Novels

The Joe Mayfield/Louise Napolitani series currently includes three novels. Fatal Score and Skins and Bone are complete.  Fail Deadly is in rewrite, to be complete in April, 2020. A fourth novel, Fatal Cure, is in development.

Fatal Score:  Joe Mayfield’s happy, ordinary life comes apart when his wife is denied cancer treatment. It’s a few years from now.  All critical data is stored behind a national firewall called the Yak.  Genetic research has created HealthScore, which determines medical treatment.  When Joe’s wife’s HealthScore is slashed, it becomes a death sentence.  Frantic to save her, Joe hacks into the Yak and becomes the target of Phoenix, one man’s plot to skim billions in medical payments at the cost of thousands of lives.  Joe’s wife dies, and Phoenix sends a pair of toughs to erase Joe.  He goes off the grid, living on cash in out-of-the-way places. But his hack attempts pique the interest of a brilliant Yak tracker called Weezy.  She runs him down, skeptical of his good intentions, but becomes an ally.  Finally, in a single wide trailer in Panacea, Florida, Joe and Weezy work to destroy Phoenix before Phoenix destroys them.  Read Chapter One

In Skins and Bone, Joe Mayfield lands his dream job:  Move from Florida to New York, go to work for the respected investment bank ZCG, fly with the finance eagles—and be a train ride away from Weezy, his lover, who is chief tracker for the national data base called the Yak.  ZCG uses complex financial derivatives called ‘Skins’ to craft protection for firms working in politically unstable regions.  Strangely, disaster seems to follow creation of Skins, and someone is raking in millions.  Joe, curious, begins to dig. Murders follow. Undaunted, Joe and Weezy dig deeper.  A financial conference in Vienna and a sumptuous cruise down the Danube to Budapest provide the opportunity for the man making the millions to eliminate Joe and Weezy.

Skins and Bone is a thriller with an eye to international finance, European elegance, and simple greed.

Fail Deadly:  HelioCorp’s public offering is going to be the tech finance deal of the decade—cheap and easy solar power for all.  Joe Mayfield has engineered the deal and is on his way to a weekend with Weezy, hacker extraordinaire and his too-long-distance lover.  The HelioCorp project crashes.  The lights go out in Maine, then Georgia, and a ransom note demands one billion dollars. As Weezy, Joe, and the government struggle to find out what’s going on, Weezy gets a cryptic note from a hacker friend, HoHumJr.  He has been kidnapped by a Russian mafia group called Sobaki, but has managed to send the address of a file that will destroy them, wrapped up in an internet hand grenade with the pin pulled—a Fail Deadly. Sobaki captures Weezy. Her disappearance makes her the NSA’s prime suspect. Joe is soon a Sobaki prisoner, too, the better to force Weezy to keep the hand grenade from going off. Weezy is tortured but stands firm. Weezy’s hacker friends zero in on her location, and the NSA rescues her. She is freed, but not from the cruel agony of her torture and her fear of losing Joe.

Fail Deadly is a thriller that speaks to a current threat to our country and to the strength of  two lovers’ bond.

Fatal Cure:  Gene therapy is a wonderful thing.  But even wonderful things can be turned to evil purpose. Joe and Weezy, now operating as a cyber consultancy, are asked to find a man who has stolen intellectual property. The simple task becomes a nightmare when they stumble onto a plan that started as an altruistic effort to eliminate just a few climate change deniers for the greater good of humanity. Except the project has been co-opted, and Joe and Weezy become targets to protect a much, much darker purpose.

Background: The Mayfield/Napolitani novels take place a few years from now. Technology has marched forward, rolling computers, pads and phones into a device called an e-pad; replacing earbuds with bluetooth mastoid bone implants; building semi-self-driving cars … nothing too surprising.  Except the Yak and HealthScores.

The Yak:  Election tampering in the United States and Europe has been followed by a tidal wave of misinformation and infrastructure attacks building across cyberspace.  In the wake of fires, dam breaches, power-grid failures and a small nuclear episode, the United States has rushed to develop a national firewall. Called the Interagency Channel, or IAC, it has become the Yak in popular speech. Critical information about infrastructure, the financial system, the military, and medical files for all citizens has been pulled inside its protective shell.  The designers recognized that algorithms can’t always deter hackers; thus, the Yak includes a cadre of anti-hackers called Trackers.  Louise Napolitani – Weezy – is the best of the Trackers.

HealthScores: Advancing genetic research has provided markers for many fatal diseases. The private sector has used these advances to calculate probabilities of successful treatment called HealthScores.  Treatments have become ever more successful but ever more expensive. Congress has seen the opportunity to “rationalize” health care cost using HealthScores.  A high HealthScore for a disease means cutting-edge care; a low score, painkillers and prayers at the end.

Recent Posts

Artificial Intelligence and the Novel

A couple of years ago, I began writing a piece for my blog about Amazon and self-publishing. I thought I had a clear idea until I started writing it. Finally, I put it aside because it seemed unclear.

Yesterday, my son Edward, a writer himself (though of music) sent me an interesting article about artificial intelligence and writing, The Great Fiction of AI by Josh Dzieza, in theverge.com

The article discusses how artificial intelligence is approaching the point at which it can write fiction. It quotes Mark McGurl in his book Everything and Less, who captured in perfect economy of words what I had been trying to say in my earlier attempt: “the Kindle platform transformed the author-reader relationship into one of service provider and customer.”

In the opening, the article shows a writer who writes a book every four months, following a project management approach. She explains that she “allots herself precisely 49 days to write and self-edit a book. This pace, she said, is just on the cusp of being unsustainably slow. She once surveyed her mailing list to ask how long readers would wait between books before abandoning her for another writer. The average was four months.”

This is dramatically different from the writer telling the story in his head and heart and (if it is good enough) giving it to the world through a publishing industry the begins with an agent, passes through editors residing in comfortable offices in New York publishing houses, through distribution, to independent booksellers (or the only big one left, Barnes and Noble), on whom the reader depends to suggest a good book.

The article details the latest efforts of Sudowrite, an AI designed for writing. Sudowrite accomplishes fiction by massive statistical analysis. Such fiction would be what that comfortably ensconced editor might look down her patrician nose at and pronounce to be “formula fiction.”

Then there’s that other stuff. The story that takes a half-year to draft and a year or more to revise. It’s often formula, too, simply because the natural progression of a story is a formula: beginning, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement. Aristotle codified it (along with so much else in western thought), but it holds through many cultures and a great deal of music and poetry as well as writing.

Presumably, AI will get better and better. After all, Deep Blue, the chess Deep Blue Chess Computersupercomputer, did finally beat a grand master. But will statistical observation allow Sudowrite to write good fiction? Hard to tell. The bluesman says, “You gotta suffer if you want to sing the blues.” If you want to write deep emotions, don’t you have to have felt them? Or can you rely on the descriptions of others to do it for you, as sampled by AI?

Not sure of the answer, but the transformation wrought by Amazon, in my mind, establishes a bifurcated world of fiction. Right now, there’s a creative wall between the fast written, formula driven novel that is being reeled in by Sudowrite and the traditional writer-in-a-garret novel.

Next problem for me: I’m on the Indie/Amazon side of distribution world and the writer-in-a-garret side of the creative wall. And that wall I mentioned may be a chasm.

But I write for passion and pleasure, and to enjoy the infinite complexity of the mother tongue, so I ain’t quittin’.

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