Tag Archives: Echo

On the Beach

 

From the book Blue Mind:

We are inspired by water — hearing it, smelling it in the air, playing in it, walking next to it, painting it, surfing, swimming or fishing in it, writing about it, photographing it, and creating lasting memories along its edge. Indeed, throughout history, you see our deep connection to water described in art, literature, and poetry. “In the water I am beautiful,” admitted Kurt Vonnegut. Water can give us energy, whether it’s hydraulic, hydration, the tonic effect of cold water splashed on the face, or the mental refreshment that comes from the gentle, rhythmic sensation of hearing waves lapping a shore. Immersion in warm water has been used for millennia to restore the body as well as the mind. Water drives many of our decisions — from the seafood we eat, to our most romantic moments, and from where we live, to the sports we enjoy, and the ways we vacation and relax. “Water is something that humanity has cherished since the beginning of history, and it means something different to everyone,” writes archeologist Brian Fagan. We know instinctively that being by water makes us healthier, happier, reduces stress, and brings us peace.

In 1984 Edward O. Wilson, a Harvard University biologist, naturalist, and entomologist, coined the term “biophilia” to describe his hypothesis that humans have “ingrained” in our genes an instinctive bond with nature and the living organisms we share our planet with. He theorized that because we have spent most of our evolutionary history—three million years and 100,000 generations or more — in nature (before we started forming communities or building cities), we have an innate love of natural settings. Like a child depends upon its mother, humans have always depended upon nature for our survival. And just as we intuitively love our mothers, we are linked to nature physically, cognitively, and emotionally.

 

From my novel Echo:

Lines of muscle strained along Theresa’s bare arms. Lisa pretended to hold the brim in place as she watched the men slouch off. Theresa’s hand, still tight in hers, stopped trembling after a few minutes.     She shifted in a way that Lisa recognized without thinking. She let her sister settle her head in her lap, then she stroked her hair back from her eyes. Theresa stared out at the waves.

     “I always loved the beach,” she muttered.

     “The beach loves you back. You looked fantastic out there in the waves. I thought you were going to ride off on a dolphin and we’d never see you again.”

     Theresa laughed – a gravelly sound. “A whale, maybe.”

     “Bullshit.”

     Another laugh, this one clearer.

     “So, you don’t like this? It isn’t working for you?”

     “It works, all right.” She sighed, and her breath puffed across Lisa’s leg. “The sound of the ocean always puts me right. I probably wouldn’t want to be here if you weren’t here, but I love this.”

     “That’s what I want to hear about. Things you love.”

     “What is it about that sound, I wonder.”

     “We were all floating around in water before we were born,” Lisa said. “All that sloshing along with mom’s heartbeat. It probably makes you think of the womb, before you were born.”

     Theresa laughed. She twisted around to look up at Lisa. “Where did that come from?”

     “I dunno,” Lisa said. “It just popped out.”

     Theresa sat up and hugged her knees. She squinted after the two men, who were a few yards away but seemed in no hurry to move along.

     “That was nice, what he said.”

     “It was,” Lisa said.

     “I shouldn’t have freaked like that. I still get caught off guard sometimes.”

     The sun was setting behind them, and the evening haze was full of pink and purple light. A couple of hundred yards away, four young girls were climbing an overturned lifeguard boat and jumping off. A couple in their twenties walked past, holding hands and bumping shoulders. The man’s arms were a dense weave of tattoos. The woman had a neon pink feather in her black hair. The plumage changed, but the rituals stayed the same.

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The Four Questions

And the voice of J. D. Rhoades was heard throughout the land: post four questions relating to yourself as a writer, along with an image and link for your latest book. Then invite three other authors to do likewise the next Monday.

1. What am I working on?

I’m in the middle of polishing an essay collection called Let the Devil Speak: Articles, Essays, and Incitements. (Historian Rick Perlstein and music writer AMERICANDICTATOTSFRONTMichael Gray have given me the most awesome cover blurbs.) I’m also plotting out a sequel to my first crime novel, We All Fall Down, that will take the heroine to some pretty harrowing places. I’m also doing preliminary research on a couple of likely nonfiction projects that will be a decisive break from the political boss/political machine orientation of my first two nonfiction books, The Last Three Miles and American Dictators.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I like to think my fiction is distinguished by its level of realism, its intensity of emotion and its preference for unconventional protagonists and points of view. A big part of the impetus for writing We All Fall Down was my wish to create a woman cop who reflected the ones I’ve met on the job. With that in mind, I decided to complicate the picture by making Karen McCarthy an unattractive woman who under regular circumstances would probably be ignored by most men. Giving someone like that a job that makes her impossible to ignore opened up lots of intriguing possibilities.

3. Why do write what you do?

That question assumes I have a choice. I go in for crime stories, partly from taste and partly because newspaper work and the things I observe on the job provide fuel for my imagination. Part of the inspiration for We All Fall Down was a trial in which a jeweler was accused of using an armed robbery at his store as an excuse for killing his wife during the gunplay. (The novel’s opening chapter has nothing to do with the case, I was just struck by the idea of using a crime to cover up another, even bigger crime.) Echo was in part an angry response to some sexual assault cases I knew about, as well as a local sex-crime case in which many locals (smart people I had never suspected of Neanderthal tendencies) sided with the aggressor, a local pillar of the community. I like fantasy and science fiction but I have no gift for writing either. I tend toward hyper-realism in my fiction.

 4. How does your writing process work?

My pattern with fiction is to start with a scene and play with ideas and plotlines that lead to and away from it. Once the novel’s first quarter and final scene are Cover 2a - 5in 72dpi - front for screenfixed in my mind, I start writing in earnest. I don’t work with outlines in fiction — I like to surprise myself. (Nonfiction is a different matter. Structure is your best friend when writing a large nonfiction work.) While working on something I usually develop odd fixations on certain pieces of music that have no obvious connection to the project. I let them play themselves out, because writing is a conscious and subconscious activity. Once a project is finished, I put it aside to cool off before revisions. There are always revisions, and coming back to the project after a brief interval allows you to see things and make new thematic connections.

This past fall saw publication of my latest nonfiction book as well as my second crime novel. American Dictators: Frank Hague, Nucky Johnson, and the Perfection of the Urban Political Machine (Rutgers University Press) is a dual biography of two men I consider the ultimate political bosses in terms of power and influence: Frank Hague, master of Jersey City and Hudson County, and Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, the preening Boardwalk peacock of Atlantic City. (He is the inspiration for the heavily fictionalized Nucky Thompson in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.) The book has gotten some very good notices and even rated a mention in the New York Times. Echo (Black Angel Press) is my black diamond: the darkest, most hard-edged novel I will probably ever write. It’s proved to be much less popular than We All Fall Down, which doesn’t surprise me because it’s a much harsher book, but I think its heroine and her sister are the two best female characters I’ve written to date. It’s also produced the most extreme reactions of any novel I’ve written: some thought it was a knockout, but one friend resolutely refuses to say anything about it one way or the other. (She’s still willing to associate with me, so I guess that’s a positive sign.) Joyce Carol Oates was the presiding spirit for the project.

As for tagging some other writers and authors — any volunteers? Bathsheba Monk, any irons in the fire? Anybody else?       

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The Frighten Side of Me

I’ve been a lot of promotional work on my latest nonfiction book, American Dictators, including a March 8 appearance at the Secaucus Public Library that should be fun.

But when I’m not writing about political bosses and labor wars, I write crime fiction of the dark, gritty variety that inhabits a territory where John Sandford, Patricia Highsmith, Georges Simenon, Jim Thompson, and Joyce Carol Oates overlap.

Those of you who are Kindle compatible will get a chance to download my two novels We All Fall Down and Echo as ebook freebies, from Monday through Wednesday. The first is a police procedural about a troubled woman police officer named Karen McCarthy, who will be making a return sometime next year. The second involves an even more troubled heroine, Theresa Costanza, and the story is a dark psychological thriller modeled after Simenon’s romans durs, or “hard novels.”

Download them with my compliments, for three days, at any rate.

 

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Rising for the fall

Just finished my first official newspaper interview to promote American Dictators, which will appear in the Jersey Journal in advance of the Jersey City Library Book Festival, just around the corner on Sunday, Sept. 15. The writer, Chinedum Emelumba, got a lot of history poured into her ear, and it’ll be interesting to see how much of it ends up in the finished story. I also got in a few plugs for my upcoming second novel, Echo, of which more anon.  

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The thriller of it all

All readers are critics, but not all readers (and definitely not all critics) are created equal. So when this reader-blogger offers a critique of a thriller, it’s useful to pay attention. I particularly liked this observation:

There are three ways to go with a thriller.  You can write what’s essentially a horror story.  You can tell a morality tale.  You can make it a comedy.  It seems like most contemporary thrillers—books and movies—are horror stories. The bad guys are monsters, inhumanly evil, irresistible, relentless, and possessed of an almost supernatural ability to cause harm and get away with it.  John D. McDonald, Raymond Chandler, and Robert B. Parker told morality tales. Most of the crimes in their novels arise from decent people’s moral failings rather than from the intrusion of an outside evil.

That certainly gets at the core of what I like most about John D. MacDonald’s novels. His Travis McGee books are not as consistent as, say, John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport series, but the only out-and-out stinker of the series, The Green Ripper, goes wrong because MacDonald has his hero tangling with a terrorist cell disguised as a bizarre religious cult. (Great way for terrorists to avoid attention.) There’s also the tired device of having the hero out to avenge the murder of his beloved, but even that might have been less wheezy if MacDonald had kept his villains within the realm of crooked sheriffs, sleazy developers, petty mobsters, and rustic psychopaths — territory MacDonald made his own over the course of dozens of novels.

I’m not crazy enough to equate myself with MacDonald or any of the other authors in Lance Mannion’s piece, but my own fiction rests comfortably within his definition of a morality tale. I tend to nod off when reading about eeee-vil global conspiracies and bands of maniacs with Hitler’s head tucked away in the freezer. I like human-scaled heroes and villains, and I prefer the evil acts to arise from recognizable human-scale behavior.

That’s the case with my first novel, We All Fall Down, and it will be the case with my second, Echo, coming out in about ten months or so. But I’ll get back to that in due course.     

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The long hello

Publishing industry update: La Agent has had the manuscript of The New Novel out with several publishers for about four months now. No rejection, no acceptance, no nothing. “It’s very sluggish out there,” La Agent tells me. You could say that.

Come on, editors! The book is so noir, even noir would call it noir. Doesn’t that count for something?

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Look who’s blogtalking

I’ve been interviewed on blogs and I’ve been interviewed on radio, but this Thursday evening will mark my debut on BlogTalkRadio. The show is “Sian and Cathy’s Chat Time,” and it happens April 19 — that’s right, this Thursday — at 6 p.m. EST. Here’s the link. The topic will be . . . well, you know, me. Specifically my two books and the two others that are either in the works or trembling on the verge of printed reality. And just to make the event even more . . . um, eventful, I’m going to make the Kindle edition of my crime novel We All Fall Down available for free on Thursday and Friday, ’cause that’s how we roll down this way. 

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