Skeletons in the Reacher Family Closet

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Lee Child learned style from Hemingway. Or maybe from Elmore Leonard or Dashiell Hammett. He writes short, clean, sometimes incomplete but straight-to-the-point sentences. Brief paragraphs, plus almost as short episodic sections consisting of alternating points of view. Except when he writes long action sequences with lots of ands and Reacher did this and that and then his opponents fall down like flies after being sprayed with insecticide. Reacher gets knocked down, too, and instantly he’s back on his feet again. To stay down long means to die.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Although the writing is often sparse and minimalist, it’s also detail-rich. Child pays close attention to tiny details, and so does protagonist Jack Reacher.

Past Tense (Delacorte Press/Random House, November 15, 2018) is Child’s 22nd Reacher thriller.

Patty Sundstrom and Shorty Fleck are a Canadian potato farmer and a timber sawmill worker on their way to NYC to sell something valuable enough to raise sufficient capital to start a new life in Florida. When their old car breaks down in the woods near Laconia, NH, not far from where Reacher’s father Stan was born and raised, they plan to spend only one night. Little do they know they might be trapped there for the rest of their lives.

Jack Reacher, walking and thumbing his way across America, sees a sign for Laconia and decides to visit the town where his father allegedly  grew up. Of course, nothing is ever simple in a Jack Reacher novel. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

It’s been said that Reacher walks where angels fear to tread. Whenever he encounters a wrong, he feels duty-bound by his own internal code of honor to set it right. Whenever he finds a bully picking on an underdog, he has to step in. He’s a giant of a man, both literally and figuratively.

And when he gets mad, all hell can break loose.

Those are traits he inherited from his father.

Faithful readers will find many of the elements they expect in a great Reacher novel in the 400 pages of Past Tense: an intriguing  mystery to solve (several, actually); plenty of broken noses and broken bones; bodies piled up like cordwood (some dead, others merely knocked unconscious); a beautiful female cop who proves not only extremely competent but an excellent foil for Reacher to toy with; plenty of bad guys and a few good guys Reacher needs to protect; a realistic threat to life and limb; and a get-out-of-town deadline. What makes Past Tense different, however, is the number of previously-unknown Reachers that may or may not be closely related to Jack.

Like all the other Lee Child novels, I couldn’t put this book down. The dramatic tension and anticipation of violence kept me devouring words. Learning more about the Reacher family was icing on the cake. Highly recommended.

 

Lee and me at Thrillerfest. I’m the guy wearing glasses.

 

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Somebody’s Daughter is a Compelling Read

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Somebody’s Daughter by David Bell (Berkley Books, July 2018) is about a missing nine-year-old girl and the petty jealousies and doubts that get in the way of relationships.
Erica, Michael Frasier’s first wife, is a bit of a drama queen. They’d married right out of college, a starter marriage, that ended in divorce a year later. Michael left Erica when her flightiness and impulsivity—two personality traits that had attracted him to her in the first place—became unbearable.
Michael’s new wife Angela is more like he is, a detail-oriented and responsible workaholic, not a wild and crazy emotionally-high-strung attention-seeking risk taker like Erica is or Michael’s sister Robyn was. Or his other younger sister, Lynne, a musician, song-writer, and former rock star still is. Robyn died when she fell off a swing set as an infant, and Michael blames himself for not preventing the fall. Although only a child himself at the time, he was the older brother and should have been watching out for his kid sister.
When Erica rings the doorbell at Michael and Angela’s house to announce her nine-year-old daughter is missing and Michael is Felicity’s father, he doesn’t know what to believe. He and Erica have been divorced nearly ten years, and this is the first he’s heard he might be a father. Angela and he have tried to get pregnant without success. Does he already have a daughter?
Or is Erica lying to get Michael’s attention? Is she trying to break up his marriage to get revenge for his leaving her? Or does Erica hope to get Michael back to be a father to their daughter?
Erica shows Michael Felicity’s picture on her cell phone. She looks remarkably like Robyn did the day before she died.
Parts of this novel read like a typical Jerry Springer episode. Who is Felicity’s father? What will a paternity test prove? Was Erica unfaithful while married to Michael? Inquiring minds want to know.
So do the local police when Erica reports Felicity abducted. Did Michael abduct his daughter? Did Erica abduct Felicity from another mother after Erica had a miscarriage ten years ago? Did a pedophile snatch the little girl when Erica’s attention was averted? Or did Angela, jealous that Erica gave Michael a child, abduct and kill Felicity because she couldn’t have children herself?
The author tosses in a few additional complications and a handful of supporting characters to keep the reader guessing. With  every passing minute, the chances of finding Felicity alive become less and less. The timebomb is ticking. The sands in the hourglass are running out.
Somebody’s Daughter is a compelling read. Highly recommended.

The Dragon Devours

In Barry Eisler’s eye-opening novel Livia Lone (Thomas & Mercer, October 26, 2016), there are 3 kinds of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Livia Lone is a sheepdog. She protects the sheep from being devoured by hungry wolves.

But this sheepdog has a dragon hidden inside of her. When the sleeping dragon wakes, the dog displays its fangs.

Livia has been a victim, and now she has become a predator herself, preying on those who prey on helpless women and children. Labee, Livia’s real name, was sold into sexual slavery by her parents in Thailand, and then Labee and her sister Nason were shipped to the US by unscrupulous human traffickers. Labee and Nason are separated aboard ship, and Labee (Livia) swears to someday find Nason and rescue her.

Livia studies hard and grows up to be a black-belt martial artist and a Seattle police officer investigating sexual crimes. Most of the time, she helps people. But, sometimes, she helps victims, and herself, by killing men who take advantage of the weaker sex.

All the while, Livia Lone continues to search for her abducted sister.

This is a well-crafted psychological thriller filled with violence, sexual content, and lots of really bad people with only a few good ones to make a difference. Ripped from the reality of today’s headlines, Livia Lone is a masterful expose of the underground world decent people deny exists.

Eisler alternates chapters between then and now, relating Livia’s backstory while holding the reader in suspense over what will happen next. Set in the hill country of Thailand, Bangkok, Seattle, and Llewellyn, Idaho, this gritty tale is an emotional roller coaster as well as an exciting thrill ride.

Highly recommended for adults who can handle terror, betrayal, and exploitation of children graphically portrayed.livia-lone

The Raven’s Daughter is wonderfully well-written

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The Raven’s Daughter by Peggy A. Wheeler (Dragon Moon Press, February 2016) is a wonderfully well-written first novel. Maggie Tall Bear Sloan, half-Irish and half-Native American, is a retired big-city detective and profiler who has made her share of bad mistakes. She’s always too close to the action to see the forest for the trees. Plus, Maggie’s taste in men is atrocious. How could anyone as smart as Maggie act so dumb?

Maggie has spent most of her life favoring her father’s Gaelic ancestry over her mother’s American Indian. Maggie listens to Irish music, drinks in an Irish pub, studies Gaelic, and hangs around with white folk. She rarely sees her twin brother, Danny Tall Bear Sloan, who celebrates his Native-American heritage. If not for Flower and Bird, her twin grand-nieces, Maggie would have nothing to do with that side of the family.

When twin children are abducted, murdered, their hearts cut out, and ritually buried near Maggie’s A-frame home in rural Wicklow, California, Wild River County Sheriff Jake Lubbock asks Maggie to come out of retirement to help catch the serial killer. At first, Maggie refuses. But Jake is persistent. When Maggie thinks her nieces will become the killer’s next target, she agrees to help solve the case.

Although The Raven’s Daughter isn’t perfect (it is, after all, a first novel), it is a page-turner that’s hard to put down. The twist at the end is something I didn’t see coming because of all the red-herrings. Maggie’s character is multi-layered and full of angst. But there are a handful of typos that an editor or the author should correct, and a few loose ends that could have been avoided. I do hope the author will write a sequel that will explain the supernatural elements in more detail.

 

I loved reading The Raven’s Daughter.  I think you will love it, too.

 

Talk to me: tell me what you like or don’t like

winds10CS Cover (6x9)(With Placeholder Graphics & Sample Text)_editedI have never before asked for reviews nor submitted works for awards. I have never before asked another author for a blurb.

This year is different. This year I turned seventy-one. Most of my friends and many of my acquaintances have perished from this earth. People I depended on to review my works or edit them or recommend them or nominate them for awards are no longer able to do so.

When Gretta, my wife of nearly thirty years, died suddenly of a massive heart attack in 2012, I began writing again from scratch. In essence, I started life over. Writing was all I had to keep myself sane in a world turned upside down. Writing gave new purpose to my life and allowed me to mix fantasy with reality in healthy ways. I completed novels I had started thirty years ago and I began new novels in a variety of genres.

This year—2015—some of those novels appeared in print for the first time. Two new short stories—“Dolls” and “After the Fall”—were published in magazines. Several of my out-of-print novels and short stories were reprinted or appeared as e-books. 2015 has been a marvelous year, and 2016 appears to be even better.

Fame and fortune are fleeting. Some of my titles became momentary best-sellers, then dropped in rank like a rock hurled over a cliff. A few readers were kind enough to write reviews on Amazon or Good Reads. One or two favorable reviews also appeared in magazines or on blogs. I’m grateful for each of those unsolicited reviews, and I hunger for more.

Nelson Algren told me once that a writer needs to ask everyone—friends and strangers alike—to buy his books. “Buy my books and the autograph is free,” he said. “No one will buy your work if you don’t ask.”

Algren was right. Writers must first ask agents or editors to buy their works in manuscript, and then they must ask readers to buy their published works.

It goes against my grain to ask for anything. I was raised to be an independent person, totally self-reliant. If I couldn’t do it by myself, I didn’t bother to do it.

But now I’m asking. I ask you to buy my books and read them. I ask you to leave reviews on Good Reads and Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. I ask you to review my works in print and on blogs. I ask you to talk about my works with anyone who might be interested.

Frederik Pohl used to tell me, when we chatted in con suites at Windycon or Chicon, that a writer is always too close to his own works to judge if they’re good or bad. That’s why we need editors. And reviewers. And awards.

And, I might add, why we need blurbs from other authors. People really do judge books by their covers and cover blurbs from names readers recognize.

Up until now, I have been scrupulous about not allowing burbs on my books. Personal letters from Karl Edward Wagner, Richard Laymon, Mort Castle, Jerry Williamson, Dave Silva, and others who have read my stuff and took the time to tell me nice things about my writing are personal. I treasure them and never asked if I could share them in print.

Nor do I brag about awards I have won or the nominations for awards I haven’t won. I did not solicit those awards and was pleasantly surprised when I received them. I keep the certificates and trophies in the basement where I store old trunk stories, ARCs, page proofs, and thousands of books I have read and cherish. All of my papers and books will pass to the sff archives at Northern Illinois University when I die. I expect the awards will end up there, too.

But I’m alive and well and still writing, and now I’m asking friends and fans and readers and reviewers to consider my latest works for review and for awards. There will be more Paul Dale Anderson novels and stories appearing in print next year and the year after next. I’ll be asking other writers for blurbs to put on the covers.

If you’re an author who wants readers, you’ve got to think long term. No one lasts long-term in this business without a little help from his friends. So, at long last, I’m asking my friends and followers and fans and fellow fiends for help.

If you like my stories, say so. If you don’t like them, say that, too. Let me know if you want to see more of what I write. If you think my stories or novels are worthy of awards, nominate them for a Stoker or a Nebula or a Hugo or an Anthony. But do it only because you want to, not because I asked.

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Spoiler Alert

I read and review a lot of books. When my dental hygienist asked me this week how many books I read and review in a month, I estimated fifty novels each month but that figure is far too low. I spend more than a thousand dollars a month—every month—buying books (nearly twenty grand a year), and I get free review copies in the mail and from NetGalley every week. I also get free copies as an active voting member of HWA’s Stoker Awards, SFWA’s Nebula Awards, and Worldcon’s Hugo Awards. That’s one hell of a shitload of books.

I also check out the local Barnes and Noble brick and mortar store at CherryVale Mall twice a month and spend a good 2 hours a week browsing Half-Price Books. I also browse and purchase from Barnesandnoble.com, Amazon.com, Kobo, and other online retailers as well as publishers’ websites. You see, I am addicted to books. I am in love with books. Books are my life.

I cannot conceive of a life without books.

A newly-published first novelist recently lamented that his entire life has been taken over by books. Not only does he have to write his own books, but he has to devote considerable time to market his titles. He has no time left for himself or his family. There is never enough time in life to do everything, not even in the Twilight Zone’s “Time Enough at Last”. Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes wishes come true.

Books have always been a big part of my family’s life. My earliest and fondest memories are me sitting on my mother’s or father’s or aunt’s or grandmother’s laps and being read to from a book. When my wife died, I found comfort in a book. My daughter also reads and collects and writes books. I have fond memories of reading her to sleep when she was a child.

So how many books do I actually read and review each and every month? I write reviews under a variety of pseudonyms as well as under my own name. Last month was a slow month and I reviewed only 38 titles. So far I have reviewed 63 titles in October, and the month is barely half over.

Reviewing books is an honored tradition followed by many authors as a) a way to keep abreast with and even ahead of market trends, b) a way of paying it forward to up-and-coming novelists who deserve the mention, c) a way to get one’s name on the covers of books one didn’t even write oneself, d) a way of analyzing what works and what doesn’t in fiction and recording those findings, and e) a way to be a Mister Know-It-All and be paid for pontificating.

I usually ignore the minor typos and grammatical errors I discover in ARCs (though I sometimes do mention them to authors in personal e-mails in hopes that they’ll be corrected before the book appears in print). What bothers me a great deal lately, however, is the number of self-published or small-press published books with glaring errors that should have been corrected as part of the editing process. I have even found a few in my own novels when they appear in print. Are we all in such a hurry to get our books out there that we overlook one of the most important parts of the process?

Yes, we are.

I hate it when my reading experience is spoiled by typos or formatting errors or anything that interrupts the willing suspense of disbelief.

For the longest time, I refused to review such books at all. But now I realize that is unfair to an author who needs objective feedback.

And I also realize that—perish the thought!—I’m not perfect, either.

So here is a spoiler alert. I will give a five or four star rating to a novel that has marvelous potential in order to encourage that author to continue writing. One such writer is Lisa Vasquez, author of The Unsaintly (Create Space, 978-1461031086, $9.95). She concocted a good storyline, decent suspense, valid character interactions, realistic dialog, and spoiled the effect by adding an extra line between paragraphs. It’s such a minor thing that I should have been able to ignore it, but I couldn’t. I’m an old-time reader whose eyes expect to flow between paragraphs without extra white space. I loved the story itself, and the author is a writer to watch. I gave The Unsaintly five stars and included a caveat in the review.

I read Vasquez’ The Anti-God in Kindle and the extra space wasn’t so noticeable.

I recommend Lisa Vasquez to horror readers because she has created a believable fictional world with believable characters. I hope she continues to write.

Now it’s time for me to return to writing my own fiction.

How I Do It

Many of you told me you’re curious about my personal writing habits. I, too, am naturally curious of the writing habits of authors.

Stephen King has become a legend in his own time primarily because he writes great stories and novels. But he also generously reveals the secrets of his craft, and that has endeared him to countless constant readers who want to know the man behind the legend.

I recently took James Patterson’s Master Class on Writing to learn how Patterson works his magic. James was very forthcoming about his work habits. His course was a revealing experience and worth every dollar.

So let me share some of my work secrets with you. I won’t charge you a dime. But, please remember, what works for me may not work equally well for everyone.

Let me begin with my daily schedule. Today I have three novels in progress: Time, Sledgehammer, and Impossible. I also have three other novels I’m editing for pending publication: Deviants, Spilled Milk, and Mysterious Ways. I have three other novels in the opening chapter phase. I’ll get around to them next.

I am also working on a dozen short stories that are in various stages of completion. I switch between them as ideas come to me. Today I added a few new pages to 2 short stories that are developing nicely.

I began writing this morning at nine, shortly after feeding the three cats, washing my face and brushing my teeth, and fixing black coffee for me. I re-read and revised yesterday’s thousand words of Sledgehammer before beginning on today’s thousand new words. I broke at noon to read 205 new e-mails and make a few short posts to social media, including Facebook and Twitter.

At 1:30, I crafted a fresh post to one of my blogs, then I picked up reading where I left off yesterday on a Neil Gaiman book (Sandman: Overture) I promised to review before its November publication. I have fourteen other ARCs to read and review before their November publication dates. Reviewing books helps me to keep current with what’s being published in my chosen genres. I love to analyze what works and what doesn’t work in fiction. I write my book review as I read, switching between screens as necessary. I finished the review of Sandman: Overture and set it aside to reread tomorrow before sending it off to the publisher and posting excepts to GoodReads, Amazon, and my five blogs.

At 3 PM, I answered a telephone call from my daughter and we talked for a good half an hour. Tammy calls me every afternoon, but she keeps our calls relatively short because, as an author herself, she is cognizant of my work habits and deadlines. While talking with her on the phone, I checked for new e-mails and discovered my program schedule for Windycon includes two panels, one signing, and one reading.

Here is my November 14 Windycon schedule:

Saturday 10:00 Autographing: Hallway: P. Anderson, B. Garcia, M. Oshiro, K. Wynter

Saturday Noon: Beyond Adams and Pratchett: Junior A: What Humorous Science Fiction/Fantasy Do You Love? P.D. Anderson, A. Bentley, R. Garfinkle, C. Johns J. Nye

Saturday 2:00 Is World Building Necessary?  Lilac C: Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and others created their worlds as their works evolved.  Can that technique be used by modern authors whose readers have modern sensibilities? T. Akers, P. Anderson, R. Frencl, T. Trumpinski, Gary Wolfe (M)

Saturday 9:00-9:25 Reading: Cypress A: P. Anderson

At 4 this afternoon, I answered a phone call from Lizza regarding a review of Light she wanted to post on Amazon.

At 4:30, I began revising Time. At 6:15, I read several stories submitted for Stoker Long Fiction jury consideration. At 8:00 PM, I worked on Impossible.

At 10:00 PM, I went on Facebook and read today’s new posts while chatting online with Lizza. I posted a few comments to posts on my timeline, and I responded to e-mails that needed replies.

At midnight, I gave the cats a treat, ate a light midnight snack, planned out tomorrow, and went to bed with a book. All 3 cats joined me and demanded fifteen minutes each of petting. Then I read for pleasure until my eyes felt heavy and needed to close.

I write nearly everything on the laptop computer these days. I used to write exclusively on an upright manual typewriter and made revisions by hand on a typed manuscript, but I have used computers since the early-eighties (Smith-Corona Word Processor, Apple IIe, Apple SE, Macintosh, i-Mac, Windows) and I’m comfortable reading and writing and revising electronically. I prefer Microsoft Word to Scribner. I back up my documents to the cloud and to flash drives.

I do the same essential things in the same order every day, holidays and weekends included. I deviate to attend conferences and book signings, and Lizza and I spend two evenings a week watching movies on DVD or at the theater. We eat pizza or Italian beef or Subway sandwiches.

NEXT: I’m a pantser, and my first draft is my outline.