Speaking of ebooks . . .

. . . and monopolies:

Microsoft to Take Stake in Nook Unit of Barnes & Noble

It must be spring . . .

. . .  when hope springs eternal, and a young man's fancy turns to - books?

A new bookstore just opened in town. It sells "real" books. New ones.


The owner is either an eternal optimist or a drug dealer trying to launder money. I'm thinking the former.

My first purchase: Complete Works of Shakespeare, to replace the edition that seems to have walked recently.* No home should be without this William guy's plays. As the bookstore owner mentioned, he seems to have a future in front of him.

* No, this doesn't relieve you of the responsibility of returning it.

Brother's Keeper

As the Cold War was winding down, there were a number of Russian nuclear bases where security was less than perfect. Researching those bases - and at the same time realizing that the Russian government was not the comatose body we in the West were told it was - sparked the ideas that led me to write this book.

Somehow, they got joined to a timeless theme:

Your brother's a traitor. What's your responsibility to him? And to your family?

I'm not sure I've figured out the answer yet.

(Brother's Keeper is $2.99 here at Amazon.com.)
Carlos Hathcock

One of the nice things that's happened in the wake of American Sniper's success is a renewed interest in war stories. It's also reintroduced people to some of our country's bravest heroes, including Carlos Hathcock. Hathcock, who served during Vietnam, was the greatest American sniper ever in the opinion of just about every elite sniper around, including Chris Kyle.

You can read about him in a book called, appropriately, Marine Sniper, by Charles Henderson. The book details some of Carlos Hathcock's career in Vietnam; it reads like a good novel. Henderson manages to get into Hathcock's head, and tells us a lot about war along the way.

The book has long been one of my favorites on the war. It's a highly recommended read, and is readily available on-line.

Pookie Bear

Hard Wired by Mars Rising Films . . . action thriller meets Cyber Punk with fantastic results... 

You can subscribe for future installments at YouTube . . . More info on the filmmakers on Facebook.

Due out early next year

Namco-Bandai is publishing.

Not one of my projects, but definitely looking forward to it.
Boulevard of Broken Dreams

For me, the best part of Havana Strike aren't the fighter scenes or the tech stuff; it's the relationship between two of the main characters.

And in the book, it comes down to this song:

You can get Havana Strike at Amazon.com.

Why North Korea is dangerous . . .


PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) – North Korea is armed with "powerful modern weapons" capable of defeating the United States, a top military chief in Pyongyang said Wednesday amid increased speculation abroad about the nation's missile arsenal and nuclear ambitions.
. . .
"The Korean People's Army is armed with powerful modern weapons … that can defeat the U.S. imperialists at a single blow," he told party and military officials, using familiar descriptions of the country's rivals. 

While that's good for a belly laugh from most of the world, the man who said it - and many of the people in power with him, actually believe it. And no amount of real evidence is likely to dissuade them.

If you have a mental patient with a sub-machine gun, sooner or later you have to disarm him, or face the consequences.

On an unrelated note, is it just me, or does it look like Kim Jong-un is under arrest in this photo:

Speaking of Rockford . . .

Somehow I missed this the other day.


Universal Pictures has set David Levien and Brian Koppelman to write The Rockford Files, a feature adaptation of the memorable series that ran on NBC from 1974-80 and featured James Garner as the down-and-out private eye. The studio will develop the film as a star vehicle for Vince Vaughn to play Rockford, and Vaughn and Victoria Vaughn will produce through their Universal-based Wild West Picture Show Productions banner.


James Garner talks about how he got involved in the original series:

Full interview here.
Will they, or won't they?

A counter view:

Iran 'has not yet decided' whether to build nuclear weapon
The commander of Israel's armed forces offered a measured appraisal of Iran's nuclear ambitions on Wednesday, saying that Tehran had "not yet decided" whether to build a nuclear weapon.

Havana Strike

Havana Strike was published in 1997. The world has changed greatly since then. Cuba unfortunately hasn't.

True, there are many positives signs on the island, and from what I've heard, conditions have greatly improved since the late 1990s. Still, even the most optimistic would be hard pressed to call the island a democracy. The great potential of the Cuban people - as creative and hard-working as you'll find - remains stymied by the dictatorship that still rules and in many cases ruins their lives.

I first got the idea for the book while I was doing research for something else and came across the original now-declassified CIA papers relating the Cuban missile crisis. One of the reports blew my mind: in essence, it said the Agency could not be sure that one or two missiles had not been left behind.

The story began there. But I was also influenced by friends who had escaped the island and come to America. I was very fortunate and privileged to hear some of their stories, and while it would be difficult if not impossible to trace anything in the book back to those accounts, in a very real way they inspired me to write.

You can get Havana Strike for the Kindle at Amazon.com here.
Traveling  at hypersonic speed . . .

. . .  ain't for sissies. Or aircraft with (relatively) thin skins, apparently.

DARPA's hypersonic HTV-2 test flight back in August was a great success, considering that the aircraft went some twenty times the speed of sound.

Before it crashed, that is.

Why? No one was sure until recently, when a report from an engineering review board decided it had gone so fast it lost its skin:

The ERB [Engineering Review Board]concluded that the “most probable cause of the HTV-2 Flight 2 premature flight termination was unexpected aeroshell degradation, creating multiple upsets of increasing severity that ultimately activated the Flight Safety System.”

Based on state-of-the-art models, ground testing of high-temperature materials and understanding of thermal effects in other more well-known flight regimes, a gradual wearing away of the vehicle’s skin as it reached stress tolerance limits was expected. However, larger than anticipated portions of the vehicle’s skin peeled from the aerostructure. The resulting gaps created strong, impulsive shock waves around the vehicle as it travelled nearly 13,000 miles per hour, causing the vehicle to roll abruptly. Based on knowledge gained from the first flight in 2010 and incorporated into the second flight, the vehicle’s aerodynamic stability allowed it to right itself successfully after several shockwave-induced rolls. Eventually, however, the severity of the continued disturbances finally exceeded the vehicle’s ability to recover.

DARPA release on the report.

An artist's rendering of HTV-2. A hypersonic aircraft could fly from the U.S. to a target across the globe in under an hour.

The real story on health care

Obamacare or no, the relentless drive of soaring health care costs and diminishing protections against it seems likely to continue.

Item in today's NY Times:

Despite a landmark settlement that was expected to increase coverage for out-of-network care, the nation’s largest health insurers have been switching to a new payment method that in most cases significantly increases the cost to the patient.
. . . .
Insurance companies defend the shift toward Medicare-based rates under the settlement, which allowed any clear, objective method of calculating reimbursement. They say that premiums would be even costlier if reimbursements were more generous, and that exorbitant doctors’ fees are largely to blame.
But few dispute that as the nation debates an overhaul aimed at insuring everybody, the new realpolitik of reimbursement is leaving millions of insured families more vulnerable to catastrophic medical bills, even though they are paying higher premiums, co-payments and deductibles. . . .

Full story. (Paywall.)

And then there's this, from the AP:

Breast cancer survivor Lisa Lindsay of Herrin, Illinois was put in debtors' prison over a $280 medical bill that was sent to her by accident

Ebooks and their price

Shortly after The Helios Conspiracy was published, I started receiving emails and other correspondence from readers complaining that the price of the ebook version was too high. They compared it to the hardcover, saying that the price was similar, but the cost to produce them wasn’t.

Actually, putting a book into hardcover doesn’t add as much to the cost as you’d think. It depends on the book, of course, but the general figure that’s thrown around is that a hardcover book costs $3.50 per unit, from printing to shipping. Most of the cost of any version of a book comes from the publisher’s overhead – the editors and others that are necessary to make books books. (Authors get about ten percent of the cover price, depending on whether it’s a hard cover or soft cover, how many have sold already, etc.)

But this isn’t about defending publishers and price points.

I don’t control the cost of most of my books, including Helios. I have no say about what the publisher charges on that book or any of them. Nor can I argue with their pricing or costs – it does cost quite a bit to run a publishing company.

But I did take to heart the complaints. And I am trying to do something about them.

Starting this week, I’ve lowered the price on the few ebooks that I do control. You can get two of early techno-thrillers, Brother’s Keeper and Havana Strike for $2.99 at Amazon.com. Both books are set in the 1990s, at the very end of the Cold War, and deal with themes that I think are still of interest today.
I appreciate feedback and support from my readers. I also understand that it’s thanks to you that I can put food on the table.

Hopefully, together we can continue to make that happen.
North Korea warns world . . .

. . . watch out. We're planning to screw something else up.

On Monday, the North Korean military said it would act “soon” and named its targets, including the government of President Lee, several South Korean newspapers and television stations, and “ratlike” elements that it said were “destroying fair-minded public opinion.”
“The special actions of our revolutionary armed forces will start soon to meet the reckless challenge of the group of traitors,” the North Korean military command’s “special operation action group” said in a statement

NY Times story.

This could be serious. Fresh from their missile setback, the North Koreans might blow up something important this time.

Of course, it'll be on their side of the border. But I'm sure it'll be worth watching.
Titanium ships

Lightweight, high strength titanium would be an excellent material for ships, especially small, fast craft like patrol boats and littoral combat vessels . . .  if it were easier to weld. And cheaper.

Those problems may soon be overcome. (Story.)


The next great rivalry


NEW DELHI -- India successfully tested its most advanced long-range nuclear-capable missile to date on Thursday, a launch which New Delhi hopes will serve as a deterrent against China, its regional rival.
Experts say Agni-V is the most advanced missile in India's inventory and places the country on a footing with Beijing, which already has missiles capable of striking deep into Indian territory.
Its range of over 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) means it could travel as far as Beijing and Shanghai. Earlier missiles had a range of up to 3,500 kilometers, falling short of many of China's major cities.

WSJ story.

The 'suit'

Actually, more on the industry at large: Could Microsoft or Apple end up as book publishers?

Most experts who have studied the evolution of the book publishing industry in the last half century agree that the steady winds of creative destruction now seem to be accelerating up to gale force. Some suggest that the 20 largest publishers would be likely to consolidate, i.e. the whales would eat the whales. There are some, and I among them, who believe that the likely acquirers will probably come from outside the traditional publishing industry

For Dreamland

The basis inr eality for something we've been working on . . .
More on the 'suit'

From the NYT:

The counterargument to the publishers’ position runs like this: why should consumers be saddled with paying an extra few dollars just to keep competition alive? In the short term, the answer seems clear. But Richard Epstein, a professor at the New York University School of Law, pointed out, “it is not clear that lower prices are necessarily in the long-term interests of the public at large.”
He said that lower prices work both ways, spelling “low costs to consumers and low royalties to authors.” Anyone who has written a book, including me, can tell you that book publishing has always been a bit of a clubby business, with uniform practices in realms beyond pricing. Among many other standards: sell your book to any publisher you wish, but you will never get more than 15 percent of net royalties on the hardcover edition.


Advice for writers . . .

I especially like her advice regarding best-sellers: It's not up to you; that's for the readers to decide. Just write what you write, as best as you can.

Last flight . . .

The Shuttle has set off into the sunset . . . to live again as a museum display.

In the meantime, if you were curious about what flight looked from the outside, here's a video shot from the boosters . . .

Public Enemy No. 1


George Washington voted
Britain's greatest enemy

Looks like the Brits are catching up with him. Certainly, he'll be captured any day.

Reuters story.

The failure of the Korean missile last week got me thinking of rocket and missile history in general, stretching back to the granddaddy of them all, the V-2.

Not only was the development complicated and fraught with failures and reversals, the procedures for launching were incredibly elaborate, as detailed here.

Great commentary, with only one quibble - Allied strategy was in fact influenced by the existence of the weapons.
Today's assignment . . .

. . . use them all.

The ten most irritating phrases in the English language.
NATO in Libya . . .

. . . not all the alliance was cracked up to be.


 . . . a confidential NATO assessment paints a sobering portrait of the alliance’s ability to carry out such campaigns without significant support from the United States.
The report concluded that the allies struggled to share crucial target information, lacked specialized planners and analysts, and overly relied on the United States for reconnaissance and refueling aircraft.

NYT story.
M16 vs. AK47

Gotta love Gunny . . .

He's a little hard on the AK, but the results . . .
The "suit"

The Apple angle:

DOJ is likely to lose e-book antitrust suit targeting Apple
 Antitrust experts say feds have "far better case" for price fixing against publishers, three of which have settled, than they do against Apple.

Guild on "the suit"

Scott Turow:

Scott Turow on Justice Department’s Proposed Settlement

April 12, 2012. The proposed settlement is a shocking trip through the looking-glass.  By allowing Amazon to resume selling most titles at a loss, the Department of Justice will basically prevent traditional bookstores from trying to enter the e-book market, at the same time it drives trade out of those stores and into the proprietary world of the Kindle.  The settlement provides a gigantic obstacle to Amazon’s competitors in the e-book business by allowing Amazon to function without making a profit, something that leaves that market forbidding to anyone else who might think of entering, and a bad business for those already there.
Today’s low Kindle book prices will last only as long as it takes Amazon to re-establish its monopoly.  It is hard to believe that the Justice Department has somehow persuaded itself that this solution fosters competition or is good for readers in the long run.

Authors Guild page.

Failure to orbit

The surprising thing about North Korea's missile failure Thursday wasn't its destruction, but rather the decision to tell its citizens that it had failed. That is a marked contrast to previous standard operating procedure in the thoroughly brainwashed land.

Is the decision the result of an on-going power struggle within the new regime (the announcement presumably weakens the forces behind the missile program)? Or an indication that the regime doesn't believe it can control information as tightly as it did in the past?

Either way, the most likely reaction in the near future is a rush to prove that NK isn't inept, which means the predicted nuclear test is very likely to be initiated soon. If this fails to achieve its predicted results - as past ones have - the North Korean reaction will be even more interesting.

Odds are that North Korea will remain Example A of what happens to a country when its leaders lose all touch with reality. But maybe two failures in a row will provoke some sort of miracle revelation among the elite.

The ultimate irony? By giving up its pursuit of nuclear weapons, the North could actually build its society to the point where it actually can master the technology to build them. Remove sanctions, feed the people, increase education - in a decade, the country could actually be semi-modern, especially given the incentives its neighbors to the north and south have to see that happen.

Axl being Axl . . .


Axl Rose says thanks, but no thanks to the Rock Hall of Fame . . .

For the record, I would not begrudge anyone from Guns their accomplishments or recognition for such. Neither I or anyone in my camp has made any requests or demands of the Hall Of Fame. It’s their show not mine.
That said, I won’t be attending The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction 2012 Ceremony and I respectfully decline my induction as a member of Guns N’ Roses to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2012/04/12/axl-rose-wild-wacky-letter-to-rock-hall-fame-declining-his-induction/#ixzz1rs0kxCVK 

The suit . . .

As soon as the Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it was suing five major publishers and Apple on price-fixing charges, and simultaneously settling with three of them, Amazon announced plans to push down prices on e-books. The price of some major titles could fall to $9.99 or less from $14.99, saving voracious readers a bundle.
But publishers and booksellers argue that any victory for consumers will be short-lived, and that the ultimate effect of the antitrust suit will be to exchange a perceived monopoly for a real one. Amazon, already the dominant force in the industry, will hold all the cards. 
“Amazon must be unbelievably happy today,” said Michael Norris, a book publishing analyst with Simba Information. “Had they been puppeteering this whole play, it could not have worked out better for them.”

NYT Story. (Paywalled.)

Background and more information on the suit here. (Free, though some of the links may be paywalled.)
About Andy . . .

A few people were interested in a more elaborate presentation on where Andy Fisher came from. While I'm working on that, here are the (relatively) recent blog entries relating to him and his inspirational origins (in chronological order; you can read them any way you want):






Andy Fisher appeared in two books before The Helios Conspiracy: Threat Level Black and Cyclops One. (He's also basically the character in another early book, but that's another story.) You can get Threat  here; Cyclops here or here.

More on Helios on my web site.
How can you even report this . . .

. . . with a straight face?

My nominee for the most idiotic geopolitical move this week :

Envoy to Syria Seeks Iranian Help as Cease-fire Deadline Nears

Story. (For comic value only.)

Range factor

Baseball statistics have come a long way in the last decade or so, with fans now generally recognizing the value of on-base percentage over batting average, and how RBI totals can be deceiving.

But quantifying defense remains a real challenge. Among the possible solutions are different formulations of range factor, which attempt to measure how good a player is at getting to balls not hit directly at him.

The numbers still don't tell the story, though. Look at this play by Derek Jeter - how exactly would you put it into an equation?


And let's not even discuss the fact that anyone watching Jeter (and many, many other players) realizes that his range tends to get somewhat wider depending on the game situation.
He didn't want the rustproofing

This takes a bit to get going, but once it does, every car buyer will relate . . .

Me: (to furniture salesman) You said this was made in America.
Salesman: It is.
Me: But right here on the back it says, "Proudly made in Canada."
Salesman: Canada's part of the U.S.
Me: Uh, which state is it?
Salesman: I don't know. After Maine but before Missouri. Twenty-three or something like that.
Ozzie & Fidel

While waiting for Miami Manager Ozzie Guillan to explain/apologize/re-translate what it was he meant by his proclaimed "love" for Fidel Castro, I can't help but wonder about his "other" comment in the now infamous baseball interview -- namely, that he gets drunk after every game.

Exaggeration? Or is it the most honest statement in baseball sports ever?

* * *

UPDATE: Ozzie was suspended for five days. If I were the team owner, I might have suggested he spend that time doing some fact-finding in Cuba.

But baseball heals all wounds. If the Marlins do well, his comment will join a long list of the wild and crazy things some sports people say. If the team stumbles out of the gate, on the other hand . . .

Kiss me, ATV-3

European cargo craft docks with international space station . . .
Sniper talk . . .

Chris did a call-in show for Cspan's CSpan-2 BookTV channel today. It airs again this evening. Details here.

General for less . . .

Speaking of discounts and such, my biography of Omar Bradley is now available at a special price at bookstores and on-line. You can get it at Amazon for $11.98. Here's the link.

One of these days I'll have to write a blog entry on the general and his rifle. He was an excellent shot, and carried the gun with him through the war. He'd fire at dive-bombing enemy planes, and according to one story (which unfortunately I was never able to verify, though it certainly rings true) went after a sniper on Sicily.

The only time I can document that he came close to losing his temper was when his aides forgot to bring his rifle along during one of his several-times-a-day visits to the front lines. He ended up having to suck wind in a trench while under attack by enemy planes, and didn't like it one bit.

The aides never forgot the gun again.

Andy's ancestors

All this talk about poetry and old TV shows is fine, but let's face it: Andy Fisher and The Helios Conspiracy is really about blowing stuff up . . .
Andy's ancestors

Andrew Marvell was a 17th century English poet who is often studied as one of the so-called "Metaphysical Poets," a grouping that rests largely on the way the men (they're all male) used "far-fet"* metaphors and comparisons in their poetry.

There's a lot more to the definition than that, and there's a lot more to their work than unusual comparisons and far-fetched similes. But that's something for an English professor to discuss.

As far as Andy Fisher is concerned, the debt is to their tendency to view the world with a certain type of intellect, one that not only makes comparisons but is playful, even humorous with them - and at least vaguely sarcastic and mocking at the same time. Word games, misdirection - those are the metaphysical poets' stock in trade. They're Andy's as well.

John Donne is generally considered a metaphysical poet, and while there is a lot more to his work, the sensibility he displays in his early works in ways is Andy's:

by John Donne

    I am two fools, I know,     For loving, and for saying so        In whining poetry ;But where's that wise man, that would not be I,        If she would not deny ?Then as th' earth's inward narrow crooked lanes    Do purge sea water's fretful salt away,I thought, if I could draw my pains    Through rhyme's vexation, I should them allay.Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,For he tames it, that fetters it in verse.    But when I have done so,
    Some man, his art and voice to show,
        Doth set and sing my pain ;
And, by delighting many, frees again
        Grief, which verse did restrain.
To love and grief tribute of verse belongs,
    But not of such as pleases when 'tis read.
Both are increasèd by such songs,
    For both their triumphs so are published,
And I, which was two fools, do so grow three.
Who are a little wise, the best fools be.

I'd be surprised if anyone beside me - and maybe not even me - could trace the line from that poem to The Helios Conspiracy. I think their head might explode if they did. And yet the tangled lines of inspiration combined just as much John Donne with Jim Rockford to produce Andy Fisher.

No wonder some people are confused . . .

There is a deeper side not just to Donne but to the metaphysical poets, a side that is often expressed in terms of religion; that's especially true in Donne's later poetry, when he turns to contemplations of death and mortality. That's not really Andy's thing - or it hasn't been to this point. But given that tomorrow's Easter, this Donne poem seems an appropriate one:


Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so ; For those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow, Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy picture[s] be, Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow, And soonest our best men with thee do go, Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. Thou'rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well, And better than thy stroke ;  why swell'st thou then ? One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And Death shall be no more ;  Death, thou shalt die. 

A collection of Donne's poetry can be found here.

- - -

*"Far-fetched" meaning metaphors or comparisons that weren't the stock in trade at the time. The implication is that the poets' work appeals as much to Reason and logic as to Emotion. You can debate that in a lit class, as I'm sure several thousand English professors and students have done. But that, too, is how Andy works - although he trips hard over Emotion in The Helios Conspiracy.
A week of Thoreau

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

- Thoreau

Stations of the Cross

Finally . . .

Andy's ancestors

So having described the "low" art that influenced The Helios Conspiracy's Andy Fisher, let's turn one hundred and eighty degrees and look in an even more unexpected direction . . .

Andy Fisher's first name is consciously taken from Andrew Marvell, a person whom you undoubtedly have never heard of unless you studied 17th century English poetry, and even then you're probably a bit hazy. Marvell's best known poem, at least in the U.S., is "To His Coy Mistress," which starts with the line "Had we but world enough and time." That poem, and some of Marvell's other works, explore the themes of the passage of time, the harsh realities of life, and the need to get laid before the world intervenes. (Read the whole thing here.)

There is also, to my reading at least, a layer of cynicism in the realism. You can see Marvell's sardonic wit at play in some of his more political works, such as "Last instructions to a Painter," which starts like this:

After two sittings, now our Lady State
To end her picture does the third time wait.
But ere thou fall'st to work, first, Painter, see
If't ben't too slight grown or too hard for thee.
Canst thou paint without colors? Then 'tis right:
For so we too without a fleet can fight.
Or canst thou daub a signpost, and that ill?
'Twill suit our great debauch and little skill.
Or hast thou marked how antic masters limn
The aly-roof with snuff of candle dim,
Sketching in shady smoke prodigious tools?
'Twill serve this race of drunkards, pimps and fools.
But if to match our crimes thy skill presumes,
As th' Indians, draw our luxury in plumes.

The connection between Andy and Andrew has nothing to do with biography; Andrew was a politician, the sort of creature Andy can't stand. But the underlying sensibility makes them kindred souls - if you can account for a few hundred years of metamorphosis, that is.

You can read more Marvell here.

A week of Thoreau

Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes. 

- Thoreau
Speaking of The Helios Conspiracy

You can get a preview, and the book, from this webpage.

Andy's ancestors . . .

Andy Fisher does have a bit of a hard-edge to him, harder than most television shows would have permitted themselves to show in the 1970s. There was one series, however, that did have a bit of an edge to it: Baretta.

The series was supposedly a re-think of Toma, an even harder edged series that was probably too far ahead of its time. (I'm not familiar with it; it wasn't one of my college housemate's favorites when he turned me on to what he considered cheesy must-see TV Re-Runs.) But even softened, the main character had enough class and panache to serve as a role model for many fictional detectives, and I think Andy has some of his DNA as well.

A week of Thoreau

We cannot but pity the boy who has never fired a gun; he is no more humane, while his education has been sadly neglected. 

- Thoreau

Time to kill . . .

 . . . zombies.

A week of Thoreau

Be true to your work, your word, and your friend. 

- Thoreau

Andy's ancestors . . .

Continuing on the theme of where Andy Fisher wandered into my head from . . .

Another offbeat '70s TV detective was Columbo, who came off like a dope but was actually a genius at solving crimes. He dressed a bit better than Andy does, but Andy does use some of his schtick.

Here's a great scene that deals with things even Andy would find interesting:

Speaking of the FBI . . .

Tim Weiner's book is a real story about the Bureau, with some honest hope for the future.

You can get it in a bunch of places, including B&N.
The taxman cometh?

Amazon.com, the world's largest Internet retailer, currently collects sales taxes from customers in just five states, including Washington, giving it a price advantage of up to 10 percent in most of the country. But the days of tax-free Internet shopping appear to be coming to an end, something that Amazon itself has conceded in recent months.


Naturally, the suggestion that it was "banned" will make this go viral . . .
A week of Thoreau

Men are born to succeed, not fail.
- Thoreau

Andy's ancestors . . .

Andy Fisher, the main character in The Helios Conspiracy, is a sarcastic, sardonic, and somewhat eccentric FBI agent. Where did he come from?

Or as most people put it: Is Andy Fisher based on a real person?

Sorry, but no - while I do have friends and acquaintances who work in or with the Bureau, he's not based on any of them. If he were, he would have been fired a long time ago.

Andy came from my head, springing whole, or mostly whole, like Athena from Zeus. Well, more like a cancerous and unsightly growth, but I've always been told as a writer to favor the more poetic metaphor.

He got there due to many different influences, thoughts and notions. Usually writers talk about literary traditions that have influenced them when discussing books. And that's certainly accurate here - I've read Crime & Punishment, not to mention just about everything Dashell Hammett and James M. Cain wrote. But some of my key influences weren't literary. and that's especially true when it comes to Andy.

It occurred to me while flipping through Netflix the other day that my character's real forebears were detectives in the sometimes cheesy 1970s television shows I watched as reruns (re-reruns or whatever) in college. Every afternoon when I was home, one of my housemates would drag me over to the TV to check out the Rockford Files, et al. Somehow, those episodes stuck.

OK, there was beer involved, so maybe I wasn't exactly dragged. And watching the episodes now may not exactly reveal a direct line from them to Helios. But I can see the crooked line . . .

Here's Jim Rockford, in one of his classic moves:

Rockford again, just as cool:

A week in the woods . . .

In honor of the coming of spring and Easter, a week of Thoreau quotes.

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each. 

- Thoreau

The smell of the wild

At the edge of the woods, my friend the lifelong woodsman spots "droppings."

Friend: Could be a bear.
Me: Nah.
Friend: Absolutely . . .
Me: Right.
Friend: That or a dog.
Me: You can't tell the difference?
Friend: (contemplating the situation) Looks a bit messed up because of the rain. But there is one way to tell.
Me: What's that?
Friend: Get up close and smell it.
Me: If you say it's bear, that's good enough for me.