Mark Terry

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Derek Stillwater Visits JA Konrath's Universe

A while back, JA Konrath, who I relentlessly refer to as "Joe" because, well, that's his name, offered writers the opportunity to write a short story, novella or novel with one of his own characters. He provided guidelines and approaches.

I was interested, but busy doing other things. I'm a full-time freelance writer as well as a novelist. I'm also a ghostwriter and during the period that Joe first made this offer I was pretty tied up with a big historical fiction ghostwriting project and barely got work done on my own novels. One of my writer friends, Jude Hardin, had written a novel, Lady 52, that features his own series character, Nicholas Colt, and Joe's best known series character, Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels.

Jude suggested I do the same. So I dithered. Then I started in on a novel that would feature my best known series character, Derek Stillwater, with Lt. Jack Daniels. As soon as Joe had made the offer, I knew when I wanted the story to be and what it would be connected to. When I read Joe's novel, Dirty Martini, I always knew Derek would be there in Chicago in some way. So why not have Derek and Jack work together immediately after those events?

I started working on the novel.

The problem is I don't pay much attention to rules, I guess.

Somewhere along the way Jude asked me how I was doing and I mentioned I was working on a novel with Derek and Jack. He said, "Yeah, but, did you write a short story first?"

"No, why?"

Well, it turns out that Joe had a kind of preliminary testing period for writers to do this, and he wanted to make sure they didn't waste a lot of time on a novel that might not work, so he wanted any of us to write a short story first.

Well. So I stalled around for a while, then I wrote a short story, "Black Russian." Then I sent "Black Russian" and the part of the novel I had completed to Joe and I went off and did other things, including finishing my own more recent Derek Stillwater novel, Vengeance.

Eventually Joe and I went back and forth over "Black Russian," then Joe changed the way these projects were going to get done. Rather than Joe being the manager of these projects, Amazon was going to include it in its Kindle Worlds program. But after checking this program, I and quite a few other writers had some issues with it, primarily revolving around owning our own creations shared with Joe's. Joe very generously got his people at Amazon to rewrite their contract agreements and here we go.

This is all rather inside baseball, so to speak.

But what about Black Russian? Well, here are a couple things I knew in writing this short story.

I wanted it to have the name of a cocktail.

I wanted it to be more or less current with the timeline of my latest Derek Stillwater novel, more or less just before or just after the events of Vengeance. That would be very different from the Stillwater-Daniels novel I'm working on, which would be several years earlier, a prequel, if you will. So in this short story, Derek and Jack know each other and are kind of friends. That left me with the dilemma of how to get Derek involved in the story. I figured, since he was headquartered in Washington, D.C., somehow Jack would need to get out there and need his help. And once I got the name of the story, it all pretty much came together. I was also quite pleased to be able to bring in the character of Austin Davis, who is the hero of my novel Hot Money. I plan to revisit Austin again as well and there's a big chunk of a novel done featuring him.

So here we are, BLACK RUSSIAN. I hope you enjoy it. 

And with any luck, later this year you'll get to read about Derek and Jack's first adventure.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Dumbledore Talks To The Sorting Hat

December 2, 2014
A little something I've been fooling around with that I thought you all might enjoy.

Mark Terry

Dumbledore Talks To The Sorting Hat
By Mark Terry

            Professor Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft & Wizardry, approached the entrance to his office, which was just down Gargoyle Corridor in the Headmaster’s Tower. An enormous ugly gargoyle hid the entrance. Under his arm he carried an ancient, tattered and patched black hat.
            “Fizzing Whizzbees,” he murmured.
            The gargoyle moved aside to reveal a stone staircase guarded by a statue of a phoenix. The staircase spiraled upward.
            Stepping onto the stairs, Dumbledore rode it upward, gathering his midnight blue robe around his legs so as not to get caught in the door.
            Dumbledore’s office was a large circular room. Filled with bookcases and books, and a vast assortment of magical instruments on spindle-legged tables, they twirled and whirled, creaked and cranked, and puffed small clouds of steam and smoke into the air. Along the walls hung portraits of previous headmasters. Most of them were currently asleep, gentle snores filling the room.
            Dumbledore set the hat on the edge of his desk and seated himself behind it in his large high-backed chair. With a wave of his wand, he conjured a cut-glass goblet of scotch. Studying the hat, he took a sip.
            A slit in the hat appeared and it spoke. “Ah, Professor Dumbledore. Want a word, do you?”
            “You are very astute,” Dumbledore said with a nod toward the hat.
            “Thank you, sir. I am, although I am but a hat.”
            Eyes twinkling, a small smile twitched at the corners of Dumbledore’s mouth. “I assume you know what I wish to discuss.”
            “Harry Potter, would be my guess.”
            “Yes, indeed.”
            “And his sorting.”
            “You are, after all, the Sorting Hat.”
            Bestowed with ancient magic by the founders of Hogwarts, Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin, the Sorting Hat was able to peer into the minds and souls of students, recognize their greatest talents and tendencies, and sorted them into the school’s four houses, based on the traits the four founders of the schools valued most.
            “Indeed I am.”
            “You sorted him into Gryffindor House,” Dumbledore said, watching the hat closely.
            “I did. “
            “It was very difficult. Plenty of courage. Not a bad mind. Talent. And a thirst to prove himself.”
            Peering at the hat over his glasses, Dumbledore said, “You appeared to have a lengthy conversation with the boy during his sorting. Usually you make decisions quickly.”
            “Many choices are obvious.”
            “Are they?” Dumbledore asked idly. “I would not think so. They are, after all, only eleven years old. Hardly fully formed. Many will change over the course of their years here at Hogwarts. Their experiences, their friendships, their successes, their failures … all will mold them into who they will become.”
            “Are you questioning my abilities, Dumbledore?”
            “No one, myself included, completely understands how you do what you do.”
            “Magic. Magic created by four of the greatest magicians who ever existed.”
            “Indeed. So, perhaps, we can discuss Harry Potter.”
            One of the former Headmasters, Phineas Nigellus, in one of the portraits, woke up with a start and leaned forward to listen closer. 
            “Of course. As is your want.”
            “Why Griffindor? Why was it difficult?”
            “Why not, perhaps, Slytherin?” the hat said slyly.
            Phineas Nigellus coughed discreetly.
            “Quite right,” Dumbledore said, taking another sip of scotch. “Directly to the point.”
            “I think he would do very well in Slytherin.”
            “Do you? Then why did you not place him there?”
            “Do you remember your own sorting, Dumbledore?”
            “Like it was yesterday,” Dumbledore said, the tips of his mouth curving slightly upward in a smile once more.
            “Your intellect is considerable.”
            “Thank you.”
            “You are acting modest about your intellect, Dumbledore, when we both know you are one of the most brilliant wizards who ever lived.”
            “And you’ve evaluated most of them.”
            “I have. And yet I sorted you into Griffindor. Not Ravenclaw.”
            “Ah,” said Dumbledore. “There is that. Have we not discussed this before?”
            “Perhaps,” the hat said, “you placed that memory in the pensieve and wish to evaluate it again before we continue our chat?”
            “No, no, I don’t believe so. Go on.” He thought to himself, And somehow the founders gave the Sorting Hat a wry sense of humor. He wondered which of them introduced that element.
            “You understand, Dumbledore, that the sorting takes into consideration more than talents and abilities.”
            “Just so.”
            “Yes. So although by your intellect, Ravenclaw would have made a great deal of sense, I was aware of other things battling with your brains, so to speak. Your courage. Your arrogance—yes, you would have done well in Slytherin at that age, were it not for your kindness.”
            A derisive cough from the portrait.
            “Perhaps,” Dumbledore said, gaze far off.
            “Yes,” the Hat said. “Would you care to place me on your head and re-sort you?”
            “I don’t believe so, no.”
            The Sorting Hat let out a soft chuckle.  “Few would, ultimately. Their identities often become linked to their House.”
            Dumbledore looked sharply at the Sorting Hat. “Yes, you’re right. Surely you don’t mean—“
            “In fact, I do mean exactly that, Dumbledore. Part of what the founders—not all of them certainly, but Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff and Godric Gryffindor, yes—imparted to me is the possibility of seeing how their Houses will influence the extraordinary gifts they have.” And the Sorting Hat let out another low chuckle.
            “Something amusing?” Dumbledore asked. He raised the goblet and swallowed half the scotch. He considered refilling it, but no, it was rather early in the school year for that.
            “I considered putting you into Hufflepuff to take some of the starch out of that ego of yours, Dumbledore. Yes, yes. That would have been interesting.”
            Dumbledore’s eyes narrowed.
            The Sorting Hat said, “Never you mind, Dumbledore. You went where you belonged. As did Tom Riddle.”
            Leaning back in the large chair, Dumbledore tapped his fingers together in front of him. “And why do you bring up Tom Riddle?”
            “You know quite well why I bring up Tom Riddle,” the Hat said. “Because you wish to discuss Harry Potter. And it is Tom Riddle who tried to kill him as a baby. And who was … diverted as a result.”
            “And do Tom Riddle and Harry Potter share other things?”
            “I told Potter he would do well in Slytherin.”
            “And yet you placed him Gryffindor.”
            “He was difficult. Talent and a thirst to prove himself.”
            “Common traits in all our Houses, in many ways.”
            “Talent, of course. Some more than others. That thirst, that ambition, Dumbledore, that takes many forms. Slytherins, of course, want to dominate.”
            “Yes, often at any costs.”
            A grunt from Phineas Nigellus. Dumbledore ignored the portrait. His clever devices puffed and twirled and clanked. A quick glance around the room showed Dumbledore that many more of the former Headmasters in the portraits had awoken and were listening to the conversation.
            “Indeed. Your ethical mind and your kindness kept you out of Slytherin.”
            “Oh, please,” muttered Phineas Nigellus.
            “But not Tom Riddle,” Dumbledore said, long finger stroking the goblet.
            “There was no doubt whatsoever where Tom Riddle belonged. No more than when a Weasley shows up.”
            “All in Griffindor.”
            “Never underestimate a Weasley, Dumbledore. You have a new one.”
            “Ronald, yes. He was sitting next to Potter.”
            “Together I believe they will go far. Oh yes.”
            “I’m glad to hear it. But what did you see—“
            “Potter did not want to be in Slytherin.”
            Picking up the goblet, Dumbledore finished off his scotch. He continued to hold the empty goblet.
            “He was quite adamant on that, kept whispering ‘not Slytherin, not Slytherin.’”
            “Did he?”
            “Would I lie, Dumbledore?”
            “I do not believe so. So Young Mister Potter made the choice to be in Gryffindor.”
            “No,” the Sorting Hat said. “He made the choice not to be in Slytherin. He would not have been appropriate in either Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. He does not have that keen intellect for Ravenclaw and mark my words, he would not fit in Hufflepuff. He has a fine mind, certainly, and plenty of ability, but he is not the scholarly type one expects in Ravenclaw. It was either Slytherin or Gryffindor.”
            “And had he not been insistent on exclusion from Slytherin?”
            “Ah. A toss-up, I believe. He has been abused, Dumbledore. With that kind of neglect and abuse, he could have gone either way. He could have become a victim or an abuser, but I do not think he will. No,” the Hat said musingly. “I think we can expect great things of Mr. Potter. Terrible things, perhaps. He has that potential in him. But I think not. I think Gryffindor will be best for him.”
            “And it was what he wanted.”
            “Great and courageous.”
            Phineas Nigellus let out a loud, not-quite-believable snore.
            “Thank you,” Dumbledore said. “You have been insightful.”
            Dumbledore reached to take the Sorting Hat off his desk and place it on its shelf, when he thought, “This question of where to sort students. Do you often run into students who you strongly feel would go into one House, but for a mix of reasons choose another?”
            “Happened twice today, Dumbledore. It’s common, but not that common. Malfoy, he was instantly Slytherin. Weasley, just as easily into Gryffindor.”
            “Who was the questionable student?” Dumbledore asked, curiosity, one of his great strengths and weaknesses, getting the better of him.
            “Hermione Granger.”
            “Indeed. Her parents are Muggles.”
            “Dentists, I believe. But she has an intellect that would have rivaled yours back in the day, Dumbledore.”
            “And yet…”
            “Not Ravenclaw,” the Hat said. “Yes, I thought she would fit there. But like you, there was something else…” the Hat trailed off.
            “Sometimes I hear their voices,” the Sorting Hat said.
            “Whose voices?” Dumbledore asked, leaning forward. In all his many discussions with the Sorting Hat over the years, the Sorting Hat had never mentioned voices.
            “The founders. Slytherin, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff.”
            “And you heard their voices?”
            “I heard Godric Gryffindor speak briefly when I was placed on the Granger girl’s head.”
            “And what did he say?” Dumbledore asked, curious, perplexed, and a little surprised. And very, very intrigued.
            “He said, ‘She is a true Gryffindor.’”
            “And most unusual.”
            “Was there more?”
            “No, Dumbledore. That is all.”
            “Good night then.”
            “Adieu,” the Hat said, as Dumbledore flashed his wand, levitating the hat off his desk and onto its shelf.
            Dumbledore studied the empty goblet for a moment, then twirled his wand. It refilled with scotch. To Fawkes, his phoenix, Dumbledore said, “What do you think, Fawkes?”
            But the bird had nothing to say.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

What I've Been Reading

Been a while. Here's my latest list of reading.

Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell
Good near-future SF about what happens when Climate Change opens up the Northwest Passage and countries fight over suddenly open resources and Canada, because of its oil, becomes one of the most powerful countries in the world.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
I found this to be fascinating and thought-provoking. Essentially a scholar's look at the historical Jesus.

The Way of Kata: A Comprehensive Guide for Deciphering Martial Applications by Lawrence A. Kane and Kris Wilder
Although their primary martial art is Goju-Ryu, almost everything, if not everything, applies to Sanchin-Ryu and any other Okinowan and Japanese martial art that relies on katas and forms.

Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
SF, 3rd or 4th book in a trilogy. This one involves one of the first colonies running amuck after a gate is opened up allowing humanity access to the stars. Very political.

Sanchin: My Caffeine-Induced Endeavors Into Super Secret Karate Sh*t by David "Shinzen" Nelson
Well, fairly odd.

Dorothy's Derby Chronicles: Rise of the Undead Redhead by Meghan Dougherty & Alece Birnbach
Middle-grade book aimed primarily at girls. Yes, there was a reason I was reading this related to work.

The Heist by Daniel Silva
Another espionage novel featuring Gabriel Allon. And excellent, as usual.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

Rewinder by Brett Battles
A time travel/alternate history novel, highly recommended.

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert
An update to her 2004 book, looking at climate change from numerous sciences, including archaeology, meteorology, biology, zoology, and other fields of study. Rather depressing, but it'll probably make a believer out of you.

Uncaged by John Sandford & Michele Cook
Supposedly aimed at Young Adults, although pretty sophisticated ones. Very enjoyable, although it has a cliffhanger ending that irritated me.

Anatomy of a Spy: A Guide for Writers, Dilettantes, and Spooks by Stephen Parrish
Exactly what is says it is. In this case my friend Steve actually worked alongside a spy while he was in the army, so he provides a lot of insight into what makes them tick.

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan
The final book in his latest series featuring Greek and Roman demigods. Loved it.

Deadline by John Sandford
A Virgil Flowers thriller. A good one, but probably not the best.

Locked In by John Scalzi
SF. Noting that Scalzi has a theme going with his SF when people, in the future, have their consciousness placed into either other bodies or devices. In this novel, a meningitis-like virus sweeps the world. In a small percentage of people they become "locked in," i.e., paralyzed but fully conscious. Technology was developed to allow those people to function in society using "Threeps," which are robots into which they get interact via neural networks. On top of that, it involves a complicated murder mystery. Very good, very entertaining, very thought-provoking.

Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot by Reed Farrel Coleman
Taking over the writing of the Jesse Stone novels. I liked the first couple of Stone novels by Parker, then got lukewarm on them. Actively disliked the ones ghosted by Brandman. In this one I like Coleman's writing a lot except for his omniscient, shifting viewpoint, so I liked the book reasonably well.

Dick Francis's Damage by Felix Francis
A good, solid mystery featuring an investigator for the organization that oversees British racing. It's got a number of subplots, but the overall plot involves someone blackmailing the organization. He writes much like his father did and overall I'd say it was good.

Counterspy: A Spycatcher Novella by Matthew Dunn
Good enough to make me want to pick up his novels. An MI6 agent in the U.S. being stalked by a Pakistani assassin.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What I've Been Reading - July 2014 Edition

The Staff of Serapis by Rick Riordan
Actually a short story. Rick's setting up a crossover book with his two series, the one featuring Greek demigods and the one featuring Egyptian, er, demigods (Too long to explain). This is the second short story doing this and it was a lot of fun, featuring Annabeth from the Olympians and Sadie from the Egyptian series. The two characters mix really well and it was a lot of fun.

Field of Prey by John Sandford
Our most reliable and consistent thriller writer. A little bit of a return to his earlier books, which is to say, grim and disturbing. When a couple teenagers go out into an abandoned farm to get laid, they accidentally uncover a well that's pretty much filled with the bodies of missing women.

Robert B. Parker's Cheap Shot by Ace Atkins
I'm not in love with Atkins' Spenser novels, but I think he probably does it as well as anybody could. The voice is just different enough that it sets my alarm bells. On the plus side, the plots are generally better than Parker's were, and he's developing some new schtick between Spenser and Hawk. Recommended.

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome by John Scalzi
Okay. Wow. John has a book coming out, I believe in a could weeks, Locked In, that involves a near-future world that has been ravaged by a virus. But this virus causes, in some cases, the person to eventually go into a physically locked-in state, they're essentially paralyzed, unable to talk and move, but are fully conscious. In Unlocked, he presents a somewhat epistolary version of the spread of the virus and how things changed technologically and culturally as a result. The gist of it is that someone developed, basically, avatars—neural networks that could operate robots, and then the various cultural things that came out of it. It's an amazing, thought-provoking and occasionally disturbing novella and I'm looking forward to the novel.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
Needs no explanation.

Frozen Solid by James M Tabor
A research scientist goes to South Pole Station to do a Antarctic-water dive to collect some unknown bacteria that were found growing in the frigid water. Meanwhile, there have been a series of odd deaths, seemingly accidental or medical, of some of the women on the station. It's enjoyable, has some strange off-kilter behavior, and a little too closely resembles one of my WIPs, CRYSTAL STORM, which may or may not someday get finished and published, but I thought it was good.

The Churn: An Expanse Novella by James S.A. Corey
The Expanse series is terrific space opera. This takes us down to Earth, Baltimore basically, to give us some backstory about one of the characters in the novella. I'm not so sure how it fit into the Expanse series (in terms of how accurate the character's backstory seemed), but I thought it was a pretty fascinating look at the Earth of that series.

The Cuckoo's Calling by JK Rowling
Her first crime novel featuring Cormoran Strike, a PI in London. It's very British, very slow and textured, but the character of Cormoran is terrific. It's also very, very different from the Harry Potter novels, and if I hadn't known they were written by the same person I wouldn't have guessed she wrote them both. I do find that there are significant thematic material concerning the nature of fame. I imagine I will read the second one eventually.

Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples
This is an SF graphic novel my oldest son wanted me to read. It ain't a comic book. It's very adult with a fair amount of nudity, sex, and, of course, violence. It takes place in some galactic area with an ongoing war between a couple species and two of them have fallen in love and had a baby, and as a result, they are being hunted by the various governments and bounty hunters. Weird. Graphic. Engaging. Strange.

Bone Deep by Randy Wayne White
I have a lot of respect for Randy and his Doc Ford novels. Just not this one. I'll stop there.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What I've Been Reading

Graveyard of Memories by Barry Eisler
We go back to the 1970s(?) with a very young John Rain in Tokyo, just getting going in the assassination biz. It's one of Barry's best books, certainly one of his more accessible, and I enjoyed this one a lot. Learn how Rain became Rain.

The Martian by Andy Weir
A decade or so in the future NASA has landed people on Mars a couple times. In the latest mission everything goes to hell and the Mars team has to make an emergency exit. It appears that one of their team is killed and they abandoned him and head back to Earth. But due to a (sort of) bit of luck, he survived. Now he really has to survive as the only man on Mars until he can figure out how to let NASA know he's alive and they can figure out a plan to rescue him. This a novel-length version of that game where you're given a Frisbee, a bottle of Coke, a fire extinguisher and a deck of cards and try to figure out how to survive on the Moon. Weir keeps the science as plausible as possible, and the narrator (whose name eludes me at the moment) is hilariously sarcastic. Probably the best book I'll read all year.

The Black Box by Michael Connelly
A Harry Bosch novel and a good one. During the LA riots, Bosch had briefly investigated the death of of a foreign journalists, but with LA on fire, the case was shunted off to one side. Now he gets a chance to look at the extremely cold case now. Very satisfying.

Dirty Martini by JA Konrath
I've read this before and I re-read it for a very specific reason, i.e., I'm writing (on spec) a sequel to it with Derek Stillwater partnering up with Lt. Jacqueline Daniels. It may or may not get published in this fashion depending largely on Joe's wife and Joe, but I'm having fun with it. The book's good, a mass murderer called the Chemist is using botulin toxin to poison people throughout Chicago. The first time reading it I thought, "Well, Derek would be there somewhere," and also, "Damn, I should have written this novel." We'll see how it shakes out. My book, in one version or another, should be out later this year with any luck.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
I don't think I need to say more.

The Counterfeit Agent by Alex Berenson
A terrific espionage novel. It ends with a big of a cliffhanger, setting up the next novel, presumably. It's a little hard to describe, but a group, possibly affiliated with Iran, appears to be attempting to hide a nuclear bomb on U.S. soil as a kind of cold war move. Or is it a false flag operation made to make Iran look guilty?

Red Shirts: A Novel with 3 Codas by John Scalzi
A hilarious and weirdly "meta" novel that I generally read if I'm feeling blue, because it cheers me up.

The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs by Jim Rasenberger
A brilliant book, although I'm not sure I'd call the Bay of Pigs invasion brilliant at any level, although it seems to me that the CIA and the US government really never learned their lesson from the Bay of Pigs, i.e., we'll invade and the oppressed natives will be so grateful that they will rise up and overthrow their oppressor. Yeah, worked great in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais
The second Elvis Cole novel. It's an odd one and probably his weakest book (which isn't terribly weak), but the ending is a bit frustrating. Still, you can see that Crais sets up a lot of expectations and then bashes them apart, so things are never quite what they seem.

The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer
I can't decide if this novel is brilliant or I hated it. Or both. I suspect it really reflects what much of espionage is really like—nobody really has the full picture, half the information anybody has is false, intelligence agencies lie to each other, people within intelligence agencies lie to each other, they're so compartmentalized that nobody actually knows what's going on. This book has several "main" characters (or perhaps none, it's not always easy to tell) that are given POV sections lasting several chapters long. So you often see events from different POVs, but overlapping in time and location, which can make it a very disjointed read. It all comes together at the end, more or less, but I didn't feel 100% satisfied with it. Steinhauer's very LeCarre-ish, which I appreciate can be a great compliment, but it also suggests that the book might be less about entertaining the reader than making some sort of literary statement. So if you're a reader of really serious espionage novels, this books for you. If you want a touch of James Bond and fun in your espionage, well, you might be frustrated with this book.