The First Two Pages (guest post)

Make sure to check out Art Taylor’s the First Two Pages blog.  Today, I’m pleased and honored to have my piece about Dark Network included:
http://www.arttaylorwriter.com/2018/10/02/the-first-two-pages-dark-network-by-james-mccrone/

First2Pages-McCroneB. K. Stevens began the blog in 2015, and Taylor has taken it over.  It’s great reading for anyone interested in writing craft.

 

 

 

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third and final book in the series, working title Who Governs, will be out next year.

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.

For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:
JamesMcCrone.com

Parties and the Presidency

The convictions and confessions of an ever-shrinking circle of advisors and fixers around Donald Trump has led many people to look at the legitimacy of this presidency again, with some holding out dismal hope for a do-over or to remove him from office.

cohen-nyt

Att’y Michael Cohen (NYTimes)

The Constitution provides for some guidelines, but once the Electoral College has had its say, the matter is largely over. It has always been the case that the president is cloaked in power and immunity, his only check being a watchful, attentive Congress.  If they choose to be neither there is a little that can be done.

It’s no exaggeration to say the Framers didn’t contemplate party loyalty and partisanship as obstacles to good governance. Indeed, it took only one contested election (1800) to force the 12th Amendment in response to changing conditions and to clean up the errors. It is the only such amendment to address the presidency directly.  In a non-partisan, non-party dominated milieu it made sense (as it 12thAmendwas originally construed in the Constitution) that the candidate with the majority of Electoral College votes should be president and the candidate with the second best showing be vice-president. But, as the nation realized in the 1800 election, that meant that president and vice-president were from different parties.

We find ourselves now in a situation that Five Thirty-Eight describes as radically different from that which the Framers knew:

“The structures established by the Constitution assumed a world in which the presidency and the Electoral College were not fully absorbed into a contentious national party system. That vision has long since been replaced by one in which presidential elections are national contests over policy agendas and ideas.”

And a president with a majority in both houses might be altogether immune from scrutiny or constraint.

The first Imogen Trager novel, Faithless Elector was published in the Spring of 2016, before Donald Trump was even his party’s nominee. The story was conceived after the debacle of the 2000 Bush-Gore election, but it imagined just this world. It’s a taut thriller about people in way over their heads trying to stop the theft of the presidency. Its setting—clear to anyone who cared to look as far back as the 2000 election—is hyper-partisanship and the weaknesses of our rules governing the highest office….weaknesses, it should be noted, that remain latent and could still be exploited…if they haven’t been already.

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third and final book in the series, working title Who Governs, will be out next year.

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.

For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:
JamesMcCrone.com

 

Finding out more about the authors and books you enjoy

I’ve had the good fortune to be interviewed by a number of people about my books, my writing work habits, how I create characters, and about insights regarding publishing and self-publishing.  The latest such interview came out this week, from author David Allen Binder for his blog, and it’s definitely worth a look!

binder-interview-picInterviews are a great way to get to know the person behind the stories, and maybe even learn a bit about how characters were created.

You can check out all my author interviews on the Author/About page of my site (Binder’s included):

http://jamesmccrone.com/about.html

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 2.26.39 PMI love readings and book fairs for their chance to connect one-on-one with readers (and potential readers!); and interviews, like those on my Author Page are one more way to connect.

Since we’re talking about it, in addition to the interviews, you can also check out the links to two of my readings, also on the Author/About page.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third and final book in the series, working title Who Governs, will be out next year.

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.

For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:
JamesMcCrone.com

There are also a couple of Youtube clips of readings on the about author page.

 

Connecting with Readers

I had a fabulous Twitter note from a reader last night, and it made my week. While it’s easy to feel that social media is the answer to getting out in front of readers, I’m finding Nell Frazier-Bravothat it’s more useful as a means of connecting (or reconnecting) with readers after the fact than getting them in the first place.

The writing world is certainly more digitized, decentralized, atomized; and that has created numerous openings and opportunities…and also headaches.  You can drive yourself crazy chasing “likes” and retweets, but will the number of followers actually translate into anything?

book deal metricsBecause for writers, it’s all still decidedly analog. Whether a reader buys a physical book or an eReader isn’t the point: how s/he hears about it and makes a decision about reading it is.  The personal appearance at a reading, a conference or at a book fair remains the crucial component for connection because those are the moments when the conversation is most focused on the work.  Readers have insightful, sometimes difficult, questions. It’s harrowing, and incredibly rewarding.

I’ve had a busy July—and it continues through August and September!—first with a reading from Dark Network at Shade Bar in New York City (7/15) for their Noir at the BarShade2018 series, followed by an appearance at the Mystery Writers of America booth at the Harlem Book Fair (7/21) and then another reading as part of MWA Crime Fiction Reading Series at KGB Bar (8/2). At each of them I had at least two or three great conversations, and I’ve seen posts about the books.

I’ve been available to follow-up with each of them online when they reached out.

Stories are written to be read, and there’s no substitute for standing up and representing your work in front of people, talking about it and hearing back from readers. I have a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and I interact with readers on Goodreads but their value as “advertising” is suspect, expensive and generally disappointing. It’s as a means of communication and follow-up connection with people I’ve met or interacted with face-to-face, or who have read my books that’s the most gratifying use.

FE-Firstline Monday Vic Weisfield

I even got a “First Line Monday” post from someone who’d been at Shade the previous night!

I suppose I wish it were as simple as finding some metric of followers:sales.  That would make things easier, but it would remove the real interaction and the serendipity from the equation.  I’ll continue to put reach out this month, and into the fall.
You can catch up with me at:

August 11 – Deadly Ink (Woodbridge, NJ) Panelist
September 6 through 9 – Boucheron, St. Petersburg
September 16 – Brooklyn Book Festival
September 29 & 30 – Baltimore Book Festival
October 6 – Collingswood Book Festival (suburban Philadelphia)
October 14 – Bucks County BookFest (Doylestown)

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third and final book in the series, working title Who Governs, will be out next year.

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.  Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.

For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:
JamesMcCrone.com

There are also a couple of Youtube clips of readings on the about author page.

Disappearing Content: The Memory Hole 2.0

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 11.41.12 AMOn his blog, Wings Over Scotland, The Rev. Stuart Campbell writes about a Kafkaesque removal of Youtube content by the BBC on its site, ostensibly for “copyright infringement” despite the fact that [from Wings’s post]: “Our videos are all in full compliance with fair-use laws. You are absolutely allowed to record and reproduce clips for news-reporting and discussion purposes. The BBC, of course, knows that perfectly well.”

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 10.29.18 AMCampbell goes on to note in detail that Scottish Conservative party and anti-Scottish Independence news organizations seem not to have run afoul of the BBC’s gatekeepers.

He details the Byzantine process of closed loops and dead ends he encountered when he tried to appeal. The combination of automated responses and references to appeals processes that lead back to step one is brilliantly—chillingly—effective.

It’s a recipe for Memory Hole 2.0, with a dash of Kafka for spice, leavened with liberal slogs of post-modernist self-reference. Worse, the automated and seemingly reasonable claim of infringement makes BBC’s actions seem like not what they are—silencing the record of dissent.

Orwell-memory holeWhile this is particularly disturbing for pro-Independence voices, it also points up a larger contemporary epistemological problem: how do we know what we know, if the evidence and facts that underpin our opinions and action are so easily disappeared?  How do we hold officials and others accountable when the record of their very words is so slippery?

A friend in the Academy told me recently about a periodical he relies on for his writing and research. To save money and space the university where he works now subscribes only to the online version of the journal and its searchable back numbers. But if the university fails to pay its subscription fee (which happened) or encounters some other difficulty, access to the whole journal, including its back numbers—its history—is lost. In days past, when libraries were late with a payment, the latest issue or volume might be delayed in arriving, but the earlier, already-paid-for editions remained in the stacks.  And if the journal were to go out of business, the volumes (the record) would also remain intact.  Not so now.  What, and how many, such things do we rely on that could vanish?

The so-called “cloud” is rife for this kind of Memory Hole mischief, whether calculated or merely irresponsible. How do you restore what’s lost? To whom do you appeal? In an online space where we the people are constantly expected to certify that we’re “not a robot,” it’s algorithmic ‘bots who are the guardians, and while marvels of technical prowess, they are also unaccountable, aloof engines of plausible deniability.

I’m aware of the irony of writing this on a platform that is itself ethereal, disposable.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.  Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.

The final book in the series, Who Governs,  is due out next year.

For a list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:
http://jamesmccrone.com/about.html

There are also a couple of Youtube clips of readings on the about author page.
(Check ’em out, while they last! 🙂

The Untold Story of Imogen Trager

Since my earliest writing days, I’ve found it helpful to write the obituaries of my characters to get them fixed in my head—even when I wasn’t necessarily going to kill them off.

She still surprises me!  Early on, it was clear she was the star of the series.

Imogen.site1Imogen Trager is the committed heroine of the political thrillers, Faithless Elector, Dark Network and the forthcoming finale (as-yet-untitled). She began her fictional life as a supporting character, but as I wrote, I quickly found she was stealing scenes, growing, and I adapted the novels.

It’s important to have an outline for a novel, but it’s equally important to foster the judgment to follow the most interesting aspects of a story—even when it means abandoning or rewriting key aspects. If the story is developing in new and surprising ways for the writer, it’s more likely a reader will find those twists surprising, intriguing.

Late in 2015, around the time it became clear to me that my outline was woefully inadequate, that the book would become books, it also became clear that these thrillers were her story—The Imogen Trager series.

Since my earliest writing days, I’ve found it helpful to write the obituaries of my characters to get them fixed in my head—even when I wasn’t necessarily going to kill them off. The summary-style of the obit is helpful in establishing who the character is, and it allows him or her to come into sharper focus. Interestingly, often none of the “obit” makes it into the final draft, but the exercise itself is valuable because it informs and directs the story.

For the protagonist(s), who will have to carry the story, I’ve found biography is the best, and I write it from cradle to just before the moment when the character arrives “on stage” in the book(s). As with the obits, often none of the biography makes it onto the page, but knowing who your character is, where she comes from, informs what you do put on the page, and it informs the judgment necessary to follow what might at first blush seem to be tangents.

Imogen Trager needed a backstory, a history. The wonderful thing is, she still surprises me as I write the final instalment in this series!

Biography of Imogen Trager. The name “Imogen” came to her via her mother’s favorite aunt, who also had striking red hair. She was born in 1981, in Ripley, Ohio, a small town of 1,700 people, located on the Ohio River, just across from Kentucky.

The town was a center for the tobacco trade and had once had been an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Like a great many rural towns in the ‘eighties and ‘nineties, Ripley battled with decay. It didn’t help that the town was almost five miles from the nearest bridge, stranding the town on its side of the Ohio. The businesses that stuck it out were a few tidy, venerable family-owned businesses and a smattering of chaotic idiosyncratic jumbles selling harnesses, antiques, rototillers, chewing gum, soda pop and furniture standing amidst boarded up and for-rent storefronts.

Imogen’s birth was a blessing, and a bit of a surprise to Dean and Agnes [Law] Trager, who had her in their early 40’s. She was their joy and they adored on her. She was bright, inquisitive and independent. She also had a stubborn, rebellious streak, and would have contested bitterly with her parents if it had ever occurred to them to proscribe her behavior, activities or ambition. As it was, her liberty allowed her to cultivate a strong sense of herself.

She was not a loner; nor was she gregariously popular. She preferred the company of one close friend, Marvine Ritner, a easygoing dark-haired girl who lived on the next block. The two were inseparable, and would be so throughout their schooling until Imogen moved away for university. Marvine loved spending time at Imogen’s, a white Colonial with a green roof. It was quiet there, orderly and the parents doted on them. Imogen loved spending time with Marvine’s family, whose parents coped with their large chaotic family by practicing a kind of benign neglect. With Marvine’s younger siblings locked out of the bedroom, she could lose herself with her friend. They could talk and dream and threaten the younger siblings with unspecified consequences for disturbing them.

Imogen excelled in her studies, and it was to her parents’ tidy house to which both girls returned in order to do their homework, and where Agnes kept the girls well supplied with snacks. Marvine, for all her diligent work and good study habits, did not shine academically, though Imogen did. The teachers liked Imogen, and the town librarian adored her.

Beginning in middle school she was called a “bookworm,” though she was hardly a shut-in. There was a remoteness about her, like that of someone who had found herself in their midst by accident. Boys who were interested in her—and there were many—ran up against the same amiable aloofness her FBI colleagues would find much later. She was not superior, nor cruel, just blithely choosy, and the young men she met –even those she dated—were friendship relationships. They never went for long, or very far. She talked through her misgivings and amorous frustrations with Marvine, who had had the same boyfriend, Darren, since freshman year. Darren and Marvine married a year after high school.

As one of the taller girls she played center for the Ripley High School Blue Jays girls basketball team. Marvine joined, too.  Her tenacity on the court, together with a low center of gravity could be counted on for a timely screen or judicious foulImogen.site4. Imogen was noticed everywhere she went, with her deep red hair and confident, rangy stride. The attention fed her sense of herself.

Imogen’s father Dean was “in tobacco” in various capacities throughout his life. It was the lifeblood of the area. Her parents were proscribed by their circumstances and their lack of formal education; by forces that kept them striving but never quite excelling. Recognizing and admiring her intelligence, they could proudly see her as a teacher there one day. But that was as far as they could see.

Going away to university, and Ohio State in Columbus, had been a revelation for Imogen. At university she was challenged more rigorously than she’d ever been in high school. Her mind quickened, her tongue sharpened and her ambition grew. She was keen for the wider world, and her attachment to Ripley grew more tenuous. Its clean sidewalks, well kept lawns and prim, sleepy downtown came to seem quaint to her. Back in town during school breaks, her sophomoric dismissal of it all, or even the idea of coming back and settling down, baffled and hurt her parents, who worried she might be getting too big for her britches. Her friendship with Marvine frayed.

She seemed to grow brighter, and her parents dimmer as the years apart ground on. They consigned her work and who she was becoming to that growing part of their lives they no longer understood. Their experience of her success at university, and later during graduate school, was something like that of immigrant parents who wanted everything for their children, only to find they had set their children on a path they couldn’t follow.

Graduate school beckoned in 2003, and she chose the University of Washington, in Seattle, a move that took her even farther from Ripley, Ohio. While she worked toward her Ph.D., she grew impatient with the idea of becoming an academic, of teaching. In her mind, it represented a capitulation to the minor ambition her parents had sought for her. “So, a teacher?” her mother would exclaim rapturously, her hands clasped tightly together, her eyes seeming to understand.

Imogen despaired of reminding them she was in grad school to be a professor…which was, yes, a teacher, but her talk of research agendas, demographic studies and “service” seemed to get lost in translation.

But first she had to get the degree, and she foundered that first year, encountering her first setback. Initially humbled by the intellectual caliber of her peers in the early days of grad school, she had begun to rally, her status within her cohort rising when her father died suddenly, near the end of her first term. Her world and sense of herself shattered. She felt rootless, pointless, and even considered quitting altogether.

Her mother Agnes forbade it, counseling her that if she honored his memory, the worst thing she could do was quit. It didn’t matter that she and her father didn’t fully ‘get’ what she wanted to do, her mother had said after the funeral. They were proud of her and her achievements; and she needed to be getting on with that. “You can feel whatever you want to feel about things that happen in your life,” Agnes said. “The thing that matters is what you do.”

She passed a dismal second year, unable to translate her mother’s forceful words into meaningful action or progress. She failed to connect with faculty, and she felt the initial surge of ambition—both by her and on her behalf—eroding. During the difficult months and weeks that followed, she understood that while she hadn’t seemed to value her father and had discounted his proscribed worldview and ambition, knowing his support was there had helped propel her upward. With him gone, she felt like someone standing on a ladder that had lost one of its rungs.

Then, early in her second year, she connected with Professor Duncan Calder, whose renown as a scholar bolstered her own reputation; and she came to be regarded as one of the department “hot shots.” She was drawn to the puzzles he contemplated, about voting trends and power, extracted from large data sets. The work was intricate, engaging and fascinating, quietly exhilarating. She had never been much of a math nerd until she started applying formulae and code to the problems Calder posed and examined. But she was hooked. Seeing her name as a contributor on that first article had thrilled her.

She and Calder grew closer, but it was all business. She had liked his no-nonsense support, issuing as it did from a belief in her abilities and future. He could be friendly and nurturing, certainly, but there was a professional distance. He was quick to point out when her work didn’t measure up. It was not until she was defending her dissertation, when Calder’s marriage was falling apart, that she found she had feelings for him that were other than collegial.538-div2 button

Watching him silently fall apart broke her heart, and she finally had to admit to herself that more than the desire to comfort a friend and colleague, she felt desire. It wasn’t until five years later, when the Faithless Elector plot brought them together again that either would admit their feelings to the other or act on them.

As she prepared to defend her dissertation, Imogen had been contemplating and worrying about what an academic career would mean when the Justice Department and FBI offered her a job. Her misgivings about her future in academia were carried away. She surged on a wave of excitement that carried her toward the real world problems of the FBI’s Department for Voting Integrity.

FBI logoFor the second time in a short space of time, Calder was devastated. That she would choose the Justice Department over academia was almost impossible to comprehend; but she seemed happy with her choice, and perhaps she would make a contribution. He had no way of knowing how big a contribution she would make.

Her mother also worried about her joining the FBI; that the work might be dangerous. If she’d only known….

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.

JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.  Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.

 

The final book in the series is due out at the end of this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noir, spy thrillers, and political history

“If I had to give [my work] a general theme, it would be something along the lines of ‘How the hell did it all come to this?’” -J-P Manchette

Crimereads features a fascinating discussion and exploration of the themes animating the final work of the writer Jean-Patrick Manchette, and why he abandoned the crime novel. Obviously, reports of the crime novel’s death are greatly exaggerated. Their number, variety and loyal followers attest to it.  But I was intrigued by the lure he felt for the fusion of noir fiction, spy thriller, and political history.

Screen Shot 2018-05-16 at 17.10.55Manchette cites many of my favorites, like John Le Carre and Ross Thomas as having been very influential in his embrace of a new aesthetic. As Ethan Anderson put it in his ‘Do The M@th‘ blog about Ross Thomas’s work: “Thomas’s outsized passion for the mid-century American system gave his books a unique ambience, at once humorously bitter and happily jaded.” For his part, LeCarre gave us the anti-James Bond, George Smiley, a quiet, pudgy, near-sighted cuckold.

smiley

Alec Guinees as George Smiley

When I come to write the stories that grab me, I’m drawn to this noir-spy hybrid.  It’s a rich vein of crime and realpolitic, combining detective work and contemporary politics—a “who dunnit” (and why), plus “who gets power and why.” Leavening this compelling mixture is the fact that the things government (and quasi-government) operatives do to achieve their ends are often downright criminal, adding a noir level of complexity and moral uncertainty.

Call this suspense-thriller genre “Noirpolitic.

Putting characters into a story where not only crime but competing values are involved makes for rich, vivid storytelling. The tales of Le Carre and Thomas, though exemplars of the suspense-thriller genre, are generally less concerned with the literally ticking time bomb, and more about what’s going wrong and how to right it.

quietTo Manchette’s list of influential writers in this hybrid genre, I would add Graham Greene. His “entertainments,” like The Quiet American, The Third Man, Our Man in Havana and The Honorary Consul are extraordinary. Political events are not just backdrops for Greene’s and the others’ stories, they are integral, giving deeper meaning to the characters’ struggles and to the stakes if they fail. They inform the stories and give them an edge, whether it be Viet Nam as the Americans replace the French (Quiet American), or the gullible Agency in Our Man in Havana. As I struggle to write engaging thrillers, I keep these and other works in my mind, not to copy, but as strong examples of all that’s possible.

To write now, in the context of the decline of democracy, the rise of nationalism, backlash against globalism, fraying political alliances and norms, is to stare at a reality that’s all too noir.

Situational morality, suspect propaganda and win-at-any-cost gambits used to be the province of clandestine agencies. Now it’s mainstream politics. If, with apologies to Carl von Clausewitz, “politics is war by other means,” then we are simultaneously the prize to be won and the foe.

“How the hell did it all come to this?” is a question we should all be asking.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The final book in the series is due out at the end of this year.JMc-author2.2017

Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.  Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.