Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Word-of-Mouth Business

I wrote a review this week—not for a book, but for a service. We had some construction work done, and the company did a great job. I told the owner that, and he said, “Do you ever go on Yelp?” Because that helps tremendously. Reviews get the word out, he said. Lets people know that you provide a good service.
I had to laugh—for two reasons. One, because of course I checked reviews before I chose a construction company. I went on Yelp and Angie’s List, and I carefully read what people had to say. That helped me steer clear of unreliable companies and make a good decision. So me taking the time to post a good review for the next folks looking for a contractor is extremely valuable currency for somebody in a word-of-mouth business.
I’m sure you’ve figured out the second reason why I laughed. Guess who else is in a word-of-mouth business? Me. And all authors. We’re just as dependent on reviews as that neighborhood contractor is.
Taking the time to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads is one of the greatest gifts you can give an author you like. It doesn’t have to be lengthy—one sentence is enough. And it doesn’t matter where you read it. If you checked something out at the library (yes, please do!), you can still review it anywhere you please. Because the blunt fact is, the more the better. The higher the number of reviews for a book, the more prospective readers it attracts. Because they legitimately want to know if a book is going to be worth their money and their time.  
I had a conversation recently with a lovely lady in my book group, who was gushing about a literary novel she’d just read. She said no one she talked to about it had heard of it or the author. I asked if she’d written a review. She said no, because she felt like she would be going out on a limb because no one else was familiar with it. But think about how valuable your review would be, I said. A glowing review for someone who only has a few would carry a lot of weight. It would be like you recommending it to hundreds of book clubs, instead of just to our little group. This lovely lady lit up. She hadn’t thought of it that way. I haven’t talked to her since, but I hope she wrote that review.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 26

Scott D. Parker

As of Monday, half of 2019 is gone. How is your writing?

Mine? Well, it is not where I expected it to be on New Year's Day. I had envisioned a couple of new books under my belt, ready to be edited, revised, and published. Then again, I also expected 1 July to be the day my fourth Calvin Carter novel would be published.

Ain't gonna happen.

When the Publisher Rejects Your Book

Countless writers have received rejection letters from agents or editors or publishers. Heck, back in 2006 and 2007, I got mine, too.

Which makes the indie publishing concept so enticing. There are no gatekeepers between a writer and a reader. The only thing stopping a writer from publishing a book is...well, nothing. As long as the writer can learn how to upload files to Amazon, Kobo, or whatever.

Which makes the fact my publisher rejected the fourth Carter novel so interesting, *I'm* the publisher.

As I wrote last week, I realized the fourth Carter book, Brides of Death, as written, wasn't up to par of the other three. Brides follows the pattern of all six Carter novels: Carter is assigned a case, he investigates, he gets into and out of scraps, and he completes the assignment.

But the chapter detailing the assignment and what actually happens don't match. An easy fix would be to revise the assignment chapter, but then I'd have to re-title the book. The other alternative is to keep the title (which matches the assignment) and insert extra scenes into the book to show Carter and his partner investigating the actual assignment. That would make for a more in-depth book, which is a good thing, but there was no way to get it done by 1 July (actually 27 June because Amazon needs some lead time).

So I'm temporarily delaying the book. I don't want to put crap out, and if I had published the book as is, it would have been that. I'm the first reader and if I found an issue with the book, then other readers would have as well. Let's avoid that.

Granted, astute future readers can read the book and this blog and draw their own conclusions, but I have no power over that. Control the controllables. Make the book better and move forward.

What is Forward?

My wife is a small business owner as well (she makes jewelry under, so I asked her opinion. She agreed with me not to publish at this time. I jokingly said, "It's not like there are dozens of readers who would be upset at my decision."

That jibe hit home harder than I expected. Yes, my sales are not awesome, but that doesn't always bother me. I am unfocused when it comes to marketing, and I need to rectify that.

Which is what I plan on doing for the rest of the summer. I've got three books in the series out now. Why not promote them? See if there's even an audience for the type of book I'm writing. Sure, they were a blast to write, but what if I'm the only reader? After a bit, is there a reason to keep writing them if my reason for writing is to share stories I tell to the general reading public and the general reading public doesn't respond?

It's a quandary. Well, no, it's not. It's an opportunity. I plan on spreading the word about the Calvin Carter, Railroad Detective series far and wide. Why not build the audience with the three books currently available, build anticipation to books four, five, and six?

Speaking of audience, I read a fanTAStic blog post this week.

We Are in the Entertainment Business

You know this, right? Books are entertainment, just like TV and movies and music. But, before Thursday, me, like many of us writers, thought the book/ebook was the goal. We indies are our own publishers, and publishers produce books. Sure, we knew that our characters could be licensed, but that was only after we had a book, right?

Well, not exactly.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith attended the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas. Dean has a series of videos up where he discusses what he learned from the expo. Kristine started on Thursday with the first part of her Business Musings: Rethinking The Writing Business. It will blow your mind wide open.

If you are a writer who thinks larger than a book or books, you owe it to yourself to read her column every Thursday. Jump on board now and learn with her. It's like going to school, but it's stuff you want to learn.

Filling the Tank

Finished listening to THE SCAM by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. It's a good thing I enjoyed the book and was already going to listen to others because this one ended on a cliffhanger.

Watched Toy Story 4. Enjoyed it quite a bit.

Watched The Old Man and the Gun. Liked it pretty well. Good to see Redford go out on a good film.

Still loving Masterchef. Could watch Gordon Ramsey demonstrate cooking things all day.

Enjoying CBS's Blood and Treasure even more after this week's episode.

Started listening o the audio of Good Omens. It's my current book for the SF book club.

All of this is to say I'm filling my tank with good content that I can bring to bear on the story I'm starting on Monday. But I'm also rethinking said story. I had one in mind...and then another just roared into place. So I'm likely going to go with the flow. It'll be something rather different for me, and that both excites and scares me.

Just the right place to start a new story.

Friday, June 28, 2019

So Was Von Tot: The podcast

Welcome to Season 2 of the "7 Minutes With" podcast, brought to you by, with your host Steve Weddle. This is episode 7 of the second season.

Episode 207

Jedidiah Ayres talks about film and Holly West discusses TV. Chris F. Holm and I talk about The Voice of Cassandre.
Reese Witherspoon 

Chris F. Holm

Holly West

Jedidiah Ayres

Jedidiah Ayres->
Charles Willeford
River of Grass

Holly West->
Big Little Lies

Chris Holm ->
The Voice of Cassandre Mixtape 596

The Voice of Cassandre Mixtape 648

Episode 207 on Apple Podcasts  and on SoundCloud

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Word of Mouth: Promoting Indie Crime Fiction

By David Nemeth

I was talking with Chris Rhatigan prior to a recent Noir at the Bar–it was either in Philadelphia or Wilmington, Delaware. Rhatigan is full-time freelance writer and editor, publisher of All Due Respect Books, and author of “Squeeze”, “Race to the Bottom”, and more. The talk turned to books and indie crime fiction, the dark kind, the kind that drowns in noir. We agreed that there are a lot of positives in the scene, but one of the negatives is how many indie writers aren’t reading or promoting other indie writers. Recently I saw social media feeds pimping the latest book from the creator of Hannibal Lecter. That book does not need help.

A couple of weeks ago, I got together a couple of writers who write some dark shit, but all three of them read and promote indie crime fiction as well. I asked Jason Beech, author of “City of Forts”; Beau Johnson, author of “The Big Machine Eats” (Down & Out Books); and Tom Leins, “Repetition Kills You” (All Due Respect Books) to chat about indie crime fiction. All three do more than their part in promoting other books and writers which includes book reviews, interviews, or posting photos their ugly mug next to the cover of the book they are reading.

David Nemeth: Can you point to one book that was your gateway to the indie crime scene? Or was it some amalgamation? For me it was Jake Hinkson's "Hell on Church Street" which just blew me away. When I read it, I just thought crime fiction was Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, etc. But Hinkson's book pointed me to publishers like All Due Respect, Shotgun Honey and the now defunct 280 Steps. And from there, I've just been eating indie crime fiction up.

Tom Leins: The one that struck a chord with me was “Selena” by Greg Barth, which was published by All Due Respect. It's an uncompromising start to a brutally entertaining series. That book, along with others from ADR and books from the likes of Close To The Bone and Shotgun Honey were definitely the driving force behind me starting my Dirty Books blog.

Jason Beech: I don’t think one novel got me started on indie crime fiction, it’s the websites Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, Pulp Metal Magazine and the likes which pushed me into reading the longer works of authors published there. I started following Paul D. Brazill because of one story on one of them, who then guided me into the likes of Kate Laity, Ray Banks, Thomas Pluck, and so on. I’m a big fan of Beat to a Pulp’s and some of the old Radgepacket anthologies. Jake Hinkson’s The Posthumous Man is a classic.

Tom: That's a great point about the online sites. I was reading Close to the Bone and Shotgun Honey content online long before they branched out into novellas. I first encountered a lot of writers who are now mainstays of the independent scene on A Twist of Noir. That site definitely earns its place on the list!

Beau Johnson:  Yup, I'm with both you gentlemen. And I'd say I was late to the game, a King/Koontz/Barker guy for the majority of my reading/writing life until I stumbled upon Shotgun Honey and Out of the Gutter Online. But the absolute reason I turned to the Dark side was because of Mathew C. Funk and the amazing stories he wrote not just for those two mags, but a plethora of them. Not ashamed to say I miss reading that Dude either. Dude could flat out write.

David: Jason brought up Paul Brazill, so let's chat a bit about him. If there's one guy out there who is promoting other writers, it's to be Paul. Even before he started Punk Noir Magazine, his blog was a daily source for me. His Recommended Reads have introduced me to so many books and writers. I picked up Paul Heatley's "Motel Whore" because of Brazill. And Brazill was probably the one who pointed me in the direction of Jason and Tom as well. Add to that, man, Brazill can write. I love his short stories and "Last Year's Man" was fantastic. I don't want this to turn into some circle jerk, but I don't think we can underestimate Brazill's influence on today's indie scene.

Tom: I've lost count of the number of writers that I've connected with through Paul. He's extremely generous with his time, and I certainly appreciate his kind words about my writing over the years! Top bloke.

Paul D. Brazill
Beau: Circle jerk or no, the man was one of the first Dudes to share my work when I first began to get traction. I'm not saying he was the only one, but he was someone I did not know and he didn't owe me a thing. I have always remembered that kindness and try my best to pass it on. See also: oh yes, the man can certainly spin a yarn.

Jason: I love his stuff. Some of his lines have stuck in my head. “Gin makes you sin,” made it into the short story I wrote to promote City of Forts because it’s just funny. His greatest line has to be the shop window sign at the adventure gear shop: “Now is the winter of our discount tents.” I might have got that wrong, but you get the gist. Paul’s a charmer, in the right way, and fills you with enthusiasm for the good stuff.

Beau: Yes, and I enjoy that he's always chuffed. Ps. Please tell me I'm using that word correctly.

Jason: If you’re “well chuffed”, you’re happy.

Beau: Figured as much but always good to know for sure. Like I was chuffed when “Kill Me Quick” by Brazill came in the mail.

Tom: To change tack slightly, it's always nice when someone on the next rung up on the crime fiction ladder reaches down and gives you a boost. I think a lot of writers are preoccupied with clambering up the ladder rather than checking out what is happening behind them. As so many of my peers have started putting books out, I know that my focus has definitely drifted away from new writers notching up their first publications online, towards people with multiple books. Which is sad, really. A whole bunch of us used to publish flash fiction on a prolific basis, and now I have no idea who the next batch of 'ones to watch' are...

Beau: Tom, Dude, you are so right. It's a natural progression, I suppose, as there were times I was chomping at the bit for new flash and my online life revolved around it. It's not the way it's worked out for everyone, but it's the path I have seen for many, myself included.

Tom: I also think I feel more kinship with the writers I developed my chops alongside, rather than a first-time novella writer I have never read before. The online sites act as a kind of proving ground for crime writers and give you a level of exposure and credibility that definitely helps. That said, I've probably missed out on dozens of great books because of my tendency to follow writers who I know can deliver the goods in 1,000 words or less!

Jason: I’m always shocked when a new writer thanks me for sharing their stuff because I remember the thrill when Tom Pitts loved my first ever published story in Flash Fiction Offensive. It does give you a lift as a newbie and helps you ride the rejections.

Beau: Totally. I've always said it's the cake when someone gets your stuff, better yet, when they go out of their way to let you know it connected with them. Doesn't happen often, but when it does, yeah, cake.

Tom: Do you guys believe in creating and reinforcing a 'brand', and do you think there are any independent/alternative crime writers who do that particularly well?

Jason: The word brand has corporate written all over it. Identity might be a better word for what we do. If you were to consider yourself a brand, Tom, what would that involve? Your style? Imagery? The humour?

Tom: I agree! Brands are something that are created by groups of middle-aged men in conference rooms! If they created me, they would all get the sack! As you suggest, I think a sense of identity is key. I would like to think that if someone pays 99p/99c for one of my eBooks they will get what they paid for - for better or worse. I'd like to say that it's an issue I wrestle with, but I'm not that energetic these days. It does fascinate me though. Would more emergent writers get ahead if they had a bulletproof identity? Possibly, but you still need an audience to buy into it!

Beau: Brand or identity, I'm just glad to be a part of this thing I believe we all enjoy immensely. It is both a blast and at times frustrating position we find ourselves in. On this side of it, however, I'd keep the journey which led me here.

Tom: Oh yeah, I agree with Beau. I wouldn't change a thing. (Apart from my sales figures, obviously!)

Beau: Yes! Sales figures. Grr...argh...

Tom: Ok, another question: what ingredient is most likely to make you seek out another story/book by a new author after sampling their work? And how many chances do you give someone before you bail out of their fiction?

David: For me, it takes a lot to jump into a 400-page novel. If an author can write a sharp, tight novella in 90 pages, man, I'll go back. Hell, even with a few mistakes – plot holes, weird change in POV – I'll still go back. But a big novel, you better have that shit right. The other thing that comes into play is costs. If your book runs close to US$20 then it better be that good. If your book is closer to US$10 then there's more leeway on my part as a reader.

Tom: Agreed. There are a lot of decent crime novels I've read over the years that would have been even better as novellas. No matter how well known you are, you need to trim that fat until you hit the bone! Novellas are the perfect format for pulp fiction, yet there is a huge disconnect between mainstream crime fiction and independent crime fiction. I sometimes wish there wasn't a ‘Them and Us’ mentality, but the gulf that is contemporary publishing is often framed like that. After years of reading superior small press stuff, I've read a number of mainstream British crime books this year, and the similarities are sometimes more striking than the differences.

Beau: In regard to new authors the ingredient for me is word of mouth, which is also where reviews come back into play. Not all reviews are equal. And yes, everyone interprets differently, and I may like something the next person doesn't, but I can still glean enough from my "investigation" to know if I'm going jump into something new or stick with what I've found. Too, I've read somewhere along the lines that a book gets a review for every 100 copies read. I at one time found this hard to believe. Now, not so much. However, I think I have strayed a bit off topic. I yield back the floor.

Beau:  Re: trimming the fat. Hard agree. Lean and mean is the only way to go. My opinion, of course, and if I had to choose, I'm probably in the minority.

Jason: I disagree. I love a lean book, but I love to swim in some of that fat. It’s like films. Most films should not be more than two hours long, but don’t trim “The Godfather” or I’ll plant a horse’s head in your bed. Beau, a Stephen King Book is a minimum 300,000 words, isn’t it?

Beau: Ha! Yup, but man, he still keeps it lean. Except for “Duma Key”. Don't get me started on “Duma Key”...

Jason: If every chapter has the drive of a short story, I’m good with a long one. The trouble is, my Kindle is crammed and I think I’ll die of old age before I clear it.

Tom: Related question: should writers treat chapters like short stories/flash? And can readers tell? I know I do, and I wish I didn't! (I'm sure this primarily affects people with a short story background, but who can tell?)

Jason: I think so, in terms of it having a beginning, middle, and end. Is there a point to the chapter? If not, that’s where it gets flabby and you realise how much you have to slog through.

Beau: This has my DNA all over it. I don't intend to do things this way, but it seems to be the only way I'm able to put the longer stuff together. And yup, our short story background is why we do things this way. Pretty certain.

Tom: Here is another topic that interests me... you guys might have read “Bull Mountain” by Brian Panowich (great book). That book had its genesis in a pair of stories that appeared on Shotgun Honey and the FFO. That feels like a once-in-a-generation agent-meets-writer scenario, but it should also encourage writers to believe that anything is possible, right? Sub-question: is there anyone you can think of who could follow a similar path from flash fiction towards the mainstream?

Beau: I can't say that I do. I remember Brian's stories from SH though. Always liked them but never read “Bull Mountain”. Good on him, yup. It's also great encouragement, agreed. I can't think of any agent-meets-writer per se, but I think Ryan Sayles's Richard Dean Buckner books spun out of some shorts. Great stuff, that.

David: I'm thinking Rob Hart and Jordan Harper started with stories in Thuglit.

Beau: Ah, yes. I believe you are correct, David.

David: How about some indie books over the last few years that you think stand out as the very best? Stuff that friends and family who read King and Connelly would love.

Beau: If I may be so bold: “A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps” by Nick Kolakowski, “Zero Saints” by Gabino Iglesias, and “Dig Two Graves” by Eric Beetner”. Anyway, just a few I would recommend. Beetner may fall out of your time frame however.

Jason: “The Kind Of Friends Who Murder Each Other” by Chris Rhatigan is great. Kate Laity’s "Satan’s Sorority" is a blast. Matt Phillips’ "Know Me from Smoke" was so good I wanted it to be longer, just to sit in its atmosphere. Jordan Harper’s short story collection, American Death Songs is great and inspired my Blood, Sweat, and Sawdust short that Close to the Bone published on their site a while back. There’s a couple of stories in that book which will give you nightmares for a few weeks.

Jason: Though I don’t know how they stand with King, because...I’ve...err... never read him.

David: And Beau has an aneurism.

Beau: (laughs)

Tom: One of my favourites of last year was “Suburban Dick” by CS Dewildt, which was published by Shotgun Honey. Would a Michael Connelly fan enjoy it? Who knows? It's a wonderful title, but also one that mainstream readers may find off-putting! Which is a shame! Independent publishers tend to produce books with far better titles and covers than mainstream books. Mainstream crime covers often seem interchangeable, which is probably the point. Bland products to stock on supermarket shelves!

Jason: Tom, have you listened to the book designer, Steve Bache? He makes exactly this point. He loves designing covers for literary books because he can experiment, but for authors trying to sell he’s adamant you have to design for familiarity.

Tom: I'm not familiar with the name, but it is an admirable sentiment! It has put me off certain mainstream crime series in the past, as I will pick up a book and have no recollection whether I have previously read it or not! I like cover art to reuse certain motifs, but to also surprise me with something fresh. Covers with absolutely no resemblance to their series predecessors are also problematic! I guess this links in to my thoughts on a writer's identity (or branding in the case of major writers).

Tom: I think Craig Douglas at Close To the Bone has delivered some strong covers in recent years, especially the Paul Heatley (“An Eye For An Eye Trilogy”) and Paul D. Brazill (“Small Time Crimes”) books from last year–and my ones (“Meat Bubbles”/“Boneyard Dogs”). It was a real pleasure working closely with him on my books – one of the biggest benefits of working with a small publisher.

Beau: I will totally agree. Down and Out, for me, has always been top notch, ever when I perhaps was not too keen on certain version of a cover. Benefits plus, yup.

Jason: Craig Douglas is a top man. It has to be tough running such an operation. I’m delving into their work now - "A Time for Violence" is very good, and Paul Heatley’s "An Eye for an Eye" has a devastating ending. Looking forward to the rest. I’m a slow reader - I’ve got those Leins and Johnson fellas to get to, too. “Snuff Racket” was a dirty little bastard.

Tom: Thanks Jason - much obliged! “An Eye For An Eye” is one of my favourite British crime novels of recent years. Glad you enjoyed it too!

Beau: I hear you. So many books. So many TBR piles. So little time. Three kids, a wife, a business, writing itself, my girlfriend, her sister. I mean, the list goes on. I kid, of course. My wife, she doesn't like it when I talk about my girlfriend's sister... P.S. “City of Forts” has been on my radar too.

David: Maybe my question put too many limits on your answer. Some books that I love and recommend at Marietta Miles's "Route 12", Paul Heatley's "Motel Whore", Lina Chern's "Sparkle Shot", Eric Beetner's "Rumrunners", Lilja Sigurdardóttir's "Trap", Court Merrigan's "The Broken Country", and Matt Phillips's "Know Me From Smoke" to name only a few.

Beau: “Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier, “The Fury of Blacky Jaguar”, “Route 12” by Marietta Miles, and “A Very Simple Crime” by Grant Jerkins.

Don't even get me started...

I kid, of course. Been an awesome find. The crime community I mean. Great stuff all round. Do I like some more than others? Sure, who doesn't. But I have found many more hits than misses: “American Static” and “Knuckleball” by Tom Pitts, “Presiding over the Damned“ by Liam Sweeney, “Junkie Love” by Joe Clifford, “Dead Guy in the Bathtub” by Paul Greenberg, “Cleaning Up Finn” by Sarah M. Chen, “May” by Marietta Miles, “Crosswise” by S.W. Lauden”,  and “The Subtle Art of Brutality” by Ryan Sayles.

I feel like I might have left some people out. My bad.

A few more: “Love and Other Wounds” by Jordan Harper, “Let Me Put My Stories In You” by Ryan Sayles, “A Thing Called Violence” by Nikki Dolson, “Rumrunners” by Eric Beetner, and “Fat Boy” by Paul Heatley.

Beau:  Ok. I'll stop now. Too much fuckin Beau.

David: Okay, a tough one now. Who are some indie writers you haven’t read, but really want to? I’ll start. Nigel Bird, Mike Monson, Jo Perry, and Matt Coleman come immediately to mind.

Beau: A few for me are Thomas Pluck, Jen Connelly, and Ed Kurtz. I also read an essay by John Vercher recently that has me intrigued for his debut coming from Polis.

David: No doubt about Vercher’s book. I’m really looking forward to that one. Are you talking about his essay on being “woke”? If so, man, that essay blew me away.

Beau: Great stuff, yup.

Tom: I'm really intrigued by the sound of Laird Barron's “Blood Standard” and “Black Mountain”, but I know next to nothing about him. The books sound great!

Beau: But promotion for indie writers is paramount. No one is going to do it for us, nor (outside publishers) should we expect them to. That's fair. But I'm at odds with the adage of "no one cares". On one hand I see this–that no one will ever care as much about your output than yourself. Again, fair. But it can't be the be all/end all, as I can attest. I care. I might not care as much as the person who wrote the book I'm reading, but I still have skin in the game, albeit to a lesser degree. Reviews are key. Shares are key. Word of mouth is key. And God yes it does get tiring, but if we don't do it, who will? Anyways, don't mind me, I'm drunk. As you were.

And then there is my love/hate relationship with Amazon. I feel it both helps and hinders the indie writer. But you gentlemen have already experienced this for yourselves I imagine. I'll tell you this, though: once I realized the hoops they make you jump through my just about exploded.

Jason: I want to read Nikki Dolson, Scott Adlerberg, Joe Clifford. I’ve got Tom Pitts on the Kindle waiting for my eyes. I’ve got Nigel Bird, Thomas Pluck, Robert Cowan ... too much. Too much.

Beau: The pile, it grows.

Tom: I think that, given the niche we occupy, the sad reality is that our friends are also our chief rivals when it comes to selling books. If someone bought one of my books this week, they probably did it so at the expense of another emergent crime writer. My Kindle is stuffed with potentially great (unread) content, so I have to be careful what I buy now, and books that I would have previously taken a punt on now get scrutinised and compared to similar offerings. With Down & Out Books, All Due Respect, Shotgun Honey, Close to the Bone, etc. releasing new books on a monthly basis we are spoiled for choice, and the selection process is harder than ever. It's a healthy situation for the independent crime scene, but we still need to be competitive. The next story I publish has to be better than the last. The next interview I give has to be more entertaining than the last. These are things I judge other writers on, and if someone is promoting a book with lacklustre material my interest in their new book wanes.

Beau: Man, I'm with you on interviews. I strive to make each one as different in content as I can and yes, the goal is to entertain, even there. Glad to see I am not the only one thinking along this type of line.

Beau: But I draw the line at giving sex away for free. As I've said before, I'll never fall for that old chestnut again.

David: Tom brings up a great point about the unspoken competition between indie crime writers and the number of books out there to read. I'm scared to look at the unread books on my Kindle. The unread physical books are daunting enough. I agree with Tom that there needs to be improvement book after book, if there's not, I'll definitely lose interest. I also judge writers on whether or not they're reading other indie crime fiction. If all they are reading and commenting on are Winslow and other Big 5 writers, I really lose interest in their books.

Beau: You can't read them all, agreed, and it is totally our job to bring them back for more. Is there competition? Sure. There has to be. But I can also root for the other guy too. Unless they're a jerkface. Jerkfaces should never be allowed into the room.

Tom: I also feel slightly conflicted when choosing what to review on Dirty Books, and since publishing my own books I'm probably overly wary of reviewing books by my own publishers, in case it gets misconstrued as nepotism. Even though those publishers were featured heavily on the blog long before I had a working relationship with either of them. Crazy, right?

Beau: Yup, I can see your plight, but myself, nah, I wouldn't see you doing it that way. Still, I can how some would.

Jason: I read both. That new Ellroy, I’m on it. New Sansom, I’m there. But I won’t review except for a rating - but if I love an Indie I’m all over it. I want Tess Makovesky’s “Gravy Train” to sell a million. I want Matt Phillips’ “Know Me from Smoke” to load him up in champagne and weed forevermore. Same goes for Kate Laity’s/Graham Wynd’s “Satan’s Sorority”. I don’t mind the competition. I write because I like it. If it made me a millionaire that’d be lovely, but I’m not going to write for that, because I’ll end up generic.

Tom: Ultimately, we should all read and write whatever we want. Indie, mainstream, retro... if you dig it, tell people about it. If you hate it, maintain a polite silence! We are all men of impeccable taste (!), but everyone has to find their own path. When you think how far independent crime has evolved in the last decade, I'm highly optimistic about the future. There will always be a gulf in reader numbers, but we know there is no gap in quality. The books that our mates are writing go toe-to-toe with the big boys every time. To me, it sometimes feels like clambering out of the indie crime pit-fight is as challenging as breaking into the mainstream. My advice to writers: don't devalue yourself and what you do. Be nice to each other - we are all down in the trenches together. Support sites like Unlawful Acts and Messy Business! Buy as many books as Beau does! You will be glad you did!

Beau: Ha! Well said, my friend. Cheers.

Jason: I reckon Beau has made a Game of Thrones chair out of all those books.

Beau: I would need the cushion of course.

David: Okay, let's wrap this baby up. Any last words? Or, what do you have planned for the near future?

Beau: Spread the word! As far and wide as our respected platforms can! My pool may be small but I try to make the biggest splash possible when supporting my fellow writers. I had a lot of people help me coming up, I feel it's the least I can do. As for future works? Look for Bishop Rider to return next spring, in a collection called “All of Them to Burn”. Come, meet Rider for the last time...
Thanks, David. Was fun. Appreciate the opportunity.

Jason: It’s been great chewing the fat with you all. It’s hard work getting our stuff recognised, but I’m enjoying the process. I’ll have a new Bullets, Teeth, and Fists collection coming out in the near future, and a new novel, “Never Go Back” in November: Barlow Vine just killed a man – his lover’s lover. Now he’s heading from Spain back to his hometown to escape his actions in the vain hope they won’t catch up with him. “Never Go Back” is a wild ride featuring nurses, strange kids in Edwardian garb, one blinding headache, and dead-eyed killers who want to use him for their own ends. It’s a cold, murderous homecoming – and he’ll need the luck of every bastard to survive it all.

Tom: Thanks fellas, this has been a lot of fun! I'll be jostling for bookshelf space later this year with “Boneyard Dogs” (Close to the Bone, July) and “The Good Book” (All Due Respect, December). The first one is the official sequel to “Meat Bubbles”, and the latter is a collection of interlinked wrestling noir set in 80s Florida. Cheers!

Jason: Thanks, David.


Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK.

He is the author of the Paignton Noir novelettes SKULL MEAT, SNUFF RACKET, SLUG BAIT and SPINE FARM and the short story collections MEAT BUBBLES & OTHER STORIES (Close To The Bone, June 2018) and REPETITION KILLS YOU (All Due Respect, September 2018).

Going forward, BONEYARD DOGS: A PAIGNTON NOIR MYSTERY will be published by Close To The Bone in July 2019, and THE GOOD BOOK, a collection of wrestling noir will be published by All Due Respect in December 2019.

For more details, please visit:

Jason Beech is a Sheffield native, New Jersey resident — writes crime fiction and interviews crime authors at Flash Fiction Offensive. His coming-of-age crime drama City of Forts was described as “tense, atmospheric, and haunting” by UK crime writer Paul D. Brazill.

You can buy Jason’s work from Amazon and read his work at Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey, Close to the Bone, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Punk Noir Magazine, and Pulp Metal Magazine.

Beau Johnson lives in Canada with his wife and three boys. He has been published before, usually on the darker side of town. Such fine establishments might include Out of the Gutter Online, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and the Molotov Cocktail. Besides writing, Beau enjoys golfing, pushing off Boats and certain Giant Tigers.
Find Beau Johnson online …

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Summer Reading: Blonde

I like big books in the summer. I don't necessarily read more. I read a lot all year round, but there's something about a hefty tome in the summertime.
I finished The Godfather and now I'm reading Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, a great American novel that fictionalizes (somewhat) the life of Norma Jeane Baker, better known as that sacrificial goddess of the American pantheon, Marilyn Monroe.
It is often chosen as the favorite and best of Oates's wide-ranging oeuvre. After years of research she attacked the project obsessively, and brings "Marilyn" to life in great detail. The book is epic in scope; I'm one third in, and she has just been given her new name by her agent, as her small, scene-stealing role in The Asphalt Jungle catapults her to fame.
Who's the blonde?
The book explores the specifics of Norma's life with her paranoid schizophrenic mother, who claims her father is a studio star (his identity was never proven) but also serves as a historic record for what it was like being a girl and a woman in mid-century America, which is not so great. Norma wants more than other women. Like many, she enjoyed the meaningful work in defense factories during the war, only to be thrown away afterward when men came back and needed those jobs. Oates uses repetitive phrases like she's smooth as a silk purse down there as a revolting leitmotif, to show how girls are sexualized from birth. By the time Norma is twelve, the piano teacher has stuck his tongue in her ear, and by fifteen her foster mother doesn't like how her husband is looking at their ward, and plots to get her married so she'll be "safe."
Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Her husband is immature and emotionally illiterate, and chooses to join the war effort rather than accept that she has any agency; he forces her to pose nude, and carries the photos around to show her off like the head of an eight point buck in his den. Her earnest innocence is forever mistaken for empty-headed naivete, and she takes acting more seriously than anyone expects her to. They expect and want her to ride on her looks, and never see her as a person. You're not that dumb a blonde, stop acting like it.

When writers tell me they "can't get into" Joyce Carol Oates's style, I always ask, "Which one?" She's written everything from Gothics to serial killer novels, stream of consciousness, and her own deceptively readable prose, which switches from addressing the reader like a Greek chorus, third-person omniscient, third person limited, first person, interspersed with italic passages of thoughts and dialogue whispered from the peanut gallery, the American version of a Greek chorus. When I first encountered this style in Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, I found it confusing and tilted, but once I took it as multiple viewpoints and the criticisms of the little-minded around us, rather like Orson Welles did with the camera stopping during narrated sequences to hear what the locals had to say in The Magnificent Ambersons, it made more sense and became easier to read. It can be hard to keep up--Oates often writes in a whirlwind of ideas with asides in parentheses, but it makes for a rich tapestry of thoughts and pictures, for she works out the secret fears and sneers we never share in public.

I'm only a third through Blonde and I need to put it down to review another of her books, the Hard Case Crime reissue of The Triumph of the Spider Monkey, which at first glance seems to be like her masterpiece Zombie, a hellride in the head of a psychopath. She's one of the most consistently daring writers, criticized for fictionalizing everything from Marilyn Monroe to JonBenet Ramsey and Jeffrey Dahmer, but what else do writers do? I think it's more honest the way she does it, rather than trying to conceal the true-life inspirations. In one scene in Blonde, a young "Bob Mitchum" tears up the nudie photos that Norma's husband is showing his coworkers, saying "what kind of man does that to his wife?" Is it true? Rumor? Fantasy?
Does it matter? It was thrilling to read and wish were true. As Oates's late second husband Charlie Gross said of another insertion of a real-life person into a story, "who cares? it's fiction."

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Rock Reads

Scott's Note: S.W. Lauden guest blogs this week, the occasion: he has a new novella out called That'll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist.  As the title suggests, the story has to do with music, rock, something Steve loves and is quite knowledgeable about.  He talks here about some of the books he's been reading recently on this favorite subject of his.

Recent Rock Reads
by S.W. Lauden

Much as I've fallen for crime fiction over the past decade, there are times when characters and plots from different books I’m reading run together. While that probably says more about my easily distracted mind than anything else, it usually means I need to take a break from the genre.

Lately, I’ve been devouring a lot of non-fiction about music, musicians and bands. Rock bios have long been a fall back for me, but my consumption increased dramatically when I got the opportunity to co-edit a power pop essay collection with Paul Myers (it's called Go All The Way and will be released by Rare Bird Books this October). That research also inspired my latest crime fiction novelette, That'll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist, which I published last week.

Since I’ve gone pretty deep down this particular rabbit hole, I thought I’d share a few recent rock reads with you:

Closer You Are by Matthew Cutter
Guided By Voices—led by lo-fi wizard, Robert Pollard—is one of my favorite 90s bands. Their songs are short blasts of poppy weirdness, the quality of which is stunning given the band’s staggering output. This book does a great job of capturing Pollard’s inspiration, dedication, and strange journey to becoming indie rock royalty.

A Man Called Destruction by Holly George-Warren
Alex Chilton is a mythical creature in my world. Still a teenager when he achieved commercial success with The Box Tops, he went on to join Big Star before exiling himself to an artistic wilderness of his own design. This book traces his life from teen stardom to living legend, and all his self-destructive detours along the way.

X-Ray by Ray Davies
Talk about your unreliable narrators. Davies turned the first half of his storied career with The Kinks into a cautionary dystopian tale in this peculiar autobiography. I highly recommend this one for fans of British Invasion music and a taste for the absurd.

Boys Don't Lie by Mary E. Donnelly and Moira McCormick
If you’re already a fan of Zion, Illinois, power pop legends, Shoes, this book is probably on your radar. If not, you should check out some of the band’s excellent music before you read this deep dive into their unique career. If there’s such a thing as a rock bio that’s the opposite of Motley Crue’s The Dirt, this might be it.

Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me by Steven Hyden
Ever wasted a few hours arguing about the Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones, or Blur vs. Oasis? Or listened to somebody else have those pointless, fevered (often drunken) debates? This book is that, and it’s pretty great.

Dear Boy  by Tony Fletcher
I’m a drummer and count The Who’s Keith Moon among my main influences. Which is why this book bummed me out. While Moon’s antics behind the kit and on the road were the stuff of rock myth, his personal life seemed pretty awful for him and those closest to him. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, especially when it comes to your heroes.

33 1/3 Series
This series of long-form essays built around specific albums is tailormade for music nerds like me. Some of my favorites include Freedom Of Choice (Devo) by Evie Nagy, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (Jawbreaker) by Ronen Givony, The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society by Andy Miller, and Radio City (Big Star) by Bruce Eaton.

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series including Bad Citizen Corporation, Grizzly Season and Hang Time. His Tommy & Shayna novellas include Crosswise and Crossed Bones. A new novelette, That’ll Be The Day: A Power Pop Heist, was released on June 18, 2019. S.W. Lauden is the pen name of Steve Coulter, drummer for Tsar and The Brothers Steve. More info at

Monday, June 24, 2019

Frightfully Funny

In my previous blog I mentioned a few of my favorite crime-comedy movies. This led me to wonder, which writers from our own community might also be considered frightfully funny. 

So that I might include a more sweeping list of authors, I reached out to a few of my favorite writers and requested their opinion. Christa Faust, Beau Johnson and Steve Lauden were kind enough to give me a hand.

Let’s start with Christa Faust. Hardboiled and happy, Christa is the author of eleven novels, including CHOKE HOLD, MONEY SHOT, and HOODTOWN. Faust won the 2009 Crimespree Award (Best Original Paperback) for MONEY SHOT. The book was also nominated for an Edgar award, Anthony award and Barry award, and won a Spinetingler award in the ‘Rising Star’ category. In addition, she creates novelizations and media tie-ins, including the Scribe award-winning SNAKES ON THE PLANE and the hugely popular FINAL DESTINATION. 

Christa also makes a splash with her own darkly dangerous tales. BUTCH FATALE, DYKE DETECTIVE is a highly anticipated series with DOUBLE-D DOUBLE CROSS as the anchor story. Butch Fatale is a sexy, gritty tale that brings to mind atmospheric black and white films from ages past. The characters are likable, detestable, sexy, tattooed, butch, femme and so much more. 

Ms. Faust is also an avid reader and collector of vintage paperbacks and a Film Noir enthusiast; she is clearly and uniquely qualified to give good opinion.

Christa’s take…

“Modern or vintage? Modern I'd say Alissa Nutting. Her TAMPA is blackly hilarious and disturbing as fuck. Vintage, of course I'd go with Richard Prather's Shell Scott novels, STRIP FOR MURDER being a superb example. Though you could probably say those are more hardboiled than noir.”

Alissa Nutting - Tampa
In Alissa Nutting’s novel TAMPA, Celeste Price, a 26-year-old middle-school teacher in Florida, unrepentantly recounts her elaborate and sociopathically determined seduction of a 14-year-old student.

TAMPA is a sexually explicit, bold and intelligent satire. A portrait of a sociopath with dangerous and predatory desires. Rampant with black humor and calculatedly sexualized prose, Alissa Nutting’s TAMPA is a chilling and compelling read.

“The writing is often excellent, hilariously dark, and mean…Reading about [Celeste] was honestly disturbing and fun.” (Entertainment Weekly)

Richard Prather - Strip for Murder
Shell Scott, a not-so-private investigator, has a new type of case; he has to bare it all. But this case requires no fancy P.I. fact, it doesn’t require any accessories: he’s got to find a murderer in a nudist colony. Wearing nothing but his gun, Shell has to reveal the murderer in this entrancing mystery novel...and that’s the naked truth.

“STRIP FOR MURDER is a full-out hoot, a screwball masterpiece, a loopy romp that features our man undercover at a nudist colony and a naked Scott landing a hot air balloon in downtown Los Angeles .” (

Next, we’ll hear from Beau Johnson. Beau has been steadily honing his writing skills in the crime-fiction world for years. Known for his sharp short fiction, his stories can be found within the pages and files of Flash Fiction Offensive, The Molotov Cocktail, Southern Crime Magazine, Story and Grit. Shotgun Honey, and Spelk Fiction. Naming just a few. 

In 2017 Down and Out Books released Beau’s first  book and story collection, A BETTER KIND OF HATE. His maiden project a hit, 2018 saw the release of his follow-up, THE BIG MACHINE EATS. A collection of stories featuring the continuing adventures of Bishop Rider. Rider is a former policeman who’s seen too much … and suffered through rough times. Mentally twisted by his experiences, driven by his demons, Rider decides to spend his days dispensing his unique and brutal brand of justice.

“Beau Johnson is a lawless writer. Several—but not all—of the stories in his collection, A BETTER KIND OF HATE, feature his renegade cop alter ego Bishop Rider, a battered and bruised, world-weary hero forced to operate outside a corrupt system to find justice. And that’s just what these stories have in common: justice, in all its muted, corrupt glory. Whether showcasing Rider or another flawed hero, Johnson operates in shades of gray, where sometimes all it takes is for a bad man to kill a worse one. A stark and sobering reality, and a stellar debut.” (Joe Clifford, author of the Jay Porter Thriller Series.)

“Beau is back, once again proving he is the alchemist of conflict as he continues to peel back the fingernails of human frailty and forces us to stare into the darkness found there.” (Tom Pitts, author of AMERICAN STATIC and 101.)

Beau’s take…

“I remember Beetner's DIG TWO GRAVES made me chuckle out loud at times. I also recall laughing at certain dialogue in Nick Kolakowski's A BRUTAL BUNCH OF HEARTBROKEN SAPS.”

Eric Beetner - Dig Two Graves
In DIG TWO GRAVES we meet Val. An ex-con recently out of prison and back on the streets. He’s also hatched a new plan to pull off “perfect” bank robberies. All is going well until the cops come calling. Soon it becomes crystal clear who set him up, is his prison lover, Ernesto. The jailhouse affair comes out and Val’s wife is not pleased, but nothing matters much to Val except payback.

Sprung from custody, he ends up on the run with the cops after him while he is after Ernesto and a few dangers from his past on his heels. Populated by small time crooks and petty parasites, DIG TWO GRAVES is tough and sharp. Lean. The humor is dark and the pace is like whiplash.

"DIG TWO GRAVES is everything you want a blackly comic revenge tale to be: fierce, fast, funny, and deliciously foregone. You'll know on page one that this story isn't going to go well for anybody involved, but read that page and see if you can look away. I couldn't. It's all in the voice, and Eric Beetner's got a live one. I look forward to hearing more of it." (Sean Doolittle, author of THE CLEANUP and SAFER.)

Nick Kolakowski - A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps 
Bill is a hustler’s hustler with a taste for the high life. He pulls off big scores for one of New York City’s more vicious gangs…until he suddenly grows a conscience. Pursued by crooked cops, dimwitted bouncers, and a wisecracking assassin in the midst of a midlife crisis, Bill will need to be a quick study in the way of the gun if he wants to survive his own getaway. 

Who knew that an honest attempt at redemption could rack up a body count like this? A BRUTAL BUNCH OF HEARTBROKEN SAPS is a insane noir look into obsession, violence, and the power of love.

“Kolakowski’s got a gift of scratching his readers’ itch for pulpy, gut-wrenching narrative that moves a mile a minute and never lets you go. A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps is a hell of a yarn that sets the stage for what should be an essential series for fans of the genre.” (Angel Luis Colón, author of NO HAPPY ENDINGS, THE FURY OF BLACKY JANGUAR and HELL CHOSE ME, due out June 25.)

“Ruthless, off-the-wall and surprisingly heartfelt, A BRUTAL BUNCH OF HEARTBROKEN SAPS is much more than a heist book, and showcases the skills of an emerging writer in Nick Kolakowski. Featuring memorable characters, a down-on-his-luck protagonist and a story that’s equal parts insane and sincere, Saps is the kind of book you read fast and revisit immediately to savor the experience again.” (Alex Segura, author of DANGEROUS ENDS, DOWN THE DARK STREET and the fifth book in the Pete Fernandez series, MIAMI MIDNIGHT, due in August.)

Now, S.W. Lauden gives us his two cents.

S.W. Lauden is the Anthony Award-nominated author of the Tommy & Shayna novellas, CROSSWISE and CROSSED BONES (Down & Out Books). His Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, GRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is the co-host of the Writer Types crime and mystery podcast. His latest book, THAT'LL BE THE DAY, was recently released to many great reviews.

In THAT'LL BE THE DAY, A POWER POP HEIST, Lauden introduces us to Jackson Sharp. Sharp is a former guitar player fresh out of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. He's on a mission to settle the score with his dead beat dad, but needs to collect some cash from his younger brother and former bandmate, Jamie. He finds Jamie at his struggling Tulsa record shop, but the cash is long gone. Jamie offers up a heist instead—steal a rare copy of a pre-Beatles 45 from a wealthy collector in Memphis. 

The road trip that follows is the violent family/band reunion that Jackson never wanted.

“Pistol popping power pop pulp fiction. I loved it!” (Paul D. Brazill author of LAST YEAR'S MAN and editor at Punk Noir Magazine.)

S.W.’s take…

Very cool. Mike McCrary 100%.

Mike McCrary - Separate Checks
Former lovers, Jackie and Hunter, meet for dinner. A trip down memory lane. A blast from the past. Unfortunately, no amount of time can erase their mistrust of each other. As the meal progresses, their suspicions about the other’s intentions grow to alarming heights. One believes the other is there to murder them. The other can’t wait for their former lover to try. 

Have they made a deal with the devil or will their rocky history prove to be a thing of the past? 

If you dig pulp thrillers, dark humor, and wickedly entertaining antiheroes, then you’ll love Mike McCrary’s fast and funny SEPARATE CHECKS.

"Either somebody set Chuck Palahniuk and Elmore Leonard up on a blind date or we have a new mad genius on our hands. Mike McCrary delivers a mini-pulp masterpiece with prose that pounds with the best of 'em..." (Peter Farris author of LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING.) 

"Mike McCrary is a dynamic new talent on the scene and quite honestly, I'd read his rewriting of PRIDE and PREJUDICE as long as it's written in the same prose..." (Benoît Lelièvre, Dead End Follies.)

Finally, my take…

Paul D. Brazill - Last Year's Man

Paul’s books include LAST YEAR'S MAN, TOO MANY CROOKS, A CASE of NOIR, GUNS of BRIXTON, THE LAST LAUGH, and KILL ME QUICK. He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, Polish, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH CRIME.

LAST YEAR'S MAN follows a troubled, ageing hit man as he leaves London and returns to his hometown in the north east of England hoping for peace. But the ghosts of his past return to haunt him. 

This tale is a violent and blackly comic slice of Brit Grit noir.

“It’s all here, everything you’ve come to expect from a Paul D. Brazill caper—the fast pace, the witty banter, the grim humor and the classic tunes—except this time he’s REALLY outdone himself. Unlike the lament in the song the title takes its name from, Paul’s best years are surely still ahead of him.” (Paul Heatley, author of FATBOY, GUILLOTINE, and the newly released BAD BASTARDS.)

Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, author and filmmaker. He wrote and produced the short film FOODIE which went on to win eight top awards at over sixteen film festivals. His short fiction has appeared in The Avalon Literary Review, Thuglit, Pulp Modern, and Zymbol, among others, and he was a finalist for the Derringer Award. He is the author of the novels DIRTBAGS, HASHTAG, and WHAT WE RECKON, all available from Polis Books.

He is the host of the popular true crime podcast: The Long Dance. He lives in Durham, NC with his wife Lana and their cat Busey. When taking a break from his new film, Going Down Slow, Eryk plays owner to a very noir establishment, Yonder, for those lucky enough to live in Durham, NC.

TOWNIES is a collection of riveting, funny, and captivating southern fried crime stories from Eryk Pruitt, one of the best new crime fiction writers working today. Townies, and Other Tales of Southern Mischief collects, for the first time, Pruitt's short fiction in a single volume.

“A masterly storyteller, Pruitt pulls the reader into a world that zings with authenticity and life. A sterling collection.” (Publishers Weekly. (Starred Review))

"Pruitt combines the characters you would find populating the works of Tom Franklin and Cormac McCarthy with the situations and sensibilities of a rural Charles Bukowski...the stories you find in TOWNIES are as real as they can get.” (Bookreporter.)

Share or comment below on your favorite dark comedy reads.