Friday, March 31, 2023

CALL: BISHOP RIDER LIVES - An Anthology of Retribution

 For more than a decade now, Beau Johnson's Bishop Rider has rampaged through the crime fiction scene. A combination of The Punisher, Jigsaw, and Andrew Vachss's Burke, a vigilante who knows he has gone too far, and a victim who knows he can never go far enough, Bishop, under Johnson's capable hands, has maimed, tortured, and killed heaps of "dirtbags." 

And now it's your turn. 

Because Beau is one of the best members of this community, because he has created such an incredible character, and because Beau thinks everyone deserves a chance to get in on the fun, he and his coeditor, Hector Acosta, are putting together BISHOP RIDER LIVES - An Anthology of Retribution. 

This is it. Your chance to tell a Bishop Rider story. 

Your chance to see how he makes them burn. 

Okay, Beau, tell us what it's all about: 



Well, this is surprising.  Fancy meeting you here.  I kid, of course.  But since you ARE here, I just want to thank you for taking an interest in something I never knew I wanted or dreamed could be.  An anthology of other voices and their takes on a character I’ve been living with for almost fifteen years.

Bishop Rider.


Story length is 1500-5000 words but if you go over a bit, hey, we can talk. Put BISHOP RIDER ANTHO in the subject line of your email (email with story attached. 

Deadline: April 30, 2023   

Publisher: Down and Out Books.  Payment: Standard 50/50 split. 50% to Down and Out, 50% split between all authors involved.

My co-editor: Hector Acosta.  I am humbled he threw his hat in the ring, as this IS my first rodeo, and I feel I will need the help.  I am indebted and thankful for everything he will bring to the table.

If you need more info on Rider, his timeline and partners, see below: 

Because I write Rider’s story out of sequence there is some wiggle room for more story to occur, hence this entire antho.  Below I will attempt to be brief and bring you up to speed as best I can.  Use all of it, use some of it, use none of it. I can not express how happy I am just to be here.

Bishop Rider

Ex-army medic, former cop. Knows he’s the bad guy, struggles with the knowledge. ‘It’s not about saving people.  It’s about stopping them.’ Six feet, wears black, much Kevlar. Dark hair, often stubbled, custom-made prosthetic from below the knee of his right leg, pinky finger of his right hand bitten off.  Weakness: treadmills.

Inciting Incident: sister and mother, April and Maggie Rider, killed by Marcel Abrum. Sister is raped and murdered by six men in masks, video of her demise loaded up to the internet. Mother found face down in a dumpster.  Reason: parked too close to van full of undocumented immigrants Abrum was trafficking. Father N/A. Main hunting ground: Culver City, population one million, with adventures taking him to its sister city, Hanson Falls.


John Batista 

Rider’s senior and old partner from the job. Bigger than Rider.  Burly.  Face the color of pissed-off brick. Most times wears a beard. Lost portions of the right side of his face to a man named Harrison Garrett. Retires soon after, from the force as well as his extracurricular activities with Rider. Dies of dementia and cancer.


Rider and Ray meet in Kuwait. Home, once asked, he joins Rider’s mission. A builder, he helps Rider create whatever a certain situation may need.  Retrofitted both basements of the Ronson place and the Buchanan place into torture chambers. Holds an aversion to socks. Has dirty blond hair. Gets beheaded by a man named Hightower late in the narrative. Rider takes to killing this Hightower slowly, as in piece by piece over an entire year.

Jeramiah Abrum

The son of Marcel Abrum, the man who set in motion the deaths of Rider’s sister and mother.  He feels he must make up for his father’s mistakes and why once he’s older he seeks Rider out.  He is nine at the time Rider and Batista dismember his father and roughly thirty when he catches up to Rider. He is the money of the story too, and bankrolls a lot of the shenanigans. The irony being the money came from insurance policies, from the death of Marcel Abrum itself.  Small eyes, slick back dark hair, Jeramiah resembles his father.  Takes to working out.

Alex Paine

Greasy hair.  Hoodie.  Hood always up on said hoodie.  Betrays Bishop, selling him out to a no-eyed piece of shit named Mapone. Leg is lost to an axe held by a neo-Nazi soon after. Hilarity ensues. (Kidding)

One-armed Billy

Another friend from Ray and Rider’s time overseas. Before Jeramiah enters the picture, they used his pig farm as disposal from time to time. Missing teeth. Halitosis. Always wearing camo.

That’s about it. I implement a pre-leg/post leg guideline to keep the timeline straight.  Pre-leg is Batista, post-leg Jeramiah. There is some overlap of these two particular partners, a couple years anyway. Bishop is roughly fifty when he loses the leg. Seventy-five when he succumbs to cancer. He’s an equal opportunist when it comes to ‘burning them all’ too---sticking to pedophiles, rapists, and human traffickers mostly, but he’s never looked a gift serial killer or incel in the mouth. He is full measure and then some.

Hope this helps.  Also, am I over the moon at the prospect at reading what you create? You’re goddamn right.  Long live crime fiction! Long live the dark stuff!

Ps. Any questions, don’t hesitate to ask/email me.

For more information Bishop Rider and his adventures, please see the previous collections of Beau's work, available here: 




Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Constructing Doom in Eli Cranor's DON'T KNOW TOUGH

 I read a lot of crime novels, and when I'm not reading crime novels I'm often reading horror novels, so violence, whether of the physical, emotional, or spiritual varieties, is nothing new to me. 

My reason for stating this up front, aside from the fact that it's true, is both to establish my bonafides, and to make you understand that when I say I had to put Eli Cranor's debut Don't Know Tough down and walk away from it, that I was actively nervous to pick it back up again, that it took me almost a week to come back to the book because I was so nervous about what would happen next, I'm being serious. 

Don't Know Tough is, mostly, the story of Billy Lowe, a hard as nails running back with anger issues. his fucked up family, and the (less obviously, but still fucked up),family that takes him, in as Billy and his coach / wannabe mentor take a run at the Arkansas State Football Championships, all while under the shadow of Billy's mysteriously murdered kinda step dad. 

It's a lot, but Cranor moves between characters and their distinct point of views by establishing both a linguistic rhythm to Billy's chapters, evoking the hills and poverty thats all he's ever known, and a more straightforward (though occasionally withholding) presentation when switching to other characters points of view, ensuring momentum, and, most importantly, providing the reader with information only available to those characters at the time. 

To say I loved this book would be an understatement, and judging by the awards it has been received or nominated for, I'm not alone in my assessment of it, but, for me, the most memorable moment is not at the climax of the novel, and it has nothing to do with the mystery; it has to do with two characters, one who should know better, and one who has no idea, in a place of such sheer vulnerability from so many disparate elements that I actually started to sweat while reading it. 

Eventually, I broke through my fear and picked the book up again, and, while I'm not going to comment on whether or not my fears came to pass, my reaction to that scene was so intense, instead of continuing on, I went back and reread the chapter that had so made my skin crawl, not for any kind of enjoyment, but to ask myself, how did he do it? 

Today, we're gonna get in to that below as we break down how Cranor constructed doom. 

Spoilers for Don't Know Tough ahead. 

Seriously. Don't read on if you haven't read this novel. 

Okay, so you too have read the book, and you're wondering what the scene is, right? 

It was Lorna. Specifically, Lorna after her swim with Billy, their confrontation with the drunk members of the football team, and her fall. 

I was stunned by this section. Afraid. Genuine fear. But when I went back, I could see the work Cranor had put in to elicit that exact reaction. It's a masterclass in writing. And I want to break it down: 

When Lorna and Billy arrive above the river, a raging bonfire burning below them while drunk teens celebrate their Playoff win in language that evokes the bacchanalistic suggestion of hell and violence and fear that, the novel subliminally suggests, is almost certain to come: 

Everybody come to the river after a game. Saw them when we drove up, whole bunch of them good and drunk already. Big bonfire tearing at the low branches, lighting they drunk smiling faces. 

Next is location, the bluffs over the river, an area Billy knows, but that Lorna, new to town and unfamiliar with the area, is significantly less aware of:  

Bluffs big and high this far upstream. Probably twenty, maybe thirty feet. So we cain't get in the water, not unless we jump. I jumped before. Everybody jump from the bluffs. But not in the night. Even with a full moon, you be stupid to jump at night. 

The scene continues with Billy remembering another female character "in broken bits and pieces", and the death shadow grows again a page later when Billy and Lorna discuss Hemingway: 

"Who is he?"
"You mean, who was he," she say. "He's dead. Blew his head off with a shotgun."
"A shotgun?"
"Yeah, pulled the trigger with his big toe."

This violent imagery, a head blown apart, stands in contrast to what happens next, as Billy and Lorna continue discussing The Old Man and the Sea, with the following section quoted in the book: 

  ...and if she did wild or wicked things it was because she could not help them. The moon affects her as it does a woman.

And then Lorna, possibly moved by the moon, removes her clothes and goes to the edge of the bluff, preparing to jump in to the river, but as she jumps Billy sees, "Look like the moon went just behind a cloud and took her shadow with it".  

But, though she lands in the water safely, another subconscious clue has been planted. Lorna is in the water now, and the moon also effects water. Mostly in tides, but when you're in the water, what's the difference between a tide and a current? 

Safely in the water, unharmed (this time)Lorna calls from below, reminiscent of an unknowing siren: 

There aint nothing good come from me jumping in that water. I jumped enough to know you got to know where you jumping, know whats below you, to even jump at all.
"The moon, Billy, can't you feel its pull?" 

Billy, spurred on, prepares to jump, but death visits him again before he can, a death Billy may very well be involved in.

And theres just enough light from the moon to see what I need to see. Get my shorts and shirt off, and then a breeze blow in, cool, like it carry something with it. Kinda stink like chickens, like it connected to something way back in town.  

Cranor doesn't describe the smell any further, but we can assume what Billy is smelling is HIM, Billy's sort of step-dad, dead on the floor of their trailer. Death is all around. And then he jumps 

The next chapter is from Lorna's father's POV, and while it ratchets up the tension in different ways, Cranor uses separate techniques that add a different pile of compounding dread as Coach Taylor realizes that both his daughter and the violent troublemaker he has let in to his house are both missing. But after the preceding chapter, and through Coach Taylor's characterization, we know that the wrath of an angry father is not what is putting these characters in danger. It is something else, something much more base and primitive. And they are very fucking much in danger. 

Returning to Lorna and Billy, we find them in the river, naked, incredibly vulnerable, and again surrounded by the language of death: "Dad will kill me," Lorna says when she notices her earring is missing as the two float downstream in the black water.  Billy dives under to search for it, but "water black and taste like dirt," evoking the grave.

And then, having floated too far downstream, they arrive back at the bacchanalian fire, evocative of Dante's hell itself, the unconscious suggestion that this is all a continuously repeating and inescapable loop, traversed only by the dead or the damned. And Billy, aware of their location, Lorna unaware, voices another issue: 

"We all the way back down to the bonfire." 
"The dam come after the bonfire. And the dam as far downstream as we can go. We float over that dam and we wont't be floating no more."

Lorna opts to get out of the river, naked (vulnerable) and try to skirt past the hellish bonfire, but Billy cautions her. To get past, they'll have to sneak, naked, up the bluff, suggesting another image of falling. 

"Well," she say, not even whispering, (another increase in tension as the bonfire and the hellish revelers are so close by) If it's between falling to my death (that imagery again) over that dam or being seen naked-I'll take the latter."

But they're spotted, Lorna twenty feet above Billy on their climb up the bank:

I know they coming through the woods, a whole mess a them, drunk as shit and rowdy. The whole lunch table stomping through the tree line. 
"Lorna," I say. "Listen, this ain't California." 
"Oh my god," she say. "here we go again, another-" 
"Ever one a those boys got a gun, a knife. Something. They drunk as hell and now they hearing sounds in the woods. them boys dream of this, being cowboys and shooting bad guys."
She go quiet. The moon bright enough I can see her eyes on me...

Again, Cranor is establishing that Lorna is geographically and culturally unaware of the danger they are in, while subtly injecting Hell and the moon and the woods and contrasting them with a naked young woman. Through word choice, repetition, and he has conjured an impossible mix of dreadful outcomes. The water below may carry them to the dam and death, pulled by the moon. And thats if someone survives the fall. The land is no safer, having been converted to Hell, filled with bloodlusting, and just plain lusting, drunk young men, armed to the teeth. And the scent, literally, of death is on the wind. 

Hiding under the bank, Billy and Lorna both feel dirt fall on their head, once again evoking both the grave and the scattering of dirt at the culmination of funeral rites. Seeing only one way out, Lorna climbs up on the bank and confronts the men, believing, incorrectly, that, because they play for her father's football team, she'll be safe. But after acknowledging the presence of a shotgun that Billy can't see (the same kind of gun Hemingway blew his skull off with) and then, again, because of cultural confusion, goading them, Lorna is backed up to the edge. Overhearing one of the men imply rape, Billy reaches up and touches Lorna's foot, but at that moment, she slips: 

I reach up. Just gonna touch her ankle. Let her know I'm here and I'm a man's man, like Hemingway. When my fingers tap her ankle she jerk back, like she forgot I's there, toes clawing at the dirt bank, hands slipping at the sky, trying to keep her balance. And then there's only Jarred standing on the ledge, laughing, as Lorna fall down the bluff towards the river and into the moon. 

Look at that again. Hemingway. Dirt. Ledge. Laughing. Down the bluff. Towards the River. Into the Moon. This is life under a death cloud, and, as the chapter ends, we assume at least one, if not both Lorna and Bill are dead, not because anything in the plot us telling us that, in fact, the plot is suggesting at least one of them will be okay, but because of the way Cranor has full on ripped open your skull and whispered to you that doom is in the air. 

In The Best American Noir of the Century, Ellroy wrote, "The overarching joy and lasting appeal of noir is that it makes doom fun," but these preceding chapters have been anything but fun. They're dripping with tension, each layer applied almost unnoticed until its something too big to ignore, an impossible weight on the chest. It hurts, and it hurts all the more because, the first time through, you don't even realize Cranor is doing it. Until it arrives. Until you get that horrifying titillation the best noir offers. Until you get what you, the person who opened up a crime novel, get what you goddamn came for.  

Don't Know Tough is a wonderful novel, and there are other scenes I could break down where Cranor uses similar techniques, but this is the one that landed heaviest on me. If you're a writer,  either accomplished or just starting out, I genuinely believe that studying these chapters will either grant new skills or further sharpen old ones. And if you've, for some reason, read all the way down here without owning the book, your own copy that you can mark up, hey, check that out, the hardcover is on sale on Amazon right now. Just eight bucks. 

Okay. That's it for me for now. I'll be back in a week or two. I can't promise I'll be talking about anything lighter, but, you know, there's always hope. Until there isn't. 







Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The Editing Job Looms

A few weeks ago, in my blog post here, I was talking about how Lydia Davis, when writing about the benefits of translating, says that a lot of translating is sentence-by-sentence problem-solving, which she finds fulfilling and pleasurable in and of itself.  Something similar pertains, I think, to the process of editing, in particular to editing certain types of non-fiction pieces.

I recently finished a monthlong stint working on a piece for a non-fiction anthology that has to do with films of a certain type from a specific period.  My piece is on Brazilian cinema during the period from 1964 to 1990, for most of which time Brazil had a military dictatorship in place.  I'm concentrating in particular on two filmmakers, one known for horror films, Jose Mojica Marins, aka Coffin Joe, and the other for "art" films that won much acclaim and prestigious awards on the international festival circuit, Glauber Rocha.  I wrote about 4,300 words on these two, trying to convey as concisely as possible a bunch of information about both Marins and Rocha and the conditions, sometimes repressive, they dealt with as filmmakers. It's a complex subject, and I managed to communicate some information more clearly than other information, and then of course there may have been information I could have included but didn't, worried as I was about the required word count. In any event, I shipped the piece off to the anthology's editors, and now the suggested edits have come back, and good ones they are. A certain amount of reshaping and clarifying will be necessary, and I may wind up taking the entire month I've been given to complete the work.

So: here we come back to what Lydia Davis was talking about.  Not unlike translating, editing, I find, especially editing non-fiction, often comprises a series of problems to be solved.  You have the suggestions given to you to get you going and, as in this case, a certain "house" style to adhere to while doing it.  Clarify this point or that point, you're told, factual points, which may be complex and require expansion of the text, but you still have a basic word count you can't surpass.  Unlike fiction, you don't have to invent anything, thank goodness, and this specific piece is not even one where I'm offering many of my own thoughts on a subject.  More than anything else, I'm trying to describe a historical period in a country through its cinema (or, more accurately, two very different contributors to its cinema) and to get as much clear information across to people who may know nothing about that country or its cinema.  

To boil it down, there is the overall problem of the piece to tackle, but there are also the line-by-line editing challenges to solve. Problem to be solved after problem to be solved after problem to be solved.  It's like facing a month of homework, but for whatever reason -- and I loathed homework when in school -- I have to say that I do look forward to doing it.  It's a challenge to myself, and odd as it sounds, the process is almost what I might actually call fun.  We'll see.  I have to get started on the edits. I'll know for sure then whether I can solve the problems facing me to my satisfaction.  

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Is Time the Most Valuable Resource a Kid Has That an Adult Doesn’t?


Scott D. Parker

I’ve been thinking about this off and on for a few weeks now. It stemmed from multiple sources, but a comment from one of my fellow book club members really sparked the idea.

We were talking about The Mandalorian—which, on 7 March when we had our meeting, had only aired one episode of the current season, its third—when my friend made the following paraphrased comment: In order to keep up with all the Star Wars content coming at us via movies, live-action TV, animated TV, comics, and video games, you’d almost have to be a teenager with no life in order to have the time to consume all this stuff.

That struck a chord with me. It also folded in on my realization that audiobooks is the primary means by which I consume a book. (I won’t use the word ‘reading’ because I’m not actually reading.) The time where I literally sit and read a book has become a slim part of my life.

Which is odd because I’ve always been a reader. Back in the day, I would spend hours just reading nearly anything from the Hardy Boys and the Three Investigator to Star Wars and Star Trek stuff to the fantasy novels of Piers Anthony or the science fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Throw in comics and I was reading all the time.


Because I had the time.

And the passion of new discovery. There’s nothing like the discovery of something new you just love. You find yourself consuming all that you can find. Back in the day after I learned I loved reading, the whole world opened up and I just read and read and read. All the time. Because I had the time.

Let’s not kid ourselves, however. There were plenty of days when the minutes crept on like hours and it seemed like an eternity until dinner and prime time TV. There were plenty of boring days, but what would you give to have a few days like that nowadays?

Or fewer things to distract you.

There Were Fewer Media Distractions

There were only three channels plus PBS and the UHF channels so if my parents wanted to watch something and I didn’t, I could choose to read something. Granted, there were plenty of days in which I watched whatever was on because it was on. How else do we memorize so many Bugs Bunny one-liners or just how many times Tom the Cat spoke in those old cartoons or that Mrs. Kravitz was nosy neighbor on Bewitched.

Up until I got my first Walkman, music was something that was on the radio or on an album, and albums could only be played on my stereo at home. So, when I listened to a record, I’d put one on and then read in the same room. As for the number of albums I owned, well, an allowance can only go so far and, thus, I didn’t own all that many and a good percentage were soundtracks featuring the music of John Williams.

Of course, the internet didn’t exist as we know it today to say nothing of streaming or DVDs or even VHS tapes. Before any of us could drive on our own, we were subject to our parents’ (or older siblings; I am an only child) schedules to take us to a mall or a movie theater.

Then again, as one of my book club guys pointed out, kids did have commitments that could eat up time. He was an active in Boy Scouts and chose to give up piano lessons so that he could have time for scouting as well as school-based academic clubs. He still found the time to read, however, and that was the point another guy in the book club made.

Adults Have to Choose

As we grow up, we learn more things about the world and what we have to do to live in it. We learn about paying bills, going to a job five days a week, driving our kids to various events, or volunteering to sell popcorn at football games. The older we get, the more things fill up our calendar. Just this past week, I had rehearsal three out of the five workdays. Enjoyed playing the sax, but it was time away from home and doing other things.

My friend pointed out that we adult have to choose to carve out time to focus on things you enjoy. If you don’t make time, he said, there won’t be any. And, often, we adult just don’t make enough money for everything they want to do so certain things get left behind.

Kids largely don’t suffer from this conundrum. In the words of my friend, they don’t sit down to do something fun and then think how they really should pay the bill or unload the dishwasher. We adults, on the other hand, can’t stop thinking about the dishes.

Well, I can and do, but then my time is spent playing guitar or watching something. Not, however, often reading.

What about y’all? Do you find yourselves reading as much as or more than you used to? What do you do to make time to read or do the things you really enjoy?

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Alaska Daily and The Company You Keep Prove Network TV Is Not Dead


Scott D. Parker

Remember a few weeks ago when I lamented the end of New Amsterdam and wondered if there would be any more network TV shows I’d watch? Well, it didn’t take long before two very different shows landing on my viewing schedule.

Alaska Daily

Curious about the throughline of the series—the disappearance and murder of indigenous women in Alaska—the wife and I watched the pilot of Alaska Daily, the new show starring Hilary Swank. She plays Eileen Fitzgerald, a famous New York investigative reporter in New York who gets fired for asking too many questions. Amid her public humiliation, her old boss, Stanley (Jeff Perry) shows up. He has a job for her: investigating the systemic crisis of murdered and missing indigenous women in Alaska. The sticking point is, obviously, that the new job is in Alaska. Stanley knows Eileen and all he has to do is get her hooked on the story.

She gets hooked and she moves to Alaska where we promptly have a fish-out-of-water story mixed with a this-is-how-we-do-it-in-the-big-city story. But it works well.

The indigenous women story is the season-long arc and little pieces are uncovered in each episode. But you also get a story of the week. In each episode, you’ll see some of Eileen’s fellow reporters either get rubbed the wrong way because of her or learn something from her that they can then use. It’s a good push-pull dynamic.

Two things particularly stand out. One is obvious: the importance of journalism, especially local journalism. In episode 7, Eileen has a long conversation with another character who thinks all she does is twist facts around. She counters the argument by pointing out things that reporters have contributed to society. It’s a general “If not us, who?” argument that I find matches the tone of 2023.

The other aspect of this show I really dig is Eileen herself. She’s single-minded in her devotion to her job, so much so that she sacrifices personal relationships. She’s a loner, and her lover is being a reporter and uncovering the story. We’ve seen characters like this before, but they’ve almost all be male. With Eileen, you get the female version of it, and it’s refreshing.

I find it fascinating that the topic of violence against indigenous women is featured not only on this American network TV show but also on Amazon’s Three Pines. Perhaps with more exposure, more can be done to stop this crisis.

The Company You Keep

On the other end of the ledger is another new show, The Company You Keep. We saw the trailer while watching America’s Funniest Videos one Sunday evening and were intrigued. I didn’t watch This Is Us but I knew the Milo Ventimiglia starred on it. Milo’s also in this show opposite Catherine Haena Kim. He’s a con man named Charlie from a family of con artists: mom, dad, and older sister. She’s a CIA operative named Emma, daughter of a retired senator whose brother is running for his dad’s seat, and no one in the family knows she works for the government.

In the pilot, Charlie’s family earn $10 million from a job but Charlie’s fiancée steals it. Emma discovers her partner is having an affair. Charlie and Emma meet at a hotel bar and a weekend of passion ensues. But they are both secret about their real selves and real jobs. Naturally, they fall for each other but still keep up the mysterious fronts. Cut to the end of the pilot where the bad guys who used to own that $10 million show up at Charlie’s family bar. They demand repayment plus interest, and you have this show’s schtick: A Con of the Week.

And it’s so much fun. It doesn’t hurt at all to have Milo and Catherine look so dang good and look good together. As the credits rolled from the pilot, I said to my wife, “Ah, so it’s pretty people doing cons every week. I’m in.”

The supporting cast is fun, especially William Fichtner as Charlie’s dad. He’s good in just about everything he’s in, but a particular favorite is his role in the 1999 movie, Go. James Saito plays Emma’s dad, an actor who has been in a ton of things, but I particularly enjoyed him in the old Eli Stone TV show.

If you are a fan of heist stories, you’ll probably get a kick out of this.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Short stories for podcasts

Over at Writers Who Kill, KM Rockwood discusses writing stories for podcasts.

Short stories have long been some of my favorites, both reading and writing them, and I’ve added listening to them to the menu.

I’ve also been trying my hand at writing for podcast distribution.

Podcasts have much in common with audio versions of books, and owe much to that earlier invitation to “return to those thrilling days of yesteryear” on pre-TV radio.

But I’m learning that the stories written for podcast do present some unique challenges.


Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Wild Canaries

I recently saw the film Black Bear (2020), with Aubrey Plaza, and really liked it. Set in upstate New York, broken into two contrasting parts, it plays as a sort of cross between Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and a John Cassavetes movie, in particular Opening Night, a psychological mind screwer with a great and multi-layered performance from Plaza.  The writer-director is Lawrence Michael Levine, and since I'd liked Black Bear so much, I decided to watch his previous film, from 2014, called Wild Canaries.

This one hearkens back to the classic tradition of screwball mystery, with a married Brooklyn couple, often bickering, neither a cop or a professional detective, investigating the death of an elderly lady who lived in the same building that they do. The woman lived in the building's last rent-controlled apartment, and when her grown son starts acting oddly after her death, delivering an off-key eulogy at her funeral and selling off her possessions quickly as though he is in dire financial straits, the wife in the couple, Barri (Sophia Takal), begins to suspect that the son (Kevin Corrigan) killed his mother.  Perhaps Barri's enthusiasm is fueled by her love of Hitchcock movies, but eventually, the son's behavior makes even the husband, Noah (Levine), suspicious.  They begin poking around in the son's life, aided by their gay roommate Jean (Ali Shawkat) who has a thing for Barri.  Barri and Noah have been having their own difficulties, but the investigation they launch themselves into involves them in something that distracts them from their problems and might, just might, help their relationship.  

Wild Canaries has an obvious love for The Thin Man movies and one can't help but think as well of Manhattan Murder Mystery.  The pace is fast, the dialogue rapid-fire, and the investigative shenanigans amusing.  It's difficult to balance a genuine mystery with a marital comedy, but this one does it well, all the while capturing in a wry way early 2010s hipster world Brooklyn, with its aspiring and sometimes pretentious artists, rent worries, cramped apartments, and constant financial anxiety.  It's completely different in tone and style than Black Bear, and the chemistry between Levine and Takal, who are married in real life (and she also is a filmmaker, having directed the psychological thriller Always Shine as well as the Black Christmas remake) is excellent. For its 98 minutes running time, Wild Canaries is quite diverting, something perfect if you too love a certain film tradition and want to laugh.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

How to Promote an Event, in Fine Cactus Fashion


I'll be in Tucson later this week for Left Coast Crime 2023, a convention for mystery fans and authors. It's always a wonderful time, and this year I get to start early. On Wednesday night, the local Sisters in Crime chapter is helping coordinate Noir. Noir is an event that happens in fine drinking establishments nationwide, where authors read brief excerpts from their books. It's a home-grown thing, with people organizing them in conjunction with other events or for no reason at all, other than to have a good time. 

Word about Wednesday's event has hit in all the right places. Organizer Patrick Whitehurst has provided multiple graphics for people to use on their social media, and gotten the event into the local alt weekly newspaper

Note how the graphics give good placement to the brewing company that's hosting the event. It's truly an example where everybody wins. So if you're going to Left Coast Crime this week, stop by and subject yourself to some great crime. 

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Pushing the Old Guys Aside: HBO's Perry Mason Season 1

Scott D. Parker

I finally finished Season 1 of the updated and re-imagined Perry Mason TV series on HBO Ma. Yeah, I know: I’m two years behind. There’s just too much good content to watch and not enough time.

Here’s a funny thing: when I pulled it up on HBO Max late last week, my time stamp was halfway through episode three. I asked my wife if she’d be up for watching. She was and, without going back to re-watch the opening two installments, we forged ahead.

The cheeky summation I’ve heard about this show is that it is not your grandfather’s Perry Mason. That’s certainly true, both in the language and the personal relationships. The moment where Della Street, assistant to E.B. Jonathan (Jonathan Lithgow), the nearly-too-old-for-this lawyer defending Emily Dodson, climbs into bed with her girlfriend, my wife asked about it. Cue said cheeky comment.

I enjoy the old TV show quite a bit, but I’m nowhere near an expert. It’s just good comfort television. As for the books, I’ve only read the first one. What’s fascinating about the first book and the 2020 series is how much alike they are. If the only Perry Mason you know is Raymond Burr, well, he’s not like Matthew Rhys but Burr is also not exactly like the character we first see in 1933. Rhys and 1933 Mason are scrappers, not afraid to poke a hornet’s nest and see what happens. It’s rather remarkable how well that type of character fit both in the Depression as well as ninety years later.

This being an origin story, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how far down Mason was when this series began. Employed by E.B., Mason drinks way too much, is estranged from his wife and son, and constantly is threatened to have his family’s house taken away from him.

But the core quality of Perry Mason is his drive for justice. He can’t let things go when he knows there is something just under the surface. To quote Mason’s own self description when asked what he does, “He snapped out two words at her. “I fight!””

Rhys fights, both with his fists as well as his brain. The problem is that he often goes a few steps too far and says things to people like Della or his investigator, Pete Strickland, who are trying to help. I appreciated seeing Rhys try and smooth over Mason’s rough edges by the end of the season and never quite finishing the job.

It’s also fascinating to see how they inject 21st Century themes into a show set in the Depression. It’s obvious that same sex relationships and racial prejudices existed in the 1930s (and the 1950s era of the TV show) but it’s good to see it out in the open. Paul Drake, Mason’s main investigator by the end of the 2020 series, is now portrayed by Chris Chalk, an African-American. That itself brings up a lot of possibilities of narratives and themes. But I liked that Drake, a beat cop when we first meet him, has an inner integrity that is stronger that any position or job. Ditto for Della. The old TV show always showed her as all but an equal partner, but she always remained a secretary. The 2020 Della is an assistant, but she’s already enrolled in school and plans on becoming a lawyer. “A woman lawyer,” Mason says at the end. “A lawyer,” Della replied. “No modifier.”

Author Erle Stanley Gardner’s books are famous for their intricate nature. This 2020 season lives up to that bar. I did not see the ending coming and I really liked how the trial was resolved.

Oh, a quick shout out: Stephen Root, known for his comedy chops, plays the smarmy, publicity-hungry DA is all of his greasy glory. It made me want to see how many other non-comedy roles the actor has done. Loved him as I did Lithgow.

I suppose, with any origin story, you have to have older characters in places of authority that the younger characters seek to overcome. It’s pretty much the same in Season 1. So, in a very literal sense, the young Perry Mason beat a couple of old guys. You know, so it really isn’t your grandfather’s Perry Mason.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

From Sonny Liston to Marcel Proust

In the first place, if Sonny Liston had fought Marcel Proust, the fight would have lasted a shorter time than the two fights Sonny Liston had, one winning the Heavyweight Championship of the World, one defending it, against Floyd Patterson. Both those fights ended fast.  In the first bout, on September 25, 1962 in Chicago, challenger Liston knocked out champion Patterson in 2:06 of the first round.  A left hook to Patterson's jaw, one knockdown, and it was over.  Patterson, who president John F. Kennedy had telephoned, telling him how imperative it was that he (the good Black) beat Liston (the Black who had been in prison, tussled with cops, and had mob connections), left Chicago after the fight wearing a fake beard and mustache, so embarrassed was he by his performance. In the second fight, held on July 22, 1963 in Las Vegas, Liston knocked Patterson down three times and the fight lasted 2:10, four seconds longer than the first fight.  The crowd, reacting to Liston's victory, booed.

Now all this, at least about the first fight between the two men, is the main subject of a long essay I recently read called "Ten Thousand Words a Minute", by Norman Mailer. Published in Esquire Magazine in 1963, it's Mailer at the top of his game, which means talking about something he loves with brilliance and funny insights, expanding outward from his subjects -- Liston versus Patterson, boxing -- into any number of subjects about the United States at the time. It is also Mailer being Mailer, which means you get silly and at times antediluvian ideas mixed in with the thought-provoking ones.  And as always with Mailer, when he discusses race and Blackness, there are things now, if they didn't then, that read as cringe-worthy.  But he was one of the foremost boxing writers who ever lived, and if you like boxing, as I do, and love reading about its history and how it has tied to the culture and world around it, he makes for pleasurable and stimulating reading.  But this is reading, just to be clear, that is about a subject I'm interested in. It's not surprising I would come away from a foremost boxing writer writing about boxing and like what I've read.

But what about when you read a writer on something you don't have a longstanding interest in?  Or any particular interest in, really.  What about then, and when, without question, do you know that a writer is great?  It's not necessarily when they write about a subject you love and that you know in depth. Sometimes it’s when the writer tells you about something you know virtually nothing about, haven’t thought about much, and will never ever do (not that I'd box), and still, as you read, it’s fascinating. That writer can be great company and you may feel that you're in a cafe or bar with them, just talking.

This has been my experience reading Essays Two by Lydia Davis, the companion book to her, you guessed it, Essays One. Her first book of essays concentrated on writing and writers, and this one focuses on the activity Davis has pursued throughout her professional career, as a way to make a living: translation. The book consists of numerous pieces connected to her translation endeavors, and these include her work translating the first volume of Proust's seven-volume In Search of Lost Time, which is Du côté de chez Swannor Swann's Way.

I happen to have finally started reading Proust myself, and I'm working my way through Swann's Way.  I'm only about 200 pages in, so I'd rather not talk too much about the experience of reading Proust yet, but I can say that reading Swann's Way in the Lydia Davis translation, from a little over 20 years ago, is what led me not to reading Davis herself (I've been reading her short stories for years), but to acquiring this particular book of hers.  When I first looked through it, I saw that it has a lot of Davis dissecting Proust and talking about the joys and challenges of translating him, and I was persuaded to buy it.

And how is Davis on translation, breaking down the art and the craft of it? She's got me immersed. I'm totally into these pieces and actually wish at times that I had become a translator, in whatever language. Davis compares translating to sentence-by-sentence problem solving, and since she is a fiction writer as well, she talks in great detail about how translating differs from fiction writing but also how it can help your fiction writing. She talks about how such complete engagement with language, when translating, benefits her, in myriad ways, when it comes to her own writing. After all the years of doing it, she has plenty to say about translating, and the fact that she's made it as interesting to me as, say, boxing, is evidence yet again of what a great writer she is and what a great writer can do.

A certain writer's obsession becomes your obsession (or at least to you a strong point of interest), and you love exploring the subject with them. I liked hanging out with Mailer talking about Liston, but I'm enjoying even more spending time with Lydia Davis talking about translation and Proust.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

What the Number Three Meant Last Week


Scott D. Parker


I want you to keep that number in mind as you read this post. (And yes, it’s a magical number…)

Last week I posed the question about the best way to measure progress in a story. Specifically, if word count was the best way. Every writer differs and every writer has a way to determine progress, as Dana King commented on last week’s post.

Well, for me, I use word count. Always have. And starting on New Year’s Day, I had written at least 1,000 every day.

Until last Friday.

The day job part of last Friday made it feel like a Monday. Lots of meetings, lots of quick turnaround projects. Even though I worked from home, the day just kept consumed by the demands of the day job. Nothing wrong with that at all—better to have a Monday on a Friday than the alternative.

On the days I work in the office (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday), lunch is my fiction writing time. I take my Chromebook and write in an empty conference room. On the days I work from home, I use the fact that I have no commute to work in writing before the day job duties start. But last Friday when I woke up, I was still feeling tired so I opted to sleep in (something I rarely do, even on weekends). It was okay, I told myself, I can pick up the writing at the end of the workday. It’s all good.

But it wasn’t. You see, my early morning sleepy self forgot that the wife and I were heading out to see singer/songwriter Jeff Crosby at Houston’s Mucky Duck. The responsibilities of the day job were going to take me up to and a little beyond five o’clock. The show started at seven. Oh, and I also had to write my post for this blog.

What to do?

Well, I wrote the post y’all read last week and got it posted before we departed for the concert. With that done, I opened up my story and started writing some fiction.

I wrote three words. They consisted of two sentences and, after I hit the return key, an entire paragraph.

I looked at the screen, willing some words to make their way from my brain, through my arms and fingers, and onto the screen. They weren’t happening. That tiredness I woke up with was still with me, even more so with the day job’s activities. I knew I would return from the show and want to keep that one-on-one time with the wife, something that remains an important part of daily life. I also knew my 1,000-word writing streak was in jeopardy. The everyday part of the streak remained alive, but would the thousand-word streak?


I chalked up a notch in the main streak and called it a day. There are more important things than getting a daily word count. It was a stumble, but you know what you’re supposed to do after you stumble, right?

Get up.

The next day I clocked in 1,172 words.

That’s the key takeaway I want to leave you with today. There will always be days in which you won’t or can’t write. A streak might be broken. As irritating as it may be—and after 55 straight days of 1,000+ writing days, it was a bummer—don’t let the break go on longer than a day. Get right back in the groove the next day and start a new streak or habit. Your future self will thank you.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Magic City Blues: A Conversation with Bobby Mathews

 I've known Bobby Mathews for a few years now. Not only have I had the pleasure of editing one of his stories in Rock and a Hard Place (you have have heard we have a new issue out, which you can check out here!) but I've also had the pleasure of having him as a friend. We've drank together, talked shit about football teams together, and we've traded more than a few encouraging texts while in the middle of some tough writing. 

Speaking of, Magic City Blues, Bobby's second novel, just dropped last week. Starring a legbreaker turned knight errant, it recalls Parker, Leonard, and Westlake, while also being, undeniably, Bobby Mathews. 

To celebrate the release of Magic City Blues, I chatted with Bobby about writing, Birmingham, and lots more. Check it out below, and when you're done, make sure you get Magic City Blues. Look at that, I even gave you a link straight to it, so you definitely don't have an excuse. 

Magic City Blues was supposed to be your debut, but Living the Gimmick came first. How long has this story been inside you, and how does it feel to finally have it out in the world?

Magic City Blues started probably in 2018 or so, and I put it away for a while because I couldn't find a way to move the story forward. In 2020, with the Covid-19 pandemic raging, I had a lot of time to think about writing, and pulled out Magic City Blues. It was already around 30,000 words ... I thought "I've put too much time into this story to let it die," and then I realized that I needed to inject some life into it, make the setting more believable and relatable. So I began deepening the book's real-world ties with Birmingham.

It feels very good to have the book out in the world, even with the distribution hiccup Shotgun Honey had on launch day. What I feel most, probably, is relief. I was beginning to believe the book was snakebit in some way ... but for better or worse, MCB is here. And so far, folks seem to like it. 

Tell me about Kincaid, the main character of Magic City Blues. He’s obviously inspired by a lot of single name PIs, but he’s got his own thing too. How did you find the balance to his character?

Kincaid definitely has a lot in common with the singly named PI, but his outlook is, I think, darker. He's not really an investigator. He's the guy who'll visit you if you get behind on the vig that you owe to your local loan shark, or the guy who intimidates witnesses in order to make sure his bosses don't go to jail. In Magic City Blues, he's forced into being an investigator because he believes it's the best way to serve his client.

I think Kincaid's humor and self-understanding help bring balance to the character. He knows who he is and what he can do — and what he can't. He takes the work he does very seriously, but he doesn't take himself seriously at all. He's also got some undiagnosed (or mis-diagnosed) PTSD, as well. He lives in temporary housing — a crumbling motel rather than a real fixed abode — by choice, because it's easy for him to leave everything and everyone behind if he needs to. 

Birmingham is the other main character in the novel, and throughout, the city feels real. Like a character. How did you feel about committing your version of the city to paper? Any trepidation about focusing too much on its flaws? Or any fear you were painting it as more rosey than it actually is?

I love Birmingham, despite its flaws. The crime rate is high, the Alabama Department of Transportation is hell-bent on fucking up the roads for a generation, and downtown floods during the summer rains because the sewer system is woefully inadequate, and gentrification is a huge issue that no one wants to grapple with. And yet ... and yet Birmingham is still a jewel. We have a world-class food scene with multiple James Beard Award winners, our reputation as a banking and innovation hub in the Deep South is well-won, and the city is actively trying to overcome its racist past.

I wanted to "get it right" in the sense that I want people to recognize this fictional version of Birmingham. The John Hand Building, Eagles Restaurant, Gip's Juke Joint, the clubs and bars, Carraway Hospital ... all of those are  where I say they are, more or less. I did take some liberties with things like setting scenes at Pale Eddie's Pour House, since Pale Eddie's closed during the pandemic. But it was my favorite dive bar, so it had to go in. I tried, as much as possible, to play Birmingham straight ... it's too rich in history and in its present-day resurgence to treat it any other way than how it is.

Your work seems to often be dealing with the past; the wrestling circuits you grew up attending that are no longer around, the city trying to outgrow itself and it’s past, the Knight Errant inspired by your favorite writers growing up who may have less of a place in the modern world. Do you think that’s the Southerner in you (if you accept that the South is always in conversation with its Past) or are you digging for something else, something more personal? Or is it both?

It's likely both. I try to be aware that as a white Southerner I probably have something of a genetic predisposition to mythologizing the past, and that's a dangerous road to go down. The thing that I try to do when writing about the past is to use my perception of it to uncover potentially hidden truths. Like in Living the Gimmick, the main character discovers that his best friend is not — and never was — the person he thought he was. When I think about my characters, one of the things I try to explore is how much we lie to those closest to us, how much we lie to ourselves. Are we really who we think we are? Are our best friends really who we think they are?

Faulkner had that famous quote: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I think about that quote a lot. Down here we live with the long shadow of the Confederacy that casts evil ghosts like lynchings, Confederate monuments, "militias" and rednecks who think "the gub'mint" is out to get them. It's an attitude and outlook that's been handed down since the Civil War and the Reconstruction efforts that came afterward. 

But I think for me, a lot of my efforts to look into the past come down to this: When you're young, it's easier to believe in something. Whether it's wrestling or religion or redemption, belief is important. It's a way to belong. As you grow older, belief in just about anything is harder. I think a lot of my work incorporates people who are looking for something to believe in ... even if it's just the gun in their hand.

I can see that in your work. The other kind of artery I’ve noticed in your stuff is that so much of it is set against change. Either some debilitating change that has already happened, or one that is in the midst of happening. If we take your comments about belief and put them against the backdrop of change, does that make you feel your work is cynical but striving, or disappointedly optimistic? Or somewhere else on the spectrum? 

There's a line in one of Jason Isbell's songs that I will probably end up getting tattooed on my arm at some point: Experience robs me of hope.

With apologies to Yeats, that's life, isn't it? Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Yet we get up in the morning and take care of the kids and go to work and mow the yard and wash the car and watch the TV in spite of the chaos and entropy going on around us. We carry on in spite of knowing somewhere down deep in our souls that this world is completely — maybe irreparably — fucked up.  Another Isbell reference: "We ain't never gonna change, we ain't doing nothin' wrong. We ain't never gonna change, so shut your mouth and play along." Dark, but maybe as I think about it, somehow hopeful, too. Or at least the way I hear it. We're trapped in this circumstance, but we'll keep swinging until we go down permanently.

That's all underneath. On top, though? I think a lot of my stuff is typically about middle-aged dudes who struggle to understand the changing world around them. How do they react when they've been knocked down? Do they get up and carry on? Do they decide to take someone down with them? What's their reaction to failure and heartbreak and pain? Do you take it, swallow it down, learn from it, and move on ... or does it poison you? I think it's an incredibly difficult and brave thing to take failure and stand back up and carry on, to adapt to the new circumstances after that failure. So maybe experience does rob us of hope. But we go on anyway, and isn't that kind of hopeful in a way? 

Two more questions for you: you’ve got two well received novels out, but you’re also a prolific short story writer. If you had to pick three short stories you’ve written to show readers what you’re all about, which three are you picking, and why?
And finally, what’s next? Are we going to see Kincaid again, or are you focusing on something else?

Three short stories that show my best work: Negative Tilt, which is a story you know pretty well. It appeared in Rock & A Hard Place # 7 in early 2022. I think that's probably the best story I've ever written — and it may be the best story I'm capable of writing. But I also have a soft spot for The Ghost of Buxahatchee Creek, which appeared in Reckon Review in July 2022. And The Swahili Word for Hope was published last year in The Dillydoun Review ... I think in some ways I began looking for more from myself when it comes to my short fiction, and those three stories reflect that.

What's next? I wish I knew. I've got a couple of partially finished novels, so at some point I've got to get to work on them. My hope is to find a good agent — scratch that, the right agent — and see if I can leverage my well-received novels into something more. I have hopes for one of these partially finished books. The working title is The Children Are Sleeping, and it's a Southern gothic set against the backdrop of a hurricane coming up from the Gulf of Mexico and wreaking havoc with the lives of my characters.

I don't know  for sure that we'll see Kincaid again, but I hope we do. I like that guy.

Thanks to Bobby for swinging by this week. And, again, check out Magic City Blues. I promise you'll dig it.