Sunday, November 22, 2015

Elevator to the Projection Booth

Hey cats and chicks if you're interest is in flicks you can get your kicks every week at The Projection Booth podcast hosted by Detroit's finest, Rob St. Mary and Mike White. Every week they have a new in-depth exploration of film - one picture at a time. And not just the classics - whatever your definition of classic is - they cover high, middle, low, no and Brazilian-brow fare with the same level of obsessive nerdiness. The whole month of November they've delved into international noir selections and had guest hosts for each episode - check out N@B-Godfather Peter Rozovsky (fuck Peter Rozovsky) pull double duty covering Jean-Pierre Melville's iconic Le Samourai and its spiritual offspring Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai on episode 243.

The following week they had walking encyclopedia Cullen Gallagher on to discuss Jean Luc Godard's sci-fi noir Alphaville on episode 244.

Where it all goes off the track is episode 245 where they brought my ignorant ass on to discuss Louis Malle's  debut narrative feature film Elevator to the Gallows. This was a huge honor for me because I've been a fan of the show for years and of course I'm a crime film fan. I prove to be a philistine whose got little to say about French New Wave or jazz music (the film is perhaps best known for its groundbreaking improvised score by Miles Davis), but I hope it's clear how much fun I'm having. Thanks, Mikde & Rob - you're the best.

Next week they close out Noirvember with a Scottish accent discussing Danny Boyle's debut Shallow Grave with co-host Jeff Meyers.

While we're talking podcasts - The Crime Scene with Eryk Pruitt is a new monthly crime fiction-centered conversation that you ought to be a part of. Eryk's taking on topics each month from Race (with S.A. Cosby, Howard Craft and Danny Gardner), The South (with myself and David Terrenoire) and Religion (with J. David Osborne, Ed Kurtz and Clayton Lindemuth - this episode also features Soledad Medrano only days before her death and I've not wanted to promote this particular episode online because I haven't wanted to stir up painful issues for folks who knew and were close with her, but the truth is, it's a good episode with some interesting back and forth and you ought to give it a listen. Next month Eryk welcomes back David Terrenoire and special guest S.W. Lauden to discuss Music in crime fiction.

You know what other podcasts I'm digging right now? Criminal  - they're short (usually under 30 minute) episodes that explore strange true crime stories and they more often than not find a unique angle to see it through - and they're not only interested in murder - no they take on smuggling and identity theft and orchid thievery.

Booked podcast continues to cover good shit including recent visits to work by William Gay, Chuck Wendig and Jon Bassoff. And Booked has a forever special place in my heart for their coverage of N@B events. And you know what? Now that Chicago's got its own regular N@B event, they get to stay home to cover them. Like last night when they went out in a foot of snow to see Bassoff, Frank Wheeler Jr., Jake Hinkson and I know Les Edgerton was on the poster (but I haven't seen him in the photos).

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

2015 in Crime Flicks

Blue Hill Avenue Craig Ross Jr. - After Belly left me in a daze earlier in the year, I thought I'd give this 90s little crime flick that fell through the cracks a go. Unfortunately I found all the cliche without the dazzling wtf? factor of the other here. By the books low-budget urban crime drama with all the trappings of the decade - most welcome trope? - trenchcoats. Best moment: trenchcoat pose/shoot out.

Child 44 - Daniel Espinosa - Based on a novel of the same name that I really dug by Tom Rob Smith, adapted by Richard Price, directed by the guy who made Easy Money and Safe House and starring Tom Hardy, Vincent Cassel and Gary Oldman, why wasn't this a huge hit or even a year-end favorite of mine? As far as the huge commercial appeal goes, I think the subject matter is just too bleak, but as to why it wasn't more exciting to me personally, I'm not entirely sure. Visually it's striking - I loved all the creative license taken with cold war reproductions - and I really appreciated that the script minimized certain elements of the book that I thought were weak spots. The cast is capable and game and the tone is aptly drab, but it did not translate to an experience at all similar to the strange blend of emotionally wrecking, conscience-shredding excitement I was hoping for... which isn't to say it was a waste. It's a solid picture, one that might even grow on me with time and a repeat viewing or two. Best moment: Noomi Rapace tells her side of the love story - that was the closest the film came to recreating the dread of the book.

Cop Land - James Mangold - Probably my favorite collection of onscreen cop-body dumpiness. Holy crap, the bad haircuts and mustaches, the coked-out eyeballs and rumpled clothes - I love them all. And man, whatever happened to the Sylvester Stallone we were promised with this flick? Here he plays Freddy, a small town New Jersey sheriff whose dreams of being a big-city cop were dashed years ago when he damaged his hearing while saving a drowning woman (Annabella Sciorra) he's carried a torch for ever since. What has she done with her life? She went and married an asshole big city cop (Peter Berg) who doesn't appreciate her. Her husband is part of Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel's) crew of comfortably corrupt entrepreneurs who wear badges across the bridge. This crew includes Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick and Michael Rappaport who accidentally kills some dudes in a high speed pursuit while drunk off his ass. The ensuing bureaucratic clusterfuck looks like IAD investigator Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro's) big chance to nail Ray's crooked crew. All he needs is a little backbone from long-gone-to-seed Freddy to make his case. Stallone delivers a terrific performance at the center of an amazing ensemble lineup that also includes Noah Emmerich, Janeane Garofalo, Frank Vincent, Edie Falco, Robert John Burke, John Ventimiglia, Tony Sirico and a whole bunch more 'that guys', but maybe the better question than 'why didn't we get more like this from Stallone' is WTF James MangoldWhat else in his filmography stacks up to this? I mean to say he made the best Wolverine movie is faint praise. Best moment: Ray Liotta gives Harvey Keitel a piece of his sweaty, coked out mind.

Miller's Crossing - Joel Coen, Ethan Coen - Homage, pastiche, genre-slumming - throw whatever cinematic snobbery term you like at The Coens, and specifically this masterpiece, and it slides off the no-stick coating in seconds and leaves not even a grease trail behind after minutes. This is the handsomest, most elegant gangster film ever. Of course it borrows and steals from decades of like-minded fare - from The Godfather and This Gun For Hire to Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest and James M. Cain's Love's Lovely Counterfeit and probably a dozen other films and books, but what it never does is beg. It simply takes the best bits and owns them, arranges them for optimal impact - building a monument to what all the potential inherent in the material. Between Carter Burwell's lovely and evocative score, Barry Sonnenfeld's opulent wide-lens photography, sharp set and costume design, the always spot-on casting and the dialogue that sounds simultaneously wholly familiar and unique, it's a perfect film - gorgeously violent, surprisingly funny and romantically sad. I re-watched it recently intending to pop it in for five minutes to clear away the funk I was in, but blinked and had watched the whole thing. Not the first time that's happened either. It's good for what ails you. Best moment: John Turturro begs for his life, "Look in your heart!"

Pickup on South Street - Samuel Fuller Richard Widmark plays Skip, a professional thief and two-time loser picks the wrong pocket and ends up in the possession of a highly sensitive strip of film and under the microscope of a Russian spy as well as the United States federal government. Uncle Sam has to stop taking swipes at him if they want his cooperation in a sting operation to nail the spy and Skip plays all the angles to come out of the affair with his skin and then some. The underworld atmosphere is seedy and cool and the biggest pleasure of the picture. Widmark's an A-1 bastard who treats Jean Peters plenty rough and whose sense of patriotism isn't a high percentage angle to play. Will he choose to play for himself or throw in for his country's best interests? It's actually a great tension to play with and the time's red scare vs. today's climate of rampant patriotic paranoia makes it especially potent. Widmark seems he really could go either way and that's an invaluable quality. Best moment: Thelma Ritter's Moe gets pulled in and questioned by the cops. She's the most vibrant underworld personality in the film and pure pleasure every moment on screen.

The Salton Sea - D.J. Caruso - Self-conscious modern 'noir' often suffers from style rather than embodying Czar of Noir - Eddie Muller's line that noir is suffering in style. That said, few films of the last 20 years have managed to pack in so much style and end up with anything remotely watchable or affecting. The whole produced-in-a-can vibe is worked here to admirable effect and Caruso gives the actors just enough space to make some memorable moments and not just of the over the top variety Vincent D'Onofrio, Adam Goldberg and B.D. Wong deliver. Val Kilmer has a few priceless what-the-actual-fuck? reactions behind his glazed-over eyes that make you wonder whatever happened to that guy and the cast includes Peter Sarsgaard, Luis Guzman, Anthony Lapaglia, Deborah Kara Unger, R. Lee Ermey, Meat Loaf, Danny Trejo and the dude from Buckcherry, so there's usually something good to look at in any particular scene. The script is a bit too contrived and it feels like there are more than a couple sequences that could be dropped entirely without losing the story (the Bob Hope's stool-sample heist for example, the pigeon JFK assassination re-enactment for another), but most of those add something tonally or at least throw your concentration off enough to forgive the next bit of voice-over. All in all, I like this movie. It's messy, but not sloppy, and equal parts groovy and goofy, but there's nothing else remotely like it that succeeds as often as it does. Best moment: Sarsgaard's tattoo reveal is perhaps the truest emotional note in the whole silly picture.

The Salvation - Kristian Levring - It's a man of few words and just enough bullets revenge story you could anticipate the beats to in your sleep. Just another spaghetti western in a can. But it's a handsome can, no doubt. It's got that processed and packaged atmosphere that works swell when it works and distracts plenty when it doesn't. Luckily this one works most of the way through, atmospherically. It's limited instead by it's ambitions, or lack thereof. Nothing new here except that beautiful artifice and the beautiful people posing within. Best moment: the coach ride with Michael Raymond-James. Maybe because I'd recently re-watched Terriers, but man, I couldn't get enough of him on screen.

Slow West John Maclean - The other western in this bunch (alongside The Salvation) is no less canned and processed, but manages a very fresh flavor and plenty of welcome surprises. After stirring up trouble back home, a Scot with a major heart-on for a wee lass makes his way across the wild, wooly west to find her. He is accompanied on his quest by a mysterious stranger whose motivations are unclear - is he a protector or just another cold-blooded bounty hunter hoping the boy leads him to his quarry? Along the way their trail is picked up by more bounty hunters without ambiguity to their aims and things get plenty messy at quest's end. The flourishes of color and poetry are juxtaposed with appropriate touches of blindsiding violence and terror. Both make lingering impressions in this beautifully rendered piece of cinema whose tone is clear and resonant after the last gunshots have rung. Best moment: getting stoned around the campfire.

White Heat - Raoul Walsh - After a long break from the fare that made him a big fucking deal, James Cagney returned to the gangster picture determined to remake an impression with this go-for-broke flick. Cagney plays Cody Jarrett a psychotic too enamored of his mother, who leads a crew who leave behind no witnesses. After he lands in prison the movie makes room for Edmond O'Brien's Treasury man to go undercover and attempt to infiltrate Cody's gang. Once Jarrett makes his inevitable escape and puts his string back together O'Brien means to take down the whole crew. The heist to hideout to prison to heist structure leaves no room for a dull moment and the ferocity in Cagney's eyes adds a palpable urgency to this desperado tale. Best moment: the entire chemical plant heist is a great example of thriller filmmaking - all the opposing agendas are played expertly off each other all leading of course to the top of the world.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I've Got a War in My Mind: The Endless Noir of Lana Del Rey: Narrative Music by Iain Ryan

I first knew Iain Ryan's work credited to another name. The Australian writer had a collection of stories that skated the lit/genre line admirably with an underlying dry humor and easy prose style that quietly let the reader know he knew what he was doing. A couple years later I had an email from J. David Osborne wanting to know if I'd take a look at this novel he was publishing soon and very excited about. I get many similar requests that I rarely make good on, but something about the way he talked about it piqued my interest and when he said it was short, I jumped.

Holy crap, am I glad I did. Four Days is a hell of a ride through some very familiar crime fiction territory - murdered sex workers, a fucked up and obsessed dirty cop, a culture of graft and corruption on every level-societal, familial, sexual, spiritual - that managed to make it all feel fresh and vital again. In short it was a crime-boner-seeking missile aimed squarely at my crotch and if your tastes generally line up with the stuff on this blog, it's absolutely for you.

I happen to know that the man behind the pseudonym has played some loud damn music in his life so imagine my surprise when I asked him for a Narrative Music piece and he delivered one on Lana Del Rey, whose penchant for whispered lethargy and a certain Saturday Night Live appearance that drew some attention a few years ago were the only associations I had with her name, but this piece has got me scrambling to investigate further...

I’ve Got A War In My Mind: The Endless Noir of Lana Del Rey
by Iain Ryan

The video for Lana Del Rey’s seventh single Ride came at the end of a long two years in the limelight. On release, the clip was frequently condemned for just about everything — glorification of prostitution, antifeminism, cultural appropriation, boorishness — and yet I was drawn to something about it. Over repeated viewings, it brought to mind Otto Penzler's classic line from The Best American Noir of the Century, “Like art, love, and pornography, noir is hard to define, but you know it when you see it.” That’s what Ride looked and sounded like in 2012. An immense and obvious act of provocation, yes, and trading a little on each of those things Penzler mentioned, but more than anything else: it was noir.

The video for Ride was written by Lana Del Rey. Pop stars of her caliber seldom write their own treatments, nor have they any need to — the music video is an archetypal postmodern product, seldom reliant on a linear narrative —  and yet Ride has a story of sorts. There’s voice-over narration, an opening and closing set piece (Lana rides a giant tire swing out into the red American desert) and a Lynch-esque set of character vignettes: Lana the burned out singer, Lana the prostitute, Lana the biker girl, Lana with a sugar daddy. There’s a sense that this is the story of someone’s life, told in fragments that seem to collide and overlap as the clip progresses.

The song, and Lana’s entire oeuvre, is an example of what literary scholar Susanna Lee has identified as the postmodern hardboiled noir narrative, an unsettling atmosphere where characters don’t so much confront “the sinister world, or an inescapably problematic atmosphere,” but become subsumed into it. Jim Thompson was a master of this. Of his work Lee writes, “What Thompson does, to more disturbing effect, is take the hardboiled maverick from a transcendent place and turn him into a source of disorder and danger.” This is a story structure where the central character is out of control. In this area of noir, the big bad world is a seamless part of the protagonist and the chaos that reigns supreme out there also runs havoc inside us all.

In Ride, Lana — all the Lanas — live in the same body and the only thing she can do is keep on moving. If Ride is about anything, it’s about a character who has taken a type of ownership over this chaos, much as Thompson’s Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford does in The Killer Inside Me. For example, in Ride’s voiceover, Lana says:

Are you in touch with all of your darkest fantasies?
Have you created a life for yourself where you can experience them?
I have. I am fucking crazy.
But I am free.

In the clip, she kills a man and nothing is made of it. This could be The Killer Inside Me. That’s what that novel is about, for my money. Both Ride and The Killer Inside Me play on that most dreaded of fears: that the bad and the crazy and the untidy and the extreme are more liberated than the good, and there are no consequence nor justice. We fear that the wild are more powerful than the good. That they are free while we are not. That our lives are small, while theirs are wide and open. We all tamper our chaos for a reason. We’re all a little scared of our own dark potential and we’re scared of signs of it in other people.

But what if we didn’t have to be? What if we could be Lana Del Rey? For a mainstream pop star building a career this century — a century of social media and TMI and daily updates — Lana is almost an anonymous stranger. What is known about her — the real her — points in a certain direction, but there isn’t much: she has the word Nabokov tattooed on her, she’s a recovering addict but hasn’t partaken since her teens, she’s interested in Old Hollywood, Raymond Chandler, The Godfather films and, of course, she’s playing a fictional character. Born Elizabeth Grant, she rebranded herself Lana Del Rey in 2008 in much the same way Beyoncé tried on Sascha Fierce that same year. Beyoncé, of course, quickly returned to her deeply aspirational brand of pop idol-making. Meanwhile Lana Del Rey seemed to swallow Elizabeth Grant.

Ever since, Grant has wandered further and further into her shtick, often appearing more and more interested in the creative and commercial freedom that Lana allows. At the start of Ride she says as much:

Because I was born to be the other woman.
Who belonged to no one, who belonged to everyone.
Who had nothing, who wanted everything, with a fire for every experience and an obsession for freedom that terrified me to the point that I couldn't even talk about it, and pushed me to a nomadic point of madness that both dazzled and dizzied me.

And in a Rolling Stone cover story from last year, she is asked — in person -- if she wants people to hear and understand her lyrics, to which she replies:

"I just don't want them to hear it at all…I’m very selfish. I make everything for me, kind of. I mean, every little thing, down to the guitar and the drums. It's just for me… I don't want them to hear it and think about it. It's none of their business!"

This theme arises time and again.

Elizabeth Grant doesn’t want to be one person. She wants to be anything she can think up, including a dozen different iterations of Lana Del Rey. The huge fuss made about Lana’s lack of transparent feminism seems to ignore this. But Grant is not interested, not as an artist. She isn’t interested in presenting her personal life, her history, her ethics, her politics or her fame as any sort of corroborative narrative. She has no — and I mean zero — interest in modelling behaviour for young people, despite her popularity with teens. She does not want to be operationally independent or free from corporate influence either. Lana has sold her music and her image all over. Instead, what she wants is to be free from are cultural imperatives. She doesn’t want to do the right thing. Why? Because in noir, that’s not what characters do. As James Ellroy puts it — and damn, there’s a guy happily living outside the culture — “The overarching joy and lasting appeal of noir is that it makes doom fun.” The doomed don’t act with grace and nobility or favour progressive politics, as much as a generation of millennial music critics would like otherwise, not when they’re in character. And Lana always is. Lana is a character.

To me, Lana Del Rey is on her own trip, motivated entirely by her own demons and seeking out her own pleasures. “It's all I've got to keep myself sane, baby,” she sings during Ride’s colossal bridge. And as glossy as the video is and as pretty as the song sounds, it’s a massive fuck you to everyone who doesn’t get it, or doesn’t want to. That’s what I love about it. That’s the story I’m getting when I hear this song.

Iain Ryan grew up in the outer suburbs of Brisbane, Australia. He predominantly writes in the hardboiled/noir genre and his work has been previously published by Akashic Books Online (New York) and Crime Factory (Melbourne). Four Days, his first novel, was published in October 2015  by Broken River Books. He maintains a blog at

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dallas Cowboys

Had a blast at N@B in Dallas last week. Huge thanks to David Hale Smith, The Wild Detectives, Eryk and the entire Pruitt clan for making it happen. If you ain't been to The Wild Detectives bookstore/bar in Dallas, you oughtta make the effort - curated bookshops that come equipped with fermented grain beverages are a precious resource.

During my time in Dallas I saw the spot Kennedy was assassinated, and was taken on a tour of Lee Harvey Oswald's final day, took a gander at an old home of Jack Ruby's, visited the spot Doc Holiday killed his first white man and saw haunts of Clyde Barrow, Gibby Haynes and the honorable Rev. Horton Heat (whose concert I regret conflicted with N@B). Also took an over-my-head, but straight to my gut (and hips and love-handles) gastronomical tour of the town from Eryk P. and David Hale Smith. Gracias, gentlemen I gained five pounds.

The main event was well attended by one of the most enthusiastic and difficult to ruffle crowds I've ever seen at a N@B event. I tip my hat at you, Dallas. I tried to offend and disturb, but you resisted me.

Event photos provided by Rosie Lindsey Phtography - Thanks, Rosie, they look terrific.

The evening started with the one and only Scott Montgomery reading a crime caper that included beheading by sword worthy of Conan-era Arnold Schwarzenneger. If you want to keep your digits on the pulse of modern crime fiction you would do well to start by following Scott's MysteryPeople blog or if you find yourself in Austin drop in at BookPeople and comb his lovingly attended shelves.

Rod Davis lent a professional's seasoned perspective to some seedy shit that produces corpses in New Orleans. His journalist background added weight to the scenic descriptions in an excerpt from his novel South, America - if you look for it be sure to insert that comma, kids (or hey, here's a link to his website).

Texas poet Opalina Salas was accompanied by some seriously Miles Davis-ian trumpet tones courtesy of Chris Curiel for her performance of I Like the Poets Who Are Raw that was anything but. Evoked the existential longings of some truly moody film noir and caused more than one pair of pants to tighten due to raging bonoir. (More on Salas here)

LitReactor columnist and bizarro crime clown Max Booth III brought a refreshing note of smartassery to his slice of service industry malaise that resides inside a work in progress. As a fellow night-shift wage-wrangler hip deep in hoi polloi and entertainer of the entitled I can't wait for a novel's worth of this shit. On the plane home I read his slim caper clusterfuck How to Successfully Kidnap Strangers and it's got me primed for more from his colostomy bag of criminal crap.

Bodaciously brawny bon vivant Eryk Pruitt spread hometown bluster abroad with his tale of a Texan in Ireland (where he lived for chapter of his biography). The protagonist gets involved in underground fights for cash and has some swagger stripped from his strut by a ballsy battler. Eryk's acting background enhanced his storytelling style - if you get the opportunity to follow him in a live reading I suggest you decline. Info on his stories, books, films and podcast can be gathered here.

When things get hairy send in Hunsicker. Harry Hunsicker who dubiously dubbed the evening's proceedings as "a literary celebration of poor life choices and inappropriate sex partners," provided a lot of all those elements with his story of drugs and sex and drugs and violence from the Clive Cussler edited anthology Thirller 2. His story Vivian and Bobby Ray appeared in Murdaland's final issue and made quite the impression on me upon its release. I fucked up and brought the wrong issue to get signed by him, but I remembered my copy of the Cheney anthology D*CKED, that I was proud to have published his story The Last Day in, and he signed that for me. Catch up with all things Hunsicker here.

In honor of Harry I nearly read my own D*CKED contribution, Suck It, but as Suck It is probably my most outrageous story I chickened out and decided to play it safe. Instead I read a rockabilly love story called Hoosier Daddy that first appeared in Beat to a Pulp: Round 1. I milked it for all I could, but, as I said before, Dallas audiences are some stout story receivers and batted nary an eye at my cheap attempt to scar them. Both stories will be included in the upcoming reissue of my collected short fiction Courtesy, Sympathy & Taste: or A Fuckload of Shorts from soon from Broken River Books.

Finally Joe R. Lansdale rocked the house with a Hap & Leonard sketch of violence in the wake of an indelicate and spurned sexual advance. Had the room in the palm of his hand and he makes it look so easy it makes me sick with jealousy.

Here's hoping the Hap & Leonard TVs bring a whole new audience to his work in 2016. Really loved James Purefoy as Mark Antony on Bruno Heller's Rome and Michael K. Williams has a shot to make a third iconic television character out of Leonard Pine following The Wire's Omar Little and Boardwalk Empire's Chalky White. Not sure who's getting credit as series creator, but I do see Jim Mickle is credited as a writer, director and executive producer and that's encouraging quality-wise as he's already proved a feel for Lansdale adaptations with last year's Cold In July.

On the flight to Dallas I read Pascal Garnier's The Islanders which fucked up my senses just a little and had me in such a weird headspace that Pruitt's airport welcome wagon threw me loopy. Thanks as well to Taylor Stevens, Clint, Paco, Javier, Julie, Misty, Mike, Bobby, Natalie and everybody who helped finally give Dallas new non-Debbie connotations.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Gun Education: CriMemoir by Gabino Iglesias

Gabino Iglesias writes weird shit that lies halfway between horror and crime, Interzone and the Twilight Zone, liberally cross-pollinating bugfuck and batshit with utter disregard for my delicate sensibilities. Fuck that guy, man. He also writes reviews and essays and says smart stuff in places like the I-shit-you-not New York Times... and Out of the Gutter. Asked him for a guest piece and he delivered this here CriMemoir with a gen-u-wine shiver in it. Read it, then beat feet to your local bookstore and grab his latest, Zero Saints.

My Gun Education

I was fourteen the first time Andy showed up at my house with a gun. He was two years older than me and had stolen a bike to get to my house. The idea was to go into the mangroves at the end of the street and shoot some lizards. At the time, it seemed like a great idea.

Mangroves are hard to navigate. You can be walking on somewhat solid ground and then take one wrong and end up buried to your knees in mushy, stinky darkness. Add to that our eagerness to pull the trigger, and we could still see the street when Andy stopped and pulled the gun out. Now that I’m older and write crime from time to time, I recall the stubby black gun and have to chuckle at the thought of teenage me handling a snub-nosed .38 for the first time. It probably took us less than a minute to shoot our six bullets and run back to my house, feeling at once like grown badasses and little kids who had done wrong and were scared of getting caught. Thankfully, hearing gunshots in the middle of the afternoon is something Puerto Ricans are used to, even more so those of us living near Luis Lloréns Torres, the largest public housing project in the Caribbean. We never got caught.

The second time Andy showed up at my house with a gun was three years later. He had a car by then. He popped the trunk and pulled out a rifle. It was a .22, but sometimes caliber has nothing to do with the amount of fun you can have with a gun. Like always, he had a stupid idea: break into our school and shoot out some windows. How could I say no to that? Andy, a crazy motherfucker if there ever was one, said he’d wait for me to go grab my shoes. As soon as I ran in, he climbed a tree across the street, and waited for me to come out. When I returned and failed to see him, I thought he might’ve gone inside the house to take a leak or something, so I turned to go back and get him. That’s when he shot me. The tiny bullet went into my left hamstring. I was in the house with my pants off before I’d finished processing the whole thing.

Back in those days of trying to play tough, I carried around a small knife at all times. Realizing I’d been shot as a joke made me want to kill Andy so bad that I stopped feeling pain. I walked out and found him next to his car. He was laughing so hard he was incapable of asking me if I was okay. Two seconds later he was down. I jumped on his back. Long story short, he needed eleven stitches to reattach the back of his right ear. And yes, we were friends for many years after that bloody day.

The third time Andy pulled out a gun was very different. We were seniors in high school. A college asshole had been harassing my sister. With some help from my friends, we found out everything about him and paid him a visit. The four of us found him outside the Education Department at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras.

He was sitting against a wall with ten or twelve friends. They didn’t see us walking toward them. Without a word, I yanked him up by his shirt and was about to let him know a few things when Andy stepped next to me, pulled a black 9mm from the front of his pants, and pressed it against the guy’s right cheek. His friends disappeared like cockroaches at 3:00am when you flip the light switch.

You ever go near _______ again and it’ll be the last thing you do.” There was no humor in Andy’s voice. More surprisingly, he didn’t sound like was trying to sound like a bad man. He wasn’t nervous and the gun wasn’t shaking. The guy started crying apologies and pissed his pants. He got the message.  This time around, we ran back to our car like all other times, but instead of excitement, we felt anger and fear. We were young enough to be incredibly dumb, but not dumb enough to think it was okay to put a gun to someone’s face in a public space and face no repercussions. We somehow walked away from that unscathed. None of us ever saw the guy again.

Before Andy and I had a chance to add another gun story to the narrative of our friendship, his mother was killed. She worked security at a club in Old San Juan. Someone drove by and shot her. She took two bullets to the face. My friend Jaime, who would go on to open the first tattoo shop I ever worked at, drove me to the funeral home. The three of us spent ten minutes huddled in a hug, crying our eyes out.

Folks who’ve been around the block a few times can probably guess by now that Andy ended up leading the kind of life that only seems appealing when you’re too young to know any better. He did time twice, one of them for failing to pay child support. I wanted no part of what he was doing, so we drifted apart. On one of those awkward attempts at reconnecting, we went to get lunch together about two years after his mother’s death.

Out of the blue, he started talking about what happened after they threw dirt on her casket. It took him and his people weeks, but they found the man who pulled the trigger. Andy spent four days in a room with him. I was glad he hadn’t called me because I knew that, like so many times in the past, I would have said yes and accompanied him through that. I still like playing tough from time to time, but not having to witness what went down in that room is something I’m thankful for.

Last time I heard from Andy, he mentioned something about religion and being out of the streets. That was about three or four years ago. We haven’t spoken since. For me, the crazy stories we have together are fun memories, but the death of his mother is perhaps the one thing in my life that made me realize I wanted to stay away from guns as much as possible. I may not always pull it off and my past is the kind that easily translates to fiction, but developing a strong dislike for guns and what they can do definitely helped me stay away from people and situations that might have pushed my expiration date forward.

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth, Hungry Darkness, and Zero Saints, which was just released by Broken River Books. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Verbicide, The Rumpus, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Z Magazine, Out of the Gutter, Word Riot, Entropy, Electric Literature, and a other print and online venues.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Doin the Horizonal Bop

Quick takes on the newish:

Wednesday I'll be at The Wild Detectives in Dallas for N@B hosted by David Hale Smith and Eryk Pruitt. I'll be outshined by the likes of Max Booth III, Joe R. Lansdale, Rod Davis, Harry Hunsicker, Opalina Salas and Scott Montgomery. Significantly missing from that lineup is Clay Reynolds whose 1986 book Agatite (later published as Rage) I devoured this week.

Fucking hell.  I dug the shit out of it. Had all the hallmarks of literary crime novels that I love - treated genre material seriously, had real literary ambition demonstrated by featuring a large cast of fleshed out characters, justifiably-challenging structure and a gauntlet of chunky, resounding thwacks from the paddles of many emotions. Dug it so hard I picked up another Reynolds title, Players, to have for later.

Clay had to pull out of the event and I'm disappointed as hell not to be meeting the dude, but I got my name on a poster next to his, so I can die happy. Hey - somebody make a poster with my name next to Rudolph Wurlitzer's and, what the hell, Jim Thompson's huh?

In December I'll be back in Denver for N@B with Benjamin Whitmer, Jon Bassoff, Michael Lion, CJ Howell, Mario Acevedo and Mark Stevens. So fucking mark your calendar and prepare your alibis for that shit. And hey, recent Denver immigrant James Ellroy, if you're around and want to ride my coattails onto the lineup - I might be able to make that work... I know a guy who knows a guy.

It wouldn't be the first time our shits got mingled, y'know? Yeah, Australian crime novelist Iain Ryan's debut novel Four Days was just published by Broken River Books and he wrote a guest piece at the Do Some Damage blog this week about The Four Books That Went Into Four Days and he does me the impossible to live up to honor of claiming my own Fierce Bitches along with Ellroy's Blood on the Moon, Derek Raymond's I Was Dora Suarez and David Peace's 1977 & 1980 as those responsible for the dark, twisted tone and bite of his book... and of course he's too generous. I had the pleasure of reading and providing blurbage for that book and -trust me- if you dig the stuff you see featured on this blog, Four Days is right up your alley.

If you're a listener of The Projection Booth movie podcast (and you should be 'cause Mike White and Rob St. Mary bring the twin towers of nerddom - passion and encyclopedic knowledge - to each episode) download the November 18 episode about Louis Malle's feature debut Elevator to the Gallows to hear me expose my general arrogance and ignorance on movie shit. Find out everything I know about jazz and Miles Davis, exactly how much French I speak and why Noel Calef's source novel is not the same as Geoffrey Home's Build My Gallows High -basis for  Jacques Tourneur's film Out of the Past- and why I should turn in my fucking noir card for that gaff.

If you're not yet sick of my shit head over to S.W. Lauden's blog for a quick interview he conducted with me. And holy hell lookit that beautiful cover art on his new surf-noir novel Bad Citizen Corporation. Lauden's title (along with Pruitt's Hashtag, Eric Beetner's Rumrunners and Chris Irvin's Safe Inside the Violence)  is one of the only books I picked up at Bouchercon this year and I can't wait to read it.

If you dodged the bullet before, get ready to duck again as Julian Grant's feature film musical adaptation of my short story A Fuckload of Scotch Tape is getting a new release from Wild Eye Releasing (in December?). Also - look for the reprint of my short story collection now titled Courtesy, Sympathy & Taste -or- A Fuckload of Shorts coming soon from Broken River Books. It will feature a couple of short stories not in the original edition as well as some excerpts from Shitbird (the sequel to Peckerwood).

This year I had a couple new short stories appear in the anthologies Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked & Loaded: Vol. 3 and Jewish Noir. In 2016 I'm looking forward to at long last putting my hands on St. Louis Noir from Akashic books and edited by Scott Phillips. I'm particularly fond of my story Have You Seen Me? and, as it's based on some terrible things that actually happened around here, I expect to be persecuted in the local media over my glossed over fictional treatment.