Monday, February 22, 2010

Tag! I'm it!

I have been highly entertained by this meme that is going around and I am honored to have been tagged by Keith Rawson. I love lying. Really, I do. As a writer I do it all the time. As an editor of "reality" shows, I do it for a living. In case you don't know, the rules:

• Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth – or – switch it around and tell six outrageous truths and one outrageous lie. (See below.)
• Nominate some more “Creative Writers” who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies of their own. (Check the end of this post.)
• Post links to the blogs you nominate.
• Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know that you have nominated them.

And now, my six truths and one lie. Can you spot the fake? Do you care?

1) When I was born I almost died from a blood disorder. The hospital didn't even take my picture for their records because they thought I wouldn't live. After six blood transfusions the doctor told my parents, "At this point, Eric is salvageable." My favorite thing that has ever been said about me.

2) I once dated the girl who plays Trudy Weigle on Reno 911.

3) While in Japan I had a one-night stand with a girl who was friends with the friend I went over there to see. Six months later she was in the states and called me but by then I was with the girl who became my wife. I ignored the girl's calls. I still feel guilty about it.

4) I ran away from home and crossed state lines only to discover that no one knew I was gone. My parents had gone on a vacation they had not told me about.

5) My wife used to be my boss

6) My Grandfather was a middle weight boxer and was state champion of Iowa in 1935.

7) I've never been drunk or high in my entire life. The only alcohol I've ever consumed was 3 beers when I was 16, and not all on the same night. Never touched a drug, never had hard liquor, never smoked a cigarette. 

It was hard to pick only 6 events from my life that, to me, sound made up but are real. Some real things that didn't make the cut:
The time I met Barry Manilow
I was at a Black Flag show that was busted up by the cops.
With my best friend at the time I once stole a gun from his Dad's gun cabinet and we went shooting in the woods. I almost caught a bullet in the back that day. Oh yeah, I was in the third grade.
I once slept on a bench in Grand Central station after walking the streets of Manhattan one night after I got denied entry to a Slayer, Megadeth & Bad Brains show because I was too young.
I crashed the cast and crew screening of Braveheart on the Paramount lot. 
When I lived in Boston I dated a girl named Diane who worked at Cheers (it's a real place) and her boss' name was Sam.
You can't make this stuff up people.

So who am I tagging? Well, many, I think all, off the writers I would consider to be cyber-friends and usual suspects on this endeavor have already been tagged so I am going with all fellow Second Wind writers. Might as well spread the love among my partners in crime (and mystery and thriller)
Of course I need to tag my co-author JB Kohl, also Christine Husom, the blog-happy Pat Bertram, romance author Amy De Trempe.  They all have regular blogs and I wanted to save a few so they can tag fellow Second Winder's as well. Enjoy folks. If anyone cares to know what the lie is I will post it here by the end of the week. Guess away.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Friday's forgotten books: The Real Cool Killers

Chester Himes, where have you been all my life?
There are quite a lot of authors I mean to get to but things always get in the way. Chester Himes was one of those names I knew of but had never read his stuff and hadn't had anyone else recommend him so I kept putting it off. He's most known for A Rage in Harlem only because it was filmed twice (once as Cotton Comes To Harlem), neither version is bad but neither are great.
You gotta love a good dollar bookstore.
While buying books for my daughters I scanned the Mystery shelf and found The Real Cool Killers. First off, there is that title. I'm already sold. It was a slim volume. I read the copyright date. 1959. I'm so in.

I learned a little bit about Himes before I began. The Real Cool Killers is part of his Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones series. (again, I'm so in) Not the first but it didn't seem like I needed to know much other than they are two Harlem cops in the 50s so I started reading. I doubt there has been a first chapter that grabbed me better than this one.
I just ranted in a previous post about slow starts. This was the antidote to that. It had a visceral sense of place, riveting action that came at me from all sides. It sets up a central mystery with no solution in sight. Knives were pulled, a juke joint was jumping, an axe was used, guns were fired and a man was dead and this is all in four pages!
When I read I like to be taken someplace else. What Himes does, by virtue of his own experience as one of the rare black writers of crime fiction, is to take the reader into Harlem and make you smell, hear, taste and feel every inch of it. It was a setting and a voice unlike anything I'd ever read except maybe the other African-American writer (who, like Himes, served prison time) Donald Goines who's Daddy Cool is also a favorite.
The plot moves briskly. All the action takes place in one night as Coffin Ed and Grave Digger search for the killer. Really, they aren't even the central characters. Grave Digger is absent for most of the book. They act more as recurring characters in the series more than the central figures.
I won't spoil anything and honestly the plot was not what I was digging most. It was the mood, the language, the totally different feeling of it all. I was transported and that is the highest compliment I can pay to a book. Sure, some of the scenes dragged a bit. It is almost heartlessly bleak. It deals in unsavory actions and the cops are some of the most vicious people in the book. But I dare you – DARE YOU – to read the first chapter and not be hooked. And, as dangerous as the Harlem streets are depicted, I dare you not to want to walk those streets after you're done. If only because you feel like you know them so well already.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I gave up on another book. It just didn't grab me. I don't want to trash someone else's work since it is just my opinion and I know I am in the minority. This is a popular author. It is not new (published in 1994 in fact) so I'm not cramping anyone's sales anyway.
I ran into the same issue I had with another book I abandoned not too long ago. I read the synopsis on the back and the story intrigued me. A synopsis is a difficult thing to do, to boil down a book to just the essentials, but it can be a good test of a story's simplicity. If you can't sum it all up and fit it on the back of a book jacket maybe your story is a little too broad. But this one did the same thing as the last: the author and publisher both agreed on what was the crux of the story. The meat. The important bits. Then I got 50 pages in and none of that stuff had happened yet. I got a ton of backstory. Childhood lives, family history, deeply researched ethnic flavor. But no plot! I just can't hang with a story that meanders for that long without getting to what the author and publisher has agreed is the selling point of the book.
I think if your synopsis doesn't begin until 50-75 pages into your book maybe it is time to get out the red pen again and make some cuts.
I am a product of TV. Blame that. I have a busy life and only get to read on my lunch break so I need a book to grab me and get on with it. Maybe you like to linger on backstory but I sure don't. And then there's that damn blurb on the back. I just can't imagine no one else notices it. It's what you are using to sell me on your book!
Perhaps I have a double standard. I love the slow burn of the first 20 minutes of Psycho as much as anyone and I think it makes the rest of the film so effective. I guess if could read 50 pages in 20 minutes it wouldn't bug me but this was two full lunch breaks and I wasn't invested in this book at all. Maybe it all paid off in the end but I'll never know.
Oh well. It's not like I don't have a TBR pile the size of my daughter. On to the next one!

Monday, February 15, 2010

A nice mention

Author and blogger Steve Weddle gave the book a nice tip of the hat today on the excellent blog he contributes to, Do Some Damage. He even quoted a bit from one of my chapters as an example of what he liked about the book so that was humbling.
DSD is a great blog in that subgenre of writing blogs that is a collective of writers each taking a different day. DSD features Steve, Jay Stringer, John McFetridge, Dave White, Russell D. McLean, Scott D. Parker, Byron Quartermous and Joelle Charbonneau. Do take some time to check it out. Insights into writing, updates on the author's work and more come at you all week long.
It was great to be mentioned by Steve as one of his current recommendations and he put us in some very nice company indeed including McFetridge,  JT Ellison, the original Fletch novel and Gerald So's The Lineup crime poetry collection.

In other news, rejection #1 on the new novel hasn't discouraged me. At work on the sequel to One Too Many Blows and it is GREAT to be back writing with JB Kohl. Makes me wonder why I do it any other way. And I am typing away at another interesting little tidbit. The plan is to come out with a novella of around 23,000 words but I fear it is already ballooning up to novel length. I dig it so far though so if it does get bloated and fat I won't mind.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Radio, radio

JB Kohl, my brilliant co-writer did a great radio interview back in her home state got to talk about the book and our process together. Check it out HERE. It is so bizarre every time I hear her voice since we've never spoken in person.

Inspired or depressed?

I've been under the weather (again) and this weekend my older daughter came down with Pink Eye. Plus it was Super Bowl sunday. In short, I didn't write squat this week, including today after catching up with email/computer stuff after being off for a few days.
Whenever I feel like I "deserve"  day off I need to look at this. Truly inspiring. Or really aggravating that I can't be that intense with my output. Amazingly cool stuff though. If you have several hours to scroll through it, that is.
The guy made a pact to create something every day for a year. Dang, and I can't even sit down to type a few lousy words.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Things to discuss

I will be attending the Left Coast Crime convention in March and I just found out that I will be participating in two panel discussions. On Thursday, March 11 I will be on the 'Pulp Fiction' panel (moderated by Robert Fate) which is very exciting to me. No idea how many people will be there at 2 in the afternoon on a Thursday but it sounds like a panel I would go to whether I was on it or not. Also on Saturday the 13th at 4:45 I'll be a part of the 'Meet a New Author' panel along with Rebecca Cantrell, Ken Mercer, Sharon Rowse and Gabriela Vazquez.  It will be moderated by Eric Stone.

I'll be excited to meet a few fellow authors I know from the web but have never met in person. (No, not JB Kohl. The mystery is still alive!) I'm really excited to meet Deborah J. Ledford and give her a proper thank you for all her work as unofficial editor of One Too Many Blows To The Head. She will be there discussing her book Staccato, which is one you should pick up. (also from Second Wind Publishing)

On the opposite coast JB is doing a few appearances in the next few weeks too including a big piece in her hometown newspaper. Not where she lives now but the town she grew up in in Nebraska. She describes it as a one-horse-town kind of place which only makes me want to set a book there. Myself, I am an Iowa boy. I spent only a few years there but as they say, you can take the boy out of Iowa but you can't take the Iowa out of the boy. Somebody must have said that once.

I love the small towns and out of the way places there. I haven't been back since my Grandmother's funeral and don't know when I would go back but I have scratchy Super-8 memories of life there. Summers spent fishing on the Mississippi with my Grandfather, getting a haircut in my Grandmother's beauty shop which was right off the kitchen in their house. Catching fireflies with all the cousins in the yard at Nana's house. It absolutely seems like another life I am remembering from seeing a movie once a long time ago but it all happened to me. Weird.

Since then I've lived in the silicon valley, suburban Connecticut, Manhattan, Boston and Los Angeles. Quite a far cry from Johnson County Iowa. Most of my stories try to steer me to being set there though. My first novel was set in Iowa. No idea why. I guess I figure people have done the coasts and done it better than I ever could.

But for a few days in March the Left Coast is where I'll be. Okay, that make a nice callback but really I live on the Left Coast so I'm here all the time. Come and see me.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Thumbs up across the pond

I'll take a positive review wherever I can get it. In this case, it comes from Poland by way of England. Paul Brazill, flash fiction author extraordinaire, did up a little thumbs up for the book. The comparison to Heat is the first time I ever thought of it but suddenly seemed remarkably appropriate and made me wonder why I hadn't thought of it before...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A dog's view

I have a new story along with a "dramatic" reading over At The Bijou . The story is called What The Dog Saw and it is a murder story told from the carpet-eye view of the family dog. I think it turned out okay. I homage to my Dad's dog who just passed away the dog's name is Buddy. He was a good boy.

Reading is apace

I looked up from closing the cover on another great book and it was February. That means I read three books in January, quite a pace for me. All good ones too. In my effort to try to find more things to blog about this year I figure what I read is a good place to start. So the first in my monthly roundup includes:

Lucky At Cards by Lawrence Block

Off the top of my daunting pile of Hard Case crime titles (only 31 to go. I think I was the only person excited about them slowing their output to once every other month) What can you say about Lawrence Block? I actually know way too little about his work but he is synonymous with great crime stories. This one did not disappoint. 40 years old without a whiff of staleness. Great pulpy fun all around.

Stone Quarry by SJ Rozan
This was my first SJ Rozan book. She has been on my list of writers to get to but since she writes a series, which I am not partial to, I have been slow to get to her. This is one reason I shy away from series. Her writing is so crisp, so controlled and the book I really enjoyed so now I feel like, "Well, crap now I have to go read all the other Bill Smith/Lydia Chin books." Will I? Maybe not right away but soon. Rozan's prose is just so effortless and tight I started to just marvel at the way each sentence felt like it could go together in no other way. Like they emerged fully formed from a womb. I never once had to go back and re-read anything for clarity. A real pro.

The Pistol Poets by Victor Gischler

Gischler has to be one of the flat-out most entertaining crime writers going. This one, like Gun Monkeys before it, is just mad. It goes in every crazy direction at once, soaked in blood and a twisted sense of humor that makes me feel better about myself. I feel sorry for whoever has to do the back cover summaries on a Gischler novel. How do you sum it all up in so few words?

All in all a great month of reading.

I had one abandoned book, Missy by Chris Hannan. I started it in Dec. but never got back to it. I was really excited for this one so it was a let down when I just balked at the style and language. It is set in the 1800s so the narrator talks in a kind of proto-Deadwood period speak that, while sometimes very evocative and gorgeous, really took me out of the story. I found it too much of an affectation and I kept focusing on the words and the unique turns of phrase instead of the story. It also took too long to get going. It made me realize an interesting thing: if your plot summary and the hook you use to sell a book doesn't happen until 150 pages in, maybe the top needs tightening. Just maybe.
I want to know if anyone else has been distracted by the writing style, even if you love it. Seriously, Missy has some great writing in it, I just found it too "written", y'know?
This happen to anyone else?

Up next is a double feature of Richard Powell pulp classics in one volume. I loved Say it with Bullets so I am looking forward to more from this forgotten pulp writer. After that I have so many choices and a wish list that is growing...time to take a speed reading class.