One Bite at a Time




Thursday, May 31, 2012

Well, I’ll Be Go to Hell

After—let’s see, borrow from the one—eighteen years of writing, about fifteen years of looking to get published, and countless hours and blog posts whining about the current state of publishing, today I signed an honest-to-Chandler book contract with Stark House to publish the second of my Penns River novels, Grind Joint.

The successor to Worst Enemies (currently available for Kindle and Nook for a measly $2.99), Grind Joint is the story of what happens when the 21st-Century panacea for all urban financial woes rolls into a small town: a casino. It features many of the characters and occasionally looks back into an only partially resolved issue from Worst Enemies (yet another reason to get your copy, so you’ll be ahead of the curve).

The release date is tentatively set for early 2014, so there will be plenty of time to torment all of you with my idea of promotion. Suffice for now to say thank you to Greg Shepard and  Rick Ollerman at Stark House for taking a chance on me.

Plenty of future electrons will be devoted to thanking those who helped to get me this far, but three require mention immediately:

John McNally, for treating the lone genre writer in his workshop exactly the same as the more literary types, both in expectations and respect.

Declan Burke, who rounded up a posse of friends to comment here when I thought of hanging up my keyboard a couple of years ago and convinced me to keep plugging along.

And the inimitable Charlie Stella, who pretty much brokered the deal. Charlie is Stark House’s other writer of original novels (they focus on reprints of authors including Margaret Millar, Bill Pronzini, and Bob Randisi), and adopted me a couple of years ago. His counsel and encouragement have been formidable and much appreciated. Yes, Charlie, I did the writing, but I can safely say this book would never have seen print had it not been for you.

That’s enough shameless self-promotery for now. I need to save some for Worst Enemies, available now for Kindle and Nook.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorie di Casa Stella

What would have been a damn near perfect Memorial Day weekend (thanks to a family reunion) was edged over the line to perfection when The Beloved Spouse and I took the opportunity of a rare road trip to stop by Casa Stella for lunch with Charlie Stella and his lovely wife, Ann Marie. (Charlie is, of course, lovely in his own unique way.)

After beginning with a delicious antipasto salad and some pasta and chicken to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window (And cannoli. Oh my God, the cannoli.), we spent a few hours in animated, entertaining, and enlightening conversation.Topics ranged from politics to hockey to how we have arrived at our current places in life. (Charlie’s description of his route was, frankly, the most entertaining, though it may not have been uniformly so at the time.)

This was our first trip to Casa Stella. (I’m not calling it that just because Charlie does; there’s a sign on the house says, “Casa Stella.”) If you are ever fortunate enough to receive an invitation, do not consider sending regrets. The hospitality, atmosphere, and company will not be bettered anywhere.

Grazie molto all'intera famiglia Stella. We could not have had a better day.

Memorie di Casa Stella

What would have been a damn near perfect Memorial Day weekend (thanks to a family reunion) was edged over the line to perfection when The Beloved Spouse and I took the opportunity of a rare road trip to stop by Casa Stella for lunch with Charlie Stella and his lovely wife, Ann Marie. (Charlie is, of course, lovely in his own unique way.)

After beginning with a delicious antipasto salad and some pasta and chicken to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window (And cannoli. Oh my God, the cannoli.), we spent a few hours in animated, entertaining, and enlightening conversation.Topics ranged from politics to hockey to how we have arrived at our current places in life. (Charlie’s description of his route was, frankly, the most entertaining, though it may not have been uniformly so at the time.)

This was our first trip to Casa Stella. (I’m not calling it that just because Charlie does; there’s a sign on the house says, “Casa Stella.”) If you are ever fortunate enough to receive an invitation, do not consider sending regrets. The hospitality, atmosphere, and company will not be bettered anywhere.

Grazie molto all'intera famiglia Stella. We could not have had a better day.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mafiya

(Disclaimer: Charlie Stella is a good friend. Not just in the sense of liking him a lot, but in the sense of being a good friend to have, a man who takes his friendship responsibilities seriously and conscientiously. On the other hand, I was a fan of his writing before I ever met him, so, you know, not for nothing…)

Charlie Stella is the generally acknowledged master of mob fiction. He has examined that life from many different angles, and will revisit it again when his new novel, Rough Riders, drops in July. Mafiya released in 2008; sometimes it takes me a while to get around to things.

Mafiya may be the best of Stella’s seven novels, along with 2010’s Johnny Porno. (I’ve yet to read Cheapskates or Jimmy Bench-Press.) This is a good sign, as those are the two most recent, which shows he started out well and keeps getting better. (Even more reason to check out Rough Riders.)

Agnes Lynn is a former hooker, working as a word processor for law firms. She’s trying to overcome her issues with men, starting a fledgling relationship with Jack Russo, a former new York cop working as a private investigator. The book hits the ground running when Agnes’s best friend—Rachel, who is still a hooker—goes missing and Agnes doesn’t know who to trust as she tries to find her.

Stella’s writing owes a lot to the late George V. Higgins. His characterizations are done largely through dialog, and he has the confidence to allow important pieces of the story to take place off-stage, letting the reader catch up as the characters find out about it. The dialog is crisp--real people talking—and never falls victim to being too clever. The humor grows organically from the characters and situation.

As always, Stella provides a rich and varied character list. Agnes is a strong lead, though her issues make her a little hard to cuddle up to. Russo is as matter-of-fact about things as a cop would and should be, knowing what’s important to worry about, but not worrying about them to the point of inaction. The cops are distinctly drawn, as are the Russian and Italian mobsters. Standing out among them are two Russians: Viktor Timkin, head of the local Russian mob; and Vanya Koloff, another Russian expatriot who runs the NYPD’s Russian OC unit.

The book is more than just an action-packed thriller. Stella looks at the ruthlessness of the Russian criminals,and examines how much law enforcement can do with the available tools. Vanya is a fascinating character, deserving of a book all his own. (Hint, hint.) Some will question his methods, as well they should. How many of the stories about him are true is left open to some conjecture, which he encourages. He gets a lot of work done by allowing his reputation to precede him.

Stella does occasionally work a little overtime to make his endings come out happy; here he requires the reader to be content with a bittersweet and somewhat ambiguous conclusion. Get over it. Mafiya rocks from start to finish. If we’re lucky, he’ll let us take another look at some of these folks to see where they ended up.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Re-Connecting With an Old Friend

I set aside the novel I’d spent most of the previous seven months working on several weeks ago. A lot of good stuff was there, but the story wasn’t going anywhere.

I then spent a few weeks trying to outline a different story for the same character, a PI about whom I’d written what I’d hoped would be a series several years ago. I rehashed the same steps, back and forth, until I realized the problem was I’d lost touch with this guy. He’d made a guest appearance in my last completed Penns River novel, but I hadn’t worked with him as the lead since before Wild Bill. (Still available for Kindle for $2.99!)

I came to the conclusion the problem was Nick Forte and I hadn’t spent much time together, apart from a flash piece a couple of years ago. I set my writing muscles aside and began devoting the time I usually spent writing to reading what I’d written about him in the past, books I still hope to make available once the next one comes out, to show how he became the man he is today. (Or will be, once I get around to writing him.)

What an eye-opening experience. I’d forgotten how long I worked and worried over the beginning of Wild Bill to get the new voice right, and how different it was from the old. The PI books are far more influenced by Chandler and Parker, whereas what I’ve written more recently owe far more to the interest I’d developed in Elmore Leonard and George V. Higgins. The Forte stories have more descriptions, more similes, and more time spent letting things unfold than in the multi-POV stories.

That may be better or worse; it’s certainly different. It may also be less in tune with current taste, but we all know I'm rarely a slave to that. What I’ve learned through reading a book-and-a-half of Forte is how different he appears when you’re in his head looking out. He’s defined more by what he thinks, what he feels is important enough to mention, and by the tone in which he mentions it. It’s a whole different attitude and approach, and I hadn’t done justice to the differences when I started the first two abortive efforts. (Too belated thanks to by good friend, the late Jim Munford, for having pointed that out to me so all I had to do was remember it—and him—and not figure it out for myself.)

Now it’s time to suck it up and re-read all four previous books, to reacquaint myself with how he came to be where I wanted to start over with him. Get his voice back in my head, and pick a story better calculated to express him, rather than a story I liked that happened to have him in it.

Lest anyone start thinking along these lines, I haven’t been blocked; just ahead of myself. I’ve learned to better respect my characters, that they all deserve their own approach. So, a timely reminder of a truth often overlooked: writing is reading.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

More Praise for Worst Enemies

Mike Dennis, whose Key West noir series is first-rate (Setup on Front Street, The Ghosts of Havana, Man-Slaughter), has given Worst Enemies  a four-star review on Amazon. His comments are below:

Dana King has followed up his first novel, WILD BILL, in strong fashion. Unlike its predecessor, which was a compelling story of Mafia intrigue, WORST ENEMIES is a finely-tuned police procedural, playing out like an episode of DRAGNET, emphasizing the mundane footwork of small-town cops. When a grisly murder grabs their attention, local detectives Ben Dougherty and Willie Grabek roll into action.
King makes a pretzel out of the STRANGERS ON A TRAIN story of two men agreeing to kill each other's wives. Not long after the first murder is committed, the killer is identified, leaving you to wonder where it can possibly go from there. Don't worry. The author holds your interest precisely by making you ask that question at every turn.

I stumbled over the names of the characters on more than one occasion (Obbink, Neuschwander, Zywiciel). I would agree with Charlie Stella's assessment that more familiar, more pronounceable last names would help.

Okay, I’ll give him Zywiciel, but a least he spelled it right. I deserve some points for not naming anyone Dzanaj.

Thanks, Mike. Man-Slaughter waits impatiently on my Kindle as we speak.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Tim Hallinan’s ‘Skin Deep’ Free This Weekend!

Any semi-regular visitor here knows I’ve been in the tank for Tim Hallinan’s writing since I read his first Poke Rafferty book, A Nail Through the Heart. There have been three subsequent Rafferty novels and two entries in the Junior Bender series, all of which have done nothing but burnish his reputation.

Tim’s talent didn’t spring unaided from Zeus’s head with A Nail Through the Heart. Before there was Poke Rafferty, there was Simeon Grist, LA private investigator, with his own well received series of novels. This weekend, Tim is making the third Grist novel, Skin Deep, available for Kindle, free of charge.

Library Journal called Skin Deep, “Hallinan’s best.” The Chicago Tribune said it was, “Excellent.” Kirkus called it, “A sharp LA noir portrait.” (And this was back in the days before anyone could buy Kirkus reviews.)

Anyone not familiar with Tim’s work is missing out; his books run the gamut from “very good” to “great” to “holy shit.” Pick up a free copy of Skin Deep if you’re looking for an introduction. I guarantee you’ll want more.

Click here for your free Kindle copy of Skin Deep.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Wild Bill Reviewed at Crime Factory

Many thanks to reviewer Frank Wheeler and everyone at Crime Factory for the flattering review of Wild Bill. (Almost forgot about that one, didn’t you?) Here’s a bit of what Mr. Wheeler had to say:

King’s novel has incredible pacing, and you’ll want
to read it in one sitting. The dialogue sounds like what you’d hear from frustrated cops inside surveillance vans, or from covertly made tapes of the mobsters. This has a realism that bites the reader, especially in the way it shows that law enforcement, like every other large organization, is subject to the whims of those at the top.

Reading this was a fine way to start a Tuesday, especially considering the other writers reviewed in this issue included Adrian McKinty, Daniel Woodrell, Christa Faust, Gerard Brennan, and Ray Banks.

Lots of good stuff in this issue, including an interview with Megan Abbott, articles on director William Friedkin and writer Charles Willeford. Well worth your time.

Old School

I’m on record as not being a fan of neo-noir stories in general. Too often the depravity of the setting is the reason for the story. The author revels in it, finds humor in it, likes rolling around in it, and, in so doing, forgets there needs to be at least one character for readers to care about, even if we don’t like him. I don’t read much of it anymore, though I’m still a fan of modern stories written with traditional noir sensibilities. Ray Banks comes to mind. There are others.

Like Dan O’Shea.

O’Shea’s current anthology, Old School, has several stories I’d read before. That doesn’t mean I skipped over them. His balance of darkness, humor, and dark humor blends with characters who might well be real people to create stories that straddle the traditional noir/neo-noir border with confidence.

I first became aware of his writing through Patti Abbott’s flash fiction challenges, and his flash pieces are first rate. The longer stories also bear close scrutiny. The dialog rests well on the ear, there is exactly as much description as is needed, and  the situations, while dire, never show the reverse (perverse?) deus ex machina used by too many purveyors of neo-noir to make things worse than they could reasonably be expected ever to become. Every O’Shea situation leaves you thinking, “I can see that happening,” which makes what does happen even more powerful or unsettling.

Old School is three bucks on Amazon. A little pricier than Worst Enemies at $2.99he’s clearly aiming at the carriage trade-- but it’s quality stuff, well worth the time of anyone who likes a good story, well told..