interviews, anthologies, moderating. It forces you to write and make deadlines. Now I have to say “no” to new projects I want to participate in, to meet my commitments.

Patience

How does this jive with drive? I just told you to get off your ass and do, do, do. But be patient while you improve. Be patient while your stories sit in editor’s inboxes, waiting to be read. Be patient as you get rejections. Be patient as your rejections improve from form letters, to “Best of luck, it’s not for us,” to “we just published one like this,” to “if you edit this, this, and this, we will reconsider.” Be patient with editors. Remember, it is your responsibility to translate your thoughts into words that others can understand. If they don’t “get it” they aren’t necessarily dense; maybe what you wrote is unclear. If you trust the editor–and why else would you submit to a market, unless you enjoyed what they published and think the editors will like your work–you will work with them. You should also sit on a story before editing it, to approach it with a clear head. Don’t ship it off right after you type “The End,” no matter how excited you are about it. In the afterglow, you’re not in a right mind to edit.

Focus

This goes hand in hand with Drive. It is the one I struggled with the most. I am easily distracted, and I love starting new projects. But unfinished projects are nothing. They are a waste of energy. Must you finish everything, even a story you realize is bad? In the beginning, yes. Make something of it. A bad story can be fixed, an unfinished one is useless. No one wants to believe that writing takes practice, despite the mantras of “10,000 hours of practice before learning,” or “you must write a million words of crap before you’re a writer.” How do you expect to improve without failure? I wrote 50 stories, a novel, and edited two anthologies while I was supposed to be revising my first novel, Bury the Hatchet. I have all sorts of excuses for this. My writing has improved due to all those projects, and the novel has benefited, but if I had finished it first, that improvement would still have occurred. Do not let distractions drag you from finishing your work. Starting something new when you are in the middle of the hard work of finishing a story is just procrastination in disguise.

Perseverance

Sometimes, you hit a wall. With deadlines, writers often crash through these walls and finish the story in a way that works, but shows the wreckage. I’ve noticed this in many novels, even stories I’ve enjoyed. “Oh, you painted yourself into a corner there.” Then they cut a window into the wall to escape, and the house is still a house, and pretty from most angles, but there’s a weird window that sticks out. But at least you didn’t have to paint that room twice, right? WRONG! Fix the damn story problem. It will take perseverance. First to finish a story, and again to fix it. Writers have all sorts of vile analogies for revision. You get sick of your own story. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be better than “good enough.” If you’ve read enough good books, you will get a feel for it. If you say to yourself, “No one will notice,” that’s a big hint that it needs work. Or if you skim that part and get to the good bits. With me, I get a queasiness, a desire to shirk. And I bold that section for later, if I have no idea what the hell to do. But I always go back to it. Thanks to my friend Wayne Dundee, author of the Joe Hannibal PI novels and creator of Hardboiled magazine, for “persevere.” That’s how he signs his letters. And it encapsulates everything. If there’s one habit that’s most important, it’s this one.

Enthusiasm

Do you love books? Do you love reading a great story, and wishing you could write it? I hope so. You can’t be driven 24/7.  If you find yourself sneering at everything you read and saying you could do better, you might need a break to recharge your enthusiasm. Ever read something you know damn well you could never have written, and yet feel outrage that THIS won the Nobel Prize/Edgar/Hot Poop Award? While your genius went overlooked? It has been known to happen. It means your enthusiasm level is critically low. Read a book by a favorite writer, for enjoyment only. An old favorite. Or stop reading for a week and watch movies you love. Read or watch the stories that inspired you to be a writer in the first place.

What happened? You may have fallen into a validation trap, where you write to hear the applause of the audience. For a time, I found it easier to write quick stories and get the thrill of an acceptance, rather than buckle down and finish a novel. My friend Josh Stallings had the opposite problem- he loves writing novels, but convinced himself that he couldn’t write short fiction. After several of us cajoled and harried him into writing for us, he wrote several excellent stories, which broadened his audience for the Mo McGuire novels. It also supercharged his enthusiasm. He wrote his breakout noir memoir ALL THE WILD CHILDREN, and Mo #3, ONE MORE BODY, will be out soon.

Yes, “only writing is writing.” But writing takes more than typing, and keeping the brain happy–but just a little bit hungry–is part of the maintenance.

I hope this helps. I learned it by mimicking the writers whose careers I want mine to emulate. People who worked hard and were rewarded. Lawrence Block, who has always been an inspiration. He’s 84 and just hammered out another novel while on a world cruise, just to see if he could do it. Joelle Charbonneau, who juggles three series and still has time to blog, tweet, go to conventions and live a busy life. Joe Lansdale, who says he writes 3-5 pages a day. Last time I checked, he’s written 35 or so novels. Plus he runs a dojo. Perseverance personified. He also posts excellent no-BS writing advice on Facebook. George Pelecanos, another prolific author, said he writes 4 hours in the morning and edits at night. Whatever works- the common element is they go the distance, they write whether they feel like it or not, and get the job done.

Now it’s your turn.

Belly Up to the Bar with Joelle Charbonneau

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a poisoned wasteland. Humanity survives in the United Commonwealth, where the next generation’s chosen few rebuild civilization. But to enter this elite group, young candidates must first pass The Testing.

Cia Vale is proud to be among the chosen like her father before her. But his warning to Trust No One steels her for the toughest challenge, to decide who is her friend and who will do anything to pass The Testing.

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Tom Pluck Beer Welcome to Belly Up to the Bar, Joelle. What can I pour you?

 
 
 

Joelle Well, I’m mostly a diet Pepsi kind of girl.  But let’s live dangerously.  Pour me a Sauvignon Blanc and let’s walk on the wild side!

 
 
 

Tom Pluck Beer I loved THE TESTING. It reminded me of Ender’s Game, the post-apocalyptic Fallout video games, and the Tripods series by John Christopher. Tell us a bit about the protagonist of THE TESTING, Cia Vale:

 

Joelle Wow!  Thank you.  As someone who read and loved Ender’s Game when I was just out of high school, I am stunned and amazed to be compared to that story.

Cia Vale is a young girl who has just finished her high school education.  Despite the fact leaving home will mean leaving behind the family whom she loves, Cia wants nothing more than to be chosen for The Testing so she can sit for the examination that determines those who go to the University and become the next generation of leaders.  Cia comes from the smallest colony of the newly recolonized United States (now United Commonwealth).  She has pushed herself to learn as much as possible so she can help rebuild the world the way her father has.  But though she is well-versed in physics and calculus, coming from a community where everyone wants the best for everyone has in many ways made her unprepared for the sometimes less than cooperative spirit than exists in other parts of the country.

Tom Pluck Beer Cia and Tomas make a great team. They’re both skilled and smart, with their own strengths and weaknesses. Cia can handle herself and knows machines, which is refreshing for a heroine in any genre or reading level. But Tomas isn’t dead weight either. I also enjoyed the puzzles and challenges Cia had to get through, which make the SATs seem like a breeze. What was your inspiration for the book?

Joelle  For the last decade, I’ve worked closely with my private voice students as they navigate the testing, application and audition process required to be accepted into college.  The pressure on our high school students is greater than ever before. The need to be better and brighter than the other applicants has never been more keenly felt.  Students are hyper aware that every answer they give could impact the quality of their future. Trust me when I say that I get a lot of phone calls from my students during these months. The teacher and parent in me is worried that the benchmark of success has risen too high and that the tests we are giving are not the type of measurements we should be using to judge our students.  The writer couldn’t help but wonder how much worse the process could become and what tests a future world might want to institute in order to select the next generation of leaders.   And I think it’s safe to say I truly hated taking the SATs.  It was one experience in my life that I’m glad I never have to repeat.

Tom Pluck Beer I see a lot of parallels to education today in the book, which I think will resonate with readers of all ages. How “the right school” makes all the difference, the importance placed on standardized tests, and the tough decisions we make as children, like whether to cheat or not, or whether to team up or look out for number one. Do you think school is a lot tougher for kids today?

Joelle  I do think that school is tougher for kids today.  More than anything I think that our education has changed in the past fifteen years and not necessarily for the better.  There is so much emphasis on test taking.  Teachers are hamstrung by the need to structure their classes in order to achieve high scores.  The problem is that the true measure of a student is not who gets the best grade.  Sometimes those that learn the most do so because they have been challenged, fail that challenge and then are forced to pick themselves up and face the challenge again.  We need to allow our students the chance to fail in order to give them the tools to succeed.  I think that is often forgotten in the midst of judging students by the number they get on a standardized test.

Tom Pluck Beer Your books are known for their humor. The frisky grandpa in Skating Around the Law, and Paige in the Glee Club mysteries. Was it tough to go life or death in a forbidding future for THE TESTING?

Joelle  Ha!  I love Pop in the Skating books and Paige is a great deal of fun to write.  But strangely, while writing a darker themed book was a different challenge, I didn’t find it that it was any more difficult to write.  Perhaps because I wrote the first book for me.  I didn’t know anything about the young adult side of the publishing business.  I just had an idea and I wrote hoping that I could bring the world in my head to life.  For me, writing something not funny was an exciting chance to push myself without having to worry about anyone’s expectations.


The Testing’s book trailer

Tom Pluck Beer I admired the world-building in THE TESTING. The future is familiar enough- post World War 3, with all sorts of weapons of mass destruction laying waste to the Earth- but also refreshing, in that the civilization that has risen up isn’t led by mohawked bikers, it’s smart people banding together. There is something sinister behind the United Commonwealth, but it’s not obvious at first. I hope it was as much fun to write as it was to read. Is science fiction a genre you’d like to return to?

Joelle Thank you again for such a lovely compliment.  I had a wonderful time exploring the world of The Testing throughout the three books of the trilogy.  I think that all societies have a balance of good intentions and bad execution.  The circumstances that forced the creation of the United Commonwealth government also created the need for the leaders to advocate for the advancement of science.  If you can’t drink the water or eat the food you can’t live.  The choices that are made to continue the advancement of society under those conditions can be difficult to make and feel sinister.

Until writing this trilogy, I was a fan of science fiction, but was never certain I could effectively build a world from the ground up.  Turns out, I love the challenge and I am hoping that I get to turn my hand to a new science fiction story in the very near future.  Fingers crossed!

Tom Pluck Beer The Testing trilogy is also your first foray into YA fiction. I recall on Twitter that you said you enjoyed the freedom that writing YA gave you. Care to go into detail now that you have more than 140 characters?

Joelle I did say that!  To be completely honest, I didn’t set out to write young adult.  The story idea I had required a teen protagonist in order for it to work.  The story also required suspense, relationships, science fiction world building, a bit of mystery.  There is also a bit of a romance and who knows how many other elements that are typical hallmarks of different genres.  As writers, we often hear that the first question a sales or marketing department asks about a new book is “Where does it get shelved?”  For that reason, it can often be hard for a new author to combine elements from multiple genres.  There can also be restrictions based on how much or low little violence, explicit language should be in various adult genre books.  But Young Adult isn’t divided on shelves by category distinctions and while some young adult books shy away from violence or explicit words, other books use them liberally.  The only rule is to create the best story possible.  Which I think is a rule all writers and readers can appreciate.

Tom Pluck Beer Last but not least, being a dystopian novel that puts young people in a challenge, it will be compared to Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. While those books put the kids on a murderous reality show, The Testing is set in a more dangerous world, which reminded me a little bit of Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, where the earth has turned against us, and the stakes are much higher. Have you read any of those books, and what would you say to the fans who pick up yours?

Joelle I will say that I have read both Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.  Both are very strong books which some similarities, but funny enough I found the purpose of those books to be very different.  Dystopian or post-apocalyptic novels have a great deal in common, but I am hoping that readers of other dystopian books will find The Testing to have a story that is compelling and characters that make them want to keep turning the pages.

Tom Pluck Beer I said that was the last question, but this is for extra credit. You are about to be cast out into the wasteland outside the Commonwealth. You can choose one last piece of music to listen to, a book to bring with you, and one last meal before you go. What are they?

Joelle EEEK!  Just one song and book?  Okay, well, if I only get one song it will be One Day More from Les Miserable.  And the book would have to be The Stand by Stephen King.  As for a last meal – well, I’m thinking Lasagna.  If for no other reason that it would be a good idea to carb up!

 
 

Tom Pluck Beer Thank you for dropping by, Joelle. I truly enjoyed the book and wish you great success. I found it smart and entertaining, a little more Star Trek than an explosive science fiction tale, but just as much fun.

~*~*~*~

Joelle Joelle Charbonneau is a former opera and musical theater performer turned author of funny mysteries and not so funny young adult novels. She lives in Chicago with her husband and son. THE TESTING will be published 6/4/13 by Hought-Mifflin-Harcourt.

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The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

I interviewed the incredibly talented Joelle Charbonneau about her latest novel, a dystopian YA thriller entitled THE TESTING that recalled ENDER’S GAME and the FALLOUT video games, for THE BIG THRILL. 

(Click the title above to go to The Big Thrill)

 

Belly Up to the Bar with Dan O’Shea

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Dan O’Shea is the author of PENANCE, an epic thriller of family secrets and Chicago corruption, his long-awaited debut novel hits the streets on April 30th from Exhibit A books. Dan’s story “Done for the Day” appears in Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT, and “Thin Mints” is a favorite of mine, from Crimefactory, collected in Dan’s collection OLD SCHOOL. I got acquainted with Dan through his story challenge to benefit tornado victims. He’s got a big heart only rivaled by his talent, and when they get together there’s a story worth reading.

Tom Pluck Beer Welcome to Belly Up to the Bar, Dan. What’ll you have?
 
 
 

dan oshea thumb A proper Manhattan – so two parts bourbon (or better yet, rye whiskey if you have it), one part sweet vermouth, a splash of bitters, a cherry (and a little bit of that sugary juice from the cherry jar please, ‘cause I’m so sweet). Serve that in a rocks glass over ice. When I go to a bar and order a Manhattan and they bring it neat in a Martini glass, then I know the place is too precious for me by half.

Tom Pluck Beer I think we bonded over charity and our bent noses. How many times have you busted yours? The first picture I saw of you looked like you went a round with Tyson before turned actor.
 

dan oshea thumb Three. And I’m hoping to give up the habit. First time was playing sandlot ball as a kid. Nobody remembered to bring a catcher’s mask, but I figured what the hell, I’d played catcher plenty of times, couldn’t remember ever taking one square on the mask. That ended predictably. Then there was my abortive boxing career, something I messed around with in my callow youth. I was in the Joe Frazier, destroy-the-body-and-the-head-will-fall school, so I ate a lot of jabs with my beak trying to get inside. Made the mistake of eating a hook instead. The picture you saw was from the famous squirrel incident. Out riding my bike and a suicidal squirrel jumped right into my front tire at point-blank range. I broke my fall with my face, which was just as well. No point messing up any of my better features. Actually, the first couple busted noses left my schnoz a tad off center. This last one seems to have straightened it out a bit. So this would be an excellent time to quit.

Tom Pluck Beer Ha, that’s my strategy. I got no reach, so I get in the pocket and hook the liver. Tell us a little about PENANCE, your crime thriller set in Chicago. Your tales of the old town make your blog a joy to read. I imagine you’ve spun some of that history into the book.
 

 Penance

dan oshea thumb PENANCE is divided between Chicago in 1971 and Chicago today (well, my version of Chicago). The backstory deals with some fictional events following up on the very real murder of Fred Hampton, head of the Black Panther party, by the Chicago police, with an assist from the FBI. OK, nobody was charged with murder or convicted of murder, but that’s what it was. I was a kid at the time, and I remember how Hampton was demonized in the media. Actually, the whole civil rights era movement made quite an impression on me. I remember the rioting after King was assassinated, watching my grandparents’ old neighborhood go up in flames.  PENANCE has a couple of intersecting story lines in which the sins of the fathers come back to haunt the sons a generation later, and the city’s history and its culture of corruption feed into both of those.

Tom Pluck Beer You also wrote a book with Shakespeare as sleuth, ROTTEN AT THE HEART. And a short story written in Elizabethan English, in Needle Magazine. What intrigues you about that setting, and writing in that voice? Will we see more of your historical crime tales from this era?
 

dan oshea thumb The Shakespeare stuff grew out of a conversation with my daughter when she was taking a Shakespeare class in college. She asked what would happen if Shakespeare wrote noir. The easy answer is Othello, ‘cause it don’t get much more noir than that. But I’ve always been a bit of a Shakespeare fan boy and that gave me an itch, which I scratched with the story for NEEDLE (The Bard’s Confession on the Matter of the Despoilment of the Fishmonger’s Daughter). Thing is, the scratching just made the itch worse, so the story turned into a whole novel, my first first-person detective tale, except the detective is none other than Billy Shakespeare forced into the unhappy role of Elizabethan gumshoe by his patron.

Now, you give me way too much credit when you say “Elizabethan English.” Pretty much my own low-rent version of faux Elizabethan English. But I love having an excuse to dump the stripped-down, Mies Van Der Rohe less-is-more verbiage that is the lingua franca of crime fiction and get a little Rococo. What I noticed writing it was that the faux Elizabethan language isn’t just an exercise in translation. It’s not like I write a scene in “regular” English and then translate into my fake Elizabethan. I have to actually get into a different mindset. Language is the medium of thought. When you change the way you use language, you end up changing the way you think. Because the language in the Shakespeare book is fuller, more discursive, so is the thinking.

Part of that, too, is writing in first person. Up until now, all my novel writing has been in third person. It’s been dialog driven. I moved the story along using multiple points of view and cutting between regularly and rapidly. My style doing that is almost ADD. First person is far more introspective. Where my style previously had been pretty terse, with a lot of very short sentences and even sentence fragments, this took on a flowing, almost stream of consciousness feel.

I thought the Shakespeare thing would be a quirky experiment, something I’d end up doing for my own gratification just to scratch an itch, but when I ran it past Stacia Decker (who’s one hell of an agent, by the way) she thought it was worth shopping around. Turned out she was right. Not quite ready for a formal announcement on the Shakespeare front yet, but I’ll just say you can count on seeing more from the Bard soon. (I’m such a tease. Here, let me flash a little thigh for you.)

Old School

 
 

Tom Pluck Beer My favorite crime film, THIEF, is set in Chicago, based on crook Frank Hohimer’s self-aggrandizing memoir, THE HOME INVADERS. And Eugene Izzi is one of my big influences. Still think PROWLERS is one of the best reads out there. Who are some of your favorite Chicago writers?

dan oshea thumb Izzi’s great. Saul Bellow wasn’t born here, but he was a long-time Chicago guy and he’s a personal favorite. Nelson Algren of course. Studs Terkel. Scott Turow and Sara Paretsky are probably the reigning royals so far as crime fiction goes, though Turow’s also done other stuff. There is the irrepressible Joelle Charbonneau of not-quite-cozy fame (she’s got two series, one set around the misadventures of a Chicago woman sucked into running a downstate roller rink and the other mixing the world of Glee with murder and mayhem. And she’s about the take the YA world by storm with her Testing trilogy.) Kent Gowran’s a guy to watch – he’s the one that got Shotgun Honey up and running.

Tom Pluck Beer Your story “Done for the Day” was one of my favorites from Protectors. There is a gripping emotional undercurrent in it, and all your work. What’s the well you draw from for your fiction?

 

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dan oshea thumb Two of my kids have developmental disabilities, so I know the challenges involved with that, know some of the bad shit that can happen. That’s what gave rise to Done for the Day, the idea that you can try to do everything right and still have it all go wrong. I don’t know that I can define any wellspring for my fiction. I know I’ve always preferred stories where the characters matter more than, or at least as much as, the plot. The types of thrillers where the characters are just props that shoot guns and drive cars fast, I hate those. Give me a textured, sometimes tortured, character like James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux over a one-note tough guy like Mike Hammer any day. Give me one of Le Carre’s morally confused and confusing operatives whose weapon is his mind over Jason Bourne and his quasi-ninja antics.

Beyond that though, I don’t know how to explain what comes from where. Life isn’t simple, neither are people. Stories shouldn’t be either.

Tom Pluck Beer I’m with you. Everything starts with a character, for me. You shared several stories from PENANCE’s tough Chicago world (you can read them here). But what’s next in store for John Lynch?
 

dan oshea thumb I’m wrapping up the second book in the Lynch series (though I think of them more as the Chicago series – the books have pretty sizable casts, so it feels a bit off to refer to them as just the Lynch series). Book two is entitled Mammon and centers on what happens when a guy who’d grown up in the Chicago area and the left town for the Marines, then the Foreign Legion and then a long, checkered career in Africa comes home with some stolen blood diamonds, and with Al Qaeda, the Chicago mob and the head of a Mexican drug cartel on his tail. Lynch and much of the cast of Penance are back, trying to make sense of – and clean up – the mess.

The man. The legend. The jacket.
The man. The legend. The jacket.

Tom Pluck Beer Sounds fantastic. Before you go, choose one album, one book, and one meal as if they’d be your last.

 
 

dan oshea thumb So many crime writers I know are into the whole heavy metal thing, but if I’m going with one album, it’s probably Late for the Sky by Jackson Browne. (Catch me on another day when I’m in a louder mood and it would be Quadrophenia by The Who. For the book, I’m gonna give you a high-brow, low-brow combo of Herzog by Saul Bellow and Dirty White Boys by Stephen Hunter.  Last meal’s gotta be St. Louis style ribs and really good sweet corn on the cob.

Tom Pluck Beer Jackson Browne is a favorite. His songs have the weary sadness of a continually disappointed optimist. And I do believe we shared such a meal at Pappy’s in St. Louis, no? Or was I in a euphoric stupor? Thanks for dropping in, Dan. If you go to Bouchercon, Dan’s the man in the techni-paisley stud-coat. You cannot miss him, nor should you. He’s a fine gent to jaw with.

Dan will be reading from PENANCE on May 3rd at Lake Forest Bookstore in his mellifluous baritone. The Velvet Fog may be gone, but the Thunder-Dome has risen to take his place. You can hear Dan read his story “Done for the Day” here.

"You shoulda seen the squirrel."
“You shoulda seen the squirrel.”

Feeding Kate: Helping a Friend

My good friend Sabrina, of the crime fiction blog My Friends Call Me Kate, needs jaw surgery. She has Lupus. If you know anyone with this painful, joint-damaging disease, or if you’ve read the Dave Robicheaux novels by James Lee Burke- you know what’s she’s going through. And this gal loves her some cheeseburgers and cupcakes. Something I can appreciate.

Her insurance won’t pay for it- and instead of waiting for our country to enter the mid-20th century, we’re going to help her ourselves with an IndieGoGo campaign. Laura Benedict, Laura Curtis, Clare Toohey and Neliza Drew got us together to write stories for our cheeseburger-loving and crime fiction reading friend. The book is called FEEDING KATE, and we’ve got a hell of a line-up:

  • Ellie Anderson
  • Laura Benedict
  • Stephen Blackmoore
  • Joelle Charbonneau
  • Laura K. Curtis
  • Hilary Davidson
  • Neliza Drew
  • Chad Eagleton
  • Jenny Gardiner
  • Daryl Wood Gerber
  • Kent Gowran
  • Chris F. Holm
  • Dan O’Shea
  • Ron Earl Phillips
  • Thomas Pluck
  • Chad Rohrbacher
  • Linda Rodriguez
  • Johnny Shaw
  • Josh Stallings
  • Clare Toohey
  • Steve Weddle
  • Chuck Wendig
  • Holly West

All the proceeds will go to her surgery, and any left over will go to the American Lupus Foundation. For $5 you get a copy of the e-book, and for $18 you’ll get a print copy made through Lightning Source, by pros.

And if you like my fiction, you’ll get a Jay Desmarteaux story. He’s the lead in my novel Bury the Hatchet, a Cajun boy who likes a cheeseburger now and then himself. He’s a bully-hating bruiser who runs afoul of a biker gang in the Utah desert, who blame him for picking off their riders with his Cadillac. Their lawyer, a leather-clad lady biker named Kate, makes him a deal he can’t refuse: Take out the killer vehicle with a trunk full of nitro… if you loved “Duel” this one will be for you, and the only place to read it will be in … Feeding Kate!