I know other people have had this problem, but it was still odd that a story defeated me. I just couldn’t make “The Dooms” work. David Morrell remarks that if you’re having real trouble with a scene, maybe it doesn’t belong in the story. In this case, it was like the whole thing didn’t cohere. I’ll go back to it, I think—the hook is good—but when I’m damn good and ready, not before. Some things, Kipling said, need to drain. They sit and steep. In the meantime, I did a novella called VIPER (previously titled FOXTROT), a Cold War story, in the manner of BLACK TRAFFIC, which I’m sending in as a Kindle Single. I think this is an interesting platform. Too long for magazine publication? (HITCHCOCK and QUEEN basically top out at 10K words.) Or is it too hard to define, not generic, or not easy to pin down? Emily Rapp, for example, or Greg Martin. They’ve got print deals, but in the current climate, it’s tricky. Kindle Singles are curated. It’s not self-pub. They do the heavy lifting. You still have to promote yourself, as always, but this is an avenue that’s worth a serious look. I think you use everything available, print, digital, social media, blog posts. You want to brand yourself, and remind people you’re still alive.
I’ve been absent for a while, and haven’t posted to the website. I just finished a 60,000-word stand-alone called EXIT WOUNDS, which is now in the pitch stage. The story’s about private security contractors working for the American military and intelligence communities, and also manages to drag in the Russian mob and the Iranians. It’s a Jack Thibault book, really, and like the most recent story, “Jack Be Nimble,” appearing in the March 2014 issue of HITCHCOCK (actually on sale now) it alternates chapters between Jack’s voice and the cops. I’m trying to wrap another down-along-the-Rio-Grande story, titled “The Dooms,” which has been giving me a lot of trouble, I think in large part because of post-partum triste: finishing a project like EXIT WOUNDS has me feeling somewhat bereft and rudderless. The next thing I have to do is go back over THE BONE HARVEST, which I in fact finished six months ago, but now that both Michael Parnell and Deborah Coonts have read it and made constructive suggestions, it’s time to correct the seasoning and get the book out. I’m uncertain whether to start querying on it, or go straight to video and put it up as an e-book, which is the route I took with BLACK TRAFFIC, and THE BONE HARVEST is the next in that sequence. After that, I’ve got two ideas for novellas that might wind up as Kindle Singles, the first going back to Cold War Berlin, but with Dix Apodaca, the hero of THE BONE HARVEST. The working title is FOXTROT.
I had a really cool joint appearance last night at Collected Works bookstore here in Santa Fe with my pal Chuck Greaves, the author of HUSH MONEY, GREEN-EYED LADY, and HARD TWISTED. We simply engaged each other in conversation, about writing, about history and being true to a time, about using graphic language and violence, not to mention humor, and a bunch of other whatnot. Light turnout but very well-informed and curious crowd about process, and writing habits, and where we’re each headed next. I’m grateful to Dorothy and her extremely able crew at CW—which is on every writer’s list of favorite bookstores.
Had a lot of fun doing an Internet radio interview with Pam Stack on 06-20-13.
On the story front, “The Faraway Nearby” comes out in the October issue of HITCHCOCK, on sale next month, and two more, “Jack Be Nimble” and “Stir Crazy,” are in the pipeline, with no announced pub date yet. ”The Devil to Pay,” which came out in HITCHCOCK last April, is a finalist for the International Thriller Writers award, and will be anthologized in BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2013, out in September.
As for books, I’ve finished the rough draft of THE BONE HARVEST, a spy novel set against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and now I have to gird my loins for the heavy lifting: my writer pal Catriona McPherson remarks that the second draft revision of a book is like cleaning up after a party.
Here’s a review on Amazon from a guy named Michael Parnell, an American ex-pat who lives in Tbilisi, Georgia, and appears to have some passing acquaintance with the world described in the book:
Black Traffic is the BEST Cold War novel I’ve read in a long time. If you like to read about Cold War spies, corruption, cops, soldiers, intelligence officers, drug runners, contract killers, the OSS, CIA, KGB, GRU, NKVD, SIS, BND and Stasi, with a Soviet Spetsnaz unit thrown in for good measure, this book is for you.
Black Traffic has an international cast of colorful characters–each with a specific mission or agenda–from the US, the UK, East and West Germany, Russia, Lebanon, the Balkans, and even a token or two from the Caucasus. They operate on both sides of 1966 Berlin, where the East Germans and Soviets have reinforced the battle line of the Cold War with a concertina-covered concrete wall, and where a ruthless KGB general engages in treachery and plots an act of war against the West to further his career.
Black Traffic opens in late April, 1945 as Berlin is overrun by Soviet forces. Colonel Eugen von Woldegk, a German officer desperate to keep the German intelligence network in the Soviet Union from falling into Soviet hands, offers to trade the network to Allen Dulles, the American OSS chief in Bern, Switzerland. Chase Ellery, Dulles’s deputy, thinks they should try to make a deal with von Woldegk, but Dulles doesn’t. Rebuffed by Dulles, von Woldegk returns to Germany, attaché case full of intelligence secrets still in hand, to save his family from the Soviet Army. He arrives at his family estate to find it occupied by Russians, including an NKVD officer.
Fast forward to 1966, and the case of a murdered American soldier is assigned to Andy Wye, a senior non-commissioned officer and plainclothes “detective” in the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID). Wye is an everyman character in the sense that he gets up every day and goes out to do his job. Wye is a decent man with the ability to read people and observe his surroundings. He also has a keen sense of duty that leads him into a number of tense and dangerous situations as he crisscrosses the neighborhoods, nightclubs, duty stations, training areas, turf, and fiefdoms that make up West Berlin, often under surveillance by local police, the CIA, and the KGB.
Across the Wall, KGB Major Ilya Vlasov plays cat and mouse with Western intelligence until he is assigned to find out why the Soviet GRU–in many ways a rival of the KGB–is so interested in a member of British SIS. The former NKVD officer who was at von Woldegk’s estate is gunned down in the street, resulting in a chance encounter between Vlasov and Wye, and prompting the reappearance of Chase Ellery, now a senior leader in the CIA. When an American officer surveilling a Soviet training compound in East Germany is shot and killed, Vlasov is assigned to investigate. Circumstances require Vlasov and Wye to work together, and they seem to recognize the “good guy” qualities in each other. Their quest to solve two murders and find out what happened to von Woldegk’s attaché case full of secrets places Wye under suspicion by the CIA, and makes Vlasov a pawn in his boss’s plot to further his career by using the GRU to start a war. In a sense, Black Traffic is a novel that illustrates how respect for others can transcend politics, and how personal agendas–promotion, vengeance, etc.–may be a greater threat to peace than ideology.
David Edgerley Gates, the author of Black Traffic, is an established author of short stories, many of which have been published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Gates knows how to create interesting, complex characters, and he can write dialogue that moves the story along. Gates lived and worked (as a Russian linguist, no less) in Berlin during the time in which Black Traffic is set, and it shows in the rich detail of characters, setting, and action. I enthusiastically recommend it.
BLACK TRAFFIC is now up on the website. This is a Cold War spy story that takes place in Berlin in the late 1960’s.
Andy Wye, who’s a U.S. Army CID investigator, gets drawn into a clandestine espionage operation because of his black market contacts, which are useful to both CIA and KGB, and they both try to enlist him as a stalking horse. Andy knows they consider him disposable and that the mission is a trap, but he takes the bait. He wants to penetrate a ring of crooked American GI’s, and one of the security services is providing them cover, to supply stolen Army ordnance for a black op codenamed COSSACK. Their interests are at odds, and Andy’s divided loyalties put him on a collision course with the spooks, the dirty GI’s, out for a fast buck, and the Berlin rackets.
This story is based, in part, on my own experiences when I was based in Berlin during this period, with a military intelligence outfit, and the spycraft is by and large authentic. Some stuff I fudged, for obvious reasons, but as LeCarré once remarked, along the same lines, “It doesn’t have to be genuine, it has to be convincing.”
STEP ON A CRACK collects the first five Mickey Counihan stories. Mickey’s a leg-breaker with the Irish mob on the West Side of New York in the late 1940’s, and the stories are about gang turf, gun-running, the beginning of the Red Scare, crooked cops and the numbers game, race, politics, old money, blood debts, and white slavery. Mickey’s voice is the beat-up Harp at the end of the bar who’ll tell you tall tales about the rackets back in the day if you buy him a couple of drinks.
The two Tommy Meadows stories take place in the present day. Tommy’s a scuffler, not a made guy, but lower on the food chain. He’s in it for a quick buck, looking to spin flax into gold. Funny, how he can keep treading water when somebody’s always trying hold him under.
Evans is formatting the next download for the site, STEP ON A CRACK, the Mickey Counihan stories, to date, including the title story, available here as a PDF. If you like that one, you’ll like the others, one of which, “Skin & Bones,” was an Edgar nominee in 2009. The collection also includes two Tommy Meadows stories, which are contemporary, vice period, but they’re all New York, and both Mickey and Tommy are career criminals, not cops or private dicks. It’s interesting, and liberating, to write about guys who have less moral compass than the rest of us, although even if Mickey’s no angel, he sometimes winds up taking their side.
This website has been awhile in the making, and if not for Evans Burik at DeaconWorks, it would have been a good while longer. She has my heartfelt appreciation.
The plan, now that we have ignition, is to put up new material every four to six weeks, starting with a Western series. The bounty hunter stories collected in BLOOD MONEY were written over a period of some ten years, and not of a piece, but I kept being drawn back to the character, and the times he lived in. Historically, they fall between Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico, and America’s entry into the First World War. Placido Geist was a gift from the gods, one of those guys who just appears, unbidden and unexpected, but fully fleshed from breast to back, the first time he showed up, and he proved to be too good to let go of. I don’t think of these stories as elegiac, even if they’re sometimes mournful. They happen in an era of enormous change, when the frontier was already receding into memory, or myth, and the modern world was beginning to take shape on the horizon of history. Placido Geist has himself become a figure of near-legend—El Espectro, the Mexicans call him—but even in a changing world, a hard man with a horse and a gun may still be necessary. These are stories about just such a necessary man, implacable and obdurate.