Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Drinks, Crime, and New Year's Eve Movies

by Scott Adlerberg

New Year's Eve is approaching, and that reminds me of how I used to go out for the occasion.  I'd go to a party if a friend was having one, or more often, back in the regular bar hanging days, I'd head to my local watering hole to carouse with fellow regulars.  Nowadays, as December 31st moves along and midnight approaches, I spend the night home with my wife and kid. Champagne is on hand, but the festivities involve nothing more than relaxing in my pajamas watching movies.  I like something light to watch as the year ends, something that won't tax my brain or weigh on me heavily, and the ideal is a film with lots of alcohol in it, but with the drinking pictured as fun, not destructive.  Barfly might pass muster.  Mickey Rourke as Henry Chinaski drinks without guilt and frequently has a good time in his scruffy element ("Drinks for all my friends!"), but in the context of New Year's Eve, the film will probably just remind you of all the lonely alcoholics out there ringing in the New Year over shots and cheap beer in dive bars.  The Lost WeekendLeaving Las Vegas, even the great Withnail and I - no, these films don't work on this night either.  Anyway, none of them has to do with New Year's Eve.  

There are so many films set around Christmas and Thanksgiving, but what about films set on the last night of the year?  Well, there are a bunch actually, from disaster films like The Poseidon Adventure  to risible romantic comedies like New Year's Eve  to so-so comedy-dramas like 200 Cigarettes.

Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days, made in 1995, takes place over the course of the last two days of 1999, and it is a gripping, sci-fi thriller, perfect for the night if you like your New Year's Eve viewing dark.  Not much alcohol figures in this one, but there are drugs aplenty and futuristic mind-altering devices.  Like all
Bigelow's films, it is ferocious and kinetic. It stands up well to multiple viewings.  And its ending, such tension and violence among a few people in the midst of a crowd celebrating a new millenium, is one I've always really liked. Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore - great job by them and everybody else concerned.

Not bad is the 2005 remake of Assault on Precinct 13.  It's not the John Carpenter version, but French director Jean-Francois Richet makes a solid film about an understaffed police precinct under attack from a band of criminals on New Year's Eve.  

It's surprising how good the cast assembled for this one is: Lawrence Fishburne, Gabriel Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Maria Bello, Drea De Matteo, to name a few.  Partying doesn't figure here, just drinking done by tired cops, but you could do worse than this movie if you want some action film fun.

Another possibilityOcean's Eleven, the original starring Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, from 1960.  In this Rat Pack version of the story, the team's heist is done on five Las Vegas casinos at once, on New Year's Eve.  It's a lark of a caper film, with Sammy Davis Jr, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford and Angie Dickinson engaging in endless banter.  It's obvious that the actors are enjoying themselves; in fact, I think it was Martin Scorsese who said that the film was shot as much as anything as an excuse for Sinatra and his pals to hang out together and make a film in their favorite place in the world.  The parts of the movie that occur at the Sands, Flamingo, Riviera, Desert Inn, and Sahara Hotels were all shot on location.  Is there drinking in the movie?  People enjoying themselves drinking? Do these questions, with this cast of characters, even need to be asked? Ocean's Eleven is no cinematic masterpiece (the 2001 version is better), but for me it does the job as late night New Year's Eve entertainment.

And finally, it goes without saying, After the Thin Man (1936), the sequel to 1934's The Thin Man, adapted from Dashiell Hammett's novel.  Hammett wrote the follow up film's story using his characters of Nick and Nora Charles, and like the first film, After the Thin Man crackles with rapid-fire repartee.  We're in fogbound San Francisco on New Year's Eve when a murder takes place, and Nick and Nora investigate over the course of the night. There are twists and turns galore, and the killer turns out to be the least likely suspect. It's a convoluted, light as air mystery, and William Powell and Myrna Loy play the most witty, loving, carefree, sophisticated, fun-loving, martini-swilling married couple in movie history.  Did I mention martinis?  I believe I did.  Let me say it again.  Martinis.  The amount Nick and Nora Charles drink in the film could fill a bath tub, but, hey, it all adds to the fun and the alcohol never impairs their sleuthing sensibilities.  We're talking pleasure with no downside, indulgence without consequence, wit and mental sharpness that never go dull. I'm not going to argue with any of that.  After the Thin Man is my favorite New Year's Eve movie for sheer enjoyment, and almost certainly the one I'll be watching again after midnight this year.  

If I can stay up that late...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Happy Holidays from DSD

May your holidays be filled with books and the time to read them all.
And may Santa bring you a baseball bat because, hell yeah, baseball bats.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

2015: A Personal Summation

Scott D. Parker

I had a two goals in 2015: write fiction every single day and publish one book.

Regarding the first, I’m batting 1.000. I have written some sort of fiction every day this year. Some days, I manage 8,000 words (back in August when I traveled to San Antonio and I wrote the entire 4-hour trip). Other days I managed 12. But the point was I did it: when I was tired, when I didn’t truly feel like it, etc. It’s fascinating that a habit can become so ingrained that I look forward to the writing so much that it’s no longer work.

Regarding the second, I’m also batting 1.000. Back in February, I published WADING INTO WAR, my first book. It was a novella that I had completed back in 2013. Then, I upped the ante by publishing a second novel, THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES, in May. Two books in a year! In addition to the two books, I published 3 western short stories under the Triple Action Western imprint. Coupled with that were two anthologies James Reasoner’s Rough Edges Press published—WEIRD MENACE and TALES FROM THE OTHERVERSE—in which I had a story each. Altogether, that was 2 books and 5 short stories.

All while holding down a day job.

The more 2015 went on, the more I realized that a person who wants to be a writer but also works a non-writing day job can write and publish stories. It’s doable. I hesitate to use the word ‘easy’ but it’s very straightforward. The only obstacle, really, is the will to do the work. If you’re willing, you can write and publish in this day and age.

And it’s incredibly liberating!

If 2013 got me back on the writing wagon and 2014 maintained it, 2015 was the year I wrote and published material. It was Year One of my second career. And its so much fun. It’s also a lot of work, but it’s fun work, work that no longer seems like work.

It’s a good place to be. I look forward to 2016 when I up the ante yet again.

On behalf of all of us here at DoSomeDamage, we wish you the happiest of holidays and we’ll see you in the new year.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Alabama Worley, You're So Cool

By Renee Asher Pickup 

I never got into romantic comedies. I can't suspend my disbelief, and half the time the woman "finding love" would be the bitch in a story told to you by your friends: "So then, she LEAVES HIM AT THE ALTAR and runs off with her high school boyfriend! Can you fucking believe that?"

But I do love a good love story.

Not many love stories are written with people like me in mind. Maybe my father over-romanticized Bonnie & Clyde when I was a kid, or maybe there is just something fundamentally wrong with the part of my brain that processes traditional love stories, but when I say "a good love story" I mean a story like True Romance.

There are a hundred different ways to approach explaining my love for this film, and how heavily it influenced what I consider "a good love story" and "a good crime movie" and "a good performance by Christopher Walken", but I want to focus on the real badass in this film:

Alabama Worley.

Look, Clarence is a sweet guy. Bama didn't choose poorly, even if marrying a guy on the first date is ABSOLUTELY INSANE. But the facts are the facts - without Bama, Clarence would have been dead three to five times in the course of the film. This movie could have been about a hooker with a heart of gold, but Tarantino and Tony Scott didn't take the easy way with any of the characters.

Arquette plays Alabama with a sweet sort of naivety that tricks the viewer into thinking she needs saving, but when push comes to shove - don't fuck with Bama. I don't know if Arquette going head to head with Gandolfini is the best fight scene I've ever seen - but I know that if you didn't fall in love with Alabama Worley the moment she starts laughing at him and flips him off you don't have a soul.

It's easy to forget that Alabama was already in a bad situation when she met Clarence. Whatever lead her to Drexl didn't take the childlike innocence out of her, but it definitely hardened her in ways we don't immediately see. She sees a pile of coke and her brand new husband and thinks "sure, let's do this!" You might even believe she just drifts into whatever life throws at her, hoping for the best, until you realize this woman actually laughed her way through a brutal beatdown and came out on top. Then, she doesn't run scared or go running to Clarence with second thoughts - she puts on her Elvis shades and gets down to business.

I have a real hard time with happy endings, I really do. The darker and ending, the better I like it. If this film had ended the way Tarantino originally wrote it, I wouldn't have minded one bit. But you can't help but be happy that Tony Scott changed it at the last minute (he really didn't decide to let Clarence live until midway through shooting the movie). I will go as far as to say, if it had ended with Alabama alone, driving away with the money, it would have been a killer movie, but it would have lost it's ranking as a "love story."

Regardless, Bama earned that ride into the sunset. She was hot on her feet and, as usual, took care of business.

Bullets are flying, Clarence is shot, no one is getting out alive. She doesn't run. She doesn't go somewhere to hide and cry. She gets the money, gets her man, and gets the hell out of Dodge. Nothing stops Alabama. Nothing throws her off her game.

She's so cool.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Dave White talks BAD BEAT with Rob Hart and Alex Segura

By Alex Segura

What happens when you get two crime writers talking about comic books? They start brainstorming crossovers of their own. At least that’s what happened earlier this year when I got a bite with fellow novelist (and Polis Books author) Rob Hart. Aside from being friends, we were also fans of each other’s work. I dug Rob’s debut Ash McKenna novel, New Yorked, and Rob said a few nice things about my first Pete Fernandez book, Silent City.

The idea seemed almost too good to be true: a story that featured both our series stars, set before both debuts and timed to hit in advance of the Polis reissue of Silent City and Rob’s second Ash novel, City of Rose. We ran the idea by Polis head honcho Jason Pinter and we were set. The theoretical story would also feature teases for both Silent City and New Yorked, serving as a teaser trailer for our debuts.

Now we just had to write the damn thing. A little crime caper that would eventually become Bad Beat.

Collaboration is always where things get interesting. Everyone, in theory, likes the idea of working with another creative person. But the fact is, writing is a solitary and personal thing, at least when it comes to novels and prose. Luckily, Rob and I both come from a journalistic background. I’ve also written a bunch of comics - we were used to getting feedback and adapting to hit a larger goal. We’re also both kind of workaholics. The ideas flowed easily and the writing happened fast, creating a final product that was unique and gave a fair share of screen time to both Ash and Pete, allowing readers a peek into their lives before New Yorked and Silent City. Most importantly, aside from making the work good, was that the story counted - it’s an essential and important chapter in Ash and Pete’s lives - and made for a tasty appetizer to fans that might be interested in reading their ongoing adventures.

Bad Beat is a dark, dirty short pulled from the New Jersey gutters that features backroom deals, old friends, kidnapping and the dark side of college football - all told through the prism of Ash and Pete’s first meeting. I guess “first” implies there’ll be more…

We wrangled fellow Polis author Dave White (pre-order An Empty Hell!) to serve as DSD’s own James Lipton for a quick interview with Rob and I. Hope you enjoy.

Dave: So, how did the idea for Bad Beat come around?

Alex: It was pretty organic. Rob and I had dinner and were talking shop, which veered into comic books. We both grew up reading comics and I work in the industry, too. We were going on about how cool crossovers were, and we wondered aloud why that didn't happen much with mysteries. Then we started theorizing about having our characters interact and it grew from there. We pitched Jason Pinter, our publisher at Polis Books, on the idea and away we went.

Rob: I sort of assumed it wouldn't happen! Alex and I are both pretty busy with our day jobs, and most things sound good over a couple of drinks (I'm sure I had a couple of drinks). But it turned out, we're pretty simpatico on a lot of things, in terms of process, and keeping our egos in check. That helped keep things moving.

Having already read Silent City and New Yorked, it strikes me that Ash McKenna and Pete Fernandez are very different protagonists.  Did their differences help or hinder the story coming together?

Rob: The difference between Ash and Pete is what makes it work. If they were too similar, there wouldn't be anything for them to do. It'd be two tough guys posturing the whole time, or two quieter guys unwilling to make a bold move. Ash likes to hit things. Pete likes to think things through. They compliment each other well.

Alex: I think it helped. They provide contrast to each other. We'll get into the timeline of it all later, but when you see Pete in this story, he's very different. Kind of proto-Pete in relation to Silent City and its sequel, Down the Darkest Street. So, having Ash, who's more of a bruiser and less emo than Pete really helped propel the story, and hopefully it worked the other way, too. I had a fun time writing Ash - and it really did have the same feel as those older Marvel comics, where the heroes meet, disagree/fight, then join forces against a common enemy. Plus football.

Where in the chronology of your two books does Bad Beat come into play?  Was it more difficult getting into your characters' mindsets at that point in their lives?

Alex: The story happens before our first novels - Silent City for me, New Yorked for Rob. So, it serves as a prequel. You meet Pete before he moves back to Miami - and you get a sense for how bad things have gotten for him.

I liked zooming out a bit and writing an earlier version of Pete - I wrote a short story that ran in Crimespree Magazine called "Quarters for the Meter" that happened shortly after Pete returned, involving Pete, his best friend Mike and a robbery, but it was fun to really explore the world he lived in prior to Silent City. I felt like there was a lot of room to play that I hadn't expected.

Rob: Writing Ash before New Yorked was fun. Because New Yorked was about him accepting things about himself--he needed to grow up, he needed to be less of an idiot. So I got to go back to him as an immature idiot, which was a good bit of fun.

Rob, in the announcement interview on LitReactor, you talked a bit about having concerns with third person, which you eventually overcame. Were there any moments where you two really had to discuss and compromise on a story point?  How did you deal with it?

Rob: I don't think we had any big objections. We're both former journalists, so we're both used to getting edited. I think early on we promised each other there'd be no egos--the story has to win. A few times we had to look at whether something was working, but we were never far from a solution.

Alex: The only disagreement I remember was so minor it’s not really even worth a mention. The whole process was painless, which I didn’t expect - not because it was Rob, but because collaborating is like being roommates with someone, in a weird way - you get a peek under the hood that you wouldn’t normally get as friends or colleagues. But it was totally fine, and elevated both of us a bit, I think.

Both of you really get into a strong sense of place in your books.  Is the setting in Bad Beat different for either of you?  Was switching locales tricky?  

Alex: It definitely involved more research. But even writing about Miami, I find I have to double-check stuff to make sure I'm not completely off, or writing from memories that are no longer relevant. The fact that we were writing a story set in Jersey, near Rutgers, makes me wonder if Jackson Donne was around at all. Sequel, perhaps?

Rob: I had fun writing about Jersey because Jersey is the worst and it was important for me to convey that. I hope I did!

Okay, lightning round.  Rob, your second Ash McKenna book is City of Rose, and Alex, you have two books out in the next few months in Silent City and Down the Darkest Street.  Give me the elevator pitches for both, and how (if at all) they tie into Bad Beat.

Alex: In Silent City, we meet down-on-his-luck journalist Pete Fernandez. His fiancé’s ditched him, his father's died and he's on the brink of unemployment. He's also drinking himself sick. When a colleague asks him to help find his missing daughter, Pete's dragged into a dark, unexplored corner of the Miami underworld that involves an urban legend known as the Silent Death - one that turns out to be much deadlier than anyone anticipated. Down the Darkest Street jumps forward, and we find Pete trying to get his life in order after the tragic events of Silent City. But just as Pete starts to create some semblance of an existence together, he finds himself forced to investigate a series of grisly murders - pitting Pete against true darkness when he's most vulnerable. Bad Beat really gets the ball rolling for both of these books and serves as a nice primer for both characters, I think. It's really smart marketing by Polis - you can pick up the story and then read the first two chapters of Silent City and New Yorked - a perfect teaser to get tapped into these two PI series.

Rob: In City of Rose, Ash has moved to Portland. He's working as a bouncer in a vegan strip club. One of the dancers tries to hire him--her daughter has gone missing. He refuses to take the job, because he's in a place where he's trying to avoid his past habits. Later that evening a guy in a chicken mask throws him in a trunk, holds a gun to his head, and tells him to stay away from the girls. That just serves to piss him off. So he takes the job and then things get bad. Because it's Ash, and he's not nearly as clever as he thinks he is.

He does meet with a journalist and I was going to work in a joke about Pete and like a dummy I forgot and it's already gone to press. Sorry, Alex. :(

Alex: Dammit, Rob. I did manage to tweak something in Silent City to reference Ash - so there’s that.

Please write a 70,000 word essay on how awesome Dave White is.

Alex: No. But Dave, lemme ask you - if you could cross Jackson Donne with any other writer's protagonist, who would it be?

Rob: Yeah. Just don't say Bryon. No one needs that.

I always thought Donne would get a lot out of a long sit down with Spenser.  Kind of a "Shut up and figure out your shit" talk from an east coast master.  As a more contemporary team-up?  Donne would fall right in line with Todd Robinson's Boo and Junior, who'd essentially run roughshod over Donne so he'd have no choice but to get caught up in whatever hi jinx they'd gotten themselves into this time.  Donne follows and then tries to catch up and take the lead at the end.

Alex: Dude - I was totally setting you up to say Ash and Pete. Sigh.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Josh Stallings - The Young Americans Interview

By Holly West

If you haven't heard me singing Josh Stallings' praises, then clearly, you haven't been listening. He's one of my favorite people and is truly one of my greatest allies in the writing biz. His new book, YOUNG AMERICANS, is an entertaining romp through the 1970s world of glitter rock and stars a former petty thief named Sam who must return to her crime-committing roots when her new boyfriend double-crosses her boss at the strip club she's now dancing at to make ends meet. To pay him off, she plans a heist with her old crew. They're a group of engaging misfits on the verge of adulthood, looking into the abyss and not sure if they're ready to make the leap. Why not knock off a popular San Francisco disco on New Year's Eve? It beats growing up.

I always enjoy my conversations with Josh and thought you would, too. There's some wisdom here, folks. You'll want to take heed. This is my last post of 2015 and I can't think of a better person to spend it with.

HW: YOUNG AMERICANS is a departure from your Moses McGuire series and somewhat of a shift in sub-genre, but the writing is pure Josh Stallings: unflinching, unapologetic, and painfully authentic. Judging from your memoir, ALL THE WILD CHILDREN, there are also more than a few autobiographical elements. Tell us a little bit about the novel and why you chose to write it.

JS: In some ways it’s a classic heist novel, in others, a 1970’s coming of age novel. What it ain’t is hard boiled. The Moses trilogy dealt with a deepening darkness as I explored the harsh world of sex for sale, and the price we extort from women for the crime of being female. The farther my research, (interviews, first source documents, life) took me the angrier the books got. And that was right and true, rage is the correct response to that world. By the end of ONE MORE BODY, both Moses and I were beat to hell. In between books 2 and 3 I wrote a cathartic but hard memoir. So four books into my career I needed to lighten the hell up. I had no idea what that meant.

I was recouping at my brother Larkin’s home on Martha’s Vineyard. Eating fish stew, drinking coffee, chatting and laughing with our wives. I was walking in the woods, not thinking about writing when three words came to me. Disco. Heist. Novel. It made me smile, and that was good.

I was a glitter (or glam) rock teenager. So if I was going to write about a disco heist it wouldn’t be the macho world of Saturday Night Fever. My girlfriend and I used to go dancing in San Fransisco’s club City, a huge crazy circus of a gay disco. So as I played with the idea I started to see the world slipping into rough focus. I don’t plot a book out, the story comes in pieces from the world and the characters. For the FEEDING KATE anthology, I wrote a 6,600 word short story version of YOUNG AMERICANS. It was a test case, I needed to see if it would keep my interest for over a year of writing. This is the first time I’ve done this, but it was a proof of concept that convinced me to go forward.

This novel is dedicated to Tad Williams, my running mate from those days. Tad called YOUNG AMERICANS “a funny, violent cracked mirror of our past.” True. And yet it is fiction. It is a pure lie used to tell truth. But isn’t that what we do as writers?

Tad also said, “You’re like me, a fucking romantic. Half a step away from completely delusional.” And that is also true. I wanted to write a book that has unabashedly and unapologetic romantic moments, ones that didn’t end in guilt, regret or gunfire.

HW: Anyone who has read your books knows you value truth, no matter how brutal it might be. Do you ever feel tempted to pull some of those punches? What keeps you so honest?

JS: As a young man I wrote a couple of low budget screenplays and did some slightly larger script doctor work. Except for the film I directed, the others were all compromises. I wasn’t proud of the work, and I shouldn’t have been. When I started writing fiction I decided regardless of what others thought, I would not lie again. I feel less dirty that way.

I tried once to soften a scene in the final edit of ALL THE WILD CHILDREN. I had had a painful dust up with my mother over the book, and I let that conflict influence me. Erika, my wife, first reader, co-editor and partner in crime, blasted me for changing it. We both felt the book needed to be true to the me who wrote the first draft. She keeps me honest. I can’t want to make my mother, or my wife, or an agent approve of me through my writing. That will guarantee crap. My voice as an author can’t survive me trying to bullshit. The truth is all I have. I have heard from several readers that the memoir is their story, the facts are different, but the essential truths match their lives.

HW: You’re a film editor by trade—specifically, movie trailers, which require you to distill the plot of a given film to a minute or two, highlight key scenes and in general, tempt audiences to flock to see the movie. Are any of these skills useful in plotting your novels?

JS: Trailers have influenced my sense of pace and rhythm. Editing is story telling. I cut a film in Russia, at Mosfilm, the birthplace of editing theory. Vsevolod Pudovkin had revolutionary ideas about structure. While his cohorts used montage to show a bigger picture of an event, Pudovkin discovered that the order of shots changed their meaning. A shot of a kitten, cut to a man looking, and the viewer will imbue the actor with a warm feeling. Our brains search for connections. This is why we don’t need to handhold viewers or readers. Put the sequence in the right order and you don’t need to tell them how to feel about it. Fuck, this makes me sound smart and methodical. I know all this crap, but when I write I just type the damn story.

HW: Now for some questions about the publishing biz. Like the Moses McGuire novels, you chose to self-publish YOUNG AMERICANS, but this time you did a few things differently, like hiring a publicist. What have you learned from enlisting the help of professionals—particularly in the area of PR/Marketing—that you wish you’d have known when you published your earlier books?

JS: YOUNG AMERICANS is a bigger, more broadly appealing book than my earlier work. I knew I was going to need help to get it to the right reviewers and get noticed in the general mystery community. I got lucky that Erin Mitchell believed in the book enough to come on board to handle publicity and so much more. She has taught me really important lessons, like if it takes more than one click to get somewhere on a web site people leave. Attention spans are short, so before any marketing happens you need to be sure readers have a place to click. Erin set up pre-sales on Amazon. I’m sold in a couple of great bookstores, with Erin we’re trying to expand that.

The NY Times isn’t ready to start reviewing indie writers. Oprah isn’t putting us on her book list. Hell, as it stands right now I’m not eligible to join Mystery Writers of America, regardless of how many books I sell, or awards I’m nominated for. So if I want to compete, I need to get professionals to help.

HW: Having self-published several books, you likely have some tips for those of us who haven’t yet done it. Care to share a few?

JS: Readers deserve your best possible book, so hire a great editor. Elizabeth A. White gets my facts straight and the story clean. Between her and Erika, they eradicate most of my dyslexia.

Get a professional to design your print and ebooks. Yes, a lot of programs can spit out an ebook, but they are clunky and inelegant. I use Jaye Manus. She thinks about book design the way I think about prose.

People judge books by their covers. The Moses books I designed myself. I knew how I wanted them to look. They were based on the covers of poet Richard Brautigan’s books. I also wanted the covers to show a progression. BEAUTIFUL, NAKED & DEAD is a woman’s faceless, near naked body. OUT THERE BAD is a fully dressed woman with her head down, no face. ONE MORE BODY is a woman aiming a gun at the camera, staring us down, taking no shit. Eric Beetner designed the cover for ALL THE WILD CHILDREN, he’s brilliant.

For YOUNG AMERICANS I knew I needed a totally new look and feel. I used Deviant Art and a couple of other sites to look for an artist. I had to convince Chungkong to do a book cover, but damn I’m glad I did.

The last thing is the title. The first Moses book was originally titled PRICE OF LOVE, before book editor/writer Deborah Beale, said unless it is a romance novel, change the title. Now I always write up five or six titles and send them to my trusted writers and readers for feed back.

HW: What’s next for you?

JS: My next book is at least a year out. It’s a multi-generational tale about a family of East LA cops. My short story in PROTECTORS 2: HEROES anthology, "When the Hammer Comes Down," is part of the new book’s world. "As is The Ledge," a piece I wrote for Jay Stringer’s upcoming anthology of stories based on songs by the Replacements. I am as proud of those two short stories as anything I’ve ever written. Beyond that, I need to put my head down and pound those keys.

HW: One last thing. What are you reading now?

JS: I'm alternating between the fucking amazing HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN by James Lee Burke and the ridiculously wicked, Thuglit presents: CRUEL YULE.


Josh Stallings is the author of YOUNG AMERICANS, the Anthony Award nominated memoir, ALL THE WILD CHILDREN and the multiple award winning Moses McGuire crime novels. His short fiction has appeared in Beat to a Pulp, Protectors Anthologies 1 & 2, Blood and Tacos, Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey and more. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Erika, two dogs and a cat named Riddle. 


I'll be back on January 6, 2016. Wishing all of you a happy holiday season.

~ Holly

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Detective's Eye, the Criminal's Eye

by Scott Adlerberg

When you write a crime story, do you write it from the detective’s point of view or the criminal’s? It’s a question worth asking because, speaking broadly, most crime fiction tends to be told from one of these two perspectives. You get the bulk of the story from the police/detective/law enforcement side or from the transgressor’s side. There are myriad variations on these frames of reference, but let's face it, most crime writers tack one way or the other. In police procedurals, private eye novels, cozies, and classically styled detective stories, the general thrust of the story leans toward order and rationality. There may be moral complexity and violence, there may be difficult choices for the investigator to make, and in this day and age, endings may not be as tidy as they once were. Still, there is a basic sense that to mystery and disruption, at least a modicum of closure and balance will be restored to the world. In noir fiction, or any crime fiction emphasizing the criminal's side, you get the opposite. Disorder and irrationality rule the day, and there's no guarantee that anything will be resolved or orderly when the story wraps up. Detective-eye fiction leaves the reader comforted to some extent (a mystery has been solved, a problem explained, a wrongdoer caught, etc); criminal-eye fiction aims to leave the reader unsettled and disturbed. Process and intellect triumph in detective-eye fiction. Chaos and malignancy trump reason in criminal-eye fiction.

For whatever reason, most crime writers favor one of these two approaches.  Most write either type a majority of the time.  I guess which type a writer prefers says something about their psychology and their outlook on the world, but there are some writers who do both types and do them equally well. They can alternate between the detective eye and the criminal eye. Neither viewpoint seems foreign to them. What I want to do here is point out a few writers I've read who excel in this regard; they are writers I marvel at for their ability to inhabit entirely different writing personas depending on what they want to depict.

To start with: Edgar Allan Poe

Old E.A. Poe.  You have to start with this bipolar individual. On the one hand, you have the murderous I-narrators of “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat”; on the other, C. Auguste Dupin, the model for so many later detectives. And Poe's utterly convincing whether presenting his criminal madmen or the logic-machine Dupin. The crime tales move from instability to utter derangement; the mysteries like “The Purloined Letter” and “Murders in the Rue Morgue” go from bafflement and terror to lucid explanation. The mind of Poe is a never-ending source of fascination, at least to me, and it’s partly because he was able to access such completely different parts of his brain to write his various tales.

Georges Simenon

One of the most prolific authors who ever lived, Georges Simenon gave us, of course, Inspector Maigret. The Paris-based policeman has a stable home life with his devoted wife, and he’s known for his steadfast patience when pursuing a case. Unlike Dupin and many other detectives, he works more from intuition than sheer logic. He soaks up atmosphere at a crime scene and even mingles with suspects. He hangs out in the milieu the victim inhabited, embedding himself in that specific world. For Maigret, understanding the psychology behind a crime, the motives involved, is quite important. As such, he often wades through the darkest of waters. He finds himself lost. But inevitably he makes a connection that gives him insight, and that insight leads him to a solution.  In each, through the inspector, you get a glimpse into human desperation and darkness, but by the story’s conclusion, the culprit has been captured or killed and the reasons behind the malevolent actions elucidated. Best of all, Maigret can return to his comfortable Parisian flat, where Madame Maigret has made a great meal and he can smoke his pipe in peace.

The other Georges Simenon writes roman durs (hard novels). These are explicitly psychological novels that are quite serious and dark in tone. While Simenon said that he wrote the Maigret books as a way to relax, the roman durs demanded total concentration from him. All are short, no more than 200 pages, and intense. They dissect the routines of daily existence with an understanding of the difficulty and pain people go through merely to carry on each day. In these books, Simenon burrows deeply into people with psychological hang-ups and problems, and often he studies the sticky, tangled relationships between men and women. Crimes happen in these books, lots of them, and when they do, the focus is on the people who committed them and why they committed them. While the Maigret books are perennially popular, the roman durs are the books that have made Simenon’s literary reputation. I haven’t read all of them, but the ones I have read – November, The Mad Hatter’s Phantoms, The Clockmaker, Red Lights, Betty – are excellent. He wrote a bunch of others, and for those who are interested in seeking them out, I recommend the reissues from the NY Review of Books Classics imprint.

Ruth Rendell.

British writer Ruth Rendell followed no less than three strands of crime during her career.  The detective-eye side of her writes procedurals featuring her policeman, Chief Inspector Wexford.  In the fictional town of Kingsmarkham, he and his main assistant, Detective Mike Burden, solve all manner of cases.  Wexford is married and has two daughters, and as the series progresses, we get as clear a sense of his family life as we do the cases he investigates. There is nothing cozy about these books - they confront horrible deeds and deep-rooted social ills - but in each one, Wexford and his colleagues succeed.  They tie up their cases.  In classical fashion, a feeling of order, however temporary, prevails.  Rendell wrote 24 Wexfords, and the quality of the series is very high. Favorites of mine from the ones I read: Kissing the Gunner's Daughter and Simisola.

Rendell’s standalone novels are something else entirely. She wrote 28 of these, and in them, abnormal psychology reins. Rendell is an absolute master at portraying damaged people from inside out, people who are social misfits, suffer from mental illness and have experienced every conceivable sort of disadvantage. Obsession in various guises is a key ingredient in these books, as is the difficulty of human communication. Rendell is cool in her approach, yet understanding of nearly everyone, victims and victimizers alike, and it is with these psychological thrillers that Rendell has taken the whydunit and worked inventive wonders with it.

After writing these books for twenty years (alternating them with the Wexford mysteries), Rendell in 1986 started a third line of books under the name Barbara Vine. The Vine novels (there are 14 of these) tend to be longer and more leisurely paced than the Rendell standalones, but in the Vine books also, the emphasis is on psychology and dysfunctional human interaction, with particular attention devoted to families and their secrets. Just about no psychological depth is too deep for Rendell/Vine to probe, and if I had to name a few must-reads among these, I’d name The Crocodile BirdA Dark-Adapted EyeA Sight for Sore Eyes, and A Fatal Inversion

Poe, Simenon, Rendell - three particular favorites of mine who are equally at home looking at things from the detective's vantage point or the criminal's.  It's a great ability to have.  Crime writing switch hitting, in effect.  

Who are some writers you like who switch from book to book between the detective's eye and the criminal's eye?

Monday, December 14, 2015

New to me authors - 2015

I like discovering new to me authors. This may mean taking a chance on a debut book, or finally getting around to reading an author I'd long been aware of, or reading an author whose work I'd known about sooner.

This year almost half of the books that I read were by new to me authors. In no particular order, here they are:

  • Yuri Herrera
  • Iain Ryan
  • Kat Clay
  • Adam Howe
  • Paul Magrs
  • Jonathan Ashley
  • Colin Winnette
  • Timothy Friend
  • William Giraldi
  • Clifford Jackman
  • H. A. DeRosso
  • Farel Dalrymple
  • Ryan W. Bradley
  • Marlon James
  • John Darnielle
  • Brian Turner
  • William Cunningham
  • Kenneth Mark Hoover
  • Andy Adams
  • Eric Shonkwiler
  • Lonesome Wyatt
  • Kirsten Alene
  • Glendon Swarthout
  • Alan Lemay
  • Elmer Kelton
  • Clifton Adams
  • Charles Neider
  • Conrad Richter
  • Eric Norden
  • Lewis B. Patten
  • Charles O Locke

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dear Diary

by Kristi Belcamino

For as long as I can remember I've kept a journal.

I have a footlocker full of my ramblings that dates back decades.

If I die young, God forbid my family reads them and sees what I've really been thinking this entire time! Ha. Or that my children see just how wild I was in my younger days. It is a private place where I can voice my thoughts at that moment, where I can write about my dreams and inspirations and goals. It is the most secret and sacred space in my life.

Keeping journals over the years also prepared me to write my first book, Blessed are the Dead, in my forties.

I can't imagine being a writer without having journaled my entire life.

Even now, I always have a Moleskine journal in my bag, where I make lists, write down story ideas, keep track of my goals and dreams, and generally bitch about things that piss me off.

When I wrote my YA mystery, CITY OF ANGELS, set in LA during the riots, I drew upon my memories from my journal at that time.

When I look back at old journals, I see that ideas I had about novels ended up in those books without me ever looking back at what I had written.

There is magic in writing things down.

Some bestselling writers believe you should actually journal about what you are going to write about that day before you actually sit down to write.

Do you keep a journal?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Favorites of 2015

Scott D. Parker

Well, everyone seems to be in the mood for year-end best-of lists so I thought I’d join. Thing is, I didn’t read nearly as many books as I thought I did. Bummer. I plan on reading more in 2016.


Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush - Jon Meacham - I’m not finished yet, but I am really loving this biography.

Canary - Duane Swierczynki

The Thief - Clive Cussler

Concrete Angel - Patricia Abbott

Take Off Your Pants - Libbie Hawker

Raging Heat - Richard Castle


“Uptown Funk” - Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars - Bar none, the absolute favorite thing I listened all year this year. I have this song on constant rotation. At least once a week.

Songs in the Key of Life - Yo Yo Ma and Kathyrn Stott

Absolute Jest - John Adams

Sonic Highway - Foo Fighters

Tower of Power (1973)

Old New Borrowed and Blue - Slade


The Flash - Bar none, the absolute favorite thing I watched all year this year. I was a late comer to the show, having only watched it last spring, but quickly binged and got up-to-speed. Now, I can’t wait for Tuesdays to roll around. The season 1 finale had it all.




The Big Bang Theory (watching the entire series in order)


Star Wars: The Force Awakens (come on, is there any doubt this’ll be my fav film of the year?)

Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation

Jurassic World


Inside Out



Fat Man on Batman - Still my perennial favorite

I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere

Pod of Thunder (KISS podcast)

Hollywood Babble On


The Nerdist

Pods and Sods

Friday, December 11, 2015

Get through the haze

For the second time in two months I am sick-as-a-dog sick. Scrolling through my Facebook today, I was reminded that just one month ago I was so sick I lost my voice, and here we are again. Between upper respiratory Hell, I had one of the longest and most unforgiving bouts of insomnia I've ever dealt with. My desire is to hire someone to keep passing hot toddies under my fuzziest blanket while I sleep for a couple months, but it turns out I can't afford it.

Money aside, what do writers do? We write. If we keep making excuses not to, we turn into those annoying people who post silly memes about "what it is like" to be a writer even though they never publish anything, anywhere.

Get it? Because we google weird stuff? HA. HA.
The problem with writing versus filing papers or marathoning Netflix is that it requires some semblance of concentration. If you can't think straight, you can't write. So what do we do when there's a genuine issue keeping our brains mushy?

I want to note that I didn't say "writer's block" and I didn't mean "writer's block." Are there times when it is difficult to be creative? Of course there are - but there's usually an underlying reason. If there isn't any underlying reason for your failure to write, the reason is - you don't want to. 

If you want to write, or you need to because you have made some kind of commitment, writer's block isn't an option. So what do you do?

1. Get some fucking sleep.

I know it sounds obvious but I always have a big crash after a large project and I almost always get sick. Stressing the body out for days or weeks at a time and not expecting to end up hacking something up is a fatal error. Once you deprive your body of sleep for an extended period of time, you'll get trapped in a vicious insomnia cycle, and you'll only compound the problem. 

Do whatever you need to do to get some sleep. Long soak in a hot bath, a nightcap, a sleeping pill, reading transcripts from C-SPAN - just do it. If your work schedule or other responsibilities keeps you from sleeping in, do yourself a favor and go to bed at your first yawn for a few nights in a row. Just get some fucking sleep. You aren't going to write a masterpiece while dozing off on your computer and drooling on the spacebar.

2. Go outside

No really. Get your ass outside into the sunshine, or at least the cool night air. Breathe in some air that hasn't been recirculated. Even if you feel like death itself, a change of scenery and some good old fashioned fresh air can work miracles. If the thing keeping you from focusing isn't physical, get some exercise. Even if it's just a quick walk around the block, you'll get the creak in your knees to loosen up and feel a refreshed. Exercising the body works wonders for waking the brain up. Plus, if you're outside it's harder to post stupid writer memes.

3. Find a nonjudgemental person and complain

Whatever it is fogging your brain - personal issues, hacking up a lung, a kid that won't sleep through the night - find someone who is willing to listen to you whine about it, and whine. People may tell you that complaining doesn't change anything, but once you've word vomited it out to a trusted friend, it becomes easier to focus on other things. Being mentally, physically, or emotionally exhausted is a heavy burden to carry, and most of us take a certain amount of pride in carrying it alone - but if you're ill or you have to put the family pet down, those issues take up space in your brain and keep you from setting your laser focus on the task at hand.

4. Sit the fuck down

My number one piece of advice for hitting a deadline or getting a jump start on a personal project? Sit the fuck down and just do it. Maybe the first five times you write the first paragraph it's the worst thing you've ever written - fine. Who cares? Because once you sit down and tell yourself not writing is not an option, you'll start lighting up the areas of the brain that make the writing happen, and telling the parts of the brain that would rather you watch Parks & Rec on Netflix for the fourth time to shut up.

You know how I know this works? 

I didn't have an idea what I would write for this week's blog two hours ago. I went a little off course of my own advice and did my complaining here at the start, rather than complaining to a live human - but I've done both in the past and one works as well as the other if you can work in the other three. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Art Taylor Interview

By Steve Weddle

By the time you read this, author Art Taylor has likely overtaken drummer Art Taylor on internet searches.

This week Kirkus Reviews called Taylor's On the Road with Del & Louise one of the year's promising debuts. (They also had high praise for the newest from our own John McFetridge.)

As for Official Art Taylor stuff, here you go: Taylor's short stories have won two Agatha Awards, the Macavity Award, an Anthony Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards. His fiction has appeared frequently in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,

On the Road with Del and Louise is Taylor's first book, a novel in stories.
Del’s a small time crook with a moral conscience—robbing convenience stores only for tuition and academic expenses. Brash and sassy Louise goes from being a holdup victim to Del’s lover and accomplice. All they want is a fresh start, an honest life, and a chance to build a family together, but fate conspires to put ever-steeper challenges in their path—and escalating temptations, too.
A real estate scam in recession-blighted Southern California. A wine heist in Napa Valley. A Vegas wedding chapel holdup. A kidnapping in an oil-rich North Dakota boomtown. Can Del and Louise stay on the right side of the law? On one another’s good side? And when they head back to Louise’s hometown in North Carolina, what new trouble will prove the biggest: Louise’s nagging mama or a hidden adversary seemingly intent on tearing the couple apart? Or could those be one and the same? 
I recently caught up with Art Taylor at a rest stop east of Lexington. Well, I was at the rest stop, because of some questionable dietary choices (Chicken Florentine, "Mama's Egg Nog," etc) I'd made a few hours earlier at a place that used to be a Texaco but is now just called "The Gas Up." I don't know where Art Taylor was, but he was somewhere answering my emails. It went something like this--

DSD: Donna Andrews said your book was “warm yet unsentimental.” That seems a difficult balance. How do you manage that?

Art Taylor: I appreciate Donna saying that—and I hope she’s right, because it does indeed strike me as a difficult balance, and I’m not sure how well I pulled it off. I do hope that readers will feel the same warmth and affection for Del and Louise as I felt myself—I like them, and I’m rooting for them—but I think it’s awfully easy for affection and admiration to veer into sentimentality. I often stress to students in the fiction workshops I lead at George Mason that we want to keep overt emotions off the page as much as possible—that such moves risk being shrill or maudlin or melodramatic or whatever, ultimately alienating readers; instead (I tell them) we simply need to leave space for the reader to project his or her own emotions into a situation—sketch out the situation objectively enough but clearly enough that some emotional response is sparked. Warmth for characters, coldness of artistic approach—that subjectivity and objectivity in equal measure, I guess. Again, I’m not sure I pull it off well, but I appreciate Donna’s own warmth and generosity with her assessment.

DSD:  Why did you choose this form for this book? Why not a more standard novel?

AT: The “novel in stories” approach wasn’t entirely a choice—not in the sense that I had planned this project in full from the start. “Rearview Mirror,” the first story in the book, was originally intended as a standalone story: Del, a small-time crook, and his lover Louise on the road after a final heist and en route to an honest life—but at the same time struggling with one another about whether to splurge a little with that big windfall or save it all, an investment for the future. The couple found themselves at a crossroads (to keep that road metaphor alive a little), and that single story resolves whether they’re going to stay together or part ways. Where they are at the end of the tale seemed to me a fully resolved—a happily-ever-after kind of ending.

But after a couple of years, I began to wonder what did happen at that next stop of theirs—the start of that honest life. I liked Louise as a narrator, liked her voice, and I found myself percolating over their life beyond the end of the story. One thing led to another, and I’d ended up writing another adventure, with notes toward a third stop too. The more I considered their lives, the more I realized that these individual adventures were indeed simply legs on a longer journey—toward each of them understanding themselves more, toward figuring out their relationship, toward that search for family and for home.

I think better at the length of the short story—I can keep it all in my head while I construct it, and I can handle the structure and the pacing more easily than a longer narrative. But I liked the idea of using those short stories as building blocks toward a bigger story, and I hope that it worked, the way I stumbled into it all.

DSD: What is it about these characters that makes them interesting for you, as a writer?

AT: Louise’s voice was always one of the biggest draw for me. I’m not entirely sure where that voice came from—where she came from—but I liked her attitude, her perspective, that sassiness and that heart. Del may be the one literally behind the wheel, but Louise's voice drives the story, every step of the way.

Beyond that, however, the question of morals fascinated me. Del’s a criminal, and Louise has no hesitation about being part of the criminal lifestyle, but they also have a complex approach to right and wrong, and the question of ethics dominates their actions with greater intensity as each story unfolds; by “The Chill”—for me the make-or-break story here—Louise wonders openly about the cost of their misdeeds, about how their crimes may be catching up to them. I hesitate to say that the stories become more philosophical, but there is indeed some hint of existential querying here, some sense of ethical dilemma, and for me, those dilemmas and that querying prove pivotal.

DSD: In a recent interview, Ian Rankin said he begins with what he calls "themes" --
"My books begin with a theme that I want to explore or a question I want to find an answer to. It can be something like racism, xenophobia, human trafficking, immigration."

Whether topics or themes, most of the old masters of crime fiction worked with recurring themes in their stories. Loyalty. Isolation. Greed. I'm thinking about Hammett and Chandler here, though similar themes appear in much of the great crime fiction. Agatha Christie works with this pallete, plus the idea that anyone who has traveled to India is likely the killer, of course. Do you find yourself coming back to some of the same themes from story to story? Do you find yourself revisiting topics? If so, how do keep these themes from becoming tropes?

Art Taylor
AT: I always enjoy writers who set out to tackle big themes in their work—search out and provide deeper insights on some aspect of the wider world and pervasive troubles. One of my own favorite mystery writers, Margaret Maron, has devoted novels to various social and economic issues of concern to her native North Carolina: racism, gender prejudices, real estate overdevelopment and the loss of agrarian traditions, the plight of an aging population.

But I have to admit that I’ve generally tried to avoid in my own work writing toward such themes—and I regularly caution writers in my student workshops at George Mason University from starting with a theme themselves in their fiction (instead of starting with character, situation, conflict). I think it’s too easy, when starting with theme, to end up writing toward our beliefs on a theme or issue instead of illuminating that theme/issue in its full complexity—too easy to become didactic or preachy. At the very least, I’ve feared that for myself.

Let me stress, however, that I do think writers can accomplish great things working like Rankin says he does—but I also think powerful themes can evolve out of character and situation and plot. It’s that latter that seems to me the better path maybe. I think back to some of the power of Eudora Welty’s writing and her own comments about writing toward a theme. Here’s how she answered a question about all that in the book Mississippi Writers Talking: "I think that would’ve paralyzed me. No, the thing at hand is the one…. I didn’t have an overall idea about working toward something. I think such things evolve of themselves out of the work. It sort of teaches you as you go. You learn what you’re writing about, in one sense, through the work.”

In my own work, I do see certain themes recurring—more general than specific maybe. My characters are generally struggling with relationship questions, whether in terms of romance, friendship, or family: the responsibilities at the heart of being in a relationship, in conflict often with other responsibilities, whether relationships in other directions or responsibility to self or to some point of integrity. Many possibilities for missteps, for betrayal, and it’s those conflicts, those moments, that I seem to keep gravitating toward—even as I feel like I’m always starting out crafting unique characters and unexpected situations or whatever.

DSD: Many authors avoid social media. Many authors use social media to do little more than share positive reviews of their own work. Do you find social media helpful to authors in general? To you in particular?

AT: I’ve always enjoyed Facebook in particular for connections and for conversation—with friends and fellow writers and now, suddenly, increasingly, with readers too (a new development with the book). I worry with these new developments, especially around launch week back in September, that my posts have become too promotional at times. What’s the line between sharing good news with friends and promoting your work to potential buyers? It’s a fine one, and I’ve caught myself thinking more about when I’m oversharing stuff about myself.

To my mind, to echo my earlier phrase, I think that the first goal should be connection and conversation, not promotion, and I’ve tried to limit things like “buy links” (Amazon, whatever) to my author page, where I feel like it’s more acceptable. And even then, I have no clue how such overtly promotional efforts might impact sales or other kinds of success—no faith that it will and no disappointment either if it doesn't. (And overall, my bigger concern is how much Facebook and social media in general becomes a distraction—eating away at focus and writing time.)

DSD: In talking about short stories, I’ve begun to think of ‘conflict’ as the most important element, at least on the structural side of things. Conflict causes tension, of course, but it also induces movement. For you, what are the most important elements in successful storytelling?

AT: The genesis of most of my stories lies in character or situation—not in a fully mapped-out plot. In fact, with one of the first of my stories that got big recognition, "A Voice from the Past," I wrote half of it following through on a situation and then had no idea what to do next. I ended up just setting it aside for a couple of years, letting it sit, letting the ideas sit, and then diving back in with fresh perspective on how the conflict might escalate.

I emphasize that story to separate out where stories start for me and where they have to go. I don't chart out plots as part of my prep in the classical sense that we might study plot in the classroom (rising action, climax, denouement, whatever), but I do think about such peaks, locate and analyze them, between draft and revision: where a story moves, where it needs to move, where it falters. That's not to say that every scene should end on a cliffhanger or even that every section of a story has to escalate the stakes somehow. There's a lot that can be accomplished by a reflective pause or by dialogue that's not plot-driven or even by description (whatever Elmore Leonard says about it). But overall, plot and storytelling ultimately go hand in hand for me—plot is the scaffolding on which I hang a lot of other stuff.

DSD: Finally, you've written mostly in the mystery genre. Gun to your head: You have to write a novel in one of the following slots. Which way do you go -- Space Opera, Historical Romance, non-fiction study of the Kardashians?

AT: Space Opera—no hesitation. But I'd want to add some actual opera into it—not just the high adventure and big melodrama, but singing too, you know? Darth Vader could've put that deep baritone to interesting use in a barbershop quartet, after all.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Mystery Community

Guest Post by Matt Coyle

Holly's note: In this post, Matt Coyle talks about the generosity of the mystery community. Of course, he omits references to his own generosity. When I needed blurbs for my second novel, MISTRESS OF LIES, he didn't hesitate to send me one. It felt great to have an Anthony Award winner blurb my book (Matt won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel for YESTERDAY'S ECHO), but mostly it was great to know that I had a friend who believed in paying it forward and giving back. The mystery community is full such people and Matt is one of them. He's never once failed to step up when I've asked him for a favor and I appreciate that.

Here's Matt:

My protagonist, Rick Cahill, is tough, heroic, and a loner. I share one trait with him, the last. I can fake it when I have to and act social. When I go to trade shows and national sales meetings for my day job, I interact socially and am a decent conversationalist. However, as soon as my duties end I head up to my hotel room to read or watch limited channel TV. I’ve never been a joiner and spend most weekend nights home alone or with a friend or two. Large parties make me nervous.

Those of you in the mystery community may be surprised by the above admissions. I’m on the board of SoCalMWA, and am a member of SinCLA, ITW, The Private Eye Writers of America, and The International Association of Crime Writers/NA. I do as many book signings as I can, talk to groups, serve on panels and even moderate at writers conferences. I’m a loud and obnoxious regular at the mystery conference traveling poker game. And none of it is a con, an act, a put on.

The mystery community invited me in and accepted me as one of its own from day one. It started sixteen years ago when I took night writing classes at UC San Diego taught by multi- award winning mystery author Carolyn Wheat. She ripped to shreds the first draft of what became my first book on the class whiteboard weekly. But she also told me that I had something and that I should keep at it. That I’d be published someday.

I met Alan Russell and Ken Kulken at the first writers conference I ever went to, Southern California Writers Conference. They had the misfortune of having to read thirty pages of an early draft of that same first book. They encouraged what strengths they could find and pointed out the weaknesses as required, but they went way beyond. They regularly answered my email enquiries for years to come.

I met Darrell James at Left Coast Crime Los Angeles in 2010, the first mystery writers conference I ever attended. I’d volunteered to work the MWA booth and he was my booth-mate. I was a bit intimated because he was an award winning short story writer with a novel coming out and I was a schmo with a drawer full of rejections. He couldn’t have been nicer or more encouraging.

The next year I met Naomi Hirahara at the California Crime Writers Conference. I was in the bookroom, looking like a lost child, and Naomi introduced herself to me. Wanted to know something about me. An Edgar Award winner introduced herself to me!

Over the years, as an unpublished writer and fan at book signings and conferences, I had the pleasure of meeting many New York Times bestselling mystery writers. Each time I’d see them they’d ask how my writing was going. Many responded to my email inquiries about the business of writing.

I sat at Gar Anthony Haywood’s table at a Men of Mystery years back and he volunteered to look at pages from my first book. The advice he gave me helped shore up an early chapter and put the book on the path to publication.

I’d never met Holly West, but when I asked for her a favor via email she helped me out, which ultimately led to me landing an agent.

When I finally got a book deal and needed to get blurbs, Stephen Jay Schwartz agreed to read the book and blurb it for me. I found out later, and not through Stephen, that he was in the middle of reading 200 books for Anthony Award nominations. I’m still blown away by that act of generosity.

Other writers who I’d only known through brief conversations at their book signings who took the time out of their busy schedules to read my books and blurb them have been: Robert Crais, Hilary Davidson, Dianne Emley, Gar Anthony Haywood, T. Jefferson Parker, and Hank Phillippi Ryan.

David Putnam has become an invaluable source for police research twenty-four hours a day. San Diego mystery super fan Micheal Higginbottom has word-of-mouthed my work and helped me land speaking engagements.

Booksellers at my local independent bookstores, Mysterious Galaxy, Warwick’s, and my home away from home to the north, Book Carnival, have steadfastly promoted my books.

My agent, Kimberley Cameron, and publishers, Bob and Pat Gussin at Oceanview have supported me beyond just a business relationship.

There are dozens and dozens of other people in the mystery community who have helped, and continue to help, me get better at the thing that I love. They have all become a second family to me, a loner who doesn’t join groups.

And the family was never more welcomed than at Bouchercon this year.  My ninety-year-old father had suddenly passed away just days earlier. My first family had gotten together and grieved, but the grieving continued, as it does today. Bouchercon was a respite from the grief where I could be with like-minded people and be myself. My better self, that I’d found over the years by being a part of the mystery community.

So, this is a longwinded way of saying thanks to all those in the mystery community who accept strangers and make them part of the family.

…this doesn’t mean I won’t still be loud and obnoxious at the poker table.


Matt Coyle grew up in Southern California battling his Irish/Portuguese siblings for respect and the best spot on the couch in front of the TV. He knew he wanted to be a writer as a young teen when his father gave him THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER by Raymond Chandler.

It took him a few decades but he finally got there. His debut novel, YESTERDAY’S ECHO, won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, the San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery, the Ben Franklin Silver Award for Best New Voice in Fiction, and was named one of the Best Mysteries of 2013 by DEADLY PLEASURES MYSTERY MAGAZINE. The second book in the Rick Cahill Crime Series, NIGHT TREMORS, came out in June, 2015. Matt lives in San Diego with his Yellow Labrador, Angus where he is currently working on the third Rick Cahill crime novel.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My Favorite Books of the Past Year

by Scott Adlerberg

It's always fun to share thoughts on favorite books, so here are the ones I read the past year and liked the most (whether they were published in 2015 or not).  In no particular order:

The Dead Mountaineers Inn, The Brothers Strugatsky

Russian masters of science fiction The Brothers Strugatsky published this book in 1970, perhaps to get something past the Soviet censors without the struggles they usually encountered.  It's subtitled One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre, and it is in fact a send-up of the classic locked-room, isolated country house murder mystery.  At the same time, it's a terrific whodunnit in its own right, though not without lots of weirdness as you'd only expect from the Strugatsky boys.  Few writers I've encountered can be so silly, thought-provoking, and serious at the same time.  As I write this, I'm actually two thirds way through the novel, and I don't know whether the solution will be rationally based or have a sci-fi tinged solution.  Doesn't matter. Makes my favorite list already for sheer enjoyment.  However the brothers end it, I'm confident the resolution will be satisfying.  Kudos to Melville House for recently putting this out.  This is the book's first appearance in English translation.

The Conjure-Man Dies, Rudolph Fisher

How I never heard till a couple months ago of this influential 1932 novel by Harlem Renaissance writer Rudolph Fisher, I'll never know, but I'm glad I finally discovered it.  Basically, this is the first African-American detective novel ever published in the United States. All the characters are black, and the murder victim is an African-born fortune teller with a Harvard education.  New York Police Detective Perry Dart and his friend, Doctor John Archer, investigate - with help from various neighborhood people.  Witty, twisty, and readable - a huge influence on Chester Himes and the Harlem detective novels he would later write.

Blind Man with a Pistol, Chester Himes

And speaking of Chester Himes, here's one I read for the first time this year, and all I can say is....wow.  Blind Man with a Pistol is the 8th and last completed of his Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson books, and one comes away from reading it realizing Himes was only becoming more and more furious with age. Chaos rules in this novel, a blistering almost absurdist work where violence is rampant and good luck if anything, from minor crimes to murder, gets solved.  The final images of total communication breakdown and a blind man firing a gun in an enclosed space are haunting. Remarkably relevant to today's world.

The Hare, Cesar Aira

One of my favorite living writers, the great Argentinian Cesar Aira is an eccentric master of the absurd.  The Hare is his take on a historical novel, sort of, as it follows Clarke, a 19th century English naturalist, as he explores the pampas and tries to find a legendary hare that supposedly can fly.  Meanwhile, he gets caught up between warring Indian nations...This book is funny and fast-paced, philosophical, a ridiculous adventure story, and gorgeously written (when Aira chooses to go that route, like when he's describing the landscape). I've read three of Aira's books now (the others being The Literary Conference and An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter) and loved each one. Luckily, he's written 50 or 60 other books (all short - he doesn't write epics), and is still going strong at 66 years old.

Little Apple, Leo Perutz

One of the great forgotten writers, Leo Perutz lived from 1882 to 1957.  He was born in Prague and died in an Austrian spa town, and he's been praised by no less than Jorge Borges, Italo Calvino, Graham Greene, and Ian Fleming.  He's a marvelous storyteller who specializes in historical tales that often have a whiff of the fantastic. Little Apple (1928) is a compelling tale set just after World War I about an Austrian soldier who was tortured in a Russian prison camp during the Great War.  When released, he goes back to Vienna and his family.  But he's so bent on avenging himself on the prison camp's commander for the pain the man inflicted that he can't settle back into normal life and goes back to Russia to find and kill his enemy. The search is arduous, though, because Russia is in the midst of a Civil War.  Pure propulsive narrative, with great characters, from start to finish.

House of Psychotic Women, Kier-La Janisse

I actually started this in late 2014 and worked my way through it slowly. But how to describe the book? Maybe in the author's own words. She calls it An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neuroses in Horror and Exploitation Films.  Get the picture?  It's partly a memoir, partly a study of, well, the depiction of female neuroses in...It's also a meditation on the beauty and necessity of horror films, with some of the most insightful writing on gender in the genre I've ever come across.  House of Psychotic Women is a thorny work, and Kier-La Janisse doesn't mince words about the ups and downs she's taken through life.  Here's self-examination via the other in horror and exploitation films with a vengeance.  You'll discover loads of films you didn't know before, and you'll want to re-watch films you thought you understood.

Death Don't Have No Mercy, William Boyle

Eight stories about men who drink too much, have damaged souls, and whose lives, for all purposes, may already be over. None of the main characters is all that old - we're talking about men in their twenties and early thirties - but they've already made a lot of bad choices and they continue to make bad choices. Still, you'll be hard-pressed to encounter more entertaining, compelling fiction about sad people than the fiction you'll find here. Boyle has a style of elegant simplicity that makes for compulsive reading, and his way of evoking place, Brooklyn around Coney Island, upstate New York, a hotel room in Montreal, is impeccable. Environment almost is a separate character in these stories, and you just sink into each specific place as events unfold and lives unravel.  

Picnic at Hanging Rock, Joan Lindsay

While reading, I spent a lot of time in the past this year. Here's another historical novel. If you know the movie, you know the novel's story. For years I'd wanted to catch up with the book, and doing so confirmed how closely Peter Weir's movie follows it.  Still, knowing how everything plays out didn't diminish my pleasure. Smoothly constructed, rich in atmosphere and foreboding, Picnic at Hanging Rock has got to be one of the few books containing mystery that ends without providing answers yet leaves the reader satisfied. Actually, it contains mysteries within mysteries within mysteries.  It's a superb feat of literary tantalization.

Zero Saints, Gabino Iglesias

There's plenty about this book in the previous two posts I did here.  Suffice it to say....it's good.

Safe Inside the Violence by Chris Irvin

Chris Irvin focuses on the unnoticed people in life.  The ones who grind life out with great resolve but little chance of getting recognition.  He's a calm and lucid chronicler of people battling social forces they had no part in creating, and he has a way of telling quiet stories that take unexpected turns.  Safe Inside the Violence is a strong collection that's billed as crime stories, but it really shouldn't be pigeonholed.  Crime plays a part, but conventional tropes do not.  These are closely observed character studies that smolder with tension.  In each story, you get the sense of a writer in full command of his material.

The Blind Alley by Jake Hinkson

Jake Hinkson's idiosyncratic look at film noir is a must for noir buffs and general film lovers alike.  Few people can match him for a combination of knowledge and readability. I've written about this book in depth elsewhere, so I won't repeat myself here, but I'll just say that this is one volume that now has a spot to stay in my film book library.

Some old books, some new books.  What else is new?  There's always that tension between the desire to read past authors and the pull to read contemporary authors. There are old books you want to explore and the new books you want to jump right into. I assume most everyone grapples with this problem? Anyway, I expect the same pleasant inner tension will be there next year.