Friday, March 31, 2017

Badass Biker Babes from New Orleans

I've been having a serious bought of insomnia that's coincided with the kid being on Spring Break, so it's safe to say my brain is FRIED. If it weren't, I might be trying to write a story based on these badass women in New Orleans.

Since I can't, I'm going to put this out into the world and hope someone else does. Tell me this isn't a killer crime story waiting to be written:

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Write Training is Fight Training

How do you feel when you sit down to write?

Are you exhausted, eager, hung over, just getting buzzed, or full of dread?

Writing is exercise. It is a mental one, but just as strenuous as a good workout.

I don't train like I used to (no more flipping 800lb truck tires) but I still hit the gym three or four times a week, lifting weights with one friend who wants to bulk up and getting my cardio back in shape with a personal trainer pal, who was also the reason I trained in Japan. We don't punch each other in the face no more, but we hit pads and grapple like it's life or death. He's my oldest friend, and we've always been competitive. Thanks to him watching, I set the gym record for the 135lb prowler push (a dozen twenty yard laps on astroturf) and then broke my own record by seventeen seconds the week after. (2 minutes, 43 seconds, if you give a damn.)

I dread going to the gym sometimes, but I always, always feel better having done it. And it is the same with writing. Dorothy Parker said "I hate writing. I love having written." Well, to feel that love, you have to write. And when we train in the gym we always warm up and recover properly. Writers rarely seem to do this, and have that Crossfit dingbat mentality where pain is gain and we are to be measured by the depths of our suffering, like monks whipping themselves. It doesn't have to be that way. It shouldn't. You want to keep writing, you need rest and recovery.

If you have kids or a tough job (or like me, two inconsiderate felines) seven hours of sleep can be tough to achieve. I use earplugs when I have to. Your mind needs to rest. Exercise will help, even if it's just a daily walk. A tired mind and an sleepy body begins to feel like you swallowed a neutron star of cosmic dread. So get those hours of sleep in. Put down the iPad, turn off the NetFlix, close the damn book and sleep. Writers from Hemingway on recommended leaving "gas in the tank" and quitting before you're clawing for words, and it has many benefits. You leave the job with a positive mindset, with the reward of a job well done. And you know where to start when you sit down and write again.

Recovery also means you don't have to write every day. If the every day approach works for you, by all means, don't let me tell you otherwise. But don't use guilt and self-deprecation to rob you of a day off when you need one. Jerrold Mundis recommends taking the weekend off if you write full-time. For me this became a bad habit, because some of my best writing time is on weekends, given that I have a full time non-writing job. My favorite time to write is in the evening, after dinner, so this cut me down to four days a week. And then three, if we went out to the pub after the gym and got home late... so when the hell was I writing? I wasn't, and what was supposed to be a 3 month edit stretched out to six. And I felt miserable, like when I skip the gym for a week. Like a lazy slug.

Do you need to warm up? That depends on the writer. I usually "warm up" by putting on music and reading what I wrote or edited the night before, changing little bits here and there. Some writers meditate, stretch, hit the heavy bag, hit the sauce... whatever works. If you can dive right in, by all means, dive. Just make sure you get your rest, physically and mentally, and let yourself reap the rewards of the hard work, by not beating yourself up for not working even harder. As in the gym, it is self-destructive. Personal trainers laugh, because when a customer is seeing results from a steady and safe approach, they often want to do more.

"This isn't killing me, I feel like I could do more!"
"But you're seeing great results."
"But I could see even greater results!"
"And you can hurt yourself, and be out of the game for months..."

So if your method involves mad springs and long bouts of recovery, you might want to rethink that strategy.

I loathe the term "Self-Care" but in a culture that worships working yourself to death, call it whatever you want. I call it recovery. Look at Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. I love how honest he is about his diet on set. He looks that good because he eats boiled chicken and rice, and does push-ups and squats until the camera rolls. And when the film wraps, he eats a stack of pancakes and a pizza the same day. He earns that pizza.

Earn yours, and then eat the S.O.B.!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Farewell to the Whistler

I can't let this week go by without saying farewell to one of the greats of European cinema. I'm talking about Italian soundtrack legend Alessandro Alessandroni, who died over the weekend at age 92.  If you like Spaghetti Westerns from the 1960's and 1970's (And at this point, is there anyone who doesn't like Spaghetti Westerns? And if not, why not?), you know the part he played in helping to create some of the greatest film scores ever done.  With childhood friend Ennio Morricone, he worked on such films as A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and Once Upon a Time in the West.  He contributed to a slew of non-Leone Westerns also, and movies in every other conceivable genre.  Alessandroni played guitar, mandolin, accordion, and a number of other instruments, and above all, he was a remarkable whistler.  In all those Spaghetti Westerns, the Leone films, for instance, when you hear whistling on the soundtrack, you're hearing Alessandroni. He's there, too, plucking on his guitar, and he very much helped come up with the guitar riffs one hears in films such as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  In other words, Alessandroni is a central figure in inventing a sound that marks an entire era in movies (you can't think of Spaghetti Westerns without hearing the soundtracks in your head), and let's not forget that he himself composed the scores to over 50 films.

You can get the names of the movies he worked on at the Internet Movie Database and elsewhere. But the best way to remember a musician is just to play his music.  So here's a couple of things from him.  The first is the main theme from A Fistful of Dollars with Alessandroni whistling and playing guitar in a live acoustic performance, and the second piece is a track I happen to love, with odd haunting whistling on it, from the Sergio Corbucci film, The Mercenary.

Addio, Alessandro!

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Distraction of Reality

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I'm a fan of the Fargo TV series. There are few crime series that I think rival The Wire as best ever, and Fargo is a contender for the crown. The first two seasons of Fargo have been exceptionally tight, for viewers like myself, who love a series with a long overriding arc and strong characters, Fargo is top shelf.

We've recently been re-watching Fargo in preparation for the upcoming third season. It isn't necessary. Each season is a standalone season, with a different story. Most of the characters are different, and in the case of season 2, the few returning characters are much younger than they were in season one, and you're delving into a part of their history that informed them in season 1.

The real reason for the re-watch is simple. This is a great show that holds up to repeat viewing. As I told Brian yesterday, I think it's more enjoyable the second time around because there are so many things you pick up on that make more sense or have relevance that you may have missed in the first viewing. The attention to detail is phenomenal, and it's just that layered.

The series has been filmed in Calgary, Alberta, and the surrounding area. That's never bothered me at all, even as someone who lived in Calgary and the surrounding area for many years. In season one, a key part of the story includes Stavros Milos, who started Phoenix Foods.

The actual grocery store used? My grocery store, from when I was in college. I lived about a block and a half from it.

This weekend I learned that the third season, again filmed in Calgary and the surrounding area, would venture even closer to home for me.

Parts of the show have been filmed in Beiseker, where my ex and I owned a house and lived for several years. And another filing location is the Beiseker library... A place that I worked at. Other locations included Bragg Creek, where North of 60 was filmed.

Personally, I'm really excited to see familiar sites and how they play out on the small screen. However, I also realize that this season will cut the closest to home. There may be flashes of stores I shopped in dozens of times, as well as restaurants I ate in. And part of the backdrop will be a place I worked in for a period of time.

While I don't think that will detract from my enjoyment of the show at all, I'm aware that when things cut close to home for some people it can be very distracting. How many cop shows follow police procedure to the letter? How many police procedures follow every detail precisely? They don't. Reality is almost always filtered to accommodate the needs of fiction.

The balancing act that writers must contend with is weighing the needs of the story versus the credibility of the content. When you can get a reader or viewer to completely embrace your work and dispense disbelief, or buy into your fiction, then you can successfully tell your story.

The setting may inform the story. There are things about specific places that, if gotten wrong, may make a local cringe or even abandon a story. I think as a Canadian, I'm accustomed to the distortion of Canada in story. One of my favorite slips was a reference to a town named Muskoka, when Muskoka is a district and not a town. Others might ignore than, but when you grew up in a town in Muskoka you can't deny they didn't do their homework. Did I stop watching the show? No. Canada is used as a fictional film backdrop for so many American shows it's just become something I think we overlook. Fargo isn't the first series to feature filming in Calgary or the surrounding area, and it won't be the last.

However, there is something distinct about how they've utilized their settings and created their world. It really works as a whole. I think Ewan McGregor said it best when he talked abut filming in the brutal cold winter this year. "I quite like it. I think when it gets really down to the minus 20s, I’m like ‘This is the real deal.’ This is what it’s meant to feel like. This is what it should feel like.”

The authenticity of the experience informs the art. How many of you have had that moment, when something in the fiction spoke to you as being so real that you connected with it deeply? I had that reading Laura Lippman's To The Power of Three, because the description related to the foot injury was so real that I - as a person who had their foot partially severed as a child - knew Laura must have suffered a foot injury she drew inspiration from, which she confirmed in an interview I did with her over ten years ago. Or when I read the opening of The Murder Exchange, and knew - as someone who almost drowned as a child (I was a nightmare kid, okay?) - that the author must have had an experience where they thought they could die.

When a setting I know is utilized in a way that creates a new setting, that makes it really become the fictional universe, it enriches the story. Done wrong, it can be a black mark. It's easier to do this in film than it is in books, but if you feel daunted by writing about a setting that you haven't visited or lived in, consider this: most people determine whether a work feels authentic to a location based on their perception of the location, rather than their experience with it. Sometimes, being believable is more important than reality... And if you're really stuck, there are usually community associations where you might be able to get in touch with someone who is more than happy to answer your questions and help you create an accurate representation of their world.

Back to Fargo, I'm going to put this challenge out there. If you haven't experienced Lorne Malvo messing with the minds of those around him for his own amusement, if you haven't watched Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers in action, if you haven't experienced Mike Milligan and the Kitchen brothers, if you haven't watched at least one season start to finish and weighed it as a whole, then you cannot argue that there's a better crime fiction show currently on television. This is one of the best shows that writers can watch to study villains who are so damned entertaining, you almost hate to see them brought down.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Stuck with Stock…For Now

Scott D. Parker

Over the years, this Saturday column has morphed into a weekly wrap-up email. Some days, I write about things that are on my mind. Other times, I’ve focused on a movie or a television program. So far this year, I’ve been writing about my new personal training regimen of trying my hand at writing without an outline. 

But this week is different. I’ve been focused on completing my new novel which, by the time this post drops, I should have two or three days left to finish it. In January and February, I completed those respective novels on the 26th of the month, so I’d love to complete this new novel by Sunday. But I’m not going to stay up past midnight to do it. The book’ll be done when it’s done, be it Sunday or Monday. The key thing for me will be to finish it as soon as possible so I can enjoy a non-writing break before I start the fourth book next Saturday on 1 April.

Well, the more I think about it, there is one thing that I’m pondering: stock images. I’m in the process of planning the covers for the various products I’ll be releasing this year. The products are all westerns as of now. And there are a TON of images out there. 

The biggest downside of being an indie writer who isn’t proficient in illustration is that I’m stuck with stock images. I’m slowly learning how to manipulate images, but for the most part, I’m a guy who uses an image as-is. A graphic designer friend of mine opened my eyes when he mentioned layers so I can layer more than one image on top of each other, but what I’d love to be able to do is draw the covers as I see them in my head.


Current novel: 
Lady Gunsmith #1: The Legend of Roxie Doyle by J. R. Roberts (Robert Randisi)

Current non-fiction books: 
Master of Adventure: The Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs by Richard A. Lupoff 
The Metaphysics of the Novel by Don Pendleton

Current TV show: 
House of Cards, Season 2

Friday, March 24, 2017

Crime & Punk: It's OK To Push Back - Ian Truman

Ian Truman is taking over my Friday spot to talk a little bit about the connection between punk rock and the drive to create.
Ian Truman is the winner of the 2013 Expozine "Best Book", Ian Truman is a Montreal born writer of poetry and fiction. His latest novel, GRAND TRUNK AND SHEARER, is available from Down and Out books.

It's OK To Push Back
I never really went to the big arena concerts, places like the Bell Centre and such, and I kinda feel lucky about that now. I feel lucky I was introduced to “legitimate” punk pretty early.
See, I was bullied a lot back in high school and in many ways I was your typical 90’s geek: too tall, too skinny, no muscle on the bones, anime club a decade before anime was “normal.” I was the kid that was hiding in the library as much as I could and I have zero problem admitting it was because I liked it as much as because I needed a place to hide. 
Now I think it was maybe in my fifth year of high school and I was hanging out with this weird fucking metalhead, one of the few other loners we had at school, and when I mean weird, I mean that he used to listen to metal sure, but in reality, he was trying to make music with a grinder over a vacuum cleaner and some white noise in the background and some bass drum filled with cans and trash or something. THAT guy, you know?
In many ways he was probably the punkest guy I have ever met. He really, absolutely and truthfully did not give a fuck about what anyone would ever think of him. He didn’t care about tags of labels or punk, metal, grind of the very concept of music. He just did whatever came to his mind. He was also probably the smartest guy around and didn’t have one once of malice in him. I would swear to that. 
 So this kid, who by then had been kicked out of the school radio club for playing his music there, told me he was going to bring me to this place they called “L’X” one day.
“You’re gonna love it,” he said. 
I said, “OK,” simply. Because what the fuck did I know about anything? That was about to change.
So one day we pack ourselves in his tiny car. That thing was a fucking Pinto, if you remember those, the rest of you can google them. That thing was a goddamn pinto. He later sold it to some monster truck show that defined the tiny box or a car as “absolutely perfect.” Anyways. So we packed ourselves in that car and we lived about an hour away from Downtown. He brings us there and it’s in the heart of Quartier Latin and, I mean, it looked like a fucking wasteland. 
This wasn’t the “Quartier des Spectacles” of luxurious condos, SAT gallery and designer gyms. This was the fucking red light in all its glory. I think it was 98 maybe.  It was the Montreal of insanely high unemployment, mental-hospital deinstitutionalization, spiking homelessness, post-referendum-traumatic-stress and population flight. 
Half the buildings were abandoned, there were vacant lots everywhere, some village made out of planks and cardboard, FOUFS was across the street and a gathering of maybe 60 bikers in a parking lot in front of an downright corporate ice cream parlour (yes, I’m serious) You stopped counting the needles and just found a path around them. I remembered some guy on the second window of an 18th-century row house selling contraband cigarettes up and down a bucked he pulled with yellow string. 
And L’X was right in there, about a hundred inside the red light district. It was some room in this fucking historic building, abandoned or it seemed abandoned, it definitely looked abandoned. But there was definitely something happening there. And the place, I mean, it was this magnificent stone building, six or seven stories high with all the tall windows and the metal sculptures over the main entrance. “La Patrie” had been sculpted in the stone. The kind of shit you’d put in a movie or the kind of shit you say in movies that took place in New-York. You know “the” building I’m talking about.
In many ways, you could say L’X was Montreal’s CBGB’S.

So, there it was, next door over with a simple stroke of paint over a metallic door: “L’X” and that was it. The reason I’m bringing this up is because I respect a lot of artists who keep talking about those “matinées” at CBGC and how it shaped their lives and L’X was that place for me. It was the place where I had that one pure moment of revelation you really fucking need to make is as an artist. 
You see, I feel lucky about not going through the typical “Arena” concert because my friend had taken me straight to the heart of the fucking beast. That place was full of hope and desolation and fear and pain but the trash and sweat and anger mixed with this brand-new fucking notion of freedom. That tiny, fucking weird fucking metalhead had taken me right to the heart of punk rock. 
For such a legendary venue, I’m still amazed it hasn’t flooded the world of Montreal culture and writing. I don’t know if I was the first one to really write about it or it or not but it should definitely take its righteous place in the city’s cultural history.  
I mean, you had to go down some concrete stairs and then you reached the main door just inside and the room opened up in front of you. You walked down another set of stairs to the dance floor and there were metal railings all around everything and the obvious graffiti on the walls. The toilets were downright gnarly, that went without saying.
There seemed to be people sleeping down the corridor to some other part of the building, I swear, I saw some of them, there were fucking catacombs under there, it was like there was a system of tunnels below the venue that was below the fucking building that lead all over the city and the electricity was still working down there and you couldn’t figure out why. There was this one light bulb that was still dangling from the ceiling that looked like it had been there for decades and the wires running nowhere into a wall. 
You’d want to make that shit up and you couldn’t do it.
In the main room there was a third set of stairs leading up with a fucking mezzanine going all around the stage. And the stage was small and shitty and most bands would barely fit there. You’d fit fifty people in the room and it looked full but I’ve seen shows where they crammed probably a hundred and fifty.
The first show I went there had about 30 kids, maybe. It was far from full but it was absolutely mind blowing to me and I didn’t’ know what to expect.
The 30 kids in there were pushing against the stage like their life depended on it. The band started playing and I can’t remember who it was and it doesn’t matter. What mattered is I was this skinny, geeky kid getting shit on all week at school, hiding in the library or the anime club and I was smart, sure, but the grades weren’t there and I didn’t fucking know what to do with anything, with myself or my fucking life. 
 I had been writing on my own probably since third grade but I never dared to show it to anyone. I was creating in silence with no desire (or in fact, guts) to get it out in the world. No matter what you’d think about it, it takes guts to be a writer. It takes guts to say, “here, I wrote 300 pages and it’s worth your limited reading time.”
Punk gave me that guts and it happened in one second. 
The sound was fucking loud and it was horrible and heavy and noisy and shitty in every way you could imagine. You kinda just focused on the stomping of the drums. People started slamming into each other, punching and pushing each other and for the first time in my life it was OK to push back. In fact, it was expected of me. I was fucking invited to. A bunch of losers, loners and other misfit kids free to be “someone” in the second sub-basement of an abandoned building in the middle of “no-future” and a fucking recession but it was OK to push back. That meant a fucking lot.
And maybe I’m mature enough now to say that “being allowed to push back” is probably the most basic, common, most important emotion at the heart of punk. Before all the politics and the aesthetics and the noise and social critique, before all the branches and the Krishna-cores or straight edge vegans and the grind-core-pop-punk-concept-bands or post-emo-neo-crust bullshit there was this : “It’s OK to push back.” 
On paper it sounds like absolute garbage, right? It sounds so fucking basic it’s got to be a joke, right? In real life it was absolutely everything to me. 
Without that there would be no Ian Truman, no art of mine, no music, no politics, no drive, no anger, no desire or novels or poetry or books. Nothing. I wouldn’t have seen New-Orleans because of it or any other city because of it. I wouldn’t be writing this blog post or any other post at all. In fact I have little doubt I’d be dead. 
I spent about half my life in Quartier Latin, now. I’ve studied there. I work there. The building is still standing and I think about it every time I walk in front of it. You can’t forget something like that. I’m sure the aging punks in NYC still have that pinch when they walk in front of CBGB’s. I get the same feeling with L’X.
The building’s still abandoned. There’s asbestos or some shit in there. I know for a fact the room is still down there, probably untouched. I could bust the door and walk down and find the water damaged stage and the posters on the walls of bands as soft as the fucking Weakerthans, or as heavy as Snapcase and Shutdown. 
My point, I guess, is that kids need places like that in the world. It creates passion, it creates artists. They need that place to be absolutely, marvellously fucking horrible at whatever they’re trying to do. No one’s that good right off the bat. Absolutely no one.  You need to fail a lot and you need a place where you get to fail a lot.  L’X was that place for me. 
And so, sixteen years later, fucking seventeen years later, the building remains unused, wounded with asbestos, too expensive to fix or sell or too expensive to do anything with. As about a dozen glimmering condo towers have risen right next to it, it stands as a testament of what was and how much you can do with very little.
If you dare to write about it every once in a while.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Kieran Shea Interview: Koko2

The lovely and talented Kieran Shea had great success with his first SPACE OPERA -- Koko Takes a Holiday -- not long ago. Then there was another Koko book. And now, the galaxy is blessed with new Shea -- Off Rock, coming next month.
Already picked by io9 as one of the best upcoming books, Off Rock is a space heist story you'll dig.
In the year 2778, Jimmy Vik is feeling dissatisfied. 
After busting his ass for assorted interstellar mining outfits for close to two decades, downsizing is in the wind, his ex-girlfriend/supervisor is climbing up his back, and daily Jimmy wonders if he’s played his last good hand. 
So when Jimmy stumbles upon a significant gold pocket during a routine procedure on Kardashev 7-A, he believes his luck may have changed—larcenously so. But smuggling the gold “off rock” won’t be easy.
To do it, Jimmy will have to contend with a wily criminal partner, a gorgeous covert assassin, the suspicions of his ex, and the less than honorable intentions of an encroaching, rival mining company. As the clock ticks down, treachery and betrayal loom, the body count rises, and soon Jimmy has no idea who to trust. 
I recently had the chance to chat with Kieran Shea about his upcoming novel.
Steve Weddle: In 2009, you said you were out of your mind for writing P.I. fiction with your Charlie Byrne stories. “All that dead genre nonsense, the giants who have walked before, and yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. But I can't help myself. I've kicked open a box and I can't close the lid, at least not yet.” You wrote story after story about Charlie Byrne and seemed to be on the way to a Charlie Byrne novel, maybe even a novel series. Did you get the P.I. itch taken care of? Is there a Charlie Byrne series out there somewhere? 
Kieran Shea: While I miss Charlie and his cohort Stevie sometimes (and even Morgan, the ex-AHL hockey bruiser who works for mob captain Dante Donofrio) I think writing all those shorts served a purpose. I’m so grateful for those who published any Charlie story because it was immediate feedback and it helped me find the rhythm of my own voice. And for the record, I actually I did write a Charlie Byrne novel which will never see the light of day. 
SW: You’ve moved your fiction from the east coast to outer space. What happened?

KS: Well, Koko Takes a Holiday is what happened. As I worked on that novel, I started to enjoy the satirical potential of speculative fiction. I still write terrestrial stuff. Little things. I have a western in a pot on the back burner.

SW: You seem to be writing sci-fi crime fiction. Do you have any models for this? Harry Harrison? Philip K. Dick? Do you enjoy Dick?

KS: Truth is, only recently did I discover Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat series. As for PKD, that mother is in a class all by himself. Again for me it always goes back to satire. Stanislaw Lem, Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, Mikhail Bulgakov, David Gunn’s Death’s Head series, Rudy Rucker, and so forth. Somebody once told me that all stories have a touch of crime in them in some way. Greed. Betrayal. Sometimes murder, sometimes not. We repeat ourselves as a species, only the technology changes.

SW: From Koko to Jimmy Vik in Off Rock, what did writing Charlie Haden teach you about creating characters?

KS: Charlie Haden? You mean, the jazz bassist?
Kieran Shea (r) stalked by a hobo in Philly.

SW: BYRNE, dagnabbit!

KS: I think doing all those Charlie stories made me more aware of how little things define a character. What pastry he orders with his coffee, what music he listens to in his downtime, or like how he mixes mustard into his tuna fish instead of mayonnaise. With characters, it's kind of a thrill when everyday happenstance or a habit can touch a nerve. Oh, yeah...I forgot another thing that I miss about Charlie. Somehow I wish I could bring back Chomsky…his one-eyed, three-legged cat. Chomsky disappeared after Superstorm Sandy.

SW: Both the first Koko book and Off Rock start off by establishing past relationships early on, but the newer book seems more devoted to spending a little time on the slow burn, whereas Koko Takes a Holiday started with a bar fight and never let up. Was this change a conscious choice or was it how the story developed?

KS: Conscious? Yes. Dickensian, hand-holding narratives bore me, I mean, why screw around, right? Show the reader some respect. They want to be dropped into a new world? Fine, drop them and slam the door shut. They're smart. They'll figure it out. Both Koko Takes a Holiday and Off Rock kick off with a bang, but with the latter instead of racing ahead I employed a flash-forward opening. When you shift back from that kind of stutter-step opening, a sense of peril is established and the reader has an idea where they are going. Like the opening of James Sallis's novel Drive or films like Memento and Michael Clayton. You're pulled into the story thinking, "Whoa, wait a minute. This is majorly messed up..." and the next thing you know your reader is invested. You can roll out the details from there more methodically. 

SW: I’ll take your for that. I can’t stand movies, so whatever. Look, as a human, you seem interested in the power of corporations and the misuse of military force. How do you use that in your novels, particularly Off Rock, without becoming preachy?

KS: As humans are inherently flawed, it follows that whatever we touch or attempt to master will also be flawed. You get into preachiness when you go for unrealistic, moral absolutes or when you expect fairness. Even with the most noble of our intentions, just under the surface are persistent, poisonous notions like greed, lust, wrath, piety, fear, solipsism, or whatever. Is this a grim outlook? Sure, but it's reality and you better have a sense of humor about it or you're doomed. We also cope by sublimation. I don't know about you but I have yet to meet an adult who hasn't been subjected to or victimized by corporate power. There's a surrendering of our nature just to make our way in the world and you can't usually stop to point out this madness or you'll be run over or shunned. Writers, however, can suspend time for a while and lash out via satire. And misuse of the military to advance gain? Sean Penn has a line in Terrence Malick's underrated war movie The Thin Red Line. Penn plays First Sgt. Ed Welsh, and after he tries to save a member of his unit and barely falls back to safety he says, "Property. The whole fucking thing's about property." Yep.

SW: You have weird tastes in reading. What do you have going on lately that you’re interested in?

KSNot weird, maybe just broad. Right now I'm reading Carl von Clausewitz's On War, but I just finished Joe Ide's IQ which has to be the best fucking detective debut since Bob Crais's The Monkey’s Raincoat or Lehane's A Drink Before the War. Next though I'm pretty psyched for Ron Currie, Jr.'s new novel The One Eyed Man. If you haven't read Currie's Everything Matters! or God Is Dead do so. The guy is a flat-out genius. I might reread Titus Andronicus for a laugh this weekend. It's a shame Monty Python never staged that.  

SW: I’d love to write erotic space opera, but probably never will. What’s a book you want to write or a story you want to tell, but probably never will? 

KS: A young adult adventure book about weather systems, pirates, and the Bermuda Triangle. There's also this thing with 50's surfers and greasers teaming up to fight evil with souped-up, hotrod submarines.

SW: Can people catch you on tour or at readings coming up?

KS: Nope. Maybe. Nah.

Pre-Order Off Rock, available April 18, 2017

And check out the excerpt over at B&N, where you can also pre-order ->

In the Kappa Quadrant on a Cyclopean-Class moon known as Kardashev 7-A, Jimmy Vik was busy planting the initial hardware for a controlled mineshaft demolition and idly considering the merits of offing himself.
Soloing in small planetoid mineshafts made you ponder all sorts of odd things. Deliberately sabotaging your own spacesuit, inexplicably releasing an airlock… strange, meaningless snippets of bizarre android porn. Still nursing the tragic resonances of a hangover and dehydrated, Jimmy pushed these dark introspections aside and tried to focus on the work at hand. Being seven hours into his shift, he was cold and way past cranky. Anyone would be hard pressed to argue against it: solo rigging demolition inlays for mineshaft closure just plain sucked.
But then Jimmy found the pocket.
At first he thought—no way. No freakin’ way—he had to be seeing things. >>

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fifty, Work Avoidance, and Bad Boy Boogie

by Holly West

My husband turns fifty next week and I'm throwing him a birthday party this weekend. I'm not sure why I'm so stressed out about it, but I am. Planning the party, not the turning fifty--although it seems impossible that he's reached that age. Lately, I've felt haunted by the passage of time, but that's a subject of another post, or the theme of a future novel, perhaps.

Stressed or not, party planning is a terrific form of writing avoidance. How can I sit down and do my work (editing, at this point) when I've got a menu to create? Shopping to do? A house to decorate at the last minute so that all my guests will be impressed by my interior design prowess?

Just typing that last paragraph makes me feel anxious.

This week's post will therefore be brief, but I want to point out two things:

1) The new Writer Types podcast is out and it's full of good things.

2) Thomas Pluck's latest novel, BAD BOY BOOGIE (Down & Out), dropped yesterday and it's a dad-gum-doozie (see what I kinda did there)? I was fortunate to read an early draft of the book, which I loved, and now, reading it in its final form, I can't say enough how impressed by it. When Jay Desmarteux exits prison after serving twenty-five years for killing a vicious school bully, he steps into a world that has, in many ways, left him behind. His parents have disappeared, his friends are reluctant to engage with him, and the local bigwigs want him out of town. A Louisiana native, Jay's got no love for his adopted New Jersey home town (unless you count his childhood sweetheart, Ramona) but he's got debts to settle before he'll head south. What follows is a complex story that's heartbreaking, violent, subtly funny, and above all, well-told.

In Desmarteaux, Pluck has succeeded in creating a nuanced character that is both naive and yet incredibly street smart. While Desmarteux has experienced some of the worst life has to offer and done things that are morally hard to reconcile, the twenty-five years he's spent in prison makes him a bit wide-eyed and innocent as he re-discovers life on the outside. This contrast is key to getting the reader to take his side. Like his protagonist, Pluck doesn't pull punches--there is nothing watered down here. And speaking as a writer, I admire and applaud Pluck for, as they say, going there. BAD BOY BOOGIE showcases in wonderful detail Thomas Pluck's talent for observing life and distilling it into a terrific story with a cast of memorable characters.

Note: In keeping with my promise to rate and review every book I read this year, I've cross-posted this text to relevant websites.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Who Cares About the Motive?

Some time ago, I read an article (I don't even recall where) that talked about the question of motive in contemporary crime fiction.  We all know the familiar adage: means, motive and opportunity are needed to prove guilt in a criminal trial, and a mystery writer plotting out a story or novel must supply all three for the narrative's  murderer. For a killing to occur, real or fictional, the culprit has to have the tools to commit the crime (the weapon), a reason strong enough to take another person's life, and an unhindered chance to put into action the intent to kill. In countless mystery stories and novels, one or more killings occur, and the detective proceeds to investigate by sniffing out clues that will lead to knowledge about these three things. As the investigator checks out suspects, he or she eliminates those who may fit the profile for one or two of these points, but not all three. The person who matches up to all three, of course, is the killer. But the article I read asked how accurate this picture is in today's world of forensics. Do police, when investigating a murder, really care all that much about the motive? To the contemporary police, the weapon used remains important (as a way to link the suspected killer to the crime) and the relevance of opportunity will never go away unless one day people are able to be in two places at the same time. But what's the big deal about motive?

If a married woman is killed, for example, then, yes, the first person the police will look at is the husband (statistics dictate this approach). But even in a case like this, what really do the police need to know: why the husband wanted his wife dead, or whether any blood, skin, bodily fluids, etc. provide a DNA match with the husband? If the police find that the blood spatter at the crime scene contains the husband's DNA and nobody else's (and assuming there's no other reason for his blood to be there), they have their murderer. Case pretty much closed, based on forensics. Whether the husband killed his wife for her money, in a jealous rage, because he has a lover he wants to be with, or for any other reason is of secondary importance. Finding out the why serves as nothing more than icing on the cake.

This is the way nearly every episode of CSI and its offshoots (and its many TV show descendants) proceed. The standard forensics team is all about science, following the evidence, and whatever motive they give the viewer comes at the end. There are CSI episodes, for example, and good ones, where the team never gets to the bottom of understanding the killer's motive. But it doesn't matter. They know without doubt they have the right person based on the physical evidence. And, as this article I read noted (and with which I agreed), there is something about this development in investigative technique that seems to make the mystery writer's job harder. Like in real life, a crime on the page can occur where no physical evidence is left behind, and there as always finding a motive to link a specific person to the victim remains of major importance. But with forensics teams able to use tiny fibers of hair as decisive evidence nowadays, it's less and less common that no physical evidence is left at crime scenes. So the crime writer faces a choice: keep concocting mysteries where physical evidence plays no part or (not quite plausibly) a minor part, or write mysteries whose solutions hinge in large part on forensics.

The problem here is that not everyone writing wants to present the minutiae of forensics. CSI may have been a superb show, but I have a hunch that most writers would rather watch that kind of mystery than write one like it.  Most writers, I suspect, are more interested in people — psychology and motive — than in CSI-type science.  To avoid this dilemma, one can always write crime stories from the criminal's point of view,  and here motive and psychology remain paramount. Ditto for whydunnits, where the emphasis is not on who committed the crime but on why the perpetrator did what he or she did. Maybe that's why, over time, whydunnits have become more and more popular. With investigative science central to solving crimes, the whydunnit gives writers a way to explore human motivation without having to make the science a centerpiece. But for those still writing whodunnits of any kind, the challenge is there. How much do you focus on your killer's motive, and if you do, how do you do it while trying to create a world the reader believes?

I don't even write whodunnits (Or, anyway, I haven't written one yet.  In the future, who knows?), but as a crime fiction fan I find the question worth thinking about.  Funny, science is under attack in the real world, at least in certain quarters, but in mystery fiction, it gets more and more important all the time

Monday, March 20, 2017

Rob Pierce, Postcards from Oakland

Rob Pierce, author of the novel UNCLE DUST, the novella VERN in the HEAT, and the short story collection THE THINGS I LOVE WILL KILL ME YET, delivers his latest novel WITH the RIGHT ENEMIES. He is one of the best crime writers on the scene. A personal favorite.
Like good bourbon, Rob Pierce’s stories are a complex blend of rich flavors. His dark humor emerges even in brutal, tense moments and many readers consider his dialogue to be the highlight of his literary crime tales. It pops on the page, sharp and clean, explaining what you need to know while complimenting the building atmosphere.

            ‘“And,’ she went on, ‘you always drank, but now you’re always drunk.’

            ‘You used to drink with me.’

            ‘You’re drunk and you’re dark. I don’t want to go there.’

            I nodded at her scotch glass. ‘You gonna go there?”’

(from UNCLE DUST by Rob Pierce, All Due Respect Books, 2015)

His characters are multi-faceted, at times heart-breaking and soaked in the imperfect human condition and at times despicable. His collection of professional criminals with random pockets of kindness, so intrigued readers, Rob was repeatedly asked to write sequels and follow-ups.

Rob has a way with setting, as well. In UNCLE DUST, WITH the RIGHT ENEMIES and VERN in the HEAT, the reader is introduced to Oakland, California not just as a setting but as a fully fleshed-out character.

As S.W. Lauden, author of CROSSWISE and the upcoming CROSSED BONES, said, “Pierce once again does a fantastic job of painting a unique picture of Oakland through the eyes of career criminals.”

Recently, though nearly 3,000 miles apart, Rob and I had drinks, his bourbon, mine Nyquil (cough, cough) and “talked” about the sunny side of the bay.
(Interview conducted over email. Some answers have been edited.)

Your recent release, WITH THE RIGHT ENEMIES, is a follow up to your acclaimed debut novel, UNCLE DUST. Both stories, as well as your book VERN IN THE HEAT, are contemporary Crime-Noir tales taking place, mainly, in Oakland. Other than being your hometown, how does Oakland inspire your work?

Well, there's a lot of crime here. Saw a nearly successful drive-by in my driveway. So there's violence, and there are seedy aspects, and that stuff isn't always hard to find. It's also pretty easy to see the economic conditions that lead to a lot of crime, especially when you know a lot of these kids come from homes where the parents aren't educated. And in a lot of cases it's one parent, who may well have to work a ton as well as raise kids and try to keep it all together. Or they're not living with either parent.

I tend to write about criminals who are just guys doing their jobs as far as they're concerned, and I think it's important in telling these stories to give the reader some background.

Would these stories differ if we picked the characters up and dropped them in, say, Washington D.C.?

I don't know that there'd be a lot of change so long as we're dealing with another city with similar problems. If you tried to put these characters in Kansas, that's a whole other thing. But anywhere with chunks of urban decay, economic and educational problems, and a large illegal drug market? A lot of big cities have those issues - gangs, prostitution, gambling (the traditional gang favorites). But I don't know the details of those other cities.

Your characters do a fair amount of "business management" in local bars and diners. What are your favorite establishments in Oakland?

I drink near work, which is in Berkeley. If I'm close to home I tend to drink at home. Although there is a place in Oakland that sells a burger that's half beef, half bacon, and they have a good beer selection and a full bar. It's called The Telegraph. They also host readings.

Is it easy for you to find inspiration?

Hell, I sometimes take a longer route to work because I get story ideas driving through downtown Oakland.

In THE THINGS I LOVE WILL KILL Me YET, your collection of short stories released this past summer, you explore various settings. Most interestingly, Thanksgiving, 1963. The setting for this story is key. Tell us about why this tale had to take place in Texas.

That's my favorite of my short stories. Pulp Modern had a JFK assassination issue. I rarely write for concept issues, but that's a subject I'm interested in. And I've read a decent amount about it, theories, and the James Ellroy books in particular, and although I haven't read him on it, DeLillo's covered that turf too, so I knew all those angles were already taken. So, I was thinking about it, and I wondered what it would be like to be a Texan during the JFK assassination. Specifically, to be in Dallas. Then I upped the ante by making my protagonist a gun dealer. I mean, this was a Dallas assassination that put a Texan in the presidency. I tried to put myself in the shoes of that particular Texan under those circumstances.

What are your publishing plans for the rest of 2017 and beyond?

I don't know what else might get published this year. I'm currently working on a novel about a struggling career criminal whose marriage is in even worse shape than his career. The working title is Tommy Shakes, and I'll finish a draft probably in the next couple months. When I'm done with the novel I'll probably work on some shorter pieces until I get my book length energy back.

Of more interest to people who've read my earlier books, I have a general idea for a novel about what happens next after WITH the RIGHT ENEMIES. That book will also incorporate elements of VERN in the HEAT and is tentatively titled KEENE FOR BLOOD. I'm not that interested in writing a series that focuses on one character throughout, but I have several characters I'd like to go back to and develop further. Other characters may be peripheral throughout. As long as they're alive, they could show up in the next book.

Mr. Pierce is also editor of Swill Magazine, an editorial consultant with All Due Respect Books, and co-editor at Flash Fiction Offensive, Rob has been nominated for a Derringer Award for short crime fiction. He lives and will probably die in Oakland, California.

Check out all of Rob’s great work.