Thursday, August 11, 2016

Many thanks to the lovely and talented Jane Nardone for the poster of the first five Willie Black books, including Grace, which comes out in October. Number six should be out next year. Willie and I are working away.



Poster by Jane Nardone of the five Willie Black books, including Grace (Oct. 2016)

Monday, July 25, 2016


Here's the Kirkus pre-publication review of Grace, which comes out in October. Feeling good about it:

 GRACE, by Howard Owen
Publisher: The Permanent Press $28.00, 246 page hardcover, pub date October 31 ISBN 978-1-57962-434-7 Category: Fiction Classification: Mystery
Proof positive that despite the title of police reporter Willie Black's fourth appearance (The Bottom, 2015, etc.), things can indeed get worse for both the city of Richmond and its daily newspaper. No wonder Belman "Shorty" Cole, the paper's own security guard, is angry enough to come to work with a gun he uses to threaten Willie, temporary publisher Rita Dominick, and whomever else is within shouting and shooting distance. Shorty's 10-year-old nephew, a good kid named Artesian Cole, has gone missing; the police don't seem to care; and his uncle is sure the boy's dead. Soon enough the discovery of Artesian's body proves Shorty to be right, and Police Chief L.D. Jones rouses himself enough to arrest Sam McNish, who ran Children of God, an after-school program that had given Artesian some hope of pulling himself out of the city's East End. The evidence against McNish is pretty much limited to the fact that he was the last person to see the boy alive, supplemented by a steady drip of insinuations about his inappropriate behavior toward his charges dispensed by teacher's aide Stella Barnes, who turns out to be his spiteful ex-girlfriend. Willie's inquiries suggesting that Artesian may be only the latest in a series of disappearances of young black males stretching back 20 years are suddenly eclipsed by the discovery of an even more recent victim, Pulitzer Prize-winning ex-city council member James N. Alderman, whose distinguished career of mentorship for people like Sam McNish ends when he's tortured to death. This second murder clarifies things for Willie, but in ways that don't sit at all well with Rita Dominick, and the race is on between his attempts to gather new evidence and her attempts to shut him down for good. Owen uses his reflective, self-destructive hero to illuminate both the racial problems of his hometown and the ongoing death of the newspaper he loves, even though it doesn't love him back. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Fascism defined


This excerpt from a piece by Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker, sums up why I'm not willing to accept Donald Trump as a harmless clown:

What all forms of fascism have in common is the glorification of the nation, and the exaggeration of its humiliations, with violence promised to its enemies, at home and abroad; the worship of power wherever it appears and whoever holds it; contempt for the rule of law and for reason; unashamed employment of repeated lies as a rhetorical strategy; and a promise of vengeance for those who feel themselves disempowered by history. It promises to turn back time and take no prisoners. That it can appeal to those who do not understand its consequences is doubtless true. But the first job of those who do understand is to state what those consequences invariably are. Those who think that the underlying institutions of American government are immunized against it fail to understand history. In every historical situation where a leader of Trump’s kind comes to power, normal safeguards collapse. Ours are older and therefore stronger? Watching the rapid collapse of the Republican Party is not an encouraging rehearsal. Donald Trump has a chance to seize power.
Hillary Clinton is an ordinary liberal politician. She has her faults, easily described, often documented—though, for the most part, the worst accusations against her have turned out to be fiction. No reasonable person, no matter how opposed to her politics, can believe for a second that Clinton’s accession to power would be a threat to the Constitution or the continuation of American democracy. No reasonable person can believe that Trump’s accession to power would not be.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Nice early review of Grace

Grace, the fifth Willie Black mystery, will come out in October. Here's the first pre-publication review of it, by veteran book critic Joan Baum:


With Grace, veteran Richmond, VA newspaper editor, reporter and feature writer Howard Owen, still sticking with investigative journalist Willie Black who continues to bite the hand that feeds him, has arguably created the best book so far in the Willie Black murder mystery series. Where the earlier four books garnered well-deserved critical acclaim and awards, Grace exhibits a tighter, more confident craftsmanship, as Owen shows that he knows how to work exposition into an engaging plot while training a jaundiced eye on his protagonist, keeping Willie the same but not quite the same. Willie, now 54, whose black father disappeared at birth and who still delights in being the good bad boy of print journalism at his paper (his nasty, venal publisher has pushed him into the late-night crime beat), has evolved into an even more sardonic chaser of the justice and truth. Hilarious at times and always cynical and selectively foul mouthed, he seems aware of time’s winged chariot – the press of time and his history of being a fuck-up. But he’s not afraid to use the L word for his lady love, whom he just might make number four, if he can rout or, more realistically, diminish his demons.  He loves to drink, fight, stand pat when the dam breaks and, go where angels fear to tread. A half bro, he can mix and mix it up with whites and blacks, people of all classes, professions and vocations and relationships to the law, earning the admiration of the innocent and the criminal.
 Like some others in the hard-boiled detective genre, Willie attracts because he is flawed and heroic, but he has limits about what he will do and not do to get the story, the bad guy, the girl. His honesty, integrity and ethics endear him to the various oddball men and women he interacted with in the earlier books who are back again.  These include Peggy, his reefer smoking mom, Awesome Dude a former homeless derelict, his ex-wife Kate, a lawyer who is his landlord, an Indian he has befriended, his admiring colleagues both at the paper and in the police department, and his slightly estranged but beloved daughter, Andi, now an unmarried mom herself.  Not to mention all those bartenders who know him well. Willie also knows himself. Of his ability to judge others, which he thinks he usually does well, he adds, “I’m my biggest fan, so maybe I’m a tad biased.” Unlike many modern day protagonists, Willie believes in “social justice, the Golden Rule, cold Millers, and forgiving women, in no particular order.” In other words, Owen is not in the downer camp of contemporary noir. But he does know how to read literary tea leaves. These say that the hot topics today that inform best sellers include racial tension, class divide, pederasty in the church, failed marriage and alcohol and drug abuse.
As with all the Willie Black books, Owen lets Willie speak for his creator’s values, which are admirable, especially at a time when good old-fashioned print journalism is dying, if not already dead, and when so-called reporting, especially in social media and on certain channels makes no pretense at accuracy, fairness or intelligence.  As Willie says, “First-person stories by reporters give me the heebie-jeebies. They smack too much of the kind of `look-at-me’ journalism that some of my compatriots seem to prefer to actually digging and sticking to the facts.” As for the state of the world, it’s easy to take a nihilist line, but Willie is more nuanced that that. He sees that the world is divided “into two equally reprehensible groups, both earnestly involved in their life’s work:  judging and affixing blame while assiduously eschewing spell check.” If there is a God, he finds himself thinking, he wonders “ why the hell are we still here? Isn’t it about time for another flood?” But he knows why he is here, and that it to make things right. He has for all his agnosticism a good smattering of  . .  . grace.  

More Willie to come, assuming Trump doesn't get elected president and we emigrate to Canada. The sixth installment, The Devil's Triangle, is done and should be published in 2017. I'm working on something else, more in the lines of the nine literary novels I wrote before Willie came into my life.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Good reviews

The reviews for The Bottom have been heart-warming. I hope readers will like it as much as the reviewers have so far.
I'm off to Morgantown, W.Va., this coming week for the West Virginia Writers' Workshop and look forward to interacting with promising writers working on their craft.
The next Willie Black mystery is written and edited by the lovely Karen. When I get back from West Virginia, I will do the final editing before sending it on to the publisher. This one should come out in 2016.  It is (quelle suprise) easier to write when you don't work an eight-hour day at the newspaper and drive two hours a day.
Among other projects, I have succumbed to the siren call of Ancestry.com. Took a one-month subscription and find that, when I sit down and start digging, I look up and three hours have gone by. Trying to track down all your ancestors is somewhat impossible, since you have twice as many in each generation. But it's fun. The Owens in my family, mostly farmers in eastern North Carolina, apparently weren't keen on keeping writtten records.
And, it's time to start on the next book. I'm at that point where I'm promoting one book (The Bottom), tweaking the next one and getting started on the one after that.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The luxury of time

Since 1988, I have written before work, after work, on weekends, whatever. I retired as editorial page editor of the Free Lance-Star in April and am doing my best not to squander the gift of time. It's weird not to have a deadline. Before, I'd maybe get up, shower, write for an hour, wolf down some cereal and  run out the door to work. Now, I can cogitate. I can ruminate. I can be lazy and still get in two hours a day. And, honestly, I think two hours a day of creating fiction is enough. That's 700 hours a year. I'm not sure I have enough readers to justify more than 700 hours a year.
My 13th novel comes out in August ("The Bottom"), and it's got some good prepub reviews already. I am close to finishing the first draft of the next one. I'm trying to write a mystery novel a year now (and have done that while working the last four years). Not sure there's a market for TWO books a year.  Plus, I hope to get back to literary fiction, which is what my first nine novels were.
Anyhow, it's good to have time to write, and work out, and spend time with my lovely wife, Karen.
And even to blog.