Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Thank You to All Who Voted

Well the Kindle Scout campaign for my spicy romantic suspense novel has ended and Amazon decided not to publish it, which I suppose is fine, because I published it myself over the weekend, and we're actually getting off (is that a bad pun?) to a decent start.

I want to thank all of you for voting. The book jumped in and out of the Hot & Trending category for the whole thirty days, which was great to see. That meant a lot, and it couldn't have gotten there without your help.

If you'd like a closer look at the book and to read the sample, here you go.

Or just click the cover photo on the right.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Welcome Brianna Cain!

It's one of those times where you hope you haven't embarrassed yourself. . . .

Recently a friend suggested I write a romantic suspense story. Nina Talikova, the female co-protagonist in my Steve Dane stories, is very popular. Basically, my friend wanted to know what a story with just Nina might be like, so I did some research, read a few books, and saw how well books in the romantic suspense category (or, rather, R/S, but only if you're with the cool kids) sell. I said, what the heck, worst case I end up with a stand-alone story under my own name.

So I set aside two months to write the manuscript. Came up with a smashing idea, I think, of a young CIA agent trying to discover if her father is a traitor, and in the process she must mend fences with her ex-boyfriend and that's where all the steamy romancy heaving and thrusting happens (spoilers).

I spent another month on editing, had some friends read it, and when they didn't laugh, but instead gave me a hard time for not having more sex in it (who knew I had such a perverted group of friends--male and female!), I thought I might have something worthwhile after all.

A man can't write romantic suspense under his real name, I thought, so I created a feminized version of my first name with a different surname. Fun fact: I once worked under the name Brian Cain, so that's where it came from. (Huge Paul Cain fan, don't you know.) What goes around and all that.

You can see the book on the Kindle Scout program website. Kindle Scout is what I'm describing as Amazon's version of American Idol--if you're popular enough, they'll publish the story. I would be very grateful if you'd give it a click and a nomination. If you have an Amazon account, use your username and password to get in. The first three chapters are available to read, so you can base your decision to click or not on that. If you don't like it, that's OK.

Here is the link, and you can see the cover on the right:


By the way, if you're looking for a new subject matter to try, for sure try romantic suspense. They're fun, the romance indie community has a great "ground game", and I really enjoyed writing the book. I have two more planned, but don't tell anybody.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star Wars Episode 7, or: What a Piece of Junk

When Jerry Seinfeld wanted to end his sitcom, many viewers protested. They wanted the show to continue. Jerry, though in a very condescending tone, responded by saying viewers really don't know what they want, and if you just give in to their demands, they will ultimately be less happy. It might be nice, he explained, for them to have one thing in their life that didn't go on too long and end up sliding into mediocrity.

That brings us to Star Wars.

I don't think I've ever been so let down by a franchise before. Maybe the current James Bond reboot, but even that hasn't left me as pissed off as Episode 7, and the prequels, and the Special Editions, have left me.

The original Star Wars films are probably some of the best examples of storytelling in modern history. Everything you need to know about pacing, structure, characters--it's all there. When Lucas and his cast were hungry and unknown, they produced magic. Now that everybody is a millionaire, we get a steaming pile of Bantha fodder. Problem is, the public seems to like Bantha fodder. A lot. We'll save that argument for another time.

Without going into spoilers, Episode 7 is like having the same Thanksgiving leftovers for a whole week. Eventually even thinking about turkey makes you sick, yet J.J. Abrams and his people have made a film that serves leftover turkey not for five days, but for a month. Instead of digging deep into their imaginations, and maybe even using current events (as the First Order could be a disguised ISIS), they instead mined the other movies (all six for hate's sake!) for ideas and re-used them with younger people playing different parts. Something bad happened in the galaxy a long time ago, AND NOW IT'S HAPPENING AGAIN ALMOST THE SAME WAY AS BEFORE!!!

We even get another whining emo sissy for a Dark Jedi. Do they come any other way?

I expected more. A lot more.

Heck, the Expanded Universe novels that started back in the '90s with Timothy Zahn's excellent "Thrawn Trilogy" were a better follow-up than the steaming pile in theaters now. That's the material that should have been mined. Instead they did the bare minimum and gave us what we've already had for decades.

They also negated everything that happened at the end of Return of the Jedi, and didn't explain how the galaxy wound up in such shambles after the defeat of the Empire. That would have taken thought and maybe a little imagination; all Abrams and his crew had on their minds was "pew pew pew".

What we're left with are a lot of neat visuals to look at, but nothing of any substance.

Worse, Lucas has all but made the unaltered originals impossible to get after "fixing" what wasn't broken. Luckily, I still have them on VHS.

Of course I'm in the minority. I suppose I'm a "hater" that's "gonna hate" or whatever the kids are saying today after somebody else tells them to say it.

But in going full circle with my Seinfeld introduction, there was a time when Lucas was aloof about Star Wars. Maybe he'd do more, maybe he wouldn't, the fans clamored for more, he gave in. And now some of us are less happy, because there was a time when Star Wars was good, and not having any more made what we had even better. Star Wars has completed the slide to mediocrity, and now it's in the hands of Disney who will continue producing Bantha fodder until who knows when.

A few other observations:

Harrison Ford. Dude, if you hated Han Solo so much, why did you agree to do this? You've crapped on the fans. And by the way? You look like a tired, washed-up Mr. Magoo. Yup, I noticed your hand shaking when holding your pistol. Die young, leave a good-looking corpse--that means you.

Carrie Fisher. What a trooper. She did what she could while having nothing to work with, but 90% of the nation's Botox supply is in her face.

Mark Hamill. Where to start? I suppose I can't blame him, per se, but why let your character be assassinated the way it was? You defeated the Emperor and Darth Vader and now you run at the first sign of you-know-who emulating Grandpa? Way to let you-also-know-who get killed along with a gazillion others.

The new actors. It might have been nice just to have the new people in this show and none of the regulars as they deal with the collapse of the New Republic under the First Order, and have to make it up as they go instead of having the "wisdom" of Solo and Leia to tell them what do to. The new characters are certainly worth spending time with, but they're caught in a vortex of repetition, and they're situations are less compelling because of it.

You're probably going to go see the show anyway, but if you must, wait for the DVD.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Top 5 Favorite Bond Novels

Having now seen SPECTRE, I’m on a kick of all things James Bond despite my continued dislike of the Craig era. Like Q’s balloon in Octopussy, the Craig era runs on hot air. The Broccolis don’t make James Bond movies anymore. There’s a guy on screen who says his name is Bond, but he’s not any Bond I recognize.

To take my mind off the agony, as one author once quipped, I got to thinking about my favorite Bond novels and came up with my Top 5 picks for the “Best of Bond”.

Feel free to add your picks in the comments.

5) Casino Royale. The first is last. I’ve never been shy of saying how much I love this book or how many times I’ve read the whole thing or delighted in certain sections, and while it’s excellent, it has flaws that don’t bring it close to the top slot.

4) For Your Eyes Only. Some great short stories here, and one that should be a classic--“Quantum of Solace”. It’s an amazing insight into Bond’s life and Fleming’s most complex piece of work.

3) From Russia, With Love. Here’s your spy story to end all spy stories, if only Fleming hadn’t chosen the ending that goes with it. If anything, the follow-up, Dr. No, ruins what was otherwise a great lead-in. “Dr. No and his Giant Squid” always leaves a poor taste in my mouth, and it’s hard to get excited about a book where the central plot hinges on literally a load of bird shit. Read Russia and the second chapter of Dr. No and call it a book.

2) The Spy Who Loved Me. I don’t care what anybody says, I like this book. It’s not only a change of pace, but an alternate view of Bond that really works. I’ve advocated elsewhere that this was the book where Fleming intended to kill off Bond, have him go over some version of the Reichenbach Falls, but that ultimately didn’t happen. The third section of the book is terrific and one I read often.

1) Moonraker. Fleming’s best is his third, one that is a better introduction to Bond than Casino Royale, ironically. Everything Fleming learned from the first two books comes to fruition here. Moonraker is Fleming’s most tightly-plotted, nail-biting novel. The climax is tremendous, with one of the best-written car chases ever. I wish the movie had been half as good. The BBC seem to be going through the Bond canon for radio plays. I hope they get to Moonraker soon as I can imagine how great it will sound.

Now this list doesn’t mean I don’t like the other books. I’ve read the series in and out of order so many times it’s not funny, it’s a sickness. Fleming is a wonderful storyteller, but I don’t need to go into that here. This list reflects the Bond books I’d want could I not have the whole set.

Maybe someday I’ll get around to picking my favorite Bond films.

Any movie with Daniel Craig won’t be on that list.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Interview with Stephen Mertz

I am very happy to present to you an interview with Stephen Mertz, probably one of the best action/adventure writers working the beat.

Stephen recently released a book of his short fiction, The King of Horror and Other Stories, and you need to get this one. Short punchy fiction is an art form; Mertz shines from beginning to end, and includes a personal essay where he retraces his career and provides insight into his fast-paced writing world. You may know him from his work on Mack Bolan, MIA Hunter, and a whole bunch of other books, including the new Blaze! western series from Rough Edges Press.

However, he can talk about all this better than I can, so. . . 

Brian Drake: Please tell us about your new story collection.

Stephen Mertz: This past year has been a busy and fun one for me. I wrote three novels and, including reprints, had six books published. The crown jewel is The King of Horror & Other Stories, a complete collection of my published short fiction. I’m proud of these stories. The collection is a distillation of my work in terms of genres and themes.
BD: When did you start writing, and when did you decide to make that a career?

Stephen Mertz
SM: Wrote my first story at age thirteen. Decided to make writing a career as soon as I found out that one could make it a career.
BD: What is something, other than reading great books, that fuels your imagination for your own stories?

SM: Women!
BD: Ha! The good ones and bad ones, right? Especially the bad. . . 

After being in the business for so long, do you find your level of enthusiasm has increased, or remained the same, from when you started? Did you ever consider an easier line of work, such as a high-wire act?

SM: Man, in this business if you ain’t enthused, don’t even bother showing up. From the writer’s perspective, there’s much to be enthused about. New markets opening up, avenues for getting our work to the audience, it’s like the dawn of television or the paperback original. Anything goes, and I work well under those conditions. I haven’t self-published yet but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. The opportunities for writers, thanks to our digital age, are more abundant than any I’ve known since I broke in.

BD: When I was avidly reading The Executioner series in high school, I'd always look forward to a book with your name on the copyright page. Did you enjoy working on Mack Bolan? How did you come to write what many fans consider classics of the series, such as Day of Mourning and Dead Man Running?

SM: Thank you for the kind words. I had an edge in that Don Pendleton and I were personal friends, so I went into the Gold Eagle program with a solid knowledge of the character and series up to that point. I enjoyed writing a dozen titles about Mack Bolan but remember, that’s when I was just getting started. I felt like I was traveling on borrowed gas. I have my own stories to tell.

BD: Other Bolan titles, such as Beirut Payback and Save the Children, are terrific titles that elevated The Executioner above many action series of the day. Did you have a free hand with content, or did Gold Eagle force you into the formula that a lot of what you might have wanted to do got left out?

SM: I had a free hand. Again, my friendship with Don carried clout. None of the GE editors understood jack about what Don had created and sold to them. They were corporate suits filling slots in a publishing schedule. It was funny. When they flew me up to their HQ in Toronto for story conferences, all I needed to say was, “Well, Don always said…” and they’d all shush and start scribbling in their notebooks.

BD: Your MIA Hunter series is back in e-book form...are you surprised at the fan enthusiasm that still exists for this series? How do you see it fitting into the times we live in now?

SM: Not surprised in the least. With the current state of the thriller being primarily over-written, padded, top-heavy “doorstop books,” I’m happy to say that readers are embracing these shorter, faster, rough-and-tumble stories. As for the times we’re living through now, well, Mark Stone & Co. are alive and well and not just in reprint. I’m presently in the final revision phase of a new M.I.A. Hunter novel.
BD: What drew you to action/adventure? Or is that where the money was? If you weren't writing series books, would you have done your own action thrillers along the lines of Ludlum or Clancy?

SM: I’ve never made a career decision based on money. For me, it’s always about what I want to write. The same things drew me to the action/adventure genre as a writer that attracted you as a reader. Beyond my series work, I have written the standalone type of thriller you cite, starting with Blood Red Sun. These are available in e-book format. My complete bibliography can be found at http://www.stephenmertz.com. James Patterson isn’t exactly looking over his shoulder yet, but reviews and sales have been favorable enough for me to continue in that direction.

BD: Other than Don Pendleton, which author taught you the most about the writing life?

SM: I’ve always enjoyed reading articles, biographies and interviews with writers even if I’ll never read their work. The process of writing interests me as much as the writing itself. Everyone and everything I’ve ever read has taught me something.

BD: Can you tell us a little about your relationship with Don?

SM: It started with a fan letter (from me to him, I hasten to add!), which led to me becoming his assistant while he was still being published by Pinnacle. Don recommended me to Gold Eagle when they took over the franchise, and we remained friends until his passing. Don’s widow, Linda, is one of my favorite people.

BD: Tell us about your western series, Blaze!, and where the idea for the series came from. What gave you the idea to bring in other writers rather than doing it all yourself?

SM: These are edgy, sexy, fast-action westerns. Try as I might I couldn’t think of any married, husband-wife gunfighter teams so I decided to give the genre a new wrinkle. The series is a ton of fun to write, and reader response has been enthusiastic. Rough Edges Press went with a bi-monthly release schedule. Since I cannot produce that fast, I was lucky in that some friends who also happen to be damn good writers agreed to contribute to the series.

BD: What are you working on next?

SM: A novel about Jimi Hendrix.

BD: Certainly sounds intriguing! Can't wait to see what you do. Thanks for stopping by, Stephen, and best of luck with The King of Horror and Other Stories.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Robert Ludlum: Still a Favorite

Over the weekend I had a period of time where none of my attention was demanded anywhere else, so it was the perfect opportunity to sit out on the porch and light a cigar. On the way out of my bedroom I passed my bookshelf and grabbed Martin H. Greenberg's Robert Ludlum Companion. Haven't read it in ages. I spent the next hour reading through Greenberg's interview of Ludlum and skimming the summaries of Ludlum's novels. They reminded me of how much of an influence Mr. Ludlum had been on my writing as I was learning the ropes.

I read almost everything of Ludlum's that I could get my hands on, tapering off just after The Bourne Ultimatum because of college and my early start in radio & television broadcasting. It's been great to see Ludlum's work reprinted for the new generation to discover, and I've decided it's time to start my Ludlum Library again, beginning with a couple of his earlier books that I never had a chance to read.

There's something about Ludlum's work, as clunky as some of it can be, that grabs you by the throat. I think it was his emphasis on conflict. Ain't nobody having a nice conversation, ever, in a Ludlum scene. There is always a crisis. An argument. Imminent danger. And lots of italics for the heavy emphasis of everybody's emotions. It might sound hokey but, wow, can't put that stuff down. If Ian Fleming carried you along with the Fleming Effect, Ludlum had his own effect, we can call it the Ludlum Lasso, because he sure roped you around the neck and brought you along for the ride whether you were ready for it or not.

 I remember when I heard about Ludlum's death in 2001. I was a morning segment producer for one of the local television stations, and we ran the report early in the show. I had always hoped to meet him and figured he'd be a kick because his interviews were always so funny.

But, as with many of my favorite writers growing up, they passed on before I could say hello, thanks for all the great entertainment, can you spare a buck or two? I'm glad his books are still around, and the success of the continuation titles in the Jason Bourne and Covert-One series shows that I'm not the only one who appreciated a good Ludlum conspiracy.

Monday, September 14, 2015


Click to Purchase
If you want to read one of the most enjoyable, laugh-out-loud books this side of Wodehouse, check out Alien Baggage Allowance by my pal Humble Nations (if that's his real name). Full disclosure: Humble does my book covers. Fuller disclosure: He's one heck of a writer himself, as Baggage clearly demonstrates. What would it really be like if aliens visited? Baggage goes into full satire and social commentary mode from that point, and the laughs and sober "um, yeah, that would happen" moments come quickly. But enough of me. Here's the man himself....

1) How would you best describe Alien Baggage Allowance?

It's selection of super short fun, whimsical glimpses at what would happen if aliens landed on our planet, but it's not Sci-Fi and I hate the term Flash fiction. Other people would call it Sci-Fi Flash-fiction. So if someone was to call it such I would politely punch them in the face and gently inform them they were an utter imbecile. 'Flash' is some sort of Americanism that makes my skin crawl, like novellette (which incidentally always remains me of some sort of hygiene product for women of a literary bent) - it's a way of selling a book. I have to call it this because it's a certain length. There's a fantastic quote by Bukowski: 'The worth of a man is measured in the soul he can give, not the inches' - which is a little on the graphic side but it's a nice metaphor for quality over quantity. Also I'm a fan of the post-war experimental English author BS Johnson ... there's a great novel called 'Christie Malory's Own Double Entry' ... it's wildly funny and it's just 10,000 words long. The sort of people which would call that a short story or a novella are the sort of people that need to read such a book because it's a good treaty on writing itself. BS's asides which pepper the narrative are very funny, and actually talk about the art of writing a novel story telling in general. Which can be summed up by the classic line ... anything over 10,000 works is tiresome.

When I always sit down to write short, like any good writer, I try and write on more than one level. So all of the stories on the surface seem to be surrealist or funny, in a way rather disposable, but at the same time there's hidden little satires about the human condition in each of the tales. Some more obvious than others. It was quite interesting when I started getting feedback on the book, from both beta readers and reviews, different messages hit different people. Some people really got one story, other people got another. This made me really happy. Because in a good piece of art, or maybe a better way of saying it is, in a gallery exhibition of an art by an artist, people will get different things from a piece of art and stop at the paintings that resonate with them, so I guess that's what this collection is - a little exhibit of my ideas. I'm not trying to be pretentious here but it sort of sums it up nicely. I mean not exactly exhibited in the MOMA or the Tate Modern, maybe some shabby side street gallery.

2) Comedy is so fragile. Where did the jokes come from, and how did you balance the set-up and payoff? In other words, how did you know when something was funny, or when something didn't work?

Jokes come from the way I think about things. I have a quite facile and facetious nature as a person, I can be quiet dark or quite dry. People do find me funny. I spent a few years working on a TV sitcom with my a friend of mine that is a comedy genius (and I don't use that word lightly) but he's very lazy. So I was the driving force behind pushing the project forward because I do have a pretty good work ethic. But I held my own with my jokes too in the process. At the base of it all there's a great line by my favourite comedian at the moment, Doug Standhope, that I'll use, 'I didn't come from nothing' - he was talking about his mother being funny. My mum and dad have really good senses of humour - a lot of the good stories will end up in my next book that I'm writing, which is a memoir called 'Not Proud' - I've started fleshing out and remembering ideas.

And it's simple to know what's funny or what's not. It's whether it makes you laugh or not. If you don't laugh at your own jokes, they're not funny. You need to make yourself laugh. And if you go back to a story two months later and it still makes you giggle you know you're on to a winner. If not, drop it.

3) There is so much social commentary to milk from each story, I almost don't know where to start in asking questions, but I will state that you nailed the attitude of Americans fairly well, hahaha. What is the overall message you wanted to communicate with the book?

There is no overall message with the book. It's scatter shot. The Americans pop up quite a bit, I guess, because they're best placed to use as a conduit for humanity's bravado and arrogance. Which are some of the things that I wanted to talk about. I mean come on 'Home of the Brave' ... using drone planes is hardly brave, is it. And that sort of thinking is nice to me, how we think we're one thing and we're actually another. I quite like the philosophy of Lacan with his psycho-analysis practice of separating 'The Real', 'The Imagined' and 'The Symbolised' then talking about the Subject container in terms of these elements. People are too prone to reading the surface so a few of the reviews I think were quite put out by use of the Americans. But really it could have been any other overly patriotic country. A Lacanian reading of such bristling would have resulted in the French Marxist screwing up his nose and going 'You're all 'Imagined', you are mate.', as in their reality as an American can only be seen through this Imagined concept of America. So whatever. I'll use whatever tools at hand to say what I want to use whenever. I don't write to offend, so if you're offended then I suggest you have a rather low tolerance threshold. Tolerance is pretty cool in my book, although second to being truly open minded and tasting all thought process to see what you actually enjoy, as opposed to what you're told to enjoy or are conditioned to enjoy. I'm glad lots of people didn't enjoy the book for this simple reason, at least they were giving it a taste before spitting it out.

4) Who are some of your influences, especially your comedy influences? How did they help you through this book?

Influences are everyone and everything in every experience. To ask what you're influences are is a little foolish to ask a 41 year old. When you first start out you emulate before you find your voice. I did it. I remember writing a story in the style of Leonard Cohen when I was about 20 - I cringe when I think back to it. But who do I enjoy or have done in the past? That's another question.

I really like the comedy of: Peter Cook, Chris Morris (Brass Eye, Jam, Four Lions, etc), Doug Stanhope, Louis CK, Larry David, Chris Rock, Mitch Hedberg, Armando Ianucci (although 'The Thick of It' was way better than 'Veep'), Lenny Bruce, Stuart Lee, and then hardly even mentioned Daniel Kitson. I things that come from an informed place but then have the power to say what they want to say. That appeals to me.

The same with what I read, some authors off the top of my head: Dan Rhodes, Nicola Barker, Etgar Keret, Richard Brautigan, DBC Pierre, Andrew Kaufman. There's too many to mention really. I read about one novel a week and about one non-fiction book a week. So go through quiet a lot of stuff. And it's odd, I forget about some authors of five or six years and then remember them again and they've writing 2 or 3 new books and I have a binge. It's great. Reading DBC Pierre's latest at the moment, 'Lights Out in Wonderland' was fantastically inventive and fun. And it's set partly in Berlin. I read that whilst I was living there. I implore anyone who hasn't read that to go search it out. Fantastic late-capitalism romp.

But if you asked me what my favourite songs are at the moment is, well that would be easier, I'm obsessed with this at the moment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qG4DLc9Kotg ... cracking tune and the video is nice too. Shame he's not made an album yet. One to watch out for.

5) Why did you decide to use humor and satire rather than a full, mainstream narrative?

Because that was the mood I was in. That's what I fancied doing at the moment. My life has been rather fractious over the last two years. Bumming about Europe again. Two months in Barcelona / Ibiza writing and then back to Leeds and then off to Prague for a year and then back to Barcelona to live (maybe move on now that a relationship with woman here ended), but I'm staying here any way, settling in. So I guess the snatched moments to write were reflect in what sort of book I wrote. I really like the short form - it's fun. There were about 200 stories, then ended up being those 82 in the collection. My next book will have a really epic and strong narrative theme running through it, I'm writing my memoirs. But I don't think I'll present it in chronological order because it doesn't make sense that way, I find that dull. I'm going to make it more mood-thematic as the narrative. So one feeling flows into the next. Think of it more like the 'Pulp Fiction' of my life. Skipping backwards and forward but gives a good feeling for what's happening.

6) Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

I just have. And I have a stack of half-finished novellas as well that are going to be 15-25k in the works. There's three really good ones I'll be working on next year after my memoirs. And if you think memoirs seems a bit too grandiose then think of it more like a collection of my best anecdotes. My good friends have forever been on my back to commit these to paper. There's some classics. Most of them I don't come too well out of. As the title suggested 'Not Proud'.