Thursday, December 25, 2014

Conservative fiction: beyond "Atlas Shrugged"

An intriguing article from Alyssa Rosenberg about the need for conservatives to "reengage with popular culture":

I haven't read the novel Rosenberg mentions, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P

I do agree with her that Tom Clancy, despite his many flaws (weak character development, episodic plot structure), was skilled in packaging conservative ideas within a fictional framework.

But Tom Clancy passed away last year. Moreover, Clancy's forte was the Cold War. He did his best writing before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, in which he wrote about that now bygone world.

Conservative fiction for the twenty-first century will have to deal not with the bipolar conflict between East and West, but a multipolar world in which the conflicts are more nuanced. (For example: How do European countries with large Muslim populations effectively fight Islamic terrorism while respecting the civil rights of European-born Muslims?)  

More importantly, conservative fiction will need to address so-called "culture war" issues in a way that presents conservative ideas without being heavy-handed or cliched. This will not be easy.

"It is easier to play to your base, particularly when that base is underserved by mass culture, or to revisit old smashes like Ayn Rand than it is to conquer the culture at large."

I couldn't agree more. As Rosenberg suggests, conservative literature needs to move past Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead

Ayn Rand had some useful things to say in the context of the political and economic conflicts of the early- to mid-20th century. However, her material is not only dated, but less than accomplished from a literary perspective. Rand famously ignored the novelist's dictum "show, don't tell". Her novels (especially Atlas Shrugged) were bogged down with long monologues, like "John Galt's speech".

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sundry book-related notes

Merry Christmas, everyone! 

It's time for a few book-related items:

#1: Paperback versions of Eleven Miles of Night, Termination Man, The Maze, and Our House:

Several of you have emailed me about acquiring a paperback version of Eleven Miles of Night, in particular. 

The above books (including Eleven Miles of Night) are only available in Kindle right now. Paperback versions of all four are planned for early next year. 

Some of you prefer to do your reading on paper. I get that--I still buy paperback and hardcover books myself. 

However, I will also remind you that Amazon's (free) Kindle reading app will enable you to read Kindle books on your iPad, PC, Mac, iPhone, Android phone, etc., etc. If you have a smartphone or a tablet, the Amazon Kindle app will almost certainly run on it. (This might be helpful to those of you who don't own an Amazon Kindle.)

Moreover, I'm a big believer in the principle that ebook readers deserve a price break! I wouldn't dream of allowing my Kindle readers to be charged the same price as you would expect to pay for a hardcover or paperback. 

Which means: If you go ahead and download the Kindle app to your phone or tablet, you'll get my books dirt cheap!)

Which brings us to the next item:

#2: Only three days left in my my mega-Holiday sale!

The holiday sale ends on December 25th. 

On the 26th, the prices of Our House, The Maze, and Termination Man will return to their normal levels. There will probably be slight increases in the prices of Hay Moon, Eleven Miles of Night, and Blood Flats as well.

So if you're interested in any of these, Wednesday, and Thursday would be a great time to get them for next to nothing. (And remember: Sample chapters of all of these books are available for you to read here on this blog.)

Have a Merry Christmas! Ho, ho, ho!

Only $0.99:

Our House

Get Our House on Kindle for only $0.99 

Read the first ten chapters online

Some dream homes are deadly…Appearances can be deceiving.

On the surface, 34-year-old Jennifer Huber seems to have it all: a handsome, loving husband, a six-year-old son whom they both adore. A respectable job.

Jennifer and her husband have just purchased their first house: The neo-Tudor house at 1120 Dunham drive appears to be their “dream home”.

But everything is not what it seems: The previous owner of the house has an unusual—and ultimately violent—attachment to the house. After the Hubers move in, sinister things begin to happen: Dead animals appear in closets, strange figures disturb the Hubers’ sleep in the middle of the night.

There is more to the house at 1120 Dunham Drive than meets the eye: As Jennifer uncovers the secrets behind the home’s history, she finds herself drawn into a web of lies, violence, and sexual betrayal.

All the while, Jennifer struggles to contain a secret of her own—and to combat an act of blackmail that could destroy her marriage.

Our House is a riveting thrill ride through the dark undercurrents that might lie beneath the placid surface of a suburb near you.

The Maze


Amanda Kearns is a hard-driving executive with a broken heart. Her male subordinates think she is a “machine”; they have no idea of the real, hidden Amanda.

Hugh Jackson is a software salesman with a defective heart—a condition that will kill him in a matter of months or years.

Evan Daley is a young college graduate adrift in a career for which he is ill-suited; he struggles with the scars of a barren, loveless childhood.

Amanda, Hugh, and Evan were expecting another routine day on the job at the Lakeview Towers office complex just outside Columbus, Ohio. But this massive structure hides a secret—a hidden passageway that plunges the unwary into a labyrinthine network of endless, twisting hallways: the Maze.

Trapped inside the Maze, Amanda, Hugh, and Evan must battle their way through perilous corridors filled with half-man, half-wolf beasts called “manwolves”, killer robots, and demonic wraiths known as “watchers”.

But they face their greatest challenge in the snowy, earth-like wilderness on the other side of the Maze. Here a group of ragtag rebels and settlers struggle against a tyrannical demigod known as the Director. The Director is determined to enslave or annihilate everyone within his reach, using a combination of worldly and unworldly weapons.

Amanda, Hugh, and Evan each find love and momentary comfort on the other side of the Maze. But they cannot escape the ultimate battle with the Director. The three Ohioans find themselves forced to choose—between the draw of love and loyalty, and the instinct for self-preservation.

A riveting emotional tale wrapped within a fantasy adventure, THE MAZE is sure to appeal to adult readers who fondly recall childhood “parallel universe” stories like “Through the Looking Glass” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”.

Termination Man

The novel that takes an unflinching look at the dark underside of the 21stcentury workplace.”

CRAIG WALKER is a hotshot young MBA with his own consulting firm. He’s handsome, rich, and in demand. His Fortune 500 clients—the most powerful men and women in industry—call him “The Termination Man.”

Craig Walker is no ordinary management consultant. He’s a spook, a workplace spy. Assuming false identities, Craig works undercover, building the evidence that will allow his corporate clients to terminate unwanted employees without legal repercussions. His targets are the troublemakers, the agitators, the employees whom management believes are no longer “good fits” for their hyper-competitive organizations. 

Craig Walker believes that he serves the cause of economic efficiency, and in a way, the greater good. Most of his targets don’t like their jobs anyway. In a free market, “a firing isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. Sometimes an employee needs to leave a bad a situation.”

SHAWN MYERS is a manager at TP Automotive, a global giant in the automotive industry. Shawn struggles to control his lust and rage, and to escape a hideous past that might catch up with him at any moment. His forbidden desire for a girl young enough to be his daughter threatens to drive him over the edge.

When TP Automotive hires the Termination Man to remove two innocent employees from its payroll, Craig Walker is forced to reexamine his notions of justice and morality. But these questions are soon overwhelmed by the dangers that he faces from the TP Automotive management team. After Shawn Myers commits a heinous act in Craig’s presence, the Termination Man discovers that his new clients will resort to any means in order to protect one of their own.

Only $1.99

Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen Modern Tales of Horror and Suspense

During the Great Depression, a young boy confronts zombies… 

- In the present day, a software salesperson discovers that he can commune with the dead at airports.
- A business trip is cut short when three corporate colleagues stray into a den of vampires near a major interstate.
- A Russian gangster makes a killing in America---murdering romantic rivals for hire.

These are just a few of the bizarre scenarios you will encounter in the pages of Hay Moon and Other Stories

Sixteen modern tales of horror and suspense…

***Hay Moon***

In the summer of 1932, the undead invaded a corner of rural Ohio. Nearly eight decades later, one man still lives with the nightmares, and a horrible promise left unfulfilled.

***Giants in the Trees***

Jim knew that his older coworker, Paul Taulbee, had a checkered past. But he was unprepared for the horror he discovered on the night he gave Paul a ride home from the office. (Get the $0.99 short at

***The Vampires of Wallachia***

Three corporate employees on a business trip stop at the wrong place for a late-night dinner: a restaurant in central Ohio that hides a terrifying secret.(Get the $0.99 short at

***Bitter Hearts***

Have you been wronged in love? An Internet company promises to make things right for you---for a price.

***Gate Time***

Traveling software salesman Josh Gardner had never been afraid of airports---until he discovered that some of his fellow travelers were not what they appeared to be. (Get the $0.99 short at

***By the River***

The old man who lived on the houseboat warned people about the shadows lurking beneath the waters of the Ohio River. But some failed to heed his warnings.

***The Girl She Used to Be***

Thirty years ago Allison disappeared on the night that her college boyfriend was planning to give her an engagement ring. Now Allison is back--- but she’s not the girl she used to be.

***The Caliphate***

When a terrorist organization stages a bloody takeover of a Canadian city, two friends are forced to confront their innermost demons---and each other.(Get the $0.99 short at

***The Wasp***

Leo had always been afraid of wasps---especially wasps that learn to assume human form.

***The Red Devil***

A security guard at a car dealership learns that death lurks in the nocturnal hours in a city torn by gang warfare.

***The Robots of Jericho***

Pete Greer suspected that the industrial robots purchased by his company were more than mere machines. Alone in a West Virginia factory with them over an extended summer weekend, the robots threaten his sanity---and his life.

***Last Dance with Emma***

University of Minnesota graduate students Eric and Randy travel back in time for hedonistic purposes. But when they visit New Year’s Eve 1978, Randy unexpectedly falls in love. Determined to secure an impossible future with a doomed young woman named Emma, Randy battles his friend, and the cruelty of a random universe. (Get the $0.99 short at

***Gaia Cried Out***

When Kara Teller met Nicholas Naretti in the student union of her university, she believed that she had found the ideal man. But there is something horribly wrong with Nicholas’s friends…And Kara reluctantly discovers that Nicholas harbors sinister intentions of his own. 


Robert and Susan Craig discover that the politics of the twenty-second century in America can be deadly. A leisurely time travel voyage lands them in a cell in the bloodiest days of the French Revolution. Condemned to the guillotine by the Jacobins’ Committee of Public Safety, they suspect the hand of the rising American demagogue, Senator Barry Olsen.


Corporate middle manager Greg Hensley simultaneously desires and loathes his new subordinate, Jessica Tanner. A bit of research into Jessica’s past reveals that Jessica may be dangerous. But Jessica is not the only one who is hiding evil secrets.

***The Dreams of Lord Satu***

Rapid GeoWorks salesperson Marc Jonas was ordered to visit the remote planet of Kelphi. His boss, Larry Dozier, told him to do whatever was necessary to make the sale. But Kelphi is a world where psychic spiderlike creatures occasionally devour the planet’s human population. The Kelphiaristocrat known as Lord Satu wants Marc’s mind, and possibly his body as well. (Get the $0.99 short story at

Only $2.99

My 5-star supernatural thriller:

Eleven Miles of Night
Jason Kelley is a young, struggling filmmaker looking for his first big break. When the semi-famous cable television ghost hunter Simon Rose approaches him about a freelance project, Jason is understandably thrilled.

He isn’t fazed by the fact that his assignment is a walk down the Shaman’s Highway, an eleven-mile stretch of rural Ohio roadway that is reputed to be haunted by malevolent spirits, hellhounds, and demonic forces. Jason is an agnostic in regard to the supernatural.

He isn’t prepared for the reality that awaits him on his walk through eleven miles of night—nor the more human violence and heartbreak that he will face along the way.

Blood Flats

Meth, murder, and the mafia—a vast tapestry of a southern gothic crime novel with a Dickensian cast of characters.”

***Lee McCabe is home from Iraq, but home has changed.***

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and recently discharged U.S. marine Lee McCabe never imagined the dangers awaiting him in Hawkins County, Kentucky. While Lee has been in the Middle East, a network of violent methamphetamine traffickers have established a foothold in the county, corrupting, intimidating, or murdering anyone who stands in their way.

***Charged with murder and marked for death***

Lee quickly discovers that his neighbor, Tim Fitzsimmons is a meth dealer. When Fitzsimmons and his girlfriend are killed in a drug-related hit, Lee attempts to intervene. The law and the community blame Lee for the murder. The meth traffickers target Lee for death, knowing him to be a witness to the crime.

***Enemies motivated by passion, greed, and desperation ***

Sheriff Steven Phelps has his own personal reasons for hating Lee: Twenty-five years ago, Lee’s now deceased mother had a youthful affair with the sheriff. The sheriff planned to marry her--until she jilted him to be with the man who became Lee’s father. Phelps is torn by his duty to justice, and his obsession with the doomed love of his adolescence.

Lester Finn is a classics-quoting, self-aggrandizing local hoodlum and meth dealer. He is caught between the law and the Chicago-based mafia, which wants a greater share of the southern methamphetamine trade. From his bar, the Boar’s Head, Lester controls a sordid regional enterprise that consists of gambling, drug trafficking, and prostitution. Lester is torn by his grudging respect for Lee---and his need to see the ex-marine dead.

Paulie Sarzo is a Chicago mobster, a rising star in the Coscollino crime family. He despises Kentucky, Lee McCabe, and most of all, Lester Finn. But Paulie has an important mission to accomplish in Hawkins County: If he fails to eliminate Lee, he risks the ultimate punishment for failure in la cosa nostra.

***A journey toward death or redemption***

Dawn Hardin is a former golden girl, honor student, and premed whose life has fallen into a downward spiral of meth addiction and prostitution. Dawn had a tumultuous relationship with Lee before he went to Iraq. Now she tries to help him wage war against the mafia, even as she struggles with her own inner demons, and a family that wants to deny her existence.

The Hunter is a mysterious figure who compels Lee to go on the offensive against the forces pursuing him. But will the Hunter offer any concrete assistance, or only advice?

Brett St. Croix is a journalist who offers to tell Lee’s version of events. But Lee suspects that St. Croix has a contrary, private agenda of his own.

Ben Chamberlain lost his wife to a meth-related murder. Will he assist Lee; or will Ben’s desire for revenge destroy them both?

***A battle in Blood Flats***

Pursued from all directions, Lee embarks on a cross-country journey toward the town of Blood Flats. There he faces a showdown---in which he must pit his wits and determination against the ruthlessness and superior resources of his enemies on both sides of the law.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Reading "Eleven Miles of Night": Preface and Chapter 1

The video that follows is part of a series of reading videos I am doing for YouTube. 

In the video below, I read the Preface and about half Chapter 1 of Eleven Miles of Night.

Preface: The Bridge

He stepped into the darkness of the covered bridge and told himself: Only a few more miles to go, if only your nerves and your sanity hold out, that is.
The inside of the bridge’s enclosure smelled of mold, mildew, and the unseen waters that ran beneath it. It had the dank, black feeling of the bottom of a well.
As he placed one foot down on the first creaking plank of the bridge, he half-remembered a nightmare: a dream of an evil presence that was vaguely female—or no, that pretended to be female. She (it?) might be a ghost or possibly something much worse. And she was lying in wait for him, like the evil witch in the children’s story, Hansel and Gretel.
He took another step into the all-consuming darkness. The wood creaked again, practically groaned this time. She’s waiting for you, he thought. Whatever she (or it) is, you’ll find out before you reach the other side of this bridge.
Now why would the sound of that creaking wood trigger such thoughts?
Then he remembered: Because she had told him that she would be waiting for him here. At the bridge.
He looked ahead and saw the moonlit pavement of the open road not a stone’s throw away. He could not go back now. Even worse things were waiting on the road behind him. He had to move forward.
Just walk, he thought. Take some long strides and you’ll be out of here in no time.
And so he walked, observing how narrow the bridge was, and reflecting that surely two cars coming from opposite directions could not pass through here at the same time.
The wood beneath his feet continued to creak, but that was nothing to worry about. The bridge supported the weight of cars, after all.
He heard a sound above him, from the rafters of the enclosure. It was like a hiss, like air escaping from a poorly tied balloon. Then he heard another sound: the sound of weight shifting, of something moving around up there.
Don’t look. Just keeping walking. If you look up there, what you see will drive you mad, even more so than the other things you’ve seen this night.
He was now in the middle of the bridge; the open, starry sky and the solid pavement were only a few paces away. He could make it in a short dash.
The thing above him seemed to sense his impending flight. He heard it scratch against the wood overhead.
And now he had the feeling that he must look upward and confront it—that this was the central task that he had set out tonight to face. It would also be true to say that the malevolent presence aroused his darkest curiosity. Like Lot’s wife fleeing from the burning wreckage of Sodom, he felt compelled to see the worst, and suffer the consequences.
Slowly and deliberately, he stopped his forward trek, steeled himself, and looked up into the rafters of the covered bridge.

Chapter 1

Four days earlier…

The portly, fortysomething stranger hailed Jason Kelley in the corridor of the University of Cincinnati’s Old Chemistry Hall, just as the latter was exiting Video Journalism 201. And Jason, oblivious, walked right by the unknown man without even slowing down.
Jason’s thoughts were still lost in the lecture that had just ended. The professor who taught Video Journalism 201, Dr. Reinhold, was a transplanted Californian, a PhD who had worked for a time with Universal Studios. Dr. Reinhold had feverishly lectured the class through the end of the hour, even though it was the last week of classes, and everyone was feeling lazy in the early June heat. That was Dr. Reinhold for you: He was passionate about his subject matter, unlike so many other profs, whom you could tell were only going through the motions.
But school was not the only thing on Jason’s mind; and he immediately began to daydream about other matters. (This was why he did not hear when the stranger addressed him by name a second time amid the hum of the crowded university hallway.)
Jason was daydreaming about Molly Russell. Molly was a coed who on one night several weekends ago had quite unexpectedly spent the night in his apartment. Thoughts of Molly simultaneously stirred feelings of deep longing and unease. Jason was aware of the paradoxical and contradictory nature of this combination of feelings, and was wondering how it could be so.
Jason was thinking about the way he had treated Molly since their encounter, and feeling guilty about it. Jason knew that he had been a bit of an insensitive jerk lately. He was also thinking about his mother and father; that meant even more feelings of guilt.
And his sister, Amy—no, he didn't even want to think about Amy now.
Jason was about to walk around the corner of the hallway—the one that led to the main exit—when the stranger called out yet again.
Jason Kelley! Excuse me!
This time the sound of his own name snapped him out of his reverie. Jason stopped, turned around, and saw the source of the voice: an older man who looked somewhat out of place in the swirl of late teen and early twentysomething students.
“Hello?” Jason responded. Jason knew immediately that he had seen this man somewhere on television—or perhaps on the Internet. Jason was barely twenty-one years old, and he could count his middle-aged acquaintances on two hands—not including professors and relatives. This man, who was balding and had flecks of gray in his beard, was neither of the above.
“I thought you were going to keep walking,” the man went on. “I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to run you down and tackle you.” These words were phrased as an offhand joke; but Jason could detect a slight ripple of irritation beneath the observation. This was obviously not a man who was used to being ignored.
“You are Jason Kelley, aren’t you?” the stranger said, when Jason continued to look confused.
“I am,” Jason said neutrally. “And you are—”
Where have I seen this guy before? Somewhere, I’m sure. But I have no idea where.
“Ah,” the man said. “Allow me to introduce myself.” Clearly he had expected Jason to recognize him on sight; so he was obviously some sort of a celebrity—albeit a minor one, in all likelihood.
“Thank you.”
“My name is Simon Rose. Does that name ring a bell?”
Simon Rose! Now Jason got it:
“It sure does,” Jason said, brightening. “Of course I recognize you: Ghost Hunting with Simon Rose.”
“Guilty as charged,” Simon Rose said. He removed a business card from his shirt pocket and handed it to Jason. The business card contained Rose’s contact information, plus a little logo that featured a stylized cartoon ghost. “And I know this is strange, approaching you like this, but Dr. Hoffman said that I could find you here. With this being the last week of school and all, I wanted to make sure that I caught up with you before you took off for the summer.”
Jason nodded, his excitement growing. Now this was starting to make sense. Dr. Hoffman was his academic advisor. And this was indeed one of his last classes of the school year. He would be exiting his campus apartment in a matter of days, though his residence during the summer was still a contentious issue. That made him think of his parents again, and he quickly stifled those unpleasant thoughts. This was Simon Rose who had sought him out. Simon Rose of Ghost Hunting with Simon Rose.
Students milled about them, their pace and conversations buoyed by early June levity. A warm summer breeze swept into the corridor through a set of metallic doors that were propped open to allow a flux of students in both directions. To Jason’s surprise, no one else seemed to recognize Simon Rose, either. Cable television and the Internet had minted a lot of second-tier celebrities in recent years, Jason knew.
Simon Rose’s domain was cable TV. Ghost Hunting with Simon Rose was a regular staple on the Biography Channel—or possibly TLC. (Jason couldn't remember which one for sure.) And, of course, both authorized and pirated clips of the show could be found throughout the Internet.
“I was very impressed with those two short films you entered in the Southern Ohio Regional Scholastic Film Competition last month,” Simon said. “No—I didn't attend the actual event; but I saw them on the Internet. You’ve got real talent, Jason. Now, I have a proposition for you. Would you, by chance, be free for lunch so that we might discuss it?”
“Absolutely,” Jason said. His next class was not until the late afternoon. And he would have gladly skipped it anyway. It wasn't everyday that a man like Simon Rose paid a personal visit to an Electronic Media major at a public university in Ohio.
“Perfect,” Rose said. “How does Indian sound?”

To be continued.....

Talking about "Eleven Miles of Night"

For my YouTube audience, I'll be reading my recent novel "Eleven Miles of Night" on video. In the video below, I discuss the premise of the book and why the subject matter interests me.

Hay Moon and Chinese vampires

I recently received some reader email about the story "The Vampires of Wallachia," which appeared in the collection Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen Modern Tales of Horror and SuspenseIf you've read the story, you'll know that this tale involves a group of Chinese vampires who have set up base in rural Ohio. 

The reader specifically wanted to know if I had researched the subject of Chinese vampire lore before writing the story. The answer is yes. We tend to think of vampires as a purely Western bit of mythology. Somewhat surprisingly, however, vampire legends appear throughout the world--including Asia.

The Chinese version of the vampire is called jiāngshī (殭屍 in Chinese characters). My research tells me that these aren't vampires as we Westerners understand them, though. The jiāngshī might be better described as "supernatural zombies". They are reanimated corpses that kill the living and thereby absorb their life essence. 

Therefore, the vampires in the story "The Vampires of Wallachia" are Western-style vampires, if you want to get technical about it. 

The larger point, though, is that the concept of the reanimated dead coming back to prey on the living in one form or another is obviously a universal trope of sorts, and one that transcends any  particular religious or cultural tradition.


Kindle edition

“Managing out” problem employees—the fictional version

A reader of my novel Termination Man recently asked, via email:

“Ed, I know you spent a lot of years in the corporate world, and that Termination Man is based somewhat on your experiences. But what gave you the specific idea for an undercover consultant who entraps ‘marked’ employees into self-incriminating behavior?”

A good question. Many of my novels and stories contain some elements of my real-life experiences; but these are usually buried under so many layers of fiction that they would be unrecognizable even to people who have known me for twenty or thirty years.

Termination Man is different in this regard. Termination Man is a corporate thriller set in the automotive industry, where I worked—in various roles and capacities—between 1990 and 2011.

I had always wanted to write a corporate novel, but I held off for many years. My first published novel, Blood Flats, is a crime thriller; and my short story collection, Hay Moon, is filled with horror tales and other short works of speculative fiction. I didn't want my third book to be a dull, fictionalized version of corporate politics. What the marketplace didn't need, I decided, was another “the corporate workplace is an impersonal, soul-draining salt mine” novel—which is what I would have written at that time.

Nevertheless, I knew that there were stories worth telling in the workplace. Although corporate life can be quite dull, there is actually a lot of human drama there—including the occasional moments of sex and violence.

But how to turn that into a novel? I needed a specific angle—a hook, if you will.

And then I found one, quite serendipitously. While I was still a corporate employee, I would often read nonfiction books from the “how-to-get-ahead-at-work” genre.

The idea for Termination Man came to me after I read Cynthia Shapiro’s excellent nonfiction title in this field: Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know---and What to Do About Them. In this book, Shapiro, a former human resources insider, disabuses readers of their paternalistic notions about company life. For example, she points out that there is “no right to free speech in the workplace”.

I found myself getting many “ah-hah” moments while reading Corporate Confidential—but especially when I read the sections about the practice of “managing out”.

“Managing out” is basically a tactic that employers will use to avoid legal liabilities: Suppose that an employee isn’t a good “fit” for an organization, but there are no real grounds for firing him or her. Management will often place the employee in a no-win situation so as to encourage a voluntary departure.

For example, a chronic complainer might be given an excessively difficult workload, or placed in a dead-end position. In many cases, the problem employee will “fire himself” by simply leaving the organization. This obviates the need for the employer to provide a severance package. More importantly, it usually removes any legal liabilities. After all, the employee wasn't terminated; he or she voluntarily resigned!

Termination Man involves a sinister interpretation of the practice of managing out: Suppose that employers attempted to lure problem employees into explicitly self-incriminating behavior—like casual drug use, sexual misconduct, and even embezzlement. Then it would be even easier to get rid of them. The employer wouldn't have to wait for a problem child to give up and send out resumes. They could fire the problem employees at will—with no legal repercussions (so long as their methods were never discovered, of course).

Now suppose that an independent management consultant specialized in this unique form of “managing out” problem employees. I knew from my years in the workplace that within the highly specialized world of management consulting, there are consultants for practically every purpose. Why not a management consultant who specializes in doing the dirty work of human resources departments?

If such a management consultant did exist, I decided, he or she would likely work by going undercover in organizations. The consultant would have to befriend the targeted employee, then convince him or her to engage in the offending behavior.

This is the premise behind Termination Man. Craig Walker is a consultant who—for a price—will find a way to remove any problem employee from an organization without the risk of legal fallout. Like a rogue CIA operative, Craig Walker works unofficially and off-the-books. So if anything goes wrong, his corporate clients will be shielded by plausible deniability.

Early in the novel, Craig Walker describes his work:

“They call me the Termination Man. I never really cared for that nickname; but once the moniker arose in client circles, it sort of stuck. The Termination Man inevitably calls to mind that series of movies from the 1980s and 1990s, in which a future governor of California portrays a homicidal android who goes about blasting hapless mortals to kingdom come. There is nothing even remotely science fiction-esque about the services performed by Craig Walker Consulting, LLC. In my job, I am part lawyer, part private investigator, and part crisis management specialist. 
 I am called when a company wants to terminate an employee for reasons that cannot be strictly traced to job performance issues. This is more common than you might imagine—unless you have ever worked in corporate human resources, or in one of the corner offices of company management. There is a wide range of factors that might drive a corporate employer to oust one of its own. 
 A few years ago, every CEO and CEO-wannabe was reading a management book entitled Good to Great, by Jim Collins. The author stated that in order to succeed, a company has to “get the right people on the bus.” Otherwise, the bus—the organization—won’t go in the desired direction. 
 The corollary here is that a company sometimes has to get the wrong people off the bus. This is where my services become essential. I get the wrong people off the bus. The target employee can fit a variety of profiles. He might be a rank-and-file staff professional who poisons the atmosphere with his bad attitude, turning his colleagues against management. She might be a first-tier manager who has made veiled threats about filing a frivolous sexual harassment or discrimination claim. Or he might be a union agitator…”

Now for the inevitable questions: Is any of this real? Is it even plausible?

To the best of my knowledge, consulting firms like Craig Walker Consulting don’t really exist.

(I should also note that nonfiction author Cynthia Shapiro had nothing to do with Termination Man. I haven’t even corresponded with her. A few passages in her nonfiction book became the germs of my novel; but her involvement ends there.)

While the practice of “managing out” is well known in management and HR circles, it is generally done informally, and well within the bounds of the law.

Nevertheless, we all know that the Big Corporation—just like Big Government and Joe and Jane Citizen—occasionally breaks the law. Moreover, the firing of unwanted employees is a legal, and often a public relations—nightmare for private-sector employers.

As Craig Walker notes:

“If all this sounds complicated, well—that’s because it is. But so are the politically correct, overly litigated times in which we live. Demand for my services exists because employment law has become such a minefield. Every year private-sector employers spend billions of dollars combating wrongful termination lawsuits. Despite the doctrine of employment-at-will in corporate America, a discharged employee can still create problems for his or her former employer. 
 And in the Internet Age, a lawsuit might be only the beginning. Sometimes disgruntled ex-employees also take to the Internet, telling their tales of real or imagined mistreatment to anyone who will listen. This not only encourages add-on and class action lawsuits, it can also cost a company millions in lost revenues from sympathetic consumers.”

So no, the main premise of this book isn’t real—strictly speaking.

But it is plausible. If an organization did choose to resort to marginally legal (or outright illegal) means in order to manage someone out, I believe that the results would look a lot like what is depicted in Termination Man.