Saturday, February 27, 2016

Stepping Out of a Comfort Zone

Scott D. Parker

Yesterday, I traveled to a place I’d never been before: an anime convention.

My son and a few of his classmates really enjoy anime. For me, anime is basically limited to the old cartoons I used to watch—Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets, and Starblazers—or the movies of Hayao Miyazaki. Heck, those old cartoons weren’t even called “anime” back in the day. In short, it’s a branch of pop culture of which I know very little.

Turns out, there’s an annual convention here in Houston that specializes in anime: ANIME MATSURI. It’s a great convention. I have to admit that I expected there to be some “counter programming” booths. You know: something that isn’t anime, but comics or other things I like. Nope. Not a one. Unlike the Comicpalooza, which has anime, comics, pop culture, steampunk, etc., Anime Matsuri only has anime.


But I was completely unaware of a majority of the content. Sure, I recognized Sonic the Hedgehog, the various Miyazaki characters, and a few video game characters, but I was nearly completely out of my element.

So I learned. I asked questions. I got my boy to fill me in on things he knows and enjoys. I compared the types of cosplay at this anime convention versus the cosplay at a comic convention. I had a grand time.

Two observations:

One, the quantity of mango (Japanese comics) and books in general was rather small. I saw only about three vendors out of, say, 150, that sold books! Wow.

Two, it was a good thing to step outside of the spheres that make me comfortable. I get wrapped up in the things I like—music, TV shows, books—that I rarely venture out to see the broader world. Yesterday’s convention experience reminded me that I ought to do that more often.

Do y’all ever get in a rut regarding the things you like? How do you get out of it, if at all?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Dames in the Dark - Devil In Me

On Monday I'll be a guest on Authors on the Air with Pam Stack, and looking at some of the amazing writers that have graced those airwaves I can't help but be a little intimidated. We're doing Dames in the Dark, hosted by the amazing Angel Colón, I'll be reading some new flash alongside five other kick ass women. Nikki Dolson, Rios de la Luz, Heather Luby, Carmen Jaramillio, and Jen Conley will all be reading their work.

When Angel first approached me, I gave a tentative yes, and asked for a deadline on a real yes, because I didn't have a damn thing to read that fit the word count. On further thought though, how could I say no? I gave a yes and started brainstorming. Flash can be fun, but it can be fucking difficult - it's closer to poetry than short fiction and believe me, you don't want to read my poetry. I don't even want to read my poetry.

I do enjoy writing flash when I get my mood just right and figure out a voice. First person tends to work best for me in that small a space, but getting the story just right is the hardest part. I turned, as I so often do, to music for my inspiration.

I've written about my relationship with music in regard to my writing here before, so I won't get into it, but I had my lightbulb moment when I realized the catchy song by Gin Wigmore I'd be listening to and singing along with was actually straight up about murder (the video is also absolutely killer).

My favorite line of the song is "I'll drink, drink until you love me, and wake up always thinking of me", especially later in the song when it's juxtaposed with the more serious line "You left, left me on a Monday, so now I'll bury you on Sunday" - and, like I said, DAMN IT'S CATCHY. I always play it twice in a row so I can sing along. So this throaty, hardened chick getting whiskey bent and bloodthirsty over her ex embedded itself in my brain and I had to follow it.

If you're interested in the result... well I guess you'll have to listen.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sometimes people write crap

Interesting column from Nathaniel Tower a while back about stories and tricks he's tired of seeing in magazine submissions.

An editor of a literary magazine has to put up with a fair amount. Among the struggles we must face on our daily quest for literary greatness is repetition. I’m not simply talking about the monotony of reading submissions. Rather, I’m referring to the fact that, at times, it feels like every submission is exactly the same. 

Stories that begin with someone coming out of a dream or end with someone realizing it was all a dream – You’d think that all dream stories would have been banned from the universe by now. It seems as if many writers haven’t gotten the memo. I’ll personally kill the next character that wakes up from a dream at the beginning of a story. And ending with a dream? Well, that’s even worse. You might as well just call the story “Nothing Happened At All” and leave the rest of the document blank.
Ending a story with a dream seems to be a cheat against the reader, doesn't it? Remember when Bobby Ewing died, but it was all a dream? Sean Munger talked about this particular situation a few years ago. For Munger, given the set-up, the other options were a faked murder, an almost murder, or twin brother.

The twin brother thing can be just as off-putting as anything else. As a Guiding Light fan, I recall the dual role Vincent Irizarry played. Heck, if you see someone drive off a cliff in a soap opera (day or night, in or out of the rain) there's very little chance the person died. And, if he or she did, maybe it was a twin. Or maybe they bring in a twin. Or maybe you're a twin.

Look, sometimes people write crap. You get backed into a corner and think, well, how am I going to make this work? Then you spend a month at your desk making it worse.

Or you pick up a book and groan when it starts with the main character waking up from a dream. Or a hangover. Or suddenly there's a dream scene in the story that is supposed to SAY IMPORTANT THINGS about the story itself.

Dreams are dumb. In the sleepy dreams, people never do anything that makes a damn bit of sense. See, you were there, but it wasn't really you. I mean, it started as you, but then you were on the porch, but it wasn't a porch. It was a ship. On and on. And the dreams we have for ourselves are also dumb. You know what my dream is? Getting through the week without pissing blood. Finding a good burrito in the frozen food aisle. Happiness. Blah blah. Who gives a shit?

The reason that dreams in stories are dumb is that they're often used as lazy cheats. (Not all cheats are lazy. Shut up.)  The writer gets backed into a corner and is too damn stubborn or lazy to keep working with the same level of creativity.

Wrote yourself into a corner? The Star Trek: TNG writers tried to do that each season and then spend the off-season working their way out of the corners.

Writing yourself into a corner is great. You've given yourself a challenge. A scope. Tower complains about dreams because he sees that too often in magazine submissions. That's because it's easy.

The reader is entering your story on page one, and you can have Robert Langdon being awakened by a phone call. OK. That seems an easy starting point, which makes sense if you want to write an easy story. If you don't mind tropes and cliches and are working with something you've pulled from Masterplots, page 74.

I'm not going to tell you to not write a dream. Dennis Lehane did it wonderfully in Mystic River in a scene with bird and a busted wing.  But you're not Dennis Lehane. (Unless you are, in which case, Hi, Mr. Lehane. I love many of your books.)

I have read books with cheats and enjoyed them, but they're still cheater-heads. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the subject of my master's thesis, kinda opens with the two of them waking from a dream. Of course, it's a bit more clever than that, as they're waking from being born, what with it's being the first page and all.

But a story itself is a dream. We're already once removed from reality. And the further you take your reader into Phonyville, the more trouble you can expect. We're asking readers for trust. We're trying to make the people in our books real. We're entering a contract with the reader and each time we cheat, that's one more chance to lose the reader.

Don't cheat. Stay in school, kids.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Florida Man

Guest Post by S.W. Lauden

Holly's note: As soon as I read this piece I couldn't wait to read CROSSWISE, S.W. Lauden's new novella, especially since I read his debut, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, and loved it. Really, the mention of any kind of pie is enough for me.

But I'll let Steve tell you why he's so drawn to Florida... 

“We accept the reality of the world with which we're presented.
 It's as simple as that.” —The Truman Show

I was a guest on Tom Pitts’ excellent “Skid Row Chatter” podcast recently when he asked me why I followed up my Los Angeles-based debut mystery novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, with a standalone novella set in Florida.

It was a fair question, but one I was dreading—mostly because I hadn’t worked out an acceptable answer yet. I skirted the question that night, but I’ll try to address it right here.

The simple answer is that I have fallen for the Florida Panhandle, specifically the stunning stretch of coast along the Gulf of Mexico known alternately as “The Emerald Coast,” “Lower Alabama” and “The Redneck Riviera.” There are lots of colorful nicknames for the place, some more flattering than others, but none quite do justice to the white sand beaches and blue-green water.

I discovered the area when a friend invited my brood to stay at his family’s beach house in the planned community/resort town of Seaside. We’ve been back every year since, as much for the chicken biscuits and key lime pie as the beautiful sunsets and laid back vibe.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that it’s the perfect place to set a murder. So I sat down to write a short story while we were there. That piece, CROSSWISE, eventually evolved into the novella that will be published by Down & Out Books on Feb. 29.

The idea for CROSSWISE was based as much on the tranquil setting as it was on all of the clichés about Florida—new and old, stunning and boring—that you encounter in the media these days. It felt like I had been promised a lot of Sunshine State weirdness, but was a little disappointed when all I experienced were friendly people, brightly colored beach houses, and perfect weather.

So I did what crime writers do, I created the darkness myself. Or, to be more specific, I amplified the oppressive charm of the place and populated it with a cast of shady characters including a disgraced NYPD cop, his drug-addict girlfriend, bumbling local law enforcement, and several surly retired New Yorkers. It was a bit like taking a beautiful postcard and defacing it with a Sharpie before mailing it to your best friend. Wish you were here!

There is just something about Florida that makes it the perfect setting for Noir. As if the constant sunshine should leave the cockroaches no alternative but to do their dirty work in the light of day.

Many others have realized this before me, of course, including literary luminaries like John D. MacDonald, Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard—to name just a few. And Hollywood has gotten in on the action for decades with films like Key Largo, Cool Hand Luke, Body Heat and Scarface.

Seaside itself was the location for the 1998 Jim Carey sci-fi comedy film, The Truman Show. I remember being overcome with an eerie feeling of familiarity as I roamed those winding streets for the first time. That spooky sensation lasted for a couple of days before my friend informed me that I was basically walking around a movie set.

That’s a unique surprise for somebody who grew up in LA where we’re used to seeing our hometown on TV and in the movies. But that strange feeling was only enhanced when I realized that the idyllic beachfront community where we were staying truly was an anomaly on the Panhandle.

You only have to get a few miles out of town (and your manicured vacation bubble) to see the stark contrast the region presents, one that is—at least to a crime writer’s eye—closer to the exaggerated Florida of film and literature. On the outskirts of town where the ferocious flora and fauna conceals all the scary possibilities that makes writing fiction so much fun.

So why did I set CROSSWISE in Florida? It has to do with all of the delicious juxtapositions and contradictions that the place presents. The movie set vs. the reality. The media clichés vs. the actual culture. The locals vs. the tourists. And did I mention the key lime pie?

It’s Florida, man. And I can’t wait to go back for some readings and signings in late March. I hope you’ll come along.


S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available now from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, will be published in September 2016. His standalone novella, CROSSWISE, is available now for pre-order from Down & Out Books.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Pale Flower: A Yakuza Film Beauty

by Scott Adlerberg

Funny, I've seen a couple of big films recently that I found slightly underwhelming. The Revenant was one and Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight was another.  Not that I disliked either, but neither lived up to the expectations I had for them going in.  On the other hand, it's always a joy when you watch a film you never even heard of before, and it turns out to be something that sticks with you.  That's what happened with the Japanese film Pale Flower, which I saw about a month ago.

A friend called me up on a Saturday night asking whether I knew the film.  Had I seen it?  No and no, but since he was so excited about it, I became stoked to see it also.  Pale Flower, a 1964 crime film directed by Masahiro Shinoda.  Part of the Criterion Collection (always a good sign) and available for instant viewing through Hulu.  I didn't have Hulu, but after my wife and son fell asleep that night, around eleven o'clock, I said screw it, signed up for Hulu, and searched out Pale Flower.

For anyone who likes Japanese movies, for anyone who likes crime movies, for anyone who likes noir - I say, "See this movie."  It's a beauty, filmed in crystalline, widescreen black and white.  The story's pretty simple: A middle-aged yakuza named Muraki gets out of jail after serving a term of a few years and becomes involved with a seductive young woman (Saeko) who he discovers is a gambling addict. While he's an old-school kind of gangster, stoical to the core, she's an impulsive thrill seeker.  She's well-to-do and seems to be slumming it in the underworld.  He falls for her, and it seems that the life force she possesses will be something that helps him rejuvenate himself and re-adapt to the outside world. It doesn't quite work out that way; her penchant for taking chances and seeking out danger really is a full-throttled self-destructiveness, and Muraki realizes that if he stays with her, she will destroy them both.  Still, can he go back to the empty life he had before he met her?

This film has an odd mood, at once swoony and detached.  Most of the film takes place at night, on rainy streets or in gambling dens.  There's a strange car race Saeko gets them into on an empty dark highway, her only purpose, it seems, to experience yet another thrill.  Doom hangs over every frame of this movie, in true noir fashion, and besides being gorgeously shot, the film has a striking score, composed by the great Toru Takemitsu.  There is a gangster sub plot to go along with the twisted romance,  and Muraki finds himself in the middle of everything, with life-defining choices to make.  All this in about 90 minutes (How long was The Revenant?  2 hours and 36 minutes. How long was The Hateful Eight, roadshow edition?  3 hours and 7 minutes), a 90 minutes I would gladly sit through again tomorrow. 

Bleak yet somewhat dreamlike, Pale Flower is a film that has a modern feel even though it’s over 50 years old.  It doesn’t strive hard for weight; it achieves its cool existential tone through economy, pacing, and atmosphere. There is a mixture of emotion and reserve in the performances.  And obviously, if I’m talking about it now, a month after seeing it, I'd call it a film that lingers in your mind.  Anyway, I’m glad my friend turned me on to it with his phone call on a Saturday night and that I then had one of those great movie times that results when something you didn’t know about turns into something you recommend to others.

Monday, February 22, 2016

"Molly Rose" by Willy Tea Taylor

Well no one was fearing, or knew of his plan
The Miner Lee MacGowan lived in highland
Where he stayed up each night foreboding near a year
And he'd whisper it softly, so no one would hear

Molly Rose, I'm coming for you
And I'll kill anybody, that don't want me too
The blood'll spill an ocean and then we'll set sail
Molly Rose, my darling, get ready for hell

Molly Rose was a lively, beauty of a whore
No man was so strong he couldn't come back for more
On a night that the moon had the cats a-howlin
In the whorehouse walked a darkness by the name of Lee MacGowan

He came there at night to take Mollys life
He had a bleeding heart, two forty-fours and his favorite knife

Molly Rose, I'm coming for you
And I'll kill anybody, that don't want me to
The blood'll spill an ocean and then we'll set sail
Molly Rose, my darling, get ready for hell

He was struck by her beauty, as she walked down the stairs
Every man's eyes were on her, wishing that she was theirs
Her seductive smile soon turned to a frown,
When she gazed upon a smiling man by the name of Lee MacGowan

She knew this face well, so dark and so cold
He nearly had to kill the man about a year ago
She shot him down with her Derringer, she took him right to death
But he fled away and returned today, to take her last breath

Molly Rose, I'm coming for you
And I'll kill anybody, that don't want me to
The blood'll spill an ocean and then we'll set sail
Molly Rose, my darling, get ready for hell

She knew I was there, she let out a cry, 
Three men in the whorehouse, they ran to her side.
The gun started blasting, bodies fell to the ground
The only two left standing, were Molly Rose and Lee MacGowan

And he smiled at her bloody, they shot him 6 times
But he ran for the staircase and he pulled out his knife
And he grabbed Molly Rose she was trembling with fear
And he held a knife right to her throat and he whispered in her ear

Molly Rose well I've come for you
And I killed anybody that didn't want me to
The blood made an ocean, now it's time we set sail
Molly Rose my darling, welcome to hell

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Writerly Routines

by Kristi Belcamino

One thing I'm completely fascinated by is other writer's routines.
At one point, when I was frequently interviewing other writers, I'd throw this question into the mix.
I always want to know where, when, and how other writers write.
Do they get up at 4 a.m. and write for three hours before the kids wake?
Do they, like Joelle Charbonneau, write everywhere and anywhere, including in the car or on a bench while waiting for a child to finish an activity.
Do they fit in writing after a day job, writing from 6 p.m. to midnight?
How about my friend, Sarah Henning, who - I think, forgive me if I'm wrong, Sarah - has been known to write on her phone while she's on the treadmill.
Or my friend, Kate, who will write on her lunch hour?
Do they, like me, write from 9 to 12, Monday through Friday?
When and how do you write?
Meanwhile, check out this Brainpickings post on writerly wake-up times and productivity.
If you don't already subscribe to the Brainpickings newsletter, you might want to consider it.
It comes as a welcome and cherished email I open every Sunday morning.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Year From Now…

Scott D. Parker

I can’t recall where I saw it, but sometime in 2013, I read a motivational statement: A year from now, you will have wished you started today.

I’m not a guy who has motivational posters on the walls or shelves full of motivational books. But this phrase struck me. I think it was one of the things that spurred me to write a story that ended up being WADING INTO WAR, my first published book.

Why do I bring it up? Well, three days ago, 18 February, was a year since the publication of WADING. Boy, has it been fun! Challenging, but fun.

I’ve had to learn how to format a Word file for Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and Smashwords. They all have their own, slightly different ways of formatting. Then there was the fun challenges of preparing files for CreateSpace and the paperbacks. These had their own unique challenges—how to use InDesign and Illustrator!—with different review processes.

In the year since, I have published 3 novels, 3 short westerns, and submitted 2 stories for anthologies. Quite a bit for Year 1. This coming year will be equally as productive.

Again, why do I bring up this motivational statement? To get anyone who might be on the fence about starting a story, a novel, a painting, or any project …to just do it. Take that first step and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish in a day, a week, a month, or even a year.

You can do whatever creative thing you want. You just have to start.

Because, a year from now, you will have wished you started today, 20 February 2016.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Do You Have A Moment To Talk About Deadpool?

In the last couple weeks I have hidden more Facebook posts than I can count. I discovered I don't care about vitriolic posts about politicians, or arguments about the appropriate response to Justice Scalia's death. I said on Monday, "Honestly, I'd rather talk about Deadpool."

Turns out I was wrong.

I've spent a large portion of my life as one of the few women present in male dominated areas. I walk with a limp because I broke my pelvis in the US Marine Corps - a male dominated place if ever there was one - but before that I loved getting into dirty mosh pits in the punk and metal undergrounds of Central California. I know how to handle a firearm, I like throwing a punch. Wine gives me heartburn but I love beer and whiskey. These aren't statements meant to make me sound cool - I value my friendships with women and I don't think getting lost in the comic book shop is any more or less admirable than getting lost in Sephora - and I do both as often as possible. I'm telling you this about myself for one reason only - I've spent a large portion of my life being told that the things I enjoy are for other people, or even more bluntly, NOT for me.
Look at me all wearing floral and firing a rifle at the same time! 
Does this make me masculine? Does this make me a wannabe "cool girl"?

Fuck no, it doesn't.

Even crime fiction is often thought of as a man's game. While the people in the crime fiction and true crime communities are, for the most part, welcoming and inclusive to people of all genders, the work itself is often classified as "masculine." Many women protagonists get described as "men with boobs" or dismissed entirely. It makes me want to say, "Hey, am I not a woman?" If I relate to these characters? If I enjoy their story lines - am I less a woman? More a man? Of course not.

So when I see die-hard comic book fans getting snarky and shitty about the huge response Deadpool pulled from women, it sets my teeth on edge. When I see non-comic book people wailing and gnashing teeth over the film's success because it was made for "adolescent boys" and men who haven't outgrown their adolesence, what I hear is that this thing I enjoy isn't supposed to be worth my time.

Both sides seem confident that Deadpool wasn't made for me. Deadpool wasn't made for people who like dirty jokes, gun fights, and comic books? Or was it not made for people who like looking at Ryan Reynolds (hey, his face wasn't fucked up for the whole movie). Or was it not made for people who like criminal protagonists who aren't interested in being heroes?

I'm also a feminist who isn't overly fond of the way action movies fuck up female representation - but I saw a sex worker who wasn't ever judged for her profession and who's partner didn't ask her to leave it. I saw a teenage girl be treated fairly and kick major ass without ever being discounted simply for being a young woman. I even saw the hench-woman kick Colossus's ass, where most movies would have left that fight to a man.
Negasonic Teenage Warhead IS an awesome name.
Was it perfect? Hell no! Most entertainment isn't. But I knew what I was getting into because, yes, boys and girls, I did read the fucking comics. Because I am vast and contain multitudes, I've read Deadpool and I've read Bitch Planet, I've read crime fiction and I've read feminist theory. I may not have a college degree but I am confident I'm more educated and more thoughtful than the average adolescent boy.

I should be used to it, after all - horror isn't made for me, action movies and sci-fi aren't made for me, Hemingway didn't write for me... the list goes on and on. Of course, if my interest in makeup and pretty dresses were my only hobbies, I'd be labeled an air-headed bitch.

I'm a woman, and Deadpool was made for me.

If you have a problem with the idea that me, or women like me, enjoy it when you think it belongs to you? Shut up and find a hobby. If you have a problem with the movie's success because you're deathly afraid of a world where things are popular, and the only way you can assert your intellectual dominance is to assume people who enjoyed the film are "teenage boys", hop right off the gender assumption train and check yourself.

You don't get to take the high road while sorting people into boxes based on how much smarter you think you are than them. You can't take the high road while excluding an entire gender from the things you enjoy.

So, if you can't accept that women are into all kinds of movies, books, and stories - no, I don't want to talk to you about Deadpool. Or anything else, probably.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Patience, Persistence and Wine

Guest Post by Nadine Nettmann

I once read somewhere that when you get a rejection, you should have a glass of Champagne because it means that you’re actually in the game. I followed this advice when I started querying my first book in 2005 and I poured a glass of Champagne when my first rejection arrived. Because in truth, I was glad to be in the game and glad to be on my way to making my dream come true.

But then the rejections continued and the thought of celebrating each one didn’t sound appealing anymore. This was a wise move because over the next ten years, I sent 421 queries for five books. That would have been a lot of Champagne.

Although I didn’t open a bottle of bubbly over every rejection, I also didn’t give up. There were many moments when I could have, such as after the 100th rejection, or the 200th, or even the 400th. But I wanted to see my book in a bookstore. I wanted to hold my book in my hand.
I’m a big fan of Randy Pausch and The Last Lecture. This particular quote of his resonated with me: 

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

So I kept learning, I kept writing new books, and I kept querying. The Champagne advice stayed in my mind and while I didn’t celebrate the rejections, I did put a bottle in the fridge a few times when I had some fulls with agents and thought I was close.

A few years ago, wine began to play a key role in my life as I became a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. As I continued writing, I thought of the advice I had learned in 2005. Instead of having a glass of Champagne with every rejection, I decided to put wine into my next book. The book became my debut novel, DECANTING A MURDER, which will be published in May with Midnight Ink. 

Patience isn’t always easy and neither is persistence, but I’m finding they are both key elements in the publishing world, no matter what stage of your career you are in. There will always be something to wait for and there will always be a time when you need to keep going. And as I’ve found, Champagne helps.

Nadine Nettmann, a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, is always on the lookout for great wines and the stories behind them. She has visited wine regions around the world, from Chile to South Africa to every region in France, but chose Napa as the setting for DECANTING A MURDER, her debut novel. Nadine is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She lives in California with her husband.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Unreliable Narrators

by Scott Adlerberg

During the last two weeks, I've enjoyed reading the feedback and reviews of my new novel Graveyard Love.  Among a few repeated points, one observation has been that the story's narrator, Kurt Morgan, is an unreliable narrator.  It's an accurate description, but actually there are two types of fictional narrators I called upon in creating Kurt. They are types not unrelated and sometimes you get both types within one character in a book, but they are in fact distinct from each other. One type might be called the obsessive isolated existential narrator.  Think Dostoevsky's Underground Man, talking at you from his bleak apartment, and you have the prototype for this sort of character. He's more of a ranter, a compulsive monologist, than a person telling a skewed, self-protective story. For a long time, I've loved reading novels with these kind of narrators, and actually, using the great Argentinian novel The Tunnel, by Ernesto Sabato, as a jumping off point, I discussed a few notable examples of this type of narrator in an essay awhile back over at the Los Angeles Review of Books site.

But what about the other type, the narrators who aren't so much isolated souls howling in torment as unreliable tellers of their tales ?  With the new book out, and the unreliable narrator influence apparent in it, I thought this would be a good time to talk about some of my favorite novels that center around these slippery characters.

Here's a short list, books with unreliable narrators that have made a strong impression on me:

THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford

I read this 1915 British novel in college for a class and it has stuck with me ever since.  Yes, this is an Edwardian era novel where the characters, on the surface, behave politely.  But it is also a very dark tale about two couples whose relationships, through adultery and deceit of all kinds, come unraveled.  Three characters die, one goes mad.  And the narration, told by one of the four participants, is a masterpiece of misdirection. Nothing is what it initially seems in this book, and the famous opening line, "This is the saddest story I ever heard," straightforward when you first read it, becomes downright chilling and indicative of total deception by the time you've finished the story.  All four of the novel's players deceive each of the others, and John Dowell, the narrator, is the most unreliable of the four, leaving all sorts of gaps and elisions in his telling. The reader is left with plenty to fill in on his or her own, and some of what you fill in does not jibe with the version of events Dowell is relating.  As if that were not enough, Dowell has got to be among the most self-deceiving characters in the history of fiction, something the author pulls off masterfully, allowing you to understand things the character can't or won't.  For anyone interested in the unreliable narrator device, this masterpiece is a must read.

DESPAIR by Vladimir Nabokov

Nobody does unreliable narrators better than Nabokov, and most people name Lolita first when they think of Nabokovian narrative deception.  I've always found Humbert Humbert to be less of an unreliable narrator than a self-justifying one.  I mean, we have to pick apart the "fancy prose style" somewhat, but we do know what he's doing with the pre-pubescent love of his life.  The narrator of his 1934 novel Despair, Hermann, is if anything more solipsistic than Humbert, and as the book proceeds and Hermann plots what he tells us is the perfect murder, we realize we cannot trust anything he says because we simply don't know whether what he is telling us is accurate, a half-truth, or a total figment of his imagination.  Does the man Hermann tells us is his double, and whom he intends to kill, resemble him at all?  Despair uses the unreliable narrator to wonderfully mordant effect, and it's no stretch to call this tale of murder and madness something of a crime novel.

David Cranmer has written an insightful, detailed piece about Despair at Criminal Element that I urge you to check out if you haven't already:

THE GROTESQUE and ASYLUM by Patrick McGrath

A master of stylish gothic fiction, British writer Patrick McGrath has employed the unreliable narrator in several novels. He's a writer obsessed with mental illness, psychological trauma, repressed sexuality, and adulterous relationships.  In a way that Freud would appreciate, his preoccupations seem to date back to childhood; his father was the Medical Superintendent at Broadmoor Hospital in England - a maximum security psychiatric hospital.  The two McGrath books I've read, The Grotesque and Asylum, both have unreliable narrators, and it's obvious from the David Cronenberg film adaptation of McGrath's Spider that this book does also.

In his first book, The Grotesque (1990), the narrator is Sir Hugo Coal, a between World Wars British aristocrat confined to a wheelchair and unable to talk.  His mind is quite lively, though, and in his internal monologue, he tells how the household's butler, a man named Fledge, has ambitions to usurp his place in the house, including to sleep nightly in his wife's bed.  But is Fledge really out to get him as he claims, or is Coal attracted to Fledge in a way he can't accept in his own mind, fueling his paranoia and visions of persecution?  McGrath writes in a heady, elegant way consistent with the gothic form, but there is nothing slow or old-fashioned about The Grotesque.  It's a devious and entertaining book filled with wit and bite. 

Asylum (1996) is another one I can't forget.  I found it to be a spellbinding tale about the destructive relationship between the wife of a psychiatrist running a mental hospital and a patient-murderer-sculptor there.  Here the narrator is not the husband or his wife or the patient, but a colleague of the husband's who watches everything unfold and tries to convince us how dispassionate he is about it all.  But is he as detached toward the wife involved, Stella, as he claims?  As in The Good Soldier, the opening sentence is a tip off, though of course no reader grasps this right away.  "The catastrophic love affair characterized by sexual obsession has been a professional interest of mine for many years now," the narrator says.  Sounds dry, sounds professional, but in the realm of the unreliable tale teller, there are always hidden depths

CORROSION by Jon Bassoff

The less said about Jon Bassoff's terrific novel, the better. It's got a number of dark twists and turns that I don't want to hint at for those who haven't read it.  But let's just say that this contemporary noir/psychological thriller presents identity as something malleable and Bassoff uses the unreliable narrator technique audaciously.  It's a book that takes chances and the chances pay off.  Bassoff takes the unreliable narrator tradition you find in crime fiction masters such as Jim Thompson and makes something of it that's his own.

HEARTSTONES by Ruth Rendell

Through her long career, Ruth Rendell was another writer who created a number of unreliable narrators.  Her 1987 novella Heartstones shows her doing in economical form so many things she does well.  The story of two teen sisters named Elvira and Spinny, their widower father, and the woman he meets and plans to marry, the book is told by the elder sister Elvira, and in typical Rendell fashion her narrative voice is quiet but creepy.  She keeps telling us that she didn't have anything to do with her mother's death and that her father, who she dotes on obsessively, cannot be permitted to marry this new woman in his life.  Rendell has an uncanny skill to develop a complicated plot unobtrusively, with everyday events happening, through characters who are complex, believable people.  Then from the quietness she lowers the boom and you realize just what has been going on as you read, and the horror appears, to your surprise and chagrin.  Heartstones serves as a prime example of this - a short book perfectly crafted.


Six books with unreliable narrators.  All of them I enjoyed immensely, and from a writing perspective, I learned a lot from each one.  

What are some of your favorite unreliable narrator novels?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Bite, Chew, Swallow, Repeat

In anticipation of The Walking Dead's mid-season return, I got sucked into the TWD marathon and saw a lot of post-Dale death episodes over the past few days.

As a result, one of the things that stood out to me was the importance of realism.

That might sound ironic when you're talking about a show where walkers are routinely trying to eat you and your friends, but one of the main catalysts for the plot centers on the ability characters have to accept their reality.

One example? Season 4's gut-wrenching episode, The Grove. All the signs of Lizzie's inability to understand the true nature of walkers were there. In fact, she'd openly stated beliefs that were so disconnected from their reality, and dangerous, that Lizzie almost smothered Baby Judith before ultimately murdering her sister to try to prove that walkers weren't dangerous.

Her inability to come to terms with reality was her undoing. Carol's inability to recognize and address Lizzie's distorted views contributed to the situation, causing her to share some responsibility for what happened.

One has to wonder how much of her denial over Lizzie was connected to her own pragmatic choice to execute Karen and David and subsequent exile, and her guilt over what she put Tyreese through.

Leading into this episode of The Walking Dead, Jessie had been coddling son Sam, and instead of helping him confront the reality of their world and learn how to stay safe she indulged his denial, and the result? Sam, Jessie and Ron die. 

Jessie's inability to force her own son to confront reality is her own way of avoiding the full truth about their situation. It shows that while Jessie is giving speeches to her neighbors and showing her skill with a knife, part of her still thinks that there's room for indulgence, and ignorance, and that she can protect Sam from the world they live in.

Most of Alexandria lived in denial, and carried on day to day as though the world beyond their walls wasn't gone.

Think back to the days of the Governor, and his first community, Woodbury. Most of the community lived at a distance from the walls, and carried on with regular life and routine. Imagine the level of ignorance you have to have to think that, after one incident with a breach of the walls, they were ready to leave, thinking they were safer outside the walls of their town.

It seems that whenever characters fail to come to grips with their reality, they soon find themselves with a shot-out eye, because the boy who tried to kill them mere hours earlier has not gotten over how much he hates you.

One of the things that I think could be most interesting as the second half of this season progresses is to watch how Rick balances the realities of building a community that can be kept safe. He's attempted this before, at the prison. His denial about the threat of the Governor contributed that. When he arrived at Alexandria, he seemed to have difficulty trusting in the safety in the community, but what he's really grappling with is the need to eliminate that denial that's threatened so many individuals and groups before. He needs the Alexandrians to see the reality of the world they live in and be prepared to defend themselves, and he's ultimately proven right.

On a smaller scale, this played out with The Wolf in episodes 8 and 9. Morgan tries to share his wisdom, which falls on deaf ears. The Wolf is not capable of philosophically-based redemption. He doesn't buy what Morgan is selling, but when Denise tells him he's full of shit, he seems to connect with her honesty. Was he really redeemed in the end? We'll never know, but he did save Denise's life, and without the realities of their situation, and Denise's ability to confront her own anxiety and fears and to confront The Wolf's bullshit, that might not have happened.

Accepting reality and dealing with it seems to be an underlying theme throughout the series, and perhaps the path to survival is best summed up on a quote from one of The Saviors.

"If you have to eat shit best not to nibble. Bite, chew, swallow, repeat."

I know some people think there's no character development or substance to this show, but The Walking Dead is a bit like a James Sallis novel, and the evolution of the characters and the story often builds in a slow burn, but is far more realistic than characters magically fixing all their problems in 45 minutes, only to forget everything they learned and make the same mistakes again next week. And if we consider our day to day lives, and the little truths we withhold from others, it isn't hard to believe that the human mind functions in a state of denial. A $50 prize keeps the dream alive that the next ticket will win the big lotto prize. Our own Walter Mitty moments convince us the next great book deal is just around the corner.

The ability of the mind to subvert reality and develop a more appealing fantasy is within us all, and that's why it's so easy to understand how the mind tries to suppress the horrors of The Walking Dead world in a way that few works of fiction really seem to address. Even that moment when Carol tells Morgan she should have killed him... She's again struggling with reality and responsibility and her own humanity, and in some respects, that seems to be the truth this show is really about finding. Can there be any more worthy struggle to face?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Darkest Corner

by Kristi Belcamino

This is the little book I've been working on recently, LETTERS FROM A SERIAL KILLER:

It's a novella-length book that is a combination true crime/memoir. It's up for pre-order now here. If you do happen to pre-order it, be sure to email me ( a screen shot and I'll send you off some copies of the letters. Here's a bit about it:

"After termination ... there is a let down. Anytime you get an adrenaline rush like that, there's a let down. Hard enough where it puts you to sleep."
 - Curtis Dean Anderson from jail.

This is the story behind my Anthony and Macavity-award nominated book, Blessed are the Dead. Letters from a Serial Killer is a novella-length true crime/memoir about my life as a newspaper reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area covering the crime beat and my dealings with a serial killer and one little girl he kidnapped off the streets of Vallejo--Xiana Fairchild.

Warning: it contains some explicit excerpts from Curtis Dean Anderson's jailhouse letters to me and Stephanie Kahalekulu, the woman who raised Xiana.

More than a decade ago, I lugged a big box across the country that has become a dark memorial to a man I feared and despised. I've kept it in a far dark corner of my basement. It contains sick mementos of a monster--dozens of reporter's notebooks filled with interviews with this man, newspapers filled with articles I wrote about him, and documents, such as his birth certificate and jailhouse interview requests stamped "denied" or "approved."

Letters from a Serial Killer is my story about a seven-year-old girl snatched off the street on the way to school and never seen again. It is about how this story came into my world and still affects me to this day. But readers will also hear from Kahalekulu--the woman whose life was changed forever on Dec. 9, 1999. In this book, we share details of our jailhouse conversations with this man and the letters he sent us from behind bars and how we are forever bonded by our dealings with a monster, but more than that--by our quest for justice for Xiana.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

When TV Shows Disappoint

Scott D. Parker

Man, I hate to write this piece.

I have been a fan of the TV show “Castle” literally since the first moments of the show back in 2009. I remember seeing the trailers for the show, thinking that it looked fun—it had Nathan Fillion!—and that I’d check it out. Truth be told, I was probably in Castle’s bag before the show even aired. That it proved to be the charming show it is was all the better.

Fillion it utterly charming as Rick Castle, novelist with writer’s block, who uses Kate Beckett, NY detective, as inspiration for a new character in a new book series. Stana Katic’s Beckett is a perfect combination of street-tough brawn and elegant beauty. Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever as Detectives Esposito and Ryan are some of the best co-stars a detective show ever had, what with their bromace that has only blossomed over the years. Molly Quinn is a gem as Castle’s daughter while Susan Sullivan as Castle’s diva mom is always good for a laugh.

The mysteries have always been quirky and light, full of fun references to pop culture. There’s a laugh in nearly every episode. Then, when the show goes serious and dark, everyone involves turns on a dime and it’s always been excellent. The overarching mystery of Who Killed Beckett’s Mom formed the backbone for the show as well as the developing relationship between the two leads.

That ABC started publishing actual “Richard Castle” novels was the icing on this luscious cake. In these books, you had stand-ins for Castle, Beckett, Ryan, Esposito, and all the characters in the show, all mimicking the actual show, but different enough to be fresh. Heck, you had Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook (“Castle” and “Beckett”) hook up years before the ‘real’ Castle and Beckett did.

Castle will end up being one of my all-time favorite TV shows. And I’m in it until the end.


During the tail end of season seven, the original showrunners—including creator Andrew Marlowe—weren’t sure the show would be renewed for this current eighth season. So, instead of giving viewers a cliffhanger that might not ever resolve, they summed up all that Castle was in an graceful last episode and last scene. It was wonderful. I grew misty.

And then the call for the eighth season. Great! More Castle!


This season is lacking. Beckett’s drive to find her mother’s killer was an underlying structure that gave her character a place to strive for. Once she found the killer, her life, specifically that obsessive part of her nature, was unfulfilled. That would have been interesting to see where they take now Captain Beckett. Instead, we get a new conspiracy thing on which Beckett can latch onto and obsess over. And, to make matters more irritating, to keep Castle ‘safe,’ she has to keep him at a distance. Castle and Beckett even go so far as to fight in public and give everyone around them the impression that the fairy tale is over.

Which is stupid. Again, their dopplegangers in the Castle books proved you could have two characters be in love and still have some romantic tension. Because that’s what the new showrunners are trying to do: replicate the early seasons.

There are some great moments this season, but there some not-so-great moments as well. That all became crystal clear this past week. Mondays at 9pm CST is ALWAYS Castle. Don’t call me during that time because I won’t answer the phone. Tuesdays is now THE FLASH, which has basically supplanted CASTLE as my fav show. CASTLE’s still #2.

Castle’s episode on Monday was one of those Season 8 episodes where you enjoy the 60 minutes, but you know it pales in comparison to Seasons 1-4. I ended up turning off the TV on Monday with a shrug. Cut to Tuesday where THE FLASH makes the fanboy in me giddy beyond reason—Supergirl was seen by Flash!!—and it gets me grinning ear to ear. This episode also brought out the tears. If you’ve seen the episode, you know why. When THE FLASH was over, I couldn’t wait until next week. I even tell my wife—who doesn’t watch THE FLASH and has given up on CASTLE—all that made me literally hoot and cheer the events of the show.

I hate that CASTLE is lagging behind what it used to be. It was an awesome show. It’s still a fun show. But it’s not that awesome right now. Who knows? Perhaps the latter half of this season will turn things around. Perhaps not. Perhaps “Great! More CASTLE!” wasn’t the best thing to articulate. Perhaps there needs to be a shot in the arm for a potential season 9.

Don’t worry, I’ll be there every step of the way until the end. I’ll be buying every book or graphic novel published. But I might also find myself tuning in to the reruns on TNT or my DVDs and get wistful at how good the show used to be.

Have y’all ever become disenchanted with a show?

Friday, February 12, 2016

This Valentine's Day, a bouquet of books!

Not too long ago I wrote about how I don't believe in writer's block, but I believe in life getting in the way, taking up your headspace, and generally flinging you off track.

My husband is finally back after six months on deployment, our cat went missing for two weeks, one of my daughter's rats is probably not going to live through the day, and due to logistics, I've been without a car for a couple weeks, too. It is safe to say LIFE IS HAPPENING. And... oh shit. Sunday is Valentine's Day.

If, like me, you've been busy being spun by life and trying to wedge an hour or two a day for writing in when you can, and Valentine's Day has sort of snuck up on you, I've got your back.

I'm rounding up a few awesome love/crime books you can pick up for your Valentine.

It's got LOVE right there in the title, and the cover is basically a Valentine's Day card! It's perfect!

I've banged this book's drum in the past and don't plan on stopping. It's rare to encounter a book that really changes you/changes your outlook but Clifford's honesty is heart stopping and this is an incredibly special book.

Once again, a perfect title for a Valentine - and the protagonist's name is actually Valentine! The cover isn't as saccharine as Clifford's, but trust me when I say this is a fun ride. Vic may be an almost archaic private dick, but there's a lot of fun to be had in the world Viharo created for him - and there's a cute punk rock girl.

Who doesn't love the drama of a single rose on Valentine's Day? Well, probably not Ash McKenna, Hart's protagonist. While New Yorked saw Ash heartbroken and nearly beaten, City of Rose shows a different side, and there's a little romance for him, too. If you also forgot your Valentine's birthday, you can throw in a copy of New Yorked and have the set.

Okay, so the title and cover aren't exactly brimming over with romance and roses. The inside isn't either. But maybe you're single this year or maybe you have a friend who's going through a divorce? Maybe your Valentine appreciates a book full of fucking amazing stories and won't mind the absence of a Valentine theme. Point is - this is a damn good book, and though the relationships in this collection are anything but romantic, it is a damn good book.

I realize this is a list of things you should have bought when you had time to get them shipped before Valentine's Day (City of Rose just might be at your B&N, though!), but maybe you can download them on Kindle and read them aloud to your lover. Stranger things have gotten people laid.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Jesus' Son: The Movie

By Steve Weddle

I'm away today, but thought I'd leave you with this.

There's a Jesus' Son movie? With Billy Crudup and Jack Black and Samanta Morton and Holly Hunter and Denis Leary? Good grief. I had no idea.

Haven't seen it, and I'm not sure I want to. I'll just read it over and over and listen to others read it. Here's a New Yorker podcast reading of "Work."

Good gracious, I do love that book.

And here's Tobias Wolff reading "Emergency," also from Jesus' Son.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Don't Be That Person

by Holly West

This is my semi-regular plea to authors (and everybody else) about writing political or otherwise controversial posts on social media. Please think before you do it. Hell, sometimes even thinking about it isn't enough. Maybe you should just not do it at all.

Awhile back, someone I know to be an avid reader tweeted, "I liked my writer friends a lot better before twitter." I'm paraphrasing because I can't find the exact tweet, but it was a reference to authors who post about politics. I feel similarly about Facebook and a few of my relatives, so I understand the sentiment. Who doesn't?

But what really prompted me to broach this topic again was that over the last year or so, I began following an author whose books I like on social media. Said author has never been particularly shy about writing political posts, but with the primary season upon us, those posts have really ramped up. They're increasingly vitriolic, and while I suspect this author believes the commentary to be thoughtful and well-considered, it's only convinced me that he/she is somewhat of a tool, and not a tool in the useful sense. At the very least, my respect for the author has diminished considerably.

Yes, I realize this post is somewhat passive aggressive in that I wouldn't say any of this to the author directly. And yes, I know that I'm free to unfollow or unfriend. But this post isn't so much about me being annoyed as it is about how authors choose to use their social media accounts. We're told constantly we need to have a presence on social media, which requires effort. Taking the time, even if it's minimal, to cultivate a social media presence only to turn around an alienate your audience is counter productive. I've done it many times myself.

We're not out there trying to be jerks, we just don't realize the negative impact such posts can have. It's too easy to post one's opinion without really thinking about how it can be received.

I said earlier that I've enjoyed this author's work in the past, so I wouldn't say that my new impressions will prevent me from buying future books, though I might think twice. But what about the author who I might not have any experience with beyond annoying social media posts? Even if I wasn't an author myself, as someone who loves books, it's not inconceivable that I might cross paths with someone on social media whose work I'm not familiar with, who I'd first get to know through social media. Call me immature and small-minded, but I probably wouldn't buy their books if they're constantly posting about politics. I have too many other choices.

When you post about politics and other controversial subjects, you never know who you might offend. And sure, I get that you might not care about offending others. Sometimes I don't care either, especially if a particular topic is important enough to me. But the Internet world we all inhabit is an increasingly chaotic and negative space, and I try not to add to the noise.

Before you write such a post, I urge you to think about it. What's your purpose? Are you trying to convince others to see your POV? Chances are, that isn't going to happen. Do you have some anger or frustration to vent? Maybe go for a walk instead. Do you just need a little reassurance that there are others out there who feel like you do? Trust me, there are plenty of them. But there are also a lot of people who don't feel like you do and they aren't aren't interested in your diatribes. Or mine, either.

<Sigh.> Something tells me it's gonna be a long, hard road to November.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Precinct: Siberia -- Cop Novels by Tom Philbin

Guest blog by John Shepphird

A big thanks to Scott Adlerberg for offering the space here this week. Since Scott’s a true New Yorker, I can think of no better place for a tribute to the late, great author Tom Philbin.

While browsing a dust ridden used book store many years ago, I picked up a paperback solely because of its cover; a NYC cop climbing the staircase of a  brownstone, a desperate woman in the shadows looking back, and a mysterious killer about to blow the cop away. This was the 1986 Fawcett Gold Medal/Ballantine mass market paperback Cop Killer, the third in Tom Philbin’s Precinct: Siberia series, and a true discovery. I relished the pulpy prose and dark humor. I was hooked and would go on to read and collect the entire nine book series.

Over thirty years after Ed McBain began his 87th Precinct series of novels, Tom Philbin echoed the McBain formula for Fawcett with a cast of continuing characters in a New York City Precinct. Whereas McBain’s fictionalized a typical midtown precinct with run-of-the-mill cops, Philbin forged the Bronx’s 53rd Precinct--a dumping ground where the NYPD sends losers, misfits, and problem cops--the toughest beat in America’s toughest city known as Precinct: Siberia.

In the first chapter of Precinct: Siberia Tom sets the scene:
It was places, precincts like the Five Three, that cops dreaded being sent to. Actually, you weren’t sent; you were sentenced, and at any given time there was always a Fort Siberia. In the fifties and sixties there was Fort Apache. Before that there was Staten Island; there was a precinct in Harlem, one in Bed Stuy. It was punishment duty, except for cops who had the misfortune to be assigned there after the Academy. It was for misfits.
Alcoholics who couldn’t be helped, homos, psychotics, grass-eaters, drug users. Malcontents, thieves who couldn’t be nailed, wheeler-dealers, cops who messed with the wrong people, and old cops who should retire but who wouldn’t and, like old Indians, were put out on the plain to die.
Having lived in NYC for a half a decade, Tom’s fiction felt so real to me, his characters and locations so vividly portrayed. I had worked part time for the New York City Department of Transportation making training films while a student at Columbia University. The NYC DOT had its own dumping ground, a drab building way out on Queens Plaza in Long Island City. I’d learn because of the labor unions it was nearly impossible to fire a city employee as long as they showed up for work. The solution was to send the square pegs to the Department of Transportation’s own “Siberia.”
There was always a strong sense of justice in Tom’s narratives, with underdogs finding a way, and that made them satisfying. In Leroy Lad Panel’s exceptional reference book, The American Police Novel: A History, he describes Philbin’s characters as:
“The point Philbin makes, however, does not concentrate on the corruption in the precinct, but on the way in which leadership and an awakening sense of duty transform losers into cops. He created a cast of misfits and losers: Grady is a burned-out drunk, Getz is a pea-brained muscleman, Piccolo is a violent hothead, and Edmunton “had been assigned there for grass-easting – petty thievery that couldn’t be proved" (Undercover).  Not a loser or a misfit, but the victim of departmental injustice, there is also detective Barbara Babalino. All of them profit, grow, and mature because of the leadership of Detective First Grade Joe Lawless. About Lawless Philbin does not mince works: “Of all the human beings who had crossed his path in forty-two years of living, Joe Lawless was probably the best. The stuff, really, on which heroes are made” (Cop Killer).
I felt Tom’s series would make great television (even though I didn’t necessarily have the means to get a TV series off the ground), so I found Tom through the Author’s Guild. Unfortunately Precinct: Siberia was already optioned, but over the years we remained in contact and grew to become friends. On a trip to New York, Tom drove me around the battered Bronx neighborhoods that inspired his novels, where he’d grown up. We even dropped in on the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage in the Bronx where Poe spent the last years of his life and penned The Cask of Amontillado.   
Tom was the son and grandson of police officers. He’d served the U.S. as a  paratrooper, and worked as a painter and contractor, then started writing about what he knew with books such as How to Hire a Home Contractor Without Getting Chiseled. In 1981 Tom made his fiction debut with the thriller Yearbook Killer, a Fawcett mass market paperback. A few years later Precinct: Siberia would be published. Eight more would follow.
A Matter of Degree sticks out from the pack. It’s the one novel that does not parallel three cases but rather concentrates on the singular hunt for a serial killer by hypochondriac Detective George Benton, or as other cops call him, “The Bent One.

By the 90s the series ended when Fawcett’s mass market pulp paperbacks all but faded away. The producers that had optioned Precinct: Siberia had a pilot script written. Fox was looking for a police series. Precinct: Siberia was one of the projects considered, but the studio instead chose Stephen J. Cannell’s The Commish starring Michael Chiklis.
Tom would go on to write Copspeak: The Lingo of Law Enforcement and Crime, serial killer nonfiction, horse racing books such as Barbaro and the stunning Churchill Downs commissioned Two Minutes to Glory: The Official History of the Kentucky Derby plus a variety of others. He published over 40 books.
Tom encouraged me to write fiction and served as a mentor. I’d fax pages and we’d swap notes. I found early success when my short stories were published, and in the acknowledgements of my novella The Shill I give tribute to the “late, great pulp paperback author extraordinaire Tom Philbin.”
If you’re a fan of gritty cop novels, sample one in the Precinct: Siberia series, available on Ebay, Amazon, or quite possibly in the mystery section of your favorite used book store. Everyone I’ve ever referred the series to says the same thing; “Hey, these things are really good.”
 (John Shepphird is a Shamus Award winning author and writer/director of TV movies. Look for The Shill and Kill the Shill from Down & Out Books).