Friday, September 25, 2015

Noirth Carolina

Looking forward to seeing everybody at Bouchercon. I'm not registered for shit, but I know where the bar is. In fact if you can stagger around the corner on Thursday night, come join me a N@B shindig Eryk Pruitt is throwing and watch me fight Les Edgerton, Eric Beetner, Christa Faust, Thomas Pluck, Eric Beetner, Joe Clifford, Jen Conley, Ed Kurtz, Tom Pitts and Steve Lauden for any spot in the lineup that isn't after Johnny Shaw. Nobody's gonna want that mic - just leave it on the floor and back away. He's one of the best live readers I've never read with, but it appears my streak is ending.

If you've got a copy of Noir at the Bar vol. 2 you bring to get signed - Les and I'll deface your shit gladly and I'm hoping to see St. Louis to Raleigh transplant and N@B alum Shaw Coney at the event too (check your book for the story Dead By Dawn - and Les's story A Streetcar Not Named Desire - which is probably the reason his novel The Genuine Imitation Plastic Kidnapping seemed familiar). 

I've got good news for those of you who can't get to Bouchercon, but are dying to hear me blather. Monday morning (10am EST) I'll be on this here The Crime Scene radio show with senor Pruitt and David Terreniore. We'll be talking southern crime stuffs in order to prepare all the tenderfoots coming to B'con the week after.

Want some more good news? Branfuckingnew motherfucking Scott Wolven motherfuckers! Check out his story Playboy in Playboy (which gives me a swell idea about where to pitch my story Black Tail!) or hey you can read it online at the website. Now it's a weekend. You're welcome.

Oh and check this the hell out - James Patterson was asked to name some of his favorite books and... there're some pretty damn good books on his list - notably The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips, Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg, The Wanderers by Richard Price and Night Dogs by Kent Anderson. It's been a long wait for another from Anderson, but it loooooks like the wait could be over soon. Dennis McMillan (who says Patterson used to buy Rick DeMarinis from him too!) mentioned Green Sun would be coming next year (wait... did he say next year or was that wishful hearing on my part?) Anywho - if you can't wait, Gonzalo Baeza tracked down this link to the first chapter online. Thanks, man.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Only IFF

The Partisan - d: Ariel Kleiman w: Ariel Kleiman, Sarah Cyngler

Very Big Shot - d: Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya w: Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya, Alain Saadeh

Hardcore - w/d: Ilya Naishuller

Monday, September 21, 2015

2015 in Crime Flicks

Belly - Hype Williams - The actual fuck? This flick has it all and not nearly enough. Not really sure what I was expecting, but this story of boyhood friends whose neighborhood alliance grows into a criminal empire that eventually topples making way the barbarians at the gate plays like a pastiche of every crime flick, music video and ecstasy/acid vision you've ever entertained blasting hip-hop in your car. It's gorgeous and stylish as hell, makes very little sense and its impact is like a cubist ode to Scarface and Donald Goines. Some sequences are brilliant and others are so amateurish they'd make Mallrats era Kevin Smith cringe. The fluidity and versatility of the visual sensibility is juxtaposed with leaden, whispery narration so heavy and uninspired you'll be rushing for the theatrical cut of Blade Runner. The film jumps from groovy club vibes to hallucinatory encounters dripping with real menace in exotic Jamaican locale to scenes of domestic melodrama worthy of Tommy Wiseau to action set pieces part John Woo and part The Last Dragon. I honestly can't decide if Williams is a hack or a visionary director, but it's an experience I will try again some time, though maybe 3am, failing-cognitive-functions viewings are the best way to experience it. Best moment: I loved every moment of the Omaha scenes, especially when Method Man crashes Tyrin Turner's club. Fucking nuts.

Black Sea - Kevin McDonald - What ever happened to the adventure movie? Why don't we see more fare like this? A dirty dozen of out of work sailors put together a crew in a hurry to recover Nazi gold from the bottom of the ocean under the nose of various world governments. It's a dangerous, dirty job, but the recovery is the least of their problems - once recovered, can they survive each other? Damn, this one was a breath of fresh air. Great cast - Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Scoot McNairy and Michael Smiley and a crew of 'that guy' faces. Great premise. Great looking small-scale, large-scale adventure/thriller. I want more. Best moment: just the shot of the whole crew riding a bus on the way to the job - everybody lost in silent contemplation of their lot or goal or absolutely nothing - they got me. Probably haven't responded to a sequence like that since I saw Reservoir Dogs as a teenager.

Casino Royale - Martin Campbell - Honestly I've never been a big James Bond fan. That either elevates the importance of my opinion here or completely discounts it. Either way, this is easily in my top two favorites of the series (the other being From Russia With Love) as it appeals to what appeals to me generally - as opposed to specifically about Bond. For the franchise it's low-fi and nasty and packs a sucker punch of an ending. It works on a meta-level better than Skyfall did, has fun with its own tropes while hitting all the fan-base expected beats. Looks terrific, has great and very silly action set pieces that it manages to convince you are gritty, is populated by always welcomed faces like Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Wright and Judi Dench and sets up Daniel Craig's run in the role with a through line of both plot and character arc. Nice. It's got to be said though - that long poker sequence represents the worst of the franchise's pandering, the worst of gambling movies in general and is so terribly paced and structured I'm tempted to think of it as the film makers going all Andy Kaufman on our collective asses. Best moment: the opening chase sequence is a thesis for the producer's intent for the picture and the future of the franchise.

Chappie - Neal Blomkamp - I'm a defender of Elysium - Blomkamp's critically panned sophomore effort - believing that the exciting bits of that picture (specifically the amazing world-building, the look, feel and tactile immediacy of everything on screen) far outweighed its flaws (heaviness of hand, and casting - Matt Damon was probably just the wrong guy for the role - but I actually loved Sharlto Copley as the heavy - he was terrifyingly incomprehensible), and I reserved the right to remain excited for Chappie despite all the terrible reviews. Holy crap, though, this is a disaster. Disaster may not be the right word. 'Disaster' should be reserved for something that seems like a good idea and goes terribly wrong. I'll give you that making a robo-centric futuristic crime film by the guy who made the 'bots in Elysium is a promising premise, but a RoboCop/Short Circuit mash up (which it is so embarrassingly clearly meant to be) sounds awful from jumpstreet. Still - it's not without bright spots. I submit for your consideration: the world - gah - makes it more the pity such wonderfully realized setting was created in service of shit snack. Also: Hugh Jackman's haircut. It's awesome. I'd like some industrious fans to recut and re-dub this thing and see if there's something salvageable, but they'd have their work cut out for them (probably a kick-ass half-hour short film in there without all the Pinocchio shit). Best moment: any time you can arrange for Die Antwood to shoot neon-colored machine guns in a Jo'burg slum I'm down.

Empire State - Dito Montiel - Director Montiel has got an admirable sensibility. He makes the kind of low-budget crime pictures of appealing scope with a focus on character and atmosphere that I wish we got more of, but intent and taste alone a masterpiece do not guarantee. This story of neighborhood schmoes knocking over the armored transport business is charmingly low-fi and rooted in characters none-too-smart, but not quite farcically portrayed which I appreciate, but the cast is mismatched to the material. Liam Hemsworth is a little bland at the center (could see Channing Tatum or Boogie Nights era Mark Wahlberg being good fits for the role), and Dwayne Johnson is too big and anachronistic a presence in his supporting role (in an 1970s period drama) which causes the film to wobble some. The biggest problem is probably Michael Angarano's big swing at the juiciest role as the fuck up best pal of the main character. He's alternately likable and (appropriately) pathetic, but trying so hard his acting muscles show through some pretty flimsy material at times. Swing and a foul tip here. Props to Hemsworth for moving toward material like this one and this year's similarly-scaled-in-ambition Cut Bank (maybe we'll get a compelling presence molded from him yet), as well as Johnson for the same reason. Paul Ben-Victor is always a welcome presence and Chris Diamantopoulos is effectively menacing. Best moment: Eddie crashes the shift.

Furious 7 - James Wan - Is it nitpicking to criticize the seventh installment in an over the top action franchise about superheroes who drive cars for being a bit bloated and indulgent? Well. It's still a gas and a laugh, but man, the climax of this one was like some Return of the Jedi shit cutting back and forth betwixt foot chases, car chases, helicopter chases and computer hacking. It lacks the clarity of the action in say Fast Five's climactic heist/chase or even the highway tank chase of installment six. But the parachuting cars/mountain convoy assault was inspired and the jumping between sky skrapers was some laugh out loud shit. If a hateful eighth is on the way, they may as well collect my money now. Best moment: Roman don't want to fly.

Killers - Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto - I'm over serial killers. Or though I was until The Chaser and I Saw the Devil took me around blind corners at a relentless pace and revealed exciting new places to take the genre. This one is stylistically assured and a good looking horror show, but it's back to diminishing returns on torture and the 'relationship' of a thrill killer and his internet apprentice. If I never see a pretty lady in negligee screaming in anticipation of mutilation again I'm fine with that. Best moment: the reporter's sexual assault is an off-balance set piece and weirdly compelling. Too bad the rest of the film didn't jump sideways the way that scene did.

Penny Dreadful Season 1 - John Logan - This mashup of gothic horror stories is a pretty brilliant premise, but placing characters from the works of Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson and probably several I'm not even picking up on into supporting roles in crisscrossing narratives only opens the door. Once through the looking glass the writers and cast have to make the audience stick around with original material or at least new wrinkles. It's a lush production supported by a game cast and a central story compelling enough to warrant my return for the second season (already aired - anyone? Bueller?). Best moment: couldn't pick just one, but I'm sure it's somewhere in Eva Green's eyes.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Massachusetts Black

James 'Whitey' Bulger has long been a looming figure in popular crime fictions much like Carlos the Jackal  was in the 70s and 80s - a larger than life living legend, romanticized, mythologized and loved to be hated - the subject of numerous true crime books and many more speculative fictions - a stand in boogie man to fit the author's fiendish needs. Real life Keyser Sozes. Until they were captured. When Carlos was apprehended in 1994 and the world got a look at the paunchy terrorist some of the air was let out of the reputation. This was the guy?

When news broke in 2011 that after more than 16 years in the wind Whitey Bulger had been arrested - the era of anything goes Bulger fiction appeared to be over and the new age of reckoning with the devil we knew was going to get messier. Bulger's Winter Hill Gang ruled south Boston for decades, making copious monies from bank robbery, vending machines, drugs, racketeering and uh, jai alai. To further and protect their interests violence, including murder, was employed. But what made Winter Hill, and Bulger in particular, so notable to those who spin stories were three factors:

His brother - William Bulger was a lawyer and eventually a Massachusetts State Senator whose influence was speculated to have been achieved and maintained through a symbiotic relationship with his brother's. This has not been proven, but the suggestion has proven fertile soil for the imagination of writers of fact and fictions.

His accomplice - Special Agent John Connolly of the FBI was a Southie kid who grew up in the shadow of neighborhood big shot Bulger and who became Bulger's handler (though flunkie is the popular portrait). Bulger informed to Connolly on rival criminals, including The Angiulo brothers (and Connolly received a lot of credit in helping to dismantle la Cosa Nostra in Boston), in exchange for tips and protection from prosecution. Through the interference of Connolly on their behalf Bulger's and the Winter Hill gang's operations effectively had free reign with assistance from the federal government.

His disappearance - Tipped off by Connolly of his impending arrest in 1995, Bulger got the fuck outta Dodge and lived in the ether for a decade and a half. With his seeming clean getaway he appeared to have gotten away with everything and he shared a long-term slot on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List alongside the like of Osama Bin Laden. Who knew what he was up to in the meantime? That's where the fictions really got rich.

One thing was clear - Bulger left a lot of friends and associates holding the bag. Many of them have told their own stories and all "true accounts" should be taken with a mountain of salt, but they do make for interesting reading and, in their corroborations and contradictions, add dimension and color to what will eventually be the accepted definitive history.

Check out

Brutal by Kevin Weeks


Deadly Alliance by Ralf Ranalli


Howie Carr has written several non-fiction books on The Winter Hill Gang's exploits - The Brothers Bulger, Hitman about Johnny Martorano and Rifleman about Steve Flemmi

Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill wrote The Underboss about the North Boston mafia as well as Whitey: The Life of America's Most Notorious Mob Boss

Lehr and O'Neill also wrote the book that's just been adapted by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth and directed by Scott Cooper, Black Mass

Whitey - the documentary directed by Joe Berlinger

But... I've got a special affection for the straight-up fictions inspired by the debacle... like -

Pariah by Dave Zeltserman - whew! Blaaackest novel of his Man Out of Prison thematic trilogy. Zeltserman lets his inner psychopath off the leash creating monsters clearly inspired by the Winter Hill cast's exploits and late celebrity. You've been warned.

Martin Scorsese's The Departed was an American remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, but Jack Nicholson's Frank Costello was screenwriter William Monahan riffing on Whitey's two faces.

Showtime's Brotherhood created by Blake Masters was looking to fill the soon to be appearing gap in pop culture by the final exit of HBO's reigning organized crime family drama The Sopranos and told the story of the Caffee brothers - the younger, Tommy (Jason Clarke), is a politician and the older, Michael (Jason Isaacs), is a gangster who come out of hiding and returns to Providence after the last witness against him turns up dead. The Caffee's resemblance to the brothers Bulger is well...

Brotherhood isn't the only Showtime program to wear its Bulger influence on its sleeve. The first season of Ray Donovan features none other than James Woods playing cold-blooded Boston gangster in hiding Patrick 'Sully' Sullivan who risks blowing his cover by coming out in the daylight to kill Jon Voight. Sully is even traveling with his girlfriend who's driving him crazy on their cross country trip overly-fond of her dog. Bulger's lady on the lam friend Catherine Elizabeth Greig was reportedly an animal lover and authorities speculated that the couple may have been visiting animal shelters wherever the blue hell they were in the world.

With it's Boston locale and cast of criminal losers ratting each other out in exchange for favored treatment from law enforcement it's tempting to throw George V. Higgins' The Friends of Eddie Coyle into the mix here, but its 1970 publication predates the unholy alliance of Bulger and the FBI by a couple of years, so we'll just call it inspired by prophecy (Higgins, as a prosecutor, was perhaps bearing witness to what was a more common occurrence than the official record would have us know).

I haven't read it yet, but Howie Carr is returning to Bulger-land with Killers, a work of fiction that imagines fallout from the scramble to fill the power vacuum left in southie after the downfall of the Winter Hill gang.

The truth is ugly, and the consequences of corruption won't be played out for generations, but the story of what went down in Boston, the black mass, the deal with the devil, is the rich narrative stuff we tell ourselves again and again to explain our own complicity, worst impulses and possible fates.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

And Make it Snappy: The Legend of 'The Alligator Man' Joe Ball

A couple months ago Adam Howe published a terrific guest piece here about the late actor Joe Spinell, whom he claims to always be writing roles for. I'm happy to say he's back today with another piece about another influence - the legend of The Alligator Man Joe Ball. Howe's writing is steeped in the influence of trashy exploitation cinema, but the temperature of his interest, purity of his appreciation and the keen, empathetic, critical eye he applies to the subject elevates the material out of the rubbish bin it is sometimes relegated to. Comes through in his writing too. Earlier this year Comet Press released a collection of novellas from Howe, Black Cat Mojo, which read like exploitation fiction accidentally infused with soul. His latest novella, Gator Bait is a straight-up crime story that isn't fucking kidding around.

So check out this piece on Ball and then get your eyes on some of Adam's fiction (perhaps his story Clean-Up on Aisle 3 in the latest issue of Thuglit alongside another ace HBW guest contributor, Eryk Pruitt, as well as Thomas Pluck, Mike Miner, Don LaPlant, J. David Jaggers, Nikki Dolson and Brandon Patterson)






AND MAKE IT SNAPPY
The Legend of ‘The Alligator Man’ Joe Ball
By Adam Howe

Name’s Buck,” says the whorehouse john as he unzips his fly: “an’ I’m rarin’ to fuck.”  Buck (played by a pre-Freddy fame Robert Englund) likes it the French way – that’s in the ass, non-French speakers. The whore ain’t happy about it and she puts up a fight… So begins Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, the director’s follow-up to his 1974 breakout hit The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  (Though chances are you’ll remember the line from movie magpie Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol.1)
 
In this sleazy Psycho riff we meet ole Judd, batshit-insane owner of The Starlight, a tumbledown bayou hotel cum scuzzy menagerie. Judd’s star attraction is a giant Nile crocodile he keeps well fed on his unsuspecting guests. (Although one look at the place and they shouldn’t be too unsuspecting.) When the whore from the opening scene finds herself a guest of the Starlight, it isn’t long before the psychotically repressed Judd starts reaching for his weapon of choice, a big-ass Grim Reaper scythe, and carves her into chunks of gator chow.

Compared to Hooper’s classic Texas Chainsaw, which has retained its power to disturb decades after its release, Eaten Alive is – frankly – a piece of shit. The direction is uneven at best. Performances range from bad to worse. Actors vie to out-improvise each other and at times appear to be acting in completely different movies. The sets are clunky and visibly wobble. The fake crocodile sucks…
 
Watching Eaten Alive, and much of the Hooper’s subsequent output, you can’t help but feel the director caught lightning in a bottle with Texas Chainsaw. He never quite repeated the trick, despite showing flashes of brilliance in his TV adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, and killer carnies flick The Funhouse. (Let’s face it, Spielberg at the very least quarterbacked Poltergeist.) And yet, for the connoisseur of good bad movies, Eaten Alive is not without dubious charms.
 
Highlights include:

Neville Brand as ole Judd – whether he’s chasing victims through the ramshackle hotel with his unwieldy scythe, or just shambling about the shithole delivering boozy monologues, Brand’s committed performance rivals Joe Spinell in Maniac for bug-eyed intensity.

William Finley’s insane improvisations as a feckless husband and father who might be even crazier than Judd. (Hooper appears to have fed Finley a hit of acid and then let him rip.)
   The nightmare image of a monkey slowly dying in its cage.
   Judd’s giant croc devouring Finley’s daughter’s dog, plus a whole host of human folks – for a backwoods hotel, the Starlight has an unfeasibly high turnover of guests.

Like Texas Chainsaw before it, which was inspired by the exploits of everybody’s favourite grave-robbing ghoul Ed Gein, Eaten Alive takes its cue from another real-life monster: Joe ‘The Alligator Man’ Ball.  For the most detailed account of the case, I urge you to read the Texas Monthly article by Michael Hall: Two Barmaids, Five Alligators, and the Butcher of Elmendorf.
 
But here’s the skinny:
 
The most widely published photo of Joe Ball shows a rough n’ tumble sumbitch wearing a strongman leotard and clutching a pint bottle of hooch. After fighting on the front lines during World War I, Ball made his living as a Prohibition-era bootlegger. When Amendment 18 was repealed, he opened a tavern in Elmendorf, South Texas: The Sociable Inn. Place had good liquor and pretty waitresses – Ball had an eye for the ladies – but what really drew the crowds were the alligators Ball kept in a pit out back. He’d entertain folks with live feedings of cats and dogs to his pets. When a number of women were reported missing – including Sociable waitresses, Ball’s girlfriends, and his wife – the law arrived at the tavern to question Ball. Agreeing to accompany the cops into town, Ball first asked permission to empty the cash register. Instead he pulled a pistol and fired a fatal shot through his own heart. In the investigation that followed, a handyman named Clifford Wheeler confessed to being Ball’s accomplice in as many as twenty murders, with the gators devouring the evidence. The San Antonio zoo later adopted Ball’s reptilian accomplices and the gators became macabre tourist attractions.

Despite there never being any concrete evidence that Ball ever fed his victims to the gators, once the pulp writers got their grubby mitts on the story, tales of ‘The Alligator Man’ tossing live victims to his ravenous reptiles became legend.
 
A legend that endures to this day – inspiring Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, soon to be re-released as a Blu-Ray Special Edition…and more recently, a limey punk named Adam Howe, whose new novella Gator Bait is available now.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

8 Hours of My Future Predicted

Mekko - w/d: Sterlin Harjo

Dealer - d: Jean Luc Herbulot w: Jean Luc Herbulot, Samy Baaroun

Alleluia - d: Fabrice Du Welz w: Fabrice Du Welz, Romain Protat, Vincent Tavier

Carol - d: Todd Haynes w: Patricia Highsmith, Phyllis Nagy

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Girl in the Lime Green Dress: CriMemoir by Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor is an Assistant District Attorney in Travis County, Texas and author of the Hugo Marston series of books. His latest, The Hollow Man, is a stand alone thriller set in Austin. His contribution to the CriMemoir series draws on experiences as a prosecutor and y'know, based on this piece, I'd say it sounds like a good place to take inspiration from.

Girl in the Lime Green Dress: CriMemoir by Mark Pryor

I sat at the prosecutor's table and waited for the jailers to bring in the prisoner. Keys jangled on the other side of the steel door, which finally opened with a clank. All eyes watched as two burly deputies escorted her into the courtroom, shackled at the wrists, the ankles, the waist. She was tiny. A crumpled, pale, waif of a girl and her eyes were wide with something that could have been terror, or surprise. Maybe even hope.

She shuffled before the judge, standing there in her prison pajamas, the black stripes faded to gray and the white stripes dirtied with age and use. They hung from her narrow shoulders, she was the image of a broken bird in drab and dropping feathers.

She was there to ask the judge to take part in the county’s drug court program, a way for her to get clean and stave off the heroin charge she had pending, a serious felony. Those in the program attended court once a week, engaged in treatment and classes, and when they finished their required steps I dismissed the charges. I liked doing that because I believe in rehabilitation over punishment--for most crimes, but especially for drug offenses.

We all watched, me, the judge, defense counsel, and the thirty or so participants in the courtroom, as her soft voice pleaded with the judge to let her into the program, promised she'd succeed, vowed to stay off the drug that was killing her. The judge, a kindly old man, was always going to welcome her in but she wasn't to know that, and so the desperation in her voice, combined with her pathetic figure, captivated us all.

"You'll come back to court next week, you understand?" the judge said.

"Yes, sir, I'll be here, I promise."

She signed some papers at the bench, awkwardly because of the handcuffs, and then she shuffled away through that steel door, back to her cell. I expect she was released a few hours later.

The same time the next week we were back in court, thirty or so t-shirt and jeans-wearing ruffians, former gang members, construction workers, unemployed drifters, all chaffing at the strictures of the drug court program but playing along to get clean, or at least keep their records clean. The bailiff announced the arrival of the judge and a hush settled over the courtroom as he took his seat. He looked at the docket, the list of people supposed to be there. Maybe he'd forgotten about the waif of a girl, I know I had.

And then the double doors to the court swung inwards and, in that quiet moment, we turned to see who it was, completely unprepared for the woman who’d entered, a woman transformed.

She wore a lime green dress, fitted and a little retro, with bright red shoes that seemed to make her ten inches taller. She walked with her head held high, not looking at anyone, and her hair had gone from a tangled mess to a coiffed, shining elegance. She was still pale but her skin seemed to glow now, alabaster. She looked like a 1950's movie star, not just her appearance but her bearing. We were all, every one of us, dumbstruck.

I don't remember the rest of that evening in court. All I recall of the evening was her entrance and the effect she had on us all, the transformation that resonated and confused me.

What I do remember is that she never came back.

In subsequent weeks her name was called by the bailiff but she wasn’t there to respond, and her assigned counselor said she'd not even reported for her initial intake. No one, as far as I know, ever saw her again and I assumed, I suppose we all did, that she’d fallen back into the grasp of the drug that wanted to possess her forever. A drug that, if she didn’t escape it, would one day put her back in handcuffs, in prison rags, and eventually into a grave.

My novel Hollow Man started that second night of drug court, started with her. Two moments with the same human being, flashes of a person who could be in the same place but appear as two utterly opposite things--a shell of a girl, drawn thin and desperate by heroin, and a glamorous, startlingly confident and beautiful woman. Those conflicting images stayed with me for years, and I couldn't stop thinking about how we can be such different versions of ourselves, not just the things we become but the way people see us. Who they think we are. And how they can never really know.

Another true story set me to writing the book. The girl in the lime green dress had smoldered in my imagination for more than two years, waiting for something to bring her to life on the page. It happened over beers one night when a friend told me about a client, a man from Central America who came to Austin and bought a trailer, fixed it up, and rented it out. With the money from that venture he bought another one and fixed it up also, and again rented it out. He continued doing this, one more trailer, then another, driving to each one at the end of the month to collect his rent. He did this for two years. By the time I heard this story the man had around a hundred trailers and, because old habits die hard, he continued collecting his rent, by himself, in cash. Can you imagine, my friend asked, how much cash he has in the back of his van every month?

I could. I could well imagine it, and I also knew I had to put this story into one of my own. I connected them, this quirky, daring Central American businessman, with the beautiful, anonymous girl with alabaster skin, using a sociopathic musician called Dominic. A man who wanted a conventional life, who wanted the normal trappings of a successful career, but a man who wasn't as he seemed, a man who could never be normal no matter how much he wanted it. Like the entrepreneur, he worked hard along the fringes of society but like the girl in green, his demons would out him.

A character tells the tale of the trailer-renting man early in the book, and Dominic and some friends talk about his cash-filled van, a discussion that leads them to give their ideas as to what makes the perfect crime. They don't agree on the elements, and it becomes clear to Dominic that what's perfect for one isn't for another.

Quite soon, the question of the perfect crime becomes more than just theoretical. The girl in the green dress is a central character, too (of course!), and together she and Dominic are faced with the consequences of a crime they’ve cooked up.

This is the tipping point of the story, when Dominic has to decide whether to release the demons living inside in order to save himself, or whether he should try to contain them. One choice puts his survival into his own hands, the other leaves any salvation to the vagaries of chance.

Photo by Dylan O'Donnell http://deography.com/hands/
When I started this book I saw this tipping point as a binary decision for Dominic, a choice between two things, a choice that he gets to make. But as I thought about the real girl in green, and the man who drives through dangerous places with a van full of cash, it occurred to me that what seems like a choice may not be. Just as those two, very real, people influenced the creation of Hollow Man, I’m reminded that our habits and addictions, our personalities and the people around us, all combine to shape the events that control our lives and also the directions we chose. The question is whether we have the will and determination to overcome the negatives, the resolve to redirect our lives to where they should be. And, in Dominic’s case, whether he’s willing to live with the collateral damage such redirection will inevitably cause. (Hint: he is…)

I still wonder about the girl in green, I even mention her in the book’s Acknowledgments. I hope she chased away her demons, had the strength and resolve to become the movie star that I caught a glimpse of so briefly, one evening, several years ago. Whatever her situation, I’m grateful that she captured my imagination that evening and provided the spark that eventually set me to writing Hollow Man.

Mark Pryor's latest book, Hollow Man, is out now from Seventh Street Books. Find Mark at his website  MarkPryorBooks.com.