May 092013

If you’re reading along with Short Story Month, this anthology curated by the Mystery Writers of America will come in handy. If you’d like to win a free copy, all you have to do is comment on this blog post with your favorite mystery short story.

Paperback 546: Trail of the Restless Gun / Will Hickok (Signet 1675)

 1959, John Payne, MWG, Neckwear, Robert Schulz, Signet, TV Tie-In, Vengeance, Western, Will Hickok  Comments Off on Paperback 546: Trail of the Restless Gun / Will Hickok (Signet 1675)
Jul 292012

Paperback 546: Signet 1675 (1st ptg, 1959)

Title: Trail of the Restless Gun
Author: Will Hickok
Cover artist: Robert Schulz

Yours for: $10

Best things about this cover:
  • “We need a really heroic name. How about … a first name that will make everyone go ‘What?’ and a last name that kinda sounds like ‘boner’?!” “I like it!”
  • I love the look of crushing existential angst in this guy’s face. “Why? Why do I use this? Futility. All roads lead to death. Does it even matter if I turn around and fire?”
  • Or else he’s turned his gun into a thermometer and is confirming that it is, indeed, hot out there.
  • “Hickok” looks wrong. Like it’s missing a second “c.” “I’m a HICK … OK?”

Best things about this back cover:
  • This family sounds unequivocally awesome. 
  • Are “dancehall teasers” (great phrase) notoriously “curious?” About … what? Science? I think of a “tease” as being knowing and at least somewhat jaded—wanting to deceive or toy with someone, not wanting to learn. 
  • J.C. Penney is proud to feature—The Paxton Brand.

Page 123~

Something seemed to push Rasher forward in his saddle. Then all at once his legs rammed straight and he reared up to his full height, his back arching and a look of spasmed agony and shocked wonderment.

The sex scenes in this book are much hotter than I’d anticipated.


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]

Apr 172012

Homeless. ParisIn “River Secret,” a man called Baptiste plays his music setup at the entrance to the Tuileries Garden in Paris. He’s fictional, but a real-life one-man band plays there as well. I see him almost every day when I jog across the footbridge over the Seine to the park entrance. The melancholy wail of his saxophone echoes off the ceiling of the concrete passageway leading to the garden. Tourists stop and listen, and drop a few coins in his upturned hat.

But do they know who he is? Where he comes from? Where he sleeps at night?

Paris is filled with people like that man. Invisible people who struggle to get by. You don’t see them sipping tiny cups of coffee in the brightly lit cafés around Saint-Germain des Près, perusing designer stores on the Rue Saint- Honoré or strolling along the Champs- Elysées. You don’t hear them complain. They don’t seek revenge for the cards fate has dealt them.

I’ve come across a lot of Parisians like that in my 15 years here.

They include Piotr, the homeless guy who works the corner of the Rue de Sèze and the Boulevard des Capucines. I give him an apple on my way to work. Or Véronique, a manicurist who labors over fingers and toes 10 hours a day — so much for the 35-hour workweek. Or Farida, age 45, who’s never held a computer mouse or typed on a keyboard. She comes to a community center in Le Blanc Mesnil, a grim apartment-block suburb in the north, to learn technology skills in hopes she can get a job.

These folks have little to do with the place I call Woody Allen’s Paris: a beacon of monuments and museums bathed in golden light, devoid of crowds and traffic jams and filled with beautifully dressed French people who speak perfect English. Travel articles as well give the impression that my adopted city is populated by residents who do little but slip into small art galleries in the Marais of a rainy afternoon, or suck up duck confit with carrots at an outdoor café on the Rue Mouffetard.

You can do that when you visit Paris, and I hope you come here often. Make a point of stopping by the Tuileries entrance by the river and see the musician. He’s not invisible. He has a name. It’s Bernard. Drop a few coins in his hat. That’s his best revenge.

Check out “River Secret” in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, now available in bookstores everywhere.

Anne Swardson is an editor-at-large with Bloomberg News in Paris and a former European economic correspondent for the Washington Post. “River Secret” is her first published work of fiction. She is also the author of an unpublished mystery novel. Like “River Secret,” it is set in Paris, where Swardson has lived with her husband and two children for fifteen years.

Apr 132012

EncostoEvery story, long or short, is a series of fictional beads threaded onto a fictional necklace to make up the finished article. As readers, we’re all interested where an author gets the ideas for their beads from and the more we like a work of fiction, the more interested we are.

In the case of “The Hotline” the beads were readily available: many years ago I worked with a Muslim colleague who was progressively eased out of her job solely on the grounds that her face just didn’t fit. I’ve seen plenty of promotions and demotions in workplaces that had rather more to do with personal motivations than professional ones. We’ve all read in the newspapers about malicious hoax calls to the police that are made for one reason or another. My dad, who came from Grenada, was a cricket fanatic and there was no point in talking to him while a cricket match was on the TV. In 1990s London, my partner was once forced to leave his home in the middle of the night while the police staged a massive raid on a group of terrorist suspects in a nearby house. The backdrop to the story is the assumptions we make about people and who they are. And as a black woman, I’ve become very familiar over the years about the assumptions people make about others based on the grounds of ethnicity, class, gender and religion.

So these made up the beads of the story and these are what I worked with. But of course then you have to ‘thread them on’ and (although some readers find this difficult to believe) you have to make things up. In the case of the story based on ‘vengeance’ this is actually a very attractive proposition. The desire for revenge is deeply rooted in human nature but every shrink and therapist will say how negative that desire is for us and that we should ‘let things go’. Then there are the practical constraints on the lust for a zinger – practical, ethical and of course legal. But what if all those limitations are removed? What would we do then?

And that’s the wonderful thing about the literature of revenge – those constraints don’t matter all…

Check out “The Hotline” in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, now available in bookstores everywhere.

Dreda Say Mitchell is a novelist, broadcaster, journalist, and freelance education consultant who describes herself as a “complete busybody.” She is the author of five novels. Her debut novel, Running Hot, was awarded Britain’s 2005 CWA John Creasey Dagger for best frist crime novel. She has appeared on BBC television’s Newsnight and The Review Show and has presented BBC Radio 4′s Open Book. She was the 2011 shair of the Harrogate Crime Fiction Festival. Her commitment and passion for raising the life chances of working-class children through education has been called inspirational and life-changing. Visit her website at

Apr 122012

 Empty Store Front (Dixon, IL)Decades ago, the mafia had a scam called the “bust-out.” They’d target a small business — the corner store, a machine shop, a soda distributor. After intimidating the owner into handing it over for a pittance, they’d order as much inventory as the suppliers would put on credit. They’d stop paying lenders, max out bank lines, demand customer pre-payments: in short, they’d extract as much cash as possible, as quickly as they could. Then one weekend they’d strip the premises of every last item that might be sold elsewhere — stock, fixtures, furniture, anything — and disappear.

The business was ruined, the owner penniless or bankrupt or worse, and the gang? They’d swept up all the cash … and were ready to do it again.
The comparison is not far-fetched. A private-equity group borrows a vast sum of money, buys a struggling company and squeezes operations as hard as they can. “Rationalizing” can involve layoffs, steep pension cuts, loan defaults, supplier hardball — anything to free up a dollar. When they’re done, the PE investors pay themselves a huge dividend, often financed by more borrowing. Then, like the mafiya, they sell off what’s left and disappear.Now that seems almost quaint. Today, it’s called a workout, not a bust-out, and the operators are private equity firms, not the Cosa Nostra. The amounts involved are hundreds of millions of dollars. And best of all, it’s completely legal.

Defenders, of course, argue that PE saves failing companies, improves efficiency and generally serves the free market’s inherent processes. Evidence is limited; studies have shown that PE-financed restructurings create fewer net jobs than if existing management struggles through on their own, and the companies ultimately fail about as often anyway. The difference is that the PE investors have extracted all the excess value for themselves, leaving behind shrunken, debt-laden businesses in no better shape to face future challenges.

Unlike past eras of plutocratic excess, the immiseration of today’s American worker has not drawn an energetic counter-reaction. A century ago strikers were put down with Federal troops and live ammunition, anarchists bombed Wall Street itself, and union organizers faced thugs armed with iron bars and guns. For whatever reason we don’t see the same kind of violence today. Perhaps the social-support nets, however tattered, are still enough to keep people from total desperation. Perhaps market ideology has triumphed. Perhaps the society we have today is what people really want.

Or maybe the anger just hasn’t bubbled over yet.

The protagonist in “Leverage” is a regular guy, a machine operator whose job is destroyed when his factory is asset-stripped by a PE “investment.” Unlike his fellow ex-workers, however, he decides that things must be made right … and that means confronting the financiers in person.

Check out “Leverage” in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, now available in bookstores everywhere.

Mike Cooper‘s latest novel CLAWBACK (Viking, March) centers on similar themes of bankster retribution. “Don’t bail them out, TAKE them out” — it’s a good tag line for a thriller, but Mike sincerely hopes it remains fiction.

Apr 102012

UnjustFrancis Bacon said that “revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed out . . . . In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince’s part to pardon.”1

Fast forward two and a half centuries, to Abraham Lincoln. He thought vengeance had a time and place. During the American Revolution, he noted “the deep rooted principles of hate, and the powerful motive of revenge . . . were directed exclusively against the British nation. And thus, from the force of circumstances, the basest principles of our nature . . . [became] the active agents in the advancement of the noblest cause—that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty. . . . But this state of feeling must fade, is fading, has faded, with the circumstances that produced it.”2 Lincoln gave this speech in response, in part, to a mob killing of a black man accused of murder. In Abe’s view, it was okay to take vengeance on the British but not anyone else.

Fifty years later, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., admits the importance of vengeance within the legal system, going so far as to say, “the law does [and] ought to, make the gratification of revenge an object . . . correspond[ing] with the actual feelings and demands of the community, whether right or wrong.”3 Holmes saw this as a lesser evil to people perceiving the legal system as failing to satisfy and thus taking matters into their own hands. “If people would gratify the passion of revenge outside of the law, if the law did not help them, the law has no choice but to satisfy the craving itself, and thus avoid the greater evil of private retribution.” Id.4

As a trial lawyer I saw many examples of law and justice diverging, with the law “not helping” the wronged party. Writing the “The Fourteenth Juror” allowed me to inflict private retribution (even if only on the page) on one aspect of the legal system that often fell short in this regard. Gratifying indeed.

Check out “The Fourteenth Juror” in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, now available in bookstores everywhere.

A Stanford graduate and former (vengeful) plaintiff’s trial lawyer, Twist Phelan writes the critically acclaimed legal-themed Pinnacle Peak mystery series published by Poised Pen Press. Her short stories appear in anthologies and mystery magazines and have won or been nominated for the Thriller, Ellis, and Derringer awards. Twist’s current project is a suspense novel set in Santa Fe featuring a corporate spy. Visit her at

1 Sir Francis Bacon, Essays, Civil and Moral (1625). Yes, this is a footnote. As a former law review editor, I can’t resist.

2 Abraham Lincoln, Lyceum Address, Volume I, p. 108-115 (January 27, 1838). Uh oh; another one.

3 Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Common Law 46 (1881). I’m out of control.

4 “Id.” is the abbreviation for the Latin word “idem,” which means same. Lawyers and academics use it to reference the previously cited source. Everyone else just says “same as before.”


On VENGEANCE and The General

 anthologies, Mulholland Authors, MWA, Short Stories, Vengeance, Writing  Comments Off on On VENGEANCE and The General
Apr 062012

Revenge has always been a human passion – as well as a problem for any civilized society. Early on, Jehovah reminded the Israelites that ‘vengeance is mine,’ while Aeschylus immortalized the blood feuds of the House of Atreus, which took a goddess to end, thus establishing the rule of law.

Dramas of revenge were popular enough in Renaissance England to spawn a distinct genre, the Revenge Tragedy, ironically most famous for that reluctant avenger, Hamlet, whose dithering raised the body count without ultimately sparing the king. Of course, Shakespeare knew a good thing when he saw it: revenge not only calls upon a variety of visceral and ancient emotions, it also offers excellent plot possibilities.

I’ve been rather fond of these, myself. Looking back over my short stories, I find revenge plots constructed around a variety of characters, ranging from a middle aged archeologist (male) to a restauranteur (female) with stops along they way for several wronged wives and husbands, an angry daughter, plus a disgruntled academic dean and a traumatized student. Most of these stories are told from the avenger’s point of view.

“The General” is different in just about every way. Most of my short mystery stories arise from police reports in the press. Looking back in my invaluable notebooks for the first glimmer of “The General,” I find neither a clipping nor a plot summary but the bare idea of a South American general haunted by his gardener.

I have no idea now where this notion came from, but most likely it evolved from an awareness the many dictators and dodgy strongmen, often rightist, who have fled Central and South American countries, as well as Asia, the Balkans, and Africa, to find refuge here.

A Nice DriveIn the story, I made the General Central American, probably because of the continuing troubles in Honduras and Guatemala, and because I knew a bit about the politics of the area. The first mention of the story was late in the notebook that ended in 2005, but the story was not completed until two years later, a delay not unusual for me. The initial four lines – I can hardly even call it a paragraph – indicates that I had no clear idea of what the General’s crimes involved or even if the gardener were real and not a projection of the General’s guilty mind.

Which brings us to the other unusual feature of this particular story of vengeance, it is told strictly from the General’s point of view. I don’t remember if I considered the more traditional approach, but I am convinced it would not have worked as well, considering the vast discrepancy in power, wealth, and influence of the two men and the presence of the boy, loved by both, whose inevitable suffering suggests why civilization is always, and rightly, hostile to personal vengeance.

Janice Law is a novelist who frequently commits short mystery stories. Her first, “The Big Payoff,” was nominated for an Edgar, and her stories have been reprinted in the Best American Mystery Stories, The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, Alfred Hitchcock’s Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense, Riptide, Still Waters, and the fabulist anthology ParaSpheres.

Check out “The General” in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, now available in bookstores everywhere.

Deserving: On VENGEANCE and the writing of Lost and Found

 anthologies, Fiction, Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors, MWA, Short Stories, Vengeance  Comments Off on Deserving: On VENGEANCE and the writing of Lost and Found
Apr 052012

Day 272 - The view from across the roadThe desire for retribution is a theme familiar to all crime and thriller authors, and it has to be one of the strongest. Never is a character’s motivation more compelling than when they determine to go after somebody who deserves to die―no matter what―and it’s personal.

I’ve touched on vengeance many times in my writing. My ex-army-turned-bodyguard heroine Charlie Fox has a lot in her past to be vengeful about, and while she may be wary about crossing the line, that doesn’t mean she won’t do it if she has to.

But not this time.

When Lee Child first contacted me about contributing to a then-unnamed MWA anthology, I agreed (bit his arm off at the elbow is probably a better description) and asked him if there was a theme. “Good people doing bad things for the right reasons,” came his typically succinct response. “Dark justice.”

Dark justice.

That sounded damn cool to me. But although Charlie is a troubled girl, she’s never really embraced her dark side. And I wanted this tale to be dark. I don’t really write noir in the true ‘everybody dies without redemption’ sense of the word, but I love the hardboiled edge.

Here was an opportunity to take that edge and push it just a little further.

The basic idea for Lost And Found came very quickly. Almost as soon as I’d got the email from Lee. Working out the best way to get the story across, though, that took me rather longer. Meanwhile, the deadline crept ever nearer.

Now, every writer knows that nothing concentrates the mind quite like a deadline, and as the story grew and took shape in my head I knew I was going out on a limb with it in both style and structure. As soon as I started to write, the thing that came over most strongly to me was the staccato rhythm of the piece, partly from the natural urgency within the story, and partly from using present tense.

I wanted to tell the story using two intertwined narratives, so first-person was out, but rather than two third-person viewpoints, I went for one in third and one in second-person.

From there it came in a rush. A tale of two men whose lives touched and parted, leaving indelible scars on them both. And the ultimate act of vengeance one is driven to commit upon the other.

When I sent the piece to Lee, I did so with the proviso that there were still a few weeks to go before the deadline: “So I still have time to write something else …”

Within a few hours he’d come back to me—I won’t tell you exactly what he said, but I will say I’m thinking of having the email framed and hung above my desk. Suffice to say that the story made the cut of VENGEANCE, as it was written.

I am enormously proud to have it there.

Zoë Sharp wrote her first novel at fifteen and created no-nonsense ex-Special Forces-turned-bodyguard heroine, Charlie Fox, after receiving death-threat letters as a photojournalist. Her work has been nominated for the US Edgar, Anthony, Barry, Benjamin Franklin, and Macavity Awards, as well as the CWA Short Story Dagger. Find out why Lee Child said, “If I were a woman I’d be Zoë. If Jack Reacher were a woman, he’d be Zoë’s main character, Charlie Fox.” Follow Zoë on, @authorzoesharp

Apr 052012

Zoë Sharp

Back when I was fifteen I wrote my very first novel, all by hand. It took me a month, start to finish—a fact I only know because I put the start and finish dates on the manuscript at the time. By the end of it I had the worst writer’s cramp I’ve ever experienced. My right hand was useless and my arm hurt more or less all the way up to the shoulder.

I knew there must be a better way.

The only computers around at the time were inanimate lumps that took hours to load the simplest of database programs on tape cassette, and then threw up error messages in Klingon. It wasn’t until the Amstrad PCW came along in the mid-1980s that I finally found a work tool I could really use.

I loved my PCW—the odd three-inch diskettes and the green-on-black screen, the lack of a mouse so everything was keyboard controlled, the fact you had to manually install new printers and give them a name. I didn’t realise this meant you were supposed to use the code number of the printer itself. Mine was called Lenny.

Looking back now, it’s remarkable how much but at the same time how little that machine actually did. You could word-process on it, using LocoScript—a program I clung to for years after abandoning my Amstrads. You could merge address lists into template letters for sending out the antique equivalent of an e-newsletter. You could create invoices. And …

… that was about it, really.

No graphics, no photos, no video-clips, no web-surfing—no web, for that matter—no email.

It was just a means of putting words efficiently into a document, fiddling around with the order, spell-checking it, printing it out, and having a back-up copy on disk.

What more do we need?

No, we SO do not need these two little constant time-sucks.

For surviving in today’s business world, we do need computers, laptops and smartphones. Writers have to promote, and network, and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter and all those other online sites. It’s no longer practical—or sensible—to shut ourselves away in an attic and simply write.

But at the same time, the writing is getting constantly squeezed out of the schedule.

Since I started the new book last month, I’ve been trying out a new method of working—new to me, anyway. Well, actually that’s not true. It’s a very OLD method.

I’ve gone back to where I started.

I’ve always made notes about the book I’m working on at the time, but now I’m writing whole scenes or chapters in note form before I lay a finger on my keyboard.

For one thing, there are fewer distractions available on a myPad. It has no wireless modem, no graphics card, and NO solitaire. Got that on my phone, though …

I found what I was doing was writing notes only for part of a scene, then moving to the computer before I’d fully worked out where I was going. Now I write the whole section, doing all my scribbling out and backtracking in pencil first. You might think that I’m making more work for myself—in effect doing everything twice—but I’ve found that getting the kinks out in advance makes the writing flow easier and faster on screen. I’ve gone from 1000-1250 words a day to 2000-3000 and I find I’m back to really enjoying what I’m doing. It all feels like less of a slog.

Besides, the weather was glorious here last week and I could sit out in the garden in shorts and a T-shirt to scribble my notes, then come inside to write them up. Can’t do that this week, unfortunately, as the snow’s back, but it means I’m looking forward to the summer.


As Alexandra Sokoloff mentioned in her Wild Card blog on Tuesday, I’ve been participating in the eBookSwag giveaway this week, together with Alex, Scott Nicholson, Brett Battles, Aiden James and Mel Comley. Three of my Charlie Fox books have been up for grabs—KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one on Monday and Tuesday, FOX FIVE: a Charlie Fox short story collection yesterday, and FIRST DROP: Charlie Fox book four today and Friday in the US, UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Please download and Like the books if you can, and enter the eBookSwag raffle for a chance to win one of three Kindle Fires, plus gift vouchers. There’s a new chance to enter every day, plus lots of great free books!

The latest MWA anthology, VENGEANCE is out this week in the US and UK, too. I was absolutely delighted to be asked by editor Lee Child to contribute to this fabulous anthology. Read Lee’s introduction to the collection, and an excerpt from my story, Lost And Found.

And calling all flash fiction writers. The Flashbang Flash Fiction competition still has another ten days to run—closing date April 15th. Write 150-word crime story to be entered to win two tickets for this year’s CrimeFest 2012, plus books and other cool stuff.

I’m looking forward to CrimeFest in Bristol next month (May 24th-27th) even more than usual this time. I have two great panels:

Finally, hugely talented US singer/songwriter, Beth Rudetsky has written this amazing original song ‘The Victim Won’t Be Me’ inspired by FIFTH VICTIM: Charlie Fox book nine. I’m stunned by the song, which I think is beautiful, and by the interpretation brought to it by the students of the Vision West Notts Media (Film and TV) course. They’ve done a brilliant job.

So, my question this week, getting back to my original subject, is what distracts you most when you’re supposed to be working, and what methods have you found work best to get you back on track?

This week’s Word of the Week is scrivener’s palsy. Basically, writer’s cramp!