My Trackdown Series Continues
You’ll recall that old saying, a rolling stone gathers no moss. Well, last year was indeed a busy one for me. With the COVID-19 virus confusion canceling the college classes that I teach, as well as the PSWA Conference for which I’m the program director, I found myself with more time to write. I managed to produce five novels and a couple of short stories. One of the novels was a western, which I wrote under my A.W. Hart pseudonym (Gunslinger: Killer’s Ghost), but the other four were under my own name and introduced a whole new series that I’m very excited about.
The first novel in my new Trackdown series, Devil’s Dance, debuted on November 15th from Wolfpack publishing. It begins the saga about former Army Ranger, Steve Wolf, who’s wrongly convicted of a war crime in the waning days of the Iraq war. Unbeknownst to Wolf, he is actually caught up in an elaborate scheme perpetrated by a very rich and eccentric man who will stop at nothing to obtain an ancient artifact stolen from the Iraqi National Museum of Art. Upon his release from a four-year prison term, Wolf is approached by his mentor, ex-green beret Jim McNamara, who convinces Wolf to join him in the business of Bail Bond Enforcement.
“Bail Bound Enforcement?” Wolf asks. “What’s that?”
“Bounty hunting,” McNamara replies. “Twenty-first Century style.” And so their picaresque adventures begins.
Based in Phoenix, Arizona, where McNamara and his daughter operate Trackdown, Incorporated out of their house in Phoenix, Arizona, Wolf reluctantly agrees to join Mac. The pair cross paths with some undesirable characters as they head down south of the border to apprehend a wanted fugitive. Unbeknownst to Wolf, his old enemies from Iraq, a PMC called the Vipers are also in Mexico on the trail of the same fugitive, who is in possession of the priceless stolen artifact being sought by the very rich and unscrupulous man. The trail leads them all to El Meco, the abandoned Mayan ruins. Wolf finds himself suddenly battling alone against a small army of vicious foes in a conflict where the only outcome is either survival or death.
Trackdown #2, Devil’s Fancy, came out on December 15th and continued the saga of Wolf and McNamara as they try to fit the pieces of this developing puzzle together and suddenly find themselves in the crosshairs of a highly professional and extremely deadly squad of mercenaries who give no quarter. Dodging more bullets than he did in a combat zone, Wolf must overcome the stacked odds against him if he is to survive this deadly endgame.
Next up was Trackdown #3, Devil’s Brigade, which was released on January 15th. This one finds our heroes being badgered by the FBI over the incident that occurred in Mexico, as well as a shootout involving federal agents in Devil’s Fancy. A lucrative bounty takes Wolf and Mac to a lawless encampment inside a large city in the Pacific Northwest. However, the same powerful, rich man who set Wolf up years ago is still shadowing him, hoping to gain possession of a priceless artifact that is now in Wolf’s unknowing possession. To accomplish this end, the sinister rich man employs another professional killer. A former CIA fixer who is set to come at Wolf with unrelenting efficiency. Just when it seems things couldn’t get worse, Wolf and McNamara must unexpectedly rescue Mac’s grandson, who has been taken to a militia compound and held hostage. Facing CIA killers, crazed militia forces, and overwhelming odds, Wolf once again finds himself outnumbered and outgunned in a brutal showdown where a young child’s life hangs in the balance.
These three lead to a finale of sorts in Trackdown #4, Devil’s Advocate, which came out on February 15th. When a possible path for Wolf to clear his name materializes, he jumps at the chance. However, he’s still being stalked by the shadow-like foes who are being funded by the same rich sociopath who set Wolf up for the false charges back in Iraq. Wolf and McNamara find themselves facing a brutal gang of ruthless bikers as well as the group of highly proficient CIA-trained killers. This time their quest ultimately takes them to Belize, where they discover an ultimate betrayal and finally come face-to-face with the man behind it all. With the odds stacked against him once again, Wolf finds himself in a desperate struggle to save an innocent life, but will it cost him his last chance at redemption? You’ll have to wait until February to find out.
So, as you can see, it was a rather hectic and busy year. And what, you may ask, is ahead at 2021?
Right now, I’m not sure if the Trackdown series will continue. Like any new venture, a lot will depend on the sales. Like the first season of a new TV series, the four books described above do offer completion of the original story arc. Or do they? I’m being a bit coy about this because I am awaiting a contract for a fifth book in the series as I write this, and have an idea about how I’d like the saga of Steve Wolf to continue. I’ve also been contacted about finishing off the Gunslinger series under the A.W. Hart moniker and have three new short stories set to come out in various magazines. And then, of course, I’m hopeful that once this COVID-19 thing is firmly in our rearview mirrors, we’ll be able to move ahead with the PSWA Conference in July.
Another milestone for me was being inducted into the Illinois Martial Arts Hall of Fame. Although the virus KOed the pageantry of being presented with the plaque at the formal dinner, it was presented to me at one of the limited, socially distanced book signings I was able to host in November. Through all of last year’s ups and downs, I tried to remain positive and continued to be thankful for all my good friends, one of whom is George Cramer, who once again invited me to be on his blog. Thanks, George, and let’s all look forward to doing a lot of writing in the coming year. Thanks for tuning in.
Michael A. Black
Pestilence – In a changing world,
Impacted by global warming, a strange new fungus grows in the damp, humid climate. People have discovered its mind-altering effects – and everyone’s using. Dr. David Leeman has discovered a medicinal use for this compound – a miracle cure, to end antibiotic resistance and treat incurable disease.
Terry is an early beneficiary of the wonder-drug. She’s taking part in clinical trials, but her partner, Alex, is furious. He’s bitterly opposed to the pharmaceutical industry and won’t support her. Little Jessica is developing a drug habit, using the new legal high – then she develops a skin problem.
Dr. Leeman realizes, too late, that his wonder-drug has created a pathway for a new pandemic – a fungal disease that is causing mass deaths across the globe.
As civilization collapses, the three come together, forming a healing commune to boost their immune systems and fight the pathogen. But will they find a cure?
I’ve always enjoyed apocalyptic thrillers, so perhaps it was natural that this would be the theme of my first novel.
‘Pestilence’ published in January 2021, is a pandemic story about a deadly fungus that brings about the end of the world. The idea came to me when I was 16 years old. I was a keen horror fan, inspired by James Herbert. But the story got shelved and wasn’t published for another 30 years, by which time it had evolved into a thriller, substantially changed and improved.
It was pure coincidence that the year I spent pitching the book to agents was the year a real pandemic happened! I’m hoping people will think this makes the book more topical and enhances its appeal!
In the day job, I’m a freelance writer, covering health, travel, and lifestyle topics for a wide range of magazines. I also have non-fiction books on WWII, travel, and freelance writing.
How I Became a Writer – I’d always wanted to be a professional writer, but I had to get a proper job while I lived with my parents and ended up trying to build a career in marketing. The opportunity to become a writer came when I was 36 years old and took voluntary redundancy. With support from my husband, I decided to try my luck at freelance writing, and I’m still doing it 11 years later, so I must have done something right. I write every day from the sunniest room in the house – it’s bright and cozy when the sun’s out. I work from 8 am to 5 pm, taking a break for lunch. I also go for a walk in the afternoons.
My Current Work in Progress – Today I’m writing an article about a cold war nuclear bunker for a general interest magazine. The British government’s preparations for nuclear war in the 1950s were startling, and it came as quite a shock when I first found out how close we’d come to possible nuclear annihilation. They had the leaflets printed for circulation to the public, telling people how to survive nuclear fallout, but they were never distributed because the immediate threat of nuclear war never came.
My Favourite Character in the Novel – In my fiction, the end of the world is caused by a fungal pathogen, not nuclear war! I enjoyed writing the bad guy scenes the most. My bad guy, Alex, is a complicated character with a passion for animal welfare but a tendency to lash out and become violent with people. He’s spent a lot of time in jail, and in the book, he ends up in situations that challenge his character, exposing both the good and the bad. I’d be interested to hear from readers, whether they empathize with him or think he’s a nasty piece of work.
My Favourite Writers – Since becoming a professional writer, I’ve tried to read more widely. I still like James Herbert, but I also like Peter James, Paula Hawkins, and I’m particularly fond of autobiographies and memoirs. My latest read is Without Conscience, a non-fiction book about psychopaths!
Advice for New Writers – My best advice for new writers is to persevere. Even if you take a break, you can always come back to writing when the time is right for you. I suspect I didn’t have what it takes to be a professional writer when I was 16, but I do now.
Also, if you’re struggling with a particular project (remember that book?), it can help to take a long break from your work, because then when you look at it afresh, you can see more clearly which parts are good and which parts need to be improved.
When I drafted Pestilence, I was a pantser. I had a list of ideas but didn’t plot the story well. If I write another novel, I will plan it carefully to save time and energy. Then there will be fewer edits required along the way!
Amazon Author page Author.to/SusieKearley
My blog www.susiekearley.blogspot.com
USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name.
Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.
When I first began writing years ago, I wrote romance and romantic suspense, but when the chick lit craze hit the publishing world, my agent suggested I try writing one. That’s when I discovered I had a knack for writing humor. Who knew? I flub every joke I’ve ever tried to tell!
The first book I ever sold straddled a line between women’s fiction and chick lit. Talk Gertie to Me was a humorous fish-out-of-water story about a mother and daughter. The second book I sold was Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, the first book I ever wrote. But with only a few exceptions, my life since late 2009 has been consumed by Anastasia Pollack, the reluctant amateur sleuth of my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. That’s when I signed a contract for the first three books in the series, which debuted in 2011.
One of those exceptions came about as a result of an invitation from Amazon. In 2015 they embarked on a new publishing venture. Kindle Worlds was a foray into fan fiction where anyone could write novellas that tied into handpicked existing series. To get the project up and running, Amazon invited additional authors, many recommended by the series authors, to create the first novellas.
There were few rules we had to follow in creating these companion novellas. Authors could use as little or as much of the existing series world as they wanted. We could even change the tone of the original books in the series.
I was asked to write a novella based on author CJ Lyons’ Shadow Ops Series. CJ writes what she calls “Thrillers with Heart.” Since writing the first of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries, I’ve turned my back on the dark romantic suspense of my early books to concentrate on humorous tales. I figure there’s already too much in this world keeping us up at night. I want to give my readers an escape from the real world.
Since I had the freedom to create a novella in a different tone from the Shadow Ops books, I reimagined CJ’s domestic thriller series as a humorous caper. If you’re not familiar with capers, think Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. Capers are a mashup of suspense or romantic suspense and humor. They’re often similar to amateur sleuth or cozy mysteries but without the restrictions regarding language, violence, or sex.
The Kindle Worlds program disbanded a few years later. The novella authors were allowed to republish their work as long as they received permission from the series author and all references to the original series were removed or changed.
I’m not the fastest writer, and Anastasia tends to keep me busy. I finally got around to updating my novella a few months ago after the release of A Sew Deadly Cruise, the ninth and latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery. However, I held off publishing the novella so it wouldn’t compete with the release of that book.
I changed the title of the novella from Mom Squad, expanding and rebranding it as Moms in Black, a Mom Squad Caper. If the novella does well, I plan to write two more Mom Squad Caper novellas for a 3-novella series, but right now, I’m hard at work on the tenth Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery.
Moms in Black – A Mom Squad Caper
When Cassandra Davenport applies for a job at www.savingtheworld.us, she expects to find a ‘green’ charity. Instead, she becomes the newest member of a covert organization run by ex-government officials. Dubbed the Mom Squad, the organization is the brainchild of three former college roommates—attorney general Anthony Granville, ex-FBI agent Gavin Demarco, and tech billionaire Liam Hatch—all of whom have lost loved ones at the hands of terrorists. Financed by Hatch, they work in the shadows and without the constraints of congressional oversight, reporting directly to Granville.
Demarco heads up one of the six groups that comprise the new operation. He hires Cassandra as the newest member of his New Jersey based team. In the course of monitoring possible terrorist threats, the Mom Squad discovers a link to Cassandra’s ex-husband. Before she’s fully trained, Cassandra is thrust into a world where her ex may be involved with radicalized terrorists bent on killing as many Americans as possible.
And while they’re saving the world from an imminent attack, what in the world will Cassandra do about all that sexual tension simmering between her and her new boss?
Buy Links (pre-order now; available 2/8/21)
Kindle https://amzn.to/2VZHTOcKobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/moms-in-black
Apple Books https://books.apple.com/us/book/moms-in-black/id1544138743
Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5
Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com
Terese Marie Mailhot – A New York Times bestseller
Selected by Emma Watson as the Our Shared Shelf Book Club Pick for March/April 2018
A PBS Newshour/New York Times Now Read This Book Club Pick
A New York Times Editor’s Choice
Winner of the Spalding Prize for the Promotion of Peace and Justice in Literature
Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for English–Language Nonfiction
A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection
An NPR Best Book of the Year
“There are so many sentences I had to read again because they were so true and beautiful. It’s a memoir of pure poetry and courage and invention. Whenever I think about it, my heart clenches with love.” —Cheryl Strayed, The New York Times Book Review.
“A sledgehammer . . . Her experiments with structure and language . . . are in the service of trying to find new ways to think about the past, trauma, repetition, and reconciliation, which might be a way of saying a new model for the memoir . . . If Heart Berries is any indication, the work to come will not just surface suppressed stories; it might give birth to new forms.” —The New York Times.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes! I have a novel coming out soon! It’s untitled.
What brought you to writing? I loved my mother’s writing very much. She was the first person who really taught me about writing. I would watch her work nightly on poetry or essay, and I always thought it was honorable work.
Where do you write and do allow any distractions? I write in my bedroom, because it’s the only room in the house I could set up an office. I invite distractions. I’m very lucky in my life. This pandemic has taught me to value family time and I’ve also learned how to enjoy being sidetracked. Those moments of distraction can be inspiring and energizing.
Tell us about your writing process: I write every day until I make my wordcount goal. Then I take a few months off and revise. If it’s for something more urgent, I work relentlessly, nonstop, until it’s as good as it gets for that deadline.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Time. Work life getting in the way.
What are you currently working on? The novel. I’m giving it time. I finished the first draft, so it’s about time to revise.
Who’s currently your favorite author? Kiese Laymon or Jesmyn Ward or James Baldwin … it’s too hard to choose!
How long did it take you to write your first book and published? It about 6 years to write. It sold two weeks from the time I sent it out and was published a year after.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? I like the outsiders. I like writing from the perspective of black sheep types, because their interiority is electric and perceptive, willful, and neglected.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? Yes.
Do you try to make the antagonist into a more human character? I think flawed characters are my favorite. I like people written off or disregarded, or people who are misunderstood.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I think there are underpinned themes in all the work I do. I think, in my current novel, there’s an underpinned theme of joy and collectivity, and I think of it like taste. Like, there should be many dimensions to a good dish. There should be a lot to savor or value in good food. Maybe I’m hungry. It shouldn’t be overbearing the main course.
Do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I like work with little plot. I just throw wrenches at my characters until something strikes me.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Both.
What kind of research do you do? A lot. As much as humanly possible from all kinds of sources.
What is the best book you ever read? Giovanni’s Room.
Do you have any advice for new writers? You can do it. It’s harder for some, but nothing is impossible.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? I write for the women I love. I write for my mother.
How do our readers contact you? Teresemailhot.com
— R. Scott Decker, PSWA Vice President and author of Recounting the Anthrax Attacks.
Introduction – As I continue to write and refine my style, I find my mind visualizing the words as I form a sentence. I struggle not to use the same word twice on a page, to stay in the active voice, alter sentence length, and so on. My goal is that writing becomes second nature. It takes work.
I am also finding that I visualize spoken words and unconsciously critique the speaker’s use of words and phrases. My mind sees the spoken words on a page. I find myself cringing at certain phrases used in abundance and not always in the correct form. I evaluate discussions and media commentary for what would be suitable or unsuitable in written narrative. Overuse and misuse of the King’s English has become my unintended pet peeve.
I’m not alone. At the beginning of the year, two young TV announcers/anchors presented their list of overused and abused words. They put “literally” at the top of their list. Unfortunately, many celebrities, including Hollywood A-listers and popular talk show hosts, did not see the broadcast or pay attention if they did. At the top of my list for this season is “moving forward.” It’s everywhere—sports, politics, and the nightly news. Some examples:
Commentator during the fourth game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Finals – “We will continue to monitor COVID test positive results moving forward.” Redundant?
Tom Bevan, opening of the 9/29/2020 Presidential Debate – “Forward-looking vision for the future.” What?
A prolific and widely-read romance author recently penned advice for fellow writers: “I think the biggest mistake an author makes when writing a rough draft is stopping and rereading/editing their work. The key is to keep moving forward and get the whole story out.” Could forward be left out without losing the meaning? I vote, yes.
Second on my list is “transparency” and its negative, “lack of transparency.” When did this one replace the more articulate, “lying by omission,” “not being truthful,” “hiding the facts, “without explanation?” Candidate Joe Biden used “transparency” more than once during the 9/2020 Presidential Debate. Even my personal hero, Chris Wray, Director of the FBI, uses “transparency” in his public addresses.
Landing at third on my overuse list are adverbs—those ending in “-ly.” Usually (oops) they waste oxygen. What morning talk show doesn’t broadcast “literally” during every airing?
New Words and Terms – And there is the use of new words when the tried and true won’t do. For 2020 we have “impactful.” And “content” to describe information. “Break it down” for explaining things. “Deeper look” has replaced closer look and scrutiny. During a Las Vegas Springs Preserve TV ad this past summer, the narrator said, “during a rain event” to describe when it rains; and repeated it three times in one minute! And there is “price point” to describe price; “skill set” to mean skills. Is there no end?
Summing Up – Writing benefits from brevity, using less words to say more. More often than not, it lends itself to a faster paced narrative. As writers, we must embrace the use of a wide and varied vocabulary. Word’s thesaurus feature is a good start. I find reading the work of prominent authors especially useful, such as that of John McPhee. As I took breaks in my book writing to read his tome, Coming into the Country (FSG, 1991), I kept a list of words he used that were unfamiliar to me. The list grew to more than one hundred by the time I finished the book. I kept a dictionary close at hand.