At the crossroads of America

The crossroads of America is right outside my Super 8 room in Ticonderoga. The Walmart in the rear is in full view of the window. Catty-corner across the intersection are the remains of a grocery store the Walmart must have cratered. McDonald’s, at Walmart’s entrance, advertises the kinds of job America is being built on these days. “Closing shifts, 8p – 1a, $6 an hour.”

There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts in a faux Colonial house-type building with faux chimney. Subway, the great bottom feeder of American retail, is in a building that definitely looks like it was something else before. Nearby are boarded up, run down and creepy, Pyscho looking motels of the old school. You know, the kind with an office at one end and a line of rooms—each with door, window, small bit of porch. At one of these, the weeds and vines grow up and around the motel section as two kids play in the grass in front. Looks like a family is living in the office part.

My favorite place is the 24/7 massive mini—so not really mini—mart and gas station across the street from the Super 8. I get all the candy, beef jerky, iced tea and other provisions I need to work. What work am I doing here?

In the mornings, I’m writing work-in-progress DROP DEAD PUNK, the second in the Coleridge Taylor Mystery series. In the afternoons, I shuttle the Boy Scouts of mighty Pelham Troop 1 to activities the troop does away from the camp. They need the dads to provide transport for some 40 or so scouts, so I turned this into a one-week writer’s retreat. Things are pretty productive here at the crossroads of America. I complete four chapters in one week, an all-time writing record for me. I get real motivation from having to finish a certain amount if I want to participate in the scout activities.

The second day I didn’t get to kayak, sitting instead at a picnic table at base camp banging away at the word count. That was motivation the following two days. I really wanted to attend the rodeo and go white water rafting.

This crossroads, symbolic as it seems of the recession the country’s been through, is appropriate to one of the themes in the book, which is set during the October and November days of 1975 when New York City almost went bankrupt and nearly dragged the country—and perhaps the world—into something far worse than what was already a bad recession. The only difference is other trusted institutions dragged us into this one.

Posted in: crime, travel, writing

Sci fi on the low fi

220px-Angels_&_Airwaves_-_Love_film_posterI’ve been meaning to put a link up to a recent excellent article on low-fi sci-fi that ran in the Wall Street Journal. I know. Those aren’t really words you expect to read in the same sentence. But this long takeout on films in the $7,000 to $1.5 million range that deal with the same ideas as big budget flicks is worth the time.

What is the $500,000 answer to “Gravity,” or the $1.5 million film about A.I. that’s probably more worth your time than Johnny Depp’s “Transcendence?” Check out the article to find out.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in: movies, science fiction

LAST WORDS available for pre-order at Amazon

last_wordsI thought seeing the cover for LAST WORDS was the most exciting thing to happen to me since starting my novel writing journey. But… seeing that cover on the Amazon pre-order page that popped up yesterday topped everything. You can visit the pre-order page by clicking this link. Right now, you can order the trade paperback. I will post when the page for Kindle orders goes up.

Here’s the news release Camel Press is putting out this week:

Camel Press Announces the October Release of Last Words: New York City on the Brink in 1975

Seattle, WA—On October 1, 2014, Camel Press will release Last Words ($13.95, 248 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-207-8), by debut author Rich Zahradnik, book one of a new hardboiled detective series featuring newsman Coleridge Taylor. In Last Words Taylor struggles to keep his job and repair his tarnished reputation as he pursues a story about a dead teenager. The series is set on the mean streets of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs in 1975.

In March of 1975, as New York City hurtles toward bankruptcy and the Bronx burns, newsman Coleridge Taylor roams police precincts and ERs. He is looking for the story that will deliver him from obits, his place of exile at the Messenger-Telegram. Ever since he was demoted from the police beat for inventing sources, the 34-year-old has been a lost soul.

A break comes at Bellevue, where Taylor views the body of a homeless teen picked up in the Meatpacking District. Taylor smells a rat: the dead boy looks too clean, and he’s wearing a distinctive Army field jacket. A little digging reveals that the jacket belonged to a hobo named Mark Voichek and that the teen was a spoiled society kid up to no good, the son of a city official.

Taylor’s efforts to protect Voichek put him on the hit list of three goons who are willing to kill any number of street people to cover tracks that just might lead to City Hall. Taylor has only one ally in the newsroom, young and lovely reporter Laura Wheeler. Time is not on his side. If he doesn’t wrap this story up soon, he’ll be back on the obits page—as a headline, not a byline.

Says Zahradnik, “The year 1975 and the city of New York intrigued me because of the very striking parallels to America today. Then as now, an unpopular war was finally coming to its sad end. A major institution, the city itself, tumbled toward bankruptcy, threatening a cataclysm on the entire financial system. This as banks and ratings agencies ignored the warning signs or willfully misled the public. I chose this time period for the differences as well as the similarities. Solving a mystery in 1975 required good old fashioned legwork and serious brainwork, rather than science fiction-like instant DNA typing and surveillance video available from any and every angle. Taylor has to find a pay phone when he needs to call someone. There’s something satisfying in that for me.”

Rich Zahradnik has been a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine, and wire services. He lives with his wife, Sheri, and son, Patrick, in Pelham, New York, where he teaches elementary school kids how to publish online and print newspapers. For more information, go to www.richzahradnik.com.

Last Words is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.com. After October 1, it will also be for sale in both eBook and 5×8 trade paperback editions on BN.com, the European Amazons, Amazon Japan and select independent bookstores. Bookstores and libraries will be able to order wholesale through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Partners West, or by contacting info@camelpress.com. Libraries can also order from Follett Library Resources or Midwest Library Service. Other electronic versions will be available on Smashwords, BN.com, or at any of the major online eBook stores.

ABOUT Camel Press—Based in Seattle Washington, Camel Press is a new imprint owned by Coffeetown Press. Camel Press publishes genre fiction: romance, mystery/suspense, science fiction, horror … or any combination thereof. We publish the books that grab you and hold you in their grip long into the night.

CONTACT: 
Catherine Treadgold 
Publisher 
Camel Press 
P.O. Box 70515 
Seattle, WA 98127 
www.camelpress.com

Posted in: crime, writing

LAST WORDS cover reveal

last_wordsHere’s the cover for my crime novel LAST WORDS, which Camel Press will publish Oct. 1. It was great fun seeing the different design options for the cover last week and having my say. What do you think of it? All comments welcome below.

This is my first cover reveal. My first novel to be published, for that matter. I’ve got a lot of firsts going on. This week I was reviewing the edits to the manuscript from my publisher. That was also fun, believe it or not. I’ve traveled a long road to get to the point where someone else is editing my work for publication.

LAST WORDS is now available for pre-order at Amazon by clicking this link.

Here’s the official blurb from Camel:

“In March of 1975, as New York City hurtles toward bankruptcy and the Bronx burns, newsman Coleridge Taylor roams police precincts and ERs. He is looking for the story that will deliver him from obits, his place of exile at the Messenger-Telegram. Ever since he was demoted from the police beat for inventing sources, the 34-year-old has been a lost soul.

A break comes at Bellevue, where Taylor views the body of a homeless teen picked up in the Meatpacking District. Taylor smells a rat: the dead boy looks too clean, and he’s wearing a distinctive Army field jacket. A little digging reveals that the jacket belonged to a hobo named Mark Voichek and that the teen was a spoiled society kid up to no good, the son of a city official.

Taylor’s efforts to protect Voichek put him on the hit list of three goons who are willing to kill any number of street people to cover tracks that just might lead to City Hall. Taylor has only one ally in the newsroom, young and lovely reporter Laura Wheeler. Time is not on his side. If he doesn’t wrap this story up soon, he’ll be back on the obits page—as a headline, not a byline.”

Posted in: crime, writing

Deal for Last Words, three more Taylor novels

I’ve been offered a four-book deal by Camel Press in Seattle for my mystery series, beginning with the completed novel Last Words. The other three will also be based on the protagonist Coleridge Taylor and will be part of what the publisher is calling The Taylor Chronicles. I don’t have a pub date for the first one, but it will be a long way off. Think November at least. The books will come out in trade paperback and e-book. Huge thanks to my agent Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary. Also big thanks to the many MANY people who critiqued, edited, read, taught, encouraged, asked after or just didn’t suggest I was bonkers. There are many fingerprints on this little tale of murder.

In other news, I’ve just finished the first draft of Timers, the YA science fiction novel I started after sending off Last Words. I need to work on revisions before turning the manuscript over to Dawn, while writing the next book in The Taylor Chronicles, Drop Dead Punk. What is Timers about? I’m glad you asked. Fifteen-year-old Samuel Tripp fights a time war to save himself, his friends and the universe alongside Rip Van Winkle, the Connecticut Yankee and Ebenezer Scrooge.

More news on that project when I have it.

Posted in: crime, science fiction, writing, young adult

Cover reveal for ‘Chronicles of Kerrigan’

rae of hope Fellow writer W.J. May is taking the great leap into the wild world of independent publishing. I’m pleased to be part of her cover reveal this weekend. Blogs across our great nation are publishing the new covers for the novels in her YA fantasy series “Chronicles of Kerrigan.” You’ll see here the covers for the first two, “Rae of Hope” and “Dark Nebula.”

“Rae of Hope” was put out by a traditional publishing house, but W.J. decided the best bet for her would be to “republish” the first book herself and then self-publish the next three in the series. I’m excited to see what will happen. Indie publishing couldn’t be hotter right now. Think Kindles. Think ebooks. Think you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a media reference to “Fifty Shades of Gray.”

“Rae of Hope” and “Dark Nebula” are coming out right now in ebook and soon in print.

Here’s W.J.’s description of “Rae of Hope:”

“How hard do you have to shake the family tree to find the truth about the past?

nebulaFifteen year-old Rae Kerrigan never really knew her family’s history. Her mother and father died when she was young and it is only when she accepts a scholarship to the prestigious Guilder Boarding School in England that a mysterious family secret is revealed.

Will the sins of the father be the sins of the daughter?

As Rae struggles with new friends, a new school and a star-struck forbidden love, she must also face the ultimate challenge: receive a tattoo on her sixteenth birthday with specific powers that may bind her to an unspeakable darkness. It’s up to Rae to undo the dark evil in her family’s past and have a ray of hope for her future.”

You can reach W.J. on her website, Facebook, Twitter: @wanitajump and her blog.

 

Posted in: fantasy, writing

Stalking memories

castLet’s face it, before the DVD and Amazon, if you had fond yet hazy memories of a four-decade-old TV show, they would stay just that, particularly if the show only lasted a season. I just learned that can be a good thing.

One of my TV touchstone memories was of the 1974-75 series “Kolchak: The Nightstalker.” I can honestly say—though probably should do so with some embarrassment—that watching “Kolchak” was the event that made fourteen-year-old me want to be a newspaper reporter. Not the exploits of Woodward-Bernstein. No way. I wanted to be Karl Kolchak. This reporter in rumpled twill suit and straw hat didn’t pursue the President. Nope. He went after real stories: the vampires, mummies, zombies and aliens haunting Chicago.

Armed with a giant cassette recorder and Instamatic camera, Karl chased the stories believed by no one else, including his hard-bitten (naturally) editor at a third-rate wire service with offices next to the El tracks. (Journalistic footnote: Kolchak’s employer was likely modeled on the late lamented City News Service, though the real one never got near vamps or witches, covering only simple murders and robberies.) To my teenaged mind, here was newspaper reporting. Imagine my disappointment when my first zoning board meeting didn’t turn out to be the zombie board meeting. I wanted Karl’s suit. I wanted his hat. And I never reconciled any of this with the fact the show scared me behind our rec room couch every week. I’d always be the first one running screaming out of the haunted house.

Eager to return to those memories, I bought the series on DVD to watch with my 11 year old. It scared him. Some. Okay, a little. And me not at all. The stories were slow, the frights not frightening and the effects oh so cheesie. Watching the DVD erased my golden memories of the series. Damn the digital world!

But give credit where it’s due. Shows that scare us now, or did recently, owe a huge debt to one-season-wonder “Kolchak.” All the series set in a realistic world but actually about monsters and the paranormal—”The X-Files,” “Fringe,” the whole urban fantasy genre. The one thing I still enjoyed about the series was Daren McGavin’s sharp portrayal of Kolchak. He delivered the cynical reporter lines with real panache. And it was a sweet twist that though he was cynical, he believed in things that go bump in the night. He was Fox Mulder’s great uncle. And I still want that suit.

Posted in: crime, fantasy, journalism, science fiction

Max Headroom and Ray Bradbury

The tagline for the TV series “Max Headroom” was, famously, “20 minutes into the future…” This future was cyberpunk, gritty and a battleground dystopia where TV networks would do anything to win ratings. Made in 1987, it lasted just 14 episodes.

Any science fiction writer will tell you the most dangerous story to attempt is the one that depicts the near future. No one’s going to call you on getting the year 3535 wrong. But they will when you predict next week. That’s what makes “Max Headroom” so excellent. The show peered just around the corner in 1987, and still stands up 25 years later. My son and I just finished watching the DVD set. This is one of those SF shows—Firefly is another—that barely lasted a season but is still worth getting and watching.

Everything about “Max Headroom” is 20 minutes into the future. New subliminal ads called blipverts are so dangerous they make viewers blow up. Literally explode. Rakers play a deadly underground sport. Dreams are stolen to create ratings-winning TV shows, killing the dreamers in the process. Thugs kill to harvest organs. So-called “Blanks” use their status as the only people with out computer ID numbers to attack the central computer system. A news package broker sells exclusive access to terrorist attacks. Great ratings to follow. That’s a sample, and all the episodes feature stories that could happen any day now.

“Max Headroom” keeps the medium of TV right in its dark satirical cross-hairs, an achievement for a network show. My favorite episode is the second to last (and the last to air in the U.S. after the show was cancelled). “Lessons” follows the efforts of the network censors to shut down pirated feeds of pay-TV education channels. Schooling is delivered by TV in this future, and if you can’t pay, you don’t get an education. Investigative reporter Edison Carter, the show’s hero along with his computer doppelgänger Max Headroom, discovers the pirating is cover for another plot. Blanks are printing actual paper books for the poor kids to learn from. Edison and Max help them, of course.

Max Headroom, who is an AI version of the ultimate anchorman talking head, tells the audience: “Now, I’m no librarian, in fact, I don’t know what star sign I am. But, as a famous person once said, ‘You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.’ And as I – another more famous person – once said, ‘If you don’t teach them to read, you can fool them whenever you like.’”

I’m certain the episode is homage to the late master Ray Bradbury and his Fahrenheit 451. The show ends with the censors defeated and a little girl reading the opening to “A Tale of Two Cities.” I love a cautionary tale about censors and censorship, particularly one that features an old-fashioned flatbed printing press.

Concludes Max, “Have you any idea how successful censorship is on TV? Don’t know the answer? Hmm. Successful, isn’t it?”

Here in our present, last week was Banned Books Week, the effort by libraries, teachers and writers to call attention to attempts at censoring what we read. It’s still happening now, and will be 20 minutes into the future.

Posted in: science fiction, the future, writing

Crime fiction and literary punishment

Finishing “The Paris Review Interviews, Volume II” this week got me thinking about the separation—chasm really—that grew between literary and pop fiction in the middle of the last century. The thoughts bubbled up, in fact, after reading the interview with the late Philip Larkin, giant of 20th Century poetry.

Larkin was asked what he read. “Books I’m sent to review. Otherwise novels I’ve read before. Detective stories: Gladys Mitchell, Michael Innes, Dick Francis.”

Detective stories? So this literary giant—the author of my favorite modern poem, “This Be The Verse”—picked up one of Dick Francis’s racetrack whodunits when he kicked back. He wasn’t the only one from the literary big leagues who liked a mystery. I read once William Faulkner usually had a crime novel on his nightstand.

Aren’t these the kinds of things we crime writers want (need?) to hear? We want to be taken seriously by the literary establishment folks. I’ve heard many a genre writer call for a healing of the rift between literary and popular, so we all can be Dickens. Let’s face it, that’s not going to happen.

You write what you imagine. It’s starts there, always and everywhere, not with a theory or a psychology or an ideology. You don’t chose to be Faulkner or Francis. You can try, of course. And that way lies awful writing.

I went Interneting this afternoon to confirm that Faulkner nightstand anecdote. I couldn’t find it. Instead, I came on something even better in the web archive of the J.D. Williams Library at Ole Miss. Faulkner actually wrote detective fiction, something I didn’t know but probably should have. In 1946, his story “An Error in Chemistry” took second place in a short-story competition run by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The story was then included in “Knight’s Gambit,” a collection of six mysteries featuring lawyer Gavin Stevens published in 1949. That was the very same year Faulkner won another prize—the Nobel for Literature. Can you imagine a Nobel winner ever again putting out a bunch of detective stories right as she or he were jetting off to Stockholm? The gulf between the popular, the accessible, the commercial and the literary, the difficult, the art grows wider every year.  (Faulkner also slummed in Hollywood, writing the screenplay for the film of Raymond Chandler’s novel “The Big Sleep.” When do think Thomas Pynchon will be taking a writing gig with Spielberg’s company?)

The Ole Miss library is a little treasure drove on Faulkner and crime. It has on loan from the late author’s own library vintage paperbacks he collected, including books by Erle Stanley Gardner, Rex Stout, Eric Ambler and Agatha Christie. I imagine Faulkner and Larkin arguing the merits of Rex Stout and Dick Francis. And Chandler barging into the room—with a gun, to follow his own prescription—to tell them in blunt terms how wrong they both are. And why. Would we learn more from that than the deconstructions of the college profs? I don’t know. It would certainly be more fun.

Maybe, that’s my problem. I just want to have fun. No, that’s too glib. I stand by what I said above. I can only write what I imagine. Imagination comes before everything else. It is what produces the stories, and the language I use. It was the same for Larkin and Faulkner and Francis and Stout. It would have been nice to have been born with Faulkner’s imagination. Alas, I was not. I’ll just have to hope one of my stories ends up on the nightstand of Doris Lessing or Tomas Tranströmer.

Yeah, I know. In my dreams. But that’s what it’s about after all. Dreams.

Posted in: crime, writing

Music of the Times (and the spheres)

Most days, it’s pretty easy to guess what the New York Times will lead on. That’s because most days, it’s the Democrats yelling at the Republicans yelling at the Democrats… Well, you get the point. And if it’s not that, it’s the obvious big economic report of the day or the obvious major unrest in foreign parts or the obvious natural disaster.

But the top story on Thursday, July 5, was none of those. The day before, physicists announced they’d found the Higgs boson, an elusive subatomic particle the existence of which may (or may not) confirm the key theory on how the universe operates. You probably know this by now, as the story got big coverage all over the place (cover of the Economist, etc). Still in all, running it as the lead story — that’s the top story on the righthand side of page 1— made the New York Times look science fictional.

Staff writer Dennis Overby rose to the occasion, pulling out all the stops in writing this oddest of top stories. I’m going to quote a bunch of it, because you almost never read prose like this in the lead story of the Times. To wit:

Like Omar Sharif materializing out of the shimmering desert as a man on a camel in “Lawrence of Arabia,” the elusive boson has been coming slowly into view since last winter, as the first signals of its existence grew until they practically jumped off the chart.

He and others said that it was too soon to know for sure, however, whether the new particle is the one predicted by the Standard Model, the theory that has ruled physics for the last half-century. The particle is predicted to imbue elementary particles with mass. It may be an impostor as yet unknown to physics, perhaps the first of many particles yet to be discovered.

That possibility is particularly exciting to physicists, as it could point the way to new, deeper ideas, beyond the Standard Model, about the nature of reality.

The nature of reality? Wow. And Overby was just getting warmed up. Read on for the rock-show ovation, a rendezvous with destiny, and even what it takes to become a bill in Congress (a faint delicious echo of School House rock):

In Geneva, 1,000 people stood in line all night to get into an auditorium at CERN, where some attendees noted a rock-concert ambience. Peter Higgs, the University of Edinburgh theorist for whom the boson is named, entered the meeting to a sustained ovation.

Confirmation of the Higgs boson or something very much like it would constitute a rendezvous with destiny for a generation of physicists who have believed in the boson for half a century without ever seeing it. The finding affirms a grand view of a universe described by simple and elegant and symmetrical laws — but one in which everything interesting, like ourselves, results from flaws or breaks in that symmetry.

According to the Standard Model, the Higgs boson is the only manifestation of an invisible force field, a cosmic molasses that permeates space and imbues elementary particles with mass. Particles wading through the field gain heft the way a bill going through Congress attracts riders and amendments, becoming ever more ponderous.

Gerald Guralnik, one of the founders of the Higgs theory, said he was glad to be at a physics meeting “where there is applause, like a football game.

Yay applause! Yay Higgs! Yay boson! Yay physics! Yay physicists. Yay the New York Times for delivering surprising writing on a surprising story.

 

Posted in: journalism, science fiction, the future