The Patchworks

The next school shooting is inevitable. Unless one government intern can make a miracle of his odd jobs.

‘God Saves & Satan Invests’; Shepard Fairey

Gabriel Dunne’s D.C. internship has him tracking gun violence in America. But before he can start, Gabriel’s boss tasks him with planning her wedding; Parker wants help seducing their fellow intern; security chief Hubbard hounds him about expired passwords; the shredder guy needs saving from his deadly machine; and Congress threatens a government shutdown that’ll send them all packing. When a colleague is victimized by just the kind of violence their office exists to prevent, these ordinary bureaucrats must rally, or become statistics in America’s next mad shooting spree.

The Patchworks, due out September 2017 from Moonshine Cove Publishing. Will America realize sensible gun legislation before then?


My first novel (Two Pumps for the Body Man, 2016) did for American diplomacy and the War on Terror what Catch-22 did for military logic in World War II: The enemy can’t kill us if our institutions kill us first. The Patchworks examines American gun culture with a similar black humor.

Mother Land: A Review for Mothers Day

Stephen King reviews Paul Theroux’s new novel, Mother Land at the New York Times this week (PeaceCorpsWorldwide brought it to my attention).

King gives voice to the love-hate relationship so many readers have with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, novelist and travel writer, whose prolific career spans nearly six decades and whose vicious pen reaches the furthest places on the globe—including home.

“All self-educated readers (that would be most of us) have holes in our curriculum vitae, and I’m no different. I’ve read Dickens and Tolstoy but not Austen; most of Faulkner but little of Hemingway (and regretted what I did); all of Philip Roth, but none of Saul Bellow. Paul Theroux was one of my holes, a prolific writer I had always meant to get around to. Now that I have, I’m not exactly sorry, but I’m certainly gobsmacked, and although I knew next to nothing about Theroux’s life, by the time I’d read the first 100 or so pages of “Mother Land,” I began to suspect that what I was reading was not so much a novel as a kind of masked autobiography.”

Why the love-hate relationship? One answer here: Crossing Paths with Paul Theroux.

The Foreign Service v Zach Galifianakis

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) included this discussion of  Two Pumps for the Body Man in their new Digital Exclusives series. Unlike the great Between Two Ferns, the AFSA studio had only one bamboo to offer. Lean budget times, I guess.

AFSA writes:

Foreign Service Officer Ben East brings to the table a satirical look at diplomatic service in the Middle East in his neo-noir, Two Pumps for the Body Man. The novel follows Jeff Mutton, a diplomatic security agent who must deal with an outlandish boss, hidden government agendas, deadly threats, and a unique personal affliction. East also takes time to explain how parts of the book were heavily informed by his own harrowing experience in Saudi Arabia as his consulate was attacked.

Two Pumps for the Librarian

Six months back, guy walks into the library. Hands over his Foreign Service novel.

“Here ya go.”
“What’s this?”
“It’s a book. Go ahead. Put it on the shelf.”
“Not so fast, sonny. Two Pumps for the Body Man? Sounds dirty.”
“You don’t want this novel for your patrons?”
“We want four copies of that novel for our patrons. And it must pass a review.”
“A review?”Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 9.13.53 AM
“You know. To keep out the funky shit.”
“Did you just cuss in the library?”
“Sir, I must ask you to keep your voice down. And please fill out this form to submit your book for review.”
“It’s a pretty funky book.”
“Funky how?”
“Terrorism. Foot fetishism. It mocks Dick Cheney. It’s a farce and a fiasco all in one.”
“Sounds great. Can’t wait to add it to the collection!”
“How soon will that be?”

It’s been a long wait. But I’m glad to say Two Pumps for the Body Man is finally part of the Fairfax County Library collection! Put it on your reading list today!

2 Pumps hi rezJeff Mutton walks the diplomatic beat protecting American officials in Saudi Arabia. An expert with guns and knives, grenades and rockets, he’s survived assaults and sieges, stabbings and chokeholds, car bombs, carjackings, criminal hits, and countless other enemy threats. But instinct tells Mutton the menace he now faces dwarfs all these killers combined. The fool!—his foot fetish has him in hot water again.

Part soft-boiled noir, part literary satire, Two Pumps for the Body Man is an unserious look at a serious situation, a grim reminder that no matter how high the barricade, how sharp the razor wire, there is no front line to the War on Terror. And the enemy is everywhere, even within.

The Literary Excellence, III

My nominations for The Stephen T. Colbert Award for The Literary Excellence continue. Boy, this effort is really lifting my mood!

pc-group-chevy-chase-4

In Preston Lang’s The Sin Tax a female baddy flashes her gun at a male ex-con baddy: “You have to jump through a lot of hoops to get a carry permit in New York. It’s insane. But once they give you one, they’re basically saying they want you to shoot somebody.”

So many major issues from the campaign! Taxes—somebody didn’t pay them. Crime—somebody’s still wriggling on the hook over them. Boy v Girl. Threats of violence. It’s all here.

So, is Janet serious? To protagonist Mark she’s serious as a heart attack:

It was a real gun, small and cold, looking like the smartest guy in the room.

Probably a lot smarter than The Orange One, anyway.

There’s lots of Lang’s best ‘Who’s Hustling Who’ in The Sin Tax, a quest for money, smokes, and—less important—absolution. The petty take’s what matters. Watch it grow from 10’s to 100’s to ever bigger digits. Bigger as in life and death:

Only a psychotic individual would kill a man to make a point to someone as unimportant as Mark… once you erase a man as a form of communication to someone who isn’t even valuable to himself, there’s something very cold running inside of you.

To each his own vendetta in The Sin Tax, where even the winners get a taste the barrel. Let’s just hope our Republic can avoid the same fate.

Anyone who missed Lang’s first two crime paperbacks, The Carrier and The Blind Rooster, ought to jump right in and read The Sin Tax. Hard, straight writing. Contemporary plot. All the author’s wry and unobtrusive observation of human habit.


“Heroes, by buying and reading this book, you’ve proven you get it–and are therefore now members of the nominating committee for The Stephen T. Colbert Award for The Literary Excellence.” Use the medallions below to nominate any book that you feel embodies the values of the Colbert Nation.”

Previous nominees for 2016:

Sterling Johnson—English as a Second F*cking Language
Ted Prokash—The Brothers Connolly

Guy Walks Into a Bar

Guy walks into a bar. Orders a Preston Lang.
Barkeep asks, “What’s a Preston Lang?”
“Rye. With a hint of the barrel.”
“Neat?”
“Yeah. That too.”


41-l5e7evnl-_sx313_bo1204203200_Anyone who missed Lang’s first two crime paperbacks, The Carrier and The Blind Rooster, ought to jump right in and read The Sin Tax. Hard, straight writing. Contemporary plot. All the author’s wry and unobtrusive observation of human habit.

Female baddy you can sympathize with flashes her gun to male ex-con baddy you can also sympathize with: “You have to jump through a lot of hoops to get a carry permit in New York. It’s insane. But once they give you one, they’re basically saying they want you to shoot somebody.”

It’s another New York setting—this time the Bronx and environs. Heads south to Delaware. But it’s a NYC story.

So is Janet serious? To protagonist Mark she’s serious as a heart attack:

It was a real gun, small and cold, looking like the smartest guy in the room.

There’s lots of Lang’s best ‘Who’s Hustling Who’ in The Sin Tax, a quest for money, smokes, and—less important—absolution. The petty take’s what matters. Watch it grow from 10’s to 100’s to ever bigger digits. Bigger as in life and death:

Only a psychotic individual would kill a man to make a point to someone as unimportant as Mark… once you erase a man as a form of communication to someone who isn’t even valuable to himself, there’s something very cold running inside of you.

Mark’s smarter than your average loser. But he’s not smart enough to avoid teaming up with your dumber than average loser, Slider. Slider delivers Mark straight into Janet’s hands, because smart or not he’s still just a two-bit loser, time served for busting a man’s head in a bar-fight and leaving his tongue on the counter.

To each his own vendetta in The Sin Tax, where even the winners get a taste the barrel.


Everyone knows that cigarettes will kill you. Mark works the overnight in a grimy deli in the Bronx, selling gray market smokes and bad meat. His hotheaded manager Janet pushes him to help her con their boss into paying cash for a truck full of tax-free cigarettes. Soon he finds that Janet is willing to do nearly anything to grab the money, and what they’re up to is a lot more dangerous than three packs a day. More.

Peace Corps Writer Awards for 2016

A few notable works recognized with various Peace Corps Writer Awards for 2016. Next week the Peace Corps community will gather in Washington, DC for Peace Corps Connect to celebrate the agency’s 55 years. Activities will include panels and workshops featuring Peace Corps Writers. More.


The Maria Thomas Fiction Award for 2016 (named after novelist Maria Thomas [Roberta Worrick (Ethiopia 1971–73)], author of a well-reviewed novel and two short story collection, all set in Africa. She lost her life in August, 1989, while working in Ethiopia for a relief agency, in a plane crash that also killed Congressman Mickey Leland of Texas)

Fiction. Set against a wild and haunting landscape, the short fiction in this collection spotlights the struggles of everyday individuals to overcome the ghosts they have inherited from Romania’s communist past. The book won BkMk’s G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction, selected by PEN/Faulkner finalist Lorraine M. López, who writes, “Myka’s characters release uncountable fibers, connecting them to one another in the linked narratives, binding them to the harshly beguiling Romania they inhabit and that inhabits them.”

The Moritz Thomsen Peace Corps Experience award for 2016 (In 1997, this award was renamed to honor Moritz Thomsen (Ecuador 1965–67) whose Living Poor has been widely cited as an outstanding telling of the essence of the Peace Corps experience.)

Mmarrying-santiago-150arrying Santiago
by Suzanne Adam (Colombia 1964-66)

She hadn’t seen it coming. Her new Chilean husband changed his mind, or, rather, the military coup changed it. Instead of their relocating to her native California as planned, he now wanted to give his country a chance. That was over four decades ago. Raised surrounded by the lush landscape of Marin County, Suzanne Adam hadn’t expected to settle in Santiago, a city of over five million people, where she faced a series of daunting challenges: food shortages, a military dictatorship, heartbroken parents, maids and machismo. After a visit back home, she returned to Chile with a California redwood seedling in her pocket, and together they would push down their roots into that distant soil, where she discovered the truth in Wallace Stegner’s statement: “Whatever landscape a child is exposed to early on, that will be the sort of gauze through which he or she will see the world afterwards.”

great-surge-150The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World
 
by Steven Radelet (Western Samoa 1981-83)

The untold story of the global poor today: A distinguished expert and advisor to developing nations reveals how we’ve reduced poverty, increased incomes, improved health, curbed violence, and spread democracy—and how to ensure the improvements continue.

A Wry Ode to Clusterf***ing

Joyless House posted this generous review of Two Pumps for the Body Man. See what else they’re reviewing with a click on the image.

“…Two Pumps is a page-turner, baby, and it takes some real balls to satirize the great Christian crusade of our times.”


JHP

Two Pumps is set in the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the action centers around a ragtag crew of Americans waging the War On Terror in the Godforsaken desert. Oh boy, Mr. East, those are some shark-infested waters!

At worst, we might have ended up with a typically glib, macho spy-thriller violence party. A lot of ruggedly-handsome American boys curb stomping swarthy Middle-Easterners. Luckily, Mr. East’s novel is informed by his time spent in the Peace Corps, teaching in Africa and Paraguay and a State Department stint in the Kingdom itself. Two Pumps ends up being a wry ode to the cluster-f*** of confusion that is the WOT. How do you wage a war on terror, anyway? East understands that this is a question without an answer. And he understands the evil of those who build violent careers on lies, vagaries and non-answers.

East avoids offering a straight-up political polemic, though the administration in question is taken to task. We are treated to cartoonish cameos by G-dub’ya and Dick Cheney, who are, after all, more unbelievable than any fiction. The pace is fast. Some of the side characters are not drawn very deeply. But Two Pumps is a page-turner, baby, and it takes some real balls to satirize the great Christian crusade of our times. Bravo, I say. Truth is stranger than fiction. That’s why we need good fiction writers; because if you simply tell people the truth, they’ll take you for a liar every time.

Crime Fiction: The Cost of Doing Business

Jonathan Ashley crams a lot into The Cost of Doing Business, from ghetto shootouts with Tec-9s to sociological laments about middle class norms. It’s got elements of the tough-talking hood narrative, and the book is entertaining in places, but ultimately much of the action is muddled by drawn out sentences and the narrator’s distracted observations.

the-cost-of-doing-business

What Ashley does well is provide an inside look at the criminal underworld between Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio. We get everything from the street-level hood to the big drug capo, from the accidental user-turned-dealer to the strung-out junkie, from the dirty shakedown patrolman to the PD Captain who takes orders from crime bosses rather than the chief of police.

He casts much of his tale on the border between urban decay and seedy gentrification. His part of Louisville is “The best of New York City Bohemia packed into a two mile strip… the tattoo parlors, the coffee shops, and record stores… ethnic joints and five star restaurants…” All this set beside the “Undesirable neighborhoods… where black and white children in hand-me-down underclothes block the middle of the street playing with hula hoops and deflated soccer balls, avoiding whatever horrors their parents perpetuate in the shotgun shacks on either side of the blacktop.”

In this environment narrator Jon Catlett and his manager-cum-buddy Paul pass the time selling used books and hosting yuppies to live music. Here he sets the opening scene, an accidental homicide that sends Catlett’s world crashing down around him.

Full Review