Friday, February 13, 2015

Midnight Ink: The Denise Aragon Series Is Coming

I am excited to announce a three-book deal with Midnight Ink, the mystery/thriller/suspense imprint of the international Lewellyn Publications.  Midnight Ink is relatively new to the publishing world, but already has turned out over 100 books, including a bunch of best sellers.

These will be the first three books in the Denise Aragon series.  She is a tough, relentless Santa Fe, NM homicide detective who grew up in the sections of town the tourism board wants to keep hidden.  She was the victim in her early teens of gang violence compounded by police incompetence and judicial indifference.  She is haunted by the death of a boyfriend who gave his life trying to protect her, blaming herself for not saving him though there wasn't a thing she could do.

She became a cop so no one would have to experience what she lived through.  The first step in keeping that promise is to make sure the bad guys don't get away.  To that end, she will do whatever it takes, codes of conduct and judicial niceties be damned. 

I like Denise Aragon.  A lot.  She's strong, bull-headed, street-smart and tireless.  She carries a chip on her shoulder about how Santa Fe has changed into something she can't recognize and how its native Hispanics have not fully participated in its success.  Maybe she's a bit of a redneck and sometimes too quick to let her mouth run when she's frustrated and angry.

She's a superb shot with a .40 semi-automatic and incredibly strong for her size, which is short.  She's altered her appearance to fit the job to which she gives all her life's energy (I'll let you read the books to find out how).

While she may bend the rules to nail people who hurt other people, she will not play along when it means prosecuting the innocent.  She hates politics, despises Santa Fe's judges, and has nothing but contempt for criminal defense lawyers, especially one named Marcy Thornton who grows into her nemesis as the series progresses.

Denise wants love, needs it, but struggles with scars from the sexual violence she suffered.  An FBI agent who reminds her of her murdered boyfriend tugs at her heart.  In each others arms they drive away the horrors they confront in their daily lives.  But she's afraid, confused, conflicted by her feelings for this living replica of the first man she loved.

She's got a great partner, a steady, thoughtful family man as tireless as her.  He's the reader in the team, spots for her when she lifts weights and tries to get her to eat something besides Blake's Lotaburgers.  He's a bit afraid of her, but backs her whenever she steps over the line to get the job done.

The first book in the series follows Detective Denise Aragon as she outsmarts and outruns corrupt judges and lawyers to nail a celebrity artist who kills for his art supplies.  Ironically, the case that puts her on the killer's trail is the murder of the wife of the city's leading and most ruthless criminal defense attorney.  Now he must work with the police instead of against them. The biggest obstacle in his path is the killer's lawyer, his own protege, Marcy Thornton. 

The title is Killer Park.  I can't wait for its release so you can read the whole story with all its twists and turns and watch Denise Aragon do her job as no one else does it:  mistakes, stumbles, determination and brilliance combining for an explosive ending.

Not a tidy, wrapped with a bow, sealed with duct tape, done-once-and-for-all ending.  There's more to come.  It is a series, remember.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Gun Talk

Every crime, mystery,  and thriller novel has somebody shooting somebody else with a gun.

So how does a writer know what to say?

Try learning to shoot, handling and cleaning a gun, shopping for a weapon and ammo and spending hours at the range.

Go to a gun store.  Lean over a case, ask questions.  Get the store owner and customers talking.

Hang out at gun shows, if you really want to learn from people who knows guns.  They are not creepy events.  You'll be surrounded by very polite people.  And you can be assured there will be no robberies.  Consider it field research.

It's safer than a convenience store or gas station after dark.

Have your ever read a story that's cooking along until false notes start sounding about guns, bullets and shooting?  It has ruined books for me.  Credibility evaporates.  I start wondering about everything else.

In my books I've worked hard to get details right.  I've shot most of the guns I write about.  I may own one or two of them.

In the case of older weapons, I've been fortunate to find collectors who let me handle their treasures.  I was particularly interested in the British Webley revolver, used widely around the time of WWI.  It is unusual by today's standards in how it is broken open to be reloaded.  I lucked out.  The father of a friend had two.  We sat at his kitchen table while I learned all there is to know about the gun.

That is a Webley revolver in the upper right of this page.  It has an six-sided barrel and is a top-loading gun, meaning the barrel opens from the top to permit ejection of spent cartridges and reload.

I also wanted to know about the Carcano rifle.  In my historical novel it was carried in the WWI trenches by my central character.  There's a lot of history to this rifle.  It is what Lee Harvey Oswald  used to kill JFK. It fired a 6.55 mm cartridge with a round nose. 

I hoped I might run across a Carcano by meeting WWI reenactors.  Sure enough, I found an Italian fellow who had invested a small fortune in recreating an authentic get-up for an Italian infantryman.  He had a Carcano, an actual bullet pouch (cardboard and all), the right bullets, a bayonet, even a working range finder on the weapon.  Holding it gave me an appreciation for the formidable weapon this rifle was, both as a gun and as a club in close combat.

The importance of knowing whereof you speak when talking about guns was driven home to me in a homicide trial I did as a defense lawyer.  My client stood accused of shooting a nine millimeter handgun into a crowd outside a bar.  He hit several people and killed one, allegedly.  The ballistics were a problem for us, as was the testimony of a young man who was in the car with my client and turned state's evidence.

The ballistics report indicated the bullets had been fired by a Chinese manufactured semi-automatic, a knockoff of an older Russian design.  I went out and located a similar weapon, bought it, shot it, took it apart, cleaned it and reassembled it.  The knowledge I gained was crucial in winning an acquittal for our client.

I've heard published mystery/crime authors warn new authors they had better get every detail correct about any guns included in their stories or they'll hear about it from readers.  I've taken that to heart.  I think it makes for better writing, knowing what it feels like to hold and shoot the same weapon as the characters you create.  It's also very enjoyable research.  I've turned out to be a pretty good shot with most guns, even S&W snubbies.

My first gun was recommenced to me by a Philadelphia homicide detective when I was an assistant DA.  In fact, he insisted on picking it out and showing me how to shoot.  The very same range in north Philly where I learned how a semi-auto works turned up years later in a mystery novel by someone who is a best-selling author.

Small world .

He got the details completely wrong.   I mean, seriously wrong.  People violating every rule of range safety, walking around with loaded weapons, chatting, standing behind other shooters with their own guns loaded.  He also botched how the guns worked that were being shot by his characters.

Small world. I met this author some time later and let him know.  He confirmed I had accurately identified the shooting range in question, but laughed off the factual inaccuracies I pointed out.

I hope that's never me.  Except maybe the best-selling part.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Music in Port Townsend

When I'm not writing, hiking, or tending the back forty, I'm playing music.   Port Townsend is full of great musicians who have found their way here from all over the country.  Make that, from all over the world.  One of our local talents holds several European gold records. 

We have fewer than 10,000 people, but any night of the week there's live performances in multiple venues.  Later this year I'll write about the Acoustic Blues and Bluegrass Festivals at Fort Worden, where Officer and a Gentleman was filmed (one of the best screenplays ever).

The weekly scene is music in bars.  Country, blues, alt indie, American, folk, jazz, electric, African, Hawaiian, ukeles galore.  On and on.

I'm plugged into the open mic scene.  I bought my first good guitar a year ago, a beautiful Seagull, and it already has lots of playing time on its solid cedar frame.  There are no fewer than seven weekly open mics and one additional open mic monthly just outside town at the Snug Harbor Cafe at the bottom (or the head, depending on perspective) of Discovery Bay.

The most popular open mic convenes at the Tin Brick.  Strange name for a pizza, cheesesteak and beer joint.  It comes from a similarly-named Irish pub in Fishtown, a rough and tumble working class neighborhood on Philadelphia's northern waterfront.  The owner of the Port Townsend Tin Brick is the grandson of the Irishman who opened the original Tin Brick in the 19th Century.  Harry Doyle, the owner of our local establishment, has recreated a Philadelphia neighborhood bar in a building that housed sailors' bars and gosh knows what else when Port Townsend was known as Bloody Townsend, the roughest seaport on the west coast.  Shanghaiing was legal here as a way to attract ships.  Tunnels lead under the old Victorian buildings to the water.  They were used to carry unconscious sailors to rowboats.  The unfortunate sods would awake 20 miles at sea.  They'd be gone for years.

Our entertainment is much more friendly.  We get traveling musicians who have YouTube videos and successful music careers behind them.  We have a local guitar genius who sits in with anyone who asks.  Same for a terrific bass player.  And talented vocalists are ready to back anyone with multiple-part melodies.

My first time at the open mic I was terrified.  I did "Wasn't It a Mighty Storm" and found myself surrounded by people coming from the crowd to sing with me.  I relaxed instantly and have enjoyed myself ever since.

Some of the best performers show up late, when the pub empties out and serious music begins.  A local virtuoso on guitar and octave mandolin has been showing up with new arrangements that blow people away.  Last week a poet from the Carolinas sang some old gospel songs.  Turns out he's also a denizen of the blues scene in Chicago and D.C.  And a guy named Chicago Bob debuted, announcing he finally moved here after attending Blues fests for years.

The music is a great change of pace and brain patterns from writing and editing stories about murder and mayhem.  If you're ever on the Olympic Peninsula, please catch one of our open mics.  And don't just sit in the crowd.  Get up and sing something.  You'll be warmly welcomed, no matter your level of talent.