Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Subbacultcha - Contest!

Thanks to everybody who turned out for N@B last night. Pre-shate it folks. And I'm sure regular attenders will agree it was good to have Scott Phillips back as emcee. I kicked the evening off reading from Blood, Guts & Whiskey in honor of fellow reader and BG&W contributor Derek Nikitas. I would like to point out that going first is a huge advantage here. I wouldn't want to have to follow Derek, who read an excellent and escalating excerpt from The Long Division, but first timer Matthew J. McBride took that thankless position and raised the stakes impossibly high from the first line of his story Gunpowder and Aluminum Foil, "That's the biggest cock I've ever seen." Crossbows and meth go together like peanut butter and chocolate. If you haven't read Matthew you can check out his blog Got Pulp? where he's got links to other stories and you can keep up with his high octane lifestyle. I'd like to add that N@B has got quite a track record for first public readings going with Matthew joining Frankie Bill and Malachi Stone in that catagory. Damn, makes me feel proud. Have you seen what people are saying about Frankie's novel Donnybrook? Go check that out. Dennis Tafoya carried the evening to a heartbreaking conclusion with the opening excerpt from his excellent new novel The Wolves of Fairmount Park which you should definitely purchase, (and Subterranean Books has got some signed copies if'n ya wanna maybe order one).

I've got a new contest now and the prizes (2) are the printed story Gunpowder and Aluminum Foil and Derek's The Long Division excerpt signed by all the participants from last night. Simply pick up a copy of the excellent new Thuglit anthology Blood Guts & Whiskey edited by Todd Robinson and email me the final lines from N@B participants Sean Doolittle, Derek Nikitas and my own stories. Click on my profile on the right side of your screen for that address.

Speaking with Dennis last night, he mentioned his strong desire to write a supernatural/paranormal/horror whatever you wanna call it book. A crime writer who has just done that is Michael Koryta. I'm talking about him and So Cold the River at Ransom Notes.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Tonight. Tonight. Tonight. Dennis Tafoya! Derek NIkitas! Matthew McBride! Scott Phillips! N@B! Fictional Meth labs! Dope Thieves! Actual booze! Literacy! Intoxication! Wolves! Long Division! Simple Math! Pyres! Cigarettes! Cottonwoods! Scrub brush! Walkaways! Sit down! Ice! Heat! Mahogany & Monogamy! Trauma Dyke! Plots With Guns! Crimefactory! Thuglit! A Twist of Noir! Beat to a Pulp! Delmar Lounge! Subterranean Books! Schwag! Auction! Bad Neighborhood! This World Like a Knife! Pocketful of Ginch! Got Pulp?Edgar! Augustino! Rod! Judy! Blake! PBR! @SmutFreeBooks! Be there!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Dave Zeltserman writes about psychotic criminal personalities with no perceivable affectation, not a hint of added spice or gimmicky grooviness, precious little by way of witty banter and somewhere about zilch to do with the romance of crime. What he brings to his characters is a gut-level authenticity that in turn informs and anchors the stories to an emotional honesty no matter where they go.

And oh where they go.

He writes in long passages. Where most would cut, he lingers, not letting the reader look away from the scene, not letting an ounce of the weight of it evaporate unsavored. But that’s not to say they’re not enjoyable.

Dave answered some questions I had after reading Pariah, the second book in his thematically linked ‘man out of prison trilogy’ (bookended by Small Crimes and Killer). It’s his send up of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang’s legacy and the media clusterfuck that occurred a few years back when some of the main players were given celebrity treatment and book deals upon exiting prison. Each were given the opportunity to paint themselves the way they’d like to be seen and judging from Dave’s novel, I’d say it got to him.

I had no idea Pariah was going to be based on Whitey Bulger. I assume Kyle Nevin is based on Kevin Weeks and John “Red” Shea. Is that right?

I'd say that it was more inspired by Bulger, Weeks and (Stephen) Flemmi. Shea was a small-timer with an inflated sense of himself, although he did inspire one scene in Pariah.

Are there more books you think you’ll be inspired to write by the Winter Hill Gang?

I'm thinking about bringing Kyle and Red Mahoney back, setting the story in 1990, and having something loosely inspired by the Gardner Museum heist. I have this plotted out in my head, but whether I do this depends on some other things happening.

What was your knowledge of Southie’s criminal underclass growing up in Boston?

Like a lot of people in Boston I was fascinated by all of this and read everything in the papers and listened to everything that came on the radio about it. It really is an amazing story at so many different levels. Here you have as brothers Boston's top mobster and the state senate president, with each of them helping each other--Whitey leaning on other state pols to keep brother Billy in power, and Billy squashing state police investigations into Whitey.

Your books are not the first bits of popular fiction to be inspired by Bulger and Co. Were you influenced by any others?

To be honest, no. Although the fact that New York publishers gave book deals to Boston mobsters like Kevin Weeks and 'Red' Shea helped piss me off enough to write Pariah. That and Little Brown giving a 600K book deal to a Harvard student, the one who ended up plagiarizing other chicklit books, only because she was an attractive package. A lot of rage at NY publishing went into writing Pariah.

Have you received feedback, positive or negative, from neighborhood associates of those you’ve fictionalized?

I found one Southie blog site who blasted me, but they did so admitting they didn't read the book. They didn't like the fact that some guy from the 'burbs wrote about Southie.

Is there factual inspiration for the other books in the trilogy?

Killer was inspired very loosely on Boston hitman John Martorano, or really more the idea that some could kill over 20 people and still strike a deal where they give up a crime boss and get 12 years.

Small Crimes was very loosely inspired by a couple of true crime stories, but no one involved has any national notoriety.

At what point did the idea of a thematic trilogy occur to you? Did it slowly evolve or spring forth full formed?

This was completely an accident. My noir hero from Pariah, Kyle Nevin, is the polar opposite of my luckless Small Crimes protagonist, Joe Denton. While Joe is someone who wants to go through life without causing any more damage and at some level is seeking redemption, Kyle is just this destructive force of nature without a redemptive bone in his body. So when I was writing Pariah I thought it would be interesting to have it start the same as Small Crimes; with my noir hero just being released from prison, and then seeing the path he takes. So then when Serpent's Tail decided they wanted Pariah, I threw out the idea of making this a trilogy by writing a third novel inspired very loosely by the idea of a hitman like John Martorano being able to strike a deal so he can walk after serving a relatively short prison term. My only reason for throwing this out was so I could sell two books instead one. And so Killer and the 'man out of prison' trilogy were born.

Do your sympathies lie any greater with those who’ll commit crimes and keep their mouths shut than those who’ll cooperate with the government?

My sympathies lie entirely with victims of crimes and their families. I have no sympathy for the criminals, whether they rat or keep quiet.

Do you believe in a reformed criminal on the level of your characters?

Well, Kyle certainly has no chance of ever being reformed. Not if you put a shotgun to his head. Killer is partly about whether someone who commits the horrific crimes of my protagonist, Leonard March, can be reformed, especially with all the anger towards him and all the people still suffering because of him.

Pariah deals a fair amount with the celebrity status of criminals and works the repulsion/fascination angle pretty hard, and while your contempt for the actions and lifestyle of Kyle pervade in the book’s tone, there’s obviously a deep underlying fascination present with the workings of a psychotic mind and personality. How do you differentiate between fascination and worship?

Well, I wrote Pariah to be read at two levels--at one level a crime novel, another level a satirical look at publishing and the celebrity nature in the US--how we can take a vicious thug like Kyle and turn him into a celebrity for the almighty dollar. While I wrote Kyle to be as vicious and despicable thug as possible, I also tried to write him honestly as a human being and not a cartoon character. He has his own
justifications for the things he does. So in that way I could leave it to the reader to find him repugnant if they choose to.

Are you a full time writer at this point?

Sort of. Not in the sense that I'm making enough money to do this, but I'm trying. I have to qualify my answer. I spent over 20 years working as a software engineer, and I made some money with one of the startups I worked for. When I quit in 2007 to try this full time I had enough money where I didn't need to make that much writing to make this work. Then we had the stock market crash, so my situation changed. Now I need one of several things to happen for me to keep doing this; a bunch of things that are close but haven't happened yet. For a lot of authors, you can make it if you get enough foreign deals and enough film options. I've got one film option so far and I'm starting to get a good amount of foreign deals, and if this keeps up I'll be able to keep doing this, or if one of the other things I'm hoping for, otherwise I'll be back to developing software.

Can you give me any specifics on film options? How do they make you feel?

My upcoming book, Outsourced, has been optioned to Constantin Film and Impact Pictures, the guys who make the Resident Evil movies. So far the script's been written and it's now out with actors and director and they seem serious about doing this. I've learned a lot in the process, and at this point I'm hoping they start filming, because once the start filming that's when they buy the film rights from me and that's when I make some real money.

I think there's a good chance I'll get more books optioned and hopefully filmed. Caretaker of Lorne Field, which is out this August is getting a lot of film interest and right now is with about 25 studios. One of the producers involved in Outsourced is trying to put together a film deal for an unpublished book of mine--think Sin City with Vampires. And I think it's only a matter of time before something happens with Pariah and Killer.

About how I feel about it--the book is mine, the movie is theirs. The whole point with the film is to make money so I can keep writing.

Tell me about the decision to publish 21 Tales electronically.

All my books are being published only in print, and I figured I should get a little exposure in the ebook space, especially with Joe Konrath making it sound so easy. So I put together this collection of short stories but I also arranged for New Pulp Press to publish a trade paperback version.

So how’s it been so far?

It's not as easy as Joe Konrath makes it sound. I think there was a small window where authors could make a little money self-publishing ebooks, and Joe himself has had some play by acting as the savior for the self-published and the slayer of the big publisher, but now that you have half a million books on the Kindle store, that window is closed. A few self-published ebooks will come out of nowhere and do well, but those will be few and far between as most books will be lost in that sea of self-published ebooks. For most authors print books remain your best chance of making it. When you have a book print, you'll get trade reviews, newspaper reviews, sell foreign rights, film rights and most importantly, have dedicated booksellers handselling it. Most ebooks are just going to get lost in the maze.

Do you feel part of a community of writers? If so, who would you consider to be your peers?

My personality is more of a software engineer and I'm not really a writerly type, I'm more someone who sits alone and writes what's in my head. So I'm more of just an average boring guy who likes to watch football, baseball and drink beer. Up until now I've been avoiding writing conventions like Bouchercon and associations like MWA. The writer friends I have tend to be more solid down-to-earth types without raging egos; people like Paul Tremblay, Roger Smith, Vicki Hendricks, Charlie Stella and Ed Gorman. As far as my peers, I don't know, but I think very highly of the writers I just mentioned.

Tell me about your study of martial arts.

I've been studying Kung Fu and Tai Chi for a while, and a few years ago earned by black belt in Southern Hung Gar Tiger-Crane style, although we also learn a lot of other styles. It's all good stuff, helps keep me in shape and keep the fighting scenes in my books more realistic. The only reason I mentioned it on my bio is since I'm mostly a boring guy I had precious little else of interest to mention.

(More on Dave, Pariah and The Winter Hill Gang at Ransom Notes)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


When I attended Bouchercon in Indianapolis last year, I had about seven hours to plant my ugly mug in front of as many people as possible and too little time to spend with any of them. I've had a list of to-be-read books as long as my er hair used to be for too long, and Dope Thief by Dennis Tafoya was hovering near the top of it at the time. I got to meet Dennis that night in Indy and ever since I actually read his amazing debut novel, I've been kicking myself that the only thing I had to say to him upon meeting was "Uh, I hear good things about your book."

Tafoya's second novel, The Wolves of Fairmount Park, follows up on everything Dope Thief promised. More of the dark, more of the heart, more of the grim, gutsy storytelling you thought must've just been a lucky shot from a first-timer. His books are gritty and compassionate looks at low level urban criminals and junkies, cops and victims of crime, as broad in scope, yet emotionally focused and pitch perfect in tone as the best of Richard Price or George Pelecanos.

Dennis was gracious enough to answer some questions.

I read in an interview that you weren't originally shopping Dope Thief as a crime novel, but a literary novel featuring criminals. What changed?

I thought I was writing a mainstream literary novel with criminals in it, but it was my agent Alex Glass, who told me it was a crime novel. He was right, of course, but I wasn't thinking about genre when I was writing. Once he made the distinction, the only thing I was worried about was whether it would be a satisfying read for somebody who picked it up in the "Crime" section of the bookstore. That led me to rewrite the last third of the book, but I think the rewrite made the book stronger. Interestingly, my editor at Minotaur, Kelley Ragland, was actually much less concerned with the genre conventions than I was, which is one of the reasons I love working with her.

That's interesting, because I'd say it was the last third of the book that was least standard for a crime novel. What was the heart of that story for you?

Yeah, I didn't want to write anything I'd read before, but I wanted there to be something for the main character, Ray, to push against, and I wanted the decisions he'd made to cost him something. The heart of the story is a pretty bad guy who wants to change his life, and I hope the last part of the book allows the reader to see what it means for Ray to take some responsibility for his actions and the people around him. It's a challenge to show a character maturing and trying to atone for his mistakes in a way that's still compelling to the reader.

What authors/books/influences were you pursuing when you wrote it?

In my mind, the most important thing is to try to avoid cliche and the familiar, so I hope I don't sound much like anyone else, but of course there are books and writers I love and a body of work in my head. I love books like Don Delillo's Libra, and Madison Smartt Bell's Save Me, Joe Louis, and a bunch of stuff by E.L. Doctorow and Philip Roth and Cormac McCarthy. Stuff that has a dreamlike quality, but that has motion and purpose. I love short stories, and I've read a ton by Annie Proulx and Amy Hempel and Thom Jones. I've always read the crime greats, too, like Elmore Leonard and Scott Philips and Lawrence Block, but as much as I love their work, I don't think I'm much like them. They set this incredible standard that I'll spend my life trying to live up to. And they're funnier than I am! I always wish my stuff was a little funnier.

I was struck by the sincerity in your books, not that they're humorless, but there's not a hint of irony. I think that makes them special. They're riskier for an author, there's no room to hide behind some - "I don't take this too seriously" - posture.

I guess I feel like when I'm taking it seriously and risking more I'm doing better work. I hope that's true, anyway. I feel like I'm also still new at this, and as I get better I hope I can play with tone more. I'd like to do more in first person, which I think ironically demands a little more distance. It's one thing to describe a character as tortured, but when the character himself is speaking I think that would wear thin pretty quickly. Maybe that's why all that great tough-guy fiction from Chandler works so well in first person. You want a little smartass now and then from your protagonists, even as they're getting pummeled by cheap hoods and betrayed by faithless molls.

Exactly how new at this are you? No spring chick, but was Dope Thief the first book you actually wrote?

Dope Thief was my first completed manuscript. I had plenty of false starts before that, but I didn't have the confidence to finish anything. I was just a guy writing in his basement in the middle of the night. If somebody hadn't asked me for it, I probably never would have finished Dope Thief, either.

Who asked for it?

Cori Stern, a writer and producer from LA. I struck up an online friendship with Cori and she'd read some short stories I'd written, then asked if I had anything else. I finished the last third of Dope Thief in about two weeks, and gave it to her. She sent me to her manager, Brooke, who read it and agreed to represent me. Brooke found me an amazing literary agent and my agent sold it to St. Martin's. The whole thing was very fast, and in the process I made some excellent friends who changed my life. Cori also introduced me to Laurie Webb, an incredible developmental editor who worked with me on several drafts, getting Dope Thief into shape. Cori's a fascinating person who has done this same thing for other writers. It seems to drive her crazy when people aren't in their sort of proper places in life, and she helped me transition from a guy writing in my basement to a published author.

So what stage was Wolves of Fairmount Park in when you finished Dope Thief?

At that point, "Wolves" was just an idea. My agent had secured a two-book deal from Minotaur, which we sold basically on one sentence about the second book, that it would be about a heroin addict trying to solve a murder. I liked that idea and had been thinking about it for a while, and I wanted to do something that was a little more ambitious in terms of the voices and points of view. It took a while to sort out how it would all hang together, and which characters would carry the story.

It is ambitious. It struck me as Richard Price-esque with all the voices. Are you worried that it may be too complex structurally to be a best seller?

I hope it does well, but there's a point where you have to trust that the book will find its audience. I think "Wolves" has a sense of momentum that will carry readers through to the end, and I hope that they'll enjoy the different perspectives and characters voices. We'll see. I love Richard Price, and I think he's a writer who pushes past the genre constraints and makes it possible for the rest of us to try new things. I learn something about writing every time I read one of his books.

So why dope fiends? What's the fascination there?

I just think people who are obviously compromised are more interesting to write about and read about. I've always been much more fascinated by people who screw up than by people who succeed easily or who have a sort of bulletproof sense of right and wrong. Fiction is about conflict, and I think the ways we struggle with our own nature is probably the most interesting and realistic part of the story. Plus, if I have any talent, it's for empathy with the damaged. That, and for some reason I think I write really well about getting high.

Are your characters based on people you've lived around and worked with?

Not directly. It's rare that I base a character on a friend or acquaintance, but there are habits or expressions or physical traits I've picked up from friends and relatives. When I was a teenager I worked at a pizza place with a delivery guy who was older than I was, in his twenties, and some of my memories of him were put to use in creating Ray, the main character in "Dope Thief." He was a guy who stuck in place, not making forward progress into adult life, and that struck me even though I was probably ten years younger than he was. Reading extensively about crime also helps. In my experience, criminals are rarely masterminds who make careful plans to avoid detection. They're mostly driven by barely-controlled impulse, and they tend to be immature, self-mythologizing and unable to own up to their mistakes. They're like terrifying children.

If you didn't start out thinking of yourself as a crime writer, are there non-genre books kicking around in there?

Sure! I think the two strains I've always read were mainstream literary and true crime, though I've been reading true crime since it was just 'nonfiction.' I mentioned Don Delillo's Libra, and to that I'd add E.L. Doctorow's World's Fair, Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing. Anything by Charles Portis. Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I could go on and on. Russell Banks' Continental Drift had a huge effect on me when I read it in 1985. It was such a revelation to me, linking criminality to a kind of thwarted adulthood and desperation, and watching his main character drift into terrible acts without a specific evil intent.

I'd love to see a True Crime book from you, any events or personalities that have particularly caught your attention?

There are so many interesting crimes and criminals it's tough to narrow it down. I've always been drawn to the case of Alice Crimmins, the Medea of Kew Gardens, who was suspected in the 1965 murders of her two children, most likely because she was attractive and unrepentantly sexual. I was obsessed with Zodiac for years, but I thought David Fincher's film of Robert Graysmith's book was so brilliant I can't imagine going near that. My third novel centers on armed robbery, so I've read a ton about the North Hollywood shootout, the Norco bank robbery in Norco, California, and a famous confrontation between the FBI and two heavily-armed robbers in Miami in 1986. Recently I re-read Last Rampage, about the 1978 breakout from Arizona State Prison of Gary Tison by his sons. It has that complex familial dimension, but also a pretty interesting connection to organized crime in Arizona in that period and the 1976 murder of Arizona Republic newsman Don Bolles.

Any of those, (or other true cases), you'd like to treat fictionally?

I think the first, Alice Crimmins, and the last, Gary Tison's escape, are the most fertile for the fiction writer. They're about family and obligation and the fact that we feel bound and defined and also trapped by our family relationships. Pretty much all of my fiction is about family, even my short stories. There's a reason that when some terrible, inexplicable crime occurs, we look to the family of the perpetrator first for causes, and we're suprised when we don't find monsters.

How much of your fiction actually came out of your EMT experience?

The primary inspiration for Dope Thief, which I held on to for almost twenty years, was that a meth lab burned in a neighboring town in the middle of the night. I was working in ER as an EMT in the early 80's, and in those days biker gangs used to rent rural farmhouses and set up speed labs. Philly was the meth capitol of the country at the time. One of the farmhouses burned, and we got calls all night asking how to care for severe burns. The nurses tried to get those folks to bring the guy in to the ER, but they found his body a few days later in the woods. That really stayed with me, and I always wondered, how do you end up in a burning meth lab in the middle of the night? If I met you, who would I be meeting?

And what kind of work are you doing now?

I'm in industrial sales. It's a good job, but it doesn't provide much in the way of material for the crime writer.

Do you see yourself becoming a full time writer any time?

God, I hope so. But I think that's a harder and harder proposition for folks like me. Unless I get optioned for the movies or get a gig writing for comic books, I think it's going to take a good long while until I can make my living by being creative. There are a million outlets for fiction now, and almost none of them pay. And I've got an amazing literary agent and a bunch of great friends helping me out. It's just a tough way to make money. I'm fifty and I'm just getting started, too, and balancing a day job, the effort to market myself and the actual writing. I feel incredibly lucky to be in print with a major publisher, and grateful to all the folks who helped me make that happen, but it sure would be nice to quit the day job and just write, write, write.

Comics, really? What kind of comics would you like to write?

Well, there are some really cool things out there, like Ed Brubaker's Criminal or the Vertigo stuff from DC. I love graphic novels and would really like the chance to do some of that, but the way in seems to be working within the universe of existing characters. And it provides some of my friends with a decent living.

Have you had any film adaptation inquiries?

No. I'm actually looking at doing an independent production of Dope Thief. Some friends and I are going to do an extended trailer and see if we can raise the money to shoot it. It'll be fun, no matter how far it goes. It's a tough time to raise money, but the rest of the process should be a blast.

Are you writing that script?

Yeah, ever so slowly

I'd be curious to see that adaptation. The structure of the book seems very irregular for a film, with the sort of staggered climaxes - the action and the emotion not landing at the same time.

It'll be an interesting process, and hopefully I'll learn something about screenwriting.

Do you have any other pieces/projects out or coming soon?

I'll have a short story in Philadelphia Noir, coming from Akashic Books in November and edited by Carlin Romano. And I have some other short stories coming in Plots with Guns and CrimeFactory in the coming month, and I owe CrimeFactory another short for a print anthology they're planning.

(Crimefactory & Plots With Guns are live now. Go read Dennis's stories then you'll know why you gotta pick up Dope Thief and The Wolves of Fairmount Park). More on Dennis and Wolves at Ransom Notes.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Future

Take the only tree that's left and stuff it up the hole in your culture.

Feeling the Leonard Cohen today and kicking off the Ransom Notes piece with a quote from The Future then I go on to feature Gabriel Cohen's The Ninth Step and other desperately seeking redemption titles.

In other news - I saw Debra Granik's Winter's Bone today and can confirm it's a good movie. It's a very good movie. But it's from a great book. I did really enjoy the cast and the story is faithful, but there's a big ol' hole down the middle of my experience of the film that turned out to be Daniel Woodrell's prose. Where Ang Lee's Ride With the Devil overflowerfied the speechin in an attempt to recreate the source in a visual medium, Winter's Bone keeps a lot of the speaking bits from the book and, thankfully, doesn't try to inject the prose into voice-over or unnecessary dialogue. But without the pertified, lyricality of the words, the pictures paint it awfully bleak.

The bright spot is, as it should be, Ree's character and Jennifer Lawrence can hold her head high. Also, I did enjoy the location shooting. I've been to those kinds of homes and hills and they simply could not be recreated anywhere. And though, I took part in a few of those down home jam sessions in my day, so I know they exist, the musical element, (an addition of the film), does feel a bit forced. Still, I'd say it's a picture worthy of the attention it's getting and if it brings more readers to the ever deserving Woodrell, bully for him.

Another picture I saw this week is John Hillcoat's The Road. Like adaptations from Woodrell's books, those made from Cormac McCarthy's need to solve the problem of prose. You can overload a picture with voice-over or artificially plant the book's best lines into dialogue, but that rarely works out well. Only somebody working on the level of say Terence Malick should try the former and a sure, deft directorial touch and masterful actor are required to pull off the latter. The lightening in a bottle effect of The Coen Brother's No Country For Old Men, where the spare dialogue lifted from the novel was complimented by silence and actors doing their jobs - filling us in on everything going on beneath the surface with only their eyes and physicality - don't strike twice, (ask James Ellroy).

The Road had a harder task ahead of it, than any previous McCarthy adaptation, though, in that it was required to create a world only sparsely described in the book. The post apocalyptic scenery, quickly drops away from the reader's mind as they immerse themselve's in the father's thoughts - it was an intimate story told against the background of an epic. But by the very nature of the medium, the film was tasked with supplying convincing and striking representation of that world all the way through, so that it had to work against it's greatest asset - the harsh and desolate setting - to deliver its emotional core without overshadowing the transaction, (a hand-off rather than a long ball). Still, the visuals are striking and the performances worthy. I guess in the end you're left with the apples and oranges nature of the two mediums.

Also, Plots With Guns has a new issue out. The lineup this time: Crimefactory's own Cameron Ashley, Nolan Knight, Jeffery Hess, Mr. 'I'm everywhere right now' - Kieran Shea, Mark Joseph Kiewlak, Jeff Kerr, Garnett Elliot, Richard Thomas, the late Dartren Subarton, N@B alumn Frankie Bill and N@B future alumn, (Monday, June 28 baby and signing copies of his brand new book The Wolves of Fairmount Park!), Dennis Tafoya.

And now the wheels of heaven stop, you feel the devil's riding crop. Get ready for the future. It is murder.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Bad Day For Bug

Keith Rawson, Cameron Ashley, Liam Jose and Jimmy Callaway get a tip of the hat for their efforts on the latest edition of Crimefactory. Features from Roger Smith, Leigh Redhead, The Nerd of Noir, plus Liam interviews The Square director Nash Edgerton and CF Godfather David Honeybone grills Peter Temple. Oh, and then there's fiction. Yeah the fiction is brought this time around by Kieran Shea, (part two of three - go back and read part one in CF issue 2), Sandra Seamans, Daniel O'Shea, Greg Bardsley and Dennis Tafoya, (N@B June 28 mofos). An excerpt from my forthcoming novel Peckerwood also finds a spot in there - and I hope you give it a chance, I tried hard to select a portion that reads like a self contained story.

And while I'm tipping hats, Anthony Neil Smith sent out the signal for help with editing Plots With Guns and he's taken on some worthy padawan in Erik Lundy, Gonzalo Baeza and Marty McCabe. So look for new shit from the PWG crew soon.

Today at Ransom Notes Sophie Littlefield's Stella Hardesty inspires me to think of old folks kickin' ass. Taking examples from James Crumley, Scott Phillips, William Gay and the Duane Swierczynski edited Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir. Looking forward to DND2 from Busted Flush soon.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Tim Lane Blacktop

Tim Lane is a double threat, accomplished as both an artist and prose writer, his graphic novel Abandoned Cars, (which is now out in paperback), blew me away. It's not really a novel though. A collection of graphic short stories linked by theme and style that modulate between a sharp, gritty focus and dream-sense stream of consciousness, it reads like the book Jack Kerouac may have written with oh, say Donald Ray Pollock, populated by characters outrageous and familiar, out of their minds and so far down to earth that they're actually beneath it.

And that's not saying anything about the visuals.

Tim's gorgeous illustrations are why I bought the damn thing. That he could write worth a crap was gravy. His style is batter-dipped Americana with a generous dose of film-noir aesthetics and if I knew anything about graphic artists, I'd blow your mind with some mash-up comparison, (please insert your own dream team here and then assume that he tops it).

Tim's fascination with Americana transcends his medium and he's followed it into what I'm going to refer to as "Radio Drama", though I've never heard them on the radio. He's produced several dramatic readings complete with music, sound effects and actors. He'll be unveiling a film soon - marrying the images from his books to the radio dramas. I've been twisting his arm to participate in a N@B event and hopefully, he'll show the film at one for those who don't catch it at the St. Louis Film Makers' Showcase this summer.

I met Tim about a year ago, several months after reading Abandoned Cars, and have had the opportunity to speak with him several times and let me tell you this - he's one modest fucker. If you've got the opportunity and the time to draw him out, you'll learn some fascinating things about his life and possibly even wrangle an opinion out of him, but he's as unassuming and laid back in person as you'll ever meet.

Lucky for me, he opened up with some kick ass answers to my stock questions.

Your black and white panels are very evocative of film-noir. How would you describe your visual style?

I wouldn't really know how to describe my visual style. It seems that that's the kind of thing for others to decide. When you spend the better part of your life trying to refine the nuances of your work, I think most of the process takes place unconsciously over a long period of time. I often get comparisons to Charles Burns. Although I couldn't think of better company to be in, I don't really understand that comparison. Burns has been influential, and I think he's one of the greatest comic artists out there - and perhaps ever - but I think of his work as much more precise and mechanical than mine could ever be. I almost think of him as a designer more than an illustrator. He rarely, if ever, cross-hatches. His work is highly stylized in a way that I don't believe mine is. If you look at even his early work, there was always a clean precision and designerly sensibility at work there. Mine is definitely more illustrative and humanistic, and by humanistic, I mean you can tell it was drawn by a human hand, where as Burns nearly defies any evidence of the human hand. I think what I have in common with Charles Burns is a concentration on contrasting black and white. You mentioned film noir. Film noir has absolutely been an influence - not only as a visual style, but as a representation of a unique American aesthetic - similar to comic books, in that regard. Sure, you can trace the origins of film noir to German expressionist film, but it blossomed into a full blown style in America right after World War II. I've always thought that that visual approach to depicting a narrative was appropriate to the kinds of stories I like to tell, and also expresses well my general outlook on life. But, getting back to Charles Burns: I think he and I share an interest in that kind of graphic aesthetic, but, from my perspective, the similarity ends there.

If anyone has played a major role in the development of my visual style, it's been Will Eisner's "The Spirit", particularly the work he produced during the latter half of the 1940's. He, too, was influenced by film noir. I'm also very interested in creating a hint of pre-comics code comic illustration style in my work - especially the crime/horror comics of the late 40's and early 50's - because, beyond the fact that I love that stuff, I think it represents something ideological that is still pertinent today and resonates with my own attitude toward life. So the attraction for me to those influences is both visceral and cerebral.

What about your prose style? There seems to be a tension between a downbeat and realistic filter placed over a romantic 'on the drift' sensibility that drives it.

Again:That's a tricky question. It's difficult for me to give a clean-cut description of my prose style. Some writers might be born with complete originality, but for myself - as vulnerable as it makes me feel to admit - I think I'm on one hand, an amalgam of various influences, and on the other, a set of deeply imbedded questions that philosophically motivate me. Or, at least, let's put it this way: I think a young creative person tends to gravitate toward material that somehow speaks to their own developing worldview, and they absorb those voices like a dehydrated man needs water. You feel like you've met a kindred spirit in the words of writers whose work influences you. Of course, your worldview changes and matures with time, but then certain writers leave an indelible mark. Eventually all of these influences become completely absorbed, and you can't really tell who's who anymore. I guess that's the point when you've made them your own. The "whose-who" doesn't matter anymore, because ultimately, they are "you". I think that topic could at least make for a fruitful evening of good conversation and debate: Are we original, or are we a junkyard of our influences? I think that a creative person develops a "style" - both in terms of a visual look and narrative sound - over the course of time and study, and, I think for the best of them, that "style" is constantly evolving. For myself, I'm never quite satisfied with my work, although I know it's getting closer to capturing what I mean to say. But then again, I feel like I'm finding my way to what I want to say through a series of questions that I've posed for myself, both consciously and unconsciously. So it's the questions that drive the work. Rilke said something like "Trust the questions and live, and you'll live your way to the answers". I've always loved that idea. I think it explains everything from style to content to worldview. It explains the whole process of trying to create or understand something. For me, creation is an investigation; an attempt at understanding. I think I write and draw stories in an attempt to understand, rather than understand something first, then attempt to write about it. The process of writing and drawing is for me the process of searching. I've found that comics is the best medium for me to undertake that search. It's the medium that works best for me. But I didn't always know that.

Writers have been much more influential to me than any other creative artists, so I have a very idealized idea of them. When I think of Kerouac or Carver or Dostoyevsky, my heart breaks a little. I genuinely love those guys. I love what they did, I love them for their vulnerabilities.

But I guess I haven't really answered your question yet. You mentioned "a tension between a downbeat and realistic filter placed over a romantic 'on the drift' sensibility'. I think that's a great way to describe my writing style - or maybe it's more of a worldview. I think that there's endless romanticism in American culture - especially here in the midwest. And I love that romanticism. It's not the kind of thing that people think of when they think of the midwest, but it is certainly there. It's in the heart of the American experience, I think. Most of us come from ancestors who came to this country to make a better life for themselves, to forget the past, to build a future, and many of them did so with great expense and unbelievable ruggedness. That, in itself, is extraordinarily romantic. I think that romanticism still exists in us, collectively in our culture. But it's like the cement between the bricks of a building: It's not very noticeable, but it's there, and it's holding everything together.

The downbeat realism I expect is the result of ordinary people in my stories coming to terms with the truths and untruths regarding the myth of the American Dream. The American Dream is like an estranged father. Someone who you deep down love, but realize as you get older that he wasn't quite the great guy you thought he was, and he was a bit of a dodger to boot. Some of his stories were fabrications, and you hate him for it because you might have believed in them whole-heartedly - as I did - only to find out that, at best, those stories were only half-truths and self-agrandizing advertisements. But eventually you come around to love him again, and accept him for his weaknesses. Eventually you come around to appreciate the good and the bad, and perhaps also see that you were a little naive in believing so whole-heartedly. That's sort of how I see it.

How did you come to your medium?

There are a lot of things that I love about comics. I love, for instance, their history - I love the fact that they were once produced in bulk and on-the-cheap, meant for wide distribution to an audience for only ten cents a copy. Obviously those days are long gone, but I love those origins. They speak of both entertainment for the masses, as well as capitalistic quick-buck schemes. Very American. The medium of comics is not intimidating. One doesn't approach comics as they would an art gallery or a work of conventional literature; By that, I mean there isn't what I call an invisible mediator between you and the work of art, constantly reminding you to be on your best behavior because you're in the presence of high culture. In that way, I think the relationship between a comic and it's audience can be very direct and intimate, without the invisible mediator. Although the identity of comics and the medium's relationship to culture is changing, I think there is still evident it's initial pop culture, or low culture, status. For my interests, I like to keep that part of it's history alive. I've never seen myself as a product of high culture, so it's unnatural for me to feel comfortable working in mediums of that stature. Being a product of pop culture -and proudly so, by the way - it feels much more appropriate for me to communicate through mediums of pop culture rather than high culture. After all, I was a fan of Will Eisner long before I was a fan of Michelangelo. When I was growing up, Kitchen Sink Press was reprinting all of the Spirit comics from the 1940's, as well as the EC Crime and Horror comics. I really loved that stuff, and am still grateful to the now defunct publisher for reprinting those comics from the 40's and 50's. So, to answer your question, I came to the medium of comics because, in terms of my own artistic interests, it was a perfect fit. It isn't the only medium I like to work in, but it shares with the others a direct connection to popular culture.

Where did the idea for the "radio dramas" come from?

That's really tough to explain. Working with audio recordings to present a new context for characters is an idea that has evolved for me over several years. Like most things, it came as an intuition more than anything else. I've always played around with recording my own writing in my own voice, but I first started working with recordings and sound seriously with a story I've been working on since I was in my early twenties called "Belligerent Piano". The protagonist, a character named Jackie No-name, is kind of an alter ego for me. Over the course of time, my interest in expanding the breadth of his character and giving him increased texture led me to experiment with sound. I had always written a lot of prose involving the character of Jackie, as well as many of the other characters from the story - prose for which I really had no tangible use in the context of the comic proper. You might say that one of the ways I flesh out a character involves this kind of writing process. Giving literal, recorded voice to those written sketches really resonated for me - the inclusion of the recorded voice added a new dimension to the way a character was presented. It made the character more multi-dimenional, kind of like adding a new piece of evidence to the character's persona.

One of the limitations that really bothers me about comics is the absence of sound. I think noise accounts for a great deal of our understanding of things - it helps complete a picture. I wanted there to be a supplement to the story of Belligerent Piano that helped complete the picture of Jackie, while still leaving room for the picture to be completed in the mind of the viewer. You could think of it as giving someone a bunch of pieces to a puzzle, but having them put the pieces together. In a sense, I think of it as trying to create different levels of reality to a story or character. I think of Jackie as a myth, so, like myths, I wanted there to be a variety of elements giving substance to that myth, but no one piece in particular that tells the whole story completely. I wanted to focus on nuances. The telling of the whole story is left to the imagination of the recipient of the story. Just like the myth of Stagger Lee exists through a handful of newspaper clippings dating back to 1895, a slew of folk, blues, and pop songs, comic book interpretations or "retellings" of the story, etc. To my knowledge, no actual photograph of Lee Shelton - or Stagger Lee - actually exists, but like Bob Dylan said, "he's more real than anything on the boob-tube". So it's that kind of thing I'm messing around with with the audio recordings.

I've expanded the audio recording concept into the short stories I'm now producing for my next book, Folktales - the follow-up to Abandoned Cars. Writing short stories involves a lot of editing. Since I begin all my stories in prose form, there's a lot of writing that gets edited out to meet the requirements of telling a story through words and images. But, for me, the original prose still ha value, so much of that gets used in the audio recordings, and I think it adds nuances to the story that go missing in the comic version, just like elements of nuance are gained in the comic version. They end up complimenting each other - or, at least that's the idea. I plan to have a CD supplement to go with the published book. I call the recordings radio dramas mainly because the story of Belligerent Piano takes place during the era when radio dramas were popular. It's a very rough and event misleading way to describe them, although some of the pieces are specifically meant to feel like old time radio dramas. It would be more accurate to call them sound experiments or something. But, for me, calling them radio dramas just makes sense on some intuitive level.

Another reason why I like calling them radio dramas is because I love radio, in general. It, again, is the result of being raised on pop culture.

By the way, the Belligerent Piano story now appears as a weekly serial in the Riverfront Times, and the beginning of the story can be found in the issues of my self-published, rarely seen comic book, Happy Hour in America.

I heard that you used to record people's conversations for source material or to catch their cadences, can you speak to the influence that has had on your work?

I still record conversations. I try to keep a mini-cassette recorder with me as often as possible. I've got a little microphone that loops through my jacket and fastens to me sleeve. Not just for conversations, but for sounds, in general. Mainly for conversations, though. I started doing that when I was in my early twenties, shortly after college - well, actually, while I was in college, too. But I spent a lot of time after college working odd jobs - bartender, parking lot attendant, gas station cashier, etc. Jobs that put me in contact with people. At each of these jobs, it was always interesting how involved conversations could get, so I started recording them and, with some of them, transcribing them to paper. Now I just download them onto my computer. I also record conversations with people I meet while I'm traveling. I've got a great one from a few years ago when I took a road trip to New Orleans. I had just crossed the Mississippi state line and stopped at the first roadside rest area I could find. I asked the security guard if there were any pay phones, and he went into a very unexpected racist tirade that really set me back. Welcome to the south, I thought. I was really glad I had my mini-cassette recorder with me then. It was an incredible portrait of racism, as told by a security guard, no less.

I really love conversations. I love the way people talk. I've used those conversations endlessly in my stories - or at least aspects of those conversations. It's pretty fascinating how much of a portrait you can get from the way a person speaks. I think it's easy to miss the unique ways in which people speak because, being very visual, we concentrate on the way people look, and, unless their speech mannerisms are very pronounced, it's easy not to notice the uniquenesses. When you play back recordings of people, and the concentration is on the speech patterns, it's really amazing how uniquely we all speak. So, yes, those recordings have been very influential to my stories. I only wish I recorded them more often and was more disciplined in that practice.

What kind of people do you write about? What's the connecting theme in your characters?

The type of characters I was drawn to in Abandoned Cars are ones that tend to be outsiders or alienated in some manner. for the most part, they don't fit into any advertisment idea of the proper American stereotypes. Their credit ratings are probably not so great. They probably don't care much about taking vitamin supplements or being eco-friendly, don't contribute to any charity organizations for tax write-off purposes, or even have health care. A few of them probably have expired license plate tags. If not any of those things, then something else has tarnished their chances at a spotless image in the eyes of upright society. The word "desperate" comes to mind when I think of most of the characters in Abandoned Cars. Or "vulnerable". There are indeed those who, metaphorically speaking, have their shirts tucked-in and who seem invulnerable to criticism. In terms of attaining the mythic "American Dream", they are without blemish: My characters - and the kind of characters I'm interested in - are not those types of people. With a few expections, in my real life, I'm very skeptical of anyone who tries to appear too unblemished or invulnerable. Firstly, it just isn't interesting; secondly, I'm pretty convinced that it's a costuming of some sort. Or maybe it's just that I can't relate to them because I'm too aware of how imperfect my own life has been. I think of my characters as floating through the Twilight Zone of the American Dream, lost in some kind of surreal thrift store of American mythologies and artifacts, which is where my characters all share my own circumstances and perspective on what I call the Great American Mythological Drama. Other than that, I think they're all pretty different from one another.

The type of characters I'm working with is broadening for the next book. I'm writing stories that involve college professors, police officers, wealthy yuppy-types, etc. This isn't happening for any directed reason; it's just kind of happening.

I tended to think of your characters as specifically mid-western, but after what you just said and upon second thought, it might just be my own lense I'm seeing your work through. Are your characters or stories tied significantly to any specific piece of American geography?

I have a hard time with geographical identities, for the most part. Or I think it's a very complicated blend of things that make us who we are. Geography plays a part, but so does socio-economic status and experience, ethnic background, gender, and a million other subtleties that aren't superficially apparent. My point is that speaking in general terms about these things gets tougher the more considerations one has to make in any given circumstance about an individual person's life history. I have a sensitivity about those kinds of things: For instance, I notice very often writers - comic artists included - have tended to jump quickly to general stereotypes regarding a character. In fact, two of my favorite comic artists - Will Eisner and Chester Gould - were terrible when it came to depicting African-Americans, and their biographers tend to stumble over themselves with apologetics and references to the fact that "that's the way things were back then". Personally, I think it was under-analyzed material for those comic artists, and, for me, that fact tarnishes their work. It's like having a grandfather who you love for so many reasons, but he's a bigot and you have to tolerate it. In stories for my next book, I deal with racism, for instance, I use the "N" word, but I do so in a way that is my attempt to bring a kind of truth - however ugly it is - to the fact that our society is as ugly - and even psychotic - as it is beautiful, and maybe it is these polar dualities, and all of the gray areas in between, that makes American culture so remarkable and fascinating.

But I'm getting off the subject. To answer your question, I'd say that my characters are tied significantly to my sense of compassion and empathy. If those characters exist in the midwest, then that's how it goes. I'm from the midwest, and there might be some truth to the idea that you can take the boy out of the midwest, but you can't take the midwest out of the boy. I spent a large part of my twenties and early thirties traveling, living on both coasts, and trying to absorb the differences. But I don't know: Maybe, like you say, the best I can do is see everything through the lens of a midwesterner. Ultimately, I'd like my characters to be linked to the greater country as a whole, not specific to the midwest. But it might be true that all I can write about with any real accuracy is the midwest. At any rate, I don't consciously write to be site-specific. In fact, all I just wrote only came to me now. WHile I'm working on a story, I don't know how much of any of it matters because, for me, writing comes from feeling more than thinking.

Have you been asked to work on anybody else's projects? What's your temperature toward collaborations?

Yes, I've been asked to illustrate a number of different comics and animation projects, but I don't really have any interest in them. I'm not involved in comics for commercial reasons. If I was, it would've been the dumbest career move I ever made. I've done a Bizarro World piece for DC that dealt with the Justice League about five years ago. It was unexpectedly fun drawing Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman - those iconic superheroes that've been around since the beginning of the superhero genre. But I did it for the money, and I've never had a fascination with superheroes. I made my living for years as a freelance illustrator, right up to the publication of Abandoned Cars. I used to really enjoy illustrating, too, but with the publication of Abandoned Cars, something really profound happened to me. I felt like finally I'd finally created something that I was genuinely proud of in a way that I've never been proud of anything in quite the same way. It brought all of my interests in writing and drawing and communicating into sharp focus, and sort of showed me the path I should be on. Although I'm aware of the book's flaws, there's so much of how and what I want to communicate in it, everything else feels like a waste of time - and, the older I get (I'm going to be 40 next year), the more I think my time is the only thing I have that really matters in this life. Although I know that sounds absurd, Abandoned Cars helped me realize without question how I want to fill the majority of my creative time. So, no, I'm not interested in working on any material that isn't my own. There's one exception that involves a project I'm working on with a close friend, but I think that project connects very definitely with the other work I'm doing, and will find it's way into the next book. Comics is an extremely laborious practice: From concepting a story, to writing it, to scripting it, to working out panel breakdowns, and finally to inking it, the whole process takes a very, very long time. Even if a collaboration came along that was twice as strong as anything I could do on my own, it could never matter to me as much as a piece of work that was completely my own work. I just wouldn't have my heart in it the same way, ever. So why waste my time? Nothing, no amount of money, is worth it to me (much to my wife's chagrin). And I say these things with all humility. I certainly don't think that I'm God's gift to anything. I'm not a Prima Donna. I just feel that at some point in a creative person's life, they have to decide what matters the most, and for better or worse, I've decided that it's what I produce as an individual that will be the driving force in my life, even if I fail. There are so many things that come along causing gray areas - especially when money is concerned - the opportunity to make money. Whenever those kinds of opportunities arise, I try to imagine what Jack Kerouac would do, and it helps me answer some of those dilemmas. I imagine Charlie Parker hocking his good saxophone for a lousier one. I try to imagine what my idols would do. Sadly, most of my idols were maniacs, but then again maybe my own lunacy is what attracts me to those maniacs.


“You know Jessup’s out on bond, don’t you?”

“So what?”

“You know he cooks crank, don’t you?”

“I know that’s the charges you laid against him. But you ain’t proved it on him.”

“Shit, Jessup’s just about the best crank chef these Dollys and them ever had, girl. Practically half famous for it. That’s why he pulled them years away up in the pen, there, you know. It was sure ‘nough proved on him that time.”

“That was last time. You got to prove it on him every time.”

“That won’t be no hard thing to do. But this noise, this noise ain’t even why I’m here. Why I’m here is, his court date is next week and I can’t seem to turn him back up.”

“Maybe he sees you comin’ and ducks.”

“Maybe he does. That could be. But where you-all come into this is, he put this house, here, and those timber acres up for his bond.”

“He what, now?”

“Signed it all over. You didn’t know? Jessup signed over everything. If he don’t show for trial, see, the way the deal works is, you-all lose this place. It’ll get sold from under you. You’ll have to get out. Got somewhere to go?”

Next week

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

This Gun For Hire: Phillip Noyce

Today at Ransom Notes, I'm spotlighting Roger Smith and his two breathtaking Cape Town novels Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead. On Roger's website, I came across this promotional pic of Samuel L. Jackson as the character Disaster Zondi from the developing film based on Mixed Blood. Attached to direct - Aussie Phillip Noyce, another talented film maker with a very uneven track record that I thought I could give a top 5 retrospective to. As many groans as you may emit, looking over his body of work, (The Saint, anyone?) there are some gems too. It's been a long time since the James Foley piece, maybe I'll make this a series, though. Certainly up for suggestions.



Blind Fury/Rabbit-Proof Fence/ Salt

Blind Fury because who's not up for another take on Zatoichi the blind samurai? Rutger Hauer starred in more half crappy movies in the eighties and nineties than just about anyone. Half crappy, but nearly all hold some small pleasure for me upon recollection - Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Osterman Weekend, Ladyhawke, The Hitcher, Flesh+Blood, The Blood of Heroes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Surviving the Game, Split Second - okay full on crap in some instances, but such is the good will garnered by some actors, (Dennis Hopper, Gene Hackman), that no matter what level of dumbassedness the movie sinks to, they are a redemptive spot. Such was the case with Fury. Not a good movie, but not altogether unwatchable, thanks to the ridiculous premise and the charisma of Hauer.

Rabbit-Proof Fence makes the list simply because of it's curve-ball nature. Noyce was coming off a string of lack-luster, big-budget Hollywood thrillers and did a complete 180 throwing in this quiet, personal film about three young aboriginal sisters (and a cousin) who escape from government custody and journey through the outback to find their mother from whom they were separated. It's a small film about a dark chapter in Australia's history.

Salt makes the list because I haven't seen it yet. I may never see it, but I've seen the trailer and it looks like the kind of dumb fun I can go for sometimes. Angelina Jolie, (who also starred in Noyce's The Bone Collector from Jeffery Deaver's book) doesn't do much for me, but Chiwetel Ejiofor does, (though I'm a bit concerned about him becoming the new Tommy Lee Jones of the nineties and early 00's - the noble antagonist pursuing the inevitably innocent protagonist), and the action looks like it might hold up even if it's hung on a plot only done well once that I know of, (No Way Out directed by Roger Donaldson - another candidate for this series).

4) Clear & Present Danger - No matter the mess American foreign policy has made of the world, and no matter the fairly lack-luster feel to the whole thing, (none of the actors seem to want to be making this movie) or the sprawling, anti-climatic structure, (maybe it worked better in Tom Clancy's novel), there is one show-stopping sequence buried in the middle of this long ass messy sequel to Patriot Games. I'll boil it down to this - SUV massacre. I worked in a movie theater when this one came out and I timed my inspections to coincide with this scene twice a day. Means I've seen it, uh... scores of times, I suppose, but I'm up for another go. Quality action film making stuck in a dull movie.

3) Dead Calm - Noyce came to international attention with this (relatively) low-budget thriller that utilized it's assets to the max and turned it's budgetary limitations into virtues, (Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water comes to mind, though it was based on a novel by Charles Williams who also wrote Hell Hath No Fury the basis for the terrific noir The Hot Spot directed by Dennis Hopper). The cast is tiny - Sam Neil and Nicole Kidman as a couple sailing the Pacific on their yacht who come across the lone survivor of another ship, Billy Zane. What follows, is a clausterphobic picture, shot against the endless oceanic horizon, of sexual tension and psychological discomfort. Made before any of the actors were big stars, it works on the level of a small film. If it were made today it would be overshadowed and smothered by the weight of it's exposure.

2) Brotherhood - This calculated attempt by Showtime to fill the void The Sopranos was leaving, about an Irish-American family in Providence Rhode Island was far better than it was ever given the chance to be. It's reason for being, (replace the Sops as the go-to gangster drama on premium cable) was also it's worst enemy. The comparisons were invited and poisonous at the same time. It was never a knock-off, but rather a solid crime-political-family drama. Noyce was not a creator, but as the helmer of the pilot, (and other episodes), he had a strong influence on the tone, look and casting of the show. Two brothers, one a politician and one a gangster, (The Brother's Bulger perhaps?), fight to co-exsist and remain independent of each other, but find, (of course), that they are in fact very similar and need the other to survive their respective careers. I'm grateful to Showtime for not canceling it after the second season and giving us a short run third season to wrap it up, 'cause it was worth it. Take note, HBO, I'm still waiting for the Carnivale and Deadwood movies, dammit.

1) The Quiet American - Having made two of the biggest successful PR films for American foreign policy, (the afore-mentioned Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger) and then the Aussie-Cock-Up Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American based on the great novel by Graham Greene visited the roots of the debacle our nation's relationship with the world had become. Saigon 1952 is the setting for a love triangle between an older, world-weary British reporter, (read - old-world colonial superpower), a beautiful young Vietnamese dance hall girl, (read - attractive potential colony up for grabs), and the energetic, idealistic young American aid worker who just might work for the CIA, (read - yeah, you get it). The story's conclusion is as heartbreaking as it is inevitable and, in the long run, futile. Michael Caine is aces as Thomas Fowler and not even Brendan Fraser as the sinisterly earnest and innocent Alden Pyle doesn't get in the way of what I choose to view as Noyce's personal comment on his legacy. Apology accepted.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Urge Overkill

Thanks to almost everybody who came out for N@B3, especially our intrepid authors who drove hours to be here. For the most part it was a very enjoyable evening. I kicked things off reading my story from Surreal South 09 and then introduced one of my lovely and talented and exceedingly gracious editors on that book, Laura Benedict who also read her story out of that volume. Sean Doolittle followed Laura reading his piece from Blood, Guts & Whiskey and the first half of his reading was great, but it's the second half of the reading that will be remembered.

The Delmar Lounge is great venue for our event, there's a little room on the end of the place that's cosy enough for a small group and not closed off too much to support a larger crowd. Right about half way through Sean's reading a loud voice from the front of the bar breaks into a Sly Stone song, just about completely drowning out Care of the Circumcised Penis.

The bar had double booked events apparently and our (granted, not exactly genteel) literary thing was suddenly competing with Steve Ewing, (formerly of the band The Urge), from the front room. After the first song, Steve graciously turned the volume down, but he was a very noticeable presence for the rest of the evening. Sean, God bless him, finished the story in good humor and Pinckney Benedict closed the evening with class, but I couldn't help wondering what would've happened if Scott had been on hand to emcee... Something a little more memorable is my guess... for better or worse I get the feeling the night would've been burned into our minds a bit differently.

Thanks again to Sean, Laura and Pinckney for making the trip. Thanks to Augustino for running the sound, (and turning Sean & Pinckney way up to compete with the soundtrack), Kelly at Subterranean Books and everybody who came out and got read at.

I will be looking into The Delmar's schedule about the June 28th event with Dennis Tafoya and Derek Nikitas. No offense, Steve, I don't wanna do that again.


On another note, a (ahem) Ransom Note, Winter's Bone, the movie opens in one week and I'm tryin' to get people to get ahold of the book and read it first. Anybody who's read Daniel Woodrell's books, I'd encourage you to head over there and leave a comment toward the same goal.

Was good to see Reed Farrel Coleman and Gabriel Cohen Wednesday night and I just left the Richard Russo event this evening, so it's been a hell of a busy week.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


It's tonight, suckas. N@B 8pm at the Delmar Lounge in the U. City Loop. Come check out the post-Appalachian stylings of Pinckney Benedict, author of the brand new short story collection Wonder Boy & Other Stories, as well as two previous collections Town Smokes and The Wrecking Yard and the novel Dogs of God.

Also on board is Laura Benedict, author of Isabella Moon and Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts. Laura also edited with Pinckney, the anthologies Surreal South and Surreal South '09.

Rounding out the lineup is Sean Doolittle, author of Safer, The Cleanup, Burn, Rain Dogs and Dirt. He never edited an anthology, but he's appeared in some good ones including Blood, Guts & Whiskey which'll be available tonight.

I'll read something myself. Unfortunately, Scott Phillips can't be with us tonight, he's out of town on family business.

And did I mention it's at a bar? The more you drink, the better we sound.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


At Ransom Notes I'm talking Akashic staycations... Especially the of the Russian variety. Moscow Noir looks like a good cold-hearted collection to take the edge off the summer sun's onslaught. Other recent additions to the series that've caught my eye, Lone Star Noir, Phoenix Noir and Orange County Noir. What I wanna know though - where the hell is St. Louis Noir? City has a long tradition of nastiness to exploit. Come on, Johnny Temple, take notice.

On other where the hell fronts, I'm looking forward to Crime Factory's third ressurected issue. Rawson and crew are including an excerpt from my nearly finished novel Peckerwood and that's an honor. The first issue contained an excerpt from Ken Bruen's forthcoming, the second issue from Dave Zeltserman's Killer and I'm next. That's a huge honor for me and a bad sign for CF. Seriously, from Bruen to Ayres in two easy steps? My star is rising or theirs is plummeting.

Speaking of my Needle and Blood, Guts & Whiskey pal Zeltserman, have you read Pariah? Holy shit. That's some dark, dark darkness. It's the second act of his unofficial trilogy that begins with Small Crimes and concludes with Killer about recently released convicts. Sweet mother, not a heart warming moment in sight.

And while we're going on about heart warming moments... uh... yeah, I got nothing.