August 21, 2014

Cajun Killers: an interview with D.J. Donaldson, author of "Bad Karma in the Big Easy"

Best-selling mystery author D.J. Donaldson (New Orleans Requiem, Louisiana Fever) invites readers back to the Bayou with his latest New Orleans adventure Bad Karma in the Big Easy. Plump and proud medical examiner Andy Broussard reunites with gorgeous psychologist Kit Franklyn as they face off with their most gruesome foe yet.

A killer lurks in The Big Easy, his victims found among the many bodies left in the wake of the devastating Hurricane Katrina. But with the city’s records destroyed, and the police force in complete disarray, Broussard must take matters into his own hands. Soon, he and his courageous sidekick, Kit, find themselves on a dangerous and labyrinthine journey through the storm-ravaged underbelly of the ever-mysterious and intensely seductive city of New Orleans; leading them to a predatory evil the likes of which they’ve never encountered.

Written in his uniquely brusque style, Donaldson’s Bad Karma combines hard-hitting, action-packed prose with a folksy, sweetly Southern charm. Add Donaldson’s brilliant first-hand knowledge of forensics and the sultry flavor of New Orleans, and the result is a first class forensic procedural within an irresistibly delectable mystery that will leave fans hungry for more.

Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in Sylvania, Ohio, a little suburb of Toledo. It was a nice little town, where as a kid, I spent untold hours fishing in a nearby creek. My favorite spot was under a big poplar tree, whose roots formed a large tangle over the water. Through those roots, I caught many pumpkinseeds, a kind of bluegill with turquoise markings on the side and a bright orange belly. It was probably those beautiful fish as much as anything, that made me want to become a biology teacher.

But after college I discovered there weren’t many high school biology jobs to be had. I’d have to work my way up to that exalted position by first teaching ninth grade general science. I remember being surprised by that and being told by my university job placement officer, “Beggars can’t be choosers.” WHAT? I’m a college graduate and I’m now a beggar?

Okay, I’ll do it. General Science could be fun. And eventually, I’ll move up. Except I soon found that ninth graders aren’t interested in Science. Nor was that what they really needed. They needed someone to teach them how to be civilized human beings. Though I loved the kids, this wasn’t what I signed up for. That and the fact my wife and I couldn’t afford to pay our December utility bill, even though she too, was working, made me rethink things.

While taking a post-graduate course for science teachers, I ran into someone who pointed me in a new direction. Dr. Art Kato taught embryology like a detective story. He didn’t just tell us what was known about development, he talked about the experiments that revealed how a fertilized egg becomes a child and he spoke with passion about the men who did those experiments. I wanted to be like those men.

So, with Dr. Katoh’s help I got a graduate student fellowship in the Tulane Medical school department of Anatomy in New Orleans. Before leaving to start my new life, another member of the faculty at the public school where I taught came up to me and marveled about how brave I was to be “leaving all this” to become a student again. I guess he didn’t have any trouble paying his utility bills.

During my five years at Tulane I had no thoughts of writing novels. Memorizing thousands of anatomical facts and trying to carry out a research project worthy of a Ph.D. degree were all I could handle.

Than came two decades of teaching and research at the University of Tennessee Medical School. In all those years, I never thought about writing anything but research papers, grants, lectures, and test questions. Then one day, I woke up and thought… I want to write a novel. I have no idea where this insane idea came from. I call it insane because I had no training in writing fiction. They say there are more unfinished novels in this country than unmade beds. So chances were good that I’d never even complete one novel let alone get it published. I’m not going to tell you how long it took me to write that first novel because it’s embarrassing. But of course, I had a lot to learn. That book became, CAJUN NIGHTS the first of my seven Andy Broussard/Kit Franklyn forensic mysteries.

How did you create your characters?

Long before I started that first novel, I attended a talk given by Dr. Bill Bass, the forensic anthropologist who created the real Body Farm, made so famous by Patricia Cornwell. In that talk Dr. Bass described some of the fascinating forensic cases he’d worked on over the years. This was well before forensics became such a prevalent part of popular culture, so I had never heard about such things. Later, when I got the urge to write a novel, there was no question that the main character just had to be someone in the field of anatomical forensics… like a medical examiner.

But I’m not a pathologist. So how could I write like one? Fortunately, one of my colleagues at the University was Dr. Jim Bell, the county ME. Jim generously agreed to let me hang out for a couple of weeks at the forensic center and follow him around, which I did. Sadly, Jim died unexpectedly a few months before that first book was published. Though he was an avid reader, Jim never got to see a word of the book he helped me with. In many ways, Jim lives on as Broussard. Broussard’s brilliant mind, his weight problem, his appreciation for fine food and antiques, his love for Louis L’Amour western novels and his good soul… that was Jim Bell.

Kit Franklyn was created as a naïve counterpoint to Broussard. I thought it would be interesting to see how a beautiful young woman working for a medical examiner as a suicide investigator would react to the horrors the office has to deal with. I also anticipated that through her relationship with Broussard I could show that mutual non-romantic love was possible between an unrelated man and woman of greatly differing ages. Though he’d never admit it, Broussard loves Kit like the daughter he never had. More open about her feelings, Kit loves Broussard like a father. Of course, being set in New Awlins, I also had to add a couple of eccentric Cajuns to the mix.

Tell us about your newest book? How did it get started?

After writing six books about Andy and Kit, I took some time off to try my hand at medical thrillers in which each book would have an entirely new set of characters. That turned into a four novel hiatus during which I thought I would probably never write about Andy and Kit again.

And for a long time, I didn’t. In fact, worn out from the rigors of creating so many characters and stories, I stopped writing for a while. But Andy and Kit remained a part of me, so much so that a few years after Hurricane Katrina, I began to wonder if it would be possible for Broussard to solve a crime in the aftermath of that storm. With the city in a shambles and no one where they would normally be, could it be done… could it be written? BAD KARMA IN THE BIG EASY is the result.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

My first piece of advice is to get copies of 10 best-selling books in the genre you like, and study them. Read carefully and try to figure out why they’re so compelling. That isn’t an easy thing to do, because in good books, you’ll get carried along in a scene and forget to analyze. That’s the time to stop and ask yourself how did the author draw me in like that? In time, you’ll begin to see techniques you can copy in your work. And this is one test where copying is perfectly okay.

What I said above applies to anyone who wants to write a novel. But here’s some advice for the younger aspirant:
I once heard a tattoo artist say that tattooing was all he wanted to do in life. So to make sure he’d be a success at it, he had his face tattooed, the idea being that looking as he does, he’d never be able to get any other kind of job. It would force him to be a successful artist. That’s certainly an admirable level of commitment, but what would he do if his eyesight failed, or getting body ink suddenly became unfashionable?

Writing is a brutally difficult profession. For decades it’s been nearly impossible to get an agent, let alone a book deal. Sure, with the new digital age and the advent of e-books and the many small publishers springing up, that’s changing to some extent. And now, Amazon even has a self-publishing program. But ultimately, you still have to generate a product that will sell books. To do that, a writer must be able to draw on first-hand experiences to create a compelling world that others want to share. My anatomy and research background enabled me to understand the science of forensics, and the technology behind the things I’ve written about in my medical thrillers. It also provided a decent income while I figured out how to write fiction. And if I had never been able to find a publisher for my work, or sold a single book, I could still have a rewarding life. So, yes… dream about writing that novel, and hone the necessary skills. But also become a policeman, or a carpenter, or a sewer inspector (yes, there is a mystery series with a sewer inspector as the main character). Figure out how to make a living that doesn’t require you to produce a best-selling novel. Then you’ll not only have a Plan B, but might even be able to work your “real life” world into your writing.

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August 20, 2014

Good Grief and Bad Memories: a review of Kelli Owen's "Deceiver"

by Kelli Owen
DarkFuse (2014)
142 pages

I thoroughly enjoy Kelli Owen's horror fiction, so it is no stretch for me expect the same level of quality when she has a crack at a psychological thriller. And Deceiver is just as good, if not a bit better than any of her horror titles.

The premise feels somehow familiar, with a grieving widower growing more and more suspicious his dead wife led a double life, and yet the unraveling of the mystery left me unable to think of anything quite like this story. If there was an obscure Hitchcock film with that premise, I'd totally buy it. This is a new one though, and it just ratchets up the tension after he finds his murdered wife's diary in her suitcase.

The atmosphere is great and how the veil is lifted on just what his wife had been up to all those years is so expertly done that when the big finish comes around I was just about as close to the edge of my seat as I could get while sitting comfortably in my recliner.

From what I've read of Kelli Owen's work, she has a real knack for honing in on one or two characters in a book and just putting them through an emotional wringer to the point where you expect them to fall of the floor like a piece of discarded loose leaf paper. If taut thrillers are more your thing than straight-up horror, you'll definitely want to try this one out.

Available via

August 18, 2014

By Blood We Read: an interview with Mark Morris, editor of "The Spectral Book of Horror Stories"

Spectral Press releases a new anthology in September, featuring stories from Alison Littlewood, Gary McMahon, and many more. I had the chance to ask its editor, Mark Morris, a few questions about the book. Enjoy!

Gef: The Spectral Book of Horror Stories looks to showcase some high-caliber British horror. How did this anthology come about?

Mark: Not just high-calibre British horror, but high-calibre international horror! As well as some of the best UK horror writers in the business, we’ve also got stories from US writers like Brian Hodge and Steve Rasnic Tem, Canadians like Helen Marshall and Rio Youers, and we’ve even got a story from an Aussie, the brilliant Angela Slatter.

As for how the anthology came about, my first introduction to adult horror fiction was through reading short story anthologies. I read hundreds of horror stories before I read a single horror novel. At the age of nine or ten I started reading the Pan and Fontana horror and ghost story anthologies, the Armada ghost, SF and monster story anthologies, and dozens of one-off anthologies, which I borrowed from the library on a regular basis. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: I think short stories are the lifeblood of the horror genre, and ever since I became a professional writer, over quarter of a century ago, I have harboured an ambition to edit an annual anthology of non-themed horror and/or ghost stories. I approached Simon Marshall-Jones at Spectral Press a year or so ago with my vision and a breakdown of how much money he’d have to fork out to make it happen – and happily he said yes!

Gef: The table of contents looks like a who's who in the genre. I see Gary McMahon, Lisa Tuttle, Alison Littlewood, Brian Hodge, and even Ramsey effing Campbell. So, is there a lockbox in Spectral Press' possession containing an assortment of incriminating photos?

Mark: Ha ha! No, no one had to be coerced or threatened. Fortunately a lot of writers in this genre love short fiction as much as I do, and I received a huge amount of very positive and enthusiastic feedback when I told them of my intention not only to do this anthology, but to make it an annual event – depending on sales, of course. I’m hoping that once the book is out there and hopefully starts to gain some positive feedback I’ll get more great writers wanting to come on board for future volumes. My ambition is for The Spectral Book of Horror Stories to gain a reputation for excellence, and to showcase the very best that the genre has to offer. I have a huge list of writers I’d like to see stories from in the future – and, of course, I’d like to discover some great new writers too, and perhaps help set them on their way to a full-time writing career, as Charlie Grant did for me twenty-odd years ago when he published a story of mine in his anthology, Final Shadows.

Gef: With such an array of talent, the anthology should offer a pretty colorful mosaic of the horror genre. Is there any kind of unspoken theme or tone to this anthology?

Mark: No, which is the whole point of it – it’s non-themed. Themed anthologies are all very well, and in fact there are some great ones out there, but my preference has always been for the idea of an anthology which celebrates the almost limitless breadth and depth of this fantastic genre. As a kid, reading the Pan and Fontana books, I loved the fact that I had no idea what was coming next, and that each individual story had its own tone and style and theme.

Gef: How do you see the state of the horror genre these days? Robust or is Spectral Press a bastion fending off an army of hacks?

Mark: There are some really great writers out there, and if you’re prepared to shop around and become familiar with the world of the independent presses, of which there are many superb examples – PS Publishing, Cemetery Dance, Spectral, Gray Friar, Tartarus, Subterranean, ChiZine, to name just a few – then you’ll realize that the genre is in fine fettle. What there isn’t a great deal of is money. There are many fantastic writers who are earning little more than a pittance for their work. But if you’re new to the genre and looking for good stuff to read, you’ll find it in abundance. As well as the writers in this anthology, and the biggies like Stephen King, Peter Straub and Joe Lansdale, who are all still producing very fine work, check out the fiction of Joe Hill, Graham Joyce, Tim Lebbon, John Langan, Nathan Ballingrud, Lisa Hannett, Adam Nevill, Simon Bestwick, Simon Strantzas, Paul Finch, Ray Cluley, Thana Niveau, Chris Golden… oh, and literally dozens of others. They are all writers who I’d love to feature stories from in future volumes of The Spectral Book of Horror Stories.

Gef: The anthology is set to debut in September at Fantasy York, England, but what of it beyond the U.K.'s borders? How long must we wait and where do we look to buy it up?

Mark: The wonder of the internet is that the world has become a very small place. The book can be ordered direct from Spectral Press at

Gef: Vincent Chong is responsible for the cover art. So, how stoked were you when you saw the proposed masterpiece, because that kid's got talent?

Mark: Vinny is a truly fantastic artist, and one of the nicest, most self-effacing and accommodating guys you’ll ever meet. We discussed ideas, and he did a few sketches, which were variations on the theme of the three creepy children – but when I saw the final cover artwork it absolutely blew me away! I just love the colour theme he’s used, the composition, the attention to detail… it’s one of Vinny’s best pieces, I think; it’s stunning! And the great news is that Vinny’s with us for the duration. He’s agreed to do the covers for The Spectral Book of Horror Stories for as long as the series runs – which is fantastic! I’m so excited I’ve already started discussing possible colour themes and images with him for volumes two and three…

Gef: What other projects do you have in the works and how can folks keep up with what's going on with you as well as Spectral Press?

Mark: The best places to keep up with me are on Facebook and Twitter. I’m continually posting news and film/book reviews and all sorts of nonsense on there. This is becoming a very busy year for me. Rather ridiculously I’ve got four novels out this year – the official movie tie-in novelization of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah was published in February/March; Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital, the first novel based on the Stephen Jones-created franchise, came out a month or so ago; then at FantasyCon in September, where we’ll be launching The Spectral Book of Horror Stories, PS Publishing will also be launching a new novel of mine called The Black; and finally, in October, Titan Books will publish The Wolves of London, book one of my new dark fantasy trilogy Obsidian Heart. Looking ahead from there I have two new novellas coming out next year – one from Spectral, one from Salt Publishing’s new horror imprint, Remains; a new short story collection from ChiZine; the second book in my Obsidian Heart trilogy, which is called The Society of Blood; and hopefully The 2nd Spectral Book of Horror Stories. I’ve also got new stories of my own popping up in a few anthologies, and there may be one or two other projects in the pipeline, which I’m not allowed to talk about yet.

Gef: Thanks, Mark. As for the rest of you, you can grab yourself a copy of the anthology by visiting Spectral Press' shop and making a pre-order, plus find even more great titles.

August 15, 2014

Getting Graphic: "Preacher Vol. 7: Salvation" by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Preacher Vol. 7: Salvation
written by Garth Ennis
illustrated by Steve Dillon
DC Comics/Vertigo (1999)
256 pages
ISBN13: 9781563895197

Just when I think Preacher can't push boundaries of good taste any further, I pick up the next volume in the much-heralded series and am quickly shown there are no boundaries at all.

Salvation is a divergence from Jesse Custer's quest to put a curb-stomping on God. After seeing Tulip in the arms of Cassidy, he feels like he just fell out of a plane and hit the ground hard--oh wait, he literally did that. So, rather than take a moment to compose himself and take a rational approach to what's happened, Jesse goes all emo and effs off to a small Texas town called Salvation. And somehow the one-eyed ass-kicker becomes sheriff and the thorn in the side of one weird little sausage baron known as Meatman.

Meatman, real name Odin Quincannon, is a peculiar little turd. Imagine the old guy from those Six Flags commercials from a few years ago, only even more evil and insane. He owns a meat processing plant that is basically the sole industry for the little town of Salvation. It's a pretty bleak existence, as evidenced by the influx of mean-spirited Klanners that make up much of the workforce. Well, Custer will not suffer a fool, and he is pretty much surrounded by them and commenced to putting a good ol' fashioned butt-whoopin' on the more stubborn of the bigoted hayseeds.

Compared the previous six volumes, Salvation feels damn-near bucolic and serene. Perhaps that's because a fair bit of the story revolves around Custer discovering his mother is still alive, and recapturing that familial aspect of his life that had been previously corrupted by those swamp-dwelling villains who had taken him after leaving his mother to die in the swamps. Well, she's alive alright, and with the scars to prove it. But that revelation doesn't do a whole lot to tie in with the main conflict that is Meatman.

It's hard to complain about a Preacher comic, and what little criticism I could offer regarding the gratuitous shock factor and lack of nuance is really of minor concern to me. This volume was an interlude, sure, but one that offered its fair share of humor and horror, sometimes coming all at once.

August 12, 2014

The New GameNoir: a guest post and excerpt by Nick Cole, author of "Soda Pop Soldier"

Nick Cole is an Army veteran and working actor living in Southern California. When he is not auditioning for commercials, going out for sitcoms or being shot, kicked, stabbed or beaten by film school students, the author of The Old Man and the Wasteland and The Wasteland Saga can often be found as a guard for King Phillip II of Spain or a similar role in the Opera Don Carlo at Los Angeles Opera.

The New GameNoir
Nick Cole

Face it! Scorpion from Mortal Combat beats everyone. Why? Because he’s ruthless and I’m pretty sure he’s a freak of some sort once he pulls his mask off for the fatality. Believe me, you don’t want to mess with that cat. Oh, and speaking of video games... I have this new novel coming out called Soda Pop Soldier. A couple of years ago I wrote another novel that a lot of people read called The Old Man and the Wasteland. It was Hemingway set in Fallout. I wrote two sequels and everything got compiled into an omnibus called The Wasteland Saga. When it came time to write my next novel, I just wanted to write some junk. Some good old-fashioned, fun to read, greasy cheeseburger and fries, junk. The Wasteland Saga was epic and it was emotionally taxing to write. I needed to write something that was a roller coaster of thrills and fun. Something I’d want to read and have a good time with and even imagine as possible. If you noticed the Fallout reference then you’ve probably guessed I’m a gamer. I work out in the morning, write in the afternoon and game in the early evening. I love games and I really enjoy modern warfare style games and dungeon crawls.
So, that’s where I went for my next novel, out August 12th. Soda Pop Soldier is a novel set in a future where video gamers are professional athletes fighting for mega-corporations to control real world advertising space. The book is part space marine, part gothic fantasy. The main character, PerfectQuestion, fights as a soldier for ColaCorp using dropships and auto rifles. If you like Call of Duty and the Battlefield series of games then you’ll see where I’m coming from. But PerfectQuestion’s got problems. He needs money, badly. So he joins an illegal open source tournament inside the Black. Basically it’s World of WarCraft meets the underbelly of Society. It’s a fun novel and I think you’ll really enjoy it.
So, what’s GameNoir all about? Video games and novels? That sounds weird. Well, it is. But it’s been done before and it’s been pretty successful. A few years ago a book called Ready Player One made the scene and a lot of people liked that one. In short, video games are becoming more and more a part of our lives. Most people, even moms, are probably playing some sort of game, whether it’s Words with Friends on a smartphone or a big old sprawling MMO with friends. When you look at the numbers video game launches are doing, as opposed to movies, TV shows, and books, you get blown away. Some game launches do a billion in the space of a single day. Avengers II won’t get anywhere near that.

Games are becoming a bigger and bigger part of our society. As opportunities decrease in a world strapped by economic and political adversity, people are turning to cyberspace (Yes, that is so 90’s) to live out their lives. You may not have enough money to cover groceries after paying the rent, but isn’t it interesting how your coin total in the online tap and win game is immense. Or, how many gold pieces does your Horde Troll Deathknight have in the WarCraft bank as opposed to your actual bank account? And, online friends are real friends contrary to what people think down at the gym. They’re real people and they have real lives and they’re willing to share them with you. The virtual is becoming something people work at and plan to succeed in. And... sometimes they even commit crimes there. Yeah, there’s crime in games. People get ripped off in MMO’s. Or backstabbed by a traitor Admiral in Eve Online. Or cheated out of a loot drop or a gold scam in World of Warcraft. Just like real life. Love, hate, crime, all that real world stuff, it exists inside the virtual too.

Soda Pop Soldier takes place in a future where games are an even bigger deal than they are now. Big money and sponsorship deals along with theft, vice and even murder can be found inside the dark world of the Black. There are good guys and bad guys and mysteries to be solved here in the real world, and in the digital one. I’m calling this new genre GameNoir. Mysteries set in the worlds of modern warfare and dark fantasy and all the other ways people spend their time playing games. I hope you can check out Soda Pop Soldier and spend a few hours dodging bullets and balrogs. Oh, and BTW... Game on!

Look for Soda Pop Soldier today!

Soda Pop Soldier—Excerpt: Chapter 1

The war starts at 6am, in-game time. By 6:45 we’re losing Hamburger Hamlet as our entire line begins to disintegrate.

It isn’t a total collapse. Pockets of resistance hold out in key positions, buying ColaCorp time, expensive time, to fall back and reorganize. On my right flank, Kiwi holds a high hill overlooking the Song Hua river basin. We call that hill WonderSoft Garage because of the small power station and vehicle spawn depot located there. WonderSoft had made the capture of that hill and power station a primary objective in the last three battles we’d fought at this end of the basin.

And it looked like they were gonna try for it again today.

Over BattleChat, Kiwi swears as he burns through the ammo an air re-supply Albatross barely managed to get through. In my mind, I can see empty lager cans parading the workspace that is Kiwi’s keyboard and monitor, as ambient in-game sound resounds in a metallic symphony of ammo brass expended in adult-sized doses. If the sound of auto-rifles and explosions is a kind of music, and to some of us it is, then Kiwi is Beethoven.

Through graphically rendered feathery willow trees and the game-supposed heat waves of the day, I can barely make out what’s going on up at the top of the hill in brief glimpses. Three fast-attack WonderSoft Goats, their version of a jeep, and a Thrasher light mech are burning. Thick oily smoke belches from the mech, a moment later it explodes in a shower of sparks. More WonderSoft Goats and Thrashers climb the road to the bridge that leads to our side of the river.

WonderSoft Infantry scrambles from cover, racing to other cover, as Kiwi fights hard to keep them from crossing the chokepoint at the bridge and capturing WonderSoft Garage. It’s about to get real intimate, real quick.

“Command, we’re gettin’ killed up here,” shouts Kiwi over BattleChat. His transmission is broken and distorted by automatic weapons fire in the background. “I’m down to three grunts,” he continues. “Request reinforcement or evac, A-S-A-P! If you’ve got fire support I’ll take it now, but you’d better drop it right on top of my position, your choice, Command.”
Minutes earlier I’d requested Command point two transports of grunts our way as reinforcements. One of our Dropships got jumped by a flight of WonderSoft Vampires as they’d approached the LZ. The other, piloted by RiotGuurl, had gotten away.

I hope.

RiotGuurl is as good a pilot as I’ve ever worked with. Losing the first transport hadn’t been an easy choice for her, but when a WonderSoft Vampire caught your electronic scent, there weren’t many options left for a transport squadron other than split up and run like hell to get away from that wicked ground attack jet.

Since then RiotGuurl was maintaining radio silence. I know she’s chasing every nook and cranny in the jungle clad hills that surround the basin on all sides, flying her gunship way too close to the computer’s representation of the ground, looking for a route back into Hamburger Hamlet so we can resupply and reinforce the river crossing. Maybe even help Kiwi.

“Be advised, Command, it’s just me now. All my grunts are KIA.” Kiwi again. “Two ammo packs left and multiple Softs inside the wire.” Kiwi never gives up. Even when he’s being overrun. Maybe it’s an Australian thing. Once this war is over I plan on taking some of my winnings and heading down under to spend some time in Gigaboo Flats at The Wonky Boomerang, Kiwi’s favorite post-battle watering hole. But hopefully the Cola Wars will never end, or else how will I get paid?

“Kiwi, evac not possible at this time. Sorry about that, Son.” It’s RangerSix, ColaCorp’s Tactical Commander. The fact that he’s overseeing our little firefight reinforces how crucial this battle really is for ColaCorp.

Using my targeting monocular I scan the sloping hills and tall grass behind and above Hamburger Hamlet for our commander’s avatar. RangerSix is the kind of guy who can change a battle with a basic rifle kit and some explosives. As usual I can’t find his hiding place.
Across the river, WonderSoft artillery begins throwing everything they’ve got at us. Head down inside my command post, I crank my speakers to full ambient in-game sound, cutting off Catherine Wheel’s seminal late 20th century album Ferment. I’m waiting to hear RiotGuurl’s turbines. She’s Kiwi’s only hope now.

“Sixty rounds left. How about Fire Support, RangerSix?” It’s Kiwi.

“Negative at this time.” I hear the quiet frustration in RangerSix’s smoke-stained voice.

“Die in place again, huh?” grunts Kiwi.

Behind me, in the detailed squat bamboo and stone village that is the game designers’ representation of a fictional southeast Asian river basin village, a place we call Hamburger Hamlet as a nod to the often bloody struggles for on-line supremacy that take place there, our armor rolls through, retreating farther to the east. We’ve been holding this side of the river, waiting for our massive Charger IV battle tanks to cross the muddy brown shallows under heavy mortar fire. Now, it’s time to bug out.

WonderSoft Garage has always been the key to control of the river crossing at Hamburger Hamlet. There’s no bridge, but the river’s shallow enough to get most vehicles across. Now that the over-watch Kiwi was providing at the garage is on the verge of being taken, the battle, at least here alongside the river, is lost for ColaCorp. Any of our units on the far side of the river aren’t getting back to our lines without an airlift. The game-day still promises more fighting. It’s Saturday and the network goes big on coverage for the weekend. But, to lose good armor this early would spell disaster for whatever Command has in mind for us to do next. We’ve gotten the Chargers back to this side of the river. That’s enough for now. We’ll have to fight another battle somewhere else.

“Afraid so, son,” says RangerSix to Kiwi over BattleChat regarding any kind of assistance. Or to be more specific, the complete lack thereof. “Sorry.”

Kiwi doesn’t reply.

The turbines of RiotGuurl’s Albatross scream loudly as she coaxes the VTOL transport slash gunship into a tight bend south of my position. The fat hover jets that hang beneath the stubby wings of the wide-bodied OD Green Albatross kick up a spray of water as she bleeds altitude and speed getting close to the surface of the river.

For a brief second there’s hope.

But, as I swing my avatar’s view around, locking her craft into my HUD, I don’t need imaging software to tell me her ship’s already down to forty-eight percent integrity. The Albatross is vomiting black oily smoke while blue flames climb from the turbines across the fuselage, licking at the pilot’s canopy. Seconds later a dart-winged fast mover, camouflage shifting from sky-gray to river-brown as its on-board computer tracks position relative to target and adjusts the color scheme, comes into view. It’s a WonderSoft Vampire and it vaults the bend farther down the river, rattling out short bursts from its forward mounted 30mm chain gun directly into the Albatross’s burning fuselage.

The pilot’s an amateur.

RiotGuurl’s finished.

Any good pilot would just let her crash into the ground, but this jerk wants a special gun camera ‘kill’ to put up on his webwall. A professional player kill worth bragging about. Or at least he’s hoping to brag about it.

“Not today,” I mutter and order my air defense grunt to take out the Vampire, an easy kill at this range and altitude with a preoccupied pilot. The grunt, skinned in jungle cammo and battered light body armor leaps out from behind the barn at the far end of Hamburger Hamlet and scrambles to shoulder the Ground to Air HammerClaw missile.

With in-game ambient sound cranked up to full, I hear an unseen WonderSoft sniper’s Barret3000 go off like the sudden snap of a dead branch. A moment later my grunt is flung backward from the impact of the supersonic round.

That means WonderSoft has snipers in the hills on our side of the river. Things are actually worse than they seem.

“C’mon you lazy...” growls RiotGuurl over BattleChat as her Albatross loses an engine and begins to list badly to starboard. I know she’s scrambling to maintain some kind of altitude in order to get the replacement platoon she’s carrying out the door and somewhat near our position alongside the river. Parachutes puff to life just beyond the flaming fuselage, but the falling stick of badly needed grunts and players will be scattered all along the river at best. With our line currently collapsing they’ll be less than combat effective. They probably won’t even be able to link up with any friendlies.

I hit E on my keyboard and then SPACEBAR, making my avatar jump up from behind the sandbags I’m using as a command post I’d set up back when I thought there might be some kind of contest for Hamburger Hamlet. But that’s not happening today.

I race for the air defense grunt’s gear, knowing the sniper sees me. A good sniper will wait for me to reach the dead grunt. It’ll take two point five seconds to exchange my rifle kit for the shoulder-fired HammerClaw Air Defense System the downed grunt carried. That’ll be all the time the sniper needs to blow my avatar’s head off. My hope is that a good sniper, and I hope this sniper is good, is waiting for another grunt to appear and pick up the valuable Air Defense gear. My other hope is that he’s not expecting a real live player. Or at least that’s what I tell myself as I reach the grunt’s prone body.

ColaCorp SOP insists live-player avatars look just like the A.I. controlled grunts. Hyper-muscled, digital depictions of front line real-world combat troops. Dirty green jungle-stripe fatigues, dull green and grease black tiger-striped face and arm cammo. Even the same gear with the rare exception of a shotgun or a favorite sidearm. It’s good policy. The enemy expects an A.I. grunt’s reaction to any given circumstance. So we all look like grunts, that way the expectations are lower. Except a live player can do the unexpected.

RangerSix is probably behind that smart idea.

I pause at the kit and roll left a heartbeat later. A spray of dirt blossoms on-screen as the Barrett’s round explodes in the mud just beyond the dead grunt’s body.

Where my avatar’s head should have been.

Now the WonderSoft sniper will need to pull the slide back and chamber another massive round, a serious drawback to using the Barret3000.

I exchange kits with a tap on the keyboard, raise the shoulder-fired missile and select Shotgun Mode, firing on the fly, not even waiting for the high-pitched tone indicating lock. The missile-lets that scatter away from the launcher don’t have far to go as the Albatross and Vampire streak straight over the top of Hamburger Hamlet. They sidewinder skyward and punch right into the bottom of the frost-gray SkyCammo of the WonderSoft Vampire.

Kaboom. No Vampire. Musta hit an armed weapon or maybe even the fuel tank.

Meanwhile, RiotGuurl’s finished.

“Lateral’s gone... I’m going in,” she says just before the Albatross smashes itself into the cliff wall below WonderSoft Garage above the river.

I know RangerSix sees it happen. Seconds later he’s broadcasting an area-wide alert. 

“Albatross Two-Six is down. Repeat Albatross Two-Six is out of action. All units, we are leaving this AO! Be advised we are evacuating the river. Fall back to rally points appearing on your HUDS now.”

A moment later, a yellow triangle indicating a rally point has been established a kilometer to our rear, appears on my avatar’s CommandPad. The tanks rumble away dustily into the foothills behind Hamburger Hamlet, un-bothered by the snipers. Across the river I can see WonderSoft grunts swarming into their slate-grey troop carriers. A missile streaks away from one of them, crosses the river and smashes into a nearby barn, turning everything into sudden flying, flaming matchsticks. Casualty reports flood in from my platoon. I order my two heavy machine gun units to open fire on the WonderSoft transports as they approach the river crossing. Smoking tails of depleted uranium rounds streak low over the river at hypersonic speeds as plumes of water blossom in the shallows and muddy riverbank on the far bank. My gunners are just finding their range as the first WonderSoft transports wallow into the muddy brown water.

On the hill above my position, WonderSoft Garage, the rattle of gunfire and brass has stopped.  
Kiwi’s out of assault rifle ammo. The fight up there, is over.

“Kiwi, what’s your status?” I say over BattleChat as I retrieve my rifle kit.

“Not good, mate. Not good at all. It’s a real knife and gun show up here.”

“I can hold the Hamlet for a few more minutes if you can get out,” I tell him.

“Negative Perfect, not happening. It’s too hot, hot, hot to leave.” I hear the pop pop pop of his sidearm as he spits out the repeated word.

“Be advised,” it’s RangerSix again. I can tell he’s pointing this message at me and me alone. “We are leaving this AO now, PerfectQuestion! Get your platoon moving and cover those tanks. Watch for anti-armor mixed in with snipers above your position.”

“What about Kiwi?”

RangerSix says nothing.

“No worries here, mate,” Kiwi breaks in. “I’m havin’ a barbeque and I’ve invited all the WonderSerfs. Main course is a whole lotta thermite.” Seconds later, “See ya, Perfect.”
The entire jungle hilltop around WonderSoft Garage blossoms in rosy red, flaming destruction. The explosions billow and rise above the soft feathery jungle haze and the sleepy yellow-brown river. Several, smaller, secondary explosions accompany the blast, indicating WonderSoft’s APCs, probably just arrived to establish control of the captured objective, have also been invited to Kiwi’s barbeque.

Kiwi loves his explosives.

“G’day Mate,” I whisper, watching the apocalyptic ending of ColaCorp’s hold on WonderSoft Garage. Then my squad is up and moving into the hills, low and slow, watching for snipers.

August 11, 2014

Enter to win an ebook copy of Allen Wyler's "Deadly Errors"

Thriller Explores Biggest Medical Nightmare:
Deadly Patient-Care Errors

"A thriller that only a doctor could have written. Wyler's sense of the worlds of the hospital and operating room are unsurpassed. You'll feel as if you are right there."

--Michael Palmer, New York Times bestselling author of Miracle Cure and The Sisterhood

Deadly Errors is a wild and satisfying ride! This is an ‘up all night’ pass into troubled places that only hard-working doctors know about, a turbulent world of trusting patients and imperfect humans struggling with the required image of perfection.”

--John J. Nance, author of Pandora’s Clock and Fire Flight
A comatose man is given a fatal dose of insulin in the emergency room, even though he isn't diabetic.  An ulcer patient dies of shock after receiving a transfusion of the wrong blood type.  A recovering heart patient receives a double dose of medication and suffers a fatal heart attack.

Brain surgeon Dr. Tyler Matthews suspects that something is seriously wrong with the hospital’s new Med-InDx computerized medical record system. But he doesn’t suspect that there’s something murderously wrong with it.

As Matthews begins to peel back the layers of deception that cover the deadly errors, he crosses powerful corporate interests who aren’t about to let their multi-billion dollar medical record profits evaporate. Now a target, Matthews finds himself trapped in a maze of deadly conspiracy, with his career, his marriage, and his very life on the line.

Once again, Wyler blends his unparalleled expertise as a world-class surgeon with his uncanny knack for suspense to create a true best-of-breed medical thriller. Deadly Errors is a lightning-quick action procedural that is destined to win new fans to the medical thriller genre.


Allen Wyler is a renowned neurosurgeon who earned an international reputation for pioneering surgical techniques to record brain activity.  He has served on the faculties of both the University of Washington and the University of Tennessee, and in 1992 was recruited by the prestigious Swedish Medical Center to develop a neuroscience institute.
In 2002, he left active practice to become Medical Director for a startup med-tech company (that went public in 2006) and he now chairs the Institutional Review Board of a major medical center in the Pacific Northwest.
Leveraging a love for thrillers since the early 70s, Wyler devoted himself to fiction writing in earnest, eventually serving as Vice President of the International Thriller Writers organization for several years. After publishing his first two medical thrillers Deadly Errors (2005) and Dead Head (2007), he officially retired from medicine to devote himself to writing full time.
He and his wife, Lily, divide their time between Seattle and the San Juan Islands.

The folks at Astor + Blue are offering up an ebook to one lucky winner!
Between now and Thursday night at midnight, enter for a chance to win an ebook copy of Allen Wyler's Deadly Errors.

Grand Illusions and Genre Fusion: an interview with Rod Duncan, author of "The Bullet Catcher's Daughter"

Rod Duncan is a published crime writer. His first novel Backlash was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger, and he has since written three other novels (all Simon & Schuster UK), and had his first screenplay produced.

His background is in scientific research and computing, and he lives in Leicester.

I had a chance to ask Rod a few questions about his new novel, The Bullet Catcher's Daughter, and his writing in general. Enjoy!

Gef: For the uninitiated like me, your first few novels are strictly in the crime genre, but you've branched out a fair bit with The Bullet Catcher's Daughter in the more fantastical realms. What was the lure for you?

Rod: I was brought up on science fiction and fantasy so it was probably inevitable I would turn to it in my writing.

Not that it was planned. My creative work seems to emerge in response to the environment. In this case that is the city of Leicester - the Victorian aspects of it in particular. One image keeps coming to my mind when I am asked about this – the old cobblestones showing through where the road surface has been damaged. A hidden world just below the surface.

Gef: Elizabeth Barnabus is not only an orphan, but in this world where females are second-class citizens, she has an alter-ego in the form of her nonexistent brother so that she can work, in this case as a detective. Neat trick if you can pull it off. Sounds a little Albert Nobbs at first blush, so where did the inspiration for this come from?

Rod: There are many examples of literary cross dressing. They used to seem rather improbable to me. Take Twelfth Night as an example. Viola throws on some male clothes and all the other characters are taken in – even though we in the audience can see through the disguise.  

But the reality is that many women in history have successfully presented themselves as male. Some clearly did this to access roles and privileges reserved for men. Others have done it as an expression of the person they perceived themselves to be. And for every one we know about, there may have been many more who were never discovered.

Like several of the real life cases, Elizabeth learned her art in childhood. As an adult she tries to access the best of both worlds, choosing when to go about as male and when as female. She is rejecting the social restrictions of the world in which she is obliged to live.   

Strangely, I had not come across Albert Nobbs, either as a film or a novella when I wrote the book. As for where the idea came from, I am not sure. I’d been writing a short story about a man walking through Victorian Leicester, when the protagonist surprised me by removing her disguise. I have generally found that when a character announces herself so boldly, it is best to keep on writing. So I did.

Gef: With a title that includes "bullet catcher," I'm drawn to the iconic illusion that proved fatal for Chung Ling Soo. Is there any correlation here given the timeline, and if so what other tie-ins to British history might we see?

Rod: The timeline of this series of books branches from real history approximately 200 years ago. Everything before the bifurcation is the same. But after it there is a domino fall of differences which come to alter the geopolitical map of the world. The story takes place in the present day but something has caused history to stall, leaving the world with a Victorian feeling. Exactly what happened to make this change is not revealed in the first book. That will become important later on, as will the question of how long the tide of history can be held back.

A by-product of this change has been the prolongation of the Golden Age of stage magic. Our protagonist was born in one travelling magic show and much of the action of the story takes place in another. The phrase ‘bullet catcher’ has come to stand for anyone who performs a grand stage illusion.

Gef: This is the first of a two-book run with Angry Robot. Now is this specifically designed as a duology or are you leaving the door open for this universe?

Rod: The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire is the series title. That probably gives a hint of the scale of the project. I do intend it to run further than two books.

Gef: The Patent Office, the nefarious conglomerate, with whom Elizabeth runs afoul .. any chance this is a commentary on all those patent trolls out there these days making life miserable for inventors and entrepreneurs?

Rod: The answer to that happens to be no. But it is a very good question.

It would be impossible and undesirable for any writer to insulate themselves from the world. That undoubtedly causes imagery and ideas from reality to reincarnate themselves in fictional form. But I try not to do it trivially, as I think it can disrespect the readers, who one is asking to invest their emotions in the fictional world. Where I allow real world ideas through, I hope they amuse or interest rather than irritate.

Gef: What are other projects do you have lined up? Where might folks keep caught up on what's coming next, as well as check out your previous works?

Rod: I am going to be busy with the world of Elizabeth Barnabus for a while yet. I am in the process of launching a couple of new websites, one will be a standard author site. The other will be devoted to the Gas-Lit Empire and should include some interactive content. I do also have a few collaborative screenwriting projects on the slate. Right now I am keeping people updated via my Twitter tag @RodDuncan.

Gef: Thanks, Rod. As for the rest of you, you can pre-order The Bullet Catcher's Daughter on and other online retailers, brick-and-mortar bookshops, or even looks it up on Angry Robot Books' own e-store.

August 8, 2014

Why I Write About Crime: a guest post by James Neal Harvey, author of "The Big Hit"

About James Neal Harvey's THE BIG HIT: Mongo wakes up, brushes his teeth, and prepares to kill a movie star. He needs a wig and a phony press pass, as well as a very special tape recorder that holds two fléchettes, one of which is earmarked for screen siren Catherine Delure. A bit of smooth talk takes Mongo past Delure’s security and into her hotel room, where he completes his assignment with ease. The hit was simple, he thinks. But it is about to go terribly wrong.
Delure appears to have been shot during a robbery, but homicide detective Jeb Barker is not fooled. Tracking the self-assured assassin leads the PI first to Las Vegas, then to California—where blue sky and palm trees cannot distract him from the darkness within the hit man’s heart.
James was generous enough to stop by the blog and offer his thoughts on crime writing and where it's taken him over the years. Enjoy!

by James Neal Harvey

The first money I ever made was for playing trumpet in a polka band at a Polish picnic on the shores of Lake Candlewood in Connecticut. I was twelve years old and the accordionist and the drummer and the clarinetist and the tuba player were all grown men. At the end of the day I went home with five bucks and a bloody lip.

Later I played jazz in a number of bands and at sixteen toured New England in one of them. Then I served three years as an able seaman on tankers in the US Merchant Marine.

Except for those experiences, all the work I’ve ever done has been creative: writing for advertising, TV, radio, newspapers, magazines and books, and even inventing games for the Milton Bradley Co. I worked for Young & Rubicam in New York and Hollywood, and also for McCann-Erickson and Manoff, and then for 16 years ran my own agency at 477 Madison Avenue, with such accounts as BMW, Canada Dry, Georgia Pacific, Crayola, and many others.

All during that long stretch in the ad business, I employed a secret method to keep from losing my mind: I wrote as a freelance. And what I wrote about was crime.

Why crime? When I was a kid my family lived in a quiet neighborhood in Danbury, and a young woman whose home was nearby went to that same Lake Candlewood for a swim. Pieces of her body were found among the rocks on the west side of the lake. She’d been raped and hideously mutilated. The killer was never caught.

A year after that the owner of a small grocery store closed up on Christmas eve and went down into his basement office to tot up his receipts. An eighteen-year-old tough named Pooch McCarthy forced his way into the shop and shot the grocer and stole his money.

The justice system was different in those days. McCarthy was convicted, and instead of enjoying 25 years of appeals, in June he was taken to Wethersfield Penitentiary and given the juice.

Those events, and others, greatly stimulated my interest. At Syracuse University I studied psychology, and focused particularly on abnormal psychology. I learned about sociopaths and psychopaths, murderers and fetishists and rapists, and many other deviants. Do you know what frotteurists are? They’re people who derive sexual pleasure from rubbing against the body of a stranger. Where do you find them? Wherever there are crowds. Like pickpockets, they love the New York subways at rush hour. And however weird they may be, there are others who are far worse.

So I had plenty of material to write about while I was freelancing. And to expand my knowledge, I visited prisons and mental hospitals and interviewed inmates and cops and CO’s and psychologists. I did the same thing in Florida, and I have a friend in California where I live now who’s a psychologist in the state mental hospital.

Who bought my stuff? Men’s adventure magazines. I wrote dozens of articles for them, as did other writers I met, including Mario Puzo and Tom Chastain. The work not only relaxed me, it was a hell of a lot of fun.

While in advertising, one of my agency’s accounts was the Wella Co., maker of hair products. I created a campaign that would feature beautiful women using Wella Balsam Conditioner and Wella Balsam Shampoo, and the women I hired were the original Charley’s Angels, including Farrah Fawcett, Jackie Smith, Kate Jackson, and Cheryl Ladd. And believe me, they were no angels.

That was more good material, and I used it to write a novel. My lawyers insisted I use a pseudonym to fend off lawsuits, particularly from Farrah, and so I did. When it was published Columbia Pictures bought the screen rights.

Thinking I’d get out of advertising and write full time, I sold my agency. But then another agency made me an offer I couldn't refuse and I became its president and stayed with it for six years. During that time I wrote my first crime novel, “By Reason Of Insanity.”

Finally I quit and began writing full time. I turned out five more novels, and then took a break and became a partner in a video game development company. We struggled to make it go, but it was underfunded and the technical director died from Parkinson’s disease, and eventually the company went bust.

So it was back to writing. And for the first time I took a shot at non-fiction. One of the things I like to do is fly aerobatic airplanes, and I’ve owned a number of them. On a trip to Germany I met a former member of the Luftwaffe who’d test-flown the Me-262, the first operational jet, and had flown it in combat. I was intrigued, and wound up spending several years researching the life of the jet’s designer, Willy Messerschmitt.

The book was titled, “Sharks Of The Air.” To my chagrin, the publisher did a miserable job of editing, and before I knew it the book was released, errors and all. Never again, I decided. Stick with fiction, and make sure the publisher handles the material properly.

That led me to write “The Big Hit,” and my great agent Bob Diforio placed it with Mysterious Press, along with my earlier novels. In “The Big Hit” everything I’d learned came together. The villain is a psychopath, and his view of people and his reasons for killing them are quite accurately portrayed. So are some slimy dealings in the movie business. On top of that, the editors at Mysterious were meticulous and very helpful.

Now the book is out, and I’m pleased that readers are enthusiastic about it, and I’m working on another.

What’s the next one about? Crime, of course.    

Thanks, James. As for the rest of you, you can buy yourself a copy of The Big Hit on and other fine bookstores.


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