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The Top Ten Ways to Die in Alaska

July 15, 2014 by

A Common Alaskan Igloo Fire

Death and danger have become cliché in Alaska. Reality TV would have you believe that there isn’t a waking moment in the 49th State that isn’t fraught with the perils of nature looming at every turn and disaster perpetually imminent.

During the early gold rush days in the late 1800’s deaths and acts of heroism and idiocy that occurred in Alaska made newspaper headlines from San Francisco to New York City regularly, and today is no really different. Alaska still grabs headlines with bear attacks and dim-witted politicians threatening to act like attacking momma bears; however, between the hype and the actual occasional crazy death in Alaska it has become harder and harder to die in a way that might surprise or actually even capture a headline or one of the little scrolling breaking new captions on Fox or CNN.

With that in mind here are ten ways to die in Alaska that are almost guaranteed to still make headlines.*

 

  1. Bear Attack at Brooks Falls Live on Camera. Bear attacks have become somewhat commonplace it seems of late in the news, so in order to really be noteworthy the person attacked should have a truly dramatic survival story (one like you can read in Dan Bigley’s book Beyond the Bear) in which case you have survived and don’t qualify as dead and you’ll have to die another way on this list. Your real hope to make headlines with a bear is to go big. The best way to go really big in terms of bears would be to travel to Katmai National Park to the Brooks Falls where the bears are BIG. Dress like a giant salmon and swim your way up the river while the whole scene streams live on the web. You’ll swim right into the jaws of the bears fishing there at the falls. If this isn’t for you, then watch the bears fishing at this link live and wait for your first human in fish garb.
  2. Gangland Style Shooting. Don’t tell anyone this, but Alaska (mostly Anchorage) has a little bit of a gang problem and we have our share of gang related shootings. To get in on the action go to any of the local hip-hop concerts and use spray paint to tag all the lowered or tricked out cars. This will likely get you shot. You can also attract the attention of the various gangs you’ll need by watching their hilarious gangsta rap videos on Youtube and then mock them with your own parody videos and they’ll be sure to begin targeting you.
  3. Break into the Anchorage Zoo at night. One woman many years ago became famous for trying to feed her foot to Binky our polar bear, but you can one up her by crawling into the Siberian Tigers’ cage. This is sure to grab national attention because they are Siberian Tigers. In Alaska.
  4. Survive the Siberian Tiger cage only to fall into the cage with the pack of wolves. The fact that you escaped the tigers only to die from a pack of captive wolves will surely impress people. That or go get trampled by the huge Bactrian camels. Don’t ask why we have tigers or camels at our Alaska zoo, or that might also get you dead.
  5. Go golfing at midnight on solstice and get hit in the head with a golf ball. (Yes, we have golf courses and in the summer there is enough sunlight you can actually golf at midnight, and the fact that we have golf courses alone will pretty much guarantee garnering at least a nod on ESPN. Actually getting hit in the head might be the hard part. Good luck with that. Your odds are probably more likely that you’ll get trampled by a mad mamma moose while on the course. If this happens right after you hit a hole-in-one, you’ll surely make EPSN headlines that night and probably get a mention in at least 23 of the 24 hours of a single Fox News cycle.
  6. Really go into the wild and try out the nightlife in Anchorage. Hit one of our popular watering holes down town right at closing time then hang out in the parking lot at bar break and talk your best smack to everyone who passes by and you’re pretty much going to get beaten and or shot or both. This wouldn’t make headlines normally, because it happens so frequently, but the fact that your bullet riddled body was found dressed as Sarah Palin will at least grab a tweet or two from Palin herself and then the rest of the media will swarm like Mosquitoes. Sorry, death by real mosquitoes is too common in Alaska to actually make this list.
  7. Avalanche. Plenty of people die in avalanches in Alaska every year, so that’s not such a big deal, but when you invent a gasoline suit, designed to ignite and melt the snow that is supposed to save you from such deaths but instead ends in a fiery and snowy explosion? That will make for some awesome GoPro footage and will score you some serious street cred in the Alaskan Death Annals.
  8. Death by Volcano. And while you’re capturing GoPro footage, you could go really where only pros go and go find one of our 90 active volcanoes and then paraglide into it, with the camera running of course. (I’m fairly certain this has never been done and would be sure to snatch up some headlines.)
  9. Earthquake. Where there are volcanoes there are earthquakes. Alaska is situated on the ring of fire, and this means we have tremblers pretty much happening somewhere in Alaska at any give moment. Don’t believe me? Check out these two websites that monitor our quakes and volcanoes. http://www.aeic.alaska.edu/  http://www.avo.alaska.edu/ We haven’t had a quake that killed anyone in a while, but if you timed it right and say had your head resting beneath a precariously placed boulder or better yet under the axle of a jacked up truck converted into a giant Alaskan-sized Radio Flyer Wagon just at the right moment when the old plate tectonics work their magic? BAM! You’re famous! (And dead.)
  10. Igloo Fire. And finally the top ten way to have your ticket punched in Alaska that is sure to impress both Alaskans and non-Alaskans alike? Death by igloo fire. First off there are no igloos in Alaska, and frankly Alaskans are tired as hell of being asked if they live in Alaska. So when some dude dies in an actual igloo fire, even hardened Alaskans will take notice. Outside of Alaska death by igloo fire might not sound all that special, seeing it’s Alaska and such infernos must be commonplace; however, when folks hear the fire was started by your malfunctioning gasoline-filled avalanche prevention suit everyone will be seriously impressed.

 

For an all too real (and tragic) list of how people have really died in the Alaskan wilderness check out http://www.akfatal.net

 

* [No actual guarantee of death or fame comes with this list. Dying in Alaska is also not recommended.]

 

Tune in for more soon from Don Rearden – the next Editor in Residence at The Rogue Reader.

ravens gift cover

Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska, an experience that informed his critically acclaimed debut literary thriller The Raven’s Gift. While calling Don “a master of the cliffhanger” The Washington Post went on to praise the novel’s “hunter-hunted suspense of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, the post-apocalyptic bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the haunting mysteriousness of The X-Files.”

Stay tuned for more posts from Don Rearden and his upcoming Alaskan thriller only from The Rogue Reader.

 


Blog, Craft, Other People's Books

The Nightmare of the Flying Tent: An Alaskan Survival Story

July 9, 2014 by

 

My time here at the lake is coming to a close. As I explore the shore with my three year old son and laugh as he says “bear cacca!” and points out a blackish colored bucket sized pile of bear scat, and we toss rocks into the water and watch each stone drift downward into the abyss below the surface, I can’t help but have flashes of not so pleasant memories from the time I watched my tent disappear into a lake just a few ridges over. I came perilously close to not having this experience with my son or ever writing these words.

toasting to survival

Three hundred miles west of Anchorage sits the Wood Tikchik Park, one of the most pristine and incredible places on the face of the earth. I was setting up a caribou camp for Myron Angstman, a long time friend and hunting partner of mine, on one of the smaller lakes in the Tikchik drainage. As the floats of the plane slid across the crystal cool blue-green glacier water, I thought to myself that I’d never seen a prettier valley. If someone would have told me that in a few hours a storm would set in and leave me waging a battle for my life I would have laughed in disbelief.

Myron taxied the Cessna 172XP to a small spit that jetted out into the head end the lake. We crawled out of the plane and began unloading gear onto the rocky beach. He’d camped on the spit before, partly because of the incredible view of the lake’s end which sits beneath a small hanging glacier and a great wall of mountains.

With the gear unloaded, Myron pointed where they had set up the tent before, a 8 x 12 Weather Port, specially designed to withstand Alaska’s often wet and windy conditions. I sat down on the gear and listened to the roar of the floatplane’s engine fill the lake valley as the aircraft lifted off, leaving me alone, if only for the night, when Myron would return with another load of gear and “the Doc,” our friend from Sitka.

Over the next few hours the wind picked up, but I paid no attention to it as I went about setting up the tent. By the time I’d finished hammering the last tent stakes into the ground the wind gusted 30 to 40 mph and a slight mist prompted me to stow the rest of the gear inside the tent. We’d landed on the lake around 4:30 P.M. and the August Alaskan sun wouldn’t be setting until about 10:30 P.M, so I slung my 7 mm Winchester to my shoulder and headed for a ridge to see if I could spot some game. [In Alaska you can not fly and hunt in the same day but the bears of the Tikchik park are monstrous and I wasn't about to leave my rifle sitting at camp.]

As I sat checking out the surrounding countryside – rocky slopes, alder thickets, and tundra – I took notice that the wind continued to increase and that I’d need to take cover soon. I resisted crawling into the tent just long enough to gorge myself on the delicious marble-sized blueberries that littered the tundra.

It was 7:30 P.M. when I rolled out my sleeping bag and stretched out on my bedroll. Outside, a driving rain had joined the menacing wind but I felt comfortable enough to find the sound of the gusts and rain slap at the tent’s fabric almost soothing.

The last thought that crossed my mind before I fell asleep was how happy I was to be sleeping in such a sturdy tent. Based on the increasing roar of the weather outside I knew that without a tent a person would be in serious trouble. Several hours later, I awoke to exactly that: serious trouble. At sometime around 10:30 P.M. I heard what I thought was a plane. Bewildered, I sat up and looked at my watch, trying to figure out why Myron would risk flying in so late at night. Then the sound was gone. I lay back down and closed my eyes. With a sudden “whoomp!” the darkness inside the tent disappeared. I jumped up, dazed. The tent had vanished from overhead.

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Blog, Craft, Fan's Note, Other People's Books

Nowhere Is The Best Place to Be – Don Rearden’s Alaska

July 7, 2014 by

I am connected to the web via a satellite powered by solar. Remember dial-up? It’s like Dial-up’s great grand mother. Hit send and go for a kayak ride or read a novel in the outhouse… The weather was too warm and too still on take-off from Bethel in the float plane so we had to shed some weight, which meant leaving my whiskey and laptop, too. So this dispatch is composed on my phone.

nowhere

 

Finding the Motherlode

The ears ring the first day or so in the wilderness as they adjust to the true sound of silence. Gone is the hum of humanity. No distractions to the ear drums from the clatter of gasoline powered this and digital that. Once your ears adjust you can hear the sound of the blood swishing in your veins, the cacophony of tundra song birds is endless and loud, and hearing becomes feeling when the loon call echoes out miles down the lake.

We’ve been here since the 4th of July. We’re the only ones on a lake that is a mile wide and twenty some miles long. Jagged mountains drop down straight into the lake, and giant bears walk her rocky beaches while even bigger lake trout patrol the blue black depths just off the shoreline. I hunted and explored these lakes as a kid, and it feels good to be back. This might arguably be one of the most remote and pristine lake chains left in the world. The land is legendary for brutal storms and survival tales and strange Alaskan horror stories. From campfire tales of Klutuq, an Eskimo trapper known for decapitating area miners, to devastating plane wrecks with high level US political figures here for the world-class fishing, to disappearances linked to everything from bears and Bigfoot to mysterious discoveries. A story an old friend told me from the next lake up the chain was that a pilot landed to pick up a couple recreational miners and their camp was empty. They had left a note, “Found the Motherlode! We’ve left for Dillingham.” No one ever found them, but ever since everyone has searched for that gold.

I nearly died here in my twenties during a brutal storm, a story I’ll share with you soon. Today, I’m off to kayak and explore a little, but first I’ve got to go clear the yard. My son wants to play outside and my wife just informed me that on her walk to the outhouse it smelled fishy. This time of year fish stink equals a visiting bear. If I don’t return from this trip you can speculate that either a bear or Bigfoot got me, but the truth is that the land took me long ago and the Motherlode for me is when the ears stop ringing from the silence and instead tune into the sounds of life and I get to share this amazing wilderness with my family.

 

ravens gift cover

Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska, an experience that informed his critically acclaimed debut literary thriller The Raven’s Gift. While calling Don “a master of the cliffhanger” The Washington Post went on to praise the novel’s “hunter-hunted suspense of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, the post-apocalyptic bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the haunting mysteriousness of The X-Files.”

Stay tuned for more posts from Don Rearden and his upcoming Alaskan thriller only from The Rogue Reader.

 


Blog, Craft, Fan's Note, Other People's Books

4th of July Weekend Packing in Alaska: Extra Bullets for Mosquitos

July 3, 2014 by

Editor’s Note: Acclaimed Rogue author Ron Rearden (“The Raven’s Gift” – a Best Fiction Pick 2013 by The Washington Post) will be posting about his summer in wilds of Alaska.  Stay tuned for more of his adventures in the bush and Don’s upcoming Alaskan thriller to be published by The Rogue Reader.  Adam

Packing in Alaska: Extra Bullets for Mosquitoes

I’m headed home to the tundra tomorrow, a 400 mile flight from where I’ve been living for the past ten or so years here on the mountain overlooking Anchorage.  The Kuskokwim River is still home to me because that is where I feel most comfortable. This is serious wilderness spotted with Yup’ik villages up and down the winding river and her many tributaries. This river is over 500 miles long and you’ve probably never heard of it, unless you live in Alaska, and even if you’ve lived in Alaska, you probably have never dipped your toe into her murky and frigid waters. While there I’ll spend plenty of time catching up with old friends, and perhaps help drop a drift net in to catch some salmon for hanging on the fishcamp racks to dry or smoke for winter. I also plan to do a little scene scouting for an up-coming movie that I would love to tell you about, but then I would have to drag you off into the bush and leave you do be eaten alive by the most bloodthirsty mosquitoes and gnats you’ve ever encountered.

After a few days on the Kuskokwim I’ll be flying by float plane to a friend’s remote cabin in the Wood-Tikchik Lakes. This lake system is heaven to me. Perhaps this is because it is really one of the most pristine places on the planet, or because I almost died there in a ferocious storm that ripped my tent from the ground and sent my only source of shelter sailing forty feet up and out into the lake. Yes, I was in the tent, but since this “Weatherport” tent was built of rubber and steel and had no bottom and was supposed to withstand 90mph winds, I was fortunately left behind in the torrential rain and hurricane gusts in my boxers with only a shredded blue tarp, my soaked sleeping bag, and a 7mm rifle —- but that is another story I’ll save for later.

Hopefully this trip will be much more peaceful and I’ll have a few moments between kayaking and hiking to put the finishing touches on a new Alaskan suspense-thriller.

packing
Packing for an Alaskan bush trip is a bit different from your standard vacation. Here are a few essentials, no need for a flashlight as the sun won’t really be setting. [I'll admit I'm a bit on edge as I pack as I can't find my damn bug shirt, which is essentially a hooded sweatshirt made from mosquito netting. Oh well, I'll have to take extra bullets for the mosquitoes and some rope to tether my son to the ground so they don't fly off with him.]

For my next post I’ll share my thoughts on packing heat in bear country and why I save the pepper spray for my nachos.

 

ravens gift cover

Don Rearden grew up on the tundra of Southwestern Alaska, an experience that informed his critically acclaimed debut literary thriller The Raven’s Gift. While calling Don “a master of the cliffhanger” The Washington Post went on to praise the novel’s “hunter-hunted suspense of Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male, the post-apocalyptic bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and the haunting mysteriousness of The X-Files.”

Stay tuned for more posts from Don Rearden and his upcoming Alaskan thriller only from The Rogue Reader.

 


Blog, Craft, Fan's Note, Other People's Books

A Fan’s Note: Ingrid Thoft on John Singer Sargent and the Fine Art of Suspense

June 24, 2014 by

Today, we welcome author Ingrid Thoft for her thoughts on John Singer Sargent and the mystery and suspense hidden in the shadows of his work:

Anticipation. Suspense. Anxiety. These elements are essential to a good thriller or a good mystery novel, and the same can be said of movies, TV shows and also, fine arts. That’s right—paintings by dead guys that have nothing to do with murder or mayhem offer their own brand of intrigue.

Growing up and during my college years, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was the local museum for field trips, family outings and class assignments. Full disclosure: I wasn’t an art history major, and I’ve been known to warm the benches in galleries while waiting for my companions. However, I like to think that I am a poster child for art appreciation: I get something out of it even if I don’t read all the placards.

It was at the MFA that I first viewed the work of John Singer Sargent. A successful portrait painter and darling of Boston’s upper class, Sargent also worked in watercolors and did landscapes in far flung locations like Venice, the Isle of Capri and Corfu. Complex and often pleasing to the eye, it’s the drama and suspense that he injected into his work that I find so captivating.

Some paintings present a scene or snapshot in time, but Sargent’s paintings—whether portraits or landscapes, oils or watercolors—prompt questions and elicit anticipation, just like the best mysteries. The desire to know how things end, the peeling back of layers, is what snares and enthralls mystery readers. But you needn’t pick up the latest hardback to engage in the singular pleasure of trying to solve a puzzle. Browse through the masterpieces of John Singer Sargent, or any other fine artist who piques your interest, and a whole new world of mysteries will be revealed.

Still not convinced? Take a look at a few of his creations:

JSS1

“The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,” 1882

Perhaps Sargent’s most famous work, “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” has always been one of my favorites, in part because I’m the youngest in a family of four girls.  But what I find most compelling about the painting is the questions that this seemingly placid portrait poses:  Why do three girls face the artist, but one does not?  What is lurking in the dark background?  What is the context in which the eldest daughter is allowed to lounge against an exquisite antique?  Did the girls choose their positions or were they posed that way?  Art historians have spent their careers investigating the story behind the painting, and some answers can be found, but in the moment that the viewer studies the painting—without any expertise or historical knowledge—a world of mystery unfolds.  There is no movement in that moment, but an enormous sense of life and interaction.

jss2

“A Hotel Room,” 1907

The intrigue in this painting is more obvious: Whose suitcase is splayed open on the floor?  Whose clothes are in a heap?  Where is this room into which the sun peeks through the slatted blinds, and what happened in that bed?  The viewer can concoct any number of stories to narrate the picture, and isn’t that what art is supposed to do?  Create a bridge between the creator and the participant?  Reading, watching and viewing may be categorized as physically passive activities, but the mental engagement required, the invitation by the artist to engage, is anything but.

JSS3

“Corfu: Lights and Shadows,” 1909

Many people look at this painting and see not only light and shadow, but also color and nature.  To me, it is a visual depiction of anticipation.  What, exactly, is around that corner?  Is it a spectacular view of the sea?  A table laid for an afternoon lunch?  Two lovers napping in the grass?  The picture is dominated by the cottage, but it’s the slice of scenery on the right to which my eye is drawn—large enough to pique my curiosity, but small enough to remain mysterious.

jss4

“A Street in Venice,” 1882

Is the woman going inside the building?  Will the man follow her?  And perhaps more compelling—what would the viewer find if he or she were to continue down the alleyway into the bright light?   I wonder if the woman’s hand is on her hip or if she’s concealing something under her layers.  And do you notice how she seems to be looking directly back at you?  It’s as if she sees you, too, but how is that possible?

What happens next?  That’s the question that keeps readers glued to the page and viewers frozen in front of a screen.  Though perhaps in a less obvious way, that same question draws art lovers to canvases and sculptures and installations.  Excitement and anticipation are the ties that bind the observer and the artist together and create genuine engagement.  Just think, 132 years have passed, and I still want to know the story of the Boit sisters.

 

Identity_Small

Ingrid Thoft worked as a tech, entertainment and education writer before making the transition to fiction. Her interest in the PI life and her desire to create a believable PI character led her to the certificate program in private investigation at the University of Washington, where she learned about investigation and surveillance, accident reconstruction, cyber and domestic investigations, and interviewing techniques. She is an avid traveler, scuba diver, and pop-culture connoisseur.

Check her out at IngridThoft.com@IngridThoft or Facebook

And be sure to pick up her latest Fina Ludlow novel Identity available now from G.P. Putnam - “A quirky and empathetic heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a surprise ending make this a winner.”Publishers Weekly


Blog, Reviews & Press

“Bangkok Cowboy” a Nook First Pick of the Day

June 6, 2014 by

Congrats to Ron McMillan – his Thailand set thriller “Bangkok Cowboy” is the B&N Nook First Pick of the Day!

NOOK First: Compelling Reads from Emerging Authors
When notorious Bangkok mobster Raymond Long approached private eye Mason to find his missing American accountant, he didn’t expect the missing person to be his friend Nathalie West. Together with his Thai partner Dixie, the duo are determined to find Nathalie before Long’s gang of goons find her-and the missing hard drive she’s taken with her in this first action-packed novel in a new series.

 

Bangkok Cowboy thumbnail cover

 

 


Blog

Ron McMillan: The Rogue Interview

May 14, 2014 by

Ron McMillan, author of Bangkok Cowboy, has lived a life out of a Kerouac novel. A Scotsman who for more than ten years traveled all over Asia on photography assignments for some of the biggest magazines in the world, he now lives in Thailand where his Mason & Dixie Crime series is set. Ron talked with the Rogue Reader about his colorful past, his photography career, and his writing process. To read more about Ron, check out his full bio here.

Bangkok Cowboy thumbnail cover

COURT: With all your travels, how did you wind up choosing Thailand to finally settle down?

RON: Thailand was the first Southeast Asian country I ever visited, in April 1981, while on the trans-Asian backpacker trail. That was a six-month trip that took me from Sri Lanka, up through India (where I got arrested two minutes after I stepped off the bus from Madras airport; it took a bit of persuasion to talk myself out of police custody for selling my duty free whiskey and cigarettes to a black market dealer), to Nepal and on to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia before landing in Australia. Following the pressures of traveling in South Asia, Thailand was a relaxed new world, and I never forgot that feeling. After a couple of years in Australia and New Zealand I spent fifteen years based in the Far East, first in Korea and then in Hong Kong. During that time I visited Thailand on vacation, and then frequently on photography assignments, and I never got tired of it. The country has its problems at the moment, but I’m hoping the Thais come out of them with a decent deal. I’ve lived in a lot of countries, and none of them compare to Thailand for that magic mix of people, weather and—very, very importantly—food.

COURT: Did Thailand spark anything for you creatively or do you think you would be writing crime fiction no matter where you settled down?

RON: I’ve been in love with crime fiction since my Dad pointed me to John D. MacDonald when I was still too young to be reading Travis McGee novels. Bangkok Cowboy‘s Mason is an unashamed attempt to craft a central character with some of the mainstream appeal of Travis McGee. Bangkok isn’t Fort Lauderdale, but it is replete with dodgy characters, the likes of whom Travis might have relished facing. There is a lot of competition in the Thailand-based crime fiction market, but I think I’ve found a home, at least for now.   ​

COURT: You seem like someone who has put a lot of thought into the type of books you want to write. Was there a lot of trial and error in your process or was it clear to you from the start?

RON: My first love was travel writing. I wanted to emulate some of my travel author heroes; inspirational adventurers like Eric Newby, Redmond O’Hanlon and a relatively unknown and now almost forgotten sailor/author called Tristan Jones.

My first published book was Between Weathers, Travels in 21st Century Shetland, a travel narrative. About 2004 I came SO close to a major breakthrough with a giant London publisher. One of England’s top non-fiction editors wanted a travel book I proposed (about a trip I hadn’t yet done). He was so keen on it that he took it to the publisher’s editorial meeting twice, pitching it on a plan to print ten thousand hardbacks followed by a paperback run in the low six-figures. The bean counters rejected it both times, and I went from potential life-changing breakthrough to crushing disappointment. I decided to do a different trip and write a book about it, purely on spec, so I took myself to the Shetland Islands for five weeks. Shetland is the most northerly group of islands in Britain, and a fascinating place – and it hadn’t been the subject of a travel book since Victorian times. I wrote a manuscript, pitched it to a half-dozen independent Scottish publishers, and got lucky when Sandstone Press took it on, and published Between Weathers in 2008.

Between Weathers has been a modest success (it inspired my involvement in a feature film by the same name that I wrote the first story outline for, and that remains in development by B4Films in Scotland), and I used it as a stepping stone to chase long-running crime fiction dreams. Sandstone Press published Yin Yang Tattoo, after which I set about doing something different, and settled on a Thailand-based series that is introduced by Bangkok Cowboy.

Basil-Between-Weathers-covers3-RGB-small-for-web-225x300

COURT: Has your work as a photographer informed your writing process or are they two different art forms?

RON: My strongest characteristic is selfishness. While living in Korea in the 1980s I took a long-running photography hobby and cobbled a mini-career out of it. At the time I was making decent money as an English teacher at a good university in Seoul, but the desire to chase my own dreams was already taking over, and I jacked in the steady job, flew to Hong Kong, and walked into magazine photo editors’ offices with a camera on my shoulder. I had never sold a photo in my life, but because I was based in Seoul, which was under the spotlight due to huge internal political changes and the upcoming 1988 Seoul Olympics, the editors gave me breaks I hadn’t earned. Luckily for me, I didn’t screw up assignments from Hong Kong and New York and London – from editors who, if they knew how raw I was, would never have trusted me with assignments – and I began to get a decent portfolio behind me. Self-confidence to the point of arrogance, and a willingness to learn on the job, helped me scrape through.

Writing has been a similar path for me. I wanted to write, and chased ways to make that happen. Before I left Seoul for Hong Kong I had a few pieces written and photographed, mostly for business magazines. During ten, travel-intensive years based in Hong Kong, I managed to experience so many fascinating places and events that it would have been crazy not to write about them. Attempts at fiction came later, but I’m glad they did. So it has all been about selfish pipe dreams. Chasing them opened me up to experiences I would likely never have had, and since doggedness is often as much of an asset to a photojournalist as photographic talent, I grew a thick skin, and I still don’t concern myself with failure. Photojournalism is a lot to do with coming up with a good story and then succeeding in illustrating it, never mind who stands in your way, so it has things in common with writing fiction, and I’m sure I learned things that helped me pursue my writing dreams. None of which would have meant a thing without that selfish insistence on doing only what I wanted to do.

©Ron Mcmillan

©Ron Mcmillan

COURT: I always love to read about a writer’s process. What’s your average writing day like? Do you outline or are you a panster? How much research do you do?

RON: I wish I had more of a system! A lot of my writing goes on in my head, often when I lie awake at night. I know exactly where I am in the story and I set out plot lines in my head – and can usually remember them the next day. I don’t have a daily fiction writing routine, which is partly because I am always writing several things at once. I research and write for television documentaries made by B4Films in Scotland. A recent series of four episodes they made was for PBS in America, about great estates – landed country estates – in Scotland. This needs lots of research so that I can write with apparent authority on topics I know absolutely nothing about. I am now writing a pilot for a documentary series about the history – ancient and modern – of world-famous streets. It’s interesting, but time-consuming. I somehow fit fiction writing into the gaps in other activities, which means output can be a little sporadic.

COURT: Being a former travel writer, it’s interesting that you settled on a crime series set in a foreign country. For me, half the fun of reading international crime novels is to learn about different cultures.

RON: I suppose it comes down to the old cliché that says you should write about things you know. I certainly took that to the extreme with my first crime novel, Yin Yang Tattoo. Its protagonist is a Scottish photographer who spent five years in South Korea, who trained extensively in Tae Kwon-do, and who drinks far too much. But as he’s also an inveterate whoremonger, it is, of course, in no way autobiographical.  I can’t claim to know Thailand as well as I once knew Korea, but having spent some years here, I hope I can paint a fairly convincing Thai backdrop.

COURT: You’ve mentioned John Burdett as an author you admire. Are there any other series set in Asia you can recommend to us?

RON: John Burdett’s books stand head and shoulders above the competition, certainly so far as Thailand-based crime fiction goes. I don’t read many other books set in Thailand because I don’t want to be accused (by myself or by anyone else) of being influenced by others. I do enjoy the Father Ananda mystery series by Nick Wilgus, whose main character is a middle-aged cop-turned-Buddhist monk who finds himself investigating murders in and around temples all over Thailand. They are a little like old-fashioned English village murder mysteries, and very nicely done.  The series has been re-released as eBooks by CrimeWave Press.

COURT: Can you give us a peek into what Mason and Dixie up against in your next book, Bangkok Belle?

RON: Dixie’s friend Belle’s life is threatened when she enters a transgender beauty pageant. Belle refuses to be warned off, and the pageant is not all it seems, so of course things get down and dirty, and Mason and Dixie have to come to the rescue.

COURT: I’m looking forward to reading it. It was fun getting to know a little more about you and Bangkok Cowboy.

Check out Bangkok Cowboy, here.

Ron McMillan’s website.             Ron McMillan on Twitter

Check out Court Haslett’s Tenderloin, here.

 

 


Blog

The Rogue Reader Publishes Ron McMillan’s “Bangkok Cowboy”

May 9, 2014 by

At The Rogue Reader, we try to bring you the very best of fiction from the bleeding edge.  So far we’ve published two Spinetingler Magazine Top Picks (Under the Dixie Moon by Ro Cuzon, and Dark as Night by Mark T. Conard) and a Library Journal Staff Pick (Under the Dixie Moon).  With Court Haslett’s Tenderloin (Raven Crime Reads described it in a rave review as “a 70‘s set version of The Wire.”) we expanded into historical noir, and now we are happy to announce publication of our first international author, Ron McMillan, and his riveting Thailand set thriller Bangkok Cowboy

 

Ron McMillan in Bangkok

One of Ron McMillan’s alter-ego web identities is ‘properjob’, chosen because he hasn’t held a regular job in nearly thirty years. And when you consider that he has spent most of the last thirty-five years scouring Asia for diversions to satisfy a near-insatiable thirst for variety and challenge, it’s hardly surprising that the guy who re-invented himself as a photojournalist at the age of 30 – and went on to work for some of the world’s top magazines – has stories to draw from that turn up in his crime fiction.

Newsweek Cover

This is a man who cut his photography teeth in the middle of vast student demonstrations that laid waste to South Korean city centres in the 1980s; who was smuggled into war-torn Afghanistan with the help of the mujahideen in 1989, wrapped in traditional tribal garb that fooled nobody; who has lied to men carrying guns throughout Asia; who performed nearly fifty editorial and commercial photography assignments all over China; and who conjured his way into the hermit kingdom of North Korea posing as a tourist five times, each time secretly on assignment for top publications in North America, Asia and Europe.

Now, with the arrival of Bangkok Cowboy, Ron makes for a truly international addition to the Rogue Reader stable.

Bangkok Cowboy thumbnail cover

The first in a series of crime thrillers set in and around Thailand, Bangkok Cowboy introduces one of the most original private eye duos in modern crime fiction. They are Mason & Dixie.

McMillan: “I chose the single name ‘Mason’ in homage to one-name fictional characters whom I never tire of re-reading: Robert B. Parker’s ‘Spenser’, ‘Burke’ from Andrew Vachss, and James W. Hall’s ‘Thorn’. After settling on ‘Mason’, I needed a short name for his transgender partner, and chose ‘Dixie’. That American reviewers have already taken exception to a nod at a dark line in America’s recent history only tells me that I’m striking a chord. Sure, Mason & Dixie books are primarily crime thrillers, but they are also about how people of extraordinarily different backgrounds and sexualities can mesh as the most loyal of friends.”

Ron McMillan’s website

Follow Ron McMillan’s Mason & Dixie thrillers on Twitter

Mason & Dixie Thrillers on Facebook

Readers and reviewers clamoring for more from Mason & Dixie will not have long to wait. The sequel, Bangkok Belle, is in the works. Watch this space.

Details of Bangkok Cowboy and a lengthy excerpt are available at The Rogue Reader’s book page.

 


Blog, Reviews & Press

Why real cops don’t often make good crime writers

April 30, 2014 by

Courtesy of the Guardian Newspaper website, a hilarious assessment of what’s wrong with crime fiction detectives being portrayed as flawed individuals who lead less than perfect existences – and how such portrayals affect the performances of real cops in the real world. No, it’s not an April Fool spoof……

[Story below by Steven Morris]

 

Sam Spade

 

Crime writers should depict more detectives as clean-living and balanced rather than damaged and hard-drinking like the Inspector Rebus of Ian Rankin‘s novels, a chief constable has said.

Nick Gargan, chief constable of Avon and Somerset, said some police officers modelled themselves on fictional cops when they were interviewed on television in high-profile cases.

Speaking to the Guardian before a talk on crime fiction at the Chipping Norton literary festival at the weekend, Gargan said: “I’ve seen cops on the steps of court putting in rather theatrical performances for the TV cameras and I’ve thought: you weren’t trained to do that. It doesn’t represent any part of the rest of your working life. You’ve thought, tomorrow morning I’m likely to appear on the steps of the court, I’ll be expected to say something. What are my reference points, how am I going to come across?”

Gargan said he accepted Rankin’s view that a novel giving a realistic portrayal of police procedure would be “the most boring book in the world”, but objected to crime authors depicting one detective doing the work of what in reality would be that of up to 40 officers.

“You see a Rebus or Morse at the scene, recovering forensic exhibits, interviewing the suspect, comforting the family, arguing with the chief constable about resources. What can be a team of 20, 30 or 40 people is concentrated in the person of this one senior investigator,” he said.

Gargan, who worked on the investigation into Princess Diana’s death, said he did not accept the accuracy of another trait of fictional detectives – bending the rules for the greater good. “Do we have hard-drinking, heavy-smoking cynical people who make a few mistakes? Yes. But this slightly heroic bucking-the-system thing, I don’t think we have much of that.”

He said Rankin’s beloved creation would not like him. “I represent everything at the top end of the organisation that he’s contemptuous of, and I understand that.

“There are some pretty damaged individuals in too many of these books. I’d quite like to see some cheery, well-balanced, well-adjusted, equally successful investigators. I’d hate to think our investigators were modelling themselves on Rebus, but I think a few of them modelled themselves on Frost [RD Wingfield's creation Jack Frost, played on television by David Jason in A Touch of Frost]. You get a bit of Morse too.”

A senior detective in a neighbouring force, Steve Fulcher of Wiltshire police, was disciplined recently for breaking the rules on how a suspect should be questioned during the high-profile murder case of Sian O’Callaghan in Swindon.

In a scene that could have come from a crime novel (and Rankin has said Rebus might have acted in the same way), Fulcher questioned a suspect, Chris Halliwell, on a remote hillside without access to legal advice in a desperate attempt to crack the case. Halliwell admitted murdering O’Callaghan and led Fulcher to the body of a second woman who had vanished some years earlier. Fulcher was feted by some and criticised by others.

“The rules and laws are there for a reason,” Gargan said. “It’s not heroic to step outside the law. We shouldn’t do that. We’re the police.”

He said real-life detective work attracts interesting personalities. “In the world of investigation there are some real characters. It’s a magnet to individuals.”

He said crime writers did the police a disservice when they suggested officers had a propensity to corruption and were willing to break the rules. “But does that really shape people’s perception of policing? I think people’s experience of policing tends to be shaped by what has happened to them and their friends.”

As to whether it mattered whether writers got the forensic details right, Gargan said it wasn’t important unless there were jarring inaccuracies. He said that as a young constable he and his colleagues would watch episodes of The Bill and tick off the procedural errors. “But it’s the quality of the writing, the story that matters.”

Which detective novels would he take on holiday if forced to leave behind his management tomes and biographies? Gargan discounted Sherlock Homes and Agatha Christie – too much toxicology. Neither had he got into gruesome Scandinavian crime fiction. “There’s a rather depressing amount of pathology now,” he said.

“I’d take a Rumpole of the Bailey. It’s such good fun. I’d probably take an earlier Ian Rankin. I’d take a Colin Dexter too, a nice Morse.”


Blog, Craft, Other People's Books

Best-selling Crime Author James W. Hall Interview

April 28, 2014 by

James W HallWhatever James W. Hall has for breakfast, I want some. He has produced eighteen novels, including the best-selling Thorn crime thrillers (thirteen published, one more coming soon); he has published four collections of poetry and two books of short stories. He has written for the Miami Herald and the Washington Post, and his respected non-fiction Hit Lit (Random House) is an analysis of twelve of the most commercially successful novels of the last century. All of this he achieved in his ‘spare’ time, while he pursued a parallel life as an academic and university lecturer (he has a Master’s in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University and a Doctorate in Literature from the University of Utah). For thirty-six years, Hall taught at Florida International University, where he founded the Creative Writing program in the 1970s.

I have been a fan of the Thorn novels since I read Under Cover of Daylight in Hongkong almost twenty years ago, and when I set out to write Bangkok Cowboy as the opener for a new thriller series, I unashamedly sought inspiration from Thorn – and from Thorn’s fellow-Floridian, John D. MacDonald‘s Travis McGee. I was delighted when James agreed to take time out for a Q&A session with The Rogue Reader.

 

Ron McMillan: The first Thorn book, Under Cover of Daylight, came out nearly twenty years ago, and emerged as the opening installment in a best-selling series that continues today. At the time, did you consciously set out to write the first in a series, or did its success inspire the Thorn series?

James W. Hall: If I’d known in the mid-eighties when I wrote Under Cover that I would still be writing about Thorn 30 years later, I might have made him a bit more receptive to future adventures. By making him a hermit of sorts, I had to find believable ways to engage him in new stories and to shake him loose from his isolation. Most series heroes don’t have that issue. Travis McGee sometimes helped out friends (as Thorn does), but he was often motivated by the need to replenish his money supply – going back into the salvage business so he could resume his “retirement.” But most series characters are on-call in some ways. Private eyes, cops, or other professions that make them freely available to new adventures. This problem is the first issue I have to solve in each new novel. What would cause Thorn to come down out of his tree house and take on a new challenge? So no, I never intended for Thorn to live beyond Under Cover, but my publisher at the time as well as my subsequent publishers have urged me (bribed me) to keep him going.

Under Cover of Daylight

Ron McMillan: The plotlines of the early books in the series were very much revenge-driven, as Thorn set out to right wrongs from his early life. Since then, the stories are more about friendship, and how Thorn reacts to the misfortunes of people close to him. As a reader, I relish such basic, elemental struggles. You make this seem easy, but how hard do you have to work at the crafting of relationships and friendships that enable you to tug so effectively at readers’ heartstrings?

James W. Hall: I’ve always thought that emotional motivations are better drivers of thrillers than the requirements of a job. I’ve never been much interested in police procedurals for that reason. The cop might be clever and dogged, but the emotions that drive him are in large part requirements of his work. Thorn has very raw emotions. He’s basically a loner, though Sugarman is a close friend, and as a loner the few friendships he does make are very significant to him. So in a way he’s more vulnerable to strong passions than someone more well-rounded in his attachments.

For a character to simply die on page one without first establishing who that character is and his emotional connection to the protagonist makes no sense to me. So I usually devote a good deal of time trying to show the foundation of the relationship that character has with Thorn. Even John D. often glossed over the connections between Travis and the friends he put himself at risk trying to help. I try to make each novel contain a new and unique test for Thorn so that means in part that I must find new people for him to get passionate about. As a result, Thorn seems to be a magnet for bad luck.

Ron McMillan: I know you are a big fan of John D MacDonald, whose Travis McGee novels blazed a path for Florida-based crime fiction. How much do you and Thorn owe to John D. MacDonald and Travis McGee?

Hit Lit

James W. Hall: John D. certainly blazed the trail that a lot of Florida writers have followed. I’m no exception. But there are others who I’ve also learned a lot from. Elmore Leonard, of course, and a man named Douglas Fairbairn whose wonderful novel Street 8 was an early example of the kind of crime thriller set in South Florida that I aspired to write. I re-read John D. often and am always impressed by his ability to tell an exciting tale in a very efficient manner, and to inform in the process. Not easy to do.

Ron McMillan: Your novels, like the MacDonald books (and those of fellow Florida-based author Carl Hiaasen), rail against the profligacy of real estate developers who have changed Florida forever. How important do you feel is your role in highlighting the wrongs being inflicted on Florida?

James W. Hall. I take a slightly different tack on this issue. While, yes, Hiaasen and I share the John D. environmental stance toward Florida, what I try to bring to the novels is a celebration of the beauty and exotic charm of the landscape. I’m trying to find lyrical and poetic ways to capture the place, something Carl doesn’t spend much time with and John D. did very infrequently. The model for me in this regard is James Lee Burke‘s extraordinary descriptions of Louisiana. In trying to capture the exotic natural landscape, I hope to instill in readers some measure of affection for this weird and wonderful place. I’m not into soapbox writing. I figure if I can make a reader see the Florida that I love and care about for a few hundred pages, then I’ve done a good thing.

Ron McMillan: Fifty years after his debut, James Bond is still a youthful fortyish. Robert B. Parker‘s Spenser boxed against Jersey Joe Walcott in the mid-1950s, and nearly sixty years on, is still cracking heads in Boston. Twenty years into your series, Thorn should, by rights, be pushing sixty. Of course each book has to work as a stand-alone tale, but your fans doubtless expect continuity in a central character they have grown to love over the years. What are the peculiar challenges presented to the author of a long-running series?

James W. Hall. Thorn is getting creaky and he admits it. But you can find some incredibly tough specimens in their 60′s and older in the Florida Keys. The lobsterman, the men who live outdoor lives and challenges themselves against the elements. Thorn isn’t a superman. He isn’t a Special Ops guy or a former SEAL. He’s just a healthy guy who has taken care of himself and he manages to survive some serious scrapes more with cunning and guile than with karate or some other martial arts skill.

Ron McMillan: I believe the fourteenth novel in the Thorn series is in the works. What do Thorn fans have to look forward to?

James W. Hall. Just finished the fourteenth. It’s called The Big Finish. Thorn and Sugarman head to North Carolina to do battle with a hog farmer and some other pretty outrageous villains who have targeted Thorn’s son, Flynn and his environmentalist friends.

The Big Finish

Ron McMillan: Do you enjoy reading crime fiction? If so, point us to one or two authors or titles that Rogue Reader website visitors might like to explore.

James W. Hall. I’ve been reading a lot of Daniel Silva lately. Always enjoy the latest Lucas Davenport novel and Jo Nesbo, Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, and Jim Burke and Don Winslow. This past year I read The Goldfinch and The Signature of All Things, two novels that weren’t exactly crime novels, but were wonderful in very different ways. Next up for me is a Barbara Kingsolver novel that is research related. The next novel might be a standalone or the beginning of a new series. I’ll know in a few months after I’ve written a few hundred pages.

James W. Hall’s website             James W. Hall on Twitter

 

Interview and post by Rogue Reader Ron McMillan, author of Bangkok Cowboyfirst in a new series of Mason Dixie crime thrillers set in and around Thailand.

Follow Ron McMillan on Twitter.