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.

 

JMc-author2.2017

 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

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

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 Electors and Constitutional scrutiny could see the end of the Electoral College

Scholars have long held that Electors are independent decision-makers, and that the state laws enacted to force them to vote with the plurality in their state would fail a Constitutional challenge.  There is no mention of the current system we have all come to know in the Constitution.

538-div2 buttonThese state laws have stood for years because until now, no one had standing to bring a case.

Until Wednesday, August 15, 2017.

In Colorado, in Washington State and elsewhere, electors were fined, replaced or both for flouting the laws in their respective states.  On Wednesday, Harvard professor, Lawrence Lessig, on behalf of two members of Colorado’s Electoral College filed suit claiming voter intimidation against them by the Colorado Secretary of State; and they have filed their suit in U.S. District Court in Colorado.

The legal wrangling will be interesting, but if the Supreme Court (and make no mistake, that’s where this is all now heading) were to rule that Electors were independent actors and decision-makers in their own right, we might see the end of the Electoral College in the United States.

blogpic.COIndy.FE files suit“Whether you agree that they have a constitutional right to vote how they want or not, this election has opened up the door, and it’s really important for the Supreme Court to clarify what the rule is,” [professor] Lessig says. “We don’t want to get another close election and have this uncertainty affect the actual results. Either way the court ought to clarify, and our hope is this we’ll have a vehicle to give them a chance to do that.” (full story here, in The Colorado Independent)

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 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