Thursday, March 27, 2014


Embarrassment of good shit to read out right now and or very soon... fyi. All of these, for one reason or another, are piquing my interest... a couple I've already read too.

Plaster City by Johnny Shaw

Reckoning by Rusty Barnes

One For My Baby by Barry Graham

A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride 

Hop Alley by Scott Phillips

Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea

The Fever by Megan Abbott

In the Morning I'll be Gone by Adrian McKinty

Phone Call From Hell by Jonathan Woods
Rolling Country by Joseph Hirsch

A Man From Rio by Shayne Youngblood

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bad Dad

David Oppegaard is the Brahm Stoker nominated author of And the Hills Opened Up, Wormwood, Nevada, The Suicide Collectors and The Ragged Mountains. He is also today's guest contributor to the Narrative Music series, and what fuckin cold murder ballad he's chosen. Take it away, David...

The Rake’s Song

Writers often talk about loving absolute quiet for writing—the entire writing retreat business is centered around the idea of retreating from the world to some quiet spot in the woods, or on the ocean, and writing without the distraction of worldly noise.

Yet I, for one, love listening to music when I write. I love typing and rocking out, the music drifting in and out of my consciousness as I try to reach my 1,200 words for the day. I’ve found the trick is listening to driving, generally more upbeat rock, songs you’ve heard plenty of times before so you won’t be distracted by the lyrics. For me good writing music is older rockers like Neil Young, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan along with newer bands like The Hold Steady and The Rural Alberta Advantage.

Some songs, however, are too interesting to ignore no matter how many times you listen to them.  One of these is the gleefully murderous The Rake’s Song by The Decemberists. One part of a concept album titled The Hazards of Love, The Rake’s Song is told from the point of view of a womanizer/libertine who finds himself suddenly married one day. At first things are all hunky dory, but the Rake soon finds being married with children not to his liking:

No more a rake and no more a bachelor
I was wedded and it whetted my thirst
Until her womb start spilling out babies
Only then did I reckon my curse

The Rake’s wife gives birth to four children, but the fourth child dies along with the mother during childbirth. No longer saddled with a wife, the Rake arrives at a crossroads…

What can one do when one is widower
Shamefully saddled with three little pests
All that I wanted was the freedom of a new life
So my burden I began to divest
Alright, alright, alright

…that leads him to murdering his remaining children in one of the most chilling verses in the history of pop music.

Charlotte I buried after feeding her foxglove
Dawn was easy, she was drowned in the bath
Isaiah fought but was easily bested
Burned his body for incurring my wrath
Alright, alright, alright

In the final verse, the narrator declares that he’s not bothered by all this kiddy murder…

And that's how I came your humble narrator
To be living so easy and free
Expect you think that I should be haunted
But it never really bothers me

Yet it should be noted that in a song later in the album titled The Hazards Of Love 3 (Revenge!) the Rake’s children return as specters and address the Rake one at a time, belying his professed indifference. Isaiah, the child who fought back, speaks last:

Spare the rod, you'll spoil the child
But I prefer the lash
My sisters drowned and poisoned
All of me reduced to ash
And buried in an urn
But father I return
Singing ooooh the hazards of love

The Rake is now haunted by his own children. Love, and what dark paths it may lead to, is hazardous indeed.

David Oppegaard is the Brahm Stoker nominated author of Wormwood, Nevada, The Suicide Collectors and The Ragged Mountains. His latest novel And the Hills Opened Up is now available from Burnt Bridge.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Community Collage

So long, Plots With Guns. You were the shit. Yes, Anthony Neil Smith announced the second ending (which hopefully precedes a third coming - but those things get rarer with age) of the er, seminal electronic journal of crime fiction that he founded twice and resurrected once in the last several years. Among its pages I had one of my first published stories (The Morning After - an early Terry Hickerson tale - which is now only available in A F*ckload of Shorts). But badass online short story venues continue to thrive... for instance there's a new Grant Jerkins' story Eula Shook published for your edification at The Dead Mule School For Southern Literature, and check out Johanna Stull, a brand new story from Daniel Woodrell available online in the latest issue of Buffalo Almanack.

I believe Neil when he says that his recent heart attack had nothing to do with the decision to holster Guns, but dammit, news of his health scare was a lot more upsetting to me than closing up shop. And shit, it's been bad news of late with the passing of (among other things, N@B-LA regular) A.J. Hayes (and hell, Maggie Estep). Steve Weddle and the folks at Needle magazine, Thrillers, Killers N Chillers and Do Some Damage have put together a little monetarily compensated short story contest in honor of Bill Hayes (AJ) and you can read the details at DSD. Times like these, I'm grateful for the community of great writers and readers congregating to celebrate the shit they love and this week is gonna be a good one for that...
Saturday night in Louisiana it's N@B-NOLA featuring Heather Graham, Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman, Greg Herren, Nate Southard, Charles Gramlich and the short film Dead Man's Number. My man Jason Stuart helms the shit out of the NOLA event. (And speaking of New Orleans, biiiiiig congrats to N@B survivor Matthew C. Funk on the sale of his first novel The City of NO to Exhibit A books!)

And then on Sunday it's N@B-NYC with Hilary Davidson, Richie Narvaez, Tim O'Mara, Bryon Quertermous, Alex Segura, Jason Starr and Dave White, plus hosts with Hostess Glenn Gray & Todd Robinson. I hear rumor they might throw a bonus N@B event soon with Patti Abbott... stay tuned.

Aaaaand in a couple of weeks there'll be a new sibling to kick around. Norman, Oklahoma, home of Broken River Books, will kick off N@B-OK featuring J. David Osborne, Paul J. Garth, Ed Kurtz, Gabino Iglesias, Robert Spencer, Shane McKenzie, Troy James Weaver and the music of Nathan Lofties.

People get in their cars and drive a long effing distance for these events too (participants and audience types alike). You folks are amazing and you keep me from getting too cynical. For me, and clearly for a bunch of you, it's about a lot more than the aural sensations and libations.

PWG is no more, but community is good. Go to a con this year. Go to a N@B event. See some people and do people things.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Still Trailing

McCanick - d: Josh C. Waller w: Daniel Noah 

Cheap Thrills - d: E.L. Katz w: David Chirchirillo, Trent Haaga

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For - d: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller w: Frank Miller

Repentance - d: Philippe Caland w: Philippe Caland, Shintaro Shimosawa

Grand Piano - d: Eugenio Mira w: Damian Chazelle

Nurse 3-D - d: Douglas Aarniokoski w: Douglas Aarniokoski, David Lougherty

Devil's Knot - d: Atom Egoyan w: Mara Leveritt, Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

2014 in Crime Flicks: February

Blue Caprice - Alexandre Moors - Hypnotic if not quite harrowing portrait if not strictly a dramatization of the mindset if not the expressly the events that led up to the Beltway Sniper shootings carried out by John Allen Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo in October of 2002 around Washington D.C. As John, Isaiah Washington delivers a helluva performance, all bitter paranoia and badly wired or at least overcooked paternal impulse that mix into an evil plan to bring down the... something... system(?) he feels victimized by. The film is dreamlike and impressionistic in its approach focusing on mood rather than plot-points and that works ultimately in its favor, becoming a dull-edged and suffocating nightmare rather than a by the numbers ticking clock thriller. Good supporting turns too from Tim Blake Nelson and Tequan Richmond as Lee buttress Washington's towering simmer (that a contradiction?) while splashes of casting color from Joey Lauren Adams and Leo Fitzpatrick just made me wish for more of them than I got. Best moment: Lee takes care of a baby - it's a great moment balancing terror for what might happen to the child left long-term in his care and profound sadness at what might've happened to the young man with a better father-figure.

Charlie Countryman - Fredrik Bond - Charlie (Shia LeBeouf) is a young man without direction who impulsively sets out to see the world (or at least Bucharest) and find his place after the death of his mother. On the transcontinental flight, Charlie has an exchange with the older man sitting next to him and when the stranger expires midflight, Charlie becomes the speaker for the dead charged with delivering a message to the gentleman's smoking hot daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) who is married to a jealous and dangerous man twice her age (Mads Mikkelsen). While abroad Charlie stays in a hostel, goes to raves and becomes a marked man while following his heart. Stupid, stupid, heart. Man, this one felt like a film out of time. Seemed like the rejected Danny Boyle/Ewan McGregor Trainspotting follow-up project, what with the music and camera moves and energy and all the earnest youngster-ishness in exotic locale going on. I appreciated the film's  big-hearted optimism and age-appropriate romanticism - better than a stagey nihilism or hipster cool - and who knows, twenty years ago, this might've been a picture I took to. But today I'm too tired and irritable and motherfucking, shitshoveling mature to go for this kinda thing. Best moment: Charlie decides it'd be better to have a cool death than a boring life. It was admittedly, a nice moment.

Edge of Darkness - Martin Campbell - When homicide detective Thomas Craven's daughter takes a shotgun blast he assumes was meant for him, he finally has the excuse he's been waiting for to rage against the machine and cry some bullets. Somehow, it takes nothing more than a single verbal refusal to take some personal time to make the father of the murder victim the lead (only) investigator on the case, and let's face it, when Mel Gibson is in full-on scowl mode, I'm not going to get in his way. I'm partial to puffy, middle-aged slabs of beef in suits and known only by their last names growling at each other in especially coarse vulgarisms (I really am, a dear genre to me), but the Brits, the Aussies (hell, even the French) they consistently do it better than my homeland. So I really wanted this American feature film re-make of the British mini-series (also from Campbell) to succeed. It's even got grizzled, growly Aussie Gibson at the center, solid built to be a baddie Danny Huston and swollen, rumbly Brit beefstick Ray Winstone in a prominent supporting role, but let me be clear: this... this is a dumb fuckin movie. There really is a palpable contempt for the dipshittedness of the audience on display here that I took unusually sharp objection to. I don't watch movies that I want to fail. If I'm sitting down with your flick, I am lending my moral support to help you entertain me, but this is just a lazy, crazy bid for my manly money that made me want to watch something flamboyant to wash the grit out of my eyes with. Best moment: Gibson and Winstone growl over a fire.

Escape Plan - Mikael Hafstrom - Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) has perhaps the dumbest job on the planet. He goes to prison until he can break himself out and then he details exactly how he succeeded in a report to the client who's paid him to expose the weak points of their security protocol and infrastructure. They pay him a lot. Still, he enjoys that money for what -a few days? a week? a month?- before heading back into some dangerous, awful shithole for... months at a time. The reason a man might willingly spend his life incarcerated in hellish places? Oh, wait for it, it's a doozy... He used to be a lawyer see, he defended scumbags, but when one of those scumbags got out of prison and hurt people, his eyes were opened and his life had new purpose - keep scumbags in prison, make sure they can't get out!!! And do so, by personally checking out alllllll the prisons in a quest to make them escape-proof. Fuuuuuck, that is one fascinatingly unbalanced, fucked up individual who could be the focus of a much more interesting movie, however... this dumb fucking movie is a fun fucking movie, a movie that succeeds in delivering a running time of explosion and muscle and toughnbess-based entertainment with vapor-thin token justifications offered for the premise as well as the presence of folks like Amy Ryan as the sexy smart partner, Sam Neil as the prison doctor with a conscience or Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson as the techno-savvy minority. Who does the film really need? Stallone to be the star, Arnold Schwarzeneggar to be the accomplice, Jim Caviezel to be the evil warden, Vinnie Jones to be the heavy and Vincent D'onofrio to be the traitor. But the real star of a film like this is the super-duper-max, uber-secret prison itself - it's hopelessly escape-proof security and locale as essential as its stupendously silly weakness which Breslin spots in about fifteen minutes, and yeah, the film delivers a nicely nightmarish place with inconsistencies so charmingly outre they're nearly meta. As with his Expendables franchise and the latest Rambo flick (title: Rambo) Escape Plan proves Stallone knows his fucking business, his own appeal and how to overcome obstacles in the life of an aging action hero - looks like Ahnold's taking notes, too (next up: Sabotage). Best moment: the location reveal - reminded me of other over the top prison pulps like John Woo's Face/Off, Duane Swierczynski's Point & Shoot or Anthony Neil Smith's The Baddest Ass.

Everybody Has a Plan - Ana Piterbarg - Viggo Moretnsen plays identical twins Augustin and Pedro - one a city doctor, the other a country bee-keeper/criminal - in Argentina. One's plans have fallen apart and the other suddenly wants to abandon his. A reunion after a decade-long (longer?) estrangement ends with one sibling murdering the other and attempting to resume his brother's identity, only to realize that perhaps the new life's problems are worse than the ones he left behind. This is a steady and measured thriller that's brought to a raging simmer if never quite a boil, and I enjoyed it all the way through - the acting, the pace, the cinematography all swell. Still, it's a shame it didn't have a bit... more of the x-factor to make it truly memorable. It establishes a terrific mood and has a great setting among the river community - both of which I'm sure I will enjoy, perhaps even more upon second viewing, but I'm left with the feeling that this one is a missed opportunity for something really special. Still, this is a very solid 85% and worth checking out. Best moment: Claudia visits the wrong brother in jail.

Lilyhammer Season 2 - Eilif Skodvin & Anne Bjornstad - New York wiseguy turned Feeb-informant and Lillehammer, Norway's favorite new son, Frank Tagliano is stepping up his operations. This year he's expanding his immigration for profit racket, as well as illegal liquor, tourism and capitalism, circumvention of the community's socialist tendencies, and the odd hitman who shows up looking for him. Thank God for second seasons, they really can take a good-enough show to a much better place (see The Sopranos, The Shield, Justified) and that's exactly what's happened here (though I wouldn't put it in the company of those other shows on an overall quality level). Lilyhammer's second season is much funnier and more engaging than its first, but the best turn is the introduction to the fore of the crime element. The escalation in violence and danger infuses the humor with some bite and the cast are far more sure-footed with their (admittedly) odd characters. Looking forward to season 3 more than I was season 2. Best moment: Frank turns the tables on the limey bastards come to rub him out.

Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers - Havana Marking - The Pink Panthers - an international criminal supergroup consisting of a shadowy inner circle and many many tentacles made up of less and less official members have been pulling off bigger and bigger jewelry heists for decades now, and Interpol and municipal law-enforcement groups don't seem to be making any significant progress in hampering their activities. This documentary tells their story using security camera footage of actual heists, dramatic re-enactments and interviews with silhouettes as well as actors reading 'authentic' answers from actual Pink Panther members. I struggled a bit with how much to swallow whole and how much to simply be entertained, but it is at least a better than average made for television documentary, worth checking out for some of the robbery footage alone. Best moment: driving cars through the mall.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Self Publishing Badasses

So after looking at small presses last week, I'm going even smaller. The smallest press. The self-published books.

I'm not going to bore you with a reason you should/should not self-publish if you are a serious artist - cause fuck that noise. Anymore, the choice to self-publish is a business decision and some of my favorite books of recent years have been published by the author.

So, here are just a few of my favorite writers who've published their own work (as well as had more traditional publishings) on why they choose to.

First up, I asked Barry Graham whose The Wrong Thing was one of the Switchblade releases from PM Press that really made me sit up and take notice (both of him as well as the publishers), about his decision to self-publish titles like When It All Comes Down to Dust, How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy? and more.

At this point in history, I think the question is not why authors would turn down publishing deals and self-publish instead, but why they wouldn't.

I can only think of one reason to go with a publisher. If they're offering an advance of far more money than you expect your book to make, then it's logical to take that deal and regard the book as a loss-leader. But, otherwise, it makes no sense. Whether you're selling millions of books, or only hundreds, why would you sign a deal that allows the publisher to keep most of the money from each book sale? While I might take the deal if the advance was big enough, I wouldn't give them an option on subsequent books, and if they required me to agree not to self-publish other books during a certain period of time, I wouldn't sign.

I've been with large and small publishers, and now that I do it myself, my book sales are higher than when I was published by Bloomsbury or Serpent's Tail. But now I get 70 percent of the the price of each book sold, not 10 percent or less, which is what you can expect from a publisher. And I no longer have to suffer editorial stupidity and arrogance, decisions being made by sales departments, ugly book covers, or incompetent marketing and distribution.

I've said many times since I went independent that if a publisher made me an offer now, they'd have to
provide a convincing answer to this question: "If I give you the rights to my book and to most of the money it makes, what, in return, can you do for me that I can't do for myself?" - Barry Graham

Next, I went to Clayton Lindemuth, whose Cold, Quiet Country came out of nowhere at the tail end of 2012 to become one of my favorite debuts of year. Published by MP Publishing, CQC was well reviewed and I expected to see more of his titles from them, but a year later Lindemuth decided to self-publish his next novel Nothing, Save the Bones Inside Her and his third, My Brother's Destroyer about a week later. Further exploration of the self-pub option is on for Lindemuth, whose currently putting up his next novel And Sometimes Bone (a prequel to Nothing Save the Bones Inside Her) one chapter at a time on his blog in order to gauge interest before pulling the trigger on it, so go check it out for a sample of his chops.

I turned down an offer from my publisher so that I could publish My Brother's Destroyer on my own, which I did right after publishing Nothing Save the Bones Inside Her.

A lot of authors want to be published by a traditional publisher because they feel they earn credibility, and frankly, it kicks ass to have a pro read your book and want to buy it and publish it. But if publishing is more than ego buffing, it makes sense to think of it like any other business.

There are a lot of solid writers (Barry Eisler informed my views) who make great arguments for self publishing based on the idea that if you break down what a publisher actually does, all the parts of the book-making process, there's no way you would give up 75% of the revenue (and a quarter of subsidiary rights) to outsource those jobs. Publishers don't do as much for authors as they did sixty years ago, but they still take the same cut. Now that authors can own or outsource every aspect of the publication process and much of the distribution, the author is able to become an author/publisher. Check out Barry's website for a lot of insight on self publishing. The bottom line is that when an author enters into a partnership with a publisher, the author needs to be getting more from them than he or she could obtain by self publishing, or else it's a loss.

All of those arguments resonated with me. Another was that publishing my last two books by myself allowed me to retain control over everything from the font, the cover, the back cover, the price, the timing, and most importantly, the price during promotional activities. It's difficult to do trial and error marketing when you only get your sales numbers every six months. As a self published author, I get them every day, and that allows me to quickly learn what works and what doesn't.

I have no idea if I'll ever make great money at publishing books. But I know I'll have great fun, and that whatever I put out will be exactly the way I want it to be.

That said, I know that I give up a lot by publishing on my own. I don't have any real print distribution, I can't yet get reviews by big names like PW, Kirkus, and the like. But the bottom line for me is that I'll probably make the same money on my self published titles as my traditionally published, and until one of the big six comes at me with a fistful of dollars, I'm kind of enjoying the control and freedom.
- Clayton Lindemuth

Finally, Josh Stallings whose memnoir All the Wild Children from Snubnose Press is a fucking kick in the guts is self-publishing his Moses Mcguire novels (three so far- Beautiful Naked & Dead, Out There Bad and One More Body) and building a fan base that includes cheerleaders like Tad Williams and Charlie Huston. Not too shabby. Josh had this to say:

When I first sent Beautiful, Naked & Dead out I was told by a few trusted agents and editors that they loved my writing but felt the book was too dark and Moses was too outside of normal culture. Self-publishing has given me a way to let readers decide for themselves. I could have spent years submitting and maybe I would have gotten a traditional deal, instead I have now three Moses books out in the world. Three years into this experiment Moses continues to sell and I continue to pick up readers. The value to me is being able to build an audience on my own terms. Without self-publishing Moses would have stayed in drawer.

As a reader, the self-published micro-press authors have given me a wider group of books to choose from, and that is a big win. - Josh Stallings

Also check out self-pubbed fare like

Devil's Oven by Laura Benedict

Choke On Your Lies by Anthony Neil Smith

Ozark Banshee by Malachi Stone