Saturday, May 19, 2018

Do You Facebook Live?

(A funny thing happened when I went to Audible to download the fifth Travis McGee novel, A DEADLY SHADE OF GOLD, by John D. MacDonald: I learned it was twice as long as the previous four. With my commute being an hour one-way (yeah, really; life in Houston), those first four books were all completed by Friday afternoon so I could write about them for my weekly DoSomeDamage column. Well, not today. As of this writing, I have about three hours left and, as much I would love to comment on the story, I haven’t reached the end. And, if a couple of the previous books are any indication, the endings of McGee novels can hold more depth than is true of a typical novel of this kind. I’ll write about A DEADLY SHADE OF GOLD but it won’t be published today.)

So y’all get a post on Facebook Live. To date, I’ve been a big fan of the concept where a user launches the Facebook app on their phone (usually, but desktops work just as well), writes a short intro, and then starts broadcasting. I’ve been able to watch bits of live music, awards ceremonies at schools, news reports, or just a person I like riffing on, say, their thoughts on Avengers: Infinity War. What’s even cooler is that the video itself is stored on the Facebook feed. That way, I can re-watch something I already watched or catch up on something I missed. It’s a great feature.

And I’ve started doing it myself. To date, I’ve only done it via my Facebook author page (Scott D. Parker: Storyteller) and it is super easy. Most of the time, I use the small microphone plugged into my phone, but the standard earbuds on my iPhone work just as fine. I just prefer the clarity the mic gives me. The only weird thing is that the images are mirrored. I discovered that when I shared a short video about an article in the latest issue of MEN’S JOURNAL about the new Kevin Costner western series, “Yellowstone.” I’m not sure if there is a button I can push to un-mirror the image or not, but if not, I’ll try to have as few text items as possible.

Why is this important to authors? For the simple reason that we cannot only communicate to our readers and friends to tell them about a new book we have on sale. In my opinion, we must let our readers know we are real people with real interests outside of just writing. Other than the “Yellowstone” article, I’ve given my thoughts about the movie “A Quiet Place” and shared one of my favorite Batman comic stories by Dennis O’Neil. What I envision is for a dialogue, a back-and-forth between folks and me. A general conversation. I have many more ideas that I’m looking forward to sharing, including possible live reports from next weekend’s Comicpalooza here in Houston.

Authors: Do you use Facebook Live? If not, you should start. If so, what do you talk about?

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Magic Sauce of John D. MacDonald in The Quick Red Fox

Four Travis McGee books in less than four weeks. I haven’t done that since….January when I read five Shadow novels. But the adventures of a pulp hero in the 1930s is rather different than those of the self-professed beach bum of the early 1960s. The McGee novels, as written by John D. MacDonald, are filled with glorious prose, astute observations of a particular place and time, and a hero with some genuine depth. The historian part of me relishes these novels specifically because of the place and time. Yes, it’s true that many of the undercurrents that swept over the later 1960s were well underway before 1963—when these novels were written—but you can never truly separate the idea that November 22, 1963, was a turning point. MacDonald, in McGee’s voice, saw the changes coming, and broadcasted it to anyone who would listen. I know these books were published in 1964 and I wonder how contemporary readers took MacDonald's observations. I’m also very curious to see if McGee ages up in these novels—the last one was published in 1985—or if he is always going to be in that particularly place and time. My assumption is that MacDonald puts McGee through the 70s and early 80s with as much acerbity and charm as he has displayed in these first four novels. The historian in me cannot wait to see what McGee might think of Vietnam, Watergate, and the changing landscape of the 1970s.

But what of THE QUICK RED FOX? The story begins simply. Lysa Dean is an A-list movie star with millions of dollars behind her name and image. That image would be tarnished if not extinguished if the dirty pictures someone mailed to her ever got out. You see, a year and a half before the book starts, she had a four-day fling full of booze, drugs, and sex. Someone snapped dozens of photos and mailed them to Dean. The movie starlet had paid off the initial run, but now, with a new picture ready for release, she wants McGee to locate the remaining photos and destroy them.

Simple, right? On the surface, yeah. But in reality, not so much. Dean approaches McGee via her personal secretary, Dana Holtzer. Dark haired (“Male musicians often wear theirs longer.”), dark eyed, and rather severe, Holtzer gets herself assigned by Dean to McGee, and the two literally jaunt around the country following leads and questioning potential suspects. Their interactions drive this novel, with McGee's looser approach versus Holtzer's uptight demeanor and backstory.

A remarkable thing about these four McGee novels: there is loads of talking but not a lot of action one might associate with private detectives. Granted, McGee is not a PI, but, going in, you might suspect that there would be plots in which multiple people want to take out McGee. There is, to date, a major action sequence in each book—the best is probably A PURPLE PLACE OF DYING—but other than that, it’s all legwork and interviewing.

And it’s utterly engrossing. I listened again to the wonderful Robert Petkoff’s narration of the audiobook, but I also purchased the paperback. I wanted to see if I could tell what made MacDonald’s prose so good on the page. Sure, he had McGee wax eloquent about this or that—his take on Vegas is spot on for 1964 and probably little would need to be changed for 2018—but it’s something different. Even now, in thinking about it, I’m beginning to form a thesis. I’ll have to check it out not only by reading more McGee novels, but in reading other MacDonald material. I went outside to the garage and pulled BORDER TOWN GIRL from a box. It’s one of two MacDonald books I owned before starting the McGee run, but I’ve never read it. I think I’ll crack it open and get a taste of a non-McGee book.

Of the four novels so far, the characters in THE QUICK RED FOX might be the most irritating to say nothing of the events as they unfold. It’s the characters that make this book and, I suspect, it’s the characters that might be the extra little something MacDonald does to put his books in such high regard. I’ll keep reading and let y’all know.

For long-time MacDonald readers, what do you think the secret is?

P.S., the cover at the top is the paperback I bought, but how provocative is this original cover?

Saturday, May 5, 2018

John D. MacDonald and Travis McGee: One Reader's Revelation

Come on. Are you kidding me? How good is John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee stories?

Yeah, I know that many of y’all already know about McGee, have read all twenty-one of his novels, and have been a fan for decades. Not me. It was only two weeks ago when I reviewed THE DEEP BLUE GOOD-BY. Well, I’ve now read the next two in the series and boy, am I hooked.

Back in 1964, long-time pulp writer MacDonald decided to try his hand at a series character. McGee was the result. His publisher, Fawcett Gold Medal, decided to try something different: publish the first three novels a month apart and then the subsequent novels at a longer pace. The first book was published in March, NIGHTMARE IN PINK came out in April, and A PURPLE PLACE FOR DYING in May. The fourth novel, THE QUICK RED FOX, also has a 1964 publication date, but I can’t find the month. Be that as it may, readers in 1964 saw four adventures of McGee. If they read those books like I’ve done, they’ve just devoured this new character.

NIGHTMARE finds McGee in New York. As a favor to an fellow Korean War veteran, McGee is looking into the death of the fiancĂ© of the veteran’s sister, Nina. As a man who is decidedly not an official private detective, McGee has an interesting way of approaching what might be considered his cases. He’s the proverbial fly in the ointment. He is also the rescuer of lost things, mainly women. In this book, the ‘nightmare’ part is something I never saw coming: hallucinogenic drugs, administered without consent to McGee. Author MacDonald’s descriptions here are as trippy as anything I’ve read. Couple that with the sense of dread that washed over McGee when he realizes his predicament makes this entry downright horrifying.

PURPLE PLACE has McGee meeting a potential client in a fictitious town out in the Southwest. Mona Yeoman thinks her much-older husband has bilked her inheritance and she wants some so she and her new man, a professor, can get a divorce and run off together. No sooner does McGee beg off the job than Mona is shot in the back, dead before she hits the ground. By the time McGee escapes and brings back the sheriff, the body and all traces of the murder have vanished. In a brilliant bit of prose, McGee toys with the idea that he should just leave, but he and the reader both know he won’t.

Even before I read these three novels, I know McGee as a man who lived on a boat. Strange, then, that two of the first three books take places somewhere other than Florida. I preferred PURPLE PLACE over NIGHTMARE largely because the subject matter of NIGHTMARE made me uneasy. But I also enjoyed the relationships McGee made with the women. In books like these, there’s always a woman for the lead man to bed. But then there’s always the problem of commitment. The way MacDonald lets McGee out is actually pretty natural.

The way MacDonald writes these books is so fluid and captivating. The prose sucks me in with little effort. I’ve already dug out an old collection of short stories I bought years ago of some of MacDonald’s early pulp short stories. This man can write and I can read. And I aim to read more of McGee and MacDonald. They are a revelation to me.

So, long-time fans, what are your favorite Travis McGee and/or John D. MacDonald novels? And is there a good biography of MacDonald?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Saying Hello to Travis McGee with The Deep Blue Good-By

Travis McGee. His name is legendary in the annals of detective fiction, yet I had never read a single word about him. But his presence was certainly felt. Most importantly, I knew he lived in Florida (now I know the city: Fort Lauderdale) and his house was a boat: the Busted Flush. Much like Han Solo (er, the other way around, actually), McGee won the Flush in a poker game. I knew he wasn’t one of those licensed PIs in other books. Heck, he wasn’t even a PI. He considered himself a “salvage consultant.” He was just a guy who would take a job whenever his funds ran low. His standard procedure was to take a job and receive half of whatever was recovered as his fee. All of this I knew. What I didn’t expect was the type of story author John D. MacDonald crafted.

In this first tale, McGee is asked by Chookie McCall, a dancer friend (and owner of a perfect name in a novel like this) if he might have a listen to the story of another dancer, a Catherine Kerr. Cathy has lost something and McGee agrees. What he learns is that her son’s father walked out on her and Cathy’s had to give her son to her sister while she struggles to make ends meet. Moreover, the poor girl’s still torn over another loss: that of Junior Allen, a man who knew Cathy’s now-dead father from back in World War II. Allen ingratiated himself into Cathy’s life, but all he really seemed to do was look for something. Cathy never knew what, but one day, Allen left town only to return, this time with obvious wealth. He takes up with another woman, Lois Atkinson, likely for her money, too. Then, Allen again leaves.

Private detectives (yeah, I know McGee isn’t one but bear with me) have often been classified as knights errant, men of honor and character who stand against the march of time and culture. My reading of hard-boiled fiction isn’t wide, but man, does McGee fit this description. It doesn’t take much to convince McGee to look into Allen and follow his trail from Florida to New York to Texas and back to Florida. I don’t think there’s a character in this book that isn’t affected by the events as McGee lays them out in first person. One of the more surprising aspects was McGee’s relationship with Lois. When he meets her, she’s almost lost her mind and is in a deep state of terror. Junior Allen thoroughly corrupted her, taking her for all she was worth, and casting her aside like garbage. McGee’s tender and patient actions in this middle part threw me a curveball. It just wasn’t what I expected…and that’s a good thing. It made the listening (excellent narration by Robert Petkoff*) engrossing.

The ending threw me for a loop as well. Not going to detail it here, but if the middle was unexpected, the ending was quite different than I had anticipated.

I really enjoyed this novel. It’s hard-boiled with serious tinges of noir. There is violence in the fight scenes and MacDonald writes them with clear-eyed prose that does nothing to glorify anything. The asides McGee tells us about his views of the world and they are spot on for the time period. This book was published in March 1964, barely half a year after Kennedy was assassinated. Many historians, including myself, see that moment as turning point in history, but author MacDonald clearly had his fingers on the pulse of the country and he already knew America was changing.

*A quick note about the narrator. Robert Petkoff was the second narrator for the Richard Castle novels. I adore those novels and Petkoff really nailed the whimsical vibe of not only “Richard Castle” the author but Nathan Fillion the actor. It took me a little bit to get my head to discard “This is Castle’s voice!” but once I did, Petkoff wholly embodied the sometimes cynical Travis McGee. Petkoff has narrated all 21 McGee novels. This makes me so happy as I’m looking forward to experiencing the cases of Travis McGee with Petkoff as the voice.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Writer Becomes a Hero: True Fiction by Lee Goldberg

Many times, we writers invent characters to project our greatest fantasies upon. Wish you were a World War II spy? Invent one. Wish you were a dashing hero in a romance? Invent one. So it came as a fun surprise when writer Lee Goldberg created a different kind of hero: a writer.

As a huge fan of the TV show “Castle,” I’m fine with lead characters being writers. Ditto for any number of Stephen King books. What makes Ian Ludlow different (albeit slightly) is that he doesn’t suddenly become a stud. Say what you will about Castle, but he became more adept at handling situations the longer the seasons went on, despite his constant man-child behavior. Ludlow doesn’t. Granted, this is his first adventure, so who knows what’s down the road for him.

Years before the opening scene of TRUE FICTION, Ludlow and a few other writers were recruited to dream up scenarios that terrorists might deploy to inflict huge amounts of damage to the US or US assets. Ludlow’s brainstorm was a plane crashing into buildings, not in a well-populated city like Houston or Denver or Los Angeles but Waikiki, Hawaii. The definition of paradise. Ludlow thought nothing of the experiment…until a plane is hijacked and crashes into a hotel in Waikiki.

Immediately, Ludlow knows he’d likely be a target. And when the other members of his secret writing group turn up dead, it is confirmed. Margo, the grad student assigned to drive Ludlow around Seattle on his book signing, quickly gets swept up in the action and the pair must escape the attempts by the secret agency who launched the attack.

Goldberg keeps the action moving along at quite a pace as befitting a thriller. But he manages to inject some humanity into Ludlow, who, more than once, wishes he was Clint Straker, the uber-hero of his own novels. Those moments are rather humorous, especially when Margo keeps reminding him of his inadequacies. And the humor sprinkled throughout the book made me chuckle more than once.

TRUE FICTION is a fun romp of a book that’ll keep you entertained from the first word to end.

Recommended.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer

Sometimes, a little known fact in history can spark an entire story.
THE ESCAPE ARTIST is the latest novel by Meltzer, a man who has a healthy respect, understanding, and love of history. If you haven’t read any of his books, you might know him from his TV shows “Decoded” and “Lost History.” He first came onto my radar when he wrote “Identity Crisis” for DC Comics, a graphic novel that shows actual death in the DC Universe and how it affects the characters. The ending of that story reverberated through the comics for years after, and it’s still unnerving. I read his Culper Ring Series featuring Beecher White, an archivist at the National Archives. Any author who can make an archivist a hero is a good writer. I earned two degrees in history and while I may have soured on the political aspects of being a professional historian, I still retain the passion. It’s a passion Meltzer shares and it’s why I enjoy his novels. And don’t’ even get me started on his awesome series of kids’ books focusing on heroes for his son and his daughter.

In the weeks leading up to the book’s release, Meltzer’s excitement for THE ESCAPE ARTIST was palpable. His social media and his newsletter (sign up herehttp://bradmeltzer.com/) was filled with anticipation that we would soon meet Nola Brown. She is one of the two protagonists in the new book. Taking a page from lost history, Meltzer made Nola the official painter of the US military. Ever since World War I, the military have hired a painter to capture things a photograph cannot: the anguish of war and what it really means. She doesn’t show up for a little while in the book, but her presence does.

The opening chapter shows a military plane taking off from somewhere in Alaska. Soon thereafter, it crashes, but not before the unnamed female character has a chance to write a last message. The message is received by the other protagonist, Jim “Zig” Zigarowski, a mortician who works at Dover Air Force Base. This base is where all our fallen soldiers arrive after they die in service to our country. Zig and the other morticians help to give families closure by fixing up the dead. When the name “Nola Brown” comes across the big board, Zig personally takes it upon himself to work on her corpse. You see, Nola helped saved the life of Zig’s daughter back when they were Girl Scouts. It doesn’t matter that his daughter died a year after that; Nola gave Zig the extra time, and for that, he’ll pay the debt. But the woman identified as Nola Brown is, in fact, not Nola at all. Zig would know because of a particular physical mark on the real Nola. This unidentified woman’s identity is specifically being targeted so as to wipe away Nola’s existence. What gives Zig even more pause is the note he finds in the most unlikely of places: on a piece of paper in the dead woman’s stomach.  You see, if a person wanted to pass along a message in the seconds before a disaster strikes (like a plane crash), the person can write a note and swallow it. The stomach acids will preserve the paper and the message. It happened in real life on 9/11with one of the people on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Meltzer took that unknown piece of history and wove it into a spectacular story.

The narrative is divided into two main POVs: that of Zig and Nola. Often, we get “This is Nola at age sixteen” or “This is Nola at age ten” segments where a particular moment of his life is revealed, giving us a greater understanding of what makes her tick. I listened to the audio with my favorite narrator, Scott Brick, is teamed up with January LaVoy who reads Nola’s parts. The combination is fantastic.

As is the story. There are too many layers to note here without spoiling the fun of this book. In January, I discovered THE SHADOW novels from the 1930s and thoroughly devoured all that were available on Audible. Now, I’ve moved on to the reprints in my library. In breathless prose, Meltzer’s writing is clean and precise as always, delivering a bonanza of excitement that would have been right at home in the heyday of pulp fiction, with a heroine who can stand alongside The Shadow himself.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Online Identity or What URLs to Use

I’ve been planning out the new 2018 changes for my writing business and a question came to mind: when it comes to our online presence, are readers more likely to remember an author’s name or an author’s publishing house?
I think the answer is self-explanatory but let me tell you why I’m asking.

Currently, I maintain three websites: a blogspot one (my first and the one I’ve turned into my western pen name site); my mystery one (scottdennisparker.com), and one for my publishing company (quadrantfictionstudmio.com). It doesn’t take a whole lot of time to maintain, but I’m considering streamlining everything down to one, perhaps two sites. Ditto for my mailing lists (I have two). Longterm strategy is to convert at least one of my sites into an online store.

The majority of authors have websites keyed to their names: James Patterson, J. F. Penn, Dean Wesley Smith, Russell Blake, Mark Dawson, etc. A few, however, use a publishing house to serve at the main online presence. Kevin J. Anderson comes to mind (wordfire.com), the fellas at Sterling and Stone, and a few more. If you google “Kevin J. Anderson,” the first link is wordfire, complete with a tagline indicating it’s the office home of Anderson. When you consider ebook links are all hidden anyway, the actual URL doesn’t matter. Plus, readers are, by and large, computer savvy, so they’d be able to find a website.

But it’s our job as author to make it easier.

So, what do y’all do? Have a URL with your name or promote your publishing company? Or both?