Thursday, January 1, 2015

HECTOR LASSITER: A LOOK BACK & AHEAD

The New Year will see the completion of the Hector Lassiter series' publication, for the first time in its entirety, in chronological order and uniform packaging, by Betimes Books.

As the calendar year changes, here's a little look back, and ahead, for the Hector Lassiter novels.

The Lassiter series returned courtesy of Betimes Books in spring of 2014 with an aggressive launch sequence resulting in six novels. Four of the novels were never-before-published, and made the scene in trade paperback and eBook format.

Publishers Weekly said some very nice things about the series' return and, particularly, about the first new Hector Lassiter novel in three years, FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND.

The relaunched series particularly found traction in Australia, where, for several days, the entire series of then-five books dominated not just the top five spots in the paid Historical Mystery category, but also held the top five paid spots across the entirety of Amazon.com.au.

The Lassiter series also found its way into another scholarly tome: Ron McFarland examined Ernest Hemingway's use as a fictional character by other authors. Hector Lassiter gets quite a lengthy write-up. Mr. McFarland also deftly points out many of the Hemingway Easter Eggs and literary tricks and references found lurking just under the water level in TOROS & TORSOS, PRINT THE LEGEND and ONE TRUE SENTENCE.

The other big event of the past year was the Iowa City Book Festival, where I interviewed James Ellroy before a live audience, under the bright lights, very much a kick and a privilege. It was also a thrill to see the Lassiter series sharing shelf space in Iowa City with Mr. Ellroy's
novels.

So, it's 2015 now and new things await. This year will start with the re-release of two previously published Lassiter novels. The first is the book that launched the whole enterprise, the Edgar- and Anthony awards finalist HEAD GAMES, and also, PRINT THE LEGEND, which examines the FBI's clandestine war on writers and, particularly, its harassment of Ernest Hemingway.

After that, two final, never-before-seen Lassiter novels will appear. First up, will be a novel featuring Hector and James Bond creator Ian Fleming in 1962 Japan, and, a bit later, in Istanbul, witnessing the filming of the classic Bond novel, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Japanese author Yukio Mishima will also have a part to play in all that.

Closer to year's end, the final Lassiter novel in the original projected arc of the series will at last appear. THREE CHORDS & THE TRUTH (formerly known as GNASHVILLE, if anyone is keeping track), will reveal Hector's ulimate fate.

A collection of Lassiter short stories, WRITE FROM WRONG, will also appear before 2016 dawns.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a very short teaser for the next new Hector Lassiter novel.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

A VERY HECTOR LASSITER CHRISTMAS


This holiday season is unusual in that it brings three new Hector Lassiter offerings with significant Christmas connections.

Earlier this month, we released the new Hector Lassiter novel, The Running Kind, which is set in December 1950 in the aftermath of a historic (and killer) snowstorm that has become known as “the Great Appalachian Storm of November 1950.”

That year, Ohio, the setting for much of the action of The Running Kind, achieved some records of the kind you really don’t want to set. As described on the Wikipedia page dedicated to the storm:


“…nearly a foot of snow fell on Dayton, Ohio, which combined with the wind and cold temperatures, became their worst blizzard on record. Nearly the entire state was blanketed with 10 inches, with 20-30 inches being measured in eastern sections of Ohio. Snow drifts were up to 25 feet deep…”

It is against this icy backdrop, and the looming Christmas holiday, that The Running Kind opens. Before now, we haven’t had much insight into a Hector Lassiter-style Christmas, but The Running Kind gives some bittersweet sense of how an aging bachelor like Hector weathers what is generally regarded as a family holiday.

As it happens, another work that debuted earlier this year, the Lassiter novel Forever’s Just Pretend, opens on Christmas Eve, 1924. We see future Mrs. Lassiter, Brinke Devlin, spending a solitary holiday writing in a Key West bar, while a continent away, Hector and Ernest Hemingway are drinking and celebrating as Hector prepares to close out his life in West Bank Paris to join Miss Devlin in Florida.

As to that third Christmas-Lassiter work that’s available? It’s far more of a rarity. Betimes Books, which is now bringing you the Hector Lassiter series, has released a short story collection of Christmas tales called Gifts, which is still available in collectible paperback for a short time more.

The collection contains a newly repackaged vignette from my novel Print the Legend, which Betimes will reprint next year. The short piece is a chapter that visits Hemingway and Hector on the Christmas morning immediately following the Christmas Eve that opens Forever’s Just Pretend.

I hope you’ll consider celebrating a little Christmas time “cheer” with Mr. Lassiter in the days to come, and please have yourself a safe and happy Christmas.

—Craig McDonald
December 18, 2014


——————

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook

THE GREAT PRETENDER: Paperback/eBook

ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

Monday, December 8, 2014

THE RUNNING KIND: THE FACTS BEHIND THE FICTION

THE RUNNING KIND, the new Hector Lassiter novel from Betimes Books, is freshly available in eBook and trade paperback format.

This particular Lassiter novel, which opens in December, 1950, also sets the table for the reissue of what was, in original run, the first Hector Lassiter title, the Edgar/Anthony nominated HEAD GAMES.

Simply put, a great deal of what happens in THE RUNNING KIND shapes the Hector Lassiter who confronts readers in the 1957-set HEAD GAMES.


As noted above, this newest novel in the Lassiter series finds 20th Century America at its halfway mark.

Hector Lassiter, too, is now fifty, and starting to feel his age. He's questioning much about his love life, his future, the direction the literary world is taking and the resulting impact that might have on his long-term prospects as a fiction writer.

Even if we set Hector's personal concerns aside, on balance, Truman-era, late-1950 was a pretty tumultuous time for all.

After years of denying the existence of the Mafia, J. Edgar Hoover (a frequent supporting player in the Lassiter series, particularly in the upcoming reissue of PRINT THE LEGEND) was bristling as Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver began dragging Mafia dons before the cameras for hotly followed televised grillings.

A very unhappy testifier before the Kefauver Committee.

The Kefauver Committee hearings, as noted in THE RUNNING KIND, probably did more to sell televisions than any event, before or since. Those unlucky enough not to have TVs in their homes were granted access to the hearings via free showings at movie theaters and bars across the country.


In December 1950, much of the nation was also struggling to recover from a freakish, early snowstorm that upstate New Yorkers might well relate to. The pre-Thanksgiving storm buried much of the midwest and the east coast in mountains of drifted snow. As the eventual thaw of all that "white death" ensued, so did catastrophic flooding.


That's some of the history underpinning this novel: there are also, of course, the "characters."

The Lassiter series has always incorporated historical personages, but this novel might set a record for cameos.

Among the many real people roaming the pages of THE RUNNING KIND, you will find a pre-TWILIGHT ZONE Rod Serling, a post-law enforcement Eliot Ness and the latter's top suspect in the still unsolved Cleveland Torso Slayer case that bedeviled Ness through much of the 1930s and beyond.


ELIOT NESS

Fellow Lassiter Black Mask Magazine alum and pulp-lit author Lester Dent, most noted for his Doc Savage series of novels, also figures in the action.
LESTER DENT

(Extra credit points to the first, sharp-eyed reader who identifies a shout-out to an obscure character in the 1968 Pancho Villa movie starring Yul Brynner, Villa Rides.)

Throw in a vignette with Frank Sinatra and his then-squeeze, the very sultry Ava Gardner, both of whom we meet in a cantina down in old Mehico, and you have another party, of the kind that only Hector Lassiter throws.


FRANK SINATRA & AVA GARDNER
In most of these novels, Hector also has a foil or sidekick. These have ranged from Ernest Hemingway, to Orson Welles, to the young noir poet Bud Fiske (who debuted in HEAD GAMES).

This time, Hector is again partnered with Irish Ohio cop Jimmy Hanrahan, last seen in the WWII thriller, ROLL THE CREDITS.

THE RUNNING KIND finds Hector and Jimmy again trying to bring a young girl to safety against tremendous odds and in the face of a country-wide chase, but this time with a far different outcome from RTC, all as the Christmas holiday is bearing down.



Road trip, literary/historical thriller and a character study of a middle-aged writer facing down his demons with some swagger and rueful joie de vivre: This is what I hoped to deliver in THE RUNNING KIND.

Feliz Navidad!


——————

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook

FOREVER'S JUST PRETEND: Paperback/eBook

TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook

THE GREAT PRETENDER: Paperback/eBook

ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

Monday, December 1, 2014

GIVING VOICE AND FACE TO CHARACTER: THE LASSITER AUDIO BOOKS

The past few days, I've had several posts regarding cover design and the visual strategies and approaches taken with Betimes Books to repackage and relaunch the Hector Lassiter series.

As it happens, the redesign efforts also ended up encompassing the audio book versions of the four Lassiter novels so-far recorded by Recorded Books. (Head Games, Toros & Torsos, Print the Legend and One True Sentence.)

The new covers for the Betimes print editions were adapted for use by Recorded Books.

In their original versions, much like the print versions of my books, the audio covers had been a pretty disparate mix of styles and approaches.


Now, for the first time, both the audio versions and novels, are uniform in their presentation.

If you haven't sampled these recordings, I highly recommend you do so, not because I wrote them, but because of the performance of their reader, the very sublime Tom Stechschulte. I had requested Tom as the voice of Hector Lassiter and all those fictional and historical figures who populate his world.

I've remarked several times—and mean it—that listening to Tom read the Lassiter books is as close as I can ever come to experiencing them as a reader. Since I have to read each novel so many times in composition, revision and proof, I can't really read them on the printed page and assimilate them as a story.


Somehow, I can listen to them as a radio play and I tend to get caught up enough in performance to forget where the story is headed.

And then there is Tom. He really gets Hector Lassiter and puts across not just the text and dialogue as written, but the subtext, as well. And, his interpretations of the historical figures, from George W. Bush to Orson Welles, are pretty wonderful, evoking the character and feel of those personages without sliding over into simple, Rich Little-style imitation.

(Ernest Hemingway should have been so lucky as to have the voice Tom gives Papa. If you've heard recordings of Ernest Hemingway's actual speaking voice, I know you'll agree.)


A few years back, I interviewed Tom about his career and voicing Hector's world. You can read that interview right here.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

ANGELS OF DARKNESS: CURRENTLY FREE FOR KINDLE!


ANGELS OF DARKNESS, the concluding novel in a quartet of thrillers featuring Chris Lyon, is available until the end of the day, free, exclusively for Kindle. The novel also features Hector Lassiter in his eBook original debut, as well as introducing a new character who shares Hector's last name.

In addition to ANGELS, its prequels, CARNIVAL NOIR, and CABAL, are also available free for Kindle through the early morning hours of Monday.

ANGELS OF DARKNESS concludes the Chris Lyon story arc to date—one that begins with PARTS UNKNOWN, continues in the aforementioned CARNIVAL NOIR, and on through CABAL.

CARNIVAL NOIR introduces the pivotal woman in Chris Lyon's life, Salome Arnaud. (Sharp eyed readers will have made Chris and Salome's acquaintance in my standalone novel from Tyrus Books, EL GAVILAN.)

The new novel also ties up some loose ends from the second Hector Lassiter novel, TOROS & TORSOS, and sheds important light on other aspects of Hector's life and eventual fate leading into the final four, still-to-be-published Hector Lassiter novels.

Here's the pitch for ANGELS:

"Chris Lyon and Hector Lassiter join forces for the first (and last?) time: For centuries, a secret cult has contrived to satisfy its blood lust while quietly prodding history this way or that. For nearly as long, an ancient order of Scottish knights has fought them.

"Stretching from the Scottish Highlands to snow-swept Chicago, ANGELS OF DARKNESS is the fourth and final novel in the 'Dark Cabal Quartet,' an audacious, breakneck saga of serial murder and secret history; a wildly original thriller about the efforts of two long-persecuted men caught in the crossfire not just to survive, but to turn the tables on both sides to devastating effect."

Saturday, November 29, 2014

CROSSOVER: PHILIP JOSÉ FARMER & THE INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF EVERYTHING


Every once in a great while, strange coincidences occur. Things intersect unexpectedly.

In a post yesterday regarding the Chris Lyon series and its ties to my Hector Lassiter novels, I off-handedly mentioned author Philip José Farmer and the Wold Newton Family/Universe concept that was launched by Mr. Farmer in two biographies he wrote of two “fictional” characters during the 1960s: John Clayton, Viscount Greystoke (AKA, Tarzan) and Clark Savage, Jr. (AKA, Doc Savage).

The latter became a hero of mine in the 1960s when my grandfather handed me a paperback reprint of the second Doc Savage pulp, THE LAND OF TERROR, penned by one Kenneth Robeson (a house name disguising its real author, Lester Dent). 
LESTER DENT

I became obsessed with the Savage character and read everything, including Mr. Farmer’s biography of Mr. Savage, as well as his pastiches involving the character and Doc’s pulp cohort, The Shadow (at one point, Mr. Farmer even wrote short stories involving Mr. Dent, and Walter B. Gibson, the man who wrote most of The Shadow novels through the 1930s and ’40s).

I became enthralled with Farmer’s literary detective work in linking up biographies and family trees by tracing clues across disparate fictional works. I liked the idea of everything, really, joining up, just so. And, so, in that post yesterday, I referenced Mr. Farmer, and The Big Picture he pioneered, this theory of everything pulp fictional, so to speak, that he pretty much invented.

Imagine my surprise when, a few hours after setting an auto-post on the blog entry mentioning Mr. Farmer (a post not quite gone live at that point), that a site run by authors intent upon carrying on Mr. Farmer’s Wold Newton efforts focused very squarely and unexpectedly on Hector Lassiter and one of my new novels featuring the novelist/screenwriter, THE GREAT PRETENDER.


Over at the Crossover Universe, Sean Levin wrote in part:

"Author Hector Lassiter suggests to a mysterious woman that he has just met that they go to the Cobalt Club. The woman replies that it sounds better than the Pink Rat. Lassiter and the woman, Cassie Allegre, leave the Cobalt in a cab driven by a man named Moe. The Cobalt Club, the Pink Rat, and Moe “Shrevvy” Shrevnitz are from the Shadow novels. Lassiter’s friend Orson Welles appears in the book, and reference is made to him voicing the Shadow on the radio. However, the comic book story “To Cloud Men’s Minds” (The Shadow Strikes! #7 by Gerard Jones, Rick Magyar, and Frank Springer, DC Comics, March 1990) establishes that Welles (or Grover Mills, to use the pseudonym given to him by Jones) did briefly produce a radio show loosely based on the Shadow’s exploits in the CU. This crossover brings Hector Lassiter into the CU."

As I’ve said, for many decades, I’ve been a fan of Mr. Farmer and I’ve kept a toe in the Wold Newton waters, including an avid read a few years back of this gem called MYTHS FOR THE MODERN AGE, edited by Win Scott Eckert, which I was inspired by Mr. Levin’s blog post to dig out of my library and revisit over lunch today. 

As it happens, I read that Shadow comic Mr. Levin referenced back many moons ago, when it was fresh...even traded a note or two with its author sometime back, though nothing to do with that particular issue...just his work with The Shadow in general.

When I decided to revisit Orson Welles and his relationship with Hector Lassiter—determined to focus on The War of The World’s Panic Broadcast of 1938 and the filming of THE THIRD MAN, I decided to have a little fun with Shadow Easter Eggs—to run Mr. Lassiter through a gauntlet of NYC/Shadow landmarks including the Cobalt Club, the Pink Rat and to have him take a ride with Moe, the Shadow’s cabbie.

I’d done something similar in TOROS & TORSOS back in the day (another Lassiter featuring Welles and also name-checking The Shadow radio show to which Welles was fleetingly attached).

At the time TOROS was pretty new, another astute and bookish reader caught me at my meta-textual games and called me out on them. Corey Wilde wrote:

“Not content with overlapping his fictional creations with historical figures, McDonald weaves into the tale fictional characters that are not of his own creation. Case in point: A dinner guest mentions that she is reading a western novel by Holly Martens. Just in case that name doesn't ring a bell with you, Holly Martens was the name of the character, a writer of westerns, that Joseph Cotten played in THE THIRD MAN. And who starred in that film with Cotten? Orson Welles. But Orson Welles appears as himself in this story. Are you starting to get the idea that this book may be a little...surreal?”

The fact is, I do this kind of thing, a lot. Maybe too much.

But, the other fact is, most of my references are pretty obscure and so fly well under the radar.

My Lassiter novels, particularly, are brimming with references and winks to other fictional works. (I’m a big fan of the Alan Rudoph film, THE MODERNS, as I’ve confessed more than once. If you know the film, and if you read TOROS carefully, you could turn catching MODERNS’ references into a pretty intoxicating drinking game.  Hell, there are even some subtle nods at NORTHERN EXPOSURE in that novel.)

As the books stay out there and gather some years—as they garner more readers—more knowing people come on board and increasingly find me out.

A bit earlier this year, a pretty wonderful post (that, again, coincidently appeared on my birthday, of all days) regarding HEAD GAMES caught me in all of the obscure references inspired by Tom Russell's music that I crept into that novel—a book so inspired by Mr. Russell’s music that I actually dedicated the novel to the singer/songwriter.


A writer I much admire once remarked authors tend to build in these kind of little things to keep themselves amused or interested. Guilty as charged. But it’s also a way of acknowledging inspirations, artistic debts.

If you do it too much, or too loudly, you risk bouncing people out of your books. But if the right reader comes along, and embraces the knowing nods, it can open up a much wider fictional universe.

Oh, and that whole interconnectedness thing?

The next Hector Lassiter novel, coming out in just a couple of weeks, is called THE RUNNING KIND.

It's the usual mixture of little known historical crime and some real people...including a cameo by a certain Mr. Lester Dent.

Friday, November 28, 2014

WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE: CHRIS LYON SERIES FREE FOR KINDLE!


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Between Nov. 26-30, the entire Chris Lyon series of eBooks is being offered for free download for Kindle. That's four volumes of literary thrillers that intersect with my Edgar-/Anthony-nominated Hector Lassiter series, including several key crossover characters. The first of the books, PARTS UNKNOWN, actually ties directly to the next Hector Lassiter novel to be released in December, THE RUNNING KIND.

Here's some background on the fourth volume of the Chris Lyon series...

——————————————


It wasn’t supposed to be this way.


In the beginning of my fictional world, there was Chris Lyon.

The year was 1990: I had recently “discovered” James Ellroy. I had just finished reading THE BIG NOWHERE, still my favorite Ellroy novel, and was well into reading L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, when I decided I had to write my own crime novel. Ellroy was wholly the trigger for all that.

By that time, I had a sprawling first draft of a literary novel in hand—a book I’d been restlessly writing and rewriting for…well, for years. That novel was about a journalist named Chris Lyon. Chris’ supporting cast included two young women named Jenny Prather and Salome Arnaud, and the latter’s “adoptive father,” a sinister pool player and carnival manager. The characters were generally solid, I thought; the plot was just never really quite there. We learn by doing…

Having decided to write a crime novel, I kept those four key characters, and jettisoned that big, sprawling coming of age literary novel structure. In retrospect, I see Chris Lyon always wanted to front a crime novel, not another Bildungsroman the world really didn’t want or need.

My first crime novel was inspired by Ellroy—no question of that—but I didn’t want my book to read as if it was written in thrall to the Demon Dog.



I knew I was going to use a series of historical crimes to fire the novel I was already calling in my own head, PARTS UNKNOWN. I had settled on a murder cycle my grandmother used to talk about a lot: my native Ohio’s Depression-era series of Cleveland-based torso murders; killings investigated by Safety Director Eliot Ness in his post-Capone and Untouchables-era life.

To avoid any comparisons with Ellroy’s vintage crime novels, I decided to time-shift the Cleveland killings to late-1980s’ Columbus, more or less. To facilitate that transition, I created this Irish cop named Jimmy Hanrahan, who chased the Cleveland phantom and who would serve as Chris Lyon’s bed-ridden sidekick, so to speak, in chasing Columbus’ own “Mad Butcher.”

The process used to write my first crime novel all those years ago was very similar to the one I’d used to write the Hector Lassiter novels nearly a decade later. I had a beginning, an end, and in between, I had a wealth of historical mile markers from the actual Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run case to light my way and to plot toward and around.

It was, mostly, organized improvisation writing that first book. I still tend to write ’em that way.

As a student of fiction and author career arcs, I was very focused on the danger and challenge of drafting an effective second novel, even while writing that first crime novel. So, immediately, before number one was even revised, I began writing a second Chris Lyon novel, CARNIVAL NOIR.



PARTS UNKNOWN was shopped around to a number of agents many years ago, including Ellroy’s guy, Nat Sobel.

Feedback was good and encouraging, so I kept shopping the novel and kept writing other Chris Lyon installments, figuring to have a fully integrated, ready-to-go series in hand when that sale finally came through.

I had this further vision: A series about an author who more or less wrote his own life, using himself as a character; a crime novel series that would, in a Philip José Farmer/Wold Newton way, comprise a kind of secret history of crime and stand as a heady mythology for serial murder.

But that first book didn’t sell. Ellroy himself was little better than a cult figure in those pre-L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, THE MOVIE days, and the notion of a post-modern author/detective didn’t find any takers that decade.

I actually quit fiction writing for a while after that. It was a hiatus that ended when I got an idea for another author hero named Hector Lassiter, “the man who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.”

Writing the eight Lassiter novels in a kind of white heat over a period of a little over a year, I found myself plundering the Lyon novels for characters. Bud Fiske, Jimmy Hanrahan and others got a second lease on life in the Lassiter novels. (Chris Lyon, himself, found his way into the closing pages of Lassiter #3, PRINT THE LEGEND.)



In all, I wrote upwards of eight Chris Lyon novels—or, to be fair, I wrote about eight novels set in Chris’ world.

Thing was, I managed not to write what should have been the necessary and hyper-critical fourth Lyon novel—the book that caps the series-within-a-series that continues the story arc begun in PARTS UNKNOWN, and is furthered through CARNIVAL NOIR, CABAL and a loosely outlined but not written novel I planned to call ANGELS OF DARKNESS.

To put it bluntly, I had a quartet of novels lacking its fourth part.

Oh, I long had that title for that book: one selected in tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But that’s about all I had other than vague plot points.

So, in the spring of 2012, I sat down to write the novel I should have written back about 1993 or so to complete the Chris Lyon series. I had decided to package the Lyon novels as eBook originals, and to proceed with that plan, I had to fill in a big-ass continuity gap there, up front…I had to compose the missing fourth novel.

Because the Lyon and Lassiter series had entwined to such an extent by then, I decided to bring the two writers together on the page in a significant way. In April 2013, I released ANGELS OF DARKNESS, featuring Chris Lyon and Hector Lassiter, interacting together and fighting a common foe.





ANGELS caps Chris’ journey into darkness, but it also hearkens back into Hector’s past, touching on the second Lassiter novel, TOROS & TORSOS, while simultaneously filling in some holes in Hector’s biography.

In completing the first leg of Chris Lyon’s journey, ANGELS also set the table for some of the yet-to-be-published Hector Lassiter novels, including this December's release, THE RUNNING KIND, featuring Jimmy Hanrahan again at Hector's side, and again touching on the still officially unsolved Cleveland Torso murders.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but now that it’s done, it feels right.

(NOTE: THIS ESSAY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN SLIGHTLY MODIFIED FORM AT SPINETINGLER MAGAZINE)