They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and while I agree with that sentiment, I do judge books by their covers. As the primary designer for all of Shotgun Honey’s releases, I’ve developed an admiration for cover design, and the various methods a designer will take to produce a truly inspirational cover. In this pursuit, I follow websites like The Casual Optimist, Spine Magazine and Paste. I’m always on the look out.
MAXINE UNLEASES DOOMSDAY (Down and Out Books)
Design by Zack McCain
One thing you want a book cover to do is pop, stand out, and create an immediate response. The visceral response I got when I saw this cover made me a bit jealous, because I really wish had the artistic chops to pull off a cover like this.
A good graphic can make or break a cover, combine that with a primary color, the cover will jump out to the consumer. It’s simple, but strong. I like also the use of hand-written typography that pairs well with the artwork of the swallow.
Simple is a term that can be taken negatively, but it is also an aesthetic that allows artist to not overburden or overwork the design, and most of all over think. In this re-print of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, the design is derived from the title, creating interest by breaking up and overlapping text to create texture and interest. I’m a bit envious because with the way our books are published, text can’t be full bleed, but the inclusion of the title and author in smaller block might be the solution to my conundrum.
I’m a digital designer, and so what I work with often requires manipulating stock materials. A cover like this could be replicated digitally, but it’s not. It follows a trend of covers being created from paper art. There’s an intrinsic value to that, because I could see the art being hung and displayed. An ability to view actively how light plays with the physical object. The flowing typography works, but it is the art that makes it shine.
I don’t know if it is the difference in aesthetics between the US and the UK, but I often am drawn to the UK version of covers. David Bowman’s paperback release of Big Bang is a nice paper collage, which could be digitally rendered, but is effectively put together in a deconstructive manner.
There are more I could choose, and in the coming year I may do something better to curate those outstanding covers of 2020.
Marie Mitchell, a black woman from New York City works for the FBI during the 1980s. Obviously, she stands out, and it’s her uniqueness along with her competence, that alerts the CIA to her so that they wind up recruiting her for a job in West Africa. American Spy is a character study, a political novel, a love story, and a story about memory and history. It deals with race and gender both in the United States and Africa, and it does all this while telling an espionage tale. What does it mean to be an American, a black American, a woman who is a black American, a woman who is a black American who takes a job to bring down an African leader devoted to building a black nation that can be free of western imperialist control? American Spy is a rich, layered book and a lovely, propulsive read.
Won’t somebody stand up to the scourge of gentrification striking our cities? One man does, in hipster central, otherwise known as Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but he does happen to be a deranged killer. Well, everyone has their reasons, and perhaps those resistant to the way a neighborhood evolves and forces out people living there for decades aren’t entirely wrong. As a lifelong New Yorker, Richie Narvaez knows his terrain well, and he uses his knowledge to present a very varied and interesting cast of characters. To go with it all, he’s quite amusing. Hipster Death Rattle is a classic case of an author using the mystery form to tell a fast-paced entertaining story while delivering pungent social commentary.
The plotting of a terrible crime lies at the core of this novel, but it also has a whiff of horror. Besides that, it’s what you might call a Halloween YA novel, about a group of damaged kids who form their own family around a grown-up man who’s the most damaged of them all. From page to page, I found myself laughing, squirming with discomfort, or feeling the sadness in the characters. Through it all, we have the young teen narrator’s voice, a voice not quite like any other I’ve encountered in fiction. Will he win the fight with himself and retain his humanity, or will he give in to the influences who’d be happy to have him help wreak destruction on others? This is a book filled with mounting tension and comedy of the bleakest sort – a combination hard to resist.
Alison Gaylin is one of my favorite writers of psychological suspense. This latest book, about a podcaster researching a teenage serial killer couple from the 1970s, skillfully weaves together several storylines from multiple POVs. Gripping from beginning to end.
I read a lot of nonfiction in 2019 but this coming-of-age memoir is at the top of my list. I found myself recommending it countless times to those interested in true crime or memoir. It’s less about the actual crime than it is about an Upper East Side teenage girl’s obsession with her tennis coach who was later revealed to be a child predator. Disturbing, painfully honest, and beautifully written.
A punk rock heist novel set right before the 2008 economic collapse about a professional safecracker who rips off a cartel, but also a novel about grief, life, the things we do for family, and how trapped you are by where you come from. The best crime novel I read all year, who cares that it technically came out two years ago? Like the playlist that fronts the novel, this book is timeless, angry, and lean. An absolute stunner.
Mosley writes PIs better than anyone and Down the River Unto the Sea is his bang-on-the-table-goddamn-triumph. Corrupt cops (like, seriously, seriously bad), scheming politicos, racial tensions, all the tangles of family, and the single most chilling Tough Guy sidekick I’ve ever read (seriously, don’t ever mess with a dude named Melquarth Frost) – they all get spun up into a tight mystery that puts our hero in way over his head. If you’re burnt out on the PI genre, this one will singlehandedly restore your interest.
One of the most beautiful books I own, this collection of essays, each presented with several black and white photographs, explores the intersection between a changing pop culture and an insurgent spiritual reawakening, and the horrific consequences of their collision. Somehow fun and horrifying all at once (not to mention timely) this book is a beautiful and insightful reminder of how fear can be used for control.
Cosby debut is immediately engaging as Nathan Waymaker rides the line between good and bad as he attempt to uncover the truths behind the death of a local minister who had seedier past. Full of memorable characters, sex and violence overlapping a compelling mystery, My Darkest Prayer is nuanced and deft writing.
Since Davidson’s debut in 2011, I’ve enjoyed her ability to ability to write stories about characters and places, and the mysteries between. One Small Sacrifice is no different, as Det. Sheryn Sterling discovers she must solve a murder before understanding the disappearance of a local doctor, and how the man in the middle of both cases, Alex Traynor, connects the pieces.
This posthumous collection of short stories by the late working class writer Larry Brown not only collects his stories, but gives you an understanding of Brown’s personal growth as a writer. Not formally trained, Brown wrote story after story until he was finally published in the 1980s, his first story published in Easyrider. That story though not the best, shows the foundation for telling lean stories with a depth that outnumbers their word counts.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these recommendations over the last four weeks and find some new voices you may have overlooked. Have a great new year and read lots of books and stories.
With just two weeks left in the year, we bring together a third group of writers and friends to recommend their favorite reads of 2019. It’s been a great bunch of titles that have added to my already towering TBR collection. So many potential gift selections for the book lover who celebrate the holiday seasons. And if they don’t, we might as well just make a book holiday and gift them anyway.
I want to thank those who have contributor so far, and welcome new contributors Nikki Dolson, Dharma Kelleher, S. W. Lauden, and Alex Segura.
I fell out of love with the private detective in fiction until I met Roxane Weary. Three books in to this excellent series and I am hooked again. Lepionka can write a goddamn story and I am here for every tale of Roxane Weary. The Stories You Tell is a great damn ride.
Space nuns! Humankind out on the edges of known space. I could tell you so much more but if nuns in space doesn’t get you interested then this isn’t the book for you. (THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU. TRUST ME.)
This choice won’t surprise anybody who’s heard me raving about Blake Crouch on the Writer Types podcast. Crouch’s last two thrillers (“Recursion” and “Dark Matter”) are right in line with my current tastes in crime fiction—the characters are complex, the mind-bending plots are dense, and the writing is excellent.
Speaking of the Writer Types podcast…I may have retired from the show in October, but I left an even bigger fan of Eric Beetner’s writing than I was going in. Beetner is a prolific purveyor of top notch pulp who consistently gets more bang per sentence than most crime writers publishing today. This tightly-plotted thriller is no exception with it’s engaging characters and breakneck pace.
I’m a sucker for rock & roll reads (this is one of about 20 I devoured this year), but Debbie Harry’s story is truly fascinating. There was so much I didn’t know about her early days in Manhattan, including run-ins with Andy Warhol’s Factory crowd and the New York Dolls—way before she got famous with Blondie. The casual tone makes it feel like she’s confiding a few great stories over drinks. Definitely a book to check out if you love punk rock, power pop or new wave.
A new Lisa Lutz book is always an event – and her latest standalone, The Swallows, is a provocative and timely look at the gender dynamics at a New England Prep school – dark, alluring, haunting and frightening in the way only teenage drama can, Lutz shows that she’s one of the sharpest and most versatile crime writers working today.
Burke is the modern master of domestic suspense, and she’s at the top of her game with The Sister – a twist-laden and tightly-plotted tale that demands to be read in one sitting. A compelling beach read that’s loaded with timely, sharp social commentary, The Better Sister was impossible to ignore and even harder to put down.
Rarely do we see a debut this polished, confident, and layered. Kim’s Miracle Creek is a jaw-dropping first novel that touches on family, hope, and desperation that’s also part murder mystery. Suspenseful, relevant, and complex, I was blown away by this book and had to read it twice.
Hope you found a book or two to add to your reading list or for holiday gifts. Be sure to check back next week to see more recommendations from our favorite authors.
Oftentimes the rich get richer this time of year, when the
same (deserving) books are recommended and lauded again and again. I tried to
pick a few “off the beaten path” that I read and enjoyed 2019, that might have
flown beneath the radar.
This book treads into Michael Crichton territory, but it’s a taut mystery wrapped around compulsive, atmospheric writing. Actually, all of Moore’s books are great; high-concept noir thrillers of the “why didn’t I write that” variety that are imminently readable.
Eric’s written a ton of books and short stories, and honestly, I could have picked just about any of them. This one happens to feature a crooked cop, and I like books about crooked cops (or cops who at least bend). ALL THE WAY DOWN has great pacing, a cool set-up, and a dash of black humor. It’s all the way good.
A period mystery set in 18th century Stockholm, this has been compared to TRUE DETECTIVE (Season 1) and THE ALIENEST. I found it fascinating, dark, and also (paradoxically) illuminating about a place and time I knew next to nothing about. There is a lot going on in this book, but it’s worth the work.
These are fantastic horror stories (one of which was recently made into a film) that are nearly impossible to pigeonhole. I struggle writing short stories, but there is so much imagination and craft exhibited in these, that I’ve spent time examining them just so I can learn how it’s done from a master of the style.
It’s refreshing to find a crime novel that is as much about the comic absurdity of life as it is the grit of the underworld. Most memorably, though, Boyle writes female characters who are strong, full of agency and wise cracks, and fallible. In short- they’re both real and entertaining. This read was a pure joy ride.
Speaking of well-written female characters, Miles nails it yet again with May Cosby and the continuation of her story after the events of 2018’s novel, May. After the Storm is dark, visceral and uncompromising- a deep dive into the underbelly of contemporary noir.
I’ve been a fan of Jacobs for years and I was thrilled to see the visual vignettes she shared online develop into a full-fledged graphic memoir full of heart, humor and startling moments of poignancy as Jacobs explores her identity within the context of America and tries to convey such an exploration to her son and other family members.
Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake is like stepping into a time machine back to the 1960s and into the social structures that shackle women from making drastic changes in their lives. Lippman’s Maddie proves to be a more than serviceable sleuth in the face of an apathetic police department. Can she solve the murder of Cleo Sherwood – and worse, will anyone care if she does?
Jake Hinkson is a criminally underread author. His books capture the seedy nature of small town life and how secrets can fester and ultimately destroy those who choose to keep them. Dry County is another stellar story from a master of noir.
Recursion is easily my favorite book of 2019. I finished this one in two sittings because I just could not get enough. We’ve all seen the movies and read books where the danger of messing with timelines has been thoroughly established. But I’ve never truly felt the frustration on the part of those trying more than the characters in Crouch’s new novel. There’s something about hopeless determination that kept me reading for hours.
When it comes to heroes, perfect is boring and complicated is real. Darren Matthews wears his flaws on his sleeve while keeping an unflinching eye trained on justice, even if he has to break the rules to achieve it, while navigating the complexities of being a Black Texas Marshall. Attica Locke’s follow up to Bluebird, Bluebird had me turning the pages so quickly, I almost tore them.
It’s been called everything from horror to spec to literary—I just call it excellent. Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut was everywhere this year and rightfully so. Shadow offers a terrifying and all-too real glimpse into the struggles mixed-race people feel on a daily basis through the lens of a father obsessed with the color of his son’s skin. I continue to think about this book on the daily.
Damn, that Erica Wright can write. Another flawed character for me to root for, though she does a terrific job of keeping those flaws from us—at first. Her poetry roots are obvious in her first standalone. The sentences flow into one another with ease as she takes us into the grimier side of Tinseltown.
Technically a 2018 book, but my TBR pile is ridiculous. Reminiscent of McCarthy’s Lester Ballard in Child of God, Darl Moody is one scary son of a bitch, even more so because he’s calculated and motivated. The final scenes sent my heart rate soaring. Joy writes brutality with poetic prose. I can’t wait to read more of it in When These Mountains Burn in August.
Hope you found a book or two to add to your reading list or for holiday gifts. Be sure to check back next week to see more recommendations from our favorite authors.
2019 is almost gone, and it’s that time of the year we reflect back on the books we’ve read. I know the books I’ve read and those that still tower in my TBR pile all cattywampus next on and around my nightstand is sizable. I’m always willing to make that pile larger, so I’ve asked friends and writers to give me a short list books that were their favorites over the course of the year. Specifically, I asked for at least two books in our favorite genre, crime, and one book outside of the crime genre. It’s always a good thing to explore and expand your reading.
This isn’t a “Best of” list, reading is subjective after all. From the lists I’ve gotten so far, I can say I do highly recommend the books as well as the folks who have made the recommendations.
This is a weekly series throughout the month of December, so be sure to come back next Wednesday.
This is a frustratingly good book, like, as a writer I felt ashamed as I read this because it was so damn good. As a reader? What a goddamn treat. Beautiful and heart-wrenching, Steph Cha writes the kind of crime fiction we need to see more of.
With a strong voice and prose reminiscent of some of the best noir has offered before, Cosby’s debut, MY DARKEST PRAYER, will satisfy those with that itch only hard-boiled fiction can provide. This is the proper kind of graduation for such a gifted short story writer and I cannot wait to see what else he has up his sleeve.
I’m an unabashed Davidson fanboy. Her mix of tight storytelling and wicked black humor scratches all the itches I have as a reader. The first of her Shadows of New York books is a twisty and suspenseful thriller that I think fans of the genre and those tired of its conventions can equally enjoy.
That about does it in the crime world, what about outside of the genre?
A wonderful account of the career and astounding legacy of Milicent Patrick, best known as the artist responsible for the monster design of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (as well as her contributions at Disney). LADY is a fantastic piece about erasure in the past that remains relevant here and now.
Jamie Mason has this neat trick where she writes concise, careful, pretty prose without sacrificing the tension or suspense of the plot. Read the outstanding opening chapter of The Hidden Things to see what I mean, and then read the rest of the book for a tightly-written story about a stolen painting and the desperate people looking for it…and the people desperately trying to keep their truths from emerging.
The ¡Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas!anthology is so many things – a powerful study of contemporary latinx voices; a wonderfully-curated collection of beautiful short fiction; a cry that should be resonating across our country. The market for anthologies is crowded nowadays, but this entry stands out in that field and deserves a wide audience (and all of the proceeds go to recovery efforts in Puerto Rico).
At this point, you’ve likely heard about Miracle Creek, even if it doesn’t fall neatly into a specific genre. Kim’s debut novel is absorbing and poignant on so many levels – as a story about immigrants adjusting to life in America, the complications of raising a child with special needs, the brutal effect of secrecy. By all measures, one of the best books of 2019, and one readers will long remember.
The best crime stories take a salacious plot and wrap it in real characters. Gailey does this as well as anyone. A variation on my favorite little sub genre of noir – finding a bag of money – this book is elevated by truly compelling characters. To be this invested in the people is the mark of great fiction, period.
Again, character is key -this time with families. When an author can make me relate to a family situation that is miles from my own, I know I’m in the hands of a great writer, and McHugh has done this in each of her three novels. Unpredictable as it spools out a mysterious past, I never feel manipulated by the author’s hand in a Laura McHugh book. I’m just swept away for the ride in the best possibly way.
I was around since the inception of this book because of my friendship with Steve Lauden and I know it was a passion project for him. As a punk rock kid I’ve seen a lot of the music of my younger days fall by the wayside of my own evolving tastes, but power pop remains. It’s the catchy, driving beat of the best rock roll has to offer and these essays explore why it endures and gives real life examples of how music effects our lives. It’s not a history, it’s an appreciation and a series of unique insights into the power of music in our lives.
Hope you found a book or two to add to your reading list or for holiday gifts. Be sure to check back next week to see more recommendations from our favorite authors.
This week Shotgun Honey editor, contributor and author Nick Kolakowski stops by to talk about his new book release, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday, from Down & Out Books.
Nick, Nick, Nick… I thought I knew you as an author. Your latest release, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday, is out this week and it is fantastic. I’d like to think I’m familiar with your style and stories, we’ve been in a working relationship for… how long? Hint: Jules.
It’s been almost seven years! “How Jules Left Prison,” my first flash-fiction story for Shotgun Honey, came out in ye olden days of 2013, followed by “Special Delivery” and some other ones over the years. There’s a very special place in my heart for flash fiction; it’s a bite-sized bit of nastiness, a little snack of noir. But with Maxine, I wanted to try for something that covered a big chunk of time (the book takes place over decades) and geography (it also takes place in a ruined New York state).
It is more sprawling, obviously, a lot more words allowed than our little flash fiction venue here at Shotgun Honey Can you imagine trying to encapsulate Maxine in a 700 word short? Hey, let’s go shorter. You step into an elevator and a known movie director/producer is standing there alone. Give us the pitch.
Maxine Unleashes Doomsday is about a car-stealing teenager who eventually becomes the outlaw queen of post-apocalyptic America, but in the process of saving her own life she accidentally unleashes a massive evil that could doom what’s left of the human race.
Your books and stories make easy comparisons to movies, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday is no exception. I like Rob Hart’s mashup association of Mad Max and The Warriors. I see that almost right way. So, back in that elevator, who was the known movie director/producer?
Two directors pop to mind. First is Neill Blomkamp, because his vision of the future aligns with Maxine: the extremes of poverty despite futuristic technology, the angry protagonists trying to push back against some kind of massive societal bullshit, and so on. I dug Elysium in a serious way; I thought it deserved way more credit for the ideas it was pushing.
The second would be Lexi Alexander. She’s the best at combining messy, gritty action with this sort of screw-you humor. Punisher: War Zone is another underrated flick (and filled with visual jokes that folks just didn’t seem to get; for example, the ‘SAVES’ sign flickering behind Frank at the very end). What she could do with a character like Maxine would be incredible.
I wouldn’t have thought about Bomkamp because there is a somberness, slow deliberation about his movies. Between the Love & Bullets trilogy and Maxine Unleashes Doomsday, your storytelling always feels on the edge, frenetic and unexpected. Lexi Alexander would be perfect, and it would be nice to see her work in movies again. One thing I’ve always liked about your work is the dark humor. Where does that come from? Who are your influences?
When it comes to that madcap momentum, my biggest influences don’t actually come from noir. When I was really young (maybe too young, but hey), I got my hands on 60s writers such as Ken Kesey and Hunter S. Thompson; they had a lunatic energy that bled down into my own writing. That’s the literary/pretentious answer, at least. The truth might be that I’m just hyperactive and depressive; mush those two things together, and you tend to find everything bleakly hilarious. I need to weave lots of plot twists and weird deaths into my own work in order to stay interested throughout the months-long process it takes to write (and re-write) a book.
So you’re saying that you ascribe to a copious diet of alcohol and drugs? Kesey and Thompson do make great primers to the kind of kinetic storytelling you produce, so as an influence I can see how gonzo beats can manifest in the story. Are these the writers that made you want to become a writer? Professionally, you’ve been working as a freelance journalist, right?
Hahaha, I think all those writers succeeded despite the drugs; Thompson was a wreck at the end. Most of those live-hard, write-hard types managed to burn themselves to crispy cinders, which isn’t anything to lionize. But their writing was exquisite. Thompson certainly made me want to be a writer; so did Raymond Chandler, and so did Chuck Palahniuk. Fight Club was a huge influence on my writing, although as a teenager I tried way too hard to emulate its poetic repetition (which Palahniuk freely admits he took from Joan Didion).
I’m a tech journalist by day, which came in really handy for Maxine because I read lots of analyst reports and talk to people whose job is to predict what might happen 10, 20, 30 years out. We’re building some really powerful stuff with regard to A.I. and machine learning, for example, but as the novel delves into, there’s a very high risk that these systems are going to turn against us at some point. We’re in for a wild ride.
Do you think there was any A.I. that could have predicted you would write a book like Maxine Unleashed Doomsday, say almost 7 years ago when we first crossed the proverbial path? Where did Maxine come from?
Actually, Maxine began right around the time we crossed paths! She started out as a short story (which later became a chapter in the middle of the book) about convoy-runners in a ruined America circa 2030… an idea I’d been playing with for years. I’ve always had a deep love of dystopian fiction, and spent years trying out different plots and characters in that genre, but everything came off as a pastiche of The Road. Finally I focused on trying to portray a more realistic societal collapse, and having a character who lived through it. The key thing, of course, is that Maxine gets weirder and more damaged as the book goes on, reflecting the state of the world around her.
I can understand not wanting to tread into Cormac McCarthy land, that is no country for young writers. I like that what I identify as a Nick Kolakowski story is very much at the heart of Maxine. But there is much more than violence, humor, and complicated relationships (as if that weren’t enough.) This isn’t linear crime/noir storytelling, it’s generational, an evolution of a character from beginning to end. Was this exploring your own style or was it necessitated by the scope of the story?
The scope of the story demanded it. I also wanted to take a character and change them radically in all ways over the course of the narrative: physically, mentally, emotionally. How far could I break Maxine down? How would she build herself back up? What would she look like after the fact? She ends up taking literally decades’ worth of damage, but it leaves her with a mentality that’ll overcome almost anything. My characters in my other books never underwent that kind of arc (usually because my other books take place over a few days at most; Main Bad Guy, the third book in the “Love & Bullets” trilogy, is something like 48 hours in real time), so it was a good stretch for me to explore.
You give readers a glimpse of Maxine’s damage early on, which only pulls the reader into your dystopian world. The scope of the story requires quite a bit of world building. What have you learned as a writer building Maxine’s world?
I’ve learned that you need to establish your world’s internal logic early on, and make sure you never stray from the “rules” you’ve established. This is especially true with speculative and future-focused fiction like Maxine, where you take jaunts into the fantastical. If the world makes sense, you can do anything within that framework, and the audience will stick with you. If you start to break the rules you’ve created because you need to slip through a plot hole or whatever, you’re going to shatter the illusion.
You’re not the first Shotgun Honey alum to release release a dystopian novel this year. Rob Hart who praised Maxine Unleashed Doomsday as mentioned earlier, released The Warehouse. Totally different beasts, but worth noting because dystopian fiction is a genre that cycles in popularity. What’s the appeal of reading and writing dystopian fiction?
The future is scary. We don’t have any control over it. I think the appeal of dystopian fiction is that it gives the writer and the readers the illusion of command — we can see a version of what might happen and, in many dystopian novels, the characters have some say over how that future comes about. I loved The Warehouse and I think Rob did a great job of making his future a believable one; it explores the consequences of capitalism (and e-commerce) in a way that’s frightening and believable.
Plus, going back to the ancient Romans, every generation likes to think that it’s the climactic one, that we’re trembling on the very edge of the End Times. I feel like dystopian fiction helps scratch that weird, narcissistic itch.
I feel we’re coming full circle, so, let’s give a little more love to dystopian futures. This last weekend Terminator: Dark Fate (which is what the 100th movie of the franchise?) was released. Not doing well from what I read, but I loved the original. What are some of your favorite dystopian movies (or novels)?
I think the Aussies do it best, probably because they have a long history of living on civilization’s dry, rugged edge. The Road Warrior and Fury Road are at the top of my list, with The Rover, which is a really rough movie starring Guy Pierce, in close third. The Rover is a little bit like Maxine without any semblance of humor or hope whatsoever; for better or worse, I really think that’s what the world might end up looking like — plus it has one of the best cinematic “punch lines” I’ve ever witnessed. Totally nihilistic.
I do think I saw that you were George Miller’s love child or something. While I enthusiastically encourage everyone to go out read Maxine Unleashes Doomsday right now, I do have to ask what’s next? What can I, your number one fan look forward to in our hopefully not so dystopian future?
If you’re my number-one fan, does that make you my Annie Wilkes? Will you lock me in a room and force me to write? Actually, that would help my writing process, which has been slow as proverbial molasses lately. Right now, I’m working on the sequel to Boise Longpig Hunting Club, which is slated to come out in September 2020; it folds in Bill & Fiona from the Love & Bullets trilogy, because Fiona is actually related to Frankie and Jake, the main characters of Longpig. I just have to finish the bugger… usually I’m a fast drafter but this one has been grinding along. Maybe I’m just getting old.
If Eric gets worried on the deadline, I might just have to come up and hobble you. If not me, I know people. Hopefully, it won’t come to that because I love you like a brother who I really really envy. Despite your current slog, you write enjoyable fiction, you edit like demon, you run marathons and you have better hair. Right? But, the cover for Maxine Unleashes Doomsday is a tipping point. I love that cover. Before I let you go, tell folks about the cover, the process and give some love the genius behind it.
Hahaha, hopefully nobody has to break my legs, but if someone had to, I wouldn’t mind if it was you? Is that weird? That’s pretty weird. Anyway, I love that cover: it’s stark. It was done by Zach McCain, who does a lot of horror covers. He’s big on skulls! But I’m big on skulls, too, so that works out. I was hoping for something post-apocalyptic that was distinctive, that stood out amidst other covers out there, and he outdid himself; when I first saw it I was a bit stunned.
I’m happy to report no harm was done to the author during this interview. I do recommend you go out and buy a copy of Maxine Unleashes Doomsday.
In my case, I mean the blank space of the
empty page waiting just ahead of every word in every work-in-progress. Every
flash fiction, short story, novella, novel. Even now, as I write this, the
blankness, ever ravenous, is threatening to consume this entire article in
reverse, word-by-word. Disappear them. Eat them. Erase them from existence. If
an empty Word file gets deleted does it even make a sound?
See, every little word I send out there into
the void could be the last one.
And the void’s a bit of a trash talker,
too. Likes to taunt.
It says, “Why bother? Just stop and watch
It says, “Is that the best you can do? They’re
really not very good words.”
It says, “Don’t tell me you think this will
resonate with anyone — do you know how many words are being written by way
more talented people right now?”
The void has an itchy trigger finger, dead-eye
aim and a full clip.
And we wage battle every time I sit down to
write, except those rare times when I’m on fire, shiny and chrome, a witty,
wordy John Wick executing bad guys with speed and style, bam, bam, bam, head
shots everywhere. Take that void.
I love when that happens. I celebrate when
I’m sure it’s the same for most writers. Any
artist. Creating something that never existed before ain’ t the hardest thing
in the world, by any stretch, but it ain’t the easiest either. Like anything,
creating has its pitfalls, its downsides, its challenges.
Certainly, the reward of typing “END” or
getting a short story acceptance or holding a book you wrote in your hands makes
the void non-existent, a memory. That is, until the next time, of course.
Which brings me to 40 Nickels.
The void almost got this second entry in
the Carnegie Fitch Mystery Fiasco series on a few occasions. There were some
close calls and it was definitely touch-and-go for a while there, for those months
between the initial burst of writing in March 2018, the next bit in June/July and
the completion in November/December. Lots of staring into the void, unsure.
Lots of creeping doubt. Even more so because a lot of the work was done. It was
book #2 so I already had the character and the setting. I had the style, how
the story would “feel.” And I knew the plot points, my middle and end. So I
knew exactly where I wanted to get to, but all those damn tiny (mis)steps to
get there. That damn blank page that can be so inspiring at times, for what it
could be, but so scary because what if that’s all the story ever becomes?
Finally, though, the story made it to the
end and was all that much better for the journey, for the stops and starts, the
So here we are, meeting Carnegie Fitch once
again, after his misadventures in Dead
Clown Blues, with his own void to battle. The void called “The Unknown.” And
the unknown scares him. So he continues doing what he thinks he does best,
stumbling over and through cases, from advance to advance, from feast to famine
and back again. And all with a sly grin
on his face and a smart aleck wisecrack for every occasion.
Readers may notice similarities to Dead Clown Blues, certain intentional
repeats. I won’t mention them and take away the joy of discovery, if you’re so
inclined, but they exist for a reason. Fitch is stuck in a loop but he’s not
going to escape until he realizes and changes his tactics. Until he enters the
unknown, takes the void head on and sees what’s on the other side.
I always wanted the books in this series to
be an ode to detective/P.I. fiction, full of some of the classic tropes that make
it a blast to read, but also a bit of a self-referential, “meta” journey for a
character trying to be Marlowe, trying to be Spade. And really not succeeding. Even when he wins,
it’s more of a fail upwards than an outright victory.
Most of all, I wanted Dead Clown Blues and 40
Nickels to be good yarns and I battled the void each time to try and
achieve that. For what it’s worth. For that moment, even if it’s just a brief blip
on a crowded radar screen chock-a-block with all the entertainment at our
fingertips these days, when the words I strung together on the page might mean
something to a reader.
So if you pick up a copy, or download the
ebook, I hope you enjoy it.
And keep an eye
out for the final book in the trilogy, Shot
to Nothing, in Summer 2021.
“Some of us, by simple grace, sit on the merry-go-round enjoying the ride while others struggle just to stay on. The damned thing’s going too fast, their legs keep getting away from them, everything they have slides over the edge and is gone. These are the folks Nick Heeb writes about. Don’t try to make writing like this safe by saying it’s gritty or transgressive or classic noir. Those are words, and this is real.”
—James Sallis, author of Drive and the Lew Griffin cycle
This week Shotgun Honey is pleased to release the debut novel The Lucky Clover by Nick Heeb. The story is about a man who is drawn to misfortune, poor choices, and the remote roadside biker bar The Lucky Clover. As James Sallis suggests, Heeb has produced a book that doesn’t easily fit into one bucket, though elements may want you to quickly do so. Regardless of what you clasp onto, The Lucky Clover will drag you and its protagonist willingly or not to the end.
Only a few days left of 2018, and I imagine many of you are ready to be done with it. I know there are a lot of aspects I’d like to leave behind. But in the publishing world, there’s always something to look forward to, and that’s more books.
01-18 | The Lucky Clover by Nick Heeb
02-08 | Main Bad Guyby Nick Kolakowski
03-08 | It’s Not My Cult! by A.X. Kalinchuk
04-12 | Load by Preston Lang
05-10 | The Furious Way by Aaron Philip Clark
06-07 | How Kirsty Gets Her Kicks by Jennifer Lee Thomson
07-12 | Honorary Jersey Girl by Albert Tucher
08-09 | 40 Nickels by R. Daniel Lester
09-06 | Chasing China White by Allan Leverone
10-25 | Shotgun Honey Presents: Call Me Danger
12-13 | Coal Black: Stories by Chris McGinley
2019 will be full of comedy and tragedy with many returning characters and authors. Enough variety that you’ll want to add at least one to your nightstand reading.
Many titles have been mentioned previously, and in the coming weeks and months we’ll be delving into each one individually. Two noteworthy additions come in the final quarter of 2019.
In 2018, unless you’ve been in hiding, you’ve probably run into Chris McGinley’s stories on various websites, including ours with “The Haint”. So we’re very happy to publish his first collection Coal Black: Stories in just under twelve months. As the title suggest, it’ll be packed with stories about rural Kentucky and Appalachia. I’m a fan and I hope you’ll be too.
In October is one of two special projects we’re working on for release in 2019. Shotgun Honey Presents: Call Me Danger is the return of our anthology series which kicked off our publishing endeavors with Both Barrels (2012), Reloaded (2013), andLocked and Loaded (2015). Keep your eyes out for information on submitting in next couple weeks.
If you’re a reviewer and you see a cover, title or author that piques your interest, feel free to reach out by emailing [email protected] We’ll be sure get you an eARC when it’s available.
Thank you for your support and have a prosperous new year.
This week Shotgun Honey is pleased to announce the release of our final book of 2018, Rival Sons by Aidan Thorn. It is always a pleasure to publish longer works from our flash fiction contributors. Aidan’s first story was “Waste Disposal ” back in 2014.
When Kyle Gordon hears that his mother is terminally ill he makes the journey back to his hometown for the first time in nearly two decades, only – home isn’t what it used to be. Kyle is shocked by the dilapidation that has befallen his town.
For nineteen years Kyle vowed to protect the people of his country, serving in the armed forces. On returning home he realises that there were those needing protection right on his own doorstep and it was from no foreign enemy but that of his own flesh and blood. For decades his own father, Frank Gordon, ran the small farming town through fear and crime. Now, the throne has been passed to Kyle’s younger brother, Graham, a man with no moral code.
Kyle had enlisted in the army to distance himself from his father’s chosen profession, and he’d not returned until now to keep his own young family from harms way. Through returning to support his ailing mother Kyle’s fears become reality—the lifelong feud between brothers is reignited and a dangerous bond is formed between his teenage daughter and her grandfather, Frank.
Praise for Rival Sons
Rival Sons is a story about evil overtaking good, how one brother can corrupt the other, and how the lineage passed to us can be more corrupt than any jailhouse snitch. In this blast of a novella, Aidan Thorn delivers—these characters know rivalry and vengeance, guts and glory, failure and worse-than-failure. They also know love and courage (well, some of them do). And like every great noir story, Rival Sons is about a few bad men eating the bullets they so deserve.”
—Matt Phillips, author of Know Me from Smoke, The Bad Kind of Lucky, Accidental Outlaws, and Three Kinds of Fool
“A really strong story with great characters. Brilliant stuff. Aidan Thorn is at the forefront of the new wave of British noir.”
—Chris Black, Senior Editor at Fahrenheit 13
“This nuanced, multi-layered homecoming tale packs a real kick-in-the-teeth. Powerful stuff.”
—Tess Makovesky, author of Gravy Train and Raise the Blade.
About Aidan Thorn
Aidan Thorn is from Southampton, England. His short fiction has appeared in Byker Books Radgepacket series, the Near to the Knuckle Anthologies: Gloves Off and Rogue, Exiles: An Outsider Anthology,The Big Adios Western Digest, Shadows & Light, Hardboiled Dames and Sin as well as online in numerous places.
His first short story collection, Criminal Thoughts was released in 2013 and his second, Tales from the Underbelly in 2017. In September 2015 Number 13 Press published Aidan’s first novella, When the Music’s Over In 2016 Aidan collated and edited the charity anthology, Paladins, for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, working with 16 authors from the UK and USA to deliver this project.
2019 is only a month away—boy did this year blow by—and for 2018 there is only one more book on the books, Rival Sons by Aidan Thorn releasing December 14 (I mention this as it was to release on the 7th). It’s been a rewarding year as far as working with talented folks, though it has been at times it’s been a juggling act. Part of that is working with all these talented folks, and being allowed to put their stories out there for the public. It’s also because I work full-time elsewhere and I am a full-time student (at 50 next January), and then there’s just having shitty health.
My favorite part of the publishing is the creativity I can give to the covers. If you look in the front of 99% of the books I produce the credit belongs to Bad Fido—it is me and I am it. I created Bad Fido with the hopes of doing covers (and related publishing necessities like websites) for people outside of Shotgun Honey. But, time hasn’t really be on my side. My style is so varied it would be fair I don’t have a style, but the designs I do come from the stories and not some house style I perceive I should have. I think flexibility is good. So if you have a book coming out in 2019 that doesn’t have a cover yet … I’m just saying.
This week Bad Fido, um me, is please to share covers for January and February releases by Nick Heeb and Nick Kolakowski (respectively).
InThe Lucky Clover by Nick Heeb, we follow the Narrator who returns to his old haunt, The Lucky Clover, looking to forget and recover from his past life’s miseries and humiliations by drinking with good friends. He soon discovers the people closest to him had no interest in his honest intentions, and that violence is the only language spoken in this sparse and hard country he calls home.
The Narrator is a man of vice and his actions are fueled by drink and drug and too much time spent in The Lucky Clover. While the story is stark, much of the environment is left to our own encounters with the seedier side of life. Instead of focusing on the atmosphere of the roadside bar, I felt vice was the way to go with this cover. What do you think?
In 2017 the second Shotgun Honey/Down and Out release was A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps which introduced us to Bill and Fiona, whose true romance takes them to near death. This was followed up a year later with Slaughterhouse Blues. Those crazy lovebirds Nick Kolakowski is a true provocateur of gonzo violence and mayhem. And this February (2019) Bill and Fiona return in their last book in the Love & Bullets trilogy titled Main Bad Guy.
For this book, I took lead from the author and used a central image that is key to the plot and tone of the book. I won’t reveal it’s intent, but it’s going to be quite the ride to this unique courtship.
And of course, I took this opportunity to revisit the first to books of the series and provide some unison. What do you think? Better than the originals?
It’s sad to see the series end, but it’s not the end of Nick. He and I, and a talented bunch of other writers, have something really excited for the second half of 2019. More on that later…
This week I also caught up with posts that didn’t get posted. A couple weeks ago I went to the hospital to get an MRI and came out with Bronchitis. And having sworn I had pre-published all the stories for November, I didn’t check to see if the stories had published, preferring the comfort of bed. So big apologies to R.D. Sullivan and Joshua Wade Freeman. So their stories published late. So be sure to read “So Easy” by R.D. Sullivan and “Gas” by Joshua Wade Freeman.
When I first got a chance to read Face Value by William E. Wallace, I immediately connected with Eddie Pax, a man that works within the gray areas of society tracking down properties owned by bad men. Eddie was a classic pulp protagonist, and in a different generation William would have been a classic pulp writer comparable to Donald Westlake’s alter ego, Richard Stark. When I accepted Face Value I asked if there were more. Eddie had appeared in a few short stories, but in William’s mind the stories and the novels were endless. Potential always there. He was constantly writing, and I believe it was in the words that William found the strength to fight cancer. Even a few weeks prior to his death he talked about that next Eddie Pax novel. It’s a shame that novel never found completion, Eddie Pax was my kind of character. I’d rather have William here, instead.
I only knew William through his writing, though I feel I should call him Bill. That’s what his friends called him, and at least to me he made it really easy see him as a friend. Bill had many friends from his journo days, and he collected many as a crime writer and a champion of small press publishing. Bill published a few collections on his own, such is the marvel of publishing today, and then a couple books with All Due Respects, then rival and now sister publishing company, and his final book Face Value with us, Shotgun Honey. When he wasn’t writing, he was reading and he was supporting writers who are not often heard, marginalized by the marketing of the New York publishing houses. He wrote about books and authors he liked on his blog, Pulp Hack Confessions.
Today, I am honored, with the editorial guidance of Chris Rhatigan of All Due Respect, along with the support of Eric Campbell and Lance Wright of Down and Out Books, and the blessing of Margot Wallace, Bill’s wife, and Garth Wallace, Bill’s son, to release DEADLINES: A Tribute to William E. Wallace. This is a collection of stories — inspired by the career and stories of William E. Wallace — culled from writers and colleagues that Bill took time to champion. I thank these writers for their time, their stories, and their patience.
Paul D. Brazill
Sarah M. Chen
Renee Asher Pickup
C. Mack Lewis.
Sarah M. Chen
I knew Bill more from his online presence than in person. He was such a generous and ardent supporter of the crime fiction community and his humorous posts were something I always enjoyed reading. Before knowing him online, however, I did get the chance to briefly meet him at LCC Portland. I immediately liked him. He was intelligent, kind, and witty.
When pitching my first novel DIRTBAGS to agents, I forever felt the sting from one particular rejection that said only, “I thought you said this was supposed to be funny.” That one hurt. All my lonely thoughts crashed and crumbled at the shores when I read my first-ever Pulphack Confessions review which Bill titled: “A Laugh-A-Minute With The Funniest Serial Killer Novel I’ve Ever Read.” For the first time since I’d started writing, I felt like I’d connected with a reader. It’s still my favorite review ever.
William Wallace was a fantastic champion of my work. He was one of the first to review my story collection and I will always be grateful. I never got to meet him in person, but I wish I could’ve have. Rest in peace, William.
I “met” Bill virtually on July 3, 2014, after reading his story “Working Stiff” in Flash Fiction Offensive. I friended him on Facebook and we wrote each other about the noir/crime fiction community and how supportive the writers are unlike other competitive areas. We emailed a few times and talked through Facebook. He promoted fellow authors’ works and I always looked forward to reading his stories. I got to meet him in person at Renee Asher Pickup’s Book and Booze podcast reading in San Francisco. And later at Left Coast Crime in Portland. We both sat at Holly West and Josh Stallings’ table at the banquet dinner in 2015.
Our final meeting was for breakfast in Berkeley on June 2016. I was in the Bay Area to watch an Oakland A’s game for Father’s Day. Bill’s diagnosis was grim and I wanted to see him again if he was up for it. We arranged to meet that Saturday for brunch. After being surprised to see him at a Joe Clifford book launch at Pegasus Books the night before, we met Saturday morning. We had brunch the following morning. Bill talked about some characters he met while reporting, authors he loved, concerns about the state of the publishing industry and the diminishing short story market and his health. He didn’t eat much as he had no appetite. While he had grown thin and looked tired, his eyes were alive. After our meal, we sat outside and talked a little longer before he needed to head home. He signed my copy of “Hangman’s Dozen” and I gave him a hug. A few days later he sent me the following message that broke my heart…
“You’ll be interested to know that you are the last person other than my docs and family I have seen since we had lunch. My son had tix for us to go to the MST3K reunion at a theater in Emeryville last night, but I couldn’t manage it. Looks like I am going to be spending most of the rest of my life shuffling around home and writing or down at Kaiser for treatment or labs. Of practically all the people I know who are writers, I am happiest you were one of the last I got to see in person. . .”
I am so glad he was wrong and had another seven more months to live. In those months he put his life out on Facebook for his friends to see. Writing, playing his guitar, reading stories and giving reviews, and still sending out words of encouragement to the crime writing community. Brave and generous to the end. When Bill passed, it still came as a shock. I miss Bill. A fantastic writer, advocate, and friend.
Will contributed most of the photos, and those moments are captured memories that we are thankful for.
Thank You, Bill
William E. Wallace was an exceptional talent and a passionate man. This wonderful collection cannot begin to express his contribution to our community or the void left behind in his passing. Bill called himself a hack, but his talents extended beyond his own writings, elevating those around him.
Thank you for contributing to Shotgun Honey with your short stories and allowing me to give Eddie Pax one good story of his own.
Thank you to all the authors who contributors, to co-editor Chris Rhatigan, and our publisher Down & Out Books. And to Margot and Garth Wallace our condolences and gratitude for allowing us to celebrate Bill the only way we know how.