Road Rules: Who Is Sharon Harrow?

I didn’t originally set out to make Road Rules a PI novel.  And when you read it, it comes off more as a caper.  But in outlining the story, I realized I had two dilemmas.  First, how do Stan and Mike figure out that they are being hunted as they drive to Florida?  Second, I didn’t have a female protagonist.

So how do I get around both?  Simple.  The Cadillac Stan is paid to take to Florida (along with the holy relic he unwittingly has in the trunk) is stolen.  The car is retagged with another Cadillac’s VIN number, plated, and sent to Miami as a legitimate collectible car.  Except…

The theft of the car costs somebody their job.  And she wants her job back.  So she follows the car, all the way to Florida if she has to.  Save the car, save her job.

But who is she?  And how do I raise the stakes?  I had her work for an agency.  And just for fun, what if that agency also was tasked with part of the security surrounding the stolen holy relic?  That agency is owned by Robert Jordan, whom I pictured as an older Lance Reddick (Fringe, The Wire).  Coincidence?  Somewhat, though more a function of Timmy Mason’s greed.  (More on Timmy in a coming post.)  I made my luckless detective Jordan’s niece, and named her Sharon Harrow.

So now we have a woman who is motivated not only to get even for getting fired, but to prove herself in her uncle’s eyes.

This had another advantage for me.  I did not want yet another young, blonde female lead.  Mind you, I enjoy being married to a lovely blonde white female, but in my fiction, I wanted a little more variety.  By making her Jordan’s niece, I already solved that problem.  Mind you, the female lead in Holland Bay is a blonde in her mid-thirties, so I guess it depends on your mood when you start.

But while Sharon wants to do right by her surrogate father, what sort of woman would be this tenacious and resourceful to hunt down what is essentially a toy for a crooked car dealer no better than Andre the Giant?  She would need to be tough and independent, but inexperienced.  Sharon is done in by bottled water and a tiny bladder.

I had thought of writing a sequel centered on Sharon, picking up in Savannah where Road Rules leaves off.  However, Svetlana, my agent, could not get more than a few sniffs from New York on the book.  By then, I had started on Holland Bay and a couple other projects.

Will Sharon return?  I hope so.  She is the character who landed me an agent.  We will have to see.  At some point in my career, I could see revisiting her, maybe as a self-published ebook outside of anything else I’m doing.  For now, Road Rules is the only place you can find her.

Check out Sharon’s adventures along I-77 and in Savannah at the Road Rules site.

Become a fan of Road Rules on Facebook.

Banned Books Week

This week, September 25 – October 2, is Banned Books Week, the week where we as a nation are grateful Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 never became a reality.  Banned Books Week began in 1982 when there was a spike in challenges to books in the nation’s libraries, particularly school libraries.  Some books were obvious targets, such as, To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn, with their rather uncomfortable frankness about race relations.  Other more recent targets have bordered on or crossed over into the realm of stupidity.  Harry Potter, supposedly luring children into Satanism, and Twilight, which apparently encourages fourteen-year-old girls to drink human blood, are often challenged.

The most ridiculous was Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic.  A woman in Akron, Ohio, (near where I grew up), swore that the illustration to a poem about a little girl wanting to make a milkshake by shaking the cow before it was milked, promoted bestiality.   I find this ironic, since my very religious mother encouraged my brother to read that same book.  And this was a woman with a profound sense of guilt over reading Salem’s Lot and The Stand.  So the lady in Akron looked pretty stupid to me compared to my rather strict mother.

I have no use for book banners.  It represents intellectual cowardice at its worst.  If you live in America and claim to cherish freedom, you have absolutely no business calling for any book to be banned.

“Well, Jim, what about The Communist Manifesto?  Do you want our children to become socialist?”

No, but unlike most people who equate Marx with the Devil incarnate, I would like to meet an actual American who can define socialism.

“What about The Turner Diaries?”

Ah, there’s the rub.  The Turner Diaries is a self-published modern version of Mein Kampf, beloved by white supremacists everywhere.  Most people I know who’ve heard of it are sickened by its contents, even if they only know it by reputation.  Do you know what they do about it?  They don’t read it.  They don’t buy it.  That’s not book banning.  That’s taking responsibility for your own actions instead of deciding that nanny state policies only apply to stuff you don’t like.

Book banning in a country where freedom of speech and thought, even when that thought is repulsive or upsetting, is hypocrisy.  And we have enough hypocrites running ads between now and the first Tuesday in November.

If you don’t like something, don’t read it.  Don’t let your kids read it if you think they can’t handle it.  But please, don’t tell me or my kid what we can and can’t read.

MTM Cincinnati: Why Is Cincinnati Airport In Kentucky?

One of the most confusing things to travelers coming to the Queen City is the airport.  Cincinnati Airport is in Northern Kentucky, specifically Hebron, Kentucky.  Once you accept that Cincinnati sits on a state border and the airport is actually in a reasonable distance from the city center, one other mystery remains.

Why is the airport called CVG?

To answer this, you have to look back at the airport’s history.  Back in the 1930’s, the entire Mississippi basin, which includes the Ohio and Missouri Rivers, flooded.  Had satellite imagery been around back then, the Mississippi would have appeared to be a large inland sea from central Illinois all the way to the Delta region in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Cincinnati was not spared, and its airport, Lunken Field, sat along a bend in the Little Miami River near where it empties into the Ohio River.  Frequent flooding forced the rerouting of the Little Miami and the construction of the Beechmont Levee system.

That was not enough for local officials.  They wanted the city’s airport moved someplace away from the Ohio and Little and Great Miami Rivers.  Blue Ash, north of the city (and a stone’s throw away from your humble narrator’s home), was considered, but city officials there didn’t want DC-9’s roaring over their nice quiet suburb.  Enter the US Army.

During World War II, the US had to build up its military rapidly in the face of war with Germany and Japan.  It needed to train pilots.  FDR approved funds to build an airfield in Hebron, an undeveloped section of Boone County in Northern Kentucky.  Officials from the area jumped on the chance and requested the base be turned over to civilian control after the war.  The government agreed, and Cincinnati’s replacement from Lunken Airport as Cincinnati’s primary airport was born.

The new airport opened as a commercial airport in 1947.  Its official name was and is Greater Cincinnati – Northern Kentucky International Airport.  The obvious airport code would have been “CIN.”  Except there was already a CIN somewhere else.  So the next choice would be HEB for Hebron, Kentucky.  That was also already taken.  NKY came next on the list, but it could not be used.  Radio stations begin with the letters “W” and “K,” but a third letter, “N,” is used for ham radio and aircraft call signs.  Officials settled on the nearest large city (next to Cincinnati), which would be Covington, directly across from downtown Cincinnati.  So the airport code became CVG.

And that’s why Cincinnati Airport is in another state and coded for a city other than where its located.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

The Shining By Stephen King

The Shining is both a classic novel and a classic movie, and yet the movie does not follow the novel.  Blame Stanley Kubrick.  The man was a brilliant director, but he had a nasty habit of treating his source material as a polite suggestion.  Just ask Anthony Burgess what he thought of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. G’wan.  Ask him.

(Oops.  Burgess died in 1993.  Well, Burgess hated it.   To be fair, he didn’t think much of his own book, either.)

But even King acknowledges that The Shining is a brilliant movie.  It’s just not the story he wrote.  Besides, how can you not love Jack Nicholson at his homicidal best crashing through the door and yelling, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!”

We are not going to consider Kubrick’s classic here.  Instead, I want to talk about The Shining, the 1977 novel that preceded The Stand and followed Salem’s Lot.   The Shining is where King found his groove as a novelist.  It does not take place in the King universe in any obvious way, though if you’ve read The Dark Tower series, you know anything King writes gets cannibalized into Roland’s sprawling multiverse eventually.  On its own, however, The Shining has more in common with Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House than anything Poe or Lovecraft wrote.

The book starts out with Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and disgraced teacher looking to take a job at the Overlook, a remote Colorado resort, as the winter caretaker.  Jack has some demons.  He fights to keep his temper in check after accidentally breaking son Danny’s arm.  And he’s a recovering alcoholic who just lost his job for clocking a student who slashed his tires.  The job will give Jack the isolation he needs to finish his play, the time his buddy Al needs to get him his job back, and most importantly, a paycheck to feed his family until he can get back to work.

But the title doesn’t refer to Jack.  It refers to five-year-old Danny, who has what hotel cook Dick Halloran calls “the shining,” the ability to read thoughts, sense distant events, and see the future.  This disturbs Danny, who doesn’t understand much of what he perceives.  He was well aware of the word DIVORCE, appearing in his head in big red capital letters, when tensions ran high between his parents.  During Jack’s drinking days, Danny didn’t know what Jack was doing, but he knew Jack was doing The Bad Thing.

The real demon here is The Overlook, a grand hotel that looks out over a valley in the Rockies.  It has a dark past that has already asserted itself on the previous caretaker, who killed his family and himself.  Jack has to promise the manager that he has his own problems under control.

And for the most part, he does in the beginning.  The Overlook is merely an old, isolated lodge, and any creeping horror early on comes from its distance from civilization.  But then the topiaries – the hedges shaped like animals – attack Jack.  Or he thinks they do.  He chalks it up to hallucinations lingering from years of alcoholism.

But then the snow comes and locks the family into the Overlook.  The hotel then reveals its true colors.  It’s haunted as hell.  Danny flees from woman who died in a hotel room.  Jack has phantom drinks at a party that took place in 1946, even though the hotel’s bar is bone dry.  He becomes obsessed with the hotel’s history.  Eventually, the previous caretaker comes to him and says he must correct his wife and child.

That’s when things go horribly awry.  Jack goes from mild-mannered dad trying to overcome his mistakes and become a serious writer to Jack Nicholson’s homicidal maniac.

And herein is where Kubrick deviates from the story the most.  Jack does, indeed, stalk his family with a mallet (Kubrick had it as an axe, which works better on the movie screen.)  However, he does not kill Halloran.  If anything, he gets one last moment to redeem himself and get his wife and child out of the hotel before it blows up.  And in the nature of all truly evil villains, the hotel’s arrogance is what ultimately destroys it.

This story is classic King, wherein the supernatural is a trapping of the story rather than the story.  The hotel is not so much the monster, though it is a monster in its own right, as it is a catalyst for the characters’ darker sides and fears to bubble up to the surface.  King could have made this about an isolated man going off the deep end and attacking his family, and the story still would have worked perfectly.

Why Are You Not More Successful?

Someone actually asked me that question.  Why am I not hogging up coop space at Barnes & Noble and burning up the Kindle lists and not quitting my day job?

Well, you have to give your agent something to sell.  And I haven’t done that in three years.  Not through laziness.  I simply have been taking my time and working on Holland Bay.  And some of what I’ve started wasn’t worth finishing.  Writing a book takes time.

On the other hand, I do have an edge over other writers looking for a contract.  I’m actually writing.

There have been a number of writers lately venting their annoyance at people coming up to them and saying, “I wanna write, but…”  Usually, the person says they’re too busy or they can’t find the time.  My favorite was John Scalzi’s comeback about science fiction writer Jay Lake. Jay’s undergoing cancer treatment write now.  He still works his day job.  He just underwent surgery to take out part of his liver.  He gets in 1000 words a day.


Let’s see.  Jay is…  um…  published?  And not by an idiot in his garage with a Lightning Source account.  He publishes with a real publisher who pays him an advance.


Does make me feel guilty when I don’t get a day in on writing.  But Jay does it.  It’s a priority with him.  So if he can work a day job and do chemo and even jettision a chunk of liver and still write, I can certainly fit it in between job hunting and contract work and academic needs and family.

And I do.

If you want to write, you will, too.

Or you’re not a writer.

Road Rules: How Did It All Come About?

Back in 2004, I signed with a small publisher in the Baltimore area to publish Northcoast Shakedown, a detective novel set in Cleveland.  A week after I signed, I received a call from Steve Hamilton’s agent, who wanted to see the book.  I sent the manuscript.  A few months later, the agent wanted to sign me.  It’s great to be loved.

I called the publisher and said, “I’ve got an agent, but I don’t want to yank the novel.”  He said he’d let me out of the contract, no questions asked.  And here’s where the rookie mentality sank me.  I said, “How about I write a road trip novel for you?”  The publisher said, “Okay.”

I called my agent back and made the pitch.  Had I known the vagaries of the publishing industry, I would have told the publisher, “I’m talking to an agent.  Can we wait?” before signing.

Long story short, the agent didn’t take Northcoast, the publisher went out of business two years later, and I was pretty much orphaned.

And the road trip novel remained.

Fast forward a year later.  I had an outline.  And I received nudges to try my hand at National Novel Writing Month, the annual dare to write a 50,000 word book in 30 days.  But did I want to devote that much time and energy to an idea originally hatched to get out of a publishing contract?

I mentioned this to Charles Ardai, the mastermind behind Hard Case Crime.  He said, “Do it.  And I’ll look at it.  I don’t promise to buy it, but I’ll definitely read it.”

He’ll deny this, but he double-dog dared me, so there you go.

And here we are.  You can download the inglorious results for free at the Road Rules web site.

Become a fan of Road Rules on Facebook.

MTM Monday: October Baseball In Cincinnati?

The year I first contemplated moving to Cincinnati, the Reds had their wire-to-wire season, culminating in a World Series sweep of the Oakland A’s.  I moved to town the following year, 1991, and watched the Reds under Lou Pinella and Davey Johnson make serious runs at the post-season.  In 1993, I remember being in O’Bryonville, a neighborhood on the East Side, and hearing the roar from Riverfront Stadium (then called Cinergy Field).

Reds logo

Cincinnati Reds

But then Davey Johnson left.  Marge Schott sold the Reds to Carl Lindner, who sold it to Bob Castellini.  Riverfront Stadium gave way to Great American Ball Park.  And the post-season?

It almost feels like Cleveland before 1994 here.  The 1990 series is a rumor.  No one remembers the 1993 run.  Junior Griffey came to town in 2000 and spent most of his time injured.  The managers since Davey Johnson are mostly forgettable.  Mostly.

When Bob Castellini bought the team, he said, “I want to win.  Now.”  That took a while.  The Reds had languished since their final days in Riverfront Stadium.

That takes time, so Castellini brought in some talent, starting with manager Dusty Baker.  He grew talent in the minor leagues and made some trades.  He’s not the trading wizard General Manager Jim Bowden was, but then he brought in former Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty.  The result is one of the best Reds teams in two decades.

Former Red Sox ace Bronson Arroyo now anchors the starting rotation, which features Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, and home-grown pitcher Homer Bailey.  Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, and Scott Rolen provide the bats.  And in the bullpen is the Reds future starting ace, Cuban phenom Aroldis Chapman.

So how has it paid off?

I’m writing this on Sunday morning.  As of this morning, the magic number – that is, the number of Reds wins and/or Cardinals losses needed to reach the post-season – is 8.  The Reds could clinch the NL Central this week.

It’s been a long drought.

More at the My Town Monday blog.