Monday, August 26, 2013

A Bloody Good Book

Christopher Farnsworth has some serious guts. Sure, all writers are brave people. We bleed on paper, putting some of our most personal thoughts and dreams out there for the world to read, even if we do often disguise them as the actions or ideas of our characters. But I'm talking about a different kind of creative courage.

If there's one thing that's most precious to writers, it's ideas. We need ideas to ply our trade. We horde them away as if they were as valuable as Faberge eggs. We collect them in Word files, on the backs of used envelopes, on little scraps of paper stuffed Columbo-like into our trench coat pockets, and we'll even resort to scribbling on toilet paper before an ethereal inspiration slips away in the night. So when, on page 20 of Farnsworth's latest novel, Red, White and Blood, I read, "Only a week ago, they had dealt with a squad of men who'd learned to use Spontaneous Human Combustion to make themselves into living bombs..." my jaw hit the floor. What Farnsworth did there was take an idea worthy of at least a short story and maybe even a full novel, and fire it at his readers like a single bullet just to make that one paragraph more interesting. I'd be overjoyed to come up with an idea that good and I'd probably milk it for every word it was worth...and Christopher Farnsworth uses it as a little detail! My respect for his writing doubled at that moment, and it was already at a pretty high level to begin with.

Red, White and Blood is the third novel in the Nathaniel Cade series. The premise of the series is partially based on a real historical incident. President Andrew Johnson once commuted the death sentence of a man accused of being a vampire. That part is fact. What Farnsworth did was take the idea further and attack the question of what if it really was a vampire? What if this blood-drinking undead being has secretly been working as a government  operative for every U.S. president from Johnson to today (although the current president in the books is a fictitious character instead of Barack Obama). It's a great concept and the books are even better than they might sound from my brief summary.

I've read and enjoyed all three books so far, and each has gotten better. The first, Blood Oath, introduces readers to the vampire Nathaniel Cade, his president-appointed "handler" Zach Barrows (a young man who knows politics but has to learn the hard way how to navigate the terrors of the night), and various supporting characters. Blood Oath  focuses on events involving a modern day Frankenstein-type character,

The second Cade book, The President's Vampire, was even more thrilling for me than the first, as it contains elements inspired by the work of one of my favorite writers, H.P. Lovecraft. It also tells us what really happened to Osama Bin Laden!

So I recently read the third installment, Red, White and Blood, and I'm happy to be able to report that it's the best one yet. The plot, which centers on a thing called the Boogeyman, a seemingly indestructible  incarnation of the serial killer or slasher archetype, is interesting, fast-paced, suspenseful, and even heartbreaking at times. After this one, I've also come to the conclusion that Christopher Farnsworth is one of those writers with whom no character is truly safe, which is yet another reason his work impresses me.

The Cade novels aren't strictly horror stories. They tend to cross genres between gruesome horror and intense action, with bits of mystery thrown in as well. And I can't forget to mention the references. Farnsworth ties together all sorts of historical facts, conspiracy speculations, occult ideas, and other details in ways that will make fans of the things he refers to smile, while not getting in the way of the enjoyment of readers who might be unfamiliar with such things. In other words, the style in which these books are written will welcome both hardcore genre fans and casual readers alike.

As the author of two vampire novels myself, I'm occasionally asked about my favorite vampire books or movies. There are many bloodsucker stories I've enjoyed over the years on either paper or film, but Farnsworth's Cade series is easily my favorite currently running vampire series of any kind. These are excellent books, with each better than the last. I look forward to the fourth book in the series. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Anything Can Happen at Midnight

I suppose it was inevitable that I'd want to write about vampires at some point in my life. I've been interested in the undead ever since I was about five and a vampire story in a Batman comic scared me senseless. Over the years that followed, I saw dozens of vampire movies, read most of the best-known vampire books (and many obscure ones too), and never completely lost interest in the idea of blood-drinking creatures of the night.

It was a few years ago that I wrote my first vampire short story, "100,000 Midnights," which was published in one of the magazines I sometimes contribute to. I started writing sequel shorts to that one, soon had a handful of them, and then made the decision to combine them all into one book instead of publishing them piece by piece. That became the novel 100,000 Midnights, which was released as an e-book just over a year ago by Musa Publishing. While it was a slow starter in sales, possibly because it was aimed at an audience outside my usual pulp stomping grounds, it's really started to pick up in recent months, probably due to the help of some very positive reviews. Here's the Amazon page for 100,000 Midnights

Now, I'm happy to announce that the second book in my vampire series, Across the Midnight Sea, is now available for Kindle, Nook, and most other electronic formats. Here it is on Amazon.

So as I write this, I'm thinking about what it's like working on this series of vampire stories (and yes, there will eventually be a third book), and I'm starting to smile as I realize how much fun it is.

The vampire books, or I guess I can call it the Midnight series now, since that word appears in both titles and will find its way into future volumes' titles as well, are my personal playground where anything can happen. Other series of stories I've written or are currently writing seem to have more rules that I have to follow (not that that's a bad thing, it all depends on what I'm trying to accomplish with a given project). For example, when I work on a character like Sherlock Holmes or Allan Quatermain, I have to maintain the essence created by the originator of the character. When I work on a Marcel Picard detective story or a spy novel like Nobody Dies For Free, the stories take place in a realistic version of our world and I have to obey the laws of science and reality. But with the Midnight books, my typing hands are completely unbound.

The Midnight books are set in a world full of supernatural beings, though the general human public isn't aware of what goes on in the shadows.

100,000 Midnights begins with our protagonist, Eric (who I've never given a last name to) stopping in a diner late one night. Eric is what you might call a very young hermit, a somewhat eccentric young man who has few friends and often feels like he was born in the wrong era. So he's sitting alone in this diner and he meets Siobhan, who turns out to be a 292-year-old vampire, though she physically looks like she's not even twenty yet. Eric's whole life changes that night and he finds out that there's a hell of a lot more going on in the world than he ever imagined. He also discovers that he has a natural talent for dealing with supernatural emergencies, though that doesn't mean its always easy. And, he also soon discovers that he can't ever really go back to the way his life used to be, not that he wants to, because that would mean leaving Siobhan.
I'm not going to say anything more about the plot right now,but Eric's nocturnal adventures continue through that book and into the sequel.

The Midnight books are also, I realize, a place where I can pay tribute to many of the things that have influenced me. Quite a few of the places in those two books are thinly disguised versions of places I've been to. Someday, I'm going to do a blog post featuring photos of the real-life locations that have inspired the places in the novels. There are references and homages to a lot of other things in there too, things like the work of H.P. Lovecraft, old Archie comics, H.G. Wells, Dracula (of course!), Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, and probably a dozen other things, some of which I might not even have been aware of putting in there at the time!

When I started the set of vampire stories that eventually coalesced in the first novel, I really didn't know exactly where I was going with them. Now, two books into the series, with a third just barely started, I'm still not sure where Eric, Siobhan, and the others will eventually end up, but I hope those who have read and enjoyed the first book and those who are currently reading the second, will come along for the ride. You can never be sure what will happen at midnight.     

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Jason Kahn and BADGE OF LIES

Last Month, Pro Se Press released two new novels on the same day. One was my spy novel Nobody Dies For Free, and the other was a work of crime noir by Jason Kahn called Badge of Lies. For today's post, Jason was kind enough to answer some questions about his novel and his writing career in general.


Aaron: Your novel, Badge of Lies recently became available. Can you tell us what it's about and what inspired you to write it?

Jason: Badge of Lies is the story of detective Frank Arnold, a recovering alcoholic who’s just buried his partner and best friend Mitch Connell, only to find out that Mitch was not the man Frank thought he was. The mistress who comes out of the woodwork is surprising enough, but the ties to organized crime are more concerning, especially after the cryptic warning Mitch gives from beyond the grave, that Frank’s in trouble, and not to trust anyone.

Avoiding thugs, crime bosses, his ex-wife, his new girlfriend, Internal Affairs and a rogue cop who might be framing him for several mob-related killings, Frank desperately tries to unravel Mitch’s cryptic clues. But the closer Frank gets to the information that will protect him, the more danger he finds himself in. The truth may set him free, but it may also get him killed as Frank tries to stay one step ahead of the cops, the criminals, and the women eager to betray him. It’s enough to drive a good man to drink, or become all the things he despises before he’s done.

 I wrote this at the request of a different publisher who liked a science fiction crime series I was writing for her. She asked me to write a hard-boiled detective novel, and of course I said yes. I’d written a previous short story set in a fictional “Metro City” involving some of the same main characters, namely Frank and his partner Vera. So I thought I’d write the story of how they became partners in the first place, and combine that with Frank being led on a constant goose chase by his dead partner.

 Aaron: How did you originally start writing and then pursuing it seriously?

Jason: Academically, I was always drawn to writing—high school newspaper, stuff like that. I was headed toward a journalism degree my second or third year in college, so I knew then that I wanted to be a writer. But it wasn’t until the summer after my senior year that I discovered I wanted to be a WRITER. I’d been reading scifi-fantasy books since I was a kid, and during my senior year, my then-girlfriend, now-wife, said to me, “hey, why don’t you write one of those?” Incredible as it may seem, the thought had never occurred to me. That summer I started writing, and haven’t stopped since. I’ve published numerous short stories in magazines and anthologies, and Badge of Lies is my first novel.

Aaron: Who or what are some of your major influences?

Jason: Early on, I would say authors like Raymond Feist and David Eddings as I tried to write fantasy-adventures, but then, much more James Ellroy and Joseph Wambaugh as I started writing more noir crime fiction. Especially Ellroy. The Black Dahlia, L.A. Confidential, The Big Nowhere. I wasn’t prepared, my mind exploded. A whole new world opened up.

Aaron: Badge of Lies was published by Pro Se Press, a major entity in the New Pulp movement. How did you come to be involved with New Pulp in general and Pro Se in particular?

 Jason: I wouldn’t say it was a conscious decision to start writing New Pulp fiction. It just so happened that what I was really getting into writing happened to be in that genre. And finding Pro Se was a stroke of utmost fortuitousness. Remember when I said that other publisher asked me to write a hardboiled detective story, which turned into Badge of Lies? Well I wrote it, and then her small press house went out of business, leaving me high and dry with a manuscript and no publisher. Needless to say I was a bit depressed. But I would not be deterred, and I started looking around for an appropriate home. I looked for a LONG time, and eventually found several candidates. Some weren’t the right fit, others just said “no thanks.” Then I found Pro Se. The head honcho, Tommy Hancock, said they were not quite closed to submissions and I could certainly send in the manuscript. I did so, and within a few weeks was informed that Badge of Lies had been accepted. From that point on, everything has just been a dream.

Aaron: What other projects of yours, either past or upcoming, would you like readers to know about?

Jason: I recently finished that science fiction series I referred to earlier. It’s called The Dark InSpectre, and involves a police unit of telepaths with the unique ability to contact the psychic awareness of the dead. I’ve always thought of it as a cross between L.A. Confidential and the psi-corps of Babylon Five. It’s a wicked piece of noir fiction, and I’ve submitted it to Pro Se. It’s been accepted for publication and we’re going into the editing phase shortly. I’m totally psyched about it.

Aaron: In your experience, what are the best and worst aspects of being a writer?

Jason: The best part about writing for me is that it makes me happy, pure and simple. When I’m not writing I’m edgy and anxious. I constantly feel like I should be writing, like I’m slacking off if I’m not. But after I’ve written something, even if it’s just a paragraph or two, that all goes away. I feel better about myself. The neurons start firing, I get jazzed about the new possibilities that arise from the latest section, about where they might go and all the other story threads that will now come into play. I feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I’d say the hardest part is finding the time. Both to write and to just think about a story, to work it out in my head. I’m a news editor by day, and my job is extremely busy. I’m also a husband and father of two boys. I’ll write whenever I can, but long stretches can go by when I’m not writing. It can be very frustrating. I look forward to long flights, like from New York to San Francisco and back. I tend to get a lot of writing done on flights like that!

Aaron:  Thanks, Jason, for taking the time to tell us about your work.

Badge of Lies can be found on Amazon on its own page or along with Jason's other work at his Amazon author page.

More information about Jason's work can be found on his website, his blog, or Facebook.