Excerpt: A Question of Allegiance

Today, I’m showcasing “A Question of Allegiance.” A Day at the Zoo laid out all the characters and backstory. The trick with follow-on novels in the series was to make each novel standalone. Cue lists of key moments to be explained, biographies, and, due to the language, ensuring that each term is spelled and used consistently.

This is also where I started using the calendar of Jewish holidays to anchor the story. While AD@tZ was merely sometime in February, AQoA and The Property of Blood were closely following the first in the time line.

Okay, maybe this is TMI from author to reader. But the Jewish holidays each represent concepts of the book itself, adding a layer of texture. I hope you enjoy the book!

Oh, and remember, there’s a sale on both books throughout the month of July! The @Smashwords sale is part of their Annual Summer/Winter Sale. Be sure to follow me for more updates and links to the promotion for my books and many more! #SWSale2023 #Smashwords.

Buy A Day at the Zoo

Buy A Question of Allegiance

Here’s an excerpt from the novel, A Question of Allegiance:

Donuts. The curse of cops the fashtunkeneh—awful—things were. Chocolate. Chocolate and some fruit thing. Jam. And maybe a little vanilla I smelled, too. Chocolate was expensive so much almost no one had it to give away.
My mouth watered. I glanced over mine left shoulder behind me what to see who was there. A crowd of hungry cops is what was there. Lieutenant Dawson was by them in the middle, glaring at two uniformed officers who maybe should have been bloodhounds. Or maybe Intel.
I got up, then in mine chair sat back down. Today was Ta’anis Ester—the Fast of Queen Esther. So, no breakfast. Also, not at all eating today until the Purim holiday celebration tonight. Cake, cookies, and booze for me awaited. And no donuts. Chaya, mine wife five years to me married, being pregnant, today could eat anything. Jealousy is for between a couple a bad thing to feel.
At the Austin Police Department, I’ve been a detective for three years. Haredi—what we call ourselves, and what others call ultra-Orthodox, usually didn’t work outside of cities with big Jewish communities. But when they a detective badge waved at me, I took it, even if our little shtetl community was smaller than even Skokie was.
“Hey, Myers, want a donut? Dawson brought them in from one of your bakeries, for the squad.”
He meant a kosher one. I wasn’t enough hungry that into sin it would tempt me. Dawson above his head waved one. Almost I could see others getting ready to jump up for it. He over six feet stood, big and muscled and like a fallen oak leaf black. He polished his kopf like a radar dome instead of growing out hair to cut.
“Thanks, but I can’t today,” I said, standing up again. “I gift it to you.” At him I made a little bow.
He snorted and back to the group of cops turned. “What am I bid for Shmuley’s donut?”
A funny man. I sat back down. Just another slow afternoon in the APD homicide squad room.
Mine desk, what I named Shmendrick, meaning idiot, had electronic clutter on its top windows and objects. And that was on the screen part only. On the desk itself was the Austin-American Statesman newspaper, in print.
It I opened first, and over to the classified section went. Mine eyes went to one tiny ad, just a line. “Stocker Needed.” A phone number, and an extension. A message for me, from Upline. A when and where, and to where, like a secret taxi ride.
Upline helped women escape the Preborn Investigation Bureau, “PIBniks,” or “GodForce” as most called them. Women who were by accident pregnant and needed the whole United States to escape to get an abortion. Or to help rescue helpers who the PIB were looking for. I, from before even I moved to Austin, worked for them, moving people. Hiding people. Like the enslaved people from the South up North being smuggled. Not something mine police department would like for a homicide sergeant to be doing, for sure.
I closed the paper and into a drawer put it. The stack of folders next I looked at. Audits, the commander had decreed. Audits of a certain former Detective Simmons, who turned out not to be one of the good people. A murderer, almost, of me, mine wife Chaya, and the little fetus that in her was growing.
That last piece into such trouble he got him daylight he would never see. Sure, trying to bomb your partner and his wife was bad. But a preborn trying to murder brought on him down the wrath of the GodForce—Preborn Investigation Bureau—with their lawyers and prosecutors and special powers.
Fine, so auditing I had to do. Mine punishment for surviving him trying to blow us up. The stack of papers setting on fire with mine eyes I tried. Not enough strong a glare. I sighed and pulled the next folder open, to read what five years ago he did that might have been wrong.
Simmons,
yemach shemo—may his name be erased—was maybe inside APD part of a terror group. Fighting crime wasn’t for them good enough. Killing people they thought were guilty was what they wanted. For them I was looking—because mine other job was as a Mogen Dovid for the Jewish Sanhedrin. A defender of our people—the Jewish people. To APD and GodForce, though, the Sanhedrin was a terrorist organization. If they even knew it existed. And on mine hands already I had blood.
This folder was from eight years ago. A murder, no fetuses involved. Religion not involved either. On the “maybe” pile I put it. The “no” pile an ant could see over. For “yes,” there was no pile. Later that would pile up, for after I reread each folder in the “maybe” pile.
Mine electronic clutter swept to one side of mine desk, and a picture of a phone in its place appeared. I tapped mine earbud. “Detective Myers.”
“How’s it going, pahdnah?” Most Blessed Jethro Waters, mine liaison to the Preborn Investigation Bureau, like on a horse, a cowboy he sounded. Also, loopy a little.
“I don’t have a partner,” I said. “I’m a—ah—alone ranger.”
“Lone Ranger. Lone Ranger, Shmuley. You’ve got to work on your idioms.”
“We didn’t have Lone Rangers where I grew up.” Because where I grew up, we only had the Torah, and the Gemara—Talmud—and books by rabbis about things only to be more Jewish to know. Vids only of religious topics, for kids even too there was only ‘kosher’ programming.
“Whatever. You’ve got me, like it or not. Pahdnah.”
“Oh, did you apply to APD? I hear there’s an opening for a homicide detective.”
“Ha,” Jethro said. “Yeah, Simmons. That’s the reason for my call. “Clear, his voice got, the Abilene from his accent disappearing. But still to me he looked like on drugs.
“Nu? You done interrogating him?” To the PIBniks Simmons, from the hospital being discharged got transferred. Federal, they said, trumping our local jurisdiction. Because of a fetus he tried to hurt, not for two real humans almost at his hands dying.
“Yes,” Jethro said. On screen his face sagged like when too close beeswax got to a candle. From firm to loose. Medications, I hoped. “We’re done interrogating him.”
“And?”
“And he was found dead in his cell about twenty minutes ago.”

Michael Chambon and Orthodox Judaism

Austin Poet John Gibbons posted this NYTimes article about Orthodox Jews and an extension of an eruv, which lets Jews carry (anything other than clothes) on Shabbat between private (their house) and public (everywhere else) spaces.

Reminds me of my friends when I was growing up with keys made into tie clips or embedded in simple necklaces. My synagogue even had a red/green traffic signal visible so people could pass by and see if the eruv was unbroken (another tease to read the article).

John also reminded me of why I got into the Shmuley Myers series in the first place. I really loved The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which Chambon wrote in 2008. Where his book focused on the grander scale of the American Jewish community at an inflection point (no spoilers, go read the book!), I wanted something more intimate, where the Jewish component was as much a fabric of life as that of a homicide detective. And where he has Alaska as the focal point, much as Gene Roddenberry used Star Trek as a stage for human problems, I wanted something more tactile, more interacting with the physical space that Austin provides in spades. Hat tip to Michael for writing this book, and (shameless plug) check out my books in the Shmuley Myers series!

On Fiction & Current Events

I’m doing one last pass on the 3rd book in the Shmuley Myers series, The Property of Blood, before handing it off to an editor and page-setter to prepare for publication. That equates to a few months before publication.

These mysteries take place in an alternate reality, a few decades after the Citizenship From Conception Amendment was ratified around the time of the ascension of the American Moral Majority’s fundamentalism. Think late 70s and early 80s. The unintended consequences described in the books seemed to me an impossible reality when I wrote A Day at the Zoo in 2016.

But this is not a political screed about reproductive independence. When looking for a publicist, I gave one to a well-recommended agency. The owner indicated they were anti-abortion. “Someone on our staff is Jewish,” I was told about the Jewish content, in my opinion much the way “I have a Black friend” is used by racists. They declined to provide a quote because “they weren’t a good fit” for the project. And I get it, if this was a story about abortion.

I’m writing the Shmuley Myers murder-mystery series book #4 as I procrastinate writing this post. It’s an exploration of another culture much more in the style of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chambon than it is the Rabbi Small mysteries, as in Harry Kemelman’s Sunday the Rabbi Stayed Home series.

The series is also, at its heart, a love story about a married couple facing issues ranging from faith to family to dangerous secrets. So yes, in this alternate reality, abortion is a federal crime, and the Preborn Investigation Bureau was formed because of it. Just like in real life, there are good PIBniks and bad ones. The characters and the story that star in my books, not a hook a tenet of one religious sect’s opinion on which to hang all reality.

Back to book #4…

And the consequences begin

I’m not going to make this site yet another unheard voice with a political bent. Detective Sergeant Shmuley Myers has too many real-world situations in my books to deal with for me to get distr—ooh, squirrel!

My ex-brother-in-law is a constitutional law scholar, who’s been involved in several of the pivotal cases put before the formerly sane Supreme Court. Y’all can read or not his article, co-authored, here.

The biological pachinko of complications and odds that is fertilization, implantation, pregnancy, and birth is beginning to unfold. In five years, if there’s no return to sanity in the political machine, we’ll see the swell of children that, now born, are no longer of interest to people who’s goal is to control women.

Not Final!

A Question of Allegiance is getting close, to final typesetting. I still need the back blurb, the right ISBN, etc. Gudrun from Yote Design did an amazing job with the last one, so I’m looking forward to a clean layout to match the great cover.

Robin Seavell did a great job editing the manuscript. Difficult because, as he put it, the manuscript’s “alternative word order.” (Love that phrase.) I’m working on putting his edits in, as well as last-minute tweaks.

I’m still looking at a fall launch. Need to get a publicist, or someone who can execute on a marketing plan, but The Book Comes First.

On fiction, reality, and fantasy

The Shmuley Myers books are in an alternate reality, where a constitutional amendment in America means that citizenship is awarded at the time of conception. Those folks of the XX chromosomal variety can see how this turns every non-term or non-live pregnancy into a murder investigation. And that follow-on legislation broke the separation of church and state concept in public and government.

When I started writing the series back in 2017, these were solidly fictional ideas. By April of 2022, fiction was clearly trending into a horrific reality. I’d gotten the cover down to draft form, and my editor returned comments on A Question of Allegiance, but… I couldn’t. I was depressed, anxious, and returning PTSD symptoms. Work stopped. My stress on the novel stopped me up entirely. And, for the record, when the writer’s unhappy, ain’t nobody happy.

This past weekend I got back into the saddle, if only on a different horse. YA fantasy, draft already complete, and spend a couple of days doing light editing, buoyed by how good a shape it was in. Once I got AQoA out the door, I think this is my next “polish and publish” project.

So that’s while I’ve been absent these past two months. But I still want to have the next installment of the series out in the fall of 2022.

Cover and Art for A Question of Allegiance

The editor has yet to return my manuscript (it’s not due back for another week or three). In the meantime, it’s back to figuring out how to create the cover for A Question of Allegiance (AQoA for short).

I messed up. When creating the cover for A Day at the Zoo, I envisioned something with elements of the novel itself. What I came up with was, in my very humble opinion, great. But great as a cover for the entire series, not for a single novel. Check out the rejected versions here. So what to do with AQoA? Change the color? Add images that weren’t in the original?

When creating covers for a series, there needs to be a tie-in for the books, so on the (nowadays virtual) shelf there’s a sense of cohesion. To generate a reader’s thought along the lines of, “Oh, right, I read that book. These others must be from the same series.”

Some covers use the same fonts and titling for the author name, like S.A. Corey’s Expanse Series:

Click to see in Barnes & Noble

Other series covers keep the layout consistent, even if fonts and backgrounds change:

Click to see in Barnes & Noble

These folks have great cover designers, and access to cool original art. For example, the Mercy Thompson series:

I’m total fanboy of her books. Click to check in out in B&N’s site.

That last one is interesting. The font, after book #3, changes, and the layout for books four and up in the series all use the same font and layout. I can’t say I’ll have access to the amazing artists who painted the pictures used in the book covers, but the artist who put the cover (and book design) together for me did a smash-up job, so I Will Have Faith.

Lurching Back to Life

Restart with a Goal

Being an author with both a life and another full-time job makes adding the social media aspect hard. Add to that writing a series as well as working on other manuscripts, and you’ve got one overloaded human.

But I’m going to try anyway. Starting with getting a team together:

  • I’ve started looking for a social media person w/author management experience.
  • My awesome White Gold Wielders writing group sets things up for my alpha readers (for Jewish law, medical, and law enforcement double-checks) which leads into beta readers and finally a professional editor. One need only pay for one once to understand just how important they are (are you listening, Robin Seavill?).
  • Gudrun Jobst does page design and layout as well as the covers. And a dang great job she does of it.

This takes time and money, and having a paying job helps. And will help pay for the first bullet point, above.

I’ll have a post every week or so, with little tweaks and updates as I have the time.

Where Are We At, Again?

A Day at the Zoo is out and available on most all ebook platforms. It’s also available as a trade paperback from Amazon. It’s weird to have the occasional person ask that I sign their copy. What do I say, “hi, thanks for buying it?”

Too Good a Cover?

Book Two in the series, A Question of Allegiance, just went off to the editor and should be back for my edits and final cleanup in a month or so. Unlike AD@tZ, AQoA went through a more systematic editing process (all hail for learning on the job), and so I’ll need to get with Gudrun in a couple weeks to work on the next cover. I sort of outfoxed myself with the first cover as it is generic. If I could use it as the series “cover,” I would. But, alas, folks need to be able to quickly see the difference. I’ll have the blurb up shortly.

Book Three, The Property of Blood, was a very hard one to write. Authors do so ever get attached to their characters. It’s a complete draft, twice gone ’round, but now ready for alpha readers to have at it. It’s a bit longer than the second book, and might need to have some scene deletions, but, since this is being self-published instead of hewing to the ever-changing whims of the publishing industry (which seems to be imploding), I can give the readers a bit more Shmuley than otherwise dictated.

Book Four, A Measure of Mercy, about half complete, word count-wise. Which {sigh} means it’s probably only a quarter of the way done. I did more planning for this book, since as the number of books in the series gets longer, there’s more “Did Shmuley ever this place?” “How does Jethro get involved in the story line early on?” “And what about Erian???” As usual for the series, I’ve got a good view of most of the key events, but not wrapping up the loose threads into a knot — I’m not done making all the threads yet!