Thursday, December 31, 2015

Post-Birthday post

My birthday was yesterday. Mostly I spent it feeling poorly, the victim of chronic Lyme disease and chronic fatigue syndrome, which may or may not be related. Yay, I get to have one of those issues where no one can really help you. Many doctors have told me that doctors are really good at telling you what you haven't got. I suppose if that list is long enough that could be helpful, but in practical terms, not so much.

Another thing they're keen on is just treating symptoms. This seems a tad shortsighted but if that's all I can get, I'll take it. By being my local pharmacy's customer of the month every single month, I do enjoy respites from the fairly constant back and neck pain and crushing fatigue. But only if I limit my physical exertion, stress, etc. All this might sound like a massive set of issues, and they are, but they're what I've been stuck with and there just doesn't seem to be a lot I can do about it. So here I am.

I still have all my hair, though it's a bit grey at the temples and the red in my beard now comes in white, which just encourages me to shave more frequently, and my stomach doesn't hang over my belt buckle. I still wear the same sized pants I wore in high school, my weight is the same as it was in college (though I don't have the same muscle mass so it's probably hiding in a little bit rounder or lower set of places), and I don't look ill, chronically or otherwise. This is actually sort of a curse because no matter how rotten you feel, too many people just don't think there's anything wrong with you. Which is fine, unless it's a doctor.

So my body's a wreck. I had knee surgery in July and everything was going well until it started to not go so well. Hopefully I can get that turned around fairly quickly because one day soon I'll take the dogs for one of their walks and they're the only ones that will make it back up the hill that is our driveway. I just had another set of MRIs done on my low back and neck. Nothing horribly abnormal, they say. Then why the pain, the cracks, the-- you get the idea.

Maybe the idea of having a birthday is more than just a personal proof of life. Maybe if you have enough of them, you finally get to the point where you just have to excuse all your physical problems. What do you expect, you're like a hundred and twenty, you're supposed to hurt. Unless you're really just forty.

My son gave me a book yesterday because the best thing you could give me, other than a timely prescription refill, is a book. This one is about the operation in WWII where the allies took a dead body and dummied it up with false information and let it wash onshore so the Nazis thought the Allies were about to invade Greece. Silly Nazis, we landed in Italy and got started with boots on the ground in Europe.

Sabrina, my daughter, had been knitting something since before Thanksgiving. It turns out it was a hat that was supposed to take her a couple of hours. She messed up and actually did twice as much knitting as she needed. Apparently she was in tears the other night until my wife figured it didn't have to be a Dumbledore-sized hat but that they could double it up and make it normal. So now I have a really thick winter hat, which would be great if I could ski this year. This would depend on the state of my knee and whether or not New England actually sees snow this winter. This week, at least, the signs have seemed promising although it's damned nice snowball weather out there right now.

For the coup de grace, my wife, along with Gary Shulze from the Once Upon a Crime bookstore in Minneapolis, got me a signed first edition hardcover of the classic, classic, classic "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" by George V. Higgins. For those of you unfamiliar with the book (or even the movie with Robert Mitchum) this is one of the most influential crime novels ever written. It may be as high as number three, behind Raymond Chandler's "The Big Sleep" or Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon." And we know how everyone agrees on lists.

So that's a wow present. And my son pored over my Amazon wishlist to find something he thought would be special and my daughter had that whole accidentally sit on the knitting needles thing last week that didn't turn out as bad as it might have. Overall a wonderful evening, even though I had to sharpen the kids' skis with a really, really dull file. It was topped off with pad thai from the only Chinese restaurant in town that make it, and I ate too much because you know, as I get older I just don't eat as much as I used to. I suppose I could but then I'd have to memorize new pants sizes and that's too much work.

Lastly, I got a great review from the Bookgasm site for "Truth Always Kills" to go along with ones by Booklist, Bill Crider and the ever tough-grading George Kelley. I need to post more links or something on my newly revamped website. I also need to write that damned next book, though I'm at that point sixty some thousand words in where I'm just not quite sure how to structure the rest of it and am convinced I'm falling flat on my face. Which I clearly am. The trick, as most writers know, is to make it seem like you were always in complete control of the story once it's done.

But with a short deadline, I'm feeling the stress. Which locks you creatively, aggravates the chronic everything symptoms, and settles a kind of mental paralysis over the mind. And I'm another year older. I got that going for me. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Bookgasm review

One of the "myths" of being a writer is how exciting it MUST be to get published. Not so. It makes one a mass of anxieties: will anyone buy the book? Will anyone like the book? Will the publisher--or any publisher--want to publish another one?

As many writers will tell you, there's a point in each book where they feel like they're a mess, a fraud, the book doesn't work, the book will never work, you have no talent, etc. Each book is in some form a miracle in itself. Unless it sucks, I guess. But that's the point: you can't judge yourself.

Whenever you start a new book, the loftiest goals are in place, the grandest of visions. And then, as you write, characters take over, the plot moves in different directions, and as that happens, the original vision, whatever it may have been, grows fuzzy around the edges the book changes into something else. It's still a book, but what kind of book? It's different from the original idea, but it always is. The question is, is it good or is it bad? Unfortunately, unless you have a monstrous ego, it is impossible to be able to know yourself.

And that's the power of reviews. I've been blessed to have received only positive reviews. What does that mean? Not a whole lot, because many people quite kindly will not write negative reviews. The argument is that writing a book is hard enough and there is enough empathy to excuse a book that may not be one's cup of tea (to be kind) and let it slide past unmentioned.

In any case, I'm at that point in the current book where I have no idea if what I'm doing makes any sense, is any good, would entertain a desert island-stranded semi-literate, etc. I finished today's writing and picked up my late lunch. I turned on the computer and on Bill Crider's site (I use it as a portal for other book-related sites) I saw a mention of the just-released "Truth Always Kills" at the Bookgasm site. Just like I found George Kelley's review from Bill's site a few weeks ago, and Bill's own review before that, there it was, posted for the past hour.

It's a good review, by a careful reader. So thank you, Bookgasm, and for the rest of today at least, things look better than they did this morning. Just don't ask how things are going tomorrow. In short, writing books is one helluva head game. But it certainly beats a sharp stick in the eye, and really, what could be better?

Here's the review....

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Booklist review

Booklist reviewed "Truth Always Kills" and though they mis-wrote a character's nickname as "Randy the Cat" (cats may be randy, Felix may have had a brother, but this is just wrong) the review is very positive and I am very grateful.

I quoted the last two lines on the home page of the revamp-in-progress website, so head over to or (they go to the same place) and check it out. Comments are certainly welcome....

Friday, December 11, 2015

Release Day

Today is the day that my new book, "Truth Always Kills," is released. I'm still working on the new website but there are buttons that work there that let you click through and order online. There are always bookstores who can order it for you, too, or if you get to a specialty crime/mystery bookstore they may even have it.

The quote on the cover is from long-time and prolific author Ed Gorman, who says, "This one has the power to hurt you." I hope so, but in that good, keep it between the pages way. I'd plug it more but it would be easier to point you to the website: On the other hand, there's not a lot of information about it there yet, either. But it's coming.

I'm on an April deadline for the next book and it's a bit behind where I'd like it to be. I took the month of October off to work on an essay for a new edition of Malcolm Braly's autobiography, "False Starts." That came out really well but it was time consuming. First I read all the books by Braly, then read similar prison books and autobiographies by people coming up in similar circumstances, though in slightly different but overlapping time periods. At the end of it all you hope you'll find a theme that can run through the piece and make sense, make it look like you planned it that way all along.

This is the trick for any story, really: to start with nothing and make it come out like you knew where it was going the whole time. Obsessive outliners may be able to do this, but I couldn't imagine it. If I knew the story that well before I started writing it, there wouldn't be any point in writing it. In my head, it would already have been done. Juggling without a net, or something.

Anyway, go now, buy "Truth Always Kills." Review it somewhere, let me know what you think, and recommend it to your friends. You'll enjoy the book. I promise. It's my best one so far.