Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bricks, Mortar, and Crap

Stopped by the local Barnes & Noble yesterday. By the time I left, I was having serious reservations about ever going to one again. The whole experience was an exercise in mind-numbing frustration.

Is my taste in reading SO specific that the local big chain brick and mortar book store has absolutely NOTHING I want?

I’m fully aware that I’m not going to find something by, say, Dan J. Marlowe or Peter Rabe on the shelves there. For that matter, I know I’m not going to stumble across anything even by modern writers I dig and who are outside the mainstream, like Anthony Neil Smith or Charlie Williams. That’s too much to ask of a populist business like B&N. I don’t like it, but I’ve reconciled myself to that fact.

But as I wandered through the store, ever more desperate to find JUST ONE THING that interested me as a reader, I began to realize something basic. Simply, the big brick and mortar chain book stores don’t give a shit about real readers. Not really.

This was my experiment with them. First: let’s look for some Joe Lansdale. Any luck? Well, they had a paperback copy of BAD CHILI. That’s it. Nothing else from Champion Joe. So I shifted gears—let’s see if Kim Newman’s latest is in stock. The answer? Nada. No Kim Newman, not even his classic ANNO DRACULA.

I decided to edge my way slowly toward mainstream. How about Ken Bruen? He’s sorta/kinda big, right? And he has a newish book out. Not at B&N, he doesn’t. Not a single book from Mr. Bruen.

By this time I was getting discouraged but had made up my mind that I was NOT leaving this store empty handed. How about Jason Starr? Any luck? No. Scott Phillips? No. Daniel Woodrell? No, no, no.

Finally I had an idea. Stephen King. What book store on earth is not LOADED with books from Stephen King? I’d been wanting to pick up a copy of his collection JUST AFTER SUNSET for some time, so I meandered over to the K’s.

Well, I’ll give them this: they had every single book Stephen King ever wrote, right there. Almost three shelves full. Every single one, that is, except JUST AFTER SUNSET.

I stood there staring at the rows of King tomes for a few minutes, thinking the book I was looking for might just appear if I concentrated hard enough. Didn’t happen. On a whim, I made my way over to the C’s, thinking Albert Camus. I already own a copy of THE STRANGER, but what the hell. Maybe I’d get a spare copy to lend out or something.

No such luck. Nothing by Albert Camus on the shelves. NOTHING. Albert Camus, man!

What I DID find at B&N, though, was a metric ton of space devoted to the handful of books written by Stephanie Meyer. Lots of books by James Patterson and his personal crew of ghost writers. Big displays filled with THE HUNGER GAME and its associates. Books with glaring portraits of television and pop music celebs on the covers.

And oh, yeah, a place where you could buy many different varieties of over-priced coffee drinks and scones.

Are my reading tastes THAT specific that I can’t find anything that interests me? Or have the brick and mortar chain stores let real readers down?

When Borders went toes-up, I read a lot of stuff on line from folks mourning the great loss, but my feeling at the time was, well, fuck ‘em. They did it to themselves. If I felt any sadness about losing Borders, I felt it LONG before they closed their doors, years ago, when they made the business decision of catering to non-readers and flavor-of-the-month cultural fads. Many folks blamed the advent of on-line stores like Amazon for the decline of the brick and mortars, but that’s a cop-out.

You know why Amazon is doing so well? Because they have a terrific selection. They have what you WANT.

So Borders? I gave up on them a long time ago.

And now I’m giving up on Barnes & Noble.

I still love the thrill of finding a book I want on a book shelf in an actual store, but the only time I get that thrill anymore is at used and rare shops, where they still care about books and the people who read them. Between those little independent stores and Amazon, I manage to do pretty well.

Oh, and by the way, I did manage to snag a magazine before I left Barnes & Noble yesterday. So it wasn’t at total loss. But the clerk told me they wouldn’t be carrying it much longer. Why?

“It doesn’t move. We need to make more room for the magazines people want to read.”

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The "NO RULES" break-down, finally

I meant to do this a long time ago, didn't, forgot about it, remembered again, didn't care, cared again, and now finally I'm doing it.

Tail end of last year I ran a series of guest posts here called "No Rules", inviting a whole bunch'a writers, bloggers and critics I really liked to stop by, and spout off about whatever they felt like. If I may say so, the whole thing was an unqualified success; not a dud in the bunch.

I want to thank each and every one of the contributors (a thank you that's WAY past due, I know). I was honored to have you.

Here are the links to each of them:

Charlie Stella

Katy O'Dowd

Anthony Neil Smith

Kimmy Dee

Ron Warren

Ray Banks

Charlie Williams

Allan Leverone

Eva Dolan

Thomas Pluck

Luca Veste

Pete Risley

David Cranmer

Benoit Lelievre

Nigel Bird

Troy Lambert

Mike Dennis

Matthew C. Funk

Jennifer Thomson

R. Thomas Brown

Dani Amore

Aaron Philip Clark

Chris Rhatigan

Jason Michel

Vincent Zandri

Looking back on these posts now, I'm still a little amazed at the high level of quality and insight. Once again, thanks to all of you for adding a little class to the joint. Maybe we can do it again sometime.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Just a couple days ago, the amazing Julia Madeleine released her new book THE TRUTH ABOUT SCARLET ROSE. I had the pleasure of reading it shortly before it came out and can tell you straight up you need to read this. It's Julia's strongest, most mature work to date.

Also, as an added bonus, the prequel-- a short story called SCARLET SINS-- is also available. If you like THE TRUTH ABOUT SCARLET ROSE, you'll find a very cool and different perspective on the novel with the story.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Scheming Femmes, 3-Legged Dogs and Harry Truman

Three short stories currently available on Kindle that I can heartily recommend...

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Eyes- Mike Dennis
A casino dealer falls under the spell of an alluring femme, knowing full-well that she’s using him for some nefarious purpose—but he’s so smitten he doesn’t even care. Dennis wows with this tight and fast short story that incorporates almost all of the hallmarks of classic noir and still manages to throw a few curveballs to keep you guessing. No new ground broken here, but the execution is so nearly flawless that you won’t care. Great story.

Harry Truman vs the Aliens-Emerson LaSalle
You are, of course, familiar with the classic pulp work of Emerson LaSalle, right? Long unappreciated and unavailable, LaSalle’s work is finally getting its due and will no doubt usher in a new generation of fans. The title of this story pretty much sums it up: Aliens invade Earth, but the mistake is theirs when they try to destroy America. Not on President Harry Truman’s watch, alien scum.

Hilda’s Big Day Out-Allan Guthrie
Hilda is a lovable and friendly three-legged dog who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets caught up in the half-baked plans of some sleazy kidnappers. The story is told from Hilda’s P.O.V., and that’s what makes it all so damn charming and fun, elevating what could have been a fairly standard noir-ish tale into something truly memorable. I know, I know—it sounds kinda cutsey. But leave it to Allan Guthrie to make something like this work. Personally, I wouldn’t mind more Hilda stories.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Harry Shannon and THE WEIRD, WEIRD WEST

One of the hardest reading itches to scratch is the “weird western” itch. Honestly, there’s just not tons of great weird westerns out there. That’s frustrating, because sometimes, as a reader, I really really want to read a supernatural-tinged gunslinger tale. I know. My reading urges are VERY specific.

So you can imagine how happy I was to come across WEIRD, WEIRD WEST, an absolutely top-notch collection from the great Harry Shannon. After reading it, I can tell you: itch scratched, man.

WEIRD, WEIRD WEST consists of five beautifully crafted and creepy stories, all with the great American West as the backdrop. Most of them take place in the mythical Wild West, a couple extend that concept to the modern day West. But they all have the same sense of eerie isolation, trading quite nicely on the uneasiness of the open plains, the pitch black desert night, the sinister solitude and uncertainty of the frontier.

“The Names of the Wicked” actually did something to me that’s almost impossible to do to my jaded sensibilities: it kept me up that night. The imagery in this story is evocative and horrifying and more than a little Robert E. Howard-ish. “Them Bones” is also chockfull of images that stay with you, most notably the image of a man hanging suspended in mid-air, his bones mysteriously snapping one by one, his screams echoing through the night. Jesus, that’s powerful stuff.

That’s Harry Shannon’s real strength, this uncanny knack for strong, disturbing images that linger in your mind and take on a life of their own outside the story.

Added bonus: Shannon includes a preview of his novel CLAN, which promises to be every bit as moody and intense as WEIRD, WEIRD WEST. Can’t wait to read it.

I’d like to see more work like this, I really would. Because I can feel that itch starting up again just thinking about this superior collection.

Friday, February 10, 2012

My Friend Billy Makes a Confession

Me and Billy were best friends for about five years before we had our falling out. It was all on account of his confession. Man, I wish he’d never spilled to me.

We met at the wedding of a mutual friend, had a few beers while our wives were off gossiping with the new bride. We were both amazed and delighted at all the stuff we had in common.

Billy said, “You know what I love? Laurel and Hardy. Man, they make me laugh.”

“Me too!” I said. “You know what else? Sometimes I like to order pizza with no sauce on it.”

“No kidding!” Billy said. “Me too!”

And it went on like that. We both loved British crime movies. We both loved spy novels. We both loved the Dick Van Dyke show. Having been a loner all my life, I’d never experienced that sort of male camaraderie before. It was like I’d found my long lost brother or something.

So for five years, Billy was my best pal, and we made a point of hanging out at least twice a week or so, drinking beer, shooting the shit, watching TV.

And then one night, after drinking probably more than he should, Billy looked at me with blood-shot eyes and said, “Hey, man. I… I have a confession to make.”

“What is it, bro?”

“This is really hard for me to tell you, man. But… well, my name’s not really Billy Kingman.”

“What? What the hell are you talking about?”

“I hope we’ll still be friends after I tell you this…”

“Of course we will,” I said. “You’re my best pal, Billy. You always will be.”

He nodded, and I saw tears forming in his eyes. He said, “Okay. I’m not really Billy Kingman. My real name is… my real name is Adolph Hitler.”

“What?” I said, hardly believing my ears.

“I’m Hitler, bro. Leader of the Nazi Party. I started World War II, tried to take over Europe, and killed millions of Jews. I’m… I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before.”

Well, it was heart-breaking, what can I tell you? I felt horrible. I felt betrayed. I ordered him out of my house right then and there, and he left, tears streaming.

That was over a year ago now. I still think of him sometimes, my pal Billy. He's probably pretty lonely. But goddamnit, he was Hitler. How could I have ever looked at him the same way again?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Used Book Shop Weirdos

98% of used book store owners are weird. This is an exact percentage, I looked it up.

Like many writer-types, I worked at a couple different used book stores when I was younger, and no lie, it’s the cake-walk job of all cake-walk jobs. Customers would come in looking for some specific book and you’d take great pride in knowing EXACTLY what they were talking about and where on the shelves it was hidden (if you hadn’t already nabbed it for yourself). Sometimes you’d get some shmuck who wanted the latest literary atrocity by Mitch Albom or someone, and because you were young and snarky and judgmental in the way that only a young reader could be, you’d take great pains to insult them oh-so-subtly. I’m not proud of that behavior now, mind you, but I’d be lying if I said I was above it then.

Other times, you’d get a savvy reader looking for some rare first edition Joe Lansdale or David Goodis or Robert E. Howard, and there would follow an immediate bond. That customer would become a regular. Sometimes they’d stop in just to hang out and talk books.

When you weren’t helping customers (or making fun of them) you’d be buying books from walk-in sellers, or shelving them. And if you like books, those were both chores you didn’t mind. To this day, I enjoy re-arranging my book shelves at home sometimes, and sort of miss having a big store to do that in.

But back to my point: used book store owners. Yeah, they’re weird. The ones I worked for back in the day were weird, and the ones who own the stores I go to now are weird.

And weird in so many different ways. One store I stop in pretty frequently is run by this older guy who seems cranky and put-out by the mere existence of customers—whenever he’s asked a question, he heaves a world-weary sigh, forces himself from the behind the counter, and makes a big show out of showing exactly where the book is that the pesky customer is looking for. As long as you don’t engage him, he’s okay, though.

Another owner I know runs an over-priced little shop in a trendy town, and he’s meek beyond all reason. When you talk to him (usually interrupting his reading of the latest Chuck Palahniuk or James Franzen) he gets a deer-in-the-headlights look, scurries out like a little mouse and directs you right to the area you’re looking for. He won’t look you in the eyes.

One book shop in Kalamazoo is run by the gabbiest owner I’ve ever seen. When I told him I was visiting from Detroit, he started quizzing me on the city’s history, saying things like “Detroit was originally a French fort, wasn’t it?” or “Is it true 8 Mile is the great dividing line?” and then hanging on my answers as if the very future of Detroit depended on it.

Another place I go to is run by the quintessential cat lady. There are at least three cats running around the store, and you have to be careful not to step on them, as they tend to sneak up on you. And the owner just sort of stares at you the whole time you’re in there. Creepy.

Anyway, you get the idea. Browsing used book stores is still one of my favorite past-times, even when (especially when?) I’m not looking for anything in particular. I just wonder sometimes what it is about working with used books that attracts such social misfits. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that readers are such insular people, inward-looking for the most part. They’re more comfortable with fictional worlds and characters than they are with reality.
I can’t blame them. The real world is pretty much a giant drag of a place, after all.

Truthfully, if I ever run across a used book store owner who ISN’T a weirdo, I think I’d be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Blogs/Sites I Dig

I've got some deadlines coming up end of this month and into the beginning of March, and so will be pretty scarce around here for a while. So it seems like a good idea to do something I've been meaning to do for some time now-- point out a handful of blogs and websites that I really enjoy, and that will no doubt keep you well-entertained.

Probably my favorite blog these days is Cullen Gallagher's Pulp Serenade. Well-written and insightful posts about pulp fiction from a man who knows what he's talking about.

Achilles Girl in Action Land is dedicated to Asian cinema, and has lots of flair and wit.

The Weird West Emporium is exactly what it sounds like. Great stuff.

FlickChick's A Person in the Dark is a well-informed, affectionate site dedicated to old movies of every genre. Her love of film is infectious.

If you grew up reading comics in the '70's, or have any interest in the sordid history of comics, Diversions of the Groovy Kind is huge fun.

Kimmy Dee's Turd Mountain is crass and rude and never fails to make me laugh out loud.

Benoit Lelievre's Dead End Follies is a sharp, opinionated blog focused on book and movie reviews. You may not always agree with him, but he's bold in his assessments.

Charlie Williams is one of my favorite writers currently working, and his blog is always fun and interesting.

Ditto Ray Banks. Banks has the uncanny knack of writing posts that reflect things I also happened to be thinking about, but doing it much better than I ever could. The Saturday Boy is always one of the first blogs I look at.

And that'll do for now, I reckon. I realize these blogs reflect my own personal interests (old crime fiction paperback originals, comic books, old movies, toilet humor) but I suspect you'll enjoy them as well.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Announcement regarding TP

Many of you, no doubt, already know this, but it deserves a general announcement.
As of last night, I've requested that Trestle Press pull from sale the titles I've published through them. That would be "That Damned Coyote Hill" and the two "Deadland USA" episodes.

I'm not going to make a big deal out of this here at the blog, but in anticipation of the inevitable questions, I'll give you the short answer: there has been a general storm of controversy regarding the covers Trestle Press uses, and whether or not they've been obtained in an above-board manner. Here's the link to the Deviant Art site where all this first began spilling out.

In solidarity with my fellow writers (and in sympathy with graphic artists who, it seems, have had their work used for profit without permission) I'm cutting ties with Trestle Press.

I'll make another announcement when those stories find a new home.