Saturday, April 26, 2014

Done with the lie

I used to say I wasn't a series guy. I didn't really read series, didn't care for them, wouldn't get on board. Well, I can't honestly say that anymore now that I look at my bookshelf.

I still prefer stand-alones, in most cases. I like the added jeopardy. It's always been one of my biggest beefs with a series character – you know they're going to be fine. There's no stakes. My other trepidation is always the ongoing series that started way before I became aware of them. I'm just not going to devote so much of my reading time catching up on, say, Sue Grafton's series starting from A. Not gonna happen. She's a lovely woman and I'm sure she writes like a dream, but I'll never know.

But more and more series have been creeping into my life, mostly series I was able to get in on the ground floor of. Even a few older series have been taking up a lot of my reading time because they're so damn good.

Let's start with a few classics. I've read about half of Chandler, and the novels never did much for me. I love his short stories because you get all the hardboiled patter usually without the mystery/P.I. plot. I discovered a long time ago I'm not much for traditional whodunit mysteries. I like a story that propels forward and the traditional mystery is all about piecing together bits of the past, looking backward, adding up clues which leads to scenes of misdirection, dead ends and all too often the scenes/chapters of hashing out and reminding the reader what is known and not known. Dull, I think.

However, take the Parker novels of Richard Stark (Donald Westlake). These I can get behind. I've read more than a half dozen Parker novels now and I really liked each of them. As a character I like him, the plots are exciting and Westlake is a no nonsense writer. My type of guy. I plan to keep working my way through the Parker canon.

I think Chester Himes is one of the most underrated crime novelists. His Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed series are respected by those in the know, but relatively obscure by the general populace. These books are exciting and always surprising. Himes knew how to throw you off the scent while still entertaining the hell out of you. The journey to solving the central case is exciting as hell, even with Coffin Ed and Gravedigger off stage for much of the action, unusual for a mystery novel.

I've done 7 of the Lew Archer series and I think I'm about done with those. Too much dialogue, too much action happens off stage. People are always stumbling in on an already dead body. I like the action, not the mystery. This is why I don't care for Agatha Christie either. I like Ross MacDonald's voice as a writer, I just wish Archer weren't so passive a character.

Most of the series I anticipate new releases in these days are writers I've met and admire. Kelli Stanley has a new book in her Miranda Corbie series coming soon and I'm genuinely excited for it. Imagine that. Me, a series book excites me. I feel the same way about a new Owen Laukkanen entry in his Stevens and Windermere series, though those play less as a series and more like linked standalones. He seemed to fully embrace that he was writing a series with Kill Fee, putting his two main characters much more front and center than in the first two books.

I've praised Steve Hockensmith's Holmes On The Range series before, usually with the backhanded compliment that I shouldn't like these books so much. But, dammit, I do. There are five of those, and that seems about right, though if he writes a sixth, I'll read it.

Trilogies feel good to me. Duane Sweirczynski's Charlie Hardie series was a great rip-snorting trilogy. Frank Zafiro and Jim Wilsky's Ania trilogy is a great trio of modern crime novels. Charlie Huston's Hank Thompson books are a great three and out.

Let's not forget Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt books, too. Rebecca Cantrell's Hannah Vogel books are a great peek into a world I knew little about in pre- and post-war Berlin.

And then there's Hap and Leonard. Joe Lansdale is one of my favorite writers, and my slow doling out of the Hap and Leonard series (not done yet, but close) is a great treat every time one comes up in my TBR pile. Like two old friends, I'm glad to see them again. Perhaps more than any other, these two made me appreciate the value of a good series.

Max Allan Collins' Quarry series is another winner for me. Much like Parker, this flawed and morally questionable character is just plain fun to read about. 

And I've read all the Sailor and Lula books by Barry Gifford, though those are more like branches on a tree than a real continuing series. 

So you can see, I can't say I'm not a series guy any more. I'm sure I'm forgetting some and there are some still on deck I haven't invested enough time in to comment on properly. Then there are series still in their infancy. Johnny Shaw's sequel to Dove Season is out very soon and Plaster City is one of the books I'm most looking forward to this year. Christa Faust dangled in front of me that she is starting research for a new Angel Dare book and that was exciting news. 

But I'm not afraid of them anymore. I still won't be starting anything that is already 15 or 20 books in. That ship has sailed. But my reading has broadened because I'm no longer afraid to say I read series.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

No longer OOP

I'll admit for a long time I had no idea what OOP meant in reference to books. When I realized it meant Out Of Print I felt like an idiot. Well, now none of my books a have that awkward sounding label. See, nobody noticed but the two novels I wrote with JB Kohl, One Too Many Blows To The Head and the sequel, Borrowed Trouble, had gone out of print. 

We regained the rights from the publisher, who were kind and generous people to work with and we are forever in their debt for giving us a chance to publish those books. But the books had played themselves out after nearly 5 years (!) and 4 years, respectively. So we took them back and now have self-released them for super cheap. The ebook anyway is only .99 now and forever, save an occasional free promo. The print versions are working their way through the system and should be available shortly at $12.99, which was basically the minimum we could set the price. Deal with it.

Also, I included them in the Amazon matchbook program so if you purchased a print copy in the past, you can get the ebook for free.

We really hope these books continue to have a life. We think they're really good and so have most people who've read them, which might not be many but they're dedicated. 

So welcome back to the world of being a book, my two oldest children. And Jen and I are kicking around ideas for a third book. Three seems right, doesn't it? And since we're in charge of Ray and Dean now, why the hell not?

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.