Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Goldfish Heist

By Freewheelin' Jay Stringer

A friend recently reminded me of this story. I wrote it a couple of years ago for a competition by The Scotsman. I didn't win but it did get me published, and I got to meet with Ian Rankin and the other finalists. I also got my picture in the paper, which pleased my nan. Okay, it was only the back of my head, and the focus of the picture was the Rankin fella, but still. My nan.

Anyway. It got published, and that's about it. There's not much of an afterlife for these things unless they get collected somewhere else. But it's a story that I'm proud of, so I thought I'd give it one last airing before it goes to wherever stories go. Is there a retirement home for these things? Should I be scouting out the best care-package for it?

The Goldfish Heist.

“Big man, how can I tell if a goldfish is dead?”

“What’s it doing?”

“Well, it’s just sort of lying there.”


“Where is it?”

“Um, it’s in my hand.”

“Yes, it’s dead.”

These are the conversations you have with Cal when he’s high. He’s high most of the time.

Answering the phone got me a lot of dirty looks in the library, but it was raining outside and I didn’t want to get wet. I stayed in my seat, counting the looks I was getting from the bookish types. None of them would have the balls to call me on it, but they’d blog about it later.

Callum is the son of Mike Gibson, my boss.

Not a man to mess with.

“Okay, where are you?” Fixing Cal’s messes was my main preoccupation.

“I’m at my Da’s house.”

Damn it. Why did I answer the phone? Why does it have to be my problem?

“Where’s your dad?”

“He’s at work, I think, I don’t know.”

Here’s the problem: Mike Gibson, loan shark, filth merchant and owner of baseball bats, doesn’t own any goldfish.

He does have a prized collection of Koi Carp.

“Cal, have you killed one of your dad’s fish?”



“When you say it like that, it sounds bad.”

“Okay, sorry, but is one of your dads special fish now dead?”

“Umm. Yes.”

“When is your dad due home?”

“I don’t know, soon maybe. Joe, I’m cold.”

Oh god. Don’t ask.

“Cal, are you in the pond?”




Why did I answer the phone?

“I’m on my way.”

Cal, cold and shivering, was sat on the wooden deck chair in the garden, feet in the pond. Skinny little bastard, his skin was pale and his eyes sunken. He was wearing football shorts and a faded t-shirt, and he was blaring out tinny annoying music on his mobile phone.

I asked him what time his dad had left. I didn’t ask him why he’d picked up the fish, it’s pointless asking a smackhead why they’ve done something stupid. They’ll give you an answer but it wont be anything that helps.

“Uh, I don’t know, man. Like, a while ago.”

His favourite baseball bat had gone from his collection in the kitchen; that meant he was out collecting.

“See, I was thinking,” Cal said. “That maybe if we killed all of them others, like, da’ wouldn’t notice that this one was dead.”

He offered up the dead fish to me like a peace offering.

“I’m not touching that thing.” I brushed his hand aside and the fish flopped onto the patio.

“Cal, are you trying to tell me, you’ve killed one of your dads prized pets, and the only way you can think to make it better is to kill all of his other pets?”

“Well, I mean, we could fix it like a burglary, aye? Someone comes over the back wall, nicks some stuff, tv an’ shite. They killed the fish on the way out. To make a point, like.”

He stood there, grinning.

“What kind of a point is that then, to kill some fish?”

“I don’t know, burglars, man. They do crazy shit all the time.”

He had me there, I suppose.

“Look, Cal, you’re not going to do any good here. Get a shower and sleep it off.”

Why did I pick up the phone? Now this was on me.

Well, time to share.

“Baz, mate.” Barry had answered on the twelfth ring. He had a new girlfriend and, at any other time, it was funny how much touching they were doing. “Look, can you just put that girl down for five minutes? I need your help. What do you know about Koi Carp?”

Barry turned up 15 minutes later, with the lazy grin of sex. He had his laptop tucked under his arm, and a litre of vodka, ‘just in case’.

I took him straight out to the back patio. He nudged the dead fish with his foot.

“This is not good,” he said. “I think that one was Gibby’s best fish.”

“He had a favourite?”

“Yeah, well, its the same colours as Dundee United. He liked that one most.”

We both talked for a few minutes about all the fanciful acts of violence we could try out on Cal, but that wasn’t getting us anywhere near safe.

“You never seen what happened to the last person to mess with his fish, did you?” Barry scratched his chin and laughed as he told me.

“His name was Dave something, I forget his second name. He makes a whistling noises when he talks, because of the amount of damage Gibby done to his jaw.”

“Why did he mess with the fish?”

“Oh, it was accident. He was painting the wall back there, and some of his paint got into the water. Hate to think what he’d do to someone who messed with the fish on purpose. Where were you when Cal was doing this, anyway? Aren’t you meant to be baby sitting the wee shite?”

What could I say?

“I was in the library reading some big textbook about psychology,” is not something they’d want to hear. If they knew I was putting myself through open university to become a teacher, they’d look at me as if I’d just told them I was gay. And that wasn’t going to be happening either.

“I was getting laid,” is what I said.

Barry grinned and scratched his crotch. “Me too,” he said.

“So how much do these things cost?”

I was knelt over Barry as he searched the internet for information.

“Apparently,” he said, “ the word ‘koi’ actually means ‘carp’. So we really sound dumb when we call them ‘koi carp’.”

“I don’t care how dumb we sound. I want to know how much they cost.”

“It doesn’t really say. I guess it varies, there’s a lot of different kinds. I mean, these little ones on this site, they cost less than a tenner.”

“And Gibby’s carp?”



“They look like....ah.”

He shut down the lid on his laptop and reached for the vodka.

“What is it?”

“They look like the top breed, the real showy ones.”

“What we talking, twenty five? Forty?”

“You know when you visit a car showroom, and all the fiestas have prices on them, but, say, an Aston Martin doesn’t? None of these websites are listing a price for Gibby’s koi.”

I took a long pull from the bottle, before letting out a long sigh that turned into a swear word.

“Where can we get one?”

Barry lifted the lid on his laptop and did another search.

“Dobbies, in Paisley.”

Paisley? Why the hell did I answer the phone?

We parked up out of sight from the front door. Barry’s Fiesta is a better getaway vehicle than the number nine bus. Inside my coat I had a plastic bag full of water, the way you carry goldfish. It was a cold and heavy against my side. We walked around the garden bits first, playing it about as casual as you can when you’re thinking of stealing an expensive goldfish. They had wooden patio furniture of the same sort found in Mike Gibson’s garden, but I doubt he got it there. They also had some fun gnomes, the sort of garden ornaments that everyone wants, but nobody will admit. And some of those strange statues you can buy to put in a pond.

“You ever seen the point of these?” I asked Barry.

“The fountains?”

“Well not so much that. You want a fountain, that’s fine. But why would anyone want a wee little naked boy holding the fountain?”

“Its not a boy, its a cherub, or a fairy, or something. Like in a fairy tale.”

“You’re telling me you don’t look at that, and see nothing but a statue of a naked little boy?”

“Well, now that you say it. Damn, Joe, now that’s all that I can see.”

We found the place where they kept the fish, an aquarium section that was both too warm and too damp. Tanks full of goldfish, tropical fish and stupid plastic castles.

And a big fake pool full of Koi.

“Anyone of those look like the one we need?”

“Easy way to find out,” said Barry as he pulled the dead fish out of his coat.

I’d wondered what the smell was.

We knelt close to the waters surface and compared the Koi to the smelly thing in Barry’s hand. There was one that was the right colours, but the patterns were different.

“That’s not going to matter,” I said when Barry mentioned the difference. “ I mean, its not as if he’s going to pick it out of the pool and fuss it. It just needs to look close enough from a distance.”

“What do you think? I drop this one in, we pick up the live one, and then on the way out tell them one of their fish looks ill?”

“I don’t know, I can’t see a way of getting that fish picked up without drawing attention. We’d need a diversion.”

“What kind of diversion can we create in a garden centre? A runaway lawnmower?”

“Lets try the honest way.” I called over someone in the shops uniform. A gormless looking kid with spiky blonde hair and blood shot eyes.

“How much is the Carp?” I asked.

“Koi,” said Barry.

“Depends, there’s a couple of rare breeds in there. Which one?”

“That one with the tangerine bits on it, the fat one.”

The kid stooped low to look at the fish we were pointing at, then straightened up with a grin.

“That’s the rare one. A hundred, pal.”

It was the way he said it, that’s what annoyed me most. Like he knew we couldn’t afford that. If Gibson was going to be paying me back, a hundred quid would be no problem. But out of my own pocket? No chance.

“Any chance of a student discount?”

Barry flashed his student ID, 5 years out of date.

The blonde kid shrugged a refusal.

“Expensive, these carp.” I said.

“Koi.” The kid said.

We got the distraction we needed when I broke the kids nose with the heel of my fist. While I pushed him face first through the nearest tank, asking him how much the goldfish in it cost, and if the plastic castle came free with them, Barry slipped about in the pool and picked up the koi.

We got it into my bag of water before dropping it, and ran out through the main entrance. Laughing at all the stunned shoppers, frozen in the act with their potted plants and miniature plastic wheelbarrows.

Back at Gibson’s house, Cal opened he front door. He was washed and alert.

“What ye got, man?”

We pushed past him and through to the garden, where I opened my coat and tipped the bag upside down into the pond.

The koi, fat, tangerine and lifeless, floated on the surface.

“Fuck.” I managed to say it calmly enough. “You put the wrong one in the bag.”

“No, that’s the right one. It must’ve died in the bag. I guess we needed a special tank to carry it in, or something.”

“Well I would’ve thought that was obvious,” said Cal.

I stood and breathed slowly for a moment. Then went with the only option left.

“Barry, load the television, DVD player, and anything else you fancy into the car. We’re going to make this look like someone broke in, and killed the carp to make a point.”

Cal laughed and started to help, picking up fish.

Once we were finished, and Barry had gone, I dialled a number into my phone.

“Mike? It’s Joe Pepper. Listen, you’ve been robbed. Sorry man, the bastards killed your fish. What? Yeah, sorry. Cal tried to stop them, wee trooper, but they set about him.”

I hit Cal hard enough to bruise. And again.

It felt good.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Young Adult Books for Adults

By Steve Weddle

So we're chatting on Twitter last week about adults reading young adult books. MOCKINGJAY had just come out at midnight and folks were excited.

It's possible that if you search the basement of DSD, you'll find an archived post in which I might have made what could be considered a "snide" remark about adults who read the TWILIGHT books about the 120-year-old guy seducing a teenage girl.

But many adults read young adult books. OK. As DSD's Jay Stringer said, "A good book is a good book." Of course, he should know. He wrote OLD GOLD.

I asked folks for a good recommendation for a young adult book that I might like. I said I'd listen to suggestions and pick one and then report back about how cool it was -- or wasn't.

Kent Gowran mentioned Robert R. McCammon's Boy's Life.

McCammon says this at his site:

I say Boy's Life is not about lost innocence, because I believe we all maintain the pool of innocence and wonder inside us no matter how far we get away from our childhood. I believe this pool can be revisited, and we can immerse ourselves in its healing water if we dare to take the risk of knowing again the children we used to be. This is a risky thing, because once we look back---once we let that wonderful pool take us in again---we may not ever fully return to being the adults we are now.
This is part of what Boy's Life is about: the rediscovery of magic, of wonders that lie drowning and half-forgotten in our souls. Boy's Life is about the dreams and terrors in the life of a Southern boy in 1964, but I hope it is more than that, too; I hope it is a universal key to yesterday, and by the opening of that door for a backward look we may all see today tomorrow in a much clearer, brighter light.

What it's about: The year is 1964. On a cold spring morning before the sun, Cory Mackenson is accompanying his father on his milk delivery route. Without warning a car appears in the road before them and plunges into a lake some say is bottomless. Cory's father makes a desperate attempt to save the driver, but instead comes face-to-face with a vision that will haunt and torment him: a dead man handcuffed to the steering wheel, naked and savagely beaten, a copper wire knotted around his neck. The lake's depths claim the car and the corpse, but the murderer's work is unfinished as, from that moment, both Cory and his father begin searching for the truth.

OK. That sounds promising. A few other folks suggested that one too, or agreed with Mr. Gowran. Well, let's put that one in the running.

How about JERNIGAN, also recommended by Mr. Gowran? 
"Self-pitying, alcoholic widower Peter Jernigan, unable to communicate with his confused teenage son and emotionally distanced from his live-in lover, narrates this depressing first novel."

Well I like the sound of that. I don't know from the work of David Gates, but this looks promising. No idea how this is young adult, but 'tis intriguing.

Hilary Davidson mentioned Sophie Littlefield's upcoming BANISHED. Now, I don't need much convincing to read a book from Sophie Littlefield. Of course, for those who could use a push in that direction, here's an excerpt you'll dig.

John Hornor Jacobs has a YA book, which I'll of course read because his THIS DARK EARTH is such a great novel. 

Allan Guthrie said Jess Mowry is worth looking up. He suggested WAY PAST COOL, which looked good and has an excerpt here.

THE NEW RULES OF HIGH SCHOOL by Blake Nelson was the suggestion of JimmyTheWorm. According to the Booklist write-up at Amazon, "High-achieving students may question whether Max's voice and lifestyle really belong to a Yale-bound kid, but many teens will recognize the book's rapid dialogue, school politics, and the young man's wandering, often painful ambivalence."

Amy Boggs may or may not have suggested MOCKINGJAY.

Tom Piccirilli said "Try Peter Abrahams's Reality Check or Bullet Point. Very strong, dark YA material. And Robert Cormier, of course, including FADE." 

How could you go wrong with Robert Cormier, right? The Library School Journal people said of FADE: "Those who find Cormier's novels bleak, dark, disturbing, and violent will not be disappointed with his latest."

Dave White said THE OUTSIDERS. I think I read that one when I was a kid. I think I liked it. You'd think I'd remember a book with Sodapop and Ponyboy Curtis.

That's the thing, though. I didn't read much young adult when I was a kid. Maybe it wasn't as popular. Maybe it wasn't a genre. Maybe it wasn't capitalized as YA, and I just didn't notice.

I read Salinger. I read Harry Harrison's STAINLESS STEEL RAT books. I read Piers Anthony. I read Dr. Strange comics. I read Spider-Man. 

When I was a young adult, science-fiction was young adult. There was fiction on the left-hand side of the Waldenbooks in the mall. There were children's books in the back right corner, along with some "merchandise." In the middle was all of the non-fiction. The biographies. The sports books. Cook books. And along the right-hand side of the store was the science-fiction and fantasy. That's where they kept the Steven Brust, the Isaac Asimov.

Maybe I need to head into the new stores and look in the YA sections. Maybe I need to see what all the fuss is about.

I still can't imagine a noir hero in a YA book, though. Someone who loses. Someone who doesn't [SPOILER ALERT] defeat Voldermort at the end of the book, or whatever the YA equivalent is.

Is it possible that Young Adult Noir even exists? I mean, yeah, there's the Glass family in Salinger's works, but anyone else?

Forget the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Or maybe don't. I don't know. Young Adult mysteries. Thrillers. Noir. OK, DSD friends and neighbors. What have you got?

Bump and Giggle

I was in a car accident the other day and still ache and don't really feel much like sitting here to bang out the long post I envisioned. So instead let's talk about what's paralyzed you in your life either writing-wise or other. I found it hard to get back behind the wheel right away after the accident. Also a couple years ago I was paralyzed by an awful block for most of the year due to a number of factors. So tell me about your shit. What's screwed your brain in life?

(PS - Hopefully some time tomorrow or today or whenever you're reading this I'll get a burst of percocet-laced inspiration and put up the post I originally intended to write. There's always hope, right?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Charles Dickens and His Wax Tablet

Scott D. Parker

Picture this: Charles Dickens has writer’s block. He can’t quite work out what new tragedy he can inflict upon Esther Summerson. He’s stuck. So he puts down his pen and moves his ink bottle off his desk. He stands up and, from a top shelf, pulls down a wax-covered writing tablet, the kind the Romans used. Sharpening the stylus, old Boz sits down and starts writing the next chapter of Bleak House on wax.

Think that’s how it happened? Yeah, I don’t think so, either. But I sometimes wonder, judging by the habits of modern writers and extrapolating backwards, if that’s how it might’ve gone.

What am I saying? Only this: in all the discourse about writing in this modern age, many folks choose to use older technology to get their writing complete. David McCullough famously uses a 1940s-era manual typewriter for all the books he’s written. Jonathan Franzen, in the cover story of Time last week, notes that he writes on an old laptop whose ethernet port has been superglued shut, thus never allowing that computer to access the internet. Even me, when I find myself writing during vacations, I take pen and paper rather than laptop.


McCullough has said that he likes the slowness of non-digital technology. It allows him to think through his prose and the structure of his books. I agree with him. When I break out the pen and ink, often my ideas gush through my brain and my hand can’t keep up. On those non-laptop vacations (that’s a rule I put in place, not imposed by any family member), I long for the keyboard and speed of my typing. Writing longhand is, often, too slow for me. Ironically, when I find myself stuck in a particular passage, instead of forging ahead on the laptop, I start writing longhand. The log jam breaks and I keep on moving, back on the laptop. Makes me want to study the nature of writer’s brains and see if there’s some thousand-year evolution of neurons and the imagination that has been forged and that we, in the digital age, are attempting to melt and reforge into something new.

As funny as it is to imagine Dickens writing on wax or papyrus or hieroglyphics, I can’t help but ask the obvious question: given a chance do you think Dickens (or any writer pre-twentieth century writer) would have used a laptop and a word processor?

I have my answer, but I’ll let y’all start…

Friday, August 27, 2010

"She Made a Beautiful Corpse"

By Russel D McLean

Those of you who know me know that I have a weakness for old painted pulp covers. Several bookshelves are dedicated to my favourites, but this week I decided to bring out some examples of these works of art to show you. Many of these were originally used as covers back when Crime Scene Scotland was a monthly ezine. Rooting through old files brought back memories of where I found these books, and some of the questions and thoughts they brought up. So enjoy a small peek at my covers. I'll maybe scan some more another week. This is only the tip of the iceberg, and a reminder of how cover art used to be a truly individual thing.

The Corpse in the Corner Saloon was bought in the book room at my first Bouchercon (Chicago).

One of the things I love about it, more than the gorgeous painted cover, is the fact that it also came with a map of the crime scene. Its my understanding that a lot of Dell books did this at one time, and it is a fantastic idea.

The second cover here, A Date With Death, was again bought on a trip to the states. This time, I was in New York back when I was considering attending NYU as a philosophy graduate. In the end, of course, I elected for Bristol which had a better course and then dropped out of philosophy altogether due to the costs involved. Anyway, this one has a very special place in my heart and I love the strapline: "She made a beautiful corpse".

I love my Ross McDonald books. So when my dad found this Spanish edition of one of McDonald's books (I'm actually not sure which one this is - anyone care to enlighten me?) I was delighted. Its a very simple but effective cover, and while not down to my usual pulp styles has pride of place in my bookcase.

The Books of Master Crimes was bought back in the days when I tried my hand at bookselling. Its one of my intial stock that I have left. And all because I love the cover. This one's a magazine anthology, and again its that painted cover that gets me every time.

Dark Crusade is another oddity in my collection. Its got he babe, the guy in the tenchcoat and of course the communist espionage. But can anyone solve this mystery from the back cover for me? Apparently Grant Holmes "is the psuedonym of a well-known American detective story writer who has written this hard-driving thriller on the strength of his own experiences at the head of an allied bueaur of intelligence and counter-intelligence in England and on the continent during the last war." Can anyone source me the real identity of this writer? You'll get the DSD equivalent of a no-prize, and you know those have gotta be coveted.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Observe The Two Week Rule

There is so much going on in publishing right now that's kind of beyond me.

Jonathan Franzen, Adrew Wylie, TIME, the NEW YORK TIMES, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Prince Poppycock, and e-books. I get bits and pieces of these stories, but I never seem to understand the whole story. I follow people on Twitter and get 140 characters of information, but I'm never drawn to find out more.

Probably should, but here's the thing about controversies.

I don't really care.


Because they go away. They all go away.

In a week or two, we'll be talking about something else. Someone will say something that will be blown out of proportion, the bloggers will jump all over it, and we'll have a new controversy.

It's so junior high.

It gives everyone something to talk about, but rarely does something change. How is Barnes and Noble being sold going to change a consumer's life? Unless all the bookstores shut down, it's not. Teens with no place to go will still show up, browse Stephanie Myer and buy a latte.

Jonathan Franzen is going to sell a million bazillion copies.

Authors and fans are going to bitch about negative reviews.

I have a saying in my classroom.... "The Two Week Rule."

Anytime there's a controversy, I tell my students to observe the two week rule. That means, whatever is being talked about... whoever got in trouble, got dumped, or fell in front of everyone... will be forgotten about in two weeks. Because within the next two weeks someone else will be dumped, get in trouble or trip and fall in front of everyone.

So don't sweat it.

Move on.

But we can't, because everyone wants their say.

And I can't, because I don't follow any of it.

I'm so jealous of you gossip savvy types.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rubicon - anybody watching?

John McFetridge

So, is anybody watching the new show on AMC, Rubicon?

I've seen every episode so far and I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. It keeps me intereted enough to tune in every week and I like the feel of it, but I can't tell if there's any substance to the style.

It's got a very old school vibe - very little technology; a few cell phone and the odd computer, but these are "data analysts" who pick up big folders of papers in the morning to go over and who find international secret communications in newspaper crossword puzzles - not a website in site.

So far what seems to be a major plot point revolves around a, "go code" being hidden in crossword puzzles spread over many international newspapers. And in the show we always see print editions of the papers, no one reads the online editions. I kept picturing the spy in Beruit looking all over the city for the Herald Tribune.

But for an old guy like me the low-tech approach is kind of fun. When I first saw the show was about these data analysts I thought, "Oh yeah, that's what Robert Redford did in Three Days of the Condor." Until the shooting started five minutes in and he ran off with Faye Dunaway.

That movie was based on the book Six Days of the Condor.

Sometimes Rubicon feels like Endless Days of the Condor.

But still, I keep watching.

What about you, anybody watching?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lush Life -Richard Price

By Jumpin' Jay Stringer

I love it when a plan comes together. And by plan, I mean accident. I'd been wanting to find a book to read while we were in New York. I like to have something at the side of the bed so that, after a days exploring, I can key into an authors work and let that story become part of the memory. I also like to pick up local crime fiction books wherever I go, because they're far better than tourist guides or travel maps. They let you get to know a place.

The trouble with New York was that I'd already read all the books that I came across, and it was looking like it would be a wash out. Then our new friend, Josh, took us on a walking tour of the lower east, showing us the city in a way we wouldn't have seen it otherwise, and over into Brooklyn.

As we explored, we came upon a street stall selling second hand books. And there was a wonderful QP edition of LUSH LIFE, by Richard Price. It was a story set in the very neighbourhood we had just explored. Flicking through the opening pages I saw mention of Katz's Deli and, ho shit, I'd been standing outside that just a couple of hours before. This felt like a book that was somehow real to me, even if it was in some shallow tourist way.

The story in some ways reminded me of Lawrence Block's SMALL TOWN. Though it took me a while to figure out why, because they have little in common. I figured it out only this week, as i sat to try and write about LUSH LIFE. Block had written his story as a love letter of sorts to New York. An epic twisted tale of a serial killer and the many lives he touched, SMALL TOWN drew a lot of controversy when it was released. It dealt in a very different social sphere to LUSH LIFE, Blocks book dealt with art dealers, writers and politicians. But through the book he showed how every life in New York can overlap, in some way, even for a second. He showed that it was a major city, but "a small town when it rains."

LUSH LIFE exists in the modern lower east side. It shows us a world that has as many different cultures thrown into a few small streets as you could possibly get, and none of the choose to interact. Each culture stick to its own, and the all do their best to ignore the hip kids, the wandering students and wannabes that have come to belong there as much as anyone else.

Each of these lives can co-exist without ever running afoul of each other, without ever knowing each other, until two of them rub together for a brief moment. Two young black kids from the projects cross paths with three drunks from the hipster scene. There is a gun shot, and then the lower east becomes a very small town.

The spine of the story is the Police investigation into the crime, with the two central cops acting as tour guides for us through all the different lives and cultures that are touched upon. Built around this investigation are the lives of people like Eric Cash, who came to the city as a hot young thing and now realises that there is no pot of gold, that this is his life. There is Ike Marcus, a hot young thing who looks to be spared the years of heart break that Eric has lived through, and Tristan, a young projects kid with no chances to escape a life he didn't choose.

The book is brilliant. It's a tale of race, politics, love, loss and desperation. If you can't find what you're after in this book, then you're not looking hard enough.
But forget all of that for a moment. All of it. You know what really makes this book work? What really gives it soul?


For all that crime fiction deals with poverty, death and violence, it seems to shy away from dealing with grief. It piles on the guilt, sure, but not the grief. I can count on one hand the authors who really tackle this head on in any meaningful way. Reed Farrel Coleman does it, our very own Russel D McLean does it, but it's a pretty short list beyond that.

With LUSH LIFE, Richard Price takes a long hard look at grief. He shows us a father who falls apart at the loss of his son, who will spend the rest of his life waiting for the moment his son walks down the driveway and says it was all a joke. We see a cop grieving for a family life he managed to lose, and Eric Cash mourning a life that he'll never have. We see the way some people can twist it, use it for their own benefit, while others can becomes trapped and defined by it, never to escape. The emotion hands over the book, pulling it up above all the competition.

So, Richard Price I guess i should apologise. I bough this book second hand. On the flip side sir, you've written a fucking amazing book.

Monday, August 23, 2010

These are the days, Mr Bacon

By Steve Weddle

As the Philip Glass song goes, "These are the days, my friend."

The folks at Tyrus know it:

We all know it.

Sure, if you're a writer, Janet Evanovich has probably taken all your money, but who cares?

You remember a million years ago when James Joyce would publish his books out of Shakespeare and Company? Now that was an indie press. Small press runs. Word of mouth. Buy some whiskey for a writer and you're hanging out all night? The more things change...

So the publishing world is collapsing. Alright. TV is still killing radio. The internet has shut down all newspapers. According to Wired magazine's website, the web is dead. Er, yeah.

Here's where we are now. Writers can interact more directly with the readers. Good for some, crap for others. Don't want to interact with your readers? Fine. Stay off twitter. Move to the woods, grow old writing letters to teenage girls and drinking your own pee. Fine.

But if you want to interact, you can. If you want to muck about, you can.

I'd wager the "publishing world" or "writing world" or whathaveya is much more open today. If I want to contact a writer I admire, I search online and within 10 seconds I'm emailing the author. (Sorry, Richard Powers. And yes, I understand what your attorney said. Though, you know, seriously, if I could just explain how you and I think exactly alike, you know, like how I totally get what you're trying to do, you know, then I think you'd understand.)

So on Saturday night, the folks at Tyrus start spreading the word about Bill Cameron. The next day Bill posts pix of himself eating pig. Honestly, can you imagine Hemingway tweeting from a fishing spot? I'm sure there's been a goofy Hemingway tweet meme already, but that's kinda the point, ain't it? This community of readers and writers. Not just the book readings in which you go to a bookstore, sit down for a bit and listen, then get a book signed and leave. No, you can interact with some of your favorites. I dunno, I just think that's pretty cool.

And you can get things done over the internet, the sort of thing you never could have accomplished 10 years ago.

The summer issue of NEEDLE just came out and you find out right away how people enjoy your story. Sites such as DBK have even started looking at short stories only. Can you imagine a magazine coming out that reviews short stories? Me neither. The lead-time would be a killer. Online works, though.

This issue of NEEDLE includes work from Ray Banks, Nolan Knight, John Stickney, Frank Bill, Julie Summerell, Nigel Bird, Sarah Weinman, Allan Leverone, Chris F. Holm, David Cranmer, Stephen Blackmoore and Mike Sheeter.

And Mike Sheeter was just featured over at Jedidiah Ayres's web site. And, in addition to having a fantastic novella in the first issue of Needle, Ayres has a stellar piece in PWG. And PWG is run by Neil Smith, who had some great work published by Bleak House Books, whose brains went on to form Tyrus Books, the folks who said how cool these days are.

Five degrees of Kevin Bacon, nothing. Oh, and speaking of Bacon, that's exactly what started this whole thing off in the first place. Tyrus Books asking what Bill Cameron had stuffed his face with. And readers responded. Because that's what readers do. They read. They respond. But these are great days, my friend. Because writers are responding, too. 


Tell ya what, share an online connection about how cool these days are and I'll draw names and send someone a copy of NEEDLE's summer issue. Deal?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Flavor of the month

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I’m not a reader who loves jumping on the bandwagon of whatever hot new book is on the list. It took me until book four to break down and start reading Harry Potter. I admit I was glad I did, but most of the time I don’t feel that same happiness at devoting my time to what everyone else is reading.

Case in point: I picked up a book a few months ago that has racked up lots of award nominations. Everyone was talking about how fabulous it was so when I saw it on the discount shelf I decided to add it to my TBR pile. You have to remember that my TBR pile is enormous and keeps growing, so it took me a while to finally get around to reading the book. I cracked it open and after ten pages wanted to put it down.

But I didn’t.

People had nominated it for awards – lots of awards. I kept reading waiting to discover the reason(s) why. The point of view shifted almost every other paragraph which made it hard to follow whose thoughts I was reading. The killer seemed obvious. The descriptions were lovely, but no more so than other books I’d read. I assumed that the payoff at the end – the solution to the mystery – was going to be sensational. That I was going to be amazed at how the pieces fit together to form a picture I never saw coming. I flipped the pages waiting for a huge payoff.

It never came.

I was disappointed. In fact, I felt cheated. I shouldn’t have. There’s a reason I don’t normally read the ‘flavor of the month’. This would be it.

As a soon-to-be-published author, I seem to find myself paying attention to award nominations in ways I'd never done in the past. The question is, does anyone else really care about these awards? Do you find yourself reading a book because everyone else is doing it? Or do you like to be the one setting the trends? And if you don’t like to follow the crowd, at what point do you break down and decide to see what all the fuss is about?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Antique Argument

Scott D. Parker

I’ve spent some time touring Houston (my hometown and where I live) this week, kind of a stay-cation type thing. Went up to Brenham and visited the Blue Bell Creamery, down to Alvin (Bill Crider’s neck of the woods) and visited the wildlife animal park, and then went to the beach at Galveston yesterday. Had a great time with the family and, even though school starts the day after tomorrow, I still cling to the last threads of the summer state of mind until Labor Day.

My wife and I made an interesting discovery this week: our boy enjoys looking at antiques. Everywhere we went, we stepped inside antique stores. The best one, by far, is the Antique Mall in Alvin. Fantastic facility. Huge selection of just about anything you’d want. Even had a great--and I mean great--booth full of old paperbacks, Ace doubles, and lots of bins of old-school pulp magazines. It was heaven, and I found yet another A. A. Fair book.

The thing I enjoy is the memory trip I take when perusing an antique store. I’m old enough now that much of the stuff I knew as a lad is considered antiques. What’s really neat is seeing things I actually owned: Houston Oilers mugs, Star Wars figures, albums, etc. I enjoy seeing these things, holding them, reveling in the memories, and telling my boy and wife about a “when I was growing up” moment.

This kind of memory excursion will be almost impossible with digital media. Sure, we’ll be able to remember what DVD we watched in the car on the family trip to Florida, but it won’t be quite the same thing. The more “stuff” that is available digitally, the less “stuff” we can hold in our hands. As cool as it was to see those old pulp magazines, there won’t be an “antiques” store for digital media. Well, let me rephrase that. There won’t be a physical location where you can stroll and browse. There will be search engines and lines of text to peruse. But it will not be the same thing.

I’m all about digital media. I love it. My paradigm for music has already changed so much so that I get irritated when I have to buy a CD to get something I want. I don’t necessarily have a drive to own movies. I’m content to buy the very special ones and rent the rest. Books are the exception. For as much as I love ebooks--and for every *new* book that comes out, I’m more liable to buy the e-version; old books still come only in the old way--there really is something to holding an old paperback.

What I particularly enjoy about browsing the aisles of an antique store is the treasure hunt, the stumbling upon something you were not actively seeking. The A. A. Fair books (Erle Stanley Gardner’s pen name) are my particular darlings at the moment. I know I can pop online right now and order all the ones I don’t have. But I don’t. I carry around a complete list of the Bertha Cool and Donald Lam books with me (on paper, in my wallet) so I know the ones I have and the ones I don’t. And, I’m reading them in order. Just yesterday, in Galveston, I found Number 9, Give’em the Axe. I actually found three others I need, but left them on the shelf. I’ll get to them when I get to them. I’m weird that way. I want to be surprised someday in the future when I’m really looking for one more Cool and Lam novel and it finds its way into my hands. That’s a priceless feeling.

And one you can’t get from an ebook, with a searchable database, and everything instantly available. I’m not lamenting the future, mind you. There’s a lot to look forward to with electronic media and, frankly, I’m pretty excited about it. But I also love putting on the imaginary pith helmet, looking for that lost treasure I never knew I wanted, and taking a trip down memory lane I get every time I step into an antique store. That’s one thing I’ll miss in thirty years...and my boy will miss it, too, when he takes his child to an antique store and the artifacts from his life are all in some electronic device that no longer works. Makes me wonder if we’ll lose some of our acquired knowledge if all the servers one day stop running.

Friday, August 20, 2010

We interrupt your expected transmission....

By Russel D McLean
(or maybe not)

Bit of an unforseen circumstances this week chez McLean. Some watery madness from above (ie, a freak rainstorm) has got Russel involved in clearing water and fixing drains. So he's barely even realised that Friday is rolling around.

So he'll fill in time this week, presenting to you the most realistic depiction of the author-agent/editor dynamic ever committed to theatre...

And also (via Mitchell and Webb) a scene Russel finds quite familiar. Not from working with anyone in recent years, but he did once, or maybe not once, deal with, or maybe not deal with, a editor similar - or totally different - to this one. Or not.

Normal service, he assures you will be resumed next week. But in case you think he's all doom and gloom, here's a link to his reaction to some much happier news from last week.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Kindle Problem--A Moral Conundrum

by Dave White

I have a confession to make.

After a long time resisting the trend, I got myself a Kindle. It was a wedding gift I asked for, and I was first able to use it on my honeymoon. And having the Kindle on the cruise gave me the idea for this blog post.

You see, I was all ready to say e-Readers weren't becoming popular. We were on a ship of 2000 people, and I figured it would be a good way to survey the popularity of the e-Reader.

The first day I had my topic. E-readers aren't popular outside of publishing. I wandered the pool deck and saw hundreds of people reading actual books. The Girl with the... The Joe Torre book... Jennifer Weiner... But no e-Readers. I was convinced. Only I had one, and that was because I was into publishing and was trying to conserve space in the condo.

And then a funny thing happened. As the trip went on more and more e-Readers popped up. At one point I had a running count 6 Kindles, 4 Nooks, 2 Sony, and two iPads. By the end, I think I was over 20.

It strikes me this isn't just a fad, it's really starting to catch. And I think authors are going to really love it. At one point I was talking to a couple about their iPad and Kindle (both liked the Kindle better) and the woman bought a copy of WHEN ONE MAN DIES on the spot.


It's hard to do that kind of hand selling on a vacation.

And here's where I come to the problem. It's a selfish problem, but a problem nonetheless.

I don't like the e-Reading culture. The e-Reader is going to create book monopolies. Apple and Amazon (and maybe BN will hang in there) are going to be the only booksellers and the rest will just drift away like independent record stores.

And I love my indie bookstores. So how do I reconcile my love of an indie with my love of the Kindle?

I spent the week thinking about this, before I started writing this blog. And here's what I came up with:

Anytime I want to try a new author, the book goes to the Kindle. They're cheaper, there's less risk involved. But my favorite authors.... yeah I still love the feel of a book in my hand. I still love wandering the stacks.

I love the smell.

So when my favorite authors put a new book out, I'm going to an indie. I'm ordering from an indie. I will not just download the book.

Laura Lippman's newest, for instance. Sometime in the next week I'll be taking a trip to a local store to buy it, even though I have a gift card to Amazon sitting in my account.

It clears my conscience. It makes me feel better.

It means I can have my books and Kindle too.

What do you think?

PS: Thanks to Joelle and Bryon picking up the slack the last two weeks. I read Joelle's Thursday posts, and Bryon's other posts and they did a bang-up job. Really appreciate it.

BTW, if you want to hear my thoughts on my actual honeymoon, check out my actual blog by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Johnny Porno by Charlie Stella

review (sort of) by
John McFetridge

Go buy this book. I bought it on Amazon.

I don't need to write yet another glowing review, there are already dozens of them all over, from Publishers Weekly to Amazon customers. They all say basically the same thing, Charlie Stella is in Elmore Leonard and George V. Higgins territory, and that's true, so I don't need to say it again. Except he has his own voice, and it's great.

What I'd like to do is sit down with a beer and a few of you and talk about our favourite characters in the book, our favourite scenes, our favourite moments.

My favourite character might be Nan. Sure, she's a bitch, sleeping with her first ex-husband, planning to rob her second ex-husband and staying with her current husband long enough so she gets half his money in the divorce, but I like her. John Albano (Johnny Porno, though, of course, he hates the nickname) is also a great character, a working guy (who lost his union construction job for punching out a foreman) who needs money for child support and is on the edge of the mob, not wanting to get involved but not catching a break anywhere else. I believed this character completely.

And even though this is a great crime novel with terrific mobsters and cops my favourite scenes are the ones between the men and women. And there are plenty of those scenes. They're all daggers to the heart, of course, but so sharp and so real I can't help but smile a little as I feel the pain (thankful tat it's not me but knowing those moments well).

Johnny Porno takes place in 1973 and is about the mob profiting big-time from the banning of the movie Deep Throat and the cops trying to catch them showing it illegally around New York - I read a lot of the book with Google maps opened looking to see exactly where Carnasie and Massapequa and Rockaway Parkway are.

So, on the one hand it's about big social and political ideas; how organized crime benefits from a prohibition, how pornography started to become mainstream, how divorce affects children, what family really means and so on, but it's also a street-smart story of working people trying to make it day by day.

I've said here a few times that I like what's happening with the small presses these days and this book is a perfect example.

Okay, go buy the book, read it, come back and we'll talk about our favourite parts and our favourite characters. That scene with Johnny and Melinda, their first "date" in the diner where her friend is working - that is just a fantastic scene isn't it? I mean I read it and then right away I read it again.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bye, Bye, Baby. Allan Guthrie

By Jay Stringer, pet detective.

As much as we would like to be open minded about all genres, each of us will have a few prejudices. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they're based on nothing more than a whim. For my part, it takes a lot for me to read a police procedural. It takes something really special for me to enjoy the hell out one.

I don't really want to call Allan Guthrie's BYE, BYE, BABY a police procedural, I'd rather point out that it's a dark and funny thriller that has police in it. The approach is so fresh that it makes the whole thing feel like the first time I've read a police story, but all of the regular pieces are there; coppers, kidnapping, office politics, corruption and family secrets.

It also has a few other staples thrown in for good measure; a love triangle, a troubled marriage, an unpopular constable and a high ranking family member. But if that all sounds like a story you've read before, I dare you to find another writer that has taken each and every one of those elements in the direction Guthrie does here.

As with novels like HARD MAN and SAVAGE NIGHT, Guthrie seems well aware of the conclusions the reader is making, and knows just the right moment to turn each one on its head. There is a lot to be said for the art of letting the reader figure things out a couple of seconds before the characters, but the tartan ninja of crime fiction has developed another skill -he let's you think you've figured it out before laughing at you and running down a different corridor.

The story centres around DC Frank Collins. He's the but of a few jokes in CID, and has a sordid sexual past with one of his work colleagues. All of this has to be put to one side when a child is abducted from school, and Collins has to figure out not only where the child has gone, but also what dark secret the mother is hiding. That all seems fairly safe and standard, right? Don't get used to it, it won't last. Let me say; the first twist is a doozy, and it gets stranger from there.

This is an interesting change for Guthrie. So far we've been given events mostly from the point of view of the criminals or the outsiders, the psychopaths and sociopaths that inhabit his version of Edinburgh. The establishment had been relegated to the fringes of his work altogether or, in the case of SLAMMER, has been the machine that grinds people into the ground. Here the establishment is front and centre, but that doesn't mean things have been cleaned up at all. But here we do see a more controlled voice, a more logical and restrained progression of the story. It's also the least blood thirsty of his stories so far. The violence is hinted at and -in some ways I can't reveal- parodied. But of the blood is fake, the morality is still suitably fucked up. There are some very dark goings on, and the casual manipulation of a characters' grief and mental state is chilling if you stop to think about it.

There are still many of the same themes at play here as in previous stories. There is grief, madness, self delusion and greed. Characters are manipulated to near breaking point by their own pride and by forces out of their control. There is also one of the funniest lines of dialogue about a blindfold that you will ever read, because Al's trademark twisted humour is out in force. If this change in gears marks a new phase of Guthrie's writing career, I look forward to seeing what comes next. I would love to see this kind of fresh and interesting approach applied to a full length novel, and too see how many more ways he can twist a police thriller into a new shape.

Guthrie's previous novella, KILLING MUM was published through five leaves press, who also published GUN by Ray Banks and two novels from our very own Russel D McLean. BYE, BYE, BABY is set to be published by Barrington Stoke but you can catch it right now, this very second, by heading on over to smashwords and buying the ebook. You can read it on your kindles, your ipads or your iphones. An ipod will let you read it while you listen to music, and I'm pretty sure some toasters will be able to display it for you while cooking your breakfast. Point is, here is a cracking book by one of our best writers, all for $2.99.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Whether to blog

By Steve Weddle

So the HuffPo did this thing the other day about whether Twitter helps authors sell books.

The author of the piece and some of her partners took a close look at the connection. "After tracking over 20 books during a 6 month period, we realized that the correlations are there but they are unpredictable."

Well, that's interesting. So it might help, but understanding how is confusing. Oh, by the way, the author of the piece is "Founder and President of FSB Associates, a web publicity and social media firm specializing in creating awareness for books and authors."

Ain't that helpful?

I'm not interested in whether the post was meant to send business the author's way. They were clear about the fact that this was a post by someone who makes a living at this sort of thing, so I don't think it was in bad faith at all. Though, you know, that was my initial reaction, which kinda gets to the point of Twitter and blogging that I want to look at. Do folks blog just to be self-serving?

So Twitter maybe helps an author get the word out. OK. And maybe bookstore readings help. (Certainly they help the people who work at the bookstores get to know the people who write the books.) Maybe having a MyFace page helps. And maybe blogging helps. But, you know, what's an author to do?

I've seen many authors who have blogs that lie dormant until the next book comes out. Then, lo and behold, the author is a blogging tsunami. "Hey, look at me. I'm a real person with a daily life. Buy my book." My first thought on this was a cynical one, thinking that author was just trying to pitch a sale and get you to his or her reading. You know, the tabs at the top of the page: "Bio. Books. Blog. Dates. Contact." Yes, buy the books and come to the readings. And contact the writer through a form on the Web site. But, you know, I understand a little more about how this works than I first did.

We have a difference between a blogger and a novelist. Some folks write a blog post every day and do a nice job. Some write a blog post every day and suck. Sometimes, it's hit and miss. Still, this is the medium that person writes in. The give-and-take with the audience. The immediacy of it all. Instant gratification. For a novelist, the gratification is years in the making. And it comes in bursts, doesn't it? A novelist writes by the word, not the post. "Hit 1,000 words already. Going for a walk." That's a novelist's Twitter update, isn't it? A blogger would update "Today's post is live. Swing by and comment."

The blog ain't the novel. Ain't supposed to be. Not that a novelist can't blog or a blogger can't write a novel. Heck, I'm not even sure you have to be in one camp or the other.

But if a novelist is supposed to Twitter and blog, what the heck is he or she supposed to tweet or blog about?

Is a novelist supposed to blog as a reader? Saying how she just read this great book or discovered a new author? Only glowing reviews? Most novelists wouldn't want to insult other writers for fear of being stabbed at Bouchercon. "Hey, Stringer? You're the one who said I write like I'm rubbing a turd on a wet sidewalk? How's about we step outside?"

Is a novelist supposed to blog as a "regular joe"? Saying how he just took the kid's to the dentist and now is heading out to mow the yard? Is that how Samuel Beckett did it? "Just put up with more of Joyce's babbling bullshit about his eye and how he can't get his own drink. What am I? His secretary? Oh, yeah."

Is a novelist supposed to blog as a working writer? "Working on more revisions because the editors like my writing, just not the book I've written." Great idea. Then someone sees a writer complaining about the business and the writer ain't got so much business any more.

Is the novelist supposed to blog as an enthusiast? Used cars? Gun collection? Old movies? BBQ? Scary pictures and freaky collectibles?

Is the novelist supposed to blog at all? Why? To connect? To time away from writing the novel?

The question of whether what you've blogged and what you've twatted helps sell books is certainly worth considering. Another question: "why?" (Another is why Weddle is allowed to write such clumsy sentences. Sheesh.)

I'm all for connecting with readers -- I've been known to tweet a bit in my day. I don't question why, usually. I just kinda chat with folks because I like to chat with those folks.

Maybe those FBS folks can help do the publicity for me. Maybe they can blog for me and get me something viral going along the Internet. Or, if I really need a good virus spreading around, I can call this HOPA/HPOA. Nothing like a good fake-out for the fiction writing.

Are you a novelist who blogs? Do you have a "thing" you do? Why do you blog?

Are you a reader who goes to an author's blog with regularity? Is it good stuff? What do you look for?