Interview: Peter Farris

I had just gotten to BoucherCon (what another BCon story?) in the middle of panels, just before lunch, not a person I knew roaming about, so I set down and look over my goody bag. That when Pete came up and asked me if I was me and introduced him as he. Or something like that.

My first impression was Pete was a genuinely nice guy. That he was about as bad ass as could be. Was this really the guy who wrote that funny, disturbing Disney Noir? He is definitely multifaceted. As you can see from his contributions to Shotgun Honey: Disney Noir, Tornado Noir, The Traffic Stop, and the microfiction bundles Day Traders 1 and 2.

If he wasn’t already in his own band, I’d call him a rock star and try my lamest Doom Claw.

I’ve wanted to interview Pete since we met, but held off to support his book, THE LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING, not that it needs it. I heard it’s as complex and riveting as listening to Kent and Peter talk about Bee Keeper Noir and Hard-boiled Clowns. It was some fun talk. Now let’s grill this mother.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

To be honest, I feel like I fell into crime fiction by accident. I wasn’t as familiar with the genre while writing the first draft of LCFTL as compared to now. Sure, I’d read folks like Chandler and James Ellroy, but I was really influenced by southern writers more than anybody else, stuff that carried the “literature” tag even though now that I think about it, William Gay, Cormac McCarthy and Larry Brown were dabbling in crime and noir in their own ways. Now that I’ve read more authors in the genre, it excites me just how varied and wide-open crime fiction can be.

About ten years ago I was working as a bank teller when my branch was robbed. That experience made a lasting impression, and when I sat down to write LCFTL about the only thing I was sure of was that it would open with a violent heist. I’d always been fascinated by prison gangs and prison culture, too, which eventually seeped into the novel. When the book sold, I took a step back and figured: you’ve got the Aryan Brotherhood, a bank robbery, cops and convicts…I think you wrote a crime novel, buddy.

It sounds like LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING might just fall under that umbrella. Outside of the bank robbery, what inspired you to write LCFTL? What inspired you to write?

I played in bands for all of my twenties, and was always writing lyrics, but I remember exactly when a friend of mine recommended I read Mississippi author Larry Brown. That was in May of 2002. Brown’s work (and path to publication) inspired me, and triggered what’s since became a compulsion to (try and) write publishable fiction. Up until that point I’d read mainly horror, some of Chuck Palahnuik’s books, stuff like that. Dirty Work was the gateway novel, leading to what’s since become a deep love of regional fiction. More importantly, Dirty Work demonstrated to me how you could tell a complicated, brutally honest story using simple language. That kind of revelation was huge.

My old man is an author, too, and as I get older I realize what a profound influence he’s had on me. Growing up I was always around books, and had the opportunity to see everyday what the life of a working writer entailed. The immersion and concentration required of the gig…and occasional afternoon nap. My father had a bestseller at twenty and spent a lifetime telling stories. If writing remains a vocation or hobby that occasionally brings in a little money, that’s fine with me…as long as the work comes from an honest place. I suppose it really boils down to having an impulse to express yourself. I don’t know why that impulse is there, or where it comes from, but what I do know is if I don’t act on it my mood and outlook go to shit.

Tell us about the bands where you in? Do you think that music influenced the type of writer you’ve become?

I was in a band from Connecticut (CABLE) for approximately eight years. We were a sludgy noise rock band influenced by everyone from Black Sabbath to Fugazi to Waylon Jennings.

One thing that defined CABLE through the years were abstract lyrics that touched on recurring themes…mainly frustration with everyday life and a desire to escape it. We (meaning myself, bassist Randy Larsen and guitarist Bernie Romanowski) always hit certain notes in our lyrics i.e. whiskey, pills, Montana, heartache and broken glass…that sort of thing. But because our vocals were screamed and not sung, it allowed us to write outside the box of your typical rock band verse and chorus. Now that I think about it, our songs were like mini working-class dropout fuck-the-world noirs. We were writing fiction without really knowing it. By simply trying to be creative with what were essentially short prose pieces, I understand now that CABLE inspired me to think in terms of second and third person, in characters and situations and story lines that could be resolved or at least suggested during a few minutes of distorted riffs and balls-out screaming. No doubt that influenced me as I made the leap to short stories and eventually novels.

The Failed Convict (our crowning achievement if you ask me) was actually a concept record about a prisoner who breaks out of Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Tennessee. It was pure coincidence, but around the time I signed the book contract and not long after we cut the record, I realized The Failed Convict and Last Call for the Living shared a sort of creative synergy, so much so that I decided to use Randy and Bernie’s lyrics from the album as epigrams.

So you’ve traded telling stories with music for books?

In some respects, yeah. Putting lyrics to music was the avenue for me that I imagine could’ve been poetry or flash fiction for another writer. Eventually you wind up experimenting with every form, although I admit I’ve never tried to write a play. Maybe one day.

From you, I expect a heavy metal musical, THE DOOM CLAW RISES. Are you still juggling between work, writing and music? How do you compartmentalize?

As for balancing a day job and writing, it’s a challenge at times. I’m not big on word counts but I’ve found the goal of 2-3 pages a day (or night) achievable more often than not. But there are stretches where I don’t write a single word, moments when I simply can’t will a decent sentence. I’m always thinking about writing, though, especially when I’m knee-deep in a new novel. You walk around with those characters. “Mulling time” is what a writer pal of mine from South Carolina calls it. And sometimes a really productive Saturday and Sunday is all it takes to erase from my memory a lackluster work week.

I’ve worked early in the morning and by contrast stayed up all night and never seen the sun. I’m finding as I get older I’m placing more value on consistency and routine. This quote by Flannery O’Connor has become a motto of sorts over the last year: “Just write every day whether you know what you’re doing or not…Sit at yr machine.”

You’ve written a few shorts for us, each different from the other, each successfully entertaining. Do you approach short stories differently than a longer work, like LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING?

Absolutely. I really enjoy writing short fiction. It’s a challenging form but I tend to only write if the mood strikes me. I think that’s one reason my short fiction bounces around, from splatterpunk to crime to Lovecraft-inspired material and even more literary-minded stuff. It’s much more impulsive and I never put too much thought into where I might submit a story or what genre it fits in to. With a novel, however, I know what sandbox I’m playing in from the start.

One of the stories that gets brought up in conversation, and was even nominated for a Spinetingler, is “Disney Noir”. It was brutal, funny, absurd and if the Mouse House cared… well, I don’t want think about it. What’s the story behind the story?

I actually visited Orlando with my fiance and her family. I can’t remember who mentioned it, but the costumed employees came up in conversation…about the tunnels they used to get around the park and also the rumored party culture associated with that line of work. As we were walking around I assumed the guy in the Mickey suit had been on a week-long coke binge and Snow White was banging evening-shift Donald Duck behind Goofy’s back, that sort of thing. I have trouble taking anything at face value so I had to suspect with all these lovable characters there was something dark and sordid going on beneath the surface. Lord knows what’s actually under Disney World. Probably torture rooms and burn pits.

After reading LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING and thinking back to your short “The Traffic Stop”, what is your relationship to the cops? Are you a wanted man? You seemed pretty clued in?

Haha! Nah, I’m a law abiding citizen. Drive the speed limit and even use my turn signals.

I’ve hung out with quite a few cops over the years, and consider one a really good friend. He was an early reader of Last Call and an invaluable resource. Every writer should have a friend in law enforcement.

I think you’ve nailed the hardened criminal and the prison ecosystem, with your portrayal of Hicklin and Preacher. What are you’re top 3 Prison Life movies, why?

American Me and Michael Mann’s The Jericho Mile are at the top of the list for sure. The Jericho Mile is a really touching story, one that manages to humanize a hardened convict while still nailing the unique social dynamic that informs every minute of penitentiary life. Jericho Mile was actually filmed at Folsom Prison and knowing what a student of west coast prison culture Mann is, there doesn’t seem to be a false note in the entire (made for TV) film.

American Me has to be one of the finest and most frightening movies about latino gangs I’ve ever seen, and a dangerous production to be associated with. From what I understand former members of the Mexican Mafia serving as consultants were murdered, allegedly for the film’s depiction of homosexual rape. Writer-Director Edward James Olmos’ life was even threatened. Regardless of whether that particular element is exaggerated or accurate, every other aspect of American Me just drips with authenticity.

Another favorite of mine is Animal Factory, directed by Steve Buscemi and based on the novel by former convict-turned-writer Edward Bunker. Most folks talk about Mickey Rourke’s turn in the film, and it is impressive, but for me it’s Big Fish with a heart of gold Willem Dafoe that steals the show. It’s a nuanced little film with a lot of depth, and one that never is compelled to hit you over the head with stereotypes. Oh, and Danny Trejo is in it. How could you not love Danny Trejo?

My dad is somewhat of a gun enthusiast, to put it lightly, so I have an appreciation. Hicklin’s Mossberg is a beaut. What’s the biggest gun you’ve fired?

I shot a muzzleloader in .45-70 back in the Fall. It was a hand-loaded round, used for large game like black bear although it’d take down a buffalo or elephant of that I have no doubt. After I fired that beast, the rifle’s owner (a friend of my fiance’s father) said I did exactly what everyone else does after they shoot it: laugh hysterically.

With the release of LAST CALL FOR THE LIVING, anyone who reads it is going to what more, so what’s next for Peter Farris?

I just turned in my next novel. It’s about a teenage prostitute who finds sanctuary with an eccentric bootlegger.

I’ll have to put that one on my “To Want” list. Before you go, do you have any parting words or pearls of wisdom for our readers?

Listen to Waylon Jennings.


Interview: Frank Wheeler Jr

I remember my first night at BoucherCon this last year, hooking up with Matthew C Funk, Dan O’Shea and the moving party that was Team Decker, named for their astounding agent Stacia Decker. And I asked one of the party goers, “Where’s Frank?” They pointed over in the general direction of Frank Wheeler Jr. and I was confused. He had a beard, but that wasn’t Frank, was it? I was looking for Frank Bill.

Sorry Frank.

The next day, during the bowling tournament, where Frank, this Frank, and Joelle Charbonneau were valiantly anchoring Team Decker (alas not enough to bring home the win). Name on the board was Frank Wheeler.

I would later find out more about Frank and his book THE WOWZER, which after these many months since has launched this week from Thomas & Mercer, the mystery imprint of Amazon.

As I finish up this interview, thumbing my way through THE WOWZER (almost 90 pages in), I can say I am thrilled to support Frank and his debut. Terrific book.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

I came to Crime Fiction through the side door: Crime Films. I was raised on Hitchcock. This instilled in me a love of watching people do bad things. One of my earliest memories of a sociopathic character is from the movie “Charade.” One of Hitchcock’s lighter films, very jokey in parts, but there are a few very intense scenes. The scene that really got under my skin was where James Coburn is blocking Audrey Hepburn from leaving a phone booth. He wants to know where the money is and she doesn’t know. He begins lighting matches and dropping them in her lap as she cries and screams for help, snuffing them out frantically. He never changes his expression, or tone of voice, for the whole scene. He’s just this calm and steady monster. I thought, “God that’s cool!”

I became obsessed with Scorsese and DePalma films in my teens. I couldn’t get enough of the Crime Genre. In my late teens, when I started thinking of writing as more than a hobby, I kept coming back to murder in my stories. I experiemented with several different types of writing, but they always seemed to be lacking that sociopath. That’s where I got the gun, I guess. Starting with Hitchcock.

I can see the influence of film in your stories. Both “The Good Life” from Crime Factory #7 and “Slick Texas Money” recently from Beat to a Pulp have a cinematic feel, scope. Is it fair to say your writing is more Scorsese than Hitchcock?

Hitchcock drew me in, but Scorsese was a revelation. Two of his films, “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” still rank in my top five movies of all time. Again, it comes back to this archetype of the sociopath. They are the protagonists in so many of his films. For a kid raised in a series of very conservative church congregations that used guilt as the primary instructive tool for their children, that lack of guilt felt by these characters was quite an attractive thing. I really envied these gangsters, these mob guys, that acknowledged no authority higher than themselves. I knew I’d never be one of these guys, but I found that they were the personalities I put into my stories. Even recently, in the novel I’m working on now, I noticed that I’d used that scene from the end of “Casino” where Joe Pesci’s character dies in the cornfield. Also, in the same novel, the slow motion shot of the silenced .45 when Samuel Jackson’s character is executed, this stuff just creeps in. And thank God for that, I guess.

What kind of influence will readers find in your upcoming novel, THE WOWZER? Give us the pitch.

The books that influenced THE WOWZER are primarily Patricia Highsmith’s and Vance Randolph’s. I was reading “The Talented Mr. Ripley” around the time I wrote the short story THE WOWZER is based on. And I’d been reading Randolph’s collections of Ozark dialect and folklore for maybe a year prior while I was working on a different novel set near Fayetteville. In fact, most of the chapter titles are little idiomatic gems I found from his collection of Ozark folk speech. I wanted the readers to feel like they were being told one of those Ozark stories, rather than feel like they were reading a book. The voice, Jerry’s voice, partially came out of that desire. Maybe it was my way of paying homage to my storyteller-uncles from the area.

Patricia Highsmith was who I consulted to make the monster into flesh and blood. In her Tom Ripley novels, she shows how a nice, considerate, unassuming young man may commit the most atrocious crimes, then go right back to being to being that same gentle person. That was important, making Jerry a believable monster. He needed to seem like a guy you’d want to have on your bowling team. But only because of what you don’t know about him.

THE WOWZER, named for the monstrous Puma like creature from the Ozark’s lore, as told to you and likewise your protagonist Jerry, mixes folklore with drug running and corruption? How did you go about mixing legend with fact, or the reality within your story?

I never was told any Wowzer stories by my uncles. I don’t know if they’d ever heard of it or not. But that’s how these things go. Some legends are popular in certain spots and not in others. I found the story when reading Randolph’s Ozarks folklore collections. As for Jerry’s perspective, it’s difficult to separate legend and fact. Sure, he knows the Wowzer is just an old folktale that no reasonable person would believe about a monster in the woods. But a different part of Jerry’s brain knows the Wowzer to be very real. I don’t see this as being in conflict. People can experience the supernatural as real even when they deny its existence. You can absolutely know there are no ghosts in the attic, but you get goosebumps going up there all the same.

Where did the idea for THE WOWZER, tying folklore to crime and corruption, come about?

Corruption was always an important part of the stories I heard growing up. One uncle from Oklahoma would, when driving around the county, point to the political yard-signs and tell me a bribery or cover-up story for every candidate for sheriff, mayor, or city council. Some of my uncles from Arkansas had been heavily involved with labor unions, and they had lots of stories about corruption and the conflicts that came from it. People prey on others. That was a theme I learned early on.

Maybe this means I’m out of touch, but I’m something of a perennialist. I don’t believe people, after millions of years of evolution, are suddenly going to start thinking and behaving differently. Same with the stories we tell. I’d agree with Campbell that the modern stories are ultimately the same old ones we’ve been telling for as long as we’ve had language. And corruption has been a persistent theme. Think about Aesop’s fable of the Wolf and the Lamb. The moral at the end of the story begins: “A tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny…” This was written something like 2,600 years ago. But I don’t mean to suggest I’m seeking justice for any perceived tyranny. I cite this example only to show how pervasive what we call corruption is in human experience. It only makes sense to me: people use whatever means they have to protect their own interests. If someone has more to protect, and also more means, he will certainly be at a greater advantage to do so than someone without.

The word I use is predation. Regardless of the lamb’s objections, the wolf preys upon him. Or sometimes, upon a weaker wolf. Dog eats dog, right? In the human realm, this is when violence is visited on another merely as a matter of business. Nothing personal about it. Just a temporary denial of the other’s humanity in order to accomplish an end believed to be necessary to the one inflicting the violence. When I encountered the work of Niccolo Machiavelli, I got a much better look at this side of human nature. I admired the practicality of Old Nick’s approach to politics. Don’t deal with people as they ought to be, but as they are. What people should be never enters into it. In order to protect themselves, some people find they are capable of denying the imperative to love thy neighbor, which allows them to do the bad things.

I mentioned earlier that The Wowzer is the monster in the woods. Probably that’s the best explanation for the story. This kind of predation, the kind they teach you not to do, is deep within some (I’d argue most) of us. It scares us (some more than others) to think that it’s just below the surface. I believe it’s the same thing, whether the story is several millennia old, or just a few days. The monster in the woods really isn’t that far away.

A well thought out reply. The deeper context of beast in relation to the man is something you’ve lived with for a while, and stirs thoughts for this reader on just what or who the monster, The Wowzer, is? Let’s shift a bit, describe the writer’s journey? How did THE WOWZER become the one, the debut?

I’d written this short story based on a minor character from a different novel I was working on. The protagonist of that story was Jerry. Once I’d begun telling his story, I couldn’t stop. My original intent had been to keep revising the other novel till it was ready for submissions. While writing the third draft, I had to start writing notes for Jerry’s novel. I must’ve written two dozen false starts. Then I took a fiction workshop with my mentor, Jonis Agee, and I convinced her it was time for me to put down the other novel and write the new one.

Grad school was quite difficult for me. See, I’m a pretty slow reader. And having three classes in one semester that require you to read over a hundred pages each week for each one (a lot of it dense critical theory that may as well have been in Greek), also while working at my assistantship, didn’t make finding the time to write easy. Finally I decided to clear aside one day. I picked Saturdays. I made sure I did everything else, homework and otherwise, on the other days of the week. Saturdays I committed to working on Jerry’s novel. That semester, for a few months of consecutive Saturdays, I’d write for twelve or thirteen hours straight. Nine AM to ten PM. I have a shoulder injury from a car accident several years back, and during these writing sessions, my whole left arm would just go numb after a few hours. I’d have to break ,and work the feeling back into it. Eat something. Then go back into The Wowzer. At the end of the semester, I had the first draft.

Jonis told me to clean it up, then send it out. After talking to some people, she got me some names of agents. Stacia Decker read it, got it, said she wanted to represent it. After doing some more revisions, we got it on the desk of an editor at Thomas & Mercer, and he gave it a green light. The rest you know.

A lot of lonely Saturdays that seem to have paid off. Time management is always an interest to me, how writers juggle family, work and/or school. Are you still on your Saturday schedule or are you notching out time in other ways?

It’s very rare now that I can sit down to type for a stretch of time like that. I’m working two jobs now, and when I have a day off, I spend it with my wife. That means I’ve had to learn to steal an hour here, two hours there, sometimes just a half hour, and use it to write. The first draft of the latest novel I’ve been working on was written mostly in the library of the community college where I teach, in the ninety minute gap between two of my classes. But the time I spend sitting in front of my laptop, that’s only a fraction of the time I spend writing. I think a lot of writers may agree with me on this. I’m working on stories in my head whenever something else isn’t occupying my attention. And that’s where much of the creative work is done. When I sit down to type, I’ve already been working on the story for a long time.

I call that tumbling the story around, the internalization and mental dialog that take place during stolen moments of work. Living with the story for a while like that, do you just purge when you write or do you do any kind of outlining?

I always outline, whether a novel or short fiction. I need a map, or I get lost. But part of the beauty of an outline is that it can be changed when necessary. I work the story around in my head for a while, draw some characters, get an idea of where I want to go, and then I sketch it out. But it’s just the major plot points. Only the bare bones. When I sit down to type, I fill the flesh in on the skeleton.

THE WOWZER debuts this week with the support of Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer, whose growing stable includes Barry Eisler, J A Konrath, and Shotgun Honey alum, John Rector, plus many more incredible authors. I bet it makes all those lost Saturdays worth it to get this point and be part of a next generation publisher?

Publication certainly does sweeten the deal. But to be honest, I’d be writing this stuff anyway. For me, writing is a way to be a kid again. And the fact that people want to read it, well, that’s like telling the kid he’ll get a bigger allowance if he keeps playing outside after curfew.

Best of luck with THE WOWZER‘s debut. I know I’m eager to open that first page and not put put it down until the end. Before you go, do you have any parting words or pearls of wisdom for our readers?

I’m nobody to take advice from. I write fiction for the fun of it, and I don’t care to tell others how to live or what to do. I will say that this novel was a work of pure joy for me. I loved every minute of writing it. That’s not to say it was easy, but it was rewarding. I hope you all enjoy it.


Interview: Heath Lowrance

A gambler, a liar, and a cheat walk into a bar…

Heath Lowrance has been telling stories most of his 40+ years, and like with good whiskey, the stories just get better with age. And let me tell you, Lowrance’s stories go down smooth and hit you with a kick.

Last year, I shared pages with him in Luca Veste’s OFF THE RECORD anthology, enjoyed his debut THE BASTARD HAND, as well as stories from his collection DIG TEN GRAVES. Not to mention we added Heath Lowrance to our list of offenders recounting the story of a “No-account Sonofabitch” last November.

So let’s find out how this man from the South, living in Detroit, got the gun?

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

The same thing that draws me to all good stories, regardless of genre– I enjoy stories about extreme situations, and people behaving in extreme ways. Crime fiction probably does that better than any other kind of story. We sometimes dismiss the idea of melodrama or tragedy, but those qualities are what make fascinating stories, and hardboiled/noir has them in spades.

Were there any writers, present or past, that have inspired or motivated you?

Yes, lots. It’s no secret that I adore the old paperback original writers, cats like Gil Brewer, Day Keene, Charles Willeford, etc. I always go back to them when I’m in need of inspiration. Their modern day counterparts, for me, would be Allan Guthrie, Tom Piccirilli, Ray Banks, just to name a few. There are more great writers around these days than we’ve had since the early ’60’s, so there’s no shortage of choices.

Your blog is called Psycho Noir, where you interview, review and pimp a wide variety of books, authors, and not just crime or noir stories. What does the combination of psycho and noir mean to you? Your readers?

Honestly, I chose the title Psycho Noir only because I liked the sound of it, and the fact that my first novel (THE BASTARD HAND) more or less fell into that genre was a total coincidence. As far what it means, well… I would say psycho noir has everything to do with the protagonist’s state of mind. There’s usually some element of delusion, or a skewed perception of reality that leads him down a very dark, dangerous path. Jim Thompson’s POP. 1280 is a great example, and so is Allan Guthrie’s SLAMMER.

But I find myself moving away from using the terms “noir” and “psycho noir” because, as marketing code-words they’re fairly useless. Your average reader has no idea what you’re talking about when you say them. And the readers who DO know have their very own specific definition in mind already. If I have to hear one more time about how “noir” and “hardboiled” are not the same thing, I think I might snap.

Publisher New Pulp Press released several wonderful books last year, your debut THE BASTARD HAND being one of them. It’s been well received, for those who haven’t read it, can you give us your pitch?

Yeah, New Pulp Press is great, and Jon Bassoff is an absolute pleasure to work with.
THE BASTARD HAND goes a little something like this: A seedy drifter with a tenuous grasp on reality meets up in Memphis with a charismatic preacher bent on booze and women. Together, they travel to a small north Mississippi town, where the preacher, who has a hidden agenda, begins sowing the seeds of discord– all in order to bring down the Wrath of God on their heads. Sex, over-the-top violence and other hijinks ensue.

I’d ask you how you came about writing THE BASTARD HAND, but I doubt a straight answer could be had. So I’ll ask you what do you have in mind for a follow up novel? And when?

My next novel is coming pretty soon from the awesome Snubnose Press. It’s called CITY OF HERETICS. It’s a very different sort of novel than THE BASTARD HAND–a little tighter and meaner. Even though it takes place mostly in Memphis, I’ve moved away from the Southern Gothic thing and into more hard-boiled territory with this one.

You don’t stake your writing to any one particular genre. This last year you wrote two Western novellas Miles to Little Ridge for and from Beat to a Pulp Books, and That Damned Coyote Hill which is currently unavailable. What brought about the diversion?

I just like challenging myself in various genres, I guess. As far as Westerns go, I’ve always liked Western movies but had never read a Western novel until shortly after finishing THE BASTARD HAND. I had an idea for a story that would only really work as a Western, and so thought I should familiarize myself more with the genre before attempting it. On recommendations from James Reasoner and my friend Cullen Gallagher, I was lucky enough to start with some of the best stuff out there. When I realized the rich story potential in the genre, I just sort of went nuts with it and read something like 60 or 70 Westerns in the year that followed. I got excited about it. So you can expect more Westerns from me in the future.

And about That Damned Coyote Hill— it’ll be available again pretty soon, from Beat to a Pulp, along with a second story about the character Hawthorne.

You did a fine job on both. Glad to hear Beat to a Pulp is picking up That Damned Coyote Hill and its follow up. With these various projects going on, what’s your style of writing? Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants kind of guy?

A little of both, really. I usually start a story with only a vague idea of what it’s about. I just go where it takes me at first. By the time I’m about a fourth of the way in, I’m normally able to figure it all out from there and will do a very, very loose outline of the rest, just so I don’t get lost. But I really think it’s important to keep the outline as loose and open as possible, just so you don’t wind up strangling it to death before it has a chance at life.

My wife and I have been watching that show “The Dog Whisperer”, and writing fiction is a lot like walking a dog– you have to let the mutt explore a little bit, but you also have to hold tight to the leash and let it know YOU are the boss.

You must have a well behaved dog. Not only keeping yourself on point with various genres, you wrangle your stories well regardless of length. Are there any different challenges to writing a success short story as opposed to novel length prose?

I think so. Short stories are more unforgiving. They need to be a tight, cohesive set of scenes, far more so than a novel. There’s no room to mess around– you have to go right for the jugular, whereas with novels you can toy with your prey a bit more, bat it around and taunt it. A short story shouldn’t allow anything extemporaneous. I think that’s why a good short story is able to shake us up and leave us slack-jawed, a much different feeling than finishing a good novel.

In fact, I find myself moving toward that philosophy with novel-length stuff as well these days. I think THE BASTARD HAND meandered a bit (in a good way) but CITY OF HERETICS and my other stuff since then are different. Short, fast, savage.

What’s been your most challenging story to tell and why?

I’d say the one I’m working on at the moment, actually. I’m closing in on finishing it, but it’s taken waaay too long and has been amazingly difficult to pull off. It’s a commissioned novella, and it gets hard for me when I know there’s someone waiting for it. I freeze up for some reason, start worrying about whether it’s good enough. That’s a character flaw for a writer that I’m working on fixing. But I think, for all that, I like that it’s something different for me and it’s been a rewarding experience. But every story you write has its own set of challenges, right?

There’s a lot of truth to that. What fun would a story be if it weren’t a challenge? None for you equals none for the reader, I’d imagine? As a reader, who are you reading right now?

I’m just finished up James Reasoner’s collection, TEXAS RANGERS. After that, I’ve got A DIET OF TREACLE lined up, by Lawrence Block. Then maybe an old Elmore Leonard Western called GUNSIGHTS. I just came off a month long non-fiction binge, though– read this great history of the 1930’s called THE DARK VALLEY, by Piers Brendon. About twice a year I get the non-fiction itch and will read five or six before getting back to fiction.

Sounds like wonderful fodder, both fiction and non, to nourish the creative brain. Give us one last bite, do you have any parting words or pearls of wisdom for our readers?

Words of wisdom? Not really. Keep kicking against the pricks? Question authority? Be cool?

The only thing I’ve learned in my 47 years is that there are no platitudes or words of wisdom that stand up to deep scrutiny. So to hell with it.


Interview: Nigel Bird

One of the beauties of being part of the Shotgun Honey team, of the internet in general, is having had the privilege of “rubbing” shoulders with writers from around the world, and a true gentleman like Nigel Bird.

I first “met” Nigel when he caught one of my first stories online and did the darnedest thing — he invited me to participate in in his Dancing With Myself series of self-interviews. I was nobody, but Nigel said, and I paraphrase, it’s not what you’ve written or read, but that you love the genre. It was something like that and I was gobsmacked.

Since then, Nigel has released three outstanding short story collections, edited and/or contributed to a half-a-dozen anthologies, not to mention been part of a fantastic British Invasion we’ve had going on here at Shotgun Honey.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

My first gun was a ray gun.  Built to shoot aliens.  It came in the back of a tricycle that Santa left for me one year, next to my astronaut suit.  It gave me big dreams.  And saved the world.

The attraction to crime-fiction grew from a love of old black-and-white films – gangsters, westerns and private detectives.  It was probably the heroic aspect and the power of the male leads that drew me in.  That and the adventure.  And there was always a power-play between justice and injustice that had my emotions doing cartwheels and the contradiction of the most powerful characters being utterly flawed.

TV played a big part, too.  Kojak, Hill Street Blues, Hawaii 5-0, Bluey Hills, The Sweeney and the like were the best things on the box.

The draw to books took a while.  Because of the way my eyes scan, reading’s not the easiest of pleasures and because I felt I had to keep up with my mates who were all reading serious literature, the marriage wasn’t immediately harmonious.  At college I studied Social Science.  I took the Sociology of Film and the Sociology of Literature as options because I wanted to spend time on things I really cared for.  The issue with the literature class was that, though I read many brilliant books, there were a fair few that were dry as a bone.  I found Raymond Chandler and Junky and Maigret, all introduced by the same mates who read every spare second they god, and that was what entertained me on the bus to those literature seminars.  I loved them.  Still do.

My reading continues to have something of a mix to it, but since my writing has become crime and noir based, I’ve concentrated mainly upon Crime Fiction for the last couple of years.

Did you have an early interest in writing? Or were your studies in Film and Literature born from other desires?

Something in school put me off writing.  My presentation was untidy and my spelling  not up to scratch.  I spelled my name Bid once when I was  about 8 or 9.  Teach did his line in wit and managed to make me feel completely useless.  So I think I came to hate it.

Film was all about pleasure.  Going home after a hard day at school and finding relief in the form of Laurel and Hardy or Buster Keaton who were always on at about tea time.  Pure escapism would have been my motivation, the thrills of being the hero or the villain or the man who ended up with the girl.

Literature was also escapism, but only when it was read to me and I’m another on the list who can cite special teachers who made all the difference in that respect.

My life wasn’t awful or anything.  Escapism wasn’t born out of unhappiness in general, but it did stem from my general ineptitude socially and from my being painfully shy – other worlds were far more straightforward than real people.

You’ve seem to have managed your way through that awkward stage, becoming a growing voice online in crime fiction. What inspired the Dancing With Myself interview series on your blog Sea Minor?

There were a couple of things.

The first was an event at the Hay-On-Wye  book festival.

I went along to see an interview with Lawrence Block and Ian Rankin as guests.  It should have been brilliant.  Thing was, the interviewer was so determined to show off as he asked his questions, he took more time speaking than his guests and managed to completely ruin something I’d really been looking forward to.  I did get to grab Mr Block outside afterwards though, giving him a copy of the poetry/story zine I was producing with my brother at the time.   ‘Something for the plane’, I said as he took it – and you know, he was a real gentleman about it and said  he’d take a  look.

The second idea came from the launch of Allan Guthrie’s first novel ‘Two Way Split’.  I’d like to be able to say that my finger was so very much on the pulse that I knew what I was in for.  Sadly, it wasn’t the case and it had more to do with the name and the  book cover (I didn’t like the cover, but it didn’t half shout out at me).   Anyway, he read for a while and then went on to interview himself with the questions he’d anticipated.  It was so refreshing to get the answers we wanted to hear instead of the usual obvious type things and it cut out the  need for any ‘smug bastard’ type questions that seem to come up every time a mic is passed around.  Me being there was a lucky break for me – it started a ball rolling in my mind that hasn’t really come to rest since.

In both cases, I had the feeling that a writer might be the best positioned to ask interesting questions of themselves.  Hence the idea.

And it meant I didn’t have to do lots of research  (sorry).

The Dancing with Myself series seems like a great way for writers to break out, be themselves. Nice nod to Allan there. Inspiration is everywhere. 2011 was a bit of a break out year for you, releasing 3 short story anthologies and being included in at least a handful more. What changed in 2011? Stars align? Deal with the devil?

The devil and I parted company a while ago.  He still pops up every now and again, but I have disguises that are keeping me hidden for now.

You’re right to say that 2011 was a great year.  A break out year.

Like many things, the part observers got to see was the tip of an iceberg, one that’s been floating around for many years.

I can’t put it down to any one factor.

First of all hard work.  I’ve been slogging away at different aspects of writing for over half my life.  Along the way I’ve had a number of break outs.  Perhaps I could describe each movement as being a passage from one waiting room to the next.  There’s the effort involved in locating a door before any knocking can start and then there’s a whole lot of knocking.  The door opens a crack and you have to push as hard as you can for as long as you can until it opens enough to pass through.  Instead of finding wide-open spaces and the heaven of your choosing,  you find another door – bigger than the first.  Heavier.  More robust.  Higher up and harder to reach the knocker.  I imagine the sequence could go on forever.  Which is beginning to sound like a fairytale – I’m thinking of the soldier going down into the ground to steal things for the witch.  Anyway, last year I entered through a lovely door, kind of realised that I liked it  there and decided to stick around for a while before looking further ahead.

Luck.  I did get lucky.  Lucky that the web made the world smaller for me and that I found myself within a rather splendid community.

The backs of others.  I hitched some rides along the way.  Places where people work hard to support writers and fiction in general – magazines, blogs and publishers.  There have been so many, but I can illustrate by picking Spintetingler as an example, putting up a ‘Conversation With The Bookless’ with me, selecting me for a ‘Best Story On The Web’ then later inviting me into the Snubnose debut, ‘Speedloader’, picking ‘Smoke’ for their ‘Best Novella’ lineup.   All of those pieces helped me to put together a bigger puzzle, a more focused picture.

Confidence – each success brought the confidence to write the next piece and to produce work without compromise.  It’s no accident that after a break where my muse had vanished that the return to work comes just after being chosen among this year’s Spinetingler nominations.

Progress – getting better at the craft of writing.

The break of e-books and getting in early enough to be noticed.  It was the next wave of the revolution and I happened to catch it and manage to stay on my feet for a while.

Friends.  The support of others has been incredible.  People writing reviews and offering interviews; those who’ve taken part in the ‘Dancing With Myself’ series; the Woofers and Tweeters; those on hand with kind words during tougher times.  They’ve been one of the biggest factors.  (Thanks all).

‘Pulp Ink’ sums a lot of it up, really.  Working alongside Chris Rhatigan was a real treat.  I learned a lot from him as we went about our business as editors.  It brought together a group of writers of the highest quality.  We tapped into the knowledge, experience and talent of Needle Publishing and we had ups and downs along the way that we managed to even out.  The result is terrific and a testament to the coming together of so many factors.

It’s not all been plain sailing either.

My best friend went and died on me last year.  I spent a great weekend with him on his houseboat in London, said goodbye and got on the train home to hear the news that  he’d gone  while I was on my way.  It did mess me up pretty good and writing just hit the skids.

And ‘Smoke’, the novella that was almost an accident that seemed to be very highly regarded had to be pulled from sales after the implosion of the publisher.   That cloud does at least have a silver lining in that it will be published after some hard edits by Blasted Heath.

And my novel ‘In Loco Parentis’ hasn’t made the cut yet, so who knows what will happen there.

Yes, it was a great year.  I hope it can carry on in such a way and that I can find the stamina to stick with the ride.

Much of your success, and following accolades stem from your decision to venture into e-pubbing. What made you venture out into those unsteady waters and what advice do you have for those contemplating e-pubbing?

The decision was an easy one given the material I was writing.  Short stories haven’t been flavour of the month with traditional publishers for many years, so the opportunity of putting out Dirty Old Town was difficult for me to resist.

To give a little perspective, I’d written a novel and had been given enough rejections to fill a folder.  Stemming from that were some positives in terms of feedback on my style, but it didn’t fit the market.

I didn’t have the confidence to put that novel out and left it while the clarity of vision about what I wanted to write improved in its focus.

Dirty Old Town (and other stories) seemed like the step I needed to take.  I knew I had strong material, that there was enough in my production from the year prior to its release to make a  very good collection so it was all systems go.  I am a little impetuous, to be honest, so as soon as I had the idea I was going to do it regardless.

I didn’t know what I was doing.  The cover design was a learning curve, I had no ideas about formatting and I wasn’t sure how to sell the thing .

To start off, sales were a nightmare, but I got to a happier place eventually.

The rest followed.

Two more collections have seen the light since then, as well as work in anthologies  and with publishers.  It’s all part of the curve.

I even put out that novel of mine, too; it’s under a pen -name, so it won’t be found, but I’m glad I’ve let the characters in the story out of the box.  Sales are barely a trickle, though on that one it’s not the point.  When ‘In Loco Parentis’ hits the streets (and it will), I’ll still see it as my first novel .

Advice is difficult to give.

There’s nothing wrong with putting out work as self-published, not at all.  It’s something I’d like to encourage.  I would suggest that it should be part of a rising curve rather than the start of one.    Build up some kind of platform before just launching into things.  Edit well.  Keep it to the best of your ability.  Don’t throw things up there with the idea that more books will equate to more sales (more books of lesser quality shouldn’t).  Don’t give up the day job.  If you feel you have something really good on your hands, approach a publisher – tree or e – and wait for some feedback.  Don’t take any of it personally (I’ve made that mistake more than once), whether it be a harsh comment, malice, no sales for a couple of days, or whatever form the adversities take; it really isn’t something to get hurt feelings about and if you aren’t able to rise above things you may well go crazy.  A good cover always helps.  A good title is cool.  If you can get some quotes under your belt, so much the better.  Don’t be too hyped on the forum boards and try to understand the rules of self-promotion wherever you are.  Leave the trolls to share the poison between themselves.  Keep pushing and asking and begging and prostituting until you can’t take it any more.  Try and break out of the obvious circles when seeking publicity.  Be patient.  Don’t stop writing because you’re trying to sell something you worked on a couple of years before.  When your book leaps in the Amazon charts, don’t take it as a sign that you’re the new Hemingway or Atkinson, because a day or so after you might be lurking in the hundred-thousands.  Listen to advice, especially about your work.  Try and improve.  Write to the best of your ability.  And don’t give up the day job (I know I said that already) no matter how quickly it seems to be killing you.  Enjoy it.

IN LOCO PARENTIS sounds like your next big project, can you give us the pitch?

Teacher noir.

We have a youngish male teacher working with Reception class children.  He’s a bit mixed up, particularly when it comes to women and in relation to being overly protective of his charges.

Not only does he gets mixed up with a rather sexy parent from the school, he’s half-in half-out of a relationship with his step-sister.

When a drug-addicted parent deals out a little too much discipline to his son,the teacher makes sure that it won’t happen again and when a colleague slaps a child round the head it leads to some pretty unpleasant results.

It’s a novel where the protagonist unravels and where the heart and the head of the reader might well end up in conflict, or at least I hope it is.

I haven’t read ‘The Slap’, but I’m guessing it could be  ‘the hard slap’ or ‘the slap with teeth’.

I haven’t read ‘The Slap’ either, but this sounds a little close to home, at least with the protagonist being a teacher. What has being a teacher brought to the table as a writer?

For that particular piece, one hell of a lot.

In general terms, it’s difficult to say exactly.

I do get to experience aspects of the world that I’d rather not have to see.  There are situations that I become fairly closely involved with that shine a light on what poverty and substance abuse and the like can really do.

Perhaps what comes through the most frequently in my work relates to the fact that no matter how tough things get for a child, family or community, there always needs to be someone around trying to ignite or maintain a flicker of hope.  Without the hope, everyone would most likely give up.  Maybe that’s why my tales seem to have that angle.

And where things go badly wrong and hope is useless, I guess it comes out in  my stories in the good I try to find or the reasons (for that some may read liberal excuses, but I can’t change that outlook any more than I can completely transform a child’s actions in a situation when it’s all they’ve ever known).

What does 2012 and beyond have in store for Nigel Bird? More collections, anthologies?

I’ve just started something new.

It’s not the novel I was anticipating at all, but the idea came and I’m rolling with it in my usual organic way.  It started with the desire to write about someone with ‘locked in syndrome’ and has evolved from there.

Pulp Ink 2 is well on its way now.  We’ve had a great response and some brilliant stories.  Chris and I are hoping to roll up our sleeves a little more in terms of the editing this time round.  I’m a little more in the back seat this time; it’s not the way we set out, it’s just the way of the flow.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had a story accepted for Lost Children’s follow up and I have a couple of juicy invites that I hope I can live up to.

If I were to pick a five year path, I guess it would be to write and have published a couple of high quality novels of novellas and that I have enough material for another collection.

I’m also rather enjoying reviewing books these days.  I’d like to hone some of the skills required for that and to spread the word for the writers I’m reading.

Do you have any parting words or pearls of wisdom for our readers?

Mainly thanks.  Thanks to you for this interview here.  Thanks to all those who’ve helped in so many ways.  I have shocking organisational skills, but do have a good memory for kindnesses done and will do my best to make sure they’re paid back in some small way – you can hold me to that , too; a little nudge might help if anyone feels the need.

And wisdom? My favourite quote comes from Wittgenstein, – ‘All I have to offer is my own confusion’.  I can’t tell you anything else he said, but that one phrase has become my excuse.

One more thing.  If you read something of mine and don’t rate it, see a mistake, an incongruity or room for improvement I’d be delighted to hear about it.  Just drop me a line.


Interview: Chris F. Holm

Last week saw the release of Chris F. Holm’s first novel DEAD HARVEST, a multi-genre mash-up that walks the line between Heaven and Hell, literally. With an engaging protagonist, Sam Thornton, attempting to unravel the complexities of a job gone wrong and not get in too deep with the boss, it looks as though Holm has the start of a fantastic series, if not fantastical.

Though we’ve yet  to coax Chris into contributing to the digital tome of Shotgun Honey, he is no stranger to short fiction. Having appeared in such venues as Beat to a Pulp, Thuglit, Demolition Magazine, Flashes in the Dark, as well as in print with “The Hitter”, appearing both in Needle and again in Best American Mystery Stories 2011, “The World Behind” in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and “Action” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

How’d you get the Gun? Or rather, what drew you to crime fiction?

I was raised in a family of crime-fic readers. My grandfather was a cop, and he went through crime novels by the bagful. The whole family would pass them around, trading stacks of paperbacks at Sunday dinner. And the mindset trickled down the generations, since before I was old enough to partake of Wambaugh and Sanders, my parents were schooling me in The Hardy Boys, Christie, Poe, and Doyle. I literally can’t remember a time before mysteries, so how could I possibly write anything else?

Some familiar footsteps there with the classics. THE HARDY BOYS bring back some memories. Which was better the books or the TV series?

For me, it was all about the books. We had a yellowed set of them that I’m guessing dated from the ’50s. I probably read ’em through three or four times. By flashlight, under the covers, as they should be read.

Late nights by flashlight, the lore of every bookish kid turned writer. What you write today, from the gritty short story, “The Hitter”, to your new sci-fi noir novel, DEAD HARVEST is a good distance from those childhood mysteries. What are some writers who’ve inspired and helped mold you as a writer?

I tend to think every book I’ve ever read, good or bad, has played some part in molding me as a writer. As far as who inspires me, how much time you got? Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, for laying down the blueprint. Ross Macdonald and Lawrence Block for perfecting it. Donald Westlake, for creating in Parker the most compelling antihero ever written. P. G. Wodehouse for his clockwork timing and stunning wit. Tim Powers for his unmatched imagination. Michael McDowell for his ability to conjure the sort of creeping dread that’s lacking in most modern horror. Susanna Clarke for her ability to craft a world as believable as it is fantastical. Lovecraft for his unhinged glimpse-into-the-abyss mentality. And that’s just to name a few.

As I make my way to the finish of DEAD HARVEST, I can see many of those elements at play. The use of traditional pulp/crime fiction overlaid with the supernatural, a wonderful genre mash-up. One review referred to it as Gonzo Pulp, not that I’m sure what that is? How would you classify DEAD HARVEST? Give us the pitch.

I consider DEAD HARVEST to be fantastical noir. I think that’s far more descriptive a term than urban fantasy, because it captures the flavor of the book, and anyways, who says dark, gritty modern fantasy has to happen in the city? The pitch is this:

DEAD HARVEST is the first in a series of supernatural thrillers that recast the battle between heaven and hell as Golden Era crime pulp. Think angels driving Crown Vics and demons running speakeasies, and you’ve got the gist.

Sam Thornton collects souls. The souls of the damned, to be precise. Once taken himself, he’s doomed to ferry souls to hell for all eternity, in service of a debt he can never repay. But when he’s dispatched to retrieve the soul of a girl he believes is innocent of the crime for which she’s been condemned, he does something no Collector’s done before: he refuses.

DEAD HARVEST is the first in an ongoing series, where do you plan on taking Sam Thornton?

Well, I’d say to hell and back, but the poor guy’s already there, ain’t he?

I can tell you book two, THE WRONG GOODBYE, sees Sam flitting from the Amazon to Amsterdam to the American Southwest as he hunts down an old friend and fellow Collector who’s stolen a soul he was sent to collect. The story plunges Sam headlong into the demon drug trade, and suggests to him there may be a way to escape the bonds of servitude to hell… provided he can stomach the price. The scale of the story is far larger and more sprawling than that of DEAD HARVEST, and book three, should I be lucky enough to get to write it, looks to be larger still. Who knows what book four might hold?

Well here’s to a long adventurous series. I hate to judge a book by its cover, but really it’s the first thing that sells the book for most? DEAD HARVEST and THE WRONG GOODBYE have really unique covers, did you have any input and what was the thought behind these throwback covers?

I’m fortunate in that I did get a fair degree of input in my covers; I understand that’s not often the case, but then, most writers aren’t lucky enough to sign with Angry Robot. That said, I can’t take credit for the concept. That was all my editor, Marc Gascoigne. He wanted to evoke the classic Marber-era Penguin Crime covers of the ’50s and ’60s, and make my book look like some long-lost dime store pulp. It was a bold choice, but one that paid off beautifully, thanks in large part to the stunning execution of the concept by the artists of Amazing 15 Design.

I’m enjoying DEAD HARVEST, which is getting good reviews and nice word-of-mouth for a first novel, but this isn’t the first book to garner nice praise. In 2010 you release your short story collection, 8 POUNDS. Tell us about that experience?

8 POUNDS was a bit of an experiment for me. Ebooks were just starting to really catch on, and it seemed to me the format was uniquely suited to a short collection. Traditional publishers aren’t terribly interested in publishing a 150-page short fiction collection by a relative unknown, and who could blame them? Print costs mean they’d have to charge more for it than folks would be willing to pay, making it a losing proposition. But with ebooks, that’s not a concern. Each of the stories in 8 POUNDS had been previously published, most of them in markets long since closed, so the argument that self-publishing forfeits the chance at selling first publication rights was moot in this case. In short, I couldn’t see a downside to putting it out there and seeing what happened.

What happened is I sold somewhere on the order of 20,000 copies, wound up on a couple years-best lists, and raised my profile considerably. Granted, I sold them at under a buck a pop, so I’m not exactly swimming in riches, but it was eyeballs I was interested in, not money. I think a lot of my success came down to luck: I hit the market at a time when there weren’t many short collections out there. Now, so many talented writers are putting out their own short collections, I’m not sure I could compete. Still, it was a valuable experience. I will say this, though: getting that damn thing formatted right was a bitch. Kindle is a fickle mistress.

From cover to formatting, I have to thank you for doing a highly professional job. Not always a priority in the blooming ebook marketplace. Bravo!

Many of the stories in 8 POUNDS were previously published elsewhere, so you’re very familiar with both the print and online short story marketplace. Do you see any strengths or weaknesses over print versus online?

Well, first off, thanks, though I can’t take credit for the cover: that was all John Hornor Jacobs’ doing.

As for the strengths and weaknesses of print versus online…

Online’s a great way to get exposure, because anyone with a computer can read it; there’s no need to track down a print copy. And there’s the quick-fix nature of it. Turnaround from submission to publication is generally quicker with online publishers, so if you’ve got the itch to get something out there quick, online’s the way to go. I’ll cop to subbing to online outfits first when I’m jonesing to publish. But no doubt, online is impermanent. Sure, that picture you posted on your MySpace in 2001 of you doing naked keg-stands will follow you to your grave, but chances are, that story you just published in an online magazine won’t be up a year from now.

Print, on the other hand, is print. You can touch it. Smell it. Hold it in your hands. Sign a copy and give it to your Grandma. I mean, let’s face it, not a one of us got into writing to see our byline all lit up in pixels; there’s a certain romance to ink on paper that’s hard to discount. But the flipside is, unless your short winds up in Playboy or the New Yorker, it’s gonna be hard for folks to lay their hands on a copy, and likely expensive, too.

If you ask me, though, the real key isn’t the medium, it’s the editor. Find a publication whose taste you trust, and you’ll do just fine, whether in print or online.

We know that THE WRONG GOODBYE is the next book in The Collector series, what else do your readers have to look forward to in the near and far future?

Well, my current work in progress is a sprawling international thriller based on my Anthony-nominated novella “The Hitter,” the story of a hitman who makes his living killing other hitmen on behalf of their would-be marks. And I’ve got designs on at least a half-dozen other novels, from a sprawling, science-fictional conspiracy novel to some good, old-fashioned country noir. As to what I tackle when, who knows?

“The Hitter” was so well received when originally published in NEEDLE and then again in BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2011, do you worry about expanding the material? And as a writer of both short and long fiction, what’s the process like transforming short to a longer work?

First question first: hell yes I worry. In fact, it was my agent who first suggested doing it, and at the time, I balked. I’d already told the story as well as I was ever going to, I thought, and anyways, I knew all the beats. That made it dead to me. For me, writing is about the thrill of discovery, and absent that, how do you keep your ass in the chair?

But a funny thing happened on the way to shelving it forever: that dead thing stirred. I found a fresh angle I hadn’t considered before, and facets to the characters I’d sketched out I’d not explored in the short. So I started writing, thinking it’d probably fizzle. It didn’t. Now, I think it may prove to be the opening installment of a series, which should tell anyone who’s read the short the story’s changed considerably. I see it as less a straight adaptation of the short story than a novel that utilizes some of the same ingredients, in the same way that Chandler used to cannibalize his short stories to craft his novels. Hell, I test out concepts intended for my novels in my short stories all the time — the only difference is, this time, I’m just calling my shot ahead of time.

We all look forward to your future work, and thank you for taking time for Shotgun Honey and our readers. Do you have any parting words or pearls of wisdom for our readers?

Wisdom? From me? Not hardly. The good news is, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that wisdom ain’t what gets you published. What gets you published is being too butt-stubborn to give up.


Interview: Anthony Neil Smith

Nestled in a farm town just this side of Minneapolis, Anthony Neil Smith uses the frigid world of his adopted home state, Minnesota, with snow rake at hand and Herman Dog at his side, to write crime. Neil, he’s a middle-name-kind-of-guy, sounds like a superhero and to many he is as the nefarious Doc Noir: as creator, purveyor and publisher of noir and transgressive crime fiction.

His story, “Herman Dog Digs” stands as Shotgun Honey’s more unique shorts, casting Herman as dog-of-action sniffing out the sordid truth of the world. Smith’s shorts have been published in numerous journals and zines, and his novels published in print and as e-books, from the Billy Lafitte novels, YELLOW MEDICINE and HOGDOGGIN’, to original titles, CHOKE ON YOUR LIES and ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS, the latter published this last week by e-publisher Blasted Heath.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

Legally.

And I wanted to find out what happened to the Hardy Boys, who were trapped on that plane heading towards the sea! After that, I had to read them all. And then my folks got me a handheld quiz game for Christmas which had a “detective and mystery” cartridge, and I played it until I nearly had them all memorized, which moved me into adult crime fiction pretty quickly.

After my dad was killed in a car wreck when I was ten, the whole business of funerals and death stayed with me. I don’t know, it just seemed to fit. While I later drifted on to sci-fi, comic books, rock guitar, and even a stint of Christian rock guy (no more. Nope), I always circled back around to crime fiction.

From what I know of you, you are a displaced boy from the Bayou living in the Minnesota tundra. Can you disprove that and has that factoid crept its way into your work?

I’m a whatsit who and when now?

Okay, okay, yeah. I was born and raised down South, lived there until I graduated with my Ph.D., then got a job in Michigan for a few years. After that, Minnesota. And since then, I’ve fallen in love with the cold.

But read YELLOW MEDICINE and you’ll see my original response. It’s an angry book. Lafitte, the Southern exile cop, is pissed to be stuck in Minnesota. He hates the people and the cold. He hates himself.

It took falling in love with a Minnesotan woman to make me fall in love with Minnesota, and now I can’t imagine leaving the North. I like the cold. So you start to see the exiles in my work fade away. You begin to see Lafitte in HOGDOGGIN’ want a place to belong. And in the newest novel, ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS, we have characters heavily invested in Minnesota, especially the large Somali population in the Twin Cities. They’ve really settled and made themselves a big part of the Metro.

So the displacement has evaporated.

Since you’re a converted Minnesotan, that must mean you own a roof rake. Would it make a good weapon… and what is a roof rake?

It would not make a good weapon unless you are, like, twenty feet tall.

A roof rake is exactly that: a rake for your roof…to remove the several feet of snow that piles up on top.

So I guess we won’t be seeing roof rakes used in future novels then, at least not in a traumatic way. What if… never mind.

You’re giving me ideas.

Can you tell us more about Billie Lafitte?

Billy is a bad cop from Mississippi who gets fired for doing bad things during Katrina, and gets a second chance in southwest Minnesota–prairie country on the border of South Dakota. And, man, he starts right up on being worse than he was down South. I had a lot of fun trying to write in his voice, this horrible person I wanted the reader to root for…and feel queasy about it.

In HOGDOGGIN’, I expanded the scope. He doesn’t get to tell you his story. Instead, he’s just one of several voices, but he’s the center of everything. And we find out he’s a lot more complicated than you’d expect.

I’m working on a third one in which I wanted his thought to be shielded from the reader. All the other characters see him, deal with him, but we never get inside Lafitte’s head.

For a while, Billy was, kind of, me–at least the bitter part of him–except that he had the power to do something about his misery. But he changed during the course of YELLOW MEDICINE. He makes choices I wouldn’t make. But he also loses a lot more than I’ve ever lost, too.

I look forward to seeing how the 3rd book works out, I have both YELLOW MEDICINE (signed even and you own me a beer) and HOGDOGGIN’. I know there’s been a few books since, but tell us about writing before Billie?

I wanted to work in comics when I was in junior high. I think I had a good idea for a series, but I never got past one “first issue” a friend and I put together.

Anyway, I thought I had a winner with an idea called THE UNDERTAKER AND THE THIEF. I even had a handwritten crappy draft. But it never worked. I gave up, got rid of it. then there was this detective I wrote about, a cajun named Mason Jane. I’d been writing abotu him since I was a kid. The older I got, the younger he got, and we sort of met in the middle in grad school and I wrote a short novel called DEBRIS, sent it to an agent, even had Scott Phillips read it.

But after finally hitting grad school, getting serious, and publishing quite a few stories in crime mags and lit mags, I had a few stories linked with the same characters, so I decided to give another novel a go. That one turned in PSYCHOSOMATIC, and it finally found a home at PointBlank Press after a long, depressing “close but no cigar” submission process.

Then I wrote THE DRUMMER, which was the beginning of my “guy runs away and starts his life over again” obsession, kind of my take on the conspiracy thriller, but with a lot of hair metal nostalgia in it. My agent at the time told me it would “poison” my career, so we parted ways and….well, eventually I found myself in the sway of Allan Guthrie.

I won’t even tell you about the “porno P.I.” novel that I never sold. Written between THE DRUMMER and YELLOW MEDICINE. I still like that book a lot. Wish we had been able to place it.

In the last year, you’ve embraced e-publishing, releasing both PSYCHOSOMATIC and THE DRUMMER in digital formats, so what are the odds we might see that “porno P.I.” story yet?

I’ve actually got my entire backlist up as ebooks now, plus the one original CHOKE ON YOUR LIES, and Blasted Heath is releasing ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS in November.

I wasn’t sure about ebooks at first. I like paper. I like paperbacks. But I don’t like the prices, which seem to keep climbing. And I also didn’t like that my old books were just kind of floundering without a digital outlet. So I got back the rights to PSYCHOSOMATIC, then happily discovered a had digital rights to my other three, too. I means, it’s not really self-publishing if they’ve already been published by others, right? So I started with PSY, got a new cover from “Poker Ben” Springer, and put it up to see what would happen.

Just knowing it was alive again made me rethink things, especially after Allan told me how many novellas he was selling on Amazon each month. It was a crazy number. So I asked him if I should give it a shot with CHOKE ON YOUR LIES. He agreed, and I’m really excited by the result. Since January, I’ve sold over 3000 ebooks. CHOKE is especially an exciting one to watch as we’re now over the 800 sales mark. Yeah, I priced them all at 99 cents, but it was about finding new readers for the long haul more than it was about making money. I would like to make enough to justify writing a book a year, but that number is not quite as high as I once thought it was.

Epublishing has given us a ton of great new voices in a very short period of time. Writers are connecting with readers, using Twitter and Facebook to create fanbases, and generally having a great time.

Will the Porno P.I. novel ever show up? I don’t know. I’m starting to like the “cult” value of just letting people sneak looks at it every now and then.

One of the more unique stories here at Shotgun Honey is your “Herman Dog Digs.” We know you like to talk about Herman, so tell us about the stories inspiration?

Herman is the bestest puppy ever. He’s nearly two now.

My wife does this thing where she “talks” in the voice of our pets–two cats and Herman–and so Herman has this very distinctive voice in our minds. So I just had this image of me getting killed by robbers, and Herman being all torn up about it. So I wrote it in Herman’s voice. It also plays on the fact that in spite of the great love we have for our pets, if we were to die, they’d eat us.

It is a dog-eat-dog world, and in the end we’re all just kibble. “Herman Dog Digs” is just one of many shorts on the web and in print, we can even buy the “early crap” as an e-book, but as short fiction goes, you’re not just a writer. Tell those in the void about Plots with Guns.

Cool. Not going to go for the long version this time, but in ’99 a couple of friends and I were talking about the lack of good noir markets in literary mags. We knew some smaller ones, and the web mags were in their infancy, but we wanted a mag that was much more raw. So I had some free web space that came with my email account. Since it was there, unused, I thought we could turn it into a webzine. And PLOTS WITH GUNS was born. It took a few issues to really get the groove, but after that it was loads of fun. We made a lot of friends–new writers, big shot novelists, our heroes. Once the friends got busy with other things, I kept PWG going for a while. That first run was about four and a half years. We decided to shut the doors with an anthology by Dennis McMillan, and then, that was that.

Until these new kids popped up with MURDALAND and THUGLIT. I was so jazzed by those that I “came out of retirement” and brought PWG back. I love it being out there. And we found a whole ‘nother group of emerging writers, and found even more big shots willing to be nice to us. But as things go, I once again found it tough to keep alive with my own writing and day job (creative writing professor). This time, I wasn’t willing to let go. So I brought on a new editorial staff and art director to do the day-to-day stuff and take it into the future while I paid for the site and made sure these guys were going in the same general direction I would like. Sean O’Kane (ed), Erik Lundy (art), and Gonzalo Baeza (asst ed) have done a incredible job, too. They ramped up the look, the layout, and the fiction. I’m bowled over by the new Fall ’11 issue. Very proud.

Here’s the deal: write a great noir or transgressive story with a gun in it, send it to O’Kane and the boys, and only the very best gets in. If accepted payment will be a drink from any one of us next time we see you.

It seems you’ve been riding on the cusp of new trends and changes in marketplace, having run a top notch short story crime-zine and re-released your back list as e-books, did you ever consider jumping on the wave of new crime e-publishers?

You mean establish my own e-publishing house? Oh, no, no, no. No. No no no.

In the back of my mind, for a long time, I’ve had the daydream of having my own indie press, sure. Mostly, it’s been about doing cool paperbacks, though. I like the trade pbs with French flaps and rough-edged paper. But I don’t want to run a real business, really. Way too much to deal with–legal, taxes, paperwork, etc. and even though e-publishing might be cheaper to handle cost-wise, the workload to do it right would take a lot more time in the day than I have.

That’s why I’m glad to be an author on a great e-publisher like Blasted Heath, run by two guys who do have the time to make it right. They’re stretched to the limit, thinking up all sorts of new ideas and picking up amazing books. They’re working hard on promotion, too. So I live vicariously through Allan and Kyle, really.

If I ever win a giant lottery (talking millions here), then I would absolutely start my own press. But no other way, really.

It’s a crazy thought, but seems like a natural progression. Your readers are happy though to have publishers like Blasted Heath so they can have more compelling stories like ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS. Sell our readers on your latest book.

I should let other do this, because it sounds more real. For instance, if you check the reviews on Amazon, you’ll find some crazy raves, four and five stars. Some folks (including Spinetingler editor Brian Lindenmuth) are saying it’s quite possibly the Book of the Year. I’m humbled and pleased by the kind words.

I got really interested in this story about young Somali men from the Twin Cities, where there is a very large Somali population, disappearing from their homes only to reappear in Mogadishu fighting for a terrorist army. So it got me to thinking about who recruited them, why they went, and what it would be like for someone who didn’t fit in. Also, out here in our small farm town, we see many Somalis who have branched out from Minneapolis and now live and work here. So what if one of them went missing? What would the effect be? So, while those questions ended up being modified a bit, they were the seeds. And I wanted it to be a gritty piece of pulp while also invoking both Minnesota and Somalia as well as I could. I did not visit Somalia, unfortunately. But I really dove into the research and tried to give it as good a shot as I could.

With the good reviews and the great support from your publisher, Blasted Heath, hopefully ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS continues to be well received. Hate to let you go, but before you do, do you have any parting words or pearls of wisdom for our readers?

Don’t wear shorts out in the snow. I’m not concerned about your health. I just think it looks fucking stupid.


Interview: Ray Banks

In the category of Authors Deserving More Recognition, Especially Here In The States, I present Ray Banks.

Ray Banks, hailing from the shores of Edinburgh, has worked, in his own words, “as a wedding singer, double-glazing salesman, croupier, dole monkey, and various degrees of disgruntled temp.” He is the author of the Cal Innes series which recently concluded and made it to the shores of America with Beast of Burden. He has written for a variety of short story markets, including Shotgun Honey with Pineapple Rings, his novella Wolf Tickets recently concluded in NEEDLE and his semi-biographical (not really, but maybe?) Dead Money released to e-books everywhere from Blasted Heath.

You can learn more about Ray at his websites The Saturday Boy and Norma Desmond’s Monkey, he’s a bit of a movie buff, a fact that was totally missed in this interview.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford. Those guys. They taught me that crime fiction was something to aspire to, not shy away from. Before them, I was dicking around in a literary fashion, putting out epiphany stories told in voices that weren’t authentic. Cain, Thompson and Willeford (and then later, Bruen, Woodrell, Himes and Lewis) showed me that crime fiction wasn’t all about police procedurals and mysteries to be solved. It could be as personal as any great literature, but it had to be narratively compelling too. As challenges go, that one was irresistable.

To name names, that’s an impressive line up. Some usual suspects. Americans even. Was there any one book that turned you towards crime writing? A book who made you think, “I can do that?”

Does anyone have just one book that turns them to crime writing? I’m suspicious of anyone who does, to be honest. It’s either a pat answer or something pathological. In my experience, it’s never one book that does it. You read and read, and then one day you find yourself writing a crime novel and it feels like the most natural thing in the world. And none of those authors made me think I could do it. Quite the opposite. They were so good, all I could do was aspire. But they showed me that there was something to aspire to, which was more important.

For those who haven’t read a Ray Banks’ novel, short story or even your recent flash story here at Shotgun Honey, how would you describe your writing?

At the risk of sounding like a pretentious twat (too late): Profane, but humane. I’m not particularly interested in genre as I am in damaged individuals, some of whom happen to be criminals. I hope my stuff’s reasonably amusing, too. There’s nothing worse than bleak for bleak’s sake.

Speaking of pretentious twats, on the shelf in my study is a copy of Saturday’s Child, the first Cal Innes novel. What fuels Cal Innes?

A deep, abiding dissatisfaction with the private eye story in Britain, which was (and still is for the most part) mired in a kind of pseudo-hardboiled Chandleresque pastiche. As for the character himself, he’s fuelled by misplaced indignation, codeine, vodka, cigarettes, and complete and utter self-delusion.

Was The Saturday’s Child the first effort as a writer and can you describe the road to your first published work?

God, no. I had at least four or five full-length novels before The Big Blind that will never, ever see the light of day.

I didn’t really start writing for publication until around 2001-2. My first paid-for story, an Innes story as it happens, was picked up by Handheld Crime in 2002, and from there I did what everybody does these days, which is write as many short stories as I could and sub them to places that either paid or edited. I built up a small readership as well as got to know other writers online, and after The Big Blind did the rounds of various publishers and agents that either gently rejected it or were downright bilious that I’d deigned to submit, I shoved it over to Allan Guthrie, who had a Writer’s Showcase thing over at his website, Noir Originals. I figured I’d leave it there and get on with something else. Al ended up becoming commissioning editor for PointBlank Press and asked me if the book was still available. It most certainly was, so they published it to what I can only assume was a rapturous silence.

You’ve taken Cal Innes through 4 books, concluding with Beast of Burden, the final book in the series. What comes next?

With Cal? Nothing much. Otherwise, I’ve got Wolf Tickets, which recently came to an end in Needle, and Dead Money is out now. I’m working on a semi-sequel to that called Inside Straight, I’ve got a couple of screenplays on the go, and about three different books that I have to choose between as the next project. Busy, busy, busy.

Wolf Tickets was a wonderful addition to Needle. Was it written specifically for the magazine and what considerations did you have writing it as a serial as opposed to a straight piece?

Thank you – very kind of you to say so. It was kind of a trunk novel, that one. Started as a collaboration with a very famous Irish crime writer who wrote the first chapter (and whose identity is obvious when you read it), but couldn’t continue due to contractual issues, so I asked if I could rewrite his stuff and continue with it. He gave me his blessing so I finished it off in a month, stuck it in a drawer and that was that. Because there was no way on God’s green earth that a book about a dog-killing drug dealer and a shoplifting drunk would ever be seen as marketable.

Then, when the guys at Needle said that they were looking for serials and I realised that I didn’t have much else out that year, I asked them if they were interested in Wolf Tickets. Bless their skidded pants, they said yes, and so I did a rewrite as and when it was needed to make it work as three separate chunks. From what I hear, Farrell and Cobb have been quite popular, which is gratifying, considering how parochial it is. I’d hoped to take them into a series of their own – make ’em my Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Johnson or my Hap and Leonard – so we’ll see what happens with the sales when it comes out as a one-er next year.

Well, here’s to success towards future Farrell and Cobb stories. I saw mention that Wolf Tickets will be released sometime as an e-book, like Dead Money and Gun before it. What’s your take on the format?

Yep, Wolf Tickets will be out sometime next year, date to be confirmed. As for ebooks, well, here’s the thing – I’m a niche writer and, unless I totally fluke it, I probably always will be. As much as I love being in hardback, I know of only a few people who’d buy a new author in that format, and I’ve long since thought the trade paperback an awful, over-priced invention. As a writer, I want to get my books in the hands of as many readers as possible, as cheaply and as quickly as possible. I also want to feel like I’m working with my publisher, that I have some kind of voice in the process, and I want to be paid more money and more often. As it stands, I can only get that with e-publishing. That’s not to say I’ve forsaken print – I still have the print rights to all the new stuff coming out from Blasted Heath, and I’m open to offers – but print is no longer the priority. Getting the work out there is.

Why don’t you tell us about Blasted Heath and your new release, Dead Money?

Certainly. Blasted Heath are a couple of spunky young things by the names of Kyle MacRae and Allan Guthrie. otherwise known as Sexy and Sexier. Kyle’s an entrepreneur, Al’s a former agent and editor – when they get together it’s MOIDAH! Anyway, they got this wacky idea to start up an e-publisher and because a bunch of us owe Guthrie considerable amounts of money, he signed us up on long-term unbreakable contracts. As a result, you’ll probably see a lot of ebooks coming your way, starting with the five launch novels, including my own Dead Money, which is about a philandering, borderline alcoholic gambler of a double-glazing salesman who has poor taste in mates, but will help you dispose of a body at a pinch. He gets caught up in all manner of hilarious scrapes and comes to learn how to be a better person. Or something. I’m kind of shit at this.

I suspect Guthrie has screws to a lot of talented writers, his name comes up a lot. I want to thank you for spending time with us, but before you go, do you have any parting words or pearls of wisdom for our readers?

He does. He’s an animal. As for pearls of wisdom, if I had any of those, I wouldn’t be writing. Pig ignorant, me.


Guns of Palo Alto

I’ve always been an adrenaline junky.

1972 – I am 13.  I found my brother’s snub nosed Smith & Wesson .38 Chiefs Special.  I unload it and replace one cartridge then spin the cylinder.

I pull back the hammer.

I’m a pussy, so I look to where the shell is in rotation.  I put the gun to my head and pull the trigger.  Snap!  Case-hardened steel hits an empty chamber.

I spin the cylinder again.  Snap!

And again.  Snap!  Snap!  Russian roulette is dull if you know where the bullet is.  I’m not nuts enough to play it any other way.  I’m not suicidal.  I’m bored.  Through sheer gauze curtains I look out on Hamilton Avenue.  Palo Alto is suburbia to the tenth power.  A teen rides down the street.  I track him with the revolver nestled in the crook of my arm, like some TV cop.   I pull the trigger and make a bang with my mouth.  I pull the trigger again.  The roar is deafening.  Flame shoots from the barrel singeing a hole in the curtain.  The window pane explodes out.  Where the bullet lands is anyone’s guess.  But the kid on the bike rides on, unaware of how close he came to a real bad day.  The crook of my arm is bleeding from the nick the bullet left exiting the barrel.  The powder burn leaves flecks imbedded in my flesh.  They will scar for life.

1974 – Kool and Gang’s Jungle Boogie thumps.  I am 15.  It’s Saturday night.  My 17 year old brother Lark and me are running My-O-My, a teen disco.  It attracts a largely Black crowd into lilly White Palo Alto.  Lark is working bounce.  Moms is behind him at the front door.  A candy red dropped Chevelle stops in the middle of the street and a cat in his early twenties gets out of the passenger seat and moves with intention toward the door.  He’s street hard, prison buff.

“Sorry sir, no one over eighteen allowed.”  Lark’s voice is flat.

“Fuck it.”  The man pushes.  Lark stumbles back, but doesn’t fall.  He squares himself and moves in, his hands are in fists.  He can sense how this will go down.

“Motherfucker, white boy please.  Get the fuck-”  The man cocks his arm.

“Stop it this mo-”  Moms steps between them.  The guy’s fist is already flying.  It connects with a five foot nothing older white woman.  She recoils back into Lark, moaning.  Her arm hangs limp.  The guy susses the situation.  He just hit a white woman in Palo Alto.  Instantly he is back in the Chevelle and gone.

 

The cops are called.  The club is shut down for the night.  Some of the rougher kids are pissed.  They all want their money back, even the ones I know snuck in the back door.  Seeing Moms get hit hasn’t put Lark in a forgiving mood.  He’s barking.  Snapping.  Paul our friend and sound tech takes Lark into the office for some strong rum therapy.

 

Lark, Paul and me all go to the hospital.  Moms shoulder is dislocated.  She has a spreading hematoma in the shape of a fist.  Lark stares at the bruise.  We get Moms home and in bed, loaded up on Vicodin for her pain.  We each borrow two for our pain.  You can tell a good drug one of two ways, you have the doctor’s Drug Reference Guide, or you read the label, Vicodin take 1 every 4 hours for pain.  Do not take with alcohol.  Do not operate heavy equipment.  Bingo!  We chase the pills with rum.  Not an MD in the group, but we know our medicine.

 

“They can’t skate on this little brother.”

“No, they can’t.”

“Cops won’t find them.”

“Cops won’t try.  They think it’s our own fault for bringing Bloods into their city.”

“Then it’s on us.”  I have no idea what he means.  I doesn’t matter.  I’m down.

 

Affluent Palo Alto is separated from ghetto East Palo Alto by the Bayshore freeway.

On our radio Curtis Mayfield sings Freddy’s Dead.  The Firebird moves like a predator.   Paul is riding shotgun.  Behind him, I am loading my .44 with homemade hollow points.  He looks back, fear in his eyes.  He sacks up and keeps it to himself.

“There they are.”  I look up and across the street to Speedy Liquors.

“You sure that’s them?”  Lark is the only one who saw their faces.

“It’s their car.”

Lark pulls into the parking lot.  His headlights sweep across four hard men.  He parks the car so that the passenger window faces them.

“Josh, one thing.”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t hit me.”  He winks.  We are running on the perfect combination of Bacardi, Vicodin and adrenaline.  I watch Lark move around the hood of the car.  The men are smoking and drinking forties.

“Paul, roll that window down, now and get on the floor.”  He doesn’t ask why, we are traveling way outside his four dots.  I cock the revolver.  I lock in on the men.  The tall one in the middle is clearly the alpha.  He goes first.  I am rationally deciding who I will shoot and in what order.  Lark is careful not to put his body between me and them.

Lark is speaking to them.  I can’t hear them over KSOL, The O’Jays are playing in every car that passes.

 

Lark turns and walks back to the Firebird.  I don’t let my focus leave the men until we’re rolling.  “Wasn’t him.”

“You sure?”

“Said it didn’t I?”

We cruise East Palo Alto for two more hours and never see the guy.  I have no proof, but I suspect the guy in front of the liquor store was the man who hit Moms.  I don’t ask Lark.  He doesn’t offer.

In bed that night I fall apart.  All the fear floods into my head.  Tears run down my face.  Somewhere inside I am broken.  Not a moral man.  My father and other Quakers went to jail defending nonviolence.  My grandfather was proud to have never discharged his service revolver.  Me, I’m in a car calmly planning who’s life to end first.  I am afraid of what I am capable of.   Afraid of arming the beast.  Afraid I won’t need the beast to act with dark intention.


Interview: Matthew C. Funk

From the Valley to the Big Easy, Matthew C. Funk has infiltrated the worlds of Shotgun Honey, Dirty Noir, Plots with Guns, Beat to a Pulp, and just about every venue in between with his special style of crime fiction. Here at Shotgun Honey we have had the pleasure of publishing his series of Jari Jurgis case files which look at the hope and hopelessness of a broken, yet rebuilding, New Orleans.

Matthew is a gentleman, an auteur of the written canvas and will speak at length with knowledge about the process of writing.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

It was the best tool for inflicting wounds at long distance. I hit 30 and tired of swinging and missing. I got serious about getting lethal. I got the gun.

Before, my writing had been all over the literary spectrum. I tried to mix different elements to produce explosives. I wound up with a heap of radioactive material that I had no clue how to detonate. This wouldn’t do. I needed to deliver some bangs right away. 2010 hit, and I set to studying how the other sleek assassins were making their mark as the elite out there on the Web and on the shelves. What I found convinced me it was best to work with guns.

Tony Black, Frank Bill and Anonymous-9 were the doom-dealers I discovered whose publication record inspired me to draft a battle plan. I made a record of their high-profile targets – ThugLit, Plots With Guns, A Twist of Noir, Powder Burn Flash, Pulp Metal Magazine and The Flash Fiction Offensive – and ran some forensics on their crime scenes: Studied pacing, timing of plot reveals, twists. The beauty and brutality of my writing didn’t require study. I’d bring that to any ink I set down. But it took me awhile to assemble the hard components of the gun, to learn how and where to aim it, to teach myself to breathe steadily as I took the shot.

I started firing and hitting. The tears, blood and scars I wanted to cause started showing from the audience. It made me want to shoot faster and further. I did. I seem to get luckier by the trigger pull.

I’ve stopped worrying about cooking strange bombs and come to love the gun.

Those are some big foot steps to follow, but I have to say watching your work unfold — vicious and tight — is an inspiring thing. Who are some top guns that inspire you?

Plenty of gunners inspire me, especially those who show no mercy. Snipers and machinegunners used to rarely be taken alive. I like gunners who go for mass casualties or surgically delivered kill shots – stylists, you might say.

I admire Palahnuik and Dr. Thompson for their raw-knuckled, jabbing style. I look to Burroughs, Ballard and Welsh for their weird and cruel use of diction. I dig the pulps – Howard, Thompson, Bloch – for diagramming how to keep a pulse pounding with good pacing. I crave Barker when I’m seeking a distillate of true horror. Ellis when it comes to materialism and confusion. McCarthy to keep the work’s soul honed. Faulkner, Hemingway and Kerouac dare me to be unearthly in quality, while many greats still pulling the trigger today – Swierczynski, Abbott, Bill – keep evolving the craft here and now.

So long as writing is as merciless to literary convention as it is to the reader, it inspires me.

It is refreshing that your inspiration to write — those you admire — come from both the age of legends to the new rising guard. Your inspiration also comes from locale, tell us about your New Orleans.

My New Orleans is the most beautiful mess. The city takes its gunfire like it does its jazz: Infinite variations that breach limits with proud passion. My New Orleans would boast no less. It’s a city that has contradiction boiling in its soul. It’s colorful and crumbling. It’s the most affected Antebellum wealth and the most crushing housing project poverty. It’s artistic brilliance and inhuman brutality. This is a town where everybody can be friends and anybody can be a victim.

In my New Orleans, you find the best examples of human virtue – compassion, forgiveness, imagination – intertwined seamlessly with the worst subhuman behavior – callousness, deprivation, cruelty. New Orleans is the essence of us, at its wildest and most wondrous. It’s the gumbo of the human soul cooked as hot as it comes.

In this sense, my New Orleans is a city of crime: Breaking conventions of music, lawlessness, art, corruption, pride, shame, joy and anger; breaking limits without a look back or a second thought; breaking and being broken down and yet still surviving to smile brighter and yell louder than anywhere else.

If that ain’t crime, I don’t know what is.

Your New Orleans has taken shape over the last year at various venues, including Shotgun Honey, through the eyes and voice of Detective Jari Jurgis. How did you discover this unlikely protagonist?

Jari was born of two influences.

Much of Jari is inspired by an actual person who went through similar suffering: She thrust herself into an awful situation, believing that determination, love and support from society could right a hideous wrong. Those illusions were destroyed, the wrongs got worse and society’s role only worsened them further. And, despite all that agony, she had to go on.

Jari inspired me because she embodies a breed of heroism I find common to life and uncommon to literature: The deeply damaged hero. Stories are replete with heroes who, while wounded and full of faults, coolly transcend them whenever called on by a worthy cause. But in the stories I hear back on planet Earth, horrible circumstances leave people with souls so horribly injured that, despite best intentions and good deeds, they struggle just to get through the day.

I was tired of the traditional stoic ideal of a protagonist torn by pain but still capable of marching steadily forward. I wanted to tell the stories of the heroes who think they’re the monster – of the insecure, the distrusting, the uncontrollably afraid and angry and ashamed. The universe doles out such scads of trauma that such people are everywhere, and those of them who do good work rarely appreciate the good they do. They’re too caught up in the doubt, damage and despair they feel. But even drown in that feeling, they fight on.

Jari is, in that sense, a perfect fit for post-Katrina New Orleans: She is a Saint who suffers without the solace of any faith. She knows only how to persist, to survive with a front of fragile pride and a core of furious determination. She’s my kind of hero – believing only in the bad and striving only harder for better.

Jari Jurgis is a central character of your novel, City of NO, which is now being shopped around. How do the Jari Jurgis short stories fit in with the larger backdrop of that novel?

It would be easier to illustrate how CITY OF NO fits in with other Jari Jurgis stories: It takes place during the summer after Hurricane Katrina, 2006, and drags the reader through a particularly devastating event in Jari’s life. I intend it to be the first in a three-part installment. It has power as a stand-alone, though.

On the whole, Jari’s stories have so far taken place over the wayward stretch of her law-enforcement career: 2002 and onwards. MISSIONARY, here at Shotgun Honey, though told through hindsight, touches on her wide-eyed rookie days. SECOND CHANCES at Yellow Mama is at the opposite end of the published spectrum, featuring Jari around 2010. A longer-form unpublished piece, DIRT BAG, is even closer to present day, and I just seized on an idea for a story about Jari’s upbringing.

CITY OF NO, and the events it captures, are at the core of Jari’s story arc.

What is life like for the real world Matthew C. Funk when you’re not researching or reporting on the frontline activities of Jari Jurgis?

It’s a thrill a minute. I spend it researching “the semantic web” in search engine technology and advancing digital marketing. Basically, I’m an explorer sent into uncharted territories of how tech interacts with words’ meaning. My mission is to discover new ways of computer intelligence communicating with human intelligence.

I am a lucky dude in this field, as I work with some top-shelf talent. Digital marketing is where it’s at, and the tech-heads I pow-wow with on a daily basis are leading the field with weird science like micro-formatting and mobile app design. Global corporations and high-level government institutions are listening to us.

Other than that, I watch some Netflix, read some books, enjoy my girlfriend and friends. I’m pretty fanatical about my work, though. If I’m not working social media and search, I’m usually writing for publication, free writing or reading something to advance my writing.

No matter what I’d doing, I’m lucky enough to say that it’s something I love.

While marketing can be considered a mundane task compared to say dealing with the dregs and thugs of society, I would think it’s an invaluable skill to have in your writers toolbox. Especially when the frontline of knowledge for the average consumer is the Internet. What advice can you give to improve a writer’s visibility?

I could give a lot of technical advice, trot out plenty of terms that could mean the difference between getting to the top of a search result list for “crime fiction” and getting a no-show, but that don’t mean much to this audience. If anyone wants advice in that regard, I’ll gladly give it. They can drop me a line and we’ll sort through the tool box.

But the best is advice is the simple kind: Get out there and get involved.

If you want to be visible, step up to where the people you want to work along with can see you. Seek out the crime story sites and comment. Submit to the same journals as the writers whose work speaks to you. Find who’s publishing the kind of style that inspires you, get involved with their community and don’t be afraid to get noticed.

Most writers who don’t do this aren’t afflicted by a lack of time. We all lack time. You have to make the time if you’re dedicated. The critical question is, “Are you dedicated?” If you are, don’t accept excuses or doubts or fears. Decide where you want to be and reach out. Chances are, you won’t get rejected. If you do, keep trying. Learn what lessons you can, but never learn to be defeated.

That’s pretty much how I did it: I found the genre that best suited my style – crime, or “noir” – and found where the writers with the best Web presence in that genre were submitting work. I followed those professional footsteps and evolved my own voice. Anyone can do it. It’s more a matter of persistence and flexibility than of raw talent.

Still and all, here are a few digital marketing tricks: Be conscious of having “keywords” you want identified with your work – best of all being a geographical region, plus the words “crime fiction” – on your Web pages. Link back to your Web page with hyperlinks using those keywords when you can post on other blogs, especially well-trafficked blogs. And never pass up an opportunity to link back to your site with the word “author” next to your name in the hyperlink.

You mention that all writers lack time, none so more true than for the working writer. How do you juggle between your day to day job and the prolific output of your writing?

In a word: Rapidly. I’ve heard “relentless” applied as well. I just make the time and mine as much material from it as possible.

Day job starts at around 6:30. I outline stories in the car on the way into the office. Then I handle work, put pen to paper on my smoke breaks. Actual writing gets done in the lunch hour. Actual lunch gets done at the desk as I manage the afternoon’s e-mails and content updates. Then when the whistle blows, I hit the road to Starbucks for the evening writing. The sun sets, I dig into dinner and do editing in between some free writing.

All the while, I wedge in what networking e-mails, phone calls and reading I can manage. For instance, on bathroom breaks, I read the entirety of FRANK SINATRA IN A BLENDER and THE CHAOS WE KNOW. Keith Rawson approved of that venue when I told him.

If there’s any trick to it, I’d say it’s my Task list on my phone. I check it constantly so that I’m in constant activity. This may seem like it amounts to a lot of effort, but in all cases, I’m doing what I most love to do.

It seems in your case the old proverb regarding ‘idle hands’ is a misnomer, you wonder us constantly with your ongoing deviltries. What do readers have to look forward to from Matthew C. Funk?

More lovely sin, coming soon. Beyond CITY OF NO, I have another crime manuscript in the hopper. It’s an ancient Greek tragedy by way of Y2K New Orleans. Scads of blood, sorrow and second line. I also have two horror manuscripts lurking out there and a heap of hardcore historical fiction copy that may have found a way to ignite in the form of Kindle Fire. And, of course, there will be short stories: In NEEDLE, Pulp Modern, Plots With Guns, All Due Respect and my beloved regular venues like Shotgun Honey and Dirty Noir.

No rest for this agent of the wicked.

No rest, indeed. Thank you standing in the line of fire, but before you go do you have any parting shots, pearls of wisdom, for our readers?

In everything you do, be brave. It will all be over soon enough.


Interview: John Rector

Last May we published John Rector’s Folded Blue, an unassuming story that turned dark and gruesome in the last passage. It created a buzz and is, to date, one of our most read stories. John is used to creating a little buzz, having released his first novel, THE GROVE, on the Kindle platform and creating sales that caught even Amazon’s attention.

Since then THE GROVE has been published by AmazonEncore, with print edition releasing from a Houghton, Mifflin and Harcourt imprint, along with THE COLD KISS released under MacMillan’s Forge imprint and the upcoming release of ALREADY GONE from Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint. Folded Blue was the first John’s first published short story since 2005 and it was our pleasure to be its host.

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

I’m not sure I was ever drawn to crime fiction.  If anything, it was my writing style that pushed me in that direction more than a conscious decision on my part.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of crime fiction, especially the old pulp stories and the classics – James M Cain is a huge influence- but I don’t see myself as a full blown crime writer.  Dark suspense seems to fit me better, but it’s a thin line separating the two.

Crime lends itself to a lot of genres, if only ancillary. In Folded Blue the crime isn’t revealed until the very end and with some controversy. What was your thought behind Folded Blue?

Folded Blue started out as a simple conversation between two characters (almost a writing exercise in dialog), and I had no idea where it was going until the last couple paragraphs. When the ending presented itself, I knew there was no other way it could go. The characters came to life in two or three sentences, and I was able to go back in and tweak what was essentially a very flat scene and make it into something vivid and real.

I was a little surprised to hear people were talking about that particular story, just because I’ve written a hell of a lot worse. There are scenes in  THE GROVE that make Folded Blue seem tame, at least to me. But I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. What I see as a fun little masturbation story, someone else sees as glorifying violence against women.

I suppose like beauty, the reader sees only what they want to see for good or bad. And I don’t see controversy as a bad thing. Folded Blue is one of our most read stories.

You mentioned THE GROVE, a book that created a bit of buzz last year as one of a handful books picked up by Amazon Encore, Amazon’s first initiative into publishing. How did that come about?

It started in the spring of 2009. THE GROVE had made the rounds through all the NYC publishers, and nobody wanted to buy it, so I put it in the trunk and moved on. I’d written another novel called THE COLD KISS, and my agent had been focused on sending that one around to publishers. One publisher, Tor/Forge, had been sitting on the manuscript for about eight months. Anyone who has played the waiting game with publishers knows how stressful it can be. So, instead of sitting there making myself crazy, I started thinking about something I could do on my own.

I’d recently read an interview with a writer named Boyd Morrison who had signed a three book deal with a big publisher after selling several thousand copies of his three novels as ebooks, so I looked into it and decided to make THE GROVE available as an ebook on Amazon. At the time, no one was self publishing ebooks, and everyone I talked to about my plan thought I was crazy and told me it was a terrible idea. But I did it anyway. I thought if I could sell a few hundred copies and start building an audience then maybe the big NYC publishers would take a chance on The Cold kiss. So, I uploaded THE GROVE to Amazon’s website and waited.

As it turned out, Tor/Forge had wanted to buy THE COLD KISS all along, and they made an offer about 48 hours after I’d uploaded THE GROVE as an ebook. The timing was perfect. If I had waited two more days, things would’ve been completely different. With a contract from a major publisher, I never would’ve released THE GROVE on my own, but since it was already up and selling, I decided to leave it there. I figured every sale I made could translate into another sale for THE COLD KISS once it was released. Plus, it was really selling well, and I wanted to see what would happen.

Because THE GROVE was doing so well, it caught the eye of an editor at AmazonEncore, and he called me at home one night and asked if they could publish the book themselves. They would redesign the cover, market the eboko, and release a print version in stores nationwide. I was hesitant at first, but I’d just signed a three book deal with Simon and Schuster in the UK that included THE GROVE, and I really wanted to see the book published in the US, too, so I said yes. As it turned out, signing up with Amazon was the best decision I’ve made.

They say that timing is everything, don’t they? A little luck too, I suppose. Can you share the pitch for THE GROVE? Sell it to our readers.

Here’s the pitch my agent, Allan Guthrie, wrote when he was shopping the book.  It’s always been my favorite.

The last time farmer Dexter McCray went off his medication, someone wound up dead. So, after waking from an alcoholic blackout to discover his tractor stuck in a ditch and the body of a teenage girl in the cottonwood grove bordering his cornfield, things look worryingly familiar.

With no alibi and a creeping suspicion that he might indeed be guilty, Dexter decides to investigate the crime himself. He can’t tell anybody. Not his friend, the sheriff, who keeps offering to help him winch his tractor out of the ditch. Nor his estranged wife, whose love he’s desperate to win back. And certainly not the Tollivers, his redneck neighbors.

Fortunately, Dexter’s not entirely alone. He has some help.

In the shape of the dead girl herself.

That was a pretty sharp, intriguing pitch. You would have thought at least one editor would have shown interest. Their loss.

E-publishing, Amazon and the Kindle have changed publishing dramatically in the last year. Did you have any apprehensions jumping into the muddied waters of self-publishing?

A lot of editors showed interest, a few sent it around their offices and pitched it in meetings, but it seemed to always come down to marketing. No one wanted to take a chance on an unproven new novelist with a book that didn’t fit perfectly into one genre. It wasn’t quite mystery, and it wasn’t quite horror, so they all passed on the challenge.

When I released THE GROVE myself, I didn’t consider it self publishing. There was no ISBN number attached, so bookscan couldn’t track the sales, and that was important to me because I wanted to eventually publish with a major publisher. If it would’ve felt like true self publishing, I never would’ve done it.

Also, when I released THE GROVE on my own, there weren’t many people putting out ebooks. This was pre-Konrath, and if the waters were muddied back then it was because no one knew what the hell they were doing or what to expect. I still remember my agent’s stunned reaction the first time I showed him my sales figures, and that was back when ebooks were less than 2% of the market. The big sellers out there now put my old numbers to shame, but at the time it was all new for everyone.

THE COLD KISS — having read the book — is more focus in respects to genre, was that a deliberate choice because of the initial reluctance towards THE GROVE? Or were the wheels already in motion?

Both. I was already writing THE COLD KISS while THE GROVE was making the rounds, but once I started getting feedback from editors telling me it was too in between genres, I made an effort to stay in one particular genre.

THE COLD KISS is described as The Getaway meets A Simple Plan, making it sound marketable and mainstream. Do you regret not writing it as a genre blender?

Not at all. THE COLD KISS is a tight, streamlined little book that works just fine the way it is. I’m very happy with how it turned out, and I can’t picture it any other way.

Having had the unique opportunity to test the publishing waters on both sides of the e-divide, what have you learned as a writer?

I’ve learned the same thing all traditionally published writers are now learning. Things are changing fast. As recently as two years ago, I never would’ve turned down an offer from a major publisher, but that’s exactly what I did with my most recent book, ALREADY GONE. The reason was because I saw first hand what Amazon Publishing can do to sell books, so I took their offer instead.

While traditional authors and major publishers are fighting each other for severly limited shelf space in indie stores or in Barnes and Noble, Amazon Publishing can take their books directly to the reader. They have an enormous customer database, and can directly market their books to the exact audience.

I’m not overly familiar with the current state of self publishing, but as everyone who is paying attention knows, you now have a lot of writers who are able to make a very good living by selling their unpublished manuscripts as ebooks. The publishing shift that represents cannot be overstated. It is a different world out there, it’s never going back.

ALREADY GONE is part of a strong launch of Amazon’s imprint Thomas & Mercer, which includes Barry Eisler and Kyle Mills, and early next year J A Konrath. You must be a mix of pressure and pride to be part of that launch?

I’m definitely proud to be part of the new imprint, and it’s funny, but I’m not feeling a lot of pressure. I have complete faith in the people at Thomas & Mercer, and I know they’re going to do whatever they can to get the book out to as many readers as possible. That’s a rare and wonderful feeling to have about your publisher.

Do you have any parting shots, pearls of wisdom, for our readers?

All I can say is be flexible, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Publishing has changed, and it’s still changing. If you’re not open to doing things in new ways, you’re going to have a hard time finding your place. Things are never going to go back to the way they were, and as a result, this is the best time to be a writer, especially if you’re willing to take chances.


Interview: Frank Bill

This week it is a down right joy to bring Frank Bill to the How I Got The Gun? table. Frank, who most of you should know, spent the last few years deep in the trenches unleashing pulse pounding stories of rural Indiana to various print and online presses, building a landscape stark and desolate, and somehow pulling at our hearts with near biblical truths.

Next week those stories are brought together in Frank Bill’s first book, CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA, released by publisher Farrar, Straus and Garoux, and available for pre-order if you are inclined to visit either Amazon or Barnes and Noble. I recommend you buy it. But if my word isn’t enticing enough maybe the interview will have you sold.

Without further ado Frank Bill and How I Got The Gun?

How’d you get the gun? Or rather what drew you to crime fiction?

Two things my father and my grandfather always had, a gun and a pocket knife. That was just part of being a male. Third thing was more than likely a Zebco fishing rod.

I never considered myself a crime writer. But no one would take a chance on publishing my work. I read anything from Hemingway to Larry Brown or Andrew Vachss to Jim Thompson. And from those writers I discovered Tom Franklin, William Gay, Craig Clevenger, Will Christopher Baer and Eddie Little. Those writers made me realize what I could do with language, tone and voice. Those guys really tell an absorbing story. Then if you look at the ladies, A.M. Homes or Dorothy Allison, you ask yourself is this crime or is it literary? Fuck no it’s just damn good writing. And what draws me to those writers is the same thing that drew me to trying the crime venue, class. People getting by the only way they know how, by their gut or their place or situation in life. I can identify with that.

In your book, CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA, you populate your stories with both the working class man and men who live in violence and crime, often pitting the two against one another. Is this built upon your view of class and social issues in southern Indiana?

It’s not so much crime as its survival. It’s the class that has been forgotten after they’ve slaved their lives away. They’re getting by the only way they know how. Take Old Testament Wisdom. When the jobs started to disappear in the 80’s and the farming communities took a hit, a lot of farmers were left with little options. Some decided to use what they knew: farming. They learned to grow marijuana within their feed crops to sell for a big profit. They had mouths to feed. New machinery to buy. Loans at the bank. They were vested in an age old occupation, a way of life. And within this way of life, people who are from the land, had their own way of dealing with or weeding out problems within their communities. Hence the title. And in a sense it is based upon stories I heard growing up within Indiana or maybe I even crossed paths with some of these people. My people, or the people I write about, are those who’ve been ignored.

You start off CRIMES with a dark, powerful trilogy that goes from Hill Clan Cross to These Old Bones and finally All the Awful. Each stands solid on its own, but together it sets an immediate tone for the book. Can you walk us through the creation of these stories?

The Hill Clan stories were a major work in progress. I’d written Trespassing Between Heaven and Hell and Old Testament Wisdom. I had these ideas about the life of  guns. How they get bought by one person. Stored in someone’s home. Then stolen and used for a crime. Passed onto someone else. Maybe sold on the street and end up several states away. That was the original premise of Amphetamine Twitch which when I wrote it was called Flavors of Degradation. It was one huge story or rather a rough draft.

It opened with a house getting broken into. A gun being stolen. Then sold. Ends up in the hands of the Crase family’s boys in another state where a drug deal goes wrong. The DEA are after the Crase family, trace the boys to their fathers and have a big shootout in a hotel and a small town cop is in the mix as well. It was a big multipoint of view story with too many layers. Problem was it needed to sit. And after it did I realized it was too much for a short story. It was actually many short stories. So I broke it apart. I had Amphetamine Twitch and The Hill Clan. After I got finished drafts of each I asked myself, where did these people come from? Who are they? And I wrote These Old Bones. Which lit the flame for All the Awful. And in a sense they were connected to Old Testament Wisdom but I didn’t make that connection till I started working on edits for the book and realized the Hill Clan was blood relation to Jacque and the surrounding terrain of Old Testament Wisdom.

While reading CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA it was a nice surprise to see one or two stories I’d read before like Cold, Hard Love which I enjoyed originally in NEEDLE Vol 1, Issue 2. What other venues have your short stories appeared?

My first published story was The Accident, it was accepted by a place called The Circle Magazine. Then A Coon Hunter’s Noir was published in Hardboiled. Other venues followed, Thuglit, Plots With Guns, Talking River Review, Darkest Before the Dawn, Beat to a Pulp. Needle. And now Playboy.

Images of your readers have been popping up online with the latest copy of Playboy containing the story Hill Clan Cross. The running joke when referring to the men’s magazine is that we read it for the articles, but in truth it has published stories by some of the best literary writers. How’s it feel to be among that exclusive group and how did you manage the gig?

Its pretty damn amazing considering how long I struggled with rejection letters from the Missouri Review, The Georgia Review and even the North American Review. Years and stacks of letters. And now I get to be among writers like Chuck Palahniuk, Thom Jones, Denis Johnson and Hunter S. Thompson. Its an amazing honor. And I owe it to my Editor’s Sean and Emily at FSG, my Agent Stacia at DMLA and Amy at Playboy. Everyone had an influence and a strong belief in my work. Here’s a link to their top ten writers: Top Ten Writers Published in Playboy.

A sweet, sweet redemption indeed after being rejected by such notable literary magazines. Looking back at your other successes, several are online magazines much like Shotgun Honey. Would you describe your experiences contributing and being read by the online community?

Everyone has been very cool. Ben Springer has been a greater supporter but so has Rod Wiethop. He approached me at Bouchercon in Indy several years ago and introduced himself. Told me how much he dug my work. Now he’s one of my closest friends. A real person of the earth. Knows where his people come from. Much like Jed Ayres, Neil Smith, Scott Phillips, Kyle Minor, Christa Faust, Keith Rawson, Gary Lovisi, David Cranmer, Allison and Todd Robinson, Aldo Calcagno, Elaine Ash, Greg Bardsley, Kieran Shea and the list goes on and on. I’ve made some true friends. And you can read some of those first letters of acceptance that I received from editors below.

Frank,

Lady Detroit here, from Thuglit.

I just read your story “Old Testament Wisdom” for the third time and I have to tell you that it’s as powerful a story as any I’ve read anywhere. The cadence in the narrative, it’s damn lyrical, and at times point-perfect. I think your storytelling is striking and am surprised that you are still a “struggling writer.”

That said, I think it would be shame to publish this story just now. Honestly, it needs a good edit. Some of the sentences are so heavy with description, they drive the reader to a halt, especially in the action scenes. Even on a third reading, I found myself retracing steps through sentences to find out what’s actually happening. While you set the atmosphere with your descriptions, there are definitely some that are distracting. There are also a few similes bordering on the cliché and they stick out (not in a good way) amongst your other specifically crafted words.

Basically you are fucking explosion, and it’s pretty damn exciting, but I really feel it could be BRILLIANT if it was tamed a bit. We don’t normally do serious editing at Thuglit because, frankly it’s too time-consuming for a free webzine, but I believe this story really deserves another look. I’ve asked Todd if we could bump your story to a future issue to give you time for another edit and he gave me the go-ahead.

In my readings, I printed a hard copy and marked it up with some edits. If you feel you’d like the extra input from an unbiased reader, I’d be happy to mail it to you. By no means, if you accept, should you feel obligated to my suggestions. You should do always do what you feel is right for your work.

Shoot me an email and let me know what you think.

Either way, it was a pleasure to read.

Allison
ladyd@thuglit.com

Todd Robinson
www.thuglit.com
http://www.myspace.com/thuglit

Dear Frank,

Congratulations! “Trespassing Between Heaven & Hell” has been selected as the THIRD PLACE winner in the Lunch Hour Stories 2008 Short Story Contest. Your prize will include publication (in May 2009), 5 copies of the printed story, a free one-year subscription to the magazine (commencing immediately), and a cash award of $50 (payable upon publication).

Of your story, our judges said: “Trespassing Between Heaven & Hell” kept us on the edge of our seats. The narrative offered a quick start, then held our attention through to the end. The writing is strong, as is the narrative voice, and the story deserves to be read.

A formal packet of information will go in the mail to you tomorrow, but please let me know if you have any questions after you receive it.

Again, congratulations!

Nina Bayer, Editor
Lunch Hour Stories Magazine
www.lunchhourstories.com

Frank,

Well, we are definitely interested in “Rough Company” for PWG. It’s a great story, and you’ve got great style. You also do things that drive us up the wall, some descriptive tics that go way overboard and stick out like sore thumbs. After the last edits, we still had that feeling, but we want to run the story (and we didn’t want to take anything away from your style), so Tom and I looked it over, and we’ve come up with this edited version. Please compare it to your most recent version and see if you’re okay with the changes we made (should be mostly small things, like saying “locks” instead of “hair” way too often, or a few “extra” adjectives taken out).

If you’re okay with it, please go ahead and send a bio and photo (photo is optional), and we’ll get that thing up with the new issue later this week.

All best,
Neil

You’ve built — no earned – quite a community of friends and fans online. How helpful were the online successes to transitioning to traditional publishing?

Very helpful. Making those connections with like minded people, Neil Smith, Jed Ayres, Scott Phillips, Keith Rawson, Greg Bardsley, ect., really helped me out more than they know. I’d written so long in my own little world with little input. It was nice to finally have some light shined in the shadows.  And when I wrote Donnybrook, authors were kind enough to read the early version of the manuscript and blurb it. Which showed support for my work and I think that played a big role in getting published. Meaning I had a fan base.

Last year before you signed your book deal the good folks at Do Some Damage published an excerpt from Donnybrook. After that, I was personally hooked on Frank Bill from that moment. Give our readers a synopsis of Donnybrook.

My agent Stacia Decker, pitched it as Fight Club meets Deliverance. It follows the lives of four men. A small town cop, an ex-bare knuckles champion turned meth cook, a Chinese debt collector and a bare knuckle brawler trying to escape the hills of Kentucky by using his God given boxing skills by setting out for Indiana to fight in a backwoods free for all tournament called Donnybrook. It’s a backwoods story of survival, incest, broken bones, meth, and prophecy. It could be termed as grit lit or manly literature.

Sounds like our kind of literature, that’s for sure. Crimes In Southern Indiana hits shelves on August 30, 2011 and Donnybrook in 2012, what’s down the pike between and after for Frank Bill?

I’ve got two books. One I’m working on when time permits. About 17,000 words or more. It looks to be a very big book and a wild ass ride. The second is based an actual crime family my buddy told me about and no one has written anything close to it. So if I can get my next book finished I’ll pitch both of these. I’ve also got a few other nonfiction ventures but the day job is killing my writing time at the moment.

Juggling two careers will tax any sane man; thankfully for writers sanity isn’t a question. How have you managed to fit writing into your daily schedule?

Up Monday thru Friday between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m. punching the keys. Then I write during breaks at work. On the weekends I get up around 6 or 7 am and write till about 1pm. But at the moment, with the release growing closer, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews.

That is a hellava schedule and we appreciate the time you’ve given us. Thank you, Frank. Do you have any parting shots, pearls of wisdom, for our readers?

Write what you dig, not what you think people want. I went back and forth with that for years. Now, I don’t waste words, I write them.


Interview: Daniel B. O’Shea

Welcome to our new interview series “How I Got The Gun?” where we will interview past and hopefully future contributors to Shotgun Honey. The goal to give you insight to the stories, the process and the inspiration of some of the finest, in our humble opinion, writers new and old.

Shotgun Honey debuted with its very first story “Two-Phones” by Dan O’Shea. He likes to brag he was Shotgun Honey’s first, except in more colorful terms. So it seems only fitting that we give him a second chance to be the first again.

How’d you get the gun?

The gun? What gun? You got my prints on it? DNA? Anything? Didn’t think so. You wanna talk about the gun anymore, then ask my lawyer.  Next question.

I didn’t want it to go this way. Play hardball, but we need answers. Get to the root of things. You’ve got a criminal history. Can you tell us about Two-Phones?

Two-Phones started out as a flash-fic thing on my blog, 1000 words set in an airport.  And I got it in my head that the airport is the one place where you really can’t have a gun – or at least where it would be damn hard to sneak one in.  So suppose you’re a hit man who’s just as happy to work without one.  And that was Slim – the main character.  Then, when Shotgun Honey opened, up, I went back to Two-Phones, tightened it up some, and you guys picked it to lead things off.  And that was pretty damn cool.

I plan to get back to Slim someday, give him a longer work out. He’s got more in the tank.

We’ll have to keep an eye out for Slim. A regular MacGyver. Good with his hands. Two-Phones is just one, are there other short bits of crime fic out there?

A few here and there. I’ve got a short called THIN MINTS over at Keith Rawson’s awesome Crimefactory. That one is also in the Noir at the Bar anthology available through Subterranean Books.

Then there’s BLACK FRIDAY, an ode to marital bliss that you can find in the DISCOUNT NOIR anthology, which is a collection of flash fiction pieces all having to do with a purely fictional retailer called MegaMart, which, Untreed Read’s lawyers assure me, has nothing to do, besides some passing resemblance, with any chain of soul-sucking discount stores that may or may not have been founded in Arkansas.

And then there’s THE BARD’S CONFESSION IN THE MATTER OF THE DESPOILMENT OF THE FISHMONGER’S DAUGHTER, in the Spring 2011 edition of NEEDLE, a Magazine of Noir. That little experiment in Elizabethan Noir, a genre that Shakespeare himself started with Othello and which I am trying to revive, got under my skin some, such that I’m now writing an entire novel featuring the Bard himself as an Elizabethan shamus.  If you want to see how that’s going, you can pop over to my blog , where I’m posting chapters of that as I go. I’ve also got audiofiles of a lot of my sort fiction up there, and, well, lots of other crap.

You’ve got quite the rap sheet. A multiple-offender with THIN MINTS. I think you might have missed one with episode 66 Seth Harwood’s CrimeWAV.com where you gave voice to your words. How’d that come about?

I’ve been doing the audio files for my short fiction all along — I always read my work out loud anyway, because I think it’s a great backstop to visual editing.  You get a real feeling for the rhythm and feel of the language.  And back in the day, I used to do some radio, and have even taped some podcasts for my day job, so I figured why not stick the files up on the site?  I mean the ladies do love my pipes (just ask Sabrina Ogden).  Seth Hardwood’s gotten a lot of mileage out of doing audio, and regularly pops new stuff up on CrimeWAV, so when he asked if I’d send him a WAV file for THIN MINTS, that was an easy hell yeah.

I can see how reading aloud is a useful tool of the trade. Do you have any other tools in your kit? Helpful to other crime-minded folks?

Oh man, I dunno. Ask John Hornor Jacobs or Joelle Charbonneau or Frank Bill or any of Stacia Decker’s other clients that have book deals out the ass. I’m reluctant to give any writing advice until there’s some real proof that I’m doing anything right. Chuck Wendig’s got a mess of writing advice for sale on his blog, go see him.

My sense is there are a couple zillion ways to skin this writing cat, if you can get the little bastard to hold still, and any of them can work.  Some folks outline, some wing it, some do a slow-and-steady thousand words a day, some write in binges. You gotta read alot, but everybody knows that. The reading out loud for editing thing, that works for me and I’ve heard a lot of people say the same, so it’s worth a shot.

And you have to find some way to stay motivated through the rejections and the bad days and the dry spells. The trick I’ve hit on for motivation is this whole public novel writing deal. I wrote the rough draft of my last novel, THE GRAVITY OF MAMMON, in public, posting chapters up on my blog as I completed them — a chapter a day for a good stretch of the book. I may not have made a cent yet on the fiction writing business, but I’ve written for a living one way or another my whole adult life, mostly as a freelancer, and I’ve been conditioned to work on deadline. Novel writing doesn’t come with one. So, by making the promise to post as I go on my blog, I’m building in some accountability.  Shame as a motivator, I guess.  I don’t have much of a blog following, but I know there are at least a handful of people out there reading along who are waiting for the next chapter, so it forces me to keep moving the ball.

It worked for MAMMON (and I’ve finally completed a pretty extensive overhaul of that draft and have it in to Stacia, so she should be shopping that around soon) so I’m doing it again for my current WIP, my previously mentioned experiment in Elizabethan noir entitled ROTTEN AT THE HEART, in which our old pal Bill Shakespeare is coerced by his powerful patron into serving as a gumshoe. If you want to follow along, just check my blog each day, or you can catch up on the book to date right here.Hell, it took me something like ten years to finish my first novel, and I did a draft of MAMMON in six weeks. I’m thinking I might have ROTTEN AT THE HEART done quicker than that.  So maybe I’m an exhibitionist — maybe I need an audience in order to work.  Who the hell knows.  I do think, as a group, we writers might have a few more snakes in our head than the average bear, so we each have to figure out some way to tame those to our own ends.

You might not like giving advice, and as you said there are many ways to skin this cat. It’s been helpful to know what works for you. As it turns out for a criminally minded person you’re quite helpful. Is it true you recently had writing challenges on your blog to benefit others?

I’ve hosted a few flash fiction challenges in the last couple of years, but it hit me back in April, when that plaque of tornadoes ripped up a good chunk of the south, that a flash fic challenge might be put to some better use. I guess each of us from time to time is moved to send off some coin to support one cause or another, and when I saw what the tornadoes had done, it seemed like an appropriate time to drop a few bucks on the Red Cross. So I put out a flash fiction challenge asking for stories with tornadoes as a theme, with a promise to send $5 to the Red Cross for each entry.  And that whole thing was a win-win.  Twenty-five entries, so the Red Cross got $125, everybody got to read some kick-ass fiction and I got a little bump in blog traffic.  A couple of folk even kicked in some cash of their own.

So, when I got the flash fic challenge itch again in July, I figured why fuck with a good idea.  This time, the cause was Heartspring, a center for children with Autism in Wichita, where, I will admit in the interest of full disclosure, one of my sons was a resident for several years.  Good people doing good work.  Twenty-one folk signed up, so that was another $105 to a good end – with, again, some of the entrants or other blog frequentees chipping in some cash on their own.  Which reminds me, I foolishly also promised a goody to the author of my favorite story out of that bunch, and I’ve got to finally make a call on that.  Next time, I’m gonna make it a poll, because it’s too damn hard to pick.

I think I’ll stick with the charity model for flash fic stuff. The dirty little secret about the crime fiction crowd is this: the nastier the stuff they write, the nicer they are.  Scott Phillips published his kick-ass novel RUT through Concord Free Press, which gives the books away and just asks that readers make a donation to charity. And he and Jed Ayers put together the Noir at the Bar anthology for the benefit of Subterannean Books in St. Louis, a great indie they wanted to support.

I think it’s safe to say you’ve got a soft heart under that — as has been proven by your recent interview with John Hornor Jacobs — badass exterior. You seem pretty multifaceted, so I have to go back to the first question. How’d you get the gun, or rather what about crime fiction draws you in?

It would be great to be John Updike (aside from the whole being dead part) but that ain’t me.  I resisted the allure of genre fiction for a long time – I guess it was the snob in me. But partly it was just that I read the wrong stuff. I picked up a Mike Hammer novel once, and that seemed like porn for developmentally delayed males who couldn’t bring themselves to look at dirty pictures.  I guess I mentally painted the whole genre with that brush.

But then I ran in to some other stuff. Like the Smiley novels by John LeCarre (ok, I know that’s espionage and not crime fiction per se, but that’s how genre fiction started toying with my corset hooks). And damn, that stuff was good. The stories were compelling, but the characters were still rich and flawed and human and the political atmosphere so compelling, so clearly and cynically drawn that hell, it felt like actual literature, except it was, you know, actually ABOUT something . Then I read some Len Deighton, and I drifted over to Ross Thomas and, well, I was hooked.  I felt like this was something I could actually write.  It took a long time for me to finally get serious about it, but now I’m having a swell time. Here’s hoping I actually sell something some day.

Not a Spillane fan? I guess we all have our crosses. Deighton and Thomas hooked you, what writers inspire you?

I guess that depends on how you mean inspire.  If you mean by their craft, James Lee Burke is a big one. He continually proves you can invest the genre with real humanity and heart, and that the quality of your prose still matters.  I’m a big John Sandford fan, too. Totally different style from Burke, but he consistently delivers. But there’s another kind of inspiration, too.

Folks that inspire me to keep swinging. Guys like John Hornor Jacobs, who’s really more in the horror genre, but who prove that if you keep your head down and work hard, good shit happens. A year or so ago, John and I would routinely chat on Facebook about the various near misses we’ve had with various editors at  various houses, and now John’s sitting on, I dunno, something like a zillion book deals. He’s got editorial flunkies fetching his coffee and groupies sending him pictures of their boobies. Or Joelle Charbonneau, the queen of musical roller-skating, not-quite-cozies. Or Frank Bill, who’s personally creating the literary tradition of Southern Indiana. Or Chuck Wendig, who’s got his fingers in more pies than a meth-addicted baker.  But they all help reinforce the same lessons.  Keep your eyes on the prize and keep your fingers on your keyboard, because it’s the only way anything happens.

You seem to definitely keep your fingers moving. As you mentioned earlier, you’re currently posting a public first draft of ROTTEN AT THE HEART which features an unlikely protagonist, Shakespeare. What was the genesis behind writing an Elizabethan Noir?

That came completely out of left field. My daughter’s college curriculum last spring was heavy on Shakespeare and Milton – a lot of Elizabethan and Jacobean era stuff – and she and I were talking one night, and she asked “What would happen if Shakespeare wrote noir?” And my immediate response was “Othello,” ’cause that’s about as noir as it gets. But all the noir I’ve read has been prose, not plays, and it’s often written in the first person. And that gave me an itch, so I wrote the short story for NEEDLE that I mentioned earlier.

What I noticed writing it was that the faux Elizabethan language isn’t just an exercise in translation, where you think “this is how I would say this in modern English, now how do I fake it in 1590.” Because language doesn’t work that way. Language is the stuff of thought, and when you change the way you talk (or write), it changes the way you think. Most of what I’d written to that point was dialog driven, but this turned out to be far more introspective. Where my style previously had been pretty terse, with a lot of very short sentences and even sentence fragments, this took on a flowing, almost stream of consciousness feel.

Then I caught some reruns of the old Ken Burn’s documentary series on the Civil War, in which they’d frequently read snippets of letters soldiers had sent home from the front. I was struck with the almost universal elegance of expression in those letters, their emotional fluency. So much of crime fiction now is peopled with the uneducated or the undereducated. So the language is sparse and coarse (and should be), but, as a result, so much has to be implied instead of said. I know the sacred cow of writing, and it seems especially crime writing, is to never say in two words what you can say in one. But writing the Shakespeare story left we with the sense that more words sometimes means more depth, more nuance, a more authentic connection with the reader.

So I decided what the fuck, and set out to do a whole novel of it. Which went badly at first — I knocked out two quick chapters last spring that I liked, and then felt completely stymied. I had two problems. One, at the same time I first took a crack at the Shakespeare novel, I was doing a considerable overhaul of THE GRAVITY OF MAMMON (my first online novel), and I think the conflict in style between that and Shakespeare was infecting me with a sort of stylistic cognitive dissonance that was hurting both projects. So I set Shakespeare aside and focused on MAMMON. The other issue was that I really didn’t have much knowledge about he period. I know my Shakespeare pretty well in terms of the plays, but I knew next to nothing about daily life in London in the 1590s, or about Shakespeare’s actual life. So, while I finished MAMMON, I also did a lot of reading about Shakespeare and Elizabethan England. Then, with MAMMON done, I sat down to give the Bard another shot. And, in the first ten days of writing, I cranked out better than 35K words. I’ve never made that kind of start before, not even close. Now, it’s a first draft, and it’s a complete departure from anything I’ve tried before, so it could be a complete cock-up, but so far it feels right to me.

ROTTEN AT THE HEART seems like an extraordinary exercise in style and concept, and if it is a cock-up, well sometimes you have to write what feels right. We appreciate anyone who is willing to step out of the box and explore what crime fiction can be. Do you have any parting shots for the readers and writers?

Just this. For a lot of wasted years, I either didn’t write fiction or only toyed at it because I had this stupid idea that I was all grown up and had kids and responsibilities, and imagining I was going to be a novelist was like thinking I was going to play third base for the Cubs. I’d dearly like those years back. So don’t piss on your own dreams, and don’t let anybody else do it either. Other than that, I think I’ve pretty much emptied my magazine.