The Joe Mayfield/Louise Napolitani series currently includes three novels. Fatal Score and Skins and Bone are complete.  Fail Deadly was published in June, 2023 and nominated for the Minnesota Book Award. A fourth novel, Fatal Cure, is scheduled to be released in 2024, and a fifth, tentatively tiled Cyberstorm is in the works.

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 IAC:  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.

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The Proper Word in a Prickly Time

The Proper Word in a Prickly Time

I am in rewrite on Cyberstorm, the fifth in my Mayfield – Napolitani series. Rewrite is the process of going over a draft manuscript with a fine tooth comb looking for anything that might improve the story other than throwing the whole thing in the trash bin.

These days, people are sensitive about word choice, and there are so many ways to offend any of the many subsets of potential readers. What’s a writer to do?

From the writer’s point of view, the important question is: When should the sensitivity of today’s readers dictate a change in what would be the natural language of a character or situation? The drift seems to be in favor of sensitivity at the expense of literary voice.

The crucial issue is that context—time; place; person’s social class, education, family background; race; physical location; social setting of the scene—may well dictate language that current day would find either odd or offensive. But what if changing the offensive word(s) would weaken the writing?

I run into the problem fairly often. Here are two examples:

In my Cyberstorm, Sheriff’s deputies looking for a car ask an older woman in a somewhat run down neighborhood in south Nashville where her car is. She says, “My nephew took it off to the shop. He said somethin’ about the tranny being all … uh … messed up.”  The offending word is ‘tranny’ which the OED flags as an offensive reference to a transvestite or transgender person. Not just offensive … very offensive. But … very much in context here. Clearly, the woman’s referring to the car’s transmission, and the dialectical use is appropriate for her age and region. In this case, not much is lost by altering or removing the offending element. It’s an incidental exchange with an incidental character. I made the change to “He said somethin’ about the motor being all … uh … messed up.” A little weaker, but not a big loss.

The second one was a little more difficult. In a novel I’m writing with others, my character Louise Napolitani shows up for a job. Weezy presents her ID at a guard station and “(s)hortly, a woman dressed in an upscale business casual blouse, slacks, and low-heeled pumps emerged from the elevator in back of the guard station. Her dark brown hair was shot through with gray, and she had the figure of a person who, as Weezy’s mom would say approvingly, took care of herself.” The offensive word here was “figure.” A critique partner flagged it as demeaning and suggested ‘physique.’ Weezy’s mom would be in her early sixties, brought up in North Boston, aspiring to be socially correct. The suggested substitute sounded odd to put in the mouth of this character, so I kept ‘figure.’

There’s rarely a clear right and wrong with these word issues. Publishers are now often providing sensitivity readers to smooth the potential micro or macro offenses. I hope our current cultural focus on how things are said will moderate to an appreciation of literary voice.

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