BUGGING OUT — 5 Star Dystopian Fiction

By Piper Bayard

Noah Mann delivers a winner of a dystopian thriller with BUGGING OUT. The future is alarmingly possible, the characters are refreshingly real, and the challenges are terrifying in this deftly-spun tale of survival and treachery in a world left barren by the Blight.

Bugging Out by Noah Mann

Eric “Fletch” Fletcher is a sensible man–prepared, but not quite a prepper. The sort of fellow many of us are or hope to have for a neighbor when it all hits the fan. When Eric’s best friend, a government insider, approaches him with a warning to get out of town, Eric is most reluctant to do so. He fights his shifting reality right up until all of the TV stations broadcast a Code Red. Then, he can deny it no longer. Eric Fletcher must bug out.

As a highly trained survivalist and disaster preparedness expert, Noah Mann weaves a journey of endurance and gritty wit with exceptional style and polished prose. A great read that both thrills and satisfies. I decidedly recommend BUGGING OUT.

You can find BUGGING OUT, as well as the sequel, EAGLE ONE, at Amazon. Click on the pictures for the links.

Bugging Out Series Eagle One

 

Spy Truth & Fiction — The Equalizer Gets Some Things Right

By Piper Bayard

The Equalizer is a thriller film by Antoine Fuqua in which an ex-CIA operative must defeat the Russian mob to save his friend. Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, a widower who has left his former life of intelligence fieldwork. He keeps a simple life as a supervisor at Home Mart in Boston. Each night, his insomnia drives him to a corner diner with a classic book, where he chats with Alina (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young prostitute who is pimped out by the Russian mob. When Alina is brutally beaten and hospitalized by the Russians, McCall determines he will prevent her keepers from ever hurting her again. His decision triggers a series of events that lead to Moscow and to one of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs.

 

The Equalizer Movie Poster

The Equalizer Movie Poster

 

Though this movie is not intended to be a documentary, it gets several Truth & Fiction aspects right.

One: Robert McCall is a former CIA operative.

Intelligence operatives get to resign or retire if they want to. There is a grand myth in some spy fiction that intelligence organizations are like the mafia—that once you’re in, there’s only one way to leave, as in to die. Unlike James Bond, who will outlive all other intelligence operatives on the planet, CIA operatives, active or past, actually do eventually all die of the same causes that afflict the rest of the human population. However, the Company does not put out a hit on operatives who decides to strike out in other directions, regardless of how many secrets they may know.

Two: Robert McCall is a man who wears jeans and plain button up shirts.

While some former intelligence operatives might wear leather clothing and ride motorcycles, it is not required. In fact, most people who are confident that they can kill you with their pinkies prefer to appear as innocuous as possible. Life is just more comfortable for everyone that way.

 

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer
Image from The Equalizer

 

Three: Robert McCall works as a supervisor at “Home Mart.”

Except for congressmen, no one gets rich by working for the government. That includes intelligence operatives. As a result, when they leave, most of them must find other gainful employment, and that might be anything from selling used cars to teaching high school to assisting people with their lumber purchases at a home improvement store.

Four: Robert McCall does not rely entirely on firearms to kill the bad guys.

One of the best parts of this movie is the creative way McCall kills off his opponents. A large showdown takes place inside a home improvement center. While our hero unrealistically passes on the obvious opportunity to pick up a few heavy firearms from the skumbags he kills, his creativity in killing with common store items is worth the price of admission. Through the entire movie, he lays out approximately two dozen bad guys, but he only shoots one of them with a firearm.

 

Robert McCall and Alina Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall and Alina
Image from The Equalizer

 

Five:  Robert McCall is in control.

Operatives certainly have their bad days, and sometimes they end up in situations that are beyond their control. But, as Holmes says, “If you’re in a fair fight, you’re using poor tactics.” In every situation, our hero in The Equalizer has the upper hand.

It’s worth noting that this control is actually a negative when it comes to sustaining tension. At no time is the viewer genuinely worried that McCall won’t survive an encounter in order to collect his paycheck and do another movie. However, he is so creative in how he maintains control that this doesn’t sink the film.

Six:  Robert McCall dedicates himself to his chosen mission simply because he believes it is the right thing to do.

As a general rule, American intelligence operatives are an idealistic lot who devote themselves to their professions because they want to make the world a better place for innocent people to reside. No one does it for the money.

 

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer Image from The Equalizer

Robert McCall, a.k.a. The Equalizer
Image from The Equalizer

 

 Seven:  The evil kingpin behaves like an evil kingpin when cornered.

The Russian mobster at the top of the international crime food chain is aptly named Vladimir Pushkin. (All similarities to any living Russian oligarch are, no doubt, purely coincidental.) We see very little of Putin Pushkin, but where we do see him, he is behaving realistically, exhibiting disbelief that anyone would actually kill him, combined with the confidence that he can buy his way out of the situation.

 

Overall, The Equalizer is a thoroughly enjoyable movie that impressed me with its creativity. Denzel Washington is excellent in his role as the man people turn to when they have nowhere else to go. Chloë Grace Moretz does a great job breaking out of her Kick Ass role to show a bit more diversity. And of course, who doesn’t want to see a Russian mobster named Vladimir Pushkin get what’s coming to him? If you enjoy thrillers and justice movies, you will likely enjoy this one.

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We are pleased to announce that our first Bayard & Holmes spy thriller novella, THE SPY BRIDE, will be released in the RISKY BRIDES bestsellers’ collection on October 21 from Magnolia Press.

The Spy Bride Risky Brides Front Cover via Hightail

Becoming Josephine — From Carefree Creole to Empress of France

By Piper Bayard

In BECOMING JOSEPHINE, Heather Webb eloquently traces the transformation of Rose Tascher, carefree Caribbean island girl, to Empress Josephine, wife of the most powerful man of her century—Napoléon Bonaparte.

 

Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

 

Rose Tascher is a daydreaming Creole in Martinique who fantasizes of adventures in Paris and a grand life at the French court. When her beloved sister dies, Rose is sent in her place to marry Alexandre, an aristocrat and soldier. Before long, the stage of fancy dresses and glitzy balls devolves into a harrowing era of political witch hunts, when no one’s neck is safe from the guillotine. After narrowly escaping death in the infamous Les Carmes prison, Rose once more climbs her way up the social ladder. With her youth fading, along with her options for independence, her courtship with General Bonaparte ensues, and their rise to ultimate power begins.

Webb paints history with linguistic finesse, depicting characters and events with colorful, active palettes of expression. She draws her readers into the fear, uncertainty, and upheaval of revolutionary France through her vivid portrayal of Josephine Bonaparte as a passionate, imperfect, determined survivor. BECOMING JOSEPHINE is not only a refreshing perspective on the Napoleonic Era, it’s a great story.

Highly recommended.

 

 

Lone Survivor–Real SEALs and Unanswered Questions

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Lone Survivor Movie Poster

Lone Survivor is a movie about the 2005 Afghanistan mission, Operation Red Wings, in which a four-man team of Navy SEALs was tasked with scouting out Ahmad Shah—a terrorist leader aligned with the Taliban and other militant groups close to the Pakistani border. The SEALs were compromised when local goat herders stumbled over them, and they were ambushed shortly thereafter. Three of the SEALs were eventually killed, along with sixteen more special operations operatives who were coming to their rescue. Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor, and the movie is based on his book about the mission.

image by Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0 wikimedia commons

image by Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0
wikimedia commons

The four SEALs were played by Mark Wahlberg (Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell), Taylor Kitsch (Lt. Michael Murphy), Emile Hirsch (Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny Deitz), and Ben Foster (Sonar Technician 2nd Class Matthew Axelson). The movie was written by Peter Berg, Marcus Luttrell, and Patrick Robinson, and directed by Peter Berg.

Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Danny Dietz image from U.S. Navy

Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny Dietz
image from U.S. Navy

Bayard:

The acting and production were excellent, and by all reports from veterans, the look, feel, spirit, and heart of the movie were accurate right down to the varying sounds of the rifles and the brass. Only a short portion of the movie was purely contrived to satisfy the demands of storytelling structure, but it was irrelevant to the main story of these extraordinary men, and it did not detract from the cinematic experience of this very real event in Afghanistan in the Global War on Terror.

Lt. Michael Murphy and STG2 Matthew Axelson image by U.S. Navy

Lt. Michael Murphy and STG2 Matthew Axelson
image by U.S. Navy

Holmes:

In my opinion, minors or those who have a low tolerance for vivid combat scenes should not see Lone Survivor. The movie is very detailed in its violence. However, in this case, we cannot call that violence gratuitous because it really happened. Excluding it would have made the movie a pure fantasy.

The production values were high. Even the fast-moving combat scenes were filmed with attention to detail. The film crew, lighting crew, and sound editing crew earned their paychecks.

Actors Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, and  Emile Hirsch image from Lone Survivor movie

Actors Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, and Emile Hirsch
image from Lone Survivor movie

My one technical criticism would be that the music was overdone at times for my taste. When fighting the Taliban in the mountains, there was no music to help shape the emotions and responses of the four Navy SEALS involved in the main mission. I suppose that when moviegoers pay $13.00 to see a war movie, the folks in Hollywood know that nobody will leave satisfied if they get a “realistic” piece of war without some emotional music thrown in.

image from Lone Survivor movie

image from Lone Survivor movie

The acting and directing were excellent. I have the impression that the entire crew worked hard to produce Lone Survivor. I am glad that they did. The men that the story is about deserved that.

The movie gives a brief view of the dull routine of living in the noisy, tedious reality of life for troops in a plywood-and-canvas base in Afghanistan, followed by the hell that awaits them when they step out of that life in Plywoodville. The troops don’t complain about Plywoodville. It’s a serious upgrade from the unsanitary conditions in Dustville, that town outside their base. Since Lone Survivor is a (mostly) true story about real people experiencing a real hell, giving them a warmer and more cheerful “normal” day would have been dishonest. It is best that we see their reality for what it is.

Bagram Air Base image from U.S. Air Force

Bagram Air Base
image from U.S. Air Force

However, the obvious, very real, billion-dollar-a-week questions are not even hinted at in this movie. Why did these men lack airborne communications support? Why were they fighting with so little available back up? What the hell is going on when we send men on such dangerous deep missions with so little resources? And where the hell are all those billions going in Afghanistan?

Lone Survivor was clearly not intended to touch on those vital public policy issues, but the movie did do a good job of hinting at what those four Navy SEALs went through in that brief portion of their service to the United States of America. For that slice of reality, I am grateful.

From left to right, Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, Calif; Senior Chief Information Systems Technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, N.H.; Quartermaster 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nev.; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, N.Y. With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wings.

From left to right, Sonar Technician (Surface) 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, of Cupertino, Calif; Senior Chief Information Systems Technician Daniel R. Healy, of Exeter, N.H.; Quartermaster 2nd Class James Suh, of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Marcus Luttrell; Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Eric S. Patton, of Boulder City, Nev.; and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, of Patchogue, N.Y. With the exception of Luttrell, all were killed June 28, 2005, by enemy forces while supporting Operation Red Wings.

Bayard & Holmes Rating: .44 Magnum

For those that want a glance at the war in Afghanistan from a warrior’s point of view, this movie deserves a .44 Magnum rating—our highest. It was fully worth the $13.00. For those who don’t wish to glance at that dark reality of operations in Afghanistan, stay home and watch the usual half-assed reporting about it on your television.

Cop Killer: A Phenomenal Thriller

Today we welcome two of our favorites to our site–Screenwriter and Best Selling Author Ryne Douglas Pearson and Author/Editor Ellie Ann. Holmes and I both thoroughly enjoyed this book by Ryne, the man Piper calls the Prince of Prose, and we hope you’ll check it out.

810XHQqpcpL._SL1500_

Review of Cop Killer, by Ellie Ann

Product Synopsis:

Danny Owen. A hard-charging detective who thrives on the thrill of the chase, the danger in the catch. His life is the street. Dark alleys and vicious crimes fill his every waking moment, and often his dreams.

Until tragedy turns his world upside down.

Transferred to District One, considered the tamest slice of the city, Danny is partnered with veteran detective Jack James, a cool and methodical investigator whose near legendary tenure is considered pivotal in creating the District’s peaceful environment.

But even shining cities have their shadows, and the new partners find themselves facing a cold and calculating killer. One who might be avenging angel, or may simply be atoning for their own sins.

As Danny and Jack identify and close in on their suspect, the bounds of right and wrong, justice and vengeance, begin to blur. So much so that one detective begins to doubt just who is adversary, and who is ally.

This is an incredible tale of loyalty and trust, murder and mystery. What with the dark style and beautifully written prose, not to mention the themes of coldness/hardness and betrayal, it reminded me of a classic gothic novel. This is Wuthering Heights meets District 1.

The story is masterfully told. From the very first murder scene, I had a feeling I knew where the plot would end up–but I was wrong. And then around half the book I was sure I knew where it was headed–only to be surprised again. There’s nothing simple about this story. No decisions are black and white, and there are no knights in shining armor.

Danny is not your average protagonists. The first scene he was in made me sure I wasn’t going to like him–but as more layers were revealed in his character the more I realized what a complex, flawed, and inexplicably heroic soul he had.
I really can’t wait to see where this series goes. This book is highly recommended.

Check out Ryne Douglas Pearson’s website for buying options.

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Screen Shot 2012-11-24 at 2.35.45 PM

Ellie Ann is an author and an editor for Stonehouse Ink Publishing. Check out her new thriller, Breaking Steele, and Twisting Steele, she co-authored with #1 Amazon bestseller Aaron Patterson. Her first solo novel, a YA science fiction called The Silver Sickle, was released this spring. Something else that tickles her fancy is working with transmedia books at Noble Beast Publishing, where she is a producer of enhanced digital books.

Ellie Ann blogs at EllieAnn.net and would love to meet you on Facebook or Twitter.

In Bruges — Movie Review by Bayard & Holmes

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

In Bruges was released in 2008, but it’s a favorite of mine and Holmes’ so we thought we’d share it with you. In Bruges is a drama about two hit men, Ray and Ken, who are sent to cool their heels in Bruges for a couple of weeks after a job goes a bit wrong. Here’s our take on this hysterical dark comedic drama. . . .

Bayard:

There’s a saying. Great characters make great stories. I have no idea who said it. Maybe I did. Nevertheless, it’s true, and In Bruges has great characters. Having spent my life around, shall we say, personalities, I found the characters in this movie to be exceedingly real and 3D. In fact, even the most minor characters, right down to the innkeeper, are deep and interesting.

The main character is a whiney young hit man with a conscience, Ray, played brilliantly by Colin Farrell. Then there are his mentor, Ken (Brendan Gleeson), who loves culture and is devoted to his dead wife to a fault, a superficially classy, but loyal, cocaine dealer love interest (Clemence Poesy), and an opinionated, racist dwarf (Jordan Prentice). Stir that up with the Belgian arms dealer boss (Ralph Fiennes) who operates from his parlor and would die for his principles, and you’d have to be blind, deaf, drunk, stoned and stupid to not get a story out of it.

As in every great story, questions arise because of these characters. Are there folks who need a good killing? Whose life is worth dying to save? When is a debt paid, and what coin is too high to pay it? And the most near and dear to my heart, is there redemption for the worst of us, and what does that even mean? In Bruges wraps these deepest of questions in humor as dark and satisfying as bittersweet chocolate.

My favorite quote is from Ray. “Prison… death… didn’t matter. Because at least in prison and at least in death, you know, I wouldn’t be in &#%in’ Bruges.”

This movie is rated “R” for good reasons. Sex, drug use, violence, and language that would curl the hair on a sailor’s toes. In fact, if you enjoy sitting through this movie with your young people, please seek out professional help immediately.

A hit man, a coke dealer, and a dwarf go into this bar . . .

Holmes:

I saw this movie in the company of three picky movie goers. All four of us felt that it was well worth the time and cost to see it. This movie is a dark comedy that relies more on creativity and a great script than on raw “darkness” to achieve its mood. It’s almost inaccurate to list this movie as a dark comedy; it’s a movie that stands nearly alone as “type” goes. Writer/director Martin McDonagh did not bother staying within the normal boundaries or using traditional, standard elements to create a great story. I’m glad he didn’t.
 
The production quality was excellent. The camera work and lighting were brilliant. The director and crew did a great job of taking advantage of the ambiance of Bruges, and the acting was outstanding all the way around. The movie is a bit on the raw side, so you might not want to bring your grandmother or children under the age of fifteen to see it. If the close up violence, the brief sex, and the generous cursing don’t disturb you, then you will likely enjoy this movie.
 
 
Ken and Ray. What to do in Bruges?
 
In Bruges is full of interesting and/or funny characters. One of the best scenes involved a snotty ticket vendor. Anyone who has played tourist has met this fellow in one form or another and will likely enjoy the outcome of the scene. It’s an outcome you may have contemplated a few times, yourself.
 
We both loved this movie and have no reservations in assigning it our top rating, a “.44 Mag,” which means we call it a Must See. If you can handle the sex/violence/language aspects, that is. (Click here for our movie rating system.) We rarely watch the same movie twice, but we will both definitely see this movie again.
 
Have you seen In Bruges? What did you think of it? Are there any other movies you’d like to have reviewed by a spook and a belly dancer?
 
 
All the best to all of you for an experience in Bruges.
 

Rise of the Machines and the WANAMama

By Piper Bayard

She has many names–WANAMama, Writerchik, the Death Star–but you may know her as Kristen Lamb. Fiction writer, blogger, and social media maven. I met her just over three years ago on a patio in Ft. Worth. She was gesticulating wildly, glass of wine in hand, and Texas-twang-talking a mile a minute about antagonists and log lines. It was a watershed moment in my career.

Author Kristen Lamb

I thought I was safe behind a few other writers as I listened, hoping I wouldn’t catch her eye. Then she looked straight at me and asked me, “Do you blog?”

Me: “Blog? . . . Isn’t that cousin to The Creature from the Black Lagoon?”

Kristen: “In the Internet Age, every writer needs a social media platform if they are going to be taken seriously and be viable in today’s market. But here’s the good news. We are not alone.”

And so it began. She was writing a book about her approach to author platform building on social media–WANA, standing for We Are Not Alone. She adopted me as her guinea pig for her methods because she had never met anyone who knew less about social media. As her experiment, I began to blog and started Facebook and Twitter accounts. Major steps for a technophobe.

The result? In three years, I have a social media platform that reaches over two million people. My debut dystopian thriller, FIRELANDS, hit #21 at Amazon for Science Fiction/Genetic Engineering the day I announced it, and it now has a dozen or so five-star reviews from people I’ve never met. After six weeks, FIRELANDS is still sitting at #11 for Young Adult/Dystopia at Kobo, which is pretty amazing since it isn’t even a YA book.

The point of telling you this is not to toot my own horn. It’s to let you know that Kristen’s WANA methods really work. Since I met her, Kristen’s WANA method has developed into three best-selling social media books, a popular new social media site for authors called WANA Tribe, a bi-annual online writers convention called WANACon featuring first class teachers and author keynotes, a series of online writing and social media classes, and her latest achievement, Rise of the Machines.

Rise of the Machines Cover

No one has the ability to interpret social media and what it means to authors and the changing publishing industry like Kristen does. She can take the most complicated information and translate it into a digestible and entertaining form, making it useful to noobs and New York Times best sellers, alike. I can’t recommend Kristen’s books or the WANA method highly enough.

Rise of the Machines is and author’s best friend. You can find it at Amazon.

This week over at Kristen’s site, she is devoting her efforts to an Apocalypse Week to celebrate the success of her guinea pig (me). Please visit her at Kristen Lamb’s Blog and enjoy her hysterical voice as she explores the more humorous aspects of total annihilation. Who else can talk about the Kardashians, e. bola, and apocalypse at the same time and make it funny? It starts here . . .

The Stuff of Legends–Creating a Character Apocalypse

by Kristen Lamb

Have a great week, everyone! Bayard & Holmes will be back next Monday with an update from Holmes on the Syrian situation.

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Field on Fire Canstock

FIRELANDS

Available from Amazon in Paperback and on Kindle

Also in e-book at Barnes & Noble and Kobo,

and at iTunes for iPad and mobile devices.

Susan Spann–Historical Mystery Author or Ninja Conspirator?

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

It’s happened again. It starts with a twitch, and then, before you know it, Holmes and I are kidnapping another author and whisking them away to our secret blog prison.

Today, our victim guest is Debut Historical Author Susan Spann. Susan earned her bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies at Tufts University in Boston. She somehow got bamboozled into pursuing a law career—friends don’t let friends go to law school—and received her J.D. from UCLA. After years of teaching and a stint as Associate Academic Dean at Trinity Law School in Santa Ana, she now practices intellectual property law and writes historical mysteries set in 1500s Japan. Her debut, CLAWS OF THE CAT, is due out tomorrow (Minotaur Books).

Claws of the Cat Cover

We snatched Susan gave Susan a ride from her office in Sacramento. It wasn’t too hard to get her to come with us. We lured her into our black helicopter by telling her that her favorite author, James Rollins, had once been held against his will  spent a lovely afternoon in it with us.

Welcome to our blog today, Susan. Please make yourself comfortable. We had these tatami mats flown in especially for your visit . . . No, not from Japan. From Kansas. They’re woven from genuine American GMO wheat stalks. We believe in buying American. Hope you don’t have any allergies.

You’re welcome to remove your blindfold now. If you notice, it’s a Hello Kitty sleep mask to match the Hello Kitty handcuffs. Very Japanese.

Would you like some tea? I studied that scene in Shogun several times to get it right.

Let’s begin our interrogation conversation. Keep in mind that Intelligence Operative Holmes is just behind this one-way glass *waves*, and the NSA will have a permanent and complete record of your answers.

Susan Spann Historical Author and Ninja Conspirator

Susan Spann
Historical Author and Ninja Conspirator

Now, Ms. Spann—just what is your connection to the Orient?

I’d say “I’m a ninja” but if I was really a ninja this blindfold and handcuffs would be on someone else.

So, instead, I’ll say I’ve always loved Japanese history and culture, especially medieval Japan. In college, my studies focused on early Imperial China and medieval Japan, including the Muromachi period (1337-1573) when samurai ruled and ninjas really existed.

It was a dangerous time, but also beautiful and intriguing – and the Shinobi series gives me a fabulous chance to explore the era in more detail and translate it into fiction.

So your special interest is ninjas, is it? Exactly why would you be studying these assassins and their ways?

Technically, they attacked me first. I’m just returning the favor.

Hmm. The old “he started it first” line.  Doesn’t work for my kids, either. Please go on.

The moment I had the idea to write a mystery novel featuring a ninja detective, I realized a shinobi (which is the Japanese pronunciation — “ninja” is based on a Chinese word) would make the perfect sleuth. Shinobi were masters of disguise who trained in undercover operations as well as assassination – much like modern spies.

Speaking of spies … Hi Holmes! Can he see me waving?

Ahem. Holmes prefers the term “spook.” Spying is a bit seamy—its what the NSA and the Russians do.

Anyway, a shinobi seemed like the perfect sleuth, provided I could find a believable reason for Hiro to use his skills to solve murders instead of committing them. Fortunately, the mystery in CLAWS OF THE CAT offers just the right “incentive.”

I love your style in CLAWS OF THE CAT in that you weave in the setting and history of 1500s Japan in just the right amount as you unfold the story. You’ve heard me describe it as the ultimate cozy whodunit with a healthy dose of “Cool, I didn’t know that” on the side. Is there some dark force that draws you to creating intricate patterns of deception in the form of mystery novels?

I learned it from my kitten, Oobie. Who better to teach deception than a cat?

And thank you. One of my goals for the novel was to immerse the narrative in an unusual cultural setting, showing the reader the beauty and danger of samurai Japan within the scope of a fast-paced mystery romp. Each book in the series incorporates a different facet of Japanese culture, which means new and unusual settings in every one.

Also, I’m delighted to hear you enjoyed the book. I loved your novel, FIRELANDS, and it means a lot to me when authors whose works I enjoy like my book too.

I have someone here who is familiar with your novel, and who has some tough questions for you to answer. *crosses to intercom* Bring in Inspector Parker.

Inspector Parker

Inspector Parker

*enters and sniffs at Susan’s ankle* You don’t smell too suspicious, but I don’t like that large, black bag you’re carrying. I deduce that you are hiding ninja weapons in it. Your hero, Hiro, uses a number of them. Please empty your purse and explain these items.

The weapons on the cover of CLAWS are neko-te, which translates “claws of the cat” – a specialized weapon favored by female ninjas (called kunoichi). The claws were worn on the ends of the fingers, transforming a kunoichi’s hands into lethal weapons. In many cases, the claws were poisoned too.

This thing that looks like a stick is a ninja smoke bomb, made from a length of bamboo filled with a special powdered mixture that produces smoke when ignited. Ninjas used a variety of bombs and other explosive devices, mostly to create distractions but sometimes for destructive purposes too. Hiro doesn’t use any bombs in CLAWS OF THE CAT, but he will in some of the later books. 

That last thing is a pen. For signing books …

Surely you are aware that all the world has heard of war dogs, but no one has ever heard of war cats. It’s a proven fact that writing about war dogs increases an author’s book sales. Why would you instead choose to glorify cats in your writing?

I humbly beg forgiveness for that oversight, Inspector Parker! It’s true that dogs make any book better, but in the interests of interspecies fairness, I decided to give a kitten equal time.

When I started writing CLAWS OF THE CAT, I knew I needed to soften Hiro’s ninja edge and make him someone readers could relate to—unrepentant assassins aren’t a classic hero archetype. The fastest way to demonstrate Hiro’s gentler side was letting him rescue, and keep, an orphaned kitten.

But I didn’t want to make Hiro too soft, and I like books with plenty of tension, so I also made Father Mateo, Hiro’s Jesuit sidekick, allergic to cats.

While you’ve written an excellent book, even the name CLAWS OF THE CAT might unjustly put off your dog readership. Do you have any plans to remedy that unfortunate choice by adding dogs to your novels in the future?

Absolutely! A dog appears in the series’ second installment, Blade of the Samurai, which is scheduled for publication in July 2014. I’m afraid he’s not as nice a dog as you are, Inspector Parker, but he’s a brave Akita who does his best to protect his people.

If the series continues beyond three books, you’ll also get to see a ninja dog—but I can’t reveal any more or I’ll blow his cover!

I will look forward to reading about such noble members of my species . . . Excuse me, but may I sniff your bag again, please? . . . Is that salami? Did you bring that for me? *sticks head in Susan’s handbag*

Now, now, Inspector Parker, it’s not appropriate to beg from our subjects. If you’ll just go to Holmes, he’ll share some salami with you. Thank you for your input in this case. *Inspector Parker departs*

Ms. Spann, what is your current Work In Progress?

I’ve delivered Blade of the Samurai to my editor at Minotaur, and I’m currently working on Flask of the Drunken Master, the third installment in the Shinobi Mystery series. I love spending time with Hiro and Father Mateo.

And where do you go from here? Do you have any upcoming book tours or other promotions?

CLAWS releases tomorrow, and I’m really excited about sharing it with readers! I currently have signings scheduled in California and Colorado:

Thursday, July 18, 2013: 6:30pm Launch Event: Face in a Book Bookstore, 4359 Town Center Blvd., #113, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762

Thursday, July 25, 2013: 7:00 PM Reading & Signing: Barnes & Noble (3rd Street Promenade), 1201 Third Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Tuesday, July 30, 2013: 11:00 AM Reading & Signing: Towne Center Books, 555 Main Street Pleasanton, CA 94566

Wednesday, August 28, 2013: 7:00PM Reading & Signing: Barnes & Noble, 6111 Sunrise Boulevard, Citrus Heights, CA 95610

Monday, September 16, 2013: 7:30 PM Reading & Signing: Tattered Cover Bookstore
2526 East Colfax Avenue Denver, CO 80206

You can also get up to date information on these and other signings at my author events page: Find Susan–Live Events and Conferences

Thank you for your time today, Susan. I’m going to have to ask you to put this parachute on over your kimono before we leave. Don’t worry—we’ll remove your handcuffs and blindfold before we push you out of the helicopter deliver you safely to your home. You may keep the Hello Kitty paraphernalia as a souvenir of our chat, if you like, but we’ll be sending someone by to collect the parachute. Tight budget, and all.

I can certainly confirm that CLAWS OF THE CAT is a great read. Find it now in hardback and paperback at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Also find this awesome book at IndieBound, Powell’s, and at the iTunes Apple Store.

42–The Jackie Robinson Story

By Piper Bayard

42, starring Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, and Nicole Beharie, tells a story of African-American Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough into the world of major league baseball. It covers Robinson’s life from the time he was first hired to play for the Dodgers’ affiliate, the Montreal Royals, through his rookie year with the Dodgers.

42 movie poster

Jackie Robinson used his life to write a story of pioneering talent and determination, from being UCLA’s first 4-letter athlete and a 2nd lieutenant and platoon leader in the U.S. Army during WWII, to becoming the first ever major league baseball Rookie of the Year. He was an extraordinary man and an outstanding baseball player. Too bad this movie isn’t about him.

Instead, 42 is about the deity commonly referred to as “Jackie Robinson.” The movie isn’t even shy about Robinson’s deity status, making several overt correlations between him and Jesus Christ, with his only “flaw” being an occasional reasonable display of temper. I can’t help but think that Jackie Robinson the Man might have cringed at the explicit comparisons with the Son of God.

That said, the acting in this movie is excellent. Most of the characters are written as 21st century politically correct racial stereotypes. However, the actors do a great job in spite of their, if you will forgive me, black and white roles, and their performances were excellent to a person.

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in 42

Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in 42

Chadwick Boseman, a graduate of Howard University and a former student of the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England, is exceptional as Jackie Robinson. He took Hollywood’s character profile of a deity and almost convinced me he was playing an actual historical figure rather than a mythical hero. He is the antithesis of Kristen Stewart with his range of facial expressions, and he has a lovely smile that I look forward to seeing in another movie. Soon, if possible.

Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in 42

Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey in 42

Harrison Ford, always a welcome favorite, is gifted by the writers in having a well-rounded character to play in the form of Branch Rickey. He did a great job with it.

Nicole Beharie also deserves recognition for her portrayal of Rachel, Jackie Robinson’s wife. It’s not mentioned in the movie, but Rachel Robinson went on to become an Assistant Professor at Yale School of Nursing and the Director of Nursing at the Connecticut Mental Health Center. Beharie is more than believable playing that accomplished, graceful young woman in the movie who would, herself, make contributions to history in her own right.

Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson in 42

Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson in 42

I do not want to diminish Jackie Robinson the Man’s accomplishments. I have the greatest respect for him and for the uphill battle he faced. There is no question that Robinson suffered considerable racism both on and off the diamond. And, to the best of my knowledge, the movie is accurate in its portrayal of Phillies manager Ben Chapman, the Phillies, and the Cardinals, who were notable in their racial abuse.

However, unlike the movie portrayal, Robinson was not the only black player in the Montreal Royals. In fact, the International League had a number of minorities in their ranks at the time he joined. Also, the Brooklyn Dodgers largely welcomed him to their team with only a handful of his teammates objecting. Throughout the baseball world, there were mixed reactions to opening major league baseball teams to racial minorities, and for every white person who was against it, there was another white person who would not have cared if Robinson was a Martian as long as he could hit. Young people watching this movie would never know that.

Jackie Robinson LOOK, v. 19, no. 4, 1955 Feb. 22, p. 78 Photo by Bob Sandberg, LOOK Photographer

Jackie Robinson
LOOK, v. 19, no. 4, 1955 Feb. 22, p. 78
Photo by Bob Sandberg, LOOK Photographer

I give this movie a .38 Special rating*. That means I was glad I saw it at the matinée, and I’m actually glad I saw it. The actors’ performances were worth the trip in spite of the fact that the movie struck me as the cinematic equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade painting. Light was cast from a dedicated perspective. I believe it disrespects and dehumanizes the extraordinary man and amazing ballplayer, Jackie Robinson, by reducing him to a stereotypical hero/deity rather than presenting him as he was. The reality of the great human man who inspired generations of children of all races would have been the better story.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

*Our Movie Rating System:

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
  • .380: Go to the matinée if someone else is paying.
  • .38 special: Worth paying for the matinée yourself.
  • .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
  • .44 magnum: Must see this. Potentially life-altering event.

Weaving Tapestries of Adventure — James Rollins and BLOODLINE

By Piper Bayard

James-Rollins-and-Bloodline

In James Rollins’ BLOODLINE, futuristic science meets ancient mysticism to produce a non-stop thrill ride that will keep readers turning pages into the wee hours and leave them making excuses to their employers about why they are late to work, looking like they just came from an all-night party.

BLOODLINE is the latest in Rollins’ SIGMA Force series, in which a top secret special operations division of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency investigates and neutralizes apocalyptic technological threats. When Somali pirates kidnap the US president’s pregnant daughter, Commander Gray Pierce and SIGMA team up with former Army Ranger Tucker Wayne and his war dog, Kane to find her. What they uncover is a plot born in the ancient past that they must thwart before it comes to fruition, changing the very nature of human life in the quest for immortality. From the backlands of Somalia to the opulence of Dubai and the halls of Western power, Rollins extracts cryptic threads from the shrouded past and deftly weaves them into a clever tapestry of modern adventure.

One of the occupational hazards of being a writer is becoming too critical to get lost in stories, instead picking them apart and analyzing them until all books, movies, and shows are an extension of our work. Rollins, however, plaits tales that envelope and transport even the most jaded realist into a world where good really can triumph against the odds. A reminder we can all use now and again.

BLOODLINE comes out tomorrow, March 26, in paperback. You can order it now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at James Rollins’ website.

Amazon Barnes and Noble The Poisoned Pen Indie Bound

ALSO AVAILABLE AS AN E-BOOK!

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