Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Scott Stiletto Returns!

Now that the Steve Dane series is pretty much done (Dane #4 is in the can and coming soon) I've decided to finally continue with CIA agent Scott Stiletto, who originally appeared in The Termination Protocol a couple of years ago. That was meant as a one-shot, but some friends said they liked the character, so why not give a series a try? This required some rewriting of the original story to actually set it up as a series, and writing Stiletto #2 was a quick project (well, a month or two), and now I'm plotting Stiletto #3. Meanwhile, I had some kick-ass covers made by my buddy James at GoOnWrite.Com.

Here they are. I hope you'll like the series as much I like writing it. I'm going all-out with this one, writing something I would have submitted to Gold Eagle back in the '80s, and actually very much wanted to, but when you're 14 who's going to take you seriously? Even I laugh at my old manuscripts now. Sure learned a lot, though.


 Anyway the first three books feature Stiletto as a rough-and-tough CIA operative; after book three, things take a different course, and he becomes a free-lance operative so as to better take on threats that the CIA / US wouldn't handle. If this does well, I have at least ten stories in the pipeline with more to come.

And that's not all. I also have a plan to bring back Mr. Wolf, the vigilante hero I wrote about under the Dean Breckenridge pen name. I want to do several novels with him; my ideas include an origin story that will knock your socks off, literally one of those stories I've been working on for years but never quite knew what to do with.

Enjoy the covers. More updates soon!

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Sushi Bar at the Edge of Forever

Did you hear the one about the haunted toilet?

The Sushi Bar at the Edge of Forever by Calvin McMillin is a collection of short stories that will not only satisfy your need for a good scare but also provide genuinely good entertainment.

Calvin comes to writing with a very diverse background and a talent for crisp, economical writing that should delight those of us who are always looking for that one true sentence.

And he wrote a story about a haunted bathroom. Stephen King has never thought of that!

Here's Calvin to tell us more. . . .

Brian Drake: Tell us a bit about your background, Calvin.

Calvin McMillin: I was born in Singapore and spent my formative years in a little town called Rush Springs, Oklahoma. After graduating high school, I went on to Oklahoma State University, where I received bachelors’ degrees in English and Secondary Education. I taught in the public school system for a bit and then left the mainland behind to get my master’s degree in English from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. After I completed my master's degree, I attended the University of California, Santa Cruz, where I pursued—and eventually earned—a PhD in literature. So, it’s safe to say that I’ve spent a lot of time in school, either as a student or a teacher!

Click to Purchase!
BD: How did your collection take shape?

CM: The first iteration of The Sushi Bar at the Edge of Forever emerged out of a creative writing course with Professor Albert Wendt at the University of Hawai‘i. It was actually the first creative writing class I’d ever taken, and I really relished the opportunity. Fiction writing was always something that I had to squeeze in during my downtime—after work when I was a teacher or between homework assignments when I was an undergraduate—so, to have writing actually be the homework assignment was a wonderful change of pace.

If I’m remembering correctly, the final assignment called for a portfolio of the student's best work, and somewhere along the way I had this idea of writing a collection where all the stories would all be connected in some way. Plot-wise, each of them would work as a standalone tale; however, when read together, they would form a subtly interlinked experience for the reader. Characters, settings, and themes would recur with a cumulative significance. “The Sushi Bar at the Edge of Forever” and “Model Behavior” were two of the first stories I wrote, and the rest sort of fell into place after that.

BD: How did your professor and fellow students react to your subject matter?

CM: I remember it being a supportive environment, and Professor Wendt was very encouraging.

In fact, when I picked up my final project, I was blown away when I saw that he had written such complimentary things about my writing. To receive that kind of feedback from an award-winning writer—well, it was nothing less than inspiring. Granted, he might have written the same thing on the projects of all my classmates, but let’s not destroy my illusions just yet!

BD: Your stories offer such a unique twist on the typical horror tale. How long did it take to develop your own direction, rather than following standard horror convention?

CM: I drew inspiration from the many ghost stories and urban legends I’d heard during my numerous visits to Singapore over the years. While supernatural tales—particularly films—from Japan, China, Korea, and Thailand have gained differing amounts of exposure in the West, Singaporean horror, which is based heavily on Chinese and Malay folklore, remains relatively unknown outside of Southeast Asia. I felt that this might make it more frightening—or at the very least, more interesting—to American readers who have perhaps grown tired of the same old thing. Whether that's true or not, the Singapore setting was more way interesting to me, along with crafting stories that focused primarily on Asian and Asian American characters.

BD: The Singapore setting was indeed outstanding and it was really neat to get a glimpse into that side of the world. Can we expect more stories from you also set in that area, touching on the background you mentioned (which sounds fascinating--I like reading about how other cultures' folklore and how it's different/similar to ours in the U.S.), or is this the only opus you see yourself doing?

CM: I don’t have anything planned at the moment, but I imagine that Singapore will always be a part of my work. For example, in the novel I’m currently writing, some of the characters hail from Singapore, and what happened to them there figures largely into the plot.

BD: Two of my favorite stories in the book are “The Ghost Writer” and “Model Behavior”. Can you tell us a little about them, and I’ll leave you to whether or not to spoil anything.

CM: The Ghost Writer was especially fun to write. The story focuses on Ridley Lang, a popular Singaporean writer who seemingly has it all—a bestselling book series, a nice salary, and the adoration of fans all across the country. As wonderful as all that may sound, there’s one problem: he’s totally anonymous. As part of a publicity gimmick, his publisher decided at the very beginning to cloak Ridley’s identity in secrecy. It’s an arrangement that Ridley was more than happy to accept at first, but after churning out book after book over the years, he suddenly decides he’s had enough. Not only does he want to go public, but he wants to write a “serious” novel. He's tired of being chained to this franchise. Unfortunately, Ridley takes some short cuts along the way that have dire consequences.

For this story, I was able to draw on a lot of things for inspiration. In Singapore, there actually is a long-running anthology of “true” horror stories that has been pretty successful since the late 1980s. It’s up to volume 24 the last time I checked.  Anyway, all of the stories in each volume are purported to be compiled by the same author. However, nobody has ever seen the guy in person. And when he makes public appearances, he’s dressed head-to-toe in black—and that includes a mask.

When I heard that he was rumored to be a white guy, I realized this could be a short story. The idea of being anonymous is bad enough for anyone who craves even just a little bit of fame, but the idea of ethnic impersonation really appealed to me. Funnily enough, long after I'd completed the story, in September of 2015, there was a controversy here in the U.S. when a white guy named Michael Derrick Hudson was revealed to have posed as a Chinese poet named Yi-Fen Chou—after his poem was chosen for inclusion inThe Best American Poetry anthology. And if you consider all the things going on lately regarding Asian and Asian American representation in the media—the Scarlett Johannson/Ghost in the Shell controversy, for example—I think my story has taken on an added currency. The Ghost Writer was also a way for me to explore the issue of plagiarism, something I have been a victim of on more than one occasion. If something can't be resolved in real life, there's always fiction!

If I remember correctly, Model Behavior was the second one I wrote, immediately after completing the title story. It focuses on Ashley Wu, a Singaporean citizen who relocated to California as a child, but who’s just returned to her home country for the first time in a decade. Over the years, you hear all sorts of stories about celebrities who hadn’t previously thought of pursuing a career in acting or modeling, but suddenly find themselves discovered by a producer or an agent. I wanted to play with that idea in that story. So while Ashley is browsing Orchard Road, which is a big shopping district in Singapore, she bumps into a representative of a world-class modeling agency. She’s asked to come in for an audition, and that really sets her imagination afire. Maybe she could become a model. Maybe she could be an actress. Her head is swirling with possibilities. As the story progresses, however, she starts to question whether this seemingly chance encounter was truly a coincidence, destiny, or something else entirely.

The funny thing is that this story is based on a real-life incident. Aside from Ashley herself and some of the other fictive elements I added, the basic story up until she enters the modeling agency actually happened to me. I think I actually entertained this idea that I'd be an American who suddenly gets famous overseas. Like David Hasselhoff is to Germany or something. It’s all pretty embarrassing! In any event, I can’t actually say for sure that there was a supernatural reason for what occurred, but it certainly was an eerie experience. It's become my go-to story when it comes to campfire tales.

BD: All I can say is that no horror collection is complete without The Sushi Bar at the Edge of Forever on your shelf or e-reader. I cannot express enough about how much I enjoyed the stories; as I said, I’m not horror fan, but I could not stop reading Calvin’s work and I think you will enjoy it too.

Monday, May 2, 2016

New Malko Novel--Lord of the Swallows

There's a new Gerard de Villiers novel on the shelves, Lord of the Swallows, yet another in the long-running Malko Linge series.

Of course I bought it. I've written of de Villiers before and I think I'm developing a real love-hate relationship with the late author.

Here's what you can expect in a Malko novel: thin writing, thin plot, thin characterization, lots of sex, a little action, and endings that fizzle like a sparkler running out of gas.

But, dammit, I read every single word.

Those of us in the States who don't read French are only getting translations, but they're very consistent, so I have to assume his natural style is somehow coming through. I may have to learn French so I can read the other books, actually.

I've just started Lord of the Swallows, which deals with Russian sleeper agents in the U.S., and find myself scratching my head. Why am I reading this? What happens next???? Somehow, it works. Somehow, de Villiers keeps you turning the pages. I'm going to stop wondering why and just enjoy the ride.

By the way, if you're a real glutton for punishment, go over to YouTube and find the trailers and clips for the Malko movies, which look even trashier than the books!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Ian Fleming: The Man with the Golden Typewriter

I just picked up a must-have book not only for fans of James Bond, but anybody interested in a good biography as well.

The Man with the Golden Typewriter reprints Fleming's correspondence to editors, friends and fans, and his letters pertaining to Bond are terrific. It's a much livelier bio than previous editions, as good as those are (I re-read the 1996 Lycett bio often).

But it's a sad book, too. You're basically reading somebody else's mail, getting caught up in their life and gossip, only to find the very last letter in which his secretary must inform a friend that Fleming is in the hospital and not doing well. You can tell by the date of the letter that he died shortly after, and you can't help but feeling bad. In these letters Fleming is alive again as sure as he was when he walked the earth, and I must admit it was a bit of a shock to get to the end. Sure, you know how and when he died, but here is news coming in "real time" so to speak, and, anyway, it ads weight to the proceedings that doesn't exist in similar letters of Chandler and Hammett

I can't recommend it enough.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Thank You to All Who Voted

Well the Kindle Scout campaign for my spicy romantic suspense novel has ended and Amazon decided not to publish it, which I suppose is fine, because I published it myself over the weekend, and we're actually getting off (is that a bad pun?) to a decent start.

I want to thank all of you for voting. The book jumped in and out of the Hot & Trending category for the whole thirty days, which was great to see. That meant a lot, and it couldn't have gotten there without your help.

If you'd like a closer look at the book and to read the sample, here you go.

Or just click the cover photo on the right.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Welcome Brianna Cain!

It's one of those times where you hope you haven't embarrassed yourself. . . .

Recently a friend suggested I write a romantic suspense story. Nina Talikova, the female co-protagonist in my Steve Dane stories, is very popular. Basically, my friend wanted to know what a story with just Nina might be like, so I did some research, read a few books, and saw how well books in the romantic suspense category (or, rather, R/S, but only if you're with the cool kids) sell. I said, what the heck, worst case I end up with a stand-alone story under my own name.

So I set aside two months to write the manuscript. Came up with a smashing idea, I think, of a young CIA agent trying to discover if her father is a traitor, and in the process she must mend fences with her ex-boyfriend and that's where all the steamy romancy heaving and thrusting happens (spoilers).

I spent another month on editing, had some friends read it, and when they didn't laugh, but instead gave me a hard time for not having more sex in it (who knew I had such a perverted group of friends--male and female!), I thought I might have something worthwhile after all.

A man can't write romantic suspense under his real name, I thought, so I created a feminized version of my first name with a different surname. Fun fact: I once worked under the name Brian Cain, so that's where it came from. (Huge Paul Cain fan, don't you know.) What goes around and all that.

You can see the book on the Kindle Scout program website. Kindle Scout is what I'm describing as Amazon's version of American Idol--if you're popular enough, they'll publish the story. I would be very grateful if you'd give it a click and a nomination. If you have an Amazon account, use your username and password to get in. The first three chapters are available to read, so you can base your decision to click or not on that. If you don't like it, that's OK.

Here is the link, and you can see the cover on the right:

https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1OBZ14SUD847R

By the way, if you're looking for a new subject matter to try, for sure try romantic suspense. They're fun, the romance indie community has a great "ground game", and I really enjoyed writing the book. I have two more planned, but don't tell anybody.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars Episode 7, or: What a Piece of Junk

When Jerry Seinfeld wanted to end his sitcom, many viewers protested. They wanted the show to continue. Jerry, though in a very condescending tone, responded by saying viewers really don't know what they want, and if you just give in to their demands, they will ultimately be less happy. It might be nice, he explained, for them to have one thing in their life that didn't go on too long and end up sliding into mediocrity.

That brings us to Star Wars.

I don't think I've ever been so let down by a franchise before. Maybe the current James Bond reboot, but even that hasn't left me as pissed off as Episode 7, and the prequels, and the Special Editions, have left me.

The original Star Wars films are probably some of the best examples of storytelling in modern history. Everything you need to know about pacing, structure, characters--it's all there. When Lucas and his cast were hungry and unknown, they produced magic. Now that everybody is a millionaire, we get a steaming pile of Bantha fodder. Problem is, the public seems to like Bantha fodder. A lot. We'll save that argument for another time.

Without going into spoilers, Episode 7 is like having the same Thanksgiving leftovers for a whole week. Eventually even thinking about turkey makes you sick, yet J.J. Abrams and his people have made a film that serves leftover turkey not for five days, but for a month. Instead of digging deep into their imaginations, and maybe even using current events (as the First Order could be a disguised ISIS), they instead mined the other movies (all six for hate's sake!) for ideas and re-used them with younger people playing different parts. Something bad happened in the galaxy a long time ago, AND NOW IT'S HAPPENING AGAIN ALMOST THE SAME WAY AS BEFORE!!!

We even get another whining emo sissy for a Dark Jedi. Do they come any other way?

I expected more. A lot more.

Heck, the Expanded Universe novels that started back in the '90s with Timothy Zahn's excellent "Thrawn Trilogy" were a better follow-up than the steaming pile in theaters now. That's the material that should have been mined. Instead they did the bare minimum and gave us what we've already had for decades.

They also negated everything that happened at the end of Return of the Jedi, and didn't explain how the galaxy wound up in such shambles after the defeat of the Empire. That would have taken thought and maybe a little imagination; all Abrams and his crew had on their minds was "pew pew pew".

What we're left with are a lot of neat visuals to look at, but nothing of any substance.

Worse, Lucas has all but made the unaltered originals impossible to get after "fixing" what wasn't broken. Luckily, I still have them on VHS.

Of course I'm in the minority. I suppose I'm a "hater" that's "gonna hate" or whatever the kids are saying today after somebody else tells them to say it.

But in going full circle with my Seinfeld introduction, there was a time when Lucas was aloof about Star Wars. Maybe he'd do more, maybe he wouldn't, the fans clamored for more, he gave in. And now some of us are less happy, because there was a time when Star Wars was good, and not having any more made what we had even better. Star Wars has completed the slide to mediocrity, and now it's in the hands of Disney who will continue producing Bantha fodder until who knows when.

A few other observations:

Harrison Ford. Dude, if you hated Han Solo so much, why did you agree to do this? You've crapped on the fans. And by the way? You look like a tired, washed-up Mr. Magoo. Yup, I noticed your hand shaking when holding your pistol. Die young, leave a good-looking corpse--that means you.

Carrie Fisher. What a trooper. She did what she could while having nothing to work with, but 90% of the nation's Botox supply is in her face.

Mark Hamill. Where to start? I suppose I can't blame him, per se, but why let your character be assassinated the way it was? You defeated the Emperor and Darth Vader and now you run at the first sign of you-know-who emulating Grandpa? Way to let you-also-know-who get killed along with a gazillion others.

The new actors. It might have been nice just to have the new people in this show and none of the regulars as they deal with the collapse of the New Republic under the First Order, and have to make it up as they go instead of having the "wisdom" of Solo and Leia to tell them what do to. The new characters are certainly worth spending time with, but they're caught in a vortex of repetition, and they're situations are less compelling because of it.

You're probably going to go see the show anyway, but if you must, wait for the DVD.