One Bite at a Time




Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Absolute Zero Cool–A Review

I deliberately avoid reviews of books I know I’m going to read. Too many are thinly disguised book reports, recounting the major plot points until a couple of paragraphs at the end where the reviewer tells you if he liked it or not, and what he thinks it’s about. Most reviews, especially of the unpaid, online variety (like this one) leave the teacher in me yearning to give two grades. (“C+ for the content, but A- for the grammar and spelling. You can do better.”)

Because I don’t read reviews, I came to Declan Burke’s Absolute Zero Cool expecting something along the lines of Elmore Leonard channeled through several pints of Guinness. I’d read Dec’s previous books (Eightball Boogie, The Big O, and Crime Always Pays) and liked them a lot. His characters are fun, the dialog crackles, and the plots unfold well.

I knew the premise: a character from an unfinished novel comes to an author who closely resembles Declan Burke (even having written novels called The Big O and Crime Always Pays) and demands to be resurrected from the limbo into which unfulfilled fictional characters are cast. He’s different now, more likeable, worth working with/on again. Yes, he wants to blow up a hospital; no one’s perfect. The novel is the interplay between the author and the character. Sounded to me like a perfect set-up for someone of Dec’s gifts, playing with the author/character relationship, tweaking those who swear their characters “speak to them,” and their writing is little more than transcribing what they’re told in these literary séances.

I was right. I can’t think of anyone else who could have written this book. Hell, I don’t know anyone with the balls to consider writing this book. Certainly not me. All of the characteristics that drew me to his previous work are there, except it’s not Leonard sharing the pints; it’s James Ellroy. This isn’t crime for profit’s sake, with a little hipness thrown in; it’s depravity examining its navel.

The book doesn’t read like Ellroy. Burke wields the rapier where Ellroy uses a baseball bat, the book’s rough lyricism not unlike hearing The Commitments sing “Try a Little Tenderness.” I’m reminded of Ellroy by the darkness of Billy Karlsson’s thoughts and acts, noir-ish yet not completely self-destructive, leaving the reader to wonder at times who’s head he’s in, the author’s or the character’s, even though we know they’re both the same.

I stopped dog-earing pages halfway through. Already too much material to efficiently mine for quotes; might as well read the whole thing again. A riff on Tuesdays. A heartbreaking description of miscarriage. Recurring thoughts of sharks and Hitler, of everyday things we don’t like but accept, take them for granted because we all know that’s how things are, even if we won’t admit it. Billy knows, and the perambulations of his thought process drive someone mad. Probably not him; Billy was a nutter on Page One. Maybe it’s the author. Read on, start to follow the logic, to anticipate where it goes next, and the reader can only hope it’s not him.

How good is the writing? This good:

The opening paragraph:

The man at the foot of my bed is too sharply dressed to be anything but a lawyer or a pimp. He is reading, intently, which leads me to believe he is a pimp, as these days lawyers are more usually to be found writing novels than reading them.

When the author’s former agent says one of his books will be translated into Italian and that “Maybe the advance will pay for a weekend in Rome.”

Maybe. If I swim there.

When the author suggests Karlsson wanted to be a writer until repeated rejection turned him sour and led to his dream of blowing up the hospital, Billy replies:

Too narcissistic. Only a writer could be that self-absorbed.

Billy riffing on religion at the scene of an accident:

Priests are up to their oxters in the pus-filled boil of your fear, groping for the maggots they placed there before your birth. The concept of Original Sin is an evil so pure it verges on genius. Even the paedophiles wait for the child to leave the womb.

The author, realizing Billy is no longer fully under his control, if he ever was:

No Billy for three days running now. Maybe he isn’t coming back. Maybe he’s holed up in some garret, feverishly rewriting my life, consulting the story of Moses and Pharaoh for inspiration.

Is this how God felt when Einstein started doodling in the patent office? No wonder he struck Hawking down.

AZC is brilliant and baffling, enjoyable and vexing, funny and disturbing. I finished with much the feeling I get from Ellroy, a sense of “What just happened here?” understanding this is writing on a plane higher than I read. I don’t get it all, but I leave knowing I’ll be back to for another piece before too long.

How do you describe something unlike anything you’ve ever described before? Here’s a suggestion: read Absolute Zero Cool, then try writing a review. Let me know how it goes.

Absolute Zero Cool may be pre-ordered for November delivery at Amazon (US) here.

If you’d rather not wait, Amazon.uk can hook you up here. American Kindle readers can also click here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pleasuring Yourself

Okay, maybe “Pleasing Yourself” would have been a more accurate title, but I got your attention, didn’t I?

James Scott Bell is a regular contributor to Kill Zone, a collaborative blog of crime fiction writers. His posts are always worth reading; today’s post resonated with me, for reasons that will become clear to regular readers here.

The crux of the post is a quote from Edna Ferber:

"Those critics or well-wishers who think that I could have written better than I have are flattering me. Always I have written at the top of my bent at that particular time. It may be that this or that, written five years later or one year earlier, or under different circumstances, might have been the better for it. But one writes as the opportunity and the material and the inclination shape themselves. This is certain: I never have written a line except to please myself. I never have written with an eye to what is called the public or the market or the trend or the editor or the reviewer. Good or bad, popular or unpopular, lasting or ephemeral, the words I have put down on paper were the best words I could summon at the time to express the things I wanted more than anything else to say."

Years before anyone ever dreamed of self-publishing electronic books, Ms. Ferber summarized a key reason for my decision to self-publish more eloquently than I have, or most likely will. (Hell, that was even before Ms. Ferber could have imagined being referred to as “Ms.”)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wild Bill at Temporary Knucksline

The first review of Wild Bill has come in, thanks to Charlie Stella (Johnny Porno, Shakedown, Cheapskates) through his always thought-provoking blog, Temporary Knucksline. Charlie was even thoughtful enough to provide his own blurbable excerpt:

Action packed, loaded with Higgins-like dialogue and clever, Leonard-like plotting, Wild Bill is more than a sure footed debut … it’s wonderful, a GREAT read.

To read Charlie’s entire review, click here. Take advantage of the links to pick up one of Charlie’s books while you’re there. If you like Wild Bill, you’ll love Charlie’s stuff.

Many thanks to Charlie, not least for his generous offer to allow me to co-write an anthology with him. Details to follow.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wild Bill is Available for Kindle and Nook

Those of you who follow the news closely enough may have heard a hurricane will strike the East Coast this weekend. Those of you who have experienced hurricanes know they can be damned inconvenient, especially when they fall on weekends. Everyone is pretty much confined to their homes, hoping the power doesn’t go out.

With this potential denial of entertainment in mind, we (okay, I) have decided not to wait for August 29 for Wild Bill’s release . It’s available for download now, both for Kindle and Nook.

Don’t delay. The power could go out at any time this weekend, and you’re going to need something to read.  Don’t risk the chagrin of realizing too late you could have downloaded Wild Bill for your Kindle or Nook, but now it’s too late, as your home router is down.

Only $2.99. That’s less than the cost of a gallon of the gas you’ll save by not driving around this weekend. I can’t offer a better deal than that.

Did I mention it’s available now for both Kindle and Nook?

A Sample Scene from Wild Bill

(Wild Bill will be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble later this week.)

A taste from Wild Bill, to show a book that’s generally serious in tone can have some fun, too. No spoilers.

CHAPTER 33

Ben Borowski had the blues.

“You gonna tell us what’s up, or not?” Will tipped back his chair, heels on the desk. Eleven o’clock, and Ben hadn’t said ten words all day. Will had mixed emotions about drawing Ben out. Most days he’d be thinking up a fake call to get him out of the office, shut him up for a few minutes. “What happened? One of the dancers at Heavenly Bodies say you looked like her dad?”

The look from Ben stopped Will rocking his chair. He suppressed most of a grin, gave anyone in the office who wanted to listen time to gather. “Come on, Benny. Out with it. You know we’re not going to let it rest until you tell us.”

Ben glanced around the room, saw the usual suspects. Amanda Dalrymple. Fa, already turning a chair around so he could lean on the back to listen. Couple of guys from the Sal Enna team, in to compare notes. Will waved to Mike Satriale, on the phone in his office. Satriale ignored him, already in an animated discussion. Will extended his right arm in Ben's direction, wagged three fingers toward himself.

“Last night’s my night to take Shannon to dinner, right?” Ben divorced a year; his four-year-old daughter lived with the ex. “We go to Fuddruckers so she can mutilate her food and eat half an ounce of meat. Her mother’s on a vegetarian jag this month and it’ll piss her off when she hears where we went. So we walk out and there’s this Starbucks across the street, and Shannon wants one of those cookie things—what do they call them?—biscottis? Something like that. I think they taste like stale bread, but she loves them. I say, fine, I’ll get a hot chocolate, get her some milk to wash the thing down. We’ll be ten minutes late getting home. Not a crisis.”

“Why’d you get hot chocolate?” Fa said. “It was eighty degrees yesterday.”

“What else am I going to get? Coffee’s just as hot.”

“Iced coffee, Ben.” Amanda tilted her head, made a “yummy” face. “That iced shaken coffee is to die for.”

“Or iced tea, even,” Fa said.

“Or pop.” Will enjoyed having help to agitate Ben. Amanda and Fa were working out just fine. “Don’t they sell pop there?”

Ben faced all three for a second each, not sure where to start. He chose Will. “Not like you mean. They have stuff they call pop, but it’s not like anything I ever drank. I like hot chocolate, okay? If it makes you feel any better, let’s say I had an iced tea. Now can I tell the story you couldn’t live without?”

“Iced tea and biscotti?” Fa learned fast. “You serious?”

“I’m not eating the fucking biscotti. Shannon is. I’m just getting something to—”

“You’re not going to eat anything?” Will said.

“I just ate at Fuddruckers. Do you want to hear the story or don’t you?”

“Yes, we want to hear the story,” Will said. “You’re just doing a shitty job telling it, is all.”

Ben waited for quiet, checked every face in turn. The two agents from the Enna squad stood against the wall with semi-suppressed smiles. Ben’s stories were legend, especially with Will to disrupt them.

“We’re in there, Shannon’s eating her cookie—with some cold, white, whole, Vitamin D milk,” Ben said, glaring at Will when it looked like he might interrupt. “I’m drinking my hot chocolate—I mean iced tea—and this little girl from the next table starts talking to Shannon. I don’t pay much attention—it’s two little girls, they’re getting along—then the mother turns around to see what the kids are up to, and she’s hot. Long, black hair, beautiful face, pouty lips, nice, snug sweater over a great rack. I’m thinking she might be a little young, then I’m thinking she’s old enough to have a kid the same age as mine, what the hell?

“I start talking to her, work it around so she knows I’m with the Bureau—nice, stable, profession, background check already done—and I find out she works at Hooters on Wells Street. I start to say she’s perfect for it, but I catch myself in time.” This spoken to Amanda, who nodded approval. “Turns out she’s seen me in there, recognizes me once we get to talking.”

“She should,” Fa said. “You’re probably there more than she is.”

Everyone laughed but Ben. “So we talk. She’s a graduate student at DePaul, English Literature or English History. English something, I don’t remember.”

“I bet you’d remember if it was written on her sweater,” Amanda said. More laughter. Amanda blushed like a kid saying something clever her first time at the grown-up table for Thanksgiving. Ben started to weaken. He was in trouble if even Amanda could tee him up.

“So I ask what she’s doing in Starbucks, and she says she’s waiting for her mother so mom can sit the rug rat while Shelley—that’s the young mother’s name, Shelley—goes to work.”

“Thanks, Ben,” Will said. “I was about to offer twenty bucks if you could remember her name.”

Ben flashed him the finger. “Just then grandma walks in. Nice looking woman. I guess she would be, with a daughter who looks like this girl I’m talking to. We get introduced, and I’m thinking this is great. I get a chance to be nice to Mom, show some respect, this is moving right along.”

Ben stopped, tasted some of his cold, not iced, coffee. Blew his nose. Tied a shoe. Then the other one.

Will said, “Ben.”

Ben said, “So Grandma looks at me kind of funny, and says, ‘Ben Borowski? Are you with the FBI?’ And I’m thinking, sweet, somehow she knows I’m a respected law enforcement professional—” loud coughing from the audience, including the two visitors "—this can’t help but be a good thing. So I say, ‘Yes, that would be me,’ and Grandma says, ‘You don’t recognize me, do you? You took me to my sorority dance at Northwestern when Danny Connolly got sick at the last minute. We were both juniors.’ ”

The room erupted. Agents came from other rooms to see what all the noise was about, stood with confused faces while Ben’s audience wiped tears from their eyes.

“I tell you,” Ben said, “if that’s not a dick shriveler, nothing is.”

Monday, August 22, 2011

Wild Bill: Cast of Characters

(Wild Bill will be available for Amazon Kindle On August 29; other formats to follow. )

Not to sound arrogant or conceited, but Wild Bill shares qualities with the greatest American fiction, writers such as Hemingway, Faulkner, and Twain. Words. Sentences, Paragraphs. Chapters. Grammar, for Chrissake.

And characters. Lots of them. Here’s the lowdown on a few.

Willard “Wild Bill” Hickox. Born Scranton PA. Graduated Penn State University. Joined FBI and; assigned to Los Angeles Field Office, Bank Robbery Detail. Received FBI Medal of Valor for apprehending or killing all four members of the notorious “Space Invaders” robbery crew when he came upon them unexpectedly in the commission of a robbery. Received FBI Medal for Meritorious Achievement for capturing fugitive felon David Wayne Longstreet. Transferred to Chicago Field Office, Organized Crime. Developed sources and informants for over twenty years and earned another Medal for Meritorious Achievement for his participation in Operations Silver Shovel and Family Secrets, among others. Wife, Sheila, killed in one-car accident during Hickox’s tenure in Los Angeles. No children, one brother. Romantically involved with Madeline Klimak.

Francis Albert Ferraro. Born Chicago IL. First arrest at age 15 for armed robbery; charges dropped. Arrested for Assault with Intent to Inflict Grave Bodily Injury for beating a man with a blackjack during a traffic incident; charges dropped when victim recanted. Suspected of five homicides and of ordering at least a dozen more. Criminal activities in connection with organized crime in Chicago include hijacking, extortion, bootlegging liquor and cigarettes, murder, usury, bid-rigging, gambling, auto theft, and pornography. Part of a triumvirate with Carmine Aliquo and Gianni Bevilacqua (both now deceased) that controlled the Chicago “Outfit.” In prison for Possession of a Controlled Substance (Marijuana) when Aliquo died and Bevilacqua assumed all power in Chicago. Engaged in violent dispute with Gianni Bevilacqua, Jr. for control of Outfit. Married, three children.

Gianni Bevilacqua, Jr. Born Oak Park IL. Attended one year at University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; dropped out. First arrest for Indecent Exposure and Public Urination while in college. Second arrest for Aggravated Assault, also in Champaign; charges dropped when victim recanted. Arrested for Possession with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Substance (Cocaine); charges dropped when evidence went missing. Criminal activities include hijacking, extortion, murder, usury, gambling, and distribution of methamphetamine. Currently underboss of Chicago Outfit, engaged in struggle with Frank Ferraro for overall control. Married, two children.

Mitchell Klimak. Born Bridgeview IL. Associate Degree in Criminal Justice, College of DuPage. Detective, Chicago Police Department Organized Crime squad. Awarded Department Commendation for his part in the arrest of known sex offender Alfredo Calderone while working as uniformed officer. Received FOP Distinguished Service Award and Joint Operations Award for participation in task force including city, state, and federal resources. Received Lifesaving Award for leaping into Lake Michigan in full uniform to rescue Michelle Sloane, 15. Allegations of unnecessary force resulted in one suspension, one reprimand, one dismissed charge. Married to Madeline Shea Klimak; two children.

Madeline Shea “Mad” Klimak. Born Morton Grove IL. Graduated with honors from Northwestern University. Six years in uniform, Chicago Police. Twenty years as investigator for Midwestern Casualty Insurance Company as fraud investigator. Nickname shortened from “Maddy” to “Mad” at age four, when she became so enraged by an older brother’s taunts she assaulted him; his injuries required ten stitches. Married to Mitch Klimak; two children.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Prologue to Wild Bill

(Wild Bill will be available for Amazon Kindle on August 29; other formats to follow. Check the Wild Bill blog for updates and extras, such as character sketches and scene samples.)

The ceramic tile felt cool and dry against Gianni Bevilacqua’s cheek. A thread of drool ran from the corner of his mouth to the tile like the first strand of a spider web. Less pain in his left arm and chest now, but Gianni knew he’d die as sure as he’d known he was coming last night with Connie Tortorella.

Rosalie told him not to eat so many cannoli. “Eat some pizelles,” she said every night after dinner. “The cannoli are too rich for your cholesterol.” Cholesterol didn’t scare Gianni. He’d lied, cheated, manipulated, and killed to get to the top of the Chicago Outfit. He usurped authority and took down every tradition that didn’t suit him until he ran the whole operation. A pair of .22s behind his ear figured to get him long before cholesterol.

Gianni alone in the big house, Rosalie at Mass again, praying for his soul. Lot of good that did him, lying on the floor, eight in the morning, barely breathing. She should have prayed for something useful, like a tasty, low-fat cannoli.

Gianni’s soul didn’t interest him. The priests taught him young, everyone was on this earth to suffer for their greater reward in heaven. So be it. Gianni went about God’s work with a clear conscience, doling out suffering as he thought appropriate, sending some to their rewards even faster than God intended. He’d do what he had to if the invisible prick wanted him to suffer in the afterlife, too. How’d the saying go? Heaven doesn’t want me, and hell is afraid I’ll take over. A smile flickered in Gianni’s eyes, too weak to move his lips.

He’d had taken over before. Broke in with Momo Giancana, busting up policy wheels on the West Side before he was twenty. Saw Momo become the front boss, thinking he was the real thing, waving it in people’s faces. The man John Gotti only dreamed of being. Dated a McGuire Sister, fucked the president’s girlfriend, banged Marilyn Monroe on the side. He hung out with Sinatra, for Christ’s sake. Can’t get more big time than that.

Momo’s problem was, the Outfit didn’t go for flash. Tony Accardo had the big house; everything else, low profile. Momo got sent to Mexico to hustle señoritas in semi-retirement until his ego couldn’t take it anymore. He came back to be boss and the Outfit put him out of their misery in his own basement one night.

Gianni had more smarts than that. He stayed tight with everyone: soldiers, street bosses, all the big shooters. Greased skids, arbitrated disputes, made sure things worked like they were supposed to. Everyone thought he was on their side, and he was, when it suited him. When it didn’t, he had a story. It couldn’t be helped. The fat prick lied. They got to him first. I did what I could. I’ll make it up to you.

Luck is where preparation meets opportunity, and Gianni Bevilacqua had been preparing his whole life. When Carmine Aliquo died while consiglieri Frank Ferraro served three federal years, Gianni became the de facto boss. He added crews, promoted his supporters to street bosses, Gianni Junior to underboss. Ferraro came back from Lewisburg a true consiglieri: a counselor, in charge of nothing. Gianni Bevilacqua alone ran Chicago and points west.

Ferraro didn’t get to be consiglieri by letting things slide. Gianni made cosmetic changes and excuses to keep Ferraro off his back, all the while telling Junior he was being groomed for the top spot. For almost two years he maintained equilibrium between Frank and Junior, giving each only enough slack to keep him quiet. He’d sort it out sooner or later.

Now it was later, and nothing was settled. Gianni tried to lick the strand of drool from his lip. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Junior thought he was next in line; Ferraro would never stand for it. After seventy years of peaceful transitions, the Outfit would fight over turf like those babbos in New York. Just because Gianni couldn’t take it with him didn’t mean he had to leave anything behind.

New Blog Template

Your eyes are fine. I finally got around to taking advantage of the new features Blogger has for blog templates. Don't be surprised if this is not the last change. You know how it is. Idle hands, devil's workshop.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wild Bill Available for Kindle August 29



My first e-book, Wild Bill, will be available for Kindle on Amazon.com, Monday, August 28. I’ll spare you all the flackery a corporate minion would inflict upon you about what a glorious work of unsurpassed genius it is and let you make up your own mind, based on the description that will appear in Amazon:

Will Hickox is a decorated FBI veteran with a legendary ability to cultivate informants, much closer to retirement than to the days when he earned the nickname “Wild Bill.” Operation Fallout should cut the head off of the Chicago mob and provide a fitting capstone to his career. When Outfit boss Gianni Bevilacqua dies and the resulting war places Fallout in jeopardy, Hickox does what he can to save it, and his retirement plans with his lover, Madeline Kilmak.


Wild Bill examines the stresses of Operation Fallout from the law enforcement, criminal, and personal perspectives, as Will and his peers fight to keep the investigation afloat amid the power struggle between Gianni’s son and elder statesman Frank Ferraro. Torn between wanting closure to the investigation and starting his retirement, Hickox weighs the dangers of involving himself and Operation Fallout in the war, blurring the line he walks with his informants.


All that for only $2.99. That’s right, for about  the same cost as the amount of Starbucks you spill getting out the car with all the crap you carry to work each morning, you can have an original work of fiction in a state-of-the-art electronic format.

Stay tuned for the link to the Amazon page, and thanks for stopping by the blog.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Checking the Next Box

eBook Architects returned my MOBI and EPUB files last week. Due to an action-packed week (a friend I haven’t seen in fourteen years in town, picking up The Sole heir’s new(er) car, and cleaning up the residue of a sump pump failure), I only today was able to finish proofing and returning the errors to the formatter.

Having read quite a few Kindle books now, I was prepared for a substantial list of errors. I’ve read—from major publishers, no less—with missing quotation marks, irregularly indented paragraphs, inconsistent justification, and words run together. Even XHTML code appearing where some English language symbol should be.

What I found were a total of six errors.

All of them mine.

I sent the comments back today and hope they’ll be returned before too long. Once they’re back, I’ll have the book posted to Kindle within a week. Many thanks to Joshua Tallent and everyone at eBook Architects for a wonderful job.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Absolute Zero Cool Rises From The Gutter

The evening of August 10 was the official launch of Declan Burke’s new novel, Absolute Zero Cool. As is traditional, a launch party was held at the Gutter Bookshop in Dublin. (That’s Dublin, Ireland, for the more parochial Americans among you. And not that it’s traditional to hold launch parties at the Gutter Bookshop. They may be held anywhere. And for those who may feel a bit of gloom because you’d hope Dec’s career would be out of the gutter by now, fear not. By all accounts, the Gutter Bookshop intends its name ironically and is owned and operated by splendid folk he’d be a fool to disassociate himself from. Now that we have set the record for Longest Parenthetical Comment (contact Guiness, assuming they’re not still worn out from deliveries to the Gutter Bookshop), we shall proceed.)

The talented Mr. Burke was kind enough to submit to some questioning after his recovery from the debauchery festivities.

One Bite at a Time: First, congratulations on the publication of Absolute Zero Cool. My review will be forthcoming, but today let’s talk a little about the launch party. How many attended, not including the police who arrived near the end?

Declan Burke: Many thanks for the kind words, sir. I was hugely pleased with the turn-out for the launch party, not least because it took place on a typically Irish summer evening - grey skies, squally showers, intermittent gales. As to how many people were there, well, I’m afraid numbers have never been my strong suit. Words are my - actually, scratch that. I’d say there were about 80 people there, at one point or another, with which I was well pleased. And, yes, the SWAT team showed up at the end, but they were there to get John Connolly to sign their copies of HELL’S BELLS. So they don’t count.

OBAAT: Any names you’d care to share without risking legal action?

DB: Said John Connolly was good enough to launch the book on Liberties Press’ behalf, and lie through his teeth on mine. It was all very strange - at one point I thought my heterosexual male Irish soul would shrivel up and die with all the nice things being said. John also said he had read ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL not once, but twice, which might account for the slightly manic gleam in his eye during the proceedings. Actually, and all kidding aside, I was very chuffed by the fact that quite a few Irish writers turned out to support the evening - Arlene Hunt, Declan Hughes, Gene Kerrigan, John Banville, Alan Glynn, Ed O’Loughlin, Alan Monaghan, KT McCaffrey, Joe Joyce and Seamus Smyth were all there. Also, two names you might want to watch out for in the future - Rob Kitchin and Frank McGrath. All told, it was quite the humbling experience.

OBAAT: Considering the premise of the book, did any fictional characters appear?

DB: Well, given that the book’s main characters are an ‘unnamed writer’ - who has previously published EIGHTBALL BOOGIE and THE BIG O - and a character he previously created for an unpublished manuscript, the hospital porter Billy Karlsson, I guess you could say that one fictional character turned up on the night. And y’know, without getting too clever-clever about it, there is an element of truth in that. I mean, John Connolly was talking about ‘Declan Burke, the writer’, but Declan Burke the writer only exists for a couple of hours in any given day - most of the time, Declan Burke is way too busy trying to pay the mortgage and collect his baby girl from playschool, and mow the lawn, and doing all the 101 things that need to be done in any given day. Every time I sit down to write, it’s as if I need to reinvent ‘Declan Burke the writer’ - and I know that that’s an experience that most writers have. Other than myself, though, no other fictional characters showed up; or if they did, they didn’t make themselves known to me. Which, given that Billy Karlsson is a sociopathic hospital porter who takes it upon himself to blow up the hospital where he works, that’s probably for the best.

OBAAT: Can you describe a highlight or two from the festivities?

DB: Hand on heart, I can say that the highlight for me was being in a position - finally - where I could publicly acknowledge all the people who had helped to bring ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL to the point where we were having a launch party for it. Writers tend to bang on a bit about how writing is such a lonely existence, and it’s true, certainly, that it’s a job that needs to be done in isolation. But no man is an island, as they say, and it was great to be able to thank my wife, for example, for all the support she provides, in the way she helps to create the environment in which I do get to write; and Ed O’Loughlin, for example, who gave the manuscript a very severe and thorough read-through before it went to the publishers; the publisher himself, Sean O’Keeffe; and the in-house editor, Dan Bolger, the Pride of Philadelphia; and of course, everyone who paved the way all down the years, particularly my parents, who always had our house well stocked with books when I was a kid, and created an environment in which reading - and writing, for that matter - was so normal as to be unremarkable (although, when I did start to try to taking writing seriously, there were plenty of remarks made, all of them supportive). So yeah, my highlight was being in a position to say thanks to all those people who’d made it happen.

OBAAT: While I realize most readers hang on this blog’s every word like an infant clings to its mother’s breast, there may be the random stranger stopping by. Please give a brief description of what AZC is about, and how it came to be. (As I need not remind a writer as gifted as you, don’t allow the truth to get in the way of a good story here.)

DB: AZC is essentially about a hospital porter, Karlsson, who sets out to blow up the hospital where he works. Why? Well, throw another sod of turf on the fire and let me take you back a couple of years (picture grows fuzzy, soundtrack provided by a vibraphone) … I guess, like virtually everyone else on the planet, the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers had a pretty profound effect on me; I wrote the first draft of the story not long after that happened. At the time, though, a lot of the commentary revolved around the fact that these terrorists had taken Western civilisation’s technology and used it against itself. Which was, in its own way, pretty frightening. What was even scarier to me, though, was the idea of people who weren’t outsiders, who weren’t necessarily of a different creed or colour, insiders, I guess - anyway, what happens when it’s one of your own, for the want of a better phrase, who sets out to strike at the heart of your civilised society? And Irish people, unfortunately, had been long conditioned to, or at least familiar with, the idea of Irish people blowing up Irish people, most of it taking place in Northern Ireland. Anyway, I started to wonder about what kind of target would be the most tempting for a terrorist who wanted to strike at the heart of Irish civilisation, and I quickly came up with the building that generally takes pride of place in most Irish towns in these increasingly secular times, the hospital. Now the hospital, in my opinion, represents the epitome of human advancement, being a kind of totem to compassion, the place where we take care of those who cannot take care of themselves - the sick, the old, the very young. Karlsson, hospital porter, more or less agrees, although - his mind diseased by logic - he believes that hospitals are actually a bad thing, in that eventually the process of keeping the sick and aged alive beyond their allotted span will eventually lead to a fatal weakening of the human race. And so, Karlsson believes, he needs to blow up a hospital in order to alert humanity to its clear and present danger …

So that was the first draft, which went in the drawer to gather dust while I went off to write THE BIG O, which was a comedy caper crime novel, and a lot more fun to write. Fast forward a few years, to when my wife was about to have our first baby; being totally clueless about what being a father would entail, I made the grand gesture (or so I thought) of announcing that I wouldn’t write at all for six months after the baby was born, so that I might be in some way useful. Writing being what it is, that lasted about three weeks; the compromise I suggested was that instead of writing something new, I’d redraft an old story (of which there were quite a few in the drawer at this stage). A couple of days later, standing at the office window staring out into my back yard (an essential part of the creative process, or so I’m led to believe), Karlsson ‘appeared‘, saying, “What about me? You created me, you brought me to life - but I’m stuck in this half-life limbo, this purgatory. Publish or I’m damned.” And so Karlsson - now calling himself Billy - and I sat down to rewrite the story. My part was to make him a more likeable sociopath, so he wouldn’t overly scare the horses; his job was to follow through and actually blow up the hospital, so as to give publishers a ‘high concept’ hook to hang the book on. And now, dear reader, read on …

OBAAT: Casting aside your renowned humility for a second, how did you get such an unorthodox book published in the current climate?

DB: Persistence and the kindness of strangers. AZC went out to a host of publishers, most of whom replied with rejection letters that began, “This is a wonderful story, but …” Eventually, I put the manuscript away again, and started working on something else. Then a colleague of mine (I review movies as part of my day job) asked to read it; she came back to me very enthusiastic about the book, and demanded that I start sending it out again, virtually shaming me into doing something about it. I took her at her word, and began sending out the book again. It was very quickly snapped up by Liberties Press, which is a relatively small but perfectly formed and very ambitious Irish publisher … In a way it’s very gratifying, particularly as the hard road to getting published is bound up in the story of AZC, and - grotesquely exaggerated, of course - how constant rejection can be so punishing as to impact negatively on the mind. Had I written the story and had it published straight away, I’d feel like a bit of a fraud; doing it this way, the long way, the hard way, makes it feel like I’ve actually earned it.

Thanks for taking the time to chat today, Declan. Absolute Zero Cool can be purchased (as a paperback or e-book) from either Amazon in the US or Amazon UK. Don’t dawdle, or you’ll feel like a twit when everyone else is giggling behind their copies and you still haven’t got the joke. Until you realize it’s on you.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Let the Proofreading Begin

The e-book files for Wild Bill came back from the formatter’s this morning. I’m 26% through the .mobi file and have found one minor error, and one question to ask that may have been my fault in the first place.

There’s something different about seeing your book in someone else’s print—even electronic print—for the first time. It creates a distance between you and the finished product that wasn’t there before which makes it easier for me to read it as others have, which means it’s easier for me to see some of the warts. (None of which are so disfiguring that it won’t be worth your time and money to read it when it comes out in a few weeks.)

All things considered, it’s nice. Not like holding a bound copy of a book someone paid for the privilege of publishing, but still an accomplishment to take some pride in, considering how many people never finish a project, or can’t even bring themselves to start one in the first place.

Will it be successful? Based on my definition, it already is. Will it be a best-seller? Depends on your definition of best-seller. To me, if I make more money from this ebook than Todd Robinson paid me to print “Green Gables” in his Blood, Guts, and Whiskey anthology, then it is, by definition my best seller.

And that will do.