Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Finding common ground

In 2003, I wrote a screenplay called Let's Play Two. The storyline has the team payroll of the Chicago Cubs being stolen by a computer hacker. The team owner is in a financial bind so he can't come up with more money. The hacker who took the payroll says he'll pay each player the highest salary that Cubs' hero Ernie Banks made — a pittance by contemporary standards. Nonetheless, the team pulls together and wins the World Series in the seventh game against the New York Yankees — in a blizzard, Chicago weather being what it is.
Only 13 years later, the Cubs did win the World Series, a product of brilliant management, terrific player acquisition and coming together as a team.
That made me wonder if it would be possible to bring the American voting public together for our common good. There's so much that divides us, could any idea unite us? I think there are a few things. I'll write about one today and another next week.
In my Jim McGill novel, The Last Ballot Cast, McGill is subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Oversight. The committee's chairman doesn't like McGill's attitude and McGill is threatened with being found in contempt of Congress.
McGill's too tough to be scared by that threat, and he asks why any American might be found in contempt of Congress but Congress can't be found in contempt of the American people.
A reporter later asks McGill what the grounds might be for Congress to be found in contempt of the American people.
He responds, “Failure to do their jobs.” Then he elaborates, "Over the course of a calendar year, has the unemployment rate gone down? Has the number of jobs paying a living wage gone up? Has the number of people with substantial health insurance gone up? Has the number of people using emergency rooms for their medical needs gone down? Has the number of U.S. made manufactured goods gone up? Has the number of imported manufactured goods gone down? Has the number of students graduating from high school gone up? Has the number of dropouts gone down? Has the number of admissions to colleges, universities, technical and trade schools gone up? Has the amount of student debt gone down? Has the number of cops on patrol gone up? Has the number of crimes against persons and property gone down? Has the number of people working their way out of poverty gone up? Has the number of whining fat cats gone down?
"If Congress failed in two or more areas of critical concern they would, de facto, be cited for contempt of the American people. Every member of Congress would have his or her pay reduced by twenty-five percent, they would receive no pension contribution for that year or health care coverage for the following year and members of the leadership would be confined at minimum security prisons during Congressional recesses.
How, he was asked, would such a situation come to pass?
“Congress would have to pass a law,” he said.
After the reporters all laughed, McGill added, “The voters could make Congress do that, if they wanted.”
So what do you think? Is this an idea voters spanning the political spectrum could get behind? I think so.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Matter at Hand

In light of a recent political uproar, a personal reminiscence:
In my first job out of college, I was walking up a staircase at an insurance company in suburban Chicago and passed a young woman on her way down the stairs. I gave her a polite nod and kept going. Then I felt a hand squeeze my backside. It wasn't just a pat; it was a full-handed grab. At first, I didn't know what the hell had just happened, but the light dawned quickly.
With understanding came a laugh. The typical roles in such a situation had been reversed, and that struck me as funny. I looked over my shoulder and saw the young woman looking back, not in the least embarrassed.
We both went about our business and that was that. Reflecting on it now, a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence still seems humorous. But experiencing such trespasses on a regular basis would get old really fast.
I mean, please, introduce yourself, share a little polite conversation, see if there's any mutual interest. If all that goes well, any physical contact will have more than just shock value. Some things are funny once, for some people. Other things aren't funny at all.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Oops!

I recently received an email from a sharp-eyed reader I’ll identify as JC. The note informed me that I’d given one character, who appears in both “The Echo of the Whip” and “The Daddy’s Girl Decoy” two different names. In “Whip,” he’s named Eugene (Gene) Beck; in “Decoy,” he’s named Eugene (Gene) Ludwig.
Sigh. Over the course of nine Jim McGill novels, I’ve created a very large cast of characters. It appears they’ve finally gotten the better of me. The way all this came about is I first used the surname Ludwig for the character Auric Ludwig, the gun lobbyist. Then I attached it to Gene Ludwig. My wife, the first person to read all my work, pointed out this repetition to me.
I said, okay, I’ll change Gene’s family name to Beck, which is how it appears in “Whip.” But when I was assembling the cast for “Decoy” I used an earlier edition of the preceding novel for reference, and put Ludwig back in by mistake. None of a half-dozen proofreaders caught the glitch.
But JC did. For which I say, “Thank you.”
The writer-to-reader-to-writer loop is very important. It lets me know what you like and what you don’t. It also might tell me where I’ve messed up.
One of the nice things about ebooks is they are easily corrected. So Gene Beck, by virtue of seniority and a preponderance of appearances, will stay. Gene Ludwig is out. We’re uploading a corrected file of the book to Amazon. For those of you who already have a Gene Ludwig copy of “Decoy,” I can’t swear that it will become a collector’s item like a stamp that mistakenly got goofed up, but it might be an interesting piece of small talk.
One bit of unrelated concern: Some readers have complained about copies of “Decoy” and other of my books that seem to have continuity problems, missing sentences and the like. Please be advised that ebook files can sometimes become corrupted during downloading. The thing to do then is to delete the file of the book from your e-reader (but not from your account). Do another download and that will usually solve the problem. If it doesn’t, contact Amazon for advice.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Old Friends and New Acquaintances

Jim McGill is back today in “The Daddy’s Girl Decoy,” number nine in the White House cycle of the McGill saga. This is the e-book edition; the print version will be a month or two in coming. “Decoy” is the penultimate book in this cycle. The next title, yet to be named, will close out the second term of Patricia Grant’s presidency and Jim McGill’s position as the president’s henchman.

I’m happy to say I still enjoy exploring McGill’s character. I think he’s grown since the day he was introduced in “The President’s Henchman,” and I feel he has miles to go before he calls it quits. He’s about to embark on a career as an international businessman — without giving up his own sleuthing, of course. Patti is about to become a venture capitalist with a social conscience. The McGill kids are becoming independent adults and, who knows, one or more of them might make McGill a grandfather.

That’s the thing that keeps me interested in McGill, Patti and all the others. They age just like the rest of us. Their situations change and they have to adapt. They outgrow old circumstances and move on to new ones. Old friends depart and new ones appear. I certainly anticipate all these things as the next cycle of McGill stories are written.

One reader review of McGill on Amazon said I make the characters in the story “too perfect.” To that I plead somewhat guilty. McGill has his regrets like the rest of us, but he’s probably more fortunate than we are, too. He gets along with his ex-wife. His kids are fairly well adjusted and self-directed. His second chance at love with Patti Grant is pretty much a winning lottery ticket.

I could have made McGill a darker character, but there are plenty of novels with those guys, and there’s grim news daily in just about any newspaper that comes to hand. From my point of view, McGill and his friends, with new ones to come, help to balance the daily dose of hard reality we get delivered to our front doors (or computers) every morning.


So, one more title in the White House cycle and then on to new contexts with new characters joining the familiar favorites. One thing McGill can always use is new readers. Please continue to introduce him to anyone who enjoys a good read. You know, stories with characters who are just a bit more perfect than you are.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Famous Up and Down the Block

I've been lucky in my career as a writer. I got my first story idea on the way to my first day of college and little more than a couple of decades later I got my first publishing deal. By today's impoverished publishing standards, the money for a paperback original deal was pretty good. By the standards of the time, it was modest at best. I was thrilled anyway.

My first book, "The Concrete Inquisition," would be sold and read all over the United States. I learned from my sister who was vacationing in Mexico that a resale copy was even available south of the border. Great, I thought, I'd reached two out of three of the biggest countries in North America.

My second traditional publishing deal, a two-book deal with a combined advance adding another zero to the payout, put Canada on the list of countries my work had reached. An Italian edition was considered for one of those two books but was never completed. For all I know, though, Italy being Italy, it might still be under discussion.

With my move to indie publishing on Amazon, I went global. Today, I know that my books have sold in the U.K. (my second biggest market), Ireland, France, Germany, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand and even one book in Brazil.

So I have a global brand. With plenty of room to grow, of course.

Even so, I was surprised the other day when I took a morning run. I was on my way to the park near my home when I stopped, while running in place, in front of a neighbor's house. A woman with two small children was enjoying the pleasant weather. Her front porch had a shade/privacy screen that I admired. I said hello and asked where she got the screen.

Without having introduced myself, she nonetheless said, "Oh, you're the writer, aren't you?"

She pointed and added, "You live in that house over there, right?"

Not getting the least impression she intended to burgle me, I said she was right both times.

"What kind of books do you write?"

Her dossier on me was obviously incomplete. I told her mysteries, thrillers, the occasional comedy.

She asked where she could get them and I told her to visit my website: josephflynn.com

I thanked her for the information about the screen — she gave me the website for that — and continued on my run, asking myself how she knew about me.

I'm generally friendly with my neighbors, know a handful by name, but I'm not a big socializer. My wife, child, work and siblings take up most of my time. So having been known, somewhat, by a person down the block surprised me.

It became obvious to me almost immediately that one of the neighbors who knows what I do must have spread the word, and the woman I talked to had found it sufficiently interesting that she remembered at least some of the details.

She even said that she'd buy a book, being a mystery fan.

Who knows, someday I might be out for another run and see a front porch book club discussing my newest title. I'll have to stop by and say hello. See how many of them already know me.



Thursday, June 23, 2016

Keeping Familiar Characters Fresh

One of the great things about writing novels is hearing from readers that they love the characters you create. No, that's the wrong verb. You don't create characters as much as find or discover them.
When I decided to write a private investigator novel, I had to ask myself where I wanted to set it. Many authors will stake a claim to a city or a state as their protagonist's turf. I wanted to do something different. So I thought I'd use a house as my guy's central setting. To make things interesting, I chose the White House.
That's natural for me. I have an interest in politics that started early and remains strong. But I didn't want to echo my own character directly in Jim McGill. So I went a different way. McGill is an unflagging supporter of his wife, President Patricia Grant, because he loves her above all else. Except for his kids.
He's a family man, first and foremost. I liked that because it's not typical for a tough-guy PI. Using that as a starting point, I looked for other things about McGill that would differentiate him from other characters in his genre. One of those traits was a reverence for life and a reluctance to take lives.
Sure, he'd be happy to bust someone's nose, if that's called for, but he doesn't pull his gun and shoot people willy-nilly. And when he gets in a physical confrontation, he doesn't shrug it off. Sometimes he needs the attention of massage therapists and a long soak in a hot bath to ease the pain.
Heck, he's so human he even has to submit to a colonoscopy and has pre-cancerous polyps removed.
All of that is part of discovering just who this guy is. But now we know all that. Along with his wife, McGill is now coming to the end of his time in the White House. Which is good because he's grown tired of it. The relentless pressures are wearing on everyone involved, not just him.
And as much as readers have enjoyed McGill in that context, they (you) might soon think things are getting stale. So McGill, to stay fresh, has to move on. Just as all of us do as we move through life.
He has to assume new roles: the CEO of an international detective agency, not just the head of a one-man shop; the father of children fast becoming adults, and maybe soon the role of being a grandfather; maybe someone who has to deal with an unexpected physical limitation.
I can't say for sure. I'll have to find out as I go along. Make new discoveries. That's what will keep McGill fresh for me and, I hope, enjoyable for you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Please Tip Your Author

No, don't tip him or her over. Don't even dig in your pocket or purse for a few bucks. All we ask is a few moments of your time and as many kind words as you can spare.
When you read a book you like — one of mine or somebody else's — please show your appreciation with a favorable review on Amazon, Goodreads or the on-line forum of your choice.
Every author loves to see that readers have enjoyed what we do. On sites like Amazon, your approval can help spur the Amazon algorithm to give the book greater exposure. That means more sales and page-reads for the author. In other words more income.
Authors who don't have to scramble for every nickel and dime have more time to write. So if you post good reviews for the authors you like, you're helping to make sure the author will write another book.
FYI: I'm doing okay in the nickels-and-dimes department, but I still love to see good reviews for my books.