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.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Lately I've been trying to identify my most obvious flaws and work toward fixing them. You ever do that? I mean, consciously work toward making yourself a better person? Most of the time, I imagine, we do it instinctively, but on this occasion I'm making an effort.
Anger, that's my big one. I have a lot of rage boiling in my gut-- rage over horrible tragedies in the world, rage over stupid people making stupid decisions for the rest of us, rage over circumstances I have no control over. It simmers inside me for long periods of time, and then, without warning, sloshes over and out of me and I find myself ranting and raging at a world that's not really listening.
Folks who know me would probably tell you that I'm a very calm, easy-going guy and that it takes an awful lot to stress me out or get me worked up. That's because I tend to internalize my strongest emotions. The only time I really cut loose, emotionally, is on the page. More about that in a minute.
It doesn't help anything when I rage off the page and in the real world. In fact, the only discernible effect I've noticed is that it takes everything out of me and makes me feel awful. My anger seems to effect nothing and nobody except me-- and in a very negative way.
So. Time to reign that rage in and learn to calm the fuck down, right?
One thing I've found that really helps when you make the decision to be a better human being: thoroughly examine the ideals you love, pick them apart, throw away the ones that prove meaningless and focus hard on the few that remain. Write them down. Know them, live them.
My ideals boil down to four essentials:
I have my own ideas about what each of those four things mean, but I won't bore you with that. You probably have your own definitions, and I'm sure they're fine the way they are.
Now, having said that--- none of this applies to my work as a writer. Reason flies right out the goddamn window. Compassion is nowhere to be seen. Kindness? Pffh. And truth, well... truth rarely exists.
You know what there's a lot of, though? Anger. Wild, raging, uncontrollable anger. I'd like to say it's therapeutic, but that might be bullshit. It's just fun.
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?