The Guns + Tacos series are novella length crime stories, 60 – 70 pages in length, published once a month. The series is edited by Michael Bracken and Trey R. Barker. It is published by Down & Out Books. All stories are set in the Chicago area. The commonality in all of them is Jesse’s Tacos, a food truck at which the special of the day includes a gun. Every story is different. You have pedal-to-the-metal adventure stories, gritty crime stories, dark and disturbing noir, comedic capers, twisted tales of justice. There is violence, sex, lust, betrayal, and romance.
The series is available from Amazon as individual ebooks for Kindle or direct from the publisher, Down & Out Books. If ordering direct from the publisher, you have your choice of paperback or ebook. A bonus story is included with your paperback or ebook subscription.
Tacos De Cazuela Con Smith & Wesson by Gary Phillips. Augustine “Gus” Blanchard is an E.R. doctor who needs a gun. Something strange is going on in the hospital and Gus is determined to get to the bottom of it. Gary Phillips writes non-stop action in a style that can best be called modern pulp. This story has venal doctors, mad scientists and a secret lab filled with relentless dangers for the plucky heroine. It will have you gasping for breath at the end.
Three Brisket Tacos And A Sig Sauer by Michael Bracken. Joey Garrett is released from prison and picked up by his Aunt Sylvia, who has been a guiding force in his life, instructing him in everything from shoplifting to sex, and now bank robbing. Sylvia has a plan to rob four banks in one day. For that, she needs Joey’s unswerving loyalty. Joey, however, meets a neighbor, Gloria Sanchez, who introduces him to a different world than that of his aunt. Gloria’s friendship causes him to question Sylvia’s loyalty to him, forcing him to decide between them and to reach for the gun in the bag of tacos. There is a sense of inevitability in this noir tale as we watch Joey choose the bad option over the good every time.
A Gyro And A Glock by Frank Zafiro. Tim is an average Joe who enjoys getting high with his friend Ernie. He has a decent job and an apartment, but livin’ the high life has it’s downside. He screws up at work a few times, misses too many days, and soon he’s out of a job and living in a rat hole with Ernie. To earn money for his highs, he mules for a drug dealer, which catches the attention of a brutal cop who pressures him into becoming an informant by making his life miserable. When Tim thinks he can’t go any lower, Ernie learns about a taco truck with a special that can solve their problems. Or can it? Have they spiraled so far down that nothing can save them?
Three Chalupas, Rice, Soda, and a Kimber .45 by Trey R. Barker. A Chicago sergeant, who goes after internet predators, is haunted by the memory of a victim from the past, whose voice stays in his head as he tries to take down a dangerous predator. He, answers personal ads, pretending to be a young girl to draw the predator out. His undercover activities put him at odds with his lieutenant, for whom he’s lost respect, and an attractive officer who wants him to put an end to the wallowing in filth that the investigation demands. The predator is smart and wily. The sergeant’s last resort is a taco truck special.
Some Churros And El Burro by William Dylan Powell. Tucker Mitchell is a child of privilege. A college student, head of his fraternity, majoring in finance but not attending classes which are only impediments to his dream of being master of the universe. He concocts high quality ecstasy, and, having a head for business, becomes a big player, along with his friends, in the party-drug market of Chicago. His success doesn’t escape the notice of a cartel in Sinaloa, who see their profits drop. They send some fixers to put Tucker out of business. The first visitor puts the muscle on Tucker, but, instead of quitting the business, Tucker goes to a taco truck he’s heard of, and buys the special. Tucker has two other problems, besides the muscle man. The first is Birgit Olson, a shy college student who nearly suffers date-rape at his hands. The second is Chispa Busch, another fixer sent by the cartel. Chispa would rather study electrical engineering than do gangster work. Birgit and Chispa are every bit a match for the master-of-the-universe-to-be.
A Beretta, Burritos, and Bears by James A. Hearn. The bears are the Chicago Bears, the Monsters of the Midway. Brian Piccolo has been a fan all his life. How could he not be with a name like that? Yes, he was named for Brian Piccolo, whose life story, Brian’s Song, makes strong men wear. Brian has a gorgeous wife, who is herself a Bear fan, and together they have a happy middle-class life. One day it all falls apart for Brian. He is framed for a crime he didn’t commit and urged to take a plea bargain by his attorney who lusts after his wife. When Brian gets out of prison, he learns that his wife has left him for the attorney. On the verge of suicide, he watches the Bears make an improbable comeback and decides revenge would be the better course. The special from Jesse’s Taco truck could be what he needs to accomplish it.
It’s the start of a new year and i realize I have not written on this blog since July. Shame on me for letting half a year go by without posting anything.
This second half of the year was incredibly busy. For that matter, the first half was also busy, but I’ll just recap the second half.
The fall saw the release of The Eyes Of Texas: Private Eyes From The Panhandle To The Piney Woods, Michael Bracken, editor, published by Down & Out Books. My story, “Shaft On Wheels,” appears in it. The story features Colt Colton, a wheel-chair bound Texas Private Eye. I hope to do more stories this year with Colt.
With the release, there were several book signing events in Houston and Austin. In between was Bouchercon in Dallas.
In November, I was asked to contribute a novella to the Guns + Tacos series available on Amazon as ebooks. I finished the story on December 30 and sent it to the editor. I received an acceptance the next day, December 31. So the year in writing ended on a high note. For those of you looking to start the new year with some good crime stories, I heartily recommend these. They make great binge-reading, which is how I approached them. Look for my next blog post with more about these stories.
After a conversation with my agent, Beth Marshea, I embarked on a new project, which will be a prequel to Questions Of Loyalty. The working title is Harry’s Story because the central figure is Harry Miyazaki who appears in Questions Of Loyalty. It is set in Hawai’i and the Tule Lake internment camp during World War II.
The Eddie Aikau big wave surfing contest might be on. Surfers around the world have been given a yellow alert, meaning get ready. The contest is held only when waves reach 20 feet are more consistently. Since it began in 1985, it has been held only 10 times. The last time it was held was in 2016. The weather service is predicting some sizable swells in the North Pacific will reach Oahu maybe as early as this week. Th yellow alert lasts through February, so if you are heading to Oahu in the near future, this is an opportunity you should not miss. You can read abut it in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. In all the time we lived in Hawai’i, we did not have the opportunity to see waves of that size. I would go if I could.
At last we have a cover and a pub date for The Eyes Of Texas, an anthology of short stories edited by Michael Bracken and published by Down and Out Books. The pub date is October 21, 2019.
The Eyes of Texas features seventeen original tales of Lone Star State private eyes from Trey R. Barker, Chuck Brownman, Michael Chandos, John M. Floyd, Debra H. Goldstein, James A. Hearn, Richard Helms, Robert S. Levinson, Scott Montgomery, Sandra Murphy, Josh Pachter, Michael Pool, Graham Powell, William Dylan Powell, Stephen D. Rogers, Mark Troy, and Bev Vincent.
My story, “Shaft On Wheels” introduces former Dallas cop and former bull rider turned private eye, Colt Colton. The story takes place in central Texas and Houston where Colt, in the days following Hurricane Harvey, is hired to track down the owners of some vehicles that were abandoned in the storm. Colt wades into the cleanup efforts after the storm and discovers lust, incest, adultery and murder buried in the mud and debris..
You can read more about the anthology here: The Eyes Of Texas Press release
The release date, October 21, 2019 is only one week before Bouchercon in Dallas. I hope to get together with some of the other authors. Perhaps we’ll even be able to sell some books.
I am going to be speaking at the Houston Chapter of the Editorial Freelancers Association on March 28. Really looking forward to this. You can learn about Houston EFA here: https://www.the-efa.org/chapters/houston/
One of the things I like best about Hawai`i is the music. Almost anywhere you go, you can find music and catch a performance of some kind. We were fortunate enough to catch at least one performance nearly every day of this trip. The Courtyard Marriott featured live music every evening. They were mostly local performers with a wide range of talent. We didn’t catch the names of most of the performers, but being that the bar provided a somewhat intimate setting, there was a lot of audience participation. We requested Hi`ilawe from one duo, which got us into a discussion of Gabby Pahinui who made the song famous.
On Friday night we heard Pancho Graham at the Hukilau Lanai near our hotel. Graham is Na Hoku Hano Hano award winning musician who can be heard on the soundtrack of The Descendants. The Na Hokus are the Grammies for Hawaiian music. The Hukilau Lanai was also a very intimate setting.
The only evening we did not catch a performance was the evening we stayed at the Volcano House. Volcano House, on the rim of Kilauea caldera had only recently reopened after the eruption. Their kitchen had not opened yet and they had not booked performers.
The bar of the Grand Naniloa in Hilo also had performers every night. Sometimes two groups. None of them were famous, but some will be. One group was led by a teenager playing the ukulele backed by his grandfather and uncle on guitars. I wish I had gotten his name because he was great. We’ll be hearing more of him.
We scheduled our arrival on Oahu for Sunday morning so we could hear the Royal Hawaiian Band which performs every Sunday afternoon in Kapiolani Park. The Royal Hawaiian Band is the oldest, full time performing, municipal band in the United States. It was founded in 1836 by King Kamehameha III and has been in continuous existence ever since. It is now an agency of the City and County of Honolulu. In addition to the Sunday performances, the band performs every Friday noon at Iolani Palace and special events around the state.
Sunday evening, we attended a performance by the trio, Puamana, at the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame. We were invited to the performance by one of the members of the group, Mihana Souza, whom we had known when we lived in Kailua in the 1980’s. The Souzas lived only a few houses from us. Their daughter went to school with my son and played Little League together. Puamana was formed by Irmgard Farden Aluli, Mihana’s mother. Auntie Irmgard was a prolific composer of Hawaiian music, with over 200 songs to her credit, second only to Queen Lili`uokalani in output. She was inducted into the Hawaiian Music Hall of Fame in 1998 and died at age 89 in 2001. The group continued under the direction of Mihana and received a lifetime achievement award from the Hawai`i Academy of Recording Arts in 2015. Here is the group performing before Auntie Irmgard’s death. I think that is Mihana playing base.
And I can’t end without mentioning the performance every evening at sunset at the House Without A Key in the Halekulani Hotel. It is a gorgeous hotel in an historic location. the House Without a Key sits on the sight of a former guest house where Earl Derr Biggers once stayed and which became the setting for the first Charlie Chan mystery. Every night you can catch a performance of a trio and a dancer. On the night we were there, the dancer was Miss Hawaii 2015.
This Aloha Friday, the featured drink is a ginger martini, which they served at Hukilau Lanai. This drink requires a bit of preparation of the ginger syrup. It’s probably best offered to company when you can prepare the ginger syrup in a batch ahead of time.
Peel a whole lemon and place in a food processor with two cups of fresh, coarsely chopped ginger, peel and all. Finely chop the lemon and ginger mixture. Place in a saucepan with one cup of sugar and two cups of water. bring to a boil and simmer for fifteen minutes. Strain the mixture and let it cool. You can refrigerate it up to a week.
Or you can buy the syrup in the bottle from Amazon, Whole Foods, and probably any well-stocked liquor store.
In a shaker add 3oz. Vodka, 1/2 to 1 oz. ginger syrup, 1/2 teaspoon lime juice. Shake over ice, strain into a stem glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.
in the video below, I introduce you to my new KoAloha ukulele. It was kind windy when I made the video, so there is a little wind noise in the background.
The Hawai’i 2018 trip kicked off on Wednesday, October 10. The shuttle left College Station at 4:00 am for Houston. We left Houston at 10:00, non-stop to Honolulu. Arrived at 1:30 and caught a 3:00 flight to Lihue, arriving at 4:00. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott at Coconut Beach in Kapa’a. Kapa’a is a quaint town on the east side of Kaua’i. We had never been to Kapa’a. On previous trips we’d stayed in Princeville, or Koloa, or Lihue. Our purpose on this trip was to take part in Ni’ihau Day at the Kaua’i Museum. More about that in another post.
Kaua’i and Ni’ihau are the oldest of the inhabited islands. Ni’ihau is wholly owned by the Robinson family and cannot be visited without permission, which is never given to casual visitors. Kaua’i is home to gorgeous beaches, rugged mountain trails and the wettest place on earth, Mount Waialele.
Kaua’i has seen its share of natural disasters, In 1992, it was struck full on by hurricane Iniki, which occurred during the filming of Jurassic Park. The aftermath of the hurricane can still be seen in the number of wild chickens around the island. When the hurricane struck, it liberated the island’s chickens from their coops and no one was able to round them all up afterwards. As a result, wild chickens are everywere on Kaua’i. At the supermarket, you might just find a wild chicken sitting in your grocery cart. They have become symbols of the island. Of course, Iniki liberated some chickens on the other islands as well, but not nearly to the extent on Kaua’i. This Spring, Kaua’i was struck by torrential rains in April, which caused serious flooding and property damage to Kaua’i, especially in the Hanalei area. The remnants of hurricane Lane in August added more damage. Over twenty landslides closed Highway 560 between Hanalei and Haena. The highway is still undergoing repair and we could not get to Lumahai Beach as we hoped.
First stop after picking up a car in Lihue, was Foodland for some Hawaiian-style ahi poke, some seaweed salad, and some gin and tonic. Dinner. Nothing beats poke. It’s cubes of raw ahi tuna mixed with soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, sliced onions and chopped green onions. The recipe varies. Some people add rice vinegar, furitake, maybe some chili paste, garlic, or sriracha. It can also be made with yellow fin tuna, swordfish, or cooked octopus (tako) or cooked salmon. My favorites are the ahi and the tako.
Breakfast each day on Kaua’i was bagel, coffee and yoghurt, which we ate at the beach.
One evening we went to the Hukulau Lanai to hear a musician and had candied ahi. I can’t tell you what was in it, but it was one more form of poke. Another night we had dinner at Smith’s Luau on the Wailua River. The food was usual luau fare: Kailua pork, Lomi Lomi salmon, lau lau and poi. I’ll do another post on the luau. Suffice to say Smith’s is one of the best luaus.
We found an out of this world saimin place near our hotel. Saimin, if you’ve never had it, is one of the best grindz in Hawai’i. It is a noodle soup with influences from Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese and Hawaiian. The restaurant is called Saimin Dojo. I had the garlic shmoke saimin with pork belly, soft egg, veggies, rice noodles and broth (above bottom left.) Mary Fran had the chicken katsu (a fried chicken cutlet) with curry sauce(bottom right.)
Another must have grind is plate lunch. We wanted to get to Smiley’s in Lihue, but we were too late. They were closing. The server directed us to Kalena Fish Market about two blocks away. If we hadn’t been given directions and if it hadn’t been recommended, we would have passed it up. It is a small shop in an old building surrounded by warehouses and light industry. It’s a place that those who work nearby know, but few others know. The decor is functional, the menu limited. Cash only. A lot of guys from the shops came in while we were there. The food was good. Basic plate lunch style. Three protein choices and four sides. All tasty and filling. We shared a plate of kalbi ribs, shoyu chicken, meat jun (thinly sliced beef fried in an egg batter.
Learn about it here). It came with rice, kimchi, eggplant and some mixed vegetables.
One other unique food item on Kaua’i is Puka Dog. A puka dog is a hollowed out Hawaiian bun, which is toasted on a special rack that toasts the inside. Then a sweet relish (pineapple, lilikoi, and others) is poured in followed by a polish sausage and topped with a variety of mustards. We had it at the stand in Poipu. I thought it was an interesting concept, but not spectacular. I would not go out of my way for it.
The drink for this weekend is Mai Tai. The basic Mai Tai, as created by Vic Bergeron (Trader Vic) consists of orgeat syrup, orange curaçao, light rum, dark rum, the juice of one lime, garnished with mint and the lime husks. Mai Tai means “out of this world” in Tahitian. When preparing it, you mix the syrup, curaçao, and light rum together with ice and float the dark rum on top. It should be a two-tone drink with a light golden color on the bottom and a dark brown color on top. Some variations use a mix of fruit juices such as orange, lilikoi, pineapple, or sour mix as the base.
There are two kinds of Mai Tai drinkers—those who stir the Mai Tai and those who don’t. I prefer to not stir. I alternate sips of the dark rum with sips through a straw of the light mixture. However, i recommend that you watch how the bartender prepares it. If it is a cheap Mai Tai, the bartender might simply float dark rum on top of fruit juices with no light rum or curaçao. In that case, stir.
We had a lot of Mai Tais. Our hotel served $3.50 Mai Tais everyday from 11 to 3 pm. The best Mai Tai on his trip was not on Kaua’i, but at the Halekulani Hotel bar, the House Without A Key in Honolulu. It was made the Trader Vic way and came with gorgeous sunset, a trio of musicians performing under a century-old kiawe tree, and Miss Hawai’i 2015 performing hula. Out of this world!