Tuesday, April 22, 2014

White Hot Pistol still loaded

My novella, White Hot Pistol, is out and about in the world, but with little fanfare. Naturally I think that's a shame because I'm the author. The good news is the people who are reading it are liking it. I submit as evidence, this review which calls it "A fine example of hardboiled modern pulp."

So, if you like a story that, "starts at quite a pace and it doesn't let up for an instant," you should check out this nasty little slice of noir. Book 2 in the Noirville tales will be out before you know it and you don't want to miss out, right?

Want a taste? The first chapter is right here.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Interview with David Oppegaard

David Oppegaard has a new book out, And The Hills Opened Up. It's a wild and weird trip to the old west where outlaws, miners and isfits do battle with the fabled Charred Man. Part horror novel and part western gunslinger this, like all of Oppegaard's work, is a unique book to say the least. 

Curious about where these crazy ideas come from, I asked David a few questions. 

You write cross-genre hybrids. What are your influences for that stuff? You seem to be operating in your own little world.
I read a ton when I was very young and I guess all the genres sort of mashed together in my brain. We had a reading program in my elementary school that gave out prizes for reading Newbery books and reporting on them. I’d show up in the school library almost every morning and give a fresh report to the librarian. I don’t even think I really understood the concept of “genre” until high school.
Do you start with a conventional story and then twist it as you go or do these ideas come fully formed out of some twisted furnace in your brain?
Every book’s a little different, but I suppose I start with an idea for a story that interests me and purposefully twist as I go along. The Suicide Collectors, for example, started as thought experiment-could I come up with a unique apocalypse?  My goal is to never write the same book twice.
And The Hills Opened Up is a little like a campfire tale. Is there any true to life origin for the story?
I love a good campfire tale!  I did base Red Earth on a few copper mining towns in the northern Sierra Madres in southern Wyoming around roughly the same time period. These were remote company towns that revolved on working twelve hours underground a day, drinking, and sleeping. I did a lot of copper mine research for the novel as well.

Why was it important for the story to be set in 1890 instead of today?
I think the past is underserved in horror literature-think how much darker and horrific the world must have appeared to be back in the day. Plus, I love westerns and 1890 fell right on the far edge of the typical “western” time period.
You’ve written about meteors falling to earth, the end of the world or at least The Despair, and now the Charred Man. Why do you want to destroy humanity?
I don’t want destroy it, personally, but I do think it’s doing a pretty good job at destroying itself. It was reported recently that a NASA-funded study stated industrial civilization was headed for an “irreversible collapse”.  I thought the most telling thing to come out of that study was how nobody really gave a damn about it, even the folks who acknowledged it was probably true. The human race seems to lack the ability to truly understand that failure is an option, that we’re not too big to fail. Which, of course, is the downfall of every smug villain in history.
Do you ever feel silly having to state “this is a work of fiction” at the start of your books?
You mean on the copyright page? Yeah, I guess that exists to cover everybody’s ass. I’ve also noticed every novel needs to have “A Novel” marked on the front cover beneath the title. Back in the day people knew a goddamn novel when they saw one.
Behind the curtain question: how have you liked working with a smaller press (Burnt Bridge) on this book? Is And The Hills Opened Up the kind of book a big publisher is just not going to get behind these days?
HILLS certainly made the rounds at major publishing houses and earned much praise but never sold. My agent believes it was the western part of western-horror, that people aren’t buying much western fiction right now.  My editor at Burnt Bridge was Mark Rapacz, an old buddy of mine from the Hamline University MFA program.  Working with Mark was great and I had a lot of input in the cover, the overall layout, etc. An ideal process, really.
Obviously you eschew the "write what you know" school of advice, or else you have a really interesting life. What's the thing you know now that you wish you'd known when you first started writing?
That’s an interesting question.  Maybe it’s better not to know too much when you’re starting out, because if you’re too self-aware (or truly aware of how hard the writing life is to pursue) you might never set out at all.  I’ve written fourteen novels total and it’s been a constant learning process.  I might tell younger Dave to make sure he’s truly enjoying whatever he’s writing about and to make sure that sense of enjoyment remains a constant guide.
I see a lot of Joe Lansdale in And The Hills Opened Up, and that's high praise from me. Who do you read on a regular basis and who should we be reading more of?
I think folks should just be reading more, period. I visit my library at least once a week a leave with a handful of books. I sort of plow through everything, let it sift through my brain, and hopefully it all makes me a better writer and person. Still, I admit I watch way too much TV.
In the western vein of literature I recently read and highly recommend Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. 

I can second my love of The Sisters Brothers. Thanks, David, for stopping by. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

I had to

A few weeks ago Steve Hockensmith and I were trading quips on Twitter, as you do. It's common knowledge that Hockensmith is quippier than I and somewhere in the exchange where I threatened to turn to writing for children he suggested some fake titles. Well, they were too good to pass up. When I first read Charlotte's Web Of Deceit, the ideas flowed. And I'm not one to leave a good idea on the side of the road. So I had to.

So blame Mr. Hockensmith (then read all his books, which are all top of the heap excellent) and to Steve, my apologies for dragging your name into this. 

I decided to put the story up here because really, who's going to publish this? Of course, if you want to, just drop me a line. Otherwise, feel free to link to it, copy and paste it, print it out and distribute it to a first grade class. Just give me credit where credit is due, and don't leave out Steve Hockensmith. He ought to suffer the same wrath I do from the legions of fans this book deservedly has.

by Eric Beetner

(For Steve Hockensmith)

From high in the rafters above the pig pen, Charlotte watched as the afternoon crowd of curious onlookers pushed and squeezed against each other for a look at her web.
"Well, folks, that about wraps it up for today," Mr. Zuckerman said. "Wilbur needs his beauty rest."
"He sure is some pig," someone in the crowd said, echoing the words woven into Charlotte’s web.
As the crowd began to disperse the folks waved at Wilbur, some blew kisses, but same as the other days since the first message appeared, nobody thanked Charlotte. They didn't glance upwards to the rafters where she hid, nobody mentioned the skill of the web making, only the words written in silk as if some divine hand had put them there and not the midnight artistry of a skilled weaver. 
The animals in the barnyard all said a goodnight to Wilbur. The sheep and the lambs spoke in a chorus. The goose with her fast talking skronk, “Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight Wilbur.”
Even Templeton the rat paused as he left the trough with an armload of uneaten apple cores and corn cobs. “‘Night Wilbur. Save me some breakfast, will ya?”
“Will do, Templeton,” Wilbur said cheerfully.
But did anyone say goodnight to Charlotte? No.
Below, Wilbur strutted with a newfound pride while overhead Charlotte simmered with her own new feeling – jealousy.
That pig, who wallowed in filth all day long, was seen as some sort of miracle, some great achievement. And for what? Because someone said something nice about him in a web? What did he do to earn their respect and adulation? Nothing.
She was the one. The artist. The inspiration. The savior. She kept the axe from his neck and nobody even knew she existed.
As the sun set the spider rubbed her forelegs together and gave in to the arachnid thoughts playing across her mind. She decided that night to weave a different message.


"Pa, come quick. There's a new message in Wilbur's pen!"
The excitement across the barnyard never seemed to dull with each new message Charlotte spun. As the farmer and his wife gathered at the gate with Lurvy the farmhand and young Fern beside them, they all stared up into the web, still glistening with early morning dew and cast golden by the breaking sun reaching the barn posts.
The usual excited chatter was, this morning, replaced by a slack-jawed silence. Mr. Zuckerman broke the quiet first.
"Am I reading that right?"
Wilbur, who couldn't read, let the piggish smile drop from his face as he turned to the rafters where Charlotte hid in the shadows. She was exhausted from the night’s work, but she had to see the reaction first hand. The looks on their faces were as delicious as a horsefly caught in the center of her web.
The animals all joined the Zuckermans, little Fern and Lurvy as they stared up at the new word: TASTY.


They kept it to themselves this time. No crowds came to gawk. Nobody patted Wilbur's rump with its stiff bristly hairs and smell of manure and rotten leftovers from the farmer’s kitchen.
"Maybe it's like a double meaning," Lurvy said. "Tasty means good, right? Maybe it's just a different way of saying good."
This seemed to brighten everyone's mood, or at least clear away the confusion.
"By golly I think you're right," Mr. Zuckerman said.
Charlotte steamed in her hiding spot as the call was put out to let the rubberneckers come. They were told a new message was written in the web and it meant good. In no time at all the word passed through the crowd and gained new meaning. That new car Del got was mighty tasty. The rains brought crops this year that were awful tasty compared with last year. Fern’s new dress looked positively tasty on her.
When evening settled and the humans had gone, Wilbur thanked Charlotte in his usual childlike squeaky voice, a voice Charlotte had begun to despise.
"Gee, thanks Charlotte," Wilbur said. "I sure wish I had your gift of vocabulary. Sometimes you use words I never knew what they truly meant."
"Yes, of course, Wilbur. My pleasure. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm dead tired because of all my hard work on your behalf." Charlotte retreated to her hiding place in the rafters. "Why, it's been two days since I’ve caught so much as a mosquito. These new webs aren't exactly designed for catching dinner you know."
"Gosh, Charlotte, you’re ever so nice to me."
That's all she got. Not an offer to tear down the web so she could eat. He'd rather her starve than stop the flood of well wishers and sycophants coming by to pretend his dung didn't stink. Well, it did. 
That night she knitted a word in silk that no one could misinterpret.


Mr. Zuckerman's slack jaw had an extra quality to it the next morning. A bit of drool forming in the corners of his mouth.
Absently he licked his lips as he stared up at the newly spun word in the morning light. His eyes went from the web down to Wilbur, then back to the web and the word frozen there: BACON.

"What's it say, Charlotte?" Wilbur asked.
"It says bacon."
"And what's that?"
Templeton slithered out from under the slop trough. "You don't know what bacon is?"
Charlotte cut him off before he could continue. "More important than what it means, Wilbur, is the fact that everyone loves bacon."
"Everyone?" Wilbur asked in a hopeful voice.
Chilled by the spider's calm demeanor, Templeton slid back into hiding, away from Charlottes compound eyes, which seemed to glow a little bit red today.
Talk around the farmyard was hushed that day. The farmer and Lurvy stood to the side and whispered, pointing at Wilbur and then shaking their heads as if they didn't know what to do.
But Charlotte did.

The next morning Charlotte unveiled her masterpiece. Rendered in silk, in 3/4 scale, was a complete outline of a hog with dotted lines (a tricky feat in web silk) marking the different cuts of meat. She'd outlined ham hocks, pork chops, the loins, the belly, the rump. It was a rendering worthy of the finest butcher shop in town.
A meeting was called in the Zuckerman’s house.
The sheep avoided the area of the pig pen all day. The goose kept a squinty eye on Charlotte, half starved yet looking fully satiated.
"Gee, Charlotte," Wilbur said. "Sure is quiet today."
"That's life on a farm, Wilbur. Trust me, things will get very exciting soon. Don't you know what they say about the calm before the storm?"
"Golly you're smart."
And you're dumb, thought Charlotte. Ignorant. Dimwitted. Imbecilic. Moronic. All the juicy words she could weave into her web were delicious on her tongue.
No crowds came that day. No parades, no songs in Wilbur's honor. The silence, to Charlotte, was blissful.


On Easter Sunday the eggs were gathered from the chicken coops and hidden around the yard. Fern and her cousins all shrieked as they ran to find the hidden treasures.
The mood in the barn was quiet different. Sullen, the animals shuffled feet and tried not to lift their noses to the smells coming from the kitchen in the farmhouse. The sweet glaze over the ham, the salty tang in the air of slow roasted meat.
The pig pen stood empty. Above, Charlotte was busy spinning a web. No words, nothing fancy, just a time honored method of gathering food. The circle of life and all that.
She felt the hard glare of eyes below and Charlotte stopped her work to look at the sheep watching her. Templeton stared from the fence post and the goose narrowed her eyes from beyond the pen. 
"Yes?" Charlotte said.
"How could you?" said the sheep.
"How could I what?"
"You sent Wilbur to his death. Now he's supper on the table."
"Wasn't that always to be his fate? Isn't that the fate for all of you?"
A murmur ran through the assembled crowd of animals. The goose stretched her long neck and spoke to Charlotte in an accusing tone. "What kind, what kind of monster are you?"
Charlotte smiled and went back to her web spinning. "Why, a black widow of course."

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I'm cheap

Just for fun let's go over how many books of mine, or that I'm included in, you can get for only .99. Ready? Let's go:

Books #1 and #2 of The Year I Died Seven Times
My short story collection, A Bouquet Of Bullets
My cannibals and strippers novella Stripper Pole At The End Of The World
The 2nd of my Fightcard novellas, A Mouth Full Of Blood
The anthology Beat To A Pulp: Hardboiled 2
The original Pulp Ink
The crime and horror (my story is both) anthology Pulp Ink 2
Both of the Off The Record anthologies
The humor anthology Junk
The crazy crime anthology D*CKED

You're welcome.

In other news, I got more copies of Criminal Economics in. We're nearing 100 when this run of limited edition paperback copies will end. So contact me if you want one. $10, plus $3 shipping. Hand numbered and signed.
Or buy all that stuff above for the same price. Up to you. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Book #2 - moving along

If it's March then Book #2 of The Year I Died Seven Times must be out. And looky there, it is! People seem to be getting hooked on Ridley and his desperate search for the girl of his dreams. Crimespree Magazine sure did love it, and for a crime writer that's kinda like the New York Times giving you a rave.

And now each installment is only .99, for you who thought the extra fifty cents was just too much. Get on board now, the next installment is coming next month. It will all wrap up by November so you have all summer to look forward to more action, more intrigue, more deaths. After that the whole book will be available in one volume, but the print version of each step of the way is still there for the collectors among you.

As long as I'm here talking about good things, another review came across my desk for the little book that lives on – Dig Two Graves. I share it because it feels good for my ego and I've been informed I need to get over the inclination to shy away from praise. This would be a good time to do that, however, since the reviewer makes the absurd assertion that my little book is in the same league as Chandler, Hammett, Cain, Thompson and Hinkson. That hyperbole aside, I love reading when someone really enjoys a book. So, y'know, if you were thinking of doing it and wondering, do authors like that? Yes. Yes, we do.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The myth of the "pantsers"

It is an eternal question among writers: are you an outliner or a pantser?

I outline, and everyone I know who came from screenwriting does the same. I'm not saying it's the "right" way to do it, but it's my way. I have my own quirks, as everyone does. Yes, we're all special little snowflakes. Now that we got that out of the way, I get a little annoyed at the occasional (read as: not everyone does it so calm the fuck down before you get offended at my opinion) but the occasional attitude of the non-outliner, or write-by-the-seat-of-the-pants people. I get the feeling, now and then, that they think this is a more "real" way of writing. Like I use an outline as a crutch. Like I'm stifling my creativity by forcing myself to adhere to a predetermined structure.

Um, no.

So, without endorsing this as the way you should do it, because you should write however the hell you want to, and because I think 99.9% of all writing advice is bullshit and absolutely 100% of all unsolicited writing advice is dangerous, toxic bullshit you should avoid like a glowing meteor that fell in your yard - here's why I think outlining is better.

First: The truth is, at some point, it's all made up out of the ether. We're all "pantsing" it. It's what making up a story is. Whether I do it and then write down those snippets of ideas and form it into a structure and work out plot holes, narrative inconsistencies and character before I start writing chapter headings doesn't mean at some point I was just riffing and making shit up.

I have strange ways of working on my ideas and forming outlines. I like to think about a story for a long time before I formally write it all down, but it's all part of the writing process. I hit on an idea and I roll it around for a while. If it sticks with me I know I'm on to something, and really my only criteria is if it is a book I'd like to read. Well, the only way I'm going to get to read that book is if I write it so . . . off I go. 

But I still think on it. I think before I take notes. Then I write some stuff down, longhand. When it seems like a real story and not something I'm going to get to 20K words and find I've used up my story, then I set down to do a real outline.

Second: Outlines are flexible.

My outlines are fairly sparse. 'He goes to the apartment' may end up as a 3K word chapter. And they are flexible. This myth the pantsers have that outliners sit with a ruler and stick to what they've outlined as if we were German SS troops who must stick to zee outline at all costs! Not how it works. If the story takes a different direction, then great. 

I knew a guy who was working on his first novel and he told me he had about 70 pages of notes and outlines. To me, that's excessive. But again, it's your process, man. Do your thing.

ThirdI don't like to rewrite. 

I don't really know anyone who does. A lot of writers will say this is where the "real" writing takes place, but I disagree.
And since I outline, since I don't meander toward a story, I do very little rewriting. I rewrite for polish, for grammar, to fix mistakes in my own inadequate language skills and punctuation bugaboos. 
So if you don't outline, you don't get to complain about how painful your rewrites are and lament on how you had to toss out all of chapter 4 and start again.

Four: since when is planning ahead a bad thing?

I think of it like remodeling a house. If you build the house, paint it, put the carpets in, decorate it and then step back to look and only then say, "Y'know what, that door should be over there." Well, shit, that's a hell of a lot harder to do than making the change from a guest bedroom to a padded sex dungeon when it's all studs and plywood.

I believe in pre-production. You iron out the kinks, you strive for consistency. Then you set down to the building. And it's not like the old Hitchcock thing where he allegedly said the actual shooting of a movie was boring because he had it all thought out beforehand. You might know where the story is going, but isn't the pleasure in writing the words, the sentence structure and finding the perfect way to describe that sound when a fat man falls down the stairs while wearing tap shoes?

Outlines don't stifle creativity. If anything, I think it frees me up to focus on the words because the plot is already sorted out. 

So if you don't outline, keep on keeping on. But don't sneer at the outliners and treat us like we write with training wheels on.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Video chat

The good folks at Bookxy, publishers of my novella White Hot Pistol, sat me and a ton of other authors down for little chats. Here's mine. I give you a little about the book, a few of my desert island reads, and my favorite line in all of noir fiction. Give it a gander, then check out then whole crew (well, half. There is another one just like this) for a roundtable discussion on the future of publishing. (below)

Check out Bookxy's YouTube channel for interviews with each Bookxy author. Good stuff all.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A new way to do it

So I had this book, see . . . and nobody wanted to publish it. Well, really I didn't try very hard. But it was there and just hanging out, waiting patiently in line behind a bunch of others. I wanted to put it out in a manner suiting the very different nature of the book. See, it comes in seven installments. It just sort of worked out that way. Maybe because the book is called The Year I Died Seven Times and the protagonist (not a spoiler alert at all) dies at the end of each section. 
Oh, he's not dead-dead. It's not a zombie novel. He just dies a little bit. Technically. Clinically dead I think they call it. Anyway, I had this book . . .

Well, I pitched the idea to my pal David over at Beat To A Pulp. My idea was to put out each section on the BTAP site and then when they were all there collect them up and put them out as a book. He did me one better. Put each out as it's own little book and let the story build like an old time serial. Or, as it turns out, The Green Mile from Stephen King. I had no idea Green Mile originally came out as short novellas one at a time and added up to a full book. Well, it sounded good to me. Most of all it sounded different.

We went for it. And now here it is.

The plan is this: Over the course of 2014 we will release all seven volumes in the month the story takes place. So, first installment is January. Next one is March. And so on. By the end of the year – November actually, you don't even have to wait a whole year – the book will be released in its entirety and then we'll collect up all the pieces and put them in one volume. But who can wait for that?

Each book will be available as an ebook for the low, low price of 1.49 and then we are also doing a print version as a collectors edition. I'm designing each book cover to work as a set so only when you have all 7 on your shelf do the spines line up and make sense. Those cost more, but like I said, it's a collector's item. 

I'm excited for this book to get out there. It's fun and kinda funny, I think, and along the way you watch as a guy gets his life ruined and ended in outlandish, surprising and painful ways. And he does it all for love. Yep, love kills. Seven times.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Favorites of 2013

I tried Grammarly's check plagiarism free of charge because I wanted this list to be mine and mine alone. I am allergic to cats, copy and otherwise.

I didn’t keep track of what I read this year and I’m realizing that was a mistake. I’m figuring I made it darn close to 100 books if you include audiobooks and the did not finish pile, which for me can grow quite large. I’m impatient, what can I say?
I also made a concerted effort to read outside the crime genre this year. It yielded some good books like the nonfiction Lost In Shangri-La, which was a fascinating story very well told. It confirmed some things I thought I knew but wanted to test again, like the fact that I just don’t care for much Sci-Fi. But y’know, I tried brussel sprouts again this year after buying the hype that they were the poster veggie for all that is tasteless and lame about greens only to discover I love brussel sprouts. Go figure. The same did not hold true for The Martian Chronicles, which I found silly. And I tried one of the John Carter of Mars books but just couldn’t get into it.
I tried a few more “literary” titles. Charles Frazier’s Nightwoods on audio was a beautiful experience. The words were like honey in my ears and the reader was perfect. Not much happened in the book and I’d bet if I were reading it I would have put it down. Glad I did the audio instead. 
Keith Rawson will hunt me down and kill me for saying so, but I couldn't get into Once Upon A River. Well written, but it meandered like a lazy . . . well, like something I can't think of right now.
But on to the crime fiction books I loved. As always I am playing catch up with most titles and so not everything here came out in 2013, but I tried to keep it fairly contemporary. 

Angel Baby by Richard Lange is fighting hard for the top spot of the year for me. I knew nothing about it going in, which I love, and was totally enthralled from the opening. It is a dark tale and follows a structure I’ve come to find is my favorite type of book – a story of a crime or some bad folks told from several points of view as things spiral more and more out of control. It’s what I love in some of last years favorites like Last Call For The Living and The Terror Of Living
Lange spins a brutal tale that never wallows. The characters are all real and there is a real rooting interest here. At least once I think I audibly gasped when one plot point hit, and it was from sheer emotion. “No! You can’t do that to her!” I knew I was invested.
Happy to say Lange will be joining us at our Feb 9th noir at the bar. I’m hoping to have his other novel, This Wicked World finished by then. I immediately went out and bought it after Angel Baby.

Criminal Enterprise by Owen Laukkanen

The Professionals blew me away and it’s just not fair how well Laukkanen keeps up the tension and action in the second volume of his Stephens and Windemere series. Once again the focus is on the criminal more than the law officers who are the series regulars, and it works brilliantly because of it.
I’m not a police procedural guy and these books are the perfect antidote to the rote law enforcement books. By focusing on the desperate characters at the center of the mayhem, Laukkanen makes us feel for the real people behind the crimes to the point where we almost want Carter Tomlin to get away with it. Almost.
Laukkanen isn’t afraid to let his criminals dive deep into the muck. These books are the ultimate income inequality cautionary tales. This is 100% contemporary fiction that I guarantee will be just as good and relevant fifty years from now. They deserve to be around that long, too. Can’t wait for Kill Fee next year.

Out Of The Black by John Rector

Talk about criminals we care about. This book takes a man to his breaking point. It is not for the timid. As a father of daughters, it skirted the limits of what was comfortable and made me squirm. And that’s a good thing. I cared. I was right there with him every step of the way.
Rector is the modern noir master of “What would I do?” fiction. I felt that in every sentence of The Cold Kiss, Already Gone and now Out Of The Black. He also had the excellent novella Lost Things this year. 
Rumors that he may be slowing down his output make me antsy. I could read a new John Rector book every three months. 

Go With Me by Castle Freeman - Hard Cold Whisper by Michael Hemmingson - Driving Alone by Kevin Lynn Helmick

I group these three short novels together because they all came recommended from the same source - Brain Lindenmuth over at Snubnose Press. He put out a list of modern noir and I started buying them up, not to be disappointed yet. These three stood out.
Go With Me reminded me a bit of Barry Gifford, but with more focus. The prose is spare and the story slight. It doesn’t sink into the hyperbole many thrillers can devolve into. It’s a quiet book, but I was totally absorbed.
Hard Cold Whisper is nothing new. It’s a classic femme fatale noir tale, but for something that reads like an old Popular Library paperback, it’s truly modern. Brief and tough, this was a great just-gimmie-what-I-want story.
Driving Alone was like a fever dream. As sweat-soaked as a Louisiana summer this one grabbed me with it’s gumbo-thick prose and swept me along with a story I had to get to the end of and then realized I had no idea what to expect when I got there. Good, gothic noir fun.

A Single Shot by Matthew F. Jones
I didn’t see the film adapted from this novel this year and it flopped, but when I saw the trailer I thought casting Sam Rockwell was a stroke of genius.
At first I thought this book was going to try to be all deep and literary on me, but as it evolved it became the rare perfect blend of a pulpy story with a masterful writer at the helm. One of those books than made me feel like all my own writing is shit. And really, isn’t that the best compliment a writer can give?

Pine Box For A Pin-Up by Frank DeBlase
The good folks at Down and Out books put out some really interesting stuff. I read this one in a single shot on an airplane and loved the hell out of it. It’s a loving homage to old school pulp fiction, but with a protagonist who rose above the pastiche and clearly marked signposts of this little amateur detective tale.
DeBlase has the pulp patter down to a T. It’s was a rich reading experience for someone like me who loves a great twist of phrase and never met a hard boiled simile he didn’t like.
I look forward to more adventures from cheesecake photographer Frankie Valentine. 

The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson
Let’s be honest, this book ran the risk of being overhyped. Robinson has a hell of a lot of good will in the crime fiction community, this despite being a straight talking, bullshit free guy who will speak his mind to you only so long before his fists start to do the talking for him. But he’s done so much for the crime community with Thuglit (proud alumni here!) and with the NYC edition of Noir At The Bar. 
A lot of people were waiting with baited breath to see what Robinson could do in a novel. At first I thought this was going to be a fairly typical find-the-girl mystery, but what stuck with me - and readers all over - are the characters Boo and Junior. With charm, heart and foul mouthed humor they crash and burn the most inept but sincere investigation ever played out in the Back Bay.
I’m never a fan of the ‘world’s best’ this or ‘world’s deadliest’ that. These two clowns are not that. They are deeply human, screw up constantly and manage to walk away with the reader’s heart. Turns out Robinson has a gooey center underneath all those whiskers. 

Several of these writers were new to me this year. I also read several great books by writers I already love. Duane Swierczynski wrapped up the Charlie Hardie series with style in Point and Shoot. Jake Hinkson stunned again with his novella The Posthumous Man. I read more by Chester Himes, Lionel White and Day Keene that I really enjoyed.
A few other new writers I really came to love through their older books I feel need mentioning.

I was late to the party on two guys in particular and I’m so glad I remedied that this year. Grant Jerkins is a writer after my heart. His The Ninth Step and A Very Simple crime hit my sweet spot. He is a simple writer. There’s no pyrotechnics, just a compelling story told with a page turning immediacy that I really loved. He wears his influences on his sleeve, even dropping several Cornell Woolrich references into The Ninth Step and he has not one but two characters watching Double Indemnity in A Very Simple Crime. I immediately snagged his third novel At The End Of The Road and I’m looking forward to diving in very soon.
Another writer I had on my radar for a while is Roger Smith, the South African writer. I started at the beginning with Mixed Blood, his first novel. Holy crap. I loved it so much he couldn’t possibly do it again. Then came Wake Up Dead. Holy double crap.

These are brutal books. I read someone say once that the S. African tourism board must hate Smith (sorry I don’t recall who said it, but it’s dead on) and Smith’s Capetown is not one I want to visit. But damn he can spin a tale. I love how he tells several stories at once and at times it’s impossible to see how they will all link up, but they do brilliantly.
He does not shy away from any of the squalid life he sees on the streets and slums of Capetown and the prisons, squats and back alleys his characters live in. These are violent stories of characters trying to break free, trying to make do, struggling not to give up and to make their way in what are sometimes the only ways provided to them in a very limited list of options.
Smith has several more books out there and I’m looking forward to reading all of them. Why the hell did I wait so long?

So there you go. A whole lot to consider and a whole lot of books you’d be silly not to read. Here’s to a 2014 filled with just as many great reads.

Friday, December 13, 2013

White Hot Pistol - Chapter 1

The first taste is free. Below is the first chapter of my new novella, White Hot Pistol, available exclusively for the next few months on the new Bookxy site for a silly low price of 2.99.
I dare you – dare you, I say – to read this first installment and not want to read the rest.

(unused cover art concept by Marc Sasso)



Nash remembered the first time he escaped this town. Six years ago he drove the same stretch of highway, only then he didn’t have his little sister asleep in the passenger seat. Back then Jacy was only eleven.
She needed to escape for many of the same reasons. This town, a speck on a map, a town full of nothing but dead ends, it bled you dry. And then there was Brian.
The Stepdad. 
Technically Jacy was Nash’s stepsister, and neither was Brian’s blood child. He was Mom’s third attempt at happily ever after, and the third time was decidedly not the charm.
Nash never had to deal with what Jacy did from Brian, though. Nobody should have to deal with what she did.
The dashboard clock was in single digits of the morning. He’d waited for hours outside the house, waiting for her to make her escape. He fought to stay awake, and now he was jealous of her snoring in the seat next to him. She’d gone to sleep so fast, so easy. Probably the unwinding of the noose around her neck as they cleared town limits. They could feel the rope loosen, even though Noirville is so gnat-shit small there’s no sign telling you you’ve left. It’s such an unremarkable feat, why waste the paint?
He couldn’t be too mad at her deep slumber. He knew the feeling of freeing himself from the bonds of this town, these people. Still, his head nodded, searching for sleep, and the steady rhythm of the highway made it worse. 
Nash reached into Jacy’s purse for a smoke. He’d quit years ago, but after breaking his stepsister free from the gates of hell, he felt he’d earned it. Plus, the buzz would keep him awake.
He kept his eyes on the road as his hand swam inside the bag. Everything felt the same, like rooting through a garbage can, until he settled on the gun.
Nash lifted it out of the purse to confirm he was right. A small, snub-nosed .38. 
Yeah, he thought, not a bad idea. He couldn’t be angry at Jacy, not after what she told him. A gun seemed like a damn good idea.
But no cigarettes. He saw a sign for a rest area ahead. They hadn’t cleared very many miles, but a short stop for a Coke out of the machine wouldn’t be a risk. Unless something unusual happened, Brian wouldn’t know Jacy was gone until morning and by then they’d be in another state, tracing Nash’s old escape route to safety.
Nash folded the top flap of her purse over to close it enough so the gun wouldn’t slide out. He felt grateful he hadn’t come up with a glass pipe out of her purse. Crystal meth seemed to be the number one high school sport in town lately. A far cry from the occasional pot and stolen beers of his own youth. 
He knew she’d tried it, but didn’t know how truthful she’d been about how many times. Not that a little bump of crank wouldn’t get him across state lines in record time. He’d settle for a caffeine jolt instead. 
The rest area showed up as a glow on the horizon a half mile away. With no other lights around and a flat midwestern landscape, the tall light posts had nowhere to hide. There were no secrets on the great plains. Not outdoors anyway.
Nash still couldn’t believe he’d come back. He turned around and never looked back the day he left. He thought of Jacy now and then, but it wasn’t like they were all that close growing up. He was already ten when she was born. When she turned seven her father was out and Brian was in. By eighteen Nash was gone and her nightmare was about to begin.
When she told him the timeline of when it all began with Brian, Nash couldn’t help feeling a little responsible. With him out of the house, the green light was lit for Brian to begin his late night visits to her bedroom.  To her bed.
She begged Nash to come home, to help her get out the way he had done. He couldn’t say no. 
Escape was the best option. Calling the cops, reporting the abuse were options too, but not good ones. Hard to call the cops on your stepdad when your stepdad is the sheriff. 

Nash eased his Honda, all one hundred and fifty-three thousand miles of it, onto the exit ramp, moving like a mesmerized insect to the three mercury vapor lamps high on their stanchions over the single octagonal building. A men’s and women’s restroom, a map on the wall, a few brochures for what passed as tourist attractions around these parts, and a row of vending machines beside a broken drinking fountain. It all seemed like an oasis to anyone unlucky enough to find themselves on this lonely stretch of highway, especially at night. To Nash it was only the last gasp of his stupid home town. Small, inadequate, useful only for pissing and shitting and then moving on down the road.
Only one other vehicle, a cube truck with a big storage area in back sat parked under the lights. Smaller than a semi, it reminded Nash of the U-Haul he rented when he moved apartments last fall. Finally he owned things. Not like when he left town with nothing more than a half-filled suitcase and a broken guitar.
Nash brought the car to a rolling stop, making sure not to jerk to a halt so as not to wake up Jacy. She stayed asleep as he turned the key and let the motor rest. He watched her for a few seconds, the deep calm settling over her as she took relaxing breaths for the first time in years, finally free from the fear her bedroom door might open and Brian might slip inside.
Nash pushed gently on the door until it clicked shut. He headed for the small building thinking he would get one can of Coke and down it quick, here, then get another for the road. He opened his wallet and dug out a few singles to feed the machine. He hoped like hell some ex-con state worker had remembered to restock the soda cans, or that the damn thing wasn’t waiting inside to mock him with an Out Of Order sign.
As he stepped onto the curb he could see the front end of the cube truck. Both doors were open and he saw a dark shape half in and half out of the passenger side. He stopped and listened. The truck’s engine was off, he heard no other traffic from the highway, no voices in the night. He figured the driver must be in the toilet. With no one around and virtually no traffic, it must have seemed safe to leave the doors open while he took a piss.
Then Nash looked closer at the shape. The body was upside-down, which is why he didn’t recognize it as a person at first. Feet clad in worn Timberland boots pointed up into the truck’s cab while the slumped figure of a man rested on his head against the asphalt of the parking lot. The open door cast a shadow over the body so Nash couldn’t tell if it was a young man or an old man, black or white, alive or dead. He could at least make an educated guess on the last one.
He folded the dollar bills in his hand and pushed them into his front pocket as he began walking toward the truck.
“Hello?” he said. No one answered.
As he got closer he saw the man’s head was turned away, staring at the underside of the truck like he had engine trouble and he stumbled out of the cab going to check it. But the body didn’t move. 
Nash stepped closer, smelled something he didn’t recognize, and bent low. 
“Hello?” he said again. He felt foolish doing it.
He knew for sure he was looking at a dead body, but he wanted to check before he called someone. An ambulance or the police, the choice would be decided by a quick check for a pulse.
Nash slid two fingers around the back of the man’s neck and walked his middle and pointer fingers forward to hunt for the artery on his neck facing the underside of the truck. 
Nash felt something wet.
He jerked his hand away and it came back stained red. As he tore his arm back from the body, he bumped the corpse and it slid the rest of the way down from the cab until it lay on the flat pavement of the parking lot, half the body sprawled over into a handicapped spot.
Nash could see the wide opening on his neck. Without thinking he wiped his hand on his jeans, smearing the fresh blood across his thigh. And it was fresh, he thought. Still warm, in fact. This man hadn’t been dead for long.
Falling with the man from the cab of the truck had been a metallic sound and a glint of silver. Nash looked more closely and saw a knife a few inches away from the man’s shoulder, as if he had it tucked under his chin when he fell. The blade was long and blood stained, the ebony handle Nash expected to be inlaid with the words Murder Weapon.
He knew he should call the cops, but when the local jurisdiction involved a late-night wake up call to the man he least wanted to see in the world, the one whose stepdaughter was currently being kidnapped in Nash’s front seat, he decided a phone call could wait. The man from the truck wasn’t going to get any deader. Nash could drive on a ways and call the state troopers from a gas station or diner. Some place where he could use a pay phone and his cell wouldn’t get traced. 
It was the first time he thought of what he was doing for Jacy could be reasoned a kidnapping. Nash always considered it more of a prison break. As far as Brian would be concerned, though, damn right it’s a kidnapping. 
A minor, stolen away from her home under cover of night without prior knowledge of her two legal guardians. Yep, that about fit the textbook definition.
Nash asked Jacy if Mom know of her plans, back when he first got the phone call for help. She said no. He agreed it would be too risky. She might tell Brian. After all, she married him. Neither Nash nor Jacy knew where their mother’s loyalties rested anymore.

Nash squinted at the dead man’s pockets. No wallet that he could see. He didn’t want to touch a corpse, so the dead man’s identity would have to wait to be revealed until the professionals got there. Nash went to the driver’s side of the truck. No second body there. Whoever had been driving was long gone by then, hopefully with less blood on him than Nash.
The whole thing was too surreal for him. It didn’t feel like a crime scene. The quiet calm both emboldened him and lit his curiosity. He wanted to know what the hell happened. He knew truck drivers sometimes kept their license in the cab with them so he checked the glove box, but found nothing. He turned down the visor over the driver’s seat and found a copy of the registration rubber banded in place. He moved it to read the name and address and a small, hard object fell out from behind the paper. A high pitched ting sounded in the cab as a small piece of metal bounced off the turn signal stick and landed in the cup holder beside the gear shift.
Nash looked down. A key, small and silver. Nash looked between the seats to something he’d overlooked before. A strong box. He passed over the metal box pushed down between the big bucket seats thinking it held tools or some other truck driver’s friend like jumper cables.
Staring up at him from the top of the box was a small keyhole. The box would have held a decent amount of wrenches or sockets, enough to repair a faulty engine, he supposed. Or maybe a change of clothes for a long haul night. But no, this wasn’t a semi. A truck this size is for moving things short distances. Small items, small trips.
And besides, it’s not like the guy on the pavement outside would get offended if Nash took a peek inside his secret box.
Nash picked up the key and had a premonition of how stupid he would feel once the key didn’t work in the box. He’d laugh to himself and then move on down the road, the can of Coke unnecessary now that adrenalin raced through his veins, faster and stronger than caffeine.
The key fit. He felt the silence of the night outside. Still no traffic from the road. The lamps high overhead gave off a steady electric hum, but otherwise there were no nature sounds. No birds, no insects in the trees, no barking dogs far away. Nash was as isolated as he’d ever been, and the cab of the truck felt more and more like a coffin.
His curiosity won out over his fear. He lifted the lid on the metal box.
Inside was a worn canvas bag in army green, stuffed in until it coiled fabric over itself in rippling waves like intestines packed tight in a gut. He didn’t lift the bag out, but unzipped it. Inside were stacks of money. Tightly bound stacks in rows also bound together by plastic wrap. Every bill staring at him was a hundred. The row of tiny Ben Franklins seemed to all gasp for air at the same time, free from their dungeon.
Nash knew he’d made a mistake. A dead body, a large sum of cash. And there he was getting his fingerprints all over the inside of a crime scene. He started to think of how many places he was going to have to wipe down. He wondered if they could lift a print from the neck wound of the John Doe outside. 
He cursed himself for not thinking of this before. Goddamn highway hypnosis or something. He hadn’t fully come awake until now. But he knew it was stupid, morbid curiosity. Too many hours of watching death and crime scenes on TV made the whole situation unreal. 
But stacks of real money? That you don’t see everyday.
“What’s going on?”
Nash jumped so high he hit his head on the roof of the truck’s cab. He turned to see Jacy standing outside the passenger side door, staring down at the body.
“Jesus, Jacy. You scared the shit out of me.”
“How do you think I felt? I woke up and I was alone in the car with no idea where I was.” She turned her attention back to the body. “Is he dead?”
“Yes.” Nash started to climb out of the cab, backing out the driver’s side. Once the shock settled, he found he was glad to have someone there to share in the bizarre situation, and to help with cleanup. “Don’t touch anything.”
“Holy shit,” she said, examining the body through squinted eyes. “He’s really dead.”
“That’s not all,” Nash said. He’d brought the canvas beg out of the cab with him. He knew it was another stupid thing to do, but he had to show her. It was the most insane thing he’d ever seen in his life. How could he ignore it?
“What’s that?” Jacy asked.
He parted his hands, letting the open zipper gape. Neat rows of wide-eyed Benjamins greeted Jacy in the warm night air, their sly grins inviting her into the game.
Her eyes went wide at the small grocery bag-sized stash of loot. “Is that . . .?”
“Yeah,” Nash said, taking his own long look at the money. “I think it is.”
“Holy double shit.”
He noticed a lot more country twang in her voice since he’d left. This damn town was going more hick with each passing year. He didn’t think it was possible. 
“What the hell are we gonna do?” Jacy asked.
“Call the cops,” he said. “State cops though. And not from a cell phone. We’ll find a pay phone on down the line.”
The other voice startled them both. “Afraid I can’t let you do that.”