Thursday, March 02, 2023

Talking MA, SD, Violence, and of Course Writing With Coach Tony Blauer

Had a blast talking with Tony Blauer, an innovator in self defense I've learned a ton from over the last 20 years or so.

As we discuss in the podcast, I first met Tony when he wrote to me around the time my first book was published. He praised me for my fictional depiction of various aspects of violence, and told me that in his opinion I was really getting it right. My response was, "I hope so, I read your newsletter and have learned a lot from you!" Following which a beautiful friendship was born, which has included several trips to Tony's seminars and a couple of memorable sushi meals, too.

Anyway, it was a treat to catch up this morning about various areas of common interests on Tony's Know Fear podcast. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Amazon Smile, No More

In 2018, at the suggestion of novelist Andrew Vachss, I did what I could do get out the word about Amazon Smilea program that enabled Amazon customers to direct a portion of their purposes to a favored charity. Mine was an organization Andrew established: the Legislative Drafting Institute for Child Protection.

The good news is, you can still donate to the LDICP. The bad news, per the email copied and pasted below, is that Amazon is disbanding Amazon Smile.


Dear customer,

In 2013, we launched AmazonSmile to make it easier for customers to support their favorite charities. However, after almost a decade, the program has not grown to create the impact that we had originally hoped. With so many eligible organizations—more than 1 million globally—our ability to have an impact was often spread too thin. 

We are writing to let you know that we plan to wind down AmazonSmile by February 20, 2023. We will continue to pursue and invest in other areas where we’ve seen we can make meaningful change—from building affordable housing to providing access to computer science education for students in underserved communities to using our logistics infrastructure and technology to assist broad communities impacted by natural disasters.

To help charities that have been a part of the AmazonSmile program with this transition, we will be providing them with a one-time donation equivalent to three months of what they earned in 2022 through the program, and they will also be able to accrue additional donations until the program officially closes in February. Once AmazonSmile closes, charities will still be able to seek support from Amazon customers by creating their own wish lists.

As a company, we will continue supporting a wide range of other programs that help thousands of charities and communities across the U.S. For instance:

  • Housing Equity Fund: We’re investing $2 billion to build and preserve affordable housing in our hometown communities. In just two years, we’ve provided funding to create more than 14,000 affordable homes—and we expect to build at least 6,000 more in the coming months. These units will host more than 18,000 moderate- to low-income families, many of them with children. In one year alone, our investments have been able to increase the affordable housing stock in communities like Bellevue, Washington and Arlington, Virginia by at least 20%.
  • Amazon Future Engineer: We’ve funded computer science curriculum for more than 600,000 students across over 5,000 schools—all in underserved communities. We have plans to reach an additional 1 million students this year. We’ve also provided immediate assistance to 55,000 students in our hometown communities by giving them warm clothes for the winter, food, and school supplies.
  • Community Delivery Program: We’ve partnered with food banks in 35 U.S. cities to deliver more than 23 million meals, using our logistics infrastructure to help families in need access healthy food – and we plan to deliver 12 million more meals this year alone. In addition to our delivery services, we’ve also donated 30 million meals in communities across the country.
  • Amazon Disaster Relief: We’re using our logistics capabilities, inventory, and cloud technology to provide fast aid to communities affected by natural disasters. For example, we’ve created a Disaster Relief Hub in Atlanta with more than 1 million relief items ready for deployment, our Disaster Relief team has responded to more than 95 natural disasters, and we’ve donated more than 20 million relief products to nonprofits assisting communities on the ground.
  • Community Giving: We support hundreds of local nonprofits doing meaningful work in cities where our employees and their families live. For example, each year we donate hundreds of millions of dollars to organizations working to build stronger communities, from youth sport leagues, to local community colleges, to shelters for families experiencing homelessness.

We’ll continue working to make a difference in many ways, and our long-term commitment to our communities remains the same—we’re determined to do every day better for our customers, our employees, and the world at large.

Thank you for being an Amazon customer.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Dox Origin Story AMOK, Out Today!

Today’s the day—my long-gestating Dox origin story, AMOK, is available at last! Hardback; trade paper; Kindle; audiobook narrated by yours truly…whatever you prefer.

The gist:

1991. A restless young man called Dox is back home in Texas. His friends have missed him and his mother and sisters need him, but after four years as a Marine and another two as a CIA contractor fighting alongside the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet Union, small-town life in Abilene is a suffocating dead end. Another secret war, this one in Southeast Asia, offers a big payday and the solution to his family’s dire straits. But secret wars are never what they’re billed to be, and Dox is about to get the education of his young life—among the lessons, that the only thing more dangerous than a secret war is falling in love with your enemy.

If you’re curious about how I got around the pandemic to research the Huntsville “Walls” Unit (yes, the same Texas prison depicted in the 1972 Steve McQueen movie The Getaway), life in Abilene and Tuscola, and Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, all as they existed in 1991, you can find my notes, a bibliography, and a filmography here—and of course in the book itself.

And some research photos from Abilene and Tuscola here.

A small request: if you’ve read the book already via NetGalley or otherwise—or whenever you read it—please don’t be shy about posting a customer review here. For whatever reason, Amok didn’t get much in the way of pre-publication coverage, so the book will have to rely more than usual on word of mouth. Thanks very much in advance.

AMOK is a thriller; it’s a love story; most of all, it’s a bildungsroman (even though my editor wisely declined the opportunity to put A DOX BILDUNGSROMAN on the cover). I laughed and cried a lot while writing it—of course I did, it’s Dox, and he’s never been better! Enjoy and happy holidays.


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Reading An Excerpt From AMOK On Lit With Lloyd

Had a blast doing the Lit With Lloyd podcast with KCAT Public Media! A wide-ranging conversation, including:

Craft: how to draw on experience, research, and imagination to create compelling characters.

Business: how the proposed Random Penguin/S&S merger is like the two wings of America's duopoly.

And—EXCLUSIVE—I read an excerpt from upcoming Dox prequel AMOK.


Monday, August 08, 2022

How Do You Shape A Character Who's Had Experiences You Haven't?

Fiction involves a mix of experience, research, and imagination, with the first two both grounding and boosting the third. And if you’re familiar with the endnotes of my books, the photos I post of the places I visit for research, and my Mistakes page (because despite all my efforts, I sometimes fall short), you know I work hard in the service of accuracy and realism.

When I teach writing, I always suggest building characters on a foundation of what humans have in common, with what’s different or unique about the individual in question used more like a spice than like a fundamental ingredient. Of course differences are critical, but they tend to act on what we already have in common. Too much emphasis on differences and not enough appreciation of shared humanity can result in characters feeling two-dimensional or otherwise unrealistic and not compelling.

Some of my characters are more like me than others, and the more differences, the more I need to inform my imagination with research. It can be a lot of work, but I always feel the results are worth it. Some of that affirmation comes from within, but sometimes it’s delivered from outside. Here’s an example of the latter—from Chris Brainerd, who took the trouble to offer some thoughts about my Graveyard of Memories paraplegic character Sayaka and who gave me permission to post it here. Sayaka and I have a lot of differences. But I think starting with everything I know about humans, and shaping and sculpting that based on my research about the specifics, paid off.

Thank you Cameron for suggesting a character in a wheelchair and for helping me get the details right. I think Sayaka is incomparably richer for it, and her romance with Rain more poignant. And thank you Chris for the email below. I’m proud of my my Mistakes page (journalists might consider employing something similar), but it’s good to get feedback that doesn’t belong there, too.

* * * * *

Hi Barry,

I’ve been on bedrest since November, with not a whole lot to keep myself busy. Fortunately, I stumbled across Rain Fall on a streaming service and that led me to looking up the character and realizing there is a series of books. For a couple months now, I’ve been caught up in every book I can get. I just finished Graveyard of Memories, and it made me want to reach out.

I’m in a wheelchair and the character Sayaka really surprised me. I’m also a guy, so the parts about sex as a paraplegic woman I can’t comment on (haha), but damn! You nailed life in a chair. What I particularly found impressive was John trying to find common ground with Sayaka. Seeing her as any other person and doing his best to make sure he’d thought about how to treat her and get her around. And to make it more realistic, you made him miss things she had to teach him.

And then, Sayaka relating (and achieving) her dreams. Not wanting to be stuck in one place and knowing she could do more. I felt you were either writing from experience or getting great advice from a wheelchair user. I was surprised and impressed that you pulled that off with just internet research.

I wish Sayaka could be in further books, but I’m just glad you didn't kill her off!

Anyway, just wanted to let you know how your books are helping me, and again, praise your tactful approach to disabilities.

And as a proofreader and editor, I’d also say whoever you have doing these tasks is amazing. Your prose and dialogue are tight! I love it all.

Have a great day,

Chris Brainerd

Friday, August 05, 2022

Violence and the Principles of Good Storytelling, With Wim Demeere

I had so much fun doing this podcast episode with martial arts, self-defense, and violence expert (and fellow writer) Wim Demeere. We discussed all the foregoing topics and more in the context of the principles of good storytelling. For example:

Why the fascination with violence generally? And how do you depict it compellingly on the page or screen?

Why did the Equalizer writers introduce Denzel Washington's character the way they did...and what does that introduction suggest about character introductions generally?

Why was the bathhouse scene in Eastern Promises so riveting...even though it was so unrealistic?

And much, much more!

Friday, May 20, 2022

My CIA Instructor Dutch: The Life Behind The Legend

Updated Below

If you’ve read my book The Chaos Kind, you might remember a certain CIA SOG (Special Operations Group) character named Dutch. And while I don’t write characters based on real people, that doesnt mean none of my characters were inspired by them...

So yes, there is a real Dutch, who a long time ago I was extremely lucky to train under—and now you can read the story of the life behind the legend.

The other instructors I trained with at the time, who knew Dutch better and in a different context, treated their colleague with reverence and even awe—but also with great affection because Dutch inspires all those reactions, and more. But for me, Dutch was primarily a teacher, and one of the best I’ve ever had.

What makes Dutch so special?

I would say: his combination of deep knowledge based on extremely hard-won experience; his ability to translate that experience to make it comprehensible to people like me who had never been through anything remotely similar; and his patience with, and compassion and affection for, his students. All driven by his determination to impart to his students skills that would make them more capable in their roles, and on which if things went badly they would be relying on to save their lives.

My fellow trainees and I spent barely two months under Dutch’s tutelage, and yet thirty years later we still talk about him and our memories of our time with him—he makes that much of an impression. Thank you Dutch, and thank you Kim for writing this book!

Update, January 12, 2023

Dutch died this week. Many will miss him but no one could lead a fuller life.