"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Guest post: James M. Jackson

I met the members of the blog Writers Who Kill last year, when they contacted me after reading Crime Fiction Collective (which is just one reason why I'm so happy to be part of CFC). WWK are a cool bunch, and one member, James M. Jackson, has a new book out and asked if he could wander over to my blog for a visit.

Well, of course! I always have the coffee pot on for guests.

I sent Jim a list of questions, which he graciously answered. Before we get going on the interview, let's see the new book, BAD POLICY. (It's available in trade paperback, too. This was just the picture I pulled out of Amazon.)

Now then, let's get to the Q and A:

Quick, give us the Reader’s Digest version of your life story.
An Upstate New York native who worked for twenty years on the East Coast before landing in Cincinnati for the last ten years of employment, I was (prepare to yawn) a consulting actuary who designed and determined the funding for pension plans and post-retirement medical plans for large corporations, not-for-profits and governments.

My life-partner, Jan, and I now split our time between the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s low country near Savannah. Between us we have four children and four grandchildren.

I confess, I haven’t read Bad Policy YET (it’s on the list). Can you tell us a little about the story?
Seamus McCree returns to his Cincinnati home from a business trip to discover someone has planted in his basement the body of an acquaintance. The victim suffered an IRA six-pack (shots to the elbows, knees and ankles) before being shot in the head. Police suspect Seamus and so he searches for reasons someone tried to frame him.

He soon uncovers a trail that leads back to his Boston roots and a poisonous family feud dating from the divorce of Boston’s Irish mafia and the Provisional IRA in the 1970s.

Driven by the chilling realization that there was more behind the death of his policeman father than he ever knew, Seamus ignores warnings from the police, friends and enemies and continues to dig for the truth.

As the body count climbs, all trails seem to lead back to him, and Seamus is forced to go underground to find out who is framing him—and why—before he becomes the next victim.

How did your character, Seamus McCree, begin life in your head?
My twisted mind sees a financial transaction and in its spare time tries to figure out a way to game the system. Fortunately a combination of decent morals and being sufficiently scared about being caught kept me from implementing any of the schemes I came up with. (Oh, and none of the nefarious transactions would have gained me $10 million, so temptation was never really tested.)

When it came time to create a protagonist, I wanted that person to be (1) a basically good person and (2) someone who understood financial crimes. That’s when I decided to create an alter ego who quit Wall Street in disgust (and so had the requisite financial acumen). I dislike single-dimension characters or caricatures. I wanted Seamus to be totally comfortable around money, but not into it. Since that aspect of his life was healthy and he’s smart and tall and ruggedly handsome, he needed some flaws.

Seamus decided on his own flaws as I wrote the novels.

His father died when he was young. As a result he has anger and self-image issues. He’s divorced and hasn’t figured out female relationships as well as he wants (or should). He has a challenging relationship with his mother, who does not speak, and an interesting rapport with his son, who has just graduated college.

What’s your writing process like? Are you an outlining guy, or a pantser?
I am a big-time pantser. Even when I try to plot out in advance, my characters have minds of their own and take the story to places my plotting had not anticipated. Consequently, I start with an idea, an opening scene and initial expected conclusion. From those I write the first draft, which may or may not contain the expected conclusion. The second draft makes sense of the plot changes my characters have caused.

You’ve also written some nonfiction. What goaded you into writing a book about playing bridge?
There are a gazillion bridge books, each focusing on a particular aspect of the game (bidding, playing the contract, defending against the contract), and I read a lot of them as I was learning the game. I wanted someone to whisper in my ear, “If you concentrate on improving these particular things, you will improve your game.”

Through trial and error (many, many errors) I figured out which gems really helped me quickly improve my game. Those are the things I wrote about. It includes practical tips on better bidding, declarer play and defensive play.

Is your process different for nonfiction than for fiction?
In fiction I am a pantser, but with nonfiction I outlined the book before I wrote word one. The editing process is also different. The editor of my bridge book was an expert player and able to point out technical problems with some of the examples I chose, allowing me to find better examples. Also, the publisher wanted the book longer than I had first written, so I added extra material.

My self-editing with fiction often involves cutting from the manuscript. I want to start the story as late as possible and also eliminate scenes that aren’t sufficiently strong. After BAD POLICY got to the publisher, I only had to modify a couple of very minor plot points, correct a few grammar errors and insert a lot of commas because the editor wanted the last comma in a sequence and I leave them out.

What job would you absolutely hate to do?
Being a steelworker on a skyscraper like these guys building the RCA building in 1932. They had no safety harnesses, but I’d be a blithering idiot even with a harness.

What’s your go-to curse word (you can use asterisks – we’ll fill in the blanks)?
My writing may be sparse, but my cursing seems to require multiple expletives. Most common under my breath is sh*t, p*ss, f*k.

Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe? Why?
I kept coming back to this question and finally decided Philip Marlowe. Sam Spade is known as the original hard-boiled detective, but Marlowe strikes me as a bit more nuanced. Given my druthers, I spend my time with more modern PIs such as Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski.

What’s one of the words you always have to yank out of your novels because you’ve used it too many times? (Hint: Apparently, I use “apparently” a lot.)

So, I was thinking about this for a nanosecond before the answer became obvious.

Is your glass half-full, half-empty, or twice as large as it needs to be?
In 2005, I gave a homily on that exact question. I knew I had always perceived the world using the half-empty glass philosophy. At first I decided I needed to concentrate on filling the glass, only to later realize that was still focusing on the empty aspect of the glass, not its contents. Since that “aha” moment, I have been much better at reflecting what is in the glass and not worrying about how big the glass can be—unless I am caught off guard, then I slip back to half-empty before I catch myself.

Would you rather be a sock or a shoe? Why?
Shoe, they last longer.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

What’s next on the horizon for James Montgomery Jackson?
CABIN FEVER, the sequel to BAD POLICY is scheduled for 2014 publication. Seamus is spending the winter alone deep in the northwoods of Michigan. His solitude is broken when a naked woman suffering from exposure and Legionnaire’s disease arrives at his cabin.

* * * * *

Thanks, Jim, for spending a little time on my blog today, and good luck with Seamus and Bad Policy!

Bio: JAMES M JACKSON is the author of BAD POLICY, for Barking Rain Press, which is available at your favorite online retailer or from Jim’s website. Known as James Montgomery Jackson on his tax return and to his mother whenever she was really mad at him, he splits his time between the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s low country. Jim has published a book on contract bridge, One Trick at a Time: How to start winning at bridge, as well as numerous short stories and essays.
His next appearances are at Malice Domestic in Bethesda, MD (May 3-5) and the SC Book Fest in Columbia, SC (May 17-19)

Twitter: @JMJAuthor

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Are we losing something or gaining something?

So... I've been thinking about something.

A few weeks ago, my friend Tameri had a birthday and I thought it would be fun for Marcus to call and sing "Happy Birthday" to her. Being an agreeable lad and a good singer, he did. I spoke to her about it afterward and she was thrilled.

"Halfway through, I thought, 'I should be recording this'," she said.

At first, I felt bad that she didn't get to record it. I even considered having Marcus call her back to sing it again so she could. He'd have done it - he's game.

And then it dawned on me: all of our moments are recorded now.

In the old days, we just lived. Our lives passed, with Pony League baseball games played and high school graduations enjoyed and then relegated to everyone's memories. Uncle Buster told the same story of how he and his buddies went on a tear in Okinawa, changing the details each time, but no one produced a video showing what really happened.

Now every time a group of people is together, the smart phones come out. Photos are posted to Facebook. Videos are posted everywhere. It's harder to tell those tall tales.

I don't know what to make of this. Perhaps I could decide it's nothing but one new way to have fun. Perhaps I could decide that it's eroding our sense of spontaneity and even our story-telling skills.

What do you think?

Monday, April 15, 2013

I hope, and I hope you hope, too

I'm writing this at 9 p.m. on Monday night, the last night of my Kindle giveaway. My goal was 20,000 downloads, which would be about 15,000 more than any other giveaway. I've been told that these kinds of numbers give Hit or Missus a better shot at staying high enough on the free list to stay on readers' radar when it goes back on sale.

There are three hours to go and I've gotten over 30,000 downloads.

I'd like to revel in this and do a little victory lap, except that the news out of Boston today makes every little joy or sorrow seem pale and empty. So much sadness and chaos and destruction. As far as I know, we still don't know who is responsible for this horror. We don't have a final count of the dead and the wounded. We don't even know what we don't know.

Part of me wants to sink down under the covers and wait for it to be over. Part of me wants to wander from person to person and hug and weep. And part of me wants to pump some sunshine into my heart and rise up to defeat the tragedy.

As usual, music comes to my rescue. It calms me, it lifts me, it reminds me that for every useless piece of crap who enjoys cruelty, there are artists who write brilliant words and music and want the world to be better not worse.

I picked out some videos today of songs that make me feel stronger, and thought I'd share them to make you feel stronger, too. I don't want to be stronger alone.

First is the Carpenters' Rainy Days and Mondays. Karen's voice is so beautiful, and even though this is a bit of a subdued, even sad, song but there's hope hidden inside. What makes it more poignant to me is to know how Karen must have identified with the words.

Instead of a rainy day, I'd rather have a Chelsea morning, especially as described by Joni. I love when the "sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses."

Next is Ain't No Mountain High Enough. Yes, it's a love song, but shouldn't it apply to us as friends and family and neighbors and communities?

The Age of Aquarius is from the musical Hair, written in 1969. I was a teenager, hoping that we would make a difference, planning our world of peace, harmony, and understanding. I'm still planning.

Finally, I don't need to explain this one at all. I hope.

Can you hope with me?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Reaching for the stars

My sales of Hit or Missus are looking kind of saggy, so I'm doing another promotion this weekend to see if I can generate some interest. Quite frankly, the last promo of Freezer Burn was less than stellar, but in hindsight, I don't think I did enough promoting. I didn't let Ereader News Today know about it, I didn't mention it more than once in my social media, and I let opportunities slip by right and left at Left Coast Crime.

Mea uber-culpa.

So this weekend, I'm all in. I've alerted ENT, I've paid for a BookBub spot, I'll mention it in my social media circles once every day of the promotion, and-and-and- oh, yeah, I'm talking about it here.

Here's my goal: I want 20,000 downloads. If you have a Kindle or a Kindle app and don't have Hit or Missus, here is your opportunity to get a free book and help me reach my goal. I'm not asking for your money, just your mouse-clicks.

This Saturday through Monday, the ebook is available for free. Call it my gift to those of you who sweated and struggled to make the April 15th Tax Filing Day Deadline. The IRS has your money - let me give you something to cheer you up.

Thank you all so much for your support. I appreciate you.

Here's the link again. Remember, it's Saturday through Monday.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Just call me a doll.

I'm not a girlie-girl. I've never been that girl who could spend hours getting her makeup and clothes and nails Per-Fect for the day, then walk out into Life like the Diva she was meant to be. I was the girl who tried but didn't have the patience to fuss over herself. Now that I've grown older, I'm the gal who tosses on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and pulls her hair under a ball cap, then calls it good enough.

That being said, I have a confession to make: I collect Barbies.

I never intended to collect them, although I did have one as a child. It's all this chick's fault (see below). Meet Enchanted Evening Barbie.

I saw her at Toys R Us years ago, when we were still shopping for Marcus (to be fair, we went to the Hot Wheels department for him). Maybe I was feeling older and waxing nostalgic, but she reminded me of my old Barbie. I had retrieved my old doll that year from my parents' storage. She was wearing some kind of weird sackcloth, so I bought her a new outfit, and gave her a French twist to hide the fact that I had cut her hair at some point.

But look at her face - doesn't she look like Enchanted Evening Barbie?

On a whim, I asked for E. E. Barbs for Christmas, and Dale granted my wish. He also did an amazing thing. He decided, based on my single Christmas request, that I collect Barbies. So every Christmas, I get a Barbie.

I was hoping for tix to Paris with April in Paris Barbie, but no luck.

They're mostly the high-end dolls with names like Dance Until Dawn Barbie and April in Paris Barbie. Some of them are really high-end, like this dame:

Oh, yeah, that's Cruella de Ville. I like to let her stand next to these two.

Glinda and Galadriel.

It makes me laugh.

A few years ago, Dale asked for a G.I. Joe. Always the overachiever, I looked on eBay and found...

Yes - the Colin Powell G.I. Joe!

For a long time, Colin shared shelf-space with my girls. He looked very stern and a little disapproving of Hard Rock Barbie, but he couldn't say much because, as it turns out, G.I. Joe is shorter than the B-girls.


And now that I have fifteen girls, he looks like he's in the Land of the Amazons, so I moved him to a more respectable shelf. It was either that or look for some teeny platform shoes.

Even though I'm not a girlie-girl, I totally covet these dresses.

Isn't this a cute little flapper number?
Well, of course - who DOESN'T want to dress up like Glinda?

Have you amassed any collections that surprise you?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Counting blessings

I was talking to my hubby the other day about one of our friends. This friend has a lovely family, a good job, a home, and plenty of interests to keep them entertained. And yet, they complain constantly. They make an interesting character study, actually, because I don't think they can help themselves. Some people have this internal scale that is never in balance. Fairness is a goal they keep reaching for and falling short.

While we were talking, it dawned on me how blessed I am. Yes, I am naturally optimistic, and although I remember being a young child and expecting life to be fair, I grew out of that. Life isn't fair. It isn't unfair. It just is. But even with my tendency toward the sunny side of the street, when I think of how many blessings are in my life, I can hardly contain my joy.

First, there's my husband. On one hand, he's supremely honest and will not praise me if he doesn't think I deserve it. On the other hand, he supports everything I do and is quick to point out the positive side of anything I kvetch about. Someone once questioned him about something he was going to do for me (I don't even remember what it was), and implied that he was an idiot for going along with me.

Dale's the one on the left.

"If Gayle's happy, then I'm happy," he said. That settled that.

Second, there's our son. I grew up thinking I would not have children. I saw them as a huge responsibility and felt too insecure to bear that burden for all those years. When I turned 35, I said "maybe." When I started dating Dale, I said, "yes."

Let's be serious. Having a child at 38 makes you The Older Mom. The one with the old eggs. Fertility specialists act like your ova have a shelf life and things get ugly when they're past their expiration date.

But we got lucky. Marcus could have been born with tons of problems, but he wasn't. If anything, it was barely like raising a child. He was reasonable. He was easy to get along with. Yes, he was a picky eater, and took forever to pick up some basic tasks, but I don't know how I could be prouder of him.

Third, I have an a-MAZ-ing support system of friends. They give me advice without an agenda, a shoulder to cry on without judgment, and even a smack on the head (followed by a hug) without conditions. Somehow I've been able to pull people close to me that I can trust, and let the ones go that were pulling me into their own insecurities.

Sylvia and Tameri, just two of my wonderful tribe.

I may never be a bestselling author, or an expert horse rider, or be a stand-out at ANYTHING, but it doesn't matter. At least for this moment, I'm a winner.

What are some of your blessings? I'd love to know what you're thankful for.

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