Tuesday, November 29, 2011
TROY LAMBERT is a writer I suggest keeping an eye on. He's got a very good collection of short stories under his belt, called BROKEN BONES (which I reviewed here) and is currently working to bring the world more. He has a solid, professional work ethic, which I admire, and is a genuinely kind person. Those qualities, along with his constantly improving skills as a writer, will eventually take him far.
Rumor has it Troy is working on his first novel as we speak, tentatively titled THE VALLEY OF DEATH.
I give you TROY LAMBERT...
Under an “s” shaped scar on my right hand is what used to be broken bones. Actually they were shattered as a result of a motorcycle accident in 2000. After three surgeries and a great deal of physical therapy, I have about 90% use of my right thumb. Most people don’t notice the scar or any lack of ability with that hand.
Not all broken bones leave a scar that you can see. Most never puncture your skin and there is no visible wound. But there are scars on your bones. You don’t truly feel them until you get older. Then changes in temperature and humidity cause those scars to ache. In Some cases the joints around those scars will develop arthritis. You may not see the scar and you may push the memory far from your mind, but you will never forget a broken bone. It won’t let you. Every change of season and every time I overuse my right hand, it swells, it aches, and it lets me know that once it was shattered.
Throughout life we get emotional broken bones and scars as well. People hurt us and often that hurt is hidden far below our skin. Our hearts are often shattered and require emotional surgery. Sometimes this leaves a visible scar but most of the time it does not. People do not see the scar and don’t even notice any emotional lack of ability. But you never truly forget. It makes you more cautious and changes your reactions and who you are. As we endure changes in our lives the pain becomes more real to us and we remember.
Sometimes the way to sooth those broken bones and those scars is to write about them. I did that with my collection of short stories aptly named Broken Bones and I do it with my blog (I am just saying. . . .) fairly often. It sometimes offends those close to me, but it almost always evokes a reaction from a reader. It touches something inside them: a broken bone, a scar, an emotion they have buried deep within.
So if you dare to face your scars and your broken bones take a journey with me. Read, heal, and if it sooths your soul, write your own stories. Share your scars and your broken bones. You will be amazed how much it helps you heal.
Monday, November 28, 2011
It's been a banner year for NIGEL BIRD. He started it with the critically lauded story collection DIRTY OLD TOWN, followed it about mid-year with his next set of tales, BEAT ON THE BRAT, and wraps the year up with a third collection called WITH LOVE AND SQUALOR. As if three volumes of short stories wasn't enough, he also released several e-shorts, a book of poetry for children, and a remarkable novella called SMOKE.
When he's not writing fiction, he puts himself at the service of other writers and readers with the excellent blog, Sea Minor.
No matter how awful or violent the events become in a Nigel Bird story (and they can get pretty grim sometimes) the characteristic that really defines them is the strong sense of compassion and decency. Bird can show you the worst traits humans are capable of, and at the same time make you sympathetic to the whole human race. I don't know how he does it, man.
But I've said all this about Nigel Bird before and I don't need to say it again. He's one of my favorite people in this strange and cool Noir Underground, a good friend and a good human being. I'm proud to give you NIGEL BIRD.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
In my teaching recently, I’ve been working with a group of children who struggle with literacy on their mind-mapping. In essence, that’s about recording information in visual form rather than in words.
Our first lesson was on emotions, based upon the range of ‘smileys’ out there. It’s amazing what a difference the repositioning of a line can make, or an adjustment to its position. At its simplest, take the smile and the frown – draw the curve one way there’s sadness, turn it upside down it’s happy. A straight line will give a serious face and a couple of wavy lines over the eyes and you have anxiety.
Then take the idea of shading a picture in places to suggest a whole – not every brick on a building needs to be sketched in to make it look like it’s made of stone.
Hints, well-handled impressions, can lead the eye to create an altogether bigger picture.
The same can be said of writing.
Scene setting isn’t one of my strengths; I go to great lengths to avoid it when I’m being lazy.
With ‘Smoke’ though, I was looking at making the story as good as I could. It was this weakness that I began with during the edits.
Thing is, I happen to work in the town where the story is set.
Tranent is a town just outside of Edinburgh. Founded on the mining industry, it has less of a clear identity now that the coal is no longer economical to dig.
There are council estates where things can be very tough indeed for those who live there, and there are the new houses which home the professionals who work in the city, only a short drive away.
It gave me a problem I manage to get away from on the whole – the need to paint an accurate picture without making it one of replication. Apart from anything, some of the residents would be up in arms if they thought I was suggesting their home is as rough as the place I’ve painted, even though another section of the community would wave such a story with pride or even claim things had been diluted.
My first approach on setting came through the characters. The families I have created have difficult lives. Things tend not to go right for them. Leaving town rarely happens. They stick closely together. School is an inconvenience, literacy derided as it has nothing to do with football, fighting or beer.
Next I put in the things I know:
the High Street and all the little alleyways leading from it, perfect for hit and runs or stealthy attacks.
the Firth Of Forth, a strip of water that separates the Lothians from the Kingdom of Fife.
the power station, chimneys pointing high and proud.
one of the many pubs.
a High School.
newly built houses.
an old statue.
a couple of historical points.
So far so good.
I remember hearing a writer recommending the keeping of a weather diary as a tip so that at any point in time the weather can be described in detail. I mentioned that I’m lazy, so I didn’t have such a diary to check on (you might want to try it, though, as you do always need weather). My solution was to mention it as little as possible. I think when I do describe it, it’s either through the actions of the characters or I use fog (fog’s a great type of weather in which to hide a town’s features).
I guess the final aspect of the setting is the dialogue. I’ve made it close to local in some ways, yet to do so accurately would mean it would be virtually unreadable. I’d like to think I’ve captured some of that essence without making it difficult. Think of it as an impressionistic attempt at Tranent Scottish.
Would a Belter (Tranent resident) recognise their town through my novella? I think they could.
Would a guided tour based on the novel get you round an easily planned route? No way. There’ll be no ‘Smoke tours’ after this one.
In the end, it’s a story about three groups of people whose lives intertwine. As is often the case, when people interact there are misunderstandings and when there are misunderstandings there are stories to tell. It’s a caricature of people and place, but the whiffs of truth should hit the reader strongly from time to time, otherwise I haven’t written the novella I think I have – don’t be shy to let me know.
The same children went to see Kes at the theatre recently, a play based upon ‘A Kestrel For A Knave’. Featuring heavily in the story is a bird of prey (Kes). I wondered how they’d deal with this in an enclosed space. Answer: A leather glove and a lure and a lot left to the imagination. And they loved it.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
I imagine you're already seeing this all over the interwebs this morning, but I want to mention it anyway. The new anthology, OFF THE RECORD, is finally here, available at Amazon for us Yanks and at Amazon UK for the rest of the civilized world.
I've read about half the stories so far, and I can tell you without hesitation, this is one kick-ass compilation. Put together by Luca Veste, it's a set of stories based on song titles, and it's all over the board as far as musical taste is concerned-- everything from Micheal Jackson (Benoit Lelievre's "Blood on the Dance Floor" to Velvet Underground (Matthew Funk's "Venus in Furs" to ABBA (Nigel Bird's "Super Trouper") to the Stooges (my own "I Wanna Be Your Dog").
Oh, and there's tons more. But here's the best part: it's for charity, dig. All proceeds (after the money-eyes take their cut) go to children's literacy charities on either side of the Atlantic.
You really should buy this, honestly. A ton of great stories here, in a wide variety of genres, and all for a really excellent cause.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
I'm doing another blog-radio interview today at Gelati's Scoop, at four o'clock, talking about Hawthorne, Deadland USA, and who knows what else. If you don't have any other pressing plans, why not tune in? You can also call in with questions or comments if you like.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
It's been officially announced now at their website and on the ever-present social networks, so I reckon I can say it here, at last:
My second novel, CITY OF HERETICS, has been adopted and given a comfy home by the terrific SNUBNOSE PRESS, and should see the light of day come 2012.
Snubnose is a relatively new publisher, an off-shoot of Spinetingler Magazine, and has been putting out some really class stuff these last few months by the likes of Keith Rawson, Patricia Abbott and Sandra Ruttan. Coming very soon will be books by Helen Fitzgerald, Nik Korpon, and Vern E. Smith. Oh, and now me.
They're a small press with big goals, committed to publishing edgy, original crime fiction. They have so far proven to be absolutely fearless... and that more than anything really appeals to me as a writer and as a reader.
Naturally, I have a great deal of work to do in the meantime-- re-writes, editing, all that glamorous writer stuff. So after the series of "No Rules" guest posts are wrapped up (sometime in mid-December, I think) you'll see less activity here at Psycho-Noir for a bit, probably only one or two posts a week.
But I promise to make it worth it in the long run. City of Heretics is a much different novel than The Bastard Hand, leaner and considerably more hardboiled, and working with Brian Lindenmuth will, no doubt, make it even more so.
Thanks, friends, for all your support...
Back in March, BENOIT LELIEVRE did a guest post here, and this is what I said about him at the time: "Benoit Lelievre is one of the most talented young unpublished writers I know. He has a keen mind, and a unique perspective on the world and knows how to verbalize it. His blog, Dead End Follies, is one of the few that I check on a regular basis, because it never fails to be relevant and entertaining."
All of that is still true, except for one key point-- Ben is no longer unpublished. Recent months have seen his work appearing at Shotgun Honey, the Lost Children anthology, and the upcoming OFF THE RECORD. He's also taken on the mantle of film reviewer for Spinetingler, doing exactly what he does at his blog, but to a wider audience.
Kid's come a long way in a short period of time. Do I need to remind you that I predicted as much?
I'm pleased to present, once again, BENOIT LELIEVRE...
I was thirteen when the Backstreet Boys released their first single “We’ve Got It Going On”. Looking back, it was a defining event in my life because it was the first time I caught on to a sales pattern. Six or seven years before, I had bought into the New Kids On The Block mania pretty hard and after their lame ending I refused to buy into repackaged bullshit. Unfortunately I was pretty much alone in understanding this, so I didn’t get laid for most of my high school days.
But point is, I’m twenty-eight years old now, about to turn twenty-nine. If I could tell something to my thirteen year old self today it would be “You’re smart kid. Don’t listen to anybody, because you can figure things out on your own”. But I didn’t do that. I went to school for way too long, got way too many useless diplomas and all that, because I kept putting my destiny in other people’s hands because I didn’t have the courage and the confidence in myself to make my own way.
But I see the way now. I think.
Everybody will try and tell you what to do. It’s very flattering for the self to think your own wisdom is a wanted commodity. “Study under me and I will show you everything”, “Put your savings in my hands, I will make you rich”, “Work for me and accomplish your dreams”. You know what I mean? Don’t think, just work, pay and be productive, leave the rest to us.
We live in a world like this now.
Trusting has taken the place of thinking and it’s not because the world is a safer place. It’s not because we’re lazy either. OK, maybe we have gotten a little bit, but think back to the days of our parents and our grandparents and let’s play a comparison game. They didn’t have any money and most of them didn’t go to school very long. They have learned to survive, doing odd jobs, managing money, planning, trying to be smart about the very little they had. The past generations had learned to learn. We were given learning 101 in the face from the time we’re six years old and what have we learned?
We are a generation of people with one area of expertise and who defer the responsibility of everything outside of work (and often at work too) to other people. We’re not responsible for ourselves anymore. We are afraid to think because we don’t trust ourselves. I’m not saying we should all be lone wolves, vowing for our own interest only. No, what I’m talking about here is what Ralph Waldo Emerson called self-reliance.
You don’t know something? It’s up to you to learn it. Don’t depend on somebody else. You’re poor? Do something. Get a second job, spend less, trust yourself to ensure you get by. Maybe if you put your shoulder into it you can have a promotion or even start your own business. If you limit your contribution to the world to a forty hours a week schedule, the world is going to give you back what you put in it.
I have never learned anything in school but what my martial arts teacher (you might know him) resumed in one sentence about ten years ago: “Be your own coach”. Go after what you want, take responsibility for it. Don’t wait for people to feed you off opportunities, because you will die alone unless you are Michael Jordan, Celine Dion or somebody that can make them a lot of money. When I moved in to Montreal ten years ago, I was desperately looking for a young driven martial arts teacher who would help me turn my life around and I found him because I was looking. The most important thing he taught me is those four words: “Be your own coach”.
I’m going to turn thirty soon and every people I went to school with and had dreams of being professional athletes, television personalities or to have any form of fulfilling career have all buried their dreams because they preferred debts and comfort. They are the prime audience for Jersey Shore and they go to U2 concerts, thinking it’s a spiritual moment. I discussed the issue with several of them and you know what they told me? “When I clock off work, I turn my brain off. I don’t want to think anymore”.
I’m sad that thinking has become something so frowned upon. I love thinking and when I go home, I just want to build things, master patterns and get the exhilarating flow of dopamine from understanding things. I’m not trying to say I’m better than anybody here. I’m saying we all have the capacity to do this and enjoy it. You just have to take responsibility for who you are, have a little faith in your abilities and don’t buy Backstreet Boys records.
Monday, November 21, 2011
If you don't know who DAVID CRANMER is by now, I don't know what to do with you. You are clearly someone who doesn't pay attention. Listen this time, okay? Cranmer is the editor and publisher of one of the most consistent and entertaining crime zines around these days, BEAT TO A PULP. He's also a writer of tight and clever crime fiction that's appeared all over the webs and in print. And-- most importantly for our purposes today-- he is the alter-ego of one EDWARD A. GRAINGER, author of the best-selling ADVENTURES OF CASH LARAMIE & GIDEON MILES, VOLUME ONE and VOLUME TWO.
I wrote reviews of both volumes when they came out, you can find them here and here, and I don't have much to add except that, having read a whole lotta Westerns since then, the stories of Laramie and Miles STILL stand up as some of the most fun short stories I've read in a long time, regardless of genre.
I'm please to have Cranmer here at Psycho-Noir today, talking about the genesis of his Grainger pseudonym.
The Original Edward A. Grainger and His Influence
This picture is of the original Edward A. Grainger. He died twenty-eight years before I was born and what little I know of him comes from fragmented stories from my mom. He owned an import/export business in Georgetown, Guyana. He wrote two religious books, Wither Are We Drifting and Messages of Love and Light. He died in Trinidad at the age of 40 from alcoholism.
He wrote two books. My grandfather, the author.
My mom has told me many times of when she was a little girl, she wrote a story, Tula of the Jungle, and my grandfather took it to work with him one day, typed it out on the typewriter, and brought it back to her. Typing out that story was probably an insignificant moment to Grandpa Grainger, but it was an act of love that made his daughter very happy one afternoon, one that paid forward through the years and down the line as she passed along her joy to me.
My mom never mentioned writing anything again, but it was all I needed to spark the fire in me. I tried my hand at it in my teen years and then again more seriously in my mid-thirties. And here I am now, writing noir westerns and crime fiction, editing and publishing a webzine, and enjoying every minute of it.
Friday, November 18, 2011
When I was about three years old, I had an accident that destroyed the vision in my right eye. I don’t really remember any of it, but from what I’ve been able to figure out from my mom and other sources, I’d found a broken Coke bottle in the front yard (we lived off a dirt road where teenagers would often speed by and toss things out their windows) and decided for some reason that playing with a broken bottle was JUST the thing to do. The teen-age girl who was baby-sitting me at the time freaked out when she saw what I had. She moved to knock the bottle out of my hand, and wound up hitting it directly into my face.
The result was a cut iris and a severed muscle on the left side of the eye. I was rushed to the hospital, where, because my mom was poor and didn’t have insurance, I was left waiting in the emergency room for over an hour—in shock.
They didn’t bother to try to fix the damage. For a couple months after that, I wore an eye-patch, and oddly enough, had to learn how to walk all over again. My balance was shot, so it was a challenge. I remember, vaguely, walking down the hall and veering off, running into the wall. I also remember laughing about it, until looking up to see my mom in tears. Weird memory.
Since then, I’ve had some small amount of peripheral vision in that eye, but just barely. Cover up my left eye and I can’t see shit, really. And since the muscle was severed, the right eye drifts to the right.
Believe it or not, this messed-up eye never had much effect on my life. When I was a kid, the drifting effect was hardly noticeable. As a teen, when it started drifting more, it still wasn’t too bad—this was the post-punk ‘80’s, remember, and wonky eyes (a la David Bowie) could actually work in your favor when it came to girls (which was more or less my sole concern in those days).
In the last ten years or so, though, the drifting has grown continuously worse, to the point where I get occasional head-aches from it, and it’s more immediately apparent to people I meet. Honestly, I’ve gotten a bit self-conscious about it, for the first time in my life. Whenever I see photos of myself, I’m always startled and a bit mortified by it. It sorta makes me look like a sleazy psychopath. And I am NOT sleazy.
…which is my long-winded way of explaining why I hate having my picture taken. A couple days ago, my friend, the photographer Ron Warren, took a series of shots of me (he needed an excuse to use his new studio, which is pretty rad, by the way) and I was the test subject. He got some really good photos. But I vetoed many of them, because of that damn eye. It just looks… weird.
So I’m thinking of getting surgery, just to pull the eye back to the goddamn center where it belongs.
Or who knows? Maybe sleazy psychopath is a look that works for me.
PETE RISLEY is the author of RABID CHILD, one of the most disturbing but compulsively readable books written in the last couple of years. We started getting to know each other because of our mutual connection through New Pulp Press, and it didn't take long before I realized we had an awful lot of interests in common-- Crime fiction, of course, but also exploitation movies and garage rock.
The difference being, Pete's knowledge of these subjects dwarfs my own. Honestly, I thought I knew a thing or two, but Pete is a treasure trove of fascinating information about obscure stuff...
Following is a great example. Pete latches on to a writer I'd never heard of, a sort of rival of Mickey Spillane, and turns it into an amazingly interesting essay.
Here's PETE RISLEY.
David Karp’s HARDMAN And The Spillane Scare of the 1950’s
I’m certainly no spring chicken at this point, but I wasn’t around reading crime fiction in the 1950’s. Like a fair number of present-day devotees of what we now call noir, I first learned about writers like Jim Thompson, David Goodis and Harry Whittington mainly from critical works like Geoffrey O'Brien’s HARDBOILED AMERICA : THE LURID YEARS OF PAPERBACKS (1981) and from the eye-opening mid-'80's reprints offered by Black Lizard Books in the US and Zomba Books' Black Box Thrillers series in the UK. Thus, like many other readers, in the 1980’s I took up part-time residence on the wrong side of the tracks in mid-century America, doting over the work of writers of that era who were not well-known to the general public during their productive years.
Even so, for those of us who were around even as kids in the later 1950's or '60's, an earlier taste of something like noir fiction, though never identified under that term, came courtesy of mega-popular novelist Mickey Spillane. Unlike Thompson or Goodis, everyone had heard of him. For myself as a pre-teen in the mid-'60's, Spillane was one of the few authors whose books I'd be attracted to because the cover bore a familiar name, along with the sexy unclothed girl pictured there; otherwise, that type of cover art was usually the thing that would inspire me to leaf-through a paperback book, and sometimes actually try to read one, in hopes of finding the girl inside the book as well.
Of course, Spillane’s work was ultra-hardboiled for its time, and often for our time too. His protagonists, mainly P.I. Mike Hammer, were unrepentantly brutal in the way they dealt with miscreants – and frequently, in dealings with women, trod a dangerously alluring crossroads between violence and sex. His novels proved to be wildly popular in the ‘50’s, selling extraordinarily well in mass market paperback editions, especially in the US but also abroad. Indeed, Spillane's phenomenal popularity, beginning with his first novel I, THE JURY in 1949, though initially published in hardcover as were all his early works, virtually created the mass-market paperback-original crime fiction field, inspiring the launch of now-esteemed publishing ventures like Gold Medal and Lion Books, that gave us so much great noir back in the day.
Lion Books has a special place in the history of the noir fiction category. Founded in 1949 and edited by a man named Arnold Hano, and operated on a lower budget than some of its competitors, Lion published works by Jim Thompson, David Goodis and Day Keene that are now key titles in the noir canon. Thompson especially was associated with Lion, publishing ten of his paperback originals there, including his best-known novel, THE KILLER INSIDE ME (1953). Many noir enthusiasts today are inclined to dig deeper into Lion’s old ‘50’s list, finding great and/or fascinating stuff like Richard Prather’s THE PEDDLER, Fletcher Flora’s STRANGE SISTERS, THE LUSTFUL APE by Russell Gray (Bruno Fischer) and Curtis Lucas’ SO LOW, SO LONELY.
Another Lion author, who published four novels with them in the early ‘50’s, was David Karp. Karp’s name often turns up in surveys of the noir field, though to my knowledge, none of his novels in the category have been reprinted since the 1960’s. Karp, in fact, is most associated with a novel titled ONE, also published in 1953, which is said to be about a near-future dystopian society rather similar to what’s found in George Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. That novel, which has been returned to print in recent years, was first published not as genre Science Fiction, but in hardcover from a mainstream press. An article about an interview with Lion Books editor Arnold Hano, by George Tuttle and included in THE BIG BOOK OF NOIR (1998, ed. By Ed Gorman, Lee Server and Martin H. Greenburg), quotes Hano as saying that, in contrast to the alienated and idiosyncratic Thompson, “Karp was more of a traditional writer and knew he could make it elsewhere and really wanted out from our publishing logo.” In a section about Karp in Paul Duncan’s study NOIR FICTION: DARK HIGHWAYS (2003), the author is quoted as saying in 1972, long after he’d gone mainstream, “if there’s such a thing as a moralist novelist, I am in that class or genre. I am a didactic writer.” Both these comments suggest that Karp is a very different deal than Thompson or Goodis.
Which brings me to the focus of my essay here, David Karp's Lion original HARDMAN (1953). The central character of the novel is himself a novelist, named Jack Hardman, who’s depicted as a very tough, mean, thuggish guy with no respect whatsoever for social niceties. He takes what he wants, and gives you a shove on the beezer for good measure. He grew up hard in urban backstreets, and began writing under the advice of a well-meaning judge after getting in serious trouble with the law as a young man. Hardman’s published works soon prove phenomenally popular and make him a celebrity, despite great disdain for his work among some, especially the supposed literati. Much guilty soul-searching is done by the agent who brings Hardman’s works to the public, as he frets over their baleful influence on society. An encounter with a flirtatious and neurotic heiress leads eventually to the unsurprising revelation that Hardman’s brutal attitudes are rooted in an aberrant and violent sexuality, and that proves his undoing.
It doesn’t take great insight to see the character Jack Hardman as an altered version of Mickey Spillane – and a quite unfair portrayal, if taken as that. As is well known, Spillane's work was very controversial and widely condemned in its ‘50’s heyday. Revered literary critic Malcolm Cowley, for one, denounced Spillane as a “homicidal paranoic.” Lee Server, in the entry for Spillane in his ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PULP WRITERS (2002), says “some of these attacks made it seem as though Spillane was the architect of the nation’s destruction.” In keeping with this judgment, near the end of HARDMAN, taglined in its original edition as “a novel of the evil workings of sadism,” the repentant agent says:
“This evil Hardman’s turned loose in the world is going to be hurting us for a long, long time. You can’t take the printed word and dirty it. You can’t take a thing as holy as a book and use it for your own illness and not expect to do something evil and mean and crippling to every person who’s ever written or dreamed or found the printed dreams of others something precious and valuable.”
While this passage reads like it could be a laughing-up-his-sleeve parody of earnest do-gooder claptrap, my impression overall is that Karp did have a beef with Spillane’s work, and with some other social trends reflected in his portrayal of Jack Hardman that don’t have to do directly with Spillane. One of these may have been with the rise of popular fiction about Juvenile Delinquency, at the same time as Spillane’s heyday. Jack Hardman, unlike Spillane to my knowledge, gets in bad trouble with the law in his youth, and his writing efforts begin with that sympathetic judge who thinks self-expression may somehow bring insight that would reform him. I find this a little reminiscent of Dr. Fredric Wertheim’s introduction to the first paperback edition (1950) of Hall Elson’s TOMBOY, a key work in the J.D. fiction category, and also a best-seller. Wertheim, notorious today for his influential stuffed-shirt-egghead attack on the vile social influence of comic books in a tome titled THE SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT (1954), says of Elson’s work:
“Ask the average reader what is the central theme of this novel and he will speak of complexes, psychopathic personalities and aggressive instincts. But the underlying theme of this book is fear. Not naked fear, but fear disguised as bravado, cruelty, brutality, hate and sadism. Even the daring exploits of Tomboy, the adolescent who sometimes seems to be afraid of nothing and is tougher than the rest of the boys and girls in the gang, are only a veneer.”
As for a popular or noted novelist having a criminal background, I don’t think there really was anyone fitting the bill in the U.S at the time of HARDMAN’S publication. I doubt that Karp was thinking of Jean Genet over in France, whom he surely knew about, but that’s a rather different deal. Chester Himes was around, but his work wasn’t on the best-seller list by any means. There were convict and ex-convict novelists to come years later in the crime fiction field, including E. Richard Johnson, Malcolm Braly and Edward Bunker, but they weren’t publishing in 1953, and anyway, while their works are valued today by noir enthusiasts, none of them were ever widely popular. Also, Norman Mailer didn’t stab his wife until 1960.
It appears to me that with HARDMAN, Lion Books and author Karp were rather hypocritically and ungratefully jumping onto the Spillane-bashing bandwagon, when it was Spillane and his work that had put down the ground beneath their feet. Thus, circa 1953, even a publishing venture generally seen as offering fare cheaper and sleazier than Spillane’s work sought to make hay out of the strait-laced fervor. Doing so is a standard ‘exploiteer’ move, as with the work of a number of culturally-incorrect writers and filmmakers whom I admire, so I won’t condemn it. Beyond that, I found HARDMAN to be an enjoyable and intriguing novel, in part for what I see as its faint but persistent ambiguities about the author’s own attitudes, despite his later claim of didacticism. After all, this is a work of fiction, and none of the characters can assuredly be said to speak for the author.
In fact, I think that at some points in his narrative Karp seems to sympathize perversely with his twisted bad-boy creation. An impressive passage comes late in the novel, after the psycho-sexual debacle in which Hardman has wrecked his own life and career, in which he vents his noirish spleen at shelves of presumably respectable books in the stacks of a public library:
“Hardman yanked books out, spilling them unto the floor. “What goes on behind the calm, reasoning brains? What goes on behind the buttery talk about honor and pride and justice and tenderness? The worm, gentlemen,” Hardman laughed and lurched down an aisle, his finger, crooked, swooping up and down past the title faces of the books, “the worm that works inside your heads – the worm that makes you want to rape your sister, kill your father, rob your brother, and spit in God’s eye. The worm you hide, you pious, pompous frauds!” … “The worm! Did you tell them about the worm? Did you turn him loose so that he could grow into a full-sized snake? Brother snake,” Hardman murmured, “dear brother snake, shake yourself loose and come out into the sun, and turn those yellow eyes up, the world’s yours. It’s his world, you bastards!” Hardman wheeled in a complete circle. “His world, you lily-white cruds!”
Pete Risley is the author of the novel RABID CHILD, published in 2010 by New Pulp Press.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Goth girls, punk rock, and under-age drinking. That's what punk slacker Sammy Lynch has in mind for his nineteenth birthday. Too bad for him that his special night coincides with the end of the world.
When the Meaties crash the club, Sammy is caught in the middle of a nightmare, and it'll take more than some interesting drugs to get him through this one...
Deadland USA Volume Two: Ballroom Blitz goes back to the beginning for Sammy and Rondo in one horrifying night of blood and carnage.
Welcome to how it all started... or ended. Welcome to Deadland USA.
Volume 2: Ballroom Blitz is now available at Amazon.com, and for my friends in the U.K., at Amazon.co.uk, here.
In just a few short months, LUCA VESTE has garnered a very solid rep as a writer worth watching. His collection LIVERPOOL 5 got enough well-deserved good press that Veste followed it up almost immediately with, yes, MORE LIVERPOOL 5.
He runs the always-fun blog Guilty Conscience, where he's become quite the champion of independent writers. In the last couple of months, Luca has gathered together almost forty different writers for a new charity project called OFF THE RECORD-- an anthology of genre fiction, with all proceeds going to children's literacy charities on both sides of the Atlantic. It's due out in December.
I'm quite pleased to have this fresh voice here at Psycho-Noir.
Meet Luca Veste.
Death. It’s not the most light of topics, but it’s a subject which fascinates me. An inordinate amount of my time is spent thinking about my mortality, and not just my own, but everyone I care about also. It can get in the way of things to be honest. If you spend most of your time worrying about dying, you end up forgetting about the living part.
I turned 28 this year, not a milestone really, but this year did mark the first funeral I’ve been too, for someone I knew. My wife’s Nan passed away in June, after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. Before this, a few people I kind of knew had died, people I knew from work etc. but I hadn’t gone to their funerals. My own grandfather, Salvatore Veste, died when I was 10, too young to go to his funeral.
Sat in the church, surrounded by grief, it was a humbling experience. When a member of the family gave a eulogy, it suddenly struck me what I’d been doing with my life up to that point. Reading from a piece of paper, she gave the life story of my wife’s nan. From birth to her final years, I listened as every major event was covered. And it was all contained on one side of a piece of paper. Just an A4 sized piece of paper.
And it hit me. That’s all life is. A long (or if you’re unlucky, unfortunately short) journey, which leads to a loved one telling some people about your life from a piece of paper. It’s up to you how you fill it.
Now, anyone who’s already read my collection of short stories ‘Liverpool 5’ will recognise those paper related thoughts from the story ‘Dreams’. Also members of my family will recognise the man who relates this bit of pseudo philosophy. Because that’s what I do. I take real life people and situations, and make them kind of interesting, I hope. Another writer once said to me, ‘don’t write what you know, write what you can imagine…because what you know is probably pretty boring.’ And I heed that advice. Liverpool is a great city, with so much character. A lot more to it than just The Beatles, it’s steeped in history. Every street, every building, has its own story to tell. Every person you pass in town has their own story. I just try to tell a few of them.
I’ve been extremely lucky in my life. Hit by a car at six years old, I probably shouldn’t even be here right now. Yet, I’m married to a wonderfully complicated woman, with two beautiful daughters. I’m studying two subjects in Criminology and Psychology at University which fascinate me, and I also write in my spare time as well. I’m a lucky man.
I’ve been described by the writer and now my friend Darren Sant as exploding onto the writing scene like a ‘Scouse Gazelle’ these past few months. He’s right in a way. I was always on the periphery, bothering Steve Mosby or Neil White with inane questions about writing. But that funeral changed my outlook. To be that close to grief and death caused me to create a blog reviewing books. Reviewing books led me into a conversation with the excellent writer Charlie Williams, which ended with him kind of daring me to write a story entitled ‘Jeff: The Uninspired Vampire’. Writing that story, and making Charlie laugh, made me write another story. Col Burypublishing that second story on the fantastic website ‘Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers’ gave me the confidence to go on. Talking to writers of the calibre of Nick Quantrill and Julie Morrigan, giving up their time to give me advice and guidance, led me to approaching the publishers Trestle Press with five stories, and asking if they were interested.
In four short months, I have had one Ebook released, a follow-up written and ready for release, a story being published in Paul D. Brazill’s Brit Grit 2, and a project called Off The Record coming shortly, involving 37 of the best short story writers out there.
And it all came from death. My fear and fascination of it. It comes from being a staunch atheist (the need for evidence, of any sort, being of importance to me) and the knowing that this is it. Like the Eminem “song”, you got one shot, one chance, that’s all you got. So, even if you believe there’s more than just this life, that there’s something on the other side, why not give this life the best shot you can. That’s my goal now.
I’m just filling my piece of paper.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
THOMAS PLUCK is one of our newer shining stars in the field of short, hard fiction, a writer who's passion and anger at injustice pulse like hot blood in every word he writes. His work has appeared at Plots With Guns, Beat to a Pulp, Crimespree, Shotgun Honey, and other notable places.
Nowhere is Tommy's anger at social injustice and cruelty more evident than in the new anthology, LOST CHILDREN. But I'll let him tell you about it himself...
I want to talk to you about the most boring question in the world, which is Why Do You Write?
I write because I'm pissed off, that's why. I'm angry. The abuse of power drives me to a frothing, violent rage, and because I'd rather walk freely on the earth and not be caged among the marijuana smokers and scofflaws who can't buy their way out of prison like our aristocratic betters, I write about it instead of hammering railroad spikes through the skulls of my targets.
The abuse of power takes many forms. In crime fiction it's most often a crooked cop, or a shady politician or power broker, but politics is merely behavior writ large. The weakest among us are children, and the abuse of power over them is our vilest crime. To quote my friend Fiona Johnson, "Some children are lost before they have even started living. Some children are a throw-away commodity like a burger box that’s left to blow down the street in the wind and rain."
That's the cue she gave for her guest post at Flash Fiction Friday, and she ponied up £5 per tale to her favorite charity, Children 1st. I joined in and donated $5 per entry to PROTECT.org, and 44 writers answered the challenge. We donated over $600, but knew we could do more. So we took 30 of the best stories and collected them in an e-book called Lost Children: A Charity Anthology, now available on Amazon for Kindle, Barnes & Noble for Nook, and at Smashwords in epub, PDF, mobi, Sony e-Reader, Kobo, and viewable online.
All the proceeds- after the retailers take their cut- go to PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children, which advocates political reform for children in the U.S., and Children 1st Scotland, who help vulnerable children and families in Scotland. PROTECT was co-founded by author Andrew Vachss, which is how I first learned of it. They've done a lot of good in the States. So if you're angry at the latest abuse- whether it's shower rapes at Penn State, that Texas judge whipping his handicapped daughter on camera, the 5,000 cases of abuse covered up by the Boy Scouts of America... this is something you can do about it. PROTECT fights to fund the laws that let these bastards get away with it.
If you're angry like me, you can write. But you can also donate and make a difference, and get thirty powerful tales from the likes of Ron Earl Phillips, Paul D. Brazill. David Barber, Luca Veste, Benoit Lelievre, Erin Zulkoski, J.F. Juzwik, Susan Tepper, and many more including Fiona "McDroll" Johnson and myself.
You can follow the donations at the book's blog, Lost Children: A Charity Anthology.
Monday, November 14, 2011
EVA DOLAN just sort of popped onto my radar a couple months ago, I'm not even sure how. She has this blog, see, called Loitering With Intent (which is a great name) and she mostly reviews books there.
But that's not really putting it as well as I could. She doesn't just review books-- she reviews the HELL out of them. She writes the sort of reviews you want to read. Fact is, Eva Dolan's writing has incredible style and flair and wit.
This extends to her fiction writing as well-- I was pleased to see that she is able to tackle short fiction just as skillfully as reviews, like this story of hers in Shotgun Honey.
How does she pull it off? Easy.
But I'll let her explain it herself... here's Eva Dolan.
As some of you may have already noticed I’m liberal hippy spawn; my mum rolled me my first joint when I was fourteen and we smoked it listening to Underworld. I had no rules and no constraints, the house was full of books, the vinyl collection was amazing, and if I didn’t feel like going to school I didn't go.
The only thing which was strictly verboten was gambling.
Naturally me and my brother Sean both gravitated towards it.
Sean’s had a regular home game going the last few years, mainly recruited from his builder mates, with me the perennial short stack among blokes who earn my yearly wage in a month and aren’t shy about mentioning it.
The first game I sat in on was just after I left uni. I was skint, waitressing in a hotel, not making great tips - can’t imagine why – and Sean said he’d cover my stake since I was getting arsy about not playing anymore.
Sean’s place looked like a drug dealer convention when I turned up, a grey Maserati sandwiched between two Range Rovers with blacked out windows and every extra the garage could fit on them.
Inside they crowded Sean’s little kitchen, three bulldozer built men in jeans and Ted Baker shirts, watches like steering wheels and uniform number one cuts, not a rough palm between them.
They were sweet and welcoming though, exactly the kind of mouthy guys it’s fun to be at a table with.
We talked boxing and football – I was the only Gooner among rabid Spurs fans – and it turned out they’d been hitting the spread betting pretty hard over the weekend.
Within an hour I knew the price of everyones cars, villas and golf club memberships. As well as the result of Bob’s wife’s vaginoplasty.
He held his index finger up in the air – “It’s fucking like that now.”
All three were the classic loose-aggressive types, they earned their money too easy to be anything else, but Bob made Tony G look like Dan Harrington. He brought every hand in with a raise, regardless of position or his holding, shoved almost every three-bet that was thrown at him.
I’d got the bum seat too, stuck on his right, which meant any speculative move I made got stamped on hard. I barely played a pot in the first hour, spent most of it keeping the drinks flowing, my tiny stack slowly shrinking.
The blokes got rowdy and even looser, trash talking like they’d seen the big boys do it on Late Night Poker.
Sean was up, I was down.
A tight range doesn’t play well against maniacs, so I thought ‘Fuck it, it’s Sean’s money’ and started throwing in some under the gun raises with high cards and suited connectors.
It got respect for a couple of rounds but the drink was kicking in and Bob turned bluff-catcher on me, forcing me to fold for a big chunk of my stack.
I sat tight for awhile, sulking.
Bob hit a two-outer to bust his mate, then launched into a protracted story about a Hamburg brothel and a red-headed dwarf with skills most regular size girls could only dream of.
He was distracted enough with the telling to check into a wet board and when he realised his mistake he overcompensated with his final bet. I snap called and turned over a full house.
Bob had – fucking inevitably – quads.
So, what did I learn from this?
About poker, not much, but I got a great character out of Bob and a story about a German prostitute I wouldn’t have heard from anyone but a pissed up, loose-tongued builder.
And that is the moral of my story. As writers we need tonnes of raw data if we’re going to spit out something decent, but cannibalising your early years can only carry you so far, unless you’re from circus people – in which case disregard this, you don’t need any help.
The rest of us grow up and start editing the crazy out of our lives. We slip away from the mates who are always borrowing money or getting arrested for some shit or other, start drinking in quieter pubs and having people round for dinner.
We still need the crazy though and where are we going to get it? From our nice, new friends who read The Guardian and think Kirsty Allsopp is just marvellous?
Proper on-the-page crazy has to be worked at; talk to the people your gut instinct tells you to avoid, the ones your eyes glide over like they’re furniture, because if you listen I guarantee they will talk. People want to spill, it’s perhaps the only good thing to come out of our culture’s confession-driven media, this widespread inability to keep it shut.
It is writer heaven.
Okay, I’ll admit there are risks involved in going slumming – especially for girls – but hey, that’s what knuckledusters were invented for.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
Sometimes being a writer and trying to get your work out there feels very much like the above photo. You know, putting your pecker in a hole and allowing a rooster to do unmentionable things to it. Lately, though, I find my wang in a sling far less often, much to my relief.
The new issue of Pulp Metal Magazine came out today, and the line-up is pretty spectacular. There's an interview with the gorgeous and brilliant Julia Madeleine for starters, and an essay from the equally gorgeous and brilliant Paul Brazill, before getting to the stories. There's Benoit Lelievre, B.r. Stateham, Kent Gowran, and several others, including yours truly. My story is called "The World is Made of Candy", because, you know, it is.
And I wanted to mention that, a few days ago, my story "No-Account Sonofabitch" appeared at Shotgun Honey. That made me happy. I'm getting a lot more stories placed as of late, and many more are on the immediate horizon. So stick around.
And yes, that first paragraph up there was written solely as an excuse to use a photo of a kid with his pecker in a hole and a rooster doing awful things to it.
Friday, November 11, 2011
ALLAN LEVERONE is the author of the thrillers THE LONELY MILE, THE FINAL VECTOR, POSTCARDS FROM THE APOCALYPSE and DARKNESS FALLS. In a very short period of time, he has carved out a place for himself in the crowded world of thriller writers. How has he done this? By being DAMN GOOD, that's how. Reviewers have compared him to the likes of Michael Crichton or Robert Ludlum, and there's some validity to those statements-- but frankly, I think Leverone is a more solid writer than either of them. If there was any justice in the world (and there's not, I checked) the name Allan Leverone would be just as huge as the icons of thriller writing he's compared to.
I am proud to introduce you to my friend, the terrifically talented ALLAN LEVERONE, addressing a tricky issue that every writer struggles with these days...
We’ve established what you are, now we’re just haggling over the price
I want you to buy my book. Let’s get that out in the open right off the bat. And not to generalize, but I think that’s the case for most authors, too. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they just keep a journal?
If you can accept that I want you to buy my book, just as Heath Lowrance wants you to buy his (and you really should; it’s unbelievably good), and Charlie Stella wants you to buys his, and so on, the question becomes, “What’s the right way to try to convince you to do it?”
Here’s where it gets sticky. One of the many many MANY things I’ve learned since publication of my first book is that there are almost as many opinions regarding authors marketing and promoting their work as there are authors. Some look upon any attempt by an author to market his work with a disdain bordering on contempt; others seem to believe a strategy of promotional carpet-bombing is something worth attempting.
So, what’s the proper course of action? How much promoting should I do? Should I remain virginally pure? Or should I strut my stuff on the nearest street corner, decked out in hot pants and fishnets? And don’t worry, I’m not speaking literally; it’s too late for the first option and I wouldn’t inflict the second on my worst enemy.
I wish I knew the answer.
I can tell you this, and if I had to hazard a guess—based entirely on unscientific observation—I would say the vast majority of authors would agree with me: Promoting myself is not something that’s comfortable for me or that I enjoy doing in any significant way.
Don’t misunderstand. This is not to imply I don’t enjoy social media (I do), or that I don’t enjoy interacting with readers, especially readers of genre fiction, and other authors (I do). What I mean is I didn’t begin writing fiction seriously five years ago with the goal of pimping out myself or my work.
I’ve never been an attention-seeker, either in my second job (also known as The One That Pays The Bills) as an air traffic controller, or in my personal life. In virtually every case, I’m more than happy to stay in the background and let others enjoy the spotlight. I take to photographs like vampires take to sunlight (traditional vampires, that is, not vampires of the more recent sparkly vintage).
The problem, of course, is that for a largely unknown author to stand in the background means his work will be relegated to the background as well. And as I’ve already mentioned, I want you to buy my book. So I’ve tried a number of different strategies to bring a little attention to my work.
I’ve asked (okay, begged, I’m not too proud to admit it) more well-known authors to blurb my work. To my astonishment, some did, for which I will be forever grateful. I believe their quotes have helped give my work some legitimacy, but as far as affecting sales, I’m not convinced there has been any correlation.
I’ve done blog tours. They were a lot of work, but also a lot of fun, and I’ll probably continue to do them to promote my work. But did they affect sales? I don’t believe they did in any significant way, although if an author believes in his work, he also believes that readers introduced to that work through a blog tour will be more likely to check out his next book when the time comes.
I’ve sent my books out for review, devoting hours upon hours to giving away copy after copy in an attempt to generate some buzz. The resulting reviews have been almost unanimously good, but how many readers buy a book based on reviews? You’re not sure? Me neither.
I’ve joined Twitter and have been Facebooking for quite a while now, and I try not to overwhelm people with news about my books via those outlets because, let’s face it, constant promotion gets old after a while, especially when it’s the same people reading the same promotional messages over and over.
I’ve tried buying Facebook ads, I’ve tried promoting through various sites for various amounts of money, with varying levels of success. A Kindle Nation Daily sponsorship was very effective, but also very expensive, and the bump it provided for my sales didn’t last long.
All these efforts come at a price, though, and not just a monetary one. If I’m working on promotion, I’m not writing, which is what I really love to do. The “experts” say the best thing to do is write the best book you can, then follow that up with something better, and then do it again. And when you come right down to it, the quality of the work is the only thing any author can really control, anyway.
So what’s the verdict? Stay virginally pure or get down and dirty? I guess in the end I’m just like everyone else: I’ll end up somewhere in between the two extremes. We’re all stumbling around in the dark anyway, hoping to hit on a formula for developing readership that Einstein probably couldn’t chart.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go tweet about my Goodreads book giveaway…
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
It's been a good day today, so far. Slept in late, and woke up to find that my story "No Account Sonofabitch" was up at the excellent SHOTGUN HONEY. That alone would've qualified this as a good day, but then I saw that James Reasoner (one of my favorite western writers) had favorably reviewed both "That Damned Coyote Hill" and the first episode of "Deadland USA" over at his blog.
So I'm feeling the strut today.
In other news...
My great pal and designer extraordinare Ron Warren has designed a brand new cover for "That Damned Coyote Hill"-- see image above-- that I am just in love with. Yes, I'm going to marry it. It will be the new look for all future Hawthorne stories, since the original image probably breaks at least twenty copyright laws. And besides, I like this one better. What do you think?
If you've already bought "That Damned Coyote Hill", and you want this image, just let me know and I'll e-mail you a jpeg of it. Or I reckon you could just help yourself to the one posted here.
CHARLIE WILLIAMS pens the black-as-pitch but funny-as-hell adventures of Royston Blake, the maniacal bouncer/half-baked tough guy/ne'er-do-well of the town of Mangel. These books are amazing fun, and unique in that Royston narrates in his hypnotic lower-class Brit dialect. I always find myself reading them out-loud.
But as fun as the Blake novels are, there's more to Mr. Williams than that, as evidenced by his new book, GRAVEN IMAGE, now available on e-readers everywhere and also as a traditional, you know, book.
I'm very pleased to have CHARLIE WILLIAMS here at Psycho-Noir today...
Cutting the brush
I've got a thing about genre. Or rather, I haven't. My thing is that I always thought I was in one genre, then somehow engineered a move into a different one. Then I found it hard to stay in that genre, and kept slipping back into the former one. Then a third genre reared its pretty head and beckoned me.
Fact is, I don't really give much of a shit what genre my stuff is. Genre is for publishers and readers, not authors. As far as I am concerned, all I have to do is get the stories down in the best way possible, making them as good as they can be. Who cares what genre they are? Maybe I should. Maybe, if I had made more of an effort to keep my novella GRAVEN IMAGE in the crime camp, it might reach more readers. But that would make it a different book, and probably not as good a one.
I have tried writing straight crime. I even tried to write some sort of generic thriller once, with a detective and some bad guys and a single-parent damsel in distress who the 'tec doesn't know whether to protect or sweep off her feet. But I couldn't stay interested in the po-faced-ness of it all. Whenever a serious moment cropped up where the narrator had to do some moralising, he would get an insatiable urge to drink massive amounts of rough cider and go on a spontaneous killing spree - using a random item of garden machinery.
And I knew why this was: he was making up for all those pages of playing the good boy, toeing the line and being the problem-solving hero. That is not what I'm interested in. I like main characters who are fucked up, whether they know it or not. I want to show how fallible we are, and how laughable our self-images are. If that detective of mine had just been a bit more laid back and honest with himself in the first half of the book - if he had tortured that witness just a little instead of reasoning with him, or hopped into the sack with Ms Damsel at the first opportunity instead of sticking to some code - the killing spree might have been avoided. Brush-cutters would have remained un-primed, lives would have been saved.
(Shit, why didn't I finish that book?)
So yeah, Graven Image, which is what I intended to write about here. It's crime, but it doesn't really stick to the tropes. The hero is a bouncer, but he is also something else, something you will have to read the thing to find out. And maybe you won't do that, knowing now that this is a book that is likely to veer away from crime. But I'm also hedging that you will, seeing as this here blog is concerned with a sub-genre called "Psycho Noir". And if I had to nail my stuff to a genre, psycho noir is pretty much what I would choose. But I can't do that, because it would be tempting fate. I would be damning myself to a subconscious struggle to break free from the confines of the psycho noir genre.
So if you should read a historical romance in a year or so featuring a brush-cutter death scene, that'll be me (under a pen name).
Monday, November 7, 2011
It took me a long time to write this introduction for RAY BANKS. I kept writing stuff that sounded really gushing, or really fawning, and frankly I was making myself a little nauseous. The thing is, I really admire Banks a great deal and found it really hard to write an intro about him that sounded level-headed and cool.
Let's just stick to the facts, then. He hails from Scotland. He's one of the best, period.
RAY BANK's novels about Cal Innes are required reading if you want a sense of what can be done with the modern P.I., and for those who find Ian Rankin a bit long-winded (which I do), Bank's concise voice and relentlessly tight plotting are a welcome antidote.
His new (well, kind of new) book is called DEAD MONEY, and it's one of the first releases (along with Anthony Neil Smith's ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS) to be put out by the brand-spanking-new BLASTED HEATH.
I'm very pleased to introduce... RAY BANKS.
Back to the Drawing Board
Here's the thing, as much as I believe that you should reread books as often as you can, that belief doesn't extend to my own. Don't get me wrong, if you fancy poring over the Innes novels, looking for all manner of non-existent intellectual subtext (or - the more likely scenario - barely-concealed dick jokes), you be my guest and God love you for it. But as far as I'm concerned, once a book of mine staggers out there like a pisshead on dole day, it's on its own. I don't pick the bugger up again until I'm forced (and I do have to be forced) to do a reading, and even then I'll try to pick something from near the start, so I don't have to read too much of my own book.
It's not that I don't have confidence in the finished product, you understand. It's just that going over old stuff tends to be a rather frustrating exercise in what-ifs and could-have-beens - for all you manage to smother some of the book's problems, there are always others prancing in the wings, and they don't make their unfettered, moronic presence known until it's too late.
And tinkering with a "finished" book is a dangerous game. Unless you keep a cautious eye on proceedings you can end up compounding the old flaws with new ones, and then you're right up the creek. There's a reason, after all, why most director's cuts rarely work better than their theatrical counterparts - in the rush to fix things, a lot of creative types fix things that didn't need to be fixed.
So it may come as a surprise to those few of you who bought my debut The Big Blind to read the following blurb for my new one, Dead Money:
Double-glazing salesman Alan Slater is in trouble. He hasn't had a good sales lead in months. His wife rightly suspects him of playing around. His best mate Les Beale has turned into a bigoted, boozed-up headcase. And that's the least of it.
When a rigged poker game has fatal consequences, Alan finds himself not only responsible for the clean-up, but also for Beale's escalating debt to a man who won't take "broke" for an answer. As Beale's life spirals out of control, he becomes ever more desperately reliant on Alan to save his skin.
But Alan isn't about to be dragged into the gutter by anyone, least of all his bad-beat, dead money former mate.
After all, there's no such thing as a compassionate double-glazing salesman.
Now, unless you're already drunk - and it's after ten in the morning, so who isn't? - you could be forgiven for thinking I've just rebadged The Big Blind and foisted it upon the general public as a means to extract money for old rope. But you'd be (mostly) wrong. I'll admit, yes, my original aim was to re-release The Big Blind as an ebook earlier this year, but when I came to format the fucker (ah, the joys of formatting), I came to the clammy realisation that The Big Blind was sorely lacking in the old quality department.
I don't mean to have a pop at either the original publishers or the people who bought and liked The Big Blind. Indeed, my editor on that book has just had the misfortune to edit it again this time around - he's a glutton for punishment, obviously. As are those of you who buy it again. But things change, and The Big Blind is very much a novel of its time, reflective of the kind of deeply inexperienced yet admittedly passionate writer I was seven-eight years ago. So I couldn't in good conscience allow it out in public just in case someone thought it was brand new, hated it, and then went on to tell everyone they knew that this Banks fella was a fuckin' joke.
Hey, it happens. The Internet is dangerous and dark, and no place for a dewy-eyed, wandering ego.
And so I did the one thing I always said I wouldn't do - I tinkered. That tinkering turned into revision, which then turned into me rewriting the whole bloody thing from scratch. The book became wider in scope and, perversely, shorter in length. I took some of the less flattering comments people made about The Big Blind under advisement. I sorted out some of the plot elements that continued to bug me years later. I tried to think of The Big Blind as a first draft - some good stuff in there, but plenty of work still to do - and one of the reasons I changed the title was because it became a different book. Alan Slater is a couple of years older and now married, Les Beale's casual racism is now more than a character tic, and one of the main characters is of a different ethnicity. On a technical level, I got rid of most of the musical references and - a relatively new obsession of mine - most of the dialogue tags. And what I ended up with (and subsequently dumped on Blasted Heath's doorstep) was less a director's cut than another draft.
Or, as my fellow Blasted Heathen Anthony Neil Smith put it, Dead Money is the Desperado to The Big Blind's El Mariachi. Except, of course, that The Big Blind is now out of print, so if you're one of the dozens who own a copy, congratulations - you now have the only "rare" Ray Banks book. As for the rest of you filthy degenerates, I can only promise you what I promise everyone who buys one of my books - it may not be good, but at least it's short.
Friday, November 4, 2011
photo by Dawn Sketch
RON WARREN and I have been best pals since our high school days, which, trust me, was a damn long time ago now. He's an award-winning photographer who is as skilled at shooting weddings as he is at artsier work. The covers of THE BASTARD HAND and DIG TEN GRAVES were both designed and put together by him and his wife Dawn Sketch. For the last couple years, he's been the editor of the online speculative fiction mag, The Nautilus Engine, (which you really should check out) and more recently he's started, along with his wife, Aspiring Author Book Covers.
May I present Mr. RON WARREN...
It’s an honor to be invited to guest-blog here at Psycho-Noir, especially since Heath’s premiere novel publication (the cult fave, The Bastard Hand) spurred my leap into designing book covers.
Where do book covers come from? The big publishing houses have in-house art departments, or, more frequently, contract out the design in a piecemeal fashion to freelance artists. Many authors have very little input into the look of their book. Small presses and e-publishers, however, often appreciate having this little bit of extra work taken off of their plate. Writing a check is far easier than dealing with those temperamental artists, right? (I feel that I would be doing all artists a disservice if I didn’t go a little bit Charlie Sheen right about now, so…. “WINNING!”)
In regards to The Bastard Hand…the book was picked up by Jon Bassoff at New Pulp Press and Heath dove into the back-and-forth process of editing the book for publication – tightening things that needed tightening, and lassoing any loose ends. Somewhere in the process he came to realize that he had some say in the design of the cover. A lot of say, it turns out. So Heath called me up and said, “How’d you like to design the cover for my book?”
Now, although I did a bit of design, the reason he called me is that I am a photographer and probably the only person he knows that can pummel a graphic file into some semblance of submission. I’ve been shooting professionally for over five years now, primarily in the world of event photography, but I’m always trying to expand my repertoire (hence, macro, real estate, portraiture, fashion, headshots, sports, fine art, products, landscapes, etc.). In other words, I’m kind of handy with the camera and the Photoshop. Tempted to quote Ron Burgundy, here, with: “I’m kind of a big deal.” But I shall refrain, because my namesake, while hilarious, has a much bigger ego than me.
The gears did begin to turn, however. I was very excited by the prospect of an organized, commissioned project, especially for a book I had read and eagerly wanted others to buy and then love it as much as I had.
Whenever possible, I like to work from my own original files (rather than stock photography) so the search began for churches that screamed classic simple southern Baptist or similar. Done. Shoot it. Check. Model shoot to bring Charlie to life. Roger that. And let the compositing work begin. After some tweaks, variations and options, we had something that fulfilled Heath’s vision. But Jon at New Pulp Press had the last word. He called me out on a small problem or two, I fixed ‘em, and the cover was finalized in no time.
The process and results were so satisfying creatively and professionally, that I decided I wanted to design more book covers, and, voila! Aspiring Author Book Covers was born! We’ve created covers for just about every kind of book from fiction to nonfiction. Some of the samples at the web site are for books that are currently available, others for upcoming books, and some are spec. work to show off, basically.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We’ve all heard it, and, although we should heed it, let’s face it, we don’t always. When a book is recommended, the cover becomes unimportant. However, when you are lurking in a cozy bookstore, scanning the shelves and stacks to discover a treasure for yourself, the initial draw, that impetus to actually put the book in your hand and learn more, can only be a compelling title or an eye-catching book cover. This truth is compounded when scanning those tiny thumbnail images on an Amazon or Barnes and Noble website page. So I’m proud to do my little part to use the book’s wrapping paper, as it were, to draw attention to the real gift that lies inside.
Although I think the print book is not much longer for this world (bittersweet as I am both a book lover and a tree hugger) the evolution of the e-book will sustain the essence of books and book covers, writers and artists. I look forward to seeing where the mediums will go, and how I can travel with them.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
You know what's hot? Funny chicks.
Madeleine Kahn. Sarah Silverman. Anna Faris. Something about a woman with a raunchy sense of humor, man, it just makes you glad to be alive. And you can add KIMMY DEE to that list.
I first became aware of Kimmy not long ago, through a piece she did for Cracked.com called 5 Scientific Reasons Your Idea of Happiness is Wrong. Insanely funny, and more insightful than it even needed to be. Needless to say, I'm now stalking her (part-time) on line.
Fortunately, Kimmy has a blog, called Turd Mountain, which makes stalking her pretty easy. You should do it, too. It's her personal platform for railing against bad spellers, vapid fashion statements, John Mayer and all other manner of inane popular culture. Oh yeah, there's lots of poop jokes too.
I'm very happy to introduce you to KIMMY DEE...
An early autumn storm crackles feverishly, as the shutters drum against the house. The lights inside flicker, creating a dancing scene of shadowy monsters before darkness swallows the room completely.
I paw at the walls as I slowly make my way to the study. I fumble clumsily at the roll top desk until my hand lands on the book of matches religiously kept in the top drawer.
It takes two strikes, but the match roars to life; its orange orb of light glowing against my hand as I shield it from the breath of the ghost I know is hovering over my shoulder.
Trembling, I light the two candles atop the desk and shake out the match. As the flame takes hold, the dull light melts away my jitters. I carry one candle to the other side of the cozy room and set it on the end table beside my faithful rocker. This corner is my sanctuary.
I wrap myself in the serenity of my favorite quilt, and settle in to begin the latest suspense novel that called out to me. I pull my blanket a little tighter, ready to be swept off to an exciting new world, and…….
The low battery light is flashing on my Kindle.
Pseudo-Noir: Kimmy on Kindle
Modern technology has taken a massive dump on literature, people; and it wiped its stanky ass with elegant prose.
No I don’t actually own a Kindle, or a Nook, E-Reader, or any other version of the contraption. (I’m also not nearly wealthy enough to label a room a study, but I digress.) I choose to read while I exercise, and by that I mean I engage in the strenuous activity of turning pages-not clipping my Kindle to a treadmill or anything pretentious like that.
When the hell did flipping pages become too hard? How lazy has society gotten, that we need a touch-screen, computerized reading machine so that we don’t have to bend our knuckles to get to the next page? What’s next, electronic nose-picker? Automated ass itcher?
And these nefarious little gizmos can read to you now. Yes, you push a button and it reads your selected text aloud. I guess that’s designed for the countless number of people who really enjoy reading, but hate holding a book and looking at a series of letters while conceptualizing them into words.
Don’t give me any of that “saving the environment” crap either. All these deficient devices become toxic waste once they exceed their planned obsolescence period. I’m sure Mother Earth would rather give up a few trees worth of paper than be littered with heaps of radioactive rubbish.
I love how the Kindle advertises its lack of backlighting, stating that it reads more “like a book” than competing needless novelties. You know what else reads like a book? Sheets of printed paper bound together in succession. And they never need charging, downloading, updating, debugging, or any other fancy terms for maintenance—aside from the occasional dust-blowing.
There’s always that awkward moment on the airplane, where a person holding a book is stuck next to someone with a Kindle. They might both be reading the exact same novel, but they exchange smug glances and chuckle to themselves about the ridiculousness of the individual they are stuck sharing stale ass air with for the next four hours.
“Pompous asshole,” mumbles the page-flipper.
“Dirty hippie,” scowls the Kindle connoisseur.
In reality, both people are dysfunctional douchebags because they’re reading Justin Bieber’s First Step 2 Forever. At least Kindle-guy can hide his horrible life decisions from the rest of the world.
And now my worst fears are being realized: many works aren’t even being released in paperback form anymore. I must either put aside my contempt for computerization or miss out completely on some great literature.
So there’s just one thing I have to ask before my soul descends to the dark side….. Can I get one in purple? Because that would be fabulous.