Tuesday, October 30, 2018


I am proud to announce the release of SKILLS TO KILL, aka The Rogue Gentleman, aka Steve Dane #1. What started as a self-publishing project got noticed by a small press in New York called Liberty Island, and we made a deal, and now those old books are new-and-improved and retitled. I hope you'll take the time to give it a look. Our pal and fellow writer James Reasoner reviewed the book on his Rough Edges blog and was quite enthusiastic.

Thanks, James!

SKILLS TO KILL is the first of five (Another Way to Kill is already up for pre-order, and Live to Kill will follow shortly--so three books out in November, two more to follow next year), and hopefully more. If you've read them before, and liked them, you'll like them even more now. We've cleaned up the text, added a few things here and there, and overall made them much better than the previous incarnations.

The story:

Steve Dane should never have set foot in Italy. After witnessing a young woman’s kidnapping, the former agent turned rogue mercenary is hired to get her back by the girl's father and soon finds himself drawn in to the decades-old vendetta behind the crime. 

Racing against time as her life hangs in the balance, Steve battles the mafia who want him dead and the police and international agents who want him out of the way. With the help of his lover, former Russian spy Nina Talikova, he rushes down a path that leads into an ever-more complex world of deception ruled by a powerful and mysterious woman known as The Duchess. 

Life, it seems, is getting cheaper by the minute. And The Duchess has put a price on the ultimate weapon that will make it all but worthless. Only Steve and Nina have the power to stop a clock that is ticking away the life of the missing girl—and the world.

SKILLS TO KILL is available on Amazon. Ebook now; paperback to follow.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Jerry Ahern on Mack Bolan's Weapons

I've never made a secret about being a Jerry Ahern fanboy. I loved his books when I was a teenager.

Back in 2015, I became Facebook pals with author Stephen Mertz, who, I need not say, is a legend in men's adventure writing himself, having turned out titles for the Bolan series, as well as many others. In 1980, probably not long after Gold Eagle/Harlequin acquired the Mack Bolan series from Don Pendleton, the editors at GE asked Jerry Ahern for his opinions on which weapons Bolan, Phoenix Force, and several others, might use in the books. Ahern replied with two pages of well thought-out reasoning for this weapon or that, and a copy of the letter was forward to Mr. Mertz, who sent it along to me thinking I might like to add it to my Ahern collection. It was actually quite fascinated to read, and I've been meaning to post it on this blog ever since. I've included pictures of the actual letter, but transcribed it for the blog for easy-reading.

I'm not sure what to add, but I think it's safe to say Ahern's remarks were what made Gold Eagle replace the Pendleton-era Bolan weapons with the updated Beretta 93R and Desert Eagle the Executioner has used throughout the Gold eagle era. While Ahern suggested a different .44 Magnum (S&W, as you'll see), we know he approved of the Desert Eagle since he included it in THE DEFENDER series. I wish he'd have recommended the 93R over the 92, but for whatever reason the 93R wasn't on his radar at the time.

Here is Jerry's commentary:

September 2, 1980

Dear Andy:

The weapons suggested by your man from The Stony Man Farm team for Bolan to use do not make a heck of a lot of sense, as we discussed by phone. The guy’s plot ideas sound terrific, and no offense to the fella, but although he may have a Federal Firearms License and be some sort of gun dealer, he apparently does not know the technical side of things terribly well.

First of all—the reason the Auto Mag has always been a ridiculous choice for Mack Bolan is that commercial ammunition is usually available only from one manufacturer—Norma—and is terribly hard to find. It may not be available at all anymore. The Auto Mag, aside from a reputation for power in the game fields and on metallic silhouette ranges, has also earned a reputation for poor reliability over the years. The guns tend easily toward jamming. Aside from the fact that they are huge, unreliable and generate such heavy recoil that shot-to-shot recovery time is greatly protracted, the gun almost invariably requires that both hands be free to hold it, certainly for repeated shots.

No real adventurer or agent would be caught dead with one—simply because he might be caught dead if he used one. A fine gun for handgun hunting, perhaps, but not for any type of defensive or police use. It may have a lot of pizazz but anyone with an ounce of firearms sophistication realizes it is a stupid choice for Bolan or anyone like him.

The Wildey Magnum which your writer suggests does not truly exist at this point in time, although prototype models do exist and the gun is still—as I gather—intended for production. The ammo has been generally available for some time, simply because Winchester, a major manufacturer, decided to offer it. But currently, anyone who wishes to shoot the ammo must do so in a single-shot T/C Contender pistol. Even if the first production guns were to appear tomorrow, there would still be problems. The recoil would be on the high side, though supposedly not as bad as the Auto Mag. The ammunition would not be available everywhere, though more available than fodder for the Auto Mag. But, most importantly, the gun has never been proven. What may prove acceptable in eventually game field and silhouette shooting use will likely not prove acceptable for combat. And, the gun may never actually exist—it has yet to be offered for the first time commercially.

If Mack Bolan must use a huge, non-combat type gun with a flashy appearance—which would be poor logic in the real world, of course—then the best bet to replace the Auto Mag would be the new Smith & Wesson Model 629. Simply a stainless steel version of the Dirty Harry Model 29 .44 Magnum, the gun actually does exist, has manageable recoil for a strong man, enjoys wide ammunition availability and is thoroughly reliable. I have recently tested one for GUN WEEK, THE AMERICAN HANDGUNNER, and SAGA. Aside from the fact that it is already one of the most sought after guns in the world, it is a good one.

Now, no really weapons-wise person would use a .44 Magnum for combat, but the 629 is perhaps the best compromise with pizazz and common sense with a super-powerful load. Many vice cops, narcs and others do use the .44 Magnum, so at least its use by Bolan would be within the vicinity of good sense.

The Beretta Model 1951 Brigadier 9mm Bolan carries, though somewhat odd a choice, is a rational one. Yet, if you wish to update Bolan’s weapons a bit, he could switch to the newer Beretta Model 92S. This gun uses a fifteen-round double column magazine, has double action first round capability and features a fine decocking lever safety. Aside from a bit of additional girth at the grips over the older model (to accommodate the wider magazine with increased capacity) the guns are identical in appearance and Bolan’s holsters would work with the new gun just as well as with the old one.

That .460 Weatherby Magnum Bolan uses for sniping people is the ultimate absurdity. A good, solid .308 or .30-06 would be far better, capable of being silenced when necessary, etc. The .460 caliber is fine for Rhino, overkill for people. Each time Bolan uses the gun, any gun-wise reader realizes the writer just picked the most powerful caliber he’d read about and really knows nothing about how the gun is really used. I would suggest a Steyr-Mannlicher SSG with synthetic stock and Kahles sniper scope, or just a much-worked-over Remington 700 BDL, either gun in .308. With either of these, he might even get into using a Leatherwood ART scope mount—the kind used extensively in Viet Nam by snipers—something we are given to understand Mack Bolan is intimately familiar with.

The Phoenix Force people should all be armed with handguns of the same caliber for ammo interchange when necessary. Most professional soldier types reportedly use a 9mm Parabellum (Luger) since ammo can be found all over the world and this is the handgun caliber of most European armies. Many 9mm pistols will also with the Soviet pistol cartridge which is similar to the 9mm. Recommendation for a specific gun would be the Browning P-35 High Power. If all the Phoenix Force guys carried these, scenes of pitched battles could include swapping magazines when one man runs out of ammo, etc. That was always very effectively done in the old “Man From Uncle Series” and professional people working together always try for ammo compatibility.

Grimaldi, for a nice twist, might use a gun that is a carryover from his Mafia flying days, as well as any clandestine flight experience for the government. This could be any one of a number of silenced .22 pistols, most likely and old High Standard HD Military or a Colt Woodsman, although if you can check that Sturm-Ruger wouldn’t sue, the current (Viet Nam era) Special Forces/CIA assassination pistol is, by all reports, a Ruger MkI .22 automatic with integral silencer—these still being made about sixty miles from my house, as a matter of fact.

If Dagger is quite Continental and sophisticated, he’d probably go for a .380 ACP pistol like the Walther PPK/S or Beretta Model 84 when concealment is critical and a 9mm Parabellum when serious trouble is expected—probably a Browning High Power here too, but perhaps something with a little more in the exotic looks department, like a Walther P-38K (the old UNCLE gun), or the new Heckler & Koch PSP, a 9mm small enough to be carried for concealment as well, as would be the P-38K.

I’m not trying to sound presumptuous, but I am a weapons “expert” and you did ask. Personally, I carry a Detonics .45 automatic most of the time, in the warmer months when concealment is more difficult sometimes dropping down to a little snubby .38 Special Smith & Wesson. Sometimes, too, I use a six-inch Colt Python .357 Magnum. If I were in a situation of constant danger, like the fellas under discussion, I stick with the .45 or .357. If you want further information or amplification, let me know and I’ll help as best as possible.

Hear from you soon, I hope.

Jerry Ahern

Steve Dane Incoming....


Ebook and paperback.

Friday, September 21, 2018

More Wolf on Tuesday!

Many thanks to all of you who have downloaded The Kill Fever, or Wolf #1. I'm re-releasing the short stories, as I've said before, leading up to the big Wolf novel, Justified Sins.

Anyway, the next two short stories are dropping on Tuesday, the 25th, The Dark, and The Fixer.

However, a slight error is releasing The Fixer before The Red Ruby Kill. Since I couldn't change the pre-order dates, this is the way it is. But with the short stories, you can read them in any order.

If you haven't ordered yet, you can buy the stories here.

Thanks for looking!


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Guess Who Is Making a Comeback?

Remember Wolf?

Probably not, it's been a long time.

Once, when we were all young and beautiful, I wrote a set of short stories under a different name, featuring a hard-boiled vigilante/private eye named Wolf. The stories did well for me, but the pen name was a mistake. They'd have done a whole lot better for me if they were out under my own name.

Like before, the first story is The Kill Fever. It will be followed by The Dark, The Red Ruby Kill, and The Fixer. After that, Justified Sins, the first Wolf novel. After that, the second Wolf novel, and more short stories. I've big plans for Mr. Wolf.

Since I have a book from a real publisher coming out soon (The Skills to Kill, re: Steve Dane #1, which used to be The Rogue Gentleman), I'm putting out as much as I can on Kindle as a way of advertising.

The Wolf stories are the same as before, however, the upcoming novel, Justified Sins, has, again, finally (finally!) been restored to its original version, ie: before I took some bad advice and cut the entire subplot.

Thanks for looking. If you're read them before, tell your friends!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Espionage in Africa with Aiden L. Bailey

Aiden L. Bailey is an up-and-comer to watch, although he's been around, in one form or fashion, for a number of years in short story anthologies. His latest efforts concern the adventures of military contractor Simon Ashcroft, and his adventures on the Africa continent. The first book, The Benevolent Deception, is very good indeed.

You can find his books on Amazon (where else?) by clicking here.

I caught up with Aiden at a South Africa wildlife preserve and we chatted about writing while taking pictures of the wild animals who happened to pass by.

Brian Drake: You write thrillers featuring the adventures of Simon Ashcroft in Africa. It's not an area that shows up a lot in fiction. Do you have personal experience there that you used to model Simon Ashcroft?

Aiden Bailey: I backpacked through Africa when I was in my twenties and had a fantastic time there. It was the first continent I traveled to as an adult. I found myself in some reckless situations and soon saw the world from a completely different perspective. I gained a better understanding how the world works, and when it doesn’t work, why it fails. The good and the bad, it was all there in Africa and up in my face so I couldn’t avoid it.

Many of my story ideas seem to work best in an African setting. I’m obviously drawn to the location. The continent of Africa has many vibrant cultures, with wild landscapes and incredible people that are juxtaposed against militants, corrupt governments, extremes of poverty and a variety of amazing megafauna.

Simon Ashcroft features in three of my espionage thriller novels and novellas, and yes, all of them are predominately set in Africa. The Benevolent Deception is set in Kenya and Nigeria, The Assyrian Contraband in the Comoros Islands and Blood Ivory in Tanzania. Some of the locations Simon visits were places I visited and some of his experiences are my own. Many other descriptions are drawn from friends who’ve also been to Africa, based on stories they told me.

BD: When did you start writing? Who has been your biggest influence and why?

AB: I’ve been writing for most of my adult life. I’ve had over fifty short stories published in magazines and anthologies, many of which have won awards or appeared in ‘Year’s Best’ collections. I’ve been an editor with a fiction magazine and edited several anthologies. My day job is marketing communications copy-writing and technical writing for a variety of big industries including construction, defense, oil and gas, information technology and mining. It’s rare that I’m not writing something.

About three years ago I decided that what I really wanted to write was espionage thriller fiction. In my early days I was a big fan of authors like Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum, Len Deighton, Martin Cruz Smith, Desmond Bagley, Wilbur Smith, Gerald Seymour and others. I wanted to write the same kind of books.

About three years ago I started writing under the pen name Aiden L Bailey, putting out my first thriller novel The Benevolent Deception. It’s an espionage technothriller about cyberterrorists who assassinate the U.S. President, then fool the world that the President is still alive by impersonating him online through a variety of hacked digital news sources. This prompts all kinds of dangerous alterations to the world’s political, security and economic climate. The hero of the story, Simon Ashcroft who is a former spy turned military contractor, finds himself framed for many of the cyberthreats now facing the world. He goes on the run in Africa with a woman who might just know what is really happening, trying to stay one step ahead of the various shadowy forces trying to kill them.

BD: What is it about the thriller genre that attracted you?

AB: As a kid I was a big fan of the James Bond and Indiana Jones films. I liked the relentless action, the sense of constant danger and thrilling chase sequences. But there was also something really appealing about hero characters who travels the world and ends up in some rather exotic locations.

In my early days I wrote in many genres. After a while I noticed that all my stories had the same structure: action thriller fiction. I read far more action thriller fiction than anything else. I decided this was what I really needed to write and to focus on that.

I’ve discovered that I’ve never had this much fun writing as I do in creating espionage thriller novels. I can’t see that I will ever write anything else now.

BD: Do you outline or make up the story as you go? Why?

AB: In the early days I used to prepare detailed notes and outlines, but not anymore. These days I outline stories only in my head finding that is enough giving me the fluidity for stories to evolve as I tell them. But a structure is important, an overall plot is required because I need to know what is going on in every scene. Much of what is going on is not always at first obvious or apparent, only being revealed later. Mystery is important.

BD: The African continent is a great source of adventure, but also a land of tragedy. What is the overall theme of Ashcroft's adventures that take place there, and are you trying to teach readers anything about that area of the world?

AB: In The Benevolent Deception Ashcroft is confronted with the environmental degradation of the Niger Delta caused by oil companies operating in Nigeria, and terrorism in Kenya. Blood Ivory is about the mass slaughter of elephants in Tanzania and their near extinction in the wild because of the ivory trade into Asia. The Assyrian Contraband is set on an African Island in the Indian Ocean and features Islamic State terrorists smuggling archaeological artifact to fund their insurgency. You can read The Assyrian Contraband for free by joining my mailing list here.

I try to make my story locations as real as possible. Readers have commented that my stories bring these setting alive, particularly when I write about Africa. I guess I want to share what I find amazing about the African setting in my books. It is truly an amazing part of the world.

BD: You've mentioned on Facebook that you're planning a new series, and put up a poll to see which character name readers preferred. Which name won the poll, and what can we expect to see from this new character?

AB: My next series will be more traditional espionage thriller fiction in the same vein as Mark Greaney, Rob Sinclair, Mark Dawson, Tom Woods and Andrew Warren. It will feature an American CIA field operative who is incarcerated in a black prison for reasons he doesn’t at first understand. Eventually he escapes, only to discover he has been framed as a terrorist by a large, nefarious organization that is planning a rather nasty takeover of a major world commodity.

I have the first three books in this open-ended series plotted out. The first book is predominately set in Central Asia and Central Africa.

I haven’t settled on a name for the character yet, but the two popular options are either Travis North or Scott Pierce. One might end up as his real name and the other an alias. Not sure yet but I do like both names. Further feedback from readers is most welcomed.

BD: You've worked on some books with Andrew Warren, who has appeared on this blog twice. What was it like working with somebody else's characters, and do you plan to continue?

AB: Andrew Warren was looking for an author to help him write early stories in his Thomas Caine CIA assassin series. After Andrew read The Benevolent Deception and particularly The Assyrian Contraband, he approached me to co-write an early adventure in Caine’s career. He figured we write in a very similar style and tell the same kinds of stories. We’d been corresponding for some time already and it didn’t take me long to say yes.

The outcome was Sandfire, an espionage action thriller set predominately in Yemen. Thomas Caine teams up with a feisty  Australian UN aid worker and a Bedouin mother seeking her kidnapped children. Together they enter the world’s largest sand desert, The Empty Quarter, searching for a missing CIA plane hiding a secret that if exposed, could start a war in the Middle East.

The success of the first book led us to writing the next one, Depth Charge, currently in the works. Caine travels from China to South America to secure the defection of a Chinese military software programmer working on the People Liberation Army’s submarine program. While Sandfire was predominately set in the desert, the action in Depth Charge will occur predominately at sea, both above and below the water. Andrew and I should have this one out later in 2018.

Working with Andrew has been great fun, and as long as our collaborations remain well received, we could have a few more books in the works after Depth Charge.

BD: Thanks, Aiden. Great chatting with you. For more of Aiden's work, his website is www.aidenlbailey.com.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Reuniting with PHOENIX FORCE in Harvest Hell!

I haven't done a book review in a long time, so why not get back to reviews with a book that really entertained me.

PHOENIX FORCE #13: HARVEST HELL is a book I found at a thrift store, and it had William Fieldhouse's name on the copyright page as the credited writer, despite "Gar Wilson" on the cover. Terrific! Sold! Fieldhouse was my favorite Phoenix Force writer. He wrote most of the series, a gargantuan feat considering the rest of his output at the same time; and Harvest Hell proves why Gold Eagle gave him most of the Phoenix assignments. The man simply wrote a team action story better than anybody.

Katz and the gang are in Greece this time, raiding an island where a dude is housing a bunch of terrorists in a conspiracy with Moscow to distribute a deadly virus that starves people to death. It's beautifully pulpy and outrageous--all in a good way. You want realism? Drama? Fuhgeddaboutit! You want a battle for the fate of the free world where five men will stop at nothing to defeat the dastardly villain even though sometimes the cheese gets a little thick but you don't care because this is the best Gouda ever? This is your book!

Of course the action scenes are terrific, so there's no reason to delve into one Fieldhouse's stand-out elements. What really zings in this later volume is that it reads like an introduction to the cast. Each member of the Force is introduced and highlighted with an action scene, background details, stuff somebody like me, coming back to the books after so many years, really needs in order to become reacquainted with these old friends. By the time the team got into their mission, they felt like real folks in real danger. It's the way a pulp story ought to be written. When you believe the characters, it doesn't matter how crazy the rest of the story becomes. You're fully invested, and nothing can break their hold on you.

As you might expect, I went back to that thrift store and raided their remaining Phoenix Force titles, most of them by Fieldhouse, but one of them, Down Under Thunder, written by Paul Glen Neuman, who wrote a great deal of PF titles himself, which I also had to buy, because it was the very first Phoenix title I read when I was 14 years old and sitting in Ms. McCoy's history class wishing it was my name on the cover.

It's going to be a lot of fun hanging out with Katz and the gang again.

Fieldhouse is an author I've love to interview, if any of you know how I might reach him, because I want to dig into how he worked and managed so many titles over a 20 year period. Just looking at what little of his bibliography is available on-line, it's hard to imagine he didn't pass out from exhaustion. It's all I can do to write four books a year; he, apparently, doubled and tripled that output without blinking an eye.

But if nothing else, he provided many hours and delightful reading in my youth, and he will do so again ... now that I'm significantly older, but still act like I'm 14.

A New Kind of Spy with Author Mark Parragh

When I first discovered the John Crane adventures by Mark Parragh, I was struck hard. As always, I look for crisp writing, nothing bloated--check. Fun adventure with lots of stuff going boom--check. It just kept getting better. And, look, he has more books to read!

And when I reached out to Mark for a chat, I found a kindred spirit. Mark and I are working along the same lines, trying to make spy and adventure fiction fun again, which has been sorely missing over the last two or three or maybe four decades.

If you like rip-snorting adventures, the kind to read on the porch on a Saturday afternoon with some iced tea, the Crane books are what you're looking for.

Mark and I met in a dark alley in Vienna to pass the microfilm back and forth.

Brian Drake: When did you start writing?

Mark Parragh: Well, I grew up in a very isolated setting and I was by myself a lot as a child, so stories and imagination had always been a big part of my life. But I can tell you exactly when, for better or worse, I became a “writer.” It was seventh grade English class. The teacher gave us each some object or line of dialog or whatever that we drew at random, and we had to use it in a story. I wrote a very cliched accidental time travel story about a guy who finds himself in the past and discovers that he himself is the mysterious ancestor who shows up out of nowhere in his family’s legends.

BD: And your teacher proclaimed you a future best-seller, right?

MP: It wasn’t prize-winning stuff, but I guess it wasn’t bad for a seventh grader. I got an A+, and a note from my teacher saying he’d read worse stories in magazines where people were paid to write them. Ka-ching! It was like, wait, I can do this for a living? Yeah, I’m up for that. And I was off to the races. It’s been a long, twisty path since then, but that one event probably did more than almost anything else to shape my life.

BD: What is it about spy and adventure fiction that you find so endearing? Why do you think it's a genre that keeps on going despite when other genres come and go?

MP: The world changes, right? Audiences and tastes change. When Fleming was writing James Bond back in the 50s, thrillers and mysteries were big. Westerns were big. Romance was big. Gothics were big. Some of those genres are still around and others have faded out. I think the genres that have lasted are the ones that speak broadly to universal human experiences.

Romance is a great example. When Fleming was writing the Bond books, the romance genre was very different. It used to be about the pretty nurse who lands the handsome doctor and bang, she has won at life. We’ve moved beyond that. But love is universal. Mystery is universal. Wondering about the future is universal. So genres like mystery, romance, and science fiction last because they can change with the times and present those universal themes in different forms. The genres that are mostly about their external trappings, like westerns or gothics, rise and fall with the audience’s interest in those things.

Spy adventures are still around. But that doesn’t mean they’re quite what they were in Fleming’s day. It’s not the cold war anymore with suave secret agents sneaking into East Berlin and matching wits with devious Soviets over martinis. Today, it’s more about heavily armed commandos fighting terrorists. But at its core the genre is about human conflict, about huge geopolitical issues distilled down to one hero’s struggles. I don’t think that’s ever going to go away.

BD: Who inspired John Crane?

MP: I’m sure it’s no surprise to hear that Crane was basically inspired by James Bond. Specifically, I was thinking about the way Bond always seems to be going rogue these days. I mean, in Spectre, all of MI-6 ends up going rogue with him! I started to wonder why that was happening, and I decided it has to do with, again, the way the world has changed since Bond was born. Like the genre itself, Bond has changed a lot over the years to keep up with social mores. And there are a lot of changes you can get away with. Take away the cold war, take away his cigarettes, make him less of a “misogynist dinosaur.” He’s still Bond. But there’s one thing that’s absolutely central to who Bond is. He’s a British agent. Change that and he’s no longer James Bond.

BD: How have you updated Crane, then, to the modern world?

MP: [T]he idea of government agent as hero has fallen out of favor since Fleming’s day. I think Vietnam and Watergate had a lot to do with it, but the idea of a government agent as a stalwart hero protecting us from foreign enemies really went out of vogue. By the 1970s you had all these paranoid conspiracy thrillers like Three Days of the Condor where a government agent was more likely to be the bad guy. By the time we got to X-Files, if the hero was a government agent, he was always a lone rogue trying to do good despite the system, and there was always somebody rotten in his own agency waiting to betray him. That idea has really gotten baked into the genre now until it’s a standard trope.

So how could I get around that? I thought, okay, then just take the government out of the picture. But if my spy wasn’t working for the government, who was he working for? Who else has spies? And the obvious answer seemed to be some ridiculously wealthy tech billionaire who can marshal the kind of resources that puts him on the same level as a government. That led to Josh Sulenski, and it all kind of fell into place from there. Crane is basically Bond, except now M is an idealistic 25-year-old tech nerd with enough money to do literally anything he wants. And he wants to save the world because he thinks that’s really cool. It’s a simple enough idea, but the more I played with the premise, the more fun I could see in it.

BD: Did you find it gave you more flexibility with Crane's stories?

MP: It just made the series feel more modern. We’re in a new gilded age now. There was a time when - maybe this is naïve of me, but in theory at least – we as a people concentrated our wealth and power collectively in our government and used it to provide for ourselves and build our nation. Now we’re back to basically handing it to powerful individuals and hoping they’ll use it for something that does us some good. The last time, we had men like Carnegie and Vanderbilt and Rockefeller endowing universities and libraries with their names on them. And those aren’t bad things, but maybe the people back then would have chosen to do something different with that money. And you also saw a lot of pointless grandiosity like the Biltmore Estate or the mansions in Newport.

The same thing’s happening now. As Josh notes in the first book, Bill Gates is trying to wipe out Malaria, and Elon Musk has his own space program. But Larry Ellison bought one of the Hawaiian islands, and a boat so big that he can’t actually dock it at his personal island. He apparently docks it at Honolulu, right next to a homeless camp.

In the last gilded age, government simply couldn’t match the power of these ultra-rich industrialists, and that’s kind of happening again. So if we’re going to be essentially ruled by plutocrats, then at least Josh is the fantasy of the “good billionaire,” the one who’s trying to use his money to make things better for everyone instead of running roughshod over you to get whatever he wants.

BD: You've brought up your Bond comparison, but one of your reviews also compares your work to John D. MacDonald, which is quite a comparison, considering they're two different sphere of the writing world. How has John D.'s work influenced you, and how have you used that influence to create Crane's adventures?

MP: I had to think about MacDonald, especially when I started hearing it from more readers. I think what they’re picking up on is the tone of the books. There’s a certain romanticism in MacDonald’s books, at least the Travis McGee series, that I think has passed down to some other authors I really admire like Carl Hiassen and Thomas Perry. And I think it’s there in the Crane books. The books can be intense and dangerous, but they’re not grim or depressing. Crane’s not jaded and broken by all the things he’s seen and done. He and Josh are out there saving the world and having a good time doing it. And even though Crane’s just one guy – granted, with a whole lot of Josh’s money backing him up - he can make a difference.

And it’s a world full of good people along with the bad. Whatever country or culture Crane finds himself in, he runs into decent people. I think there are a lot of heroes in the action genre who are ultimately about striking down horrible, irredeemable villains in self-righteous vengeful rage. And I didn’t want to write that book. I wanted the books to be more fun, but also to present a more hopeful world, a world where people want to do right, and where they can do the right thing, and where that can matter. That’s ultimately a very romantic concept and I think it owes a lot to MacDonald.

BD: What's coming up next for John Crane?

MP: Well, with Shot Clock, I’ve finished the first “arc” of the Crane series. My original idea was that the books would all stand alone. And I think they do, but I was building the world through these first books, so when I introduce a supporting character or a recurring villain, that’s the first time they’ve shown up. They’re not there in the earlier books. So I think the books work alone, but they work better if you read them in order, with the two novellas that kind of bridge the gap between book one and two and between book two and three.

Now that the world is basically there, I think it will be easier to have the books truly stand alone so you can read them in whatever order you find them. I’ve got the relationship between Crane and Josh. I’ve got Swift, who is sort of Crane’s Catwoman. They have this attraction and a connection that they can’t quite walk away from. They’re on opposite sides, but they each think they could be great together if only the other one would come over to their side. I’ve got a lot of the supporting players in place, and a sort of civil war going on behind the scenes. In a movie, they say that the first part of act two is where the really cool stuff gets going. That’s where the scenes on the movie poster happen. That’s where we are now with Crane. Everything is set up, and now we get to play with it.

BD: Thank you for a wonderful interview, Mark. How can readers contact you?

MP: I love hearing from readers! Getting feedback, and just sharing the fun I’m having with Crane and Josh is a big part of what makes this worthwhile. Readers can reach me through my web site at markparragh.com. And I have a Facebook page at facebook.com/MarkParragh. I’m not always the best at keeping them updated because I’m busy working on new books! But you can always reach me through them, and my email at inbox@markparragh.com.  I hope to hear from you there!

BD: You can check out John Crane #1: Rope on Fire, here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Riding the Danger Trail with Kurt Barker's BLACKSHOT

I don't know about you, but I love westerns. They're the perfect storytelling vehicle. You can do a straight powder-burning story, throw in vampires, zombies, do a sci-fi twist, horror, mystery, romance, pretty much anything, and it will work.

There's something about the western in general, though, that always appeals to me. The open range. The loner on horseback. Untamed country. The possibilities. The danger. You don't find that in a lot of books. Maybe sci-fi, actually, but the wild west actually existed, and is part of the American mythology more than the questions of what lies beyond the stars.

Kurt Barker publishes a terrific series of "adult" westerns featuring hero Tom Blackshot. This is your typical powder-burning action western, but the writing is sharp, the action vivid, and Blackshot is a great throwback to the Golden Age of adult westerns like Longarm, The Trailsman, The Gunsmith, and recent series such as Stephen Mertz' BLAZE, to which I had the pleasure of contributing a book. The tradition lives, and is in good hands.

I bumped into Kurt at the livery stable and asked him a few questions over a bottle of rot gut:

Brian Drake: Who is Blackshot?

Kurt Barker: Tom Blackshot is a tough-as-nails gunslinger who will take on any job if the money is right, no matter how dangerous. He's part way between a law man and a bad man, but ultimately his heart is in the right place.

BD:  When did you start writing, and what inspired you to tackle an adult western?

KB: I had been writing as a hobby for a long time; most of my life, really. I never seriously thought about writing books because I always thought that the only way to get a book in print was to send manuscripts in to publishers, and I didn't believe I would stand a chance of getting through the bottleneck. When I found out about self-publishing and e-books, I decided to go for it and get some of my stuff out there. It's been a lot of fun and I've been very pleasantly surprised at the response I've received.

I got into adult westerns because I'm sort of an aficionado of book cover art, especially the great painted covers of the old pulp crime novels, “men's adventure” magazines and the like. When I first saw the cover art for series like Slocum and Longarm, with all the action, adventure and beautiful women, they really pulled me into that world.

BD: Were you a fan of the classic adult westerns like Longarm and The Gunsmith? How did they inspire Blackshot?

KB: I really like how fast-paced and action-filled those stories are; a lot of them would have made exciting movies. That style of storytelling appealed to me and made me want to create adventures like that of my own. Another big influence on my writing is Mickey Spillane. He was such a master at crafting hard-edged dialogue and characters, and the way he built suspense in the Mike Hammer stories was so impressive. Although I can't claim to be anywhere near his level, his writing did inspire Blackshot in a lot of ways.

BD: After a batch of short Blackshot stories, you finally tackled a novel. What made you decide to finally do a long-form story?

KB: I enjoy writing in the short story format, but when I started this latest story I knew that it was too big to tell in that way. I've always wanted to write a novel at some point, so I figured this was as good a time as any to take the plunge. It was a fun experience and has whet my appetite for more.

BD: What's next for Blackshot?

KB: Alas, poor Blackshot just can't stay away from trouble for long! There's plenty more coming his way, and I'm going to be writing more novel-length stories of his adventures. I still plan to sneak in some short stories too, when the right ideas come along.

BD: Will there be any other non-Blackshot, or even traditional, westerns coming from the muzzle of your Peacemaker?

KB: Yes, I do have a lot of other stories that I'd like to tell, including some Blackshot spin-off concepts. I also think that the present day West is a great setting for western stories, and I'd like to explore that in the future. I still want to write more of Tom Blackshot's adventures first, but I'm plotting out these other ideas, too.

BD: You can check out Kurt's Blackshot stories by clicking here. Get ready for a wild ride!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Taking on the Bad Guys with DJ Slaughter and Author James Beltz

Here's a good one for you, an all-out action extravaganza with a tough hero, tight writing, and a story that will keep you glued to the page (or screen, nowadays).

James Beltz is the author of the DJ Slaughter books, and he's not only a writer you want to watch, but he's created a character you'll want to spend time with too.

Slaughter, if I may, is a modern day Mack Bolan, and the ingredients that make Bolan such a great character are present here. To date, Beltz has written two novels and two short stories, with more to come.

I found James at the shooting range and we chatted over the delicious scent of burned gunpowder.

Brian Drake: Who is DJ Slaughter?

James Beltz: He is just an average everyday kind of guy. He is no ex-Seal or former Army Ranger, or anything like that. There is nothing unique or possessing any attributes that really make him special for fighting crime. He’s just a guy. He does have a tragic background having lost his family in a home invasion in which he was the only survivor. It has caused him severe depression and driven him to live a life of seclusion and become a modern day hermit. One day life tries to ambush him again in an armed robbery attempt. He decides to fight back. That decision leads to a non-stop chain of events involving a lot of bullets and bloodshed, and forever changing him into something different.

BD: Do your characters have any particular inspiration, or did they appear to your organically? How did they change once you started working with them?

JB: Both the main character and the supporting cast happened organically. Although, I will say that I named the main character and the supporting cast after people I know. I have two best friends in my life. There is a real DJ, a real Brett Foster, and the Abbi character is named after my daughter.

BD: How many books did you write before coming up with Slaughter, or is he truly your first stab at storytelling?

JB: This was my first effort. According to all of the glowing reviews, I think I have finally found something I might be good at.

BD: What writers influence you?

JB: Terry Brooks, Vince Flynn, Tom Clancy, and others.

BD: You provide a tremendous cliffhanger in one of the Slaughter books, but the jury is divided on whether or not ending a book in such a way is a good idea. Should cliffhangers be employed judiciously, or more often? And why? Any negative feedback over your use of cliffhangers?

JB: Cliffhangers absolutely work in all mediums. We see it in TV and movies, and we see it book series. They have their place in that they help connect people to the storyline. However, not everyone is a fan. I think they should be used strategically.

BD: You have two Slaughter novels and two short stories. Does it matter the order they're read in?

JB: The short stories were designed for two reasons. To add content that existing series lovers can enjoy, and to entice new readers in the series. So my shorts can be read in any order. But the series itself needs to be read in order. I have the third full length novel dropping in about sixty days.

BD: What's next for DJ Slaughter?

JB: You will have to read the series to find out!

Monday, September 3, 2018

28 Minutes Into The Future with Mr. Chrome Oxide

Normally I feature thriller writers on this blog, simply because that's what I read, and the market I study, so when I find somebody I like, I want to put them in the interrogation seat.

Today, I'm interviewing sci-fi writer Chrome Oxide, who has a book out called 28 Minutes into the Future. What we have here is a mix of sci-fi and hilarious, and often thought-provoking, political satire. I'm talking laugh-out-loud stuff, the kind of laugh-out-loud reactions one might have to Wodehouse. That's about the highest priase I can think of.

Mr. Oxide not only sat in the interrogation chair for the usual "writer questions", but also has a different interpretation to The Answer posed by Mr. Douglas Adams that I think you'll find enlightening.

I'm providing copious links to Chrome's book, because if you search "Chrome Oxide" on Amazon, the first results are cleaning chemicals and power tool components.

Which is quite funny.

Anyway, here's Chrome:

Brian Drake: When did you start writing?

Chrome Oxide: Back in 2009 I started writing a daily blog satirizing the news. In June 2010 I read a genre novel that really bothered me. So I stopped my daily political satires and started writing genre fiction. In 2012 I became a published finalist in the Writers of the Future volume 29. That convinced me I had a future writing genre fiction and have been writing continuously since then.

BD: Your satire is well done, and provided some very good laughs, but I can't help but find some of it also incredibly depressing, because I can see your scenarios coming true. What has shaped the vision of the future you write about? How do you see the world going in the very direction you describe?

CO: I grew up reading genre fiction, much of which extrapolates current trends into the future. My brother recently turned me on to Austrian Economics, which I've found does an excellent job of explaining how important private property and freedom is. When you factor in that I'm also a born again pessimist, I find I have difficult viewing any kind of positive outcome when the mainstream media is so dead set on supporting corrupt politicians and corrupt political ideas.

While I want to believe in a white swan event, something that will save humanity from itself, that can't be predicted so I think the leftist march into socialism will crush the last bastion of freedom on the planet.

BD: Is sci-fi the best place for political satire?

CO: Science fiction and fantasy are perfect places for satire. They are the branches of literature where the writer is not limited to what is happening today, but what can happen tomorrow. There is a lot of humor in the exaggeration of current trends and events. For example: In New Mexico recently a male Muslim (the religion of peace as the news media constantly tell us) was recently arrested for teaching children how to be school shooters. The judge released the teacher because she didn't think the teacher was a threat to the community (or maybe she didn't want to separate the teacher from his children). I look at that and immediately think that 28 Minutes Into The Future those trends mean there will be Muslims teaching our children how to be suicide bombers and that anyone complaining about that is blowing it out of proportion.

BD: Tell us about some if the trials and tribulations you've faced when showing your work to others.

CO: One major problem is finding critiquers who are NOT offended by my stories. On more than one occasion, members of my critique groups have told me they were triggered and couldn't finish reading the story, or asked me me who I think will want to read what I write or asked me to
write funny stories that don't include politics.

That is just the start of my problems. After I finish a story, I've had no place to sent it.

While it never occurred to me that what I am writing is subversive, I have had to accept that some (many?) of the publishers agree with the critiquers I'm dealing with.

In addition, I'm a white male. I'm seeing a lot of calls for stories from non-white, non-male and differently abled writers. Because stories can be emailed in, I'm occasionally tempted to submit my stories and claim I self-identify as a crippled black lesbian female.

BD: One of these days I'll submit to one of those markets as a black Chinese Puerto Rican Jew. Should be a shoo in. Why is the sci-fi community so screwed up? Myself and some other writer pals would love to do something in that genre (space opera, for me), but not if we have to deal with PC idiots who want to know why the USS Enterprise doesn't have handicap access.

CO: I think the problems we are seeing in the sci-fi community are a reflection of what we are seeing in the culture as a whole. Because leftist mainstream media constantly propagandizes us with their
anti-science anti-moral stance (everyone that disagrees with the left is evil, fight words with violence, gender is not biologically based, ...), the sanity challenged feel more comfortable attacking anyone who doesn't favor their disjointed view of reality.

BD: Who influenced your writing the most?

CO: Robert Sheckley has been the greatest influence on my writing. His humorous short stories mocking government incompetence have been bubbling around in my subconscious for a long time. So when I decided to try my hand at writing genre fiction after my straight political satires, I knew what I needed to write. While this collection is some of my satires (there are more where they came from) I also enjoy non-political humor. Some of the authors I enjoy include Robert Asprin's Myth series, Piers Anthony, Terry Pratchett and others that I'll remember after this interview ends.

BD: Any novels coming in the future? Will your style of writing and humor lend itself to long-form work?

CO: I'm working on the third draft of a non-political high fantasy novel. My elevator pitch is "Cheech and Chong" meet "The Lord of The Rings." When I finish my third draft I will turn it over to my editor, Elaine Ash, who also edited all the stories in "28 Minutes Into The Future." 90% of the
chapters in the book end in cliffhangers. While writing the book, I couldn't write a new chapter until I came up with one or more jokes to feature. Since I finished that novel, it means there are one or more major jokes in each chapter. So I expect there will be more novels in my future.

BD: Elaine Ash is a marvelous editor, and I've used her myself many times. Pardon the commercial, but if you want an editor with attention to detail, and who can help you fix a novel's weak spots, she's the one you need to talk to.

CO: In my notes file, are story ideas and a cast of continuing characters in a non-political urban fantasy setting. Again, humor will play an important part.

While I do get pushback from leftist/liberals about my political satires, I have had a few conservative/libertarians ask me what happens next to some of the characters featured in my short stories. So if I can come up with enough jokes to fill a novel, I will be doing that as well.

I need to briefly talk about my style of writing, which I call the Frankenstein Method. Everything I write starts with a joke. Once I think I have enough jokes that feel appropriate, then I start assembling them along with other bits and pieces of connective tissue trying to connect the jokes.

For example, "Vampire Free Zone" was inspired by leftists demanding "gun free zones'. Since "gun free zones" attract armed shooters, I decided that a "vampire free zone" sign at a blood bank would attract a vampire. Then it was a question of coming up with vampire jokes as well as a story to place them in.

BD: One last question, and one I hope you'll be able to handle because it's a tough one. Here we go: Is The Answer really 42? Please remember not to reference The Question with The Answer because, if you do, the universe will collapse on itself.

CO: The answer is 28. It is evenly divisible by 1, 2, 4, 7, 14 and all those numbers add up to 28.

BD: I knew I could count on you!

Check out 28 Minutes Into The Future today!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

J.P. Medved Brings Back the Techno Thriller with JUSTICE INC.

My next guest is J.P. Medved, who is carving a niche for himself in the thriller and science fiction arenas, and bringing the "techno" back to the thriller as well.

His latest, from Liberty Island Publishing (full disclosure: L.I. is publishing my Steve Dane novels), is called Justice Inc., and you're in for a wild ride.

We hear a lot about private military contractors since the "War on Terror" began, where a DuckDuckGo search brings up a lot of articles on the pros and cons of using such organizations.

But J.P. has made the PMC a new kind of hero, detailing all the gizmos, gadgets, and other devices actually in use today as they lay waste to the bad guys, so I had to have him over for a conversation.

BD: When did you start writing?

JM: I've been writing since I can remember. In grade school a friend and I wrote a "screenplay" for a spy comedy, in middle school I wrote short funny stories in the margins of my notes during class, in high school I wrote a (terrible) few chapters of a military thriller about a future war with Russia, and in college I wrote a mix of steampunk and political, Ayn Rand-inspired short stories. I've got notebooks and Microsoft Word files going back some 20 years now with stories and other fiction projects. It's something I always come back to, and that really, in retrospect, feels like a compulsion. I don't think I could stop writing if I wanted to.

BD: I see quite an eclectic mix of titles on Amazon, sci-fi to thriller and a few in between. What is it like to genre hop? Do you ever get your sci-fi tropes mixed up with your thriller tropes, or do you find elements that are universal between the two?

JM: There's definitely a different mental state required to write a light, fun steampunk adventure compared to a gritty political thriller. Both scratch different itches for me as a writer which is why, despite the difficulty (especially in marketing), I continue writing in multiple genres. My experience has been it's actually not that hard to keep the two separate in my mind when writing, trope-wise. There's obviously differences; characters and reactions may be a bit "larger-than-life" in sci-fi compared to a more grounded, "realistic" treatment in thrillers, but the basics--arc, stakes, plot structure--are the same because those are universal to all stories. At least that's what I've found.

BD: Tell us about Justice Inc. What inspired the assembly of Eric Ikenna and his team?

JM: "Justice, Inc." was actually inspired by a documentary I watched about a South African private military company called Executive Outcomes.  In the late 90s EO was able to completely halt a brutal civil war in Sierra Leone and push back the mass murdering rebel forces of the "Revolutionary United Front" with only about 100-150 soldiers. My boss at the time and I started talking about it, and he posed the question of why an organization like that couldn't be incentivized to deal with some of the really bad, tyrannical, governments and dictatorships still operating in the third world. So I took that seed of an idea and did a ton of research into the economics and politics to see how something like that might work--I looked into operating revenues of existing PMCs, read Erik Prince's book "Civilian Warriors" about Blackwater, dug up a bunch of scholarly papers on private military contractors and the like. It seemed not only plausible, but interesting enough to build a story around, so I did.

BD: You have a lot of techno detail in Justice Inc. Fan of Tom Clancy growing up? How much is real and how much is from your imagination?

JM: Definitely a Clancy fan growing up; "Rainbow Six" and "Red Storm Rising" are still some of my favorite books. The tech in "Justice, Inc." is all based on things that already exist in some form, or have been suggested and are actively being researched as extensions of current technology. For example the stealth suits are based on some very real research into light bending meta-materials that has been advancing significantly over the last decade or more. The ubiquity of cryptocurrency, 3-D pharma printers, drones, and self-driving cars are all simply extensions and predictions of technologies we already have being refined and adopted en masse over the next few years.

BD: You already have a free Justice Inc story available on Amazon (it's called The Contractors); any further novels in the series planned?

JM: Yes! The 2nd book in the series is already outlined and I plan on getting started on writing it within the next month. With JI2 I'm really wanting to explore the question of how a functioning libertarian society could arise, semi-organically, and the major challenges (internal and external) it would face in a world of state-sponsored terrorism and fanatic religious extremism.

BD: What else would you like to mention?

JM: I'll definitely add a plug that, if you like "Justice, Inc." and similar stories, you should check out Liberty Island, which is the publisher and has a ton of other great, pro-freedom works. Additionally, the Libertarian Fiction Authors Association is a great source for additional pro-liberty novels and, for other writers, a collegial bunch of folks excited to help each other with craft and marketing.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Hero Cops Make Comeback: The Blazer Novels of G.C. Harmon

I bumped into my next guest on Facebook as we prowl the backstreets of men's adventure fiction. G.C. Harmon's Steve Blazer series is one to watch. It's time we had hero cops in fiction again, if nothing else to balance out the negative press law enforcement seems to attract nowadays, albeit some of it deserved, but we all know there are more good cops than bad, and their experiences are ripe for adventure fiction.

G.C. has two books out so far, Red, White and Blue, and Loaded. The Blazer adventures take place in San Francisco, which, after the Dirty Harry movies, I'm convinced is the best setting for any police story. New York, Chicago, LA? Fuhgeddaboutit.

After crashing a thieves' den, arresting several suspects, and recovering untold lots of stolen merchandise, G.C. and I sat down to talk about how to write about it.

Brian Drake: When did you start writing?

G.C. Harmon: I have been writing since about 1982, when I was 10 years old. Steve Blazer was one of the first characters I ever created. Even back then, I had an affinity for action heroes.

BD: Tell us about Steve Blazer. What makes him tick?

GCH: Steve Blazer is an honest and dedicated cop with a background in military special ops. In fact, this is where he met his mentor, Captain John Stanson. Because of his military background he is someone who is willing to do what it takes to get a job done. This has led much of the department to believe that, with an arrest record like his, and as many shootings as he's had, he's GOT to be doing something shady.

Steve is a deep believer in the war on drugs. Through much of his life, he's seen the damage that drugs do to people--not just the users, but everyone around them--and he has vowed to fight this any way he can.

In Red, White and Blue, Stanson is instrumental in seeing Blazer is given command of a special unit resurrected from the department's history. The unit has a shady past, and Stanson knows that the department is going to look at Blazer and his team with a lot of distrust. They both want to keep the unit above board and earn the department's trust. This is immediately put to the test when one of his men crosses lines and puts their future in jeopardy.

As a character, Blazer is also extremely cynical. He sees the worst of the worst, so he expects the worst in humanity. But it goes a little deeper. He sees where society is heading as a whole, and he sees himself as doing his part to try to save it, all the while knowing that the society probably can't be saved. But that battle must be fought. Steve puts his life on the line so good honest people can live good lives without fear. He feels like he has sacrificed his own chances at a normal life for others to have their chance.

BD: What inspired you to make Blazer a cop in San Francisco?

GCH: I've conceived many different versions of this character as we grew up together, but during the 1990s is when I settled on him being a cop. The more I wrote and developed the character, the more I wanted to try the cop thing myself. I graduated from the California Peace Officers Standards and Training Academy several years ago. I unfortunately never got the chance to work as a cop, but I've worked with police departments in my various jobs and I'm currently pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice. I've poured much of my training and many of my work experiences into my writing. As for San Francisco, I fell in love with the city as a kid, when I first went there with my dad. The view of the skyscrapers as we crossed the Bay Bridge was just awe-inspiring. It wasn't until much later that I saw the crazy politics of that city, but I actually like to incorporate that in my writing, at least to some extent.

BD: Do the Blazer books give us a glimpse into the real world of cops, are we getting a pulp extravaganza, or a little of both?

GCH: A lot of both. I love action, and I grew up on some of the popular pulp books of the '80s. I still read the Executioner series, the Destroyer, The Penetrator, Dennison's War, Nick Carter, some great and action-packed stories. I love crafting a long and complex action scene, and I've created some good ones in Red, White and Blue. At the same time, I strive for realism. I've taken many trips into the city (I live just a couple hours away) to do location research, and I have definitely put some of my own experiences into my stories. I try to avoid the cliches, the literary traps that are pure Hollywood. I want my stories to be exciting and inspiring, but also believable. My stories are definitely for action fans, but they will also appeal to anyone with a sense of justice.

BD: Any plans for non-Blazer books?

GCH: Absolutely. I will concentrate on Blazer for the time being, the second book is being adjusted and will be re-released soon. I am also currently working on the third book, a prequel. I've got story ideas to keep Blazer going for quite a while. At the same time, I do have a few other main characters in mind that I'd like to try out. I have a spy character that I want to explore. I have ideas for a futuristic sci-fi-series. But for now, the first Blazer novel, Red, White and Blue, is available! Books 2 and 3 will be available soon. Enjoy! And make your life an adventure!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Stiletto #4 Now Available

After a long delay I have finally released The Petrova Betrayal, aka Stiletto #4.

My fiance and I have been planning our wedding, so it's been hectic. Two more months and I kiss my bachelor days good-bye, and having been a bachelor for so long, I'm quite looking forward to the change.

For the two of you who have been waiting for Stiletto #4 (hahaha) you can buy it now.

Stiletto Unleashed!

Scott Stiletto is out of the CIA, but not out of action. Working as a freelancer, Stiletto is hired by Kim Jordan, CEO of Jordan Defense, a firm involved in creating a new radar system to detect stealth aircraft. It’s a development that may re-shape U.S. defenses, and somebody is trying to steal the plans. Stiletto dives in to stop the theft and keep the data from falling into the wrong hands, while attraction burns between him and Kim Jordan, causing Stiletto to take a much greater interest in the mission. An interest that may prove fatal. 

Soon competing enemies reveal themselves, old enemies become allies, adversaries thought dead reappear, and Stiletto’s quest to secure the radar plans takes him around the world in an action-packed thrill ride where nothing is as it seems.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Mike Baron: From Comics to Hard-Boiled Crime

Author Mike Baron has written a set of terrific private detective novels that offer a new twist on the hard-boiled dick. Biker is the first in the "Bad Road Rising" series, and features P.I. and biker Josh Pratt, and his first adventure is a whopper.

Mike is no stranger to writing.  He is the creator of Nexus (with artist Steve Rude) and Badger two of the longest lasting independent superhero comics. Nexus is about a cosmic avenger 500 years in the future. Badger, about a multiple personality one of whom is a costumed crime fighter. First/Devils Due is publishing all new Badger stories. Baron has won two Eisners and an Inkpot award and written The Punisher, Flash, Deadman and Star Wars among many other titles.

I found Mike at our favorite biker bar (he drank whiskey; I had a glass of milk--in a dirty glass) and asked him a few questions.

BD: You've had a big career in comics before writing a novel. When did you start writing, and what inspired you?

MB: I started writing for my high school newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. I don't know, one day I just felt like writing! 

I have been inspired to write since I picked up John D. MacDonald's The Deep Blue Goodbye in a cigar store in Mitchell, SD, for thirty-five cents. Uncle Scrooge comics hit me like a neutron bomb. Why were these comics so much better than other comics? I began to analyze.

BD: Why did it take so long to write a novel? Or was it something you wanted to do for quite some time?

MB: I had it in the back of my mind to be a novelist since The Deep Blue Goodbye. Looked like an easy job! I wouldn't have to work! I tried writing novels right out of college. I wrote more than a million words of garbage before I quit. But after awhile I would start again. I fell off the earth for about ten years, during which I moved from Wisconsin to Colorado. I had some difficult times and it changed me. I'd been making notes on novels for years. I started again and this time, I got it! It took me thirty years to learn how to write a novel, but I'm a slow learner.

BD: Can you explain the difference between comic writing and prose?

MB: Comics are such a forgiving art form, anyone can do one and it will appear legitimate. You will read rebarbative writing accompanied by childish art and it will never occur to you to toss it aside and proclaim, “rubbish!”

A novel, on the other hand, must grab you with its narrative voice. Most readers can sense amateurish writing within the first paragraph. Then it becomes a struggle to read. The goal of the story teller is to grab the reader by the throat and drag him into the narrative so he forgets he is experiencing craft, and it becomes his reality. Even the best written comic will toss you out if the art doesn’t work. And even the most beautifully illustrated comic will leave you with an empty feeling if the story doesn’t hold up. I make notes on a novel months, sometimes years in advance. When I have enough of a framework, I write a detailed outline. The outline must be entertaining and exciting. Every word you write is an advertisement for your writing. I make notes on characters, plot devices, unusual inventions. Anything and everything that might pertain to the story.

BD: Where did the idea for "Bad Road Rising" come from?

MB: I've been a motorcyclist all my life, and I wanted to create a character like Travis McGee. That is, a flawed but noble man who lives outside the system and makes a living helping people. Fringe dwellers, unwed mothers, people who need it, deserve it, but can't get it. I made Josh a biker and gave him an horrific background which partially explains the way he is. I was riding into town one day and I saw a roadside memorial for a cyclist who'd been killed in a crash. That's where I got the name. I wrote Biker three or four times before I was satisfied. By the time I'd finished, Josh had taken on a life of his own.

BD: How did the history of the PI genre influence you, and what genre conventions did you want to subvert to make the story uniquely yours?

MB: Every writer reads. Every writer craves an exciting new book. By the time I got around to Josh, I'd read everything John D. MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Randy Wayne White had written. I have three rules. One: entertain. Two: show don't tell. Three: be original. I don't know how you can not be original if you're writing honestly. We're all individuals with a unique history. I bring my world view to the page. As a journalist, I spent a lot of time talking to people. Musicians, bikers, retailers. Then I hear a unique phrase, I remember it. Sometimes I write it down. Fresh, realistic dialogue is my stock in trade. I don't worry about subversion. I worry about grabbing the reader by the throat and dragging him into the narrative so that he forgets all else. I don't choose the stories, the stories choose me. My stories are heterodox and I am bracing for a backlash. Go to Amazon and read the story description for Sons of Bitches or Sons of Privilege.

BD: Biker, while certainly not being religious fiction, does feature elements of faith, especially with Josh. What made you go in that direction?

MB: Josh’s conversion from hoodlum to Christian seemed natural. A person has to believe in something larger than himself to be happy. It also appeals to my sense of the heterodox. I write against the grain of popular culture.

BD:  How many books in the series are planned?

MB: Thousands! Working on the seventh novel now.

BD: Any plans for other novels not involving Josh Pratt?

MB: I just wrote a Destroyer novel for Devin Murphy. I've also written Banshees, Domain, and Skorpio, three horror novels of which I'm proud. Publishers Weekly gave Banshees a starred review. I also have an historical novel in the back of my head that I'll get to one of these days, but I'm already thinking about the next Josh Pratt.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

KREMLIN STORM: Discussing Russploitation with Ian Kharitonov

I first became aware of Ian Kharitonov through an interview he did with somebody or other talking about an action/adventure renaissance taking place in the independent author community. His reasoning impressed me, which of course it would, since I've been saying the same things privately to other writer pals as we churn out the kind of he-man action stories we grew up reading while wondering if readers cared. Looking at the samples of Ian's books on Amazon, I found a writer who is high and tight with the prose, wastes no words, and really hooks you from the get-go.

His latest, Kremlin Storm, is no exception. Get ready for a rocket-paced ride with a twist you might not be expecting.

More from Ian . . .

Brian Drake: You're writing a series with a subject matter (thrilling events taking place in Russia) that we don't see very much, with Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park probably being the most well known example. What made you decide to use Russia as the stage for your thrillers? (Aside from once living there, of course.)

Ian Kharitonov: Write what you know! The old adage still holds true. And in my case, I write what others don't really know much about, to be honest. A quarter of a century after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Russia remains an enigma. Despite the growing interest in the country, many authors who want to jump on the Russia bandwagon often fall flat and get their basic facts wrong, even some of the big names. As a reader, I found it frustrating at times (and still do). So I decided to take the matter into my own hands. As an author, I turned it into an advantage, finding my niche. I've even coined the term Russploitation for the subgenre I'm writing in. There aren't many Russian protagonists in most thrillers that you see on the shelves. Only Red Sparrow has made a big splash recently. Arkady Renko is another notable exception, but Gorky Park and its sequels were police procedurals rather than action/adventure or espionage thrillers. And I believe that being Russian allows me to add an extra layer of authenticity that even Martin Cruz Smith couldn't achieve, giving my readers a real insider's look. I'm very flattered by the analogy, though, and my early sales pitch was "Jason Bourne meets Gorky Park," so if you want to sum up my thriller, it fits.

BD: Is Gene Sokolov based on anybody in particular? What about his rescue unit?

IK: I think that any protagonist is a reflection of the author's psyche in some way. It's the reason we write, to fulfill our hidden dreams and aspirations, or to banish our subconscious fears, to make anything possible on the page. I have two main protagonists in my series, the Sokolov brothers, Eugene and Constantine. Perhaps I've always wanted an older brother? I don't know! In any case, they're the only two surviving members of their family which has been ravaged by the last one hundred years of Russian history. I didn't want to create a cliché superhero who's equally skilled at brain surgery and powerlifting, and prone to quoting passages from Schopenhauer in the middle of a gunfight. So I wanted to strike a balance between my heroes. Constantine is a historian with basic self-defense training and Gene is an all-action man educated in civil defense. Constantine has been ousted from academia for his political views, while Gene continues working for a government agency. He's not a Russian Spetsnaz military type as seen in Hollywood, however. EMERCOM is roughly the real-life Russian counterpart of FEMA. Of course, I used some artistic license when fictionalizing it, making it more independent from the Kremlin's affairs. Sokolov is not a typical action thriller protagonist in the sense that he's supposed to be saving people instead of killing them, but he inevitably gets dragged into deadly missions that he has to fight his way through.

BD: Your bio says you turned down a diplomatic career to instead write fiction. What made you do that, and how did the experience that led to such an opportunity fuel your writing?

IK: Fresh out of college at twenty, I turned down a diplomatic career much in the same way as my main character turned down a military career. The nature of the Kremlin regime was quite clear and I didn't want to get involved. I was offered a job at the Russian Embassy in Sweden and I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole, especially in the wake of a recent spy scandal in Stockholm. Having lived in several different countries since a young age, I decided to move on to writing fiction, and Nordic Noir just wasn't my thing.

BD: You've released four books, two in 2013, one in 2015, and, of course, 2018. Most independent writers are grinding out titles every couple of months (sometimes one a month) to get traction, but it looks like you're approach is helping you sell books as well. What made you decide to do fewer releases, and what are your favorite marketing techniques?

IK: It's not a business strategy, it's procrastination! Seriously though, every writer wants to have written more and faster. I'm no exception. I do have an excuse of being a relatively young author finding my feet. My series required a ton of research, but now that I've laid the groundwork I hope to pick up speed and have quicker, shorter releases. I'm convinced that the ebook market is perfect for leaner novels like the men's adventure series from the 1970s. All plot, no padding.

As for the marketing techniques, the nascent digital landscape is still quite volatile and things change quickly. The tricks that work today might become useless tomorrow. My most reliable tool is probably targeted advertising. Some universal marketing principles do apply, and always will. Marketing begins before you even start creating your product, with identifying your readers' needs or tastes, or setting out to establish new ones. The market is difficult to predict, but the best thing you can do is write the sort of book you'd love to read yourself as a buyer.

BD: I'm a Cold War kid who used to think Russia was where "the enemy" was, and it didn't help that where I lived in California at the time was a Soviet "first strike target area". In recent years, mostly through research for stories, I've come to respect the people and culture. It's been disappointing to realize they've left one bad political system for another, under a regime that stays in power through dirty tricks and shenanigans, and continues to jail and malign (and maybe murder) those who oppose the system. Will Russia ever fully recover from the Soviet era, or will it take a lot of old men dying for new blood to finally make Russia great again?

IK: It was tragic, and my novels touch upon the subject. Unfortunately, the transition from dictatorship to freedom failed because it was still carried out by the same people. Communists who'd only learned about capitalism from Marxist textbooks could only build an evil caricature version of it.

As a result, Russia steered away from democracy toward a thugocracy. A Mafia state, like something out of a Mack Bolan book. La cosa di tutti cosi. As the popular saying goes: "Every country has its own mafia, but only in Russia does the mafia have its own country."

And there's no end in sight. On the contrary, Russia's become too small for these gangsters who want to spread their criminal influence around the world, from running internet troll farms to using WMDs in European countries. I'm sad to say that Russia has done everything to become the enemy once again. Are the Russian people complicit in allowing this regime to continue for at least another six years? The jury is still out.

Will Russia ever recover from the Soviet era? The very same question is posed at the end of my first novel, The Russian Renaissance. My characters were somewhat optimistic about it, but that sentiment dwindled in the following books.

BD: What's next for your books? Will you continue the Sokolov series, or try something else?

IK: Now that Cold War 2.0 is officially here (http://observer.com/2018/03/theresa-may-announces-measures-against-russia-for-sergei-skripal-case/), it's nice to have a head start in the Russploitation game. I don't see the series going away any time soon. I have big plans in store for the Sokolov brothers. Hopefully, my plot ideas won't become reality, at least not until I finish writing the stories!

Brian Drake: You can learn more about Ian at his website or at his Amazon page. Thanks, Ian!