Bad Religion: The Shakeup

BadReligion-ebook600The mark of a good series is that it doesn’t leave the protagonist sitting in one place for too long. Sue Grafton uprooted Kinsey Milhonne both at her office and domestically (blowing up her apartment) and all within a matter of months. VI Warshawski has had to move her offices. Spenser, at least in his classic period, had a personal life in flux for years before settling into domestic bliss with Susan Silverman.

With the first two Nick Kepler stories, I had him in an apartment in North Olmsted (based on a real building on that corner that was torn down about six or seven years ago) and space in the offices of his former employers at TTG Insurance. In Northcoast Shakedown, I had to establish the character’s work routine and support network. It did not make sense to destroy all that in Second Hand Goods, since it was the second book in the series. In this story, his deal with TTG is threatened, Elaine’s marriage is disintegrating before she and Nick ever give in to any suppressed feelings, and Nick has already had to send a sidekick to prison for his own good.

If I do go ahead with Suicide Solution, the follow-up to Bad Religion, Nick’s office is going to be gone, his home will probably be at risk, and even his relationship – professional and personal – with Elaine will be on shaky ground.

No one wants to read about a character in his or her comfort zone. Why do you think Captain Kirk went on so many landing parties (to the fatal detriment of many red-shirted underlings)? Why does James Bond spend so little time on screen in London? Kirk is comfortable on the bridge, and unless he’s having to stare down an angry Klingon commander, he’s pretty satisfied with the give and take with the rest of the crew (who are also pretty comfortable with the deck of the Enterprise beneath their feet.) We don’t see James Bond in London much, despite having seen his office once in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, because no one wants to see Bond filling out forms, reading reports from other 00’s, or going to Tesco’s to pick up some beanies and weenies and a bottle of Coke. Boring.

Staying on the Bond theme for a moment, the whole reboot has been about keeping Bond in flux. In Casino Royale, he’s thrust into the role of “blunt instrument.” In Quantum of Solace, he has to learn on the fly how to wield that license to kill without overreaching. In Skyfall, he’s given a partner, gadgets, and a new boss, losing M in the process.

This is what Kepler needs. A character kept off balance is infinitely more interesting than one who does the same thing over and over again.

Advertisements

Bad Religion: The Sidekicks

BadReligion-ebook600If you’ve read The Compleat Kepler and the first two Kepler novels, you know Nick Kepler doesn’t go it alone, even if he feels like it sometimes. He has friends in police departments, in the prosecutor’s office, and with his client/former employer, TTG Insurance.

But he also has part-time ops as well. Most are cops working off-duty. One is a PI who seems to have learned all he knows from reruns of The Rockford Files. None of them are the psycho sidekick, though one likes to play at that.

Who are they?

ELAINE HASKELL – By Bad Religion, it’s pretty clear that Elaine and Nick can’t keep their hands off each other. Over the course of the novel, we not only learn why, but we witness them giving up the pretense that what happened in Second Hand Goods was a one-time thing. But Nick Kepler, PI, exists partly because Elaine willed it so. When Nick was downsized out of TTG Insurance, she and her boss convinced the company to give him office space in exchange for cheap, freelance claims work. And it’s this situation that leads to the events of Northcoast Shakedown. It’s pretty clear that Elaine, married with two children, has been pretty sweet on Nick for a long time, but there’s something else driving her to become his partner. Years earlier, when she was blonde, she was also a cheerleader for the Cleveland Cavaliers. That was fine for a partying college girl who liked to hangout with basketball players, not fine for the wife of an accountant and an executive assistant to some of the managers at a large insurance company. Working with Nick gives her a sense of purpose.

RICK REESE – Reese first appeared in “Race Card” as a harassed deputy sheriff whose wife once worked with Nick. Like any cop, Nick recruits him to be a part-time op. For Reese, it’s more interesting than his job with the Cuyahoga County Sheriff. In Cleveland, which exists in a county where every square inch is developed or part of a municipality, the sheriff’s department is largely confined to the county jail and government buildings. Reese is a family man who sometimes has to remind Nick when he’s crossing a legal line.

TY WOLVERSON, AKA “WOLF” – Wolf comes closest to being the psycho sidekick. Muscular, with a buzz cut, Wolf likes to intimidate and is not above flashing his badge to get his point across. He first appeared in “Race Card” as Nick’s fellow gym rat and an antagonist to Reese. Divorced, he drives a restored 1971 Plymouth Duster called “Black Beauty.” The car and his daughter are the two things he cares about most in life.

ERIC TEASDALE – Teasdale is the most questionably qualified of Nick’s sidekicks. He became a PI after taking one of those correspondence courses Sally Struthers used to hawk.  What is so inexplicable to Nick is how Teasdale gets any surveillance done in his 1968 Ford Thunderbird. The car is large enough, as Nick says, “to launch bombing sorties off the hood.” Some time before we meet him in Second Hand Goods, Teasdale helped Nick out with a murder case involving two strippers. He wound up in a relationship with one of the strippers, who turned out to be the killer, and Nick fired him over it. In the interim, Teasdale snagged himself a gig as a part-time investigator for a nearby township. Unlike Elaine, Reese, and Wolf, who all live in nice suburban homes, Teasdale lives in a house trailer in rural Valley City, which is neither a city nor in a valley. (True story. I used to play basketball against Valley City’s high school.)

Print | Kindle | Nook | Smashwords

Bad Religion: Nick Kepler So Far

BadReligion-ebook600So far, I have managed to put Nick Kepler through the wringer. I’ve taken away the love of his life (“Flight of the Rat”). I had him cover up a murder through blackmail (Northcoast Shakedown). I killed off his best friend. (Second Hand Goods) And I put him in an untenable love triangle while another friend is killed. (Bad Religion) My goal in this series was to send him to hell slowly. Then, eventually, I would slowly bring him back. I had an entire arc mapped out for him, including an ambiguous last scene in the last novel.

The question remains as to whether to continue Nick. I have a new short coming out and a second one awaiting revision. The real question is whether to continue with the novels. A fourth remains outlined, the story of a friend’s husband committing suicide after losing their retirement money in a phoney scheme to develop an abandoned amusement park. Following that, Nick would end up in a confrontation with one of Nikolai Karpov’s enemies that sends him fleeing Cleveland. Then I would send one of the characters, the future Mrs. Kepler, actually (who hasn’t played a major role yet) to go bring him back.

But the question remains whether to do it or not. I’ve just spent the first six months of the year rewriting Holland Bay from scratch. I’m currently working on the SF novel (more on that tomorrow). So what do we do with Nick?

I’ll probably know when Holland Bay goes off to its destination.

Exteme Makeover – Nick Kepler Edition

rr_cover_newAs you can see, there’ve been some changes either done or to be done to the books I have out.

For starters, I did Bad Religion with a print edition, my first print book in eight years. Next up will be Road Rules. I never liked the formatting on Road Rules, and the cover has too much pixelation for my taste. So I’ve revamped the cover, redid the formatting, and will upload the book at the beginning of August.

I also plan to right a grievous wrong as I did not properly credit J.D. Rhoades for his introduction to the book. So, as you can see by the new cover, I’ve fixed that. It will show up when the various ebook pages are updated as well. And finally, there will be a print edition. No, I haven’t sold very many copies of Bad Religion in print. In fact, Kindle seems to be the preferred format. But there is very little cost up front for CreateSpace, none if you do an electronic proof. So why not?

NCShakedown-ebook600Come Labor Day weekend, a reformatted version of Northcoast Shakedown will appear, also with a new print edition. Jennette Marie Powell has been working on new covers for NCS, along with its follow-up, Second Hand Goods. Both books will have print editions as well, with Second Hand, barring any delays, appearing in early October.

Come Halloween, I will be putting out a print edition of The Compleat Kepler as well. So, by Christmas, you can have Nick Kepler on all the dead trees you want.

And finally, in December, the non-Kepler shorts will appear in a collection called The Compleat Winter. No, I don’t have a cover yet, but I do have a cover concept. I also need to collect the stories and put them into proper ebook and print formats.

In the meantime, we’ll be having a contest for Bad Religion. Stay tuned as I will announce it first on Twitter. Just follow @authorjimwinter and keep your eyes open. The contest will be announced this Friday.

Bad Religion: Robert Tilton Vs. The Rev. Calvin Leach

BadReligion-ebook600I make no secret that the televangelists of old inspired much of Bad Religion. Indeed, yesterday, I brought back to this space an old gag where I would pray for God to smite Pat Robertson. Calvin, however, comes across as a little more forward thinking in the scene where Nick and Elaine visit a taping of his show, The Unbroken Circle. Listening to Leach, Nick gets the impression that Leach really is a halfway decent man of the cloth. His problem is that he wants to be a master showman as well. He’s got an elaborate television studio, the choir from a large Baptist church from one of the black neighborhoods, a rock band, and even a theme song that bastardizes a Todd Rundgren tune from 1988.

But ol’ Calvin did not emerge from a vacuum. I conjured him up from many parts. Some of it I talked about a few weeks ago, discussing how nearby Akron was a mecca for some of the lower-tier televangelists in the 1970’s and 1980’s. But there was more. You can’t have an outsized personality like Calvin Leach’s without an outsized TV show like I described above. Some of what I came up with had its roots in the old PTL Club and the inexplicably still-running 700 Club. Some of it simply came about with, “How would I do it?” But Calvin had one other inspiration, a bizarre carnival huckster out of Texas, now based in Miami, named Robert Tilton.

Who’s he?

Comedian Ron White mentioned him in his standup act. Ron explains about what happened one night while he was flipping channels as he sat naked in a beanbag chair eating Cheetos.

Pastor Tilton, seemingly looking right at Ron, says, “Are you lonely?”

Ron White says, “Yeah.”

“Have you wasted half your life in bars pursuing sins of the flesh?”

“This guy’s good…”

“Are you sitting in a beanbag chair naked eating Cheetos?”

“…Yes sir!”

“Do you feel the urge to get up and send me a thousand dollars?”

It takes Ron White a couple of seconds before he says, “Close! I thought he was talking about me there for a second. Apparently, I ain’t the only cat on the block who digs Cheetos!”

What Ron is referring to is Tilton’s signature bit, the thousand-dollar “Vow of Faith.” You give God a thousand dollars, he claims, and God will make it rain up in here. Of course, he makes it clear that, to give God that money means supporting his ministry. So how did this genius cross my radar?

The first time was in 1992. My girlfriend at the time and I were having money troubles, and I was depressed. My girlfriend was a good Catholic girl (except that she shacked up with me out of wedlock, where we did all sorts of things the priests at St. Gertrude’s did not approve of) and was interested in all things spiritual. She received an ad in the mail for a cross that was supposed to make things better. She knew it was bullshit, but she ordered two, one for me, one for her. That’s when Pastor Tilton first entered my life. I carried around this cheap, plastic cross like a good luck charm, and it had it’s intended effect. I felt better. I was still broke, but I felt better. Then the fun began.

I received a letter from Pastor Tilton with a “genuine cloth of St. Paul” enclosed. I was to sleep with the cloth under my pillow for a week, pray without ceasing, and send Pastor Tilton back the cloth with my “biggest bill.” I think Bobby meant the ones with Andy Jackson, U.S. Grant, or Ben Franklin on the front. I was thinking the Christ Hospital bill I couldn’t pay or the telephone bill from back in my Wayne County days that I still owed on. Nonetheless, it further lifted my depression as my girlfriend and I took the letter and the cloth of St. Paul to parties and showed our friends what an idiot Pastor Bob was.

Then, one night, we watched 20/20. Pastor Bob was on, getting raked over the coals by Diane Sawyer, columnist John Bloom (aka Joe Bob Briggs of TNT Drive-in and later Daily Show, fame), and the attorneys general of Texas and the United States. I’d never actually seen Robert Tilton preach, but it involved a lot of twitching, facial ticks, and “speaking in tongues.” I’d heard of speaking in tongues, even worked with a couple of Pentecostal holy rollers who talked openly about it. The thing is, whether you believe in that or not, I’m pretty sure the Holy Spirit would not repeat “Hoo baba kanda” ever time Tilton lost his place and needed to fill dead air. The longer we watched the 20/20 story, the more it became apparent: Pastor Bob wanted to get down, down on the ground, cocaine.

Yep. Turned out Robert Tilton loved him the white powder. It wasn’t the Holy Spirit causing Tilton’s Tourette’s syndrome. It was Juan Valdez’s drug lord neighbors. Because even when it comes to illicit sustances, mountain grown is still the richest blend.

And that was it for Pastor Bob for about ten years. And then a coworker called me over to his desk. “Hey, Jim, have you seen this?”

It was Pastor Bob. And someone had dubbed in an explanation for his ticks and utterances.

Someone had decided Pastor Bob needed some special effects. There were about six or seven farting preacher videos (Some marketed as “Pastor Gas”) done over the years. I even found one done around the time Tilton was investigated for fraud. In a final airing of his show before he went underground, regrouped, and moved to Miami, Tilton addressed his television flock from an empty studio, whining that anyone could be investigated and that the devil wanted him out of business. But like a bad penny, Tilton popped up again in the late nineties and early 2000’s in a shiny new studio with a shiny new blonde wife who, like Tammy Faye, “sang” during each show. The later versions of Tilton’s Success N Life also treated people to their two dogs and Tilton frequently talking about his and the new Mrs. Tilton’s honeymoon in Paris where they had “French champagne, French bread, French fries.” That Bob. What a cut up. It also still featured Tilton’s infamous facial and verbal ticks, rich fodder for more Farting Preacher videos.

The sad thing is people support this guy even when he’s been caught red-handed time and time again. During the 20/20 story back in the 90’s, one of Tilton’s fraternity brothers explained how this all started. Tilton and his buddies got bored one night and found a Pentecostal tent revival nearby. They went in to watch, gleaned all the mannerisms and verbage, then proceeded to “have a religious experience” in front of the adoring crowds. One of Tilton’s buddies later said it wasn’t fair that Tilton got rich off the gag. “I’m better at it than he ever was.”

And yet Tilton started his ministry, making as much as $80 million one year in donations. While my former girlfriend and I had fun taking his stupid little trinkets to parties to make fun of him, the fact was that we lived in a Zip code targeted by Tilton for its low income bracket and high level of unemployment. If we had lived in, say, Hyde Park or even Brady Bunch-esque Madiera, we might never have heard of the guy. There are, of course, those who like the big, flashy show to get their message across. If your following is as large as, say, Joel Osteen’s, you kind of need a big production anyway. But if the only thing anyone sees is your expensive car and house and suits and dogs and wife’s boob job, dressing it up as “prosperity gospel” only works with the desperate and the gullible. That Robert Tilton keeps coming back time and time again shows that some men are simply unrepentant and irredeemable.

Next week: A contest!

Print | Kindle | Nook | Smashwords

Bad Religion: The Kirtland Cult Murders

BadReligion-ebook600One of the early catalysts for Bad Religion came from a horrific event in 1989. East of Cleveland is a quiet little town called Kirtland. This small village has changed little since the 1800’s. It looks like a New England town straight out of Nathaniel Hawthorne or Stephen King. Kirtland is famous for being an early headquarters of the Mormons, where the original temple still stands. It also is the home of the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints (also called the RLDS for short). The town is heavily wooded and sits in sharp contrast to nearby Mentor, one of Cleveland’s largest suburbs and home to a nuclear power plant. One hardly knows they are in Ohio’s largest metropolitan areas when passing through Kirtland. Once upon a time, it was a stop along the drive to Geauga Lake Amusement Park and the former Sea World Ohio.

What happened in 1989, though, shocked this city of less than 7,000 people and rattled the RLDS itself. A former member of the church, Jeffrey Lundgren, broke away and formed a cult. Lundgren began preaching some bizarre doomsday predictions. The RLDS ousted him. On the day of his excommunication, a severe thunderstorm hit Lake Country (where Kirtland sits). Lundgren, in his delusional state, took this as a sign from God and moved his followers into a nearby farmhouse.

Lundgren and his family unsettled their neighbors. Police responded to complaints of gunfire, and Lundgren’s son warned neighbor children that, on May 15 of 1988, the ground would open up, allowing demons to emerge. Lundgren exerted tight control over his followers, forbidding them to talk amongst themselves, calling it the sin of “murmuring.” He would eavesdrop on their conversations to build the illusion that he could read their minds.

As authorities began asking some uncomfortable questions, Lundgren told his followers that God required a sacrifice. He selected the Avery family. The Averys were the only five followers who did not live at the farmhouse. In April of 1989, Lundgren lured them to the barn on the property he rented, where he and several followers shot them and buried them beneath the dirt floor. The cult then fled to an isolated mountain town in West Virginia. Lundgren became disillusioned with the cult of his own making and abandoned his followers, moving his family to California.

However, in 1990, police received a tip that bodies had been buried in the barn. They dug up the barn floor. Lake County deputies were sickened by the discovery of the shallow graves. Thirteen of the cult members, including Lundgren and his family, were hunted down and arrested. Lundgren himself received the death penalty and was executed in 2006.

The original idea for Bad Religion, before I switched to the televangelism angle, was based on the cult. Since I did not want to drop a literary bomb on Kirtland or run salt in the wounds of the survivors, I created the fictional town of Chamberlain, named for a Civil War hero from Maine. Still, the murders refused to stay out of the story, so they were grafted into the backstory of Chamberlain police chief Katherine Conway (named for a Cincinnati cop who took a bullet at point-blank range in her own cruiser and survived.) Without making the killings a focal point, it gave Conway a reason for being nervous about a bunch of private detectives shadowing one of the churches in her town.

The other part that made me shy away from cult angle was the ease with which Lundgren built a following and his ability to convince a dozen seemingly normal people to kill an entire family. I did not want to glorify that. Instead, I reduced it to background and let Conway talk about it in lines based closely on those of the first responders and deputy sheriffs at the original scene. Let him be the monster he originally was.

Next week, we’ll look at something a little more cheery: Calvin Leach’s spiritual ancestor, Robert Tilton.

Print | Kindle | Nook | Smashwords

Bad Religion: Now In Print!

BadReligion-ebook600Finally, at long last, Bad Religion is in print. Actually, all my novels will be going to print soon. Why didn’t I do this years ago?

When my original publisher folded in 2006, you didn’t have any options, really. There was iUniverse and XLibris, who told you up front that you’d be paying a lot of money to get books printed. What they did not tell you was that the bookstores wanted nothing to do with them. And bookstores were your only real option, despite what my now-defunct publisher insisted, to sell any books.

Then along came Kindle. And Nook. And Smashwords. Suddenly, not only did authors have an ebook option, but it took away some of the stench of self-publishing. You didn’t pay to play. You published. And if you published, the only money you might spend was paying for a cover and possibly formatting. Even formatting has become simple. If you can master Smashwords’ Meatgrinder – it is very unforgiving of poorly formatted Word docs – you then have a viable source document that can be tweaked for Nook and Kindle. (I still prefer to do those channels separately. More control, more royalties.) Covers…

Road Rules doesn’t look bad. Northcoast Shakedown doesn’t look bad. The Compleat Kepler actually looks professional. Never mind that it was done by an idiot* in his basement on PaintShop Pro. “A Walk in the Rain”? Um… Second Hand Goods? Meh. Thanks to some back-and-forth with Li’l Sis, we came up with not only a bad ass cover for Bad Religion, but a theme we could easily use on the first two Kepler novels. We’re still mulling a “keyhole” image for Second Hand Goods, which has been the runt of the Kepler litter for some reason.

So how did I go to print without going bankrupt? Simple. Amazon has offered CreateSpace for a while now. Take that ebook Word doc you made, add a header and footer for page numbers, and upload. It also has a tool for creating book covers, though in the case of Bad Religion, Li’l Sis came to the rescue again. You can digitally proof the book, which I did, but most authors I know recommend ordering a print proof. It costs very little. Mine would have been about $5 and some change. That’s it. Author copies are also inexpensive, less than 2/3 the retail price of the book (unless you set your price ridiculously high, like $12.99, which is stupid for a paperback. Nobody’s that good, and I know Ken Bruen. So I don’t say that lightly.)

Is it worth it? I’m out some time spent on formatting in Microsoft Word, and I owe Li’l Sis a detailed beta. When you’re not selling hundreds of copies a week, barter is your friend. Your best friend. Other than that, I’m not out anything. Yes, I’d like to sell it in bookstores, but bookstores and Amazon do not get along. Too bad. Because, speaking as a customer, that really limits my choices.

Which, indie bookstores and Jeff Bezos, is a major fail on your part. Fix it. Now.

Print | Kindle | Nook | Smashwords

*To quote Howard Wolowitz, that would be me.