Best pitch of 2007

"It's just like American Beauty, only with dragons."

Don't look for it any time soon.
Which road for Pakistan now?

Bhutto Assassinated in Attack on Rally

Now on-line

The website:

There are some video goodies, maps and documents there, as well as one-click ordering through Amazon and (soon, I hope) your local bookstore.
How close . . .

Nazi Germany's concentration camps started out as detention centers for political figures . . .

From the New York Times

Hoover Planned Mass Jailing in 1950

A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.

Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau.

The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote.

Never trust a man in high heels . . .

The story:
Merry Friggin' Christmas

And New Year, too.
Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (10)

Ordinarily, the detective from out of state did not attend the extradition hearing. But today was Detective O’Flattery’s last day on the job, and as a matter of personal pride, he wanted to be there.

One of the guards passed along the information that Father Gerard wanted to speak to him. The detective took a certain personal, professional pride in that, though he despised the priest. Gerard – he refused to call him father any longer – was the kind of man that had hurt the Catholic church deeply.

“What can I do for you, father?” asked O’Flattery when he met him in the hall.

Father Gerard shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Nothing? No confession?”

The priest knew he was being mocked. “An innocent man has no need to confess,” replied the priest.

“Right,” said the detective.

Father Gerard turned away from him, prodding the two sheriff’s deputies to take him into court. His head felt clear; it had been days since he’d had a drink. And for the first time in his life, he knew he would never have another one.

Just outside the courtroom, he was met by a court-appointed lawyer, a young woman not too long out of law school who stood shifting her weight from foot to foot as she spoke.

“I’m your lawyer,” she told him, sticking out her hand. She began to explain the process.

“It’s all right,” he told her. “They’ll convict me no matter what you do. So it’s all right.”

“You can’t give up.”

“I haven’t,” he told her. “For the first time in many, many years, I haven’t given up at all.”

Roguishly speaking . . .

Gotta love him.
The greatest Christmas song
of all time

Blink 182. Crank it up.
Iran's nukes

It just keeps getting worse . . .

Iran Receives Nuclear Fuel in Blow to U.S.

Published: December 18, 2007

WASHINGTON — The United States lost a long battle when Russia, as it announced on Monday, delivered nuclear fuel to an Iranian power plant that is at the center of an international dispute over its nuclear program. Iran, for its part, confirmed on Monday plans to build a second such plant.

The article:

Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (9)

Father Gerard slept fitfully that night. Finally, sometime in the early morning, he had a dream.

He was in the chapel where Sister Agnes had been murdered. He was kneeling, and praying for guidance – something he had not done in many, many years.

A voice came from behind him.

“You gave your oath as a priest. A confession is a confession”

Father Gerard spun around. Blind Tommy stood behind him. So did Sister Agnes, blood gaping from her wounds. She put one hand on Blind Tommy’s shoulder.

The other stretched toward him.

Father Gerard spent the rest of the night lying awake, staring at the ceiling, listening to the sounds of the jail above him, thinking of everything he had done in his life, but mostly thinking of his time as a priest.

Nearly all of it had been a waste. Much of the good he could have done had been washed away by liquor. Over many years, his spirit had grown ever smaller, the voice of God within him fainter and fainter.

As a young man, he had longed for God to call him to do one great thing, one act that would touch many souls.

But God had never responded.

Until now.

But what was he supposed to do? Let a real murderer go free? Should he take his place in prison?

If he knew that Blind Tommy had reformed, perhaps it would be different. If he was sure that the confession had been legitimate, perhaps it would be different.

What sort of test had God given him?

(more to come)

Now in paperback

. . . and just in time for Christmas.
Dogboy's Christmas shopping

Dogboy was over the other day.

Me: How's the Christmas shopping going?
Dogboy: Under control.
M: What's that mean?
D: Oh, I never do my shopping until Christmas morning. But I have it all planned.
M: Christmas morning?
D: Yup.
M: What, are you buying gift certificates for a Chinese restaurant?
D: Nah. I hit the adult video store. No lines on Christmas.

Married life must really agree with him
Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (8)

Father Gerard was stunned. The charge that he had killed the nun was outrageous. Even worse, the detective had woven an entire narrative to explain the crime. According to O’Flattery, the nun was about to have him reassigned for drinking, and Father Gerard didn’t want to leave his cushy hospital job. The story was absurd.

And yet everyone believed it, even the archbishop. He offered Father Gerard scant support; he wouldn’t even find funds for a lawyer.

Perhaps, Father Gerard thought, from the distance he did look guilty. He had been nearby.

He hadn’t liked the nun. But then, no one who knew her did either. She was a severe woman who liked nothing and felt no one else should, either. The only jobs anyone ever gave her were ones she could do entirely by herself.

Father Gerard knew who the murderer was. To free himself, he only had to reveal the confession.

At first, he was in so much disbelief that he didn’t consider doing that. He was in something close to shock – arrested, taken to a small, dank jail, he felt abandoned. For the first time in years he thought of Christ in the garden before his arrest, abandoned by his apostles.

A day passed. He was the only prisoner in the dank cell block, which smelled of rotten cabbage. He wasn’t allowed a drink; his body began going through withdrawal. At the end of the day, Father Gerard decided he would tell everything he knew. Replaying what had happened between himself and Blind Tommy so many years before, he decided that the confession lacked the elements necessary for it to be a “legal” confession. There would be no sin in revealing it.

In the morning, he stuck his face between the metal bars of the door.

“I want to speak to Detective O’Flattery,” he yelled.

The guard at the end of the block lumbered down in his direction.

“What are you saying?” asked the officer.

“I have important information for the detective on my case.”

“You can talk to him tomorrow, at the extradition hearing,” said the guard. “You want my advice, though – whatever you want to say, you ought to save it for your lawyer.”

“I don’t have a lawyer. I don’t need one. I’m innocent.”

The guard began to laugh. “Right Father.”

Father Gerard sank onto his cot, dejected. There was no hope.

(more to come)
Never let cheap vodka go to waste . . .

'Fess up - how many times has this happened to you?

Man Nearly Dies Downing Vodka at Airport

BERLIN (AP) -- A man nearly died from alcohol poisoning after quaffing two pints of vodka at an airport security check instead of handing it over to comply with new rules about carrying liquids aboard a plane, police said Wednesday.

The incident occurred Tuesday at the Nuremberg airport, where the 64-year-old man was switching planes on his way home to Dresden from a vacation in Egypt.

New airport rules prohibit passengers from carrying larger quantities of liquid onto planes, and he was told at a security check he would have to either throw out the bottle of vodka or pay a fee to have his carry-on bag checked.

Instead, he chugged the vodka -- and was quickly unable to stand or otherwise function, police said.

A doctor called to the scene determined he had possibly life-threatening alcohol poisoning, and he was sent to a Nuremberg clinic for treatment. The man, whose name was not released, is expected to be able to go home in a few days.

Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (7)

Father Gerard had hit rock bottom long before Detective O’Flattery came to arrest him, but neither the detective nor the priest knew that.

Gerard was still a priest, but just barely. Even at a time when the church was struggling to find celebrants for mass, Father Gerard couldn’t find a regular job. He spent a great deal of time wandering in his mind, thinking of his youth, of what he might have done. He often thought he had made a mistake becoming a priest. He couldn’t remember why he had made the decision, though by now it was far too late for him to reverse it.

Detective O’Flattery tracked Father Gerard down through the diocese to a home for retired priests in Maine, where he was living on the sufferance of the director, an old classmate from the seminary. He called him one afternoon, asking vague questions about Sister Agnes’s death. The priest gave what details he could about the murder, omitting Blind Tommy’s confession. The conversation was short, and pleasant. In truth, Father Gerard was pleased that anyone would want to talk to him about anything, and when he hung up he wished he had spoken longer.

The conversation they had two days later, going over the same points, was longer, but not nearly as nice. The detective, respectful at first, seemed openly skeptical and even antagonistic, so much so that Father Gerard concluded he was drinking – a failing he was very familiar with, and hung up on him.

Three days later, Detective O'Flattery arrived at the rectory to arrest Father Gerard for the murder of Sister Agnes.

(more to come)

Proof Christmas makes people crazy . . .

Just as you've always suspected . . .

Lead Found in Some Christmas Lights

From Ronni Berke and Greg Hunter,
Posted: 2007-12-10 12:32:34

(Dec. 10) -- For many families, having the children help decorate the Christmas tree is a treasured tradition, starting with the strands of lights. But a CNN analysis of four common brands of Christmas lights shows levels of lead experts say are high enough to be dangerous to children.

Manufacturers do not hide the fact that lead is part of the PVC insulation that insulates Christmas light wiring. Lead is used legally to stabilize polyvinyl chloride so it does not crack or crumble with age. The lead also acts as a fire retardant.
Then again, how many people eat Christmas lights . . . outside of your immediate family, that is?
Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (6)

In many police departments, detective approaching their retirement date find they have little to do. No one wants to give a “short timer” an important case, because if he leaves in the middle of it, most likely it will never be closed. So over the last few weeks of his career, Detective O’Flattery found himself with a lot of time on his hands. A classic workaholic, he searched for some way of being productive. One day in a fit of nostalgia, he began reviewing the case notes on the Sister Agnes murder.

As he went through the notes – most of which were now on very yellowed paper – he realized that he and the two detectives helping him had not done a very good job interviewing either of the priests at the crime scene. This was hardly the only flaw in the investigation – the crime scene itself had not been secured properly, and the forensics were a joke – but it was one of the few mistakes he could fix, or at least attempt to fix.

Father Chris happened to be easy to find – he was the parish priest one town over from where Detective O’Flattery lived. Father Chris’s memory for details was not the best, but he did remember one thing that O’Flattery found immediately significant: Father Gerard had acted very strangely that morning.

“How well did he know Sister Agnes?” asked O’Flattery.

The detective was actually wondering whether the priest had been very close to the nun and thus deeply troubled by her death; in that case, it might be worth tracking him down for some lacking details. Father Chris took the question differently, and surprised him with the answer.

“He didn’t like her at all. They were always having disagreements,” said Father Chris. “Sister Agnes knew he drank, and called him on it regularly.”

And from that one remark, Detective O’Flattery’s course was set.

(more to come . . .)

Never call a murderer a murderer

Me: So how's the new true crime book going?

Him: It was going pretty well, but now there are all these legal issues. The lawyers are worried about libel and . . .

M: Wait a second - you're worried about libeling a convicted mass murdering pig farmer?

H: Yeah.

M: This is why I don't do true crime.

Take 2

Rangers at Dieppe

Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (5)

Sister Agnes’s body was laid out on the altar. A crime scene expert would later tell the press that the murderer had deliberately arranged it to satisfy a some ritual that was taking place deep within his subconscious. The expert would also point out that the sister’s arms were spread in the manner of Christ’s when He was on the cross, and that six of the wounds were similar to those said to be suffered by Christ when He was crucified.

He offered no theory about the other fifty stab wounds that perforated the nun’s body.

Though she had not been sexually molested, e nun’s skirt had been pulled up above her waist, leaving her body exposed.

Father Gerard, of course, knew that Blind Tommy had committed the murder. But he couldn’t tell the police that. Blind Tommy had confessed to him, and the vow of secrecy during confession was inviolate.

Was it a real confession? Father Gerard agonized over the question. It certainly wasn’t formal or traditional, and yet Blind Tommy certainly believed that he was gaining absolution. Was that the measure of the sacrament?

Another priest might have sought out a confessor or other spiritual advisor to discuss the point, but Father Gerard sought only his familiar whiskey. Once or twice he tried to bring up the matter with a superior, but always lost his courage as the conversation turned to his own weaknesses. Meanwhile, the police spent all their energy looking for a suspect profiled by the expert, who believed he was of high intelligence and deep convictions. Blind Tommy wasn’t even a suspect.

Drinking heavily, Father Gerard soon lost his post at the hospital. His assignments began a steady spiral downward. No job is insignificant to the Lord, but in the Catholic hierarchy, there is significance and then there is significance, and then there are the jobs that Father Gerard was given.

Sister Agnes’s murder was forgotten by most people. Blind Tommy moved away. Father Gerard had his own problems.

Eventually, the only person that remembered the story was a local police detective named O’Flattery. It was the only murder case he’d ever been assigned. Failing to solve it had ruined any chance he had of getting a better job. Worse, it offended him deeply. The detective hadn’t gone to Catholic school, and so had a benign, even saintly view of nuns. For ten years following the murder, he swore to himself that he would solve it.

And then, two weeks before he was due to retire, he did.

(more to come)
Deadline time . . .

Gotta up the caffeine count . . .
Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (4)

Speechless, Father Gerard waited for Blind Tommy to explain what had happened. But Blind Tommy said nothing else. The priest didn’t know if Blind Tommy was fantasizing, or if he had actually committed murder.

Neither seemed possible.

“Give me my penance,” said Blind Tommy. “What’s my penance?”

Years later, Father Gerard wouldn’t remember exactly what he said., though he was sure he did say something. He didn’t grant absolution – the sacrament requires a certain form, not to mention a demonstration of remorse and willingness to repent that were difficult to discern under the circumstances. But whatever he said, Blind Tommy’s face lit up with relief. He thought he was absolved. He shook Father Gerard’s hand vigorously, then ran off.

Still unsure what was going on, Father Gerard went into the building. There he was met by the other priest assigned to the hospital, Father Chris, whose face was stone white.

"Sister Agnes is dead," said the other priest. "Killed on the altar in the chapel. The police are on the way."

(more to come)

Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (3)

It was very early morning on Thanksgiving. Father Gerard got up to say the early morning mass in the hospital chapel. Mass was scheduled for six, but Father Gerard always got down to the chapel ten minutes before, stopping on the way to get a cup of coffee from the hospital cafeteria. Probably alone among its customers, Father Gerard loved the coffee they brewed. It was strong, with a slight metallic taste from the pot, and for some reason it reminded him of his youth.

Father Gerard was on his way from the rectory around twenty to six. It was cold, below freezing, and he had a long black coat on over his cassock. Just as he got to the door of the hospital, Blind Tommy came out of the building.

Usually, Blind Tommy stared at the ground and barely noticed anyone until they were right in his face; he’d even pass by Father Gerard without saying hello, even though the priest was probably the closest thing to a friend he had. But today, Blind Tommy looked into Father Gerard’s face and immediately grabbed his arms.

“I need you to hear my confession,” said Blind Tommy.

“Your confession? It’s a bit early for that, Tommy.”

“Please father.”

“Well all right. Come along to the chapel.”

“Not in the chapel.”

There were no confessionals in the chapel, so there was no question of real privacy there. Still, the way Blind Tommy said it alarmed Father Gerard.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

“I need to give my confession.”

“In the rectory then,” said Father Gerard. “Come along.”

But Blind Tommy had already started. “Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession.”

“Two days, Tommy,” said Father Gerard. “Only two days.”

Blind Tommy didn’t listen. Words were tumbling out of his mouth. Sins – lying, coveting a fellow workman’s watch – and murder.

“Murder?” said Father Gerard.

“I killed her, Father. I didn’t mean to. It was like the devil took hold of me.”

(more to come)
Speaking of nukes . . .

One of the first-wave trailers* for the new Rogue Warrior book.... the audio levels are still kind of funky . . .
*I hate that term

Report: Iran nukes on hold

While the behind the scenes politics and diplomatic consternation are getting much of the play in news coverage of the combined intelligence report on the Iran's (suspended?) nuke program, the interesting part of the report is this:

The estimate on how long it would take Iran to build a nuclear weapon remains unchanged: Two years.

Suspended or not, the more centrifuges* Iran obtains, the faster the clock ticks. The problem hasn't gone away.
*Along with the rest of the infrastructure. The centrifuges are just the most conspicuous and oft reported parts.
Viva Venezuela

Venezuelans Deny Chavez Additional Authority
President Concedes Defeat in 51-49 Vote

By Juan Forero
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 3, 2007; A01

CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec. 3 -- Venezuelan voters delivered a stinging defeat to President Hugo Chavez on Sunday, blocking proposed constitutional changes that would have given him political supremacy and accelerated the transformation of this oil-rich country into a socialist state.

Hours after the final ballots were cast, the National Electoral Council announced at 1:15 a.m. local time Monday that voters, by a margin of 51 to 49 percent, had rejected 69 reforms to the 1999 constitution. The modifications would have permitted the president to stand for reelection indefinitely, appoint governors to provinces he would create and control Venezuela's sizable foreign reserves.

But no doubt the struggle will continue . . .*
Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (2)

The thing that you have to know about Blind Tommy was that he wasn’t really blind; people just called him that because whenever anything happened around him and somebody – usually the police – asked about it, he always answered he didn’t see nothing.

The other thing about Blind Tommy was that, even though he was slow in a general mental way, he could be quite clever when he thought about something. Most people didn’t know that, because he kept his thinking to himself.

Blind Tommy’s road to the job at St. Calvin’s Hospital was pretty twisted. He'd gotten himself into assorted hassles and did some jail time, slowly progressing from fuck-up to jackass. After a stint on a felony E, his parole officer took a shot at saving him, and called a friend he knew at St. Calvin's. The friend was a priest, though the parole officer knew him better as the guy at the end of the bar at O'Hanny's. He persuaded him to Blind Tommy on as a janitor.

The priest was Father Gerard. He was a cranky former pastor whose drinking had gotten him removed from two parishes. Off the bottle, Father Gerard was a solid if austere minister; on the bottle, he was a lot easier to get along with, a man who could explicate each of Paul’s letters, sing all the rounds of Finnegan’s Wake, and hold forth knowledgeably on the various subtleties of different Irish whiskey, examples included. Drunk or sober, he had a weakness for lost causes and second tries, and while his failings were legion, he understood that charity was the most important virtue.

Father Gerard took a liking to Blind Tommy. Maybe he saw him as a kindred soul; Blind Tommy had gone to jail because of an alcohol-inspired crime binge. In any event, he became something of a confessor to Blind Tommy, listening to his troubles and sins. Most of the latter were petty transgressions – venial sins in Catholic theology, small lies and broken confidences, abuse of his body, as opposed to others'. Some weren't even sins – Blind Tommy was off the juice, and since he spent all his money on a dump of an apartment two blocks from the hospital, had very little opportunity to really sin.

Until one day, Blind Tommy told Father Gerard about a sin that even Paul would have shuddered to forgive . . . .

(more to come)

We're better than this

From yesterday's NY Times:

Witness Names to Be Withheld From Detainee
Published: December 1, 2007

Lawyers for a Guantánamo detainee have been ordered not to tell their client — or anyone else — the identity of witnesses against him.

But maybe the worst part of the story is the reporter's explanation of the principles involved:

. . . [the decision to withhold the identities] underscored the gap between military commission procedures and traditional American rules that the accused has a right to a public trial and to confront the witnesses against him.
Watching the SuperBowl with a group of friends while doing bong shots is a tradition. The right to know who's accusing you of a crime is a specifically granted by the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, an amendement integral to the original Constitution.

Madison must be rolling over in his grave.

The URL:
RIP, Motion Poet

Robert Craig Evel Knievel, 1938-2007
Blind Tommy & Father Gerard (1)

Blind Tommy was one of those guys you saw hanging around on the street when you were growing up, the kind who didn’t really belong to any group or gang, and who everybody knew was a little slow.

That was all most kids knew about Blind Tommy, except for the kids who went to St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s was your typical Catholic grammar school. The nuns may have been brides of Christ, but they were cousins of the devil as well.

At St. Mary’s, the nuns picked on everyone, but especially kids who were big and slow, and being about the biggest and slowest kid in every class he was in, Blind Tommy bore the brunt of their assaults. Having him in your home room was like having a natural decoy to divert attacks. You just didn’t want to sit too close to him, for fear of becoming collateral damage.

Like everybody else, Blind Tommy bore the beatings and bullying patiently; he’d learned that protesting just made things worse. Until one day in Sister Theresa Joe’s class.

Sister Theresa Joe went to swat him for something he did, or didn’t do, or might have been going to do if he’d been quick enough to think of it. As she moved in, Blind Tommy shot up out of his chair. The next thing anyone knew, Sister was on the floor, passed out.

Nobody liked Sister Theresa Joe, not even the other nuns, but that didn’t help Blind Tommy. The principal hauled him off to her office, where Tommy sat on the bench and waited for his mother. When she got there, she walked right up to him and socked him across the face. Blind Tommy fell down in a heap, right in front of the principal.

That forced act of contrition kept him in school. But from that point on, nuns kept a pretty wide berth. Until years later, when Blind Tommy went to work at St. Calvin’s Hospital.

(more to come . . .)
Dictator for life . . .

Voters in Venezuela will go to the polls Sunday to decide whether to make dictator Hugo Chavez dictator for life - or at least as long as the oil keeps flowing and he can pay his thugs to keep him in power.

Surprisingly, there's a virulent movement against him, which this video is part of. The catch phrase means, roughly, Why don't you shut up?* If Chavez doesn't rig the election too badly, the voters may tell him just that. Then things may really get interesting.

Why should we care? A good hunk of the oil that heats our homes and the gasoline that fuels our cars comes from Venezuela . . .

*Ironically, the phrase originated from a put-down from the king of Spain. Obviously, there's a lot to be said for constitutional monarchs.
Writers Block

Her: I had a terrible writing day.

Me: How's that?

Her: I'm totally blocked. The characters are pissed off. One of them actually told me this afternoon to get bent.

Me: Huh?

Her: I wanted him to do something and he just cold-cocked me and said: "Why should I do what you want me to do? Just so you can have a little drama in your plot? Piss off."

Me: Time for drinks.

Her: I wrote him as a teetotaler, but I'll give it a try.
Ranger excerpt

The magazine, World War II, bought first serial rights to Rangers at Dieppe and is featuring an excerpt from the book in their December issue.
I've written for magazines before, but this one feels like it's remote control - someone else did the excerpting . . .
And did a very nice job, telling a story but not telling the entire book. An art in itself.
Durability problems . . .

From the Creative Use of the English Language Department:.

(Nov. 27) - The Army is retrofitting 1 million uniforms to bolster pants that have been tearing during the rigors of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Soldiers in Iraq began reporting "crotch durability problems" with their combat uniforms in July 2005, according to the Army. Jumping into Humvees, hopping from helicopters and scrambling after insurgents have popped inseams on the baggy pants.
Pakistan watch

The plot continues to thicken . . . From the NY Times:

LAHORE, Pakistan, Nov. 26 — Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, back from exile, denounced the military dictatorship of Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, today and said he would lead street protests if his demands for the general to lift emergency rule and reinstate the Supreme Court were not met.

A day after his return to Pakistan, Mr. Sharif signed his nomination papers for January’s parliamentary election at a court in Lahore as his supporters packed into the courtroom chanting "Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif!" the Associated Press reported.

Separately, a spokesman for General Musharraf said the president would “most probably” be sworn in Thursday as a civilian head of state, removing his uniform and relinquishing his role as chief of the army on Wednesday. “He is going to take off his uniform a day before that," the spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, told AP Television News, referring to the swearing-in ceremony slated for Thursday.

The whole story:
Times are hard . . .

Even Superman has taken a second job hawking Christmas sales.
Hey there, Pilgrim . . .

That's Mr. Turkey to you, tool . . .
State of the business

One of the great things about being published by Tom Doherty books, is that, while the house is still a major publisher, it's small enough that the publisher himself not only knows who you are but even will go out and have a beer or two with you when you're in town.

Admittedly, that cuts both ways, especially in my case. But let's accentuate the positive . . .

One of the things that you end up talking about, inevitably, is the state of the business. We hear a lot about how people don't want to read, how computer games and the web are seducing readers, etc. But Tom pointed out that we almost never hear about the biggest problem with the industry right now - over the last few years, we've lost literally hundreds of book distributors and thousands of book stores. Everyone knows about the demise of independent stores, but the contraction or outright disappearance of book chains has had just as much of an impact, and in terms of sheer numbers, maybe even greater, on the number of books sold, especially at the mid-list level. His point wasn't that people don't want to read any more - they're not getting as much of a chance to buy books as they used, and that's really what's hurting us.

Now Tor/Forge is doing a lot to deal with this - and obviously it's working, since they've had a string of best sellers this past year. But listening to Tom and Bob and some of the other experienced hands talk about how selling at the wholesale level used to be done, you can't help but feel a huge amount has been lost. When those guys (and gals) broke in, they had to forge relationships with literally hundreds of different distributors, jobbers and others responsible for getting books in stores. Those middlemen knew an enormous amount about their individual markets.

Maybe computer information systems can replace that human knowledge. But it'll never replace the camaraderie that came from riding with a guy at four or five o'clock in the morning, with only a cup of coffee to keep you warm as you picked his brain about what people really wanted to read, and just as importantly, how to design book covers and marketing campaigns to get those books in front of the customer.

The internet is fantastic for bringing readers to writers; I "talk" with readers just about everyday through email and learn a tremendous amount every time. But there's no real equivalent for publishers, and I think the entire industry - writers included - have lost a bit because of it.
Praise for the Rogue

Part of one of the things we did in NYC last week. This is Bob Gleason, one of the best editors in the business, and a legend in his own right.
With the Rogue . . .

I was in New York last week to meet the Rogue Warrior - aka Richard Marcinko - aka Demo Dick - and talk about what's going on with the next installment and get some new ideas on how to best blow things up. We met with the publisher and had a great time, talking promo campaigns and book signings and media launches. Of course, I only hung around for the beer.

At the moment, I'm not supposed to say anything about where the book takes place or what happens, because not everybody is back.

That's the cover story, anyway. Rogue Warrior: Dictator's Ransom should be out next fall.

One of the great things about traveling with Dick is the fact that restaurants magically open up tables when he shows up, no matter how many people are with him and what time of night it is. But I guess maitre d's respect someone who knows 143 ways to kill a man with his bare hands.
The Rogue is back . . .

I'm in Manhattan, walking down Broadway in the low 30s, high 20s, heading for the Flat Iron Building and a meeting with our publisher. It's drizzling, but I've hit it just right - every loader, roustabout, door watcher, construction worker and general flunky is out taking a cigarette break, affecting the bored nothin' happenin' late fall NY look. Every other car that passes is a Mercedes S sedan.

There's a siren in the distance, then another and another. Ten police cars steam by, flanked by an emergency services van and an ambulance.

The Rogue Warrior is back in town.
Combat 84*

They've got a point . . .
*British punk rock/Oi band circa the 1980s. Not for delicate tastes.
They still don't get it . . .

The NY Times reported Sunday on some steps that the U.S. has taken to help secure nuclear weapons in Pakistan. The story is good, as far as it goes . . .

U.S. Secretly Aids Pakistan in Guarding Nuclear Arms
The New York Times
WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 — Over the past six years, the Bush administration has spent almost $100 million on a highly classified program to help Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, secure his country’s nuclear weapons, according to current and former senior administration officials.
The real point of the story supposedly is this:

Debate is growing about whether an American classified program has done enough to help protect Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
Actually, even the story indicates that the debate took place a few years ago, and it's not at all clear that it's growing, but I digress . . .

The article spends quite a lot of time focusing on the PALS or failsafe code safeguards (that of it as a PIN number that prevents nuclear weapons from being used by unauthorized people), and the fact that the administration debated giving the technology to Pakistan. They ended up deciding not to, supposedly for legal reasons.

Not to defend the decision, but the story doesn't explain that if you understand that technology, it's possible that you could use that knowledge to defeat similar systems in American and Russian weapons. As for the argument about the law preventing it . . .

While PALS systems are important, and something similar should be part of any nuclear device, the presumed lack of those safeguards are only a small part of the overall problem posed by Pakistan's nuclear program.

In fact, the bombs themselves are only the most obvious part of the problem. In the meantime, a good portion of the money given to Pakistan has clearly not been spent as intended. But you probably expected that.

Not the least thing that's interesting about the story is the revelation that the NY Times has been sitting on the information about the secret training aid and Failsafe coding debate (and presumably much more) for several years, supposedly because the administration feared that the stories would harm efforts to secure the weapons. The speciousness of that argument is matched only by their reasoning for printing it now. The newspaper's position basically boiled down to, We're only going to report on this when there's nothing anyone can do about it.

But read the story yourself:

Eventually, you'll read stories that everything is fine because there are contingency plans to secure the warheads if all else fails. Those plans are great as book plots - yes, I speak from experience - but they're poor substitutes for national policy.

Bounty Hunter Bob (3)

Bounty Hunter Bob never found the Wyoming murder suspect, which was probably just as well, since the government ended up frying somebody else for the murder he’d been accused of. But his foray east convinced him it was a good place to set up shop. Besides tracking down skippers for bail bondsmen, his specialty was divorce cases, and there are a lot of unhappy marriages in the greater New York area.

We still have beers from time to time. His sidekicks have changed - the gorilla who whipped out the shiny iron in the parking lot is long gone, replaced by stiffs even less discreet. But Bounty Hunter Bob's MO remains the same.

The other day he started telling me a story about a case he was working on.

Guy woke up one morning after having a dream that his wife had cheated on him. Guy went to a lawyer, who called Bounty Hunter Bob.

“It’s a total bullshit case, but times are getting tough,” said Bob. “Plus, there’s the fringies.”

“You mean fringe benefits?”

Bounty Hunter Bob winked. “The wife’s a real looker.”

“You got disbarred for that, didn’t you?”

Bounty Hunter Bob just smiled. I guess the standards are lower when you’re a private dick.

Bounty Hunter Bob (2) . . .

Despite appearances, Bounty Hunter Bob was, and is, a generous sort, and also the sort who doesn't turn down the chance to have a drink in the middle of the day, or any other time. We ended up going down the street to the Derby, which at the time was owned by a friend and a half of mine. The half-friend was behind the bar, which was good, because that meant we only paid for one round out of two.

If my friend had been there, not only would we have to pay for every drink, he would have put us on the hook for the potato chips, too.

After his second or maybe third beer, Bounty Hunter Bob started telling me his life story. Or one version of it - I found out later the story tends to change depending on which bar he's in.

Hewasn’t really a low-life bounty hunter bum. He was a low-life private detective bum. Somewhere in the dim past he’d been a lawyer and been disbarred. Not for taking money or anything like that: it was a divorce case, he was repping the husband, and ended up sleeping with the wife. Pretty hard to figure, if you ever saw Bob. . . .

George Washington as Leonidas*

. . . or Rambo, or the Terminator, or somebody like that . . .

Looks pretty authentic to me.

* It may make more sense if you've seen the movie 300. Then again, maybe it won't . . .

Bounty Hunter Bob (1)

I first met Bounty Hunter Bob in a parking lot in Poughkeepsie back when I had less of a temper.

I’d just had lunch with a political hack I knew and was about to get into my car when a dark sedan whipped up from behind, blocking me in. Two guys jumped out. One of them had a very pretty, very large and very shiny magnum revolver in his hand, which he pointed in my direction.

“You keep pointing that fucking gun at my head and somebody’s going to be sorry,” I said.

The odds were very strong that it was going to be me, but I didn’t think adding that would help the situation.

“Easy now,” said Bounty Hunter Bob, coming around the other side. His cheap brown suit wasn’t buttoned, probably to better expose the 9 mm stuck in his belt. “I need to see some ID.”

“Show me yours and I’ll show you mine.”

Bob got this dumb-shit grin on his face and pulled out his wallet.

“So you’re a private investigator,” I told him. “So what?”

“No fair. You said you’d show me yours.”

I pulled out my wallet. Because a deal’s a deal, and that was still a very pretty cannon his sidekick was aiming at me.

“Just a coincidence, friend,” he said. “Check it out.”

He showed me a police bulletin for a suspected murderer in Wyoming or Utah or some other state I’d never been to at the time. The guy had a car like mine, and was about my height and weight.

“But he’s probably carrying a gun and is an asshole besides,” said Bob, taking the bulletin back. He gestured to his henchman, who got back in the car.

“Who says I’m not?”

Bob laughed.

"So when you buying me a beer?" I asked . . .

A work of art . . .

The New Frontier joins Elvis and the bikini broncos in the dusty hereafter . . .

The kitsch just means it's Vegas.

They have nukes, we have ... what exactly?

Pakistan is a country of great beauty and industrious people, but at the moment it is spinning out of control. The situation there is even more confused and dangerous than what you’re seeing on TV or reading in the newspaper.

The country’s dictator, General Musharraf, is at the center of vortex of forces pulling Pakistan in different directions. One of those forces is democracy, though the recently returned (at our urging) former Prime Minister Benzair Bhutto is far from the ideal leader of a democratic movement. Nor is her party, as large as it is, the only one in the country. To give you an idea of how fractured Pakistani politics are, the CIA counts 21 separate political parties active in the country. And that doesn’t include the most potent force: the army.

We get news stories in the West about radical Islamists and the havoc they’re causing in Pakistan, but the tribal and ethnic conflicts are arguably even more important. The Kite Runner revealed to many Westerners the enmity between different ethnic groups in Afghanistan; Pakistan has essentially the same problem. While much of the conflict occurs in the northern tribal areas of the country – the name indicates who’s really in control there – the conflicts exist throughout Pakistan.

Why is all this turmoil important for the rest of the world?

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are being guarded by an army that has had its ass kicked in the northern provinces over the past year in what amounts to an undeclared civil war. And yes, the Taliban is part of that war. And no, they still don’t like us.

So let me ask . . . am I just nuts, or does Bhutto’s return seem a little like Khomeini’s to Iran during the 1970s?

One thing that's clear - Condi's as clueless as anyone in the Carter administration ever was.

World War II novels

Norman Mailer's death will get a lot of people reading or rereading The Naked and the Dead, which is good. An even better novel from that war is James Jones' Thin Red Line. Jones is probably best known (if known at all) as the author whose book was the basis of From Here To Eternity. You might start there if you want to read his novels about the war in order.

And speaking of great books that were made into movies, one of the best fiction editors I've ever worked with manages to recommend Guns of Navarone every time I see him. That's Alistair MacClean's great book - a lot more suspenseful than the others . . . unless of course you've already seen the movie.

But it's worth reading even if you have. Same with the others.
Norman Mailer

"There are two kinds of brave men: those who are brave by the grace of nature, and those who are brave by an act of will."
- Norman Mailer

Forget the tributes*. If you haven't read The Naked and the Dead, take it out of the library today. Stick with it; it gets a lot better.
*But if you must, read this article in Esquire by Tom Junod:

For Ted

Most people don’t know Ted Rensink, and there’s no reason they should. No one’s made a movie about him, and while his name does appear in a book (or will when it's published this January), he doesn’t fill up many pages.

But Ted played a big role in their lives. Ted was a National Guard volunteer from the Midwest in 1941 when the President finally managed to wake the country up about what was going on in Europe. Ted, just a kid then, found himself on the way to the Louisiana swamps. It was a strange place, like another planet, but it wasn’t anywhere near the strangest place he’d visit over the next three or four years.

Eventually, Ted and a few hundred other young men found themselves in Ireland. Bored and anxious to do something to help America after Pearl Harbor, Ted volunteered for the Rangers, a new commando-style unit that promised plenty of action. Ted was a pretty capable kid, and after only a few days he was selected for what would have been a suicide mission, though of course he didn't it at the time -- and in fact wouldn't realize it for sixty some years. Fortunately for him, the mission was called off.

He was disappointed, but within a few months was fighting in Africa, then Sicily, then Italy proper. He doesn’t tell many stories about it these days, but the after-action reports make it clear that the battles he was in weren’t just walks in the park.

The war over, Ted went home and picked up more or less where he’d left off, a little older, a little wiser, but most of all with some of the best friends a man could have. He married a beautiful woman, raised a fantastic family, and quietly became an important part of his community.

Not a story for the newspapers, certainly not one for a movie or novel. But Ted and the millions of men and women like him, quietly living their lives, have been the backbone of this country for many years. They’re our fathers, our grandfathers, our brothers, our sons, ourselves. They served in World War II, and in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf. They served during war, and during peace.

I’ve been privileged to meet a few, not because they were heroes, not because their quiet manners often belie their wartime deeds, but because they’re regular men and women, and therefore a reminder of what we can all achieve.

Happy Veterans Day.

Obviously, they still believe in the stork in Wisconsin . . .

Alleged explicit sex discussion gets mom probation

A Pardeeville (Wisconsin) mother accepted a plea agreement on charges she had a sexually explicit discussion with her two sons, even while she maintained she did nothing wrong and that she didn't understand why she was charged. . . .

According to the charges filed against her, Amy J. Smalley, 36, last year told her sons about several sexual experiences she had. She also allegedly described performing oral sex and also showed the two a sex toy.

"That is what I'm being charged with, but that is not what I did," Smalley said. "I believe I'm not guilty."

Smalley's attorneys unsuccessfully argued in court in July that the charges should be dismissed as the discussions should be protected as free speech between a parent and her children in the vein of sexual education. . . .

One of her sons turned her in. She was actually charged with a felony, but copped a plea.
Full story:

True crime

So Fred calls up today and asks, "You know where I can get some body armor cheap?"

After I explained to him that body armor is one thing you don't want to get cheap, I asked why he wanted it. Turns out his new book has caused some problems in the Midwest city where it's set. He did a radio show today and the host predicted he'd be getting some death threats, probably by email.

"Emailed death threats don't count," I told him. "Unless the spelling and grammar are really, truly bad."

The book is a true crime account of a Polish priest convicted of murdering a nun. Personally, I think the priest is covering for a confession he heard, but that's how novelists think. Given that he wrote a whole book about it and is expecting death threats, albeit via email, Fred's probably right about who did it.

"Look at the bright side," I told him. "If you get killed, your book will definitely sell-through."
File under Missed Opportunities . . .

We were sitting at the bar Sunday afternoon during the Vampire Convention in Saratoga when a woman came over and said, "I'm the belly dancer who strips."

Just then the beer came and I had to turn around to pay. When I looked back, the belly dancer/stripper had been vaporized by a flash of sunlight from the nearby window. All that remained was some lint on the floor.

Next time, I start drinking earlier in the day.
Best sellers

Number 20 on the NYTimes Bestseller list... Good to know the old guy's still got it after all these years.

And while we're at it . . .

Number 32 . . .

My car inspection was up and my check engine light was on, so I went in to town to see Chuck and get it legal. Which is kind of a non sequitar in and of itself.

Back in high school, Chuckee was a pretty popular drug dealer. Not because of his prices – those were set – but because he always partied with the customers. If you bought your meth or reds or whatever was on special that week, he’d pull out a baggie of weed and offer to share a toke. A toke turned into a bone, and three hours later you had no idea what planet you were on, let alone why you’d come.

Being too friendly’s not a good idea if you’re a drug dealer, even for someone low on the food chain like Chuck. So eventually he got busted. I’m thinking he sang the blues and talked for his supper, because he didn’t spend too much time in prison.

He found God inside the joint, and when he got out he went straight. But he couldn’t find a job, so eventually he started making money fixing cars in this barn his father owned a couple of miles north of here. Ramshackle was invented to describe the way this barn looked – like a ram had been shackled to it and tried pulling every piece of wood from the ground. But his work was cheap and usually, well maybe just often, pretty good.

Eventually, supposedly with money he saved from changing disc brakes and blowing out fuel filters, he bought a place in the middle of town. My theory is that it was really bought with money he’d hidden from his drug days, but let me get back to the point.

My car needs to be inspected, so I go in to see Chuckee and after a few desultory words about the state of my soul - dark and getting darker - he takes a look at my car.

“Needs a new clutch,” he tells me.

“Bullshit it needs a new clutch. You didn’t even look at the clutch. You didn't even look at the car.”

“I can tell by listening. I heard it when you drove up.”

“That’s the heat shield which you fixed six months ago," I said. "Or rather, didn't fix. What I need is an oxygen sensor.”

“I have a special on brakes.”

“Can you put in a new oxygen sensor and inspect it please?”

Chuckee frowns but takes the keys and puts it on the lift.

“You sure about that clutch?” he asks.

“The clutch is fine. Is the oxygen sensor. Which is on the top of the engine.”

Too late, the car is on the lift.

“Brakes look good,” he tells me.

“I know the brakes are good. It needs an oxygen sensor.”

“Hey, don’t yell.” He lowers it from the lift, hooks some fancy wires up to it, starts it up, then runs and gets a clipboard.

“Sorry, you fail,” he tells me a few minutes later. “You need an oxygen sensor.”

“Why didn’t you do that before you inspected it?”

“Dealer item. Can’t touch it,” he adds as he cheerfully scrapes off the inspection sticker. "Just following state regs here. Have to report you to DMV and take off your sticker. Uh, you ought to get it fixed real soon."

"So now I got to drive it around without an inspection sticker? What happens if the police stop me?"

Chuckee gives me a puzzled look. Then he says, “I’m running a special on brakes today. Brembos are half-price.”

I think I liked him better when he was a drug pusher.

Idle dares . . .

What would you do?
A winner born every minute . . .

Dogboy was so excited last night that he offered to buy.

"And not just the cheap stuff," he said, slamming a five on the bar. "Some of that imported draft pee you like. Man's beer."

Five didn't buy much at the bar we were at, but the thought was what counted.

"Married life agrees with you, huh?" I said. I hadn't seen him since he and Mama Squeeze made their hookup legal.

"Marriage - uh, don't know about that." He smiled and waved the bartender over.

His pupils weren't dilated, and his nose looked normal. So why was he in, not a good mood, but a buying good mood?

"I'm a lucky man," he told me while we waited for our beers. "Check it out."

Dogboy pulled out his cellphone and clicked up an email he'd saved.

De Lotto (Electronic Lotreij)
Postbox 3074
2280 GB Rijswijk
The Netherlands

Our dear certified winner,

The Board of Directors of Netherlands lottery promotions announces to you as 1 of our 10th lucky Winners of this year annual New year Christmas Bonanza draw held on 29th of October 2007, here in United Kingdom. All participants for category A (online version) were selected randomly from World Wide Web (www) through computer balloting system drawn from over 100,000 names database, union associations and corporate bodies that are listed online. And your email address emerged alongside with 9 other as category .A. winner. Consequently you are therefore been approved for a payout of 2,000,000.00 (Two million Pounds) only.

The following particulars are attached to your lottery payment order.

I started laughing.

"Yo, what's so funny?" said Dogboy.

"Are you kidding me? It's a scam."

"Shit it is."

"It's one of those Nigerian things."

"That's where you're wrong A-hole. It's from the Netherlands. Whole other place. You are just one cynical son of a bitch. You probably don't even believe in Christmas."

I ended up paying for the beers myself, just like always.

From Batista Unleashed, continued . . .

The flight’s good, the stewardess is really helpful, and things are quiet… until we land in Omaha, where we discover that our bags have not come with us on the flight.

Now you know, and every person in America who has ever made connecting flights knows, that the problem had to do with the fact that our plane from Urbana was late coming in. Either they messed up there in an effort to get the plane off because it was so late – unlikely but possible – or when we landed in Chicago they couldn’t find a numb nut smart enough to grab the half-dozen bags bound for Omaha and walk them thirty-seven feet from one plane to another.

But the man at the baggage claim area believes a federal conspiracy is involved.

“We’re only doing what the federal government allows us to do,” he says when Lashley, who has media interviews first thing in the morning, asks if there’s anyway to have the bags delivered to the hotel very early. “Those bags may get here around 9 a.m. – that’s when the next flight is – but we’re not allowed to deliver them until sometime between twelve-thirty and four-thirty.”

“The federal government decides that?” asks Kennedy.

The man looks at him pitifully. Obviously, Kennedy doesn’t understand the worldwide conspiracy.

“Well why didn’t the bags make it here in the first place?” asks Lashley, probably wondering if Attendant #2 decided to have them searched for a boarding pass machine.

“That happens because of weight restrictions,” says the man with a straight face. “Very important, weight restrictions.”

“With the bag or the plane?”

“The plane. When they’re full, they can’t take off.”

“Ours was half-empty,” says another passenger.

“There, see?” says the man. “Too much weight and they can’t take off.”

Somebody probably ought to alert the FAA about that.
Available now at Amazon, B&N, and your local bookstore...
Self portrait

Before the coffee works its magic . . .
An excerpt...

From Batista Unleashed . . . Dave is on his way to Nebraska, via a late connection to Chicago

We get up to Chicago just about the time our plane is scheduled to leave the gate. Our checked carry-on luggage is late coming out, and for nearly ten minutes we stand around shivering in a boarding tunnel so cold that Kennedy’s hair freezes. Finally the bags come, and after following a maze out of the tunnel area we arrive at a gate right next to the one where our plane was supposed to leave from.

Here’s a bit of luck – the plane hasn’t finished boarding yet.

Two harried looking gate attendants are handling tickets. Of course, all three of us head toward the cute looking woman, Attendant # 1.

When we get there, we find out that her computer seems to be rebelling, maybe because the flight is so damn late, or maybe because it had heavy money on the Bears and they’re getting stomped in the Super Bowl.

Whatever, she works around it, and somehow gets the machine to spit out boarding passes. For some reason Lashley gets four passes, but there are plenty of seats left open on the plane and the clerk tells him not to worry about it.

We shuffle over to the door, where Attendant #2 is living out his god fantasy by calling the names of the three people he managed to check in, anointing them with his blessing as he sweeps his hand toward the door.

Which he then closes in our faces.

“That’s it. Plane is full,” says Attendant #2.

“Well why the fuck did you give me a boarding pass?” says a passenger standing with us. “What the fuck is going on?” (For the record, he wasn’t a wrestler. And I’m toning down his language.)

Attendant #2 squints an Undertaker-like eyeball at him.

“What boarding pass?” he asks.

The passenger shoves it in his face.

“That other attendant just said there’s plenty of empty seats. You got half the plane sitting here, waiting to get on.”

Attendant #2 takes the boarding pass and holds it up to the light to make sure it’s not counterfeit. He frowns when he sees that it’s genuine, then goes over to the other attendant to confer. Smelling the possibility of blood – and having to get on the plane – we follow along.

After a short conference, Attendant #2 admits that the pass is genuine, but begins berating the passenger for not speaking up.

“What the fuck do you think I’m doing now?” says the passenger.

Attendant #2 ignores him, grudgingly stepping aside for him to pass into the plane.

“Who else have ticket?” asks Attendant #2.

Along with the rest of the stranded passengers, we hand in our passes. Attendant #2 shuffles them and begins calling out our names. Things are going well until he gets to Bobby Lashley.

“Why do I have four tickets for this man?” says Attendant #2. “Where is this man, this Lashley?”

Lashley steps over to explain that there was a computer screw-up, and that he only wanted the two seats he’d paid for. Because the seats on commuter planes are so cramped, a lot of us, myself included, will routinely pay for two seats; it’s more comfortable for us and the people who would have to sit next to us on the flight.

But Attendant #2 isn’t buying that explanation. No one in his experience would pay for two tickets, let alone show up with four. Now he is certain there is a vile network of boarding pass counterfeiters working in the airport. He is determined that they will not get by on his watch.

“No!” he shouts. “This cannot be! No four passes!”

“Well it is,” says Lashley calmly.

“What will you do with four seats?”

“I only want two,” says Lashley. “Your computer screwed up.”

“Computer does not fail,” insists Attend #2.

“It didn’t fail, it screwed up.”

“No, impossible.”

“Don’t mess with me, man,” mumbles Lashley. “I beat up people for a living.”

To be continued . . .

Batista in Ridgewood, NJ . . .

Four hundred and twenty-five books. The line stretched down the block, around another block, through a pizzeria and into a condo project.

And he signed every one.

I drank coffee.
I didn't start the viral . . .

If more than thirty percent of this is familiar to you, you're spending far too much time on the internet...
Taliban and sheep

Who says my readers don't have a sense of humor? Gunny sends this, a new (probably not, but I'm always the last to know) variation on an old theme:

News reported today that the Taliban are using sheep to detect mines. They send them into a field and if they're blown up, they have dinner. If they make it through alive, they have a date. Works perfectly.