One Bite at a Time




Monday, December 30, 2013

You Think I’m Funny? Funny in What Way?

I am a huge fan of Ray Banks. I’m working my way through the Cal Innes stories (read Saturday’s Child earlier this month) and believe him to be the current master at the novella e-books are so well suited for. (Gun and Wolf Tickets are brilliant, if you haven’t read them.)

This is why I sat up fast enough to cause a whiplash headache when I read his essay, “Five Noir Lessons from Charles Williams” on the Mysterious Press blog. Not only because his thoughts on the topic would be of inherent interest to me, but because he and I agreed on so much. The key section had to do with the importance of a GSOH (a Good Sense of Humor):

My favourite writers—or at least those authors who inspire and whose work lingers in the memory—tend to be inherently funny people with something serious to say. And while Williams was apparently something of a melancholic (and ultimately suicidal) in the flesh, he clearly possessed a wit and humour that informed his writing.

If you're under the impression that a sense of humour and a sense of noir are mutually exclusive, think again. A great tragedy relies on the same wicked timing that drives a great joke, and a writer who appreciates wit and wordplay is more likely to turn out sentences that bristle with energy. Williams is one of those writers: a dry, sharp stylist with a gift for stiletto description. And when he ventures into full tilt comedy—as he does in the screwball nonsense of The Wrong Venus—he does so with considerable aplomb.

Life is full of funny things. Even things that aren’t funny—violence, illness, even death—may be funny in retrospect, and may even be funny to some sick bastards as they happen. Even better, funny things happen in the most serious situations. Things happen, or are said, that have to be laughed at, no matter how stressful the time. It may even be the stress that makes them so funny.

Few things are as tedious as a story with no light touches. I’m not talking about jokes, but levity. Elmore Leonard was the master, bringing smiles through inadvertent character comments or actions. (Inadvertent for the character; Leonard knew exactly what he was doing.) A poorly chosen word, a statement made without full knowledge of the facts, someone whose pretentiousness exposes his ignorance; all can lend realism to a character. My favorite example is from—of course—Get Shorty, Bo Catlett talking to Chili Palmer about screenplays:

“You’re asking me,” Catlett said, “do I know how to write down words on a piece of paper? That’s what you do, man, you put down one word after the other as it comes in your head. It isn’t like having to learn how to play the piano, like you have to learn notes. You already learned in school how to write, didn’t you? I hope so. You have the idea and you put down what you want to say. Then you get someone to add in the commas and shit where they belong, if you aren’t positive yourself. Maybe fix up the spelling where you have some tricky words. There people do that for you. Some, I’ve even seen scripts where I know words weren’t spelled right and there was hardly any commas in it. So I don’t think it’s too important. You come to the last page you write in ‘Fade out’ and that’s the end, you’re done.”

Chili said, “That’s all there is to it?”

“That’s all.”

Chili said, “Then what do I need you for?”

Leonard laid out the key traits of both characters in 179 words, and you laughed. He said he wrote dialog heavy novels because he wanted to leave out the parts readers skipped, and they don’t skip dialog. They don’t skip humor, either. No one wants to miss a chance to be entertained. We’ve all read books, six hundred pages of unrelenting dreariness that had us rooting for the protagonist to die, already, put us out of his misery.

Another excellent use of humor is scene reversal. Start a scene off light and let the bad news hit even harder. Finally, something good happens to the character, and—boom!—the hammer drops. Wading through pages of despair, waiting for other shoes to drop, pretty soon it’s just one more tragedy. Give him some hope, a smile, maybe even a laugh, then crush him. That hurts.

That door swings both ways. Why would a character put up with such an unrelentingly dark life? I’ve read books where I thought about killing myself, and I was only reading about it. Who would put up with that? Even better, why? Because every so often something good happens. It might be as simple as watching a pompous ass slip and fall. Probably not funny to the guy who fell, but that’s the thing about humor: everyone sees it in different things.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Twenty Questions With Dan O’Shea

Daniel O’Shea is a Chicago-area writer. His first thriller, Penance, was published by Exhibit A in April; its successor, Greed is due in February 2014. Drawing on Chicago’s settings and history, the novels explore the city’s history of corruption, but with a national, even international flavor. Old School, a collection of short fiction, was published by Snubnose Press. (Editor’s Note: I know of no better writer of flash fiction.)

His Exhibit A bio states, “Dan would be a handsome gent if he could just stop breaking his nose.” His sartorial splendor more than makes up for it.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Greed.

Daniel O’Shea: Greed is my second Chicago novel. (Although the good folks at Exhibit A call it my second John Lynch novel, ‘cause I guess a series is supposed to center around a character. But, like Penance – my debut – it’s really a pretty ensemble cast, so I think about them as my Chicago novels.) It starts with a guy named Nick Hardin – former Marine, former French Foreign Legion – who’s been knocking around Africa for a couple decades, has fallen on some hard times and is looking for an exit strategy. So he steals some diamonds from some bad guys and heads home to Chicago to sell them to the one guy he knows with the contacts to move a mess of undocumented rocks.

Things get complicated. The night Hardin hits town, his contact is murdered. The bad guys, some Al Qaeda types, want their diamonds back and put their #1 trigger jockey on Hardin’s tale. A narcissistic movie star who has a real beef with Hardin sees him in town, calls up a mob contact and puts a hit on him. And then there’s this Mexican drug lord. See, the reason Hardin left the Marines for the Foreign Legion in the first place was he’d killed a punk in a street beef, and the Mexican drug lord happens to be the punk’s older brother. Turns out he holds a grudge. So when Hardin turns up back in town, the drug lord joins the party.

Which leads to bodies. Lots of bodies.

John Lynch and the Chicago cops start trying to sort out the bodies and end up with a hairball of conflicting clues that don’t make any sense. Meanwhile, a guy named Munroe, who’s a free-radical intelligence fixer for the powers that be in DC, hears that Al Qaeda has lost better than $100 million in diamonds – which they usually put on the move when they have an operation to finance. He starts wondering what Al Qaeda might be up to that requires that kind of financing, and whether it has anything to do with a former US Army biological weapons expert who had some very scary ideas and who just turned up dead.

Hilarity ensues.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)

DO: Most of it I just made up as I went along. When I write a book, I just need a place to start. Hardin was what I started with this time. I’d read an article about this ex-military type who’s second career was as a fixer for TV news crews. They want to get into the hell-hole of the week and get some film in the can without their reporter getting his throat cut and without having to buy their equipment back from the local warlord for ten bucks on the dollar. So they hire him.

I’d also read an article about the evolution of the blood diamond trade in West Africa. Seems ethnic Lebanese have played a huge role in the West African diamond trade since forever. Seems that, with the Liberian civil war over, bad guys looking to move black market stones needed a new market. Seems that, since diamonds are small, valuable, and portable, Al Qaeda found diamonds to be a handy way to move money. So they used Lebanese contacts to muscle in on the blood diamond business.

That’s what I started with. A character and a situation I found interesting. Just went with it from there.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Greed, start to finish?

DO: I wrote the first draft over a couple of months a few years ago. The problem being that it was written as the second in a series and I hadn’t sold Penance yet. Came close once, though. A pretty big New York house almost bit, but they had some specific objections. Being new and stupid, I figured hell, I’ll just re-write Penance, we’ll sell it to the big New York house and live happily ever after. The re-write changed the story quite a bit as it turned out. And, of course, the big New York house passed anyway. Problem being I wrote Greed as the follow up to the re-written version of Penance. Exhibit A bought the original version. So I had to reverse engineer the draft to work with that. That took, roughly, forever.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?

DO: Sort of gave you Hardin’s story above. John Lynch is a second generation Chicago cop, pretty well connected guy, knows lots of people, knows how the city works, doesn’t approve of a lot of it. Munroe’s a guy that started out as a CIA asset back during Viet Nam and has been unofficially coloring outside the lines since the Church Committee decided the CIA needed to actually play by the roles back in the mid-1970s.

OBAAT: In what time and place is Greed set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?

DO: Present day, mostly in the Chicago area. Chicago plays its role, but is not quite as important to this novel as it was in Penance. I’ve already got an idea working for my third Chicago novel that will be much more influenced by the city and its history.

OBAAT: How did Greed come to be published?

DO: Greed is book #2 in the two-book deal that crime über agent Stacia Decker squeezed out of Exhibit A.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?

DO: I read all sorts of stuff, fiction and non-fiction. In the crime genre, on the big-name side, I love James Lee Burke and John Sandford. Also love John Le Carre. But every time I turn around I find somebody new that’s great. Just read Sean Chercover’s Trinity Game and I’ll be wanting more of him. Just read Duane Swierczynski’s Fun And Games and I’ll be wanting more from him. Same with Reed Farrell Coleman and Gun Church. Ask me that any given week and I’d probably throw out some different names.

Outside crime, always have loved Graham Greene, Saul Bellow, Updike, lots of the usual suspects.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?

DO: I’ve never known how to answer that. Everything goes in the hopper and out comes the sausage. Not sure there’s a way to explain it beyond that.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?

DO: I wish I could work from an outline. It would save a lot of time. But it doesn’t work for me. In fact, any time I’ve tried to plan anything more than a chapter or two in advance, it seems like my characters actively rebel. So I just make it up as I go.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?

DO: I try to clean things up as I go. Don’t usually need to do a ton of copy editing after the fact, but, because I’m winging it, whole story lines get tossed out or baked in occasionally. If something like that happens, I tend to go back and get things to line up again before I move forward. Obviously, because of the way Greed evolved, there was a ton of revision work.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?

DO: Write. Just sit down and write. I fucked around for years and didn’t. Really wish I could go back two or three decades and kick myself in the ass for all the wasted time.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.

DO: *sits here scratching head* Ummm… Jesus, I need a life.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?

DO: I’ll have to take the reviews at this point. I have more reviews from writing than money. And I don’t have that many reviews.

OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?

DO: Supposed to say never, right? That I’d die a tortured soul? That my neglected muse would claw its way out of my chest like that alien creature if I didn’t bleed onto the page? In reality? I’d like to think I’d say no, but it might depend on the number.

OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely? 3. Go with a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores. Pick one and say why.

DO: This is the kind of stuff I don’t think about. I know myself well enough to know I’d never get around to all the crap I’d have to handle to self-publish effectively, so that’s out. I have a great agent who does think about this stuff, and does so knowledgeably. I’ll do the writing, Stacia can decide what to do with it.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?

DO: Yes.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?

DO: Yes.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?

DO: I got nothing.

OBAAT: What’s the answer?

DO: Something verbose and pretentious.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

DO: Well, there’s this Bartholomew Daniels guy that I’m pretty close to. He also got a two-book deal with Exhibit A for this weird idea about turning William Shakespeare into an unwilling Elizabethan private dick. The first of those, Rotten At the Heart, hits the shelves in March. I’m kind busy helping him with the second one.

After that, as I said, I’ve got a start on Chicago novel #3, but I’m also itching to dive into a very different, much smaller, more intimate story that would be more in line with some of my short fiction.

As you see, ain’t no flies on Dan. Thanks a million for taking time out during the holidays to sit for Twenty Questions.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas / 2013 in Review

‘Twas aught thirteen, a hectic year,
Far busier than most,
The family traveled far and wide,
We were both guests and hosts.

As was expected, Rachel made
The most news of our crew,
Her college graduation came
And went with some ado.

To graduate with honors was
Not all of her acclaim,
Phi Beta Kappa had the key
To share its well-earned fame.

She’s done with school (at least a while)
Now working as a scribe,
To write down what the doctor says
So needs and treatments jibe.

Already there’s an interview,
A med school taking note,
She may soon get to cut folks up,
And wear her own white coat.

But Rachel’s not the only one
A milestone to achieve,
My parents, married sixty years,
A present did receive.

My brother, Stu, and I agreed
To make sure they could see
My Rachel in her cap and gown;
Then after which they’d flee

To Colorado, Hailey’s home
To watch her bid adieu
To high school, amidst family,
Her Dad: the beaming Stu.

Twas Stu who drove them mountainward
And I who brought them back
We learned I-70 quite well,
It was our beaten track.

Eclectic taste in music is
A trait we all enjoy,
Stan Kenton’s old alumni band
Returned me to a boy

The three of us saw TOP
(That’s Tower of Power, you know)*
Plus Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and
Dick Dale, who’s quite a show.

Our Corky’s cards and crafts galore
Continue unabated.
There’s paper stashed from roof to floor;
This card, by her created.

She found some time to take a trip,
New Hampshire, in the fall
To visit with some family,
A good time had by all.

Her son from California came
To visit us at home
And showed that family’s always close
However far they roam.

And as for me, my year has been
A lot of peaks, no valleys,
My first real paper book in print
Was added to my tally.

A readers’ conference gave me space
To sit among my peers
And talk about the way we write
Then knock back several beers.

Recounting all we did this year
Has been a humbling task,
Recalling what’s been done for us
Without needing to ask.

Whatever we accomplish here
Cannot be done alone,
We all depend on your support,
Which is so freely shown.

We hope this note finds all you well,
With futures only bright
The Kings now bid a fond adieu
And wish you all, good night.






( * - This line fits when read with the proper Western Pennsylvania accent.)

Grind Joint in the LA Review of Books

Woody Haut, writing in the LA Review of Books, has named Grind Joint among his fifteen favorite reads of 2013. Not in the Top Ten, but that was populated by the likes of Daniel Woodrell, James, Sallis, Max Allan Collins, and Sarah Weinman.

Haut said of Grind Joint: With crisp dialogue and sparse exposition reminiscent of Elmore Leonard and George V. Higgins, it’s an investigation of a town on the edge of a precipice.

Read the entire list. It’s not limited to 2013 books, so there may be a couple you’ve missed along the way.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Audio Interview at The Author’s Show

My radio interview with Don McCauley at The Author’s Show is live all day December 23 (Festivus, how cool is that?) and can be heard here.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Festivus

Today is Festivus, the holiday for the restofus. As we’re separated by great distances, I’ll leave the feast and Feats of Strength to you to handle individually. The Airing of Grievances commences anon.

Facebook claims to advertisers it knows more about each of us than does the NSA. If their algorithms are so accurate, why have the past couple of weeks brought me suggestions that I might like Justin Bieber, the Winchester Brothers, and my own author page? (There were a couple of even more egregious examples, but I forgot to write them down. Those people were so little known to me I have no hope if recovering the memory.) Who’s next? Kanye West? Miley Cyrus? That black guy with the pick in his hair from the Miller Lite commercials? All I know is, if the Philadelphia Flyers show up as a suggested like, I’m out of there.

I read Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress last week. (Loved it and will have more to say in the monthly wrap-up.) A lot of paperback books place excerpts from another of the author’s works at the end of a book; Simon and Schuster saw fit to put an excerpt at the beginning this time, and didn’t make what I’d consider to be a fuss that what came first was not Devil in a Blue Dress. I noticed it and skipped the excerpt—which I always do—but I would have been pissed to have read forty pages—that’s right, four-zero pages—of a book I hadn’t bought before finding out A) this isn’t the book I wanted to read, and 2) I have to buy another book to see what comes next. I also shouldn’t have to hunt for the beginning of the story I paid for, and would guarantee I won’t buy the book they tried to trick me into getting interested in.

I had to add “Festivus” to my spell-check dictionary. Next I’ll find out “Lebowski” isn’t included, either. (Goddamnit, it’s not!!)

The Sole Heir returned from a medical school interview in Colorado at 2:25 am Sunday. The scheduled arrival was 12:55, but still. If airlines are going to schedule flights to come in that late, would it bust their balls to have a few more chairs where people can wait for the arriving passengers in the event of a delay?

I had to sit through a motivational speech the other day, about how at 211 degrees water is just hot, but at 212 it’s steam; with that extra degree, you can accomplish anything. I don’t mean to discourage people, and everyone should have their dreams, but talent and luck are at least as important as hard work. No one ever wanted to be a trumpet player more than I, or worked harder at it; I lack the talent. Facing facts is not defeatism. Tony Roberts and his ilk are full of shit. (Don’t even get me started on the effort required to get to 211, and how much might be left in the tank. Then there’s Celsius, where that extra degree is 80% more difficult to achieve.)

Why is that Duck Dynasty douche nozzle allowed to say whatever heinous shit he wants and hide behind the First Amendment, and I’ll get blasted if I call him out as the inbred redneck sister fucker he (probably) is? Don’t I have a First Amendment right to be offensive, too? (I added “probably” in case someone reads this to him and he decides to sue for libel. Of course, since truth is a valid defense against libel, if he doesn’t sue, I must be right, right?)

Why is there only one Festivus a year? I can live without the pole and Feast and FOS, but I’m just getting warmed up on this grievance business. Lend a hand in the comments. Indulge yourself.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Bouchercon Interviews, Part 10: Conclusion

Today ends the Bouchercon interview series, and I thought it was only fair for me to have to answer the questions I have subjected so many others to these past ten weeks.

One Bite at a Time: What made you decide to come to Albany?

Dana King: Bouchercon was there. Going is now my default mode; it takes a compelling reason for me not to.

OBAAT: What’s the most important aspect of Bouchercon for you? (This year, or any year?)

DK: The atmosphere. That sounds like a cop-out, but I’m jazzed from the minute I get there until well after I’m home again. I never feel more like a writer than when I’m at Bouchercon and during the afterglow.

OBAAT: Were you on any panels?

DK: I lucked into one of Peter Rozovsky’s panels. Peter led Eric Beetner, Mike Dennis, Terrence McCauley, Jonathan Woods and I in a discussion of hard-boiled and noir writing. It was a great experience, from the prep—reading these guys was a treat—to the aftermath.

OBAAT: To you, what makes a good panel, from a panelist’s perspective?

DK: A well-organized moderator who knows what he’s doing, isn’t afraid to steer enough to keep things on track, and does what he can to set the panelists up with discussion provoking questions. You know, Peter Rozovsky.

OBAAT: What do you look for when deciding which panels to attend?

DK: My opinion has evolved there. I used to look for topics where I thought I might learn something. I still do some of that—PI panels will draw me just about every time—but now it’s more which panelists and moderators look like they’d be more entertaining.

OBAAT: What makes a panel good for you when you’re in the audience?

DK: If it’s fun. The panelists should be enjoying themselves, which will convey to the audience. A perfect panel would seem like eavesdropping on a gently guided bull session among bright, witty, and opinionated people.

OBAAT: Would you like to see more or fewer questions from the audience?

DK: Before the series of interviews, I would have said fewer. Too many audience questions are directed to a particular author, and either begin with “Don’t you think…” or end with “Do you Agree?” Somewhere in there is often a rambling manifesto or asking why the author being questioned killed Misery in his last novel. I like Jack Getze’s idea of allowing the audience to submit questions in advance to be chosen by the moderator a lot.

OBAAT: What’s your favorite Bouchercon story, from this year or any past years?

DK: Baltimore, 2008. My first Bouchercon, and I know about three people, and I met them online. Fortunately, Peter Rozovsky was one. He saw me early in the first afternoon, when I’m not having a good time at all, and asked how I liked it so far. We talked and it came up how it’s hard for me to talk to people I don’t know. Peter looked around, and calls over a guy I don’t know. Asked me, “Do you know Scott Phillips? Scott, this is Dana King.” Scott and I shook hands. Peter said, “Okay, now you know Scott Phillips.” Scott made a little small talk and begged off, as he was needed elsewhere. Next year in Indianapolis, I saw him at the bar, said hello. A few minutes later, he leaned over to me and said he and several other people were going to get something to eat; did I want to come? Ever since, Bouchercon introductions have not been an issue for me.

* * *

Before we leave this go altogether, let’s take a look at some of the questions everyone was asked, and see if there is any consensus.

What’s the most important aspect of Bouchercon for you? (This year, or any year?)

People and friends, overwhelmingly. Not panels, not inside industry talk (though both were mentioned); it’s the people. That would have surprised me five years ago; not now. Crime fiction writers and readers are as nice a group of people as you’re going to meet, and are well worth the trip, just to hang with.

What makes a good panel, from a panelist’s perspective?

The consensus wasn’t as clear here, but the moderator is key. The selection of questions to provoke discussion, keeping things moving while not stopping a discussion that’s on a roll, and understanding the audience is not there to hear the moderator promote an agenda; they’re there for the panelists.

What do you look for when deciding which panels to attend?

This was all over the place. It boiled down to the moderator, the topic, the panelists, and the timing. There’s not much else to consider. (Room temperature? Restroom proximity?) Everyone has their own ideas.

What makes a panel good for you when you’re in the audience?

There was no clear consensus here, either. Moderators were mentioned a couple of times. Preparation also came up, for both moderators and panelists. A thread expressed differently by all was getting to know the authors though their comments and demeanor.

Would you like to see more or fewer questions from the audience?

Almost universally “yes,” with a few “it depends.” Audience questions can be risky if someone tries to hijack the panel. (Once again, a good moderator is clutch, even though no one mentioned moderators in their answers to this question.)

So ends the series on Bouchercon. This was a lot more fun—and a lot more informative—than I expected when I got the idea back in September, and I expected a lot. Countless thanks to everyone who participated for their willingness to share their time, and the openness of their opinions. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in Long Beach in 328 days.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Recommended Reads, November - December

First, the news: Omni Mystery has been kind enough to run me through a fairly intensive interview about Grind Joint and writing in general. It’s a great site, well worth poking around on. Or in. Whichever term is appropriate for a web site.

Now to our regularly scheduled programming.

What’s that? Narcissistic references to my own handiwork are the regular programming of late? Okay, you got me. Way the hell back on October 3 I promised to keep up better with recommended reads, and since then the lion’s share of the recommended reading has been Grind Joint. (Except for when I came up for air and pimped A Small Sacrifice.) It’s time I made amends. (Order of appearance is the order in which the books were read.)

The Walkaway, Scott Phillips. I’ve already had a lot to say about The Walkaway. A wonderful book, maybe my favorite of Phillips’s oeuvre, which is saying a lot.

The Onion Field, Joseph Wambaugh. His first non-fiction, and possibly the best non-fiction crime book I have ever read, including In Cold Blood back when I thought everything in it was true, too. This is the intensely personal story of two cops who happen into the wrong place at the worst possible time in an era when cops in the street lacked the support systems they have now, both on the job and off-duty. A brilliant, painful, riveting, and exhausting book.

Black Rock, John McFetridge. I scored a pre-release copy of this one; now I understand how psychics feel, knowing what people are going to do before they know themselves. Here’s your future: you’re going to love this book. A departure from McFetridge’s previous Toronto series, with passing similarities to Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series in the historical placement and setting the crime against larger social events, with all of McFetridge’s trademark touches. Keep your eyes open for this one.

Road Kill, Zoe Sharp. I don’t read thrillers much, and I don’t read as many female writers as I might. (There will be a more detailed discussion of this in a few weeks.) Charlie Fox is a badass; not Wonder Woman. She uses her wits as much as her physical skills to know when to call for help, and to do her best to stay out of situations where help may be needed. Sharp also keeps the stakes high, but personal, a far more effective technique than worrying about the Fate of All Human Kind. This shit feels real.

Ratlines, Stuart Neville. A fantastic book, explored in detail here.

Never Call Retreat, Bruce Catton. Volume Three of Catton’s Civil War historical trilogy maintains the level of excellence of the first two. A lot of books have been written about the battles of the Civil, as if the armies stood around for weeks or months, then randomly decided to fight. Catton ties together the military, political, and social considerations in a series that brings as much sense as can be derived from such a universal cluster fuck. Released in 1965, looking back 100 years, some of the parallels to what’s going on today are eerie.

Vespers, Ed McBain. Nothing special by McBain’s standards, which makes it better than 90% of what’s out there. (More on McBain here.)

Remember, anyone who sends an email to danakingcrime (at) gmail (dot) com may request a free e-book of their choice, so long as it’s one I wrote. I’m not giving away other people’s stuff.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Twenty Questions With Todd Robinson

Twenty Questions comes heavy today; Big Daddy Thug is in the house.

Todd Robinson is best known as the publisher, editor, and general conscience (if that word can be used in this context) of Thuglit, possibly the premier website for neo-noir fiction. Thuglit has published three anthologies, and I have never felt prouder as a writer then when my story “Green Gables” was selected for the Blood, Guts, and Whiskey, given the respect I have for the work of those who suddenly became my peers in that one small way. Among the authors discover by Thuglit are Stuart Nevillle, Hilary Davidson, Jordan Harper, and Frank Bill.

Todd’s success as an editor has, somewhat unfairly, overshadowed his talent as a writer. His writing has appeared in Danger City, Demolition, Out Of The Gutter, Pulp Pusher, Crimespree and Writers Digest's The Years Best Writing 2003. He has won over six Honorable Mentions in various writing competitions/awards, making him the official bridesmaid of the form. (His short story, “Peaches” was nominated for an Anthony Award this year.)

Even with that resume, it may well be Todd’s longer form work that brings him greater renown as a writer. His first novel, The Hard Bounce, received the following review from Booklist: “Robinson, creator of the website Thuglit, peoples his first novel with a host of imaginatively drawn thugs, villains, victims, and rascals, and he has filled his story with top-shelf tough talk, mayhem, lots of raunch, some laughs, and a vivid sense of place. Readers who enjoy a good wallow in all of the above will feel right at home with The Hard Bounce.” Publisher’s Weekly wrote, [The Hard Bounce’s heroes] “wrap up their first case, neither tidily nor predictably, leaving enough setup for what may become a sturdy new crime fiction series."

Todd agreed to take time from his busy schedule of all of the above—plus a day job and life in general—to play Twenty Questions.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about The Hard Bounce.

Todd Robinson: It's my long-suffering novel about two Boston bouncers (Boo & Junior) who are looking for a teenage runaway.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)

TR: Came from a bunch of places. Mostly from the years I spent working the door at Boston's legendary Rathskeller. Different incidences, characters, etc. The place was a treasure trove.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write The Hard Bounce, start to finish?

TR: About two years. I learned to type along the way. I'm still not great. I only use four fingers.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?

TR: Boo is mostly a reflection of myself, but younger, with better hair, better-looking and smoother with women. So…not me at all, really. I think most writers make their protagonists out of pieces of themselves, only grander—the people they kind of wish they were more like. Junior is a mixed bag of a couple people, but their interactions, their no-bullshit attitude towards one another is directly from my relationship with my oldest friend. When they're talking, it's me and Julius all the way.

OBAAT: In what time and place is The Hard Bounce set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?

TR: Setting is incredibly important. I don’t know how I could tell that particular story in any place other than Boston. I've lived in New York for almost two decades now, and that story just wouldn't have worked here.

OBAAT: How did The Hard Bounce come to be published?

TR: Ten years, five agents and four publishers later, Tyrus Books saw fit to run with it.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?

TR: I like a little bit of everything. I try to keep it varied. Obviously I read more crime fiction than anything else, what with Thuglit and all. All-time favorites are John D. Macdonald, Stephen King, Harry Crews, Joe Lansdale and Elmore Leonard.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?

TR: The above-mentioned favorites. Of late, I really admire the work of Donald Ray Pollack, Daniel Woodrell and Scott Wolven. Scott's fallen off the map of late, but the guy is one of the greatest short story writers alive. If you read this, Scott come back to us!

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?

TR: I outline in the mush between my ears. I like to keep it loose, because I want to see where the story takes me. Sometimes, you can surprise yourself in the middle of it all.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?

TR: I try not to edit as I go. For me, therein lies madness. Madness!!! I try to muscle through, then go back and work the whole thing over again. Then it goes to my wife…then all over again.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?

TR: Tell your story. It really is that simple. It might not be for everybody, but what is?

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.

TR: Playing Superheroes with my kid.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?

TR: Wait…there's money in this shit???

OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?

TR: Yup. I love writing almost more than anything else. But there is one thing that I will always love more:

Ass-play.

Just kidding. The answer is reading. Reading is still my greatest love.

OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely?

TR: That's a good question. I've worked both sides of that street. They both have distinct advantages and disadvantages. I think that starting out, a traditional route is still the best option. You can have access to reviewers and sales outlets that you don't have with e-books or self-pubbed manuscripts. most successful self-publishers started in the traditional machine and benefited greatly from that machine. Then they turn around and bite the hand that built them. Even worse, they convince new and desperate writers that they're idiots if they follow the same path that built them in the first place.

Publishing is fucking hard. I know this from the Thuglit. It's a loooooot of goddamn work to get it right.

The writing business is like any other. Break the rules after you learn the goddamn rules. I'm still learning the rules. I may choose to break them someday, but not right now.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?

TR: I've been on a hard cider kick lately. I think it's a side-effect of my menopause.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?

TR: Baseball.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?

TR: That one

OBAAT: What’s the answer?

TR: "That one"

(Editor’s Note: We may have to retire these two questions. No one is going to beat those responses.)

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

TR: The second Boo & Junior novel, work-titled Rough Trade. Taking my time with it. I'm terrified to disappoint all the people that have been so kind as to show their love to The Hard Bounce. It's a side-effect that I wasn't expecting. The response has been humbling, to put it mildly.

Based on what I’ve read of Todd’s work, he may have to get used to being humbled.

Don’t miss out on The Hard Bounce, or you’ll have no idea what the cool kids are talking about and will be forced to wear a pocket protector and find work as a wedgie mannequin. For the best short noir fiction, Thuglit is still the place to go.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bouchercon Interviews, Part 9: Michelle Turlock Isler

It is primarily writers who read this blog. That makes sense, as most of its content is geared toward the kinds of things that interest writers. The ongoing series of Bouchercon-related interviews has been no exception. Because Bouchercon is a readers’ conference, it seems only fitting to save the anchor interview for the most important person in the food chain: a reader.

Writers spend a great deal of time alone, making things up for their own satisfaction. Without readers, this is an utterly masturbatory exercise. (As opposed to the mostly masturbatory exercise it is, by definition.) Without readers, writers are the proverbial trees falling in forests with no one to hear them. Worse, actually. Trees serve a purpose, just by being. Without readers, there is no need for writers.

Michelle Turlock Isler is a readerissima. Her voluminous reading habit is surpassed only by her willingness to support new writers. I believe—with good reason—she is the first person to read one of my books (Wild Bill) who did not know me personally. Since then she has been an enthusiastic supporter; it was a highlight of my Bouchercon trip to get to meet her and her husband, Tommy.

Michelle has been kind enough to cap the Bouchercon series of interviews by answering some questions.

One Bite at a Time: What made you decide to come to Albany?

Michelle Turlock Isler: I love Bouchercon. I love meeting new writers and talking with the writers that I only communicate with through social networking. I always hope to find new books and to be introduced to new genres.

OBAAT: What was your experience? Was it what you expected?

MTI: I had a wonderful experience. It was exactly what I expected. So many nice people, great panels, and numerous conversations that I wish would never end. I received some books that introduced me to some really talented writers out there.

OBAAT: What’s the most important aspect of Bouchercon for you? (This year, or any year?)

MTI: I always enjoy the panels. I would attend every panel if possible. I love hearing the writers discuss why they write the books they write and how they research their books. I wish I had more time to visit the panels of writers that are out of my comfort zone (like cozy mysteries or fantasies).

OBAAT: What do you look for when deciding which panels to attend?

MTI: I choose my favorite genre and my favorite authors. I, also, choose the subject matter that intrigues me.

OBAAT: What makes a panel good for you?

MTI: A good panel is a panel that allows the writers to talk and answer questions in depth. I do not like it when they are rushed through and never even touch on the original question.

OBAAT: Would you like to see more or fewer questions from the audience?

MTI: I love more questions from the audience. I dislike silly questions or when a person chooses that time to criticize the writers. I think that is when the moderator should step in and nip that in the bud. The writers are kind enough to give their time and reveal private moments in their writing habits. That is not a place for readers to judge them and verbalize their disapproval.

OBAAT: What’s your favorite Bouchercon story, from this year or any past years?

MTI: You asked for it. I get very enthusiastic when I discuss my experience at Bouchercon events. I went in 2011. I purchased a rare, unedited manuscript of Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais. There are only seven of them in the world. I, also, received a Mystery Scene magazine introducing Robert Crais as an up and coming writer. He was kind to sign both copies for me and they are framed and hanging in my house. This same Bouchercon gave me the opportunity to walk around and talk with Scott Phillips, Benjamin Whitmer, Peter Farris, Keith Rawson, and Cameron Ashley. I was able to talk to Daniel Woodrell and I even had Frank Bill make a list of authors I should read on a bar napkin. (I still have that) All of this took place in one day. At Bouchercon 2013, I was so excited to meet Eric Beetner and tell him how much I admire his artwork. I met some of my favorite new writers like Tom Pitts, Joe Clifford, and Dana King. I was able to curse with Joe Clifford when Gillian Flynn lost Best Novel of the year. Rats. It is always great to put faces on the people you converse with on social network. There are many names I left out, but I know you are limited on space.

OBAAT: Is there anything else on your mind, something I may have left out?

MTI: Two things. I think that when there is a moderator on a panel, that they should ask the question and allow the writer to answer in depth. I do not have much respect for people who ask questions and them turn around and start discussing their own writing experience. It is never pleasant when the moderator turns it into a monologue. I do not respect moderators who choose that time to demean the writers on the panel. My other request is to try and scatter the panels. This year we had two noir panels at the same time. I think it would be great to mix it up and give everyone a chance to see a noir, thriller, cozy, legal, etc. each day.

That is my experience at Bouchercon. I plan to attend more often, now. I am only a reader. I try to review as many books as I can. I always get intimidated with my lack of writing skills and chicken out when it comes to writing reviews. If I could just say – Wow, that was a great page turner – then you would see more. But, I know people have been criticized by writers for only saying something so simple. There are so many books and great writers out there that I am saddened to see how they have to battle to get books published.

Dana, thank you for letting me stick my two cents into the pot. You are a writer that I truly admire and hope to see more from you. Thank you to all the writers that give me so much entertainment.

Thank you Michelle, not just for this interview, but for personifying the kind of reader I think we all have in mind at some level. Your comments, and your gracious support, are much appreciated.

I’d also like to thank the other participants in this series: Jon Jordan, Judy Bobalik, Peter Rozovsky, Thomas Pluck, John McFetridge, Tim O’Mara, Ali Karim, Zoe Sharp, and Jack Getze. Your time and insights are much appreciated. Next week I’ll wrap up the series with what seem to be consensus thoughts (where there are any), and take a stab at the questions myself. It’s only fair.

Goodreads members, don’t forget to go over and sign up for the Grind Joint giveaway, today through December 19. And remember, all readers of Grind Joint can email me at danakingcrime (at) gmail (dot) com to request a free e-book copy of either Wild Bill, Worst Enemies, or A Small Sacrifice.

Bouchercon Interviews Schedule

October 18 – Judy Bobalik and Jon Jordan (organizers)

October 25 – Peter Rozovsky (moderator)

November 1 – Thomas Pluck (author)

November 8 – John McFetridge (author)

November 15 – Tim O’Mara (author)

November 22 – Ali Karim (firmware)

November 27 – Zoe Sharp (author)

December 6 – Jack Getze (author)

December 13 – Michelle Turlock Isler (reader)

December 20 – Wrap-up

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Holy Stuff, Free Shit!

I know I’m not going to sell many—hell, any—books through a Goodreads giveaway, but it’s the Season of the Winter Solstice, when early darkness and lifeless, freezing landscapes promote the spirit of giving, so what the hell. Starting Friday—right, Friday the Thirteenth, bwahaha—through December 19, go on over to Goodreads and sign up. I’m giving away an autographed copy of Grind Joint. I’d hoped to have weekly drawings through the end of the year, but Goodreads isn’t letting me set up more than one at a time. (Maybe I have to wait for this one to go active first. Or maybe it’s just Goodreads being Goodreads, since an alarming amount of it is a pain in the ass, such as all the covers for my books disappearing, and the German language BDSM book I found under my name today.)

If this works and is as much fun as I hope, we’ll do more as time goes on.

But wait!!! There’s more!!!!

Anyone who reads Grind Joint* and sends an email to danakingcrime@gmail.com will receive one of my e-books for free. Gratis. Libre. Gratuito. Kostenlos. Бесплатно. Choose from any of these fine works, some of which have sold into the dozens:

Wild Bill - 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.

Worst Enemies (Predecessor to Grind Joint in the Penns River series) - Penns River rarely sees two homicides in a year. Two in little over a week is almost too much for the police force to handle. The assigned detectives—Ben Dougherty, a former MP and Penns River native, and retired Pittsburgh cop Willie Grabek—find links to bind the two cases, but their investigation is complicated by the involvement of private investigator Daniel Rollison, a retired spy on a suspect’s payroll who is really working for himself. Pittsburgh mob boss Mike Mannarino also lives in Penns River and has more than a passing interest in the case. The two cops’ savvy competes with the limitations of their small town’s resources and the interference of Rollison and Mannarino in a story that shows identifying a killer and proving it are separate things.

A Small Sacrifice (featuring Nick Forte, a key character in Grind Joint) - Detective Nick Forte is not impressed when Shirley Mitchell asks him to clear her son’s name for a murder everyone is sure he committed. Persuaded to at least look around, Forte soon encounters a dead body, as well as the distinct possibility the next murder he’s involved with will be his own. Clearing Doug Mitchell’s name quickly becomes far less important to Forte than keeping references to himself in the present tense.

The free e-book offer expires midnight, December 31, 2013. Anyone who knows me well can attest my generosity is exceeded only by my stinginess, so there’s no telling when I’ll suffer another such moment of weakness and decide to give things away again.

* - No proof required. I trust not only the readers of this blog, but anyone else they might tell; no need to keep this to yourself.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Twenty Questions With Les Edgerton

It’s hard to spend time in the company of crime writers and not be know of Les Edgerton. I’d been aware of him for several years as one of those writers I’d like to keep closer tabs on if I ever gte the goddamned To Be Read List under control, but never had a literary encounter with him until Bouchercon in Albany last September. Les read a brief poem for those who attended the Noir at the Bar meeting held as one of the Author’s Choice sessions. I’m not a poetry guy—as will be made clear when my annual holiday poem makes its appearance in a couple of weeks—but this broke my hard-boiled heart.

My Father and Robert Frost/Les Edgerton

One day I found a volume of poetry by Robert Frost in the prison library at Pendleton and checked it out.

Back in my cell, I read: Home is the place where, when you want to go there, they have to take you in.

When I made parole, I called my mom to tell her my good news. I found out that my dad had never read Robert Frost.

At least not that poem.

(Used with the permission of the author. Originally published in Blue Moon Literary and Art Review, Issue 6: Fall-Winter, 2010.

Included in Gumbo Ya-Ya: In the Zone and other Stories, Snubnose Press, December 2011)

This is not your garden variety writer of crime fiction.

Les took a few minutes to play Twenty Questions, with, as you may expect, some unexpected replies.

One Bite at a Time: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)

Les Edgerton: I got the idea for it many years ago, when I read Charles Bukowski’s The Fiend. It was the most courageous story I’ve ever read. Bukowski’s one of my literary heroes and I thought I’d challenge him for that title. The Fiend is an account from the mind of a child molester, showing how he came to that point where he could rape a little girl and then gives a graphic description of it. That would have been gratuitous if he hadn’t inserted one line. The kicker for me in this story was a line as Martin is kissing the child, just before he rapes her, and the narrator says, “Martin’s eyes looked into her eyes and it was a communication between two hells--one hers, the other his.” When I read this line, it was as if I’d been struck by literary lightening. This was the bravest story I’ve ever read from a writer. Why? Because there are actual morons out there who think the character is the writer. Can’t get around that. Not everyone has an I.Q. over a hundred or even close in many instances… But, writers refrain from writing some stuff because they’re afraid the mouth-breathers will equate them with the character. Not Bukowski. Except, to my mind, he kind of hedged his bet. Most of his work is from a first person POV and I think this is the only one he wrote from a third person. Putting some psychic distance between him and the character. I saw if as a bit of a cop-out from him and decided I wanted to beat him so cast mine in first person. Scott Adlerberg, in his review of The Rapist, says: “…except that in, as Edgerton put it, even Bukowski pulled back a bit, forgoing his usual first person narration to tell the story in the third person. In other words, Bukowski didn't handle this material head on; Edgerton dares to.”

Yes!

OBAAT: How long did it take to write The Rapist, start to finish?

LE: Probably about 2-3 months. Can’t remember as I wrote it over 30 years ago… Actually began it when I was in the joint, and celled next to a guy who was in for rape. He was my model for the book.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?

LE: Doesn’t matter. Back story has no place in a novel, in my opinion. If it does, write another novel.

OBAAT: In what time and place is The Rapist set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?

LE: Not sure. Not trying to be obtuse, but I’m really not sure. Had it in my head that it was around the turn of the century or maybe in the twenties… Maybe the fifties? Doesn’t matter. Make it where you want it. As far as the setting being important—well, the guy is on Death Row for murder and rape and it’s set in the prison, so it’s kind of crucial.

OBAAT: How did The Rapist come to be published?

LE: Because Cort McMeel read it. Cort was my best friend and I’d talked to him about it. I had shown it to one other person, Dr. Francois Camoin at Vermont College when he was my advisor for my MFA and Francois said it was “brilliant, a work of genius,” but that “I’d have a hard time finding a publisher for it, but that I would eventually and it would win awards.” He also said he thought I’d have a lot of trouble finding a U.S. publisher as U.S. audiences weren’t sophisticated enough to get or appreciate it and that he thought a French or German publisher would love it. As it turns out, I have a German publisher for it now (Pulpmaster) and he and his translator have both compared it to Bukowski.

Anyway, I showed it to Cort and he said he was thunderstruck by it. He wanted to publish it in his new press, Noir Nation, but then advised me to pull it because of his partner in that enterprise. I showed it to Jon Bassoff of New Pulp Press and he loved it. Actually, so did Brian Lindenmuth of Spinetingler Press and either of those guys would have been fantastic for it. I went with NPP for two reasons. They made an offer literally an hour or so before Spinetingler and the second reason was I’d read every single author on their list and there wasn’t a single book or author who wasn’t brilliant. I still think they’re the single best press in the world.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?

LE: I like to read quality writing. Like Nabokov, I think there are only two genres—good writing and bad. I’m loath to begin listing writers as there are so many I like I’ll end up forgetting one and will feel awful about doing so. I’ll stick to dead folks for this. Camus is my all-time favorite. His The Stranger to me is the most perfect book ever written. In fact, I keep rereading it, looking for the flaw. So far, I haven’t found it. I think he wrote it with the Eastern philosophy of always including a tiny flaw in the work—quilt or whatever—so that the artist doesn’t challenge God. It’s there, somewhere, but I just can’t find it. If it turns out he has written the perfect book, we might all as well quit. It has to be there! Recently, I saw a Goodreads review of The Stranger and the person gave it three stars. Three fucking stars! For Camus? I looked up this lady’s list of reviews and it turns out she loves John Grisham and folks like that. Fifty Shades of Crap… It all makes sense now… There are perhaps a hundred writers working today that I get their books the instant they’re out. If you’d give me the space to list ‘em all, I will, but it’s going to make this too long. And, then, once it comes out, I’ll think of someone whose work I love that I forgot and I’ll be suicidal.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?

LE: As far as writers, Camus, Balzac, Borges, Sarte, Celine, most of the Russians and most of the French, Flannery O’Connor, Ray Carver, some of Faulkner, Harry Crews, screenwriter Callie Khouri, James Crumley, Charles Bukowski, Chekhov… there are a bunch.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?

LE: I wear pants but not underwear. Is that TMI? I’m kidding… sort of… And, I do outline, although not the kind of outline most are familiar with. I use an outline of 15-20 words that provide a road map that works. It contains five statements: the inciting incident, the three major failures of the protagonist to attain his goal, and the resolution. It gives me a road map but one with enormous freedom. And, if it takes an unexpected turn, I simply take a few minutes, rewrite the outline and I’m off again. If I was going to take a road trip to Adak, Alaska, having never been there, I think the smart thing would be to pick up a map. I could just start driving north but that doesn’t always work well… It saves me an awful lot of time. I kind of laugh when I hear writers say they “never outline.” Kind of like Hemingway did—he said that. Except… he did. He didn’t call them “outlines” however. He called them “Draft #1, Draft #2, Draft #8…” and so on. His “outlines” were 100,000 words long… Which is what I think most people who claim they don’t outline do. They just keep writing draft after draft after… you get the picture…

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?

LE: Great question. And, this brings up something most of us suffer under. Most of us who write have been lifelong readers and have learned to write simply from the volume of our reading. The problem is, no “authority” has told us we know how to write, so we’re full of insecurities. A prime example is represented by your question. My instincts have always been to make it perfect as I went along. But… every damned article I read, every damn writer’s craft book I read, every damn lecture I attended—all of ‘em said that the writer “should get it down, lickety-split and then go back and rewrite.” Well, I did that because I didn’t trust my own instincts. After all, who was I to question all these writer folks? And then, one day I picked up a book and this guy said the opposite. He said if you wrote like that—just threw it down on paper and went back later to fix it, you’d end up with a bad product. He said, all those times when you’re rushing along and don’t have the perfect word and you think you’ll go back and find it later… don’t happen. He said all those places you were throwing words down and knew it could be better and you intended to go back and fix it—he said you wouldn’t. You’d forget what it was you saw as wrong, no matter what notes you might write in the margins. You’d end up not editing or rewriting—you’d end up copyediting at best. He advised to use the best paper (this was in the days of typewriters when lots of writers used poorer quality paper for their drafts) and to make each line, each page as perfect as you could before moving on. Well, for the first time in my life, I had an “authority” tell me it was okay to do what my instincts had been trying to tell me all along. Most of us are the same—we need someone we respect to tell us it’s okay to do something. This guy absolutely freed me up. I used to write 7-8 drafts and it took me at least a year to write a novel. These days, I can write one in 3-6 months and it’s infinitely better quality than the ones I used to rewrite and rewrite and… I rarely rewrite much at all these days. I’m rewriting as I go.

I’ve learned over and over again—if you’re a reader and have been all your life—you know how to write. Trust the instincts all that reading has honed. It’ll be on the money 99.9% of the time, no matter what the writing “wisdom” might say.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?

LE: I’d steal what Jim Harrison said. His advice was to “read the whole of Western literature for the past 4,000 years. Then, if you live long enough, read the whole of Eastern literature for the same period. For, if you don’t know what passed for good in the past, you won’t know what passes for good today.” Perfect advice. Which most won’t follow these days. Too many want instant gratification and don’t want to do the work. And, e-publishing makes that seem possible. But, I think the writer has to ask themselves if what they’re putting out is good writing… or just typing…

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.

LE: There isn’t anything else I like to do. That’s the truth. I’m doing one or the other 24/7 and it’s my choice. I read an average of five novels a week. The only thing else is several times a year I enjoy watching either the I.U. basketball team, the San Francisco Giants baseball team, and the Notre Dame football team play. That’s it. Occasionally, I’ll watch a movie. But, almost every waking minute I’m reading or writing.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?

LE: No question for me. The good review. And, I don’t mean one of those Amazon things—I mean the review by someone who knows what they’re talking about. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the Amazon review—I do—but sometimes they’re written by someone whose natural medium probably is crayons… And, sometimes, they’re written by folks who actually have a sound knowledge of and appreciation for literature. It’s kind of a crap shoot. But, a bona fide review by a respected publication is worth far, far more than any amount of money. To me, at least. I’m not like Mickey Spillane who said he didn’t have readers, he had customers. That was fine for him, but I have different goals. I’m the one who admired the writer who turned down Oprah’s selection of his book.

OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?

LE: Nope. Not even a temptation. I’ve walked away from many situations where I could have made a lot of money simply because I didn’t want to give up the time to write. No regrets in the least.

OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely?

LE: Not enough choices offered! Of the two offered, I’d go with Number 2. But, I’d much prefer to go with one of the Big Six or if not one of them, then a well-respected smaller press like Graywolf or Algonquin. Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not against money, but not at the price of quality publishing. This isn’t a good question, Dana. You’re guiding the answer. Those aren’t our only choices… J I’d rather be known as a good writer than a well-paid typist… If I could be Albert Camus or James Patterson… I’d learn to speak and write in French… I realize this may offend some, but if a writer doesn’t offend at least some people when he writes or speaks, he’s not really a writer. It’s our job to offend people…

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?

LE: All of ‘em. Usually, I drink Jack and water. Occasionally, beer, but never that abomination called Coors Lite or any of its cousins… And, I’m all grown up, so I never mix my drinks with pop… I’m one of those weirdos who don’t drink to get high or drunk, but because I really like the taste of liquor.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?

LE: Baseball live and football on TV. I have a theory about sports on TV. Television decrees which will be successful and mostly because of the shape of the field. Baseball is difficult to televise and watching a game on TV is excruciating because mostly all they show are the pitcher, hitter and catcher. There’s much, much more going on in the rest of the field, but the shape of the field precludes it from fitting the screen well. Football and basketball are perfectly suited for the screen. Hockey suffers because the puck is too hard to pick up on the screen and that’s one reason it hasn’t become a major sport. Actually, football doesn’t fit the screen perfectly, but most people who watch it never played it and all they’re interested in watching is the quarterback and the receiver or running back. Plus, the lines can both fit the screen at the beginning of the play, and even those who understand football can see a lot of what’s happening. Camera work has improved so much that both football and basketball can be followed. Watch basketball and most of the time they’re televising half court action. That fits the camera eye perfectly. It’s why soccer will never be big-time in the U.S. The field’s too big for TV and the action is much more scattered than in football. If the sport doesn’t fit the camera eye, it’ll never be big in the U.S.

And then, there’s the ball itself. As George Plimpton said: “There exists an inverse correlation between the size of a ball and the quality of writing about the sport in which the ball is used. There are superb books about golf, very good books about baseball, not very many good books about football, few good books about basketball, and no good books on beach balls.” Just sayin’…

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?

LE: Can I buy you a drink?

OBAAT: What’s the answer?

LE: Yes, indeed. I’ll have two… Doubles…

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

LE: This interview. Oh, you weren’t speaking literally. Actually, I’m working on a whole bunch of things. A new craft book, titled A Fiction Writer’s Workshop at the Bijou, my memoir, titled Adrenaline Junkie, an edit on new black comedy crime caper (The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping) (that’s coming out first in a German-language edition from Pulpmaster), a couple of new novels (thrillers), one untitled as of yet and one titled The Fixer and some other stuff. The Fixer is fun to write. It’s about a guy who did time at The Farm (Angola, LA), and starts doing hits to pay his rent and buy his red beans and rice when he makes parole. The twist is he make his hits all look like accidents. One, he puts sodium hydroxide in a guy’s gas tank (old Skinheads’ trick) and it blows up. Another, he disguises himself as a black guy (in “real life” he’s a coonass) and shows up at the ATM where his target always goes on Friday night, dressed up in an old-time pimp outfit—wearing a Big Apple, a two-foot high ‘fro, banana-yellow leisure suit with lots of gold chains and other accouterments of the trade, and holds up the vic, along with two ladies and acts like he’s on PCP and blows the guy away—all on camera—so they’re looking for Super Fly. In another, he goes to the vic’s house as an invited guest (disguised as a Mexican-American businessman) and drugs her and while she’s under, injects live rabies between her toes. The cool thing about rabies is that when you find out you’ve got it, it’s too late for much except picking out your casket… assuming you can take time off from running from water… Another one, where he lays out shotgun shells (as the vic did all the time) on his dresser and then starts a fire where they go off. Actually, he shoots the guy first (never know if a shell will actually fire the right way), and then sets an “accidental” fire that sets off the other shells. Stuff like that. All good diagrams for perfect crimes if anyone’s interested in buying a good how-to murder book… He works for a woman in NOLA he calls The Arranger. He goes by The Fixer. And, he’s going to blackmail her list of the clients she’s sent him… The other is about a philanthropic hitman who does vigilante work. His vics are all folks who did heinous crimes but got off too light. He just watches ID TV and Court TV and finds folks like the guys who offed an entire family and ended up getting eight years. When they come out, they get to meet this guy and it isn’t much fun for them. If they had their druthers, they probably end up wishing they’d gotten heavier sentences… Kind of like the Death Wish movies, only he has a higher calling… Just talked to my agent about this one and he likes it a lot.

And, mostly, like Richard Brautigan, my biggest dream is to write a novel that ends with the word mayonnaise. It’s a lifelong goal…

Thanks for this opportunity, Dana! I thoroughly enjoyed it. And, sorry it’s so long but I didn’t have enough time to write short…

Blue skies,

Les

Many thanks to Les Edgerton for taking the time to share his thoughts with us today. The Rapist is available in paperback and as an e-book.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bouchercon Interviews, Part 8: Jack Getze

Former Los Angeles Times reporter Jack Getze is Fiction Editor for Anthony-nominated Spinetingler Magazine, one of the internet's oldest websites for noir, crime, and horror short stories. His screwball Austin Carr mysteries, Big Numbers and Big Money, are being reissued in 2013 by Down and Out Books, with the new Big Mojo set for 2014. (Big Money is coming soon. Hang in there; it’s worth it.) His short stories have appeared online at A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, and The Big Adios. Jack is an Active Member of Mystery Writers of America.

One Bite at a Time: What made you decide to come to Albany?

Jack Getze: The reissue of my Austin Carr series and the encouragement from Austin’s publisher, Down and Out Books. Also, my agent Paula Munier is shopping a thriller, so getting back into the writing/publishing world seemed like a smart idea. Like a lot of writers, I’d rather observe than participate, but that’s not the way to find new readers, contacts, and friends.

OBAAT: What’s the most important aspect of Bouchercon for you? (This year, or any year?)

JG: People. I started going to conventions thinking I’d sell books, but unless you’re Sue Grafton or Charlaine Harris, book sales don’t pay for anybody’s trip. You go to meet people – other writers who talk about our craft, industry insiders who can teach me about the business, new friends who share knowledge. This year was perhaps my best convention of all – I cemented some newer friendships, made new contacts already helping my progress, and had the most fun time.

OBAAT: Were you on any panels?

JG: Yes. Something about noir, moderated by my friend Les Edgerton. I can’t remember much because I spent a lot of time helping Les to the elevator and carrying his drinks. I must have sipped a few. I think Les said I was funny on the panel, but maybe he said he didn’t like my Bugs Bunny handle. It’s a long story.

OBAAT: To you, what makes a good panel, from a panelist’s perspective?

JG: Honestly, I suppose as a panelist I’d judge things by how well I thought I presented myself. Did I sound like a jerk or did I get a few laughs, maybe encourage an audience member or two to purchase my cheap, $2.99 eBook. Like anything, though, a little drama and conflict help make a panel more entertaining for everyone. Audience involvement, disagreement on the panel, a good moderator -- all improve a panel.

OBAAT: What do you look for when deciding which panels to attend?

JG: WHO is on the menu, and then WHEN plays a secondary role. The topic rarely matters. Big stars on big panels always grab me, but often disappoint. Reed Farrell Coleman’s group this year was a wonderful exception. Lots of stars, lots of laughter, lots of information.

OBAAT: What makes a panel good for you when you’re in the audience?

JG: A good moderator is number one, someone who keeps things moving, who senses when someone is talking too much. It’s not an easy role – you often have to step on a toe or two -- although many moderators let blab-a-thons slide, the bores sometimes taking over and putting the audience to sleep. I’ve jumped in on occasion and cut off my co-panelist. Good moderators understand the job -- no matter how low-key books and writers are, a panel is SHOWTIME. People are watching and listening. You have to work to keep their attention.

OBAAT: Would you like to see more or fewer questions from the audience?

JG: More – in advance. If the moderator had a stack of questions, the job becomes easier.

OBAAT: What’s your favorite Bouchercon story, from this year or any past years?

JG: After listening to a dozen or so writers read from their works, I walked up to a young author later, told him how much I liked his story, how the image of the coin his character talked about stuck in my head as he read. He looked at my name tag with puzzlement, so another of his fans at my shoulder said, “This is Jack Getze from Spinetingler Magazine. He knows what he’s talking about,” or some such. I smiled, the writer smiled, and we all walked away, me feeling a bit like I’d bestowed the kid some honor. Two days later, I look him up on Amazon. His latest novel is #464 in the paid Kindle store, he has five other books in the four and low-five digit sales numbers. The guy is practically a star! This is my life, Dana. Clueless. (Editor’s Note: If the kid’s so sharp, how come he had to be told who Jack Getze is?)

Many thanks to Jack Getze for taking the time to sit for this interview. It’s good to see Big Numbers and Big Money being resurrected. I read both, and they deserve more attention than they’ve received.

Bouchercon Interviews Schedule

October 18 – Judy Bobalik and Jon Jordan (organizers)

October 25 – Peter Rozovsky (moderator)

November 1 – Thomas Pluck (author)

November 8 – John McFetridge (author)

November 15 – Tim O’Mara (author)

November 22 – Ali Karim (firmware)

November 27 – Zoe Sharp (author)

December 6 – Jack Getze (author)

December 13 – Walter Colby (reader)

December 20 – Michelle Turlock Isler (reader)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ed McBain

I’ve been truly serious about writing—by which I mean willing to exclude other things to find time for it—since about early 2001. Written novels, short stories, flash fiction, reviews, articles; probably produced finished works containing over a million words. The more I read and write and think about reading and writing—which I do a lot—I’m coming to the conclusion that Ed McBain was the greatest writer of crime fiction to date.

His 87th Precinct novels spanned fifty years, and the latest were even better than the earliest, when he was making his name. He wrote other series, and under other names. Evan Hunter wrote novels and screenplays (most notably the novel Blackboard Jungle and the screenplay for Hitchcock’s The Birds.) He wrote under pseudonyms (Richard Marsten, Hunt Collins, Curt Cannon, Ezra Hannon, John Abbott), and even wrote a “collaboration” between McBain and Hunter. Oh, and his birth name was none of the above: Salvatore Lombino. He changed it because the odds were long for an Italian-American writer in the 50s.

He pretty much invented the police procedural. Others may have written cop-based stories before him, but he elevated the form and perfected it. His 87th Precinct stories (with which I am most familiar) have plots of varying complexity, never so much as to detract from the characters or force the reader to take notes to keep track of what the hell’s going on. You may guess who did it, but the reason may ot be what you expected. The ending will make sense, and he won’t cheat you with unprepared twists.

His ensemble cast evolves and grows older, though not in real time. His primary cop, Steve Carella, gets married and has kids, ages maybe twelve to fifteen years over the fifty years of the series. The books stays current with police techniques and modern technology; people who may have needed to go to the drug store to make a phone call when the series started have cell phones by its end, with few gray hairs in between. He pulls it off.

Recent interviews have made me think about who are the major influences on my writing. The more I ponder, the more I realize McBain has been the key influence, though not in obvious ways. It’s said the 87th Precinct novels aren’t so much cop novels as they’re novels about cops; I’ve been consciously trying to move that direction without thinking of it in those terms until research for this post reminded me. McBain often wrote self-contained secondary stories with little or nothing to do with the main plot. Or it might; you’ll have to read on to see. The WIP has some of that. He’s not afraid to step outside and interject a small authorial comment into his descriptions. Not so boldly it interrupts your fictional dream. More along the lines of hearing the story from an omniscient narrator who’s bullshitting with you at a bar. It’s a great way to inject levity or sardonic humor unexpectedly, especially while conducting stage business. When used judiciously, it’s effective as hell. Yeah, I’m working on doing that too.

Trimming down an interrogation so the only speech attributions are Q. and A. Done that. Create a fictional city that is a thinly disguised interpretation of the real thing. Works great. Ensemble cast? Check. My writing voice is quite a bit different; anyone who tries to steal voice is a fool. I still strive for the type of understated eloquence he achieved as a matter of course. I might get a sentence like that every 50,000 words or so, if I’m on a roll.

He doesn’t seem to get as much attention since he died. No one has lined up to continue the Eight-Seven stories. His name isn’t often mentioned at the beginning of discussions of “bests;” it will come up down the trail a bit, followed by the general acclamation, “Oh, right, McBain. Of course.” It used to bother me, his excellence so quickly taken for granted, almost forgotten. Now I figure it’s because he’d set himself apart, doing so many little things so well such discussion assumed his name, and we’re left to haggle over who else is worthy of inclusion.