Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Revenge of the Nerd

A significant part of Victor Gischler's appeal lies in his image as a big-ol-dork-just-like-you, who gets off on all the same shit you do, who can't wait for stuff to blow up, for tops to fall off or the beer to flow. He's right there with you waiting, watching, sometimes going - c'mon already, get to the good stuff - which is why he's always such a quick read. He cuts out all the boring bits.

But casual readers probably don't notice how much he packs into those breezy pages and staccato paces. He's a serious craftsman. Ask his students. And he's got like ideas and stuff. Notions about the world and the human condition and, and, and... but don't worry, he cuts out the boring stuff.

After throwing down kick ass hardboiled stylings with the likes of Gun Monkeys and Shotgun Opera, (love that title), he took a huge creative exit stage left and put out my personal favorite of his books, Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse - a Wizard of Oz by the way of Mad Max, trip through the post civilization, refracted spectrum of modern America and with the help of Ted Turner, saved the worthy and blew up the rest.

This interview was conducted almost a year ago when The Deputy was slated for a late summer release from Bleak House. Just weeks before its scheduled date, senior editors of Bleak House left to form a new publishing house, Tyrus books. They took Victor and The Deputy with them. (Vampire A-Go-Go was published in the fall 2009).

There is an underlying dread felt by The Deputy's protagonist that he is going to let down his infant son. It felt very confessional. How long ago did you write it?

This was written -- if I recall correctly --going on 2 years ago (more?). I might not go as far as calling it "confessional" but I did very much tap into that feeling I think many parents have. The need to provide and protect your child, it's always there. It never goes away. Once you have a kid, it figures into every major decision to make and many of the minor ones too. A very common but very powerful feeling I think a lot of people can relate to.

What was the genesis of the book?

Well, it started as a short story. It became pretty clear pretty fast that it wasn't going to work as a short story because there was too much I wanted to cover. On the other hand, I wasn't 100% sure at the time it could be a novel. I wanted the whole thing to take place in a single night, and I finally got to the point where I felt comfortable it could be a novel ... but I knew it would be a short one. The idea for the character came one day when I was wondering about that line between being a kid and being an adult. In the beginning of the novel, there are still too many ways protagonist Toby Sawyer still wants to be a kid. Things change by the end of the story.

Why was it important for you to set it entirely in one night?

I really wanted the story to have a modern day HIGH NOON feel. Also, there are a number of personal things in Toby's life that have been bubbling under the surface, as well as the corrupt stuff going on in his town, and I wanted the feeling that this was all coming to a head RIGHT NOW. It's not an "ongoing investigation", but rather a world of shit that's falling on Toby's head at that moment in his life. I wanted ALL the shit to hit the fan in a concentrated period of time.

It's certainly "high and tight" compared to the relatively sprawling and ambitious Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse.

Go-Go was meant to be an epic -- well, a parody of an epic -- so it was necessary to have a big cast of characters and cover a lot of geography. The Deputy was far more a personal story about Toby. I wanted the story itself to feel as cut off from the rest of the world as Toby does in his little home town.

Parody or not, you pulled some real emotion out of Go-Go, most of it revolving around coffee, but still, can we expect the same out of Vampire A-Go-Go?

Both Vampire and Go-Go are blends of satire and parody, but Go-Go leans more toward satire and Vampire more toward parody. Vampire is lighter than Go-Go, yes there's sex and violence, but as I was writing it, I could tell the book wanted to be more like the funny DaVinci Code rather than quite as bitingly satirical as some of my other work. I always try to go with what the work tells me it wants to be. I was speaking with a film director the other day, and he said Vampire A Go-Go had a very Joss Whedon feel to it, and I wouldn't dispute that.

Can you elaborate on "go-go" and "a-go-go” - what the essence is to you or the difference between them?

The difference is that I titled the first book Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse because ... well I think it's pretty obvious why. Vampire A Go-Go is called Vampire A Go-Go because the folks at Touchstone thought it was a catchy title. My original title was BAD ALCHEMY. If the title Vampire A Go-Go catches a lot of people's attention and sells a lot of copies, I'll be first in line to congratulate them on thinking of it. Frankly, my only concern is that readers will somehow connect the two books, think that one is a sequel or something which isn't the case.

After four more or less straight crime novels these sound like a hard left turn. How receptive have publishers been to this brand of Victor Gischler?

Frankly, I get the feeling that marketing departments hate curve balls. My old publisher didn't want to see anything but crime novels, and my new publisher thinks the new direction means that crime novels are out the window. That's why I'm grateful for a place like Bleak House who want to keep me in the crime writing business even while I'm doing other things at the same time. Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for all my publishers who publishers who publisher me for whatever reason they think applicable. But there are a lot of stories rumbling around in this little pea-brain of mine and they don't all fit neatly into genre x or category Y.

Are there other mediums you're anxious to work in?

I love story. I love a good story told well in any medium. I've dipped my big toe into screenwriting, and we'll see how that goes. I've also done some work for Marvel Comics which has been a lot of fun and I want to keep doing more. I think I'd really love to write a balls out, pulpy over-the-top space opera for the sci-fi channel. (Or is it syfy now or whatever the hell...?) I'd also kill to do something for Adult Swim. I think The Venture Brothers is pure brilliance.

The dark past of Race Bannon?

Yes, as well as the family troubles of Mr. Fantastic ... uh ... I mean, Mr. Impossible.

How rewarding is teaching?

To be blunt, it can be hit and miss, and it really sucks time away from writing. Teaching a class like freshman composition ... well, the kids mostly don't want to be there, so it sort of makes me not want to be there either. But I teach a screenwriting class which is tops. When the students get into it's much more rewarding for the teacher. And yes, I want a rewarding experience too. It's not a one-way street. I feel like I want to start each semester by asking the students, "Okay, how are you going to make this a good experience for ME?" Smart, interested students make all the difference.

Do you have a relationship like that with your reading public too?

Not quite. I've described it like this before. My books are parties to which everyone is invited ... but nobody has to stay. But don't come in and demand we take Johnny Cash of the stereo because you want to listen to Celine Dion. This ain't Burger King. You don't get it your way. But if you like what I'm dishing out, then I'm one grateful son of a bitch. But even the people who don't like my books, hey, I'm still thankful they gave me a try. Win some lose some.

Anybody you're particularly trying to please or show up with your writing?
I think a lot of writers would offer you this answer: I write what I would want to read. Same with me. I'm not sure who I'd show up. Lots of authors have better reviews, better sales, etc. I actually tried to sit down and write a "formulaic thriller" once to see if I could get to that next level or be a bestseller or whatever. It was 100 pages of steaming crap. I bored the hell out of myself. So from now on I'm just going to write the story that seems best to me in the moment.

Do you limit your reading while you write?

Not on purpose, but it sometimes works out that way. Certainly I'll try to steer clear of works that are in the same vein as the one I'm writing. I've found lately that I've really hit a dry spell of reading. I'll start books, and toss them aside after 40 pages because they just aren't doing it for me. So in a way it's kind of a relief to be neck deep in a novel plus comic book scripts plus screenwriting. Saves me the trouble of figuring out what to read. Not that there isn't good stuff out there. There's plenty. But it almost seems like I have to wade through a dozen to find that one gem.

What would people be most surprised to find you love to read?

I never know what will surprise anyone. I love academic novels like Richard Russo's STRAIGHT MAN and LUCKY JIM by Kingsly Amis. Hmmmm, what else? Oh, I've read all the Harry Potter books and really liked them, so maybe that will surprise some people. It was hard as hell to get started on that first one. Tried three times before I got it going, but Young Adult Literature is one of the subjects my wife teaches at the university, so she kept goading me to read them. I ended up enjoying myself.

There was definitely some echo of Russo in Pistol Poets. Do have ideas for YA novels?


I actually have a great idea (I hope) for a novel ... well, a PREMISE actually, and I'm trying to decide the best direction for it. Part of me wants to work in my comfort zone of violence, satire and depravity. But another part of me can see going in a YA direction that might appeal to the TWIGHLIGHT crowd. My agent and I are kicking it around, so I'm keeping the details under wraps until I figure things out. But my default mode is definitely not YA.

There's a pretty respectable tradition of children's authors who write pretty dirty adult novels from Roald Dahl to Nathaniel Handler - you might fit right in.

Ha. Maybe. I never rule anything out. But I want to make the right decision before I start on a project. I don't want to get 50 pages in, writing the thing as YA, and the realize "Wait, this is bullshit." But as soon as the right thing to do "clicks" in my head, I'll get started.

Do you write most projects before they're sold?

Yes. I'd love to say I'm at that level where I can just send in a one-page pitch and have a publisher love it and give me money. But why would a publisher do that when they have so many already completed manuscripts to choose from? So I generally write the book I want to write and cross my fingers.

Getting back to writing your "best seller" then, what were you doing differently trying to write what "they" want?

Exactly. My old agent came back with a list of elements common to most bestsellers that my publisher at the time liked. "Liked" meaning they were selling well. So I churned out a 100 pages. Felt like I was working on an assembly line. I didn't like what I was writing, so why would I think anyone would like reading it. Huge waste of time. I don't blame anyone but myself. I should have known better.

That's amazing, do you recall any items on the list? Any particular character traits or plot twists that sell?

Huh. It's been a while, and I've tried to blot out the whole experience. The only one I remember is "Strong Female Protagonist" ... which in and of itself is not objectionable. Maybe why it's the only one I remember.

(You can check out my notes on The Deputy over at Ransom Notes)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Crime Factory Music Spotlight/Frank Bill

I met Frank Bill a year ago when the crime dog community helped me goad him into making the trip to read at the first St. Louis Noir @ the Bar event with Anthony Neil Smith, Scott Phillips and myself. I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd read some of his stories which were short, brutal, poems of violence uncorked, those that inflict it, those whom it destroys and those who bear up under it. Frank's personal countenance was modest and unassuming. He was soft spoken and you might have even guessed shy... Until he read. He unleashed The Hill Clan Trilogy Part Three on a crowd that had no idea what they'd gotten in to. I spent an evening with Frank and his wife at their home last October and he was a consummate host, giving me a tour of the rugged Indiana locations that serve as the back drop for his stories. And while the tales are dark - as with any quality - it is only worthy of examination when presented in contrast with another. That sums up the appeal of Frank to me, the vulnerability running beneath the surface of his fiction renders what ensues relevant and frightening. He's been published at Thuglit, Plots With Guns, Beat to a Pulp, Pulp Pusher,Talking River Review, Crime Factory, Darkest Before the Dawn and Hard Boiled magazine.

Frank Bill is today's guest contributor to the Narrative Music series.

Pine Box

An acoustic guitar strums. A voice of smoke soaked in bourbon, charred by angst and loss begins with a deep pitch of, “In a box made of pine lays the sweet love of mine she’s been gone for nearly a year.” And so begins Pine Box, a song by William Elliott Whitmore from the album Hymns for the Hopeless.

William tells the story of a grieving man reflecting on the bond between he and his deceased wife. The song moves on with, “The river would overflow if only I could trade a raindrop for every tear. It was the year of ought one and our life had begun, no perils could make us distraught. Together we stood through bad and through good, no hardships that couldn’t be fought. ”

William never tells exactly what caused the wife to pass only that, “She fell ill one dark winter’s night and before too long she passed.” But he tells how strong the man’s love for his wife was offering a dark depiction of self loathing with, “It would prove to be true my whole life through that nothing good would last. It all ended that day when I saw her ride away in that long black hearse, I remember so well my personal hell began on this here Earth. I’ve half the heart I used to have and half the will to go on. I’ve got half a mind to drink myself blind now that my darlin’ is gone.”

Mr. Whitmore’s voice never misses a nerve when singing because his songs are torn from a deep well of life experience as he gives a final glimpse of what true rapture can do to a man whose wife is his everything, telling, “Now the winter’s teeth are biting down and it chills me to the bone. To think about that cold mattress and sleeping all alone. So now I know what I must do, the path ahead of me is clear. I must join her now wherever she’s at cause I ain’t doin’ no good here.”

Hearing William sing this tune will bring a bit of moisture to the lower eye if you are a passionate man. Add a few shots of top shelf bourbon and hide the gun, Williams’ voice will hollow the senses and leave you with ache.

What gives William’s songs their punch are his glimpses at real life and its people, combined with barebones acoustic and a voice too mature for his age. The man is a storyteller who can sing. My wife and I caught him opening for Lucero in support of his third album, The Song of the Blackbird. He sat on a stool with a Miller High Life, his guitar, banjo and microphone, the crowd stood awe struck with silence.

This song in particular (I’ve all of his work, his first three albums being my personal favorites) struck a chord in me to write a short story, The Penance of Scoot, some years ago about my grandfather losing his own wife of thirty plus years. The story was accepted by a college journal and should be out sometime later this year or early next year. I dedicated it to William and his music, even wrote him a letter and sent him the short, what a fan boy. Oddly enough he sent me postcard with a handwritten reply while on tour and thanked me. What a musician.

His first three albums, Hymns for the Hopeless, Ashes to Dust and Song of the Blackbird are a trilogy. Focusing on the land in which he was raised (Lee County, Iowa), the loss of his parents (horse farmers) at an early age and some of the characters (Hub Cale) he met while growing up.

His fourth album Animals in the Dark is equally as good, with a focus of what is happening now.

Check William out

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Crime Factory Music Spotlight/Patti Abbott

Patti Abbott first came to my attention as a contributor to possibly the most influential crime publication of the new millennium. Do I overstate it? Maybe. But Murdaland was a watershed moment for me. Then I got confused. Turned out there were more Abbotts out there writing dark fiction and as a happy side effect, I was introduced to more great literature.

But Patti holds her own among the Abbotts, she is possessed of an enviable range, creating voices immediately memorable and by turns, tragic, malevolent, humorous and doomed. She lives in Detroit where she writes stories that have appeared in The Portland Review, Bayou Review, Inkwell, Fourteen Hills, Spinetingler, Demolition, Plots With Guns and many others. She was, (can you believe it?) the sole female contributor, (other than an introduction from Sarah Weinman) to last year’s Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll. Obviously she was included in Crime Factory issue one, but she’s also in Crime Factory issue two. Look for more stories from Patti soon in Beat to a Pulp, Damn Near Dead 2 and Needle. She also hosts the Friday's Fogotten Book series at her blog Pattinase where she and a bunch of other writers hold forth on gems that have passed on into our collective amnesia undeservedly.

She is today’s contributor to the Narrative Music series.



WHAT’LL I DO, Irving Berlin

On those days when I need to chase a happy mood out of my head, I put on THE SONG. I have several versions of it. My favorite will always be the Linda Ronstadt one, which I first heard many years ago. She recorded it for her 1983 album WHATS NEW, orchestrated by Nelson Riddle. WHAT’S NEW began Ronstadt’s farewell to rock and a lush romantic album.

The original song was written by Irving Berlin in 1923 for one of his four MUSIC BOX REVIEWs and sung by Grace Moore, a singer with operatic training. Irving Berlin bought a house for his mother from the money he made from his 1911 hit "Alexander's Ragtime Band and was still affected by her death eleven years later when he wrote “What’ll I Do” in Paris. According to his biographer Laurence Bergreen in As Thousands Cheer...,"What'll I Do?" was published in early 1924 and sold more than a million copies of the sheet music. I wonder how many copies of sheet music sell today—or if they even print them.

It has been recorded by many, many singers since then and was used above the titles in THE GREAT GATSBY. Other covers I particularly like include ones by Judy Garland, Harry Nilsson, Chet Baker and the one by the McGarrigle/Wainwright family on THE MCGARRIGLE HOUR.

Here are the lyrics:

Gone is the romance that was so divine.
tis broken and cannot be mended.
You must go your way,
And I must go mine.
But now that our love dreams have ended...

What’ll I do
When you are far away
And I am blue
What’ll I do?

What’ll I do?
When I am wondering who
Is kissing you
What’ll I do?

What’ll I do with just a photograph
To tell my troubles to?

When I’m alone
With only dreams of you
That won’t come true
What’ll I do?

What’ll I do with just a photograph
To tell my troubles to?

When I’m alone
With only dreams of you
That won’t come true
What’ll I do?

Of course it’s nothing without the haunting melody. You can find most of these versions on You Tube. There’s even a good one of Bea Arthur singing it on THE GOLDEN GIRLS. Dorothy’s version wasn’t half-bad.

These words describe the plot of most novels and movies that center on a couple: loss, regret, helplessness. You can picture them with a country beat behind them, with hip-hop music, with an opera score, in war time. But the wistfulness also comes from the melody-slow and sad.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Justice


Over at Ransom Notes, we're talking Justified, Graham Yost's televised adaptation of Elmore Leonard's short story Fire in the Hole. Off to a strong start, can they keep it up? Love to see Timothy Olyphant stepping into the role previously bungled by James LeGros and giving it a less goofy spin. And hey, Walton Goggins deserves to be a superstar, so bully for him.

And while we were sleeping, the Crime Factory crew snuck down our chimneys like crack head St. Nick's and took a big ol dump on the rug. They left behind issue two right in the middle of my issue one music spotlight series. What, you guys can't wait a few days? Or maybe I should have done this a month ago. Go check out issue two featuring Ray Banks, Dave Zeltserman, Patti Abbott, Josh Converse, Stephen D. Rogers, Gerard Brennan, Jimmy Callaway, Reed Farrel Coleman, Craig McDonald, Charlie Stella, Chad Eagleton, The Nerd of Noir and Kieran Shea dropping some serialized fiction on you.

After a too long break, Plots With Guns is getting ready to drop two issues on us back to back in like two or three days, so prepare.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Crime Factory Music Spotlight/Gordon Harries

Way back at the ass end of 2008, I started this here weblog without any idea what I was doing. Someone had given me a computer and I found that there was a wireless signal in my neighborhood that I could access from certain corners of my house... sometimes. I'd been using the ol' web for a few years for research and email purposes, going to the library and waiting half an hour to be able to log on and get my shit done in twenty or thirty minutes, but I'd had about zero leisure time spent there until then. And just between you and me, you would not believe the stuff lurking out there on the internet. Or maybe you would.

One of the first things I found that I kept returning to was a blog called Needle Scratch Static published by Gordon Harries. Don't remember what led me there, but I found in Harries' entries, some commonality in his enthusiasm and obsessive attention to his passions. They were - film, literature and music primarily and crime films and literature specifically that caught my attention. He referenced directors David Fincher and Michael Mann as favorites and I could see why - both create visually dense pictures with a level of detail very few are ever going to appreciate. Gordon will, he's sharp like that and exactly the kind of viewer they make pictures for. Over the last year and a half, I've found his bits in other publications who have eagerly snatched up his critical pieces and essays. Whether it's an interview with Martyn Waites or David Peace, an insightful profile on Derek Raymond or a detailed account of the merits of Get Carter or Moses Jones, he brings that combination of enthusiast and serious social critic that keep me coming back. He is a contributor to The Rap Sheet and 3:AM Magazine and his profile of Dashiell Hammett ran in the first new issue of Crime Factory.

Did I mention he knows a thing or two about music? He's today's contributor to the Narrative Music series.

You Keep Me Hanging On

I’m a fan of the cover version. Sure, there’s a barrage of poor examples that you could point to, but get it right and the tone of a song, its very meaning can change.

Such is my experience of Wilson Pickett and the ubiquitous ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’. You probably know it best from the Supremes rendition, all storming vocals. A proclamation of emancipation-as-celebration.

In ‘Wicked’ Wilson’s hands, though…

The first difference that strikes you is the tone. If you could categorize the songs more celebrated incarnation as defiant, this is solemn. Subdued, even. Then Pickett steps to the microphone and the tone becomes haunted, sombre, elegiac. “Set me free, why don’t you girl” he pleads. “Get out my life why don’t you girl.” Then the kicker, sang with palpable desperation: “because you don’t really love me, you just keep me hangin’ on.” And the paranoiac worldview of post-war noir slides into view. Particularly as, with the best of literature, there’s no guarantee that this plea will be heard.

Obviously, there are at least a dozen factors as to why this version of the song is so affecting, not the least of which is that the Supremes version is so over-familiar that it’s long since become the pop cultural equivalent of wallpaper, but when Pickett and the Stax boys perform the song it becomes an articulation of undermined masculinity. (Essentially queering it, certainly subverting it.) And marries it to the paranoiac worldviews to be found in the novels of David Goodis, James M Cain and Jim Thompson.

It’s a version that, truly, haunts me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Crime Factory Music Spotlight/Keith Rawson


Alright, for a while now, it's been in my mind to spotlight the resurrection of David Honeybone's Crime Factory magazine with a series of music selections from those in the first new issue. I've been sitting on these way too long and I apologize to everybody who has been waiting patiently for me to roll them out. So, this week, look for music pieces from Patti Abbott, Frank Bill and Gordon Harries.

Today though, it's Keith Rawson, who has to be one of the busiest badasses working in online publishing today. He is one of the driving forces behind CF's triumphant return, (along with Cameron Ashley and Liam Jose) and it's a publication I'm really excited about. (CF is also teaming with New Pulp Press to publish a book this year!) Aside from his editorial duties there, he's got his own damn blog Bloody Knuckles, Callused Fingertips and is a regular contributor and critic for BookSpotCentral and Spinetingler Magazine where he specializes in video interviews with the likes of Reed Farrel Coleman, Charlie Huston, Michael Connelly, Joseph Wambaugh and Dennis Tafoya among others. Oh yeah, he also writes some of the sickest crime/horror pulp floating on the web today, just bobbing there, refusing to sink creating a slick... killing water fowl and marshland creatures - which is saying something as Keith comes clean here with a dark admission - he used to be a hippie.

Keith Rawson is today's contributor to the Narrative Music series.

The Earth Died Screaming

Tom Waits saved music for me.

His soaked in a shot of drowning in flames bourbon and two pack of filterless Lucky Strikes a day for 25 years voice; his eclectic, surreal arrangements; his gloomy, yet hopeful lyrics about saintly carnies, teenage runaways, and broken down suburbanites slumming in dingy North Hollywood watering holes hoping to either fall in love or get into a bloody brawl with a broken PBR bottle; this weird combo of unique storytelling made music listenable for me again.

Let me explain.

It was back in 1999.
The wife and I had been together for just a little over a year, both us had spent the last several years prior listening to nothing but the Grateful Dead, Phish, Bob Marley and other music you typically associate with the self righteous, dread lock wearing neo hippie set. Neither me nor the wife wore dreads (although, I was sporting hair down to the middle of my back and my beard looked like something a murder of crows might nest in; and the wife didn’t shave her pits or legs and was mighty fond of peasant skirts and wearing the same pair of denim overalls for weeks on end.) but these were the types we were hanging with. However after we came back from a summer of crossing the country in our nearly indestructible Honda accord, we rolled back into Phoenix with an overall attitude change, wanting nothing more than to work, get our shit together and start a real life; the only problem was that the gang we hung with just weren’t down with the whole be responsible and get a real job kind of lifestyle we were aiming for.

So we decided to go Howard Hughes on our old crowd and start from ground zero. For me, this also meant the kind of music I was listening to. The major issue was that the end of the 90’s was a shit eating corporate wasteland of prefab music designed to make the spare dollars of preteen kids come flying out of the deep pockets of their baggy gangster jeans and into the greasy yellow hands of the Disney corporation.

None of that shit was for me and even punk rock—a sure fire staple in my life since I was twelve years old—sounded stale after the semi complex wall of sound arrangements of the bands I’d been listening to. So what happened was that I just stopped listening to music entirely; cold turkey, no weaning, no fuss, no muss. Admittedly, it sucked great big old donkey cock and there was something diffidently missing.

So just how did I come across Waits after putting myself into a tuneless purgatory?

Blind luck really.

The wife and I were living in a tiny one bedroom college ghetto apartment in Tempe, AZ and money was tight, so most of our entertainment dollars were spent either at the Tempe public library’s twenty five cent cast off rack, or at the Goodwill a couple of blocks from our place. The Goodwill had VHS tapes for a buck and cassettes for fifty cents (me and the wife never bothered looking at the CD’s, those charitable motherfuckers at the Goodwill wanted five bucks for those shiny silver discs.) both of us were pretty hooked on watching movies, so we never bothered shucking through the cassettes. But one Friday night after we’d exhausted all of our possible viewing choices, we started flipping through the cassettes. Most of the selections were out and out lame: Hall and Oats, Dionne Warwick, Flock of Seagulls, piles of disposable 80’s landfill fodder that you kind of expect to find at Goodwill. But amid the stacks, me and the wife found Waits classic experimental masterpiece, Bone Machine.

Both of us were slightly familiar with Waits from his improvisational studio recording, Nighthawks at the Diner (Hippies are big into anything improvised.) but we’d never heard any of Waits modern recordings. It was a couple of days before I popped Bone Machine into our little used K-mart stereo and I heard the Earth Died Screaming for the first time.

Rudy's on the midway
And Jacob's in the hole
The monkey's on the ladder
The devil shovels coal
With crows as big as airplanes
The lion has three heads
And someone will eat the skin that he sheds
And the earth died screaming
The earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming of you

Well hell doesn't want you
And heaven is full
Bring me some water
Put it in this skull
I walk between the raindrops
Wait in Bug House Square
And the army ants
They leave nothin' but the bones
And the earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming of you

There was thunder
There was lightning
Then the stars went out
And the moon fell from the sky
It rained mackerel
It rained trout
And the great day of wrath has come
And here's mud in your big red eye
The poker's in the fire
And the locusts take the sky
And the earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming of you

I rewound and replayed the song three times before moving onto the rest of the album.
Never had a song painted such a vivid mental image for me; I pictured Waits as a sickly frog king huddled atop a massive stone grey thrown, a tarnished gold crown perched on his over sized head as he shouts orders at his bloodthirsty army of reanimated skeletons to march on the cowering remains of humanity. (Yeah, the whole scene is very Army of Darkness, but what can I say, I was watching that movie at least twice a week back then.)

The remainder of the album was just as unforgettable and before I knew it I was snapping up as much of Waits music as I could (I even went so far as to spend nearly fifteen bucks on his all time classic, Mule Variations.) and each album was an equally visual experience for me, but none had the same impact as Bone Machine and The Earth Died Screaming.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Stark Terror


A little over a year from his death, Donald Westlake's final unpublished novel, (written in the early sixties), Memory has just been released by Hard Case Crime. You can read my review at Ransom Notes. Besides his prolific prose output Westlake won an Academy Award for his screenplay The Grifters based on the novel by Jim Thompson and directed by Stephen Frears. Frears had visited crime earlier with The Hit starring Terence Stamp, John Hurt and a peroxide blonde Tim Roth. Where The Hit had fun playing with genre staples like hit men and stoic criminals, often to comic payoff, The Grifters went straight into the heart of darkness featuring many Thompson motifs like well grifters, betrayal, incest and murder. It was so dark in fact that Westlake turned down the original offer to adapt the material on that basis. Frears convinced him to take another look at it and consider the story a survival tale from the mother's point of view, (a peroxide blonde Angelica Huston), rather than from the son's (John Cusack). The cast included Annette Bening and J.T. Walsh and a visual style so effortlessly slick you hardly notice it's hell you're sliding recklessly toward. Seriously, the bloom of red emerging late in the film, in the decor, in the blood is scary pretty. If you haven't seen this one, what the hell are you doing still reading this? Fix that, pronto.

Frears returned to crime with 2002's Dirty Pretty Things about illegal immigrants working menial jobs in London, including at a hotel where the staff cow and dodge management's truly disturbing black market retail business. It starred Audrey Tautou and Chiwetel Ejiofor and to my mind evoked Thompson too, (probably the seedy hotel setting).

Dirty Pretty Things shared themes and screenwriter Steven Knight with David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. Once again it centered on the London immigrant underground and the fortunes the cruel make on the refugee. Promises supposedly has a sequel in gestation somewhere with all the major players attached. If any movie ever cried out not to have a sequel... Oh, who am I kidding? I'll be first in line. Disappointed after, maybe, but first in line for sure.

Speaking of first in line, (and Thompson), The Killer Inside Me approaches. If you haven't read that beast, you should. Prepare yourself for Lou Ford's singular brand of simmering, sadistic misogyny and what could be a scorching turn from Casey Affleck.

*

In other news, Tony Black's Pulp Pusher online journal has folded up tents. Bummer. But Crime Factory's Keith Rawson has an offer for anybody ever published at PP.

And as PP falls, Needle rises. I'm hearing things about the lineup for the first issue - aside from my own piece there'll be Patti Abbott, Kieran Shea, Sandrea Seamans, Hilary Davidson, Kent Gowran and Paul Brazill as well as others Steve Weddle and John Hornor Jacobs are keeping under wraps for the time being.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Neither Noir


Jeez, I feel like crap today. I'm kinda happy about that though. In my younger days I could pick just about any day I pleased to lounge about, watching movies, reading books, taking naps. Now it only happens when I'm sick. Yay, sick. What have I got to read here???? Hmmm, lessee Dennis Tafoya's Wolves of Fairmount Park, Bad Ju-Ju and Other Tales of Madness & Mayhem by Jonathan Woods, Vicki Hendricks' Florida Gothic Stories, Mixed Blood by Roger Smith and the new Gabriel Hunt book by Christa Faust. I may stay sick for a while... after I get off work, that is.

Ooh, and flipping through the promotional material for Bad Ju-Ju, I came across a quote from HBW's interview with New Pulp Press publisher Jon Bassoff. How cool is that?

Just finished the first season of Nurse Jackie on DVD last night, (Edie Falco can do anything) and starting the second season of Breaking Bad tonight. I think I'm set for a bit.

Over at Ransom Notes, I'm taking a stab at putting a fence around mystery, crime and noir... just cause. I think it came from reading some Jonathan Lethem essays - dude can write about literature, film and music anytime and I'm on board.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Prince of Ides


Who-hoo! I spent all day yesterday being ware and totally survived. Suck it Caesar. Not only survived, but was very productive. Closing in on this novel I'm calling Peckerwood and Scott Phillips and I put some polish on a television project we're developing. Felt good. Finished the evening with a viewing of Mike Hodges iconic Get Carter. Going to get so much writing done today.

Over at Ransom Notes I'm - no wait - you know all about Ken Bruen, don't need me to say anything. I do spend some time going on about how I like that I can read his books in a day. That's nice for me. Another book I read in a day recently? Robert J. Randisi's Bottom of Every Bottle. Very nearly that for Duane Swierczynski's Expiration Date too.

Next, congratulations go out to Mark in Louisiana and John in Ohio who won the drawing for copies of Scott Wolven's amazing collection Controlled Burn. Alright, Scott, when your next one is a NYT Bestseller, I'll be taking credit for it.

After some confusion, it looks like we'll be throwing a Noir at the Bar event with Dennis Tafoya in June in stead of like next week. Which is good. Means his new one Wolves of Fairmount Park will be available at the event. That's a good thing, yeah?

Steve Weddle says he hopes to have Needle magazine available in a matter of weeks. Jeez, that's fast. But not fast enough. Really looking forward to this new print venture.

Friday, March 12, 2010

I Know Who I Am!


When I was a senior in high school, I watched my very first horror movie. Up till then, horror was that section of the video store that meant nothing to me, didn't even exist as far as I was concerned. That kind of shit was not encouraged in my house, but my eyes were opened by a scary as hell movie disguised as a hardboiled PI flick called Angel Heart. Mickey Rourke, Robert DeNiro and didn't Lisa Bonet get kicked off the Cosby Show for making this twisted pic? Worth it, if she was.

And yeah, I'm a touch more sophisticated a viewer now, I might pick up on the clues a little quicker, but holy crap, when the end, y'know? the ending of that movie? when - yeah, y'know? Totally surprised me. I had no idea. I stayed glued to the TV through that whole amazing end credit sequence and was afraid to turn off the box when it was all over.

I'm not usually one to want that kind of thing in my hardboiled stories. (I've avoided the last couple Jack Taylor books because I didn't want the early stuff to be retroactively colored by that element), but it sure rocked me that first time and opened me up for the experience again.

Over at the Ransom Notes, I give a little love to William Hjortsberg, Joe R. Landsdale, Laura Benedict, Diana Wagman, Charlie Huston and Cullen Bunn.

Also a couple regional dudes tearing up the online crime scene: Malachi Stone has put up another chapter of Conjurer's Oath and Matthew J. McBride has had what six? seven? new stories up since the beginning of the year? That's a lotta links. Check out his blog, Got Pulp?

In other places, Keith Rawson continues his video interview series with a two-parter featuring Craig McDonald whose Print the Legend should be kicking Nicholas Sparks and James Patterson right off the best seller charts about now. Speaking of PTL, there's some great stuff in there about the state of modern narrative fiction, (aint it sad that you know what I mean when I put "narrative" in front of "fiction"?) For that interview check here and here.

Just a couple days left to enter the drawing for a free (used) copy of Scott Wolven's Controlled Burn. Hey, it's free. It's important. I care.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Wolven - Sheep's Clothing: a Contest - Nay Donation


"I am Benny and this is my place. For today, eat your food, finish what you have, enjoy your meal. Do not pay for this meal, since I have talked to you so much, you are my guest." He turned to look at me. "But from now on, you always pay. I know sometimes my son, he trusts. He trusts Greg when he has no money, because he knows Greg works, and now he will probably trust you, because you work with Greg." The old man shook his head. "Well, this is Benny talking. You hunt the underdogs and that is your business. But no more trust. Hunting men is not working, in my eyes. " He got up from the stool and walked slowly toward the kitchen. He stopped and talked quietly with his son sweating behind the grill, and I heard the old man's words. No more trust.

Scott Wolven is a writer who says it straight up, direct and without any flair. How then does he pack so much between the lines of his sparse prose? And how is it that the absolutely toughest fiction I've read in... also has the one of the most vulnerable hearts beating beneath its leathery skin?

His short stories have become a regular feature of the Best American Short Stories yearly anthologies and his collection of short stories Controlled Burn places many of those stories into a loosely linked narrative to even greater devastating effect and friends if you haven't read it the time to act is now. If you've found anything on this here blog you liked - this book is for you. Literally.

I'll give you one.

Yeah, I've got a couple extra copies and I will pass those on to somebody in need. Here's all I ask - read the fucker. Now, my throwdown copies aren't collector's editions - these are thoroughly used books, but they will read true. Click on my profile on the right hand side of the screen for my email address and send me an address to ship one to. On the off chance there are more than two of you out there who haven't got their own copies, I'll draw two names next week out of those who respond.

If you don't know who Scott is, you can check out some of his fiction right here on Thuglit or Plots With Guns. Anybody who has a copy of Sex, Thugs & Rock and Roll can find one Scott's pieces in there too.

And for those of you already enthusiastic about Mr. Wolven, check this out.

On to other things.

Over at Ransom Notes I flog the dead horse of genre slumming by "literary" writers.

New Pulp Press has released their reprint of Lynn Kostoff's A Choice of Nightmares. These guys have got serious game. Each book from them is a solid piece of literature and this one's no exception. The blurb from Sara Gran on the back says it well... where is my copy? Shit, it was a nice blurb... where the hell? Anyway it went something like - starts out in Carl Hiassen territory and ends as a Jim Thompson novel. Nice - huh? It was originally published in 1991 and it's a kick to read and be reminded how much things have changed, (and stayed the same). It reminded me a bit of David Corbett's The Devil's Redhead in that both were about relative innocents playing outlaw in the drug game when that was still possible, then they find out that whenever there's that much money trading hands, there's no more room for innocence. Get a chance, check out the documentary Cocaine Cowboys for another example of what I'm talking about. Buncha hippie pilots turned outlaws flying that shit in for fun and crazy amounts of money. Things got ugly fast.

Do Some Damage contributor and fictioneer Steve Weddle announced a brand new ink on paper crime magazine Needle. He's running this monster and it looks from the cover that Patti Abbott and Kieran Shea are already on board. Looks like one of my pieces'll be included if I can slip it by fellow DSD offender and HBW friend Scott D. Parker who's helping out with the editing. I'm excited by this idea kids.

Keith Rawson and Pete Dragovich, The Nerd of Noir have begun supplying content for Sandra Ruttan's Spinetingler Magazine and Keith put up a killer print interview with Wake Up Dead author Roger Smith

Kyle Minor's story The Truth and all it's Ugly which first appeared in Surreal South '07 is online now and worth your damn time. Have a hankie handy. Kyle and Scott W. along with Donald Ray Pollock really bring the pain to crime fiction.

Dope Thief author, Dennis Tafoya is giving away ARCs of his new book Wolves in Fairmount Park to reviewers and bloggers.

And speaking of Dennis, Scott Phillips and I are trying to get some Noir @ the Bar events lined up soon, including one with Mr. T. as well as Tim Lane, Laura Benedict and Pinckney Benedict (who has got a new book of short fiction coming very soon!!!). So stay tuned for news on that front.

Also, I wanted to give Stark House Press a little love, 'cause they're also putting out some great reprints as well as new shit including Charlie Stella's Johnny Porno, but I inadvertently left them out of the Ransom Notes post. My fault.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Panty Shield: or That Whole Sex Thing


So, I got some unsolicited feedback on my short story Miriam (Surreal South '09) recently. They were disappointed that Miriam wasn't a "strong" character. First, I thanked them for spending their own money on the book and taking the time to read my story - I really appreciate it - and then I said "Are you kidding?" Girl's strong like I wish I were.

"But she's a victim."

"You just mean people do some awful things to her. But she keeps getting back up. That's tough. That's strength."

But frankly, I don't get the whole wish for "strong" characters. I mean, I do, but strength is only interesting when it's juxtaposed with weakness or frailty. I've never been interested in Superman y'know? If he's invincible, where's the drama?

I got similar feedback after a screening of Mosquito Kingdom. People said things like "You have some interesting issues with women." To which I replied, "Why do you say that?" "Because they got beat up. Killed." "So did the dudes." "Yeah, but..."

But nothing.

I was watching a commentary track that featured four of the female cast members on an episode of The Shield’s third season, (incidentally, they dubbed their session The Panty Shield - not me) recently. They were discussing their careers and their shared experiences as women and actors. They counted themselves fortunate to be involved with the show and each recounted hearing from and sympathizing with other actresses about the lack of “strong” roles available for women. C.C.H. Pounder spoke up and said, I don’t want a “strong” role, I want an interesting one. Here here. Who craves a “strong” role, anyway? Wouldn’t you say that Steven Seagal plays “strong” roles? Is that what you want? Really?

Over at Ransom Notes I’ve given a list of books I’d like to see adapted to film featuring good lead roles for women by Sara Gran, Katie Estill, Megan Abbott, Theresa Schwegel, Sophie Littlefield and Vicki Hendricks. And yeah, we all love to pick on Hollywood, especially on Oscar weekend, but the following are some examples of film makers and actresses who’ve done some really great work recently.

The flat out best surprise I’ve had from a movie in the last year was Tilda Swinton as the title character in Julia directed by Erick Zonca. And she is far from strong, folks. Julia is a mess, an alcoholic party girl nearing the end of the party. When she loses her job, she’s forced to take stock of her life and it aint pretty. One night she passes out outside of her apartment and wakes up in the neighbor’s place. A desperate neighbor, with a plan to get her own life back on track and make a little money too – all she needs is a partner. I am absolutely not going to tell you anything else about the plot because you’ve got to see it to believe it. And don’t any of you go watch a trailer for this little gem, ‘cause they give away so much that is better experienced with a cold viewing. What I will say is that every time you think she’s hit the bottom, Julia gets out her shovel and digs further and Tilda Swinton delivers the gutsiest performance of her career, the kind that really deserves some recognition.

I first noticed Melissa Leo in 21 Grams as Benicio Del Toro’s long suffering wife. It was a small role, but she caught my eye with her something. She drew upon that same something in Tommy Lee Jones’s The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada as a diner waitress in a Texas border town cuckolding her husband alternately with TLJ and Dwight Yoakam and probably half the town, but it wasn’t until her starring role in Frozen River, (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award incidentally) that we really got the full benefit of her screen presence. She plays a woman on the ass end of New York state robbed and abandoned by her husband and quickly loosing ground in the struggle to provide for her children. She ends up partnering with a Mohawk woman smuggling human cargo into the country by driving them in her car over the movie's titular aspect. Again, I don't want to spoil plot points, but it's a great movie and a fierce performance. (Leo is who I picture as the lead in a movie version of A Bad Day For Sorry btw).

The way Famke Janssen bent over a pool table and looked at me from the cover finally convinced me to forgo my hatred of the title and rent Turn the River. It was one of those titles designed to cash in on the popularity of Texas Hold 'Em poker with a clever play on some of the game's terminology. The title paired with the image of the pool hustling hottie on the cover smacked of a "hip" movie desperately trying to achieve Color of Money cool, but thank god, the film didn't deliver on those promises. It's a drama that does feature a gambling/hustling hottie, but those elements are not the focus of the pic. Janssen plays a woman recently released from prison, (she went down for running an illegal card game) just trying to make ends meet. She's got to figure out what to do with the rest of her life. Figuring into her figuring are an asshole ex and his full custody of their son who she can see only when she sets up clandestine appointments with him. It's a little movie. Solid, if not spectacular, (a balance I appreciate).

Couple of others I'll toss out there - Ashley Judd in William Friedkin's Bug. Always knew she was hot, but holy shit, she'd kept her "acting" talents a secret for a long time. It was a role that demanded a lot of her and she delivers big time. She fuckin went there, man. Not a perfect movie, in fact I think I read somewhere that it was the most critically reviled picture of the last ten years, but I loved it. Samantha Morton too, is one of those actresses that I sense is up for anything and though I haven't seen her in a leading role yet, she's great in pics like Woody Allen's Sweet and Low Down, Jesus' Son, (from the Dennis Johnson book) and Michael Winterbottom's Code 46 - who says sci-fi has to be "big"? That one deserves another look.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mr. Rogers' Dangerous Neighborhood



Stephen D. Rogers is a short story writing maniac. As soon as your output goes into triple digits, my eyes cross. I bow to the numbers and humbly submit that maybe I aint shit. He's been published in places like Mouth Full of Bullets, Pulp Pusher, Spinetingler Magazine, Powder Burn Flash, Thrilling Detective, Beat to a Pulp and uh, Chicken Soup for the Mothers of Preschooler's Soul as well as many others.

To promote his new book of short stories, Shot to Death, Mr. Rogers is on what? a month long blog crawl posting on the first lines of the stories contained therein. In March he'll be posting at HBW friends' spots like those of Cullen Gallagher, Paul Brazill, Patti Abbott and Patrick Shawn Bagley. Incidentally, S2D has been collecting some kudos from folks like Linda Barnes, Kate Flora and Richard Helms. Not bad.

Take it away, neighbor.


I must have been strangling this asshole for twenty minutes
when somebody shot him dead.

- WHACKING FOR GOMEZ

So begins one of the 31 stories contained in SHOT TO DEATH
(ISBN 978-0982589908). Within that beginning lurks the ending
to the story and everything that happens between the beginning
and the end. Or at least it seems that way to me.

This first line came to me out of a response to rereading
Raymond Chandler on writing: "When in doubt, have a man come
through a door with a gun in his hand."

Why wait until I'm in doubt? Why not have the man with the
gun come through the door in the first sentence? And so I
did.

The strangling-for-twenty-minutes bit told me the story was
going to be lighthearted, even if the sentence did end with
"dead." I also knew that there was going to be competition
involved, as two people seemed determined to kill the
deceased.

There's another type of competition happening. The narrator
is using a hands-on approach, which is taking a long time
and doesn't seem to be working. The competing mechanical
approach not only works quickly, it allows the bullet to
appear before the man who pulls the trigger.

While the sentence does require that second man to appear,
it does not tell me anything about him other than he knows
how to shoot. Well, that's not true. The sentence tells
me about the narrator, and as the shooter has been set up
as the narrator's opposite, I can and will develop him with
that in mind.

All that remains is the writing.

For a chance to win a signed copy of SHOT TO DEATH, click over here, and submit your completed entry.

Then visit the schedule to see how you can march along.

And then come back here to post your comments. Phew.

Stephen D. Rogers is the author of SHOT TO DEATH
(ISBN 978-0982589908) and more than six hundred stories
and poems. He's the head writer at Crime Scene (where
viewers solve interactive mysteries) and a popular
writing instructor. For more information, you can
visit his website, www.stephendrogers.com, where he tries
to pull it all together.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

He Say You Brade Runner


Over at Ransom Notes today I confess my geeked out devotion to Blade Runner and Jonathan Lethem whose Gun With Occasional Music made me decide that I could write a book and whose The Disappointment Artist almost made me quit writing, cause I knew I would never be that good. Incidentally, though I talk about his mysteries, (Motherless Brooklyn being the other), his post-apocalyptic tome Amnesia Moon, I’d highly recommend to anybody with a taste for that kind of thing. Think of it as a moodier, slightly less zany Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse. And if that one is up your alley, do yourself a favor and see Neil Marshall’s Doomsday. Really. Seriously. He’s the new John Carpenter.

Speaking of genre-bending wisenheimers, check out Rod Norman’s interview with Duane Swierczynski over at Signs & Wonders. Rod’s been burning through the interviews like there’s no tomorrow. Maybe there isn’t. Think I’m watching Doomsday again tonight.

And while we’re talking interviews, Keith Rawson continues his impressive, most impressive video series over at BSC with Dennis Tafoya and there should be a Craig McDonald piece soon. Between his short story output, the resurrection of Crime Factory the BSC gig and being everywhere on the interweb at once, I don’t know how he keeps it up. He’s probably on drugs. Which I am not endorsing. At all.

And on the unflagging determination tilt, tune in tomorrow when Stephen D. Rogers guest blogs here, promoting his new collection of short stories Shot to Death. Dude has published more than 500 short stories and essays including a Chicken Soup for the Soul contribution. I don’t think that one’s in the new book.

Paul Brazill has been given some rough treatment over here. His pain is our entertainment.

Barry Hannah is gone. Damn.

I have a rash you wouldn't believe.