Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ol' Lang's Prime

Paul Brazill is one of the most prolific writers publishing in the on-line crime world today. Tending toward Flash-fiction, Paul brings about dirty, funny stories of men in demise in the time it takes to eat your value meal. Think Charles Bukowski around nine in the morning just about to go to bed for the night, discovering a $50 winning horse ticket in an old suit pocket, long since worth anything deciding for one more round and you'll be in the ballpark. Paul hails from Poland by way of England and brings the Narrative Music series out of middle America for the first time with the dark Germanic tale rendered by.... Randy Newman? Seriously?


In Germany Before The War by Randy Newman

For many years, Randy Newman meant very little to me although he had always been in my peripheral vision. I remember Alan Price’s version ‘Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear ‘ when I was a kid and I was aware of ‘Small People’ but he was someone on the horizon; a writer of novelty songs. Of no interest to someone who grew up on glam rock and punk, then.

However, at some point in the eighties, during my longest period of unemployment, I borrowed Nina Simone’s ‘Baltimore’ from the public library thinking that her voice could transform shit into shinola no matter what the song was. It was a ragged and occasionally brilliant album but the, (Newman penned), song ‘Baltimore’ impressed. 

Some time after that, I visited the town's premier second hand record shop ‘The Other Record Shop’ where Newman’s ‘Little Criminals’ was always in the fifty pence section. The cover didn’t appeal but I bought it anyway.

I don’t remember much of the album apart from this one song. Lush strings, plaintive piano an aching nostalgic feeling. I loved it. I played it without really listening. So, I played it again. And listened.

‘In Germany Before The War

There was a man who owned a store

In nineteen hundred thirty-four

In Dusseldorf ...


Lovely sepia images. Snapshots and memories of somewhere that you’ve never been.

And more:

‘I'm looking at the river
But I'm thinking of the sea

Thinking of the sea ..’

A sad, sense of yearning. But then something changes :

‘A little girl has lost her way 

With hair of gold and eyes of gray

Reflected in his glasses

As he watches her. ..


The nostalgic melody starts to seem sinister. The lovely strings are like malignant clouds spreading across the sky. The river seems dark and dangerous .The plaintive piano seems to be stalking. No, you think. It can’t be.

But then,:

‘We lie beneath the autumn sky

My little golden girl and I

And she lies very still ‘

And you know it IS.

It chilled me more than any song had before. And maybe even since.

In Germany Before The War, it turns out, was inspired by the classic 1931 Fritz Lang film M, which featured Peter Lorre as a serial child killer. This in turn was inspired by Peter Kürten who was known as the Düsseldorf Ripper, the Vampire of Düsseldorf or the Monster of Düsseldorf and was executed in July 1931 after confessing to nine murders. 

Here are the lyrics:

In Germany Before The War

There was a man who owned a store
n nineteen hundred thirty-four

In Dusseldorf

And every night at fine-o-nine

He'd cross the park down to the Rhine

And he'd sit there by the shore

I'm looking at the river

But I'm thinking of the sea

Thinking of the sea

Thinking of the sea
I'm looking at the river

But I'm thinking of the sea

A little girl has lost her way
With hair of gold and eyes of gray

Reflected in his glasses

As he watches her

A little girl has lost her way

With hair of gold and eyes of gray


I'm looking at the river

But I'm thinking of the sea

Thinking of the sea

Thinking of the sea

We lie beneath the autumn sky

My little golden girl and I

And she lies very still

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Upper Deck

Just a little gift from me to you at the end of this year.

Ladies and gentleman I give you Mr. Sick and Twisted himself - Greg Bardsley!

I have no idea what he just said.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Walking in a Winter Murdaland

Three years ago I was at a couples' party - one of those things married folks get invited to because no one invites them to real parties any more. I was minding my own business in the corner, trying not to scratch under the collar of my respectable sweater too much and not drink too much and not make crass jokes too loud... Trying not to party I suppose. My friend, the host, spotted me biting my tongue and rationing my drinks and did the best turn he ever did me, put the first issue of Murdaland in my hand. It was a fiction journal bound like a trade paperback book and the photo of a shirtless man leveling a shotgun at me gave me a tingly feeling. My buddy says, "I saw this at the newsstand the other day and thought of you." No wonder, two of my favorite authors were listed on the jacket, Ken Bruen and Daniel Woodrell. The couples' party stopped sucking immediately. That first issue included a David Goodis reprint and introduced me to a bunch of great writers like Mary Gaitskill, Tom Franklin, Patricia Abbott, Anthony Neil Smith and Gary Phillips.

At the time, I'd written a couple of novellas that I was less than happy with and discouraged with writing in general. I'd never written short fiction before, but this thing in my hand, this nasty little piece of literature crystallized the aesthetic I was looking for and lit a fire under my lazy ass. I was excited to participate in the crime fiction world again and started writing short stories immediately in an attempt to churn out something worthy by the submission deadline two weeks away.

The second issue featured Scott Phillips, Harry Hunsicker, Vicki Hendricks and Jayne Ann Phillips among others, (that did not include me), and followed through on the promise of the first, delivering dark, unsettling and often hilarious tales from the uncomfortably near wrong side of the tracks. I redoubled my efforts to get published there and submitted a story I was sure they'd flip for.

The third issue never came.

Just like that, Murdaland was a thing of the past, put under by a largely indifferent community who didn't know what they were neglecting. The Murdaland crew wasn't making a lot of powerful friends either, outspoken about their frustration and irritation with the state of crime fiction and publishing, they answered the unheard cry of an uh un-large and un-powerful, but enthusiastic cult of readers and writers that I count myself among.

Michael Langnas, the Editor of Murdaland was kind enough to come out of hiding and answer a few questions.

What was the dream for Murdaland?

When we were coasting - maybe teeth inexplicably falling out or showing up for your Geometry exam unprepared and naked. You know, traditional dream stuff. When we were truly on our game - something darker and truly sick and perhaps a lot more Freudian. Something you'd be embarrassed to tell your court-ordered psychiatrist even if there was the chance it might help in the sentencing.

Content-wise what was it what you wanted?

Good dark writing. Nice prose, nice details, psychologically valid. Schlock-free.

Psychologically valid - can you expand on that?

Credible behavior, credible motivation, credible dialogue. If the author tells you what a character is thinking that should be credible as well. With crime fiction there's always the danger of lapsing into fantasy or kitsch. That may be less an indictment of the genre than just a reflection on how hard and disturbing it is to write about violence in an honest way. It's truly upsetting stuff. And readers often want a surrogate character who's super cool. That or a cartoonish villain. Most American crime fiction has one or the other or both.

What was the appeal of a magazine/journal format as opposed to a book anthology?

At the time there seemed to be ten million anthologies. 'Murder and Miniature Golf.' 'Best Mysteries about Fantasy Baseball.' So on and so on. They often were geared around a novelty concept and there was always a lot of padding.

In addition, Cortright McMeel who came up with the idea for Murdaland thought the time was right for a new mystery magazine. Something different than 'Ellery Queen' or 'Alfred Hitchcock'. Neither of which he enjoyed.

It probably says something about our respective personalities - something not particularly flattering to mine - that I wanted to flee from the thing I found mortifying and Cort wanted to do battle with what drove him mad.

So, okay, we went in thinking magazine. Then as we progressed further we sort of took a deep breath and reconsidered coming out as an anthology. I really pushed for a magazine and it was probably a mistake. It's cheaper to print and ship in large numbers. The more you print or ship the cheaper it becomes per item. This becomes a huge factor. And, of course, it's cheaper to pay one set of writers and photographers and graphics people one time than to pay additional sets of writers and repay everyone else for an additional issue. Finally, we really never caught on and didn't get many ads. It soon became clear that without many ads it only made sense financially if we flogged an issue for as long as possible rather than constantly produce new product. The chain stores would keep it in stock for a fairly long time too. Anyway, yeah, we probably should've come out as an anthology.

My interest was always in the stories and excerpts, not in sales or promotion and I'd hoped that we could just have a lot of material and issues coming out. But that wasn't the case. Going as a magazine probably doomed us and I have no one to blame but myself.

Can you talk a little about your relationship with Cort? How you two worked together?

I knew Cort from grad-school where he'd more than earned a reputation as a talented crazy person. Murdaland was entirely Cort's idea. He came up with the name and basic concept. Then he brought me on-board and I probably tilted things a bit more towards my personal sensibility. I did the editing and dealt with actual content and and graphics and stuff for the debut issue. Cort continued to bring writers in with issue two, but he was writing a novel at that point so he was a lot less involved. A guy named Sean O'Kane joined us and was a huge help. The whole project owes Sean a great debt. He was super competent, super industrious and he handled a host of things.

Any predictions for the legacy of Murdaland?Hopes? Fears?

I don't really think there's going to be a legacy so there's probably not that much to predict.

That said, I hope that the people who enjoyed Murdaland read more by the writers we featured. If we introduced someone to the fiction of Scott Phillips or Henry Chang or Rolo Diez or Vicki Henrdicks or Mary Gaitskill or Jayne Anne Phillips or anyone else that's great. Truly, something to be proud of.

I don't know . . . maybe someone in the future will stumble on an issue and enjoy it. That'd be great. And if any writers or future publishers are at all encouraged that's for the best too.

Are you still selling issues?

We're not still selling issues as a press, but I know that some copies of both issues are still available from Copacetic Comics in Pittsburgh.

The site is still up and anyone who's interested can read a generous chunk of most of the pieces from both issues there. I still get e-mail from people at the web address and that's nice.

Are there any future plans for the Murdaland brand name?

Nah, that's over.

Any other literary projects from you then?

I got a little something I'm working on and Cort's written a fantastic novel called 'Short' that'll be coming out from St. Martin's in fall 2010. It's about commodity traders and it makes for quite the ride. You get the sort of inside look, behind-the-scenes stuff that, for better or worse, male readers seem to love. You get the ins and outs of a particular business and American finance in a larger sense, but, along with that, it's just very well written in a way that few, if any, of those books, ever are.

Okay, granted, I'm prejudiced, but, eh, what can I say? It's very strong. It's just got a mixture of black comedy, fine prose and truly in-depth looks at certain milieus that you just don't see in contemporary literature or more popular writing . . . ever. There are some sort of sleazy people in it and some, well, there are some just incredibly sleazy people. It's very funny. A lot of times people will say something is funny when it's sort of whimsical or aspires to humor, but isn't actually all that amusing. This, oh, is genuinely very funny. Charles Bukowski meets Honoré de Balzac. Makes having dealt with Cort's madness almost worthwhile.

Sorry. I'll shut up, but, yeah, you're going to want to check out 'Short'. It's a mind-blower.

Is your project a novel or another journal/anthology, an Ice Capade spectacular perhaps?

Jeez, taunt me further with that which can never be! What I wouldn't give to have the aesthetic vision, the entrepreneurial know-how or just "the people skills" to pull off even a modest Ice Escapade, much less a spectacular. Alas, to quote Dirty Harry "A man's got to know his limitations."

I don't want to seem coy, but, eh, I'm going to leave it a bit vague, if I can. Don't want to jinx anything.

Anything you'd like to get off your chest?

Does it have to be Murdaland related?


Well, my efforts to build a cult around Evan Wright's March 2007 Vanity Fair article 'Pat Dollard's War on Hollywood' have proven to be a dismal failure and I'm a bit pissed about that.

I've never met the guy and have no connection whatsoever with the piece, but I think it's phenomenal. Hence, yeah, my failed effort to form some sort of cult. I suspect it makes people somewhat nervous. They should relax. It's not a reflection on the men and women who are fighting in Iraq. It's a reflection on the country, the society that sent them to fight. Just amazing. An incredible grotesque story of ostensible good intentions, hubris and decadence. A dark delight. I can't believe it's not talked about more. I'd bet that years from now it'll be acknowledged as something of a classic even if people aren't comfortable shouting out from the rooftops about it now.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Patting Myself on the Back

Two years ago the spousal editorial team of Laura Benedict and Pinckney Benedict, she the author of supernatural-tinged thrillers (Isabella Moon and Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts), and he, the voice of hard-scrabble rural life, (Town Smokes, The Wrecking Yard, Dogs of God) found a project they could come together on, editing an anthology of short fiction called Surreal South boasting a line-up of Chris Offutt, William Gay, Joyce Carol Oates, (and perhaps not coincidentally it featured other literary spouses like Daniel Woodrell and Katie Estill and Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly).

Well, they're back with what looks to be another installment in a series. Surreal South '09 from Press 53 has landed and is another onslaught of over the top thrills and under the covers chills featuring returning Surreal South contributors Kyle Minor, Lee K. Abbott and both Benedicts.

My own story Miriam is included therein and I'm thrilled to be part of this series along with Alexander Lumans, Becky Hagenston, Dan Mueller, Heather Fowler , J.T. Ellison, Jessica Glass, John McManus, Josh McCall, Josh Woods, Kurt Rheinheimer, Melanie DeCarolis, Michael Garriga, Michael P. Kardos, Okla Elliott & Raul Clement, Oscar Hokeah, Sheryl Monks, Steve Patten and Tantra Bensko.

Look for it.

Darkness Take My Hand

Just in time to underscore the dread in your soul during the darkest time of the year, New Pulp Press has released the first of their planned classic reprints, Flight to Darkness by Gil Brewer.

Eric Garth is a wounded Korea veteran whose body is recuperating stateside while his mind deteriorates inside. He's seduced and even become engaged to his nurse Leda, while he fantasizes about killing his brother Frank every time he closes his eyes. Eric is released from the hospital and takes his fiance with him back to the family in Florida, but nothing goes smoothly for him. He goes back and forth between guilt over his fratricidal fantasies and paranoia regarding the way he keeps on getting detained and arrested at the same whiplash pace as his desire for and suspicion of his woman. Or make that women, seems there's an old flame, not quite gone, never far from his thoughts and still waiting for him back home.

The story is told in the quasi-reliable first person and anybody whose read similar stuff from the last sixty years could probably spot the plot points and twists coming, but that shouldn't detract from the pleasure of reading as skilled and confident a genre-master as Brewer who says everything plainly and precisely, unassuming and unapologetic.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Head Shot

One Too Many Blows to the Head is a novel set in the fight world of Kansas City 1939 and it's everything you love about classic film noir only bound and printed. Co-authors, Eric Beetner and JB Kohl are each solid writers on their own, she is the author of The Deputy's Widow and he of numerous shorts published in online zines as well as the film Taking Your Life which he also directed. Together they've pulled off an improbable collaboration by composing and publishing the novel without ever having met... Never even having spoken on the phone...

WTF? you may well ask. I did.

Where did the characters come from?

Jennifer had the character of Dean Fokoli already sketched out as a possible character for her own work and he just adapted perfectly to the new story. We're both originally from the midwest so we liked the idea of it being set there rather than New York or LA. Setting it in the world of boxing was just a vibe we both enjoyed and my Grandfather Ray, whose name I stole for the book, was actually was a professional boxer in the 1930s. I also used my uncle Rex's name who was not a fighter, just a guy with a cool name. To the best of my knowledge neither one ever killed anyone. There is a lot I don't know about that side of the family though.

JB KOHL - Fokoli is a character I created a few years ago. He's sort of a regular guy; the sort we all know. He's middle aged, nice enough, but he's done some things in his past he can't quite let go of.

My first boyfriend (way back in second grade) was a cop's kid. Nice family. The cop had cop friends. They all got frustrated with a guy outside of town . . . you know the sort, beats his wife and kids, is drunk and disorderly . . . just watch an episode of Cops some time.

Anyway, these renegade cops got tired of running into walls when it came to getting justice for this guy's family; so they took the law into their own hands. They went out to the guy's house and beat him up. I don't know how bad . . . I was in second grade at the time after all . . . but those cops lost their jobs. My boyfriend moved to Wyoming after that. Second grade romance over, just like that.

Fokoli isn't made up entirely of that cop, but he's some. He's like those guys you meet at the car parts stores who never smile. He's like the guy that sits on the couch and pretends he can't hear what his nag of a wife is saying from the kitchen because she's usually not saying it, she's yelling it.

EB -When we first started talking about collaborating I knew Jennifer's previous book was a period piece. Our first ideas were centered around a past narrative and a present one using a central mystery that started in the past, which she would write, and was taken up and solved in the present, which I would write. That was a hard nut to crack and one night I was driving home late and had 3 or 4 hours in the car to just think and I thought of this idea of a man out for revenge and the cop who is chasing him. We both latched on to the concept, decided it should all be in the past and it went incredibly smoothly from there.

How much autonomy did you have in defining your character?

JBK - When it came to making Fokoli my own, I had all the autonomy in the world. Eric was wonderful to work with. He had his character and I had mine. There was some cross over in the book, naturally, but by the time we reached that point I had a good grasp of the character(s) Eric created so it was kind of fun to try my hand at writing them. Eric gave me suggestions on what he wanted certain characters to say. Glenda, for example, uses a lot of 1940's jargon. I had to write a scene with her and Ray and Fokoli. There were certain things Eric thought would sound good coming from her, so he sent me phrases I could use. But he always made sure I understood they were just suggestions.

There's a landlady in one of the chapters . . . she first appears as a voice in Eric's work, but I wanted to write her, so he kept her behind closed doors. When my character showed up I got to bring her out and play with her. We are both respectful of one another's work and I think we have a good working chemistry and we both wanted to make the book the best it could be, so it was never an issue.

EB - A huge part of the fun of writing this book was that I got to both write a book and read a book at the same time. We wrote linearly so I would write a chapter and then wait until I got something back from her. We had an outline and some bullet points of what scenes would be but it was very loose and we adapted and adjusted as we went based on what the other had written last. Neither one of us ever really questioned another character's motives or plot points. So I would say we had near total autonomy. The characters only interact very minimally and Jennifer had much of that than I did but after reading each character for so long leading up to it there was never any question of "how would this character react?" or "What would he or she say?"

How was the quid pro quo?

JBK - This is how is shook down: I harassed Eric until he agreed to write with me. Once he agreed I figured we'd talk about some plot ideas. But Eric sent me an idea he had for a novel. I thought it sounded cool. Basically we built entwined stories . . . Eric's character was the innocent driven to do things he never imagined. I built a story around Eric's story in outline form.

We worked from the outline but I think we revised it once or twice as needed. When we started to write it was amazing. Chapter by chapter we hammered the thing out. We started in June and were done late October. I'd send my work into cyberspace like a kid leaving a tooth under her pillow . . . in a few days, the tooth fairy would visit and I'd get a new chapter to read. Easiest work I've ever done.

EB - I started to feel bad at the start because Ray lays out so much of the back story and the groundwork I felt like the first few chapters were too heavy on my stuff and at risk of taking over, but it was needed and after chapter 3 it all is more evenly balanced. Other than that we shared the burden equally. Even since the actual writing with the promotion and publicity side of it we have split things. Jennifer did most of the sending to publishers, I've done maybe a little more of the PR aspect. Put it all together and we come out perfectly balanced, I'd say. She did take on more of the editing process because we wanted there to be one master document rather than two versions floating across the country so she took on the 'keeper of the final draft' title. At the end of that process she did declare that I owed her a lot of chocolate. (I still need to pay up)

About this point I turned the tables on my subjects. They were both so friggin NICE and deferential to the other. Collaboration is a tricky thing at the best of times and methods vary as wide as successes. So I decided to ask them about their working relationship as well as their partner's strengths and weaknesses.

But I went about it ass-backwards.

You ever watch The Newlywed Game? Buncha wide-eyed marital matches bleary from the whirlwind of the past few weeks together answering questions from their mate's point of view. Think of the following conversation like that.

What attracted you to working with Eric?

ERIC BEETNER ANSWERING FOR JB KOHL - I know this one. Jennifer originally contacted me through the Film Noir Foundation myspace page, which I oversee and which anyone interested in film noir should check out. She wrote in to ask if she could link to our page from her author website and I said sure after I checked it out. Her book sounded intriguing so I bought it and I liked it a lot. I sent her a note saying so and included a short story of mine called ‘Ditch’ (subsequently published at Thuglit). She liked the story and asked if I had ever considered collaborating on anything. Yes, she asked me.

I guess she saw potential in that story. It is one of my favorites. I’m quite proud of it and so glad it led me to this partnership. I’m almost certain she doesn’t make a habit of it either. I was the first person she approached about a partnership. I’m flattered.

Why were you eager to work with JB Kohl?

JB KOHL ANSWERING FOR ERIC BEETNER (A quick note - JB had so thoroughly channeled Eric for this round of Q&A that she actually answered in his voice. Readers, I had chills)-
“Eager” is probably a strong word. Truthfully, she’s a nag. In the end I figured it was easier to work with her than to change my e-mail address. Although she did have a proven track record for finishing a novel so that was a bonus.

What are your biggest influences?

EB as JBK - Jennifer is an old school detective novel gal. Chandler, Hammett, etc. She is also influenced by films as much as novels. I bet you could lock her in the basement and as long as she had a Thin Man marathon on TCM she’d be happy. A little Maltese Falcon and some Murder, My Sweet and she’d stay down there for a week.

JBK as EB - Ummm . . . Raymond Chandler, of course. I like Megan Abbott. I read Reed Farrell Coleman. I also like the unknowns . . . any writer who is writing good, gritty stuff that turns my head and churns my gut. I read Thug Lit when I get the chance and I’ve even been published by them a couple of times. I like “A Twist of Noir” and look at that whenever I can. There are lots of good bloggers out there and I like to keep tabs on that when I get the chance.

Who works faster between the two of you?

EB as JBK -
I think she would say she does. She’d be right. I bang stuff out quickly when I get to it but it takes a while some times to find the time. She gave up a budding career in medicine to pursue writing full time so she has her days relatively free. Of course, she has three kids, a household, does freelance editing on books and lives in the wilds of Virginia so I assume she chops wood and quite often fights bears so she might argue that I have more time. She might be right on that too.

JBK as EB -
She did. She works at home and writes full time. I have the Noir Foundation Web site to tend to plus my day job. I also write short stories when I have the time and I’m working on my own solo novel, so I had a lot on my plate while we were writing. Plus, I think Jennifer abuses caffeine.

What did you find most gratifying about working with Eric?

EB as JBK -
Oh my. I know how I’d like her to answer that it was the quality of my writing. Instead, I think she will agree that it was very gratifying the way we never ran into “creative differences”. All along we were very much on the same page as far as what kind of story we wanted to tell and how we wanted to tell it. Of course, I’m sure one of her favorite things was having me a full continent away so if she wanted to ignore me or tune me out it is as simple as not answering an email. That must be nice. I bet my wife is jealous.

What did you find most gratifying about working with JB Kohl?

JBK as EB - It was nice to work at my own pace with no deadlines hanging over my head. I get enough of that in my day job. I liked that I only had to write half a book! Plus, we never had to make small talk or wonder if the other was actually working on the project . . . it was almost too easy.

What did you find most annoying?

EB as JBK - I’ll go with something here that is not personality related but rather my refusal to write in MS Word. I just don’t want to pay that much for Word and I am generally suspicious of Microsoft. It makes it a little hard though when everyone wants submissions in Word, manuscript deliveries in Word, draft revisions in Word. It meant she had to do much more typing drudgery than I did. That got annoying I bet.

JBK as EB - Nothing. Nothing at all. It’s good when Jennifer nags me because I deserve it.

Whose work had more typos?

EB as JBK - Oh mine. No contest. If she says any different she’s just being humble. I am a two finger, stare at the keys typist who goes way too fast and will 99% of the time type form instead of from. That is just the tip of the iceberg of my bad habits.

JBK as EB - I think it was about even, although Jennifer was a total diva about my use of the word “had” in places.

How much research did you do?

EB as JBK -
Jennifer is not a super serious researcher but she did her homework. It was good that her previous novel, The Deputy’s Widow, is also a period piece so she came already steeped in the era. Since her character is the detective she didn’t have to do much research on boxing. We both looked into some things we didn’t know about Kansas City. I know we had to look up if they had cable cars or a subway or just taxis. Stuff like that. The character of Fokoli talks in broad terms about the mob in Chicago and general organized crime details but nothing that needed to be meticulously researched.

JBK as EB -
My grandfather was a boxer so that was helpful. I’ve got some old pictures of him in his trunks. We even toyed with using one for the cover at one point. Mostly I watched old movies which wasn’t hard since I’m a fan of noir films. I didn’t do any police procedural research since that was Jennifer’s area. Regarding the boxing, most of it I already know from my grandfather and the technical boxing aspects were a very minor part of the novel.

The central themes and subtext of this book are ______.

EB as JBK - Hmmm, what would she say? Desperate men taking on futile tasks in order to outrun a past that cannot be outrun.

There is action and a great cat and mouse element to the chase that is central to the plot but each character also functions individually as a Noir archetype of his own. Both men make mistakes they regret. Both men are being pushed or pursued by forces larger than themselves and both men are shadowed by their pasts. Fokoli a more recent past and Ray a more distant one but they are warped mirror images of each other.

JBK as EB - Revenge and redemption.

I would work with Eric again if ______.

EB as JBK -
If he asked me. Which I have. We are each finishing up solo projects and then we have a rough outline for a sequel to One Too Many Blows To The Head which could be really cool. I never thought we could take this story anywhere else but the more we thought on it things fell into place. We’re a little burnt on these characters after the editing and revisions phase of publication but we are both really excited to get into these guys again. It was too much fun. We can’t stop now. This isn’t the last you’ve seen of us as a team

I would work with JB again if ______.

JBK as EB - Not “if”, “when”. We’re already outlining a new novel. We’ll keep working at our own pace, doing our own things, and somewhere down the road, you’ll see another book by us on the shelves.

I think that's all I have to say about it. I hope that helps you get a better idea of what we did/how we worked together. We both continue to agree we won't meet or speak. That may change in time . . . for now I kind of like the way things are.

Well, I never got them to really snap at each other, but what they've pulled off is remarkable. One Too Many Blows to the Head is available from Second Wind Publishing.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Road to Nowhere

Patrick Shawn Bagley writes fiction, long and short as well as poetry. Further he teaches fiction writing and strikes me from afar as one of those professors I would have wanted to get if I'd ever gone for school learnin. His prose is strong and clear, lyrical, but peppered with well placed obscenities and folksy slang that make me wonder who speaks that way in Maine? PSB is this week's contributor to Hardboiled Wonderland's Narrative Music series.

The Road to Nowhere

It’s a hard-boiled white trash bedtime story, like a Daniel Woodrell novel set to music. It’s an ode to the kind of love that’s born of desperation and inevitability. I’m talking about Robert Earl Keen’s “The Road Goes on Forever.” Along with “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Copperhead Road,” and some of those down-and-dirty old bluegrass tunes, “The Road Goes on Forever” is part of what I consider required listening for anybody who reads or writes country noir.

It’s the story of Sherry and Sonny, stuck in a small town where everybody knew them. Knew their families, knew how they lived. Knew how they’d end up. They were trapped by the low expectations of others. Sherry worked at the only bar in town, serving drinks and trying to be just friendly enough for a decent tip without getting her ass grabbed. Nights off, she and her friends hung out down by the river, thinking that when the beery cigarette haze faded out the next morning things might be different. She knew better. This was Sherry’s life: taking shit at work; taking shit at home; TV, beer, maybe a little pot; getting laid when she felt like it, but most of the guys around there were fuckin’ losers.

Sonny kept to himself. In his late twenties, he was a little too old for Sherry’s crowd and his own friends had left him behind—either moved away or settled down to family life. Sonny should’ve done one or the other, too. Senior year of high school, he’d taken a shot at getting into the Navy, figured it was as good a way out as any. When he flunked the test, his family sang a chorus of We Told You. So he stayed at home and peddled weed until the sheriff popped him one night. Sonny did his time and came back to town. Where the hell else did he have to go? Jobs were scarce and the few places hiring didn’t want to take on a felon. Pretty soon Sonny was selling nickel bags again.

You know damn well they’d seen each other before that night. Sonny wanted Sherry, but figured she’d never go for a guy like him. Sherry worried her friends might say Sonny was too old. Still, there they were—watching each other. Sonny was shooting a little eight-ball, killing time before meeting his supplier. Sherry brought a beer and a shot to an out-of-town lardass who’d been hitting on her half the night. When she bent down to set his drinks on the table, the bastard slid his hand right up inside her skirt.

Sherry jumped back, spilling the guy’s bourbon. Sonny was already crossing the floor. When the fat man made another grab for Sherry, Sonny whipped a cue stick across his face. Even over the George Jones song on the jukebox, you could hear that stranger’s jaw break. The son of a bitch hit the planks and stayed there. Sonny turned away, shoved a buck in Sherry’s tip jar on his way out. Sherry decided she’d had enough of that place, that town, the whole damned life. Tossing her apron over the bar, she ran after Sonny.

They took his pickup down to Miami Beach, grabbed a motel room and some booze and holed up there until the money ran out. That was the moment when they could have gone into the straight life. They had a choice. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But, as Sophie Littlefield reminded me a while back, “motivations are worked into the soul like dirt caked into calluses.” Sometimes escape is impossible because you just don’t know how to be any other way.

So Sonny hooked up with this guy he’d known in the joint. A couple nights later, Sherry drove Sonny to a derelict house in the shitty part of town. She kept the engine running while Sonny went inside with a briefcase full of money to make a buy from some Cuban refugees. Maybe it was a setup from the start. Maybe Sonny’s friend was a rat. Maybe somebody Sonny didn’t even know had a beef with the Cubans and decided to drop a dime. However it happened, the cops showed up. Soon as Sherry spotted the first cruiser, she drove around to the back.

The Cubans took off with their stuff. Sonny grabbed the cash and busted out a bathroom window. He hit the alley running, but one of the detectives was already there. Sonny was on the ground and handcuffed when Sherry came along and put a .410 slug in the back of the cop’s head. They jumped in the truck and hauled ass back to the motel.

Sonny knew the cops would find him. He’d left his prints all over that house. He was going down, but Sherry didn’t have to go with him. Sonny gave Sherry the money, told her if questioned to say the whole thing was his doing. Sherry stood there and “watched him as his tail lights disappeared around the bend.”

Six months later, Sherry was back in her home town. She hung out in the same old places, drove the same gray streets. Only this time she cruised around in a new Mercedes.

And Sonny? He went down on a murder rap for that cop, got a trip to the chair.

It didn’t have to happen that way.

It was always going to happen that way.

“The road goes on forever and the party never ends…”


Patrick Shawn Bagley’s stories of rural crime have appeared in Crimespree, Spinetingler, Thrilling Detective, The Iconoclast and the anthology Uncage Me (Bleak House Books). He lives on a dead-end dirt road in a small Maine town.

“The Road Goes on Forever” originally appeared on Robert Earl Keen’s 1989 album West Textures. There’s a more kick-ass version on #2 Live Diner (1996). The Highwaymen (Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson) covered it in 1995, but you can skip that one. Joe Ely’s 2002 cover is cool, though.