The Closeout Kings may not be as fictional as I thought

When fiction looks like fact

When fiction looks like fact

This is a tough blog post to write without giving away spoilers in The Closeout Kings, so if you haven’t read the book, you may want to stop reading now.  I’m going to vamp a little here with an unnecessary sentence or two to give you time to turn back and save your virginal eyes from the spoilers that are to follow.  Still here? Okay, I’ll assume you’ve either read the book, or spoilers don’t ruin your enjoyment of a story.  Whatever the case, the spoilers start now.

I faced a lot of self-doubt as I was writing The Closeout Kings.  My main issue was the human trafficking aspect of the story.  I know globally that it is a horrific reality, but naively I thought the problem isn’t that pervasive in the United States. Still I carried on, and I wrote a story about a human trafficking ring in rural America that involved the police and politicians, both local and federal.  It was, I thought, pure twisted fantasy.  As it turns out, it is closer to reality than I thought.

My friend Jean recently brought the Franklin child prostitution ring to my attention. Now, it’s a long and complicated tale of alleged sexual abuse of children in the foster care system in Nebraska, and the federal courts actually found the allegations to be false, and they tossed some of the people making the allegations into jail.  There are a significant number of people who think there is a cover up going on since the allegations involved prominent politicians with ties that go all the way to the top of the federal government,  At this point, I know very little about the case, but it is hard to not see the similarities between my fictional tale and this true story.  It’s almost eerily similar.

Part of my job as a writer is to come up with conspiracies.  They make for great tools of conflict that drive both plot and character development.  Conspiracies are easy to invent, but I’m of the belief they are almost impossible to pull off. The story of The Closeout Kings came to me “out of the blue.” I had no prior knowledge of the Franklin case, but you can bet I’m going to be obsessively looking into it over the next weeks and months.  In fact, I found this documentary on YouTube that I plan to watch.

C. Hoyt Caldwell named Author to Watch

Regular Guy Reading Noir

Regular Guy Reading Noir

My alter ego got a bit of an alter ego-boost on the Regular Guy Reading Noir blog with a review of The Closeout Kings.  It was quite unexpected, and a fantastic way to “closeout” 2014.     Here’s a sample of the review:

He makes each character come to life with background stories and motivations. Each action that is made by the characters is believable and the characters jump off the page. The bad guys are shown to have traces of redemption and you ache alongside them as you are pulled into their world and understand what makes them kick.

I’m humbled, elated, happy, and a little sleepy.  Thanks so much to Regular Guy. Click the link below to read more, and see what other books made the blog’s hit list.

Author to Watch.

A special thank you to The Closeout Kings beta readers

Kenny update

A beta readers shout out!

This is from the last page of The Closeout Kings.

I had the incredible good fortune of having 22 wonderful beta readers volunteer their valuable time to read an early draft of The Closeout Kings.  If not for their insightful and constructive feedback, I would have published a far inferior version of the story.   To those beta readers, I cannot thank you enough.  Your commitment, advice and encouragement made the long process of writing a novel even more fulfilling and fruitful.

Thank you, one and all!

The partial results of the survey

The survey says...

The survey says…

Not all the results are in, but I have enough feedback to move ahead with final rewrites and publish The Closeout Kings. If you haven’t finished reading or you have and you haven’t taken the survey, it’s not too late to stand up and be heard. I’ll still keep checking the survey site for more results until I actually publish. I may even use some of the comments in the survey for marketing copy. Here’s the link to the survey in case you’ve misplaced it. http://WP3628306.polldaddy.com/s/the-closeout-kings-beta-reader-survey

You may not want to read beyond this point if you haven’t taken the survey yet because I’m going to discuss the results… now!

I’m not terribly adept at math, so I tried to make calculating the survey as simple as possible. For starters, 10 out of 22 people filled out the survey. Based on that, I assigned a participation score of 3.2 to the book. That’s the only thing that really had any kind of guess work in it at all. If you’ve taken the survey, you know that participants were asked to rank various aspects of the story with a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 – 5 being the best score. This is how the participation ranking worked out on that 1-5 ranking scale.

5: 19-22 (Completed surveys)

4: 14-18 (Completed surveys)

3: 9-13 (Completed surveys)

2: 4-8 (Completed surveys)

1: 0-3 (Completed surveys)

You can see that gives The Closeout Kings a ranking of a little over three. Participation denotes interest. Interest denotes readability. Readability denotes salability. That’s why I included it in my final scoring. Now, I am aware that other factors are involved when it comes to a volunteer beta reader’s participation. Life does get in the way, and they may not have anticipated that it required as much of their free time as it did. I would have been thrilled if five people took the time to read the book and fill out the survey, so I am not complaining or upset in the least. On the contrary, I count it as a victory.

So here are the rest of the rankings. Keep in mind; all scores are an average of the 10 respondents’ rankings.

1. Characters: 4.6

2. Plot: 4.7

3. Humor: 4.4

4. Balance: 4.6

5. Setting: 4.5

6. Page-turner factor: 4.8

7. Step: 4.5

8. Kenny: 4.4

9. Dani: 4.4

10. Boss: 4.3

11. Final Conflict: 4.9

12. Ending: 4.6

If we add in the participation score of 3.1, we have an overall ranking of 4.5 for the book. How can I not be pleased with that score? I made the survey anonymous to relieve some of the unease people may have had about being critical, so I trust that no one spared my feelings. Some folks let me know they filled out the survey, but other than that I don’t know which of the 22 people in the beta reader group completed the survey.

What does this tell me? It tells me at the very least that a major rewrite is not in order. I may look at Boss’ character and see if there’s anything I can do to improve him, but they won’t be huge changes. Had I seen scores below 4, major changes would be called for, and if more people fill out the surveys before I finish the final rewrites that might be the case. As of right now, I don’t anticipate that will happen.

Thanks to the comments I got more in-depth feedback than the ratings. I’ve addressed some of those made about Kenny, and I’ve heard from a couple of people that I need to make some changes to the firearms used and other details like that. All of this is super helpful, and it is much appreciated. I owe all of you a debt of gratitude for the time and attention you donated to this process. THANK YOU!!!

BTW: The recommend question wasn’t a comparable ranking (4.4), so I didn’t include it in the overall ranking of the book. Most would have recommended it to people who like thrillers, and the others would have recommended it to anyone who likes to read.

Another note for beta readers – Even More on Kenny

Kenny update

Kenny Part 2

This is a continuation of yesterdays post addressing comments brought up in a few beta readers surveys for the Closeout Kings.  If you are a beta reader and you have not taken the survey, I urge you to stop reading now.

More than one beta reader commented that Kenny wasn’t as dumb as he should be at times.  He used words and language you wouldn’t expect a hickbilly from the backwoods to use. I never really meant for Kenny to be stupid just curious.  I know he’s a strange mix of not knowing and knowing.  I guess my thinking on Kenny is that he’s not completely closed off from the world.  His curiosity (misguided at times) does lead him to explore and seek out information.  This is all done outside of the view of the reader, so I can understand how his character seems a little inconsistent.  He has a lot of information that you wouldn’t expect him to at times, but sometimes he uses that information out of context which makes him sound really stupid.  I wrote a short dialogue between Step and Kenny to give the reader a hint to this off-story behavior of Kenny’s.  The danger of doing this is that it can some times come off as unnecessary exposition, so I tried to tread lightly.

This dialogue occurs in the truck after Step and Kenny meet Dani for the first time and it opens here with Kenny speaking:

“Human beings are what’s called pack animals, Step. Means we need others to bond with. Helps us get along better. Even adds years to our lives being with others. Ain’t nothing more important in a human pack than what they call physical communion. Means sex with an emotional tinge to it.”

“Goddamn,” Step said with a laugh. “Did you grow a vagina somewheres along the way?”

“Laugh all you want, but that don’t change the fact that I don’t just need a hooker to hump. I need a lady that I can exchange emotional wherewithal with.”

“I don’t get you at all, Kenny. You’re dumb enough to think there’s such a thing as a nobility prize on the one hand, but on the other, you come up with this pack animal, emotional communion bullshit that makes you sound half-way smart.”

“First off, I’m sure as I can be about that nobility prize. Folks have been winning that thing almost every year for a few years now, and second off, I read up on things.”

“Read? What the shit do you read?”

“Stuff that was writ to be read.”

“Like what?”

“Stuff.”

“What stuff?”

“I got my daddy’s collection of magazines and the like when he died. It feeds my mind on various topics.”

“Magazines? You mean Playboy?”

Kenny smirked. “I seem to recall coming across an edition or two in his collection, yes.”

Step shook his head. “So in between cranking off throughout the day, you read up on emotional wherewithal and other such nonsense in these pornographic periodicals?”

Kenny shrugged. “I got a curious mind. I ain’t ashamed of that.” He fiddled with his cap. “Do you got that with Bones?”

“Got what with Bones?”

“Emotional wherewithal.”

“What I got with Bones ain’t none of your business.”

Once again, thanks for the feedback. It’s really helping see the problem areas.

A note for beta readers – More on Kenny

Kenny update

Kenny update

If you are a beta reader for The Closeout Kings, and you have not completed the survey, you may not want to read beyond this point because I will address a particular element pointed out by some of those that have completed the survey.  As always, I don’t want to influence your opinions, so if you haven’t taken the survey stop reading… now.

Okay, I think we’re alone now.  There doesn’t seem to be anyone around. We can talk freely.  First, let me thank you for filling out the survey.  Your participation and comments have been extremely constructive.  The first thing I’ve addressed based on your feedback is the character of Kenny.  A number of you pointed out that he lacked a background story, and that prevented you from really connecting with him.  I gave extensive background information on Step and Dani, and as a result, they received higher overall ratings than poor ol’ Kenny.  I like Kenny, and I want you to like him too.  So I inserted some back story for the slower closeout king.  It’s not as detailed as Step and Dani’s, but it does give you an  idea how he ended up doing what he does for a living.  I added it to the chapter where he visits Suzanna Campbell’s trailer.  Here is the actual passage:

Kenny opened the door and stepped up on the landing. Peeking his head inside, he saw the lumpish figure of Suzanna almost melted into the frayed fabric of her couch. Her eyelids hid away half the pained look that had anchored into her battered soul. She was the deadest woman that ever drew a breath.

The chubby closeout king’s mind flipped to memories of his own mother. A saintly woman she was not. Her most tolerable moments were spent passed out on a similar couch in Kenny’s childhood home. She guzzled homemade skunk wine from the time she kicked out of bed until the time she planted herself face first onto the drool stained fabric of that rat chewed sofa. In between rising in the late afternoons and drinking herself into oblivion by early evening, she took a hand to Kenny’s fat cheeks every time he dared to place himself in her field of vision. She could not stand how stupid and unkempt he was. “The devil himself could not make something so offensive,” she’d say. “And don’t God want a thing to do with you neither.”

The dank, confined space of the trailer reminded him of his childhood even more. He spent his youth imagining the walls of his house closing in on him. Every day, he would compulsively check to see if he could fit through the bathroom window in case he ever had to escape his shrinking home. He knew it wasn’t really shrinking. He wasn’t that stupid. But that didn’t mean it didn’t feel real and crushing all the same.

His mother was the first person he closed out. He didn’t do anything to actively bring about her demise. He just watched as she choked on a bone while eating a cold extra crispy piece of fried chicken over the kitchen sink. She reached for him and mouthed a blue-lipped help. Even motioned for him to get on the phone and call someone. Eleven-year-old Kenny ripped the phone out of the wall instead. When her heart put out its last thump, he finished off her chicken and breathed a little easier.

He didn’t go without beatings after her death. His old man knocked him around for this and that. His old man’s girlfriends slapped him around. His grandparents, his teachers, even the kids at school lit into him more frequently than not. Kenny was pretty much beaten by nearly everyone who ever came into contact with him until he started punching back. As it turned out, he was pretty good beating the snot out of anyone that had it coming, including his old man. Throwing punches led to a stint in prison for involuntary manslaughter which led to meeting a cousin of Boss Perry’s which led to a career as a closeout king which led to meeting the only and best friend he ever had Step Crawford. And if you asked Kenny, he’d tell you he had a pretty good life because of it.

Feel free to let me know if this does or doesn’t help you connect with Kenny a little bit more. I hope this illustrates to you how important this beta read phase is to me. Thanks again for your help.

Introducing C. Hoyt Caldwell

bottle cover3

Sometimes the only way out is the bad way out.

A number of you have figured it out already.  I think I saw the first mention on Facebook about 10 minutes after I published the previous post.  I have a feeling this will either ruin me or be the smartest thing I’ve ever done.  What would life be without a little risk?

Here is more than you ever wanted to know about C. Hoyt Caldwell and his book Bad Way Out.

  •  Title: Bad Way Out
  • Author Bio: C. Hoyt Caldwell is a writer simultaneously proud of and puzzled by his Southern roots. He’s not smart enough to be subtle so his work tends to be tasteless and gritty. He’s not out to offend anyone, but he’s also not out to win anyone over either. His stories are full of sex, violence, heart, and attempts at humor. His book Bad Way Out was recently named the third best independent book about the south published in 2012, but if you ask him about it, he’ll probably lie and tell you it came in first. He can be reached at ch(at)choytcaldwell.com.
  • Genre: Southern Thriller (emphasis on Southern)
  • Pitch: Sometimes the only way out is the bad way out.
  • Amazon Description:  E.R. Percy’s whiskey making days are turned upside down by the sudden appearance of a giant naked man, an unsavory job offer from a drug dealer, and a sultry local girl hell-bent on making it as difficult as possible for him to keep his vows to his wife. He wants nothing more than to sell his illegal wares and be left alone. Unfortunately, the whiskey man is about to come to terms with the only way for that to happen: the bad way out.
  • Book Rating: R
  • Sexual Content:  Semi-graphic, although most of it is dealt with in a humorous way.  It’s nothing you haven’t heard or seen in HBO original programming.  As I understand it, it’s tame compared to Fifty Shades of Grey.  I’ve never read the book, so I can’t say for sure.
  • Violent Content: Graphic. It has the three Bs; blood, bullets, and blades.
  • Influences and Pen Name: Cormac McCarthy and Charles Portis.  McCarthy is the grittiest author on the streets today, and Portis is funny as hell.  I discovered Erskine Caldwell after writing Bad Way Out, and I was actually blown away by how similar his style in a book like God’s Little Acre is to the style I used for my book.  I’m so glad I didn’t find him until after I wrote the book because I would have heard his voice in my head every time I sat down at my computer.  He is now hands down my favorite author. When I was looking for a pen name for the book, Caldwell was the obvious choice.  I wanted something Southern for the first name.  It came down to Cash or Hoyt.  I couldn’t decide so I went with C. Hoyt Caldwell.
  • The Cover: It’s gone through three different iterations.  I originally went with a plain black background with white text.  I tried to make it look like a whiskey bottle label.  Those kinds of covers only work if you’ve got big marketing dollars, or you’re a known author with a following.  C. Hoyt Caldwell is a poor unknown.  I got rid of the black background and went with the image of a woman’s rear-end in a pair of daisy dukes holding a whiskey bottle. I did that in part because I felt really self-conscious about the sexual content, and I didn’t want people to be surprised by it.  But the cover got to be a bit of a problem because erotica readers picked up the book expecting… well, erotica.  They wanted much steamier passages than what I was offering.  Luckily, I ‘won’ the bronze in this year’s IPPY competition, and that gave me another opportunity to change the cover.  I wanted something a little classier than a girl’s rear-end, so I came up with the current design.  I’m hoping the award sticker will be enough to attract readers now.  I’m really glad I got rid of the daisy dukes image because I saw Miley Cyrus in her granny-panty shorts on Jimmy Kimmel, and I thought, “Oh, that is sad.  Now I see it.”  Someone really needs to let her know.
  • Tone: I’ve used the term ‘vulgar’ to describe this book, and people think I’m nuts.  All the word means is lacking in sophistication, and Bad Way Out is definitely not sophisticated.  Unfortunately, when you say ‘vulgar’ these days people associate it with pornography.  Bad Way Out is not porn.  If it was, you wouldn’t be reading about it on this blog. Trust me.  I used to jokingly call it hillbilly porn, but people started taking me seriously, so I stopped calling it that.  Actually, a reviewer in the UK gave it my favorite description when he (or she) called it an Appalachian crime noir.  I think that pretty much says it all.
  • The Setting: Maiden Falls is the made up Tennessee hill town where the story takes place.  I say such unkind things about the town and the people I couldn’t use the name of a real place.   Do I know people like the ones in Maiden Falls?  Yep.  Everyone who’s lived in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, West Virginia etc., knows people like the ones that live in Maiden Falls.
  • C. Hoyt Caldwells Future:  There will be more books.  I’m endlessly fascinated by the Southern culture, so I want to examine it further.  I’m sure future titles will be more controversial.  The one I’m working on now is a dark, yet humorous exposé on homosexuality in a small Tennessee town.  It may ruffle some feathers.  CHC is blunt and honest.  He’s going to tell it like he sees it.
  • The Hair: Anything is possible with Photoshop.
  • In Closing:  You won’t see C. Hoyt Caldwell on this blog again unless something incredible happens regarding one of his books.  He has his own blog and Facebook page, but be forewarned, he is vulgar. R.W. Ridley will never appear on his blog.  “Worlds colliding, Jerry!  Worlds colliding!”

BTW – I felt it necessary to explain the three different covers for the book because a Google search brings them all up in the search results.  I wasn’t dying to tell you I resorted to using an overtly sexist image on the cover at some point in the life of the book.