Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bints by Appointment

Every once in a while I am forced or tricked or seduced out of my literary comfort zone and I get another perspective on the world. Usually these side trips serve to merely reinforce my prejudices and keep me entrenched more or less comfortably where I'm typically found. For instance I picked up a current affairs/recent history type of former bestseller from the library recently - ughh, what a dull piece of shit that one was. Can not figure the appeal at all, but it was huuuuge. On the other hand, sometimes I get introduced to something vaguely exotic to my sensibilities that I enjoy. Such was the case with Carol K. Carr's India Black, the first of a presumed series about a former whore now madam of an upscale brothel in 19th century London. Everything about the packaging on this one was a turn-off, but damn, the voice was great. In the first few pages, debaucheries are described that had me guffawing and the undignified treatment of human remains touched me in a special place. Not that this is really all that dark. Not at all. The tone is simply irreverent. Brought to mind Joss Whedon for some reason, tho, Mr. W really goes for the gut every so often. In other, getting outside of my box, I read and enjoyed Michael Lewis' Liar's Poker to compliment my recent ingesting of Cortright McMeel's Short. They'd make good companion pieces. Both Short and India Black suffer, in my opinion from unfortunate packaging. Black should've featured a far pulpier picture or dipped into some Jack the Ripper bloody vibe and whoever compared Short to The Office oughtta read the damn book. Anyway, I'm owning up to enjoying books with corsets over at Ransom Notes.

Elswhere, I really enjoyed Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth's Stumptown on the john a couple nights ago. I'd like to see more of that kinda schtuff and a big thanks goes out to Kieran Shea for the introduction.

Speaking of Shea, he's in the lineup along with Matthew C. Funk, Tim L. Williams, Garnett Elliott, Johnny Shaw, Jeremiah Grandon, Terry White and Jim Wilsky for The New Slashers edition of Plots With Guns. Infact, Shea's all over the place. Say 'hi' for me when you bump into him.

Meanwhile, Stay God author Nik Korpon reviews Scott Phillips' RUT and interviews Stona Fitch about his baby The Concord Free Press over at The Nervous Breakdown.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sgt. Pepper

In this morning's Ransom Notes post, I'm a bit afeared I sound like a grump, but don't cry for me, Argentina, I actually like Christmas. Thirteen holiday seasons in retail hell couldn't squeeze all the joy from me, it just takes a while to get the crankies out first thing in the morning. Still, I do plan on reading Jim Nisbet's The Damned Don't Die. It's perfect single day reading size and should go a ways to making me thankful that my life doesn't resemble any of his characters'.

I did go see True Grit this week and wow, Bob, wow - it was a blast. At once a typically Coen Brothers genre subversive and a western that delivers the goods. Among all the fine performances, I'd like to single out Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper, (no relation), as one I'd like to have spent even more time with. He keeps quietly delivering great roles that never overshadow the leads, but that I recall later and focus on in repeat viewings, making up for Battlefield Earth one film at a time. Check out The Twenty-Fifth Hour and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada for some of his best work.

Enjoy the shit out of your Christmas holiday.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Laser Floyd

Took the kiddos to their first Laser Floyd show last night. The glasses have improved as has the cast - they're now calling it Tron: Legacy. If ever I were conscious of being a target demographic, but not resented it, 'twere now. I was six when Tron came out and rocked my world. Pre-William Gibson, pre-The Matrix. My oldest son is six now and yeah, they're cashing in on my nostalgia to the tune of... more than I'm comfortable spending on movie tickets, but man it was a lot of fun sitting between the kids checking out their blissed out, goggled faces. My wife dubbed it afterward "a future stoner classic," which it most certainly will be. I mean, c'mon it even features that Lebowski cat at his Dudest.

And if this isn't a Jeff Bridges Christmas, it'll do till the real thing gets here. True Grit, the latest from The Coen Brothers comes out tomorrow and these two were easily my most anticipated movies of the season. At Ransom Notes, I'm talking 'bout Grit and author Charles Portis, whose books tend to be turned into movies starring Glen Campbell, (also see Norwood).

Over at Day Labor the Crimefactory blog, I'm dispensing the honors of my best of whatever for 2010.

Meanwhile, over at Heath Lowrance's Psycho Noir, I'm delivering my contribution to his 20 essential noirs series. I like to be a little controversial and figure discussions, heated or otherwise, are the point of these lists. So, there're a bunch of titles I would love to have included, but didn't and plenty of people, I'm sure, will have issue with some of my selections. Y'all can kiss my ass.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 18, 2010

When You Find a Stranger in the Alps

Aw, man, I just figured it out. This short story I was about to write is nothing but a rip off of one of my favorite Greg Bardsley stories - Funny Face. Dammit, now I got nothin.

At Ransom Notes I'm talking about Libby Fischer Hellmann's Set the Night On Fire. I make mention at the end of the piece that I found it a bit distracting that one of the main characters was named Philip Kerr and wondered if it was a big nod or coincidence or inside joke or what. I got an e-mail from her saying it was a completely subconscious gaff on her part. She, like me, is apparently a big fan of Kerr's Bernie Gunther books.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Baltimore Represent

Hey, alright. Apparently all I have to do is post at Ransom Notes about what I want for Christmas and good people like Brian Lindenmuth will come from the east bearing gifts. Thanks to that Baltimore wise man I should be receiving Don Winslow's Power of the Dog in the mail soon. So, I'm trying not to Scrooge it up over here and keep the good will flowing. That's why I'm offering two Reed Farrel Coleman titles this week, The James Deans and the Ken Bruen collaboration, Tower. As usual, to enter, just leave a comment on this post and Friday I'll draw the winning names.

Speaking of the good Mr. Lindenmuth, head on over to the really ridiculously high quality Mulholland Books blog for Brian's piece on the fall and rise of crime comics, and after that go back to Ransom Notes for my piece about that other Baltimore son Nik Korpon's debut novel Stay God. I had the pleasure of meeting Nik at NoirCon several weeks ago - he's scary bright and plenty cool, and I'm hoping Stay God is a big base hit for his career.

Out of the Gutter has a brand new issue featuring Tony Black, Ian Ayris, Michael Bracken and William Boyle whom I also met at NoirCon. Come to think of it, the first time I saw Korpon's name was when we shared space in Out of the Gutter's Revenge Issue - that was a kick ass issue too, folks. Aside from yours truly and Korpon, it featured Charlie Stella, Vicki Hendricks, Mike Sheeter, Glenn Gray, Matthew Mayo and Sophie Littlefield among others.

Ms. Littlefield and Mr. Mayo both have pieces in the brand new issue of Needle magazine too alongside the likes of N@B alumn Anthony Neil Smith and Matthew McBride, as well as Kieran Shea, Graham Powell, Matthew C. Funk, Graham Bowlin, Michael Gonzales, Richard Godwin and Libby Cudmore, another pleasant face to face I had at NoirCon. But the truly exciting bit about this issue of Needle is that it marks part 1 of the brand new serialized novel Wolf Tickets by Ray Banks. Boo-ya. I'm ordering mine now.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Over the weekend I traveled with Scott Phillips to a small town I used to live in to see Tom Franklin read from his latest, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Also attending the event was John Hornor Jacobs, all the way up from Little Rock and William Harrison, author of (Roller Ball Murder & Burton and Speke, the basis’s for Rollerball and Mountains of the Moon respectively). Good trip. Looking at doing a trip out to Mr. Franklin’s haunts in Mississippi soon for some writerly thing that may be happening. I’ve never been, but Rod Norman assures me it’s a swell place and it sounds like it probably is. Aside from the late Barry Hannah and some cat named Grisham, Franklin, Jack Pendarvis, John Brandon and William Boyle also call it home. Must be something in the water.

My first exposure to Franklin was in Murdaland magazine and this week Murdaland’s publisher, Cortright McMeel’s debut novel, Short was published and over at Ransom Notes, I’m giving it the once over. I made a comment in the piece about Short being an interquel, (middle chapter of a trilogy linking two previously unrelated books or films – thanks Jeff Bayer & Eric Snider – of the Movie BS podcast), between The Smartest Guys in the Room and Fight Club, and I’m curious to hear from anybody else with an opinion on the matter. Sometimes I pull this stuff outta my ass, sometimes I’m brilliant, but hell if I can tell the difference.

For some reason, I just go on accumulating books that I’m never going to be able to read. Someday the apocalypse will come and when electricity can’t be spared for television, I’ll have plenty of books to keep me occupied. In the last week I’ve added titles by Ken Bruen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Max Allan Collins, Tom Franklin, Chester Himes, Grant Jerkins, Terrill Lankford, Joe Lansdale, Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Maberry, Cormac McCarthy, Jim Nisbet, Chris Offutt, Robert Olmstead, Tom Piccirilli, Jason Pinter, Theresa Schwegel and Jason Starr to my shelves. I also picked up the new anthology, Damn Near Dead 2, edited by Bill Crider. Since I’m so strapped for shelf space, I’m giving away two books by Scott Phillips this week. Just leave a comment on this post and Friday I’ll draw two names.

And if you don’t “win” one, don’t worry. You can still get a free copy of his latest, Rut from The Concord Free Press if you make a request. They’ll even ship it to you gratis. All they ask is that you make a donation to a charitable cause in the amount of your choosing and they employ the honor system. But hurry, they’re running out.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Billy Bad Ass

Big congratulations to Heath Lowrance and Jen Myers who won copies of Megan Abbott's Die a Little and Bury Me Deep respectively. Be sure to tune in next week for another giveaway. Dun dun dun dun.

Tomorrow, Scott Phillips and I take off for Fayetteville, Arkansas to see Mr. Tom Franklin. It's funny, the more I mention Fayetteville ties, the more I find people who have them too. Franklin and his wife, the poet Beth Ann Fennelly, Daniel Woodrell and Katie Estill and even Mr. Erik Lundy who's stuff you oughtta know by now, did his time there. The picture accompanying this post is one of Lundy's and was inspired by his time in Arkansas.

Over at Ransom Notes I'm talking about bad guys. Not villains, but protagonists who are criminals, not so much psychos and not interested in redemption. Last night I swear to you I read two Max Allan Collins books cover to cover. His original Quarry titles have been reprinted by Perfect Crime Books and they're a lot of fun. Still waiting for the Quarry movie, Last Lullaby, starring Tom Sizemore, (as a character named Price, but c'mon, it's Quarry), to be available.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Over at Ransom Notes I'm giving the rundown on a handful of books that fall into a couple of my favorite plot lines: people stuck in small towns and those on the run with a bagful of money. What I don't go into is my fear that the novel I'm about to start writing will retread too familiar ground. Seriously. I wake up some nights with a new book or movie I'm afraid people with think know that I'm ripping off. The list looks something like this - John Dahl's Red Rock West, John Ridley's Stray Dogs, Scott Phillips' The Ice Harvest, Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men, Tony Scott/Quentin Tarantino's True Romance, Scott Smith's A Simple Plan, John Rector's The Cold Kiss, Gil Brewer's The Red Scarf and while it's not money, it's a helluva maguffin, Duane Swierczynski's The Blonde. I worry when I sleep, but while I walk around in the daytime, meh, doesn't bother me in the slightest. Dunno why that is.

Any people reading this in Fayetteville Arkansas, Memphis Tennessee or maybe Tulsa Oklahoma? Be alerted that Tom Franklin will be in Fayetteville this Saturday Dec. 4 and reading from Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter 7:30 at Nightbird Books, (205 W. Dickson St.). I used to live in Fayetteville, (as did Tom), and I'm making the trip to see Franklin, (and my family), along with Scott Phillips. If you're anywhere nearby, I'd encourage you to do the same.

Another former Fayetteville resident by who's name escapes me has a new essay about the influence the Ozarks have had on his writing at the Mulholland Books blog. I think it's a big deal whenever he publishes something I can read for free, so I'm glad to see him doing more web stuff. Did anybody else read his latest excerpt titled Blue Norton over at Narrative? Or how about that biographical piece at Granta online last year? Ooh, and don't forget Shitbird, also at Narrative. Good free shit, yo.

And speaking of free shit, you've got a couple more days to leave a comment on this post to win a copy of a Megan Abbott book, (either Die a Little or Bury Me Deep). You know how those Abbott books have that lived in and very sexy look on the covers? Thank artist Richie Fahey for those. Know what? He also did the cover for the New Pulp Press reissue of Gil Brewer's The Red Scarf. That's a damn good looking book. Oh look, we're back where we started.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bad Abbott

Been cringing at all the photos of myself popping up on Facebook from the NoirCon crew, but I thought this photo taken by Cameron Ashley of me and Anthony Neil Smith pretty much captured the vibe of the whole weekend. Hell, my entire life. It's like that. Always. It'll be like that again come late winter when rumor has it, Mr. Smith will be doing the N@B thing again. Rumors. Rumors. Troubling rumors. Stay tuned. Oh, yeah, something about Kyle Minor too. Just eat your vegetables and stay in school. I'll letcha know when I do.

Over at Ransom Notes I'm listing my favorite holiday films. Mostly Die Hard. Die Hard mostly. And for anybody who comes here to link there, Tuesday's Ransom Notes piece were about writers I love whose exciting and singular styles have been hijacked and watered down by too many inferior artists. Listed Ken Bruen, Charles Bukowski, Kurt Vonnegut and Chuck Palahniuk, but probably could've kept going a while.

Attention all red-blooded American crime readers Megan Abbott and Sara Gran have teamed up in some kind of should-be-illegal-it's-so-perfect combo blogginess called The Abbott Gran Old Tyme Medicine Show. I'm there. Dig the name, dig the layout too. All retro-scandal-rag looking.

Thanks to everybody who participated in last week's drawing for a signed copy of Jonathan Woods' Bad Juju and congratulations Rod, who won. Because it's the Christmas season and to celebrate the Abbott/Gran bloggedy blog blog, this week I'll give away a copy of Megan's Die a Little and Bury Me Deep. So, again, just leave a message on this post to enter. And this week, two people win. Merry Christmas, ya ungrateful little shits.

Couple of projects I'm involved with giving me wood these days, though all I can share at the moment are the names Bardsley, Shea & Weddle, (in alphabetical order).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Noir Hole

Know who I'm kinda fond of? Jon Bassoff over at New Pulp Press. Livin' the dream, I tell ya. He just participated in Nigel Bird's Sea Minor interview series. Here's a sample:

What makes New Pulp Press a unique publisher?

Well for one thing, we offer some of the smallest advances on the market. Jonathan Woods spent his entire advance one afternoon at a zoo carousel. We are also unique in the type of books we put out—each one of our books has been banned in Amsterdam. When I read submissions, I skim through the first five pages. If no character has been dismembered or skinned alive, I use the manuscript as cage liner for my parakeets Chi Chi and Evander.

You can read the rest of that one right about here. I'll admit, not all the books have landed for me, but they've got vision, guts and just the right lack of good sense to publish actual books in these dark days.

You want a taste of NPP? Alright, I'm gonna give away an autographed copy of Jonathan Woods's Bad Juju. Mr. Woods inscribed this one with a cryptically nasty statement about yours truly when he came through St. Louis for Noir at the Bar a month ago. You already have one? Well, you can make this one a gift for some one. I just saved you money, cheapskate. Just leave a comment on this post by the day after Thanksgiving and I'll draw a name.

And you know what you should do after that? Go purchase another one of their fine titles. Can I recommend 21 Tales, the short story collection by Dave Zeltserman? How could I not. DZ is a chameleonic writer, switching gears in these stories from darkly comic to "a black steer's tuchus on a moonless night," to something resembling a black hole. I'm still a fairly new member of the cult of Zeltserman, but I'm digging in big time. That guy's style keeps me so off-balance as a reader, probably because I'm a writer and he's always zigging where I'd zag, that I cannot guess where a story is headed. Far from frustrating me, I think it's challenging and pretty friggin great. By the way, there's a particular story in this collection that has got to be the inspiration for Ken Bruen's The Devil. Has to be. Can't not be. Can it?

Dave's also one of those guys experimenting with electronic publishing with The Top Suspense Group. Other members include Max Allan Collins, Vicki Hendricks, Bill Crider, Ed Gorman and Harry Shannon. He talked some about it when I interviewed him a few months back. He's somebody whose career I'm watching with great interest.

And if you wanna know where his particular brand of noir comes from, he's participated in Heath Lowrance's survey of writers' top 20 noirs, over at Psycho Noir. Other participants, so far, have included Patti Abbott, Nigel Bird and Keith Rawson. Heath's novel, The Bastard Hand is coming soon from NPP and it sounds like a good 'un.

Meanwhile, at Ransom Notes I'm talking up Stuart Neville's Fegan books, The Ghosts of Belfast and Collusion.

Couple months ago, I  responded to an innocent little e-mail from Brian Lindenmuth at Spinetingler about doing him a favor by writing a review for a single story from that awesome tome The Best America Noir of the Century edited by Otto Penzler and James Ellroy. His idea is to have each of the nearly forty stories contained within reviewed individually by different writers. Sure. Why not? How could it possibly be a chore? I mean, have you looked at that book’s line-up? I’m not going to list the stories because, well there’s almost forty, but how could I lose? So, I agreed and several days later got another email from him with my assignment, Controlled Burn by Scott Wolven. You kidding me? I’d already read that one a couple times. So, I got to write up a little piece about something I already knew I loved. But you know what I wasn’t prepared for? The awesome level of participation here. For the past couple days, Brian has been posting the pieces every hour on the hour and like big ol’ nerd, I’m checking in every hour to see who’s up next. I mean, not only is it cool to read appreciations and analysis of the authors included, but dang – the collection of writers doing it is impressive. So head on over to Spinetingler and checkerout if you haven’t already, and read stuff by authors like Sean Doolittle, Gary Phillips, Adrien McKinty, Paul Tremblay, Benjamin Whitmer, Charlie Stella and David Corbett, plus top critical writers and bloggers a plenty.

And speaking of Brian and the whole Spinetingler crew, here's the response published to my Ransom Notes post about Dennis Lehane and the return of Pat & Angie.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bring 'em Back... Alive

Over at Ransom Notes I'm getting into Dennis Lehane's new one, Moonlight Mile, being the rolling jumpstart of the Kenzie/Gennaro series after twelve years. And it's got me wondering: where's it headed? Where are they going? What's happened in the interim? I've sounded off a couple times lately about the downfall of a good series being longevity, (sorry Ken, sorry Jim), but I dunno? A fifth book after more than a decade? I can dig that, especially given the nature of the series leading up to it. Meaning, the series played kinda like long-form television where the case du jour was not the point as much as the characters and their development over the course of the series. And c'mon, the end of Gone, Baby, Gone? Strong. So, yeah, I'm on board. Hell, one of my favorite series did the same thing a few years back. Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther returned for a fourth, (fifth and sixth), book ten years after the amazing Berlin Noir trilogy had wrapped. And it turned out, ol' Bernie had more baggage to haul. Sheesh, if you thought he was a mess before the war, give him a few years to marinate in the collective and personal guilt he bears for his people and then turn him loose on some Nazi fucks hiding out in South America. Yeah. I'm there, again.

So, now I'm wondering... are there some more series that could/should be resurrected after a period of dormancy? Typically, these things reek of a cash-out, but occasionally there's a good reason to trot out the old gray mare, preferably a character retired before they wore out their welcome, but even one that was driven into the dust is eligible for a retooling, a reinvention and a new life.

Who's got a suggestion? Anyone? Bueller?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lutz Be Reasonable

Jon Jordan asked me to contribute a piece about John Lutz to the Bouchercon 2011 website and in doing so, got me thinking about a hair I decided to split on writers - artists and craftsmen. I riffed a little bit further over at Ransom Notes on the occasion of the Lutz piece and a new book from Elmore Leonard, whom I also place in the craftsman category. Let the controversy officially begin, though, it should be clear from the tone that I intend no slight in that classification. Christa Faust has put forth her similar theory - perhaps you've heard her explain sperm vs. eggs? Not quite the same thing, but similar.

In the mail this week, some gooduns. Young Junius by Seth Harwood, (much nicer to read than a PDF), By Hook or By Crook, the Ed Gorman/Martin Greenberg best of the year short stories antho and a pseudo-romance looking historical novel which I gotta say, the cover - not doing anything for me, but I read the first chapter and I think it's got promise. Should totally be re-worked art-wise if they want to appeal to readers like me. Make it pulpy and trashy fun, like the writing seems to be, instead of the stuffy, gilded, sepia-toned self-serious pic currently gracing the cover. Yawn. Too many books look like that. Me no care. But the really exciting one is One True Sentence, the conclusion to Craig McDonald's Ernest Hemingway trilogy within the Hector Lassiter Octology. Easily solves my what to read next dilemma.

N@B participant Matthew McBride is puttin the fanboy love on Erik Lundy over at Got Pulp? The Lundy is on my N@B radar you better believe and as of last night, there's an event in the pre-paration. We'll see what develops.

Speaking of what develops, Mr. Steve Weddle of Needle fame lit a fire under my ass at NoirCon and well... No. I can't tell. Too early. Damn. I'm a dirty tease, but to make it up to you I'll let the first person who e-mails me have a free story from Marcus Sakey for your e-reader. Thanks to Michael Lipkin over at the Noir Journal for the heads up on that one. Lipkin was another one of those on-line acquaintances that I was happy to put a face to at NoirCon last week. I keep remembering more of them. That weekend is going to be unpacking itself slowly for a long time.

Did I mention that I finally got to see Human Centipede a few weeks ago? It played in St. Louis in the spring and I was going to take the wife for her birthday, (I wouldn't lie), but the only screening was a midnight show and we're old farts who don't play that no more. Phantom Menace cured me. Anyhow, we saw it at long last and I enjoyed the hell out of it, but you know what was even better? Splice. There, I said it. Haters be damned, that was a great monster movie. Fredoepus is the genre I'm giving it - Frankenstein/Oedipus for those who want to know. I've read some truly awful reviews of this film, but they're just wrong... And here's why:

Splice does the exploitation thing right. The situation is the outlandish bit and not the acting, and not the directing, and not the soundtrack. In other words, it's not Bitch Slap. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley look ridiculous as punk-rock-hipster scientists with cool patches sewn into their lab coats, no less and Japanese art adorning their bedroom, but they play it straight. And not over the top, stiff upper lip straight, just not with their tongues in their cheeks. They let the situation, the ridiculously fucked up situation, be the whole joke, set up and punch line. I'm convinced that Vincenzo Natali knew he was making midnight movie material, but you'd never know from the tone. Think David Cronenberg - sincere, but not humorless and you're on the right track. You know you're watching a winner when you stop saying, "If this were a gutsy movie they'd go there." Because, readers, they do. And then further. Loved it.

Shall I make another schlocky 2010 movie crush confession here? Repo Men with Jude Law and Forest Whitaker. Yeah. Loved it. Generic? Maybe. Slick? Definitely. Retread? Possibly. Restrained? Uh, no. Miguel Sapochnik aint no Ridley Scott... Yet. Hell, ain't no Tony Scott... Yet. And Blade Runner, this is not, though I don't think it wants to be. More closely related to that other Philip K. Dick adaptation, Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall. Splatterific and non-sensical and I'll say Cronenbergian again in the closest thing the film has to a sex scene. The heroes, having just sliced their way through an security detail, strip down and literally enter each other's bodies with a scanner to read the barcodes on all their artificial organs. Shot like a Top Gun style sex bit, (there's another Scott reference), with the gore coated phallus penetrating abdomens as they writhe and gasp... Yeah. Kinda loved it. Awesome? Eh. Enjoyable? Fuckin A. And can I give Liev Schreiber a little HBW love? For some reason, I'm not too interested in seeing him do leading man stuff, but he's always welcome to keep improving the supporting roles.

Long live the new flesh.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Streets of Philadelphia

Anybody who hasn’t already should truck on over to Do Some Damage and check out Steve Weddle’s recap of NoirCon 2010. He captured the vibe from my coin-fed bed pretty well. Over at Ransom Notes, (where there was an unfortunate spell check incident), I’m giving a quick highlight of the panels, but I’ll go through the offscreen bits as best I can recall here. Friday morning had coffee with Kieran Shea, then met Cameron Ashley and Vicki Hendricks in the hotel lobby and walked as a foursome to the Pornography in Noir Fiction panel that featured Christa Faust and Jay Gertzman. Says I to Hendricks, “Whyfer you not onnit?”

Cut out after lunch for to walk the streets of Philadelphia, with Ashley and Anthony Neil Smith, but we never saw The Boss. Ended up in a German joint with hausfrau outfits for the waitresses and foamy, fermented ‘freshments for those with coin. Once Cam was properly sauced for his gig moderating a panel with David Corbett, Seth Harwood, Reed Farrel Coleman and Vicki, we headed back to the venue. Lemme just say that drunk is probably the only way you could get me to step between Corbett, Coleman and Harwood when their blood is up. And it’s always up. Because I’m such a good friend and not at all fraidy, I bailed and walked back to the hotel alone.

In the lobby, hung out with Ed Pettit, Scott Phillips, Megan Abbott, Duane Swierczynski before our night at the museum. Dinner was schmancy that night plus an open bar. I sat with Steve Weddle, Calvin Seen, Owen Laukkanen, Libby Cudmore, Matthew Quinn Martin, (a fellow Beat to a Pulp contibutor, no less) and Nik Korpon, (a fellow Out of the Gutter 5 contributor). Talked a lot about The Shield with Cudmore who’s a Walton Goggins fiend. Hilary Davidson showed up sometime around there and it was great to finally meet her. Weddle forced three whiskeys into me then he and Ashley goaded me into starting some shit with George Pelecanos. Yeah, he used to box. Opted to walk back to the hotel from south Philly. Disturbingly sober when I arrived. Stayed up till 3:00 with Ashley, Shea, John Rector, Stacia Decker and Weddle. Still had a hard time getting to sleep.

Breakfast with Tafoya and company in the morning, then drank NoirCon coffee by the pot and scarfed donut holes in the lobby with Korpon, Cudmore and Martin. Wandered the streets more with that crew, subsisting on coffee and milkshakes, (what happens in Philly stays there). Realized that those three all teach writing and didn’t have to seduce their high school principal in order to graduate and I felt entirely outclassed.

Best panel of the Con followed. Anthony Neil Smith and Megan Abbott discussing revisionist history of noir. Wish there were a podcast available. You missed out.

Somehow, I developed a powerful thirst after that. I wasn’t alone. Ended up in Paddy’s Pub with Shea, Decker, Smith, Ashley, Weddle and Rector. Some people ate food. The fools. After my Irish supper we headed back to the hotel and was again frighteningly clear headed upon arrival. Course corrected in a shotgun bar with Nik Korpon, Dennis Tafoya, Scott, Cam, Don Lafferty, Roger Petersen and Weddle. When the world really started to tilt again, we walked back to the hotel. Again. Stone cold sober by the time we arrived. Hung with Weddle, Ashley, Petersen, Stacia, Hilary and her husband, occasionally ducking out for pizza until we were booted from the bar at 2:30. Haunted the fancy sofa in the lobby with Ashley and Decker till 4 in the morning.

Up again at seven and took a coffee shower with my roomy Shea. He got me really worked up about his novel in progress. It’s gonna be so awesome. I have two syllables for you: KO KO. Also he’s naming a character after me, as is Swierczynski, come to think of it. Across the table from us, Duane asked me and Cam who wanted to be the prisoner and who wanted to be the guard. You always say ‘guard’ when presented with those options. Looking forward to further besmirching the family name in one of his books..

Proper breakfast with Phillips, Tafoya, Ashley, Davidsons, Decker, Peter Rozovsky and more braced me for the day. Took in one more panel and lots more bullshit with the previously mentioned crew members. Lunch with Vicki Hendricks and Joe Samuel Starnes then off to the airport. On the same flight with Phil and Patti Abbott who helped me stay awake in the terminal and then very self-servingly wished me a safe trip. By the way, my parting image of Philly was a guy walking a dog down the street and wearing a Michael Vick t-shirt. Gotta love it.

In my absence, Rod Norman posted an interview with me over at Signs & Wonders and sent me an email about his trip to see William Gay over the weekend. Good for you, buddy. Glad you got that since NoirCon was a wash for you.

And where the hell were all of you?

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Long Goodis Friday

Yawwwwwn. So. Many. Beers... and cake. Dinner last night was actually white wine with chocolate cake. That's me, pixure of helth. NoirCon is here, folks. Got into Philly yesterday and ran into Cameron Ashley in the hotel lobby. Cheeky bastard was getting his own room rather than crashing with me and Kieran Shea. This room is getting expensive. Anybody wanna crash the party and split the room fee? I'm not a snorer, but I do cuddle. Sorry, Shea. After dropping off my stuff in Ashley's room we met Scott Phillips, Shea and Stacia Decker at the bar where I wisely consumed copious amounts of coffee before taking a walking tour of the downtown area with Shea and Ashley. We found a great bookstore with PM Press stuff out the wazoo and a cool comic book store. Mostly, it was bars though. We hit a few. This morning they're hitting back.

Met Lou Boxer at the Society Hill Playhouse a few hours before the film David Goodis: To a Pulp was screened there. He's pulled off a hell of a classy event here. The programs for this thing are unbelievable. Really. Gorgeous. You want one. You do. At the playhouse, they've set up a bookstore for the weekend. My pulse rises looking at the selection. Stuff you don't just find on the shelf anywhere. And lots of it. I'm so broke. If you come split the room and want me to sleep on the floor, I'll do it so I can afford to purchase some of these gems, (Needle magazine and Beat to a Pulp among them!)

At the screening got to meet Patti Abbott and her husband, Ed Pettit, Cullen Gallagher and Peter Rozovsky. Good to see Dennis Tafoya, Jonathan Woods and Duane Swierczynski too. Afterward a bunch of us ended up at a German beer hall up the street and did more of the, uh beer thing. Walked back to the hotel with Ashley and David Corbett, then met Reed Farrel Coleman and his lovely wife, (he scored, man - waaaaay out of his league), and a company of enthusiasts and did, yeah, more beer.

This morning at Ransom Notes I'm sounding the NoirCon bell and looking ever so briefly at David Goodis, without whom we may as well be congregating in Kansas City, (not a bad idea, actually - KC folks, get on that, I'm on board). I'm sucking down caffeine nutrients and headed to a panel on Noir and Pornography with Coleman and Christa Faust in a couple of hours. It's going to be a long day. And over far too soon.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Elect to Read

So, please forgive the rushed tone of this post as I'm stocking up on ammo for NoirCon this week. Seriously, there're bound to be some dangerous people waiting to take a piece of me in the city of brotherly love. Halloween may be behind us, but I'm betting the feeling is lingering in your psyche and you'd do well to check out John Rector's brand new one, The Grove, which I'm reviewing over at Ransom Notes.

Chris La Tray has a belated recap of N@B and on a related note, I've got something to tell you about a N@B project involving Tim Lane, but... nah. I'll save that for later.

Former N@B reader Frank Bill is given the ol' phone book and rubber hose treatment by Rod Norman at Signs & Wonders. Beat to a Pulp editor David Cranmer is also interviewing Mr. Bill, (tee-hee), and Elaine Ash right here.

Paul Brazill is demanding answers of R.J. Ellroy, and Keith Rawson grills a big Mac Russel Mclean on video at Spinetingler.

Charlie Stella has written Benjamin Whitmer's Pike a helluva review. "Book of the Year." Yeah, that bad boy is wracking up the praise, unfortunately, these ol' blogs are some of the only places reviewing paperback originals like Pike, so on this election day I'm proposing we all go vote with our wallets on some quality fiction from small publishers at independent bookstores. Mmmm? How 'bout Stella's own Johnny Porno? Or maybe Jonathan Woods' Bad Juju? Pinckney Benedict's Miracle Boy, Gary Phillips' The Underbelly, Lynn Kostoff's Late Rain, Seth Harwood's Young Junius or perhaps The Drop Edge of Yonder by Rudolf Wurlitzer? And I'm operating on the assumption that everybody has requested their free copy of Rut by Scott Phillips from Concord Free Press by now, yeah? Just a few I've enjoyed this year. And yeah, I'll get off the soap box now.

Speaking of quality small publishers, anybody out there who's not following Tyrus books on Twitter is missing out on frequent book giveaways. Thanks Ben LeRoy. Keep up the good work.

Have you seen the trailers for the new Ken Bruen movies, William Monahan's London Boulevard or Elliott Lester's Blitz? Been a while since I read Boulevard, but I gotta say I don't recognize the material. Looks like it could be a good movie, but I wouldn't have known it came from K's book. Jason Statham looks like an appropriately nasty Brant, though. Looking forward to both.

And for anybody who thinks my characters are too ridiculous to be real, I highly recommend viewing the new documentary The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. Watch it, then we'll talk.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pike's Peak

Benjamin Whitmer’s novel Pike is the most exciting, kick ass debut of the year. There, I said it, the book backs me up. Set in the harsh wilds of rural Kentucky, Ohio and on the streets of Cincinatti, Pike bristles with danger, menace and mortal volatility. The bleak, rugged physical terrain mirrors the psychic and emotional interiors of each character who have been put through hells as diverse as the intentions that paved the way.

At the book’s opening: Douglas Pike is a hard bitten old timer who grudgingly takes custody of the twelve year old granddaughter he’s never met on occasion of her mother’s death. The girl is as hesitant to go with him as he is to take her, but neither has many options in life. A bent cop named Derrick Kreiger murders a kid in broad daylight and incites a riot on the streets of Cincinatti. When he's suspended from the force, he goes on an end fastening mission that leaves more than a couple bodies in its wake.

The characters Whitmer assumes you'll love as much as he does, do awful things. They have terrible lives and bloody comeuppance, but his skill and compassion as a writer wont let you dismiss them as irredeemable. The ferocity of this book is something special and signifies the arrival of a major new talent and voice in fiction. Put Whitmer's next one, whatever it may be, squarely at the top of my anticipation list.

With little fanfare, PM Press's Switchblade line has carved out a niche for finely crafted, hardcore crime fiction with a social awareness, and Pike ought to win them a lot of attention. Benjamin Whitmer, graciously gave his time to answer a few questions:

First off, I know it's a line in the book, but it's also the title of your blog and the name on your Twitter account - Can you explain the significance of the phrase 'Kick him, Honey'?

It's just a stupid joke with myself. It was the first of many laugh-out-loud lines I hit in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and I think at one point I had some cockamamie plan to include it in every book I ever wrote. Y'know, to ensure thematic unity through my work.

Now I've just decided to kill a dog in every book instead. I hate dogs.

Reading your author bio, it sounds like you grew up looking at the world like it was wide open - still wild - and I'd say the characters in your book do as well. They treat societal laws as either ignorable irritants or hostile encroachments on their existence, how much of the author's worldview do they represent?

That’s a great question. Growing up, my mother definitely placed a premium on freedom. I had a lot of elbow room, and there was no censorship when it came to books or ideas. She also had very little interest in arbitrary societal norms -- she’s probably the least judgmental person I’ve ever met. She’s an amazing woman, and those are the greatest gifts she gave me. But, of course, that freedom came with a cost. We were very poor, and there were chunks of my childhood where we didn’t have electricity or running water, let alone health insurance or any kind of financial safety net.

For all the talk that goes on in this country about freedom, there ain’t much to be had. There’s no aspect of our lives where we’re not subject to regulation and control, and, as everybody knows, we’ve got more people in prison than any country in the world, and most of them for victimless crimes. No matter how you look at it, when it comes to tangible freedom, the kind that allows us to live how we want to live, we’re one of the least free people around. That’s something my characters grate against, and I absolutely share that with them.

But then I think of before Colorado became a state, when it was pretty much a free-for-all for white settlers. And I think of when white Denverites were worked into a frenzy against the local Indians, and the First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers massacred hundreds of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapahoe camped along Sand Creek. And I remember how when they returned to Denver with scalped women’s genitalia stretched across their saddle pommels and Indian fetuses paraded on sticks, the whole town turned out to cheer them on. That’s a kind of freedom, too. And that tension about freedom is something that's been on my mind a lot. I tried to keep it in play throughout Pike.

So was Douglas Pike based on anyone in particular? Or Derrick for that matter?

Well, Pike was based on a few people, none of whom I should I probably name for pissing 'em off. But I did actually have a kind of model for both Pike and Derrick -- somebody I could imagine when I came to a mental block.

In Pike's case it was Steve Earle, circa Transcendental Blues. Earle was just out of jail, and was looking big and burly and full of menace to prove himself. For Derrick it was Waylon Jennings back in his cocaine and speed days, around the time of Honky Tonk Heroes. Honky Tonk Heroes is one of the greatest country albums ever released, but you can tell it almost killed Jennings to make it. You look at pictures of him from that time and he’s drawn thin, strung out, at the absolute stretched-out end of reason.

Those were only a kind of body double for the characters, though, if you know what I mean. I didn't try to base the characters on them or anything. It was just a way of getting myself back on track when I needed to. I probably listened to those two albums, Transcendental Blues and Honky Tonk Heroes, three or four thousand times when I was writing Pike.

What importance did the geographical setting have?

All the importance in the world. I had the characters of Pike and Wendy in my head for years but I had no idea what to do with them until my wife and I moved to Cincinnati chasing a job. My daughter was born within a couple weeks of the move, and she had colic pretty bad. We were living in a tiny two-room apartment, and my daughter would cry for four or five hours at a clip, so when I was home from work I'd take her for walks -- it was about the only thing that would calm her down -- and let my poor exhausted wife get a little rest. We ended up walking all over the city at all times of day and night. Where we lived wasn't a real bad area, but we were bordering a lot of neighborhoods that were, so I'd throw a handgun in my diaper bag and we'd just roam for hours on end. It was then, walking around and looking at the city, that the story started to fall into place.

I always tell my daughter that she can't read Pike quite yet -- she's only six -- but that she's already been to all the locations. I don't think it's done her too much damage, anyway. She asks me for Cincinnati stories almost every night after storytime.

The beginning of the book places us secure in our sympathies with Pike and set firmly against Derrick, but by the end of the book, Pike's character and history challenge our loyalties to him while Derrick's revealed motives endear him a little bit. In your mind was one character clearly the sympathetic one?

No, not at all. I feel like I probably shouldn’t say this in polite company, but I love them both for exactly who they are. As I see it, that’s one of the differences between crime fiction and police procedurals, forensic whodunits, lone hero serials and all the other stuff (some of which I very much enjoy, for the record): with crime fiction, there don’t have to be good guys and bad guys. Instead, you can put motivation at the forefront and make crime a part of character, creating – at least in my mind – much richer, if maybe more disturbing, stories.

I know there are certainly times in my life when I haven’t been at my best. And I know plenty of people who managed to fuck themselves up real good and/or destroy the lives of those around them. But I’ve never met a single person who set out to do so. Every major fuck up I ever met was the product of poor circumstances, bad choices, and whatever flaws and damage they carried with them. I’m not sure you can pinpoint those bad choices or that damage, and in the case of fiction I don’t have much interest in trying – I’m not real interested in writing psychological whydunits, either – but it’s always there.

Those are the kind of people who interest me: heavily flawed, complicated, violent people, doing what they can with what little they have. Straight good guys and bad guys may exist, but I’ve never seen them outside of comic books. (And, come to think, most comic books are more complicated than that these days.)

Is Crime Writer, a tag you're happy to wear?

Yessir, no doubt about it. My next book actually won’t be a crime book; I’m co-writing Charlie Louvin’s autobiography for Igniter Books -- which is about as exciting as it gets for me, being a hardcore country music fan. But after that I’ve got a second novel just about done, a third half done, and I’m researching for the fourth, and they’re all crime novels. They may be a little off center -- at least I hope so -- but they’re definitely crime novels.

Besides which, one thing I’ve learned over the past month is just how generous the crime fiction community is. I’d probably go broke if I tried to buy Keith Rawson and Brian Lindenmuth all the drinks I owe ‘em. Not to mention Switchblade editor Gary Phillips, who I just got to meet in person, and the rest of the folks at PM Press. And, of course, all the people who've been kind enough to contact me and give me their reaction to the book. I've been blown away, and there’s no way I’d want to jump ship.

And, not to be snide, and I hope it doesn’t come across that way, but if you set copies of the latest releases from, say, Jonathon Franzen and James Ellroy in front of me, I’m reading the Ellroy first. I may very well like the Franzen, I may even think it lives up to the reviews, but I’m reading the Ellroy first. I know that crime fiction’s one of the few places left in literature where we can still talk unironically about things like class, race, corruption, the meaning of violence, the consequences of history, and all the other stuff that moves me, so I’m reading the Ellroy first.

So, yeah, the crime writer tag is something I’m more than happy to wear. I’m very proud of it, and I just hope I live up to it.

How did you get hooked up with Louvin? And not to sound grim, but is there a rush to finish the book or a contingency plan in place if he doesn't see it to completion?

It was actually out of nowhere. Igniter Books is an imprint of HarperCollins run by Neil Strauss and Anthony Bozza, and they wanted to do a Charlie Louvin book, so Strauss contacted my agent and asked if he had any writers who’d be interested in the project. I, of course, jumped at the chance, and we sent Strauss and Bozza some excerpts from Pike. Long story short, they said lots of really nice things about the book, and the job was mine.

As to contingency plans, I don’t think there’ll be any need. Charlie and I have been working really hard and talking a lot, true, but he has more fight in him than I ever thought possible. I mean, it’s pancreatic cancer, so it’s a rough deal, but with the grace and strength he shows every day I have trouble believing he’s going anywhere soon. Maybe I’m fooling myself, but he’s pretty amazing.

Two of the characters in the book are a little pre-occupied with pedophilia - Wendy as a threat and Derrick as a flashpoint for violence - yet the closest thing to a healthy relationship described in Pike involves a grown man and an underaged girl. Care to unpack that a little?

I'm not sure I can, it's just kind of the way the story played out. One thing I would say is that I'm not sure that relationship is very healthy. I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t read the book, but that grown man has his own past he’s trying to redeem. Redemption, at least as it gets presented in a lot of fiction, looks like a tremendously violent process. It’s almost like an act of consumption. I mean if you’re redeeming your own fuck ups through the figure of someone else, you’re basically devouring them into your own life story, right?

Certainly the relationship would still be a stumbling point from any reader's point of view, but in the context of the world of the book, of where the characters come from and what they've dealt with, it holds the unique position of not already having destroyed those involved. It seemed to me one more instance of these characters' disdain for the law - of society of the heart - whatever. And how about the law - Jack, the sheriff? What kind of sympathy or esteem do you as the author have for him?

Ah, I got you. Yeah, I think that’s right. Pike certainly thinks that if the relationship is helpful to the grown man and the girl than society has no place getting involved. And that makes sense. As a society we’re real good at shoveling people into prison, but we have no interest in taking care of kids who are abandoned, abused, or starvation-level poor. It just doesn’t come up in the national discourse, except in the breathless horseshit that runs out of 20/20, Oprah (there goes the book club), or whatever. When you’re down to that level, you survive any way you can, and I think Pike would find passing judgment to be hypocritical at best. Of course, Derrick, he’s not real good at nuance in this case – like most people, I suppose – but sometimes things are more complicated than they look from the outside.

As to Jack, the Sheriff, he’s made his own poor choices, I think. Like the rest of them, he kind of blundered into who he is, and now he’s paying for it. I found him sympathetic, for sure. He’s done the best he could with what he had, it's just that what he had turned out to be inadequate. Which, I guess, it usually is.

How did you become involved with PM Press and the Switchblade line?

It was just good timing, really. My agent had been sending Pike around for awhile, and we couldn’t get anyone to bite. We got lots of really nice rejection notes, but they all ended with “way too dark for us.” I have a friend, however, who knows Ramsey Kanaan, the founder of PM Press, and he knew they were looking for books in the vein of Pike. I passed the information on to my agent, he sent it the manuscript off to the folks over there, and they took it. I was really, really excited, of course, and more than a little relieved. I was starting to think it was going to end up collecting dust in the bottom drawer of my desk for the rest of my life.

How long was it between finishing the book and seeing it published?

It was a while. I think three and a half years, maybe a little more.

And in the meantime what kept you occupied?

Well, I’ve got two small children, so that means I’m pretty much always occupied. But I also just kept plugging away. I wrote a second novel, and accidentally got about halfway through a third, and then for the last couple of months it’s been all Charlie Louvin all the time. My career plan as a writer is to make up for my deficiencies of natural talent with pure tenacity. I just figured if I kept grinding away, sooner or later somebody’d want what I was writing. Or, if not, than no harm done, because it gave me something to do that was reasonably harmless – depending on who you ask, anyway – and which I love doing. Some people live for racing cars, some people for building guitars, some people for cooking, this is what keeps me together.

Read my review of Pike at Ransom Notes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

O'Shea Can You See?

Wha? Huh? Are we there yet? Is this thing on? Oh, yes it was a hell of a week in St. Louis and I'm still not quite recovered, but ready to do my worst. First off, thanks to everybody involved with Noir at the Bar - that especially means YOU who came out and gave ear to some seriously attention starved egomaniacs just vain enough to believe if they traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to read, you would show up. Spent a good afternoon with Cameron Ashley and Jonathan Woods Thursday. We powered up on coffee and bloody meat for the evening's events, in the mean time running into Ashley favs like Tim Lane and Brian Hurtt making St. Louis seem like the epicenter of cool. Scott Phillips and Chris La Tray joined us for dinner and the crank sweat dripping into the Schlafly beers made those motherfuckers scary. At the event, Matthew McBride turned up - bald tires be damned - and Dan O'Shea, only a rumor beforehand, materialized like malevolent dream. The evening kicked off with two world-tilting pieces from Woods, (whose Bad Juju is no joke - or maybe a sick one), and the N@B first timers all clutched their drinks with both hands eyeing the emergency exits having no idea what they'd got themselves into. La Tray followed up with his hardboiled contribution to Crimefactory's upcoming Kung-Fu Factory and got the evening's first explosive laughter with that story's climax, (as opposed to the nervous chuckling Woods' stories tend to illicit - 'was that funny?' 'am I a bad person for laughing at that?' The answer to both is 'yes'.) I thanked Cameron on behalf of a grateful nation for AC/DC, for which he graciously took credit, but he refused any culpability for Baz Luhrmann, which struck me as hypocritical. Everybody learned some great Aussie cusses which I'll be practicing to pull out later at Noircon. Scott advanced all the runners with an excerpt from his fantastically twisted new novel Rut, (which you ALL have to order from Stona Fitch's Concord Free Press... Yeah, it's free, do it,) and Dan O'Shea brought everybody home with his contribution to Discount Noir, a nasty piece of middle American malaise. Hung around the bar for a couple hours with the degenerates and closed the evening with Ashley and Woods at the hotel bar sometime Friday morning. (Check out McBride's version of the events here.)

Spent the rest of the morning with those two and Scott, then dropped Woods at the airport and gave Ashley the rinky-dink tour of the Lou. We bought two gallons of beer from the brewery up the street for lunch and spent the rest of the day eliminating them, met up with Scott for nightcaps and sent him off to Toronto first thing in the morning.

I've spent the last two days in bed. But don't cry for me, Argentina, Saturday's mail brought some great reasons to stay there a while - Cortright McMeel's Short, Phillips' Rut, Gil Brewer's The Red Scarf and Dave Zeltserman's 21 Tales. Come get me next week, or turn me over at lest.

Speaking of Crimefactory, Issue 5 is live featuring fiction from Charlie Williams, Sandra Ruttan, Stephen Blackmoore, Patricia Abbott, Matthew C. Funk, Paul D. Brazill, John Weagly, Jim Winter, Chad Rohrbacher, Erik Lundy, Richard Godwin, Libby Cudmore and Calvin Seen.. Of course there's a nice helping of non-fiction features as well from the likes of Andrew Nette, Gary Lovisi, The Nerd of Noir, Eric Beetner, Audrey Homan and Jimmy Callaway.

Something that I don't need to apologize for, but I do feel a certain nagging urge to make up for is my lack of online participation with the cool community of writers, readers and enthusiasts that I have the good fortune of rubbing virtual elbows with out here. I'm just not much of an online guy. Haven't got access to the webs at my house, so I'm not a casual browser. I get online and take care of business, then I'm gone. For that reason, I don't get hip to new stuffs very quickly, I don't do the flash fiction challenges or exchange witty Tweets, not because I don't want to, but it just aint in the cards for me now. Every once in a while I receive a heads up to a new site that I'd probably spend time at if I had more of it. Here's a couple examples of some that you're probably already hip to. Noir Journal, Thrills Blog and The Crime of it All. Check 'em out and lemme know what you think. Meanwhile, Nigel Bird continues the series of one sided conversations over at Sea Minor with Benjamin Whitmer and Charlie Stella. Or how 'bout this contest from Chris F. Holm's blog, a six word story - winner gets a copy of Beat to a Pulp: Round One. And Daniel Woodrell has a new story up at Narrative called Blue Norton. Here's the kickass opening line, "They woke us up about three to go into the jungle and find the sergeant's foot."

Like I said, I've been bloody exhausted and sickly all weekend, so I didn't get out to post links to Friday's Ransom Notes piece about Reed Farrel Coleman and his new one Innocent Monster. I feel bad about that, but it looks like Colemanites found their way over on their own. Good on you, Coleman nation. Today at Ransom Notes, I'm speaky on the topic of alternative routes to publishing, in specific Seth Harwood whose latest Young Junius is now available and recommended, (also mentioned in the piece is Phillips' Rut).

Lastly, I do have N@B schwag for anybody wanting some - event read sheets autographed by meself, Jonathan Woods, Matthew McBride, Chris La Tray, Dan O'Shea, Scott Phillips and Cameron Ashley. These are the printouts the authors read from at the event and each is signed by everybody. Also, I'm giving away an autographed copy of Woods' Bad Juju which he inscribed with a rather saucy remark about yours truly. What do you have to do to "win" these? Just leave a comment on this post and I'll getcha somethin. Out of the country? Don't worry, I'll send you something too.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Noir at the Bar tonight. What do you mean you're going to see Don DeLillo? You can't miss this, dammit, we've got the swears and the beers. Plus Australian potty-talk. Nice little write up here. 7PM at the Delmar Lounge.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I'd Ask the World to Dance

Got my copy of Beat to a Pulp: Round One in the other day. Damn, that is a handsome book. Great cover art by James O'Barr, eighteen year old me is really geeking out to be associated with something he did, way to go David Cranmer and Elaine Ash. Whew, it's a big one, though. This is gonna take me forever to get through. I've already mentioned previous publishings alongside Mike Sheeter, Glenn Gray, Patricia Abbott, Kieran Shea and Hilary Davidson, but Sophie Littlefield and Garnett Elliot also belong in that camp and I'm pleased as hell to appear alongside the likes of HBW friends like Frank Bill and Cullen Gallagher, not to mention the legends Ed Gorman, Robert Randisi and hmmm, seems like I've heard of that Charles Ardai character somewhere too. Scott D. Parker, Matthew Quinn Martin, Paul S. Powers, James Reasoner, Anonymous-9, Stephen D. Rogers, Nolan Knight, Chris F. Holm, Nik Morton, I.J. Parnham, Evan Lewis, Andy Henion and Chap O'Keefe round out that collection, putting me in far better company than I deserve.

N@B this week. Ready? Really? Check again. For those who need reminding, it's a semi-literate, regular event at the Delmar Lounge in the University City Loop. This Thursday night at 7pm, you can catch the likes of Scott Phillips, Jonathan Woods, Cameron Ashley and Chris La Tray. Also beer. Maybe spot some ne'er do wells like Matthew McBride, Malachi Stone or Dan O'Shea. Maybe.

Today over at Ransom Notes I'm talking about Qiu Xiaolong and his Inspector Chen series, but also his new short story collection Years of Red Dust, which learned me a thing or two about Shanghai.

I took part in Nigel Bird's Dancing With Myself series in which he asks writers to ask themselves questions. Things did not go well. Check out somebody like Gar Anthony Haywood. Don't waste time on mine.

Sounds like most folks had a blast at Bouchercon. Glad to hear it. See you next year.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Future

I was called a Luddite once, and after I’d ridden my horse to the library and looked it up, I sent an eloquently worded telegram to the mistaken party in dispute of that claim, but this week I’ve thought that perhaps the mistaken party was myself.

I’d like you to picture a scene from my life this week. I was interviewing CSI creator Anthony Zuiker on the telephone, holding the earpiece up to my ancient video camera which was plugged into the wall. I could barely hear the conversation and later as I transcribed it by playing it back in five second segments, straining to hear the faint voice the camera’s mic barely picked up over its own hum, I listened to what he was saying. Guy was talking about the future like someone who’d been there. Seriously, when Anthony Zuiker sees the future - it looks eerily like the mirror. Whereas, I see the future and get distracted by the price of bread.

Ten years ago his little television show debuted starring that guy from To Live & Die in L.A. and went on to spawn a spin-off shortly afterward starring that guy from Jade. That’s right, Zuiker was on a mission to resurrect the careers of stars of William Friedkin movies. Such a fan was he, that he even had Friedkin direct a couple episodes of his show, (and ya know who else did? Yeah, fellow career ressurector Quentin Tarantino – just try sneezing at that… you can’t). That’s right, he’s the creator of those shows about preternaturally technologically equipped police reconstructing crimes and criminals through what they leave behind, (in the words of Nathan Arizona “microbes and shit.” It’s there whole “damn forte.”)

After a decade of it, he’s scratching the itch to write books. But hell, anybody can do that, so he’s gotta take it to the next level. Level 26: Dark Origins was the first of a strain of book experiences he’s dubbed digi-novels. And what exactly is a digi-novel? A book that can be enjoyed cover to cover conventionally, but is designed to be experienced in tandem with film supplements and an online community, exploring the fictional world created by Zuiker and co-author Duane Swierczynski. Dark Origins was a creepy as hell book about a serial killer who dons bondage gear when he operates, rendering him effectively forensic-proof. Add to that, a contortionist’s body, a sick mind and immovable will and it sounds like a job for Steve Dark – a damaged, forensics dragon-slayer with something more than a knack for catching killers and a lot to loose.

This week, Zuiker and Swierczynski give us the second Steve Dark volume, Dark Prophecy and digi-novel version 2.0 featuring a stand-alone one –hour film and even more bells and whistles on the iPad app. Zuiker insists they’ve improved and re-focused the tone and direction of the books as well, steering away from some of the darkest elements. I asked him about the new book and the future of publishing.

I’ve heard the books described as a trilogy, is that accurate?

Yes it is. When I first got into the bidding war with Dutton and Hyperion and we settled on Dutton, they were definitely very aggressive about making it a trilogy. Which was fine by me because we felt that the more chances we had to tell the story, the better. Book one was definitely a villain point of view with Sqweegel, book two is definitely a Steve Dark point of view for our protagonist, and book three is probably a good balance between villain and hero. Again, we’re finding the balance in our story telling and trying not to replicate ourselves twice, and try to go into new territory and just improve. We’ve made a lot of great improvements. And we’ve been very vocal in the press about our mistakes. Because the thing is for me as a producer, as a leader of industry, it’s not so much to try to have success in industry, but rather be able to verbalize what’s been going right and wrong, to pay that information forward and push the medium forward, so that if anybody else tries to do something like this, we’re closer to our goal, which is perfecting this thing called the digi-novel and moving publishing forward the best way we can through our successes and failures. I did the same thing for television. I’m very verbal about the things I’ve done right and done wrong. I’d like personally to go down as one of those producers that shared as much information as possible for the next person coming up.

Have you heard of any other digi-novels being made?

I think 39 Clues has been doing has been doing things in this arena and been very successful at that. If you ask me will there be a Stephanie Meyer Twilight type series or a Harry Potter type series or a Dragon Tattoo type series coming out in the future where you incorporate motion pictures with real actors like we have and social communities and interactivity instead of just doing a book and the movie comes out a few years later, we can merge all three going forward with all this amazing technology and with the iPad, the answer is ‘absolutely.’

I think that people will appreciate what we’re doing at our company now in the next five years. There’s just no way I foresee going forward that there won’t be some level of storytelling in the publishing industry that doesn’t have this type of interactivity and extra content because publishing and technology will have to merge going forward. We’ve seen the impact of Kindle and taking e-books on the go. It will only get better and faster.

Do you have an idea what the next step is?

Well. We’re going to see how book two does. We’re going to tear it apart and put it under a microscope so to speak. We’re going to see what we did right and what we did wrong. Ask ourselves whether we’ve built on fiction and if we’ve bettered our product and if the answer is ‘yes’ then we’ll keep trying different things and see if we can perfect this experience moving forward. We’ve already got some ideas that are already different for book three. Hopefully Dutton feels that we’ve been successful globally after three books and we’ll do more. And we’re also very seriously thinking about doing a digi-novel that’s not crime based. That there’s a lot of other ways to change up the format. I just took a five mile walk this morning around Central Park and had this discussion, if we did the Dark series and continue, what’s our next series? What would that look like? So we’re having discussions now for the next five years. You know, the thing about publishing is sometimes it’s about book nine. So we really are dedicated to staying in this industry as long as we possibly can and keep challenging ourselves to do great things and hopefully the world appreciates it and likes it and takes us along for the ride.

I’ve got to ask, Steve Dark almost seems like an homage to Thomas Harris's Will Graham - and with William Peterson having played the role in Manhunter, did that have anything to do with his being cast on CSI?

That’s funny. Kind of. When he and I sat down, I want to say in August of ’99, Billy Peterson and I, you know he was from Chicago, I was from Chicago, we both liked the Cubs, we both liked to drink beer at the Cubs’ games, so we got along pretty well and that’s how CSI was started. In terms of Steve Dark, it’s been such a challenging emotional ride with the launch of all three CSIs. I flew back and forth from Vegas to Burbank twice a year for a decade straight. I lived out of a hotel room for five days or seven days (at a time) with three kids, and missed everything from first steps to school plays and soccer games. So I think a lot of the hardship that I’ve dealt with in television, I’ve poured into Steve Dark’s hardship in terms of chasing evil. On top of that, I’ve taken all the information of my CSI career of all the bad people and horrific crimes and put them into one entity, which is Sqweegel, the forensic-proof killer. I think that artistically, channeling all that hurt and pain from the TV experience into the art form of the digi-novel is kind of how that got portrayed as an artist. Hopefully people who are fans of CSI and like that side of it, find it stimulating intellectually.

What's changed now that Steve Dark is not working for the government anymore?

In the book it’s five years later, he’s finished his so-called indentured servitude. I keep telling Dan Buran who plays Steve Dark ‘y’know you’re a werewolf.’ Meaning you really can not not catch killers. There just really is no walking away. So what starts as a casual interest in book two, you know picking up the newspaper, having a cup of coffee, reading about Tarot cards, quickly becomes an obsession with Steve Dark. And I think you’re going to see him get past the brooding phase in book two and really be able to emotionally put to bed the one thing that’s held him back for all these years. Now the challenge for us for book three is how do we turn the stakes up? How does one man take down the man who might control the whole world for book three? All I can tell you is that I was very inspired the movie Inception and you’ll see some similarities in book three.

How did Duane Swierczynski get selected?

He was one of a handful of people selected that were sent to me with writing samples from Dutton. Duane’s done a really, really great job. He had a very, very tough task with book one, to go off a ninety-page outline that I wrote during Terminator Salvation, that had a stop in the writing, that lead to visual, that he had to trust what I was shooting and continue back in the manuscript, that’s really challenging and not something that authors really do. To be sort of given this blue-print where they have to stop twenty times and trust a film maker. So in book two we wanted to make sure that the one hour movie didn’t fight the narrative, so we told him to get back to his roots in the outline manuscript phase of the book and let us shoot the movie separately. And instead of him coming to me in book one, we would make the movie and go to him and write the manuscript for book two. I think it worked out pretty great.
I read somewhere that you were a mystery aficionado since childhood, I'm curious what first grabbed your imagination.

I was an only child in Las Vegas, my parents worked for the casino business, so pretty much my babysitter from three to ten o’clock at night was the library. So I would literally just walk around the library in the mystery or horror section, read all those great Sherlock Holmes novels. I just became infatuated with mystery at a very young age and then I think as I got older as you know a child in Vegas, plus all the CSI stuff, began to get extra creative in terms of telling all these CSI stories.

The whole thing started when I was in Japan and I saw a special on the 25 levels of evil that measure a serial killer. I had no idea that that sort of barometer existed and once I saw that special in Japan, I began to think about level 26 which is a fictitious level with one name on the list, Sqweegel. And that’s how the whole franchise was born.

When was that?

That had to be in the year 2007.

The books straddle the mystery and horror genres, would you classify them one way or the other, or does that kind of distinction make a difference to you?

That’s funny, I went to Columbus Circle this morning to look for the paperback, and it somehow got shoe-horned in the horror section. I always thought of it in the mystery genre or the mystery thriller genre, especially book two.

You studied 'competitive forensics' in school?

I did. The sort of joke around town was when I was a freshman in high school we had an elective and I took “forensics” thinking it was forensic medicine like in Quincy. When I showed up it was actually forensic speech not forensic medicine which taught me about public speaking and that kind of thing. The only ironic thing is that one day I would take those public speaking skills in pitch phase to sell a show about forensic medicine.

You can read the rest of my interview with Anthony Zuiker at Ransom Notes.