Monday, January 29, 2007

KILLER Q&A: GREGG OLSEN, PT 1

We turn the spotlight on crime writer and suspense novelist Gregg Olsen, member of the KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007.


The author of several acclaimed true crime books, his debut suspense novel, A Wicked Snow (Kensington), hits shelves in March:

Southern California criminal investigator Hannah Griffin teams up with FBI agent Jeff Bauer to catch her mother, a notorious serial killer who pulled off the greatest vanishing act in history ...



* * *

AS A NEWBIE NOVELIST, WHAT'S SCARIEST FOR YOU?
Having been around the block a time or two with my true crime and narrative nonfiction, nothing much scares me anymore. A Wicked Snow is what it is ... and it will come and go. If it isn't huge, that's fine.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO COMBAT YOUR FEARS?
Knowing that I'll write another book.

HOW HAVE YOUR "KILLER YEAR" CLASSMATES HELPED YOU THROUGH THIS CAMPAIGN? This is a talented bunch, that's no exaggeration. But I have to admit it is their fresh perspective and enthusiasm for helping each other that has been the most amazing part of this journey. There's no shortage of great ideas from this bunch. The support is completely genuine.

WHAT ARE YOUR WRITING HABITS?
Most of my experience has been in nonfiction and for that I generally spend 90-percent of my efforts on the research side. With the fiction, it is more about taking what I already know and spinning it into a story. For nonfiction, I wrote 1,000 words a day. With fiction, I could fly through 2,500 and never look up. The two are not the same, but I love both.

AS A READER, WHAT MAKES A BOOK INTRIGUING TO YOU?
I'm so shallow. I love a good title and a great cover. There, I admit it. So basic, but so true. There are a million books out there and I can only read so many. I like things pretty.

KILLER Q&A: GREGG OLSEN, PT 2

* * *

Thanks to suspense novelist Gregg Olsen. Find him online at GreggOlsen.com, at CrimeRant.com, and StarvationHeights.com. You can also visit his MySpace page.

You can also find more at the Killer Year website, the Killer Year blog and the Killer Year MySpace page.

* * *

Related links:
KILLER Q&A: PATRY FRANCIS (The Liar's Diary)
KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE (Kiss Her Goodbye)
KILLER Q&A: MARCUS SAKEY (The Blade Itself)
KILLER Q&A: SEAN CHERCOVER (Big City, Bad Blood)
KILLER Q&A: SANDRA RUTTAN (Suspicious Circumstances)
KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007
Adopting Killer Year

INTERVIEW ARCHIVE

Friday, January 26, 2007

10 Things I Wish I'd Known About Writing

On novelist Tricia Goyer's blog, It's Real Life, several authors have shared "10 Things I Wish I'd Known About Writing." Today, it's my turn.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

KILLER Q&A: PATRY FRANCIS, PT 2

Concluding our conversation with crime novelist Patry Francis, member of the KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007. Patry has several published stories and poems, is a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize, and received a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council twice.

Her debut suspense novel, The Liar's Diary (Dutton), hits shelves in February. Best-selling thriller novelist Tess Gerritsen calls it "a twisting ride full of dangerous curves and jaw-dropping surprises. This is one of my favorite reads of the year!"

* * *

PART TWO.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
Write if and only because you're compelled to do it. It's a quirky business. You may wait a long time for publication (like I did). But if you truly love what you're doing, if you keep growing and learning, you will persist.

WHAT DO YOU WISH NON-WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
When writers are at work, it's no different from anyone else on the job. We're not available for non-essential phone calls; we can't drop everything and meet for lunch. It's not personal; it just how it is. If we don't keep regular hours like every other working professional, the novel will never get written.

WHAT DO YOU WISH OTHER WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
Most other authors seem to understand quite a lot -- at least from this newbie's perspective.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT PUBLISHING THROUGH THIS "KILLER YEAR" CAMPAIGN?
This is a wonderful, empowering time for debut writers. We no longer have to sit back passively and wait for our books to suceed or fail. We can find our own audience by starting a blog; we can share ideas through forums; we can try innovative things like Killer Year. Will all that translate to sales and make a difference? Come back and ask me next year.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF?
I've learned that I really enjoy the marketing aspect. I've learned that I love connecting with other writers and blog readers. I've learned that I have the best job on the planet.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOUR CRAFT?
I've learned that no matter how many times you revise a manuscript, you can always go back and find at least one sentence that makes you cringe. I don't remember who said, "Novels are never finished; they're just abandoned," but I agree. I love the characters in my novel; I lived with them intensely for more than a year; I shared their rage, their love and their nightmares; I laughed with them, forgave them, and wept over their fates more than once. But at this point, I no longer feel they're mine. Those characters and their tumultuous story belong to the reader now.

KILLER Q&A: PATRY FRANCIS, PT 1

* * *

Many thanks to our guest, crime fiction novelist Patry Francis. Find her online at her blog, Simply Wait, and at her MySpace page.

You can also find more at the Killer Year website, the Killer Year blog and the Killer Year MySpace page.

* * *

Related links:
KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE (Kiss Her Goodbye)
KILLER Q&A: MARCUS SAKEY (The Blade Itself)
KILLER Q&A: SEAN CHERCOVER (Big City, Bad Blood)
KILLER Q&A: SANDRA RUTTAN (Suspicious Circumstances)
KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007
Adopting Killer Year

INTERVIEW ARCHIVE

BY ANY OTHER NAME ...

I just revisited a blog entry I posted November 2005, on the topic of pen names. The Wall Street Journal had reported on the growing problem for novelists that have to keep restarting their careers every few books with a new name:
These days, publishing veterans talk about "the death spiral" of authors' careers. A first novel generates terrific reviews and good sales, but with each succeeding book, sales get weaker and the chains cut their orders until they don't stock any at all.
Additional discussion on the topic from Sarah Weinman at Galley Cat and Lee Goldberg at A Writer's Life.

When retailers base their decisions on a spreadsheet, all they see are numbers -- attached to the name of the author. That spreadsheet cannot explain the circumstances, mistakes perhaps made by the publisher or the distributor, or other forces simply beyond the novelist's control.

With all the mergers and buyouts, and with the independent booksellers struggling, more and more of the book publishing industry is being put into the hands of fewer and fewer people. The system could be headed for a place -- (if it has not already arrived) -- where it is impossible for a novelist to build a career. In this environment, many of today's biggest selling authors would never have made it: Instead of having a "breakout" with their fourth or fifth (or tenth) novel, retailers might have already dismissed them.

On a happier note, though, there is a tradition of authors who choose to write under multiple names, sometimes quite openly. For branding reasons, Evan Hunter used his own name for his more literary aspirtations, and wrote as Ed McBain for his enormously successful crime fiction.

Related links:
Outlines: Follow the Map
Hope for us all
Don't quit your dayjob(s)
Writing for a living
IN FOR THE LONG HAUL

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

KILLER Q&A: PATRY FRANCIS, PT 1

We turn the spotlight on crime novelist Patry Francis, member of the KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007.

Her debut suspense novel, The Liar's Diary (Dutton), hits shelves in February:

When a teenage boy is arrested for a particularly brutal murder, his mother seeks to learn the truth, and finds herself increasingly ensnared in a web of lies ...



* * *

PART ONE.

AS A NEWBIE NOVELIST, WHAT'S SCARIEST FOR YOU?
Public speaking! I'm terrified that I'll face a huge crowd and freeze; and I'm equally scared that I'll show up for an audience of two people -- one of whom is my mother.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO COMBAT YOUR FEARS?
I've been looking for ways to make my events interactive and fun; and every morning I look in the mirror and repeat three times: "I love public speaking ... I love speaking ... I love ... "

HOW HAVE YOUR "KILLER YEAR" CLASSMATES HELPED YOU THROUGH THIS CAMPAIGN?
When I first responded to Jason Pinter's call for debut thriller and suspense novelists on Publisher's Marketplace, I thought it meant nothing more than listing my novel on a Website called Killer Year. Little did I know that I'd accidentally stumbled into one of the most dynamic and supportive groups of writers who ever banded together to further our common goals.

My classmates are talented, savvy, generous and often laugh out loud funny. I can't believe how much we've accomplished as a group, but it is the advice, encouragement and humor we share on a daily basis that I value most.

WHAT ARE YOUR WRITING HABITS?
It's the new year, so of course, I'm vowing to get up by six and write for at least eight hours straight. But realistically? I usually get up around 10, check my email, my blog comments, and lately my MySpace page. (If anyone can suggest another distraction, let me know.) Then I eat breakfast and peruse the paper a bit. After that, my hour has arrived. I set a timer and write for 60 minutes. After I've rewarded myself with a piece of chocolate and maybe another quick check of the email, I write for another hour. It doesn't sound like much, but preparing for it, thinking about it, and then revising it later in the day pretty much consumes my life.

AS A READER, WHAT MAKES A BOOK INTRIGUING TO YOU?
Strong writing, characters I care about, and a great story. I'll read a book in any genre if it contains those three elements.

KILLER Q&A: PATRY FRANCIS, PT 2

* * *

Click on over for the second half of our Q&A with crime fiction novelist Patry Francis. Find her online at her blog, Simply Wait, and at her MySpace page.

You can also find more at the Killer Year website, the Killer Year blog and the Killer Year MySpace page.

* * *

Related links:
KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE (Kiss Her Goodbye)
KILLER Q&A: MARCUS SAKEY (The Blade Itself)
KILLER Q&A: SEAN CHERCOVER (Big City, Bad Blood)
KILLER Q&A: SANDRA RUTTAN (Suspicious Circumstances)
KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007
Adopting Killer Year

INTERVIEW ARCHIVE

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Crime Fiction with the masters

An article on Bookslut talks crime fiction with Walter Mosley, Donald E. Westlake and Elmore Leonard.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Flashing in the Gutters no more

Well, now I have to find some of my short-short crime fiction a new home: Alas, Flashing In The Gutters is no more. (Here is why.) Two new flash crime fiction sites hoping to fill the void are Powder Burn Flash and DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash.

Okay, maybe it's a biweekly series

Between learning the ropes at my new job and trying to meet some writing deadlines, I can't seem to keep the Q&As coming on a weekly basis. Watch for my KILLER Q&A with crime novelist Patry Francis (The Liar's Diary) next Wednesday.

In the meantime, catch up on the Killer Year series:
KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE (Kiss Her Goodbye)
KILLER Q&A: MARCUS SAKEY (The Blade Itself)
KILLER Q&A: SEAN CHERCOVER (Big City, Bad Blood)
KILLER Q&A: SANDRA RUTTAN (Suspicious Circumstances)
KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007
Adopting Killer Year

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

20,000 Visitors!

Around 10:30 last night, someone in Canton, Ohio, was this blog's 20,000th visitor. Their blog entry of choice? Conversation with Anne Rice.

Friday, January 05, 2007

KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE, PT 2

Here is the second half of our conversation with crime novelist Robert Gregory Browne, member of the KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007. Winner of the prestigious AMPAS Nicholl award, Robert spent several years "riding the Hollywood rollercoaster before severe motion sickness forced his retirement from the business." At the urging of a novelist friend, Browne tried his hand at long-form fiction -- the result, a thriller called Kiss Her Goodbye (St. Martin's Press), hits shelves February. Thriller writer Gayle Lynds calls it "a first-rate novel that will glue you to your chair until you finish the last satisfying word."

* * *

PART TWO.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
The usual. Never stop reading, especially in the genre you're interested in. And never stop writing. Any kind of writing. Just write and write and write some more until you develop your own style. There's nothing wrong with imitation at first -- I used to imitate Donald Westlake and William Goldman -- but eventually you'll have to go beyond being an imitator and discover your own voice. And that takes time and practice.

And along with that: don't be so anxious to get in print. I know, I know, EVERYONE wants to be in print as soon as possible, but developing your writing muscles takes time, and believe me, few people are ready their first time out.

Kiss Her Goodbye is my very first completed novel, yes, but I had many years experience writing movies and television and learned a lot about structure and storytelling during those years. I also wrote my screenplays as novelistically -- if that's a word -- as possible. My goal was to get the producer turning the pages. And I have that same goal when writing novels.

WHAT DO YOU WISH NON-WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
That writing is not easy. That knowing what to write and when to write it is extremely difficult. That the book they're picking up took months, if not years, of sweat, blood and tears to write. It's sometimes as exhausting as manual labor.

WHAT DO YOU WISH OTHER WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
I think other writers understand very well what it means to be a writer. If they didn't, I wouldn't have such a wonderful time talking with them. It's an amazing thing to be in a room or a bar surrounded by people who do exactly what you do for a living. They "get" it, when those on the outside don't.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT PUBLISHING THROUGH THIS "KILLER YEAR" CAMPAIGN?
I've learned that people in the business respond to a well thought-out campaign. I'm frankly surprised at how many people have latched onto Killer Year and given us a huge amount of recognition. People like you and Sarah Weinman and other blogs, as well as St. Martin's Press offering ideas to help us promote Killer Year. I may be biased -- since they're publishing Kiss Her Goodbye and the next book -- as well as the Killer Year anthology -- but St. Martin's is a wonderful, supportive house.

I've also learned that people can do so much more when they band together.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF?
When I was screenwriting, I hated meetings and parties, didn't really feel like socializing all that much with the Hollywood crowd. Figured I must be anti-social. But since I've fallen in with the publishing crowd, I've discovered I can be a social animal and love every minute of it. I look forward to the meetings and parties instead of dreading them, and I have a feeling that has to do with the level of respect you get as a novelist. In Hollywood, the screenwriter -- unless he has a hot property -- doesn't get much respect. And once they OWN that property, he or she is often discarded like a used tissue.

Not true in publishing. Not in my experience.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOUR CRAFT?
First, writing Kiss Her Goodbye in itself was an education. It was the first long form piece of work I'd ever done. I didn't know if I'd be able to sustain the 420 pages it took to write the story. But as I began to write, I felt as if the whole world had been opened up to me. That I could explore feelings and character motivations that I wasn't able to get into as a screenwriter, simply because of the nature of the screenwriting craft. Movies are visual. And most of what we learn about the characters is told to us through pictures and, to a lesser extent (if you're any good at the craft), dialog.

But when writing Kiss Her Goodbye, I was able to get into the heads of my characters. To let the reader know their thoughts and feelings. And that's an experience that nothing else in the writing craft equals -- at least for me.

But I'll be learning craft for as long as I write. You never stop learning.

* * *

Many thanks to crime fiction novelist Robert Gregory Browne. Find him online at RobertGregoryBrowne.com.

You can also find more at the Killer Year website, the Killer Year blog and the Killer Year MySpace page.

* * *

KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE, PT 1

Related links:
KILLER Q&A: MARCUS SAKEY (The Blade Itself)
KILLER Q&A: SEAN CHERCOVER (Big City, Bad Blood)
KILLER Q&A: SANDRA RUTTAN (Suspicious Circumstances)
KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007
Adopting Killer Year

INTERVIEW ARCHIVE

Sign up for the FREE "Thriller Readers Newsletter" and keep up with the latest profiles, news and reviews in the world of thriller fiction. Subscribers are also entered to win FREE BOOKS!

For Writers Only: Mad Genius Writer

Next week, thriller writer Randy Ingermanson launches The Mad Genius Writer E-zine, a free monthly electronic magazine focusing on internet marketing for writers -- whether you write fiction or nonfiction, whether you are a "techie" or "non-techie."
I’m steamed about the last writing conference I went to. Yet another novelist whom I respect and admire admitted to the ghastly truth: She’s barely making enough money as a writer.

Doesn’t that make you want to scream? Good writers shouldn’t be broke!

It wouldn’t bother me if she were a hack writer. But she’s good. She’s better than good, she’s excellent. She’s better than excellent, she’s stupendous. So why isn’t she making decent money?

I hate to hear that. And I’ve heard it one too many times. I want to do something about it. Right now.

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, I believe there is just no good reason for you to be broke. I may be wrong--but then again I may be right. You can believe me or you can disbelieve me, but please hear me out before you tell me I’m full of bull.

Here is the thesis of this web site: “All writers everywhere should be rich.”
Sign up now and you Randy will also send you:
* A FREE copy of: The Mad Genius Writer's Manifesto.
* A FREE 7-Day Course: 7 Ways to Rev Up Your E-zine Subscription Rate.

Randy Ingermanson earned a Ph.D. in physics at U.C. Berkeley, and is the award-winning author of six novels and one non-fiction book. Randy publishes the world’s largest electronic magazine on how to write fiction, the FREE monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE, PT 1

We turn the spotlight on crime novelist Robert Gregory Browne, member of the KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007.

His debut suspense novel, Kiss Her Goodbye (St. Martin's Press), hits shelves in February:

ATF agent Jack Donovan is just getting reacquainted with his estranged daughter, Jessie, when a ruthless gunrunner kidnaps her and buries her alive. With the clock ticking, Jack soon realizes that the only way he can save her is to follow a killer into the darkness of death itself ...


* * *

PART ONE.

AS A NEWBIE NOVELIST, WHAT'S SCARIEST FOR YOU?
Frankly, nothing about this scares me. I get anxious about things like deadlines and publishing dates and doing panels at conferences like ThrillerFest and Bouchercon, but none of it is scary. In fact, I love all of it. I feel like I've finally discovered the world I was meant to be in, surrounded by people who share a common bond.

I simply enjoy the moment as I'm experiencing it. Writing Kiss Her Goodbye was a liberating experience.

HOW HAVE YOUR "KILLER YEAR" CLASSMATES HELPED YOU THROUGH THIS CAMPAIGN?
The Killer Year crew is like a support group. They may, in fact, be one of the reasons I'm NOT scared. It's so much better to go through this process with people who are experiencing it at the same time. We compare notes, discuss ideas, share information. And we're all becoming great friends. It's like being part of a college fraternity. I'll always remember this year, working with these talented people.

WHAT ARE YOUR WRITING HABITS?
They vary. Now that I'm approaching deadline, I tend to go to bed early, then get up about three a.m. when the house is nice and quiet and work until I've written five or six pages. Sometimes three pages, sometimes seven. I work until I'm ready to fall asleep again, which is usually around six a.m., when it's time to get up.

AS A READER, WHAT DOES A BOOK NEED FOR YOU TO PICK IT UP?
I'm a first-pager. Actually, I'm a first-paragrapher. Actually, no, I'm a first-liner.

I'm very unforgiving when I'm standing in a bookstore looking for something to buy. First, the cover should be intriguing -- but that's not always necessary. A provocative title, maybe. A compelling description. But the true test is when I open to that first page and read the first line.

I want two things: 1) to be immediately grabbed; and 2) to be attracted to the writing style. The two usually go hand in hand, of course.

When I wrote Kiss Her Goodbye, I tried my best to not only make my style engaging to the reader, but to make that first line, that first paragraph, that first page so compelling that they'd have no choice but to turn to the next one. Hopefully, I succeeded.

KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE, PT 2

* * *

Thanks to crime fiction novelist Robert Gregory Browne. Find him online at RobertGregoryBrowne.com.

You can also find more at the Killer Year website, the Killer Year blog and the Killer Year MySpace page.

* * *

Related links:
KILLER Q&A: MARCUS SAKEY (The Blade Itself)
KILLER Q&A: SEAN CHERCOVER (Big City, Bad Blood)
KILLER Q&A: SANDRA RUTTAN (Suspicious Circumstances)
KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007
Adopting Killer Year

INTERVIEW ARCHIVE

Sign up for the FREE "Thriller Readers Newsletter" and keep up with the latest profiles, news and reviews in the world of thriller fiction. Subscribers are also entered to win FREE BOOKS!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Isaac Asimov

Today is the birthday of legendary writer Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), who wrote or edited more than 500 books. His prolific output included such classic short stories as "Nightfall" and "The Bicentennial Man," such novels as The Caves of Steel and Foundation, and a series of mystery stories featuring the Black Widowers.

Monday, January 01, 2007

FIRST Day: Hell in a Briefcase



HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! It is January 1st, time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and their latest book's FIRST chapter!

This month's feature authors:
Phil Little with Brad Whittington
and their book:
(A Matt Cooper Novel)

ELEVEN BRIEFCASES AND ONE UNLIKELY HERO...CAN MATT COOPER FIND ELEVEN NUCLEAR DEVICES AND HIS FAITH BEFORE DISASTER STRIKES?

With violence in the Middle East escalating daily, Americans are glued to their televisions wondering what will happen next. Meanwhile, Matt Cooper, jet-setting star of Phil Little's debut novel Hell in a Briefcase is doing something about it. A private security executive, his adrenaline-junkie days consist of last-minute first-class overseas flights, Hollywood parties with his actress girlfriend, and direct calls from top CIA brass.
A chance meeting with Mr. Roberts, “an old broken-down millionaire” and uncommon Christian, sends Cooper on a trip to Israel that will change his life. Matt goes behind the curtain of Middle East terrorism, witnessing firsthand the untold ravages of holy war. The deeper he goes, the closer he gets to a plot involving eleven stolen briefcase nukes and a plan infinitely more sinister than 9/11.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Phil Little, president of West Coast Detectives and a recognized expert in counter-terrorism, provides bodyguards to the stars and runs a detective agency that has served ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, Paramount, MGM, and hundreds of others (www.westcoastdetectives.us). He draws on this experience in crafting the tightly wound plot of this international thriller. In addition to his duties as a security expert, Phil has also written Hostile Intent, Protecting Yourself from Terrorism and will soon be the subject of a television pilot. In the meantime, you can read more about Matt's adventures in his blog, http://detectivemattcooper.blogspot.com.

In addition, Phil is available for comment on all aspects of international terrorism, both at home and abroad, and he makes for an interesting and colorful guest. His expertise in the area of international issues combined with his personable on-camera style would make for a great interview on this hot topic. From Lebanese terror camps in the 1970’s to American airports in the months before 9/11, Phil Little has witnessed the terror threat up close and can share eye-opening stories and information that all Americans should know.

THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Marjeyoun, Lebanon.

Thursday, 21 November 2002. 01:30.

A full moon. A glow seemed to rise from the sand, allowing them to drive with their headlights off. The five Jeeps kept to 40 kph on the dark road that wound southward between hills and wadis. In the third Jeep, Major Skaff allowed himself the brief luxury of picking out Pegasus in the sharp winter sky before he compulsively scanned the rocky terrain for signs of Hezbollah fedayeen. He was leading this patrol to check out rumors of increased activity near Shaaba Farms, the disputed area where three Israeli soldiers had been kidnapped two years before.

The ridge road ran from the town of Marjeyoun down to Qlaia’a under the ominous gaze of Shqif Arnoun-the castle called “Beaufort” by the Crusaders-to the west. Christians and Muslims had fought for this ground for centuries, trading possession of the castle as their fortunes rose and fell. In the 1970’s the Palestinian Liberation Organization had used the strategic placement of the castle to shell civilian settlements in northern Israel.

That was when Skaff, then a young recruit of the Southern Lebanese Army, had been a driver in a similar convoy, shortly before the civil war broke out between Christians and Muslims in 1975. Traversing this very ridge on a mission, he had come under fire from the castle. His evasive driving had saved the convoy and drawn the attention of General Lahd.

The intervening thirty years had been a generation of unremitting war. Israel, tiring of mounting civilian casualties and the Lebanese government’s refusal to expel the terrorists, invaded southern Lebanon in 1982 and captured the castle. Eighteen years of occupation followed, during which Skaff had risen through the SLA ranks while working openly with the Israelis to keep the various Muslim factions at bay. When he had started, Hezbollah did not exist. Now the radical Muslim army controlled the south and dealt severely with the Christian resistance.

As the occupation had grown increasingly costly and casualties mounted, the pressure increased for Israel to withdraw. When the SLA collapsed in 2000, Israel destroyed what was left of the castle walls and pulled back behind the Blue Line specified by the UN. The SLA scattered. Thousands fled to Israel or went into hiding. Those who didn’t were imprisoned and tried as enemy collaborators. As Hezbollah gained control of the area, the anticipated slaughter of Christians didn’t materialize. But any SLA militiamen emboldened to return were also imprisoned.

As he scanned the distant ruins of the castle in the moonlight, Major Skaff reflected on change and constancy. Where PLO guns had once rained death on Israel and Lebanese Christians, now tourists snapped pictures and rushed home to post them on the Internet. And the same General Antoine Lahd who had brought him up in the ranks and fought beside him for decades had fled to Paris. Only a week ago he had opened a fancy restaurant in Tel Aviv called Byblos. It had a nice ocean view.

True, Lahd had a death sentence hanging over him for treason and war crimes, but so did Skaff. And so did many of the two thousand SLA in Lebanese prisons.

But some things had not changed. Southern Lebanon was just as dangerous for the men in these Jeeps as it had been when Skaff was driving instead of commanding.

Skaff was drawn from his reflections by a dark shape ahead. At the end of the ridge the road snaked through an outcropping of rock. He had passed through it many times, always with reluctance. This night he felt a peculiar sense of revulsion as he squinted at the misshapen lump of stone looming before him.

He nudged his driver and nodded toward the rocks. Hassan nodded back. He could feel it too. Skaff reached for the radio to signal the lead Jeep. A lifetime of guerrilla fighting had convinced him that such premonitions were not without merit. His transmission was brief, but they were already entering the outcropping when he put the radio down.

Five seconds later a rocket hit the grille of the lead Jeep. The explosion lit the rocks towering over them. He saw the silhouettes of two men blow out on either side of the vehicle, which was tossed onto the nose of the next Jeep. Hassan narrowly missed them, skidding left and stopping next to the driver of the lead Jeep, who was lying half off the road.

The two Jeeps behind slid sideways to a stop in the road as machine gun bursts echoed from beyond the lead Jeep. Skaff was exposed to the attack. He dove from his seat to the rear of the second Jeep, between two men already returning fire with an Uzi and an M-16.

He rolled to his feet and yelled to the two back Jeeps, motioning for them to form a double barricade with their vehicles, keeping the men covered both in the front and the rear in case the attackers attempted to sandwich them in the gap. Skaff turned back, confident that his men needed no further direction. This mission called for battle-hardened veterans, and he had personally selected the nineteen men who were with him now. Every man among them had proved himself in years of combat. Some even owed their life to his cool command in battle. Some had returned the favor multiple times.

Skaff scanned the forward battle to account for the remaining eleven men, his position shielded by the lead Jeep transfixed on the grille of the second. To the left, Hassan was pulling the driver of the first Jeep to safety. The other two men from Skaff’s Jeep were covering him with sporadic fire from their Uzis. Ahead, the driver of the second Jeep was placing a case of grenades handy to his partner, who had fitted his M-16 with a grenade launcher and was set up in the backseat. Skaff was standing beside the other two passengers in the second Jeep. That left the three passengers from the lead Jeep.

He spotted Saif on the right. He had been thrown clear onto the sand without apparent injury. He was crouched behind a boulder, occasionally returning fire with his Desert Eagle .50-caliber side arm. Failing to sight the other two, he shouted to the driver, who had acquired an Uzi.

“Rafik? Sayyed?”

He nodded forward. Skaff crawled over the middle of the jeep to the hood. Sayyed was wedged between the lead Jeep and the grille of the second Jeep, most likely dead. Rafik was lying on the hood of the second Jeep. Skaff checked for a pulse. Nothing. He closed Rafik’s eyes and whispered a short prayer. Skaff couldn’t play favorites with his men, but this loss was harder than any other would have been. At nineteen, Rafik had already spent four years with Skaff, rarely more than fifty yards from his side. Four years of relentless, driven hate. Skaff had been Rafik’s ticket for revenge. Perhaps now he had found the peace revenge had not been able to bring him.

Skaff was crawling back to get a weapon when the second rocket hit the bottom of the lead Jeep. The gas tank exploded, sending most of the shrapnel back toward the attackers. The force of the blast threw the second Jeep back five feet, knocking over the two shooters behind. The grenade launcher and the man with it fell into the front seat. The driver was standing to the side. He returned fire with the Uzi.

Skaff helped reposition the grenade launcher and crawled out of the Jeep. The two in back were already firing again. He scanned the area and then dove toward the two Jeeps in the rear. Of the eight men between the jeeps, one had taken a round in the right shoulder but was still firing left-handed, propped against a door. Three were facing the rear but indicated they hadn’t seen any action, yet. Two were covering the walls on either side with M-16s, but also hadn’t seen action. The final two had grenade launchers on their M-16s. They waited until they saw several volleys of tracer bullets originating from a single location. Then they fired three seconds apart at the source. The machine gun fire stopped. Skaff slapped them on the back. Perhaps they would get out of this thing alive.

Then a rocket hit Skaff’s Jeep. Hassan was behind a curtain of stone, firing with an Uzi, having propped the injured driver in a cleft in the rock. But the other two were using the Jeep for cover. One tumbled backward, clear of the Jeep. The other was knocked down as the Jeep rolled over, pinning his leg under it. Skaff ran through a volley of automatic weapons fire and pulled the first man to his feet. They raced to the Jeep, joined by Hassan, and rocked it back over. Then they dragged the injured man to safety next to the injured driver.

Skaff felt a shudder of unease ripple through the adrenaline-laced focus that always came over him in combat. If this kept up, the whole team would be shredded before they had used half their ammo. He grabbed Hassan’s arm and yelled into his ear over the din.

“We have to take out that rocket launcher or we don’t get out of here. Take those three and circle around.” Hassan nodded and stepped away but Skaff grabbed his arm. “Take a radio.”

He let go, and Hassan ran to the rear while the others laid down covering fire. Skaff used the opportunity to race to the front two Jeeps and get the four there away from the vehicles and behind the cover of the rocks. As they ran for cover, another rocket hit the top of the lead Jeep, sending fragments of the grille and fenders flying in all directions. Skaff ran through the explosion back to the rock curtain. When he fell against a boulder the injured man pointed at Skaff’s leg. He looked down and saw that his left trouser leg was slashed in three places. Blood was seeping down to his boots. He looked around to see how the others had fared.

Saif seemed to have been hit in the arm by something. He was now firing the Eagle while holding his upper arm with the other hand. The other four seemed to have escaped unscathed. Skaff’s radio had not survived the rocket. He nodded to the man next to him, who wielded an Uzi while he made it to the two back Jeeps, getting an Uzi and a radio. He turned it up all the way and slung it over his shoulder. Then he began firing at the source of tracers beyond the rubble of the Jeeps.

Looking for some encouragement, Skaff probed his memory. In almost three decades of fighting, he didn’t recall anything quite as dire as the current circumstance. He had two confirmed dead, one unconscious, three wounded but still firing. Almost a third of the force. The numbers were bound to increase as long as that rocket launcher was working. His calculations were interrupted by Hassan’s voice squawking through the pandemonium.

“We got the rocket launcher, but I think they have another on the left. And now we’re pinned down, so we’re going nowhere.”

The last word was drowned out by a rocket blast on the rock curtain above the injured men. Skaff doubted he could get a team around the other side. Even if he did, the enemy would be expecting them. No way around. No way through. He scanned the sheer rock walls on either side. No way over. The fedayeen had chosen their positions well and appeared to have ample men, weapons, and ammo. It seemed likely that most of this team would share the fate of Rafik and Sayyed. Probably all. The thought sickened Skaff, turning the adrenaline in his veins to bile in his throat.

There was one last hope, but it might be too late. He selected another frequency on the radio and shouted over the gunfire, “Lehafil Levanon Sanctzia. Lehafil Levanon Sanctzia. (Activate Lebanon Sanction.)”

Die Laughing: Funny Crime and Mystery Fiction

SHE'S THE SHERIFF!

A woman with a complicated past returns home to become the small town's new sheriff. Best Mann For The Job is by the writer/artist team of Chris and Erica Well. Read it from the beginning at StudioWell.com. Watch the trailer on YouTube.