Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Nostalgia as Narcotic

Scott's Note:  Voter suppression remains an issue of great concern in this country, so fiction on the topic is always welcome.  The Low Down Dirty Vote, Volume 3 anthology is now out with 22 stories of mystery and suspense that address the issue and that explore the question of what democracy looks like, and contributor James McCrone, who also contributed a story to Low Down Dirty Vote, Volume 2, is here as a guest blogger to tell us about it.

Here's James:

 Nostalgia as Narcotic

by James McCrone

We've been here before. 

When I settled on the title for my story, “Nostalgia,” my contribution to the Low Down Dirty Vote, Volume 3 anthology, I would hear Gil Scott Heron’s gorgeous, resonant voice from “B Movie,” booming in my head, telling me like it is. Eloquently calling into question Ronald Reagan’s so-called “mandate” in 1980, he notes ironically that “what this country wants now is nostalgia...not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backward—to a time when we gave ‘em hell, when the buck stopped somewhere and you could still buy something with it! To a time when movies was in black-and-white, and so was everything else...” 

Low Down Dirty Vote, Volume 3: The Color of My Vote arrived this month, with 22 stories that explore the unsettling reality of life at a global inflection point. It drew award-winning writers and writers who are being published for the first time from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences from around the globe. The anthology will donate $10,000 to Democracy Docket, which is “dedicated to providing information, opinion and analysis about voting rights and more.” 

And it couldn’t be more timely.

But we have been here before, and as Gil Scott Heron points out, nostalgia for the supposed good old days elides the very real ugliness of the past. And many of the stories contained in LDDV-3 address that history. My contribution to LDDV-3, “Nostalgia,” began as mob history seen through the present-day, jaundiced eyes of my young narrator, a petty thief; and the kernel from which the story grew was our national dysfunction—well, one of them—the strange, lingering belief that things were somehow better, fairer, more just in some bygone era. 

Living where I do, in South Philadelphia, I’ve actually overheard conversations about how things were better ordered, or made more sense when Wise Guys ruled the roost. And I’ve thought, “Wait...what?” The narrator of the story is both taken in and repulsed by these people trying to relive the past—“like they were all living together in some movie where the world still made sense.” And still falls victim to his own brand of myopic nostalgia. Until he doesn’t.  

As I worked on the piece I began to see the wannabe-mobsters in the story as not merely contemptible, but dangerous. It struck me that the root of reactionary efforts to suppress and disenfranchise voters might issue from a similar misbegotten longing for a time that never really existed, like those conversations I’d overheard. 

As the story came together, I found that I liked that something more-or-less benign, like nostalgia, could be a malignant, negative force. And with the thumping backbeat of Scott Heron’s “B Movie” pumping in my head I found myself pulling Docherty, by William McIlvanney, down from my shelf, chasing a quote I dimly remembered. Early in the book, the character Miss Gilfillan, unable to sleep, takes “a dose of nostalgia like a drug…” 

And I had what I needed to complete the story. Nostalgia as drug was more apt than I knew at the time. In “Nostalgia,” a reactionary group takes over the drug trade to finance its attack on the government, an American Taliban. Wannabe mobsters, dirty cops, and a petty thief trying to make his way—each character lies to himself about the way things once were, and about what lies behind the things they do now. 

Low Down Dirty Vote, Volume. 3, The Color of My Vote, features work by Anshritha, Eric Beetner, Stephen Buehler, Patricia E Canterbury, Sarah M Chen; David Corbett, Jackie Ross Flaum, Katharina Gerlach, Barb Goffman, David Hagerty; myself, Camille Minichino, Ann Parker, Thomas Pluck, Miguel Alfonso Ramos; Ember Randall, Travis Richardson, Faye Snowden, Misty Sol; DJ Tyrer, Gabriel Valjan, and Bev Vincent.


For Democracy Docket: 


For Low Down Dirty Vote, Volume. 3: 


#  #  #

James McCrone is the author of the Faithless Elector series novels—Faithless Elector, Dark Network, and Emergency Powers—“taut” and “gripping” political thrillers about a stolen presidency. His work has appeared in Rock and a Hard Place; Retreats from Oblivion: The Journal of NoirCon. His next novel, currently under review, is Bastard Verdict, a political thriller set in Scotland. He’s currently at work on a thriller set in Oregon’s wine country, a (pinot) Noir tale of corruption and murder.

He’s a member of MWA, Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers, ITW, Philadelphia Dramatists’ Center and he’s the vice-president of the Delaware Valley Sisters in Crime chapter. James has an MFA from the University of Washington in Seattle. A Pacific Northwest native (mostly), he lives in South Philadelphia with his wife and three children.

You can learn more at http://jamesmccrone.com.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Great Summer Writing Season

Scott D. Parker

Here in the United States, summer officially begins on Monday. Memorial Day. It ends 97 days later on Labor Day, 5 September.  I know it is a great time to travel, watch summer blockbuster movies (by the time this is posted, I’ll have already seen Top Gun: Maverick), catch up on some TV, sit on the patio or beach or dock and sip something cold, and just enjoy the summer vibe.

But it can also be used to write.

Think of it: perfect bookends. There is a beginning and an end. There are 97 days of summer if you don’t include either holiday but do count weekends. If you were to write up to 1,000 words per day, more or less an hour, you’d have a novel.

Okay, you say, what about weekends? There are 28 Saturdays and Sundays this summer. Doing the math, that is 69 weekdays. At 1,000 words a day, that 69,000 words, still a novel.

But let’s say you don’t reach 1,000 words a day. What if you only spend 30 minutes a day and produce 500 words? That’s 48,500 words, a nice short novel. If you take out the weekends, that brings you down to 34,500 words, still very respectable.

And I’m only thinking novels here. Imagine if you wrote a short story per week. That’s 14 new short stories.

This is just to get you thinking about continuing your writing during what Dean Wesley Smith calls the Time of Great Forgetting, when your New Year’s Day resolutions to write more are ignored. You can do this. Just start on Monday and keep going.

I’ll be finishing up a novel rather than starting a new one. And I’ll also be preparing for the Great Departure: my son will be moving out and continuing his college coursework. Sigh. It is time. It is supposed to happen, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

The writing part is, however, pretty straightforward. Just sit and write. Keep at it long enough and you’ll reach those magical words: The End. And summer is a great time to keep that habit going.  

Side Note: Namedropped

It’s not every day when a famous author reads a post and responds.

I always read Max Allan Collins’s blog so imagine my surprise when I saw my own name. It seems he read and responded to my post from last week regarding Legacy Authors and That Last Book. I nearly swallowed my coffee down the wrong pipe when I saw it. He provided some extra examples to address the question I posed. How cool is that?

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Jerry Bloomfield collection

By Jerry Bloomfield

Hello, everybody. And thanks to Steve Weddle for giving me a chance to do this. Some of you may know or maybe seen my name. I’m Jerry Bloomfield, originally from Kentucky now living on the east coast of Canada. I come from one land of storytellers and now live in a different one and it’s something I have been doing myself for about as long as I can remember.

And having those stories published for ten years now. Which is amazing to me. Growing up scribbling in notebooks then filling floppy disks, somehow, I never quite thought other people would read my stuff or even want to. I knew what an author was, of course, saw the names on the books, the little bio in the back, but that I could do that, be that? It just never quite occurred to me. And now here we are, ten years since I was first published, since someone other than me read something I wrote and thought other people would want to as well. Ten years of improvement, each story better than the last, each one letting me stretch and learn.

Home Is… and Other Stories is a collection of those years, that early stuff put out just as it was originally published, an author’s career up to the present day. Stories that come from a lifetime of hearing and reading stories from every type, and, when it comes to fishing, even creative nonfiction. These are stories that range from a weird Wild West to intergalactic bounty hunters and people on earth just doing the best they can. Stories that will make you cry, make you think, and maybe change your view of the world. From a man who lost everything, including his compassion, to a young man who discovered that sometimes the friends that really have your back are the ones you least expect. That charming boat captain who will drop you without a thought if the price is right.

"Home Is…," the title story of the collection, is a story I’m really proud of, for a number of reasons. We all know the hate that LGBTQ+ people around the world are subjected to, and its also something that I’m particularly sensitive to as a queer man from Kentucky. And the way it can hits when its your own family, can be a particular kind of hell. This story is one response to that. The whole thing started with the idea ‘they say you can’t go home again. But sometimes you have to.’ And so I had to find out why. Protecting people, reaching out to help, those are pretty damn good reasons. What happens when people can’t be who they are? Who have to hide parts of themselves from even family? And what happens when they see that pattern starting all over again? It can get better, but we have to make it happen.

The good ol' crime stuff is here too. "Rum Runners" is a gangster/bootlegger story, drawn partly from the Maritime region of Canada I now live in and a long time love for mobster stories. "Stray Bullet" asks what happens when you take everything away from a man and nobody cares? Are you one of the browncoats still mad that Firefly was cancelled? Take a look at "Bounty."

You can find it on the kindle machines here and if you prefer, you can get the PDF over at Ko-fi to read on your favourite device. All my thanks to those who have already bought it and to those who may, and I hope everyone enjoyed the trip as much as I did.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

We Are Sick, And the Mercury is Rising

By Paul J. Garth

Today, I was planning on talking about my book that comes out in a week. 

I had this whole thing written, how I came to write the book, my fears about taking on the project, the writing process itself, my feelings on the final version, and how the whole process had a purging quality. 

But now... no. 

In the face of horror, it doesn't feel like any of that really fucking matters, does it? 

Part of me feels like I need to say something profound, something to make the pain of this, if not manageable, than at least understandable. Isn't that our job as writers? But I've got nothing. 

All I have is the fact that I'm scared and horrified and sad and angry. 

Angry beyond fucking words. 

That this has happened again. 

That our decaying country has let this happen again. 

That it seems to insist, in deeds if not words, that this should happen again. Over and over and over.

Part of me didn't even want to write this much. 

I know someone is going to come at me and accuse me of making this real life horror Political. But that's bullshit. 

Making something Political implies that the topic is divisive. 

But, friends, if you think the phrase "Grade Schoolers have a right not to be shot to death in their fucking classroom" is divisive, you and I are on very different trajectories. And it's probably best we go our separate ways. 

Something needs to change in this country. 

We are sick, and the mercury is rising. 

Will we be able to reverse course? 



Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Delhi Crime

On someone's recommendation, I recently watched the seven-part series Dehli Crime on Netflix.  It's a police procedural, shot and set in Dehli, based on the real-life 2012 Dehli gang rape and murder case. That was the case in which a young woman, out at night with a male friend of hers after they had seen a movie, was raped, beaten and tortured by six men in the back of a bus in southwestern Dehli.  Her boyfriend was beaten as well, though not nearly as badly as she was, and the assailants threw the couple off the bus and left both for dead at the side of the road.  Someone discovered them there and alerted the police. The series begins in the immediate aftermath of the crime and follows the police work that led, somewhat remarkably, to the quick arrest -- within six days -- of all the assailants. It also shows the social fallout from the case.  There is much public anger, protests against the police and their failure to protect women from the ongoing horror of gang rapes.  And there is a freewheeling media that stokes the outrage people feel and that eggs on the backlash against a police force widely considered inept and incompetent. At the same time, while the police do their work, there is political maneuvering behind the scenes, as some in government for their own ends angle to overhaul certain command structures within the police force.  

Show writer and director Richie Mehta got the idea to do the series from a conversation he had with the former Commissioner of the Dehli Police, Neeraj Kumar.  And it's clear that everything was done to get as much authenticity as possible into the shoot.  The lead investigator, played by actress Shefali Shah, is based on a former deputy commissioner of police in Dehli named Chhaya Sharma, with whom Shah worked a lot in preparation.  Her character leads a team comprised mainly of men but also of a couple of key women investigators, and how the police do their jobs and live their lives here is something I found quite interesting.  They hardly live lives like the police in the United States. The Indian police are underpaid, have no union, work atrociously long hours and get no overtime, and the resources they have, under normal circumstances, are pretty limited.  As part of the backdrop of the show as well, as I just mentioned, is the general low esteem in which the police seem to be held in Dehli, huge city that it is.  Even a magistrate Shah's character, DCP Vartika Chaturvedi, goes before, says quite casually that the police, when bothering to do their jobs at all, probably spend a good bit of time in places like five-star hotels. When, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  The police as seen here, at least this group working on this case, really are city servants doing their best under trying circumstances.  When was the last time in a police show, you saw the spouse of an officer bring food to the station so that 1) they have an excuse to actually see their overworked partner who's been sleeping for days at the station and 2) their partner can get a nice home-cooked meal instead of whatever the cops can manage to scrounge together on their unending shift at the station? 

One thing the police here don't have to contend with much, apparently -- guns.  It's eyeopening and somewhat startling to see the police lead rape suspects by the hand, no cuffs anywhere, once they have them in custody. At one point, a female officer, in her plain clothes attire, leads one of the rapists in just this way as she moves him from one location to another, her hand around his wrist.  There is maybe one male police officer with them, by the assailant's other shoulder, and that's it.  While the general public holds little regard for the police force, those caught, at least here, show fear and deference to the authorities once caught.  

I shouldn't end this without saying that as grim as the central crime here is, Dehli Crime is in no way a slog.  It's serious and intense but unfolds also, with its rich panoply of characters and personalities, with a good bit of quiet humor. I found it enthralling and I was glad to read that the series will be back, with the same cast, for a second season.


Sunday, May 22, 2022

Visit Your Local Library

By Claire Booth

Yesterday I got to participate in a Volunteer Appreciation Tea at a local library branch. The event was to thank a group of people who remained dedicated to the library even through the pandemic—masking and gloving up to come inside the building and put returned books in quarantine, bag novels for curbside delivery, and always, always stay six feet apart. 

So I was delighted to come say thank you in person. I was there with fellow author Cindy Fazzi, whose historical fiction novel plucks a Filipino woman named Isabel Rosario Cooper from obscurity and tells the true story of her affair with General Douglas MacArthur. It was a great pairing; we got to contrast historical and contemporary fiction and compare our writing experiences. And we got to talk about all different genres with other people who love books and drink out of fancy china tea cups, so it really was the perfect afternoon.

If you’re an author, one of the best things you can do is reach out to your local libraries. They’re great resources for research, can connect you with other local authors, tell you about community events and give you the means to keep your addiction to reading going strong by cheerfully renewing your library card.

So stop in and introduce yourself. I promise, you’ll make a new friend (hi, Lisa and Thom!).

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Legacy Authors and That Last Book

Scott D. Parker

One of my favorite sub-genres of music is when legacy artists create new music in the 21st Century. I’m not talking about bands like Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, or Def Leppard who never stopped putting out new music. I’m referring to bands like The Beach Boys (That's Why God Made the Radio), Eagles (Long Road Out of Eden), or David Bowie (Blackstar) who go into the studio basically knowing that the soon-to-be-recorded album will be the swan song. The songs can sometimes acknowledge the passing of time, the artists’ ages, and their long careers.

Yesterday, one of my favorite bands joined the ranks of legacy artists creating new music that fits into this mold. Chicago released “If This Is Goodbye,” from their forthcoming album (not sure if they’ll use XXXVIII or a more streamlined 38). From the title alone, you get the vibe of the song. It is a wistful song with a typical surface meaning of two lovers looking back over their lives but we all know what it’s really saying: This band, through triumphs and tragedies and reinventions, has persevered but the end is nigh. Here’s the link.

It is a sobering thought to have yet another band that have been there my entire life reach the end of the road. KISS, my other favorite band, is literally on their End of the Road Tour. But those founding members of Chicago have been working musicians for nearly 60 years, 55 as Chicago. That’s a good, long run, and they deserve to do whatever they way to do, be it touring or just kicking up their heels and marveling at their accomplishments.

Authors, however, are different. At least I think they are.

I don’t presume to know if every single series character ages. I can’t say if Agatha Christie wrote her last Hercule Poirot novel knowing it would be the end or not.

I’ve only recently started reading the novels and blog posts of Max Allan Collins but in his posts, he talks about slowing down. Now, his output is still pretty prolific, but he acknowledges that some of the aspects of writing—namely the research he needs for his historical mysteries—is more challenging that it used to be. Again, I’m not as well versed with his bibliography as others are, but I wonder if he’s going to start writing that final Heller novel knowing it’s the last one.

Didn’t Michael Connelly age Harry Bosch along the way? Ian Fleming died while writing his final James Bond novel so I suspect that he didn’t approach The Man With the Golden Gun in that way. I don’t know about Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone either.

What about authors who, say, haven’t written a book in twenty years and suddenly come out with a new one? I’m not talking about a found manuscript, a la Erle Stanley Gardner’s 2016 novel The Knife Slipped (written in 1939), that is then republished.

Maybe I’m zeroing in on series characters that actually age along with their creators. How many of them got their last book with an eye to the author knowing it was the last book?

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

SPIDERHEAD and What Happens When the Party is Over

 This post was originally going to be about THE LOW WHITE PLAIN, but then I remembered

1. I'm not particularly great at self-promotion, and 

2. It's probably more important to push the book when people can, you know, buy it

so if you're curious about what my writing process was like or the music I listened to that inspired the novella, you'll have to wait for next week. 

Instead, I want to talk about something I've been thinking of for a while now. 

The trailer for the new Netflix film, SPIDERHEAD dropped yesterday. The movie is based on the classic (and, yeah, I don't care that it's less than 15 years old, it's a goddamn classic) George Saunders short story, and it actually looks pretty good. Not as good as the story, mind you, but good. 

I first read "Escape from Spiderhead" a couple of years ago.  I had gone through a Saunders phase years before, but somehow "Escape" had never made it in to my rotation. Probably because it was new and hadn't been collected yet. The friend who insisted I read it was part of my writers group at the time, and we'd just read one of his stories. It was a surreal, almost nightmarish story, about an elevator repair man trying to keep a building from falling down and rolling - like a Katamari Dynasty ball - over the house he shared with his hateful wife, and was directly inspired by Saunders' "Escape from Spiderhead". 

But this, the thing I want to talk about, isn't about the Saunders story. No matter how good it is. Instead, I want to talk about my friend.

My friend (I'm not going to give his name here because I'm not sure how he'd feel being written about - he's a quiet guy!) is an amazing writer. There's a lot of Saunders in his voice (the way characters think things like, "what the heck was that fracas?" and the deadpan, offbeat way they look at the world) but he's still unmistakably him. While Saunders uses his voice to lower expectations and strip the story bare, leaving the reader open to the constantly engaging narrative, my friend uses that voice, or something pretty similar anyway, to make things more and more bizarre until he uppercuts you with a single image or line that makes everything taste like ash in your mouth. 

I remember almost all the stories of his my friend has written. There's the elevator guy story I mentioned above. There was the story about the two guys robbing a haunted house, but the ghosts are a bickering married couple who keep trying to vomit Ghost Juice on the robbers, ineffectually. Another was about a weird man going to church in the middle of a panic attack, trying to walk the line between being neighborly and purposeful, who, in the middle of his panic attack remembers throwing frogs in to the fire as a child and eating a note left by a kidnapping victim. Another involved a fruit stall and, if I'm remembering correctly, a motorcycle that was powered by a certain kind of vegetable (or maybe it was allergic?). 

As outlandish as these stories sound, they were all human. Heartbreakingly human, actually. And though all the stories could have been tightened up or improved in small ways, the core was there, perfect in a way that only the most unique stories can be. They should have been published. They should have been read by lots of people. They should be known. 

When the pandemic happened, our writers group broke off for obvious reasons, and now that it's in the middle is it over it's never going to be over it's going to get worse is this as good as its going to get? phase, it hasn't resumed yet. 

But if my group ever does get back together, I'm not sure my friend will be there. 

We've stayed in touch through the pandemic, of course, but any time writing comes up, he stays quiet.

I hope I'm wrong, I hope he's 300 pages in to a bizarre and truthful and heartfelt novel about robots from mars invading a dildo factory or something, but I worry he's moved on. That writing, for him, is something he'll want to get back to, but may never do. And that breaks my heart. It makes me wonder why, for some of us, writing becomes this sustained thing, this ritual in our lives, and for others it becomes a candle that eventually burns out. It makes me wonder what will happen if my own candle burns out. If that ever comes to pass, will I simply shrug and move on, an invisible weight lifted off my shoulders? Will I mourn it? Or does it happen gradually, so that you don't even notice it? And how does it feel when you do notice? Can you get it back?

What happens when the party is over? 

This is all maudlin and overly-introspective and slightly anxiety filled (and probably my own exhaustion after having written so much the last few months and my anxiety at taking a few nights off to play video games and the inevitable jitters of having a book coming out in two weeks), and it's as much about missing my friend and his strange but touching stories as it is about writing in general, but I wonder. 

Sometime, in the hopefully near future, our group will get together again. 

And hopefully, I will have something to bring. Something to share, something to be critiqued and pulled apart so that I can make it better. 

And hopefully, hopefully, my friend will be there too, and I'll get to read his stories and the weird way he sees the world and its people (so weird, but so able to be touched) and I'll know that either it never leaves you at all, or that the party actually doesn't have an invitation and you can come back any time. 


Monday, May 16, 2022

P.I. Tales

 A picture containing calendar

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By Marietta Miles

In 2022 Michael Pool, Denver mystery writer and private detective, started P.I. Tales Publishing in order to spotlight stories about modern detectives written with old-school style. Along with traditional novels, P.I. Tales features the popular Double Feature series.

Each Double Feature release contains two classic but quick detective mystery novellas. These volumes can be read in one sitting and there is no skimping on thrill or detail. With three titles to choose from the series has a little something for everyone.

P.I. Tales Double Feature

Book 1

Crimson Smile / The Path of Jackals: A P.I. Tales Double Feature 

In Michael Pool's Crimson Smile, private investigator Rick Malone has seen his share of marriages gone bad. When a wealthy Denver socialite stands accused of murdering her husband, Rick is called in to run an investigation into her claims of self-defense. But his client's needs soon diverge from the facts, and those facts have the power to end more than just Malone's career, they could also end his life.

In Hunter Eden's The Path of Jackals, former war correspondent Fennec Suleiman lives and works as a private detective in Egypt. When a fame-obsessed American teenager goes missing in Cairo, Fennec is called in by the girl's superficial parents to find her. The investigation soon takes him to Cairo's darkest corners, though none darker than his internal struggle to balance reality against the visions of Anubis that constantly plague him. Can Fennec find the girl before she discovers the true price of fame?

Book 2

Hallmarks Of The Job / Aloha Boys: A P.I. Tales Double Feature 

In Frank Zafiro's Hallmarks of the Job, Meticulous private investigator Stanley Melvin likes to keep his work grounded in reality, not at all like the classic detective novels he has read incessantly since childhood. But his best friend and annoying neighbor Rudy quickly points out that his routine "cheater" case is rapidly taking on all of the features that Stanley steadfastly insists are mere fictional tropes of the genre.

In Michael Bracken's Aloha Boys, Private investigator Morris Ronald “Moe Ron” Boyette is still adjusting to his new digs above Millie’s Tattoos and Piercings when a homeless woman hires him to find her missing half-brother. Searching for the young man sends Boyette through the depraved underbelly of the local university, reunites him with a mob boss best left in his past, and leads him to question everything he thought he knew about families.

Book 3

Dixon Guidry Gets Lost / All Souls Are Final: A P.I. Tales Double Feature 

In William Dylan Powell's Dixon Guidry Gets Lost, Dixon Guidry trudged to a Deer Park refinery with his beat-up lunchbox every day for twenty years. Every day but his last day on the job, that is. With few friends, no family, and no clue as to why he disappeared, Guidry seems to have gone up in smoke. And as his Happy Retirement sheet cake sits uneaten in the office refrigerator, his former employer is desperate to uncover Guidry’s whereabouts. That’s where oilfield-worker-turned-private investigator Roughneck Mike comes in.

In Will Viharo's All Souls Are Final, a long-buried memory resurfaces in retired private eye Vic Valentine’s tormented psyche, forcing him to reckon with a pivotal event in his past while recovering from a psychotic break in his present. Most of the action revolves around his erotic, erratic experiences with a secret satanic pornography cult in turn-of-the- twentieth-century Los Angeles, as he is seduced into a decadent den of delirious danger by a sexy client whose mysterious boyfriend Vic accidentally killed. Or did he? Discover the shocking truth in a sordid series of twists and turns down this rocky road to raunchy ruin.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Moderation Can Be a Good Thing


Scott D. Parker

I’ll admit something: it’s been harder than I expected to get back into the writing routine after it laid dormant for a couple of months. Which is odd considering I like this book (why else would I be up to chapter 31 of it) and want to get to the end—I’ve mapped out the scenes up through chapter 39 so it’s not like I don’t have a road map.

Part of the reason I’ll admit is health. I’m healthy, eat well, and walk about two miles every day per week except Fridays and Saturdays. But it’s the lack of sleep that’s actually started to get to me.

There are more things I want to do on any given day and there’s just not enough time to do them. That includes writing, living, working, being with the family, and doing my own thing (usually reading or watching a show). As a result, I recently found myself staying up later in the evenings (a little past 11pm) but still waking up at 5am. After starting off as an evening writer, I’ve become a morning writer.

Every time the alarm went off this past week, however, the body was having none of it. Usually I all but jump out of bed, but this week was a struggle. I actually felt myself dragging throughout the day, including when I’m in the office three days a week. I even resorted to a 15-minute power nap in my office, doors closed, reclined in my office chair, the legs up on one of those padded-top short filing cabinets. After those power naps, I’m good, but its necessity cut into my lunch hour writing time.

And that irritated me. I would have to do something about that.

Late last year as I was enduring some harsh times at the day job, I found myself drinking more. I never got drunk, but I’d have the five o’clock cocktail and then wine at nine almost every day. It wasn’t a good habit to keep, so when Lent rolled around, I gave up alcohol. First couple of days were not hard, but I certainly wanted to keep the muscle memory of drinking alive.

But on Easter, I didn’t rush to the liquor cabinet and make a cocktail. Instead, I reminded myself that it’s perfectly fine to have a glass of wine or a martini but I didn’t need to have both every day. Heck, I could have a day or two per week in which I don’t have any alcohol and let that become the new normal.

Couple the lack of enough sleep with the more limited alcohol intake since Easter and both things got me to thinking that a little bit of moderation can go a long way to a healthy lifestyle. The alcohol consumption is pretty easy: Just limit to one glass of wine on the days I drink and save the martini for Fridays and savor the heck out of it. That’s working well and it’s made the martini preparation something more special.

The sleep thing take more of a challenge. I literally have to cut out something I want to do in favor of making sure I get my six hours. That one’s tougher because there’s just so much I want to read and do and write and watch. But how much do I actually enjoy watching a show or reading a book when I'm nodding off?

What the heck does this have to do with writing? Well, moderation.

I’m fortunate to have a day job that takes care of all the bills and insurance and makes sure we have enough money and peace of mind to get us through the days. Granted, it also curtails my writing/watching/family/myself time, but that’s the trade off.

Where the writing part comes in is this: Moderation.

Right now in my writing career, I have no external deadlines. I have internal deadlines for writing and publishing stories well into 2023, but they are well enough in advance that I can write—wait for it—at a moderate pace and achieve my deadlines. The moderate pace will also enable me to do some moderate marketing and not interfere too much into the day-to-day life.

Because that’s the key, right? Sure, I could have kept drinking at last fall's pace, but sooner or later, I’d have hit the wall and the physical health would have suffered so much that the doctor would advise me to stop drinking. That’s no fun. Neither is constantly being tired during the days because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before.

And neither is writing when you’re under the gun. Yes, the old pulp guys using to do that to pay the rent, but guys like Walter Gibson and Lester Dent ultimately suffered physical ailments because of their constant demands.

I’d rather enjoy the writing process in the time I have rather than be sweating a deadline. I sweat deadlines at the day job and of course I’d sweat a fiction deadline if it ever presented itself.

But for now, I’m just enjoying the ride…moderately.

Friday, May 13, 2022

The Post-Antibiotic Era is Here

Guest Post by Chris Holm

Let’s get something straight right off the bat: CHILD ZERO is not a COVID novel. It can’t be, because I’ve been working on it for six years—completing my first draft in January of 2020, when COVID cases still numbered in the hundreds.

And while I’d be delighted to find myself shelved alongside Justin Cronin, Stephen King, and Emily St. John Mandel, the near-future of CHILD ZERO isn’t all that post-apocalyptic, either. Sure, the pillars of society are a little wobbly, but they’ve yet to crumble, and there’s every chance the better angels of humanity may yet prevail.

So what, exactly, is CHILD ZERO? That depends on who you ask.

My publisher, Mulholland Books, describes it as a scientific thriller in the vein of Michael Crichton about our species' next great existential threat—namely, the imminent collapse of the antibiotic era.

Tess Gerritsen, of Rizzoli and Isles fame, called CHILD ZERO “a terrifying look at a world gone mad and the possible plagues to come.”

Chris Holm
Lee Child said it was “really scary” and “highly recommended.”

In their starred review, Publishers Weekly declared it an “alarmingly plausible thriller… fans of Lawrence Wright’s THE END OF OCTOBER won’t want to miss.”

And some other fella from up my way by the name of Stephen King said it’s a thriller that “really thrills” with twists that “go off like a string of firecrackers.” (Say, that’s a snazzy turn of phrase. He might have a future in this business.)

Personally, I like to think of it as a thrilling yarn about a little kid with a big secret that many powerful people would kill to learn—but I won’t deny that I also intended it as a call to action.

See, for years, scientists and medical professionals have been sounding the alarm about the dangers of multidrug-resistant bacteria.

“A post-antibiotic era—in which common infections and minor injuries can kill—far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the twenty-first century,” wrote physician Keiji Fukuda in his foreword to a 2014 World Health Organization report.

“Stop referring to a coming post-antibiotic era,” insisted CDC director Robert Redfield in 2019, “it’s already here. You and I are living in a time when some miracle drugs no longer perform miracles and families are being ripped apart by a microscopic enemy.”

“Unless researchers develop new antibiotics and therapeutics,” cautioned professors Jennie H. Kwon and William G. Powderly in a 2021 editorial for the journal Science, “the decimation of modern medicine will soon become a reality.”

Though their admonitions have garnered coverage from such outlets as BBC News, The New York Times, NPR, Vox, The Washington Post, and Wired, the public at large remains unmoved, likely because they fail to comprehend the enormity of the threat.

It’s not their fault. Widespread antibiotic resistance is a thorny concept, the full ramifications of which are tough for laypeople to wrap their heads around. That’s where I come in.

I’ve been fortunate enough to make my living as a writer for several years, but before that, I was a molecular biologist. I began my career at the University of Virginia’s Department of Internal Medicine, where my research helped identify a molecule that regulates a major virulence factor in the pathogen responsible for amoebic dysentery. Later, while working for a marine biotech startup on the coast of Maine, I discovered a gene in spiny lobster that provided the basis for a United States patent. I then spent several years doing research and development for a Maine-based diagnostic company whose tests help keep our furry friends healthy, and ensure the water on the International Space Station is safe to drink.

My background and experience make me uniquely suited to render, in vivid detail, the terrifying reality of a post-antibiotic world—and, by doing so, educate readers about this looming crisis before it’s too late to avert.

That is the essence of CHILD ZERO.

That is why I spent six years working hard to get it right.


Chris Holm is the author of the cross-genre Collector trilogy, which recasts the battle between heaven and hell as old-fashioned crime pulp; the Michael Hendricks thrillers, which feature a hitman who only kills other hitmen; thirty-odd short stories that run the gamut from crime to horror to science fiction; and the scientific thriller CHILD ZERO. He's also a former molecular biologist with a US patent to his name. Chris’ work has been selected for THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES, named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and won a number of awards, including the 2016 Anthony Award for Best Novel. He lives in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

"I blundered into my dream job:" A chat with Chris Holm

Chris Holm

By Steve Weddle

CHILD ZERO, the new Chris Holm book we've all been waiting for, published this week. Launch day seems to have gone well, as the book went into its second printing on day one.

Fortunately, I was able to chat with Chris Holm during a quieter spell and was surprised to learn about his connection to Ryan Gosling. But first, a few words about the book ->

It began four years ago with a worldwide uptick of bacterial infections: meningitis in Frankfurt, cholera in Johannesburg, tuberculosis in New Delhi. Although the outbreaks spread aggressively and proved impervious to our drugs of last resort, public health officials initially dismissed them as unrelated.

They were wrong. Antibiotic resistance soon roiled across the globe. Diseases long thought beaten came surging back. The death toll skyrocketed. Then New York City was ravaged by the most heinous act of bioterror the world had ever seen, perpetrated by a new brand of extremist bent on pushing humanity to extinction.

Detective Jacob Gibson, who lost his wife in the 8/17 attack, is home caring for his sick daughter when his partner summons him to a sprawling shantytown in Central Park, the apparent site of a mass murder. Jake is startled to discover that, despite a life of abject squalor, the victims died in perfect health—and his only hope of finding answers is a twelve-year-old boy on the run from some very dangerous men.

The Interview

Steve Weddle: This book has been getting starred reviews all over the place. What’s it like to be an overnight success?

Chris Holm: As of this writing, it’s only gotten one starred review, so your choice to pluralize feels like a provocation. Still, everybody who’s read CHILD ZERO seems to like it, which is nice. It’s gratifying to be rewarded for something into which I put so little effort. I mean, I tell people this book took me six years to write, but I spent the majority of that time replaying Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in my pajamas.

SW: Much has been made in the publicity for this one about the collapse of the antibiotic era and the threat of infections. But I don’t want to talk about all that science stuff, because at the heart of this book is, well, the heart of the book – the threat to Jacob Gibson’s family, which feels very real and very personal. What can you tell us about Jacob and his daughter?

CH: Jacob Gibson is a homicide detective in a New York City still reeling from a bioterror attack three years prior that killed nearly one hundred thousand people—his wife, Olivia, included. Had it not been for their infant daughter, Zoe, her death likely would’ve broken Jake.

At the book’s outset, Zoe—now four—comes home from daycare with an infection. These days, that’s a common enough occurrence, and hardly cause for concern. In a world without functioning antibiotics, it can easily prove deadly, and failing to report it to the Department of Biological Security might well cost Jake his job—a risk he’s willing to take to prevent Zoe from being locked away in a dodgy, state-run sanitarium.

SW: OK, I lied. I do want to talk about the science. I’ve read thrillers in which the non-fictiony part overwhelms the story and the characters, stopping any momentum to explain art restoration or religious history of whatever window dressing the author is using for the thriller. But you lay the groundwork here seamlessly, with straightforward talk about antibiotics and infections, about viruses and bacteria. What’s your secret for smoothly delivering all that science stuff?

CH: That’s kind of you to say. To my mind, incorporating some admittedly heady molecular biology without boring the crap out of my audience was the biggest challenge of the book, so I began by laying down a few ground rules.

First, I wanted to keep info-dumps to a minimum, and couch them in scenes that illustrate the real-world implications of the science—or, in other words, no talking heads in lecture halls.

Second, I did my best to use plain English to describe the science—which, for someone who spent two decades of his life in laboratories, isn’t as easy as it sounds—and ran it past nonscientists (my wife, my agent, my editor) to see if it made sense.

Third, I kept paring those sections down until there was nothing left for me to cut without sacrificing their scientific accuracy.

And fourth, I knew I’d need a heaping helping of sugar to help the medicine go down, so I packed the story with breakneck action from start to finish.

SW: Your first Collector novel came out about a decade back and was the first in a trilogy, Seven years back, the first of your two Michael Hendricks novels came out. Any interest in revisiting these stories, either for print or for the screen?

CH: Short answer? Yes. Longer answer? Absolutely.

Truth is, there are several ways this question could be interpreted, but the answer above applies to all of ’em. Would I like to write more Sam Thornton or Michael Hendricks books? Yup. Would I be happy if someone adapted them for the screen? Most definitely. Would I be willing to adapt them for the screen myself? Sure, although I suspect there’d be one hell of a learning curve.

While we’re on the subject, here’s a scoop: though I haven’t talked about it publicly, THE KILLING KIND was optioned ages ago, and is currently in preproduction. Adam Siegel, Ken Kao, and Ryan Gosling (yes, that Ryan Gosling) are producing. Ben Foster is expected to star.

SW: Speaking of your earlier novels, while Child Zero feels like the perfect novel for right now in terms of the zeitgeist, is it also the perfect novel right now for you? Do you feel as if you could only have written this novel at this point in your career? Are there lessons you needed to learn before you got to this point?

CH: I hope it’s the perfect novel for the moment, but the fact is, I never intended for it to come out during a pandemic. I’m as traumatized as anybody by the events of the past few years. That said, the book’s not so much a pandemic story as it is a breakneck thriller set against the backdrop of a pandemic. Time will tell if that’s a distinction without a difference.

As for whether I could’ve written it before now… beats me, but if I had, it wouldn’t be half as good. I’m a stronger writer now than when I started out, and CHILD ZERO still required every trick, technique, and ounce of skill at my disposal.

SW: This may seem like a small thing, but many authors are super concerned about their own brands and how to position themselves, how to stand out in a crowded marketplace and so forth, how to establish themselves. I know many writers who think about pen names for different types of books, who think about using initials instead of a first name, and other considerations. You went from Chris F. Holm to Chris Holm when you moved from Angry Robots to Mulholland. Why the change?

CH: My wife and I joke that the “F” stood for “Fantasy,” since that’s the genre I was working in back then. Alas, the truth is more mundane. By the time I began establishing an online presence, all the Chris Holm URLs and handles were long gone, so I used my middle initial—which, if you’re curious, is short for Frederick.

Between series, I switched agents, and my new one hated the whole middle initial thing. To hear him tell it, Chris Holm sounds like a guy you’d grab a beer with, while Chris F. Holm does not. I didn’t have strong feelings either way, but my books sell a whole lot better now, so maybe he was onto something.

Every now and again, I toy with the idea of putting some stuff out under a pen name, but I dunno. It’s taken a long-ass time for me to build a reputation in this business. Starting over doesn’t sound like loads of fun.

SW: Besides agreeing to this interview, what's the biggest mistake you've made as a writer? Or, what do you wish you'd known then that you know now?

CH: I dunno if I should answer this. I mean, I blundered into my dream job, and—on the off chance this is some kind of monkey’s paw scenario—I’d hate to jinx it.

I will say this, though. “A bad agent is worse than no agent at all” is a common refrain among writers for good reason. I understand the instinct to leap at your first offer of representation—after all, it’s what I did—but you’ve also gotta listen to your gut. If red flags abound during the courtship period, they sure as hell ain’t gonna vanish when you’re married.

SW: As a scientist-turned-novelist, you've clearly done your research and know your stuff. Is there some cool science-y thing you wanted to use, but had to cut from this book?

CH: The human microbiota plays a major role in CHILD ZERO.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, it’s just a fancy way of referring to the ecosystem of microorganisms that live in, on, and around each of us. Because your microbiota is influenced by your diet, body chemistry, and environment, it's as unique as a fingerprint—and, as such, it’ll likely be of tremendous value to the next generation of forensic scientists.

Imagine using cotton swabs and PCR to trace a dumped body to its primary murder scene, or determine whether, when, and for how long a victim and suspect interacted. If I could've figured out a way to work that in, I would've done it in a heartbeat.

Nerdy sidebar: many lay publications use “microbiota” and “microbiome” interchangeably. Technically, “microbiota” refers to microorganisms in a particular environment, while “microbiome” refers to the combined genetic material of microorganisms in a particular environment. Rather than bog CHILD ZERO down by digging into that, I just went with the correct—albeit slightly less popular—term. Apparently, I had no similar compunctions about bogging down this interview.

SW: This is a tight story you've told, though it involves many people. Any character you'd like to spin off into their own book?

CH: I adore hijabi NYPD detective Amira Hassan, and think a novel told from her perspective could be amazing. Problem is, I’m not the person to write it, because I lack the lived experience to do her story justice. Then again, if CHILD ZERO blows up huge, I’d be psyched to team up with somebody who could.

I’ve also toyed with the idea of a short story collection set in this world, because I cut tons of characters, subplots, and set pieces to keep CHILD ZERO lean. The trick would be to make them worth reading, rather than inessential bonus material, like deleted scenes on DVDs.