The nature (and portrayal) of evil.

Is evil relative?

I ask that question after engaging in a debate of the subject with a couple of fellow writers. They insisted that, yes, evil is relative, and writings that portray certain subjects in a positive light should not be censored.

One writer insisted that, at least at first, the Nazi’s weren’t evil. Another insisted that, because many surviving Nazi’s still view what they did in a positive light, then the actions of that regime were not evil.

Personally, I thought both of them were insane.

The first, who styled themselves as a historian, insisted that the German government didn’t really ‘go bad’ until after the war started. They also said that, because the other European powers failed to intervene, they were either complicit in what happened, of at least initially, agreed with what happened.

I remembered history differently.

I remember the violence the Nazi’s used to gain power, and the swift expansion and increasing brutality of that violence once they had achieved power. I know that they moved swiftly to crush any and all opposition parties. I remember how they rounded up those who opposed them. I also remember that they imprisoned people in existing prisons long before the first purpose-built concentration camps opened in 1933. In short, I remember that the Nazi’s were born evil, and were never anything but evil.

The other person, who insisted that because surviving Nazi’s remember their actions in a positive light, they could not have been evil I found to be laughably naive. Mass murderers, from the ‘Son of Sam’ to John Wayne Gacy, rarely if ever speak of what they did as evil. They also pulled out the “Star Wars” card, quoting Obi-Wan Kenobi’s famous ‘from a certain point of view’ line as proof that evil is all in the eyes of the beholder. This person, btw, was a woman, and I was strongly tempted to ask her how she react to a story that portrayed a woman being raped in a positive light.

Perhaps I am old, but I think there are some things that are simply evil, and that they should never, ever be portrayed as anything else. What subject I feel should be regarded that way is a long list. Mass executions. Genocide. The rounding up of large numbers of people for no other reason than to silence opposition/please a fanatical leader’s ego. Torture for any reason. Sexual violence against anyone. There are a few others, but I write this to ask all of you, the readers, what you think?

How do you feel?

Are there subjects that should not be portrayed in a positive light, or is it ‘anything goes’ and be damned to what happens after?

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What is your writing fantasy?

 

What’s your writing fantasy?

I know, I know, you don’t indulge in such trivial, juvenile things…but the reality is, we all have them.

Some of us dream of a string of Pulitzer’s sitting on a shelf somewhere. Others, no doubt, picture themselves posing for a photo to go with the glowing review of their latest book in the New York “Times”. Maybe yours is having half a dozen studios clamoring for the rights to turn your book into a block-buster.

Whatever it is, we all harbor something like that somewhere in our heart of hearts.

So, what’s your fantasy? No, it can’t be just getting published (far too limited), or worse, just getting finished with your current WIP. What do you dream of for your work? I’ll start out, and offer mine, and even if it’s not as grand as some of the ones listed above, I think a lot of writers will be able to relate to it.

I imagine myself reading something I’ve written in public. Not to a huge crowd, but enough that there are people who will hear me. I keep my face down, following the lines I’ve written, so I don’t see anything of the response until I finish and look up. That’s when I see it: absolute, dumbfounded astonishment. The sort of stunned, gap-mouthed look you see on people when they’ve witnessed something so amazingly beautiful that their brains are still trying to process it. To have my words get that sort of response from people, that’s my fantasy. Even if only half a dozen people heard my words and react like that, it’d be enough. I’d know I had written something worth reading.

So, comments below if you choose to chime in, and thanks for reading.

The strange case of Lindsey O’Hara

[This is the beginning of an idea for a crime novel I’m thinking of writing. Any feedback is welcomed.]

She had come in yesterday, just as Mike Shannon had been getting ready to leave for the day. A short, slender woman, her back as straight as a reed. She had the coal black hair of someone with am Armada survivor in her ancestry, but skin so pale it might have been paper. Her request was simple: she wanted to hire Mike to investigate the murder of Lindsey O’Hara, late of Tuam. She was willing to pay his rates, plus any extra expenses he might incur. Given the lack of cases Mike had had of recent, he’d ready to be dickered down, but if the customer wanted to pay him full rates, he’d not object.

So Mike climbed the stairs to his office over Flynn’s Pub intent on researching the crime, But his search soon made one stunning fact clear: Lindsey O’Hara was his most recent client. The face that stared out of the photo with her obituary was the same face he’d seen the night before. Further digging brought up more stories about the crime. Lindsey had been the only surviving child of Rory O’Hara, and the last living member of his family.

Rory had expanded his Tuam-based contracting and real estate development business into the Dublin market just before the Irish economic bubble had popped. Mike remembered his end well, having been part of the team investigating it. Exhibiting singularly poor business judgment, Rory had decided it would be better to get in bed with the Kinahan crime family than to go bankrupt. When his company went under anyway, his underworld ‘friends’ had taken him to an isolated farm on the outskirts of Dublin and put a bullet in his skull. Linsey had followed her father in dying a violent death. She’d been shot three times in what was described as a failed robbery of her home. After their usual bluster, the local garda had failed to bring anyone to trial for the crime. Eventually, the story had faded from from the headlines.

How he’d forgotten the shooting, Mike couldn’t fathom. He leaned back, his old office chair protesting at the sudden motion. “Well fuck me, how about that? I’m working for a dead woman. But how am I to get paid by a dead lady?”

The screen on his mobile lite up, and a tinny instrumental version of “Happy Days Are Here Again” began blaring away. He only used that ring tone for one person: Liam Pleshen, an old acquaintance and current a senior manager at the AIB branch where Mike did what banking he had. Liam had gotten in trouble with a couple of bookies over a bet on the Grand National. He’d won on a long shot, and suspecting Liam of possessing inside information, they’d not only refused to pay up, they’d threatened to go to the garda. Mike had managed to mediate an agreement by drawing on his former colleagues in the Dublin branch to lean on the bookies. Since then, Liam had been a vital source of information where banking was concerned.

Mike tapped the phone. “Well, Liam, how are things for the idle wealthy?”

“Yeah, hello and fuck you too, Mike. I called because there’s been some odd activity in your bank account. To be precise, five thousand euros were deposited in it overnight. The only way I can see you getting that much money is either you finally solved a case, or you’ve quit pretending to be ethical and have started blackmailing your ex-clients.”

Five thousand euros? That would cover what Mike charged for a couple week’s worth of investigation, maybe more.”Can you find out where the money came from?”

“Half a sec…” Liam’s fingers clattered on a keyboard was the only sound, then a muted “Fuck me!” before he spoke to Mike again. “The money came out of an account registered to Galway United Development, but isn’t that….”

Mike drew in a sharp breath. Galway United Development had been the shell company Rory O’Hara ran his other companies through, and the only one that had escaped liquidation after his death. As his sole heir, Lindsey would have had control of it. “Yes, it’s the last business holding of the O’Hara family. Is there any record of who authorized the transfer?”

“Mike, I’m just your friend the neighborhood banker, not a forensic accountant with the grada. They’re the only ones who could find something like that out. You should call your old pals in Dublin, maybe they can find that out who’d be sending you money from a dead man’s accounts. Then again, maybe they’ll be asking you why you’re getting money from a source like that. Why are you getting money from them, Mike?”

No way Mike was telling someone he’d been hired by a dead woman to investigate her own murder. “I don’t know, Liam, but I’ll find out. Thanks for the call. Maybe you should stop by Flynn’s and I’ll stand you a couple of pints as thanks for letting me know I’m flush again.”

“What, and drink on a dead man’s tab? Thanks, no.” and broke the connection, leaving Mike to sort out what he knew so far. He’d grown up in America, so he wasn’t one to believe in banshees or spirits. That meant either someone posing as Lindsey O’Hara was orchestrating an outside investigation of her death, or someone with the funds to hire an impostor was pulling the strings. But why?

“Well, Liam, I might just have to follow your advice for once.” Mike opened a screen, then accessed his ‘Doomsday’ file. It had all the names and contact information for every member of the garda who might be willing to help him as a friend…or whom he had dirt on to use to extract a favor.

Olivier Dzba was one of the former. The two of them had been in the same class at the Garda Training College, and with them both being outsiders, they’d become friends. Olivier had been six when he’d come to Ireland with his parents to escape a nasty civil conflict in the Congo. So unlike Mike, he’d come up through the Irish school system, and spoke Irish like a native. Watching the reactions of some of his Irish classmates as a stream of Galway Irish poured from the huge black man had given Mike many a laugh their first year. Mike tapped in the phone number he had for his old friend, and smiled as he heard that deep baritone coming from his mobile.

Ceanncheathrú Bhaile Átha Cliath, Garda Siochana, Bleachtaire Dzba ag labhairt.

“Olivier, you know my Irish isn’t worth shite, so could you speak in a language I can understand?”

“Mike? Jaysus, lad, where’ve you been hiding? It’s been ages since I heard your voice.”

“Athlone. Not the Middle of Nowhere…but I can see it from here on a clear day.”

That got him a laugh. “Ah, you always were one to love Dublin, weren’t you? For myself, I can’t wait for the next bank holiday…I’ve a spot already reserved on the Corrib. Three days salmon fishing, and not a case to be solved.”

Don’t take this request!

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a literary agent who expressed interest in my work. Specifically, they said they were interested in my ‘trunked’ novel, “A Dream Before Dying”. I thought the request odd, but when I mentioned it to a fellow writer, they suggested I follow up on the interest.

So, as the agent requested, I sent off the first three chapters, expecting to hear nothing. A few days later, I received a follow-on message from the agent. They were interested in my novel, and wanted to read the rest of it. At this point, I thought ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ and sent the bulk of the novel out.

Based on the severe critiques of the story I’d received, I expected, at best, to hear that I had an interesting concept that needed significant work. In less than a week, I received a request from the agent for a conversation via Facebook Messenger regarding my novel. Now, I knew something wasn’t quite ‘kosher’. Why? Because even with the first three chapters not attached, “A Dream Before Dying” is not a light read. My word processor said it totaled 420 pages, and possessed a word count of over 146,000 when I formatted the second section for sending. But expecting a ‘Thanks, but it needs lots more work!’ response, I agreed to take the call.

The appointed time rolled around, my laptop chimed, and I took the call. The voice was friendly, welcoming….and it proceeded to tell me what a great novel “A Dream Before Dying” was. The agent wanted to represent me, his agency was eager to take my novel on, and he predicted that it would draw a great deal of favorable attention from the big publishing houses. There was even mention of a ‘book auction’ to draw several presses into competition for my novel. There would, of course, be an audio book release, e-books too, even possibly a request for movie rights.

Before anyone asks, yeah, I figured out it was a scam about the time the ‘agent’ said he saw no reason to make anything beyond ‘minor spelling changes’. By the time he started blabbing about movie rights, it took a major effort not to start laughing. But to be fair, I did some further research. I had tried, before the call, to find the ‘literary agent’ online, but beyond a web page for the ‘agency’, there were no references. So I dug deeper….and still found nothing.

It wasn’t until I did a search for a review of the literary agency that I found any reference to it…and that reference was far from glowing. (https://accrispin.blogspot.com/2019/02/ams-literary-agency-approach-with.html) The agency had registered its domain name (the Web maintains a list of all the site names connected to it, and to keep a domain, you have to register it) less than a month before, and the reviewer found out the primary (and seemingly only) agent, the person I had been contacted by, had been the prime mover in a vanity press that had bilked numerous authors out of literally millions of dollars.

So if you’re contacted by a guy named Don Phelan, or if a message pops up on your Facebook feed from a literary agency called AMS Literary Agency, just hit “Ignore”.

Feeling under the weather? Join the club!

I hate colds.

If you get the flu, or pneumonia, or even Ebola, it hits you hard enough that you feel justified in not doing anything.

But a cold?

A cold makes you feel miserable….but it doesn’t really hit you hard enough to make you feel comfortable putting everything off. Complain to your boss that you’ve got a cold, and what do they do? Your nose is acting more like a leaky faucet than a part of your body? Blow it and move on! Sinuses so stuffed your head feels like it’s about to explode? Take something and get on with life! Your cold’s settled in your chest, and you feel like you’ve got Dumbo sitting atop you? Pffffffffttt! Deal with it!

If you’re a writer, you’re your own boss, so you don’t have someone physically telling you to get busy. No, you’ve just got that nagging voice in your head telling you pretty much the same thing a real boss would say to you, and in a way, that’s even harder to ignore than a boss. Right now, I’ve got the ‘big three’ of colds going on: runny nose, stuffed head, and a stuffed chest. A full night’s sleep is a fond memory, so I find myself struggling to keep my mind focused enough to get daily chores done. Worst of all are the pains and discomfort a cold brings with it. Right now, my neck that feels like my car was rear-ended by an Abrams, and every time I get into a coughing fit, my head feels like there’s this little man inside it swinging a mean 16 lb. Maul.

And for all of that, I still feel like I should be writing. So I’ll let the impulse out on this little piece. Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel human enough to dig back into “The Haunted Blade”…or maybe not. Right now, I think I’d be happy just to get a good night’s sleep.

I hope none of you who are reading this are suffering something similar, and if you are, you have my sympathy.

“Acre’s Orphan”, a review.

In his previous book, “Acre’s Bastard”, Wayne Turmel introduced us to Lucca Le Pou. His ten year old protagonist is a street-smart scapegrace who knows the back alleys of his home city of Acre like the back of his hand. Lucca has already survived more than most adults, including the disastrous defeat of the Christian forces at the Battle of Hattin. But as much as he hopes to go back to his old life, that wish is not to be realized.

“Acre’s Orphan” opens in the aftermath of Hattin. Acre, now virtually defenseless, is awash with fear as it prepares to surrender to the Muslim armies of Sal ad-Din. Lucca discovers that a mysterious outsider is stirring up resentment for the defeat at Hattin among the residents of Acre. Lucca and his mentor, the former knight and occasional spy Brother Marco, soon realize that this is part of an effort to discredit a powerful Christian nobleman. Brother Marco dispatches Lucca to Tyre, where the nobleman in questions currently resides, to warn him of the threat. Lucca, who has only been beyond the walls of Acre once before, must travel through leagues of war-torn countryside to accomplish this. His only companions on this trip are a Druze girl only slightly older than him, a leprous nun hoping for refuge from the Muslims, and a Hospitaller knight of dubious reputation.

“Acre’s Bastard” was an exploration of the seamy side of the Crusades, and this second installment of the series takes the reader into the shifting political and military landscapes of the Holy Lands in the 12th Century. Lucca must navigate his way through the uncertainty around him while both doing his best to keep his companions safe, and to accomplish the task given to him by Brother Marco. As he does this, the scared boy he was begins to melt away, and the young man people will follow begins to emerge.

I enjoyed reading “Acre’s Orphan” enough that I finished it about three days. I found Lucca Le Pou to be an engaging character, as are the supporting characters. Their interactions feel like those of real people, with none of the stilted set-piece scenes some stories fall into. The landscape they move through is believable enough that you feel you could almost trace their path. The plotting is good, and the pacing keeps you turning the page. In other words, it’s a good read and well worth your time.

In his closing notes to “Acre’s Orphan”, Wayne Turmel tells us “Acre’s Bastard” was originally to be the only book about Lucca. That changed when his daughter indicated she wanted to read more of his character’s adventures. I am glad she changed his mind, because I too am looking forward to reading more of Lucca’s story. I don’t know, but I suspect others will look forward to further installments as well.

Review: “Android Chronicles: Unbound”

Android Chronicles: Unbound

By Lance Erlick

Publisher: Kensington Publishing; New York, New York

release date: Dec. 25, 2018

Formats: eBook (epub, mobi)

Size: ~90K words, 278 pages

In the first installment of his “Android Chronicles” series, Lance Erlick introduced us to Synthia Cross His android protagonist is the culmination of a series of very illegal experiments and hardware developments. She is not only self-aware, but a machine so life-like in appearance that she is capable of living unnoticed among humanity. Her builder designed to operate in a human-dominated world, both as the perfect tool to help him spy on competitors, and as what he hoped to be the perfect sex partner. But being a slave was not to Synthia’s liking, and she escaped her captivity.

At the beginning of “Unbound”, events unfolding around Synthia that threatening to take her new-found freedom away. The government suspects, but can’t prove, that she exists. Based on what they can guess of her capabilities, they want her captured. Agents of the FBI and NSA see her as a threat to national security for the skills she has as a hacker. The military sees to possess her and use her design as the foundation for robotic assassin that can change its appearance to mimic anyone. Foreign agents seek her to use as the prototype of the perfect spy, or the ideal terrorist.

As if all these human hunting her weren’t enough, Synthia is also being targeted by other androids. Some have been released into the human world to capture her, others have escape the possession of the government agencies that nominally control them to team up with the androids who seek her for their own ends. Then, there’s hints a mysterious AI is aiding her human pursuers from somewhere in the shadows of the Internet.

Synthia isn’t helpless, nor is she without allies. Her hacking skills allow her to seek out humans who might aid her while monitoring the government’s efforts to capture her. One human helps her upgrade her systems, only to lose his freedom when the government learns what he has done. Another human, one who opposes the very concepts of artificial intelligence and androids, joins forces with her as the only viable alternative to the looming threat of a world run by and for androids and AI. Together, they struggle to stay free as the government deploys an increasingly net in hopes of catching them.

“Unbound” is a good read for anyone interested in the problems artificial intelligence and human-like androids pose to our future. Lance Erlick’s protagonist must face many tests as she deals with her drive to stay free while maintaining the concepts of moral behavior that she hopes to live by. While her escapes are hair-raising, it is that constant battle to justify her freedom when others are suffering for it that is the heart of this story. A human in a similar situation would be conflicted, so too is Synthia. At the end of “Unbound”, she is still trying to find a balance between her own needs and the price fulfilling them exacts on others. I suspect that in the next installment of his “Android Chronicles”, Mr. Erlick is going to have to bring his protagonist face-to-face with the cost of her existence, and that the resolution of that conundrum will make for a very interesting read indeed.