Trouble With The Curve

Through the first part of a rather inauspicious Little League career, I struggled to hit straight fastballs and was fortunate that young pitchers back then were discouraged from throwing the curve. When I graduated to Babe Ruth League, the first two curveballs I ever saw knocked me on my backside despite both being called strikes right over the center of the plate. The pitcher was an older kid from my neighborhood, and I will never forget the cocky look on his face as he wound up on the mound and delivered what I figured to be my third curve. Now if that kid had been Greg Maddux smart, I would still have a fastball stuck in my ear 40 years later. But the Fates were kind to me that baseball pitcherday, and when I closed my eyes and swung through the middle of the strike zone, the ball rifled through the box for a single (or maybe it was a bloop hit just beyond the infielder’s grasp–who can remember for sure?). I like to say I have never backed away from a curveball since, but truth be told I never saw another curveball until I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2010 at age 50.

The diagnosis didn’t floor me like my first two curves, but I let a few pitches go by before I started to swing. Parkinson’s disease is a progressively debilitating neurological disease that as of yet has no cure. My primary symptom was a tremor in my right hand that was first diagnosed as benign and then as Parkinson’s as it became increasingly suspicious. My doctors were slow to make the diagnosis because, in their view, there wasn’t much that could be done even if I had PD, so when they finally did get around to making the diagnosis I did what was expected–nothing. I kept writing. I didn’t get depressed. I just waited for the symptoms to progress until I was ready to medicate, a decision that is not critical because the drugs only mask symptoms, they don’t actually slow disease progression. It was–and still is–like living with a clock nestled in a corner of your mind, each tick marching you closer to a new symptom that will pop up like a nasty jack-in-the-box one day, only to disappear a few days later. But you know it’s going to come back and, eventually, linger. Tick, tock. You just don’t know when. You know the next symptom to emerge might be worse–but you don’t know which ones you’ll get because PD is a smorgasbord of symptoms and everybody’s plate looks different. Is that ankle cramp an early sign of painful dystonia or do you just need to eat a banana to boost your potassium levels? Is that right foot starting to drag or did you just trip because you were glancing through the latest issue of…Sports Illustrated while walking? Tick, tock. Time will tell.

So I let a few pitches go by; never even lifted the bat off my shoulder.

And that was a mistake.

There are thousands of developments in the medical community every year, and it takes time for consensus to build in the research community and time for word to trickle down to specialists and more time for generalists to learn the latest and greatest. Over the past decade, the evidence has been mounting that vigorous exercise may slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. I heard this for the first time almost two years after first diagnosis, at a PD conference here in Atlanta. A renowned physical therapist urged us all to not just exercise, but to exercise at an intensity out of our comfort zone.

A reason to step up to the plate, right? So I took a swing, ratcheting up my normal exercise routine on my elliptical from “just get me through this Seinfeld re-run” to “sweat like a pig, you lazy…bum.” I felt better within three weeks. Not just physically fit better–my PD symptoms improved. The tremor took a few steps backwards. From time to time I’ve had to cut back my routine, and within a few days my tremor gets worse.  Not exactly scientific proof, but good enough for me when you combine it with the results of hundreds of clinical studies that are mostly pointing in the same direction.

So I spent the next year or so adding to my exercise routine and joining the many voices in the PD community touting the benefits of vigorous exercise, be it on social media or through my local support group. But it struck me that we were, for the most part, preaching to the choir. The folks in support groups and on Facebook groups devoted to Parkinson’s are the motivated patients who are out there swinging the bat. Many of them share the same story–it took them a while to find the PD community because their neurologists focused primarily on medicine and were not telling newly diagnosed patients about the things they could do now to live better with PD.

So now I’m ready to take a bigger swing at the curve I know is coming. For the moment, I’ve set aside a great idea for a third novel and have turned my attention to Parkinson’s advocacy. While many other good people are leading the charge for a cure, I am focused on helping newly diagnosed people with Parkinson’s learn how to live better with the disease, primarily by making community-based exercise programs available to people with PD. I’ll be absent from these pages except for the occasional rant, but you can learn more about my latest cause on the PD Gladiators website, where I will be blogging on a more regular basis. Thank you for your support of my writing endeavors, to which I one day hope to return.

DEAD MAN’S HAND: Guest Post by Author and Former Pro-Hockey Player Luke Murphy

Luke Murphy played six years of professional hockey before retiring in 2006. Since then, he’s held a number of jobs, from sports columnist to radio journalist, before turning to writing his debut novel, Dead Man`s Hand, a crime thriller that has been garnering excellent reviews. William Martin, the New York Times bestselling author of The Lincoln Letter warns, “You may want to give it the whole night, just to see how it turns out.” In today’s guest post, Luke takes another angle on a topic near and dear to my heart: Do all protagonists have to be GOOD guys? Take it away, Luke…

* * *

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00067]Dead Man’s Hands is a crime-thriller set in the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas. It takes readers inside the head of Calvin Watters, a sadistic African-American Las Vegas debt-collector framed by a murderer who, like the Vegas Police, finds him to be the perfect fall-guy.

Many people have asked if I can make any real connections to the main character in my novel. The answer, as for my connection…no, I have never been involved in a homicide investigation, LOL. The plot is completely fictional. Although I am not a 6’5”, 220 pound African-American, I’ve used much of my athletic background when creating my protagonist Calvin Watters. Watters’ past as an athlete, and his emotional rollercoaster brought on by injuries, were drawn from my experiences. His mother died of cancer when he was young, as mine was. There are certainly elements of myself in Calvin, but overall, this is a work of fiction. I did not base the characters or plot on any real people or events. Any familiarities are strictly coincidence.

As far as characterization goes, Dead Man’s Hand’s protagonist Calvin Watters faces racial prejudice with calmness similar to that of Walter Mosley’s character Easy Rawlins. But Watters’ past as an athlete and enforcer will remind other readers of (Jack) Reacher of the Lee Childs series. The Stuart Woods novel Choke, about a tennis player who, like Watters, suffered greatly from a dramatic loss that was a failure of his psyche, is also an inspiration for Dead Man’s Hand.

When thinking about creating the main character for my story, I wanted someone “REAL.” Someone readers could relate to. Although it is a work of fiction, my goal was to create a character who readers could make a real connection with.

Physically, keeping in mind Watters’ past as an NCAA football standout and his current occupation as a Vegas debt-collector, I thought “intimidating,” and put together a mix of characteristics that make Watters appear scary (dreadlocks and patchy facial hair), but also able to blend in with those of the social elite. Although he is in astounding physical condition, handsome and well-toned, he does have a physical disability that limits his capabilities.

He’s proud, confident bordering on cocky, mean and tough, but I also gave him a softer side that readers, especially women, will be more comfortable rooting for. After his humiliating downfall he is stuck at the bottom for a while, but trying hard to work his way back up.

He has weaknesses and he has made poor choices. He has regrets, but Watters has the opportunity to redeem himself. Not everyone gets a second chance in life, and he realizes how fortunate he is.

Calvin Watters is definitely worth rooting for.

I truly believe that the major character conflict in my story is Calvin vs. himself.

Luke Murphy

Author Luke Murphy

Watters was on his way to NFL stardom when a sudden, selfish decision destroyed any dream he ever had. He remembered when the rich had welcomed him into their group as a promising, clean-cut athlete bound for glory. Now he was just an outsider looking in. Just another thug.

Pain bolted through his right knee, but the emotional pain from a shattered ego hurt even worse. He was the only one to blame for USC’s humiliating loss and his own humiliating personal downfall.

The press, always ready to tear down a hero, had shown no restraint in attacking him for his egotistic, selfish decision and obvious desire to break his own school record. One minute he was touted as the next Walter Payton, the next he was a door mat for local media.

Looking at him now, no one would believe that back then he was a thousand-yard rusher in the NCAA and welcomed with open arms in every established club in Southern California. Hell, he had been bigger than the mayor.

That the resulting injury had ended his college football career and most importantly, any chances of a pro career, didn’t matter to anyone. By making the wrong, selfish, prideful decision, he’d made himself a target for the press and all USC fans.

The devastating, career-ending knee injury wasn’t the quarterback’s fault for missing the audible, or the fullback’s fault for missing the key block. It was his and it had taken him some time to understand and accept responsibility for it.

After he spent three years building a reputation as the toughest collector in Vegas, no one even knew he’d been one of the greatest college running backs ever. To them, he was just “The Collector.”

Now Calvin has to rebuild his life and his future, eliminating the thoughts of his downfall, picking himself up, dusting off, and trying to live a respectable life he can be proud of.

But has his time as a leg-breaker made him corrupt beyond redemption?

So do you think this is someone you could root for? You’ll have to read it to find out, but I would bet on it.

* * *

Luke Murphy lives in Shawville, Quebec with his wife, three daughters and pug. For more information on Luke and his books, visit:, ‘like’ his Facebook page!/AuthorLukeMurphy and follow him on Twitter!/AuthorLMurphy.

The Law of Small Numbers Repeated Many Times

I mentioned in my last post that I have some history as a deliberate thinker. As a writer, I craft my plots carefully, working out details early in the story to lead seamlessly toward the end game. You will rarely catch my protagonists relying on coincidence to solve a mystery. It’s harder and takes longer to churn out a novel that way, but I think it leads to a more satisfying reader experience. In my prior life as a lawyer, I always tried to anticipate as many future problems as I could envision when drafting contracts, and my clients were often pleasantly surprised to find that an issue that came up years later was already resolved in their favor in the agreement. That tendency to over-analyze the present to forecast the future seeped into my private life and led me to formulate what I call the “law of small numbers repeated many times,” the mastery of which could change your life.

This law is so simple and universal that your first instinct will be to discount it as obvious. Pay attention to the little things. Sweat the details. A truth so common that it has been reduced to clichés. But you’d be surprised how many people make habitual assumptions that have life-changing impact and don’t even know it.

This truth is so self-eUnhappy Coffeevident that I’m going to give you two examples to ponder and then, uncharacteristically, shut up.

The human body produces and burns fat at the rate of about 3,500 calories per pound. Consuming 120 calories more (or less) per day adds (or subtracts) fat at the rate of one pound per month or 12 pounds per year.  Now imagine the impact of a daily serving of potato chips, soda, ice cream, candy, beer or a Starbucks latte over the course of a lifetime. Conversely, think about how much more effective adding a daily half hour walk to your routine (100 to 150 calories burned) would be in controlling lifetime weight than starving yourself for a few weeks every year. Viewed only as a one-time activity, the effect of that snack or a short walk is negligible; viewed as a lifetime habit, the overall effect of beginning or ending the activity is life-changing.

Now let’s revisit that latte. A little $5 treat seems like a reasonable reward for a hard day’s work, whether put in at the salt mine or at home tending the kiddies. But when this reward becomes a lifetime daily habit, that latte turns into $1825 per year, which could have yielded over $100,000 in a low-interest bank account (3%) at the end of 30 years if saved instead of spent. (You could double that if the money earned 8% invested more aggressively in the stock market!) Nobody would suggest a hard-working person should save every dollar like a miser and buy nothing of enjoyment. But before driving up to the Starbucks window, a deliberate thinker must consider the lifetime impact of a habit added—is the daily latte or pack of cigarettes or after-work brew worth delaying your retirement by an extra year or two?

The Great Reservoir of Unfinished Business

With rare exception, I have used this space to blog about my novels and the occasional political rant. Both topics expose my progressive ideals which, in my view, reflect the better part of me. But as I integrate my newest role—person with Parkinson’s disease (PWP)—into my being I have been engaging in a great Reservoir Braindeal of introspection about who I am and how I will be remembered. I am struggling with a loss of control over my personal identity, a sense of self I have crafted out of the millions of random thoughts and impulses my brain has generated over a half century.

I find this bout ironic because one of the themes in my novel, King of Paine, relates to the notion of personal identity in the modern electronic age. My protagonist, Frank Paine, suffers from inappropriate impulses but is hopeful he will be judged by the words and actions he shows the world and not by the wicked thoughts he has the discipline to filter out. His quest for self-identity is complicated by the availability of anonymous electronic communications, an innovation that allows individuals to test their darker impulses with relative impunity in cyberspace, but introduces the risk that thoughts committed to the digital record might ultimately be traced back to the author. As a few politicians and celebrities will attest, this risk is significant.

This issue has become real enough to me, too, as I research the drugs that will sooner or later be prescribed to treat my Parkinson’s symptoms. The rate of progression and variety of these symptoms differs from patient to patient, and my case is mild enough to allow careful deliberation of my course of therapy, a trait that characterizes me as a lawyer, as an author, and as a man (or so I let the world think?). The results of my research scared the crap out of me.

With medication, I will likely have several good years left to enjoy and many more tolerable ones impaired by a steady decline in my mobility, balance and cognition. There will likely be painful symptoms and uncomfortable side effects. Surprisingly, that’s not what scared me. I’m not looking forward to the pain and discomfort—or the burden I may become to my family—but I accept my fate and will deal with it as it comes. What freaked me out was a recent clinical study that showed 17% of patients taking one class of drug often prescribed for younger PWPs, like me, suffer from one or more impulse control disorders (e.g., uncontrolled gambling, drinking, sexual activity, shopping, eating, hoarding, etc.). I’ve personally met one PWP who bought a string of Hummers (the SUV—get your minds out of the gutter, people) and found himself alone on a vacation cruise without even telling his wife. Other anecdotes I’ve heard involve PWPs–with no unusual predisposition–gambling away their retirement nest eggs. One can only imagine the humiliation and guilt from sexual indiscretions because nobody talks about it.

I am a guy with ordinary pleasure-seeking urges and very fine-tuned ethical and budgetary restraint. I believe in the Golden Rule not because some god or icon commands it, but because it’s the only way we can all live happily together. I believe in progressive ideals not because they benefit me, but because they tend to spread the benefits and burdens of our resources in a way that maximizes their enjoyment by society as a whole. I believe in saving today to buy my freedom tomorrow.

These principles I live by and want to be remembered for were not born from natural impulses but from a lifetime of deliberate thought and painful learning experiences. I would not be the man I want to be if my actions were governed by my unfiltered impulses. Needless to say, I had some questions about the risks and rewards of taking certain Parkinson’s drugs.

Great collector of wisdom that I am, I made an appointment with a shrink. Old “Doc G,” a white-haired gent who peppers his psychiatric patois with literary wit and wisdom, threw me a curveball on the second pitch. After offering some comfort that it was unlikely any dark impulses would result in life-altering behavior without first manifesting in a less humiliating progression, he then asked me why I cared so much about damaging my reputation. Citing the “great reservoir of unfinished business” that subconsciously drives our actions, Doc G sent me on a journey to discover what my parents “did” to me to make me irrationally fear my own bad behavior.

Well, I’m sure there have been defining moments throughout my life—lessons learned from family, friends, mentors, colleagues and historical icons—but after much reflection at considerable cost I remain convinced of two things: (1) my parents did nothing to me that any of us should regret, and (2) my fear of losing control of my fiscal and ethical filters is quite rational. Eventually, I told Doc G he was scuba diving in the wrong reservoir. I presented him with results from clinical studies and shared some of the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard through my growing network of fellow PWPs. I think I convinced him.

I know I convinced myself. I decided to put off the high-risk drug in favor of another that might make me twist and shake in unnatural ways a few years sooner but is far less likely to result in the destruction of my good name, valued relationships or financial freedom. For better or worse, the world will, hopefully, experience my thoughts on a filtered-only basis, with the possible exception of the ones I sneak into the minds of my characters.

But I liked Doc G’s “Great Reservoir” thing. It might make a catchy book title someday. Dibs!

Crafting Intricate Plots: My Writing Process

I’m not one of those writers who can sit at the keyboard and let his characters take over completely–not that there’s anything wrong with that. Many people enjoy a fast, light-weight story, but I prefer to read more intricate plots, so that’s what I write.

Intricate PlotsThe premise for my first novel, The Jinx, had been brewing in my mind for years: could a conspiracy theory explain the “20-year jinx“–the phenomenon that saw U.S. presidents elected every 20 years from 1840 to 1980 either die in office or survive an assassination attempt? From that spark, I began brainstorming how such a plan could be perpetuated across generations, how it could avoid detection. What could have motivated such a passionate hatred?

At the same time I was hatching this nutty scheme, I searched for a protagonist who could unearth it in a natural manner, without relying on coincidence, yet still a rare enough occurrence to explain why nobody else had ever stumbled upon it. I came up with a raw Trust & Estates lawyer, Benjamin Franklin Kravner, who discovers a clue among a dead client’s sealed papers when he makes a rookie mistake.

This brought me to a critical decision, one that could end in a disastrous false start if I failed to think through the key twists before writing. Would the clue Ben found turn out to be merely a mad conspiracy theorist’s ramblings or a road map for a real assassination attempt? I won’t tell you the route I chose, but The Jinx would have been a vastly different novel had I gone the other way.

Once my path was set, I began to outline the main plot, focusing on critical twists and then imagining the scenes that connected them. For each scene, my outline listed the setting, players, character developments, plot advancements, and a placeholder for later thoughts on incorporating themes. The outline took the form of a calendar–anchoring the story against a timeline helped me create the urgency that propels a thriller forward.

While still outlining, I figured Ben needed a high-placed source to help him confound the real or imagined conspiracy, so I created another character who also gives the reader an inside look at the presidential campaign. Her subplot introduces high-powered suspects whose political wrangling may or may not be indicative of a conspiracy that would place the life of her candidate, the sitting Vice President, in danger.

When I began to weave the subplots together, layering in connective details and themes, my ruminations about the passionate hatred necessary to motivate the conspiracy bore fruit. I saw a parallel between the way racism is passed down from generation to generation, one father to each son, and the way the conspiracy could have been perpetuated. The goal of the plot became grander–a second civil war–and a third point-of-view character, a pugnacious female reporter, was born to carry a subplot about growing hostilities between the white supremacy movement and a nascent black resistance.

So what started out as a somewhat whimsical tale about a bumbling lawyer chasing a conspiracy theory emerged as three intricately-crafted subplots woven together by a serious theme. While The Jinx still requires some suspension of disbelief, careful research, the credibility of the characters and their motivations, and the forethought that went into linking the plot lines earned the book excellent reviews and endorsements from civil rights leaders.

I developed the plot for King of Paine in a similar fashion. My brainstorming once again started with the underlying crime and the perpetrator’s motivation. The story follows two seemingly unrelated investigations, FBI agent Frank Paine’s pursuit of a stalker committing a series of kinky Internet crimes and a reporter, Roger Martin, tracking the disappearance of wealthy senior citizens across the nation. But as the perp’s unseen narrative is exposed, the two stories connect, with both men driven toward the same mysterious place. A series of twists leads up to a finale in which the main characters’ lives hang on resolution of a seemingly irresolvable dilemma.

It would have been impossible to craft this story without an outline because much of the mystery is created by the complex relationships among the characters and the precise timing with which pivotal facts are revealed. The two stories needed to unfold together at exactly the right pace over a two-week period, which I tracked using a timeline displaying daily advancements in character, plot, and themes.

But crafting an intricate plot is more than simply animating a detailed outline. As the characters and story come to life on the pages, opportunities are revealed for layering in subplots (the erotic cat-and-mouse game between Frank Paine and an old flame), themes (personal accountability of the terminally ill), and the little puzzles that sustain suspense even during lulls in the action.

I’ll close with an example of how a subtle thread woven into King of Paine‘s fabric helps hold it together. In chapter one, a victim utters an odd phrase as a cry of distress. Over the course of the story it’s revealed that the phrase is a line of poetry that has entered common usage, a main character authored the poem, and another significant character took life-changing actions because of its influence–actions that go to the heart of the story’s mystery. That simple, five-word phrase adds another layer of complexity that helps give the novel a polished, integrated feel.

Author Interview Roundtable

In connection with the launch of King of Paine, several fantastic book bloggers honored me with interviews posted on their websites. Here’s the best of the Q&A, which I like to imagine occurred with the five intrigued ladies peppering me with questions across a round table beside a roaring fireplace while I answered coolly between sips of hot cocoa. (I know, Hemingway I am not.)

Holly, Full Moon Bites: Hello Larry! Would you care to tell us a little bit about yourself?round table3

Larry Kahn: I’m a thriller/suspense writer who spent 20 years masquerading as an attorney. Remnants from those two decades of “research” tend to show up in my novels. I live in suburban Atlanta with my wife and have two sons graduating Georgia State University this spring.

Misty, The Top Shelf: What led you to writing?

LK: I was born to write. My life story is more about what led me away from it. I won book review contests as a first grader, always had a writing class on my schedule, and wrote for my college newspaper. But it was too hard to pass up Yale Law School for a sports reporting gig at a local rag. In the end, my 20-year legal career navigating the world of international mergers and acquisitions gave me the life experience to write more interesting novels.

Natalie, Purple Jelly Bean Chair Reviews: What books have most influenced your writing and why?

LK: The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth, because I read it at an impressionable age and loved the way the author hid the critical clue in plain sight. When the protagonist revealed whodunit, I felt awe and not at all cheated. That’s a lesson I hope I apply in my writing–I want the reader to feel the suspense, struggling to solve critical puzzles along with the protagonist but then doing a classic palm slap to the forehead when the twist is revealed. “Damn, I should have seen that!”

The Firm by John Grisham, because the author showed that lawyers and the issues they address can thrill.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, because the author demonstrated that intelligence can be sexy, that suspense can be created with words as well as actions, and that fiction can be a medium for political philosophy. I think her philosophy is flawed, but that’s a topic I could write an entire essay about.

On Writing by Sol Stein, because this is my bible for novel mechanics. I re-read sections of it before I start each major draft.

Vanessa, Boekie’s Book Reviews: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

LK: That reminds me of the interview scene at the end of the movie Almost Famous, where William Miller, the teenage freelancer for Rolling Stone, finally gets to interview his rock hero and asks, “What do you love about music?” A smile comes over the guitarist’s face as he pulls up a chair and sighs, “Everything.” I find everything about writing challenging in a good way. It’s easy to put words on paper, as the proliferation of new fiction in the marketplace demonstrates, but it’s incredibly difficult–and rewarding–to craft an intricate, relevant, and entertaining novel. I love trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Kathy, Hampton Reviews: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?

LK: My process allows for writer’s block, even counts on it. While I’m writing I allocate time to three tasks, depending upon my creativity, sharpness, and mood. Writing requires the most creative energy. If I’m sharp but not creative I’ll spend my day researching. If I wake up feeling dopey, I edit. I do a lot of editing.

Holly: Can you tell us a little bit about your first novel The Jinx?

LK: A young estate lawyer discovers a cryptic poem among his murdered client’s possessions that hints at a 160-year vendetta against the American presidency. His skepticism wanes when he discovers an unusual phenomenon–the presidents elected every twenty years from 1840 through 1960 died in office, and Ronald Reagan barely survived an assassination attempt. His perilous journey leads him to the answer to his question: is the poem merely a dead man’s wacky conspiracy theory or is a powerful cabal primed to claim the White House as vengeance for their ancestor’s death?

Holly: What was your inspiration for this novel?

LK: My high school Civics teacher joked about the “20-Year Jinx” as the 1980 presidential campaign approached. It intrigued me, and when President Reagan was shot in 1981 the notion of a multi-generational conspiracy took root in my mind. I finally wrote the novel while on sabbatical in 1998-1999 so that it could be published before the 2000 presidential election.

Holly: Is The Jinx the first full length novel you wrote or just the first to be published?

LK: It was the first novel. Several prior works of fiction remain unpublished and are stamped “Legal Memorandum.”

Natalie: Is this book [King of Paine] part of a series?

LK: My original intent was for King of Paine to be the second book in a series, but my protagonist in The Jinx, a young lawyer, fell flat as an FBI agent. Paine finally came together when I went for the Hollywood upgrade, bringing in a former action star with a kinky past to replace my heroic, ordinary guy lawyer. Frank Paine’s history made the character motivations more authentic and freed me to explore more interesting (kinkier?) plot developments.

Kathy: Why did you write this book?

LK: King of Paine is a complex story with many inspirations. One of the first was my own musings about the personal accountability of the terminally ill. It’s natural for any of us to have a violent urge from time to time, but fear of God or imprisonment keep most of us from acting on it. I questioned what moral forces would keep a desperate patient in check if the law and religion weren’t enough. I set my “villain” loose to see how far he would go. He went pretty far. [For more, read my blog post, “My Inspirations for King of Paine”]

Misty: Were there ever moments where the story didn’t go the way you planned or personally wanted it to go? How did you deal with that?

LK: I’m a problem-solver by nature–I enjoy the little puzzles that constantly arise when you’re crafting a complex story. Sometimes I go down what seems like a great path and then come to a point where I can’t connect another path without relying on coincidence, so I either have to make an adjustment in one or both paths to set the stage for the intersection of the plot lines more organically or just scrap the idea and start over. That’s the beauty of outlining before writing, though–I never find myself in the awful spot of having to choose between scrapping great pages or relying upon a cheesy coincidence to make the story work. I hate when I’m reading a thriller and solutions magically appear. That’s bad planning.

Natalie: When you start to write a new novel, what is the process for you, do you start with a small idea and when you sit to write is that when the story starts to flow, or, before you start to write do you already have the whole story worked out?

LK: I like intricate plots, and they cannot be crafted on the fly. I brainstorm several main plot and character ideas and think through how they might fit together. I do a lot of my best plotting while I’m lying in bed, mind spinning wildly at 3am, 4am, 5am. It drives my wife crazy because I’m constantly running downstairs to write something in my notebook so I can get it off my mind and sleep. Then, when I’m on a roll, I use a mapping software program called Mind Manager to build characters and their motivations, plots and subplots, and imagine how they might intersect. Because I don’t want to be trite or irrelevant, I intentionally try out a few crazy ideas and see where they take me. I want my characters to dream big. I throw a lot in the trash, but some of the crazy stuff sticks and, I think, works in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. When your followers read about “The Pit” in King of Paine, they will remember this question and chuckle. [See my guest post, “Crafting Intricate Plots“]

Vanessa: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

LK: I do like to weave social themes into my novels, but I try not to be preachy. I include multiple perspectives through characters whose views are expressed organically, with a proper foundation layered into the plot and consistent with the characters’ established personalities and beliefs. Some issues are controversial, others less so. I’d like to think that the subtle call for a renewed emphasis on family and tradition in King of Paine is not. I think readers who see the book’s cover may be surprised to hear that’s the issue I want to talk about, but the story is about so much more than that provocative image suggests. [See my blog post, “Weaving Social Themes Into Suspense Novels”]

Kathy: Who is your favorite character in your books? Why?

LK: Angela del Rio–the “Angel of the River”–is a mysterious and brilliant woman in King of Paine who spreads joy like a contagion to everyone she meets. She’s my favorite because she’s inspired by my wife, who shares those qualities. [See my blog post, “My Hero, My Wife, and a Purple Donkey”]

Vanessa: Which character was the most fun to write?

LK: Frank Paine. I was able to shut the filters off and channel my inner jackass. One of the themes brewing below the surface of King of Paine is that we are who we let the world see through our words and actions, not our thoughts. When I was writing as Frank, I found myself thinking thoughts I ordinarily wouldn’t even dare to let myself think, never mind say aloud. And since Frank’s pre-FBI background is as a Hollywood actor, I also enjoyed creating his mindset, frequently drawing on well-known scenes from movies to inspire his reaction to obstacles he faced. There are a couple of passages that still crack me up when I reread them, like an unflattering image of Jack Nicholson at a Playboy Mansion party that Frank can’t get out of his head at an inopportune moment.

Vanessa: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

LK: The hardest part was trying to make Frank Paine, a deeply flawed man, a protagonist readers can get behind. He wronged the woman he loves, but he’d give up his life to earn her forgiveness. I hope his remorse, fundamental integrity, and determination to fight his darker impulses will ultimately win readers’ hearts. [See my blog post, “Rooting for a Flawed Protagonist”]

Misty: Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on right now if you’re working on anything at all?

LK: I’m still outlining my next thriller, tentatively entitled Hostile Takeover. My protagonist discovers a conspiracy by Asian sovereign investment funds to acquire vital U.S. companies and subvert the government. I’m still debating whether to have my protagonist take heroic action to save the American way of life or write the last third of the book in Chinese. I know, tough call, right?

When Eye Candy Fights Back: Adding Depth To a Love Interest

Frank Paine, the protagonist in King of Paine, is a former Hollywood stud who’s recently joined the FBI, a role that screams for a centerfold on his arm. As a former beauty queen and TV starlet, Jolynn Decker could easily fall into the “eye candy” stereotype, a conclusion not contradicted by our first look at her:

Time had faded his memory of Jolynn’s face, one that would drive a caricaturist mad for its lack of imperfections—fair skin, dainty nose, and mirthful, almond-shaped eyes. Her blond mane cascaded over a narrow-waisted, red winter coat like water flowing over a falls.

But as mentioned in previous posts, I rebel against stereotypes. As the story progresses, the feisty Atlantan alternates among suspect, tease, lover, sidekick, and victim, revealing more of her complex motives and nature with each new plot twist. I’m declaring this space a spoiler-free zone, so make assumptions about the order she takes on these roles at your own peril. My goal today is to share some of the techniques used to help Jolynn fight back against the eye candy stereotype.

I view “eye candy” as a character whose principal appeal is physical beauty, whether male or female, and these characters have their place in literature. Much of James Bond’s mojo derives from his legendary ability to snare the sexiest women with a wayward glance. Romance novels are rife with manly hunks with ripped abs and not much upstairs (so I hear). My own first novel, The Jinx, features several strong-willed and intelligent woman who tangle with my ordinary guy hero, but I couldn’t resist giving him one piece of sugar pie for dessert (call it a gift to ordinary guys everywhere).

In King of Paine, though, Frank Paine’s reformed womanizer needed a real femme fatale to tempt him, an attraction deeper than physical beauty, a chick who could drive him to play outside the FBI’s rules, maybe even sacrifice his life. So I gave Frank and Jolynn a passionate history, a true love affair that ended after a kinky Hollywood scandal destroyed her budding TV career but left him unscathed. Although Frank never stopped loving her, they haven’t spoken in three years when his new career in the FBI takes him to her native Atlanta.

Jolynn’s festering anger, the unknown depth of her emotional injuries, makes her reaction to Frank’s presence unpredictable. So when an anonymous online stalker threatens to reveal Frank’s kinky secrets shortly after he arrives in town, he’s forced to confront Jolynn. She expects (or pretends to expect?) an apology, so you can imagine the tension in that reunion when he accuses her of a crime. By building conflict into their history, I was able to magnify Jolynn’s emotional reaction to the accusation.

To add to her mystery, their story is told only from Frank’s point of view. Like Frank, you hear Jolynn’s words and gauge her actions, but her real-life erotic cat-and-mouse game with him eerily resembles the tactics employed by the stalker taunting the FBI. Her shrouded motives make her seem capable of both love and revenge, and she’s a clever enough actress to fool the Bureau–and maybe even you. Jolynn’s ever-changing role in Frank’s investigation and in his life places her at the heart of the story, not just on Frank’s arm and in his bed.

The Fiscal Cliff: A Return To Reason?

In the wake of the election, it’s nice to hear the usual DC suspects singing a tune of unity rather than obstruction. Time will tell if the principals in this stage show–President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Reid and Speaker of the House John Boehner–back up their words with action, but they seem to have received the message from the American people that politically-motivated inaction will not be tolerated as we march toward the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

Nobody expects the parties to come to the table with a final compromise already in hand, but the Republicans’ insistence on framing their opening gambit as a compromise worries me. While Speaker Boehner’s speech today carried a conciliatory tone, he made it clear that Republicans are still stuck on the same supply-side economic theories that have been offered up as justification for tax cuts for the rich. The argument goes that taxpayers in the highest tax brackets operate small businesses, these businesses are the engine for job creation, and lower taxes for these businesses will spur said job creation. Therefore, Republicans argue, if the government must raise revenue (insert huge sigh here), it should be done through “tax reform,” i.e., eliminating loopholes and limiting deductions. This approach, they say, will lead to economic growth, rising personal income for all, and (drumroll) an increase in tax revenues.

This has the political advantage of sounding really, really good. It suffers from the dual flaws of being false and unfair.

Let me be clear, tax cuts for the wealthy will (all other things being equal) lead to an increase in growth. The fallacy here is that tax cuts must be targeted to the wealthy to achieve this growth. The growth will be generated from increased spending on goods and services, whether that spending is by weatlhy, middle class or poor consumers. Think about it. Why would a small business owner hire a new employee just because the owner will get to keep an extra 5% of the business’s net income? The owner is going to keep the profits and spend the cash himself unless he needs the new employee because of increased demand for his business’s goods or services. Increased demand generates jobs; a mere increase in cash available to a business won’t. Look at all the cash sitting on the sidelines in today’s business environment!

What’s even more disingenuous about the Republicans’ broad tax cuts is that they way overshoot the target–only a small percentage of wealthy taxpayers are small business owners. Corporate executives, entertainers, athletes, doctors, lawyers, bankers, and investors fill these brackets and benefit from the lower rates even if they don’t employ a single person. Republicans also favor reduced or zero tax rates on dividends and capital gains, which disproportionately benefit the rich while having little or no targeted impact on job creation.

The bottom line is that tax cuts do spur economic growth but by increasing demand for goods and services by consumers generally; targeting the extra cash towards the wealthy provides no special job creation benefit. In fact, cash reaching the hands of consumers through government spending impacts economic growth in exactly the same way as a tax cut. Framing the debate over the budget deficit as a “spending problem, not a revenue problem” is perhaps the greatest deceit perpetrated by either political party. By definition, a deficit is an excess of expenditures over revenues, and it’s a mathematical truism that spending and revenues effect the deficit equally.

If the nation’s goal is to reduce budget deficits, the balance between raising tax revenue and cutting spending programs is simply a matter of choosing WHO will have less cash to spend at the end of the year. The net effect on economic growth will be roughly the same no matter who bears the pain of the fiscal policy directly, The allocation is purely about fairness and political might.

Note that if deficits are to be reduced, the net effect on economic growth will be negative, not positive. Jobs will be lost, not gained, as a result of the decline in consumption by affected citizens. If we’re deficit cutting, the Republican fixation on job creation is specious, and their attempt to place the entire burden on the poor and the elderly while preserving the unpaid-for tax cuts that created this fiscal mess borders on criminally fraudulent.

Policy-makers need to first determine how much the deficit needs to be cut over what period of time, and then they must decide who’s going to bear the burden. A detailed fiscal plan is beyond the scope of this rant, but the starting place should be the reversal of the Bush tax cuts. An additional ten-year surtax applicable to the highest tax brackets should be considered to pay back the unpaid-for tax cuts they received over the past ten years. That should still leave plenty of deficit reduction to place on the backs of the elderly and the poor–whose income stagnated during the Bush decade–through cuts in entitlement programs. Half the battle is determining the equitable starting place for determining a fair allocation of the tax burden, and I’d go back to the last time the nation was in surplus, before the unfunded Bush tax cuts and wars.

As a closing observation, many economists argue that deficit cutting is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing during a period of slow growth. They would prescribe a delicate balancing act, actually increasing the deficit temporarily with stimulus (whether spending initiatives or tax cuts) while passing legislation that would pare spending and boost taxes in the long run to achieve deficit reduction when the economy is healthier and self-generating more tax revenues. That may be a difficult gambit for the partisans in DC to pull off,  but perhaps a harbinger of things to come if our current leaders fail to reach a reasonable compromise is the arrival of Angus King on the national scene. The newly-elected Independent senator from Maine views himself as a moderate who might bridge the gap between extremists in both major parties. If our representatiives fail to overcome their fiscal divide, perhaps King will serve as a model candidate for a third party movement backed by independent voters and disenchanted moderates affiliated with both parties.

My Inspiration For King of Paine

I’m often asked about my inspiration for King of Paine because the story melds two wildly different story lines (and because one of them centers around some pretty kinky sex, and on first sight I seem about as vanilla as it gets). In the main story, Special Agent Frank Paine hunts an online stalker who’s taunting him with crimes hinting at the agent’s own kinky past. At the same time, reporter Roger Martin is guided by an angelic woman to investigate missing senior citizens across the country. Naturally, the two plot lines connect in a shocking way.

Many authors look to their characters for inspiration; I tend to become intrigued by a plot point or theme first and then build characters around that. Given King of Paine’s split personality, it’s not surprising that it was inspired by two distinct ideas.

After receiving nice feedback about the sex scenes in The Jinx, my mind was predisposed to pursuing an erotic theme in the next book, and a case study in Psychology Today piqued that interest. The details escape me, but my recollection is that a woman had met a man in an online sex chat room and, after establishing a relationship, agreed to reenact a bondage fantasy in a live meeting. During the encounter she attempted to withdraw consent. The article examined the effectiveness of prior consent as a legal defense when the ability to withdraw it is impaired.

That case study led me to build a plot line around the world of online BDSM chat and the mix of ordinary people and devious predators who inhabit it. Even the wary may find it impossible to distinguish an innocent geek exploring his or her dark fantasies from a warped freak intent on doing harm. It made me wonder where that line could be drawn, and Frank Paine navigates that issue as he sorts victims from suspects.

My second inspiration derived from musings about personal accountability of the terminally ill. It’s natural to have a violent urge from time to time, but fear of God or imprisonment prevents most of us from acting on it. I questioned what moral forces would keep a desperate patient in check when the law and religion were less motivating. Consider this snippet from a conversation between Frank Paine and his FBI colleague, the cyber agent Jeronimo Reyes:

Jero sipped his coffee, contemplating his response. “I think we rely upon the good faith of strangers for our survival every day. I’m less comfortable when strangers don’t believe in the salvation of their soul, and the law fails to act as a backstop. And, for all the wonderful things people say about Simone Perlow, until we have the chance to interview her, she’s still a stranger to me—as is your new girlfriend, by the way.”

Several characters stricken with cancer figure prominently in the story, including Simone Perlow, the co-founder of an organization called Doctors With Cancer. This gave me an opportunity to experiment with how different people react to the same stressors. An FBI profiler can analyze a crime and predict with some statistical accuracy many of the demographic and psychological qualities of the perpetrator. When faced with a stressful change in life like loss of health, employment, or a loved one, some people snap.

Yet the predictive quality of these triggers runs only one way. No profiler can foretell how any particular person will react. Like my characters in King of Paine, some snap, others take courageous action. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

The Chop, The Beast & The Infield Fly Rule

The knock on me as a sportswriter for the Albany Student Press back in the early 80s was that I wrote with my heart instead of my brain. After a December 7th triple-overtime loss by my beloved Great Danes to the national powerhouse Potsdam Bears (Albany played in Division III at the time), I evoked the memory of Pearl Harbor in my lead and an outpouring of passion took the story downhill from there. But I also wrote a column entitled “The Beast Lives” that captured the emotion of the crowd, when we all come together as one for a common cause, our energy forming a whole with greater power and heart than the sum of our individual passions. After thirty years of dormancy, The Beast came alive for me at Turner Field last night as 50,000 tomahawk-chopping fans first lifted the Braves to heroic heights and then transformed into a lynch mob a hair-trigger away from scalping an umpire for his errant application of the infield fly rule. Upon reflection, the experience makes me wonder what great or horrible things we could do if we breathed life into The Beast for something that really mattered.

As a lifelong sports fan whose recent outpourings of emotion have been limited to bongoing The Chop anthem from the safety of my recliner, being a part of the crowd at Turner Field for the Braves’ do-or-die Wild Card matchup against the Cardinals was the experience of a lifetime. Many baseball traditionalists mock The Chop, but I believe the attraction of attending a major sporting event is to become a part of something larger than ourselves, to pour our collective passions into a common cause. It’s a lot safer and easier to organize than a revolution, and nobody does it better than the Braves Nation.

With everything at stake for the Braves and their fans, we were ready, 50,000 strong, to will the home team to victory. Prompted by the electronic drumbeat blasted over the stadium loudspeakers, we chopped. At first we chopped with questionable synchronicity and our war howls were inhibited by the shackles of our proper selves, but soon our foam tomahawks began to sway closer and closer to unison, our whoops grew louder and fiercer powered by our collective soul. By the time David Ross clobbered the home run that broke a scoreless tie, we were rocking The Ted with a fearsome war chant that would strike fear into the hearts of any enemy. The Beast lived!

The crowd’s energy ebbed and flowed with the Braves’ fortunes, but with the home team down 6-3 in the bottom of the eighth and threatening to rally, we were chopping and chanting as one unified fighting force, a force that turned ugly when the leftfield umpire called Andrelton Simmons, the Braves shortstop, automatically out on a 225-foot “infield fly” just before the ball dropped untouched to the grass between two converging Redbirds. At first the crowd roared happily at the Braves’ good luck, not realizing the infield fly rule had been invoked (a natural reaction as we have since learned that this fly ball was about 50 feet deeper into the outfield than any other “infield fly” that had dropped this year). But when it became clear that Simmons had been called out, bedlam erupted. The Beast, once unleashed, could not be harnessed. The enthusiastic crowd became an unruly mob that rained beer cans and other debris onto the field amid shouts of “scalp the ump”! It was not Atlanta’s proudest moment.

My first temptation is to write a scathing analysis of this misapplication of the infield fly rule, not as a justification for the inexcusable behavior of the crowd/mob, but as an emotionally injured fan who happens to be a baseball wonk. The infield fly rule is designed to protect baserunners on a play where the fielder has an easy opportunity to intentionally let the ball drop to take advantage of the baserunners’ confusion to collect multiple outs. The umpire’s call must be immediate and clear to allow the baserunners to return safely to their bases and advance only at their peril. Yesterday, the ump waited until the last second on a play where the converging fielders were confused, relatively deep in the outfield, and the baserunners had no opportunity to retreat safely. That worked to the Braves advantage in that the runners were able to advance on the play, but they should not have suffered the automatic out when the baserunners bore the risk of being trapped off base if the ball had been caught.

Upon further reflection, though, I think the more interesting point to be taken in these uncertain times is that the power of the mob to create a force greater than the individuals that compose it can inspire heroics or magnify our worst impulses. It makes me wonder what great things we could accomplish as a nation if rather than waiting for our leaders to inspire us to rally around the common causes in which most of us believe–fiscal moderation, full employment, education, innovation, equal opportunity, a safe environment for future generations–we rose together as one to elect new ones who will end the current atmosphere of negativity and obstruction and compromise reasonably over our differences. Let The Beast live.

Buried Treasures: Treats for the Watchful Reader

For me, writing is a lonely sport, thousands of hours invested in a novel with only sporadic feedback from my critique group and beta readers. In early drafts, when I’m focused on building characters and weaving plots together, solving the puzzles that make a novel sizzle provides its own thrill. The grind of revising later drafts can become tiresome, though, and I find myself yearning for more entertaining tasks. One I particularly enjoy is planting buried treasures for watchful readers to find. (I’m easily entertained–ask me the capitol of any state!)

Some of these little Easter eggs are identifiable only to a limited audience (like significant dates, meaningful numerology, and “coincidental” character names or descriptions), but others take the form of homages, themes, and trivia I hope will intrigue others.

For example, movie fans will like the way Frank Paine, my protagonist in King of Paine, thinks. He’s a former Hollywood stud who’s joined the FBI in search of redemption for his excesses. He draws inspiration from his old acting mentor and the way respected actors have handled various predicaments on film. In one scene, Frank throws a punch at an armed adversary and then has immediate regrets:

Hand stinging, Frank bounced on his toes like a boxer, poised to deliver another blow if Zack wanted to duke it out. The big guy’s surprise showed in his blue eyes, the only feature he shared with his kid sister. He looked like a denim gorilla. An angry denim gorilla with a forty-five caliber, FBI-issued Glock.

Frank recalled the famous scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where an Arabian swordsman dazzles Indiana Jones with his ferocious blade work until Harrison draws his pistol and slays him with a smirk and a single shot. Maybe we should’ve thought this plan all the way through, old man. His mental image of Lee Fields shrugged. That’s why we have rewrites, Frankie Boy.

I love movies, and these homages to notable actors and films are littered throughout the story. Frank’s status as a former insider also created some irresistible opportunities to poke fun at the Hollywood scene. I crack up every time I re-read his troubling flashback about Jack Nicholson in a Speedo at a Playboy Mansion party. (As mentioned earlier, I’m easily entertained.)

Tributes to authors who have inspired me also dot my writing. While my novels read at contemporary thriller pace, some themes and devices are drawn from surprising sources.

Umberto Eco’s Foucalt’s Pendulum can be dense at times, but the story is amazing (spoiler alert). When an intellectual’s research unearths a medieval list which could be interpreted to describe a centuries-long conspiracy, or not, a group of pseudo-conspirators take up the ancient cause with tragic consequences. In my first novel, The Jinx, a young lawyer inadvertently discovers a cryptic poem hinting at a 140-year conspiracy against the American presidency. In case Eco’s influence was not apparent, a character in my novel recognizes the similarity of the presidential conspiracy to Eco’s contrivance and speculates that the poem may be the work of pseudo-conspirators like in Foucalt’s Pendulum. This uncertainty whether the scheme is real or imagined propels the suspense in the early going.

King of Paine more subtly honors another favorite, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. While that story rants against the alienation of wealth producers who ultimately rebel against over-taxation by fleeing to a hidden free market commune, King of Paine suggests that focusing on achievement and greed at the expense of family and tradition can lead to alienation of a different sort. Lonely seniors are drawn to another secret haven where a reclusive biochemist is either curing or killing them with a mysterious new drug. See if you can spot my own take on Rand’s classic “Who is John Galt?” line, a literary device that creates suspense without any action or threat whatsoever.

Another understated theme in King of Paine takes cues from classic fiction. I’ve been running a contest on my website in which a $50 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift certificate will be awarded to the first reader to correctly identify all three literal and figurative references to a legendary novel buried within King of Paine. One is easy, but no one has found all three yet. Can you?

Hiding Easter eggs in books may seem trivial (okay, it is trivial), but few things give me more pleasure than when a reader gets excited about finding one. After I left my first law firm in 1992, I lost touch with several valued colleagues. A few months after The Jinx came out, a senior lawyer called me out of the blue after recognizing an expression he invented (look for my hero’s “clong”–the sickening feeling of one’s stomach accelerating into the throat–and the stunning twist that prompts it). My old friend’s joy in being honored this way was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a writer.

So if you read one of my books and discover a buried treasure that makes you smile, drop me a note. Maybe I’ll name a character after you!


Researching An FBI Story

King of Paine is a complex story with many subplots and themes, but at heart it’s about a flawed man, Frank Paine, seeking redemption by joining an organization striving to recapture its own fabled mojo after a string of historic failures. With the ghosts of Waco, Ruby Ridge, and 9/11 whispering in his ear, Frank’s first case forces him to bridge the divide between the FBI’s Old School dinosaurs and a new breed of agents personified by the debonair Jeronimo Reyes and his Cyber Squad cohorts.

The Bureau is in fact reinventing itself to combat 21st century challenges like terrorism and cyber security, creating another set of challenges for an author intent on providing an authentic reading experience. While I took a few liberties, several amazing resources helped me paint Frank Paine’s FBI with true colors. My research covered several areas: Bureau history and organization, federal laws and jurisdiction, agent mindset and anecdotes, investigative procedure, authentication of details, and settings.

The best introduction to the FBI is a visit to the agency’s own website. Volumes of pages detail the Bureau’s history and organization and provide a treasure trove of data for the curious reader.

As a lawyer myself, I’m a stickler for getting the law right in my novels (or at least the appearance of right!). One mistake some aspiring crime writers make is inserting the FBI into their stories without first confirming the crimes in question fall within the Bureau’s jurisdiction. Generally, the FBI only enforces federal laws, so they wouldn’t be called in to investigate a murder or sexual assault. One of the first conflicts in King of Paine is over jurisdiction–Frank attempts to exclude the Atlanta police from a sexual assault case by arguing federal cyberstalking laws apply. His personal connection to that case–a link to his secret past–fuels the main plotline, so his control of the investigation is critical to the story.

An author has leeway in developing characters in any profession, and avoiding stereotypes is something I strive to do. Frank Paine is a former actor, not the typical FBI career path; I describe him as a tennis player in a locker room full of linebackers. That said, I wanted to capture the lingo, unwritten rules, and cliques unique to this locker room. Several memoirs by former special agents and Internet forums populated by them gave me a peek into the Bureau mystique. Through their anecdotes, I picked up procedural tips, jargon and hints at the agent mindset that add spice to King of Paine.

Then I dove inside the belly of the beast. Okay, it was more like an appointment with a couple of linebackers, Special Agents Stephen Emmett and Jerry Reichard of the Atlanta Field Office, but the adventure still made my heart pound. (I don’t get out much.)

The meeting was arranged by Chris Allen of the FBI’s Investigative Publicity & Public Affairs division based in Washington, whose office provides a liaison between field agents and authors and screenwriters interested in adding realism to their projects. These are the guys who make TV shows like Criminal Minds and Numbers ring true. To prepare for my interview, Allen relayed answers to my detailed questions from agents in the field and at the FBI Academy in Quantico, filling in many gaps in my knowledge–details about the Bureau’s new case management system, arrest procedures, funeral arrangements for an agent killed on duty (hint or red herring?), and much more.

Then Agents Emmett and Reichard showed me around the Atlanta Field Office and patiently answered my follow-up questions over the course of an exhausting day. The tone ranged from serious (a dramatic retelling of Emmett’s wounding in the course of a shootout with bank robbers) to arcane (Reichard’s explanation of the mechanics of tracing instant message communications over the Internet) to tongue-in-cheek (when asked why he was going to Iraq, Emmett deadpanned, “waterboarding”). Besides immersing me in Bureau culture, the visit enabled me to create a mental picture of the setting for much of my story (although Emmett requested I obscure details of the office layout for obvious reasons).

I go through many drafts as part of my writing process and had to cut some fantastic material to get King of Paine‘s dramatic pacing right. I hope the remaining nuances make for an action-packed Bureau experience grounded in reality.

Think Like A Lawyer: Negotiating A New Car Purchase

Know someone in the market for a new car? I’m pleased to announce publication of the first title in my new “Think Like A Lawyer” series, “Negotiating A New Car Purchase.” I’ve used the negotiating strategy detailed in this short ebook to get the rock bottom price–sometimes below dealer invoice–on my new cars for years and handle most of the negotiations online. I’ll guide  you step by step and save you hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars on your next new car purchase.

Buying a new car can be both exciting and frightening. There’s a lot of money at stake, and car salesmen are notoriously slick. I am a retired attorney with twenty years’ experience advising corporate clients on decisions often involving stakes in the hundreds of millions of dollars and can arm you with enough information and negotiating tools to bring the most battle-hardened salesman to his knees.  If you follow my simple methodology–anyone can do it–you will avoid the tricks and traps employed by all car salesman, and you’ll get the new car you covet for a great price. Wouldn’t it be a welcome change to drive off a car lot knowing you didn’t leave any of your hard-earned money on the table?

Think Like A Lawyer: Negotiating a New Care Purchase is available in all ebook formats at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords for only 99 cents. If you don’t have an ebook reader, a PDF version can be downloaded at Smashwords.

Please spread the word by sharing this post on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks!

Rooting for a Flawed Protagonist

Readers love to root for their action heroes, so even when authors endow their main characters with flaws to add depth and realism, the “defects” are often designed to make you sympathize with the character more (like a job applicant who reluctantly admits to being a workaholic). The archetypes are familiar: the rogue cop whose street justice appeals to your inner vigilante; the down-on-his-luck drunk whose affliction masks a heart of gold; the naive rookie whose cute mistakes are endearing. But in my new suspense novel, King of Paine, Frank Paine did a bad, bad thing, making him a rarity in the thriller universe–a truly flawed protagonist. In today’s post I’ll discuss how I tried to meet the challenge of making him sympathetic.

Frank’s about as far from the cliched law man as you can imagine, an ex-Hollywood stud with a kinky past, an irreverent jackass who failed the woman he loves. Your first instinct (and maybe the second, too) will be to dislike him. This early clip describes the newly-minted FBI agent’s predicament:

The thrill of imminent battle had kept Frank up most of the night, and the bedroom mirror reflected some puffiness under his baby blues as he knotted a red Hermés tie. His problem was clear. Millions of educated, respectable people dabbled in harmless kink, but no major entertainer, athlete, or politician had ever publicly admitted their sadomasochistic tendencies. And even if middle America and the Bureau brass could get past the kinky imagery, his exposure as the coward who let the woman he loved endure her public humiliation alone would be beyond redemption. He had spent three years, in therapy and out, trying to find a way to earn back his dignity, but if his shame became public, everything he cared about would be flushed down the crapper.

I didn’t start out writing a book starring a cad. My original intent was to craft a sequel to my first novel, The Jinx, but my protagonist, a young lawyer (yes, a naive rookie who made endearing mistakes), fell flat as an FBI agent. I went for the Hollywood upgrade, and Frank Paine’s history made the character motivations more authentic and freed me to explore more interesting (kinkier?) plot developments.

While Frank’s history of womanizing and dabbling in BDSM is essential to the plot, I tried to paint him as a man in transition. Sometimes his instincts are consistent with his former lifestyle, but he’s conscious of the better man he wants to be, drawing on his inner strength to quell those natural urges. Here’s an example of how he reacts to an impure thought while interviewing an attractive victim:

Shaking his head to clear that vision, he carefully daubed the lipstick to conceal the graffiti. You’re possessed, Frankie Boy. If only he believed in a higher power, he could order up a goddamn exorcism. What was that, Step Seven, humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings? Unfortunately, the burden of rewiring his brain chemistry fell solely on him, not a miracle to be performed overnight but a process of playing it sweet until sweetness became his true nature. People could only judge his actions and spoken words, not the thoughts he kept locked in his head.

Hopefully, Frank will win you over not because he’s a skilled actor who can conceal his flaws, but because he truly wants to change them. To him, the Bureau’s motto–fidelity, bravery, integrity–represents ideals to which he aspires. He feels remorse for hurting the woman he loves, and you may find his perilous quest to earn back her love also redeems him in your heart, too. Here’s a clip from one Goodreads reader who Frank won over:

Please don’t let the sexual content of this novel scare you away because, for me, it only made up about 2% of the novel and only because it was necessary to provide a creative, unique plot with wonderful heroic, moral and ethical characters! Ultimately, the novel is about true love and what great lengths many GOOD MEN will go and how much they will risk to find and save their soul mates.

Who’s your favorite flawed protagonist of all time, and how did he or she win you over?

Weaving Social Themes Into Suspense Novels

Like many thriller/suspense authors, especially those trained as attorneys, I craft intricate, well-researched plots, engage my characters in thought-provoking social drama and spice their lives with alluring romantic entanglements. The most challenging aspect of mastering this genre is incorporating contemporary social issues without preaching or compromising pace.

Two early John Grisham novels illustrate the perils. John’s plot in The Pelican Brief is driven by a greedy businessman’s sacrifice of the environment for profit, but the social issue remains in the background and rarely slows the action. The reader’s heart pounds as an isolated law student tries to foil a sinister plot before powerful conspirators kill her. On the other hand, The Street Lawyer often bogs down in a preachy story about homelessness featuring characters who are either homeless or obsessed by the issue.

The lessons I take away from Grisham’s successes and (relative) failures are that my top priority must be to deliver fast-paced and entertaining stories, but there’s room for idealistic expression. My heroes may be ordinary (Ben Kravner, a young lawyer, in The Jinx)or larger than life (Frank Paine, an ex-Hollywood action star-turned-FBI agent, in King of Paine), but they and much of their supporting cast are intelligent, passionate men and women who grapple with personal flaws and unusual obstacles to ultimately improve their world.

The Jinx is a political thriller involving a 140-year conspiracy against the American presidency (based on the so-called “20-year jinx”–look it up!). The plot pits influential politicians and white supremacists against the President, a nascent black resistance, and young Ben, my aforementioned ordinary hero, an unlikely scenario that takes the nation to the brink of civil war. Seething below the surface is a vision of a colorblind America that led to endorsements by leaders of the ACLU, National Urban League and Artists Against Racism.

At a high level, The Jinx implies racism can only be eradicated the same way the multi-generational conspiracy was perpetuated, “one father to each son, each son an essential link in a chain.” But through my characters, in their own voices, I tried to examine racism from other angles and depths. It’s not difficult to create voices driven by hate and victimization. The most challenging scene to write was when Ben, a white man, needed to reach out to an old girlfriend, a black woman who had risen to a position of influence, and he needed to explain why he abandoned their budding law school romance years earlier. Trying to find the line where race can reasonably be considered in affairs of the heart led my characters to recognize that even the most progressive minds are influenced by subtle prejudices.

My latest suspense novel, King of Paine, is a sexy, fast-paced whodunit that weaves in themes about aging and terminal illness. The story follows two investigations, the FBI’s pursuit of a stalker committing a series of kinky Internet crimes and a reporter tracking the disappearance of wealthy senior citizens across the nation. Both paths lead to a hidden enclave where a reclusive biochemist is rumored to produce a mysterious drug.

Kink and cancer may seem an odd combo for a thriller, but I wanted to explore issues relating to personal accountability of the terminally ill. I was intrigued by the notion that a desperate patient not inhibited by fear of law or religion could be a dangerous man (or woman–no spoilers here!). After reading King of Paine, you might ask yourself: “how far would I go to find my fountain of youth?”

When terminal patients ultimately accept no cure exists, society’s response is controversial. Some of my characters in King of Paine are associated with Doctors With Cancer, a fictional organization devoted to promoting the legalization of assisted suicide. Different perspectives are voiced by the characters in the context of the two investigations, but this passage stands out to me:

Roger [the reporter] mulled over her concern, which was genuine and not easily resolved. In truth, he could not even be sure of his own core beliefs in the wake of these tumultuous two weeks—a period that had begun not with a pledge to renew his faith, but rather with three secular New Year’s resolutions.

“I was raised a Catholic, so certain elements of the religion were drummed into me so hard it’s difficult to distinguish beliefs from habits. Plato spoke of the ‘Big Lie,’ that the masses could be taught to believe almost any reality over the course of a couple of generations. For years, I’ve questioned the basis for my faith and the teachings of the Church. What benevolent God would allow the horror of 9/11 or the atrocities of the Holocaust and Darfur? You’ve caused me to wonder why God would allow his children to suffer the pain and loss of dignity of a long, slow death.”

While the proper aim of medical treatment during our final days is debatable, I hope King of Paine‘s vision for our final years is not. Baby Boomers have scattered across the country, and for many children grandparents are not part of their daily lives. An important character in my story laments today’s emphasis on mobility at the expense of family and takes dramatic action to recapture the reverence for age, wisdom, and tradition of bygone days. I yearn for those days, too. Do you?


Researching the Psychology of BDSM

Despite the provocative image on King of Paine’s cover, I did not set out to write a novel about BDSM. The story remains primarily a whodunit that follows two investigations, the FBI’s pursuit of a stalker committing a series of kinky Internet crimes and a reporter tracking the disappearance of wealthy senior citizens. But as themes about control and its abandonment to faith and chance emerged, the BDSM elements began to predominate. In today’s post, we’ll take a peek inside the minds of practitioners of the art, essential research I used in developing a few of my characters.

BDSM is shorthand for the sexual subcultures of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism–erotic behaviors linked primarily by a consensual imbalance in the power relationship between adults. While some lunatics take the practice to extremes, many mainstream Americans–particularly educated, upper-middle class men and women–experiment with BDSM both in online roleplay and live sessions. My FBI protagonist, Frank Paine, was one of them until a tragic miscalculation cost him the woman he loves. Now, three years later, when a stalker lures him into a case involving a similar debacle, Frank reenters this forbidden world to protect his secrets and reconnect with his soulmate.

The crime that draws Frank’s attention involves a rogue online roleplayer who seduces his partners into live bondage encounters under false pretenses, a scenario loosely based on a case study I read in Psychology Today. The victim’s mindset intrigued me. What would lead a rational woman to meet a stranger she met online–where deception is the norm–and relinquish control over her body?

To find answers, I read everything I could find online about BDSM, from Wikepedia to first person blogs to another series of more general articles in Psychology Today. I even went undercover into the BDSM chat rooms (without contracting any virtual rashes!). These resources helped me understand the psychological attraction to BDSM and how an illusion of safety is created by the complex rules, rituals, roles and dynamics that insulate the experience. Trust and faith in your partner is critical, but an element of risk is essential to generate the thrill–the emotional release–participants crave.

I may be extrapolating from my own misconceptions, but I suspect when outsiders think of BDSM they conjure imagery of sadistic men and women wielding whips and chains, subjecting reluctant partners to abuse and sexual humiliation. In reality, whether the encounter is live or simulated online in a chat session, BDSM is a sort of roleplaying, where normal people in fine mental health act out a fantasy that involves taking or giving up power for a limited time. Sex is often involved, but not always. The reward is in the playing of the game itself, a scenario unlikely to end in disaster when directed by a trustworthy partner prepared to stop upon even a whisper of a prearranged safe word.

According to psychologists, acting the part of the submissive in these roleplay scenarios can be tremendously liberating, particularly for people who aren’t comfortable exploring their sexuality or personal boundaries. They want the fantasy of shedding their own identity, with its autonomy and responsibility, and submitting entirely to the will of another. The essential component is not the pain or bondage itself, but rather the knowledge that one person has complete control over the other. It can be a total emotional release.

In King of Paine, the woman who falls victim to her partner’s trickery lives a double life, a repressed nurse by day who roams cyberspace at night in search of the increasingly daring scenarios her alter ego craves. After roleplaying with a trusted partner online for months, she succumbs to his mantra, “no risk, no thrill,” on a lonely Christmas Day and agrees to a limited contact session in a classy hotel. My findings inspired this moment of reflection by Frank Paine as he’s interviewing the victim after her bondage fantasy went out of control:

After probing the minds of countless submissive women online, he believed that, at some level, they all wanted to release the wild animal caged inside them but feared accountability. Their natural sexual urges were so bottled up by rules made by others—gods, fathers, and politicians—they needed to be liberated by forces beyond their control. Most BDSM scenes included some element of coercion—enslavement, blackmail, trickery, or physical force—to enable the sub to experience her fantasy without choosing to violate social norms. Penny seemed genuinely sad and angry, but he wondered if her indignation served more as a subconscious charade for the benefit of her repressors than heartfelt anguish.

While Penny Johnson may have taken an imprudent risk, the desires that motivated her are quite common–Psychology Today estimates that up to a third of all women have fantasies of being dominated sexually. With our culture placing more demands on the individual, the stress associated with living up to expectations increases, along with the desire to occasionally shed that super-man/woman image. And that is exactly the point of BDSM roleplay–you can, with a little imagination, shed your normal self to a shocking degree. The more control abandoned, the greater the emotional release. No risk, no thrill.


“Who Are You Chatting With? The Dangers of Anonymous Internet Communications”

Ever since my two sons began using AOL’s instant messaging service in the late-1990s, I’ve been intrigued by the potential for good and evil inherent in anonymous Internet chat, a device featured prominently in both of my novels. Like every parent, I feared my kids could become vulnerable to predators if allowed to roam cyberspace unattended, a concern substantiated many times over by the prodigious workload of the FBI’s Innocent Images Task Force.

CuriousReader:  The danger of online child predators is well-documented, but should adults be worried, too? (eyes wide)

LarryKahnWriter: To quote Sarah Palin, “You betcha.” (Big, politically-savvy wink)

Many online service providers host chat rooms, allowing participants to converse with everyone in a virtual “room” or privately using an instant messaging application. Typically, anyone can acquire a free screen name without providing identifying information, possibly in violation of terms of service (I know, shocking, right?). Many users engage in harmless banter about hobbies or seek mutual support for shared setbacks. Others rely on anonymity to engage in frank discussions or dramatizations about sex. (Based on my research, these encounters might more fairly be characterized as raunchy, even depraved in some cases.)

CuriousReader: Did you develop a virtual rash from this research? (LOL)

LarryKahnWriter: (Rolls eyes) Everyone’s a comedian in cyberspace. Although the medium does attract a sleaze factor, the services I checked out all have means to exclude offensive participants from ever contacting you again. To be fair, I also found many polite, interesting people simply seeking an outlet to express hidden desires.  

Many of the characters in my suspense novel, King of Paine, are connected by their mutual interest in kinky online roleplay. Here’s a passage that describes how my protagonist, Frank Paine, explains the appeal to Jeronimo Reyes, an FBI cyber agent who detects a suspicious connection between Frank and their new case:

[Frank] explained how the anonymity of the RealTime chat rooms presented a unique opportunity to explore women’s minds without the distraction of celebrity but never sparked his passion until he discovered the darker side of online chat. Hidden among the shallow and uncouth dimwits who riddled cyberspace, he had stumbled upon an elite group of zealous, intelligent devotees of the BDSM lifestyle who shared his own repressed impulses.

In Hollywood, every aspect of his life was dictated by his job. Besides the obvious scripting of lines on the set, he needed to exercise and watch his weight religiously to maintain a consistent appearance from day to day. He dreaded the constant public scrutiny of every aspect of his life, never being “off,” never fully in control of his mind or body. But in his domination scenes, The King of Paine controlled all. He was able to imagine new highs he couldn’t experience in real life.

While Frank had abandoned this world–online and off–three years earlier, an anonymous stalker who sets up innocent victims online is threatening to reveal Frank’s secret past. The stalker’s techniques, and the FBI response, present a chilling warning to chat room users.

CuriousReader:  Are you a hacker?

LarryKahnWriter: No, I just researched threats particular to instant messaging to add credibility to my story. However, procedures adopted by hackers, online providers, security software and law enforcement are constantly evolving, and the information provided here and in King of Paine should not be viewed as state of the art. Be cautious.

To state the obvious, you never know who you’re really chatting with online. Nobody is as they represent, and that may be part of the allure. Participants lie about their age, physical attributes, even their gender. Most are harmless, viewing chat more as a place to experiment with alternate selves than as a dating service.

For some, though, what starts out as an innocent game ends tragically. 20/20 recently featured a story about an online love triangle in which two “young” men vied for the affection of a pretty girl in a different state. The one guy who represented himself accurately was murdered by a middle-aged married man; the vixen they fought over turned out to be a frumpy woman pretending to be her own daughter.

Other encounters are initiated with malevolent intent. Predators can disguise their digital presence by routing transmissions via proxy servers, remote service providers that make Internet communications anonymous. Most innocent users don’t take that precaution, and a security-savvy imposter may be able to upload a virus or trojan horse onto your computer, potentially accessing identifying information and other private data. The cyber agents in King of Paine elaborate on these pitfalls in the course of their investigation.

Speaking of cyber agents, your chat partner may be one. The FBI and other local law enforcement officials pose online as vulnerable targets in order to flush out predators, a tactic used with dramatic effect in King of Paine.

CuriousReader: So who am I chatting with now?

TheKingOfPaine: You have no idea (evil, maniacal laugh)

King of Paine Reviewed on Books and Things in UK

David King has posted a terrific review of King of Paine on his UK blog Books and Things.  Check out David’s tasteful site for the full review, but here’s one of my favorite clips:

I found the story to be an intense, complex and fast paced which kept me glued to the book every evening. The thrills keep on coming from start to finish as the novel takes your emotions on a enjoyable roller coaster ride of twists, turns and red herrings. The writing is also clean, concise and flows smoothly which really helps to keep the reader hooked. However, the novel isn’t for the prudish as it does take you into a world of sexual games and role play. However this is all described tastefully enough and is actually a small part of the novel so don’t let it put you off.

Patrick Henry Revisited: Give Me Liberty AND Give Me Death

I dislike that we have become a starkly divided nation but understand the philosophical underpinnings of many disputed issues. I can’t understand how one mind can believe government intrusion into the personal decisions of citizens is an intolerable restraint on liberty (the conservative credo), yet insist government deny women free choice in their reproductive decisions, gays the right to marry, and suffering patients the right to die. We are a nation of secular laws designed to protect our rights from infringement by others; lawmakers have no authority to criminalize activities simply because they offend religious beliefs. The purest example of faith-based lawmaking is the denial of the right to die, a right I’ve fixated on lately for a number of reasons.

1. As a humanist, I seek to minimize human suffering and believe religion’s approach to modern medicine is inhumane, as well as logically inconsistent. To me, it seems difficult to sustain the argument that medicine cannot be applied to hasten death but can be applied to prolong life. Either God’s plan is sacrosanct or we can use available tools to alter end-of-natural-life timing. While Christian Scientists may be a logically consistent minority (many shun medicine altogether), it seems more likely a rational and loving God would approve humanity’s use of medicine to reduce suffering, whether by curing ills, managing pain, or hastening an imminent and inevitable death.

2.  As a lawyer, faith-based lawmaking infuriates me. Even if we accept the rationality of the Church’s objection to euthanasia, which guides the consciences of many citizens, we are still governed by the Constitution, not the Vatican. Freedom of religion not only guarantees us the right to practice our choice of faith but also freedom from others, even the majority, imposing their faith upon the rest of us. Terminal patients who wish to die with dignity should be permitted to exercise their free will, even if it offends the conscience of others.

3. As a fiscal realist, I see a zero-pain fix to a vexing budget dilemma. As advances in medicine expand the scope of desperate measures available to extend life, the cost of end-of-life care threatens to overwhelm families and government programs–about 30% of all Medicare expenditures are incurred in the final year of life. We cannot afford unlimited medical care for everyone—some rationing is inevitable—but we can minimize rationing by providing a dignified, painless death for those who want to voluntarily abandon expensive treatment options and long-term care.

4. As an observant citizen and amateur philosopher, I believe our focus on economic advancement over the past several decades has led to a diminished role for the elderly and lower quality of life for all. Increased mobility has created distance between extended families, and Social Security and Medicare have institutionalized senior care. My suspense novel, King of Paine, was inspired, in part, by misplaced priorities of the Baby Boomer generation, as animated by this passionately delivered quote from one of my characters, a reclusive doctor who has taken these serious matters into her own hands:

“It’s a breakdown in society. When we think only in terms of dollars and cents, we fail to place value on intangibles you can’t buy. Parents work a lifetime to build and support a family, but where are the children in their twilight years? Money can provide food and medicine, but the end of life shouldn’t be about sustaining a suffering old machine! The end should be a reward for a life worth living. We should be surrounded by our loved ones. We should have a peaceful place to die with dignity and joy and maybe even a little poetry.”

Like Dr. Simone Perlow, I yearn for a social order that improves our elders’ quality of life by encouraging family care while practical–centering our lives around family and tradition—but allowing for a graceful exit when only suffering remains.

5. As a recently diagnosed Parkinson’s patient, I want to fill my life with joy and purpose until I can’t. Suicide is an option, in due time (my symptoms are mild), but a friend recently observed that the real danger is waiting too long, until the mind or body is no longer capable of such a benevolent act. If it were legal, my living will would direct my family and doctors to take affirmative steps to end my life (a) at my direction if I can no longer care for myself or (b) per my prior instructions if I can no longer communicate rationally. As the law stands now, I fear someone else’s God will ultimately force me to live as an undignified shell of my former self, a burden on my family and country.

Give me liberty! Give me the right to die when I choose.

King of Paine Hits Bestseller List!

King of Paine cracked the Top 100 Kindle bestseller list for its category and has risen into the Top 50 this morning! Thank you, readers, for giving it a try. Please consider posting a brief review on your favorite sites when you’re done reading it–a book’s success depends upon great word-of-mouth recommendations from happy readers. Your support is deeply appreciated.

Amazing New Review Exposes My Dilemma

King of Paine picked up some fantastic reviews during my December blog tour, but a new review on the blog Miraculous! touched me not only because the reviewer gushed about the book and the writing, but also because she captured the inherent difficulty of describing what King of Paine  is “about.” This is how Stephanie begins her review, in which she rated the book nine hearts out of ten, labeling it “one of my all-time favorites!”:

Can I first just say that the blurb of this book, as well as the cover, really, don’t do it justice? The blurb makes it sound like a fantasy novel, and the cover, something incredibly sex-targeted. While sex is one of the main themes of this story, it’s not what you’re thinking, it’s not just another piece of erotica. The “fantasy” aspect isn’t so over-the-top, either. In fact, it’s very scientific, very legal, in a way that I never expected just from the cover. Even with the sensitive issues of BDSM and euthanasia, I think King of Paine makes for brilliant, overall completely satisfying suspense science fiction — one that enters mainstream, and one that ought to be way better recognized.

I can’t complain about my marketing staff because it’s all me. A good friend (Michael Mollick, a professional graphics artist) designed the cover, which I approved and think is brilliant (one reviewer raved over it), but Stephanie’s review goes to a dilemma I’ve wrestled with for months. King of Paine is a complex, intricately-plotted novel that has two strong themes that don’t necessarily appeal to the same audience. One story line delves into the psychology of BDSM (bondage/discipline, domination/submission, sadism/masochism) and the experimental selves we often hide from the world. The other main plot, which ultimately ties into the first, explores end-of-life issues, such as assisted suicide, moral accountability of the terminally ill, and our society’s treatment of the elderly. Reviewers rave that I’ve woven the two stories together well, often using superlatives that would make me look like a pompous jackass if I authored them myself, but they express pleasant surprise about the depth of the story because that cover screams “sex!”

I have stuck with the erotic imagery on the cover because (1) it’s hot, (2) I can’t think of a better way to capture the essence of the central themes, and (3) if I go with a stereotypical FBI-themed cover, I’ll attract many readers who will be uncomfortable with the story’s sexuality. I’m not looking to trick anybody into reading a book they won’t enjoy. But some reviewers love the book so much they feel compelled to reach out to readers who might turn away from a great story because of the cover’s erotic image. Stephanie did it in a way that has me walking on air:

Trust me, even though the topics are a little racy, the story is more than just twisted fiction. I seriously think King of Paine is the most canny and intelligent suspense piece I’ve ever read. Kahn’s literary style is, I cannot stress enough, very impressive, and his organization and consistency of thought (which are the essential elements of a good whodunnit) amazes me…What I think I’m keenest on, is how this book covers so many branches of interest. Not just the sex, but also the federal suspense, the science of youth, the medical world, the secrets. Accolades to Kahn for his ability to somehow weave all of this together.

My approach to marketing King of Paine to general audiences has been to cite clips from reviews like this in the book description. It’s impossible for me to capture the complexity of this novel in the short summary most readers have the patience to scan. And even though Stephanie gushed for almost 1,000 words, she ultimately still didn’t think it was enough:

I really don’t think my review does this book justice either. It’s just THAT good. Sorry if my thoughts are a bit messy, but if my review isn’t clear enough, you must go check this one out. At times, some of the scientific facts and law-related data become dull, but overcoming them heightens the adrenaline of its plot, trust me. This book will become your newest obsession as well as your biggest nightmare. Yes, I [expletive deleted] dreamed about it. What the hell. It is a medical suspense and legal thriller and contemporary literary sex propaganda all rolled into one. It is [expletive deleted] fantastic, not only for its stunning depth and complexity, but for its all-encompassing message that love, even when all hope is lost, shall prevail, but only if you really try, and only if you are willing to sacrifice all you have now and all you worked for in the past, to make it work out.

What do you think about King of Paine’s cover and book description?

King of Paine Free on Amazon for a Limited Time

King of Paine is being offered for free as a limited time promotion on It is currently ranked #2 in the Kindle store for all Men’s Adventure novels and #14 in Suspense. Click the link in the right sidebar to go directly to the book’s page on Amazon.

$5 Discount!

Visitors to the North Atlanta Press website can save $5 off the retail price of the trade paperback edition of King of Paine by using discount code LAL4UA92. Just add a copy to your cart and then apply the code before checkout.

Blog Tour Ends! Kindle Giveaway Contest Winners Announced

Thank you to everybody who participated in the King of Paine blog tour and entered my Kindle Giveaway Contest. My blog hosts were terrific, as evidenced by the excellent reviews, interviews and guest posts now populating the widgets in the right sidebar of this site. They do it all for the love of books and the joy of discovering new authors who inspire and enlighten them. Each blog reflects the personality and preferences of its host, but they are all beautifully crafted and fun to browse. I hope you’ll visit them often in your quest to find intriguing reads.

I’d also like to thank two fans who have read King of Paine and been inspired to comment enthusiastically at every stop on the blog tour. Lori M. and Suzie W. are the type of fans every author dreams about–so connected to the book that they are moved to shout about it from the rooftops (or their digital equivalent). They make all the hard work of creating a novel worthwhile.

I wish I could send Kindles and gift cards to everybody, but economic reality being what it is, that’s just not practical. The contest winners were chosen randomly (numbers were assigned and drawn at from almost 2,000 entries (per contest rules, multiple entries were awarded for specified promotional activities).

Grand Prize (Kindle Touch 3G): Leslie Wright

$25 Amazon Gift Card: Vanessa Booke

$10 Amazon Gift Card: Darlene Goodman

$5 Amazon Gift Card: Stacey Donaldson

Congratulations to the winners, and thank you to all for helping promote King of Paine.  I hope you will take a look at some of the fabulous reviews the book has received and continue to spread the word.

Happy holidays!

King of Paine

“Larry Kahn has managed to create a cast of unforgettable characters, throwing in a bit of sex and misadventure, while infusing it with legal, moral, and ethical dilemmas. To say that I thought the King of Paine was brilliantly written would be an understatement. I sat down to read the book in the morning and was unable to put it down until I read the very last page!” –The Write To Make A Living

“The writing is perfect…Plus, that plot? Holy hell! I never could have seen the twists and turns coming.” Owl Tell You About It

“…a roller coaster ride of who done it, oops, no they didn’t. But it’s not just that, the story makes you think and ask yourself some really important questions.”Forbidden Reviews

A desperate patient.

A rumored cure.

How far would you go to save your own life?

King of Paine is a sexy, fast-paced suspense novel filled with characters who grapple with a range of intriguing end-of-life issues while everything they care about is at stake. The story follows two investigations, Special Agent Frank Paine’s pursuit of a stalker committing a series of kinky Internet crimes and a reporter tracking the disappearance of wealthy senior citizens across the nation. Both paths lead to a hidden enclave where a brilliant biochemist harbors a deadly secret. Somebody is going to die there, and it may be Frank Paine’s soulmate. Or him.

Readers who liked The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or the novels of Greg Iles will enjoy settling in with King of Paine for a sexy, thought-provoking ride. Buy the book:




Editorial Reviews

“One’s past is a vicious weapon. “King of Paine” is a spinning novel from Larry Kahn, as he tells the tale of Ex-Hollywood star turned FBI agent who quickly finds that his sultry past will more than screw with his new noble career path. Angry exes and vicious stalkers make “King of Paine” an enticing combination of spy thriller and romance with a dose of intrigue, highly recommended.” –Midwest Book Review

From the Book Blogs:

“If you like strong mystery thrillers with plenty of tension and suspense, then this novel is for you and is a far better read than many of the mass-market thrillers that you can normally pick up from your local supermarket shelf!…Don’t let yourself be put off by the mentions of BDSM either because there is nothing very explicit in the text and in fact much of what Mr. Kahn mentioned is very tame, carrying only the merest hint of eroticism. The characters are well conceived too and the way the two plot threads eventually string together is very cleverly done.”The To Be Read Pile

“I seriously think King of Paine is the most canny and intelligent suspense piece I’ve ever read. Kahn’s literary style is, I cannot stress enough, very impressive, and his organization and consistency of thought (which are the essential elements of a good whodunnit) amazes me…It is [expletive deleted] fantastic, not only for its stunning depth and complexity, but for its all-encompassing message that love, even when all hope is lost, shall prevail, but only if you really try, and only if you are willing to sacrifice all you have now and all you worked for in the past, to make it work out…This book will become your newest obsession as well as your biggest nightmare.”Miraculous!

“I found the story to be an intense, complex and fast paced which kept me glued to the book every evening. The thrills keep on coming from start to finish as the novel takes your emotions on a enjoyable roller coaster ride of twists, turns and red herrings. The writing is also clean, concise and flows smoothly which really helps to keep the reader hooked. However, the novel isn’t for the prudish as it does take you into a world of sexual games and role play. However this is all described tastefully enough and is actually a small part of the novel so don’t let it put you off.” Books And Things

“King of Paine is a tautly written, absorbing page-turner. I usually can guess the ending to a police procedural by about the third chapter.  This is not the case with Mr. Kahn’s wonderful new book…I highly recommend this book.”Hampton Reviews

“King of Paine is the second book I have read this year that I thought would make a great movie…I definitely recommend this one. Once I started reading, I couldn’t walk away from it.”From the TBR Pile

“This is the kind of book where you can open it on ANY page and the story just pulls you in. It’s that good!..His characters, in particular Jolynn are well thought out and masterfully crafted. I have to admit I’ve heard the comparison between The Girl and the Dragon Tattoo and King of Paine and in my opinion, Kahn is better. I was never bored, in fact I hung onto every word in this story.” —Boekie’s Book Reviews

“KING OF PAINE is filled with suspense, intrigue and murder. It’s a fast-pace adventure that will hold readers spellbound. The writing is smooth and flows easily from one scene to the next.” Thoughts In Progress

“I liked that the antagonist seemed both real and elusive; the author did a wonderful job with the sometimes gloomy and dark undertones that drift within the book.  The ending was perfect, wouldn’t change a thing.” Live To Read

“The King of Paine by Larry Kahn is a complex, compelling, fast paced and intriguing thriller that will have you turning the pages well into the early morning.  The writing is crisp and pops off the page.” —Todd Fonseca

“King of Paine is more than a suspense novel, it invites the reader to explore the boundaries of our own addictions (whatever they may be). It also inspires one to take a look at the way that we treat the people we love and how we care for the elderly in this country. This is not your ordinary suspense novel.” —The Write To Make A Living

“The author Larry Kahn gently guides you into a fascinating world. He literally allows your mind to run free, while still staying extremely connected to the story line. Although that may sound odd, once you read this book, you will know exactly what I mean.” Forbidden Reviews

“You wouldn’t expect a story that starts off with a newly minted FBI agent trying to figure out how to keep his personal past separate from his new professional life to take the path it does, but there are lots of issues to be explored here.  What is the difference, truly, between fantasy and reality and what role does the anonymity of the internet play in that?  At what point does a person’s health and well being trump their self-determination?  What role do outsiders get to play in that determination?  There are lots of issues to think about here and it adds depth to the story.”What Book Is That?

“Now, let me go ahead and dispel one myth about this book. I don’t really think it’s comparable to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I think it’s better. At least, it’s better than the English translation. While the Millennium series bored me sometimes, I was totally riveted to this book. I was reading it everywhere, as much as I could.” —Owl Tell You About It

“Paine’s motives for discovering the truth are obvious throughout and he uses a dogged determination to pursue the end of the trail, which was suspenseful and surprising.  The author used every trick in the book to hide, deceive and suspend each turn and angle.  It was a wonderful trail of discovery I was lead on and I am very happy to recommend this book. “Paper Mustang

“Kahn has written a thriller with teeth. His characters are quite jaded and yet also very likable. They have their flaws as well as their dark sides…Technology and medicine set the backdrop to this work, and the context of meaning leaves you wondering. Kahn as done an excellent job with red herrings, and the twists and machinations of the killer send you in directions you never see coming.”Blog Critics

“Kahn’s writing is well paced and his character development is superb.” –Kathy LaMee on

“You must read this book for yourself, it is a nail bitter for sure, will keep you turning the pages, will keep you in total suspense, the twists and turns are ones you will not figure out and when they happen you will say, “OMG, I did not see that one coming”  Larry did an amazing job with the story, plot, and characters.  I loved every minute of this book and you will not regret picking up your copy, sit down, buckle up and hang on for the ride you won’t soon forget!!!”Purple Jelly Bean Chair Reviews

From and Goodreads:

“…a story that is so real and so intense that I felt I couldn’t put the novel down…I was on a physical and emotional roller coaster taking me one way and then another keeping me glued to each character and each situation at every turn. Mr. Kahn is easily able to get you into the hearts and minds of several other characters in a way that I have not seen done before. I felt like I knew each and every one of them!…His prose is perfect and makes reading a breeze… PLEASE don’t let the sexual content of this novel scare you away because, for me, it only made up about 2% of the novel and only because it was necessary to provide a creative, unique plot with wonderful heroic, moral and ethical characters! Ultimately, the novel is about true love and what great lengths many GOOD MEN will go and how much they will risk to find and save their soul mates.”–Lori M. (Goodreads)

“..a masterful job of weaving the threads of the two events together to create a conclusion that is by no means expected.” — Carol R. Harris

“… a kinky cocktail of a novel…Fun and serious, thought-provoking and engaging, this is no ordinary suspense book.” — David

”This novel contains all of the elements of a superb suspense-thriller, but Larry Kahn goes deeper: he raises sociological issues that actually make readers think. Kahn has constructed a story from an intelligent base that puts his novel in the must-read category.” — steppingstone

“A fascinating journey into a modern day netherworld of the sexually adventurous and the famous, Larry Kahn tantalizes, taking us safely along for a thrilling and irresistible ride into a modern world where technology and taboo pleasures interact. Reading his crisp, clean prose, fast pacing, and superior character development, I at once felt smarter and a little bit naughtier, placing “King of Paine” in a category few authors have successfully dared.” — Michael M.

“The odd combination of BDSM, end of life illness management, and respect of the elderly make this book interesting and hard to put down.”–skhoov

Product Details

  • Trade Paperback: 364 pages
  • Publisher: North Atlanta Press (August 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0983760128
  •  ISBN-13: 9780983760122
  • Also available as an ebook

Blog Tour Day 21: Review & Interview on Purple Jelly Bean Chair Reviews

Purple Jelly Bean Chair ReviewsToday is the last day of my three-week blog tour promoting King of Paine, and we finish with a flourish on Purple Jelly Bean Chair Reviews. My host, Natalie, tells me she plans to give me a thorough grilling in our interview before she presents her review of King of Paine. Thank you for following my tour; I hope you’ll join us one last time for my grand finale on Natalie’s hauntingly beautiful blog!

Natalie reviews a wide range of material: paranormal and historical romance, mystery/suspense, paranormal (including erotic, adult, and YA),  urban fantasy, fantasy, chick lit, young adult, memoirs, and autobiographies. In her own words, “I am totally obsessed with reading, can’t seem to get enough books to read, and even when I have 10 new books I haven’t read yet, I will still buy a new one.” Her love of books is clear from her reviews; even negative comments are delivered with a positive spin. Enjoy!

[Note: This event was delayed due to a power outage in Nova Scotia, where Natalie’s blog is hosted. I apologize for any inconvenience and thank Natalie for posting as soon as she could.]

Festival of Books: Hanukkah Giveaway

The book world is getting its holiday groove on, and eight of us Hanukkah celebrants wanted to join the party. We’ve banded together to announce a Festival of Books, eight days and nights of book giveaways running from December 20th – 28th.  We’ll each give away a few of our own ebooks, and one grand prize winner will take home copies of all twelve!


Before I get into the contest details, a brief word about Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. It’s probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, not because of its religious significance, but because of its proximity to Christmas. Even many Jews treat it like the Jewish Christmas, adopting Christian customs like elaborate gift-giving and decoration so their children don’t feel left out of the season’s festivities. Ironically, Hanukkah has its roots in a revolution against assimilation and the suppression of Jewish religion.

During the reign of Alexander the Great, the conquered peoples of the Middle East were allowed to continue observing their own religions, but  gradually many Jews adopted the language, customs, and dress of the Greeks. More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV, tried to force complete assimilation of the remaining traditionalists, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, ordering the desecration of the Temple–the central place of worship in old Jerusalem–and massacring offenders. Defiant Jews led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee revolted against both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by the Greek government. The revolution succeeded, and the Temple was rededicated.

At the time of the rededication, the story goes, there was scant oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. The menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple was supposed to burn throughout the night every night, but there was only enough oil to burn for one day. Miraculously, the menorah burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil. An eight-day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle.

This year we celebrate Hanukkah by lighting the candles of the menorah on December 20 – 28. Many of us also give gifts to our loved ones; a few even give away books to strangers!


Please visit these participating authors to learn more about their excellent books:

Stephanie Abbott writing as Emma Jameson, author of Ice Blue (a cozy mystery): Blog and Twitter.

Danielle Blanchard, author of Death Wish (paranormal romance): Blog and Twitter.

Justin Dennis, author of Through The Portal (YA fantasy): Blog and Twitter.

Lisa Grace, author of Angel in the Shadows and Angel in the Storm (YA fantasy): Blog and Twitter.

Jonathan Gould, author of Doodling and Flidderbugs (both humorous fantasies): Blog and Twitter.

Craig Hansen, author of SHADA (YA thriller): Blog and Twitter.

Larry Kahn, author of The Jinx (thriller) and King of Paine (suspense). Welcome, you’re here! My Facebook and Twitter follow buttons are on the top right sidebar, and you can join my blog through Google Friend Connect at the bottom left sidebar. Please feel free to browse!

Emily Ann Ward, author of Finding Fiona (YA Sci-Fi) and Passages (YA short stories): Blog and Twitter.


Each of us will be giving away 1-3 free copies of our ebooks on our own blogs throughout the Festival of Books. I’m offering three books,  winners’ choice of King of Paine or The Jinx. Leave a comment and your email address on the King of Paine page or The Jinx page to enter and indicate your choice. If there are more than three entries, winners will be selected randomly on 12/28.


There are four ways to increase your chances of winning the grand prize–all 12 books: (1) Follow participating authors on Twitter; (2)  Tweet about the Festival of Books giveaway with a link; (3) Follow participating authors’ blogs, and (4) “Like” participating authors’ Facebook pages. The more authors you visit, the more chances to win, as detailed on the entry form. [REMOVED]

Blog Tour Day 20: My Goodreads Q&A

As my blog tour approaches its end, I thought I’d give readers a chance to ask me questions about King of Paine and my writing in a live venue and also introduce those of you who haven’t found it yet to Goodreads. It’s the largest site for readers and book recommendations in the world, with more than 6 million members added since its launch in 2007.  Users recommend books, compare what they are reading, keep track of what they’ve read and would like to read, find their next favorite book, form book clubs, interact with authors and much more. It’s an amazing site!

I’ll be live on Goodreads in a designated Q&A forum today (Tuesday 12/20) from 1-2pm and  7-8pm. You can browse the discussion topics without joining Goodreads, but you’ll need to become a member to post a question. Questions can be posted at any time, but I’ll only be responding live at the designated times.

I highly recommend joining Goodreads if you love books. Most book recommendation websites work by listing random people’s reviews. On Goodreads, when a person adds a book to the site, all their “friends” can see what they thought of it. The common sense theory is that people are more likely to get excited about a book recommended by someone they trust than a suggestion from a stranger. Even if you don’t know other members to begin, you can become friends or fans of other members whose reviews speak to your tastes. And if you prefer to browse in private, you can see all reviews and ratings for books that interest you even if you’re not visible to others.

I’ll walk you through the sign-up process if you’re thinking about joining. Start at the Goodreads New User page, where you’ll enter your email address and a new password. You’ll then be guided through four pages that will help optimize your Goodreads experience, but all of these pages can be skipped if you just want to participate in my Q&A or otherwise want to browse the website.

The first page will allow you to find friends by searching your facebook, twitter, gmail, yahoo and hotmail address books–but only if you request it. Then you’ll be asked to select your favorite genres to improve your browsing and recommendation experience. You’ll then have an opportunity to rate books you’ve read, and the last page produces recommendations based on your favorite genres and book ratings. You can always return to these pages from your home page if you skip them and later decide to become a more active user.

Give it a try–you may soon find yourself addicted!

I hope you’ll join me for the Q&A this afternoon or tonight and then again tomorrow when we wrap up the tour with a review, interview and book giveaway on Purple Jelly Bean Chair Reviews. And don’t forget to submit your entry for the King of Paine Kindle Giveaway Contest by midnight tomorrow (Wednesday 12/21)–time is running out!

Blog Tour Day 19: Guest Post on CMash Loves To Read, “My Inspiration for King of Paine,” & Book Giveaway

CMash Loves to Read”= King of Paine melds two wildly different story lines. In one, Special Agent Frank Paine hunts an online stalker who’s taunting him with crimes hinting at the agent’s own kinky past. At the same time, reporter Roger Martin is guided by an angelic woman to investigate missing senior citizens across the country. Given the book’s split personality, readers of today’s guest post on CMash Loves to Read entitled “My Inspiration for King of Paine” will not be surprised that it was inspired by two distinct ideas, but you’ll never guess what they are. Join me and my host, Cheryl (“CMash”), for my final guest post of the tour and a book giveaway.

If you’re a mystery/suspense fan, you’ll feel comfortable on Cheryl’s warm, homey blog. Her favorite genres are suspense, mystery, some contemporary romance and/or fiction, but this appears to be a vampire-free zone. If horror, paranormal, sci-fi or fantasy are you’re thing,  look elsewhere! Another great thing about CMash’s blog is that she loves to do book giveaways, and she does them with a flourish. She has a few interesting ones underway now and a couple more in the pipeline. Stop by, browse, and enter for chances to win free books. Sounds like  a great way to start the week!

I’ll be responding to your questions tomorrow on my Goodreads Q&A, live from 1PM to 2PM and from 7PM to 8PM (you can leave questions any time). On Wednesday, Natalie at Purple Jelly Bean Chair Reviews will wrap up the tour with a review, author interview, and book giveaway. And don’t forget to submit your entry for the King of Paine Kindle Giveaway Contest by midnight on Wednesday. Good luck!

Blog Tour Day 18: Review on Thoughts In Progress


The King of Paine blog tour is making that last turn into the home stretch! Today, we return to Thoughts in Progress for Mason Canyon’s review of, you guessed it, King of Paine. The review will also be featured in The Sunday Salon, a virtual hangout where over five hundred bloggers get together every Sunday and share what they’re reading.

After reading Mason’s review, you’ll probably be tempted to browse Thoughts In Progress, an award-winning blog featuring hundreds of book reviews, guest posts and giveaways. Don’t fight it–that’s what Sundays are for!

Please join me tomorrow at CMash Loves to Read–Cheryl will be hosting a book giveaway and my final guest post of the tour, “My Inspiration For King of Paine.” Not surprisingly, since the story melds two wildly different plot lines, I was inspired by two distinct ideas.

Blog Tour Day 17: King of Paine Featured in Indie Book Blowout!

We’re celebrating Day 17 of the blog tour as one of the featured thrillers in the Indie Book Blowout, 12 Days of Christmas event.  From December 12 – 24, many great indie titles in all genres will be available for 99 cents.

Some of you just cringed, I’m sure of it. You’re thinking there has to be something wrong with a book priced at 99 cents. But the ebook revolution has turned the book world on its head, and open-minded readers can find some amazing values hidden at the 99-cent price point.

Truth be told, the most remarkable characteristic of books priced at 99 cents is their wide disparity in quality and value. For the same dollar, you’ll find individual short stories, novellas, short novels and epics in every genre. A traditional novel ranges from 70,000 to 120,000 words (King of Paine, weighs in at 106,000), but many authors now writing with the e-book market in mind whip out much shorter novels every few months. There’s nothing wrong with that, but value-conscious readers should know whether they’re purchasing 15 hours of entertainment for their buck or just three, an intricately-crafted adventure or a seat-of-the-pants lark.

Editorial quality also varies wildly, and I fear reader frustration with the poorly-edited material flooding the market could cause many excellent books to get overlooked. Bad books are available at every price point, however, and an astute reader who understands why an author would price a great book at such a low price can find ways to mine for these buried treasures.

Two reasons drove me to the decision to price King of Paine at 99 cents for a limited time despite my belief that it’s of comparable quality to the work of today’s popular suspense authors.

First, competition among unproven authors is fierce, and other outstanding writers vying for your attention are introducing their books at this price point. Even the most obsessive readers could not sample all new novels in their genres of choice, never mind keep up with their favorite branded authors. The 99-cent price point urges readers to take a chance on someone new, and a confident writer believes they’ll come back for more. (So does a fool, but book bloggers and reader reviews can help you sort them out.)

Second, e-books must reach a critical level of sales to obtain optimal placement by Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s referral algorithms, and low price may be the only way for a new author to drive sales volume to those heights. Without those internal referrals on the bookseller websites, an author would have to devote an unhealthy amount of time to self-promotion to achieve even modest sales. (After 17 days on the blog tour, I know something about spending an unhealthy amount of time on self-promotion–this does not come naturally to me!)

It takes far more than a low price to make a successful e-book, but the savviest new authors are choosing the 99-cent price point, many of whom are featured in the Indie Book Blowout. There is also some trash in the bargain bin, but readers who dismiss all 99-cent e-books are missing out on some terrific values. Try a little experiment.  Scan the book covers on the event site and click on a few that interest you. You can usually tell by the review blurbs cited in the Amazon book description and from a quick sampling of reader reviews whether you’ve struck gold.

For example, here are a few review blurbs from bloggers on the King of Paine blog tour:

“Larry Kahn has managed to create a cast of unforgettable characters, throwing in a bit of sex and misadventure, while infusing it with legal, moral, and ethical dilemmas. To say that I thought the King of Paine was brilliantly written would be an understatement. I sat down to read the book in the morning and was unable to put it down until I read the very last page!” –The Write To Make A Living

“The writing is perfect. It just fits the plot and the characters. It’s that perfect understated writing that works so well for this kind of book. I felt like I could dig into the story and the people in it, and I think it is all due to Larry’s awesome writing. Plus, that plot? Holy hell! I never could have seen the twists and turns coming.” Owl Tell You About It

“King of Paine is the second book I have read this year that I thought would make a great movie…I definitely recommend this one. Once I started reading, I couldn’t walk away from it.” –From the TBR Pile

“This is the kind of book where you can open it on ANY page and the story just pulls you in. It’s that good!..His characters, in particular Jolynn are well thought out and masterfully crafted. I have to admit i’ve heard the comparison between The Girl and the Dragon Tattoo and King of Paine and in my opinion, Kahn is better. I was never bored, in fact I hung onto every word in this story.” –Boekie’s Book Reviews

Does that sound like a trashy bargain bin read? You can buy the ebook edition now for 99 cents:



Blog Tour Day 16: Review on Opinions of a Wolf

Day 16 of the blog tour takes us to Opinions of a Wolf and the first howling pan of King of Paine on the tour.  If you have any doubts about the independence of the reviewers hosting my events, this post will ease your mind! No book is for everyone, and King of Paine deals with some controversial themes. It’s my policy not to hide negative reviews because the last thing I want to do is sell someone a book they’re not going to enjoy. Take a look at Amanda’s review, and if her criticism hits home, maybe my book isn’t for you, either. On the other hand, please don’t overlook all the other great reviews King of Paine has been collecting!

Opinions of a Wolf is a business-like blog, subtitled “A 20-something’s book and movie reviews, interspersed with random thoughts on librarianship/libraries and culture.” As for the genres you’ll find on her blog, Amanda enjoys a wide variety. In her own words, “I like horror, dystopias, post-apocalyptic settings, paranormal, romance, classics, scifi, some fantasy (I tend to stay away from the knights and ladies in waiting types), memoirs, nonfiction (generally of the layman’s science or environmental variety), graphic novels, and probably others I’m forgetting to mention.” She’s also the author of  Ecstatic Evil, a paranormal romance novella. Check it out!

Blog Tour Day 15: Review & My Guest Post on The Enchanted Book, “What Can You Expect From A 99-Cent E-book?”

The Enchanted Book The dramatic rise of e-books has made it easy for anybody to publish a novel, and readers are scrambling for ways to pluck the most entertaining stories from the bargain bin. In today’s guest post at The Enchanted Book—  “What Can You Expect From a 99-cent E-Book?”– I make the case for some amazing values hidden at that price point.

The Enchanted Book is an award-winning book blog that is, in a word, enchanting.   Host Selena describes herself as “someone who loves to read, particularly romance and erotica, and loves just as much to write. The Enchanted Book is the culmination of those two loves.” Selena also likes to read mysteries and thrillers from any time period, historical reads, and some nonfiction. “I’m a sucker for inspirational books,” she says. A leisurely stroll through her blog will surely inspire you!

Since today’s topic is  99-cent books, I’ll remind everybody there’s over 200 indie e-books from all genres on sale at that price from December 12 – 24 at The 12 Days of Christmas Book Blowout. Prizes, including a new Kindle, will be awarded to lucky supporters of indie authors!

Blog Tour Day 14: My Guest Post on Alive On The Shelves, “When Eye Candy Fights Back: Adding Depth To A Love Interest”

On today’s tour stop, we’ll visit Alive On The Shelves, where Lisa hosts my guest post “When Eye Candy Fights Back: Adding Depth To a Love Interest.” It’s about Jolynn Decker, Frank Paine’s feisty ex-girlfriend, who alternates among suspect, tease, lover, sidekick, and victim in King of Paine with the ease of a more experienced actress. Join us to learn how this former beauty queen fought to avoid being type-cast.

Book people will love browsing Alive on the Shelves, a contemporary, professionally-crafted blog Lisa created because she wanted a place to talk about the books she reads. In her own words, “I’m an avid – if indiscriminate – reader.  I’m a big fan of mysteries and thrillers, but I’ll read a bit of anything – non-fiction, biographies, historical fiction, comedy.  You might even convince me to read a little romance, if it’s well written.” She reviews a lot of mainstream fiction but is a supporter of quality indie work, too. Stop by, and you’ll see why her blog is so popular!

On tomorrow’s tour stop, The Enchanted Book will host my guest post “What Can You Expect From A 99-Cent E-Book?” My answer might surprise you. And while we’re on the topic of 99-cent e-books, King of Paine is participating in The 12 Days of Christmas Book Blowout. Dozens of GREAT eBooks in all genres are on sale now for 99¢ each!

Blog Tour Day 13: My Guest Post on the Book Diva’s Reads “Buried Treasures: Treats for the Watchful Reader”

Day 13 of the blog tour takes us to The Book Diva’s Reads for my guest post “Buried Treasures: Treats for the Watchful Reader” and  a review of King of Paine by my host, Vivian, The Book Diva herself. Today’s post was a fun one to write because when the grind of revising later drafts becomes tiresome, one of the ways I entertain myself is by hiding little Easter eggs in the manuscript–homages, themes, and other trivia I hope will intrigue readers. Today, I get to reveal some of them…and tease you with a few others!

The Book Diva’s Reads is an attractive blog in its simplicity–no bells and whistles, just a lot of reviews. In Vivian’s own words, “I’ve read blogs by professionals and those with emphasis on one or two genres. I thought it would be interesting to start a blog for the basic reader by a basic reader.”  She enjoys reading from a variety of genres, including favorites: Mystery, Romantic Suspense, Thrillers, ChickLit, and Classic Literature. Vivian also enjoys reading nonfiction relating to aromatherapy, herbalism, perfumes and perfumery, tea, comparative religion, Islam and Muslims.  She’s also written several informative booklets on Islam and Muslims, co-authored and edited stories on Islamic parables, as well as authored numerous Islamic articles and reviews. If you can’t find something to read after browsing The Book Diva’s Reads, you’re just not trying!

I hope you’ll join me tomorrow when I visit Alive On The Shelves for a guest post entitled “When Eye Candy Fights Back: Adding Depth To a Love Interest.” It’s about Jolynn Decker, Frank Paine’s feisty ex-girlfriend, who alternates among suspect, tease, lover, sidekick, and victim in King of Paine with the ease of a more experienced actress.

Blog Tour Day 12: Author of the Week Interview with Holly on Full Moon Bites

As we begin the second half of the King of Paine blog tour, I’m honored to be featured as the Author of the Week on Full Moon Bites. To mark the occasion, I sat down with my host, Holly, for a revealing interview, and we’ll also be giving away some books!

Holly is herself a striving writer and hopes to one day have a book or series published. In her own words, “until then I’ll write, read, and review until my hearts content.” Full Moon Bites is a hauntingly attractive blog that features robust reviews of a wide range of fiction–contemporary, romance (western, historical, paranormal), crime, horror, fantasy/urban fantasy, mystery/thriller, young adult, and erotica. Holly supports indie writers and regularly features an Author of the Week. You can lose a few hours browsing!

Tomorrow the blog tour stops at The Book Diva’s Reads, where my host, Vivian, will review King of Paine and feature my guest post: “Buried Treasures: Treats for the Watchful Reader.” I hope you’ll join us–I’ll be revealing a few secrets hidden in King of Paine.

Blog Tour Day 11: “Getting Inside The Mind of a Madman,” My Interview with Frank Paine

We’re halfway through the King of Paine blog tour, and I’ve set aside this Sunday for an interview with Frank Paine to learn how the rookie FBI agent got inside the mind of the stalker who tormented him. The conversation has been edited to avoid spoilers and maintain this site’s “PG” rating.

KAHN: Thank you for joining me today, Special Agent Paine.

PAINE: Like I had a damn choice.

KAHN: Well, since Assistant Special-Agent-in-Charge Holbrook suspended you for insubordination, I assumed you might enjoy a moment back in the limelight.

PAINE: Ass Holbrook is an Old School prick. Give me a dozen takes, and I replay the finale at The River the same way every time.

KAHN: You had an obligation to disclose the location of the crime scene, regardless of what you promised [spoiler].

PAINE: You’re thinking like a lawyer. I needed her cooperation to trap that [expletive deleted] and save [spoiler], and she wouldn’t spill the frijoles unless I agreed to preserve The River’s secrecy. A few crazy right wingers might lynch the woman if her activities there became public knowledge.

KAHN: “Spill the frijoles.” You only worked with Jeronimo Reyes for a short time, but he had a strong influence.

PAINE: I spent time with dozens of agents preparing for my role in G-Man a few years ago and more recently when training at Quantico and learning the ropes in the Atlanta Field Office. Jero was the best; he stood for everything good about the Bureau.

KAHN: Fidelity, bravery, and integrity?

PAINE: Everybody’s a [expletive deleted] comedian. You made me look like a jackass in that scene with Jero, reciting the Bureau creed, like I’m still always acting. The guys who wrote my screenplays knew how to make an action hero look good. And revealing my personal struggles? Do you really think mainstream readers are ready for a sadomasochistic hero? My PR people threatened to drop me when I wanted to come out three years ago–after the fiasco in Mexico.

KAHN: The BDSM [editor: bondage, domination/submission, and sadism/masochism] angle was central to the story–the stalker uses your kinky past to drive the Bureau’s investigation in a certain direction. Besides, it’s clear you wanted to make right by the girl. Despite your playboy image, you’re a working class kid at heart. So far, all the reviewers on the tour like you. I like you.

PAINE: (Mimicks Jack Nicholson’s voice and demeanor as Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets) I tell you buddy… I’d be the luckiest man alive if that did it for me.

KAHN: Seriously. It’s not like you’re a whips and chains kind of guy. A few sickos may carry the sadistic aspects too far, but there’s wide interest in mild kink among couples you’d consider average. Psychologists say experimentation in the context of consensual roleplay is well within the normal range, neither perverted nor a form of mental illness. Most readers will probably find the R-rated glimpses into the BDSM lifestyle alluring, maybe even illuminating.

PAINE: Anything personal you want to share, dude? (Seems miffed his Nicholson impression didn’t get a laugh.)

KAHN: (Laughs) You’re the one with the hands-on experience. Most of my research was conducted online, reading Psychology Today articles and surfing the web.

PAINE: [Expletive deleted]! You’re big on fidelity, bravery and integrity when my reputation is on the line.

KAHN: You can’t handle the truth.

PAINE:  (Shaking his head at the incredibly bad Nicholson impression) You’re a [expletive deleted] control freak!

KAHN: What’s the attraction of the BDSM lifestyle for you?

PAINE: It’s all about providing a woman the adrenaline rush she craves. A dominant’s role is to deliver the sub’s fantasy, to give pleasure even if it’s through some relatively mild form of pain or humiliation. Usually, my scenes involve creating a risk, not inflicting any real harm on the chick.

KAHN: Like your friend always said, “No risk, no thrill.”

PAINE: Those words can be more powerful than Viagra.

KAHN: I’ll keep a respectful distance.

PAINE: Again with the jokes. You really do enjoy making me look like a jerk. You made me give up my weapon–twice!

KAHN: Hey, tell me you didn’t enjoy that interrogation scene in the strip club. I could have cast you as Roger Martin, the reporter. You would have had to gain forty pounds, like DeNiro did for Raging Bull, and perform sex scenes with [spoiler]. Photos of Frank Paine’s tits floating around cyberspace would not have bolstered your action hero image.

PAINE: (Smirking) Fair point. And Kravner could not have pulled that strip club scene off.

KAHN: You’re right, you’re right. I actually completed several drafts of the manuscript–then entitled Come Into My Web–with Ben Kravner [editor: the protagonist in Kahn’s first novel, The Jinx] as the main character but ultimately realized that was a mistake. Ben’s charm grew from his youthful exuberance, his naive belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when great stakes are involved. In the new book, he was older and had joined the FBI as something of a celebrity after his rise to national prominence in The Jinx, and he came off a bit flat encumbered by the constraints of Bureau procedure and age. The story was dragging him along rather than him driving the story.

PAINE: So you went with the Hollywood upgrade to power the plot. Smart.

KAHN: Exactly. When beta readers reported liking my secondary protagonist, Roger Martin, more than Ben, I decided to recast the role. I needed to create a better character to redeem myself. I wanted the opposite of bland, and I came up with kinky. Really, really kinky. And with your dominating star power now driving my narrative voice, the story rewrote itself. I blew up all the baggage weighing me down from The Jinx, and created new, more powerful character motivations tied to the BDSM theme. The stalker, who readers must identify along with you, became more believable and frightening.

PAINE: I couldn’t crack the case until the final hours because the UNSUB [editor: the FBI’s shorthand for “unknown subject,” the unidentified perpetrator of a crime] hid behind the curtain of the Internet so well–could have been anyone, male or female. I won’t divulge his or her identity for the benefit of your prospective readers, but can I say that some of the suspects were shockingly close to me?

KAHN: Go right ahead.

PAINE: (Rolls eyes) I don’t play Abbott to anybody’s Costello.

KAHN: You’ll play whoever I [expletive deleted] tell you to play.

PAINE: (Stands up and gets in Kahn’s face) You should cast yourself as Ass Holbrook.

KAHN: Easy, Frankie Boy. Let’s wrap this up before somebody gets another black eye.

PAINE: (Sits) I hate that nickname.

KAHN: We’ll drop it in the sequel. So, tell me, which was your favorite scene in King of Paine?

PAINE: My “interrogation” of [spoiler] in the strip club was hot, but the finale at The River–the entire last third of the story–plays like Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. All of the characters have everything they care about at stake, and no solution can satisfy everybody. It was a thinking man’s dilemma, and I knew I wasn’t smart enough to solve it on my own. Someone–maybe everyone–was going to die.

KAHN: Well, we know you made it.

PAINE: You’re so [expletive deleted] nuts you might be conducting this entire interview with the assistance of a ouija board. Nothing is certain in your world.

KAHN: True. And on that note, let’s take some questions from our readers.

PAINE: We’re not getting inside the mind of the madman?

KAHN: I think we already have.

[Editor: If you have any additional questions for Larry or Frank, please submit them as comments below or use the contact form. They will reply promptly.]

Buy King of Paine:



Blog Tour Day 10: Book Giveaway and My Guest Post on Darlene’s Book Nook: “Rooting for a Flawed Protagonist”

Readers love to root for their action heroes, so even when authors endow their main characters with flaws to add depth and realism, the “defects” are often designed to make you sympathize with the character more (like a job applicant who reluctantly admits to being a workaholic). But in my new suspense novel, Frank Paine did a bad, bad thing, making him a rarity in the thriller universe–a truly flawed protagonist. In today’s guest post on Darlene’s Book Nook I discuss how I tried to meet the challenge of making him sympathetic in King of Paine.

The tagline for Darlene’s Book Nook is “So many books, so little time!” That sums up  Darlene’s busy site in a nutshell. She posts almost daily, with reviews, giveaways and book tour events keeping her on her toes almost as much as her two children. In her own words, ” I was always an avid reader, but reading adult literature became non-existent once the kids were born! For my birthday last year, my husband bought me an iPod, and it was the best gift ever! Since then, I have listened to more books than I have read in the past nine years!” Darlene’s genres of interest are paranormal, suspense/thriller, mystery, young adult, horror, urban fantasy, fantasy, romantic suspense, mainstream fiction, and juvenile fiction (which she reads aloud to her children). Take a stroll around her Book Nook and enjoy!

Tomorrow the tour heads back here to my website for “Getting Inside the Mind of a Madman,” my interview with Frank Paine. We’ll discuss how he outwitted the ruthless stalker who hunted him in King of Paine and other choice topics. I understand Frank is miffed about some of the literary choices I made, so the conversation may get heated.

Blog Tour Day 9: My Interview With Misty on The Top Shelf

Today’s stop on the King of Paine Blog Tour features my interview with Misty, an avid reader and the owner of The Top Shelf, a sleek looking blog that recently celebrated its first anniversary. Misty graduated from Capital University in 2005 with a degree in English Literature. She likes to read books of all genres, and her tag cloud on The Top Shelf reflects that,  with similar weightings for paranormal, romance, comedy, fantasy, young adult and mystery/thrillers. Her love of books shows in her reviews. In her own words, “The day I stop having fun reviewing is the day I’ll quit reviewing. Until that day comes, if it comes at all, you can always expect me to be honest but helpful.” In addition to help finding new reads, you’ll  enjoy browsing Misty’s blog for “top shelf” features like book trailers, author interviews, guest blogs and contests.

Tomorrow the tour takes a jaunt north of the border to Darlene’s Book Nook, where Darlene will host a  book giveaway and my guest post: “Rooting for a Flawed Protagonist.” Frank Paine did a bad, bad thing, making him a rarity in the thriller universe–a truly flawed protagonist. I’ll discuss how I tried to meet the challenge of making him sympathetic.

Blog Tour Day 8: Book Giveaway and My Guest Post on All the Days of: “Crafting Intricate Plots: My Writing Process”

 All the Days ofI’m not one of those writers who can sit at the keyboard and let his characters take over completely–not that there’s anything wrong with that. Many people enjoy a fast, light-weight story, but I prefer to read more intricate plots, so that’s what I write. In today’s guest post on All the Days of, courtesy of my South African host Chrizette, I share some thoughts about my writing process, a rigorous ordeal that helps explain why it takes me so long to complete a book–and why readers love the twists and turns in my plots. Please join us–Chrizette will be also be giving away an autographed copy of King of Paine and two ebook editions.

After you’re finished reading my guest post, please take a few minutes to browse All the Days of. Paranormal and historical romances are Chrizette’s favorite genres, although she has discovered a love of dystopian and YA novels recently, and she’s always on the lookout for that elusive genre-transcending book. Her reviews are artfully written. Chrizette  lives in a beautiful part of South Africa, where she often enjoys camping. In her own words, “what a wonderful opportunity to read when there is no-one else in sight.  I love reading . . . especially if it is something that takes me away from the normal world.”

Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for my interview with Misty Rayburn at The Top Shelf. She tells me her back’s been aching of late, so I’m prepared to take a few jabs from her. Hopefully, my legal training will help keep me quick on my feet!

Blog Tour Day 7: Review & Guest Post “Researching the Psychology of BDSM” on Owl Tell You About It

Despite the provocative image on King of Paine‘s cover, I did not set out to write a novel about BDSM. But as themes about control and its abandonment to faith and chance emerged, the BDSM elements began to predominate. In today’s guest post on Owl Tell You About It, we’ll take a peek inside the minds of practitioners of the art, essential research I used in developing a few of my characters. My host, Laura Ashlee, has already posted her (5-star!) review of King of Paine this morning and says to check back for the guest post around noon. Once again, I’m humbled by the love reviewers are showing for my book. Thank you, Laura!

Laura is twenty-four years old and hails from small town Alabama. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and is currently working full time AND studying for her GRE so she can go to grad school next year AND reading/reviewing a LOT of books for her beautiful blog. She reviews everything from children’s books to adult romance on Owl Tell You About It; young adult, romance and shoujo/shounen are the most prominent tags in her cloud. In her own words, “Jane Eyre is my absolute favorite. More favorites (in no particular order) are: The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Gargoyle, An Abundance of Katherines, The Book Thief, Wuthering Heights, Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and a million more.” Readers will enjoy browsing her fun site.

The tour goes international tomorrow, as we jet through cyberspace to South Africa, where  Chrizette will host a book giveaway and my guest post: “Crafting Intricate Plots: My Writing Process” on her blog All the days of. And don’t forget to check out the King of Paine Kindle Giveaway Contest–you can enter any time before the end of the tour on December 21st, but early birds (and even night owls, in honor of today’s blog host) can improve their odds of winning a Kindle Touch 3G before Christmas by getting involved.

Blog Tour Day 6: Review & Interview on Boekie’s Book Reviews

The tour takes a long hop across the country to sunny California today, but thanks to the wonder of the Internet I can’t use jet lag as an excuse for spilling my guts in an interview with the aptly-named Vanessa Booke at Boekie’s Book Reviews. From my position in the hot seat, she could hold her own with Barbara Walters–mercifully, she did not make me cry. I just peeked at her review, though, and I’m getting a little misty-eyed–she thinks King of Paine is BETTER than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo! Wow, I’m blown away.

Boekie’s Book Reviews is a warm, inviting blog with easy-to-read reviews across a wide range of genres. Vanessa is particularly interested in fantasy, paranormal, supernatural and historical fiction. In her own words, “I love reading everything from steamy romances, to time travel to books about vampires and the fae.  I like some mystery and thriller books.” She’s also a lover of poetry and all things Jane Austen.

Vanessa is a writer herself,  starting with poetry in junior high school and then moving on to fiction. She recently published a haunting short story, The Dark Road Ahead, and Winter Rose, the first book in her Eternal Beauty young adult paranormal romance/dark fantasy series, is due out next summer. You can read more about Vanessa’s writing at her author site.

The tour heads back South tomorrow to Alabama, where Owl Tell You About It hosts my guest post “Researching the Psychology of BDSM,” one you won’t want to miss. Laura Ashlee will also be posting her review of King of Paine.

Blog Tour Day 5: Guest Post on Thoughts In Progress: “Who Are You Chatting With?: The Dangers of Anonymous Internet Communications”

Ever since my two sons began using AOL’s instant messaging service in the late-1990s, I’ve been intrigued by the potential for good and evil inherent in anonymous Internet chat, a device featured prominently in both of my novels. Like every parent, I feared my kids could become vulnerable to predators if allowed to roam cyberspace unattended, a concern substantiated many times over by the prodigious workload of the FBI’s Innocent Images Task Force. But it’s not just a risk for children, anymore. Today’s guest post on Thoughts In Progress explores this frightening real life risk to chatters of all ages.

Thoughts In Progress is a meticulously designed site featuring book reviews by the mysterious Mason Canyon. In Mason’s own words, “these reviews are done for the love of a good book, not for monetary rewards.” There’s a lot of book love going on at this award-winning blog–you’ll want to browse for a while after checking out my guest post. And don’t forget to come back for Mason’s review of King of Paine in the December 18th “Sunday Salon”!

Tomorrow I’m being interviewed on Boekie’s Book Reviews. Vanessa takes some pride in asking the tough questions; stop by to see if she can knock me off balance! I’m violating my “no pledge” rule just this once–I will not cry no matter what horrors she drags up from my past.

Blog Tour Day 4: Guest Post “Writing Thought-Provoking Suspense: Social Themes” on The Write To Make A Living And An Absolutely Amazing Review!

Like many thriller/suspense authors, especially those trained as attorneys, I craft intricate, well-researched plots, engage my characters in thought-provoking social drama and spice their lives with alluring romantic entanglements. The most challenging aspect of mastering this genre is incorporating contemporary social issues without preaching or compromising pace. I address that challenge on today’s blog tour stop at The Write To Make A Living in a guest post entitled  “Writing Thought-Provoking Suspense: Social Themes.” The event also features an amazing review of King of Paine by my host, Stacey Donaldson, and a book giveaway. I’m resisting the urge to share some blurbs from her review–take a look, it’s beautifully written and she loved the book!

Stacey works in the insurance industry by day, but in her “real life” she’s a writer/blogger. In her own words, “I love to read, write, and talk — blogging is the perfect marriage of all three.” After years of emailing daily motivation to her friends and family, she finally got the nerve to compile some of them into a book, Peace of Mind…Is a State of Mind, which explains why the most prominent label in her tag cloud on The Write To Make A Living is “Motivation.” Stacey also reviews a wide range of fiction on her site, a fairly even mix of romance, paranormal and thriller/suspense. She’s also been an absolute delight to work with while I navigated unfamiliar blog tour waters–always responsive and encouraging. [And I wrote that before I knew she loved my book!]

I hope you’ll tune in tomorrow at Thoughts In Progress where you can read my guest post “Who Are You Chatting With?” I’ll discuss the dangers of anonymous Internet communications, a theme in both of my novels and a frightening real life risk.

Blog Tour Day 3: My Guest Post “Researching An FBI Story” on Live To Read

Today’s event on the King of Paine blog tour is my guest post entitled “Researching An FBI Story” on Krystal Larson’s excellent blog, Live To Read. While I took a few liberties, several amazing resources helped me paint Frank Paine’s FBI with true colors, including an exhausting day spent interviewing a pair of Special Agents in the Atlanta Field Office. Hop on over to Live To Read to learn more about how I created an action-packed Bureau experience grounded in reality. Krystal is also offering a book giveaway–two ebooks and a signed trade paperback.

My host today, Krystal, is a college student who reads and reviews books in just about any genre. She estimates she has read over 5,000 books over the course of her short life; in her own words, “some of the books were classics, some of the books were terrific, and some of the books were…misses.” Fortunately for me, she enjoyed King of Paine when she reviewed it back in September (reposted today). I encourage you to browse her blog for some great tips on what to read next (after King of Paine, of course!).

Please join me again tomorrow at The Write To Make A Living, where I’ll be guest posting about “Writing Thought-Provoking Suspense: Social Themes.” My host, Stacey, will also present a review of King of Paine and give away a few free copies.


Blog Tour Day 2: From the TBR Pile

From the TBR PileToday’s stop on the King of Paine Blog Tour is a review and book giveaway on From the TBR Pile, an extremely attractive site hosted by Kari Boardman and Autumn Crochet. It has over 1,000 followers, and they review a wide range of genres. The largest labels in their tag cloud are contemporary romance and YA, but they’ve reviewed several mystery/thriller/suspense novels, too. Unlike some reviewers, they’re not afraid to pan a book–a recent post chronicles a few they couldn’t finish.

Check out their site to view Kari’s excellent review of King of Paine and be sure to leave a comment before entering my Kindle Giveaway Contest to increase your chances to win! Tune back in tomorrow for Day 3 of the tour, featuring my guest post, “Researching an FBI Story,” on Live To Read.

King of Paine Kicks Off “Snowed in with Indie Authors” Review and Giveaway Festival

festival button

The King of Paine Blog Tour begins today, December 1,  and the first stop is at What Book is That?, a popular book blog that is hosting  a “Snowed in with Indie Authors” festival all month long.  Every day in December, a different indie book will be reviewed at  Each review has a giveaway attached for digital books, print books, gift certificates and more!

I’m honored to kick off the festival with host Emily’s great review of King of Paine. Over 30 books will be up for grabs this month, so stop by every day for a new chance to win! Don’t forget to leave a comment on Emily’s post before entering my Kindle Giveaway Contest to increase your chances to win.

King of Paine Launch: A Great First Week!

Thank you to everybody who has made the launch of King of Paine an unqualified success! Sales got off to a nice start, and the Kindle Giveaway Contest is generating an enthusiastic response.

Coincidentally, two 5-star reviews of King of Paine were released this week. The Midwest Book Review called it “…an enticing combination of spy thriller and romance with a dose of intrigue, highly recommended.” The full text is posted here under Editorial Reviews. Then over the weekend Hampton Reviews said:

“King of Paine is a tautly written, absorbing page-turner. I usually can guess the ending to a police procedural by about the third chapter.  This is not the case with Mr. Kahn’s wonderful new book.”

You can read the full review on the Hampton Reviews website, along with an author interview that was posted this morning.

The ebook editions of King of Paine are priced at only 99 cents for a limited time, an excellent holiday value! You can use the Amazon link in the right sidebar or view the full array of purchase options here.

Thank you again for your support. I hope you enjoy King of Paine!

Win a $50 gift card!

A $50 Amazon or B&N gift card will be awarded to the first reader to contact Larry and correctly identify the three literal and figurative references to a classic novel he buried within King of Paine. One is easy!

[Note: As of October 1, 2012, the gift card remains unclaimed]

Kindle Giveaway Contest

King of Paine

I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the official launch of my second novel by participating in the King of Paine Kindle Giveaway Contest. Early readers have weighed in with nothing but four- and five-star reviews and, with your help, it’s time to start spreading the word. One independent reviewer called King of Paine “a complex, compelling, fast-paced and intriguing thriller that will have you turning the pages well into the early morning,” and concluded that at 99 cents for the digital editions “this book is an incredible deal.”

The Kindle Giveaway Contest starts today and will run through the end of the King of Paine Blog Tour on December 21st.  No purchase is required, but you can improve your chances of winning by helping me promote King of Paine as explained in the contest details below.

These promotional activities are things many of you do routinely for authors who inspire you, but setting the price of King of Paine at 99 cents and offering these book-related prizes is my way of saying thank you in advance.  In today’s competitive marketplace, a book’s success depends not only on its quality but also on support from satisfied readers, an enthusiastic blogging community, and loyal friends.  Your kindness means the world to me. I hope you enjoy King of Paine and take home a prize in the contest!


Kindle Giveaway Contest Details

Grand Prize: Kindle Touch 3G (with offers)

First Prize: $25 Gift Card

Second Prize: $10 Gift Card

Third Prize: $5 Gift Card

Eligibility: The drawing for the grand prize will be limited to residents of the US and Canada, but there are no restrictions on eligibility for the other prizes. No Purchase Necessary.

Dates: All entries must be submitted on the official ENTRY FORM by 11:59pm Eastern Time on December 21, 2011.

Selection of Winners: On December 22, 2011, I will use an online random number generator to select  prize winners from among all valid entries. Prior to selection, each participant will be assigned one chance simply for entering the contest plus additional chances for helping to promote King of Paine as follows:

BUY a copy of King of Paine (a great holiday gift!)–25 chances for each copy. Use the link in the right sidebar to order from Amazon or view more buy links and information about the book HERE.

REVIEW King of Paine and post it on any popular book website (e.g., Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, Smashwords, etc.), your blog, or social media—10 chances for each site (up to 10 sites).  Your review can be detailed or just a short blurb, but please try to avoid spoilers.

BLOG about King of Paine (including hosting a guest post or interview) and/or this contest and link to my website—25 chances.

SHARE this post (or my King of Paine post) on Facebook and Twitter (use the sharing buttons at the bottom of each post)–10 chances each.

ASK a question on my Goodreads Q&A–10 chances.

COMMENT about King of Paine on my website or a blog on the King of Paine Blog Tour—5 chances for each blog (one comment per blog).

JOIN my website using Google Friend Connect (bottom left sidebar)–5 chances.

SUBSCRIBE to my newsletter (opt in on the entry form)–5 chances.

LIKE/FOLLOW me on social media (Facebook Fan Page, Twitter, Linked-in, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Shelfari)—5 chances each.

Entries will be accepted on the honor system, but I reserve the right to verify questionable claims and disqualify any cheaters. Play nice! You can include purchases and promotional activities occurring prior to the start of the contest but please do not take credit for activities you haven’t actually completed yet. You may submit additional forms as you complete more activities, but please don’t take credit for the same activities on more than one form.

Good luck, and thanks again for your support!

Click here to view the ENTRY FORM

King of Paine Blog Tour

I’m pleased to release the schedule for the King of Paine Blog Tour, which together with a Kindle Giveaway Contest also announced today, will mark the book’s official launch. Each day from December 1 -21, King of Paine will be featured on one of the world’s greatest book blogs, with reviews, book giveaways, interviews and guest posts authored by yours truly.  Here’s the schedule of events:

12/1   What Book Is That?: Review & Snowed in with Indie Authors December Giveaway Festival
12/2   From the TBR File: Book Giveaway & Review
12/3   Live To Read: Guest Post “Researching An FBI Story”
12/4   The Write To Make A Living: Review, Book Giveaway & Guest Post “Writing Thought-Provoking Suspense: Social Themes”
12/5   Thoughts In Progress: Guest Post “Who Are You Chatting With?: The Dangers of Anonymous Internet Communications”
12/6   Boekie’s Book Reviews: Review & Author Interview
          Owl Tell You About It: Review
12/7   Owl Tell You About It: Guest Post “Researching the Psychology of BDSM”
12/8   All the days of: Book Giveaway & Guest Post “Crafting Intricate Plots: My Writing Process”
12/9   The Top Shelf: Review & Author Interview
12/10  Darlene’s Book Nook: Book Giveaway & Guest Post (topic TBD)
12/11  Larry Kahn: Interview with Frank Paine “Getting Inside The Mind Of A Madman”
12/12  Full Moon Bites: Book Giveaway & Author of the Week Interview
12/13  The Book Diva’s Reads: Review & Guest Post “Buried Treasures: Treats for the Watchful Reader”
12/14  Alive On The Shelves: Guest Post “When Eye Candy Fights Back: Adding Depth To a Love Interest”
12/15  The Enchanted Book: Review & Guest Post “What Can You Expect From A 99-Cent E-Book? ”
12/16  Opinions of  a Wolf: Book Giveaway & Review
12/17  Black Diamond’s Book Reviews: Book Giveaway & Review
12/18  Thoughts In Progress: Review
12/19  CMash Loves to Read: Book Giveaway & Guest Post “My Inspiration For King of Paine
12/20  Goodreads: Live Q&A With Larry Kahn (1-2pm; 7-8pm)
12/21  Purple Jelly Bean Chair Reviews: Review, Author Interview & Book Giveaway

Debunking Cain: Turning 999 Upside Down

Herman Cain’s policies escaped close scrutiny while his presidential campaign lingered on the margins, but the businessman/radio personality’s recent burst into the frontrunner’s box targets him as a candidate to be taken seriously. He’s armed with what he calls his 999 Plan, and he’s dangerous. Cain’s plan is ultimately to phase in the Fair Tax in lieu of the current individual and corporate tax system, and that tax is anything but fair to middle class Americans, particularly retirees.

Cain’s 999 Plan eliminates the estate, capital gains, and payroll taxes. It replaces the 35% corporate income tax with a 9% Business Flat Tax (gross income less all investments, purchases from other businesses, and dividends paid to shareholders, i.e., it’s a 9% payroll tax, since wages are the primary expenses paid to individuals). It replaces the progressive personal income tax with a 9% Individual Flat Tax (gross income less charitable deductions). Finally, it adds a 9% National Sales Tax as the first step toward implementing the Fair Tax.

Cain’s 999 Plan is by his own assertion revenue neutral, i.e., the total amount of tax raised will be the same as under the current tax system. Assuming that to be true, a simple example, without serious number crunching, demonstrates how his plan MUST result in a massive redistribution of the tax burden away from the wealthiest Americans.

The wealthy will have their marginal income tax rate cut from 35% to 9% and capital gains escape taxation entirely. Even if they spent their entire income every year (unlikely), subjecting it to the 9% sales tax, their marginal tax rate would only be 18%. Take this sizable reduction in marginal tax rates, add the zero tax on capital gains, and you get an historic tax cut for the wealthy. If the 999 Plan is revenue neutral, and taxes are cut for businesses and the wealthy, then some other class of citizens must be paying a lot more taxes.

Numbers crunchers will surely have a field day turning Cain’s 999 Plan upside down to identify the losers. (Some wise guy will no doubt label it the 666 Plan and pronounce that the devil is in the details.) But even at the intuitive level, one class will clearly bear a disproportionate and unfair burden.

Middle class RETIREES will be devastated by this “fair” tax plan. For those who consume more than they earn–think retirees living off savings–the national sales tax will create a huge tax burden where none existed before. Their savings have already been taxed when originally earned under the income tax, and now the sales tax would tax the same earnings again when consumed! Those retirees who scrimped and saved during their careers to fund retirement rather than buying expensive cars and vacations will find themselves forced back into the work force to fund the shortfall.

Even the national sales tax manifesto, “Emancipating America from the Income Tax: How a National Sales Tax Would Work” by David R. Burton and Dan R. Mastromarco, warns that transition relief to avoid this horrible inequity is essential. Yet somehow Cain left this out of his plan. He’s got a giant personality made for radio and the campaign trail, but it seems Herman Cain is just another conservative more interested in massive tax cuts for the rich than a truly fair tax system.

Is Social Security A Ponzi Scheme?

Texas Governor Rick Perry made headlines last week at the Republican presidential candidates’ debate when he asserted with an imperious tone that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. It’s a tempting analogy because most of the payments to retirees are financed out of receipts from payroll taxes imposed on current workers and employers, not out of principal and earnings on funds contributed by those retirees during their working careers. So why is Perry wrong?

Charles Ponzi

Ponzi schemes are named after Charles Ponzi, who duped thousands of investors in a postage stamp speculation gambit back in the 1920s. At a time when the annual interest rate for bank accounts was five percent, Ponzi promised investors a 50% return in just 90 days. Ponzi initially bought a small number of international mail coupons in support of his scheme but quickly switched to using incoming funds to pay off earlier investors.

The popular notion of a “Ponzi scheme” has expanded to include any investment fraud that involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors. Organizers often misappropriate funds contributed by early-stage investors for their own personal use instead of engaging in any legitimate investment activity. Because the early contributions are not actually invested, each generation of later investors must make greater investments than the prior one to pay back principal plus the promised return. Eventually the scheme collapses because the perpetrator of the fraud cannot con enough new investors to pay the prior generation of suckers.

Like a Ponzi scheme, Social Security relies upon money from new participants to pay a substantial part (about 82%) of amounts due the prior generation of participants ($727 billion in 2011). (The other 18% comes from interest on trust fund investments and income taxes on social security income.)

Unlike a Ponzi scheme, Social Security is transparent, with no element of fraud. The program was funded for a few years in the 1930s before payouts began in 1940 and operated at a surplus until this year, creating a $2.6 trillion trust fund to supplement future collections.

Unlike a Ponzi scheme, participation in Social Security is mandatory, assuring that current employees will have a pool of future employees to help fund their payouts.

The risk to the solvency of Social Security is not fraud but changing demographics. People are living longer, and the birth rate is low. In 1955, there were over eight workers for every Social Security beneficiary. Today, there are only 2.9 workers per beneficiary, and by 2036, that ratio will decline to 2.1. By 2036, there will be almost twice as many older Americans as today (78.1 million vs. 41.9 million). We’re only just now reaching the tipping point where payouts exceed trust fund collections and income, but this shortfall is projected to continue each year hereafter. The trust fund is projected to be sufficient to allow for full payment of scheduled benefits until 2036, but then payouts would be limited to collections unless adjustments are made to the system.

We do need to make changes to reflect our new demographics, but these revisions do not require blowing up a program that has formed the bedrock of most workers’ retirement plans for the past 70 years. In fact, current proposals under study by the Social Security Administration to switch from wage-based indexing of initial benefits to price-based indexing would assure program solvency for the foreseeable future while maintaining the purchasing power of social security payouts across generations. (Under the current system, future generations would receive payouts with greater purchasing power.)

In my view, the solvency of Social Security is a problem that should not be ignored, but the more serious fiscal dilemma we face is rising health care costs. The solution there will most likely involve rationing of care, an issue fraught with political risk. My latest novel, King of Paine, touches on the moral aspects of some of these end-of-life issues (in the context of a suspenseful whodunit), and a future post will take a harder look at the tragic choices we may have to make. Stay tuned.

Do We Still Have A Dream?

We celebrate anniversaries to mark time, to reflect on progress year over year. On this 48th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Washington celebrates great leaps forward in race relations with the unveiling of the King Memorial, but my reflections leave me wondering if a shell-shocked nation has given up on its dreams for the future.

A generation of dreamers grew up in the Sixties, inspired by leaders who urged us to conquer the frontiers of social inequality and science.

Dr. King had a dream that one day the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners would be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. He inspired the generation who elected Barack Obama.

Gloria Steinem had a dream that one day women would be treated equally with men. She and other leaders of the feminist movement inspired impressionable girls who ultimately broke glass ceilings in corporate boardrooms, laboratories, the military, and government.

President Kennedy had a dream that an American would be the first man to walk on the moon. He inspired a generation of scientists who went on to invent personal computers, the Internet, smartphones, and the biotech industry.

Baby Boomers grew up believing we could do anything if we worked hard and applied our imaginations. Inspired by the passion of great men and women, we made America an economic and moral superpower envied by the rest of the world.

So why is a government controlled by Boomers inspiring nothing but disunity and despair? Why are we electing lawyers who haggle over paying our bills rather than teachers and preachers who dare us to dream? We need leaders who nurture big ideas, both to solve today’s problems–energy dependence, climate change, globalization of the economy, the graying of our population, immigration policy–and to inspire a generation of dreamers who will solve future dilemmas we can’t even imagine.

“We may never again find a leader who is a father to each of us. We cannot wait for a solitary man to breathe fire into our hearts and souls and lead us to the promised land. We need to make our own promises. We need to dream our own dreams. We need to find the passion within ourselves to create the America of our dreams and breathe that fire into our children so that our dreams can become a reality. One father to each son, each son an essential link in a chain, joining America together, one link at a time. Ordinary men can together achieve greatness if driven by sufficient passion.”

That’s a quote from my first novel, The Jinx, words uttered by JJ Alexander, a Republican presidential candidate, a man who campaigned on goals we could achieve together rather than focusing on differences that would doom government to unproductive bickering. We haven’t found a real Republican leader like him yet–I once thought John McCain might be the man until his political base tilted him rightward–but I have a dream.

Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I have a dream that one day a groundswell of ordinary Americans will unite to elect moderate candidates–through a new political party, if necessary–sworn to negotiate bipartisan solutions to our most pressing problems.

I have a dream that these visionary leaders will again make education a national priority and inspire a generation to conquer new frontiers in science.

I have a dream that Americans will invest in alternative energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, stall climate change, and create jobs.

I have a dream that rational legislators will retool a broken health care system, enacting a single-payer health insurance program for all Americans with sliding scale premiums and reasonable limits on desperate measures to extend life, taking employers out of the health insurance business and cutting spending on end-of-life care few people want.

Please share your dreams for America’s future in the comments below. Begin your reply with “I Have A Dream…” and let the legacy of Martin Luther King inspire you.

And if you have the inclination, take a look at my novels. My heroes may be ordinary (Ben Kravner, a young lawyer, in The Jinx) or larger than life (Frank Paine, an ex-Hollywood action star-turned-FBI agent, in King of Paine), but they and much of their supporting cast are intelligent, passionate men and women who grapple with personal flaws and unusual obstacles to ultimately improve their world. They curse and crack wise, make terrible mistakes that cost themselves and others dearly, yet their idealism shines through. They dare to dream.

My Hero, My Wife, And A Purple Donkey

Recent events have reminded me that behind every good man stands a better woman, a Hillary to inspire the dreamer in Bill. Please forgive the redundancy in the title, but this post is about only one such woman. Ellie is my wife and my hero–and a purple donkey, too. Usually, she inspires me to write about ordinary people who strive to live up to lofty ideals; today, on our 26th wedding anniversary, she inspired me to write about her.

The better woman idea actually germinated in the aftermath of Wienergate. A roundtable of prominent women appeared on “This Week” with Christiane Amanpour to explore whether more women in positions of power could change the trend of leaders behaving badly. The ladies convinced me that a more direct route to achieving our political goals might be to cut out the middlemen, allowing the Hillarys to negotiate solutions directly rather than simply inspiring egomaniacal Bills to butt heads (among other anatomical collisions).

Then a delightful little episode swept my thoughts closer to home. In my latest novel I created a character based loosely on Ellie, an angelic woman who radiates goodness and spreads joy like a contagion among all she meets. Always humble, Ellie thinks I exaggerate her mystique. Maybe I do, but she so enchanted a planeload of folks flying to Florida the other day that one of them was moved to write: “I met Ellie at the airport yesterday because she gave up her seat so a family with their elderly parent in a wheelchair could all sit together and she sat across from me. After telling her that was so nice to see a good deed, we started talking. Never have I seen a wave of warmth engulf a group of strangers! It all happened quickly before I was aware of it, everyone in our area were talking, laughing, sharing their lives.”

I dream of making the world a better place by spreading ideas; Ellie makes it happen, one person at a time, with her selflessness and a smile. She is my hero.

Enter the purple donkey.

Fifteen years ago, when Beanie Babies were the rage, I managed to secure three as holiday gifts, two long-forgotten dolls for my young boys and a liberal-minded donkey named “Lefty” for Ellie. (I have been informed many times that Lefty is, in fact, blue, but I am colorblind in every sense of the word, and that original purple impression has stuck.) With the joy of a child who grew up with few toys, she has animated Lefty with a distinctive personality, a dancing mule who cracks wise, passes gas, and is a lock to win every staring contest.

At great risk of permanent damage to my manhood, I will reveal that Lefty has become an integral participant in a bedtime ritual Ellie has been perfecting over the years. As we lie beside each other, Lefty and I engage in a series of orchestrated high-fives and hip-hop moves best left on the dance floor and end with our fists thrust in the air as Ellie and I recite: “strength, honor and integrity, and love–true love–never dies.”

I know it seems like the corniest thing ever, but this family credo evolved from a couple of favorite movie scenes that resonated in our hearts. The opening battle in Gladiator when Russell Crowe and his Roman forces exhort each other to fight with “strength and honor!” The Everything A Boy Needs To Know About Becoming A Man Speech in Secondhand Lions when Robert Duvall lectures his nephew that “honor, courage and virtue mean everything,” that “money and power mean nothing,” that “good always triumphs over evil,” and that “love….true love never dies!”

Strength. Honor. Integrity. True Love. They’re “just” words, but words that joyfully communicate everything for which Ellie and her little purple donkey stand. When the rascally urges that plague all men yank me in the wrong direction, those words resonate in my subconscious, appealing not to the disapproval of an omniscient God but to the approval of a woman who radiates goodness, spreading sweetness and light to everyone she meets. She is my hero, and this is my anniversary message of undying love to her, delivered free of any high-fives and disco moves that might dilute the sentiment. Like the films that delight us, the printed word lives forever.

How You Can Help An Author Who Inspires You

Have you ever experienced the excitement of discovering a new author who inspires you and wondered why you haven’t heard of him or her before?

With thousands of novels published every month, it’s tough to find an audience. Ten years ago, a strong review in Publishers Weekly earned The Jinx a place on bookstore shelves, but it failed to generate the word-of-mouth excitement it takes for commercial success. Today, social media offers new opportunities for breeding that kind of publicity, but thousands of authors simultaneously posting and tweeting “pick me! pick me!” tends to drown out everyone’s message.

A friend read a beta version of King of Paine, loved it, and asked what she could do to help spread the word. Here’s my response, advice that should apply to fans of any undiscovered author:

1.  If you enjoyed the book, write a review (even a quick blurb) and post it online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and any reader sites or forums (e.g., GoodReads, Shelfari) in which you participate.

2. When you receive an author newsletter or announcement about the book via e-mail or Facebook, share it with your friends along with your personal recommendation.

3. If you can afford it, buy a copy, and consider giving the book as a gift to friends and family if you like it. If you don’t have a personal preference, ask the author where to buy it. I prefer Amazon, where sales tend to generate more sales as the book moves up in ranking, even though royalties may be higher elsewhere.

4. If the book is appropriate for your book club, consider suggesting it.

5. If you have an active Twitter account, tweet a link to the author’s website or a favorable review.

6. Subscribe to the author’s blog and “Like” his or her Facebook page. The appearance of popularity breeds confidence in prospective readers.

Feel free to add any suggestions in the comments below and pass this post along to an author who inspires you!

What Would Republicans Say If Democrats Tried Extortion, Too?

Negotiation occurs when two parties stake out principled positions and work together to achieve reasonable compromise. Sometimes one party has more bargaining power and may negotiate a favorable deal. But extortion occurs when a person uses coercion–threats of harm–to establish bargaining power where none otherwise exists. Raising the federal debt ceiling is a routine administrative function required to meet obligations already approved by Congress, an act necessary for the economic survival of our country, not one that naturally favors any political party’s principled beliefs. The Republicans’ threat to hold the debt ceiling vote hostage–to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States if the majority party doesn’t agree to deficit reduction measures exactly as a minority of the minority party dictates–is extortion.

This is not a tactic reasonable, law-abiding people use, and the Democrats are partly to blame for even showing up at the bargaining table with terrorists. Perhaps President Obama saw an opportunity to force both sides to compromise and achieve a grand deficit reduction bargain that might be impossible to negotiate without the looming threat of economic Armegeddon. Unfortunately, the Tea Party somehow sees blowing up the world as a problem only for Democrats and has mistaken a finger on the trigger for principled leverage over their opponents. Reasonable Republicans like John McCain recognize this tactic as insane, maybe because he knows the Democrats could just as easily use the same chaos strategy to achieve their goals.

Imagine President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Reid lunching at the White House, shaking their heads at the legacy of George W. Bush and his Republican Congress–converting a Clinton era budget surplus into an unprecedented build-up in federal debt via unfunded tax cuts favoring the rich, an unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit favoring pharmaceutical companies, two unfunded wars, and an economic crisis fueled by Republican deregulation. They agree this Bush debt needs to be reduced, but can’t fathom spending cuts born by the poor and middle class, their constituents, to pay for economic benefits that primarily benefitted the wealthy, Republican constituents, over the past ten years.

Maybe Senator Reid leans over the exquisite china and says, “You know, Mr. President, we can make those Republican muckety-mucks pay their bill if we refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless they agree to tax increases that will cover the Bush era unfunded debt. We don’t need to compromise on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security at all! The stock market would plummet, and their constituents would go crazy.”

Chew on that.

Deficits, Taxes & Shared Pain

I’m not an economist, but I played one in college–well enough to know that if you put 100 economists in a room, you’ll get at least a dozen inconsistent theories (and the makings for a really exciting cocktail party!). I believe there is no economic basis for choosing between spending cuts and tax increases. As Matt Dowd pointed out on This Week today, there is no empirical evidence for favoring either. Any hit to economic growth will occur as a result of eliminating debt financing itself, regardless of the source of deficit reduction. The real issue is purely political: who will bear the inevitable pain and when? If we don’t deal with the deficit now, the pain will be deeper and more widespread when America’s financiers ratchet up rates and the federal low-interest debt bubble bursts.

I could rail forever about these issues, but I will keep my main points brief:

1. Tying deficit reduction to the debt ceiling is stupid. I don’t even know why the debt ceiling exists. The need to borrow inevitably flows from a failure to collect enough revenue to pay approved expenses. There should not be a second vote required to pay the bills after the government has already approved the expense in the annual budget. The Republicans’ use of the solvency of the United States of America to extort fiscal policy initiatives they could not pass during budget negotiations should be a criminal offense.

2. The federal government must find a more mature way to compromise now to achieve the deficit reduction everybody agrees must occur. We are borrowing money at zero interest to finance current expenses, but unless we magically return to a budget surplus, that debt will have to be refinanced in the future, inevitably at higher interest rates. We are building a federal debt bubble that is exactly like the home mortgage bubble. The Fed is creating a gigantic adjustable-rate mortgage on America’s future, and when China and Japan insist on higher rates, the bubble will explode. The United States will not default; it will use powers no homeowner has in his arsenal: the government will either raise taxes dramatically or print money, triggering massive inflation. Inflation is the equivalent of a tax on wealth, and Americans’ real net worth will plummet. So take the pain now and cut the deficit, or take the pain later through massive inflation. There will be pain.

3. The only real deficit reduction question is who will bear the pain, and the obvious answer is everybody. Whether senior citizens have to pay more out of pocket to cover their medical care or basic needs or higher income Americans pay more taxes, that money will be removed from the economy and is likely to have similar impact on economic growth. Intuitively, it seems to me that there would be a greater impact from taking money away from poor and middle class people because they would surely have spent the money, whereas the wealthy are more likely to stash it in a savings account where it won’t stimulate any growth (especially when banks are afraid to lend). (I never understood the argument that taxing a doctor, lawyer, major league athlete or pop star at 39% instead of 35% would somehow impair job creation.)

But even if we assume every dollar has the same impact on economic growth, there is no difference between a domestic spending cut and a tax increase. The decision is pure political jockeying among representatives of different interest groups, the rich, the middle class, the poor, and the elderly. My thoughts on wealth distribution have been documented in a prior post: Wealth Distribution, The Law of the Jungle, & Seeds of Revolution. But in the spirit of compromise, surely any reasonable solution will include some combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

4. Republicans are saying President Obama has not presented a specific plan. Well, presenting the specifics would be kind of pointless when the Republican position has been that they will not compromise no matter what details are presented. That said, the President supports the report of the bipartisan deficit reduction panel (Simpson-Bowles) which presents numerous options to choose from to reach different levels of deficit reduction. When the Republicans show up ready to compromise on taxes, both sides can pick their pain right off the Simpson-Bowles menu. If they don’t compromise, the massive inflation triggered by the bursting of the debt bubble in a few years will destroy all that wealth they’re protecting so vehemently, anyway.

What’s your opinion?

Self-publisher Sells 1 Million Kindle Books–Now What?

Follow the link below to Mike Shatzkin’s blog about John  Locke’s options after being the first self-publisher to sell one million Kindle books. The debate in the commentary between Shatzkin and Joe Konrath, another astonishingly successful self-publisher of fiction, is worth a read by anyone interested in the future of the publishing industry.

Tax Hike!!!!

My wife, Ellie, and I watch the Sunday morning news shows religiously each week. We usually remain fairly civil, even in the privacy of our own living room, but nobody brings out the wrath of the Kahns like Mitch McConnell, who was interviewed on This Week today. No matter how many times or how aggressively that man is asked to state what the Republicans are willing to give up to compromise on a deficit reduction solution, he refuses to budge on raising revenues, decrying any “tax hike” as inconsistent with economic growth.

Let’s get real here, people. If we cut the deficit, some class of citizens will bear the burden of the cuts, whether through increased taxes or increased payments for vital services formerly subsidized by the government. There will be a hit to economic growth either way. The debate is not over how much pain there will be–politicians seem to agree on the general parameters of the deficit cuts–it is over who will bear it.

The bipartisan deficit reduction panel came up with recommendations that provided a fairly reasonable balance between spending cuts and revenue increases. The Democrats have embraced this compromise and are negotiating how cuts in Medicare and Social Security can most fairly be delivered. They will probably agree to some form of means testing and/or deferral of eligibility. As a result, elderly middle class and wealthy citizens will be required to reach into their pockets and spend their own wealth on what used to be subsidized by the government, whether to pay health insurance premiums or retirement expenses. How is that any different than an increase in taxes on the elderly?

Yet Senator McConnell continues to repeat the idiotic mantra “what we have is a spending problem, not a revenue problem.” Actually, Mitch, what we have is a mismatch between spending and revenues. That mismatch can be erased by cutting spending, increasing revenues, or–here’s an idea–some reasonable combination of both.

Let’s take the political slogans out of this deficit crisis and approach the problem honestly and reasonably. The compromises are not hard to find if we agree that we need to come up with $4 trillion and that we all need to bear some pain.