Mendacity

votingIn the Noirpolitik thriller Faithless Elector, the reason the faithless electors give for not voting as they pledged to vote (for switching) is presented as a vote of conscience. In the book, there were seeming irregularities in the Illinois vote count, allowing each faithless elector to say their switched vote was cast as a vote of conscience for the candidate who should have won the presidency.Illinois

It’s Imogen Trager’s enlightened, careful investigation and analysis that brings the surprising truth to light…and puts her in mortal danger.

I was intrigued by the notion of an anti-democratic power grab that exploited administrative and procedural weaknesses with deadly consequences. I was excited as the characters and the real story of how they try to oppose such a conspiracy took shape.

In the original draft of the book I chose Illinois as the site for the fictional malfeasance because I had in mind the disputed vote count there in the 1960 election between Nixon and Kennedy. Many contend the Daly machine rigged the vote. I hoped that setting the disputed votes in Illinois would give the novel some verisimilitude. As I’ve noted in other posts, readers will sooner believe the fantastic than they’ll accept the implausible.

FLA-hanging chadPerhaps I should have chosen Florida, particularly since the scandal, irrespective of the truth remains a volatile point of contention across both (now, all three) books and Florida is back in the news again…and likely, again.

 

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, is coming soon.

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

 

The pawn who would be king

Readers will sooner believe the fantastic than the implausible.

People who have read Faithless Elector are amazed that it came out well before the pawn-to-king-Whogoverns2016 election (March, to be precise), long before either of the parties had chosen their candidates. At the heart of the stories is FBI Analyst-turned-Agent, Imogen Trager, whose patient, analytical approach is regarded as alien and “soft” by many of her colleagues—even while it is precisely her methods that are getting results.

Initially, she learns of the plot through her former academic advisor Duncan Calder and his current star graduate student, Matthew Yamashita. They have information no one else is looking at,and they’re in way over their heads; and they have less than a month to stop the plot before it’s too late. Later, pushed to the edges of the investigation, she picks the lock on the back door no one thought to look for, plunging her again deeper into danger.

The backdrop for the thrillers is a contested presidential election. The situations looming over the action ring true to our shared experience—a dangerously divisive campaign, accusations of voter fraud and dirty tricks…and then (in my story) the murders begin. The second thriller, Dark Network, has as its backdrop a fractured Justice Department. The FBI is leaking, the Attorney General is being undermined, politicians are spinning, social media is in an uproar…and a murderous dark network is gunning for anyone standing in its way.

In the third book Who Governs, begun in late ’17 and now with my editor, a beleaguered Attorney General is barely holding onto her job, and a president is busily staffing his sub rosa “kitchen cabinet” with loyalists. To be fair, I haven’t seen everything in advance: there are no Russians in my books, and “bot” is a word I have only recently learned. I definitely missed that part.

DarkNet-FE.togetherSo, did I just get lucky that many aspects of the novels jibe with our collective sense of democracy off the rails? Do I have a crystal ball?

This journey really began with the 2000 election. I had a rough draft of Faithless by then. I had the principal characters in place, but the setting and background came into sharp focus during the run-up to and fallout from the Bush-Gore election: a very close race, backroom dealing, voter fraud. It became clear to me that we were entering a new era, and that realization animated the story.

Initially, I harbored a naïve hope that Bush’s narrow, disputed win would produce a humble bipartisan administration, eager to reach across the aisle and govern with broad consensus. (I know.) What we got instead was a tight group who sought to fortify their hold on power through administrative, extra-democratic, and mendacious means—“yellow cake,” anyone?

So, no, I don’t have a crystal ball. I have the newspaper. Eighteen years ago, I gleaned what it might take to steal the presidency, and the more I read and paid attention, the more clearly I saw what a group who seized power would need to do to cement their status. And I wrote it, because it’s a good story.  Moreover, it is in fact plausible.

Obviously, the stories are fiction. They aren’t about one administration/party or another, but rather the latent weaknesses in our laws and processes, and the theme is (certainly, it should be) worrying to liberals and conservatives alike.

 

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, is coming soon.

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! 🙂

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.

 

 

Le Mot Juste – A Very French Battle

Café de Flore, Paris. Spring 1984

cafe-de-flore-bwIn 1984, when I was twenty, I visited my parents, who were studying in Paris. Bless them, they gave me a tidy daily allowance during my ten-day visite, and I made myself scarce during the day while they worked.

Their flat was on Rue du Cherche Midi near Saint Germain. I had spent four months in the southwest for a semester during my senior year of high school, and it was my first time back in France in three years. Each day, from about ten in the morning until we would meet up for dinner in the evening, I had the city to myself, and a few francs to spend.

The Boulevard Saint Germain was straight up Rue du Dragon from their flat, and it was to Saint-Germain that I would go each morning. I had heard of Les Deux Magots cafe, and I went there the first day. It was packed, and I didn’t see anywhere to sit outside and drink coffee like a proper French person. Café de Flore, right next to Duex Magots, seemed more inviting, and I sat down. Had Deux Magots not been so crowded that day, things might have gone differently.

Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 13.58.03Café de Flore was brisk and casual. “Monsieur” was all the waiter would say when he arrived at the table. “Un café, s’il vous plait,” I’d say. He would deliver the espresso, take my money, tear the receipt ticket as he made change from a pocket in his vest and lay it with the change in a little saucer.

I decided I liked Café de Flore and its formal informality, so I came back the next day, and the next. I would sit, watching the people go by, and try to think of something to write in my journal. (I know—and it gets worse: as well as a journal, I had brought along Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Rises and Down and Out in Paris and London). On that second day, as I got ready to leave to find lunch somewhere a bit more affordable I noticed a group of professional looking people at another table drinking something and using a seltzer bottle to top up whatever was in their glasses.

The seltzer bottle was gorgeous, the glass thick, slightly green, and the bottom two-thirds covered with a pounded pewter skin. The skin had intricate squares cut out all over it, so that you could see the water level inside. As I stood up to put on my jacket, I noticed some other seltzer bottles along the back wall of the bar inside. I resolved to come back that afternoon for a whiskey and soda, using the seltzer bottle.

selzter bottle - no quite cafe de flore

similar to those in 1984

Against all experience and judgment, I expected the waiter to offer a glimmer of recognition for the young man who drank his coffee there in the late mornings when I returned that afternoon at four, but he did not. “Monsieur,” he said.

 

“Un whiskey-soda, s’il vous plait,” I said.

Quickly, he brought a high-ball glass with a good shot and a half of whiskey, a bucket with ice and tongs and a bottle of Perrier. Not only did I have to pay for the whiskey, which was expensive, but also the Perrier.

“Pardon,” I protested, I didn’t want Perrier.

He looked dismayed—hadn’t I asked for a whiskey soda?

“Oui, mais…”

–he gestured at the table; “’et voila,” he said and repeated the price.

In halting French, I tried to say “I saw a bottle on one of the tables earlier today, a…a pressure bottle….do you know the word ‘seltzer’?

“Non, monsieur,” he said. Did I want the whiskey-soda?

Yes, I said. I paid, and he left.

I sat back in the wicker chair, defeated. I dipped into my shoulder bag for my Bantam New College English-French dictionary. I sat back and absently poured a dash of Perrier into the whiskey and began scanning the “s” section for “seltzer bottle.” There was no seltzer nor soda entry. I put the book down—sedulous, selvage, semi-conductor were all included, but real, needful words like seltzer were nowhere in evidence.

The bitter injustice of it all became more real as I sipped my drink. I knew that Perrier was mineral water, but I had never been able to taste the minerals until that day. Added to the whiskey, the cocktail I had looked forward to since before lunch became bad whiskey cut with rusty, mildly sulfurous water.

That evening, before bed, I scanned my parents’ thicker Larousse English-French dictionary, but again, no seltzer bottle. The next afternoon, I returned at one. I ordered a Pastis this time, and he brought the bucket and a little carafe of water. Was he sneering? I wondered. Was he smiling enigmatically ? No. He was impassive, a chess master.

“Monsieur,” I tried again in stilted French. “Yesterday, I saw a bottle on one of the tables….a bottle for soda…but it wasn’t Perrier. Do you remember?”

“Non, monsieur, “ he said, “Désolé.” He tore my receipt and moved to another table.

I stared after him. He wasn’t sorry; wasn’t ‘désolé.’ That much was certain. He was enjoying this.

As he stood at the other table, he glanced back at me, and this time there was a flicker of something in his expression. Sometimes, a woman sitting alone or with friends notices your attention; she will meet your gaze for a moment, glance down and smile to herself as she looks back at you. Or rather, her inward smile will bloom enough within her for it to flicker briefly across her face as she looks back.

The waiter’s flicker was the opposite. The waiter’s eyes met mine, he looked down, and when he returned his gaze to me, his mouth hardened and turned down slightly at the corners, a very French mixture of pity with a splash of contempt. Both expressions—the woman’s and his—are alike in that each is meant to invite you on; both make clear that the next step is yours.

Shakespear and coI resolved that I would join this battle. I finished my drink and hurried over to Shakespeare & Co, where I knew they had an encyclopedic English-French dictionary. I had been nosing around Shakespeare & Co already. As a twenty year-old American, visiting Paris, it seemed apt to be reading The Sun Also Rises together with A Moveable Feast, and I had already begun using these works to guide my tours of the city. I had gone

Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 14.31.38

Blvd Raspail

to Shakespeare & Co my first full day in Paris, I had paid my respects at 14 Rue de Tilsit where Scott and Zelda had lived; and I was pleased to note that seventy or more years on, Boulevard Raspail, near to Cherche Midi, was as “bored, dead and dull” as Jake Barnes had found it sixty years earlier.

I moved toward Shakespeare & Co that day with a sense of purpose, no longer a passive tourist, but a man engaged in a noble struggle. The Larousse dictionary lay open on a lectern near the front of the shop. Five inches thick, crammed—presumably—with useful mots. There was nothing to help me there, however, and I began to doubt the importance of my quest. I wandered disconsolately down to the Pont au Double and looked across at Notre Dame catching a whiff of sulphur-scented defeat.

The following day, I had my morning coffee at Café de Flore, but I couldn’t bear to return that afternoon, and so spent my time browsing books stalls and looking in vintage shops. That night, back at my parents’ flat, I picked up The Sun Also Rises with an air of resignation. A book that had at first held out such promise for me had failed to deliver. I Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 14.30.20had hoped that re-reading the novel while in Paris would give form to some of the writer’s observations, breathe life into the expatriate’s lives. The very language of the novel, however, increased their distance from me, and their lives seemed all the more remote for it—people are “tight” not drunk; things are kept in a “press” not a cupboard.

And then, there it was. Brett and the Count had come to Jake’s apartment for a drink. Jake went to the press for the “siphon” to make brandy-and-sodas. I put the book down. Yes, people used to call it that. Siphon….siphon. Bring the seltzer bottle….amenez le siphon. The waiter couldn’t hold me any less pitiable and contemptible than he already did; and if my gambit failed, I’d have to find another café. But if successful, how much greater the share of glory?  Le siphon.

I went to Café de Flore a little later than usual the next day. Jake and his pals may have been able to drink cocktails at all hours, but even on vacation ordering “un whiskey-soda” earlier than three of four in the afternoon seemed a bit much. I sat down promptly at three that day in my accustomed area at Café de Flore.

“Monsieur.”

“Un whiskey-soda, s’il vous plait.”

“Oui, monsieur,” and he turned quickly.

“Mais!” I said, forcing him to stop and turn back. “Pas de Perrier, aujourd’hui. Amenez le siphon, s’il vous plait.”

cafe-de-flore-jmc

30 years later…

His face fell. He refused to look me in the eye. “Oui, monsieur.”

I spent that entire day’s allowance at Café de Flore. I walked heavily down Rue du Dragon to Cherche Midi in the early evening, feeling the glow of drunken expats all around me.

It was a simple exchange of values—we gave one another purpose, the waiter and I.

Or at least it was pretty to think so….

 

JMc-author2.2017James 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.

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.