When Black Friday Comes…

When Black Friday comes, I’ll be asleep. I finished my shopping already except for one or two gifts.

When Black Friday comes, I’ll have to go to work at my normal time. Because too many of you people insist on killing each other in a consumer orgy, and I have to maintain all the systems that let you do that.

When Black Friday comes, I won’t be anywhere near the mall, Target, Walmart, or even the small businesses American Express wants us to frequent this season. I’ll come home and drink beer.

When Black Friday comes, I will not be in a parking lot.

When Black Friday comes, I’ll probably be blaring this over and over on my iPod…

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The Annual Thank-A-Thon

roast turkey

CC 2010 M. Rehemtulla

It’s that time of year again, the time when relatives we only see at weddings and funerals cram themselves into our homes to argue about politics and religion while some of us slave over a meal that will leave the kitchen trashed, everyone angry at each other, and most of us bored during some dull NFL games in the afternoon. Let us be thankful.

Actually, I am thankful. Life is pretty good for us here at Chateau Nita, and we know that it’s not for many people. We’re relatively healthy, have decent jobs, and our debt is manageable and justifiable: Mortgage, two modest cars, not a lot of consumer debt.

But we’re also well aware that many are struggling. Some problems are of people’s own making. Some are beyond people’s control. So while AJ and I dine on a delicious turkey breast made by Nita, we’re all going to think a little bit about those not doing as well and count our blessings.

For starters…

Three Stooges GraduatedNita and I are middle aged college students. Yes, it took us both twenty years and two marriages to get around to starting our freshman years in college. But off we went. These days, many question whether college is worth it. A lot of schools are for-profit and not really worth the paper they print their degrees on. But Nita goes to the University of Cincinnati. I followed an associates degree in 2012 with a business degree from Wilmington College. We both finish up this summer. Was it wise getting a degree this late in life when we should be working towards retirement? Let’s put it this way. It’s a lot easier to be a hard-to-hire senior if you have a degree than it is if you don’t. And it’s just smart to know how business operates before you actually start a business. Yanno?

Billy Crystal typing

Source: Orion Pictures

I’m thankful I have the opportunity to write. There was a time not so long ago when I planned to hang it up. Holland Bay was an unreadable mess. My agent at the time did not seem engaged. And I’ll be honest. Being unemployed did not exactly foster creativity. So I fired my agent, posted a bunch of “I quit” messages, and planned to worry more about finding work. But a funny thing happens when you decide you don’t hafta. You start to wanna. Holland Bay kept calling my name. A science fiction idea kept calling my name. I went from the guy on the left to becoming a freak of writing nature like Dean Wesley Smith. As all this was happening, the whole indie-vs.-trad argument exploded. What I learned is it doesn’t matter. I do both. Get over it.

Jennette Marie Powell

Source: jenpowell.com

But I would not have been able to start writing again if it had not been for some supportive friends. I want to give a shout out to two of them here. The first is Jennette Marie Powell, aka Li’l Sis. Jen and I go way back, like longer than we’ll admit to. (There was no Internet worth mentioning back then outside of the movies.) Jennette was the reason Northcoast Shakedown was written. She became a writer in the late nineties, showed me her first effort, and asked, “So where’s yours?”

Jim goes home, digs out 14-page outline and proceeds to start writing. If she had not said that to me, I wouldn’t have written that novel in time to tell my mother I finished a real novel. I finished Northcoast two months before she died. The revisions took a long time, but that was all part of the process.

Brian ThorntonAnother writer who kept me from throwing it all away is my fellow Sleuthsayer Brian Thornton. I met Brian in my early days online in the Short Mystery Fiction Society, a group we’ve both since left. My first in-person meeting with him was in the lobby of the Bouchercon hotel in Toronto in 2004. I was coming up the escalator when a voice said, “Jim?” I was then treated to a Cuban cigar because, this being Canada, they were legal. (Barry, Raul, you need to fix that problem in the US. Come on, guys. Cuba is America’s fourth largest trading partner. Who are you trying to kid anymore?) In the dozen or so years I’ve known him, we’ve both gotten married, both had novels that took years to write, and both kicked each other’s asses when we wanted to stop and throw it all away. I’m currently one of two people red inking his historical novel Handmaiden of Fate. (The other is actually the lady editing Gypsy’s Kiss.) Brian helped me pound Holland Bay into shape and made introductions to an agent whom I hope will be my agent. It’s been a fruitful friendship.

Will code for food

CC 2006 Patrick de Laive

I am thankful I work. Not only that, but as of this summer, I work strictly in development. The bad ol’ days of desktop support are over. What’s the next step? I don’t know yet. I just found a parking spot I like, and I have yet to attend my first company Christmas party. But now I’m doing more than just helping the little old lady in customer service find her Start button. We have other people who do that. I spend my days writing queries and hieroglyphics that have curly braces and make things happen. It’s e-commerce, which means that, as soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to have to log into work to clear off some of the production errors from overnight. Well, someone has to.

Nita

The reason I get up in the morning

Finally, I am thankful for the little miracle to the left here.I met and married Nita in a whirlwind romance in 2008. We’ve been through a lot together since then. It’ll be seven years this coming June. She is my partner and my best friend and the great love of my life.

Because of Nita, I got to experience fatherhood as AJ was 13 when I married his mother. AJ spoils us as parents. We have nieces and nephews whom we love like our own children, but they would also challenge us as parents. AJ is equal parts man-child and very mature and in all the right ways. It’s been wonderful to watch him become an adult. He’s now 20, and we get a little jealous when he goes out and does all the things our parents warned us about, mainly because we don’t have the stamina to stay out that late anymore.

Yes, I’m thankful I have a family. Or rather, they have me. I could list a lot of regrets I have about the first two thirds of my life but why? That last act is shaping up to be pretty awesome.

Running In Place

Hamster in wheel

(C) 2005 Mylius, GNU FDL

Running has hit a snag. It’s called Standard Time, which I’ve ranted about time and again in this space. Why? It gets dark before 5:30 now. I get home at 5:30. Couple the cold and snow with the dark, and outdoor running is just not going to happen.

So I ordered a treadmill, spending extra money for one that can handle my fat ass. Nita is excited because she hates running outdoors even in the best weather when the days are long. I like it because I can do 3-6 mile runs in January when the temperatures resemble a summer day on Hoth and the days are only slightly longer than in Stockholm.

I had to bring this monster home myself, a 150 pounds of metal, rubber, and plastic. Would it fit in the car? It would fit in AJ’s if I folded down the seats right. That was the easy part. Then I had to get it in the house. That was a workout. I spend about twenty minutes wrestling this thing into the basement. Once down there…

I was done. Time for beer.

But of course, I couldn’t just let it sit there. We wanted to get a run in the next day. So down I went to try and decipher the instructions. I got the machine partially built when the clock struck nine and I realized I needed a beer. So there it sat Sunday night.

Monday night, I come home to find one of the cars has a flat. And it’s not one I can easily change. (Remember, I once did my own brakes, so it’s not like I can’t work on a car when pressed.) I spent the first hour and a half at home waiting on the AAA guy. No sooner did he finish up than AJ called to say he’d banged his head at work, requiring a trip to the Urgent Care. Nita took him while I came home waiting nervously by the phone. I don’t do waiting so good. Rather than get worked up pacing the house, I took a Zen approach to waiting for news and went downstairs to finish the treadmill. Which went well until I tightened up the support brackets.

I had to double check the logo on the side of the treadmill. It did not say Ikea, yet there I was on the floor with an Allen wrench trying to finish the damn thing at 9 PM. But…

I texted the picture to Nita and AJ. Yes, they were happy.

So last night, we broke it in. Nita, after a weeklong layoff, did a mile and a half on it. AJ, who never runs, did a mile. Me, who was up to three miles a run a week and a half ago, didn’t make a mile. And I hurt.

I needed a beer.

Guest Post: Debbi Mack

Debbi MackDebbi Mack and I started out together long, long ago with the same publisher. Since then, Debbi has gone indie to continue her Sam McRae series, which she is now releasing as a boxed set. Take it away, Debbi…

‘Law Can Be Murder’: The Sam McRae Mystery Series in a Boxed Set

What started as an attempt to simply bring my out-of-print first mystery novel into readers’ hands again has grown and blossomed into an actual series. The first Sam McRae mystery, Identity Crisis, much to my shock, became a New York Times ebook bestseller back in 2011, when the list had just started to include ebooks.

Identity CrisisI had been freelancing and writing fiction up until December 2010. After that, I simply didn’t have the time or ability to do it all. So, I threw myself into writing fiction and making a living off that. I even set up my own imprint for the print versions of my books, despite the fact that most of money came from ebook sales. As a result, my first book not only hit the Times bestseller list, but became a Kindle bestseller in the U.S. and the U.K. My second novel, Least Wanted, also hit the Kindle Top 100 in both countries. I continued to write, publish, and market my books full bore until around 2012, when I became exhausted with the effort.

The truth was that the market was being flooded with ebooks — both traditionally published and self-published. Nonetheless, I was able to publish a third book in the series, Riptide. That was back in 2012.

The following year, I reissued Identity Crisis through my own publishing imprint. I’d written other stand-alone novels, but wasn’t ready to release them.

Now, I’m finally just months away from publishing my fourth Sam McRae mystery, Deep Six, along with my first young adult novel, Invisible Me.

For those of you who haven’t read the series, Sam McRae is a lawyer in Maryland, who gets involved in solving murders connected with her cases. The way I like to think of Sam is like Kinsey Millhone as a lawyer. The genre is hardboiled, with a touch of noir to it. If you own an ereader, you can buy the first three novels in a boxed set from almost any online retailer.

Law Can Be MurderThe boxed set is entitled Law Can Be Murder and is available at bargain prices, for a limited time only. If you’d like to read the first three novels in the series, you can do so at a substantial savings by purchasing the boxed set.

I’m also throwing a big Facebook party for the boxed set’s release. The party is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 2, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. EST. There’ll be trivia contests and prizes for the winners.

Law Can Be Murder is only $1.99 right now. Buy a copy and join us on Facebook for the party next week!

*******

Debbi Mack is the New York Times ebook bestselling author of the Sam McRae mystery series. She’s also published Five Uneasy Pieces, a short story collection that includes her Derringer Award–nominated story “The Right to Remain Silent.” Her short stories have appeared in various other anthologies and publications. Her most recently published short story is “Jasmine”, appearing in Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays.

Debbi is also a screenwriter and aspiring indie filmmaker. Her first screenplay has placed highly in both the Scriptapalooza and Austin Film Festival screenwriting contests.

A former attorney, Debbi has also worked as a journalist, librarian, and freelance writer/researcher. She enjoys walking, cats, travel, movies, music, and espresso.

You can find Debbi online here:

http://www.debbimack.com

On Twitter: @debbimack and @debbimacktoo

On YouTube at: http://bit.ly/13AZEWT

On Instagram at: http://instagram.com/debbimacktoo/

On Tumblr at: http://debbimacktoo.tumblr.com/

You can buy Law Can Be Murder on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple iBooks, and Smashwords!

Getting It Right: Part Deux

red-inked manuscript

(C) 2008 Nic McPhee, used under Creative Commons

I started work with my new editor on Gypsy’s Kiss last week. I will give her a shoutout when we’re finished, but so far I like it.

To the six of you who read the original “Gypsy’s Kiss,” it had the questionable premise of high-priced call girl Gypsy (from “Roofies”) wanting Nick to be her final client before she leaves the sex trade. I subbed that one to an anthology before really having time to work on that story. As a result, I wasn’t happy with it.

But…

Expand it to a novella (or, if you want to be picky, novelette, but that’s a silly term), make it about the end of Nick Kepler as a PI and about his history with Gypsy, and we have a workable story. The trick Gypsy wants to turn initially is no more than Nick showing up with a bottle of wine and a dollar (because you don’t work for free) to watch old movies on a Friday night. Someone decides to make Gypsy’s exit difficult, and Nick is suddenly bartering services. (He reminds Gypsy that a bullet she took pays for much more than finding out who trashed her apartment.)

I reworked it and reworked it, at one point even killing Nick off in an interim draft. The story I sent to my new editor has a happier ending.

I can’t tell you how much it means to have a longer work edited. My editor is building a client list, so the rates were right. Since I was already aware of her work and her editing style (We are currently tag-teaming a mutual friend’s novel.), I saw this as an investment in what’s my final independent long-form release as Jim Winter. (Unless Holland Bay tanks.) She confirmed a lot of my story decisions and had me already thinking of ways to shore up the weaker sections of the story.

It pleases me to no end that Nick Kepler’s story will end edited as well as (if not better than) it was in the beginning. As I said before, Road Rules survived without a formal edit, as did Bad Religion, but as Holland Bay will soon go back to an agent, I want to end Jim Winter’s time as an indie writer with a better story.

And begin Dick’s run as an indie. My new friend has already agreed to do my first science fiction novella.

It’s been an awesome time to be two different writers.

Friday Reviews: Under The Banner Of Heaven by Jon Krakauer; Neanderthal Man: The Search For Lost Genomes by Svante Paabo

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon KrakauerUnder the Banner of Heaven

Jon Krakauer

In 1984, two brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, murdered their sister-in-law and her infant daughter. The reason? Brenda Lafferty had interfered with their brother’s destiny in the one true faith. The Lafferty brothers were practicing polygamists and part of the a fundamentalist Mormon sect. In Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer uses this horrific crime as a jumping off point to look at extreme religious faith through the lens of the complex Mormon religion that dominates Utah and surrounding states.

There is not one Mormon church. There are several. The best known is that institution, the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints (LDS for short), the organization founded by Joseph Smith in 1831. Krakauer depicts the history of the church, juxtaposing it with events in the fundamentalist sects. What caused the schism?

The controversial doctrine of polygamy.

Krakauer contrasts the mainline LDS church with the fundamentalist sects. He spends little time on the moderate polygamist sect, the Apostolic United Brethren, depicted in Sister Wives and My Five Wives and the basis for the HBO series Big Love. Instead, the focus is on the more fanatical Fundamentalist LDS (or FLDS). The sect and its splinter groups have made news over the past few decades with stories of kidnapping, of child brides, incest and Jim Jones-like leadership over followers in their own virtual city-state, Colorado City, Arizona. Whereas the AUB practices a rather benign form of polygamy (Women, for instance, are “inspired” to choose their husbands rather than given to men in arranged marriages.), the FLDS version underscores why the mainline LDS church is highly unlikely to ever reinstitute polygamy even if the practice is ever legalized. The ban not only allowed Utah to become a state, but many in church leadership in the 1890’s were horrified by the abuses that came with the doctrine.

Warren Jeffs in particular is painted almost as a sociopathic monster. The words are not Krakauer’s, who paints fascinating portraits of the charismatic Joseph Smith and the almost Jeffersonian Brigham Young. Some FLDS members themselves in interviews condemn Jeffs for his lust for power.

Krakauer describes his book as an examination about extremism in religious faith, and that it is. He even shows a court case where an expert successfully drew a line between faith and insanity. And once you see that line, insanity becomes all the more frightening to behold.

Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes by Svante PaaboNeanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes

Svante Paabo

Part memoir, part history of one of the most groundbreaking research projects in modern paleontology, Swedish geneticist Svante Paabo recounts the thirty-year journey that led to sequencing the genome of the Neanderthal. He relates how his career began as a medical student with a side trip into Egyptology to fulfill his research requirements. During another research project, Paabo discovered how to sequence genes from mummies. His zeal for this sort of work led him to several prestigious post-doctoral fellowships and research positions. Over the years, someone asked him to see if they could retrieve DNA from the bones of a Neanderthal. They did. Eventually, this led to retrieving and sequencing nuclear DNA, the DNA that actually designs who you are, from 40,000-year-old remains. The research even turned up yet another recent species of human, found quite by accident. Perhaps the biggest discovery, however, was that the Neanderthals did not go completely extinct. They were, in fact, absorbed into the populations of modern humans living in Europe and Asia, fragments of their DNA surviving to this day. Maybe one of your ancestors was a Neanderthal. Bet that would make for some awkward Thanksgiving dinners.

Paabo laces his long technical explanations of how DNA fragments are examined, how they function, and how they almost always are contaminated with tales of his personal life, the impact of global politics on international research projects, and, of course, all the fragile egos, academic maneuverings, and media management that goes into an otherwise dry subject. If Paabo had stuck with the technical details, one’s eyes would cross as the more arcane details of microbiology are not the stuff of a riveting tale. Coupled with personal accounts and the more human aspects of such work, Paabo’s tale becomes quite engaging. But perhaps his greatest achievement in this book is making the Neanderthals human. While he doesn’t describe the day-to-day lives of these people, by explaining how their DNA is mostly identical to humans, he reminds us that we once were not only a people of many races as we are now, but of multiple species.

That’s mind blowing.

Pink Floyd: The Endless River

Pink Floyd: The Endless RiverThe Endless River

Pink Floyd

If David Gilmore is to be believed, this is the end of Pink Floyd. And what an end it is. Some of it ambient. Some of it loud and psychedelic. All of it Floyd in a way A Momentary Lapse of Reason tried to be in 1987.

This album is Floyd more in how it differs from previous work than how similar it is. In the late 1960s, the band tried an album of long-form suites called Umma Gumma in the wake of Syd Barrett’s breakdown and departure. Ironically, Barrett’s solo work proved to be more coherent and interesting, but then the remaining four Floyds still did not know what Pink Floyd was without their eccentric front man. Building on work left over from The Division Bell and around the late Rick Wright’s keyboard work, David Gilmore and Nick Mason revisit the Umma Gumma concept to tell the story, mostly without lyrics, of a band called Pink Floyd. There have been Syd Barrett albums by Floyd and Roger Waters albums and David Gilmore albums, all with Nick Mason weaving some of the sonic flourishes through it from Meddle on until now. There has never really been a Rick Wright album. As “Side 1” (really, the first three pieces) shows, Wish You Were Here came closest. There are keyboard phrases that hearken back to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” really Wright’s greatest performance with Floyd.

“Side 2,” or the second trio of songs, goes all the way back to the Barrett era and Atom Heart Mother and makes one wonder if Waters sat in listening to the finished recording splitting some herb with his former bandmates. My first thought on hearing the album was that Barrett was actually louder on this album than Wright, and Wright’s fingerprints are all over this, six years after his death and 44 years after Barrett recorded his last note.

Even Waters is present in the bass work, some of which is played by Wright’s son-in-law and Gilmore-era bassist Guy Pratt. Instead of pretending he quit the band in a fit of rage, Gilmore and Mason are telling his part of the story. In interviews, Waters is gracious about his absence. Whereas he once railed against the Gilmore/Wright version of Floyd as a fraud, he simply laughs and says, “I left Pink Floyd in 1985.” (Though he and Mason have voiced a desire for one last bow following the 2005 Live 8 performance.)

Many have said it stopped being Floyd when Waters quit in 1985. He, Gilmore, and Mason would disagree. Since his death in 2008, the trio has acknowledged that Wright was the actual essential member. 1983’s Wright-less The Final Cut was essentially a Waters solo album. 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason was written with the idea bringing Wright back, but lacked something that did not bring back all the fans. The Division Bell saw a return to the thematic and musical coherence of albums from Dark Side of the Moon through Animals, but ultimately left many Floyd fans unsatisfied.

The Endless River acknowledges all that was Pink Floyd in all its many incarnations. It’s not a radio-friendly album, and maybe that’s why this coda may be one of the band’s best efforts. It’s all Floyd in 53 minutes that quotes the past without being derivative of it.