Friday, November 27, 2015

Can We Talk?



Did your heart just sink?

Mine does every time I see those words--and I seem to see them more and more. In fact, it feels like every time I go on Faceback or Twitter there’s an endless stream of links to the outrage du jour. The initial rant is promptly followed by rants in response. And then rants in defense of the right to rant. And then rants in defense of the right to be angry about other people’s rants. And then meta rants, which I guess is where I come in.

I know--we all know--that ranting is the result of fear, frustration, outrage, anxiety--or, yes, sometimes just general anti-social acting out--but mostly it’s about stuff people feel strongly about and want other people to…to…

Well, this is the problem, isn’t it? When someone jumps up on a soapbox it’s because they are moved to speak about important issues or valid concerns. Certainly important or valid to them (though mileage may vary for the rest of us). We should assume, it is only fair to assume then, that the author/orator is hoping for some productive result. Like people will change their votes or stop posting nekkid pictures or donate to a worthy charitable institution or quit abusing semicolons or adopt a pet NOW.

The problem is, when someone resorts to screaming and kicking, the audience inevitably focuses attention on the messenger rather than the message. If there is a discussion, it becomes a discussion about the delivery system and not the content.

Blaming, berating, scolding, however righteous, is not conducive to conversation. It’s not productive. It does not persuade. It does not change hearts and minds. A speech is not conversation. A rebuttal blog is not dialog. Let alone détente. And unless you’re the dictator of a small, isolated country with an economy based on the export of cucumber bath gel, you’re not going to force people to do things your way no matter how clever and cutting you are from behind your monitor screen.

We all have the “right” to rant. That’s beside the point. Does ranting serve a useful purpose? Because if it’s just venting, then it’s essentially a temper tantrum, and however much we may sympathize with other people’s need for a nap, it’s not a good idea as a society to condone or encourage temper tantrums. Communication via shrieking provocative statements at each other is not communication, it’s verbal assault.

What happened to our ability to discuss ideas without making everything personal?

I partly blame social media for our culture of rant. Social media is predicated on the idea that we all have something important and interesting to say--and that there is an audience waiting for our words. There really isn’t, so maybe that’s where a lot of the frustration comes from. The dawning suspicion that nobody is listening. Because everyone is talking at the same time.

Listening has become a lost art, and that’s not good for the future of intelligent conversation. Let alone for solving any of the world’s problems.

When I was a kid (yes, I know, blah, blah, blah) and I would get into the occasional school yard rumble, the adults would advise “looking at the situation through the other person’s eyes.” That’s not a phrase we hear a lot these days, and I think it’s because we’re all gazing at the world from the POV of selfie sticks.

Here’s a crazy thought. Maybe the next time we have something important on our minds we could begin a conversation and ask questions rather than start by informing everyone of our conclusions on the matter while assigning motive and blame? We have a lot of tools for communication these days. Maybe once in a while we could try…talking to each other?


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

May you always have more things to be thankful for in your life than you can easily count...

Friday, November 20, 2015


Soooooo a while back a friend and I were hoping to co-write a project. It was a good idea, in fact, I still think it was a GREAT idea, but the pieces just didn't fall together for whatever reason--that's the thing with creative endeavor; the stars don't always conveniently align when you need them to.

Anyway, I hate to waste anything and since I loved the characters I came up with, after a bit of tweaking I figured out a different story for them--and that will be The Mermaid Murders. But I still had this prologue from the original idea. It didn't fit the new story or who those characters had become, but I wanted to do something with it. I thought it was such an intriguing opening. But to what story?

In fact, for about two years now (has it been that long?!) I've been batting around various scenarios and then I was lying in bed the other night worrying about whether my current Christmas project--Slay Ride--might be just a bit noir-ish for the holidays (multiple shootings, car jacking -- that's the trouble when you based fiction on true crime) and I suddenly realized I already had the beginning to what could perhaps be a kooky little Christmas story maybe a bit more festive in tone.

Which is how A CASE OF CHRISTMAS came into being.

Reworked but otherwise absolutely unedited  PROLOGUE

Cleared for duty.

Shane stared in disbelief at his cell phone.

The magic words. The good news. And the bad news.

But mostly the good news because there had been times over the past month that he’d worried he was on the beach for good. Not that this wasn’t a nice beach to land on, and not that he didn’t have faith in the system or trust in due process--how ironic would it be if a special agent for the FBI didn’t believe that justice would prevail? But the circumstances of the Fallon case were complicated. Or at least had appeared complicated to his superiors at the Bureau once the Fallon family had launched their lawsuit.

Yeah, he had been worried. In fact, the longer this administrative leave had stretched, the more he had feared he--or at least his career at the Bureau--would end up as collateral damage following an out-of-court settlement. Not a damn thing he could do about it either. He had gone on the record, he had told the truth, given a full and complete accounting of the facts…and been sickeningly aware with each passing day that none of that might make a difference. The Fallon family was absolutely convinced Shane had stolen a 15th century samurai sword from the weapons recovered in the sting operation he had been in charge of back in December.

 Beyond the fact that his great-grandfather possessed an impressive and priceless collection of Japanese militaria, there was no reason to suspect him. But suspect him the Fallons did. They believed the Yasumitsu sword had been part of the recovered haul--a suspicion based solely on the word of Denny Green, one of the two defendants in the case. Green already had two burglary convictions and wouldn’t know a katana from a Klimt, but the family wanted to believe the sword had been in his possession because that meant there was a chance it might eventually be returned to them.

 The sword had not been there. Had never been there. But Shane had begun to wonder if that would ultimately matter.

Four weeks of waiting. Four weeks of hell--the last two weeks made bearable only by Norton.

And then just like that the case was dropped and he was cleared for duty.

Shane shaded his eyes from the glare of the spring light bouncing off white sand and the whiter hulls of the pristine boats bobbing on the choppy blue water of Santa Catalina’s Avalon Bay. Overhead, gulls mewed plaintively as they circled, ever hopeful, ever hungry. A ship’s bell rang out across the sun-dazzled water.

This welcome news meant, come Monday, he’d be back in San Francisco. Spring break was effectively over. Really, he should book his flight for today. But if he held off until Friday he’d still have the weekend to get ready for his return to work and that would leave him two and a half days to spend with Norton. Who…should have been here by now.

Shane glanced at his phone. No messages, and yes, Norton was definitely running late.

Which wasn’t really like him. Scruffy and offhand, Norton might be, but Shane had noticed he wasn’t nearly as disorganized as he let on. And he sure as hell wasn’t forgetful.

Maybe Shane had misunderstood. Maybe they were meeting for lunch and then going sailing?

Or maybe Norton was just running late. Yeah, that was probably it.

Shane turned from the beach and started back along Crescent Avenue, crowded with passengers from the cruise ship which had dropped anchor outside the bay. The floating cities arrived every Monday and Tuesday during the month of March.

Better to skip sailing all together and talk. Time to come clean. Maybe past time, given those little jokes Norton made about being an international art thief. Norton didn’t like sharing personal details anymore than Shane did, and Shane respected that. He did wonder about Norton’s day job. Norton never seemed short of cash. Which meant he didn’t earn his bread and butter as a painter--even if he hadn’t been, well, a really lousy painter.

Shane probably should have laid it on the line that first night, but he knew from experience that FBI tended to have a chilling effect on potential romance. Not that he’d exactly had romance on his mind when he’d first met Norton in the bar of the upstairs courtyard at Mi Casitas. That had been about sex, pure and simple. But thirteen days later--and they’d been pretty much inseparable for most of that time--he owed the guy the truth. And if Norton still wanted to…pursue the options, that was okay with Shane. More than okay, if he was strictly honest.

Kind of a surprise given that Norton, with his goofy sense of humor, shaggy blond hair, and baggy Hawaiian shirts was really not Shane’s type. He wore a pirate-style earring, for God’s sake. He wore clogs. His “paintings” looked like they were done by a preschooler possessed by demons. He joked about things like having underworld contacts. But even more of a surprise because Shane had never been interested in pursuing any possibility but the most obvious and immediate. But there it was: Norton was different. In ways that Shane found both unsettling and exciting. In ways that Shane found downright bewildering.

It wasn’t just a matter of owing Norton the truth, Shane wanted to share this news with him. Wanted to hear what Norton had to say.

Shane wove his way through the throngs of sightseers in sunhats and shorts, pushing strollers, carrying shopping bags, eating ice cream cones. Yellow and blue and brick colored umbrellas dotted the beach where tourists lay baking their goose bumps. It was March, after all. Despite the bright sunshine, the wind off the ocean was chilly and the shade cast by the palm trees and beachfront buildings was deep.

He mentally ran possible scripts as he turned right on Clarissa Avenue.

I have good news and I have bad news. Which would you like to hear first?

So…remember that night you said you hated cops. Was that a firm hate or just a strong dislike?

Or there was always the classic opener: Are you or have you ever been a member of the communist party?

Yeah, not really a conversation he was looking forward to. But he knew he wasn’t imagining that powerful connection. Kinetic energy. Something had sparked between them that very first night. So they would talk. Really talk. And hopefully work something out. He wanted it to work out.

Norton was renting a dusty blue and white two bedroom cottage across the street from his own. No yard to speak of, just a small potted tree on the brick walkway. A spyglass weathervane swung indecisively in the breeze. Shane walked up the two steps to the brightly painted red door. The blinds in the front window were lowered and shut tight, which was strange.

He knocked on the door.

A woman was sweeping the porch of the bungalow on the left. Shane nodded politely to her.

He knocked again. Firm and brisk.

No answer.

The woman stopped sweeping and leaned over the porch railing. “He’s gone,” she called.

“What’s that?” Shane called back. He was pretty sure he hadn’t heard correctly.

The woman, about sixty, slight and wiry in a flowered pink house coat, repeated, “He’s gone. He left on the first ferry.”

“You mean…” Shane tailed off because even he wasn’t sure what the question was. Norton hadn’t said anything about going to the mainland last night. Last night? Hell, he’d been in Shane’s bed just four hours ago. They were going sailing and then they’d have lunch and then they’d come back to Shane’s cottage or Norton’s cottage.

He said, foolishly, “But he’s coming back, right?”

The woman shrugged. “Couldn’t say. He had all his luggage with him.”

 From the bell tower overlooking Sugarloaf Point, silvery chimes began to toll the hour.  


Friday, November 13, 2015

New Release - Jefferson Blythe, Esquire

It’s here again. All the fun and excitement of getting ready for a trip to Europe. There’s special excitement, of course, because this is going to be a special kind of trip, but then every trip abroad is special.
Esquire’s Europe in Style, 1960
To celebrate Monday's release of Jefferson Blythe, Esquire, we've got two launch parties going this weekend. One over at my Facebook fan page and one over at my Goodreads group.

Both parties feature games and giveaways. The giveaways are always cool--mugs, key chains, t-shirts, audio books, you name it--but we've got some especially neat stuff this time around. Two vintage style compasses, a couple of copies of Esquire's Europe in Style, a framed retro map of London...

Very--in the word's of Jefferson's grandpappy--groovy stuff.

If you haven't purchased the book yet, here are a couple of convenient buy links:


Barnes and noble



Audible (the audio book is coming 12-14)

So enjoy the parties--and enjoy the new book!

Friday, November 6, 2015


When I first started doing audio books, I used to really enjoy interviewing my narrators--they always have such interesting insights into both the characters and the story. So I thought it might be fun to see if anyone in this new batch of narrators might be up for an interview--and so far so good!

We're going to start this new series of interviews with Derrick McClain who narrates Dark Horse, White Knight (not be confused with Jason Clarke who narrates The Dark Horse novella in the Male/Male Mystery Suspense Box Set).

In fact, it was Derrick who gave me the idea for this when he asked to interview me! (That interview should run next week on Derrick's site. )

So without further adieu, meet Derrick McClain!

Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get started in narrating/producing audio books? How many audio books have you narrated?
DM - I’m incredibly new to audiobook narration, and it’s almost embarrassing to admit that Dark Horse, White Knight is only my sixth audiobook (with another five currently in production).
As to my background and how I got into this gig, audiobook narration has long been a lingering fantasy of mine, but for years it has been just that – a fantasy. We talk about “getting your foot in the door” but I didn’t even know how to find the right door in the first place. Then, a few years ago, I stumbled into some part time work as an audiobook proofer – listening to a production along with the text and marking any errors, extraneous noises, mispronunciations, etc. Most of the narrations I listened to were fantastic, but every now and then I would find myself thinking, “I could do this so much better.” Meanwhile, I discovered that hidden door into this industry, and finally decided that I should stop saying I could do this work and actually give it a try.
How much acting is involved in narrating a story?
DM - Arguably, the entire thing is acting; there’s a reason so many narrators call themselves “voice actors”. Most professional narrators have an educational and professional background in acting. I am admittedly an outsider, though my background in public speaking and live dramatic reading of prose has certainly been beneficial.
The most obvious acting is during dialogue, but even the non-dialogue exposition requires acting. It doesn’t take listening to many audiobooks to start recognizing a difference between simply reading a work out loud, and actually bringing it to life with your voice. I
strive for the latter.
What was the most difficult or challenging aspect of narrating DARK HORSE, WHITE KNIGHT?
DM - Had I known White Knight primarily took place in Wales I might not have ever auditioned in the first place! I’m constantly attending workshops and working with coaches to develop and expand my narration skills, and while working on accents and dialects is definitely on my training list, I haven’t quite gotten there yet.
After spending several days studying and attempting to replicate various Welsh accents, I finally settled for something more along the lines of a light hint at an accent. Hopefully the few times it comes up in dialogue won’t be too disruptive for any listeners intimately familiar with the region.
What character was the most fun to narrate? Why?

DM - I would say Dan, who was fun partly just because I enjoy a classic deep-voiced man, but also fun because of the challenge that goes along with that.
Dan is strong and stoic, but not at all one-sided. Oftentimes, he’ll only say a few words, and on the surface those words may be simple and to the point, but underneath them are all the emotions, doubts, and questions he’s experiencing – be it pain, joy, suspicion, betrayal…he’s a complicated man. Expressing those subtleties while still maintaining a distinct voice – one that’s rather different than my own – is a fun and unique challenge. I won’t say I did it perfectly, but I certainly did my best.
What character was the most difficult to narrate? Why?
DM - The honor of most difficult – other than the Welsh characters – would go to Sean’s agent, Steve. In addition to just needing to be distinct from both Sean and Dan, Steve has a lot of components I wanted to express; he has the somewhat stereotypical Southern California habit of saying “dude” all the time like some surfer bro might, he has a background in stand-up comedy, the traditional talent agent sleaze and salesman persona, all blended together into one unique character. Plus, he’s loud all the time, which is an entirely different challenge in narration.
Was there a particular scene you think you read especially well? Or that you particularly enjoyed reading?
DM - One of the things that I absolutely love about Dark Horse, White Knight is that it breaks from the traditional timeline of romances while still retaining all the defining features of the genre. Dark Horse starts out where you expect most stories to end. In White Knight we get to see how Dan and Sean met and began their relationship, not through regular flashbacks but rather through Sean’s therapeutic writing of the events as a third person narrative.
Anyway, on the written page these “flashbacks” are set apart by the use of a different font and spacing, but on audio the listener doesn’t get to have any such visual cues. It’s up to me to differentiate it orally without making it disruptive. I ultimately settled for a more traditional sounding detached narration, which was both fun to do and, I hope, effective.
How awkward is it to read erotic scenes aloud?
DM - A number of narrators I know never thought that they would wind up narrating titles with erotic content. For them, the first few times can be rather awkward.
I, however, came into this work already a fan of romance. Forgive the rant for a moment, but since discovering romance, I have a hard time with non-romance titles. The thing is, most stories include some sort of romantic subplot. But when they just fade to black, we miss something essential. In real life, erotic moments are not just about eroticism – they are major turning points in our relationships, they require vulnerability and trust and can be incredibly revelatory. In good romance, erotic scenes aren’t just thrown in for the sake of arousal. Something more is happening. Yeah, we get to read about sexy men doing sexy things, but we also get to see the bonds of trust, the expression of deep caring, the manifestation of a desire that is more than merely physical in nature.
As a narrator, I get to bring that to life. The only erotic scenes that I ever find awkward are ones that are poorly written or bereft of deeper significance. Luckily, Dark Horse, White Knight doesn’t have any like that.
Whats the most satisfying or rewarding part of narrating/producing an audio book?
DM - You mean, aside from the fact that I get to read books for a LIVING?! (Which, let’s be honest, is pretty much the most badass job anyone can imagine).
I’d say after the sheer awesomeness of the job itself, one of the coolest parts is just getting to better understand the industry of books and audiobooks and meeting the incredible people behind it all. So much goes into every book, and there are so many facets not just to a book’s creation but also to its success, and I find the whole thing incredibly fascinating.
Have you ever found yourself in the position of refusing to narrate a book or a scene?
DM -At this point, I work entirely with independent authors and small or niche publishers, which means that I get to pick and choose the titles I audition for. I have turned down a few unsolicited requests, but generally I’m not put in a position where I might have to refuse a title I’m otherwise expected to narrate.
The only books or scenes I think I would adamantly refuse to narrate would be ones that romanticize rape or disparage sexual or gender identities. Luckily, those are few and far between and not on my radar to audition for in the first place.
Where can readers/listeners find out more about you and your work?
DM - To find out more about me folks can head on over to my website or stalk me on social media Im on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Instagram.
To hear more of my work, thats as simple as searching for Derrick McClain on Audible Im the only narrator with that name.