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.”


“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.


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.

[email protected]

Todd Robinson

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


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,

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 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.