Monday, June 12, 2017

Stiletto Strikes Again!

Stiletto #2: The Fairmont Maneuver is now available for $2.99 so grab it!

An SOS brings C.I.A. agent Scott Stiletto to San Francisco. Ali Lewis was once a capable agent herself, before she left the covert world and took over her mother’s clothing company. When her father is murdered by a former business partner who wants the business, Stiletto is the one man Ali can trust to learn the truth behind the killing.

Legally, Stiletto’s hands are tied. There is only so much he can do to stir the pot of police corruption he soon discovers, led by a young inspector who has no interest in solving the crime. When evidence points to a growing international conspiracy orchestrated by Iran involving the smuggling of nuclear bomb parts, kidnapped scientists, and a decades-old mafia / Silicon Valley alliance the government has been powerless to stop, Stiletto has no choice but to break the rules and show this domestic enemy what .45-caliber justice looks like.

Get ready for a non-stop thrill ride … you’ve never read action like this before!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Thoughts On Roger Moore

I was a young lad in 1980-something when we got cable at the house, which included HBO. While I was excited at the prospect of seeing Star Wars and Star Trek II on the TV (they ran as a double-feature one night), my father had other interests, and I caught him watching a movie where a bunch of guys in black were jumping off a boat and attacking a warehouse full of other guys who used machine guns to beat them back. Of course these Johnnies in black were better at fighting than the machine gun Johnnies and pretty soon one in particular was chasing a guy in a car, shooting him through the windshield, and then kicking the car, with the baddie still alive inside, over the side of a cliff. What is this engaging wonderfulness? I thought, or whatever the equivalent would have been at that age. For Your Eyes Only, starring Roger Moore as some dude named James Bond.

Watching that movie with Dad started a tradition where we go to every new Bond movie as it comes out, though with the garbage being put out now with Thug Bond Daniel Craig in the role, we've decided it would be better to carry on re-watching the oldies on the 60-inch flat-screen my father recently installed. The follow-up was Octopussy, you may remember, and Dad had to go watch it first to make sure it was OK for me to see. I know some of you hate it, but I love the damn thing, clown disguise, Tarzan yell, and all.

Those movies are what started me on my obsession of all things spy-fi and the eventual writing of same. Once I discovered Bond was based on books and started collecting those, the course was set.

I've had such a love-hate relationship with Moore-era Bond, though. On one hand, the Moore Bonds are probably the most watchable Bond films ever produced, perfect for rainy days or lazy Saturdays, and you're surely going to be entertained. But when I was in my Serious Spy Fiction phase, thanks mostly to Donald Hamilton and his Matt Helm books (the American Bond), Moore Bonds became far too silly for me to take seriously.

Lately I've gone the opposite way, especially since the Craig era began, with all of its rubbish and nonsense and Super Serious stories; suddenly Moore doing a Tarzan yell or skiing away from Soviet troops to the tune of "California Girls" isn't so bad, and in fact preferable, to Super Serious Brooding Thug Bond Who Never Smiles Because He's Super Serious.

Sir Roger starred in more Bonds than any of the other chaps but he also played in some of the worst Bonds made. The Man with the Golden Gun--like the book, a mess of missed opportunities and plot holes you can drive a truck through. Moonraker--where do I start with this tragedy? If you ever suffer from insomnia, put on Moonraker and you'll be out in five minutes. A View to a Kill--great moments, probably the best Bond soundtrack ever, but it's too long and too slow and Moore was too old. However, even those bad Bonds are watchable because Moore could do what very few actors are capable of: make a bad script entertaining. Of the three, A View to a Kill is probably the best, even with Grandpa Roger fighting atop the Golden Gate Bridge. Try watching Sean Connery in his Bad Bond, Diamonds Are Forever, which is actually unwatchable even if you're drunk, and compare it to any of Moore's turkeys. There is simply no comparison. Moore's skill elevated those movies to a status Connery couldn't achieve.

It's hard to rank Moore's best, but For Your Eyes Only is for sure at the top, because it's almost the perfect spy movie. I'd put The Spy Who Loved Me up there too. Both titles compete for #1 and you can't go wrong either way. Octopussy had its rough spots, but I love the climactic exchange between Bond and Q, flying to the rescue of Octopussy in a hot air balloon:

Bond: Are you sure you can fly this thing, Q?
Q: Sure, it runs on hot air.
Bond: Oh, then you can.

I laugh every time. Moore's delivery of the punchline is perfect. Octopussy and Live and Let Die, which hasn't aged well but is still good (the boat chase in particular, and the bumpkin sheriff--love that guy), can compete for the bottom slots.

I've written so much about Bond--books and films--that I never considered that I'd eventually be writing about the passing of one of the actors. These are guys you grow up with, and it's awful to see them go, but they leave behind a body of work where they will always be with us again, even if for only two hours, and remind us of why we loved watching them over and over and stayed loyal even when the presentation wasn't as good as we'd have liked.

Sean may have been first, but Roger was the best.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Kindle Unlimited is Why I Signed a Trad Deal

I’ve had a few questions regarding why I signed with a traditional publisher a couple of months ago.  The biggest was why not stay indie? Believe me, I had a lot of folks telling me not to sign this deal, most of them professional writers for more years than I’ve been alive, all of whom had lousy experiences on the midlist.  But (a) my self-published work hasn’t set the world on fire (though it did get me the deal) and (b) Kindle Unlimited is proving to be more of a nemesis than friend.

I get a lot of KU reads with my new Stiletto series. Thousands of pages a month. It’s doing great, and that’s cool. I don’t mind. It’s neat to see almost real-time page-read data. But we’re only getting, what, half-a-cent per page read?  Sometimes less?  If subscription ebook services are the future, and the payouts less than what Dashiell Hammett made per word back in the Depression, how are we supposed to make a decent living?

It seems to me that Amazon is making the return on the indie writer’s investment less and less over time.  I can’t be the only one who has noticed a lot of top-selling indies are now struggling with rankings falling into the dungeon, with authors privately saying they’re really having a hard time.  It’s too many to be isolated.  There’s talk of Amazon tweaking the algorithms to focus on trad and their own imprints, and that makes sense--more money there for them, perhaps.  All I know is that it’s tough to make a living as an indie right now, or to get a reasonable return on our investment of time and effort (assuming, of course, we have written something worth reading, and not simply contributed to the tsunami of crap).

If this is the way it’s going to be, one must look for other options.  Unless I’m totally wrong, and please jump in if you think otherwise, half-a-cent per page read sucks.  You have to write a lot of pages to get anything out of that machine.  Compared to that, the trad deal I signed, while far from the “Amazon 70%”, is a great deal, and a far better option.  You can talk about 70% all you want, but who else is getting that besides the top 1% of indies?

I suppose I could go wide, but something is better than nothing, and half-a-center per page is better than no sales at all, but Amazon is ripping me off. So I found a different option.  Self-publishing is great.  I’m certainly not going to stop making use of the resources available.  The reason I’ve gone “hybrid” is because I want a chance to make as much from my writing as possible.  That isn’t an easy task when Amazon keeps changing the seating chart.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Blaze! Book from Rough Edges Press

I haven't mentioned this before because I wanted to make sure the book was actually accepted and printed, etc., but James Reasoner was kind enough to let me write an episode of the Blaze! Adult Western series that his Rough Edges publishing company releases on a more than regular basis.

J.D. and Kate Blaze are married gunfighters who roam the west getting into all kinds of trouble--usually for a fee. The series and characters were so similar to those in my Steve Dane series that I decided to ask for an audition. James and series creator Stephen Mertz helped work the kinks out of my original outline (I submitted something that would have gone 300 pages; they said I needed less than half of that). I proceeded with the project and now we have Blaze! #16: Copper Mountain Kill, which you can order on Amazon

From the publisher:

"The Copper Kings of Montana are at war—and Kate and J.D. Blaze are caught in the middle! Hired to get to the bottom of the sabotage and murder plaguing the mines, the Old West's only team of husband-and-wife gunfighters tackle crooked lawmen and a band of vicious outlaws known as the Lion Gang, only to find themselves trapped on a runaway train loaded with dynamite, a bomb on wheels that threatens to blow the Blazes sky-high!

Acclaimed thriller author Brian Drake (THE TERMINATION PROTOCOL) joins the Blaze! team with a novel packed with excitement and mile-a-minute action. COPPER MOUNTAIN KILL is Western adventure at its finest."

I set the novel in Butte, Montana, where my family is from, because there's western novel gold in that Big Sky Country, and I wanted to explore the possibilities of exploiting the location. I spent a lot of time there growing up, so the research was easy. The Copper Kings were in fierce competition for the copper in Butte's mountains and hills, and there was action aplenty (ask Dashiell Hammett) in the old days. It was the perfect setting for a powder-burning western.

Someday I'll write an essay on the long-term effects of that mining. Let's just say they raped the land and the mine is now an EPA Superfund site yet the government is either unable or unwilling to clean it up and instead just manages the damage. I'm torn being being angry about the environmental damage and grateful that the mine provided a livelihood for three generations of my family.

But anyway ....

If you're into westerns, you'll like the Blaze! series. J.D. and Kate were great characters to work with, and I hope I get a chance to send them on another adventure.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Join my Street Team!

Hi, everybody. I've just signed up with Instafreebie to help build my street team and I hope you'll join me. You get a free download of Stiletto #1: The Termination Protocol in exchange for signing up. If you don't want to sign up yourself, maybe you know a voracious thriller reader who might, so please feel free to share this link far and wide.

A lot has been happening on the book front, both with my self-published work and the traditional contract I just signed, so I'll have more updates soon.

Thank you in advance!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Special Announcement

This morning I finalized a five-book deal with Liberty Island, a small press in New York, to bring out my Steve Dane thriller series in print, ebook, and audio editions. This officially makes me a "hybrid author", or one who has a traditional publisher, but also self-publishes. I will continue to self-pub other material (mainly my Stiletto series) while giving them exclusive rights to publish the three Dane books already out (after some revisions, and my editions will be removed from Amazon by the end of today) and the two that are written but haven't been electronically published, with an option on more should we wish to continue the effort. This is the result of months of back-and-forth, and it feels good to finally be done and moving forward.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Get Carter: The Original Brit Grit

Oh, man, Get Carter is a book I really, really wanted to like, but I really, really had a hard time with it.

I wondered why. Here we have one of the seminal works of 1970s crime fiction (originally entitled Jack's Return Home) that takes place in an industrial town in Britain. We have great local color, terrific descriptions of the hard life of the town, gritty descriptions of the criminal element that hides just beneath the surface, and a terrific anti-hero who returns to his hometown to right a wrong and doesn’t care if he has to blow away his old buddies to do it.
From Soho Press

What was the problem? It took until the middle of the book for me to figure it out.

Too many imitations.

In the years since Get Carter, a gazillion writers took what Ted Lewis did and populated book shelves with so many copies that they ruined the original in the process. It took a long time for me to read Get Carter because it was out of print, but I knew all about it. I’d seen the movie, of course--loved it. I’d read all the praise about it--is there a bad review? Thanks to Soho Press and its recent reprint (they did all three Jack Carter books), with a fine introduction by Mike Hodges, who directed Michael Caine in the movie (the remake? fuhgeddaboutit!), I finally snagged a copy. Didn’t think twice. I was going to finally read this classic piece of crime fiction that had eluded me for so long, yet found it disappointing.

Once I realized what had happened, I took action. I went back to page one. I put out of my mind all of the copycats (even Spillane used the same plot and same general story devices in The Deep, though that book pre-dates Lewis) and started over.

And … wow. Anybody who writes or wants to write should memorize the opening chapter, which establishes such a sense of urban decay you wonder if Jack is taking a train into Hell.
Go home, Stallone, you're drunk!

All I can say is that Get Carter deserves its reputation, and going into too much of the book’s plot shouldn’t be what we focus on. What should be highlighted is the writing style of Lewis and the intensity of the place he creates. This isn’t swanky, swinging London he’s writing about. This is a town with industrial smokestacks scraping the sky. The pubs are dirty. The people in them are dirty. The streets are dirty. The gangsters fight dirty. There’s no trick shots or fancy gunfights. When guys get hit, they hurt. They spit blood. They got knocked down, and before they can get up, somebody grabs them by the hair and smashes their face into the muddy asphalt. You feel it, man. You feel every hit. You can taste the grit.
Michael Caine IS Jack Carter

Get Carter isn’t so much a book about a man returning to the home he left behind to avenge his brother’s murder, even though it is. It’s more about a man coming to terms with his past, his mistakes, and how he has to live with those mistakes. Jack Carter is really avenging himself, his brother is just a cipher, a catalyst for Jack’s existence. He’s a tough man who once thought he had all the answers and soon discovers he doesn’t know the answers after all; in fact, he’s changed so much, become so soft, relying on his former reputation, the bad guys get the edge. And that gives us one of the biggest sucker-punch endings in crime fiction. It’ll make your eyes bleed, because you want Jack to win, and then you realize Jack is you. We all grow and change and sometimes we go back where we came from thinking we know everything and then life smacks us across the face with the fact that we don’t know anything at all. We just fooled ourselves into thinking we did.

That’s what the other guys missed. The imitators could do the action, sure, but they couldn’t get the feeling. They couldn’t put you in that place. That’s the wonder of the late Ted Lewis, who left us way too soon, and why Get Carter is so revered and deserves to be discovered by a new generation of crime readers. The best crime fiction teaches us about our world and a little about ourselves; Get Carter does that, and belongs among the best.