Author Archive | Zach Law

Fiction for Him Friday: Pelecanos and Lehane

PelecanosLehaneIt’s time for some hot guy fiction. Now, this is not exclusionary at all. If ladies want to read fiction written by men featuring mostly male characters doing manly things (behaving badly’s on the list), be my guest. I was running a little short on crime fiction recently, so I grabbed four books from two authors I love but have ignored of late–George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane. Let’s start from the top.

The Double by George Pelecanos

You may have heard of Pelecanos from his work as a writer and producer of The Wire and Treme on HBO. He’s been in the crime lit business for a while with 20 books on the shelves. The Double is his second novel with the young protagonist Spero Lucas, who makes finding stolen goods his calling card after returning home from service in Iraq. The first book in the series is called The Cut and is a recommended starting point. In this story, Spero agrees to help a woman whose 19th century painting was stolen by a lover, and as is true in this genre, the bad guys are really bad. Pelecanos has an excellent ear for dialog, gets into the minds of multiple characters, and gives you the sex and violence that’s worth the hardcover price. Also, any time he provides you with a music cue, look that stuff up. This author has great taste in music, and he assigns each character his own musical style or soundtrack. Pelecanos writes mainly about the D.C. area, and the city’s a character in every book.

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

This is the second book I’ve selected that requires going back in a series if you want the full story. Gone, Baby, Gone told the first part of the story of two private investigators, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, who track down a missing kid. The movie was what made us forget about Ben Affleck’s bad acting turns, as it was his feature directorial debut. Lehane wrote five books in this series, starting with A Drink Before the War. He wrote one more book in the series before moving onto single stories for a while. He comes back with Moonlight Mile. In this installment, Kenzie and Gennaro find themselves searching for the same girl, now 16, who’s run away from her family. The tale also brings up the bad economy of the time (not that it’s improved much) as the couple struggles to get by with their own young daughter, having to decide whether to work for the “man” when the “man” is clearly bad news, and again dealing with some Russian gangsters who are a bit short on compassion.

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

It was nice to read three of Lehane’s more recent books because I felt like they were all crime-related but distinct enough to show a writer who’s pretty comfortable in the game. Live By Night reminded me of the recently completed HBO series Boardwalk Empire. The plot begins in 1926 Boston, in the early days of Prohibition. Joe Coughlin, son of a Boston police captain who takes residence on the wrong side of the law, finds himself running a criminal empire out of Tampa Bay. I don’t think I want to live in pre-air conditioning Florida. Coughlin has to deal with murderous competitors, Klansmen, a female evangelist who attempts to take away his shot at going legit, and a boss who doesn’t entirely respect his place in the pecking order. Many scenes will make you as uncomfortable as walking on the beach in a wool suit on a summer day.

The Drop by Dennis Lehane

What’s up with these Eastern European thugs? The Drop is almost novella in length but tells a tidy tale of Bob, a bartender who has no life, save the job and spending lots of time at his local Catholic church. One night he finds a half-dead puppy in a trashcan and decides to take care of it with the help of a woman who’s a bit damaged herself. Bob has to deal with Nadia’s former lover, a villain who was the man responsible for the dog’s condition but attempts to blackmail Bob along with getting the dog back. If that isn’t enough, the bar gets robbed of a lot of Chechen gang money. Bob has to look over his shoulder at his co-worker, an older man who used to be in a gang of his own and is attempting to make one last score, deal with a cop investigating the robbery who also goes to Bob’s church, and the sudden move into adulthood of taking care of a puppy. The final chapter occurs as an enormous haul of cash comes into the bar on Super Bowl Sunday as various criminals get together in a scene that would have me calling in sick. I know, didn’t stick the landing.

You can’t go wrong with any of Pelecanos’ or Lehane’s works. Start from the beginning with A Firing Offense (Pelecanos) or A Drink Before the War (Lehane), or just get in the game somehow. It will make you happy that you’re living a life of un-crime.

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Fiction for Him Friday: The Martian by Andy Weir

Zach Law writes about Fiction for Him

Zach Law writes about “Fiction for Him”

A note from the editor: literature, like any other art form, is subjective. I realize that not everyone shares my taste in books, especially the person who reads next to me in bed every night. While my husband Zach and I don’t necessarily enjoy the same books, we both love reading and writing. You may remember that I asked Zach to share his review of Kent Wascom’s The Blood of Heaven last year. Now I’ve asked him to write a regular guest post that I’m tentatively calling “Fiction for Him Friday.” As you’ll learn, Zach reads a lot of sports and nonfiction, too. I hope Zach will introduce us to new genres, titles and writers, although I’m the one who put today’s book, The Martian by Andy Weir, into his hands. That’s what you do for people you love, right? Recommend books? Besides, nepotism and fresh content rock. – Alison

The Martian by Andy WeirI have written manuscripts. None of them have advanced to the “sold” stage, and maybe it’s because I haven’t come up with the right opening line. The Martian by Andy Weir has such an opening line, and forgive the language.

“I’m pretty much fucked.”

Such is the beginning for Mark Whatley, an astronaut stranded on Mars after an unfortunate impaling that leaves him dead but not quite. A bad sandstorm causes Mark’s team to abandon him on Mars and the botanist/engineer has to MacGyver his way through emergency after emergency to stay alive on a planet hostile to life.

The end of the first chapter summarizes Mark’s plight perfectly:

I’m in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days. If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of these things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.

Naturally, Mark’s not as screwed as he thinks, otherwise this would be a short, depressing novel. Astronauts in the Ares program have multiple specialties, which explains Mark’s botanist/engineer bona fides. The latter is good for things like taking hydrogen out of water to make fuel. The former is important because Mark has to survive long enough to be rescued by the following Mars crew, and that’s hundreds of days in the future. Mark finds a stash of potatoes, brought on the trip for a Thanksgiving Day feast, and discovers a way to get enough water to saturate the dry Martian soil and become the first farmer of Mars.

Mark eventually finds a way to communicate with NASA, who has to solve a problem about a hundred more times complicated than Apollo 13 to get Mark back home, or at least resupplied with enough food to survive. The rest of the book is non-stop problem solving. Mark seems like a bit of a movie hero for a while, solving all of his problems with brain or brawn. He does make the occasional error or two, because otherwise the tension would evaporate. He needs the help of people “billions and billions” of miles away to continue his modest goal of not dying.

Andy Weir, author of The Martian

Andy Weir, author of The Martian

While the book doesn’t make me want to sign up on the next interplanetary mission (the book doesn’t specify when this happens, and I’ll assume the answer to that is “not in my lifetime”), it does move the blood. Mark doesn’t accept defeat, despite some major setbacks. He chafes at times to the ultra-conservative ways of NASA. Let’s face it, the world was somewhat bored with traveling to the moon by the time Apollo 13 had its struggles. The human side of space travel is what makes kids want to become astronauts when they grow up.

I’d like to bring up one point: Andy Weir self-published this book first–the so-called kiss of death if you want to be considered a “serious” author. Three years after self-publishing The Martian, Weir has a publisher (Crown) and guys like multiple-Hugo winner Larry Niven blurbing the novel. The last 150 pages of The Martian are a rush you really can’t slow down. This is the “hard” sci-fi book of your dreams, with no space opera or green alien queens to tide you over. Andy Weir is the real deal. To learn more about the author, visit his website at andyweirauthor.com.

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Guest Post: Zach Law Discusses The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom

The Blood of Heaven by Kent WascomI’m fortunate to receive a lot of books as part of my work on Southern Spines and as an author publicist. The delivery men hate my steep driveway, and my husband ribs me when I get excited over the arrival of yet “another book.” A big library book borrower, Zach has recently taken to asking me for recommendations from my treasured to be read piles. Zach really enjoyed The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom, so I asked him to share his thoughts about the book in this guest post. – Alison

Kent Wascom makes me jealous. He’s young (in his 20s), talented (Wascom was awarded the 2012 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for Fiction) and his debut novel, The Blood of Heaven, is being heaped with praise. However envious I may be, the book’s praise is well deserved.

I usually cringe when I hear the term “literary fiction” because it means the book will be overwrought with flowery language and plot will be secondary. Yet, this is a book of high literary merit that entertains all the way to the end.

The Blood of Heaven is also historical fiction—a genre that always leaves me wondering what “really” happened. The novel takes place in Louisiana and Florida during the late 18th-early 19th century. America was a very different country back then. In the book, the United States gets a sweet deal on the territory of Louisiana from the French in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and Florida is ruled by an inept Spanish empire on the wane.

When the book begins, protagonist Angel Woolsack and his preacher father are at a settlement in Missouri where people live in holes in the ground. Life is not fantastic. Taking a page from the 18th century parenting guide, Angel’s father makes his son put a hot coal in his mouth to imagine the “fires of Hell.” I would call that an impression-maker.

Angel befriends another preacher’s son, Sam Kemper, and the two escape to Cincinnati and travel down the Mississippi River. There they meet up with Kemper’s brother, a man of business. Angel and Sam are preachers by day and thieves by night. Yes, a character named Angel acts in a morally compromised way. The preacher’s son finds that his best skills are trafficking in human lives and ending them.

Writing historical fiction must be fun for the study of the language alone. Here’s how Angel describes his early friendship with Sam:

He was a masterly cusser, and I was alternately a fuckero, a shitbird, cunnytwist and rag, a bullockflap, scroter, piss-leg, cockswill and turd.

Angel and Sam eventually settle in Spanish Florida where they clash with the local powers that be and foment a rebellion. They make poor military leaders.

Angel also pairs up with Red Kate, the prostitute with a lust for blood.  Thanks to a fortuitous meeting with Aaron Burr, Angel takes over a gang of men hungry for freedom and perhaps a new nation.

Come for the colorful language and stay for Kent Wascom’s dark journey into a young nation stumbling its way into continental domination. Learn more about Wasom at his author website at kentwascom.com.

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