Posts Categorized: Spectre Black

This caught my eye. A piece in the newspaper regarding what people are allowed to bring in to the Republican Convention and what they can’t bring.

For one thing, it’s fine to carry guns. Ohio is an open-carry state, so have at it. They can bring concealed firearms but they have to have licenses to do so.

But this is what they may NOT bring:

Explosives
Large knives
Gas masks
Umbrellas with metal tips
Air rifles
Paintball guns
Blasting caps
Switchblades
Blackjacks
Swords
Sabers
Projectile launchers
Hatchets
Axes
Slingshots
Metal knuckles
Nunchucks
Mace
Water guns…

And tennis balls. tennis ball at the RNC Convention

Okay, laugh if you will about tennis balls. But my character, former Navy SEAL Cyril Landry can use one to great effect.

Here’s the opening scene from Chapter 2 of my third Cyril Landry thriller Spectre Black:

Chapter 2
San Clemente, California

“Tennis balls.”
“Cool, huh?”
Cyril Landry hefted the lime-green tennis ball, aware that he was not hefting it with confidence.
Which was unlike him.
“Don’t worry,” the cricket-like man in the gaudy Hawaiian shirt said. “It won’t go off on its own. Has to be activated by the racket.”
“Not any kind of racket,” Landry said. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
The man in the Hawaiian shirt nodded and his gray ponytail nodded right along with him. “That’s correct. You’re right as rain. Otherwise…”
He left it open to conjecture.
Landry had gone out for a day of paddle-boarding, but as the sun dropped low over the water, he’d stowed the board and paddle into his Subaru and wandered in to downtown San Clemente for a bite to eat.
Even at this early hour the restaurants were crowded, so Landry ducked in to this cubbyhole of an antique shop, with an eye on the Beachcomber Bar and Grille across the street, hoping a table would open up.
A friend had told him about the old hippie. Landry wasn’t in the market for anything right now, but tennis ball diagram showing the  maximum impact area in the center of the ballcuriosity had finally gotten the better of him. His friend had said, “You won’t believe this guy. He was in Viet Nam. Some elite squad, what I heard. He sells knickknacks and the occasional hellfire missile.”
Landry’s friend had been joking about the hellfire missile. At least Landry thought he was.
But once Cricket Man, aka Terrence Lark, knew he was for real, he’d shown him some nice stuff.
Amazing stuff.
“If you’re interested, let me know,” Lark said, before tucking the tennis ball reverently back into the box with its mates.

So maybe tennis balls are dangerous after all.

Categories: Cyril Landry Spectre Black

Ideas are everywhere in real life. Here are some of the ones that made it into my books:

SPECTRE BLACKSpectre Black book cover

What was going on at that time? Militias. In Texas, there was “Jade Helm” which sounded like a true conspiracy, but wasn’t, and got the usual suspects all alarmed. Even before that, the Bundys in New Mexico had a stand-off with the United States government. They won the battle, but it only encouraged them to act out again at a wildlife refuge in Oregon. This time, after they started running out of Cheese Doodles and Pepsi, they eventually surrendered, but not before one of them was killed after pulling a gun on the Feds.

I liked the idea of militias so much that it came naturally to me. Cyril Landry encounters a militia in SPECTRE BLACK.

THE CARS BURIED IN AN OKLAHOMA LAKEj-carson-black-new-york-times-best-selling-thriller-author

I was enthralled by the story. Two vehicles, years apart, went off the dock into a silty Oklahoma lake. They were discovered, side by side. A man and his wife (missing) found in their circa 1950s car. And right next to them, a Camaro containing three high school kids who had also disappeared. This gave me the idea for the death of a woman in my Laura Cardinal novella, CRY WOLF. Cry Wolf by Thriller writer J. Carson Black

DEAR ABBY COLUMN: A woman who complained of her son-in-law, who was a pathological liar. He never told a straight story. He was the smartest person in the room, and spun magical stories about his prowess in all things. He tried to fix his in-laws’ car, and made a mess of it. I liked the idea so much I wrote the character (victim) in CRY WOLF. Someone just got sick of his lying ways.

CHARLES SCHMID, THE PIED PIPER OF TUCSON

Charles Schmid

Charles Schmid

This s.o.b. brought national shame to my home town. He killed three girls. Girls he knew—which was pretty damn stupid. Three lives snuffed out by a creep who crumpled up beer cans and stuffed them in his boots to make him look taller. The serial killer nature of the story attracted Life magazine, which took an unflattering shot of East Speedway Boulevard and called it the Ugliest Street in America. My first Laura Cardinal novel, DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN, was loosely based on the hysteria that resulted from those long-ago murders.

Categories: Darkness on the Edge of Town Spectre Black

I have to admit a soft spot in my heart for militias and checkpoints. They are fertile ground for thrillers—not to mention, comedy.

Rolling Stone recently published an article, “The Dumb and the Restless”, poking fun at The Bundy Corral, but even they recognized there is a decidedly serious aspect to the recent occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Tarp Man at Bundy Corral

Tarp Man


I remember the last time the Bundys fought off the Feds, when they aimed high-powered weapons at BLM agents. They won the battle, but not the war. There were other windmills to tilt at, so they packed up the covered wagon and headed west. To Oregon.

But they did not understand one of the basic precepts of war: an army marches on its stomach.

The Bundy Corral was somewhat prepared; they even had a blue tarp to camouflage their sentry, even though he pulled it off to be interviewed on national television. Sadly, though, they forgot the key ingredient for their success as God’s Righteous Army: snacks. They were undone by a distressing lack of ham sandwiches and Doritos.

Spectre Black book cover
Long before the Bundy Corral showed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, I’d decided that a modern-day militia could be kind of funny, what with their checkpoints an’ all. Here’s the beginning of a scene from Spectre Black, the third book in my Cyril Landry thriller series:

The mirage in the center of the road resolved itself into three vehicles. Three Chevy Suburbans, approximately two miles ahead. All of them dark in color, grouped near the road’s junction with a ranch road that wandered off to the right.

The checkpoint looked official, but you never knew. Landry glanced at the Heckler & Koch P2000 9 mm he’d bought online and brought with him on the plane. It lay on the seat beside him in plain sight. This was ranch country. The laws were lax, and the police wouldn’t look twice.

Something wrong here.

The Suburbans didn’t look right. One of them dated back to the nineties.

Landry noticed one of the figures—all in black—leaning against one of the Suburbans. He was the picture of inattention.

Landry knew he could handle them. He knew he could handle their friends. He would have no problem kicking their asses into next week for impersonating a police officer or worse, a member of the armed services. The question was, did he want to?

He was dressed to fit this car: the tourist T-shirt, the flip flops, the shorts, the sunglasses. The average-guy haircut. The Timex. The fast food wrapper balled up on the dash and the Big Gulp in the console cup holder.

He removed the balled-up fast food wrapper—it was from a Dairy Queen brazier in Las Cruces—uncrumpled it and laid it over the Glock—

And slowed down like a good boy.

A big guy in combat boots, a ball cap with an official-looking insignia too hard to read, a black bulletproof vest, and Army fatigues you could buy online, stepped toward him and raised his hand. He bristled with weapons—a sidearm on his hip, a rifle slung across his back. Big kid playing dress-up. Another stood nearby, a Bushmaster cradled in his arms.

Landry obliged by stopping. He buzzed down his window and looked up at the guy. His gape was excellent—sterling. He knew he looked like a cowed tourist.

The dress-up guy tipped the bill of his cap and said, “Can I see some I.D., sir?”

“May,” Landry said.

“What?”

“May I see some I.D. You can, physically, but you’re asking.”

The man stared at him.

Landry gave him a vague smile—his professor look–and tried to look clueless. He knew the guy was no cop. Not even an undercover cop. Cops were not allowed to stop people and demand their I.D. Not in any other state in the union, with the exception of Arizona.

For a moment Landry considered taking one of the guns from the fake cop and pistol-whipping him across his beefy dumb face, but decided against it. Maybe the guy was from Arizona, and didn’t know any better.

So, innocent as a lamb, he dug out his wallet and handed the man his license.

“Is there trouble, officer?”

The guy held his license and looked at it hard. “Where are you going, Mr., uh, Keeley?”

“Is there something wrong? I’m going to Branch to see my sister.”

The fake policeman looked at the license one more time. Reluctant to let it go. But when you pretend to be a cop, you have to act like one. “May I look inside your trunk, sir?”

Landry pulled the latch and the trunk popped open.

The guy stood there for a few minutes behind the car. Landry watched him in the rearview. The guy raised the trunk lid for a quick look and pushed it shut again–

Which was a good thing for him.

The duffle in the trunk was Landry’s “run bag”—a bag packed for him to grab up at a moment’s notice. He kept it in his closet, packed with the basics. The run bag contained shampoo, bath soap, pain meds, first aid, an extra phone battery, a suit and a dress shirt laid out and folded neatly, dress shoes and socks, work boots, jeans, a baseball cap, and an emergency medical kit. It also carried twist-tie plastic cuffs and loaded magazines.

One reason he rarely flew commercial.

Landry heard the crackle of the walkie-talkie. The man was talking into it, wandering this way and that behind the car. For entertainment, Landry studied the two people leaning against the bumper of one of the Suburbans, a short squat woman and a stringbean man, both dressed in paramilitary outfits and black Kevlar bullet-proof vests. The bullet-proof vests were decorated with velcroed epaulets—a nice touch—and the camo pants contained plenty of pockets for their lip balm and breath mints. Someone had a mom who liked to sew. Landry thought it must be hot as hell in those vests, but if you want to play cops and robbers, it’s the price you pay. Landry also got a closer look at the two black Suburbans and the one navy Suburban. All of them had a lot of miles on them, especially the one that was mid-nineties vintage. The others were in the right decade but dusty and dented.

The first man came back around to the driver’s side window. “You may go, sir,” he said, just as a walkie-talkie crackled on the hip of the fake policewoman.

Landry sat there, his hands on the steering wheel, ten and two.

You have no fucking idea how lucky you are.

The guy had expected Landry to drive off. Now he was discombobulated. He wiped at the sweat on his cheek and said, “That a tennis racquet in your trunk? Guess you’re a tennis player, huh?”

“Just an amateur,” Landry said. “But it’s fun.”

The guy fumbled for words. Finally he said, “Good job.”

He stepped back.

Landry drove on his way.

Categories: Cyril Landry Spectre Black

While I know the general direction of a story, I don’t know everything.

In Spectre Black, Cyril Landry is parked under a big tree that hides his car, waiting to meet up with his friend and former lover, Tobosa County Sheriff’s detective Jolie Burke.

Jolie used the pay phone there--yes, it still worked.

Jolie used the pay phone there–yes, it still worked.

Jolie disappeared a few days ago, and the last phone call she made was to Landry, asking for his help. She gives him the place to meet: an abandoned Circle K convenience store along a lonely highway in New Mexico.

Landry waits there, but Jolie is a no-show.

Someone does show up, however.

When I write, I have a general idea of the scene and where I think it will go, and then I just … go. I write in a sort of trance, but I’m cognizant of the actual writing, the story, and how the words sound.

So I’m typing away on Spectre Black, and Jolie still doesn’t show up, and then an old rancher pulls in to the empty lot. I have no idea why he showed up. He says a couple of things to Landry, nothing that would be helpful, then drives off. His name? Jerry Boam. I just typed whatever drifted in through my transom. Which, in my trancelike state, became a big bottle of wine called a Jeroboam.

I get to about a third of the way through the book and it still bothers me that this old rancher type said a few words to Landry and drove away. What good did THAT do Landry? Or me, for that matter?

Much later, I realized that Jerry Boam was no accident. His name was no accident, either.

I had to change this character in Spectre Black from a walk-on part to someone more important in the scheme of things. I had to go back and change a bunch of stuff, but then it all trued up.

So I have to raise a glass to Jerry Boam, for showing up.

And sticking around.

 

 

Categories: Cyril Landry Spectre Black

Many times my character, former Navy SEAL Cyril Landry, finds himself in need of (yet) another weapon.

In The Shop, he walked into a Mom & Pop gun store in Alabama to purchase some weapons. The place was a little frayed at the edges. There was a faded trout diorama in the window, along with a stuffed animal or two, and a rack of fishing poles. Landry plunked a goodly amount of money on the counter, and the guy was happy enough to go for a walk so Landry could place his order. I had a lot of fun writing that scene.

In Spectre Black, Landry starts out in another little cave of a store, this time in San Clemente, California. The owner, a grizzled Viet Nam war vet, purveys tennis balls. Not just any tennis balls. These explode when they are armed by the right racquet (Thanks to fellow author Will Graham for that idea, which seemed ridiculous at the time, but grew on me. Just goes to show he has a better imagination than I do). The tennis balls make their mark onstage toward the end in Spectre Black.Houston Gun show

Also in Spectre Black, Landry and two friends, former homicide cop Jolie Burke and a former special ops pal of his from their tour in Afghanistan, “Eric The Red,” go shopping for a new sniper rifle at a local gun show. Landry finds a good one, checks it over, and buys it. On their way out of the gun show he notices a box-full of tin stars on a table—the kind a TV sheriff might wear. Gold ones, silver ones, all of them cheap. On a whim, Landry buys one for 25 cents.

I don’t know why I had him do that.

But later, the 25-cent badge comes in handy, because as cheap as it is, the thing still looks real. And Landry, who is good at impersonation of law enforcement and military personnel at all levels, sells it like nobody’s business.

Categories: Cyril Landry Spectre Black

Donald Trump wants to build a wall on the border between Mexico and the United States. That’s a big project, since the border between the U.S. and Mexico is 1,989 miles with more than 600 miles already fenced.
BorderAtJacumba2
In SPECTRE BLACK, I needed to have a big scene set on the border. I spent a lot of time researching three towns/cities on the border between Mexico and New Mexico, and the nature of the fences and barriers there. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, I needed the one that was just right. I found it in Columbus, New Mexico.

For my story, I had to learn how to breach the border fence so that semi trucks containing contraband could drive through.

Fortunately, I have a guy.

My guy told me exactly how to do it. It included a blowtorch, precise timing, teamwork, and know-how.

I was able to breach the fence in Spectre Black in the course of three minutes, thanks to the crew and some precision tools (virtually, of course). I populated the scene with two guys who knew what they were doing, someone to drive the semi trucks through the border fence, and a precise way to return the fence back to its original position—

So that no one would be the wiser.

I don’t ask how my guy knows these things. But I am so glad.

I am so glad that I have a guy.

Categories: How Do I Get My Ideas? Spectre Black

When I started writing Spectre Black (which wasn’t called Spectre Black at the time) I started with the idea that Cyril Landry had to go in search of his friend and sometimes-lover, homicide detective Jolie Burke. She’s in trouble, but when he goes to meet her, Jolie’s not at their agreed rendezvous spot.

I am lucky enough to know a guy who knows everything there is to know about black ops and anything military. I was figuring out where to go after I started the book, and somehow, we got on the subject of cloaking technology. John knows a lot about it, and as I listened to him, I started getting excited by the idea. I knew there would be bad guys, and they would be hiding something, but cloaking technology?

This meant I’d have to describe it, and more than that, make sense of it. First, to myself, and then to others. I had to find a way to explain what it is, without writing a textbook about it. I needed to go for the neat stuff. Example: a small plane lands on a dirt airstrip, and all you can see are the puffs of dust coming up where the wheels touching down.images In one instance, Cyril Landry encounters someone using cloaking technology (literally, the guy’s wearing a cloak). I had to describe it in such a way that Landry was looking at nothing, but that the “nothing” was, er . . . moving. That “nothing” had mass, but it looked just like the landscape—only moving at a walking pace.

It took some fancy footwork on my part, but I think (hope) I got the point across for Spectre Black. BTW, “Spectre Black” itself is not only the title of my latest Cyril Landry thriller, but is also drawn from the color of the Stealth Camaro made near-invisible by its Spectre Black coating. That took another concentrated exercise in creative explanation.

Categories: Cyril Landry Spectre Black

I have many male friends who write female main characters, and female writer friends who write male characters. Maybe it’s liberating, or maybe, for some reason, the character is the person you feel closest to. There’s chemistry there. You want to spend your time writing about someone who inspires you, because you have to spend a whole book with that person. Male or female. For my part, I love looking out through Cyril Landry’s eyes and seeing what he is seeing. And he’s kind enough to oblige me.

Cyril Landry fought in two wars. What he did with Whitbread Associates wasn't all that different.

Cyril Landry fought in two wars. What he did with Whitbread Associates wasn’t all that different.

I don’t think men and women are all that much different from one another. In my view, they have a lot more in common than not.

Cyril Landry has been through a lot. He’s fought in two wars. He worked as an operative for a not-very-nice organization called Whitbread Associates. At times in his life, hardened by war and needing to make a living for his family, he considered morals to be niceties. What he did for Whitbread Associates was not so different from what he did for the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

No apologies.

I met him on the first page of my thriller, THE SHOP. He was a faceless operative—basically a spear carrier on the set—but on the first page he changed all that. On a mission to kill some people in Aspen, he corrected another operator’s grammar. The first words out of his mouth.

The operator radios in. “There are two people laying on the bed.”
Landry says: “Lying.”
“What?”
“Lying on the bed. Not laying.”

From there he took over more and more of the book. I know he’s done bad things, things I can’t wrap my head around. But I still like him. I’m still fascinated by him. It’s a dichotomy I believe happens in real life. Can you be a good and moral man and still kill?

Considering all the crime fiction, thrillers, spy thrillers, and mysteries, the answer is:

It’s complicated.

Categories: Cyril Landry Spectre Black The Writing Life

You’re writing, and suddenly, you get stuck. You’ve driven yourself into a ditch.

So. What do you do? You can quit for the day. You can skip ahead to another part that isn’t so hard to write (but many times, that turns out to be just as hard, because your sullen, uncooperative mind refuses to budge).

This isn't me out for a walk. It's cloaking technology from SPECTRE BLACK.

This isn’t me out for a walk. It’s an example of the cloaking technology featured in SPECTRE BLACK.


One thing you can do:

Go for a walk.

I do that a lot, and I think a lot of other authors do, too. As I set off on my walk, I tell myself: “Don’t think about the story. Just leave it alone. Forget about it and look at the trees, the squirrels, the mountains, whatever’s there. But don’t think about the plot. Fuggetaboudit.”

Sometimes, a walk is just a walk. But more often than not, you come back already thinking of another way forward in your story—a new plot point or a new scene—something really great that just came out of left field. It materializes out of your subconscious, which was trying to help you all along.

In the case of my new Cyril Landry thriller, Spectre Black, I had run into a dead end. I couldn’t think of anything that would move the story forward. So I went for my walk and told myself not to think about it. I walked through a patch of desert and looked around, letting my mind wander to whatever drifted through my transom.

Then suddenly it came to me—completely out of left field. An idea that at first didn’t seem to fit at all. The thought I had was this, two words: “property seizure.” Very quickly, the other pieces locked into place. Cops—bad cops (and I had a few already onstage)—often seize assets, especially expensive assets, like sports cars, boats, houses, and other property. And they divvy up the spoils. One sergeant might say, “I’m looking for a Corvette.” Or something like it. And then they go out looking for a Corvette. A simple traffic stop, a small transgression, and the Corvette’s on a flatbed truck headed for the sheriff’s impound lot.

After that, like a cascading house of cards, the other pieces filled in. That one small idea was the key to a major section of Spectre Black. All because I went for a nature walk, emptied my mind, smiled up at the deep blue sky and the words waiting at the door to my subconscious poured out: “property seizure.”

Categories: Cyril Landry Spectre Black The Writing Life

A thriller novel is long, so there’s plenty of room for many things to happen. I start with a premise, and I know the general direction of a story, although the trajectory might change as the story goes on. Spectre Black from New York Times Best Seller J. Carson Black

I don’t know how other writers write, but I write in a light trance. I just type what drifts through my transom, and this works well as long as I’m following a general trajectory. A few sentences become a couple of paragraphs, then they become a scene, which leads to another scene. Ahead, there’s a plot point I like and plan to hit. I know I’ll get there, because I always have before. Along the way, all sorts ideas will pop up.

In Spectre Black, an abandoned Circle K appears in the middle of the desert. There’s a militia checkpoint on an empty road. There’s a car that can barely be seen at night. And a grizzled rancher who hands out religious tracts….

Wait! Religious tracts? What does that have to do with my story in Spectre Black? Why’d this guy show up? To be honest, when he first appeared, I had no idea. After a while, it became clear. The guy was there to give my character a message. And he did it with a religious tract.

I’m not an outliner. I just follow the story. Sometimes I end up at a dead end and have to back out. But usually that doesn’t happen. For me, the story has already taken up residence in my mind. Like the Arabic word I love so much, Maktub:

“It is written.”

Categories: Cyril Landry Spectre Black