Thursday, March 31, 2011

Get the Ludd Out

Earlier this week, I was contacted by an author with an upcoming book that has really been on my radar. Like I thought it was out and had already tried to buy it, on my radar. We'd never had any contact, but he got ahold of me and asked if I'd like to have a PDF of a couple of his electronic books. As much as I'm pretty confident I would really dig the books, I declined the offer of the PDFs for the simple reason that I'm finding I just don't read them. I've got a virtual stack of em on my laptop and even when I know I'm going to love, love, love the book, it's a pain in the ass to get at it and ingest it from the screen. 

But I realize I'm an old fart. And I understand the irony that I, y'know, blog and shit, and that I've had fiction published online and that I'd be absolutely nowhere without people like Todd Robinson or Anthony Neil Smith or David Cranmer and Elaine Ash for reading, publishing and promoting my no-name ass. I also understand that it could very well be the only way some of my books ever get published. So, it's a loaded issue for me. I love the idea of electronic publishing, but I do not yet love to read (books anyway) in that format. At Ransom Notes, I'm talking about it. About how I'm not such hot shit with my book-reading prowess anymore. About how I'm getting left behind because there's a lot of cool shit getting released only in electronic format. I asked Allan Guthrie (because of his new blog Criminal-E) and Dave Zeltserman (because of the approach he's taking to e-books with Top Suspense Group) for a few words on the subject and their experience with electro-books and used some snippets from what they said in the Ransom Notes piece, but I thought I'd just put the rest of it out there for you here. Pay special attention to what Guthrie says regarding the cons of e-publishing, (for the writer). A couple of things I hadn't thought about.

Allan Guthrie:

About ten years ago I launched my website, Noir Originals. It focused on crime fiction, since that was my particular passion, and included reviews, articles, interviews, author showcases, and so on. The new blog is a natural progression from that. Just another way of connecting authors and readers, I hope. As the name suggests, Criminal-E features crime fiction in ebook format. Why ebooks? Because since publishers have become increasingly risk averse, a lot of excellent new (and indeed previously out of print) crime fiction is available in that format, sometimes exclusively.
My personal experience has been eye-opening. My print sales taught me to have very modest expectations and to begin with those expectations appeared to be right on the money. But I was lucky enough to get some traction, sales picked up in December, shot up rapidly in January and by February BYE BYE BABY was in the top 10 in the UK Kindle store, where it remained for most of the month. US sales have been picking up too, month after month, but much more ... um ... modestly.

It's hard to disentangle the advantages and disadvantages of indie publishing over traditional publishing because often they're just different ways of looking at the same thing. For instance, while it's great being in control of the whole operation, it would also be nice to have some help now and then. Self-publishing is a lot of fun, but it's very time-consuming.

My own situation is a little unusual in that the two novellas I've made available digitally were both commissioned for print. So I had very useful editorial input taken care of, otherwise that would have been a huge upfront cost. Generally the lack of an advance is one of the downsides of going it alone, but again that wasn't the case for me. Also, it's generally harder to sell subsidiary rights for a digital-only publication, but audio rights to both my novellas have sold because of the acumen of the publishers behind the print deal. I can't cite minimal bookstore presence either. So, specific to my own situation, the cons would be the lack of marketing input for the digital versions and the whole conversion process, both of which involved a steep learning curve. The pros that spring immediately to mind are the speed of publication, higher royalty rates, control over the price, content, cover design and product information, the monthly payments (from Amazon; Smashwords is quarterly), and real-time access to my sales figures with Amazon. The latter cannot be underestimated.

I'm not sure whether I'm getting more exposure, but I'm certainly getting far more books into the hands of readers, which is what we all hope greater exposure will lead to. My ratio of ebook sales to print sales over the last three months is fairly staggering: 450 to 1. And that's with only two ebooks available and seven books in print.

Dave Zeltserman:

The idea for the Top Suspense Group came out of discussions I had last year with Ed Gorman and Harry Shannon about how midlist writers were going to survive in this upcoming e-book centric world, especially with the Big Six shutting themselves off more and more to us midlist. The idea we came up with is conceptually simple--band together with top writers in our field and brand ourselves over time as a trusted place for readers to find high-quality genre fiction; in our case mystery, crime, horror and thriller fiction. Since then we've grown to 12 writers, built a pretty cool website, and have taken on projects like our Top Suspense Anthology, and our branding seems to be taking hold. The results aren't going to be there immediately, but I feel pretty good about this working over time. One thing I know is six months from now the e-book landscape is going to look very different than it does now, but I have to think selling quality will eventually win out no matter how this landscape changes.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Almost Here

Television this weekend! Oh, wait... damn it's all on the cable box and not on one of the broadcast channels I have access to. Ah well, Todd Haynes' five part miniseries adaptation of James M. Cain'Mildred Pierce begins Sunday on HBO and then on Monday's No ReservationsAnthony Bourdain does the Ozarks and hangs out with Daniel Woodrell. I haven't seen the episode, and am not sure what ended up on the cutting room floor, but let's just say, I hear it weren't a blood-less visit and leave it at that. Anyhow, I'm excited about Pierce over at Ransom Notes, though it looks like Megan Abbott has got some concerns about it, and her blog-mate Sara Gran has some about Reservations. How's that for balance?

I'm writing a short story about a southern preacher in the 1860s and it's beginning to feel more and more like a novel. It's a story I've been toying around with writing for like eight years, so I swear it pre-dates my exposure to Heath Lowrance's The Bastard Hand, (which I've just started reading). We'll see if I ever finish it... my story/novel that is, not Heath's book. 

Looking at late spring/early summer for a N@B event with Aaron Michael Morales and Frank Bill, so stay tuned for details on that. And speaking of N@B, I'm looking into the cost of printing and all as well as getting this whole thing compiled and I think it's a hell of a collection. Just this morning, Dennis Tafoya's piece was rattling around my subconscious, bothering me the way you know his stuff does. That's a good thing. And apparently his short stories get to other folks too. His How to Jail from Crime Factory was just nominated for a Spinetingler award and Paul Von Stoetzel's cameras are getting ready to roll on the short film adaptation of that story. Meanwhile Jordan Bloch's short adaptation of Scott Wolven's The Underdogs has been playing a few film fests and I'm looking forward to seeing that one when it's available. Both Tafoya and Wolven (and me!) will have stories in the upcoming Crime Factory anthology edited by Keith Rawson and Cameron Ashley and that thing should scorch the hair off your nuts. Dunno when to expect it other than some time this year.

And I haven't heard anything from Greg Bardsley, the big chief, regarding announcing a little project I've had a finger in, but I'd expect he's nearly ready to announce a preeeeettttty unique alt-history collection soon.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Irony & Whine

I dunno if I'm with him all the way, but it's well said for damn sure and I'll be thinking on it, I know - Benjamin Whitmer talking about irony over on his blog Kick Him, Honey. "I’m also heavily bored by it. I do like dark humor, and, yeah, play, but the only books I care about are those where there’s something at stake. There’s nothing that bores me more than an author who winks at you somewhere in the text, just to let you know it’s all a joke, that they can’t really be bothered to take it all seriously, and that aren’t you, the reader, an idiot for doing so. It’s the stuff of carrot jeans and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re in to, but I’d rather eat dirt."

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Saw this cool announcement on Kyle Minor's blog - after his participation in the latest N@B event, his short story collection, In the Devil's Territory hit the city's weekly best-seller list. Feels good.

In the mail this week I got brand new shit from the likes of George Pelecanos, Scott Phillips, Greg Hurwitz, Tom Piccirilli, Heath Lowrance and Donald Ray Pollock. That's a hell of a lineup right there. I hit Pic's Every Shallow Cut Friday night and killed it in a single sitting. It struck me how effortlessly those pages turned and how much that says about the writing - really striking, solid prose telling a very personal tale. There's some writers you can tell are working out their private shit right there on the page. Sometimes they treat it comically, sometimes it's too self-conscious to take seriously and sometimes... it just bleeds. It's raw and naked and unapologetic. I've got to read more Pic. Saturday, I read Nik Korpon's novella Old Ghosts and Nik too, jeez getting personal. I like that. Less veneer of snark on Cole, the first-person narrator of this one than on Damon the protagonist of his debut novel Stay God, and that lets us tap into his emotional core a lot quicker, which is a good thing as Old Ghosts is only 80 pages. Nik posted an excerpt from the novella on his blog. I like these short ones. Keep 'em coming.

Sunday, I tackled Greg Bardsley's amazing novel Cash Out. I've been working on this one for a while only because it's on my laptop (which I've got back from the fix-its, thanks) and I just hate reading on it. But damn, this one is the best Bardsley I've ever read. It features several of his best out of orbit characters - Crazy Larry, Calhoun, Janice From Finance - doing their fucked up thing and structured around a very likable straight-man protagonist. If no publisher picks this one up... This is gold. I'm also owing Steve Weddle's Stripped and Kieran Shea's Koko Takes a Holiday more time. Or rather, the world owes me more time to read them. Damn electronic reading.

Daniel Woodrell was interviewed for the Wall Street Journal on-line and had, as always, a couple gems in there. His Bayou Trilogy should be in stores soon.

Because I've not got enough reading to do already I picked up Robert Olmstead's Far Bright StarCharlie Stella's Shakedown, Rick DeMarinis' Mama's Boy, and Aaron Michael Morales' Drowning Tuscon this week. I have no more money... or time.

Over at Ransom Notes, I'm looking at South African crime novels like those of Roger Smith and Caryl Ferey. Go there and leave me some suggestions on what I'm missing out on.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Did you see this? Paul Friswold and Scott Phillips are starting an adult story time at Subterranean Books. Bring Your Own Book (and beer) for these events and maybe even read your decidedly adult selection aloud. If I were doing this, I might pick a selection from Tony O'Neill's down and out (not)epic Sick City. There's one passage in particular near the book's end where one of our junkie heroes is shacked up with a reaaaally rough last-ditch lay, like consider-the-pleasures-of-celibacy league, and can barely coax an erection when she begins taunting him "C'mon, this isn't a Nicholas Sparks novel, don't romance me to death!" This one had me choking on my own laughter and wincing all the way through. Not for the faint of heart, but damn, one of the best things I've tackled in a while. So good in fact, I posted a review over at Ransom Notes.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Skinny

Thursday night's N@B event was a lot of fun and well attended, thanks to everybody who showed up. I kicked things off with a reading from The Whole Buffalo (Needle #1) in which many perversities were hinted at. Anthony Neil Smith followed with his story Crotch Rockets (Kung-Fu Factory) which makes two stories from that particular issue read at a N@B event (the other being Chris La Tray's Buster Lee & the Chucklehead That Wouldn't Stay Down back in October). Richard Thomas sexed everything up with Underground Wonder Bound and Kyle Minor brought the party to an abrupt end with the horrifying The Truth & All its Ugly. Seriously, I had nightmares... just like I did the first time I read that story from Surreal South. Scott Phillips emceed and pissed off the crowd with some vicious personal attacks and rants... but the stout of heart and girth stayed the course including former participants Malachi Stone, Matthew McBride, Matt Kindt and Tim Lane. Brian Hurtt showed up too and I'm not sure if we helped or hurt our chances of getting him and Cullen Bunn to show up sometime and pimp The Damned and/or The Sixth Gun. I'd love to post a picture or two from the event, but I'm having trouble with blogger... dunno. Sorry.

I just picked up The Ones That Got Away by Stephen Graham Jones, Volt by Alan Heathcock. Can't wait to get to those, but I'm looking at Sara Gran, Megan Abbott and Duane Swierczynski ARCs (and many others) on my bookshelf... they tease and cajole... I am weak. New shit to read from Kieran Shea and Frank Bill too. My own damn fault. Over at Ransom Notes I'm pleading again for short books - I likey. I site some of my favorites as well as new titles including Tom Piccirilli's Every Shallow Cut, Nik Korpon's Old Ghosts and Ray Banks' California. Please leave me some more suggestions over there.

Resolved this weekend - watch Mesrine: Killer Instinct. That is all.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My First Three-Way

Had an interesting experience a couple weeks ago, a three-way conversation with two uber talented novelists that I admire, both younger than myself. Little bastards, right? Yeah, damn right, little bastards, who do they think they are with their talent and their kick-ass books and and and... Yeah, their kick-ass books. Michael Koryta and Urban Waite spoke with me about their new books, The Cypress House and The Terror of Living respectively and I've posted the results over at Ransom Notes. Little bastards.

Your pal and mine, Mr. Jimmy Callaway is guest editing the 'Noir' issue of Black Heart magazine and looking for some flash fiction. I've never written flash. The shortest fiction piece I've clocked was a couple thousand words, (Viscosity - Out of the Gutter #6) and frankly, I'm not sure if I've got the chops to pull a good piece together, but I'm gonna try. So, give Jimmy a hand and make it the blackest damn issue they ever had.

Last night my wife asked me to read aloud so that she could go quickly to sleep. This always works. She rarely lasts a paragraph, but she'd expressly requested 'no disturbing stuff,' so I had to forgo Tony O'Neill's Sick City, (thank you Scott Montgomery for the rec) which is so enthusiastically twisted... I'm loving it. Anyhow, I picked up the title on top of my ARC TBR pile and started reading aloud. Two paragraphs later and she wasn't asleep. Two pages later and she still wasn't. Unfortunately, she was giggling. I read two whole chapters of that turkey to her before switching to the next title... This morning, I swear she held me in a higher regard, like 'Oh, I had no idea what you have to go through with all those free books they send you, poor baby.'

All of this to say - folks, I really appreciate the free books, I most sincerely do and I make every effort to give them a fair shake, but if you have sent me a book and not seen it mentioned a couple of weeks past it's publishing date, then for whatever reason, it just wasn't up my alley (unless you're John Rector and I swear, those books never arrived). I really don't want to be the guy ripping on your book in front of the whole blogosphere. You wrote a book, you're ahead of the curve. But it wasn't for me. Sorry. Plenty of big books weren't for me, so you're in good company. And I'm trying to get a novel published, so I understand how vulnerable you are, just, hey... thanks for the book, it wasn't for me. Let's leave it at that.

Now. You've cleared your calendar for Thursday night, right? You're coming to N@B at the Delmar Lounge at 7pm. I don't have to worry about you? You know that we've got Richard Thomas, the author of Transubstantiate and a moderator in Chuck Palahniuk's writer's workshop over at The Cult. And you know we've got Kyle Minor, the scribe of the friggin breakenest heartenest short stories you ever read at places like Plots With Guns, Surreal South or in his collection In the Devil's Territory? And you know we've got Anthony Neil Smith, the bold motherfucker who stepped up and helped give Noir at the Bar it's start two years ago? I know you know that. That's why, I know you'll be there.

Monday, March 7, 2011


Okay, to piggy-back on the last Ransom Notes post about investing me in a crime story: I just saw that there’s a sequel to The Hangover on its way to a theater near you, which is fine by me. I enjoyed the first one, and I’m not so invested in it as to be dismayed at the possibility of sullying the good, er bad name of the project with lesser spin-offs or cash-ins, but let’s be clear about something - the appeal of the original was the close proximity that it placed the average viewer in of some veeeerrrry unsavory possibilities. How far off the reservation of the social/moral contract could these relatively normal characters (therefore the viewer) be pushed? And now that we’ve witnessed the unrealistic, (if commercially smart) and cozy solutions to their problems, it’s going to be impossible to be invested in a second go-around for the same reasons that we were in the first. The alternate-reality safety net has been revealed and the natural consequences of actions have been neutered.

Which, hey, works plenty. I love to catch light entertainment sometimes, but you know what really sticks with me? – When the usual punches aren’t pulled. If your characters are going to play near the ledge, you gotta let ‘em fall off at least once in a while. Otherwise the stakes are null and void across the board. So, for everybody who liked The Hangover, I’ll go ahead and recommend Peter Berg’s directorial debut Very Bad Things. This one revels in consequence like very few popular tales do, pushes them so far in fact that it plays like noir for laughs.

But I digress.

What gets me hooked are these stories that play with the conceit of our humanity both damning us and keeping us from the lowest levels of hell simultaneously. To take Very Bad Things as an example; gluttony, greed and lust propel our surrogates deeper into lying, violence and betrayal, but rather than becoming completely callous and getting away with it, it’s the latent efforts of their consciences recovering from trauma that doom them on the one hand while keeping them from becoming absolute horrors on the other.

At Ransom Notes, I'm posting lists of some of my favorite comic crime movies. Reallllly pretty light fare. Comedy I'm stressing. Don't look at me like that.