Downtown revitalization management is perfect training for writing thrillers

In the past, I’ve joked that there’s a well-worn path between downtown revitalization non-profits and writing thrillers…because let’s face it, there isn’t. Lately, as I think about it, I’m not so sure it’s a joke.

My former jobs were perfect training for writing thrillers.

MysteriousAffair.panel

A Mysterious Affair in Princeton

Recently, I was a late addition to a panel at “A Mysterious Affair in Princeton” put on by the Cloak & Dagger bookstore, which was a fantastic “affair,” with great speakers and a very nice turnout of mystery-thriller readers who had insightful questions.

The day’s final speaker was SJ Rozan, best known for the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series and other mysteries. Her talk revolved around why people are drawn to mysteries and thrillers.

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SJ Rozan

She began by discussing “ur” stories, or essential narratives, that we tell ourselves over and again. The job of mysteries, she said, going back to their essence as “ur” stories, “is to provide an explanation” for what happened in an otherwise arbitrary, indifferent world.

The essence of a thriller, she noted, my ears pricking up farther, is simply: “is there enough time?” Can the hero(es) stop the ticking bomb or thwart the bad guys? What will it take to stop it?

As good as her talk was, I’m afraid I started thinking a lot about thrillers and stopped listening. My thrillers are indeed predicated on timing. In Faithless Elector, the tension concerns whether the heroine and hero can get the information out in time to stop the conspiracy, and in Dark Network, they’re confronted with a plot no one initially believes exists. In both cases, if the presidency is stolen—as we’re seeing now in the real world—it’s next to impossible to effect meaningful change after the fact.

This past week, I applied for a part-time job with a commercial district management organization. As I worked on my cover letter, wondering how much (or even if!) I should discuss writing novels as the reason for my hiatus from the world of non-profits, I found myself thinking about what leadership of a non-profit entailed.

downtown.revitalzIt turns out, managing a commercial district is perfect training for thrillers. Not that death and mayhem are ever part of the work, thankfully, but the planning and execution is eerily similar to plotting a thriller.

First, (Act One, let’s call it) there is a cast of characters in any district. In order to be effective, the district manager must know who the main players are, who the ancillary players are, how they interact and what it is they want. Scene setting, exposition. Often what they want is at odds with what others want, and they will coalesce into mini interest groups—Conflict!

And then something happens to disrupt the equilibrium (such as it is). Information that wasn’t meant to come to light is revealed, or someone is murdered…or there is a block grant available. Which takes us to Act Two.

Act Two, then, is where the main character encounters obstacle after obstacle toward achieving his/her goal of exposing the conspiracy or beginning a façade improvement program. Anyone who has worked in non-profit/local government will recognize this trope, and any such person might be forgiven for having daydreamed a timely murder or two.

Act Two sees the “first culmination” wherein it looks like the hero(ine)/district manager will achieve their goal. Inevitably, everything falls apart, leading to the “midpoint,” where it seems all hope is lost.

This leads naturally to Act Three, and the “climax” –the point of maximum tension where the opposing forces confront one another (Board meeting, anyone?). Act Three, then, shows how the world/commercial district returns to equilibrium having successfully navigated the obstacles—or failed miserably.

It’s the ending, however, where the non-profit and the fictional worlds diverge.  The thriller writer Tom Clancy once famously said:  “The difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.”  He might just as easily have been talking about the difference between non-profit district management and thrillers.

 

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

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

Independent Bookstores

Reports on the death of Indy Bookstores have been greatly exaggerated.

I’ve been out and about in New Jersey and Pennsylvania over the past weeks doing what I call my “traveling salesman” bit, introducing independent bookstores to Faithless Elector and Dark Network. I plan to widen the scope to include South Jersey, Maryland and Virginia in the coming weeks.

I show up with copies of the books, title fact sheets, review quotes and sample promotional materials. Everyone I’ve met has been gracious and interested, and so far (touch wood!) every store has said they’ll order a few copies. Based on Ingram’s sales reports, it appears they’re following through.

This was not what I expected at all. Recently, I read a piece on Facebook, shared in one of the writers groups I’ve joined. It was written by an independent bookstore owner in Britain, addressed to the self-published author. While there was some good information in the piece, frankly it was so snarky, condescending and negative, it read like a cry for help. Nevertheless, after reading it, I worried that the writer’s anger-depression mode might be some industry standard, and I would be spending my traveling salesman days being ground down by dolorous, mean-spirited anecdotes about how no one understands how hard things are these days.

Far from it!

Barkham.Indy bookstores

from Shelf Awareness

Independent bookstores are thriving, and they’re excellently placed to take a chance on independent authors. They have defied all predictions about going the way of ditto sheets and blotting paper to remain an integral part of the lives of towns and cities. As the author Patrick Barkham puts it, in The Guardian, “no conventional economist could grasp how 900 indies are still in business. They are, because so much bookselling is done out of love. That’s wonderful, but the rest of us must love them back.”

And that’s the key:  love them back!  Stop in.  Ask a question.  Buy a book.

 

Bookstore owners and staff are far better than any algorithm at suggesting new books, and the serendipity of finding something unexpected–but perfect!–in among shelves you weren’t intending to look through is a huge part of the appeal.  Thank goodness these stores are agreeing to stock my book or I’d be spending too much money in many of them to even out the balance.

factsheet-screenshot

Having a title fact sheet that contains your ISBN, distributor, BISAC subject code(s) goes a long way toward breaking the ice.  I have no idea if the example on the right follows any standard format/template that real book reps use.  So far, however, it’s not hindering me. Knowing a little bit about the bookstore–whether they have a niche your book might serve, for example–is also important.

Here’s a map of bookstores stocking my books as of today.

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Perhaps there’s one near you!

 JMc-author2.2017James McCrone is the author of the political suspense-thriller series Faithless Elector and Dark Network….featuring Imogen Trager.

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

 

 

 

 

Imogen Trager’s online presence

Imogen.site1Apparently, Imogen Trager, the heroine of my books, Faithless Elector and Dark Network has a larger online presence than I do!

When a friend recently took a Facebook personality test, it concluded that my friend should consider becoming an FBI agent.  Jokingly, I suggested she change her name to Imogen Trager–who is an FBI Agent.

My friend felt she knew the name (she has read the book), but Googled it nevertheless.  To her (and my!) surprise, Imogen has quite a large online presence.  In fact, Imogen Trager has a larger, more consistent online presence than I have.imogen_trager.google_search2016.10.30

I find I’m a bit jealous.

Or is it darker than that?

All writers hope their characters have a life “beyond the page.”  We hope they seem real.  I remember one of the highest compliments I received some 25 years ago was from an acquaintance who told me how at a dinner party he’d started telling a story about something that had happened to a friend of his.

But as he told the story, he later related to me, he realized he was talking about a scene from the book I was writing back then, and the “friend” he was talking about was a character in the book he had read.

Why did that earlier instance make me feel good, where this leaves me troubled?  Am I a modern-day Major Kovalyov, obsessed with status and rank?

In Nikolai Gogol’s absurdist short story, “The Nose,” Major Kovalyov’s nose goes missing and ends up living a better life than he, its owner. Kovalyov frets and seethes because his nose achieves greater social rank (status) than he ever had himself.

The Nose-GogolPerhaps the difference between now and 25 years ago is the nature of status: how it’s achieved, and what it represents.  In the indy-publishing business, we live by ‘mentions,’ ‘likes,’ and ‘follows;’ by ‘shares,’ author- and sales rankings–all of it contributing to our rank (our “status?”) in search engines. To be on page two of the search results is almost as bad as not existing.

I think it must be the exclusivity of her presence on the search results page that bothers me. Her rank is such that the first two pages of search results relate to her and no one else; whereas I have to share my “james mccrone” presence with a musician, an insurance broker in London (they seem like very nice people) and an ad for Ancestry.com.

RedHairWill Imogen and her red hair continue this life of their own?  Will her status grow and mine wane?

Or am I just losing my mind?

JMc-author2.2017

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

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

Dark Network

I wrote Dark Network for people who crave a smart story–particularly thriller and mystery fans.  Publishers Weekly has compared it to the work of David Baldacci and Brad Meltzer, which was awfully kind.

While the story isn’t precisely about what’s going on now, much less a treatise on the role of dark money in politics, the fact is both Dark Network and Faithless Elector draw upon, and were shaped by, the time in which there were written as anti-democratic forces began casting their long shadows across the political landscape.  If you read them, you’ll find yourself looking at the circus in new ways.

DARK Network-Money pic

Scenes we’d like to see

You’ll also see the stakes beyond the daily noise and outrage. As well entertained, you’ll be rejuvenated. Though conceived and written in the midst of crisis, these stories aren’t about the malaise of now; they aren’t about giving up.  They’re about more or less ordinary people finding a way to act, to push back.

I think it’s a story we all need right now.

I started writing it in February of 2016, when some of what the books still seemed a bit far-fetched. Around that time, I described the novel’s plot and talked about the conspirators to a friend when she asked what I was working on.  She listened and then said the title reminded her of something she’d read about.  I was unnerved.

I worried that I’d put thought and effort into something that would be viewed as derivative or as riding on the coattails of someone else’s work.

A week or so later, the same friend emailed me about Jane Mayers’ Dark Money, which had just come out. “This is what I was thinking of the other day,” she wrote.  I was relieved. Mayer’s book was journalism, a work of non-fiction.  Mine was a work of fiction, and while the titles themselves were similar, mine referred to the term applied to terrorist networks, drug cartels and other organized crime groups.

But when I finally read Mayer’s book, while I was finishing edits on Dark Network, I realized we were pointing at many of the same things, if not the same precise people–mine are fictional characters, after all.  Nevertheless, her book and my books are animated by the same fear that a small group would seize power by exploiting (and in Mayer’s telling, creating!) weaknesses and loopholes.

You should see for yourself.

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

Fake News Snares: Niger, Benghazi

I was paralyzed with self-loathing that I might have just done something I (rightly) deplored.

Recently on Facebook, I copied and reposted a piece about the deaths of the four US soldiers in Niger.  A good friend had put it on his Facebook page.

horrific.FB.blogI read the post and was outraged.  I copied, pasted and posted…adding “horrific” to the lead-in.

I felt it was important to do so.  The message of the post seemed particularly important to me as something that cut through the noise of the issue: that the current president’s bewildering and reprehensible handling of the aftermath—while dismaying and frankly sickening—was a distraction; that there was more going on.

The issues in the post were:

  • We had ignored (or had not consulted!) our intelligence experts;
  • Our troops have been systematically neglected and undermined;
  • Communication is abysmal or nonexistent.
  • Years of outsourcing key portions of military operations (for private gain) and years of scrimping on equipment have left our fighting men and women exposed to greater danger than they already would be.
  • As a result, four soldiers are dead.

A number of Facebook friends “liked” the post and shared it.  Two friends, however, asked me what the source(s) were.  They were themselves aghast at the criminal level of ineptitude described in the post, but the points about contractors and the French was new information, and they wanted to understand its provenance before reposting themselves.

Which is what I should have done.

The insidiousness of fake news is that it can work directly as dis-information; and, more subtly, it can also serve to undermine the very notion of truth.  In the past, I’ve been more than happy to repost the debunking of fallacious stories propagated by reactionary wingnuts.

In this instance I was paralyzed with self-loathing that I might have just done something I (rightly) deplore just because it fit the kinds of things that make me angry.  Because if I had just reposted something dubious, I was giving reactionaries a cudgel with which to strike at the battered and bloodied notion of truth, where they could say, “See? No one has regard for the truth. It’s just as we [the reactionaries] say:  it’s all about your perspective and outrage…and everyone does it.”

I started tracing the story—now well after the fact.  It seems to have started on a man named Bob Lamb’s Facebook page.  I saw it picked up in the comments/forum section on Talking Points Memo (TPM), which referred to him.  From there, it bounced around, and was reposted by me…and others.

I regret reposting what seems now to be “truthy.”

Here is the full text of the post.  The notes in square brackets are mine.

While everyone is so busy talking about Trump’s handling of his call to the widow of the soldier killed in Niger, you’re all missing the important part of that story — the part about what happened that night in Niger.

The story that is emerging is so much worse than anything that happened in Benghazi, but the same GOP Congress that investigated Benghazi with a fury seems to have little or no interest in this story.

Here’s what we know so far:

These soldiers went to a meeting in an area near the border with Mali. This is a well known hot spot for ISIS activity. [true. this is backed up by everything I’ve now read.]

Our soldiers were not backed up by US Military air support. No, they were backed up by the French, who were not authorized to intervene or even fire a shot. [this was the original reporting, but it now seems that the French pilots were not asked to engage out of fear of “friendly fire.”]

Our soldiers did not have armored vehicles. They traveled in pickup trucks. [true]

Our soldiers were given faulty intel that said “it was unlikely that they would meet any hostile forces.” Of course, they walked into an ISIS ambush. It was chaotic and they took three casualties. [this is an odd part: the various reports say the soldiers knew it was an ISIS hotspot and had gone to the village to speak with one of the village elders.]

It took the French 30 minutes to arrive. [they were called in for support about an hour into the fight and by all accounts arrived quickly.]

When they did, they were not authorized to help. [by the troops on the ground, who were fighting at close quarters and didn’t want to risk “friendly fire (see above)] So, a dozen of our Green Berets fought a battle with more than 50 ISIS fighters, without help, for 30 minutes.

Finally, a rescue helicopter arrived, but it was not a US military helicopter. [I can find no reporting confirming this point.]

No, we apparently outsourced that job to “private contractors.” So, these contractors landed and loaded the remaining troops, the injured and the dead.

Here’s where this gets really bad ….

Because they were not military, they never did a head count. That is how Sgt. La David Johnson was left behind. [again, I’ve seen no reporting that confirms this]

That’s right …. they left him behind.  [they did leave him behind, but why they did so remains an open question]

According to the Pentagon, his locator beacon was activated on the battlefield, which indicates that he was alive when they left him there.

They recovered his body 48 hours later, but are refusing to say where. According to his widow, she was told that she could not have an open casket funeral. This indicates that he was mutilated after being left behind on the battlefield.  [it indicates that his body is not viewable; the reason is speculative]

This is what led to the nonsense we’re obsessing over. This is the real story. As usual, you’re allowing it to be about Trump’s distraction, but this is Benghazi on steroids.

The Trump Pentagon gave these men bad intel, no support, outsourced rescue people and then tried for more than a week to pretend it never happened.  [our soldiers clearly had bad intelligence…]

In that time, Trump spoke on many occasions and never mentioned it. He tweeted attacks on many but never mentioned these men. [true]

Only after pressure from the media has he bothered to even acknowledge these men and their service

Please share, copy and paste. [which  I did]

#worsethanbenghazi

The post above indulges in “truthiness.”  There is much that’s wrong and unknown about what happened, and our soldiers and their families deserve better.  However, they—and we—are not served by adding seemingly true statements that fit our version of the facts.

I intensely regret my part in propagating this cynical pabulum.  If any of the unsupported claims here turn out to be true, they will need addressing.  In the end, it may be that these deaths are worse than what happened in Benghazi. It may be that out-sourced “contractors” left a man behind to die.  It is true that we don’t properly support our military.  But when outrage rides in on an obviously stolen horse, we would all do well to ask a few questions before rallying to follow it.

The current administration supplies us with a daily diet of callous cruelty and bumptious, self-dealing ineptitude. Adding in false claims undermines the very real effort to resist.

I thank the two friends who reminded me.

 James McCrone is the author of Faithless Elector and Dark Network, part of the Imogen Trager political suspense-thriller series. They are available at many local bookstores. Find them through Indybound.org.  They are also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.     REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up a copy at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center

Sailing too close to the wind: Guest post on The Reading Cafe

Sailing Too Close to the Wind, by James McCroneblog.ReadingCafe

A well-crafted political thriller should feel “real.” To do so, it has to flirt with real events. But sometimes I worry I’m sailing just a bit too close to the wind.

Read the full post…and enter to WIN a giveaway for one free, signed copy of Faithless Elector
-or-
Dark Network

Faithless Elector giveaway contest Winners – Event schedule link

JMc-author2.2017Thank you to the over 1,000 people who signed up for the Goodreads Faithless Elector giveaway contest.  There have been 25 lucky winners of a signed copy of Faithless Elector, the first Imogen Trager novel.  Anyone living in or near Philadelphia or North Jersey who would like a signed copy of either Faithless or the second Imogen Trager novel, Dark Network (out Oct. 20!) should check out my appearance calendar on Facebook << https://www.facebook.com/pg/FaithlessElector/events/>>.

I’ll be getting the signed copies into the mail this week to the lucky winners.  For those who did not win, the books will be available–signed–at a number of events during the month of October and into November.

A new giveaway contest for Dark Network starts tomorrow!

upcoming events