The Petulant Class and Writing in Trump’s Aggrieved Shadow

LeCarre.LegacyJohn Le Carre’s new novel, A Legacy of Spies—his 24th!—is due out September 5th; and I can’t wait. I’ve read a number of reviews, and they only make me more eager to get my hands on it. When summing up, the reviews I’ve read talk a good deal about how Le Carre’s books fit into and inform our popular understanding of the Cold War—and how this latest goes back over that ground to assess what it is, and what we gained, if anything. Ned Resnikoff’s piece in ThinkProgress is superb.blog.ThinkProgress

On the one hand, during the Cold War, the “enemy” is implacable, inscrutable, and ruthless. On the other, we have to confront what we become in opposing it. As the head of the Circus, Control, notes to Alec Leamus in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: “I mean, you can’t be less ruthless than the opposition simply because your government’s policy is benevolent, can you now?” Le Carre’s work evokes a world that’s not about good vs. evil, or light vs. dark, but about those who toil in the penumbra. Legacy examines what we did, why we did it, and whether we gained anything by it.

Which brings us to today, and the forces we confront. Oliver Sachs has said the object is always “to write–intelligently, creatively, evocatively–about what it’s like living in the world at this time.”

So what is it like to write now, post Cold War, when the world is atomized, hued rather than shaded, and (for all its bluster) nuanced?

Today, we see the growth of authoritarianism even among nations with a democratic pedigree and wonder how, why? Edward Luce’s book, The Retreat of Western Liberalism, has much to say on this point. Harry Cheadle interviews Luce in Vice (from May).blog.vice.collapse

Though he doesn’t use the term in the interview, Luce describes what political scientists call “constitutional order” breaking down across the world, not just in the US, and not merely with regard to standards and tenets of the Constitution, but in the myriad ways people express and uphold their understanding of right and wrong, of what can and can’t be done. The rhetoric and actions, the divisions between left and right become ever more stark and severe. Hostility reigns. The ideal of moderation or compromise—even just getting along—seems increasingly problematic. Those taking sides feel that normal politics—that which constituted their understanding of how the world works—has failed, and they must win absolutely. How did we get here? We got here the way we get anywhere: one step at a time.

I started this literary journey some 20 years ago. When I first fully understood the workings of the Electoral College, I found it disturbing, ripe for mischief. The broad outlines of a conspiracy to upend the supposed result quickly took form. But who would do such a thing? I asked myself.

Even twenty years ago, those with wealth, position and power saw that the then-current constitutional order didn’t allow them to do what they wanted, and they grew impatient. They’d tried buying candidates, tried influencing elections, but the constitutional order was too diffuse (or too robust). Then, they tried motivating and mobilizing discontent from outside the parties in groups the parties had to address. This was movement politics of a kind, but only insofar as it articulated opposition. Those in the various movements weren’t a political party, so there was no ideology at work, only a petulant, reactionary reflex. This opposition meant that a group who could stoke the sense of aggrievement needed only to demonstrate their agreement in order to subvert order and exercise control. They can’t command a majority, but as the only seeming power in amongst the squabbling, they would be able to issue central directives beneficial to them and have them executed—an authoritarianism without ideas.

I won’t claim I saw all of this twenty years ago, but I worried about what I saw (and see) happening, and I wrote about it. I wanted to examine how a well-heeled, anti-democratic force might rise to power. Faithless Elector was the product.

Over the years, some 40 agents and editors rejected Faithless Elector. Those who were kind enough to write something more than “thank you, no, this is not right for us” (one had a rubber stamp which said just that) praised the writing, the characters, but all said something like “too obscure,” or “too improbable,” or “no one knows anything about the Electoral College, much less how it could be manipulated.” It isn’t obscure now; they know now. And the petulant class is closer to cementing its power.

This is the world we’re in now, the world writers must intelligently, creatively, evocatively confront. It’s the world my characters inhabit. It’s the world Imogen Trager and Duncan Calder push back against. In Faithless Elector, Calder tumbles to the fact that the conspirators can’t be from within either major party; in Dark Network, Imogen grows concerned about what the extra-judicial methods she uses to expose the conspirators and collaborators means for her own principals.

Taken together, the books—Faithless Elector, Dark Network and Consent of the Governed—aren’t meant as prophecy. And it’s not that the conflict is coming, but that it’s here, and we’ve very nearly lost. My work is about ordinary people risking their lives, toiling to uphold and preserve the constitutional order.

 James McCrone is the author of Faithless Elector, a suspense-thriller. Publishers Weekly calls it a “fast-moving topical thriller.”  Its “surprising twists add up to a highly suspenseful read.” Kirkus Review says it’s “A gripping and intelligently executed political drama.” The second Imogen Trager novel, Dark Network, will be available October 20.

Faithless Elector, by James McCrone is available through Amazon.
If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center.  
Support independent bookstores!  They support writers.

 

Paying Attention

“People need to be reminded more than they need instruction.”
-Samuel Johnson

The Faithless Elector stories shine a glaring light on complacency by homing in on people working frantically to preserve and protect the weakest, most vulnerable aspects of our democracy–the Electoral College, legislative oversight, an independent judiciary.

Samuel Johnson’s quote, above, might also extend to vigilance in politics. [He didn’t get everything right about politics, by the way, nor the Americas for that matter: see Taxation No Tyranny (1775)].  

Like housework, politics is never finished; and it is precisely when things seem to be going reasonably well that we let our collective guard down, stop paying attention.

Faithless Elector, which debuted in March, 2016, is a taut thriller about stealing the presidential election.  Its central premise concerns the latent weaknesses and possibility for abuse inherent in the Electoral College system.  The precise machinations envisioned in the book have not come to pass (thankfully!), but the larger issues raised by the story remain.  Those same weaknesses remain latent and prone to mischief…and there are others, as we are seeing almost daily.

Faithless Elector, and the second book in the series, Dark Network (on sale Oct. 20!) were never narrowly about political parties or merely the weakness(es) of the Electoral College; but rather, the precarious vulnerability of our democracy and its potential impotency in the face of decisive, ruthless, well-heeled interests.

“Governments are instituted among Men,” the Declaration of Independence reads, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.  The Faithless Elector series stares unblinking at the forces arrayed to thwart and negate that consent. Taken together, they are the stories of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

I’m gratified that readers (see Amazon reviews) and independent reviewers have picked up on these broader themes of political accountability and personal responsibility, of the necessity for “ordinary” people to participate in the life of their nation.

To take just three examples:

  • Book Viral Review: “Taut and well-paced, but for readers reading between the lines it also works on a moral level.” (emphasis mine)
  • “The pleasure of Faithless Elector lies not just its smooth evocative prose, but in the author’s justified confidence that good writing can make chases through recognizable locales sufficiently exciting without a Navy SEAL or a terrorist plot.” Review, Plattsburgh Press-Republican
  • Publishers Weekly Review: “A fast-moving topical thriller…Surprising twists…add up to a highly suspenseful read.”

The series has never been about the rightness or fitness of one party or another.  Parties are, after all, at least responsible and responsive to their constituents; and ideally, when a party no longer has our consent, they are voted out.  The series is about what can happen when a tiny group seeks extra-democratic means to take control for their own benefit.  In that way, the books may be more prophetic than even I imagined.  You should see for yourself.

 James McCrone is the author of Faithless Elector, a suspense-thriller, Publishers Weekly calls it a “fast-moving topical thriller.”  Its “surprising twists add up to a highly suspenseful read.” Kirkus Review says it’s “A gripping and intelligently executed political drama.” The sequel, Dark Network, will be available October 20.

Faithless Elector, by James McCrone is available through Amazon.
If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center

Truths the Headlines Don’t Have Time for

“We shall find such men, we shall find them in every country. We shall not need to bribe them. They will come of their own accord. Ambition and delusion, party squabbles and self-seeking arrogance will drive them.”

I don’t write with headlines in mind. There are no winking, sneaky caricatures of real people in my books. The stories I write are themselves gripping and bleak enough, and fiction can get at truths the headlines don’t have time for. Through narrative, stories and character fiction reveals truth.

The books I write are not about Trump per se. He is a symptom, or better, a marker pointing to a deeper, deadly disease. The books are pacy thrillers.  I’ve chosen that medium to write about what afflicts us, striving to make sense and, as Oliver Sachs would have it, “to write–intelligently, creatively, evocatively–about what it’s like living in the world at this time.”

In between preparations for my book launch for the second Imogen Trager novel, Dark Network, I’ve been working on the third book, called Consent of the Governed (coming summer 2018). This third book focuses on the broader dark network conspiracy and how the conspirators came to be. I began sketching the third book’s outlines when I sat down to write Dark Network in April of 2016.

Those outlines—about nihilist, nativist, totalitarian forces dividing and subverting democracy—were in place long before the November election. As I began to write Consent in February of this year, they were even more in evidence, though I naively worried my conspiracy would seem a little over the top.

Consent title page pic.pngTo write the book, and for my own insight, I’ve been reading the “playbooks” and tactics of totalitarians, like the Nazi’s, the Stasi, Stalin; and they are chillingly informative. These are not nightstand reading. And once again, as events in the real world, from Breitbart to Brexit, to Charlottesville, to wherever the serpent raises its head next outstrip what I have on the page, the truth behind the headlines, the how-and-why, nevertheless remains crucial. People have died. There may be more.

The most chilling work I’ve come across in my research is Hermann Rauschning’s Hitler Speaks: The Voice of Destruction, from which the quote above comes. Currently, I have it as my epigram for the book, along with Prussian Field Marshall, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder’s “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” To be fair, von Moltke was writing in the mid-Nineteenth Century, and he was speaking specifically about battle, and the need to give decision-making authority to officers in the field during battle.

Taken together, however, the two quotes are my touchstone for who these conspirators are—opportunists. They sow mistrust, hatred, division and anarchy, and draw in the effective, opportunistic nihilists. It’s very like what we’re seeing today. The key is not that there’s some grand vision.  It’s a smash-and-grab, a nihilistic plunge into a species of anarchy in which self-dealing authority can consistently divide and rule.

Rauschning was an “early adopter” of Nazism who became disillusioned with it. But being in at the beginning—and then being dismissed—gave him a unique perspective. And it’s one that can be instructive now.

It’s crucial to remember that Hitler never won a majority. He was Chancellor of a coalition government. He came to power by stealth, political maneuvering, naïve collusion and outright murder. The Reichstag fire in February of 1933, was a terrorist act perpetrated by his own men, but successfully blamed on leftists. The furor over the destruction of the parliament assembly building allowed Hitler and the Nazi’s to seize full control. He used that control to cow the press, destroy the labor unions and stoke anti-Semitism. And despite the rhetoric (now and then) the power grab wasn’t for the volk. It was for whoever could grab the most and hold on to it.

They’ve been around forever, sometimes on ascendance, sometimes in decline, but always there. We would do well to remember that they don’t always come in such blatant, disgusting pageantry.

I highly recommend:
The Last Days of Adolph Hitler, Hugh Trevor-Roper
ISBN 978-0-330-49060-3

-and-

Hitler Speaks, A Series of Political Conversations with Adolph Hitler on his Real Aims, Hermann Rauschning (called The Voice of Destruction in Britain)
ISBN 978-1-162-93491-4

James McCrone is the author of the suspense-thrillers Faithless Elector, and Dark Network (on sale Oct. 20). Publishers Weekly calls Faithless Elector a “fast-moving topical thriller.”  Its “surprising twists add up to a highly suspenseful read.”  Kirkus Reviews says it’s “a gripping and intelligently executed political drama.”

The sequel, Dark Network, is coming in October 20, 2017.

Faithless Elector, by James McCrone is available NOW through Amazon.
If you live in Philadelphia, pick up your copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center.  
Support independent bookstores!  They support authors.

 

 

 

 

Dark Network “sitings”

I took advantage of a visit to metro DC  for a friend’s 50th birthday celebration (and many more, Joel!) to do some location scouting for my upcoming novel, Dark Network, (available October 20!) the second Imogen Trager novel and follow up to Faithless Elector

Lansburgh Park

Lansburgh Park

I’m not from DC, and I’ve never lived there, but my wife and I have good friends there, and we visit often.  Nevertheless, siting places for clandestine meetings, udon noodles and murder was a problem.

The first half of Faithless Elector was situated primarily in Seattle, which I know well, having lived there for over 20 years.  Though I now live in Philadelphia, I have intimate knowledge of the University of Washington campus, the Pike Place Market and the Arboretum.  For the first book, I used Google Streetview to refresh my memory of a place, or to calculate distances.  It worked pretty well.

But for the meetings and mayhem in Dark Network, I was forced to rely almost entirely on Google Streetview to find, establish and describe the locations.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked when I was finally able to do research on the ground.

Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park

There were six sites I used in and around DC that I found using Streetview.  I was able to get to four of them. While visiting them suggested some tweaks and local color I hadn’t contemplated before, I did not have to abandon any of them.

The parking lot in Bethesda, MD, (yes, I know–another parking garage!) is as spooky as I thought/hoped it would be.  The ‘drops’ my conspirators use in Rock Creek and Lansburgh Parks work very well.  At no point, fortunately, did I get to a site and think “Oh, no! There’s a security camera right there.”  Even better, I was able to confirm that there was a camera right where I wanted it…which I had first seen on Streeview.

blog.cameraIn fact, one area near the DC Armory is even better than I had hoped!

Dark Network is available for sale October 20, 2017.

When it’s finally out, I’ll be very interested to hear from DC-area readers about whether the sites I’ve chosen ‘work’ for them.

James McCrone is the author of the suspense-thrillers, Faithless Elector, and Dark Network. Publishers Weekly calls Faithless Elector a “fast-moving topical thriller.”  Its “surprising twists add up to a highly suspenseful read.”
Dark Network, is on-sale October 20.

Faithless Elector, by James McCrone is available through Amazon.
If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at 
Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center.  Follow this blog, and like James’s FB page.

Make Time for your Book Launch

The timing of reviews and limits of print-on-demand

In many ways becoming a published author has been better than I imagined. I’ve loved meeting and interacting with readers, connecting with other writers, and (most of the time) I love what I’m doing. Frankly, even on bad days, I marvel that the problems I’m experiencing are a product of finally being exactly where I’ve wanted to be for more than thirty years. That said, there are some things I’ve learned, and things I will do differently in future.
OscarWilde.Experience

Oscar Wilde famously said, “Experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes.”
The number and magnitude of mistakes I made with my first book lead me to believe that I’m a very experienced self-published author, and I offer the following dearly bought insights that I hope may help others avoid costly, time-consuming mistakes:

I did what I thought was ample due-diligence regarding marketing support and distribution for the book, and yet there was a great deal I didn’t understand.

The biggest marketing mistakes for any book concern:

• Timing
• Reviews
• Distribution
• Control

I published my first novel, the political thriller Faithless Elector, at the end of March, 2016. It concerns a conspiracy to steal the presidency by manipulating the Electoral College (full details here).

My thinking at the time was to “get it out there” early in the year and then do what I could to capitalize on the corresponding interest regarding the upcoming presidential election. Despite my best efforts to shoot myself in the foot (see below), the strategy actually worked pretty well. There was a groundswell of interest, and sales were encouraging. I began sending the book out to reviewers in April.

Which was my first mistake, timing: the major book reviewers (Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Review, Midwest Book Review, Library Journal, Booklist, etc.) all want books before they’re released for sale. This also turned out to be true for newspapers and magazines (I’m speaking of those that will even read/review self-published authors). For my efforts, I got nothing but radio silence. By shear good luck, I had sent the book out a little before its on-sale date, and I did get a positive review from Publishers Weekly—too late for it to go on the jacket cover, unfortunately.

Undaunted, I put it in all of my promotional materials. The miserable truth about one good review from a reviewer everyone’s heard of, however, is that touting that one good review makes it seem like maybe it was the only good one you received.

The realization of my next mistake came on me like a slow-motion car wreck: distribution. To produce the book, I looked at the different self-publishing services, and I decided on CreateSpace. CreateSpace has a wonderfully user-friendly interface, responsive, helpful customer service and the physical books they produce are of good quality. The online reviews of their service were positive. Moreover, they are tied in with Amazon, which felt like a smart marketing choice.

Best of all, they have a feature called “expanded distribution,” which allows the book to be picked up by libraries and bookstores, and that expanded distribution includes listing with both Ingram, and Baker & Taylor. I had done research about book distribution, and I’d learned that two main book distributors, Baker & Taylor, and Ingram, were the principal suppliers to bookstores. I chose CreateSpace, and everything seemed to go fine.

But as I started taking the book around to bookstores–armed with my one good review and 4.7 stars on Amazon–it became clear that while it was true that the book was listed with Baker & Taylor and Ingram, the “standard discount and return” that bookstores look for—and require—from these two distributors was not available for a print-on-demand title, like mine. So, the listing was useless. (I don’t want to imply that I’m maligning CreateSpace: the point here is to educate about the limitations of POD.)

As a consequence, I was only able to sell by consignment at local bookstores, who by the way, can be wonderful to local authors. What it meant in practice, though, was that I would order the books through CreateSpace at my cost and then take them to the independent bookstores who had agreed to sell it. This was only really an option for local bookstores, because I needed to be able to promise that I would quickly take back any unsold books—or happily resupply them! The consignment strategy, however, would not work for Barnes & Noble or independent bookstores far away from me. It became clear that control of my book, which had been one of the attractive parts about self-publishing, was an illusion.

This illusion of control was fully shattered when I found out that Ingram had a newish service for self-published authors called IngramSpark, one that did offer the standard discount and return, along with sales to Amazon, libraries, etc., and I decided to make a change. Unfortunately, when I set up the title with CreateSpace, I had elected to buy the ISBN identifier through them; and it was not transferable. I’d taken their offer to buy through them because it was cheaper.

This begat an odyssey of anxiety on my part. In order to move the title, I would have to buy a new ISBN for the new Spark platform as though it were a new edition, risking losing the link to Amazon reader reviews, and there would be down-time during which the title would not be available. Fortunately, a) sales were so poor at the time that being “down” for a few days was not an issue; and b) the Amazon page still lists both books, and the reviews are linked with both.

So what will I do differently?

Timing is the key.

• Buy my own ISBN now. Bowker is the clearing house for ISBN identifiers. They sell ten at a time. I’ll be writing other books, and ten ISBN’s is really only five books, when you consider the print and eBook versions both require a unique one.

• Create a cover for the book. I used a designer, and I’ve been very pleased with the results.

• Upload the book, and proof it one last time. Make sure the cover design includes temporary text “Advanced Review Copy – Not for Sale” on the cover.

• When the book is ready, make a detailed schedule. Some of the reviews from the more prestigious houses (Pub. Weekly, Library Journal, etc.) can take 3-4 months, so plan to release the book for sale 16 weeks later.

• Order & Make Advanced Review Copies (ARC’s) available to reviewers. Some of these charge reading fees, some don’t.

• Apply for a Library of Congress number. They will not issue them to print-on-demand titles, so if you’re using a POD platform, you can skip this.

• Plan a book launch party, either at a friend’s house—not yours—or a local independent bookstore

• Don’t give ARC copies to friends and family for reviews. At least not yet. I’ve read that Amazon is cracking down on paid and friend-family reviews.

• Start making a list of newspaper and magazine reviewers. At about 10 weeks from the on-sale date, start sending ARC’s.

• Start making a list of book-bloggers you want to review (maybe even a “blog tour”); start sending to them 6-8 weeks ahead of the on-sale date.

• As reviews start coming back (assuming they’re positive), add choice quotes to marketing materials.

• Consider doing a Goodreads giveaway or something else that might grab attention to coincide with your on-sale date.

• Update the cover to include the best quotes

• Make the title available for pre-sale

• Tweet, post, blog til your fingers turn blue

The second Imogen Trager novel, Dark Network, which follows up on the events of Faithless Elector, will be available for sale on October 20. I’ll update this post with any new “experience” I gain.

 James McCrone is the author of Faithless Elector, a suspense-thriller. Publishers Weekly calls it a “fast-moving topical thriller.”  Its “surprising twists add up to a highly suspenseful read.” The sequel, Dark Network, is coming in October, 2017.

Faithless Elector, by James McCrone is available NOW through Amazon.
If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center

Dark Network Forces

The Imogen Trager novels offer a compelling critique of the precarious state of democracy.

Faithless Elector, which debuted in the spring of 2016, is a taut thriller about stealing the presidential election.  Its central premise is the latent weaknesses and potential for abuse inherent in the Electoral College.  The precise machinations envisioned in the book have not come to pass (thankfully!), but the larger issues raised by the story remain.

Meanwhile, current events expose the precarious, brittle state of democracy almost daily, as well as its impotency. The weaknesses exploited in Faithless Elector remain latent and prone to mischief…and there are others.  Which sets up the second book, Dark Network (due out in October!). As a novelist,  I’ve been able to explore these themes within the context of a pacy, compelling story about a search for truth and justice.

Faithless Elector, and Dark Network are not narrowly about political parties, the weakness(es) of the Electoral College, or events which daily overwhelm the news cycle.  They are about ordinary people battling powerful forces. The books (and the forthcoming Consent of the Governed) are about the precarious vulnerability of our democracy and its potential impotency in the face of decisive, ruthless, well-heeled interests.  I’m not a political scientist.  These are thrillers, not conference papers. What compels me as a novelist, are the characters, thrust into dangerous, extraordinary circumstances.

“Governments are instituted among Men,” the Declaration of Independence reads, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.  Taken together, the books shine a glaring light on how that consent can be twisted and negated–and what the emotional response of characters forced into action looks like.

The books have never been about the rightness or fitness of one party or another, except insofar as the “bad guys” seem to be circumventing them.  Parties are, after all, at least responsible and responsive to their constituents; and ideally, when a party no longer has our consent, they are voted out.  Moreover, political parties are the only bulwark against self-dealing elites.  The books appeal to readers on either side of our broadening political divide.

I’m gratified that readers (see Amazon reviews) and independent reviewers have picked up on these broader themes of taut storytelling, dark forces, political accountability and personal responsibility, of the necessity for “ordinary” people to participate in the life of their nation.

To take just three examples:

  • Book Viral Review: “Taut and well-paced, but for readers reading between the lines it also works on a moral level.”
  • “The pleasure of Faithless Elector lies not just its smooth evocative prose, but in the author’s justified confidence that good writing can make chases through recognizable locales sufficiently exciting without a Navy SEAL or a terrorist plot.” Review, Plattsburgh Press-Republican
  • Publishers Weekly Review: “A fast-moving topical thriller…Surprising twists…add up to a highly suspenseful read.”

While the books can stand alone, the series is about what can happen when a tiny group seeks extra-democratic means to take control for their own benefit.

In that way, the books may be more prophetic than even I imagined.  You should see for yourself.

 James McCrone is the author of Faithless Elector, a suspense-thriller. Publishers Weekly calls it a “fast-moving topical thriller.”  Its “surprising twists add up to a highly suspenseful read.” The sequel, Dark Network, is coming in October, 2017.

Faithless Elector, by James McCrone is available NOW through Amazon.
If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center