News & Blog

My Readercon 29 Schedule

Readercon 29 is just a few weeks away! I have received my programming schedule, so here’s where you can find me over the course of the convention:

Friday, July 13th (yikes!)

Kaffeeklatsch, 11:00 AM, Seven Masts
Come join me for some morning coffee and a lively discussion about my books, the writing class I will be teaching for LitReactor in the fall, lessons from my career, and the usual selection of bad jokes!

The Eternal Appeal of the Dragon, 5:00 PM, Salon 6
Dragon mythology continues to resonate for modern readers and authors. Dragons are often heroes, companions, romantic interests, sages, and mentors as well as forces of great destruction. How have stories about dragons changed over time, and what drives that change? What is it about dragons that has such enduring appeal? With Randee Dawn (moderator), Miriam Newman, Gregory A. Wilson, and my good pal Chandler Klang Smith!

Saturday, July 14th

Reading, 2:00 PM, Salon B
Come hear me read from…something!

Sunday, July 15th

How Horror Stories End, 12:00 PM, Salon 6
The reader’s expectation of a horror story’s ending — or anxiety over the question of how it will end — significantly shapes the experience of the story. Which horror stories require cathartic happy endings, and which are satisfying even when evil wins? If the reader likes everything about a horror story but the ending, does that spoil the story or just lead to fix-it fanfic? What moral messages are sent by a horror story’s ending? With Jess Nevins, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, Ellen Datlow, and moderated by my brother from another mother Jack Haringa!

You can also find me attending other cool panels and readings, wandering around the lobby, or browsing the bookshop. Come say hello! I look forward to seeing you there!

The Scariest Part: Paul Levine Talks About BUM DEAL

My guest this week on The Scariest Part is author Paul Levine, whose new novel in the Jake Lassiter series is Bum Deal. Here is the publisher’s description:

“They don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.” — Jake Lassiter

Second-string linebacker turned disillusioned defense attorney Jake Lassiter finally switches teams. Appointed special prosecutor in a high-profile murder case, he vows to take down a prominent surgeon accused of killing his wife. There’s just one problem…or maybe three: no evidence, no witness, and no body.

But Lassiter’s used to fighting impossible battles on the gridiron and in court. After all, he’s not totally burned-out — just a little scorched.

Standing in Lassiter’s way are the defense lawyers: slick-talking Steve Solomon and blueblood Victoria Lord, who would love to beat their old mentor in court. Not to mention the specter of CTE, the lethal brain disease Lassiter may have contracted banging heads in the NFL. Drained of his mental edge just when he needs it most, Lassiter faces the possibility of losing the case — and his life — in court.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Paul Levine:

I suffer from an ailment I call “HBR,” Hypochondria by Research. As a result, I live in fear of brain damage.

Here’s why. I’ve been reading everything I can find about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the vicious, degenerative brain disease that is killing former professional football players.

In Bum Deal, linebacker-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter, my fictional hero for the last 28 years, suffers symptoms of CTE. Here’s what he says about the disease: “CTE is to the NFL what black lung is to coal mining, the inescapable industrial disease that keeps on giving, and I might be one of its victims.”

Unlike Lassiter, I didn’t play college or pro football. Sure, like teenage boys of a certain era, I played sandlot tackle football without a helmet. So I’d gotten my bell rung lots of times. And I was beaned by a baseball more than once in the days before batting helmets. Then there were several head-to-head collisions under the backboard playing varsity basketball in high school.

But let’s go back even farther in time. When I was a kid, I’d watch professional wrestling on the black-and-white Philco. In those long-gone days (circa 1960), there were a horde of colorful characters in the ring with memorable names. Abdullah the Butcher, Killer Kowalski, Dick the Bruiser, The Sheik, and of course, Gorgeous George were headliners.

My favorite was a mountain of a man — 6′ 6″ tall, 270 pounds — who called himself Bobo Brazil. (He was born “Houston Harris,” which wouldn’t have been a bad ring name, either).

Brazil’s deadly move was a vicious head butt he called the “Coco-Butt.”

“Look out! Here comes Bobo’s Coco-Butt!”

Brazil would grab his opponent around the neck and slam his own forehead into the man’s head, kr-ack! The guy would spin dizzily in circles and fall dreamily to the mat, feigning unconsciousness. We didn’t know the sport was as choreographed as “Swan Lake,” and this looked real to a twelve-year-old. Still does.

After watching wrestling on the grainy Philco, the neighborhood kids would take on the persona of their favorite wrestlers and battle in the backyard. I was Bobo Brazil, and I’d head butt my opponents until my vision darkened into a night sky filled with shooting stars, my ears ringing like the bells of Notre Dame. Did I suffer concussions? I don’t know, but we’ve since learned that sub-concussive injuries — especially in children — can lead to later brain damage.

Flash forward five decades. One of my close friends, a Miami lawyer named Don Russo, died of a degenerative brain disease. He had been a small, speedy, fearless wide receiver at the University of Miami. Running pass patterns over the middle, he’d been knocked around like a pinball by linebackers 50 pounds heavier. After short stints with the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins, he went to law school and began playing rugby on an international level for the next 25 years. How many blows to the head did he take over all that time? Hundreds? Thousands? To my thinking, there was no doubt: sports killed my friend.

Doing research for Bum Deal, I was astonished at the pace of new and frightening discoveries about traumatic brain injuries suffered by athletes. The headlines alone were scary:

“I’m the Wife of a Former NFL Player. Football Destroyed His Mind.” – New York Times

“Not Safe for Children? Football’s Leaders Make Drastic Changes to Youth Game.” – New York Times

“Could Football Ever End?” – Wall Street Journal

“Playing Tackle Football Before 12 Is Tied to Brain Problems Later.” – New York Times

I read these articles and many others, including the grimmest report yet, regarding autopsies of former pro football players: “111 NFL Brains: All But One Had CTE.”

Somewhere in the process of learning more than I wanted to know about traumatic brain injuries, my ears began to ring. Okay, that’s tinnitus, nothing unusual for a man my age. And sometimes I can’t remember the name of one of my favorite actors or the title of one of my favorite movies. Or the name of an author I admire and have met numerous times. And I seem more irritable than usual, and that’s saying a lot.

“You’re simply aging,” a physician tells me. “Your brain cells are dying at a normal rate.”

Normal rate! I want to learn new things, not forget old ones.

As for Lassiter, in Bum Deal, he makes light of his situation, something a shrink might call denial or avoidance.

“Jake, when are you going to get those neurological tests?”

“Stop worrying. I’m not drain bamaged.”

My thoughts turn to Bobo Brazil. He wrestled for 42 years — until he was 68! — and made it to 73 before dying of a stroke. That’s a lot of Coco-Butts. I doubt he ever worried about gremlins eating away at his brain cells. So I’m vowing to find something else to fear. Have you read about all the mercury they’re finding in tuna?

Bum Deal: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Paul Levine: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Blog / Newsletter Sign-Up

Paul Levine is the author of the “Jake Lassiter” and “Solomon vs. Lord” novels. Bum Deal is his latest work.

The Scariest Part: Terrence McCauley Talks About THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT

My guest this week on The Scariest Part is author Terrence McCauley, whose new novel is The Fairfax Incident. Here is the publisher’s description:

Manhattan, 1933. Charlie Doherty may have been kicked off the force after The Grand Central Massacre, but thanks to a wealthy benefactor, his private detective business is booming. Catering to the city’s wealthy elite, Doherty is making a good living chasing down wayward spouses and runaway socialites when the case of a lifetime lands in his lap. Mrs. Fairfax, a wealthy widow, hires Doherty to prove her husband’s suicide wasn’t actually a suicide. It was murder.

At his benefactor’s urging, Doherty takes the case. He expects to pocket a nice chunk of change to prove what everyone already knows: Walter Fairfax walked into his office in the Empire State Building one morning, took a phone call, and shot himself. But Charlie took the widow’s money, so he begins to dig.

He quickly finds out there is more to the Fairfax incident than a simple suicide. Before long, he discovers that Mr. Fairfax was leading a double life; running with a dangerous crowd that has a sinister agenda that threatens to plunge Charlie’s city — and his country — into another war. In an investigation that quickly involves global implications, Doherty finds himself against not only some of the most powerful people in New York City, but against the most evil men in the world.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Terrence McCauley:

The scariest part about writing The Fairfax Incident was that the book is based, in part, on actual events. No big deal, right? Most works of fiction have their roots, at least in part, in a real world experience. But this one is different. This one was the historical fact that the Nazi Party not only had a presence in my hometown of New York City, but they managed to hold a huge rally in Madison Square Garden in the 1930s.

This posting isn’t about history, so I’m not going to bore the reader with names and dates and facts about the American Bund movement or how groups like the Friends of New Germany had a direct line to Rudolph Hess, one of Hitler’s most trusted advisors. Google it and find the information on your own if you’re interested.

My father had been a history buff and had told me about Nazi attempts to establish a presence in America before the Second World War, but it wasn’t until I began doing some research on my own that I uncovered how extensive their activities had been. The Nazi party had storefronts in all major cities, including right here in Manhattan. The German American Bund, under the guise of seeking to reestablish pride in German culture following the humiliation in the First World War, rallied new German immigrants and German-Americans together at outdoor events and regular meetings. The true reason for all of this wasn’t just to remove a stigma from losses suffered during the previous war. The purpose was to slowly and steadily indoctrinate people into the evils of Nazism.

The scariest part of all this is that it worked for a little while. The Bund had its own propaganda arm and published its own materials that members were ordered to purchase. Mein Kampf was obviously required reading. The bastards even managed to acquire property throughout the United States and set up summer camps for children, just like the scouts. Two of these camps were located in Long Island, NY (Camp Siegfried) and New Jersey (Camp Nordland). The American flag and the German Swastika hung side by side and enjoyed the same amount of reverence from young people and their parents.

I’d like to think they were blind to the hateful rhetoric spewed by these monsters, but I’m not naïve. People — at their core — like to belong to something bigger than themselves. They like to fit in. They want to be on the winning team, and in the 1930s, Hitler was surging. The atrocities in Germany hadn’t reached our shores, so it the average Bundist wrote them off as someone else’s problem. They were in it for the beer and the bratwurst while the kids enjoyed some fresh air.  If you have to throw up a salute every once in a while and buy some propaganda, so what?

Such ambivalence in the face of focused aggression came to a head in 1939 when the Bund managed to fill Madison Square Garden to capacity for a rally in support of the Nazi cause. Twenty thousand members attended the rally from all over the country to show their support for this growing movement.

The good news? One hundred thousand people protested on the streets outside Madison Square Garden.

The even better news? The rally received so much negative attention that the Nazi party in Germany abandoned it, even going as far as to forbid its citizens from participating in Bund events. And once war was declared between the two countries, most of the members abandoned the organization altogether and sided with the United States. Some remained loyal to the cause throughout the war, but an overwhelming number of German-Americans supported their country when it counted most.

We all know how the war ended and what became of the Nazi party. What scares me the most is that such an ideology was able to find a foothold in this country at all. It troubles me now to see it raising its ugly head in certain circles today.

In The Fairfax Incident, it takes my protagonist, Charlie Doherty, a long time to uncover the Nazi plot that is at the heart of the novel. I wrote it that way to show how insidious the Bund’s infiltration of our country had been. Today, we see Nazi party rallies almost every week on the news. And today, just like back in the 1930s, I find the people with the torches and the rhetoric to be as repulsive as they are terrifying. But the people I fear most are those behind the curtain. Those who we don’t see, yet wield all the power. We defeated them once. And we must remain vigilant if we hope to do so again.

Swastika Nation, Arnie Bernstein
“When Nazis Filled Madison Square Garden”, Politico Magazine, Gordon F. Sander, August 23, 2017

The Fairfax Incident: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Terrence McCauley: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Terrence McCauley is the award-winning author of three James Hicks thrillers: Sympathy for the Devil, A Murder of Crows, and A Conspiracy of Ravens, as well as the historical crime thrillers Prohibition and Slow Burn, all available from Polis Books. He is also the author of the World War I novella The Devil Dogs of Belleau Wood, the proceeds of which go directly to benefit the Semper Fi Fund. His story “El Cambalache” was nominated for the Thriller Award by International Thriller Writers. Terrence has had short stories featured in Thuglit, Spinetingler Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Big Pulp and other publications. He is a member of the New York City chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and the International Crime Writers Association. A proud native of The Bronx, NY, he is currently writing his next work of fiction.