Thursday, October 31, 2013

Steve Weddle & Country Hardball - Part Two

By Jay Stringer

Earlier we dropped part one of a pretty lengthy-wise interview with Steve Weddle. Here's part two. 

Country Hardball, out now. 

Country Hardball is a searing portrait of an America most people would rather forget, where life is cheap, grudges never die, and dinner is always in the microwave. Steve Weddle’s poignant, powerful prose brings it to life in all of its desperate passion and hopeless aggression. Once I started reading, there was no way I could look away.”
—Hilary Davidson, author of Evil in All its Disguises

Steve Weddle & Country Hardball; The DSD interview. Part Two.

-Do you think ‘voice’ is something writers should be conscious of?
I think writers can be conscious of voice, and I think that's a problem. Writing a story and thinking about voice is like crossing a canyon on a tightrope and looking down. You can get too conscious of that, and it can be crippling. I'd try to read what I'd done the day before to proof along and also to get back into the voice, to remember whose story I was telling. If I thought too much about it, I had to stop. I'd get to where I was writing a parody of myself and it was no good.
-How did Indy know to close his eyes when they opened the Ark?
Indy who? Is this from a comic book?
-Well, thanks for asking me to talk at length about RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and how its climax works because it serves the characters emotional arc rather than the plot, and how everything that is great in fiction is influenced by this film (even the things that were written before it came out.) But, honestly, we're here to talk about you. You mentioned people who need to have their stories told. Is that where you find yourself now, looking to tell the stories that aren't being told?
I think what I so often find myself concerned with is the emotional arc of my characters' lives, while the plot is the thing that gets them there. Like this movie I was watching the other day about some old man with a whip trying to get a box away from the Nazis. What was more important, it seemed to me, was how the characters were developing, how being faced with adversity forced them to search for this thing they'd lost, and the thing wasn't just a MacGuffin box.

In the stories I want to tell, the writer and reader get invested in the characters, in the world. If I'm going to do justice to the characters and make something worth the reader's time, I'm going to develop the storyline, of course, but I'm going to work to understand the characters, to see how their choices create them, how they impact the world around them. As a writer, it's up to me to thoroughly understand a character, to see both sides of the coin. If I can do that, then I can delve deeply, hopefully digging in the right place.
- You're with TYRUS BOOKS. It's a real sign of quality writing to see their logo on a book. How's it feel to have Country Hardball join that family?
It's pretty cool, isn't it? Many years ago, I started paying close attention to Bleak House Books, which was Ben LeRoy and Alison Janssen (now Dasho). They had all kinds of great authors and wonderful books and clever ideas. They had the Evidence Collection, which put in a rap sheet and fingerprints for the author. I have one of Neil Smith's books like that. And they had a signature collection. And a subscription plan, too.
So I got together what money I could and sent off for some collection they were offering. I think it was three books from the signature collection for $50. Something like that. I got a huge box of books back with a note (pictured) from Alison -- someone I didn't know at all at the time -- that said they'd run out of some of the books and she'd pulled copies from her shelf and had to substitute some hardbacks even though I'd only paid for paperbacks. I thought that was amazingly nice. You know, personal and thoughtful and all. I know now that it was perfect Alison. Fast-forward years and years and my agent is texting me from a conference where she's talking to Ben LeRoy about Country Hardball. Ben is doing Tyrus Books now and Alison has taken a job with Amazon at that point.

Though we'd talked to other people about publishing Country Hardball, we knew Tyrus was the perfect fit -- personal and thoughtful, just as Alison had shown years ago. I have all those Bleak House books, along with the subsequent Tyrus titles, on a shelf in my library. Inside one of the Nathan Singer books is the note from Alison. 

How does it feel? It feels like it's the way it was supposed to happen, you know? It feels perfect and great. It feels, I don't know, it just feels all of it. Every bit of awesome.
-Okay. So Country Hardball is out right stinking now. Why the hell should people buy the book?
I'm told the print version is in stores, too. I think people who like a good read should buy the book. I've worked hard in trying to tell the stories of these people, from the teenage boy just trying to understand the world to middle-aged people who understand it too well. I'm not saying this is the one book you should buy this year. The Shining Girls is a great read, for example. But if people think they might be interested in reading about the working class in rural America, about people who just need that one push to do bad things, about people who keep pushing back trying to not do those bad things, about the brutality we level against each other from credit card debt and workplace furloughs to attacks of cancer and assault, this is a book they should consider. Especially if they want to read about people trying to fight against the bullshit in this world.

-What are you working on next?

If you've gotten to the end of Country Hardball, then you know that Mabel Murphy is abducted by aliens during a Los Angeles Lakers game. I'm working on the backstory to those aliens and why they are forced to share umbrellas.

Oh, Country Hardball? Sorry. Yeah. Well, in that book, Roy Alison is looking for answers about what happened to his grandfather. I've had to go back to 1933 Arkansas to find out. The next book follows some of the characters from Country Hardball into the next year, but also flashes back to 1933 and 1955. It's a difficult, layered story, but the first one took me 42 years, so I figure I've got time.

What are you working on, Mr. Stringer?

-Lost City, the third book in the Eoin Miller Trilogy (three books...I'm told that's how a trilogy works) comes out in January, and I would be mighty grateful if people would read it. Buy it first, then read it. As for the next project? I'm cooking it now. It's set in Glasgow, a move away from my usual stomping ground, and it's something akin to an episode of The Rockford Files if made by the Coen Brothers. 

I know i vanished from DSD without much of a word; I'd like to thank everyone who worked with me on the site over the years, and all the readers who came back to read my ramblings week after week. I'd also like to say that I haven't left completely, I just needed to focus on other things for awhile. I'm sure I'll be back to stink the place up at some point. 

Goodbye Van Helsing. Hello Sherlock Holmes.

Since it's Halloween it only seems right we talk horror. Back when I was an excessively-kohl'd teenaged Goth horror was all I read, the melodramatic Victorian classics and splatter-heavy 20th century masters, so when I came to start writing that was the genre I went for and it was only a chance comment by an early reader, who suggested my style was more suited to crime, which diverted me away from it.

The switch was surprisingly painless, after all what's horror but crime with a supernatural agent?

Poltergeists become stalkers, succubi evolve into femme fatales, and as a template for rampaging madmen with daddy-issues you don't have to look much further than Frankenstein's monster. The timing of this change was significant as well I think. Once you're too old to believe in ghosts and vampires you're beginning to see the real horror in the world and, as a writer, this is far more powerful material to terrify your readers with. Edwards originally conceived his bestselling psychological thriller The Magpies as a horror, but without the supernatural elements,  "Because I wanted to write a horror novel in which the ‘monsters’ are ordinary people. When I came to publish it I decided to market it as a psychological thriller for commercial reasons. However, the narrative arc of The Magpies is more like a horror novel, because in horror, the worst thing you can imagine happening is what actually happens. There’s no escape, no neat resolution." Steve Mosby, another writer who started out in horror, the genres have much in common, "But the fundamental differences are intent – horror sets out to disturb and scare, whereas that’s often more a side-effect in crime – and resolution. Crime tends to restore order to chaos, whereas horror has every right to leave you there. In those terms, I use the furniture of crime, but still lean more towards horror for the latter two. I want an emotional, visceral reaction from a reader far more than I want them to enjoy solving a puzzle." 

When horror is in your reading DNA it's tough to shake off as a writer. The first couple of books I wrote incorporated elements of it but they gradually faded out as I focused more on 'ordinary monsters' and realised how disturbing the threat from across the street could be.

It was that urge which prompted serving police officer and crime writer Col Bury - who sees his fair share of horrific things on the day job - to move away from horror too, with his collection, The Cops of Manchester. "It’s because horror can be far-fetched and, as we mature, we strive for more realism." ex-cop and former scriptwriter on The Bill Paul Finch started out as horror writer but says, "I had police procedural in my blood. I'd always wanted to return to that form in print, but now flavouring it with the terror, violence and darkness that I'd been experimenting with as a horror writer." The shift has proved enormously successful and his novel Stalkers gives tangible form to those old tales of something watching and waiting in the dark, only now they're 'Nice Guys.'

Is crime then just a strand of horror? Same impulse, different costume?

We grow up, we still need monsters, but we want them to reflect the world around us, and now the creepy forest has been cut down and all the spooky old mansions are carved up into flats, where are we going to go for them? The hoary old tropes are rich for reimagining, allowing the author to wink at the reader on one page then scare the hell out of them on the next.

Gerard Brennan's novella Wee Rockets, about a group of feral youths on a Belfast housing estate was written as a horror, until his reading group pointed out that it was actually crime. But what are those kids but a gang of malicious imps wreaking havoc with impunity?

The classic haunted house novel gets a makeover in Mo Hayder's latest, Poppet, as she throws her detective Jack Caffrey into a high security psychiatric hospital where a series of violent incidents are filtered through the troubled mind of the patients, making for an occasionally surreal and deeply disturbing read, which would have delighted the original forms Victorian fans. And sent them for the smelling salts.

Think of all the psychological thrillers which centre around stolen children, two hundred years ago they would have been spirited away by fairies, now the motives are darker, less opaque, but still play on the same deep-rooted fears. And readers can't get enough of them, because those fears will never go away.

The stories at the heart of both genres are essentially the same, ancient, campfire narratives of good versus evil, except now good is more interesting because it's never absolute and evil is stripped of its religious underpinnings and measured on the DSM-V scale, creating so many more intriguing deviations.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Steve Weddle & Country Hardball - The DSD Interview.

By Jay Stringer

We pinned our resident evil genius Steve Weddle down to a board and pointed a fricking laser beam at his middle bits. He asked us if we expect him to talk and we said, uh, yeah. He said....okay.

The real reason we pointed a beam of hot light at his third favourite feature was to get him to open up and talk about himself. And his writing. And HIS BOOK. YES. BOOK. You won't find a harder working or more supportive person in the crime fiction community than Steve Weddle. But what's most annoying is that he writes bloody good stuff, too. Country Hardball is the kind of fiction I like to read, and the kind of fiction I wish I'd written.

Here's part one of the epic chat. Part two will follow in a few hours. As soon as I've cleared the content with our lawyers.

Steve Weddle & Country Hardball; The DSD Interview. 

-What's your favourite swear word?

I think I first encountered the word "cockchafer" in a David Lodge book, though it could have been Kinglsley Amis, I suppose. I thought it was a terrific insult, suggesting that perhaps the person in question had undergone only limited training as a prostitue and, therefore, was not terribly good at the profession. Turns out it's a type of bug, like some weird bee. Which makes me love the word even more. I called someone a "cockchafer" a couple weeks back in an Applebee's in Tennessee. True story. It went over about like you'd imagine. 
-They say 'those who can't do, teach'. You've done both. Do you think creative writing can be taught? 
You're confusing writing with speed, I think. You can't teach speed.
What you do if you're working in a creative writing class, I think, is teach various aspects of the writing life. You can look at examples of pacing. You can talk about whether this story of yours has an effective opening. Neil Gaiman said something about how when people tell you that your story didn't work for them, they're right. But when they tell you how to fix it, they're always wrong. To me, that seems something good that can come from a creative writing class. Having others read your work, getting their comments. You don't have to be in a classroom. You can have peer groups. And there are other options. I just finished teaching a seminar online for the smart folks at LitReactor, who seem to have this down to a science.

-Is there any particular quality that makes a good student? Is there any one trait that you can see in them that makes the difference between the ones who will finish a book and take it to the next level and the ones who don't?
I've worked with students writing fiction and reporters writing (presumably) nonfiction.  The trait that marks the successful writer, it seems to me, is curiosity, which is a kind of energy. You can fuel a day of writing the novel because you want to see what happens to these characters. You want to know why a member of the town council voted in a way against the interests of his constituents, so you dig a little deeper. You want to learn about your characters, your setting. I can teach commas and pacing, but I can't teach curiosity. 
-Is that curiosity what fuels your own writing? What is most important to you as you sit and start a story?
I'll start a story with character and action. Sometimes, I'll start with two people talking about A Thing. I'll work through this to get to what's going on and why. I don't recommend my process as an example for anyone, but this is how I usually work. Pen and paper, trying to track along as best I can. Sometimes I'll build around a line of dialogue, sometimes around a piece of action. There's this scene in a Nightwing comic book, of all places. He says to some bad guy, "I know a dozen ways to break your arm. Pick a number." So you can start with that, then write your way along either side to figure out how we got there. You figure it's taking place in a back alley, so you move it to a church and see what happens. You change things up from where you first think of them. You send this tough guy into a scene with a broken-down man and you have things turn, so that the tough guy is at the mercy of the old man. You start with a thing and just keep working through it, wondering "What happens if I do this?" and that's how you start a story. Or, you know, that's how I start a story. Maybe you do things differently.   
-I tend to start with 'which Daredevil story or Alan Moore comic haven't I ripped off yet?' Do you think about genre when you write?
I don't give a damn about genre. And I certainly don't try to paint by numbers or write to formula. Some people do, and when they're done, you can't see the numbers underneath. Some writers can use an outline beautifully, can put that rising action right on the page it's supposed to go when you're writing to such-and-such outline. But if I were to do that, you'd see lines between the 3 block that was supposed to be blue and the 4 block that was supposed to be green. With other writers, you just see a wonderful piece of writing and you can't notice how they got there.
I've worked on writing a real mystery novel. I've read through about what you're supposed to do and not do. And I've read novels where, when I go back later, I can see all these points where they followed the formula. But I didn't notice that when I was reading. I could be a lousy reader, I guess, but I think mostly I don't notice because those writers are good at what they do. If they're writing a YA dystopian novel, then they do these things at these points. I'm not that good at that, I guess.
There's a story in Country Hardball called "This Too Shall Pass" that opens with a couple of teenagers lying down in field, looking up at the stars. When the book was going around a while back, someone pointed that story out as a YA story. I didn't, and don't, think of it like that. It's a story. And there's another story in that book that someone has called a horror story. Again, that doesn't make sense to me. My pal Soren Kierkegaard equated labeling to negating, which makes sense to me.
I don't set out to write a noir story or a horror story or a love story. I just set out to write a good story, the one the characters deserve.

-Okay, but seriously, what label would you give to Country Hardball? (Ducks.) Actually I think you can tell a lot about someone by seeing what book they throw at your head when you get 'em angry.
Yeah, I don't know how that helps. Do you only read Grit Lit? Rural noir? Then you're doing it wrong. If you're looking for a book that's easily categorized, you probably don't want to read Country Hardball. Look, in all honesty, I've read a dozen Inspector Morse books and thoroughly enjoyed them. British mystery. You know what you're getting, like eating at McDonald's. But if you're trying to label Old Gold and you give it the term "British mystery" then you're doing the Morse fans a disservice because Miller is not Morse. Sure, Old Gold is a British mystery, but that's not all it is. And it really isn't that at all, is it?
I think what happens is that people work to label books because it's an easy shorthand to talk about a book you don't really understand or don't care about understanding. I could talk for an hour about Holly West's Diary of Bedlam and tell you all about the characters and the intrigue and the setting and you'd run out the door to grab it. Or I could tell you it's historical fiction and that would make your choice for you. Also, I think it's called Mistress of Fortune now. Bonnie Jo Campbell writes magnificent midwestern noir, which is great unless you only read northeastern noir.

-If you write like me, and I'm meaning in terms of following a character and seeing what happens, that can mean getting a few thousands words into a project before you really know if you have a story. Old Gold was a short story that turned into a novel by accident. So did Country Hardball grow out of a "write and see" approach, or did you sit down and think "I'm going to write this set thing."
I wrote a few Roy Alison stories and my agent -- our agent -- suggested writing a Roy Alison novel. I think the line was "This is so much better than that other stuff you're writing." So I started a novel, but it didn't quite come together. Then I realized that the book was really about the community, about the different people in that area and how their lives intersected. I started working on stories about these connections. So instead of having a character move about the UK midlands, for example, I worked on stories about the place itself and the people there, about how one family can be fighting against  this type of loss while another character sees this little shard of hope in the distance. Eventually, after a great deal of work, these stories came together in what I hope is a book that is coherent in its fragments.
-Something that I really remember about reading the early Alison stories was how strong and clear the voice was, that they felt like the kind of stories you should be writing at the moment.

-Did you notice that as you were writing?

My pal Julie Summerell said something online a few years back about wanting to be better, wanting to do better. Maybe she was talking about a character in a show or a book or just a random fleeting thought. I don't remember the context, but I remember that idea and the line from that Squeeze song that goes "I want to be good/ Is that not enough?"
This concept of always wanting to be good meant that you were doing bad things to begin with, but that you had this hope, still. So you have a character with bad actions, which is the first level. Then you have that second level of desire mixed with regret. Once I started working on this, I had the Roy Alison character.
I wrote "The Ravine" first and then "Purple Hulls," which set Roy up with his grandmother and really opened up the setting for the stories. I did feel, as I was writing these stories, that I was firing on all cylinders, for once. These stories were the best I had in me, you know? When you're in the middle of this type of writing, everything folds into it. At the grocery store, a woman you go to church with tells you how her husband's cancer came back. A TV news story goes on about a local carnival and you remember the elephant that died in your town when you were a kid. All these people who need to have their stories told, everything you run across finds its way into the stories. Everything connects. That's when you know you're writing exactly what you should be writing at the moment.

Check back later for part two. 

And make sure you've ordered Country Hardball

“In COUNTRY HARDBALL, Steve Weddle takes us deep inside a rural Louisiana long since abandoned by the American Dream. His characters carry the weight of their bad luck and sins through a landscape of economic devastation, where bad choices and worse choices seem the only available options. And still they search for something beautiful—love, faith, a moment of grace among the ruins—as they struggle to become better people than they were the day before. Steve Weddle is a powerful, empathetic writer and COUNTRY HARDBALL is a stunning debut. Do not miss it.”
—Sean Chercover, author of The Trinity Game

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Devil’s Candy


The headline for Andrew O’Hehir’s review of the movie, The Counselor is, “Meet the Worst Movie Ever Made.” Of course, not everyone will think the movie is terrible, but the review is worth reading, I think. You can find it here.

The review makes a lot of points about how, “the talented and laurel-bedecked people behind it made exactly the movie they wanted to,” and how no else but artists involved (Cormac McCarthy and Ridley Scott) are to blame.

Over the years my small amount of peripheral involvement in the movie and TV business has given me a lot more respect for the “suit,” -- the producers, network and studio people -- than most popular accounts of the business had me believing they deserved.

And I think a lot of this comes down to what the Salon review referred to as Hollywood’s Devil’s Candy:

“The magical combination of artistic legitimacy, cultural currency and commercial success. Everybody in Hollywood chases it and as in Julie Salamon’s terrific book of that title, about a big-budget failure of another era (Brian De Palma’s film version of “Bonfire of the Vanities”), almost nobody gets hold of it.”

A balance is necessary. We’ve all complained about movies (and books and music and whatever) that have gone off the rails by chasing too much commercial success. For some reason it’s usually regarded as more worthy to go off the rails chasing more artistic legitimacy but the results are usually the same.

Or is that wrong? Is it better to go all out trying to tell exactly the story you want?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Crowd sourcing the favorites: Short story collections & Anthologies

The following are some of my favorite collections and anthologies that were published in 2013. How about you? What are your favorite?

American Death Songs by Jordan Harper

From the California high desert to a Texas prison yard, from Ozarks dive bars to the shadows of Hollywood, these stories burst with gutter grandeur and criminal mythology. Harper burns through prison-tatted flesh to expose his characters’ hardened, scarred but still beating hearts. And he does it with a virtuoso prose style that mixes pulp panache and literary flare into pure nitroglycerin. 

Fish Bites Cop by David James Keaton

Fish Bites Cop! Stories To Bash Authorities is a whole trunk of surprises. A collection of horror, dark crime, pulp, and slipstream lampoonery that gleefully rips on police officers, security guards, organized religion, firefighters, police officers, bounty hunters, dyslexic paramedics with dog complexes, police officers, military, middle management, and even more police officers. Bad Cop movies are usually just bad cop movies. It's time they paid for it. 

The Booked Anthology

Booked. They've traveled the country tirelessly for two years, with stops in Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, Milwaukee, L.A., North Korea, The Dark Side of the Moon, and damn near every Waffle House along the way, all in order to bring you, the listener, over 150 episodes, over 75 authors. They've won awards, covered scoops, scandals, archived hours of authors acting badly. They've broken a few hearts on this journey - their voices can be like Russian Roulette in the headphones of the unsuspecting - but now they've called in their markers to leave their own stain on the literary landscape. And you're holding it in your hands, or your hook, which would probably tear the hell out of lesser books. But not this one. All original stories, multiple genres, never been seen, never been read. It's their way of giving back. Although these authors probably consider it more like theft. The Booked. Anthology. There's a period in the middle because it's that serious to say it out loud.

Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled 2

BEAT to a PULP: Hardboiled 2 follows the blood-soaked trail left behind by the 2011 award-winning collection, edited by David Cranmer and Scott D. Parker, and pumps out another thirteen knuckle-breaking, crime tales. With writers from the 1930s and 40s golden era of pulp (Paul S. Powers and Charles Boeckman) and modern hardboiled masters (Robert J. Randisi and Wayne D. Dundee), this wild bunch is set to blaze a rat-a-tat sweep across the pulp fiction landscape. Keeping the body count high are top-shelf stories from Jedidiah Ayres, Eric Beetner, Jen Conley, Matthew C. Funk, Edward A. Grainger, BV Lawson, Tom Roberts, Kieran Shea, and Jay Stringer.

All Due Respect

In 2010 the online crime fiction journal All Due Respect blasted its way across the internet leaving a trail of blood and mayhem. Written by some of the best up and coming authors on the crime fiction scene, the stories inside this volume will leave you breathless. A few of them may even make you sick to your stomach and then double check all your doors and windows before you go to sleep. These pages are filled with thugs, grifters, dope dealers, and killers who make no apologies about who they are or what they do. All Due Respect is about crime, not the solving of crime, not the bemoaning of crime, just the bad things that bad people do. So pull up a chair, grab a drink, and keep an eye on that guy in the corner as you read All Due Respect.

Steel Heart by Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck writes unflinching fiction with heart. Here are ten tales of fierce emotion from the streets, the underbelly, and the house next door.

Kwik Krimes

Entire novels are often written about a single crime, detailing every gruesome, dark detail until the last drop of blood spatters across the page. Yet in this mystery anthology, renowned editor and author Otto Penzler weaves together to heart-stopping effect more than ninety tales of brutality, terror, and unexpected demise, with each story told in a swift one thousand words or less.

These crimes may be fast in both form and fallout, but none lack the dark impulses that too often guide human hands to ill ends. Prepare to be transported into the diabolical schemes of criminal masterminds…into robberies and pranks gone horribly awry…into closets crammed with skeletons…into families bound not by love but wickedness.

Authors include Peter Blauner, Ken Bruen, Rob W. Hart, K. A. Laity, Tasha Alexander, Patricia Abbott, Bruce DeSilva, Chuck Caruso, Gregory Gibson, Joe R. Lansdale, and many more.

The Beautiful That Awaits Us All by Laird Barron

Over the course of two award-winning collections and a critically acclaimed novel, The Croning, Laird Barron has arisen as one of the strongest and most original literary voices in modern horror and the dark fantastic. Melding supernatural horror with hardboiled noir, espionage, and a scientific backbone, Barron’s stories have garnered critical acclaim and have been reprinted in numerous year’s best anthologies and nominated for multiple awards, including the Crawford, International Horror Guild, Shirley Jackson, Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy awards.

Barron returns with his third collection, The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. Collecting interlinking tales of sublime cosmic horror, including “Blackwood’s Baby,” “The Carrion Gods in Their Heaven,” and “The Men from Porlock,” The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All delivers enough spine-chilling horror to satisfy even the most jaded reader.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

In anticipation of NaNoWriMo

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Halloween is approaching.  Because I have a 5 year old, my house is currently focused on all things pumpkin, spooky and costume related.  But as soon as the trick-or-treating is complete and the calendar page turns, November will be here and in the writing community that means one thing:

NaNoWriMo - National Novel Write Month - where you do whatever it takes to write a novel in a month.  Well, technically, it's 50,000 words that you pledge to construct in the month of November, which isn't a full-length novel in many genres, but it is a lot of writing.  Specifically, 1666.6666 words a day.  (Deal with the decimal points as you wish!)

As November approaches, I see lots of blog posts and twitter messages about whether writers will be participating in the 50,000 words in a month adventure.  Some writers do this every year.  From the outside, it looks a lot like the author version of a marathon.  There is prep work (some brainstorm or outline ideas before the month begins), and instructions to the family that they will have less time to do household chores during this time.  There is lots of encouragement from other writers participating.  And there is a badge of honor at the end for those who complete the goal.

NaNoWriMo scares the heck out of me.  Why?  More than once in my writing career I've written over 50,000 words in a month.  In the last 12 months, I have written just shy of 500,000 words.  (This is a loose estimate based on the word counts of the novels I've completed since I don't keep any kind of running tally.  I'm compulsive about writing, not nuts. least not that version of nuts.)    Needless to say, based on past history, I can write 50,000 words in a month.  So, technically, I could complete NaNoWriMo.

But I choose not to because just the idea freaks me out.  Why?  Because I am not certain I can hit 1666/16667 words every day.  And while I know you can make up those words on other days, I would feel as if I had failed with every day that passed where I did not hit that goal.  Those days of failure would eat at me and I would start to stress over making the goal instead of worrying about writing the story.  And that, my friends, would be bad.

NaNoWriMo is a wonderful tool for lots of writers.  The support network on the NaNoWriMo website is fabulous.  Everyone cheers each other on.  But I know me.  And I work best when I set goals for myself that I know I can hit even when my son needs help with school and I have e-mails from readers, my publicist and my editor or agent to answer.  For me, the most important thing is to set goals for myself that are reachable every day and that I am confident I can hit.  I have to keep up the goals that I can use month after month.

Does that mean I think NaNoWriMo is a bad idea?

Heck no!  Setting goals for yourself is wonderful!  Holding yourself accountable for those goals is even more important.  And NaNoWriMo is a great way of doing that for a lot of people.  If you are doing NaNoWriMo this year, I am in awe of your ability to set those goals and make them and I will be cheering you on.  However, if you're like me and feel stressed at the idea of the NaNoWriMo daily word count, don't feel like you can't benefit from the National Novel Writing Month adventure.  You can.  Set a goal you know you can make.  100 words a day.  200.  Whatever number you know you can make.  Then commit to putting your butt in the chair each and every day and hitting that number.  Whether you are planning on writing 50,000 words or 3,000 this month, I hope you use the excitement November brings to make your writing a priority.

On your mark....

Get set....


Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Recommendation for Halloween Reading

Scott D. Parker

I have nothing of consequence to discuss writing-wise this week. It was just another week of writing everyday, piling on more words in my next project. It's a week before Halloween and it's always nice to read the spooky stories before All Hallow's Eve than after it. So, for y'all's consideration, a review I wrote back in 2008. Enjoy.

Halloween is perfect for anthologies. Even though you may have a month-long build up to the event, trick-or-treating really only lasts an hour or two. The short burst of a short story is enough of a treat to get in the spirit of the orange-and-black holiday without upsetting your stomach too much.

Over the years, I have searched out and found some Halloween-themed anthologies. Halloween Horrors, edited by Alan Ryan, focuses, as you can expect, on the supernatural and terrifying aspects of All Hallow’s Eve. Murder for Halloween is a nice collection of suspense stories edited by Michele Slung and Roland Hartman that runs the gamut from Edgar Allan Poe to Ed McBain. The last Halloween anthology I own, and the one I’m focusing this review on, is 13 Horrors of Halloween. Why, you may ask, does this collection get the prize? Simple. Isaac Asimov is one of the editors. Can’t go wrong there.

Besides, Asimov’s collection begins with, what else, an introduction detailing the history of Halloween as we now celebrate it. For a man as equally celebrated for his non-fiction output as well as his fiction, this was a nice addition to the usual diatribes about Halloween in other anthologies, including the aforementioned titles. I love history and how things and events have evolved over the centuries. Asimov runs the gamut, from biblical traditions to Persian mythology. It’s all quite fascinating. Asimov ends with this paragraph:

    Halloween reflects itself in our literature in three ways: in mystery stories in which the atmosphere of Halloween heightens the natural suspense already present; or fantasy stories that are rooted in the witches, goblins, and devils that are inseparable from the celebration; or horror stories that take advantage of the effluvium of evil that clings to the day.

I love words and their meanings and I particularly enjoyed the word “effluvium” and how it associates with Halloween. A definition is “A usually invisible emanation or exhalation, as of vapor or gas.” I don’t know about y’all but Halloween, the day as well as the night itself always feels different somehow. Rarely here in Houston do we experience the cool winds (although we are today) but there is a certain spirit that permeates October 31. Even the date itself looks and feels different. The stories in this collection exude that same, certain, unique spirit no matter the genre of the story.

Leave it to Asimov to lead off the anthology with a detective story. Asimov, the SF master, dipped his considerable genius into detective fiction with a couple of his novels including The Caves of Steel. In this story, simple titled “Halloween,” Detective Haley has to find some missing plutonium. The thief is dead, collapsed in a stairwell of a large hotel, and his last word is the story’s title, “Halloween.” It’s the early hours of 1 November and the thief could have hidden the small box of plutonium in any of the hotel’s 800+ rooms. The detective has a theory on where to find the plutonium and you’ll just have to read the story to find out if he’s right.

Ray Bradbury makes an appearance. Bradbury writes fiction that can be as nostalgic as old, sepia-tinted photographs even if you never lives in the world’s Bradbury describes. One of his favorite holidays is Halloween. But, unlike The Halloween Tree (which I’m reviewing Friday), “The October Game” is a fun little ditty with this first line: “He put the gun back in to the bureau drawer and shut the drawer.” It’s always fun when you start a story with a gun. It’s just waiting to be fired.

A few other mystery writers show up; Anthony Boucher, Ellery Queen, and a great story by the late Edward D. Hoch. I haven’t read many of his stories but this one, “Day of the Vampire,” is a good one for this election season. Sheriff Frank Creasley is running for reelection but a body is found and all the blood has been drained from it. After Creasley carelessly get the ME to hide the evidence, the sheriff’s opponent makes political hay from the cover-up. Unless you are a jaded reader, you won’t see the ending coming.

A few other folks you’ve probably heard of take a turn at a Halloween tale: Edith Wharton, Robert Grant, Talmage Powell. Al Sarrantonio’s “Pumpkinhead” is a devilishly good example of how an author can take something that can evoke fond memories in all of us—kids Halloween party, at a school and a home—and turn it upside down. The story takes place in two parts, one at school and one later that Halloween night. Here’s the opening paragraphs of the story:

    Ghouls loped up and down aisles between desks, shouting “Boo!” at one another. Crepe paper, crinkly and the colors of Halloween, crisscrossed over blackboards covered with mad and frightful doodlings in red and green chalk; snakes, rats, witches on broomsticks. Windowpanes were filled with cutout black cats and ghosts with no eyes and giant O’s for mouths.

Here’s how Sarrantonio describes the night:

    A black and orange night.
    Here came a black cat walking on two legs; there two percale sheet ghosts trailing paper bags with handles; here again a miniature man from outer space. The wind was up: leaves whipped along the serpentine sidewalk like racing cards. There was an apple-crisp smell in the air, an icicle-down-your-spine, here-comes-winter chill. Pumpkins everywhere, and a half harvest moon playing coyly with wisps of high shadowy cloud. A thousand dull yellow night-lights winked through the breezy trees on a thousand festooned porches. A constant ringing of doorbells, the wash of goblin traffic; they traveled in twos, threes, or fours, these monsters, held together by Halloween gravity. Groups passed other groups, just coming up, or coming down, stairs, made faces, and said, “Boo!” There were a million “Boo!” greetings this night.

I don’t know about you, but after reading lines like these, I want to travel back in time, don my Han Solo costume, and go trick-or-treating. But, since that isn’t an option, I’ll have to improvise. I think I might put in my vampire teeth and paint on the fake blood. I might sit by the front window, light a candle, and read Isaac Asimov’s 13 Horrors of Halloween by its light.

Oops! Gotta go. There’s the front door bell. I wonder what the kids would do if I said “Trick”? Let’s find out.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guest Post - Douglas Lindsay


So I was living in Brussels and I met a girl in the Foreign Office, and for a while we were just friends, then one night we drove all the way to the beach at three in the morning, and shortly afterwards I nipped any When Harry Met Sally type situation in the bud by asking her to marry me, and she said, ‘Yes!’ but first she said, ‘I hate this place, I’m getting the fuck out of Dodge,’ and she said she wanted to go to Africa, and I said, ‘Too hot!’ how about Sweden or Switzerland, and then we ended up in Senegal.

There weren’t a lot of jobs going for non-French speakers, so I said, ‘I could become a writer,’ and she, obviously still in the first flush of romance, said, ‘Sure beans!’ so I started writing books. The first one was about a writer killing a prostitute in Manhattan, and was just as bad as it sounds, what with me knowing nothing about writing, murder, prostitution or Manhattan. Then I wrote one about a barber in Glasgow killing his work colleagues, then a school drama called The Tarantino Version, then a romcom, then a police procedural, then all those letters to publishers finally paid off and the barbershop book was picked up. I showed my new publishers the police procedural, and they said, ‘No thanks!’ having not read beyond the first few pages, and then I forgot about it – and all the other Early Crap – and instead wrote a follow-up, and another and another, to the barbershop story.

Then the internet was discovered, and everyone was getting a website, so I thought I’d better get one too, so I dusted off the old police procedural and put it on there as a Free Book to download, as if that was a thing – which it might have been if e-readers had been invented, but they hadn’t – but first I had to make it more comic, to tie in with the barbershop books. And some people read it, but not many. Then over the years it fell slowly into the shadows, like the Ring in Lord of the Rings, and I took it off the website.

One day, while living in Warsaw, I decided I could resurrect that old police procedural, so I got it out, dusted it off, I thought, We come at last to the great police procedural of our times, then I read the first few pages and said, ‘Oh, actually it’s really crap,’ and put it away again.

Much later Amazon Kindle started up in Britain, and I thought, well that old police procedural might be a load of old mince, but why don’t I just stick it on there and see if some sucker buys it. Some sucker did, but just the one.

Then I got an agent – Mr Allan Guthrie – and he said, what was the last thing you published, and I told him and he asked to read it, and I said, ‘No way!’ and he said, ‘Dang it, kid, let me see it!’ so I did, and he said, ‘This is one fuck of a novel!’ so I took it off Kindle, we changed the title to The Unburied Dead – even though there are no more unburied dead in this book than in any other – and he offered it to the great August Collective of London Crime Editors.

One of them said, ‘I love it!’ but can you make this change, and this change, and this change? I was happy to make those changes, as it was more or less reverting the book to how it had been back in the old pre-internet days, although that first draft no longer existed. Then, without actually reading the new draft, the editor who had requested the changes said, ‘You know, I don’t think we’ll be able to publish this anyway. But thanks for the three months of work.’

This is the kind of thing that happens to writers. This is why many writers can be found sitting in bars at 2am, hanging out with vodka and drinking loose women. On this occasion, I eschewed the vodka/women combination and gave the book back to Mr Guthrie, who had by this time started Blasted Heath.

Blasted Heath published the book, and it did so well that they now give it away for nothing, which is what I was doing twelve years ago. That there is what a cliché-meister would call full circle. Then two years ago I started writing the eighth novel in the barbershop series, but early on I had a moment of epiphany where I realised that hardly anyone alive today is reading the first seven, so there’s not really a lot of point in writing an eighth, so I took the macabre serial killer plot for that book, and put it into a follow up to The Unburied Dead.

This week the book is published. It’s called A PLAGUE OF CROWS, and it’s not free.

I think all that would still have happened even if we hadn’t driven to the beach at Knokke-Heist, but you never know, and I’m sure Mrs Lindsay would like it to be known that she has never – in all her life – actually uttered the phrase sure beans.

- Douglas Lindsay

Douglas' latest book, A Plague of Crows is out on the 25th...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Franzen defines 'serious novel'

from Scratch

Manjula Martin: Define “serious novel.”

Jonathan Franzen: Read the first five pages. Count clichés. If you find one, the buzzer goes off: it’s not a serious novel. A serious novelist notices clichés and eliminates them. The serious novelist doesn’t write “quiet as a mouse” or paint the world in clichéd moral terms. You could almost just substitute the adjective “cliché-free” for “serious.”
MM: I too have this perception of a literary novelist who makes money, who is both critically and popularly acclaimed, as a unique thing, a rarity—perhaps more of a unicorn than a fish. There’s a feeling of resignation among a lot of emerging writers I know, a suspicion that the sort of success you have enjoyed might be impossible because the prospect of publishing as a functional economic industry might be over. Are you the last unicorn?
JF: There are a lot of cliché-free writers, and there are still dozens who make a very good living at it. Alice Munro is a number-one bestseller in Canada. Ian McEwan had a string of hits, and so did Cormac McCarthy, belatedly. I’m not the only one.
MM: But are you the last one?
JF: Are there people who are twenty years old today who have some hope of that? That depends on the larger economics of book publishing. People will not stop reading books. But I think there’s no question that people are reading fewer books than they did thirty years ago—how not, with all the good cable shows and electronic distractions?
The result is that life has gotten much harder for the so-called midlist writer, because people reach for the star writers when their reading time is limited, and when conventional media coverage of novels is shrinking. I think e-books may actually be helping to offset these trends, because they present a lower barrier of investment—it’s so easy to try something new, and if you don’t like it you can just delete it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pale Horses by Nate Southard - excerpt

The latest release from Snubnose Press dropped last week. Here is an excerpt from Nate Southard's Pale Horses (US|Print|UK) .


Sheriff Hal Kendrick was sitting at his breakfast table struggling to remember his wife’s name and trying to keep the panic down in his gut when his cell phone rang.  The woman he’d loved more than forty years gave him a smile and then stood as he chewed on the toast and bacon he’d crammed in his mouth.  He knew every contour of her face and every inch of her body; that certainly wasn’t the problem.  Only the woman’s name had disappeared from his mind.  She walked‑‑no, she sauntered; that was a better word‑‑over to the kitchen counter and scooped up the phone.  Dammit, what was her name?
The rest of it came easy.  He looked down at his plate‑‑one of the new, plain white ones because the blue designs around the edge of the old plates confused him sometimes‑‑and mentally ticked off its contents.  That was bacon.  The yellow stuff was eggs.  Coffee filled his mug.  He continued.  His name was Hal Kendrick, and he’d been sheriff of Folk County for twelve years, now.  He was sixty-three years old, and he lived two miles outside of Broker, Indiana.  When he wasn’t tooling around in his county cruiser, he drove a 1998 Ford Bronco that ran on spit and wishes.  His birthday was July 16th, and his anniversary fell on September 2nd.
He could remember all of this, every damn lick of it, but his wife’s name escaped him.  Watching her flip open the phone and hold it to the side of her face, he knew she was sixty-one years old and had been born and raised in Hamilton, Ohio.  Way back in Spring of 1964, he had met her at his senior prom.  She’d arrived with Timmy Montgomery but left with him.  He knew her favorite color was a lush green, and he knew her favorite song was “Dawn” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but her name thrashed outside his grip like a wild fire hose, refusing capture.
Frustration welled within him, coiling with the panic like a snake preparing to lash out.  The doctors had told him not to get frustrated, that it was normal for him to forget things and that the five milligrams of Aricept he took before bed each night would help keep him from forgetting more.  All the frustration would do is make him mad.  The panic did nothing but make him impulsive.  If he gave in to either state, he might hurt himself.  At the very least, he’d be too worked up to remember what had slipped his mind in the first place, so the doctors and his wife had agreed that frustration and panic weren’t worth a bucket of cold gravy.
But the doctors didn’t know what this was like.  They had no idea how awful it was to feel completely normal, yet not know the name of the woman you’d loved the last forty-six years of your life, to have that name dance just out of reach, taunting you.  And they didn’t feel the fear, the aching horror at the knowledge that it would just get worse and worse until it swallowed you whole, until you disappeared inside it and didn’t even exist anymore.
He jumped at the sound of her voice.  The sweet note of understanding and patience was there, but it rang with something else.  Concern, maybe?  He looked up and saw her holding the phone out to him.  That didn’t make any sense at all, not unless one of her friends wanted to talk to him.  If that was the case though, why hadn’t they just called his...?
Oh.  That was his cell in her hand.  Not just any cell phone, either.  It was the county phone, and that meant something bad had happened.  How early was it?
Hal sighed.  Frustrated or not, it was time to go to work.  He wiped his mouth with a napkin and pushed himself up from the table.  Joints creaked and groaned, and he marveled at how much of a chore even standing seemed nowadays.
“Denise,” his wife said as she handed him the phone.  “Dispatch.”
Hal nodded, letting her know he understood, recognized the name she’d given him, and knew why Denise was calling.  She’d adapted to the system quickly, and she hadn’t let him down once.  Dammit, she deserved so much better.
“I’m here, Denise,” he said.  “What do we have so early?”
“Morning, Sheriff.  We’ve got a possible homicide.  Female adult down on State Road 56 just outside the Broker limits.”
“Dammit.  Possible homicide.  Copy that.”  He plucked the pen from beside the yellow notepad that hung next to the phone, jotted down the location and made a note that State Road 56 came off of Third Street and headed toward Rising Sun.
“Who do we have on shift?” he asked.
“Ed Brown.  On shift and en route.”
“That it?”
“Called Patrolman Cole.  He sounded groggy, but he’s heading down.”
“Thanks.  I’m on my way.”
“Copy that.”
“Yeah.  Thanks, Denise.”
“Don’t mention it, Sheriff.”
“Too late.”
He slapped the cell phone shut and let out a sigh.  Jesus.  A possible homicide before eight in the morning.  Looked like he had the makings of the worst Monday on record.
His wife gave his shoulder a squeeze, one that was both strong and comforting.  “You got it, honey?”
“Yeah.”  He placed his spare hand on hers as he continued scribbling on the pad. 
“Then tell me.”
“Possible homicide on an adult female just outside Broker limits on 56, which is the road that comes off of Third and goes to Rising Sun.  Detective Ed Brown and Danny Cole are both on the way.”
“That’s my baby.”  She gave his back a pat.
“I certainly do try.”  He tore the yellow sheet from the pad and stuck it in the pocket of his shirt.  Looking down, he patted his chest.  Something was missing.  He knew it was something simple, something he couldn’t leave without, but it avoided him the same as his wife’s name kept dancing just beyond his reach.
“Your badge is on the kitchen table,” his wife said in a patient voice.  “It’s right beside your plate.”
Realization rushed in, and he rolled his eyes at how obvious the answer had been.  Of course, the badge.  For Pete’s sake, he’d even been patting his chest while he tried to figure it out.  He returned to the kitchen table long enough to grab the shining piece of metal and pin it over his left breast.  Maybe he should leave it on all the time?  One less thing to screw up, and these days every little thing counted.
“Looks like it’s time for work,” he said.
“Looks like.  You be safe.”
“Always am.”
“Call me if you need help with anything, okay?  A name, a place, part of the job.  Call me.  Don’t be afraid to get a nudge, okay?”
He nodded.  Guilt came charging in, same as it did every single day he didn’t announce his retirement.  Looking into his wife’s eyes, seeing the understanding and love there, he remembered why he fought so hard to keep at the job, to do things right.  He had to leave Folk County better than he’d found it.  The last thing he would dream of doing was to destroy everything and then walk away.  Minutes remained on the clock, and he would keep fighting to make things right until time ran out.
And she understood, this wonderful woman understood all of it and had decided to help.  She really was amazing.
“I love you, Hal,” she said.
“I love you, too.”
Hal leaned in and planted a kiss on his wife’s lips.  Then, he hurried out the front door and to his cruiser before the sad smile on her face made him cry.


Ten minutes later, Hal pulled his cruiser over to the gravel shoulder and parked it behind Ed Brown’s sedan before checking his appearance in the rearview.  He was pleased to find he looked like himself, or at least how he remembered himself.  His hair didn’t stick out at crazy angles, and the frightened look that crept into his eyes now and then was nowhere to be found.  All things considered, he looked like the picture of competence, and that was probably better than he deserved.
When he shoved open his door and stepped onto the shoulder, he found the detective standing across the two-lane highway, waiting.  The man wore a suit that looked like it belonged in Chicago or at least Cincinnati, not on the side of a road in Folk County.  His face was impassive, square jaw set and impossible to read.  Some others might not realize it, but Hal knew that look meant something bad. 
“Morning, Detective,” he said as he crossed the pavement, giving Brown the heads up that they were keeping things pro this morning.  Not that the detective needed the hint. 
The sound of an approaching motor reached him, and he looked up to see Danny Cole tooling toward them as casual as you please.  He felt a flare of annoyance, but then he reminded himself that he’d barely beaten the kid to the scene, and Danny could have been anywhere in the county when the call came through.  By the time he reached Brown’s side, he felt nice and calm again.
“Wanna talk to me?”
“Not really, Sheriff.  Think we got more of a look and see situation goin’ on right at the moment.”
“That bad?”
But he already knew.  The look had told him everything.
A car door opened and slammed, followed by the sound of running footsteps charging across the hardtop.  Hal craned his neck backward right as Danny Cole let out a, “Well, isn’t this a great way to kick off a morning?”
The patrolman, halfway through his twenties with the wide eyes of a kid first starting to sprout hair down below, clapped his hands together and rubbed them back and forth.  His brown windbreaker rustled in the morning breeze, and his smile made him look like a bit of a buffoon.  “Sheriff, Detective.  Hear we got ourselves a body.”
Hal searched his memories and realized that after two years on the job, this just might turn out to be Danny Cole’s first homicide.  Good for him.  The kid was one step closer to becoming a jaded old man.  Another couple of years and he might stop smiling all the time.
He gave Ed a look.  “Want to lead the way?”
Ed turned and started walking through the high grass.  A lighter path of stomped blades marked the detective’s earlier passing, but the going still wasn’t exactly easy.  It seemed Hal couldn’t take three steps in a row without finding some hidden rock or piece of driftwood.  Jesus, they were almost a hundred feet from the Ohio’s edge.  How were they running into driftwood?
“Who found the body?” Hal asked.
“Jogger.  Maya Dawson.  Pretty thing.  Took her statement and sent her home.  I tried to get her a car, but she said she wanted to run.  Strange, huh?”
Hal didn’t bother replying.  His legs swishing through the grass sang a harmony with the river’s muddy water as it lapped against the shore.  No traffic passed by on 56 to destroy the illusion of peace, and Cole didn’t even let out a nervous giggle or wisecrack behind him.  Nothing broke the illusion until they drew within forty feet of a stand of trees and the smell rocked him like an uppercut.  The stench of decay was strong and thick, shoving aside the normal air and setting up shop in its way. 
Another twenty feet and Ed shouted, “Go on, git!”
Hal understood the command a split second before he heard the dog bark.  Then he was out of the grass and looking at the bare ground within the trees.  A shepherd that had seen better days stood maybe a dozen feet away from them, teeth bared and maw bloodied.  Its growl tickled the back of his neck, but he reminded himself how dogs could sense fear.  He’d heard that nugget of wisdom his whole life, and he figured he’d be a bigger buffoon than Cole to tempt fate by ignoring it.
Besides, the naked body splayed in the mud behind the dog drew far more attention.  At his first glance he could tell it was a woman.  The breasts and smooth curve of her groin gave that much away.  Dirty, black hair spread out around her head like rotting seaweed.  There was surprisingly little blood, and he supposed if there was anything to be thankful for, that was it. 
The dog had done enough damage, anyway.  From his vantage point, he could tell the animal had chewed away most of her right hand.  The left side of her face was a ragged tear of loose skin, her teeth and gums exposed.  Her throat was a glistening wound, and as he watched, a buzzard dropped out of the trees and pecked at the hole before the dog turned and barked.  The bird flew away as if it had been shot at.
Hal wasn’t surprised to hear Danny puke into the grass behind him.  This wasn’t a wreck out on Highway 50.  What they were dealing with here‑‑what patrolman Danny Cole was seeing for the first time‑‑was a dead body, possibly murdered, that had been gnawed on by a wild dog.
Ed clapped his hands together and stomped a foot into the dirt.  “I said git, dammit!”
The dog trotted away, growling low in its throat.
“Holy shit,” Danny said.  He sounded like he still had a little in his mouth.  “Sheriff, you want me to shoot it?”
Hal spun and gave the Officer a look.  “What?”
“The dog.  Look at what it did.  It’s a man eater now, right?  I mean, nothing else, it’s got evidence inside it.”
He fought the urge to roll his eyes or slap the patrolman senseless.  Shoot the dog?  What was it with kids?  “How about you give animal control a call?”
“Oh my god.”
Cole’s voice suddenly sounded hollow, like he’d taken a kick in the belly, and Hal knew the kid wasn’t so interested in the dog anymore.  Danny staggered past him, bent forward slightly and moving like a man in a dream.  “No.  Jesus Christ, No.”
“Officer, you want to tell us what’s going on?”
Cole continued, staggering toward the body.  He left the grass, and suddenly his standard issue boots began to sink into the mud that hugged the Ohio.  His hands were fists, knuckles white.
“Dammit, Officer,” Ed cursed.  “Get back in the grass before you contaminate my scene.”
The kid backed up a few steps.  The bootprints he left behind were deep.
“Jesus.  Thanks for the help, Officer.”
“I…That’s Colleen.”
“Colleen?” Ed asked.  “Knew her, huh?”
“She’s Bobby…Oh, shit.  She’s Bobby Lothridge’s wife.  Jesus, I played ball with him in high school.”
That got Ed’s attention.  His head jerked so fast, Hal thought the man might hurt himself.
“You played ball?”
“Short stop.”
“Oh.  Baseball.”  The interest drained out of Ed Brown’s face like wax melting in front of a fire.  Hal almost chuckled at the sudden change, but then Danny was moving forward again, stepping past the grass and into the soft mud beneath the trees.
“Officer Cole, I need you to stop.”
“Sheriff, I know her.”
“I get that.  It doesn’t mean you can stop doing the job, though.”
“I’m still‑‑”
“You take another step, you’ll be destroying my crime scene,” Brown said.  “That’s the only thing you’ll be doin’, and I ain’t about to have it.  Take a step back.”
“Sheriff, I‑‑”
“Do what Detective Brown says, please.”
“Dammit!”  Danny spun, flinging his arm wide like he was trying to punch a ghost only he could see, and then he stomped back into the grass.  The sudden movement set the dog barking again, and the patrolman drew his sidearm as he whirled around to face it.  “You fucking thing!”
“Officer Cole!”
Hal felt the words explode from his throat, rocketing up from deep in his gut, and he saw them hit the patrolman like a cupped hand to the ear.  The kid froze, sidearm raised but not aimed, and slowly turned to face him, a new buffoonish look pasted across his face.
“Will you please return to your cruiser and request animal control?  Right now, that would be the most help.”  He watched as a series of emotions played across the young officer’s face.  Confusion gave way to anger, and desperation followed close behind before collapsing into a resigned sort of sadness.
“Yes, sir.” Danny said.  The patrolman turned and started walking back the way they’d come.  He moved slowly, like a broken-hearted schoolboy.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Hal said.  “She was a friend of yours, and this isn’t how anybody should have to see a friend.”
“Right.”  The kid nodded a little and kept trudging up the hill.  Hal watched him go, refusing to turn away until he saw Danny reach the road.  The patrolman waited as a single pickup rattled past, and then he disappeared from view.
“Well,” Ed muttered, “Looks like somebody’s one step closer to being a bona fide cop.”
“He thought he could be eager and work a murder.  Last thing he expected was for it to be a friend of his.”
“So I should cut him a little slack?”
“If he keeps doing the job, I don’t see the harm.”
“Right.  Well no offense meant, I don’t want his virgin ass near my scene.  Maybe the kid’s eager, but maybe he’s a headless nail we’re gonna be trying to pull out somewhere down the road.”
“Got it.  How many hands you need.”
“Think you can get me two?”
“Then two.”
“Coming right up.”  He grabbed his cell phone from his pocket and brought up the number for dispatch, put a call through to Denise.  When she asked who he wanted, he requested Crosby and Philips, both of whom would be starting their regular shifts in four hours regardless.  They wouldn’t mind the overtime.
As he slapped his cell shut and stuffed it back into his pocket, it occurred to him how unfair it was that he remembered how to use the damn thing when he’d lost his wife’s name.  His dispatchers and patrolmen, their schedules, he knew all of that.  Ask him his wife’s name or the way home, however, and he might draw a blank.  If he hadn’t remembered the GIS the county had installed on all cruisers a few years back, he might still be wandering the county’s back roads.  The whole mess angered him, as did the knowledge that there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.  Like it or not, this was his life.  Or what remained of it.  Goddamn Alzheimer’s.
Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and pressing it to his nose, he approached the body, remaining careful to avoid any footprints he saw in the dirt, though most of them appeared to belong to the dog.  Ed had already closed in, and now the man crouched beside the body, pointing here and there with a pen when he wasn’t jotting down notes on a notepad.  How the man stood the stench was anybody’s guess.  Looking at the wreck the canine had made of the body, he was shocked at how little blood covered the area.  When he mentioned it to Ed, the stocky man gave him a nod.
“Got that right.  Definitely a dump.  Appears Colleen…What did Cole say her last name was?  Lothridge?  Anyway, looks like she died somewhere else.”
“Great.  Violent death?”
“Got some bruising here and there along the arms.  Pooch over there screwed up the throat, so if she was strangled we’ll have to hope the coroner can tell us.”  He pointed at her lips with the pen.  “Call me an optimistic, but I’m thinkin’ this is our biggest clue right here.”
Hal stepped closer and squatted.  His old eyes needed a little help, but squinting brought everything into focus clear enough, and he didn’t like what he saw.
“Yup.  Looks like we got us a dead girl on meth.  Fun, huh?”
“Sweet Lord.  Don’t let Officer Cole in on that, okay?  It stays under our hat until the autopsy confirms it.  We thinking overdose?”
“I’m still thinking violent.  If I....” He slapped gloves on his hands and gingerly lifted her head.  Not much, barely more than an inch.  He peeked at the back of the dead woman’s skull and then lowered her head.
“You sure‑‑”
“Already got pictures on the digital, Hal.  No worries.”
The detective shook his head.  “Lotta blood black there, and I don’t wanna poke around, but I know a blunt impact when I see one.  Our girl was bludgeoned.”
“Dammit,” Hal said.  The word tasted terrible.  “Husband, maybe.  This Bobby guy.  Finds out his wife’s smoking meth, they have a fight....”
“I’m leaning that way too, Hal.  Probably been leaning that way a while longer than you have.”
“No need to be cocky.”
Ed gave him a nod and then stood, brushing non-existent dirt from his knees.  “No hair off my ass.  I got another concern might be worth following up on.”
“How far you reckon we are from the town limits?”
Hal craned his neck toward the roadway and then followed it upriver.  He noticed Danny starting back down the hill, but he ignored him.
“Two hundred yards, maybe.”
“About what I thought.  By any chance, you remember who got this land in their divorce about ten years back?”
Hal felt a sharp prick of fear at the idea of needing his memory.  Ed was a friend and not just a fellow officer, and he trusted the detective more than anybody else in the county offices, but Ed was a good cop‑‑a damn good cop‑‑and the man couldn’t just sit on knowledge like The Sheriff Has Alzheimer’s.  The thought stabbed at him like a gleaming blade.
“I’m thinking.”  And to his surprise, he didn’t have to think long.  Another nugget of trivia leapt into his thoughts, and suddenly he knew exactly who owned the land.  In the next moment, a cold, hollow kind of dread crept into his gut and settled there like a sleeping Copperhead.  The feeling that bad news on its way hovered like a blanket of black storm clouds, ready to erupt with a crack of thunder.
“It’s Regina Hunt’s property isn’t it?”
Ed nodded, the makings of a grin playing on the corners of his mouth.  It was the look of a kid who doesn’t want to get into a fight, but wouldn’t mind watching a pair of hicks go at each other with pool cues for a while.  Hal might have taken offense if he hadn’t spent so many years as Ed Brown’s friend.
“We heard anything from Korey lately?” Ed asked.
“He’s been pretty quiet.  I think Aurora tanked him about a month ago after a good brawl, but I haven’t heard anything since.”
“Well, this oughta make up for lost time.”
“You think this is something he could have done?”
Ed gave him a shrug, the look on his face saying he’d prefer not to commit.  “I don’t like to put nuthin’ past nobody.  Job won’t let me take another path.”
“Want to talk to him?”
“I would love to, Sheriff.”
Danny coughed into his fist as he approached.  Hal didn’t know if the kid was trying to get the last part of his breakfast up and out or just announcing his return, and he didn’t much care.  Other things had jumped up to demand his attention.
“Talk to who?” Danny asked.  “Need me to pick somebody up?”
Hal glanced at Ed and saw the burly detective break into a full grin before turning back to Colleen Lothridge’s body.  “You remember where Korey Hunt lives?”
“We got a suspect?”
“How about we say ‘Person of interest?’”
“Whatever.  Just tell me when you want him at the station.”
“How about two hours?”
“Sure thing, Detective.  I can do it right now, if you want.  I don’t want to just let some piece of garbage think he can get away with this sort of thing.”
“Nobody’s getting away with this,” Hal said.  You just pick up Hunt and be cool about it.”
“Just feel like I owe‑‑”
“You owe her a clean investigation, Danny.  Clean and thorough and by the book.”
Hal held the kid’s eyes until Danny finally gave in and nodded.  He could tell by the wounded look on Cole’s face that he didn’t like it one bit, that he’d rather be in the thick of things, maybe kick in a few teeth before slapping on a set of cuffs, but that was fine so long as Danny did as he was told.
The kid muttered something along the lines of, “Sure thing,” and then started back up the hill.  Hal watched him climb halfway before turning to Ed.
“You’re good here?”
“Right as rain.  I’ll do what I can before my help comes.”
“Great.  Figure you want to be there when I tell Bobby Lothridge the news?”
“Yep.  Better than waiting for a warrant any day.”
“That’s the Detective Ed Brown I know.”  Was it?  He couldn’t be sure.