Saturday, June 20, 2015

Book Review: Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott

(I posted this on my own blog this past Wednesday, but I wanted to make sure regular Do Some Damage readers also had the chance to read it and head on over to your nearest bookstore and pick up a copy.)

I had to go back and look to see how long I’ve been acquainted with Patti Abbott. The date was September 2008 and it was via the Forgotten Books review club that she started. Being a newbie to the world of blogging back then, I felt privileged to be a part of something that had already been going strong.

In the years since, whether it was in the comments section of various blogs or direct emails, I got to know Patti: the kind of music and movies she likes to the books she reads. And, most importantly, the types of stories she writes. She was an outlier. As ebooks and electronic publications have risen, so, too, has a certain style of writing, particularly in crime and mystery fiction. Hard-edged tales full of violence and profanity seemed to be on the upswing. Nothing wrong with those kinds of tales, but, increasingly, I found myself drawn to something different. Often, those different kinds of stories were the ones Patti told.

Her tales involved the things associated with crime fiction, but with her language and style, all that stuff was muted. That’s not to say nonexistent, but subdued in such a way that let the gripping tale emerge without everything being all spelled out. A Patti Abbott short story could be hard-hitting but with a prose style that left things to the reader’s imagination. In short, an Abbott story was something to look forward to reading.

Now, with Concrete Angel, we get our first Patricia Abbott novel. If you thought her gifts as a writer of short fiction were good, you’re going to think you’ve hit the jackpot with a full novel’s worth of story. The novel begins with a murder (don’t all good ones?). The twist, however, is that Eve Moran, the shooter who happened to empty all the bullets into soda-pop salesman Jerry Santini, convinces her daughter, Christine, to take the blame. No one would question a young girl who was merely defending her mother’s honor from a would-be scurrilous man. Christine, the narrator of the story, appreciates the reasoning of her mother and confesses.

You might be wondering how a mother could convince her daughter to take the blame for a crime she, the daughter, did not commit. That is the true beauty of this novel. The large majority of this tale is basically Eve Moran’s story. With delicately nuanced descriptions, Christine tells her mother’s story, of how she likes things, things that typically don’t belong to her, but that Eve wants anyway. So she takes them. Over and over again. As the narration continues, Abbott unfolds Eve Moran like an onion, each layer revealing something new, each layer offering a new insight into Eve as well as Christine who can’t help but be swept up into Eve’s mindset.

Abbott uses a neat narrative trick along the way. When Christine’s in the scene, the words are straight first person POV. But when she’s telling Eve’s story, Abbott writes in pure third person. It’s all still Christine’s voice, so there’s that filter, but it sucks you in from the get-go. And the descriptions Abbott deploys deftly knock your socks off.

The definition of a page-turner typically involves lots of action, up-tempo pacing, and breathless wonder. You can’t wait to go to the next chapter—no matter that it’s past midnight on a work night—to see how the hero will get out of the new jam the author placed him in or if the killer will take out a certain supporting character. Concrete Angel is a different type of page-turner. With each chapter, Abbott draws you in and you just want to know more and more. You can’t help but keep reading.

Concrete Angel is a splendid novel and well worth your time. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend you add it to your summer reading list.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Conversation with Angel Luis Colón

By Alex Segura

Angel Luis Colón is a writer's writer - he's the guy other writers look forward to hearing read at Noir at the Bar and an all-around good guy. He's also fun to banter with on Twitter. I'm psyched he agreed to let me grill him for a bit here.

Angel's novella, The Fury of Blacky Jaguar, is an insane, noir, high-octane, nonstop read featuring a memorable and entertaining protagonist in Blacky. Don't wait to read the rest of this - you can pre-order the book now, courtesy of the One Eye Press team. When not writing like mad, Angel also seems to find the time to review mystery/crime for My Bookish Ways and edit flash crime fiction at Shotgun Honey. I can't imagine he has much free time. Thanks to Angel for carving out a few minutes to talk with me.

Elevator pitch time - what's The Fury of Blacky Jaguar?

Blacky Jaguar is a cartoonish, narcissistic ex-IRA Provie with a hard-on for Elvis, the 50's, and making things explode.

Someone made a really shitty call and stole his '59 Plymouth Fury. Now he wants it back. Heads will roll.
How'd you hook up with the gang at One Eye Press? How've they been to work with?

One Eye Press has been killing it from the start. Federales, their first one shot by Chris Irvin grabbed me. From there; White Knight by Bracken MacLeod, The Gospel of the Bullet by Chris Leek, Knuckleball from Tom Pitts, The Gunmen by Timothy Friend - all fantastic single sitting reads from some of the best writers on the crime and western front. When I sat down and wrote The Fury of Blacky Jaguar, it was with complete intent to have that story pubbed by One Eye and nobody else.

I lucked out, huh?

As for the working relationship? Ron Earl Phillips is amazing. He's got an eye for talent and an open ear in case I moan (which I don't do a lot of, thankfully...hopefully). I'm so thrilled that this is a great home for Blacky and I couldn't be happier working with a guy like Ron.

You've built a rep as not only a great short story writer, but someone who's really precise when it comes to flash fiction and, for lack of a better word, presentation. I would never want to read after you at Noir at the Bar, for example. How important is that to you - being a strong short story writer?

Well, first, thanks for the compliment. That means a lot, especially from a writer I respect (it's a love-fest!).


Being a short story writer is incredibly important to me and I believe it should be important to any writer - beginner or pro. It's like weightlifting or marathon training. The short circuits with the sudden bursts of speed or strength help improve conditioning for the big stuff. Flash and short fiction writing is how you work your writing muscles for the marathon sessions. They provide you with the challenge of word economy and of learning basic narrative structure. Without those skills, you're rambling just like I am now.

I know Blacky isn't just a one-and-done character. You have a lot of stories to tell in his world. Can you zoom out a bit and let us know why this character keeps poking at you? Maybe tease what's in store?

He is certainly not a one and done. Matter of fact, his first appearance was in the recently released Shotgun Honey Anthology, Locked and Loaded: Both Barrels Book 3 in a story called 'Love At First Fight'. He's also got a role in the novel I'm working on and will be returning later this year in 'A Very Blacky Christmas'. That story pits him against a very mean lady known as Krissy Kringle and her muscle; Krampus and Attis.

This stuff writes itself, man.

Honestly, I just love the son of a bitch. Not that I want to do anything he does, but it sure is fun to imagine it. I feel like I can get out of hand without explaining it in detail when it comes to Blacky because, for Christ's sake, the man calls himself Blacky Jaguar.

In addition to writing, you also edit Shotgun Honey with a killer crew. While the seat isn't warm yet, can you talk a bit about what that's been like? Has it made you a better writer?

It's been incredible. An absolutely vital learning experience for me. The best part about Shotgun Honey is we demand our stories be short, like, super short (700 words, kids) so it's a manageable task to read through our submissions. What I've learned and been inspired from has been very instrumental in making me a more deliberate writer. I try my very best to listen to my criticism and praise of others. While, yeah, I won't let it get in the way of the voice I've built for myself, there's always room to learn.

Influences - who are yours? Can you see how they play a part in your final product?

My influences are surprisingly not very noir. Top of the head list: Clive Barker, Douglas Adams, Chuck Palahniuk, Ted Lewis, Hunter S. Thompson, Peter David, and Kurt Vonnegut. I'm not very conscious of the exact role they play in my final product, but I do know I do my very best to not ape them. I consider those guys to be geniuses in their own ways and they've influenced me even outside my writing, but I'd be terrified to ever be compared to them.

I think there's a lot of value in promoting the work of others and I get the sense that you feel the same. How important is it for you to be part of a community of writers? Can you share some experiences in the time you've been part of the crime writing world that helped your career?

Dead on. We have to support each other and watch each others' back in this business. I'm in total agreement there. I've been fortunate to have quite a few writers that I respect (and am genuinely a fan of)  give me an incredible amount of support and advice. It's not only been vital in any of my successes, but also in just improving my experience within this community. I know everyone says it, but I don't think I've ever been part of a scene as fostering and friendly as the crime-writing community. Though, you get what you put in, obviously.

Shifting gears - I know you like comics. I love comics, too. Who doesn't? What have you been reading? What did you read starting out? And which character would you kill to write?

I'm so behind on my comics, but Secret Wars has been pretty amazing. I JUST nabbed the first few issues of Black Hood, but haven't had time to dive in yet.

As for my first single issue: Web of Spider-Man vol 1 Issue 8 written by David Michelinie and interiors by Geof Isherwood. The cover, by Charlie Vess, is tattooed on my left arm. The ENTIRE cover sans typography.
So needless to say, Spidey would be my dream project.

Writer, editor and reviewer - you do the reviewing part for MyBookishWays, one of my favorite book sites. How did that come about and what kind of writing muscles does that flex? Do you find it tricky to have to review the work of people you may have to interact with in another role?

Funny enough, I asked. Kristin Centorcelli (editor in chief of My Bookish Ways) tweeted a call for reviewers, so I emailed and asked if I could lend a hand. Hopefully, I've been a help!

And yeah, it's at times tough to switch back and forth from fiction to reviewing, but it helps me more often than not. My brain likes to be bounced around.

You know, it's not like I haven't felt a little worried about my reviews, especially in light of the fact that I do know some of the authors, but I try my best to keep it professional and to put as much thought as I can into any critique or praise I provide. Thankfully, corporate dayjob trained me to flip that switch easy.

Give me some tracks that would be on the soundtrack to BLACKY JAGUAR. What did you listen to while writing this book?

To name a few:

Attitude by Bad Brains
Rebel Without Applause by Every Time I Die
Devil's Dance Floor by Flogging Molly
Woo Ha! Got You All In Check by Busta Rhymes
Buzz Bomb by Dead Kennedys
Lots of angry punk, hardcore, and hip hop.

In closing - name-drop a few authors you think deserve more attention and why.

I've got to give a big shout out to the Polis Books bench: Rob Hart, Terrence McCauley, Dave White, Patti Abbott, and that Alex Segura fella. Absolute beastly lineup of books from great writers coming out over there.
Other writers I think deserve attention: Jen Conley (my fellow Shotgunner), Chris Irvin, Bracken MacLeod, Renee Asher Pickup, Josh Stallings, Patrick DeWitt, Sara J. Henry, Thomas Pluck, and Todd Robinson (GO BUY THE HARD BOUNCE).
I also can't leave out Brian Panowich, Paul G. Tremblay, and Chris Holm. Good lord, these guys have written some fantastic, fantastic stuff this year.

Folks need to search all these writers out and consume their output, it's good for your brain - maybe.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My Vicarious California Crime Writers Conference Wrap-Up

by Holly West

The last couple of weeks I mentioned that I recently attended the 2015 California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City, CA. Unfortunately, I didn't attend any panels because of my duties at the registration table (my choice--there were plenty of people who volunteered to help at the desk so I could take a break), but I've enjoyed reading about other people's experience of the conference.

Here's are a few wrap-ups of note:

For my part, I was given the honor of introducing one of our speakers, Anne Perry, for her Sunday keynote speech. Travis Richardson kindly took a photo:

I was also on a social media panel with moderator Terry Ambrose, Diane Vallere, and Lee Nelson. Going into it, I was a little apprehensive because even though I'm very active on social media, I wasn't certain I had anything new to say about it. It was really an opportunity to re-iterate my cardinal rules of social media:
  • Engage! Remember, social media is called "social" for a reason.
  • Don't use social media only to promote yourself. That gets boring fast.
  • Restrict or abstain from posting about politics or other controversial matters unless you're willing to participate in a conversation or polite debate about such topics.
  • There is not necessarily a direct correlation between book sales and social media. Rather, it's part of an overall strategy to get your name out there and to define your platform/brand. I could definitely do a better job at that part of social media, as my brand seems to be defined by me saying whatever I happen to be thinking or feeling at a given time.
So, with all that said, I'm looking forward to the 2017 California Crime Writers Conference. Co-Chair Sue Ann Jaffarian has already roped me into being the registrar and manuscript consultation coordinator for that conference. And so, I leave you with this:

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Printer's Row Lit Fest

by Kristi Belcamino

I spent last weekend in Chicago at the Printer's Row Literary Festival as part of the Mystery Writers of America. (Above: goofing with bestselling writer Julie Hyzy with some people who ran in the Chicago Color Run)

One of the joys of being a published author is attending events like this and meeting new readers face-to-face.

In a smaller environment, like standing in a tent and greeting people in person, a relationship is automatically established. I sold about a dozen books but I remember everybody who bought my books. In fact, I've even had email exchanges with some of them.

As a writer there are dozens of conferences you can attend and it is sometimes difficult to decide since they all cost money and time away from home.

I have to prioritize.

Bouchercon is the most important conference to me.

After that, a few local conferences are considered. If I'm on a panel, as I was at Printer's Row, that makes the local conference an easy decision.

Along with meeting readers, (which doesn't always mean selling books), my favorite part of attending a writing conference is hanging out with my people—other mystery writers.

I had a blast last weekend hanging out with people like Clare O'Donohue, Lori Rader-Day, Jamie Freveletti, Julie Hyzy, Jessie Chandler, Matthew Clemens, John Bychowski, Lynne Raimondo, Bryon Quertermous, Gunter Kaesdorf, and more.

What are your favorite conferences and why?