Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Talking Monkey From the Future - Only Says 'Ficus'

Saw The Nice Guys. Dude. Dooood. Enjoyed the hell out of that. Doesn't look like it's setting the boxoffice on fire like it oughtta. WTF, 2016 with the quality crime pics getting the shit shoulder? This one's even a custom-built crowd pleaser. It's got that perfect Black pitch overgrown boys like myself love so much. Everything, from the music to the clothing, about the 70s setting is damned fun as are Russell Crowe in grumpy slab of beef mode and Ryan Gosling killing me with slapstick and high-pitched screaming (fuck that guy, btw - handsome and funny - fuuuuuuck yewwww).

If you've got any interest in this flick you've probably heard about the callbacks to other Shane Black scripts. The odd couple tough guys - two straight white dudes this time - as opposed to a white guy and a black guy (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout... um, Iron Man 3), a white lady and a black guy (The Long Kiss Goodnight), or two white guys one gay (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), misadventures in corpse disposal, torture by electrocution, the indignity of bathroom surprises... and it's set near Christmas time in L.A. too (what, October/November is too near Christmas time).

Or about the way it opens exactly the same way Lethal Weapon does - with a nude woman dead atop a wrecked automobile, and the scene where Russ and Ryan go through a person of interest's burned down house looking exactly the same as Danny Glover and Mel Gibson going through poor ol' Dixie's place in LW. The Nice Guys also represents the most entertaining and engaging heavies in Keith David, Beau Knapp and Matt Bomer since Gary Busey's Mr. Joshua. Each one feels like he belongs in an Elmore Leonard novel by virtue of a look, the delivery of a throwaway - non-witty - line - they're all aces.

Speaking of pulp novels, Hard Case Crime has released the movie tie-in novel written by none other than Charles Ardai which sounds like a pulp fiction perfection concoction (Max Booth III thinks so too - check out his review over at LitReactor... nevermind that he recommends it for fans of my stuff - he otherwise sounds like he's on the money).

Pulp novels and pornography also are recurring thematic obsessions of Black's. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was loosely based on a Brett Halliday's Michael Shayne novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them and featured characters obsessed with a Shayne-esque dime novel detective named Johnny Gossamer, plus chapter breaks named after Raymond Chandler books (The Simple Art of Murder, The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister etc.)  - it'd be meta if it weren't so on the nose.  How about Black's just-announced project - a Doc Savage movie starring Dwayne Johnson... it goes on.

And porno, let's not forget, is a key element of any self-respecting underworld story - from the titillating mcguffin of The Nice Guys to Amanda Hunsicker's tawdry tapes and lascivious lifestyle, it's represented well in Black plots, but I think it emerges as a theme in this latest. If TNG is about anything it seems to be alternately about bad parents fucking up their kids and/or the kids maybe being all right. Between Gosling's alcoholic, and absent-minded-bordering-on-neglectful single dad and Kim Basinger's cold-bloodedness serving as bad parenting producing both good and bad kids, while the kids immersing themselves enthusiastically into 'adult affairs and vices' of the world likewise turn out to be otherwise decent and/or creepy - the little boy ogling the centerfold at the film's opening who then covers the exposed breasts of the flesh and blood woman on the hood of the car and the kid on the bike who keeps offering to show the detectives his dick outside the film maker's crispy home. The film is full of both parents failing to shield their children from ugliness as well as kids rushing to shed their innocence - some turn out decent, others are little shits.

But who cares, if it's not full of the funnies, the gross violence, the playful witties, the bromance of it all? Here's hoping after the Predator reboot and Doc Savage flick are wrapped Shane noir can give us another along the lines of TNG or KKBB... Hell, a sequel to TNG would be swell even. Love to see those two in the eighties. Meantime, I'm watching all the movies again Black to Black. 

First up was a rewatch of KKBB including the commentary track from Black, Robert Downy Jr. and Val Kilmer. As wordy and motor mouthy as Black and Downy are known for being, holy crap does Kilmer dominate that track. He's got a reputation for being exceptionally difficult for directors to work with and apparently this includes recording commentary tracks. Kudos to Black, Downy and Kilmer himself for working through it and giving us the final product - cuz as 'Gay' Perry he's a scream. 

Somebody else who gets a killer and quick-spoken performance from latter career Kilmer? David Mamet did in Spartan. Shit... I love that movie. Part two of Mamet's thematic trilogy preceded by Ronin and wrapped up in Red Belt with that weird little foray into TV with The Unit - it's a terrifically paced and sharp as it needs to be piece of pulp fiction that only gets sharper and pacier every time I watch it.

And speaking of weird forays into TVs... I hope to hell Black is only collecting a paycheck on the latest degradation the legacy of Lethal Weapon is undergoing - as a Fox Television series. I really do dig Clayne Crawford (check out his superior work on Rectify for my case in his favor), but, as the new Martin Riggs, looks to be up to network-tv-shitty-action-silliness while Damon Wayans returns to Black properties (Last Boy Scout - career high?) but unfortunately picked up the phone for the role of Murtaugh on this shit boat. Trailer says it all... Unless this is some Terriers-level good show/bad advertising... which I don't think it is. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Year in Books

Freezer Burn - Joe R. Lansdale - Confirms my long-held opinion that stand-alone Lansdale is my favorite go-for-broke mode Lansdale. Starts as a low-life comedic crime caper, turns horrific, and saves the best for last when it becomes an unlikely-moving piece of carnival noir - think Freaks, Nightmare Alley and The Postman Always Rings Twice put through a blender,  rolled in a corn tortilla and doused in something dark and sweet and spicy and of secret origin.

Jewish Noir - Kenneth Wishnia (ed.) - Sure I've got a story in this collection, but don't that keep you from reading it. Good shit in here - super happy to share space for the second time this year with Travis Richardson and Alan Orloff, plus so many personal favorites - Dave Zeltserman, Jason Starr, Summer Brenner, Gary Phillips, Eddie Muller, some guy named Moe Prager... yeah, you should definitely not rule this book out based on my presence. More thoughts on my participation in this book right here.

The New Black - Richard Thomas ed. - Really solid collection of short fiction curated by Thomas from the likes of Kyle Minor, Craig Clevenger, Brian Evenson, Roxane Gay, Nik Korpon, Benjamin Percy, Stephen Graham Jones, Richard Lange, Paul Tremblay, Craig Wallwork, Craig Davidson, Matt Bell and more. Plus it's a damned sweet physical object (as all those Dark House Press books are). I'm sure the translation loses the point, but as it represents every single French word I know - Le neo noir = le merde (the shit rather than just shit... I recommend it).

Real Cool Killers - Chester Himes - Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones are Harlem's toughest cops and they maintain their reputations by indiscriminately busting heads and shooting motherfuckers who get in their way. Wolves among wolves, they keep the peace to a quiet roar in the predominantly black neighborhoods they roam and when a street gang called The Real Cool Moslems seem to be at the eye of one too many shitstorms in a single evening nobody else has got a chance of getting everything flushed. Such a great piece of street noir - the social irony not lost on the detectives, they do their job alternately serving the underserved community they're assigned to and subjugating the masses - quoing the status for the one percenters at whose behest they serve. A cop's dilemma, I suppose. Though Ed & Jones show little by way of moral second guessing in their nature. They just play the game - making sure they get theirs in once in a while.

The Power of the Dog - Don Winslow - Multi-POV chronicle of the war on drugs and the wear on the world and the souls of all involved. The futility, the emptiness, the hypocrisy, the staggering body count, the depths of the depravity, the ruthlessness, the one of two of three places something human and noble shines through - gah this book will wreck you so good. Highest strata Winslow - if you've read his other books you still won't be prepared for the way this one lands. 

Scent of New Death - Mike Monson - Crime fiction like a good, stiff drink - bracing and straight to the point. No fat on this one, just a mean story about professional thieves fucking each other over... and fucking each other. You like Parker? Crissa Stone? The Hackman Blues - era Ken Bruen? Give this one a go. If you've got a couple hours you should be able to knock this one out in a single sitting.

Small Crimes - Dave Zeltserman - Zeltserman moves about - adept at many strains of fiction and even within my wheelhouse he writes for and from several different corners, but this... This is so up my alley, my proctologist decided to just leave it where he found it - said any attempt to remove it might prove fatal. His unofficial man-out-of-prison trilogy (which includes this one, Pariah and Killer) represent the darkest, bitterest, broodiest noir I love. This one focuses on an ex-cop/ex-con come back to the place he once lived and is reminded every minute that it's no longer the life he once had. So, so, so very good. Small-scale - meaning intimate - and without an ounce of redemption. Get on it before the movie comes out.
Soft Water - Robert Olmstead - What a wild fucking book. Olmstead writes beautifully and unlike anybody else. He's got the gravity to devastate, but a touch so light and a point of view so off-center you'd be hard pressed to nail down the overall tone of the book to something as simple as "tragic, bemused, dreadful, romantic". His work belongs in discussion with the likes of Jim Harrison, Denis Johnson, William Gay, Daniel Woodrell... Dive in anywhere you can.

Southern Bastards: Here Was a Man - Jason Aaron, Jason Latour - Big fan of Jason Aaron's other straight crime comic seires, Scalped, so I gave Southern Bastards a go, but I'm not planning on moving on to the second trade collection unless a whole lotta you guys insist I do and make outrageous promises regarding the payoff.

Tijuana Straits - Kem Nunn - Terrific, nasty and human piece of thriller literature from the borderlands. Nunn is the godfather of 'surf noir' set in SoCal, but that invariably also means, dropped-out, strung-out, philosophically crippled noir - formerly wide-eyed and currently bloodshot, gutters of paradise fare. Easy to pick out the protagonist in this book, but the real treat how fleshed out and equally compelling (equally - meaning equal - which itself is rare 'cause the colorful secondary characters often outshine the heroic cut outs at the center of these types of books) all the characters are. Gripping and laid-back, break neck and broken ankled - you know his name from the TVs (Deadwood, John From Cincinnati, Sons of Anarchy), but the books are where he shines brightest and purest.

Up in the Treehouse - Joseph Hirsch - Hirsch has lined up and knocked down an impressive string of genres in his brief, but prolific time as a novelist (horror, crime, weird mystery, weird western, weird sci-fi), and Up in the Treehouse is something new (for him) again - a straight-forward, biographical horror novel about disaffected young men whose ultimate form of self-expression is violence. Think Stephen King's Rage, but just a biiiiit more personal. Oof.

The Whites - Harry Brandt - From the alter-ego of Richard Price comes this no-getting-caught-up-in-the-social-message cop novel that is still a Richard Price joint and tho lessser, yes, has got the same things on its mind as his highest tiers of output. Still there is the dialogue, the street-level atmosphere, the human-based humor and all the tough... is it enough? Sort of. It whips by on crisp, clean prose, it tells a story with all the right plot mechanics and dramatic arcs you're looking for, but I can't help thinking it would've been more satisfying an experience without Price's name on it. It's Price-lite. Be a good gateway drug for new readers perhaps intimidated by the size and density of something like Clockers, but as filler between Price novels, it's a little slight.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Meanwhile in Asia

The Wailing - w/d: Na Hong-Jin

Confession of Murder - w/d:  Jeong Byeong-Gil

Inside Men: d: Woo Min-Ho w: Yoon Tae-Ho, Woo Min-Ho

Blind Detective - w/d: Johnny To 

Kill Zone 2 -  d: Soi Cheang w: Leung Lai-Yin, Ying Wong

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Wolven Amongst the Sheep

Few author discoveries have thrilled me as much as that of Scott Wolven. I'm not even sure which of his stories I read first as I consumed every one I could find floating in this magic space of online literary crime journals in the late aughties - places like Plots With Guns and Thuglit as well as in an unparalleled stretch of inclusion in seven sequential Otto Penzler's Best American Mystery Stories of the year of Our Lord...

His sole collection of fiction, Controlled Burn, featured several of the stories I'd already read, but it re-contextualized them when I realized that they were connected, they were telling a larger story - it's a novel. Sort of.

One of the signatures of his style is keeping the meat of each story unspoken, unexplained and obscured. What lurks behind the characters, looms beneath the surface, you have to judge from the swell it creates, the shadow it casts and the actions it inspires.

And it is terrible.

During that time ten and fifteen years past I discovered many favorites which I had the (mostly false) sensation of being a part of their ascendancy, an early herald and nurturing supporter of that thing that now everybody enjoys and respects and reveres. That somehow my personal appreciation and enthusiasm had played a part in their achieving the greater recognition they deserved, as if the work I'd responded to so strongly couldn't speak for itself, but needed me as an ambassador, as if its merits weren't self-evident. Many of those voices I felt I'd gotten in on the ground floor of have made graceful transitions to better known status, wider readership and the community of early fans share a pleasant and flattering illusion of having gracefully handed them off to the next stage of their careers.

But somehow Wolven remains that secret. Nevermind the unanimous admiration and respect bordering on awe of the small time crime community I belong to, nevermind the last new story of his I saw was featured in a major fucking venue you may have heard of - Playboy magazine - he's still ours.

How has this handoff not yet happened? Why is he not yet the crowned king of noir?

For years rumors have come and gone about a novel soon to drop, a film project or a collection of novellas. Titles like King Zero and (appropriately) False Hopes appear shimmering on the horizon like fair maidens with cool water and palm fronds, but never seem to grow nearer. Other rumors about publishing deals hitting snags and books being swallowed up in nightmarish contractual black holes persist. Rumors this blog and this post may inflame - hopefully, a controlled burn.

The burn was rekindled this week when I stumbled across an old piece I'd written for Brian Lindenmuth at Spinetingler Magazine. They used to review fiction anthologies story by story and I caught the assignment to talk about Scott's story Controlled Burn that was featured in The Best American Noir of the Century edited by Otto Penzler and James Ellroy.

Here's that piece...

In rural New Hampshire a roughneck going by the name of Bill Allen is trying to earn some money and keep a low profile. Not sure which is harder to do. He takes his cash payments for long days of physical labor and flinches every time the office phone rings, imagining it’s someone checking up on him, his background information, his story. He shot a convenience store clerk when his gun went off accidentally during a robbery several months earlier. He’s been Bill Allen since then and looking over his shoulder even more than usual.

The panic and guilt he lives with are a combustible mix bottled up inside waiting to be ignited by his survival instincts and he walks among us a living hand grenade. He wrestles with the notion of turning himself in or going on constructing life and identity on top of life and identity. Neither option is terribly attractive, but that’s the tension familiar to anyone who’s read Wolven’s work before. 

Controlled Burn is also the titular story from his collection and the metaphor is dead on. The fire, the potential consuming and destructive force trapped inside the men of his stories, is laughably labeled ‘under control,’ when it’s simply not something that could ever be. They know they can take certain precautions and stay away from people as much as possible, but the inevitable episodes of ‘controlled burn’ always create as many problems as they solve. The literal fire in the story, set to destroy illegal marijuana plants hidden on someone’s property hours ahead of a search warrant is executed, mirrors the psychic house cleaning ‘Bill Allen’ is preparing for. Time to move on, destroy this set of lies and pick up another.

Wolven’s power is in the straight-forward language his beneath the surface voice employs. There is more meaning packed into the details and dialogue contained in his short stories than most best-sellers put into a 400 page novel. The richness of character and place and the existential melancholy vibrating through every paragraph of this story make it a no-brainer for inclusion in a collection titled Best American Noir of the Century.

So for goodness' sake if you haven't yet read Scott Wolven's work hunt some down. Check out that Playboy link above or how about this Plots With Guns archive for Everything Tastes Like Whiskey, then go buy a copy of Controlled Burn and get on the horn to your favorite publishers and make enough noise to bring Wolven out amongst the sheep of 'noir' (let's face it, 99% of you -we- noirsters have to turn in our hard cards when comparing your work with his) -  it's what the world needs now.

Meanwhile, give this short film Hepburn directed by Tommy Davis based on Scott's story Hammerlock a looksee and check out this interview that Cort McMeel conducted with Scott for Noir Nation.

Friday, May 6, 2016

If You Kill People Your Dick Might Stop Working (For a While)

Joseph Hirsch is quietly laying foundations for being the best unheralded literary voice of his generation turning out high quality books across multiple genres at an impressive pace (six new novels since I read his, at the time, current release Rolling Country two years ago). His latest (for the next ten minutes), Veterans' Affairs, is a largely biographical fantastic(?) story about an Iraq veteran and the violence that haunts him (and others) long after returning home from the war.

I asked Joseph for a piece from the perspective of a veteran on veteran and war literature and film in general and this is what he sent. Give this a go and then get your hands on some Hirsch.

If you kill People your Dick might stop working (for a while) 

by Joseph Hirsch

It’s been years since I’ve read Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece about World War II. It’s easily the best short book about war (aside from maybe William Wharton’s Shrapnel), and it works equally well as science fiction. The book has stayed with me so well that I can recall certain portions of it vividly even at this far remove.

I remember in the introduction Vonnegut describes an evening spent with his old army buddy, bullshitting around the dinner table and reminiscing about the war while said buddy’s wife glowered and shot hostile looks at Kurt from time to time. Finally he (or his buddy, I can’t remember) finally asked the woman what was wrong.

She said words to the effect that the two men were just children when the war was fought, and that when Vonnegut sat down to write about his war experiences, he would make himself look like a tough guy. Vonnegut assured the woman that he would do nothing of the sort, and even subtitled his book The Children’s Crusade, lest he forget her admonition.

I think, in general, it hurts more to see young people die rather than old ones. This is obvious, and either in spite of this or because of this, too often when Hollywood makes films about war (much like with films about high-school), the characters are all played by actors a full decade or so older than the kids they’re depicting. This explains why Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front is still the most effective and best movie ever made about war, even though it’s more than eighty years old. Its superiority to everything else in the genre is as assured as 2001’s towering status over every other science fiction film ever made except for maybe Blade Runner. A lot of the reason why the film still resonates, why it can still shut up a roomful of cynical high-school students even though it’s black-and-white, is because the people screaming in those bunkers look and sound a lot like high-school students themselves.

In his review of Oliver Stone’s Platoon, Roger Ebert quoted Francois Truffaut (I believe) to the effect that it was impossible to make an antiwar film because war is innately exciting. Ebert believed that Stone, by making war a disorienting, 360-degree experience, had actually proven Truffaut wrong and had made a movie that was so fundamentally unsatisfying in its staging of combat that not even the most gung-ho American could walk away from Stone’s film feeling that war had any purpose or meaning.

It pains me to say this, but Ebert was wrong. When I was in the Army (2004-2008), I knew plenty of guys who loved war and loved Platoon. Like with the drug dealers who worship Scarface (penned also by Stone), these guys took what they wanted from the film in terms of quotes and scenes, and they ignored what didn’t already fit with their agenda and ideology.

You can show men losing their minds and their humanity in combat, and a certain kind of young man not even inclined to violence will stroke his chin and say My, how profound! Maybe I should try that! Michael Herr (Dispatches, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket) made it clear that he was a liberal, an “upper-middle class Jewish kid”, no “blood and guts” “John Wayne Jr.” and still the jungles of Vietnam called him like a siren and he went back, again and again.

Is it possible, ultimately, to make an antiwar film or to write an antiwar book, something so wrenching and horrific that any member of our species who saw/read the film/book in question would develop a total and permanent aversion to war? I don’t think so.

One of the problems with the portrayal of war is that the portrayal of the aftermath of war is usually botched in movies and books. Some of this revisionist fare is ludicrous, i.e. the Rambo films, starring Sylvester Stallone, who I heard coached soccer at a girls’ boarding school in Switzerland during the Vietnam War (I’m too lazy to confirm this one way or the other). Other films offer vets a therapeutic salve of sorts, with movies like Uncommon Valor or Missing in Action allowing Randall Cobb or Chuck Norris to go in and rescue POWs and put a coat of gloss on the blemish that was America’s humiliation and shame in Indochina. The most absurd of these films is undoubtedly The Park is Mine, starring Tommy Lee Jones, about a Vietnam vet who takes over Central Park for reasons known only to insomniacs with basic cable or anyone willing to shell out a penny on Amazon for a used paperback copy of the source material, a novel by Stephen Peters.
Are there any good books/films about PTSD? I can think of a couple off the top of my head. Birdy by the aforementioned William Wharton is criminally-underrated, but so is everything else Wharton wrote (at least for non-Polish audiences; for some reason the guy’s fucking huge in Poland). John L. Sheppard’s Alpha Mike Foxtrot is also a wonderfully-nuanced treatment of a subject that too often serves as grist for revenge fantasies or lame entertainment.

I’ll admit that the premise of a vet losing their mind upon returning to society has led to the creation of some great and terrifying work (i.e. Taxi Driver), but what I find even more terrifying is the opposite, the idea explicated once by the great crime writer Charles Willeford.

Willeford, who served with the Tenth Mountain Division in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded, once wondered about the men with whom he shared the service, many of whom were violent sociopaths who thought little of murdering men who’d already surrendered, or who blithely decapitated a woman with an artillery round simply because she had the temerity to stick her head out of the window of a building at the wrong moment. How, Willeford asked, could these killers ever return to society and stop killing?

It was through Charles Willeford (along with Paul Fussell, author of The Boys’ Crusade: The American Infantry in North Europe, and James Jones, author of The Thin Red Line) that I learned the painful truth about Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation,” that they had done everything that American GIs were accused of doing in Vietnam, and worse. And then they came home. A very small number of them probably went on killing sprees (the number is probably smaller than the number of young men in our present day society who’ve never seen combat outside of a Call of Duty game on PC or Play Station, who have shot up a school or a movie theater). Some of the men who killed and raped overseas probably drank to excess or beat their wives and children (and their dogs) upon returning home. But the greater number of men who saw and did horrible things in Europe and the Pacific probably came home and just kept it to themselves until they died. They became postal workers who never went postal, or used car salesmen, or ad executives.

That, to me, is a lot more terrifying than the idea of a guy with a Mohawk gunning down a pimp, or some ‘roided up Sly Stallone making life hell for Brian Dennehy out in the Boonies. Contra to what Johnny Rambo would have you think, you can just turn it off.

I don’t ultimately write to make a difference, or to change the world. I believe that is possible, that the Victorian moralizing of a Charles Dickens or the rabble rousing of an Upton Sinclair or John Steinbeck may have made our world a better place or at least raised consciousness about deplorable living and working conditions. But when I sat down to write my own novel about my experiences in Iraq, and more importantly my experiences after the war, I didn’t have any objective in mind other than to do what I always do when I write, which is to relieve stress and try to keep myself from going insane.

It occurs to me now, however, that I may have inadvertently written a book that would give even the most boneheaded, young, dumb and full of cum red-blooded American male pause before going to war, for the main character in Veterans’ Affairs suffers from extreme erectile dysfunction, as I did for the first year upon returning from Iraq. Not that I’m necessarily the first writer to cover this aspect of PTSD.

My sex life is fine now (thank you), but the humiliation I experienced in the aftermath of the war was so total that I still have no idea why I would make it such an integral plot element in my novel.

Several answers proffer themselves now:

    •    I’ve been writing for too long, and existing at the margins of society in my own nightmare realm for far too long now to really care what anyone thinks or knows about me.

    •    James Jones was right when he said there isn’t much difference between a writer and a man who practices indecent exposure in public, and I just felt compelled to flash my cock (flaccid or no) in this last book.

    •    I thought (subconsciously) while writing, that if I talked about the real consequences of war, those shameful little details that not even a romantic with a death wish could valorize, that maybe I could give some young man pause before throwing himself into the next major ground conflict our nation engages in (and there will be another, and another, whether the next president is Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, or the mullet-headed, Libya-bombing, cackling farce of a sociopath that is Hillary Clinton).

I’ll be the first to admit that none of the three potential reasons for writing this novel enumerated above is necessarily the purest, but, notwithstanding the slim pickings, I’m inclined to choose what’s behind Door Number Three. It’s not the greatest chestnut of wisdom to impart, but sometimes you’ve got to make your appeal to the lowest common denominator, since, in the final analysis, they’re the ones who do the trigger-pulling while the think-tankers and lobbyists strategize from a cozy remove.

Kill people and your dick may stop working.

It was the best I could do. Sorry.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Like Father, Like Son, Like Hell

The Hardboiled Wonderland Film Series at the Maplewood Library in St. Louis is all crime all the time and convening May 4 for a look at James Foley's devastating 1986 crime-family drama At Close Range starring Christopher Walken and Sean Penn as a father and son in fictional roles based on the real father and son antagonists Bruce Johnston Sr. and Jr. respectively.
Johnston Jr.
Bruce Johnston Jr.'s 1978 testimony helped put his father and uncles in prison for the rest of their lives, but in 2013 was arrested on drug charges that may keep him incarcerated a significant portion of the remainder of his life.
The film is fiction, but after you've seen it take a look at the true story - pretty fuckin close and pretty fuckin awful. Great film though. I hope you'll join me or play along at home.

Here's the schedule for the summer:
MAY 25, 7pm - THIEF (1981) 122 min. James Caan is a successful thief taking down scores in Chicago, and resisting the encroachment of organized crime into his life. The first in a long series of Michael Mann films to explore professionalism in criminality.

JUNE 22, 7pm - TO LIVE & DIE IN L.A. (1985) 116 min. William Petersen is a Secret Service agent hunting murderous counterfeiter Willem Dafoe through the urban jungle of Los Angeles in William Friedkin's kinetic crime thriller based on the novel by Gerald Petievich. Friedkin's west coast companion to The French Connection.
July 13 GET CARTER (1971) - Mike Hodges's adaptation of Ted Lewis's novel Jack's Return Home starring Michael Caine as a mob-enforcer on a personal revenge mission. Iconic gangster tragedy.
August 3 MONA LISA (1986) - Bob Hoskins plays George, a hard man just out of prison trying to get back on his feet and driving for Cathy Tyson, a high class call girl. The two recognize in each other and come to terms with their own status as property of a local gangster (Michael Caine). Directed by Neil Jordan.
August 31 LOCK, STOCK & TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998) Guy Ritchie's directorial debut about small time hustlers in over their heads trying to pay off a debt to a ruthless crime boss by moving stolen merchandise announced made waves across the Atlantic and announced the arrival of an exciting new voice in film.
September 14 DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (2002) An undocumented worker (Audrey Tautou) makes a shocking and dangerous discovery while working at a hotel in London's immigrant underground. Vulnerable on every side, she partners with another illegal (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to escape the crosshairs of their employers, the government and a lucrative black market organ trade.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

My Thug Life

Founding editor and publisher Todd Robinson just announced the end of Thuglit for the second time. The first was a year after the release of the third Thuglit print anthology from Kensington Books, Blood, Guts & Whiskey. Before that trio of books the magazine had been 100% digital and equally free of charge, publishing monthly issues of the hardest, nastiest, tastiest tasteless crime fiction I'd ever seen. I discovered TL at the same time as Anthony Neil Smith's (at that point no-longer-publishing, but still web-archived) Plots With Guns, Bryon Querteromous's Demolition and Matthew Louis's Out of the Gutter through the guidance of Michael Langnas at Murdaland magazine as a potential home for the first short story I wrote (as I'd obnoxiously continued to re-submit it to his journal after initial rejections - yeah, plural).

Man oh man oh man did I find some hot new heats. I selected Thuglit as the publication to pursue because of the announcement of the print anthologies coming up. I desperately wanted to be in print and it seemed like my best shot at getting there as PWG had no plans to follow up their print anthology (one of most gorgeous books I've ever held, mind you, impeccably published by Dennis McMillan) with a second.

When my story Politoburg was accepted for the webzine it was a huge boost and when it was selected for the print antho Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll I felt a stupid level of personal validation.

I don't know where I'd be without Todd and Thuglit. Honestly, no idea if I'd be writing today without the validation he gave me first. Thanks for all that, brother.

Here's a quick overview of my history with Thuglit.

Politoburg was published in issue 17 (July 2007) alongside Hilary Davidson (also making her crime fiction debut in that issue), Nathan Cain, Hugh Lessig, Lyman Feero and fucking William Boyle.

Hilary's story Anniversary was selected for A Prisoner of Memory and 24 of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories, edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg, Boyle's story, Death Don't Have No Mercy is the titular tale of his collected stories and his first novel Gravesend was published on the same damn day by the same damn publisher as my first novel Peckerwood. Huh.

My story caught the eye of a weirdo named Greg Bardsley who was about to have his first fiction publication in Thuglit's next issue. Greg wrote an enthusiastic blog piece about that and mentioned Politoburg - the first time I'd heard anybody make an unsolicited comment about my work. I reached out to Greg to thank him and ended up making my first internet friend. A few years later Greg's debut novel Cash Out contains a conversation betwixt us chums at the back of the book. Greg's one of my favorite people and also happens to be one of my favorite writers. Look for his new novel The Bob Watson later this year.

After that first appearance in Thuglit, I had a story in the recently re-birthed Plots With Guns and another titled A Fuckload of Scotch Tape was forthcoming in an issue of Out of the Gutter.

My story Mahogany & Monogamy appeared in Thuglit issue 25 (April/May 2008) alongside Randy Chandler, Nolan Knight, Ben Nadler, Brian Murphy, Leslie Budewitz, Michael Colangelo and a certain motherfucker named Kieran Shea who teamed up with me and Bardsley to publish the Dick Cheney-inspired short fiction anthology D*CKED and who went on to name a character after me in his debut novel Koko Takes a Holiday (of which I am a huge and humbled fan).

Mahogany & Monogamy is the flipside of my story A Fuckload of Scotch Tape. Folks who've got nothing better to do may have picked up on the thread that both stories are tied through a character referred to as 'Metcalf' in M&M and 'Benji' in FLOST and as 'Benji Metcalf' in Politoburg. Director Julian Grant drew from all three stories when writing his musical feature film adaptation A F**kload of Scotch Tape. It's wild.

Julian read FLOST in Out of the Gutter number 5 which was my first print publication (fall 2008), but the first I'd had accepted was the Politoburg in Thuglit's second print anthology Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll. If OOTG's inclusion of my stuff with folks like Charlie Stella, Vicky Hendricks and Sophie Littlefield swole my head a bit ST&R&R damn near made it burst. Joe R. Lansdale, Scott Wolven, Allan Guthrie, Anthony Neil Smith, Jason Starr, Marcus Sakey plus Bardsley, Jordan Harper, Mike Sheeter and my very issue17 compatriots Feero and Lessig. If I'm being honest I'd probably have to say it was ego-stroking on this level that prompted me to continue writing more than any insatiable drive to create stories.

Politoburg now exists as the first chapter of my book Fierce Bitches.

My story 1998 Was a Bad Year appeared in TL issue 30 (March/April 2009) where I was honored to be seen again with Davidson and Littlefield as well as Eric Beetner, Jason Duke, Robert Spotted Pony Lee, Myra Sherman and Patrick Cobbs.

1998 was the second story published featuring a character named Terry Hickerson. The first, titled The Morning After, had appeared in PWG and was set in 1985. 1998 is from a chapter in my novel, Peckerwood.

M&M appeared in print in my final Thuglit appearance, the third print anthology Blood, Guts & Whiskey with yet more heroes and pals like Tom Piccirilli, Sean Doolittle, Dave Zeltserman, Derek Nikitas, Stuart Neville, Craig McDonald, Pearce Hanson, John Kenyon, Dana King, Justin Porter and getting to be a habit folk like Harper, Shea, Gray, Davidson and Murphy, plus no-holy-shit - Eddie Bunker.

Todd shuttered Thuglit a while after that third book, but restarted the magazine as a Kindle-only and later (and retro-actively available) in a print option for another 22 issues (the forthcoming issue 23 will be the final one) continuing to publish only the best of the worst of my favorite kind of contemporary crime fiction.

Thuglit will be missed, but its impact is still only beginning to be felt. It was a vital part of the indy-crime scene which has given a platform to some dangerous motherfuckers whose voices will be heard and feared for many years.

Thanks for everything, Todd. And huge thanks to the TL crew including Allison Glasgow, Rob Hart and Justin Porter. Y'all made something special. Thanks for letting me be a part of it.

Now... who's gonna do the next thing?