Battling Demons

I don’t really know what I expected. Did I think, back in 2017 when I first outlined the idea for The Beauty of Bucharest to my friend and writing partner, Craig Hart, that it would be a walk in the park, or perhaps several parks? I knew Craig had the literary savvy to tell me whether I had a good idea or not. (I have to say nice things about him because he is the co-administrator of this website and is could execute an act of swift and massive revenge – not that he would mind you. But he could. Okay, he totally would. He’s probably got an act of war already, even if he tucks it in his suit pocket until the right moment, which will no doubt be something very public, like when we accept our Nobels. And the fact that I’ve included him in the Nobel discussion is just another example of me being super-nice.)

I’ve told the story before. The description Dan parking the car at Home Depot in the first chapter of the book was something that actually happened to me. The difference was, although I heard something thump in our truck after dropping my wife off at the door, it was neither a can of paint or a dead human. But that didn’t stop my mind from immediately going there. “What if a guy thought he heard a paint can fall over in his wife’s trunk, and when he check it turned out to be a body.”

Craig liked it. Everybody I talked to about it thought it sounded fun. So I decided to go for it. I’d written a few SpyCo novellas with Craig by then, so I was relatively confident that I could tell an action/thriller story with a strong female hero that was gritty but at the same time featured characters with human flaws along side their strengths.

What I didn’t realize at the time, and have come to fully understand only during the writing of the fourth book in the series, The Demon of Denver, was that my clever little book one theme was going to take me, as a writer and as a human being, down some extremely dark roads.

I started to realize it in the second book, when I decided to tell Nicole’s backstory. It wasn’t pretty!

This is another story I’ve told before. The chapter in which Nicole’s backstory is revealed took me ten days to write. What I don’t recall whether I’ve ever revealed (and I may very well may have – I am both adept at blathering and forgetting I have blathered) is that Nicole’s backstory has many parallels to my own, including the age she was when things got bad to the length of time the bad things continued. Her specific flavor of horror was different than mine, but consider this! (Consider this: the hint of the century [Ed. Note – Thank you REM]) – all horror, ultimately, tastes the same.

When it came time to write the third book in the series, The Terror of Tijuana, I dealt with a new theme that also rings familiar with me in the consideration of my own life. Namely, what do you do with your life once all your secrets have been revealed? Do you continue walking in the shadow world you have, by necessity, constructed for yourself, or do you grasp the straw of freedom you’ve given yourself and step into the light?

At one point in the story Nicole finds herself in the sort of situation that could easily lead to that sort of self reflection. Being buried alive provides the necessary time for reflection. Ready for another big reveal?

Nicole’s time underground in the dark is a metaphor for my entire life between the time I left my father’s house until the time I was beginning to find my voice and writing the books that now bear my name. And just like she did in that metal coffin, I’ve been forced to answer the same question she did, “Am I getting to old for this?”

Fortunately for me, being a writer is somewhat less taxing on your mind and body than being an international assassin, but only marginally so. There was much in the writing of Tijuana that I found difficult as well. There were chapters that took too long to finish. there were villains infused with as many of my own personality characteristics as there were heroes with bits of me stuck into them. There were relationship struggles that I didn’t have to invent. There was crushing self-doubt that I didn’t have to try to imagine the feel of. There was life or death struggle that didn’t seem nearly as far off and fantastical as I would have liked them to be.

So when the topic of a fourth book came up my response was always the same: “How do you think the Yankees will do this year?”

And then a wonderful thing happened. It was nothing I did, per se. It was more something I’d agreed to. Craig invited me to help him on the next Shelby Alexander thriller, and we wrote Serenity Reborn together.

And it was an amazing experience. We hadn’t worked on anything together since the SpyCo novella, Assignment London, and by the time we’d reached that point in the SpyCo series it had started to feel a little by like work. Now, sometimes it does. I think I alluded to that fact earlier. When it takes ten days to write one chapter, that’s workin’, son. As any serious writer will tell you, those are the days you earn your supper.

But writing Reborn felt like being a kid running non-stop for hours because you’re a kid and running is fun. Not the running you have to do when you’re trying to earn your black belt and you have to run a three-mile course in twenty-four minutes and you quickly learn to hate your legs. I’m talking about the kind where there’s no destination, so set course, and no reason. Oh, and it tends to be accompanied by a lot of yelling, also with no reason. Kid running. It’s a thing.

And so when the writing was done, Craig, who regardless of any shortcomings he may claim that he has, is an A-1 idea guy, said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Hey, let’s do that again!” He went on to outline his ambitious plan. We would co-write two books at once; a new Shelby and a new Nicole.

Because you probably don’t know Craig as well as I do, you can’t tell that the facial expression he’s adopted here actually means, “Scott, stop being a baby and let’s write a Cleanup Crew together.”

We dove in and soon had… two abandoned books. Did I mention we’d started them just pre-pandemic, and shelved them because by then the shit had hit the global fan and we were busy trying to stay the opposite of crap-covered.

But thanks to a timely BookBub deal on the first book in the series, Craig realized it would be the perfect time to finish the Shelby book we’d started. He was even kind enough to let me know at the outset that we’d need to finish it in less than 20 days, giving me the option to say something like, “Hold on while I make a quick phone call – Hello, Shady Rest Sanitorium? I need you to make a pick-up.”

I did not say that. Instead, we finished the book on time. And yet again we had the time of our lives. And we started asking ourselves what seems like a simple question: “If we enjoy the process of writing together so much, why don’t we do more of it?” So we started brainstorming ideas, but every way we configured our thoughts, the next Cleanup Crew kept bubbling up to the top of the cauldron. There it sat. Looking at us.

Now, we didn’t finish this book in 20 days, but that’s not a bad thing. Even with a partner as skilled as Craig, (the truth, not just me being nice – but damn I’m nice, don’t ya think?), it’s a tricky story to tell. It needs us to proceed with caution. And we are but at the same time, it’s going well and EVERY time I get a chapter back from him, the story’s gotten better. Then when I send a chapter back to him, he has to work twice as hard to undo all the damage I did. (And there we reveal the one person on Earth with whom I have no problem being unkind.)

But there you have it. It is not random chance that this book is named The Demon of Denver. Facing demons has been the theme of the series for me.

Now I know I don’t have to face them alone.

A New Season of Good Sentences

Writing Lessons from 2020 with
Angelique L’Amour

Well, the beast that went by the name of 2020 is dead. And while very few people will mourn the passing of what was certainly one of the worst years in the history of the United States, and, truly, of the planet. But we who remain have clearly learned much and have adapted to a world that looks nothing like the one in which we’ve spent most of our lives.

In the first episode of the second season of Good Sentences, Craig, Scott, and returning honored guest, Angelique L’Amour discussed some of the things they learned in 2020, about their writing and themselves.

Craig felt that 2020 helped him obtain a greater level of patience, and learn that he could work through challenging times. The pandemic altered his well-crafted plans (through the closing of school), and he managed to find a way to create in the face of it.

My favorite part of writing is having written.

Craig A. Hart

Angelique found that as the year started, and her entire family was recovering from COVID, she was able to write, often in snippets – 30 minutes here, an hour there. By September she was able to start working in earnest, and picked up the pace in October, then managed to write every day in November, then kept her pace up into December, right up until the holidays.

Scott, he learned that for him the act of writing is actually therapeutic, and he describes his scientific proof.

Plans for 2021

The trio went on talk about their writing plans for the year. Craig and Scott mentioned that they’ve got several projects planned. Angelique promised that she was getting down to business starting on the 21st.

A discussion of adventure stories, (and the decline of the genre), led to Craig and Scott revealing a peek at one of their upcoming projects, which in turn led to Angelique revealing something about an iconic adventure film and the connection to her dad (Louis L’Amour).

This episode also features Craig and Angelique making Scott blush. You’ll have to take their word for it, since it’s an audio podcast and all.

As is always the case when Angelique is on the show the conversation continued to touch on a variety of subjects, including bad reviews, Stephen King causing illness with his book Carrie and a near heart attack with Christine, and the additional pressure that the child of a world-famous author faces when preparing to share her work with the world.

A spirited discussion of the writer’s tool Plottr also occurred and there was a strong case made for Plottr to become a sponsor of the podcast. [Ed. Note: Dear Plottr, call us. Seriously.]

The best part!

And so we come to the best part of the post. You can listen to Episode 1 right here, or on most of your favorite podcast outlets (and least the ones that don’t suck). ENJOY!

Season 1; Episode 5 – R.A. McGee The E2 Books Show

R.A. McGee is the author of several novels in the crime fiction genre, including the Porter series. He lives with his ever-patient wife, who happily reads the first draft of everything he come up with and waits supportively when he bangs his head against the wall hoping ideas fall out. R.A. loves to talk with readers about his books, someone else’s books, comic books, Denzel Washington’s movie The Book of Eli, Booker T. Washington, a book you wanted to write in fourth grade but never got around to, booking a flight, problems with your bookie, or any other book related topic.Except book reports.
  1. Season 1; Episode 5 – R.A. McGee
  2. Season 1; Episode 4 – Tess Thompson
  3. Season 1; Episode 3 – Wayne Stinnett
  4. Season 1; Episode 2 – Karen McQuestion
  5. Season 1; Episode 1 – The E2Books Show Introduction

E2 Books – A Name You’ll Want to Remember

Well, hello. Welcome to E2 Books. We’re glad you’re here. Well, I am. Craig, though the younger of us, is far more curmudgeonly. He’s happy, in his own way, I suppose. It’s just that his way is horrible.

S.J. Varengo wrote this post. Blame him.

I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. I’m thrilled to be Craig A. Hart’s writing and business partner. But I grew up in an Italian household and therefore am immune to all relational quirkiness. You’re talking to a guy whose nonno used to hide a bottle of wine in our house’s furnace and would climb inside of it to sneak a snort throughout the day. Nothing is weird to me. Nothing.

Alright. Craig is weird. Even to me. But it’s a delightful weirdness that has taken us from a chance encounter on Twitter to enough co-written work to justify a website devoted just to them. In case my convoluted prose has already disoriented and you have forgotten where you were, this is that.

In 2021 that chance encounter will have been ten years ago – this is unprecedented for me. Aside from my wife and my lucky underwear, very few things stick around for a decade. (And yes, in the case of the lucky underwear the “sticking around” is meant quite literally.)

I think it’s amazingly significant that our chance encounter was, literally, a collaboration. If you’ve never heard the story, I happened along a tweet thread that Craig had started which was a humorous take on the situation with a certain former governor of California and his affair with his children’s nanny.

In retrospect it’s odd. This was literally the first time we’d every encountered one another. We weren’t following one another’s accounts. If Twitter worked then the way it does now, I probably wouldn’t have seen the tweet, wouldn’t have suggested a joke or two, and wouldn’t have begun a ten-year friendship and an extremely rewarding professional partnership.

Our first collaboration – and yes, I’m spillin’ the dirt now – is not technically a collaboration. The second novella in the SpyCo, Assignment: Paris, was originally to be a ghostwritten work under Craig’s name. He had sent me a text that said, “How do you feel about ghostwriting?” I assumed one or more world famous NY Times best-selling authors had reached out to him to write all of their next blockbusters, and he wanted my opinion on whether or not to accept. My next question was going to be “How much are they going to pay you?”

Instead, he said, “I was actually talking about you.”

He gave me a few loose guidelines and told me to go to town. I could use characters he had created in the first volume Assignment: Athens. Or I could create my own. I, naturally, chose to do both. Anyway, he didn’t hate it. The first version of the cover, much to my delight, actually was attributed to Craig with S.J.V. By the time it was published he’d changed it to equal billing. I didn’t really care that much, although even after a few publications of my own by then, it’s always a thrill to see your name on the cover of a book.

But what I really got excited about was Craig’s idea to actually co-write the next installment, Assignment: Istanbul, which was the continuation of the Perry Hall storyline from Paris. Not only did we find we worked incredibly well together, but we wrote that entire book in an insane eleven-day burst.

Since then we’ve written several more of the SpyCo novellas, sending our agents all over the world, introducing a lot of great characters, but we wanted to do more.

Last year Craig asked if I’d come on to co-write the next entry in his very successful Shelby Alexander Thriller Series, which turned out to be Serenity Reborn. This ended up being significant, and I’ll tell you why.

By the time we began writing Reborn, I had finished my novel Jelly Jars, and Craig and I both felt that as great as the Serenity books had been to that point, we could work together to make one that took the story and the characters to a new level. We were thrilled with the result and began another co-authored entry in the series almost immediately.

Unfortunately several things occurred which caused us to shelve it slightly past the half-way point, one of which has probably monkeyed with some of your plans as well.

And then Craig was able to arrange a promotion for the first book in the series, Serenity, and got the very commercially sound idea of having a link in the eBook to our new, finished book number eight. And so, with just under 20 days in which to work, we finished Serenity Possessed.

It marks the first foray either of us has taken into a full-length paranormal book, (I have a ghost story in my updated book of short fiction, Welcome Home, and Craig, of course, is a ghost.) And we truly enjoyed the process. We’ve already tossed around some ideas for the next installment, which we’re thinking we might pick up where Possessed ends.

But we’ve also cooked up some other ideas as well. Several in fact. And so we’ve decided it was time to put together a website dedicated to our co-authored works, and as I hinted earlier, in my desperate attempt at reorienting you, this is it.

So, stay tuned, expect a link or two to some of our other endeavors, and enjoy the ride. Because you can rest assured that Craig and I will. We have enjoyed every ride we’ve ever taken. (Except maybe that one with Erik Therme when he took us to see the house where Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. used to live, but we’d had several pitchers of beer by then, as we got to the pub at first pitcher o’clock and Erik didn’t show until the end of second pitcher o’clock.)

You’re going to want to come back just for more of these seamy literary behind the scenes tidbits alone!