From the Hip – Nick Kolakowski

Hola Honeys!

That’s what I’m calling all of you now. Yes, it’s terrible and yes you all deserve it. You know exactly what you did and where.

So, in keeping with my rigid and concise schedule, we’ve got another FROM THE HIP for you with Shotgun Honey’s very own Nick Kolakowski. He’s got a corker of a novella, A BRUTAL BUNCH OF HEARTBROKEN SAPS, out and it certainly needs your love, clicks, and lamentations.

If you dig the novella, you’ll also love Nick’s short fiction. He just happens to have a collection out by the name of SOMEBODY’S TRYING TO KILL ME and it’s pretty damn fantastic. I highly recommend scooping it up as soon as you can.

On to the ranting!

Our chat took place on 5/10/2017 and of course, light editing may apply. Blah blah blah blah. Something, something. I read the book months ago and blah blah blah.

ANGEL (characteristically 100% on time to an 8:30PM chat at 9:00PM): I’m finally here (kids were being cute/not sleepy)

NICK: Sweet.

ANGEL: So, to keep Ron on his toes, I decided to do these things very off the cuff. It allows for cursing and all that fun stuff. That said, how about you tell me about A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps before I go off the path.

NICK: A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps is about a dude who decides that he’s going to change careers. The only problem is, he’s a slick New York hustler whose idea of “changing careers” is ripping off his very scary bosses, dumping his equally scary assassin girlfriend, and driving West with a bag full of cash.

To say that things get messy is a bit of an understatement. But I was also going for pitch-black humor, as well.

Because why shouldn’t a severed finger be hilarious?

ANGEL: It is hilarious! And so is the book. I was impressed with its pace. I tend to be a fast reader but I tore through it and I didn’t find myself feeling as if I should scan a few paragraphs here and there. The word economy and narrative were well-balanced.

Which is something I know both of us tend to know a little something about.

So, full disclosure to anyone reading and not knowledgeable: you and I are label-mates AND editors here at Shotgun Honey.

WE’VE ENTRENCHED OURSELVES WELL AND SHALL REAP ALL BENEFITS…

Anyway…

You can do flash – and well. What draws you to shorter form?

NICK: My short attention span. No, seriously, I get distracted easily. Blame it on a lifetime of guzzling down pop culture, but I have a very hard time with ultra-long narratives. It’s not that I can’t follow the plot, but right around page 300 or so I struggle to maintain my inner momentum. There are exceptions — I tore through The Cartel by Don Winslow, and I’ll zip right through anything by Neal Stephenson — but my intellectual metabolism is geared toward short.

Plus I like the punch that shorter fiction delivers. If it’s done right, it’s like a really good standup joke, hitting you viscerally.

And if it’s done badly, at least you’ve only burned a few minutes or hours, as opposed to days of your life.

ANGEL: I’m exactly the same way. The Cartel, House of Leaves, Lincoln in The Bardo – if it’s a damn good book, I don’t care how many pages. BUT if it’s the typical filler fare, it drives me insane. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read where I feel as if it would have been better as a novella or a short story.

That last point you made about wasting minutes/hours. You think we can flip that too? Part of the appeal of flash to me is the ability to fail spectacularly. I can land on my face with a piece and not weep. What are your thoughts there?

NICK: Yes! Flash fiction is a great laboratory for testing concepts. You might produce the literary equivalent of an eight-legged dog that spits acid and eats your lab assistant, but you could also create something beautiful… and because you know you’re not burning tons of time, you can be more playful. I’ve written short stories — and I’m sure you have, too — that basically served as prototypes for much longer stuff.

That’s not to say a Hellbeast with Eight Legs can’t be beautiful. I’d love that fucker. I’d sic it on my neighbors when they start blasting obnoxious music at midnight.

It’s easy to spend 700 words on a bank robbery. But it’s more interesting to try and flip it. You did that once, with that crazy story about the clowns knocking the place off…

ANGEL: Hey, clowns make anything either dumber or scary. I figure not enough dumb is out there, so I went for broke.

My Dad got me into noir in a big way when I was a kid. He gave me the Raymond Chandler novels, and Hammett’s Red Harvest, when I was at a very impressionable age. We also saw a lot of crime flicks — not just the classics with Cagney and so on, but also whatever was coming out at the time, like Heat. My love was exclusively for noir and grit, though; I was never a fan of Christie and traditional murder mysteries, with the exception of Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.

NICK: That’s not to knock those books where the little old lady solves the mystery of the priest killed by the lawn gnome, but it was never my speed. I related to noir anti-heroes’ sarcasm, and their toughness.

The fact is, most crime isn’t well thought-out. The majority of criminals are dumb as a bag of hammers. I’ve always had a hard time believing intricate murder plots that hinge on arcane solutions.

But noir captures that idiocy and horror.

ANGEL: I tend to look at the more traditional, toothless work as being more like fantasy? That’ll probably piss some folks off, but I’m not knocking. All writing takes skill to put together but noir, like you said – that grit and idiocy? I’ve never met a criminal that wasn’t a complete idiot. Clever? Capable of problem solving? Sure. Actually intelligent enough to keep their shit together long enough to NOT have to stick someone up for fresh kicks at a 6:30 AM Nike release? Nope.

And those stories are so much interesting!

NICK: Idiocy is undervalued as a character trait. It’s no fun to read a heist novel where everything goes right; you want everything to go wrong. I’m proud to say that every character in “A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps” isn’t nearly as smart as they think they are, especially the two characters who absolutely, positively think they’re the smartest motherfuckers in any given room.

I feel like you can write genuine intelligence if you make it a chess match. For example, Heat: two people who are geniuses at their professions, on a collision course. The end-game kicks in when one decides to do something idiotic.

But most people aren’t Michael Mann.

ANGEL: That’s honestly one of my biggest gripes with modern crime fiction. A lot of writers LOVE making their characters super effective at something and while, sure, that can be interesting, it starts to feel tired.

And like you said, most folks ain’t Mann, or a Ted Lewis, or the other folks who can make some of the old tropes sing.

So where do you think we go from there? We’ve got some indie labels producing some cool stuff – ours included – is this the future of the genre? Of publishing? I know you’re a bit of a techie. Are the signs there?

NICK: I’d like to think so. Until a couple years ago, the traditional publishers were a hell of a bottleneck to new voices getting out there. Indie labels have been great about letting those authors sing, but it’s a hard road ahead nonetheless — a label can produce fantastic work and still fold. That being said, I think all the pieces are in place; what we need now is for a couple of indie books to break into the mainstream.

And “mainstream” comes with its own risks, of course. But people are clearly interested in fresh takes on noir — look at the popularity of Fargo, or True Detective. In theory, there’s nothing to stop literary noir from catching serious fire.

ANGEL: I don’t think being saddled with my least favorite genre tag ever, neo-noir, helps. That may be a chip on my shoulder, though. I don’t mind taking inspiration from the history, but bowing down to it irks me to high hell.

So what’s next, man? Will we see this ridiculous crew from Brutal Bunch again or do you have anything else in the plans?

NICK: The Bunch — minus some bits and pieces — are coming back in the next novella, Slaughterhouse Blues, which is launching in 2018. The lunacy rolls to Nicaragua and Cuba before heading back to New York. I’m excited about it because I spent some time in Central America for work, and this is the first time I’ve been able to deploy a lot of what I saw there in a fictionalized setting. I’m also writing the third book in the series, which might be the hardest of them all because I’m trying to have it take place in one location, like Die Hard.

ANGEL: I totally have a Die Hard concept in my file. I think it’s impossible for anyone our age not to. I’m looking forward to that. Single location stories are a bear!

NICK: Plus I have to resist the urge to have the characters make bad Bruce Willis jokes.

ANGEL: INDEED. Well, dude. I think we can call it quits. A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps is dropping May 12th (there are more than likely MANY links scattered on this page. Best of luck with this one, man. I loved it and I really think a lot of folks are going to dig the hell out of it too!

NICK: Thanks, man! This was fun. Good luck with the next Blacky, too. You’re up next!

ANGEL: Thanks for dealing with my flaky, flaky planning! And yes, new Blacky! It’s all coming up Milhouse, man.


From the Hip – Alex Segura

Hey folks!

So, an experiment – sort of, not like this hasn’t been done before. Though, I wanted to start an author Q&A series that wasn’t so ‘canned’, something where writers can shoot the shit while giving them the room to talk about whatever they’re pimping OR whatever strikes their fancy.

For the first installment of what I’m calling FROM THE HIP, we’ve got Alex Segura, the author of the Pete Fernandez series of books and a slew of awesome Archie comics. His latest, DANGEROUS ENDS, is dropping April 11th, 2017 from Polis Books, so I decided to use him as guinea pig and try my best to throw him off his game.

Our chat took place on 2/8/2017 – there’s been some light editing to improve the flow of conversation and to cover up Alex’s shocking opinion about pre-fab flooring.

ANGEL: So, to reiterate, loose convo. This is going on Shotgun Honey, so we know our audience. They’re fucking degenerates.

ALEX: Keep it CASUAL

ANGEL: EXACTLY. You ready for the snowstorm coming our way? Do you have French Toast reserves?

ALEX: I’m hoping it snows so I don’t have to drive to work! How about you guys?

ANGEL: Kids already got cancelled school and my job is cool with working from home, so we’re pretty much stuck at home the next two days.

ALEX: Not bad! G is turning one soon, so Eva’s running around prepping for a family thing this weekend

ANGEL: The big 1! That’s on Valentine’s Day, no?

ALEX: Yeah! Crazy! Valentine’s Day will never be the same

ANGEL: It’s an awesome time. Hell, we’re both going through the same stuff; Kid 2 is just a month older.

ALEX: We need to get them together again

ANGEL: I WILL TALK TO THE WIFE

ALEX: YEAH…Same here

ANGEL: For real, I have no idea what’s going on at all without her. So….WRITING

ALEX: OK!

ANGEL: You’ve been busy, dude. About a year, two books out with Polis, Archie Meets Ramones, ANOTHER Archie book and Pete Book 3!

You ready to take a breath?

ALEX: Not yet! Yeah, it’s been busy – but good. It’s like I’m working on two tracks, which is fun and keeps my brain clicking.

On one hand, I’m writing fun, all-ages comic book stuff, which is what first got me hooked on comics and reading, and on the other, I’m telling these really dark crime stories set in my hometown.

I can’t believe DANGEROUS ENDS is my third. It hasn’t really clicked in yet.

The comics happen faster – you write a script, then you start seeing artwork and before you know it, it’s on the stands

Novels are a much slower, more thoughtful process

ANGEL: I’m excited about this next one, Dangerous Ends. Having read it in an earlier state (VIP, YO) I really enjoyed the link to Cuban history. Pretty timely too! I never assume that folks pull directly from their family history, but is it safe to assume that here?

ALEX: Yeah, for sure. And I’m glad you got to read it early. Don’t worry, you’re duly thanked in the back! (Spoiler alert). The Cuba flashbacks sprung out of a conversation with my aunt one day. We were at a family gathering and Cuba came up, as it does, and she said there were a lot of family stories that I didn’t know and that she’d have to share with me sometime. Well, I couldn’t wait, so while everyone else is having a jolly good time I’m huddled with her talking about Castro, how our family got out of Cuba and the challenges a lot of them faces. It really made me want to paint a picture of Pete’s family.

But I also knew I didn’t want to just steal stories from my family’s past and switch names. I did a lot of research, about Cuba and Cuba-US relations and where the country was before Castro took power.

But that was fun research, and the kind of stuff I could do while still writing.

I also knew that I wanted the mystery from the past had to intersect with whatever Pete was investigating in the present, and at the end he had to leave the book changed and have some progression as a character.

I didn’t want him or his friends to be static.

ANGEL: I got a firm sense of that underlying tension and rage that is sort of a burden for a lo of Cuban Americans to bear. Did that inform how you wrote the flashbacks? Was it difficult to find a balance? Not to say Castro’s sins should be looked at objectively, but how do you pull back when trying to tell the story as it happened?

And to add a little perspective, I grew up with a lot of dudes who were first gen. Getting stories about their parents coming on the boats in the late 70’s / early 80’s. All different, but hell if that general mood is the same. It’s dark and hopeful.

ALEX: I tried to be objective in my research and how I presented what was going on, but I also used specific POVs, so you’re inherently biased. The first flashback is told from the perspective of Pete’s grandfather, a government official who’s at odds with the new regime. So, you’re already starting from slanted view.

But I did try to show some balance and not make it seem black and white, because it isn’t. We’re all human and even if you’re for the good guys, you can make mistakes and sometimes get corrupted by power or money or whatever.

The challenge was to show the Cuba parts accurately but also write a compelling mystery while still propelling the present narrative forward, which was tricky but I think it paid off.

And Pete, like me and many guys or ladies my age, isn’t immersed in the exile story. I mean, I grew up hearing stories about Cuba and it was ever-present, but I didn’t go there or visit, so my connection to the island was very cerebral. It’s the same for Pete. So I wanted to give readers a sense of what his connection is without literally taking him there.

ANGEL: And it’s all so timely. Over the past year, I think a lot of us have forgotten how shook up Cuba’s been. Did that help to inform any changes/edits for the book?

ALEX: The changes for Cuba happened as I was finishing up a polish of the draft, so I tried my best to keep the book as timely as possible. When I first wrote it, Castro was still alive, for example. So, on revision, there’s a mention of his death. Things like that. A lot of the heavy plot lifting had been done, but I wanted to interject as much about current events as I could. There’s mention of the softening relations and the loosening of travel restrictions, and it gives readers a chance to peek into Pete’s head and see what his take on all of it is.

ANGEL: Would you take a trip out there if you could?

ALEX: You know, this came up recently – as in, a literal invite to go, expenses paid. And I couldn’t do it. Not until the Castros – plural – are gone and no longer in power and an actual democracy is in place. I just can’t bring myself to know that my money is going into their pockets. It’s a simple view, I know, but sometimes we can only work in broad strokes.

I’d love to see the country, explore, visit the house where my parents grew up and so on, but I also know how desperately my family struggled to leave Cuba while Castro was in power, so I don’t think it’d be respectful of me to take a pleasure cruise now because it’s easy or convenient.

ANGEL: That makes sense. With all that history (mostly negative) I can see it being difficult to just dump money into the pockets of bastards.

ALEX: Right. And Raul Castro is not an innocent. Not Being Fidel doesn’t exonerate you.

ANGEL: And speaking from parallel experience with my own Caribbean roots, it’s not easy to see the places you come from – especially when it’s pretty much 3rd world.

ALEX: Right. I can’t expect the picture I saw, from the 60s, to be reflected today. I definitely want to experience it at some point, though, but I also have to know when the time is right.

This isn’t a diss on anyone who goes to Cuba. We all have to make our choices and I know people have close family there. I have some distant cousins and other distant relatives, so the urgency for human reasons doesn’t exist. But I can understand that.

ANGEL: THIS IS A HAPPY CONVO – Way to make a political book.

ALEX: CHEERFUL EVEN

It’s funny, because when I set out to write it, I was in a very Ellroy state of mind, but the book became something else.

Which is what you want, I think.

ANGEL: I meant to ask you, especially in light of Pete’s musical tastes AND your work with Archie. You’re obviously a big music guy, but what’s YOUR background. Were you in a band? Play an instrument? Become a master of triangle?

Also, I’ve been drinking – SURPRISE

ALEX: Ha! I am a triangle guru! Drink up, pal

Yeah, I’ve always loved music. I was in a few bands in Miami, though bands might be a stretch – we never played shows. But we had fun, wrote songs, practiced a lot. I was in a few bands in NY, most recently a group called Faulkner Detectives. We put out an EP and played a handful of gigs in and around NYC. The band is on a bit of a hiatus – kids, jobs, life – but we’ve talked about playing again. I loved being in a band and I really think songwriting is a helpful tool for any writer, so’s poetry. Learning to be compact with your words, and being able to tap into a feeling instead of just mechanically moving from plot point to plot point is important and not easy to teach.

Songwriting is unique in that you have to paint a picture or tell a story with a few words or lines and then support those words with a musical backdrop. It’s a fun challenge, and I think songwriting helped my prose and vice versa. Same with comics.

ANGEL: Shot in the dark – bassist?

ALEX: No! But the bass was my first instrument when I was a teenager. Then I discovered I wanted to write songs, so I needed a guitar. I played guitar and sang some songs in the last band.

ANGEL: Nice. I could never nail guitar down, so I played bass for a while and gave up. It’s been almost 20 years since I touched one that wasn’t a Rock Band instrument.

ALEX: I haven’t played much lately, either. It’s tough. One thing having a kid does is it makes you really focus your time across the board. I play guitar with the kid sometimes and that’s fun, but it’s been a while since I sat down and tried to write a song.

ANGEL: I play conga occasionally.

ALEX: Moog?

ANGEL: Nope, straight up LPs – donkey skin and all.

ALEX: Hardcore

ANGEL: So what’s next? You’ve got that special coming soon that focuses on The Archies (is that the current Waid canon?) and then what?

ALEX: Yeah, THE ARCHIES is in the updated Archie-verse, which is cool. That’s the first time I’ve worked there and it’s been a blast. I’m co-writing it with Matt Rosenberg. We wrote ARCHIE MEETS RAMONES, and it’s drawn by Joe Eisma, who was the artist on the main ARCHIE title, which is neat.

After that, I have some ideas (and about 50k words) for another Pete book or two, I’m working on this weird, horror/thriller thing that wouldn’t leave my brain and I have a few other comic book things in various stages.

I’m also pecking away at a few short stories I need to finish for anthologies and such.

ANGEL: The new Archie stuff has been a ton of fun. I still need to check out Riverdale. Chances are high now that wifey and I are done with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

ALEX: It’s a funny show! Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I mean. Riverdale can be funny, but it’s surprisingly noir and stylish, so I think you guys will dig it.

ANGEL: So you’re working on next steps for Pete. You’ve had the dude go through the ringer, alcoholism, death of loved ones, massive betrayals. What else can you do to this poor bastard?

ALEX: Man, I don’t know. I joke and say “Poor Pete” all the time when promoting the book, but it’s true – he’s been through a lot of shit. I knew, going into the writing of DOWN THE DARKEST STREET, the second book, that I wanted it to be, well, dark. I wanted it to really bring him to his knees, not only in terms of the mystery but his own personal demons. For DANGEROUS ENDS, I wanted to show him having progressed, at least in terms of his alcoholism but also his experience level. The Pete we meet in DANGEROUS ENDS knows the basic of what he’s doing. But I also didn’t want it to feel like “Pete Case #453,” y’know? So there had to be personal stakes for him. Each Pete book works on two levels for me – it’s about The Case, and The Mystery – but it’s also about Pete and his quest to not only be a better detective, but a better person. And that, as we all know, involves a lot of missteps and pitfalls. It’s not a straight line.

DANGEROUS ENDS, without spoiling too much, leaves Pete in a completely new situation/status quo, and I’m excited to explore that. I never want a book in the series to feel like it doesn’t matter or like it’s a holding pattern.

Which is tough, because then I think your series becomes finite, automatically

You can only pull the guy through the fire so many times.

When I finished the book, I figured we were in a good place to try something a little off the path he’s been on. Still, things should blow up again – explosions are cool.

Yeah, it sets Pete off on a new path, which I think is good, and it’ll keep readers (and me) on their toes. It opens up new story possibilities.

ANGEL: But there will be explosions, right?

ALEX: For sure. Lots of them.

ANGEL: Holding you to that.

ALEX: For a series, though, it’s tough because you have an inherent expectation, but you also want to keep yourself interested as the writer.

BOOM BOOM

ANGEL: Absolutely. I get that. I’m not the hugest fan of the IDEA of writing a series? On a personal level. If I can pull it off, sure, but like you said with Pete, there has to be a place where you can surprise yourself, right?

ALEX: It’s a cliché, but I believe it because it’s what I do: I write the book I want to read. I wanted to read a detective series that really featured Miami as the setting. I wanted to read about a PI who maybe wasn’t super-great at his job. It didn’t exist, so I wrote it.

That applies to the other books, too. I wanted to read a serial killer book that was a little different. So that’s what I wrote. I wanted a wider-screen look at the Cuban exile experience wrapped in a nice mystery/thriller packaging. It’s more instinctual at first – like, what am I interested in the moment? What stories get me jazzed? – but you see it in your rearview as you move on to the next thing. Oh, OK. That’s what I wanted to write.

ANGEL: I think you’ve nailed it and I think folks are going to be surprised with Book 3, Dangerous Ends is really enjoyable.

Thanks man! I’m glad you liked it. This was a challenging book to write but also the most fulfilling.

ANGEL: So beyond self-promotion (selfish bastard), what have you been reading/hearing/watching/eating/whatevering?

ALEX: Great question. In terms of mystery novels, I really dug Reed Farrel Coleman’s WHAT YOU BREAK, the sequel to his Edgar-nominated WHERE IT HURTS. I love the Moe Prager books, and when Reed announced his deal to do the Jesse Stone novels, the bit that jumped out at me most was the fact that he’d be starting a new series. Gus Murphy is a great, flawed protagonist and Reed just makes it look easy. I’ve been on a big Stephen King kick lately, which might be due to all the insanity happening in the world. Who would have thought that reading about killer clowns, worldwide plagues and crazy, rabid dogs would be soothing in comparison to The World Today, but it has…

ANGEL: Where It Hurts was fucking great. I need to pick up What You Break.

ALEX: In terms of TV, I finally got around to watching The Night Of, which I thought was great. But aside from that, we’ve been on a fairly disciplined West Wing re-watch. Babies also prevent you from having lots of TV time. So does novel-writing.

In terms of comics I’ll buy anything by Brubaker/Phillips, Rucka, Fraction, Snyder, Lapham, DeConnick…the list goes on. I was doing a fairly epic Uncanny X-Men/Claremont re-read, too, but that tapered off when the team got to Australia.

Also big shot out to Azzarello and Risso’s new one, MOONSHINE. Great supernatural noir shout out

ANGEL: With X-Men, Wasn’t that whole Siege Perilous thing?

ALEX: Yyyyeeaaaah

ANGEL: BLECH

ALEX: It’s not bad, per se, it just lost me and I wasn’t sure I was ready to go through it (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) again.

ANGEL: WELL DONE

ALEX: It did make me want to revisit the Simonson run on X-Factor and the Sienkiewicz New Mutants stuff, so that’s good.

You know, in all my free time.

ANGEL: Alex, speaking of children, terrible Claremont runs, and my drinking, I’m gonna break here and thank you for letting me run this little experiment.

ALEX: Thanks for having me! This was fun.

ANGEL: WE’RE CUTTING EDGE AT SHOTGUN HONEY

ALEX: NICE WORK ANGEL – Thanks a lot, seriously!

ANGEL: No doubt! Good luck with Snowmaggedon and we will set up baby playdate. NOIR AF

ALEX: yes! Soon! GOOD NIGHT!