Liberal or Conservative: Bad Words?


Presidential elections bring out the worst in people.  I’ve observed that every fourth year an alarmingly high number of people ramp up their usage of the L-word and the C-word. Republicans are quick to label those with opposing viewpoints as liberals, while Democrats refer to their political rivals as conservatives.  For better or worse, those two words have, in my opinion, devolved over time, and now, they hold mostly negative connotations, even though both words, by definition, are inherently positive.

To my proof.


According to Merriam-Webster’s Online, a liberal is defined as someone “believing that government should be active in supporting social and political change.” Another definition reads as someone “not opposed to new ideas or ways of behaving that are not traditional or widely accepted.” Going by these definitions, I am a liberal. . .and proud of it. I like to think of myself as actively supporting social and political change. And I’m not opposed to new ideas. Like, for example, term limits for all elected officials in local, state, and federal government. There’s an idea that is certainly not widely accepted.


And what about the other nasty word, conservative?

From Merriam-Webster’s Online: a conservative is someone “believing in the value of established and traditional practices in politics and society.” It goes on to state that a conservative is “not liking or accepting of new ideas.”  Interesting.  It would appear I am a conservative, too. . .and proud of it.  I believe in a great many established and traditional practices in politics. Democratic elections and freedom of speech, to name but two obvious ones.  But I also do not accept or like certain new ideas, such as Obamacare, which, while well-intentioned, is quite burdensome on small to moderate-size businesses in America.


Look, I’m not naïve, nor am I Don Quixote on his high horse.  I don’t expect people’s attitudes about those on the opposite end of the political spectrum to change any time soon.  However, I would like to make a suggestion: the next time someone calls you a liberal or a conservative, simply smile and say, “Yup, I sure am.”

Book Review of DEADLY DUNES by E. Michael Helms

deadly dunesOnly $4.95 on Kindle and $14.95 for paperback!

Multi-million dollar real estate deals. A priceless map drawn by 16th century explorers. Coded messages in Spanish and English. Femme fatales and callous businessmen. Snipers and lying women. Suicide and murder. Sex and intrigue. Like a complex stew, there are many layers to Deadly Dunes, the third installment in the highly-entertaining Mac McClellan series, and although I greedily consumed this mystery in one sitting, I’d recommend slowing down, savoring the many flavors.

The setup: McClellan is hired to investigate the alleged suicide of an archeology professor, who just so happens to have stumbled across a map from Hernando de Soto’s 1539 exploration of a place called Five Mile Island, an idyllic spot on the coast of Florida. Little does McClellan know that the map will draw him into the always dangerous world of big money real estate development, and before long, he’s embroiled in yet another complex web of lies, money, and murder. The only question is: can McClellan, a retired Marine turned P.I., discover the truth, thwart the bad guys, and remain in one piece?

This is a solid mystery with plenty of red herrings and double-crossings to keep the reader guessing until the end. But, as always, the thing I enjoyed the most was Mac McClellan. A drinker of Budweiser, an avid fisherman, a man’s man with a sarcastic tongue and a secret chivalrous streak, McClellan has quickly become one of my favorite P.I.s, and I look forward to his next adventure. Highly recommended.

Quick Writing Tips: On Shifting Perspectives


Writing a novel with shifting narrative perspectives is good fun–for the author and the reader.  The author gets a chance to really develop characters and voices, while the reader gets to experience the story from multiple perspectives. Some really great novels have shifting narrative perspectives. . .Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash, and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, to name but three.

My forthcoming crime thriller Alphabet Land has three different narrators, and it got me thinking about some “rules” for multiple narrative perspectives. I came up with four, if ever you’re looking to try your hand at this.

  1. Stay with one perspective for an entire chapter. And when you do this, make sure to establish which character you’re following in the very first paragraph, the first sentence preferably. Otherwise, you risk alienating/confusing the reader, which is quick way to get him or her to give up on your book.
  2. Move the story forward with every narrative shift. This means, of course, that the plot should progress with each new chapter, but, perhaps less obviously, the characters–all of them–need to evolve right along with the story. Doing that will only serve to increase the tension, and keep the reader hooked.
  3. If using third person narrators, you must remain consistent. For example, if you allow the reader access to one of your narrator’s internal dialog, then you need to do that for all other narrators as well. Another example: if you include very little backstory for one narrator, and instead, rely on action and/or dialog to develop the character (which, as a writer, I recommend, and as a reader I prefer), then do that for all other narrators, too. Ditto style, tone, syntax, pacing, etc. (Note: if you’re using first person when writing with multiple narrators. . .all bets are off.

Bottom line, writing in multiple perspectives is a great way to challenge yourself as a writer, and it can be a deeply satisfying experience for a reader. If you have any other good novels that use this technique, drop me a line. Would love to hear from you.


Book Giveaway for ED, NOT EDDIE (Eli Sharpe #3)…bribe offered!


Ed, Not Eddie (Eli Sharpe #3) is now available for pre-order (click here to do so).  So in an effort to get you to order a book several months before it will be shipped to you, I’d like to offer a bribe.  The first (10) people to email me at with a proof of purchase for Ed, Not Eddie can choose (1) prize from below. This bribe is good until October 31st, so act now.

Keep in mind that if you’ve already purchased all of the above titles, I can still give them away to a person of your choosing. All I would need is an email address where the recipient can redeem the eBook.

Brass tax time, people. I need to sell a few dozen more copies of my books in order to receive my very first royalty check (fingers crossed). So if you’ve read my books and enjoyed them, pick up Ed, Not Eddie as well, and then give your prize to another lucky reader.


Max (struggling novelist/frustrated English instructor/misanthrope/

Guest Blog: Robert J. Ray

Robert J. Rayweekend novelist

“Keys to a Dramatic Scene”

The key to the dramatic scene is an intruder penetrating a closed circle. In society, we form a closed circle when we have coffee with a friend, or invite people to lunch, or gang up on the schoolyard. There can be violence—a burglar with a Glock Nine breaking down a door—but the intruder can also be an unwelcome wedding guest crashing the party.

A good example in the mystery game is the Sleuth’s Reward Scene in The Body in the Library, by Agatha Christie—the classical mystery used by Jack Remick and me when we wrote The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, for Dell. Sleuth’s Reward is a modular scene. The word “modular” tags a scene that crosses sub-genres. In hard-boiled fiction, the sleuth’s reward is money or a kiss blown by an out-of-reach dame. In a Christie tea-cozy, the Sleuth’s Reward is admitting that the killer should die.

Jack Remick and I honed our scene-writing skills teaching in the screen-writing program at the University of Washington, where we developed tools for quick scene-building. One of those tools appears below, the Scene Profile. There, we display a template for creating your own scene profile.

Example: The Scene


Name: Sleuth’s Reward (The Body in the Library)

Character and Stage: Miss Marple recreates the crime for the last time in Conway Jefferson’s sumptuous suite at the Majestic Hotel.

In attendance: Colonel Melchett, Chief Superintendent Harper, Conway Jefferson, and Sir Henry Clithering.

Closed Circle: Upper World hotel suite.

Intruder: Miss Marple, invited inside because she’s the sleuth who solved the case.

Object onstage: Miss Marple’s best evening gown.

Dialogue‑Monologue: Motive (money, the scarce resource base) and method (knockout drug, strangulation, blow to the head, burning) and luring the victim into the trap.

Action: Using words as building blocks, Miss Marple erects a triumphant rhetorical edifice.

Climax: Miss Marple admits she’ll enjoy seeing Mark Gaskell hang.

Symbol/Theme/Ritual: Restoration of order by a proper recreation of the crime.

Summary of the Scene (Useful for submitting your novel to a publisher):

The place of this Sleuth’s Reward scene is Conway Jefferson’s suite at the Majestic, a room with an ocean view. The time is evening, a day or so after the apprehension and incarceration of the killers, Josie Turner and Mark Gaskell. The sleuth wears her best evening gown. The main dramatic device is a series of connected Marpelian monologues ‑‑ facts, motive, the marriage connection coverup ‑‑ climaxed by a ten step recreation of the crime and the sleuth’s admission that she wants to see Gaskell hang.


In this scene, Miss Marple is rewarded by her position in society as sleuth triumphant. She solved the case. She saved Basil Blake from becoming a scapegoat. With shrewd sleuth magic, she saved the Bantrys from losing their social position in high society. The scene drips with a proper restoration of order.

Robert J. Ray is the author of seven novels: Cage of Mirrors, The Heart of the Game, Bloody Murdock, Murdock for Hire, The Hitman Cometh, Dial “M” for Murdock, and Merry Christmas, Murdock. A sixth Matt Murdock mystery—Murdock Tackles Taos—in process.  Ray is also the author of a popular non-fiction series on writing, The Weekend Novelist and he shares writing techniques on writing on his blog co-authored with long time writing partner, Jack Remick. Ray is a native of Texas and holds a PhD from the University of Texas, Austin. Tuesdays and Fridays, he and Jack write at Louisa’s Bakery and Café in Seattle.


Hybrid Authors: Advantages and Disadvantages?

As of this writing, I have two publishers: 280 Steps and Camel Press. Camel Press publishes my Eli Sharpe mystery series, and 280 Steps publishes my crime thrillers featuring The Rook. Honestly, I’m lucky to have both, and I’m delighted that my work is getting “out there.” However, I also enjoy writing (or attempting to write) “literary fiction,” and thus far I’ve been unable to find a suitable outlet for those stories (I’ve tried the agent route.  .  .no luck). Yes, I’ve published seven or eight stories in lit mags, and that was cool, but ultimately, I’d like to make a buck or two on writing. So here’s what I’ve been mulling over: self-publishing. I’ve heard about “hybrid writers,” which, if I understand the term, means writers who have traditional publishers, and they self-publish as well. The idea intrigues me, especially the part about having total control of the finished product, and if anyone out there has some experience in this realm, please drop me a comment and tell me about your experiences.



Reading Recommendations

I’m starting a new thing where I simply recommend (not review) books I’ve read recently. Perhaps I’m getting lazy, but whatever. Here are three solid books, in wildly different genres, that I think you might enjoy.  .  .so enjoy!

VORTEX, a fast-paced crime thriller by Shamus Award winner Paul D. Marks.

DEAR AMERICAN AIRLiNES, an acerbic, comical, cynical “complaint letter” to (you guessed it) American Airlines, by Jonathan Miles. But, obviously, this novel is much more than that. It evolves, or devolves into a character study/philosophical rant/lament. Loved it.

THE GENTLEMEN’S HOUR, a mystery featuring surfer P.I. Boone Daniels, by Don Winslow. Love the beach setting, love the character, love the voice. . .read it.

good mood


#amwriting. . .bookcases that turn into coffins

Yup, I used the dreaded hashtag, but so what? I’m on twitter, I just have to admit it publicly. Anyway, I’m jazzed about the genre-not-specified novel I’m currently working on. The working title is Hannah’s Version, and it concerns (spoiler alert!) a highly successful HR executive, wife, and mother named Hannah Stroud. Because of her admittedly twisted childhood, she has an obsession with death, and one day she buys a bookcase that can be turned into coffin, which she insists on being buried in. This causes (and/or exposes) some rather deep cracks in her marriage, and from there it devolves into infidelity, betrayal, and brinkmanship. To the point, I really like it, and I’m only 40,000 words in. Guess I just wanted to see if I could write a “literary novel” (look at that, it is genre specific after all).

Hey agents out there, any interest in the manuscript of fledgling crime writer dabbling in “real literature?” I wait by the phone.



Very excited to report that the editors of 280 Steps have just sent over their revisions for Alphabet Land (due out on March 1st, 2016!), and I’m chomping at the bit to really make this noir-crime thriller sing. I’ve kind of missed The Rook, my “problem-solver who carries a .45 Chief’s Special and gets justice his way.” Guess I forgot how much fun writing this perspective-shifting, pot-boiler was! Can’t wait for readers (hopefully, a lot of them) to check this one out.

In the meantime, be on the lookout for the cover reveal, which, if past 280 Steps covers are any indication, should be pretty badass!