Monday, November 21, 2016

JEAN RABE'S FINE DEBUT MYSTERY OF A TRULY "COLD" CASE

The Dead of Winter - A Piper Blackwell Mystery
By Jean Rabe
Imajin Books| 2016 | 216 pages
Paperback $15.99
Ebook $4.99



The Times Square Ball has dropped in New York, viewed on televisions throughout Spencer County, Indiana. The well-wishing "Happy New Years!" are still reverberating throughout Spencer County. The sheriff receives a phone call. And fifty-eight minutes into her first, and possibly only, term as sheriff of Spencer Countyit's murder.


This is the scene set by seasoned novelist Jean Rabe in her first murder mystery, The Dead of Winter. If there is any justice at all, not just in murder mysteries, but in the real world, it won't be her last.


The new sheriff is Piper Blackwell, twenty-three years old, following in the footsteps, and trying to fill the shoes, of her father, Paul Blackwell, the retired four-term sheriff of Spencer County, who had encouraged her to run for his office. She has had no civil policing experience, although she was an MP in the military. She had loved the military, serving two tours in Iraq. She had "found herself" in the military. But she left the military and came home to Spencer County because her father was fighting the good fight against cancer. She was surprised to have won the election, especially given that she ran against the experienced deputy sheriff, Oren Rosenberg. She was unsure whether when people voted for P. Blackwell they were voting for her or for her father. Sheriff Paul Blackwell had been well-known and loved. Sheriff Piper Blackwell is unknown and not even much liked. But how hard could the job be? This is "sleepy Spencer County," where the number one offense is DUIs. It is more Mayberry RFD than Mosul, Iraq.


Rabe has defined The Dead of Winter as a "police procedural cozy," not only a contradiction in terms, but seemingly a conflict of sub-genres. And yet it is completely apt. She brings elements from both sub-genres to her novel in aI won't call it a mash-up because that sounds much too messyin a smooth melding, creating an integrated whole of mystery, thrills, personal conflicts, professional jealousies, hints of love to come, and petty, if vicious and violent, vengeance. 

Jean Rabe

Rabe writes with the keen eye of observation, a fine-tuned ear for dialogue, and a most telling felicity of description. The Dead of Winter is not just a story and a mystery (although the mystery dissipates towards the end as suspense takes over), it is also a work of character studies as Rabe takes us into the minds of Piper Blackwell (her self-doubt is no less than the doubt of others), chief deputy Oren Rosenberg (did he lose the election because he's Jewish?), detective Randy Gerald (catch a murderer; advance a career), and the killerthe Christmas Card Killer. And she takes us into Spencer County, showing us the smallness of it, despite being four hundred square miles, and the closeness of it, with both positive and negative aspects of that emphasized. She portrays how Middle America, or, better said, the Middle Class, celebrates Christmas with yard displays and twinkling lights; beloved artificial trees and ceramic depictions of nostalgic Christmases of the past; snowmen (real ones, if the climate cooperates), reindeer pulling sleighs, and, of course, Santa Claus. There is even a town in the county named Santa Claus. And, of particular and gruesome importance to her story: cheerful Christmas mugs in the proper holiday colors and Christmas cards, many, many Christmas cards.


The murdersthe Christmas Card Killer is a serial killer, as all good fictional killers are these daysare bizarrely witty while still being shocking. The investigation into those murders in sleepy Spencer County is incompetent at worst, improvisational at best, muddied by self-doubt, bitterness, and personal ambition, but ultimatelywhen footings become securesuccessful.


Piper Blackwell's first week as sheriff of sleepy Spencer County is horrifically eventful. After the mystery is solved, the suspense is relieved, and justice is found, it is Piper's fervent wish that it remains the only horrifically eventful week during her term as sheriff. It is a wish that will not be granted if genie Jean Rabe has anything to say about it. I predict that readers of The Dead of Winter will heartily shout, "Open Sesame!"

--

The Dead of Winter in either paperback or ebook can be found in that great bookstore in the sky, Amazon, right HERE.

Friday, November 18, 2016

President Trump? President Imp?






Like many a good west coast liberal, I woke up Wednesday morning the 9th of November feeling like I had joined the extras cast of The Walking Dead.




Donald J. Trump, a man who slightly over half of this year's voting population feel is a man of many flaws, had been elected president of the United States. And slightly under half of this year's voting population (so let's just call it 50/50) were relieved that Hillary Clinton, who they feel is a woman of many flaws, had been denied the presidency.


Despite being partisan, I think I can objectively say that Hillary Clinton's are possibly the typical flaws of a seasoned politician, whereas Donald J. Trump's flaws may well be the tragic flaws of an individual of overweening pride. My take on this, though, giving the 50/50 country we live in, obviously is debatable. But this viewpoint rests easily with me as I've have just published a novel, IMP: A Political Fantasia (Crossroad Press), wherein the protagonist is a president of overweening pride, a man who feels it is his destiny to lead, and a man who is intolerant of those who do not think like him.


My president, Thomas P. Powell, is otherwise not much like Donald J. Trump--he is quite a bit younger and, at the beginning of the novel, he is the vice-president anxious to move up to that last rung on the ladder. But it is the broad similarities between Trump and Powell that have suddenly made my novel more relevant than I had ever wanted it to be. 


IMP: A Political Fantasia was not written as a response to the last eighteen months or so of political campaigning. It actually started life fifteen years ago as a screenplay. But my decision to turn it into a novel may well have been, for I started it in late June of 2015. At that time, though, people in both parties were completely discounting Trump as a serious candidate. We west coast liberals were more concerned, and had been for a while, about the Ted Cruzes, the Marco Rubios, the Rand Pauls of the Republican Party, people we view as hard and unbending in their self-righteousness, their refusal to compromise, and what we suspect is their shared, possibly secret, yet individual-to-each sense that they are destined for greatness precisely because of their self-righteousness and their refusal to compromise. And though they were all serious candidates, I truly felt none of them would go on to win the presidency, felt it confidently enough to wonder if IMP would have any relevance at all, even if I personally enjoyed telling the story.


But now, given the outcome of last Tuesday's election, my novel has become for me not just an exercise in the practice of my art and its launch into a world wider than my own mind, but a fulcrum of hope. Or if not hope, of solace. Or if not of hope or solace, of a fantasy I can go hide in for at least the next four years.


IMP: A Political Fantasia is of that un-named sub-genre most famously occupied by Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, where a protagonist, through the agency of supernatural intervention--or possibly just a bad dream--learns something about himself and others and the world that brings about a change in the protagonist that we not so much can believe in, but fervently want to believe in. In A Christmas Carol, the supernatural agents are Marley and the Christmas ghosts. In It's a Wonderful Life it is Clarence the wingless angel. And in IMP it is, unsurprisingly, an imp, a small homunculus, who, one night, crawls out of Thomas P. Powell's right ear to take him on strange and surreal journeys both fascinating and frightening. Possibly they are journeys of self-knowledge. Possibly they are journeys of worlds around him. Most likely they are journeys of both. They are journeys that ultimately become, as in the case of Dickens' Scrooge, journeys of redemption.


Now the odd thing is, despite having written IMP, I'm not sure I actually believe in redemption. Maybe people never change. I know I would like to believe in redemption, but I find the whole concept suspect. For it has always seemed to me that most people believe in redemption for others and rarely for themselves. Still, it's a satisfying thought, and it was a fun story to spin (I may or may not mean that in a political way).


But the real point here is, Will there be a redemption for President Trump? Despite having written of a supernatural agent, I don't believe in supernatural agents. So I can't hold out hope for that. Is there any other kind of hope I can offer to myself and my fellow 50% of the voting population? If there is, it may only be in the weight of the office and the weight of history, two totally natural agents of change. 


Donald Trump seems to be the sort of man who gets his sense of self from being in the limelight, or--more intensely--the spotlight. As a business man that spotlight came from being tough, uncompromising, bending, if not breaking, the rules when necessary, and willing to not only beat but beat down the competition and those who stand in his way. As a reality TV star that spotlight came simply from weekly exposure as a reality TV star. But as president that spotlight, if it is not to be harsh and condemning, but warm and full of accolades, may well come from rising above the character he has always been, a character that is, my 50% believe, antithetical to good governance and inspirational leadership. Or it may come from Trump drawing out of himself a character he has possibly suppressed or which has been in abeyance because it was never needed, that would be more conducive to good governance and inspirational leadership. This change of character, if not redemption, does not come automatically with the seal of the presidency. But a sudden understanding that history will long remember and minutely note presidential actions does. Is it wrong of me, then, to hold out the hope that in Trump's case change, maybe redemption, might be a possibility? 


Should I go back into my own novel, not as its writer but simply as a reader, to see if there is a hook there that I might hang that hope on? Why not? And if it could at all provide that same hook to the fellow members of my 50%, I would consider it to be a job well done, even if it is not the job I had intended to do.




$3.99 Ebook

IMP ON AMAZON -- http://tinyurl.com/jfsup24

IMP ON AMAZON UK --  http://tinyurl.com/jf2ssdz

IMP ON BARNES&NOBLE -- http://tinyurl.com/zkh7vka

IMP ON SMASHWORDS -- http://tinyurl.com/hjdm4oo

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

“IMP: A POLITICAL FANTASIA” ONLINE LAUNCH NOV 8

"VOTE" for President Thomas P. Powell

Our Campaign Video



Haven’t you always secretly wanted to vote twice? Well, now’s your chance. Vote for the national presidential candidate of your choice on November 8th, then vote for my man, President Thomas P. Powell, the protagonist of my just released novel, IMP: A Political Fantasia.






Now, fair warning, there is a poll tax. But it’s only $3.99 (£3.26 for our UK constituents) , and for that paltry sum you will receive, courtesy of the Cloud and digital streams of information, the Ebook of IMP: A Political Fantasia, delivered to your Ebook reading device of your choice, whether you read Kindle, Kobo, or Epub. Now how’s that for election day voter fraud bribery?

YOUR POLLING PLACES:


IMP ON AMAZON UK --  http://tinyurl.com/jf2ssdz

IMP ON BARNES&NOBLE -- http://tinyurl.com/zkh7vka

IMP ON SMASHWORDS -- http://tinyurl.com/hjdm4oo


So what’s the pitch for my candidate? Well, Thomas P. Powell’s ascension in politics was both unusual and yet very American. From traffic cop to Vice President of the United States, his climb up the ladder of public service was often due to the push of random acts and not-so-happy accidents—although Thomas held the opinion that it was due solely to his singular innate moral authority. What matters is what’s within, that’s the Powell political philosophy. Then, on the cusp of his grasping the last rung of the American political ladder, something truly within suddenly appears. A horrible homunculus, an impetuous imp, climbs out of Thomas’s right ear to bedevil his nights and confuse his days and take him on a crazy, wild, nauseating, and nuclear journey. It’s as if The West Wing was done as a Twilight Zone episode.

And you thought our current political nightmare was surreal!

It’s politics as unusual. And your vote on November 8th for Thomas P. Powel by the purchase IMP: A Political Fantasia from, say, Amazon, will greatly increase his numbers -- sales rank numbers that is. And that will kick off his career in a stellar manner. He appreciates your vote. As do I, his hard working campaign manager.

And now, some endorsements:

"Steven Paul Leiva is a very bad man. His version of U.S. politics 'Trumps' anything the real world has to offer. Hell,
you thought the orange one was the only homunculus America had to worry about? You thought wrong. There's always the nuclear option.” -- Steven Savile, New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author


“Perfectly sincere Thomas P. Powell’s proper life melts when he encounters a homunculus. Powell, the not-ready-to-be-president president, transforms into a character I wish I had written, and one I’d like to know personally. Steven Paul
Leiva is a master wordsmith able to take on any genre, or blend them as in the case of IMP, A Political Fantasia. Once started, I couldn’t stop reading. The tale was just long enough, yet had me longing to read more of Leiva’s prose.” Zoommmmbizzt! I highly recommend this novel. -- Jean Rabe, USA Today Bestselling author

“Best dern yarn I’ve read in a fer piece a time!” -- Abraham
Lincoln, 16th president of the United States








(The last one’s a joke, of course -- or is it?)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

IMP: A Political Fantasia Ebook is Now Availalble


POLITICS AS UNUSUAL





Thomas P. Powell’s ascension in politics was both unusual and yet very American. From traffic cop to Vice President of the United States, his climb up the ladder of public service was often due to the push of random acts and not-so-happy accidents—although Thomas held the opinion that it was due solely to his singular innate moral authority. What matters is what’s within, that’s the Powell political philosophy. Then, on the cusp of his grasping the last rung of the American political ladder, something truly within suddenly appears. A horrible homunculus, an impetuous imp, climbs out of Thomas’s right ear to bedevil his nights and confuse his days and take him on a crazy, wild, nauseating, and nuclear journey. 


It’s as if The West Wing was done as a Twilight Zone episode.

And you thought our last political nightmare was surreal.





 $3.99 Ebook

at your favorite digital

bookstore!



IMP ON AMAZON --




IMP ON BARNES&NOBLE --

IMP ON SMASHWORDS --

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

UNVEILING THE COVER OF MY LATEST NOVEL




Is a book without a cover naked? Well, no, that’s just silly. Although any book that’s any good should tell you the naked truth about something. At least as understood by the author, who is quite aware the reader might disagree. But, be all that as it may, the text of a book, the thing itself, one might say, is certainly the body of the endeavor. And the cover is just, what? Skin dressed in clothes that both protect from the elements and if the author and publisher have any sense of style at all, makes a statement.


With the proliferation of ebooksa phenomenon I, unlike some others, do not bemoanthere is no need for a digital book to have its own skin. Its body is, after all, just a gathering of zeros and ones arranged in a unique order and floating somewhere in the cloud or on a chip, free from degradable pulp and fading ink. Ethereal, even if with pretensions of the eternal.


But this does not end a book’s need for clothing, for something eye-catching to adorn it that makes a statement, speaks for it, reflects it, or teases potential readers about the wonders within. For although one may shop in a digital bookstore, such as Amazon, one still likes to browse, and the vanguard of browsing are, of course, the eyes. And eyes are not caught (a slightly gruesome idea, when you think about it) by the text of a book, but by whatever that text is clothed in, whether physically, as in a paper-based book, or digitally, almost then more like a poster than a cover.


Poster or cover the same task is at handto grab the attention and to intrigue. But, as the old saw goes: you can’t tell a book by its cover. Now why was that ever coined? Damnable truth, I would say. Only on rare occasions have I seen a book cover for a novel that trulyand fullyreflected the contents within. Most likely because single-shot graphics must be simple for effect, yet are trying to reflect something complexa long, imaginative narrative of many parts. The task seems almost impossible. But still, a task worth doing with seriousness, creativity, a certain amount of faith, and, hopefully, some dumb luck.


Even understanding all the above, for a novelist to see for the first time the cover of his or her latest work is exciting. You desperately want it to be all dressed up with many places to go. And even if you fear no one will really be able to “see” what your novel is in its totality by just looking at the cover, you still hope that the cover has some accurate hint of the full revelation inside that is compelling enough for a deeper look leading to a purchase, leading to a read, leading to appreciation.


It is that same first impression thing you have to contend with when looking for a job, not to mention a mate.


All this rambling, of course, has spewed out of me by way of introducing the cover of my new novel, IMP: A Political Fantasia. So, Ta-da!





I came up with a concept for the cover, which David Dodd of Crossroad Press, the book’s publisher, executed, greatly enhancing and improving the idea into what you see below.


I hope you find it intriguing.

IMP, A Political Fantasia will debut as an ebook soon.










Friday, September 23, 2016

PORTRAITS BY THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN -- Yasuo Ohtsuka's 1946 Sketch Book



In 1982 I joined Kinetographics, a film production company owned by Gary Kurtz. Gary had worked with George Lucas for years producing (and being creatively instrumental in) American Graffiti, Star Wars, and The Empire Strikes Back but was now developing movies on his own. I joined as his director of animation development and as an associate producer on the production of an animated feature based on Winsor McCay’s early 20th-century comic strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland, which Kinetographics was planning to co-produce with Japanese anime producer,TMS Entertainment. For two year previous I had been involved with Gary in the development of an animated feature based on Will Eisner’s The Spirit (of which I wrote about for the Los Angeles Times in 2008).

Part of my task was to put together the team of American talent that would develop the film with the Japanese, and collaborate on the production in Tokyo. I was proud of the team I gathered, which included Roger Allers (who later co-wrote and co-directed The Lion King); Andy Gaskell (who was later the art director on The Lion King); Randy Cartwright (who later was an animator for, and worked on the story of a number of Disney features, including The Lion King); Robin Budd (who returned to his native Canada and became a major TV animation director), and Norton Virgien (who later co-directed the Rugrats Movie, and has won a couple of Emmy Awards).

I was involved in the production for two years until it became clear to me that this co-production between two very different animation cultures was never going to work. At least not to our satisfaction. I left at the end of my contract with Kinetographics. The film our team was working on was never made, except for an opening sequence that made it into the eventual film TMS made with other American’s involved.

However, the experience was, on a whole, great, My wife (we were married during production) and I loved living in Tokyo, and I got to know one hell of a nice and talented man, Yasuo Ohtsuka.

Ohtsuka was, even then, one of the grand men of Japanese animation. He was very excited by our co-production, as he was as very interested in bringing American style character animation to Japan as we were in adapting Anime’s more creative approach to subject matter for animation. Remember, this is 1982 when Disney animation was “dying” and the Care Bears Movie was setting the pace.

In September of 1982 Ohtsuka gave me a wonderful gift. It was a sketchbook from his teenage years when he was teaching himself how to draw. It was full of his copies of political cartoons he saw in newspapers, including the U.S. Army’s Stars and Stripes (this was 1946, during our occupation of Japan), portraits of American soldiers, and his rendering of American comic strip and cartoon characters.

Imagine this fifteen-year-old-boy, living near an American military base, asking “Yank” soldiers to pose, pouring over American newspapers, drawing, drawing, and drawing, trying -- successfully -- to hone his skills.

I was deeply moved by this gift, and it’s remained precious to me ever since. Sadly I had nothing of such value to offer Ohtsuka in return.

A while back I sent some of the sketches from the book that I had scanned to an old friend from high school. Her son was immersed in Japanese culture and really enjoyed them. I promised I would send more. But I got to thinking, as there a large and active fan-based here in America for Japanese anime, maybe others would enjoy looking at Ohtsuka’s formative work as well. So, below are the sketches from the book, except for a few that were just sketches of American army helmets.

Maybe this is the only gift I have to give to Ohtsuka. To let people see the work of a very talented, enthusiastic teenager, living in a defeated Japan, not being defeated himself, but determined to learn his art and take joy from it. And one who grew up to become a wonderful man and artist, and an important part of a country’s unique film culture.

Ohtsuka in 1983


Ohtsuka today



The cover of the sketchbook, which was handmade by cutting up old magazines


Inside the front cover, signed and dated by Ohtsuka











You can see here part of the magazine page