9/21/17: Updates!

a classic image from Hamlet

Just thought I would put up a post on how things have been going.

So far, my mysteries have been selling decently but I can’t say the same for the science fiction, just a couple of copies plus a few hundred pages read from the kindle library. I’ve decided to change the title on the next, to The Game Players of Meridien and I’m hoping that it will be out sometime in November. Following within a few months, will be the sequel, now tentatively entitled, The City of Ashes. Following that will be the next Kurtz and Barent mystery, The Chairmen, which should be out by April or May of next year.

I’ve been participating in two Group Giveaways on Instafreebie. Both Giveaways will be operational through September 30. The first is a science fiction short story, entitled “Adam,” about a scientist who uses a tailored retrovirus to implant the Fox P2 gene, sometimes called the language gene, into a cage full of rats and a mouse named Adam, and the unexpected consequences that ensue. The second is a prequel to the Kurtz and Barent mysteries, entitled Something in the Blood, featuring Richard Kurtz as a surgical resident on an elective rotation in the Arkansas mountains, solving a medical mystery that spans two tragic generations. These Giveaways offer dozens of excellent short stories and they can be accessed at the following URL’s:

The science fiction short stories: https://www.instafreebie.com/gg/NUsc9q0MB7TXd2RQltIy

The mystery short stories: https://www.instafreebie.com/gg/1TKcGGLVcj5R0HkESAU2

Well, that’s about all for the moment. Hope to have more news soon!

 

8/11/17: Free Short Stories!

I now have two free short stories available on Instafreebie and you are all invited to go and get them!

The stories can be accessed at the following URL’s:

For “Adam:” https://instafreebie.com/free/82iIP

For “Something in the Blood:” https://instafreebie.com/free/05lvv

“Adam” was first published in the Strange Pleasures 3 anthology, in 2005 and is currently unavailable elsewhere.

Fischer is a careful, dedicated scientist but when he uses a tailored retrovirus to transfer the Fox P2 gene, sometimes called the “language gene” into a cage full of rats and a mouse named Adam, he is not prepared to deal with the unexpected, world changing consequences.

“Something in the Blood” is a prequel to the Kurtz and Barent mystery series.

With less than a year to go before graduation, surgery resident Richard Kurtz decides to spend his summer on an elective rotation at a small hospital in Arkansas. The hospital and town seem peaceful enough but when teenaged Ben Saunders comes into the ER with a broken wrist, Kurtz becomes involved in a family tragedy that spans two generations.

A Free Book!

Imperial Ship

Starting Saturday, August 5, and running through Sunday, August 6, my latest novel, The Cannibal’s Feast, will be offered free from Amazon for Kindle purchase. The Cannibal’s Feast is the story of Matthew Braden, a young man from a run-down habitat in Earth orbit, who graduates at the top of his class from the corporate training institute of the Biotek-Itachi Gesselschaft, one of the largest and most powerful of the corporate states in the 25th Century. Matthew, eager to prove himself and to rise through the ranks, becomes a prime weapon in Biotek’s long simmering war with the Hyperion-Narita Combine, as they strive to determine the future of all humanity.

7/25/17: Shakespeare and the Transparent Style

a classic image from Hamlet

Years ago, I read an excellent book by John Gardner, entitled On Becoming a Novelist. Gardner advanced the thesis that the purpose of the words is to convey the sights and sounds and plot and action directly into the awareness of the reader but that the words themselves should be unobtrusive. They should in no way interfere with the sensory experience of the book. This is generally known as the “transparent” style. It’s what Samuel Johnson meant when he said, “When I come across a line of mine that I think particularly fine, I strike it out.”

Nobody thinks it strange when a work that is written in German or French or Ancient Greek is translated into English. There is a general awareness that no translation is perfect. There are always nuances and subtleties that are beyond even the greatest translator, but nobody objects to the attempt, and an excellent translation certainly conveys most of what was there in the original language. But what about translating English into English? There is also a general awareness that Old English, a language closer to German than modern English, can no longer be understood. Many people have read Beowulf, but only scholars read it in Old English.

We often make the attempt with Middle English, in college, at least. I read some Chaucer in High School. It was a translation but in college, I read it in the original. I no longer remember how much of it I understood. I suspect that the professor spent a lot of time simply translating.

But how about Shakespeare? It’s a contentious subject. When Shakespeare was writing his plays, everybody could understand them. Most of his audience was not well educated but they all understood the language. I recently read an article outlining the pros and cons. There were a lot more cons, arguing essentially that Shakespeare’s language was so glorious and distinct that it must be preserved. Well, I suppose you could say the same thing about Homer but if you want to understand it, you need a translation. Shakespeare, simply put, can no longer be understood, not at least, without tremendous thought and concentration, which certainly detracts from the immersive experience that the transparent style is supposed to provide.

No, I’m with those who say that it’s time to translate Shakespeare. It’s too bad, but if you want Shakespeare to live beyond the classroom and a highly devoted elite, then I think it’s necessary.

7/20/17: New Book!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0743FP5WM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1500566482&sr=1-1The Cannibal's Feast by [Katz, Robert I.]Nothing philosophical or particularly profound today, just a happy announcement! The Cannibal’s Feast has finally been published! It’s available for Kindle purchase from Amazon. I hope that all of my devoted fans and adoring readers, and all of their friends and relatives purchase a copy.

7/12/17: Progressive versus Static Series

A murdered potato with a sad potato and two cops

Edgar Allan Poe has often been credited with inventing the mystery genre but it gained worldwide acclaim with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. Poe’s mysteries, and Conan Doyle’s as well, featured distinct episodes in the life of an unchanging detective. Holmes made Conan Doyle (a physician) both rich and famous. The series ultimately grew to encompass four novels and 56 short stories. It was essentially a static series, in that little in the character’s life and circumstances changed from one story to another. As the series grew, Conan Doyle added detail. Holmes had enemies, Moriarty chief among them, who appeared in recurring fashion. He picked up a brother and some few episodes of his childhood were revealed. Still, Holmes remained as he had begun: enigmatic, mysterious and unchanging. The template was adopted by many others. Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op, Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe. There was Lew Archer and Sam Spade, Travis McGee, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and many, many others. People liked the characters and they liked the mystery. They liked immersing themselves into worlds so different from their own. There was a certain comfort in knowing that at the end of the day, the bad guys would lose, the good guys would win, good meal, a stiff drink and a good night’s sleep were the inevitable end to the hero’s day.

But tastes changed. Prior to the 1950’s, the average individual, even in the industrialized West, rarely traveled more than fifty miles from the place of his birth. Television did not become widespread until well after World War II. The world became saturated with entertainment. People grew jaded, then bored. They wanted more from their heroes. They wanted to empathize. They wanted them to have a life and they wanted to vicariously immerse themselves in that life. They wanted the stakes to matter. Today, the format of a series such as Hercule Poirot is generally considered retro and unsatisfactory, if not downright boring. People want a hero whose actions and inventions have a larger meaning, possibly to the world at large but certainly to the heroes themselves. The progressive series was born. What are the most popular such series today? John Sandford and the Lucas Davenport books come to mind. Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Lawrence Block and Matthew Scudder. Sara Paretsky and V. I. Warshawsky. Sue Grafton and Kinsey Milhone. Many others. The point is that these characters change, maybe slowly, but they do change over the course of the series. They accumulate spouses or at least significant others. They are injured and the injuries leave scars that haunt them from book to book. They change jobs. They get rich or they get poor. They grow old.

There are some weird and usually unsatisfactory hybrids. Spenser, for instance, started with The Godwulf Manuscript, in 1973. Spenser was depicted as fully mature. I seem to recall that his age was given as 37. Over the course of the 40 years prior to his death, Parker wrote 40 novels in the series. Spencer accumulated a girlfriend, Brenda Loring, who lasted for a few books. He became friends with Hawk, at first awkwardly and with suspicion. He gained a huge cast of supporting characters, such as Vinnie Morris, Cholo, Teddy Sap, Frank Belsing, Martin Quirk and others. He gained a second girlfriend, Susan Silverman, who started out as a High School guidance counselor and ultimately morphed into a Harvard trained clinical psychologist. Spenser loses Susan, who finds his ardent love too stifling, and then he gets her back. The two drift through time, eating gourmet meals, interacting with the events of the day, yet somehow never growing old. Spenser was a soldier in Korea. He fought Jersey Joe Walcott for the title. Yet by the time Parker died, Spenser, Hawk and Susan were still good looking, still tough, athletic, dangerous and still, somehow, early middle age. But they did change over the course of the series, at least until they reached a satisfactory place. The reader knows a lot about their lives. The reader can empathize with the characters.

The Elvis Cole series by Robert Crais started out as a Spenser clone. Elvis fought in Vietnam. His best friend and partner is a mercenary ex-cop named Joe Pike. Over the first ten or so books, Elvis gets a girlfriend, Lucy Chenier, a lawyer. Then the two break-up, though they are still apparently in love, because Lucy cannot stand Elvis’ violent life. As with Spenser, they seem not to age. Now, episode follows episode and the characters have ceased to grow and change, and my affection for the series, which was once one of my favorites, has largely vanished.

Marvel beat DC, some years back, because their characters had lives, strange lives but still, they were lives. We could appreciate the daily travails of  Peter Parker or Tony Stark’s Byronic angst or Bruce Banner’s constant misery over his inner beast. They were more interesting characters than Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne, and DC was in trouble…until they figured out the formula and gave their characters lives of their own.

In the end, all series have a beginning and today, at least, most have an end, or if they don’t actually end, an ending can be perceived in the distance. Growth, age, change; these are the things that the reader relates to and wants to see.

7/4/17: What I Like

Imperial Ship

It has been said that the process of writing is also the process of determining what we think about a subject. I long ago came to the conclusion that the process of growing up is also the process of fixing on our preferences, what we like–not what we should like, not what we are supposed to like, but what we actually do like.

The intelligentsia, of which I sometimes feel like a rogue member (considering my academic background), has tastes (or perhaps it would be wiser to say professes to have tastes) that are not common, low, coarse or crass. It is considered sophisticated to assume the fallen nature of mankind, the futility of action and the world weary sense that all is transience doomed to decay. But where’s the fun in that?

Occasionally a piece of literature, a movie or a play will manage to blend the tropes of high art with the tastes of the common man, and manage to escape the shackles of the Commentariat. Films such as The Lord of the Rings, The Godfather or a few of the Batman series come to mind. Still, this is rare. The tastes of the critics are rarely those of the majority of the audience.

I figured out what I liked a long time ago. I want some action, but not too much. I want the plot to go somewhere worth going. I want the conflict to be meaningful, both to the protagonist and to his world at large, some tragedy is okay so long as there is triumph as well, and most of all, I want a protagonist that I can cheer for, admire and respect. Does this mean that the common man just won’t do? Not really, because the common man is often far more heroic than his intellectual betters give him credit for.

I was on a panel at a science fiction convention a few years ago when one of the panelists said that, “There are two types of science fiction stories: superman stories and non-superman stories.” I immediately realized that he was absolutely correct, maybe not literally but pretty close, and I also realized that I like superman stories. If the protagonist is not at least highly competent, or does not become so during the course of the book, I have trouble getting into the story. I like a focus that can carry me along to a satisfying, if not always happy conclusion. I think most people do.

6/20/17: The Banality of Plot

a classic image from Hamlet

Years ago, when I was just starting to write seriously, one of the first books that I read on writing was “Writing to Sell,” by Scott Meredith. Scott Meredith founded the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, at one time the largest such agency in the world. Before he became a world famous agent, however, he was a writer, and his insights on how to write and how to sell, were definitely worth the price of the book. He focused a lot on plot.

To me, the most valuable piece of information in “Writing to Sell” was the “plot skeleton,” a schema to which all successful stories, and all successful novels, must conform. To wit: you start with a protagonist for whom the reader can feel sympathy. The protagonist has a problem that he or she must solve. The protagonist’s efforts to solve the problem fail, often making the problem even worse. Finally, when all seems lost, the protagonist solves the problem, or comes to a realization that the problem was not worth solving in the first place. An example of this might be the man who is obsessed with making money, but who realizes in the end that what he really needed was the love of a good woman; or the man who is obsessed with the beautiful, dangerous woman and who realizes in the end that the girl next door was the one he wanted all along.

Years ago, when I was in college, I happened to walking along the halls of the English Department when I overheard one of the professors, a well known poet in his own right, make a comment to one of his colleagues about the “banality of plot.” The comment bewildered me, but now that I am a writer, I understand what he meant. Real life has no plot. Things happen for no reason whatsoever. Real life does not make much of a story, not an entertaining one, at least. Plot is artificial. Plots have to make sense. Real life does not make sense.