Making the Best of Things

Here’s another story of Davin, the thief I invented a couple weeks ago. I know these aren’t the greatest stories, but if they’re intriguing enough, I’ll try to come up with better ones. Maybe they’ll be collected into an anthology someday. Let me know what you think of them.


Davin stood with his back against the wall, listening to the tramp of Nightwatch on the street. He eased forward and peeked around the corner and was rewarded with the sight of the patrols in their black and silver uniforms. The sound of their boots echoed off the close walls, making it difficult to tell where they really were.

He ducked back around the corner and, looking up at the darkened sky, took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

How had they gotten onto him?

And more importantly, how was he going to get away from them?

They had the area blanketed with officers as well as local security men. He’d managed to elude them so far, but just getting into this walled neighborhood—the same one his birthday party had been in two weeks earlier—had been tough enough when Nightwatch hadn’t discovered him. But with them all over the place, getting to the walls was going to be a major effort. He’d worry about getting over the walls when he got there.

The sound of the echoing boots faded and he took advantage of the lull. He dashed down the alley—unfortunately a very clean alley, with nothing to hide behind or in—heading in the direction of the neighborhood walls. He crouched low to present less of a target, and avoided the streetlights like the plague.

Two minutes later, he had to draw up again as another patrol approached.

He looked up. Nothing up there, no balconies to hide in, just a blank wall, which was a surprise. People in Calonia liked their balconies.

And the walls surrounding the neighborhood were so close.

He glanced in the direction of the patrol. They were still some distance away. Could he make it, get over the wall before they caught him? He gauged their pace, then eyed the distance to the wall. Getting up it from the inside wasn’t much of a problem. There were stairways everywhere for the security forces employed by the inhabitants to keep watch from up top.

But getting there in time and then making it over… well, that was another trick altogether, wasn’t it?

There wasn’t much choice, though. He was close to the egress point he needed anyway, where he could disappear into the alleyways of the rest of the city. If he could get there, Nightwatch would never find him.

Another glance at the patrol. They came on steadily, but were hampered by searching every doorway and shadow.

He sprinted.

Behind him, one of the officers yelled out, and a moment later, a flare bloomed in the night sky, their way of communicating with one another. Each flare had a different color, which told the others something very basic.

Davin didn’t bother to see what color this one was. He was too busy making his way up the stairs.

As he barreled up, a form emerged from the shadows at the top of the wall—one of the private security officers. He must have been waiting for just this.

Davin wasn’t a big man, and this guy was, but he had momentum behind him. He hit the guard in the midriff, shoulder down, legs pumping. It was like running into a palm tree, except this one gave way after a moment. The guard’s legs hit the low parapet and he pitched over the wall with a yell. A scant moment later the yell cut off with a thud.

With barely a pause, Davin hooked his grapple onto the parapet and rappelled down the wall. At the bottom, he shook the rope to loosen the grapple. Faces appeared above as he was coiling the rope.

He glanced at the guard—out like a light, but still breathing—then sprinted off into the darkness.

Another flare went up.

Down a short alley, then a quick right. This one was longer, and he ran down it full tilt, making as much distance as he could. From behind came the sound of running boots.

Damn, he hadn’t even managed to steal anything. Couldn’t they leave it be, now that he was out of the neighborhood?

He took an alley that ran in a diagonal to the one he was in, running for all he was worth, then jinked left into another one and paused. The pursuing sounds had fallen behind, and he took a moment to regain his breath and take stock of his surroundings.

Unlike the alleys of the walled neighborhood, these were full of refuse, piles of stinking garbage and other, less savory things. Some of the heaps were large enough to hide in, but there was no way he was getting in one, not even on pain of capture or even death. Better to die quickly than suffer from something he caught in one of these mounds of filth. There were balconies overhead, but they were out of reach.

And the Nightwatch was closing in again.

Huffing a deep breath, he took off again, ignoring the rank smell that filled the air around him. Maybe the garbage would discourage the searchers.

He dodged left, then right again, not really paying attention to where he was going, just making yet more distance.

And fetched up abruptly in a small cul-de-sac.

For a moment, he stared in disbelief at the blank wall in front of him. He turned to find another way out, but his pursuers were closer than he’d thought. If he left the cul-de-sac, they’d see him and capture him. They were just too close.

He glanced up.

Another balcony. It was a silly place for it, right at the back of the cul-de-sac, but Calonians would have their balconies, even if they had no view. This one wasn’t that big, and didn’t even have the usual open railing, but was instead hemmed in with boards making up short walls.

Gods, this was not his night. If the balcony had the normal railing, he might be able to get enough of a grip on its floor to hoist himself up. But with the boards blocking access, there was no way. And he couldn’t jump high enough to grip the tops.

He glanced at the approaching patrol. He had to something, and fast.

Then he remembered a trick Amalia, his mentor in the thieving trade, had told him about once. She’d been small and strong, and she’d shown him the trick. It was a way of running up a wall, using a corner to gain admittance to something too high to jump to. He’d never been quite able to do it because of his weight, but he had nothing left to lose tonight.

He backed up, making sure to stay out of sight of the patrol, took a deep breath, and sprinted diagonally down the cul-de-sac, aiming for the corner to the right of the balcony.

You can do this. Just give it all you have.

He jumped, hitting the wall at an angle, and pushed off for the adjoining wall. The moment his foot touched, he pushed up and managed to grab the top of the balcony.

He’d done it!

Another heave and he stood inside the balcony. He took a deep breath, then laid on his side, curling up in a loose fetal position.

Now if only the Nightwatch couldn’t hear him breathing, he might get out of this.

The running boots came closer, then entered the cul-de-sac and paused.

“What the hells?” one of the officers said in a deep voice. “I thought you said he ran in here.”

“He did,” the other man said. “I swear it.”

They stood for a moment, breaths heaving.

“What about that balcony?” the second voice said.

“No way for him to get up that high. Come on. If he came in here, he slipped out without us seeing him.”

They ran off, footsteps receding quickly in the night.

Davin waited a good five minutes in case they came back or more followed behind, but no one else came.

Finally, he rose and stretched. He was going to have to practice this kind of thing more. There were people who did this all the time. Maybe it was time he learned some of their tricks.

He glanced around, saw a higher balcony across the way he hadn’t noticed earlier. It had a large glass in its door, and… was that a glint of something in the dim light?

He mumbled the words to the spell that enhanced his night vision.

Yes, it was. Something gold hung on the wall just inside the door. Even from here, he could tell it wasn’t just decorative.

He eyed the balcony. He could make the leap from here. Maybe tonight wasn’t going to be a total wash after all.

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A Sure Thing

It’s been a couple weeks since I posted here, partly because I’ve just been too busy to write anything, and partly because it’s been hard to think of anything to post. So I started thinking about it this morning and decided to try writing a really short story. And I did. Let me know if it’s actually any good.thief-screenshot-1

Davin paused on the balcony and looked around to be sure he was alone. The alley below was deserted. A warm breeze off the ocean stirred the palm trees, their fronds dark silhouettes against the starry sky. Somewhere off to his left, a cat yowled. And to his right, probably three or four streets over, laughter and the sounds of a party.

Here, it was quiet.

It better be. When Carl told him about this particular job, he’d been a bit leery. A nobleman’s house completely empty this time of year? When the snows blanketed the capital and even the hardiest of court hangers-on deserted Ampistad for warmer climes?

“It’s a sure thing,” Carl had said. They sat at a table enjoying the sunshine and balmy temperatures that winter brought.

Davin smirked. “A sure thing? That doesn’t exist in this business.”

Carl grinned at him. “Tonight it does.”

He studied his friend who also served as his fence. Carl had never steered him wrong before. “I don’t know. It’s my birthday. I was planning on going out tonight.”

Carl leaned forward. “So go out afterwards. I’m telling you, this one is worth delaying your celebration. And he’ll be back by tomorrow morning. This is your only chance.”

“You’re sure?”

“As sure as death and taxes. Diamonds, Davin. Loose diamonds. Untraceable, too. I can unload them for… I’d say sixty percent of market value.”

Sixty percent? Well, considering thirty percent was a good thing, maybe it was time to rethink not working tonight.

“All right. But you be ready. I want to party after. Have the money, because I don’t want to wait.”

Carl had grinned and said, “You got it. You’ll have a birthday in style this year, my man.”

So here he was, crouched on a balcony in the better part of town, about to sneak into the winter residence of one of the most powerful men in the realm, at least according tothief_bank_heist_mission-wide Carl. Davin didn’t pay much attention to politics, so he had no way of knowing.

He eased onto the balcony’s floor, went to the sliding door, a new invention he had little experience with. But a lock was a lock, and less than a minute later, he had it open.

Another pause to look around. The cat yowled again, and the party still raged on. No Nightwatch in sight, though, which was good. Just getting into this walled-off neighborhood had been tough, and he was thinking sixty percent was just about right for a job like this.

He stepped inside, slid the door almost shut. Better to leave it slightly open in case he had to make a hasty exit.

It was quiet in here. He stood for a full minute, getting a feel for the place, something he did on every job.


Okay. The diamonds were downstairs. Carl had suggested using the balcony because, thanks to their newness, sliding doors were easier to get through than the banded oak numbers on the ground floor. Those would have taken considerably more work.

His feet didn’t even whisper on the carpeted floor. He mumbled one of the few spells he knew, and the darkness receded a bit. Just enough to keep him from bumping into something and knocking it over, but not enough to let him see clearly.

He’d never been that good at magic.

Down the stairs, turn to the right. The safe was kept in the huge hall this guy used for throwing parties. Seemed a strange place, but Davin had seen stranger. The door to the hall opened silently on well-oiled hinges.

He paused. Something wasn’t right. That empty, abandoned feeling that had pervaded the rest of the house was gone. The room felt occupied, and by more than one person.

Had Carl set him up? Had the watch caught him and turned him?

Whatever the case, Davin wasn’t hanging around to find out. He was just turning to leave—as quickly as possible—when light bloomed all around him.

Oh, gods.

Temporarily blinded, he almost forgot to let go of the magic that let him see, but when he did, he found not the Nightwatch, but….

“Surprise! Happy Birthday!”

Thief1Warmth flooded his cheeks. A huge crowd of his friends—and business associates—stood attired in party clothes, holding champagne glasses. Streamers fell from the ceiling, and balloons bobbed in the air.

And right in the middle of it all stood Carl, grinning from ear to ear, raising a glass in his direction.

Davin grinned.

And then he saw the diamonds they’d laid out for him. Not rocks, but tasty desserts that cost plenty themselves.

Carl practically pranced over and put an arm around his shoulders.

“Told you it was a sure thing,” he said, that grin never leaving his face.

Davin laughed, then narrowed his eyes at his friend. “Okay, you got me. But just remember—your birthday is coming up.”

“I’m looking forward to it. Now let’s party.”

The diamonds were all they’d been promised to be.


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Giving Back to Bookstore Employees

An article came out on Shelf Awareness this week telling of James Patterson donating $250,000 to a program where bookstore employees can nominate other bookstore employees to receive bonuses for their work.

Now, James Patterson is somewhat controversial in the writing community. Many suspect he no longer writes his own books, that all these volumes coming out as written byzoo James Patterson and X are in fact written by X and he’s lending his name to them to get attention for their writing. I can see that as being something of a double-edged sword, not to mention a sad comment on the state of the New York publishing industry.

I don’t know if any of that is true or not. I’ll tell you what I do know: Mr. Patterson apparently cares about literacy. He started the website Read Kiddo Read in an effort to get kids—and especially boys—to read more. Girls read more than boys, and illiteracy is higher in boys. I applaud his efforts (and suggest you check out the site).

But this donation—which the article points out isn’t his first effort at contributing to the bookseller industry as a whole—is aimed at a more general audience. One of the members of our writing group points out that every bookstore employee should get a bonus just for working retail, and from the horror stories I’ve heard from retail employees, I can see her argument.

Her suggestion got me thinking. Why should Mr. Patterson be the only successful author doing this? Whatever you think of his writing, this is a commendable effort. And, while I’m an admitted cynic, I have trouble believing the idea that any public figure who does something like this is doing it simply for the PR value it’ll generate. Just because someone is in position where they are making money hand over fist doesn’t mean everything they do has to be out of self-promotion only.

But having said that, why aren’t more successful authors doing this? Why can’t Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Grisham, George RR Martin, and other bestsellers like them form some kind of organization that does this every year? Why not give back to the most basic level of their industry, the part that puts those books out there for readers to buy?

The Boulder Bookstore located on the West end of the Pearl Street Mall Nov. 11, 2008. (CU Independent file/ Sam Hall)

The Boulder Bookstore located on the West end of the Pearl Street Mall Nov. 11, 2008. (CU Independent file/ Sam Hall)

Like many readers, one of my favorite places in the world is a good bookstore. My finances won’t allow me to patronize them right now, but I hope to get back to it in the future. I don’t think anything satisfies me as much as finding a new book that looks promising and taking it home with me to read. And if you can find a good bookstore with one or more employees who actually know what they’re talking about, instead of just working there to have a job, it’s a plus.

No, I’m not dissing the people who work at bookstores simply as a source of income. I get it. You need to work somewhere, and I hope working at a bookstore is a little less stressful than working at, say, Walmart or Office Depot. I’m just saying that finding an employee who knows books and cares about them is a wonderful bonus to the book-shopping experience. Hell, even one who’s not that knowledgeable about books but is willing to go those extra steps to help you find a hard-to-get book is awesome.

Writers like the ones I mentioned above are living the dream so many of the rest of us strive to achieve: writing for a living and making a really good living off it. And I’m not saying they’re all basically ignoring the readers who make them what they are. But there’s that other level, the booksellers and their employees—especially in the indie bookstores—who, I think, are somewhat ignored. They’re the ones who put the books on the shelves, set up book signings when an author comes to town, makes sure customers are aware the thing is happening and a new book is out, and all the other things I’m not even aware of because I’ve never worked in a bookstore.

Why not give them a little love?


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A Post About Blogs

You know, I don’t want to sound like I’m whining, but I will say I’m envious of folks who, week after week, and in some cases day after day, find things to blog about. For me, it’s a struggle some weeks to find anything that isn’t pure fluff (like this post may end up being), and I really don’t want to write fluff, so I tend not to post when I’m having an off week.

Gordon Bonnet

Gordon Bonnet

I look at blogs like Gordon Bonnet’s Skeptophilia, and I can’t help but wonder how he does it. I can’t even keep up with reading his blog, much less post as often, and I like his blog because many of his opinions are opposed to mine—but you shouldn’t live life in an echo chamber, and I like to try and look at all sides of an issue before I form an opinion. I’m human, and there will be opinions I hang onto doggedly in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Heck, that’s what beliefs are all about. But reading someone like Gordon makes me think, and it keeps me from being the kid who doesn’t like the food even though he’s never tried a single bite of it. Gordon has a large following—the kind us writers would love to have—and I’m sure it’s translated into some book sales for him. It also gives him a largely neutral place to talk about what he believes and what he thinks should change. I’ve often thought about starting some kind of ranting blog, or one where I simply state my opinions about various subjects, but I’m not sure if I want to go down that road.

Then there’s Kristen Lamb and her Warrior Writers blog. Again, as much as I enjoy her writing, it’s a bit hard to keep up with her. She

Kristen Lamb

Kristen Lamb

has a way of getting across to you that makes it feel like she’s talking only to you, that you’re her bestest friend in the world and she’s discovered this wonderful thing she thinks will help you and she just can’t wait to tell you about it because she cares, man, I mean really cares. That attitude comes across in every post and every Facebook status the woman produces. You feel like you’re her friend even if you’ve never met her, and she deserves every bit of success she gets. I don’t think she posts daily, but she does post several times a week.

And then there’s me, struggling to come up with something once a week to talk about. I don’t want to stick with the stuff I started out talking about because, let’s face it, there are more than enough blogs about writing out there. Sure, I want to address issues pertaining to writing on occasion, but if that’s all I talk about, the only people who’ll read this thing are other writers. I have no problem with other writers, being one myself, but that’s not the audience I want. I want jus’ folks, you know? I want to give the everyman kinda person like me a peek into the life of a writer, without sounding like I’m trying to give you a peek into privilege. I’m no different than other folks. I don’t have some mysterious place I go to get ideas, other than my mind, and since the mind is a mystery to everyone, it’s not like that’s unique.

The advice that makes the most sense to me (and it comes from Kristen Lamb, by the way) is to make your blog high concept. I get high concept in theory. It’s where you take subjects everyone can relate to and find a way to say it that makes folks want to come back and hear what you have to say post after post. It’s taking something in your life and making it accessible to everyone else by showing how everyone else can either learn something from it or at least be entertained by it.

Putting it into practice seems to be an entirely different matter, though.

One of my favorite examples of high concept is Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin explores life and most of its anxieties and frustrations as well as the plain ridiculous aspects of it. He doesn’t speak like a six-year-old. He has a much better vocabulary. And yet it all seems to fit. Added to that, we get Hobbes’s opinions, which often differ from Calvin’s. Hobbes frequently acts as Calvin’s foil, showing how ridiculous Calvin can be about some things.

CalvinHobbesAnd it’s pretty much unfailingly funny. A six-year-old examining life from the perspective of a much older person, and yet he tends to react like a six-year-old. Even the strips that seem to be about something strictly humorous have an underlying question beneath them.

Twenty years after it ended (Bill Watterson stopped writing the strip in 1995, having said all he wanted to say with it), fans still wish for there to be more, and we read and reread the existing strips, generally enjoying them every bit as much as we did when we first read them.

I doubt I’ll ever come up with something to equal Calvin and Hobbes, but a weak facsimile thereof would satisfy me.

Meanwhile, I’ve rambled. Guess that’s something we all do every now and then, huh?


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Apps Apps Everywhere

I was doing laundry the other day when I happened to glance over at the box of Purex detergent setting on the dryer. Just a casual glance, but down at the bottom was an invitation for me to download the Purex app. To the left of that was a link to subscribe to their eNewsletter.

A newsletter about laundry detergent?

Happy happy, joy joy.happy-happy-joy-joy-r-s-o

I guess I’m an old fogey, because I don’t see the need for all these apps. Everywhere you look, someone has one. I realize it’s part of promoting your product these days. Apparently, the Purex app has tips on doing your laundry, money-saving deals, stuff like that. I guess my real question is, is there really anyone out there who downloaded this thing?

Well, people believed in Bat Boy, that character the now-defunct Weekly World News came up with, so I guess anything’s possible.

Bat BoyI just have trouble picturing putting a laundry detergent app on my phone. Heck, I’ve got Twitter and next to never look at it. My Facebook usage is steadily going down because I’m getting tired of all the political rhetoric all over my wall. How anyone could fall for the likes of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders is beyond me. One will lead us into something I can’t even imagine, and the other will take us more toward the socialist side of things. And everyone in between is insane in some way that should knock them out of the running, but we get what we pay for.

And none of that is germane to what I’m talking about, though I have to wonder: if politicians had apps, would they crash all the time?

All of this is to say that, though being something of a tech geek, I feel increasingly bewildered at the things I see around me. Sometimes all these apps and websites and smart phones and being connected all the time feels overwhelming. As an author, I have to have things like Twitter and Facebook accounts to promote myself (and that includes this blog, which I doubt I’d devote time to otherwise), but that doesn’t mean I gleefully embrace them. Yeah, I like the jokes I see on FB, and this blog is a good way to talk about various things that interest me (though why I should imagine you want to hear about those things is beyond me, but apparently somebody finds me mildly interesting), but do I need them? Not really.

One of the problems with all this interconnectedness and instant communication is being noticed. It’s hard to make your (website/blog/Facebook page/Twitter… whatever itWoman-overload2 is) stand out among the masses, and standing out among the masses is what so many of us—we writers especially—strive to do. We want to be noticed, and we want to be heard. Us writers have a more practical need: we want to sell books.

But to so many who are growing up in this digital age, getting attention online seems to be the Holy Grail. Does that mean that, in an ever-increasing effort to gain attention, we’ll all have personal apps? “Download my app and I’ll give you exclusive updates on everything from what I have for breakfast to what my dog is doing.”

No thanks.

But, as authors, maybe an app wouldn’t be a bad idea. Fans could have the app and hear of new releases, get our blog posts, maybe hear our thoughts on every subject we think they need to hear our thoughts on, all if you’ll just download our app.

And, of course, we’ll have to hire somebody to design the app and keep it updated for us, because not many of us have programming skills. Writing in our native language is tough enough that we have little desire to learn another language to write in.

too many appsIn the end, the folks who will benefit the most are programmers and content jockeys who’ll tell us what to put in our app. More people to get the little bit of money we earned on our last book.

No thanks.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll go see if my favorite brand of toilet paper has an app. Or maybe not. I’m not sure I really want to know what their, uh, content would consist of.



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Parking Garages as Props


Garland Ave Parking Garage

As I drive around Fayetteville here lately, I’ve noticed parking garages popping up practically overnight, like so many mushrooms. Big mushrooms. Now, for those of you reading this who might be used to big city life, parking garages ain’t no big thing. When I was able to go visit my daughter in Santa Monica, it seemed like they were all over the place, big multistory affairs that held who knew how many cars, the gates busy all day long, digital readouts right beside them telling how many empty spots were available. Handy, that. Keeps you from driving around the thing all day only to discover there’s nowhere to park and now you’re just that much later for your appointment.

Parking garages—I think the call them structures instead of garages—make sense in that kind of setting. Real estate is a limited resource in places like LA. The big sprawling parking lots we have here in Northwest Arkansas just don’t make sense in a crowded city. These towns still have room to grow, so a lot of the businesses buy up a huge lot—or go into a complex put up by a developer—and build asphalt fields that are hot as hell in summer and cold as the Arctic in winter.

Big cities, though, have to stack things because of limited room, and some areas of Fayetteville—where I’m seeing all these things go up—can’t spread out anymore. So they have to go up, too.

As far as I know, it started with the new library building. They’re a LEEDS certified place, though what the parking garage may have to do with that, I have no idea. Then what I believe is a municipal garage—only a couple stories—went in at the site of an old church on Lafayette on the extreme northern edge of the downtown/Dickson Street area.

Walton Art Center Construction

Walton Art Center Construction

Now two more are going up simultaneously, one farther down the street on Lafayette, a multistory affair that I’m guessing is another municipal one, and one attached to the Walton Arts Center just off Dickson. Evidently their parking lot isn’t big enough anymore.

So what’s this got to do with anything? Well, if you pay attention to movies, scores of scenes take place in parking garages from New York to LA and everywhere in between, probably even in cities and towns that really don’t have the things. They’re a great place for shady dealings to take place, everything from murders to drug deals to kidnappings. They’re usually deserted, and those echoes make for some pretty cool ambiance. Add in the risk some unsuspecting walk-on character will appear unexpectedly, then stir in those rousing chase scenes of cars squealing around the ramps, and you got a great setting. Heck, an episode of Miami Vice has a motorcycle race take place in one.

So, of course, I drew on this for one of my books. In the climax of Franchise, Lyle Villines helps capture a major crime figure in the parking structure on Fourth Street in

Fourth Street Santa Monica

Fourth Street Santa Monica

Santa Monica. It was a parking structure I’d at least seen from the outside, and I simply relied on another structure we parked in to go to a movie for interior description, plus a bit of my own imagination. A foot chase begins at street level at the southern end of Third Street Promenade, with the action taking place among Lyle, some DEA agents, some local cops—two of them useless deputies from Lyle’s home county in Arkansas—and their quarry, a man who heads up security for the Sinaloa Cartel.

I used it because I’d walked by it several times accompanying my daughter to work at the Santa Monica Place mall, where she was employed at a Ritz Camera & Image store. I didn’t use it so much because I’d seen them used in so many movies and shows as because it was something I was familiar with, and I love putting real locations in my stories. To me, it lends authenticity. The idea of using a fictional city and/or county just doesn’t appeal to me. It also means I don’t have to figure out how a location looks, don’t have to fabricate it whole cloth. I can just tell you what’s there and keep right on moving.

Another reason I used this location is that it somewhat brought my story around full circle. At the end of Startup, Lyle meets with Joaquín Guzmán in Santa Monica, and they discuss his employment opportunities while strolling down Third Street Promenade. So when Lyle has to call El Chapo to inform him of the mole in his organization

Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica

Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica

and suggest a way to take care of said mole, it just naturally occurred to him to have it take place there.

I think now I need to explore the parking garages going up here at home and see if they might make cameos in future stories. Those echoes make for great ambiance….


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Pen Names

There has long been a debate in the writing world about the pros and cons of using pen names. I’ve read a lot of them, and there are good and bad points on both sides of the argument.

stephen_kingSome people use them to hide their true identities for one reason or another. One of the most famous is Richard Bachman, the pen name Stephen King used for a time. According to him, the main reason he did so was, at the beginning of his career, Viking would only publish one book a year from an author. But Mr. King had more material he wanted to get out, so he fabricated an entire biography for Richard Bachman and published some books under that name. He was discovered eventually, and even had a public funeral for the Bachman character after he “died” of cancer. He even published a supposedly posthumous novel discovered by Bachman’s widow years after he’d died.

Another example is JD Robb, the pen name Nora Roberts uses to write a series of near-future science fiction mysteries. This is a case of using a pen name to write in another genre, as Nora Roberts writes romance.

Then there’s Anonymous, the name used by Joe Klein for his novel Primary Colors, a novelized version of the 1992 Democratic Presidential Campaign of Bill Clinton. Mr. Klein, a political columnist, denied it for some time, sometimes vehemently, but eventually admitted to it.

But when I think of pen names, I always think of William H. Keith, aka Keith William Andrews, Robert Cain, Ian Douglas, Keith Douglass, Bill Keith, and H. Jay Riker, according to I discovered all these pen names by accident when looking him up on Fantastic Fiction, seeing how many books he had in his Galactic 51-GdRRDxxL._SX300_BO1,204,203,200_Corps novels—only to discover I’d already read him as William H. Keith in his Warstrider series of science fiction about a future where we use mecha as an elite unit to fight aliens. I’m not sure why he uses different names, since with the Keith and Douglas names he writes military science fiction. Under Keith William Andrews he has a series called Freedom’s Rangers about an elite commando unit traveling in time to fight battles in the past to save the present. The names Keith Douglass, Bill Keith, and H. Jay Riker are used for military fiction, so I’m not sure why he uses so many pseudonyms.

So as you can see, the reasons run the gamut. I bring this up because at Oghma, we have an author who’s about to do a big reveal for her pen name. I’m not gonna steal her thunder and explain it all, but we’re doing some synchronized blogging to talk about pen names, so I’ll talk about why I decided to use a couple.

Under Gil Miller, the name I was first published under (and which is itself sort of a pen name as my full first name is Gilbert), I write crime fiction. I try to make it gritty, and a lot of it will be based here in my home state of Arkansas, doing what is coming to be called country noir. I won’t stick strictly to that, of course, as I have in mind a novel called Bogus Deal that takes place in 1980s Miami. And who knows what else I’ll branch out into? The world of crime fiction is so wide open, has so many possibilities, that I don’t want to limit myself.

My current WIP is a science fiction mystery, written in a noir style, called Animal Sacrifice. I’m writing it for a couple reasons, the first of which is I read part of a science fiction mystery involving a serial killer and was bored to tears by page 80. It’s probably the first book I’ve read in which I told myself, “I can do it better than that.” So I set out to prove it to myself. This may be the first in a series—we’ll just have to see how it goes. I also intend to publish an ambitious space opera under this name. Basically, Scott McGregor is the name I’ll use for science fiction.

Then there’s Thomas Hawk, the name I’ll use for fantasy. If you’ve followed this blog much at all, you’ll know sf and f were my first loves, and I made attempts for years to write in both genres, most of which failed. Hence the sf mystery mentioned above. I found I have a talent for crime fiction, so I branched back out to sf using something I was familiar with and had reasonable expectations I could finish. I kept the criminal element in place as it’s something I’m very familiar with. For the fantasy side of things, I’ll likely do a rewrite of an old trunk novel I have called The Firstborn, an urban fantasy set in—wait for it—Northwest Arkansas. Right now I’m going through the process of having some people read it and make recommendations on things to do in the rewrite to improve it, and to get its magic system a decent distance away from a role-playing magic system I really admire and used during the writing in order to just get the story down.

As you can see, I’m doing it for genre reasons. I’m making no effort to actually hide these pseudonyms. In fact, if we can ever get the domain name to work, I’ll have a central author website listing all my books under each name as well as my reasons for using them.

N2071There are some who would argue using separate names for science fiction and fantasy doesn’t make sense as they’re almost the same thing anyway. There’s some merit to that, in a sense. Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game) has written quite successfully in both genres. But I see them as two distinct genres whose readers have different expectations. Yes, there’s some crossover, and there are also authors such as Andre Norton who wrote what I like to call science fantasy—the characters maybe take a spaceship somewhere and then duel it out with magic. Star Wars falls into this category, in my mind, because of the Force. Never mind those stupid-ass midi-chlorians.

Our author wrote under a different name because some of her subject matter differed so much she was afraid it would damage the first name she’d published under. I have a different reason: Over the years, I’ve come to… not hate, but strongly dislike authors who write in multiple genres, and it’s because when I see one of their books, I’m not sure what I’m getting. I’ve been afraid to read Kurt Vonnegut for just that reason. Some classify him as science fiction, but he didn’t care for that classification, apparently.

So after a lot of thought, I decided to use pen names for one simple reason: you can associate each name with something specific. Gil Miller will be crime fiction, Scott McGregor will be science fiction, and Thomas Hawk fantasy. It all comes from me, but when you pick up a book by each “author,” you’ll know exactly what you’re getting.

Is it a good strategy? I have no idea. There’s the issue of branding—you’re not pushing your books, you’re pushing yourself. Stephen King is a great example. There are people who read him who probably have never read another horror novel in their lives. He’s a brand. Everyone knows who he is.
But very few people know who I am. I’m still, for all intents and purposes, at the beginning of my career, so I can advance each brand. Yes, it’s splitting my energies somewhat, but that’s okay. Better to do it now than later.

Stick with me and let’s see how it works out, okay?


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