On powerlessness

I keep trying to write something about this, and I keep stalling out, because I figure, what is there to even say?

Or, what could I say that might make any difference, several thousand miles away from where this is happening, in the privileged bubble of my happy family life?

That picture of the little girl sobbing, after being separated from her family, after her goddamn shoelaces were taken away—I saw it while sitting in a locker room. I was about to test for the next level in Krav Maga, a martial art founded by Imi Lichtenfeld in the 1930s to defend Jewish neighborhoods in Bratislava from anti-Semitic gangs. All I could think was: the only thing that’s changed is the uniforms.

I looked at that picture and I shook because this little girl was so tiny and so afraid and I think of how I feel when my daughter is upset or afraid like that, and how it rips my heart clean in fucking two, and this child’s parents aren’t even there to comfort her. They’ve been taken away by a bunch of fuckers who are gleeful in their hatred. What that kid must be going through, what those parents must be going through, it’s a pain I can’t even fathom.

My daughter was born with a heart defect, and twice in the first year of her life we handed her over for six-hour open-heart surgeries. So I know that feeling of your child being taken away and the stakes being very high. But we were handing her over to a team of doctors who demonstrated the utmost care and compassion. And by the end of the day we had her back.

There is no care or compassion here. None. Instead there’s a complete and utter breakdown of empathy and kindness.

We are in the midst of a full-blown humanitarian crisis and I keep coming back to this feeling of: we are the bad guy. If this were a movie, then America would be the regime the freedom fighters would be trying to topple. And we would cheer those fighters, because a government that splits up families and then lies about why they’re doing it—there’s no law here, this is a negotiating tactic for Trump to get his dumb fucking wall—is just full-blown evil.

I don’t know what to do.

I gave money to ActBlue, which is funneling donations to a number of organizations trying to help these families. I found them on a longer list that Mashable put together. But my heart still hurts because all I did was press a button. It feels like nothing.

I can beg and plead for people to vote in the midterms. Cut Trump off at the knees, at least, so his power will be limited. But I begged and pleaded for people to vote for Clinton, for all the good that seemed to do.

I don’t know what to do as an artist. Though, at times like this I tend to fall back to what Kurt Cobain wrote in the liner notes of Nirvana’s 1992 album Incesticide:

At this point I have a request for our fans. If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us—leave us the fuck alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.

There’s this debate that pops up a lot in artistic communities—especially lately—over how political an artist should or should not be, because you don’t want to risk sales. But I’m pretty comfortable saying that if you can look at what’s happening on the border and you can shrug it off, or worse, justify it—leave me the fuck alone! Don’t come to my signings and don’t buy my books.

Other than that, all I feel is powerlessness.

I don’t speak Spanish. I live thousands of miles away from the border. I’m not a lawyer. I poke around on the internet looking for articles like this in Slate, roundups of how to help, and I hold my daughter extra tight. I hide what I’m feeling from her, because I want to protect her from the horrible fucking place this country has become.

I don’t know that this changes anything or helps anything. I don’t know what it means to the broader fight. I just wanted to say something before I climbed into bed and stared at the ceiling for a little while.

I do believe in the best of us, still. I believe we will get past this. I will watch and wait and help where I can and be the best father and husband and citizen I can be and maybe right now that can be enough.

Maybe it’s enough for us to stoke the fire in our hearts, to make sure that flame doesn’t go out, even in high wind and heavy rain, because those fires will keep us warm and light the way in the dark, so we can see ourselves through this.

And yet it’s so easy to say because I’m too far away to say it to the little girl whose shoelaces were taken away.

If you can help, please help. If you can’t—please keep that fire alive. Just do that. I feel like we’re going to need every source of flame we can muster.

‘The Woman from Prague’ in paperback and ‘Potter’s Field’ release party

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The Woman from Prague is out in paperback today!

There are already copies at The Mysterious Bookshop, which I’ve signed, or you can click through to this page to find links to a variety of book-buying locations.

I loved writing Prague, and I was very happy with how people reacted to it: Publishers Weekly and The Boston Globe called it a hot read of the summer, plus PW gave it a starred review—my first. James Grady, author of one of my favorite spy/espionage thrillers of all time, Six Days of the Condor, gave it a very nice blurb. Booklist called it a “spy thriller in all the genre’s old-school glory.” That’s pretty cool.

And now you can get it in an edition that is slightly lighter and cheaper than the hardcover!

I’ve also set the release party for the fifth and final Ash McKenna book, Potter’s Field. It comes out July 10 but we’re doing an event for it at The Mysterious Bookshop on July 17. Alex Segura, author of the Pete Fernandez books, will be doing a Q&A with me. We’ll have hardcover copies of Potter’s Field AND paperbacks of The Woman from Prague, plus some of Alex’s books, and lots of other books because it’s a bookstore. And maybe cupcakes.

But definitely booze.

Here’s the link to the event on Facebook. If you still do Facebook, and wouldn’t mind hitting the RSVP button that, it would be a big help (so I know how many cupcakes to get). Otherwise—sign up for my newsletter to get at least one gentle reminder beforehand, but also book recommendations and links to craft essays and whatnot.

Writing Advice Sucks #2: How forgetting shit might make you a better writer

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Last week I talked about the mechanics of thrillers and writing to trends.

This week I want to talk about why forgetting shit can be really valuable.

I’m the kind of writer who needs an outline. I respect people who can write by the seat of their pants—that ain’t me. My outlines don’t need to be super intense (usually a couple of sentences per chapter), and a lot of times I’ll diverge from them. But I need a general sense of where I’m going.

I learned this as I was writing my first book, New Yorked, which took me five years to finish. I was just writing blindly, and had to keep finding my path. I re-wrote it from the ground up twice. It tried to outline it three or four times after I’d already written it.

I went into my second book, City of Rose, with a solid outline, and it took me four or five months to write.

Which, granted, I knew my character and I found my process, and I had more confidence. But the outline helped a lot.

Remember: writing advice is mostly bullshit and you have to take what works for you and trash the rest. Maybe outlines don’t work for you. That’s fine! But I do have a trick for them. I even found another place to apply that trick, in my research. Continue reading

Writing Advice Sucks #1: The mechanics of thrillers, writing to trends, and free books

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I hit the publishing hat-trick with my newest book, The Warehouse. Nice deal with Crown, sold to publishers in more than a dozen countries so far, and optioned for film by Ron Howard. One of the funny/odd/interesting things about this is: how other people have responded.

Besides the general well-wishes, one writer called dibs on getting a blurb when his next book is ready (which is baller, so I said yes). I’ve had people walking on eggshells like I’m suddenly going to forget who my friends are (I won’t!). I’ve had at least one person quiz me on how the deal went down, and seemed so stunned that, by the end of the conversation, I felt a little bummed out (because it sounded like: “how did you manage to do this?”).

But one question I’ve gotten a couple of times now is: did you write something you were passionate about, or did you write to a trend?

And the more I think about it, the more I want to answer that. Because it’s like 95 percent no and five percent yes. And even that five is a little wonky.  Continue reading

Coming in January: ‘Take-Out, and Other Tales of Culinary Crime’

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Someone else noticed before I did.

Over the course of a few months, I wrote and published stories involving a bagel maker, and warring food trucks, and a restaurant scam. A friend asked when my collection of food noir stories was coming out. When he said that, I was working on a story about a bouncer at a pastry shop.

It’s not surprising I’d fall into a theme, with writing about food. I like to eat. But it’s more than that, too.

Food is the thing that binds all of us, across continents and cultures. No matter where you go, there are signature dishes and traditions of hospitality. Sharing a meal is as much about emotional sustenance as it is about the physical.

Which makes food a fantastic storytelling device, especially within the confines of crime and noir fiction. They’re intersections where passions collide.

In total, I wrote more than a dozen stories with components of food or hospitality.

And now Polis Books is going to collect them in Take-Out—and it will include three stories that haven’t been published anywhere. The whole jam will be available in paperback and eBook, and it’s coming out in January.

That should fill the hole in your heart between Potter’s Field (coming in July and available for pre-order) and The Warehouse (due sometime in the back half of 2019).

I’m really excited to see this hit, because I think it represents some of my best short story work. Two of them were shortlisted for Best American Mystery Stories, and one (the title story, “Take-Out”) made the final cut. Another (“Foodies”) was nominated for a Derringer Award. One (“Confessions of a Taco Truck Owner”) I read at Noir at the Bar, and Todd Robinson told me he was putting it in the next issue of Thuglit before I even left the microphone. Best short story acceptance I ever got.

More on this soon. Three cheers to Jason Pinter for agreeing to publish it, and Josh Getzler for sealing the deal. This is going to be a fun one.

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What’s ‘warehouse’ in Greek?

The dust has settled a bit, and it got announced in Publishers Marketplace, so now I can say, with a reasonable degree of confidence, that The Warehouse has sold to publishers in seventeen countries.

I’m astounded. Because I never sold foreign rights on the Ash books, but also, The Warehouse is very much about the American economy. So I figured—no one outside the U.S. would care.

But my wife pointed out: the American economy is the world economy, and she’s generally smarter than me, so I’ll go with that.

Come next year the book should be available in (deep breath):

Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Brazil, Russia, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Hungary, Japan, Italy, Greece, France, the Czech Republic, Taiwan, Turkey, and China.

Continue reading

Ron Howard might direct ‘The Warehouse’

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I’m trying to swear less around my daughter, especially now that she’s three and repeats so much of what we say. This is not easy as I tend to swear a lot. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to help.

For example, I get home from work and sit down at the dining room table with dinner. I pop open my laptop and see an e-mail from my agent about The Warehouse, which had already sold to Crown and was doing bangin business in foreign territories.

The e-mail is simple enough: there are multiple offers for film or TV, and which would I prefer? I thought about it for a few minutes and responded that it’s a nearly impossible question to answer, and I would think about it some more, but my gut was telling me TV.

His response was: Well what if it’s a film and Ron Howard is the director?

Continue reading