Wednesday, February 27, 2019

We're Not Draining the Swamp But We're Restocking the Tank With New Clowns

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari)
“Sitting here today, it seems unbelievable that I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong.” - Michael D. Cohen in his opening remarks.

As I write this, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is hearing Michael Cohen's testimony, is in recess. However, I wish to get these glorified thumbtack impressions out there before the lunacy resumes.
     I'd like to start by making some basic, sweeping observations before I examine Cohen's testimony and response from both sides of the aisle. First off, the Republicans have control of the Senate. Yet when Michael Cohen testified before it yesterday, it was a closed door session. The Democrats have control of the House, yet Mr. Cohen's testimony is open to all, with CSPAN happily broadcasting every word. The House Republicans have spent literally 100% of their time attacking Michael Cohen and his veracity. Democrats have spent 100% of their time seeking the truth to better enforce the rule of law, which, after all, is what the House O&GR is for.
     Having said that, Mark Meadows, the traitor who undercut Obama by drafting that laughable letter to the Iranian leadership right after President Obama signed the nuclear agreement with Iran, started screaming right out of the gate for unanimous consent and trying to postpone the hearing on account of Cohen giving his written statements before, he claimed, Republicans had a chance to read them. (Apparently, Meadows forgot all about Bret Kavanaugh's own last minute document dump that Democrats hadn't had the chance to read last fall.). Elijah Cummings, the Committee Chair, simply looked at Meadows and was probably suppressing a laugh.
     From that time on, Republicans were all over Michael Cohen like a swarm of beetles on a pile of fresh vomit, desperate to try to discredit Cohen's testimony on the grounds that he was a convicted perjurer. That he may be but what Republicans were notably skating around was the fact that Cohen perjured himself to protect the same crook they themselves were and still are in the act of protecting-One Donald John Trump. 
     Well, with nothing to lose, Cohen is telling all and at some point even called out the GOP for not asking a single thing about Trump. Good question, that. Chris Christie said around the same time on ABC that it was curious that Republicans, while clearly trying to defend Trump, were nonetheless failing to refute the charges Cohen brought against Trump and for which he had brought ample evidence.
     When the opening hysterics by wouldbe rapist-enabler Mark Meadows and pederast-enabler Jim Jordan were finally over, Cohen delivered his 20 page opening statement in which he called Trump a "racist" and a "con man." For those who have endured Trump in the center ring these past four years, this was hardly an epiphany. But it was the particulars of what Cohen had said that may have raised some eyebrows. Some of the more noteworthy ones were:


You Forgot Russia
Michael Cohen ought to serve as an object lesson to the Republicans on the committee of the fate that befalls anyone who tries to act as a fixer for Donald Trump. As Cohen said in his opening statements, Trump is capable of acts of loyalty yet is not loyal himself. And, given his behavior these last several years (or decades, if anyone cares to look for it), Trump is the kind who will praise you to the skies one moment then in the very next will savage your name and reputation the moment you've outlived your usefulness (or become a threat to him).
     Cohen can tell you all about that. And it's a hell of a state of affairs in America when a glorified mob lawyer like Michael D. Cohen, convicted felon and a fixer for quite possibly the most amoral man who's ever lived, is held up as an avatar of truth, justice and the American way simply because we have a common enemy in Trump. Cohen essentially told the GOP, "I was in the tank for Donald Trump for a decade. Now you are where I was. And look what's happening to me."
     Yes, Michael Cohen is getting pretty much his last intoxicating whiff of power before he heads off to prison for the next three years. And he's burning every last bridge on which he can possibly splash his potent gasoline. The man who'd pleaded guilty to perjury and committing campaign finance fraud proved that Trump had made 11 separate disbursements to Cohen, all of which coming from his personal bank account after his inauguration. That's proof that Trump is guilty of campaign finance fraud.

     See, here's one right here, featuring Trump's grand mal seizure EKG signature.
     And it was telling that the only time Republicans seemed to believe Cohen was when it suited their obvious agenda: When they asked him if he was ever in Prague. You may recall the Steele dossier allegedly said that Michael Cohen could be placed in Prague to act as a go between for Donald Trump and, presumably, Russian officials, during the campaign because his cell phone pinged off a tower in that city. Republicans acted as if taking Cohen's sayso that he was never in Prague invalidates the entire Steele dossier.
     But notably, not one of them mentioned Russia itself. They know better than to go there, even though Cohen said he didn't have any evidence definitively proving collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia. But Cohen said he had his suspicions. He happened to be in Trump Tower in Trump's own office in June 2016 when Don Jr walked in and told his father, "The meeting's set" and Trump signalling his approval and asking to be kept in the loop. Is it proof of collusion? No, it's hearsay and even Cohen would admit to that, But if Trump-Russia collusion needed any more plausibility, that would certainly provide it.
     Look, let's keep it real. Michael Cohen is an immoral scumbag who essentially threw away his legal career and a good piece of his life and freedom for perhaps the most amoral man who ever lived. He's no hero and doesn't even begin to rise to the level of an antihero. But this once proud man, at the very center of political power, one who was once bloated with hubris is now a broken shell of his former self. With nothing left to lose, he's finally climbed out of the tank he'd been in for a decade and is helpfully holding the lid open for his successors in the Republican Party.

Dear Republicans:

     You had Benghazi, Whitewater and Monica. We're in charge of the House now and we have this.
     Reap it, motherfuckers.

     Sincerely, the American public

     More on this later. Much, much more.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

"I'd Like to Help You, Son, But You're Too Young to Vote."

     Dianne Feinstein couldn't have possibly handled this worse than she had. Her condescending demeanor toward these California schoolchildren was nothing short of execrable and deplorable.
In fact, I'll even go you one better- Her attitude toward these kids perfectly defines why Americans grow up so disillusioned with the political process and choose at an early age to disengage. This is a much older generation telling the next generation of voters, "We know it all, we ate it all, and you can't do a damned thing about it."
      Which is why we have 40-45% (sometimes lower) engagement rates every election cycle (especially in midterms). It teaches these kids that engaging with your elected officials is fruitless once they've made up their minds to work with the political party that hasn't done shit for the environment since Nixon created the EPA..And it teaches them that they have no interest in anything you have to say if you're, as the Eddie Cochran song goes, "too young to vote."
      Feinstein's been in the Senate for 30 years and now we're looking at another six years of this Blue Dog bullshit. I don't know what the hell California was thinking in electing her to a sixth term. But she's had three decades to do something about climate change and hasn't done shit. These kids know better, have much better instincts and haven't been corrupted with this DINOsaur reaching "across the aisle" bullshit. The Republicans are corrupt, murderous psychopaths deeply snuggled in the pockets of oil and coal companies who don't give a fuck about the future generations even if it includes their own grandchildren. And if Feinstein won't go to war with these genocidal lunatics and become part of the solution like Ocasio-Cortez, then she's part of the problem.
     It's time for the sun to set on Feinstein's career.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Gotham City Digest: Make America White Again edition

     That awkward moment when you call a national emergency that you didn't have to declare to try to steal money for a vanity wall and find out it's already been spent.

     Let the de-Trumpification of America begin...

     Oh, this is getting more interesting by the minute. Robert Kraft, a billionaire worth $6.6 billion and owns a Super Bowl-winning team isn't even the biggest name in this prostitution sting out of Jupiter, according to ESPN.
     The Patriots haters are gonna be short-stroking this until the Rapture. Fine, let 'em. We're still the greatest NFL franchise ever assembled and this won't take away a single one of our six Lombardi trophies.

     Just in case you're still harboring some silly, stubborn notions that Kirsten Gillibrand is anything remotely resembling a progressive...

     Election officials on the take from voting equipment vendors? Say it ain't so!

     Apparently, Jazzy Jeff Epstein met one of his underage victims at Trump's Mar-a-Lago. I'm really liking on the Miami Herald these days.

     Tuscon, Arizona just got hit with 38" of snow. Yeah, I'd say that qualifies as a change of climate.

     Trump: I think I'm gonna pardon Manafort.
     His own government: Uh, not so fast...

     We join you live now at MiniTru Headquarters...

     Meanwhile in Colombia and Venezuela, there are, bizarrely, dueling concerts 300 meters from each other.

     Twin win. A win for undocumented migrants and for gay couples.

     On Tuesday, Nancy Pelosi held a vote to invalidate Trump's "national emergency." This will force the Senate to hold their own vote on it within 18 days, thereby forcing Republicans to officially take a stand one way or the other.

     We have got to get rid of the Russian mole in the WH, stat. Putin's basically saying he has the right to station hypersonic missiles close to the US while saying we're not allowed to put missiles near Russia. You've got Trump to thank after he dismantled that treaty.

     Because the answer, obviously, is to make our kids live in a quiet state of siege. God forbid we should have sensible gun control laws.

     In case you're wondering where that Coast Guard Lt got the idea to murder everyone on earth, look no further than Laura Ingraham and her wacko guests who are fighting civil wars in their own addled minds.

     I give Roger Stone one week on the simple grounds that he's a blithering idiot who can't keep his mouth shut.

     Oh, so THAT explains his Twitter account.

     While Donnie Dumbo is badmouthing Kamala Harris, he's forgetting about another Harris, his buddy in NC-9, Mark Harris. NC-9 is the last contested district after last November's midterms. Harris went on record on national TV as saying he'd gotten no warnings whatsoever about any electoral fraud.
      This picture was taken during his own son's testimony that threw him under the bus by stating he himself had warned his father about electoral fraud. This is a much bigger story than the prostrate MSM are making it out to be. Since then, Harris has called for the election to be held again.

     After all this time, if the results aren't readily made available to the public, the perception will indeed be that there's a coverup. And, regarding Mueller's final report, the public expects a long one. But what we should really want is a short one. And these are the reasons why.

     As the kids say, "We have the receipts."

     Two nights ago, Rachel Maddow detailed how scrupulously the outgoing Obama administration collected intelligence on Trump's collusion with Russia and the extraordinary steps it took to preserve that information.
     This was the intelligence assessment, by the way, that Mitch McConnell blocked. Maddow failed to mention that.

     Why stop at just 6G? Let's have 6G20 and bring Putin back in! #MRGA!

     So, Rutger Bregman, the hero of Davos, was interviewed earlier this month by Tucker Carlson. It started civilly enough until Bregman called him out for being a millionaire who works for billionaires.
     The conversation, let's just say, went downhill from that point on...

     Everything you think you know about the media... is a lie, according to one former NBC journalist.

     If, by "Kamala Harris" you mean Bernie Sanders, then yes.

     This Trumpanzee Coast Guard officer wanted to murder everyone on the planet but found a white nationalist America that would've consisted of... himself, apparently. Got to give him an A for ambition.
     But the real terrorists and drug smugglers are at the southern border, right? Isn't that where the national emergency is?

     A must read by Michael Fox. Trump is essentially using the people of Venezuela as a reelection campaign device.

     Mizz Lindsey (R-Streetcar) has the vapors again. And such atrocious language from a proper southern belle. Whoever you are, he has always depended on the kindness of Russians.

     Why is Trump so enamored of muscle-bound skinhead lawyers who look like the Kingpin?

     This is CNN... and its laughable attempt at being "fair and balanced."

     McCabe shot down McCain on The View. It was righteous.

     "I don't care. I believe Putin." This treasonous cocksucker is going to get us all killed if we don't remove him now. Name one other time in US history when our Commander in Chief believed a Russian tyrant over his own intelligence community.

     In just a few hours, Bernie's already outraised all other Democrats within the first 24 hours of them throwing their hat in the ring. Not bad for a Socialist.

     If a Mississippi School of Communication who put you in their Hall of Fame thinks you're too racist to be in that HoF, then you're a racist douchebag screaming straight out of the antebellum era.

     Il Douche and his lawyers also reportedly coordinated secretly with Republican congressmen, including not just Devin Nunes but also Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan, to publicly undermine the Russia investigation. Once again, for clarity's sake- An innocent man would not act like this. Trump comes off looking like a mafia don stuffing cash into a suitcase in the dead of night.

     Trump wanted to sell a nuclear reactor to Saudi Arabia? Well, THIS is a little perturbing.

     18 Attorneys General have already taken Trump to court over this so-called "national emergency."

     And so it begins. "Humanitarian aid" my ass.

     Daddy delivers the smackdown! Now, Senator Harris should get a time out in a corner until after the 2020 election.

     Silly libs! Executive power is only for white presidents!

     Anybody remember my old foil, Hal Turner? Hal's doing time in a federal lockup in Chicago for guess what?
     Threatening three federal judges.
     So, please, Roger. Keep talking. And finally...

     “I am not kidding when I say I have interviewed terrorists who were more cooperative and respectful than Matt Whitaker was today. I say that with sadness.” -Former FBI Assistant Director Frank Figliuzzi to Nicolle Wallace.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Gotham City Digest: Emergency edition

(Where we will never withhold the safe word from you.)

     I hate to make it sound as if I'm making light of this because I'm certainly not. But the NYPD is literally the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. They shot two of their own in Queens Wednesday night and killed one who was less than a year from retirement. And not only does this mock the old NRA canard of "the good guy with a gun", it also begs the question of the standards of marksmanship in the NYPD not to mention the very faulty judgment of officers firing wildly into a building in which the suspect couldn't've possibly been firing at them because he had a fake gun.

     I wonder how long it'll take Trump to ask Shorty for his trade secrets in prison escapes.

     This article goes back nearly a year but it certainly doesn't detract from the fact that Dolly's a very nice lady for doing this for children from coast to coast, and beyond that, over the last two decades. What's there not to admire about a champion of literacy? We need many more people like her to put books in kids' hands.

     Well, the Blue Sky Grill in Richmond Heights, Missouri gets my vote as the most racist restaurant in America.

     Racist white Wisconsin lawmakers whitesplain to black colleagues how Black History Month should be observed by forcing Milwaukee native Colin Kaepernick's name off the list. And speaking of whom...

     Wouldn't it have just been cheaper to let Kaep play in the NFL these last two years as a backup quarterback? And while we're still on the subject...

     White right winger puts himself out of business over boycott of Nike products, is still glad he did it. These people really are no different from the original Nazis. They're all true believers to the very bitter, flaming end.
     And the moral of the story, boys and girls? If you stand with racism and Donald Trump, you will lose lots of money and become a jobless bum. If you stand (or kneel) with Kaep, you win. Like Nike, whose stock shot up over 30% since the Kaepernick ad.

     Brilliant historical revisionism from the Trump-humping lunatic fringe of the far right. Today's class: How Martin Luther King killed himself with a high-powered bullet fired from hundreds of feet away.

     Meanwhile, Il Douche had this to say in El Paso Monday night.
     Blah blah blah wall blah blah blah executing babies blah blah blah socialism blah blah blah Clinton blah blah blah no collusion blah blah blah...

     When Florida turns into Baghdad.

     So, what do Roger Stone, Lyndon LaDouche, Putin and the Queen of England have in common?

     This 21 year-old Iraqi woman, a rape survivor, won the Nobel Peace Prize to the deafening silence of the mainstream media. But what did soak up all the press?

     A man who murders immigrants at the border and Yemen wanders into Rose Garden and claims Shinzo Abe nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize. Hilarity ensues when it's revealed that Trump's flunkies essentially pressured Abe into nominating him.

      Let's get one thing straight- Massive tax cuts for the super wealthy, banks and corporations don't create jobs, they KILL jobs. We saw this during the bailout a decade ago. Banks got billions, staff got cut, lending slowed to a crawl, shareholders and bank executives got a massive payout.
      Now we're seeing the same thing all over again. Banks got a $21,000,000,000 windfall, staff got cut, lending slowed to a crawl, shareholders and bank executives got a massive payout.
      When the fuck are we going to realize this. Doesn't. Work? We should do what Iceland did- Jail the bankers and bail out their victims.

     You want to get back your tax refund? No problem! Just buy your own private jet!

     I love these domino effects. First New Mexico, now California.

     206 days since a judge ordered those migrant kids to be reunified with their parents. The Trump administration is basically thumbing their noses at the federal judiciary at this point.

     So while everyone is lathering themselves up over what Ilhan Omar said about AIPAC, there was this...

     This is why we need teachers and decent education in this country. So inbred, right wing fat fucks like this don't get elected to public office.

     "Next C-SPAN caller is Linda from the bunker. Linda, you're on the air..."

      It would be a lot easier if he just came out and said, "I fucking hate dogs, alright? The loyalty thing I can get into but not from mutts, OK?"
      Historical fact: The Obamas weren't the first First Family to own a dog.

     Meanwhile, elsewhere in our wonderfully post-racial society... A 21 year-old black man was shot to death for Sleeping While Black.

      Well, Trump's 4th Reich thinks at least one black thing is beautiful: Coal.
      Meanwhile, a few months later at the Oval Office:
      "Trump, this is Murray! What the fuck is this I hear about TVA shutting down two coal-firing plants?"
      "It's fake news, Bob. Don't believe everythin' ya hear."
      "Fake news? You stupid orange cunt! I shoveled $300,000 into your fucking inaugural fund months after you were sworn in and this is what I get for my bribe? Now I can't sell my coal to them!"
      "Don't worry, Bob. I'll make a deal. I make great deals, the best deals."
      "You fucking asshole, you'd better! Don't forget who you REALLY work for!!" (hangs up)
      "White House kitchen? Send me a dozen Big Macs. It's gonna be a long day."

     Republicans stealing from Republicans? Wha-what? No honor among thieves?

     Only Paul Manafort would be stupid enough to queer a sweetheart deal that he never deserved in the first place by lying to the FBI, Mueller and the grand jury.

     For-profit outfits such as Geo Group and CoreCivic use slave labor then overcharge the prisoners on essentials they should be providing for nothing.

     Elliot Abrams really is lower than earthworm shit. If there's an American war criminal still alive, Trump WILL give them an appointment. And if there's one thing more despicable than a war criminal, it's one who has his killing and raping done for him by proxy.
     And should you need any more justification for my calling Elliot Abrams "lower than earthworm shit", consider his role during Iran Contra as a bag man.

     Fun fact: Mississippi didn't abolish slavery until six years ago.

     At least SOMEBODY at the DOJ had some sense.

     Like father, like spawn.

     Amazon just decided to pull out of the Long Island City Queens deal. Good. Who the fuck needs you, Bezos? I really love my native borough more than ever.
      So, how can Amazon walk away from three billion dollars in tax breaks? It's easy if your valuation is nearly a trillion dollars and you pay a -1% tax rate.

     Try to count all the things that are wrong with what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reports in this one tweet. Let me start:
     1) Lobbyists think they're entitled to see lawmakers first.
     2) But they're too lazy to stand in line like everyone else.
     3) They're using the homeless like human sawhorses so they don't lose their place in line.

     Is irony dead or is the RCC and everyone else just blind to it? A priest was forced to resign after he was accused of soliciting for sex during confession. I guess it's a thing.

     Of course Mitch was caught funneling money to an offshore bank account. What did you expect from a right wing scumbag who married into a drug-smuggling family?

     The godly Mike Pence sucked into a $107,000,000 coverup scheme?

     Yes, we've criminalized Speaking While Hispanic.

     So, ABC asked Trump what outside conservatives influenced his decision to declare a state of emergency. So of course, he mentioned nearly everyone on Fox then said Ann Coulter was "off the reservation."
      As expected a Three Mile Island-class meltdown on Coulter's Twitter feed followed within minutes.

      Trump: "We have to build a wall to protect us from rapists."
      Also Trump: “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”

     Imagine if Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin got fact-checked live on international TV. This would have been the result.

     Judge Amy Berman Jackson is the gift that just keeps on giving. And finally...

     "Everyone, we have a crisis at the southern border! Women are getting raped, wrapped in duct tape and smuggled in through prayer rugs, policemen are getting shot left and right, aliens are coming over in droves and stuffing tons of drugs over the border, there's rotting corpses everywhere!
     "Now I'm gonna go play golf over the weekend."

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

My Latest Interview

     In case you couldn't make it for the live podcast yesterday (my first podcast, actually. The others have been on the radio), this is the permalink to my interview with Susan Wingate and her show, Dialogue: Between the Lines. It's just under half an hour-long so it won't take up much of your day.

Come For the Swamp, Stay for the Everglades

     When I was growing up in Tampa, Florida in the 60's, it seemed every other damned thing I saw on TV were fanboats blowing their way through the everglades. It seemed like a horribly noisy contraption to a visit a glorified swamp that was better left to itself.
     Trump might as well be ferried around on one of those airboats instead of the presidential limousine because he's turned the United States into a gigantic everglade.
     Indeed, the man who once famously boasted he would "drain the swamp", and was wholeheartedly believed by 63,000,000 mostly inbred mouth-breathers, has instead not done that. And rather than restock the swamp's old alligators for new and improved ones, he's actually expanded that swamp so that the United States is now a massive everglade.
     In fact, as Rachel Maddow asked last night, how can we call out corruption if our "president" isn't even ashamed of his own and announces his corruption on Twitter and if we have become part of that culture? Take the case of the Trump inaugural fund, which raised a whopping $107,000,000 from corporate donors such as Sheldon Adelson and Robert Murray. It's essentially been revealed as nothing more than a massive slush fund. a financial digestive tract, if you will, into which bribes are crammed and favors get extruded out the other end. Toward the end, this is what Maddow had said:
This is like the Platonic ideal of corruption. Murray pays Trump — and Trump uses the presidency to direct a public agency to pay Murray. To prop up Murray’s business, use federal resource, use the taxpayers’ resources, use the country’s assets to reward the guy that gave him money.
     And unlike the inaugural fund, which is being protected by an iron veil of secrecy by both conspirator and federal investigator alike, the news of Murray Energy essentially buying a massive raft of 16 favors for a mere $300,000 from Robert Murray after the inauguration is not a scoop on a par with Watergate. In fact, it doesn't even come close to reaching the level of Deflategate. And that's because Trump nakedly and brazenly announced on his Twitter account just two days ago that the Tennessee Valley Authority's Paradise #3 should continue using its half century-old coal firing plant. A plant, incidentally, that uses Murray Energy coal.
     And this is Trump's dubious genius. He's nakedly open with his corruption and robs any journalist of the opportunity to get a scoop that would have exponentially more power than a simple admission of corruption on a social media platform.
     You admit to your corruption, then there's no comeuppance, in other words.
     It's akin to what  George Washington Plunkitt, a 19th century Tammany Hall boss, once described as "honest graft." It was different from "dishonest graft" in which one or more parties takes money from the public trough and gives nothing back to the community. "Honest graft," averred Plunkitt, was or should be perfectly acceptable because, in the very act of enriching oneself, one also gives something back to the community. It was a bedrock of Tammany Hall philosophy staunchly believed in from the bosses and sachems to the lowest ward heelers who did the street-level enforcement. Boss Tweed enriched himself until he was richer than Croesus but the city got in return school, hospitals and libraries that still stand to this day.
     Trump, never a man burdened with a surfeit of intelligence or critical thinking skills, obviously thinks he meets the Plunkittian definition of "honest graft." But it doesn't. It meets the definition of the obverse, or "dishonest graft" and the infamously corrupt Plunkitt would have called Trump on it immediately. Trump took bribes laundered through the committee of an inauguration that had long since faded into history and in return slashed countless regulatory jobs and slashed countless more energy regulations to make a coal baron's wish list come true.
     Boss Tweed finally had his downfall in 1871. So why hasn't Trump had his after over two years of naked public corruption? It's as if Trump and most of his cronies are coated with this weird alien Teflon that inoculates them from any Congressional oversight or prosecutorial comeuppance.
     And this is where Trump's "dubious genius" comes in. He seems to think if he's open about his own personal corruption, he'll be forgiven or people will soon forget about it like a seven year-old admitting to his benevolent parents that he broke a cheap vase bought at Walmart.
     It's not supposed to work that way nor should it. Trump's inaugural was held nearly 25 months ago yet donations, millions in donations, kept coming in months after the festivities. Why? And why did it take New York federal investigators all these months to get around to investigating where a whopping $40,000,000 of that $107,000,000 went? Indeed, the federal response to this has been sluggish at best.
     And to those of us who still care and are angered that our government and its resources, starting with the Oval Office, are being sold to coal barons and other self-interested psychopaths are being given the impression that this is the new way of doing things. That as long as you're open with your "honest" graft, all will be forgiven even as the environment once again reaches pollution levels unseen since the 1960s and political corruption reaches levels unseen since the 1860's.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Interview with Gail Williams

15) Someone has a book launch coming up! And it’s the latest chapter of the Locked series of thrillers. Tell us a bit about it, please.

Locked Down releases on 18th Feb. This is the third of a trilogy of novels that follow what happens to Detective Sergeant Charlie Bell, after he’s been expelled from the police force and rightfully convicted of a murder he did commit. The three books also focus on Ariadne Teddington, a prison officer, and Detective Chief Inspector Mathew Piper, Charlie’s old boss.

Locked Down is largely driven by the actions of DCI Mathew Piper. He’s been slapped on the wrist for what he allowed to happen in previous books and told to concentrate on cold cases, so he does. The case he focuses on is that of Terrance Whittaker who went missing twenty years ago when he was 9. The fact that Terry happens to be Ariadne Teddington’s younger brother has nothing to do with it, no, of course not. Then naturally, there’s what’s going on with Charlie, who isn’t getting on with his life in quite the way that he should be, after all, how do you carry on after a murder conviction when you’ve lost the only job you ever wanted? And, finally, we get an answer to the will they/won’t they between Charlie and Ari.

14) I don’t know if you’ve read either book but based on your description of him on your author website, Charlie Bell sounds a bit like Red Metcalfe, the rogue cop in Boris Starling’s Messiah and Storm. Without repeating your website too much, tell us a bit about him.

Well, I’ve never heard of Red Metcalfe, but I just added him to my to be read list! Charlie is a man who basically has an overdeveloped sense of right and wrong, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to him as to most, he doesn’t confuse right and wrong with legal and illegal. In his heart he wants the hearth and home scenario, a wife and kids to love, but never found a way to get those given he also has the taste for chasing villains and he doesn’t want to risk people he loves to the people he chases. What most people miss about Charlie is that he is a great reader. He loves books, really loves them. He’s always read copious amounts even before he was locked in a cell with little else to do. There’s not a genre he won’t read, though he frequently gets annoyed at the unrealistic portrayal of men and masculinity he reads in romances. He sees a lot of people as Eloi, mindlessly following the rules (for anyone who doesn’t get it that a reference to The Time Machine by H G Wells). And every now and then, he sees the heroes and angels, readers may recognize them more readily as Piper and Ariadne.

13) Who were your biggest literary influences growing up and what made you decide to write crime fiction, among other things?

Growing up? Oh, that’s hard to tell, back then I was reading so much different stuff. The ones I remember most clearly were Rosemary Sutcliffe, Paul Zindel, Jane Austin, James Herbert, Stephen King, Dean R Kootz, David Eddings and Steve Jackson/Ian Livingston. Which is a bit of a motley crew when you think about it. I also have to admit that there were a lot of Mills & Boons read back then, and when the Intrigue series started coming out – enjoyed a fair few of them.

I don’t know when or why I decided to write, I just always wanted to write, have always written. I have story books from when I was so young, I could barely string a coherent sentence together but they are my stories told my way, not anyone else's. If I cut back all the noise, I think the thing that’s driven me on most is the authors I can’t now name. The ones that I only read one book from, or couldn’t read a full book from, because they weren’t good enough. It was the, possibly arrogant, internal voice that just said “I write better than this”, so I did. 

Actually, the decision to move to crime came from the many rejections I had (and still have somewhere in my not very “efficient” filing system) from Mills & Boon. In essence, they all said the same thing; great writing, but too much plot not enough romance. And since they were all intended for the Intrigue imprint, the move to crime writing was easy. Since growing up however, one of my biggest influence has been Simon Kernick. Love his books. Now I read Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Chris Brookmyre, and many others. Of late I’ve started reading a lot of Wales-based fiction, Harry Bingham, Cathy Ace, Thorne Moore, and Alis Hawkins to name a few. This is also because I’m now starting to write a new series based in Wales, but that’s next years reveal.

12) Unlike several of my previous Authors of the Month (such as Christine Lyden, Laurel Heidtman and Dana Ridenour), you don’t have a background in law enforcement. So, do you do your research strictly online, or talk to professionals in the field or a mixture of both?

Ah, well, in this case I’ve been very lucky. Of course, I do check stuff out online, and I have a number of police procedure manuals that I refer to, but where I’m lucky is that I live on a street with four serving and ex police officers. In fact, only a couple of weeks ago I was chatting to my neighbour on a typically boring neighbourhood matter and I got to ask him about police issue boots for a short story I was working on. I also work a day job for a large organisation, and one of my contacts is an ex-copper who put me in touch with higher ranking officers from the local force. So, I have emailed and chatted with everything from police constables to a Detective Superintendent. I’ve also had conversations with pathologists, forensic scientists and prison officers. Not to mention a friend of mine who worked on building a police station and has told me how holding cells are laid out.

11) Meanwhile, under your full name, Gail B. Williams, you’re also in the middle of a series of Steampunk Aether mysteries. Tell us about this mysterious force known as “aether.”

Aether is what is technically known as a McGuffin, a plot device used to drive the achievement of some goal or motivator. In Amethyst Foresters world, Aether is a gaseous material harvested from the higher atmosphere which my Victorians have managed to turn into a power source. Think of it as an adaptable battery pack that emits a rainbow of unharmful waste aether that simply rises and reconstitutes back in the atmosphere, from where it can be re-harvested and reused. It appears to be the ultimate in renewable resources. Of course, appearances can be deceptive. The refining of raw aether into its usable processed state isn’t quite so harmless as the world thinks and there’s a great deal more to aether than anyone yet knows about. But I won’t reveal what until later books.

10) When you’re not writing steampunk as Gail B. Williams or straight up crime as GB Williams, you’re up to other things as Gail Barden, who’s yet to make her debut. What kind of work do you do under that pen name?

Gail Barden is like the embarrassing cousin no one talks about, really interesting, but a bit weird and you won’t want to be seen in public with. As Gail Barden I write horrible stories, genres I like to flirt with. It’s not that I’m embarrassed by these other works, it’s actually about branding, a cynical business ploy if you will. If you pick up a book by GB Williams – it’s crime. If you pick up a book by Gail B Williams – it’s steampunk, if you see Gail Barden in an anthology or magazine (they’re mostly short stories), it could be absolutely anything.

I don’t send out many Gail Barden works, but oddly I have been 100% successful with those which I have sent out. Trust me this doesn’t happen with the rest of it, but I’m not looking that particular gift horse in the mouth. Gail Barden has her debut agreed, but I’m waiting for a publication date, and once I know it, I’ll be plastering it all over.

Oh, and by the way, in family gatherings, I think I am the ‘embarrassing cousin’ no one wants to be seen with.  😉

9) You’ve also written short stories in the horror genre that have been published in anthologies. One of your influences there was obviously HP Lovecraft. Who else do you enjoy in horror?

Oh, Lovecraft has definitely been an influence, though I have an exclusive confession for you – I’ve got a collected work of HP – and I haven’t read of word of it. I actually came across Cthulhu because a fellow writer told me about a publisher looking for Welsh based Cthulhu stories. So, I went and read a bit about the Call of Cthulhu and snippets of Delta Green. Then I wrote the story, then it got published – if only it was always that easy.

I’ve actually already mentioned a few horror writers that I read as a kid, Stephen King and James Herbert chief among them. Fluke is a book I will never forget, made me think a very great deal about a lot of stuff that would never have occurred to be otherwise. Similarly The Rats, especially since my husband told me about a cinema he went to as a kid where you really could feel rats running by your ankles. I’ve also enjoyed Chris Barker, Cabel and Weaveworld were fab. I have shelves full of Dean R Koontz too. The one of his that has stayed with me most was first published in the UK under the name Leigh Nicholls was called The House of Thunder. This is horror, but it’s also very much a thriller/crime novel and one of the ways that I moved into reading the crime genre.

8) Describe your typical writing day. Do you write longhand in notebooks, use a laptop or both?

There is no such thing as a typical writing day for me. I am still work full time, so I can’t devote as much time to writing as I would dearly love to. So basically, I write whenever and wherever I can. I have been known to write sentences between calculations at work (I run some very complicated calculations over large data ranges). I’ve been known to write instead of eat at lunchtimes. I carry a notebook so I’ll basically write anywhere, any time – and if I don’t have the notebook, I’ll type snippets on my phone and email them to myself. If we’re going out as a couple/family and it’s a long drive that my husband is driving, I’ll take a laptop and write in the car. If I’m not completely wiped out after work and the long driven commute, I’ll get the laptop or notebook out in the evening and scribble away. If hubby is on nights, I’ll often go work in bed. I have an old laptop in the bedroom so if I should fall asleep with it on my lap and drop it, I’ve not ruined the expensive laptop I usually work on –by the way this has never happened, but I don’t want it to either. So I suppose, my typical ‘writing day’ is elbowing in writing where I can.

7) I must say the idea of a former police detective trying to work within the constraints of the British penal system and the creative tension involved sounds wonderfully challenging. How did you meet and overcome those logistical difficulties?

Probably because I’m not as aware as I should be what the difficulties of investigation are. I really appreciate the knowledge that ex-police officers bring to crime fiction, but sometimes a writer has to just use their imagination.

So, for Locked Up, which is set inside the prison where Charlie is serving his sentence and where Ariadne works, I figured, rightly or wrongly, that interviews are really conversations, so Charlie has a lot of conversations. I had to figure out when he’d be able to have those conversations, so exercise and meal times had to be favourite, and there is socialisation time in most prisons for Category C prisoners, which Charlie is. The fact that one of Charlie’s former informants in also in the jail at the same time helps too. While in the book I say that all the prisoners are claim they are actually innocent men, the reality is that most prisoners are happy to brag about how guilty they are, criminals sometimes want to be found out, to demonstrate and be lauded for their brilliance. You also have to realise that the British penal system is very different from the American one. In England and Wales, we have very few murders in prison, if there are five homicides in the whole prison system in a year it’s considered a very bad year, from what American friends have told me, prisoners killing prisoners is pretty much a daily occurrence in the US (don’t know how true this is). So maybe I overcame the difficulties because I just didn’t know they were there. 

6) What is it about history that stimulates and drives you to write historical fiction?

Well, the settings are often historical, but the fiction isn’t exactly. Most of my historical stuff has been either horror or steampunk, so I play fast and loose with the truth, which means that I get away with an awful lot of mistakes that most historical fiction writers wouldn’t. But what draws me back in time is simple stuff, yes there’s a romanticism about the past, and that’s definitely a draw, but there’s also things like, no mobile phones which are a total nightmare for contemporary fiction. And I live in Wales so they can be a total nightmare in reality too, which is one reason for setting stuff here.

I think one of the draws to historical settings is that it’s assumed to be a simpler life. It wasn’t in many respects, but it was very different from now, and I like different. The past has also given me the room to explore themes that I haven’t touched on in my contemporary fiction.  For example, Amethyst Forester (Of the Aether books) rails against the control men have in her life. She got excluded from university just because she’s a woman. She’s going to be faced with a very difficult situation in book four (sorry no spoilers) that she’s only facing because she’s a woman, and in all honesty I’m not sure how I’m going to get her out of that situation yet, but I have to find a way, and the worst thing is, that I have a feeling that way will also have to be the men in her life, so double edged sword ahead.

This means that there’s talk of the suffrage movement in the books (it’s not heavy but it’s there). These are things that I haven’t explored in my contemporary fiction not because they don’t exist, but because the women I write about don’t tend to have to fight them - though that’s not to say I wouldn’t write about it in the future. Equally there are freedoms in the past that we don’t have now. The ability to be forgotten not least of all, or the ability to reinvent oneself. These days if I want to take on a new job I need to show my birth certificate or a passport to prove I’ve the right to work in the only country I’ve ever lived in, I am British born and bred, but to get a job here, I have to prove that, I have to have the right paperwork. No one before 1911 even had to have a national insurance number, and that meant people could move around and change identities much easier than we can today. It’s these differences that draw me back. 

Oh, and corsets. I love a corset. Yes, I wear modern ones based on Victorian designs, but I hear that Tudor corsets are actually much better for you, they’re more like back braces. But the call of a corset definitely has me tied in.

5) Plotter or pantser?

Yes.

That is, I plot, then I go and elbow a writing session in somewhere I don’t have the plot to hand, and just write what the characters feel like letting me write about them. If I like the result, I keep it and change the plot. In fact, I frequently do that. Then I find that an idea can be echoed through the novel in some other way, and throw that in, change the plot to suit. So, for example, I knew for Shades of Aether, that Amethyst had to have a clash with Violet. For those who haven’t picked up on this (because I had to explain it to a friend of mine a few days ago) Amethyst and Violet are both names of colours, different shades of purple in fact. So, they were the shades in the original idea for Shades of Aether. The lampshades that Amethyst makes from her glass were a much later addition to the tapestry of the book.

When it comes to the rest of the Of Aether series, these were all plotted together in that I knew certain things have to happen, I decided on the themes for each of the books, but individually, they’ve evolved as I wrote them. Inspector Jenson wasn’t even in the first draft of the Shades of Aether, and when he did turn up he was supposed to be in no more than two scenes, but he walked in, I saw him and just knew he had to have more attention. Though in fairness, when Great-Aunt Flora appeared - in the very last edit I should add only five weeks before publication - she really stole the show. And these two are now reader favourites. They were totally unplanned, but I’m so grateful for their appearance and I’ve made sure they have a good place in the rest of the books too. Actually, as I write this I am aware that the scene I should be writing right now is between these two and it’s going to be (I hope) a belter - though Jenson would never ‘belt’ a lady, I can’t give guarantees of non-violence with Great-Aunt Flora, she may be 88 but she is feisty. And has a cane.

Whatever I write, I usually have a destination in mind for my characters, but they don’t always take the route I was expecting. Characters do have a tendency to do what they want, not necessarily what I think they should do. So if you take Locked Downsomething happens at the end of that (no spoilers, but I suspect readers may know it when they read it) that I did not intend to happen until I started writing that part of the book and realised that actually, that was exactly what had to happen so I left it in. There’s also something I intended to put in the end of this book that didn’t happen for two reasons, the first is the thing that wasn’t supposed to happen then did, and the second was that, as the end of a trilogy, it was a bit of a downer, so I changed the end and ended with hope, because that’s sometimes the only thing people have left.

I think, if I look at what my process is, I do a lot of thinking about a story line long, long, long time before I put anything new on paper. So, I actually panster the initial idea, then outline that as a book idea, which I then form into some kind of logical plot, filling in any gaps. Then I write ignoring the finer details of the plot and let whatever happens happen. And hope. There’s a lot of hoping. Whether or not people find hope in my works, I definitely do a lot of hoping while I’m writing them.

4) A little over two years ago, you’d published a collection of crime short stories entitled Last Cut Casebook. Were those 13 short stories written with the intention of collecting them or did you write them willy-nilly then subsequently decide to collect them?

They were among many more shorts that I’d written for various reasons, and never done anything with. These were the ones I liked best and I put them together. Quite often I will write something for a reason, like a competition or something, but never send the piece off. I’m dreadful for not sending stuff off. Nagging suspicion that I’m just not good enough, but that’s the joy of being a writer. I picked 13 because it’s unlucky and so is getting killed.

So, anyway, it’s an eclectic mix of all sorts of shorts. The collection includes and is named for the first and last inclusions. First is a short story that got long listed for the Crime Writers Association’s Margery Allingham Short Story award, Last Shakes. The last is a story that was included in an anthology to raise awareness for endometriosis, “The Cruellest Cut.” Interesting fact about these two stories, I wrote them a year or more apart, Last Shakes was the first, “The Cruellest Cut” came later. What I didn’t realise until I put the collection together, is that they feature the same police officer. And when I checked, that same name appears in several other shorts I’ve written but not included in Last Cut Casebook. This was at no point a conscious decision, but it’s happened, and I guess it means I need to do something with that character that’s a bit more substantial one day.

To be honest there were three other shorts that were originally in the 13 that my editor just went, nope, that’s not good enough. He demanded (okay recommended) that I cut those out and give him something better. So I did. And it worked. I’m very grateful to my editor, he is a good friend, but as an editor, first and foremost he’s a friend to the work before he’s a friend to me.

I’ve had some great reviews on this book, but my favourite was an unwritten one, this happened at a crime writers festival when one guy who’d read it came up to me to say he’d read it and his review consisted of him declaring “You are one sick bunny!” I like that. Probably shouldn’t, but I do.

3) Is there any plan for future installments of the Locked series or will it end as a trilogy?

Locked as a trilogy is just a trilogy. However, that said, I have additional ideas for two of the characters, possibly three. I don’t want to give anything away too much, though it’s fairly obvious which two characters I’m thinking about. These are general ideas, they have a destination in terms of how their stories will continue, what I don’t have yet is the journey, so I don’t want to promise anything in case I never figure out a way to deliver it, but at the very least, we will see Charlie again. The possible third comes from a reader telling me that they really want to see more of a particular character. This character also happens to be one of those who sprung up out of nowhere almost fully formed, so there’s a good chance that I’ll get the knock on the noggin and have to write a book for this character one day. At the moment though, that’s the whole seed of the idea, and it has to be better than that to write it, so it may take a while before germination, inspiration and the sweat of writing.

2) Are there any subjects you regard as taboo in the crime/mystery genre or will you put anything into a book where it suits the plot?

Quick answer is no.

A taboo is “a social or religious custom prohibiting or restricting a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing.” Is that not what all crime is? So, no, I don’t think that for crime, there should be taboos about subject matter. After all, murder is a taboo, it’s against the law in most countries, it’s against the ‘rules’ of most religions. And if you’re going to start talking about religious wars being murder, please allow me to suggest that, in my personal opinion, religious wars might be less about the religion then they are about the manipulation of power hungry religious leaders. On all sides. There is no one without sin in that scenario. There, that’s bound to get me in trouble with someone.

However, while not quite taboo, I am holding onto an idea that I would dearly love to write, but that I’m not writing. This is because I’m not sure that I can do it justice. So does that make it taboo? Maybe. See I have a horrible feeling that if I write about this subject, I’ll get it wrong, possibly so wrong it’ll do a lot of unnecessary harm. The reason for this is that that subject matter is something rather sensitive and also something that is completely outside of my sphere of experience. Now it also has to be said that so is murder. I’ve never killed and I’ve never investigated a killing, but I can write that. I know enough about the general human condition to have a pretty good understanding of how that would feel, the rest I can research. But this particular topic is taboo socially, though not in a literary sense there are a few books out there covering it, and I think it needs writing about, but as much as I want to write it, I’m not sure that I could write it as well as I think it needs to be written. I’m erring on the side of ‘do no harm’ with this. I suspect that this last paragraph makes no sense to anyone but me, but it is the answer to the question.

1) On your website, considering how eclectic your canon is (mystery, sci fi/steampunk, horror, historical nonfiction and even a bit of erotica), is there any genre you wouldn’t touch? (Tweaked this because SciFi fans often shove steampunk aside as not part of their genre. I’ve edited historical non-fiction, but the only non-fiction I’ve had published was a technical guide, so can’t say this.)

No is the short answer, but it would depend on with whom I was collaborating.

I truly believe that any story in any genre is about people (or anthropomorphized animals if someone smart arse is going pointing to Watership Down), which means the best writers can jump genres. See Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl.

So, one genre I wouldn’t write novels in on my own, is actually erotica. I can write a short erotica piece, and have had one published, but don’t have what it takes to write an erotica novel. But if I was collaborating with someone experienced and known in the genre, I’d be more than happy to write with that person. And that goes for any other genre too. 

Now the one genre that I’d have to be really careful in agreeing to is one that I’d dearly love to be able to write, and that’s comedy. If you want to see this in action, read Terry Pratchett or Jasper Ffrode. Now I do try to give lighter moments in my work, it can’t all be darkness, but as the review mentioned above says, I am a sick bunny. What I find funny most people don’t. I think humour is the most difficult thing in the world to write successfully. I hugely admire anyone who can go do stand-up and make people laugh, and never underestimate the intelligence of a comic because they are so smart. Personally, I can’t tell a joke to save my life. I have some great one-liners, but they tend to be sarcastic which means that people don’t laugh. So again, it’s not the genre that puts me off, it’s the fear of my own inability to write it right that means I’d shy away from it. 

Similarly, children’s books. I read the draft a friend’s children’s book and I thought it was utterly brilliant. It was funny and fast paced and everything I would have loved to have read as a child. She can’t sell it because publishers say it’s too dark. I couldn’t agree less, which probably means that I’d be on a hiding to nothing writing for children. So that might well be off limits for me too.

There again, the right collaborator and… well, to misquote Ian Fleming, “Never say never.”

Gail’s Books can be found below:

KindleindaWind, my writing blog.

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