James Best is the author of the bestselling Steve Dancy Tales: The Shopkeeper, Leadville, Murder at Thumb Butte, The Return, Jenny's Revenge, and Crossing the Animas. His other novels include Tempest at Dawn, The Shut Mouth Society, and Deluge.
Both of my fathers are deceased, but I think of them more than occasionally. My biological father died in the cockpit of his P-51 and my step-father died behind the wheel of his Porsche. Since my mother remarried when I was only three and my step-dad treated me like his own, he was the father I knew. At least the one I knew directly. I remain in touch with my father’s family and have grown to know my dad through his brothers and sisters. He was a great guy.
My father is furthest out on the wing.
Fathers are important to kids. There’s a special lifetime bound between fathers and daughters, and fathers seem to have an edge in overriding peer group pressure to give sons purpose and direction. Fathers deserve more than a day. They deserve our everlasting gratitude.
No Peace, A Steve Dancy Tale takes place at the Hotel Del Monte in Monterey, California. A resort overlooking the Pacific Ocean may seem an odd setting for a Western, but not to worry, Steve finds a way to get into trouble.
Actually, it's difficult to get further West than the Pacific Ocean, and California had its share of desperadoes. The Hotel Del Monte provides an interesting setting and remains in use today. During WWII, the building and grounds were requisitioned by the navy. In 1951, the Naval Academy postgraduate school moved from Annapolis to facilities in Monterey. The hotel is now called Herrmann Hall, the main building of the Naval Postgraduate School.
No Peacetakes place a few years after Steve and Virginia ride off to enjoy their honeymoon at the end of Crossing the Animas. Life has been quiet for the newlyweds, so a family gathering in Monterey seemed to pose no apprehensions. Steve could not be more wrong. A duly elected sheriff and gang leader has consolidated his outlaws with the local Mexican bandits and a Chinese tong that controls the docks. With peace between the three rival gangs, there is no peace for the residents and visitors.
“How can I find this leader of the white gang?” Dancy asked. “People don’t go looking for him. Ever. He sends people to find you. If you did find him, you’d be out of your element … and outnumbered. He never meets anyone alone. He’s always got mean killers around him. Ruthless men, capable of anything.” “I have friends,” I said. “A gentleman like you doesn’t have the right kind of friends for men like this. My advice: pay the ransom, go home.” “I may pay the ransom, and I certainly will go home.” I leaned forward and lowered my voice. “If you won’t tell me how to find him, at least tell me his name?” Nelson looked down at his lap and shook his head. Eventually, he looked up at me and shrugged. “Listen, his name is unimportant.” He leaned forward, hands folded, both forearms on his desk. “Stay away from him. He’s a murdering cutthroat who’d skin alive his own mother if there was money to be had. These are bad people. Very bad. Pay … and get the hell out of here.”
My beta readers have finished and I've incorporated their suggestions. (Or not, depending on my mood.) Subsequently, I competed my third draft and sent No Peaceto my editor. When she returns it, I'll have a final set of red ink to deal with. After that, it's book design and cover. Actually, we started on the cover, but so far haven't made any decisions. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, here's a snippet to whet your appetite.
I thought about all of this and became dejected. “So, all the outlaws in the region have been consolidated into a single gang and the law’s in bed with them. In fact, it leads them. Combined forces of over two hundred. The main culprit is a greedy, duly elected sheriff who fancies himself a dandy, and to top it off, he kills indiscriminately.”
Nelson looked sympathetic. “That’s about it. He likes the high-life, controls every outlaw within a hundred miles, and is on the lookout for a big stake.” He hesitated. “One more thing, he’s exceptionally handy with a gun. Also knifes and fists. If fighting’s involved, he mastered the tools and techniques. Worse, he applies his skill with a rage you would never believe until you see it.”
“He sounds crazy.”
“Now, you’re beginning to understand.”
I stood to leave.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Not sure. What do you think I should do?”
“If you can figure out a way to run, run like hell.”
My new Steve Dancy book takes place in 1885, three years after Steve and Virginia took off for their honeymoon in San Diego. A lot has happened off-page. You'll soon be able to catch up with Steve and all of his friends in his latest adventure titled No Peace.
Maybe soon is the wrong word. I've finished the second draft and now two of my beta readers are spreading red ink all over the manuscript. When I finish incorporating their notes, it will be ready for my professional editor. Then she'll send back another red ink-stained manuscript. After I incorporate her changes, it will be ready for the book designer, who will format the word files for print and electronic versions. Simultaneously, my son will design the book cover. (As I've mentioned before, I'm getting back his Art Center tuition one book cover at a time.)
If everything goes without a hitch, No Peace, A Steve Dancy Tale should be available sometime this summer.
In the meantime, if you haven't tried Deluge, download a sample onto your Kindle or buy the paperback. Deluge is the most adrenaline you’ll can experience while reclining in a Barcalounger. And if you haven't tried them yet, there are two Steve Dancy Short Tales in Wanted and Wanted II.
We lived in Arizona for twenty-five years, then my wife and I moved to Nebraska to be close to our grandkids. Our life is busy, so I rarely thought about my previous home state. Last week, we visited friends in Arizona and I felt a sudden nostalgia for my old stomping grounds.
Every morning before breakfast, my friend and I walked the desert hills of his neighborhood. The weather was perfect and spring wildflowers bloomed everywhere. There is a stillness to the Arizona atmosphere that I have seldom encountered elsewhere. I used to say that there were two places in the world where you could deplane and immediately know your location by the feel of the air. One was Hawaii and the other Arizona. Different feel for each, but each unique. I also miss the desert landscape. Nebraska is flat, but in every direction, the Arizona skyline is serrated with craggy hills and mountains.
If it doesn't bite, and it's not poisonous, then it's not native.
Since I winter in San Diego, I can get good Mexican food anytime I want, but I forgot that Arizona Mexican food is spicier and the variety greater. Not as many taco shops, but more high end restaurants, some serving Mexico City cuisine that's outstanding.
The homes have a style unlike any other region of the country. Land is cheap, the temperature hot, and slab foundations means that even the largest homes are single-story with windows deeply recessed into the walls to ward off the sun. The architecture gives neighborhoods a spread out, open feel that's close to the ground. The big sky and vibrant colors invite you to enjoy the outdoors.
I encountered something I didn't like. With boom-town growth, traffic has become increasingly clogged, especially during work traffic hours. It's not as bad as Los Angeles, but frustrating just the same. When we moved to Phoenix in 1991, it took me thirty minutes to drive to work in off hours and thirty-five minutes in work traffic. A five minute penalty. That's all. That was nearly thirty years ago and the city's breathless growth has never paused. Now it's congestion galore.
Phoenix is called the Valley of the Sun. It's a fitting description because the sun dictates so much of life, architecture, and clothing styles. The sun isn't just a hot ball in the sky. Arizona has some of the best sunrises and sunsets in the world. And great nights. There is nothing like a cocktail and swim after supper in the warmth of a summer evening.
Damn. If my grandchildren were't so cute, I'd move back in a heartbeat.
Greg Evarts and Patricia Baldwin are back and this time they only need to save the state of California. Here's an excerpt from the first chapter of Deluge.
Baldwin said into the phone, “Mr. Gleason, I understand. I’ll be in Sacramento first thing Tuesday morning.” After a pause, she added, “Of course, sir. Thank you.”
She tapped to end the call, turned off her phone, confirmed that it had gone dark, and then exclaimed, “Shit!”
“The lieutenant governor?” Evarts asked.
She lifted her eyeglasses slightly and let them fall back on her nose. “Yes, damn it. They’re in a panic over this damn rain. Rain, for Pete’s sake.”
“I take it they want you up there Tuesday?”
“I wish,” Baldwin answered. “The commission meets at 8:00 AM on Tuesday, meaning I leave noonish Monday, and they want me to bring a week’s worth of clothes. Damn it, I have classes, committee meetings, office hours, and a speech in Los Angeles on Thursday night.” She threw her phone onto the couch. “I wish I had never accepted the governor’s appointment.”
The governor of California had appointed Baldwin to the Seismic Safety Commission, and she had been on the advisory council for less than a year.
“I thought that commission dealt with earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes.”
“Some idiot evidently believes a few days of rain can trigger one of those. I don’t need some volunteer work to destroy my career. This is stupid.”
“It may hamper your career, but it won’t ruin it. It’s Saturday. This storm will probably pass before you sit down for your meeting. You’ll be back in time to make your speech.”
Suddenly, she asked, “What are you eating?”
He held up the chop by the bone. “Last night’s leftovers. I need protein.” He ripped off a piece of meat with bared teeth like he was ravished, and she laughed at his antics.
“Don’t we make the couple,” she said. “You walk around chewing on a bone like a caveman, and I’ve been talking to the lieutenant governor in pajamas. I’m surprised they don’t deport us back to Oxnard with the riffraff.”
“We had fun there. Maybe I can buy back my old house.”
“No, I’m good. Just frustrated that this stupid commission can jump up and disrupt my life.”
“You’ll be back soon. You know bureaucrats, always making a big thing out of nothing.”
She walked over to a sofa table and picked up her coffee. She took a sip while staring out to sea.
“Perhaps not this time. I heard fear in Paul’s voice. They got seven inches of rain in the last week.”
“Seven inches? Our drizzles haven’t added up to squat.” He thought about the implications. “Did he say if any dams were in jeopardy?”
“Yes.” She didn’t turn away from the murky, cloud-enshrouded ocean. “All of them.”
In 1862, a sixty-five day downpour pummeled the western United States. California suffered the brunt of the storm. Almost a third of the state was under water, roads were impassible, telegraph lines down, rivers overflowed, hundreds of people died, and hundreds of thousands of animals drowned. Sacramento remained under water for six months, forcing the state government to move to San Francisco.
Geological evidence shows that a flood of this magnitude hits California every one to two hundred years.
What if it happens again?
I took a break from Steve and his friends to write a disaster story. This one's a corker. I didn't know I could imagine such mayhem.
For Steve Dancy fans, I have started Coronado, A Steve Dancy Tale and it should be available before the end of the year.
Back to Deluge. Greg Evarts and Patricia Baldwin are back from The Shut Mouth Society. The stories are unrelated, so Deluge is not a sequel. The novels just shares the same cast and locale. The characters have changed, of course. Greg is now chief of police in Santa Barbara. Patricia is still a history professor, but has transferred from UCLA to UCSB. When the sky falls on California, our two heroes must once again save the day. There's rain, inept and ept politicians, murading street gangs, cage fighters, spies, and collapsed dams that send mountains of rolling water toward everything we hold dear.
Deluge will be available in print and Kindle formats on June 4th. Happy reading.
I love time travel. We’ve all experienced time travel whenever we’ve opened a book and been transported to another place and time. When you slap the book closed, it returns you to where you started. Well, sorta. You may lose a few hours, but nothing's free.
All books do this, but I particularly like the time travel genre. Two of my favorite time travel books are A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Courtand Lightening. In 1889, Mark Twain sent his character Hank Morgan back in time to the reign of King Arthur in the sixth century. Like all of Twain’s work, life lessons are delivered with humor and skillful storytelling. Another great time travel novel is Lighteningby Dean Koontz. Written in 1988, Lighteningtakes a unique perspective that cannot be described without a spoiler. Despite being over thirty years old, the novel has traveled to the present wholly intact.
Up until recently, I didn’t believe time travel was real. Then my nephew showed me his time travel machine. After testing it, I assure you that it works perfectly. Instead of flashing lights, electric pulses, or whirling brass spindles, he made his machine with duct tape, a kitchen timer, and a bathroom scale. He duct-taped the kitchen timer to the bathroom scale. That’s it. When you’re ready to travel, you set the timer to where you want to go and then climb aboard. When you hear the timer’s ding, you’ve arrived.
“I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.” Adventures of Huckleberry Finnby Mark Twain
“It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
“He was soon borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance.” Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I can't resist. Here are a couple of my favorites from my own books.
“I kept my head and Chestnut facing east.” The Shopkeeperby James D. Best (I didn’t want my hero to ride off into the sunset.)
“And then he was gone.” Tempest at Dawnby James D. Best (James Madison, an old man had left the room, but he soon after left the stage as our last remaining Founding Father.)
In truth, neither the first nor last sentence can make a good story. The entire narrative has to pull the reader forward until they read the last sentence. A story told properly will cause the reader to seek out another book by the same author.