Today marks the release of the second Lost Children anthology, PROTECTORS: STORIES TO BENEFIT PROTECT. I'm very proud to have a story in this anthology, and I think it's a pretty good one, too. And what a line-up of authors! I'm looking forward to reading all the other stories. Here's what editor and mastermind Thomas Pluck has to say about the book:
One cause: PROTECT
100% of proceeds go to PROTECT and the National Association to Protect Children - the army fighting what Andrew Vachss calls "the only holy war worthy of the name," the protection of children.
We've rallied a platoon of crime, western, thriller, fantasy, noir, horror and transgressive authors to support PROTECT's important work: lobbying for legislation that protects children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
Powerful stories from George Pelecanos, Andrew Vachss, Joe R. Lansdale, Charles de Lint, Ken Bruen, Chet Williamson, James Reasoner, Charlie Stella, Michael A. Black, Wayne Dundee, Roxane Gay, Ray Banks, Tony Black, Les Edgerton and 16 more, with 100% of proceeds going to PROTECT.
PROTECTORS includes a foreword by rock critic Dave Marsh, and fiction by Patti Abbott, Ian Ayris, Ray Banks, Nigel Bird, Michael A. Black, Tony Black, R. Thomas Brown, Ken Bruen, Bill Cameron, Jen Conley, Charles de Lint, Wayne D. Dundee, Chad Eagleton, Les Edgerton, Andrew Fader, Matthew C. Funk, Roxane Gay, Edward A. Grainger, Glenn G. Gray, Jane Hammons, Amber Keller, Joe R. Lansdale, Frank Larnerd, Gary Lovisi, Mike Miner, Zak Mucha, Dan O'Shea, George Pelecanos, Thomas Pluck, Richard Prosch, Keith Rawson, James Reasoner, Todd Robinson, Johnny Shaw, Gerald So, Josh Stallings, Charlie Stella, Andrew Vachss, Steve Weddle, Dave White, and Chet Williamson.
Among PROTECT's victories are the Protect Our Children Act of 2008, which mandated that the Justice Department change course and design a new national nerve center for law enforcement to wage a war on child exploitation, the Hero to Hero program, which employs disabled veterans in the battle against child abuse, and Alicia's Law.
Join the fight, with 41 stories by top writers. Be a Protector!
You can go here for the links to buy the book, including details on how to buy the book directly through the website and ensure the largest possible donation to PROTECT. Check it out!
Check out this fine new anthology edited by Robert J. Randisi. Bob's put together a great line-up of authors including Reed Farrell Coleman, Max Allan Collins, Parnell Hall, John Lutz, Warren Murphy, Mel Odom, Gary Phillips, and Wallace Stroby. Looks like a winner to me!
The past few days have been so busy that a box from Moonstone Books has been sitting on the table in our living room unopened for a while. Until this morning, when I opened it and found my author copies of the new anthology THE LONE RANGER CHRONICLES. (To be honest, I was pretty sure that was what was in the box.) This is a great collection, with stories by Paul Kupperberg, Matthew Baugh, Johnny D. Boggs, Kent Conwell, Denny O'Neil, Chuck Dixon, Tim Lasiuta, Richard Dean Starr and E.R. Bower, Troy D. Smith, Bill Crider, Joe Gentile, David McDonald, Howard Hopkins, Mel Odom, Thom Brannon, and yours truly. It's available in both trade paperback and a limited edition hardcover, and while they're both fine-looking books, I'm especially impressed by the hardcover. You can't go wrong either way with that line-up of authors and two of the most iconic characters in Western fiction in the Lone Ranger and Tonto. I haven't read all the stories yet, but the ones I have read are excellent. As a fan of the Lone Ranger for as far back as I can remember, it was a great honor and pleasure to contribute a story, and this book gets the highest recommendation from me. By the way, my entry is called "Hell on the Border" and features Judge Isaac Parker, the famous real-life Hanging Judge, with the Lone Ranger using his legal training to take part in a high-stakes murder trial. It was really fun to write, too.
Decades ago, the mafia had a scam called the “bust-out.” They’d target a small business — the corner store, a machine shop, a soda distributor. After intimidating the owner into handing it over for a pittance, they’d order as much inventory as the suppliers would put on credit. They’d stop paying lenders, max out bank lines, demand customer pre-payments: in short, they’d extract as much cash as possible, as quickly as they could. Then one weekend they’d strip the premises of every last item that might be sold elsewhere — stock, fixtures, furniture, anything — and disappear.
The business was ruined, the owner penniless or bankrupt or worse, and the gang? They’d swept up all the cash … and were ready to do it again.
The comparison is not far-fetched. A private-equity group borrows a vast sum of money, buys a struggling company and squeezes operations as hard as they can. “Rationalizing” can involve layoffs, steep pension cuts, loan defaults, supplier hardball — anything to free up a dollar. When they’re done, the PE investors pay themselves a huge dividend, often financed by more borrowing. Then, like the mafiya, they sell off what’s left and disappear.Now that seems almost quaint. Today, it’s called a workout, not a bust-out, and the operators are private equity firms, not the Cosa Nostra. The amounts involved are hundreds of millions of dollars. And best of all, it’s completely legal.
Defenders, of course, argue that PE saves failing companies, improves efficiency and generally serves the free market’s inherent processes. Evidence is limited; studies have shown that PE-financed restructurings create fewer net jobs than if existing management struggles through on their own, and the companies ultimately fail about as often anyway. The difference is that the PE investors have extracted all the excess value for themselves, leaving behind shrunken, debt-laden businesses in no better shape to face future challenges.
Unlike past eras of plutocratic excess, the immiseration of today’s American worker has not drawn an energetic counter-reaction. A century ago strikers were put down with Federal troops and live ammunition, anarchists bombed Wall Street itself, and union organizers faced thugs armed with iron bars and guns. For whatever reason we don’t see the same kind of violence today. Perhaps the social-support nets, however tattered, are still enough to keep people from total desperation. Perhaps market ideology has triumphed. Perhaps the society we have today is what people really want.
Or maybe the anger just hasn’t bubbled over yet.
The protagonist in “Leverage” is a regular guy, a machine operator whose job is destroyed when his factory is asset-stripped by a PE “investment.” Unlike his fellow ex-workers, however, he decides that things must be made right … and that means confronting the financiers in person.
Check out “Leverage” in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, now available in bookstores everywhere.
Mike Cooper‘s latest novel CLAWBACK (Viking, March) centers on similar themes of bankster retribution. “Don’t bail them out, TAKE them out” — it’s a good tag line for a thriller, but Mike sincerely hopes it remains fiction.
Francis Bacon said that “revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed out . . . . In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince’s part to pardon.”1
Fast forward two and a half centuries, to Abraham Lincoln. He thought vengeance had a time and place. During the American Revolution, he noted “the deep rooted principles of hate, and the powerful motive of revenge . . . were directed exclusively against the British nation. And thus, from the force of circumstances, the basest principles of our nature . . . [became] the active agents in the advancement of the noblest cause—that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty. . . . But this state of feeling must fade, is fading, has faded, with the circumstances that produced it.”2 Lincoln gave this speech in response, in part, to a mob killing of a black man accused of murder. In Abe’s view, it was okay to take vengeance on the British but not anyone else.
Fifty years later, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., admits the importance of vengeance within the legal system, going so far as to say, “the law does [and] ought to, make the gratification of revenge an object . . . correspond[ing] with the actual feelings and demands of the community, whether right or wrong.”3 Holmes saw this as a lesser evil to people perceiving the legal system as failing to satisfy and thus taking matters into their own hands. “If people would gratify the passion of revenge outside of the law, if the law did not help them, the law has no choice but to satisfy the craving itself, and thus avoid the greater evil of private retribution.” Id.4
As a trial lawyer I saw many examples of law and justice diverging, with the law “not helping” the wronged party. Writing the “The Fourteenth Juror” allowed me to inflict private retribution (even if only on the page) on one aspect of the legal system that often fell short in this regard. Gratifying indeed.
Check out “The Fourteenth Juror” in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, now available in bookstores everywhere.
A Stanford graduate and former (vengeful) plaintiff’s trial lawyer, Twist Phelan writes the critically acclaimed legal-themed Pinnacle Peak mystery series published by Poised Pen Press. Her short stories appear in anthologies and mystery magazines and have won or been nominated for the Thriller, Ellis, and Derringer awards. Twist’s current project is a suspense novel set in Santa Fe featuring a corporate spy. Visit her at www.twistphelan.com.
Revenge has always been a human passion – as well as a problem for any civilized society. Early on, Jehovah reminded the Israelites that ‘vengeance is mine,’ while Aeschylus immortalized the blood feuds of the House of Atreus, which took a goddess to end, thus establishing the rule of law.
Dramas of revenge were popular enough in Renaissance England to spawn a distinct genre, the Revenge Tragedy, ironically most famous for that reluctant avenger, Hamlet, whose dithering raised the body count without ultimately sparing the king. Of course, Shakespeare knew a good thing when he saw it: revenge not only calls upon a variety of visceral and ancient emotions, it also offers excellent plot possibilities.
I’ve been rather fond of these, myself. Looking back over my short stories, I find revenge plots constructed around a variety of characters, ranging from a middle aged archeologist (male) to a restauranteur (female) with stops along they way for several wronged wives and husbands, an angry daughter, plus a disgruntled academic dean and a traumatized student. Most of these stories are told from the avenger’s point of view.
“The General” is different in just about every way. Most of my short mystery stories arise from police reports in the press. Looking back in my invaluable notebooks for the first glimmer of “The General,” I find neither a clipping nor a plot summary but the bare idea of a South American general haunted by his gardener.
I have no idea now where this notion came from, but most likely it evolved from an awareness the many dictators and dodgy strongmen, often rightist, who have fled Central and South American countries, as well as Asia, the Balkans, and Africa, to find refuge here.
In the story, I made the General Central American, probably because of the continuing troubles in Honduras and Guatemala, and because I knew a bit about the politics of the area. The first mention of the story was late in the notebook that ended in 2005, but the story was not completed until two years later, a delay not unusual for me. The initial four lines – I can hardly even call it a paragraph – indicates that I had no clear idea of what the General’s crimes involved or even if the gardener were real and not a projection of the General’s guilty mind.
Which brings us to the other unusual feature of this particular story of vengeance, it is told strictly from the General’s point of view. I don’t remember if I considered the more traditional approach, but I am convinced it would not have worked as well, considering the vast discrepancy in power, wealth, and influence of the two men and the presence of the boy, loved by both, whose inevitable suffering suggests why civilization is always, and rightly, hostile to personal vengeance.
Janice Law is a novelist who frequently commits short mystery stories. Her first, “The Big Payoff,” was nominated for an Edgar, and her stories have been reprinted in the Best American Mystery Stories, The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, Alfred Hitchcock’s Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense, Riptide, Still Waters, and the fabulist anthology ParaSpheres.
Check out “The General” in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, now available in bookstores everywhere.
The desire for retribution is a theme familiar to all crime and thriller authors, and it has to be one of the strongest. Never is a character’s motivation more compelling than when they determine to go after somebody who deserves to die―no matter what―and it’s personal.
I’ve touched on vengeance many times in my writing. My ex-army-turned-bodyguard heroine Charlie Fox has a lot in her past to be vengeful about, and while she may be wary about crossing the line, that doesn’t mean she won’t do it if she has to.
But not this time.
When Lee Child first contacted me about contributing to a then-unnamed MWA anthology, I agreed (bit his arm off at the elbow is probably a better description) and asked him if there was a theme. “Good people doing bad things for the right reasons,” came his typically succinct response. “Dark justice.”
That sounded damn cool to me. But although Charlie is a troubled girl, she’s never really embraced her dark side. And I wanted this tale to be dark. I don’t really write noir in the true ‘everybody dies without redemption’ sense of the word, but I love the hardboiled edge.
Here was an opportunity to take that edge and push it just a little further.
The basic idea for Lost And Found came very quickly. Almost as soon as I’d got the email from Lee. Working out the best way to get the story across, though, that took me rather longer. Meanwhile, the deadline crept ever nearer.
Now, every writer knows that nothing concentrates the mind quite like a deadline, and as the story grew and took shape in my head I knew I was going out on a limb with it in both style and structure. As soon as I started to write, the thing that came over most strongly to me was the staccato rhythm of the piece, partly from the natural urgency within the story, and partly from using present tense.
I wanted to tell the story using two intertwined narratives, so first-person was out, but rather than two third-person viewpoints, I went for one in third and one in second-person.
From there it came in a rush. A tale of two men whose lives touched and parted, leaving indelible scars on them both. And the ultimate act of vengeance one is driven to commit upon the other.
When I sent the piece to Lee, I did so with the proviso that there were still a few weeks to go before the deadline: “So I still have time to write something else …”
Within a few hours he’d come back to me—I won’t tell you exactly what he said, but I will say I’m thinking of having the email framed and hung above my desk. Suffice to say that the story made the cut of VENGEANCE, as it was written.
I am enormously proud to have it there.
Zoë Sharp wrote her first novel at fifteen and created no-nonsense ex-Special Forces-turned-bodyguard heroine, Charlie Fox, after receiving death-threat letters as a photojournalist. Her work has been nominated for the US Edgar, Anthony, Barry, Benjamin Franklin, and Macavity Awards, as well as the CWA Short Story Dagger. Find out why Lee Child said, “If I were a woman I’d be Zoë. If Jack Reacher were a woman, he’d be Zoë’s main character, Charlie Fox.” Follow Zoë on www.facebook.com/ZoeSharpAuthor, @authorzoesharp
Editing this anthology was a lot of fun—not least because Mystery Writers of America’s invaluable and irreplaceable publications guy, Barry Zeman, did all the hard work. All I had to do was pick ten invitees. And write a story. And then later on read the ten winning stories chosen by MWA’s blind-submission process. Piece of cake. Apart from writing my own story, that is, which I always find hard, but that’s why picking the invitees was so much fun—I love watching something difficult being done really well, by experts.
It was like playing fantasy baseball—who did I want on the field? And just as Major League Baseball has rich seams of talent to choose from, so does Mystery Writers of America. I could have filled ten anthologies. Or twenty. But I had to start somewhere—and it turned out that I already had, years ago, actually, when I taught a class at a mystery writers’ conference in California. One of the after-hours activities was a group reading around a fireplace in the motel. A bit too kumbaya for me, frankly, but I went anyway, and the first story was by a young woman called Michelle Gagnon. It was superb, and it stayed with me through the intervening years. So I e-mailed her about using it for this anthology—more in hope than in expectation, because it was such a great story, I was sure it had been snapped up long ago. But no—it was still available. Never published, amazingly. It is now.
Then I had to have Brendan DuBois. He’s a fine novelist but easily the best short-story writer of his generation. He just cranks them out, one after the other, like he’s casting gold ingots. Very annoying. He said yes.
And I had Twist Phelan on my radar. She’s a real woman of mystery—sometimes lives on a yacht, sometimes lives in Switzerland, knows about oil and banks and money—and she had just won the International Thriller Writers’ award for best short story. I thought, I’ll have a bit of that. She said okay.
Then there was the overtalented but undersung Jim Fusilli. He wrote two great New York novels that I really loved, and then four more just as good, and he’s the rock music critic for the Wall Street Journal. We make lists together, like the top three bands most dependent on their drummers for their sound. (Led Zeppelin, the Who, and the Beatles, obviously.)
I asked; he said yes.
And then, purely by chance, in the course of a conversation Karin Slaughter told me she’d just finished the nastiest story she’d ever written. Which had to be something, right? With Karin? I didn’t ask. I just told her.
Alafair Burke was next. I’ve followed her novels from the very beginning and loved them all. Then she went and wrote a terrific story for Michael Connelly’s MWA anthology a few years ago. I thought, Hey, she did it for him, she can do it for me. I asked. She said yes.
Then, because I’m a transatlantic person, I thought about a couple of great writers from the old country. First up: Dreda Say Mitchell. She’s five novels into a terrific career, and I find her narrative voice completely fresh and utterly addictive. I asked; she said yes.
Two spots left.
I thought: Let’s complete the lineup with a couple of heavy hitters. I waited until both of my targets were drunk and happy at the Edgars, and I asked. Michael Connelly first. A busy guy, but a nice guy. He blinked. He said yes.
Then I turned to Dennis Lehane. Equally busy guy—he’d just had a kid. But equally nice too. He blinked. Twice. But he said yes.
So then it was about sharpening my editorial blue pencil and waiting for their stories to show up. They did, but I didn’t need the pencil. I think there was a spelling mistake in there somewhere, but authors like these don’t need help. So then it was about waiting for the MWA winning stories to arrive.
The way it works is that any paid-up MWA member can submit a story; the author’s name is replaced with a code number, so the judges read each story blind. The selection panel evaluates them all and chooses the ten best. The panel for this anthology was Heather Graham, Tom Cook, David Walker, Joe Trigoboff, and Brendan DuBois (pulling double duty, which was good of him—he could have written another nine or ten stories, probably, in the time it took). I thank them all for their hard work, and for their excellent judgment—the ten they came up with are first-class, and when the numbers were matched to the names, it turned out we had an interesting bunch of people.
Ladies first: Anne Swardson submitted from Paris, where she’s been living for fifteen years as a heavy-duty financial journalist. Tough gig, but hey, someone’s got to do it. C. E. Lawrence is a multitalented New Yorker—writer, performer, poet, composer, and prize-winning playwright. Quite irritating. Janice Law is already an Edgar-nominated short-story writer (but the panel didn’t know that—remember the code numbers). She’s had stories published all over the place, so it’s no surprise she made the top ten.
And the men: Rick McMahan is a special agent with the Department of Justice, so he walks the walk, and naturally he’s also published here and there. Adam Meyer is an accomplished movie and TV writer and novelist and short-story writer who comes from New York but lives in DC. Michael Niemann is a German guy who lives in Oregon and is mostly a nonfiction writer specializing in African and global issues. Orest Stelmach is a thriller writer from the Northeast. He’s fluent in four languages, which is four more than me on an average day. Darrell James lives in California and Arizona and is a multipublished and award-winning short-story writer, and also a debut novelist. Steve Liskow lives in Connecticut and is also a published novelist and short-story writer. And finally, Mike Cooper is a former financial guy from the Boston area whose stories have won a Shamus Award and been selected for The Best American Mystery Stories annual anthology.
So, ten high-quality invitees and ten high-quality competition winners, plus me. We all got the same brief: Write about vengeance, revenge, getting even, maybe doing a bad thing for a good reason. Or a bad reason. It was a loose specification; a tighter one would have been ignored anyway. Writers are like that. Their imaginations run along unique and uncontrollable paths, as you will see. Or maybe as you’ve already seen. I know some people read anthologies back to front. If you’re one of them, thanks for reading. If you’re not, I hope you enjoy what follows.
Lee Child is the author of sixteen Jack Reacher thrillers, all of which have been optioned for major motion pictures. Child, a native of England and a former television director, lives in New York City, where he is at work on his next thriller.
MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA PRESENTS VENGEANCE is now available in bookstores everywhere.