Sunday, December 30, 2012
Last year around this time I did a little post to wrap up the year, one of those "looking back" sorta deals. It was a nice way to put it all in perspective for myself, and it was an amazing year for me.
While 2012 didn't quite rock my world in the same way, it at least continued with me moving forward as a writer, defining my own personal mission statement, honing my craft, getting closer and closer to the writer I want to be. It saw some work that I'm rather proud of, and made me realize that it's okay to feel good about the direction I'm going in, even if I still don't feel that I'm THERE, 100 percent. But I reckon feeling like you're THERE is the proverbial Kiss of Death, right?
2012 saw the release of my second full length novel, CITY OF HERETICS, a bit of a departure from the meandering, Southern Gothic vibe of my first novel. CoH was tighter, meaner, more hardboiled (which seems to be the way my work has been going, of late). Working with Brian Lindenmuth at Snubnose Press was an absolute joy.
In the same week that CITY OF HERETICS was released, my FIGHT CARD novella, "Bluff City Brawler", came out under the pen name Jack Tunney. I'm grateful to Mel Odom and Paul Bishop for taking a chance on me, as it stretched my writing muscles and gave me the opportunity to try something different. I enjoyed it, and my only regret is that "Bluff City Brawler" fell by the wayside until recently while I was busy promoting the full-length novel. Since it's been on sale these last few days for .99 cents, that issue seems to be addressed.
David Cranmer of Beat to a Pulp Press picked up the publishing rights to my Hawthorne stories, after my relationship with the previous publisher came to an end. David re-issued "That Damned Coyote Hill", as well as "The Long Black Train" and "The Spider Tribe", and I'm pleased to tell you that we have a terrific working relationship based on respect and friendship. I just really like the guy, and there's more Hawthorne to come.
I'm wrapping up the year with a new story for an anthology from Andrew Nette and Crime Factory (that picture at the top is a major clue!), and a new Gideon Miles novella for Beat to a Pulp; both of those should be out early in 13, as well as a couple of short stories here and there.
I'm learning that this writing gig, especially when you're laboring away in the small presses, is a marathon, not a sprint. Way back in January of this year, I asked my friend Vincent Zandri how he manages to sell so many books, and what he told me struck home: "Keep writing them," he said. "Keep writing them and putting them out, and make sure they're ALL the best work you're capable of." Good advice, that.
So I'll keep writing them, and I'll keep putting them out, one way or another. And I promise you, they will ALWAYS be the best work I'm capable of.
Thanks for reading, friends. Have a great new year!
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Saturday, December 22, 2012
I'm getting a jump on this a little early, I know. And if I wind up reading a masterpiece between now and Jan 1, I'm sure I'll kick myself. But whatever-- I probably won't have time later.
I'm sorry to admit that my reading this year wasn't quite as diverse as last year. I mostly stuck to known quantities. But for all that, there were some real gems. Not all of them came out in '12, but most of them are fairly recent, regardless.
Here's my favorite books read this last year:
-Choice Cuts- Joe Clifford.
-Savage Blood- James Reasoner
-Texas Rangers- James Reasoner
-The Circuit Rider- Dani Amore
-As I Was Cutting & Other Nastiness- L.V. Rautenbaumgrabner
-The Bitch- Les Edgerton
-The Sisters Brothers- Patrick deWitt
-Somebody Owes Me Money- Donald Westlake
-The Axe- Donald Westlake
-Manhunter's Mountain- Wayne D. Dundee
-Screaming Woman Road- Jason Stuart
-Smonk- Tom Franklin
-Fun & Games- Duane Swierczynski
-Julius Katz & Archie- Dave Zeltserman
...and two non-fictions that I thoroughly enjoyed:
-American West- Dee Brown
-The Bad & the Beautiful- Hollywood in the Fifties- Sam Kashner and Jennifer McNair
Probably the best crime novel I read this year hasn't come out yet, so I decided to omit it until next year, when I'm sure it will top the list (you know the one I'm talking about, Les...).
Still to come, favorite movies of the year, and a year in review post. Merry Christmas, everyone.
Monday, December 10, 2012
Andrew Nette is one of the editors and founders of Crime Factory, and the author of GHOST MONEY, from Snubnose Press. I'm happy to have him here at Psycho Noir today, talking about one of the major influences on his work.
Ghosts of Cambodia
Ask someone to name an exotic location to set a crime novel and most people would probably answer Scandinavia or perhaps Africa or Latin America.
I could be wrong, but I’d guess few people would say Asia. This could be why there are so few crime novels set in the region, even fewer noir or hardboiled novels.
My debut novel Ghost Money is an exception.
Ghost Money is set in Cambodia the mid-nineties, the point at which the long-running Khmer Rouge insurgency started to fragment and the country was torn by political instability.
It’s the story of a disillusioned and somewhat fucked up Vietnamese Australian ex-cop called Max Quinlan. Quinlan is hired to find an Australian businessman, Charles Avery, missing in the chaos of Cambodia. It soon becomes clear Avery has made dangerous enemies and Quinlan is not the only one looking.
When I wrote the first draft in 2008, there was even less crime fiction set in Asia than there is now, and hardly anything featuring Cambodia.
One exception was Zero Hour in Phnom Penh, by Christopher G Moore. Moore is the doyen of Bangkok’s large expatriate crime-writing scene. Since the early nineties, he has been writing books featuring the Bangkok-based American PI, Vincent Calvino. Most are set in Thailand, although Moore has also taken his character to Vietnam and Cambodia.
His Cambodia book, Zero Hour in Phnom Penh, is my favourite. Calvino has been employed by a shady businessman to find a grifter gone to ground in Phnom Penh. Accompanying the PI is his regular off-sider Prachai Congwatana, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Thai police.
But my major influence for writing Ghost Money is a little known 2002 film by Matt Dillon called City of Ghosts.
It’s not a great film, but having worked on and off as a journalist in Phnom Penh in the nineties and again in 2008, it’s a vivid depiction of a country that is quickly changing in the face of rapid, if very uneven, economic development.
Jimmy (Dillon) is a long con artist who grows a conscience after the fake insurance company he’s been fronting forfeits on claims to the survivors of a hurricane. In order to get his share of the proceeds from the scam and escape the clutches of the FBI, Jimmy travels from New York to Thailand where Marvin (James Caan), his mentor and the brains behind their operation has fled.
Landing in Bangkok, Jimmy meets up with another of Marvin’s associates, Casper (Stellan Skarsgard), who informs him Marvin has gone to Cambodia. Jimmy decides to follows him, arranging to meet up with Casper in Phnom Penh at a hotel called the Belleville. Most frequent travellers to Asia will have stayed in at least one place like the Belleville, a magnet for dead-beat expats, burn-outs and tourists on expired visas, who hang around the bar providing cryptic advice and Vietnam flashbacks to whoever will pay attention and buy them drinks.
Casper and Jimmy locate Marvin, living like a king in a rundown French colonial villa. He’s ploughed the proceeds from their insurance scam into a new project, a proposed casino complex which he and his local partner, a former high-ranking Cambodian military intelligence officer called Sideth, hope will turn Cambodia into the Acapulco of Asia.
Marvin offers Jimmy a slice of the action, then heads off down south to inspect his investment. In one of the film’s more surreal scenes, Marvin and his entourage stop for the night in one of those cavernous discotheques that are common in much of rural Asia. They do a little karaoke before all of Marvin’s off-siders are killed and he disappears.
Jimmy, meanwhile, has returned to his room at the Belleville to find a suitcase full of money and a note from Marvin telling him to get out of Cambodia and start a new life. He’s deliberating whether to take Marvin’s advice when he becomes involved with Sophie (Natasha McElhone), an archaeologist whom he meets at the Belleville.
Then a young Khmer boy walks into the Bellville carrying a box. Inside are a human foot, presumably Marvin’s, and a ransom demand for five million US dollars in exchange for Marvin's life.
The plot of City of Ghosts is strictly B-movie. That’s not necessarily a criticism in my book, but Dillon, who co-wrote and directed the film as well as starring in it, struggles to elicit anything more than a one-dimensional performance from virtually all his headline characters.
But these armchair criticisms aside, it was a pretty gutsy decision on Dillon’s part to make an entire movie in Cambodia. The country had a thriving film industry in the sixties and early seventies. This was completely obliterated by the Khmer Rouge when they took power in 1975 and has only started to recover in the last few years. Dillon would have had to bring in virtually all his equipment and most of his crew and start shooting from scratch.
More importantly despite its flaws, City of Ghosts has a strange authenticity and rawness that latches onto you and keeps your attention.
Many of the foreign supporting actors were recruited from amongst the ranks of Phnom Penh’s bizarre and eccentric local expatriate and backpacker communities. The parlous state of Cambodia’s film industry resulted in Dillon having to rely on local Khmers with little if any previous acting experience.
The soundtrack features songs from Cambodia’s incredibly vibrant sixties music scene. The camera work is fantastic. While the script may be clunky, there’s nothing remotely resembling a B-movie about how City of Ghosts looks, particularly the way it interweaves light and sound.
And as someone who has spent a lot of time in Cambodia, watching this film makes me feel like a time traveller, seeing locations that have either changed beyond recognition or no longer exist. I’ve tried to inject a similar quality of gritty authenticity in my book, Ghost Money.
How successful have I been? You’ll have to be the judge.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Saturday, December 8, 2012
You can always count on Nigel Bird to deliver a great story about great characters, and the novella "Mr. Suit" is no different in that regard. But in almost every other way, this one is a bit of a departure for our Mr. Bird-- instead of the contemplative, almost melancholy tone that readers have come to expect, this one is fast-paced, funny (in a really dark way) and violent. I'm happy to tell you that Bird succeeds just as admirably with this sort of story as he does with his other work. A complex protagonist with understandable motives and emotions, fully-fleshed out supporting characters, and a situation that balances on just this side of totally believable (even as things get more and more out of control, it always feels perfectly natural as things circle down the crapper for Liza). I can whole-heartedly recommend this one.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
I just realized it's been almost a month since I've posted anything here. Sorry 'bout that. My lack of attention to this blog has been due to a couple of things--
One- the new job. It's not a bad gig, as far as working for someone else goes. I almost even kind of like it. And I've actually made a couple of new friends, which is something I don't do, generally (I find it hard to make new friends, I don't know why-- I suspect it's because I'm very jealous of my time and usually the ten or twelve hours a day I'm at work provides me with all the human interaction I really need). Anyway, despite that the job is not bad, it takes up a lot of my time now, time I used to use for writing.
Two- using the little time left in my day for writing. That's sort of a given, I reckon. But even then, I have to admit I haven't been using my free time very well. When I get home, I'm sort of tired, and so most nights I elect to watch a movie or read, then go to bed instead of writing. "I'll get up early tomorrow morning and write before I go to work," I keep telling myself. And about half the time, I actually do that. No good.
And three- I haven't had much to say. Most of the things that interest me, or that I feel like I want to share with everyone, I've already said a hundred times, right? And after awhile, you start to feel that your deepest convictions couldn't possibly be of interest to anyone but yourself. So I'll start to write a blog post about something, then stop halfway through.
But despite that, I have a few things that have been on my mind that might be of interest to others. I'll be talking about those things here, before the year is over. Keep checking back, okay? I promise to be wildly entertaining again soon.
The Hawthorne stories are continuing to do remarkably well, each of them managing to sell a couple every day. And CITY OF HERETICS has really taken off since yesterday, when the price point went down to .99 cents (all the Snubnose titles are on sale through the holidays, you should jump on that).
Currently, I'm working on a new Gideon Miles story for Beat to a Pulp Press. Should've been done a month ago, but David Cranmer has been extraordinarily patient as I hammer it out. Also writing a tale for a new anthology being put together by Andrew Nette. After that, the Cash Laramie/Hawthorne cross-over.
I think that, when those are done, I'll be laying off work-for-hire for a few months so I can get back to the third novel.
So there ya go. That's what I've been doing. What about you?
Sunday, November 11, 2012
It's called "re-branding", I reckon. So here's the brand new cover for the first Hawthorne tale, "That Damned Coyote Hill". Keepin' it fresh and all that. Since Beat to a Pulp Press picked up the Hawthorne stories (after the original publisher and I went our separate ways), we've experimented with a handful of different looks for the covers. They're all unified now by the font and logo running along the top, but each cover is unique.
When I first submitted this story to the original publisher, I was staggered by how quickly he came back with a cover for it-- and an eye-catching cover it was. I was well-pleased... until a handful of friends contacted me almost immediately to inform me that the image was from the Dark Tower series by none other than Stephen fucking King.
I ignored the warning bells and contacted the publisher to let him know I'd try to find my own cover art. That's where my good friend Ron Warren came in; he whipped together a terrific image, using his own work, in a sort of matted thing that looked terrific. It served me well for a while, and I still quite like it.
When my relationship with the publisher ended, and Beat to a Pulp stepped up, we kept the original image, since it was owned by Ron and there would be no legal hassle. Again, it did well.
But when "The Long Black Train" and "The Spider Tribe" came out, David Cranmer and I knew we'd need a fresh look, and something to tie all three stories together. Hence the new logo, and the new cover art.
In future Hawthorne tales (and there are more coming!), you'll see the same logo along the top every time, but the cover images themselves will continue to be quite different from one another. As usual, your input is welcome.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
I tried a little experiment this last week or so by NOT promoting any of my own work on the social media sites. And what were the results?
Well, the Hawthorne stories did fairly well. That is, four or five sold every day. Yeah, I know, that doesn't sound like much, but honestly, it's about the same number that would move if I was pushing them. Your Loyal and Dedicated Hack isn't exactly burning up any best-seller charts, man.
THE BASTARD HAND had a couple of good days for some reason, before dropping into the nether-regions.
CITY OF HERETICS is doing okay.
My FIGHT CARD novella, "Bluff City Brawler", has been consigned to the lowest regions of Obscure Hell.
In other words, it's all over the board. Just like it would be if I was out there being obnoxious.
It occurs to me, then, that aside from an initial push (say maybe a week or two long) when I have a new release, promoting my work on social media doesn't have too much effect. By that time, I'm preaching to the choir. Everyone who is going to buy it has bought it.
And if I want to reach a bigger audience, I need to either (1) find a new marketing platform, (2) hire a damn publicist, or (3) SELL OUT and write like James Patterson.
Currently considering all three options...
But no, I kid. Decision made: I won't be doing any serious promotion of my work on social media anymore, aside from that initial week-long push when something new comes out. I throw myself on the mercy of readers and reviewers.
Update: Crazy timing here, but only minutes after I posted this, I saw this essay over at HuffPost that really nails the whole thing.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Saturday, October 13, 2012
The third Hawthorne tale, "The Spider Tribe", is now available at Amazon.
"The Iktomi are an ancient evil that feed on the fear and hate of generations, and when the Black Hills run red with the blood of the Lakota, they return to sow death.
The mysterious gunslinger called Hawthorne is fueled also by hatred-- hatred of evil. But is his hate strong enough to destroy the Iktomi?"
Some Halloween reading for you!
Thursday, October 4, 2012
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Friday, September 21, 2012
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Saturday, September 15, 2012
A good friend of mine just recently made a comment about Westerns; never mind the details of the comment, basically it was just a disparaging remark about the entire genre. Said friend is a great person, fairly well-read and pretty bright.
It stayed with me all day, because I just happened to be thinking about my two Hawthorne stories and how sales on them have slowed to a trickle lately. I'd been contemplating how to get more readers to notice them, or give them a chance, and my friend's comment made me realize that a HUGE part of the problem is this: people who've never read Westerns have pre-conceived and completely erroneous ideas about them, and so won't really give them a chance. "I hate Westerns" is a phrase you generally only hear from readers who've never read one, I think.
I say that because the very best Western fiction is great at distilling all those elements of conflict and character that make up good drama. There's a rawness to Westerns that's great at illuminating the human condition and how we respond to crisis. What's not to like about that, right?
Now granted, That Damned Coyote Hill and The Long Black Train are not straight Westerns. They're horror stories, really. But the Western aspects of them are essential, moving pieces-- without them, the stories would fall apart.
But still, these two stories (which I'm very proud of) are dying on the vine, in part because too many readers won't give Westerns a chance. That's not the WHOLE story, I know, but I think it's a part of it.
I would urge anyone who thinks they don't like the genre to read James Reasoner, or Luke Short, or Ed Gorman, or Lewis B. Patten. Or, if you want to ease into the genre with a horror cushion, try my two Hawthorne tales.
Then get back to me.
In the meantime, I'm going to be spreading the gospel about Westerns, urging my fellow readers to not be so dismissive, to give the genre a try. I'm convinced one good Western novel will change some minds, quick.
Today finds me haunting one of my favorite blogs, Dead End Follies, run by pop culture geek and all-around cool fella Benoit Lelievre.
Also, I appear to be the subject of Julia Madeleine's latest A Tattoo and a Review at her blog.
Benoit is a real up-and-comer in the world of crime fiction and I urge you to keep an eye on him. Julia is another terrific writer-- her novel THE TRUTH ABOUT SCARLET ROSE is easily one of my favorites from the last year or so. Thanks, both of you, for everything.
Friday, September 14, 2012
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
For the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be everywhere but here. It's the beginning of my first official blog tour, promoting CITY OF HERETICS and BLUFF CITY BRAWLER. I hope you follow me as I make the rounds to some of my favorite places on the web.
Kicking it off with two interviews today, the first one over at my friend Martin Stanley's place, TheGamblersNovel. Martin is a gracious host (and his novel, THE GAMBLERS, is something you should read, it's terrific).
Second, but just as cool, I'm over at Radikal News, a literary journal based in Slovenia, being interviewed by new friend Renato Bratkovic, who asks some terrific questions.
Thanks, Martin and Renato, for helping me kick this thing off with style.
Kicking it off with two interviews today, the first one over at my friend Martin Stanley's place, TheGamblersNovel. Martin is a gracious host (and his novel, THE GAMBLERS, is something you should read, it's terrific).
Second, but just as cool, I'm over at Radikal News, a literary journal based in Slovenia, being interviewed by new friend Renato Bratkovic, who asks some terrific questions.
Thanks, Martin and Renato, for helping me kick this thing off with style.
Monday, September 10, 2012
One of the great writers I discovered last year was Miss Icy Sedgwick. She wrote a terrific Western called GUNS OF RETRIBUTION that was beautifully-written, full of memorable characters, and action-packed.
That was a year ago now. I'm happy to welcome Icy to Psycho Noir to talk about this terrific novel on its one-year anniversary.
Here's the monstrously talented (and amazingly stylish!) Icy:
The Western is one of those truly iconic genres that seems to continually deliver the goods. No matter how many films we see, or stories we read, it seems fans of the Western will always appreciate the wide open skies, the struggle between civilisation and nature, and the human dramas played out among the tumbleweeds and silver mines. The success of the True Grit remake in 2010 and even video games like Red Dead Redemption prove there is still an audience for the Western, but as Cowboys and Aliens tried to demonstrate, the Western is a genre that oddly plays very well with others. Horror Westerns, romantic Westerns, even steampunk Westerns - done properly, the genre-straddling stories are brilliant.
I wrote The Guns of Retribution as a pulp Western. I wanted all of the trappings that go along with a Western - but I wanted a pulp/noir femme fatale, a sheriff so crooked he wouldn’t know what ‘straight’ meant if it jumped up and bit him, and all of the challenges heaped upon the hero that make pulp such an exciting read. Bounty hunter Grey O'Donnell doesn't find things at all easy, and every time he thinks things are working out, something else hits him with a curveball and he’s forced to react. In particular, I followed Lester Dent's four-part pulp plot, that sees the hero continually swatted with trouble, wrapped up in suspense and menace. I didn't necessarily want to provide conflict for the sake of conflict, but rather as a means for Grey to prove himself as a hero - not to himself, but to the reader. Grey will always be a hero to me - but he needs to be a hero to you, too, and the only way for him to do that is to act like one.
I think part of the attraction of pulp is its accessibility. It's always been intended to be accessible - printed on extremely cheap paper (and written by underpaid writers), the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s might contain several stories, yet only cost around 10c (around $1.60 today). If you couldn't afford the more expensive magazines, you could probably afford a pulp title, and the stories would focus on high adventure and escapism – exactly what you’d need in the years following the Depression and the Second World War. The magazines, and their stories, were intended as mass entertainment - and that's exactly the attitude I had towards The Guns of Retribution. I wasn’t aiming for highbrow art or literary fiction – I just wanted people to read and enjoy the story, and to spend a few hours in Retribution and its surroundings.
Pulp Press' tagline is "Turn off the TV and discover fiction like it used to be" and I think that's such a healthy attitude to take. Sure, these pulp stories aren't high literature but they're getting people reading, and using your imagination to picture the scene as a bounty hunter and his associates attempt to board a speeding train is far more productive than watching a Z-list celebrity act like a moron towards a bunch of other Z-list celebrities in a fake 'house'.
The Guns of Retribution came out in Kindle format a year ago, and in that time, I've had people who "wouldn't normally read a Western" give it a go, and love it. If anything, I hope that it encourages these readers to try other pulp novels, and more Westerns, because if the quality of genre stories coming out this year is anything to go by, then there's life in this old dog yet.
Bio – Icy Sedgwick was born in the North East of England, and is based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She has been writing with a view to doing so professionally for over ten years, and has had several stories included in anthologies, including Short Stack and Eighty-Nine. She teaches graphic design and spends her non-writing time working on a PhD in Film Studies. Icy had her first book, a Western named The Guns of Retribution, published through Pulp Press in September 2011.
On Twitter @icypop
Facebook – miss.icy.sedgwick
Buy The Guns of Retribution here.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
I've been doing double-duty on the promotional stuff the last couple of days, since my second novel CITY OF HERETICS came out right on the heels of my Fight Card novella, BLUFF CITY BRAWLER. I promise I'll do my best not to get obnoxious about it.
But I also wanted to point out that my short story collection, DIG TEN GRAVES, is now .99 cents. This isn't a temporary thing. That's the new price, period. I decided it had run its course at 2.99.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
My second full-length novel, CITY OF HERETICS, is now available at Amazon.
"City of Heretics is a crime noel about an aging con named Crowe, just out of prison and back in Memphis, ready for some payback against the criminals who got him sent up.
Before Crowe can enjoy his revenge he has to track down a brutal murderer cutting a swath through the city-- ultimately leading Crowe to confront a bizarre secret society of serial killers masquerading as a Christian splinter-group."
Hope you buy it. Hope you enjoy it. Hope you spread the word!
Sunday, September 2, 2012
"I couldn’t go down, not like this, not on the ropes. Almost blindly, I swung with my right, missed.
And he got me with that devastating right hook of his.
I reeled back on my heels, and the world sounded like a tidal wave crashing against the shore. I was vaguely aware of him hitting me again, a left jab that connected with my jaw.
I fell back against the ropes, and only instinct brought my gloves up to cover my face. He crowded in, pistoned his fists into my aching ribs, four or five times.
I think he was amazed his famous right hook hadn’t laid me out. I was surprised, too."
Friday, August 24, 2012
I’m gonna just cop to this: I’m not a fan of the Twitter. I know that, of all the social media outlets available to us, Twitter is the most popular, and the one that tends to get the most exposure. It’s the one that’s young and hip and pithy (although no one young and hip would use the word “pithy”, I know).
But Twitter makes me feel like a grumpy old man who’s microphone gets cut off when he starts to make an angry speech—“Why, when I was a boy, they wouldn’t let us have a second helping of rhubarb pie, and we had to—“ “Okay, gramps, you’ve hit your word limit, take your meds and say goodnight…”
Unless I’m linking to something, Twitter is fairly useless to me. So that’s more or less all I use it for. A gateway link to a place where I can actually SAY something, or promote something or whatever.
And I don’t get the #FF thing. Once in a while, I’ll see my name among many other names, posted by kind people who want others to “follow” my meager tweets. I appreciate it, I really do, but I don’t know really how to repay the kindness. Do a #FF of my own? Urge others to follow them? I’ve done it a couple of times, but it feels weird and false.
But here’s my biggest problem with Twitter. It often seems insincere. What I mean is (and this happens ALL the time) I’ll get a handful of new followers, and I’ll check them out to see about following them back (because that’s the idea, right? Follow ‘em back, that’s only polite, yeah?). But sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes, the Tweeter in question already has, like, 15,000 followers. Which is crazy. Do they really, truly keep up with all those tweets? Is that really about communicating with other people? Or is it about “collecting” followers? If someone has that many followers, I figure, they don’t really need me to join up. It’s doubtful they’re particularly interested in my tweets.
Proof of this tends to happen a bit later, when the tweeter assumedly checks his followers, finds that I haven’t followed them back, and promptly stops following me.
My rule of thumb with Twitter, in most cases: if you have less than 1,000/2,000 followers, I’ll follow you back. Also, if you aren’t an asshole posting crazy shit. Also, if I’m a fan of yours.
That criteria isn’t too harsh, is it?
I’m not trying to collect followers on Twitter. The bulk of my social media happens over on Facebook, that old man of media that even your Granma uses. You can stretch out over there, relax and take your time. It’s a better atmosphere than the rush rush rush, stick-and-move, “I don’t really want to know you” vibe of Twitter.
Now, of course, I’m going to post this and link it to Twitter. Ha.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
I worked as a private detective for about two years, when I was in my mid-20's. I don't mention it often because, when you tell folks you were a P.I. the reaction is always one of excited interest, and the truth is it was just about the dullest job ever. It's no fun to watch that light in a listener's eyes go out and shift over to glazed when you reveal the truth.
I didn't have a license; I worked under the license of my boss, a very attractive young woman who got the money to open the security/investigations company from her wealthy husband. I was one of only six or seven people that worked for her. Truth to tell, we were a pretty shoddy little operation. But we all liked each other and had fun, even though the job was mostly Dullsville.
My entire time with the company, I only ever had ONE incident where my life was in danger. And it had more to do with my own stupidity than it did the actual job.
We had been hired by a trucking company to follow one of their drivers who they suspected of "stealing company time". That is, they thought the fella might have been using his work time to attend to personal matters and otherwise screw around when he should've been working and making deliveries. This prospect apparently pissed them off enough to spend money on someone to follow the poor schlub around for a week.
So there I was, tailing this truck driver all over Southeast Michigan, noting all his stops, how long he took, when he parked at a rest stop to take a piss, when he ate lunch, etc. Intensely boring.
It's kind of hard to tail a semi-truck, because they're usually going ten miles an hour slower than everyone else. And eventually, the driver is going to notice that car behind him that doesn't seem to want to pass. Fortunately, I had a copy of his itinerary and knew what all his stops were supposed to be. So about halfway through the day I got the bright idea to skip my life ahead a little and catch up to the driver at his next stop.
That next stop was in the River Rouge area of Detroit.
River Rouge, if you don't know, was a pretty miserable downtrodden place, full of burnt-out houses, empty lots, and petty crime. But me, I was Mr. Oblivious. I had a gun between my seat and the driver's side door that the boss insisted I carry around with me, and maybe the knowledge that the revolver was so handy gave me an over-inflated sense of my own safety.
This is what I did: I pulled off on a side street in a particularly dodgy industrial area to take a look at my map.
No sooner had I done that when my passenger door opens up and this guy with a knife jumps in the car.
He was clearly on some sort of drug, I don't know what, but his eyes bulged and he was sweating like mad and smelled like week-old diapers. He waved his knife in my face and said, "Drive!"
"What?" I said, very smooth-like.
"Drive, motherfucker," he repeated. He pressed the knife up against my throat for emphasis. So I drove.
"Anywhere in particular?"
"Shut the fuck up. Turn right here."
He said, "Left up at that light."
"Where are we going?"
"Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up!"
"Look," I said, "I just want to know where I'm taking you."
He spazzed out then, taking the knife away from my throat long enough to plunge it over and over again into my dashboard. Plastic split and that foam stuff went all over and his spittle sprayed the window.
And yeah, I was scared. Of course I was. But I was doing my best to stay frosty and not show him the fear. My fingers were tight on the steering wheel, preventing them from trembling.
I thought about the gun between my seat and the door. I could grab it. He wouldn't even notice my left hand creeping down for it. Also, I'm left-handed, so it would be a simple matter to grip the revolver, swing it around in his face.
But I didn't do it. I don't know why.
So this went on for about fifteen minutes, with the weirdo giving me seemingly random directions, not saying where we were going, and me doing what he said, driving.
But finally, and I don't know why I did this either, but I snapped. I couldn't take it anymore. The dude said, "Go straight," and removed the knife from my neck again. At that moment, I slammed on the brakes. His body jerked forward and he hit his head against the window and plunked back down in the seat. He still held the knife, but I turned to him, screamed, "Get the fuck out of my fucking car right now, you stupid useless fuck! Get out before I fucking kill you!"
He looked at me for a long moment, gripping his knife. Then he teared up, said, "Asshole," and opened the door on his side. He climbed out and walked away. Just like that.
I drove about three miles away, parked, and smoked about eight cigarettes in a row, hands trembling to beat the band. I pulled the revolver out, looked at it, and wondered why I didn't grab it in the first place. I still can't answer that question.
But I'm glad, in retrospect, that I didn't. If I'd grabbed the gun, someone would be dead today. Probably the druggie weirdo. Because of me. Well... I suppose it would've been his own fault, but still... pulling the trigger on someone? Actually KILLING someone?
I know I write stories about people who place little value on life or death. But that doesn't mean that's me. Granted, I tend to think of life and death as inevitable, but shit, man. I don't wanna kill anyone. I'd hate to be responsible for snuffing out a life. Wouldn't you?
Anyway. That's the only interesting thing that ever happened to me on that job.
Friday, August 10, 2012
It sorta grieves me that Stan Richard's ALMOST GONE went under almost everyone's radar when it came out. As one of the earliest releases from New Pulp Press, along with Nate Flexer's THE DISASSEMBLED MAN and Pete Risley's RABID CHILD, it helped set a standard for that publisher for raw, bold writing that pulls no punches.
The story: after a car accident, police officer Chuck sustains some brain damage and is suddenly flooded with strange memories of his mother's death, memories that he had suppressed until then. The memories seem to indicate that HE was directly responsible for her death, and even worse, hints that his relationship with her was... unnatural, to say the least. Chuck becomes more and more obsessed with learning the truth, and as he inches ever closer to a horrible truth, his delicate mind grows more and more unhinged.
It's flat-out psycho-noir. And Richards tells this depraved tale with an admirable economy of language. Every sentence is sharp and clear. He uses redundant phrases and words to great effect.
If you aren't afraid of a book that makes you feel a little dirty and uneasy, while building tension beautifully, ALMOST GONE is a great choice.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
I'm a big admirer of James Reasoner. His professionalism, his work ethic, but most of all his amazing versatility, amaze me every time. He's mostly known as a writer of Westerns, but no genre is beyond him-- he's also written a handful of exceptional Noirs, some war stories, and all manner of fine pulp.
Here's two shorts from him that I read recently and just serve to reinforce that.
"Devil Wings Over France" proves that you name the genre and Reasoner can show you how it's done.
This one is, nominally, an aviation adventure, in the spirit of those old pulp stories about air aces fighting the Huns. But Reasoner ups it a few notches by presenting a unique threat (rabid bats unleashed on the Allies by those filthy Huns), and even an almost throw-away supernatural element that I won't spoil for you.
The pacing is pitch-perfect, and if you've read Reasoner before you know he can spin an action sequence like nobody's business.
In "The Red Reef", a former sea captain, tormented by a horrible accident, gets a shot at redemption when a sultry babe begs him to take her to the site of the accident-- where her father supposedly lies in his watery grave. But the babe has more than grief on her mind, and our hero finds himself in a deadly game of survival on the high seas.
Another old school style pulp story, this one is lean, tough-minded, and without a trace of sentiment. It's a short, sharp jolt of action and high adventure.
Both of these are available on Amazon. If you've never read Reasoner before, they make a great introduction to his work. I'm currently reading his novel TRACTOR GIRL; some others that really knocked me out were REDEMPTION, KANSAS; DUST DEVILS and TEXAS RANGERS.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
When we weren't paying attention, television actually got pretty good. Cable and basic cable have, in the last few years, bloomed with quality shows.
I don't have cable, don't want it, but I have taken advantage of DVD releases to get caught up on all the good programming happening lately. I'm still in shock that there's so much good stuff. I'm old enough to remember when TV was a huge empty wasteland of shallow, inane sit-coms and cookie cutter dramas. Yeah, there's still bad stuff out there-- I honestly despise "reality shows" with every fiber of my being-- but there are just as many good shows as bad, and that, I believe, is a first.
One such example: AMC's Hell on Wheels. Man, this show sends me.
First of all, we haven't had an ongoing Western on TV, that I know of, since Deadwood. Secondly, Hell on Wheels really, really delivers. In fact, it's better than Deadwood. I'll explain why in a moment.
The story centers initially on Cullen Bohannon, a former Confederate soldier on a mission of vengeance. He's tracking the ex-Union soldiers who murdered his wife and son, and his journey takes him to "Hell on Wheels", the mobile encampment of workers, whores, shill artists and hangers-on that follow the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Once there, Bohannon encounters Doc Durant, the railroad tycoon obsessed with building his 40 miles of rail at all costs, Lily Bell, a widow who's husband (before being killed by Indians) was Durant's surveyor, Elam Ferguson, the former slave now trying to find his place in this new world of so-called freedom, and many other remarkably interesting characters.
It's these characters that make the show work so well. Each one of them is clearly written, each one has his/her own agenda and their individual arcs are concise and fascinating.
This was, I think, one of the problems with Deadwood, that Hell on Wheels manages to avoid: peripheral characters that don't seem to have any real purpose. Very often on Deadwood, especially in its second season, things seemed to flounder around aimlessly. Characters were introduced that didn't have any clear motivation (or if they did, it was rather dull). Hell on Wheels, on the other hand, doesn't have any characters that feel unimportant. Everyone has a role to play, and everyone has an interesting story of their own. That simple thing can make or break a TV show.
With Deadwood, I often got the feeling that the writers were making it up as they went, without any clear idea about where they were headed. That's the kiss of death for an ongoing drama. Every episode of Hell on Wheels feels tight and fast, with a real sense of purpose. You feel like things are moving toward something huge, all the time. And as a viewer, I felt emotionally invested in every single player in this saga.
But there's more than just great character stuff in Hell on Wheels. The show also delivers on all those things that you want to see in a Western. There's plenty of action. Fisticuffs, gunfights, battles with Indians... unlike Deadwood, which seemed dead-set on not giving us any tried-and-true Western scenarios, Hell on Wheels is fairly brimming over with them. It's a show that, even though it has a very modern sensibility, is also firmly rooted in the Western tradition.
Season Two is starting pretty soon, and for the first time in a while I almost regret not having cable. I'll have to wait for the DVD release, just like The Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire. But I guess I can wait if I have to. If it's half as good as Season One, it'll be worth the wait.
Friday, July 27, 2012
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
By Vincent Zandri
A man walks a concrete sidewalk in the steely dark of a cold, wet night. He’s got a lit cigarette dangling from his lips and the collar on his worn, black leather coat is pulled up high to block the biting wind and the memory of a kiss that has left red lipstick tattooed to his neck. It will be the last kiss he ever gets from that woman whose name he is already trying to forget and perhaps will after his fourth of fifth shot of Jack. Meanwhile the rain picks up and the red, white and blue neon blinks on and off again with all the sad rhythm of a breaking heart. Steam rises up from the grates as if the devil has been summoned and the good Lord above is nowhere to be seen. Not in this God forbidden city. Not in Albany.
People ask me why I like to write noir. But it’s kind of like asking me why I like to breathe. It is a genre to which I am naturally attracted, just like I’m a sucker for a tall, meaty, big browned-eyed brunette with long, lush dark hair that drapes down her back hiding a small tattoo of a skull and crossbones. If any kind of literature were to attract me with all the pheromone-like biological power of a wild sex act, it would be noir or hard-boiled mystery. It’s not only the black and whiteness of the genre, the good versus evil, the shadows that paint themselves on the sides of concrete and glass buildings and always with the consciousness of the death that is surely lurking right around the corner. It’s not the sex or the existentialism of waking up alone and hung over in a warehouse loft apartment located in the now abandoned port of Albany. What attracts me to the genre always is one man (or woman) who is up against it all and has no bloody choice but to try and dig his way out of it. It is using violence as a means towards an end. Violence which in all cases is justified and, from an author’s point of view, as carefully choreographed as the ballet for Romeo and Juliet.
Someone once said that the only truly original American literature is the hard-boiled novel. This is of course debatable. But when a literary trailblazer like Ernest Hemingway comes up with noir classics such as To Have And Have Not, The Killers, and After The Storm, you know there must be some semblance of truth to it. It is a genre which is only now emerging from its infant years to something more mature and interesting. We now have vampire noir, historical noir, future/sci fi noir, and even Amish noir. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.
I don’t snottily defend noir or tough guy fiction any more than I bite the nose off romance or literary writing. It is all literary to me, as it is all romantic. I validate its existence every time I complete a new novel featuring the likes of Jack “Keeper” Marconi (The Innocent) or Richard “Dick” Moonlight (Murder By Moonlight). Rather, the genre validates me as an American writer who is adding a chapter to a large and distinguished pantheon of writers which includes the publisher of this blog, Heath Lowrance, Dash Hammett, Robert B. Parker, Jim Crumley, Les Edgerton, Charlie Huston and so many, many more. I wish I could say that I will live long enough to read all the noir greats and greats-to-be. Who does? But I will continue to devour as much as I possibly can while I continue to write new noir novels like a man possessed.
And at the end of a long work day of writing a brand new chapter two-fingered style, a bottle of scotch to my right and a lit cig set on the ashtray on the other, only the light from the bare light bulb hanging over my head to illuminate the studio apartment, I will head out to the street. It will be cold and a light drizzle will coat my face while I light up a new cigarette with the business end of my zippo. I’ll pull up the collar on my leather coat and head for the corner gin mill. You know, the one with the electric sign thunder-bolted to the brick exterior that reads BAR in flashing red neon letters. I will be alone with thoughts filled with violence, sexy but dangerous women, and pure loneliness. The kind of loneliness that strikes at the core of your rib cage and leaves a pit in your empty stomach. But then, that’s the point isn’t it? And that’s the life of a noir writer.
Vincent Zandri is the author of the bestselling noir novels, The Innocent, Godchild, and The Remains. His new novels Moonlight Rises, Blue Moonlight and Murder By Moonlight will soon be published by Thomas and & Mercer. For more information on Vincent Zandri and all his novels, go to WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM
Sunday, July 22, 2012
IN PRAISE OF BREVITY: a long-winded appreciation of shorter books with detours into screenwriting, knife sales and a few cheap shots at my gracious host
by Eric Beetner
While we wait (and wait, and wait) for Heath to finish up his Fightcard entry, he has graciously given over his blog real estate to me to ramble on a while. Rambling is not typically something I do. I’m a reticent kind of guy. I’m sure many coworkers consider me aloof and odd since I go to lunch each day by myself clutching a book under my arm. But that’s their issue, not mine.
And I try not to be long winded in my writing. I have five books out in the world right now and three of them are novellas. I freely admit to reaching for shorter books when I’m book shopping. I enjoy brevity and focus to my writing.
Many times I think the novella is the perfect length for a story. They remind me of movies. No one would accuse a great two-hour movie of being only half a story, would they? Hell, no. Figure if you go by the minute-a-page guideline for a movie script that’s a 120 page screenplay. I’ve written screenplays, sixteen of them to be exact. Some for money. I’m here to tell you, 120 pages of script format is about 60 pages of prose. That’s way shorter than even the 25,000 word Fightcard books (which usually end up more like 26-27 thousand.)
So if you think you can’t tell a fully fleshed out story in that amount of time, I have a several million Star Wars fans who will disagree to your face with a homemade light saber and while you’re writhing on the ground they will taunt you with that Ewoks song.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about Pulp and what is it, how do you know it, how do you write it, etc. It’s taken the place of the What is Noir discussion that is so played out.
I’m not trying to write pulp. Really, I’m not. Most of what I do happens to fall easily into that category, but only because I’m writing to entertain myself first, the audience second. That’s not as snobby as it sounds. I only mean to say I don’t try to write what I think might be the next (fill in the blank), I only write a story I want to read and that is the only way I can be sure to do my best work, because I will feel the most connection to the story I’m telling. See? Not snobby, right?
In my brief, but brilliant flameout as a screenwriter, my undoing came when my then agent started steering me toward what she felt the “market was looking for”. Deadly words for any writer. If you go chasing after the elusive “next thing” or even try to capitalize on the current zeitgeist, you may as well pack a bag, head off into the woods, and search for Bigfoot. You’re about as likely to be successful.
For me, I tried my damndest to do it. I tried to fit my square peg in a round hole, but I couldn’t figure it out. I did not do well being told what and how to write a story. Kudos to those who can, by the way. I do not fault any Hollywood writer or novelist for tapping into what an audience wants. I wanted to be able to do it, really I did. It’s not selling out or anything like that if you enjoy writing it and can please the audience. It takes a highly skilled writer to be a bit of a chameleon.
If I could write a deep, insightful novel about the human condition that everyone found pieces of themselves embedded into the main character – I’d write that right away. Not gonna happen, though.
I’ve learned my lesson and my limitations.
I’m damn lucky enough to have a job I enjoy that makes me a decent living so I’m not reliant on writing for income. If that ever happened, great. But for now I’m independent and stupid enough to solely write for my own pleasure first and then try to find an audience – something I seem to be inept at doing, but then again I was a film major in college, not a marketing and PR major.
In fact, (told you this was a ramble) I’ve only had one sales job in my entire life and that was selling knives part time in college. I don’t think I was particularly good at it, either. I know I never stabbed a customer while handing them a 10-inch carving knife to look at. And I never was stabbed myself, a risk the manager warned me of only after I had the job. I still want to use that in a book someday. Guy goes into a knife store, asks to see that kick-ass SOG with the six-inch blade. Turns it over in his hands, then stabs the sales clerk (for our narrative a nerdy college kid) and runs out. Free knife.
So I don’t sell well. Kinda like writing a big blockbuster screenplay, it’s not for lack of trying.
Back to the novella. What I’ve tried to do, and what all the writers on the Fightcard team have done, is tell a complete story that cuts out all the fat, gets to the action, and – in screenwriting terms – cuts to the chase.
Now that I’ve written a sequel to Split Decision, my first Fightcard book, you can read SD first and then follow it up with A Mouth FullOf Blood and you get a full novel’s worth of words if that’s your thing. Very soon I’ll even be packaging them together in one print volume kinda like the old Ace doubles from the real pulp era.
If you like ‘em short and tough as nails, check out Dig TwoGraves. If you like your pulp noir vintage-style check out my first two novels with JB Kohl, One Too Many BlowsTo The Head and Borrowed Trouble.
So that’s my sales pitch, buried here at the end.
Really, my best selling point I can give you is that you’ll need something to read while we’re waiting for Bluff City Brawler from Heath. Seriously, what is taking this guy so long? It’s only a novella!
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Sometimes we forget how isolated we are, as readers and/or writers, I think. We’ve surrounded ourselves with like-minded folks, folks who we feel a bond with because we share many of the same loves, literary and otherwise.
In my case, most of the people I talk to (on line and in so-called “real life”) are speculative fiction fans, crime fiction geeks, pulp afficiandos, western readers, horror-hounds, etc.
Basically, people who enjoy GOOD WRITING.
So I’ve gotten used to seeing posts on the old FB about stuff I like and am interested in. I’ve grown accustomed to hearing the latest snarky but spot-on slam against whatever the latest literary fad/atrocity is rocking the world’s boat. Because of that, I’ve become a little removed from the tastes of the average casual reader.
Case in point: yesterday alone, on the social medias (and forgive me for referring to them so often; they really make up a good ninety percent of my interaction with the rest of the world) I saw four different things poking fun at or dissecting that 50 SHADES OF GREY book. I’m fine with that—it is, after all, just the latest in a long line of hugely popular books that most people with taste like to make fun of, including me.
Also yesterday, a friend of mine who is NOT a writer or even a constant reader posted about how much she was digging 50 SHADES OF GREY and couldn’t wait to read the next one. A whole shitload of folks liked her post and commented in absolute agreement. They were amazingly enthusiastic. It sort of reminded me about how insulated we are as so-called serious readers. We are the minority, big-time.
And maybe we’re even snobs? It’s totally possible.
But is being a snob about reading necessarily a bad thing?
We’ve all had this conversation:
“Hey, have you read NAME OF LATEST BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL DESIGNED FOR NON-READERS BEFORE THE INEVITABLE MOVIE TIE-IN?”
“No, I haven’t read that.”
“What? But I thought you were some big reader. You should check it out, I’ll lend you my copy.”
“No, that’s okay. It’s not really my thing.”
“Oooh, I see. Not cool enough for you? Man, you’re such a literary snob. You haven’t even read it but you’ve already judged it, right?”
There’s nowhere to go with that argument. They’ve got you dead to rights. You ARE a literary snob.
Or, in other words, you are someone who has read enough that you know what’s going to work for you and what won’t. You have developed enough sense to spot crap from twenty miles away. You have a fully-functional bullshit detector.
You don’t need to be gored in the testicles by a bull to know that it’s something you won’t enjoy, not one bit.
Addendum: A couple weeks ago, my friend Jason Stuart wrote a great blog post about this same subject. Read it here: Yeah, but have you read it?
So to the fans of disposable flavor-of-the-season fiction, you’re a snob. So be it. There are worse things than being a snob.
The irony of that is that readers of what we refer to for lack of a better label as serious literary fiction turn their noses up at us genre fiction fans.
Here’s another conversation you’ve probably had:
“Hey, Mr. Lit, have you read GENRE CLASSIC THAT WAS CALLED TRASH WHEN IT FIRST CAME OUT 60 YEARS AGO BUT IS NOW TREASURED BY PULP GEEKS EVERYWHERE?”
“Uh, no. I don’t think so.”
“I’ll lend it to you.”
“Save it. I don’t read lurid, plot-driven stuff, only character-based, non-linear narrative with no punctuation and pages and pages of interior monologue.”
Seems we’re only the second tier of snobbery, us genre fans (although I should point out that I don’t dismiss so-called literary stuff the same way I dismiss flavor-of-the-season stuff—maybe I don’t know my literary place or something.)
My point is this: we are right. The lit types and the pop-trash types on either side of us are wrong. It’s okay to say it out loud, even if it does isolate you. I for one would rather be isolated with readers with good taste than roaming amongst the herds who don’t get it.