Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Tony Knighton on Three Hours Past Midnight

Long time Philadelphia resident Tony Knighton has written his first novel, Three Hours Past Midnight.  Set in his home city, the book is fast-paced, no-nonsense crime fiction about a professional thief trying to right a number of wrongs after a heist doesn't go as planned. Has that been done before? Of course. So execution is paramount, and on that score, Tony delivers.  It's a novel that I sped through - a book that starts tense and never lets up.  Tony blends character and action really well and keeps everything plausible.  His main character is capable but not superhuman in any way, and though Tony romanticizes nobody, you can't but help rooting for this career criminal to pull through.  I'm glad I picked it up and after finishing it, I wanted to ask Tony a few things about it. 

So here we go:

SCOTT ADLERBERG: Three Hours Past Midnight all takes place over a short nocturnal time frame in Philadelphia, a city you know well. That's apparent from your clear and fully felt descriptions of neighborhoods and individual streets. As a reader, you know when a writer knows a place cold, and you obviously do. Did you, as it were, scout out locations for the book, or did you just draw upon your long acquired knowledge of the city when writing? The city is almost a character in the book, it feels like.

TONY KNIGHTON: I wrote about the locations in the story mostly from memory. Some of them are personally significant.

The route the protagonist drives, runs and rides sitting on the train’s back step, all while being pursued, roughly follows my commute to work during the time I was writing the book.

I fought a fire in the real apartment house on Pine Street a few years ago. It turned out that a girlfriend of my wife’s lived there; she got home after the fire.

Other locations I picked more for fun. Over the years, I’ve been to a lot of parties in huge old Victorian homes in Germantown, a neighborhood in the northwest part of town. A while ago, I read Black Friday by David Goodis. In it, his protagonist hides out in a house on Tulpehocken Street. I thought the party in my story should take place on that street as well.

I read in a piece you wrote recently that your main character in the novel, who is never named, appeared in an earlier short story of yours called “Mister Wonderful”. What prompted you to bring him specifically back for more action? And in bringing him back in a novel, how did you expand his character from the short story, if you did?

The short answer to why I brought him back is that I wasn’t finished with him.

That first story saw him injured and on foot, the subject of a manhunt, a hundred miles away from anyone or anything that could help him. It seemed natural to revisit him a few months later, healed and eager to work – eager enough to break a few of his rules.

Three Hours Past Midnight gave me an opportunity to round out his character, not so much by anything he overtly reveals about himself, but through his interactions with other characters in the story, especially those who already know him. I can imagine him and the others he encounters as any other group of people engaged in any other business. Most of these guys have dealt with him first-hand. Their reactions to him are complicated, but they all recognize him as a professional. One or two are even annoyed with him for the fix he finds himself in, but it feels more like a journeyman’s friendly annoyance with another’s mistake.

I also realized things about him that I didn’t reveal in the story. He has a straight job, and I know what it is. I’m keeping that under wraps for now.

So it sounds like you plan on bringing him back. Is that true?

Yes, he’s going back to the Central Pennsylvania location of “Mister Wonderful.” There was a lot of money that was never recovered. He wants it.

The novel is a classic style heist gone wrong story. Are there any books and films in particular that you love in this sub genre and that may have influenced your own take on it?

There are many great books and movies that deal with the “heist gone bad.” Easily my favorites are the Richard Stark books, and some of the film adaptations, Point Blank and Payback (the director’s cut). I also like a few of the films obviously inspired by the Stark books – City of Industry is a well-done rip of The Sour Lemon Score. While more a revenge flick, in The Limey, Terrence Stamp’s character Wilson is clearly modeled after Parker.

I like Reservoir Dogs a lot. I think Ronin is outstanding.

In your non-writing life, as you mentioned, you are a Philadelphia firefighter.   And you’ve been one for many years.  I find that interesting, not just because of the job itself, but also because how that seems like work so geared towards teamwork.  I’d imagine it’s a job where your very life can actually depend on the actions and competence of the people you’re working with. That’s as far from the solitary activity of writing, where you fail or succeed alone basically, as you can get.  Has your time and experience as a firefighter in any way influenced you in how you write or just how you see the world?

That’s a great question, Scott.  The job has clearly shaped the way I see the world, and that has influenced my writing.

Most of us who write fiction have some kind of straight job. I’ve been fortunate to spend most of my life working at something I enjoy.  People who know I write assume that I draw upon events I’ve experienced during my time on the fire department, and I have – I’ve had the opportunity to do and see things that most people in the world never will – but I’ve gotten the most material from knowing and listening to people. 

Many of the calls we answer are simply someone with a problem.  We try to make things better for them. There is nothing that someone can tell the operator when he calls 911 that the fire department will not respond to.  Sometimes the dispatch is so nebulous, it feels as though they’re telling us, “We have no idea.  Go take a look.”  Listening to people is key.  A person is never so self-revelatory than when they’re in a panic or in trouble.  Even when they’re lying to you, they’re telling you things about themselves.

The people you work with are the special part of the job.  Work friends quickly become close friends anywhere, but living in close quarters with other men and women who depend on each other is like nothing else.  We’re tight.  I love my brothers and sisters on the job.   

Many civilians are under the mistaken impression that the fire department is a macho institution.  It’s not.  It tends to be masculine in nature – function over style – but it’s the least macho bunch I’ve encountered.  Anti-macho.  Most firefighters are self-deprecatory to a fault; members who display cockiness or swagger are quickly cut down to size.  I think that this attitude may have most directly affected my writing style.  I tend towards minimalism.  I try to write in a way that doesn’t call attention to the writing, just the story itself.  

Maybe I just don’t want the firefighters talking about me.

When do you usually write?  In the morning, evenings?  And do you tend to plot most stuff out beforehand or wing it? I think your minimalism, as you say you aim towards, comes through effectively, and the writing is very tight.  The sense of someone who cuts everything remotely extraneous comes through. Do you edit as you go or like to just get the first draft out and then go back and do successive drafts, editing that way?

I prefer mornings. I began writing seriously while going through a prolonged bout with insomnia. I needed something that was quiet and felt productive, and writing fit the bill. It had always been something I’d wanted to do, but was too chicken to try. I’m not sure why, now. Later on, I heard Elmore Leonard say that he had written his first book by getting up an hour early and writing two pages every day. It sounded like a good plan.

I don’t plot things out ahead of time, but I usually have a framework of sorts – I know certain things are going to happen, and usually in a certain order. 

That was what made the story “Mister Wonderful” so much fun to write. Rather than any sort of plot or framework, it began for me as a premise – an injured man, trapped in a car that has come to rest upside down in an icy, shallow streambed at dusk. I worked out some of who he was and why he was there, miles away from home or help, as I got him out of the car and through the woods, away from the police. I finished the story but realized that I wasn’t finished with him. I imagined that once he was on the mend, he’d be anxious for work. So then I wrote Three Hours Past Midnight.

I edit and revise compulsively. Sometimes I’ll change a sentence immediately after writing it. It takes me a long time to get a first draft together, but by then I’ve gone over it so many times that a lot of it isn’t too horrible. Good writers have told me that I shouldn’t do this. I’ve tried to stop. They say the first step is admitting that you have a problem.

I have the same problem.  So what's next for you then?  The novel that has him going back to Central Pennsylvania or something else before that?

I started a novel a while ago, about a fireman on light duty, activated as an investigator for the duration of a four day city-wide convention.

That piece was nearly finished, but sat idle while I worked on other things. I've gone back to work on it, as I also work on the story of the Three Hours guy's return to the Central Pa. scene of the crime (I'll have to come up with something to call this guy, at least while I'm talking about him. He's kind of a pain in the ass).

I suppose it all depends on what I finish first.

Whichever it is, I'll be looking forward to it.

You can get Three Hours Past Mightnight right here.

Monday, August 21, 2017

MONDAY INSPIRATION: Aymar and Alkimist

There are plenty of ways to tell a story and there are many storytellers who have talent beyond the written word. For instance, Eryk Pruitt, author of the soon to be released WHAT WE RECKON, is also an award-winning filmmaker. Poet Susie Henry is a talented urban and wildlife photographer. The list of musicians moonlighting as writers is long. S.W. Lauden. Eric Beetner. Joe Clifford. Tom Pitts. Anthony Cowin. Mike Monson.

Continuing to strive for creative storytelling is DJ Alkimist and E.A. Aymar. DJ makes music. E.A. Aymar writes stories. They combine the two mediums, then each finished track is accompanied by a piece of artwork, inspired by the music and story. Music, writing, and visual art equals an immersive storytelling experience!

Two tracks on their website, eaalkimist.com, are "Requiem," presenting original artwork by Shawn Huddleston,  and "Red Room," featuring photography by Lana Pierce.

"Poetic and lyrical,"
-Pam Stack, Executive Producer and Host, Authors on the Air Radio

⇰"Requiem" is a modern urban-opera that tells the tale of two loyal brothers living life on the streets. The track debuted in November of 2016 on the Authors on the Air radio network.

Original artwork by Shawn Huddleston.

⇰"Red Room" is the portrait of a woman with a powerful need for acceptance and success. "Red Room" was released in January of this year during Alex Dolenz's Thrill Seekers Radio, also found on the Authors on the Air radio network.

Original artwork by Lana Pierce with Meredith Sause as subject.

DJ Alkimist has written and produced music for US Soccer, W Hotels, DC’s 107.3, The Washington Nationals, The Smithsonian, The ONE Group, The Washington Ballet, Nike, sweetgreen, Discovery Channel, and Armani just to name a few. An equally talented musician, she has sat first chair viola in dozens of symphonies, orchestras, and chamber groups. She also spins on weekends at many of D.C.'s clubs. With that amount of energy and creative spirit it is no wonder she and creative partner Ed Aymar began working together.

E.A. Aymar, who holds a Masters in Literature, is the author of I’LL SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE DEAD and YOU’RE AS GOOD AS DEAD. He also writes a monthly column for the Washington Independent Review of Books, and is the Managing Editor of The Thrill Begins (for the International Thriller Writers). His short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a number of top crime fiction publications. Organizer and host of the Washington D.C. Noir at the Bar series, he helped develop similar events in Virginia and Maryland.  Ed tirelessly supports and assists new talent, a writer's best-friend. It's clear Ed has a deep love for good stories.

Together with talented visual-artists, E.A. and DJ create dark narratives, expressed through several mediums, adding depth to the already haunting dramas. Graciously, E.A. and DJ sat down to give us a glimpse inside their drive and process.


What was the first project you two worked on together?
EA: This all came about because I think readings are usually boring and wanted to add something different to mine. I’d worked with musicians before during readings – they’d sing or play instruments during intervals – but we’d always used jazz standards, and I had a longing to work with original music. Randomly, I'd hired Kim (DJ Alkimist) to do the music at a Noir at the Bar, and we got to talking, and she told me that she makes her own music. She sent me the track for "You Would Have a Queen" and I loved it. The story came easily.

What was the inspiration for that particular endeavor?
DJ:  The music came from the entrance to “The Queen of Sheba,” the subway, and Queens (NY), I suppose.
EA: And as for the story…Kim already had the title (she's a lot better at picking titles than I am) and it had a fairy tale sense to it. The story of girls escaping a giant in the wood came naturally, and its pretty close to what I tend to write about - violence, and the treatment of women by bad men. And there were certain effects in her music (like the soft wails during the "ghost line" at 1:35) that fit naturally. Weird how that happened.

Tell us about your most recent exhibit and the inspiration behind the multi-media presentation.
DJ&EA: The most recent track we've done is called "The March." It's a joint track about people marching through an apocalyptic, ruined Washington, D.C. The music was created around the last election, and we were both moved by the strength and passion in protests at that time. We approached other writers we like and asked them to contribute (Amber Sparks, Tara Campbell, Meg Opperman, and Holly Karapetkova).

We haven't released that track yet because it's going to be on a CD that accompanies Gargoyle Magazines next issue (which is a real honor). But once that CD's out, we'll put it on blast.

We work with different artists to come up with artwork for all the tracks we produce, and the accompanying artwork was done by an artist named Angela Del Vecchio. Among other things, she designs all the fantastic D.C. Noir at the Bar posters. You can check out a sampling of her work at: http://angeladelvecchio.com.

What are some of your other artistic outlets? What mediums to you enjoy working?
DJ: Besides music? Well, I like to write poetry and I also enjoy drawing/painting/coloring, but I wouldn't say I'm any good at it.
EA: I can't do anything outside of writing.

How do you find time for all of your endeavors?
DJ:  Haha, good question. Lots of energy courtesy of a plant-based diet…
EA: Ugh.
DJ: …combined with insomnia. Also, I just make time! I've put a lot of energy into creating a life for myself where I can be creative in between the hustle. And magic, of course. 
EA: I do a lot outside of my own writing and, given that, I've met people who know I’m in the writing community, but have no idea that I write. That's the most important part of my identity, and I want to make sure people are aware of it. In the wait between novels coming out (my agent and I are on submission right now), this project helps me remind everyone that, yeah, don't forget I'm a writer first.

What is your current project?
EA: We're working on a joint track with Meg Opperman, who worked with us on "The March" and is a wonderful, award-winning short story writer. If we keep the same idea that we had, then this is going to be more of a collaboration than "The March," because she and I will be alternating verses, almost like trading eights. We have a really cool artist set to design the artwork, and the music is one of my favorite pieces Kim has put together. I'm hoping that it'll be out in late September. Ideally, "The March" in August, and this new track in September. And we're going to do a live performance of "The March" at Gargoyle Magazine's anniversary party on September 13.
DJ: And I'm actually in the process of releasing my first album! Most of it is done and I'm just in the finalization stages now. I'm hoping to release it on Spotify in a few months so keep on the lookout.
EA: I’ve heard some sneak peaks from the album and it’s really good. Your ears are going to thank you.

When should we expect to see the new newsletter?
EA: We worry about bugging people with a frequent newsletter, so we only send it out when we have news: a new track, performance, or something else noteworthy. I'm a big believer in not being annoying (shut up, everyone I know).

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Passage Takes on a Ridiculous Law

I will be appearing Tuesday night at one of the best bookstores in the state of California, the independent Book Passage. It has three locations in the Bay Area – I’ll be at Corte Madera with the fantastic Allison Brennan. And we’ll be signing books. Which, thanks to the California Legislature, could become an activity so risky for booksellers and intrusive for their customers that it will have to stop.
Lawmakers started out trying to crack down on fake sports memorabilia and autographs. Okay, that makes a little bit of sense. You’d want to make sure that the signed baseball you’re buying for hundreds of dollars really was signed by that Big League player. But the law that actually passed swept a lot more than memorabilia up in its tidal wave of legislative idiocy.
Like books.
No dealer shall display or offer for sale a collectible in this state unless, at the location where the collectible is offered for sale and in close proximity to the collectible merchandise, there is a conspicuous sign that reads as follows:

For a book??? A certificate of authenticity from a bookseller that has to be bonded in order to sell to you?? I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor. Because, wait, there’s more.
When an author signs in the presence of store owners, the certificate must specify the date and place of signing and identify a witness to it. They must say whether they are bonded or insured “to protect the consumer against errors and omissions of the dealer.” They must keep copies of their certificates of authenticity for at least seven years.
Violations of any of these can mean “oppressive financial sanctions”—as much as 10 times the amount of any damages, according to the Pacific Legal Foundation.
Look, we all know quite well that book authors aren’t sports stars, or rock stars, or anybody else whose signature can command four or five figures. Ipso facto, there are no forgery rings or criminal enterprises going on with autographed copies of standard books sold off the shelf in bookstores. (I’ll leave the question of signed copies of a first-edition Hemingway for another day.)
Because there’s no money in it. Bookstores don’t sell signed books for more than ones that aren’t signed. And they sure can’t afford the staffing necessary to deal with all those legal requirements. They already put forth a lot of time and energy just to put on a book signing. Yes, they’ll likely sell more books than if they didn’t host one, but they also do it for a whole lot more reasons that. They do it to:

Increase a sense of community among its customers.
Bring attention to often wide varieties of viewpoints and subject matters.
Help authors increase their visibility with readers.
And this brings me back to Book Passage. It hosts more than 700 author events a year among its three locations. Book signings are a key part of its business. So the store and co-owner Bill Petrocelli are suing the State of California to stop from enforcing the law.
The lawsuit asserts that the law violates the First Amendment because it harms the ability of the store to provide a forum for authors and ideas, as well as the ability to disseminate signed books that contain those ideas. The lawsuit also alleges that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because it excludes online dealers and pawn brokers, who can continue to operate as before with little oversight.
Here’s Bill Petrocelli with more:
So in conclusion, I’ve always been delighted to appear at Book Passage. This time, I’m damn proud to appear at Book Passage. And if you’re reading this and live in California, please contact your legislator to express your disapproval and your local bookseller to express your support.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Revising an Older Story

Scott D. Parker

How do you know when you are learning how to write better? When you read something you wrote in the past and know with no doubt you can do better today.

My August novel is a revision of an old western I wrote last year, maybe two years ago. I honestly cannot remember when I first drafted the story. I like the story and always had it pegged for publication this year.

In my mind’s eye, the story was pretty decent coming in around 16,000 words long. I thought it a tad too short to call it a novel, so I knew I wanted to revise it, expand it in places, and thicken up the prose.

I read through the draft as it was, making notes along the way, but did little in the way of refining the prose. I wanted to get a good pass through it, see how the story played, and remind myself of how my past self wrote the story. I saw the holes in the story quite clearly, and, most importantly, I knew how to shore them up.

My technique for re-reading an old story might be unique. I have a paper copy in front of me. I have a notepad and a pencil. I mark up the draft along the way and make notes of things to do. But I also am hooked up to my dictation software. Every time I finished a chapter, I would dictate the action of the chapter. By the end of the draft, I not only have a marked-up hardcopy but I also have a new outline of the tale complete with extra notes. All with little effort on my part (because talking is much easier than writing it all out).

Finally, it came time to start to go through the draft and add in the things the story needed. And here is the crucial lesson I learned in this process: I ended up rewriting each chapter from scratch.

I had two screens up: one was my current Scrivener file and the other was the original chapter in a separate window. Instead of reading and adding words here or there, I ended up typing the content over again. In this manner, if my 2017 brain started going off on a tangent, adding more detail or different bits of dialogue, I would just go with the flow.

I found it incredibly liberating. I had my original, but I was creating something almost completely new, albeit with some words I had previously written. All chapters were edited and revised, some more than others. I’ve already written three brand-new chapter. The story was only seventeen chapters to begin with. I’m halfway done and and I’m already up to twenty-one.

But what made me feel good as a growing and learning writer was to recognize how my old prose didn’t cut it in 2017. I frowned at a few passages and winced at others. Why? Because I am a more seasoned writer.

Now, I fully expect Future Scott, in 2027, to read this book as it will be published this year and find a few passages in which he will wince. But he’ll be a more seasoned writer than I am right now.

Because writing is an ever evolving profession.

When y’all revise an old story, do y’all rewrite from scratch, rewrite using the old words, or merely hunt and peck certain passages, adding words here and there?

Friday, August 18, 2017

I thought we all agreed...

I started my first novel when I was fifteen. I was frustrated with a lot of things, and had run ins with skinheads around my local punk club, and started a story about a woman who's life was ruined by Neo-Nazis.

I became obsessed with research. There was a time, over the twelve years I shelved that project and came back over and over again, I knew more about Nazis than anyone really needed to know. The one novel turned into two. I revisted both again and again over the years as my research became more in-depth and my anger grew.

Neither of those books will ever see the light of day. In part because a writer in their thirties cannot possibly go back and edit the things they wrote in their teens/early twenties and have it come out smooth and making sense, and in part because the moral of both stories was a little weak.

Nazis are bad.

I thought that was ground that had been pretty well covered. A novel I read during those years, handled it fairly well (at least in my mind, at the time. I haven't revisited it).

Don De Grazia's novel, American Skin covered how easy it was for frustrated white people to turn to hate, and how hard it was to turn away. And it covered the moral of the story: Nazis are bad.

So did Indiana Jones, Marvel Comics, American History X, and a hundred other pop culture items. All my friends agreed. Jesus, Nazis are bad, right? Fuck yeah, they're really bad! 

The state where I live has more hate groups than any other state. I lived right in the middle of the Confederate Seat (on Fort Lee, right outside of Richmond, VA). I ran into the occasional skinhead. Once, a skin in Richmond saw me in the history section picking up research for the above-mentioned projects and attempted to recruit me. His father saw us and joined in. They were massive Confederate Skins with their own press. This was clearly something they liked to do. If they saw someone in a bookstore looking at Confederate or Nazi history, they would come and tell that person all about how biased the books were (the books leaned on, Gee, aren't Nazis fucking bad?).

They were both huge men, and I was alone in the bookstore, my friends somewhere else in the mall. So I made an excuse, left my books on the shelf and left. 

I tell you that to tell you this: I've always known we had Nazis in the US. I knew about the Bund in World War 2. I knew about Neo-Nazis. I knew they were out and about and open with their hatred. 

But my assumption, when it came time to shelve the novels and move on, was  that everyone aside from them just knew inherently that Nazis are bad.

I've heard a lot of people, especially those in marginalized groups, talk about how frustrating it is to see people surprised that these hate mongering assholes exist, or that they exist in such numbers. I share that frustration. We've been talking about this for years. Decades. For awhile, it was in vogue to talk about it. There were 20/20 specials and movies with Ed Norton. The general populace was engaged with the idea that neo-Nazis, the White Christian Identity Movement, the KKK (smaller, but not insignificant) existed, were a threat, and were bad. But like most social issues that come into focus in the mainstream, the world moved on. It became about terrorism and school shootings and the general public forgot about Nazis. When they forgot about them, I guess they thought all the Nazis had disappeared.

Of course, they hadn't. 

Now they're doing exactly the things they talked about doing when I was reading their message boards in the early aughts. They cleaned up, got suits and fashy hair cuts (but not shaved heads!), separated their "intellectual" movement from the skinhead gangs, and weaseled their way into colleges, Men's Rights Groups, and all the places people didn't generally associate with Nazis. They played a huge role in the election. They march openly in the streets (looking like idiots in polo shirts with Tiki Torches, sure - but open).

And I see a lot of debate.

I woke up the morning after Richard Spencer's now infamous punch to the face and realized - I went to sleep thinking we all agreed that Nazis are bad, and woke up in a world where that's clearly untrue.

I spent so many years mired in the worst these assholes had to offer. Before Reddit. Before Identity Evorpa and The National Policy Institute. I saw the front page of a Neo-Nazi website turn to flash animation celebrating September 11th only an hour or so after I learned of the terror attack.

I thought I didn't have it in me to be ankle deep in that shit anymore. I thought if we could unite against anything it would be literal, flag waving Nazis.

Now it seems the choice isn't mine. They're in the streets, they're in the news. And even the "progressives" want to debate about how bad they are, how big their numbers are, whether we should respect them or not.

It's not fiction anymore. Of course, it wasn't when I was writing those doomed novels. But it wasn't like this. I still had the comfort of believing that the only people who didn't hate Nazis were flag waving Nazis.